A weekend in Chicago

We decided to take our foreign exchange students for their first trip out of the frozen tundra. My husband had a conference in Chicago. We thought we would kill two birds with one stone. Now that I think about it, boy is that a strange expression.

Unfortunately, I had to break the bad news that although we were heading south it wouldn’t be any warmer. We took off after school on Friday. We were planning to stop halfway for supper, but decided to keep going after I saw the big blob of heavy precipitation on the radar. The temps were hovering around the freezing point.

The sooner we could get there the better. This caused some hangry arguments from our daughter. Tears were shed. In fact, all three girls cried before we even got to Chicago for various reasons. That’s life with teenage girls.

We got to Chicago in a torrential downpour during rush hour. Meanwhile, I frantically tried to scrounge up some green for the tolls. They don’t just nickel and dime you anymore. We checked into the hotel Fieldhouse Jones then found a place to eat. Our daughter said her culinary arts teacher raved over a restaurant which we were glad was close to the hotel. We ate an average meal there and left to see a sign that they didn’t pass their health inspection to find out later the restaurant was nothing special, just a chain. Thanks a lot!

That night the hotel didn’t have any open parking spots, so Paul had to drive around several blocks to find an open spot in the rain after dropping us off. I felt like we were visiting Gotham city.

I let the girls pick what they wanted to do in Chicago. The girls were interested in seeing Mean Girls, but the cheapest tickets started at $150. We all thought it was too pricey so we didn’t go. I suggested the aquarium to deaf ears. Estelle wanted to search for something called the bean. Then they wanted to shop until they dropped. Me personally, I would’ve preferred to drop shopping.

We set out late the next morning. Our first stop was the Hard Rock Café for an early lunch. While I was there, I started feeling very light headed. My body started to freak out like it tends to do when I break out of my normal routine. I thought maybe I was dehydrated and started to guzzle down globs of gross chlorinated city water. But after that I felt better.

Then we set off in the rain to find the elusive bean. We circled around the city blocks only to circle around again for another time. Skyscrapers sometimes mess with maps on country folks phones. I created my own detour when we got to a sketchy area I didn’t want to walk down. It seemed unsafe. I didn’t want my nightmare of the girls getting murdered to come true. I felt nervous worrying about their safety because I didn’t even know where I was. With all of the trafficking and crime, you can never be too safe with young girls unfamiliar with our culture. It was a big responsibility.

We finally made it to the bean which was like a huge mirror in the shape of a bean. (See pictures below). We walked and walked some more and shopped. It was a cold, windy, snowy, rainy type of day. By late afternoon we put on 6 miles. It was getting dark and the prospect of walking back to our hotel in the dark was not very positive. The girls wanted to take an Uber back. Again thoughts of murder crossed my mind. An Uber or walking back on the dark rainy streets?

We took an Uber back. Our driver was great. He was a philosophizing theologian. We had an extremely deep conversation about life which was right up my alley. Later that evening Paul, the girls, and I went out for Chicago deep dish pizza. Since I am dairy free, I ordered mine with vegan cheese. It wasn’t the greatest. Vegan cheese looks and tastes like glue when it melts. My husband still makes the best pizza. Sorry Chicago. Everyone else was happy.

Then the next morning we headed out, but not before Paul and I played a close game of air hockey at the hotel. I was very impressed with the hotel. The décor was very unique. Plus we were able to get an affordable two bedroom room. One on the rooms had two sets of bunk beds. The other room had a double bed with an outside wall a couple feet from the El. I thought I would be up all night with the noise, but it wasn’t bad. That says a lot from an insomniac who can’t sleep well in her sleep number bed set to her comfort in her perfectly dark, quiet, and cool bedroom at home.

We thought we were going to have to drive home through a snow storm, but thankfully it never showed up. It’s hard to believe that our time with our foreign exchange students is half over. In a few months I will go from having four teenagers in my house to zero. Our son will be turning 20 the same month Clara and Estelle leave. Then our daughter Arabella is applying to be a foreign exchange student in France living at Estelle’s house. I’m trying to enjoy every moment I can because in the blink of an eye it will be over.

I’ll close with a couple pictures…

 

Expectation reflections

It hasn’t been too much of an adjustment having 4 teenagers in the house.

Our foreign exchange students have been very quiet and friendly. When we told others of our plan to have 2 foreign exchange students, they cringed. Most shared horror stories of wild teen exchange students that made every effort to sneak out and party. So far there haven’t been any problems.

It’s probably because they are not comfortable being family yet. There aren’t any fights or talking back. We are all on our best behavior, no belching or farting. My husband has been giving them special treatment. He is buying the foods they like, taking them to places they are interested in going, asking if they are too hot or too cold. It’s hard not to treat them like visitors.

This is going to sound insane, but I felt a twinge of jealousy. It triggered something inside of me that reminded me of my mom’s special treatment of my autistic brother Matt.  Everything in our house revolved around Matt and what he wanted. I honestly wasn’t expecting to feel that way.

Of course, the students paid a lot of money to have a great experience here. I want things to be wonderful for them. Things are going really well. The girls don’t seem to be too homesick. If anything, at times they seem a little bored. But I’m sure that will change once school starts and they make friends.

It’s fun because they get excited about all of the little things, like going to the grocery store. They eat differently than we do. They use their knife and fork to cut things more. They cut up grilled cheese sandwiches instead of just picking them up and plunking them in their soup like I did.

Today Clara made homemade German potato salad for our friend’s Octoberfest party tomorrow. Real German food!

I also didn’t realize how much Hitler and the nazi’s were the butt of American jokes in TV and movie comedies. Awkward! But none of us were alive when any of that happened. If anything, countries that were once at war can be friendly towards each other again.

Hopefully in the next couple weeks the girls will come out of their shell a little. As for right now, I’m really happy that things are going better than I expected.

A new family

Last night our foreign exchange students arrived, Clara from Germany and Estelle from France.

I felt anxious all day. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

I worried. Would our new “children” like us? What will this next year be like?

My oldest two children are not as excited about it as I am. I think they think I’m replacing them. But maybe in a way I am. They are adults and don’t need me being a mother hen to them anymore. They are off living their own lives like they should be.

I am excited about this new adventure, but as with anything new a little frightened too.

I wonder what it would be like to see everything for the first time through their eyes. Maybe even for us, the old will become new again.

I hope it is a wonderful experience for all of us.

 

Extreme empty nest solutions

On Sunday I received a phone call from the foreign exchange student coordinator a couple hours after my daughter moved out.

Sunday was a bittersweet day.

On Sunday, my best friend became a grandma for the first time.

On Sunday, it’s been a year and a day since my close friend lost her daughter in a fiery car crash.

On Sunday, my daughter moved 4 hours away and is not planning on living at home again.

I was feeling down as you can probably imagine.

My oldest daughter moved out, my son is off pet sitting this week, and my youngest daughter is volunteering this week as a camp cook. I’m feeling the empty nest kick in. I realized that I may have a harder time with this whole empty nest thing than I thought.

I’ve been a caregiver since I can remember. I was my autistic brother’s “second mom”. I also helped with my other two younger brothers.

In college, I was a caregiver for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s and a middle aged man with Paranoid Schizophrenia. I took care of my brother Matt up until after I had several kids of my own. I also took care of my Aunt Grace when she had dementia. I provided day care for several children when my kids were little.

I don’t know what it is like to not take care of someone and the thought is a little scary.

As I was crying and feeling sorry for myself, the phone rang. The foreign exchange program coordinator called and said she had an emergency situation. One of the host parents for a student from Germany ended up getting into a serious motorcycle accident and broke her back. This student was really into music and needed a home.

I was wondering what to do with my daughter’s empty room. So we filled it. Now we will be hosting two foreign exchange students starting next month, Estelle from France and Clara from Germany.

I feel like my life has meaning again. I suppose most people get another pet once they start emptying the nest. Not me, I guess you could say I am rather extreme.

Even though it might be stressful having 3 teenagers in the house again, I am going to enjoy this last year of chaos before I have an empty nest.

By the time next year rolls around, I might actually be okay with only taking care of me.

 

May

It is finally here, the month I have been dreading and waiting for.

My son will be graduating this month. Despite his procrastination and grades that are less than satisfactory, I think he is going to pull it off.

Alex has finally matured enough that I think he is going to be fine without us. He told me this week, that although he doesn’t say it often enough, he is going to really miss us and that he appreciates everything we’ve done for him. He also said that although he doesn’t spend a lot of time with us that he doesn’t want us to take it personally that he is leaving. He said that it is time for him to be an independent man now. I agreed. I told him that it was normal to want to leave home once you are an adult.

I am letting go and he is planning on leaving. He told me he isn’t planning on leaving the area anytime soon and will probably visit us a lot. That made me feel happy since my son is not the type to share these things.

Next month Alex is planning on moving out.

This month Angel will be coming home from college. But this summer she is not planning on staying with us like she previously did. She just put in an application for an apartment and is planning on staying here until she can move in. She will live 4 hours away.

Two out of three kids are planning on leaving home for good next month. I will be happy and sad to see them go. It is bittersweet.

We still have Arabella at home. She will be 16 this month.

We are also planning on filling the void by getting a foreign exchange student. Estelle from France will be moving in the beginning of August.

A new adventure awaits!

The adventures of Hickory

Our foreign exchange student from Japan arrived safely Friday night. She was tired, so we gave her a little cheese and sent her off to bed. She already has the knickname of Hickory, very similar to her own name. I liked the name so much it made me long to have one more child. What? Wait! No!  Forget about that, but it is nice to have one teen in the house that doesn’t talk back. Lol. Everything is exciting and new for her. Her sense of wonder reminds me of a 2 year old without the tantrums. So far it has been a very pleasant experience. Paul and I would like to have a foreign exchange student longer than a week when our youngest is in high school. 

Saturday morning, Paul made bacon and pancakes with real maple syrup on top. As is customary when we have a family meal, we say a prayer in thanksgiving for our meal. We tried to explain to Hickory our culture and beliefs. Paul asked Hickory if she knows what Christianity is. “No” replied Hickory. He asked if she knows God. “No” replied Hickory. He asked Hickory if she knows about Jesus as he was bringing out the cheese. Very excitedly Hickory replied, “Yes, I know cheeses”. I suppose it will be confusing if we send her home with a cheesehead. She may end up telling her parents that we have a strange culture. Stories of us Wisconsinites worshipping cheeses before eating it. Stories of us worshipping strange men in cheese colored uniforms while wearing cheeseheads. Makes me wonder what other people think of us, huh? Don’t ya know? 

Hickory also arrived bearing gifts from Japan. She gave us green tea cookies and chocolate, a fan, soup bowls, chopsticks, and saki. The saki was wrapped in newspaper written in Japanese. Of course, I am thinking of sending back some good WI beer wrapped in newspaper. I could wrap it up and send it back in a cheesehead for protection. Hickory’s dad is a sushi chef. No pressure, right? We have been making a lot of “American” food for her. Paul is making his homemade pizza tonight. It is the best pizza ever. Good thing you don’t know where we live. We are thinking of getting her dad either a Brewers or Packers apron. Now if we could only get some brats and cheese to them…hmmm. 

Other than that, we have been trying to show Hickory as much of our culture as we can. Last night we went to a chili dump. Some of the other foreign exchange students were there. They had a bonfire, live music, pumpkin carving, a piñata, and other yard games. Today we played miniature golf and had a picnic at a park with the school group. I hope she really has a good experience here. And she doesn’t go home telling everyone that we worship cheeses. 

Welcome home?

On an airplane right now sits a young 13 year old girl flying from Japan with a few of her classmates to America. Her destination, my house. We will be hosting a foreign exchange student for 1 week. She doesn’t speak a lot of English and is probably nervous about the kind of family she is going to meet. I would be nervous if I was her too. Especially if she read some of my blogs from the last few weeks. Lol. 

Thankfully Jake made it home safely before her arrival. After my son and his friend tried to stop Jake from running away, Jake started his journey on the railroad tracks in the rain. He walked all night to obtain his sense of freedom as he told his friends. He walked 30 miles that night. Then he was cold, tired, and hungry and decided to turn around and head back home. Maybe the adventure of all of the survival reality shows spurred him on. Never mind the search efforts back at home. If I had to place bets on any of my son’s friends winning a survivor show, it would be Jake. He is a tough avid outdoorsman. When my son asked Jake how his sense of freedom felt, Jake replied terrible. I would suggest marathon running for Jake next time instead of running away. At least he would get a medal. I think he learned his lesson, so it is probably best not to say anything for awhile. 

Talking about running, I did get in a 12 mile run today. I had no motivation at all. It was cool and very windy. I spent half of the time running against that strong wind. At times I felt like I was running in place. That was almost enough to knock the wind out of my sails. Lol. Today I feel hungry! I haven’t felt hungry in months. I think my body wants to go into hibernation mode to put some meat on my bones for winter. 

I hope our foreign exchange student likes it here. I have always wanted to do something like this. I guess I will find out how good I am at nonverbal communication. What an adventure!