September

​What happened to summer? It’s hard to believe we are already into October. The weather has cooled off a bit and Connor had a field trip to the pumpkin patch last week…so it must be Fall! The kids have been keeping our hands and minds busy and our hearts full. Here is the latest from the Brokovich household, from September until now:

Connor started Kindergarten on September 6th. He was pretty anxious about starting, but has had fun each and every day. Charlie and I have been blown away by how quickly Connor is learning to read! He has learned many sight words already and is able to put them together into sentences. He is so proud of himself when he can point out words he knows as we read books together. His teachers are wonderful, and he seems to have made new friends easily. We stay after school for about an hour each day to play on the playground with other students and enjoy the nice weather. When Connor is not in school, he loves to build LEGOs, play tag, look at his LEGO catalog, relax with a favorite show, and create crazy contraptions around the living room with blankets, pillows, and ropes.

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Connor is ready for his first day!

More first day of school photos

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Connor is ready for his field trip at Taylor Farm!

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Connor’s Kindergarten class at Taylor Farm

Choosing the perfect pumpkins

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Connor loves all the trucks at the farm

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Connor’s favorite activity at home is still building LEGOs!

Morgan’s two favorite things this month are Daddy and dogs. She shrieks, woofs, and signs “dog” anytime she sees or hears one, and loves to look out the window to catch a glimpse of our neighbors’ dogs. As soon as Morgan hears someone at the door in the late afternoon, she immediately signs “Daddy.” I absolutely love to watch her face light up when Charlie walks in! Morgan also enjoys flipping light switches, climbing on stools and chairs, and looking at pictures of our family.

Our little lady has added many new signs this month: Connor, brush teeth, airplane, book, hat, glasses, music, playground, loud, fan, rain, cold, exercise, sit, open, poop, brush teeth, tomato, avocado, fruit, strawberry, egg, and banana. She mimics a few sounds, such as the frustrated grunt each of us tends to make. She also gets pretty close to a true “Uh-oh!”

Morgan is sleeping pretty well. Her bedtime has crept closer to 8:00pm, and over the last two weeks she’s had a few days where she wouldn’t take her afternoon nap. She still wakes up once or sometimes twice during the night, but she also sleeps straight through every once in a while!

My dad and stepmom came to visit for a few days. They had their 2-year-old foster daughter with them, and we had an interesting time managing the kids’ interactions. Connor was thrilled to show Gram and Grandpa his school, and have them here for his soccer game. We look forward to seeing them again at Thanksgiving!

Here are a few more photos from September:

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Finding ways to entertain ourselves while Connor is at school…

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This silly girl still loves pilfering from the clean laundry basket!

Morgan fell on the sidewalk and scraped her nose and forehead.  Thankfully it healed quickly!

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She thinks she’s a grown-up girl now!

My two little yogis!

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Morgan is 3 months old!

October 30, 2016

Growth and Development

Morgan is now sporting a double chin and plenty of leg rolls, and is wearing 3-month clothes. She is starting to grab things, but so far can only grip soft things like a burp cloth or her Minnie Mouse blankie toy. She often pulls them up into her face and then can’t push them away!

Gathering her toys

“Oops…now what do I do?”

Morgan loves to scoot backwards while laying on her back. She always ends up with her head crammed on one end when she’s on her changing pad, or if I lay her on the floor she can scoot completely off the blanket.

Morgan scooted off her blanket and headed straight for Connor’s Legos!

We see lots of smiles from Morgan, especially when Daddy is around. Connor gets so excited when she responds to him with a sound or smile, and he repeats whatever he just did over and over in hopes that he will get the same response. I love how her tone of voice changes when she “starts a conversation” with us, and Morgan loves it when we mimic her sounds back to her. She has more and more alert time where she is content to hang out in her bouncer, swing, or just in our arms.

Having a conversation with Connor

Sleeping
Morgan is still a reliable and consistent nighttime sleeper. She goes to bed between 7:30-8:00pm and usually wakes twice to nurse during the night. (There have been a few nights when she only wakes once!)  Her first morning nap has become predictable and consistent, but the rest of the day she usually catnaps here and there, usually only getting a long nap if I have her in the sling for a while. She sleeps in the Rock & Play sleeper at night, and I have started putting her in the crib for one or two of her naps each day.

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The best way to nap!

Napping in the sling while helping Connor with his shower, and catching a quick snooze on the Boppy pillow

Big Brother
Connor is enjoying school! He has a couple friends from last year that he still loves to play with, and has made a few new friends this year. We stay after school to play outside with them each day as we take advantage of the nice weather.

Connor loves being a big brother. Morgan receives plenty of hugs and kisses, and we are still working on Connor understanding his size and strength compared to his baby sister!

Early in the month, Connor had a school field trip to Taylor Farms. Morgan and I went with him, and we enjoyed a hayride, seeing farm animals, choosing a pumpkin, and playing with friends.



Connor earned a medal for finishing a 6-week basketball program!   Charlie always went with him each week, but Morgan and I tagged along for the final night.


And finally, two more favorite photos of our beautiful little lady this month!

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Morgan is 2 months old!

September 30, 2016

Growth & Development 
Our little lady is filling out more and more each day. First it was her cheeks, and now the baby fat has made its way to her legs. She is 12.2 lb (86th percentile), 23″ long (72nd percentile), and is wearing 0-3 month clothes. Morgan holds her head up fairly well, and she loves to push with her strong legs.  An exciting development this month is that Morgan seems to be smiling in reaction to us (mostly Daddy, of course)!

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Sleeping
Knock on wood, Morgan is still quite a reliable nighttime sleeper. She likes to go to bed at 9:00pm no matter how tired and fussy she is during the hours beforehand. She generally starts with a long stretch of 4-6 hours, and then has shorter stretches until the morning. Morgan’s naps are usually on me in the sling during the day while I continue on with Connor, cooking, laundry, etc. We recently discovered that she falls or stays asleep pretty easily in her bouncy seat. Morgan sleeps a lot between mid-morning and mid-afternoon, but outside of that she gives us some alert time to interact with her. The evening often brings an hour or so of “fussy time” and I usually take her out for a walk in the sling to calm her down.

Big Brother
Connor started school on September 7 and it has been smooth sailing for him! He was anxious all summer about going 4 days per week this year, but as soon as he started the first day, he was back in the groove. His first new friend that I heard about is a girl named Willow. She loves to play tag and hide and seek, plus she has a Frozen backpack…so it’s no wonder they were fast friends.

Connor loves to make up songs to sing to Morgan or sing along with me as I sing “You Are My Sunshine.” He jumps at the chance to throw away her dirty diapers or to help give her a bath, and still loves to hug and kiss her.

First day of school photos

Visitors and Adventures
My dad and stepmom visited from September 2-6. Connor enjoyed his first time fishing (in the lake by our house), and Charlie caught a fish with Connor’s Paw Patrol fishing pole! Charlie was gone the first 3 days my parents were here because he flew to Kansas for his Aunt Judy’s funeral. I was glad he was able to attend, and it worked out well that I had help from my dad and stepmom while he was gone. Once my parents left, Charlie went back to work (for the first time in a month), Connor started school, and we settled into our “new normal.”

Snoozing with Grandpa

Connor wasn’t sure he wanted to be anywhere near the fish!

We spent a weekend with Charlie’s sister and her family, and it was Morgan’s first time meeting any of her cousins! While staying at their house for the weekend, we made a side-trip to a Lego Fest near Richmond for part of the day. It wasn’t as huge and impressive as we had anticipated, but we still had a good time.

Ready to watch his Lego car race

Grandma & Granddad’s Visit (July 27-August 20, 2014)

We were thrilled that Charlie’s parents came for such a long visit! They were here during Charlie’s block leave, so he took two weeks off while they were here. Connor was so excited to see Grandma and Granddad in person, and he warmed up to them within moments. We took it easy for a few days while they adjusted to the time zone, then piled into the car for a 5-day, 4-country road trip.

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One of Connor’s favorite activities was reading with Grandma

Charlie chose the destinations for this trip, and you will quickly notice that they are mostly centered around WWII history. I kept Connor entertained so that Charlie and his parents could enjoy everything fully, so this blog will lack a lot of the historical facts and details. Hopefully Charlie will fill in the gaps!

Friday, August 1 (Luxembourg City)
We left in the morning for Luxembourg city. As soon as we pulled out of garage, Connor said, “Daddy, I forgot something!” Luckily, he was kidding. What a comedian. After a 2-hour drive, we arrived at the American Military Cemetery. It was beautiful and so well-maintained. There are over 5000 soldiers buried there from WWII. The highlight for Connor was watching the lawnmower and a tractor with a leaf-blower. We drove a few minutes down the road to the German Military Cemetery. This cemetery looked smaller, but there were 4 soldiers buried per headstone, which was about 10,000 soldiers total. We took a break in the shade while Connor finished his nap, then drove to the hotel to check-in. The hotel room was small and simple, but it was adequate for the night. Connor and I had a double bed to ourselves while Charlie had a single bunk above us.

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American Military Cemetery

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German Military Cemetery

We were all starving by now, and crankiness started to set in. We clumsily navigated through the Grund area of Luxembourg City in search of a place to park so that we could eat and then see the Bock Casemates. We finally found a place to park and walked to an outdoor pub for a quick late lunch of paninis, bruschetta, and pizza…probably not a regional Luxembourg specialty, but it did the trick nonetheless. We drove to the city center and eventually found another place to park. We saw some of the Casemates as we were driving, but didn’t have the chance to get out and walk inside. The Casemates are underground tunnels that were used as bomb shelters during WWII. We walked to the Place de la Constitution, which offered amazing views of the city. We were surprised with the elevation differences within Luxembourg City. The area where we ate lunch seemed like it was down in a valley compared to the city center. After looking inside a church, we walked back through a pedestrian area with shops and restaurants. We followed the sound of band and stumbled upon a local community band’s performance.

Connor was a trooper on our first day of travel, and I was so relieved that there was an amazing public playground right next to the garage where we had parked. He ran and climbed for a while before heading back to the hotel for dinner and bed. By the time we got back to the hotel, I showered Connor and scraped together some dinner for him from the snacks we had packed from home. He was ready for an early bedtime, and Charlie brought back dinner for the two of us from the hotel restaurant.

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Hooray! We are almost at the playground!

I was amazed at the vast differences among the areas of Luxembourg City that we visited. The cemeteries were quiet and wooded with nothing else nearby. The Grund area where we ate lunch was old, complete with cobblestone streets. Moments later, we were in the modern and bustling downtown area!

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Luxembourg City (Grund area)

Saturday, August 2 (Bastogne, Belgium)
We were all up and ready for breakfast at 7:00am, but quickly decided that the hotel’s offering wasn’t worth 7.50€! We drove less than an hour to Bastogne, Belgium and found a grocery chain where we bought some breakfast. Our first stop for the day were the Bastogne Barracks, but we quickly learned that there was no longer a 9:00am tour, and we would have to wait another hour! Instead of wasting an hour, we drove to the new Bastogne War Museum, which had just been recently built. On the way, I remembered that it doesn’t open until 10:00, but we were able to visit the Mardasson Memorial first since it was in the same complex. It was quite an impressive monument. We walked up to the top, and Connor entertained himself (and me) by pretending to toss recycling bags into the recycling truck. (He was inspired by the yellow markings on the floor of the monument, which reminded him of our yellow recycling bags at home. Love my creative little man. A few minutes later he was picking up twigs off the ground and pretending to feed “hay” to the imaginary horses.)

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Mardasson Memorial

We went into museum, and it took a while to get past the entryway because Connor loved the tank so much! He took a short nap with me, then we looked at another tank for a while. He also enjoyed pretending to fix an anti-aircraft gun turret. Meanwhile, Charlie and his parents were able to take their time and look at everything in the museum, so it was a win-win for everyone. We found an open area to run around while Charlie went to gift shop, then had sandwiches and salads for lunch in the museum’s cafeteria.

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Bastogne War Museum

We drove back to barracks, but since we were early for the next tour, we walked through the cemetery across the street. Finally it was time to start the tour, but we quickly realized it was yet another bust. The guide spoke French, German, and only a little bit of English. We knew that a 2-hour tour without being able to understand the tour guide would be a nightmare, so we decided to make a break for it. After getting back in the car, we followed signs to the 101st Airborne Museum but couldn’t find it. After driving through the quaint center of town and deciding to look for our hotel instead, we happened to stumble upon the museum. Everyone enjoyed it, and then we drove down the block to our hotel.

Our hotel room was clean, modern, and spacious. Connor had a blast running back and forth as he explored all of the exciting things in the room, like the stereo and phone. After a nap for Barbara and playtime for Connor, we walked a few blocks to the town square, looked at a tank monument, then found a café for dinner. We finally had some regional specialties: Croque Madame (basically a grilled cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top), quiche Lorraine, and Belgian beer for Charlie. Across the square we got dessert at a chocolatier. Connor and I chose to share a gelato cone, which he didn’t share very well! Can’t blame him…I don’t like to share ice cream, either! We headed back to hotel and Connor was asleep by 7:30 after enjoying a bath in the fancy hotel tub.

Sunday, August 3 (Bastogne, Belgium; Margraten, The Netherlands; and Cologne, Germany
After a nice hotel breakfast, a tour guide met us at the hotel to take Charlie and his parents on a private guided tour of Bastogne. They were able to see actual battlegrounds and other sites that they never would have otherwise seen. Meanwhile, Connor and I kept ourselves busy near the hotel. We found some cows and donkeys to look at, made our way back to the tank in the center of town, then found a park to run around in for a little while. He napped on me as we walked back the hotel and waited for the rest of the family to return from their tour.

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Enjoying our morning while the others were on a guided tour

Once Charlie, Mike, and Barbara returned, we all piled into the car and headed towards the Netherlands. After a stop for lunch, we arrived at the Netherlands American Cemetery. Charlie had been there once before when the Army Band played at the Memorial Day celebration. It is an absolutely beautiful cemetery. Each grave is “adopted” and maintained by a Dutch family.

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Netherlands American Cemetery

It was time to get back into the car and venture into our third country for the day! Thankfully, Connor was a patient passenger throughout our whole trip. We found our hotel, which certainly wasn’t a hotel we would have chosen had we seen it from the street, but once we were in our rooms it was good enough for our two-night stay. The highlight for Connor was the real key and keychain for our room (instead of a key-card). He entertained himself for quite a while “locking” and “unlocking” the bathroom door…fun for him, but not so fun for the person trying to have a bit of privacy :). After debating whether or not Connor was able to survive dinner at a restaurant after three days in a row of short naps, we took our chances and walked down the street to a Biergarten. Much to my surprise, he hung in there just fine. He played with coasters and colored with Granddad at the table, and I went outside with him for a little bit before our food arrived. This was the best meal I had during the whole trip, and judging by the amount Connor ate from my plate, I’d say he agreed. My dish was Maultaschen, which is sort of a German version of a big ravioli, filled with pork and spinach. This variation was topped with cheese and prosciutto and then baked. Charlie’s Käsespätzle was a big hit, too. Oh, and he spilled the rest of my beer and lived to tell about it. Do I get a medal for that?

With full bellies, we walked back to the hotel and got Connor to bed by 9:30…so late for him! He must have been exhausted, because he didn’t even flinch throughout our noisy night: someone trying to unlock our door, the phone ringing, huge claps of thunder and lightning, pounding rain, a loud noise next door (turned out to be Mike and Barbara’s window slamming shut because of the storm), and a knock on the door. He may look like a Brokovich, but every once in a while he sleeps like a Mraz!

Monday, August 4 (Cologne)
We slept in a little and had a decent breakfast at the hotel. After driving through the downtown area of Cologne (which seemed to be entirely under construction), we found an open parking garage. It was a great location and we found the docks for our boat ride as soon as we exited the garage. We took a one-hour boat trip up and down the Rhine River. It was a great way to see Cologne, and we all enjoyed the view from the top deck. After our boat trip, we meandered through the center of Cologne, taking in the sights of the town square area, Gross St. Martin, Rathaus, and the Dom (Cathedral). We have seen many cathedrals throughout our travels, but this one was the most incredible that I have seen so far. I took advantage of my opportunity to admire the inside of the cathedral while Connor was still sleeping on me. He continued to nap as Charlie and I began climbing the 533 steps to the top of the bell tower. He woke up in time to see the amazing views from the top! After climbing back down, finding Mike and Barbara relaxing in the shade, and letting Connor run with pigeons for a few minutes, we walked back to the town square to find lunch. We all enjoyed schnitzel at a Biergarten. It looked like rain was coming, so we window-shopped as we walked towards the car and made it back just in time. We drove to a grocery store next door to our hotel for a few snacks and drinks, then back to our hotel for the evening.

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We made it to the top of the bell tower!

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Dom

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Ready for lunch!

Tuesday, August 5 (Cologne)
It’s our last day of a whirlwind trip! After breakfast, we easily found our way downtown again. We walked to the Dom and waited for the mini-train to take us to the Schokoladen Museum/Lindt Factory. Connor loved the train ride, and it gave us another opportunity to see the sights of Cologne. The chocolate museum was pretty neat, but definitely not enough free samples! Charlie and his parents chose ingredients for a custom-made chocolate bar as a souvenir. Connor napped through some of the museum, but woke up in time for the train ride back. We headed back to the car and started our journey home. I think the drive was around 3 hours total. We stopped at a rest area and there was a playground for Connor to enjoy while we had a snack. Connor was a content traveler the whole ride in the car, especially once he discovered how to take selfies :).

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Riding the Bimmelbahn to the Schokoladen Museum

As usual, this post is already longer than I intended, so here is the Reader’s Digest version of the rest of Mike and Barbara’s visit:

Kerwe: They enjoyed the food and festivities of Hochspeyer’s annual Kerwe (carnival), which included watching me run on a relay team with our American club! Connor LOVED the Kerwe Parade, and he “played parade” with Grandma everyday afterwards, pretending to throw candy and play the bass drum.

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Blowing a kiss to Connor as he yelled, “Never give up!!”

Reilly’s 8th birthday party: Mike got to meet two of Connor’s best buddies, Reilly and her mom Amy.

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Speyer Technik Museum: We spent a morning at the museum, enjoying all of the airplanes, trains, cars, and tanks. Charlie and I had been there before, but it was even more fun this time because Connor was old enough to really get excited about everything that he saw!

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Having fun outside the museum…then and now 🙂

Idar-Oberstein: It was a gorgeous day, and we all survived the hike up to the castle. On the way back down, we went inside the Felsenkirche, which is a church built into the side of a mountain. (For more about our previous trip to Idar-Oberstein, see this post.)

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Heidelberg: We took a day trip to see the castle, rode the funicular rail all the way up the hill for an incredible view, and then walked to the famous bridge. After driving home, we ended the day with a great meal at the Bremerhof Biergarten. (For more about our previous trips to Heidelberg, click here.)

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In-house babysitters: Charlie and I had the opportunity to go to a friend’s surprise birthday party and leave the little man at home. It was a great evening out for the two of us, and Connor had so much fun with Grandma and Granddad! Granddad had another chance to have some quality time with Connor another day while Barbara and I got pedicures.

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Connor loves looking at “funny pictures” (old videos of himself)

Mike and Barbara left on August 20 to go on a cruise around Europe. We probably won’t see them again until we move back to the states next summer. It was fun having them here, and we can’t wait to be together again!

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
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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!
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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.

Konstanz
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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!
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Watching our catamaran pull up to the dock
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Enjoying his first gelato
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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!
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Trying on Annette’s hat
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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!
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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.

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

Thanksgiving
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.

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My sous chef (yes, he wanted to wear my apron 🙂 ) taking a break to play with his train set on Thanksgiving morning
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Christmas
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
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Decorating the tree
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Playing with his felt tree
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Decorating gingerbread cookies
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Visiting Santa
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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!
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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 🙂

Signs
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

Talking
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…
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The new train set combines with his first set!
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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!
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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.

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