Vacation; Germany Edition

I'm thinking that vacation is just going to take a while to talk about, because how can you fit nearly 3 weeks of travel into one blog post? Let's start at the beginning, because that's a very good place to start.

I sat by Barf Boy on the flight from Pittsburgh to NYC, returned a lost wallet containing cash and passport to a passenger before boarding NYC to Germany, watched 3 movies and a TV show in flight over night, arrived in Germany at 3am our time. We ate lunch, napped for 2 hours to make up for losing an entire night's sleep and a 6 hour time change, and hit the streets of Frankfurt for a 5 hour walking tour like bosses.

That was Day 1.

And this is Frankfurt's town square.

I'm not sure why I am so fascinated by the fact that Germans embrace their traditions so hard, but I love it. Immensely. I mean, we don't still build log cabins as standard in The States just because they're traditional. Some folks do because they're pretty, but that's not the same concept. There's talk in Germany of ditching the old for more modern buildings, but the two sides are at odds, but Germany in general is thinking that old will always have a place beside the new. 

This, also, is Frankfurt. This is the shopping district where our host lived. Even in a photo, I still get the vibe that it's cleaner, quieter and friendlier than a US city is. We greatly enjoyed Frankfurt, and of course visiting with our host. Despite the 23 years since she was an exchange student with my family, it's like we just picked up where we left off. Only the best of friends can do that. It was so very nice to catch up on the past 2 decades with each other.

Frankfurt in the evening hours is a magical place that draws people outdoors. Europeans in general eat outdoors, but I think Germans take that to extremes. We were told that even in winter, if it's a sunny day, Germans will wipe the snow off the cafe tables and sit huddled with a coffee cup steaming their faces, enjoying a rare glimpse of sunlight. While all of Europe loves eating outdoors, Germans managed to take this to extremes. Italians and Spaniards scoffed at the German dedication, and wished them warmth.

In Frankfurt, we had schnitzel, sauerkraut and potato salad for dinner. Of course. Those were delicious. Blood sausage, however, was decidedly not. Neither was Apple Wine. Frankfurt in general was a fun little city. I loved the farmer's market, the flower shops, the old architecture, and the modestly dressed people. There were no leggings as pants and no pajama bottoms anywhere to be seen. It was rather refreshing.

We took a cruise up the Rhine River and toured a castle, which was an incredible second day kind of event. Castles are so very European, and Germany has the lion's share, I'm sure of it. The fun of castles just never quite wore off. Every time we'd spot another one we would exclaim like kids finding another gift under the Christmas tree. This was the only castle we toured, but we most certainly enjoyed the architecture of all that we saw, and relished in the history of it all. History older than the United States. I mean, my gosh.

Our third day in Germany was an interesting one for sure. This was the day that our host asked if we thought we might be okay going to Heidelberg all by ourselves while she prepared for all of us to leave for Switzerland the next day. We were quite apprehensive about being in a foreign country without a tour guide or an interpreter, but she assured us that the train took us directly to Heidelberg and brought us right back to Frankfurt. She'd buy the tickets for us and meet us at the station upon our return. She also said she'd go with us if we really wanted her to, but we were in Europe for an adventure, so we chose to go alone.

Heidelberg has a charming castle and historic district, as many German towns do. The Christmas shop there was by far my favorite as I have an extensive holiday collection and like to add to it as often as I can. We can experience those things at  home. Thankfully many people spoke English well enough there that it wasn't an issue that we were completely clueless about the language. I did order our lunch in German well enough that the waiter assumed I could fluently speak the language, and a lot of head scratching and pointing and gesturing ensued before I finally got the point across that I just wanted a fork to eat our pastry with, please. Yes, we had pastries for lunch. Vacation rocks that way. 

We took the early train back because we figured we'd just as soon wait at the Frankfurt station for our host as the Heidelberg station. Turns out, not being able to read the German signs any more than recognizing town names can be disastrous when one needs to travel. The early train was also the slow train, and stopped at every little village along the way. It was definitely the scenic route, and we were enjoying ourselves, until the train conductor collected our ticket and angrily told us we were on the wrong train as he pointed to the other one speeding past us that we should have been on. Oops. And an even bigger oops resulted from this when we didn't arrive back in Frankfurt earlier, but 90 minutes later due to all the village hopping we did. Our host was frantic and we were out of touch completely. AT&T doesn't have a cell tower in Germany, so reception was zero with our phones. We didn't panic, though, because there was a pay phone at the station. Turns out, if you can't understand the foreign language, figuring out which buttons to push to make the pay phone work is going to be a game changer. Through WiFi siphoned off a bar across the street from the train station, Sam was able to iMessage Becky back home, who was able to text Kay that we were at the station, waiting. A lot of back and forth texting and messaging happened before we finally found each other an hour later.

Don't ever leave us in a foreign country without a means of communication and/or an interpreter. But hey, we had an adventure.

We had schnitzel at a beer garden for dinner that night, because that's what locals do, and it was great comfort food. We did not, however, partake of the "dessert" drink that our host and her husband shared. I sipped hers to see if we wanted to share one for ourselves, and then couldn't help making the face that I involuntarily do when I medicate myself with NyQuil, because that's exactly what it tastes like. Germans take NyQuil as dessert. They're hard core. With dinner, Frankfurters also very much enjoy a glass of Apple Wine, and while I thought this might be something I'd enjoy as a girly kind of fruity drink, it most certainly is not. It's nothing more than apple cider vinegar, sipped from a special glass made just for the Apple Wine, and poured from a Bambl, created just to pour Apple Wine from. Frankfurt is crazy proud of their invention. Don't ever tell them that adding alcohol to vinegar isn't the most creative thing ever. They'll be totally offended.

We shopped the Farmers Market on the streets of Frankfurt one morning. I have never seen so much fresh produce, of all varieties. Being so close the Mediterranean, the vast array of produce is mind boggling, and the quality was far better than anything I've seen in the States. And I make it a point to attend Farmers Markets as often as I can. I love those places. Oddly, that was one of the highlights of my German experience. Sam and I are kind of weird foodies. Not necessarily trying all the gourmet stuff, but experiencing things local love and seeing what their grocery stores offer. We toured a grocery store as well. We were far too excited to do this, and made our host's husband laugh out loud at our enthusiasm for mundane chores. We're odd, but we embrace it.

We didn't spend a whole lot of time in Germany, as we were headed to Switzerland for the remainder of our stay with our German host, but my overall impression is of a happy people leading slower and quieter lives than ours. Technology is a thing, but they don't let it rule their lives. I love the bakeries and creameries and butcher shops on every block so locals can shop daily for their meals. Our host was out every morning before we were awake, picking up fresh rolls for breakfast after her morning run. Germany is set up to be walked a little more than American cities are. While we have sidewalks, things are big box and spread out here, rather than many repeats of smaller specialized shops all over town. It's a European thing, and I kind of loved that.

And We're Live! Ears Are The Subject Of The Night.

Dear Online Diary:

It's been a while, hasn't it? I feel as though we barely know each other anymore. I'm pretty sure it's me; not you. That whole thing where I went away for a month, and then took a month to recover from the trip really took a toll, didn't it? Let's say we start over. Can we? I'd like that.

I know I've got a lot of vacation to discuss, and that'll come. Honestly, at a month in the past already, what's it really matter if I discuss Heidelberg or Amalfi today or in yet another month? I'm going to talk, instead, about Micah's bionic ears. That poor boy.

So back in April (of 2015, future me; remember this year), Micah had ear tubes placed for the 13th time in his 12 years of life. His left ear had cartilage taken from his outer ear and used to make a grommet to insert his shiny new 13th ear tube into. This is pretty much a technique to make his ear drums retain an ear tube for a minimum of 1 year, but hopefully for as long as 4. Or 10. No, really. Ten. That's not a stretch for some kids. With Micah, we're thinking that 4 years (not months) is going to be a miracle, but we're nothing if not optimistic here.

The good doctor who performed the surgery would only do one ear at a time like that. Micah's right ear, then, had the 13th tube inserted normally. That one came out in the typical 4 months. Of course. Micah's ears are skilled at expelling tubes. If Ear Tube Expelling were an Olympic sport, he'd be gold every time. Without practicing.

We got news of Micah's ear tube being out a mere week before we left for that month long vacation. Of course. The doctor said that it would be okay to wait until we got back, so we did. It was easier that way. We were home a week when Micah went in for surgery. Micah is growing up in so many ways, and being cognitively aware of things is one of those ways. He knew that we were going for surgery, and there is no heartbreak in the world like having to tell your son that he's going to have to face his worst fears again. You can't tell him that it's going to be okay, because you know that it won't be. You can't tell him that it won't hurt, because it will. All you can do is hold him and cry with him. That's hard, right there.

My heart hurts for those parents who actually go through big things with their children, and not just ear tubes. I'm so sorry.

Despite Micah being quite distraught over impending surgery, he made us ridiculously proud by drying his tears, tucking his fears away, and facing nightmares head on. I am saddened, however, that counting failed to work with him this time. When Micah is having a hard time focusing or coping, I count with him. I'm hard pressed to explain the magic of this, but it was a real thing. In April when I went into the OR with him to help them sedate him, I told the docs, as I always do, that counting is his happy place. I'd count with Micah while they masked him, and it would be the easiest scenario for all involved. Micah was screaming and writhing as I calmly went over the steps that we'd take together, and when I held his hands and looked him in the eye and started to count, it was like a switch flipped and another boy took Micah's place. He stopped fussing. He looked at me. He focused on what I was saying. I could see him counting along with me in his head. He was still stressed, but he calmed himself down enough to stop fighting and listen. The doctor was so amazed that he forgot to give Micah the anesthesia. I had to re-explain the steps and start counting all over again.

This time, counting did not work. At all. Micah didn't even pretend to listen to me as he fought his way to sleep, trying to avoid yet another ear surgery as best as he knew how. We broke our child, and probably his trust in us as well.

Micah's right ear is now bionic just like his left ear is, and the very good news is that his ear canal didn't need widened like the other side did. That was a painful surgery which we didn't expect going into the day. The other good news is that the Bionic Left Ear was, indeed, retaining it's 13th tube quite firmly. We're very happy about that. The right ear has Tube #14 in it, and hopefully this will be his last in that for a few years.

The countdown is on. I'm remembering that 2015 is the year we placed tubes that are going to last for years and not months. I'm remembering that 2015 is a magical year. And I'm really, really hoping that we don't have to hold Micah and cry with him as we head into surgery for a very long time.

The MIAness Explained. Mostly.

I've been all sorts of MIA here lately. I've said so many times in the past 8 months, and it continues to hold true, but this year has been crazy interesting to watch unfold. There are so many changes in our lives, and each one comes with a whole "huh, interesting" factor. The candle business we started in January spurred a series of craft festivals for the year, with nearly every weekend booked from June to December. I've not hated it. and it has opened new opportunities in the "huh, that's interesting" category as well.

Midsummer, the nephew decided to go to college this fall, and I talked about how we dropped him off a few weeks ago on a weekend trip to Missouri. I have learned so much already, such as how much parents learn when they have kids in school far away. It's a growing experience for all involved. The kids are all getting older, and the hole in our family that Q left is not sad, but noticed nonetheless.

After 9 years of making shirts for kids, I have made the decision to close The Rocking Pony on Etsy. I'm not sure whether my focus shifted so much that it was evident in the store, or if that style of shirt isn't as trendy anymore, but I do know that the dog collars I'm making on Etsy have been phenomenally received. I spend hours in the sewing room, and love every minute of it.

But because that's not enough, with festivals every weekend and Etsy orders to constantly fill, I started a new job. This one is outside the home. It just kind of happened, because this is definitely the year of "huh, that's interesting." One morning I woke up, scrolled through a jobs available posting (which I never do EVER) and ended up employed. Kind of just like that. I will be working with adults with developmental delays a few days weekly, which still leaves me with a few days to get collars made. I was in training for a few weeks, and will start actual work after vacation.

And there's that, too. Vacation. In two days, Sam and I are headed to Europe for 3 weeks. The MIA will continue, I'm afraid. We're anticipating no WiFi, and if I do gain it at some point (which I'm sure I will) I'm not sure updating anything is going to be top priority. This year has also been the year that I've learned to utilize every single minute of every single day. I almost feel guilty if I take time to just sit and watch the kittens play with each other for a few minutes. It's good for productivity but it can't be that healthy for the soul. I have even learned to love being this busy, and look forward to each day and the crazy that it brings. Life is good. I have no complaints. I'm incredibly happy.

I have worked extra hard the past few weeks to set things up so that I have absolutely no work to do while on vacation. Nothing. At all. I plan to unplug and relax. I'm hoping I figure out how to do that before we get home. The Swiss Alps and the Amalfi Coast are bound to be helpful in teaching me this new concept, right?

Stay tuned for pictures. Relaxing ones.