A Visit from Gram and Grandpa (June 3-13, 2014)

My Dad and Marilyn made their second trip to Germany and we all had a fantastic time! Connor already “knows” his Gram and Grandpa thanks to talking on Skype about once a week and visiting them last summer, but I still thought it would take him a little time to warm up to them in person. He sure proved me wrong! Within about thirty seconds of greeting them at the airport, I was chopped liver! Connor requested that Grandpa read to him before his nap when we got home, and even crawled into bed with them for some pre-nap cuddle time. After a nap for everyone, we ventured out for an errand, then back home to relax. Gram and Grandpa took Connor to the playground while I had the rare opportunity to cook dinner without my sous-chef. The following day, we enjoyed a beautiful morning at the Volkspark. I squeezed in a run while the little man played with Gram and Grandpa, then we all fed the ducks, followed by a quiet afternoon at home.

Reading with Grandpa before a nap

On Thursday morning I had to drop off the car for service. It was nice that I could leave Connor at home with his “babysitters” and not worry about moving his car seat. Oh, that reminds me…I didn’t mention that Charlie isn’t in town. He left for France the same morning that Marilyn and my Dad arrived. He played for several D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, and had an absolutely incredible time. (He says he will write a blog about it…) We miss him, but it’s nice to have company while he is away. My friend Amy drove me back to pick up the car in the afternoon, and Connor talked for days about me getting into the “red car with Amy and Reilly!” We ended the day with a fun dinner for my final German class. The restaurant had a playground, so Connor got to play with Gram and Grandpa (plus his friends Asher and Audrey) while my class did a little bit of work, then we all enjoyed a nice dinner together.

On Friday, we drove to Heidelberg for the day. We took the train up the hill to the castle and wandered around the grounds, taking in the beautiful views of the city and river below. Connor took a snooze while we transferred to the funicular rail and went all the way to the top of the hill for an even more incredible view. Lucky for him, he woke up just in time for the ride down. He enjoyed watching the conductor “drive” the train. We were all hot, tired, and starving, so we stopped for an afternoon meal. I usually just share my meal with Connor at restaurants, but thanks to eating with his friend Audrey the night before, he specifically requested schnitzel. Raising our German boy right, I suppose :). We all enjoyed a fantastic meal, and then set out to walk along the Hauptstrasse. Connor, having only managed a thirty-minute nap, was in no mood to walk where we wanted to walk, so we quickly decided to go ahead and see the famous bridge before calling it a day. Once we found the bridge, we had a great view looking up at the castle. Marilyn bought a few souvenirs, and we were on our way back home. My dad was proud that I successfully navigated us into and out of Heidelberg!

Saturday was another hot day. We went to the farmer’s market in Kaiserslautern in the morning, marveling at all of the fresh meat, cheese, eggs, bread, and produce. After strolling around and eating some lunch, we headed home to rest for a while. Later in the afternoon, we went to the Bremerhof Biergarten with a few of my friends and their kids for dinner. We had tables right on the playground, so the kids had a great time! Marilyn and my dad enjoyed their first true Biergarten experience.

We relaxed on Sunday and did some laundry and packing for our trip the next day. After Connor’s marathon nap, we went to the Bazaar on one of the Army bases and Marilyn enjoyed picking out some souvenirs and gifts to take home. I told Connor he could go in the bouncy house after we were done inside, but when we came back outside they had already folded it up…even though it was still ten minutes before closing time! Thankfully he wasn’t too bothered by that, and we had to stop by the commissary anyway, so I dropped off Connor, Gram, and Grandpa at the nearby playground while I made a quick run into the store. We picked up Greek food from a restaurant near our house and called it a night.

On Monday morning, we drove to Hirrlingen to spend a few days with our German relatives. Once we arrived, we spent the day with the Zugs. Elisabeth and Matthias hosted us for a delicious lunch (where Connor ate his weight in dumplings and spätzle), then Alex, Annette, and Nina took us to the town of Haigerloch. We walked through a unique museum, relaxed in the shade for a while, and then walked through the castle grounds. (Meanwhile, Charlie arrived home from France and we were able to finally talk on the phone. Connor was so excited to hear daddy’s voice!) After picking up Döner for dinner with the Zugs and hearing performances by Nina on violin and Alex on bagpipes, we made our way to Annette’s house to settle in for the night.

Connor loved hearing Nina and Alex play some music!

Tuesday morning brought a sudden rainstorm and some (very brief) relief from the heat. After breakfast, we piled back into the car under sunny skies to head towards the Bodensee (Lake Constance), which is along the southern border of Germany and Switzerland. Annette was our fearless tour guide, and her son Julian and nephew Samuel (both 14) were with us as well. After driving for a little over an hour, we arrived at our hotel and dropped off our bags, then ventured out for the day. I think the highlight of the trip for Connor was all the forms of transportation we used! After a train ride and a short bus ride, we arrived in the beautiful town of Konstanz.


We strolled through Konstanz, then took a one-hour catamaran ride to the town of Friedrichshafen on the other side of the lake. Connor napped for most of the boat ride while I enjoyed my first view of the Swiss Alps…amazing! In Friedrichshafen, we toured a Zeppelin museum (blimps, not Led!), then found a table at a Biergarten for dinner. After our leisurely dinner, we took the catamaran back to Konstanz. Connor entertained himself by climbing in and out of the seats as he pretended to be the captain of the boat. Lucky for him, the excitement continued as we boarded the bus and then the train to get back to our hotel!

Connor wanted to do everything with Julian and Samuel!

Watching our catamaran pull up to the dock

Enjoying his first gelato

We were all hot, sweaty, and exhausted. Everything in the diaper bag came in handy that day as we encountered the hot sun, leaky diapers, scraped knees, hungry bellies, wet clothes, and a bump on the head. Connor and I shut ourselves in the bathroom as soon as we got back to our hotel room so we could shower before getting everything in the room dirty! After a decent night’s sleep (which would have been a little better if I had figured out how to open the window for some cool air), we enjoyed a nice breakfast at the hotel and checked out. We boarded the train once again, then had a leisurely walk with time to stop on the shore for Connor to throw rocks into the lake. Next, we boarded a small boat for a short trip to the island of Reichenau. The island was so picturesque! We walked a little ways, then took a bus to the other side of the island. Connor napped while Julian and Samuel took a paddle boat out for a while. We took the bus back to the other side of the island again, then found a place to eat. We enjoyed an incredible lunch of fresh fish (caught that morning) and salad that was all grown on the island. With full bellies (well, except for Connor, because he was more interested in looking at the lawn mower than eating), we hopped on the bus again to get back to our boat. After one final train ride, we were back to our cars, hot and sweaty and ready to drive back to Hirrlingen.

The picturesque island of Reichenau…Annette loved the flowers!

Trying on Annette’s hat

We went straight to Friedrich and Carmen’s house for dinner. After two days exploring the Bodensee, Connor was thrilled to be able to just sit on the floor and play with cars and trucks! We had a delicious dinner of salad, Maultaschen soup, potato salad, and dessert. Marilyn and my dad stayed awhile after dinner to enjoy everyone’s company while I brought Connor back to Annette’s for bath and bedtime.

On Thursday morning, Connor and I were surprisingly the last ones down for breakfast! Normally he is up around 6:30 or even earlier, but he finally slept until after 7:00am. After eating, Connor and I played outside while Marilyn and my dad went for a walk with Annette. Connor had fun playing with trucks and watching Elias (Annette’s oldest son) mow the grass. The highlight of the morning was riding on the forklift with Benjamin! Bernhard’s house is directly behind Annette’s, and Benjamin (the youngest of Bernhard’s three children) is doing a lot of renovations on the house now that Bernhard has passed. Connor loved seeing a “jobsite” up close and personal, including a big crane and forklift! After Annette, Marilyn, and my dad returned from their walk, Annette took us into Bernhard’s house to let us pick out a few special items to keep in remembrance of Bernhard.

Working hard with Benjamin!

It was time to start our drive home, and it’s always sad to leave Hirrlingen. Our German relatives always make us feel so special and loved. We are taken care of as if we are close family members, even though there is some distance between us on the family tree. Connor was exhausted after our trip to Hirrlingen and the Bodensee, and he practically fell asleep mid-sentence in the car and slept the rest of the way home.

We arrived home mid-afternoon, and Connor was excited to be reunited with all of his toys! And to make things even more exciting, Charlie came home from work shortly after we got home! Since our trip to Hirrlingen overlapped with his trip to France, Connor and I hadn’t seen him for 10 days! Marilyn and my dad were glad to finally catch up with Charlie, too. We all enjoyed a relaxing evening at home, complete with takeout from our favorite local Italian restaurant.

The next morning, Charlie drove my dad and Marilyn to the airport :(. Connor still yells around the house for Gram and Grandpa! We had such a great time while they were here, and it’s always hard to see them leave. We look forward to one more possible visit from them at Christmastime, otherwise, we will see them next summer when we move back to the states!

Two bittersweet trips to Hirrlingen (March 18-19 and April 2-3)

I remember my 5th grade family heritage project so vividly: gathering photos and family tree information from my Grandma, my dad helping me make spätzle for the class…I never would have thought that I would actually be HERE in Germany, standing where some of those pictures were taken, and meeting people on the family tree! I feel so incredibly blessed to have the chance to get to know my German relatives while we are living here. Charlie has enjoyed meeting and spending time with them as much as I have, which just makes it even more special.

One of the relatives we spent a lot of time with was Bernhard. He is one of my Grandma’s first cousins, and I first met him many years ago when he visited the states. His daughter, Annette, reached out to me when we moved here and invited us to come for a visit. (Little did she know we would keep coming back!!) Bernhard was often emotional when we arrived and when it was time to say goodbye. Even though he didn’t speak English, it was clear how much it meant to him to connect with his American relatives.

Bernhard always had something special he wanted to do with us or show us: a certain restaurant or cafe, a cuckoo clock shop, or a museum he knew we would enjoy. He was like an Opa for Connor…taking him on his tractor or buying him a special sheepskin rug just like all of his own children had.

Bernhard passed away in his sleep on March 12. It was unexpected as he had been in good health. Connor and I were able to drive to Hirrlingen for the funeral, but Charlie had a concert and was crushed that he couldn’t get away. I was grateful that I could attend the funeral and represent the American side of the family. It was a nice Mass with lots of music, and afterwards everyone gathered for refreshments.

Charlie, Connor, and I drove to Hirrlingen again on April 3 for the burial of Bernhard’s ashes. I know that Charlie was relieved that he had the opportunity to say goodbye. There was a small ceremony at the gravesite with close family, and we were so touched that Annette allowed us to join them. Afterwards we all went to a café for coffee and ice cream and enjoyed an afternoon of socializing. We went back to Annette’s house for a little while, then back to the church for a special Mass.

Although the reason for our visits was a somber one, we nevertheless enjoyed the opportunity to see so many relatives and even meet a few new ones. Everyone was in remarkably good spirits; it seemed like they were focusing on celebrating Bernhard’s life and rejoicing that he is now with his late wife Renate. We made so many memories during these two short trips, and Connor still talks about so many of the relatives by name.

Bernhard, we are blessed to have known you.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Connor!


You have been growing and changing so quickly over these last few months! Watching as you develop your language and creative playing skills has been incredible. I’ll try to keep your update short so that I can work on another post about our two recent trips to Hirrlingen.

At your 2-year checkup on April 17, you weighed 28 lb and were 34.5″ tall (50th percentile for both).

Talking and Signing
I stopped writing down your new signs after the last post. Even though you are talking now, you still love learning new signs. You especially love watching the “little girl” on YouTube teach us new signs and sing songs using them :). (MySmartHands if anyone is interested!) When I wrote the last post 3 months ago, you were only saying a handful of simple words like mama, daddy, oh no, and whoa. Now you can say almost anything!! You can imitate almost any word (not perfectly, but you get most of the sounds), and you have a large vocabulary of words that you use without any prompting. It’s amazing to hear you speak in sentences already, even if they are broken sometimes. Some of our favorites are: “Mommy, more (fill in the blank…) please!” and “Daddy, build blocks please!” You are curious about people and always want to know “Who be there?” or “That man name?” With some prompting, you will ask, “What’s your name?” and can respond when someone asks you the same question.

I think you can pretty much say the whole alphabet and sign each letter. You can count up to 15, but often skip numbers :).

Favorite Toys
Legos, cars and trucks, and your play kitchen with its countless food/kitchen toys are your favorites. You enjoy doing puzzles and reading books, too. It’s so much fun to see you completely engrossed in what you are playing with! You are incredibly creative in your play, and you love to pretend to be other people, trucks or tractors, a fireman, etc. I constantly hear you exclaim, “Connor be Reilly!” “Mommy be Amy!” or “Connor be digger!”

Favorite books
Opera Cat, She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain, Love You Forever, anything about cars or trucks
I love hearing you quote your favorite books randomly throughout the day :)

Mommy’s little helper
You still enjoy helping with the laundry and cooking in the kitchen. You are able to follow directions and complete tasks pretty well, like putting away your toys.

Sleeping and eating habits
You like to eat, and you continue to enjoy most everything that I cook. Your favorite foods include eggs, beans, corn, broccoli, meat, oatmeal, and dried fruits. Bedtime is around 7:45-8:00pm (starting in your bed and crawling over to me at some point), and you usually wake up around 6:30am. Naptime lately has been about an hour and a half somewhere between 12:00-2:30. A few days ago, you napped by yourself for a little over 2 straight hours. That was a first!

And now the most important part of the blog…more pictures!

Fixing the wall

Decorating Easter eggs

A new Lego fire truck and cement mixer!

Connor’s new “walking bike”

Happy birthday, little man. We love you to the moon and back!

A Long Weekend in Belgium (February 14-17, 2014)

We finally ended our traveling drought and took a weekend trip to Belgium. Connor was excited, but a little confused; he kept signing and saying “bell-gym” and then “girl” because he was thinking about the two little girls in his gym class. Overall, it was a great trip! We survived rain, wind, map-reading mishaps, and a toddler who wanted to walk (or run) everywhere.

We arrived at our hotel in Brussels in the early afternoon after hitting a short stau (traffic jam), stopping for gas and one restroom break, and tackling confusing roads surrounding our hotel. Connor and I had a nap in the car, so once we checked-in, Charlie napped while Connor and I explored the hotel. Now that everyone was rested, we left for our first adventure with Rick Steves’ guide in hand.

Our view as we walked

Our view as we walked

It was a 20-minute walk to the Grand Place, which was Brussels’ market square for 1000 years. Our map didn’t have every little street labeled, so once we were close, we weren’t sure exactly how to get to the Town Hall in the Grand Place. Thinking it would be obvious, we kept following the signs, and when we reached a large, impressive-looking building, we thought we had found the Town Hall. I pulled out Rick Steves’ “Grand Place Walk” and started narrating. I was confused when the book pointed out buildings across the street or next door that I didn’t see, and finally realized we weren’t at the Town Hall! (For those of you who have been to Brussels, we were actually at the Bourse. Whoops.) We got our bearings and felt pretty silly once we actually arrived in the Grand Place. It was quite an impressive sight! It had been lightly raining since we left the hotel, but our spirits lifted as we finally experienced the heart of Brussels. A group of girls asked us to take a picture of them, so Connor found his “bell-gym girls” after all :).

Town Hall in the Grand Place

Town Hall in the Grand Place

The King's House in the Grand Place

The King’s House in the Grand Place

Another Grand Place view

Another Grand Place view

Thankfully, I was able to navigate the rest of our walk without any mishaps. The rain continued, but we enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate (Connor’s first, and he approved!), bought a tin of Neuhaus chocolates, and explored the rest of the sights near the center of town: Galeries Royales St. Hubert (a large, glass-covered fancy shopping mall), a busy “restaurant row,” Church of St. Nicholas, the Bourse (stock exchange), 13th-century convent ruins, and finally the famous Manneken-Pis statue. Yes, the statue is just what it sounds like: a little boy peeing into a fountain. It’s one of the more famous tourist sights in Brussels, but it was a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting a huge statue, not one that was less than two feet tall!

Manneken-Pis...Connor was not amused!

Manneken-Pis…Connor was not amused!

The rain was coming down harder by now, and Charlie managed to navigate us back to our hotel with our sub-par map. We didn’t want to go back out or sit down at a restaurant for dinner, so I picked up Chinese food from the restaurant next door to the hotel. Yes, we ate Chinese food on our first night in Belgium and we aren’t afraid to admit it!

Relaxing in the hotel after a rainy afternoon

Relaxing in the hotel after a rainy afternoon

During our hotel breakfast, Connor enjoyed pointing out the people while eating his weight in eggs. With a 0% chance of rain and a blue sky, we were ready for the day’s adventures. We walked just a few short minutes to the metro station and took the train to Parc du Cinquantenaire. The huge arches of the park were impressive! The arches were built in 1880 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence. Our first stop in the park was the Royal Army and Military History Museum. We spent most of our time in the aviation section, where Connor excitedly ran around yelling “Eh-PLANE! Biiiiii!” as he marveled at all of the big airplanes. I was grateful for a wide-open hangar with few other people there so that Connor could get a little energy out. Charlie enjoyed all of the planes and other military aircraft, and the highlight for me was seeing how happy my boys were!

Parc du Cinquantenaire

Parc du Cinquantenaire

Parc du Cinquantenaire

Parc du Cinquantenaire

Royal Army and Military History Museum (You can see that my little blur is already off and running towards all of the "eh-PLANES!")

Royal Army and Military History Museum (You can see that my little blur is already off and running towards all of the “eh-PLANES!”)


Love his cheesy smile!

Love his cheesy smile!

After walking through to the opposite side of Parc du Cinquantenaire, we walked about 15 minutes to see the outside of the European Parliament building. We stopped inside the Parlamentarium, which is a free hi-tech tour of the Parliament, but decided we weren’t interested in taking the tour. Connor was starting to get sleepy, but we thought he would be excited to see the dinosaurs at the nearby Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences before he took a nap. We quickly figured out (the hard way) that the location I had marked on the map wasn’t quite accurate, and after asking for directions at a hotel and still not finding the museum, Connor had fallen asleep. (Luckily, he didn’t ask where the dinosaurs were when he woke up later!) Charlie and I decided to continue our windy walk and go on to the Musical Instrument Museum. It was a really neat museum spread among several different floors. The audio guides played musical examples as you walk near each exhibit. Connor woke up about 15 minutes into it, but he stayed pretty happy as we took turns letting him walk around while the other perused the exhibits.

On the 10th floor, we sat down in the crowded café for a much-needed late lunch. The view from the café provided a great birdseye view of Brussels. I secretly started to panic because all of Connor’s toys, snacks, etc. were in the backpack which we had to leave at the coat-check before entering the museum. Thankfully, he was content eating from our plates, with a few breaks to have one of us walk around with him. Charlie ordered a sausage and sauerkraut dish, and I chose black and white pudding with mashed potatoes and apple compote. A trip to another country just would not be complete without a menu blunder from yours truly. I knew that black and white pudding wasn’t “pudding,” but I was still caught off-guard when my plate arrived with two sausages. Charlie mentioned that the dark one might be blood sausage, but that didn’t really sink in at the moment. I must have been too hungry! I ate it, and Connor enjoyed the sausages, too. As I’m writing this blog, I looked it up online, and sure enough…blood sausage. Yum. I suppose that will help our iron count??

A view of Brussels from the 10th floor of the Musical Instrument Museum

A view of Brussels from the 10th floor of the Musical Instrument Museum

Refreshed after eating, we ventured back to the Grand Place to look around the shops. We bought beer, more chocolates (or, as Connor started saying, “chot-let”), and bought frites to munch on while we walked back to the hotel. (Frites are basically French fries, but they are fried twice so that they are extra-crunchy. They are probably the most popular Belgian street food, along with waffles. This was Connor’s first French fry experience, and he was happy to continue sampling!)

Stopped for a family shot as we walked back to the Grand Place (You can see the top of Connor's hat...does that count??)

Stopped for a family shot as we walked back to the Grand Place (You can see the top of Connor’s hat…does that count??)

We walked back to the hotel, unloaded our goodies, then went back out to look around at the shops near our hotel. As soon as we told Connor that we were going to the store, he started signing “orange.” Lucky for him, we found an express grocery store where we bought an orange for Connor and bottled tea and water for Charlie. Next door was a little café with prepared foods that you could eat there or take with you. We picked up salads, soup, and sandwiches to take back to the hotel for dinner. Connor scarfed down the entire orange faster than I could cut it up for him!

Playing in the hotel room after a long day of sight-seeing, and excited to discover that his letter magnets stick to the radiator!  (Don't worry, the radiator isn't on...)

Playing in the hotel room after a long day of sight-seeing, and excited to discover that his letter magnets stick to the radiator! (Don’t worry, the radiator isn’t on…)

After another hotel breakfast, we hopped on the train to spend the day in Bruges. After a transfer from the metro to the Belgian Rail, we settled in for a one-hour train ride. The train was full, so we ended up sitting on the floor between a second-class car and a first-class car. The first-class car was nearly empty, but we didn’t have the guts to take any of the open seats. Good thing we didn’t bother trying, because when they came through to check tickets, they kicked a few people out that didn’t have first-class tickets! I thought Connor would love the train ride, but he suddenly decided that a morning nap was more appealing.

Enjoying the train ride to Bruges

Enjoying the train ride to Bruges

Once we arrived in Bruges, we followed the rest of the tourists across the street and started heading towards the center of town.

It was a beautiful day in Bruges…

After a 15-minute walk, we arrived at the Markt (Market Square). Charlie narrated Rick Steves’ “City Walk” for us. We saw the Belfort (the bell tower that has stood over the Markt since 1300), Basilica of the Holy Blood (it wasn’t open yet so we couldn’t go inside), City Hall, and walked through the basement of a hotel to see the ruins of a fort and church from 900 A.D. By this point, Connor had finally perked up and he wanted to walk or run everywhere instead of staying in the carrier with me. Rick Steves clearly didn’t have a toddler in tow when he planned his walks! We managed to enjoy several canal views, followed by a quick look inside the Church of Our Lady. All three of us were ready for a break, so we stopped at a café for lunch. Charlie had a panini while I had quiche and a salad, then we shared our first Belgian waffle. The waffle definitely lived up to all the hype!

Market Square

Market Square

City Hall

City Hall

A canal view

A canal view

We headed back to the Belfort so that we could climb the 366 steps for the best view of the city. The line was long when we were there in the morning, and it wasn’t any shorter at this point. Connor had fallen asleep on our way there and stayed asleep the entire looooong wait in line. That was definitely a blessing, because there was no way he would have wanted to wait in that line if he had been awake! He woke up when we were about halfway up the narrow, winding staircase. I certainly didn’t see anyone else climbing the stairs with a toddler on the front and backpack on the back!! (Did I mention that there were 366 steps??) We made it all the way up to see the carillon bells and a fantastic view of Bruges, and even survived the walk back down.

We walked alllll the way up the Belfort!

We walked alllll the way up the Belfort!

Views of the Market Square from the top of the Belfort:

This is the face of a man who just got pooped on by a bird. At least it didn't land in the frites he was holding...

This is the face of a man who just got pooped on by a bird. At least it didn’t land in the frites he was holding…

Heading back to Brussels on the train

Heading back to Brussels on the train

On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped at a waffle truck. This waffle was even better than the one we had earlier in Bruges! After we got settled at the hotel, I walked down the street to pick up burgers for dinner from the Brussels Grill. Poor Connor…I told him we were having meat and green beans for dinner, but the meat was too red for us to feel ok about giving to him (which seemed pretty ironic after I realized I fed him blood sausage earlier that day), and they accidentally gave me fries instead of green beans. He didn’t complain, and found enough to eat from the food we had brought with us from home.

After the best night’s sleep of the whole weekend (for me, at least!), we packed up the suitcase and had one last breakfast at the hotel. We loaded up the car, and on our way out of town, we took a detour to see the Atomium, which was the symbol of the 1958 World’s Fair. Charlie pulled over to take some pictures from the outside, and then we hit the road towards home. Connor fell asleep halfway through and didn’t wake up until we got home. Vacation is hard work!

The Atomium

The Atomium

Where should we go next?

Our Holidays and Connor’s Latest Update

2014 already?? Although this was Connor’s second holiday season, it felt like his first because he was truly able to enjoy all the decorations, gifts, and excitement. (I promise…he was much more excited about the holidays than he looks in the picture!)

Ashley Brokovich1

Charlie’s woodwind quintet performed Christmas carols at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center early in the day. Connor and I had fun at home baking pecan pies, green bean casserole, and playing with his Lego train. After Charlie came home, we had Thanksgiving Dinner with our town’s German-American Social Club. It was a potluck hosted by one of the members, and there were lots of people there. I think Connor only ate the turkey, but Charlie and I enjoyed lots of nostalgic holiday food. We were able to Skype with many of my family members who were gathered at my dad’s house for all of the annual Thanksgiving traditions back home.


My sous chef (yes, he wanted to wear my apron :) ) taking a break to play with his train set on Thanksgiving morning

Connor learned many new signs as he experienced all of the holiday magic: Christmas, reindeer, snowman, Santa, calendar (for our Advent calendar), wreath, ornaments, stocking, angel, and gift. It was so much fun to see him pointing out holiday things that he recognized anywhere we went. We bought a music-box Advent calendar at a holiday bazaar, and Connor loved to open the doors each evening. We hid some sort of small gift inside, like stickers, a new ornament for the tree, a box of raisins, etc, but if we had a busy evening or weren’t home, luckily he didn’t remember what he was missing! I bought a beautiful Advent wreath at our local florist, and Connor enjoyed the routine of praying and lighting the candles at dinner each evening. He would put his hands together to pray, and every time I asked who or what he wanted to pray for, he immediately said and signed “Da Da!” He loved our mini-Christmas tree and all the ornaments, especially the colored lights. We saw Santa Claus at the BX the week before Christmas, but Connor wasn’t interested in sitting on his lap. That was fine with us, because we were definitely not interested in having an upset Connor! Connor didn’t open his gifts until December 28, after we had returned from Hirrlingen. He was spoiled rotten by his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, Santa, German relatives, and our landlord!

Inspecting the Advent calendar

Decorating the tree

Playing with his felt tree

Decorating gingerbread cookies

Visiting Santa

Charlie was busy with four holiday performances throughout December. I was disappointed not to see any, but Connor and I enjoyed lots of quality time at home while Charlie was gone. After all of the concerts were finished, the unit hosted a great holiday party for the soldiers and families. We even won a few raffle items, including a beautiful handmade quilt and a 3-liter bottle of beer!

On Christmas Day, we drove to Hirrlingen to spend the holiday with my German relatives. This was the fourth time we have visited them, and they always make us feel right at home. Once we arrived at Annette and Gerd’s house (and their three teenagers: Elias, Julian, and Lillith), Charlie helped them finish preparing the midday meal while I helped Connor settle down for his nap. He stayed asleep while we enjoyed roasted leg of lamb, knödel (bread dumplings), roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts, spätzle, potato salad, and a green salad. Don’t worry, we saved a plate for Connor, and his favorites were the spätzle and knödel.

After everyone relaxed and dozed after the meal, we drove to a church in a nearby town to see the Krippe. The Germans use the word “Krippe” or (crib) to describe what we would call a nativity scene. Krippe are found at most churches (at least in the area of Germany where we were), and they are very large and elaborate! Afterwards, we all went to Friedrich’s house (Annette’s brother). We enjoyed coffee and cake (including a homemade Linzer Torte that my grandma had sent to us), followed by singing many German Christmas carols. Luckily they had song books, so Charlie and I could sing along, even if we didn’t know what we were saying! I forget the word that Annette used, but it’s a tradition to compliment the beauty of someone’s Christmas tree with words or by singing, and then you receive a shot of schnapps for being so kind. We all sang our hearts out, and the schnapps was served! Connor had fun playing with some cars and trucks that one of Friedrich’s sons got out for him, and he also was intrigued by the cat. Unfortunately, the cat did not feel the same way, and Connor ended up with a very mild bite on his arm. He was upset and cried for a few minutes, but the skin wasn’t broken. It’s now almost two weeks later, and we still hear Connor randomly say throughout the day, “mrow mrow…boo boo” as he signs the word cat and then points to his arm. Once we got back to Annette and Gerd’s house that evening, I put Connor to bed, then the four of us grown-ups enjoyed a light meal of bread, sliced meats and cheese, and tomato-mozzarella salad.

The day after Christmas was Lillith’s thirteenth birthday! We had a nice breakfast with the whole family, and then Charlie, Annette, Connor, and I went to Mass. I’m embarrassed to say that was only the second church service that Connor has ever attended, but he made it through with flying colors! After walking home, it was naptime for Connor, and then lots of relatives arrived for Lillith’s party. These relatives were from Annette’s mother’s side of the family, so we had never met most of them. Most of them spoke English and we enjoyed getting to know them, and lots of delicious food was served (soup, chili, bread, cheese, roasted vegetables, and various dips). Later in the afternoon, Alex (Annette’s cousin) arrived to bring us to his house for the evening. We enjoyed coffee and cake with Alex’s family (his wife, also named Annette, and their two kids Sven and Nina), as well as Alex’s parents Elisabeth and Matthias (Elisabeth is one of my grandma’s first cousins), and Annette’s parents. Alex and Annette’s parents left after a while, and then Annette cooked a huge dinner of schnitzel, spätzle, potato salad, cucumber salad, cabbage salad, and green bean salad. In the meantime, Connor was having such a blast playing with Nina! Charlie and I were obviously stuffed from all of the wonderful food served to us throughout the day, but we were also overwhelmed with the constant offerings of coffee and wine/beer! I think I had more coffee and wine during our three days there than I normally have in a month!

Connor stuck to his usual vacation sleep routine of going to bed later than usual and thus waking up even earlier than usual…so we enjoyed the wee morning hours with Annette while everyone else slept in. Charlie made it downstairs for a light breakfast with us, then Annette and I went on a walk with Connor and the dog while Charlie took a nap. Annette and I enjoyed the sunshine (did I mention it had literally been raining constantly for the past 48 hours??) while Connor took a much-needed nap in the front carrier. Once we got back to her house, her father (Bernhard, another first cousin of my grandma) was walking over to see us. He had a big surprise for Connor to see…his TRACTOR!! Connor got to sit in the tractor, and I have never seen such a huge grin on his face! (I think Bernhard was equally ecstatic to be able to provide Connor with that experience!) He has been obsessed with cars, trucks, steering wheels, trains, and tractors for a while. Lately, every time he sees one, he signs “in,” and now he finally got to sit IN a tractor! He couldn’t get enough of the big steering wheel or honking the horn. Now, when he starts talking about tractors (which is often!), he will say “Buh buh” for “Bernhard,” and when we ask him what he did in the tractor, he will pretend he’s using a steering wheel and say “meep meep!” for the horn.

Annette served everyone a nice lunch of noodles, homemade meatballs, gravy, and tomato salad. Afterwards, Charlie, Connor, Bernhard, Annette, and I drove to the Wasserschloss (water castle) in the Black Forest, about thirty minutes away. Bernhard wanted to take us there during our first visit, but we didn’t have the chance. He took us to the cafe inside the castle, which was decorated ornately and had lots of interesting things to look at. We looked at two cuckoo clocks for sale, but neither was the style that we are looking for. (According to Charlie’s dad, we had better find a cuckoo clock soon, otherwise we will leave Germany with a new baby instead!) After looking at the clocks, we sat down for coffee and a giant slice of Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwald torte). Yes, we had Black Forest Cake IN the Black Forest! Connor tasted a little of the cake, but was much more interested in the foam on my cappuccino. We said goodbye to Annette and Bernhard (which is always emotional even though we know we will be back again) then hit the road towards home. It should have taken about two and a half hours, but it was closer to three hours with traffic. I was sure that Connor needed another nap, but he was content for the whole ride home. Around 5:30pm – literally ten minutes from home – he fell asleep. I figured he would wake up when I got him out of his seat, but he didn’t, so I laid him in bed. He woke up a few hours later and I changed his diaper and put on his pajamas, but then he went back to sleep and slept until early the next morning! Christmas vacation wore him out! As usual, we had an absolutely fantastic time in Hirrlingen and we are already looking forward to our next visit.

Can’t leave out the Christmas sweater shot!

New Year’s Eve
We had absolutely nothing special planned, which was fine by us. Connor and I went to bed fairly early, followed by Charlie not too long afterwards. At midnight we started hearing fireworks. Charlie got up, but Connor didn’t wake up until about 15 minutes into the show. I tried to get him back to sleep, but he wasn’t happy about it, so I decided I didn’t want to ring in the New Year with a crying little man. We got up and joined Charlie near our upstairs windows, which are huge and overlook the other side of Hochspeyer. The fireworks show was amazing! Individual people set them off from their own homes, but as we looked over an entire part of town, it was quite a show! Connor loved it. Charlie went back to bed once it started to die down, and I cuddled with Connor in the glider while we were still able to look out the windows and see the last of the fireworks.

Connor’s latest update (almost 21 months!)
I will try to keep it short this time since I rambled about our holidays :)

New this month: caterpillar, turkey, dinosaur, animals, brown, white, pink, full, empty, table, garbage (truck), forklift (you made it up yourself by combining “fork” and raising an arm!), doctor, sad, don’t like, boy, girl, broccoli, rice, Christmas, Santa, stocking, gift, ornament, reindeer, snowman, angel, (Advent) calendar, wreath

Not many new words: whoa, oh nooo!, and you say a few letter names very well (A, B, C, D, E, O). Speaking of letters, you can (usually) identify, say, and sign those same letters!

Favorite toys
Legos (train set, duplo blocks), trucks (garbage, tow, and dump trucks), pots, pans, and lids, anything with a steering wheel that you can use

The pots and pans just never get old…

The new train set combines with his first set!

Favorite books
There’s a Hole in the Bucket, The Snowy Day, I’m a Little Teapot, Cars and trucks and Things That Go, Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever

Mama’s little helper
You will load an entire basket of laundry into the washer, from the washer to the dryer, and from the dryer to the basket. You love to empty the water from the dryer (not something we will have to do once we are back in the states!), put the lint filter back in, and help me carry one end of the basket into the living room. Helping in the kitchen is another favorite activity of yours, and you especially love to stir anything, pour ingredients from a measuring cup/spoon, and put lids on. You like to climb into your high chair and car seat by yourself, and you can do the buckles mostly by yourself once I help you with the straps.

He climbed up all by himself and started trying to snap the buckles!

Sleeping habits
We took off the front of your crib and moved it alongside our bed, so now you have your own space instead of sleeping in our bed all night. Your “new normal” is to stay asleep between 6 and 8 hours at bedtime before you wake up for the first time. I can usually soothe you back to sleep without nursing until around 3:00 or 4:00am, and then you like to crawl in next to me and nurse to sleep for the rest of the morning. You usually wake up too early (and I mean that it’s not enough sleep for you, not that it’s too early for me!) and I’m working on trying to help you get enough sleep.

Connor at 19 months

I can’t believe that you are now closer to your second birthday than you are to your first. You have changed and developed so much this month! We are trying desperately to soak up every precious moment.

Your signs are so useful for communicating with us. You make the same sound for several different words (for example, when you say “mama,” it could mean mama, lid, pumpkin, mushroom, monkey, water, or music), but when you use the sign along with the sound, we know exactly what you’re talking about. New signs this month: big, small, yes, different, work, silly, frustrated, black, dirty, smoke (we see lots of chimney smoke from our window), wood, pig, bug, tiger, rabbit, whale, cow, barn, baby, police car, carrot.

Your words that sound like “real” words: mama, dada, bye-bye (“bah-bah”), one (“wuh”), two (“dooo!”), tea (“ti-ti”)
You “say” MANY other words that daddy and I can understand perfectly…but no one else would! We love to hear you trying to imitate any sounds we make. It’s so funny when we let out a big sigh or grunt, only to hear you repeat it a moment later.

Favorite toys
Of course you still love your kitchen tools and gadgets, but you have been expanding your preferences lately! Trains are a new favorite. As soon as something is stacked on top of something else, it immediately becomes a train in your eyes and we hear, “choo choo!” as you push it along. You love to stack wooden blocks. I looked over one day and you had stacked several round green blocks on top of each other…then a few minutes later, you stacked all the yellow square blocks! Cans are another favorite object to stack.

Favorite books
She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain, The Cat Came Back, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Our little bookworm

Favorite activities
-Reading books, pointing out all the pictures that you recognize, and chiming in during certain stories
-Helping to cook or clean
-Unpacking the groceries, stacking all the cans, and hiding fruit on the bookshelf
-Swatting bugs and pointing out bugs for us to swat
-Going to Musikgarten class
-Climbing on everything in your gym class
-Playdates with friends
-Listening for sirens every time we go outside or in the car (“Na-na? Na-na??”)

The expert grocery unpacker and can stacker :)

Any dishes left for me to wash?

Relaxing during a play date

New animal sounds
Turkey, chick, goat

Mama’s little helper
You are still my #1 helper, but now mama has another helper! My friend Amy comes over on Wednesday mornings for about an hour and a half to play with you while I take care of things upstairs. You have SO much fun with her and you don’t even miss me!

Nothing new, but you are chewing on your fingers all the time and drooling sometimes. You aren’t a big fan of brushing your teeth lately.

Eating habits
Not much new…Your favorites are still eggs, dried fruits, and cooked carrots or sweet potatoes. You also love frozen blueberries (thawed, of course). Sometimes you eat like a bird and quickly sign “all done,” and other times you have second and third helpings. I make hot herbal tea everyday and you love to drink it! Homemade almond milk is another favorite drink.

Sleeping habits
We made big changes this month. You still sleep with us, nurse to sleep and again early in the morning, but you no longer nurse during the night. It wasn’t your choice and you weren’t happy at first, but mama and daddy were always right there to soothe you back to sleep. Eliminating nighttime nursing, combined with letting you fall asleep in bed instead of my arms, has finally resulted in longer stretches of sleep! Your record is about 7.5 hours. Most nights you still wake up a few (or several…) times, but you are almost always soothed back to sleep within moments when I sing to you or tell you a story. Instead of my usual lullabies, you now request “choo-choo,” “meh-meh,” or “ooooh” (She’ll Be Coming’ Round the Mountain, The Cat Came Back, or Bingo). Bedtime is around 7:30-8:00, and you take your nap around 11:30-1:00ish…depending on how early you woke up that morning!

A Visit from Oma and Aunt Ellen

My grandma and Aunt Ellen visited us in Germany! My great-grandmother immigrated to the US from Germany, leaving behind nine siblings, so my grandma has first cousins and many other relatives living here. She has visited Germany several times and thought she had already come for the last time, but once we moved here, she decided to come for one more visit. I’m so glad she made the trip and that Aunt Ellen came with her! It was Ellen’s first trip to Germany.

Friday & Saturday
Charlie picked them up from the airport on Friday, and Connor was Mr. Shy for a few minutes once they arrived. He soon warmed up and was ready to show them all of his toys! We relaxed for a while, then took them to a nearby mall to show them what the German stores are like.
Our landlord came to visit on Saturday morning while our heat was getting fixed, and she was thrilled to meet Grandma and Ellen and speak to my grandma in German! Mid-morning, we hopped in the car and drove about 40 minutes to Burg Lichtenberg. Charlie had performed a woodwind quintet concert in this castle a few weeks earlier, so I was glad to finally see it since I couldn’t go to the concert. We started with a fantastic lunch at the castle’s restaurant, then walked through the musical instrument museum. Finally, we walked through the castle ruins. I naively assumed we would be touring the inside of the castle, but I quickly realized there WASN’T an inside! It was just ruins, which we were able to explore at our own pace. Connor certainly enjoyed running outside and climbing rocks much more than he would have enjoyed an indoor tour! On the way home from the castle, we stopped at the BX so that Grandma and Aunt Ellen could see it.

Beautiful fall leaves at the castle

We drove about 3 hours to Hirrlingen, the village where my grandma’s mother grew up. Charlie and I have visited there twice already, but it was SO special to be there with Grandma and Aunt Ellen! We had a wonderful day with our German relatives: a nice lunch, visiting the town’s church to see the “seed carpet” that is displayed annually, visiting the Atomkeller Museum in Haigerloch, then coffee at a cafe at the Schloss Haigerloch. The day ended with a long dinner at a restaurant with around 30 German relatives who came to see us! We stayed overnight at Andrea’s (the daughter of one of my grandma’s first cousins), where Connor discovered the endless joy of a simple ping-pong ball on a hard floor.

This is the Erntedankbild at the church in Hirrlingen. It’s made entirely of seeds and grains, and it’s a way to give thanks for the harvest.

Connor walking at the Schloss with Annette (the daughter of one of my grandma’s first cousins)

After coffee at Andrea’s, we drove to Elisabeth and Matthias’ house (Grandma’s first cousins) for a leisurely breakfast. We took a short trip to the cemetery in the village and saw the graves of many relatives. Elisabeth had lunch ready for us after that, but Charlie, Connor, and I really needed to hit the road home. Elisabeth graciously packed up the food for us and we enjoyed it as a delicious dinner at home. Grandma and Aunt Ellen stayed in Hirrlingen for the following week and enjoyed lots of adventures with their German family! Annette brought them back to our house the following week.

The next Monday
Annette and her husband Gerd brought Grandma and Aunt Ellen to our house late on Monday night. After three trips to Hirrlingen throughout the last year, it was great to finally have Annette and Gerd in our home!

Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday
Charlie had the car for work, so Grandma, Aunt Ellen, Connor, and I stayed at home during the day. On Tuesday we went for a walk around our town, and once Charlie got home we drove back to where he works. He and I had to attend a meeting, but it was a good excuse to show Grandma and Aunt Ellen where he works. I planned for us to have dinner at the Flammkuchenhütte on the way home, but it turns out that it’s closed on Tuesdays. Oops. Charlie dropped off Connor and me at home so I could let him eat and get him to bed, and meanwhile they went to an Italian restaurant in our town and brought home calzones for everyone. Wednesday was another relaxing day at home as we enjoyed our last day together.

I loved seeing Connor bond with his Oma and Great Aunt. Connor only says two words besides “mama” and “dada,” and one of them is “Ohhhh-mahhhh!” We tried to teach him to say it before she arrived, but he mastered it during her visit :). He says “Ne-Ne” for Aunt Ellen. They have been gone several days already, but Connor still randomly says “Ohhhh-mahhhh,” which of course is always followed by “Ne-Ne!”

It was a tearful goodbye as they left the house. It was so sad to know that we won’t see each other until we move back to the states in the summer of 2015. We had such a wonderful visit together, and I will never forget the special memories that we created!

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