Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When life feeds you lemons...

Never a dull moment in our lives.  I used to think I was being dramatic with that sentiment, but lately I believe it couldn't be more true.  Big R claims if I didn't always have constant havoc in my life I would be bored.  Hardly seem fair to blame my boredom though, does it?  

I should be writing my thesis proposal or telling you about the incredibly awesome birthday party we had for little r this past weekend (can you believe he is 4 already?!), but instead I'm bringing you the latest craziness that has walked into our world.  I will premise this with the acknowledgement that things could be much worse (obviously).  We are all healthy and happy, and life has been otherwise pretty darn good.  

A couple of weeks after we moved into our new place - our fantastically roomy and cozy house that we have slowly called home - we began noticing water damage along the walls on our ground floor (garden level).  We were honestly trying to think of a way to ignore it.  Knowing that we were only going to be here for a year, we were super worried they were going to make us move to another unit, or worse, a completely different town.  Then came the mold, and the neighbors had it, too, so it was no longer something we could ignore.

So, Germans started showing up randomly over the course of several weeks.  Nothing like having 5 burly German men show up unannounced when you are chillin in your sweats, covered in baby puke, not having showered in days.  It was so awesome. (I seriously need to shower more often!)  I can only imagine what goes through the minds of these workers.  They decided early on that I could speak German.  Not sure how that happened.  Holy cow does the Hausmeister talk fast.  I think I capture about 20% of what the dude is saying before my eyes glaze over. Lord knows what I have been saying "ok" and "yes" to.  I kept getting flashbacks to my klinikum experience when I had Baby C and wondering why Germans decide I can understand them when it involves really important yet technical conversations.  

My favorite moment was when they decided it was a pipe leak.  This sounded insane to me.  I'm no plumber, but the entire ground floor has water about 1-2 feet up the wall, we have excellent water pressure, and lots of hot water.  That just doesn't sound like a broken pipe, yet, I am merely a housewife, so what do I know?  Here are 5 German men staring into a hole in the ground in our utility room looking at a flood of water and shaking their heads.  They were clueless.  

After doing a series of plumber things through the course of a day, they determined it wasn't a pipe break afterall.  Maybe the radiator?  Lord only knows.  My fear was mounting.  This was not going to end well.  When I lived in Oakland (holy cow that was a decade ago!), we had dry rot in our bedroom and we had to move everything out of the room and sleep in our living room.  What was supposed to be two weeks turned into two months.  It sucked.  I didn't have kids then, and it still sucked.  I was starting to get that uneasy feeling that we were heading in that direction here.  

So, this morning, a different crew of burly German men showed up (yet again, unannounced - love it) with the Hausmeister.  He and I are starting to become excellent pals.  I think we might grab a beer together when this is all through as we can actually have a conversation with each other now (if that's what you would call it, and please know that I am absolutely kidding).

My biggest fears have materialized.  Ok, maybe not BIGGEST fears, but definitely much of what I worried about is happening... The shower drain is not properly connected in the master bath.  Every time we shower, we feed this growing lake of water underneath our bedroom.  Fantastic!  They need us to move everything out of the bedroom (yikes, this is feeling eerily familiar to me), and sleep upstairs for...wait for it...6 weeks!  So fun... I tried to remain calm and not go into super hyperventilation.  Did I understand him right?  Maybe I'm hearing things. I told him I really need to talk to Housing about this. 

Yep, I heard him right.  About an hour of phone calls later, and we are moving half our furniture to the Freibad (the city swimming pool).  Hilarious.  Apparently they have a nice storage room there.  The rest of the furniture will go upstairs.  They won't put us in a hotel, but that's ok.  Living in a hotel for that long would be horrible with the kids.  The woman from Housing was wonderful walking me through everything so that I was sure to understand the nuances.  She told me that they were checking with the insurance company to see if they would pay to move us into a vacant unit in our neighborhood.  Oh sure, we can stay in this neighborhood and not have to leave this cute little town, but holy heck!  Moving the family is the LAST thing I want to do right now.  I'd prefer 6 weeks of disruption.  We can handle it.  

So, that's my story.  Monday we'll be sleeping upstairs with the kids and living out of our suitcases, while the Mayor of our town directs his crew to take our furniture to the Freibad for a couple months.  We'll have a huge plastic sheet up in our house to keep the moisture downstairs (crazy!), and loud machines running all day long to dehumidify the house.  The bedroom floor is coming up, and the foundation will be drained and aired out for a couple months.  Then they will reinstall the floor, put new carpet in, and give us the ok to move back downstairs.  Fantastic.  Sounds like hell, but at least it's better than moving again.  HA!  

My life is a fantastic episode of constant amusement.  Gotta love it. I'm sure this will bring to you many fun stories.  Until then, I need to take care of my little ones while finish this thesis proposal and do my other assignments as Big R spends the week in DC learning how to be in a better attorney. Hopefully before the week ends, I'll also get to share the awesomeness from this past weekend. On the bright side, the sun is shining for the first time in about 3 weeks, so little r will actually get to play outside and maybe we'll get to soak up some fabulous vitamin D.

In the meantime, I will go make some lemonade. Anyone want to share a glass with me?


Friday, September 13, 2013


When life gets busy, I strive to hold onto something that attempts to keep me grounded.  Try being the operative word here.  Constantly working to obtain that "om" in my day by doing yoga when and wherever I can fit it in.  I read a blog the other day about a novelist that is also a yogi.  He was commenting on how "hardcore" meant you were practicing something ridiculous like three hours a day.  I'm not sure that at any point I'd ever achieve that level of yoga practice. In fact, I'm not sure I'm interested in becoming hardcore if that's what it means. This author commented on how life keeps him busy and he fits yoga in as he can for 20 minutes here, 10 minutes there, or a lucky 55 minutes when the family runs off to run errands and he gets a rare hour at home alone.

I can absolutely relate to this idea because that is how my yoga practice goes these days, and I'm not complaining, not even remotely.  Mostly I'm just incredibly thankful for technology and websites like My Yoga Online that allow me to even have a practice that extends beyond doing the same DVD over and over again.  It really is difficult to challenge or improve your yoga practice when you have zero variability.  I rarely get to attend a yoga class these days, and for various reasons, it will probably remain pretty difficult for me to for awhile.  But that's ok.  There's something empowering about knowing I can find a smidgen of peace when I grab 10 minutes here or somehow find 45 glorious minutes to "find my center."

This week has been one of those weeks where finding the time has been rough.  School, teething babies, soccer practice, sick pets, and normal every day life... I decided to do a yoga challenge with MYO, the focus being on changing the routine of your morning to rise early and get in a yoga session before starting your day.  This seems to be the only time of the day that I can control.  HA, at least that's what I let myself think.  Let's just say that my valiant efforts to rise at 5:30 every morning have been thwarted by one means or another, so although I am getting the daily sessions in, they are not necessarily happening in the morning as intended.

Rising early to practice yoga this morning didn't happen.  I was up early, but yoga was not the reason. *sigh* This evening after getting little r his dinner, I thought I'd try to get my session in.  It was only a quick 15 minute practice, so that should have been super easy.  I asked little r if he wanted to do yoga with me.  He tries to join in once in awhile, and Lord knows, the kid has seen me do yoga a million times.  He sat down next to me in a "comfortable seated position" with his legs crossed and his hands resting on his knees.  He closed his eyes and started taking deep breaths.  Even the little ones need to find their inner peace sometimes.

forward lunge stretch
Tree pose - he's almost got it
I didn't get to finish the practice today.  Baby C wanted to have nothing to do with yoga, but little r kept on and actually finished the practice all by himself.  He was super proud.  Maybe I have a future yogini on my hands.  How do you like them apples?


Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's all about travel: Check out my new travel archive

When I started this blog a few years ago, I don't know that I really knew how much fun we were going to have documenting all of our adventures here in Europe.  We have been so fortunate to have seen so many amazing places in the world.  Since planning that very first trip when we first arrived in Germany, to our latest family excursion to Tuscany this past weekend, we have learned so much about traveling in Europe and with little ones in tow.  Our adventures have been by plane, train, and automobile, and we have stayed in large cities, small towns, and distant villages.  

We are, of course, by no means travel professionals. I'm not even sure how you would obtain such a status.  That said, having done the foreign travel many times, I know how much work goes into planning a trip that allows you to create unforgettable memories without too much hassle or breaking the bank.  When new friends showed up in Germany anxious to see the world, I wanted to share all of our knowledge about every amazing location we had visited.  It didn't take long for me to realize how most of the blogs I have written about our adventures are buried, and it's not as easy to find them as I had always thought.  

So, I created a travel archive of our travels.  Click here, and the internet should take you to a separate tab on my home page. This tab on my home page will be labeled "travel archives" and you can use it to access all of our travel blogs anytime you want to see if we've traveled to a location you might want to visit yourself.  My hope is that you might be able to make your travel planning a little easier by having one more resource at your finger tips.  If you ever have any questions, don't hesitate to comment on the blog post or the travel archives page and I will be incredibly happy to help any way that I can.

Thanks for following all of our travels.  We've had an incredible time seeing the world as a family, and even more fun sharing it with all of you!

Happy Travels!!!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wine Country with my boys: Tuscany

We just got back from an amazing weekend in Tuscany.  Then again, how can you go to such a beautiful part of the world and not create incredible memories?  Our decision to go to Tuscany for Labor Day was literally last minute.  We finally had Baby C's passport in hand, so we scouted the internet for any cheap airfares that weekend.  We got lucky and found a super cheap flight out of Leipzig into Pisa on RyanAir.

Despite the last minute trip, I was able to find a great Italian Villa near San Gimignamo called Il Casale Del Cotone.  San Gimignamo is a beautiful town in the southwest corner of Tuscany between Florence and Siena.  It truly is a gem of a place, and the villa where we stayed was perfect for our trip.  It sat about 3 km from the old town, and it was surrounded with vineyards.  So beautiful.

Our first excursion was to head into San Gimignamo.  It's a walled medieval town in the hills of Tuscany.  The town is known for its seven well preserved tower houses.  These are less obvious when you are inside the town's walls, but the create a signature townscape recognized throughout much of that part of Tuscany.  The village is charming and medieval.  When we arrived, it started to rain.  The summer shower gave the town a romantic feel.  We wandered around the town to take in the atmosphere, we ate dinner in a square near one of the tower houses, and then took the boys back to the villa to snuggle in for the night.  

^^^A romantic scene right inside the walls of San Gimiginamo^^^

^^^The warm summer rain, although wet, added a charm to this already beautiful town.^^^

^^^One of the seven tower houses in San Gimignamo.^^^

^^^Little r hamming it up in the square where we ate dinner.^^^

^^^The summer shower created a double rainbow over one of the towers. It felt like a good omen.^^^

^^^Storefront in San Gimignamo.  Such a charming medieval town.^^^

^^^Tuscan countryside with San Gimignamo in the backdrop.^^^

Our villa was so fabulous.  The owner was incredibly friendly and helpful.  If you are heading to Tuscany, I can't recommend this place enough, especially for the low price.

^^^Il Casale de Cotone^^^

The next morning we took off for a day in Siena.  I think at least half of the enjoyment of our trip was about driving from one town to the other and taking in the incredible Tuscan countryside.  Big R kept asking for me to pull over so he could take photo after photo of all the beauty.  September truly is a perfect time to visit this part of the world.

My first time in Siena, I was freshly out of college and exploring Europe with my best friend.  We took a bus from Florence to discover Siena.  I remember being so impressed with the old architecture.  The whole experience was so new to me.  It's crazy to think of how much I have been fortunate enough to see since that trip, and how it can change your perspective.  Our visit was so different this time around. We drove to the town and walked from a garage with a three year old and a baby before 10 a.m.  Most of the town was still asleep because the tour buses hadn't arrived yet.  The weather was amazing and the streets were quiet.  I quickly realized that so much of the amazement of this town was the buzz created by the people that sat on the square taking it all in.

We spent some time discovering the beautiful Duomo and walked the streets down to the square.  A visit wouldn't be complete without our family climbing a clock or bell tower, which little r has disclaimed he is "really good at" now.  The views from the top were incredible!  The weather could not have been better.

^^^Me holding Baby C in front of the Duomo in Siena.^^^

^^^I just love my boys :) ^^^

^^^A view from the top of the clock tower in Siena.^^^

^^^Even the store fronts were beautiful.  I was taken aback by how carefully the store owner arranged his produce as if it were a work of art - incredible!^^^

^^^Little r contemplating the meaning of life, no doubt, while Big R works hard to get that perfect picture.^^^

For dinner we had decided to try a meal at our villa.  Dinner was offered including fresh organic ingredients and all the wine you could drink.  This sounded like a perfect way to finish our second day in Tuscany.  We spent the afternoon poolside at the villa, and finished the evening having dinner on the terrace.  After little r ate his dinner (and decided to crash his chair backward into the stone wall - ouch!), he decided he was done and just wanted to go to bed.  I took him to our room and tucked him in.  Baby C was cuddled up in his carseat next to our table.  You really couldn't ask for a better situation - it truly felt like a date! (Considering our poolside excursion was anything but relaxing, it was nice that the boys cooperated for us to enjoy dinner.)

^^^The view of Tuscany outside the window of our room at the villa.^^^

^^^Salute!!!  Dinner was fabulous and so romantic!^^^

^^^I was the driver for our Tuscan adventure, so I didn't drink much wine during this trip, but for dinner that night, I truly let myself enjoy the wonderful Tuscan wines made from grapes on the adjacent hillsides.^^^

It was sad to leave our beautiful villa, but the departure was made much sweeter knowing we were heading off into Chianti to discover the countryside where some of the most well known wines are made.  I was anxious to share some of the towns in Chianti with Big R that I discovered on my trip to Tuscany with my girlfriends back in March.  We  drove from San Gimignamo to Radda and then over to Greve.  These are very small, unassuming towns that are more about the people and the food than anything else.  Our stops there were short and sweet.  Radda afforded Big R some views of the valley, while Greve became a great place to pause for lunch.

^^^Views of the countryside as we drove through the Chianti region of Tuscany.^^^

^^^Radda in Chianti is a charming village with typical Tuscan architecture.  It's a simple town that would be a perfect place to stop for lunch or to watch the sunset over a wonderful meal at dinner.^^^

^^^Radda was full of historic world charm.^^^

^^^...and amazing views of the countryside!^^^

^^^More Tuscan charm in Radda.^^^

 ^^^and even more charm...^^^

As Radda sits atop a hill in Chianti, Greve is nestled down in a valley.  The towns are completely different, and offer a contrasting viewpoint of Chianti.  Unfortunately, there was some sort of festival being set up in the town square while we were there, so it took away some of the photogenic qualities of the town.  We still enjoyed a lunch at one of the restaurants in the square before heading back into wine country.

^^^My cool little dude at lunch in Greve in Chianti.^^^

^^^Enjoying a relaxing lunch with my boys in Greve.^^^

^^^Wine country in Chianti!^^^

^^^GRAPES!!! When I took this picture in March, there were only vine branches - not a single leaf or grape.  It was so beautiful to see this terrace covered in growth!^^^

We quickly realized how much more expensive it was in this region of Tuscany, and we decided to move along toward the coastline.  We were spending our last night in Pisa because our flight was leaving painfully early.  As a last minute decision, we veered over to Lucca expecting it to be a fast stop before we landed in Pisa for the night.  A fast stop became an amazing afternoon and evening because Lucca was incredible!!!  I dare say we enjoyed it so much more than Siena and probably Florence as well.  It had all the charm of the more popular Tuscan destinations without the crowds.  Despite it being September, the town still had that "summer in Europe" feel to it.  I'm so glad we made the decision to stop by, and if you have the time, I can't recommend it enough.

^^^A photogenic moment in Lucca.^^^

^^^My crazy little man was wild the entire time we were in Lucca.  Too much ice cream and chocolate on this trip!^^^

While in Lucca, we climbed not only one, but two towers.  One of these days I'm going to count the number of stairs I have climbed since we got to Europe.  I somehow am always carrying an extra person as we climb to the top, too!

^^^Oh look, it's a bell!^^^

^^^Views of Lucca from the top of Torre del Ore.  The tower was apparently restored and recently reopened to the public.  We agreed that it must have been crazy because restored it was a little adventurous getting to the top!^^^

^^^Another view from Torre del Ore. Isn't Lucca gorgeous?^^^

^^^Shot of the Duomo in Lucca from above.^^^

^^^A pause in the window climbing Torre del Ore.^^^

^^^Baby C literally stared at me the entire climb back down the tower - it was too cute!^^^

We descended the Torre del Ore and wandered the medieval streets until we landed in Piazza Anfiteatro, where we enjoyed some much needed gelato.  Isn't gelato always a necessity after climbing a tower?

^^^Piazza Anfiteatro^^^

^^^Archway into Piazza Anfiteatro^^^

^^^I felt like a perfect picture was waiting at every corner...^^^

^^^I mentioned we climbed 2 towers...^^^

^^^Yep, we climbed all the way up this one as well!  Torre Guinigi is a tall tower with a garden atop.  Very cool.^^^

^^^The trees atop Torre Guinigi gave the photos a neat effect.^^^

^^^I have to steal the camera sometimes, too.  Big R was actually on this trip, and here's proof!^^^

^^^More views from atop Torre Guinigi^^^

^^^And more views of the beautiful town of Lucca.^^^

^^^Awesome picture Big R took as we descended the tower.^^^

^^^The bascilla of San Michele in Foro in Lucca - the fascade was unique and impressive!^^^

^^^And...they had a carousel.  Always little r's favorite!^^^

^^^Me and my little man on the top of the wall surrounding the town.  The wall is now a bike path that wraps around the city.^^^

^^^Sometimes Big R takes over and shows Baby C the sights as well.^^^

We were pooped and the boys were beyond done, but we had just one more stop before our hotel that night.  We had to find our way into Pisa to see the leaning tower.  It somehow felt criminal not to at least get a photo when we would be sleeping just down the street.  Well, it wasn't just any photo that Big R wanted to get.  It was actually THIS photo....

^^^Everyone is always posing holding the tower up, so Big R thought it would be hilarious to pose little r knocking it over.  Classic...^^^

^^^Can you tell we are tired? We had no clue what we were doing in this picture. Little r definitely wasn't in the mood to follow directions, he just thought it was funny to hold his hand up in the air and copy me - hahahahaha^^^

^^^Despite the jokes, the leaning tower of Pisa is actually an impressive monument especially at night.^^^

We stayed that night at B&B Hotels in Pisa.  Nothing fancy, but the hotel was a stone's throw from the airport, it had parking, and it was comfortable.  It was also pretty darn cheap for all of us.  Everyone slept hard, and despite the early flight, I had to hesitate before waking up the boys in the morning because everyone was sleeping so hard.  Such a great trip!

Hard to believe we were in Tuscany for less than four days.  We were able to see so much while we were there.  The weather was incredible and our visit was nothing shy of remarkable.  This trip definitely goes into our travel archives as one of our best family excursions.  I hope we make it back to Tuscany again, and when we do, I'll be sure to visit again in September!