Thursday, May 5, 2016

Happy 7th Birthday, Big Arrow!

I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about for your 7th birthday post until just a few days ago. We were curled up on the couch, watching "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," the slightly creepy Johnny Depp version. I was already feeling warm and fuzzy, listening to you and your brother compare the movie version to the play we saw in London last Christmas Eve. I was feeling thankful we had the chance to do that and provide you with such an experience (and who am I kidding... me too! I loved it as much as you did!). I was mentally reflecting on all those many memories from the past few years for which I'm grateful.

And then one of Charlie's grandmothers says to Charlie as he dreams of winning a golden ticket, "Charlie, nothing is impossible."

And that's it. That's what I want to tell you this year. Anything is possible. And it truly is. I hope your short yet amazing life has taught you this already.

You're a rule follower, much like me. I think for people like us, veering off the standard path, turning away from the expected, is quite difficult. Yet it can be so amazing. There were so many moments while we were living abroad that I thought to myself, "I can't believe I'm here in this moment, doing this thing or seeing this place." I have no doubt I'll have experiences like that to come, both in our travels and in day-to-day life. I want you to feel that way about your life as well. I hope you often find yourself standing in amazement at what you're doing, seeing, feeling... something.

I know your memories of our time abroad will slowly fade until they are just a fuzzy blend of people and places. But I hope it taught you that you can do anything, go anywhere, be anyone. You're full of creativity, spirit, laughter, smiles, and snuggles. That will take you far. But I also hope you know it's ok to take chances, to step off the mainstream track, and do something scary once in a while.

Last week at school, you had to write a sentence about tackling a challenge with a positive attitude. You so simply wrote, "I moved to a different country and then back." I'll be honest... I'm not sure four years ago I was completely confident you would handle these big transitions so well. But you have, and I promise I'll never doubt your capabilities again. You're better for it, and there's a toughness about you now that you always had somewhere deep inside. You've just developed it more and let it out.

Though you'll still scream bloody murder the moment your brother so much as bumps into you. You're still not that tough.

Roald Dahl has always been a hero of mine. He's one of yours now, too, I'm proud to say. So I wouldn't dare disagree with such a genius. Nothing is impossible.

(I write posts to the boys on their birthdays. You can read Little Arrow's 1st2nd3rd, and 4th posts and Big Arrow's 2nd3rd4th, 5th, and 6th posts at the links.)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Postcards from Puglia, Italy

There's a lot to say about our trip to Puglia, Italy over the Christmas holiday. Unfortunately there's not a lot of time to say it, as we move back to the U.S. in just a few weeks. I'm knee-deep in to-do lists, packing, relocation documents, blah, blah, blah. Apparently repatriating yourself is every bit as time consuming as expatriating yourself.

Nevertheless, I'm not going to let one of our last European trips of this phase of our lives tick by without being mentioned on the blog. And come to think of it, sharing a lot of photos and not a lot of time-consuming words is probably the best way to reflect on our travels to this region of Italy anyway. Puglia was jam packed with beauty. And also a fair amount of challenges. This is not an area of the world that caters to tourists or even English speakers in general. Which is refreshing in many ways, but also a little stressful and sometimes more than a little inconvenient. Like when you're desperate to feed your children at 6:30 p.m. and nothing is open until 8 p.m. What can I say, we follow a senior citizen eating schedule around here.

Anyway, let's let the beautiful photos tell the story. Because the incredibly gorgeous places, views, and buildings we saw are what I'm going to remember about Puglia anyway. Not leaving my credit card at a café two hours drive away.

First Stop: Borgo Egnazia

After flying into the Brindisi airport, we began our Puglian travels at the luxurious Borgo Egnazia resort. I wrote a full review of our experience at Ciao Bambino, head that way if you want the details. The brief summary is that we came, we pasta'd and pizza'd, we indoor pooled, we kids clubbed, and we relaxed. Bliss.

Next Stop: Ostuni

We made a brief stop on the coast after leaving Borgo Egnazia (picture above), then we headed to the hillside town of Ostuni. The charm of this place was oozing out of every little alleyway and café.

It was particularly dazzling all lit up for Christmas.

From Ostuni, we did a day trip to Alberobello to see the famous trulli homes.

Next Stop: Lecce

We didn't stay the night in this historic city known for its baroque architecture and ancient ruins, but it would be a good place to base yourself if you wanted to just stick to one location but still explore Puglia. Very centrally located and large enough to have enough amenities. For us, a day wandering around its famous sites was enough of a taste of its many visual treats (and there are many).

Final Stop: Otranto

If I had to pick a favorite area of Puglia, Otranto would be it. Gorgeous beachside location: check. Magical, winding streets and paths through the historic center of town: check. One knock-your-socks-off fantastic meal: check. For my family, it was pretty much the best of what makes Puglia so special, all wrapped up in one convenient town. And for off season travelers like us, it was one of the few seaside towns we passed through that wasn't completely boarded up for the winter season. In fact, it was bustling with activity, at least over the New Year's holiday.

Puglia was unlike anywhere else we've been in Europe. Gorgeous beyond compare. And with a dash of ruggedness and edginess that kept us on our toes.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Happy 4th Birthday, Little Arrow!

As you may know, I like to write posts to the boys on their birthdays, and it is Little Arrow's 4th birthday (you can read his 1st2nd, and 3rd posts and Big Arrow's 2nd3rd4th, 5th, and 6th posts at the links.) Forgive this temporary transformation of this travel blog into an incomplete baby book... I'll resume my normal travel tales and tips in a few days.

Little man, I've been thinking about what I might write to you in this space, on the eve of your fourth birthday, for weeks now. I want to do justice to my feelings toward you. How complex they are, yet how pure and full of love they are, too. Your personality has truly blossomed this year. We're getting a much clearer snapshots of the boy you're becoming and man you'll be someday. And we love everything we're seeing.

I say my feelings are complex because you challenge me every single day. Sometimes every single minute. Not because you're naughty (though you are, sometimes) or because you're difficult (though you are sometimes that, too). But because in most ways you're nothing like me. And I'm learning to appreciate how parenting someone so different from "my own self" (as you like to say!) is making me a better person.

I see a coloring sheet, and I can't wait to fill it with fabulous shades that I think will look beautiful together. You see a coloring sheet and you want to make it look exactly like the cover of the coloring book. I see a stack of puzzles and get bored. You see puzzles as a jumble just waiting to be organized. You're gravitating toward counting and math while I'm drawn to words and writing. I love to snuggle my family, but if I lay down next to you in your bed you make me maintain a strict 1 inch boundary of no touching.

I see risky playground equipment and think, "no way." You see them and think, "challenge accepted."

I fill my life with our small families and a few close friends. You're reportedly the most popular kid in your class, and I'm reminded of that whenever I pick you up from nursery and two dozen children come running to the fence to say goodbye to you. I'm a morning person, you're at your grouchiest when you first wake up. I'm laid back and not very picky. You demand things to be exactly as you want them, whether its the color of your dinner plate or the stray string hanging off your sock or only wearing that Captain America shirt with those particular dark blue trousers.

I hate to admit this, but before I became your mom, I think I may have been a bit judgemental toward people who weren't much like me. Now that I see life through your eyes, I know deeply and purely in a way I never knew before how absolutely fantastic it is that we're all so different. Because of you, I've welcomed friends into my life that are a lot more like you than me and my life is much richer for it. You're open to adventures and experiences that bring so much joy to all of us. And you challenge our family to be more open-minded, more accepting, and more embracing of diversity. Couldn't we all use more of that these days?

Plus, we laugh harder and more often because of the myriad of ways you entertain us. (Some day we'll tell you about that time you shushed us all at dinner only to get up, turn your back to us, and blow us away with an enormous fart. I earned my boy mom badge that day by laughing instead of scolding.)

We joke that the scariest words to hear are you saying, "Hey everybody, watch this!" You are my wild child, through and through.

When they wheeled me into surgery the day you were born, James Taylor's Sweet Baby James was playing in the operating room. I remember being overcome with this feeling that I just couldn't wait another moment to meet you. And each morning, for the past four years, when you yell at the top of your lungs for me to come into your room, I think to myself that I just can't wait to see what you'll get up to that day. I know it'll surprise me, challenge me, frustrate me, and delight me. Sometimes all at the same time. Isn't that wonderful?

I hope I get to feel that way for many more years, sweet boy. Happy birthday!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Saalbach's Kohlmais: Where Mountain Dreams Come True

It was hard to gauge how family friendly our summer trip to Austria was going to be. I thought my kids would be in awe of the mountain landscape, something very foreign for this Midwestern family. And they were. (Read my post about our time on Asitz Mountain in Leogang here.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Floating in the Clouds Atop Leogang's Asitz Mountain

A good friend of mine studied abroad in Austria while we were in college. When she came back to school after living there for a semester, the thing I remember most is that she said, "Wunderbar!" a lot. (She also taught us how to wear our scarves the way Europeans do, and I still think of her every time I wrap myself up that way.)

When my eyes first saw those Austrian Alps as we drove from Munich during our summer trip, I finally understood what that wunderbar! nonsense was all about. I can't think of a better way to describe those majestic mountains. They are truly full of wonder in every possible way.

The mountain view from the top of the Asitz mountain in Leogang was without a doubt the most breathtaking landscape I've ever seen. Perhaps my feelings toward it is due in part to the fact that the morning started out wet and foggy. We thought there was a good chance we'd take the gondola to the top, only to be completely surrounded by cloud cover. Maybe there's something to the "playing hard to get" philosophy because I'm fairly certain that's what the mountain was doing to us as we made our way toward the top. But Asitz did not let us down, and the skies partially cleared just as we arrived at the summit.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Day in Wells Saves the Day

On tonight's episode of Family Travel Gone Wrong: A family pulls into a parking spot in the center of the small city of Wells in Somerset, England, a 20-minute drive from their campsite. They arrive very wet, having woken up to a soggy campsite after a torrential downpour all night. (Miraculously, our Coleman Instant Tent stayed completely dry!) They had spent the previous 24 hours stranded at their campsite when the matriarch of the family (me) locked both sets of keys in the trunk of the car, leaving them with only one wallet, a little bit of cash, a tent and some clothes. All other belongings including phones, food, camping supplies, books, etc., were locked inside the car. This family endured the drama of three different mechanics attempting to unlock the car over the previous 24 hour period.

True story.

Needless to say, we were in need of a hot meal and something (anything) to go our way if our weekend camping getaway was to be salvaged.

Wells delivered.

After refueling (oh, what two cups of steaming coffee does to an exhausted parent's disposition!), we embarked on a walk about town. It was raining again at this point, but we were so overjoyed to be out exploring with full, warm bellies that we barely noticed.