We used to have a power washer, but when it went kaput, we didn't replace it. Since that time, I hadn't paid attention to all the areas where we could really use some deep cleaning. I had a contractor at the house for an unrelated project and he mentioned that he also did power washing. So, I asked him to power wash our stone walkways and patio, the stone around our pool, portions of our fence and rolling gate, and parts of the brick on our house where water had discolored it over time. Oh mylanta, y'all, the transformation was jaw-dropping.
Here is the before picture of the walkway up to our front door:
And the after:
Here is the walkway leading to our side yard, before the power washing:
And what it is apparently supposed to look like:
Last, but not least - here is the patio in our side yard:
I don't think the stone looked like this when we bought the house 4 years ago, so I didn't really know just how bad it had gotten. Worth every penny! We are so pleased with the results and it honestly looks like we just had the stone installed.
I'm now in the second week post-surgery and things have definitely improved. The feelings of despair have lessened, but I'm still acutely aware of the long road I have ahead. I wear a back brace at all times throughout the day unless I'm sleeping or taking a shower. It's rigid and constricting, as it should be, so you can imagine how comfortable it is. Whenever I am not wearing it, I have a bit of terror that something is going to happen and I'll injure myself.
When I wake in the morning, I have to ask Meezy to prepare the shower for me. I need a chair to sit on and then a stool next to it that holds my soap and hair products. Everything has to be within easy reach because I don't need to be standing and sitting over and over again. Thankfully we have a hand-held shower head so that I can control the water. If I drop something, I have to yell for Meezy and ask him to retrieve it for me. When I'm finished, I step out and he helps dry my legs since I can't bend at the waist. He also helps me put on my clothes for the same reason.
After I'm ready for the day, I try to help with the kids but there's not much I can do. I can bark directions at them, but I can't physically help with their dressing. I can do some breakfast preparation, if it's simple, but I wouldn't be allowed to pour their milk if the jug was too full (i.e. too heavy). From there, Meezy drives them where they need to go and I'm left at home to fill the hours.
My days are spent focusing on walking, sitting correctly, and standing as part of my rehabilitation. I have time goals that I'm supposed to meet and I'm not supposed to remain in the same position for longer than 30 minutes without getting up and moving around. I work on the computer or do very light tasks like paying bills or writing thank-yous. I'm not allowed to do any type of housework, which used to encompass big chunks of my day! No errands, no loading or unloading the dishwasher, no laundry, no sweeping, no yardwork, no cleaning the bathroom, etc. Some people would think they were in heaven with a restriction list like that, but I'm the opposite. I live for cleanliness and organization and knocking things off my to-do list. It's very hard to walk by a sink with dishes in it and not just want to put them in the dishwasher.
A couple times a day I have to get an ice pack and lay down for 30 minutes. My back needs rest and some comfort for the trauma I've put it through. Laying down is not necessarily comfortable, though. I'm only allowed to lay on my side with my knees bent and a pillow between them, or on my back with a pillow underneath my knees. It's annoying to have to consciously remain in a strict position when all you want to do is relax. Overnight I get restless and constantly change from my side to my back and back again. I have to move very slowly and keep everything in a line when I rotate.
I haven't started driving yet, but I hope to do so by the end of this week. I've ridden in the car a couple times to places for errands, but I've stayed in the car while Meezy gets out. Once I get some independence back by driving myself, I think my spirits will improve even more.
I've been lucky through this ordeal that I have the most self-less husband around. I literally would be lost if he wasn't by my side. After him, I've been surrounded by helpful family members and friends, offering to bring food, offering to take Dutch on play dates, offering to clean the house or buy our groceries. It's truly refreshing to see my village respond when I needed help. I love you guys so much!
The following weeks are going to be filled with much of the same - limited movement and restrictions on my activities. I'm supposed to wear the back brace for 3-4 months. It's daunting to think about how long I'll be forced to forego many of the things I would've previously done, but I know it's for a good cause and I don't want to jeopardize a successful recovery.
Five years ago I started having back and leg pain. I can't believe I've been dealing with it for this long. I've done physical therapy, medications, injections, and even a surgery to try and correct the problem. Some things have worked for a little while, but nothing has truly addressed the core problem - I had a degenerating disk.
You should see a disk between L4/L5, like you do above and below it, but instead there's a crumbling mass with a herniation on the right side into my spinal nerve.
The nerve pain in my legs had steadily increased this year. I had to limit my activities and take pain medication just to get through each day. I knew I didn't want that to be my life, but the thought of a serious surgery was scary. I have a full-time job, a (more than) part-time volunteer position, and two small children. How could I just walk away from all of those responsibilities while I recover? After a lot of deliberation, a second and third expert opinion, and increasing pain, I decided I had to move forward. I needed a laminectomy and spinal fusion.
Once I made that decision, the hard part was picking the time to do it. There's never an easy time to halt your daily life as you know it. I knew the surgery would mean a few days in the hospital, 2 weeks of no driving, 4 to 6 weeks of trying not to work, and then months of wearing a back brace. I looked at my calendar and felt like there were a couple of events I couldn't miss, so I picked the next available date after that. It ended up being August 3rd.
My surgery took 4 hours and the surgeon said the herniation damage was more extensive than originally thought. So, there was essentially more trauma to my body during the procedure because of what they needed to do. When I got out of recovery, I was in immense pain. I was hooked up to an IV that could deliver pain meds every 8 minutes if I pressed a button, but it never seemed like any relief came. I cried a lot that first day and regretted my decision. They tried other pain medications but those first couple of days I could never get below a 7 out of 10 on the pain scale.
Despite my pain, I needed to try to get up and moving for my recovery, so they would make me log roll onto my side and then use my arms to try and sit myself up. It was excruciating. I would cry out in pain because it felt like I was ripping my back apart with every movement. Once I got to a seated position, my blood pressure would plummet and I would come close to passing out. I could never sit up for very long. I know what it feels like right before you pass out, so luckily I could prevent it from happening by forcing the nurses to let me stop whatever activity they were wanting me to do. I'm not sure how much they believed me at first, but luckily once they started taking my blood pressure while it was happening, they knew I was telling the truth. Laying down my BP would be fine, but as soon as I got to an elevated position, whether seated or attempting to stand, my BP would drop to a level like 80something over 40something. It was so frustrating. While some patients might be walking by day 2 or 3, I was still trying to just sit up.
The first few days after surgery were dark and depressing. It's hard to fully explain the emotions I went through, but they included fear, anger, sadness, and regret. Couple that with constant pain and you can see why I felt the way I did. There were lots of tears and feelings of loneliness.
On day 5 post-surgery, a flip switched and my body started cooperating. I was able to sit up without my BP dropping, and that eventually led to standing. I was allowed to take a shower (with a lot of assistance), and I think it really helped. The water and the feeling of clean raised my spirits. It was the first day I wore something other than a hospital gown. My physical therapy was going well and I even walked a little (with the assistance of a walker). On day 6 post-surgery, the surgeon cleared me to go home. It's not like I was able to do anything on my own at that point, but I no longer had the concern that I could pass out at any moment. So, the responsibility of my care now fell on my husband and my family.
We did a round of swim classes for Dutch in the Spring and then we wanted to shift gears and have him try a couple different sports. We know 5 year olds playing sports is somewhat of a beat-down, but we thought the team aspect, the exercise, and the camaraderie would be good for him. And maybe he'd even find something he likes. First up was t-ball. Our neighborhood is really great about getting families together to meet and start building friendships in preparation for kindergarten. So, a team was formed through the local Y made up of mostly incoming kindergartners at Dutch's future elementary school.
Regardless of his skills on the field, he could rock that uniform like a champ! As far as hitting went, he was pretty good at that. He made contact and rarely missed or hit the tee. His fielding left a lot to be desired, though! He would always forget to actually use the glove when a ball came at him and he was a tad bit slow to react. His throws were great - he would step into the throw and it would go in the right direction and have some distance to it. Running, and running fast at that, was another strength of his.
Dutch's friend Parx (my bff's son) was on the team too, so that made it even better. After most games, we would all head over to Monster Yogurt for a treat and a chance for the parents to relax.
Towards the end of baseball season, Parx's mom mentioned that he was playing on a basketball team. I didn't plan to sign Dutch up for that, but once he got wind from Parx about it, I didn't have a choice! He wanted to play because his buddy was. Why not? We'll give it a shot. So far Dutch has gone to one practice and one game. He has very little background in basketball, so we're really starting from scratch on this one. I have to say I'm fairly impressed with how well he has done in such a short time. He is picking up dribbling quickly and understands you have to do it in order to advance down the court. He's having fun putting his hands up to block opponents' shots, but so far hasn't been very aggressive in trying to get rebounds. He loves to attempt shots, but doesn't have the power to get it up into the basket yet. Based on what I've seen so far, I think he'll get there soon!
I look forward to seeing how he improves over the course of the season. Plus, it's always nice to have weekly guaranteed visits with my bff and her baby girl while we sit in the stands and watch our boys play.
Meezy had a milestone birthday this year, as he turned 35 in early April. We wanted to do something memorable for it, and we love celebrating with friends, so we invited 25 people to join us in a private suite at Lone Star Park. The setup was awesome! Our suite had a private bar with a dedicated bartender, in-suite hors d'oeuvres, a self-serve wagering machine, couches and recliners, a couple of TVs, a dining table, and a private balcony. We were situated right over the finish line, so we had a perfect view! We also had access to the extensive buffet right outside our suite, which was top notch. It was really cool to have an unlimited assortment of food and drinks at our fingertips, while being able to hang out and be comfortable among just our own group. When it was race time, we'd head out to the balcony to cheer on our favorite horses. I highly recommend a private suite if you're going to spend a day at the races!
Our awesome friend, Rachel, made custom cake pops to commemorate the occasion. And did I mention they had exotic racing in-between the horse races? That means we got to see zebras, camels, and ostriches race too! It was quite entertaining. I know my hubby had a great birthday celebration and I hope our guests enjoyed themselves too!
Dutch is in daycare full time and will start kindergarten in the fall. We have to pay tuition for him at daycare whether he's there or not (i.e. holidays, family vacation, sick days, etc), but he does accrue "vacation" days every 6 months. This means we can keep him out of daycare and we won't get charged. They don't offer this for new students, but he was grandfathered in under the old policy when the daycare was acquired a couple years ago. So, he had 5 vacation days saved up that I figured we might as well use before he starts elementary school. I decided to put my normal responsibilities on hold so we could spend a week together, having fun and taking a break from the daily grind. Of course it would be worth it because of the activities we'd get to participate in together, but the added bonus was that if we spent less than $250 throughout the week, it would come out cheaper than what I would have spent on his daycare!
First up on Monday was a visit to Kid Mania. He had been there 1 or 2 times in the past, but it's been quite a few months. I had never gotten to take him first thing in the morning on a weekday, so I thought he might enjoy it being less crowded. That was actually not the case. Lol! After spending 30 minutes going through every single play structure, he came out and told me he was bored and wanted to play with somebody. Luckily we saw another boy about his age (that conveniently looked like a cousin he adores), and that kid was up for playing tag. That bought me another 45 minutes of Dutch's happiness.
After Dutch built up an appetite, we headed to BJ's Restaurant because he said he wanted corn dogs AND chicken fingers and I knew they could provide that. We had fun completing the tasks on his menu together and he liked helping me write the tip on the receipt.
I next took him to the Village at Allen because I remember seeing a small play area there and it also happened to be home to my FAVORITE ice cream shop - Coldstone Creamery. We first played outside in the kids' train depot and maze and then rewarded ourselves with the best ice cream ever made.
As you can see, Day One was a success:
On Tuesday I needed to get some grocery shopping done, which is not one of Dutch's favorite tasks (KROGER IS SO BORING, MOM). So, I had to sweeten the deal by letting him push his own cart and pick something out to put in it (he chose mini fudge brownies).
We spent a short while at home after that while we waited for Chuck E Cheese to open. I'm not a fan of that place for a few reasons, but I don't mind bringing Dutch there on a day when it's not busy, just to play games. All their games only require 1 token, and there are usually coupons online, so you can play a ton of things for not a lot of money.
Next on the agenda was a visit to see our friends at a local fire station. We stopped by Stein's Bakery on the way to pick up some petit fours to bring to them. Dutch got to sit in the engine and pretend to put out a fire, and then the guys were nice enough to oblige him on a game of Trouble!
I decided to take Dutch to the Perot Museum on Wednesday because he loves a few things there, but also because we usually don't get the chance to explore the whole museum when we go as a family. I did not factor in the school field trip schedule and YOWZA, was it crowded. Seemed like every school in the metroplex was there, but we still got to do some of the things Dutch loves most - play the predator/prey video game and visit the mock farmers market in the young child section.
After the museum, I drove us to The Lot, which is a kid-friendly restaurant we had tried to visit on a weekend recently but were unsuccessful because it had a 2+ hour wait for a table. I figured afternoon on a Wednesday wouldn't be a high traffic time, and I was right. We got to eat on the patio, right next to the huge sandy area where kids can play. Luckily I had some random toys in the car, because Dutch needed something to do in the sand.
He enjoyed himself and I certainly didn't mind having a relaxing lunch in the nice weather.
On Thursday, we started with a trip to Adventure Landing. Dutch asks to go to this place all the time. It's a second-rate Dave & Busters, but the prices are good and he typically wins a ton of tickets, so I don't mind bringing him.
He has crazy good luck here.
Target was nearby, and we needed to pick up a gift for a friend's birthday party coming up, so I also let Dutch pick out a puzzle we could do together. I used to love to do large puzzles when I had a thing called free time, but that ship has sailed. I thought our staycation might be a good chance to actually complete one though, so we grabbed a 1,000 piece puzzle related to superheroes.
1,000 pieces is too many for a 5 year old. He quickly got bored!
We didn't want the fun to end, so we grabbed Daddy and picked up little bro from daycare and headed to a nearby playground. It was an awesome day!
Unfortunately, there wasn't a Day Five for our staycation because Meezy and I had to go to a funeral on Friday. One of Jude's teachers, Tuesday Wilson, unexpectedly passed away the week prior and there was no way we were going to miss her service. Jude adored her and she previously taught Dutch as well. She was a wonderful teacher, caregiver, and nurturer, and I'm so sad there won't be the opportunity for more kids to have had the pleasure of knowing her.
Dutch was able to spend time with his cousins and his Oma while we were at the service that day, and I know he enjoyed it! He even got to dye some eggs to get ready for Easter.
I had a great time with my kiddo during our staycation and I can't believe how soon kindergarten will be upon us!
Tuesday was kind of a free day for us in that we hadn't made any set plans besides a dinner meet-up. So, in the morning, we decided to drive 30 minutes to Liege, Belgium. Might as well visit another country when you're this close! A famous tourist attraction in Liege is the Montagne de Bueren, which is a 374-step staircase. If I was going to keep eating all those waffles, I needed to burn some calories! The four of us had some pep in our step when we first started the ascent, but the pace definitely slowed a little as we got higher and higher! We all made it without any trouble, though, and the view at the top was pretty cool.
My biggest question was...who delivers the mail to those houses? They all had mail slots!
Going back down was way easier.
Rewarded with a view.
After conquering the steps, we walked into the city center of Liege. This was a bit of a culture shock for us. We definitely felt like we looked like outsiders, because it was full of residents going about their daily lives, not really a tourist hotspot. We also noted some military personnel walking through the streets, armed with high-powered rifles. We took that as our cue to leave.
From Liege, we drove to the Designer Outlet Roermond back in The Netherlands. It was another opportunity to do some shopping and walking around. I was bummed, though, because the Nike store there was under construction. I had specifically wanted to visit a Nike store in Holland because they have a partnership with KNVB, which is the governing body of football in The Netherlands. You can find cool Nike KNVB gear in Europe that you definitely can't get in the States. While at the Outlet center, we ate at a restaurant called Schnitzelparadies, which as you may have guessed, serves schnitzel! Lucky for me they had a vegetarian option, so I was set.
Our next stop would be the Lindt factory store in Aachen, Germany. We needed to get there before they closed, so Meezy took advantage of the lack of speed limits on the autobahn.
The Lindt factory store is basically a chocoholic's dream. While you might be used to seeing a few high-priced Lindt products in your local store in the US, this place offers every single product they manufacture, at very low prices. This is a small sampling of what I'm talking about:
Pictures couldn't do it justice, so I took a video. This is ALL Lindt chocolate, y'all!
After we stuffed our carts with gifts and goodies, we headed to the next destination. We were scheduled to have dinner with our German friends in Cologne one last time before we left Europe, but we discovered there was a Nike Clearance Center in Kerpen, on the way. I wanted one last chance to get some Dutch Nike gear, so the gang agreed to stop there. So glad we did, because I hit the jackpot! Not only did I find a ridiculous amount of orange shirts to keep Dutch clothed for the next 5 years of his life, I also picked up some unique tops for myself and a really cute drawstring backpack. Nearly everything I got was between 5 and 15Euro apiece, which made it even sweeter.
Feeling content, we made our way to Cologne to meet our friends. Traffic had picked up by then and trying to find parking in the middle of the big city was a bit of a disaster. We even had Fabian come out of the restaurant and help direct us to a nearby parking garage! We arrived about 20 minutes late, but they understood. We ate at Vapiano, which is a cool restaurant where each person gets a card that they bring with them to various food preparation counters. You order what you want, a chef prepares it right in front of you, then they load the item's cost onto your card. You turn your card over to a cashier when you leave, and you pay for everything you loaded onto your card. We enjoyed a wonderful meal, but the company was even better. Kim's mom and step-dad had driven into Cologne from their home about 2 hours away, just to join us for the meal. I hadn't seen them in about 7 years, and this was my sister and her husband's first time to meet them. It would also be our last time to see Kim and Fabian on this trip. It was certainly bittersweet, but the bond we've made with these people is unbreakable! I look forward to seeing them again, whether it's in the US or Germany.
After dinner, we made the 2 hour drive to Eltville, Germany, where we'd be sleeping for just a few hours! We stayed at the Parkhotel Tillmanns because literally everything in and around Frankfurt was booked solid or priced 4x higher than normal because of a large conference going on. This hotel was more of a bed and breakfast, and 25 minutes outside of Frankfurt, but all we needed was a place to lay our heads until our early flight the next morning.
On Wednesday morning, we departed Eltville, returned our rental car to the airport, and started our journey home. Luckily there were no crazy mishaps with flight delays or changes, and we actually got to enjoy the extra room in Comfort+ seats this time, so the trek home wasn't too bad. We ended up landing at DFW about 30 minutes ahead of schedule, which meant I got to hug my littles even sooner! What an unforgettable trip we had. Can't wait to see what's next for my crazy life!
Not that every day hadn't been amazing, but I was especially looking forward to this day of our trip because we had a couple fun items on the to-do list. We didn't have breakfast at our hotel, so we walked to the nearby Mosae Forum and grabbed a quick bite at the Jumbo (grocery store). There were a couple items that cracked me up and I couldn't resist snapping a pic.
Hey, those Europeans like us. They think we're cool.
Wait. This is how they really feel.
The best part of this jaunt into the grocery store was what I found on this aisle however:
ALL THE SPRINKLES
You can't call yourself a Dutch person if you don't have a box of De Ruijter chocolate sprinkles in your cupboard at all times. But, living in Texas, I am typically very limited in my options and have to spend $4 - $5/box. My sister and I were in heaven when we saw these shelves. They had way more varieties than we had ever seen and most boxes were under 2Euro. You bet your ass we both snagged some. When I turned the corner and saw Stroopwafels and Verkade cafe noir cookies on the cheap, they found themselves a spot in my shopping basket too. (Sidenote: I typically buy these items at Henk's European Deli off NW Hwy in Dallas, or at World Market). It felt like Christmas to see the items I love so much for half of what I normally pay. It's a good thing I couldn't take much more home with me, or my waistline would have gotten a lot bigger after the trip was over.
Because the shopping malls weren't open yet (they open late on Mondays), we walked around Maastricht and found the old Dominican church that had been converted into a bookstore. It's such a cool idea and is fun to walk through.
From there we headed to the Vrijthof Square, which is in the center of old town Maastricht. There are various restaurants, churches, and other architecturally-interesting buildings surrounding it, so we ambled around and took in the sights. By this time, we needed to hit the road for our first adventure of the day, so we walked back to our hotel to pick up our car. We had a lunch date planned with our former exchange student's aunt who lived 30 minutes away in Geleen. Meezy and I met and spent time with her the last time we were in Europe, but my sister and her husband had never met her. When we arrived to her house, we were greeted with the most impressive lunch spread! She really outdid herself and prepared soup, salad, an assortment of breads, cheeses, meats, fruits, and pastes. It was seriously the most beautiful table!
We had a wonderful time visiting with Renee and she kept us laughing constantly. Dutch women are known to be observant, blunt, and honest, and she is no exception. That's why I love spending time with her! I'm still trying to convince her to plan a trip to visit us.
After lunch, we headed back to Maastricht so the girls could shop and the guys could drink. It's fun to walk through clothing stores you've never heard of before and try on things you could never find back home. My sister had also been telling me about a waffle shop called Pinky that I needed to try, so we found one and I obliged. It's hard to beat freshly baked, warm waffles, but they found a way. You want chocolate inside the waffle? You got it. You want ice cream on top? Sure.
Who cares about the calories when they taste so good?
The guys had posted up at a bar called Old Dutch while we shopped, so we went there after to meet up with them. Shortly thereafter, our relative Patrick brought his son (Dennis) and father (Cor) to hang out with us. Patrick's daughter, Sanne, happened to be nearby with her boyfriend, so they joined us as well. I had never met any of them before, so it was neat to get acquainted. Cor was the one who originally found us on Facebook and established our familial connection, so we really had him to thank for this meeting! We laughed and drank and shared stories and then took some pics to commemorate the occasion.
As it got closer to dinnertime, we said our goodbyes to Patrick and Cor and headed back towards our hotel with the young relatives. We passed a Musti Doner Kebab food truck on the way and, given it's one of my sister's favorite foods, we figured we'd give it a shot. It did not disappoint! The falafel was excellent and their spicy red sauce on top of french fries was THE JAM.
After our quick bite, Sanne and her boyfriend bid us farewell, and Dennis and the four of us set out for the piece de resistance of the day. We had tickets to a soccer game! But, it wasn't just any soccer game. The home team was the team my Opa (grandfather) played for about 70 years ago! I'd always been told about Opa's stint playing semi-professional soccer for a team called MVV in Maastricht, but to actually be at their stadium and watch them play took it to a whole new level. I was giddy!
Pic of Opa's team in 1945
The game was awesome and MVV played well. We had great seats, but I don't think there was a bad seat in the place, really. I loved looking around the stadium at all the signs and artwork. I bought an MVV jersey at the fan shop for Dutch to grow in to.
It felt surreal to be watching the team my Opa played for so many years ago. For those couple hours, I felt closer to him and closer to my heritage. I know it's sappy, and I know you might not understand, but it's a feeling I won't forget and I hope to feel it again someday.
"Us MVV'ke" means our little MVV
Mestreech is a Dutch dialect spoken in Maastricht, or what residents of Maastricht might call themselves
Thankfully MVV scored a lot of goals so there were plenty of chances for us to pretend to sing along to the celebration song!