I’m an aunt!!!!

Back in November, I became an aunt, and I’m really happy about it.  My nephew is cute and sweet and absolutely wonderful, and his parents have been doing a truly AMAZING job of being new parents.  They’re way more relaxed, more comfortable, and significantly less stressed than I was in the first few months (or, perhaps, the first few  years).  This whole thing is pretty great.  We got to meet him when we were home over Christmas — he was just over a month old when we arrived home.  I miss him a lot, and it’s hard to see him growing and changing while we’re so far away.  I never would have expected that I would be so far away from home when my first niece or nephew was born.  I always imagined that I’d be nearby, able to come over, to bring dinner, to babysit, to answer endless “did your kids …” and “is it normal when …” questions.  I haven’t been able to do much of that, and though I know that my mental image may have been based more on fantasy than in fact, it’s undeniable that being so far away has fundamentally changed the dynamic that would have existed if we still lived 45 minutes away.

Adults change slowly.  We keep in touch pretty well over Skype, text, email, Facebook.  But babies change quickly, and they only get to know the people who are around them a lot.  It’s hard to have not been there for his first few months, and for the next few months, and for the rest of however long we are here.  I love this adventure, and I am glad that we are here and are doing what we are doing, but I wish we could be having this experience and be about 15 minutes away from our family at the same time.

I am a proud auntie, and I think my nephew is super cool.  Thanks to Adam and Kristin for having him and for being amazing parents to him.  (And thanks for finally making me Auntie Em!)

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.


We really WILL be home for Christmas this year

This year, for the first time since embarking on this adventure, we’ll be going home for Christmas.  It’ll also be our first trip home in 2013, and our first trip home in nearly a year and a half.  (Most of my family didn’t get to see Liam at all while he was 2 years old.)  It’s been way too long, and we’re all really looking forward to it.  I absolutely cannot wait.

Of course, the reality of it is a bit overwhelming.  In addition to all of my normal Christmas preparations (except maybe for getting a tree — I don’t think there’s any way to ensure it doesn’t spontaneously combust during the 2 weeks we’ll be gone) — decorations, gifts, wrapping — I also have to pack for a 2 week trip.  And, since we leave on the 20th, I have 5 fewer days to work with than usual.  Eek.

That’s ok though.  Whatever effort it takes us, it will be worth it.  It has been much too long since we’ve seen our family, and entirely too long since we’ve spent a Christmas together.  (I know that Liam doesn’t have any memories of Christmas anywhere other than Vienna, and I doubt that Benjamin does either.  And although Christmas in Vienna is pretty wonderful, being together with family is the most important part.)

Putting aside the stress I feel about the logistics, the mildly insecure worry I have about the gifts we’ve chosen for everyone (only in my head — we haven’t actually shopped yet), and the flashes I keep having of the scene in “Home Alone” where they run through Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris at Christmastime (we’re connecting through Paris on the way home and on the way back) I am completely beyond excited.  The boys, too, can’t wait — Liam asks, almost daily, if today is the day we’re going to Grandma’s for Christmas, and Benjamin has asked excitedly for many details about how Santa will know to deliver our gifts to Maryland instead of Vienna.

I already know the visit will feel too short.  (Just 2 weeks?!?  How can we possibly get all of the visiting, talking, playing and general merry-making that we’d like to into that time?)  But now that the visit is less than 6 weeks away, and Vienna is full of festive Christmas preparations (the Christmas markets open this weekend) it feels real.  And I am so excited.


Yesterday, Benjamin invited us all to his school for Family Day.  It’s part end-of-the-year celebration, part open house, part excuse to go outside and enjoy the beautiful late spring/early summer weather.  Dan took the afternoon off of work, the boys skipped nap time, and we all ventured over to the school to enjoy the day.

014We had a better idea of what to expect this year, and we’ve all been looking forward to it for a few weeks.  B loves getting to bring us to school and show us around, and we all had a great time.  We went around to each of the stations and collected stamps at each spot.  We painted faces, decorated balloons, watched/helped the boys do an obstacle course, put together a big clown puzzle, did (and won!) a three-legged race, and knocked down cans with a ball.  Plus, the boys took lots of opportunities to run around with friends, kick soccer balls, swing on the swings and slide down the slide.  We also enjoyed some muffins and cakes made with help from the kids.  We played and laughed and thoroughly enjoyed a lovely afternoon at B’s school.  This year, we know a lot more of the kids and the parents, plus we’ve gotten to know many of the teachers better.  I think we all felt like much more a part of the community this time around, and it made it even more fun.

026And Liam got a special treat — he got to visit with his teacher for next fall.  She even showed him around his new classroom.  (He’s very excited — they have trucks and cars to play with.  When it was time to go, he curled up on the floor and didn’t want to leave, which I think is a great sign for September.)  We had the thought that the next time a  family event comes around at school, Liam won’t be just tagging along — he’ll be a student there, too.  (Which is kind of mind-blowing.  He was just 6 months old when we arrived here, and this coming fall he’ll be participating in Lantern Fest!)

At the end, the boys brought their collection of stamps to the kitchen, where they each got a bag filled with popcorn.  And we got to take two very tired boys home.  Good times were had by all.





A funny thing happened on the way to the Vatican

One of the places I was most excited to go in Rome actually isn’t in Rome at all. I was really looking forward to visiting Vatican City, seeing the Sistine Chapel and walking in St. Peter’s square. I think part of my fascination has to do with the historical significance, part has to do with my own family history of Catholicism, and it’s all heightened by being there during the final days of Pope Benedict’s papacy — something we couldn’t have planned for or anticipated when we were organizing our trip.

I’m a planner, and since I’d heard that the lines for entry into the Vatican Museum (which culminates in the Sistine Chapel) can be long and frustrating, I decided to splurge for the extra €4/adult to reserve an entry time. Our appointment was at 9:00. I knew it might be tough to make that, with 6 people to get up, fed and ready, but I wanted to get through the museum (and all the way to the Sistine Chapel) before the kids couldn’t take any more.

This morning, we were on our way, but we were running a bit late. I had planned a bit of extra time in to our schedule, but we had pretty much eaten all of that up with breakfast and getting out the door. I was a little stressed. We had to catch a cab, get to the museum, and find where we needed to be, with just over 20 minutes to go. I didn’t know if the ticket times were strict, so I wanted to be on time, or even a little early. Luckily, we hailed a cab quickly, and got to the gate of the Vatican museum in 10 minutes. We pulled up, got out, and got the stroller set up while Amanda was paying the cab driver, and I glanced at the time — about 10 minutes to go. Perfect! Whew!

And then Amanda realized that she didn’t have her phone, and the cab had already pulled away.

Minor panic ensued. She wasn’t entirely sure that she’d had it when we left the hotel. We started by flagging down the next cab from the same company that came by. We were hoping that maybe they had some way to call each other between cabs. No luck.

We called our hotel. We asked them to call the cab company. Then we called back and asked them to check our room. (It wasn’t there.) Then we called back and tried to get their help finding the U.S. customer service number for AT&T Wireless. We were having a really hard time making any progress. Amanda was pretty despondent and getting progressively more worried. (She didn’t want someone to find the phone and make expensive calls.)

She was pretty sure she wouldn’t get her phone back. I was thinking that if we had found it, we would have worked hard to return it, so I didn’t want to give up hope.

We waited right at the same spot where the cab dropped us off, just in case. Our hotel hadn’t had any luck — since we’d hailed our cab, instead of calling, the company didn’t have a record of the trip. And, the hotel couldn’t find the right number for the phone company. So, we went to try and find some Wi-Fi so we could try to shut the phone off ourselves.

We found some, looked up the number of the phone company, and started through the automatic phone universe of AT&T. As we stood there, pressing 1, or 2, or 7, as appropriate, we thought we saw the cab drive by — the one that dropped us off.

We hopped out the cafe door and started running (up hill, of course). We didn’t know if he was stopping, if he was picking someone up or dropping them off, or if he just happened to be driving up the street.

Yay!!! He was there! He had come back, just to bring the phone. The hotel had called the cab company back, and they had tracked down the right cab. The driver, of his own accord, on the chance that we’d still be there, even though 40 minutes had passed, drove back to the Vatican. And there we were. And we had the phone back.

We were so excited and so happy. Amanda was crying. I gave the cab driver €20 (he tried to say no, but I insisted). A newspaper seller on the corner saw the whole exchange happen, and said, “This is Italia! You don’t need to cry — everything is good here!”

And even though we were almost 45 minutes late for our appointment, we had no problem getting in to the museum. All was well.

Viva Italia! Viva Rome! We love it here.


Family style

20130225-002123.jpgWe had a fantastic day today in Rome. After a much needed rest, we got out into the city to visit the Colosseum, which was amazing and massive and ancient and wonderful. It is the oldest thing I’ve ever seen, and it’s a little hard to impart the significance of that to a 4 year old and a 2 year old. It’s also hard, we discovered, to explain the purpose of the Colosseum to young kids without traumatizing them with gory details. (B understands that there were lions somehow involved.) They appreciated the steps and the cobblestones and enjoyed wandering around a bit, though.

20130225-002400.jpgAfter exhausting ourselves and the boys’ patience, we had a relatively uninteresting lunch and then discovered what is (most likely) the best pastry shop in Rome. We were looking for gelato for the boys (because they will eat ice cream in any weather — including chilly and drizzly, like today) and stumbled across this perfect little confection shop (called Cristalli di Zucchero, located behind the Forum).

20130225-002418.jpgIt was so lovely. Between us, we had a selection of bite-sized cakes, a few macaroons, a cannoli, a profiterole and a cappuccino. They were all heavenly. It was quite a lucky find.

And then, this evening, we went out and “discovered” (similarly to how Columbus discovered America) our new favorite Roman restaurant (Da Francesco near Piazza Navona). We ate a wonderful assortment of pizza and pasta, all beautifully made, and Benjamin charmed our waiter by ordering a second pistachio tiramisu for dessert.

156We shared everything. When my family goes out to eat, we always do. We contemplate the menu, vote for our favorites, choose a selection, and enjoy them together. We have the best time, and we all debate our favorites. We can basically turn any restaurant meal into a family style affair. I love it. I’d rather eat with my family than with anyone else.

20130225-002550.jpgSo, today, we had a wonderful day. We saw some of ancient Rome, we ate some fantastic food, and we had a great time. So far, Italy is absolutely excellent.


Mina is here!

20130221-150201.jpgMina is here!

First thing this morning, before the boys were even up, I left the house and went to the airport to pick up Mina. She’s arrived! She’s here! She had a safe trans-Atlantic journey and now she’s here with us again in Vienna.

I am so happy to see her.  I am thrilled to have her here and to get to talk to her in person. It’s wonderful!

20130221-150325.jpgAnd the kids are so excited to be with her, too. Liam ran up, shouting, “Mina!” when she arrived, and Benjamin pretty much skipped the whole way home from school and made up a song in the elevator on the way upstairs because he was so excited.

Yay!!!!! Mina is here! We are so glad!

Postcards to my sister

About a year ago, I saw a blog post about a pair of sisters who, as a New Year’s resolution, committed to exchanging postcards once a week for a year.  My sister, Amanda, and I, thought it was a great idea, and we decided to do it, too.  For all of 2012, we sent postcards back and forth across the Atlantic, every week.

062I’ve sent her lots of my favorite postcards from Vienna, a selection of some from the places we’ve travelled this year, and I even had some photos of the kids converted into postcards.  Benjamin and Liam sometimes select one for her — they’ve sent her ones with cows, oranges and snowy scenes (selected in August).  She’s sent me cards from Baltimore (where she lives), lots of beautiful seasonal ones, some old ones that she’s had around for years, and many, many photographs — some from the recent past, some from decades ago.

004Living abroad, we send a lot more postcards, in general, than we receive.  It has been quite a treat to receive her notes, week after week.  I look forward to seeing what she sends each week, and to find out what she’s written on the back — her notes about what’s going on, what she’s looking forward to, how much she misses us.  Every so often one or the other of us misses one, or even a few, but then we catch up.  I’ve kept them all — I have my favorites displayed behind the TV in the living room, and another selection arranged around the mirror in our dining room.

I’m constantly on the lookout for new ones.  I’ve become quite a postcard connesseur.

Our year of postcards was over last month, but we’re not stopping.  It’s been a fun project, and it’s a wonderful way to stay connected with my sister.  (Thanks, Mina, for sticking with it!)

Italia with a side of Mina

Italy is a place I’ve always dreamed of going.  Even back when the thought of travelling outside of the US was scarier to me than it was exciting, Italy was on the (very short) list of places I knew I wanted to go . . . someday.  I think my enthusiasm grew from my interest in the Renaissance and Reformation eras of history and a fascination with the art in and from Italy (even though I really know nothing about art).  That, and pizza.  It seemed like if all that good stuff came from one place, it would be worth checking out.

But, after spending our first summer here in Vienna, I was pretty certain I was not going to venture any further south in the summer months, unless it involved sitting on a beach somewhere.  The European notions of handling summer heat, largely without air conditioning, don’t work very well for me, and I figured that if I couldn’t handle that at a northern latitude, venturing to Italy during warm weather didn’t make a lot of sense.

Our initial plan had been to see Italy this past December, so we could enjoy the festivity of Rome and the Vatican once everything was done up for Christmas.  Though when I sat down to plan that trip, back in the fall, I realized that December is one of my favorite months of the whole year HERE, so why would I want to leave?

But now, we’re really going.  The trip to Italy has been planned.  We’re going in February (cool weather, few crowds).  We started off (as we often do) with an overly ambitious wish list of destinations:  Rome, Florence, Siena, the Cinque Terre, Venice.  From experience, I’ve learned that trying to manage that in a week, with the kids, would be miserable for all of us.  So, we narrowed it down to three, and then decided to limit ourselves to just two, so we can really enjoy them, slow down, relax and have a great time, with no pressure.

So, we’re going to Rome, and then to Venice.  Because I can’t imagine a trip to Italy that didn’t include Rome, and Venice seems so beautiful, and so romantic that I didn’t want to miss it (not to mention we literally have to travel through it to get anywhere else in Italy).  We’re taking the train the entire way — the overnight train (our first) from Vienna to Rome, a train from Rome to Venice and then the overnight home to Vienna.  We have plans to see a lot of the sights in Rome, to ride on a gondola in Venice, and to eat a ton of Italian food.  (Benjamin is overjoyed that we are going to the country that invented pizza.  We’ve promised him pizza and gelato every day.)  I am super excited.

And, we get to bring Jo along with us on this adventure.  And then, to make it all even more exciting, my sister, Amanda (or “Mina”, to the kids) is coming over to join us for our trip.  We are all so excited.  The kids did a happy dance (quite literally) when I told them she was coming.  Seeing Italy is a dream come true, and being able to do it with my family makes it even better.  Looking forward to Italy!

Contemplating Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one week from today — in the US.  Austria doesn’t have Thanksgiving, so far as I know, and it certainly doesn’t have it next week.  Next Thursday is just a normal day here.

The most important thing to me about Thanksgiving has always been getting together with my family.  The food is good, and football is always fun, but the real reason to celebrate is that everyone is off of work and able to be together.  This year, we won’t be there.

So, if Austria doesn’t mark Thanksgiving, and the reason we care about Thanksgiving is entirely on the other side of the Atlantic, what does that mean for us?  We’ve debated.  We were going to take a long weekend and travel away from Vienna — go and see another part of Austria, maybe Salzburg, maybe the mountains.  I thought it would be a good chance to take advantage of it being a festive time for us, but without any additional “holiday” charges at the hotels, and without having to worry about what would be open or not.  Good idea, but I didn’t get it together to actually make any plans.

Our next plan was to do nothing — just have Dan go to work as usual, have B go to school as usual, maybe do dinner out somewhere on Thursday, but otherwise, not really do anything and save our vacation time for another time (maybe when I actually *did* get it together to plan an excursion).

But that didn’t really feel right.  The thought of basically ignoring Thanksgiving, although it made some logical sense, was just a bummer.  So, we’re going with “plan C”.  Dan’s going to take Thursday and Friday off, and we’re going to do some fun things around Vienna as a family — go to dinner (we’ll look for turkey, but everyone is serving goose here now, and that’s probably close enough), explore some Christmas markets, try and sleep in, maybe go to the zoo, and see if we can find some Christmas movies, or maybe even the Macy’s parade, on TV or online.  And we’re definitely going to try to Skype our family at home so that we can be a part of Thanksgiving there, too.

It’s certainly not our usual Thanksgiving itinerary, but I’m looking forward to it.  I think it’ll be fun, festive and relaxing, which sounds perfect.

It’s also going to give us a little taste of what Christmas will be like.  Of course, Christmas is enthusiastically celebrated here, so it won’t be a “non-event”.  But, it’s going to be really strange to be away from home, and away from our family’s celebration, for Christmas.  I’m really glad we’ve decided not to ignore Thanksgiving — it’s a chance for us to take what’s familiar from home and tweak it to fit our current surroundings.  At Christmas, in particular, it’s going to be so important for us to do that — to mix the familiar and the new — so I’m glad we’re going to practice a little.