May 4, 2016

A Mitten State of Mind: April 2016

I have said it a hundred times before, and I will say it again now. I hate every second of stolen time the Army takes from our family. Life is just so much harder without my husband and so much happier with him. BUT, with that being said, I do appreciate the trips back up to Michigan that are so often motivated by field training events or deployments. Eloise is able to build bonds with family members during our visits that she otherwise might not, and I get to catch up with many of my Michigander friends from high school and college.

Here is a sampling picture overload of the fun we had in the great mitten state during the last two weeks as seen through the lens of my iPhone (which Eloise dropped in a full bathtub while we were visiting, so quality I cannot promise).

We kicked off the trip with a visit to Clawson to see my college girlfriend Michelle and her then boyfriend, now fiance (!), Nathan. These two love birds got engaged about a week after this picture was taken, and I have not stopped beaming since she called me with the wonderful news! Although I'm afraid Eloise's maniac behavior at dinner may have totally freaked them out. The world might have to wait a little longer now to be graced with baby Stachels. Oh well, I suppose it was a good eye opener to the realities of parenthood as I caught the dish of salsa she chucked across the table!

On Tuesday my parents and I took a whirlwind trip down to Saint Joseph to see my Grandpa Emery and my Aunt Ninie. Many of you know my grandpa's health is declining in old age, and my aunt suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm a few months ago and is now completely paralyzed. She does open her eyes to voices, and I swear she tried to smile when she saw Eloise, but it is hard to say how much of her is really "there" anymore. It was good, although emotionally draining, to see them. I have been longing to be at both of their bedsides since I got the tearful phone calls from my parents. Please continue to pray for their peace and healing. 

The following day continued tour de grandparents as my mom and I made our way to Grand Rapids. Eloise really bonded with her Great Grandpa Jim during our visit and giggled at just about everything he did. I love this shot of her looking up to him with such admiration. I used to hold his pointer finger exactly like that on walks when I was little. 

We took soup from my parents' restaurant for lunch; I'm fairly certain Eloise thinks she owns the place now. 

Thursday was a quiet day after four days of travel. It was rainy and my parents were busy catching up at work, so I took Eloise on a donut and library date. It was her first ever trip to a public library, and we lucked out arriving just in time for a special musical story time. My heart was in a total puddle watching her participate and sit with the big kids.

On Friday we hopped in the car again (are you tired yet just reading this?) and made our way to Brighton to see Brad's Aunt Lanie and cousin Liz. Her son Charlie was born just two months after Eloise, so our visits watching them interact and grow side-by-side are always a blast. 

That evening was spent eating pizza and lounging with my dad, mom, and sister. It doesn't get much better than a Rantz family Friday night! 

Saturday was truly "A Beautiful Day for Football!" We attended the spring football game at Spartan Stadium with my Uncle Scott, cousin Eric, and our family friends, the Stevens. Michigan State's campus was incredible in full spring bloom. The building peeking through the pink blossoms is Beaumont Tower where Brad proposed to me five years ago. Eloise was all smiles and dancing to the marching band until we got into the stadium with the sun beating down. I totally forgot to pack her a sun hat. Mom fail. We only stayed until halftime, but I enjoyed every minute in one of my favorite places. How many days until football season? 

We wrapped up the weekend in Flushing visiting Brad's parents. I shockingly did not snap any pictures, because Brad's mom spoiled me with a shopping trip while Papa Mickey entertained Eloise. Trips to their house always reminds me how lucky I am to have in-laws I love and enjoy spending time with, even when Brad can't be there.

Monday took us to Holt Junior High School for a lunch date with Aunt Whitney, or should I say, Mademoiselle Rantz. It was great to finally see her classroom, and I loved witnessing her in proud aunt mode showing off her niece to her students. After lunch we took a cruise around the capital building, which is literally in my parents' backyard, in the red radio flyer from my childhood! When Eloise wasn't scaring the pants off of us trying to stand up, she was loving the wind in her new pony tail/water spout/Cindy Lou Who hair/"do-dop-on-top". Little girl moms, what are your favorite hair styles for this awkward transition length we've finally hit?

During a visit the next day to see the new baby of my sister's best friend, Eloise surprised Aunt Whitney at the door with an extra special balloon. A note tied to the top delivered a message asking her to be Eloise's godmother. Of course, happy tears were shed and she said yes. Baby Claire's mom Nicole is avoiding posting pictures of her on social media, so you'll just have to take my word for it that she is a bundle of perfection.

On Wednesday my dad and I travelled back down to Saint Joseph to see my grandpa and aunt again. I stayed over night and hopped the early morning train to Milwaukee to spend the weekend with my long time best friend Aura and her husband Alex. Eloise was an angel on the train, and I thoroughly enjoyed the lakeside view from our window as my girl quietly read her books.

I had the best time with Aura. We have been friends now for 16 years, and I know we will be a big part of each others' lives forever. I loved touring Milwaukee and appreciating the shops and restaurants they frequent. Most of all, I enjoyed our time at their apartment, just chatting and watching Eloise and their sweet pup Hobie play together. 

Brad had planned to fly into Chicago on Saturday and reunite with us. When we found out he was getting back from training a day early and had Friday off, we jumped at the opportunity to book a new flight. Money suddenly becomes no issue after a month apart, even if just to gain 24 hours of bonus time together. Worth every penny.

Eloise was a little bit shy for the first few minutes of our reunion, but by the time we got to the car she could not stop planting big, open-mouthed kisses all over Brad and wrapping her arms tight around him. I love them both so much, and I love the love they share even more. The rest of the weekend was spent visiting the Milwaukee zoo, eating tacos, drinking margaritas, and laughing together. Brad and Alex had not been able to spend much time together, so it was great to see them sharing common interests and twinning in their accidental matching blue sweaters.

Thank you, team Brackman, for a fabulous visit! We will be back again soon. 

On our way back to Saint Joseph we got off the train in Chicago to catch Elise, my brother-in-law's girlfriend, in The Theatre School and DePaul University's production of Peter Pan and Wendy. She played the role of Nibs the lost boy perfectly, complete with mohawk and all! Eloise loved her first play...for the first 45 minutes or so. I spent the rest of the show chasing her around the lobby in a crowd of toddlers with limited attention spans. Uncle Preston and Aunt Elise gave Eloise a crash course in popsicle eating and brain freezes before we hit the road back to Michigan. I just know Preston and Elise, with their city lifestyle and love of art and literature, are always going to be the cool aunt and uncle in Eloise's eyes. 

As the cherry on top of a great trip, we celebrated Eloise's baptism on Sunday, May 1, 2016. It was just too good of a day to summarize, so stay tuned for a separate post soon. I'll leave you with a sneak peek of one of my favorite pictures from her special day. Perfectly poised godparents next to parents trying to wrangle the rambunctious star of the show. Sounds about right!

If you are still reading, give yourself a pat on the back, and perhaps a nap too! You deserve it. Lord knows we earned ourselves a nap or two after bouncing between friends and family all over the midwest. I would not have traded our time with loved ones for any amount of rest though. I woke up in Tennessee on our first morning back home with bags under my eyes and mounds of laundry, but the elation I feel after being loved on by so many people will stick around for a long, long time. 

Until next time, Michigan!

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