changing seasons

Having a baby in the summer is pretty wonderful. Audrey was born the week the field behind our house bloomed in beautiful purple and branches of our cherry tree hung heavy with ripe fruit.  Everywhere, growing things. Everywhere, new life. Having a baby in the summer means that even when the nights bring little sleep, the sun sets late—very late in Germany—and rises again quite early, which somehow feels a little less exhausting and a little more hopeful. The windows are open and the sun is actually shining and there are walks to be taken and nectarines to be enjoyed.

dsc05476

But having a baby in the summer also means that the summer passes by really, really quickly. Late September, already? The pools are closed already? The leaves are falling already?

We are wholehearted lovers of autumn. But this year, knowing that we’ll likely be gone from this place next summer, we’re reluctant to say goodbye.
I suppose it’s high time for a little update from our home.  After a full July of visitors here to help out and hold babies, we took a little trip to Spain in August (maybe some more on that later) and John left almost immediately afterward for a month of training in the states.

The time alone with the kids was surprisingly good—a confidence builder for me in figuring out how to manage our daily routine and home and maintain some measure of sanity. I feel like Daniel took huge strides while John was away. Audrey, when she’s not crying, is developing such a sweet little personality of her own, cooing and smiling and imitating sounds. She prefers to be held always and she’s not a very good napper (of course, I’m writing this during a glorious, rare window when both kids are napping–what?!), but she’s doing really well at night.

Out of necessity, of course, we managed to actually do things while John was away- walks, the park, the pool, the grocery store, etc. The days are so much better when we get out of the house, preferably outside as much as possible. Halfway through my month of solo parenting, my life long best friend Rachel came out for a visit. Sweet, sweet relief.

A little background: Rachel was born exactly a week after me, lived about a block away for the first ten years of our childhood, and we went to the same school and church until her family moved 4-ish hours north for our church’s full time camping ministry (which is one of my most favorite places on earth, see more here).  Thanks to letters and e-mails and grandparents who carted us back and forth for visits, we maintained a close friendship despite the distance. It’s been 25 years now, and I think it’s safe to say this relationship is permanent.  She’s stuck with me for the long haul. Even so, you know your friend is a keeper when she takes two weeks of vacation and buys a ticket to Europe to hang out with you and your toddler and newborn.

When we first began talking about this hypothetical trip, I imagined escaping for a weekend kid-free to linger over coffee in quaint cafes or taking a French cooking class or perusing flea markets. We were still able to do and see a great deal during her time here, but with much greater effort and at a slower pace!  Her visit during John’s absence was a great blessing to me- the days get a little lonely when your only conversations are with a 2 year old and an extra set of hands to hold a fussy baby or push the stroller or refill a sippy cup are much, much appreciated.

We spent four days in Paris, visited the American Cemetery in Luxembourg and spent an afternoon in Trier, Germany’s oldest city. We toured Burg Elz and scenic Cochem along the Mosel, spent part of a day at a local natural swimming pool, hit up the bazaar on base, ate a German dinner downtown, enjoyed the Rodenbach culinary hike and visited the Gartenshau for life-size dinosaurs and gorgeous flowers.

One evening, we had a fire outside and made bacon s’mores. Other evenings we spent experimenting with water colors or eating gelato. We drank an incredible amount of coffee. It was a fun and fast and very full visit. We’ve also decided that for our 30th, we should take a kid-free trip to the mountains. Or perhaps to an island. Or anywhere, really.

dsc06034dsc06067dsc06085dsc06089dsc06100dsc06105dsc06162dsc06166

John arrived the same day Rachel left, so I spent the day in Frankfurt with the kids between their flights. After dropping Rachel off, we went to the zoo, which is so much fun with Daniel at this age, and grabbed Chipotle and coffee at the mall before heading back to the airport again. Daniel was delighted, pointing to every single plane (Taaaane! Shwoooooosh!) in the sky on the way to ask if that one was his daddy’s. He’s been running around the house all smiles since John has been back. I’m glad, too.

dsc06211

Life should be refreshingly normal for the next couple of months. We plan on doing a bit of traveling as our time in Europe begins to wind down, but mostly, we’re happy to just be home. Sad as we are to say goodbye to our last German summer, we are looking forward to a warm, cozy house to enjoy, evenings sitting by our fireplace, brisk hikes in the woods, just slowing down a little. Work, kids, laundry, dishes, church, community: the ordinary, beautiful things that make up our life. Here’s to autumn and change and gratitude, which turns what we have into more than enough.

dsc06214

 

 

Waiting.

This pregnancy has been relatively fast and easy and full. In between that positive test and today, we’ve traveled back to the states twice- for John’s Poppop’s funeral and for Christmas with our families. We moved and resettled in a new house in a new village. We made it to Bruges, the Black Forest, London, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Iceland. John has flown—everywhere. Even day to day life, the new “normal” of life with a toddler, is fuller and faster.

DSC04354
So here we are at the end again, nearing 40 weeks with our second baby, feeling simultaneously excited and overwhelmed and anxious and ready and still grateful that it takes nine months to grow a baby because WHERE DID THOSE MONTHS GO?

Still, here at the end, there’s the waiting.

Last time around, we were so busy, so preoccupied, that I didn’t have much time to feel the wait. Our final weeks before Daniel was born were filled with moving to Germany, buying a car, finding a house, moving into said house, and figuring out the million things that come up when you PCS overseas. I think we managed to make it to IKEA to buy the crib and dresser around 38 weeks or so and I packed my bag mostly on the way out the door to St. Johannes, the German hospital where Daniel was born. It was fine. It was even good. So many prayers were answered during that hectic season of transition.

This time around, as fast as these months have been, I’m much more aware of how slowly the final weeks of a pregnancy can pass. These last few weeks (er…months) have been rainy and grey and on the chilly side, which are wonderful for the end of pregnancy, I suppose, but also a little dreary and depressing. We’ve settled into a routine of dashing outside the moment the sun peaks through the clouds, even if only for five minutes.

These days have been filled with reorganizing baby supplies and a pseudo-shared space for our children. We anticipate the baby sleeping in our room for a little while at least, and are hopeful to eventually have them room together, so there’s no separate nursery. Still, there are so many things to think about- like the whole cloth diaper operation that’s currently based in Daniel’s room, or having access to clothing even if one child is napping. We installed both car seats in the only possible figuration that allows us to all fit (John is tall!) and wondered how it’s possible to practically need a minivan with 2 children. We assembled and test drove our second hand double stroller, which is a German-made beast. It’s well designed and should fit through doorways here, but man- it’s like the stroller equivalent of driving a bus, I think. We’ve taken quite a minimal approach to the accumulation of baby/kid things, but I still feel like our parenting footprint just quadrupled. I hear the same is about to happen with our laundry…

These days, my midwife Alexa comes to the house about once a week. Lord willing, we plan to welcome this baby at home, and are praying for a smooth, calm birth that ends with a peaceful recovery in our own bed with our own food and at our own pace. I had a good experience at the German hospital when Daniel was born, but the option to not go anywhere is even more appealing! Our midwife has come to the house for all of my appointments, too, which has been wonderful in that a) I don’t have to sort out childcare for Daniel or wait with him at the hospital and b) it’s so relaxed! Instead of ten minutes with the OB at the hospital, Alexa is typically here for an hour or so for prenatal care, answering questions, and talking about all things birth and otherwise.

These days, I’m not sleeping much. There have been a lot of 3 AM baths and epsom salts and lavender and herbal tea and mountains of pillows and fans and open windows, but alas, I’m beginning to accept that I’m just not going to rest well until after the baby is born….. oh, wait….

These days, I’m learning to balance productivity (read: distractions) during the day with the need to rest in hopes of not going into labor already exhausted. I’m trying to plan out things to do to avoid sitting at home thinking about being pregnant. We’ve gone strawberry picking. We’ve been frequenting a new coffee shop downtown Kaiserslautern for their excellent scones. We took one last trip into France to do some grocery shopping and pastry eating. John and I made it to Frankfurt twice- once for an overnight, many thanks to Cassi who stayed with Daniel, and again to meet up with the Christ Community Church South Africa team on their way to the field. We went to the zoo. We went to the pool. We’ve taken walks on the trails behind our house, collecting wildflowers and pointing out airplanes. I’ve tried to put a significant dent in Daniel’s baby book, but waiting for photos to arrive from the states (pictures are printed in different sizes here) means that it’s not going to be done before the baby arrives.

These days, I’m eating a lot of dates and drinking raspberry leaf tea and thinking about how this birth will compare to my first. Shorter at least, I hope.

These days, I’ve been filling our freezer, which doesn’t take much because we live in Germany where built in freezers are approximately the size of shoe boxes.

These days, I’m admiring the couple fresh sleepers I’ve gathered in creams and greys, but I’m also so, so ready to know whether we have another son or a daughter!  Not knowing the sex is, in many ways, extra motivating. It was incredible to reach the end of a long, exhausting labor and to experience not only the sweet relief of holding our baby for the first time, but to discover “a son!” We’ve talked about names, but not too much, because we did most of that talking before Daniel was born and we’ll still wait to meet the baby before we make an absolute decision.

These days, I’m trying to soak up time with just Daniel, increasingly aware of how grown up he is now, and how big he will seem next to a newborn. We continue to ask him about the new brother or sister he’s about to get, and he’s still pretty adamant that this isn’t happening. He’s a tender, sweet little boy though (most of the time!), and I’m hopeful that the adjustment to big brotherhood will go well. At the very least, he won’t even remember what it was like to be the only child. We bought him a little doll to practice being gentle with and he carries it everywhere…sometimes by the head or a single limb, but always with great love.

These days, I’m tired and mostly uncomfortable and physically ready to not be pregnant, but also, if I’m honest, not quite ready for the emotional transition to two children. In so many ways, one child to two seems like a much greater transition to me than zero to one. After this, we should be able to handle anything, right?! It’s the simple things that seem most overwhelming- like picking up packages at the post office or a simple grocery run while pushing a stroller/wearing a baby/chasing a toddler. I only have so many hands. Two children feels like the next bracket of parenthood, one that is much more all-consuming. To lose yourself for a bit in the waves of newborn life is to be expected, I think, but this time I’m a little more concerned about the resurfacing.

These days, I’m humbled by the privilege of parenthood. To be entrusted with these children is such an incredible gift and responsibility, one that should shake us. We see parenthood as perhaps the most spiritually formative experience of our lives so far. We are being stretched and challenged and convicted and shaped– this is messy, holy work. Our confidence as we approach this new season comes not in our own ability or preparedness, but in knowing that God’s grace covers all of our insufficiencies. We’re not having children for our own sake, but for His glory.

In his book  Sacred Parenting, Gary Thomas explains, “Let’s accept that both marriage and parenting provide many good moments while also challenging us to the very root of our being. Let’s admit that family life tries us as perhaps nothing else does; but let’s also accept that, for most of us, this is God’s call and part of his plan to perfect us. Once we realize that we are sinners, that the children God has given us are sinners, and that together, as a family, we are to grow toward God, then family life takes on an entirely new purpose and context. It becomes a sacred enterprise when we finally understand that God can baptize dirty diapers, toddlers’ tantrums, and teenagers’ silence in order to transform us into people who more closely resemble Jesus Christ.

May it be true of us!

The Netherlands

In April, we had the great privilege of taking an extended trip with John’s parents, who somehow agreed to spend 8 hours on a plane in order to spend 2 weeks in the car with us. We are incredibly grateful that they were able to take the time, and so glad to have had the opportunity to experience so many new things together. The quickest version is this: it was a pretty epic trip. As in, deserving of multiple installments, which I hope to write on the sooner side while the details are still fresh in my mind and I’m not yet busy with a newborn!

The first full day of their visit, Friday, was a rest day. We mostly hung out at home, enjoyed a leisurely brunch, took walks, and visited Ramstein Air Base for a little tour and to see John’s plane. Then we packed up the car for the first leg of our trip and hit the road first thing the next morning.

Our first stop was The American Military Cemetery in Margraten. John and I have been to a few American military cemeteries in Europe, but it was especially moving to see it with fresh eyes through Mom and Dad’s first experience. As you enter the memorial, you first pass through a courtyard with the names of 1, 722 missing servicemen. It’s an overwhelming number of names, which makes walking up the steps into the main cemetery even more staggering. 8,301 more lie buried here. Each has a story-  a family, parents, a hometown. There are 36 American military cemeteries throughout Europe, honoring thousands more who sacrificed everything for freedom.

DSC04168

Our next stop was Moordrecht, the birthplace of John’s great grandfather. We spent a few hours with two historical society guides, who were so generous with their time and genuinely thrilled to have Americans visit their little town. Our guides have continued to research the genealogy of the Bier family since our visit, and it’s been fascinating to follow along.

DSC04173

That night, we settled into our cozy airbnb, put Daniel to bed, and enjoyed a dinner that I’d prepared in advance. John, Mom and I  took an evening walk along the dike before falling into bed.

On Sunday morning, our host brought us a generous breakfast spread, which we enjoyed before biking over to Zaanse Schans, an (albeit touristy) little community full of wooden windmills, barns, old Dutch houses, a cheese factory, a wooden clog shop and museums. We saw newborn lambs and ducklings, sampled a ridiculous amount of cheese, watched a wooden clog demonstration, and ducked in to one of the windmills to learn about how a traditional sawmill operates while waiting out a brief shower.

DSC04189DSC04195DSC04205DSC04206

After lunch and naps all around, we went to Keukenhof- the Garden of Europe. One of Daniel’s most favorite things at present is smelling flowers. Allllll the flowers. So naturally, a park with millions of daffodils and hyacinths and tulips and a gazillion others I can’t even name could keep him busy for a very, very long time. Thank goodness for the stroller and Grandpop’s shoulders!

DSC04219DSC04221DSC04224DSC04227DSC04263

It’s hard to capture the beauty in a photograph- or hundreds, as is tempting to take in a place like this. We have an amazing God,  and I’m so glad He made us with the ability to create, cultivate and appreciate this kind of beauty.

While Keukenhof is certainly impressive, one of our most favorite parts of Holland this time of year are the vast fields of blooms- carpets of brilliant color. We were there probably a week before the peak of the season, but we can hardly complain! Many times over the course of this weekend, Mom would exclaim something like, “I’m in Holland!” “I’m on a dike!” “I’m riding a bike in Holland!” “I’m walking in a field of tulips….in HOLLAND!”

We capped this day with a delicious dinner, compliments of a generous gift from friends at our home church so that we could enjoy something extra special together.

DSC04283DSC04294DSC04304DSC04301

Before our drive back on Monday, we took a little detour to visit the North Sea, which I imagine is quite lovely (and busy!) in the summer, and wandered around quaint, historic Haarlem admiring the architecture and canals and croissants. It’s a charming little country, The Netherlands. We’ve never been to Amsterdam or Rotterdam or The Hague, but the slower, quieter countryside of farmland and birds and sheep and biking–it’s worth a visit.

DSC04320

DSC04316

farewell, flachsäcker

4 years, 4 moves.

We weren’t planning to keep this pace, but here we are again. We’ve lived at our little rowhouse on Flachsäcker for 16 months now- the longest we’ve been anywhere together- and we’re feeling the itch. It’s time to move.

At this point, we can’t actually imagine what it’s like to be in one place for more than a little over a year. In each place, that amount of time has been enough to feel quite settled- furniture arranged, boxes unpacked, photos hung, cabinets organized. When you know that your time is limited, you have a greater incentive to create home as quickly as possible– to have a place of comfort, stability and hospitality.
10557571_10154503225665162_6887307244175156546_oWe saw this house literally the day we arrived in Germany, super jet-lagged, super pregnant and in the peak of PCS (that’s permanent change of station for the non-military folks, the term for whenever we move to a new base) season when it can be tough to find a good place. We were feeling the pressure to settle down quickly, strongly preferring not to bring our newborn back to our tiny temporary living space on base. For the most part, it’s been good to us and there are many things we’ve loved. It’s in a quiet, friendly neighborhood, conveniently close to the autobahn we take to base and also to the main city, Kaiserslautern. We have a beautiful network of trails out our front door, a lovely park with a pond, the zoo and a playground behind our house. A five minute walk brings us to a metzgerei (butcher), a bäckerei (bakery), a nice little German restaurant for our schnitzel cravings,  and possibly the best döner joint. We have great neighbors, a small fenced yard for Kaia, and a surprising lack of weird European house features (like chartreuse bathtubs or bright pink fireplaces).

We’ve learned to be quite creative with the lack of storage common to homes here in Europe. When we first arrived, I wondered if Germans just had less stuff and therefore didn’t need the closets and cabinets we’re accustomed to finding in American homes. In truth, we discovered that German homes are full of added shranks (large cabinets or wardrobes) sometimes from wall to wall.

Challenge taken. Our linens are being stored in an unused wicker hamper in our room. We hung IKEA shelves and hooks in our kitchen for spices and coffee supplies and mugs to free up more cabinet space. DSC00524We put our loaner microwave and American fridge in the garage and learned to live out of the dorm-size fridge in our kitchen, which allowed us to add a little island for additional work space.We each have a small basket for toiletries in the bathroom. Without bathroom cabinets or the ability to hang anything on tiles walls, we bought a cheap piece of counter to put on top of our washer and dryer  for a space to stack towels and laundry supplies.

We’ve purged, consolidated, donated, and sold items. I appreciate that we’ve been able to pare down our possessions and be more mindful about what comes into our house. Because everything is out in the open, I care much more about the aesthetics of, say, our dustpan and our dish brush. More than ever before, I’ve repeated to myself “have nothing in your home that you do not consider to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”DSC00525

10608324_10154535450655162_626612913786827682_oThis house, and really, the reality of frequent moves, as taught us to value having less, and I hope we can keep this mindset forever and maybe never get to a point where we have an attic or garage full of mysterious boxes. But right now, honestly, I’m really excited about having a place to store our vacuum when it’s not in use. The thought of a laundry room, a pantry, an office space and a better layout for Daniel to play makes me downright giddy. And mostly, decent landlords, but we won’t get into that.

For a number of reasons, we’ve come to realize that while there are many things we’ve enjoyed about this place, it’s not the best for our family for the rest of our time here in Germany. For once, we’re not moving terribly far- our new village is about the same distance from base, just in the opposite direction. Over the last couple weeks, we’ve been busy sorting out a hundred details- hiring a local moving company, taking care of utility accounts, transferring services, organizing, packing. It’s a hassle, no doubt, but worthwhile in the end. We can’t wait to settle into our new place this weekend!

10504871_10154535449425162_2157891627789857733_o
  

10 Things We Learned in Holland

We went to Holland…..in April. So I’ve had six months to think about this post in my drafts folder, and the fact that I’m falling further and further behind in documenting our travels. One of the best things about living in the middle of Europe is the opportunity to see so much. But it turns out our capacity to absorb awesome places and incredible historical sites and unique meals and interesting culture is limited. Very quickly, you can end up feeling stuffed. By writing about our experiences, we hope to better remember and savor them.

With that said, 10 things we learned during our weekend in Holland:

1. Where is Holland anyway?

North and South Holland are two provinces in The Netherlands. This clever video explains it well. Seriously, check out that link- it’s quite interesting.

We stayed in Edam, a little city in the Northwest corner of The Netherlands in North Holland. While we didn’t make it into Amsterdam on this trip, the area where we stayed was so quiet and lovely. We woke up each morning to cows and sheep and brand new lambs out our bedroom window, a home cooked breakfast, and helpful advice from our homeaway hosts on what to see and do.

Side note- we’ve had nothing but wonderful experiences staying in peoples’ homes or guest houses through sites like airbnb and homeaway. We read reviews thoroughly and do our research because it’s worth it to us for more of a personal home base from which to see a new place (also, it’s often much cheaper, especially when you have a kitchen to work with). Hotels can look the same all over the world, but the hospitality of locals can make for a truly unique, memorable experience.

2. Hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and a million other flowers I didn’t know existed.

Today, the Netherlands is still the world’s main producer of commercially sold tulips, producing as many as 3 billion bulbs annually, mostly for export.

We learned that tulips are actually originally from Turkey, brought to Holland in the 16th century. Also, it takes a full five years for a tulip bulb to form from seed!

While the gardens at Keukenhof are beautiful, we were much more impressed by the endless fields of flowers. On a smaller scale, you can see beautiful floral arrangements just about anywhere, but the fields are quintessentially Holland.

DSC00880

3. We really, really don’t like crowds. Or selfie sticks.
Unknowingly, we went to the famous Keukenhof gardens on their biggest weekend of the year, the day of the flower parade. Maybe for other people this would be a happy mistake, and maybe we just need to be a bit more patient, but shuffling through thousands of people, pressed on all sides, battling to get a view of the gardens unobstructed by selfie sticks just isn’t our thing. The amazingly sweet smell of the flowers mixed with cigarette smoke is disappointing. Forty minute waits to use the bathroom are problematic.

That said, the gardens would be so, so lovely on a less insanely busy day and we’d love to go and enjoy them again with better planning! 

4. The Dutch are serious about their cheese.

We enjoyed some of the very famous (and in our case, very local) Edam cheese each morning with our breakfast. In retrospect, we should’ve bought a lot more cheese. It was so, so good.

The Dutch produce 650 million kilos of cheese annually, exporting 2/3 of that, which makes Holland the largest cheese exporter in the world. I read that the average person in The Netherlands eats about 7 lbs of cheese per year, but given how much we consumed in a weekend, that figure almost seems low.

We ordered a cheese plate with our dinner one evening which, apart from the exceptionally stinky, very blue cheeses, we enjoyed. Daniel’s palette is a little less limited, I guess, because he devoured those we couldn’t stomach.

10 Things We Learned in Holland

5. The Dutch are also serious about biking.

Everyone bikes, everywhere. We saw several bikers with a child in a front seat, a child in a rear seat, a trailer with an additional kid or two, and sometimes another child riding alongside. So impressive. We might’ve seen all of these awesome family bikes over the course of our two day trip.

6. SO MUCH WATER! 

It’s been said that “God made the earth, but the Dutch made Holland”. The Dutch first began battling the sea about 800 years ago and today, over 1, 491 miles of dikes keep North Sea from flooding, oh, 65% of the country below sea level.  The amount of infrastructure required to keep this country in existence is really quite incredible- bridges, dikes, dams, canals. We noticed these shells in a parking lot- proof that this used to be the ocean floor.
All the water allows for amazing bird life – swans nesting, ducklings swimming, cranes and pheasants and geese and probably hundreds of other birds I couldn’t identify. 

7. How windmills actually work.

They’re big. And impressive. They have sails. They can rotate 360 degrees. Who knew?

It makes sense that The Netherlands- totally flat and very windy- has so many, many (1000+) windmills. They were (and are, in a few places) used to mill, saw, pump and press–everything from bread and mustard to oil, paint and paper. Today, the working windmills are primarily used for drainage to keep all the reclaimed land from flooding again.

8. Wooden clogs are a real thing. 

As in, we didn’t realize before that people really wore these shoes in real life for hundreds of years. Historically, there were many varieties and styles for different classes, vocations and occasions. These below are traditional wedding clogs.

988529_10155479338165162_2442959611199607478_n

Today wooden clogs are really only worn by some rural farm workers and tourists, but in a number of places, you can still watch them being made, carved from a single piece of wood. We watched a demonstration on the craft, fought our way through hoards of people buying these not terribly comfortable shoes, and purchased a tiny key chain clog for our token Christmas ornament from The Netherlands. We decided that a single Christmas ornament from each country we visit will be our “thing”- no souvenirs to collect dust around the house, no worries about where to put stuff all year long. DSC00902

9. Chocolate sprinkles are a legitimate breakfast food. 

Our hosts brought us a bottle of chocolate sprinkles with our breakfast each morning, alongside an assortment of delicious breads, cheeses, jams, butter, coffee, tea, smoked meats and eggs. Each morning, we ate everything else and puzzled over the purpose of the sprinkles.  I didn’t realize until much later that the “hagelslad” (the Dutch word for sprinkles, meaning “hailstorm”) are eaten on buttered bread for breakfast. Or a snack. Or lunch. Or whenever you, respectable grown- up, want to eat chocolate sprinkles for a meal.

10987350_10155479338450162_8484416581561653139_n

boterham-met-hagelslag

10. The little dutch boy is an American fable.

It’s a classic children’s story we grew up with- a little boy sticks his finger in a hole in the dike and saves his village from flooding.  It seems the only thing we really knew about Holland before our trip turned out to be a story imported by American tourists.

The tale originates from American author Mary Mapes Dodge, who published the story in her book “Hans Brinker” or “The Silver Skates” in 1865. We’re a little disappointed.

Daniel, on the other hand, is angry about the car. Teething, tired, screaming for the entire four hour drive there and back again, this was not Daniel’s best trip. Real life traveling with a baby, folks. After this weekend, frazzled and exhausted, we wondered if our road tripping days were over for a while. But thankfully, Daniel is quite a good traveler and this particular weekend proved to be the exception, not the rule. Thanks, kid- we still have a lot to see! In fact, we’d love to make it back to The Netherlands again, perhaps with a visit to Amsterdam, a canal tour, the Anne Frank house, and the sea. 

Babies Don’t Keep

I know this because suddenly, our baby was replaced by this one year old little boy.  How did this happen? Gradually, of course- little by little, month by month, milestone by milestone. And yet at the very same time, there are times when babies seem to grow in great leaps, unapologetically, all at once. DSC02696These days Daniel is very curious and busy. He doesn’t sit still, but that’s always been the case (thank goodness we’ve reached the end of this perilous sit-still-in-the-chair photo series!). He’s quite gregarious, making friends wherever we go and willing to shamelessly flirt for food. He’s an adventurous eater, particularly fond of bananas and smoked salmon, but willing to try anything, including stinky French cheese and escargot.

He’s very close to walking, but mostly more interested in getting to wherever he’s headed the fastest way possible. He says “mama’, “dada” and something like “Kaaaaa!” that we’re going to translate as “Kaia”. He likes to wrestle and claps his hands. He loves his play kitchen- banging pots and pans together and relocating felt vegetables all over our house. He loves the water- the bath, the pool, the ocean.
DSC02700
He recognizes people on Skype now, and it’s sweet to watch him interact with his daddy from across the ocean. Daniel made it to ten countries in the past twelve months: Germany, Switzerland, the US, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, The Netherlands, Greece, Turkey and Austria. He’s an excellent traveler, though his etiquette in cathedrals could use some work–he generally thinks they’re hilarious.

As for me, I’ve been thinking about the list of skills I’ve acquired this year. I learned to wrap my boy in a few seconds, set up a pack in play in less than two minutes and how to change diapers in the most impossible places. I can recite “Is Your Mama a Llama” from memory, among many other board book length literary treasures. I learned that everything, even the simplest errands, take longer than you think they should. I learned that even after the most draining day with Daniel, I’ll miss him when he goes to sleep for the night. I learned that there are a gazillion ways to do the “right” thing, and chances are you know best what that right thing is for your baby. I’ve learned to love long, long walks, logging many miles with our BOB on the trails near our village. I learned that I can’t do all the things, and sometimes it’s ok that there’s laundry to be done and the kitchen is a wreck because there’s great Turkish take-out down the street and babies don’t keep. This won’t last forever.  I learned that my walk with God in this season looks a lot less like focused, quiet time in the Word and more like prayers while nursing, sermons on the trails, stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible. And I’m learning that there’s nothing like a little human being who relies on you for everything to make you realize how much you rely on God for absolutely everything. He is so good to us.

Also, I’ve accepted that my coffee will never, ever be hot. He’s so worth it.

Happy 1st Birthday, Dan man. We can’t imagine life without you.
DSC02702

Flashback Friday

What a difference a year can make! I just discovered the beginnings of an April/May 2014 post languishing in my drafts folder. This time last year was one of the busiest, most up-in-the-air seasons of our life together so far. After earning his wings, John was away for several months of training, I traveled around a bit and spent time with family, I graduated from Moody and worked on growing our baby. We were on the brink of our move to Germany, our household goods long gone and a million questions to answer as soon as our feet touched the ground. Looking back, I’m so glad to be on this side of things! We made it. We did it. God has been so faithful!

Instead of discarding yet another neglected draft, I thought it’d be fun to do a little side by side comparing and a little catching up on our life lately.

April 2014: I celebrated Easter with my family while visiting my Uncle Fred and Aunt Renee in Albany, Georgia. I had just driven from Columbus, Mississippi with Kaia after moving out of our house and sending off our household goods shipment. John was away for training in the C-21 in Texas. Our baby was 26 weeks old and doing flips in my belly at this time last year. 
April 2015: We celebrated Easter with our families in Illinois/Wisconsin, back from Germany for John’s refresher training back in Texas again. Daniel turned 8 months old while we were in the States and enjoyed spending time with his grandparents and many aunts and uncles! 
April 2014: My family drove down from Georgia to spend a few days with my Great Grandma Lois who lives in Venice, Florida. She was thrilled to feel her growing great-great grandchild in my belly, which was bittersweet because we didn’t think there would be any way she’d ever get to meet the baby. After all, she was 100 years old and we were moving to Germany! 
April 2015: Because we were back stateside for John’s training, my mom, sister, aunt and I made the trip down to see Grandma Lois and introduce her to her great-great grandson. How amazing to see his little hands and feet in her arms, nearly 101 years between them! 

 
May 2014: Rachel drove down from Door County for a quick visit before we left for Germany and she left for an internship in Guatemala. Now that she’s busy being awesome in Colorado and we live across the ocean, we haven’t been able to connect since. I think this might be our lifetime record of time without a visit! We’ll remedy this someday soon.

Also last May, we celebrated my graduation from Moody Bible Institute, marking the end of a season. Distance learning is not for the faint of heart!

May 2015:  I’m thankful to have traded paper writing and theology exams for board books and bath time. Side note: speaking of theology and babies, we are loving this story book Bible for Daniel. It does such an excellent job of presenting the Bible as one story with Jesus at the center, tracing the gospel all the way back to the garden. Beautifully written- it’s worth a read! Or many a read! We look forward to many years of sharing this Bible with our children.

the first snow

“You know, I think we might be through the worst of it,” I said to John yesterday evening. As soon as the words passed my lips, I wondered if I’d spoken too soon. I don’t believe in jinxing things, but as a new, tired mom, I value sleep as one of the most important things in the world. It must be protected.

To be fair, Daniel has ordinarily (as in, for the previous 3 1/2 months of his life) been a pretty good sleeper. A gloriously good sleeper. But for the last two weeks, our little guy has been doing a great deal of eating and growing without a whole lot of sleeping. I feel like he learns something new everyday. He’s smiling all the time, giggling, talking to us with sweet little coos and “guuuh” sounds, playing with his toys and, to my dismay, rolling over. A LOT.

He started this flipping over business at about 2-3 weeks in protest of tummy time. Then, thankfully, he took a few months hiatus. He’s really not into being swaddled, but he has loved sleeping on his tummy. Until, of course, he rolls himself over. Repeatedly. All night. At which point he becomes quite upset and commences screaming until I soothe him back to his tummy again. And repeat. Did I say all night?

At least it feels that way.

After three great I-think-we’re-out-of-the-woods nights, last night was rough. Since John was flying early this morning, we waged this sleep battle in Daniel’s room. Sleep 10-20 minutes, flip over, get angry. And not a cry for 10-15 minutes sort of angry- this kid has serious stamina. I nursed him, burped him, changed him, cuddled him, sang to him, rocked him, prayed over him. Tried to remember that this is temporary and I’m not actually going to be exhausted for the rest of my life forever and ever…

 It was about 3 AM when I happened to open the curtains in his nursery to discover the breathtaking surprise of snow. Already, everything in sight was blanketed in white with large, sparkling flakes glistening in the dim light of the street lamp. I wept for the beauty of it. Tired as I was, it felt like this sight was somehow meant just for me, God’s gift to my weary, frustrated soul. Baby in my arms, we swayed back and forth in the window watching the snow, talking to God. Peace. Stillness. Quiet.

And, finally, Daniel went to sleep. 

life with the little one

Lately I’m loving:
My little boy’s big, dark eyes as he quietly takes in the world around him.
Kissing his head.  Also his nose and his little mouth, his hands, his super soft feet and that sweet spot in the folds of his neck. And his cheeks- those, too. 
His coos– and something that sounds either like a small bird or possibly a dolphin. I can’t decide.
His sweet, milky baby breath.
His love of baths. I’ve been taking the no-fuss approach of just getting in the bath with him. I wouldn’t trade that time for the fanciest baby tub.
The smell of calendula on his skin.
The way he burrows into my chest, sound asleep in his wrap.
How ridiculous he looks in his cloth diapers. He’ll grow into them eventually…. Too quickly, really.
When he lets out a giant, back-arching, limbs-stretching yawn, then smacks his lips. Nyup, nyup, nyup.
I can’t believe Daniel has been here nearly a month already. I’m surprised  by how normal our new life feels, yet I still find myself astonished that this is our son. Half of each of us. We’ve determined that he definitely has my mouth and chin; we’re waiting to see more of John’s baby photos before we make any further judgments.
I am amazed by our Creator’s design, in wonder that this child was formed in my body for nine months, from a few cells at conception to a fully formed, beautiful baby with fingers and toes and crazy long eyelashes. I am in awe that through the miraculous, challenging, messy business of childbirth, I actually pushed this baby out of my body. And if that weren’t enough already, I’m grateful for the ability to continue to feed and sustain this little person now curled up in my arms.
Psalm 139: 13-16 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Early on in my pregnancy, these verses hit me with a force I hadn’t felt before. I was incredibly, incredibly thankful for an easy pregnancy. Aside from being pretty tired during the first trimester, I felt great. So initially, at least, the pregnancy seemed surreal. Day to day life seemed normal.  I was going about my routine as usual. And yet what God was creating in me during even those earliest weeks is indescribable.

Even with everything we know from science today, we can’t really explain all the complex, miraculous processes involved in the creation of a human being. The Psalmist’s language portrays these processes as the intentional, involved, creative work of God. It is a physical, yet mysterious process- Daniel was created, knit together, made in the secret place, woven—intimately known by the Almighty God.
Thinking about pregnancy in these terms, I am all the more devastated by abortion. It is the deliberate destruction of God’s masterpiece, one created in His very image. It is a crime not only against the vulnerable unborn, but against the Giver of Life. God sees their unformed bodies; it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the moment of conception or eight weeks or twenty weeks or a full-term, “viable” baby. The point is that long before a pregnancy test reads positive, regardless of how that result came to be, God has a purpose and a plan for the unborn child. I am reminded again that it’s not enough to be passively pro-life, if there really is such a thing. If we truly value all life as given by God, we have no choice but to see abortion, the killing of the vulnerable unborn, as a most grievous sin. How will we respond? With prayer and support for mothers and children, with counseling and loving and awareness-spreading, yes. But more specifically? It’s something worth thinking and praying about. 

Fearfully and wonderfully made. We know this full well. 

Moving Matters

After a couple busy weeks of getting everything in order to move overseas (think government passports, sorting orders, a few briefings, microchipping Kaia, medical clearance, etc.), John left for training in Dallas and then St. Louis on April 6th. We tried to motivate ourselves to pack as much as possible before he left, but there’s only so much you can do until right before the movers arrive. It’s also pretty un-homey to live among boxes and sad, bare walls for weeks. Kaia seemed to know exactly what was going on and made a point of climbing into empty boxes to ensure she couldn’t be forgotten.

We were miserably unprepared to leave Los Angeles. I think we might’ve started packing the night before our movers arrived. While our apartment was quite small and we didn’t have much stuff, that’s not a strategy I’d recommend to anyone! This time around, we were in a much better place with a few key “lessons learned” to keep in mind:

Yes, the military moves us (unless we elect to do so ourselves). And the company they contract will pack our stuff. But….

1. Your idea of “packed” and the movers’ definition might be quite different.

When we unpacked in Columbus, we discovered that my wedding dress had been crumpled beneath John’s skis and our outdoor equipment. Our kitchen drawers had haphazardly been emptied into boxes.  Our nice knives were “packed” totally unwrapped- just tossed into a box with all of our flatware and several (consequently ruined) books.

Therefore,

2. The more organized you are before a move, the better. 


This is certainly an ongoing process, one I’m sure is just about perfected by the seasoned military family. We’ll get there in time… 

3. Never underestimate the power of fresh snickerdoodles. 


They may have considerable influence over your movers’ motivation to do their job well. Also helpful are tunes. Lots of tunes.

4. Accept help. 

…maybe especially if you happen to be pregnant and otherwise alone.

I was incredibly humbled by my friends in Columbus who gave so much of their time and energy to help me prep the house for our final inspection. It takes a special someone to be willing to scrub your bathroom or detail your buggy window tracks. Looking back now, I can’t imagine having done it without them!

5. Simplify. Always. 


Since we’re going to be doing this fairly often, we want to use each move as an opportunity to reevaluate our stuff. We’d like to live by this adage:

With an overseas move, this is a bit more clear-cut in some ways. For example, it didn’t make sense to hold on to several appliances we know we’d have to store in Germany due to the electrical incompatibility. Some things are fine with adapters and transformers, but other things just aren’t worth the risk.We sold and donated quite a bit before packing up and now that we’re here, we’re thankful! German homes really don’t have storage, period. 

6. In the end, it’s all just stuff. 


Things will be lost and damaged. It’s inevitable. We actually heard an account of one person’s shipment which was lost at sea…twice. He lost all of his belongings both en route to an overseas assignment and again on the way back! Obviously his is an unusual case; if nothing else, it makes for a really crazy story! 
Our stuff certainly helps to make a new place more homey, but it does not define us. Home is wherever we are together and, ultimately, we know that heaven is our home. I wonder if one advantage to a transient, military life is the reminder that we are but sojourners on this earth. 
—–Wrapping up this post several months after our initial move from Mississippi, we’re finally sitting among the last of the mostly-unpacked boxes. There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed again and preparing meals in your own kitchen! We’re thankful that our stuff arrived intact and that we are able to so quickly settle here-all things considered, we couldn’t ask for a much smoother process. We are incredibly relieved to see the pieces falling into place as we figure out our new life here in Germany. Discovering and dusting off this post has been a helpful reminder of how far we have come and of the Lord’s abundant goodness to us each step of the way!

Goodbye, 4119 Mississippi. It’s been quite a year!