Sunday, October 21, 2012

Out with the Old!

Before we bought our fabulous home, we had an expert come around and check it out. He was satisfied with the status of just about everything in the house - the heating, the windows, the walls, the roof, etc - but there was one aspect of the house that he said "must" change: the patio.

Over the years, the patio had settled unevenly, resulting in loose tiles that made walking on part of the patio a bit adventurous (PJ liked those parts more than the barefoot Mr.) and led to water running towards the house rather than away from it. I don't know about you, but we like when water heads in the other direction.

So, out it had to go.

I thought its be pretty simple: pick out some new tiles and get it done.

I had no idea how many tile options are out there. I'm pretty sure the stack of brochures I collected weighs about as much as I do.

And patio shapes! Why go with square when there are so many other, more natural shapes out there? Curves! Swoops!

And patio sizes! Why stick with the same, cramped patio when we could make it wider and/or longer?

And lights! Why not? Really, why not?

Long story, short: it took three months for us to decide what the "new" patio should look like.It didn't help that we also had some rather out of control vines and bushes around the patio. Did I mention that mosquitoes love exactly those types of vines?

Here is the patio - post one round of rather dramatic vine cutting - in July 2012.

You can see how deeply the patio sunk on the left side.
The mosquito vines are hanging behind me.

Those cracks in the patio? Not suppose to be there.
Like those vines behind the grill? So do those mosquitoes.

We started in August to cut the vines back even further and I took out one of the bushes. I guess when the mosquitoes got starved out, the peacocks from the castle decided our patio wasn't so bad.

What our patio looked like on Friday, October 19, 2012.
When we finally had a plan and I finally ordered the materials - we could finally start directly working on our project. Yesterday the real work began: tearing up the patio tiles, removing the underlying sand, and digging the hole for the patio extension. Considering we aren't the handy-iest of people and aren't in the best of shape and frankly don't quite know what we are doing...we kicked ass.

The tiles are up, the offensive vine is gone.

The other offensive vine is also gone, as is an impressive amount of earth, and a complete bush.

Next weekend, we put down the new foundational materials. Then our lovely friend, The Garden Goddess, will lay down the tiles.

And then, because we've crossed off all the big projects from our list, something will go wrong - cause that's how home owning works, I've been told. Right?


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dear Driver of The Big Shiny Car

Dear driver of the very nice, very fast car with the license plate PF US XXX,

I will be praying for you and your family. Lord knows someone was out there praying for me and mine this morning. Otherwise I just can't explain how you failed to total our cars and kill one or both of us.

We both have families with little ones. In fact, they spend their days just across the road from each other: yours at the school and mine at the day care. I think seeing you with your child and carrying mine in my heart always, your behavior this morning is especially bizarre to me. Maybe you were just in a hurry, running late like I was this morning too. Or maybe you have a new car - it is a really nice looking car - and you are still enjoying its powerful pick-up. Or maybe you are a thrill seeker and seek out opportunities for a rush. I don't know why you almost ran me into incoming traffic by coming up so hard and fast on my right side in a zipper formation in the center of Schwetzingen.

Or maybe you are American and you don't know how to drive in a zipper or that passing on the right is all sorts of illegal in Germany? And that the speed limit is a pretty tight 50 kilometers an hour within German towns?

Whatever the reason might have been, we were both lucky (blessed?) that my grandfather rammed defensive driving into me between the ages of 16 and 28. Each time he rode with me, he drove me crazy with his reminders to pay attention - know what and who is on the left, the right, headed towards me and always repeating "its better to be alive, than to be right." 

For example this morning, did you see the massive construction vehicle headed towards us? Well, actually headed towards me before you whipped past me, partially cutting me off and mostly pushing me into the left lane. Have you ever driven a vehicle that large? I haven't but I did drive a tractor more than a couple times and I took physics in college. Maybe you don't realize that a vehicle that massive cannot stop as quickly as, say, your very nice car. Even if that driver had been the best driver in the entire world, he or she couldn't have really done a whole lot if I hadn't first seen you coming, aggressively, on my right and slammed onto my breaks hard and long.

Did you hear the screech of my tires? Those of the cars behind us? Did you hear the horns of other drivers, shocked and angry? Did you see the driver of the construction vehicle hit the breaks hard too? Did you see how close it got?

Did you see me survive?

Or were you already too far ahead, too focused on your own world, too ignorant to realize what you had just done?

I don't know. I just know that I am so thankful that someone was praying for me and my family. I am thankful that my grandfather drove me nuts. I am so thankful that I was in our very nice, big Mercedes this morning and not in our little, sweet VW.

Tonight, when I see my family, I am going to hug them hard. I hope you will to. We are so lucky to enjoy our families, to watch our little ones grow, and to be their parents. I don't know about you, but I want a lot more time with my child and my husband. I want many more mornings, afternoons, evenings, and, yes, even crazy, interrupted nights.

So, please, the next time you are behind the wheel of your fancy car, could you please remember your family? I assume that they love you, that they want more time with you, and that they are particularly happy to see you in normal clothes, rather than a prison uniform, and sitting in your living room, rather than laying in a casket.

And please, please, please also remember that your fellow drivers have families too and none of us want to host a funeral for a young mommy, especially for one who dies for absolutely no reason at all.

All the best,       Pickle

Monday, October 8, 2012

Oktoberfest in Schwetzingen

I may have already mentioned how great our new neighbors are in a recent post. But you don't have to take my word for it, a proof point instead.

Oktoberfest has begun in München! Don't know what Oktoberfest is? You poor thing, follow this link to Wikipedia.

We are about 5 hours away from Munich which might as well be the other side of the world for us these days. Thankfully our neighbors decided to bring Oktoberfest to Schwetzingen. For brunch. Including Oktoberfest appropriate massive one liter (or 34 ounce) beers.

These people are our type of people.

And they invited us!

We may have been a little surprised by the liter beers. For a second.

Along with the beer, there was quite the buffet spread. Yummy! Since the party started right at PJ's nap time, we both got to eat our food warm. In case you don't happen to have a toddler at home, warm food during a party is pretty darn cool for parents.

Weisswurst, Fleischkäse, cake. What more could you want?

I have no idea what this should be but it looked pretty nifty. Anyone know what it might be?

We must have sat at the table for hours, chatting, listening, laughing. The table was mixed and stories and jokes flew in every direction and everyone was included.

Then PJ woke up and got into the groove with a PJ sized pretzel. The kid is smart: who doesn't love a good pretzel?

When the Mr. had enjoyed enough beer, PJ enough pretzels and admiration from the entire party, and I got enough cake, we all toddled home. The Mr. promptly took a three hour nap (might be a little jealous about that one) and PJ started practicing to be a waiter at Oktoberfest 2030.

The real waiters and maids must be able to carry 10 loaded one liter beer mugs. I have no idea how they do that. Maybe they start with three sippy cups.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Heidelberger Herbst - What a Year Changes

Heidelberg rolled out the red carpet recently for its weekend-long, extremely full Fall Festival called "Heidelberg Herbst." Basically the entire city center fills with stands offering beer and food and beer and beer and ... getting the point? ...and tourists from all over.

Pre-baby we'd roll towards the Herbst in the late evening and enjoy a number of those beer stands. Now, post-baby we've slowly discovered that there are actually lots of other things being offered at the Herbst. Things like clothing and antiques and music and tons of different types of food. Even kids games and rides. Who knew?

Last year the Herbst was one of our first big outings with little PJ and my sister was here with us. It was the first time we took public transport with little man. I was shocked to discover that I never posted about our trip because it was pretty damn awesome. Better late than never!

Back then, last year, we took PJ out in the Baby Björn (please never use one of these - go with a baby-friendly Ergo or like product instead) and he slept as he had never slept before.

The Mr loving on PJ as he hangs in the Baby Björn.

There was all sort of silliness that happened. This is my favorite picture of that silliness.

PJ was just a few months old and we stopped on a stoop for a snack.

I can't seem to locate a picture of my sister at the Herbst and she was so fabulous at the Herbst. I can't believe that I missed taking pictures of all that. Anyways, for a reminder, here is my amazing sister.

You can't help but love someone with those sunglasses.

This year, we again took public transport. PJ enjoyed it quite a lot more this time around.

At first on daddy's lap for the food.

Later in his own seat, like a big boy.

This year instead of being carried the entire time, he started off on his own two feet.

Later we stopped on a stoop for a snack. What a differance of year makes!

Instead of my awesome sister, we ran into some good friends over Guiness at the Irish bar. Everyone had their own coaster. Everyone. PJ insisted. 

After ensuring his own coaster - and 'prost-ing' everyone five times - he took a tour of the Irish bar. I think he was more than at home. That sort of worries me but I'm taking it a day at the time.

After a bit of walking around we discovered a bouncing castle. Is there anything better? Try to find PJ holding his own as the smallest in the castle. He totally held his own and for quite a long time.

Right when we were suppose to be headed home, little PJ feel asleep in the Ergo. So we posed quickly....

and then stayed for a while. We might gone a slight bit bar hopping. But just maybe.
That may be a toddler asleep on his back. Or not.
Bar hopping does remain the best part of the Herbst afterall.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Happy Schwetzingen Weekend!

We bought our house in April and moved at the end of June. That means we've lived here less than three months and yet I find it hard to believe we lived anywhere else. Often I feel like this house was waiting for us, hoping for a young, chaotic, loving family. Since we were searching for a comfortable home in a good neighborhood with decent neighbours....lets just say the house got what it was waiting for and we hit a major jackpot.

I love this house. The Mr. loves this house. PJ loves this house. The more we settle, the more often the Mr. will turn to me or I will turn to the Mr. and say, "I can't believe we got this house."

The house? Sooooo comfortable. I didn't think I would really like to separate our sleeping from our living spaces with a set of stairs. I was wrong. The separation is great, especially when guests come over for a visit (read: less space to tidy/clean). I also wasn't too sure about a kitchen physically separated from the dining and living room. Wrong there too. Yes, open kitchens still have a great charm but there is also a joy in closing the door on too many damn dishes.

And we definitely have room to grow in this house. Currently the entire third floor and third bathroom are waiting for their first residents. Hint. Hint.

The neighborhood?
5 minute walk to the castle gardens. Yeah, you right that right: we live next to a castle. My commute involves driving past a castle. So cool.
5 minutes walk to a playground for both little and big kids. It even has water.
10 minute walk to the cafe's and beer garden and the bi-weekly farmers' market that makes the grocery store almost pointless.
20 minutes walk to PJ's day care. Which is in an old villa. Did you go to day care in a villa? Me either.
and so much more.

The neighbors?
One word: wow. There are five kids on our little street alone; one is just months older than PJ and they get on really well. Our next door neighbors are incredibly friendly and interested without being too interested, if you know what I mean. We've already had dinner with two of the families on our street; were invited to one birthday party; and got flower seed from another. In Germany...lets just say that is something to be thankful about.

For me, what's also great is that all the other moms with little kids on our street are working moms. So that whole how-could-you-leave-your-baby-elephant-in-the-room stuff doesn't exist. Sigh of relieve here.

I could go on and go, instead I'll move to our neat little town Schwetzingen. Beyond a good infrastructure - including day care spots for toddlers under 2.5 years old - it feels like there is something going on every week for the general public. Two weekend ago there was the "Festival for Children from Children."

Of course, we went - it was a 10 minute walk away!

The Steinbach clan. All three of us!

Little man in front of the spargel statue on the Platz in front of the castle.

PJ loving the jumping castle.*

Beyond the food tents and the games for little kids, there were even games for the bigger kids as well as shops open on a, gasp!, Sunday.

The Mr. trying his hand at bow and arrow.

He has a surprisingly good shot.

We very happily ran into another family that we know there. PJ had a great time playing with the two boys and not only did I get a picture with PJ, but the entire Steinbach clan got one together!

PJ and me!!!!!

The Steinbach clan again!! PJ currently has a tongue thing going...who could he have gotten that from?

It was an excellent day, in our great new hometown, topped off with a yellow balloon.

How much better can it get, I ask you?

Not too much, me thinks.

* I admit it; I've got a thing for this castle theme.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Trying to Stay in the Picture

This beautiful article, written by Allison Tate, on Huffington Post just popped up on my person Facebook page. I clicked on it expecting another tongue-in-cheek article that would make me laugh. Instead the first person essay about being in pictures as a mother made me sad.

You see, I love pictures. I take a lot of pictures, especially now that I have a little boy and taking pictures of him is even more fun. I take pictures because I like to look at pictures. I am one of the few that still orders prints and then stores them carefully in photo albums. I take them down randomly and flip through the pictures - they make me happy in a very special way.

But I've stopped printing pictures out in the past six months. In part because it hurts. You might have noticed in this blog: I have a lot of pictures of PJ; the Mr and PJ; other people and PJ; a number of pictures of me holding the camera so that I have a picture of me with PJ; and few of PJ and I together. Especially before my parents and nana arrived to visit, there are precious, precious few pictures of me with PJ. Because those people who were around in those first few weeks either didn't take pictures or took pictures of them with PJ or the Mr. with PJ.

Learning from the hurt, I asked our very talented photographer friend, Aline Lange, to take just a few pictures of PJ and I at his first birthday. And good thing: there was not one single picture of us together by anyone else. And only one of the entire Steinbach clan.

There are most likely some good reasons for that. In the first few weeks of PJ's life, I wasn't doing well. Often I went to my bedroom or slept when there were visitors. Afterwards....well I'm not sure what that was but I'm sure it wasn't mean-hearted. I guess if  we lived close to my family and my long-time friends, they would have most likely taken pictures primarily of me with PJ, leaving out the Mr. (like on our American vacation). No one means to ignore me or leave me out of the picture (literally) but that is what has happened.

And it hurts. Because just like the author I "someday, I want them to see me, documented, sitting right there beside them: me, the woman who gave birth to them....I'm everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. Someday I won't be here -- and I don't know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now -- but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother."

I am not a perfect mother but I am perfectly PJ's mother. I'd like some record of that, as egotistical as it may be. Until then, do me and all the other moms a favor: take a picture of mom with the kids. I'm not the only one wishing for more pictures.

And moms: hold still and smile.

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