Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Annafest in true Bavarian style

If there is one thing that Germans do well, it's celebrating heritage through folk festivals. (Ok, Germans do many things well, but this one probably one of our favorites.) All throughout the year there are festivals giving towns and villages a reason to break out the beer, or wine, don their traditional costumes, and drink beer and eat the best food of the region. Annafest is no exception; however, it is easily one of the more awesome fests we have been to.

Annafest is held in Forchheim, which sits just slightly south of us. This Franconian folk fest is celebrated every year at the end of July (around St. Anna's day) and usually lasts about a week. What is special about this fest is that it occurs in a place called the Kellerwald ("cellar woods"). In Franconia (and possibly other parts of Germany, as well), they often store their beer in cellars dug into the hills throughout the region. The Kellerwald is literally a forest with a trail that leads to many different kellers where beer is stored underground to keep it cool. They nearly always put a "beer garden" on top of the Keller, so that everyone can enjoy the beer straight from the source. In fact, if you ever visit this part of Bavaria, you will rarely ever here the locals refer to a "bier garten" but instead will hear and see Keller everywhere.

The Annafest has its roots starting back to the early 1500's when folks would make a pilgrimage to the Church of St. Anna in Forchheim. During these pilgrimages, they would use the Kellerwald to take a much needed break. The tradition grew into a festival a few hundred years later. Now it attracts about half a million people every year. After experiencing this unique folk fest, I can completely understand why so many people flock to Forchheim at the end of July.

Big R decided we needed to hit this festival in true Bavarian style. Much to my surprise, we were both able to find traditional costumes that we liked at the first store we tried, and for a pretty decent deal (traditional dress can get very expensive, so we were happy we found what we wanted and could purchase them without breaking the bank). We had found lederhosen for little r while we were in Austria, so he was set.

The Germans tend to be pretty good with logistics, especially when a large event is underway. This festival was up in the woods, so it wasn't your typical hop on a train to the Allstadt that we were accustomed to. Instead, we took the Autobahn and parked at a Park & Ride where a bus came every half hour to take us to the fest. Before we knew it we were in the middle of festival heaven.

Aside from the liter-only beers (no joke, you could not purchase much of ANYTHING, especially beer, in a smaller size) and traditional Bavarian food...

...and the fun rides that you always find at these festivals...

Yes, little r went on his first roller coaster AND did it with his hands up in the air!
...the festival was really, really neat because it was set inside the woods. Instead of your typical folk fest that is laid out in a city center or in a field, this one climbed the trails up into the hills amongst the trees. It was really freaking cool. (I think the vendors probably hate this fest though because getting all the booths set up along those narrow trail roads and nestled onto the hills must be a real bear.)

Big R and little r climbing steps to another level of the fest
Isn't this neat?
The festival wound its way up a narrow logging road and passed what seemed like at least a dozen Kellers along the way (I'm probably exaggerating, but there were many!). At the top or end of the fest, there was a wider road and easily half a dozen, if not more, Kellers neighboring each other. It was an attraction all unto itself!

Although little r did great for the entire experience, it was far past his bedtime, and the weather hadn't been that great for our excursion. So, we sadly headed back down the hill toward the bus knowing that the party at the top of the hill was likely just getting started. It was too much fun to end that way though, so mid-week Big R convinced several other friends to join him after work. I lived vicariously through him on this one, but I was maybe just a tad bit jealous I couldn't join him.

The nightlife at Annfest took things up several notches, and fun was had by all...

The ferris wheel all lit up
The rides and most of the vendors were at the base of the hill - clearly
Music was playing at every Keller even during the day
Gotta love those 1-liter beers!
So beautiful at night with all the lights
Big R and his friends found a friendly Keller and quickly made new friends. They had so much fun that his friends missed the last train home and crashed on our couch. Now that's a true sign of a good time, right?

The Annafest will definitely be on our list of festivals to see if we are still here in July next year. What an amazing time!

Friday, July 27, 2012

My Mini Harvest

One of the things I promised myself I would do while living here in Germany is start a garden. I wasn't very detailed about what type of garden I would grow, and I was honestly a tad bit intimidated to sow some fields in this world of professional gardeners we live amongst in Bavaria. I was at a loss for where to start. Seems silly, doesn't it? So, I took my time watching others in our neighborhood prepare their beautiful gardens for summer.

What never occurred to me was that having a little garden on your porch can be just as much fun and equally as gratifying, especially for a novice like me. When I went home to visit my sister for her wedding, I saw this amazing porch garden she and her new hubby had created, and I was envious! But I was also incredibly inspired. For some reason this didn't seem all that tough anymore. When we got home from our trip to the U.S., I decided it was time to take the plunge and start planting.
I spent some time talking to my neighbor, Anette, about the garden she created on her porch upstairs. She filled me in on where some of the best places were in town to buy the plants. Oh yeah, right, you mean it's not necessary to grow tomatoes from a seed in the ground?! No wonder I was intimidated! So, I took a trip to the local OBI (think Home Depot or Lowe's), and bought a few pots, a tomato plant, a pepper plant, and a bunch of herbs. I picked out some healthy gardening soil, and piled it all into the car with a proud smile. (There's that dork factor again - ha!)
This is what I created...my little porch garden, and I love it:
Anette promised me it was simple. She said you only have to water them. They do all the growing on their own, you hardly have to do a thing. Considering I'm raising a toddler and a small zoo, I'm thinking this might not be too terribly tough afterall. Something tells me I'll always remember to give them some water-love.
These little plants have been producing like crazy. Barely a month later, and I have had several ripe peppers and many beautiful red tomatoes. The herb garden blossomed and completely consumed its pot. Pure awesomeness.
This is what my sweet little porch garden looks like these days:
It really was easy, and the harvest from these plants is incredible. I use the herbs regularly for cooking and the tomatoes and peppers are so flavorful. Something tells me the warm Bavarian sun has a lot to do with the success of this garden. Our porch provides just the right amount of sun, and I was able to position my plants to shelter them from the brutal winds we receive during our summer storms.

I pulled another harvest from my plants today to create a salad for book club tonight. Just look at these veggies!
I made a summer quinoa salad using mostly veggies from my garden with a few other necessary ingredients (including the olive oil my sister and her hubby purchased for us at their villa in Tuscany). I can't wait to share this salad with the other ladies tonight. I took a taste and I'm still amazed at how fresh and flavorful the tomatoes are. I hope the book clubbers agree!
I'm glad this gardening experience has been so positive because I really enjoy making meals for my family with food we grew on our own. My guess is I'll probably stick to the porch garden for a little while longer, and maybe if we are stationed somewhere green with rich soils, I'll branch out and try my hand at creating the real deal.

Have you ever grown a garden? I would love to hear about it if you have or if you have any tips to share. I'm hoping this is the first season of many that we eat beautiful vegetables all summer from our very own garden.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Being a Mom Full-time

One year ago this week, I cleaned off my desk, packed up my case files and books, and left the legal world behind to follow Big R and our family for an overseas adventure. That means I have officially been what the media calls a SAHM, or Stay At Home Mom, for one entire, very adventurous, extremely challenging, and remarkably rewarding year. I honestly had no idea what I was walking into leaving the working world behind and succumbing myself to the every day needs of a toddler and running a household. It's also hard to believe a year has already passed...

As much as staying home with little r was appeasing, being unemployed for an indefinite amount of time was a terrifying prospect for me. I have always been work-driven. I took no time entering the world of employment as soon as the law said I was old enough. I worked all my summers during high school, full-time through college, and my transition into the world of 70-hour work weeks happened seemlessly as though it was my fate.

So here I found myself in this unusual place where my full-time job became taking care of my toddler, two cats, a dog, and of course, Big R as well. My family was my job. If you think about it, how much more rewarding could it possibly become? (The feminist in me is screaming at that question.) I have many a girlfriend, acquaintance, and friend of a friend that consciously made the decision to stay home when their children were young to leave a high powered career.

Then I met K who inspires me on a daily basis to enrich my life one step at a time. I'm not really sure where I would be today if I hadn't met her because she came into my life at a time when I really needed a friend with her personality and outlook on life to push me forward to keep the perspective facing the right direction. In the military world, it's not uncommon for a spouse to be unemployed, especially in her trained profession. And we were now, for better or worse, a military family. K has been invaluable at helping me stay focused on the positive side of this journey and not falling into the negativity that we can often find ourselves in.

I had high hopes of teaching. Before coming to Germany I had several interviews and really thought teaching would come to fruition, and maybe it will eventually, but not in the way I was headed last summer. Seeing that prospect dissolve, I decided I needed to find another means of staying tied to the legal community and started my legal blog. All of these ideas I had in my mind to better myself and push my career in a forward direction were much more overzealous than I had originally thought. Working pro bono is difficult without an already exisiting connection, legal writing is near impossible without access to a law library online or otherwise, and getting an advanced law degree here in Germany requires that my German be much more proficient. Ah, all these roadblocks I refuse to acknowledge, but nonetheless must accept...at least at this stage.

I suppose I focused on obtaining the baby steps of those goals with the hopes to maybe obtain them in the future. My legal blog allows me to write about legal issues without the necessity of case research from a law library. My German is getting better every day and I'm looking into taking a full immersion class this fall to push me toward bettering my proficiency, and maybe I'll finally reach out to the right person that has some pro bono work I could do from afar - you never know...

Instead, Big R and I began to realize that although I'm not working in my profession, in many ways, it's better financially for us to have me stay home while we're living overseas. It also frees up my time so that we can leave on a dime and travel without worrying about bosses or leave time, etc. And boy, have we LOVED all of our travel. Something else important that I have realized this past year is that I take much better care of my family when I take good care of myself. How many times do we say, "I just wish I had time to go for a good run or do yoga every day or read a book"? I know I said it endlessly, and now not only can I take the time, but I do.

Despite finding the right perspective and taking better care of myself, I have one constant challenge that I really need to work on: tackling the guilt. GUILT. What a horrible word. A friend of my says it'll take years off your life, and man, is she so very right. But I still feel it ALL THE TIME. It's horrible and stupid and something that I hope to push away. Where does this guilt come from? I'm sure I know, but I couldn't tell you if I tried. What I do know is that I base my daily worth on what I accomplish in my day. I rack up the points in my head as if it's some sick game that I'm playing with myself. I know this isn't healthy. I unnecessarily fill my life with busy-ness that gives me that horrible feeling of having no time and not enjoying the day-to-day awesomeness that life provides.

For example, the warm summer weather finally made its way back to Bavaria. This area is AMAZING when it's warm. All I wanted to do was sit on my porch with a cup of coffee and read a book. I had zero motivation to do little of anything else while little r was at kindergarten. Then after little r got home from school, we spent the afternoon at an outdoor swimming pool with friends. All this was happening while Big R was slaving away calling hostile witnesses for his next trial and preparing himself for depositions he has in the U.S. this weekend. Enjoying my day while Big R works so hard makes me feel guilty. Yes, this is a truly sick world we put ourselves into, and it's one I really need to change.

All that aside, this past year as a SAHM has allowed me to embrace the good things in life, especially being a mother. My respect goes out to all my other SAHM's because this job is no cup of tea. I would never trade back all the days I have spent with little r, but I know that my sanity has been tested numerous times and he continues to provide life with never-ending unpredictability.

It has also forced me to slow down and think outside the box as far as my career is concerned. This is the time in my life to be creative and try all those things I always thought I was interested in. It occurred to me awhile back that I didn't go to law school to practice law in the traditional sense in the first place. There were so many other reasons I put myself through that education. It was rewarding in many ways, so I'm trying not to overfocus on "not using it" and instead channel that focus into building myself into person that someone would want to hire to do the things I enjoy like consulting, advising, and writing. We'll see how that all goes when the time comes.

If I knew where life was going to take me perhaps I would have done things differently and maybe not picked a career that I was so sorry to leave behind, even if temporarily. But then again, it was life that took me on the course of obtaining my law degree and, of course, we cannot forget that I never would have met Big R if I hadn't decided that law was a career I wanted to pursue. No, I think the culmination of my life experiences have led me here and I believe that they will continue to take me to that place where I belong whether it's law or writing or teaching yoga or all of these things combined!

This past year has been a great year of reflection and growth for me. I might not be the financial hero of the household like Big R always thought I would be, but we are doing alright. He makes enough that we have a comfortable life and with a wife that doesn't have the stress of an overpowering job like his, we are able to keep balanced to enjoy our vacations and the few evenings we have together here in Bavaria. I think the universe knows what its doing. I'm going to try harder to trust it and myself. We have an awful lot of life left and I can't wait see where it takes us...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

To Sweden with love..

It was time to leave Copenhagen, but our next adventure awaited. We were heading to Sweden to do more than just see the beautiful country; we were getting an introduction to Big R's Swedish heritage by visiting Gothenburg and meeting his wonderful family for the very first time. When Big R's grandmother was just a girl, she left Gothenburg for the U.S. and sailed across the Atlantic. Although she made the U.S. her new home, a part of her heart stayed in Sweden. She was certain to keep in touch with family, and even more determined to continue speaking Swedish.

Because of her attachment to her home country, all of her children grew up learning about Sweden and wondering what this part of the world was really like. Big R was definitely among the curious, and he always would say that he was going to make it to Sweden some day. It is therefore no surprise that Sweden was at the very top of our list of places to see. I think we were both waiting to visit this part of the world during the summer when it might be a little less...frozen...

While making plans to visit Sweden, we had originally thought we'd go to Stockholm. As beautiful and intriguing as the city might be, it's also fairly expensive to get there and to visit. We decided instead to visit Gothenburg. Not only was it a tad bit easier and less costly, but Big R was certain he still had family that lived in the area. Once she heard that we bought our tickets to Sweden, Big R's mom quickly got us in touch with family in Gothenburg. Facebook was amazing for helping us connect with our Swedish family. Before we knew it, we had arrangements to stay with Big R's second cousins, Brigitta and Bill, that live just outside of Gothenburg.

We arrived in Gothenburg after an easy 3-4 hour train ride from Copenhagen, and we were greeted by a friendly face. Mattias and I had been communicating on Facebook for a couple months, and we recognized each other right away. He drove us into the countryside to Brigitta's home where the rest of the family was waiting to enjoy an evening of good eats, better conversation, and fun, all Swedish-style. It was fabulous. Despite us not knowing a lick of Swedish (except maybe a few words Big R picked up from his grandmother), the conversation flowed easily, and the evening ended with strong new connections and friendships.

We were quick to fall in love with the countryside, the food, the language, and the people. Our family made it easy.

The kids playing in Birgitta and Bill's beautiful backyard
Children of America and Sweden!
Delicious cake to celebrate Brigitta's birthday
Lovely countryside surrounding Bill and Birgitta's home
little r was fascinated by Birgitta's hens
We had to take at least one walk to explore the Swedish countryside - we were happy the weather cooperated
Real homemade Swedish buttercake - can we say, "YUM"?
little r found an egg!
All of the homes had sweet Swedish charm
Our visit to Sweden was short - only two days - but it was such a wonderful visit. Birgitta made sure to arrange time for family to meet us, so we were blessed with another day of family and good food.

This visit wasn't much about sightseeing, although we did get Bill's whirlwind tour of Gothenburg by car. We saw enough that we knew it was definitely worth another visit (or two or three) to do some exploring. Big R was able to grab a few shots from the car of this place his grandmother once called home.

Example of Swedish architecture in Gothenburg
More of the Gothenburg skyline
The place where Big R's grandmother departed Sweden nearly 75 years ago!
And she traveled by boat not unlike this one, can you imagine?!
The time came for us to say our good-byes. It became less of a farewell, and more a time to discuss when we'd be returning for another visit. We think that frozen Sweden might not be that bad afterall. They do have ice fishing there :)

Thank you so much to all of our extended family in Sweden for providing such a warm welcome. Brigitta and Bill, you will forever be close friends!

Ha Det Bra!


Friday, July 20, 2012

Good-bye, Copenhagen, we hope to see you again soon!

Our night in Copenhagen was uneventful. Even little r slept through the night and didn't wake until 6:30 a.m. Impressive considering he fell asleep on my chest at 6:00 p.m. the night before! We enjoyed our morning, which was another beautiful day in Denmark. Breakfast was simple but perfect, and we took our coffee upstairs to enjoy our little porch before checking out of the hotel.

A perfect cup of jo
The only picture we got of the two of us in Copenhagen. Not sure how we managed this one!
Big R escaped downstairs to get some artsy photographs of Nyhavn while little r and I watched otters near the canal. Big R was able to get some amazing pictures - here are a few samples...

The sweet little balcony from our hotel room
Beautiful black & white of Nyhavn Kanal
Doesn't this look like a painting? Big R has such amazing photographic talent!
We reluctantly checked out, and decided to take a walk along the main canal through Amalienhavn park to visit the grounds of Amalienborg Castle and then eventually make it down to see the Little Mermaid at Langelinje pier.

Fountain at Amalienhavn park
St. Albans Anglican Church
Gafion Fountain adjacent to St. Albans Anglican Church

If you are wondering why seeing the Little Mermaid is such a tourist draw in Copenhagen, you share my initial sentiments. The banks of the ├śresund, which is the strait between Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden, was known to all sailors back in the day as the home to all mermaids, and the straight was therefore full of mermaids. The banks are no longer there, but the Little Mermaid stands to welcome all sailors into Copenhagen harbor as a reminder of this legend.

The Little Mermaid
We left the Little Mermaid and the team of tourists to walk around the Kastellet Copenhagen, which is one of the best preserved fortifications in northern Europe. Today it houses several military activities, but it's mostly a park and historic site. We saw guards carrying machine guns and runners enjoying a beautiful Saturday morning. One impressive observation was the healthy lifestyles lived by the Danish in Copenhagen. Everyone was in shape and eating healthy was a way of life instead of something you had to search and try for. The latest numbers state that 1 of 6 Danes commute by bike, so the crisp air is also fresh and clean. This is a lifestyle I could very quickly get accustomed to.

Little r took a moment to guard the Kastellet Copenhagen
A proud little r walking along the trail of the Kastellet - we had to take care not to be run over by joggers!
A view from the Kastellet of the adjacent neighborhood and a windmill
Little r's favorite mode of transportation on this trip
Beautiful building near the palace
Marble Church
A guard at the Amalienborg Palace just after the change of the guards
Our final stop in Copenhagen before catching our train to Sweden was Trivoli. It is located right across the street from the main train station making it a convenient final stop. This was the only part of our adventure that would have greatly benefited by some prior planning but that's only because we had very little time to see Trivoli and it's a place that you could easily get lost in for hours. We had precisely one hour to see the whole park, ride a few rides, and grab lunch before our train left the station. We managed to do all of those things, but we hated saying good-bye to all the fun and barely touched much of the park.


Trivoli is really neat. They say that fairy tales are created every day here, and I can understand what they mean. You could easily spend a day here without even trying. There are dozens of restaurants, pubs, games, rides, shows, and even wildlife!

A stage for performances at one of the entrances to the park
The tallest ride in the park is visible throughout most of the city.
Old building at the entrance to the park - amazing!
Yes, that is a peacock we are looking at, just wondering around the park!
Trivoli is truly designed for a family to come and stay all day and late into the night. The tickets for the rides are designed this way. Although you can purchase "tickets", it really makes more sense to get an all-day pass. We ended up doing a combination of the two, and I'm not really sure we broke even. Ah, bygones. We'll get it right next time...


I took little r on a pirate ship ride. In theory, it seemed like a great idea...


Let's go, Mommy!
Until the ride got started. Not only was the pirate ship spitting steam and giving off a cackling laugh, but it went really fast. I thought it was fun, but poor little r was scared to death. He seemed awfully proud of himself for riding it afterwards though, and still talks about it with us sometimes.

Wait, you didn't tell me this was going to be scary!!!
We decided to try a few more relaxed rides with little r, and then mommy got to do a big girl ride and go on the flying swings!


Weeeeee! Mommy had fun :)
Taking down enemy fighters!
And taking a drive in an antique car with Mommy
We rushed to find lunch (only to wish we had waited for better selections and healthier options at the train station, who knew?!), and gobbled it down as we took off for the train station.


It was sad to leave, but we were excited about our time in Sweden and finally meeting Big R's Swedish family. I know I say this everywhere we go, but I really do hope that we have an opportunity to visit Copenhagen again in our lifetime. There was so much of the city we still have yet to explore. If not, I'll just dream about living in the streets of this beautiful place.


Good-bye, Copenhagen. We hope to see you again soon!