cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (park)
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The Saturday before Easter, my father married Elena, a long-time family friend. We left Wednesday afternoon, took two days to drive down to Kansas, and drove home in one shot on Easter Sunday.


We took two days to travel to Kansas so that we could take breaks as needed for our not-quite-five-month-old baby. When she's awake, Theia needs to nurse and have her diaper changed about once an hour--and sometimes much more frequently. She still does a lot better traveling than Cassius did when he was a baby. No problems nursing in the car! Phil worked Wednesday morning, and we drove to Kansas City that afternoon/evening. I even got to drive for about an hour while we were still in Minnesota and my instructional driver's permit was still valid. Cassius traveled quite well; we only broke out the "emergency plan" of a portable DVD player and "Thomas a Train!" after dark.

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After a night at a Comfort Inn on the outskirts of KC, we went to Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead. The price was right (free), and it was mostly on the way to Newton. They had all the things one would expect from a children's "farm" attraction, along with a few zoo-type exhibits and a handful of living history exhibits/stores. Most farms don't have bobcats. It was a little cold to be outside, but we bundled the kids up in fleeces and hats, with an extra fleece blanket wrapped around Theia in the little stroller. There were things that it was very difficult to pry Cassius away from: the kid-sized peddle tractors, which he kept trying to return to even after we were on the other side of the lake; the bouncy horses at the playground; the baby goats that he could bottle-feed; and the toy trains that the storekeepers evilly left in a bushel basket just at toddler height. That last was particularly fraught since I took him out of the store crying and then caught up to Phil and handed him off so I could go to the restroom, *without* being clear about why he was upset. Guess where Phil took him to get out of the cold? Right. Cassius liked most of the animal exhibits, unless the animals were "too big!" The peacock terrified him. To be fair, it was the biggest one that Phil and I had ever seen--about a ten foot tail span--and it had its feathers spread out in full display. It even rattled its feathers at us angrily, which worked very well to scare Cassius. The historical exhibits--bank, barbershop, etc.--provided a nice respite from the cold. We got a rather hilarious "talking down to preschoolers" version of the barbershop story. Everything was silly. Silly men taking baths, putting silly foam on their faces with a silly brush to make it smooth like Daddy . . . using silly straight razors . . .

I was seriously worried about traveling with my new, Theia-imposed dietary restrictions: no soy and no dairy. And no pinto beans, but that was less of an issue. Eating at restaurants and being a guest at other people's houses is a little nerve-wracking when the cook might not know all the places soy and dairy hide. I printed out the allergen information for a bunch of fast food restaurants so that we could eat on the road. Short version: McDonald's should be called McSoyland; there is absolutely nothing I can eat at Taco Bell; fast food breakfasts in general are just out of the question; many of Subway's fixings are good, and the soybean oil in the bread seems to be refined enough to not cause problems; I can eat the chicken OR the burger at Wendy's, as long as I ask them not to toast and butter the bun; and the chicken nuggets are almost always safe. We packed a cooler with Abra-safe bagels, ham, condiments, dairy- and soy-free margarine, and almond milk. Hotel breakfasts could not be trusted, either--they didn't have ingredient lists available, despite using exclusively pre-packaged food--so I usually picked up a piece of fruit, a couple of hard-boiled eggs, and one of the bagels we brought with us. And it worked! We had no incidents during the entire vacation. Yay, no bloody diapers!

We arrived in Newton on Maundy Thursday. When I called my dad, we got a very-last-minute invite to the Maundy Thursday dinner service at First Mennonite Church. We managed to get there only slightly late. Dad had done the scouting ahead of time to figure out what I could eat of what was being served there. There was a special non-allergenic bread, and I could have the regular chili, but not the regular chili or the chicken chili. At each stage of the service, which took place around and throughout the meal, another row of lights got shut off, until we were dining in almost-dark. Cassius was not a fan of this. He was also full of the wiggles after being in a car all day. And he quickly became comfortable enough to express his opinions at top volume. It is possible that this did not contribute to the solemnity of the occasion, although his loud, "Amen!" at the end of the prayers did amuse people. (When praying, he asks to hold hands, and he echoes the "Dear God, thank you," but his very favorite part is repeating the amen at the end. Loudly. He knows it's a crowd-pleaser. Sometimes he insists that we pray over the food two or three times.) At one point, a misunderstanding about who should be watching him resulted in him escaping the church altogether and all by himself while I was elsewhere nursing Theia. Fortunately, the church doors open into a fenced-in play area surrounded by the sea of parking. They have a child-catcher. Phil figured out that Cassius had gotten somewhere he shouldn't when he went back to the table with pants wet from sliding down the slide. Questioning confirmed this.

While we were at the hotel, Cassius got to swim for the first time. Phil took him down to the pool and they practiced kicking. Since then, he has remained enthusiastic about kicking! Especially when in the diaper changing table. Le sigh.

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We had hoped to find some alone time to hang out with my dad, but we knew that everything would be crazy-busy while we were down there, so we attempted to brainstorm our next meeting in an extremely half-ass manner right before we left the Maundy Thursday dinner. Phil suggested breakfast some day, and this transformed into "definitely breakfast Friday morning." Turns out, that was a Really Good Idea. Dad was very busy with arrangements and plans, and it was a really nice break to have some time to hang out at home with him and Phil and the kids. Cassius got to play with Grandpa some, and Phil made pancakes with the non-dairy milk and butter that we picked up at Dillon's after forgetting and leaving the hotel without it, plus bonus raspberries. It was a really nice and peaceful time, and pretty much the only time we had together while we were down there. Cassius really enjoyed playing with wooden dinosaur toys, mimicking Grandpa when Grandpa was on the phone, and getting to run around in a Really Big yard.

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This was also when Dad mentioned that the plan was for the family (children and brothers and sisters and *their* children) to be in the processional for the wedding . . . and for us all to bring a symbolic gift to present at the front of the church at the beginning of the wedding service. This caused some, "Ack! Must acquire symbolic gift!" kerfuffling. After leaving Dad's house, we headed towards downtown Newton, but many of the stores were closed because it was Black Friday. We ended up going to the antique store, which was filled with all kinds of crazy stuff. Dad's lucky he didn't get novelty salt-and-pepper shakers, but we ended up getting a Galileo thermometer as a gift. The symbolism is obvious, of course. ;) Also got to talk to my aunt as we were trying to figure out our plans for the rest of the afternoon, and got to do the, "So, did you know about this?" "Nope." "Me neither. You should probably tell the rest of the family. Oh, and most of the downtown shops are closed now. Have fun!" Also used the family grapevine to get an actual address and details about the place we were going for that night for the family-and-close-friends gathering the night before the wedding.

[It took me so long to write this up that I'm sadly forgetting some of the details. This is why it's important for me to write things up right away! And take photos to help jog the memory.]

Friday night we drove out to a red barn in the countryside that had been refitted into an event hall of sorts. The lower floor had a kitchen, bathroom, and some tables set out for a buffet, and the empty hayloft made a decent setting for a barn dance (with bonus rope swing for photo ops!). We ate a simple dinner of Mennonite sausage, cheese, fruit, and veggies, with sweet iced tea (which my Canadian aunt, Miriam, had to explain to her son, David). At one point, the farmers' dog came to investigate, much to the delight of the under-4 set. My cousin David was very good about playing with Cassius, despite being in his teens, and Cassius pretty much bonded instantly. (At one point David climbed up to the rafters in the hay loft and Cassius became distressed because he was worried about David's safety. Aw, I have an empathetic boy!) Dancing began in the hayloft as the sun sank in the sky. Sadly, trying to wrangle small children and take photos kept me too busy to dance. Cassius definitely got to that stage of comfort in his surroundings that means he's willing to bolt for a mile in any direction. We left early because the children were beginning to get tired-fussy.

The next day was the wedding. Elena was radiant, as all brides should be. My dad looked happy and deeply satisfied. I was happy for both of them: I don't want my dad to be alone; Elena was a part of my childhood, so it feels like she was already a member of the family (one of my earliest memories is of Elena telling me stories to keep me going on a long hike or somesuch); and I know my mother approved of the match and even tried a little future matchmaking before she died. I was also a little sad, because it refreshed my grief at my mother's loss. But mostly happy! On the other hand, I really did not appreciate strangers trying to empathize about "how difficult this must be" for me. Sometimes it felt like it came from a place of caring, but sometimes it felt like they were digging for dirt.

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The ceremony was sweet. It talked about the long history of friendship and the way that my mother's legacy was part of this new relationship. As I mentioned earlier, all the family walked in the processional behind the bride and groom to offer symbolic gifts. The wedding rings were puzzle rings, and they were passed among the audience while the service was given. When it came time to exchange the rings, whoever ended up with them was supposed to bring them forward. Coincidentally, a young boy and a young girl ended up being the ring-bearers. Gosh, I wonder how that happened!

The reception followed in the church basement, which was decorated in an Easter theme. Spring flowers, decorative bird nests, and Easter candy abounded. My dad also had the idea to put colored paper over the fluorescent ceiling light panels, in addition to hanging Chinese lanterns in Spring colors, to give it a *really* festive air. It was pretty awesome. We ate lamb and curried eggplant with pita bread and various salads including a delicious spinach and strawberry salad and there was pie for the desert (pie: not mine). We sat at the table with my dad and Elena and got to spend a little more time with them that way. Cassius loved spending time with his 'Lena. Later, there was also lots of time outside playing in the church playground. You can't get much more photogenic than a pack of children in their best fancy clothes playing on playground equipment. Phil took a ton of pictures of them playing outside; I mostly stayed inside trying to deal with Theia and/or eat while dealing with Theia. While we were at the reception, we also had a doctor who was also a relative take a look at Theia's skin rash and do some diagnosing so we could begin treatment.

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Our family and my aunts Miriam and Deb and their families all met up at La Fiesta restaurant in Newton for dinner. My food was perfectly fine--a basic steak fajita usually is!--but some of my cousins were not pleased by theirs. But it was nice to have that time together as a smaller family group, and the decorations were certainly memorable. All the chairs and tables had been carved and painted into themed murals. They were pretty spectacular.

Dad and Elena left for their honeymoon (in--Arkansas?) that evening. Some of the family had an Easter luncheon together the next day, but we left Sunday morning to begin the drive home. Despite driving through massive thunderstorms, we actually managed to make it home in one trip, which is pretty awesome for traveling with two small children, one of whom is an infant-in-arms. Phil ended up with an extra vacation day the next day, so we unwound a little at home but also made a trip to the Minnesota Zoo because after all, we were still on vacation!

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cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Default)
Abra Staffin-Wiebe

March 2019

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