2018 in review

2018 was a year of growth and putting down roots for our family. It’s been a year of settling in- of house projects and building relationships and establishing the rhythms and routines of our life in California.

Early in the new year, John wrapped up training in the KC-10, having enjoyed the challenge of learning a new plane and a completely different mission. During the relatively slow pace of training (i.e., getting to be home every night for a change!), we were able to host a few visitors and take time to explore the greater local area. We’ve wandered farmers markets and busy San Francisco wharfs, bundled up for chilly Pacific beach days, hiked the hills and trails in our town, snuck in some skiing at Lake Tahoe and introduced our children to the wonders of the Sequoias and Yosemite.

Most days, however, we’re close to home. We planted a garden. We have a few backyard chickens. We put up a little playhouse and try to take regular walks to the park in our neighborhood. We’re enormously grateful for a solid church– a community of believers that has been such a source of encouragement, growth, and support over the last year. We’re both involved in the music ministry there and we’ve been able to plug into a few different Bible studies. So much of military life can feel temporary and transient, as we know we’ll only ever be in a given place for two or three years at most. But it’s so important and so worth it to be grounded in this way, to allow ourselves to sink our roots and grow, even if the season is short.

In June, we were able to join the Langley family for one last vacation at the shore house in Ocean City, New Jersey. Building on nearly forty years of family history in that old house, it was a joy and privilege to create new memories there with our own children. There was no shortage of time on the beach, of walks on the boardwalk, of hot, fresh cinnamon donuts, of meals shared on the screened-in porch, of late nights enjoying the company of family. It was surreal and wonderful and bittersweet to have a house so full!

Shortly after we returned from the shore, we got our first taste of deployed life when John headed to the Middle East for two months. He’d previously flown a much smaller aircraft that didn’t serve a direct combat role. Now, the whole reason for all the training, all the preparation, all the equipment, is this: put more gas in the sky to “fuel the fight.” Fighters facing down their Russian counterparts, ground attack aircraft providing top cover for convoys, bombers striking targets, special operations aircraft moving troops in or out, cargo aircraft resupplying them, electronic warfare or airborne command and control – none of these could do their mission without the aerial refueling provided by the tankers.

We realized that for the deployer, other than missing your family, life isn’t so bad – all your needs are met, you get paid more, you have plenty of time for exercise or leisure, and most of the office work is stripped away, leaving only the flying – real, mission-oriented, combat flying. Unfortunately, it’s the families left at home who bear the real burden. Whether sick kids or pets, vehicle breakdowns, home maintenance, medical appointments, evacuating for encroaching wildfires or just breathing their smoke for weeks on end, it all still has to be dealt with, minus a key player. Challenges like these make us all the more thankful for friends and neighbors who generously lend a hand, parents who can take the time to visit, and the internet which allows us to stay connected so much more easily than military families of past generations. We’re also thankful that we haven’t had to do this yet in John’s career – we know many families who have spent literally years apart due to the pace of deployments. Please pray for them, for us, and for our nation as we collectively decide what courses of action to pursue around the world. Unfortunately, the day after John returned from this deployment, we found out he’d be heading out again in two months, this time through the holidays. Having gone the first time as a copilot, this time around he’d be the aircraft commander – a role which, for this particular mission, brings a somewhat heavier sense of responsibility than he’s had in previous aircraft.

Daniel turned four this summer- an occasion he’d been looking forward to for the better part of the last year. We had a simple celebration at home with dinosaurs and donuts and lots of balloons at home, with plenty of photos for daddy in the desert. He’s a very thoughtful, detail-oriented kid with a never ending list of questions. Lately, he spends a lot of time constructing elaborate LEGO creations and collecting all sorts of treasures outside.

Audrey has grown from a babbling baby into a curious, articulate little girl who celebrated her second birthday this summer. She’s very independent and determined. “I can do it MYSELF!” she declares about most everything. She loves yellow, adores dogs and makes up a lot of songs these days.

We’re delighted to welcome a third little Langley to our family this March! Pregnancy has been a little more wearing this time around with two children underfoot and John mostly away, but also strangely fast – we can’t believe how quickly this baby will be here!

The seven weeks John was home this fall between deployments were fast and full of good things! We spent a few days of rest and recovery in Oxnard, California and drove through Big Sur– it’s as beautiful as ever. We visited old friends in San Diego. Kirsten got away for a weekend to visit her best friend Rachel in Denver. We snuck in a couple dates, picked pomegranates, Daniel and Audrey dressed up as llamas for Halloween, and we began meeting with a couple other families for a weeknight small group. Just before Thanksgiving, John left on his second deployment. We’re grateful for a couple weeks spent in Illinois/Wisconsin with family to break up the time for Kirsten and the kids and look forward to a mini postponed Christmas in the new year.


We’re anticipating a year of big change ahead, clinging to this promise in Isaiah 26:3, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

our January

It’s been a wonderfully slow start to the new year, thanks in part to a refreshing social media retreat.

The kids and I arrived back in California super early in the morning on December 31st, exhausted but with a renewed appreciation for the 50+ degree difference between winter in Chicago and winter here!

We welcomed 2018 with the Langley family tradition of homemade pretzels and root beer floats, assisted by a very enthusiastic Daniel who wanted every pretzel to be a “D”.  Then, very shortly after putting him to bed, we decided to call it a night ourselves and banked a solid ten hours of sleep (#parenthood). It’s hardly a New Years’ tradition, but it felt fantastic.

The next morning, we gathered with our church family for their Resolution Run and breakfast.  We were not in any way prepared to run a 5k, but were pleasantly surprised to find that not only did it not kill us, we actually enjoyed it.  We should do this more often.

Much of our first week back was spent settling back into our rhythm at home- catching up on laundry, restocking our fridge, trying to find a normal nap schedule again for our kids, jumping back into church activities. The rainy season has technically started, but we’re still enjoying plenty of sunshine, playing in the backyard, and taking walks. All the fields and hills that were dry and brown when we arrived in July are lush and green now, begging to be hiked.

Over the long weekend, we took a mini trip down the coast to San Simeon to see the elephant seals in peak mating and birthing season. Because it’s a little too far for a day trip with kids, we drove down on a Friday evening in time to enjoy the sunset at Pfeiffer Beach. For only a couple weeks a year, the sun sets directly behind this enormous sea arch. While we certainly weren’t the only ones on the beach to enjoy this phenomenon, it was well worth the stop. I think I could watch crashing waves for hours.

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The next day, we made our way to the beach first thing to find it packed with thousands of seals, ranging from newborn pups to 5,000 lb, 16 foot adult males. So wild.

DSC00817DSC00814DSC00854Unfortunately, you can’t drive straight through Big Sur right now due to a massive landslide and ongoing road repairs, but even with a 2.5 hour detour, it’s a day well spent.  We enjoyed the drive back north through a mountainous pass and still got to see plenty of the coast, including a stop at McWay Falls, which was as beautiful as ever. As we drove up the 1, I spotted a couple spouts out on the water and we were able to pull over with the binoculars in time to see a few humpback whales on their migration south. We then met up with two different families we knew in Germany for quick visits in Monterey, ending the evening with a walk down Cannery Row and fresh fish tacos before a quiet drive home. We were back in time to get a decent night of sleep before John played piano for church in the morning. Obviously, most days don’t look like this, but the fact that this sort of day is possible from where we live is something we absolutely will not take for granted. I don’t imagine we’ll be bored in the next three or so years, and we aim to spend as much of that time as possible outside!DSC00862

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Daniel has become such a little kid. His new favorite phrase is “that’s okay.” Something spills, breaks, falls, Audrey cries, etc., and Daniel says, “that’s okay.” We’re glad he’s suddenly so chill. He’s very imaginative these days, usually pretending to be a lion. He can be very, very committed to the act, especially since lions don’t wear shoes or brush their teeth or do lots of things parents might ask a little boy to do. He still loves books, especially Bill Peat stories. In an effort to reclaim nap time, we’ve begun letting him listen to stories in his bed. Most of the time, he eventually falls asleep, but if nothing else, he’s quiet and enjoying “Frog and Toad” or “Adventures in Odyssey”. He’s been very into these dinosaurs lately. He remembers everything, often surprising me with his recall of something that happened six months ago, or a memory from our life in Germany. In the last month, his interest in letters has really exploded. Also, he’s transitioned to calling us “Mom” and “Dad” much of the time, which makes him seem 12, not 3 1/2.

Audrey is very much a toddler. She’s quite talkative now, regularly surprising us with things we didn’t know she could say. A few days ago, we pulled into our friends’ driveway and she said, “I need to get out.” We had no idea she could string more than two words together. She loves the baby doll she got for Christmas, carrying it around the house wrapped up in her blanket or pushing it around in a second hand stroller we recently snagged off Craigslist. Daniel had a doll at this stage too, but he definitely wasn’t this interested or nurturing! It’s amazing how inborn many of their interests seem to be even in the absence of gender-specific toys. For some reason, Audrey loves her boots, putting them on as soon as she’s freed from her crib in the morning. She likes to ride along on the back of Daniel’s tricycle, disappointed that she can’t reach the pedals yet on her own. She’s a nightmare in shopping carts lately, flexing her will and independence (and lungs) whenever the opportunity arises. She also cut all of her molars this month, so I’m hoping we’re done with teething for a while!

I began another Whole30 mid-January, accepting that all the extra work and quadruple the dishes is a worthwhile trade-off for how good it feels to really, truly nourish my body. At this point, I have a few days left, but I’m not feeling particularly deprived–I feel awesome. For me, focusing on eating well is a keystone habit- one that often leads to the development of multiple good habits- sleep, exercise, time management, my spiritual life, etc. (read this excellent book on habits). I have so much more energy. I enjoyed a two week trial at a local yoga studio, escaping from our house in the quiet, still dark hours to start the day with a class instead of waking up to children who need me immediately. Being up, awake, showered and ready for the day so much earlier meant that we spent more time outside in the mornings, the park all to ourselves. I was more diligent in picking up my Bible each day. In summary, it’s been really, really good for me.

Other things I’m grateful for lately:

  • Plenty of good coffee. Thank you, Whole30, for not banning coffee.
  • Good podcasts (especially while washing all the extra dishes): Risen Motherhood, The God Centered Mom, Journey Women.
  • Planting spring bulbs with the kids. We were really late, but this week we can see green shoots!
  • Audrey’s hair in tiny pigtails for the first time.
  • The addition of these fluffy chicks!

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  • A mantle for our fireplace, built by John in our garage.
  • 8 seasons of Daniel Tiger on Amazon Prime (let’s be real).
  • A schedule that frees me to prioritize relationships and making new friends.
  • The last bit of this sweet, slower paced training season in the KC-10 for John.

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  • Tiny green hummingbirds perched in the redwood trees in our backyard.
  • Open windows. In January.

a deep breath

This month, the lovely Amanda Watters over at Homesong hosted a thoughtful rest  retreat from social media,  a welcome opportunity to step out of the current for a little while for a reset.

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It was so refreshing. I read more. I was so much more productive.  I went to bed earlier. I was acutely aware, particularly during the first week, of how quickly I default to being on my phone. In moments of solitude or waiting or frustration or boredom, it fills the time— but not without cost. A month of lifting my eyes from the pull of a screen served as a gentle reminder that there are far better ways of connecting and communicating and creating. But perhaps most surprising to me was how much slower the month seemed to pass, the time dripping like honey.  I had more time to live my actual life- fully present with our family.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” wrote Anne Dillard. “What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”

These words come to mind often as I consider the rhythm of our days at home.  So much about this season of motherhood can feel tedious and thankless. Nothing stays finished for more than a few seconds—there’s always another load of laundry to fold or dishes to be done or toys to be picked up or groceries to be purchased or meals to be prepared or, most of all, children to pay attention to. Time to pursue friendships or personal interests is extremely limited. It can feel all-consuming. And yet, I believe that there is incredible value to the work I am doing in our home, loving and teaching and equipping these children so that one day, they can be sent out to be light in the dark places of the world.

The days add up so quickly, months melting away into years, my little children becoming not-so-little at an unapologetically fast rate. But for the last month, I felt like I got to enjoy this season in a truer, deeper sense. I feel like I got to catch my breath, free to step back and reevaluate my habits and priorities. I want to spend my days, my life, on things of eternal value. It’s all too easy to get swept away scrolling, squandering quite a lot of time.

Even so, there were certainly elements I missed, and reasons social media will continue to be a part of our lives. We have friends and family spread all over the world that we like to keep up with, even if most of the time “keeping up” might just mean having a general idea of what’s happening in their lives. I missed the ease of communication. I missed the inspiring, creative outlet Instagram can be. But I didn’t miss my phone as an extension of my body, or feeling like there’s not enough time in the day to do the things I want or need to do.

I’m still working out the practicalities, the changes I’d like to see long-term in the way I engage with social media. But what I know for sure is that I want to experience the slow, sweet gift of presence all the time.

So here’s to stepping back into the current, but choosing to swim upstream.

 

our new home

We’ve been in California for about five months now. It’s been just long enough for the dust to settle–and there has been much, much dust.  It’s enough time to make a new house a home, to be plugged into a great new church, to be able to get around mostly without the crutch of googlemaps. But I suppose I should back up a bit. After all, it’s been five months!

As expected, our first few weeks in California were a blur of move-related tasks: finding a house, a car, picking up the vehicle we shipped from overseas, visiting churches, finding new cell phone providers, in-processing on base, receiving our shipments and unpacking, etc.  As with the move itself, we’re learning that everything takes longer than it takes, particularly when there are two jet-lagged little ones to consider.

Although John traveled back to the states quite a bit for training, it had been a little more than a year and a half for me, which made the differences between our little German  farming village and American suburbia all the more apparent. The roads in our neighborhood are as wide (or wider!) than many four lane stretches of the autobahn. The cars are enormous. There are enormous front lawns and side lawns- how peculiar! The hills surrounding Vacaville are speckled with windmills and cows, which reminds us a bit of the terrain in Germany, except that most everything here is brown, not green. There’s AC! I can read and pronounce all the labels at the grocery store. Complete strangers are so friendly it catches me off guard. At one point, John overheard a couple conversing with their child in English at Chick-fil-a and thought to himself, “Huh, they must be American!”

Housing, particularly with a family, is probably the biggest source of stress in a move like this. Thankfully, we had about three weeks from the time of our arrival before John’s formal training began, and we were hoping to at least have a plan by then! We spent months researching online, but it’s tough to make any real progress on such a major decision without ever seeing a place in person or knowing the area.  We knew the market would be tough. Once again, we were arriving in the middle of peak PCS season- when about a third of the military moves. California is expensive and good places go quickly!

Upon arriving, we were still torn over whether we wanted to rent or buy. Knowing that John will be gone quite a bit and that we’ll be moving again in about three years, the idea of renting was certainly appealing. So we looked around, but realized that we wouldn’t actually be able to rent a place in decent condition with enough space that also allowed our dog at a rate even close to our housing allowance. We’re also growing tired of paying someone else’s mortgage.  We had been praying that God would open the right doors as we walked through this process, trusting him to provide the right home for our family.  And ultimately, with the house we ended up purchasing, it seemed like door after door was flung open wide.

We had narrowed down our options and decided to submit an offer on this house. It was in great shape in a very good location with a big back yard, especially for California. Our realtor warned us that it would go quickly, so we decided to come back and take one more look short-notice just to be really sure. We were sitting in the car waiting for our realtor to arrive when I noticed a family leaving the house with their dog and mentioned to John, “Hey, they have a German Shepherd, too.”

John decided to say hi and completely hit it off. He ended up talking with the owner for over an hour about the house, the neighborhood, the area, churches–everything. The owner told us their bottom line and said they’d accept an offer at that price immediately. We were floored. Who does this? We came in at just above the price and even though someone else made a significantly higher offer that same day, they accepted ours, telling us that they’d prayed about it and wanted us to have the house.  John worked alongside them on several little repair projects that needed to be done before we moved in. Our loan was processed faster than any the office had ever seen, which meant we were able to close in half the time. We shared an amazing Mexican dinner with them downtown the night before they left.

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Our realtor remarked that this transaction was really unlike anything he’d ever seen and that “good things happen to good people.” But we were able to share that we serve a good, good God who loves us and provides for our every need. Every step of this big, intimidating process was marked by His clear leading and abundant blessing. We are so thankful to call this house our home and look forward to the life we’ll share here for the next few years. Come visit us!

 

Auf Wiedersehen!

Never before has time passed so quickly. In six days, we’ll be on the long, long flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco. I seriously underestimated how all-consuming this moving process is, especially with two little ones. We thought, as evidenced by the yoga mats and resistance bands and stack of books and board games we kept with us, that this last month after the bulk of our possessions shipped off would be slightly less crazy. Needless to say, all of those things have been untouched.

My thoughts, for the better part of the last six months, have been a swirling, jumbled mess, partially captured in bullet points on my phone and messily scrawled notes in my calendar margins. The combination of multitasking and small children and sleep deprivation has left me wondering if I can actually complete a coherent sentence at all, let alone finish a blog post before everything I had to say is so outdated, it’s essentially irrelevant. Finding the time and space to write feels impossible, or at best, an indulgence when I should really be optimizing nap time to organize suitcases or catch up on laundry. And yet, this is important. In some small way, it feels like a means of bringing order to the chaos and preserving the last little bit of our life here in Germany.

So here’s a little recap of the month:

Four weeks ago, with half a day’s notice, our movers came four days early and crated up nearly all of our possessions to be shipped across the ocean.  This was not at all according to plan, or in line with any of the documents we had signed with the correct dates. We’re so grateful for friends who kept our children for the day so we could pull it off.

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Three weeks ago, John flew his final flight in the C-21. Per tradition, we met him on the flight line with champagne and hoses to spray him down- a welcome relief on a particularly hot day in a tiny jet. Daniel wore his “daddy suit” with pride.

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Because John is done flying, we actually have weekends available. We spent our sixth anniversary and Father’s Day hiking in the Alps. We’ve taken six trips to Switzerland in three years and if we were to do it all over again, we’d try to go more.

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After our weekend in Switzerland, we had dinner at the little German restaurant in our old village to say goodbye to our old neighbors—the people who watched our dog and chatted over the fence and offered advice on German washing machines and the like. They were the first to visit us the day we brought Daniel home from the hospital, brand new parents on our own in a brand new country. It’s been a year and half since we left that village, but schnitzel on the patio and a walk on our old stomping grounds made these three years seem impossibly fast.
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Later that week, we shipped our Jeep back to the States; we’ll pick it up in Los Angeles in a couple months. I sold just about all of our 220V appliances and worked on organizing our unaccompanied baggage, which was picked up right before our move-out. This shipment is sent via air, so it arrives faster and is useful for sending things like sheets and towels and pots and pans- things we needed until the last minute here and will want as soon as possible upon finding a house in California. We spent the next weekend in Paris, a quick two hour train ride for three days of pain au chocolates.

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The following week, the last of the month, our unaccompanied baggage shipped, our temporary furniture was picked up, and we had a day to clean our house and get our remaining bags to a friends’ place for temporary storage. We turned in our keys, spent a quick night at their house, then flew out July 1st to Berlin for the long holiday weekend.  Oh, and Audrey is one! We’ve been almost too busy to think about anything other than the logistics of moving and travel. We might have to wait to celebrate once we’re semi-settled at a friends’ home in California.

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We returned from Berlin on the 4th and went directly to our temporary housing on base, which is unexpectedly nice. Our accommodations upon arriving in Germany were a bit rough, but with two kids on the way out, we have a three bedroom apartment with a washer and dryer in the unit and a park just out the back!  We’re pleasantly surprised and thankful.  This last week is full of goodbyes and meals with friends and last minute out-processing details. John is still pretty busy running errands around base, and I’m trying to maintain some sort of “normal” for our kids.

This season is hard. We’ve wanted to soak it all in- eating on the patio, taking late summer evening walks, squeezing in weekend trips, treasuring time with friends who have been our family here–but we also cannot wait for this season to be behind us. We wish we could fast forward a few months through all the upheaval and waiting and resettling. It’s hard to stay present in this very temporary, transient season when piece by piece, our life here is disappearing.

As I explained to Daniel, “We’re going to get a new house in a new place, a new car and a new bed. We’re going to get a new church and new friends and Daddy is going to get a new plane….” It’s a lot. It’s a lot for an almost three year old, and it’s a lot for us, too.

We trust that there are good things ahead. We have much to look forward to. But right now, when we slow down enough to think about this transition, we are mostly sad. Twenty one countries together, some incredibly unique flying opportunities for John, two houses, two children, a solid church community—this has been an amazing assignment.

“Auf Wiedersehen” literally means “until we see again”. And we hope so. We really do.

the next move

On this day in 2014 (which I know because we keep a little perpetual calendar, not because I’m that good with dates), we received our first choice assignment out of pilot training: C-21s to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. We blinked, and it’s almost over.

Two children, two houses and twenty countries later, we’re wrapping up our final months here. We’ve been waiting and wondering almost since that amazing night three years ago about what would come after this season. Getting an assignment at the end of pilot training is an anxiety inducing process shrouded in a lot of speculation and hopeful dream sheets and competition and the needs of the Air Force. And for most people, that’s it – on that night, you basically find out what plane (and accompanying mission, bases, lifestyle, etc.) you’ll fly for your Air Force career.

That’s not the case for the C-21. This plane is a “white jet”, not a major weapons system (MWS include tankers and cargo planes). It’s a unique, single tour assignment of flying all over Europe transporting DVs and performing small cargo and aeromedical missions.  John has loved it, tiny cockpit and all.  He’s flown to 36 countries over the last three years, but he’s also usually home each night. We really don’t even understand how good this season has been because we have not yet seen the other side – namely, longer trips and deployments.

Our hope was for another overseas assignment. We’d been thinking about what it might be like to live near Tokyo or on Okinawa, in England or Alaska or Hawaii. Unfortunately, there were simply no overseas options available to us at this time. Our first stateside choice was to Travis AFB, nestled right between San Francisco and Sacramento, and it’s there we’ll be moving this summer for John to fly the KC-10. 

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If we’re honest, we are perhaps just as happy and in some ways relieved to be moving back to California. Redwoods! National parks! The ocean! Hikes! Food! We don’t have to think about 8-12 hour time differences or super expensive flights or language barriers. These past few weeks have been filled with a lot of time on googlemaps: distance to Yogurtland, to Trader Joe’s, the beach, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles, etc. Our families are excited. We’re excited.

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And a little sad. I’m writing on a grey, drizzly day that smells like earth and green and spring. The long, dark winter seems to have passed and our flower beds are about to bloom with tulips and crocuses and daffodils.  I’m sitting in front of big windows overlooking a great expanse of nothing—open fields, forests, the occasional deer or children flying a kite. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. We really love it here, and we’re a little apprehensive about all the uprooting and replanting we’ll be doing in the next few months.

We’ll leave Germany for California mid-July. Until then, you’ll find us taking a great, deep breath, savoring the beauty of where we are right now and also thinking about the need to re-home our houseplants.  

Rome

We broke up our drive from Pisa to Rome with a brief, very welcome stop at the beach, where this family is right at home! Although a little windy, the Mediterranean itself wasn’t that cold (something we knew first-hand from our encounter with the rogue wave) and Daniel was thrilled to collect sticks and rocks and seed pods. I think these photos of Daniel and his grandparents might be my favorite of the entire trip.

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We arrived in Rome, settled into our airbnb apartment and grabbed dinner and gelato in the neighborhood before bed. The next day, we took a windy walk through the Forum ruins and Palatine Hill, which was for centuries the center of Roman public life. Perhaps the most celebrated meeting place in all of time, it’s astounding to think of the history that happened here. For things like this, we’ve found it incredibly helpful to have some sort of guided (even self-guided) walking tour. It’s worth taking the time to read up on the significance of each place so that the ruins can come alive to you as more than heaps of old rocks and rubble.

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After a lunch of pasta at a little side street trattoria, we visited the Colosseum. It seemed almost unreal, to be standing in something so old and so enormous.

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There was a lot of consulting Rick Steves.

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A winding walk through the city brought us to- surprise!- more gelato, coffee for Dad and I, and the Trevi Fountain.

Side note: For the entirety of our relationship up to this point, John and I have been living by this unspoken rule that we have to order different things. Sometimes it makes sense, especially if we don’t have a strong preference in the first place or if there are several compelling options–variety is good. So, as has been our custom, once John ordered the lemon basil gelato, despite my love of anything basil, I defaulted to mint chocolate chip. Huge mistake. Every gelateria has mint chocolate chip and only this one, where we would never be again, had lemon basil. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since. Eight years into this relationship, I’m embracing my food ordering freedom: we can get the same thing. It’s revolutionary.

Anyway, we arrived at the Pantheon to find it closed, but we were able to admire the outside while listening to what I thought had to be a recording of Andrea Bocelli. Nope, this is real life.

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The next day, Mom and Dad’s last in Europe, was our day to see The Vatican. I realized on this trip how much I didn’t know about this tiny country. I had no idea that you could spend an entire day month on the Vatican museum. We took binoculars into the Sistine Chapel and spent a good half hour just sitting back, taking in the details. I knew that St. Peters’ Basilica was the largest church in the world, but standing beneath the cupola nearly 450 feet over my head, realizing that all the paintings were actually mosaics? Incredible. We climbed the dome for a closer look at some of those mosaic masterpieces and great views of the city before heading to a nearby restaurant for pizza– one last meal with Mom and Dad in Italy.

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551 steps like this to get to the top of the dome:

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It was bittersweet, saying goodbye at the airport the next morning. Two weeks passed unbelievably quickly, given all that we’d seen together. We couldn’t be more grateful for the time we had–even the many, many hours on the road. What a gift, to share a little bit of our life here in Europe and to see Daniel developing a real-life relationship with the grandparents he’s known mostly from Skype.

John and I had one more day in Rome after Mom and Dad left, most of which we spent napping (pregnancy + toddler + travel. Whew.). We ventured out again late in the afternoon and had the chance to see the interior of the Pantheon. We ate dinner at a little rustic family run place where you pay a flat price and enjoy whatever it is they’re preparing that evening. We left so very, very full and happy, with juuust enough room for one last gelato stop on our walk afterwards. Daniel befriended the entire staff with much flirting and fresh mozzarella mooching. Paola, the sweet grandmotherly woman below, declared that the new baby was definitely “bambino”. We kind of thought the same.

The drive from Rome to our home in Germany is just over 12 hours,  which isn’t bad (how crazy is it that we could drive to Rome in a day?!), but just far enough that we opted to break it up with a day in Lake Como. We rested and took walks along this beautiful lake, wishing we had more than a day to spend here. We watched the swans and ate crepes by the water and learned we don’t care for chicory. And then we hit the road again, back through Switzerland with all its tunnels and waterfalls and mountains, into Germany and our home sweet home…but not for long, because we still had more to see before our baby arrived!

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