Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Auf Wiedersehen 2014: Year in Review

So last year right about now I was pregnant and blissfully unaware that our baby would be in our arms exactly one month later (Zoe really snuck up on us over a month earlier than expected).

This year, champagne! Although, like last year, I do foresee NOT making it to midnight. At first I felt a little bit sad but then I was like, but why? This baby wakes up early regardless of when I go to bed and I'm really not missing anything by seeing the clock change from 11:59 to 12:00 so I'm just not going to hold myself to that unnecessary standard. Freedom.
So, as is the tradition here at ATY, let's review the last year. 2014 was a big year...

- We had a baby! And our lives changed dramatically. It has been incredible and hard and new and exciting and tiring and overwhelming and sweet and emotional. It has been everything. Definitely the highlight of our year.
 
- We traveled to 14 cities in 5 countries (some new, some repeats). Highlights include a trip down to the Alps, our Black Forest adventure, a trip to the states (Zoe's first flight!), Lake Como and Venice, Italy, and our monster road trip to London. We also had a bunch of visitors here in Germany and we LOVED that, as usual.

-Z ended his time in command and transferred to a different position in the battalion. This meant less middle-of-the-night phone calls, less weekend work, less stress overall. I was so pleased to have him around more, home earlier each evening, and not in constant work-mode.

- We celebrated 3 years of marriage and our 2nd full year in Germany.

- I officially quit my job after initially trying to quit and getting talked into moving to a part-time position instead. But then after I quit for real, I got another part-time job, with tons of flexibility and the ability to create my own schedule. It's been nice to do a gradual step-down from an intense full-time job, to a challenging part-time position, to a work-from-home job that gives me complete control over my hours each month. I don't miss the corporate world very much, but it is nice to have something to keep me engaged on an adult level when my days are so filled with baby things (which I love. I adore being a stay-at-home mom!)

- I read 19 books, a pretty significant decrease from the past few years...but you know, we had a baby so that's kind of a time suck. I was really tempted to put 20 books because I'm halfway through 2 right now but let's not end the year on a dishonest note, right? Zach read 24 books and I'm feeling a little bitter that he beat me, but I don't know if he's aware it was a competition. We'll keep it that way.

- I started to grow my hair out. YES THIS MAKES THE LIST, BACK OFF. It's a huge deal. It's awful. It's hard. It is a trial. I am in near-constant angst. I probably need to reassess my priorities.

- We spent our 3rd (and final) holiday season away from our families, but my in-laws were here over Christmas, which was amazing.

I wrote last year about feeling a little bittersweet about the "lasts" (last trips, last Christmas, etc.) we were experiencing as a couple preparing for our first baby, and I'm here to tell you that I didn't even think about that once since Zoe joined our life...in fact when I reread last year's post I was surprised to recall feeling that way. I'm glad I wrote it down, I'm glad I was honest with myself and you all, and I'm even more glad to share that there is just zero regrets about no longer being "just us". Zoe is one of the best things to ever happen to either of us and being her parents is an incredible, enormous blessing. This year was all about her FIRSTS and I wouldn't change that for anything.

2014, you were a good year. There were challenges and bumps, but it was overwhelmingly a joyous, full year for our little family. We are grateful, and we are excited for what 2015 holds (including a move back to the states, WOO!)

Happy New Year, friends! 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

All is calm, all is bright...

I know there are other lines to the "Silent Night, Holy Night" song...I know there is a bigger story told through the verses, one that is beautiful and full of hope. But today, one line seems to loop through my head...

 

All is calm, all is bright.

I let it continue to scroll through my mind, although admittedly it is taken out of the Christmas-story context in my overactive brain. Today it is more of a mantra refocusing me and reminding me to look towards the calm and bright. Because sometimes I tend to lean more towards the angst and darkness.

My in-laws left this morning after a fabulous week with us...tears were shed, as usual. Sigh. It doesn't get easier. 

I am focusing on calm and bright very intentionally, because it was not forthcoming earlier today. I had a decision to make after Zoe and I waved forlornly from the window as Zach and his parents headed to the airport. I could focus on the sadness of the goodbye, on the stab of pain I felt that our baby doesn't get to spend regular time with her wonderful grandparents (on both sides), on the awful quiet of a house after guests leave, and (the straw that threatens to break the camel's back) on the fact that the top stand of lights on our Christmas tree weakly zapped out when I plugged them in this morning (*wails*)...

Or...

Or I could focus on the sweet memories of the last week, of how Zoe adored her Mimi and Poppy and how they loved on her, of experiencing Zoe's first Christmas, of traipsing through multiple Christmas markets, of watching the snow fall over the last two days, and of a day at home, warm and cozy with my little family while the brightness of the snow reflects almost-sunshiny light through our windows in spite of the cloudy sky.

I still really fight despair and the potential to spiral downward into the regrets and disappointment of living so far away from our families, of Zoe growing up seeing her grandparents way less often than we all would prefer. It makes me overwhelmingly sad if I really let myself think about it. Sometimes even when I am not thinking about it too hard, it just washes over me like a wave I didn't see coming. Earlier Zach and I were talking about something completely silly, like the weather and our plans for the next two days, when I just burst into tears because it breaks my heart that Zoe is growing up so fast, that her grandparents love her so much, that she has SO much fun interacting with them...yet that interaction happens so infrequently right now. Such a sneak-attack meltdown. 

I know that this is a short season, and that in a few months we'll be back in the states (and hopefully in the southeast, so much closer to our families) and things won't always be like this. I KNOW that. I know I should (and I do) absolutely cherish the fact that our baby's first Christmas was spent with her Mimi and Poppy. But it's still a bittersweet feeling, all of this joy of watching your baby grow up and the pain of having that baby so far away from the people we love so much.

So to regain some focus and reverse the downward spiral, I took a little self-imposed time out, got my winter gear on, hooked Olive to her leash and we took off on a solo (sans baby and husband) walk through the calm, bright, snowy landscape.

This is what needs to happen sometimes. Get up. Get out. Just a little jumpstart to recalibrate. To zero in on the calm and bright. It doesn't always come so easily or naturally, but it's a choice...for me at least. So we got out in that 19-degree frigid air and tromped through the snow and I took deep breaths and reminded myself that it's ok to be sad but that it shouldn't overshadow or rob me of the joy. There was a little encouraging pep talk. A lot of enjoying the snow-covered landscape. A teensy bit of wallowing, followed by a mental pat on the back for all the self-improvement that was going on (you recall I'm a fan of long and dramatic wallows). And then we came back home, Olive and I, freezing our buns (tails) off, but a little more clear-headed and ready to embrace calm and bright.

Right now, as I write this, calm and bright is easier to grasp. Big Z sits on the couch across from me, reading his book.

Olive is curled up on her bed, snoozing.

Little Z is playing contentedly with her new Leapfrog learning table, which is alternately singing the alphabet or belting out colors and shapes with great enthusiasm (good news: when I get tired of hearing that, I can switch it to Español and hear "amarillooooo!" instead of "yelllllooow!"

I scrolled through all my pictures of the last week and smiled and focused on the good memories of the time we had together and not the tiny minor detail of the months in between our next time together. I'm now feeling ready to fully embrace the calm quiet of a snowy Sunday with no place to be and nothing on the to-do list.

All is calm...all is bright.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The most wonderful time of the year

My blogging has been and will continue to be sporadic for a while...because, you know, life. And CHRISTMAS!

Mostly I'm just working on soaking in Zoe's first holiday season and our last in Germany. This makes me feel so many feelings...pass the tissues, mostly. Speaking of which, I am foiled every time I do reach for a tissue because, whoops, our Christmas tree is so fat that we had to actually remove furniture from our living room for it to fit. This included an end table that formerly held a box of conveniently located tissues. Alas. But really, I could not be happier about our fat, fabulous tree because we have suffered through some scrawny, wonky German trees the last few years (you'll recall our tree last year fell over...twice. And the year before the tree died and drooped and ornaments fell off and shattered, as did my heart). But this year, our big daddy tree is just fat and happy and taking over a really good chunk of our living room. I am happy.

We put the tree up on Thanksgiving, definitely the earliest we've ever decorated. But I wanted Zoe to experience Christmas magic for as long as possible this season. I think it's been a success so far.



(Yes, we have a gate around our tree. But this keeps the tree, the ornaments, and little hands safe. It's been a fabulous investment.)

I just can't really explain what Christmas with a child, our child, really means for us. I just know it has made me super emotional. Seeing her stocking hanging up with ours makes me well up. Watching her little fingers reach out to touch the tree branches leaves me in awe. Don't even get me started on Christmas songs, because "Mary did you know?" absolutely slays me. I adore Christmas and seeing it through the eyes of my baby girl just renews the magic and the hope and the excitement. It's truly the best.

In the meantime, Zoe is 10 months old. This is 2 months short of 1 year which is absolutely shocking. Our baby! How is she so big? But then I see her in her daddy's arms and she still looks tiny, which helps me calm down a little bit. The whole thing is just overwhelming. So the blogging takes a backseat so I can soak up these days and squeeze every last drop of joy and happiness and Christmas magic out of Zoe's first Christmas and our last Christmas in Germany...

I hope you do some joy-squeezing of your own this month particularly. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

273 days of Zoe

Dear Zoe,

You are 9 months old...wow. You've been out in the world longer than you were in my belly at this point, and this cannot be possible. How did 8 months of pregnancy feel like an eternity, yet 9 months of your life...WHOOSH...there it went.

Pom hat. Favorite.
 

Everyone with children says that time just keeps speeding up from here on out. Some days, this is a delightful thought. Other days, I can't bear it. I actively try to slow down at least twice each day (before naps and/or bedtime) and just snuggle you, because I know the days of rocking you to sleep are short (even though sometimes they feel so long). I pull down the shades in your room, dim the lights and sit in the rocking chair with your little head nestled into my shoulder. And we rock. Sometimes you babble quietly or blow half-hearted raspberries as you sink into a state of relaxation. Sometimes you just stare out the window quietly until those heavy eyes close. Sometimes you play with my new hair-wings that are growing and flipping out at the nape of my neck, and this is by far the best part about growing out a pixie cut (which I would never recommend to anyone, ever. Just in case I haven't been vocal enough about how awful it is. The struggle is real).

In these quiet moments, I usually hold you tight and rub your back or stroke YOUR newly growing hair (so, so soft). Sometimes I whisper affirmations to you (you are special and precious and valuable...), sometimes I pray over you, sometimes I just sit there in silence, basking in the calm after a day of not-so-calm, anxiously awaiting the break your naptime gives me.


You really are the greatest little 9 month old in the world, and I don't think I'm too biased. I'm not prone to exaggeration, so you can trust me when I say this. You're determined and opinionated, you're funny and energetic and giggly and snuggly. You have a thousand-watt smile and a belly laugh that is pure joy. And when you're hurt or upset or scared, your little face absolutely crumples into the saddest, most pitiful depiction of sorrow that I have ever seen.

Within the past month you've started for-real crawling and pulling yourself into a standing position and you are constantly on the move. When you get excited about something, you kind of hyperventilate a little bit. You talk ALL DAY LONG, but your favorite thing to say is da-da. I am constantly saying to you "Zoe. Can you say ma-ma?", to which you usually look at me, smile that nose-crinkling, gummy smile and respond "DA-DA-DA-DA!" with great enthusiasm. Fine. Whatever. You will say ma-ma, but usually only when you're crying, which is just heartbreaking...but it also melts me a little bit that you know who is going to comfort you when you're having a hard time.


You still LOVE to eat and provide a lot of entertainment in doing so. Not having any teeth doesn't slow you down at all. Chicken still seems to be at the top of your list, and we have to watch you closely because you will fill your little cheeks full before deciding that chewing and swallowing should be part of the process. Minor details, little one.

Your newest thing is a fascination with teeth and mouths...you little fingers pry open your daddy's and my lips and you enthusiastically stick your entire hand in our mouths, not-so-gently probing around, trying to grab our tongues. A future dentist, perhaps?

You love music and will usually stop whatever you're doing and turn towards the source whenever music begins to play. Future concert pianist slash dentist, probably.

Your Oma and Opa came to visit and it was the most fun, particularly for your daddy and me. We LOVED watching you interact with them and give them big smiles. Your Mimi and Poppy will be here soon and we can't wait for that, either. You're just at such a FUN age and we are loving watching you grow and explore and interact with people.

We're just crazy about you, Zo. Being your parents is easily one of the best parts of our life these days. We love love love you, baby girl!






Monday, October 27, 2014

Mini Wallow

I check the monitor to see Zoe's little buns are propped up in the air as she snoozes away. Thank God for naptime. Amen. My angry, hurting, running-injured ankle is propped up on pillows as I consider snoozing but instead Google my symptoms and resign myself to the fact that it will probably need to be amputated, at the very least. I'll definitely need a housekeeper and a nanny...there's no way I can be expected to care for a baby while recovering from such a major surgery. Sigh.

I should probably be using this naptime to do things like laundry or clean the kitchen, but the dirty dishes and clothes can wait. I will binge-watch some Netflix instead...I can probably get in 2 episodes of something before Zoe wakes up.

I think it's important to allow ourselves a little grace to leave the dishes and the laundry, particularly when that pesky "Fall back" time change happens, or when our parents leave after visiting, or when the weather is just so grey and cold. Or when our ankle hurts. Probably especially when our ankle hurts.

My parents left today, the time changed yesterday here in Germany (hello darkness, my old friend), and the weather is abysmal. Also, my hair is doing weird flippy and swoopy and mangy things. It's kind of stringy in the back and I just cannot endure this hair-growing-out thing. All I want to do is sit here and heave giant sighs and bemoan everything terrible that is happening simultaneously. Charlie Brown and Eeyore, you are my people.

SIGH.

I don't think we need to go into a full One Week Wallow, but maybe just a One Day Wallow would be ok? Yes. I think so.

The baby, she awakens. She is truly the best wallowing buddy, totally game for extra snuggles and lounging around in sweatpants. So even though we feel like this,

and we're going to spend the day like this,

I think we'll feel much better tomorrow.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Slow Jog

I went running for the first time in 18+ months today.

Correction: I went slow jogging, or as I like to call it, "slogging".

Here's how that happened...

Z: Hey, I'm going to take Olive on a run, why don't you come with me?
Me: (squinting suspiciously at him as I slowly cram the rest of a buttery, bakery-fresh croissant into my mouth) Yeah...ok. That sounds...um...sure. Yeah.
*pause*
Z: I'm not asking you to go on a run with me because I think you NEED to go running. I just like doing things with you.

Good man, that one. A mind-reader AND sweet. I was feeling a little bit self-conscious about that croissant.

So, in the spirit of shoulder-to-shoulder time with my man, and because I have been wanting to get back into running (what? WHY?!), I laced up my shoes, we stuck Zo in the stroller and off we went down our tractor trail.

I'd like to say, "Man, it hurt so good! I felt amazing and empowered. It was great to be back into it again! Can't wait to get back to a sub-8-minute mile" But that is just not true. It just hurt. And I've never ran a sub 8 minute mile in my life. I think today was maybe, I don't know, sub 20. Cruising speed. Nailing it.

Because Z is a patient and kind man, he ran slogged (most of the way) with me. I found this to be both incredibly endearing and infuriating. At one point, I glared at him and said "are you even sweating?! UGH!" and then I was so winded from trying to wheeze out that sentence that I thought I might collapse.

At some point on our 3 mile journey, I slowed to a walk and gasped to Z, "just keep going, I'll start back up in a minute" and then I was enraged by the betrayal when he was all "Ok, I'll stop at the bridge" and off he ran. At least Olive stayed with me for moral support...OH WAIT, no she didn't. My own dog...she didn't even look back.

I tried to focus on the positives: "Look at you go! You're running. It's been so long, but you're doing it! It feels so good! And what a beautiful day it is. And ahhh, the fresh farm air is invigorating, isn't it?"

But the reality was this: running? Shuffling. Feels good? Nope. Beautiful day? Overcast and cold. Fresh farm air? Cow manure.

I started to despair, in spite of my best efforts.

It was at this point, as I slogged along alone and in pain, that I experienced the 5 stages of grief: the series of emotional stages one progresses through when faced with impending death.

Denial: "I'm fine. I feel fine. Nothing hurts. I am gliding like a gazelle. I am breathing evenly and easily. I am weightless. I am not jiggling."

Anger: "HOW COULD ZACH JUST LEAVE ME OUT HERE ALONE?! HOW DID HE LURE ME INTO THIS STUPID RUN ANYWAYS? I HATE THIS. THIS IS DUMB."

Bargaining: "If I keep running until that next cornfield, I will reward myself with 2 chocolate croissants."

Depression: (at this point, I couldn't even see Zach, Zoe and Olive anymore) "I am alone. I am in pain. I have lost hope. I should just give up and walk home...can I even make it home? I think I pulled something in my knee. I'll never run again."

Acceptance: "I am running. It hurts, but I am doing it. I will probably survive this after all. I'm ok. We're ok. Ok."

I eventually re-joined Zach, Zo and Olive and we slogged our way back home. We did it. I am currently icing my knee, but we did it.

And I think I'm ready for another 18+ month break from running. It was working really well for me.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hair Update and Buying in Bulk

When Z and I got married, I inherited a LOT of Ziploc bags. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've never bought any additional bags because every time I pull out a box, there's a replacement right behind it. Gallon-sized freezer bags for years!

Zach subscribes to the belief that if something is on sale, and it doesn't go bad, you buy all of it.

He routinely comes home from the store with 6 double-packs of deodorant or massive amounts of bar soap or 9 packs of razors...and he'll always shrug at my raised eyebrows and say "It doesn't go bad!"

The good news is that this also applies when I accidentally bring home too much of something, or buy multiples of something we already have at home.

Too much dishwasher detergent? It doesn't go bad!

Boxes and boxes of trash bags? They don't go bad!

Shampoo to add to the 18 bottles already in the shower? No sweat. That stuff doesn't go bad.

Super-sized vat of mayo? Hey, no big deal. It doesn't go bad? (this is where I started to get a little suspicious of Zach's "it doesn't go bad" routine. I now check expiration dates on everything. Turns out, sunscreen DOES go bad.)

But let's talk shampoo. I have 4 different bottles in our shower right now. And I can't even say some of them are Zach's because, well, he has no hair. But if he did, rest assured it would be squeaky clean and silky smooth. And smell like Herbal Essence. Or Dove. Or Tresemme. Or Molton Brown.
 
It's just that I've never really been loyal to a shampoo before. And I never remember if I'm running low and need to buy a new bottle, so when I'm at the store, I invariably end up in the hair-care aisle and that bottle said it would infuse my hair with moisture AND protect from humidity, which is just exactly what I need, so I must buy it. And then I must try it out immediately, which is why it ends up in my shower with the other half-full bottles. And then I just kind of rotate through them, and the great news is that when one is finally tapped out, I have a whole legion of backups.

IT DOESN'T GO BAD, OK?!

All of this is changing though. Something happened. We stayed at a super fancy hotel when we visited Oxford and it was there that I was introduced to Molton Brown Indian Cress Purifying Shampoo. I'm not linking to it because I want you to have to work for it to see how much it costs and then judge me for that. Go ahead. Google it. I'll wait.

...

Back? Ok. Let's just move on. We all have our faults, and mine is falling in love with expensive shampoo.

You guys. It is truly like having your hair done at the salon every day. So soft. Smells so good. So shiny. So little frizz. I HAVE FOUND MY SHAMPOO.

I couldn't really get comfortable spending that much money on a bottle of shampoo, so I casually (but with great zeal and without any room for misinterpretation) mentioned to Z that it would make such a  great stocking stuffer. I also reasoned that 1 bottle of Molton Brown is probably equal to the 4 bottles of everyotherbrand that are currently in my shower, right? Ok, maybe not, but I certainly wouldn't be buying shampoo every time I was in the store because the most perfect, magical, Disney-princess-hair-creating serum was in my shower...and with that kind of power, I would not only NOT need to buy other shampoo, but you better believe I would be carefully rationing the way overpriced high-value stuff in order to make it last as long as possible. None of this "well I guess I'll just wash my hair again because Z's watching the baby..." nonsense. I'd probably be saving money.

So anyways, Z pays attention and he went above and beyond and ordered me a bottle as an anniversary gift. Amazing.

BUT. It was out of stock EVERYWHERE. Amazon. Molton Brown's site. All of the beauty and hair supply shops. All of the fancy shmancy department stores. So he places a back-order and they promise a bottle will ship within however many days.

In the meantime, I'm rationing out the hotel-sized amount I have left. Currently I only use it on Thursdays and Fridays because those are the days I KNOW I'm going out in public and will be interacting with actual people. I stare at the rapidly-dwindling half ounce longingly Saturday through Wednesday and then grudgingly use Dove or something equally mediocre. If only I had known how magical and elusive this shampoo would be, I would have tried really hard to raid a housekeeping cart in the hotel (which is not at all true because I am a rule-follower and I would be WAY to stressed to even attempt such tomfoolery).

This leads me, finally, full-circle. This Molton Brown shortage has made me ready to go all commissary-canned-pumpkin and stock up like crazy. Once the shipment comes in, I am tempted to buy them out, just to avoid a potential hair crisis if/when another shortage happens and I'm running low. And Zach couldn't even be upset about such a purchase because, hey, it doesn't go bad!

Anyways, you guys are walking this hair journey with me, so here's where we're at. I took some terrible selfies to assess the situation. We're getting dangerously close to  a mullet and we're fully submerged in the "what do I do with the sideburns that are too long to stay on my face but too short to stick behind my ears??".

We have wings. We have shag. We have cowlicks and weird waves and rogue flips. We are discouraged, but not defeated. We will press on. We do have a hair appointment for next weekend, but purely for maintenance and no length shall be cut...

We are hanging in there. In the meantime, we are clinging to our mini straightener (my gosh this thing is a magic wand if there ever was one) and our hotel-sized Molton Brown. Stay strong.

Progress. Slooooowly.
Wiiiings!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Welcome, October!

I kind of love today.

Today we celebrate 3 years of marriage and 8 months with Zoe.


I know once Zoe hits a year, we'll stop the monthly counting/celebrating whatever (I'm going to try REALLY hard to not be one of those moms who says "she's 17 months" when someone asks her age. I prefer to say "she's 517 days!"), but for now, we celebrate each month...and this particular month, in fact this particular DAY, we have a double celebration. I love this.


8 months for Zoe, 3 years for us.


We just really love the first of the month around here, and we plan all major life events accordingly. Which isn't at all true because you'll recall Zoe was 5 weeks early. Also, our original wedding date was a week later, but we moved it due to a conflict with the venue. But hey, it all worked out.

The last 3 years have felt like a lifetime. In a good way. The last 8 months have felt like an entirely DIFFERENT lifetime. In a good way.


They've been a gift and a blessing, even amidst some really hard stages. I wouldn't trade these 3 years with Zach and 8 months with Zoe for ANYTHING. And I'm just so darn excited for the months and years to come.


*I just typed that last sentence and right as I finished, Zoe started SCREAMING from upstairs in her crib. That nap was entirely too short and I stared at that last sentence and said to myself "a GIFT and a BLESSING, Katie. A gift and a blessing."




Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Manniversary! (Dreaming up a man room for our anniversary)

Tomorrow is our 3rd wedding anniversary.

Z and I were talking about it and we both feel like it's been a lot longer than 3 years...and NOT in a bad way. Simply due to the fact that we have experienced so. darn. much. in those 3 years. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Anyways, we don't have big plans. This is what happens when your anniversary falls on a Wednesday and you have a baby that can't be left with a sitter because she doesn't take bottles annnnnnnnnnd also, you live in the middle-of-nowhere Bavaria.

We'll exchange gifts and eat filet mignon and cheesecake on our wedding china and I'll probably throw a bottle of champagne in there, because what's a celebration without a little champagne?

But if I had unlimited time and money, what I would REALLY give him is this new study I dreamt up.

We call it a study rather than a man-room or a man-cave because that's more accurate. It's like a man cave, just made-over. It's a grown-up space that is family inclusive...because we like to be together, this family. The room isn't so much a place for Zach to retreat to, but it's a place for all of us, just more man-focused with the man of the house in mind. A place to curl up and read a book, or work on a puzzle, or play a game.

Here's the two things I kept in mind when day-dreaming about this space:

1. The kind of guy Zach is....his likes, dislikes, personality, and style.
-and-
2. How each item fits in with the rest of our house.

Number 2 is particularly important for us, as a military family, because all of our stuff has to fit into a new house every 3 years. This means we can't be too attached to a certain room layout or the feng shui of that chair next to those bookshelves.

Military families have to go all Tetris-level with furniture and décor, re-furnishing new spaces and re-creating a home out of the puzzle pieces of previous homes. I partly love this and partly get really stressed out over this.

Anyways, I feel like each of the items in the study could be interchanged with the rest of the décor in our current house so we could get creative if the next house doesn't have a good man-room space.

So here we go. Zach's man study would include these things that I know he would love:
- a wall of books (and how awesome is that library-inspired ladder bookshelf?).
- a coffee bar. My man is a coffee aficionado. His room would have top-notch coffee.
- a comfy couch. I adore the one shown, thankyouverymuch Crate & Barrel.
- maps on the walls. Z loves maps. Also, his awards and achievements and degrees. This is his space, after all.
- a chess table. He collects chess sets and they currently sit sadly in boxes in our basement.
- a coffee table with room for puzzles/games (and bonus, this one has extra space for storage)
- a dart board (what man room is complete without a dart board?)

The other items I added for a little extra personality and flair. The baskets for miscellaneous storage. The globe, because it IS a study after all. The little low-maintenance plant because we're fancy. The lamp for reading and just because I dig it.

I loved dreaming up this space for him (and really, for all of us because it's kind of an awesome room). Maybe one of these days, in one of our houses, this will become a reality.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Day 225 (Zoe edition)

Dear Zoe,

It's important that we pause and take a mental snapshot of exactly who and how you are as a little 7.5 month old. First, because I don't want to forget (and we know how bad my memory is). Second, because you are SO incredibly fun at this age.




EVERYONE says how much you look like your daddy. And you do. You are kind of a mini-Zach. Which, personally, I love. I keep looking for myself in you, though...and I think you have my eyes...but they keep changing, so I can't fully claim them yet. However, we recently introduced you to Cheerios, and seeing you throw your entire body into reaching for them, filling your little fists full, and shoveling multiple into your mouth at a time I thought "Ah, there's some of me in her after all".

We're only about a week into eating Cheerios and when you see me bring them out, you actually start to vibrate with a full-body excitement. You LOVE Cheerios. I couldn't be happier about this. I am just so tickled watching you focus SO HARD on getting your fingers to cooperate in picking up those little Os and getting them successfully into your mouth. And then the way your face lights up when you finally get one, chomping happily (even though you still have no teeth) and making noises of delight. I could watch you eat Cheerios all day long. I feel like we are even more bonded now that Cheerios are a part of your life, too.




Speaking of picking up Cheerios, your daddy and I are pretty sure you're going to be left-handed and we have no idea where this comes from. But maybe you'll surprise us and be right-handed after all. We don't care; we just love watching you and we noticed your left hand is dominant, for now.

You're pretty darn close to crawling, and this is equally amazing and terrifying. You are a fast little sucker already, scooting around with a killer army crawl. I put you down on a nice, clean blanket surrounded with tons of your toys and before I can blink you are sliding across the floor, collecting dog hair and dust bunnies, making a beeline for Olive's nasty, chewed up bone. Never have I been more aware of how gross our floor is. Even if it's swept and Swiffered daily, I still cringe when I see you scoot your way off your blanket.

You're usually heading straight for Olive (or Olive's toys). You LOVE your puppy. Olive gets the most of your attention and your biggest smiles. She is just so interesting to you. And you are pretty interesting to her, too. I see a beautiful friendship ahead for you two. This warms my heart. (Also, Olive loves that you've started eating Cheerios, too. She wedges her giant self underneath the table and waits for the goodies to fall, heaving huge sighs when I tell her to move because you're too distracted to finish eating, contorting yourself in your chair trying to see what she's doing down there.)



We're just crazy about you. You are smiley, happy, determined, and have a great sense of humor. Making you belly-laugh is my FAVORITE thing in the world and you're a willing participant. You babble on and on and use such great inflection that I truly feel like we are having a conversation that only you understand. You say "da-da", and even if it is only in mimicry and you don't understand what you're saying, we count that as your first word. Don't tell your dad, but I spend a LOT of time repeating "ma-ma" to you throughout the day in hopes that you will start mimicking that soon. We'll keep working on it.

My favorite time of day is right after you wake up, which is crazy because that's MORNING and I have nevereverever been a morning person. You have changed that about me. I love our mornings together. I love how you snuggle up to me after you're finished nursing and we have a few minutes of silence and stillness and peace. Sometimes you just snuggle, head on my shoulder, looking out the window as we rock. Other times you push yourself up and play with the pattern on the back of the rocking chair. And almost always, you blow raspberries. Sometimes really faint and whispy raspberries, sometimes loud and crude sounding...but that is still your go-to noise. You're such a happy baby in the mornings; I can't help but be happy too. Even at 7am. Imagine that.

I could go on and on about the ways we fall a little more in love with you every day, but it still wouldn't do justice to just how much light and joy you bring to our lives. We love you, Zoe Marie. So very very very much.

 



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pumpkin panic

Here we are, on the cusp of fall and I find myself thinking...WHY IS THERE NO PUMPKIN PUREE IN THE GROCERY STORE?!

The struggle is real. Germans don't do pureed pumpkin in a can, which I'm sure is some sort of statement and I totally feel guilty about how I should be growing my own organic pumpkins and roasting them in my oven and WHATEVER I DON'T HAVE TIME. Oh, also...I don't want to. I just want to open a can. That's all I want to do. That is the maximum time/energy investment I would like to allocate to this task.

The commissary on post has pumpkin in a can. Or, you know, in theory they have it. By "have" I mean it's part of their inventory. But as soon as that little hint of chill hit the air, as soon as things started feeling a little crisp, as soon as one tiny leaf turned yellow...actually, if we're being honest, as soon as Starbucks started selling the Pumpkin Spice Latte...POOF! All cans of pumpkin disappeared from the shelves.

Here is what's happening: on that first autumn-ish day, every baking-inclined female in the commissary thought "Oooo I could make pumpkin _________ (fill in the blank) and it would be so yummy!" So she bought 2 cans of pumpkin puree.

THEN as the fall days continued, everyone else had the exact same thought and the cans of pumpkin began to dwindle. As the cans dwindled, every female had this thought "Ooo I better stock up, who knows when there will be more". And suddenly there are no cans on the shelf and a pumpkin panic is born. So now, even when the commissary gets a fresh shipment of pumpkin-in-a-can, whoever is in the commissary at the exact time when the pumpkin hits the shelves goes "Ooooo! They NEVER have pumpkin in stock...I should buy 10 cans this time so I have enough to last me through the next year!"

And now we're in a pumpkin crisis. And there is no pumpkin coffeecake in my kitchen.

Knock it off, ladies. There's enough pumpkin to go around. Or there WOULD be if you would stop hoarding it, Doomsday-prep style.

All that to say, when I see canned pumpkin in the store, I'm stocking up. Desperate times...

Monday, September 8, 2014

On Traveling with A Baby (less than 1 year old)

If you're thinking about traveling with your baby, THINK AGAIN. It will ruin your life, turn your hair prematurely grey, send your blood pressure skyrocketing, and generally lead you into a state of perpetual angst.

Just kidding.

You can totally do this. Unless it's a trans-continental or trans-oceanic flight. Then definitely don't do it.

Ok in all seriousness this time...
There is this stigma that having a baby sort of...ends your life, impedes your freedom, changes your plans. This especially applies to travel, and many young couples make a point to embark on the Eurotrip or all-inclusive beach vacation before they open the door to expanding their family. Don't get me wrong, I am all for that. There is a lot that changes once babies come along and you should totally have some valuable, quality, just-the-two-of-you time before taking that plunge (and even after taking that plunge). But there's often an attitude of "better get that done before you start having kids" because once the kids come, don't even think about it. Enjoy your last hurrah!

And in some ways, maybe even many ways, that is true. Having a baby adds a completely new dynamic, and often a complicated one. Priorities shift. Financial allocation tilts away from "travel fund" and towards "college fund". Time is definitely more limited, as is the freedom previously found in a child-free marriage. None of this is a negative thing, it's just a fact. Things change when a baby arrives.

BUT.

I don't think that having a baby should mean the end of life as we know it. And for us, that means continuing to travel around Europe as much as possible while we're here. If we were in the states, our travel would probably be suspended for a while...we would probably lay low, maybe take a trip to the beach if we got really brave...but mostly just hunker down and not put any major getaways on the agenda for a while. But we're not in the states, we're in Europe. And our time here is rapidly coming to an end. AND THERE'S STILL SO MUCH TO SEE! Granted, it's not as easy as it used to be. It requires more planning, more patience and certainly WAY more stuff. But it's a priority for us and by golly, we're going to make it happen!

The first trip we took with Zoe, I was a nervous wreck. How would she do? What if it was miserable? What if we forgot something important? (because without Target WHERE WOULD WE BUY REPLACEMENTS?!) What if this is a complete disaster?! We should probably just stay home. Safer, easier, more comfortable, Cheerios. Yeah, we'll just stay home. (I have this same conversation with myself every time I leave the house with Zoe, even to go to the grocery store. Except minus the Cheerios. Which is why I'm going to the grocery store anyways).

But we did it. We took the plunge. We started small, just a weekend getaway a few hours away. And you know what? It was fine. Good, even. Adjustments were made (early dinners, early bedtimes, frequent pit stops, etc.). It wasn't always perfect or easy (car rides usually include lots of screaming. Zoe also cries a lot). But we did it, and it was successful and it empowered us. Now taking a trip is not nearly as daunting or overwhelming, and we usually have a blast whilst working around the needs and schedule of a baby.

So. Here's a few things that we have found that makes traveling with a baby easier for everyone. Hopefully these may be helpful or encouraging to someone, but of course all babies are different and what works for us may not work for you. Find your own groove and enjoy!

Be flexible. And then be even more flexible after that.
This is really the most important thing, and maybe the only thing you really need to keep in mind while traveling with little ones. If your baby is on a schedule (and ours is), your best bet is to stick with that schedule. But with extra flexibility. Babies are resilient little things and EVERYONE WILL SURVIVE if naps don't happen exactly when and where they should or if mealtimes are pushed around a little bit or the bath routine isn't the same or bedtime is later than usual. Just go with it. Take your particular situation into consideration when planning your trip. If your baby is happier in the morning, travel in the morning. If your baby loves the car, drive. If your baby won't sleep in the same room as you without waking up and crying, consider renting an apartment/house with separate rooms for everyone. Go with what works well with your family. Relax. Smile. Take pictures. Don't freak if the itinerary changes or you don't get to do everything you wanted to or a meltdown happened before you got to go here or see that. Just take a deep breath and adjust. You're still on vacation, in a new place, with the people you love the most. Don't lose sight of the big picture when the small details of an afternoon crying fit or a diaper blowout threaten to take over.

Invest in a great travel crib.
We bought this one from Guava Family and it has been worth every penny. Super easy to set up and take down (which is especially awesome when we get to a hotel late at night and need to do a quick transfer of baby from car seat to crib). And it's very compact, which is a bonus for those teeny tiny European hotel rooms. Plus, it's carry-on size for flights. AND conveniently comes in a back-pack-style bag. Win-win-win. If you're not traveling as frequently, we've also borrowed this crib and it was super easy to set up and take down, but the carrier is bulkier and I wasn't thrilled with the way the plastic bottom layer extended up the sides a little bit. I prefer the full mesh sides of the crib we have; but that's simply personal preference.

The baby-carrier is your best friend.
We use an Ergo carrier. WE LOOOVE our Ergo, all of us. When we went to Venice and Lake Como, we didn't even pack a stroller, as those places are notoriously stroller UN-friendly. Now I understand that carriers are maybe only practical when you have little babies, but for as long as you and baby are happy, keep on using it! It's one less thing to haul around and maneuver into crowded restaurants or lift up and down stairs.

Food pouches are a simple and hassle-free way to feed your baby whilst traveling. Obviously this only applies for so long. But we're talking baby under 1 year old. Zoe has just recently started solids, so traveling with her as been easy in terms of food. She is still primarily breastfed, so we haven't had to bother with bottles or formula. Now that she's experimenting with food, we found the easiest travel-friendly solution was food pouches, similar to these. We packed those, a spoon, and some bibs. Done. I like these because you can just squeeze out a bite at a time onto the spoon and not worry about "contaminating" the whole batch and wasting whatever she doesn't eat. They're nice and compact as well, so they don't take up valuable packing space.

White-noise machine. Get one. Use it. 
Even if your baby doesn't sleep with one usually, this is a great item to bring along on a trip. Hotels are noisy places, even the nice ones. Doors slam, elevators ding, cars honk right under your window...white noise blocks almost all of this. Baby stays asleep. You stay asleep. Peace. We use this one, which has a power cord but also runs on batteries (so we don't have to take a converter with us all over Europe and risk frying it due to voltage issues).

Pack for the weather, and then some.
I need to address the "and then some" part of this first. You guys. Diaper blowouts. At least one a day. And this is a new phenomenon for us because I can count on one hand the number of blowouts we've had in cloth diapers. This alone makes them completely worth it, in my eyes. But when we travel, we use disposable diapers because they're so much easier to pack and dispose of. Plus, a lot less work. But WHOA. Those suckers are like a slip-n-slide for baby poop. Just straight up the back. WOOSH! Surely diaper companies can do something about this. Is this part of a conspiracy? Make the diapers aerodynamically encourage the funneling of baby waste up and out so that you have to use and therefore BUY more diapers? I'm on to you, diaper companies. I'm on to you.
ANYWAYS. You're going to need AT LEAST 2 outfits per day. Which I did not fully account for because I was not anticipating such issues. Poop is usually more contained in this household. (Note to self: cross-stitch that on a pillow.)
And consider the weather, my friends. We saw rain and cool temps in the forecast. We accounted for the cool temps. There were jackets and leggings and long-sleeved baby onesies galore. There was even a floppy hat for the sunny days. But you know what there was not? There was not a rain cover for the stroller. And this, my friends, was a terrible mistake. We bought a clear poncho and put it over the stroller, which is the equivalent of tying a plastic bag around your child, so send the Parents of the Year Awards right on over. It was unruly and billowed up with every slight breeze and collected puddles of water which then leaked onto Zoe's blankets or sneak-attack drained onto my pants and into my shoes. And Zoe just thought it was a delightful new toy and her sweet little hands reached for it and pulled it and bunched it and tried oh-so-hard to shove it into her mouth. So that was a battle. Listen. Just pay the $15 to get the generic "fits all canopy strollers" rain cover. Just do it. Then you have it. And you are prepared. And it's one less thing to worry about it.
In the same vein, bring baby sunscreen. Just always have it. And bring socks. Lots of socks. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have an extra outfit (or 2) in the diaper bag. Because, you know, diaper-company-conspiracy-poop-chute. Just go ahead and overpack for you little one. You'll probably end up using it all.
(Please note that if any of our destinations had access to a Target, I would consider this number completely unnecessary because, hello, you could just go in and buy whatever you needed. You might argue that we could do that anyways, in a Marks and Spencer's or whatever, but let's remember how strong the British Pound is and also note we do stick to a budget whilst traveling. Ok that's all.)

So there you have it, my friends. A few things that have made traveling with a baby a little bit more enjoyable, less stressful, and just generally easier for our family. What about you? What have you found to be super helpful/necessary/important when traveling with little ones? Let's hear it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Road trip to London

Trip Recap. 8 days. 5 countries. 6 hotels. 1800 miles. 3 Starbucks mugs. 2 channel crossings. Exhausting. Fabulous. Fun.

Zoe was a champion, despite catching a KILLER cold towards the end (that Z and I then both caught after we got home, knocking us out hard. Thankfully we were home and we didn't catch it at the same time, which was convenient). She travels well, and for this we are thankful. But we were ALL glad to be back home and in our own beds.

We saw so much and thoroughly enjoyed the uninterrupted family time. AND we got to meet up with Z's older brother and family in London, which was a special treat.

Pictures. Here we go.

We broke this trip up into smaller segments rather than try to power through long days of driving because SOMEONE doesn't love car rides. No idea where she gets that from. So for the sake of all of us, shorter car journeys were necessary.

Day 1. Our home to Bonn, Germany. No pictures of this leg of the journey, so here's a picture of our little 7 month old instead.


Day 2. Bonn, Germany to Calais, France via Antwerp, Belgium.

Lunch in Antwerp

Calais, France

Calais, France
 Day 3-5. London. Rain on rain on rain.

Poncho for baby. Raincoat plus umbrella for dad. So. Much. Rain.

Zoe just loved her cousin

Me and my man in dreary London


The tribute to WWI at the Tower of London was stunning

Zoe snoozing her way around London

Zoe with her Aunt Em and cousin Lydia (and Paddington Bear)

Cousin love

Lydia was so sweet to Zoe, giving lots of hugs
 Day 5 (continued). Oxford.
I ate lunch at this café multiple times a week during my study abroad at Oxford. Zach and I got lunch here and ate it on the lawn of Trinity College while we were there. I loved this.

Trinity College, where I lived for my summer study abroad 7 years ago.

Trinity College

Trinity College with happy Zo

Trinity College

Z said to me "You are in charge in Oxford. I'm following you." But he is really just so much better at it. I love following him around all of Europe.

Radcliffe Camera in Oxford. Just beautiful.

Z treated us to a super fancy hotel for our night in Oxford.
 Day 6. Quick stop at Highclere Castle (The Downton Abbey house, you guys). Then we were on the ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre for 6 hours.
We were there early, before anyone else. It was stunning.

Me and my girl at Downton Abbey.

Her smiley face. Oh my.
 Day 7. Le Havre to Omaha Beach, Normandy. Then to Mont Saint Michel. Then to Reims. Big day. Lots of driving.


Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. Solemn and humbling.

Zo and her daddy on Omaha Beach
We added this stop as an afterthought and OH are we glad we did. Absolutely stunning. Mont Saint Michel.


Me and Zoe on Mont Saint Michel
Low tide view
 
Reims, France. The last stop.