Monday, November 2, 2015

A Weekend in a Windmill

I planned this trip some time ago--back in April. We have pretty much seen the typical European landscapes, visited our fill of castles and taken in the typical European architecture. I'm now focusing on trips and experiences that are a bit off the beaten path or out of the norm. This one was a huge success!
We traveled the four hours on Friday evening to Utrecht, Netherlands, where we spent the weekend with friends in a real working windmill. It was amazing! The inside was quaint, with rustic charm and modern conveniences. Downstairs consisted of a living/dining area, small kitchen (fridge, sink, microwave and dishwasher), toilet and entry area. The second floor is where we stayed. It had a bathroom and 2 bedrooms, along with a laundry area. The third floor had one large sleeping space and the top floor was the lookout for the windmill. The landscape around the windmill was breathtaking--open fields where cattle and sheep grazed, canals and blue skies. Sooo pretty. The kids had a great time exploring and finding their "secret garden."
Saturday we ventured 40 minutes away to the town of Dordrecht, NL where a replica of Noah's Ark per God's specifications was built. It was incredible. Though a bit expensive--12.50 Euro for adults, 7.50 Euro for children, it was interesting. It had several scenes from Genesis, real animals (wallaby, ponies, chickens, sheep, birds), and stalls filled with huge animals made of plastic.
After a couple of hours in the Ark, we were starving. We found McDonald's not too far away, along with some quaint shops. We looked around and took in the sunshine. The weather was perfect!
Matt did a bit of research and found a lake area to rent a motorized boat. It was only 27 Euro per hour, which was a steal considering there were 9 of us. We spent the next hour watching the children as each took a turn as Captain. They had a blast.


This girl. She is so much like me. Yet she is so much like Chris. This one is a perfect blend of us both. The best and the worst of each. Claire just wrapped another season of soccer. She has grown and changed so much from 3 years ago when we first entered the world of sports. She is aggressive, fast, and decisive. She knows strategy, she's methodical, not afraid, and loves to score, but is just as eager to pass to a teammate. The girl has some mad skills.

Her coach this season was awesome. She actually played at the AF Academy and is a trained coach, qualified to coach any level. Coach Deb actually pulled me aside and asked if Claire was playing club soccer. She noted she has natural talent and was surprised when I shared Claire's deep dark secret.

The girl has a love/hate relationship with soccer--and with pretty much anything she is good at but not perfect at. That is it. Claire is her own worst enemy. She would rather not try if something may require work. Violin, soccer, and now gymnastics. It is a battle Chris and I are trying to figure out how to win. We've tried numerous approaches with none begin more successful than another. Frustrating! The girl has so many things she is good at. She could be an awesome swimmer. She's picking up violin pretty easily considering the mediocre practice routine, and soccer is a joy to watch. She is pretty amazing.

Anyway, each game her coaches chose two players to be team Captains. The kids rotated through until the last game of the season, when the players were selected based on skill, attitude, attendance and motivation. Our girl was chosen. She has a heart of gold and is aggressive like the boys. It is such fun watching her.

Chris and I don't care if she ever chooses to play club, whether she chooses to play any sports competitively. Our only hope, wish and desire is that she doesn't defeat herself. We pray she realizes her potential and shoots for the stars. You can never accomplish something amazing if you are too scared to try.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Decisions, Decisions.

Being an adult is a tough gig. I've never been great at making big decisions. Sure I make them, but more times than not, the days and months leading up to them are filled with stress, worry and agony.
Living life via the military has it's advantages and disadvantages. For me, not knowing where the road may lead was an advantage. All I had to do was hang on for the ride. Sure, Chris and I went back and forth weighing each possible place we'd call home as if we really had a say in where we landed, but truth be told, we went wherever "they" wanted/needed us. Massachusetts, S. Korea and Germany. Now, 9 years later, retired from that life, here we are. Planted temporarily. We know that Germany is not our forever home. Only this time, we don't have a "they" in terms of the government to direct us. To be the grown up. To tell us where to land. Instead, we have little people. Little people who desperately want to land near their Grammy, Papa, cousins and the aunts and uncles who treat them like princesses. It's tough growing up. It's tough to make decisions knowing one poor one is enough to jostle the lives of so many others. No one wants rocks in their road, bumps in their journey. Chris and I have been pretty darn lucky. We have an ongoing joke about there being a dark cloud above him, but truth be told, we've mitigated risks to the point that all onlookers would think we've had an easy life. One without financial stress. One without worry. Pain. Heartache. Sleepless nights. Sure, we've been blessed in many, many ways. Someone looks out for us in all we do. Opens doors that need to be opened, leads us through the fog when we are lost. He has bigger plans for us all. He is once again, itching for us to walk. This time, 3 little people are doing his work. Pushing Chris and I to question our future "landing" spot. Urging us to look down the road and focus on the journey ahead. Such uncertainty in decisions. Such stress. In the end, we look back and everything is so clear. I pray for clarity. I pray for his plan and guidance. I pray for our little family, that we find happiness and constant love.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mallorca, Spain

Two of our best vacations were spent at all inclusive resorts in Guam and Thailand. We attempted to recreate them, European style with an extended holiday weekend at the island of Mallorca. We stayed at the Cala Mandia resort about an hour from Mallorca's major city, Palma. It was definitely a resort catered to Germans, Spanish, or Europeans in general, but we made the most of our time and the beautiful weather. Prior to leaving, the weather forecast included 40-60% chance of rain each day with temps in the upper 70's. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. The temperature held steady at 78-80ish the first 3 days with bouts of full sun.

We lounged at each pool--kids splash pad, family pool, and water park, rotating among them. Each pool had appeal to each of our children. Thankfully, Gavin was able to access the pools independently with Chris & I with an arms reach.

The resort had beach front access as well. It was perfect. Mya discovered sand gets EVERYWHERE, while Gavin learned that sand is not tasty. Both were tough lessons ;) Claire loved jumping the waves. Interestingly, Mya, who is typically the risk taker, was a bit more timid, requiring some coaxing from Chris. She too enjoyed all the ocean had to offer.

We took a snorkeling excursion on Saturday. Gavin and I stayed in the boat, while Chris and the girls snorkeled around the cove. They loved it.

The girls had their hair braided with string woven in. Each was so excited to choose the design and color combinations.

On Sunday, we took a taxi to Porto Cristo where there was a market. I bought some football (aka soccer) jerseys for our soccer loving nieces and nephew, a jewelry dish and the kids picked a beanie boo. Gavin clutched that doggie the entire day, despite not feeling well. The poor guy was conjested and simply wanted to snuggle. Sadly, I didn't bring the Tula, so we were stuck lugging him all around that market. Our arms were tired, but we soaked up the snuggles. In Korea, there were nail salons offering Dr. Fish. I did it a few times, with our girls sticking in their hands. They thought it was so funny. We found a little place in Mallorca too. Chris and I decided to let them relive the fun. The girls giggled and giggled, thinking the fish sucking off the dead skin was so crazy. It was.

All around the resort are stores selling already blown up, inflatable rafts. Mya was especially convinced that we should buy one, but for the hefty price tag of 7+ Euros each, Chris and I refused. We held strong. While at the pool, a little boy from England came up to us with two of his rafts and asked if the girls would like to have them as he was leaving the following morning. The girls were elated. Mya swam for hours with that thing, despite dropping temperatures. She was in heaven.We even allowed them to bring one home. You would have thought we had just hung the moon, they were so excited.

The flight home was not so easy. Gavin was extremely fussy. He was difficult to console and Chris and I wanted nothing more than to get off that airplane. Thankfully, it was only a 2 hour flight. Painful, but brief.

Our Labor Day weekend was lovely, filled with great memories with our littles. Looking back at all the things we did this trip that were replications of previous experiences, it is bittersweet--knowing full well that they are not, in fact, so little any more. We are trying desperately to savor each day, expression, smile. We love, love, love our littles.

**My camera was stolen a few days after writing the post, therefore most pictures are gone. I am heartbroken. So many snapshots of memories were stolen. I did manage to capture a few pics on my phone, so will include those. Far from perfect, but better than none.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Seventeen Months

Gavin is officially seventeen months. He seems like such a little boy and no longer a baby! I took the kiddos to the States for 5 weeks alone. Thankfully, each did great on the plane. Gavin arrived in the States with only 6 teeth and returned with 7 and one more pushing through. It was a summer of growth. He loves to run/jump on the trampoline with the girls, ride the plasma car and play in the pretend kitchen. He roars at any animal, pretends to be a dog crawling around on all fours and gives hugs/kisses when someone is hurt. He has finally taken a deep interest in books. He loves to bring books to read, sits and looks at a few pages, then gets up to retrieve more. Gavin still has a good appetite. He eats pretty much anything, although isn't a huge fan of meat, he tolerates a few bites. Gavin's vocabulary has grown! In June he had 2 solid words--ball and mama. We returned to Germany in July and he began talking. Gavin now says--Dadda, Mama, ball, bike, ride, bye bye, hi, Claire, Mya, milk, book, more, dog, baby,nigh nigh, and cookie. He opens and shuts his hand to show you what he wants, waves, blows kisses and covers his eyes to hide. He is a decent sleeper, typically sleeping 12 hours at a time. He has had two haircuts. The blonde hair and blue eyes seem to be sticking around, but he looks 100% like his Daddy. Gavin drinks from a straw, follows directions, attempts to assist changing his own diaper, and loves to snuggle. I am head over heels in love with this boy. Each day is so much fun to see what he knows/does. He is so loved.

Monday, July 13, 2015

8 years

Dearest Claire,
Our first born is eight years old. You have become such a sweet little lady. Daddy and I are so so proud of who you are and what you've become in these short eight years. You are such a talented girl. You conquer pretty much anything you attempt. You love gymnastics, spending the summer mastering cartwheels, round offs, bridges, and handsprings. You live and breath life flying through the air. It is amazing to see your passion build and watch your determination.
We went to Grammy and Papa's again this summer where she taught you several songs on the piano. Each and everyday, several times per day, we listened to these songs. I was able to enroll you in piano lessons, so you can begin a new challenge. You will continue to take violin lessons as well. You are definitely an artsy girl as well as an analytical thinker. You love to draw, create, rearrange and envision. We are doing our best to foster your passions without causing stress by loading your schedule.
Swimming lessons were completed this summer. You've passed all the levels! You were so nervous as you had to tread water for 5 minutes. We approached it as we do with most things for you--giving you specific strategies to succeed and helping you build up the time to make it manageable. You are now able to swim all strokes and do them well! I couldn't be more proud! We've suggested trying out for swim team, but you are a perfectionist. If you can't win, you don't want to attempt. Perhaps with time, this will seem more interesting.
You are a great helper. You love to cook, so you want to help as much as you can. You are able to make eggs, french toast independently. You can bake muffins or follow directions on a box for nearly anything. Needless to say, we love the extra set of hands! You are a great big sister to Gavin. He adores you just the same. You play pretty well with Mya, but she is old enough to not really rely on you too much.
You've taken an interest in choosing your clothes, trying to get a grasp on your own sense of fashion. You love to do your own hair too. I guess it is becoming clearer each day that you are growing up. You no longer need us as you once did. This is bittersweet. I love your hugs and cuddles. Thankfully, you still think we are pretty cool, though I bet that too will soon change.
If only time could stand still. I'd hit rewind time and time again, just to rewatch the past 8 years. You've experienced more in your eight years than most people enjoy in a lifetime. You are loved by people all over the world. Not many can say that. Your green eyes and blonde hair and beautiful face have given us a connection to many. Knowing what an intelligent, kind-hearted and goofy kid lies beneath is what those lucky enough to know you discover. I am so incredibly proud of you, Claire. You are an amazing kid. Love isn't a strong enough word to describe how I feel about you. You really are my everything. You are the best of both your Daddy and I. Although I would love time to slow, I cannot wait to see what lies ahead for you. I pray you find happiness and see beauty in each day, let go of fear and conquer whatever you desire, understand kindness and selflessness are far more important than beauty, and keep God and family centered in your heart. Work hard and you will achieve anything you desire. Happy birthday baby girl. We love you!!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Bergen, Norway

One adventure I knew we must have was a trip to Norway. My motherland as Chris likes to refer to it. Norway is in fact, where my ancestors are from. We took the leap, booking tickets over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. I initially found a glacier walk, which I thought would be a once in a lifetime type experience, but once details were hammered out, it was not possible. Apparently, Bergen experienced a late spring this year, so trails were not well worn yet, making it less safe for our small children.

I also wanted to do a fjord cruise of some kind. I did not have the time necessary to really plan this trip well. If I were to go again, I'd book the Norway in a Nutshell tour over a 3-4 day spread, traveling to one village, spending the night there then moving on to the next the following day. We had thought we'd do the entire tour in a single day. Thankfully, we wised up when we booked tickets and opted for a shorter tour--3.5 hours at 1500 NOK. The cruise was absolutely beautiful. The waterfalls were plentiful, the fjords were massive. It was an amazing experience. The boat stopped to collect some fresh water from a waterfall. The girls thought spring water was tasty.

A highlight for me was wandering around the village itself. Seeing the little ones wearing their rain gear--rain pants, coat and hat, just like the fisherman wear, was adorable. The fishing market was quaint and exciting. Fisherman go out to catch in the early morning, bringing back their bounty to sell. They'll cook it right there for you. I tried some whale. It was much tougher than I expected, but delicious.

We rode the funicular up to the top of a mountain, hiked through the forest a bit and played on the playground. I believe the ride was 215 NOK for our family. The hike was interesting. Just as our girls were beginning to complain, we spotted a sign someone had posted on a tree. It read that baby dinosaurs still exist in the forest. Chris and I played this up, spotting a den, dinosaur food, hearing footsteps. The girls love the mystery and bought it hook, line and sinker.

The final day was rainy. We opted to take the light rail (70 NOK) each way to the Children's Science Museum--Vilvite. Tickets cost 465 NOK and it was money well spent. The girls had a blast. It was perfect for their ages, while Gavin would have been much too young to enjoy. All descriptions were written in Norwegian and English, so we could fully understand and participate.

Food in Norway was extremely costly. We paid 260 NOK for a pizza, which equals $33.84. I paid $7 for a solo cup full of fresh cherries just to give another example. Chris and I came to the understand that locals must simply not eat out much. Who could afford to? Our saving grace was the hotel I chose included a buffet breakfast in the room price. We loaded up each morning--fish (Claire insisted we try), eggs, sausage, breads, yogurt, etc. A perfect mix of local menu and international cuisine.

We stayed at the Radisson Blu Norge. Our room was $781 for 3 nights and included wifi, breakfast, pool, and was steps away from the airport shuttle stop. It was also located a couple of minutes from the fish market/city center, which was perfect!

All in all our trip was lovely. We found Norway to be clean and well kept. It was picturesque on every measure. The city of Bergen was beautiful, but costly ;) The weather was the one thing I could do without--cold, windy and rainy. The temperature was mid 50's, but it felt much colder with the wind/rain combination. It would be tough to become accustomed to that.