Neve’s 5th Birthday Princess Party!

8 Feb

Guys, I’m so sorry for my delay with this one! I actually had it written weeks ago, but we were having a little (ok, a big) snafu with our pictures, so I had to sit on it for a while until we could get things back in working order. Then I forgot to post it! Sheesh. Sorry about that, especially since so many of you reached out for Neve’s special day.

Before I get to the party, I just want reiterate how quickly time is passing. It’s exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. Neve is becoming such a neat little girl. She’s feisty and full of life, she’s spirited and has a laugh that’s guaranteed to make you join in, she’s headstrong and stubborn, yet she can be the most gentle, sensitive little lady. She loves candy and chocolate more than I ever knew someone could. She thrives on routines, habits and traditions. She’s funny, she’s stylish and she loves to dress herself. She knows what she wants and she goes after it without hesitation- she’s fearless and fierce. And so loved. And just an overall awesome kid. Can’t wait to see what this year brings!

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Neve told me back over the summer that she wanted a ‘Princess Party.’ And all these months later, she stuck to her guns! Her only requests were ‘pink, purple and all friends dressed as princesses.’ What baby wants, baby gets! Ha!img_3003

Per our usual style, we kept things pretty simple and fairly small. Those really are the best kinds of parties, don’t you think? I don’t know, but I always love a good birthday party thrown at home so you can focus on the actual celebration and the people and the fellowship. Although that’s not to say that it’s sure not easier going out to celebrate and leaving the cooking and decorating- and clean up!- to somebody else! 😉 Nah, I still wouldn’t change a thing ❤

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The party was a great success and our girl sure felt celebrated and loved. All the little princesses were just precious and they all seemed to have a blast, especially playing Pin the Kiss on the Frog and Princess Bingo! Best of all, we have such a great group of friends here- all of us navigating this expatriate life the best we can. It really does take a village.

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Taryn and Neve were in school together on base when we first arrived and now they do gymnastics together. Taryn is a year older.

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Present Time!

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Neve actually won this game, no peaking!

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These three all arrived in Stuttgart about the same time and started the schoolyear together in the German Immersion program on base. Coincidentally, Estelle is from Charleston, too, and will be returning there about the same time we do! Small world!

Now y’all know how much I love to bake. And birthdays are my favorite because that means full-on fancy, decorated cake (it should be noted that cake is my absolute favorite sweet treat on the entire planet) made special for that one person to celebrate her big day. I would opt for homemade over store bought any day of the week, hands down. Here’s the thing- I’m a pretty decent baker and I’d even be willing to put some money down on the deliciousness of some of my specialties- but a decorator I AM NOT. Like, really not. Decorating is always the most challenging part for me- the most unnerving and, at times, exasperating- and I spend hours reading articles and watching ‘how to’ videos just in the hope of getting it even remotely close! But I try my damnedest. No matter what I end up with, though, I hope the real message everyone gets is that it was made with love and that I tried my best- and that at least it (hopefully) tastes good, so there’s that! Ha!

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As soon as Neve mentioned having a Princess Party, I remembered a cake I’d seen on one of the blogs I follow and immediately got to work researching how to create it for my girl. As always, it was important to me for the cake and icing to homemade from scratch. That was first and foremost. Then I wanted the inside to be as pretty as the outside would (hopefully) be, so I knew I wanted the pink and purple request to be reflected throughout. And finally, I had to somehow figure out how to put it all together and ice it to look like a ballgown! *crickets* Most definitely a labor of love. And most definitely one of the most fun, rewarding cakes I’ve ever made. No, it wasn’t perfect and no, it wasn’t exactly as I’d pictured it in my head (seriously, how many things are?!), but it was lovely, it was delicious and Neve’s eyes just sparkled when she saw it. *Happy Mama*

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My attempt at the ‘ombre’ cake trend, going from light to dark. The cake was my own recipe of Classic White with my traditional vanilla bean buttercream ❤

I think it’s safe to say that our girl sure felt like a princess that day. She even threw her arms around my neck that evening and said, ‘Thanks, mama, for the best party ever.’ My heart melted. It’s the little things ❤

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And as if two birthday celebrations- one at Chuck E. Cheese in Charleston and one with a house full of princesses- weren’t enough, we had to do one last one to round out the week- this time at school. 🙂 A neat little note: birthdays are the only time that sugar is allowed in the kindi, so the kids take it very seriously when they’re choosing what type of treat to bring in to share with their friends. Months in advance, Neve told me EXACTLY what she wanted: a sheet cake ‘that you cut with a knife into big squares,’ strawberry pink inside ‘with ground up strawberries actually in it,’ white icing, Oreos ‘somewhere on it’, and ‘strawberries cut in half all over the top.’ You got it, dude. ❤

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She came home from school that day and told me that her’s was the best cake ever and that every single friend ate his entire piece. ‘The pan was really, really empty after the party.’ ❤

Skiing the Alps

7 Feb

Y’all, we had the best weekend. Really. So much fun packed into such a quick, almost last minute, trip. It all started about a month ago when we finally got around to shopping for our ‘extreme cold weather gear.’ You see, in less than two weeks, we’ll be headed north- WAAAAY north- for one of our true Bucket List trips. Yep, we’ll be headed to the Arctic with high hopes of catching the Northern Lights! SO excited. More on that closer to time. 😉 But we knew we needed to get ourselves prepared in the clothing department since A) all the Northern Lights tours happen overnight, B) the climate where we’re going is almost guaranteed not to even reach above-freezing temps during this time of year and C) they’re still in their ‘endless night’ part of the year (I think I read they’re currently getting 2 hours of sunlight a day?!) So yeah, this Southern family had to take some steps to avoid potential disaster in that department! Ha!

Well then John started talking with some friends about some (almost) nearby ski resorts that they’d been hitting up on the weekends this winter and we decided to take our own little quick adventure- for the fun of it, and to test our new gear. We ended up choosing a small resort, Ehrwalder Alm, just inside Austria- about three hours from Stuttgart. Perfect distance for a quick little getaway- we drove down after dinner on Friday night in time to crawl into bed at the hotel, skied all day Saturday, then drove home Sunday morning. Easy peasy.

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Headed to the slopes early Saturday morning…

If you’ve been a longtime follower of our adventures, you may recall John and I going on a ski trip back in 2009, to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It was John’s first time ever on skis and it was a disaster. He hated every minute of it, couldn’t get the hang of it (a problem for an athletic guy who is great (seriously) at any sport he tries within just a few hours, and ended up spending the majority of his time either backtracking to retrieve the skis he lost on the way down the slope or just drinking beer by the fire in the lodge. Ha! So this time, he was excited to go about it the way most folks do- with ski school. He and Neve both started the morning off in (separate, of course) half day classes, while I spent those hours getting reacquainted with my own (fairly minimal, but surprisingly decent) ski skills and working my way around all the slopes in search of the best views of the Alps. ❤

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The Ehrwalder Alm Resort

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You can see John’s class in the foreground- he’s in the green jacket. Neve’s is in the distance- if your eyesight is awesome, she’s to the left of him in the turquoise pants.

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As the morning went on, I was pleased to be reminded that skiing is alot like riding a bike- you may be a bit rusty, but it comes back pretty quickly. Being from the South Carolina Lowcountry, I certainly can’t say that I ‘grew up skiing.’ But we went on several different vacations, both in the Appalachians and in the Rockies. It was during a week in Park City, Utah, that I took several days worth of ski school and really laid the foundation that I’ve been building on ever since. That being said, I could definitely benefit from a good intermediate/advanced class if this is a sport we’re going to pursue longterm. More on that in a sec.

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You can almost see from the pictures as I started getting further and further up the mountain- the clouds were thicker, the skies were greyer, the wind was howling and it was FRIGID. Coincidentally, I actually ended up up there by mistake the first time. Here’s the face you make when you realize you took the wrong lift…

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At that point, you’ve got no other option than to just roll with it. Plot twist! Ha! From that point on, the rest of my day was spent vacillating between, ‘Wow, I’m pretty confident in my abilities- way to go, girl!’ and ‘Wow, I’m pretty confident that I’m gonna die at any minute.’ Ha! And I’ll just add that the labeling of slopes appears to be different in the Alps than at home- the resorts tend to have one ‘bunny slope’ where all the classes start off and that’s the only ‘easy’ at the entire place, then they go blue, red and black- only the blues are not equivalent to easy US blues! Blues are what most of us would dub ‘intermediate,’ so don’t even get me started on blacks!

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Proud to say that I skied every slope on the map minus the very top black one…Because a girl can only have so much confidence! John and Neve both skied the entire lower blue slope from the center yellow X. Yeah!

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Made it to the very top and getting ready to work my way down. Furthest out of my comfort zone all day.

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View from the very top ❤

By early afternoon, I was so pumped to reconnect with John and hear all about his morning. I’d spotted Neve a few times as I went past the ski school area- sometimes she was having a blast (doing the pull rope lift solo, skiing down the hill solo, etc.) and other times she was laying in the snow like one of the sea lions along the San Francisco pier! Ha! But since her class got out a bit later than John’s, that meant we’d get to warm up together first over a late lunch.

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Perfect way to warm up- and some of the best goulash I’ve ever had! Homemade from scratch at the lodge!

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First words out of John’s mouth when he saw me: ‘I. Am. So. Exhausted. And I’m just not a skier. I just don’t like it at all.’ Poor thing. Although he’d enjoyed his morning, really liked his instructor, learned lots of the basics and did plenty of actual skiing, he said that he just couldn’t settle into any of it. He wasn’t comfortable on the skis, he felt out of control going too fast and awkward every time he’d fall. Most importantly, he just wasn’t motivated to learn more because he didn’t find it fun. Bummer. And so odd because you- literally- never see John not excel at whatever he’s doing. He’s just one of those people that picks up everything- and I mean, everything- so quickly.

These three shots pretty much sum it up: frustration overall, seeing the silver lining, being happy it’s behind him and he’s in the lodge having a hard-earned beer. 😉

And here’s the thing- I actually came away from the day with a similar perspective. Granted, my journey to get there was different. I thoroughly enjoyed my day of getting reacquainted with my ski abilities- of proving to myself that I still had it and that I could do it. I got in one helluva workout (my calves and shins are still reminding me!). And I embraced the challenge that comes with getting out of my comfort zone and out of my own way. In fact, that’s exactly what I told John- that I spent the entire time outside of my comfort zone- not just brushing up on my skiing, but with all of it. Being alone, navigating the lifts (getting off the lifts at the top the first few times is downright unnerving, amiright?), reading the signs, not being able to talk to people because of the language barrier, pushing myself to do the harder slopes…I came into the lodge that afternoon feeling proud and accomplished. But I also felt relief to be at this stage of the day. Like John, I just didn’t love it. Once I’d gone down a slope, I didn’t see any need to do it again. I couldn’t see the appeal of the ‘going up the lift, down the hill, up the lift, down the hill’ cycle that is a day of skiing. I relate it to a day of waterskiing and boating. I LOVE all water sports. I can do that cycle (ie. ‘ski, sun, swim, ski, sun, swim…’ for days on end. But this one? Meh, not my bag. And that’s perfectly OK! We had a new experience, we had a fun day, we learned alot (including that our winter clothes are on point and good to head to Norway!)- and that’s all that matters! We left feeling really good ❤

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John joked that these little kids were already infinitely better skiers than him. I joked that I was going to caption this picture with ‘Here’s John acting as the line leader bringing in his class for lunch.’ Ha!

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And with that, we spent a bit of time just playing around on the slopes just us and then it was time to go get our girl. Couldn’t wait to hear what she thought!

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Yep, that’s the face of a girl whose pretty pleased with herself! 🙂

Turns out that Neve had a marvelous day skiing with her class! She was nothing but smiles and stories when we picked her up. She’d skied all by herself, she’d ridden the pull lift all by herself, she’d snapped her skis on and off all by herself…And her favorite part? That when she fell, her skis came off and she log rolled ‘over and over and over’ to the bottom, laughing the entire time. 🙂 That’s our girl! Regardless, we were so proud. But like us, she was happy to call it a day, saying that she’d like to do it again sometime…’maybe next winter.’ Ha! Either way, it definitely made a lasting impression on her because she’s still taking about the day today!

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Headed down the mountain. The resort is up at the top, so you take a gondola from base camp, then start with the regular lifts.

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Back at the bottom of the mountain, thankful to be out of her snow clothes.

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And you know how I say that the Universe always provides? Well, Saturday night it was if the Universe was telling us, ‘You guys rocked it today and you all three deserve a little treat!’ It turns out that the hotel was having a Kid’s Night Out for a few hours and Neve was all too pumped to forego dinner in favor of spending the evening with other kids (all Americans!) playing in ball pits and doing laser tag. Which meant that Daddy and I got an impromptu night to ourselves <3- at what has become one of our favorite restaurants ANYWHERE. Yeah, that’s how good it is. It’s called Vaun and is owned by a husband-wife team. The menu is fresh and organic and changes weekly, which says even more because we’ve now been there multiple times, never had the same thing twice and LOVED every single bite that’s crossed our lips! If you’re even in Garmisch, you MUST dine here. (*Reservations are a must as there are only 9 tables in the whole place!)

It really was a perfect little weekend getaway that went by all too quickly. And I’ve got to say, it still amazes me how close everything is here. I mean, three measly hours away and we’re skiing in the Alps with views like that! Jeez. Even the drive home is pretty. Just more reminders of how blessed we are to be having this opportunity- never want to take any of it for granted. ❤

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Hope everyone is having a good week! Talk soon!

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Still Home for the Holidays

3 Feb

Thanks for stopping back by for one last edition of our ‘Home for the Holidays!’ Trust me, it’s way easier to do it this way than trying to cram it all into one mega post that would take me three days to write- and you three days to read! Ha!

So, we got home from the mountains just in time to ring in the New Year and to watch the Clemson Tigers earn their spot in the National Championship. On top of that, we had decided to hold our ‘Thanksgiving 2.0’ feast as our NYE meal, so it really was an awesome, awesome night all around. I mean, what could be better than fireworks, football, a HUGE win, and the most delicious meal we’ve had all year?! Yeah, nothing, what’s what. 😉

All the AHHHHHH-MAZING foods we missed for the original, even if it meant five carb-loaded side dishes and three desserts! Ha! But it was so much more than the food. Mom and I cooked ALL. DAY. LONG. Every single recipe was handpicked; every single dish prepared from scratch while we gabbed and sampled and giggled. Our family then gathered around the table and feasted and laughed and savored…together. It was absolutely what we’d missed so much back in November. ❤

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Cheering on the Tigers!

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My first sight of 2017- walking out of the gym just after the sun came up on New Years Day. Had high hopes it was a good sign of things to come…

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Mornings spent playing in the floor in your PJs are the best ❤

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Yep, when you FaceTime with your pets ❤ (Side note: John had to go home a bit before us- work always gets in the way, doesn’t it?)

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We were so fortunate to get to spend some good time with our sweet boy, Merlin, while we were in town. He passed away about 2 weeks after this picture was taken, at the age of 21. Will never forget what a truly cool cat he was. ❤

The biggest celebration of all came the following weekend when we kicked off Neve’s Birthday Week. How is my baby 5 years old already?! Goddess and Poppy had wanted to do something special for her while we were in town, so they booked a party at Chuck E. Cheese- Neve’s first time there! What a rite of passage ❤ Again, kept it super simple and small- and she had a blast! Added bonus? It snowed while we were there! Neve pointed out the window and yelled, ‘Look! Look! It’s snowing in South Carolina! I told you it was going to snow here!’ Touche, my girl.

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Couldn’t wait to get home to break open her gifts!

And just like all the best things in life, our time at home- with the people we love the most- came to an end in the blink of an eye. What better send off than a big ‘ol dinner of true Lowcountry cuisine? Pork rinds with blue cheese and Texas Pete, pulled pork, brisket and mac-n-cheese…Mmmmmm.

And the next morning- our travel day, coincidentally- we woke up with a true 5 YEAR OLD! Oh my word, I can’t even. So of course, before we made our way to the airport, we had to start the day off right- with pink pancakes, frosting, sprinkles and whipped cream!

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All settled in and ready to spend our night high over the Atlantic…with our matching tattoos ❤

Words can’t describe what a wonderful time we had being home for the holiday season. It was so special for so many reasons- and it was exactly what our family needed. We certainly are blessed- all of us. And we need to remind ourselves of that every single day- to be present, to be open, to feel gratitude even in the smallest of moments, and to do our absolute best not to take any of it for granted. ❤

I’ll leave you with a shot I took just after walking in the door at home in Stuttgart…when Neve discovered her big birthday gift that Daddy had been assembling- complete with custom lighting on each floor (love our engineer!)- while we were away. Just look at that happy face- Morning. Made.

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Boone for the Holidays

2 Feb

So after our marvelous Christmas at home, our next stop was the North Carolina mountains to spend some much needed time with John’s family. Over the years, we’ve often met in Gatlinburg because it’s about halfway between Charleston and Lexington, KY. Sometimes we like to switch it up, though, so for this holiday season, we opted for Boone, NC. Every time I’m there I’m reminded of just what a cool little town it is, how much personality is packed into it and just how pretty the entire region really is.

In true Thomas fashion, we found a great big house to rent for our time and it ended up being such a fun house. My guess is that it was once a sorority house just based on how it was set up with lots of private bathrooms, lots of separate sitting areas, individual thermostats…Well, whatever it was, it’s now call the YaYa House and is owned by four self-proclaimed hippie ladies who have gone out their ways to add all the little touches that make a house a unique home.

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I think I’ve told y’all this before, but one of my favorite things about visiting with John’s side of the family is the large size and the ‘togetherness’ of it. Playing boardgames into the night, doing puzzles, cooking…Not having to ‘do’ much of anything, yet still making some of the best memories. I love that about the Thomases, always have. And I absolutely love the way our families have melded together since Day 1 ❤

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Checking out the week’s digs ❤

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Yep, the owners even left up all the Christmas decorations for our belated celebration…

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Brisk early morning walks around the (oh-so-hilly) neighborhood ❤

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Can’t go wrong when these two bake and decorate your birthday cake!

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Lost Province Brewing Co.

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Playing word games by the twinkly lights…

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An afternoon exploring downtown Boone ❤

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These two. #RelationshipGoals #whenboardgamesrequirehandsonparticipation

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Mining for gems- we ended up with two rubies and a sapphire 🙂

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And this Rose Quartz, Neve’s favorite ❤

And as if our time together wasn’t fabulous enough, Mother Nature even gave us a gift on our last morning- SNOW! Oh, it was so pretty. And our time in the mountains was so lovely. We really are blessed to call such great people our family…And who would’ve thought that we’d come to the Carolinas and see snow, not once but TWICE! That’s right! Stay tuned for Part 3 of our time at home for the holidays, when it snows in Charleston during Neve’s birthday celebration! Talk about a cool unexpected gift!

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Home for the Holidays

1 Feb

Well whatd’yaknow, it’s been over a month since our last chat- and I’m not the least bit sorry! Ha! 😉 That just goes to show you what a wonderful and busy time we were having at HOME for the holidays. Our family Christmas and New Years were everything we hoped they’d be- togetherness and happiness and thankfulness and warmth and energy and love. It was glorious.

And this trip proved to be quite different than our summer visit. Not sure exactly why, but it just had a whole different feel to it. Maybe it was the holiday magic in the air or the hustle and bustle that inevitably comes along with the season or just that we had a new appreciation for being ‘home for the holidays,’ but for whatever reason, these few weeks had more of that true family vibe going on- less running the roads, less cramming things (and people) in- more cooking together, shopping together, sprinkling in some lazy jammie days here and there… ❤ That’s not so say we didn’t fit in as much awesomeness as we could, though- we spent some time in the mountains with John’s family, we rang in the new year with what I coined ‘Thanksgiving 2.0’ (a meal with all the favorites we didn’t get to have during our holiday in Garmisch!), we celebrated Neve’s birthday with Party #1 and her first Chuck E. Cheese experience…So yeah, we stayed pretty busy one way or another!

And since I’ve now accumulated over 300 pictures- I was there nearly a month, you know! Ha!- I’m going to break things down into a few different posts just to keep the sanity. 😉 For today, I want to share with you some pictures from our first full week at home, including Christmas. For the first time in many, many years, we kept things super small and super simple- just us, and embracing what the season is all about- our blessings. It’s one of the best Christmases we’ve ever had and one that I will remember for always for so many reasons.

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First morning home, staying in my childhood bedroom, and look out the window to see these two- bundled up in their pjs- swinging in the backyard and talking about life ❤

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When your best friend finishes her 5k and comes directly to see you on your first morning in town. ❤

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Lazy mornings are always the best ❤

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When your tribe loves your girl almost as much as you do ❤

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Reunited at last ❤

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The bond that these two share ❤

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When brothers become Daddies, Christmases get even better ❤

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Oh how she loves her Uncle Andy ❤

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Christmas Eve

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Caught in the act!

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Christmas Morning

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When you love so many of your gifts equally…

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Christmas Day ❤

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So you can see that we sure did have an amazing Christmas. It really was beautiful and full of all the feels. Just what our family needed ❤

Stay tuned for Part 2- we’re headed to Boone, NC, to do it all again with John’s family!

The Beginning…

10 Dec

I laid eyes on this guy for the first time 13 years ago tonight. And from that instant, nothing was ever, ever the same. ❤

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So, many of you already know the story of how we met, but I realized when we were celebrating our wedding anniversary this past July that there are alot of you who don’t because I had several people reach out to ask. So I figured I’d take a quick second to give you our little backstory today in honor of this little day we celebrate each and every year!

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It was around Halloween 2003. I take that back, let me back up even further. Christmas of 2002. I went to church that Christmas Eve with my grandmother. A week or so later, I got an email from a guy who had sat behind us at the service and then asked my grandmother for my email address. We’ll call him Robert (*name changed). Over the next year, we developed a nice little friendship- I was in grad school in Columbia and he was finishing up his undergrad at The Citadel in Charleston. We saw each other a few times here and there when I’d visit home, but for the most part, we were modern pen pals and phone chatters. Yep, these were the days of AIM, Instant Messaging, etc.

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Now back to Halloween 2003. So it had been about 10 months since we first met and he called me one day to say that his computer was in the shop, but that he’d be using his roommate, John’s, in the meantime. He said that if I ever saw ‘John’ online to be sure to ask if it was actually Robert, or at least if Robert was in the room so we could chat. So that’s what I did. Plenty of times over the next week or two, I asked for Robert and was always told he wasn’t there. By about the 10th of these exchanges, John started getting snitty and finally said something along the lines of, ‘You know, you could at least say hello to me or something. I’m not just Robert’s babysitter.’ Well, hello. Y’all know I like me some directness! Ha!

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For the next few days, I did just that- I’d log on just to joke, ‘Hi, John!! Sure hope this is you!’ To which he’d reply similarly with quick wit and pretty soon, some great charm…and swag ;). We genuinely looked forward to chatting online, sometimes in between his classes, sometimes over my lunch break (I was back in Charleston working at an ad agency by this point), but mostly in the evenings when we had more free time. We talked about any and everything- school, work, sports, music, our families, past relationships…and current ones. Yep, John was engaged- he’d been dating Annie (*name changed) for nearly three years and had proposed earlier that summer. But it was a moot point- we were strictly friends and it never crossed either of our minds otherwise. Heck, we hadn’t even seen each other! We had no clue what the other even looked like! (And this was before the days of iphones and selfies and having pictures of yourself at your fingertips!) We were truly just great friends, online at least.

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Well, the week of his final exams- the one before he’d head home to Kentucky for the holidays- he messaged me that we should meet. Just to put faces with names and to have a full conversation without having to type it all out! For me, it was like that scene out of ‘You’ve Got Mail’ where Tom Hanks suggests this to Meg Ryan and she’s like, ‘Wait, what?! What do I do?’ Ultimately, I decided, what could it hurt? Friends have dinner all the time, right? Since he’d only have a few hours away from school, we decided for me to meet him at his friend’s apartment in West Ashley and grab some dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant. I can’t even begin to tell you how nervous I was walking up to that apartment door, all the while telling myself that I was being completely ridiculous because A) he could be hot, but he’s engaged and we’re friends or B) he’s not hot and we’re friends. Win-win, right?

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When we reminisce now, one moment that we both always go back to is the moment when I knocked and he opened the door. It’s etched in our minds forever- what we were wearing, the way we smelled, the feel of our hug hello…And the complete absence of any awkwardness whatsoever. We had known each other our whole lives. It sure felt that way.

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Dinner was delicious and easy and full of laughter. Saying goodbye was the first time it was a bit awkward- we both hated the night was ending and were already looking forward to hanging out again soon. I called my mom on the drive home to tell her how well it had gone- and how sad I was that we hadn’t met sooner- that he was something special. The next day, there’s another moment that’ll forever be etched in my mind. I was pulling into Kinko’s downtown Charleston to pick up an order for work when my phone rang. As soon as I answered, John, in one long run on sentence, blurted out, ‘I just broke up with Annie, I’m completely single, I haven’t stopped thinking about you and I’d like to see you again- tonight if you’re good with something quick because I’ll only have a few hours again.’

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We had three nights in a row that week of the most amazing times together, not doing anything fancy or noteworthy- one just being together eating McDonald’s sitting by the river. It was perfect. That weekend, I headed for New York City with my mom for a girls’ trip to celebrate my grad school graduation. We had the BEST time and it will always be considered one of my favorite trips. Such beautiful memories. Sure, I was a bit nervous about how being away for 5 days would affect this new budding ‘whatever-it-was,’ but y’all know that I’m a big believer in things working out the way they’re supposed to and this was no different. If we were meant to be together, we would be. John called me every single night I was away and my doubts were quickly gone. On the plane ride home, I told my mom, who still hadn’t so much as met him!, that he was it. That I would marry him.

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Coming out of the concourse in Charleston, there was my dad waiting to pick us up. And there was John beside him, surprising me. He said that introducing himself to my dad solo in the airport was easier than having to wait the extra day to see me.<3 We spent the rest of the Christmas season falling in love. It’s still ‘our season.’ Sure, there was some opposition when all his friends came back to school in January- was I a rebound girl for John (turns out John had already postponed their wedding indefinitely and had felt pressured to get engaged in the first place)? had I known that Robert had actually liked me as more than a friend (I had no clue)? did John not care that Robert had liked me (no, he didn’t)? But none of that mattered. After that first month (although technically closer to three months considering that we’d talked an awful lot before even laying eyes on each other!), there was nothing in the world that could’ve shaken us. It was ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Ours is what books are written about.

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John proposed two months later, in March, on the Waterfront Park pier, and we were married that July. So just like I’ve said before- when you know, you know. And when it’s right, it’s really, really great. No, neither of us is perfect and our relationship certainly hasn’t been without its challenges and sacrifices and growing pains- we are human, duh- but that moment of him opening the door at his friend’s apartment- dressed in a yellow button up shirt and jeans that fit just right- was the turning point in our lives. It changed everything. It MADE everything. ❤

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Here’s to one of the greatest nights of my entire life…

 

It’s beginning to feel alot like…

9 Dec

…Christmas! Amiright?! I have been waiting for this day for weeks now- when I can finally say that ‘this time NEXT week…’ we’ll be on a plane over the Atlantic headed for HOME! Oh Lord, I just don’t have any words. I was telling my mom last night on the phone how my whole perspective has changed this year. Well, that’s true on so many levels, but in this instance, I was talking about the whole coming home, being home for the holidays, surrounding yourself with those who make your world complete…Being away from home- so far away and immersed in a completely different culture- really brings alot of focus to what matters most. Especially this time of year. It sure is going to feel like one big, weeks-long bear hug. All three of us are counting on it ❤

So in honor of this one week countdown, I just wanted to share some of our holiday pics so far. We’ve really been having alot of fun with the season this year- Neve is the absolute PERFECT age right now for all things Christmas and we LOVE it. And this year, she’s getting to celebrate the season in a whole new way, too- with German traditions at kindergarten, so we’re learning things right along with her!

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Christmas carols and hot tea and twinkly lights to end the day…

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John knows me so well. When he ‘brings me flowers,’ he almost always goes for the most creative, funkiest arrangement he can find. And they’re always our perfect centerpiece.

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The Advent Calendar is always one of her favorite parts of December!

Even with bare trees and temps in the 30s, we have still managed to have some amazing sunsets. Neve and I have actually started to really love our rides home from gymnastics because we get to see some of the most beautiful natural paintings. This week, we made a game out of counting as many colors as we could in this sunset ❤

If any of you have ever been to Germany this time of year, then you know how awesome they do Christmas. Seriously. I’ve never been a place that goes as all out for the season as here. It’s amazing. The stores, the streets, the famous markets…Everywhere you turn is Christmas. And on a grand scale, with all different styles. Trees, lights, music, warm drinks, fresh baked goods…Definitely our kind of place 😉

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Our shopping mall below our house…

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Modern take on visiting Santa…

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At my favorite shopping mall, Breunigerland.

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And speaking of Christmas markets, we finally made it out to one of the most well-known all around, the Medieval Esslingen Market. Can’t believe it took us this long to get to it as it’s only about 30 minutes away at most. The town itself is so cute, but the market was downright awesome. And huge. What sets this market apart from the rest is that, in addition to the regular stuff, a huge part of it is a time warp back to the middle ages. The huts are primitive, the vendors and many of the people walking the streets are dressed in animal hides or rags, the wares they’re selling are handmade in medieval style and they’re preparing delicious, simple foods over open flames and clay ovens. It was TERRIFIC.

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You can see the mean physically turning the medieval Ferris wheel! So neat.

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Looks can be deceiving. This was plain sweet bread wrapped around a stick. And it was the most delicious thing ever. Yeasty, doughy, warm, chewy…Jeez.

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This past week, we crossed off two super important items from our list- family flu shots and pictures with Santa! Woohoo!

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Thumbs up for keeping flu bugs away! 😉

In addition to finding our new favorite Christmas market ever (I’m really not kidding), the other highlight was probably our baking day. My mom and I bake homemade goodies for friends and family every single year- we have since I was in at least highschool, maybe earlier than that. It’s one of my absolute favorite Christmas traditions. Getting our list together, spending entirely too much time deciding on what we’re going to bake this year, buying all the groceries, destroying the kitchen for an entire day while listening to Christmas music and sampling as we go, packaging the fruits of our labor and hand tagging each and every one…I adore all of it. Well, this was our first year not doing it together (yep, we even got to do it last year here in Germany because they were here with us!) and I knew it would be a tough time. Long story short- once again, my husband needs a gold star. He really, really, really stepped up and made the whole day so beyond special. Like, I could get teary just typing about it! Not even just the day itself, but weeks before when we sat down to make our list and to go through recipes to decide what we’d bake. He- and Neve- both went all out and it made for the most perfect family day. Y’all, we baked for 7 hours straight- neither of us sat down the entire time, not even once. When something was in the oven, we were prepping something else…or cooling or packaging or sampling ;). For me, there’s just something about sharing homemade goodies with your nearest and dearest that really captures the spirit of the season. Oh, and for anyone curious- we did my famous Cookie Butter Iced Brownies, Shortbread Funfetti Bites and Salted Caramel Pretzel Bark ❤

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And of course, Mr. Clark Pricklepants has been having way too much fun while we’re asleep. Neve just loves hunting for him- and laughing at his antics- each and every morning ❤

And now I’ll leave you with one of my newest favorite pictures. It was taken last night after a wonderful early Christmas celebration with our tribe. We went to one of our favorite restaurants, took up their entire back room, ate, drank and were the merriest of merry. It was perfect and effortless. And this picture just captures it so perfectly. ❤

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Thanksgiving in Garmisch

28 Nov

Well, I guess it’s safe to say that we all survived Thanksgiving! And judging from all the social media posts, it looks like everyone had a marvelous time. Even more than usual, I just loved seeing all the festive posts- of my own family celebrating, of friends with their families, of friends like us navigating uncharted holiday waters abroad, of board games and childhood homes and puzzles and full kitchen counters and leftovers and laughter…Those posts made our day all the more special and connected us to that feeling of home just a little bit more. So thank you ❤

Now on to our holiday getaway! Living here in Stuttgart, you hear alot about Garmisch-Partenkirchen, especially among the American community. The main reason for this is because there’s an American resort there- Edelweiss- owned by the Department of Defense and open only to our service members and government civilians stationed in the European theatre. It’s a huge resort with rooms, suites, cabins and camping grounds, along with restaurants, indoor and outdoor pool areas, onsite activities and excursions. For those of you with littles, it kinda reminds you of a Wolf Creek Lodge.

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So, we didn’t actually stay at Edelweiss. For a couple reasons. First, when we travel, it’s important to us to be part of the culture we’re visiting- to interact with the locals, to eat at their top recommended restaurants, to walk their streets in search of the perfect magnet for our collection…Second, we really wanted to take the pups with us for the festivities and wanted a hotel that really helped in that department. So we ended up with the best of both worlds- staying at the lovely Alpina Hotel downtown Garmisch (can’t say enough good things about this one, so if you’re researching lodging, look no further!) for a few nights, but eating a delicious Thanksgiving feast with our fellow Americans at Edelweiss. Couldn’t have asked for a more perfect blend!

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Let me back up and then we can work our way to the turkey…Garmisch-Partenkirchen is an Alpine mountain town on the German-Austrian border (as far south in Germany as you can get). (About an hour of our 2.5 hour drive was actually in Austria, then we crossed back over for the final few miles.) Its claims to fame are its lovely Bavarian hospitality, its marvelous winter sports offerings, being home to Germany’s two highest peaks- Zugspitz and Alpspitz- and the great outdoors. It was even home to the 1936 Winter Olympics, of which the stadium and the downhill jump still stands. More on that in a sec…

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We absolutely loved the feel of this town. You know, I say ‘town,’ but it’s definitely a city and way bigger than we expected. It’s a lovely mix of modern amenities and that Austrian Alpine village feel we’ve grown to adore. Main street is 4-6 lanes with North Face stores and banks, but then one turn and you’re on a quaint residential avenue with picket fences and (cold hardy??) flowers. Something else we loved? Being in Bavaria! Always our favorite neck of the German woods. And I know we’ve talked about Bavaria on here before, but just for any newbies- Bavaria is the southernmost region of Germany and it reminds us the most of home, the southeastern US. It’s known for having friendly people, great homestyle cooking, never ending beer, timbered buildings and celebrations galore! What’s not to love, right?!

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We arrived just after lunch on Wednesday and let Neve decide the afternoon’s plans. Can you guess what she chose? Um, how about the pool and spa?! And we had it all to ourselves! WINNING!

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Finishing Day 1 with one of the most delicious meals we’ve had since we moved to Germany! And look at those salad greens piled high- that’s saying ALOT!

Thanksgiving Day was definitely a very different bag for us from the moment our feet hit the floor. No getting up early to get cookin’, no rushing to my parents’ house to help with setup, no watching the Macy’s Parade or football (although John did stay up until after midnight watching his Cowboys win!), no hugging necks and catching up with friends and family that we don’t see as often as we’d like…So yeah, that meant we needed a plan for both relaxation and for staying busy. And yes, for getting some traditional grub in our bellies at some point! Well, I’m pleased to say that we did all of the above. We started our day with a relaxing sauna and swim, then headed to see the 1936 Olympic Stadium and downhill jump. Next, was the highlight of our entire trip- hiking the Partnach River Gorge, then a late lunch/early dinner reservation for Thanksgiving dinner. And after a sunset stroll- a hot chocolate pit stop- through downtown Garmisch, we finished our holiday just as it had began, with another swim and a sauna ❤

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It’s ridiculous how much I love saunas. The only thing that could’ve made this one, which I had all to myself this morning, better would’ve been having my Dad there to enjoy it with me. There’s no question that I come by it naturally 😉

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It’s like a small highschool football stadium…

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Standing inside Olympic Stadium looking up the downhill jump…

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Can’t you just imagine the Opening Ceremonies here nearly a century ago?

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Pictures can’t do this jump justice. It is HUGE. Like, you couldn’t pay me enough money to ski down it! John was in awe of the construction. (And yes, it’s still operational in the winter.)

To get to the Partnach Gorge, you park at Olympic Stadium and hike about 30 minutes to the gorge. The gorge is another 45 minute or so hike- then it spits you out in the most beautiful valley at the end. Then you hike back.

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The Partnach Gorge is a deep (nearly 300 feet) gorge that has been incised my the Partnach mountain stream, which is fed from the Schneeferner glacier on the Zugspitz plateau. Cool factoid: In the Triassic Era, about 240 million years ago, on the bed of a shallow sea, dark grey, relatively hard layers of Alpine stones were laid down in the area of the present day Partnach Gorge. On the bead-like strata of this rock, the traces of the burrowing and feeding of marine animals can still be seen. It was designated a national monument in 1912.

And two things I want to share before the good stuff (ie. the pictures!): 1. John and I have talked about our morning in this gorge several times over the last several days and both agree that it’s, hands down, one of the coolest things we’ve done. And y’all know we’ve sure done alot of stuff to compare it to! And 2. We are both so bummed with these pictures because they just don’t even begin to do it justice. The least I can do is set the scene for you a bit…You’re walking on a 2 foot wide gravel pathway just a few feet above the loud, roaring water and rocks below. The waterfalls from above not only add to the power and the noise, but they make it feel like there’s a constant misty drizzle. And as the path goes in and out of the side of the mountain, it’s as black as night. Y’all. WOW.

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Looking straight up from the water to the sky…

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Hundreds of these waterfalls…

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The valley at the end of the gorge…

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Edelweiss did a really great job with their Thanksgiving Feast. Seriously. We had no idea what to expect going into it. Was it a hotel restaurant? Would there be alot of people? Would the food be traditional? Or at least good? Well, they really came through. Not only did they use their restaurant, but they used all their conference rooms, too, including one dedicated just to the buffet! And I don’t even mean buffet in the traditional S&K Cafeteria sense- I’m talking lots of round tables set up all over the place! One with cheeses and breads. One with salads. One with side dishes. One with ‘kid-friendly’ dishes. One with chefs carving all the different meats. Desserts and froo-froo coffees even got their own ROOM! And the food was good and plenty varied, sure to give everyone at least 80% of the foods they’re hoping to see for the holiday. The only glaring food omission for us? Green beans! Who has a Thanksgiving feast without these staples?! Ha! Hundred of people, just like us, enjoying each other and feeling as close to home as we could. It was lovely.

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Headed into dinner…

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View from dinner…

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Full bellies, full hearts. Happy Thanksgiving.

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And y’all know we wouldn’t let our pups miss out on the holiday deliciousness! We took them home a perfect little doggy box with turkey, sweet potatoes, a small roll and one chicken nugget (thanks, Neve.)

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LOTS of beautifully painted buildings in Bavaria…

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Before heading home on Friday, we had one more place to visit…Mittenwald. Another smaller town about 30 km away. It’s known for two things: being the birthplace of violins and for being the prettiest place in Bavaria. We’d heard that it was well worth the drive out of the way, not just for the town itself, but for the drive to get there, too. Um…YES PLEASE. Let’s just say it was the perfect end to our Alpine Thanksgiving getaway ❤

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Throwing the ball for the girls…

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Trying to get a damn decent picture! Ha!

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Best I could do. I LOVE Meg’s side eye in this one.

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We hope you all had the most wonderful Thanksgiving and that your holiday season is gearing up to be a great one- ours sure is! We got home in time to spend the weekend decorating for Christmas and watching Christmas movies and snuggling while we watched it rain outside. And in less than 3 weeks, we’ll be Charleston-bound…HOME-bound. ❤ #IllbehomeforChristmas ❤

I am Thankful.

22 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving Week, y’all! Hard to believe that it’s already that time again. So before everyone settles into their kitchens to start preparing the most glorious feasts, I just wanted to take a few minutes and reflect, as much for myself as for all of you. This season has been particularly challenging for me this year as it’s my first one- in all my 35 trips around the sun- that I’m not with my family…That I’m not at home…That I’m not surrounded by the sights and sounds (and smells) that I realize now I appreciate so much. And I’m missing all of those things something fierce. So while it can sometimes be easy for me to get stuck in this rut, I’m making the conscious effort not to. I’m deciding, each and every day recently, to be grateful for what I do have and to be all the more excited to go HOME in just a few weeks!

So without further adieu, here are some of the things, and people, that I’m most thankful for this year.

I’m so thankful for Neve. To be her mom, to see who she’s becoming, to do what I can to help her grow in every sense of the word.  She is an AMAZING person.

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When your hair doubles as a weather forecast.

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I can’t tell you how often I think to myself, ‘I wish I could be half as stylish as my kid.’ She dressed herself completely ❤

One thing about my girl that I’m especially thankful for? Her fearlessness. Remember last month when she got her first haircut and I told her that if she still wanted it shorter, we would go back? Well, she’s talked about it ever since and never once wavered. No hesitation, no fear of regret, nothing but excitement. She made the decision and just a few hours ago in fact, she went full steam ahead. *Life Lessons*

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My big girl ❤

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To say that I’m thankful for John is an understatement. I’ve sung his praises plenty of times on here, so I won’t go into them again too much right now. Just to say that he gets me like no one else on the planet. GETS me, gets me. He is a calm in the storm, a rock, an anchor…He is a best friend, a partner in crime, a cheerleader. And during challenging times like this holiday season, he is exactly my counterpoint. Oh, and I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again- seeing the man you love as a dad…There’s NOTHING like it.

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She asked him to marry her, complete with her long gown blanket. I was the minister. ❤

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I am thankful for the wonderful friends in my life, both near and far. Yes, life gets in the way and we don’t get to see each other- or even talk to each other- as often as any of us would like, but it doesn’t matter. Knowing that you’re part of such an awesome tribe- that you have people who love you not because they have to, but because they CHOOSE to- is the most comforting, grounding feeling. Waking up to text messages, getting unexpected care packages, chatting online unexpectedly in the mornings with one of your insomnia-prone friends ;), being invited next door for impromptu tea parties…THIS is what makes the world brighter.

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I am thankful for my fitness. I’ve always been into an active lifestyle, but this year has really taken it to the next level. Why the change? I rediscovered my love of cycling- specifically, Peloton. It’s a cycling community that has been truly instrumental in changing things up for me. More than ever, I appreciate my body, its capabilities, its beauty…I can’t even imagine missing my morning rides now! I mean, look at that sunrise that greets me and the fall colors that surround me?!

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I’m thankful for new (to us) traditions. A few weeks ago, Neve’s school celebrated Laternefest. In a nutshell, it’s the secular celebration of St. Martins Day and it’s celebrated throughout all of Europe. St. Martin was a kind and gentle man who was a friend to children and the poor. Legend has it that he ripped his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snow storm. That night, he dreamt of Jesus and was baptized the next day. In celebration each year on Nov. 10 and 11, children walk through their cities carrying lanterns that they’ve made at school to symbolize light overpowering the darkness. They sing all the songs they’ve learned to spread joy. And they finish in a big public square- usually with a park nearby- to mark the culmination of their celebrations, complete with food and warm drinks. Spending the evening with 20 something of Neve’s classmates, their families and her teachers, regardless of the freezing rain and bitter cold, proved to be the absolute perfect and happy end to a fiery election week.

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With one of her best friends, Emna.

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Stopping for some caroling.

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Homemade snacks and warm tea at the park.

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I’m thankful for my family. No, they may not be here with us right now, but they’re always with me…Always. I realize just how fortunate we are to have each other, to be doing this life together, to count on each other through thick and thin. So many people don’t have the kind of family that we do. And I’m so thankful in every sense of the word.

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This picture is framed on our shelf.  It was taken at my parents’ retirement party when Neve was 5 months old. She’s been talking about it alot this week- about how happy everyone is. And that makes me so happy 🙂

And finally, I’m thankful for this season of change and for this most unique Thanksgiving. We are leaving tomorrow, headed for the Alps to celebrate the day with other families in our same situation, at a resort managed by Americans at the border of Germany and Switzerland. We’re staying in a hotel with an indoor pool area for kids, a fancy spa for grown ups, an outdoor area for pups…And serving a big traditional Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday! How’s that for making lemonade out of potential lemons?! Here’s hoping everyone has the loveliest holiday and a wonderful official kick-off to this holiday season. THANK YOU for coming along on this journey with us. ❤

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Our Elf, Mr. Clark Pricklepants, should be arriving back here this weekend, according to the Big Guy! 😉

Veteran’s Day in Cochem, Germany…

18 Nov

Picking up where we left off last week, just wanted to share a little bit about our holiday weekend getaway to the picturesque town of Cochem, about 3.5 hours northwest of us, near the Luxembourg border. While definitely small (about 5000 residents), it’s actually the largest in the region where villages line the banks of the Mosel River as it winds its way through Wine Country. Y’all, you’ve never seen so many vineyards in your life! I mean, wow. As far as the eye can see in all directions. Although it took us a while to get to fully appreciate them because there weather STUNK. Freezing rain, low lying clouds and fog…Here’s the drive into town…Granted, following the path of the river for the last hour still helped 😉

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Cochem was settled in 886ad by the Romans and Celts. Its location on the Moselle River made it ideal for both fishing and trade. In addition to becoming a significant player in the wine industry over the years, it also became home to a leading Capuchin monastery in Germany.

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The old Capuchin monastery, now closed.

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Cochem, Germany. That’s the Cochem Imperial Castle in the distance.

The Cochem Castle was first mentioned in historic records in 1130ad. In the late 17th century, it came under French rule and was ultimately destroyed just a few years later. It laid in ruins until it was restored in the mid 1800s. Unfortunately, the interior of the castle has now been completely restored (ie. very modern), which always takes away the allure for us 😦

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Western bank of the city…Those are vineyards covering the hillside in yellow…

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Cochem Pinnerkreuz, the lookout tower…

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As with all of Germany, bakeries are no joke here. Stopping in for a bite. Choices, choices…

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View of the city from the bridge connecting both sides…Coincidentally, our hotel is directly above the left red tree lining the river. We had a perfect view ❤

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Window shopping…

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If you look closely, you can see the city bells inside the lighted ‘attic’…So pretty at night.

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Now for the good news and the bad news…The good news is that we woke up the next morning to the sun shining and all the beautiful fall colors parading before us in all their glory! Still below freezing, but SO pretty. Our hotel even had a full breakfast buffet- complete with American style pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon! (this has never happened before- Europeans eat cold cuts, sliced cheese and bread in the mornings) – in their garden room overlooking the river. Perfect start to the morning!

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Vineyards as far as the eye can see…

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Still following the river out of the region…

Now the bad news…Castle Eltz, the reason for our trip, threw us a curve ball. They closed for the season the weekend before our trip. 😦 I know, right? We should know better by now- places here, especially those without heat (ancient castle??), often close for the coldest months of the year- so it’s our own fault for not checking. In our defense, though, we’ve never found a castle that closed, actually, so it didn’t even dawn on us. At least we thought to look up the driving time the night before and stumbled onto their website BEFORE making the trek out there, though! Needless to say, we were bummed. Oh, life’s little plot twists! Ha! So we’ll go back in April when they reopen- what’s wrong with another excuse to get away, right?! Instead, we made lemonade and opted to detour on our way home by Ramstein Air Force Base. Ramstein is the largest US base overseas (54,000 service members and civilians) and serves as headquarters for our Europe and Africa Air Forces. Oh, neat tidbit: it’s used to coordinate and execute most all of the US global drone program.

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What’s so snazzy about another base, you ask? Well, I’ve been wanting to see it since we lived here the first time back in 2010. All Americans here know of it and talk about it, mainly because of its HUGE shopping mall with all the conveniences of home. It’s nothing for folks to make the 2 hour trek to it monthly or at least seasonally to get their ‘must haves.’ John has worked there many times, including twice in the past month- and he was actually there sitting in their food court when he first got word that we’d be moving here!- but it’s just never worked out for me to get there. I suppose I’ve just learned to make due with what I have available to me here?? I do 90% of our shopping on the German economy and hit up the stores on base only for our true ‘must haves,’ maybe monthly? Alas, it was still nice to finally see it. And I was definitely impressed. It’s HUGE! The base itself AND the shopping mall. Bath and Body Works, Yankee Candle, Hallmark, GNC, Sephora…There’s even a Johnny Rockets and a Chilis! Definitely a nice little treat to feel like home, even if only for an hour or two ❤

So there you have it, our short little getaway that didn’t go quite as planned, but still ended up being pretty darn fun. Can’t wait to go back in the spring and see the river valley bathed in spring, either! Sure wish I could say that the nice sunny weather that blessed us for our drive home has stuck around, but that would make me a liar. A big, fat liar. I honestly don’t think we’ve seen the sun since the day we got back- pretty much nothing but cold, dreary, rainy, windy here in Stuttgart this entire week. Blech. Fingers crossed for a turnaround this weekend! Hope y’all have a good one!

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