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?

All the Castles – Germany Edition!

While we still are in a “safer at home” state, the world is slowly starting to open back up again (in fact, while finalizing some of my research for this post I’ve learned that Lichtenstein is in fact open with restrictions!). I’m still over here dreaming about all of the places we can visit and the countries we plan on going to over the next bit of 2020 (once the borders open of course), but I figured today I would do a fun little round up on the blog and start talking about some of the castles we’ve been to.

In compiling this list, I’ve realized that we’ve been to more castles than I had originally realized, so, as the title suggests, this will be full construction German Castles. I will do a separate post for the United Kingdom (which will include palaces as well!), other European Countries, as well as the ruins that we’ve explored. I will also include at the end of each blog post any Castles that are still on our “to go to” list for each region (so at the end of this post I’ll have a list of the castles I would still like to go to in Germany). Once we go to a few more, I’ll do another round up of those as well.

As always, I’ll link to full blog posts where applicable, but I am going to include pictures, a little history, and my own thoughts as we go along.

It seems like people who go to castles fall into two categories, the “you’ve been to one you’ve been to them all” or “they are all different and we should see them all”. If anything, I fall into that second category as not only do I LOVE castles and see differences in each one, but I also LOVE the history of each castle. In most cases these houses are beyond our comprehension in terms of age and what actually went into the planning and construction of these castles is incredible (and yes, some have a dark history as well). I’m just a bit of a history nerd over it all.

So, with all of that blabbering out of the way, let’s get into the castles…

Hohenschwangau Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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We are going to start our post with the little sister to Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau. Nestled in the Alps at the German Austrian border, this castle is absolutely stunning. It is first mentioned in the 12th Century and was owned by the Knights of Schwangau until the 16th century. Eventually in the early 19th century King Maximillian took ownership, and had it rebuilt per its original plans. It was used by the royal family as a summer and hunting residence up until King Ludwig II decided to build his private residence of Neuschwanstein.

Hohenschwangau is a beautiful castle to see. It’s one that I feel like sometimes gets a bit neglected with Neuschwanstein being right next to it, but it is gorgeous, mixing the perfect location with the perfect interiors. In fact, you actually get to see more of the interior of Hohenschwangau than you get to of Neuschwanstein. The gardens have some stunning views of the lakes and alps and the castle itself has a fuller story to tell (you’ll see why when you read on). I actually initially ranked Hohenschwangau higher on my list of castles because of this.

Neuschwanstein Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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Ah, one of the most famous castles. The inspiration for Disney Castles. The most picturesque of all the castles, Neuschwanstein. It’s only when you learn the history of the castle and its King that it becomes a bit different looking. Neuschwanstein Castle was built for King Ludwig II as a private residence; a refuge from the public. It was intended as a sort of rebuild of Hohenschwangau, but bigger and better. The construction began in 1868 with completion in 1892. It was at the forefront of technology both in the construction of the castle and the methods used, to the interior of the castle. The large windows were unusual for the time as was the heating and serving methods within the castle. However, King Ludwig only spent 11 nights in his dream castle before his death (this is an interesting story- it was claimed that he had gone mad and he was found drowned alongside his psychiatrist. There are different stories claiming whether he was or was not mad, what role his mistress played in the entire affair, and how he actually died).

As picturesque as Neuschwanstein is (and IT IS picturesque), I found it to be a bit…dark and small when compared to Hohenschwangua. This could be because you don’t see nearly as much of the castle (part of this was due to the reconstruction that was going on while we were there). It wasn’t my favorite, even though I still absolutely loved it. It was a good look see for the pictures and views. Looking back now, knowing the full history of the castle it definitely holds a little bit more of an air of mystery and intrigue.

Hohenzollern Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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At this time, I think this is my favorite German Castle. It is just…foreboding but quaint, set high on a hilltop with stunning views and yet so warm and home-y. It also has quite the history and, unlike the above two, was never built to be a residence. First mentioned directly in 1267, this is the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House and of the Hohenzollern Princes. It was rebuilt in the mid 15th century to become a bigger/better house and then became a fortress in the 17th century during the 30 Years War. After the war it fell into a bit of disrepair until the 19th century when Frederik of Prussia decided to reconstruct and turn it into a bit of a showpiece for the public. What we currently see of Hohenzollern dates back to 1850 and is considered an acclaimed masterpiece of military architecture. The only time that the castle was used as an actual temporary residence was during World War II.

I know I’ve already said it, but Hohenzollern is my favorite as it stands now. I loved our time wandering the battlements, walking the entry gate, seeing the various artworks detailing Prussian history (placed starting in the 1950s), and the courtyard…the courtyard made me swoon. This castle just had it all that you would want in a castle. In fact, I would like to go back for a Christmas Market (or really any market) if possible before our time in Europe is done.

Lichtenstein Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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Lichtenstein Castle is one of those castles that you just marvel at from start to finish. It seems to defy the rules of gravity, of building, of everything and is just a place to be experienced. First built in 1100 it went through a very destructive history of being built and destroyed several times. Despite that cycle, it withstood every attack and was considered the best fortified fortress of the middle ages (which it doesn’t take a military strategist to see why). In the second half of the 16th century it lost its ducal seat (and therefore lost its “castle” status) and started to deteriorate. In 1802 it was dismantled entirely to the bones and turned into a hunting lodge. Finally, in 1840 it was rebuilt for the final time into the castle we see today. Count Wilhelm was inspired by a novel called Lichtenstein by Wilhelm Hauffhe and decided to build a German Medieval Knights Castle. It is now privately owned and certain areas of the castle and courtyard are available for rental for performances or weddings!

Lichtenstein is just one of those castles you have to see. Perched right on the edge of a cliff you not only get the thrill from just feeling on the edge of the world, but this history of building, tearing down, and rebuilding is just incredible. It also has the only visible damage from World War 2 that we saw in all the castles (a bullet hole in a mirror that was fired during the war). What made our particular trip a bit cooler (in my opinion) was that it was rainy and foggy, so you could not only get the eerie feeling of being up on the mountains and this incredible castle looming over everything, but also just get a real taste of the history. However, as someone who is afraid of heights (or rather falling from a height), being there was a bit terrifying as well (walking across that bridge?!).

I want to do one Honorable mention of Dresden Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION). We haven’t actually been properly to the castle itself, however we have walked the Procession of Princes, seen/walked the Zwinger Palace Courtyards, and seen the exterior of the castle.

The Dresden Castle was originally built around the beginning of the 13th century and (after a fire and rebuild in the early 18th century) has been home to Electors, Kings of Saxony, and Kings of Poland. It was fully destroyed in the bombing of Dresden in February of 1945 and the restoration didn’t start until the 1960’s. Overall, Dresden is a really neat city with a lot to see, learn, and explore, BUT the most incredible part of the city is that it was almost fully destroyed in that bombing and yet you wouldn’t know it by visiting it now. Save for the memorials and museums explaining what happened, the city itself doesn’t show the destruction that occurred in its architecture or buildings.

Finally, a list of the castles that we would still like to visit while we are here:

Burg Eltz

Heidelberg Castle

Schwerin Castle

Cochem Imperial Castle

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

I hope you enjoyed this first Castle Round Up! What was your favorite? Which would you most like to visit?

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.

Travel Bucket List

I figured it would be a fun way to pass the time, dream of the days when life is back to normal, to talk about our Travel Bucket Lists. I have a lot of places that I would like to go in my lifetime, as I’m sure a lot of people do, and I figured it would be fun to compile a master list of places. I am going to mark this down as a page on the site as well so that when I cross a destination off, I can link the blog post to that specific page and maybe give someone else an easier way to find by destination. Honestly, I am starting to get that wanderlust, that ache for travel, and I figured this would be a good way to feed that a bit.

I am going to break this down by “continent”, then by places I would like to go back to and re visit other areas, and then by the places we’ve already been (for linking purposes). I WILL NOT be going into super specifics on cities within countries or such on every location as I am still researching specifics. For now, this will be countries/states/and some cities if there is something specific.

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So, here we go, starting with Places I would Like to Go

Europe

Greece

Romania

Hungary

Croatia

Slovenia

Slovakia

Poland

France (I know we’ve technically been to France, but it’s only one city for one night, doesn’t count)

Ireland

Spain

Switzerland

Lichtenstein

Portugal

Denmark

Sweden

Norway

Finland

Latvia

Lithuania

Russia

Iceland

Greenland

Africa

Morocco

Egypt

Israel

Cyprus

South Africa

Asia

India

Thailand

Vietnam

Myanmar

Malaysia

Philippines

Japan

South Korea

Indonesia

Australia

New Zealand

North America

Canada

United States (again- I’ll have to break this one down as I’m from the USA and have already traveled several states)

Mexico

Belize

Cuba

Dominican Republic

Costa Rica

British Virgin Islands

Turks and Caicos Islands

South America

Colombia

Brazil

Argentina

Chile

Those are all the “new” places. Now I am going to touch on the places we’ve already been that I would like to go back to (and link the original posts about those places). Most of the places that you may have noted as missing above are actually places that we’ve been, and I would like to go back to.

Here are those places:

Britain (our first trip was to London and Dover, I’d like to go back and go to Bristol, Cotswold’s, and a couple other spots)

Scotland (our first trip was to Edinburgh and Inverness, I’d like to go back and go to Skye, Galloway, Aberdeen, and many many more spots.)

Italy (our first trip was to Rome (Parts: 1, 2, 3 ) and Vatican City, but I’d like to go back and go through the Tuscan region, as well as down the southern coast)

Czech Republic (Our first trip was Karlovy Vary, Prague, and Lidice, I’d like to go back to Prague, and to Pilsen).

Austria (we’ve been to Salzburg, but I would love to go over to Vienna, Linz, and Innsbruck)

Germany (gosh, where to begin? We are currently living here and have done Berlin, Dresden, Neuschwanstein, and a bunch more castles, but there is so much more I want to do in this country)

And now, last but not least, the places that we’ve been (most of these are linked as places above that I would like to go back to):

The Netherlands (we’ve done Amsterdam and Keukenhof– which I would actually be very up for a return trip to as I LOVE it in the Tulip Fields)

Calais, France

Belgium (I would be a for a return trip here too to see more of the country)

England (Dover, London)

Scotland (Edinburgh, Inverness)

Italy (Rome 1,2,3 and Vatican City)

Czech Republic (Prague, Karlovy Vary, Lidice)

Germany (Berlin, Dresden, Neuschwanstein/Fussen, Nuremberg, Hohenzollern, Lichtenstein Castle, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Berchtesgaden 1,2)

Austria (Salzburg)

When Being Home is…Overwhelming.

Man, it’s been a strange time hasn’t it? As the entire world seems to slow to a halt and we are all thrust into this new normal, it’s easy to get…well overwhelmed. As an introvert this is even easier. I think it’s also so easy to forget about this when you are not an introvert. But this post isn’t really about that.

Let me be clear…this post is not about the quarantine, shelter in place, isolation, lockdown, whatever you are referring to it as in your own country. I am 100% in favor of this and believe that is absolutely necessary. To me, this is not up for debate. This virus is not something to mess around about (and honestly if you just follow the mandate of staying home, it won’t be a long process to have it work its way through and out) and I am not going to debate something that, at this point, is semantics. Many countries have issued a lockdown measure of some sort, so whatever your feelings are, you are locked down.

This post is about what this actually looks like in terms of mental health. Of what we can do about that, of what we can do with our kids, what we can do for ourselves, and how we work through all of the confusion, overwhelm, and upset. No matter what end you fall on, no matter how this affects you economically, we are all dealing with a lot of feelings.

I don’t have all the answers on this. In fact, as I am writing this, I am struggling myself. I’m struggling with the amount of noise in our home, the never ending feeling of chaos, the nonexistence of a true routine, trying to do some form of “school” with a toddler who desperately just wants to go TO school, and trying to navigate having all 4 of us home ALL THE TIME. As much as I love my family and I’m grateful to have this time together, it’s TOUGH, and I think that is something we can all agree with.

For me, I am struggling with feeling overwhelmed with…well everything. We’ve finally got things up and running for Colton’s school, but that is creating it’s own problem (you can read about this below), I’ve got a million things that I want to accomplish, my husband is still working and going to school, and our house is just…much louder than normal. As an introvert who absolutely needs quiet and alone time it’s just making this a lot harder than I thought it would be. Today is the first day that I just wanted to breakdown.

So, what can we do?

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photo credit Daisy from Daisy Zimmer Photography (full photo on my SM)

I talked about how to stay positive last week (you can read that HERE), but what else can we do? I think honestly, the first place to start is to communicate and talk or write it out. Tell your partner or spouse what you NEED in a way that is constructive. For me personally, I NEED to have quiet time. I need to have 10-20 minutes at different points throughout the day of just quiet. Now, this is almost impossible with two toddler boys, but I try to find little pockets where I can take it. I also listen when he tells me he needs something. We are trying to find a good give and take with all of us being home as he is still working and doing school during this time. He has things that he needs the time to do and needs to take care of, and sometimes that means locking himself away for a couple of hours to get those things done.

So, for example, doing a little yoga first thing in the morning. My husband stays quiet during this and does his own thing (homework, check news, check emails) so I can ease into my morning before chaos ensues and the boys wake up. Once I am done with yoga, I try to take another 15 minutes to journal. I write out EVERYTHING. What I am feeling, what I am seeing, what I am hearing. I write about how the previous day went, what I want to accomplish today, and just a general “get your mind right” moment.

Another chance I get to get a little quiet (and build the endorphins) is a run (I mean it’s more of a run/walk, but you get the gist). This week I started doing the Couch to 5K program in an effort to get a little break/me time in my days. Since we are restricted to the house EXCEPT for groceries/meds and exercise outdoors, I am taking full advantage of the exercise outdoors option. This gives me a chance to just wander back into my brain, check out of real life, and run my feelings out.

Speaking of music, I find that just jamming it out to your favorite song or playlist is an excellent option. Blast the tunes, have a little breathing session or dance session and dust of the cobwebs in your mind. Music is such a big part of my attitude and I find even just two songs (right now Sunflower by Post Malone and SOS by Aviccii) is all I really need to get a mood booster. It also gives my kids a chance to wiggle about and I’m not hearing the nonstop chattering. We all seem to come together for those couple minutes, and it works.

Something else that I think is really important is to lean in toward whatever you are feeling. This is an overwhelming time and we are trying to figure out what life looks like and it’s ok to feel mad, to feel sad, to feel overwhelmed. It’s ok to take some time out to feel those feelings. THEY ARE TOTALLY VALID FEELINGS TO HAVE. No matter what your background is, no matter how this affects you, it is OK to feel this way. And right now, more than ever, I think that it is important for us to process those feelings. We will have a harder and faster burnout if we just continue to try and put a happy face on and hold it together.

This is especially true if you are a mom. Your kids are likely scared, nervous, freaking out, confused, mad, sad, everything that they can feel, they are feeling. While our first instinct is to hold it together, to be the strong one, it isn’t’ bad for them to see you struggle too. It helps them process their own emotions if we can be clear and concise about it. For me this is really key for when I am feeling frustrated or sad with not being able to do something or needing some space, my boys pick up on that and I explain to them exactly what is going on. This then stimulates a conversation (in as much a 4 and 2 yr. old can do) about how we are feeling. So, lean into those feelings, process them, and it might be easier for you to move forward and find joy in the little things again.

Going to quickly touch on school (as I don’t really know that I can truly talk about that). School is a hard one. I feel like we’ve really hit this hard as even though Colton was only in preschool for a month and a half he got really attached to it. If he could go every single day he could. It was his space to learn, to engage, to have a little “life of his own” for lack of a better phrase. He LOVED it and to have that yanked out from under him so soon has been a real struggle for him. Further, we are continuing with a digital learning plan with his school and that’s been…hard. He doesn’t have the same focus at home that he does in school and, of course, at home he also has little bro who wants to be involved. It’s been hard to try and explain to him what is going on and how we are handling everything right now, because the moment we explain it to him he just gets sad and says he wants to go to school. It breaks my heart.

I know that you moms of older kids are feeling that same pressure, but also adding in the academics to it as well. Luckily with Colton in preschool the hardest thing we are dealing with is focus issues, his academics and such are fairly straightforward for him. I’ve been reading posts from various teachers who all seem to agree- with this new normal, it means we need to adapt across the board. Forcing the kids to sit at a desk for 8 hours at home is just not feasible. So, lean into your kids. Listen to them when they say something. Interact with their needs. Some kids may work better at home when there is noise in the background, some kids may need to be at a desk every time they work, some kids may be focus on real world learning more than classroom. Each school is handling digital learning differently, but from what I’ve seen there is time that they meet with their teachers and do their work, and then there is free work time. Balance both of those with some real-world play and real-world lessons and a routine will start to emerge. This is a whole new level for all of us…give yourself and your kids grace. It’s not easy, but they will be OK.

Finally, if you are in a financial spot to do so, try and support some of your local or online businesses. I’m going to share a couple of my favorites that I have either ordered through already, or will be ordering through over the next couple months…

https://www.rachelallene.com/shop Rachel Allene is like the jolt of sunshine that we all need anyway. Her products are not only practical (hello mugs and shirts and coffee? We all need those), but they are absolutely adorable! They are the perfect amount of whimsy, beauty, and season. I highly recommend checking her shop out for your mugs and shirt needs.

https://www.bookshelfthomasville.com/ This is a small, local, independent bookstore in Georgia that carries most new releases, along with some merchandise. They are doing online orders, but also curbside pickup if you are in their area. I always love supporting independent bookstores, so this is the perfect chance for you to do so as well.

https://kelseyconversephotography.pixieset.com/guestlogin/travelprints/?return=%2Ftravelprints%2F If you are looking to spruce up your interior wall game, check out Kelsey’s travel photography. These are some incredible photos and would liven up any room that you want to. I would also just recommend following kelsconverse on Instagram because she is one of those genuine souls on the internet.

Also, as many have suggested, buy gift cards to some of your favorite spots. This is a great option if you want to support restaurants or other smaller in store places. OR if you want to support, but don’t need anything at the present moment. Buy a gift card and gift it or save it for a special occasion for yourself. This gives a small business some much needed cash flow in this trying time.

Finally, go show your blogger friends some love! Click on the links to their most recent posts, like them, leave them a comment, and spread the love around. Ultimately what this time is teaching us is to slow down, remember what community really is, and enjoy a little breather from the busy world we live in.

Round the Kettle Ep. 24: Coronavirus and My Thoughts

Happy Sunday to all! How are things looking in your neck of the woods?

I mentioned on Social Media that we were supposed to have a little girls weekend this weekend in Prague that we were looking forward to for a few weeks. However, we have had travel restrictions placed on us both as a military family AND by the country that we were supposed to be visiting. So, I am now writing to you in the comfort of my comfiest clothes, in my office, with full plans to spend the weekend reading.

Now, before I get super far into this I want you to tell me, has Coronavirus stopped you from living your life? Have you experienced any changes? How is the panic in your area? What are YOU seeing in your community?

(In a weird way I’m actually very interested in the whole “feet on the ground” folks in their own communities’ outset on the virus. I find that it gives a much better view of what is going on than anything else.)

Here are my thoughts on Coronavirus. I’m concerned to an extent. I don’t want to spread it to my family, my friends, my larger community. There are enough unknowns, enough questions, that I understand the travel bans, the closure of places that aren’t able to be easily cleaned and sanitized (like Disneyland). The ability of this virus to spread is something to be concerned about, similar to how we get concerned about many other diseases and viruses. While I am not traveling, not within or outside of Germany, I see no problem of taking a trip into the city using appropriate caution (aka washing my hands a little more than normal, not touching my face, keeping my general distance from others- all things I would do normally). Something I’m not doing? Freaking out. Panic buying all the toilet paper (seriously- what the hell is the deal with this?!). Panic buying really anything beyond normal groceries. We have had a confirmed case in our little community and I got a direct understanding of how they are conducting checks and determining who is actually at risk of exposure when this happens.

I think that the right steps at this point to take are to just practice common sense. Something that we should have all been doing long before this anyways. Listen to the official statements put out by government entities, not what your friends/colleagues/the rumor mill are saying (unless those people are directly in the government system and can give factual information). If you are looking at a quarantine situation, then listen to that. And for crying out loud, if you are sick, even if just a common cold, stay home.

All of this is common sense, but for some reason we have all seemed to have forgotten it in the past few weeks. I think we are starting to fall into the media trap of hysteria to an extent. It is causing mis information, unnecessary panic (note – I said PANIC not concern, concern is certainly valid in this), and shortages of items across the board. Countries, states, and communities are doing what they feel is best for their own people and if you feel that there should be further steps taken for yourself and your family, then you are certainly able to take those steps.

One more thing, at a time like this, community becomes even more important. Help out others, your friends, your neighbors, the random stranger that you don’t know. As schools, businesses, and communities begin to close, we are all going to feel those affects. Offer to bring by groceries, water, help with meals, whatever. Support those who are going to be in need of it. The way that we get through this is by coming together and working through this as one. Let’s see this pull of us back together as a people.

As I’ve said, for us we are living life normally, minus our upcoming trips. I’m concerned (as I think would be normal in any case), but I’m not agonizing over it and hermitting in my home (any more than normal at least ha ha). We are also keeping up to date to our potential of exposure as we have had a case in our immediate area. We are tracking things appropriately, but I probably won’t be sharing too much on that end (at least as of this exact point) as I don’t want to unnecessarily spread misinformation or cause anymore panic.

Tell me, how are you feeling? How are you doing with Coronavirus? Have you seen any local impact for you? I definitely want to hear from others!

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?

Life in Europe – 1 Year In

Where to even begin with this post?! I mean, seriously…where do I even start? It’s been a year. We’ve been here a year. Well technically it’ll be a year on Friday, but still…a whole year. It’s hard to wrap my mind around.

A year ago, we stepped on a flight leaving out of Baltimore (after a flight from KY to MD) and into, at the time, the unknown. 8 hours later (or something like that) we stepped off the plane on a whole new continent that we hadn’t been to before, in a new country, ready for a new adventure. And an adventure it has been.

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Our first 5 months here consisted of living in a hotel, traveling (A LOT), and trying to learn our way around the customs and traditions of Germany. Things like stores being closed on Sundays, paying for restrooms, paying for water at restaurants, the dinners out that last hours, and driving as fast as we “like” on the autobahn (which isn’t as true or fun as you would think) were all new to us. After 5 ½ months in a hotel apartment, we got a house. A spacious 3 bedroom + to make all our own (well except for no painting, no major construction, etc.). We spent the rest of the year “settling in”. A year later and I feel like we finally feel settled, feel a part of our little community, have good friends that we can count on, and have things figured out.

And traveling. We’ve traveled more in the past year than I think we have in the span of our lives. We’ve learned more history, more culture, more information in the past year than ever before. We’ve seen the not so good parts of history up close, seen the gorgeous scenery of several countries, and have had one incredible trip after another. This first year taught us, more than anything, how to adapt, how to go with the flow, how to work with what we have. And, as much as it may seem like an “on the go” lifestyle, we’ve really slowed down in a way. We’ve stopped and smelled the roses for lack of a better phrase. We’ve taken so much more time as a family, exposing not only ourselves, but our children to different ways of living. One of the most incredible things was my older son telling us, at 4 years old, about The Colosseum and what used to happen. At 4 years old.

We’ve traveled to 11 countries, visited 14 castles, we’ve seen more churches than I can even count, seen the Tulips in The Netherlands, the Tower of London, the Dachau Concentration Camps, the filming locations for The Sound of Music, The Pantheon and Ancient Rome, and so, so much more. We’ve been to Oktoberfest, a whopping 7 cities (some of which had multiple within the city) Christmas Markets, and numerous cultural festivals and events. We’ve really tried to be involved and be a part of the culture in Germany. To celebrate with them, mourn with them, understand their history, culture, and what is important to them in life.

Even with all of that, we are still just living our life. We live our everyday lives. My husband goes to work in the morning, our oldest is starting school (just preschool, but still), both boys go to playgroup, I read and write every day, and we chat with friends over coffee or dinner. We just happen to be in Germany. I think this might be when I just get mind boggled the most. When I’m making that afternoon cup of tea or curling up in the evenings with my family. When I look at my backyard and it hits me…we are in Germany. This is when I count my blessings.

It’s hard to believe that we have our “home” days. That we aren’t always out adventuring, discovering new places, seeing more and more. I think that’s kind of the strange assumption that is made when you see someone who is able to move to a foreign country for a few years- that they are always going to be traveling. But that is just not the case for us. For us we have to have that down time. Not only do work and our boys make that a necessity, but it’s also just a quirk to us. We are homebodies by nature and so we usually need to have a little bit of home time in between all the travel, and it can’t just be a couple nights. Plus, there is adventure right in our backyard. There is so much to do and see right nearby us that it makes our home time weekends still full of fun.

This first year in Germany has been an adjustment, a whirlwind, an adventure. I can’t wait to see what the next two bring us.

Recommendations and Tips for – A Trip to Rome

We spent a magical week in Rome over the Winter Holidays and today I am going to share some of the spots I think you HAVE to go to, some of the spots that may not be as incredible as you think, and some tips for navigating your time in Rome. All of these kind of wrap together, so this Recommendations and Tips post might weave in and out between tips and recommendations. If you are interested in finding out exactly what we did you can find the following posts on that subject: The First Few Days, Vatican City, Ancient Rome, The Final Days.

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Recommendations:

My first recommendation is to take at least 5 days to visit Rome. It IS doable in a 4-day weekend, but you will get no rest and feel like you are just shuffling from place to place and not getting a chance to soak everything in. I feel like 5 days is the perfect amount of time to hit each spot without being rushed. I would say you don’t need any more than 7 days (if you really want to go longer) as at that point you’ve started to exhaust some of the area. Ultimately, it’ll be more focused on what you want to do and see than anything else.

In terms of the sights you have to see, you can “knock out” most of the tourist spots in one day. Starting at the Spanish Steps, then to Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and The Pantheon (or you can do that backwards if you would like to see sunset on the Spanish Steps- which I would recommend). I would save Vatican City and Castel Sant’Angelo for a day together (as they are right next to each other). You’ll spend over half a day at The Vatican, so make sure you plan accordingly. I would also devote the Roman Forum, Colosseum, and Alter of the Fatherland to its own day (I would end the day at the monument as watching the sunset on the Forum is just incredible).

Honestly, I can’t recommend walking around Rome enough (fun fact- I said the same thing about London). There is just so much to see and the history of the city is so rich, that you can just turn a corner and there are the columns of an Ancient Rome building or see the culture up close and personal with people chatting about life in Rome. It’s just incredible. Everyone is incredibly hospitable as well and are happy to help in stores, restaurants, hotels.

In terms of eating- there is very little that you can do wrong in Rome. Thing is, a lot of the blogs that I read before going there said that the best restaurants are the ones off the beaten path, that don’t have the waiters waiting outside to lure you in, and I don’t know if I agree with that necessarily. Rome is a tourist spot and so, yes the restaurants are going to do whatever they can to get folks seated in their restaurant. I can tell you this, hole in the wall or on the tourist pathway, we did not have one bad meal. For specific recommendations: we loved The Loft for breakfast/brunch and Il Miraggio for lunch (and dinner), as well as Don Chisciotte. Those are the three that really stood out, but you can look back through my posts to see where else we ate.

Tips:

As always, I highly recommend using public transportation. Driving in Rome is not dissimilar to driving in New York City. The underground metro system is great and easy to navigate and, while the bus system isn’t the greatest, it will get you from place A to place B easier than if you tried to drive it yourself. You can buy a 7-day pass for the transport system and it is reasonably priced and well worth it.

Something you already probably know is that Rome is a tourist destination. There is no doubt that it is packed with people and the tourist spots (like Trevi Fountain) are going to be incredibly crowded. Be aware of yourself, your belongings, and your children (as you would any other time of traveling). But also, if you are wanting to get “the picture”, don’t be afraid to go to a different spot. You don’t need to queue in line with a bunch of other people, walk to another corner or spot and you’ll not only get a unique shot, but it’ll also be much easier to see things a little differently. You don’t always have to fight the crowds to see the scene.

I think that that is all I’ve got for tips and recommendations. Honestly, there is very little that you can really go wrong with in Rome! I LOVED everything we did and saw while there. Everything is just such a dream and so surreal and the people were so welcoming. However, I know that this post was vague at times, so if you have more specific questions, please feel free to send me a message or email and I can go into more specifics!

Round the Kettle Ep. 22- Entering February (finally!)

Oh hi. It’s been a while since I’ve done a Round the Kettle chatty post. They are still happening (as if you were really worried ha-ha), but I really felt the “workload” of the Christmas Season at the end of November and through December. I didn’t want to inundate your feed and email boxes with a ridiculous amount of posts, so I let them go until after the New Year past. This is probably going to be a “thing” that I do every year while we are in Europe. There is just so much to do and see around Christmas Season that I want to share, that they just aren’t possible.

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Let’s start with a little catch up…how are you doing?

So, a brief catch up…as you will now know we spent our New Years in Rome on a weeklong holiday that still seems just so surreal in my mind. I can’t believe that I can say that I’ve been to Rome…just like I can say I’ve been to Scotland, London, Dover, The Netherlands…I mean the list goes on. It’s even more surreal and reflective as we are starting to come up on our one-year mark of living in Germany (that post is coming up this coming week). It’s funny because we are just living our normal lives, day to day, and then going on these incredible adventures that we only dreamed about.

I digress…

January passed by as January always seems to, dragging by, giving all of us that New Year’s funk at the end and making us wonder…will February ever come?! Don’t worry, February is here, and we’ve all survived. In a way January wasn’t too bad for me this year, a couple rough spots here and there, but overall pretty good. But February? I anticipate February being a rough one. We’ve got quite a few changes coming our way starting on Monday and I just feel like settling into a new groove is going to be…interesting. Our oldest is starting his preschool program, my husband has been much busier with work in January and into February, and I’m trying to figure out what our “normal” is going to be moving forward once again. It’s all good things, but it just means we’ve got a bit of a transition to make.

With that being said, I am going to be taking a little step back from the blog for a couple weeks in February. This week there will be posts as normal, and then there will be two weeks where I am not going to have any blog posts going up. I will be active as normal on IG/FB, but in terms of blog content, it’ll be quiet. I really try to take a week or two weeks “off” a couple times of year as I find that it helps me quiet my mind and refresh my brain. I’ve been writing pretty consistently for a few months now without a break (I posted a 14 posts in December where I normally average 9-11 posts a month) and I really just need to take a minute, not stare at a blank word document, and just breathe. February tends to actually be a pretty good time to do this as it is slow and quiet as it is (we aren’t traveling at all this month) and with these couple things changing at home, I need to just be able to focus on life.

How was your January? Did you have a good month or are you just ready for February?