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.
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.


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.