So Long, Old House

We moved into the new house on Friday, and if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you already know that it’s the best house ever, I love every last inch of it, and I really can’t stop talking about how much I love it.

For a minute, though, I am going to stop talking about the new house. Because in all the craziness that was packing and getting ready to move and then moving during the busiest possible time of the month at my job, I didn’t have much of a chance to bid a fond farewell to the old house. While I’m not sad to have left that house behind, it was a very good house for us for over six years, and I feel it deserves a moment of reflection.

While I was very ready to move on and won’t really miss living in that house, there are three things that I will miss quite a bit:

1. My 5-minute commute, which allowed me to go home for lunch. My new commute is only 15 minutes, which isn’t bad at all, but it’s just a little too far for me to justify coming home for lunch on a daily basis. I loved being able to take a break in the middle of the day, go home, snuggle the dogs, and cook up a yummy lunch. Now I have to get back in the habit of packing a lunch, which is something I’ve never been good at. It’s a small price to pay, though, for the privilege of living in this beautiful new house.

2. The decks. Tim and my dad (with help from my mom, Tim’s dad, and a few friends) built a couple of really nice decks at the old house and, man, did I ever love those decks. They made hanging out in a somewhat pain-in-the-ass back yard very pleasant, and we spent a lot of wonderful summer evenings out there, grilling burgers and brats and roasting marshmallows in the chiminea. Tim and my dad are already discussing plans for a deck at the new house, and I know it’s going to be really great, but it’ll probably be at least a year before we have the budget to build it. I am thankful that last Thursday, on our last night at the old house, the weather was nice enough for us to take a break from loading the moving truck and enjoy one last dinner on the deck. It was the best Last Dinner at the Old House we could have had.

3. The bar. Remodeling the kitchen was our first major project at the old house, and as part of the project, we installed a beautiful solid wood bar that we’d found at a thrift store months earlier for a ridiculously low price. The bar has built-in cabinets and a wine rack, and we hung wine glass racks above it to add a little extra sparkle (and, let’s face it, we really had nowhere else to keep wine glasses in that little kitchen). It’s a gorgeous bar, and I am still a little sad we couldn’t bring it with us to the new house. However, the old kitchen would have looked weird without the bar, and we really don’t have a place for it in the new house, so it would have been stuck in the basement, alone and unused, for years until we got around to finishing the basement and finding a good spot for it. And, really, it fits perfectly in the old kitchen. I am sad to have left it behind, but deep inside I know it belongs in that kitchen where it hopefully will be used and loved for years to come.*

The old house is finally under contract and scheduled to close at the end of this month. We put a lot of love and hard work into that house, and I hope it’s as good to its new owners as it was to us.

*Do you think it would be wrong to ask the new owners of the old house to call us if they ever decide to get rid of the bar?

The First Taste

June 23, 2004, Somewhere over France — More Delays! Had to wait for luggage removal before take-off, and now won’t even land in Madrid until 6:50. Have ISA meeting at hotel at 7:00, which I will miss — hopefully not completely…I’ve now been traveling for over 24 hours and will be at least 6 1/2 hrs later to Madrid than planned…Itinerary says we’re taking a bus tour of the city after the 7:00 mtg. but no time is specified. I really hope I don’t miss it.

I made the bus tour, but just barely. My flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam had been delayed nearly 5 hours, leaving me plenty of layover time in the Amsterdam airport to scribble madly in my travel journal about everything that had happened in the past forty-eight hours. I’d said tearful goodbyes to my parents and fiance, gotten on a plane, and flown half-way around the world, where I’d remain for the next two months; I was smart enough to bring a change of clothes and some nail polish in my carry on — nothing feels more refreshing at the tail end of a 24+ hour journey than clean clothes and purple toenails; I’d gotten my first Euros out of an ATM and used them at the airport Burger King; and I’d had to figure out how I was going to get to the hotel once I landed Madrid, since all the delays meant I’d arrive in Madrid long after the last International Studies Abroad-sponsored airport shuttle had departed. Deep breaths. I could do this.

When I arrived in Madrid, I thankfully had little trouble finding a shuttle to take me to the hotel. I found the ISA group right away and had just enough time to toss my suitcase in my room and freshen up the tiniest bit before running back downstairs to hop on the bus. My adventure was officially beginning.

On the elevator ride back up to my room after the bus tour, I watched as other ISA students peeled off at their various floors and wondered whose belongings I’d seen during the 5 minutes I’d been in my room earlier. I didn’t have to wonder long. A very cute (I actually described her in my journal as being “cute as a button,” I kid you not) , petite girl with short, dark hair got off at the same floor as me, and we ended up walking to the same door.

“Guess we’re roommates.” I said with a shy smile. “I’m Audrey.”

She smiled back warmly. “Audrey? Hi, I’m Aubri. Want to go find some dinner?”

We ventured out of the hotel on foot in search of a cafe, both amazed at the amount of daylight remaining at almost 10:00 pm. As we puzzled over translating the menu — I ordered a safe ham sandwich, Aubri ordered something our dictionaries translated only as loin (it turned out to be pork) — we chatted and laughed and found out we had more similarities than our names. Neither of us had come directly from our homes. I’d come straight from San Diego, where I’d attended my brother’s first wedding; she’d come from Israel, where she’d been visiting her parents who were living abroad. We both had several years of Spanish classes under our belts, and we couldn’t wait to get to Barcelona and meet our host families. Aubri’s primary goal for the trip was to meet a guy with a scooter and ride around the city with him. We would spend a great deal of time in the weeks to come speculating and joking about Scooter Boy.

The next day we were up early for delicious hotel breakfast — churros, meats, cheeses, pastires — what I’d soon learn was the typical breakfast in Euro hotels. Then more bus tours, museums, incluing the Prado and the Mueso Reina Sofia, where I got to see in person some of the paintings I’d leared about in high school Spanish. I came face-to-face for the first time with Dali and Picasso paintings, including Guernica, one of my all-time favorite Picassos, and was introduced to the incredible work of El Bosco (a.k.a. Hieronymus Bosch). It was amazing, but exhausting.

After a full day of playing tourist, a group of us found a cab and went to a cafe across the plaza from the royal palace. It was a beautiful night, and I remeber that the restaurant was packed with well-dressed theatre-goers. As we perused the menu, Yeolanda suggested we share a pitcher of sangria. There, dining under the stars at that beautiful cafe, surrounded by beautiful strangers and lovely new friends, feeling simultaneously exhausted and exhilirated, I had my first taste of sangria. It was love at first sip.

In Which Tim Thinks I Am an Inventor

About four years ago, when I graduated from college, my parents threw me a fantastic graduation party catered by my all-time favorite Ft. Collins Mexican restaurant, El Burrito. We ended up with lots of delicious leftovers, most of which Tim and I took with us when we moved down to Colorado Springs the next day. We stocked our freezer with tortillas, ground beef, green chile, and sopapillas (we had a lot of sopapillas since we kinda forgot to put them out until the party was almost over — oops!) and basically lived on El Burrito leftovers for the first month we lived here. I can’t even begin to tell you how delicious it was.

While we quickly ran out of tortillas, we had plenty of everything else those first tasty weeks in our house. So once burritos were no loner an option, I started making stuffed sopapillas on a regular basis. I’d just slice open a sopapilla, fill it with beef, cheese, and green chile, and smother the whole thing with more green chile (El Burrito has damn good green chile). It was far from healthy, but who cares? It was delicious, and that’s really all that matters.

That was four years ago. Two nights ago, while eating mediocre Mexican food at a local restaurant, the conversation turned to how much we enjoy El Burrito and how disappointing it is that we’ve yet to find a restaurant in the Springs that compares. We’d been to El Burrito over the weekend while celebrating Christmas in Ft. Collins with my family, and the bland food before us now was just not doing it for us. As we grew nostalgic for the days of a freezer full of burrito- and stuffed sopapilla-makings, when we could satisfy our El Burrito craving whenever the mood struck, Tim mentioned that back then he’d thought I’d invented the stuffed sopapilla. He’d never noticed that fairly common menu item at Mexican restaurants before and thought sopapillas were just delicious dessert pastries. But then we moved into this house and I kept coming out of the kitchen with plate after plate of this “dessert pastry” stuffed with meat and smothered in green chile and he couldn’t believe I’d come up with such a delicious flavor combination. It was genius!

I wish I had invented the stuffed sopapilla — man, what a great legacy to have to my name! — but of course I didn’t, as Tim eventually figured out. I just hope that when he finally noticed the dish on a restaurant menu for the first time there was a big pitcher of margaritas nearby to help him deal with the realization that he was not married to a genius culinary inventor after all

Looking Back and Laughing — Part 2

Today’s tale of Christmas woe is not mine, but my brother’s. I don’t remember how old Chris was at the time this story takes place, because, honestly, I don’t remember these particular events happening. But this story is such a family classic — we look back on it and laugh every Christmas — that I remember it as if I were there. Enjoy.

Chris: The Boy Rudolph Forgot

When my brother and I were kids, the mall in Ft. Collins had, as part of the Christmas display, a barn set up where Rudolph lived. Rudolph hung out in his barn all day, his head poking out the window in front, and talked to all the children who stopped by.

Behind the scenes, Rudolph was actually just an animatronic reindeer head with a blinking red nose and a person hidden in the barn having conversations with the children while making Rudolph’s mouth move. All the adults knew the truth, of course, but we children believed Rudolph was the real deal, and we were flat out amazed that he would be there in our mall talking to us.

One year, when my brother went to visit Rudloph, one of his teachers happened to be the person in the barn operating the reindeer. My family stood in line to talk to Rudolph, and when it was Chris’s turn, the reindeer looked at him and said “Hi, Chris! How are you?”

How was he? Why, he was thrilled! Rudolph knew his name! He didn’t have to introduce himself like all the other kids, because Rudolph knew him! This was big, really really big. It could only mean good things that Santa’s top reindeer knew exactly who Chris was and was so excited to talk to him.

My parents, of course, knew what was going on. They had intentionally brought Chris to see Rudolph when they knew his teacher would be working. They knew what a treat it would be for him, and I imagine they stood back and watched Chris’s joy at being recognized by Rudolf and felt a fair amount of joy themselves at seeing their son have such a memorable experience.

Fast forward to a year later. Rudolph is back at the mall, and Chris is excited to go see the reindeer again. Nobody knows who’s working at the Rudolph barn this year, but nobody even thinks to question it because nobody is really thinking about what happened last year. Nobody but Chris, that is.

Chris stands in line, excitedly planning what he and his good pal Rudolph are going to talk about this year. When it’s finally his turn, he walks right up to Rudolph to say hello . . .

. . . and Rudolph says, “Hi, little boy! What’s your name?”

And that’s it. It’s over. Chris’s world comes crashing down around him and he stands there sobbing, completely devastated that Rudolph, who was so happy to see him just a year before, has no idea who he is.

My parents rush to comfort him, unable to fathom why their son is so upset. It’s a while before he’s able to explain between sobs the source of his emotional turmoil: Rudolph forgot about him.

My parents remember then the exciting events of the previous year and understand exactly what happened. Chris is unconsolable for awhile, but eventually my dad saves the day by telling Chris the unfortunate truth behind Rudolph’s faulty memory: “You know, Chris,” my dad says somberly, “reindeer just aren’t very smart.”

Looking Back and Laughing — Part 1

You may have noticed that it’s holiday time again . . . and with the holidays come family gatherings. And with family gatherings comes the retelling of those favorite family stories, the ones that we never stop laughing at, no matter how many times we tell them. And the stories we laugh hardest at, of course, are the stories that involve the main character — a child version of one of us — in tears, positive that his or her world is coming to an end, completely disbelieving his or her parents when they say “Someday you’ll look back on this and laugh.”

I have two such stories to share with you in the days to come. The first is about myself, and the second will be about my brother. Join me, won’t you, in looking back and laughing at two of my favorite tales of holiday woe.

Story #1: Audrey Ruins Her Own Christmas

To understand the main character’s plight in this story, you must know that in my family, we have a rule that states, “If you guess, you have to take it back.” I believe it was instituted by my mom after too many gift-giving occasions when she would hand my dad a wrapped package and before there was a single tear in the paper he would announce exactly what he thought the gift was. And he was always right. My mom, preferring that people at least act surprised at their gifts (what, after all, is the point of wrapping them and maintaining some level of secrecy if the recipient is going to guess right every time anyway?), decided to put a stop to this by declaring that if, before you open a gift, you guess aloud about what the gift is, you will have to return the gift to the store. It’s not really a serious rule, I don’t think. Nobody’s ever had to take a gift back to the store. But, then again, since that rule was instituted, I can’t remember anybody ever guessing what their presents were. The rule has definitely had the desired effect of putting a stop to all gift-related guessing in my parents’ house.

So, now we know about the no-guessing rule. The way I just explained it to you shows that I understand that if someone ever did let a guess slip through their lips, they probably would not actually have to return their gift to the store. I understand that now. I did not understand that the year I got Mall Madness for Christmas.

I don’t remember what year it was — it was sometime in the early nineties, whatever year the original electronic version of Mall Madness was hugely popular. It was the thing I wanted most for Christmas, and waiting until Christmas morning to find out whether or not my Mall Madness dreams would come true was killing me.

One night in mid-December when we arrived home from going out to dinner, my parents told me they had to get something out of the trunk that I wasn’t allowed to see, so I should go up to the front door and remain facing the front door while they took the secret item out of the trunk. Being a good daughter, I dutifully marched to the front door and waited patiently . . . for about 5 seconds. Then the temptation grew too great to resist and I turned around and sneaked the tiniest of peeks. I only looked for a second, but in that instant I saw my parents wrestling a large pink box out of the trunk of the car. I didn’t dare look long enough to make out the writing on the box, but what else could it possibly be? Mall Madness was the only item on my wish-list I knew of that came in a big pink box. A triumpthant Yes!! resounded in my head. I was thrilled to know that I was for sure getting the gift I wanted most.

About 10 seconds later, however, the dread set in. My joy came screeching to a halt as I remembered the family rule — If you guess, you have to take it back. Now, I wasn’t going to guess, oh no. I was smarter than that. But what if the rule didn’t just apply to guessing? What if the rule applied to just knowing what your gift was before you opened it? Had I just ruined my shot at being able to play Mall Madness to my heart’s content?

I fretted and worried about this for awhile, and then I started scheming. Stores usually don’t accept returns on opened items, I reasoned with myself. I just have to make sure the game is opened and played with before the truth comes out. Success! I had a plan, and it was sure to work. Trouble was, I still couldn’t shake that nagging feeling of guilt that I had done something I shouldn’t have.

I did my best to ignore the guilt, telling myself it didn’t matter, because in the end I would have Mall Madness, and it would be so much fun.

Come Christmas morning, after we opened our stocking presents, I went straight for the package I knew to contain that big pink box. I tore open the paper, uttered a convincing “Mall Madness! Wow, thanks!!!” and then continued past the wrapping paper to tear off the cellophane wrapping. I got the box open, took out all the pieces, and immediately started putting the game together. My plan was in full swing now. There was no way the store would accept a return on this game.

Meanwhile my parents sat by and wondered why I was so eager to play the game. Sure, I was excited about it, that much was obvious, but my behavior was highly unusual. Typically we waited until later in the day, when all the presents were opened and the turkey was in the oven, before playing with all our new toys.

It all became clear, of course, a couple hours later when my guilt got the better of me and I tearfully approached my parents and came clean. I told them everything — how I’d seen the game when I wasn’t supposed to, how I knew I was getting it, and how I understood that now we had to take it back.

I don’t remember what happened next, but I imagine that my parents, fighting the urge to laugh, told me somthing about how I was right, I shouldn’t have peeked, but it was good that I was being honest now. Most importantly, they reassured me that the game could stay — I wouldn’t have to take it back to the store after all.

Relief flooded over me and I gleefully played my fabulous (though, really, very obnoxious with all it’s robotic sale and clearance announcments) game for months to come.

Be sure to come back next time for Story #2: Chris, the Boy Rudolph Forgot.

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