23 April 2012

Launched New Site Today

I did it. I bought RaisingExpats.com, and I launched my site.  Lots of new posts including "Fools Rush In" and new sections like photo stories and what is cooking in my kitchen. Please feel free to give me feedback on how I can improve the site,and feel free to comment directly on the site. Thanks

22 April 2012

My Little Football Players

The children were incredibly happy to be staying at the cottage. They ran around outside when they pleased, and went to the soccer field to play.  Whenever Maggie was lucky enough to reach the ball before her brother, if she thought Maxi was getting too close, she would dive on top of it, and then Maxi would dive on top of her. I tried to explain to them that European football was not American football, and did not require tackling, but it never seemed to sink in, so I ended up buying Maggie her own soccer ball from a Tobacco shop in Acquapendente. She carried it around the city all day long like a favorite teddy bear, and when it was bedtime, she insisted on sleeping with it.


Every time I visit a new place, I say “This is my favorite place in the world, we have to move here.” I don’t know why, but new places, new landscapes, new architecture, new people, new cuisines, when everything is new and unfamiliar, it excites me. And visiting Toskana, "Tuscany" had the exact same affect on me. I had already been completely charmed by the flat landscape surrounding Mirandola on the opposite side of the country, but the moment we drove into Tuscany, I was in enchanted. 

Everything you’ve ever heard about Tuscany landscape, it is absolutely true. The whole area looks like it was designed by a master gardener. If there is an opening into the Garden of Eden, I'd like to believe it is here. Rolling hills, meadows, vineyards, fruit trees, fig orchards, small stone towns with windy cobblestone roads on hill tops, each with its own private castle, and fountains in town squares, staircases winding around the towns and into the stone farms down below.  In every direction, there is a stunning view.

The cottage we stayed in is part of an agriturisimo, a former building on the farm that was used for storage and wine making, and it was later turned into small cottages to rent out to tourists. The family has owned the farm for a century now, and they have a private vineyard, from which they produce their own private family wine. It’s hard to believe that the cottage we stayed in was once just used for wine storage. It has high vaulted brick ceilings in the bedrooms, exposed wooden beams in the living room and kitchen. The floor is tiled with terracotta, and the windows have heavy, well preserved wooden shutters on them.

There is a large fireplace in the living room, and beautiful brick arches that show you where the walls didn’t used to be. The door still locks with a skeleton key. Underneath us, the family converted the winery into a lounge for it’s guests, full of large rustic wooden tables and benches. All around the house are various outdoor tables and shelters, as well as chairs and a soccer field complete with nets, in which the kids and I have spent hours playing.  It is still too early for mosquitoes. Lizards scurry around in and out of holes. The children ran around outside unsupervised without me worrying they would get hurt while I prepared dinner or did the dishes.

Vive L'Italia

I'd heard about the welcoming and hospitable nature of Italians, but nothing can quite prepare you for this, until you actually meet them.  By the end of my trip, I felt like I was visiting family or good friends, not like I was paying customer.

Half way to Tuscany, we stayed in Mirandola a sleepy little Italian town, with one restaurant, one bar, one geletteria, one church, and one boarded up cinema. An agriculture town, that is surrounded by berry farms, strawberry, blue berry and a third berry that I couldn’t quite figure out when talking to the locals.

The BnB that I stayed at was above the geletteria, and when I arrived, the matron, Antonella, was eagerly awaiting me, along with half the town’s inhabitants. We didn’t share a common language, as she only spoke Italian, and I don’t. However, her friend, Claudia’s son, Sanluca remembered a little English from his schools days, and he briefly served as Interpreter. After he left, Antonella and I used Google translator to communicate what we couldn‘t figure out between pantomime and expression.
Despite our lack of a common language, Antonella immediately welcomed me into her home. She gave the children gelato from her bar, and later that evening she, Claudia and Sanluca took us out to a local restaurant so we could experience cusini tipico. The restaurant was located in a converted barn on one of the berry farms. Antonella was incredibly hospitable, and made us feel so welcome despite our obvious lack of Italian.

No one spoke English, even Sanluca said he that he struggled with my American accent. In his memory, all 20 some years of it, we were the first Americans to ever visit their town. Not only was I a bit overwhelmed by how little Italian I know, but for the first time I realized how much German I actually do know. When I couldn’t figure out how to express something, my brain reverted to German instead of English. The children as well, tried to communicate in German, but despite a common language in their usual manor the children managed to charm the whole town. Maggie had Sanluca wrapped around her finger by the end, and Maxi had Antonella indulging him with sweeties, even spoon feeding him.

The next morning, the kids and I left for Tuscany, with a care package from Antonella complete with typical breakfast foods. The drive was much shorter this time, and the children were in a much better mood, after having had a full nights sleep above the geletteria.

16 April 2012

I am blind, please help!

A post by Katya Barry www.katyabarry.com 

Hello Monday! As I was brainstorming about the topic of my post today, I was going through my files and I came across this article. It was sent to me by one of my coaching lecturers and I've no idea who had written it originally. As I was reading thought it, I felt so touched and inspired so I thought that Diana and her readers would appreciate this heart melting story

"A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet.  He held up a sign which said: "I am blind, please help."  There were only a few coins in the hat.

A man was walking by.  He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat.  He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words.  He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words. 

Soon the hat began to fill up.  A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy. 
That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were.  The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, "Were you the one who changed my sign this morning?  What did you write?" The man said, "I only wrote the truth.  I said what you said but in a different way." I wrote: "Today is a beautiful day but I cannot see it" 

Both signs told people that the boy was blind.  But the first sign simply said the boy was blind.  The second sign told people that they were so lucky that they were not blind.  Should we be surprised that the second sign was more effective?



Moral of the Story:  
Be thankful for what you have..  Be creative.  Be innovative  Think differently and positively..
When life gives you a 100 reasons to cry, show life that you have 1,000 reasons to smile.  Face your past without regret. Handle your present with confidence.  Prepare for the future without fear.  Keep the faith and drop the fear.

The most beautiful thing is to see a person smiling…
And even more beautiful, is knowing that you are the reason behind it!!!

I wish you all a wonderful week ahead and let's not forget why we are all here. 

If this story inspires you, feel free to share it.

Diana, it's been a pleasure invading your space for a while:)

Like me on facebook to get more inspirational articles and quotes from me http://www.facebook.com/KatyaBarry and follow me on Twitter  @katyabarry

13 April 2012

The Lion(s) in Munich

The city of Munich is heavily guarded by lions. Great ones, large and proud stand guard before the Field Marshall Hall on the vast Odeonsplatz, one with an eye on the yellow Theatinerkirche, the other gazing upon the former residence of Munich's royalty. The latter's lips slightly parted as if to lowly growl a message to its four small, golden brethren who line the street, their prominent noses at the perfect height for an affectionate pat from passersby. The lions watch from flags and memorials, from a world renowned brewery and from countless city keepsakes. And under their watch, Munich keeps her charm and beauty. Invites her visitors to breathe her blossom scented air in the spring, bask in the sun on the fields of the Englischer Garten, then to seek the shade of the countless chestnut trees spreading their vast, flat palms over every biergarten. To revel in the jocundity of Oktoberfest as the music and beer flow and effortlessly carry away any negative thought. But also to humbly and shyly bare the scars of her dark history and in her clear, blue eyes beckon the viewer to understand and learn from them.

My arrival to Munich was a bit of a jump into the deep end. The music group I was invited to join (and the reason I had come in the first place) was on tour. My accommodations were organized online and through one telephone call which had simply directed me to navigate the airport, find my way to something called an "S-Bahn", and take it to the strangely named "Feldmoching" where my 80 year old landlady would hopefully be waiting for me. I had a couple travelers checks, a small bit of money saved up from my New York City days, the largest suitcase I had ever owned in my life, and the glimmer of hope that this would be the start of something better.
I'm the type of person who likes to hit the ground running. Especially when the alternative is to stand in the middle of my strange surroundings, look around, spread my arms and scream "NOW WHAT?!" to no one. I had the good luck of my living situation being everything I had expected if not more, and within my first two days, I was out and about and exploring the city, trying to find my way. I had a few short term goals, short term mostly due to my three month time limit after which my tourist visa would run out and I would face the decision of returning home with my tail between my legs or doing something drastic…

Goal #1: Get a residence permit.

Goal #2: Get some sort of job that enables me to get said residence permit.

Goal #3: Jumpstart this fabulous music career I was supposed to have flown into (does that count for the residence permit?).

If All Else Fails: Marry some random German.

My exploration of the city brought me into the folds of a tour guide company who were looking to hire a couple new guides. It was from them that I learned about the little lion heads that lined the gates to the Residence. People would rub their gold noses for good luck or would make a wish. But rub more than three of the four noses and you would be accused of greed and granted nothing. Over the next couple of days I learned the lengthy tour script, found a couple of contacts to choirs, practiced my German with my landlady, and kept my eyes peeled for my emergency plan.

The day before my official "audition" for the tour company, I found myself on the street with those four lions. Stoic and proud, they stared straight ahead, accepting the wishes from the fingertips of locals and enduring the photos with tourists. I decided upon the technique of the former and casually allowed my fingers to brush the nose of the first lion. I wish to pass my test tomorrow and become a tour guide. Without stopping, my palm met the nose of the second. I wish to get my residence permit. On to the next. I wish for a successful music career here. As I let my hand drop from the third lion, I could feel their watchful and judgmental eyes on me. Even the lion from the Field Marshall Hall seemed to lie in wait, fangs bared, ready to pounce if I should dare to try for a fourth wish. I met his eyes for a moment with a defiant gaze, then directed them straight ahead as I walked by the fourth lion, hands at my sides and marched on down into the Odeonsplatz Subway station.

As I made my way home through my neighborhood, I saw a small feline figure sitting in the middle of the road, eyes reflecting the lights from the streetlamps, focused on me. I softly greeted it as I passed by and was surprised when it turned to follow me. We walked in silence to the gate of my house where I stopped and turned to the cat. It mewed softly and with an additional purr, began to affectionately rub itself against my legs.

"You'd better be careful. There's a dog that lives here and he wouldn't like it if I brought a cat home." I said with a smile. The cat looked up at me, holding my gaze. It mewed again, then started off back along the street. I watched it for a moment and saw it turn and sit once again in the middle of the road, eyes never leaving me. As I let myself into the gate, it was still there, but when I looked back one more time before entering the house, it had disappeared.

The next day, I passed my tour guide test and was scheduled for my first tour the next week. The evening after that, I met and sang for a choir director who wrote me into his Handel program at the Theatinerkirche as a soloist. My group returned from tour and we got to work on the project I came to do. Through an obscure yet miraculously well timed contact, I received help with getting my residence permit and in a month I was approved to stay for a year.

It has been four years since then. The tour guide job had left much to be desired and I left after working there for a month, but it introduced me to some of my closest friends. For that, I found the experience invaluable. My work with the group has expanded and I am now a part of three ensembles of theirs as well as one of the organizational heads. The project I came for has enjoyed much success and we are already at work on a second album. I make my living primarily with music which is so much more than I ever could have asked for. And by August next year, I will have my unlimited residence permit here. All this, and I didn't even have to marry a random German.
Since that day when I had my encounter with the Munich lions, I have felt that they have been watching over me. In turn, I felt like Munich welcomed me in with open arms. I am more at home here than I have ever been anywhere else. Where in New York I felt out of place and always in search of something greater, here I feel that I live with purpose and am firmly on the path to the life I always dreamed of having.
I still pat the lions noses on occasion. One of my wishes has stayed the same, just to reinforce it. The other two change from time to time, depending on what lies in my immediate future. But I've found recently, one of those wishes tends to repeat itself. And a part of me finds itself looking for a nice, maybe not so random German.

Hello! This is Sarah, your third guest blogger for the week. I met Diana in a writers group which I am indebted to for getting me to start writing again. The story above is true, albeit slightly romanticized. I wanted to stay true to the general theme of Munich and in the process, I think the first paragraph turned into a bit of a love letter to the city. I remain unashamed.

That said, I am as it says above, a musician. Something I will write about next Thursday when I will return for guest blogging duties. The music I make is primarily early music (from the Medieval and Renaissance eras). You can find out more about the groups I'm involved in, as well as my other projects by visiting my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/marikomusic or following me on Twitter: @sarahmariko .

Writing wise, I'm not so disciplined to have a blog, but with some encouragement, maybe I'll start. Who knows.

Thank you, Diana for the opportunity and I hope you're having fun! To all her readers, thank you for your time. I hope you enjoyed and we shall meet again next Thursday!

--Sarah M. Newman

12 April 2012

Guest post by Katya Barry

10 Types of Results That Can Be Produced.

Hello everyone, my name is Katya Barry. I met Diana five years ago (gosh, it's been a while now) during pre-natal classes in Munich when both of us were expecting our first children. Our kids, Maxi and Marie, have grown to become very close and there is that interesting spark between them, god knows what it is, but something makes those two have the best time ever, even though they both behave like cheeky monkeys! It must the 'foreign' kids syndrome or something!

I have another child, Elena, who was born 18 months after Marie, so I've been kind of busy doing the mummy thing for the past few years. So busy, that I have had enough! LOL! Working for woman is truly a luxury here (Diana can tell you all about it) so I've decided to create a perfect opportunity for myself and go solo. And so, I am now an International Business and Career Coach and Trainer. What it means is that I help foreigners discover and create personal and professional opportunities outside of their home lands. I break borders and create new rules. I use various coaching and training methods to support my clients to not only achieve their goals but take it one step further and achieve the right balance in life and basic human happiness.

On this note I'd like to share with you the types of results that can be produced when working with a coach.

1.       Financial-more money is made(bingo!)

2.       Legacy-you can leave you mark on civilization

3.       Improvement-things get better (happyJ)

4.       Reduction-things get more simple

5.       Integrity-things get stronger

6.       Expansion-things get BIGGER

7.       Awareness-people get smarter (including yourself)

8.       Energy-people get touched (ahhhh...)

9.       Value-people left with more (oh yes!)

10.   Momentum-people move faster (Ferrari)

I hope that gives you some ideas on the type of changes or adjustments you might like to make in your life.

 I welcome all comments, suggestions, questions. If you'd like to receive more tips on how to succeed in life, start or run a business, or get that dream job, then hop onto my site www.katyabarry.com and sign up for my newsletter. Also LIKE me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/events/391470780876921/, and follow me on Twitter @katyabarry.

I wish you all a fab weekend ahead and you'll hear from me again bright and early on Monday, 16 April. Ciao!


When Diana asked if I would like to write something on her blog, I was a
bit afraid of going off theme. I really respect the honesty of this
blog. Family, divorce, raising kids in a foreign country. I also have my
own stories there, but in spite of everything, I know we are so
privileged in developed countries to have possibilities. In other
countries people are less lucky to have access, for instance, to
therapy, advice, help, but also simply to communication to people
outside of their communities: outside views. Particularly in times of
The poem I've written here bases on a very recent and major crisis in
Afghanistan. It bases on several assumptions which I've detailed in a
longer article on my own blog.
Follow link or cut and paste
we need not worry about water any more, it is brought
in bottles by embarrassed soldiers and I hide behind
father when they come
I (still) hear shots and shouts descend at night, memories
that night, I smiled a bashful, "I know you"
he pointed his gun

if I spoke english, I might have a voice to tell of
the lights and the noises, mother just couldn't forget
now I can't either
maybe then you'd get my feelings and not just these
subtitled translations—if I spoke English—perhaps though
you'd just get neither.
my father still hears the taliban bombs. not me
I'm too young to remember, my mother heard shots, nights
long after they were gone
he heard them, too, the american, and if I spoke english
I'd have told him, we all hear them here
he pointed his gun
did I really see him? if I spoke english, I'd have asked:
whether she was real, my mother, shot by a soldier
never enlisted
or maybe he was shellshock, and what I thought was blood,
and what I thought was mother, was illusion destroyed
by gunshots that never existed
Danaghie, 2012


10 April 2012

Off To Tuscany...

I'm writing this quite late at night, and I've not quite finished packing, but tomorrow the children and I are leaving for Italy.  It will be my first vacation alone with the children.  My first vacation since separation.  Originally my friend Amanda and her dog Asia were supposed to join us, but after a series of unfortunate circumstances, they had to cancel.

So I really will have to do it all alone, and while I'm a bit scared, I'm also looking forward to learning how to do it alone.  I'm not about to let being alone prevent my children and I from traveling, and I'm looking forward to this next challenge, and I'm sure it will be an adventure. 

While we are there, we are going to be disconnecting from the Internet, so I've asked some friends and fellow writers to guest blog for me while I'm gone.  As soon as I return, I'm sure I'll have loads to share about our first solo vacation as our new family of three.

Dear Maxi,

Five years ago, you came into my life, and even though it was your birthday, or birth day, you gave me the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.  You opened my heart, and you taught me how to love in a way that I never even knew I was capable.  Every second of every day of the last five years, my love has grown for you, and you have made me a better person.

You gave me another gift, yesterday when I picked you up at the train station after a long weekend away with your father.  You ran into my arms yelling "Mama" punctuated by your giggle of pure joy and you snuggled right into me, and right at that moment, I knew that even with all the changes in our lives, that you are still you. And that is the greatest gift that you could give me on your birthday.

Maxi Bear, I will love you forever and always, never forget that.  Happy Birthday little man.



09 April 2012

Leaving Hohe Tauern

On my first day, it was cloudy, on my second day, it rained, on my third day it snowed, and on my fourth day, when I was leaving, the sun came out.  Overall, Hohe Tauern was exactly what I had hoped.  It was peaceful, it was relaxing, I was able to live the writers life of a recluse for one long weekend, I was able to get some hiking in, and I was able to get some work done, though not as much as I should have, because I still had the Internet to waste time on.

The only obstacle I came across, was who was going to take photos of me with this amazing backdrop?  I had two options, the first, to find a hunky local Austrian to take my photo, or the second, use my tripod, my camera's timer, and hope for the best.  Sadly, I had to go with the latter choice, and these were my results, poorly focused, badly balanced and slightly corny shots of me trying to pose.
 Day 1:  Cloudy
Day 4: Sunny

And one last final shot that I pulled over on the side of a mountain road to take as I left the Hohe Tauern National Park.

 For more photos including those from days 2 and 3, see Winter Wonderland, Day 1.5 at Hohe Tauern National Park and Thank God for This Beautiful View

08 April 2012

Winter Wonderland

Today, it snowed, and snowed, and then it snowed some more.  Which at least was an improvement from yesterday's rain, and instead of shades of gray, we had shades of white today.  When I woke up this morning, pulled back the curtain, and looked out the window, and all I could see was a white swirling mass, I contemplated pulling the down comforter back up over my head and staying in bed a little longer.

After a good cup of coffee and breakfast, however, I decided to get out there and enjoy the park.  I had one destination in mind, the Gerlos Pass, a high Alpine pass between Salzburg and Tyrol. The point of driving to the pass, was not to see the pass, but to find the Leitenkammerklamm, a gorge, where a mountain river has cut through the rocky landscape on the side of the mountain, creating many beautiful "Kolken and eluviations," or so the guide book promised.

As I drove up into the mountains the snow got heavier and heavier, and before I knew it, I broke through the clouds to a little winter paradise.  I had arrived at the Gerlos Pass, ele. 1500m, where the snowfall was much lighter, but it was still covered with several meters of snow, not only the new powder of today's snowfall, but an accumulation of several months of snow.

I think this photo of the Finkau Restaurant and Guesthouse, if rendered as a painting could make a very nice Christmas Card.
The head of the trail, was a few kilometer behind the above pictured Finkau.  When I arrived at the trail, I was wishing that I hadn't left my snowshoes back in my room, but I trudged on anyways, following in other people's footprints, of which there were one set.  And it was a good thing that the person ahead of me was a good bit heavier too, because I was able to learn from his/her mistakes.  I could see where certain misplaced footsteps would lead not to just a cold foot, but a wet foot too.  A couple times I did sink into the snow up to my knees, and I did slip a couple times, though the snow softened my falls, and I felt a bit like a kid slidding down the hill in my snow pants.

But the views of the gorge were absolutley worth every bit of my snowey adventure.

07 April 2012

Day 1.5 at Hohe Tauern National Park

Today, it rained, and rained, and then it rained some more, not a heavy downpour, but that annoying drizzle with a dampness and cold that sneaks up on you, and you don't notice it until it is deep inside your bones. I managed to make it out to the Krimmle Wasserfall, me and the three other hikers willing to brave the rain, and I tried to get some good photos, but mainly it was just gray and more shades of gray. It is always sad to me that a camera can never quite capture what the eye can, because even in its varying shades of gray, the park was beautiful.

Being that it is Europe, unlike many of the National & State Parks back in the United States, Hohe Tauern is fully populated. Almost everywhere you look, the dramatic landscape is spotted with big sprawling farms outlined by snow peaked Alps. The farms look like they come from a different time with their low sloping roofs and gingerbread balconies like the kind represented on Cuckoo clocks. Truthfully, most of these farms have been handed down from generation to generation, and instead of modernizing, most of the families have maintained the original architectural integrity. 

I'm staying on one such farm; many of the farmers have turned the extra space in their homes into apartments for travelers like me to rent for the prices of peanuts and a kiss. Just kidding about the kissing part. I'm pretty sure the matron of the farm wouldn't take too kindly to me kissing her, though she has been very friendly and gracious. I've seen her son and daughter, and I think she has a husband somewhere, but I've not seen heads or tails of him. I'm assuming he's busy working the farm. Come to think of it, today I didn't see anyone at the farm. The only human contact I've had at all today was the cashier at the supermarket. 

It's been an adjustment for me, not having any human contact, when I'm so used to having human contact all day long with the children. That used to one of the biggest arguments my ex and I used to have, my desire to have time alone. It was an adjustment for him. Before kids, he was used to getting all of my attention, but after having a baby, and then two babies, sometimes I just wanted NEEDED some time alone.  Time to write, read, anything really, just a few moments alone.

Now, I have loads of time to myself, and while I'm getting a lot of writing, reading and other things done, there are moments when I want to lean over to someone and point out the way the waterfall carves out the snow at its base, or show the kids the funny man carved into a tree trunk.

06 April 2012

Thank God for This Beautiful View

Back in the day, when I was single and living in Washington, DC, I used to drive the 11 plus hours alone back to my parents in East Grand Rapids, Michigan for holidays and other functions.  Often the 11.5 hours dragged into 15 or more hours, because on holiday weekends, it can take a good couple hours just to get out of the DC metropolitan area, and if there was any sort of accident or road construction, it would be down right brutal to get back home.  However, it's been about 10 years, since I've had to drive any sort of distance alone.

So today, when I hit the Autobahn alone, I did what I used to, I cranked up the music and belted it out with my favorite artists. Back then probably Indigo Girls, but today it was mostly Tina Dickow and Adele.

"Room With A View"

And just like back when I lived in DC, everyone was leaving Munich for Easter, and I was stuck in many traffic jams, or Stau.  At one point, when I was doing my best Adele impression, I noticed that I was entertaining some of my fellow travelers.  The drive was supposed to only take about 2.5, but it was closer to 4 by the time I got here.

The last hour of my drive made the first 3 totally worth it.  Up and into the Austrian Alps on my way towards my destination, Hohe Tauern, the view was utterly breathtaking.  I'm only sad that I was driving, because I couldn't take photos out of the side of the car, though twice I did pull over to take a couple shots. 

 And, when I walked into the room where I'm staying, and pulled back the curtains, all, I could say was "Thank God for This Beautiful View." 

Who Knew There Were So Many Fringe Benefits to Separation & Divorce?

Mostly, when people talk about divorce and separation, they talk about the darker side of it, they talk about the emotional wrenching that it puts you through, the stress of figuring out custody, finances, dividing property etc.  They don't often talk about some of those benefits, like when you're getting ready to leave for a solo weekend away, and because you've been sick you've done absolutely nothing around the house, but feel sorry for yourself.  So when two of your closest friends phone you up to ask you go out for drinks, and you say no, because you need to pack, and you need to clean up, but they insist on coming over and helping you tame the jungle that has taken over your living space. 

That's what happened to me yesterday.  I was getting ready to leave for Austria, today, and last night two of my very good friends, Mandy & Johanna, wanted to go out for dinner and drinks.   Since I couldn't join them, they came over to mine, we ate the last of the pulled pork BBQ, fixed a salad, mixed some drinks, played around, put on our HazMat suits and together attacked the apartment.

In their generosity, perhaps influenced by a few rum and cokes, they offered to help me pack.  Mandy wanted to pack my bikini, thinking it would give me inspiration to wear it while writing, holed up in the farmhouse I'm staying at, so instead I set them to folding my laundry, while I packed. With a few drinks and good company, folding laundry and packing has never been so entertaining. 

And when that was over, we went into the kids bedroom for some more good times.  I was tempted to just shut the door on the chaos, but as I don't particularly care for the kids to come home to the natural disaster formerly known as their bedroom, they helped me pull it together, and in just under an hour, I was standing aghast. THEY HAVE A FLOOR IN HERE?  How did I not know my children had this much floor space?  Oh, yes, because it has been since Christmas since I've actually seen their floor, and now, it resembles a children's bedroom again, not the aftermath of Mount Vesuvius.

Now, I can leave for Austria for my solo weekend, and relax, knowing that when I get home, I won't have to quarantine the apartment.  So, I'm off for the weekend, and when I return, I'll update you on my solo weekend, and introduce you to the guest bloggers who will be taking over while I'm in Italy.

04 April 2012

Craving Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ in Bavaria

One of the hardest adjustments I've had to make with living here in Germany is not having access to American staples.  You don't realize how much you rely on those staples, until you move somewhere they aren't, like enchillada verdes, lump crab cakes, or pit beef.  And, so, in lieu of not having them here, I've learned how to cook them. Well at least some of them.  Not planning on making my own lumb crab cakes anytime soon. 

Pulled Pork is one of the things I've learned how to cook.  The first time I made North Carolina Style Pulled Pork, I made it for friends, an Australian mom and German dad.  It was a trial run of the pulled pork I wanted to make for our first (and last) annual Halloween Bash, a decidedly American holiday.  At the time I was pregnant with Maggie, and the smell of pork butt roasting in the kitchen all day long, made me extremely ill. 

It was a long time after that, before I could even stomach the thought of doing it again, and I ended up making chili for the Halloween party in the end, but every year when I return home, I go visit the local BBQ shack by my parents house, and I eat plenty of pulled pork BBQ.  In lieu of making pulled pork, I started making pulled chicken, faster with a much less offensive smell, and still delicious with Carolina Sauce, a mustard and vinegar based BBQ sauce.

This week, perhaps because I've been feeling a bit nostalgic, I decided to make pulled pork again, only this time instead of roasting it in the oven, I roasted it in a slow cooker, and lo and behold, the smell didn't make me ill at all.  When I went to make the Best Carolina BBQ Meat Sauce, I realized a few key ingredients were low or missing in my kitchen, mainly apple cider vinegar and beer.  So, I completely eliminated the beer, but I substituted a 3-1 ratio of red wine vinegar and water for the apple cider vinegar, adding a splash of apple sauce to give it that apple goodness and an extra spoonful of horseradish since I was low on mustard.

Eating it not only helped clean out my sinuses, but its nostalgia inducing quality takes me home for just a few moments. 

03 April 2012

This, too, shall pass

While I have been having a lot of great days lately, and I've managed to take a lot of life's minor set-backs for what they are, tiny little speed-bumps, there are days, when nothing seems to go right.  Today was one of those days.

Woke up this morning, feeling like hell, head cold and fever.  I was supposed to pick Maxi and Maggie up at 7:30am to take them to their annual physical, but realized that I wasn't going to be able to.  I called their father to see if he could take them, but he couldn't re-arrange his work schedule.  So instead, he called to reschedule their appointments, and the kids came straight here this morning.  

Normally, on a day when I have a fever, I'd let the kids watch movies on our desktop, but life seemed to be conspiring against me today.  The desktop won't turn on, so that means we had to survive on the handful of DVDs we have and the portable DVD players we use in the car.  Putting them in front of DVDs all day, so I can rest.  Well, we did manage to squeeze some reading, some play dough, making of waffles and snuggle time today, but I know that the kids would have preferred to be with their father and his fun new roommate today.  This is when I feel, like I completely fail as a mother. 

Then Paul asked if he could take the kids away for another long weekend, the third weekend this summer.  Which I really shouldn't be upset about, but I'm already feeling like the kids are happier with their father, where they get the attention of two adults, not just one.  One mother, who is trying to split her time between the kids, get everything in the house done, and all the errands run, as well as trying to reinvent herself while smiling the entire time.

After the kids were picked up by their father, I decided to take a nap, before I picked up my mantle of reinvention, only to be woken up by a friend calling with some bad news causing him to renig on a promise.  Now, normally in a situation like this, I would be able to listen with a symphathetic ear, but instead I started crying on the phone feeling sorry for myself, which was embarrassing and sort of pathetic, and not at all the kind of person I want to be. 

So I called my best friend, and like she always does she gave me the best advice:

--Let yourself cry, let yourself be sad, but remember, this, too, shall pass.

After that I turned on Jewel, and then I read my friend Katya Barry's blog, where she gave some really good advice in a post about getting over your past, eliminating old beliefs and prejudices so .  And it reminded me of just what I needed to do today, which is let it all go, so I can focus on the future I'm trying to create for the kids and me in our new family of three.

Adventures in Toilet Training

Reason # 299 why I like Munich is because of the International Children's Library located in the Schloss BlutenbergSince I got the car, the kids and I visit the library once every couple weeks, and yesterday was our first trip during toilet training.  It was a comedy of errors to begin with, and I should have just stayed home.

First, I got to the library parking lot only to realize that I had left the library books at home, so I turned around and went back home.  Half-an-hour later, we pulled into the parking lot again, and Maggie was sound asleep.  Now, Maggie is not a morning person, and she absolutely hates it when I wake her up, so by the time I was finally able to pry her arched body out of the car seat, she was absolutely hysterical.  As I'm holding her, and she is crying her little eyes out as if she just lost her favorite teddy bear, she wets herself and me.  And I'm not talking about a little sprinkle, but a full on waterfall, her pants are practically see-through because of the wetness, and my sweatshirt is a puddle, with pee dripping down MY  legs.   

So now, we are both soaked, and, because the temperature is just above freezing, Maggie is wet & COLD which only adds to her hysteria.  I try putting her down, and this doesn't calm her, but makes her more upset.  So I pick her back up, and drag her over to the trees, where I proceed to strip and change her into the one extra outfit I had packed in the library book bag.   Her sneakers are also soaked, so I'm resigned to carrying her the rest of the way.

Of course, I forgot to bring a plastic bags to put the wet clothes in, and protect the library books, but as this is Munich, there are doggy stands placed strategically in public places, like the park in back of Schloss Blutenburg, so I sit Maggie down with her brother who is enjoying watching the ducks, and I run back up to the path to grab some complimentary doggy poo bags. 

The whole 63 seconds I'm gone, I get very evil looks from passerbys who are watching Maggie standing in the grass screaming her little lungs out.  By the time I get back to Maggie, she's wet herself yet again.   How that girl had any pee left in her is beyond me. At this point, a little more pee isn't going to hurt anyone, so with a screaming Maggie in my arms, and Max trailing behind us, we beeline it for the library to return the books, only to figure out that we left one audio cd in the car and two books at home. 

02 April 2012

Reason # 303 Why I Love Munich

As long as I've lived here, I've had a love-hate relationship with Munich.  When things are difficult, I despise it here, blaming my limited language skills, my lack of cultural memory or cultural differences for my difficulties.  And while all those things are true, and generally do make life more difficult, like everything else in life, it is all a matter of perspective. As long as I can keep those minor speed bumps, in perspective, because that is really what they are, speed bumps, not road blocks, I generally love it here.  And there are so many things to love here, from the six weeks of vacation to the excellent health care coverage to the access to the mountains and lakes.

And one of the things that I really love here is that if you don't have a car or access to a car, is how easy it is to get around.  Now, normally I get on here and kvetch about how frustrating it can be to navigate public transportation with two children in tow, but truthfully having access to public transportation all the way out here in the suburban countryside is generally fantastic.  However, what is really wonderful about Munich, is the access you have to it with a bicycle.

Almost the entire city is covered with a crisscrossing network of bicycle paths.  All the major roads have bicycle lanes, often separated from the main road by a curb, so not much danger of  a car crossing over into the bicycle lane. Additionally, because the city is covered by parks, there are bike paths crossing through the parks that will cut your commute down considerably.

Generally I've only used my bike locally in the neighborhood, to go to the kindergarten, to friends' houses, the store or der Bahnhof.  And occasionally I've forayed deeper into the city, but on the West side closest to my home.  Well, yesterday I was brave, and I decided to take my bicycle to my friend's house all the way on the other side of the city.  It was just over 11km in (approximately 6 miles), and generally I did pretty well, though once I made it to her neighborhood I got quite lost, so I probably added an extra mile to the ride. 

And as luck would have it, my friend's house was in the same general vicinity of my next destination three hours later, Treemans Coffee, where I meet up with friends every Sunday evening.  Of course, trying to rely on my inner compass, of which I have none, added another good mile to the trip, but luckily I was carrying my handy-dandy map, and was back on track in no time.

Considering how lost I got during the daytime, I was mildly concerned when I left Treemans at 8:30 pm in the evening for my trek home.  However, somehow, miraculously, I made it all the way home, without getting lost once, ending my 22.5 km (14 mile) bike ride at approximately  9pm that evening. 

For those of you who worry about me cycling home in the dark, the entire ride home was lit, and there are a zillion other cyclists and pedestrians outside as well, because this is Munich, and it might be the only city in the world, where a woman cycling alone at night is completely the norm, and no one bothers you because it is the safest place in the world. 

And that is one of the reasons, I love it here.

01 April 2012

Time for Passport Renewal

Remember, this post a couple years ago, when I talked about getting passport photos made for my children?  Well, five years later, Maxi's passport is about to expire, and it's time to get him a new one.  Still, the United States has somewhat comedic requirements when applying for the passport of a minor child. They require a biometric photo, height and hair color on the application for a passport that will be valid for the next five years.

Hm mm...  Lets see, how much Maxi changed over five years since his last passport application.

2007 Application
Eye Color: Blue
Hair Color:  What hair? Is that fuzz stuff considered hair?
Height (or Length would be more appropriate, as he wasn't yet walking): 53cm or 1'9"
Passport Photo:  

2012 Application
Eye Color: Blue
Hair Color: Blond, but it is getting darker every year
Height: 112cm or 3'8"
Passport Photo:

In my last post on passports, I talked about how hard it is to get a biometric photo of a baby, well, it was a bit easier this time, but not much.  This time, Maxi was wide awake for his photo, but trying to get him to not smile or open his mouth was almost impossible. See, how that left corner of his mouth is itching to go up into a smile...Good thing the photographer was quick.  Go figure, considering when I want him to smile for the camera, he refuses.

I wonder what he will look like in five years, when he is almost 10.