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. 

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.  

Round the Kettle Ep. 29: What A Time…

Man, oh man, what a couple of weeks. What a time we’ve had. I’m writing this on Friday morning after a couple of really tough motherhood weeks, tough mental health weeks, AND the election still hasn’t been decided yet. What a time. 

I’ve been trying to be a bit more open and honest on my social media in regard to the struggles that have been presented the past few weeks in motherhood/parenthood. It’s been rough, not going to lie and sharing that is hard for two reasons…

  1. There is this societal expectation that we are supposed to present the happy family, with the well-behaved children, perfect parenting techniques, a smile at all times, and a thankful/they’re only young for a while mentality. Not only does society place this expectation on us as mothers, but it’s so ingrained that often times we place this expectation on ourselves, and when we are “off” our games, it hits ten times harder in a feeling of overwhelm and failure. 
  2. There is a multi-layered fear of being so “open”. We all know that there are very real problems in our world, and there are levels of “there are worse things”, there is the judgement that comes (as mentioned above) that is much more difficult to navigate online as people tend to be a bit more open with their fingers and keyboards in a way they wouldn’t be with their mouths in person (let’s not dissect that sentence too deeply…please). This is a very valid fear, that is tied to point 1 above.

I know for me personally part of the problem is I’ve always been the “strong one”, the “cheery/positive one”, the person who is there for everyone else, who shoulders others burdens so they can unload. The safe place. And being seen as that, it makes it so much harder to then be “weak”. To be vulnerable and open about when I struggle. 

Further, I come from such a privileged position, that often times my problems in my little corner seem so small in comparison to that of the world’s problems. When I have a rough day, it is nothing in comparison to someone else. I recognize this and it makes me shrink into myself even more. BUT, that’s not healthy and it’s not a way to live. 

I posted the following on my social media and I feel like it perfectly encapsulates everything: 

“Even the strong can grow weary, the stoic can break, and sometimes those falls can be the quietest of all.”

So, I’ve been struggling. I’ve been struggling being a mother, I’ve been struggling to feel like myself, I’ve been struggling to find moments to breathe. Sometimes it has felt like everything has been stacked against me and I’m backed into the corner of “just do what you do to get through it- deal with everything else later”. That’s a very real feeling. That is something that happens so often to people. 

I have been trying to get some solo time, to do a little self-care, to find the little joys. I’ve done my nails. I’ve done yoga, gotten dressed, put makeup on. Little things here and there to remind me of myself. I went for a 6-mile solo walk that included picking up fresh baked goods and tea for the journey, and reminding myself what peace feels like. And that walk? That probably helped the most out of all of it. A couple hours where I had nothing. No decisions to make. No conversation to hold. No children to watch out for. Nothing. While I came home and was semi thrust back into parenting (thankfully my husband had the boys outside on bikes, so I got a bit more peace and then naptime), I still saw the smallest glimpse of the cheery, strong, Mia. 

I’m not saying the walk fixed everything, and that couple hours solved all the problems. In fact, if not careful, those moments can be taken away in a heartbeat (I’ve got a whole rant on this coming…), BUT a few more of those moments in time, a little bit more attention on finding those moments in the everyday, and it’ll add up.  

On a cheerier note…

I’ve started planning out the big one, the big holiday, dare I say it? Christmas. I’m one of those people who likes to be way ahead of the bandwagon and I usually have a “plan” for gifts by end of October, with everything purchased in the beginning of November. That’s great! How organized! Except then I’ll wait until Christmas Eve to wrap them…so win some, lose some I suppose.  Anyways, all that to say, I’ve got all of the boys presents mapped out this year, as well as a couple of friends. I always feel really organized and ahead of the curve, BUT it makes the wait time till Christmas excruciating. I’m not good at surprises or keeping things to myself. I love to see the reactions, the excitement, the massive grins and squeals of joy, so having all of this stuff just sat in my house waiting is torture. 

Are you an early planner or a wait till the last-minute shopper? 

Finally, I’ve done a fair bit of computer work the past few days. A lot of computer admin, clearing out older photos and files, exporting everything to hard drives, freeing up space both on the computer and on my phone. A lot of writing, sorting through information, planning out posts. I’ve found that maybe I have a bit more to say about certain things than I thought I did…so here lies a question for you. 

What do YOU want to see more of? What questions do you have? What is something you want to hear more about? Let me know. 

Our Virtual Schooling Experience at a Preschool Level

IMG_3125At the beginning of February Colton had his first official day of preschool…6 weeks later he went for the last day of his first quarter. In those short 6 weeks Colton flourished. He grew up so much, was so excited for each school day (seriously- non-school days were a definite struggle for him), and his development really took off.

Let me start with this, we would have tried to put Colton in a preschool program regardless of any issues he may or may not have had. Colton is a very high energy kid and I wanted him to be “exposed” to a classroom setting of some sort before he was thrust into Kindergarten. Colton has had a speech delay, not in a nonverbal sense, but in an understanding words delay. So, after completing the testing, he was enrolled in our “district” preschool program.

So, Colton LOVED preschool. He would come home with the biggest smile, he was learning so much, he made quite a few friends, experienced significant changes in his speech, and, most importantly, he had something that was “just Colton”. It’s been “Colton and Andrew” was so long and as many of us know, we need things that are just for us as well. That was preschool for Colton. He thrived.

When Coronavirus really started to spike and we started to see the changes coming down for places closing, I got a little worried about school. Afterall, Colton was in preschool and, while it was through the district and for a speech delay, I didn’t know how “important” it would be considered in the grand scheme of things. There are children with much larger needs and problems, my kid just needed a little shove/help from someone who wasn’t mom/dad/understood him as he was.

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His teachers have been absolutely incredible throughout this entire process. They very quickly emailed all of us parents, letting us know that they were working the problem and trying to figure out what they were going to do to continue working. The “district” did not foresee the preschool continuing on when they made the google classroom plan, so the teachers quickly workshopped a different platform that, actually ended up being a much better option for the younger kids.

They created incredible Digital Learning Plans that made it really easy for parents to incorporate into the day to day lives of children and they were very calm and patient throughout the entirety of the 2 ½ months of this digital learning. They recognized that they only saw the students for a limited time a day, that many had older (or younger) siblings at home that needed their own care, that this is a very different time right now. They’ve been great.

And, I’ll be honest, Digital Learning hasn’t been all that bad. Sure, I’ve ranted and raved about it at times when the focus level was low, or Andrew wasn’t letting Colton get things done, or when things got frustrating with technology, BUT on the whole it hasn’t been bad. It also hasn’t been school though either.

I said it earlier and I’ll say it again, more of my concern with Colton in so far as preschool was concerned was introducing him to a classroom setting, a teacher, a different place that he had to listen, behave, and learn. I wanted to have a little “soft” introduction to the idea of school before Kindergarten hit and he was in it “for real”.

This wasn’t it. Sure, he had weekly video chats with his two teachers (one speech, one preschool), and we had countless activities that his teachers would give feedback with (mostly positive stuff that you would expect), but it wasn’t the classroom. It was mommy’s desk with little brother screaming/playing/running in the background, and daddy working at his desk on the other side of the room. It was chaotic and it became a family affair, rather than the Colton show.

Overall Colton has really excelled in this new wave of schooling. He has adjusted remarkably well and has slid back in terms of speech or education, but he knows it hasn’t been at school. He’s been bummed about not being able to ride his little school bus, see his friends, or play on the playground. Every morning he wakes up asking if today is the day he will go back to school.

And, with about two weeks left in the “school” year (I used quotes as the teaching stopped a week or so before the proper end of the school year), he checked out. He was done. No interest in any of the activities or meetings whatsoever. It became akin to pulling teeth to have him sit down and focus on the work that he needed to do for any longer than 10 minutes. I think he just had enough with the situation, with not being able to do these things in person, and having to share all of that with little brother. (And, in all honesty I was surprised it took him as long as it did to get fed up)

And for me? Well, I have an entirely newfound respect for preschool teachers.

I’ve always respected teachers (hell I want to be one), BUT you forget how much stuff you aren’t born knowing. You forget how much you had to learn and while there are some things that parents can teach (and I have been teaching those things), in Colton’s case, he needed that shove from an outside source.

Anyways, all this to say, Digital Learning has not been a breeze, but we’ve honestly had it easy. I don’t work at the moment, we have access to a computer, to the internet, to the materials that are needed to do the various activities. And we only have one child in preschool. It’s been much harder for many others that I know, talk to, and follow. Nor has it necessarily been a positive experience for our kids. Here’s to hoping we have a few workable solutions for the 2020-2021 school year.

How We Are Staying Sane in This Time at Home…And How You Can Too

Ok, so this is now our new normal…kids at home, off school (though not entirely), working from home, husbands working from home, parks, playgrounds and other spots not accessible…it’s a lot of “at home time”. Now, I’m a homebody and introvert as it is, so this isn’t necessarily a huge deal for me, but I recognize that for some people it can be quite jarring. Throw in kids being home from school, but not able to go do anything and then have to do homeschooling, along with trying to work from home or just keep the house clean and the laundry done…it’s a lot. So, how do we stay sane?

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I’ve both worked from home and been a stay at home parent (doing both of those for about 3 years) and have come up with a couple of things that helped me. I also have found a few resources that helped out with educational purposes (for our age/grade level), boredom, and just general resources to have and today I’m going to share it all with you in the hopes that it can be helpful to someone else.

Tip #1: Get dressed. This is probably one of those things that I just preach about all the time. I’m a firm believer in how you look/carry/take care of yourself plays a direct role on your outlook and productivity. So, every morning get up and get dressed. I don’t care if that is putting on leggings and a sweater, your comfiest jeans, or dressing to the nines with heals and a smart outfit, just get dressed in something OTHER THAN your sleeping clothes. While it may seem like we don’t have a lot to do during this time, getting dressed will have a huge affect on your mood and outlook. Start doing this and you’ll feel less like just a bump on a log.

Tip #2: Get Active. We can’t do a lot right now. In our area all of the parks, hiking spots, and outdoor activities have been largely closed off as an extra precaution. That doesn’t mean that we can’t move our bodies. We are still able to go for a walk in our neighborhood (which we are doing as long as the weather holds out for us), we can do indoor at home workouts (which we do), and we can have spontaneous dance parties (which we also do…a lot). Being active, getting your body moving and your heart rate up, releases those feel good endorphins in your brain and helps you stay uplifted.

Tip #3: Eat Properly. I think this is the one that I probably struggle with the most (especially right now), but what we put in our bodies plays such a role, similar to what we wear. This is not the time to just eat junk food, pig out because we are bored, or snack all day long. It’s tough because we are at home all day and have easy access to whatever we would like in our kitchen, but avoid it. Eat as you would if you were not home and you will feel infinitely better. Personally, I find that if I am eating a lot of junk or crap food, I not only want to eat more of it (seriously who ONLY eats the recommended portion of chips?!), but I also end up feeling even more like a bump on a long afterwards. Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy options (I’m still working on this) and leave the junk food for special moments that you really need them.

Tip #4: Set a Flexible Routine. This one applies more to those of us with kids (specifically preschool/elementary school aged), but I find that a flexible routine really helps when it feels like everything has been upended. What I mean when I say flexible is that I try to be understanding when the boys have had enough of an activity. Let me give you an idea…Our days breakdown like this:

9AM : Everyone is up, dressed, fed/eating

9:30AM-12:OOAM: Indoor Playtime and School Work. The boys will play throughout the house and I will try and squeeze in worksheets, coloring, reading, etc. to continue to stimulate the brain activity and learning that Colton at least has gotten with school.

12PM: Lunch

12:30PM-2:00PM: Outdoor Play. It’s been much warmer and more spring like the past couple days to in between lunch and naptime we will run outside and play. I’ll take a book out there and read as well.

2PM-3:15/30PM: Andrew Nap Time. Colton and I will spend about 10-15 minutes reading a book and then he will get a little online educational screen time. If he has done a lot of “schooling” already then he can have some screen TV time. This is also when I get on the computer and do some writing if needed OR I’ll do a bit more reading. Overall it’s quiet time across the board in our home.

3:30PM-4:00PM: Afternoon Snack. We didn’t used to do an afternoon snack, but since school has started up it’s been instituted.

4:00PM-6:00PM: Walk/Bike Ride/ Outdoor time. Again, trying to soak up the weather when we get it, this is just another extension of playtime. If the weather is bad we will do some indoor activity or snuggle up for a movie.

6:30PM: Dinner

Post Dinner the boys have playtime in their rooms until it is time to clean up and get ready for bed. This is important as it gives my husband and I a chance to catch up and have some time together as well as a little quiet just in general.

Now, I just use blocks of time within the day. I found that I prefer planning in these types of increments (that’s a whole separate post), BUT it gives for flexibility. If Colton is really struggling to focus at times, I can let him do what he likes, and we will come back to that particular activity later. However, it’s also not just a free for all in our day. The boys know when they are going to get to do something within the day (i.e. Colton knows that we will do “school” in the morning, but he can play the computer school in the afternoon). This obviously changes based on what your school is actively doing about online learning, but for us this works. They get a chance to both learn school subjects that they need to, but they also get some real world learning too.

***For educational needs we are using a couple of different resources. First off we have a workbook that we brought with us for preschool aged children that works through prewriting skills, shapes, letters, numbers, and other necessary skills. We do a couple of work pages out of that along with the other resources listed below.

I print out math worksheets from k5learning.com. Most of these are geared towards K-5th Grade (as the web address would imply), but there are a couple that can be adjusted to the preschool age level as well. I have printed a couple of letter worksheets from this site as well.

Scholastic has a site that breaks down a daily guide HERE. They supply a book, a movie, and then some fun interactive games that include both and stimulate brains. We’ve only done one or two days through this, but Colton has really enjoyed the entire process. It brings some of the things that his teachers are working on in the classroom into our home (the little quiz about first, next, last was a big thing).

Abcmouse.com This has been a big one for us. We used this prior to the closure, and both of our kids absolutely love it. Colton has learned so much through the site and Andrew has loved watching them read the books to him. It makes me feel a little bit better for them having screen time since they are learning something (beyond just the Paw Patrol theme song and missions).

Youtube has some great educational options to choose from as well so you can turn that screen time into something too AND many zoo’s are doing Facebook Lives or Videos talking about their animals while the zoo’s are closed (Cincinnati has been a great option). I have also printed off the Discovery K12 homeschool sites preschool “syllabus” or learning guide just to make sure I touch on all the different options for what the kids need to be learning.

There are so many more out there that I haven’t even touched on. We are in a unique situation with only having one in school and it being preschool, so it’s pretty easy to work with. I know a lot of elementary schools (and upper level) are doing an online learning program and may have different requirements. My only suggestion would be that if it falls into their rules and parameters that you work with your kids. If they are really struggling to focus and they can take a little break, let them.

Tip #5: Keep in Touch. I came across this on Social Media and thought it was a great idea. If you are an extrovert, or someone that just needs adult contact beyond your significant other or roommate, or parents, then video chat with friends! Technology is a great thing and we have such an opportunity right now with the ability to very easily have face to face conversations over our phones. Set up “phone dates” with your friends and chat with them over the phone or through video. It may not be exactly what you picture, but it’s better than absolutely nothing.

Tip #6: Keep Your Brain Engaged. Another big one just in overall terms of feeling “productive”. Here’s the gist of what I am going to say…don’t spend all of your time binge watching Netflix, or scrolling Social Media, or watching YouTube. Look, I’ve got nothing against a good binge watch, wasting away a few hours watching a show that is just that addicting. I’ve done it many a time and will probably do it quite a bit over the next bit of time. BUT don’t let that be the only thing that you do. If you are spending that much time looking at a screen, letting your mind lull, it’ll start to play out in other areas of your life. Take this time to get your brain engaged in something you love or something you’ve always wanted to do. I know that I plan on catching up on a lot of reading, which serves as both a brain engaging activity AND a means of escapism. I also plan on doing a fair amount of writing (even though my posting schedule is drastically changing- more on that soon). There are so many options to keep your brain engaged, pick up a book (need ideas? HERE is a link to my goodreads where you can look at what I’ve been picking up), start a blog (this blog post by Helene In Between is a great guide if you are lost in that process, but want to do it), learn a new skill, take an online class (here’s a good option to search classes, but there are SO MANY free college courses out there and sites like SkillShare that charge a monthly subscription, but give you such a broad scope of tailored classes). All those things that you’ve been saying of I don’t have the time for this? NOW you do. So, use that time. Engaging your brain will make you feel productive, it’ll make you feel like yourself, and have you feeling positive about staying home all day.

Ultimately my tips can be summed up into ways of making this time at home, this abrupt change, into something positive. Keeping our spirits up and our outlooks positive is about the ONLY WAY we are going to get through this with our sanity. As always, caffeine is our friend (except when it disrupts our sleep), music is a great way to bring a smile all around, and checking in on friends and family is a must. Do you have any tips to add?

A Week in My Life – 2020

I did a “Week in our Life” post a little under a year ago when we were still somewhat fresh in Germany and still living in the hotel (HERE). A lot has changed since then, but some things have still stayed the same and I figured it would be fun to update on what our weeks look like. Since it’s wintertime still here, walks are pretty much nil, but if the weather is nice we will head down to our little town park or the boys will run around the back yard. Come summer I plan on taking full advantage of all the pools and parks there are here.

One of the biggest changes we have seen is our oldest, Colton, starting school. He goes to a preschool program within our Elementary school three days a week for a few hours, so that’s been a big change. We also have a house now, so I putz around the house quite a bit and we have a bit more of a social life (ha-ha) with playdates and such. Let’s just talk about what our week looks like.

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What does life look like when we aren’t castle or country hopping???

Mondays:

I kick off our week on Mondays and it is full of tidying, errands, and making sure our week gets off on the right foot. I start the morning off (after my morning routine, HERE) with a clean/fresh kitchen. Colton goes to school on Mondays in the middle of the day, so I take the time when he is gone to run to the grocery store and do any other small errands I may have. I am still trying to leave Monday’s relatively empty in terms of writing/computer work, so I’ll spend naptime either reading or doing any random chores I need to.

Tuesdays:

Tuesday is one of our busiest days of the week. It starts bright and early with playgroup for the boys (also known as Mom’s Social Hour while the kids run and play ha-ha), then Colton is off to school again for a few hours. While he is at school we will run over to the library, handle any on base errands that we may need to run. Then it’s back home for lunch, a living room and dining room tidy and an afternoon of writing.

Wednesdays:

Wednesdays are a bit slower, a kind of nice breathing point in the middle of the week. We only have playgroup in the morning, and then we spend a day at home. I start by handling a tidy of our master while the boys will play in the house or backyard. Naptime is spent writing for me and Colton does some of his learning activities (we do ABC Mouse and a couple workbooks).

Thursdays:

Thursday is spent with friends for the most part. I tidy up the boys room and organize their toys (again). We will host playdates, or I’ll have coffee with friends at the house while the boys play. Colton does go to school, so Andrew gets a little quiet time to help tidy (which he loves to do). My naptime tasks depend on the actual day. If I am having friends over for a coffee, I try to schedule that during naptime so we get some quiet time to talk without interruption, but if that is not the case, then I’ll spend my afternoon finishing up any computer tasks I haven’t completed yet as well as clearing out my inbox before the weekend.

Fridays:

Fridays are a mixed bag. Sometimes we will head to an indoor playground, have playdates for the kids, head into the city for a little walk around, it just depends on the day, how the kids are, and the weather. Often times I will do laundry on Fridays just to keep our weekends clear. Fridays may also be a travel day depending on if we have a long weekend. It may also just be a quiet day at home playing with their toys. I try to keep Friday open not only because of long weekends, but also because I think it’s essential and nice for the kids to have the downtime. Colton has especially needed it since starting school. I’ll do a quick tidy through of the office/library as well, usually first thing in the morning, and spend naptime reading.

Saturdays and Sundays:

Weekends are all about exploring and spending time together as a family.

And that’s pretty much all there is to my weeks. I know, I know, so exciting. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but each day ends up being quite full between the cleaning and the boys and then the writing/blogging keeps my brain functioning beyond the Toddler conversations. What’s your favorite part of the week?

Round the Kettle Ep. 23: Hello Again!

Hello again! I feel a little strange writing this again as it’s been a few weeks since I sat down at a blank word document on a computer screen. To be honest, I took a little bit longer than I had intended, but the past few weeks have been a little bit harder than expected. I felt like I needed just a bit more and then, I wanted to have a little bit more of an informal post before just jumping right back into posts. A bit of a catch up- which is what Round the Kettle kind of is.

So, how are you? How did February treat you?

I feel like February is one of those sneaky tough months that, if you don’t catch it early, can be a bit of a struggle. Yes, Valentine’s Day is nice and all, but February can be dark and dreary with winter striking a blow at every turn. Maybe that was a bit dramatic? Regardless, we struggled.

Since we returned from our trip to Rome, my husband has been away (off and on at first and then fully towards the end) for most of January and February dealing with work things. As the boys are getting older, they are starting to understand and react to those changes. And, as they get older in some ways it gets easier, and in some ways it gets harder. I’ve always felt like I’ve done really well “handling everything” when my husband is away for work, but there have been a couple times over the past year that I’ve had to take a little step back from my own expectations. To be honest, I feel a little worn out (a little being the complete operative term here) and at times have felt a bit defeated. It’s not easy, even with a support system of friends, a routine to stick to, and the means of contacting my husband when needed.

I don’t want to whine, or spend much of this post reflecting on the past month, but I also don’t want to bury my head in the sand and pretend that the past few weeks weren’t as hard as they were. So, there’s that.

Moving forward into March, I want to focus on breaking some habits that I “re developed” the past month, get back to my roots of who I am, and start planning for the rest of our year. It kind of sounds silly, here being the 1st of March and I want to plan for the year, but honestly, it’s been so…”winter” here that I don’t know how much we would have really done anyways. We kind of hunkered down and just enjoyed being home, having slow weekend mornings, and working on our new routine (I honestly wonder if this will be a thing for upcoming years- guess it depends on where life takes us). All of that is changing as we start to come out of our little hibernation.

What have we got planned? Well, we have two or three definite travel plans (dates picked, location…picked in my mind ha-ha), as well as a bunch of day trip ideas swirling around. We’ve got a couple of cultural things (one of which has passed, but I’ll be talking about more tomorrow) as well as a little look into our “life at home” and the new routine we have in place. Over the next couple weeks, I am going to be “experimenting” with different posts, different things to talk about, and just seeing what kind of sticks. Something I want to focus on is going to be quality over quantity, so you may see a little change in that way. I’m kind of bordering on rambling at this point, but basically hello! I’m back, feeling much clearer minded and ready to get back to writing. The little break I took is a good one and one I think I’ll be taking every year.

How are you?

A Little Judgement Chat

Here is something that has been kind of frustrating me lately. This may seem like something coming out of left field with me and maybe it is a little bit, but I’m also starting to get a little tired of holding my tongue. I’m not going to be going all gung-ho into certain topics, but I do want to share a little bit more of the things that weigh on my heart. I want to say a little bit more about things that I see. I want to try and use my voice for a little bit more if I can/when I think it is appropriate. This is one of those times as I have not only experienced this, but have seen it in action firsthand.

Here’s the deal…we all judge. Say whatever you want, we all have judged someone or something at one point in our lives. Whether we pass judgement simply in our mind or to our significant others, or actually speak your commentary out loud it really doesn’t matter. As much as I try not to, I have definitely passed judgement. Look, it’s human nature (similar to comparison, but that’s a whole other conversation).

We talk and judge about looks, actions, relationships, speech, just about anything. Whether it is perceived or real, everything we do/say or don’t is judged.

The problem that comes with passing judgement is that we don’t know what someone else is going through. Even if they give us their life story, if they are a public persona, if they are private, we quite simply don’t know the full story. We may think that someone looks unkempt and make our own remarks on that, but they could be dealing with things that we could never imagine.

Another problem with judgement: it doesn’t give either person a chance to even begin to understand. Look struggling doesn’t discriminate on any level. You could appear to live a lavish, privileged life, and be dealing with an extreme amount of depression. Yes, you are in a privileged position, but you still struggle. Someone can recognize their privilege and yet still have down days. We cannot understand someone and whatever issues they may or may not be experiencing if we judge them before they can even open their mouths.

Judgement isn’t just external either, we are prone to a lot of internal judgement which can sometimes be even more damaging. There are a lot of instances where we feel certain assumed/perceived  judgements or roles that are placed on us. We feel as if we may not be living up to a role, doing things with smiles on our faces. Some of this can come from judgements we have in the past thought or expressed, or heard someone else express.

And this judgement is what prevents a lot of people from talking about problems. It prevents a lot of people from opening up about whatever they are dealing with. And when someone feels like they can’t share what is going on it festers inside them until they can’t handle anymore, and we get an explosion of some sort. Often times we then wonder, “what happened?”. “How did this happen?”. “Why didn’t they say anything?”.

It’s a vicious circle and it’s one that only we, as individuals, can break. If each person opens with a little more kindness, a little more of an open mind, and a little less judgement or unsolicited advice (again, a whole other topic), then maybe others will feel a little bit better to share. It only takes one person to start a change in this cycle. One person. Will you be that person?

Raising Readers

It’s no secret that I am a massive reader. I devour books the way people devour food. I spend most of my time reading and it is my dream that my kids read books as well. I don’t expect them to read like I do, but I would hope that they turn into little bookworms in their own ways. I’ve noticed over the past year, they both have been turning to books more and more and it is something that I’ve gotten comments on in the past when others see that.

First, the importance of reading.

Reading has such an impact on our lives in ways that we don’t even realize. Reading is a form education and escapism, a way of gaining new insight and knowledge on a vast amount of topics from a vast amount of voices. As human beings we read in some form every single day, whether that is reading a book, a news article, a blog post (are you reading this post?), or even a caption on social media. And with those words, knowledge is conveyed to us. Knowledge about the person who wrote them, knowledge from the words themselves, knowledge in our reaction and understanding of them.

Basically, reading is important beyond just being able to actually read signs, directions, and other things. Even if the only reading you do is reading directions, or Instagram captions, it still has an effect on your life.

Of course, I prefer to read books. For me personally reading is a form of education and escapism. I learn from everything that I read (even just the light and fluffy novel, even if I’ve just learned that I don’t like what I just read, there is always something to be gained) and I truly love to just curl up with a good book in the afternoon and read till the late evening.

Anyways, all that aside now, let’s talk about how my little boys are starting to turn into little readers. Now, they are too young to actually be able to read the words on the pages (that’s coming though), but they love to a)be read to and b) flip through the books they have themselves and tell us what is on the pages. We’ve started to slowly introduce the longer chapter books to Colton (our older son, a few months shy of 4 years old), starting with Winnie the Pooh.

One of the top reasons why I think they are starting to get much more interested in books is that they see Mommy reading. Kids watch the adults that are around them, especially parents, for cues. They pay attention to what we do and what we say and they model some of their behaviors off of ours. For some reason, when I am sitting and reading a book, the boys are reasonably well behaved (allowing me to actually read the book) and often times they will pick up a book and sit with it as well.

Another reason I think they are starting to get more into it, is that if they want to read, we will stop everything and read. Everything stops if they want to pick up a book and read it. We will read whatever, whenever and always give it our full attention.

There are two reasons in regards to buying books that I think has helped. The first being that if we are out and about at the library or at a store that carries books, the boys can each pick one book out for themselves. We will usually always buy them a book if they want it (as long as we don’t already have it at home, at which point I will usually see if they want a different book). This may not have always worked our in our personal favor (those noisy sound books are obnoxious), but it still encourages them to continue reading and shows them how great books can be. The second reason is they have full control over the books that they want (again as long as we don’t already have it). If it is age appropriate, then they can pick the book that they want. I find that just by simply encouraging them to read what they want, makes them more likely to pick a book up. I’m sure this will play a much larger role later on in their lives when they are actually reading. At the present though, it means we have a lot of Paw Patrol and Dinosaur books in our home.

Honestly, what it comes down to is just offering books to your children. Showing them that reading is enjoyable and allowing them to explore books and reading in their own little ways. If they are given the freedom to read what and when they want (aside from bedtime, but that’s going to be a later battle I feel like- Colton is already trying that), it encourages them to want to read.

Making the Most of Long Weekends

It’s happened…Europe has turned us into weekend travelers. I think we’ve traveled 90% of the “long” (3-4 days off, Fri-Mon, Thurs-Sun) weekends. It’s so easy here to hop into the car and just go somewhere new, spend a couple of days and return home. As easy as it is to do, it can seem daunting. There is always so much to do and so much to see that doing it in such a short period of time can seem…overwhelming. I like to think that we’ve got a fairly good system down for how we tackle long weekends and am going to share some of the tips that we’ve picked up over the past months of living here.

Tip#1: Narrow your travel list down to places that are 4-day places (with a realistic total of 2 ½ days of sight seeing) and places where maybe you want to spend a little more time at. This is where people can get stuck the most, because, honestly who wants to feel rushed when traveling? There is also SO MUCH to see and do here that that in itself is overwhelming. Here’s the thing (in my opinion/our perspective)- we are going to be here for three years. We will have numerous long weekends to travel (as opposed to a week or longer) and numerous places to go. If there are spaces that we want to see, but don’t have as much “sight seeing” to do, those are places we can go to on a long weekend. Our first long weekend was to Berlin. Totally doable on a 4 day weekend (in my opinion), our second was to The Netherlands. Both of those fit the 4 day mold fairly perfectly (although there are a couple of spots in The Netherlands I’d like to see one day) as there were sights to see, but we could go, go, go to all those sights.

Tip #2: Pick your top 5. When we decide to go on a long weekend trip we will pick our top 5 before we even leave the house. What are the things that we have to do? What do we absolutely not want to miss if we could not come back here? This lets us narrow down our list of spots to see (so less overwhelming) and when we head back home, we feel like we hit everything we wanted to. 5 is the perfect number and totally doable over a roughly 2 ½ day time period.

**I recognize I keep saying 2 ½ day, that’s what I’ve calculated out as actual sight seeing time on a 4 day weekend. You typically spend a day or so traveling to and from your destination, and then sleep and eating). **

Tip #3: Be ruthless in your packing. (Seems ridiculous to even include this tip) When we have long weekends, I take the bare minimum of what we will need. I grab 4 outfits for each of us, toiletries (that we already have pre packed and travel sized in a suitcase at any given time), and one book (the most important part haha). I pack the day before a trip so being able to just grab and go for a long weekend is super helpful. There have also been a couple weekends where we have literally decided the week before that we wanted to go, so it’s a much faster option to just grab a few outfits and pack the medium suitcase for all of us. Also, it’s a long weekend, you don’t need a lot (I’m talking to all of us women- we tend to overpack).

Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to be flexible. Here’s the thing, travel is all about flexibility. Sometimes you don’t get to everything, sometimes you’re priorities change with having little ones with you. Sometimes the weather impedes. Life happens. It’s more important to enjoy your time and do what you can than stress everything else. Just roll with the punches as they fly. I know that seems different from what I’ve said above, but honestly keep your spirits up and just go with it.

I think, above all, it is important to know what kind of a traveler you are. If you are a go, go, go traveler, long weekends are probably a breeze for you. For reference- we are typically go, go, go travelers, especially on long weekends. We like to see as much as we can with whatever time we have and aren’t keen on sitting around. Our kids have just kind of folded into that mold, being up for whatever we are up for. They nap/eat/live life on the go when we travel and they love being able to see all sorts of different things.

Once you know what kind of traveler you are, and what kind of traveler those with you are, it is easier to figure out what long weekends look for you.

What tips do you have to make the most out of a Long Weekend of travel?