A Day Trip to Wissembourg, France

Wissembourg, France

Our next outing was just across the border to Wissembourg, France.  We again took the train down.  It’s only about an hour and half train ride from where we live.   This is one of the great things about where we live-you can be in another country in just over an hour!  It was such a cute little town and we really lucked out with great weather while we were down there.

Figuring out where to go…

While wandering the town we passed a delicious looking patisserie.  The pastry shops in France are amazing.  Everything in there is so perfect and looks so good!

I’ll have one of each, merci!

One of the canals running through the town.
That’s a little restaurant sitting over the canal, definitely want to go back there for dinner sometime.
Bonjour ladies!
This little guy was enjoying the sun too.
Spring flowers
Yum!
Croque Monsieur, a delicious French version of a grilled cheese sandwich.

We walked over to the church after lunch to check it out.  Not sure if you’re picking up a theme here but there are a ton of castles and churches in Europe.

Rose window (thank you very much high school humanities class, I knew you’d come in handy someday!)

After the church we had a plan.  It was to get some macarons (because you can’t go to France and not get macarons) and then walk to a place where we could rent bikes and ride to a nearby winery before catching the train home.  The first part of the plan was a success…

Easter chocolates, so cute!
The ever-so-popular macarons!  I had never had one before, but let me assure you, they are all they’re cracked up to be!

Next part of the plan did not go so well.  We walked quite a ways to a bike shop that we thought rented bikes.   So, we get to the bike shop and find out they don’t rent bikes until May!  On to the back up plan.  We ask for a taxi number and use broken French to have a taxi for 8 meet us at the McDonald’s across the street.  So on our trip to a quaint French village, we ended up hanging out at the Golden Arches for a while!

Come on cab, rescue us from McDonald’s! 
We made it to the winery! We drove through beautiful vineyards to get here.

This is the Cleebourg winery, they were so wonderful. Very friendly, and gave us a lot of information.  We got to watch a little video (in a heavy French accent) about the Alsace wine region of France.  Then we did a tasting of some of their wines.  Check out their website HERE.

The screening room.
Ready for the tasting!

Our last tasting, sparkling wine!

We all bought a couple bottles of wine, one or two of which may have been opened on the train home.  Hey, we’re on vacation, right?

Wissembourg was a wonderful little day trip.  A cute town, french cuisine, and wine.  What’s not to love?

How to Spend a Day on the Rhine River

Rhine River Fun

The Rhine is the longest river in Germany.  It is dotted with castle ruins, vineyards, and quaint towns.  Some of the most picturesque stretches of the Rhine lay between Cologne and Mainz.  Here’s some ideas on what to do when visiting the Rhine.

Tour a castle or castle ruins.

On a dreary March day while we had visitors in town, we decided to explore Burg Rheinfels.  In German there are two words for castle: burg and schloss.  To my understanding “burg” is used when the castle was more of a fortress used for defensive purposes and “schloss” is used when the castle was more of an elaborate palace to house royals.  Burg Rheinfels was built in 1245 and used for about 500 years.

View of the Rhine from the castle.

Take lots of pictures!  Work it!

Happy tourists, even in the gloomy weather!

Burg Rheinfels is fairly expansive.  There was a lot of area to wander.  There are several other castles along the river, some ruins like this one and some more elegant and enclosed ones.  This is a good option for the shoulder seasons when the cruises aren’t running.

Click HERE for more castles on the Rhine with pictures and descriptions.

Have a glass of wine in the altstadt.

The Rhine Valley is a known wine region in Germany and produces a lot of riesling.  The river is dotted with vineyards, and in any of the towns on the banks you can visit a weinstube, which is like a small wine bar.  While you sit, order a flammkuchen, a delicious flat bread with creme fraiche, onions, and speck (closest thing to german bacon).  Altstadt is german for “old town” which tends to be the most beautiful area of town.  Think half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, and flower boxes.

The small town of Bacharach

Bike the river

Germans love biking, and what’s not to love when you can bike a flat, paved path along a beautiful river?  Bring your own bikes or rent them for scenic ride through the river valley.  We rented a couple bikes from a man in Bacharach for my mom and sister and brought our own from home.  The rental bikes were a little rickety and the gear shifting was questionable but they got the job done.  You can also bring your bikes on board the cruise boats which leads me to…

Cruise the river.

This is a seasonal option, most of the time the day cruise boats are only operating from late April to early October.  You can opt to do a round trip cruise or get on in one city and off in another.  The boats are very nice with large sundecks on top perfect for taking in the view.  You can also order food and drinks on board.  Check  kdrhine.com for schedules and information.

When my mom and sister were visiting, we got on the boat in St. Goar and disembarked in Bacharach.  Make sure you check the time table so you don’t miss the boat!  We arrived very close to departure time and to make things even closer, I mistakenly ordered “drei” tickets (3) instead of “fier” (4)! It took us a few minutes longer to correct the mistake, oops!

It was a lovely way to spend about an hour with breathtaking views of castles and vineyards.  Rick Steves has a written tour in his guidebooks that you can follow along with while you cruise for a little extra information on what you’re looking at.

Views of vineyards from the boat.

End the day with gelato.

There’s always a gelato shop or two to be found in any town in Germany.  It’s a perfectly acceptable afternoon snack in any season.  In Bacharach you can even try riesling flavored gelato at Eis Cafe Italia on the main street.  If it’s too cold for you to think about a frozen treat, then try stopping for kaffee und kuchen, or coffee and cake at the nearest cafe.  I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

Life in the NICU

When I first saw my son in the NICU, it was over FaceTime with my brother in law.  I was still at the hospital where he was born, recovering from surgery.  I wasn’t able to go in person until the day after he was born.  While I think most people’s reaction to going to see a baby in the NICU would be fear or sadness, I felt more of a happy anticipation.  I was just excited that I was going to get to be with my baby.  36 hours doesn’t sound long, but it feels like a lifetime when you are separated from your newborn.  I was looking forward to being able to be with him, and finally getting to hold him.

When he was first admitted to the NICU, he was intubated-meaning he had a breathing tube in his throat.  By the time I got there, he had already moved on to CPAP, which is a combination of a nasal mask and little tubes in the nose.  Already this was good progress.  One of the first things I wanted to do was hold him skin to skin.  The nurses were happy to hear that and happy to help.  The first time it took 2 or  3 nurses to get him out of bed and over to me.  He had to carefully be lifted out of his isolet, carried over to me waiting in a chair, and be placed on my chest.  All the wires and tubes had to be looked after to make sure nothing was caught or tangled.  We would sit there until I needed to start pumping, and I would reluctantly press my call button to have the nurses put him back.

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You may see scary tubes and wires, but I see the joy of getting to hold my son.

This was my highlight of the day for each day that followed.  I loved holding him.  I would plan my day on getting in at least an hour of holding time.  As he progressed and got bigger it was easier and I could pick him up whenever I wanted, but at the beginning it had to be timed out right and I needed the nurses to help me get him set up.

In those early days, his size was almost intimidating.  Intimidating because he was so tiny, I felt as if I might break him.  I think that’s how many people feel about babies when they are first born, but it is intensified when they are under 4 lbs. and hooked up to a host of medical equipment.  I remember the first time I was in his room and the nurse asked if I wanted to change his diaper.  I wanted to say, “No, he’s too tiny, you do it!”  But I couldn’t skirt my motherly duties, he was my son and I needed to start caring for him however I could.  The same sorts of feelings surfaced the first time I gave him a bath.  The nurses were so calm about it while I was so intent on this fragile boy and trying not to let him slip.

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The first couple weeks we were there seemed to go by pretty quickly.  It seemed each day he was meeting new goals and there were big changes.  Toward the last half when he was just on a feeding tube, the time started to slow.  We were waiting on him to learn to eat from a bottle and some days it seemed we would never get there.  And I felt the pressure of trying to get him to eat.  Even though I knew logically there was nothing I could do to make him eat more from the bottle-I felt the weight of knowing that if I could just get him to do it somehow, we could go home.

Figuring out a new routine was a little challenging because we had to think about our daughter.  While I was happy to go sit in a NICU room all day long, she could only tolerate small doses.  My husband became her primary care giver so I could focus on being in the NICU.  Sometimes my in laws would come pick her up for a few days to stay at their house and play with her cousins-which she loved!  Other days we would wake up, get ready, and eat breakfast together.  Then we would all go over to the hospital and spend time in baby boy’s room.  We kept a stash of toys and books in his NICU room for her and often resorted to movies on the iPad to entertain her while the doctors were updating us.  Once she had her fill of being there, my husband would take her on a walk.  There were many fun courtyards and areas of the hospital for her to play at.  We would meet back up for lunch, sometimes in the hospital cafeteria and sometimes at the Ronald McDonald house.  After lunch my husband would put my daughter down for a nap and I would go back to the NICU.  Once she woke up from her nap he would bring her back over to the hospital or play in the room until it was time for us to meet for dinner.  After dinner it was bath and bedtime.  Sometimes I would go back to the NICU after she went to bed and sometimes I would stay and go to bed myself.

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Taking a break in the Healing Courtyard

My emotions were up and down and all over the place.  I struggled a lot with guilt.  I would feel guilty as I watched my crying daughter leave yelling my name.  I would feel guilty if I spent a few hours away from the NICU.  I knew my son would be taken care of in the NICU, but I would feel terrible when I would think about him being in his room alone, when we were supposed to still be connected.  My daughter loved spending time with her cousins and had so much fun swimming and playing with them, but I would feel like I was letting her down if I wasn’t with her because her whole life turned upside down.  She went from spending all day everyday with me, to sometimes not seeing me for a couple days.  And I felt we couldn’t adequately explain the situation to her.  I worried that she would feel that I was abandoning her.  I would burst into tears when she came “home” to us after a day or two with her cousins because I missed her so much.

There was a lot of stress worrying about our son in the beginning.  When we didn’t know how long he would need breathing support, or how long it would be before we could take him home, or if there would be any long term complications.  And even under all this there was always an enormous amount of gratitude for how well he was doing, when I knew things could’ve been much more difficult.

The day we were released almost seemed to come out of nowhere.  That week he had one day where he drank several full feeds in a row.  His volume per feed increased after that and for the days that followed his feeding was up and down again.  On Thursday I came in to find out he had taken a couple full feeds during the night.  While we were getting ready for the next one, the little guy pulled his feeding tube right out of his nose.  The nurses decided to leave it out and just see how he would do with his next feed.  If he took it all from the bottle, they would leave it out.  If he didn’t finish the next couple feeds they would put it back in.  It ended up that he took a full feed from the bottle, then another, and another.  There  started to be talk about discharge over the weekend.  From then I was on pins and needles each feed to see if he would keep it up.  We were feeling excited about the possibility of getting released without getting our hopes up too much.  I felt cautiously optimistic up until the nurse told me Saturday morning that his discharge order had been written.  Although I had known this was coming, it didn’t stop me from being totally overwhelmed with the official “You get to go home!”

In the big picture 6 weeks is not a lot of time.  While you’re in the midst of it, it can feel like forever.  I am eternally grateful for all the wonderful people working at Dell Children’s.  Their help, care, and encouragement means more to me than they will ever know.  I will forever hold many of them in my heart.  We are so happy to have made it to the “other side” and to be home with our healthy baby boy.  Now we are getting used to the new normal of our family of 4!

How We Spent our Summer

Please excuse my absence for the past several weeks…make that months.  It seems just when you think you have things all planned out, the plan gets crumpled up and thrown out the window.  This should’ve been when our new baby was turning one week old, instead I’m staring at a napping infant who is closer to 2 1/2 months old.  How’s that for a curveball?

About a week after arriving home from Palm Springs I was heading out on one last trip before the baby.  My daughter and I traveled to Texas to see family and friends, but my husband had to work so he stayed behind in California.  I had spent 3 days with my husband’s parents and was now at my brother and sister in law’s house outside of Austin.  We were all enjoying a fun family get together, sitting on the patio, and watching the kids swim.  I had been remarking how great I was feeling in this pregnancy.  Though I had some early contractions with my daughter, I wasn’t feeling nearly as many this time and was expecting the last 10 weeks to go off without a hitch!  Well, not more than a couple hours later I felt a few painful contractions. They didn’t feel like the labor contractions I had with my daughter but they were noticeably uncomfortable and different from the normal Braxton Hicks contractions I had been experiencing.  I chalked it up to being dehydrated or needing to get off my feet.  So I drank a few extra glasses of water and went off to bed.

Around 1 AM I woke up with the same painful contractions.  I started timing them and watching how close together they were.  They started out about 15 minutes apart and slowly increased in frequency.  Since it was the middle of the night, I was waiting and watching for a while, sort of in denial about what I needed to do.  Surely this couldn’t be real labor.

With my first pregnancy I had regular, painless, early contractions at 3o weeks.  I was admitted to the hospital for a couple days and put on magnesium.  Everything stopped and I carried my daughter to her due date.  After close to 2 hours watching the contractions I made a worried phone call to the hospital in California where I was supposed to give birth.  After speaking with the nurse, she confirmed what I already suspected, I needed to go to the hospital and get checked.  I thought worst-case scenario I would get admitted to the hospital and put on magnesium again.  So in preparation I decided to shower (if I was going to be put on an IV I wouldn’t be able to shower in the hospital), and get a bag together just in case.  I woke my brother and sister in law up around 3:30 AM and told them I thought I needed to go to a hospital-but that I would drive myself and I had set out things for my daughter in case I couldn’t come back right away.  My brother in law insisted that he drive me instead.  After some tears of worry and embarrassment that I had to wake them up, I agreed and we set off to see what was going on.

I remember thinking on the drive to the hospital that I was relieved in a way to still feel contractions.  I think part of me was thinking that they could just all of a sudden stop and this would just be a big false alarm.  Then I would’ve made a big scene for nothing.  We arrived to the hospital about 4 AM.  I checked into the E.R. and was wheeled up to labor & delivery.  I thought as I was being pushed in a wheel chair, “This is silly, I can walk up there.”

As the nurses started checking me, it started to become apparent that things were perhaps a bit more serious than I originally thought.  The contractions were getting stronger, and eventually after the doctor arrived there started to be talk of delivering the baby right then and there.  That’s when the panic set in.  It was way too early to be having the baby.  I had no idea what kind of complications a 30 week baby would have or how hard the baby would be fighting for life.  At this point things started to blur for me.  It was a cloud of adrenaline, panic, pain, fear, worry, and prayer.  Before I knew it I was screaming in agony, begging for the anesthesiologist, and being wheeled into an operating room.  And oh yeah, by this point we hadn’t even been able to get a hold of my husband.  I hadn’t wanted to call him right away because I knew he would be up worrying before work and I wanted to have something definite to tell him.  Once we knew I was going to have the baby we called, but his phone was on silent and he didn’t wake up to answer.

Once the spinal block kicked in I was much more able to focus on what was happening.  I remember the doctors asking me if it was a boy or a girl and telling them I didn’t know, we had wanted to be surprised.  I asked through tears if there was any way I could hold the baby after it was delivered.  I was told it would depend on how the baby was doing.  I knew this hospital wasn’t set up to care for babies this young and the baby would have to be transferred after delivery to another hospital.  The thought of this broke my heart but there wasn’t time to be too distraught about it because it was what had to happen.

I remember waiting in silence for the doctor to say the baby was out and OK.  Eventually she did say that, and I heard someone say, “it’s a boy.”  I was overcome at that moment, we had a boy!  I sobbed tears of relief, surprise, and continued fear.  I didn’t hear him cry or make any noises, the anesthesiologist assured me that was normal, but that his coloring looked good and the doctors were all working on him.  Not long after I heard a couple cries and noises from him.  Everyone started telling me how great that was and what a little fighter I had.  He was stabilized, placed in an isolette, and wheeled near my head for me to take a quick look before they took him out of the operating room.

Once I was in the recovery room I was met by my brother in law who had been able to take some pictures of our new baby boy.  He also reassured me that the doctors said he was doing really well, and that it was a good sign that the doctors let him go in the room to take pictures.  We still had not spoken to my husband.  We continued to call, and call, but weren’t getting anywhere.  So instead I called my mom.  I tried my best to convey what had happened but of course she was in shock.

Soon I had a team of nurses and doctors wheeling my baby-in-a-box into the room. They were all introducing themselves to me, asking if I had questions, and reassuring me.  I honestly don’t remember much of what was said, I just remember my tiny little boy covered in tubes and wires.  I could barely see his face but I could touch his little foot.  Just that little bit of contact made me so happy.  Not long after he was wheeled in, he was being wheeled back out.

Finally, my brother in law’s phone rang with my husband on the other end.  He answered and immediately passed the phone to me.  I knew he would be worried after waking up to about 100 missed calls.  My first thought was to let him know everything was OK as fast as possible.  There wasn’t a whole lot of small talk or easing into what happened.  I think it was basically, “I went into labor, had an emergency C-section, and we have a son.”  Can you imagine waking up to a phone call like that?  Needless to say, he was overcome with emotion at that point and his world started to spin.

Thus began our 6 week journey through life as NICU parents.  Our baby boy was transferred to Dell Children’s Hospital and we moved into the Ronald McDonald House across the parking lot.  I will save what our NICU experience was like for another time.  We are back home in California now with a healthy boy.  We are all doing well, and getting adjusted to life as a family of 4.

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