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.