“Die Osterhasen”

20130316-150923.jpgThe Easter markets opened today in Vienna. Unlike the Christmas markets, which are plentiful and sprinkled throughout the city, there are only two major Easter markets in Vienna each year (that I know of, at least). One of these, the Altwiener Ostermarkt is on the Freyung, which is very close to our house (on the block directly across the street from our house).

We love the Easter markets. Not only are they fun and festive, with yummy treats and intricate, beautifully beaded and hand painted eggs, but their arrival informally marks our Viennese anniversary.

Our first spring here, Easter was later, in April, and one of the first fun, Viennese things we did after our arrival was to visit the very Easter market that is now across the street from our house. (We were living elsewhere at the time, which kind of makes it a fun coincidence that we once visited what would become our neighborhood, back before we knew it would be.)

20130316-150935.jpgI look forward to the markets each spring. We take the kids and wander through, sampling treats and window shopping. The amazing eggs are wonderful to admire (although I constantly worry about knocking over an entire display). And, tucked at the back of this market, there is always a stall where the bunnies live — just two or three, hanging out (usually sleeping or snacking). The kids can stop by and visit with the bunnies, watching them do their bunny thing.

Today, when we visited the bunny stall (the bunnies this year are HUGE), B was entranced. He stood and watched the bunnies — one slept while the other hopped around and had a snack. He turned to me, after a few minutes, and said, “You know, at school, I learned that these are called ‘Osterhasen’ in German.”

20130316-150946.jpgI think that is so cool. (I didn’t know that.) Watching B enjoy the Osterhasen, and remembering back to our first Easter market trip, nearly two years ago, I’m pretty amazed at how far we’ve come. Two years ago, we barely got through a visit like that, and it was far more stressful to do it. Now it feels like a familiar tradition, and we kind of even understand what’s going on.

It’s beginning to look a lot less like Christmas

It’s March 3.  It was about 50 degrees outside today — we kept the door to our terrace, and the skylight, open almost all day.  The sunlight comes in to our apartment in the morning AND the afternoon.  The birds are out and singing (loudly).  It was light until almost 6:00 today.  And, I finally put our Christmas decorations away.

I guess that means it’s nearly time for spring!  It’s been warm the last few days here in Vienna, but I’m not fooled — there’s still snow in our forecast for later in the week.  (And, really, I could use one more really good snow.)  But the days are undoubtedly getting longer (and warmer — our toilet hasn’t frozen in a few weeks, at least).  Benjamin got to play outside at school the other day — it’s one of his favorite things about school, and I think his overall enjoyment of attendance may increase significantly once outside play time once again becomes a daily occurrence — and going to the park will soon become a regular staple of our schedule.  The farmers markets were open this morning, and Dan has seen some of the restaurants and cafes setting up their outdoor seating areas again (which is extra exciting for us because we find it so much easier to eat out with the kids when we’re sitting outside — they’re entertained by the activity of the city and no one notices when they get loud).  In a few short weeks, the Easter markets will be going again.  (They were up when we arrived last spring.  Which reminds me, too, that we’ll shortly hit our one year anniversary of living in Europe.)

I’m glad I got the Christmas decorations put away — it would be weird to have them up for Easter . . . even weirder than it was to have them up for Valentine’s Day.

Happy Easter!

075We had a lovely Easter today.  The Easter Bunny made a stop at our apartment last night, and our day started with Benjamin hunting for the Easter bags that had been hidden for him & Liam.  The gifts inside were met with definite approval (Benjamin carried his around all day).  After overdoing it on chocolate (everyone but Liam) we all went out and actually found a place that was open and serving breakfast.  We even nearly got what we ordered (hurray!) and then we came home and all took naps.  It was a great morning!

142This afternoon, we headed off to Stephansplatz and to St. Stephen’s cathedral.  The square was definitely busy, but we were happy to find that we could actually get into the church.  We managed (completely by accident) to arrive between masses, and we were able to go in and be tourists and take a look around.  (We’ll have to go back sometime that isn’t Easter to get a tour of the whole place.)  Benjamin asked a lot of good questions (“What is a church?”, “What is praying?”, “Can we blow those candles out a make a wish?”).  I was really happy to be able to be there on Easter — it definitely had an apropriate feel for the day.   We had lunch out, and (of course) gelato.  Then we wandered from Stephansplatz over to what will be our new neighborhood to do some exploring.

We discovered some really neat landmarks (the place where Beethoven lived while composing his 4th, 5th and 7th symphonies, among others, is literally on the same block where we’ll be living) and our walk around helped us to orient ourselves in the city, relative to where we’ll be living.  (It turns out we’re even closer to a lot of the great places in the city than we thought we were.)  After that, we found a park so B could run and play for a bit before we headed home.

After returning home, and having dinner, I got a chance to Skype with my mom, my brothers and my sister and her boyfriend.  It was the first time we had “seen” most of them since leaving home.  It was so nice to see them and catch up (a little — it’s a tall order to keep things orderly enough to get much talking in with an overtired baby and an overexcited preschooler).  All in all, we had a great, if busy, day.

That being said, today has definitely been my hardest day since I’ve been here in terms of missing home.  I feel very far away from many of my loved ones, and the reality of how long it will be until I see them is beginning to sink in.

When we got off of Skype this evening, Benjamin asked me, “Mommy, why are you sad?”  (I didn’t realize that it showed.)  I said, “Well, I miss everyone at home.  I love them and I wish I could see them every day.”  And he gave me a hug and patted my shoulder.  And then he said, “Mommy, will you ask me why am I sad?”  So, I did.  And he said, “I miss everyone at home.  I love them and I wish I could see them.”  I gave him a hug and a big kiss.

Happy Easter!  We miss you all.

“Mommy, what is Easter?”

As I find happens to me all the time lately, Benjamin asked me a question today that made me really think about something I hadn’t thought about in a long time.  So often, I’m explaining something to him, and he’ll respond with, “Mommy what is . . . ?”, or “Why?”  These are very normal questions from a 2 year old, but they can be remarkably tricky for a 34 year old to answer.  I want to be honest and concise, while keeping the concepts simple and refraining from anything that’s going to worry or scare him — and I have to come up with the answer in about 15 seconds.  (And there will probably be follow up questions.)

We’ve been talking a lot about Easter lately around here — what we’re going to do for Easter, how we’re gonig to miss everyone at Easter, how everything here is closed for Easter, how decorated everything is here for Easter.  So, naturally, Benjamin hit me today with, “Mommy, what is Easter?”

I said the other day in my blog that Easter isn’t a religious holiday for my family.  That’s true on the surface, but not really (I think my mom was a bit surprised by my characterization of it, and I shudder to think what my grandmother would have said if she had ever heard me say that).  It isn’t really a religious holiday for us — not in a typical, traditional, “going to church” kind of religious way.  I don’t “go to church” anymore, but I grew up in the Catholic church, and there’s no denying that my thoughts and feelings about Easter have deeply religious roots, which are unquestionably retained.  Easter is definitely still a spiritual day for me, and more than that, I miss my formal religion at Easter.  I love the spirituality of it, the depth of it, the ceremony of it.  I think my own ideas of spirituality get mixed in with my Catholic roots and some vaguely pagan ideas about celebrating spring, along with a strong desire to be with my family.  I understand the significance of the day to my Catholic heritage, and I want to honor that.  I also enjoy the enthusiastic celebration of the wonder of fertility and rejuvenation that is signified by spring.  And I like the idea of the Easter Bunny for my boys.

So, where does that leave me?  Well, tomorrow, we’re going to go to St. Stephen’s Square (Stephansplatz).  We won’t even try to get into the church (I’m sure it will be overflowing with people for whom it is much more important that they get inside the church than it is to me).  But, I do want to be there — in the heart of Vienna, in what was the center of the Holy Roman Empire for a long time — there’s significance to that to me (and I think my grandmother would be pleased).  We’re going to spend a significant part of the day outside, enjoying spring.  We’re also going to Skype my mom and my sister (and my brothers, if they’re there) while they’re celebrating Easter together.  And the Easter Bunny is going to visit our little apartment before the boys wake up tomorrow.  I think that pretty much captures it for me.

But, what’s the “2 year old” version of that?  I’m not ready for crucifixion and resurrection with him.  I also don’t want to emphasize the Easter Bunny — because that isn’t really what it’s about.  So, I said, “Easter is a very special day where we spend time with our family and we celebrate the ability to be forgiven, and springtime, bunnies and babies.”  (Ok, I could do better, but not bad for 15 seconds thinking time.)  His response:  “Babies?  Like Liam?  Is the Easter Bunny going to come, too?  Will he bring presents, like Santa?”  I guess it’s hard not to overplay a magical bunny who brings presents and chocolate.  I’ll keep working on it.

Easter shopping

Part of preparing for our move involved separating everything in our house into one of four categories:  air shipment, sea shipment, storage and things to pack in suitcases.  The idea is for the air shipment to arrive 10 – 14 days after it’s shipped (to provide things you don’t immediately need in your suitcase, but to tide you over until most of your stuff arrives) because the sea shipment doesn’t arrive for 4-6 weeks after it’s shipped.  Since Easter is happening almost 3 weeks after we left, I made sure to pack everything we needed for Easter in the air shipment.  It’s not a religious holiday in our family, just a tradition, but I was careful to plan to have the things I’d need when we arrived.  I packed up cute Easter hand towels for the kitchen, and stuff to decorate eggs, but most importantly, Benjamin & Liam’s Easter baskets and the things that were to go inside of them.

Well, one of the wrinkles with the whole paperwork/red tape is that we can’t access our air shipment.  It’s here, in Austria — it has been for about 10 days.  But, without some of the paperwork, which we can’t get until Dan actually starts work, we can’t get to it.  This has caused a lot of frustration, because there were a lot of things in there that we were counting on having sooner rather than later.  But nothing has been as disappointing to me as not having the Easter things for the kids.

Given that Friday is a holiday here, I finally accepted today that we really aren’t going to get our air shipment before Easter.  I’m disappointed.  But that’s not going to stop the Easter Bunny from visiting us here in Austria, so today, we went shopping.

We all headed off to the mall together, and Dan distracted the kids while I went to play the Easter Bunny’s helper.  I didn’t want to replace their Easter baskets, since we have perfectly nice ones that we just can’t get to, but which will available for subsequent Easters, so we found cute Easter-themed gift bags which should work well.  Then, I set off to fill them.  Since Liam is only 6 months old, and B doesn’t need any more sugar than his current gelato habit provides, I decided to go with toys, rather than candy.  I ended up spending about twice what I’d been planning (I found the perfect thing for B, but had to decide between two things, and then found the perfect thing for Liam, but it was really expensive, and after searching for something less expensive, I gave up, 005bought it, and went ahead and bought BOTH things for Benjamin because his things were so much less expensive — which was less about needing things to be even and more about justifying to myself buying both, which I really wanted to do in the first place).  Dan was supportive of my decisions when I got back, so we called it a success and headed home.

It feels good to make Easter happen.  A lot of what Easter is for my family is a time to get together — we’re not going to get to do that this year, which is enough of a loss.  I was really sad that I ALSO wasn’t going to have all of the right stuff to make their baskets, but it feels really good to improvise with what I have available.  I know that, right now, it means more to me than it does to my kids, but it feels good to make it happen, just the same.

A day outside of Vienna

017One of Dan’s future co-workers invited Benjamin, Liam, Dan, Bailey & I to lunch today with his family at his home outside of Vienna.  We were really excited to get to see some of the area around Vienna, and to hang out with some Americans who had been through what we’re experiencing.  When Scott arrived to pick us up, they had outfitted their car with carseats appropriate to our kids’ ages, so we packed Bailey into the back of the minivan, and we all trekked off to Korneuburg.

I018t was so reassuring and validating to talk to them and compare notes on our experiences.  Ada, Scott’s wife, talked about looking at her “to do” list shortly after arriving here in Vienna and just starting to cry.  She also talked about showing up at the first temporary apartment with two kids (the same ages, at the time, as Benjamin and Liam are now — AND she was 8 months pregnant with their third) and insisting vehemently that whatever happened, they were not staying in that place.  On both 022points, I can really relate.  In terms of my “to do” list, most days I’m just not looking at it, and when I do, the word that keeps coming to mind (and more than once out of my mouth) is “unreasonable”.  As in, “This is an unreasonable amount to expect of any one person”.  And although I haven’t had to insist on any last minute heroic changes in accommodations, I was well prepared to do that yesterday (was it just yesterday?) had this place not turned out to be suitable.

But to see them now, seven years on in their journey, it’s hard to believe that was ever true.  They have a lovely home in the suburbs of Vienna, their kids are enrolled in school, and even their dog has a great yard to play in029.  Ada mentioned that she recently found the list that had brought her to tears, and looking it over, realized she had survived accomplishing every last thing on that list.  So, we will get through this — this too, shall pass.

We had lunch, and chatted about relocating and things to keep in mind.  Ironically, they are moving to Northern Virginia in July, so we were able to offer our own advice and encouragement, as well.  Their kids helped Benjamin through an Easter egg hunt they had set up for him.  Then, we stayed for dinner.  Our beautiful day turned into a lovely Austrian evening.  Our kids played soccer — the dogs played, too.  (Bailey makes an excellent goalie.)  By the time we headed back home, well later than we had expected, we were all tired.  But we had a great day.  Their hospitality was so appreciated, and so was the encouragement.