You know what I mean... right? ...Guys...?
Oh. That's... that's just me that does that? Yeah, yeah, like no, I'm not like, "obsessing," I'm just like, researching every single Army post in the entire United States and their high schools and housing and dental hygiene licensing options and dog parks and nail salons and local wineries, you know, just the same kinds stuff that any spouse would research for a few dozen places that they could get sent to. Nevermind that only a tiny handful of the possibilities will actually work for your life and the plans you hope to make, the others are places that will change the dynamics of your life completely and for forever, so you just keep obsessing over the handful of places that aren't all that great but are a heck of a lot better than the alternatives. The alternatives being that your husband could get sent to Timbuktu and all that you hoped to do now that you're finally back in the United States is either not going to happen at all, or will be put on hold again because we would get sent to another place in a year. And what's the point of making future plans for yourself when we won't be in the same place next year if he does get sent to Timbuktu.
What was I saying??
Travel! Or wait, not traveling. Get it together, Melissa.
As usual, the light in the darkness, the sparkle in our world, the snort in our laugh, the love of our lives, is Isabelle, and her birthday made for the perfect excuse to go somewhere new! (It was so time to get the f*^k out of town for a few days....)
Isabelle has adjusted well to living in Virginia. She sorely misses her friends in Germany, but has made a few friends here who seem to be really sweet and well-mannered kids. Her report card was impressive (as usual) and she's been showing us her maturity in her ability to wake up to her alarm, get herself ready for school and out the door on time to get to the bus each morning while I lay in bed and lazily listen for her in the bathroom which is my signal that she is up and going and I get to go back to sleep. But, like us, she's ready to leave Fort Lee. There's just something about how knowing that we're only here for 6 months has affected our outlook on this place - our brains are already focused on the next place and it's been difficult fully settling into life here when we know we're leaving soon. It's sort of like, what's the point, ya know? So we decided to go to Philadelphia to celebrate a special girls 14th birthday, and to help us forget about Timbuktu for a little while.
By the time we arrived in Philadelphia most everything we wanted to see was about to close, and we didn't want to rush anything, so we decided to wait until the next day to really start exploring. Instead, we headed straight for Geno's Steaks and Pat's King of Steaks for supper! Geno's and Pat's are across the street from each other and have a healthy competition for business. They're both open 24/7 and have both been featured on all sorts of foodie type TV shows. Eric & I are big fans of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives, and always try to eat at a restaurant that's been featured on that show every where we go, we have never been disappointed! So Isabelle and I ordered a Philly cheese steak from Geno's, Eric ordered from Pat's, and then we all shared - we all agreed that Geno's is hands down the best! It was all about the bread!
We took our time walking back to the hotel because I managed to book the worst hotel in all of Philadelphia, and not even being exhausted with full bellies could entice us enough to actually want to sleep there. So to avoid going back to the hotel for as long as we could, we walked through the Little Italy and Latin neighborhoods where I desperately wanted to buy groceries, but since I knew that we had no way to keep the food until we came home I had to enjoy the smells instead. The entire walk home smelled like we were in Italy again!
The next day we hit the ground running, spending most of our day at the Independence National Historical Park.
Ben Franklin Post Office - a Colonial-themed post office operated by the USPS
Independence Hall in the distance
Independence Hall - where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and adopted.
The Liberty Bell Center
The Liberty Bell!
Independence Hall in the background
Independence Hall was completed in 1753 and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (so is Monticello! Who knew?!)! I really wish I would have kept a running list of all of the World Heritage Sites we've seen - I honestly couldn't tell you all the ones that we've seen, I feel like it's a lot though.
Getting to see the Liberty Bell was way cooler than I thought it would be. I've been really cynical about traveling and exploring the States since we've been back and it's totally not fair. I've caught myself thinking that nothing here could be as impressive as Europe, but that is not true. America is amazing and special all it's own, and I couldn't be more thankful to get to experience it so deeply that I sometimes take it for granted. The Liberty Bell is our nations symbol for Independence, and I thought it was impressive for sure!
Next, we walked to the Betsy Ross House - the actual house that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag (but I guess some historians disagree with that). At the time that she was making the American flag there were no regulations that the flag could not touch the floor, the museum wanted to re-create what it would have looked like for the time so the flag is displayed as it would have been for a women sewing a large piece of cloth. But don't worry, there is a barrier between the flag and floor underneath it so that it follows today's regulations.
Betsy Ross's burial place
Elfreth Alley is this country's oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood and is just down the street from the Betsy Ross house. This little alley was designated as a National Historical Landmark in 1966. I was dying to see what the inside of one of these little townhouses looked like, but the house museum was closed for the winter so we just walked up and down the street enjoying the cuteness and imagining how I might decorate a little house like that if I lived there. The entire street was all so cute! It reminded me of London or an American version of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Of course my daughter finds a cat, or a cat finds her.
Philadelphia is the largest city in Pennsylvania and the fifth largest city in the country! I never knew that! Eric and I went to Boston together almost five years ago and fell in LOVE with the city! So much so that it still ranks in our top 5 most favorite cities ever, even after every where we traveled to in Europe. Philadelphia reminded us a lot of Boston. I think if it hadn't been for such a shitty hotel, we might have loved it just as much as Boston. Maybe.
The city was easy to navigate and everything we wanted to see was so close to each other that we walked pretty much everywhere. I've recently started going to the gym and counting my calories, and I've cut wine out of my diet by a lot in hopes of losing a little weight before we PCS again (but you can't even tell, I've made absolutely no progress, and it's a bit of a sore subject), so I was happy to do all of the walking.... for like the first day and a half, and then my legs hurt and I wanted wine and I was a little grumpy about it all. We averaged about 5-7 miles of walking each day that we were in Philadelphia! But on the bright side, my camera doesn't care if my legs are burning.
Birthplace of Larry Fine from the Three Stooges (it's now a restaurant, I think).
The Signer Statue
The Mint is not open on the weekends during the winter so we weren't able to tour it. :(
The tomb of the unknown soldier of the Revolutionary War.
Eric and I wanted to live here! But only the one on the end so that we could have those amazing windows.
I hate this sweater, it's so unflattering. I don't know why I keep it.
Eric and I were introduced to the concept of clean eating in Germany, which led to researching the ingredients and chemicals in the food we eat, which led to how the food was made and packaged, which led to different ways to buy the food we eat, which led us to shopping at Farmers Markets. Buying food at Farmers Markets isn't a "European" thing, it's just that I never paid any attention to what we ate before we moved to Europe. Knowing what I know now, I really hate that I wasted so much time being too busy to care about what I was feeding my family. And I'm becoming convinced that the chemicals that I was eating over my lifetime contributed to my infertility.
The other thing that Eric and I adopted from living in Germany, which I believe goes hand-in-hand with eating better, is recycling. No other country recycles the way that Germany does! Almost every. single. piece. of trash. is considered recyclable there, and once you get the hang of it, it becomes ingrained into your soul. Once you get the hang of that kind of recycling, you start to question how much of the stuff we use is even actual garbage, and you start to look at the environment differently. After getting the hang of that kind of recycling there is no going back to blindly throwing things in the garbage. And then this all began to evolve into looking closely at the actual products we buy, why we buy them, and how are they made. And from there we started to buy ethically made things - coffee, curtains, clothing, poultry, etc.... And then, my daughter got involved, and before we knew it our entire shopping experience began to take on a life of it's own.
I'll admit though, that we are not perfect at our shopping yet, especially since we spent a little while adjusting to American brands again, and then spent time figuring out where to shop in our area. We avoid Walmart for almost all of our food items, but sometimes when I wander into the grocery part of Walmart I see that their prices are too good to pass up on some things, and then I'm always pissed at myself when I get home with a bag of Walmart-bought groceries for being such a sucker. But also, the fact that since we are only here for 6 months I feel like nothing we do here really counts (god, please tell me that makes sense and I'm not the worst person ever). But we are beginning to buy our food from farming co-ops and Farmers Markets here in the States, and I'm very passionate about buying fair trade certified brands, but we have a lot of purging to do in our cupboards before we PCS in May. Also, Eric and I have started researching how to compost our food scraps and are going to start composting when we get to wherever we get to next! We're pretty excited about that! So when I came across the Reading Terminal Market in my researching for this trip, both Eric and I got really excited! Markets are the FUNNEST and most guilt-free ways to buy groceries!
We bought blueberry lemonade from here and it was amazing!
Isabelle has adjusted well to life in Virginia. Since we knew that we were moving here the entire 3 1/2 years that we lived in Germany, she could mentally prepare for "the big day" (i.e PCS), but leaving Germany was a lot harder on her emotionally than any of us could prepare for. Thankfully, she has made a few great friends that live in our neighborhood and ride the bus with her every day, but she didn't want a big party for her birthday this year because her very best friend in the whole wide world still lives in Germany and couldn't be with her to celebrate. Unfortunately, flying him to our house just wasn't an option, so going to Philly for her birthday weekend served as a bit of a distraction for her heart in the same way that it did for mine too.
Don't tell Isabelle that I told you this, but that kid loves museums. She especially loves interactive science museums! Which is absolutely adorable to me for two reasons: 1) that I get to see a little of that itty bitty girlie baby wonderment that is still in her somewhere behind the teen aged hormones for just a few hours, and 2) she inherited it from her science teacher step-dad, who also loves interactive science museums and acts like a kid again when he doesn't think I'm looking.
So The Franklin Institute was the best place to spend a birthday at!
The Franklin Institute was divided by areas of the body, and by areas of science - electricity, chemicals, the brain, the heart, etc.... and it kept us busy all morning long, but by lunch time it had started to get really congested with people of all ages elbowing their way to different exhibits, and then the place wasn't so much fun anymore. We took Isabelle back to the Reading Terminal Market and picked up an assortment of cupcakes, Dinic's sandwiches, and more lemonade before heading back to the hotel to sing 'Happy Birthday' as obnoxiously as parents know how to do.
I don't know that Isabelle's birthday was as "grand" or as big of a deal as I would normally have done, but it was her special day all the same. We were happy to leave the hotel that I will never book again, and went home to pizza rolls (birthday girl's supper of choice) and a mountain of gifts from her family spread out far and wide.
Surprisingly, I didn't get as emotional this year as I normally do. It is impossible for me to celebrate Isabelle's birthday without thinking of her brother - about how both of my children were born in the same exact hospital, on the same floor (but not the same room because I begged the registration lady to put me in a different room because I was sure there was a curse on it), with the same doctor, only 9 1/2 months apart from each other. Every year I think of him quietly and silently so as not to take away from Isabelle's special day, but he's there... in my thoughts, like always.
So now we are back in Virginia, my baby has been 14 for five entire days, and we still do not know where we are going to be living in three months..... Not knowing where life will take us next has put a damper on our moods, I won't lie. For me personally, there is a lot riding on where we are going next. But you all know me, and know that I will use any excuse under the sun to travel to somewhere we have never been before. While I would have loved a different excuse than the anxiety caused by living in limbo, you know I'll take it! And I'm glad I did! Philly was a blast and a great way to celebrate a birthday!