Resolutions or Healthy Habits?

habit tracker
Habit tracker to keep me on track!

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)
Jan-Feb Books 2019
January-February Books
  • Daily gratitude
    • 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.
Gratitude Log
Gratitude Log
  • Daily meditation
    • 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!
Calm App
Calm App
  • 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.

Lady Luck

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?

The Bare Necessities of Getting to Know Germans

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.

So…we went!

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!

Even Princesses Have Rough Days

Yesterday was a rough one…emotionally.

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.

A New Town for Belle

Little town, it’s a quiet village

Every day like the one before….

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).