Grab Your Costumes!

10 Feb Narrentreffen in Elzach

Because it’s Fasching! Well technically, it ended yesterday, but I had to wait to get pictures of our princess in her Tuesday Best!

Dating back to the Middle Ages, the celebration of Karneval- or Fasching- the European relative of Mardi Gras — is a time for eating, drinking and merriment before the solemn days of Lent. It traditionally begins on Epiphany (January 6) and ends at midnight just before Ash Wednesday. It’s for this reason that Germans- as well as many other Europeans- consider this a ‘Fifth Season’ of the year. :)

This colorful festival takes place 52 days before Easter, generally ending with a bang- food, music, dancing and parades- on Shrove Tuesday. Karneval is celebrated throughout Germany, the three most popular versions being Karneval in the Rhineland region, Fasching in Southern Germany and Fastenacht in Baden Würrtemberg.

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The word Fasching dates back to the 13th century and is derived from the Germanic word vaschanc or vaschang, in modern German: Fastenschank = the last serving of alcoholic beverages before Lent. In olden times the 40-day Lenten period of FASTing was strictly observed. People refrained from drinking alcohol or eating meat, milk products and eggs.

Narrentreffen in Elzach

The undisputed capital of Karneval is Cologne, followed by Dusseldorf and Mainz (where we lived this past spring.) In the months leading up to the season, Karneval Clubs (yes, they’re a real thing and apparently big business!) hold meetings to discuss upcoming performances, costumes, parades and float designs. Imagine rivals for NYC’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but put them in various cities throughout the country! WOW!

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While the celebrations have plenty of religious ties, they actually go back even further to pagan times, and originated as a way of driving out the evil spirits of winter and encouraging the coming of spring and good crops. This helps to explain the difference in costumes when compared to things like Mardi Gras. Costumes have evolved around themes of dark ghosts representing the cold season contrasted by the bright, colorful spirits of spring. Scary, ugly masks are still worn to scare away the cold, hard winter. These traditional themes symbolize the eager anticipation of the growing season, a time farmers and consumers long for.

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Karneval: "Jecken" feiern am Rhein

In the Middle Ages, Karneval gave the people a break from the tightly structured class system, as they were able to hide their social background behind imaginative masks and costumes. Poor people were able to mix with all other levels of society and share fun with them. In those days, people would dress up as knights, damsels and even priests, as a way of making fun of them. In a similar way, people these days sometimes wear masks to make fun of well-known politicians or celebrities.

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Traditional Carnival In Hesse And Rhine Area

So this week has been yet another reason that we’re so glad we chose to live smack dab int he middle of the city. Food vendors have lined the streets for block after block, the smells of donuts, gluhwein (you didn’t think it was only for Christmas, did you?!), spiced nuts, beer and pretzels wafting through the air like little olfactory gems…Huge music stages were set up in every surrounding park, their nightly bands still going strong and lulling us to sleep at night…And folks of all ages can be seen at any time of the day dressed in their most elaborate, snazzy costumes. Such a fun thing to be a part of! Speaking of which…

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Neve’s school celebrated Fasching, too! We walked in the door there yesterday morning and were whisked away to a private Karneval celebration! Decorations that the students had been making for the last couple weeks hung from the ceiling and the walls…Traditional festive music was playing over the sound system and festival snacks were lined up on the counters…Best of all, all the kids got to wear their favorite costumes for the day and have their faces painted. There were princesses, fairy godmothers, super heroes, ninjas, ladybugs…Neve was SO excited!

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It’s not often you get to walk to school with Royalty <3

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I asked for one more picture and she started telling me how to do it. Imagine that! Ha!

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Hate I couldn’t get a picture of her face paint when it was first done and even this picture doesn’t do it justice! It was so good from what I could tell when I picked her up! This is her ‘scary mask face.’ ;)

And as if this week couldn’t get any more fun, John surprised his girls with a quick trip to Paris this coming weekend for Valentine’s Day! WOOHOO! It’s been years since we’ve been there- our last time together was in 2006 and my last time was a girly weekend with my mom in 2010- and Neve has been waiting to see the Eiffel Tower. The icing on the heart-shaped cake? We’re taking her to Disneyland (in Paris) on Saturday, but she doesn’t know it yet. <3

Neuschwanstein, Where Dreams Come True…

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Where dreams come true, huh? Well yes, something like that! Schloss Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s new company logo all those years ago. And in person, I can totally see how it’s beauty and charm and over-the-topness would inspire just about anyone!

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One of our favorite things about living in Germany is all the history and culture that’s everywhere you turn. And we sure do love turning to castles! Ha! See what I did there? ;) There’s no doubt that Germans loved them some castles and they run the gamut in terms of age, style, sophistication…But they’re all just so incredibly neat to visit.

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Approaching Neuschwanstein…

John and I first visited Neuschwanstein six years ago and loved it immediately. Being perched up on a rocky mountainside, its spires and turrets reaching high up into thin air and its white bricks  contrasting perfectly with the near-black surrounding forrest just begs you not to stare in awe. We were so excited to go back- and to take Neve. She had seen pictures and could hardly wait to see ‘Elsa’s castle’ for herself. (All the snow and ice makes it look very similar to Queen Elsa’s ice castle in Frozen- totally recommend you watch that flick if you haven’t already…)

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Neuschwanstein Castle, built in the mid-1800s, is a Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill in southwest Bavaria, right along the Austrian border.  It was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a personal retreat and as an homage to famed composer, Richard Wagner. Ludwig paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and by means of extensive borrowing, rather than Bavarian public funds. It was designed as the romantic ideal of a knight’s castle. Unlike “real” castles, whose building stock is in most cases the result of centuries of building activity, Neuschwanstein was planned from the inception as an intentionally asymmetric building, and erected in consecutive stages. Typical attributes of a castle were included, but real fortifications – the most important feature of a medieval aristocratic estate – were dispensed with.

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Neve LOVED that we took a horse-drawn carriage to the top!

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Entrance to Neuschwanstein

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Inside the courtyard, waiting to go inside the castle…

King Ludwig II was an interesting character and I totally recommend you look him up if you’re into history and folks who think outside of the box. He was raised just down the mountain at a smaller castle, Hohenschwangau. Always a daydreamer, an artist and aloof, he was unprepared to take the thrown at 18 when his father died, but he actually proved to be a sound- and beloved- king by most. That being said, he was extravagant and irresponsible with his money, choosing to spend every last penny- and then some- one elaborate architecture projects, arts investments and travels. He was also extremely shy and introverted, becoming much of a recluse as years went by. All of the above led to the higher ups questioning his abilities…and his mental state.

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Castle Hohenschwangau, Ludwig’s childhood summer home at the bottom of the mountain. (Neve says this is Arendelle, for all my Frozen fans <3)

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For about two decades, beginning in 1868, the construction site was the principal employer in the region. By 1880, about 200 craftsmen were occupied at the site, not counting suppliers and other persons indirectly involved in the construction. At times when the king insisted on particularly close deadlines and urgent changes, reportedly up to 300 workers per day were active, sometimes working at night by the light of oil lamps. He was involved in every single aspect of construction: design, materials, revisions, furnishings…He was onsite every day and in 1884, he was able to move into the still-unfinished palace so he could direct from sun up to sundown. Despite its size, Neuschwanstein didn’t have space for the royal court, but contained only the king’s private lodging and servants’ rooms. The court buildings served decorative, rather than residential purposes. The palace was intended to serve Ludwig II as a kind of inhabitable theatrical setting that he’d always dreamed of. In the end, Ludwig II only lived in the palace for a total of 172 days.

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Throne Room

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Throne Room Mosaic Floor- each tile was hand laid.  

Before Neuschwanstein could be completed, Ludwig was declared incompetent as King by a group of his ministers who had bribed and threatened several psychiatrists (who had never even met Ludwig) to support their claims. They physically removed him from the castle one night and took him to a castle outside of Munich for further review. The following evening, he was found dead- along with his doctor- floating in a nearby lake. Although it was ruled a suicide at the time, autopsy reports showed no water in his lungs and the doctor who was accompanying him had been beaten. So the world will never know what exactly happen to King Ludwig II- was he trying to escape? did he commit suicide? was he murdered?

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Looking down from a balcony at the river and waterfalls down below…

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Ludwig was deeply peculiar and eccentric, but the question of clinical insanity remains unresolved. Many prominent psychiatrists and neurologists have disagreed with the contention that there was ever clear evidence for Ludwig’s insanity. Others believe he may have suffered from the effects of chloroform used in an effort to control chronic toothache rather than any psychological disorder. His cousin and friend, Empress Elisabeth held that, “The King was not mad; he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams. They might have treated him more gently, and thus perhaps spared him so terrible an end.”

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Singers Hall, largest room in the castle…

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Today, visitors pay tribute to King Ludwig by visiting his grave, as well as his castles. Ironically, the very castles which were said to be causing the king’s financial ruin have today become among the most popular attractions in all of Bavaria. The palaces, given to Bavaria by Ludwig III’s son, Crown Prince Rupprecht, in 1923, have paid for themselves many times over and attract millions of visitors from all over the world each year.

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This was such a great day trip for all of us. Still have a hard time believing that places like this- and views like these- are in our backyard. Just two hours away- we crossed into Austria, then back into Germany to get here- all of this was waiting for us. And such a gorgeous day to top it all off- very chilly, in the low 20s- but the sun was shining and the ice and snow left here and there just made it feel extra special. Totally recommend a visit to this gem if you’re ever in southern Germany!

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Changes Up Ahead!

28 Jan

I’ve been wanting to write this post for nearly two weeks now, but wanted to make sure all our ducks were in a row before I spilled the beans. And no, that’s not it. Shame on you for even going there! ;)

Neve’s changing schools! Starting Monday, she will officially be a student of the Evangelisiche Kindertagesstätte! And the best part? It’s less than two blocks from our house! We’ve played on their playground before!

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So, this is something we’ve thought about for a good while now. We considered putting her in German preschool from the day we arrived, but not knowing where we’d end up living, how long it would take on a wait list, etc., we ultimately decided that a German Immersion program through the American base could be the best of all worlds and help with smoothing the transitions.

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Rewind to the first day of school back in September. That’s her school in the background.

Now I won’t say that the fall semester was seamless, but it was good. There were alot of changes, alot of school things to get used to (of course, when you come from such an awesome program that we did!), plenty of settling into things…But along the way, Neve made some great little friends, I met some cool moms and we became friends with her awesome teacher, Ms. Rachel.

Fast forward to the holidays and Ms. Rachel tells us that her fiance has been offered a three month position- he’s an attorney- in the States and that they’ll be leaving after the Christmas break. Best part of the news? They’ll be back by May and looking forward to hanging out again! :) Worst part? She won’t be back at the school. :( Obviously we were so bummed- Neve especially- but were confident that the school would make the transition to a new lead teacher as smooth as possible, starting with bringing in the replacement during Rachel’s last week at school. Except that didn’t happen. And then a week went by, and then another. Still no new teacher, but a whole long slew of substitutes and new faces. Less German being learned, less consistency day to day…and no gameplan from the school for rectifying the situation. No communication period, really.

Well, it just so happened that our neighbors had toured a kindergarten just after Christmas and loved it. So Neve and I checked it out, too, a few weeks back and had the same good feelings. Most German kindis keep waiting lists 1-3 years long, so we knew we’d need to get on a list if we even wanted the option at some point. Guess who called last Friday to say that we had a spot if we wanted it? YEP! The same day John and I reached our ropes’ ends with the current school situation, they called with the news! Once again, the Universe had a plan all along and worked it out in perfect timing. We knew the decision had been made for us.

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How cute is this alleyway? I’m standing on our road looking down toward the school. If I were to turn to the left, I could see our building just one block away.

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Just a closer view…

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This gives you a better idea of how close we’re talking. Same spot I was standing in for the first picture, just looking back toward the house.

How totally awesome is that? To get to walk to school every day! I, for one, am beyond pumped to forego the twice daily 30-minute drives to and from school, battling horrible traffic and crazy weather!

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Last 30 minute drive home! WOOHOO!

But more importantly, we’re really excited for the German kindergarten experience. This school is so warm and inviting. It’s not the newest, not the most modern, not the fanciest, but it’s warm and it feels good. There’s one big central room with a tree (yes, a real one!) going up the middle and it’s canopy going out over the room. Cubbies line the walls, along with snow boot racks, musical instruments and lots of kids’ artwork. In the center, under the canopy is a big circle of little chairs surrounding a big, fluffy rug and lots of books. That’s where they start their days. Branching off from this room are smaller rooms with different purposes- the ‘Home’ room with dolls, kitchen sets, tool benches and reading nooks, the Art room with drying racks and supply shelves galore, the ‘Engineering’ section with blocks, legos, pulleys, etc., the Puzzle corner, and then the kitchen where lunch is catered every day from the organic co-op. Outside, a huge playground- yep, right in the middle of the city. I could tell that Neve felt good from the moment we walked in and as soon as we left, she asked, ‘When can I start going there every day?’ *YES*

Kindergarten (literally “children’s garden”) is both a German word and a German invention. The kindergarten pre-school educational philosophy has been widely adopted around the world, so it’s somewhat ironic to discover that kindergarten in Germany is not usually part of the state-supported school system, even though about 85 % of German youngsters 3-5 years old attend voluntary community and church-supported kindergartens. School officially starts with the 1st grade at age 6. So the term is used for preschool, as well as kindergarten itself. 

Here in Germany, the purpose of kindergarten is different than it is in the US. Very little, if any, attention is given to reading, writing, math…The focus is on developing and maturing the child socially rather than academically. They feel that the children have their whole lives to read and write and sit for extended periods- that this early childhood stage can be better spent becoming the little people they’re meant to be. They encourage exploration, curiosity, trial and error, decision making, social interactions and discovery. They work to build self-confidence, independence and ‘real world’ abilities- Neve’s class will be taking the subway once each week, as well as the public bus. (Yes, that gives me a tinge of a stomach pit, but it’s OK…)  They will also be gardening, painting (their art section is fabulous!) building forts (yes, with real tools), helping to prepare some meals, and always going outside (as the Germans say, ‘there’s no bad weather, only bad attire.’)…

So yeah, overall we are super excited to watch as Neve (hopefully) grows in ways we’ve never seen before- for her to really start to spread her wings. We’re also pumped to hear her German truly take off now that she’ll be immersed in it every day, but building on a great foundation from the last 5 months. Yes, our Type A, American personalities have most definitely made it a challenging decision, but it’s one that we’re confident in having made the best one given all the variables. (That sounded so nerdy, I know. But hey, it’s us ;) ).  We will definitely continue, just as we always have, working on things at home- writing her alphabet (she can writer her name perfectly now!), reading books, building her English vocabulary, counting…Afterall, we’ll be back in the States at some point and our girl has to be ready for that, too! Wish us luck!

I’ll leave you with a couple shots from today’s swim lessons, taken right before I watched her jump into the deep end all by herself, bounce of the bottom and swim a few feet to the side. I was beaming. <3

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It be SNOWING!

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I realized last night when I was talking to my good friend, Sue, that I had the perfect story to begin this post. Sue is from Michigan (which, by the way, considering I’ve ended up pals with every single woman I’ve ever met from there, I seem to mesh well with Michiganders! ;)), currently lives in the Lowcountry and she’s my go-to-gal for all things winter/snow/seasonal simply because she knows all there is to know about navigating these situations- and I don’t care if she laughs at me when we discover yet another thing about which I have no clue! Ha!

So onto our story…We’ve been waiting forever for it to really snow here in Stuttgart. Not just a dusting or a few flurries, but the real lasts-longer-than-a-blink kind that makes everything pretty. Finally saw it on the forecast for this past Thursday night and Neve went to bed pumped. Friday morning didn’t disappoint- we woke up to our own little Winter Wonderland and out at her school, there was even more. It was AWESOME.

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Before school…

So that afternoon, I get back to school to pick her up. They’re out on the playground, as always, and the snow is falling. Big chubby flakes. There’s probably 3 inches on the ground- more around the sides where it’s been piled up… I spot Neve on the far side of the playground- in the jeans and tennis shoes I sent her in. (Top half had a good coat with hood, plus a hat and mittens, so at least I get those points.)

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Neve is behind the slide in this picture…

Her bottom half is drenched- I can see the drops of water dripping as she runs… She sees me, gets real excited and immediately throws off her shoes. I’m like, ‘no, no, what are you doing?’ yelling across the playground. Meanwhile, she’s got the toe of her sock in her little grip and pulls it off, then the other one- all of this happening in a matter of seconds, mind you- and before I can even get halfway to her, she’s running barefoot through the snow yelling, ‘Mama, mama- it’s like the BEACH but with SNOW!’ The closer I got, the faster she ran and kicked it like it sure enough was sand, the louder she kept correcting that I obviously hadn’t heard her- ‘No, no. It’s like the BEACH!! But this is S-N-O-W!’

When the fiasco was over, I got to her, she got quiet. I asked ‘Are your bright red feet cold?’ She thought really hard, got the oddest look on her face and said, ‘I don’t know. I can’t be sure. Maybe.’ Lawd.

Alas, we are that family. The newbies to this climate without a clue what we’re doing. And we’re OWNING it! Ha! The teacher and a couple moms pulled me aside and quickly educated me on how the Germans do snow- wearing snow boots in, changing into regular shoes, then putting snow boots back on for outside. And keeping rubber pants in their cubbies. I’m sure my eyes kept getting bigger and bigger as I was thinking, holy moly, what a lot of work and a lot of clothes and a lot for me to keep up with each day! Bless their hearts.

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After I got the shoes back on. You can tell how drippy the shoes are- they’re usually about the color of the jacket!

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So we left feeling like we’d learned something…and waving proudly at all the onlookers :)

We’ve done our best to take full advantage of this snowy goodness for the entire weekend- we’ve walked to dinner in it, we’ve driven in it, we’ve laid on the couch and marveled at it…

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We even checked off a couple things from our Bucket List. The first: a snowman!

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Yep, we rolled up just about all of our first snow into a snowman. At least Mother Nature replenished our supply a few hours later <3

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Again, we didn’t plan wisely. Our snowman had a banana nose, an apple slice mouth, cough drop buttons and a Kubota trucker hat with a feather! Ha!

And we FINALLY got to sled! Neve’s Uncle Andy gave her a new shiny red sled for Christmas and she’s been asking daily when she’ll get to use it. Well, what baby wants, baby gets! We spent today just outside of the city in the small town of Holzgerlingen. One of John’s friends from work lives out there and his back door opens right into the biggest, prettiest, hilliest park. Add a foot of snow and you’ve got the perfect place for us to all meet and make it our playground!

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Heading out with Emma :)

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They made it to the bottom!

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Snowing HARD!

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Thanks, Goddess and Poppy, for the snowsuit and boots! And now I even know how to send them to school! ;)

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You can’t tell, but it is like blizzard conditions for the few minutes around this one!

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Looking back at the top…

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So yeah, hope you can tell just how much we have been like kids in a candy shop with our first real snow here! Still can’t believe we live here! One thing’s for sure, too- Neve seems to LOVE all things winter! Sledding, building snow men, snow angels, ice skating (with a helper), outright running…She never tires and she never gets cold! It’s crazy because she loves all things summer, too. Just another example of our girl always blooming where she’s planted <3

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Happy Birthday, Baby!

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I couldn’t let the day go by without shouting from the rooftops that our girl is FOUR YEARS OLD! Holy cow! I’m sure there are some of you who remember this day four years ago…My pregnancy hadn’t necessarily been smooth sailing- I hadn’t been able to breathe since October, Neve had been mashing on a major artery for months which meant that I’d been passing out in random places since before Thanksgiving (bless John’s heart- one night he was rubbing BioOil on my belly and thought I died!), I hadn’t slept in weeks…So we went to our regular doctor’s appointment this morning and by complete chance, I happened to cough during the exam. Doc looked at me and asked, ‘When did your water break?!’ I had no clue of any leak! Ha! So we headed across the street to the hospital…

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And just a few hours later…

First Family Picture

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Isn’t she the most perfect thing you’ve ever seen? <3

I can’t believe we threw her fourth birthday party this past weekend. It was definitely different than in years past where it was a huge to-do, tons of people, (lots of work :) ), but in so many ways, it was absolutely perfect. Neve had told me months ago that she wanted a ‘Rainbow My Little Pony Cake,’ so we went with that. We invited over just a few of our friends (we knew she’d be having another celebration with her school friends today) to play and eat her favorite snacks, and yes, the cake. We played and we talked and we laughed and we ate Cheese Puffs and we opened presents from all the people who love her, near and far. It was wonderful and she declared it ‘Best Birthday Ever!’ just as she has every birthday since she was born. <3

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Aunt Sam must know us so well- sends us the kit to MAKE the banner rather one that’s already done. <3

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Seriously, what a wonderful day celebrating our girl! Thank you to our friends here who helped to make the day- and our life here- so full of happy. And thank you, Mom and Grandma, for staying to be part of our day. And finally, I know I’ve said this before, but I want to say it again- THANK YOU to all of you who follow along with our story- for loving our girl and not being afraid to show it. You rock.

Now, I can’t wait to pick her up from school in a few hours and see how Cupcake Baking (we took the supplies, the class is going to make them!) went! And before I go, here’s the link to a quick little look back, set to one of my favorite tunes. Just click the play button on the picture. https://flipagram.com/f/icOaj9sJuB

Happy Birthday, baby!
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Mercedes-Benz Sunday

4 Jan

So much for our recent Lazy Sundays! This week, we decided to spend Dad’s last day in Germany (yep, he’s spending today making the trek back to the Lowcountry :( ) doing something we’d been saving to do as a family- touring the Mercedes-Benz Museum here in Stuttgart. In case you didn’t know, Stuttgart is home to the brand and the international headquarters from its parent company, Daimler AG. With 160+ vehicles on display and more than 178,000 square feet of exhibition space, the museum is the largest automobile museum in the world.

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The current building, opened in 2006 and which stands directly outside the main gate of the Daimler factory in Stuttgart, is based on a unique cloverleaf concept using three overlapping circles with the center removed to form a triangular atrium, inspired by the shape of a Wankel engine.

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View from the ground floor of the center atrium, looking up at the eight levels cycling down.

The building’s height and “double helix” interior were designed to maximize space, providing 178,000 square feet of exhibition space on a footprint of just 52,000 square feet. The double helix also corresponds to the exhibition concept, which divides the museum into the “myth rooms” and the “collections,” offering two alternative tours that can be merged at any given point of the museum.

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Y’all, this museum has got to be one of the most impressive, most modern- and downright prettiest!- museums I’ve ever been in. The entire thing is built of concrete and word on the street is that it’s ‘more secure than Fort Knox.’ You start by taking a futuristic pod elevator to the very top, then you circle your way down through the eras, seeing everything from engines and cars to trucks, buses and airplanes!

Although several other German engineers (including Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, and Siegfried Marcus) were working on the problem at about the same time, Karl Benz generally is acknowledged as the inventor of the modern car.

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In 1879, Benz was granted a patent for his first engine. Many of his other inventions made the use of the internal combustion engine feasible for powering a vehicle. His first Motorwagen, the first vehicle powered by gasoline, was built in 1885 in Mannheim, Germany. Together with his wife, Bertha Benz, he began promotion of the vehicle on 3 July 1886, and about 25 Benz vehicles were sold between 1888 and 1893, when his first four-wheeler was introduced along with a model intended for affordability. They also were powered with four-stroke engines of his own design. In August 1888, Bertha undertook the first road trip by car, to prove the road-worthiness of her husband’s invention. And that she did.

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In 1896, Benz designed and patented the first internal-combustion flat engine, called boxermotor. During the last years of the nineteenth century, Benz was the largest car company in the world with 572 units produced in 1899 and, because of its size, Benz & Cie. became a joint-stock company.

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Can you imagine this coming with your brand new Mercedes? :)

Karl Benz proposed co-operation between his company, Benz & Cie., and Daimler and Maybach’s company, DMG, when economic conditions began to deteriorate in Germany following WWI, but they refused. Negotiations between the two companies resumed several years later when these conditions worsened and in 1924, they signed an Agreement of Mutual Interest, valid until the year 2000. Both enterprises standardized design, production, purchasing, and sales and they advertised or marketed their car models jointly, although keeping their respective brands. In 1926, Benz & Cie. and DMG finally merged as the Daimler-Benz company, baptizing all of its cars Mercedes Benz, as a brand honoring the most important model of the DMG cars, the Maybach design later referred to as the 1902 Mercedes-35 hp, along with the Benz name. Karl Benz remained a member of the board of directors of Daimler-Benz until his death in 1929, and at times his two sons also participated in the management of the company.

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Who knew the reason for the red double deckers we see in London today!

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Who knew the museum could be so polarizing! Ha!

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Show of hands- how many of you have a little cardboard tree air freshener hanging from your rearview mirror? Have you ever thought about where they came from? (Or how rich the person must be with who invented those bad boys?! Ha!) Well, they were invented in 1952 in Watertown, New York by Julius Samann, a German-Jewish chemist who had fled the Nazis. One day, he was listening to a milkman complain about one of his occupational hazards, the stench of spoiled milk. It just so happened that Samman had been studying Alpine tree aromas in the forests of Canada and was interested in the technology used to transport and disseminate them. Less than two years later, he filed a patent for paper impregnated with “odor-destroying, air-perfuming substances,” a cellophane wrapper and a string to hang it on. The string was a necessity, he noted in his application, because “the substances are sometimes of an oily or sticky nature or hard to remove from the hands.” The reasons he chose the pine tree were largely practical. Its conical shape allowed its cellophane wrapper to be rolled back slowly, from its apex down, so the fragrance could be drawn out, branch by branch. Judicious users could preserve the pine scent for up to seven weeks.

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Samann had good timing, too. As the car began its ascent to suburban necessity, air-freshener options were limited for cigarette-smoking car owners troubled by the stink of their upholstery. Little Trees caught on with taxi drivers, too, as it became a sort of ‘extra service’ to have the air freshener up in the cab. Surprisingly little has changed from Samann’s day. The Car-Freshner Corporation, which is still run out of Watertown, remains a third-generation family firm selling Little Trees all over the world. Though they now offers 60 scents :)

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Grace Kelley and Zsa Zsa Gabor both drove this model Mercedes.

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It was quite the coup in London when Princess Di opted for this Mercedes as it was the first time Royalty had gone with a foreign car. In the background, you’ll see the most famous Pope Mobile in the world- Mercedes created it for the Pope’s visit to Germany in 1980. It’s entirely bulletproof.

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The biggest surprise for me was the race cars in the final section of the museum. I don’t know about you, but when I think about NASCAR and Formula1 and anything else that drives around and around a track, I’ve just never thought of Mercedes-Benz. Maybe that’s just the girl in me showing her true colors ;). I was super impressed by all the race cars, all the way back to the early 1900s!

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And with that, our journey through automotive time came to a close. What a great find for us here in our own city! (Although it’s hardly a well-kept secret around these parts!) We all had a terrific time and would definitely go back in a heartbeat. Really glad my Dad got to see it with us, too- it’s definitely right up his alley (pun intended ;) )

And in hopes of leaving you with a smile…I asked Neve her favorite part of the day, figuring she’d say something like driving the big bus or just running hog wild like a crazy person down the ramps of the museum, but no. Instead she told me that my braid made me look just like Elsa and she’s so pretty. My sweet girl. <3

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Swiss Holiday Getaway

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Happy New Years Eve, y’all! You know you’ve gotten old when you’re sitting here at 2 in the afternoon on NYE in your jammies, no make-up, hair piled on top of your head, eating gummi worms out of a bag in your lap…and no plans whatsoever to change any of it before the day is through. Although I might move over to the couch. And probably eat some spaghetti that we’re cooking for dinner. And we’ll all venture out onto the balcony to watch some fireworks tonight. ;)

But seriously, we didn’t get home last night until after 10p and we are all EXHAUSTED! Always a good sign in my book- that means it was a good trip! Ha! We’ve spent the last four days in southeastern Switzerland, right near the Italian border, and had such fun. A few hiccups, yes, but mostly fun!

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0’dark thirty Sunday morning- walking to the train station- Switzerland, here we come!

In hopes of enjoying a pleasant, relaxing and uber-scenic trip southward, we opted to train it. Six hours, three changes and a few thousand meters in elevation as we climbed our way up the Alps. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- you just can’t get any more gorgeous than Switzerland! The lush green trees, the smoky blue water, the freshness of the air in your lungs…Ahhhh…

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Just looking out the window…

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Doesn’t this cute little dining car make you want to sing ‘Hot, Hot, Hot…We’ve got it!’ (If you haven’t seen Polar Express, go watch it right now.)

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Enjoying a mid-trip beer in the dining car…

Our final destination was the small Alpine village of Pontresina. Here’s a visual…We came from Stuttgart (due north), down into Zurich, over the Chur, then on down to a little town called Samedan, and finally over to Pontresina (the red dot).

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The first of our little hiccups came when we got off the train and had quite the trek through the town searching for our hotel. Since Switzerland isn’t part of the EU, that means our cell phones don’t work there, which means there’s no Google Maps, no checking websites, no making reservations on the fly…

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Notice Neve’s new Trunki! It’s a carry-on suitcase just for kids and she’s been wanting one since we started seeing them in airports last year! You can pack ’em, push ’em, ride on ’em, be pulled on ’em…and never tip ’em over! Our first trip with the Trunki was complete success! Thanks, GranD and Papaw!

Pontresina was first mentioned in medieval Latin documents in 1137. Some historians translate the name as The Bridge of the Saracens and see in it a reference to a tenth-century Arab invasion of the lands that later became Switzerland. It is essential though to have a bridge to use the Bernina pass and it would make sense to build this before the confluence of Ova da Bernina and Ova da Roseg due to the amount of water to cross.

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We chose Pontresina because our main goal was a true Winter Wonderland- snow covered peaks, giant beautiful snowflakes falling every time we looked out the window, twinkly lights lining the plethora of ski slopes…Yeah, about that…Supposedly Germany isn’t the only country having the warmest winter in recent history! Sheesh. No fresh snow while we were there, but at least there was plenty still on the ground and lots of things still frozen!

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Making our own slide!

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Not too shabby of a room view!

Regardless, we still had a fun little time exploring this little- yet so vast- neck of the country. We found trails through the woods- canopied with Swiss Stone Pines and Larch trees. We found ice skating rinks. We found bobsled tracks (the oldest natural track in the world, in fact- made every year from the ground up from only snow and water). We found cozy restaurants with fondue and rooftop lodges with rostis and hot cocoa. Yep, we certainly found plenty. <3

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We spent our second day over in St. Moritz, Pontresina’s bigger and more famous sister in the same Engadine Valley. St. Moritz has several claims to fame, the most well-known probably being its popularity among the rich and famous (most expensive city- and ski resort- in the world, afterall!) and among sporting enthusiasts. It’s home to the highest peak, Bernina, in the eastern Alps, as well as the oldest bakery in Switzerland (we ate lunch there!). It’s one of only three cities in the world to host the Winter Olympics twice. For our intents and purposes, St. Moritz provided an absolutely gorgeous, ritzy backdrop to our day of wandering, window-shopping, oohing and ahhhing :)

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My personal favorite part of St. Moritz was it’s beautiful lake- completely frozen solid- nestled between all the snow-covered peaks. People were even ice-skating and playing hockey on it in the distance!

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For our last day- before we caught the train for our evening trek home- we took a cog railway up to one of the highest peaks in the area- Muottas Muraigl. Y’all. The view from the top. Oh. My. Lawd.

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At the top, there’s a hotel, the start of countless trails and slopes, paragliding launch sites, a playground…Some of us did some hiking, some did some cabana sitting with fuzzy blankets, some of us played…And then we lunched outside on (faux) fur pelts overlooking the valley below. PERFECTION.

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Ziplining on the highest playground in the world <3

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RELAXING…

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Cabana conversations with this lady <3

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We watched this paraglider unpack, get set up, then run off the side of the mountain.

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Breathtaking, right?! Oh, Switzerland, how we will miss you until next time. Before I go, I’ll share with you just a couple Swiss tidbits that I find particularly interesting.

  • Nearly 75% of the residents have a college degree or higher. More than 86% have at least a high school diploma.
  • The unemployment rate is less than 3%. Pontresina and St. Moritz both have less than 1.5% unemployed.
  • Switzerland has some of the most liberal gun laws in the world (second only to the US and Yemen), but still has among the lowest gun-related deaths among ALL countries.
  • It has four national languages- German, Italian, French and Rhaeto-Romantsch (we heard all four just in our 4 days).
  • Switzerland is the only country in the world to have enough nuclear fallout shelters to accommodate its entire population.
  • The country is behind most of the Western World when it comes to sexual equality. More than 40% of women do not work, the pay gap between men and women is 17%, and women didn’t earn full voting rights until 1990.
  • The Swiss Army Knife. All parts are made in Switzerland. Except the corkscrew. That part’s made in Japan ;)
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Looking out the window on the train ride home. That’s a little white church on the right. Standing all by its lonesome in the prettiest field.

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Happy New Years to each and every one of you! See you next year! <3

Let Us Be Thankful

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Several years ago, I ended up on some antibiotic that made falling asleep next to impossible. So at about 3a one night, when I was researching ‘tips for falling asleep quicker’ for the umpteenth time, I came across a Christian blog that suggested closing your eyes, relaxing every single muscle in your body, and then going one by one through all the good things that happened that day. Then, if you’re still awake, you expand the practice to the things you’re most thankful for in your life. To this day, I go to sleep doing this every single night. Sometimes I only get to one thing before I drift off…Others, I get much further down my list. Regardless, I really do find it to be a wonderful way to fall asleep each night…and a wonderful reminder to focus on what’s most important and let go of what’s not. So in honor of this wonderful Christmas weekend, I want to share with you just a glimpse into my list. And tonight when you go to sleep, I invite each of you to give it a try. Don’t worry about the order, the organization or trying to sound eloquent…Just start with, ‘Thank you for…’ and let it flow. <3

Thank you for another day. One that I was able to wake up, to see this beautiful Earth, to hear all of its musics, to smell everything from the rain getting ready to fall to the aromas drifting down the street from the bakeries. Thank you for helping me to remember that each day is a privilege, not a given.

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Thank you for belly laughs. The good, deep down, stomach-hurting, tears-rolling, almost-pee-myself laughs.

Thank you for John. I have no idea what I did to deserve him, but there really are no words to express just how thankful I am to have him as my husband. We are such opposites in so many ways, but when you strip away all the little things, we’re so much alike on the big things. It is because of him that so many parts of my life are full, complete…alive. He is the yin to my yang, the macaroni to my cheese, the heart to my soul.

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That moment when you’re lunching with a girlfriend and realize that the hot guy you just noticed on the other side of the restaurant is actually your husband. #fancyseeingyourhere

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Thank you for the most awesome kid on the face of the planet- for letting me be her mom. She is a handful and she keeps me on my toes (just about) every minute of every day, but she is amazing. She is sensitive and sweet and has the biggest heart. She has the enthusiasm and charisma you usually only see in movies. She is as stubborn and determined as a mule and as curious as they come- that’s how I know that there’s nothing she can’t do. She’s genuinely funny and she’s silly- her laugh…oh, her sweet laugh. Yes, thank you for making her my daughter.

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Thank you for a good cry every now and then- the kind that cleanses my soul and leaves me feeling relaxed and renewed.

Thank you for one terrific family. And for making it possible for them to be here with us this holiday season. This Christmas proved to be more challenging than I’d anticipated in that everything was just…different. Holiday routines, shopping, delicious haunts…even the mundane chores felt off. But what was reinforced was something I already knew…As long as we’re together, we have it all.  My family may be small, but we’re all we’ve got and it’s more than enough. Love like ours- bonds like ours- are to be cherished.thumb_IMG_6861_1024

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Thank you for this. <3

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Thank for cheese. And for making even the most gourmet bricks of it cheaper than a Happy Meal here in Europe.

Thank you for Game of Thrones. My latest obsession. I <3 Tyrion Lanister.

Thank you not only for making this chapter of our lives possible, for giving me the strength and courage to do it. I wrestled for so long over whether or not this was the right path for us, so to have that sense of peace knowing that we made the best decision is just awesome. Thank you for reminding me of what a gift we’ve been given with this opportunity and to live this life to the fullest for as long as we can.

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Thank you for Girly Day Trips to the Black Forest…

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Thank  you for dispelling the myth that the French know how to do bread. Truth is, Germans know bread. 300+ delicious varieties and I intend to try every single one.

Thank you for my two seriously awesome dogs. Wallflowers just couldn’t have cut it in this house. Despite all their snoring and tooting and sometimes-questionable habits, we hit the pup jackpot. Snuggly, playful, and full of so much personality.

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Thank you for all of my friends back home. Being away from friends and family has been the single hardest part of this new chapter, but the simple fact that they go out of their ways to keep in touch and that they continue watering the garden that is our friendship, makes my heart so full. THANK YOU. I truly believe what they say is true: distance makes no difference in true friendship.

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Thank you for bringing such good people into our lives since we got to Germany. It has made all the difference in the world, not just meeting people so we don’t feel alone, but making friendships we truly see lasting a lifetime.

Thank you for giving us three years off from doing our own yard work.

Thank you for my grandmother. The older I get, the more I realize how blessed I am- to have my grandmother with me on this Earth, to consider her such a dear friend, to watch my daughter make memories with her great-grandmother, to have her travel all this way just to be with us…

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Thank you for our awesome gift to ourselves, our new indoor cycle.

Thank you for letting this Commissary sell grits. And Krispy Kreme.

Thank you for Christmas Markets all over the place. They are awesome.

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Thank you for all the advancements in technology…FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, social media, Apple TV, Hulu…I have absolutely no clue how people did it before these were available.

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Thank you for letting our house truly become a home this holiday season. For filling its walls with our people…With love and laughter and the smell of coffee brewing before I even come down the stairs…With bed time hugs to go around and dinners prepared in groups.

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Thank you for Elli B., best life coach on the planet.

Thank you for healing my Dad and my Grandmother and for keeping them healthy and cancer-free. Hard to believe that just two Christmases ago we were in a terrible nightmare.

Thank you for making this Christmas a very special one. Yes, it was different (first one I’ve ever spent not in my parents’ living room on Pine Grove!), but it was still us. And it was still the most perfect mess in the middle of our floor and the most delicious food on our table. Thank you for making these things possible.

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Thank you for bringing Kathrin into our lives to help make our transition as smooth and seamless as humanly possible.

Thank you for allowing us to cross off ‘Holidays in Switzerland’ from our Bucket Lists. Bright and early tomorrow morning, we will hop on a southbound train in search of snowy peaks, warm fondue and candle-lit alleys…

Thank you for all the many blessings that we have, including all the ones we take for granted day in and day out. For the roof over our heads, the clothes on our backs, and the sun on our faces. Thank you for keeping us safe, healthy and moving in the right direction, whichever way that is for each of us.

And finally, thank YOU to each and every one of you who has joined us on this journey. Thank you for stopping by our blog, for keeping in touch, for keeping us in your prayers and sending us well wishes. It means so much.

Wishing you the merriest of Christmases and a wonderful 2016.

 

Photo Dump

13 Dec

Greetings! Hope you guys are having a great weekend! I’m sitting here getting pictures off my phone, organizing them into their folders and realized that there are so many I haven’t shared yet, so I thought to myself, ‘Oh, how about a quick photo dump?’ ;)

And with that, here are some random shots from the season so far here in Stuttgart, including yesterday’s ice skating adventure with friends down the street at the Winter Market.

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Amalie was nice enough to share her stroller when Neve’s legs got tired <3

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With her buddy, Emma <3

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Happy Sunday!

Rothenburg, Round 2

11 Dec

Happy Weekend! Fridays are always my favorite day of the week, even moreso than the actual weekend- I guess because you get to anticipate having the next few days to do your own thing. Catching up on sleep, staying in your jammies a little longer in the mornings, actually cooking breakfast, spending time together, traveling a bit…So yeah, I’m pretty pumped that it’s the weekend!

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Last weekend, Mom and Grandma decided they wanted to head to medieval Rothenburg, about an hour and a half away. (Dad has gone back to the States for a few weeks to take care of a few things on the home front, but will be back before Christmas.) You may remember that we visited this awesome little village spring- in fact, it was our first trip after we arrived in Wiesbaden. I won’t go into all the details and the history again, but be sure to read my post all about it here because it really does have a great story! It’s literally everything good you picture when you think of Germany- cobblestones, old timbered building, church bells ringing, meandering alleyways, the best and brightest window boxes you’ve ever seen (how is that even possible in this frigid weather?!)…And getting to see it all dressed up for Christmas was just beautiful. Definitely a perfect way to spend a Sunday!

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Is this not the best entrance to a city? And no cars allowed other than the few residents.

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The alter of the Franciscan Cathedral

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The Christmas Markets

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Inside the Christmas Museum…

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Looking out from the city wall

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Love getting to have lunch and explore cities with these two!

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And this one, too! :) I think this picture makes her look so grown up. No!!!!!

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We had such a fun day in Rothenburg, not to mention that being in Stuttgart this go around puts us so much closer, making for an easy peasy day trip! Only thing on the agenda for this weekend is meeting up with friends for some ice skating and gluweining at our own winter markets tomorrow and maybe some holiday baking. Have I mentioned that Thomas, Party of 5 LOVES us some holidays?! Yeah, maybe just a bit. <3

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Looking back at the city over the medieval bridge…

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