Monday, April 30, 2012

Ultimate Blog Challenge Complete - YAY!

This blog post marks my 30th post in 30 days. I really had doubts there for a bit that I wasn't going to complete the Ultimate Blog Challenge that I signed on to do. I am so relieved to have finished this goal.

My reasons for signing up for the challenge were two-fold. I wanted to build content for my legal blog, and I also wanted to challenge myself to write every day. Overwhelming you with a million blog posts was not my intention, and I'm a little disappointed that I didn't write more articles for Green Trees & Legalese. That said, I did manage to write a handful of posts on my legal blog. No one is really reading that blog just yet, but that is perfectly fine. I needed this challenge to find my niche and writing style and also to see what people are interested in reading.

One thing this challenge taught me is that it is truly "challenging" to write every day. My personal blog has been so much fun for me. River Runs Through It was started as a way for me to journal our adventures in Europe and document them so that we have a place for all our memories. It was also a way to stay connected with family and friends. My mom told me when she was stationed in Germany with my Dad, she wrote letters to everyone several times a week. That's what I think of my blog - my letter to you telling you everything about how life is going for us here in this foreign place. What I never anticipated was how much I would enjoy writing my blog, and I greatly underestimated how much it would help me feel connected with everyone back home.

For my legal blog, this challenge helped me see how much work the blog was going to be. Not in a bad way, but I definitely needed the reality check to help motivate me into moving forward with the project. Something that is difficult is easy to put aside - I do it all the time - but this is important to me, so I needed a better understanding at what kind of commitment it was going to take to help that blog move forward. I think I am finally getting my niche and writing style, and I know that with practice it will come easier.

Anyways, thanks for sticking with me through this challenge and reading all of my blog posts. I love sharing with all of you. I am going to take a much needed break as I spend the week with Big R in Italy. I'll come home fresh and ready to share! This summer has so much adventure packed into it, it might just take a blog post a day to keep up!

Much love,


Pinch Me (again!)

I'm having one of those moments again... those moments where I can't believe that it's MY life that I'm currently living because things are just too unbelievable to be real. As I mentioned, Big R has been in northern Italy for the past several days preparing for a trial. That trial is this week and he thought it would be a lot of fun for me to go. EEEK! How fun is that?!

Honestly, we won't be seeing much of Big R because trials are insanely time consuming. He'll most likely work 12-15 hours each day. Despite this, he talked me into going. I know, tough sell, right? The Army post we are going to is Vicenza, which sits about halfway between Venice and Verona. Both of those amazing cities are a mere 30 minutes away by train. I've also been told by those that have been assigned there that Vicenza itself is quite beautiful as well. Something tells me little r and I won't have much trouble keeping ourselves entertained.

I'll have to be honest and tell you that we probably won't get the awesome pictures of this trip that you are accustomed to seeing. Not only will Big R likely not be with us for many of our adventures, but I'll be chasing my wild toddler around cobblestone streets and hanging onto him so he doesn't dive off of boats or run around the train. It'll be quite the trip. An independent sort of travel for me. Guess I'm a tad bit nervous, but only a little. For some reason I have faith that little r will be a great travel companion. He's starting to get quite seasoned with these adventures. You'd be proud :) (The real question is, will Daddy be able to get any sleep? Haha.)

Big R tells me that internet isn't quite the same in that area, so I won't likely have a means to communicate with anyone back home or post blog updates. We'll be back in a week though, and I have no doubt I'll flood my blog with crazies stories from northern Italy.

I can't wait. Pinch me, please - seriously, PINCH ME!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

One person's weed is another person's flower

This weekend we were responsible for the house chores in our building. The responsibility moves from tenant to tenant each week so that we all share in keeping the grounds clean and the place kept up. Although it's not a requirement in our house ordinance, Big R has on the rare occassion mowed the lawn. With the temperatures rising, this weekend the lawn really needed it. The weeds had taken over and the lawn had a hectic feel to it. Big R was crazy busy this week, so I knew if the lawn was to be mowed, the chore was landing on my shoulders to get it done.

The landlord seemed a little taken aback that I wanted to do this arduous chore. That, or maybe he was just really wishing Big R had been here to do it. He was probably afraid I was going to break his fancy lawnmowing machine (and he has reason to be, I'm sure). And it was a chore. That fancy machine was crazy to operate, and little r ran around the building a million times and tormented the neighbors while I worked my way through the weeds. My neighbor gave me a pensive look when she saw me start the mower. I'm sure she was thinking the last thing the building needed was our landlord's expecting us all to mow the lawn!

Well, at least that's what I "thought" she was thinking. When I had a nightcap with them last night, she teased me and said that I cut down all the dandelions. It took me a minute of back and forth before I realized she truly liked them and was sad to see them gone. Back home those pesky things are weeds that take over your lawn and destroy everything. They are awful, and people spend good money on weed killers and other fancy lawn care systems just to get rid of them. It never occurred to me that someone would find those yellow "flowers" pretty. Would you?

I actually felt bad about cutting them down. Well, bad and insensitive. The idea never crossed my mind to leave them for awhile. She said that she actually enjoyed how pretty the bright yellow colors are against the green lawns. Then she teased, that she enjoyed them only for a little bit - maybe two weeks - and then we could get rid of them.

A colleague and good friend of mine back when I lived and worked in California (which feels eons ago now), once said to me, "one person's weed is another person's flower." Might seem like an odd comment, but he was a botanist and we did an insane amount of field reconnaissance work together tredging through wetlands and documenting plants. It came up one day when I found myself oogling a flower that he despised because it was an invasive plant that was introduced the region and killing all the native vegetation. I couldn't get that phrase out of my head all night. I cut down and destroyed something that was beautiful to someone else. And that really bothered me for awhile.

Being here in Germany has really forced me to open my mind and accept that there are many ways to view things in life. I'm guilty of being that person that was probably often too quick to judge others, and now I'm finding that I am much more accepting of things even when I don't agree with them.

Not a one of us is perfect, and everyone leads a different life with varying cultures and challenges. Very few of us come from the same place, and even when we do, how we were raised changes everything. The environmentalist in me used to always say, "tread lightly," when I actually think what I truly mean is, "tread responsibly." Walk through life being considerate of both your surroundings and those that surround you. This is something I want to practice in my life and something that I hope to instill in little r's mind as well.

I'm not sure this means I won't attack those dandelions with gusto. Regardless of how much my friend loves them, it has been programmed too richly into my mind that it is an invasive weed that takes over law and your flowers. I will say though, that I found myself today looking at those "flowers" more closely and appreciating them a bit more through a different perspective.

Have you ever experienced a moment like this one where you see things from a completely different view?


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Friends in all the right places...

Spring really is the best time of year. The warm temperatures not only help the flowers bloom, but they remind you that you are still alive. More than that, the warm temperatures brings everyone outside and the longer days keep us there enjoying the company of others.

We had the most incredible day today. I'm just saddened that Big R had to miss it. He's in Italy though, getting ready to work his tail off. I can only hope that he had a mediocre day driving through the Alps with his co-counsel in her BMW with the top down the entire way. And that they are appropriately finishing off the day Italian-style with a lovely glass of wine and some incredible Italian food.

Ok, maybe I'm a tad bit jealous, but not too badly because little r and I had a pretty incredible day ourselves. The morning was spent outside melting as we tackled the house chores, so that wasn't much fun, but it did tire little r out enough for him to take a short nap and rest up for a fun-filled afternoon. (I enjoyed the nap because I snuck in a quick yoga session out on the porch in the sun - pure bliss...)

Nina has a good friend that is from Australia, and therefore speaks English (and his German is ridiculously good, which really makes me wonder what an Australian accent sounds like in German - HA). We met him and his son when Nina invited us over for Linus' birthday party, and we were instant friends. She thought it would be fun for us all to get together again and have a BBQ. Nina is awesome that way in that she knows it can be tough for us at times being Americans and living here, and thought it would be nice to have more English-speaking friends. She's just awesome.

They live in Bamberg a short bike ride away, so I woke little r up from his nap and we headed into town. (You will be happy to know that I didn't even remotely get lost - guess this girl is finally starting to know her way around town, something I once thought was a complete impossibility.) It was incredibly hot today. I think it got above 80 degrees, which for here is a super warm day especially when we have barely seen 70 yet this year. The sunscreen was out and the beers were ice cold, and we were sure to enjoy all the rays of sunshine we could get!

It is so great to make new friends. There's nothing like it, is there? It's especially nice to make new friends when you are an adult because it just seems to get harder as you get older. I think Germans are just amazingly nice people because we have been very fortunate to have made some incredible friends here - just plain upstanding folks in every way. And little r, of course, had the time of his life playing with Linus.

Here are some pictures of our amazing afternoon. For awhile we were all pretending we were having a beach party. Fantastic!!!




Yeah, it was an all around "netten Nachmittag und Abend." And I will be finishing off this gloriously fine day with a night cap upstairs with my neighbors. Yep, pure bliss.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Consider the towel tossed...

Yep, I tossed in the towel on the whole nap thing. It's painful to say that, but it was more painful to fight with my crazy little monster every day. I really thought this whole nap deal was going to be a gift for awhile. Something I could hold dear and count on. I clearly wasn't thinking right - CLEARLY. We are talking about a toddler here, so all the rules are out the window. As my good friend told me all too wisely this week, "Kids are an enigma." Yes, indeed, they most certainly are.

Oddly enough, now that I've accepted the idea that I have toddler that no longer naps, regularly, that is, it's really not all that bad. As much as that free time was just that, "freeing," it was also another way that I let my little one hold me captive with my incessant planning and A-personality. He's such an active kid that sleep used to be an absolute necessity. If he didn't get a nap, then no one wanted to be near him and he would sleep terribly at night. Guess my little baby isn't a baby anymore...

The whole little boy world is changing right in front of me. Now it's almost exactly the opposite with little r. When he naps, night time is a mess. He doesn't go to sleep for hours and then wakes up at the crack of dawn. Being that the sun rises around 5 a.m. here, beating the sun up is quite a feat - something he was becoming all too good at. And let's not even get into how painful nap time could be for both of us. He would be crying (the world was ending, most definitely, you realize) to the point that even I would be crying, (yes, my child manipulates me, I am fully aware of his power over me), and we would spend easily 30-45 minutes forcing what inevitably would be no nap at all. That or, he would finally go to sleep and I'd be arguing with myself about waking him an hour later.

So, now the world is starting to look shinier. We are no longer bound by my watch all afternoon. It seemed I was struggling to get him home faster from Kindergarten so we could get down for a nap at a certain hour, just to have him be awakened a couple hours later when he's sleeping soundly. Then we struggled with drowsy crankiness until dinner and the bedtime routine. Although he would always go to bed without a fight, he wouldn't stay there, so it was often nearly two hours later that the little guy would drift off to dreamy land.

I thought that the whole thing was completely crazy until I started talking with more friends about their experiences. I really did think that most kids napped until they were much older. Turns out, that's not really the norm. What became more clear is that each kid is different (as if I needed yet another reminder, right?). I decided to listen to my instinct this time, unlike how often I fought it when little r was a baby because all the books told me to do things a certain way, and do what made the most sense for my little boy.

The timing is perfect because summer is here :) Now instead of being bound up in the house, we can go to the pool or he can play with his friends (or I can play with mine!), and we'll just be sure to hit the sack earlier. In the grand scheme of things, I'll actually have more time to myself (as long as I keep getting up really early), and little r will get more consistent sleep and a lot more fun with mommy and his friends. Maybe this will be a win-win situation afterall!!! (can you read between the lines and see that I'm calmly trying to convince myself that this is absolutely a good thing?!)

What did you experience with your toddler? A part of me likes that little r keeps me guessing, even if it's unpredictably maddening at times. But that's what keeps life interesting, right?


Time for flowers and other pretty things

Spring started here awhile ago. We were even teased a bit with a few weeks of amazing warm weather. Then the chill came back making it seem mostly cruel. Temperatures that were pleasant were suddenly unbearably cool and anything but motivating.

The sun is back and the temperatures are finally rising again. It promises to be a beautiful weekend. Big R will unfortunately be stuck in northern Italy preparing for a case (wait, did I seriously use the work "unfortunately" and "Italy" in the same sentence?), so little r and I have many plans this weekend that will keep us outside enjoying the sun. After spending so many summers out west in the desert where you tend to go into hiding during the summer, I just LOVE living in a place where you can fully enjoy the warmest season of the year. Not only that, but the sun shines so long here in Germany. It's up with me close to 5 a.m. and it doesn't set now until 8:30 p.m., and it's only going to get better.

Feeling inspired, I finally bought flowers for our hanging flower baskets and spent a good portion of the afternoon getting them planted so we can start enjoying them this weekend.

Big R and I also decided that if we only have one more summer to enjoy this amazing porch, we are going to do it in right and in style. So, we splurged and purchased a porch set that is a lazy and comfy couch that also transforms into a bar with bar stools. Something we thought would be fabulous for warm evenings with friends or even cooler evenings cuddled under a blanket. Sounds amazing, right? It should be here in a couple weeks, so I'll let you know.

Last night little r and I rode our bikes into Bamberg and met Big R in town for dinner at a local restaurant with delicious Bavarian flare. It was a pleasant evening, to say the least. One I hope is the first of many this summer.

Happy weekend, everyone! I hope you have lovely weather where you are and that you are making plans to enjoy it to the fullest.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Four-Leggeds

I spend an awful lot of time blaming my toddler for my sleep deprivation, and that's not entirely fair. The truth of the matter is that he has partners in crime that assist him in this task and they are all exceptionally good at it. Lately it has been getting a tad bit ridiculous. I have four kids, five if I count Big R, and they all have it out for me. Seriously, if one of them is having a good night, then another is determined to disrupt my restful slumber multiple times throughout the night.

Our biggest problem child the past couple of weeks has been Lucy. Rani has her moments, and Sarge is always waking me up at least twice a night to go outside (and then come back in again), but Lucy has taken the big prize for keeping us both awake all night for...Oh land, I have no idea how long we've let this go on, but it's been TOO long, we'll just put it that way.

What's her deal? Well, aside from the fact that she's just a "special" cat, she has some extremely irritating "things." Her litter box visits are probably our favorite of her habits - I had no clue a cat could make THAT much noise using the can. It's truly a sight to be "heard." Lately she has gotten territorial at night. Probably because until we started inviting her to sleep with us at night about a month or so ago, Sarge would give her the stink eye and beat her up until she stayed far away from us. Now she thinks she owns the place, or at least she wants us to think that she does. Hardly, but nice try anyways, Lucy.

As soon as Sarge goes outside during the night, Lucy scratches on the glass door like a maniac. It's the most annoying sound EVER at 3 a.m. We got creative and blocked the door, we've used water bottles and thrown pillows at her, the little fuzzball is just too determined for her own good. Next best thing - just lock the brats out. And that's exactly what we did. She's a cuddly orange fur-ball to sleep with, but we're seriously losing our sanity. How do we let our four-leggeds always get the best of us? We are the biggest suckers, we know.

So, as soon as she started doing her scratching dance last night, we helped her exit the room; Sarge, too. Funny, but that was the first full night of uninterrupted sleep I've had in months. When my alarm went off I was annoyed that I was getting a phone call in the middle of the night. Haha, right, who calls me?!

The goal is to try NOT to let the fuzzy creatures own the place. It's tough though. They show their teeth, but more than that, they are just too darned cute most of the time. I'm hoping there are many more uninterrupted nights in my near future. Sorry, kittens, but the big people need to sleep...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sleep is over-rated

I have decided that sleep is definitely over-rated. It must be because I let myself get very little of it these days. My sweet little man is doing his early wake up calls (YET AGAIN). I think I'm figuring out that he cycles through these sleep patterns, which means my least favorite part of his "cycle" is coming up really soon. The balance with this kid is far too delicate. Does anyone else feel that way about their toddlers?

We feel like we have tried all the recommended approaches to helping toddlers stay in bed a little longer. Our wild monster just wants to be different. The kid is on his own schedule and he is not about to have us tell him that things need to change. He's too clever for that. Yes, we're in HUGE trouble.

I even purchased one of those "Ok to Wake" alarm clocks. The reviews were promising, and everyone claimed it was the answer to keeping their little ones sleeping in later in the morning. The idea is that the alarm clock illuminates and you teach your toddler that if the light is off, he stays in bed (or in his room) until the light turns on. Many kids apparently find this exciting. It didn't work at all when I first got it, and then he started sleeping well, so I put it aside. Since he started waking up early again, I thought it might be worth a second go. Big R helped me build up the excitement with little r. We explained that he had an alarm clock just like mommy and daddy, and when the light turns on it was time to get up, BUT when it wasn't on, it meant little r needed to stay in bed and use his whisper voice.

It's true - he was REALLY excited. This is where he got clever. There's a button that turns the glow "on." I think it's supposed to function like a night light, not sure. I'm the dummy that decided to show him what the "light" looks like. He paid close attention, despite me trying to be sly (it never works). We tucked him into bed and ten minutes later he came out of his room with the biggest smile! "Mommy, come look! My light is on, it's time to get up!" I kid you not. If that's not funny enough, he did it again the next morning. He woke up almost an hour before his alarm would have gone off and turned it on. "It's time to get up, Mommy, see?" Yep, that's my kid. Gotta love him. I have to smile every time I think about this. We need a different idea.

If you are thinking this idea is cruel, maybe you are right, but believe it or not, it's less for me and more for little r. I would be less adverse to him getting up so early if he woke up happy. The other morning he woke us up at 6:00 a.m. singing. That was cute and the whole thing was a-ok by me. But he rarely does that. He's usually cranky, and I can see that less than 30 minutes after he wakes up, he's exhausted. Not a good thing.

Here's my current conundrum, if you even want to refer to it as that. Little r clearly needs to get to bed earlier. His body wants to be awake early, and that's just how it's going to be, but I want him rested. The challenge comes in with his nap. We don't get home from Kindergarten until after 1:00 p.m., or sometimes later. We eat lunch, and my goal is to have him down for his nap by 2:00 p.m. at the latest. Then he has been sleeping for 2.5+ hours. The bottom line is, he's just not tired to go to bed. So, when we get him to bed early, he plays in his room for hours. He's in his room and he's staying there (for the most part), but he's not getting sleep.

Little r went from sleeping well through the night and waking at a reasonable hour (between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m.) and having nap strikes, to taking 2.5-3 hour naps in the afternoon and waking up eeeeaaarrrrlllyyy. I'm starting to see a correlation here. I don't think I'm ready to give up naps...just not yet...

So, as much as it pains me to do it, I'm waking him up no later than 4:00 p.m. from his nap. I'm hoping this will start to help us get him to bed earlier, so that he gets more sleep at night. To help me cope more with the early hours, I'm training myself to be a morning person. My alarm is set for 5:15 a.m., and I get out of bed, have a cup of coffee, and hope to do some interneting before the little man rises for the day. It's helping that it's summer and the sun rises at 5:30 a.m. Somehow it feels less painful to climb out of bed when the sun is greeting you.

I've also made arrangements to bring little r to kindergarten earlier. It dawned on me this might actually help a bit. The kid is so excited to go to school in the morning that it's madness trying to contain him for 2-3 hours before we start our walk to school. Shortening this a tad really helps. What can he say, he is just really ready to start his day, can you blame him?

We'll see how this new schedule works. I'm sure little r will keep us guessing. He loves surprises and keeping my life interesting. I'm determined to find harmony and a good balance. Per usual, I'm overthinking everything because that's what I do best. Hopefully we'll find an answer. Or maybe we won't because there isn't one, and I'll just hang in there until the cycle shifts to later awakenings. More coffee please :)


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mommy Goes to Amsterdam

What a wild weekend. This trip seemed less about exploring Amsterdam and more about taking a break from mommy-ness, building new strong friendships, and finding as much patience as possible. Oh, and I fell in love with Amsterdam in the process...although, I managed to see very little of it, it was still pretty fantastic.

So, yes, I spent the weekend in Amsterdam. That statement alone is bizarre to see written. I'm not sure I'll ever get used to the fact that I live in Europe and can say, "thought I'd spend the weekend in Italy," or "we decided to take a cheaper family vacation and just spend a week in Austria." I mean, seriously? Yeah, I really never thought I'd say those things. It's really pretty freaking cool.

Big R thought I could use a break. I suppose I didn't really notice that I needed one, but he was probably right. My sweet little man is a cutie pie, but no matter which way you cut it, a toddler is a lot of work, especially when you are a stay-at-home-mom. Yes, I guess a break was definitely on my list of "needs," I just never expected one.

The MWR is the Army's way of boosting morale for its soldiers and their families. I think it stands for "Morale Welfare, and Recreation." They put together these outings to provide some adventure and to get people off the post and discovering the places where they live. Most of the trips are pretty awesome. I went on my snowshoeing trip back in January through MWR, and that was great fun. So, when Big R saw that they were doing a quick weekend trip to Amsterdam for super cheap (it was only $250 for a weekend including everything - bus ride, hotel, and a few other entry fees), he immediately thought this would be a great way to get me a break and let me spend some time abroad with friends. And ultimately it really was great. Next time we'll leave the bus behind though, and plan a fabulous trip on our own.

MWR is great, but frankly, I'm getting a little too old for this crap. We caught the bus at 1 a.m. on Friday night with the goal of arriving in Amsterdam around 10 a.m. Have you ever tried to sleep on a bus? Yeah. Also, I wasn't ready for the patience involved with group travel. Well, group travel by a fearless leader that was fearfully unorganized. It took forever to get anywhere, the bus driver was constantly lost, and the itinerary was ever changing. We also had the added benefit of having arrived in Amsterdam on the day they had a nasty train accident on the line between the airport and Amsterdam Central Station. Aside from being a frightening tragedy for those involved, it also created a public transit nightmare for tourists and locals alike. We stayed near the airport. We spent most of our weekend on public transit. Something we were told was definitely not the norm for Amsterdam, so we filed it away and didn't hold it against the beautiful city.

All that aside, we somehow managed to really enjoy Amsterdam. I went with my friend, Meg, who is another JAG spouse that lives near Schweinfurt. She is absolutely fabulous. We traveled incredibly well together and both took all the craziness in stride. Technically we were in Amsterdam for about 36 hours and we managed to see close to nothing. What we did do was take in the city, walk the canals, eat amazing food, and take pictures of pretty flowers. It was great!

My photographic talent is greatly lacking compared to my husband's, so try not to be too terribly disappointed that the pictures are no where near on par with what you are accustomed to seeing from our adventures. I tried to capture the essence of Amsterdam...well, as best I could :)

When we got to Amsterdam (finally!), the group took a canal cruise. It was very cool. Unfortunately it rained the whole time making picture taking more challenging, but the canal boat was fully equipped to keep us dry, so we really enjoyed the trip.

I took several pictures of this building while we were in Amsterdam. Guess I liked it - haha.

The weeping willows along the canal were really pretty.

Meg and I had a great time. Here's our super cheesy picture:

Although we didn't get to benefit from what I'm certain is beautiful summer foliage, we did go at a really pretty time of year because the spring buds brought so much color to the canals. And the lack of too much foliage also gave us a peek at buildings and views we wouldn't have otherwise seen.

After the canal ride, we piled back into the bus to head to the Keukenhof that sits just outside of Amsterdam. The powers at be thought it would be really cool for us to experience this flower heaven during the annual flower parade. Yes, the ANNUAL parade! Not much thought went into this planning, however. Take note that when you visit a world famous attraction on a day where they have an event that happens only one time a year, that means A LOT of people will be there. Holy cow, it was bananas!!! I thought the bus drivers were going to kill our "leaders." We sat in traffic for nearly three hours trying to get into the place. Once we finally got there, not a single one of us on the bus even watched the parade. Funny how that happens. Well, the Keukenhof is a beautiful place. I think tulips are quickly becoming my favorite flower. They had rows and rows of colorful tulips. My pictures of the tulip farms didn't turn out very well, but here are some of the flowers within the facility.

One of our favorite parts of Keukenhof was the food. We had these sandwiches made with sauteed ham and curried mustard (YUM!), and our favorite were the Poffertjes, which were mini pancakes. They were delish, especially with a side of a warm cappuccino (it was super chilly that day).

Here's a snapshot of how crowded it was. I'm telling you bananas, it was absolutely crazy bananas.

Our hotel was out by the airport and somewhat affiliated with a rest area. It looked hokey on the outside, but it was really pretty and rather elegant inside and the rooms were huge. Too bad our bus driver couldn't figure out how to enter the hotel parking area. We drove in circles for an hour. Fun times.

After a 1.5 hour canal cruise, three hours on a bus sitting in traffic, another hour driving in circles, being stood up by a shuttle bus, pulling our hair out in the airport train station (and we travel often, this is supposed to be easy, right?), and multiple transfers due to the train accident, we FINALLY made it to Amsterdam after 9 p.m. and found our fabulous restaurant. We took a recommendation from our buddy, Rick Steves, and found dinner at a romantic little gem called Restaurant de Luwte. A couple glasses of wine and a delectable meal later, and we were feeling relaxed after a crazy day.

We closed down the place, which is easy to do when you order dinner after 9:30 p.m. The serving staff was great though. They didn't seem to mind that we were there, so we were not rushed or pressured to leave. They let us sit and enjoy our meal AND our wonderful desert.

Knowing that the last shuttle from the airport to our hotel was far behind us at this point, we just took our time strolling along the canals and taking pictures. For some reason I like the grainy retro feel of this photograph. Yeah, I'm weird that way. I'm sure Meg's fancy camera captured some finer pictures.

Our only glimpse of the red light district. It's true, we didn't even have time to get lost in the world of the risque. Instead we walked the edge of the district and we were hit on by a group of drunken Englishmen. Awesome.

We didn't make it back to the hotel until nearly 2 a.m. Because of the train accident, there were no more trains heading from Amsterdam Central to the airport by the time we got to the station. Instead we were directed to take a bus, to a tram, to a metro, and then we shared a taxi with strangers to get to the hotel. We made it though. Our fearless leaders scheduled a wake-up call at 6:45 a.m. (still want to strangle them for that one), so our day started much earlier than we wanted it to. Yet, despite finishing breakfast at 8:30 a.m., we didn't make it back to Amsterdam until nearly 10:30, and we had to meet the bus to head home at 3:30 p.m. That's not much time, and we somehow managed to have the worst luck with public transit, museum tickets, and anything else we tried to plan. So we threw our hands up and decided to just take it all in. We walked along the canals and photographed the beautiful architecture. We found a cozy cafe and drank tasty warm beverages while we wrote post cards and watched people go by and interact in their daily lives. It turns out Amsterdam is a great city to do just that - take it all in.

The Damrack, or downtown area, was full of people enjoying a festival. Carnival rides, good food and drink, and loud noises. It was wild!

So, we didn't stick around long, and instead started trying to find other areas of the city to explore that weren't quite so overwhelming. It wasn't a difficult task...

We had lunch at a sweet little cafe run by two women that made everything from the freshest ingredients, including freshly squeezed orange juice. I think we saw her make thirty of these while we sat there and ate our lunch. Here is a picture of our amazing sandwiches. I'm still dreaming about mine.

We had to run through the flower market and the most bustling part of the city where all of the shops were located. Maybe this is a good thing... we really would have loved to have had more time. This is the last picture I took in Amsterdam. It was hilarious. Look hard past the reflection in the window and you'll see why I just had to get a picture...

Sadly, the trip was over and it was time for us to get back on the dreaded bus to head home. We are all smiles from our lovely day in Amsterdam (and also because the bus driver stocked the fridge and we were enjoying a cold German beer!).

Thanks for a great time, Meg, and thank you, Big R, for giving me the opportunity to sneak away for a weekend. Next time I think we'll leave the bus behind and do things a little more our way. We came away with a lot of memories though, and I recovered fully after a three hour nap and a full night of sleep. Maybe I'm not too old for this afterall :)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Trading Places

This weekend I took some much-appreciated time off and went on an adventure to Amsterdam with a girlfriend. Big R got to do some important father-son bonding all weekend long. I thought it would be fun to share the details of that bonding time through Big R's words. So here you have a recap from the man himself - I hope you enjoy this guest blog from my wonderful hubby.

Until this weekend, little r and his mommy have only been separated for a night, and never more than 36 hours or so. That surprised me quite a bit, but then again I have spent many nights apart from both of them - between conferences, trials, and the big move last summer.

As my wife eloquently articulates through this blog, caring for a toddler can be exhausting. Recently, I've sensed that despite having a mind stimulated by fitness challenges and our own family trips my wife's sense of sanity was beginning to be tested by the throes of little r's terrible twos and having to be the adult responsible for running the household while I drown in a sea of motions, victim interviews, and clients (she, in contrast, drowns in laundry, grocery bags, and spends a great deal of time each day disposing of excrement...). When I saw a flyer for a bus trip to Amsterdam, I knew that it could be just the remedy - the fact that another Trial Defense spouse was able to go too made it even better.

This guest entry isn't about Amsterdam though, it's about my weekend alone with little r. The two or three "are you sure you'll be okays?" I got were only half serious, but my weekend plans were going to test the toddler. On Saturday, after an early morning wakeup little r and I watched episodes of the US version of Top Gear, walked the dog, and then got ready for our trip to Nuremberg. Nuremberg hosts a spring volksfest, sort of an Oktoberfest-lite, near the site of the old Nazi party rally grounds (also repurposed into a race course, museum, and soccer stadium). The fest had the beer tents of course, but the big draw for a toddler is the rides (and getting there, too)! We took a bus, then a train, and then a tram to get there. Little r is obsessed with vehicles, so it was a pretty easy trip -- until we got to Nuremberg.

It was a soccer game day. The Germans love soccer. They drink. They sing. They travel in packs. The main train station was a madhouse, and we got there right as someone needed a nap. Thankfully, a pretzel, some gummy bears, and the back up blankee kept little r placated long enough to get to the fest. When we arrived, little r marvelled at the "sit down wheel" (ferris wheel), the trampolines, and the balloon stand. Walking in there is a bit of visual stimulation for a 2 1/2 year old to say the least.

In the past, rides have been a mixed bag for us with little r. He loves them, is cute on them, but when they stop there is inevitably a tantrum. I was warned to expect some collossal meltdowns based upon how the week went, but we avoided them. Patience, having a distraction ("look a pony!," "look a car!," "look ice cream!"), and bribery seem to help smooth things over. Sometimes though, pulling the "daddy card" and saying "no" and not relenting works, too. All told, the trip was a success, and I had one very happy little bear on my hands:

Sunday was a quieter day spent at home, with our only break being a dog walk up the hill. We talked to family by Skype, watched Pooh Bear, played with trains, and stopped for regularly scheduled feedings and diaper changes. It was a pretty unexceptional day, except for the observations and conclusions I reached:

1. Nothing makes little r's mood go south faster than realizing Mommy isn't home. Not even gummy bear bribery can overcome the wimpering, lip shaking, "where'd Mommy go?"

2. A full day with little r is a full time job. Add to that a dog and two cats (one being exceptionally needy) and it is hard to focus at times. Your schedule is no longer yours, and even though I didn't do anything physically demanding I was tired both days.

3. I like playing with toy trains and cars more than I want to admit.

4. Someone needs to invent the Roomba for diaper changes. I do change diapers, however, my schedule means I am usually limited to dealing with the "easy" ones. Dealing with the "not so easy" ones for two full days is a poignant reminder of the crap my wife has to deal with every day. Also, since our apartment has a urinal I am vexed by why we don;t have a bidet as well -- we should be fully equipped -- it would make the process of cleaning a toddler much easier!

5. I miss my wife. Dealing with all of the responsibilities our day to day life entails is tough work without her there to play the role of field marshall, even if I am doing the work. Now I understand why we sometimes run out of beer in the house, but we never run out of wine!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What's Next?!

I've had several people ask me what my plans are now that I have completed my fitness challenge. I feel like my answer to this question has changed many times throughout the 12-weeks of the program. Right before Phase 3, I started getting that panicky feeling. Putting all this work into my body was not allowed to go to waste, and I was paranoid I would just end up right back where I started.
So, I started talking to K quite a bit, and we were loosely brainstorming what we could do to sustain our new post-Jamie Eason LIVEFIT bodies. At the start of Phase 3, we were both happily noticing how defined our muscles were getting and neither one of us were interested in letting it go. She had a somewhat similar experience to mine where her numbers were no where near as drastic but she looks amazing. I'm starting to think the whole numbers game is overrated, and it might be time to throw out my scale once and foreall! My best friend has never let a scale enter her house, and now I'm thinking there is something really healthy about that philosophy.
I digress... My mind has been a flurry of activity trying to think of how to build workouts into my schedule. One thing was for certain, I was absolutely NOT going to spend nearly as much time working out as I have for the past twelve weeks. Another decision I had made was that the gym was not for me. I'm done with it. Sounds ridiculous, I'm sure, but the environment at the gym is not my thing. There have been different phases in my life where I've been somewhat of a gym rat. It never lasts long, and it's typically related to working with friends. I like the gym...for classes, not for the whole weight lifting deal. As much as I love my sculpted arms and firm back, I know that I need to find a way to keep these areas of my body strong in a way that I feel more comfortable.
I downloaded an application onto my iPad to track and create workouts that I could do from home. My plan was to buy a couple more sets of dumb bells at varying weights so that I could get a decent workout here. It all started to feel a bit overwhelming all of the sudden, but I couldn't place where this anxiety was coming from. Then it dawned on me... This wasn't what I wanted, and I had no desire to continue a workout plan that included all of this "jazz."
No, what I wanted was to have a solid yoga practice and start running again. That has been my desire for quite awhile, and with little r in kindergarten, it was a desire that I could bring to fruition. It is, after all, what my plan was before I got on this big fitness challenge kick in the first place. I finally realized that there was nothing wrong with wanting this. Funny, but as soon as I made this decision, all of the anxiety left my body and I started watching that finish line like a hawk because I couldn't wait for my challenge to be over so that I could begin this new fitness plan.
So, that's what I plan on doing now. I'm going to focus on my yoga practice. With little r being in kindergarten and me NOT having to fill those hours with time at the gym, I could now do a full hour of yoga 3-4 times a week, if not more. Yoga has a way of bringing calm to my life. At the fear of sounding cliche, I really REALLY love being a yogini, and I like it being an important part of who I am. My goal is to start working on more challenging poses, and eventually attain a certification to teach. This might not happen for quite awhile, but it's a goal that I think is worth reaching for.
I am also going to keep running. I thought that I had given this up because my body is quite frankly falling apart. My marathon days did me in BIG TIME. My hips are a disaster, and I get injured so easily. All that aside, I enjoy it, and I absolutely love running the trails around our home here in Germany. I plan on taking full advantage of living here. It also seems like a good time to start working on increasing my pace. Oddly, I actually enjoyed the sprinting segment of the LIVEFIT program - albeit, sprints five times a week can be super exhausting - and I think it was key in helping keep my metabolism moving. That said, I'm going to put myself in the gym once a week to do sprints on the treadmill (I know, that was really strange for me to read, too). I'm going to tie it to taking a yoga class at the gym as well (K is starting her yoga instruction for the first time - so awesome!), and hopefully that will make it seem less painful to be within the confining walls of the gym again.
Hopefully the combination of a regular yoga practice and trail running will keep me in line and I can avoid losing all of this hard work from the last few months. I believe everyone has a body and mind that responds differently to exercise and if you don't pick a fitness regimine that works well for you both physically AND mentally, then it's a losing battle. You'll either give it up or be really unhappy. Being in shape shouldn't be easy, but doing it should help relieve stress NOT create more stress in your life. That's my two cents on the issue anyway...
What works for you? If this challenge taught me anything it's that you should listen to that voice in your head and not only go after the things you want, but to feel good about the decisions that you make. Well, as long as those decisions are healthy ones!

Challenge Update - Final Results!!!

My 12-week fitness challenge is FINALLY complete. The results are decent, but not overwhelmingly so. The numbers feel mediocre to me compared to the amount of effort and dedication the challenge required. However, the visual results are much more telling. I do feel better, I think I look better, and my clothes fit more comfortably (or not at all in some cases).The final numbers are not terribly different than what I reported at the beginning of Phase 3. I lost another inch off of my hips and at certain points I was down several pounds. With all said and done, overall with the program I lost 2 inches off of my waist, thighs, and chest, and three inches off of my hips (yahooooo!), and a total of close to 10 pounds. Like I said, not terribly drastic results, but here are some pictures so you can see where it counts...

My muscles have much more definition, and my body is definitely firmer. Big R claims my curves are back - everyone loves having some curves, eh? I can't argue that I'm stronger today than I was three months ago, which makes several facets of my life a tad bit easier, not the least of which is carrying around little r. Here is a comparison of my first picture and my last. I tried to take the last picture to match as closely as possible to the first so that the comparison was fair. I even wore my least favorite workout top - Lord only knows why I decided to wear it for my first picture!

On the left is me around Week 3.

And on the right is me at the end of the 12-week challenge.

Whenever I feel like I gained nothing these last three months, I look at these before and after pictures and feel a bit better.


And I'm going to be brave and show you my favorite comparison - my abs. I took the "before" picture hoping that I would be happy enough with the results to take an "after" shot, and I think it's a decent enough improvement that I want to share.

Here I am (left) at the beginning (well, two weeks in, but close enough).

And this is me now (right).




Being able to see the difference visually makes me feel so much better about those pesky "numbers" not being more dramatic. Now that I have sufficiently embarrassed myself by sharing photographs of my mid-section, let's move along, shall we?

For some reason those 12 weeks felt like an eternity. Yes, I am such a drama queen. I suppose some things are just more taxing than others for certain people. This fitness challenge certainly fit into the category of being one of the more difficult challenges for me. The workouts were definitely a lot of work, but not terribly grueling or impossible. More than the actual "work" they were just hugely time consuming.

Being finished with Jamie Eason's 12-week LIVEFIT trainer is somewhat bitter sweet. It was exciting to be a part of a challenge and to have all of the work scripted and planned out. I rarely had to think, and that part was a relief. I enjoyed feeling myself get stronger when I was lifting heavier weights and running much faster during my sprints. I also really enjoyed the variety of the workouts. Jamie does an excellent job keeping your muscles and your mind guessing, so boredom was never an issue.

All that said, I could not be happier to have completed this challenge so that I can have my day back. As horrible as it is to say (and to think it), I felt incredibly guilty and selfish doing this program. It ate up so much of the time I had while little r was in kindergarten, that I was rushing around like a crazy woman trying to complete all of the other things I needed to get taken care of for the household. The workouts were also a tad bit exhausting, especially in Phase 3, so I had such little energy to get anything done. Juggling our schedules with only one car, many early mornings that started before 5 a.m. so that I could get my workout completed before Big R needed the car for work, and the constant feeling that I was extremely pressed for time all created anxiety I really could have done without.

Am I glad that I did the challenge? Absolutely. I really needed to do this for myself despite how it made me feel or how crazy I was for three months. I also learned a fair amount about myself, particularly in those areas where I need a lot of work emotionally. The challenge also helped me make healthier food choices for the family, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Speaking of food, I probably would have seen even greater results had I been stronger about following the "diet" Jamie directs you to do. I found out that I have zero will-power where this is concerned. (And all the running in Phase 3 makes me freaking hungry!!!) Sure, I can force myself to annex chocolate and wine and all those sugary goodies, but keeping the calories crazy low AND the carb intake at close to null is a recipe for moodiness and anger in this lady. It's not worth it to me. That is not healthy for my mind. Instead, I opted to take a moderation approach. I tried to make smarter food choices when I was hungry, and I made sure there were little to no unhealthy snacks in the house to avoid any binges. At the end of the day, I failed miserably at the "carb cycling" that Jamie has in her program, and the calorie counting went by the wayside at the beginning of Phase 3. Despite all that, I feel really good, and I'm much more conscious about what I eat.

So, there you have it. I don't look a thing like Jamie Eason, but I am slimmer, leaner, stronger, more confident... Let's just hope that after all this hard work, I can stay this way :)

Thanks for all your support as I worked my way through the last 12 weeks!