Our journey home (for the holidays)

I was a little apprehensive, after a year and a half of only relatively short flights with the kids, about our very long trips home and back across the Atlantic.  Circumstance (and winter weather) meant delays — long hours waiting on the plane or at the airport — which didn’t make it any easier.  Even so, I was pleasantly surprised at how well we all fared on our journey.


Before we even got underway on our trip to the US, we saw something at the Vienna airport that I’d never seen before (and wouldn’t even have thought possible).  While we were waiting in line to check our stroller at the oversize luggage line (we opted to check the stroller at check-in, since the boys were riding their Trunkis) we saw that the woman ahead of us was waiting to drop off … a Christmas tree!  Surely, you can’t check a Christmas tree as luggage?!?  But apparently, you can, because that’s just what she did.  The luggage guy did look a bit surprised, but he checked that it was tagged with a destination and accepted it.  Amazing!  Although I wish I had a) taken a picture, b) found out the destination (wouldn’t there be import restrictions on trees?) and c) been able to see how well it came out at the other end!

010The first leg of our flight was delayed due to the inbound flight from Paris being delayed before departure, and then further delayed (once we were on board) due to de-icing.  All of which resulted in an eventual dash through Charles de Gaulle once we landed in order to make our connection.  I was quite certain our bags wouldn’t move as quickly as we had and that we would arrive in Washington without them.

Not to worry, though, because even after the lengthy boarding process for our plane, there was, evidently, a chip of paint off of the rudder which had to be inspected prior to departure, which resulted in us sitting on the plane, but not moving, for almost 2 hours.

014Although that’s always a bummer (although not as much of a bummer as it would be to fly in a plane that wasn’t working properly) we were stuck on the A380 with Air France and, as it turns out, it’s about the best plane it is possible to be stuck on.

Not only is the plane itself incomparably cool (it’s a double-decker with a spiral staircase in back, and each seat has its own on-demand entertainment system) but Air France made it as comfortable as possible by handing out the headphones early and providing snacks.  We had games to play and movies and TV shows to watch PLUS we could have charged our iPhones and iPad at our seat if we’d needed to — all of which was a recipe for happy kids (and thus, happy parents) during the delay.


Once we got on our way, flying on the A380 was a little weird.  It’s so big that rolling down the runway for takeoff, it felt impossible that we would ever get going fast enough to get off the ground.  And then, when it was finally flying, it was surprisingly quiet for something so big.

019The trip went very well, and the kids were great.  Any worry I had about how they would do was unwarranted.  They were amazingly patient, got along well together, and behaved beautifully.  Liam had a bit of a crying spell after waking up from a nap (actually, he woke up because we were landing and had to be moved out of Dan’s lap, where he was quite comfortable, into his own seat, which he objected to), but I could hardly blame him for that.  (After all, he’s *3* and he just accomplished his 6th and 7th intercontinental journeys.  Pretty impressive, really.)  In the days leading up to the trip, we gave the kids 3 rules for flying.  We’ve said similar things before, but never quite so simply.  1. Whenever the seatbelt sign is on, you have to wear your seatbelt.  No exceptions.  2. No kicking the back of the seat in front of you.  3.  No yelling.  That was it.  We reminded them of these rules often in the week before the trip, and it really seemed to do the trick — all we had to do was remind them of the “airplane rules” and they remembered.  (Must not forget that for future trips . . . )

The flight was long, and the delays at the beginning took their toll on all of our patience in the last few hours.  We had a good journey, though, helped by comfy accommodations, the fascination the kids had with the in-flight moving map display (did 023you know the outside air temperature at 39,000 feet is -86 F?), lots of electronic entertainment, a few coloring books and stories and many trips up and down the spiral staircase.  It was a really pleasant flight.  (And I would definitely recommend everything about flying Air France — I wish we’d tried it sooner.)

After a LONG day of travel (over 18 hours, counting the delays and the car travel) and a seemingly endless line at Customs, we were reunited with our family, many of whom we had not seen in over a year and a half.  It made every moment in the air more than worth it.  It was so very good to see them, and so good to be home for the holidays.


A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tomorrow we’re off to the States for two weeks to spend the holiday with family (and hopefully some friends, too, if the schedule allows).  I am beyond excited to see my family tomorrow — some of whom I haven’t seen in almost a year and a half.

My plan is to take a break from writing, from the Internet, from posting pictures until we return to Austria in the new year.  So I’ll say Merry Christmas now, and wish everyone a beautiful season full of wonder and a new year of hope and excitement.

See you in 2014 for more adventures!


It’s been a while since we’ve done this.  We travel a good bit as a family — in the past year we’ve taken the train to go skiing in the Alps and then the overnight train to Rome, flown to Paris and to the UK and Ireland, and driven to Salzburg and back.  The kids are seasoned travelers, and we’re experience travel-parents.  We’ve got a lot of miles under our collective belts.

But … we haven’t done this in a while.  We haven’t done the 9+ hours transatlantic flight in almost a year and a half, we’ve never done it with a 5 year old and a 3 year old, and we’ve never done it at Christmas.  Liam doesn’t even remember the last time we made this trip.  With all of my experience with this kind of thing, I’m surprised, but I feel a little unprepared.  I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do it.

What do I need in carry-on?  What do I need to be prepared for?  What do I need to tell the kids to prepare them?  How is it going to go?  Will they behave/sleep/scream/throw food/refuse to use the airplane toilet?  The wiser part of my mind tells me it will be what it will be and that this is one of the (many) experiences in parenting that I cannot truly control.  My experience tells me that this trip, like all of the others, will include good and bad elements, and that as long as we arrive safe & sound, all will be well and the less pleasant details of the journey will drift into the corners of my memory.  But still, I feel a little nervous.

But even with the nervousness, I also feel excited.  Not only are we flying home to see family and friends, but whatever happens, however it goes, I get to spend 9+ hours with my kids, with nothing else that we have to do.  Sure, it might end up being a grueling trip, but we get to be together.  With the boys in school now, a chance to be with them — to color and talk and read and watch videos, without having to think about running errands or keeping on our schedule — is pretty rare, and pretty exciting.

I’ve also discovered, in preparing for this trip, that packing for a Christmas trip is really a whole different undertaking than packing for a typical 2 week trip.  I set about doing most of the packing this morning — getting the clothes together, figuring out which luggage will work best, making piles of laundry still to be done.  After getting about 90% of our clothes packed into the suitcases (the rest is still to be washed), I felt quite accomplished.  For a normal trip, that’s the vast majority of the work.  I was feeling pretty proud about having most of the work done on Tuesday for a trip that doesn’t happen until Friday!  And then, I started adding in the Christmas stuff.  The stockings, the presents, the treats and sweets.  And, oh my, did that ever increase the complexity of the situation.  So many of the Christmas things need to be packed “just so” in order to arrive safely.  Each item I tried to add to the clothes and accessories already packed required nearly unpacking the suitcase to get everything back in.  And I”m not nearly done yet.  I’ve probably only packed half of the gifts.  Yikes.

The moral of the story is that instead of insisting on bringing truly Austrian things home for everyone for Christmas this year, I should have opted for mail-order.  And, for the first time in a while, I feel almost like a rookie traveller again . . . or at least list an uncertain one.  I know it will all work though, it always does.  That’s the miracle of the last-minute trip preparation, and the miracle of Christmas preparation.  With both of them on my side, everything is bound to come together.

Juggling at 33,000 feet

We’re over halfway to Vienna, and the boys are peacefully sleeping as we cross the Atlantic. For the moment.

This is hard. I have my mom with me to help, and this is incredibly hard.

Getting through security was particularly challenging. We had about a million carryons, B had fallen asleep in the stroller, which had to broken down, our liquids had to be hand checked, and both of the kids were exhausted by the time it got to be our turn. Add to that the fact that I’m used to my usual system with Dan, and it was a significant challenge.

We made it through, though, arrived at the gate just in time for boarding, and were fortunate to have no trouble trading seats so we could sit together. And that’s when the work really started.

The kids are completely worn out, ready to be home and tired of being patient and flexible. (So are the grown ups.) We’re making it through, but it’s a lot of work. I’m not on my “A” game, when the kids most need me to be.

3 more hours, and we’ll be there.

I’m so grateful to have my mom here with me, and I’m so grateful fur all the work Dan usually does.

All I need to do is remember to enjoy these next 3 hours (and the 3 after that, and the 3 after that …). Because this is not just my adventure, and my kids are working their tails off to be the super star world travelers that they are. (Grandma is too.) I want to keep rising to the occasion, and to their example.

Packing at the eleventh hour

In less than 20 hours we’ll be on a plane, headed for Austria. (At least, I hope we will.) I have to consolidate the stuff of 3 people, which has been strewn about all 3 floors of the house, and I have to do it mostly while attempting to simultaneously watch both kids. Dan’s back in Austria already, my mom is busy working and preparing herself for the trip, so I’m trying to pack and be a mom at the same time. So far, it’s not going well. I haven’t packed. I haven’t started.

Once the kids are asleep, I’m going to have to start throwing stuff into suitcases like a crazy person. I hope I can make it work. As of this moment, it feels like a lot to get done in the time that I have left.

The consequences of doing too much

Throughout this visit, I’ve violated one of my own major rules of traveling with kids — I haven’t scheduled enough days of nothing.

I’ve generally found that my kids can “go” — sightseeing, travel, visiting friends, doing anything more substantial than playing at the park — for two days, and then they need a day off. The day off can include playground, tv, movies at “home” (meaning our travel home base), but must also include naps, kid friendly meals at home at normal times, baths, stories, and not having to be anywhere at any particular time.

We pretty much blew that on this trip. Our first week away from Vienna, we only had one day like that, and we waited 9 more days to have another. I actually thought it was working. I thought that we were going to get away with it — that maybe being around so much family was having a restorative effect on the kids that was letting them be “on” for way more of the time.

It didn’t last, though. We’ve had to cancel significant plans at least every other day for the past week. I’m exhausted, the kids are frazzled, and we are all prone to whining and short tempers.

In other words, I stand by my previous assertions — we would have been happier and less stressed if we’d planned a less intense schedule. I’m impressed and grateful that my boys hung in there got as long as they did, and I feel a little guilty that I pushed them so hard.

Back in the saddle

Today, for the first time in over 16 months, I got on a horse. Even better, it was Cricket, one of my own horses, who I have had for over 10 years, since she was a baby.

I’ve been riding for more than 25 years, and this is the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken. I was expecting to go on a nice trail ride with several of my friends, but the weather didn’t cooperate (I did get to hunker down in a horse shelter while it was pelted by hail and blasted by winds that had Jill & I strategizing about whether the round bale would be a good place to hide in case we lost the roof off of the shelter). Instead, I took a quick ride with a friend after the weather settled down.

20120731-232902.jpgIt was fantastic. Catching Cricket, grooming her, getting her tacked up, swinging into the saddle and setting off for a ride was all so blissfully familiar. I hadn’t forgotten anything — every movement felt natural and right. Cricket responded wonderfully, even though she’s had a year of mostly novice riders on her. It was a great feeling to pick up our partnership right where we left off. I loved riding again, working with my horse, riding across the beautiful Maryland countryside, and knowing exactly how she was going to react to everything that happened and everything I asked her to do.

It was great to be back on a horse today. Being a rider is a big part of who I am, and I’ve really missed it. I think I may need to find a way to ride a bit in Vienna — I don’t want to have to wait until next spring to go for another ride.


Come with me

Our month-long American adventure comes to an end in less than 3 days. At this time on Friday we’ll be flying somewhere over the North Atlantic, almost over Ireland, nearly halfway to Austria and already trying to adjust to the time change and remember how to speak German.

I’m not ready to go. There’s still so much I want to do here and so many people I want to see. I’m sad that I won’t get to see everyone one more time before we go, and the 9 months or so until we move back to home soil seem very, very long when I realize I won’t see so many of the important people in my life until then.

Can’t everyone just come back with me? Because Vienna, with the addition of my friends and family from home, would be just perfect. I know I’ll be back soon, but I’m just not ready to go. I know how much I’ll miss everyone, and it makes it really hard to say goodbye again so soon.

Maryland, My Maryland

I was born here in Maryland. I lived here until I left to go to college in rural Virginia. After school, I moved to Northern Virginia, where I lived for 13 years. In the past year, I’ve lived in Vienna and visited the Alps, tiny European towns, Paris and Normandy. In my life, I’ve been to Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii, California, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and every eastern state from New Hampshire to Florida.

Virginia is gorgeous, Paris is romantic, the Alps are amazing, Normandy is darling, Vienna is lovely. But, of all the places I’ve been, my favorite, and in my opinion the most beautiful, is the rolling, bucolic, semi-wooded not-quite-foothills of Maryland.

Maybe it’s just because I’m from here, but I find a hilltop view of gentle slopes topped with forests or plowed fields singularly pleasant. There is nowhere I’d rather call home, and it’s really nice to be here for a while.

It’s all too short

We’ve been here almost a month. We’ve spent some wonderful time with family and have had the chance to visit with many of our friends. I have loved getting to spend so much great time with so many people that we love.

But it’s all been too short. There isn’t a single person we’ve seen who I wouldn’t have liked to have spent more time with. And for every friend we’ve gotten to see, there’s at least one other that we wish that we could. It just isn’t possible to see enough of everyone.

I’m so glad we’ve been able to visit with so many people on this trip home. But a few quick hours with each person isn’t enough. It’s enough to catch up for a bit, to share a hug and a few stories, but not enough to feel satisfied. It’s not enough to keep me from missing everyone. It won’t me enough to keep me from longing to see everyone again.

It’s not entirely a bad thing. How nice is it that I have so many great friends and dear family members in my life that I can’t manage to get enough time with all of them? I’m really lucky, and it’s true — I didn’t truly appreciate how fortunate I am, or how special all of the people in my life are, until I was away from all of them.

And I’m missing my friends (and family) from my new home, too. Not to sound depressing, but it occurs to me that I will always feel this way. Now that my heart is split across two continents, it will always have been too long since I’ve spent time with someone that I care about.

I have 6 days left on this trip, though, and still some friends to see. I can’t wait to visit with them all, and I’m already looking forward to seeing everyone, here and abroad, again before too long.