Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Friend Spotlight: The Johnsons (I feel like I'm 19 again! )

This summer is just WHIZZING by and we've been having so much fun doing so many different things. Mostly, though, we've been hosting LOTS of house guests. It feels like our time is split about evenly between having guests and not, that's how often we have people at our house. And I know that to many, that may sound like a lot of stress, but for us, we've been enjoying it so much.

We've had family visit (posts to come), we've had old friends visit (posts to come), and we've been spending most of our summer hosting new friends (post to follow right now).

I coordinate the email and website for our large, very active homeschool group. Every so often, new people contact us and want to join or find out more information. Six months ago today, a new family contacted us and joined our mailing list. The dad, being the main one at home and therefore the main one home educating the children, wanted to make sure our group was open and welcome to stay-at-home dads. I wrote back right away that he'd definitely found the right group -- our group is inclusive and welcome to all and MANY dads are involved, so I knew he'd fit in just fine. What I didn't know then is that this family, here only temporarily as the wife is a traveling nurse, would very quickly and easily become some of our closest friends. We have clicked with them in a way that feels like we've known them forever and not just for 6 months. And we are already so sad that they're leaving in a few weeks.

But this post is going to focus on the positive and happy, not the sad! So, as I was saying, this new family contacted me and started attending this past winter when they moved up from Arkansas. The dad, Dave, is the main homeschooling parent. The mom, Christie, is the traveling nurse. And their two boys, Rich and Brennan, are two super cute kids who just warm our home with their very presence and adorable southern drawls (I can't say no to anything they ask when it starts with a sweet, "Miss Stacy, Are y'all fixin' to . . .").

Their first time visiting our house -- see?
Christie is already at home in our kitchen,
making dessert!

Thing 1 and Thing 2 playing with Rich and Brennan
at their apartment during their 1st assignment --
Christie was sleeping (she works nights)
Dave and I were talking politics, parenting,
and generally solving all world problems.

Well, how often does it happen where you have one of those situations where the parents hit it off AND the kids hit it off, both families are always up for going out to dinner and then ice cream, both families like just enough of the same kinds of music, books, and movies to have tons in common while also having just enough different tastes to be excited to share new things with one another, and both families have similar(ish) backgrounds and experiences in a very broad, big-picture, meaning-of-life way that you're amazed at just how cosmically connected you already are? Not often. But it's happened with us and the Johnsons.

Dude, even our dog loves them.

The kids getting ready to hunt Easter eggs

The adults getting ready to hunt Easter eggs

Dave, unable to find his eggs,
no matter how many
clues the children gave him
(Note their frustration)

Our families, besides being capable of putting copious amounts of food away at all different kinds of restaurants and always having room for dessert (usually Friendly's), can also talk FOR HOURS. And the fun part is that we can spend one evening laughing so hard telling stories, we hurt for 2 days afterward, and spend the next talking about deep, more serious and poignant things, blinking back tears mid-conversation. And that, I think, is pretty dang special.

Christie, Dave, me, and Mark talking into the night at Friendly's

The kids all sugared up and playing
and having fun at their own table

(We have this down to a science when we go out)

I'm not posting the bazillion pictures I have of us at various restaurants. Suffice it to post this picture of the to-go boxes in our fridge.

So, they came to our area for 3 months and we spent that time, from day 1, hitting it off and finding so much commonality as well as a strong desire to spend much more time together. So, since the 3 months flew by much too quickly and since the weather is just too beautifully mild to pass up (really, other than MAYBE a week or two TOTAL of uncomfortable heat and humidity, our summers are mild, temperate, fair, sunny, and beautiful), they decided to take their next 13-week assignment near here so we could work on that "spending much more time together" part. And boy have we!

Johnsons at a baseball game

Us at a baseball game

Us, eating at a diner at midnight after said baseball game --
we'd avoided getting hit by foul balls (barely)

and we were hungry

and we keep college-like hours
and we're always up for late-night fun,

what can I say?

Never too tired for late-night fun --
we believe in getting them prepared for college

Since they moved a little over an hour away for that second assignment, when they do come down on Christie's days off between nursing shifts, we make a long weekend (or mid-week stay) out of it so that they're not driving back and forth over and over again (they still come down for homeschool stuff or for Rich's hockey lessons or dentist appointments, etc.). So, except for when they've traveled out of state for other road trips, we've spent several days of every week with them since they moved up there in May.

4 nights after our late-night diner outing,
we were at Friendly's again

It is nothing short of a miracle
that we did not get escorted out of the restaurant this night --

I hadn't laughed that hard in ages.

Mark and I had headaches and pains in our cheeks for at least 2 days.
It was awesome.

And though they are taking their next assignment close to their families in Arkansas, they'll be back up north eventually. They love Boston (and so do we!) and are trying to get assignments in the New England area as much as possible. Dave has a congenital heart condition (he'll be on a transplant list soon) that has him visiting Tufts in Boston regularly and now that he's met our family, he has places to stay in MA instead of hotels (thank you, Mom and Cathy!). I won't get into the heart issue on here, because it sucks and honestly just makes me sad (besides being long and complicated to explain), but Dave has blogged about it on his blog, so you can see more there (they've actually written a lot about us and the fun we've been having, whereas I have been more blog negligent). Suffice it to say, that between their love of PA and MA and our mutual admiration society, we're sure to be in touch as much as possible from now on.

At Hershey Park,
Where Christie and I might've ridden
the Tilt-a-Whirl one too many times

Yes, we totally joked around with the
walking chocolate who is not able to speak

Exhausted from all the rides and character hugging
(I'm thinking Dave did not hug any characters) ;)

We inhaled our food ate at Red Robin after our day of fun.
For a hilarious account of this day

as well as how we conducted ourselves
during this, ahem, meal,
please read Dave's recap.

With their overnight visits, our house has taken on the atmosphere of a perpetual frat party this summer and though we've been having fun and laughing and quoting Friends (Yes! They quote Friends, too!) and staying up like we're in our 20s, we're all feeling it the next morning as we shuffle around the house yawning and rubbing our backs and necks and mumbling things like, "I'm not 25 anymore" and "I can't keep hours like this" and "Where's the Geritol?" And yet, by their next visit, we're willingly and gladly doing it all over again, squeezing in every minute we can together.

Memorial Day Parade

Eating some great Japanese food

We made sure to save some room for free food
at the Renaissance Fair's Flavor Fest --
We really should've eaten more here -
the Flavor Fest was apparently more about
wine flavors than food flavors.

At the Flavor Fest --
(not eating much)
That's okay -- we found other things to do . . .

Christie gave our children the opportunity
to chuck glass as hard as they could against a wall
-- very satisfying!

And loud!

And Dave rode a Segway --
he totally geeked out on that thing.

We put the children in stocks

After the free food turned out to be a bit of a bust,
we went out for Chinese at a place downtown
and then ice cream at
our old-fashioned ice cream shop in town

The first of many, many sleepovers

And many, many late nights of
talking and talking and talking

Notice the old couches --
they were replaced soon after this picture

It really works out well --the 4 kids go upstairs and play for hours on end without any issues whatsoever. It's impressive -- 4 kids all different ages who get along like old pals playing any number of different games. They are great! And we 4 adults (and Scout!) hang out downstairs and talk and laugh and talk and laugh and talk and talk and talk for hours on end (seriously, watching the 4 of us talk is a sight to behold -- we can easily half finish about 60 different conversations in the space of 20 minutes). And between all of that, we eat. Mostly, we eat out together, but every so often, we also cook for each other and, oh, the feasts!

On another occasion,
we went with several other families
to an AWESOME old-fashioned park
(free parking, free entrance, pay by the ride,
cheap GOOD food, take your dog) --
this deserves (and will get) a post of its own.
Anyway, we brought Dave and boys back with us
while Christie worked.
And then she came down when she was done.

Dave lived in Italy for a while and he made us delicious pasta carbonara!

The kids painted boats.

And then we took their family to a scouting event where . . .

the kids participated in a rain gutter regatta.

And so did the dads.

Best part of the (very long) evening --
they gave everyone a spoon and
surprised the kids with a aluminum foil-lined
rain gutter filled with ice cream sundaes.
Thing 2, grossed out by it, wanted NO part of it
(I love this picture).
When he found out he could have his own sundae,
he ran up to Brennan and said,
"You don't have to do this!!"
(The other 3 totally dug in).

So, a little about them. Dave is a super easy-going guy who is a musician/drummer/guitarist/singer as well as a total brainiac. He reads voraciously, especially fantasy, and totally geeks out on anything related to mobile devices or Star Wars (oh, the references he and Mark can come up with!). Dave is a great dad who is so patient and down to earth with his boys and so passionately wants to share every good thing he knows with them. He is sarcastic and has a quick wit and is a hysterically funny storyteller who can talk about anything and everything under the sun. He reminds me so much of my guy friends growing up. When I was a kid/teenager, other than my few close girlfriends, I generally got along better with guys than girls (far less drama and so much easier to be around) and Dave totally has that vibe about him -- just so EASY to feel comfortable around him and to be his friend.

Christie is a gem. If, because I said she's from Arkansas, you're picturing either a hillbilly or a Southern Belle, think again. She is neither of those. She is a hard-working, no-nonsense, smart-as-a-whip, take-no-crap spitfire who is generous and kind and compassionate and knows her way around hospitals, kitchens, big cities, and pocketknives like no other. What you see is what you get with Christie and I like that about her. When she's upset, she doesn't try to pretend she's not. And when she's happy, her face lights up like a school girl's. And she gets that same look on her face when she looks at Dave, who she simply and unequivocally adores.

Yet another weekend involving Friendly's

We should buy stock

Dave, a drummer, discovers that playing drums on Band Hero
is nothing like the real thing

Christie made us . . .
(And hands down, THE best southern refried beans
I have ever had -- it's the stuff of legends).

And while the boys went to a wrestling show,
we went to the Waldrons' to swim,
but instead got ushered into the basement

until the tornado warning (I kid you not) was over.
Then, the kids watched a movie.

They also entertained us with rap music
and choreography later that night.

The morning after

They are SUPER easy house guests. It's so comfortable having them here that it doesn't even feel like work at all. It feels, well, natural and relaxed. You would think that having so many house guests, we'd breathe a sigh of relief when they leave and that we'd be glad to get back to normal, but it's just not like that with them. When they're here, were all so happy to be together. And when they leave, our house feels like it's missing the extra good energy they bring, so we mope around a bit and they text us that they miss us. It just astounds me to have this kind of friendship with people we just met a matter of months ago.

I'm so glad my mom got to meet them
during her visit here --

she fell in love with them
and they love her, too.

America's oldest Farmer's Market --this place has everything . . .
random people singing Beatles' songs on the street,
hot dogs wrapped in pretzels,
Amish people selling potholders,
Nigerian vendors selling kumquats,
farmers selling scrapple
(it's that thing of when you take all the leftover pig parts,
mix it with jelly,
and serve it as a food).

Mom, us, and the Johnsons
in downtown Lancaster

Obligatory Intercourse Picture
(That's sure to get a lot of hits on our blog)

Trying on Amish hats and bonnets

Traditional visit to Captain Gus's for Cheesesteaks
and Gus's magic tricks for the kids

We really weren't hungry when we went to Captain Gus's;
it's more tradition than anything else,
so after a fun, long day in lots of tourist season traffic,
we went to Houlihan's for late-night eating at Happy Hour!

The next morning, Christie fixed us an AMAZING breakfast --
Mark's favorite --
of homemade biscuits and gravy.
We also had Granny's eggs, fruit, juice . . . it was all so yummy.
Christie, being the sweetheart that she is,
had practiced making the gravy at their house

the whole week before so she could prepare it for us!
(We really do cook and bake for them, too,
but they usually take pictures of that and we don't --
again, see Dave's blog)

Four cute kids -- good friends!

The Johnsons went on a road trip to NC
and we were all going crazy
because we hadn't seen them in, like, two and a half weeks,
so we were thrilled when we saw each other!
Bonus that we got to meet Dave's parents
who were on a road trip of their own!
They were so kind to take us all to lunch as a thank you
for being good to their kids.
What they didn't know is that
their friendship is thanks enough. :)

There are more adventures ahead, but I wanted to write this post before they leave. I honestly feel so strongly that our lives are greatly enriched having the Johnsons in them. Those who don't know them are truly missing out. And anyone lucky enough to get to know them has inherited friends indeed. We will miss them so much, but are so glad that we'll always be in touch.