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.


05 November 2014


A few weeks ago, a friend told me about the largest pumpkin festival in the world. The K├╝rbisausstellung Ludwigsburg (the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival) is held every fall. But looking at the calendar, I found out that only one weekend remained of this party! We decided that the Pumpkinfest would make an excellent birthday outing for a boy who's turning two.

The festival is nestled behind the Ludwigsburg Palace, one of the largest original baroque palaces in Germany. The gardens, however, were the most impressive feature of this place. The grounds were clean and stately, lined with green, orange, and white pumpkins. And it couldn't have been a more perfect day. The sun was shining so bright that we shed our jackets and enjoyed the first weekend of November in short sleeves.

We entered the real pumpkin part of the festival once we circled around to the back of the palace. We found ourselves eating samples of pumpkin slices and seeds, and surrounded by pumpkin sculptures and artwork. Sebastian was just as amazed as I was to see a life-sized dinosaur completely made from pumpkins.

After exploring the grounds, we decided it was time to partake of the pumpkin goods! The menu featured pumpkin spaghetti, pumpkin stir fry, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin popcorn. We tried pumpkin quiche, pumpkin Maultaschen in pumpkin soup, pumpkin fries, savory pumpkin pancakes, and a vegetarian pumpkin burger. 

Pumpkin quiche, Sebastian's favorite
Pumpkin Maultaschen in pumpkin soup, our favorite

Sebastian fell asleep while we were exploring the rest of the gardens. So Livia got some well-deserved alone time and a great view of the palace.

After the Pumpkin Festival, we trekked across the city to the church building where the ward was hosting a Halloween party. Pumpkins and candy in one day? What a birthday treat! Since we have nothing, we fashioned a pirate costume with an over-sized white shirt, a black belt, and a scarf. I brought some eyeliner to draw on his face, but it didn't really matter anyway. He hasn't ever really been trick-or-treating. Last year, we dressed up fancy and walked around the block until we reached the Hutchinson's house. Sebastian ate one sucker, and then we went home. This year, he walked around to each of the trunks and said, "Treat, please." It took him a while to catch on, but he loved the result. He knows what his treat bag looks like and knows exactly where it is.

To some, that would seem like sufficient birthday celebration for a kid his size, but no. We party for an entire week at our house. On Sebastian's birthday, I was not allowed to tell him no, we didn't go shopping, we spend all morning at the park with other kids, Dad came home early, and we made homemade pizza and donuts. 

Just try to tell me I'm not a genius.

I think he likes them!
Livia's Sebastian's birthday treat

Happy birthday, Sebastian!