It’s just stuff, right?

When the phone call from my mom started with, “Everyone is OK. No one is hurt,” I knew the second part of her sentence was going to be bad.

My head raced. We are in Louisiana on vacation. Had our house been broken into? She was watching our dog, had something happened to Van Gogh?

“There was a fire at the storage unit.” Long, long pause.

“Everything is gone.”

It took a while to sink in. What is she talking about? What does this mean? What did we even have in there?

About 30 seconds later it sunk in – everything was in there.

When we moved from Anderson to Evansville we decided we wanted something small so we could save up money to buy a house. We knew it would be temporary. So all of our belongings that were once in a four bedroom house had to be wheedled down to the absolute essentials to fit into our tiny two bedroom duplex in Evansville.

So we got a storage unit at the same building my mom has used for years to store Christmas decorations and other miscellaneous items.

Lots of furniture went there – an entire bedroom set and mattress, a chaise lounge, a rocker, an easy chair, a couch, book shelves, my Papa’s desk that I admired my entire childhood and was able to take after he passed away, my great-grandmother’s vanity that I remember sitting at as a little girl to put on play make-up, several lamps and the most amazing blonde butcher block table that my parents had my entire childhood and had saved for me. There were even crayon drawings on the bottom of it courtesy of my sister and me.

And then there were boxes and boxes of books. Books from my childhood, coffee table books of photography and newspaper, novels Michael and I had collected over the years, special books given to me by my dad and mom with beautiful inscriptions.

And then the pictures, the keepsakes, the letters and cards, the mementos of life. I had saris from Bangladesh, tapestries from Thailand, dolls from Guatemala and sculptures from Haiti – all gone. All irreplaceable.

Michael, who admittedly is much less sentimental than I, even was crushed by some of the losses. Baseball gloves he’d used as a kid he was anxious to pass on to Miles; baseball cards he’d collected since childhood; a handful of childhood toys and clothes his mom had saved so we could pass down to our kids – all gone.

Our high school and college diplomas – gone.

We just bought a house and have spent the last month excitedly planning about how we would decorate and furnish it with all of our stuff we’d been missing for the past year tucked away in storage. Our current apartment in Evansville has empty walls, no decorations as we’d stored them all.

All of our plans about what would go where meant nothing.

As I was processing the enormity of it all while on the phone with my mom I couldn’t hold the tears back. She apologized profusely although she had no control or anything to do with it. But what do you say in a situation like this?

I’ve written dozens of stories about people who have lost everything in a fire. I’ve interviewed those families and was only able to offer a hopeful apology and sympathy, never empathy though. I had no idea what it feels like.

After hanging up the phone the tears turned to sobs. I cried so hard I nearly threw up. I was devastated. Yes, it is unbelievably frustrating that we are going to have to start all over furnishing this house with both furniture and decorations (minus the tiny bit of stuff we had in our apartment). But the part that makes my whole body ache, the part that still brings tears to my eyes days later, is that irreplaceable stuff.

There was so much of my life in there. The hardest things to think about being gone forever are the things from my dad. I had countless letters, cards, notes and poems that he wrote me saved. These are things I’ve saved for more than 20 years, things that meant so much to me. In a way, I felt the loss of my dad all over again. There was comfort in knowing I had those things that he’d written me, those connections to those times, in a physical form that I could physically hold on to.

Now they are gone.

I wipe away the tears though and keep telling myself, it’s just stuff. No one, not even the three men who have been arrested in connection to the arson that destroyed the storage unit, can take away the memories of my childhood, my travels and adventures or the amazing man and father my dad was.

It’s just stuff, right.

When it starts to feel like TOO MUCH

I feel like my life has been consumed by packing!

We are living among boxes and tiny trains, all of them bound and determined to stub my toe or trip me in the middle of the night. The boxes part is new; the trains feel like they will be a permanent fixture.

So we are trying to pack up as much as we are able to this far in advance because the two prime “packing weekends” (the two before we move) will be spent in Louisiana, 700 miles away from where we and all our crap live. When we return on April 6 we will have five days (all of them working days as that Sunday I’ll be working too) before we close on the house and start the move.

But as much as I’ve tried to focus on packing, I had to take a break from doing it. My break from packing boxes though was spent packing suitcases.

Our last trip to Louisiana Miles was just 9 months so it was a lot more complicated. I worried about packing food he could eat (I made all of his baby food and brought with me a cooler with enough food for him to eat the week we were away), frozen breast milk, bottles, formula, pacifiers, a pack and play, a mini high chair, ALL OF THE STUFF. This time it’s just clothes, a few trains and books and the requisite electronics to make the two-day car trip a little more tolerable.

But it’s still a lot of stuff! Three people for nine days. And I had to pack a smaller “go bag” for us to take into the hotel for our stop tonight. And then there’s goodies, items for family and friends in Louisiana.

In other words — TOO MUCH!

So while packing has been the theme of my life these days, TOO MUCH is running a close second.

Buying a house, struggling with what has been a much more challenging pregnancy than my first that has included one trip to the OB emergency room, planning a move and then planning and taking a road trip all while working, trying to be a not too cranky wife and mom has been a little TOO MUCH!

But I see an end to this era of TOO MUCH! The stress of packing/planning the trip is nearly behind me. And in two days we’ll be there and the hecticness of work will be behind me, and I’ll have a week with family and friends to enjoy. And in a mere 25 days me, my happy little family and all of our crap will be in our new house, and we can start making it a home.

And while this sounds like a long time away (it really isn’t) our newest bundle of joy will join us in our new home in around 190 days!

Eh, let’s get real, while these stressors have an end, I’m sure new ones will jump on. I guess that’s how life is for me and just about everyone else. I’m just so happy I have an amazing group of friends and family around me to help me tackle all of the challenges and embrace my TOO MUCH!

What’s your TOO MUCH? How do you deal with days where it feels like you just can’t take on anything more?

We bought a house!

So we did it; we bought a house. Actually we officially put in an offer on Sunday that was accepted that same afternoon. The closing date is April 11, so that may be the day that we “officially” buy the house.

Whatever the semantics, I’m calling us first-time homeowners. And I’m OFFICIALLY terrified as well as ecstatic. Terrified definitely gets a capital T. Homeownership is kind of a big thing. First of all, it’s pretty permanent. I’ve been pretty nomadic my entire adult life — 11 cities, six states, two countries all in the past decade or so. And I’ve lived in a couple different houses in a couple of those places so my number of moves is closer to 15!

It’s also pretty darn grown up. I know at 33 and with a husband, child and professional job I should already feel I’ve reached adulthood. But I don’t know if I’ll ever really feel totally grown up. But this certainly puts me several steps closer.

And as overwhelming as all of this is, Michael and I are thrilled. Just this week we’ve tripped over each other several times in our tiny duplex only to quickly say, one more month and we’ll have plenty of space! We are going from a cramped two-bedroom duplex that doesn’t even have enough room for a kitchen table to a three bedroom, two-story home with a full-finished basement and more than 2,300-square-feet.

Even just typing those words out I let out a sigh of relief. I can’t believe it is actually happening.

And the house, it’s just amazing. It has a ton of character — it’s brick with a bay window, a dramatic peaked front porch and a huge front and backyard. There’s a garage, a bonus room. all glass doorknobs, a claw-foot cast iron bathtub, some gorgeous arches and a dishwasher that my husband (our dishwasher up to this point) may love the best.

Miles’ room has a gorgeous bay window. The basement is huge and will make a great family room and playroom and has some groovy patchwork-style looking tile work.

I’m proud that this is our house. I can’t wait to have people over and show off our new home. Our first home. Our (if not forever) very long time home.

OK, I’m done gushing. I love it and can’t wait to get inside it.

Now I just have to get through the next four weeks and get everything packed! EEK.

On the hunt

I’m 33 and am embarking on a pretty huge journey with my family — homeownership.

And it’s a very exciting and terrifying thing. I usually feel at least moderately smart and with it holding my own in a variety of conversations and settings. But throw out terms like PMI, inspections, APR and escrow and my insides start to get all squiggly, my head hurts and my eyes water.

But we got “preapproved” for an amount that was above what we were shooting for, a pleasant surprise, and we have started the hunt!

We went from talking about really wanting to buy a house a few weeks ago to going to a few open houses on Sunday to now having a Realtor, mortgage company and giant loan today.

Tomorrow we are going to go on a house visiting blitz with our trusty Realtor after depositing the munchkin off with his grandma. I’ve decided it will make the whole process A LOT smoother. We’ll let him put in his two cents after we’ve narrowed the field down a bit.

I know at 33, most of my peers may already be on house number two or maybe even three; we are late to the party. But I’ve been so transient for the past decade or so — 11 cities, six states, two countries — that homeownership really didn’t make sense. We’ve decided that Evansville is going to be home and our family needs a place to really settle into.

I’m stoked but also may throw up in a closet from all this anxiety.

What do you wish you would have done differently when you bought your first home? What one thing do we need to watch out for? Give me your best home buying advice!

Mardi Gras memories

We spent this past gorgeous Saturday strolling up and down Franklin Street taking advantage of the first-ever Gumbo Cook-off hosted by the Franklin Street Events Association.

It was a lot of fun and some really great food. In addition to meeting some friends for the event and basking in the (unfortunately short-lived) sunshine and beautiful temps, it was also a great reminder of my former home and my hubby’s nearly lifetime home of Louisiana.

Traditional Mardi Gras parade in Mamou, La. from several years ago.

Traditional Mardi Gras parade in Mamou, La. from several years ago.

It’s the state where we met six years ago, the state we married in nearly four years ago and where most of his family and many of our friends still reside. It is also a state filled with AMAZING food, fun and cooky traditions and more culture than any other place I’ve been to in the U.S.

I’ve always said that Louisiana isn’t really like its own state, in many ways it is like its own country. The most basic thing of splitting up the state into counties is even done differently there with “parishes” instead of counties. And a whole portion of the state still fluently speaks French, Creole or an interesting mishmash of the two. It’s like a whole other world; and that is awesome.

So Saturday, as we walked around the Westside of Evansville, we were, for a time, transported back “home” to Louisiana hearing some familiar tunes, tasting the rich flavor of gumbo and smelling the spices drift out of the establishments.

There was crawfish, there was gator, there was File and there was even some horseradish (a non-traditional, yet tasty) gumbo adornment. My favorite was what was served at Thyme in the Kitchen and Michael’s was served up by volunteers from Another Chance for Animals at Tin Man. There were a few that were far from traditional but still tasty and none were inedible, although a few only deserved a taste and a “second-chance” bite.

Eating traditional gumbo after Mardi Gras festivities in Mamou, La.

Eating traditional gumbo after Mardi Gras festivities in Mamou, La., several years ago.

Crawfish and Louisiana beer at a jazz club on Frenchman.

Crawfish and Louisiana beer at a jazz club on Frenchman in New Orleans taken in 2010.

I can’t wait for the Mardi Gras parade this weekend!

Another year, another birthday

Thirty-three. Yep, that’s how old I am. It is also the number of birthdays I’ve shared with my twin sister.

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But this last Sunday was the first my twin sister and I were able to celebrate together in probably a decade or so. She’d probably have the exact figure, but I’m going with ball parks here.

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Our celebration wasn’t anything fancy or extraordinary but it was certainly special. We had cookie cake, my favorite dessert, and ice cream and watched our boys play together. I know, boring huh; nah, it was kind of amazing.

The special part though was getting to spend the time together. The past 33 years haven’t always been smooth sailing between the two of us. For a long time we had a love/hate relationship. We were constantly together — same classes, same friends, same job even. We shared toys and a room growing up and even a car. So there were times when all that sharing got to be a little oppressive for both of us. We needed our space, our own identity.

But just as strongly as that “hate” was as kids, was the love. My mom jokes that we would go from fighting to hugging in seconds. We were thick as theives.

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Our parents were wonderful about making sure we were independent. There were no matching clothes, rhyming names or forced joint activities. They did a great job supporting us in our individual endeavors helping us to find our unique strengths. Early on Sarah had the market on math and scienceas well as a passion for music. I, on the other hand, freely took over the writing side of things.

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So the hate part is kind of obvious — we did a lot of fighting and grating each others nerves. But the love part was certainly strong too. We were very close and very dependant on each other and each other’s approval. I had a built in friend and ally anywhere, anytime.

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After graduating, Sarah moved to Evansville to pursue an engineering degree at the University of Evansville, and I went to Western Kentucky University to study journalism. This was a perfect compromise for us. We were close enough we could see each other whenever we needed and yet we had our own space and were both somewhere that we were no longer referred to as “the Brown twins.” It was kind of freeing.

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Life has brought me all over the world since then, while Sarah has stayed here in Evansville. It took me a while to realize how important that relationship was. And eventually a strong desire to be near my family brought me to Evansville.

I’m sure there were several times over the past 33 years that I’ve taken our relationship for granted and not done the necessary maintenance required of all relationships. But thankfully I’ve got a sister who really loves me and is forgiving.

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There have been several difficult and wonderful things I’ve gone through in the last few years, and I know there will be many more to come. But I didn’t go through them alone. I had my sister there with me. We cried through the loss of our father together. We smiled together as we welcomed our sons into the world.

Miles and Charlie

Miles and Charlie

So, after living at least a state away (and at times lots of countries away) for 15 years, we are once again in the same town and raising our sons together. It has been so much fun to see her in this new light as a wife and a mother. And she does a phenomenal job at both.

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I can promise you this much, there will be a fight or two in the next 33 years, but the relationship now is certainly a love/love one.

And I’m so grateful I’ll continue to have her by my side.

Top 13 parenting moments of 2013

Lists are the thing to do for the New Year, so I’m jumping on the bandwagon and joining in. Here’s a list of my top parenting moments of 2013 in no particular order.

1. Dance parties in our living room. Blasting the “Chicken Dance,” “Bicycle Built for Two” and Frank Sinatra’s rendition of my son’s all-time favorite “Jingle Bells” on our stereo for one of our various living room dance parties is one of my favorite memories of the year. Although this activity is a recent one — we started it just a few months ago — hopefully it is one that will stick around.

I’m sure as Miles gets older watching his mom and dad’s TERRIBLE dance moves will become more embarrassing and less amusing, but until then, here’s to more twirling in circles, arm shaking, head bopping and stomping (those are our go-to moves!)

2. Meeting milestones like a boss. This kid is nothing but an overachiever. He was out of his crib before he was 2 and potty trained weeks after his second birthday. Both of these major milestones were done on his terms (who am I kidding, this kid calls most of the shots.) Just before we moved to Evansville, Miles was climbing his way out the crib with ease obviously necessitating the move to a “big boy” bed. And a few weeks before his second birthday he was insistent on tossing his diaper aside so we decided to start potty training. A few weeks later there diapers were packed away and the REAL underwear came out. Mr. Independent definitely has kept us on our toes this year.

Sleeping in his big boy bed (with his Christmas tree and many other things he's dragged in with him!)

Sleeping in his big boy bed (with his Christmas tree and many other things he’s dragged in with him!)

3. So many words! I know all parents think this (as they definitely should) but Miles really is a genius. He is talking so much, mostly in complete sentences these days. There’s been so many new (and hilarious) phrases and his ability to communicate has cut down on (yet unfortunately not eliminated) the frustrated outbursts.

4. We took two trips to a local pumpkin patch this fall and had a blast — Miles played for more than an hour in a barn converted to a giant play area, picked out pumpkins, played in a bin of wheat, visited the petting zoo and rode around in a wagon. The trips stuck with my son so much that to this day, months later, if we are getting ready to go somewhere he will occasionally say, “We are going to the pumpkin patch?” in a hopeful tone. Obviously this a was a top moment of 2013 at least for Miles.

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5. Making lemonade. We didn’t literally make lemonade, this one is a little more figurative. There were several times this past year where things didn’t always go as planned, as they will always do for the rest of my life and yours. And for the most part, my little, strong family of three did a great job making lemonade out of the lemons that got thrown in our path.

A tiny example of that was of day this summer. It was our third attempt at going to Burdette to swim. Something had come up — rain, work, scheduling conflict — every other time and both Miles and I were really looking forward to it. But the sky opened up and it started to POUR! So we made some lemonade, no scratch that, we made mudpies. I’d bought several vegetable plants the day before and hadn’t had the chance to put them in the ground yet so Miles and I played in the rain and mud and planted the plants and splashed in puddles. SO MUCH FUN!

Jumping in puddles and "gardening" -- our version of making lemonade out of lemons when our day of swimming was rained out.

mud Jumping in puddles and “gardening” — our version of making lemonade out of lemons when our day of swimming was rained out.

6. Miles made it to 2. Birthdays are always a top moment. Not only do you have an awesome time spending the day celebrating your kids birth, but it is a chance to reflect on the past year. This year’s birthday party was a fun one at my sister’s sister-in-law’s house. Did you follow that one? Anyway, we had family and a good friend over for a swim party with all things “choo-choo.”

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7. This past year afforded us a couple different opportunities playing in the snow, both in the beginning of the year when we were still in Anderson, Ind., and just this past few weeks when Evansville got several inches. It’s a lot of work to get Miles (and ourselves) all bundled up, but so much fun to see him in awe of the white fluffy stuff. He really didn’t get into sledding much but got a kick out of marching around in the snow and throwing it at Michael and me.

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8. A new cousin for Miles and new nephew for me. Cousins are pretty awesome. I have an amazing relationship with mine that I continue to foster and treasure today. Miles has three awesome cousins in Louisiana on my husband’s side of the family but at the beginning of the year we welcomed his first cousin on my side of the family when my twin sister had Charlie. It has been so much fun to watch the two little boys grow up together and become so close.

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Sweet moment with Miles and Charlie during our Christmas celebration.

Sweet moment with Miles and Charlie during our Christmas celebration.

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9. Countless loving moments. I could have a Top 1,300 list of loving moments from this past year. While the first year or so of parenting is rewarding in many ways, you don’t get a lot of “return.” That may make me sound like a jerk, but it’s tough in those first few months where there is little to no interaction.

This past year has been so different. I get the biggest hugs and kisses that Miles initiates without any prompting; he shouts, “Mommy I love you;” he will hold his hands on my cheek pulling me close into him; and so many more. I can’t get enough of my little guy’s sloppy kisses and bear hugs.

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Photo by Bluebird Photography www.bluebird-photography.com/

Photo by Bluebird Photography www.bluebird-photography.com/

A rare "rocked to sleep" nap moment a few months ago.

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11. Swimming. In moving to Evansville we left behind my wonderful in-laws in Louisiana but I’ve been blessed with a whole set of adopted in-laws through my sister. Her husband’s family, even before we lived in Evansville, have been great to me. And with the Spurgeon/Orr clan, we’ve gotten access to two pools. Miles couldn’t be happier. We had great times swimming in their pools this summer. It took a few minutes to get warmed up, but once Miles got in the water it was tough to get him out.

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12. Fourth of July. Holidays are always memorable but this one was especially fun. Since moving back to Indiana, I’ve made a habit of going home to Vincennes, Ind., for the Fourth of July festivities. It isn’t as if there is something extraordinary but it is a nice time with my mom and family friends. And Miles has been able to enjoy it the last two years too — barbecue with friends, parade and fireworks. It’s the “All-American” celebration.

Watching fireworks way past his bedtime.

Watching fireworks way past his bedtime.

While most of the kids were eating candy in they'd caught during the parade, Miles munched on a banana.

While most of the kids were eating candy they’d caught during the parade, Miles munched on a banana.

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13. Trains. No list about my son and parenting could be complete without mention of trains. They kind of go hand-in-hand in our world. And there have been lots of memorable train moments. His party was train-themed and tested my crafty/baking skills. I will treasure the image of Miles and my grandpa Charlie standing at the same huge picture window I stood at as a child to watch the trains go by. A trip to the Evansville Museum Transportation Center was a memorable one for all of us. And I’m hoping that when my son is sneaking in after curfew at 16 or yelling that I’m “ruining his life” at 14 that I will be able to picture all of our peaceful moments on the living room floor playing trains.

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It’s been a great year for us; here’s to an even better 2014. Happy New Year!

Fried food, family and not so fall-like weather

I’d been hearing about the Fall Festival for months. And it had been hyped WAY up.

And I’m going to say this right away, before I get stoned, we had a nice time. I enjoyed the late afternoon/early evening outing with my family.

With that being said, I also don’t really get it. Why are people obsessed with this annual event?

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There were rides, there was LOTS of food and there were lots of people.

I’m thinking a big part of it must be the tradition and seeing family and friends, something being a newbie to the community doesn’t necessarily lend itself.

I enjoyed the food and it was much easier shelling out WAY too much money because the booths were all non-profit organizations.

We picked up several items (we had orders for my sister and a friend) so we walked by each and every booth. I tried everything, at least a bite. Here’s our list and my thoughts:

–Pickle Juice Icee from Salvation Army, booth 7: As my son would say with a crinkled up nose, “don’t like it!” I did enjoy the giant pickle spear served with it. I just thought the pickle flavor wasn’t strong enough.

–Chicken and Dumplings from Emmanuel Luther Church, booth 18: Yummy. My hubby was incredulous that I would waste precious tummy space for such an item. I said it is apparently a Fall Festival classic. His response (and remember, he’s a Louisiana native), “You Midwesterners have the blandest tastes!”

–Deep Fried Cookie Dough a la mode from Young Life Evansville, booth 77: It was OK. I LOVE cookie dough, seriously love it. I think I may have just rather had balls of cookie dough than have it fried. Miles enjoyed a few bits of the ice cream and chocolate sauce, treats he rarely gets.

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–Muddy Pig and Pig Snorts from West Side Christian Church, booth 34: These were cheap little treats, one baggie $1 and the other $1.50. Michael liked the bacon, said it reminded him, both texture and taste, of a Heath Bar. My friend, who I also picked up a baggie for, enjoyed it. I guess I’m more critical, I thought the chocolate to bacon ratio was a little off (too much chocolate.) The Pig Snorts were nice little bite-sized treats (red velvet brownies dipped in pink-tinted white chocolate.)

–Beef Sundae from Howell Untied Methodist Church, booth 32: Michael was so excited about this one but it was sold out, a good thing for the booth, a disappointment for my hubby. I’d featured this item in a recent story and they said the coverage really helped, a reminder that people still do read the newspaper.

–Donut Bank cheeseburger, Grace Lutheran Church, booth 41: This was one of the most expensive items we got, and one Michael had picked out. He wasn’t too impressed, said it was too sweet. I had a couple bites and thought it was pretty good.

–Ribeye Sandwich, AMVETS Post 85, booth 94: Michael said, “Heavenly!” He said this sandwich was all he needed and he didn’t want to taste anything else because “it just won’t measure up.” I had a taste. It was pretty good.

–Nutty Monkey, Substance Abuse Council, booth 112D: This was a special request by my friend who had seen it on Facebook. So we decided to split it. It was a grilled panini with Nutella and bananas. It was pretty tasty. Although we both had ours after it had cooled and decided it would be much better hot and are going to try to recreate it at home!

–Corn Fritters, St. James West United Methodist Church, booth 22: These were for my sister. My husband, who hates corn so much it is a borderline phobia, was disgusted by the smell around the area. I tried them (about two hours after I’d purchased them when I’d dropped them at my sister’s house) and thought it tasted like fried sponge. My sister loved them though. I’ve never had a corn fritter before and even after seeing and tasting them, I’m still not sure what they are. So I’m probably not a good judge.

–Fried Green Tomatoes, Vanderburgh County Humane Society, booth 75: Like the fritters, this was a special request by my sis. They were a popular festival food item though as we waited the longest for them. Again, like the fritters, I didn’t taste these in their prime, but I thought they were delicious. There was a definite kick in the batter. Sarah said they were spicier than she remembers but still delicious.

–Sugar-free Apple Dumplings, Christ Gospel Church, booth 85: When I made a stop for the sugar-free dumplings Michael was aghast. “Only you can go to a food festival and order something sugar free!” But I thought if I had an option to be healthier than I certainly wanted to try. I had never had an apple dumpling and really wasn’t sure what it would be like. The apple part was super tasty, but I was a little disappointed in the dumpling. Michael joked that of course it would be because it didn’t contain sugar, something in the end I determined was needed. But the booth featured TONS of tasty and interesting looking baked treats.

To counteract the TONS of calories we consumed (although much of what we had was “sample-sized” or even just bites) we walked quite a bit. I was carrying Miles on my back in my Ergo and both of us did surprisingly well. It was a lot of walking (nearly two hours of solid walking, we only stopped for about 10 minutes to eat the ice cream and let Miles run around a bit) and it was pretty warm. The weather Thursday between 3 and 6 p.m. was far from Fall-like.

Miles LOVED to watch the rides and the planes that kept flying overhead advertising something that obviously didn’t stick with me. We meandered around the games playing one; you put a quarter on a number and the person lets a mouse, yes a real live mouse, out of a box who then runs to a hole that corresponds to the number. It is like roulette with a mouse instead of a ball! The jury is still out on my thoughts — is this cruel to the mouse? It was pretty entertaining though. We didn’t win.

At the end of the day it was a fun way to spend a night with my family but we spent a lot more than I would have liked and consumed more calories than I would have liked. But for one night a year that’s OK. Next year hopefully we can go to one of the events (like the Lighthouse or Pet Parade.) This year we had conflicts with both.

What’s your Fall Festival review so far?

Busy weekend

It was a hectic weekend for the Doyles!

This is as good as it gets trying to get two 2-year-old boys sitting still long enough!

This is as good as it gets trying to get two 2-year-old boys sitting still long enough!

So sweet! Ethan and Miles walking together.

So sweet! Ethan and Miles walking together.

Saturday morning Miles and I went to WNIN Kids Fest with my friend Stephanie West and her son Ethan who is Miles’ age. The two had a good time. Ethan is much braver than Miles climbing right up into the inflatable obstacle course without a second thought while Miles sat in my lap happily watching from afar.

Ethan cozying up to Clifford.

Ethan cozying up to Clifford.

 

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As the PBS characters roamed around Miles clinged close by as Ethan ran up to give them high fives. But Ethan was a good influence on Miles. After several minutes of watching the characters at a safe distance and seeing Ethan and other children interact, Miles approached both Clifford the Dog and a bumble bee! Score one for my munchkin!

Stephanie, Ethan and Miles playing with ooze at the CMOE booth.

Stephanie, Ethan and Miles playing with ooze at the CMOE booth.

We colored several sheets of paper, collected some fun stickers and activity books and learned about several different agencies and organizations in the community. Miles also enjoyed getting to see the fire truck and police car although he was a little too timid to climb inside.

I think his favorite thing was the guy playing guitar. He stood about three inches from the man with his head cocked to the side intently watching him play “keytar.”

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After Kids Fest, Miles and I picked up Michael and headed to Newburgh to check out the British Car Show. Michael is such a good sport going to things every weekend that he really doesn’t have a lot of interest in just to spend time with us. I was excited to discover something that he really wanted to do that we could do as a family.

Miles enjoyed walking around the Newburgh riverfront snugly in my Ergo on my back (seriously glad I picked that up last month, it has come in handy so much, just wish I’d had it a lot sooner) checking out all the cars and the occasional boat. We even grabbed a ride on the trolley getting a quick look at downtown Newburgh. Miles was impressed with the “choo choo” ride. Michael picked out his “next” car and I enjoyed the afternoon with my two favorite guys.

After the car show we made one more stop — Family Literacy Day at Washington Square Mall. Like Kids Fest there were several area organizations on hand with fun crafts. Miles really enjoyed making a bookmark by smashing fresh flowers with a rock leaving the natural dyes from the petals behind on the paper. I LOVED the newspaper hat station.

We all enjoyed Tales and Scales hearing the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

Sunday was a little less hectic. Michael enjoyed rooting on the New Orleans Saints (remember Colts fanatics, he is a Louisiana native) while Miles napped. After the game we headed to Goebels Farm in Darmstadt. What fun.

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Seriously, go check it out! They hadn’t started hay rides yet (they start this Saturday and we plan to go back). There’s a huge barn with a variety of pumpkins already picked (they said they have more than 100 different types) that you can choose from. Or, starting Saturday, you can take a hay ride out to the patch to pick your own. Also in the barn is two antique tractors for the kids to admire, a little straw teepee to sit inside and a huge box filled with wheat, tractors and other toys — Fall’s version of a sandbox.

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But the biggest hit was the barn slide and play area. The family has transformed a huge barn loft into a kids play paradise. There are tunnels made of hay, rope swings, a huge slide made out of a giant drainage tube and even a little play house. Miles is typically pretty scared about slides but LOVED this one repeatedly saying, “One more time!” I trekked up and down those stairs at least a dozen times.

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There is also a small petting zoo and barrel ride. We had a great day and didn’t spend a dime! We are going back this week and plan to stock up on our pumpkins and other fall decorating needs.

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Tourist in my own town

I’ve done my far share of globe-trotting and am always up for new adventures. That exploring nature doesn’t go away state-side though.

 

Gator farm in Natchitoches, La.

Gator farm in Natchitoches, La.

 

Traditional Mardi Gras parade in Mamou, La.

Traditional Mardi Gras parade in Mamou, La.

 

With moving around a lot both during college (internships in three different states in three years) and then after I returned home from the Peace Corps I’ve lived and traveled to a lot of different places. And in nearly every move I’ve gone knowing not a single soul, and in a couple instances my first time to ever step foot in the new state was for my job interview.

Plantation home in Louisiana with my mom.

Plantation home in Louisiana with my mom.

Eating traditional gumbo after Mardi Gras festivities in Mamou, La.

Eating traditional gumbo after Mardi Gras festivities in Mamou, La.

When I find myself in a new community I do my best to learn as much as I can about it and experience it completely. So I’m often doing “touristy” things in my own town or surrounding communities and never want to miss a local festival whether it be celebrating corn, crawfish, baby pigs, BBQ and blues.

Pageant queens in Dothan, Ala., before the National Peanut Festival parade. It was the land of pageant queens.

Pageant queens in Dothan, Ala., before the National Peanut Festival parade. It was the land of pageant queens.

At the Nursery Festival in Glenmora, La. with Michael and our official third wheel Ray.

At the Nursery Festival in Glenmora, La. with Michael and our official third wheel Ray.

While living in Louisiana I convinced my then boyfriend (now husband) and Louisiana native to go on a swamp tour. I know, I know, so touristy. But I wanted to do it. I wanted to cross it off my imaginary bucket list. I’d seen my far share of gators before the tour so it wasn’t even about that (although I was ready to see some more.)

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It was the experience I was looking forward to! We went kind of late in the year (late November or early December if I remember correctly) so there weren’t many gators. We did spot a few and our tour guide, complete with the requisite thick cajun, didn’t disappoint with the experience. And it was just Michael and I on the boat so it was a lot of fun.

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We heard some great stories, saw some beautiful scenery in the bayou and even got to catch a little gator (to be harmlessly released after a few snap shots).

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I’m now back on more familiar territory, I grew up right up the road from Evansville, but look at the community with a different set of eyes. The Evansville I recall is the one that appealed to a 16-year-old girl — there was the mall and Olive Garden. And now I’m looking at it with the eyes of a mom and 30-something year-old woman looking at a community I plan to call home.

What kinds of things do you think I shouldn’t miss in Evansville? What are your favorite “touristy” things you do in your own community?