Gute Reise, Grandma

My mom left today to go back home.  I miss her already.  And, I’m a worrier, so I won’t really feel relaxed until she gets home tomorrow.

I really, really, really liked having her here and wish she was still here.  I love watching her with my kids — playing with Benjamin and getting to know Liam.  I love her company.  It is so great to be able to talk to her all day, about big and small things.  I feel like we did too many chores, too much cleaning, and not enough talking, playing and sightseeing — it’s a lesson learned for next time.  She was a great help, and a great comfort to me.  I wish she could have been here twice as long . . . or more.

In the past, we’ve sometimes had trouble getting along after a few days staying together (this has been true since I was a teenager, and although we’ve had greater degrees of success with it as the years have gone on, I thought it would always be at least a little true).  We love each other, but get on each other’s nerves after a while.  We didn’t have that problem this time.  Maybe we’ve both just grown as people and gotten past some of our issues, but I don’t really think that’s it.  I know, for myself, I was so happy to have her here, so grateful for each day, that I didn’t want to waste my energy on being irritable or particular or exasperated — I just wanted to be with my mom.

I am really grateful to have this perspective now — I feel like it’s another important lesson I’ve learned by being on this adventure.  Those little things just aren’t important compared with the time we have to spend together.  I’m so glad she was here.  I can’t wait to see her again.

Perfect moments

010Every so often, I’m fortunate enough to have a moment where the people, the place, the circumstances all come together in just the right way.  I try to hold on to the way these feel — it’s my goal to live my life such that I experience them more and more.  (I don’t know if it’s “reality” or my perspective, but I do feel like I’m having them more often.)  Today was a great day — I had more than one of these.

This morning, I went to the “big park” with my mom and the boys.  We watched B play on the trampoline, took the train ride around the park, played at the playground and watched B ride on a variety of large mechanical animals.  We had a wonderful time.  The boys enjoyed themselves so much, the weather was lovely and I could not have asked for better company.  At one point, my mom and I, together, were 015pushing both boys together on the swings.  Benjamin had waited while another girl had her turn because he really wanted to swing with Liam.  Liam just laughed and laughed on the swings.  And, I got to be there with my mom.  The sun was shining, there was a nice breeze — I just wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Shortly after that, Benjamin was riding on a large mechanical polar bear with his Grandma walking alongside.  I was holding a fussy Liam and I sought refuge from the mid-day sun under the umbrella of an unused mechanical dinosaur.  (There’s a sentence I never could have guessed I’d write.)  While watching B and Grandma enjoy steering the polar bear around the park, Liam curled up in my arms and dozed off.  Pure happiness.


055After a morning of fun at the park, we headed home and got on with our afternoon.  Then, this evening, Dan & I went out to a movie, just the two of us.  It was really nice to be out, as a couple, and we enjoyed our time.  Coming home, it was raining and chilly.  We walked cozily together under the umbrella and talked about the movie.  Vienna is so beautiful, and the rain and the mist and the evening light, along with the company of my husband, combined to make another perfect moment.

Then, I got to come home, snuggle my kids, and visit with my mom for one last evening before she heads home.  It was a good day.


Adventure at the Belvedere


We went out and had a lovely dinner this evening in honor of Dan’s birthday at his favorite Viennese restaurant.  (Turns out it’s also now my mom’s favorite restaurant in Vienna so far.)  Good food and good company.

037Afterwards, we decided to go (literally) next door to walk around the grounds of the Belvedere Palace for a few minutes before it closed.  It was a beautiful evening.  There’s something about summer evenings at dusk — the warm, moist air, with just a hint of the coolness of the coming fall — it really gets to me.  There’s something . . . exciting, expectant, about it.  Tonight was one of those evenings.  The moon was up, the sun had set, but it wasn’t quite dark yet.  We walked around a bit, showed my mom the gardens and the fountains, let Benjamin run around a bit, and then started to head out.

On our way in, we had noticed that we only had about 15 minutes until the posted closing time of 9:00.  We’d been in longer than 15 minutes, although not by a whole lot.  As we finished our mildly long walk back to the gate, though, we noticed that the gate up ahead looked like it might be closed, and we watched the couple who had been walking ahead of us to see if they were able to exit.  They weren’t.  (Another example of Austrian thinking — I could just imagine the groundskeeper saying, “Well, what did you expect?  The sign said 9:00!”)

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Luckily, we’ve been to the Belvedere twice before and knew there was another gate . . . on the entirely opposite end of the grounds.  We encountered a man (who may actually have been the groundskeeper — not sure, but he had a bike and more information than we did) who told us the other gate was the only way out.  So, we set off.


It was a lovely walk on a lovely night in a lovely place.  It was truly dark now, and I was glad we were in such a safe place (as Vienna is).  But we enjoyed a pleasant evening walk together.  It was a little longer than we’d intended to be out (we asked Benjamin if he was having fun, and he told us “no”, and Liam got fed up with the stroller and needed to be carried most of the way) and uphill, but really, very nice.  We made it out of the far away gate, eventually found the right bus, then the right tram, and made it home.

It was a long evening, with an unexpected, but beautiful, adventure.  Neither of the boys got a bath before bed.  We are all tired.  But, it was certainly an adventure, and not one we could have had anywhere else.

Enjoying Sachertorte

After a relatively quiet day and a disastrous encounter between a glass Snapple bottle and our kitchen floor, we decided we had spent enough time in our kitchen and opted to eat dinner out.  We went to one of our favorite restaurants, which is in the next building over from ours and has a nice outside patio area, and enjoyed a lovely meal.

At the end, I decided to splurge on a dessert I’ve been eyeing for about a month and my mom wanted to try Austrian apple strudel.  Benjamin asked if they had chocolate cake — repeatedly.  He asked me, he asked my mom, he asked the waitress twice (although she didn’t hear him either time, but he was so very cute trying to ask).  When we looked at the menu, we saw that they did indeed have chocolate cake — Sachertorte, which is a famous Viennese treat.  We tried to get him to order it himself, but when the moment was upon him, he smiled and batted his eyelashes at the waitress and we ordered for him.  (Dan, who is on his strict, self-imposed diet, didn’t order anything.)

047Our desserts arrived, all lovely and delicious looking.  Benjamin’s was the most impressive — a slab of dark chocolate cake and a pile of whipped cream.  He took one look at it, picked up the cake in both hands, and started eating.  I tried to get him to use a fork, but gave up once he was about a third of the way through it.  Once I got over being mortified, it was really fun to watch him eat.  He was so enthusiastic about it — he paused only to take bites of the other desserts or to take the time to dunk his entire piece of cake into the whipped cream.  Even though he was obviously loving his chocolate cake, he shared with all of us — even Liam had a little whipped cream.

Benjamin is fully enjoying the experience of being in Vienna.  I am fully enjoying his experience.

Sleepover with Grandma

Benjamin is really getting in to the idea of camping.  For several practical reasons, starting with the fact that we have a 10 month old and ending with the fact that our tent is in storage somewhere in Virginia, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.  However, he loves to play “tent”.  He climbs under the covers of a bed, or under any available blanket, sheet or towel, puts all of his stuffed animals or other precious toys inside and pretends he’s in a tent.  He always has to play tent with someone else — usually his Grandma.  This has provided hundreds of hours of enjoyment for Benjamin and various members of his family.

Last night, he and Grandma did one better — Benjamin actually had a sleepover with Grandma on the futon in the living room.  Benjamin hasn’t ever had such an intentional sleepover.  (There were a few times, as a baby, that I took him to bed with me out of desperation, and then there were the infamous times when we first moved here when he was sleeping on the couch or on a mattress on the floor which probably felt a lot like camping — they did to me, at least.)  He absolutely loved it.  Apparently, he fell asleep nearly instantly and slept all night.  He was so happy to wake up with his Grandma this morning, and he just asked me if he could have a sleepover with his Grandma again tonight (which I’ve vetoed, because I’m not sure how well he really did sleep, as he was a bit out of sorts all day).  Later this week, Grandma is going to “camp out” on the air mattress on Benjamin’s floor in his room, too.

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I think he’s really enjoying having his Grandma visit, and getting to go “camping”.  Other than being outside, and roasting marshmallows, the best part of camping is getting to have a sleepover, anyway.  I’m so happy that Grandma is here to visit — I love having her here, and I know how much this means to my boys.

Dance Party Osterreich

019On a whim this afternoon, my mom and I packed the boys into the double stroller and set out for a walk with no particular destination in mind.  We got a couple of eiskaffees and started walking down the Ringstrasse to look at some of Vienna’s sights:  the Rathaus, Parliament, the Volksgarten, the Hofburg.  We came upon a place I’d seen before but not visited:  the Burggarten behind the Hofburg.  Dan joined us there when he got off of work.

It was lovely, as most of the gardens in Vienna are, if a little less . . . orderly.  I have not yet seen a place where so many people disregard the “keep off the grass” signs.  But, it was beautiful, verdant and very popular.  Benjamin made friends with a little girl his own age by a fountain — they played chase and flirted until she ran off for an older, badder boy.  (He seems to have gotten over it.)  We really enjoyed it, and it was fun to make another discovery of a nice place to walk and enjoy Vienna.

033Then, on our way out, we joined into an impromptu swing dance party.  Right behind the Hofburg, at the base of the stone steps, on the wide marble walkway, people were dancing enthusiastic, American style triple swing and Lindy Hop.  Dan and I joined in, and Benjamin quickly added himself to the mix.  We all took turns — Liam and my mom danced, too.  It was great to dance again — it’s been a while.  We danced ourselves to exhaustion — even Benjamin just wanted to watch by the end.  And then, when we were done, Dan got up the courage to talk to the assembled dancers and ask whether they get together often (they apparently do, and we got their information).

We had a great day.  I am worn out.  Now I remember why I was in such great shape when I was dancing.


I want my mommy

If all goes well, my mom will arrive here in Vienna in a few hours.  I am so excited — this will be the first time I’ve seen her (or anyone in my family, aside from on Skype) since we came here in April.  This is the longest I’ve ever been away from my mom (and my family in general).

Her trip kind of came together at the last minute (thanks to a wonderful aunt who helped her get here) so we didn’t know for sure that she was coming until she got on the plane yesterday afternoon.

I can’t wait to see her.  I can’t wait to show her our place, my favorite things in Vienna, and to have her share in how wonderful Benjamin and Liam are right now.  Especially Liam — she hasn’t seen him for 40% of his life, so he’s basically a completely different creature than he was the last time she saw him.  She’s going to get to know him all over again.  And, I can’t wait just to talk to her.  I’ve missed her so much.

I’m so excited to have her visit!  Yay!

Out of rhythm

Having house guests can be stressful.  It isn’t anyone’s fault — it’s just that adding on to an already busy “to do” list, while disrupting the rhythm and schedule of life, can cause chaos.  We’ve just had 10 days of house guests.  Our schedule was a disaster, the boundaries and rules with the kids were bent all over the place, we all shared a bathroom, we gave up our bedroom and slept in the living room, we stayed up too late every night.  I’m really glad they came to see us, but we are all exhausted now.

In addition to the logistics, it’s hard to live with anyone for 10 days.  I don’t think 10 consecutive days have ever passed between Dan & I where one of us hasn’t gotten a little frustrated, irritable or snippy with the other.  In a marriage, you learn which battles to fight and which to leave, and you develop a give and take of how to handle these routine frustrations.  With guests, it’s harder.  There is, of course, still plenty of reason to get frustrated, irritable or snippy with each other, but you try really, really, really hard not to.  It’s rude, it seems petty (especially when you’re only spending a few days with each other), the damage done is disproportionally severe when compared to the impact of whatever little irritation caused the situation in the first place and, of course, you’re trying to be on your best behavior.  (I have a tendency to be irritable, especially when I’m stressed out — which is often — so this kind of “letting go” of little things is something I’ve been working on in myself for years.)

Our guests left this afternoon, after 10 days of, truly, a very nice visit.  But now, we’re all exhausted, and we’re out of sync with the way we usually do things.  Since they left (about 8 hours ago) Dan & I have snapped at each other at least twice, Benjamin has been in “time out” twice (up until today he had been in time out only twice since we’ve been in Austria), Dan has slammed a door, I’ve slapped my hand on the kitchen counter in frustration (ouch), Benjamin is currently crying in his room because he doesn’t want to go to sleep, Liam took three tries to get down to bed and he was even tricky to feed at dinner.  Basically, we’re a mess.  We’re trying to get back to normal, but we’re tired and we’re all at our limits, so we take it out on each other, a little bit, which I wish I could prevent.

Although this all sounds awful, I actually think we’re handling this level of stress better than we ever have before.  Our moments of frustration have been fleeting.  Benjamin sat quietly in his time outs and went right back to being his happy, playful (and mischievous!) self.  Liam is now sleeping peacefully . . . and I think Benjamin may be (finally) too.  We’re still tired.  I have a mountain of laundry to do (including the sheets for our bed, which are currently wet in the drier . . . sigh) and tomorrow, life goes back to normal.

First prayer

It was cold here today — not cool, cold.  Our high was 14 Celcius, it varied between rainy and drizzly all day, and the wind went from a strong breeze to “Oh dear, what was that?!?”  If you had been plopped down in Vienna today, you would absolutely have believed it was April if that’s what you’d been told.  (I was thrilled, actually — I think it’s beautiful weather, and a real treat to have in July, especially after the heat we’ve had lately . . . but I think it may have been a bit too much for our fair-weather-dwelling houseguests.)

Today was, however, our first planned day of sightseeing with our visitors.  They arrived Friday, we did our “chores” yesterday, and today our plan was to see two of the most essential sights of Vienna:  St. Stephen’s and the Hofburg.  Well, it rained and it was cold.  We went anyway.

We went to St. Stephen’s.  We had planned to perhaps do a tour or climb one of the towers, but Dan’s parents weren’t really interesed in the tour and the weather didn’t make the climb in the tower sound too inviting, so we were just going to explore the cathedral on our own.  Of course, when we got there, the cathedreal wasn’t available to visit, but we still were able to wander around in the entry area and get to experience the beautiful church a bit.

It is amazing inside.  It’s huge, and beautiful, full of statues and stained glass.  It smells like incense and it’s just the right amount of dark and mysterious.  There are basins of holy water in the entrance and there are prayer candles in the nooks and alcoves — Benjamin was fascinated (as he was the first time we went, on Easter).  He really wanted to see the candles, so I took him to look.  He asked about them and I did my best to explain.  He asked if a prayer was like making a wish, and I told him that it was — that it was making a wish for good things to happen for people that you love, and that you tell it to God so that he can help you make it happen.  He wanted to make a wish, so we purchased a candle and lit it.  He wished for, “All the people that I love to be happy”.  (I am amazed by him — by his kindness and his understanding.)

And then he asked me if he could blow the candle out, and I had to explain the difference between a prayer candle and a birthday candle.  He seemed ok with it.

On the way home we walked past the Hofburg, through the Volksgarten, past the Parliament and the Rathaus and back to home, where we stayed for the rest of our rainy and cold afternoon.  To me, it was a lovely Sunday, but I’m not sure we did a very good job as hosts and tour guides.  That’s ok — we have 7 more days.

No more suitcases

It’s official:  no more suitcases.  We spent a few hours working around the house this morning (thanks, in part, to Dan’s parents who watched B while Liam slept and we cleaned and organized) and got the suitcases unpacked.  We still have a lot to do, in terms of getting things organized, unpacked and cleaned up, but being out of suitcases is a major milestone (besides, there’s something kind of lame about having guests who are living out of their suitcases while the hosts are still doing the same).

It’s another reminder of something I realize periodically:  we live here.  Our perspective is vastly different than it would be if we were just visiting . . . and it’s also different than it would be if we were living here permanently (with no end date looming).  We’re getting the feel of being here as tourists, a little, with Dan’s parents visting — our heads are spinning with the effort of trying to cram into just 10 days everything we love about Vienna (and trying to maintain a little of “normal” life at the same time).  It reminds us that we have been spoiled by time — we’ve had the benefit of what feels like infinite opportunity to explore, discover and enjoy Vienna.  But, at the same time, our 2 year deadline hangs over us:  it’s a reminder to make the most of our experience here, without creating too much pressure to fit everything in to too short a time.

It’s good to continue to get these reminders:  I want to seize this experience and get everything out of it that I can.  We are so very fortunate to not just be here, but to live here.