Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Travel 'Must-Haves'

Along the wall in Dubrovonik, Croatia
I have been feeling rather nostalgic lately for travel, especially after looking at all the pictures from my friends' travels overseas. I was talking to a friend still stationed in Germany, and we got into a fun chat about all the places we have visited and the things we were sure to bring along every time. I thought it would be fun to respond to my nostalgia by putting together a list of those things we were sure to have with us on our adventures - a short list of 'must-haves', if you will.

Big R and I share a passion for travel. I am convinced it is something that drew us together. So our travels started long before we were living in Europe, but being there definitely upped the ante and solidified our must-haves list.

Arriving in Hallstat, Austria

First and foremost, we travel light. By light, I mean truly down to the minimums. We spent a week in Europe together with a small backpack each. True, it was May, but when we took a November trip to Normandy, the story was the same. Life is different when you travel - you wear less and your priorities are different on an hour to hour basis. I have to mention, too, adding kids to the mix was a huge game-changer and required us to add a few more items to that list of must-haves.  So, I added a couple items at the bottom that we make sure to bring along to keep our sanity in check while we travel with kids in tow.

1. Favorite Guidebook. Our favorite guidebook, hands down, is Rick Steves. Backdoor travel is our game, and he is the pro at every turn. There are many great guidebooks out there though, and to save money, I would always plan a visit to the library the week before our trip and grab the best guidebooks available for our destination. You can download guidebooks onto your kindle or Nook as well, but we found that it was better to have an actual book in hand to look at the maps and find resources quickly.

2. Reservations. This is a BIG one. By this, I don't mean a reservation for every meal or anything that ridiculous, but definitely have hotel reservations taken care of way before hand. We did this MONTHS in advance using our favorite online booking (e.g.,,, tripadvisor, etc.). Not only is this the best way to ensure you don't blow your entire budget on accommodations, it relieves a ton of stress especially if you are traveling in a foreign location. We did our first backpacking trip to Europe without a single reservation and I immediately decided I was getting far too old for that kind of stress. It's not worth it. Just always be sure to know the cancellation policy, and pay a little extra for flexible fares. If you are traveling with babies, most hotels will have baby cots, and it's worth the extra cost for that as well!

Also, reservations are often needed for popular museums, political buildings, etc., so check ahead to be sure you don't miss out because you didn't know you needed a reservation months in advance. Lastly, many locations are great to see with a tour. We booked a bike tour of Rome and it was one of our favorite ways to see a city. Yep, RESERVATIONS are a must.

3. GPS / Directions. If we were renting a car or driving to our destination(s), we never left home without our GPS with addresses already pre-programmed in. We also brought maps when we could print them off because the GPS was notoriously wrong (e.g., our GPS kept wanting us to drive through the Alhambra to get to our hotel in Granada - clearly that was not going to work).

4. Small travel bag. We always made sure to bring along a bag for day trips. Whether it was a small backpack, messenger bag, or large purse, we always made sure to have one. That's where I kept our wallets, camera, snacks, guidebook, etc. I finally found the perfect bag that worked for us while we were living in Germany. I still use it all the time.

5. Two pair of shoes. Shoes are always a huge pain on vacations because they are awkward and bulky to pack. Despite that, I brought two pairs on every trip, and this is why: regardless of how comfortable your shoes are, if you wear them every day for 4 days of constant walking, you will get blisters no fail. I would plan my "outfits" to alternate with my shoes each day. This saved my feet every trip.

6. Sunglasses. NEVER leave home without them regardless of what time of year it is. We forgot them for a trip to Copenhagen because it was supposed to be cooler and it was overcast when we left Germany. That was a HUGE mistake. Nothing worse than a headache on your trip from squinting. Believe me, make sure to pack your sunglasses in that extra bag.

7. Cords for charging electronics / Adapter plugs for international travel. These are an easy thing to forget, and not having them can be a huge problem (especially if you have kids!). Be double sure to pack at least one cord and adapter plug every time you travel.

8. Water bottle. We take our camel back water bottles with us everywhere we go. My bag has a slot on the side to carry it, and it has saved us on numerous occasions. Tap water is safe to drink in most countries (although, double check that carefully before drinking it). My friends also use their Nalgene bottles to store things they don't want to have spill or break (i.e., peanut butter, granola bars, shampoos and soaps) - such a great idea!

The last few items are extensions to our list since we expanded our family. I can't encourage you enough to travel when you have kids. Do it. I agree, it's a lot of work, but it gets easier with each trip (here you can read a few pointers I have about traveling with kiddos).

9. Carseat / stroller / favorite child carrier. If we were renting a car at our destination, we always brought the carseats. We found out early on that renting a carseat through a rental car agency is painfully expensive, and you never know how safe or nice the carseats will be. It's a pain to lug them along, but there are ways you can carry them. (If you use a roller bag, here is a great device I discovered to help carry that carseat.) Also, several airlines (primarily in Europe) will let you check them for free or at least cheaper than it will cost to rent one at your destination. We were not big stroller users. It never worked well for us, so we never brought one on our trips. I can only recall one trip where I wished in hindsight we had brought it along because it was hot and the city would have been easy to navigate with a stroller. I have friends that never leave their stroller at home because their kids are well-behaved in them and they use them to visit museums. We felt the same way about our child carriers. For little r, it was my Moby. Super easy to pack in our bags, and he would sleep in that carrier instantly. We used it to carry him until he was 3! For baby c, it was always the Ergo. I still bring that everywhere we go.

The Moby was a comfy place for little r to sleep

baby c will let me take him anywhere in this carrier

10. iPad or other electronic device loaded up with your child's favorite shows and movies. I have absolutely no shame when it comes to traveling with kids and using an iPad to keep them quiet. We were able to enjoy many a meal in peace because of having it in tow. My day bag has a slot that fit our iPad perfectly, so we never left it behind. Our friends used it with headphones to keep their kids quiet in museums as well.

11. Favorite go-to snacks. There is nothing more impossible than trying to travel with a young child who is hungry. Bring a handful of their favorite snacks on every trip that won't make too huge a mess. Gummy Bears were always our go-to. Snack bars also work well. My friend brings peanut butter on her trips and a plastic knife so they could grab bread at a local store and keep the girls happy. Whatever works best, just be sure to bring it with you!

12. Blankets or lovelies for the kiddos. Both of my boys have blankees. As much as I never wanted to bring these around on the streets of Rome or walking the city wall in Dubrovnik, I refused to leave them behind. It was an instant way to keep them calm and help them feel secure in a scary place. We guarded them with our lives, but it was totally worth it to bring it along.

And finally, the most important thing to bring on every trip, adventure or vacation, is a good attitude especially if you are traveling with kids. Our best trips were always the ones where we were flexible and let things slide off our backs. We had our accommodations reserved in advance, we generally would know where we were going and what we wanted to see, but we felt out our moods, the weather, and the environment to find the best food and the greatest city walks.

Did I leave anything off? Definitely let me know if there's something you can't leave behind when you go on vacation, if it's not on our list!     

P.S. Those of you that know me, also know that I NEVER go on a trip without my travel yoga mat. Literally NEVER. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Monster mom

Monster mom is here full on in our house. Our children can't hide, they are exposed at every second to the wrath of my craziness. Seriously, I do think my inner monster is alive and putting it back is going to take some serious work. I've been caught in that mommy moment lately where your skin tingles because you feel like you are literally on the edge pretty much all the time. I'd say I'm exhausted, but honestly, that's not it at all. I'm just done. D-O-N-E. Love being a mom, love every inch of my children's soft skin, the never-ending kisses, and the unconditional love. That has been answered full on with irrationality this past few weeks. Daddy has been training, and being alone with the boys has not been difficult in the "doing it all by myself" category. Instead, they miss him, and the attention they get when we are both here. That's something I never really saw coming. This isn't the cause of all my monstrous tendencies, though, of course. Life is far too exciting for it to be one simple thing causing the mayhem.

My morning madness has turned into overwhelming insanity these days. Thank you day light savings for throwing my children into a sleepless funk that provides me with an extra hour of screaming laughter. It's fantastic on so many levels. HA! Little r has decided that he wants my undivided attention and baby c is in his way. That translates into pure, unadulterated antagonization. Baby c never gets a break from his brother's torment no matter how often I pull them apart. The poor kid is one crying mess until we get in the car to take little r to school. My general response to is to send him to his room. Little r responds by slamming the door and having a meltdown. Oh, and baby c isn't purely innocent in this whole scheme, that I am fully aware, but good grief! I know there is a solution to this deep in my bag of tricks, but that bag is completely AWAL at the moment.

As a mom, do you ever feel like you have forgotten how to talk without yelling? That the room starts spinning and you can't see straight because the crying is like nails on chalkboard? Yep. That's me. The worst part is, I know this all stems from me. I know that my little men feed off of my emotions. They sense my stress, they know I miss their daddy as much as they do, and they know I have a lot of things on my list to get done. Children know these things. They know them better than we think they do. Little r continues to be an expert at finding my buttons. His brilliance in this department is almost uncanny. Push, push, push. It's like that game we played as a kid where someone sits on top of your chest while you are laying down and slowly taps on your chest bone. It doesn't hurt, no pain at all, but it drives you completely mad anyway.

I love being a mom. I'm just not super crazy about this part. This part right here that wipes the smile off your face at breakfast when the cereal starts hitting the floor to a giggling soundtrack, when you disappear for 5 seconds to feed the cats, get dressed or brush your hair only to turn around and find your 5 year old pulling your toddler around the house by his blanket screaming his ever loving head off. The tantrums that happen because you refuse to let your children eat halloween candy all day long (wow, I NEVER hated candy more than I do this year), and the guilt you feel as a mother when you realize your toddler hasn't had a vegetable in several days. It's kind of all that. I love being a mom, but this is the tough part. I really don't want them to grow up too fast. In so many ways I already miss the sweet little babies they were, but pushing past this one small phase would be fantastic.

We have moments of insanity...

Moments of pure adorable calm...

And moments like these that make it all worth it...

Yep, monster mom is here, and I'm ready to send her packing. In the meantime, if you see her, try not to judge too much if she's wearing the same thing you saw her in yesterday or if she has yogurt in her hair. We are taking things one moment at a time these days, and we will get through this with some part of our sanity intact.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A fireman and a little jedi

I know, I know, the interwebs are oozing with cute kids in their Halloween costumes, and you are cringing that I'm adding yet one more... but hey, sometimes the cuteness overload is too much to keep to yourself, so I have to share. We are going all sorts of crazy this Halloween. One party and event after another, and this mama will do anything to keep her crazy bears occupied (although, I could really handle a lot less sugar in my little ones). One unexpected surprise though is that it was super warm here this weekend. I have a great costume for baby c, but he would have melted in it this weekend, so I turned him into a little jedi instead (I'm starting to realize this is my go-to costume - guess Big R is wearing off on me). Little r wants to save his costume for Halloween and opted to go as a fireman this weekend.

Introducing, my sweet fireman...

And the cutest little jedi you ever saw...

Halloween is not until next week, but this weekend was Fright on Franklin, which is insane! I've never seen anything like it (hey, maybe I'm a bit sheltered, but holy cow!). Franklin is a main street in downtown Clarksville, and they have this annual event where businesses rent tents ultimately to market themselves, but more to go super creative with costumes and hand out candy to little ones. The kids go crazy over it, and the decorations were too much fun. There must have been 200 tents EASY, and there were so many kids and families that there was a line to go from booth to booth. Little r thought it was all pretty cool, but he was shy as a mouse, and grew tired of waiting. On the way out, though, we stopped in to visit the haunted house, and he was so proud of himself for not getting scared. I'm pretty sure he ran through the entire thing pretending not to be afraid. The look on his face at the end was priceless.  Fright on Franklin, pretty darn freaking cool.

This scene went on forever! It was super impressive...

Our next soiree was a church event that the neighbors invited us to. The boys had such a great time. Pumpkin decorating, hot dog eating, costume competing, and (little r's favorite) hay riding - all things guaranteed to keep the wild ones happily occupied. Sometimes it's the simple things like great friends and good chili to put a huge smile on your face.

The hay ride was "so wild and crazy" according to little r. HA!

 I don't know, it's looking pretty chill to me...

While his brother was off riding on hay bales, my jedi was sensing the force...

...and chasing ice princesses... yes, that plural is intentional. There were several (can we say, Frozen implosion?), and he was chasing all of them...

Hope you didn't mind me adding more cuteness to the Halloween costume overload. These memories are too cute not to capture.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sometimes you just need to take a hike...

Good grief, has it really been a month since my last post?! I suppose it goes without saying that life has been a tad bit busy lately. The boys definitely absorb most of what I have every day, and what I might have left I very happily give to Big R when he gets home from work. Work in some school for me, an amazing amount of activities for little r, and chasing baby c from every corner of the house, and you have some pretty incredibly full lives.

Despite the awesomeness of where we are now, because I really do love our new house and neighborhood, little r's school, fast and reliable internet, being in the same time zone with my family and friends... I've been struggling just a little bit trying to find myself lately. We've been back in the states for how long now? We are well settled, life is very good, and Tennessee is being good to us in so many ways. So, why am I lost? Each time we move, which feels like it's far too often, it takes some time to adjust, and I feel like I'm still finding my way. Mostly though, I think I'm a bit home sick for Germany and our life there. Yes, yes, the travel was awesome, but I truly loved our day-to-day lives in Bavaria.

Two things I might actually miss the most about our day-to-day lives in Germany was our walks to and from school and my regular runs out on the trails. These are things I might never get to experience again. It wasn't just the walk, it was the people I walked with, the towns we lived in, and the folks we said "hello" to. I loved stopping at the local bakery along the way or grabbing an ice cream with little r on the way home on a sunny afternoon. The runs were incredible, and I felt fortunate every time I hit the trails. I stepped foot out my front door and within minutes I was on the trail often running with my closest friends. These are things I will hold onto forever, and I am surprised how big of a void I have without them.

To help adjust to our new life, I work hard to set up a routine. That always makes things easier for everyone, right? The "Y" here is my home away from home, primarily because it gives baby c a chance to play with some other kiddos and me some time to get exercise for my body AND a break for my mind. We had to change things up some today because baby c is fighting a nasty cold, so I didn't want him to be around other kids. Despite the congestion, he was fever free and feisty as ever, so an outing was a must. Fall is in full swing here and we are absorbing it like crazy. The weather is incredible, and Tennessee has some beautiful country. Lando is probably the most thrilled with the change in the seasons, and he's been antsy wanting to get out more.

So, I took my sweet old pup and my snuffly little boy off for a hike this morning. Little r had fun sharing his seat in the car with Lando on the way to school, and I very quickly reminded myself how close we live to the trails after all. It's not a few steps out my front door anymore, but the drive is easy (particularly since we are in the car anyhow). Being home with baby c means trail running is something I'll have to put aside for now, but a great hike is an amazing substitute especially on a beautiful morning like we had today.

Such a gorgeous morning for a hike
My snuggler loved it so much he fell asleep!
He's so beautiful, I could pinch myself sometimes...

Perhaps I have just stumbled on an important new addition to our routine at least until it gets too cold out. Everyone is always talking about how badly we need to discover Nashville. It's a great city with awesome night life. I have no doubt that the nightlife is great, and there is definitely something to be said about that. But what I think we might just being doing with our weekends from here on out is discovering Tennessee's back country.

I hope you all are enjoying the fall season and everything that comes with it! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Turning 5 is out of this world!

Yeah, so my little man turned 5, and I'm still trying to figure out how that happened! Not that every birthday isn't special (especially for the little ones), something felt significant about little r turning 5. It's that age where the really start to understand so much of their world, which makes the birthday party even that much more important to them.

When we moved across the ocean, little r had to leave some really great friends behind. It is tough at his age to explain the distance and the reason for moving far away. We were happy that he fell in love with his school here and instantly made some incredible friends. Unlike prior birthday years where the party was more of a huge gathering of all our closest friends (which always included all of little r's as well), this year we kept the party small and very focused on little r. His class at school is small, and he has three close buddies there that are inseparable. He also has a couple other friends from the neighborhood that he has gotten really close to. Five friends when he turns five - sounds like a perfect number for a perfect party.

Little r picked his theme - we went all out on the Star Wars idea. The boy is obsessed with all things Star Wars, so we decided to have a lot of fun with it!

Big R and I made a huge team effort on this party. I did some Pinterest and internet searching for ideas, and he helped me think of ways to make the fun come together. It was actually all super simple, but the boys thought it was fantastic. I love it when fun is easy and stress-free!

We decided to make the theme of the party a "Jedi Training", so I wanted all of the boys to have a Jedi costume and a light saber. Little r also insisted on having a piñata, and of course, an ice cream cake. I went to the hobby store and got enough brown flannel material and rope to make six Jedi costumes. (Believe me, people, these are "simple" costumes because this girl is anything but creative and I have yet to own a sewing machine.) I also found a piñata with a shape that just happened to work perfectly for Big R's storm trooper idea. (We compromised a bit because I couldn't find anything shaped like a ball to make a Death Star.) Added a couple cans of paint to the cart, and made my way home.

Big R made the birthday boy's costume extra cool!

Happy Jedi
The force is strong in this one!

Darth Lando - hahahahaha

the jedi youngling

He was so excited for everyone to show up!

Jedi robes were hung and ready to wear
The awesome Storm Trooper piñata

I remembered that we still had some glass bowls from our wedding (haha, yep), and some decorative sand, so we created some center pieces for the table. Big R and little r had a blast staging those battles! We had hot dogs and mini burgers, and some fun treats, just in case anyone got hungry during the party.

Star Wars Legos came in handy to stage a battle scene in the sand!
I mean, seriously, this is too much fun!
The finished product...
Some of the treats - courtesy of Big R - Yep, he made the storm trooper cookies AND the light saber pretzels 

Little r was so excited when his friends started showing up. We got all our Jedi younglings into their training robes, and handed them a light saber... Oh yeah, the light sabers sound like a frightening idea, right? We saw many tips online to use those pool noodles with duct tape. They were awesome. The boys played their hearts out with them the entire time and no one got hurt. Perfect!

Jedi's in training...

clearly tactical planning going on here...

little r couldn't wait to beat that storm trooper!
The most exciting part of the party was when Darth Vader made an appearance. This was supposed to be Big R (obviously), but he tried the costume on the night before and it was WAY too small. I was very quickly informed that I would become the master sith and try to turn the younglings to the dark side. The boys never saw it coming, and they had a blast ganging up on me.

Darth Vader came to take them all...

....he lost this battle and was thankful the light sabers were made of foam!

Little r informed me that I "didn't need to go too crazy" with the cake. He really just wanted me to use his Star Wars figures and stage a battle on top of it. HA! Love this kid because it really was the easiest cake I have ever made... The cake was a Turkey Hill brand ice cream cake I bought from Kroger (and it was HEAVEN!), and the battle was staged by Big R (as if that needed any announcement).

The party was too much fun all around. I'm so glad little r's friends were able to come, and I hope they enjoyed their Jedi training as much as we had fun pulling all the plans together. The boys got to take home their costumes, light sabers, and candy from the piñata as their party favors. Overall, I would have to say, this was a huge success.

We love you little r. You are such an amazing kid. I hope your birthday party felt as special as you are to us. The big 5, buddy! This is going to be such an awesome year!

Monday, September 15, 2014

My "mom-of-the-year" moment

It's Monday. I should have known better than to think I'd be able to escape the day without some type of unexpected excitement.

This week and last have been slightly crazy, well, on a 4-year old's scale anyway. Soccer started up last week, and swimming is still wrapping up, add that to horseback riding lessons, and the boy has a very full week. He seemed to be handling it all super well until the soccer game on Saturday where he was running aimlessly on the field. This evolved into a major meltdown by early evening, and bedtime was a colossal disaster. Being that his birthday party comes at the pinnacle of this next week, I really wanted to work hard at keeping things chill. Mostly I just want the boy to enjoy his own birthday party. 

Tonight was swimming. Little r would tell you that swimming is his favorite...oh, and soccer is his favorite, too, oh and horses, he loves riding horses... We are taking a break from swimming during soccer season, so today was his last lesson for awhile. He takes lessons at the "Y", so baby c and I swim while little r is in his class. I always like to get there early so that little r can enjoy swimming for awhile. So I got my dinner prepped, double and triple checked that I had everything we needed in each of the bags (I forgot goggles last week, and that was a HUGE disaster), and loaded baby c up into the car. 

Little r was a complete chatterbox when I picked him up today talking about everything they did in school (did I mention how much this kid loves his school?!), so, we took our time getting to the Y knowing we would still have plenty of time left for some fun swimming before lessons started. We walk into the locker room and I pull everything out of the bag.  Do you ever have those moments when all is good in the world and then the air gets sucked clean out of your body? All of it, all of the air, was completely gone. Little r's swim trunks were not there. In the whole scheme of things, this is not the end of the world, but to a 4 year old on his last day of swim lessons when he LOVES swim lessons more than anything EVER (except soccer and horses, of course), this becomes a mom's worst nightmare. We had 20 minutes until lessons started and we live 20 minutes away from the Y. 

So, what did I do? I contemplated apologizing profusely and driving somewhere to buy little r a huge milkshake to earn his forgiveness, but the mom in me had to figure out a way to make this work. Baby c's trunks were obviously too small, and the weather cooled off a ton this weekend, so we literally argued all morning about how he was NOT going to wear shorts today. Instead, we packed back into the car, there were many "this is so stupid" and "I'm such an idiot" comments flying out of my mouth, while little r was trying to wrap his head around his mother's insanity. At one point he said, "you are so goofy, mom, and you're right, this is stupid." Awesome when kids get it right, isn't it?

We went to Walmart. I hate Walmart. Sorry, I said it, but I just really do. But hey, everyone always tells me they have everything you want, anytime you want it, and it was the closest big box store to the Y. We had the talk about not getting distracted in the store, running as fast as we can, and how I was really sorry but he was going to be a little late for his lesson. He was such a trooper. Traffic literally sucked, and the Walmart was PACKED. 

This store probably has everything you could possibly ever need or want for a super cheap price as long as you are buying it in season. Clearly the end of September is NOT when you buy swim trunks because they had but one pair left on the clearance rack and it was a size 8. Yes, we actually contemplated buying the stupid things until little r looked at me and said, "mommy, they are just way too big." I felt deflated, until the woman standing next to me handed me a pair of gym shorts in little r's size. She said that she didn't need them, if I could use them, so we grabbed the shorts and ran. The check out lines were horrible, but we finally got through. The poor little guy was stripping in the car in the parking lot. I started the car as soon as I heard, "mom, I got it, these are going to work!" HA! Pure comedy, right?

We finally get back to the Y, at this point only 10 minutes late. Little r puts his shoes on and he stands up to get out of the car and the shorts fall down. Yes, you read that right, the shorts fell off of his tiny little butt. Seriously?! We finagled my goggles (which I actually remembered this time) around his waist to hold them up, and he was happy as can be. We ran into the pool, and he dove right in without looking back.

I really wanted to get a picture, but I honestly had no idea where my phone even was at this point. Some how, in some way, it worked. Who forgets her son's swim trunks when the whole reason for going to the gym is for him to swim??!! Yes, mom-of-the-year, RIGHT here.  And you know that as soon as the boys were in bed, my wine was poured and I'm already sipping it. Holy cow, this better not be indicative of the way things are going to go this week... 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When the bug strikes

Bugs can be such pests, especially when you have a little boy with an irrational fear of them. (Oh wow, I just realized I called him a little boy - yikes, where has the time gone?!) I say it's irrational because he has never had a bug hurt or threaten him in his short little life, but you'd think he'd experienced pure torture from these creepy crawly things. I'm convinced if he were actually to come across a tarantula or something truly terrifying, he might just faint!

This irrational fear has been dominating our lives lately. Bugs are quite literally everywhere, so the terror is constantly surrounding him. In the shower, the bathroom, at night in bed... This all coming from a child that not two months ago was wearing a snake around his neck.

So, today when I picked him up from school, I got descriptive details about the "spider" bites that he has on his legs. Where these supposed bites came from is still a mystery, but little r is completely convinced that the bumps on his legs are from a spider nibbling on him. Before heading home, I made a stop at a local vegetable stand. One of our favorite things about Clarksville is that it's like a "big" small town in a way, and we live in a pretty rural part of town near open farm fields. That translates into lots of great produce and local meats, and we are trying to take full advantage of this awesome convenience. But I digress...

Ok, so we stop by the veggie stand that is more like a small outdoor market. It's run by this darling older couple. The old man is my pal. We shoot the breeze about all things important, especially the weather. Little r opted to stay in the car, so he and baby c hung back while I stepped out real quick to pick up some veggies. A couple bucks later, and a bag full of beautiful veggies in hand, and we were set to head home. Or so I thought...

Little r started panicking. He had to pee. Crap. He is only 4, so what's the harm in going roadside, right? But wait! There's a port-o-potty, and I knew it would be clean because these older folks looked like the tidy type. I grabbed baby c, helped little r put his socks and shoes back on (I'm always perplexed why kids take their shoes off in the car), and we pile out of the car to run to the port-o-potty. (Did I mention it was pajama day at school?)

Holy cow, this was easily the cleanest port-o-potty I have ever seen. Seriously. I greatly underestimated these folks - their cleanliness was outstanding! But, remember the bugs? Yes, the bugs. Hard to have an outdoor bathroom without a few bugs. People, these bugs were like ant-size, maybe flea, but definitely miniscule. To little r, this was freaking scary crap! After some encouragement, he finally closes the door and screams, "ok, mommy, I'm peeing now!" Fantastic, little man, do your business. Then all hell breaks loose. He starts freaking out and screaming from the top of his lungs. The door flies open, and he yells, "mommy, look!" He has a hold of his boy parts and he's literally peeing all over the seat, the side of the wall, and all over the floor. I'm sure you remember me saying this port-o-potty was spotless?! This goes down in history as the first, and hopefully only, time I will ever feel the need to "clean" the inside of a port-o-potty (with a toddler in my arms).  Luckily I had something in the car to clean our hands with.  The older woman walked by giggling saying that it sounded like a big mess was happening in there.  Guaranteed my face turned red, and I can honestly say it has been awhile since that has happened. Good grief!

If you are wondering what happened, that makes two of us. He looked down while he was peeing and saw what he claims was a spider bite and he decided the appropriate response was to lose his mind. Seems rational, right? I would absolutely do the same thing in that situation. I also had to hear him explain to me on the entire ride home how it was definitely a spider bite because it looked like the bump on his leg. Ok, little r, I believe you, but tell me again why this warranted you screaming and losing control of your private spray?!

Little r, never a dull moment, sweetheart.  You certainly keep my life full of constant adventure and endless entertainment. I love you, you crazy little man.

Proof the kid isn't what we would call a "scardy-cat"!

Monday, August 25, 2014

My morning madness...

I have a love-hate relationship with mornings. Getting up is not my thing, but I have only met a few people in my lifetime that actually enjoy rising early and have no trouble climbing out of bed.  That's not me - never has been, and probably never will be. But I generally like mornings.  If I can actually get myself up, I tend to enjoy the quiet, and it's usually my favorite time of the day to go for a run or to walk the dog.

Enter my two children... These boys are testing every part of my being.  How is it that children do not have a "quiet" button?  I mean, seriously, mornings tend to be the "scream as loud as possible" time of the day, and I will never understand it.  Little r has always been an early riser.  Not sure how many of your remember when he was waking regularly around 500 a.m. The kid has the complete inability to sleep in, and yet, he doesn't really like mornings very much.  It's a terrible combination.  Now we have two, and once these children are awake, it's like a tornado is hitting the house.  I got lots of warning that siblings will fight.  I had no idea that the fighting would start already.  Did I mention that baby c is barely a year old? Yes, they fight and it's constant and insanely frustrating.  Any semblance of calm or rest I might have given myself through the night obliterates the minute the house wakes up.  My head can't get around the madness of my mornings. My children are my life. I love them with every cell in my body, and I hate that I start my day frustrated and internally combusting to avoid screaming at the top of my lungs. 

I have one week left before I start school back up again, and I have to retake my mornings. I can think optimistically that this is just a phase, but I'm not that naive. I know that I'm peering into a window of my future and I probably have years of this ahead. I'm going to start waking up early again. Ugh, the thought is painful, but it's oh so necessary for me to regain my sanity.  Something happens when you are allowed to wake up on your own terms, before the rest of the house starts to stir, and sip a cup of coffee, take in a deep breath, maybe even do yoga.  Even ten minutes can be enough to get my butt underneath me before the kids start their hooting. 

I started this last week, and I decided that I would take weekends off.  They are weekends afterall, so it made sense.  NOT doing that again.  I think I'm just going to set my internal clock to begin the day before 6 a.m. and try to learn to like it.  We are animals, we can be trained, right?  I'm over the ambitious goals of trying to complete a yoga practice or do homework or write a blog at that ungodly hour.  Instead, I am realizing that having a few moments to myself for nothing but peace can mean everything to a gentle start to my day.  Even if it's just ten minutes to sit on the porch and take a deep breath, it can provide an essential grounding to start my day.  Or at least that's what I'd like to hope, and I am certainly willing to give it a try.  If my eyes are in focus, my breathing has started, and my legs are no longer numb from sleeping on my side, then possibly that incessant screaming that starts my day, every day, won't seem quite as maddening.  

Eh, we'll see if it works, and if it doesn't, you can probably start reading blogs I write from inside an insane asylum because I just know that's right where I'm headed.   

I know I'm not alone in this, and I certainly have it much easier than others, so if you have any fun stories to share, have at it.  I would love to hear them :)

Happy Monday, you guys.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Have we adjusted?

Have we adjusted?  That, my friends, is a very good question.  I'm not super sure how to answer that, actually, but I'm going to give it a try because the question is coming up a lot these days.  The overseas army moves have a tendency to feel like they last for freaking ever, and I'm not kidding.  Moving is a pain, but when you move your family, all your belongings, your cars, and your furry friends, it is a really BIG deal.  I knew this when we started the moving process, but I think I conveniently left the memory of the ordeal back in my distant memory.  Luckily I recorded most of the process on this blog, so if I ever need a reminder, it's not too tough to find one.

Our life in Germany was pretty incredible.  It was still life, so it wasn't without its stresses, but it was amazing nonetheless. As we started the looong process of moving back, I was really bummed, so I decided to begin focusing on all the things that I was really looking forward to once we were back in the US.  And I have to admit, as much as I really do adore Germany and absolutely loved living there, America has some pretty great things, too.  Mostly we make it super simple to consume things here.  Your credit card is a happy tool just about everywhere.  Believe it or not, that wasn't really the case in Germany.  Pay-at-the-pump is probably my happiest joy here, that and being able to check my mail by walking down my driveway instead of dealing with the military post office madness.  I could probably go on like this for awhile, so I'll save you the details...

So, yes, we are back in the land of the plenty where everyone speaks English. This last point was a bigger deal than I ever expected.  I thought it was super cool that we learned to speak German while we were there.  It was also pretty fantastic that as we traveled we were able to experience so many cultures and languages.  But I have to admit, even down to the last week we were there, picking up the phone to make a reservation or to find out important information was always an adventure regardless of how well my German grammar was or how proud I might have been to accomplish a conversation.  If I was even the slightest bit shy about making a phone call before we left, let me tell you, I actually have fun making phone calls now.  I still miss my German though, and I'm nervous I'm going to lose it quickly. Hopefully we'll find some opportunities to use it even if we use it to talk to each other (which is always a comical scene in our house).

Despite missing all things German (and all the friends we left behind), life is falling into place for us here.  Little r is crazy about his school.  Nothing melts my heart more than knowing we found a school that he loves and that it's helping him succeed.  For some reason he was really excited to go to a school where everyone speaks English.  We were initially kind of bummed about his enthusiasm, but honestly, I don't care much about that anymore because he's doing so well here.  I don't have the benefit of the kinderkrippe for baby c, but what I exchanged it for is a gym that offers child care.  I went from running trails (often with a stroller) and doing yoga in my living room, to lifting weights and going to pilates classes.  I'm not going to complain, but it is taking a little adjusting. Baby c and I will figure it out though, and right now I'm just thankful that I have the option.

Our neighborhood is downright awesome.  The people here are amazing, and we are making so many new friends.  We have also been lucky to meet people through mutual friends.  The army is so big here that someone we know was either here before or they know someone living here now.  Considering how difficult it can be in this day and age to meet people, I've been very thankful that all our friends are reaching out and setting us up with new connections.

Probably one of my favorite parts of living here though are the opportunities for little r.  I mentioned his school already. We also FINALLY have the kid in swim lessons.  I'm still at a loss for why it was nearly impossible to find swim lessons for a kid his age where we lived in Germany (so baffling).  We also got him signed up for soccer.  He did soccer and t-ball at our last assignment, but it was pretty relaxed.  I wish we could have stayed for little r to play with the German team, but I have a feeling this new league is going to be great for him, too.  And finally, probably the coolest thing ever, is that I found a stable here that provides riding lessons to kids little r's age.  It is so fantastic I feel like I'm in a dream sometimes.  Little r has always loved horses, but after visiting my mom this summer and seeing him around them again, I knew I had to find a way for him to ride.  I had no idea we would get this lucky.  He just started his lessons, but I hope to keep him at it as long as he's having fun and learning a lot.  My hope is that our next visit to my mom's will be him showing HER how to ride.

The house is just about "done" being put together.  Everything has found its place, but we are still finding the perfect spot for every picture, and printing new ones to remind us of all the really cool places we experienced together.  I'll write a blog here soon and give you a quick tour of this cute little house soon - I promise!

So, have we adjusted?  I think you could say that we have and we are doing pretty well.  After the whole "honeymoon" phase (where everything is new and exciting and a tad bit overwhelming) ended, I started to miss Germany and our friends and our life there. I think that is a pretty normal feeling though.  Living the military life means you are in a world that is constantly changing, you never stop meeting new friends, and you meet some people that you hang onto for a lifetime.  You are constantly getting reacquainted with your things, and forever questioning why you've held onto some of it for as long as you have.  It's fun to make each house a home, and to explore new locations.  Living in Europe put a little more adventure into our blood, so we'll be itching to reach out and discover what this part of the world has to offer - rodeos, fairs, caves, lakes, horses... Something tells me we won't be getting bored here...


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rodeo Time - Lonestar style!!!

When you no longer live a stone's throw from the Czech Republic or some of the greatest Volksfests and Biergartens in Bavaria, you do the next best thing and head to the rodeo. HA! Ok, maybe that's a teeny bit of a stretch, but we are doing our best to seek out adventure here and heading to the rodeo is a great place to start.  I think it would surprise no one if I said that our family loves horses, put that together with a great vibe, loads of fun, and perfect summer weather, and you have a recipe for success. We are finally starting to feel more settled here, so it is time for us to enjoy some of the awesomeness this area can offer.

We donned our hats and cowboy boots, and tried to dig deep to get in touch with our inner country.  The rodeo took us to Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The name of the town alone makes me want to say, "yeehaw!"  It was really fun.  The venue was small, but it was a national rodeo, which meant the riders were all seeking points to qualify or move up their standings for the National Finals Rodeo.  The one challenge we had ahead of us for this adventure was that the rodeo didn't start until 8 p.m.  Our kiddos are usually in bed long before then, so we had no idea what would be in store.  That said, there was no way we'd head to the rodeo without them.

The boys both did great.  Little r had the time of his life.  The ropers were having a rough time, so little r kept saying that the cows were winning (haha), and he cracked up every time the rodeo clown did a skit between events.  My intermission though, both boys were D-O-N-E, and by that, I don't mean they were melting down, I mean they were completely passed out.  As soon as the action stopped for more than 5 minutes, little r was falling asleep sitting up. It was both hilarious and precious.  Mostly I was just proud of both of them for being so well-behaved and truly enjoying themselves.  It was a great time!  I can't wait for the next one!

A snapped a quick picture of the boys on our way into the rodeo

Barrel racing is by far my favorite event!

Falling asleep during intermission - literally fell asleep sitting up!

And baby c just gave in and sacked out!

Cutest entrant EVER! 6 year old girl barrel "racing"! 
Apparently we are coming upon festival season here, and we've heard fun and awesome things.  In the meantime, we'll be doing a little more exploring in Nashville, and seeing what other fun Clarksville has in store.  I promise to keep in touch!


Saturday, August 16, 2014

A tribute to Aunt Lynne - you will be missed...

Big R lost a special person in his family last week, his Aunt Lynne.  He wanted to write a small tribute to her memory: 

My Aunt Lynne holds a special place in my heart and in my life.  My father (her brother) was relatively absent in my life, but in contrast, Aunt Lynne made a huge effort to stay involved from the time I was little r's age through adulthood.  My parents were divorced before I was in elementary school, leaving my mother to (selflessly) provide and care for me on her own.  I never experienced any shortage of love, but Aunt Lynne always wanted to be be there for me in ways that her brother was not.   

Aunt Lynne expanded the scope of my world far beyond New England. She and Uncle Sam lived in Florida, and she was a huge facilitator, conceptually and financially, for many of my most memorable childhood experiences.  My New England upbringing and travels were spiced up by many trips to Florida. Disneyworld, Epcot, and Universal Studios are the "typical" tourist places she took me to, but the real adventures entailed cruising around on an airboat, catching cat fish, and swimming with the dogs in the St. John's river.  I took several trips to Florida with my mother, but before I was even a teenager, I was taking unaccompanied flights to visit!  One of those trips led to the ultimate adventure a somewhat nerdy kid could ask for: Space Camp.

Aunt Lynne and Uncle Sam worked with the shuttle program at Kennedy Space Center.  Aunt Lynne strongly encouraged my interest in space, aviation, and science.  She encouraged my interest so much that she paid for me to attend 2 weeks of Space Camp.  It was a remarkable experience, and happened to be the week that Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir.  So, I was lucky enough to be at Space Camp to see a shuttle launch!

My youthful desire to be an astronaut eventually gave way to the still lofty goal of being an Air Force pilot, and, eventually, the realistic one of serving as an officer in the military.  Without her influence and patience talking to me without end about NASA, this interest, like many other childhood interests may have been left behind.  

As I grew older Aunt Lynne continued to give me incredible opportunities that have shaped who I am today.  During high school and even college, I continued to visit Florida for my fill of red fishing (salt water is way more fun than lurking around the swamps!) and time relaxing with my family.  But the real adventures were abroad.  My first trip outside of the United States came in the mid-90s when I traveled to England to spend time with her and my extended family.

Two weeks in Oxford and London was an amazing and transformative experience.  I was suddenly "worldly" as a 14 year old.  She was a very good sport, taking me to the Royal Air Force Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and even crossing Abbey Road with me.  The touristic aspect of the trip was very fun, but I suspect her greater purpose was a more important one: to include me in the family and ensure that I got to know my cousins and spend time with my grandmother.  

I had two more trips abroad with her and my family, to Barcelona a few years later and then England and Scotland the next summer.  Her generosity and desire to include me opened my eyes to other cultures and fueled my passion for travel, but, more importantly it exposed me to my family that before these trips I hardly knew.  

Her love for her family and friends is almost certainly what we will miss about her the most.  In her later years, split between North Carolina and Florida, she served as a caretaker and companion to my grandmother and Uncle Sam -- she was passionate about healthy eating (sometimes to the chagrin of Uncle Sam) and staying active in life - she remained a positive force and influence in my life, and others, always focusing on self-improvement and family.

I greatly enjoyed visiting with her as an adult, as well, which became easier the years I was assigned in Virginia.  Her mountain retreat in Banner Elk, NC, was close enough for long weekends, and our last opportunities to spend time together entailed hiking Grandfather Mountain, attending country concerts (well, fly fishing near the concert), and enjoying good wine.  I was proud for her to see the family that I built and can only hope that she recognized that she helped build the foundation of who I am today.

By the time I learned of her diagnosis it was too late to say any of this to her.  While I was in Europe our communication was much less robust than it had been, but only weeks before all of this we had time to discuss that I would not be far away at all.  Both of us expected that we would see each other in the mountains this summer or fall.

Now that she is gone, it means the staying connected with my family is not something that will just happen.  Her role as a loving and involved Aunt was not limited to me - she was there for all of her nephews and niece - for graduations, weddings, and parties.  The world is a lonelier place without her, the scope of her unconditioned love is not readily replaced by anyone.  She made my world a better place, and since we crossed Abbey Road together the most fitting tribute I can provide is from the Beatles: "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Climbing the Spanish Pyrennes in 1999.  Not her favorite drive!

A family shot in Barcelona in the Summer of 1999.

Aunt Lynne, Gran Barbara, and Aunt Vicki at our wedding in 2006.

Having a good time!

Aunt Lynne and Uncle Sam at our wedding in 2006.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

All that school hub-bub...

When I became a mom, the thing I was most anxious about wasn't night feedings, dirty diapers, or potty training (although I know now that I was severely misinformed about this last one), it was putting my kids through school.  This seems ridiculous to admit, but it's true.  The school world intimidates me.  I want my children to do well, who doesn't?  And as if we need one more thing as mom's to add to our stress levels, school has gotten complicated these days.  I also knew that we were a military family, and just like my mom, I would be required to stay on top of things with every move and transition to make sure the kids are getting the education they need to succeed.

The things we, as military families, worry about definitely shift and change depending on the age of the children.  At the preschool level, I have military friends that are having to make a transatlantic flight from Europe to Virginia for the sole purpose of exploring preschools and getting enrolled.  It seems many schools won't even put you on a waiting list until they have met you in person and given you a tour of the school.  This might seem reasonable to most, but to a military spouse, this is a huge conundrum.  Another friend has her little girl in an Italian preschool.  The school ends in July and doesn't start up again until the end of September.  They are moving back to the U.S. where school starts in early August, and they are being told she might have to be held back. I mean, the horror, really?!  And finally, I have a good friend that is living in D.C. and making the huge decision to pay a year's worth of salary (only a mild exaggeration) to let their daughter attend a German immersion school because she attended school in Germany through the second grade and they want to give her the opportunity to continue her studies in a foreign language.  The scenarios feel endless, although they always find a way of working out, it's rarely without a little extra added stress and major decision-making (don't even get me started about trying to find housing at the last minute in an area in a good school district).  But we are resilient and grow stronger with every move!

Back to little r and my unreasonable anxiety about having school aged children... It never dawned on me that having little r in September was going to start the never-ending conversation of when he would start kindergarten (American kindergarten, that is).  Apparently this is now a hot topic of discussion among moms and dads alike.  Kindergarten is not what it used to be.  Rumor has it that things are more difficult for the little ones - sight words, computers, math... It's starting to become a trend to hold kids back and have them start kindergarten when they are older with the thought being that the maturity level will be higher and it will help them succeed. Big R comes from a different camp being that he was an October baby and started kindergarten at the ripe 'ol age of 4, meaning he was more often than not, the youngest in his class.  After we received our new assignment, we wasted no time exploring the best neighborhoods and schools for little r.  What we didn't anticipate was that he would be too young to make the crazy cut off date of August 15 for public schools.  After the shock wore off and we accepted that little r wasn't going to start kindergarten this year, we changed our focus to finding an excellent preschool.

The research paid off and all the cards seemed to fall right into place for us with this move.  We secured a house in a great neighborhood in one of the best school districts in Tennessee.  The preschool we found for little r is, like most of them, a daycare, but it's also a learning center.  After spending a couple years in the German kindergarten system, we knew little r needed a preschool that would provide the structure and academic challenge to ward off boredom.  Our child is a spirited little guy, and boredom would be a way to set him up for failure.  The school is incredible and seconds as a private school for K-2.  We really liked what we saw the day we took the tour, so we didn't waste any time getting him enrolled.

He spent a couple of weeks in the summer program before we were approached to ask if we'd be interested in advancing him to the kindergarten.  They felt he was ready academically.  Turns out they were right, and he scored pretty high on his tests. The big kicker of the whole thing is that it's only offered on a trial basis, so he has to show he can behave (yikes!), and also because he doesn't make the age cutoff for the public school system, there would be no guarantee that he would be able to move into the first grade next year.

We struggled with this decision at first.  Would it be better to move him forward now and potentially repeat kindergarten? Or would it be best to keep him with the preschool and stick with our original plan?  In my head I'm hearing all my friends supporting him moving forward, meanwhile also hearing other friends argue that he's just too young.  So, I asked his teacher what she would do, as a mom, and having taught little r.  Her response made all the sense in the world.  I knew the answer, but I suppose hearing it is always helpful.  She told me that academically he is demonstrating he is ready and should do well.  Being that he's younger, she said it's always tough to know how well he will adjust to a more academic setting.  We have the benefit of not being in the public school system because they can use the trial period to make sure he will succeed and that those that stay in the class are not disrupted by those kids that really aren't mature enough or ready.  We can also decide to keep him in the same school next year and not fight with the school system over his age, which is an added bonus.

I suppose it's obvious now what we decided to do.  I was a nervous wreck about his first day and this two week trial period.  Little r was crazy excited about going to "the big school."  I was excited for him, but also concerned how he would react if they decided he wasn't ready.  Guess these are just the things we have to prepare ourselves for.  Little r was amazing on his first day of school.  He even let me pick out something nice for him to wear, which was nothing shy of a miracle.  We met his teacher and the other students in his class.  I can see now the huge benefits of putting your child into a private school, if for nothing else, the student/child ratio is impressive.  He is one of 11 students in the K-1 class, and half of those students are first graders.  Is that great, or what?  I think later having him in the public school will be a great experience for him, but for this stage, I think we will definitely get our money's worth.

First day of Kindergarten - a picture is worth a thousand words, this is one very happy boy!!!

I'll keep you posted on how the little man is doing in his class.  With all the variables we often have to deal with in the military, it is crazy awesome when things fall into place.  I have high hopes and I love that we found this school for him.