My Thoughts on: Travel and Covid-19

Let me be clear about what this post will not be, it will not be a debate on whether or not Covid-19 exists. It will not be a debate on mask wearing. It will not be a debate on what we should or should not be doing. There are guidelines in place and each person needs to decide what is best for them, their family, their community. What it will be is a {probably unnecessarily long winded} write up of my thoughts on travel right now with the ongoing pandemic. 

I also want to state that the information that I have, everything that I am referring to, is Europe or European Union information. I haven’t been in the states for a year and a half and while I am reading, watching, and monitoring I do not have all the up to date information or resources. The best place to start would be with the CDC and your local state website (or the state that you are wanting to travel to). 

It has begun. The world has started opening up its doors again, beckoning travelers with open arms (and discount rates) to come and visit. And, while each country is choosing their own dates to fully open (and then again for the attractions within each country), if you live in the European Union you are probably able to travel not only in your own country, but also to other EU countries. If you live in America, you are able to travel much more of your own country than you have in the most recent months, and likewise for other countries around the world. While the pandemic is far from over it seems like a good amount of people are ready to start seeing more again and that, combined with the lowering of case numbers (in most places), is giving a good amount of us travel plans for the summer. 

In fact, we have just gotten the initial approval to travel outside of Germany (Summer Holiday here we come!) and are planning to take complete advantage of that. Now that this travel is feasible, is in our hands, and we are planning it, I got to thinking about what travel will be like with this pandemic. 

It’s a vastly different time to be living in right now and while I still think travel is incredibly important, I recognize that not everyone will feel comfortable with traveling. There are options for this, a lot of locations and tour companies are offering virtual traveling (check out Through Eternity- they are great with a lot of the Rome and Italy in general locations), or you can follow along with various bloggers and youtubers, reliving their travels through old videos or blog posts (which is also a great way to support them). Not traveling has also given us all a chance to see what we value and what is important in our home and day to day life. It’s given our world (and I’m talking in an environmental sense) a chance to rest and recuperate for a little bit. We’ve seen a lot of good come out of this lockdown period. 

However, it seems like things are very rapidly changing in a way that we didn’t entirely expect. I’ll be honest, it seems like once the transmission rate lowered then everyone went a little wild. This is to be expected (I mean we have all been basically locked up in our homes for the better part of 3 months and some change), but it all moved rather quickly. It is also still changing hour by hour, day by day. Here in our part of Europe, I felt like it rather quickly moved from nothing to almost everything (still no large gatherings/festivals, sporting events, or nightclubs, but we can now do just about anything else) and then once most things opened up, the “world became our oyster” once again. 

And travel is important. It’s important for us as individuals living in this world and it’s important for countries who rely on tourists to boost their own economies. However, I also feel like it’s important to weigh out the different options we have, do the research on how to travel (should you choose to) in a safe manner, following all the guidelines set out, and make sure we are making an informed decision for ourselves. Travel will most definitely look different in each place from wearing masks, to longer lines and/or smaller crowds. Dining on vacation may look different as will a lot of tourist hotspots (such as theme parks or museums). It definitely won’t be travel that we are used to, which is something else to factor into your plans. 

For us, we’ve made the decision to go and travel. There are several factors at play with our choice, none of which I will be getting in to right now, but ultimately we will be heading out to travel this next month (and beyond). We have been following all of the recommended guidelines in terms of lockdown and quarantine, limited groups and interaction, physical distancing, mask wearing (which is a rule here), and have been closely monitoring the numbers and information that has been put out across the board. I’m not justifying our decision (because again- this is personal and individual to each person), BUT I am in a place where we feel that we can continue to follow the recommendations and do a bit of traveling at the same time. 

So, what will you choose? Are you going to start traveling or do you not want to?

A Little Life Chat

The second half of June has historically been a time of reflection for me. It is the halfway point of the year and a good time to sort of do a little check in and evaluate. So that’s what we are doing today. It’s a bit early, but I felt like it was just…right. That and I don’t have my next Castle’s post fully ready to post ha-ha.

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So, 2020. What a year so far, right?! We’ve faced a global pandemic and a global uprising/protest. We’ve seen communities, families, strangers all come together to accomplish some incredible things. I’ve learned some things about myself, about those that I am close to, and how to get uncomfortable. 2020 is going to be a year for the history books and I think we are going to see some real changes moving forward in regard to both the pandemic and the uprising. We aren’t going to go back to “normal” because that wasn’t working, but I do think the changes that we are starting to see, and initiate will lead to a better world. I don’t want to call anything a “new normal” because “normal” in any sense just doesn’t work for us anymore. It makes it sound like we are just striving to the average way of life, instead of always striving to do better, be better, make better changes.

For us as a family 2020 has been full of changes so far as well. We’ve seen our oldest go into his first session of preschool, to then do virtual schooling, our youngest has grown quite the little personality, and both have narrowed down their current interests quite a bit (dinosaurs, cars, Lego’s, and trains are the top). We’ve gone through a couple of work separations, work changes, and some disappointing news that I’m not sharing just yet ( I KNOW how annoying that is, but it’ll come).

It’s also ONLY June. We still have a full half a year to go in 2020.

Something else I kind of wanted to do was do a little check in on some of my resolutions that I shared. I want to see where I stand with them, while understanding that a lot of things have drastically changed from when I wrote those in late December.

So, my New Year’s Resolutions post can be found HERE

My first goal was to spend the first half of the year focusing on my website and SEO. I’ve been doing quite a bit of learning in this area, but haven’t yet gotten on Pinterest. When quarantine hit I thought it was going to be a great chance to really focus and hone in as, well…we couldn’t do anything else. But, as I quickly learned it was the complete opposite of that and trying to make drastic changes was not in my wheelhouse. I plan to refocus this goal to the second half of the year and have a good Pinterest thing going in the next 3 months or so.

My second overarching goal applied to the second half of this year (in regards to writing and publishing), so I still have time on that one!

My next group of goals was in regards to content. I wanted to make sure that what I was posting was what I felt 100% about and not to feel pressured to constantly be posting. I think that I’ve actually been really good at this, partly because of Covid-19, but also just because I’ve tried to be very intentional about posting. I love sharing and writing, but I also want to continue to enjoy that. I took a bit of time in February off, there were a couple weeks in March (or maybe April) where I only posted once a week, and that all just felt good. It keeps me feeling fresh and allows me a breather to re invigorate myself and my content.

The next group was in regards to reading, family time with my boys, travel, and quality time. I was doing better about reading a wider variety of books, but I’ve recently (like many others) been reminded that I can continue to do better in this area. I am pledging to myself to not only read a wider variety of genre’s and stories, but read a wider variety of authors. As for the family time with the boys, well we’ve been really forced into that, haven’t we? I will say in so many ways this has been so good for our family. We’ve really just gotten a chance to be together without the whole outside world distracting us. It’s been nice for the boys to have mommy and daddy home all the time, but it’s made our recent work separation all that much harder.

We all know what is going on with travel and the lack of it due to Covid-19. However, we recently just were informed that our restriction for travel within the country of Germany has been lifted so I am eagerly looking for some getaways within the country. We are also starting to hopefully be able to plan for some Fall or Winter trips. Keeping our fingers crossed.

My final goal was to do more date nights with my husband and well…that’s gone about the same way as the travel goal ha-ha. Hopefully though, now that our restrictions are being lifted more and more we can start doing those date nights again. I know that I am ready for some kid free time with my husband.

So, that’s my check in on 2020 so far. As we go into the second half of the year, I want to continue to listen, inform, and better educate myself on our community and world at large. I want to strive to be better and do better.

How is your 2020 so far?

Round the Kettle ep.25 : In which I Speak Up and Share My Perspective

I am going to preface this by saying a couple of things. One, this is probably going to be all over the place. I’m working through my thoughts and feelings as many others are. Two, I don’t have the answers, I don’t have the words, I don’t know. Three, this is incredibly new to me, which is very indicative of my privilege in this area and I acknowledge that. Finally, Four, I want to champion the voices of those who are directly impacted. I fully believe that right now is a time for us to listen to those impacted, work alongside them. While it is powerful for us all to share and speak up, I would ask everyone to also champion/share/project those voices.

I don’t know if this is going to be any good. I don’t know if this is going to be helpful. I don’t know if this is a complete mistake. I just know that I needed to get all of this off of my chest and that is one facet of my blog. If there are any corrections, anything you would like to add, any tips/advice or such, please comment below and share.

I’ll be honest, I don’t speak about politics or world affairs or current events very often. The reason is twofold. One part is that I quite simply like to live in my happy little world, being a reprieve from the world that we live in currently. I think that in a lot of cases, we all need that little reprieve and I like to provide that little space for that.  I’m conflict avoidant by nature (any other Type 9’s feel this more now than ever?) and I’ve always just kept to the sidelines. Talked within my family to do what I could there and kept moving. An immense amount of privilege to be able to do that. The second part (and more important part) is that most of the time I don’t know WHAT to say. I don’t know HOW to help. I don’t want to offend those who are directly affected by doing/saying/projecting the wrong thing. So, again, I would say things with my friends and family, but largely keep silent. Always listening, always learning, always trying to understand.

See, that’s something you should know about me. I want to listen. I want to learn. I want to understand. So that when I do speak I do so from a place of knowledge. I want to use my little voice in the best way possible and so, I worked from the sidelines.

Something else you should understand about me is that I can, by and large, see both sides of the conflict. Now, let me explain before you go making judgements on what I am saying. When I am learning and listening I like to stay impartial. I like to know all of the facts, all of the stories, all of the information (both fact and what is construed) before I speak out. Not because I don’t feel passionate one way or the other, but because when I speak I want to do so from a place of knowledge. One could say that maybe that stops me from speaking out earlier, which in turn creates a domino effect, but I would disagree. I think by listening, by understanding each facet or side to a problem we can start to move forward to a solution. To effectively use our resources and create real change.

And right now? Right now, I feel helpless. I feel like I have so much to say, but no way to say it. I want to scream into the void. I want to hold everybody. I want to run away from it all. I want to see a different world. I want so much for things to change. I want people to feel like they can just be, just live. I’m watching scenes from across our country from a continent away and I feel frustrated. I’m seeing outrage expressed for a multitude of different reasons and I feel frustrated. I see the media simultaneously reporting the news and inflaming problems. I see people twisting information, construing facts, to support their own beliefs. And I see peoples own voices, directly impacted, on both sides, saying the same thing in different ways.

We are a country on the brink. We are teetering closer to the edge than we have in a long time. And it is up to us, to all of us to try and forge a new way forward. We need change.

What you are seeing in Minneapolis is a community in turmoil. So many have felt like they have no other way to make their voices heard. They’ve been peaceful, they’ve been “violent”, they’ve been anything they can be and still don’t see any meaningful change. You see the heart and soul of people who are tired. This is important to see. It’s important for us to recognize what is going on. It’s important for us to listen to voices on the ground (both in the community and in the police force- remember both sides have something to say and often times most are working towards the same goal).

We are also seeing a lot of protests going on across the country. We are seeing various “styles” (I’m cringing at that wording, but I don’t know how else to call it) of protest. Take note. Listen to what they are trying to do. Let’s work together to create a new world. I see A LOT of people wondering how the community in Minneapolis got to where they are at…well they started like the communities in other parts of the country and they didn’t see any meaningful change. They felt like they did it the “right way” and nothing happened, so what else are they going to do? They want things to change.

Again, we are on the brink. We are in a unique position where we can initiate a real change. A position where we can come together to listen and make changes. We can also teeter off into another civil war. The choice is ours.

Listen. Listen to the voices all around you. People are talking. People are sharing. All you need to do it listen to begin to understand. Don’t ask questions. Don’t put the responsibility of your education on others. Take responsibility to begin to understand.

Don’t try to speak for others. We need to champion the voices who are or have experienced these injustices. Again, listen to what they are saying. Share their own voices and take your queue from them. I see so many people who are trying to share content, to be an ally, but who in doing so are silencing other meaningful voices. Rather than assuming you know what people are hoping to achieve with their voices, listen to what they are saying about what they want to achieve.

Understand that different people are processing this differently. Personally, I believe that a lot of the change happens in our own homes, in our own friend groups, in our own communities. It starts with us raising our children differently, with us speaking up at our community events, with us all doing our part to change our thought processes, our society. It takes each of us doing our part, however little, to create change.

And learn. Learn from others. For me, that means reading. I’m bringing a lot of own voices content into my reading list for the next couple months, both in a fiction and nonfiction sense. I’m cultivating a list of both current and historical works to read (because looking backwards is important to not make the same mistakes moving forward). I want to create real change moving forward. I’m trying. I’m learning.

Two of My Favorite Places

Today I am going to continue on with my daydreaming of travel posts and talk about a couple of places that are very near and dear to my heart.

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You know when you go somewhere, or experience something, and it just sits on your heart? It awakens your soul and just changes you? It may take you by surprise or be something you expect, but it changes you irrevocably. Today I am talking about two places we’ve traveled to that have changed me. They resonated in my soul and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. One place is one that I knew would feel this way, but the other took me by surprise in a way.

Of course, I’ll link the applicable blog posts in each spot so that you can take a look to see exactly where we went and what we did.

The Highlands, Scotland (INVERNESS, EDINBURGH)

Scotland was a place that I had been dreaming of visiting for as long as I could remember. I had actually been as a baby (as my mother continues to remind me of), but I didn’t remember anything from that trip. There is so much I love about Scotland, that I had loved about it before even stepping foot in the country. The people, the culture, the history, the weather, the landscape; Scotland has so much to offer. But getting to experience that firsthand? It just solidified that this was a place my heart called to and yearns for.

While in Scotland, we divided our time between the southern portion and Edinburgh, and the far Northern reaches of the Highlands and Inverness. I loved both places, but the Highlands is just where my soul lives and breathes. Something about being up in the mountains, in the valleys, in the raw beauty of the wilderness just really lit something deep inside me. Much of our time in Scotland just seems like a blur of contentment. It was funny because in the Highlands we saw a couple of spots (Culloden & Loch Ness being the two big ones), but a good amount of our time was just spent in the little barn cabin we stayed up, watching the storms battle in and out, the grass wave in the wind, and feeling that sense of peace around us. We didn’t have a lot of cellphone service, TV and Internet were limited, and it was incredible.

There are few places that I really want to get back to before our time in Europe comes to an end (and by that I mean, will fight tooth and nail to go back) and this is one of those, possibly the highest on the list. To maybe make it clearer, if I could live anywhere, anywhere in the world, I would choose to live in one of the small villages in the Highlands of Scotland (actually a town similar to where we stayed at on this trip, up in the Black Isle’s/Fortrose area).

Rome, Italy (EARLY DAYS, ANCIENT ROME, VATICAN, LAST DAYS)

I’ve always loved the idea of Italy. Italian food, Italian culture, the history of the country; Italy always just seemed like a warm, welcoming home for the weary traveler. Just like with Scotland, I had dreamed of visiting Italy. Dreamed of driving along the Tuscan hills, seeing the beauty of the Amalfi Coast, hearing the history of Rome and Pompeii. I expected to fall in love. What I didn’t expect was that now, nearly 4 months after our first trip to Italy, that I would still be dreaming, reminiscing, on our time walking through the streets of Rome. But, this trip has had a longer lasting impact on me than just that. It has called me back to some aspects of my life that I had turned away from and it has reignited a love and passion that I had only been nurturing, not following.

There are so many things to talk about with Rome, but I think the biggest thing that has just stayed with me is the history. You are walking amongst buildings and places that are beyond our comprehension of age. Buildings that are beyond our comprehension of size. People who had larger than life dreams and ideas and made them happen. I mean, to walk the streets of Ancient Rome, the same paths that the warriors would take, to see the tunnels of the Coliseum, the baths of Caracalla, The Pantheon, it’s just…breathtaking. There were so many moments where I just didn’t have the words to describe how I was feeling. I had never felt smaller and yet so filled with knowledge.

A couple more things that I didn’t realize would affect me as much as they did…

The people. Rome is FULL OF PEOPLE. Both locals and tourists and we didn’t have one negative moment while we were there. Obviously with the number of tourists it can be hard to see things at times (The Trevi Fountain is insane), but overall it was just one of the warmest most welcoming places we’ve visited. It was so full of life, of passion, of love. The food was incredible as well (which, as a lifelong Italian food eater I expected) and we definitely indulged during our week there. Finally, something else about Rome that I didn’t know I was going to be so affected by was the religion. I’ll be touching more on this in an upcoming blog post, but I came back to some of my roots while we were there and it’s something that has been sticking with me.

So, two very different spots that we’ve traveled to, but two very soul changing experiences. I love that we are getting the chance to experience all that we can while we are here, and I am looking forward to the day that we do get to travel to far off places again.

My Thoughts On: Traditional/Mainstream Media, Social Media, and the Rumor/Gossip Mill

I always said I was going to avoid these topics, but the times…the times call for them so here we go. Please note that this is going to be more catered towards the current Coronavirus situation, but can easily be applied to anything else…like I don’t know, maybe when the election politics start to really begin or when your neighborhood or friend group has a problem.

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I’ll be honest, I don’t really have any answers when it comes to our news and social media these days. I just found myself getting increasingly frustrated with what I was seeing across the board from the traditional media, to influencers, to our local community (aka gossip mill). I needed to ramble my thoughts out and figure out what I can do for myself about it.

What a world we live in today where we can learn just about anything at the drop of a pin. We get notified the moment things happen (sometimes even before they happen), we can share things at quick speeds with friends and family, and ultimately we can be inundated with information round the clock. It can be a truly wonderful thing and something that I have definitely been incredibly grateful for (especially living so far away). However, most good things also have a negative aspect and in this case, that negative aspect can be damaging.

Obviously with Social Media we have talked about how damaging it can be with cyber bullying and such, but that is not what I am going to be referencing today. Today I am going to be talking about what I think some of the other dangers of this rapid media, online world that we live in today.

Danger #1 Bias

Here’s the thing we are all biased. From a very young age we start shaping our mind and how we see the world around us. Our parents play a role, our community plays a role, our friends, where we live, what we see every day, where we go to school, all of these are factors in what our outlook is on the world. This outlook leads (or rather is equal to) our bias. So, we all have a bit of a bias when it comes to…well life. It’s just who we are. This doesn’t mean we are close minded or not open to learning, it’s just important to recognize that we all have a bit of bias.

Now, wouldn’t that make sense to then extend to our news outlets, social medias, friends, etc.? Now, I know, this may sound like such common sense, but I feel like it is so important to keep in mind. We hear about how certain news outlets are biased, but it’s important to remember that most of your news outlets are going to have some sort of bias. From who they hire, to what they publish, to how they advertise what they publish, there is a bias to just about everything. That’s just the nature of the world that we live in.

As with anything, I would check a variety of sources of anything that you read. Obviously, government entities are a good place to get the information from, but if that is not possible (sometimes it won’t be), then looking at various sources is your best bet. Make sure you take the time to fully educate and understand a situation before speaking about it…which brings us to Danger #2.

Danger #2 Misinformation

I think this is hands down one of the biggest dangers of living in the world that we are in today. Information moves so quickly and often times moves faster than the official authorities can actually put the information. For a specific example of this, we can look no further than the current crisis that we are in. In our community information about a confirmed case of Covid-19 was circulating across the community before the official channels could even say something. This led to not only misinformation going around (A LOT of that was going around), but a heightened state of panic started to break out due to that, AND the general public was then calling for answers from the officials in charge.

Now, two things from this…

  • It’s important to wait for information from an official organization. We could debate the merits of sources and of what we hear from our “people”, but at the end of the day it’s all hear say until we get full answers and information. Often times what we are hearing from those around us are only mild versions of what the facts are, that have been distorted by the amount of people that they have heard from. This is obviously different depending on your actual source, if you are hearing from a significant other who is right in the location in the center of the action that is different than someone who heard it from someone who heard it from someone. In most cases it is just better to wait for the official statement to stop any sort of misinformation going around.
  • A lot of times when a government organization or official organization (think Military, CDC, WHO, etc.) puts out information they have done so after collecting as much of the accurate information as they can AND exploring different solutions for whatever is going on. They present the facts of the situation and offer up what they are doing/recommending to combat whatever is going on. Often times, if you are getting upset with information NOT being put out, think about what they are trying to do. The first goal should be to collect the facts and implement immediate options for the situation. The first goal is not always notifying the public, this is how panic, and misinformation occurs. Honestly, would you rather be told “Oh hey, here is something serious going on” OR “Oh hey, here is something serious that has happened, BUT we have already taken steps a, b, and c AND here are our recommendations for the next little bit. I know I would rather the second.

If you are not getting answers from an official organization at the time that you are looking around I would either recommend just being patient OR, following the earlier advice of looking at various sites. Don’t go with the first article you read, but rather look across the board at various sites, read various articles, and draw the best conclusion you are able until you can get an official brief. Don’t prevent what you are finding as facts (unless it comes from the aforementioned official organization), but rather as what you have found for your own purposes. Personally, I always recommend that others do their own research and bounce things off of several friends in different sectors while we wait for information.

Danger #3 Too Much at One Time/Being Too Involved

We all know that too much of a thing may not always be good and the same can be applied to media/social media/etc. With just how easy to get the news, to see what others are doing, to be connected, it can become very easy to fall into the trap of being too connected.  It seems to be a fine line as to when the news and being connected is too much. I’ve definitely experienced this and have found that at times, less is more. With the constant news cycle, it is easy to get sucked into always needing to know, to be connected, to have all the information, BUT I find that in some ways this is counterproductive and dangerous. Unfortunately, I don’t really have an answer or solution to this as I think this is just the way our lives trend right now. The only suggestion that I have is to take time away. When you start to feel that way, just step back, step away and take a day to be not so involved.

So, what’s the answer? Again, I don’t really have one. I feel like this is going to be a revolving door issue as we continue to deal with a new vastly online world that has become even more online in the past couple months. I don’t know if any of this has made sense, or if you’re even still reading this (if you are-thank you!), but it’s been a little over 2 months of seeing these Dangers pop up consistently and I felt like something needed to be said. So, here’s me adding my small voice to the loud crowd.

What I’ve Learned from Quarantine

Ah Quarantine. We’ve been under it for almost 2 months now and while most of the country is slowly starting to come back to, what I’m calling, new normal, we are still under a level of Quarantine (this is due to my husband’s work).

Here’s the thing, we have all processed this stressful time differently. I’ve had some incredibly stressful low moments during the past couple months and I’ve definitely had some really great moments too. I didn’t really learn a new hobby, pick up a craft, or do anything truly beyond my normal (except running, but I’ll get to that in a minute). I don’t think that anyone should have felt like they needed to do anything like that. In fact, honestly, I feel like if we’ve all made it through this and are starting to see our light at the end of the tunnel, then that is enough. We all process stress differently and no matter how this has affected you (and it has affected EVERYONE), however you are coping is good. If you’ve become Betty Homemaker Pinterest Goddess, good. If you’ve binge watched everything on Netflix, good. If you’ve started knitting or crocheting, good. If you managed to get out of bed every morning, good.

This post is not about judgement. It’s not about what I think we should have done. It’s not about “oh I’ve done xyz, I’m great”. This post is simply what I’ve learned. How I’ve coped. What our life has been.

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I’ve said from the get-go that in so many ways this has been so good for all of us. It’s been incredibly stressful, anxiety inducing, and full of chaos, but there has been something good about it to. We’ve been forced to stop. To stop being so busy. To stop paying attention to everything BUT what is important. We’ve been forced to slow down. In staying home we’ve had to maybe figure out what is truly important. To try something, we’ve always wanted to try. To spend more time with our family. To find out what works and doesn’t work for our mental health. To learn the good, the bad, the ugly about ourselves. To find out what we need.

That’s not to say that this Quarantine has always been some good, incredible learning experience. It’s had a fair share of low moments. I spent an entire weekend one weekend crying my eyes out from stress. I spent the better part of a weekend on my couch not doing much more than reading, scrolling social media, and binge-watching trashy television. I’ve gotten stressed and frustrated with the whole virtual schooling of a preschooler (I’ve learned that I will never be a preschool or elementary teacher- that is just not for me).

BUT, as I mention the bad, I can’t ignore the good of it too. It seems like for every negative we’ve had, there has been a positive to balance it out. For example, with school. I am not cut out for preschool/elementary school teaching. I just don’t have the patience. I’ve known this for a long time (so not a true revelation about myself) and it wasn’t something that I really was interested in doing. HOWEVER, it has been a dream at times to see Colton learn. I’ve always wanted to see how he was in class and here it is, right in front of me. I get to see his eyes light up as he connects the dots in his brain. I get to see him trying hard to please his teachers, to do every assignment, to learn something new.

For me I found out a couple things- some of which I already knew, but this whole Quarantine has proven just how necessary they are to me. I realized how important quiet time to myself is and how anxious, frazzled, and stressed I get if I don’t have even a little bit of it. I’ve found out how much I do lean on my husband and how important the relationship the two of us has is. I’ve found out that as much as I’m a homebody, I love to travel and to explore just as much. I’ve found that that I really do crave little weekly get together with my friends and that in person chat/connection you get from that. I’ve found that while watching TV isn’t my favorite  pastime, there have been some good shows out there that we’ve gotten to watch (and some not so good, but guilty pleasure shows too).

I’ve been shopping small A LOT more (almost exclusively- curious as to who I support? HERE  is a list of a couple of my favorites) and have been trying to move away from the bigger retailers when I can. I’ve really realized what I actually want to do with my time when I get it. How I want to spend my days. I’ve realized that I much rather spend my time hiking up trails, and wandering old towns than I do wandering a mall (ok, this is one of those things I’ve always known).

I’ve found that as much as I’m looking forward to what this new normal is going to be like, to being able to venture out back into the world, that my thought processes over things have changed. While I’m eager to go to this city down the road from me (a bigger one about 20-30 minutes away), it’s more so because I want to walk the streets, feel those cobblestones underneath my feet, rather than because I want to shop. I’m eager to once again hike among the castle ruins, to see history in front of my eyes, to experience life as it was. These are the things that I’ve missed. I’m eager to cherish the time I can get with my friends, the moments we have together out and about, not what we can actually do. I’ve learned that having those slow moments, those slow weekends, just having a lie in or no plans at all, can be a benefit.

Ultimately, I’ve realized that we are incredible people. We can do a lot and we have empathy. I’ve seen people come together to help out friends, families, neighbors they’ve barely known. I’ve seen an outpouring of love that we haven’t seen in a long time and while this last bit of Quarantine has undoubtedly been the hardest (it’s always the hardest when you can see the end, but aren’t getting there) the amount of care that I’ve seen has been amazing.

I hope that moving forward we hold on to that and that we become a little kinder. A little more compassionate. A little more caring to those around us.

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 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?

Some Thoughts on Consumerism

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You know what’s a funny thing? I heard or participated in a similar version of what I’m about to write about around 3-4 times in the past week. And to be fair- it’s kind of opened my eyes a little bit to something that I had felt, but hadn’t articulated.

Here’s how it all started…

I, and a couple of friends were having a conversation about some of the differences and struggles about living in Germany as compared to living in the United States. A question was posed: “On your weekends, what did you do?”  My friend and I sat there for a couple seconds, wondering if it was rhetorical or a trick. “Uh, watched football?” “Ran errands?”  We responded. “Exactly. We watch TV and we shop on our weekends.” We hesitantly agreed and then the magic happened…”We have to realize that there is more to the world than Walmart”.

“We have to realize there is more to the world than Walmart”.

Maybe it’s not Walmart, maybe it’s Target (be honest- it’s probably Target), maybe it’s Nordstrom, or Marshall’s/TJ Max’s, maybe it’s boutique stores. You can interchange Walmart with just about any store and come up with what fits you and a true statement. And with a lot of these stories we have the ability to do this 24/7. The internet has made the possibility of shopping literally wherever, whenever  I mean, how many times have we all just “amazoned” an item?) and often times stores then try to compete with that by staying open later on weekdays and opening up all weekend. We are also consuming high levels of media. In homes, TV’s tend to be more on than off, we are almost always on our phones in some way, not to mention computers and tablets.

This boggles my mind. How is it that we manage to spend our free time doing these things? How is it that we are so inundated with this idea that we need to buy all the things, watch all the things, be a part of this lifestyle that we forget that there is so much more to life. There is more to the world.

I’ve been 100% guilty of doing this. I was someone who spent most weekends at home, in my comfiest chair, TV on, book in hand, phone never too far away. When we would leave the house 60% of the time it would be to go to a store of some sort. Oftentimes a trip to the grocery store would also involve a trip to the Target shopping center. I bought a lot of things on Amazon (some we needed; most we didn’t “need”) for the convenience. We had the option of just clicking and buying whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. So, why not do that?

Have you ever heard…”Go into Target for one thing, come out with a dozen other things and not the thing you needed”? THIS. This is what I’m talking about. The idea that just going to Target to do a quick shopping run and buy ALL THE THINGS and this is the cool norm now? That’s wrong. Whether you can afford it or not, there is more to life than just one big long shopping trip.

When we moved to Germany things were vastly different.

For starters, there are a lot more outdoor markets in the different regions. Fresh produce from right down the road is always available for purchase. Fresh seasonal flowers (some of which you can cut yourself) are around. In town grocery stores are smaller than they are in the States and have smaller carts/are intended for smaller trips. The festivals tend to feature more local artisans than not.

Stores close EARLY (and I mean like anywhere from 5-6PM) and are all always closed on Sundays (except for Shopping Sunday which happens every couple months). Life here is focused on the in-person connection. Meals last for hours at restaurants, allowing people the time to really forge connections and conversations. There are not a lot of people that you see on the phone while out in public. It’s a vastly slower pace of life, without that massive jump to buy. There are a lot more outdoor activities, from hikes to biking to canoeing to paddle boating.

There is also a much bigger focus on travel here. Most people spend their “free money” and savings on traveling, seeing new places and learning about new things. We’ve quickly caught that travel bug and that is where a lot of our budget goes toward. We have been finding that we did not actually take enough weekend trips previously and how easy those types of trips really are.

It’s such a different way of life and one that I’ve really found loving. I’ve quickly settled into this slower pace lifestyle. My shopping has been cut down quite a bit (due in part to convenience and in part to just general shipping times for online shopping) and I’ve really found myself evaluating a couple of lifestyle choices. I’ve been wanting a bit of a change for a while and Germany has kind of given me the push to make that change. These are changes that I want to keep whenever we do go back stateside as I find them to be such positives and something that I think more people could benefit from.

We need to make a point to spend less time shopping, less time watching TV, less time lounging in our own home, and more time getting to know our world. Putting the digital world aside on the weekend and living in the real world. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with watching TV, or having the occasional trip to the shops (beyond grocery shopping), but the way that we have started treating our lives in the States is kind of scary to think about.

Is the 24/7 convenience of being able to shop nice? Yea, but how many times are we really needing that convenience? Is this something that can wait till the next day? Better yet, is it something that we really need or something we think we need because of the mentality?

Let me know your thoughts on consumerism as I’d love to have a discussion about it. This is something that has been itching in the back of my mind, this difference in culture and mindset, and I’d love to speak about it with others!

No Camera’s Allowed

It’s no secret we’ve been doing A LOT of travel over these past few months and that is not something that will be changing anytime soon. It’s also no secret that I’m a major camera/picture junkie. I LOVE taking pictures.  I’ve always got my camera out from everyday little moments (seriously, my older son just looked so cute playing with a baseball bat in the store), to bigger vacation moments (this scene was just dreamy!). I’m one of THOSE people. I love having all of the memories to look back on, little snippets of our day to day to have for memories. This is especially heightened when we travel.

I’ve been able to capture photo’s at almost every place that we’ve traveled (every place’s exterior at least), but I have noticed that there are some locations that will not allow camera’s or photos. The most memorable were Neuschwanstein/Hohenschwangau, Berchtesgaden Salt Mines, Mozart’s Birthplace, and Salzburg Cathedral doesn’t encourage them. Each place has their own vast reasons as to why and I am not here to talk about the reasons (frankly I can guess, but just respected their rules).

With that though, it got me thinking. Every time I pick up my camera I pull myself ever so slightly out of the moment. Every time I go to take a picture of a place, rather than just take a minute in that place, I pull myself away. Yes, I’ve got a beautiful picture to hang in my home, to remind me of the wonderful places we’ve been, but I also have then taken a few minutes out of our time there (just for one single picture, not for all of them), to take the picture rather than simply enjoy the scenery.

I’ve been pretty good at balancing pictures and being in the moment at every place that we’ve traveled, but in places where “No Camera Allowed” is displayed, I honestly get a little thrill out of it. A chance to just look, to not feel the need to capture everything I want (which is A LOT). I am able to focus more on what I’m looking at, take a little more time at each point in a tour, and while I don’t know if the enjoyment level is really any more or less (as like I’ve said I love taking pictures) it’s definitely different.

I’ve even noted this in my everyday. As I said, I’m always taking pictures in our everyday. Our kids are actually picking up on that, and will say cheese at any time or even pose sometimes haha. I love seeing what we were up to at various times of our weeks and it’s really funny to look back on. I’ve been trying to get better over the past year or two about just taking a step back from being like that, for a similar reason than the one’s I’ve stated above.

Now, let me make something clear…this picture bit has really nothing to do with Social Media or with Blogging. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. Always wanting to capture moments in pictures and in words, rather just being in the moment. This is nothing new to me. Social Media and my Blog has given me a way to share that with others, but it is not the root of what I am talking about.

I also want to be clear that I don’t think that there is anything wrong with this. I think that it is great and I fully plan on continuing on being that crazy picture person, BUT I definitely have enjoyed a bit of a reprieve every now and again and I think I need to do that more.

Looking through the lense or viewfinder can be incredible and you can see things and people in different ways, but It doesn’t really compare to just putting the camera down and being present at that moment. So here’s to less camera time and more in person/in the moment time.