October 16, 2014

Germany: Three Months

This morning I woke up, looked at the date and realized that our family had been here for three months already. How did that happen? It's hard to believe that we have hit that mark already, and it feels like we have been here for a much shorter time, but also forever.

It's been a whirlwind couple of months as we have spent most of our time trying to get settled. We left a lot of furniture behind when we moved, pieces that were old or hand me downs from military friends of past who have left, so we are slowly but surely building back up our belongings. It makes things left to do -- a few lingering boxes, photos that still need to be hung, books waiting to be put on non-existent shelves, piles of paperwork clutter because there isn't yet a desk to do the sorting -- feel like this isn't quite "home" yet. Slowly but surely we are getting there, and I look forward to the day when I feel like things are "complete" around here. IKEA has become our friend, and most of our new furniture has come from there, and I have a feeling more will be on the way! Seriously -- Ikea is great, although it was a TAD overwhelming the first time we went through. But now? I feel like an old pro. Ha!

Then there has been the whole adjustment to being in a new country. Obviously. I think we are doing well, for the most part. My husband is fearless, which often means that he has no worries when trying new things, visiting new places or trying to talk to somebody. I get very anxious about being somewhere new on my own, for the first time. It's almost crippling, but I'm working on that. I swear.

We definitely have not had a shortage of activities, and while I have not been as prompt in putting them on the blog, we are constantly doing things. It's a nice change from living in North Carolina, where while there were some amazing places to visit in the area, everything was HOURS away. Stuttgart is so full of life, and there is never a shortage of things to do or places to see. And while we have made visits to Luxembourg, France and the Czech Republic so far in the past three months, we have some great trips to Austria, France (again. Paris, people!), Belgium and Amsterdam planned all before the end of the year. It's such a surreal feeling, knowing that this is our life. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity that we are beyond grateful for, and we continue to plan to make the most of it while we are here. I have a feeling our travels will slow down a bit in the new year, and we will focus on some bigger, longer trips but it's SO hard to not take advantage of all of this as much as we possibly can. M's job takes him TDY a lot (read: never here) so I am working on some easy day trips with the kids.There is never a shortage of castles, villages, and with the holidays coming up, Christmas Markets, within a very short drive. Christmas markets galore!

I think one of the hardest adjustments for us, though, has been our living situation. Having owned our own home for almost eight years back in North Carolina, stairwell living has been an adjustment. It has provided us some interesting interactions with our very close-to-us neighbors that are less than ideal, but it has also provided some great budding relationships with that we have met as a couple or I have met on my own (hi friends!) so we focus on the positive and power through. But not without a bit of eye rolling in the process.

However, if that's the biggest struggle we have, then it's all worth it. This place continues to surprise us and amaze us with all that it has to offer. I wake up daily thinking, I'm in Germany. How did this happen? It's hard, and has so many challenges, but the more we get settled, the more we overcome those. Of course, the biggest thing has been having my mom so close, especially with M being gone as often as he is. The extra set of hands has been more than I could have ever asked for, and the time she gets to spend with the kids is beyond priceless.

I can't wait for the holidays! Christmas in Germany -- I have heard it's quite beautiful. :)

October 14, 2014

Max: Nine Months

Nine months is, hands down, my most favorite age with my babies, and Max is no exception to this. I can hardly believe that we are here already, that in three very short months I will have a one year old. It is so unbelievably crazy to think that nine months have already passed since that crazy whirlwind of a night. But here we are.

I love this age for so many reasons. Max is completely coming into his own, and his personality is shining through in a very big way. Much like Lucas at this age, he is incredibly laid back and so, so happy. He loves life, loves his parents, loves his brother (even if that love isn't returned from Lucas!), love his Grandma and almost always has a smile on his face. It is such a joy watching his bloom and figure out life!

Max started crawling around six and a half months and has been non-stop ever since. He is QUICK, and smart. Often as soon as I turn my back, he is off and gone before I even realize where he went -- although usually it's straight to his brothers room. He puts everything in his mouth, and no matter how hard I try to keep the floors clean, he manages to find something. He makes this hilarious grunting sound when he is happy and laughing, and is finally starting to string some noises together, almost sounding like "dada" and "mama." He has two teeth on the bottom still, and one side tooth that popped through, with three others slooowwwllly making their way down.

All in all, he is truly a joy. We struggle with sleep, still, and we have readjusted our schedules more times than I can count to find something that works. Things have gotten better, but we are still pretty unsuccessful on that front. Another post for another day.

He LOVES food. As you can tell by the miles of rolls on his little body. We didn't last very long on puree's, and have gone the way of baby-led weaning (something we also did with Lucas). There has been zero rush with food, and we didn't start with solids until well after six months when he started showing more of an interest. We are still doing mostly one meal a day (dinner) and sometimes two (breakfast) with some snacks in between. This month we will focus on a more steady schedule of two meals a day, and next month start introducing a third. Appointments are hard to get around here, so we haven't had his nine month check up, but I have no doubt that he is growing steadily and continues to be a healthy baby boy.

I love the way he snuggles and nuzzles into my arm when he is sleepy, and the way he props his foot up on my shoulder when eating (Lucas did the same thing. Weird boys). His laugh is completely infectious and you absolutely cannot help but smile and laugh with him when he gets going. He still completely adores his older brother and already so badly wants to follow in his footsteps. I hope that one day they are the best of friends, event though all Lucas wants to do right now is beat up on the poor little guy (although he won't be smaller for long. Max will definitely be the bigger of the two boys). He is incredibly ticklish, loves to shake his little booty when we are listening to music and has so much courage to try new things, with zero fear following along.

There is some sadness knowing that these are the last three months of having an infant in our home, but Max is such a wonderful, joyous baby. He makes our days brighter and I cannot wait to see the changes that come between now and January.

September 29, 2014

Sleepless Nights, Part 2

Last week or so, I wrote about the sleep issues that we were having with our toddler, Lucas. I briefly mentioned that we were also having issues with Max, and while we are making headway with him, too, I'm saving his explanation for another blog post. I am happy to report that things with Lucas are getting better, although slowly. BUT ... better.

My husband was out of town for about three weeks, and I was left alone with two children that basically hated sleep. Which was truly unfortunate because I LOVE SLEEP. Like, a lot. I selfishly miss the days of being able to go to bed whenever I want, wake up whenever I want, nap whenever I want ... etc. You get the idea. But, you know, parenting.

As I mentioned, Lucas has been improving, with some pretty major leaps & bounds. We no longer stay with him in his bed, or even in his room, until he falls asleep, something we had done for weeks on end. We are also back to a scheduled 8pm bedtime. He generally doesn't like it when we leave the room, but we have compromised with leaving the door open for him and our bedroom light on (which seeps into his room just enough). He will fuss for a minute, and may call out after a little while, but we don't even go to him, tell him he's fine, and tell him to just close his eyes. More often than not, I have used the "you don't have to go to sleep, but you need to lay here" line, which fools him just enough to think that he doesn't actually have to go to bed.

I battled the two hour scream fest for the first couple of weeks my husband was gone (something that had been going on for a month up until that point), until I remember that I had bought some Zarbee's night time cough syrup when we first got here, because Lucas was so sick, and was not sleeping well due to waking himself up at night. It had the smallest amount of melatonin in it, and we reluctantly gave it to him. Neither my husband or I are fans of melatonin, for the simple fact that it's a hormone, and there hasn't been a lot of research on it in children. People also mistake it for a sleep aid, which it is not. It simply helps to reset your clock, and helps your body say "oh hey, it's pitch black, I should sleep now." I have no issue with other people using it, and if you do, I promise I'm not getting all judgy on you. To each their own, ESPECIALLY when it comes to your kids! But in the past it wasn't for us.

Until I was averaging about three hours of sleep a night while solo parenting.

If you're not familiar with Zarbee's, it's awesome. It's a totally natural, honey-based cough syrup. There are no drugs in it, just all natural ingredients, so overdosing is impossible. So I broke down, out of pure desperation, and gave it to him. And for the first time in MONTHS, my kid was out cold by 8pm. And he slept the entire night.

It was a damn miracle.

I did this for a week, to help get him back on a normal, routine bedtime. It also helped keep him calm leading up to 8pm, so we were able to do our normal routine. Bath. Books. Snuggles. Lights out. I stopped using it about a week ago, and he is back to his normal schedule, all on his own. The hyperactivity is still there, although when he gets good sleep at night, it's not nearly as bad the next day. The amount of energy that this kid has is seriously high, so keeping him active has also been equally important, although doesn't always work. We have zero TV after the morning, unless it's raining out and we may watch a movie. But by dinner time it's off for good, we play and start the calming down process because it seriously takes THAT LONG to get him to a point where he's ready for bed. We use a sound machine (always have) and have dark curtains. I think, more than anything, he is becoming more comfortable with his bed and his surroundings, to realize that it really is his space.

We still deal with wake ups in the middle of the night. It's a 50/50 situation as to whether or not he will sleep all night, but with M home now, he has been tackling the toddler wakeups. Which, for me is a huge, huge help. It gives me a chance to focus on Max (my next blog post) and getting HIM on a normal sleep schedule that doesn't involve me waking up three or four times a night.

The past few nights have been good. I am not nearly as exhausted as I was last week (or previous weeks) and overall his attitude and behavior has been SO MUCH better than I mentioned in my previous post, confirming for us at least, that everything was sleep related. Hewe  still naps during the day, although I do try to get him down as early as possible (closer to 12:30 or 1pm) to maximize the afternoon and give us plenty of time to be active. Some days napping doesn't happen, but on those days I make him play in his room by himself, and we make sure we are not at all sedentary, because come 4pm, if he sits down, he will pass out. As long as his behavior is good, we keep going and he gets a much earlier bedtime to make up for it.

All in all, huge, massive improvements. Which makes mommy very, very happy.

September 19, 2014

Hohenzollern Castle

Photo credit: Wikipedia
I'm a bit behind on writing about our adventures, and I apologize for that! We have still been doing so much, but with moving in to our permanent place, getting settled and the craziness that is my children's sleep schedules, there hasn't been much time for writing!

But I didn't want to miss out on this one.

This is Hohenzollern Castle (Burg Hohenzollern). We visited this castle a couple of months ago when we were still living in the hotel. About an hour south from us, it was an easy drive, one that I am looking forward to doing again. The Hohenzollern castle was the home of the future Emperors of Germany of the same name, as well as the future King of Prussia (who built the third castle, seen above).

This was our first castle visit here in Germany, and I'm not going to lie, it was pretty majestic. The castle can be seen well before you reach it, as it sits atop a pretty high hill. The views from the top are amazing, and every direction you look there is another spectacular view. Very little of the inside of the castle can be seen on the tour (we were only able to see a handful of rooms) but the outside grounds themselves are worth the visit.

Germany has more castles than we can count, but they are a common interest for both me & M. There is something so surreal about seeing how people like this lived hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Our history in the United States is so small, but being able to visit landmarks like this is pretty amazing.

If you are ever in the Stuttgart area, the Hohenzollern castle is definitely a must see. The hike to the top is long & steep, but if you don't feel like make the walk (we didn't) or have small kids (like us) then the shuttle is worth the few Euro. There is a restaurant at the top, within the castle, as well as a beer garden in the courtyard (of course). There are plenty of areas to sit and enjoy the scenery as well.

We can't wait to go back!