Monday, July 28, 2014

Rest In Peace, Cheryl...

Receiving the news that Cheryl Hanna had suddenly passed away left me broken hearted.  Cheryl was a brilliant woman that was influential to so many lives through her classes at Vermont Law School, her well-known legal comments on NPR and other Vermont media, and her numerous publications.  Many amazing things will be written about Cheryl.  Her resume is long and distinguished with all of her publications and accomplishments.  Her role in the Vermont Law community is arguably unmatched, and I think many students and alumni would agree that very few professors left a mark on their legal careers the way she did.  There is no doubt that the legal community lost someone irreplaceable.

Those many articles about Cheryl probably won't mention those things that made her special to me and to others that were fortunate enough to know her on a personal level.  As a professor she inspired me to strive harder and realize my true potential.  She knew what I was capable of long before I knew to even try.  Most people do not know that I almost failed her class.  Seems impossible to think of now, but an office visit later and not only was I on my way to acing Constitutional Law, but I had made a friend of a lifetime.  At the end of the semester, we contacted each other about doing legal research together, the next three years of law school and beyond, I was fortunate enough to work side by side professionally with one of my closest friends.

I spent many afternoons and evenings laughing over articles and research, sharing a glass of wine, and discussing the nuances of the latest Supreme Court case with this incredible person.  She could read people extremely well, and she saw the best in everyone.  Her loss is devastating not only to me, but to the legal community, her family, and to Vermont.  Vermont Law School will never be the same.

Thank you, Cheryl, for sharing your wonderment with us all, and for helping so many of us fall in love with the law and go after the passions and dreams inside of us.   

Friday, July 18, 2014

I never expected cars to be so complicated...

It's true, you know, I really never thought that moving overseas with our vehicles would cause so many headaches and so much stress. It has really been ridiculous. Not all of it has been bad. There are parts of the process that have gone smoothly, and for that I'm thankful, but I could really do without all the other silly beeswax, I honestly could...

You heard me mention before that Big R's race car was not waiting for us in Atlanta as it was supposed to be. Well, I'm happy to say that it finally broke free of its three weeks in customs' hell and found its way to Atlanta. We were in the middle of a much needed vacation with family and friends out west when Big R got the news, so plans had to be changed so he could fly back to Atlanta and bring his beloved race car home. Aside from an extremely long wait, the pick up process was relatively painless compared to the awaiting its arrival. We spent over two weeks calling every other day to be told that two weeks stuck in customs was the "norm" for vehicles coming overseas. Ha! Yeah, right. We knew better, but there was little to nothing we could do about it except rejoice when it made its way to Atlanta.

I stayed behind to hang out with my mom on the ranch. There was more horsin' around to be had, and I was enjoying the bonding time. The next auto madness was related to the tracking and arrival of our BMW. The whole process was a huge mess, but I had no idea how bad it would finally get before we had the car in our possession. BMW has hired a contractor to handle the shipments. My contact started out fantastically helpful, only to have that assistance fall to the wayside. We had been told by others that they send you your invoice (yes, the hidden fees are marvelous - they pay the large chunk of shipment costs, but don't be fooled by the customs and handling fees), and provide a tracking database to you within that first week or so of shipment. We somehow didn't get any of this information until the BMW was ETA into port.

The data tracker made me feel like the hugest idiot. Don't you hate that? Maybe I am missing a few marbles, but you'd think a couple of attorneys could figure this stuff out. The mere fact that the instructions state we would have a 9 digit number linked to all the information, and a 7 digit number for customs, was compounded by a few extraneous digits and inconsistent information across both of them. I was making myself blind trying to read the thing. My mom defintely thought I was losing it. I made sure to fill out the paperwork to pay the invoice with the hope the BMW would arrive any day. The hope work, but the payment did not. When the BMW was released, we weren't any closer to having our payment processed nor did we have any clearance documents. I felt like I was constantly on the phone and emailing these folks and it was getting us no where.

I know you are wondering how this got all crazy balls on us at the last minute, because it exploded into a mess of colossal proportions. Big R is buried in in-processing appointments and a need to expedite things to get to work. The army doesn't mess around when it decides it needs its lawyers. I have two kids - enough said, this lady wasn't heading to port to collect a vehicle with these crazy bears.

I called to check on the status and our contact informed me the documents and payment would be wrapped up in the next hour. Big R made his arrangements and noticed the flight was $75 cheaper than it had been the last two days, so he bought his ticket to Charleston to get the BMW out of port. We knew better, we really did because nothing in this process has gone as it's supposed to. By the next morning, the credit card hadn't even been charged yet. Not a good sign. Big R was long on his way. Turns out the card was denied (thanks a million USAA, your timing was impeccable on this one), and yet no one informed us despite our sharing the plan that we were heading to port the following day to collect the car. Oy... It gets better... I know, your thinking, dumb, how could we go without documents, but the afterthought is much more hasty than the reality at the time.

I'll make this part of the story quick, despite our rep being MIA, we managed to get updated credit card info to the company and our clearance papers were released. Big R grabbed a cab to downtown Charleston from the airport (which was built before the civil war and is apparently an old disaster of an airport), and walked to the port.

Let me back up just a tiny half beat of a second to let you in on what I was doing while Big R was handling this side of the arrangements. I was packing up to leave Vegas and my mom after an amazing vacation. We used frequent flyer miles because is has gotten painfully expensive to fly in the US (I had no idea how spoiled we were in Europe), and it was a red eye flight... Kind of... It left at 1am PST, stopped in Houston for a super fast layover, and then went on to Nashville to arrive at 9am CST. That sounds painful even to the most able of moms, and to add insult to injury, baby c decided to wake us all up at 5am and then refuse to let any of us nap later in the day. Needless to say, I was seeking Wonder Woman strength to make it through.

We beat the rush at the airport, just in time for the boys to melt down at the gate. We walked onto a very full flight to find out we were sitting next to "that guy." You know, the one you always pray is not sharing your seat. He looked liked the guy from American Choppers (you know the show, I know you do), covered all over in tattoos, and reeking of booze. At several points during the flight I was certain he was going to ralph, but he managed to hold it together. He was a huge person, and my boys could contain themselves no more. Until 20 minutes into the flight when they both decided to give into the exhaustion, I was seriously having an out of body experience. Pure mayhem. But it ended. I had to pull poor little r to our connecting flight on the opposite end of the terminal while he cried from exhaustion, only to collapse in a chair and fall back asleep.

We were crazy tired when we got home, so I wasn't ready for the afternoon to up the anty on me. Let's flash forward again.. Big R is walking to the port from a Kinkos downtown (yes, he walked because he's nuts like that), and he gets to the port only to find out he's missing some critical number. This stupid number is so important, they won't even let him into the port without it. This is when things started getting really fun. Our rep remained MIA, so I had to do all the coordinating with an employee that was trying her best. Big R was in the meantime negotiating with the port staff to first get inside the gates and then to lower the military boom that sets the urgency clock in motion. Whether we like it or not, duty calls, right? Well, between that and his charm it somehow worked. He won them over. This was a good thing because the company I was working with was clueless. She had me convinced for awhile this whole deal was our fault because we really had them in a bind. Well, hey, try informing your clients when payments don't go through and then disappearing with the laptop that contains all the necessary information, and then tell me again it was us that caused the bind. Yeah, I'm not even going there...

I probably would have been more calm except that we were about 45 minutes now from the port closing on a Friday. Baby c had thankfully been napping, but he woke up with a crap-loaded diaper about 15 minutes before our deadline. How do that do that?! It's uncanny!

I'm mid-wipe on a screaming child when she calls to tell me she can get the much needed number but it'll cost us $100 and there is no guarantee we'll get the port to stay open to get our car out that day. I'm sure you can picture how I took that. She said she thinks it would be best if we waited until Monday to go back when her coworker was back in the office. Obviously she was in way over her head and had no idea what to do. But yes, we live down the street from this place and can effortlessly hang out until Monday. The woman hadn't thought this through nor was she aware of the repercussions of her suggestion. I'm racing from room to room doing that horrible thing mothers do and never like to admit it when they are trying super hard to handle business on the phone with a screaming child attached to my ankles, poor baby c. Didn't help that little r was being a maniac. It was pure mayhem in my house, and the timing was horrible.

At this point Big R's phone had died. Yes, seriously, it was dead as a door nail. I had to call the dock office to try to find him. Turns out Big R's charm had the entire port staff working to get his car out of hock. Nicely played, honey. The dock supervisor was livid and could not believe the shipping company was going to charge us to do their job. Ah, hell, I just wanted my car! Long story short, the port staff found us a freaking number and got our car out of port without charging us a penny. We're sending them at least one fruit basket and a crap load of chocolate. I mean seriously, what a colossal mess!

Ok, so we now have both cars, we are still waiting on two shipments that will start this week. I'm down one glass of wine with my body half into bed, and Big R is refueling with old friends stationed a short drive from Charleston. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could really use a few less surprises and I'm ok with not having any more days like this one anytime soon.

Here's to more stories and madness to share because my life is never a full moment!






Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Seriously?! We can't make this stuff up...

And here you thought that our family leaving Europe meant the adventures were over and my blog was going to be nothing but a collection of mediocre stories.  I really have been thinking that my blog is going to get insanely boring in comparison.  I suppose that would be a pretty normal expectation, but those that know me know that adventure has a way of finding me.

My mom lives on 40 acres in the Mojave Desert - literally in the middle of nowhere.  Our last visit to their ranch was the spring before we left for Germany, and we had a ton of fun adventures that visit as well, including a desert hike with rattlesnakes and a fun visitor in my mom's jeep, but nothing like the way we kicked off this trip.  Everything actually started off pretty chill.  The flight for us from Phoenix where we were visiting Big R's mom was easy as pie.  (Although we managed to pick the one flight that was scheduled during the World Cup game only to land and discover that Germany beat Brazil 7-1, what?!  so crazy...)  After collecting us all, including my sister and her husband, we had delicious BBQ and then got on the road to head out to the ranch.  It takes about an hour and a half with a large portion of the drive being on gravel road.

An absolutely amazing storm was making the sky an incredible sight.  We even stopped to grab some pictures and then hit the road to race the storm home (because you never know if a good storm will wash the road out - exciting, right?).

The New York Mountains in the Mojave Preserve

It rained, but not hard.  There was a decent show of thunder and lightning and the air felt clean and crisp.  Big R disappeared outside to take pictures of the lightning, of course, and as he was walking back inside, the sky lit up and a lightning bolt struck so close the house shook and Big R's hair was standing up when he walked in the door.  That'll get your attention!  We knew it was a stone's throw away, although none of us saw the actual lightning bolt strike the ground.  We all chuckled and caught our breath through sighs of laughter and went about our business.  Ignorance is bliss :)

About five or so minutes later, Big R wandered outside again, and he returned rather quickly and quite casually said, "you guys have fire."  My husband is a wonderful man, but he's also a jokester. I could tell by the look in my mom's face that she wasn't sure whether or not to believe him.  My stepdad, Tom, hopped up immediately to look outside, and Big R repeated, "I'm dead serious, we have a fire on the hill!"  Sure enough, the lightning bolt had struck a juniper on the hill near the house and was flaming.  YIKES!!!  I hate the way I react to these things.  Panic is not my best friend, and two things terrify me to no end:  tornadoes and fire.  My heart was literally in my throat.

Big R is thankfully a leader in crisis situations, and the next thing we know he is gearing up to head out in the "ranger" with a shovel in hand.  The hill is a mini-mountain and quite steep, but that flame was too close for comfort and BLM can only get here so fast.  In his mind, there was no time to waste.  My brother-in-law, Ryan, jumped right in, and despite protests from both Big R and Ryan, my sister insisted she go as well.  Her response?  "If it's safe enough for you, it's safe enough for me. I'm going."  Just love that girl.

Rain picked up and the flame died out.  They couldn't find where the lightning strike hit the tree, so they came back and we chilled out on the porch watching with relief as we saw the flame so much as disappear with the rain storm. We got the boys into bed (finally) after poor little r shook himself to sleep.  Baby c couldn't be happier to fall into bed, but I for some reason couldn't let him go during all the excitement as I kept picturing in my mind us loading up the horses in the trailer and packing up the car in record time. We were momentarily relieved that the fire died down and hoped it would fizzle out naturally.  BLM told us to call if it flamed up again, otherwise they would be out by morning.  Tom and I were already discussing shifts because there was no way this crew was going to sleep with a potential fire in our backyard.

Sure enough, about an hour or so later, the rain stopped, the wind picked up at the start of another storm front, and the blaze rekindled.  In a matter of minutes it went from seemingly dormant to being ablaze!  We decided not to mess around, and after eyeing the location with the telescope and binoculars, Big R was even more comfortable this time with reaching the blaze.  Honestly, the fire was picking up so quickly, we were afraid not to respond especially knowing it could take BLM upwards of an hour or longer to get the blaze.

They parked the mule at the base of the hill, and climbed up.  I was amazed at how quickly they reached the fire.  They were able to contain the embers, but the tree was like hot coal all the way to the core and they didn't have the equipment they needed to put it out.  Needless to say, we were happy knowing BLM was on their way.  Sleep was not going to be had among this group until this fire was completely put out.  Jokes were flying on the radio, and Big R, Ryan and my sister were chillin with the fire until BLM arrived.

BLM showed up with a big 'ol fire truck that was never going to make it anywhere near the hill. So, they packed up water bladders and other equipment, and Tom used the "mule" to bring them closer to the sight to save some energy.  Because this wasn't enough of an adventure, the mule decided to get caught in a ditch and bottom out.  I couldn't figure out what was taking Tom so long to get back, and thought maybe he had decided to join the firefighters on their hike up the hill until I finally saw him walking up from the barn at the base of the property.  What the heck?!  Yep, he wandered his way back in the dark - no flashlight, no radio, and only the porch light to show him his way - only to grab the tractor and my mom to head right back out to tow the thing out of the way.

My parents made it back with tractor and mule in tow, and thankfully both in one piece, right around the time my sister informed me that they were in a mad search for the ranger because they parked it in the dark and had no clue where they put it.  I'm happy to report they finally found it and made their way home.  We all sighed a huge sigh of relief, and Big R had a grin from ear to ear.  I'm about ready to pass out from all the adrenaline and he's having a ball.  Guess I'm glad I have him as a life partner to make it through any life crisis!

Phew... I think after it was all said and done, it was about 1:30 in the morning.  Bed was a welcomed sight for all.  Thanks, mom, for planning an outrageously exciting start to our vacation on the ranch :)

Despite the crazy beginning, we are already having a blast.  The boys had us up early, and we've ridden horses, played with tractors, gone on hiking adventures discovering bobcats, and I even managed to get in a yoga practice during one of baby c's naps. The ranch is an absolutely beautiful place in every way imaginable.

Here are a few pictures to share the fun we are having.  Hopefully we've left the wildest adventures behind us for this trip!!!

that smile says it all!!!

Papa Tom and little r - one happy boy and his grandpa

Big R having a ball training Stella

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sweden: Saving the best for last

I know we are stateside now, but I still have some adventures to catch up on.  As we faced our final year living in Germany, we knew that our last trip had to be a another venture up north to visit Big R's family in Sweden one last time.  They are such incredible people, and we had no way of knowing when we'd get an opportunity to visit again.  His grandmother and her family are all from Göteborg. We visited his family for the first time in July of 2012.  We had no idea what to expect, and it was such an incredible visit we knew we had to go back at least once before we left Europe.

Our first Sweden trip was coupled with a quick side excursion to Copenhagen, and this time we wanted to be sure not to miss Stockholm.  We spent far too much time trying to find the best itinerary for an affordable price.  I think we actually waited until two weeks before our trip to purchase our flights, and I definitely waited too long to book a hotel.  Not only is Stockholm a bit pricey, but it is a popular place in the summer time.  (After having visited there, we now completely understand why that is!)  Since we were going to be in Stockholm for literally 22 hours, I wanted to find a place that was near the action.  The only hotel with vacancies within 30 km of the city center was $4,500/night.  Totally doable, right?  Well, I thought so, but Big R was thinking it might be a tad bit too fancy for our taste and the children having their own rooms probably wasn't a wise choice.  So picky, that man... Haha.

Ok, so we completely lucked out with Air BnB, and I'm not kidding.  We lucked out both because I got rejected more than a dozen times, and also because the place we ended up staying had the most incredible hosts in the most beautiful location and house.  It was quite literally perfect and for a price that was affordable (for Stockholm...).  Anna and Francisco were amazing.  We were sad we didn't have time for a longer stay.  Every once in awhile you come across people you feel like have been friends with you for a lifetime. That's how these hosts were - absolutely incredible hosts that felt we'd been friends with for years.  They invited us to a BBQ and said if we were staying another day, they were going to take us out on their boat.  Man!  But we had amazing family to get to, so it was a quick stay despite the temptations to hang around a bit longer....

Stockholm is an incredible city.  We've been looking forward to seeing it since before we arrived in Europe three years ago, and it did not disappoint. Unfortunately, when you visit a location for a quick 24 hours, the weather dictates the experience.  When we arrived, the weather was not our friend.  I could feel the disappointment oozing from Big R.  After a whirlwind and VERY windy tour through Gamla Stan (or old city), we opted not to do dinner in Stockholm and instead had our airbnb host make us a reservation at a cute little restaurant on the docks a short walk from our flat.  It was a great decision.  We woke up first thing - literally at 2 a.m. - with brilliant sunshine. As soon as the kids were ready to go, we grabbed the tram and headed into the heart of the city so that we could get as much out of our visit as possible.  Stockholm is absolutely incredible when the sun shines.  We were blown away!!!

Gamla Stan - Stockhom, Sweden

phone booth in Gamla Stam, and my little ham

strike a pose, cute lil man

beautiful church Riddarhomen church

we loved the Swedish architecture

another view of the Riddarholm

side street on Gamla Stan

it was crazy windy that day

you can sense the wind if you look at the waves in the water

we decided to have dinner in a quiet restaurant in a suburb port town

up early and ready to go - the sun greeted us at 2:30 a.m.!

Stockholm is even more incredible in the sunlight

the views were breathtaking at every turn...

another beautiful picture of Stockholm's architecture

the ancient Vasar ship - uncovered after 400 years under water

a scene from the boardwalk around Stockholm

too cute not to share - love this little man

the sunlight was spectacular!

more views along the waterfront
one of the many Stockholm skylines

a unique view from the City Hall

such a gorgeous day!

a quick peek into the kitchen of the flat we rented. how cute are those tiles?!

another peek - we seriously want this couple to decorate our house!

It was time to leave Stockholm and head west to visit with Big R's family in Göteborg.  We planned our trip to fly into Stockholm, rent a car, and drive across Sweden to Göteborg.  Big R's family gave us recommendations for the most scenic route, and it really was such a wonderful car trip across the country.  About 5-6 hours later, we found ourselves welcomed by family.  Along the way we enjoyed the Swedish countryside and a little yoga at a rest area along Lake Vättern.  It was such a beautiful day, and the views did not disappoint.

"Tom Tits Experiment" - seriously Tom, what have you been up to?!

gorgeous views of Lake Vättern

so excited to get a break from the car...

i enjoyed my break, too, and was inspired to strike a pose or two

eh, why not one more pose?!

yoga is apparently contagious with these backdrops...

my boys :)

classic Swedish countryside home - red barns are a signature look here

We spent our first day just outside of Göteborg enjoying family to the fullest.  Baby c was absolutely in love with Big R's grandmother's cousin.  It was precious on every level. The boys had a ball.  More family came to visit the next morning, and the little r tried hard to communicate with the boys his age using German.  Hey, if they don't speak English, it must be Deutsch, right?  It was too cute.

proud Swedish family :) 

the boys had too much fun...

and baby c fell in love with uncle bill

porch swings are the best!

i just love those baby blues!

...and this handsome little man

we are definitely proud of our Swedish heritage

little r's favorite was the tree swing

family walk through the Swedish countryside

baby c enjoyed every minute of our walk

...and little r did some serious pondering...

we will miss you, Birgitta!

is it obvious these boys are all from the same blood line?!

he had to get one more hug from uncle bill

We said "good-bye" to one part of Big R's family to meet with another in downtown Göteborg at Liseberg - an old, and incredibly fun, amusement park.  We had promised little r some rollercoasters and fun rides. All told, we had a great time.  Little r enjoyed the flume ride, an crazy rollercoaster "train" ride that was insanely fast (I was blown away by his bravery!), and some other incredible fun. My face hurt from smiling, and most of it was because I loved how much fun little r was having.  We stayed with family again that night a little closer to Göteborg, and we loved every minute of it.  Such incredible people.  Their son, although he was quite a bit older than little r, played with him and put up with his silly antics (including his ability to talk endlessly).  We were impressed and so thankful.  We watched some World Cup soccer, and enjoyed getting to know his family.  I hope we can convince them to visit us in the U.S. soon!

this ride was too much fun!!!

little r loved it and his new friend, Isak!

baby c is quick to find a snuggle buddy...

...and he always wants to be part of the fun!

beautiful architecture in downtown Göteborg

another shot of downtown Göteborg along the canal

It was tough to say "good-bye" to Sweden and our family.  We hope not much time passes before we can see them again whether in the U.S. or back in Sweden.  Our final morning we spent strolling around downtown Göteborg.  The weather wasn't terribly fabulous, and our time was short, but we were able to get a good feel for the city.  Let's just say we were there just long enough to wish we had more time to enjoy what the city had to offer.

Until we meet again, Sweden :)