Having a Baby Abroad: Julianne’s Birth Story

By far, one of the biggest concerns I had prior to moving to Germany was about having a baby over here. We had long known we wanted to start a family, but it didn’t happen for us when we lived in New Jersey or Hawaii. A major perk for us to move overseas meant that I could take a break from my career as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to focus on starting a family and even better yet, raising a family. For us, we knew that there was no way I would be able to be a stay at home mom for any period of time if we stayed in the U.S. So, in Dec. 2013 we took the plunge and made the move to Germany.

I was shocked, and happily surprised, to learn from others that already lived here that many women actually PREFER to give birth over here rather than in the states. As it turns out, Europe in general is way more open to holistic practices and encouraging of natural births than the U.S. Once I learned of this, I decided to do a little research. I read up on this topic and watched some videos as well. I can’t recall everything I watched, but YouTube and Netflix were definitely helpful. Probably my favorite thing to watch was Ricki Lake’s documentary “The Business of Being Born” and her follow up documentary series “More Business of Being Born” where they interviewed celebrities who challenged the “American Way” of giving birth in favor of a more natural approach. If you’re interested in more about natural birthing you can also google Ina May Gaskin, she’s a midwife and did an excellent “Ted Talks” that’s worth watching as well.

One of the biggest cons to giving birth in the U.S. is the c-section rate. I can’t tell you how many friends, or friends-of-friends I know that have said they were basically “forced’ into a c-section. There’s probably a lot to blame for this: our health care system, medical staff wanting to time things to their advantage, and just the general notion in our culture to hurry up and get things done. Now I just want to say that there is nothing wrong with having a c-section. Some women really need it in medical or emergent situations obviously, and some women just prefer to have it done. Nothing wrong with that! But what IS wrong is women being coerced into having a surgical procedure to birth their child if it’s not really necessary and not what they wanted. So many women I’ve talked to have said “if they only gave me more time…”. How disempowering is it to think that a woman was in a sense cheated out of the birth they desired because medical staff or health insurance companies or both didn’t want to wait for the woman to progress on her own time. Over here in Europe, the process is not rushed. And typically, interventions, medications, and surgical procedures are not pushed for by medical staff either unless there seems to be a medical need or the patient asks for it. This mentality really aligned with my vision of having a baby and therefore, I went from being nervous about giving birth abroad to being excited!

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When I met my doctor over here I liked her right away. After I got pregnant, my husband came to almost all of our appointments and we both felt safe and comfortable with her. You can imagine then, that we were shocked to learn that she would not be delivering our baby! That’s right, over here the ob/gyn only sees you for prenatal and postnatal care, and there is an ob/gyn at every hospital to delivery your baby if needed. But what’s really different in this case is that often it’s not the doctor that delivers your baby- it’s a midwife! Of course we were sad and a bit worried when we learned that our doctor wouldn’t be present at our babies’ birth, but on the other hand, the more specialized care really is a plus. I think this is a big reason why things aren’t rushed over here. Doctors aren’t getting called in at all hours of the day or night to deliver babies while they still have patients waiting in their waiting rooms at their offices. One thing that did bother us though was that we wouldn’t know anyone who would be present at the birth. And because you’re not tied to a hospital because that’s where your ob/gyn delivers, you can literally choose any hospital you want to deliver at. Here in Wiesbaden, there are 3 hospitals to choose from and a few in nearby towns as well. However, even if you decide what hospital you would prefer to deliver at, there might not be room for you when you go into labor (more on that in a bit). And furthermore, even if you did get into your first choice hospital, there was no way to meet the midwife or doctor ahead of time who would be delivering for you, because it’s all random. Being first time parents, not having any family with us when the baby would be born, and not knowing any of the professionals who would be present at the birth really freaked me out. After some more research, I came up with a plan for our problem: hire a doula.

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For those who may not be familiar (and I had to explain this to a few of my friends and family who were unaware since doulas have been around for a long time but are really gaining “popularity” now), a doula is a trained non-medical professional who is able to provide support before, during, and after the birth of your baby. In short, they’re a birth coach. But in reality, they are so much more than that. And doula’s can have their own specialty as well, such as being a post partum doula, a lactation consultant, a photographer, an acupuncturist, and so on. Now when I first told my husband this idea, he had no idea what I was talking about and didn’t understand why we should hire one, but after some research and discussion, we agreed this is what was best for us and our baby. Some of the benefits of hiring a doula include: emotional support before, during and after the birth, shorter delivery times, decrease in need for c-sections/interventions/medications, and improved outcomes for both mother and baby. For more information on the benefits of hiring a doula, and how to find a doula, go to http://www.DONA.org.

There weren’t a lot of doulas in our area here in Germany to choose from when I started looking, but fortunately the number is growing! I started our search by asking my doctor for her recommendations and she gave me a short list of 3 people. One was moving away, one was already booked up with mothers for our due date, and the third’s phone number was out of service, ha! So I began asking around, and as luck would have it we had just began working with someone through a new parent program here who also happened to be a doula! Enter, Barb! We first met in early December when I was about 22 weeks along. And by the end of the month, around the beginning of my 3rd trimester, Jeff and I agreed that she was who we wanted to be with us on this journey. Barb met with us bi-weekly at our home from December until April when I delivered, and met with us weekly for a month after that. Her presence, support, and advocacy meant so much to us all along the way. As new parents, we had tons of questions at every meeting and she took the time to chat with us and answer each one. Being an RN and a certified Lactation Consultant, she had a ton of info and advice for us which was always appreciated. Once we had Barb as our doula, it was time to work on Hypnobirthing.

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This is another thing you may have never heard of, or have little information on, but is becoming increasingly popular. Hypnobirthing is similar to Lamaze, which many people have heard of. But what it is, is a way to utilize meditation, relaxation, visualization, and breathing techniques to eliminate or reduce the fear associated with birthing and increase the likelihood of a successful, natural, and intervention and medication-free delivery. I had heard of Hypnobirthing from my Aunt Kim who used it too when preparing for the birth of her daughter. (Thanks Aunt Kim!!) She had told me about it during her first pregnancy, and then when I got pregnant she filled me in on the details. You know how sometimes when you hear about something it just really resonates with you?! This was it for me. I knew I wanted to do Hypnobirthing. My main reason for wanting a medication free birth was because of the benefits to the baby, and also because I really felt I could do it medication free because of my previous kidney surgery. Personally, I know my body does not react well to pain medications and I didn’t want to suffer through that if I could prevent it during my baby’s birth. So, my first step here was to order the book “Hypnopbirthing: The Mongan Method” on Amazon. It’s only $13 and comes with a CD that has 2 audio tracks to start you on. What a bargain!! I had looked into taking actual Hypnobirthing classes, many of which are now offered in the U.S. by the way! I couldn’t find any English-speaking classes out here that were starting when I was ready to start learning though. And later I found a class that was offered but it was pretty expensive. Therefore, I decided to do self-instruction.

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I had read and heard that many women have success using the self instruction, so I decided to get crackin’. While Barb had no previous Hypnobirthing experience, she was just as interested as I was in learning about it, and so we learned together! She read the book too and downloaded some additional hypnobirthing audio tracks that she shared with me, which were fantastic. We also made it a point to watch hynobirthing videos on YouTube to actually see how all these tools were put into play. At around 26 weeks pregnant, I began practicing my relaxation tracks every night before I went to bed. I listened to the 2 tracks that came on a cd with the book, but I also got a bunch of tracks from Barb from the Kathryn Clark Hypnobirthing Hub Home Study Course. Then once a week Jeff and I would set aside 45 min to listen to the Birth Intentions track together and then do one track where I put my headphones on and zoned out while Jeff massaged my back and practiced his anchors and prompts and I would alternate sitting on my birth ball or leaning over it or walking… just different positions for labor.

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Pregnant woman on exercise ball

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In total, I practiced every day for 15 straight weeks. It seems like a lot, but when you think about it, “practicing” could be as simple as listening to a relaxation track for 15-20 minutes a day. Of course there were days that I spent a lot more time on it like when I would put the tracks or relaxation music on in the background while I did other things around the house, and then there were days where I only made it through one track. But If you stay committed and practice a little bit each day, you’re going to be shocked and amazed with the results! I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat. By the end of my pregnancy I was so “in the zone” while listening to these tracks before I went to bed that I would doze off and go through ten or more tracks before I woke up and took out my headphones lol. Also, I really enjoyed listening to the positive affirmations! My favorite one was: “Each surge of my body brings my baby closer to me” which I repeated to myself in my mind during a lot of the contractions when I was in labor. Here’s one that I liked to repeat a lot just before my due date arrived:

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Our next step in this process was to choose a hospital. As I previously mentioned, you pretty much have your choice of whatever hospital you want to deliver at, with the caveat being that you hope they have room for you when you’re in labor, because each hospital has only a few laboring rooms! Unfortunately, it has happened that you can go to a hospital in labor here and they’ll be full and will send you to another hospital. It happened to a friend of ours, and I was worried it would happen to us…particularly because we were informed that we had a VERY popular due date.

As luck coincidentally would have it, we conceived our baby at the time when Germany won the World Cup which was HUGE over here as you can imagine. Therefore, we were told to have back-up hospitals in mind since there was no telling if the hospital we preferred would have room for us on our delivery day or not. Fun fact, there’s a German word for the babies conceived during the winning of the world cup, and I can’t remember what it is, but it translates to “victory babies” lol. We toured 3 hospitals – 2 in town, and one over in Mainz which is the next town over. We were partial to the 2 in town because they’re both about a 5-10 minute drive away depending on traffic and we had some familiarity with them. The 3rd hospital was a good 30 minutes away but it had a NICU in case we ran into any problems or I went into labor before I was 36 weeks along. The other hospitals won’t admit you if you go into labor before your 36th week. I registered at all 3 hospitals. And I can tell you this: every hospital is a little bit different. You would expect them to be more uniform, but they weren’t. Here’s a pic from the day Jeff and I went to watch Germany win the World Cup, and an article about “Victory Babies” in Germany: http://www.spiegel.de/international/happiness-sparked-hormone-rush-germany-s-world-cup-baby-boom-a-467714.html

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Then came the BIG DAY!! On my due date I spontaneously went into labor! No induction methods done at all, but I was doing some natural induction methods over the weekend such as drinking red raspberry leaf tea, sitting on my birth ball, eating pineapple, walking a lot, and having Jeff massage certain pressure points in my hands, feet, and ankles. My day started out as usual with running errands and then meeting Jeff for lunch and then we went for a non-stress test since it was my due date. Normally we would go to my doctor’s office for this but it was the Monday after Easter, which is an observed holiday in Germany, so all doctor’s offices were closed and we had to go to the hospital. Around that time, 1pm, I had some early labor signs. I mentioned it to the midwife doing my non-stress test, but coincidentally, the contraction part of the non-stress test machine wasn’t working so she couldn’t tell I was actually  having them, She actually said to me “if you’re breathing through it, you’re fine”…and at that point I wasn’t entirely sure since I had some false labor signs over the weekend. But as the afternoon went on and I timed my contractions I soon learned it was the real deal! My water broke at 8pm, got to the birth center with my husband and doula at 9pm, and our baby girl was born just before 11pm!! I did an all natural, medication-free Hypnobirth/Waterbirth and it was everything I hoped our birth experience would be!
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As for the waterbirth, it was wonderful. I love water in general and loved all the pros of having a waterbirth. They set it up with some aromatherapy and it was very relaxing and comfortable. One thing I will say about being a hypnobirther is that for the most part you’re so much calmer than other mom’s who don’t use hypnobirthing that they don’t believe you’re as far along as you are…even when you and your birth team communicate and advocate for you. I was a prime example of this, as it was about 10:45pm and the doctor left the room and the midwife said out loud that she wondered if my baby would be a due date baby if she was born in the next hour and 15 min, or if she would be born the next day after midnight. Then she walked to the other side of the room to get her gloves before she checked me again. Literally within 5 min our daughter came out so quickly that no one was there to catch her but me!! As soon as I realized what had happened I reached down and picked her up out of the water myself! Everyone was overjoyed but in disbelief lol. Because she came out so fast, I did have to get a few stitches, but my postpartum recovery was great overall and I had minimal discomfort and healed just fine. 
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Another plus to hypnobirthing and waterbirthing is that Julianne is very calm and relaxed. She hardly cries and when she does it’s for a reason that is usually easy to figure out. And one of the coolest things when she was first born was that when I would put on one of my hypnobirthing background songs (Steve Halpern’s “Chakra Suite”) she immediately recognized it and calmed down! Probably because I played it so much while she was in utero and also it was playing when she was born!
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Here are some pictures from Julianne’s birthday. Words and pictures can’t describe how amazing this day truly was for all of us. Definitely one of the best days of my life for sure! While these photos are not photoshopped in any way, some have been edited with cropping for privacy or lighting was edited to show the pictures better, because both my labor room and the waterbirth room both had soft/ambient lighting. All photos were taken by our Doula, Barb, who is not a professional photographer, but took some great pics of this special day. Also note that since these pictures are untouched, you’re seeing me at not my most photogenic time, or with flattering angles LOL. I’m a real mom who worked out 4-5x a week throughout my entire pregnancy, gained the recommended 35lbs (and at 3.5 months post partum is still working to get about 20 lbs of it off but that’s a story for another day!), and was sweating through 10 hours of labor. No graphic pics shown, but giving you the heads up – just keeping it real folks!

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The Morning of my due dute, taken around 9am:

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My water broke at home at 8pm. An hour later, at 9pm, we arrived at our first choice Hospital (lucky us!) Paulinen Asklepios Klinik:

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The leaning on the counter thing and breathing was a big part my labor from about 6-9pm. From 1-6pm my contractions were relatively easy to breathe through. They escalated pretty dramatically after my water broke at 8pm and then again around 10:15pm when I was fully dilated. When I arrived at the hospital, I had to wait about 45 min to get checked because the midwives were doing change-of-shift. That kind of sucked, I’m not gonna lie. And at that point things were getting kind of intense for me and I needed some air so we opened the window and I stood there leaning on the window sill for a while taking in the cool night air. Then Barb suggested I use the Rebozo which is basically a long woven fabric attached to the ceiling for support during labor.

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At 9:45pm I was about 5-6cm dilated, but at 10pm I started feeling the urge to push and asked to get into the tub to prepare for the waterbirth. This was a separate room right next to the labor room, thankfully not a far walk! It felt great on my lower back and having aromatherapy and my hypnobirthing music was great too. At 10:15pm I entered the tub and was checked again- fully dilated! I was pretty shocked that I went from being “halfway there” to “you’re all set”  in 30 minutes time. Here I am below “relaxing” between contractions, or surges. As you can see in these pics, Jeff was amazing… what a great partner to have by my side! He was supportive, encouraging, and there every step of the way. He gave me water when I needed it, helped me to relax, and even held the baby’s fetal heart beat monitor in place on my belly when I moved around and it started to lose the signal. There was no cursing, no “you did this to me” moments, and no ferocious hand squeezing like you see in the movies! We had practiced this for so long, it was just about doing what we learned through hypnobirthing practice and our sessions with Barb: breathing and using the encouragement and support to relax through the contractions. I’m not going to tell you it was pain free. There was a moment or two where I felt like I might throw up, and a few times after I got in the tub I said “ow”. To me, the difference was that I was saying “ow”, but not screaming it. I felt pain and I pushed through it with the breathing and visualizations I was taught.

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As previously mentioned, the Doctor and Midwife were great but I had them fooled by how “relaxed” I was  (ie, not screaming) because they didn’t think I was anywhere near ready to have my baby yet despite my increased urges to push. Here they are checking on some stuff in the corner of the room, and you can see the clock on the wall – it’s about 15 min before Julianne was born. Shortly after this was about the time when the conversation occurred as to whether Julianne would be born before midnight to be a “Due Date” baby… ha!!

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The contractions were pretty strong at this point and shortly after this, I asked if she was crowning yet. The answer was no, but the midwife was going to do a quick check. As she crossed the room to get some gloves, Julianne came bursting into the world! Because she was a waterbirth, Jeff says she came shooting out like a torpedo LOL. I say she came out waving her hands, “jazz hands” style and saying “I’M HERE”!! Either way, she was hanging out in the water for about half a second before we all realized what happened and thank God for Barb who said “Your baby is here! Reach down and pick up your baby!” In my birth plan we had discussed the whole “feeling the head and lifting her out myself” thing, but Julianne did not want to wait. I think I heard her mutter “crowning is for wussies” on the way out. Nonetheless, I got the most amazing opportunity of lifting her out of the water all by myself and bringing her up to me. It was incredible. Because we chose not to learn the sex of our baby ahead of time, it was even more extra special that I was the one who saw she was a girl and was able to announce it to everyone! Although to be honest, Jeff and I had a feeling in our guts, and our hearts, since day one that she was a girl. I literally had so many dreams about her being a girl, even a particularly vivid one exactly one month before she was born where I got to “meet” her. It was so realistic, I pretty much knew at that point that we were having a girl. The awesome thing about that too is that she looked exactly as she did in my dreams. I truly felt like I already knew her when she was born from having seen her in my dreams so many times. Pretty neat huh?! Anyhow, after I picked Julianne up from the water and held her, the midwife then came over and unwrapped the cord and patted her back and did a mouth-swish to give her her first breath. That’s when we heard the most beautiful cry. At no point was I scared or worried about her birth. Even when no one was there to catch her, I had read so much on waterbirthing that I felt safe having her enter the world in water and having her hang out under water there for a split second before I picked her up. I know it’s not for everyone, but I think it really benefited us both, and I loved every minute of it.

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We chose to delay cord clamping. The benefits to that are increased blood for the baby, as they get the last of the oxygen rich blood from the placenta through the umbilical cord. The increased blood helps increase the baby’s blood volume, provides increased iron, improves circulation, and some things I read even indicated that it might help with neurodevelopment as well down the road.  I was so wrapped up in the moment that when it came time to cut the cord I was like “Uh, has it been more than 5 minutes?!” And Barb said “It’s been way longer than 5 minutes, the cord stopped pulsing a long time ago!”. After the cord was clamped I took off my tank top and bra and breastfed her for the very first time in the tub. It was so special.
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After a while the midwife checked the placenta and it wasn’t quite ready to come out. Then a very cool thing happened: the Midwife suggested she use acupuncture to help deliver the placenta. So she put a few needles in my stomach and they barely hurt at all. Five minutes later she asked me to push and the placenta came right out no problem. I feel like this is something that probably would not have been offered to me in the states. Since I had no idea about it, it definitely wasn’t in my birth plan, but I’m sure glad I did it.
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After that, Jeff got to do skin-to-skin with the baby while I got out of the tub, got cleaned up, and headed to the labor room again to put on a gown. Hospital gowns aren’t exactly offered to you in Germany. In the states they make you wear one pretty much as soon as you walk in the door of any hospital, but here you can labor in anything you want. Apparently you can ask for a gown as they supposedly have some available. I however, have Jeff’s Aunt Barbara to thank for making me a few hospital gowns! You can see it in the last pic, that was such a nice touch to not have an ugly, scratchy gown to wear, but a soft, clean, cute one to wear after the birth and during my hospital stay. And they even snapped down for breastfeeding. Thanks Aunt Barbara! Once I was cleaned up and Jeff was done with his skin-to-skin time with her, Julianne got weighed and measured. Notice that I didn’t say “cleaned” as well. One additional benefit of waterbirths is that the baby comes out pretty much all cleaned off already! Then came the stitching up, more breastfeeding, and more skin-to-skin time. After that was all done, the staff leaves you alone in the room for a few hours to be together as a family. It was so nice. We got to thank Barb and say our goodbyes to her, make calls to family back home, and just be together as a new family. We had about 2.5 hours like this until the midwife came back to help us gather our things and move us to our room.
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 For a million reasons, the stars really were aligned on this night… we got the one and only “Family Suite” that this hospital offers. It was great, because one of my worries was having to share a room with a roommate, which is common practice here. Can you imagine sharing a room with another new mom (who probably doesn’t speak your language) and her new baby… and then you and your baby are just right there next to her… and your husbands are there too… but they’re not allowed to stay the night…. What?! When I learned this during the hospital tours, I pretty much had a panic attack. And then I was told that at some hospitals even if you pay for the other bed to have no roommate and have privacy, you STILL aren’t allowed to have your husband stay the night. Um, no. So our best bet was to request the family suite and keep your fingers crossed that you get it. You have to pay extra of course, insurance won’t cover it, but it’s totally worth it. I didn’t really get many pictures of the family suite. Mainly because by the time we got into the room it was almost 3am and we were all exhausted and frankly, I couldn’t take my eyes off our beautiful daughter. It reminded me of a hotel room- it had a large bed with a little sitting area for eating, a little changing table, and an attached bathroom. It was nice to have the privacy. It was almost TOO private though.

For one thing, at this hospital (which is really more comparable to a birth center in the U.S. vs. an actual hospital) there is no nursery. Your baby is with you 24/7. I was totally happy with that, I loved having her with us the whole time and felt great about that. But unless someone was coming to draw blood or run a test, no one really came by to just check on us and make sure we were ok. Quite a few times I walked to the nurses station to ask questions. And most staff speak at least some English, but not all of them, and not always very well. Still, we got the help we needed and we got by just fine. The food there was interesting. They had a little food area you could walk to on the unit for breakfast and dinner. Both meals were the exact same layout: deli meats, cheeses, and breads. Classic German spread. Lunch was the only hot meal and it was brought to us and we got to choose what it was. The staff was awesome and brought me a loaf of my own Gluten free bread which was unbelievably tasty… but poor vegetarian Jeff suffered through a few days of cheese sandwiches for breakfasts and dinners since there weren’t any other options. After 2 days, Julie and I were doing great and saw no need to stay so we asked to check out. Yes, we told them we were leaving. In the U.S., they usually give you the boot ASAP from the hospital so as not to incur more charges that health insurance has to pay for. By the way, living overseas means we have to pay ALL of our health insurance costs (medical and pharmaceutical) up front and THEN submit a claim to our insurance and just wait a few weeks and see what they are willing to reimburse you for. This means you need to have money up front for most things whether you are charged immediately, or you get the bill later in the mail. Anyhow, in Germany, it is extremely common for women to stay a week in the hospital if they want to, even if they, like me, had a normal birth with no complications. In fact, you can check out as soon as 4 hours after the birth if you feel like it! As a first time mom, I think that’s a bit much, but supposedly a lot of American moms who have had previous babies check out that quickly to avoid having to share a recovery room with a roommate or be subjected to multiple days of deli spreads for meals lol. Here is our first pic of Julianne when we got home:

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The first week home with Julianne was pretty nice… it felt good to be home and, it being the second week of April, the weather was just gorgeous. It was an incredible time. It was great to have so many friends stop by and of course Barb stopped by to check on us too. Although we were sad we couldn’t share our bundle of joy face-to-face with family, we loved and appreciated all the calls, texts and facetimes. And special thanks to our friends who stopped by to visit. We loved the company, and the sweet gifts and tasty meals were just the BEST! I will never forget how happy that made us, how wonderful it was to have others meet our precious baby girl,  and how nice it was to get such tasty food… especially after the hospital LOL. Here are some pics from Julie’s first week home.
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I hope you’ve enjoyed this very long and very overdue blog post. If it took you a long time to read it, imagine how long it took me to write it. I’ve been working on this thing for MONTHS! Ah newborns, they keep you busy! Stay tuned for my next blog post about how weeks 2 through present have gone for us, and what living overseas is like for us new parents! xo

Our “BabyMoon” in Düsseldorf

If you’re not familiar with the term, a “BabyMoon” is typically the last trip you take as a couple before the baby arrives. Of course, some people plan big trips to like an island or something, but at almost 33 weeks along, we decided to do a roadtrip here in Germany to play it safe! We decided on Düsseldorf because we earned a free night’s stay with Marriott and they have a Marriott there and it’s only about a 2 hour drive from us. And to make things a bit more romantic, we went over Valentine’s Day weekend – so we started our morning off with a nice valentine’s themed breakfast and then hit the road!

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We got lucky with a nice sunny 50 degree day and minimal traffic so the trip there was pretty nice. We checked into the hotel, which was also nice, and then headed out downtown.

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Düsseldorf is the capital of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. It reminded us a lot of our current city of Wiesbaden (which is the capital of the state of Hessen), but unlike Wiesbaden, it’s located along the Rhine River so it offers some pretty gorgeous views of the water. We especially enjoyed walking downtown along the promenade next to the river and soaking up some sunshine :)

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After we grabbed a quick bite to eat for lunch, we walked down to the tower you see in the pics above- it’s called the Rheinturm. It’s a media tower and for a nominal fee of 6 euro per person, you can take the elevator all the way up to the top where there is a little restaurant/snack/drink bar where you can sit and look out over the city at the gorgeous views. The tower is almost 800 feet tall and you can walk all around the top and see different views of different areas- pretty cool!

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After this, we walked back downtown and checked out a pretty location called Königsallee. It’s an urban street located not far from the pedestrian zone that has a lot of upscale shops and is most well known for it’s beautiful tree-lined canal.

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After all this exploring, we decided to walk into town more and have our Valentine’s dinner at a place that got rave reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp for it’s incredible pizza. Germany not really known for it’s pizza (obviously) but this little place called Pizzeria Trattoria Romantica is an Italian family-run hidden gem about a 30 min walk from the Königsallee area. After all this walking we were starving, but we arrived too soon!! As with many restaurants in Europe, they were closed for a bit in the afternoon so we had to wait until they opened at 6. Luckily we were able to grab a table even though we didn’t have reservations. The reviewers didn’t lie- this was the best pizza we’ve had since being in Germany!

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The next day around noon we headed out back downtown to the pedestrian area again. Not only was it Valentine’s Day Weekend, but it was also Fasching! Fasching is the German equivalent to Carnival or Mardi Gras – it’s basically the big celebration before lent. When we were downtown the day before, we saw many people in costumes, adults and kids alike. Mainly kids though, as it was the day of the Children’s Parade. But walking home after dinner on Saturday night we saw more and more adults in costumes coming out… mostly teens and 20-somethings ready to party with many a beer/drink/shot in their hands walking around the streets haha. After a full night of all these people drinking and partying in the streets, you can only imagine how things looked on Sunday morning LOL. It was a sight. A lot of people still out and about and clearly intoxicated. Not really the scene for an 8 month pregnant woman and her husband! We hung out by the water for a while and then grabbed some breakfast at Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks before heading home. The Starbucks had a bathroom we could use before the drive home which is why we went to both places. This was not without incident of course, we got to see firsthand how the Polizei (German Police) handled some of these intoxicated kids. If you recall, the drinking age in Germany is 16. And these kids are all in costumes – most people chose warm/furry onesie-type fully body costumes, and would hide their alcohol in their costumes where the police couldn’t search them. There were certain checkpoints around the pedestrian zone where security or police would check peoples bags and things for glass containers and alcohol and stuff. Well this one girl was banging a small glass bottle, presumably with a shot in it that needed to be shaken, on the window of the Starbucks and causing a scene. The police came over and took it right out of her hand and a heated discussion ensued. Meanwhile, just off to the side, other kids seeing this started stuffing their alcohol down their pants and into their costumes. Oh man! I of course needed to use the restroom before we took the drive home, and at this particular Starbucks the bathroom is locked and you have to enter a code from your receipt to enter. This was no problem for me, but a lot of drunk young women were trying to sneak in and the Starbucks staff was not having it, so there was basically a bouncer at the door of the bathroom checking receipts- totally nuts!! On the walk back to the car we got to see more people in costume and interesting sights… overall a good experience in Düsseldorf, but we were ready to head home and out of the Fasching scene haha.

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It was another beautiful day for a drive, and of course Jeff made the most of that on the Autobahn haha! The driving around here and the views can be very enjoyable sometimes if the traffic and weather is nice… and especially with our “early spring” over here, it’s really nice to see the green fields and pastures after a long, grey winter!

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Well, that’s all for our trips lately, you’re all caught up! As my due date is in 2 days, we won’t be traveling anytime soon, but we will be preparing for the journey of our lives- stay tuned!! ;)

Je aime la France!!

Ahhh France! Our trip to Paris has long been a dream of mine- I’m talking straight up bucket list material since, well, forever. In fact before I met Jeff my bedroom was entirely decorated with pictures and decor of Paris. So when we found out we were moving to Germany we knew we had to go there!! It took us one full year of living in Germany to make the trip to Paris though. We’ve been to France a few times, mainly to a few towns that are right over the border from Germany like 2 hours from us. Paris, on the other hand, is about a good 6 hours away. So that was one thing that kept us from hitting the road to the City of Light ASAP. The other thing was cost- where would we stay, would we drive or take the train or bus, and how much were food and activities going to cost us? In budgeting for this trip however, we got super lucky when we were hiking with one of our neighbors earlier this fall who invited us to stay at her apartment in Versailles with her for a weekend in December… SCORE!! It’s a great trade off because we watch her cats for her while she is away on business trips, and in turn she offered for us to join her on this weekend in France. So two weekends before Christmas the 3 of us took the road trip together to Versailles on a Thursday night. It was a fun ride and we got to take turns driving as well as sharing the cost for gas and road tolls (which can really add up if you’re driving there by yourself – one toll alone was over 20 euro!!!). We arrived at her apartment super late that night and crashed. The next morning she gave us a little guided tour of her neighborhood in Versailles – super cute! Conveniently located right outside of her gated community was the train station, and walk a block or two down to get to the grocery store, the bakery, the weekend farmers market, and some other quaint little shops.

After exploring the area and having some breakfast (authentic French croissants baked fresh from the bakery anyone?) we headed for the train station and set off for Paris! Versailles is about a 45 min drive from Paris, but by train it can take as short as 30 min to get there, depending on where in Paris you’re going. Here’s some pics of the train station outside our friend’s apartment and the actual train itself, which was surprisingly clean I must say!

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Our first stop was to the Notre Dame Cathedral! It’s free to go inside and look around, and it’s absolutely astonishing. Towards the back of the church they even have a wall with a timeline and pictures from when it was first constructed starting in 1163 all the way to how the cathedral got to be how it is today. Pretty cool info on the French Gothic style of architecture and all the renovations the cathedral has had over the years. Of course my favorite thing about the cathedral, as with most churches and cathedrals, is the stained glass windows… breathtaking!

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When we finished checking out Notre Dame, we decided to walk around the city for a while and just take everything in. We had plenty of time to do that since our tickets to see the Eiffel Tower weren’t until 5:30pm. I highly recommend getting tickets online for the Eiffel Tower – it’s about 15 euro per person and you don’t have to wait in the super long line to buy tickets when you get there. Anyhow, we saw a lot of cool stuff on our long walk from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower…

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On our walk we got to see the Love Locks Bridge! We did not add our own lock to it, mainly because in my research prior to the trip, I learned that you can now be fined for doing this because the bridge has been compromised by the weight of all the locks. In fact they are now boarding it up so that people can’t add more to it unfortunately. But it’s still neat to check out!

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When you make the trip to Paris, you have to be prepared for LOTS of walking. It’s about a 3 mile walk from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. You could take the metro, but then we would have missed out on all the beautiful Parisian scenery along the way.

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In the last pic above, we finally saw the Eiffel tower in the distance and the “Tour Eiffel” sign! The Eiffel tower really is huge… as you are walking to it it just gets bigger and Bigger and BIGGER!

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I purposely chose an early evening tour of the Eiffel Tower because that way we got to see it during the day, at dusk, and at night. When the sun starts going down, the Eiffel Tower lights up… but the best part is that at the top of every hour the Tower Sparkles!! In the last 3 pics above you can kind of see where the different lights light up to make it shimmer, it’s truly amazing to watch!

After this, we got in the ticket holders line to wait to get in. It was still a little wait to get in, but NOTHING like the line you wait in if you didn’t preorder your tickets! Unfortunately, while we were waiting, the weather held out no more for us. The winds picked up and the rain came down pretty heavily. So much so, that by the time we got into the tower, they had closed the top so we weren’t able to go all the way up. Kind of a bummer. We got to the second level but that’s as far as they would allow any of us to go. And since it was crazy windy and torrentially down pouring, our pictures didn’t turn out so great either. We hope to go back one day and make it to the top next time and get some better pictures!

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That last shot there is one Jeff took as we were dashing in the rain from the Eiffel Tower to the Train Station to get back to the apartment and meet our friend for dinner. I take pretty much all the pictures on trips, but I gotta give credit where credit is due! Jeff turned around to take one last pic, and it’s a beauty!! Til we meet again Eiffel Tower!!

The next morning when we got up it was still raining… and it proceeded to rain pretty much for the rest of the time we were in France. Such is life! But of course, we made the best of it! Cold and damp as it was, we bundled up and decided to spend the day in Versailles. Our primary destination for the day was the Palace of Versailles!

This Grand Chateau started out as a hunting lodge in 1624 for King Louis XIII, until his successor King Louis XIV decided to turn it into a palace. And a fancy one at that! Known for its ornate paintings and decor, hall of mirrors, and spectacular gardens, it really is a sight to see. About a 30 minute walk through the gardens leads you to a few other buildings on site apart from the palace- the Grand Trianon and the Marie Antoinette House. Both are cool little places to check out, but of course not nearly as large and fancy as the main palace! We literally spent a full day on this site. And because we went on a rainy Saturday, it wasn’t too crowded. Our neighbor told us that Sundays can be crazy busy here. I would recommended doing the audio tours throughout, as you get to learn some pretty cool things. We made a full day of being here, but it can be done in shorter time. And honestly, if it were nicer out we could have stayed longer to scope out the gardens. We were there in December, but I hear that the gardens are just out of this world in the summer – everything in full bloom and sometimes they even do a water fountain, lights and music display with fireworks! That would be great to go back and check out too! But it was still rainy and getting colder by the time we finished our visit there, so we left the Palace in search of dinner.

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Walking around these little French towns at Christmastime is pretty magical though! The lights, the decor, the music… it keeps you warm no matter how cold it is out!

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Our final stop for the day was to a little place called Creperie Sarrasine. We originally picked out another crepe place to eat at that was recommended in our guide book but when we got there it was closed! I was bummed, and starving. But luckily my amazing husband and his quick thinking found us another crepe place in town to eat at not too far of a walk away. Best husband ever!! So we sat down at this quaint little place and tried dinner crepes for the first time. It’s made with a different type of crepe than the dessert crepes most people know of. Jeff has one with eggs and veggies and mine had one with eggs, potatoes, and sausage. Pretty tasty! Oh yeah, and we shared a nutella crepe for dessert of course haha. All this talk of crepes and croissants reminds me to tell you that while I follow a primarily gluten free diet, this weekend in France I did not! Now, I can get away with that temporarily because I have a wheat intolerance in my esophagus, as opposed to a wheat allergy or full on Celiac Disease or something. So from time to time, I am able to “cheat” on my gluten free diet, but the sooner I go back to being gf the better I feel. In this case, I was making the most of my trip and sampling all the finest pastries and dishes France had to offer me that weekend, and it was amazing!

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The following day was our Museum Tour day! Still raining of course, we bundled up and hopped the train to Paris. Our first stop was the Musée d’Orsay, then the Musée de Louvre, and finally the Musée de l’Orangerie. Now, we did our museum tour “out of order”. It is recommended that you start at the beginning of the art displays which is the Louvre. Then you do the d’Orsay, and finally the Orangerie. All 3 museums take you through art displays in chronological order with the Louvre showing art from Ancient world to 1850, the Orsay from 1848-1914 and the Orangerie from 20th century to today. We went in the order that we did because the Orsay was a convenient train stop for us in the rain. Afterwards we crossed the river over to the Louvre and then not too far of a walk away is the Orangerie. Here are some of the incredible things we saw at these museums:

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From ancient Egyptian works, to Monet and Van Gogh and the Mona Lisa, it really was incredible to take in so much of our history and culture in one day! We also lucked out in that it stopped raining for a bit! So we took that opportunity to walk down the Ave. des Champs-Élysées and head to the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way on this 2 mile or so walk, we got to see the Eiffel Tower in the Fog, the Rue de Paris Ferris Wheel at sunset, and we even got to walk through the Paris Christmas Market!

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It was a cold and crowded walk, but there was so much to see along the way! We finally made it to the Arc de Triomphe and we were able to check out the little museum inside as well as walk all the way to the top to see the view! Again, it was foggy out so we didn’t get the best views, but it was still pretty cool. And on our way out we caught the ceremony honoring those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napeoleonic Wars. Below that area is where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies from WW1.

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It was getting kind of late at this point and we were starving after all that walking that day and stair climbing so we headed back down the Champs-Élysées in search of dinner. We ended up stopping at the George V Cafe and were pleasantly surprised by the menu offering English descriptions of it’s meals, friendly English-speaking Staff, quick service, and excellent food! On my continued enjoyment of French cuisine, I got the Beef Bourguignon for dinner and Jeff enjoyed a pasta dish with a nice glass of French wine!

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Our last and final day in France was pretty relaxed. We packed up our stuff at the apartment in Versailles and took the train into Paris and spent the day walking around and grabbing some lunch and shopping before we met our friend and drove the 6 hours back home. All in all, it was a really incredible weekend, one that I will never forget, and is up there as one of our best trips ever in my book! It may have been cold, and often rainy as well, but it was so worth it to be there at Christmastime and enjoy the spirit of the season in France!

Some tips for future travelers:

1) Book things ahead of time if possible. Specifically, the Eiffel Tower tour! If you go in the early evening like we did, you get to see the tower during the day and at night. Make sure you’re there at the top of the hour to watch it sparkle!

2) I seriously recommend getting a Museum Pass. Jeff and I were VERY fortunate that our friends gave us theirs and we were able to use their passes for free. But if you buy one I think it’s like 100 euros total, but don’t quote me on that. They sell them at the train stations I believe. Anyhow, they are totally worth it because you have access to about 60 locations in and around Paris for FREE! Plus, you get to skip most of the lines!! Seriously, Jeff and I barely waited on line at every place we went, which freed us up to see and do so much more and make the most of our time there. We were able to get into the 3 museums, the 3 places at the Palace at Versailles, and the Arc de Triomphe all for free and without waiting in lines at any of these locations.

3) Use guidebooks and maps. Our friends lent us the guide book Rick Steve’s Paris 2014 and it was very helpful. Grab some free maps at the train stations too.

4) Invest in a book of train tickets and another book of metro (subway) tickets. You can decide how many you want or need, but the train tickets at 2-3 euro a piece were great for getting into Paris and back out to where we were staying in Versailles. The metro tickets are cheaper and great for getting places between stops. Say for example you didn’t want to walk the 3 miles from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Eiffel Tower, you could take the metro instead.

5) Wear good walking shoes. Even if you take the train or metro system as much as possible, it is still A LOT of walking. Which is great if, like me, you’re trying to work off those croissants, but not great if you’re in bad shoes. It’s totally do-able though. Even in the cold and rain, even being 6 months pregnant at the time, I hoofed it all over Paris and Versailles and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Know your limits though, if you’re not in decent shape or have trouble walking in general, it’s not going to be easy to get around. Even relying on the metro and train stations, there are lots of stairs and walking to and from platforms.

6) You will CONSTANTLY be warned about pick-pocketing. Be smart and stay aware. Ladies, I wouldn’t even recommend taking a purse if you can do without it. I carried my little coin purse/wallet, and it was safely zipped on the inside of my coat where a pick pocket couldn’t get to it easily.

7). Pack light. I carried a small tote bag with me with our guide book, maps, water and snacks, and umbrella in it. Again, since you’re walking all over you don’t want to be lugging a ton with you too. If you’re buying souevenirs, pick small lightweight things, or just wait til your last day to get them. There is no shortage of places to get souvenirs, I promise you.

8) Another one for the ladies: practice your squats ahead of time, because most toilets look like this:

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Where is the toilet seat you ask?! I have no idea. But this “no toilet seat” fad seemed to be the rule, and not the exception in France. Strange… but, the use of restrooms is free all over (unlike in Germany) and there are lots of bathrooms every where which my prego self appreciated!

9) Consider what time of year you are going and the pros and cons of each. Obviously spring and summer in Paris is gorgeous… and everyone else is thinking the same thing, so be prepared for mad lines. On the other hand, we avoided most of the crowds and lines by going in the winter time and got to enjoy the Christmas season there, albeit in the cold.

10) Ditch the diet. This is not the place or time to watch what you eat or drink unless you absolutely MUST. For most people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Enjoy all the chocolate, cheeses, croissants, and crepes you can! Although I obviously couldn’t drink at the time, Jeff got to sample some French wines for the both of us. You will pass by tons of places offering tasty breads and pastries, try as many as you can. The staples will obviously be plain croissants, butter croissants, and chocolate croissants. But there were a few pastries I tried and fell in love with. I wish I could tell you the french name for them but I have no idea. One looked like a large round cinnamon bun but it didn’t have cinnamon. It was glazed and had raisins. The other was a long flat pastry with a lot of chocolate in the middle and was very moist. MMM!

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Until next time my friends, enjoy the journey!

Have bump, will travel!

This is my first blog post since I announced my pregnancy about 4 months ago now. I was 8 weeks pregnant during our last big trip to Ireland, but so few people knew at the time. Now, I’m 30 weeks prego tomorrow, the cat is out of the bag, and everyone is in the know and able to celebrate this exciting time with us, yay! I seriously debated posting a blog after we announced our pregnancy and then ultimately decided against it for a few reasons:

1) This blog, since it’s inception, has primarily been about traveling. I know there will be people who read this specifically for that reason and don’t actually give a s^#!* about my being pregnant. In which case I thought it better to wait until we have a few more trips under our belt to post about our adventures while also giving me time to adjust to this whole new world of having a life growing inside of me!

2) I thought about not posting at all about my pregnancy, and then realized that there are people (friends/family) who mainly read my blog posts just to find out what’s going on in our lives ASIDE from traveling. In which case, it would probably be strange not to post anything pregnancy-related since that’s pretty much about the biggest, most important thing we have going on right now in our lives.

3) For me, being pregnant is a deeply personal thing that I literally could dedicate an entire blog post or two about AT LEAST. I love talking about this new journey, but I recognize that not everyone wants to hear about it. What I mean by that is that there are people who are just not in a place in their lives right now where they want to hear about yet another person getting pregnant. I know, because I was one of them once. For me, well it took me a while to get pregnant. It was all me, I needed to get my health on track and in the meantime, there were days where I felt like every time I logged on to Facebook someone else was announcing their pregnancy, and there I was, still not pregnant. For others, who have had miscarriages or complicated pregnancies or whatever the reason, I get that this may not be something you want to read right now. This is probably the biggest reason I decided against writing a blog post about my pregnancy, which is also why we waited so long to tell people I was pregnant in the first place: to show sensitivity and respect to those who are struggling right now. I can’t say that I’ve been through it all, I haven’t. But I can say that I relate to the struggle and am willing to privately and openly talk about it with anyone who is reading this and wants a to reach out for someone to listen to them or wants some advice.

4) Finally, I recognize that the key to most things is balance, so you’re going to get a blog post which highlights both traveling and pregnancy, in a fun and light-hearted way. Who doesn’t love a good compromise, am I right?! Everyone wins!

So after our trip to Ireland in September we decided our next trip was to go home for the holidays. Historically, we always go home for Christmas. However, with my being pregnant, we realized that we would be traveling at a very chaotic time AND very near to the beginning of the third trimester. That did not sound like fun times to us, so we decided to go back for Thanksgiving instead this year. At 20 weeks along, I went out for 2 weeks and Jeff came out for 1 week. I have travelled alone MANY times before, so to go without Jeff was no big deal… but the weird thing was, I wasn’t *actually* alone! I have this awesome little human being with me that I need to consider at all times during all parts of my traveling. So I’m going to point out for you some entertaining differences between regular traveling and traveling with a fetus lol.

1) Regular Travel: Book flights and show up to airport on time.

Bump on Board: Talk to doctor before booking trip, get the A-OK to fly. Because I’m in perfectly good health and have a low-risk pregnancy, Doc says I can fly up to 4 weeks before my due date (and tempt fate with an in-air birth at 36 weeks? Um, no thanks). Everything is good-to-go…. except… find out that on long flights (such as from Germany to the USA) they recommend giving you a prescription for an injectable anti-coagulent to prevent blood clots during air travel. Find out you need to inject YOURSELF with this BOTH WAYS. Having no pre-existing medical condition that warrants me to inject myself with anything, and ya know, no history of being a junkie, have no idea how to stick a needle in myself. So yea, thanks to YouTube, learn how to inject self in the tummy with this stuff both flying to the states and coming home. The needle is tiny but don’t be fooled, it stings like a B*!@# for a good 10-15 min after you inject it. Then you’re fine.

2) Regular Travel: Go through Security Clearance like everyone else.

Bump on Board: Wait in line at security until you get to a TSA agent, hopefully a female, who can pull you aside since you can’t go through the x-ray machines. This can go either way: If met with a friendly female TSA agent she will pull you aside very quickly, give you a brief pat down and send you on your way, and then you’ve bypassed much of the line! It can also work the opposite way: met with male TSA agent who has to track down a female TSA agent (this can take a while). Wait off to the side feeling like a freak while everyone else is filing through the x-rays machines. Also try to keep an eye on your bags at the same time. God forbid someone walk off with your bag containing prego essentials: pre-natal vitamins and Preparation H. I shudder to think. Finally get pulled aside. Sometimes it’s literally right off to the side in a little area that resembles an office cubicle. Sometimes it’s right out in the open and if they ask (or you request) they can do it in a private location. At the risk of wasting more time and not wanting to appear needy and demanding, I always do it out in the open. This can lead to feeling like a piece of meat because a lot of people will walk by, staring, wondering why you are being frisked, as if you did something wrong. You can only hope they notice your bump and put 2+2 together and realize you’re just a harmless pregnant lady trying not to subject the precious life in her tummy to radioactive waves. Also, some freaks like to watch a female TSA agent frisking up a female passenger- ya pervs! But I digress. As in the case of the woman I had frisking me in Newark Airport, she took her dang time, was extremely thorough, and was all up in my grill. I actually did wonder if she enjoyed it LOL, because none of the other times I was frisked was it that thorough. Who knows, but after they realized I wasn’t a prego packing heat I was set on my way, albeit 15 min later due to all that hoopla.

3) Regular Travel: Sit in preferred choice of seat: window seat. Great views, no one bumping into you, and no one climbing over you. Score!

Bump on Board: Forced to take an aisle seat: you don’t wanna be that person asking people every hour to get up so you can hit up the bathroom or stretch your legs. Nothing can stand between you and the restroom. Nothing.

4) Regular Travel: Get up once or twice over an 8 hour flight to use the bathroom/stretch your legs.

Bump on Board: Doctor recommends you get up and walk around as much as possible. Your bladder and aching back insist that this is every hour, at least. Try not to use the bathroom that reeks excessively of urine or from the person who used it before you that made the poor choice of having taco bell as their last pre-plane meal. Bad choice buddy, but why must you make us all suffer? Switch bathrooms if need to to avoid the urge to vom. Leave bathroom, do some stretching, attempt to return to seat without anyone knocking into your bump on the way. Try to sit back in your seat despite having a belly and the abnormally tall guy sitting in front of you who has apparently decided to stretch out and recline his seat alllllll the way back leaving you almost no room to slither back into your seat. Be thankful you do yoga as you are just flexible enough to wriggle back into your seat. Put movie back on and hope the flight attendants come around soon with a snack, because you’re pretty much always hungry….

5) Regular Travel: Eat and drink whatever you feel like having. In flight meal options sound ok? Go for it. Flight offers free beer/wine, have another!

Bump on Board: That free alcohol Lufthansa provides is completely wasted on you, bummer. The in flight meals: is the food on your doctor approved list of foods you can eat while pregnant? Is it a food that you’re not currently experiencing an aversion to? Is it a food that will not give you horrific heartburn and make you suffer (even more) the rest of your flight?! If yes, have it. You’ll probably be famished in an hour again anyway. If no, decline and opt for your own pre-packed snacks that you know will not cause nausea, vomiting, or heartburn, or expose your growing baby to listeria. The struggle is real, people.

6) Regular Travel: Airplane provided blanket and pillow – use ’em, don’t use ’em, who cares.

Bump on Board: Airplane provided blanket and pillow – worth their weight in gold. Hope someone in your row is not using theirs so you can ask to use it, or opt to ask flight attendants for extras. Squirrel these items away like it’s your job because somehow over the course of a few hours your seat that seemed ok with to begin with is now a torture device. Your butt and back are killing you. Use pillows and blankets to pad your seat and support your back. Try variations of reclining seat and putting it upright to find what will work for the rest of the flight. Hope and pray you’re making your descent soon to your final destination.

7) Regular Travel: Get bag(s) from overhead compartment, and be on your way.

Bump on Board: Doctor recommends you not lift anything more than 10lbs. When traveling sans husband, must do this on your own or enlist the help of a friendly stranger to help you get your 20lb carry-on down from the overhead bin. Try not to pass out when other strangers around you lift their arms to get their own bags and realize it seems like FAR too many people were in a rush to the airport this morning and conveniently “forgot” to put on their deodorant. For the love of God, why must pregos have such keen senses of smell coupled with nausea?! Thank kind, non-smelly stranger for getting you your bag for you. File off plane trying not to have people hit your bump on the way off… or hit it yourself on a back of a chair or something because let’s be honest, sometimes you forget you have this belly now.

8) Regular Travel: Walk through airport at a quick, brisk pace to find customs and luggage carousel. Dodge small children/slow travelers as needed to effectively bypass most of the other people on your flight and be first in line for everything to get the hell out of there.

Bump on Board: You are now the slow(er) traveler. You can’t walk as fast as you used to and you’re out of breath and need to take it down a notch thanks to the increased volume of blood pumping through your body (up to 50% more!) and the decreased lung capacity you have now, as someone is crowding your organs so they can stretch out a bit. Realize the error in your ways when you pause to rest near the entrance for the smoker’s lounge. *Gag* Keep walking. Find a restroom. Just went 30 min before your plane landed? Who cares, you always need to go and this will give you a little break until you must continue your long ass walk to customs and luggage.

9) Regular Travel: Get bag from luggage carousel, exit the airport.

Bump on Board: Like your earlier debacle with your carry-on, must find a stranger again to help you lug your 40lb bag off the carousel. When you’re an independent woman who is so used to doing everything for herself, it’s a little difficult to keep asking everyone for help, but you do because you know it’s best for the baby… ego be damned.

10) Regular Travel: Leave airport, talk to whoever picks you up about the regular pros and cons of your flight: turbulence, airplane food, in-flight movies, annoying passengers, etc.

Bump on Board: Leave airport, hesitate to tell everyone who asks how your flight was how different and difficult it actually was for you because you don’t want to seem like a complainer when you truly are so happy and blessed to be with child. But wow, things are so different, already!

As always, it was an incredible trip home filled with family, friends and fun! I Hope you enjoyed this post, I will be back soon with my next blog post about our trip to Paris, France last month, so stay tuned! ;)

Escaping to the Emerald Isle!

Hi all, apologies that it’s been an eon since my last blog post, but ya know, that’s life! Things are busy here as always, it was a nice spring and summer full of festivals and hikes and fun with friends. We’ve really spent the last few months getting to know Germany and the area we live in which has been great. But of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t use our prime location to explore other countries in Europe!

For Labor Day weekend we met up with our friends Lisa and Eddie and took a trip to Ireland together. If you are particularly observant, you might realize that these are the same friends we met in Hawaii and did a lot of hikes and trips together with… when we found out that they were moving to Germany too, we were thrilled! So this was our first reunion trip together and it was amazing. When I posted on FB that we had landed there, a lot of people said that this was their dream trip, and I can see why. It really is as green and naturally gorgeous as you see on TV & the movies.

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The pics above are a few I took on the day we landed. We flew into Dublin but we actually rented a house waaaaaay on the other side of the island in a town called Killorglin, it’s about a 4 hour drive from Dublin. Huge thanks to Eddie for driving the rental car- none of us wanted to deal with the whole “driving on the other side of the road” thing. Not gonna lie, it freaked us out a bit, but Eddie had some experience from having previously driven in New Zealand so he was up for the challenge. It was a manual transmission so I test drove it a bit in a driveway just to try it out, but I wasn’t exactly ready to hit the road LOL. Anyhow, it rained a lot the day we landed so we didn’t get to see as much of the panoramic views as we would’ve like but it was ok because we had been up since 2:30-3am so the long drive was a great opportunity for Lisa and I to zonk out in the back seat of the car as per usual hahaha. When we woke up we were in a town past Killorglin called Dingle. It’s a really neat little fishing town on a peninsula, so cool. Our first stop was an old skool Irish Bar called Dick Mack’s – funny name, and definitely a hole-in-the-wall kinda place that had been there for forever! The boys had a few pints of Guinness while Lisa and I poked around town doing some window shopping and dodging rain drops. When we returned the guys had made friends with an older Irish gentleman named Hans who was giving them great tips about where to eat, things to see and what to do all over Ireland. Very cool! He steered us to a place called Murphy’s for dinner (There’s a place called “Murphy’s” on like every corner in Ireland, seriously!) and I got to try some authentic Irish Beef Stew!

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After that we headed over to Killorglin to our rental house, which was beautiful. The hostess, Shayla, met us there and she was very nice and helpful. It was a great place to stay for the weekend, not that we spent a lot of time there because we were always out all day, but it was very enjoyable when we were there!

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The next day we woke up to farm fresh breakfast foods provided by our hostess: eggs, yogurt, bread, milk, assorted fruit, and oranges to make fresh squeezed orange juice! We liked it so much we gave her extra money to pick us up some more things at the farmer’s market that morning for the rest of the trip! We fueled up on our tasty breakfast and off we went!

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Our first stop was an area called Bray Head where we did a Hike out to an awesome scenic point where an old watch tower was. Apparently this area was used as point of communication for telegraphs back in the day, pretty cool! The hike was so pretty and at the top the views of the cliffs and the roaming sheep was pretty neat too. You could even see some little islands off in the distance!

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After our hike, we were starving, so we headed over the bridge to another super cute little fishing town called Portmagee! We popped into a little pub and grabbed some lunch. I got to try some awesome and fresh seafood chowder, yum! And of course, the boys had more beer lol. We also tried some kind of an English Mustard with our french fries and it was actually really good- it had quite a kick that we weren’t expecting!

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Next up on the agenda was a trip over to Derrynane Bay. We did a small hike to the beach and walked along it for a long time. It wasn’t raining, but it wasn’t exactly warm either, and yet there were people in the ocean! Very cool beach too, because not only was it picturesque, but the were a lot of huge rocks on the beach with striations from glaciers, that was something I had never seen on a beach before!

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Our last stop for that day was over to Torc Waterfalls which is part of the Ring of Kerry. It’s a very tourist-y spot with a 5 minute walk to see a waterfall. Unfortunately, there was a lot of people there and a good handful of people kept going into the waterfall to get a picture of themselves in the falls, which we all thought was pretty rude because it obscured everyone else’s shots but whatever. Keep that in mind for proper etiquette fellow travelers, that is not cool! So all my shots of the falls have some random dude in it, but I digress. It was a nice little scenic waterfall to end the day with.

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After this, we went back to the rental house and then walked into town to check out the local fare. We hit up this pub called Bunkers and had some tasty food for dinner. I have to say, overall almost everywhere we went, everyone was really friendly. Especially the waitresses and bartenders, they were always nice to talk to! On the way out of the restaurant though, we saw a stereotypical drunk Irish guy yelling profanity at people walking by. It was kinda funny actually but it was late and we had to walk home so we didn’t stick around long to watch that haha.

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The following day we decided to spend more time on the Ring of Kerry. Our first stop was Ross Castle! It’s a dilapidated castle from the 1500’s that was partially reconstructed. Usually you have to pay for a tour, but apparently we were there during heritage week so we got in for free, holla!

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After that we decided to check out a boat tour of the lake. It was covered thankfully, because it started raining. It really is no joke how much it rains there! We didn’t get to see a whole lot because it was foggy at that point, but the tour guide on the boat was entertaining, so that was nice!

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It was lunchtime at this point so we headed over to Killarney National Park and hit up their cafeteria-style restaurant which was actually quite nice. And honestly, they had the largest selection of gluten free food I’d experienced since we got there! I was able to get pot roast, mashed potatoes, a toasted slice of GF bread with butter and a GF brownie…yum!! I’d show you a picture, but I scarfed that shizz so no pics were taken, sorry! Hahaha. As usual, the servings were HUGE so I didn’t finish it and had to take the brownie home for later because it was just too much. Then we got tickets to tour the Muckross House which is a beautifully restored tudor style mansion built in the 1840’s. It has 65 rooms and we got to see I think 26 on the tour. This was the longest and best tour we got to do on this trip, and that I’ve done so far in Europe. I highly recommend it, ESPECIALLY if you are a Downtown Abbey fan. If you’re familiar with that show, then a tour through this house that is so similar to the things shown on that show are going to blow your mind. It was really awesome. Of course, like most castle and palace tours, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside, but it was incredible. I would definitely say this is a must see if you’re visiting the county of Kerry in Ireland.

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We walked over to the Petting Zoo after that on the other side of the national park because I was dying to pet a sheep. I know, weird, right?! But sheep are ALL OVER Ireland roaming around looking all cute and snuggly and I just wanted to pet one! Well this was the perfect opportunity because I get to pet three, I was pretty psyched!

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For dinner we went back into Dingle (the first town we visited) by way of Connor’s Pass which is a very scenic and beautiful drive around the peninsula. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain again so we didn’t get the best views, but we did get to see a lot of beautiful natural waterfalls (this time without fools standing in them to block our shots lol). And of course, we saw more sheep roaming around very close to us by the waterfalls!

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On our last day in Ireland, we checked out of the rental house and headed straight to Dublin. When we got there we went into the downtown area and headed for the popular Temple Bar. It was a nice place with great live music. The musician was so cool, Jeff sent him a pint of Guinness! We walked around Dublin for a while after that and then we grabbed  some coffee before we headed to the airport… Irish coffee of course hahaha!

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At the airport, we got settled in waiting for our flights and Lisa and I made a last minute visit to the restrooms when I saw the coolest thing… in the restroom, yes! It’s a hair straightener in the ladies room to freshen up while you’re traveling! I’m telling you, when I saw that, I was like “These are my people!! They get me!!” I can’t tell you how many times I wished something like this were available in other places so I could spruce up my hair when it gets frizzy, especially for certain events. Ladies with curly/wavy hair that you straighten, you know what I’m talking about! Now, I didn’t use this one, because I had no need to that day (Ireland water is WAY better on our hair -like US water- than the water in Germany that dries us all out, ugh.) But had I had a need for it, I gladly would’ve paid 1 euro to use this!  Ok, enough about that.

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This trip was super fun and really a great opportunity and another awesome trip in the books with our friends Eddie & Lisa. We all agreed that it was really nice to be in a country again that speaks our language! The simple joy of being somewhere again where you can read all the signs and the menus and communicate exactly what it is that you want/need and have people understand you is something we no longer take advantage of while living overseas! And of course one of my favorite things was just feeling connected to the island as part of my own Irish heritage. I’m sure I’ll feel this way when we visit other countries my ancestors came from, but my first experience with this was pretty spectacular! :)

Adventures & Advice in Food, Traveling…and Cleaning?!

The alternative title to this post could be “How Pinterest has enriched my life” lol. I have referenced Pinterest on here a time or two before, but if you’re not familiar with it, it’s a website (and app) where you create boards about anything you want and “pin” things on there from all over the internet. It’s a great way to organize things, learn things, be inspired, etc. Needless to say, I have a ton of boards, and countless more pins of cool/interesting/helpful things I’ve seen all over the place. I always enjoyed using Pinterest, but now that I am not working, I actually have time to try out a lot of stuff on there, and it’s pretty awesome!

I suppose technically you can call me a “Housewife” since I am not currently working, but I rather hate that word. “Homemaker” and “Stay-At-Home-Wife” (since I’m not yet a mother) don’t really do it for me either. I searched alternative words for this which include: “Domestic Engineer” and “Lady of the House”. The former words sounds pretty legit/professional, and the latter reminds me of one of my new favorite shows to watch, “Downton Abbey”. Either are preferable to “Housewife” in my book. But I digress…

Since we’ve gotten settled into our new home, I realized something: I give more of a sh*t about being domesticated. I figure, because this IS my job now. Do you guys remember old skool report cards where the teacher would give you “comments” on your grade, usually associated with a number?? Like say for example #4 was “Does not play well with others”. Well I got the same recurring comments from multiple teachers year after year, and that would be: “Takes pride in quality work”. It is so true, I really get a lot of satisfaction out of a job well done, which served me well in school and in my career respectively. But while working, when it came to cooking and cleaning I didn’t care as much. Who has the time to do all that on a regular basis when they’re working?! If you do, then I applaud you (**insert slow clap here**). I on the other hand, found it infuriating. Many arguments were had between myself and my husband about cooking more healthy home-cooked meals and doing more deep cleanings of our apartment. To this I would simultaneously scoff and laugh, because honestly, what was he thinking? Throughout my 10-year career as a Social Worker there was hardly a time when I wasn’t working 2 jobs or working one 50+ hour a week job. By the time I got home (frequently late) I hardly felt like cooking and cleaning, and on the weekends if there wasn’t some family event or another to go to, I generally felt like I deserved to relax and recharge for the upcoming week. But now that I am on my own little sabbatical, I really enjoy this stuff! (If you are working, or a working parent, you might feel like punching me in the face right about now but hold back! I will reveal some awesome things I learned on Pinterest that may help make your life easier!)

We will start with two of my favorite things: food and traveling! Food first of course, hahaha! I have a Pinterest board called “Yum!” where I pin tons of recipes. This is especially helpful for me as my husband and I are the most annoying couple ever to eat with: He’s vegetarian and I’m Gluten Free. This also goes back to why I used to not enjoy cooking as much when I was working- every meal often has to be modified to adapt to one or both of our diets… not an easy task mind you! Anyhow, I like pinning recipes in my spare time and then bringing my laptop into the kitchen to try them out. Sometimes it’s instantly great results, sometimes things need a bit of a modification, and a few times it was pretty much an epic fail lol. I’ll share some good recipes I’ve tried lately here with you now, as well as my feedback on possible modifications to enhance the recipe. You should know that my general rule of thumb when trying new recipes is “the simpler the better”. If a recipe has a million ingredients and takes forever to make, I usually steer clear of it. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!! The best thing to me is when a dish looks and tastes like you spent all day in the kitchen, but you didn’t, so that’s a win right there.

So we’ll start with a recipe for vegetarian spicy black bean burgers. I tried this out a few weeks ago and the hubs liked it but suggested a modification that was easy enough… and he liked them so much it was his special request for his birthday dinner this week, so I got to try it again, and my mods made a big difference! Here is the recipe: http://www.annies-eats.com/2011/06/22/black-bean-burgers/

The taste is great in these burgers but the first time I tried the recipe, we realized that the burgers fell apart a bit when cooking. They needed an additional ingredient to hold them together more… my choice? Plain Oatmeal! I also made them GF so I could eat them by switching out the panko and using GF bread crumbs instead. Side note- if you have Celiac Disease the addition of oatmeal may not work for you. I don’t have CD, but a gluten intolerance in my esophagus which is why I am GF, and oatmeal works fine for me. You know your body so if oatmeal doesn’t agree with you, try an alternative ingredient that will help bind these burgers a bit more and not hurt your tummy!

This next recipe is for fresh guacamole, which I added on top of the spicy black burgers above for an out-of-this-world flavor combo. This recipe is surprisingly simple & easy. After I made it I was like “I’m 32 years old, how have I never made fresh guac before? For shame!!” I will be making this again soon. The author of the blog dubs it as “The only guacamole recipe you will ever need” and she’s right! Here it is: http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/post/1518781/2195042825/  Click on “Continue Reading” to go to the detailed recipe. The only mod I made for this was to add the teensiest bit of sugar because I found it to be a tad bitter when I was done making it. I usually find ways to avoid sugar in my recipes, but this needed it, and the tiny bit made a big difference. Also, love the author’s suggestion about reserving the avocado pits to place in the leftover guac to keep it fresher longer… I tried this and still fully expected to see the top of the guac turned brown/black the next day when I pulled it out of the fridge and was absolutely shocked when it was not!! The guac lasted fresh, green, and tasty in the fridge for 3 days… it might have lasted longer but it was so good we finished it, haha!

One of my recent food obsessions since I moved to Germany has been Brussels Sprouts… SO OBSESSED!! They are quite inexpensive here at our farmer’s market, and when I can’t get to the FM that week I find the ones in the frozen food aisle are a decent substitute. Side note for a moment- for a while now I’ve been reading up on how to eat healthier for your blood type, and the link between your blood type, diet, and illness. Shout out to my friend Lisa who first told me about this back in Hawaii probably a year or so ago. I then got a little book on it and tried making some adjustments, and then recently got another book out of the library about it. Jeff and I are B+, and brussels sprouts are supposed to be amazingly awesome for our diet, which is great because I love them! Sadly, other foods I really enjoy (chicken, peanut butter, shrimp) are not. Every blood type has a different lists of foods that are super good for you, just neutral, or toxic to you. Very interesting reading if you’re into finding ways to be healthier and modify your diet to improve your quality of life. The author of these books is Dr. Peter D’Adamo if you want to look it up. Pins on Pinterest are also available to give you quick reference lists on what is good/bad to eat for your blood type!

Ok, back to the sprouts though… I have been trying multiple ways to make these bad boys because they are just so tasty to me. I literally make them once a week which usually lasts me a few dinners. The other day I tried this recipe which included sweet potatoes and it was fantastic. I omitted the bacon-bits for the vegetarian’s sake though. Sweet potatoes, btw, are another Blood Type B superfood, so it packs two for the price of one in this great recipe! Here it is:  http://www.cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.com/side-dish-saturdays-roasted-brussels-sprouts-sweet-potatoes-and-bacon/#jsIyzzB5Krwq06bI.32

Another great brussel sprouts recipe including balsamic vinaigrette and sea salt is here: http://www.piarecipes.com/2014/01/roasted-brussel-sprouts.html For this, I suggest investing in a really good vinaigrette of your choice. I got ours freshly made from our local farmer’s market and it was outstanding. I literally watched them pour it into the bottle we took it home in. This is light years different than the stuff you buy in the store… packed with flavor! A hint for my NJ friends who may be reading this, if you’re looking for a quality olive oil or balsamic vinaigrette, try Carter & Cavero in Red Bank, their store is entirely dedicated to that stuff and you get to sample it all, yum!

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(The pic on the left is  a bit blurry but it’s the black bean burger topped with guac. They both show the sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts recipe, but the pic on the right is more clear.)

The last recipe I’ll share is a healthy dessert option called “Healthy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies”. I’ve made them twice already and will probably make them again tomorrow hahaha. What’s incredible about them is that there are no added sugars, oils, eggs or flour, yet they taste great. Fresh ripe bananas and unsweetened apple sauce give these cookies a bit of sweetness without the overkill (or the guilt lol!). I chose to omit the PB on account of it being one of the foods that, sadly, is not good for our blood type. Something about not being able to properly digest the proteins in peanuts which causes weight gain or something like that. So I included mini chocolate chips and walnuts. But you can also add raisins, coconut, etc. Here it is: http://www.theskinnyfork.com/blog/2013/3/18/healthy-peanut-butter-oatmeal-cookies

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Moving on to my next favorite thing, traveling!! Pinterest gives you a “Favorite Places” board which is where I pin places I want to travel and see. Last weekend we decided to go to Brussels, Belgium (home of my favorite vegetable!) because I saw a pin about it and also because one of my aunts lived there for a couple years a while back and I heard it was cool. It’s about a 4 hour drive from where we are in Germany. What initially attracted me to going there was something called the “Flower Carpet”. I later learned that this is a special event held every other year for one weekend- it’s where they fill the entire town square at the Grand Place with flowers and create a unique design each time. Fortunately, they will be doing it this year in August, so we plan to go back to check it out!

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We just went for the weekend to have a little road trip for Jeff’s birthday and see some new sights including the Mannekin Pis and the Grand Place. We stayed at the Brussels Marriott using our points, and it was conveniently located downtown near everything. Our room had a cool window that kind of looked like a porthole, so that was neat too! It was a beautiful spring weekend and we did a lot of walking around and sampling of things. Jeff tried a few Belgian beers and I tried a few Belgian chocolates. I also had a tasty dinner our first night there of steamed mussels and Pommes Frites, and Jeff had a bangin’ Falafel sandwich!

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The next day we grabbed breakfast from this quaint little French Cafe before the long drive home. The restaurant was called La Mercerie and they literally had only one GF option option on the menu, so that’s what I got LOL! It was called a “mousse” and it was basically ground up cashews topped with peaches. Jeff got a breakfast plate with Polenta, feta cheese, greens, and tomatoes. Very different from what we usually get when we go out to eat, but quite tasty! And the ambience of the restaurant was adorable too :)

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On Monday it was back to reality and as with any trip, our place was a wreck when we got home. I always feel like you need a vacation from your vacation. As much as I try to clean before we go away on trips, there’s always things to unpack and laundry to do and whatnot when you get home. This leads me to my next Pinterest inspired tips for you! In general, I hate cleaning the bathroom. It’s pretty gross right? And it’s a lot of work!! And since we moved in here last month, there has been this super gross and annoying line in our master bathroom toilet where the water streams down from under the rim. It’s all like yellow and gross and calcified from the hard water. No amount of scrubbing with the toilet brush was going to get rid of it. So I did a little research and I found my answer… pumice stones! I bought one for like $2-$3 at the PX in the health and beauty aisle near the nail polish/manicure stuff and this little thing took the stain right out in less than 5 minutes with not too much elbow grease! And it doesn’t scratch the porcelain. I HIGHLY recommend it! Here’s the link for more info: http://www.ehow.com/how_4687595_clean-toilet-bowl-black-stain.html

And by far my absolute favorite new thing I found was on how to get the bathtub/shower properly cleaned!! For years I was using scrubbing bubbles, kaboom, Lysol bathroom cleaner or whatever with results that left me like “meh”. The soap scum build up usually ends up killing my back as I bend over the tub scrubbing the crap out of it. But no more! This tip for cleaning the tub is as easy as 1-2-3. The trick is combining vinegar with dawn dish detergent (I use the blue kind which most posts recommend). Combine these two ingredients in a spray bottle. Some people suggested adding baking soda, but then I read that that clogs up  the spray bottle, and frankly I found that I didn’t need it. I also read that some people heat up the vinegar first but then the addition of the dish detergent causes it to foam up a lot, so I also didn’t do that and again found it to be fine. Spray this mixture all over your tub/shower especially on the trouble spots, then ventilate the bathroom with a fan or open window (this is important as the vinegar smell is pretty potent) and walk away. Let it sit for a while. I gave it 30 min or so. When I walked back in, I lightly wiped everything down with a damp cloth and I kid you not, it all came off so easily… I was shocked! This mixture works really well on glass shower doors too BTW. When you’re done wiping it all down, give it a good rinse down with water and stand back and watch your tub sparkle like never before. Who ever thought I’d be blogging tips on how to clean your bathroom?! Uh, not me, but I wish I knew these tips years ago so I wouldn’t have spent so much time being frustrated about my lack-laster bathroom cleaning skills lol. Here’s the link for further info: http://www.23imaginaryfriends.blogspot.de/2013/08/how-to-clean-your-runners-shower.html

Well, that’s all for now folks. Hope you enjoyed these tips & tricks in my continued efforts to become a Domestic Goddess ;)

What’s New…

It’s been well over a month since my last post… my bad!! Some of you may have been wondering “She’s not even working right now, how does she not have time to blog?!” Well actually, things have been very busy over here! February was a very busy month for us what with moving into our new apartment, getting our new car, and getting our Household Goods (HHG) delivered. Everything happened all at once…

The week of Valentine’s Day Jeff and I got the call that our new car was in… exciting! We got a BMW 320i xDrive, I named her “Lola”, and she is freaking awesome. Depending on how long you’ve known me, you probably know that I usually have a “beater” car, and I always name my cars. My very first car “The Boat” was a big grey Ford that I worked really hard at my waitressing job at at 16 years old and saved up $600 to buy. Of course, beater cars usually don’t last too long. Therefore, I had a few other cars like that until just before I graduated college in 2004 when I bought my very first new car, a Hyundai Elantra named “Pookie”, or “Pook” for short. I loved that car, and she was extremely dependable for the last ten years. In Hawaii I got teased a lot by some of my co-workers (I’m talkin’ about you Leonard!) about having  Pook because she was a “beater”. But the reality is, she and I were together for ten long years, most of those years without car payments… no car payments means money you can save for a future car (or whatever) when the time comes. When I sold Pook, it was a sad day, but she went to a good home- thanks Eric and Joy! In Hawaii we were a one car family and we decided to do the same here in Germany. We could have gotten 2 cars out here and split the difference on the cost of a BMW, but we decided to take advantage of a military auto sales program that gives us a great rate on new cars and ships them back to the States for free when our time is up here. We took a look at a bunch of German-made cars in a similar price range before deciding, including high end VW’s and a low end Mercedes-Benz before choosing our BMW. While we got a great deal on our car, I should also point out that just because we are in Germany doesn’t mean the German-made cars are cheap over here. I believe I mistakenly told someone on FB that a while back, but Jeff pointed out that it’s not true. In fact our car salesman pointed out a car in the German dealership showroom the day we picked up our car that was pretty pricey (even in euro’s) and was not nearly as nice as our car. So, cars are still expensive over here even though they are made here, BUT we took advantage of a great opportunity by going through a program that was available to us. Anyhow, Lola is gorgeous and super fun to drive and I plan on having her for at least ten years as well :)

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The night we brought Lola home I got some pretty huge news- my brother’s twins were just born!! This was exciting and scary, because they were born VERY early at 26 weeks. Additionally, they have some birth defects, health issues, and complications. But the important thing is that they are alive and getting the care they need at a great hospital. So a huge congratulations to my brother David and my sister-in-law Amanda on this momentous occasion! Their names are Laura & Jolene, and I can’t wait to go home soon and meet them for the first time!! Of course, they will be in the NICU for a long time, so thoughts, prayers, and well wishes to this new family are greatly appreciated. And if you have the means and would like to offer additional support, you can make a donation to support the babies’ medical care and get more information here:

http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-the-hopkins-twins/118103

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Thank you in advance for supporting my brother, sister-in-law, and nieces :)

Later in the week, on Valentine’s Day, we got the gift of our HHG from Hawaii… which if you’ve been following along, you will realize this took THREE MONTHS to get. No joke, they picked up our shizz in Honolulu the week of Thanksgiving and it took til Valentine’s day to get here. It’s a long trip  obviously and then our stuff has to go through customs and then we have to wait for the moving company to offer us a delivery date. By the time the HHG arrives it’s like Christmas… so many boxes, everything wrapped in paper, and you get so excited to see your stuff again. There’s a lot of “Oh my gosh I forgot we had this!” and “I’m sooooooo glad to have this back” lol. It’s a lot of work of course, but I really enjoy unpacking and settling into a new place… cleaning, organizing, decorating… fun times! As requested (by Megan) here are a few pics of our place.. it’s coming along! We get our next shipment in 6 weeks or so which will mean we finally have everything here. After that I’ll post some more pics. But until then, here’s a few pics of the kitchen and the Master Bedroom:

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I had plenty of time to do this by myself of course because Jeff left for TDY  on a business trip to the States for 2 whole weeks. I missed him a lot, but I got a lot done around here! I also enjoyed spending quality time with Lola cruising on the Autobahn and listening to some old skool jams ( I found some CD’s I burned in college– throwback, holla!!). That was short lived of course because once Jeff got back, he gets to drive her most of the time since he has to go to work lol. So a typical day for us looks like this: Wake up together, Jeff drops me off at the ACS (Army Community Services Center), he goes to work, I work out, and then I walk home and take care of errands and stuff and cook dinner when he gets home. This is what I’m involved in right now:

*Zumba/Zumba Toning

*Yoga

*Walking

*Reading

*Cleaning the House

*Meal Planning & Cooking

*Watching Stuff on Netflix

Most of this stuff keeps me pretty busy in addition to keeping in touch with friends/fam back home and hanging out with our friends out here. BTW we recently learned that 2 sets of couples we know just got job offers out here in Germany so they’ll be coming out in a few months to join our “overseas family”…yay!! :) Anyhow, a lot of people ask me if I miss work, and the truth is, very surprisingly, I don’t. This may shock some people, I know, but it’s the truth. I am really enjoying this new chapter in my life and while I miss Social Work and helping clients and my co-workers, I don’t miss a lot of the other stuff that came with it. But even though I don’t have a job right now, I’m not completely out of the game lol. I’ve been in talks with some people at the ACS for a while now about starting as a volunteer which may or may not lead to a job offer in the future, so we’ll see!

But my new thing lately is really just about enjoying the moment, and appreciating where I’m at. I am so happy out here. Seriously, I am really enjoying life out here and I know it’s going to get even better so that’s pretty amazing! I feel like I’m really using my newfound free time wisely and focusing on what’s important to me- self-improvement, self-discovery, being an even better wife to my husband, and stopping to smell the roses. I’m currently reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”… ironically, a book I’ve been meaning to read for YEARS and finally got around to LOL. (If you’re not familiar with this book, I am laughing at the irony because the book is about living in the present moment ie, not living in the past or waiting for the future). I’m getting more into yoga and mediation too and sometimes it’s not easy for me, but I’m trying to challenge myself to grow in other ways, ways that I didn’t feel I could grow as much with before due to my life circumstances. So this new journey for me is about focusing less on the mind and more on the soul, really enjoying the present and appreciating the things around me because I know how fortunate I am. It wasn’t always this way, but it is now, and I am eternally grateful for that! More later, have a great day everyone :)

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Welcome To Our New Home!

Well kids, the wait is finally over- we now have a place to call home here in Germany! It’s kind of a funny story of how it came to be…
Back in November when we learned we were moving, I signed into the military/government housing referral website. I found a few cute places on there and flagged them as “favorites”, but until we got here we literally had no idea exactly where they were located, whether it was a neighborhood we liked or not, or even how far they would be from Jeff’s new job. But I knew I liked this place a lot from the pictures and description.
As our move date approached in December, I logged on again and was sad to learn that this apartment was no longer on there- it had been rented. After that I decided not to look too hard into finding a place right away as we were going home for the holidays, so my plan was to look more into it after we returned to Germany in January.
But, as fate should have it, I experienced many a sleepless night when we went back to NJ for Christmas (Jetlag much??), so I logged on again and what do you know– the place was back online and available!! It was 5am in NJ but 10am in Germany, so I gave the housing office a call right then and there and asked to schedule an appointment ASAP when we returned after the holidays. Of course, they couldn’t guarantee that this unit would still be available then, but I had to try.
Luckily, no one claimed the apartment by the time we got back. We had our “In Processing” with the Housing Office on base and they were able to call the landlord immediately and schedule an appointment for us the very next morning- Dec. 31, 2013. That NYE morning we woke up super early, bundled up hardcore, and walked from our hotel, through the downtown area, and to the apartment. The landlord was very nice and showed us everything. The poor tenant before us had boxes all over- he had barely unpacked when he learned that he was being PCS’d again to another country… Which is why the place was only unavailable for a short period of time. As sad as we were for him though, we knew we had gotten pretty lucky. Jeff and I wordlessly rotated through the apartment trying to take pictures around the current tenants many boxes and belongings, only stopping here or there to ask the landlord an occasional question. The reason we were so quiet when looking at the place is because we were warned by a few people that if you make comments like “That’s nice” or “I really like it”, allegedly some German people while consider that a verbal contract and that you intend on taking the place.
Once outside and on our walk back to the hotel, we turned to each other and we knew- we both fell in love with the place! Although this was the first and only place we saw, we knew we wanted to make it our home.
Flash forward one month later to today, where we did our housing inspection this morning and we finally have the keys in our hot little hands! We were INCREDIBLY lucky and blessed to find this place and find it so quickly. It offers almost everything on our list that we were looking for:
*3 Bedrooms
*2.5 Baths
*Open Floor Plan
*Large Living Space (1,700 sq ft)
*Storage & Parking Included
*Walking Distance to Downtown
*Short Commute to Jeff’s Job
So, without further adieu, here are the pics of our beautiful new home (with commentary of course, lol):
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This is the entry hallway looking towards the kitchen/dining/living area. How neat are those columns and lighting fixtures?!
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A small powder room for guests.
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And this is our kitchen! I love it and can’t wait to start cooking and baking again!
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These are the shots of our dining & living area, it’s huge!
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And this is the view out onto our balcony… can’t wait to put a little bistro table and chairs out there come springtime!
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This would be the master bedroom and bathroom. Believe it or not, they are not connected. However, the bathroom has heated floors so that’s pretty darn sweet. We also have a washer/dryer in there and a towel warming rack, which are pretty common here.
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This is the second bedroom.
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And last but not least would be the third bedroom AKA the “Guest Suite” as it has it’s own en suite bathroom for when our lovely guests come to visit!
Even though I don’t think the pics do it justice, it gives a glimpse into our new home. Hopefully some of you reading this right now will be making the trip out here at some point in the next few years to visit us and will be making use of our guest room! Our HHG (Household Goods) have been delayed on their journey from Honolulu to here so we have a few more weeks to wait until we can get most of our stuff back. Next up is getting the last of our stuff shipped from Jeff’s parents house, and then (most importantly) bringing our cat/fur-daughter Holly out here to be with us when we are all set up. Can’t wait! I love unpacking and decorating our new homes so this will be fun, and more than likely I’ll be posting more pics then too, ha! Hope you have all enjoyed this mini-virtual tour of our new home. Looking forward to spending many happy moments and making wonderful new memories here :) <3
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Glückliches Neues Jahr!

Well we are back in Germany for NYE after a whirlwind trip back home for the holidays. It was great to be home, but unfortunately I got a pretty bad cold which knocked me out for quite a few days. Those I didn’t get to see (or get to see enough of) I will be back soon! I plan on making the trip back to the East Coast later this winter or early spring to organize another shipment of our HHG (household goods) that’s in storage and bring our cat Holly to Germany…. both our crap and our cat are housed comfortably at my in-laws for now…thanks guys!

As always at New Years, I enjoy reflecting on the past year…both the highs and the lows, and seeing what lessons I learned so I can make the next year even better.  When I thought about it, it kept reminding me of this one quote I saw on Pinterest a while back. I love quotes, I always have. I have a board on Pinterest called “Favorite Things” that is filled with a ton of great inspirational quotes. It’s actually the board I pin to the most, I guess because I just love looking at things that inspire me and make me happy, those things that ring true for me. As one of my college professors would say, a “nugget of truth”…

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For me, I’d have to say that 2013 was a year that asked many, many, MANY questions. The first 6 months of the year were very difficult for me at work. As much as I’m cognizant of the work-life balance and how much I talk about how important it is (on this blog and elsewhere), there was a very large shift at work for a very long period of time where most of my time and energy was being focused on a negative vortex or black hole that was literally draining me on a constant basis. There were a few vortexes, not just one, that were really difficult to cope with. This lead me to the conclusion that living in paradise is not worth it if you can’t truly enjoy it. I know that’s hard for some (nay, many) people to understand. I get a lot of “How could you leave Hawaii?!” and I get it, I do. I loved it there. And I loved my job too and many of the people and clients that I had the pleasure of meeting and working with. But sometimes in life you encounter  situations that have such a negative impact on you that it’s hard to recover from. Fortunately as I said, those circumstances resolved themselves for the most part by 6-9 months into the year, but it was shortly after that that Jeff started talking to me about the possibility of moving to Germany.

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As I sit here in our extended stay hotel suite in Germany I can’t help but feel overwhelmed and excited by the new opportunities that lie ahead for us here. We are in a temporary place now, but I really look forward to find and settling into a new house, making it a home, and making an even better life for ourselves out here. Multiple questions that we had in 2013 I believe will now be answered in Germany in 2014. I’m extremely optimistic and focused on making things happen out here that didn’t or could’t happen for us in the past year. Just because I’m not working right now in the traditional sense doesn’t mean I won’t be working just as hard on my/our personal goals…just wait and see ;)

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As always, I like to throw a shout out to my best friend, my partner in crime, the love of my life, for without whom none of this would be possible or nearly as magical. I love you Jeff, and I look forward to making even more of our dreams come true together in 2014!! :D

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For now, I hope you all have a quiet moment or two to reflect on the past, learn your life’s lessons, and move on to a bigger, brighter, better future in the New Year than you ever dreamed possible! Much love, hugs, happiness, health, and success to you in the New Year , Cheers! :) xo

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Köln Christmas Market!

Yesterday Jeff and I were invited to join our new American friends on a trip to Köln (in English, it’s “Cologne”), which is a nice 2 hour road trip from where we are at in Wiesbaden. Apparently the Christmas Market there (Wiehnachtsmarkt) is one of the top 5 in Germany! The trip started with some snow, then some rain, but by the time we made it to Köln it had stopped thankfully. Bundled up in many a layer for warmth, we trekked through the train station and once outside, the massive and majestic Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) greeted us!

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We were able to walk by it and admire it on our way to the Christmas Market, which is located just outside of the cathedral. So many people packed in to the outdoor venue to peruse the fine handmade holiday offerings: christmas ornaments and decorations, scarves, jewelry, pottery, toys, etc. It was really a sight to see, with something new and different offered at every booth we passed! When we entered the first thing we did was get some Glühwein (“glow-wine” – which is a yummy hot mulled wine). It keeps you warm AND comes in a super cute mug you can keep as a souvenir of your visit to the market. Apparently each town has their own special collectors mug each year at the different Christmas markets. We made sure to keep one as a nice memento!

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After walking around the booths for a while, we decided to go check out the cathedral. From the moment you step inside, it is absolutely breathtaking. The ceilings are sky high and the stained glass windows were so vividly colored. Candles lit almost every corner of the room with beautiful statues all around. It was amazing. Such a gorgeous piece of history! The cathedral began being built in 1248 but wasn’t completed until 1880. We saw a lot of scaffolding outside around certain parts of the cathedral so it was clear that some renovations were happening to fix or update the exterior. It is very gothic and medieval, with gargoyles and flying buttresses and stuff. The two tall spires are just over 500 feet tall and are an incredible landmark for this adorable city. Pretty neat!

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Upon departing the cathedral we decided to take a little walk over the the Rhein River where we got a really great view of the cathedral and it’s notable double-spires. Right next to the river is a cobblestone walkway with little shops and restaurants, it was really cute. Pretty much how you would imagine little European cities to be. I bet it is gorgeous there in the warmer seasons and even more fun to walk around down there!

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The Christmas Market wouldn’t be complete without some yummy food! They had it all! Noodles, chinese food, keilbasa and sauerkraut, assorted nuts, chocolate, candies, cookies, latkes, meat on a stick, hot pretzels, and the list goes on!! Jeff and I found a few gluten free & vegetarian foods to snack on and settled for the fresh made frites (fries) and a side of Champignons (Mushrooms- sautéed with onions and spices and covered in a light fresh herb and yogurt sauce of course lol)…tasty! We also sampled a traditional German Christmas cookie called Spekulatius which are a spice cookie. Not on my diet of course lol, but I had to sample as everyone was talking them up and how awesome they are. Rightfully so, because they have a subtle hint of cinnamon and are definitely made with a lot of tasty but fattening butter haha.

Though the day started out with snow, we caught a bit of the sun going down as we left Köln for our two hour road trip home. If you know me well, you know that I am like a baby in the car- if I’m not driving, I’m falling asleep to the rhythm of the road LOL. This is typical for me, but even more so because I woke up at 4am and I was exhausted after all those hours of walking. Jeff woke me up on the way home to show me a bright yellow castle off in the distance, it was so cool to see! Not sure what town it was in that we were passing through, but I’m sure we’ll come across it again sometime when I can see it up closer and get a picture.

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As we arrived back into Wiesbaden, the temperature dropped considerably and it was freezing! Fortunately for me, I had my new vest on to keep me toasty warm. This was an awesome find during my shopping trip yesterday- we passed a second hand store with a rack outside of outdoor gear and for 36 euro ($50) I was able to score a wonderful black goose down vest. I love vests in the winter. And pretty scarves. And fun mittens and gloves. In fact I saw this awesome matching cashmere fingerless glove and scarf set at this adorable German boutique yesterday but it was pretty pricey unfortunately. Anyhow, we’re staying layered up and snuggling for warmth out here, and as the snow rolls in for many people out there, I hope you all are staying warm too! :)

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