Tag Archives: winter

Happy (Just About) Summer!

25 May

Greetings, all! Fancy seeing you here- it’s been a while! Let me start by saying a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has made the move with me over to Treats, Travels And Truths– there’s absolutely no other place I’d rather start the journey than with you guys who have been following our shenanigans for all this time right here.The new site is coming along so nicely- growth is slow, but steady, and I’m learning more every day about the ins and outs of blogging on a larger scale. Most importantly, I’m having a really good time with it and that’s really all that matters, right? Please, please, please continue to help me spread the word and get the site out there- sharing it on Facebook or Instagram, sending the link to friends in emails or just telling them about it. I SO appreciate it. And you. ❤

So I just wanted to share some pictures from our last month or so. We’ve been really busy- and in a really good way for the most part! Y’all know we’ve had some visitors- my mom came for my birthday at the beginning of April and then John’s sister, brother and his family came a few weeks ago when we all headed to Greece (phenomenal vacay, btw). Other than that, we’ve been kinda all over the place- waiting for spring to arrive and taking advantage of days when it teases us (see the snow pictures below that were taken mid-April!), getting Neve registered for Kindergarten, Fruhlingsfest (the largest spring festival in the world!), rock climbing (Neve is in LOVE), celebrating Mother’s Day…Have a look!

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She’s really taken an interest in drawing- and is pretty darn good!

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Anybody else think these are the best kinds of lunch EVER?!

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Bedtime Stories ❤

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Fruhlingsfest

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Chocolate-covered fruit on sticks…

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What better last weekend in Germany than homemade pizza from scratch?!

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Morning waves from school ❤

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Mother’s Day Breakfast at Kindi…

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Found a huge rock climbing gym less than 20 minutes from the house! Neve has really started showing an interest and is really good at it!

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What do you do when you’re out walking the pups on Sunday afternoon, but a storm is rolling in? Find the nearest biergarten and wait it out 🙂

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All doing our best impressions of the ‘Ears Up’ pose 😉

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Waiting out the storm at the biergarten, overlooking Stuttgart…

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Good Lord. He is mine. ❤

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Just finished with Kindergarten Orientation on base. Safe to say that all three of us like the school, the teachers…and the playground! September can’t get here soon enough for this kid!

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We make Countdown Chains for so many things. This one marks when Daddy gets home this Saturday (the link with the stars) and when Uncle Andy arrives (the link with the smiley faces). This is the first chain that Neve made entirely by herself 😦

I told you we’ve been pretty dang busy! Lots of fun, though, and some pretty exciting stuff (how do we have a Kindergartner?!). And I’m happy to report that the weather is *finally* cooperating for the most part- we’re at least reaching 70/75F most days! Ha! I swear summer can’t get here soon enough! Speaking of which, our next adventure begins in just 5 days! We’re headed for the Canary Islands next week to do (hopefully) a whole lotta nothing- sun, sand, waves, drinks with umbrellas…Ha! This family needs some summatime, dammit! My little bit of planning is officially done (see selfie below where I reconfirm that I’m a nerd and must write down everything!), John gets home Saturday (he’s been in the States for work since last weekend), and Uncle Andy gets here Monday (he’s needing some Canary Islands in his life, too!) Life is good, friends. Happy Memorial Day weekend!

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Happy Easter, Y’all!

20 Apr

OK, a few days after the fact, but I hope all of you had a lovely Easter! We sure did! For starters, my mom was in town- she surprised me a few weeks ago with a last minute decision to come for a quick visit that just so happened to include my birthday and Easter. Both weekends were terrific. For Easter, we finally made it Burg Eltz, John’s bucket list castle that Rick Steves had named as ‘Best in the World’ (we attempted to see it last fall, but it ended up closing for the season the week before our trip :/). It was well worth the wait and has most definitely become one of our favorites, too! Birthday Weekend was terrific, too- the first night we celebrated with a Grown-Ups-Only night out with our tribe (woohoo for 2 babysitters + 5 littles!), then spent Sunday doing what we love the most- cooking, baking, and just being together. Meant so much getting to share it with Mom.

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We made pizzas from scratch- the crust, the sauce, the toppings…DELISH!

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This is my absolute FAVORITE cake on the planet and I get it once a year, when my sweet husband- and now sweet daughter- make it for me on my birthday. It’s a take on the classic Tres Leches, but with fresh homemade whipped cream and Oreos. HOLY COW.

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Birthday Flowers (with a Boston Terrier photo bomb!)

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Driving to Burg Eltz

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Burg Eltz

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Driving to Burg Eltz

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Waterfront in Koblenz, Germany, where we stayed to visit Burg Eltz…

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Deutsches Ecke- the merging of the Mosel and Rhein Rivers in Koblenz, Germany…

Mom and I also did a little daytrip over to Burg Lichtenstein, which is another of our favorites. It’s small and quaint, yet so charming and regal the way it’s built right on top of a giant rock overlooking the foothills all around. How is it possible that this is Mom’s first castle?!

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Other than that, we’ve just been doing a whole bunch of normal. And it’s been awesome. It’s crazy how much of a boost the regular, day to day stuff gets just from having your mom around. We dyed Easter eggs, we met up with friends at the biergarten when the weather was pretty, we celebrated the Easter Bunny’s delivery (via a clever scavenger hunt set up while we were gone to Burg Eltz!)…Oh, and BIG NEWS! Neve learned to ride her bike all by herself, no training wheels! BURSTING. That’s the only way I can describe the love and the pride her Daddy and I- and Goddess, and Poppy from afar!- felt. ❤

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Stuttgart Postcard Heart on a random fence…

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Trying to get a picture and I keep saying, ‘Turn around, no the other way, no the other way…’

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The beautiful face of a big girl bike rider!!

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When you take your American- little-bit-European- new bike riding girl for ‘whatever she wants’ and she chooses strawberry ice cream and an espresso with extra milk ❤

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When you get to be there to open the care package you sent before you knew you were coming! Ha!

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Do you ever stand at your grill flipping burgers and get the feeling you’re being watched?

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Taped to the door when we got home from the castle on Easter Sunday…

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We really did have the loveliest of times with Goddess here visiting and saying goodbye to her earlier this week was difficult all around. But at least our hearts are full and our souls are happy. ❤ Funny thing is that Mother Nature must’ve known we were prepared for a crummy few days because she brought back the snow! In April! This is the third time it’s snowed on the day Mom is leaving. Maybe it’s a sign…Ha! As pretty as it was and as unexpected, I’m pleased to report that it seems to have passed again and the forecast is showing slow improvement throughout the weekend. This Southern family is ready for WARM!!!

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And that’s it for now! Lots of fun over these last couple weeks and even more to come as John’s brother, sister-in-law, niece and sister arrive on Wednesday for their annual visit- and this time, we’re headed to Greece! A first for all of us!

But in the meantime, remember that big news I teased you with a couple weeks ago? Well, the time has arrived to share it- finally! Stop back by tomorrow for the big reveal 🙂

Hei again from Norway! (Part 3)

24 Feb

I can’t believe that this time last week we had already taken three flights, been in three different countries and were sitting peacefully in a little cafe having our first homecooked Norwegian meal watching the snow fall outside the window. Not gonna lie, kinda wishing we were back there right about now! Coming home from vacation is always the hardest, amiright?

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So, we saved what turned out to be our best adventure until our last full day in Norway. We knew spending the day dogsledding would be alot of fun- and a definite winner in Neve’s book- but we had no idea just how amazing it would be. Oh. My. Word. Hands down, one of the best true adventures we’ve ever done- and one that we’re still talking about daily. When we were first doing our research, we were so torn as to which ‘tour’ we wanted to do in addition to the Northern Lights. There are so many options- whale watching, fishing, snow mobiling, snow shoeing, hiking…And even after you make the decision, then you’ve got even more options- large company, private guide, full day, half day, evening…We ultimately chose an afternoon of dog sledding with a small company- a husband-wife team who live way out in the wilderness (a little over an hour drive from our hotel) on a neighboring island. They love Alaskan Huskies, own 30 of them, and like to share their passion with visitors. No puppy mill, no looking to become millionaires, no breeding for Iditarod racing…Just going to their house (the business is on the ground floor, they live above) for an afternoon of fun and adventure. It was the perfect fit for us.

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We arrived just before lunchtime and spent the first little while with the wife- learning all about the sleds, the dogs, how to ‘drive,’ what to do when you’re falling over and going to bust…Ha! Next, we set off down the road another mile or so where we met up with the husband, the ‘musher’ of the operation. He had all the pups harnessed and ready to go with each of our sleds. He’d also just gotten back from a run up the mountain on the snow mobile because it was snowing so hard that day that it was impossible to see any of the paths we’d be taking!

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All ready to go!

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And with that, the eight of us and our dog teams loaded up in our respective sleds and started up the mountain behind Thomas (the husband). John started out as the musher, so Neve and I rode shotgun in the sled ❤

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I actually took this picture on accident not realizing I had my camera flipped around, but it turned out to be one of my favorites. We were whizzing down a hill at this moment and John was out of breath from running and pushing us all the way to the top, but then he saw the view (that I thought I was taking a picture of!) and I caught that moment right here. ❤

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One thing folks don’t realize, or at least we didn’t, is just how much physicality is involved with dog sledding. You are NOT just riding on a sled behind a team of dogs. You are WORKING. You’re controlling their path, you’re strategically using the brake to control speed and direction, you’re hoping from one side to the other of the sled to counter balance curves and turns, and most of all, you’re hopping off and running/pushing the sled to help your team make it up any hill whatsoever. Within 10 minutes of starting, you are sweating and out of breath! That’s one of the main reasons we chose this company- we wanted to actually do the sledding rather than just riding in someone else’s sled! All just part of the adventure!

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And we thought our views from our scenic drive were awesome…The views here were INCREDIBLE. Wide open icy tundra as far as you can see, snow covered jagged mountains all around, dense forests lining your path, racing rivers carving their ways through the Earth…And here’s the thing. Yes, it was some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen, but it was more than that. It was that feeling again- that feeling of being part of something so much greater, of realizing just how much is out there that you’ve never seen and never experienced, of how truly grand this Earth really is…Here we were, alone, in this vast, majestic wilderness. No sounds, no buildings, no cars, no other people…Just us. For miles and miles and miles. For hours. It was truly moving…and humbling.

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Halfway through, we switched ‘drivers’ (and got a nice serenade from our pups! Ha!) and I’ve got to say that it was one of the most exhilarating experiences for me. The freedom and the power and even the bit of nervousness that inevitably comes when you’re learning something new…Oh goodness…Yes. Please.

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Amazingly, the sun came out for a few minutes just as we got back, which was nice so we could take a minute and play with the pups. What a sweet group of dogs, and so gentle and kind. And just in case any of you have the same questions that I had…Their pups ranged from 2 years to 12 years, which is the average span of a sled dog’s career. Girls and boys on all teams, lots of brothers and sisters in this group. Girls tend to make better leaders and are therefore, usually at the front. The strongest are generally at the back, leaving the middle spots for newbies and slower dogs. All of them get along well and live together, but the same teams run together at all times (ie. each 6some is set so they each learn their specific roles).

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We even got to meet the next generation before we left! Three pups born just 12 days prior- they had just opened their eyes the night before! What icing on the cake, especially for our girl. There’s nothing better than puppies, is there? They will start training in the summer (sleds with wheels) and should be able to do some short runs by next winter.

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The next generation meeting the next generation ❤

What a perfect afternoon we had- more fun than any of had even hoped for. The perfect Arctic adventure for our last day in Norway. We were famished by the time we got back, so a nice warm meal was first on our agenda- after marveling at how especially pretty the harbor was that night. We found this great little tapas place and just got lots of small plates- smoked reindeer, tacos, mussels, salmon, cheese plates…Have I mentioned I wish were back there right about now?! 😉

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But by the next morning, another blizzard had blown in and we woke up to…

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Saying goodbye to our hotel’s ‘dead polar bear…’ Lord.

It took some doing to actually get to the airport- lots of delays with both traffic and planes!- but ultimately, we made it. We can now say that we know what it’s like to have a truck come to de-ice the plane last thing before takeoff (they have a boom that hovers above and sprays a viscous liquid all over the place!) AND what it feels like to take off in three feet of snow! Ha! Neve also made the most of the airport by becoming best friends with a little girl named Eleanor. No, they didn’t speak the same language, but you sure wouldn’t have known it! I swear my kid has never met a stranger ❤

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I told John that it’s probably a bad thing to have already taken this trip because now are sure to pale in comparison. This was unlike any trip we’ve ever been on and in all the right ways. It was so perfect for our trio. It’s one that we’ll remember always and always. And the best part is that we knew that while it was happening. We knew to take it all in, to savor it. We knew it was special. And how fortunate we are. ❤

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Hallo from Norway! (Part 2)

23 Feb

Thanks for stopping back by to continue along on our recent Arctic adventure! Hope you enjoyed yesterday’s wilderness pictures!

So, the main reason we went to Tromso was to see the Aurora Borealis, aka the Northern Lights. This has been on our Bucket List for many years, so when it came time to start planning, we really had our work cut out for us. Obviously, there’s more than one way to skin this cat- there are plenty of places to view this phenomenon. But here’s the tricky part- you only have so much vacation time; so much money. So our goals became: 1. determining the spot that would be MOST likely to see them and 2. determining the time of year when they are MOST often seen. In other words, we didn’t necessarily choose the trip- the trip chose us! Ha! In fact, our original plan was to see them in Iceland because we’d also like to see Reykjavik. And while, yes, the Lights can be seen from Iceland, it’s less common and they’re often less intense, solely due to the fact that it’s further south. Yep, the further north you go, the better your chances, which is how we ended up in picturesque Tromso- it’s about as far north as you can travel by airplane and it gave us the absolute best shot of seeing ’em! And for anyone who’s curious, the best viewing time is mid-December through early March. We chose mid-February mainly because their Polar Night ends around February 1 and we for sure wanted to be able to see all the beauty that is northern Norway. (No sunlight is seen in Arctic regions from mid-November through January. Coincidentally, the sun never sets during June and July- a friend we made told us that it’s actually just as likely to get sunburnt at midnight as at noon during those months!)

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But before we get into the Aurora Borealis, I want to share a little bit about Tromso and all the fun we had exploring it. Tromso is considered to be the northernmost city in the world, with a population of about 72,000 people, which is significantly larger than it seems, at least to me. (For perspective, this is about the same as Phuket, Thailand and Cozumel, Mexico. For Lowcountry peeps, this is about half the population of Charleston, SC, but nearly double the size of Summerville…) Anyhoo, it’s situated on an island (one of thousands in northern Norway) and has been inhabited since the Ice Ages. A neat little tidbit: its city center is home to the most old wooden houses in the whole country, the oldest dating back to 1789.

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Main Street, City Center…

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Look what we found when we were wandering around! Do y’all remember these from one of my Stuttgart posts a while back? These are markers in the sidewalk in front of homes where the Nazis invaded to take the Jews. Although started in Germany, the project has spread throughout Europe since the 1960s. Couldn’t believe the Nazis made it this far north… 😦

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Grabbing a bite in one of the wooden coffee shops…

It really is a beautiful city, especially blanketed in layers and layers of fluffy white snow! We LOVED the architecture- great mix of old and super modern- and all the colors. Our hotel overlooked the harbor, which happens to be one of the prettiest we’ve ever seen, too. From our window, we could watch the boats coming and going, folks walking- and playing- below, the bridge connecting the city center to the other side of the city, and even the famous Arctic Cathedral on the far banks. ❤

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Our hotel. The entire bottom floor is their restaurant, which made for the perfect breakfast each morning overlooking the marina…

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View from our window when we first arrived…Yep, we arrived in a blizzard!

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First morning ❤

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The next morning…

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Later in the morning- the sun trying to peak out…

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The triangle building in the distance is the famous Arctic Cathedral…

The Arctic Cathedral is the most famous landmark in Arctic Norway. It’s actually not a cathedral, but a Protestant church. Made completely of concrete, it was built in 1964, and is still an active church today. The views from its front lawn were fabulous.

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Our hotel is on the far bank, directly below the center lamp pole.

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Not gonna name names, but someone was LOVING the snow…

The city’s other famous landmark is the Tromso Cathedral, the northernmost Protestant church in the world and Norway’s only wooden cathedral. It was built in the late 1800s, although there’s been a church on the site since the 12th century. It also happened to have one of the best squares in the whole city for snowball fighting ❤

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We found a great spot to spend a few hours called Polaria, the northernmost aquarium in the world. But it’s more than a traditional aquarium- it’s designed to be an educational experience and is really geared towards children. In addition to its main exhibit, the Bearded Seals, it had a rock climbing wall, touch tanks (I always think of that scene in Finding Dory now!), a cinema and a ‘sleeping’ polar bear. And the outside was designed to look like ice floes that had been pushed up onto the land by the powerful Arctic sea. Neat! I’m not sure which of us had more fun- the seals were SO FREAKING COOL.

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She is always REALLY good at rock climbing…Need to find a way to do more of this…

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Entranced by the seals…

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Funny aside: Neve became obsessed with all the taxidermied polar bears, reindeer, etc. we saw on this trip. (Seemed like every hotel and restaurant had at least one.) So we used it as an educational time to learn about the process. She’s still obsessed.

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A seal swimming toward us…

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With her new seal from Polaria 🙂

The city planners must’ve been in cahoots because just a block or so from Polaria is Norway’s oldest- and the world’s northernmost- brewery and pub, Mack’s. Founded in 1877, this gorgeous yet quaint drinking hole, has got to be one of the sexiest pubs we’ve been to- shiny wooden surfaces, an entire wall of chrome taps with more than 75 beers to choose from, stained glass windows…Definitely worth a stop in to hold you over until lunch!

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Mack’s Pub

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Double IPA and a Stout…Can’t find either of those in Germany! Ha!

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Mack’s Brewery

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Now, onto those Northern Lights 😉 The Aurora is an incredible light show caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. The different gases involved in the collisions determine the colors you see and can range from green to purple to red to white. The lights are seen around the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.

As you might suspect, there are plenty of ways to see them- lots of companies, lots of guides, etc. Tours range from huge coach buses, to mini buses, to boats, to snowmobiles, to private guides…We ultimately chose a ‘Base Camp Tour,’ which means that a bus takes you out into the wilderness (you have to be away from the city, obviously, so you have complete darkness) to one of the company’s 4 base camps. They keep up with the weather and the forecasts and the projections, then choose the camp with the best likelihood of seeing them each night. Once at the camp, you get off the bus and spend the evening around a campfire on the ice or warming up in giant teepees sipping hot chocolate and eating authentic Norwegian cake. We thought this sounded like the best all-around option for us, but especially for Neve. All tours have a few things not necessarily in kids’ favors…They’re late at night, they take anywhere from 7-10 hours (you generally leave about 7p and return around 3a, but sometimes as late as 5a if it takes that long for the Lights to show, if at all…), they involve hours in a bus/boat/car…You get the point. So we wanted to choose the one we felt would minimize these things the most. We get to the meeting point that night and are waiting to check in when a guy comes out and announces that there’s been a screw up with the transportation- there are no buses to take us to the base camp. The only option is a catamaran…a cruise into the night in search of the Lights. The best laid plans…Ugh.

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Definitely not what we’d pictured and definitely not the best option for us, but what could we do? We’ve got a limited number of opportunities to make this happen and tonight’s forecast is the best of all our nights in Tromso, so…The boat was definitely not the experience we’d wanted. There was something so neat about the idea of huddling around a camp fire, sipping hot chocolate and watching the sky become our own personal cinema…The boat had a heated indoor section with tons of seats, then decks on the top and both ends for when you wanted to be outside. And lots ‘o people. Yuck. Not gonna lie, we were chapped.

But here’s where I go back to my old, ‘the Universe always provides.’ And it does. We hadn’t even been sailing an hour when the sky began to glow a faint green. We were already outside on the front deck- just us and one other guy getting his camera set up- when the guide came on the loud speaker to share the news, and to apologize for encouraging everyone to settle into a seat inside because the lights wouldn’t be visible until at least 3 hours in. Needless to say, we got to have those few moments- just the three of us floating in the middle of that grand fjord- as the sky above us came alive. It was incredible.

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Our first shot of the Aurora Borealis…just happened to be with Venus hanging out in the same patch of sky ❤

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This is probably a good time to point out that no matter how much I enjoy photography and how much time I spend growing it as a hobby, a professional photographer I am not. Ha! Luckily, we made friends with one of the guides who helped us get our camera settings as best we could for capturing the best shots. It’s tricky because you need to let in as much light as possible, but that, coupled with being on a moving boat, means lots of blurriness and not a damn thing you can do about it. 😦 You’ll see that the majority of our shots are just that- blurry bursts of color- with a few good ones peppered in here and there!

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John captured this shot, one of my favorite of the night ❤

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It turns out that our night on the boat was the best viewing night of the entire season. Not only did the Aurora Borealis arrive hours earlier than normal, but they were their brightest and the most widespread they’d been in years. At times, the entire sky above us was alive with dancing ribbons of light! However, in an effort to keep it real, I want to add that the pictures you see, here and anywhere else, are a bit more colorful than what you actually see. Apparently this is because it’s impossible for the human eye to take in as much light as a camera can, so therefore there’s no way for the colors to be as vivid. That’s not to say that the colors aren’t still there and aren’t still absolutely beautiful, but just that, for example, when they first get going, you have moments where you can’t tell if it’s just a low lying cloud or the Aurora Borealis. When in doubt, though, the camera can always clear up any doubt- here’s a shot of the plain night sky (no Lights) with just a lighted city in the distance. No green 🙂

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Neve did awesome! She had a great time, really. Yes, it was frigidly cold and windy on deck at times, but that just meant that we alternated between in the cabin and out. She was amazed by the Lights and had been waiting MONTHS to see them. It was really a terrific thing for John and me to see this through her eyes. ❤ She made it until the last 30 minutes, then…

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And as if our hours of eye candy at sea wasn’t enough, when we made it back to the harbor, the Lights came alive once more, visible from the city for the first time in many years! They continued for over an hour, so we even got to enjoy them from our window as we went to sleep (although some of us got to see more of them than others!) ❤

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My sweet baby didn’t make it any further than the bed- coat, boots and all. OUT.

I guess the moral of this story is that things don’t always go the way you intend, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t end up with the same result, or even something better. We’ll never know if we would’ve had the same beautiful show by Mother Nature at the base camp. We’ll never know if that experience would’ve been preferable to this one. But what we do know is the overwhelming sense of gratitude we feel for having had this once-in-a-lifetime experience. We went to Tromso with the goal of seeing the Aurora Borealis- and yes, the lingering doubt of ‘what if they don’t show and we’ve come all this way?!,’ and we got so much more than we ever hoped for. We not only saw them, but we basked in them…For hours…In the middle of the Norwegian wilderness, floating in a fjord…We did more than just cross it off our Bucket List- we annihilated it. ❤

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See you tomorrow for the last installment of our Norwegian Adventure…dog sledding!

Hei from Norway! (Part 1)

22 Feb

Greetings from the Arctic! Well, technically not anymore as we got home late last night, but you catch my drift 😉 Y’all…Best. Time. Ever. I’m not even kidding. This was absolutely one of the best trips we’ve ever been on. It was just so unique and so different from anything we’ve done before, or anything we’ve seen before, for that matter. I don’t even have the words to describe such beauty and such vastness. That’s a word we kept coming back to, though- vast. Everywhere you look, it applies. The huge mountains, the wide open tundras, the majestic fjords…You’re constantly reminded of just how small you really are- how miniscule your little slice of life really takes up in the grand scheme of things. And it’s an incredible feeling.

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We took three flights to get there, as you can see by the bigger dots- Stuttgart to Copenhaven, Copenhaven to Oslo, then Oslo to Tromso, nearly 500 miles inside the Arctic Circle. You wouldn’t think so, but it’s about the same as driving from the east coast to the west coast in the US…

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So, that’s what I’m going to go with for today’s post- the awesome vastness that is Arctic Norway and that indescribable feeling we had being part of it. One of the best decisions we made was to rent a car for a day and venture out on our own with nothing more than a paper map. No tour buses, no guides, no audio headsets talking in our ears…Just us and Mother Nature. It was absolutely perfect.

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But because I’m all about the history and the story- y’all know this- I just want to touch a little bit on that good stuff before we get to the pictures. 😉 Norway is a long, skinny country on the western side of the Scandinavian peninsula. There’s evidence of people being there as early as the end of the last Ice Age, about 11,000 BC- they’ve found primitive arrowheads, spears and drawings. And for those of you who love the History Channel show, Vikings (we love this series!), this would’ve been their home from about the 8th to the 10th centuries- and yes, you can totally picture Ragnar and the gang, paddling out from the fjords…

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Norway’s total area is about the size of New Mexico (although it would take up nearly from Florida to New England) with about 150,000 sq. mi., so definitely larger than many people realize. One of the neatest parts, for me anyway, is that it only has about 5 million total inhabitants! To put that in perspective, New York City has over 9 million people. Yeah. Let that soak in. Ha! Its government is a monarchy and the powers are divided between the Parliament, the Senate and the Supreme Court, all of which fall below the King.

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Norway has extensive reserves of petroleum, natural gas, minerals, lumber, seafood, fresh water, and hydropower. The petroleum industry accounts for around a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product. On a per-capita basis, it’s the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas outside the Middle East. Coincidentally, before they discovered oil, Norwegians were actually quite poor because the fishing industry could only take them so far. As a result, more than 800,000 (ie. nearly 1/5 of their entire population) immigrated to the US- specifically, to Minnesota, which to this day has the highest number of Norwegian descendants of anywhere in the country. Neat, huh? In addition to currently being the 4th highest per capita income in the world, they are consistently ranked in the Top 3 of both Quality of Life and Overall Happiness Indexes.

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Another interesting tidbit- Norway is not a member of the European Union, despite being very involved with many of its practices and programs. The issue has come before the Norwegian people twice and both times, they have voted ‘no’ by a slim majority. The arguments for the decision were that membership was a threat to the sovereignty of Norway, the fishing industries (second only to oil) and agriculture would suffer, that membership would result in increased centralization, and there would be less favorable conditions for equality and the welfare state. Basically, the Norwegian economy is strong, unemployment is low (among the lowest in the world), and Norwegians therefore see no economic argument in favor of EU membership.

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Every road in Tromso and the surrounding islands look just like this. Snow/ice covered and no evidence of the asphalt beneath. Fortunately, all roads are lined with red poles marking the edges so you know where to drive. All cars are fitted with studded tires.

During our day of exploration, we saw so much beauty, much of it a kind that we’d never seen before. The size of the mountains, the color of the water, the reindeer foraging, the snow built up on every tree branch and every rooftop, the bright colors of all the wooden houses dotting the shores…Absolutely incredible. And something that really helped our drive? Once out of the city and on neighboring islands, the only roads are the ones following the shorelines; none turning inland, so no possibility to get lost! Ha!

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Northern Norway is comprised of THOUSANDS of islands. Some are connected with bridges, some with ferries and some are just on their own. Tromso is the red island in the center of the map. For our exploration, we followed the red road going around Kvaloy and some of Ringvassoy. And yep, the red roads are the ONLY roads.

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A very old shipwreck…

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There’s no way for me- or this picture- to convey the sheer magnitude of these mountains, the Lyngen Alps. They are MONSTROUS.

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Those are reindeer grazing…If you look really closely, you can see one that’s solid white.

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They saw us get out of the car and came running! So curious and so gentle- not fearful in the least.

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I seem to have only gotten pictures of the red houses that day, but the Norwegians appear to love color and paint their houses lovely shades of green, blue, yellow and even black. And they’re all wooden- very similar to some American styles, actually. We just loved them.

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Blocks of ice floating in the fjord…

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Definitely one of my favorite moments of the day. Reindeer are such pretty creatures, and they seem to have really neat personalities. There’s very little ‘deer like’ about them- must closer to an elk or moose, just smaller.

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Look at that majestic boy…

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Single lane bridge crossing between two small islands…And that’s a fisherman with just a hook and line about halfway across…

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Innermost part of this fjord was completely frozen over…Have you ever seen frozen saltwater?

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So many little reminders from Mother Nature on this day…Of the awesome beauty that is our Earth. Of the incredible wilderness not yet touched by man. Of the undeniable power of our natural elements. Of the history that has been being written here for ages and ages. Of our duty to protect and preserve all of the above. Of how we are all but little blips in a creation so much bigger than we can either fathom…Beautiful lessons taken away from an even more beautiful experience.

Be sure to stop back by tomorrow to chat about the cool town of Tromso and the Northern Lights (SPOILER: We saw ’em and they were glorious! 😉 )

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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It be SNOWING!

18 Jan

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 ❤

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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 ❤

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