Friday, September 30, 2011

Photo of the day

Little bear and his best friend :)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gone and found us a dogsitter

This is a happy day in my house.  I found what I am hoping will turn out to be a great dogsitter for our old girl.  Being as much of Europe, or at least Germany, is dog-friendly, our hope is to bring Rani along on as many trips as possible.  She has become quite the worldly pup, so why stop now?!  I still love the fact that we have pictures of Rani hiking in the Cinque Terre!  When I adopted her almost 13 years ago, I never in a million years thought such an image would exist, yet here we are...

I digress... back to petsitters.  We unfortunately can't bring the old girl with us everywhere for various reasons, so it became an important task for me to find a person to watch her while we're away.  The recommendation list from the Army vet ended up being nothing but wrong numbers.  Couple that with my inability to understand how to dial numbers locally here, and I again found myself asking a ridiculous request of the receiver on the other end of the call.  I can add to my list asking a chair manufacturer to watch my dog.  That was funny. Again, not a lick of English comprehension, and yet she mustered up a laugh.  I even chuckled at myself when I hung up the phone.

Feeling completely hopeless, I decided to google "hundesittern" in our area, and found a website for services, everything from Tiercare (petcare) to Haus und garten care.  It costs money.  Nothing in life is free, not in the US or in Germany. Worth every penny.  Once I had access to contact information, I was in touch with three different women in the area that were overjoyed to watch my pup. It's good to have options, and although we ended up going with our first choice, they all said we could call anytime we needed their help.  That gives us that added peace of mind.

So, we ended up finding someone that is a dog trainer and lives about 12 km away.  Rani gets to go on slumber parties with her dog and hang out her home while we are off on mini-adventures that don't mesh with our pup.  Peace of mind for a mere 10 EUR a day.  Sweet. We have already reserved her dog sitting services for our next two trips, and it brings me so much comfort to know that Rani will be in good hands.  Oh, and the other very fortunate detail is that her English is excellent.  Not that I mind muddling through broken German, it does make things a tad bit easier that we can understand each other. YAY!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are you ok, Daddy?

Little r has been on a nap strike this week, which has translated into a worn out mommy.  I promise not to get too melodramatic (although that has been my theme this week), but I'm just darn pooped.  As much as we are definitely into the swing of things in our new life, I think some remaining stresses pull at our nerve strings just enough that when the pendulum tips to one direction, it makes everything feel a bit off.

I have been super spoiled with my good little napper.  It has never been a secret that little r needs his sleep, and the older he gets, the more critical those sleeping hours are for him.  I blame his high energy and ridiculous metabolism for his undying need to recharge.  I've been remunerating to myself about how quickly the two to three hour nap times go on a normal day, so when that is reduced to less than one hour, my sanity can feel it right in the gut.

The nap strike has been fueled by a tummy-ache.  The kid hadn't pooped in a couple days, something he is hardly used to.  Monday he wouldn't leave my side, but it came in ebbs of about 10-15 minute cycles, which meant it was akin to having a three month old that weighs 25 pounds (ok, also not terribly unheard of, but I'm venting here...) and screams VERY loudly.  No nap, just mommy and screaming, snuggling and whining - you would have thought the kid was dying here, and maybe he felt like he was.

This nap-free and tummy-yuck day leads us to the title of this blog.  It was an absolutely beautiful day, and Big R was hoping we could sneak in a family bike ride.  I hated to quash that idea, but I just knew it wasn't happening in a way that would be enjoyable for any of us.  I also opted out of making dinner.  All in all, I found myself feeling utterly useless.  Again struggling with the stay-at-home mom responsibility being so much more than caring for the kids.  I got nothing done and I was feeling horribly inept because of it.  Then I was somewhat saved by the poop that finally came after 48 hours of cramps, and little r was feeling spry again or at least he left me and played on his own without the constant need for mommy comfort.  I jumped at my chance and started cooking a dinner I had been planning despite the fact that I was missing half the ingredients and a food processor (I'm finding this is how much of my life has been these days, and yet the dinners are randomly pretty tasty).

So, I'm mid-cook - I had shallots on the stove, fish sticks and sweet potato fries in the oven for little r, and I'm crushing peanuts with a hammer (see comment above about not having a food processor), and the phone rings.  The phone never rings in our house - we don't know anyone - so my heart stopped.  Big R was supposed to be home awhile ago and I had assumed he got caught up at the office.  It was my hubby on the other line sounding completely defeated.  I expected a pleasant, "I'm sorry, I got caught up unexpectedly, I'll be home in few, love you" call, but instead I got the dreaded request... "Can you come get me?"  I knew right then something had happened on his bike and I froze.  "Are you ok, what happened?!?!?"  Meanwhile my brain is assessing the situation and trying not to panic.  Yes, I need to drop everything and come to his aid.  He had an accident on his bike and said he could probably make it home, but in his voice I could hear that he really wanted me to make it all better...

That's what mom's and wife's are for, to make it all better... and yet, at this very moment, I felt completely powerless.  I could shut down the dinner operation, grab the screaming child, and then what? Big R knows I'm utterly worthless driving in the city because I'm endlessly lost.  By the time I wrangle everything into the car and get the house secured and safe, it could be an hour before I found hin.  This was NOT acceptable to me though, he needed me and I wanted to help him.  So, I uttered, "where are you again?"  He gave me a description of a place I swear I had never seen before.  No clue where he was.  I barely got out the words, "so, are you near the bike path?" and Big R knew this was something he would need to handle on his own.  "I've got it, I'll be home soon." That's all I heard and the phone went dead.  Ugh.  Utterly helpless.  That's the worst feeling a mom could have and I felt it with every cell in my body.

I had no idea what shape he was going to be in when he came up the driveway.  It made me sick to think of him doing this all on his own.  Worrying was going to get me nowhere, although I could hardly do anything but, so I worked on my dinner project, and got little r to eat, meanwhile pulling together towels and other cloths I could find in the house just in case he looked worse than he sounded.

I was so relieved when Big R walked through the door.  He wasn't entirely unscathed, but he wasn't close to where I had let my imagination take me.  It was a simple accident and one I'm surprised hadn't happened yet (and just pray doesn't happen to him or either of us again).  The woman riding her bike in front of him slowed down unexpectedly on the uphill side of a bridge underpass, and he had no where to go, so the wall took a bite out of him.  His hands took a nasty beating, but we got him nursed up and taken care of.  One thing we weren't at all anticipating was how upset little r would be over the whole event.  He had already had a truly rough day, and now Daddy was hurt and he was beside himself.  The kid is sensitive - my goodness!  You'll be happy to know he seemed much better about it today, but last night he wouldn't let Big R anywhere near him with his bandages.  Poor, dude. First thing he said to me when he woke up this morning was, "Daddy hurt."  I brought him into our room, and he looked at Big R and said, "you ok, Daddy?"

This whole experience could have been so much worse, but it really shook me up.  Made me realize how vulnerable we are in this foreign place and how we never anticipate that emergencies can could happen.  Having a young child complicates things, but so does being in a place where you are endlessly lost and not being able to speak the language certainly doesn't help.  I also realized that we had no first aid supplies in the house. Not even a single bandaid.  Beyond that though, what if things had been worse?  We don't know anyone here, at least not anyone that we can communicate things to effectively.  No one to call, no one to help, it's a little scary.  Funny thing is, it's not terribly dissimilar from any other move I've had except that I never allowed myself to give it much thought.

It's interesting the things that can shake you mentally, and this tiny little event knocked me off center a bit.  Everyone is perfectly fine.  Big R has some nasty road rash that will take some nursing, but I am beyond relieved that it wasn't more serious.  We took pictures of his battle scars and was going to post them with the caption, "You should see the other guy!" but they are a bit graphic for sharing and yet don't do the injuries any justice at the same time.  He's a tough kid and will have an interesting story to share.  I think my favorite part is, out of this whole ordeal, the part that bothered him the most was that the woman that caused the accident turned to him and said IN ENGLISH "Are you ok?"  He looked at me last night super troubled and said, "how did she know I wasn't German?"  Haha, I'm guessing the cussing and yelling that came out of his mouth IN ENGLISH as he hit the wall was a dead giveaway, but it cracks me up that out of all the things, he is most concerned that he didn't fit in enough to be considered German.  You will, baby, no worries.  We just got here! Give it another year and you'll be cussing in German like a pro.  Let's just not get in another accident - no need to practice, k?  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Our weekend in pictures...

Bavaria is stunning right now. We couldn't ask for more beautiful weather.  Life is getting busy, so we spent the weekend relaxing and taking care of things at home.  Here are some pictures to sum up our wonderful weekend.

Our Sunday family stroll led us to a horsefarm where a carriage competition was underway.

Frolicking in the fields near our house.  Definitely one of Rani and little r's favorite past times.

  Big R got some great black & white shots of little r playing in the field. I love these...

Our weekend finished off with an early evening bike ride to a beer garden called the Bootshaus.  It's this sweet little place situation right along the water with fabulous beer and the tasty German staples.  Perfect find for an early fall evening.  

Friday, September 23, 2011

Can we say "panic"?

Here is a list of precisely what to do when your toddler loses his "bankee" on you bike ride home:

1. Panic. There is no other natural reaction than to assume your life is over. Melodrama is the only way to go here.

2. Fire a million questions to your two year old as if he understands every word. Say things like, "where's your bankee, did you drop it?" and "how could you do that? Where did you drop it? Tell mommy now!" and then try to remain calm when your two-year-old answers back with a blank stare.

3. Pedal as fast as you can in NEARLY the same route you came from being sure to make only the slightest variation in your route back to the bike path.

4. Hold back tears and constantly think about how life as you know it is over. Start trying to think of all the ways to explain to your toddler that his beloved bankee is gone forever.

5. Understand that this panic results in a momentary loss in sanity and start talking to yourself loudly as you pedal faster. Luckily your zooming by everyone too quickly to notice the stares. How you will find the blanket going at this pace is a question for a day when you are more calm.

6. Be thankful that you noticed when he had it last to avoid the need to head back through town. This would be an exceptional challenge considering you just spent the previous hour lost in town and have no clue where you were.

7. When you get to the point where you last saw the blanket send a text message to your husband to explain why you would be drinking copious amounts of wine and then slip the phone into your pocket and ride home so you can't hear the phone ring half a dozen times.

8. Try to get comfortable with the idea that the blanket is lost and be sure to tell this to your toddler. They especially understand you when you say, "it's gone. Your bankee is lost for good. We're never going to see it again…" and hope they have guidance online to instruct you on how to live in this unfair world when your toddler has lost the only thing he decided at an early age he cannot live without.

9. Be sure that on the ride back you follow precisely the same route you took earlier instead of the slight deviation in route you took in your panic stricken state when you began your search.

10. After succumbing to the idea that it's lost and explaining this to your toddler eliciting the response, "no, mommy, no, no, no, mommy," cry uncontrollably when you see it lying in the road. Smile so big your cheeks hurt when your toddler sweetly says, "mommy found it!" and agree quickly with your mom that it is now time to train the toddler to leave the bankee in his bed. A task to tackle next week when your heart rate finally slows back to normal. Also, remember to call the husband back.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And the baby boy turns 2

We had a very low-key birthday celebration for little r this year.  A far cry from our insanely awesome backyard bonanza we had last year.  Guess you could say we're in a slightly different place now, and still learning the ropes, meeting new friends, and settling into our life in Germany.  Little r being only 2, he is not quite aware of what a birthday is just yet, but that's not from our lack of trying to push for his excitement.  We called him birthday boy all day long, and made sure the neighbors knew it was his big day.

The gifts were also super chill this time around.  I've heard from several people that packages are coming, and little r is going to be so excited to see all the amazing things everyone got for the birthday boy.  Big R and I kept it small.  In addition to the fun jeep and horse trailer we let him have early, we got him a new "big boy" bike.  Big R put it together after little r went to bed the night before, and we had the bike waiting for him in the living room so he'd see it when he woke up. I'm not sure I've ever seen his eyes get so wide before.  He looked at me and said, "bike, mommy," with a huge smile searching in my face for an indication that this very cool bike was in fact his.  All it took was a little affirmation, and he had a smile from ear to ear!
He still has a little room to grow into it before he'll be able to ride it comfortably, but he has never let his size get in the way and he stuck to it all day long.  I'm amazed at how quickly he's figuring it out.
I mean, how much fun is this?!  When we saw little German kids riding these tiny bikes around town, we knew right away that we had to get one for little r.  Although there are no pedals, it takes more balance than I expected.  We're hoping this will make the transition to a big boy bike just that much easier.  Our favorite part - the wheels are soooo quiet :)

After a fun morning with his new bike, we packed into the car and headed over the clinic for little r's 2 year well-baby appointment.  Biggest waste of time ever.  Made me really miss the fantastic pediatrican that little r had in Richmond.  Oh well... Suppose we are lucky that little r is healthy and showing no signs of developmental issues making the health care a moot point.  All that aside, we did manage to get his weight and his height (honestly, though, that's about all we got).  Our little man weighs 24.8 pounds and is 34" tall. Haha, he's a peanut!  Guess he takes after his parents.  The "rule" I've heard is that you double the height at 2 years old to determine how tall your child will be when he's an adult.  Looks like little r will stand as tall as Daddy :)  Of course, following that rule, and I would have been a couple inches shorter, so maybe little r has hope yet!

The afternoon was quiet as little r slept away most of the day.  He woke just in time to have dinner with Daddy and enjoy a mini birthday celebration!  It never occurred to me that we had no matches or lighters in the house, something the movers obviously don't allow to be packed into boxes and shipped overseas, and we're not smokers... With a bout of luck, I found a book of matches stashed in a hiding place and we were able to light little r's candle on his chocolate cupcake.
Make a wish, little man!  I hope they all come true!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The day he was born-ed...

To pay tribute to little r's second birthday, I thought it would be fun to share his birth story - well, the cliff notes version at least.  Figured it would be a good way for me to reminisce and to memorialize the story so that little r can maybe read it when he's older - much older... Considering the day I was born gets much colder each time my dad tells the story, it's probably not a bad idea to get it written down while it's relatively fresh in my mind.

I want to start by saying that life always keeps you guessing.  Nothing went anywhere near as planned, or so it seemed.  I was one of those ridiculous women that wanted the perfect pregnancy.  I was physically fit, independent, strong-willed, and thought I could handle pain relatively well.  Seriously thought I'd work hard not to gain an exorbitant amount of weight, do yoga until the week the baby was born, and keep running.  Eh, scratch that idea.  Instead, I had a high risk pregnancy, high being a relative term here, because I had experienced a few prior miscarriages and I had an early onset of pregnancy hypertension.  Translation - no strenuous exercise and stay away from ab work.  At one point my sister had to smack sense into me to relax into my newly inactive state by reminding me that I was having a baby and it was all temporary.

Needless to say, I turned into a hippo.  Not that I was eating for two, but I forgot that you should keep your life low stress during pregnancy, and opted to work 12+ hours a day including the commute to and from DC and Richmond every week until the last two months.  That, and I retained water like nobody's business. It was fun, and not a part of the experience I enjoy remembering, yet just can't seem to forget. Here is a picture taken of me around week 34.  Four weeks later, little r was here, and yes, I got even bigger (if that is remotely believable).

Ok, all that aside, it was babytime.  This little guy enjoyed keeping me guessing.  I had braxton hicks contractions starting pretty early in my pregnancy, and around week 34 I got put on bed rest for blood pressure and early contraction issues.  It was good for me though. Forced me to stay still...kind of...

After a few practice rounds of being admitted and then sent home over the course of a week, I again had several hours of consistent contractions close together, so the doctor told me to head in.  I was still only 1 cm dilated, so they were apt to let me go home with one tiny complication.  My blood pressure was setting off all the alarms, and the good 'ole doc was not a fan of sending me away.  Instead, we decided we'd break my water and help this baby come along. Our families were given the word - it was time to have a baby!  My dad, stepmom, and my stepsister in Med School made the drive to Richmond.  Even Big R's mom was able to hop on a plane to be there by mid-afternoon.  Of course, my sister was right by my side through the whole thing.  Because other really important people were too far away to be there, my phone never left my side.

This is me before things got too crazy.  Somehow throughout the entire process, I managed to have my phone close by for those essential calls and text messages.  I think at one point I even took a call from a judge at the office because that's the kind of demented state I was in at the time.

Before I get too far into the next details, I have to mention that I forced Big R to attend a childbirth class with me.  I had no clue whatsoever how to have a baby, and I figured he was most likely less informed.  He might actually admit that parts of it were helpful,.. nah, doubt that... Again, I was interested in being that strong independent woman.  It was going to be au naturale for this child birth.  I was too nervous to try things at home or use a douala, but I really wanted to let nature takes its course and have this little man enter the world as naturally as possible.  Hmmm... That's what I wanted, now for the rest of the story.

So, breaking my water was a choice, but all things considered, it seemed at the time like the best option.  I had been having strong contractions throughout the past few days and my body was tired.  I was ready for the baby to be here, and figured it was time.  Water broke, contractions more severe, and Big R had a blast taking pictures of me in interesting positions.  Since my contractions refused to regulate, the doc hooked me up to pitocin to help things along.  I was still able to move around, I just had to stick close to the bed.  That meant when it was time to pee, the toilet came to me - haha.  Big R REALLY enjoyed that one.

After what seemed like an eternity, I just knew we had to be progressing.  (That's what we all think, right?) Contractions were strong and frequent, and I was hanging on.  I lost all the air in my lungs when the doc checked my dilation and said I hadn't moved.  Not only that, but little r was struggling... his heart beat stressed every time I contracted and the monitor couldn't decipher the difference between my heartbeat and his.  This is not good.  Being that my health is hardly jeopardized at this point, the most important thing was monitoring the baby.  Before I knew it, my legs were up and I had more wires coming out of inside me - they had to attach the baby monitor to little r's head.  I had to work hard not to cry.  It's an emotional state anyhow, but this was the last thing I had wanted.  In our birthing class, all the women gasped when the instructor passed around the monitoring device.  It worked though, and we could now monitor little r's heartbeat.  Turned out this was crucial, and before I knew it, not only was I required to lie down, but I was now also required to lay on my side to help little r.

Contractions are not fun, and they are especially exciting when you are required to stay on your side.  All the tips in childbirth class are about breathing and walking and showering and using a ball and getting a massage... these things are NOT happening when you are on your side. The labor had left the most logical place I should feel it - my stomach! - and had decided to take over the entire backside of my body.  During this time, Big R and my sister were at my side and each contraction simultaneously drained the blood out of their hands.  I was also screaming expletives that we laughed later were completely inappropriate in a Catholic hospital.  That was when I started giving into the idea of having an epidural.  The nurses were well-trained at our hospital not to push you.  They wanted to be certain you knew what you were asking for.  I started asking questions, and they were slowly trying to encourage me to go with the drugs.  My decision was made when the doc returned again and I still hadn't budged.  I was still 4 cm. Ugh.

This is when you have the "holy" moment with yourself.  I REALLY wanted to make it without the epidural.  This was so important to me.  Yet, I had no way of preparing myself for the situation I was in, and I was exhausted.  Every contraction not only provided me the luxury of shooting pains down my backside that I could feel at the end of my toes and the top of my head, but I was also emotionally exhausted because little r was struggling to stay strong with me.  I was done.  Go ahead and put a fork in me and GET ME SOME DRUGS!

All better... It takes awhile to get the epidural.  Not sure that's something people anticipate.  Another hour had passed before the anesthesiologist arrived.  Then I was riding the gravy train and was a happy girl. (Man, this picture is evidence of how huge I was - who is this girl?!  I don't even recognize myself. Awesome.)

The whole mood changed in the room.  It was peaceful and jovial.  Funny how that works.  At this point I was now attached to oxygen, again to assist little r, and the nurse kept giving me looks when I wouldn't stop talking.  Big R started doing work, and my sis laid next to me and we took a nap.

Contractions were good, we'd been there for about 12 hours, and it was the doc's final check of the day.  Things had to be heading in the right direction. WRONG. Had moved only to 5 cm, but I was almost fully effaced (the things they teach you to understand in birthing class are brilliant - haha), and with as strong as my contractions had been, the doc figured the birth would be right around the corner.

I had my new doc from the same OB practice and she was awesome.  We were a big fan and relieved that we didn't get stuck with some schmuck who didn't care.  She was anxious to get me progressing and had me on my side and upside down... apparently hanging upside down is a trick of the trade (but at the time it felt somewhat like an old wives' tale!).  I was still fully effaced, and little r was progressing down my cervix, but my body refused to dilate.  Frustrating hardly describes it.  We had heard the first baby can take awhile, so we figured it was all par for the course...

A couple hours later, the doc came back in to check on how we were doing.  Things were not improving. I hadn't budged, still barely at 6 cm, but now my effacement was swelling and I started getting a fever, which could indicate an infection.  The dreaded words came out of the doctor's mouth:  "We might need to consider a C-section."  She explained that at this point it was up to me and we could wait awhile to see if there was any improvement, but it could be risky and the longer we waited the more chance there could be of complications.

I thought this decision would be more difficult.  A C-section was the last thing that I wanted. At this point, though, all I could think about was little r. The way my body was reacting to the labor made me worry that something wasn't right.  I kept getting flashes of me pushing and being told that he is stuck and an emergency C-section would be needed.  All the stress he'd been under already, I couldn't bear the thought of more risk and with the possible infection, we were now also risking sepsis.  So, I told the doctor, let's do it - he needs to come out.  The look on the doctor's face was pure relief, and I'm sure to some degree it was on mine as well.  As soon as I had accepted that natural childbirth was not going to happen, I became excited that it was finally time.  Later the doc told me that little r was too large for my pelvis, which can often cause a lack of dilation and the swollen effacement, so the decision ended up being a good one.

Surgery prep takes awhile when it's not a dire emergency, so Big R got in his scrubs and entertained me with his undying sense of humor. It was awesome.  A moment I'll always remember, and I hope he will as well.

They wheeled me into the operating room, and I leaned over and told the nurse that my husband has a serious fear of the sight of blood.  This is true, by the way. I wasn't being sarcastic. The warning ended up being for not.  Big R did great, and seemed to really enjoy the entire thing.  As soon as little r was pulled from the womb, he looked around the room with this expression on his face like, "WHOA." Big R said he didn't even cry - just took in the new world. The screaming started when they cleaned him up and put that crap in his eyes.  Not a big fan of that apparently.

All bundled up, he laid in Big R's arms. He was so beautiful. It was so hard not to be able to hold him.

All in all, everything went well.  I had a perfectly healthy, 7 lb. 6 oz. little boy that was absolutely beautiful.
We still joke about how we had created this birth plan just like they recommend doing in our childbirth class.  Every item we had decided we didn't want to do ended up happening... Things definitely hadn't gone to plan, but then life would be no fun if it were predictable. At the end of the day, it didn't matter. I realized that birth is birth whether it's natural or not.

And that's my birth story, with many of the gory details intentionally left out.  Here's to you, my sweet little r, for coming into my life and changing it in ways I didn't know were possible.  I know how to love more than I knew was possible. Happy 2nd birthday, little man :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


We've seen the movie "Ratatouille" several dozen times in the past few months, so we thought it would be fun to cook this "peasant dish" to give it a taste.  What better way for me to get in touch with my domestic side.  I've been struggling with the cooking lately, mostly the planning that goes into cooking meals for your family, and this was probably more like the best way to make me run screaming from my new little kitchen.  Big R was so excited about this meal that he took the time to find the perfect recipe.  Of course, he didn't read it other than to glance at the amazing ingredients.  When I opened the email from him, I gulped...seriously?!  I tried putting it off, but the only thing I dislike more than a complicated recipe are letting amazing vegetables go to waste.  Ok, we'll give it a try...

Luckily, little r was quiet as a mouse watching one of his movies while I slaved away in the kitchen.  When Big R got home, he had to get some photographic evidence of my new creation. Mostly I think he was finding it amusing to see me peal the skins off a newly roasted red pepper.  Have you ever done that?!  If you haven't, let me give you a slight tip - don't skimp on the roasting time.  The skins peal much easier if you let them cook longer (a tip I'll be sure to remember if I ever attempt this madness again).  
Three peeled red peppers later, and the piperade (whatever the heck that is!) was finished and placed along the bottom of the pan.
Then the freshly cut veggies were placed in a spiral fashion on top of the piperade (Big R and I had to read the recipe about half a dozen times to figure out exactly how to do the proper spiral, this is where pictures are super helpful and we had not a single one!), the pan was covered with foil, and then had to cook for 2 hours. Yes, 2 freaking hours!  Then uncovered and cooked for another 30 minutes or so.  

Did I mention it was 7:30 p.m. at this point?!  Yeah, this is a good example of what NOT to do. In my true impatient style, I increased the temperature, and cooked it for about 45 minutes while I got little r bathed and tucked into bed.  There is no reason it should take vegetables 2 hours to cook - at least not in THIS house. 

I have to say, it was a pretty darn good meal.  My planning wasn't exactly in high gear that day, so it never occurred to me that some fresh bread from the local bakery would have been the perfect compliment to this dish.  Next time (wait, did I just write that?!).  I didn't have a fancy "offset spatula" to carefully remove the dish and fan it out on the plate in a 90 degree angle (geesh!), but I did my best to keep the portion contained and then carefully added the vinaigrette sauce.  This meal was delish served with our favorite local beers. 
Don't call me a chef, because I'm far from one and this will NEVER be a cooking blog.  If you are truly interested in the recipe, I can email it to you - it is almost as complicated to write it down as it was to follow.  I might be brave and attempt this meal again knowing now what it takes and what would taste awesome with it.  Maybe next time I'll actually cook it for the required time, haha, maybe...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall is in the air and I just had the most invigorating run I've had in a long while

It's been raining all day - the kind of rain that comes down in steady sheets and makes tranquil sounds on your window.  A perfect day to curl up in sweats and a blanket and read a book while the baby naps.  I did that. Then I had this undying urge to go for a run.  Something I haven't done in a very long time.  Why I felt like running in rain that would have me soaked within the first quarter mile I would never know, but my legs were restless and the moment was drawing me out.  With a little encouragement from Big R to go for it, I pulled out my old running gear, strapped on my running shoes, and cranked up my iPod.

I took the trail we frequently use for our long Sunday walks, but the trail is so much different without a toddler hooting in your ear or an old pup stopping every couple of minutes to take in the latest smells.  The rain had stopped just as I left the house, it was a lovely 55 degrees (one of these days I'll get accustomed to using Celsius, but I don't have it down quite yet), and there was a fresh crispness to the air - absolutely perfect weather for a run.

The run started making me feel nostalgic for Vermont and happy to be living in a place where I can enjoy running again.  The hills kicked my lazy behind, but the soft trails helped motivate me to keep on going, and somehow I finished my four-mile or so run without a pause.  It helps that my music was so loud that I couldn't hear my heart beating out of my chest.  Big R was right, it is a rare experience these days that I get a nice run without little r or Rani, and as much as I adore both of them, it was an invigorating experience.

Germany might have just brought the runner back out in me afterall...

Television overseas style

 I find technology outright amazing, and our dependency on it, downright scary.  Life is just so incredibly different than it was a mere ten years ago.

We opted out of getting cable or AFN (the military satellite that provides watch programs from the USA), and decided instead that we would use the internet to watch shows when we felt the urge.  Big R specifically set up our living area so that the sitting room has more sitting space, and the television is viewed only from my oversized chair and ottoman and the child's chair Big R bought for little r at IKEA.  The idea being we'd do a little more reading and a tad bit less television watching (that, or television watching would require some serious snuggling).  Big R was alerted to a really sweet VPN service that links a foreign network through a network in the USA.  By doing this, the internet "thinks" you are in New York, DC or any other American city provided through the network.  What makes this ridiculously cool is that it allows streaming video from the online network channels, and also other websites like Hulu and Netflix (and Barnes and Noble to download books onto my Nook).  I won't get into the pesky details except to say that for about $50 some odd bucks a year, you can basically pretend you are in the USA and stay connected. This is very freaking COOL, especially since the fall television lineup is here, and I was missing some of my dramas.

Although we can watch just about anything we want, anytime we want, the current setup results in us not sitting in front of the "boob tube" surfing channels and watching nonsense.  We sit down with a purpose, or head to the reading room and read or talk to each other about the day.  I have a feeling we just adopted a new way of watching tv that is likely to follow us back to the US.  We really love living here in Germany, but it's nice to have a dose of US television to keep us from getting homesick.  At this rate, we just might not come back...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Birthday boy preview

Our little r has a birthday coming up in a few days, and in true Big R style, a gift was handed over a tad bit early.  Hard not to when the birthday shopping happens with the birthday boy in tow.  We got him a couple of other gifts that we know he will equally love, but this has got to be one of the coolest finds we've had yet.  Just look at that face!!!  We saw this in the store and literally could not help ourselves - little r just had to have it.  Kid didn't let go of it until we pried it out of his hands so he could walk through the front door.

This is a gift ala grandma style, meaning that it is so similar to my mom's jeep and horse trailer that the next time he visits his eyes will pop out of his head with excitement.  This toy company makes realistic cars and tractors, and it is uncanny how great they mimic the real deal. Mom, they even have California license plates on the jeep!  And even though the top is hard plastic, the design is crinkled to look just like a soft top.  The steering wheel moves the front wheels, the back door opens, the top comes down, and the back seat comes out.  The hood even opens to give a peek at the engine (the only thing missing is oil running across the inside of the hood from driving on those crazy washboard roads to mom's house - haha, not sure I will ever forget that jeep story).

And then there's the horse trailer and the trusty new horse. He hasn't come up with a name for the horse yet, but the lucky horse has already received numerous kisses and trailer rides through the house.
This is the coolest toy EVER.  And it's especially neat because it will remind him of grandma's house.  I can't wait until Wednesday when he gets the other gifts.  Two-year old boys are just too much fun...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Car maintenance

It was inevitable that the time would come for our beloved racecar to need some maintenance. We've already been surprised once with this vehicle since we've been here when Big R took the car in for its required inspection and it FAILED.  Yeah, that was a tad bit unexpected.  Four new tires later, and we had our registration in hand.  Can't say we were quite prepared for the cost of those tires.  Things are freaking expensive over here when it comes to your car.  Driving it, parking it, getting the license to drive it (Germans pay 2,000 EUR for the required autoschule to get a license to drive in Germany), insuring it, and now I am faced with the reality that maintenance is going to be a pricey affair as well.  We could use the good 'ol autocare center on Post, but when we got our new tires a couple months ago, we learned the hard way that using them is not the brightest decision.  Not sure exactly how much we'll have to pay to get all the things fixed that went wrong with the installation of those four tires, and neither Big R or I think it's worth the money we'd save to risk having more issues.

So, all that aside, the time had come for an oil change.  The pesky "time for maintenance" light screams in our face every time we turn the car on, and it was on me to get the car in tip top shape so that we have some dependable wheels.  Probably the best part of this story is that I couldn't quite figure out how to dial a local phone number here.  I actually knew, for once, where the Saab service shop was located, but I needed to call to make an appointment.  Should be easy, but I'm a moron on certain days of the week, and this week was no exception.  My German is improving painfully slow, so I practiced over and over how to say, "I would like to make an appointment for an oil change."  I had it down pat.  Little did I know I was going to dial the wrong number and ask a barbershop for an oil change appointment.  Yeah, the highlight of my week, by far.  Best part is, I did it TWICE on two separate occasions!  The person at the barbershop didn't speak a lick of English, but they still managed to bust out laughing when I clearly had the wrong number.  At least my practice paid off and they knew what I was asking for.

Somehow I managed to figure out how to get ahold of Saab - finally - and they were able to squeeze me in the following day.  I have now successfully taken my car to a German car dealer service shop to get the oil change and have spent our life savings in the process.  Turns out oil changes are a little pricey over here.  We have also had a bout of bad luck with prior service screwing up the car because we are constantly having to fix things.  Oy!  And we always thought taking the car to the Saab dealer was a guarantee for the best service, eh, not so much... The tires and wheels are all messed up (including the need to use the warranty on the brand new tires we bought - yeah, that we bought from the US and had shipped here, sounds like a fun project, eh?), the break fluid is low, and the bushes in our driveway have torn up the side of the car, so we're getting some scratches buffed out to make the race car look shiny again (and yes, I finally cut back the bushes to hopefully avoid future attacks).  

Needless to say, I continue to be happy with our decision to be a one-car family while we are living here in Germany. Not sure we could afford two cars even if we wanted to!  Just hoping our little racecar can hang in there. We love the darn thing, but this is getting a bit ridiculous.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Getting into the swing of things...

A little over a month here and our lives are finally starting to find a little normalcy.  Well, as normal as living in a foreign country can be.  Turns out, we all just live our lives day to day, and how normal it feels is all up to you.  We have far fewer distractions and all the tools we grew accustomed to in the good 'ol USA to move through the day.  The kitchen is awesome, albeit a tad bit small, and it is excellent to be able to cook again, and do my dishes in a place that appears more "normal" for such activities.  The internet is here!  That was probably the biggest relief of all.  It has provided us a stronger sense of connection to our family and friends back in the USA.

So, now that we have all "necessary" amenities, our first big European trip under our belts, and some familiarity with our amazing German town, it's time to get back to living life.  It's been a rather big adjustment for me that I didn't expect, although I should have anticipated it completely...  In addition to living abroad, I'm also adjusting to being a stay-at-home mom.  Kudos to all those mothers out there that do this because it is much tougher than it seems.  I've felt lately that I'm just not programmed yet to living my days this way.  And no worries, my search for employment is in the works, but my focus is on a legal oriented job I can do part-time from home so that I can relish this precious time with little r.  Not many mothers get to experience the time at home with their little ones, so I'm hoping to not have to give that up meanwhile not losing touch with the career I worked so hard to attain.

Now that I view being a mom as my full-time job, I'm realizing it encompasses so much more than just being home with little r all day.  I own the responsibility of making sure all things for the household are taken care of, and handling all the scheduling and issues that naturally compound our lives.  This is a much more difficult balance than I originally believed it could be.  I have realized that providing some structure to my day is crucial, and also to better understand those things that can be easily handled with a toddler versus those things that need to be taken care of when the little man sleeps is necessary to having a more productive day.

I immediately started searching for things to add structure to our lives.  I enrolled little r in a toddler tumbling class twice a week to get him a fun activity and time around other kids, joined a book club (because I'm crazy thinking I can actually read a book every month!), and stumbled onto a group of women on post that play volleyball for fun three times a week at the gym.  We are off to a good start.  I, of course, have to deal with all the daily minutia that we can't escape and I have lists surrounding me to remind of them all, but that's boring crap that none of you want to hear about.  I'd rather you all think little r and I play all day because frankly that image is so much more fun.

The best part about my new life, though, are the spontaneous outings we get to experience as a family. We live in a vacation destination, and it only seems right that we treat it that way.  Our nonexistent commute means that Big R can work a full day, and yet we still have time to have dinner out at a local beer garden to watch the sunset and have little r snuggled in by bedtime.  Can't beat that!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Italy Part III - Cinque Terre

Little r ensured that we got off to an early start. We devoured the yummy continental breakfast provided by our innkeepers and sipped the lovely espresso before heading into La Spezia to catch the train to Cinque Terre. We had considered several options including the train, the ferry, and the hike in. Optimally, we would have loved to have hiked into Cinque Terre, but it would have added a couple hours onto either end of our day, and we were not comfortable that the cani (Italian for dog) or our bambino had the stamina to handle that exertion. Instead we opted to park in La Spezia and take the quick 8-minute train ride to Riomaggiore.

Like everything else we've experienced in Europe, I'm not sure why we expected a quick 8-minute train ride to be anything less than an adventure. We felt like old pros heading into La Spezia. Like I mentioned in my previous blog, once you have an idea of where you are going, it's a piece of cake. The parking, however, was less than "cakey" - instead it felt more like a mud pie. The parking garage for the station was closed for construction, although this wasn't apparent and we found out by traveling down a private road and being told off by a local. I wanted to ask the Polizia hanging out near the station, but Big R told me I was nuts and that they don't have to show any restraint in Italy. Why I would be beaten with their batons for asking a question, I'll never know, but as far as Big R was concerned, it was hardly worth the risk. We found our way out of private roadways and located some street side parking. Right as Big R was about to throw in the towel as he noted that parking was 10 EUR/hour, a nice local man quickly informed us that parking was free on Sundays. (Again, he thought we were German and mumbled this in the best German he could muster.)

This was our first train adventure with our puppy, and it was super easy. We got tickets for La Spezia to Riomaggiore for less than 5 EUR (little r was free). It was the first train ride for little r, too, and WHOA NELLY was that super cool. We didn't realize in less than 10 minutes we'd be running frantically from train door to train door trying to escape the moving car. The train operator forgot to unlock the cars, so Riomaggiore came and went before we could find our way off the train. With a bout of interesting luck, a set of train doors opened in Manarola, so that is where we started our Cinque Terre adventure.

Manarola is one of the smaller villages with a port and a swimming cove. We grabbed some breakfast down by the water, and eased into our day. It started raining, so we were quickly very happy with our choice to take the train and NOT try the hike from Campiglia. After breakfast, we embraced the rain and took the hike along the Via Dell'Amore ("Love Walk"). It was an easy 20 minute stroll between the two towns, and it was also the most popular. Use of the trails in the regional park system requires a ticket, so we purchased a package that allowed us to use all of the trails and trains unlimited for the day. The views from the Via Dell'Amore were incredible. You could see the bottom of the ocean the water was so clear and blue.



Along the Via Dell'Amore, hikers put padlocks, scarves, string, or any other item to memorialize their love. We were not prepared and brought nothing good to leave behind. Then Big R found his Starbucks Gold Card - now that is a way to say "love" - haha. Not much Big R loves more than his Starbucks (and to think he wouldn't even drink coffee when we met!).



Riomaggiore was more touristy and less quaint. Hard to be in the Cinque Terre and not see beauty, but in comparison it was not the highlight. We had hoped to hike down to a nearby beach using a trail along the cliff from Riomaggiore, but the area was closed, so we changed course and headed to the train station taking a few detours through the windy and narrow pathways along the way.

Corniglia was our next stop, and it was by far one of our favorite villages. The train station sits 380+ stairs below the town. We let little r take this trek outside of the backpack hoping it would wear him out a little bit. He loved the hike and stopped every other step to notice the train, or a truck, or a boat... yeah, took us quite awhile to ascend those steps into town.

What a beautiful little town nestled in the cliffs. The views were spectacular, and the buildings with all the little shops and apartments were filled with character and charm. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending how you view it, a huge thunderstorm filled the skies as soon as we made it to the top of the stairs. We tried to hang with the storm until it unleashed the furry and we could hardly see in front of us. We finagled our way to an outdoor table with an umbrella. Not entirely a dry seating arrangement, but it was far better than sitting in the downpour. We ordered a couple of local wines and a treat while little r took a quiet snooze. It wasn't exactly planned, but I have to say, it ended up being quite nice listening to the rain while sipping a local vino rosa.

We managed to get a few pretty shots of Corniglia before our hike to Vernazza. The rain soaked streets just add a little more charm...

Despite having nothing on his feet but flip-flops (Big R forgot socks - this is a reoccurring theme that I just love giving him a hard time about), Big R said he wanted to do the hike between Corniglia and Vernazza. Figuring dealing with the stairs again would be equally as difficult, the hike would be prettier. It had finally stopped raining and the air and temperature were perfect. This, of course, was only temporary and as soon as we started the hike up the cliff-side, the sun made it's debut and it got steamy and hot. The guidebooks warned of the quickly changing weather, so (aside from the socks - hehe) we came prepared with plenty of water, layers, sunglasses and hats. The trek was worth every rock, drip of sweat, and achy foot (or "barking dogs" as Big R likes to say). It was so incredibly beautiful.

Big R took the heat carrying the bambino in the backpack, while the cani and I trekked behind. I let Rani take her time - she's an old girl, and I didn't mind the slower pace in the heat. Big R took on the trail with a vengeance passing many other hikers. We found it funny that inside the towns we saw a small few English speakers, but on the trail we heard hardly a word in Italian and instead heard mostly English in varying accents. I kept hearing hikers pass by Big R saying, "no thanks! he has some skills carrying that," or "honey, you know I love you, but never make me do that," and even the fellow husband carrying a toddler, "I feel you." Pure comedy - I loved it. Honestly, compared to hikes Big R has done in the past with little r on his back, this trail really wasn't that difficult. It only took us a little over an hour before we started descending into Vernazza. Thinking it could not get any better than Corniglia, we were blown away when we came to the next town.

Big R took the bambino for their first swim in the Mediterranean while I enjoyed a local vino rosa at a table in a waterside cafe as Rani took a much needed snooze. We finished our afternoon with a hike up to the castle before catching the ferry back to Riomaggiore.

Our timing was perfect as the rain started yet again, so we ran into the village of Riomaggiore to grab some good Italian cheese and prosciutto for dinner, and hopped on the train home. The car was right where we left it and we drove the windy road back to our hotel in Campiglia. Little r didn't last long. Big day for the little man - first train ride, first swim in the Mediterranean, first boat ride... lucky kid. He was a trooper with hardly a single meltdown, and the puppy was a dream. After we got little r tucked into bed, we enjoyed the bottle of vino rosa we picked up in Corniglia and snacked on our local meats and cheeses and listened to the storm outside our windows. We would have preferred enjoying the evening on our balcony, but who's to complain?! What an amazing day.

The drive home was painless and adventure-less (if you can believe that). Little r was done and ready to sleep in his own bed, and Big R and I kept talking about how we really need to be sure to do this trip again. Hard to believe the Italian Riviera is just a day's drive away... yep, hard to believe...