Well, the time has finally come to toilet train our two year old (a newly turned 28 month old but who’s counting). I did my research, read the book “Potty Training in 3 Days” by Brandi Brucks, purchased 2 packs of underwear and gathered up the rewards (sticker charts, stickers, and M&Ms). Luckily we scored a Toilet Trainer Seat with Ladder from a friend because not all European toilets are the same shape and it didn’t fit on her toilet. We rolled up the living room rug and were ready for a 3 day staycation (not leaving the house for anything) as well as a 3 day electronic break (no phones or tv to really give the toilet training kiddo our full attention).
The original plan was to start on a Saturday but because Germans are following CDC guidelines like wearing masks and practicing social distancing some regulations have been relaxed. I was able to go to Dusseldorf for a ladies night out, dinner and a movie. It was delightful…but also not fair to Jeff who would be toilet training by himself the first night while also taking care of Christopher. Not that he couldn’t do it, it just wouldn’t be fair. So, we started on a Sunday so both parents could be home the whole first day. Additionally, we were babysitting another kiddo that day.
Day 1: The day began with Carson gathering all of her diapers and throwing them away. This way she knew that diapers were no longer an option. Initially she was interested in wearing “big girl underwear” and using the toilet but became frustrated with us constantly reminding her to tell us when she needed to use the toilet. Getting Carson to pause what she was doing and run to the toilet when she “felt the urge” took some time. We quickly went through 11 of the 12 pairs of Elsa & Minnie Mouse underwear. Around pair number 3, Carson would pee a little and say “WET”. We would run her to the toilet and she would finish. She definitely got the hang of getting to the toilet to pee by the end of the day. Number twos were a different story.
Day 2 &3: A complete blur…many successes, a few back slides and finally a number two on the toilet! I was starting to think it wouldn’t happen. According to the book, you don’t actually leave the house for 3 days but if things are going well, you are able to venture out for a little bit on day 4.
Day 4: We ventured out to the park, and for longer then the recommended 30 minutes. Needless to say, accidents happened. I only brought one extra pair of underwear so after she peed in the second pair she had to continue wearing them until we got home (not too long).
Day 5: We went back to the park. Carson told me she had to pee. After quickly ripping off her pants, she decided she didn’t want to pee in the park. She also didn’t want to put her pants back on.
Day 6-present day: No pee accidents! We try before we leave the house and again as soon as we come home. Even when we are out for long periods of time, Carson holds it in. She is also getting better with number twos. Only 2 number two accidents since Day 1. It seems like Carson picked it up pretty quickly. She has also been waking up dry from nap and night time. This afternoon I tempted the fates and let her take her nap in regular underwear, not the sleep underwear (pull-ups). No accidents! Fingers crossed her success story continues.
Back in September when we found out I was pregnant, we never would have guessed that we would be bringing a baby into this world during a global pandemic. We announced the soon-to-be arrival of baby Grimm #2 in cute ways and our biggest concern was that he arrived healthy, 10 fingers and 10 toes.
Except for the fact that I was extremely tired and taking care of a toddler, life continued as normal. I was still meeting friends daily at the gym, walking everywhere to run errands, and we were still traveling the world as a family. I was able to find a wonderful OB/GYN within walking distance from our house. There were some differences in prenatal care but for the most part, everything was the same.
It was important for Jeff and me to have a babymoon, like we did when pregnant with Carson. One last trip where we were a party of 3. We had originally planned to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates but due to political turmoil (aka the US killing an Iranian general therefore creating instability in the region making Americans unwelcome) we decided to head to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It was a wonderful week on holiday with tons of sun and pool time!
Then COVID-19 hit and spread like wildfire. Flights were grounded, borders were closed, and social life looked a lot different.
March 24, 2020 (email to friends): First, yes, we are doing well. Germany has some pretty strict rules in place such as “no more than 2 people can be together at any given time unless you are a family”. But much like Illinois all non-essential stores are closed and residents are being asked to stay in their homes as much as possible. Borders from Germany to most neighboring countries have been closed but that was mostly because countries with stricter rules were coming into Germany to panic buy supplies. Speaking of supplies, I never thought I’d be so happy to find things like flour, pasta, and toilet paper in the stores! Granted our grocery stores are about the size of a small Walgreens but I’ll take what I can get…when I can get it 🙂 For the past 2 weeks, Jeff has been the one to run the errands. The culture here is that you go to the store every day or every other day because living spaces are much smaller then what we are used to in the US. For example, our freezer is the size of a dorm room fridge…seriously.
The biggest challenge for us has been Jeff working from home. He is able to get his work done but Carson is so excited “dada” is home that she will call for him until he responds to her. Some of our friends from Australia were sent home from this project because Australia has closed its borders and no one knows when they will reopen again. When our friends landed, they had to sign a contract with the government saying that they would self-quarantine in one place for the full 2 weeks or face a $50,000 fine! Yikes!
Second, we have scheduled the C-Section of baby boy Grimm for Tuesday, April 7. My OB/GYN is calling Carson’s birth a traumatic birth so it has been fairly easy to schedule. It is preferable for women to have a natural birth here in Germany and they are hesitant to schedule a C-Section without a pre-existing condition such as a traumatic birth. Weird thing in Germany is that it is extremely rare for the doctors to practice in their own office and in the hospital like in the states. In other words, who I have been seeing for prenatal care is not the person who will deliver Baby Grimm at the hospital. I will have a completely different team, one that exclusively works at the hospital in deliveries. Additionally, since we have private insurance the head of the Labor & Delivery department will be the one to do the delivery. We’ve met her twice now and she is wonderful and speaks very good English.
In other news, I will also be helping with the birth*. After the incisions have been made, they drop the curtain and I will push from the top of my abdomen. I was already reassured that there would be no blood sighting and that its really cool. This is one of the only hospitals in the world to do C-Sections this way. They think it helps the mom bond with the baby because she get to help. We’ll see… However, due to the Coronavirus, there is a strict no visitor policy in place at the hospital. Jeff will be with me in the delivery room for Christopher Willis but once he leaves the hospital, he is only permitted in again when picking me up…after the mandated 5 day recovery. I think in all of this, that is what makes me the most nervous especially because while the doctors speak English, the nurses don’t. Guess I’ll be living through google translate.
April 18, 2020 (email to family): As many of you know, we welcomed Christopher Willis Grimm to the world on April 7, 2020 or as the Europeans write it 7/4/2020 (Carson was born on Grandpa Dieter’s birthday so for me, the European way of writing the date is our little nod to Grammy Dieter).
Thankfully the planned C-Section was/is much easier to recover from then the unplanned/emergency one with Carson. Christopher is 11 days old and I’m feeling much better this time around. Jeff, Carson, Christopher and I go on daily walks around the abandoned messe (convention center) near our house. We’ve even found a large, empty parking lot for Carson to run around. Being cooped up in the house is not great for a 2 year old with a ton of energy.
Giving birth in the time of Covid-19 and in Germany has definitely been interesting. Jeff was allowed into the delivery room for the C-Section but after about 3 hours in the recovery ward, he was kicked out and not allowed to visit. As you can see from one of the pictures, he and Carson visited but we could only wave from the windows. Additionally, I got to experience the very German way of eating and some extremely traditional German meals while in the hospital. For instance, breakfast and dinner are composed of the same things…2 pieces of bread, a pad of butter, 2 slices of deli meat & 2 slices of cheese. Lunch on the the other hand was usually some sort of gravy covered meat, a potato option, and white asparagus.
I was originally slated to stay in the hospital for 5 days but with the virus, they want healthy moms and babies to go home as soon as possible. Luckily for us, that meant only 3 days in the hospital. In other words, Christopher and I have been home for a week and our family is slowly adjusting to being a family of 4. Carson is asserting her dominance/control over food and only requesting chocolate bunnies for every meal (thanks a lot Easter Bunny). Other then the occasional meltdown and additional screen time, she seems to like having a baby brother…so far. She likes to identify his nose, eyes, & ears and thinks he’s “cute.”
Speaking of Carson, she just had her 2nd birthday. As you can see by the pictures, she loves everything Elsa/Frozen. To say she is obsessed is an understatement. At this point she has seen Frozen I & II so many times that she repeats lines and can sing many of the words to the songs. Since all non-essential stores are closed in Germany, I tried my hand at making her an Elsa Barbie cake. I still have a lot to learn but think its pretty good for a first attempt and all from scratch. She loved it and that’s all that mattered.
I’m sure there are a million more things I could share but lack of sleep is preventing me from remembering. We would love to hear from you. Please email, call, Facetime, set up a Zoom. We miss you all and miss sharing this experience with you.
July 18, 2020: The time of COVID-19 is not over yet but because of Germany’s strict policies regarding social gatherings and mandatory mask wearing, we have mostly resumed normal daily life. Everyone is required to wear masks in stores and public places where social distancing is not possible. Yes, there are a few who protest the mask but for the most part Germans understand that in wearing the mask they are doing the most they can for the community. It is much less a “me” society and more of a “we” society in regards to COVID.
*I was not able to help with the birth and “push” because as the doctor put it “he was hiding”. But, they did drop the curtain so Jeff and I were able to see him for the first time at the same time.
If you are anything like me, you look to each year as a fresh start. A way to fix or correct all of your bad habits from the previous year. Also, if you are anything like me, you have had the same new year’s resolutions since, well, I can’t remember….2015?🤷♀️ Its the end of January (now mid February) and I am just now jumping back on the blog. Clearly 2020 is off to a good start. 😉
This year I am writing down & sharing my goals, not resolutions, in hopes to keep them and build better habits. I’ve also created a calendar/daily tracker to help keep me motivated and on track. When an item has been completed, it gets crossed off! (Clearly this example hadn’t been used yet.) I have found that this system really works for me and keeps me accountable.
Up at 7am (or when alarm is set)
This is difficult for me. Carson naturally wakes up between 8 and 8:30 every morning. Pregnancy sleep (or non-sleep) and dark mornings make staying in bed seem extremely desirable. However, I am a morning person and once I am up, I am productive. If I wait until the end of the day, things don’t seem to happen. Jeff leaves for work around 7 so getting up at that time allows me to kiss him goodbye and have an hour of “me” time.
Exercise 30 min daily (gym or home)
Luckily for me, the gym has good coffee and free kinder care. Its also lucky for me that I have 2 good girlfriends that I meet up with almost every weekday at the gym for a little sweat session and a coffee chat. Jeff easily convinces me to join him at the gym on the weekends. Lately my gym workouts have consisted of a 35 min walk followed by a series of either arm or leg machines. It is much harder for me to get motivated to workout at home…but I’m trying.
Focus on blog (write & schedule, post weekly)
Obviously 2020 (aka January) was not off to a great start…as in, I didn’t blog once. I have some content scheduled but need to just focus and write it! Hopefully this post will be my turning point.
Read or listen to a book 30 min daily/Read 12 books this year
Not sure why it has taken so long but I have finally discovered Audible. Listening to a book has become part of my weekday morning routine. I listen when I make Carson’s breakfast and when we sit down to eat.
Between listening to and reading, I completed 5 books in January! (Educated, The Last Mrs. Parrish, The Silent Patient, Where the Crawdads Sing, & Little Fires Everywhere) February has been a little slower, as in I have only completed 2 books but I am working on my third (Such a Fun Age, The Overdue Life of Amy Byler and Before We Were Yours)
Its important to take time to realize and list the things in your life you are grateful for. Every morning during breakfast, I write down 5 things I am grateful for, big and small. In minimizing all the extra cr@p around my house, I keep one calendar/agenda that holds everything: calendar, to do list, meal planning, gratitude log, etc which is what you see here.
Not sure why it took so long but I just discovered the Calm App. It was originally downloaded when we returned from the US after Christmas and I needed a way to beat the awful jet lag (I had heard wonderful things about the bedtime stories). Within a week I had discovered the meditation part of the app and introduced it into my morning routine. I love the 10-15 minute meditation sessions! If you haven’t tried it…try it now!
Develop & stick to morning & night routine
Seriously, how did I make it into my 30s with never having a morning & night routine. I never made it a priority to wash my face, clean up toys/stuff, get dishes out of the sink…until now. Sticking to my routine and doing a few little things daily has made a huge impact on my happiness…especially when I wake up in the morning (to do my daily meditation). The house is picked up, dishes are in the dishwasher and clean, and I feel refreshed. I guess it just took my about 10+ more years then others in my age bracket.
Log food/eat more veggies
In the past few months, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say that I can eat whatever I want in whatever quantity because I am pregnant. If I do this too often, it will be impossible to get rid of the baby weight once baby 2 is born. Using Beachbody’s 21 Day Fix portioning, I have been consciously adding more fruits and veggies into my diet and less carbs (even through carbs are delicious, fast, and easy).
No phone/less screen time around Carson
This one has been exceptionally hard, especially since my US friends are up and on social media around the same time Carson is up from her midday nap.
Fingers crossed these healthy habits stick 🤞. Hopefully your 2020 resolutions and/or healthy habits stick too.
Before leaving Chicago, Jeff and I had quite the social circle. We loved spending time with our friends who, to be honest, became family. We knew that in moving to Germany our social group would change and possibly be nonexistent. I’ll just say that Lady Luck dealt us a pretty great expat hand.
Our expat community is large and includes members from Australia, the UK, Scotland, Spain, France, Germany and of course the US. We spend a great deal of time together but about once a week the ladies break away for Ladies Night (Montag oder Mittwoch fur Mädchens, Dienstag oder Donnerstag fur Damens, Freitag fur Frauen…you get the picture). Usually it’s a nice dinner with good wine, thoughtful conversation and belly laughs. Sometimes it takes us on an adventure or a weekend away (more on that in another blog post). Every time we are together I think to myself, these girls get me. We’ve all chosen or been thrown into the expat life and are surviving with grace.
I want to take a blog post to recognize these wonderful women, friends. Expat life comes with its challenges. These women are strong individuals and believe in celebrating each other rather than bringing each other down. They are trustworthy and honest, compassionate and non-judgmental, extremely supportive in good and bad times, humorous and are overall enjoyable to be around. We don’t need specific reasons to meet but occasionally it’s to celebrate a birthday or enjoy one last night together before an unfortunate departure.
As a stay at home mom, I live for these nights out. Please don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter with 100% of my being but I do love my nights away where I get to be “me” again. What some fail to realize is that stay-at-home moms don’t get to leave work or have weekends off. In fact, sometimes our “boss” can be a real pain, especially when tired, hungry, or well, it’s a Tuesday. My boss comes with me everywhere! And, not sure how your vacations are but mine are always work trips where my boss flails her little body around in a 2″ x 2″ space on the airplane.
Our ladies nights usually take place in restaurants around Essen. Essen is the town where the majority of us live. Coincidentally, essen also means food or to eat in German. However, as mentioned earlier, sometimes our ladies nights turn adventurous. Duisburg is a little town about 20 min from where we live. It is the home of an unusual attraction called “Tiger and Turtle”. This walk-in roller coaster like attraction was opened in 2011 and built atop a former dump. A climb to the top, promises beautiful views of Duisburg and the Rhine River on clear days. And the answer to your obvious question is no. No, you cannot climb upside down on the loop…but wouldn’t it be cool if you could?
Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife. I mean the bare necessities, old Mother Nature’s recipes that brings the bare necessities of life.
Have you ever heard of the peach and the coconut? Yeah, me neither…until the cultural training we had a week ago.
It is said that Americans are like peaches, soft. Americans tend to be extremely friendly, smile at strangers, offer personal anecdotes and are very helpful. Americans ask how you are doing and expect small talk in return. Americans say things like “we should grab coffee sometime.” But, just like the peach, American’s have a hard inner pit. They are extremely private and do what they can to protect themselves. So, while they say things like “we should grab coffee sometime,” it probably won’t happen.
It is said that Germans are like coconuts, hard. Germans do not appear to be friendly, do not smile at strangers and will not start a conversation with a stranger. It may take a few cracks, but with time the hard exterior eventually breaks and Germans become friendly and loyal friends. When Germans say “we should grab coffee sometime,” they will set the time and date. If you ask a German how they are doing, expect a lengthy answer on how they are actually doing, good or bad.
Upon first moving to Germany, I had an experience in which roles were reversed. I was the coconut moving through unfamiliar places with my hard outer shell. During a trip to the grocery store, I tried to get out of a vinegar tasting by saying I only spoke English. Unfortunately for me, the sales girl also spoke English. When she wasn’t completely sure about an English translation, she would ask the another woman who was also experiencing the vinegar tasting. The other woman was a bit older, in a wheelchair and knew the English translations right away. After the tasting, I went about my business and continued through the grocery store.
About 20 minutes later, I run into the other woman in one of the aisles. She proceeds to introduce herself, Barbara, and ask questions. Were we visiting? How long have we been in Germany? Would we be interested in having dinner at her house? Yes, you read that last question correctly. I was a little taken aback at this peach like behavior but said yes anyway. We exchanged phone numbers and went our separate ways. Before I had returned home, Barbara had already texted to set up a time and date…very German.
When Jeff got home from work, I told him all about my day…and how we would be going to a German couples house for dinner that Sunday. He, like you, had many questions about the whole situation. Where did I meet this woman? How did dinner become part of the conversation? Would we get murdered if we went? (Well, the last question may be a little extreme.) I finally convinced him it would either be a great time or a great story to tell later.
Barbara and her husband Dieter* were wonderful hosts. Barbara loves to cook and just wanted people/friends to cook for. She said that most of her recipes are for four to six people, so when she cooks, she ends up having too much food leftover. Barbara had prepared a four course meal and it was clear she spent a ton of time preparing for this dinner.
Their German apartment was completely decorated with an autumn theme; leaf plates, napkins, serving platters, etc. There were garlands of leaves hanging from the bookshelves and around the windows. Barbara, as we found out later, loves to decorate for the changing seasons and various holidays. She also loves collecting dinnerware and serving sets from the states.
Back to the four course meal…the first course was roasted pumpkin soup with crostini and pumpkin seeds on the side. The second course was salad with baby field greens, apples, cranberries, walnuts, and a balsamic vinegar dressing just like the vinegar we had tasted at the grocery store. The third course, the main course, was a millet salad with cranberries and pistachios and a veal and potato tagine dish with roasted vegetables. The fourth course consisted of a variety of fruit marinated in orange liqueur. Start to finish, our meal was spectacular! The conversation never stopped and was extremely rich with information, travel stories, a minor German history lesson and a lot of getting to know each other. Four and a half hours later and a diaper change in the middle of their living room, we were on our way home, talking about how wonderful the experience was and how we were glad we stepped out of our comfort zone to share in a dinner with Barbara and Dieter. (I’ve added links to recipes that are similar to what Barbara made).
*Side note: My middle name is/was Dieter. In my world, Dieter was my mother’s maiden name. While I knew that Dieter was a first name, usually assigned to boys, I have never met a Dieter…until now. Dieter, Barbara’s Dieter, thought it was hilarious that my middle name is/was Dieter. He explained that in Germany, boys were named traditional boy names and girls were named traditional girl names. Carson threw him off a bit because it is traditionally a boys name. He said that it has always been a bit shocking to him that American’s can name their babies whatever they want.
**I wish I had known Barbara and Dieter well enough at the time to take pictures. The dinner really was absolutely spectacular and should have been captured!
Yesterday was the first time I experienced a real sense of culture shock.
It doesn’t help that Carson has a cold and therefore is extremely grumpy, irritable and not sleeping well. It also doesn’t help that Jeff and I finally got our “Cultural Training” about how to live in Germany. During the training we were told that culture shock is like a roller coaster with highs and lows. Yesterday was definitely my low.
One of the things on my “To Do” List was to find a pediatrician for Carson. I was provided with the name, phone number and location of an English speaking pediatrician by two of our cultural specialists. Luckily for us, the doctor was less than a five minute walk away. As I wasn’t able to dial the German phone number (yes, I have since figured it out. Apparently one needs to drop a zero in the area code after dialing the country code.), we paid the good doctor a visit.
Talk about a failure! After waiting for half an hour, the receptionist didn’t speak any English*. Thankfully a mother of one of the patients waiting did. She helped translate. I was told that this particular pediatrician was not seeing new patients. When asked if there were any other English speaking pediatricians in the area, the receptionist just shrugged her shoulders. While I stayed composed, this wonderful mother, the same one who had helped me before, saw that I was upset and was able to provide me with the name, phone number and address of another English speaking pediatrician.
Defeated, Carson and I went home. After Instagram messaging with a friend from home, I got the courage to call the newly recommended pediatrician. Again, the receptionist didn’t speak English* but she tried. Success! Not only was this pediatrician taking new patients but I was able to set up Carson’s one year check up (the U6 as it’s known in Germany).
Most days are great. They are, for the most part, easy. Yesterday was not. I need to remind myself that while this has been an amazingly wonderful, once in a lifetime experience so far, I’ll have rough days too.
*Side note-I know I reside in Germany and German/Deutsch is the language spoken. With that being said, many people speak English. If they don’t speak English perfectly they say they only speak a little but in reality, they are mostly fluent and can carry a conversation. My German language instructor has told me that anyone under the age of 35 has probably had five or more years of English in school.
Our new town isn’t exactly little…according to Wikipedia, it’s the fourth largest city in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state. Population is around 589,000 which is small in comparison to Chicago’s 2,716, 450 the USA’s third most populous city. Our new town is charming, especially our neighborhood. It reminds me, a little, of our former Lakeview, Lakeshore East and Ukrainian Village neighborhoods in Chicago. We are within walking distance to a plethora of little specialty shops, delicious cafes & restaurants, a variety of grocery stores and the gym. This is extremely helpful as we are a one car household and Jeff uses it to get to work. There is also an amazing transit system (trains, buses, and trams) that gets us to the hauptbahnhof (main train station) quickly and fairly easily.
Since moving, my career title has changed from teacher to stay-at-home mom. There were times that I thought teaching was difficult but I at least got weeknights, weekends, and even holidays off. The job of stay-at-home mom is intense, as I’m sure many can attest to, as sometimes my boss can be a bit mercurial.
Each morning after Jeff leaves for work, I casually start my day with coffee and quietly tiptoe around the house as not to wake Sleeping Beauty. After some alone time, I get the baby up, fed and we head to the gym. The gym is absolutely wonderful! There is a kinder care room, classes, and even a coffee bar! The classes are mostly taught in German but I’m great at monkey see, monkey do. The best part of the whole experience is that Carson loves the kinder care teachers and watching/playing with all the kids.
After the gym, we head to a nearby cafe for some lattes and a bite to eat. I luckily met other English speakers at the gym and sometimes they, as well as our Pilates instructor, join us for coffee and conversation.
There goes the baker with his tray, like always
The same old bread and rolls to sell…
Living in Germany is like living in a Hallmark Christmas movie…or the 90s. I hang out at the mall regularly and the entire town is decked out in holiday lights, greenery, and I walk through the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) regularly. Nobody has a gluten allergy and everything has full-fat! In fact there is at least one, if not two, bakeries on each block (not an exaggeration). All items are freshly baked each day and are so delicious that I forget daily that I pledged the night before to go gluten free (not the best option with all of the deliciousness surrounding me). If it weren’t for me walking everywhere I need to go, even IKEA, I would have gained weight in the two months we’ve been here.
Our grocery stores are small, about a quarter of the size of grocery stores in the states, but still seem to have everything we need. The difference is that instead of having a multitude of choices for one product, you only get two or three. We also shop at least three times a week as opposed to our usual one time per week in the states. There are no “organic” signs on any produce because its ALL organic, not to mention extremely reasonably priced, but that also means it goes bad quickly. We’ve learned quickly that you need to use what you buy within a few days. We’ve also learned quickly that spices don’t exactly taste the same. I never knew I would be so happy to see my American spices while unpacking.
There are a few downsides to living back in the 90’s like people smoking everywhere, paying for most things with cash, tanning bed salons (including the free bed at the gym), everything is mailed through the Deutsche Post (cash card in one envelope, bank pin in another, telephone pin in another, and online pin in yet another), and almost everything outside the Hauptbanhof is closed on Sundays.
Look there she goes, that girl is strange no question…
I didn’t realize this until my Mother In-Law pointed it out but I get stared at…a lot…and unfortunately its not because I’m the most beautiful person in the room. I get stared at because another stay-at-home mommy and I are booking our way through the pedestrian walkway, taking the train with ease, doing mom things and speaking English loudly to each other (yeah, loud Americans…its a thing!). It is not that we are getting disapproving stares, more so stares out of curiosity. In fact, we’ve had people stop us so they could introduce themselves practice speaking English (more on that in another post).