Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My day as a real adult...

Today was one of those truly awesome days I hope to keep tucked inside my memory.  I gave a presentation on energy policy to a room of brilliant German lawyers, economists, and scientists.  It was fantastic, thrilling, and terrifying all at the same time.  I finally stopped wondering how I got there, and instead was trying to figure out how to repeat the experience.

School has basically been pure madness.  If anyone ever thought that taking an online class was a vacation to a degree, they are wrong on just about every level.  My classes have been intense, but I have also learned an incredible amount in such a short amount of time.  It didn't take long for me to reconnect with the trained lawyer inside and jump right back into things.  It has been nonstop reading and writing since September.  My last class finally brought me into the energy law realm, which is the sole reason I'm in the LLM program to begin with.  I'm surprised I have any hair left after that class, and I'm even more surprised that I managed to do well in it.  The energy law world is a complex web of insanity, to put it mildly... At one point Big R told me he can finally understand why people get LLM's to specialize in certain topics.  He claims my LLM is making me "smart" - haha, I had to chuckle at that one.  Isn't that the point?  Let's just hope a future employer agrees with him...

I've had my doubts about whether going to school was a good idea or not.  Then I have days like today that solidify it all for me.  Pure awesomeness.  I somehow sold my proposal to the Dean of the school to conduct an independent research project for the current semester.  Normally they don't allow a student to conduct one until a year of the program has been completed, but I managed my way into the deal because a huge component of my work is a comparative analysis with Germany.  It's true that with most of the research world being online, where you are located is hardly critical when you conduct most research, but I had a contact here in Germany that I really wanted to explore.  My project was approved, and it has been a great semester because although the workload is high, my schedule is my own.  Believe me, that is HUGE!  It's especially awesome considering all the travel we have on the horizon in the next month.

All that aside, I somehow went from doing a relatively simple project to conducting a presentation to a research center in Leipzig.  This research center is one of the largest in Germany and is THE largest center in the country for environmental research.  My visit was coordinated with another American from Vermont - that is a story unto itself that I'll spare you from - so the day was laid out pretty methodically with an agenda.  The agenda that to my surprise included a presentation of my research.  Yikes!  I was more than a little nervous.  It all worked out as I babbled my way through my material.  They were fascinated, I was mesmerized, and we ended up having a discussion that was beneficial to both sides.  I was also left feeling hopeful that this was simply the beginning of what could be "a beautiful friendship."

So, things have been just a little on the busy side around here, but in a good way.  It's the first time in quite awhile where life feels like it has some balance.  I'm glad we are having this time now because craziness is going to begin in less than two months as the whole PCS move goes into full swing.  For now, the boys are happily in kindergarten and at the kinderkrippe giving me a good solid 3-4 hours a day during the week to focus on school.  Big R is still busy, but the nature of his work has him home in time to say good-night to the boys and he's home most weekends.  We are both training for the Prague Half Marathon with friends (that we are running in less than two weeks - yikes!), I started playing volleyball on a social league, and little r is about to start t-ball (with Big R as a coach - so fun!) and spring soccer.

We are busy, but loving life.  The next month includes some fun travel as well, so hopefully you'll hear a little more from me!

Hope everyone is enjoying spring and digging out from under heaps of snow!   

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Polish pottery shopping: A Must!

We've been here for almost three years now, and until this past weekend, I had yet to make it over to Poland to shop for pottery.  With the end of our tour here in Germany coming up much sooner than I'd like, it was time to make this a priority, and I am SO glad that I did.

My friend Liz is about 37 weeks pregnant, and she was itching to discover this world that we always here talked about among other military spouses.  She didn't let her late term pregnancy or the fact that her 2 year old spent the night with a stomach bug stop her.  Now that's MY kind of girl.  We had an absolutely incredible time.

There are several places in Poland where you can buy the world famous pottery, but probably the most well-known is Boleslawiec, Poland, in the Silesian Region.  This town is Polish Pottery heaven - known for its ceramic pottery factories, outlets, stores and the home of the Professional School of Ceramics.  Bolesawiec is located about an hour or so from Dresden (or only about 3.5 hours from where we live) making it a fairly easy day trip for those living in this part of Bavaria, and certainly a quick weekend getaway.  Why make the trip to buy Polish pottery?  Because not only is it beautiful, versatile, and amazing, it's insanely expensive back in the U.S.  I've heard you can buy this wonderful pottery for 1/3 to 1/2 of the price of what you would pay back home for the same pieces.

Liz and I hit the road and headed to Poland sans kids as the guys very graciously offered to take care of the boys.  Shopping for pottery would be near impossible with toddlers and babies in tow (although it has been done by many before, it's not exactly my favorite way to shop).  We were able to reserve two single rooms at the Blue Beetroot. Such an amazing recommendation from friends because it's a gem in the rough.  An old barn that sits just outside of Boleslawiec, it has been renovated with love and attention to detail.  Our favorite part of the place was by far the food!

Our charming hotel - The Blue Beetroot

Our drive was relatively uneventful until we got to Boleslawiec and got lost looking for our hotel.  It's really  not terribly difficult to find unless you are searching for it in the dark with pouring down rain.  Despite the adventure, we somehow managed to find the hotel just before the restaurant closed, and dinner was heavenly!!!  I love Polish food, and the restaurant at the Blue Beetroot does not disappoint.

We both bought a souvenir keychain from the Blue Beetroot

After a restful night and an enjoyable breakfast, we prepared ourselves for a day of shopping.  I honestly had no real idea what to expect except for stores full of colorful pottery.  We had a loose plan for where we were going to stop and shop, and by the end of the day we had visited well over a dozen stores.  Liz and I laughed at how with the first 3 or 4 places, we took our time, walked and glanced at the shelves slowly and carefully, and really contemplated what was in front of us.  By the time we walked into the last set of stores, we were like a whirlwind.  We knew exactly what we were looking for.  We knew what we liked and what we didn't, and we had no more patience for staring at pottery we didn't care to buy.  It was an awesome transformation.

The trip was successful, but we are already making plans to go back now that we know more about what is there.  A good friend of mine so wisely pointed out that you can't really go to Boleslawiec with a list.  Sounds crazy, but it's much more difficult to find that exact piece you are envisioning and the experience is much more about discovering that hidden treasure or finding that gem.  I had the most fun buying gifts.  When we were nearing the end of our day, Liz and I both looked at our bags and came to the realization that our husbands were going to come unglued if we didn't start buying some things for ourselves to bring home.  We managed to discover some treasures, but we are also anxious to go back for more!

There are so many pottery stores and factories in Boleslawiec.  Everyone has different tastes, and Liz and I quickly decided on our favorites.  Our recommendation would be to visit Andy's, Zaklady, and Henry's.  Those were by far at the top of my list.  Andy's had the most incredible designs (and you get an additional 15% off if you stay at the Blue Beetroot), Zaklady had an amazing collection, and Henry's had our favorite cookware selection.

Henry's - one of our favorite stores for pottery in Boleslawiec

Here's a peek at the pottery I brought home for myself.  Each piece was purchased at a different store - a bread pan, a spoon ladel, and a casserole dish (by far my favorite).   I'm keeping the other gifts secret because those are yet to be delivered :)

A small collection of Polish pottery that I hope to expand soon!

Isn't this casserole dish gorgeous?!  I just love it.

It was easy to see why visiting Boleslawiec is a popular lady's weekend away for military spouses.  We had a wonderful time and we came back with amazing gifts and personal treasures we will hopefully be able to pass down several generations.  I really can't wait to go back, and I'm kicking myself for taking so long to make this trip to Poland.  If you get the chance to go, I can't recommend it enough!


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Family ski trip to Garmisch

This past week I had a break from school, so Big R took leave and we headed to the Alps for a ski adventure.  Garmisch truly is a special place, and this trip was much more of a real vacation for us. For my non-military friends, the U.S. secured prime real estate at the foot of the Alps in Garmisch at the end of World War II.  Sitting on the army post is the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort.  When you stay there, you really feel like you are in a little America.  As much as we love our European adventures, there was a small comfort in staying in a place where we were surrounded by nothing but American families on vacation.  We stayed there together once when we first moved to Germany, and Big R had been back several times for posh military conferences, but I wanted to make sure to ski Garmisch before moving back to the States.

We traded in our usual 1-star B&B experience for a huge 4-star American hotel.  Our trip came with only a handful of goals:  family ski time, massages, good German food, a little swimming, and overall chill time.  This trip wasn't about discovering a new city or exotic food, understanding foreign transit or navigating streets with names we couldn't pronounce. Instead, we needed some time together to slow down for a few days and just enjoy the family.  I'm happy to say that despite the not-so-snowy winter Germany has experienced this year, and having nothing but rainy weather the entire week, we ended up having a great time in Garmisch.

We took our time getting to Garmisch feeling no rush or pressure to arrive at any specific time.  I didn't even pack until we woke up that morning.  We made dinner reservations on our drive down at a restaurant that Big R has coined his favorite - an amazing place called Bei Marcus, where the chef prepares a different menu every night and the food is phenomenal.  Despite the romantic atmosphere, we were comforted by several other families enjoying a meal that night.

The food was delish!

Snuggles at dinner from a tired little bear

The army post has a Child Development Center (or CDC), but I made the mistake of not reserving a spot for baby c far enough in advance.  The weather was also the pits.  The Zugspitze has a glacier, so we knew the skiing would be decent enough, but the mountain was socked in with freezing blizzard conditions.  Not exactly the family ski time we were looking for.  So we spent our first day relaxing at the hotel. A little swimming, a refreshing mountain run, a traditional German meal downtown, a couple of massages, and an early night to prepare for what we hoped would be a full day of skiing the next morning.

I lucked out and secured a half day at the CDC for baby c, so we hit the slopes early.  It was a rainy mess at the base of the mountain, but the rain turned to snow at the top and the conditions were actually pretty fantastic.  We didn't put little r in lessons, and we were blown away at how well he did on his skis.  Except for a few moments of fear on a super steep slope, he conquered it all.

little r skiing with mommy

he especially loved the cat trails down the mountain

After picking up baby c, a warm German lunch downtown, and a little break in our hotel room, and we were ready to head back up the mountain.  Baby c took a nap on Big R while little r and I it the slopes.  We had a blast together.  He mastered the chair lift, and took on the intermediate trails like a pro.  My favorite part was when he wanted to go into the trick park to try some jumps.  I might dream about it, but even I'm too timid of a snowboarder to take on the trick park.  That boy is just awesome.

on the chairlift with mommy!

Hi, Daddy!

When baby c woke up, we swapped places.  I took baby c down the gondola and Big R skied with his little man.  They had so much fun that they skied all the way down the mountain.  Most of the ski resorts in the Alps use a gondola to get you to the top.  Taking the option of skiing down is a super long run that is definitely challenging.  Eh, no problem.  Big R said that little guy hardly flinched and kept up with him the entire way down.  You go, little r!  I personally got a laugh at watching everyone stare at me on my way down.  It had started snowing pretty hard, so we were all covered from head to tow in huge snow flakes, including baby c.  My board had a good 4-5 inches of powder built up, and I had baby c strapped to my chest.  I know at least a few Germans were looking at me like I was crazy because they thought I had been snowboarding with a baby in tow.  It was kind of awesome.  I just smiled at all of them.  I really wish I could have gotten that on film.

little r and daddy skiing to the bottom on slush

look at that form!
That night we had a babysitter lined up.  I know, kind of awesome, right?  So we stopped at the grocery store and ate a light dinner in the hotel room while Big R and I got ready for our fun night out.  If any of our military friends with families every stay at Edelweiss, I'm going to pass along this tip that a good friend gave me.  Take advantage of the babysitting services.  It's worth every penny.  Just go to the front desk and tell them you are looking for a sitter for a particular day or night.  They put your information on a board and any of the workers that babysit will contact you if they are available.  For $15 an hour, we had a wonderful sitter that I seriously wanted to steal and bring back with us.  She was great!

Big R found a great little wine bar in downtown Garmisch, Zirbelstube. Unfortunately, it was pouring, so a romantic walk downtown didn't really happen.  Instead we caught the bus to keep dry.  We ordered a bottle of wine, some bruschetta and finished the evening with a fantastic desert.  It was an amazing date.  We grabbed a cab back, and we were back in our hotel room by 10pm.

Our last day wasn't terribly exciting.  The weather hadn't quite cleared up enough to make visiting the Zugspitze worth the cost.  And quite frankly, the kids were toast.  We had a lazy breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and headed home.  Although there was quite a bit more we could have done on this trip, we didn't feel like we missed out on anything.  Guess we'll just have to head out there one more time before we leave Germany this summer.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

When life makes you remember...

Today is just another day.  It really is, just that, another day of the year.  A day to make memories, kiss your kids, love your husband... Today is just another day...

I want this day to be just another beautiful day.  I don't want to dwell or remember this day as the day that my Dad died.  Instead, I want to use this day to remember my Dad being my Dad.  To read through all of the emails and notes I am lucky enough to have saved from him over the past few years, to look at pictures of him and smile, and to try hard not to let images of those final days cloud my mind.  I want this day to be dedicated to watching my boys and smiling knowing that my dad would have been so  overwhelmed with joy to have seen the little people they have become.  To take a moment to let myself feel how proud he would have been for decisions that I've made in my life even when I want to doubt them.
I miss you, Dad.  I don't want to remember this as the day we said good-bye, and I will try hard to not let today be a day that overwhelms me with sadness.  Today will be a day I will remember your laugh, your constant words of wisdom, and your love for life. 

I love you, Daddio.