Friday, December 19, 2014

Vienna and Salzburg

I had a heated discussion with Andy about the meaning of continental Europe before I left. I’ve been to Europe before (I studied abroad in Ireland and went on a family vacation in London), but I said something about it being my first time in continental Europe and Andy nearly choked on his coffee. It’s all continental Europe, he said, laughing at me. I’m right, though! Hear that, babe? I’M RIGHT.

Back in August my parents told us we wouldn’t be doing a big family trip in 2015 like we had all hoped. Miss “I’ve got the travel bug” over here was really disappointed. Then, one day in October, my sister called and told me knew how bummed I was that we weren’t doing a trip. She mentioned the Christmas markets in Austria and how mom thought it would be fun to do that for her 60th birthday and take us girls, so... did I want to go? I burst into tears. Wait, what? THIS Christmas? A few days later, our tickets were purchased. It was crazy, I tell ya! I was so overwhelmed by it all that I kept the news mostly to myself for a while. 

Anyway, on to the trip! There is so much to share, but I’ll stick to things that stand out in my memory and share more little details in personal conversation. (I also have more pics, but I have to get them from my mom and sister.)

Our first stop was Vienna. We arrived the morning of Dec. 2nd and stayed until midday Dec. 4th. We then stayed in Salzburg for three nights before heading to Innsbruck on Sunday, the 7th.

A few highlights from Vienna:

If you stand on any street and spin around slowly, you’ll take in at least one incredibly ornate building or beautiful park or crazy statue. OR all three. (For example, here’s what you would see if you were standing in front of Michaelerplatz, the stunning building pictured above. In the linked image, you’ll see the building on the left has arched windows on the ground floor. That’s where we had breakfast! Also, there are Roman ruins right in the middle of everything. So cool.)

Vienna was simply glorious. Walking down each street felt like a new adventure! There were lots of skinny alleyways with shops tucked inside and cafes everywhere. 

We had great goulash and wiener schnitzel in Vienna, but my favorite meal was at a tiny Italian restaurant called Cantinetta La Norma. A friend of ours had been there and recommended it, and we weren’t let down. I also loved the hot dog we had outside of St. Stephens. The vendor took a baguette, skewered it with a rod, squirted mustard and ketchup inside the middle and then shoved a long skinny hot dog down into hot, sauce-y bread. (Is it just me or does that sound like a violent way to make a hot dog?) Well, it was fabulous. My sister ate at that same hot dog stand five years ago and had been dreaming of it ever since. I can see why!

Part of the fun of being in Europe in the winter was seeing everyone all bundled up and sporting cute boots. People were out and about at all times of day and night and every glühwein stand was PACKED.  ’Twas all very cozy. :)

A quick rundown of what we did (not in chronological order): walked in, around and on top of St. Stephens, explored multiple Christmas markets, listened to a opera soloist accompanied by a harpist at the beautiful Vienna State Opera, viewed training of the famous Lipizzaner stallions and walked through the grounds at Belvedere palace.

A few highlights from Salzburg:

The coolest thing about Salzburg is seeing the fortress/castle everywhere you go. Unless of course, you’re inside the fortress, and then you have an incredible view of the city and surrounding countryside. We were in Salzburg for three nights and we went up to the fortress three times. On our first night we took the funicular up and we practically had the whole place to ourselves. The next day we walked through the city and up to the castle. It was a steep walk. We spent a good chunk of time walking through the various rooms, checking out the little Christmas market inside the castle and doing an audio tour (which was actually really good). On our last day we walked to the castle by crossing the river and taking a path over the Mönchsberg mountain. I would definitely recommend making that hike if you’re in Salzburg!

As if being in picturesque Salzburg wasn’t dreamy enough, we were upgraded from our perfectly lovely and large junior-King suite to THE PRESIDENTIAL SUITE. It had a doorbell. And a huge flatscreen in the master bathroom. And a dining room table. We also had access to the hotel’s VIP lounge, where we could eat and drink whenever we so pleased. Free beer on tap. Champagne at the ready. THE best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Plus, we were served by a really sweet girl who snuck us snacks out of the kitchen just to make our stay even more delightful. My mom asked her where the hotel bought their stollen and she brought out a box for us to take home, on the house. She also introduced us to Nic-Nacs, crispy-coated peanuts that quickly became my new snack obsession. It’s embarrassing how many bags of peanuts I stuffed into my suitcase...

One night we ran into a group of TERRIFYING costumed creatures that we later found out were Krampus. (The server I mentioned told us she was afraid to walk home after work because the Krampus scare her so much. Kind of like this.) Thankfully, none of us were whipped!

Other than exploring the castle, we also walked up and down the streets of the Old City and did a bit of shopping, lots of Christmas-marketing, walking inside churches with our heads back and mouths open, checking out Mirabell Gardens and devouring the best apple strudel at Café Tomaselli (the oldest operating coffee house in Austria). We also took a bus to the Christmas Market in Hellbrunn, just outside of Salzburg. (Notice the Advent markings on the windows.)

Oh, and WE WENT ICE SKATING! In SALZBURG! Somebody pinch me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


I miss that view! I miss rows of brightly-colored houses, ducking into alleys and constantly thinking is this real life? I miss holding hands with my mom in the markets and wigging out over food and drinks with my sister. (Three words: goulash, glühwein and weihnachtspunsch!)

Oh, but I missed my little family, too. I can’t seem to stop hugging the dog and saying “hiiiiii! I’m home!” to Andy. I unpacked my bags THE DAY AFTER I got back, so apparently the trip turned me into a responsible adult. Maybe it was the Alpine air? WHO AM I?

My birthday was a bit of a flop. I threw up from feeling nauseous on the plane, cried a bit from seeing lots of mommies with their babies aaaand my van was rear-ended on the drive home to Frederick. Womp womp. I called Andy sobbing and sputtering, I just want to be home.

For all that drama, though, the day ended rather nicely with me reading in bed next to my pup and my guy. Saturday night we went out to eat downtown to celebrate and we took a stroll through Shab Row, which was all decorated for Christmas. It was fantastically romantic.

I was doing rather well this weekend, thinking I had the whole jet-lag thing under control and feeling quite on top of my emotions. Then yesterday morning happened. I woke up and was immediately hit with the longest anxiety attack I’ve ever had. Showering will help, no? No. It didn’t help. A protein-packed breakfast will do the trick. Nope. So I cancelled my afternoon sub job and cried, feeling sorry for myself and wondering why on earth I was shaking and crying. Except, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Jet lag + heavy heart + PMS + coming down from the high of a trip can’t possibly equate to things being easy peasey.

I don’t want to be a broken record, constantly saying how hard it is or how anxious I feel or how I’m ready to get out of this limbo. I feel I am ridiculously high maintenance, and who wants to feel that way? But I also don’t want to be that girl who plasters a smile on her face and doesn’t let anyone see the pain she feels inside. (I am that girl sometimes, and it’s exhausting. Spilling my frustrations is tiring too, but I usually feel a bit of relief afterwards.)

Thank God for my sweet friend Kristen in Florida who, immediately after receiving my “having crazy anxiety right now” text took charge and ordered us dinner so I could rest. Man, I’m crying again just thinking about it. Isn’t it wonderful when your people show up for you?

I hope I am stronger today. I hope I can fill out the medical history form at the spa without crying or internally screaming at God. (I can’t tell you how many people have seen the “c-section” note and asked me how my kids are.) I hope I can make it through the line of the grocery store without being tempted to approach the pregnant teenager in line behind me. Can I have your baby? I hope I can make dinner and have a smile on my face when Andy walks in from work, and I hope I can honestly say, “I had a good day.”

If I just can’t take it, if I fall apart and rush home and surrender to the tears, there are always vacation pictures to thumb through. HGTV to watch. Puppy fur to bury my face in. Large manly feet to place my feet on top of and a yummy-smelling chest to lean against as we shuffle-dance in the kitchen. And really, that wouldn’t be so bad.

Monday, November 17, 2014

2014 gift guide

I always have fun putting these gift guides together. I’m heavily influenced by my own tastes and what I’d buy for Andy, so it’s entirely possible you won’t find a single helpful thing. But, maybe you will! At the very least, I hope these guides get the gears in your head moving and make gift-buying less stressful.

clockwise from left:
  • A classic red plaid scarf (regularly $29.99, but use the code CHEER thru 11/18 for 40% off)
  • A festive pitcher ($25) that would also make a cheery vase
  • This top-rated bronzer set ($22) includes four bronzers and a brush 
  • A jaunty fedora ($28, multiple colors), because the recipient wants to be a hat-wearer but is too nervous to buy one for herself
  • This goofy mug ($10) would give your selfie-loving friend a prop to pose with :)
  • This fitbit ($47.73) syncs to your devices and can be used with other apps, such as MyFitnessPal or SparkPeople
  • I featured these totes ($45) in my 2012 guide because I own one and I LOVE it! (The striped metallic tote is rather fabulous, too)
  • How happy is this desk accessory set? ($24, multiple colors)
  • I recently checked this bestselling novel ($16.20) out from the library and can’t wait to read it!
  • A geometric frame ($14.95) adds interest to a special photograph

clockwise from left:

  • A sleek backpack ($49.99, multiple colors) carries his laptop and gym clothes (Andy’s Kellogg’s backpack travels everywhere with us)
  • A growler ($38.68), so he can bring his favorite local beers home or take his home-brew to friends
  • Andy used a plastic bag for his toiletries before I bought him a travel bag ($12.70)
  • No kid at heart can resist a toilet mug ($10) (I bought one for my brother-in-law one year and Andy was bummed that I didn’t buy him one)
  • All he really wants to do is hang out in sweatpants (regularly $29.94, but use the code CHEER thru 11/18 for 35% off)
  • This bestselling biography ($9.60) will be a book he’ll never forget (it really is that good)
  • A bestselling piece of brain science ($9.78) to make him go “huh!” (if he’s read and enjoyed any of Gladwell’s books, he’ll like this one — it’s fascinating)
  • Hat clip and ball markers (various prices, the Bear’s set is $8.99)
  • Because he’s always getting holes in his socks ($17.49 for set of six) (I got this exact set from Costco last week for $9.99)
  • My guy runs on Dunkin’, does yours? Dunkin' Donuts gift card

check out previous gift guides, here

Thursday, November 13, 2014

giving thanks

I hung a banner from the mantle today. It was the second time I’ve hung this banner after losing a baby. The banner reads “Be thankful.”


I hung it, and then I sat on the stair landing for a while and stared at it. Be thankful.
My flesh wanted to tear that banner down and rip it into shreds while screaming I AM NOT THANKFUL at the top of my lungs.

But I have sat in bitterness for quite some time now, and I’m getting a little tired of it. I have allowed myself to feel anger, to scream into pillows and to say cynical things to people who I trust (who know that my heart is tethered to Christ, even though I spout words of doubt). I sit in sorrow, too. Sorrow as my arms feel emptier than ever. Sorrow as I unfollow friend after friend on social media because the statuses and pictures fill me with longing and remind me of what I do not have. Sorrow as I wrestle alongside Andy with the knowledge that our God, who we love and who we KNOW loves us, has allowed us to suffer in this way.

In the midst of this bitterness and sorrow, my soul cries out for relief. In my suffering, I find myself closer to God than ever before. I feel my bitterness slowly (sloowwwly) leaving. It’s being replaced by a voice that whispers, Just be. 

Rest in me.

A friend of mine and fellow hurting mama wrote the following in her most recent blog post:

Deserts can be harsh and lonely, but there in the quiet, character is being built, and an ear is trained to the soft whispers of God carried on a high wind. But in the desert, there are choices. Choices to resist, or choices to be molded by it. Choices to run, or choices to see it as an opportunity for growth and stay until God says “Move.”

Amen, girl.
(How beautiful was that?)

So here I am, just being. Here I am, fighting the urge to run. Here I am, staying until God says move.

And in this place of just being, I can think of quite a lot of things to be thankful for.

I adore this rendition of the following hymn:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

loving and losing

Friday morning I woke up, and I knew. It’s coming.
I felt the anger, anxiety and crippling sadness well up within me, but I wasn’t ready to lose myself to it.
Instead, I was ready to be soothed by the cabin, our cherished getaway. I spent nearly all my time around the crackling fire. Crossword puzzling, reading, drinking coffee. At night I set up a bed in the family room, snuggled under a pile of quilts and watched the embers burn, willing them to melt away the ice I’ve packed around my heart.

Saturday I woke up and I thought it had passed.
We hiked to a view that feels like ours, after twenty-some years of reaching the same familiar outcropping of rocks and looking down at the same familiar lake where I used to swim and paddle and skate. I gulped in the sweet mountain air and for a little while I forgot that I am sad.

Sunday the dam burst open. I went from being energized from my morning walk to suddenly feeling suffocated by all the remembering. I picked a fight with Andy (over a biscuit, of all things) and I spiraled out of control until I realized where it was all coming from (hint: not the biscuit). Just when I’d think I couldn’t cry any more, more tears would come. I kept telling myself you knew this was going to happen, just let it happen. But knowing doesn’t make the happening any easier, and I spent the rest of the afternoon in a heap of pillows and tissues.

I am tired of loving and losing. I am tired of falling apart. I am tired of forcing myself awake at night because all I see when I close my eyes is a hospital bed and all I hear are screams.

Sometimes a hurt is so deep deep deep
You think that you're gonna drown
Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep
With all this rain falling down

I’ll hold it together for a little while, an hour or a day or even a few days. Then it hits me: I was pregnant, and now I am not. I am reliving the pain of losing John while also experiencing a new pain — the pain of losing two. The pain of opening my heart up to hope again only to hold that hope dead in my arms.

Today is (was?) my due date for Jane, the little girl of my dreams. I woke up to an extra long hug from my husband, who later called me and sweetly asked if I’d like to meet him for lunch at the new burger place in town. (He knows the way to my heart.) Now I will read and later we will finish our jigsaw puzzle and watch a movie and if I stand in the shower and cry for a little while it will be okay, because I know that at some point I will get out, at some point my tears won’t be so frequent and some day this awful, piercing ache will dull.

some photos from the weekend… I am thankful for moments like these — when I feel a break from my suffering, when I feel a little bit like the old me.