Starting Move Preparations

The move prep has begun. We are roughly 6-7 months out. An exact move date has not been set but we know the window. I’ve been researching our next city for a little while. I’m trying to connect with other moms of young children who are currently there or have left recently. One of the big dilemmas I’m having is figuring out a stroller.

I’ve read 2 different lines of thinking in terms of the city. Some recommend a sturdy stroller with big wheels to navigate the less than stellar sidewalks. Some recommend something lightweight and easily folded because there are reportedly a lot of stairs leading to metro stations and underground walkways. So do you see why I’m a little unsure? To me, sturdy big wheeled strollers don’t normally seem very light and easy to fold up!

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Our current stroller, not exactly easy to carry or fold up!

I’m leaning toward the lightweight stroller side. I just can’t imagine carrying my current full sized stroller up and down stairs and controlling my 2 small children at the same time. My daughter would probably be fine, but my little guy will be just over a year at that point, probably not an expert walker.  I’m thinking of trying to find a double McLaren umbrella stroller. My daughter can walk most of the time, but I think having the option of the extra seat will be good on days we’re traveling and out and about all day long.

The other “project” that has been occupying my mind is buying clothes ahead for the kids. I’ve been told that children’s clothing where we’re going is not the quality we’re used to and/or expensive for what it is. So it was suggested to me to try to buy ahead and bring a good amount of clothing with us. I’ve been playing the guessing game with what sizes I think they will each need, and it’s hard!

Since the place we’re going will be very cold in the winter (and will have a long winter) we need warm coats, hats, gloves, snow suits, boots, etc. I have warm coats for just everyday wear but still need to find ones that will be suitable for snow. I have yet to order boots for either one. I’m scouring sale racks, asking friends/family, and watching resale pages to see if I can find any deals.

It seems sort of silly that I’m thinking so much about this. Surely if we don’t have enough clothes, or don’t find an item it can be purchased there. There’s always the option of ordering things once we get there but I have no idea how long it would take for the shipments to arrive. So for now, I’m doing my best to stock up! I debated adding a picture of the stash I’m building but it’s currently a messy pile in a messy closet!

We have completed physicals for everyone to make sure there’s no medical issues that would need special attention. Lucky for us, we seem to be good to go! Next up is passports. Which reminds me I need to check mine to see how many empty pages are left. We’ve been slowly purging and organizing the garage (which still has a LONG way to go). We’re making notes of boxes that are going to storage, and boxes that are coming with us. We have crammed the most essential Christmas items into a Rubbermaid tub. “Christmas in a box” as we’re calling it.

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I read a post that talked about these labels being a lifesaver during a move. Hoping the color coding of boxes and rooms will make things easier.

So that’s where we’re at now. I will try to keep updating on our progress for anyone who’s interested in what goes into an international move. Have you moved abroad before? What are your best tips?

Christmas Markets

In Germany, right after Thanksgiving begins the anticipated Christmas Market season.  Cities all over Germany have festivals to celebrate the season.  Last year we visited Cologne and Dusseldorf for their Christmas Markets.  This year we stuck with some smaller more local villages.  The first was Bernkastel-Keus.  We had visited earlier in the year for a wine festival and liked it so much, we decided to go back!

To keep you warm while you wander the town through the cold, it is practically mandatory that you get a glass of gluhwein (hot mulled wine).  They come in special glasses that would actually make great gifts or souvenirs.  Honestly it’s not my favorite drink, but it does warm you up!

Giant Christmas Pyramid, these are very typical decorations here.  Most of the time they have places for candles, and the heat from the flame makes the fan on top spin.

The other market we went to was in Sankt Wendel.  First stop was the medieval market area, where they kept the camels!  Part of this market was Middle Eastern themed, and you could see the three kings in costume tending to their camels.

Some Middle Eastern snacks near the tea tent.  They even had mint tea like we had in Morocco!
Blacksmith hard at work.

This market also featured a small toboggan run, with snow from the Alps!  The kids seemed to be having a great time.

In Germany Santa wears Addidas sneakers.
Santa’s reindeer.

 Every afternoon there is a parade through town.  The three kings ride the camels, there are jugglers, people playing instruments, etc.  It’s pretty exciting to see the camel parade come by!

Both markets were a lot of fun.  I would happily return to both!  I hear Sankt Wendel has a great Easter Market as well, but we will be gone during it.  Christmas Markets in Germany are a wonderful way to really get into the Christmas spirit.  It’s so nice to spend time in a decorated village, hanging out with your friends and family over some gluhwein than it is to rush around a crowded mall buying presents.  I think America should adopt Christmas Markets, the Europeans are really onto something here!

Preparing for the Next Adventure

When we found out we were moving to Germany, we were ecstatic.  It was our first choice of available options, and it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime, neither one of us had been to Europe before.  It was our chance to explore and take in all the continent has to offer.  We also knew it would be temporary.  We would eventually return to the U.S. This took a little bit of the fear factor away.  It would just be a one time fun adventure we would get to experience as newlyweds without children.  While we were living there, a few things changed.  We started our family and we made a career shift that would take us into a lifestyle where living abroad would become the new normal.

Many of our friends and some members of our family have a hard time relating to why on earth we would want this lifestyle.  There’s many reasons behind it.  Most of all is the idea of taking opportunities to see and do things you would’ve never imagined you would do!  Do we like being far away from the people we love-of course not. But I don’t know that either of us would have been totally fulfilled by settling down into one place just yet. We’ve been bitten by the travel and adventure bug and there’s so much out there to see and do. Besides, I think neither of us is quite sure exactly where we would want to put down permanent roots yet.

Since we have been in California, we have known that we will eventually be returning to Europe, we just were not sure exactly where we would end up.  It’s been always in the back of our minds.  We’ve been toying with different scenarios and possibilities.  Musing of what might be, and wondering when we would know for sure.

Well, we found out where the next stop in our crazy abroad life will be.  There’s a mix of emotions happening.  Excitement for the possibilities.  Relief that other expats have good things to say about this city and country.  Fear for the unknown. Nervousness about a new language and new culture. And also managing the fears, questions, and expectations of friends and family.

So what’s next?  We have almost a year to prepare, so how do you start?  With Google, Facebook, and Pinterest!  Researching, reading articles, message boards, finding people to reach out to.  Right now we are gathering big picture pieces of information.  As time goes on the questions will become more specific.  We will also eventually need to work on updating passports, medical checks, and deciding what household items will come along and which will stay behind.

And though it’s sort of mean to throw this out there without revealing where we are going (although close family and friends have already been told), I’m going to hold off for now as our plans have already changed once. Yep, we found out where we were going, started researching, and already it has changed. So as the move closes in, and things become more firmed up I will share.

Babywearing-A Traveling Momma Must!

It’s International Babywearing Week! Babywearing has been a big part of bringing up both my littles. My little guy isn’t a fan of being put down, so he gets to ride in the ergo around the house quite a bit. Wearing him in the ergo is the only way I can run around with both kids. It lets me still have my hands free for my daughter who is growing in independence, but still needs to hold my hand or get a lift every now and then.

Babywearing has been an integral part of traveling for us as a family. It was the easiest way to get through airports and explore spaces that aren’t stroller friendly. Even when I bring the stroller, I pack the ergo in the bottom. You never know when you’re going to need to park the stroller at an entrance before entering a site.  It also seems to be a pretty surefire way to calm a fussy babe. Has worked like a charm for both our kiddos so far. Here’s  some of my favorite babywearing snapshots from our travels!

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Babywearing at the Western Wall, Jerusalem

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Babywearing at Kensington Palace, London

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Babywearing at a pumpkin patch in the German farmland

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Babywearing my little man-Paso Robles, California

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Baby wearing at Hearst Castle

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Wearing the little guy at the beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea

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Babywearing waiting for the Royal Tattoo to begin in Edinburgh, Scotland

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Babywearing at Chateau Chambord in the Loire Valley, France

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Babywearing at Chateau Chenonceau in the Loire Valley, France

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Babywearing with some Alpine Cows in Switzerland

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Babywearing with the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau in Murren, Switzerland

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Babywearing at the Palace of Versailles, France

I can’t recommend a baby carrier of some kind enough!  If you are a mom to be, this is a must!  If you’re a mom about to start traveling, this is a must!  It’s good for baby and makes your life easier-everybody wins! Happy International Babywearing Week!

Wildparks in Germany

The German wild park

One of the fun things to do where we lived in Germany was to visit the local wildparks.  A wildpark is similar to a zoo, but more local and tame animals than wild animals like lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!).  They are fairly small, and you are able to feed most of the animals.  Sometimes you can bring in your own food (carrots, vegetables) and sometimes they ask that you purchase special food for the animals (about 1-2 euro for a box).  The one closest to our house was even free!  You could go at anytime and bring your own food and have a free day’s worth of entertainment!  It was a great way to get out of the house and enjoy the sunshine.  My little one loved visiting these parks and seeing/feeding the animals.  Here are some highlights of our visits to our local wildparks!

Mama and baby wild boars

Mama and baby wild boars

The goats came to join us for lunch one day

The goats came to join us for lunch one day

Eagle out for a practice flight for the daily bird show

Eagle out for a practice flight for the daily bird show

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The animals are not shy once they see you have food!

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Multiple eagles, hawks, and falcons at this wildpark

Multiple eagles, hawks, and falcons at this wildpark

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Pen full of guinea pigs and bunnies

Feeding the horse some peppers

Feeding the horse some peppers

Have you ever visited a German wildpark?  Or been to something similar in other locations?

8 Things I Miss About Germany and Europe

So as a follow up to all the things I missed about the good ole’ U.S. of A., here are some of the things I’m missing about Germany and Europe after being back.

1. Chocolate

German chocolate, and really this can include a number of European countries’ chocolate, is just better.  Period.  End of story.  I can’t get on board with Hershey’s anymore, it’s just not the same.

2. Breakfast

When we would travel, I would always try to pick a hotel that included breakfast.  Not only is it convenient, but the spreads that the hotels would lay out were always very delicious.  It was an added treat we looked forward to when we were traveling.  Most of the time the breakfast would consist of a wide array of freshly baked pastries and breads, butter, jams, nutella (hello!), yogurts, fruit, cold cut trays of meats and cheeses, and frothy cappucinos (or whatever sort of coffee drink you wanted).  May not seem that special but I can assure you a fresh baked pastry is pretty spectacular.

What was leftover from a breakfast in the Champagne region of France.  Fresh baguette, huge slice of brie, homemade jams, and fresh squeezed OJ.  Delicious!

What was leftover from a breakfast in the Champagne region of France. Fresh baguette, huge slice of brie, homemade jams, and fresh squeezed OJ. Delicious!

Breakfast with a view over Positano, Italy.  Yes please!

Breakfast with a view over Positano, Italy. Yes please!

3. Traveling 

The hands down best part of living in Germany was all the places we were able to visit.  The size of Europe makes jetting off to another country for a long weekend a fun possibility.  We knew our time in Germany was limited so we made the strong push to go and do as many things as our calendars and wallets would allow.  Of course you can travel in the states, but here in California we could drive for hours and still be in California.  There’s something a little more exciting about traveling abroad than staying in your own state or country.  It also gave me a hobby to sit down and research places and develop itineraries.  It was fun!

4. Festivals

Germans love a good festival and are always looking for a reason to party.  It seemed like every weekend during the spring and summer would have multiple fests in the area to choose from.  There was always music, beer, wine, kiddie rides, and of course food!  One of our favorite festivals was a culinary hike through the farmland.  The organizers set up about a 5 km route and along the way placed 6-7 different stops where different vendors were set up selling different culinary and wine specialties.  So you walk for a bit, then drink and eat, walk a little more, and drink and eat.  Another one was a car free day on a 30 km stretch of road.  We brought our bikes and biked along the route.  Similar to the culinary hike, there were different food and wine booths set up all along the course.  The perfect mix of athletic activity and food and wine!

Spring Fair in Kaiserslautern.

Spring Fair in Kaiserslautern.

Christmas Market in Bernkastel-Keus.

Christmas Market in Bernkastel-Keus.

Europe's largest pumpkin festival in Ludwigsburg.

Europe’s largest pumpkin festival in Ludwigsburg.

Wine festival on the Mosel River

Wine festival on the Mosel River

5.  Public transportation

While you can find public transportation in some places in the U.S. I find that it’s not as readily available or as widely used as it is in Europe.  Here I drive everywhere.  And if I go someplace else, we drive there too.  Which means I always have to travel with my carseat, and that is a pain.  I loved traveling without one in Europe and just knowing we would take the metro everywhere or walk.

6. Gelato shops everywhere

There’s never a bad time for a gelato stop.  A little tip we learned on a food tour in Italy:  if the gelato is neon colored and piled high in fluffy mounds-it’s made with a lot of artificial ingredients and pumped full of air.  Look for gelato that is natural in color and does not rise above the top of the container.  And my personal favorite flavor combo is pistachio and hazelnut, just in case you needed a new idea to try.

7. Atmospheric old towns

I miss being in places that look like this: DSC_0139

8. The overall experience.

The fun of being a new place, the excitement of journeying into the unknown, and being able to experience things I never thought I would have the opportunity to do.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

8 Things I Missed About the U.S.

A lot of americans talk about “reverse culture shock” when returning to the states after living abroad.  I was always curious about this, would it feel weird to return “home” after  being overseas?

I can say that our family looked forward to coming back to the states.  Not that we weren’t happy in Germany, because we were!  We loved it there, and we had great friends there.  But there were certain things we were missing and ready to go back to.  Also I think knowing we will be returning to Europe in the next couple years made it a little easier to leave.  We knew it wasn’t our last chance to be there.

Personally I don’t think we had any reverse culture shock.  Maybe just a few “I forgot what this is like” moments.  Here’s some things I missed about the U.S. while we were gone.

1.  Big roads and big parking spaces

When we made a stop over in Dallas for a couple days on our return trip home, we were in awe of the spacious lanes, parking lots, parking spaces, and the huge trucks that seemed to be everywhere.  In Germany we had grown used to narrow streets, where often you have to pull over to let a car going the opposite direction get by.  A lot of the roads connecting villages are just 2 lane winding farm roads.  And the parking spaces always seemed miniature!  Even in places with a big parking lot, like a Best Buy or WalMart equivalent.  There were plenty of spaces, but they were all designed for small cars, not the small SUV we drove.  Our small SUV was a big car there.  It is not common to see Europeans drive anything the size of a Ford Explorer or bigger.  If you see someone driving one of those…it’s an american.

Would've been nice to have a tiny car like this in Europe!

Would’ve been nice to have a tiny car like this in Europe! image credit

2.  Freebies

Free water at a restaurant, and free use of a bathroom.  These are all things that were almost non-existent where we were.  I never realized how much I loved having free water at a meal!  In Europe tap water is not commonly handed out upon sitting down.  Mostly you have to order a bottle of water, and most of the time it is more expensive than beer or wine.  Why not just drink a beer then?  Because I’m thirsty!! I’m one of those people who constantly drinks water.  And if I want a beer but I’m thirsty, I need a water first and then I can drink a beer.

When in Europe you always use the bathroom when you’re at a restaurant or cafe.  Whether you have to go or not.  Because if you don’t, you will have to dig out change to access a public one.  And if you’re on a road trip and want to stop at a gas station to use the bathroom, you better have change.  This system comes with a trade off.  While it is annoying to have to pay, often times this means the money is going to the upkeep of the restroom.  So they are mostly very clean and well maintained.

This is a typical German rest stop bathroom.  No free entry here!  Pay the fee and go through the turnstile.

This is a typical German rest stop bathroom. No free entry here! Pay the fee and go through the turnstile. image credit

3.  Shopping

I missed the convenience of knowing exactly what store to go to when I’m looking for product x,y,z .  In Germany I never quite got fully comfortable with the stores.  A combination of not knowing which stores were selling quality items, not speaking the language, things being just a little bit different, and products being more expensive.  Here it’s like I know the stores I like and what kinds of things are sold in most of the big box stores like Target, Kohls, Michael’s, etc.  I also relied heavily on shopping online via Amazon and other stores.  Maybe if I hadn’t had that to fall back on, I would’ve gotten out and explored the retail options in Germany a bit more.

I really missed Target, so many great things you didn't know you needed!

I really missed Target, so many great things you didn’t know you needed! image credit

4. Friendly Strangers

It is very refreshing to be back in a place where people smile and say hello while passing by on the street.  It’s just not a part of German culture to be overly friendly to strangers.  Not that Germans are rude or mean people by any means, but it’s just not normal over there to be so forward and friendly with people you don’t know.  For now I will appreciate the smiles, waves, “good mornings” and other the other niceties that come along with living in a happy California town.

5.  Less severe garbage rules

In Germany we had 4 different trash cans in our kitchen.  One for food waste, one for metal and plastic, one for paper, and one for all other trash.  Oh yeah, and don’t forget the special grey bags for diapers!  And don’t think about throwing glass away, that you have to take down the street to the glass recycling bins and sort it out by color!  Our regular trash bin was tiny and was only picked up every other week.  It forced us to be very conscious of our waste and how we dispose of trash, but what about when you have visitors?  Or when you just have one of those weeks where you have a lot of trash?  And forget about placing extra bags out next to the bin.  If you do that, none of your trash is getting picked up!  We still recycle here, but our trash is collected weekly and we have garbage bins that aren’t so small and restrictive.  I must say it is very nice.

Notice how small the bins are!  image credit

Notice how small the bins are! image credit

6.  Garbage disposals

No one I knew in Germany had one.  Why??  Maybe it’s related to the trash system, I don’t know.  But I never realized how nice it is to have a garbage disposal and I never want to live without one again!

7. Drive up services

The only places I saw in Europe with drive-thrus were McDonald’s and Burger King.  No drive up ATMs, no drive-thru Starbuck’s, no drive up pharmacy windows, and no pay at the pump gas.  I guess it’s kind of lazy when you think about it, but it is very convenient at times.  Especially when you don’t want to pull your toddler out of the car seat to just grab a quick coffee.

Gotta love being able to get your coffee on the go!  image credit

Gotta love being able to get your coffee on the go! image credit

8. Everywhere takes credit card

Europe is modern and when you’re out shopping at a mall or any big store, they take cards.  Sometimes not the american cards we have though.  And there are still a large number of restaurants that only accept cash.  We often found ourselves searching for an ATM to withdraw some euros to deal with this.  I’m hardly ever prepared with cash, and I love that even the local farmer’s market here can take cards.  Again, another nice convenience to have.

In the grand scheme of life these are small things.  But they are things I didn’t think about before they were not available to me anymore.  Not saying one country is better or worse in these terms, but just noticing little differences in ways of life.  I will have to do a follow up about things I miss from Europe…stay tuned!