29 December 2014

Goals for 2015

This year, I decided to organize my goals that was both simple and complex at the same time. The organization is simple because I will have only two goals per category. I will be able to keep track of what I want to accomplish easier with just two goals to think about. The complexity comes with eleven categories, eleven areas in my life I feel I need to improve. Eleven.

Let me explain.

This last year of life was a bit of a whirlwind for our family. We started a new job. We finally started our blog. We moved from Arlington or Portland to Charlotte to Böblingen to Sindelfingen back to Portland and are currently homeless. We traveled to Seaside and Washington D.C., Paris and Berlin. Oh yeah, and we also had a baby and raised a toddler. We even crossed a few items off our bucket list.

But I've hardly had any time to focus on myself, much less on improving myself. At the same time, however, this year has been one of the best of our lives. Aside from the fact that this year was crazy, we think we loved it for two reason: we lived with less and we lived in the moment. We lived intentionally.

Never before had we spent more on experiences than on stuff. Never before had we spontaneously taken advantage of a free weekend than relaxed all day because "we deserved it." We built our home with time, not tools. And we filled our lives with love, not things. We saw fewer movies but saw more of the world. We made more plans but we also made more memories.

And we thought it can always be like this.

There is no reason we can't explore more of Portland this next year. There is no reason we can't hike through the forest or visit the beach or climb a mountain or eat exotic food every weekend. There is no reason we can't find newer ways to give meaning to our lives.

So now that we are settling down in Portland into a lifestyle that works really well for us, I want to improve myself in the following areas: physical, nutritional, financial, spiritual, recreational, educational, organizational, social, cultural, marital, and professional. I know, I know: It seems like a lot. But these are all areas of my life that are important to me and that I give attention to anyway. And if I can make them better, what's not to love?

In each of these categories, I will complete two goals. These goals are totally doable. Many of them I have already started this year, but my goal is to make them consistent. For example, in financial I want to plan a menu a week in advance and stick to a $40/week budget. I started meal planning earlier this year, and I want to really perfect that skill. (By the way, have you ever used PepperPlate?) I also want to not buy any "extra" things for the entire year. I'm actually really excited for this challenge. I also want to cut my entire closet down to 50 pieces, finish my programming course, plan a family camping trip, and learn to use a DSLR camera. Curtis wants to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, learn to forage, eat two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables daily, and ride his bike to work three times per week (which he now might not get to do since our apartment is too far...). Sebastian doesn't want to do anything . . . but as my professional goals (ha!) I'm going to help him ride his balance bike, use the toilet, and count.

We are really excited for our goals, not because we have a lofty idea of what our lives could be—but because we already know how grand our lives already are. And we intent to keep the momentum.

21 December 2014

No Room

Of all the exciting things we have seen this year, Sebastian has loved riding the trains in Germany most of all. We usually ride the S-Bahn, or the street trains, on a regular day. We'll sit at the train stop and face the direction the train is supposed to come. When he first spots the red engine gliding our way, he is excited every time. We roll into the car with extra room for bikes and strollers and look out the window for cows, water, or wind turbines. But on our way to Berlin, we got to ride the ICE, or the fast train. Since our connection was a few minutes late, we were worried we wouldn't make it to the ICE in time! We barely hoisted the stroller and our suitcase into the car before the door started closing and the train took off.

While we normally like to find the car with extra room, we didn't have time to walk up and down the train to look for it. And I'm not even sure there was a car like on this train. With a stroller and a suitcase, there was no room for us to sit. So we sat in the doorway next to the trash and bathrooms. 

In the car in front of us, a few single riders placed their bags in the seat next to them to prevent a stranger from sitting next to them. In the car behind us, a large group of men partied with beers in hand. Sebastian honestly couldn't tell the difference between where everyone else was sitting and where we were. He drove his toy car along the walls and jumped in the small space between the doors to the seats and the doors to the bathrooms. It was loud, so it masked his cheerful toddler noises that might have annoyed the seated passengers.

With Livia in my arms, I sat directly across from the bathrooms and watched passenger after passenger open the door while the toilet was flushing. I would periodically move to the side so that others could throw their coffee cups away. No one asked whether I'd like to sit in a seat. No one gave up their place for the tired woman with a baby.

But then I thought of Mary . . . when there was no room for her.

And tears filled my eyes. And peace filled my heart. And suddenly the train went quiet. 

19 December 2014

The City of the Century

When people ask me and Curtis about our favorite part of the last three months, we say, "Berlin"—without hesitation. When we first came to Germany, we thought we would be traveling every weekend. While we did get out and explore every week, we didn't realize how difficult or expensive it could be to take two babies somewhere exotic without a car. Curtis knew he had one week of vacation at the end of our stay in Germany, and while we dreamed of eating pizza in Naples or watching Shakespeare in London, we decided that Berlin was the city to visit.

Train Travel
Riding the train is the way to travel! Let me tell you . . . we've done a lot of traveling this year, and we love the train best of all. We saddled up our babies in our wonder-stroller and wheeled a suitcase behind us to the train station bright and early. We played at a nearby playground at the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (on a most gorgeous December day) while we waited for the train. We took four trains that day, but we had our own private compartment on the longest train, which traveled between Mannheim and Berlin.

We ate lunch and took naps and walked up and down the length of the train for, literally, hours. You can't do that strapped in a car seat.

Brandenburg Branch
When we arrived in Brandenburg, our final destination, we rushed to the bus stop only to be stopped by a familiar face! Matt met us right before we bought our tickets and gave us a ride to the church building. As we walked in, we were welcomed with open arms, Christmas treats, and Kinderpunsch (mmm!). The members of the Brandenburg branch recognized Curtis from his mission years ago, and I could tell he had a great time reuniting with these people that he loved so much.

We attended church the next day in the branch that Curtis spend seven months of his mission in. The Brandenburg branch is small, but very much like a close family. Curtis and I both spoke during Sacrament meeting (in German) about being in Germany, Christmas, and the Savior.

Berlin History
During the first part of the week, Curtis and I took the babies into Berlin to do some sightseeing. We booked a walking tour that outlined the past 100 years of German history in Berlin. To see the changes that have taken place in this city and to see how that city changed the rest of the world over that time earns Berlin the title of the "City of the Century."

The stones in the street mark where the Berlin Wall once stood.
Curtis revisiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe 
at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
a remnant of the Berlin Wall
some Stolpersteine, or memorials for victims of Nazism
It was truly a solemn day to reflect on the history that took place in Berlin, but it was even more astounding to see where the people of Germany are today. They are a people that remember the past, appreciate the present, and respect the future. 

Once it started to rain, Curtis led us to his favorite bus line. The 100, a double-decker bus, takes passengers past all the landmarks in Berlin. We hopped on at Alexanderplatz and rode to Kaiser Wilhelm Church on the top level of the bus, right at the front! We were lucky to get the best seat on the bus . . . but too bad for us, though, that the rain fogged up the windows!

atop a double-decker bus
after we wiped off the windows
Kaiser Wilhelm Church
Kaiser Wilhelm Church was destroyed in WWII, but was not rebuilt as a way to remember the war. The square surrounding the church was filled with Christmas market stands. We grabbed a döner kebab to share . . . but after one taste, grabbed another one because it was too good to share!

the best döner Curtis has ever had
The next day, we stopped at some of the locations that we passed (but didn't get to see) on the 100 from the day before. This time, Inette, our expert photographer, came with us.

. . . cheeks!

The third capitol in which Sebastian has chased pigeons!

Mission Revisit
Part of the reason we chose to visit Berlin was because Curtis spent two years in Berlin as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He lived among the people and spoke the language and walked past well-known landmarks every week. Here's just a few pictures that I wish we had made side-by-sides for!

Brandenburger Tor, 2007
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, 2007
Potsdamer Platz

Traditional Christmas traditions, like Christmas trees, Advent calendars, gingerbread houses, nutcrackers, and many Christmas carols, were born in Germany. At the beginning of December, Christmas markets full of decorations, traditional food, and music sprouted up all over the country. While we visited Stuttgart's Christmas market, we were very excited to explore the markets in Berlin. Berlin has Christmas markets all over the city, and we visited the one near Zoologischer Garten. We ate Rothenburger Schneeballen, chestnuts, and (of course) bratwurst. Before we left, sweet Inette and Matt wanted to buy Sebastian a ride in one of the cars. Look at the joy on his face.

Familie Richter
On Wednesday, we were invited to the Familie Richter's home for tea and cakes. Curtis met the Richter family while he was living and serving in Brandenburg. Brother Richter is a park ranger, so he says he gets to play all day for work. But he enjoys baking too: He made three cakes for us. "Do you like raisins? Well, I like raisins, so I'm going to put them in the cake," he would tease. They have a lovely house with lots of space and plants outside, including bees! Sebastian got to see the bees in their backyard before it got too dark, and he certainly has a healthy respect for them. We enjoyed spending more time getting to know this family.

Curtis and the Richter family in 2009

Inette and Matt
Hands down, though—this trip would not have been one of the highlights of our year without Inette and Matt. When Curtis and I say that we loved Berlin, we are thinking much less about the city tours and döner kebabs and much more about the friendship we developed with Inette and Matt. They cooked for us! They toured with us! They even gave up their bed for a week so we could have somewhere to sleep!

Curtis met Inette when he was on his mission, which was roughly six years ago. Since Curtis spend seven months in Brandenburg, they became good friends, but their friendship didn't end when he left the area. We knew that we would get along when we stayed with them for this week, but I don't think and of us anticipated just how close we would become after just a few days. Some common phrases heard throughout the week: "That conversation just sounds like me and Matt," or "That's exactly what we have talked about!" We couldn't help but stay up—sometimes until 2 a.m.—just chatting as if we were at a week-long slumber party.

Inette and Matt were especially sweet to Livia and Sebastian. Livia just adored being held and played with while Sebastian ran around their apartment to explore every corner. We couldn't keep the Advent candles lit because Sebastian wanted to blow them out. Rather than just putting the candles away, Matt re-lit them over and over again for him for almost half an hour. After he stopped lighting the candles, he let Sebastian "blow out" the Christmas lights hanging on the wall. As soon as Sebastian would blow, Matt would unplug the lights. Sebastian thought he was magic.

Sebastian out like a light while the grown-ups partied in the other room
Inette and Matt in the other room
We just loved spending time with Inette and Matt. They are a perfect couple and they inspire us to be better people. It's such a shame that we live on opposite sides of the world because it's hard to find friends like them. We love you!

We chose well when we chose to visit Berlin. It may be a while until we go back, but the memories we made are some of the best we've made together.

29 November 2014

Little Livia

Today little Livia turned six months old. And she picked a fabulous way to celebrate her half birthday—crawling! Livia is the sweetest, most content, patient, angelic baby I've ever met. And she's 100% Daddy's girl. She lights up at the sight of her dad more than anything else.

Rocking back and forth at the sight of her dad = love

24 November 2014

Thanksgiving in Ulm

We made sure to get on an early train on our way to Ulm so that we could spend as much time with our newly acquainted family members for a weekend of thanksgiving. We consider ourselves pretty lucky to even have family, albeit distant, on the other side of the world.

Lorraine, our second cousin, hosted Thanksgiving dinner for the first time at her home. She roasted her first turkey, feeding her family, her mom and dad, our family, two other families, and two sets of missionaries. We had hot rolls, delicious Lionhouse honey butter, Chinese salad, roasted butternut squash, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and stuffing. I almost forgot the pumpkin pie! It was a wonderful feast, but even more wonderful because we were with great people. We will ever be grateful to Lorraine and her husband, Hao, for welcoming us into their home!

After we ate, we gathered around the piano and went around the circle naming things we were grateful for. We couldn't name something that had already been named by someone else, and even with twenty people, we still went around the circle four times! We must be a blessed crowd. Lorraine then sat at the piano, and we sang our first Christmas carols of the year. Singing carols around the piano is one thing that Curtis and I did our first Thanksgiving together, so it was a lovely tradition to continue.

Curtis and I have had a year full of blessings and are the happiest we've been so far as a couple. We are grateful for so much, but here is a short list of our most cherished blessings.

Each other. I don't know how I knew it, but I knew from the very first moment I laid eyes on Curtis that he would make my life better. He sure knows how to elevate my hopes and dreams. And I know he thinks the same thing about me. He doesn't remember saying this, but I'll never forget how his voice sounded when he told me, "You are my highest goal, my loftiest aspiration." And he doesn't have to remember saying it because he treats me as such every day.

Sebastian. I could go on and on about how much I love Sebastian. And I have. He's just a ball of fun, a whirlwind of trouble, a bundle of kisses, and a batch of cuteness all rolled into one perfect, energetic boy.

Livia. We counted ourselves lucky to have as easy a baby as Sebastian. Everyone warned us about Number Two. But sweet little Livia has surpassed Sebastian in ease and sweetness. She's so chunky and squishy and sleepy and wonderful and simply angelic.

Our family. The other night we were walking to the train station after dinner. Curtis was pushing Livia in the stroller and Sebastian and I were walking in front of them. It was dark and cold, but the stars were shining. Sebastian would run every few steps, bouncing in his gigantic coat and giggling as I tried to keep up. I looked back at Curtis and thought, this is a perfect moment. We were simply going to the grocery store, but I had never felt so full of life as I did in this moment. I love our family.

Our extended family. It's hard to think that my parents and Curtis's parents are now considered our "extended" family. But we can't imagine life without them. They are the ones we still come to when we want to express concern, frustration, hope, or delight. We are always looking forward to the next time we see them. And it's always a blast when we do.

Jesus Christ. This list would not be complete without mentioning all of the hope, love, relief, peace, and joy that comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ. He has elevated our lives because of His sacrifice, and we owe our desire to be better people to His example. We're excited that His spirit is the cause for celebration for the rest of the season. All of the joy that comes from the things we do and the people we see stems from the joy we feel from Him.

We are also grateful for Curtis's job, technology, Germany, Excel, music, health, bodies, talents, future plans, warm water, warm hats, warm blankets, knowledge, home-cooked food, fresh fruit, nature, play, cloth diapers, sunlight, chocolate, Mother Earth, friends, speech, language, books, hygiene, pizza, color, transportation, and salt.

Our Thanksgiving in Ulm will be a Thanksgiving to remember because we have experienced that no matter where we are in life, we have plenty to be thankful for.

17 November 2014

Eighteen Pounds

"So, where do you live?"

"Near Waldenbuch. Do you know where the Ritter Sport factory is?"

My eyes went wide and a shot a look at Curtis that was unmistakable. Forget the rest of that conversation. We needed to go there.

It turns out the Ritter Sport factory is not too far from where we are living. An hour-long trip somewhere is close these days, mind you. As we were walking through the town, we started seeing large, colorful squares. A good sign that we were getting close! We found ourselves in front of a modern, square building, complete with colors. 

The Schokoladen features a chocolate exhibition upstairs and a chocolate shop downstairs. We started with the exhibition.

We walked into a dark room with three screens rolling beautiful footage of creamy chocolate. The film described the many steps it takes from harvesting cacao pods, to grinding cocoa powder, and to wrapping chocolate bars.

The perimeter of that room showed examples of some of the equipment from the film.

Sebastian's favorite part of the exhibition, however, was a small model of the Ritter Sport factory. If you press a small button, the factory lights up, shakes, and deposits a small square of chocolate into a sputtering little delivery truck. The truck makes its way around to the front of the factory and drops the chocolate through the prize door. 

Did I mention Sebastian loved this part?

Once Sebastian got used to the idea that colorful square wrapper equals delicious chocolate, he was more interested in the displays around the rest of the exhibition. These displays outlined the history of the Ritter Sport wrapper, advertisements, and success. Boring. Where's the real chocolate?

Here is it! Walk down stairs and you'll find aisles and shelves and rows of every chocolate flavor that Ritter Sport makes. At a discount, at that! We learned, however, that the real gem lies at the back of the store. They have broken and (not as beautiful) bagged sets of chocolate for an even greater discount.

We couldn't help ourselves. And neither could Sebastian, apparently.

Eighteen pounds? Oops. Will that be enough? We may never know.

09 November 2014

Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes


You are now two years old. I know, I know—I say this a lot, but I can't even believe it.

One of your new favorite things to do is sing. I don't know how you know what it is, but you can recognize whether or not a page has musical notes on it. You open the hymn book during church and sing along with the congregation. It's the most precious sight—you sitting there with that big book open on your legs that are short enough to fit completely on the bench. You scrunch your eyes like you are working hard and sing as loud as the organ plays. It's my new favorite thing, too. When we sing together as a family, you make sure we have the page open with the musical notes on it—not just the sound. You sing every song we play, but you especially love Head, Shoulders, Knees. and Toes.

And I love more than just the way you sing. I love every bit of you, from head to toe. So here's my version of one of your favorite songs (with a few added verses).

There are many things I love about your head—the way your hair grows over your ears, the way you wear my headbands on your head, the way you love your hat that the garbage man gave us. But the thing I love most about your head is what's inside. Your mind is wondrous. You have the greatest imagination—I knew that when you bit your toast into the shape of an airplane. You remember important things. You learn new words every day. But most of all, you love. The first thing you do when you wake up in the morning and run out of your room is find Livia. "Livia, are you awake? Are you happy? Livia's happy!" You care about other people and you love them.

When you used sign language to communicate, you tried to copy my signs as best as you could. In fact, your signs for banana, peas, and eggs all looked the same. But I could always understand what you were saying. My favorite sign, though, has always been your sign for love. Rather than crossing your arms in front of you, you have always tucked your fists together under your neck. While some of your other signs have changed to more closely resemble the model sign, this one never has. And it's your own way of telling me you love me.

It goes without saying how much you love to climb. You have strong shoulders and excellent balance. And as much as I don't like to let you go, I know that when I trust you, you get stronger every day.

This list wouldn't be complete without mentioning your love for cars. I'm not sure when it started—you never even had your own toy car for the first half of your life. In fact, until about six months ago, you had only one. Then Mimi came to the rescue and send you a package of Matchbox cars. And now there is never one out of your hands. A few examples:

Oh, the way you hold a pen is just perfect. You squeeze all four fingers and make the most delicate scribbles I've seen a two-year-old make. Well, some people might call them "scribbles," but I know you are trying to make an S. S is your favorite thing on paper. In fact, it's all you see. You see it on the signs for the S-Bahn, you see it on the side of my nail file, and you see it among a scramble of every other letter in a box.

Your favorite color is blue. I know this because every time I change your diaper, I let you choose which color you want. You always choose blue! If I don't have any blue diapers left, sometimes I'll try to sneak a blue-green or grey diaper on. It doesn't work. Not even with the lights off.

You don't love everything. Nope. Life would be too easy if that were the case. You love going outside and riding the train and playing at the park, but you hate putting on pants. Mimi and Grandma always comment on how you wear only a diaper sometimes. Well, it's not that I'm just lazy; you really hate it! So, as cute as I think your legs are, you still have to wear pants when we go outside. Or we can just stay home and dance.

When I play music during the afternoon lull, you won't let me just sit back and watch. You come over to me, pull on my pants, and say, "Dance!" You remind me why I do what I do. I don't stay home to sit back and relax; I stay home to be with you and teach you and dance with you and have fun with you. Your favorite song is "Let It Go," and I don't even know why! You've only seen the movie recently, but you've loved this song since before Livia was born. I would play a Disney radio station, and you could tell "Let It Go" was on from the first four piano notes. But the way you dance is what kills me. You bounce up and down to the beat and swing your arms from side to side. It seems to be a universal cute baby dance, and I'm thrilled you haven't moved on.

As much as you love running and playing, I would have to say that your favorite thing to do with your toes is jump. Since we are living in a 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment, our bed is out in the living room. (Yes, you get the room all to yourself.) And since our bed is out in the living room, you think it's just fine to use it as your own during the day. I don't blame you. It's just that you like to push all the blankets and pillows onto the floor so that our mattress becomes your personal trampoline! "Jump!" you say, and I'll come up there with you . . . sometimes.

Let's face it. You see a lot of things. You can spot a airplane in the night sky . . . and somehow pick it out of a sea of stars. You can spot an S on a sign as we pass it on the street. You can spot a tiny gnat in our apartment on the other side of the room. But your favorite thing to look for these days is a train approaching from the distance. It's red, it's fast, and its doors open automatically. What's not to love? We'll be sad to leave the trains behind when we leave Germany. But right now, as your are two years old, they are your favorite things.

You aren't always pleasant after your nap. I understand. I would probably be the same way if I woke up and the day was nearly over. But one thing that will get your spirits up is hearing footsteps in the Treppenhaus. Dad has these giant, heavy steel-toed boots that he wears that he can't help but clunk up the stairs. Good for us, though, because we can hear him as soon as he starts his ascent!

You sing, you eat, you spit, you kiss . . . but I have to mention what you don't do with your mouth these days. I'll try to serve you a variety of food. You love hot dogs, cereal, bread, cheese, peas, bananas, and a lot of other things. You even like spinach! But if I try to sneak a tomato on your pizza, "No 'matoes," you say. And you'll put it on my plate. I can hide mushrooms and eggplant and even nuts (sometimes), but you won't ever accidentally eat a tomato. You must have gotten that from Pappaw. I love this about you because you are figuring out who you are and who you want to be. Likes and dislikes are personal, and you are learning who you are.

One of Dad's favorite jokes (that he doesn't realize he tells all the time) is that you love to "stop and smell the roses, literally!" It's true, though. When we go out for a walk, you somehow manage to see small flowers growing—and you'll always stop to smell them. You scrunch up your nose and show your teeth and take a deep breath. It's just another way you teach us how to appreciate everything in life—especially you.

So, see, Sebastian? I love every bit of you. And there's more to love than what I just named here. And even though I can't believe you're two, I know that a day will come when I can't believe you're twenty. But there will be just that much more to love.