COCHEM IMPERIAL CASTLE

We went to Cochem Imperial Castle as part of our time in Cochem on our Summer Holiday (COCHEM). This was the first place we went when we arrived in Cochem and while it may not be one of the top castles, it was so cool to explore its courtyards and rooms and hear its extensive history. 

The first written mention of Reichsburg Cochem is in 1051, however it is assumed that the castle was built around 1000. Built by Palatinate Count Ezzo, the castle was given to count Henry I in 1051 ( by Richeza, former Queen of Poland). In the 12th century King Konrad III took control of the region and castle, turning it into an imperial fiefdom. The castle then became an imperial castle. It was pawned to Austria to pay for a coronation (King Adolf of Nassau), but the debt was never able to be collected. During the Nine Years War, Louis XIV invaded Cochem and the Imperial Castle before destroying it by fire (and then an explosion which almost took out the entire town of Cochem). The ruined castle wasn’t touched again until it was purchased in 1868 by Louis Frederic Jacques Ravene  who rebuilt the castle into the Neo Gothic style you see today. The castle was transferred to Cochem’s ownership in 1978 and is now able to be toured by the general public. 

The best part of this castle is, hands down, the view. Situated high above the Moselle River, you are able to see Cochem, the river, the wineries, and much more. It is a stunning view from almost anywhere within the castle. The courtyard is incredible too, with a well in the center as it would have been in early times to collect rainwater. You are also able to see the round tower, which somehow survived the destruction by Louis XIV. It was a guard tower during the castle’s time and if you follow it around, you are able to see a large mosaic of St. Christopher. 

I know this wasn’t as long as my normal Castle Post, but this is a pretty straightforward castle. It is definitely one I recommend touring if you are in Cochem as it is really interesting to see how they would have lived in the castle, as well as all of the defensive measures that were set up. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – Best/Worst of 2020

Man for everything that 2020 was, reading was somewhere that I really excelled. I read around a total of 110 books (plus or minus one or two as I am writing this before the year is technically over…) and gave an average rating of almost 4 stars! That’s a personal record for me on both accounts and I’m just very pleased with how the year went…in reading terms at least. Today I am going to talk about the best, worst, disappointing, and surprising reads. I’m covering all 4 because I find that a book might be disappointing, but not the worst I read, and I really want to make the distinction between the two (as it affects whether others will pick up the book). I want to say, when you’ve read over 100 books, it gets really hard to cherry pick what goes where and when you’ve read so many highly rated books, it gets even harder. This was not easy to do, so please note that. You can find a full list of the books I read on Goodreads (username is ACuppaCosy). 

One more note before we get into this…this is highly based on enjoyment and memory. What I do when I compile these lists is I mark out all of the books that I’ve read in the year and then highlight those that stood out for one reason or another. There may be 2-star books that didn’t make it to this listing at all, similarly for 5-star books. There isn’t really any massive rhyme or reason, but I will try and give a brief explanation of why each book ended up where it did. 

I’ll start with Worst and make my way up to the Best books of my reading year…

Worst Books of the Year

Verity by Colleen Hoover (2 Stars) I mean…this book was a dumpster fire of garbage from start to finish. I spent the entire time reading it in absolute anger and disgust. Would not recommend, and it is no longer a part of my collection. I feel like it should also be noted, this is the only Colleen Hoover I’ve read, and I picked it up for the “thriller” aspect, and that was overshadowed by the disgust and anger at the rest of the book. 

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher (3 Stars) This book had me until the last section, where it went in a completely unnecessary and wholly detrimental direction. I won’t spoil it, but I don’t really recommend this book and it is no longer part of my collection either. 

Disappointing Books of the Year

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (3 Stars) I had very high expectations for this book and I feel like it just…had too much going on for the book to be a true success. The author was trying to do too much, so there was a lot that felt disjointed and incomplete. 

Misery by Stephen King (2 Stars) This was just…not it for me. I don’t even know what it was, it just wasn’t what I wanted out of a Stephen King novel? It felt like a movie script…and to be honest, I loved the movie. 

Sex & Vanity by Kevin Kwan (3 Stars) This book is the epitome of disappointment for me in 2020. I had such HIGH hopes and expectations and in the end…it seemed very rushed, not fleshed out, and only a skeleton of what it could have been. I know that you can’t compare one work to another, but after the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy (which was top of my list the year I read it), this was massively…not good. 

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson (3 Stars) This one almost didn’t make the list, but I felt like I needed to include it as it was…disappointing. A literary mystery involving some of the great literary mysteries and out came one of the most predictable flat stories I think I’ve read in recent years. 

Surprising Books of the Year

American Royals by Katherine McGee (4 Stars) Ok, this book surprised me as it was the first time that I had read what is basically royal fan fiction. I’m a massive royal fan (borderline obsessed), but I had never really dipped my toe into this sphere of books. This set me off on a course of royal books that I hadn’t expected, and I loved every minute of it. 

The One by John Marr (5 Stars) I don’t know what I really expected from this book. I picked it up on a whim recommendation and thought it was going to be ok. It had choppy short chapters from a wide cast, but that ended up working out so well in this books favor. It kept propelling the story forward, kicking the stakes up, and made for an un-put-down-able story. 

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (3 Stars) I thought this was going to be a sure-fire success of a book, a woman wants to open a bookstore in a town that has…other ideas. And while I enjoyed the commentary and spitfire nature our protagonist displayed; I found this book to be depressing as hell at points. So, there’s that. 

Anxious People by Frederik Backman (4 Stars) This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and it was…not what I was expecting? Or rather it was, but it wasn’t. Frederik Backman really lays it all bare, the full nature of humans when pushed to their limits, and how closely we are all tied together. Surprising, Depressing, Beautiful. It’s in most surprising as I was surprised just how depressed it made me, which is also why it isn’t in the best book category. 

Best Books of the Year

The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M Graff (NR) This book is an absolute masterpiece. I listened to the audio book and not only does that illicit a certain type of reaction, but I actually learned quite a bit of things from 9/11 that I hadn’t known, or hadn’t truly understood. 

Circe by Madeline Miller (5 Stars) This was easily one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read since maybe The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It was just beautifully written, epically told, and emotional. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (4 Stars) The book that got me back on my way into fantasy reading, this story was one I was eyeing since its release. Finally, when it was purchased for me as a gift and I was given a chance to buddy read it with someone else, I fell head over heels and I’m still thinking about it. 

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (4 Stars) This might as well just include all of the Brandon Sanderson books I’ve read this year. He is a master at his craft, and I am in awe at what he has done. I put off reading his books for so long and while I’m bummed that I did that, it also means that I am reading the books as they are being released (as of now) or binge reading them rather than waiting on end for the next book. 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (4 Stars) This was an odd book to pick up during a pandemic…considering it’s about what happens when the world is attacked by a virus, but I did it and I’m glad that I did. I really enjoyed how Mandel wove the hitting of the pandemic, Shakespeare and theatre troupes, and the dystopian era of the world. It was incredibly realistic, so maybe don’t read it at the height of a global pandemic. 

Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (NR) I don’t like including nonfiction memoir books (for the same reason I don’t rate them- it feels like placing value on a life), but I’ve included two this time because of the writing and storytelling. Coates is an incredible writer, and he writes in an accessible manner. 

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (NR) I mean, I’m a massive Trevor Noah fan as it is, and I feel like he really hits it out of the park in this memoir. We get an understanding of what life was like for him, how he learned reality, and how he tried to better that reality. It also really made me value and appreciate what he says even more, as I feel like he has actually seen the things that we only have a secondhand knowledge of. 

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing (4 Stars) I debated on this one as I don’t know that it is truly one of the best books (especially when compared to some of the others on my list), but man I really LOVED this book. Talk about intriguing premise, but the writing, the unfolding of the story, and the final twists that just don’t seem to stop made it a perfect quick thriller. 

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (4 Stars) This was a book that was described as a thriller, but offers up so much more than a mystery to solve. It tackles some of the very real issues in our society today and for that reason, I found this book to be so well done. It has a little bit of everything, a little bit social justice, a little bit romance, and the slightest hint of mystery. 

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (5 Stars) This book had me in a sobbing blubbery mess. A Coming-of-age novel for the modern era of technology, this book is incredible. Anyone of any age can take something away from the story and gain insight into the “modern teenager”. I don’t have much more to say than, read it. 

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (5 Stars) Again, like Sanderson you might as well just include this entire Daevabad trilogy, which I binge read in 3 weeks. I’m obsessed and after finishing the third had a gaping hole in my heart that stopped me from reading entirely for a couple of weeks. Incredible. 

Some Random Honorable Mentions (because I can’t help myself apparently)

A Heart So Fierce & Broken by Brigid Kemmerer (5 Stars) This second novel was excellent, and I am very much anticipating the third in the first part of 2021.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (4 Stars) Another excellent short story collection. I have enjoyed every book by Chimamanda that I’ve read so far, and I’ve definitely got a couple on my 2021 reading plans.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (4 Stars) This was easily the weirdest, yet fun book I think I read in 2020. It was similar to Catherine House, but better (I read them both in the same time frame) and if you want something questionable, strange, and just a thinking story, this is for you.

Mobituaries by Mo Rocca (NR) Finally, a fun one to finish off, Mo Rocca talks through all of the “deaths” of various lesser-known trends, people, vehicles, and so forth. It is hilarious but interesting to learn all of these facts. 

And there we have it! A full breakdown of the various books that I have wanted to talk about in depth all year. If you’ve made it this far, kudos to you, I hope you enjoyed and maybe got a recommendation or two out of it!

Friday Morning Cups – On the Capital

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I haven’t done a Friday Morning Cups post in a LONG time. They used to be posts I would put up every once in a while about posts that I shared on Social Media, but either want to go into more detail, or really just feel like need to share a space on my blog. Late 2019/early 2020 I started using my voice in a different way both in my own life, on my social media, and on my blog. It’s now come full circle and I’m very proud of that.

I feel like this post needed to a)be shared in it’s entirety, with my full, unfiltered, un whittled down thoughts as they came out of my brain, and b)needed it’s space on my blog. This is not something I prepped or analyzed over for a long time, rather a incredible need to continue to voice my thoughts and opinions (as I did over the summer, as I did about the pandemic, and as I continue to do in the future). I am continuing to learn, to talk, to listen in the hopes to continue to do better and create a better future for our families and our children.

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I have this picture of Colton and I at The Capital ~4 1/2 years ago. We were able to go on a special tour (thanks to my in-laws for arranging it) while we lived in the DC/NoVa area. I remember staring out the balcony thinking…wow. Feeling a certain moment is feeling at standing at this historical place. A place that has withstood so much. Not knowing what the coming years would bring. And yet…that’s not entirely true is it? 

Any one of us that says “I never thought this would happen” (myself included to an extent because I did not see to this extent…to see the capital willfully broached and the security to be so lapsed- especially as someone who went through stringent security checks and barriers for a tour) has spent the last 4 years willfully ignoring or, perhaps even worse, downplaying what parts of our country have been saying. 

We will never be able to change, to move forward, until we can start to ACTIVELY LISTEN. And no, I’m not saying that hate speech should just be allowed to be spewed or given a platform (hell now), but we can’t ignore or downplay what is happening and what people are saying. What happened yesterday (and I’m specifically referencing the violence on the Capital steps, the breach of the Capital building, and the violence that then continued to ensue) is a build up of the last 4 years. 

Any one of us that says “This is not America” (again- myself included as up until late 2019/all of 2020 I had the privilege of not being exposed to this level of anger and hatred) has not been listening, has willfully been ignoring, or downplaying those that have quite clearly voiced their intents/thoughts. While this may not be America as a whole, this is most definitely a PART of America and we need to recognize that. 

And don’t get me started on the hypocrisy, that conversation is happening, it’s loud, and it’s very clear. If you can continue to ignore the very real privilege and double standard, I…don’t have the words right now. BUT, let’s not minimize the very real quote that a SITTING CONGRESSWOMAN, who was ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE, to do the “work” that needs to be done said 

“ Hitler was right on one thing” (the full quote and her “explanation” is on the next slide). 

Let that sink in. Just sit with that for a minute too. 

And then…AND THEN to see someone wearing a sweatshirt that says “Camp Auschwitz”. Let that sink in too. 

And if I may go off on a tangent for a second here…I have heard SO MANY offhand anti-Semitic/Hitler/Holocaust comments lately. And it’s not because I’m paying more attention. It’s because it has shared more and more and more. Note that. Just make a not of that. 

I would like (and wish of how I wish) that this would be a wake up call for our country, but sadly it, like so much of our recent history, will more than likely not serve as that wake up call. 

2021 – Word of the Year, Intentions, And Other Notes

Man, what a year 2020 was. If 2020 taught me only one thing, it would be that sometimes our goals/resolutions/intentions/whatever fly out the window in the face of drastic changes. I set out for a year of growth, of travel, of living life and was greeted with a year of learning how to be still, how to be at home, how to teach and adapt to the never-ending changes. I was greeted with the travel that meant doing everything last minute just in case things changed, of booking only nonrefundable and saying no to some things instead of yet. 

So, what does that mean as we go into 2021? It means I don’t really have any goals/intentions/resolutions/whatever else. This year I want to really focus on two things…establishing “home” and everything that entails and allowing things to come and go as they may. One thing I’m good at, one thing I’m not so good at. 

2021 starts off with a massive shift for us as we move back to the USA. I’ve talked about this, I feel like, ad nauseum, but in reality, probably not. This is not a move that I was super excited about, but it’s one that I am approaching with wary positivity. I am choosing to look at it as simply another adventure in our life, another page of our book, and that helps with the sadness of leaving (don’t worry- a whole post just about leaving Germany is coming where I sort through all the feelings). I feel like with that comes a period of uncertainty. What will life in New York look like? What will our home look like? What will our day to day look like? My husband is going into a new phase of his career and so his schedule will change (somewhat drastically), our older son will be starting Kindergarten in the fall (whatever that will look like), and my youngest will be doing a preschool program in our home (with me- so that will be fun). And of course, all of this is among the global pandemic that is still on going, which simply throws another wrench into everything. 

I want to try and get settled and really get that “home” feeling as soon as we get our home. I want to get back into a bit of a daily routine (as that has really fallen off as 2020 has come closer and closer to an end). I want to get back into daily yoga and walks. I want to feel a bit more…not in the funk that was the second half of this past year. I think that is the best first step to setting up the rest of the year for success. So, that is one of my primary things I am focusing on for 2021. That’s the thing that I am good at. Home. Community. Settled. 

I want to be better at allowing things/trips/places/whatever to come and go as they do. This year showed me that I CAN go with the flow and just up and travel with very little time to plan. I want to be open to doing more of that. One of my biggest pet peeves about myself is how…plan/routine I can be. But in 2020 I kind of just had to throw it all out the window (every single trip we took was planned at a max of 4 days prior to departure). I want to continue that “momentum” into 2021 as it looks like that is going to continue to be a situation. 

With all of that being said, I don’t have a word for the year 2021 yet. I usually always do the whole “one word 365” thing every year (the past two years have been adventure) because I love the idea of not having resolutions for each year (because oof let’s talk about setting yourself up for failure in so many different ways), but instead this one word that you want to shape how your year shakes out. Normally this is fairly easy for me to pick, I haven’t settled on a word for 2021 yet. There are a fair number of things that I want out of this year, things that are different enough and to put all of that in to one word is a bit difficult. I combed and combed through words, writing down anything that resonated, even a little bit for me. And then it hit me. One of the things that I really want to hold on to, something I learned while being here in Europe, was how to LIVE. Again, I’ll talk about this in my leaving Germany post, but I really learned about what it feels like/looks like to live your life, rather than plod through it and that is something that I want to hold on to and remember as we turn the page on this chapter. So, my word for 2021 is LIVE or the hebrew of Chai (life).

So, there we go, a whole bunch of my rambly thoughts for 2021. Let me know what your plans are for 2021 (if you have any!) 

2020 – A Year in Review

2020. What a year. Where do I even begin?

We all know the big moments of 2020. The Pandemic. The Murders, Uprise, and Unrest (I really hate calling it that though- this is simple human rights). The Election. The unprecedented highs and lows that this year has brought have been like we haven’t seen. And, I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of tired of talking about them. I feel like so much of our lives this year have been focused so heavily on these few moments, which while are drastic and life altering, are not the entire story of our year. They have shaped the year, shaped our experiences, shaped how we cope and handle things, but there are also a million other smaller moments that are overlooked as well. So, I’m going to focus on those little moments. Sure, I’ll cover the things that I have learned about myself, the things that have been shaped by those bigger things, but there not the sole focus of this post. 

Gosh, so a year in review…

Well, our year started by getting blessed by the Pope at St. Peter’s square and then visiting the Great Roman Synagogue. A good start, no? We started our year off in Rome, which was a place that I hadn’t expected to fall in love with as much as I did (you can read my blog posts HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE). If there is one place in our travels that I would say, “I thought I would love it, but I didn’t know how much I would love it”, Rome and Italy would be one of those places. The other? Switzerland. BUT, when it comes to Switzerland, I think that could be said for anyone. More on that in a minute. However, Rome wasn’t our only destination in the year 2020. We managed to squeeze in several trips this year due to a lessening of restrictions and safe traveling. We managed to hit a total of 5  additional countries, France (PARIS 1, PARIS 2, MONT SAINT MICHEL, NORMANDY), Luxembourg (HERE), Belgium (BRUSSELS), Switzerland (INTERLAKEN/LAUTERBRUNNEN), and Poland (KRAKOW, AUSCHWITZ). With Switzerland topping all of the lists. There really are no words on the beauty of that area of the world. It is beyond worth the trip and I think everyone should experience it. 

Our year abruptly changed/came to a halt when we got the surprising news that we would be moving back to the United States quite a bit sooner than expected…a whole year sooner! We initially got the news about mid-summer, then finalized the information late Autumn, and determined that our next spot would be in New York. I talked about it briefly in my announcement post (HERE) and I’m sure I will be talking about it once again here soon as our move date approaches. I’m still fairly heartbroken about moving back, but I am trying to stay positive and see the positives (because there are some positives to this).

Once again, our boys have grown…A LOT. I think this year, more than ever, I have keenly felt the passage of time and what things look like with these two proper, independent kids. Colton started preschool (and then promptly stopped…only to start up again virtually and then finally start the new school year in school…only to go back to virtual right before Christmas break hahaha). When I say he is a completely different child from last year, I mean he is a completely different child. His progress reports have shown drastic improvement as he surpasses the goals initially set out. He’s quite the little boy. Andrew has changed quite a bit too…gone is my little angelic little boy who would occasionally get a super serious contemplative expression. He’s been replaced with a temperamental 3-year-old that loves to exploit the rules and then give you a winning sly grin to get out of trouble. He keeps me on my toes between the troublemaker antics and the never-ending stomach room ha-ha. Together they either love or hate and they definitely make life interesting. 

But, watching how much they’ve changed, how much they’ve grown, has been bittersweet. As any parent will tell you, there is a certain sadness when your children start to grow. This year has definitely brought a level of independence for our boys (they can do SO MUCH MORE without us needing to help), which in so many ways has been nice, it has me savoring the moments where they want to snuggle up on the couch or need mommy to kiss something better. 

This year hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies and rainbows. There have been low points as well. We’ve faced a global pandemic that had us here in Germany stuck in our homes. At the height of Spring, we were not allowed to leave our homes save for grocery shopping (and this was JUST groceries, any stores that sold both groceries and home goods, you could only purchase groceries), doctors’ appointments, exercise (to be done by yourself), and for essential work. No seeing friends, seeing family, popping to wander through the aisles of a store, we were all stuck at home. While this had positives, there were also negatives. This was also a time when I learned a…not so pleasant tidbit about myself (which then led to one of my lows of the year).

I love my family. I’ve loved having extra time with my husband, for us all to be together and really soak up the extra minutes we get together. BUT I don’t like noise. I don’t like constant, loud, noise. I.E. The noise that comes when your entire rambunctious family is home with loads of energy and nothing really to do to kill off that energy (sometimes even our long walks did nothing to curb it). The kind of noise that you can’t really escape from, that only ends when everyone goes to bed and you are left alone, exhausted and trying to savor the quiet while also wanting to sleep. The kind of noise that just wears on you, day after day after day. The kind of noise that, as an introvert, I HAVE to break away from just to recharge. So, that was fun to learn…NOT. I spent quite a bit of quarantine trying to figure out how to adjust my own expectations and needs with what the situation presented, so that I could be the positive, more even keeled person. It was a time and while I don’t have the entire thing figured out (I’m mostly still dragging little moments out until I can get to the next one), I do feel a bit better than I did at the beginning. 

Another low point was the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so, so many others that all deserved to have their names spoken over and over and over again. Not to mention justice. This summer was eye opening in so many ways on a civil level and one that I am making sure I continue to learn and educate myself as we move away from the initial “push” of the unrest. There was also an alarming amount of anti-Semitism that popped up in 2020 as well, which is…scary. To be honest, the sheer level of hatred in our country, in our world, is scary. 

In all honesty, I am glad to wave 2020 farewell. It’s been a year of highs and lows and draining. While I don’t think we are going to wake up in 2021 and everything will magically be good, I am kind of looking forward to a new year. To another fresh start. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – December 2020

December was a weird month. I wouldn’t say that I read more or less in the final month of the year, but this year I read less than I had read any other month. I just…struggled to find books that would capture my entire attention. I so desperately wanted to escape reality, except reality wasn’t really letting me. I think after finishing The Empire of Gold I couldn’t figure out what was next (as I desperately wanted another fantasy series that would give me the same experience), so I spent a lot of time bouncing from book to book to book without finishing anything. Add in the holidays and the world and it was just…a month. 

The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty (PURCHASE) 5 Stars I mean, I will forever read anything Chakraborty writes ever again. She just…this was incredible. I had one incredibly minor complaint that in the end didn’t affect my overall rating or enjoyment of this book. This is the concluding novel to the Daevabad Trilogy and it was everything that the reader could ask for. I also appreciated that when it was done…it was done. It wasn’t open ended in any way and that was something I think I really needed by the time I reached the end. 

It’s a Whole Spiel Edited by Katherine Locke (PURCHASE) 4 Stars. I think a lot of my higher rating for this compilation is that I relate to the characters from a faith/ethnicity standpoint. I hadn’t read such a heavily Jewish focused book (or rather short stories) ever that was also modern and I really appreciated that. It’s a Whole Spiel is a compilation of short stories all about Jewish kids and the differences in practices, in what they believe, how they practice, and how they do or do not interact with the real world. In all honesty, I wish I had had something like this when I was a teenager, it would have made some things very different for me. 

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (PURCHASE) 3.5 Stars This was such an interesting premise, but I found that there was a little TOO much going on once the story started. In this book we are following our main characters as they are in a race against time and others to solve a mysterious death. There is one catch, every morning they wake up as a different character in the mystery and they are racing against 2 others who may or may not be on “their side”. I found the book, overall, to be very well done, however I didn’t fully connect to it. It felt a bit busy, or disjointed while reading, and even though I loved the last 75 pages or so, I don’t know if that love really offset the rest of the book. 

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (PURCHASE) 3 Stars I’m not really a massive Sci-Fi reader (if you haven’t already noticed), but I was intrigued by these short, almost novella, style stories about a “Murderbot”. In this first book we are getting an understanding of our main character, what the concept of a “Murderbot” is and how they fit in the world. With it being so short, there isn’t too much to say, other than I feel like this was a good foundational book. I will probably continue through the series, mostly because the books are shorter and easier to consume. 

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie (PURCHASE) 4 Stars I will forever stand by any Agatha Christie novel, she is just the queen. Here we’ve got a classic locked room who done it and, she did not disappoint, even I was surprised at the twists. Agatha is excellent at handling the classic mystery, making something that could be truly atrocious a little bit softer. Her books are nice reprieves from our modern mystery/thriller/suspense novels that are usually so hard (in terms of content- brutality). 

I’m also currently, as of writing and probably posting, reading what will be my last book of the year. I will finish this book before the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2020, BUT not before I have to write, edit, and post this wrap up. The book I’m currently reading is Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L Armentrout, which is the second book in the Blood and Ash Duology (trilogy? Series? Who knows). I’ve got to say, at this point I know what to expect with the story, which is an almost jokingly amount of angst, riddled with lines that’ll make me laugh, and an easy world of escapism for a few days. 

And that was it! That wraps my entire year of reading for 2020. Is this something that you would continue to be interested in reading in the future? My Best/Worst list will be coming your way in January (just a couple weeks away) and I’m excited to share an overall look at my reading this year!

Christmas Eve Boxes 2020

I don’t know when this became a tradition to share our Christmas Eve Boxes, but here we are for I think the third year of talking about this favorite tradition. I am actually kind of glad to be doing this because it’s fun to see what the boys have loved over the past years (as this is a pretty good reflection in terms of books and little trinkets). Since I don’t share our actual Christmas/Hannukah gifts or our plans online, it’s a good little way to look back. You can see the 2018 and 2019 boxes by clicking on those years if you’d like, but this years was a bit of a struggle. 

So, every Christmas Eve when the sun sets the boys get a little box of goodies. Every year it contains the following items: New Christmas Pajamas, a Book, some chocolate/candy, and a little trinket of some sort. When I had originally started this, I figured I would switch up the little trinket in the boxes every year as the boys grew and interests changed. The first year I put a little stuffed animal in, the second year they got their first set of little mugs, but this year…this year I wasn’t sure. 

The boys have changed the toys that they play with this year, choosing the smaller things like Legos (the proper ones, not Duplo sets), matchbox cars, and trains. It’s helped with gift ideas, but it also makes that Christmas eve box a bit harder as the “little trinkets” are now more of a part of their actual gifts. I went back and forth for quite a long time on what to actually include in the boxes as the possibilities are endless, but also not so endless. 

Another change that changed things a bit was the fact that this year we are doing Advent Calendars (the boys got Lego one’s this year), Hannukah (with presents provided the first and last night), Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. That’s A LOT of gift giving and A LOT of new things. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, so I decided to put an item that I was going to gift for Christmas in their Eve Boxes, rather than find one more thing. 

Long story short (and if you’ve made it this far, cheers to you), the Christmas Eve boxes have…

  1. Christmas Pajamas. This adorable set comes from The Children’s Place and we have a pair for both boys and mom (dad is NOT interested ha-ha).
  2. Christmas Eve Books. Colton received a copy of The Polar Express, Andrew a copy of Dragon’s Merry Christmas, and I am going to be reading Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie.
  3. Large Stuffed Animals. This was something that Colton had actually started by asking for an R2-D2 for Christmas. He really wanted one and when asked if he wanted a hard toy one or a stuffed one, he picked stuffed. Andrew is getting a stuffed Triceratops (his favorite dinosaur at the moment).
  4. There will be a little chocolate bar in each for them to eat after dinner. 

Finally, as we do every year, we are going to snuggle up on Christmas Eve and watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Once the movie ends, we read our books and spend the night curled up with them.  

Burg Eltz

Ah, Burg Eltz. It’s one of the most photographed castles and takes its place as a top castle to visit with Neuschwanstein Castle, Lichtenstein Castle, and others. During our Summer Holiday, we made a stop at Burg Eltz to see what it was like. Burg Eltz is one of only three castles in the Rhine region that have never been destroyed and so, it was incredible to see how the different eras of the castle and families had left their own imprints. The house is joint owned by three families, Rubenach, Rodendorf, and Kempenich. You are able to tour two of the portions (Rubenach and Rodendorf), while the third is currently occupied by the family.

The oldest part of the castle is a Roman style keep that was initially built in the 9th century. It was intended to be a simple manor, but by the 12th century it became an incredibly important Roman Empire fortress. Built on top of a rock, the castle doesn’t quite stand perfectly upright, rather following the shape of the rock as it juts upward (similar to Mont Saint Michel in a way). In the mid 13th century (not long after the initial castle was completed) the three brothers of the Eltz family had a bit of a dispute which ended up leading to the castle and estate being split into three. The tower keep in the north was the beginning of the Rodendorf portion (which dates back to 1300) and the Rubenach house had its start in 1311. 

The only military conflicts to occur in the Eltz castle occurred in the 1330’s when the lords of Eltzer opposed the territorial policy of the Archbishop of Trier. This led to a siege of the castle, which led to another smaller siege castle on the northern side (the remains of which you can still see today). The siege ended two years later (when the “free” imperial knights gave up their “freedom”) and with it, along with clever politics and support from its neighbors, the castle did not see any other battle action.

In 1472 the Rubenach house was completed (as part of the Greater Rodendorf House) after being commissioned by Philipp zu Eltz. Then the Kempenich house replaced the original hall in 1615. Eltz castle was one of the few castles lucky enough to come through the Palatine Wars of Succession (leading to the French rule) unscathed as many others were destroyed. This was due to a high-ranking officer in the French Army, Hans Anton zu Eltz-Uttingen, who saved the castle. However, Eltz Castle still came into the French possession after Count Hugo Phillipp zu Eltz fled during the French rule of the Rhine region. He was then treated as an emigrant and all of the properties owned by the Eltz family, even those beyond the castle, were confiscated. These only came back into his possession in 1815 when he was able to purchase it (if you’re curious- during the French rule Count Hugo hid out in Mainz, Germany). Finally, in the 19th century the Count Karl zu Eltz decided to restore the castle and commissioned extensive work to preserve the existing castle. 

I’ve got to say- this castle really lives up to the expectation. You’ve got the perfect fairytale location, literally nestled right into the trees and valley between hills. You’ve got the picture-perfect bridge leading up to the castle itself, where you can marvel at this towering not quite straight towers looming above you. And you’ve got the visual history right in front of you. You are able to literally walk-through different eras of time and see how they lived in these different houses in the same castle. 

As I said, this castle was occupied by several families and each lived differently, both in station, in time, and in family structure. This meant that each has its own little differences and while each room has all of the crests and you can see some of the commonalities, they are also unique to their family. The interior was as I had expected in a way, overstated but also warm and welcoming. Rich tones and lots of wood, but also little hide away rooms and staircases. 

If you’re visiting, I would recommend getting there right when they open to avoid the lines for tours. The tour, which starts in the courtyard at the center of the complex, takes you through two portions of the house, as well as the treasury and armory (which are self-guided portions). There is a little bit of a walk from the parking lot to the castle itself (or alternatively you can hike the trails to get to the castle if you’d like), but there is also a small shuttle that you can choose to take. 

Krakow, Poland – A Long Weekend

I’ve spoken about our visit to Auschwitz (HERE), but we spent a good amount of that weekend checking out Krakow, Poland. A sprawling city development that still has the European Charm that we’ve come to expect (castle, legends, cobblestones), we found our time in Krakow (a total of 36 hours tops) to be the perfect amount of time to see what we wanted. Krakow is the second largest city in Poland and, dating back to the 7th century, one of the oldest in the country. In fact, Krakow’s Old Town was declared the first UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The city began with a small settlement on Wawel Hill. Legend says that Krakus built the settlement above a cave that was home to a dragon, Smok Wawelski. During the 10th century is when Krakow saw it’s first significant growth. The castle was constructed, churches and a basilica, as well as a flourishing trade center. That first city was then sacked and burned (by the Mongolians), however rebuilt identically in the following years. During the 14th century the city started to head into a Golden Age, with the construction of a university. That Golden Age continued through the 15th and 16th centuries. This was when the Jewish Quarter was created, and the Old Synagogue was built. Things came to an end though in 1572 when the last ruler, King Sigismund II passed without any children. His death was followed by many many changes in leadership as various other countries ruled. Finally, an outbreak of Bubonic Plague and a Swedish Invasion spelled the end of their Golden Age and the end of the ruling houses residence in Krakow. Things didn’t really get any better in Krakow as it continued to almost bounce between various countries rule until 1866 when Krakow started to see a degree of political freedom and, once again, became a national symbol of Poland. 

When Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany, Krakow became the capital of the German General Government. They saw Krakow as a vision of Krakow becoming completely “Germanized”. Krakow had a very large communities of Jews living in its city at this point (statistics say over 5% of the entire population of the Krakow District was Jewish). Prior to the invasion and subsequent creation of the Ghetto (and then camps) the Jews were encouraged to flee the city. Things started to go sour shortly after the invasion with the creation of the “Judenrate” or Jewish Councils. These were run by Jewish citizens for the express purpose of carrying out Nazi orders, such as tax collection, forced labor, and citizen registration. Around 4 months later the Jewish Ghetto was created in the Podgorze District. The ghetto was only in existence for 2 years, with residents really only living there for 15 months (the majority of deportations were completed by June 1942- though the final Krakow Jew deportations were until September 1943-, after the ghetto initially being “designated” in March 1941). Many people know the story of Oskar Schindler, his enamel factory, and his work to save as many as he could.     

Aside from the destruction of the German occupation and the immeasurable loss of life, Krakow remained undamaged as a whole throughout the second world war. Once the war ended the city was turned from a university to industrial with the new government. 

One final note, the Pope John Paul II was Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow. He was elevated to papacy in 1978 and was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. The same year of his election, Krakow was officially approved on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

So, we actually started our trip in the early evening with a dinner in the main Old Town Square. We were able to watch the sunset on the Town Hall Tower as well as see the what the city is like in the evening. We stayed just outside of the Old Town (we actually walked our entire time in the city- no public transport, that’s how close we were to most everything).

 

Our only full day in the city we started off at Wawel’s Castle and Wawel Hill. The castle was commissioned by King Casimir III the Great, but the current castle dates back to the 14th century. I’ve already touched on the legend of the Wawel Dragon, but it’s important to note just how deep that legend runs. Legend says that the dragon terrorized residents before being slayed by Krakus, a polish prince who then went on to found the city of Krakow and built the first royal residence on the hill above the dragon’s lair. These days, if you walk by the river you will see a metal statue of the dragon that is situated in front of the “den” and it shoots fire from time to time. The castle complex as it stands today consists of galleries, collections, and gardens. You are able to pick and choose which exhibitions you would like to visit on the castle grounds, as well as the option to visit the Cathedral once on the property. We chose the Private Apartments, Royal Chambers, the gardens, and then a walk into the Cathedral. 

I think one of the coolest bits on the interior was what was known as “Wawel’s Heads”. I don’t have any pictures (as pictures inside the castle were not allowed). In the throne room if you looked up at the ceiling there were a series of Heads that were carved out of the ceiling. In its height, there were a total of 194 heads looking down from the ceiling, overlooking the Polish King as he conducted business. Now there are only about 30 of the original heads left hanging. They depicted citizens from every walk of life that lived in the 16th century. There aren’t any true explanations as to why this was done, or how the people were selected, but it was a really interesting decoration to see. 

The final stop at the Castle is to stop in and see the Cathedral. The Cathedral is formally known as the Royal Arch cathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill. This Roman Catholic church and cathedral is the home of the Archdiocese of Krakow and serves as the coronation site of the monarchy. The current standing cathedral is the third to have been built after the first (11th century) and second (12thcentury) were both destroyed by fire. Construction on the current cathedral began in the 14th century and is a true site to behold. Seemingly never ending with its various chapels, and little quiet spots. This cathedral is also the main burial site for the monarchy as well as national heroes, military members (generals), and other individuals important to Polish history (including two poets!). You are able to walk along the crypt to see the all the various tombs (although there are several on the main floor of the church as well). 

From visiting the castle, we headed back towards the main old town, wandering through cobblestoned side streets, stopping in to purchase some Polish pottery, lunch on the opposite side of the square as our dinner the night before, and then a walk through the Krakow Cloth Hall. 

The Krakow Cloth Hall is one of the most recognizable features of Krakow and Krakow Old Town. Situated at the center of the Main Market Square, it dates back to the Polish Renaissance (that Golden Age in the 15th& 16th centuries). The interior of the hall contains shopping stalls which once held the bulk of the textile industry in Krakow. Buyers and Sellers would flock to the covered shopping center. It now not only serves as a shopping market, but also has an Upper floor museum that contains the largest collection of Polish painting and sculpture, and hosts monarchs and politicians from other countries (Prince Charles and Emperor Akihito visited in 2002). We did a little shopping within the hall and enjoyed seeing the variety of items offered, from tourist tchotchkes to hand crafted designs.

We also stopped in to see Saint Mary’s Basilica. With the foundations dating back to the 13th century (completion in the 14th century), this church is a great look into the Gothic Architecture of Poland. The current standing church is the third one, as the original (from the 1200’s) was destroyed by the Mongolians, and then the second was rebuilt under Casimir III’s rule. The interior is, one again, incredible. There are two main “focal” points of the Basilica. The first is the interior altarpiece. This was undergoing some restoration work, so we weren’t able to get a good view, but what we did see was stunning. The second point is the trumpeter of the basilica. A trumpet signal (the Hejnal Mariacki) is given at the top of every hour from the top of the taller tower. An interesting note while you listen- the song seems to end rather abruptly; this is to commemorate the trumpeter who used the signal to warn the city of the Mongolian Attack. During the signal he was shot in the throat. The signal is rumored to have been initially used to signify the open and close of the city gates (this was done across Europe), but there is no concrete evidence as to where this specific signal originated. 

We started off our Sunday morning with a visit to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. I’ve done a separate, dedicated blog post on this concentration camp, which you can find here. 

On Sunday afternoon we headed over to  the Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz. We visited during the High Holiday, Sukkot, so we were not able to go into any of the synagogues or such, but we still were able to see quite a bit walking around and get an idea of the history of the area. A Jewish community focus in Kazimierz came about in the 1400’s when anti-Semitism started to run rampant through Krakow. When a fire burned down a large part of Krakow in 1494, the Polish King transferred the Jews from the Old Town to the Bawol District of Kazimierz. The Jews then petitioned for rights to build its own defensive walls. The area within the walls was known as the Oppidum Judaeorum and was, geographically, only 1/5th of the size of Kazimierz, but held nearly half of the people of the city. The oldest Synagogue in Kazimierz was built in the early 1400’s (the actual year/date is disputed) and was an Orthodox fortress synagogue (known in Yiddish as Alta Shul). The initial golden age for the Jewish Quarter came to an end in the 18th century when the Austrian Emperor disbanded the area and tore down the walls. Not long after that, Kazimierz lost its city status and was brought into the newly formed district of Krakow. Kazimierz kept the “Jewish District” status due to the fact that the majority of the Jews stayed close and within the limits of the city. 

Up until the invasion of Poland by the Nazi’s, this was the most important synagogue in the city and the main center of the Jewish community (beyond just religion- it also was a social and organizational center). During the Nazi’s reign, the synagogue was ransacked, destroyed, and used as a warehouse. It also has one (at least) instance of the defensive wall being used as an execution site for Polish hostages by the Nazi’s. Kazimierz was not the location of the crowded ghetto of Krakow though, most of the Jews of Krakow were transferred to a ghetto location in Podgorze (another heavily Jewish area across the river in Krakow) and then either killed in the ghetto or at the death camps. After World War 2, the Jewish District was largely neglected, but starting in the 1980’s started to see growth and a resurgence of Jewish Culture. It now has quite a community built to celebrate. 

Once we finished up in the Jewish District, we headed back over to Wawel’s Castle to visit the dragon and walk along the river. I’ve already talked about the legend of Wawel’s Dragon, but we wanted to see the statue for ourselves. The boys also got to pick up a couple of stuffed small dragons to take home as a little souvenir. We didn’t stay out too long as the temperature very quickly started dropping and we had had quite the long day. One final dinner in the main market square and back to the hotel we went. 

And just like that, our weekend in Krakow came to an end. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – November 2020

Ah, November. I feel like I’ve been spending the past couple wrap ups saying, “Oh, I didn’t read as much as I hoped”, but in this case, maybe it’s true? I right these wrap ups throughout the month, noting my thoughts as I finish a book and in November I went a whole week without reading a thing. This is unheard of for the year 2020. So, while it may seem like I read a lot in November, quite a bit of it is along the comic/graphic novel side of things, rather than proper novels. I did find my stride once again close to Thanksgiving with a book that I’ll cover and that helped get me back on track with reading every day again. So, I ended up reading a total of 9 books and giving an average rating of 4 Stars. This month I did have a DNF book, which I don’t normally talk about, but I will touch on it towards the end of the post. 

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson (PURCHASE) 4 Stars : I found this to be my least favorite of the books I’ve read of Sanderson’s, but still enjoyed it. This is a concluding novel to the Wax & Wayne trilogy, but also the last book in the Mistborn era of the Cosmere that is out so far. I enjoyed being back in the banter (even if it wasn’t as present) and enjoyed the expansion of the world we know and love, but found it to be a bit…lacking when compared to the others. (For what it’s worth- I LOVED Shadows of Self, it was my favorite)

Happily Ever After by Debbie Tung (PURCHASE) 5 Stars: Once again, Debbie Tung has managed to capture real life, with all its quirks and nuances, in such perfect bite sized comics. This is my third, and I will basically buy anything she comes out with at this point. 

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout 2 Stars: Objectively this was not the best by any stretch of the imagination. This is a fantasy romance (so there are some…explicit scenes), but I found it to be familiar, predictable and not convinced of the characters or story. I enjoyed it and will probably read the second at some point, but recognize that this just isn’t great. 

Anxious People by Frederik Backman (PURCHASE) 4 Stars I’ve got to say- this was way different from any Backman book I had ever read before (and very different from quite a few of the books that I’ve read this year), but I still really liked it and would stand by it. In Anxious People we are following a group of people who are put into an almost surreal situation of being taken hostage by a bank robber. But are they? Did it actually happen? And where is the bank robber? In a story that touches on humanity, real life, and what happens when we allow ourselves to take things at what they are, this will have you laughing, crying, and shaking your head in agreement the entire way through. I think my only downfall is that, since this book is so steeped in reality, and what life really is, it can be a bit melancholic at times. I found that there were so many lines that just screamed YES, but were also a bit “why though, why is it like this?”. So read it, but be prepared. 

Hyperbole & A Half by Alie Brosh (PURCHASE) NR This is a book told both in prose and comic detailing a variety of life’s problems. Alie has a comedic, but realistic way of detailing what she faces in her life, how she deals with depression, with everyday moments of her dogs. I found the approach of mixing prose with comic strips to be well done, as well as a nice way of illustrating exactly what she was saying. 

Heartstopper Volume 2 by Alice Oseman (PURCHASE) NR This continues to be the sweetest just heartwarming graphic novel. I’m not going to get too much into the Plot, but the growth that we continue to see in these characters is something that I think is unique to Alice Oseman. I find that she just handles these “coming of age in the digital age” style stories so well AND the concept of finding yourself and learning about who YOU are outside of societies expectations. Just…so good. 

City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (PURCHASE) 5 Stars Alright, the main event, the one that changed everything. You’ll notice that before this it was basically a string of comic or graphic novel books for most of the month, but this is where things changed. In City of Brass, we are following Nahri an orphaned girl living on the streets in Cairo peddling remedies for any illness. She’s a con artist of sorts- working “with” the local apothecary, but little known to anyone else, she does have a magical ability for healing. During a ritual for a local family, she summons a “djinn” and her entire world changes. Thrust into a role she didn’t expect, with a history she never knew, and a political landscape that is truly terrifying in some ways. This book is incredible. Steeped in middle eastern folklore, with a middle eastern setting, this historical fantasy (that’s what I’m categorizing it as) has all the depth of a Sanderson novel, but without all of the buildup and information dumps. I had no clues as to where the story was going as the moment I thought I knew; things would shift in a radical way. This book lived up to the hype and after reading it in 3 days, I finished it immediately needing the second (which I actually ordered when I was about 200 pages into this). 

Heartstopper Volume 3 by Alice Oseman (PURCHASE) NR This begins the…rest of my month where I switch between the City of Brass trilogy and the easier reads of Alice Oseman. Heartstopper Volume 3 continues the story of Nick & Charlie as they travel abroad, learn more about each other (such as Charlie’s mental health) and learn about what “being out” means. Once again, just another heartwarming graphic novel. 

Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty (PURCHASE) 5 Stars I mean…I just don’t even know what to say. This was incredible. This second book ups the ante of the world, the characters, and the very tether of humanity. Once again fast paced, realistic, and deeply flawed characters and story. I love this series and it is quickly ending up on my favorite of the year (maybe of all time?) list. It has taken me by storm and I’ve really been swept away. 

Solitaire by Alice Oseman (PURCHASE) 4 Stars Ok, so this is a bit of a cheat. I’m technically about 75 pages from the end when I’m writing this (Tues 12/1), BUT I’m going to be finishing it momentarily, so I’m including it. In Solitaire (Alice Oseman’s debut novel) we are following Tori Spring, a teen who likes to blog and is introverted to the extreme. I’ll be honest, I like this book for what it does. It paints a great picture of what reality is like in this new technology age and it gives a great insight into mental health. BUT with that also comes a real reading experience. Tori is dealing with some mental health issues and is incredibly pessimistic, which is painted so realistically that, while reading, can extend to the reader. Just something to note before reading. I had to read it in chunks to not fall into my own funk. 

I did “DNF” (Did Not Finish) a book, The Strange Case of the Alchemists Daughter by Theodora Goss. I think (I hope) that this is just a case of reading at the wrong time and am planning on trying to read it next year possibly. It’s a “who dun it” style mystery involving characters descended from famous literary scientists and features Sherlock and Watson. All good things, but I must have just picked it up at the wrong time. 

And that was my November! What did you read this month? Any new favorites?