Saturday, 25 February 2017

Santorini, Greece

I can't believe it's been nearly half a year since my very good pal who lives in the US, and whom I haven't seen since being pregnant with Liam, decided to meet me in Greece for a girly week together and a long overdue catch up, sans our hubbies and children.

We stayed in Rethymnon on the island of Crete for our holiday, and on a whim, decided to fulfil a long-time dream of mine to visit the island of Santorini.

From the Port of Rethymno it was an easy three-hour ferry ride to Santorini, where I learned that the island is officially known as Thira. I can't remember now how the name Santorini came about, but locals mostly refer to the island as Thira. 

Santorini is basically the remnant of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history, which destroyed what was formerly a single island, resulting in its current shape which is a small, circular archipelago. The island's capital is Fira, where most tourists end up, a city of white-washed, cubical houses which is a trademark of the island today, mainly made out of volcanic rocks and ash.

We learned that Santorini comes alive only during the summer months, and survives solely on the tourism trade. For the rest of the year, most of the island is shut down and few people stay behind, with locals traveling mainland to look for work or attend school. 

The island not only has spectacular views, but is certainly one-of-a-kind in its architecture and history. It is not difficult to traverse the streets of Santorini in a day, but be prepared for a lot of walking, and a lot of climbing up and down steps. For parents with little ones thinking of a visit, be forewarned that this is not a stroller-friendly city with its narrow walkways and multitude of steps. 

There is much to see on the island, with a couple of notable museums and churches, but what you will see most of all are shops of all kinds. Shops selling jewellery, clothes, toys, souvenir items and handmade goods abound. These shops jostle for space with restaurants and cafes on every corner with mostly Greek and Italian food choices. Grab a seat at any number of eateries strategically located to provide you with an unforgettable view of the Aegean sea below.

Santorini is breathtakingly beautiful, although you do have to be prepared to walk with throngs of tourists during the summer months. If you're traveling in July/August, I'd also recommend taking sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water as the heat on the island gets pretty intense during the day. 

What else can you do on Santorini? You can take a boat tour of the volcano with a stop in the island's hot sulphur springs, if that's up your alley, or perhaps hit one of the volcanic beaches with its signature black sand if you have the time. We didn't do any of these because we were only there for a day, and I found it was enough to wander the meandering streets of Fira and Oia where there was something to discover at every turn, and soak in the sights - while stopping to rest with a cocktail or two, of course!

It was truly a dream come true to have been able to visit Santorini, even if it was just for a day - a dream made even better because I got to do it with a special friend.

This is a very special place indeed, and neither words nor pictures can truly do it justice. I certainly hope to be able to return someday where I can spend more time soaking in the island's magnificent view, architecture and history.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The hardest part

I haven't written or shared much about Liam lately, because as he grows older, our lives become infinitely harder and more complicated. It's not so easy to put into words every achievement/setback these days, because so much of the problem now is mental and behavioural. It's not as simple as announcing that he's finally started walking, or he can finally go down a slide. Now, there are layers and layers of complexity. Every step forward is inevitably followed by two steps back. For every moment of joy there are a hundred moments of frustration and sadness. It's not so easy to share the precise nature of how challenging everyday is, how frustrating and exhausting, and often it's so much easier not to say anything at all, or to reply with a standard 'he's fine', whenever anyone asks how he's doing. There's a conflict within me with wanting people to understand the nature of his disorder without sounding like I'm complaining or being ungrateful for my life, and needing support from people who won't be dismissive or saying things like 'at least he's...' or 'he'll get there eventually', or 'but look how much he's grown!'

And so I've stopped talking about him altogether. I've become an expert at changing the subject or just nodding whenever someone says something that I know is meant to be comforting but really only diminishes the magnitude of what we face everyday.

But today, I thought I'd try.

Last week Liam fell down a flight of steps, because his legs suddenly gave way and had no strength. I now carry him up and down two flights of steps everyday because he doesn't want to walk them anymore and even though my arm is screaming by the time I get to the top, I know I'll keep doing it until we find a new place to move to without stairs, or with lift access.

We are looking into wheelchair options for him because even though he can walk, he cannot walk long distances without being in pain, leaving him crying all night. He's getting too big for his stroller and even though my son is not physically disabled, a wheelchair is our only other option for when he gets bigger because his muscles will never be magically stronger or able to keep him up and running for hours.

I cannot go anywhere with both boys on my own, because Liam needs my attention 100% of the time. He is easily distracted, he will run after anything that catches his eye in a second, he does not understand 'wait', he will scream and throw a fit if you try to hold his hand, and we still need to squeeze his 15kg body into a shopping trolley seat to do any shopping because otherwise we'd just be running after him.

He is nearly five years old and still in nappies. We get government support for nappies now because he qualifies for them due to his mental disability and inability to understand his body function or control them. People tell us how lucky we are to have that support. They don't understand what it's meant for us to have to change his nappies everyday for nearly five years now, and what it will mean for the unforeseeable future.

He can speak simple sentences and say simple words. But his responses to things might not actually be what he means. He could be repeating something someone else said, or say something out of an obsessive response. He also likes to say the 'opposite' thing. So when people tell us we're lucky that he's starting to speak, they don't realise how immensely frustrating it is communicating with someone who can only give you pieces of a puzzle with you trying to complete the rest of the picture on your own with absolutely no guidance. Communicating with Liam is like having a blank piece of paper with a few random lines and squiggles on them and being expected to know what the picture is.

Liam goes to a special school where our current goals are to have him learn to put on a sweater by himself, have him brush his teeth without resistance, eat using a fork and spoon, and focus on doing tasks for more than two minutes at a time, because that is his current limit. We have been working on these goals for four months. If he manages to do this, it will be a success, and we'll move on to further goals. How long this will take is anyone's guess. But he enjoys his time there, and that's all I can ask for at the moment.

This is the tip of the iceberg of life with Liam, of life with a child with special needs. It is tough. It is complicated. I am in tears of frustration or anger or sadness every other day, almost as quickly as I rejoice in a smile or a spontaneous hug from him, or when I ask him who he likes at kindy and he replies with the name of a child who's actually in his class, instead of answering in gibberish.

Writing this feels disloyal. It feels like I'm asking for sympathy, or that I'm resenting or not loving my child enough, because I should be grateful, grateful, grateful, everyday. Because he was given to me. Because I'm apparently strong enough to handle this. Because a special boy needs special parents.

But most days I don't feel special. Most days, apart from trying to build a life for myself in a place where I still feel like such a stranger, I'm a lonely, exhausted mother who does not have a clue how to raise a child who needs so much all the time, when she has nothing left to give.

And amidst the cute pictures and funny anecdotes and trying to paint a positive picture of my life not because I want to impress anyone but because I desperately need to hold on to something good for myself, that's my reality.

And today, I wanted to be real.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The end, and the beginning

I can't believe months have passed since I last wrote here, or felt like writing, if I were to be quite honest. But with the year coming to an end, this seemed like a good time for one last post - for this year at least.

So much has happened. We've made ourselves a little home in the town of Durmersheim in Rastatt, Liam has started kindergarten at a school for children with developmental delays, and Nolan is a chatty, confident and very cheeky 2.5 year old whose German language skills is rapidly expanding everyday.

Over the past few months, we've finally settled into a routine, had a few visitors from overseas (always a much welcomed distraction from the routine of day to day life) and Liam finally had his ear surgery done. I even managed to spend a wonderful week on the beautiful island of Crete in Greece with my best friend from University, which I hope to share here one day!

My parents arrive on Friday and will stay with us for three weeks, where the children will bask in grandparental adoration and plenty of attention (and gifts). It means so much to me to be able to have them here with us at this time of year. I often feel sad when I think of my children growing up without knowing their grandparents or being able to see them often, but I feel blessed that we get to spend time with each other at least once a year, and it's always such a special time.

It's been a challenging, interesting and exciting year to say the least. To think it was only ten months ago that we were making our way from New Zealand back to Germany, embarking on our lives here for the second time. Finding a place to call home, while navigating all sorts of conflicting emotions.

Thankfully, the emotions are mostly positive now. I still miss New Zealand everyday. I miss the beaches, the culture, the language, the people, the food, and the lives we led there. I expect a part of me always will. But I'm no longer resenting my life here the way I did before. Things that used to annoy me, especially my inability to communicate expertly, do not annoy me (as much) as they used to. I find myself able to be more understanding when miscommunication occurs. Able to let things go. Able to let myself feel lonely and accept that, or challenge myself to be in uncomfortable situations and accept that too.

That acceptance, which was never there before, is huge, because it means I can now move forwards. It's still not easy, and progress is often one step forwards and two steps back. But I'm also learning to be patient with myself and with the people around me. I'm learning that (some) things don't happen overnight. That it's okay to feel excited, or sad, or frustrated, or lonely, or happy, sometimes all in one day.

I'm learning to find joy in the simple things, like being able to order at a restaurant in German, or watching my children who are happy and confident in their new surroundings, or going to a Christmas market and having a Gluhwein, or feeling snowflakes on my face, and that is enough.

The little things.

It's been a hell of a year, but we're ending it surrounded by the people we love, with plenty of blessings, and our hearts and souls still relatively intact after everything we've been through - and with that, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, or Frohe Weihnachten, and I hope to see more of you in the New Year!


Sunday, 3 July 2016

Lehner's Wirtshaus, Rastatt

A couple of weeks ago, The Husband and I decided to take the kids to Rastatt for an afternoon to check out the Schloss Rastatt (Rastatt Residential Palace). The palace grounds were far lovelier than I had anticipated, with a couple of huge water fountains in front of the Baroque residence (the oldest in the Upper Rhine Valley), which was built in the 1700s.

The kids had a fun time running around discovering the beautiful gardens and the playground nearby, while The Husband and I admired the beautiful, elegant palace. The gardens are open to the public, although the palace itself may only be viewed as part of a guided tour.

After our walk, we stumbled across Lehner's Wirsthaus, right next to the palace grounds, and decided rather spontaneously to have dinner there before heading home. There is a Lehner's Wirsthaus in Karlsruhe (where we used to live), Heilbronn, Pforzheim as well as this one in Rastatt. We used to go to the one in Karlsruhe quite often, and have always enjoyed its ambience, drinks and food. 

I was pleasantly surprised when we entered the building. The interior is far more spacious and elegant than the one in Karlsruhe, with high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows letting in plenty of natural light as well as providing a lovely view to the palace gardens outside. I immediately loved the huge chandelier that catches your eye the minute you enter, and the sexy, sophisticated bar area that stretches across one end of the room. 

The restaurant itself is divided into a few different spaces - a bar area with high stools, a seating area which can accommodate large groups and families, and a quieter area at the back where we discovered a box of childrens' toys and books that kept our kids entertained during our meal.

We ordered some traditional German food, which is what the restaurant specializes in - Spaetzle for the kids, a Maultaschen for me that came in a delicious dark beer sauce with onions and a potato salad on the side, and a Pork Schnitzel for The Husband with homemade french fries. The menu is the same across all four restaurants, and we were pleased to discover the food were as tasty as the ones we've tried in Karlsruhe.

Klassiker Maultaschen mit Emmentaler verfeinert
Lehner's boasts comforting, no-fuss, traditional Bavarian food that focuses on quality in a relaxed yet stylish setting, great for a family meal or a night out with friends, and I have no doubt we will be back quite a few times to try the other items on the menu.

Lehner's Wirtshaus Rastatt
Am Schlossplatz 2
276437 Rastatt
Tel: +49 7222 934443

Thursday, 30 June 2016

New home

It's been a crazy month. We've moved into our new apartment in a little town called Durmersheim, which is part of the district Rastatt in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. It's actually situated halfway between Karlsruhe, where we used to live, and the town of Rastatt itself, and is about equal driving distance to both cities.

Durmersheim itself is small, quiet, and quite unlike anywhere I've ever lived before. I'm still adjusting to 'small-town' life, and the fact that it takes me slightly less than an hour (walking to the tram stop and then taking the tram) to get to the closest city.

We're still getting to know the area and our way around. Thankfully, our apartment block is right next to the only supermarkets in the town, which makes shopping for food easy. There are also a few playgrounds scattered around, and some shops and cafes lining the main street. But apart from that, it is suburbia, and while I do miss the hustle and bustle of the city, it is admittedly nice to have the space and quietness to raise our two little boys - for now.

After three weeks, we've finally unpacked all our boxes, got the boys enrolled in their respective kindergartens/daycares (although they don't start until September), sorted out insurances and all the paperwork involved with registering a family with the local city council, and made a dent in Liam's medical appointments, which will span the next two to three months as we sort out his eye, ear and heart issues. We even managed to have a play-date for the boys as well as friends over for tea and dinner!

It's been busy to say least, but I'm thankful that we got the bulk of it done before The Husband goes back to work on Friday and we embark on this next phase of our lives here. Me, as a SAHM once more, while The Husband returns to work full-time.

Hopefully, this time it will be better. Hopefully, I've had enough time over the past weeks to feel comfortable in this little town on my own, and to make my way around with confidence. Hopefully, this time I'm more prepared to be a SAHM in a place where I still do not speak the language. Hopefully, we'll meet some wonderful, like-minded people we can call our friends and family and build the strong network of support that we didn't have before. Hopefully, this time the lonely days will be far fewer than the full and happy ones. Hopefully, I'll be stronger and able to do what needs to be done for myself and for my family. Hopefully, this time I don't lose sight of who I am and my needs as a person, and instead, learn to merge my dreams and passion with the realities of being a mother and a wife.

Hopefully, this time we can do it right. 

This is our second chance to build our lives here in Germany. To learn from mistakes of the past and to grow and be enriched from it. And I really hope we can.

In the midst of all the busy-ness of settling into our new home, we've also taken the time to enjoy it and to explore our surroundings whenever we could. Here are some photos taken over the past few weeks that I'd like to share with you! Needless to say, this is just the beginning, and I'm looking forward to many, many more adventures and beautiful moments in our days.

We absolutely love our new kitchen, which The Husband painstakingly designed 

Liam enjoying the armchair as only he could
A visit to the beautiful castle grounds in nearby Rastatt

Love the salmon-coloured facade of the Schloss Rastatt
We're going on a train into Karlsruhe! (An excitement which lasted ten minutes)
Another day, another castle - Schloss Karlsruhe is still magnificent
Schloss Karlsruhe and its surrounding gardens/park is a great place to spend the day 
Water fountain at the Karlsruhe castle grounds
Water play on a hot summer's day on our balcony
Playground time
Indoor play area at Aposto, a family-friendly cafe/restaurant in Karlsruhe

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Where we're at


I can't believe we've been in our holiday apartment in Mannheim for a month now. Time has simultaneously dragged on as well as flew by since we got the keys to our new apartment four weeks ago, and we have been frantically planning, designing, buying, assembling, furnishing, painting, fixing, unpacking, paying multiple visits to IKEA and accumulating plenty of kms between Mannheim and Durmersheim in that duration. (Actually, The Husband has mostly done all that while I look after the kids as we've learned that it's next to impossible trying to renovate an apartment with a two and four year old in tow.)

Nevertheless, we've done our best. There were tears and anger and frustration and delayed deliveries and money draining out of our bank account and days where we hardly saw each other and days where we thought we couldn't do it anymore as were just so tired and plenty of wine and Whisky in between. 

BUT. We have a kitchen. We have a living room. We have functional bedrooms. We have all sixty boxes from New Zealand. We have each other. And in four days, we'll have a place to call home again. 

It's been lovely getting to know Frankfurt, Carolinensiel and Mannheim over the past two months. We've been blessed to always have had a roof over our heads. Our children, hopefully, will remember this time as an adventure and nothing less and only take with them the wonderful places they've seen and people they've met along the way. And hopefully one day when all this is over, when we're able to look back without any pain or sadness in our hearts, we'll remember this time as such too. 

But for now, I just can't wait to cook at my own kitchen again. To enjoy a meal at our dining table. To drink a glass of wine out on our balcony as the sun goes down. To inviting friends over for play dates and dinner dates and movie dates and wine dates. To creating new memories. To making new friends. To schools and doctors and therapies and watching my boys grow up and making friends of their own. 

To the ordinary. 

To the extraordinary.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Carolinensiel, Nordsee

We've just had the pleasure of spending a week and a half at the beautiful little seaside town of Carolinensiel at the Nordsee. Our trip was originally planned for five days, a little getaway for us to have some peace, quiet and rest in a beautiful location that we so badly needed after traveling halfway around the world and moving from one place to another. This was then extended due to unforeseen circumstances. Thank goodness the holiday home we'd rented from AirBnB was well-equipped to have us stay there for as long as we wanted to. 

We certainly found the peace and quiet we were looking for, not to mention some really cold days. It even snowed one day, which was very exciting for all of us! Resting, unfortunately, doesn't quite come into the equation when you have a two and a four year old. Nevertheless, it was good to 'escape' for awhile, and we had a lot of fun exploring this beautiful part of Germany, eating plenty of fish, and making friends with the local sheep!

The holiday home we rented was extremely family-friendly, and had its own large garden with a little slide and swing set, sand pit, and toddler-friendly toys like a scooter and a bobby car (which Nolan hijacked from day one). The Husband was thrilled to see a garage filled with bicycles of all sizes and even a bike trailer, so he could take the kids out for a ride.

The views that greeted us every morning were simply glorious. Green, beautiful, space as far as the eyes can see. Right across the road from our holiday home is a dyke where sheep graze each day, and the boys loved running up to them and saying 'Hi, sheep, Tscheuss, sheep!' every time we walked past.

The little town is small and walkable in just about an hour, but oh so utterly charming. People were friendly and greeted us with a cheerful 'Moin', which makes a refreshing change from the surliness of some of the people you encounter down south. We went to a playground at least once a day, and even found a lovely indoor one for when the weather was bad. The rest of the time we took leisurely walks through town, shopped for fish at the local markets, drove around to explore nearby towns, or hung out at our garden drinking wine while the kids entertained themselves. It was the perfect escape.

The Nordsee is all about the fish, and that was pretty much what we ate everyday, without any complaints from me! From salmon to butterfish to smoked matjes to the local Nordseekrabben, it occupies the majority of restaurant menus, and left us slightly satiated after a week and a half, but what a wonderful week of feasting on one of my favorite food.

It is also white asparagus season here in Germany, and we had the opportunity to taste some lovely white asparagus dishes at the Sielkrug, a restaurant I'd highly recommend visiting for some 'finer dining' if you're ever in this part of Germany. We loved the food there so much we went back to eat three times! I'll write more about it on a separate blog post.

The trip was a last minute decision, but it turned out to be exactly what we needed as a family. We had plenty of quality time to spent with our boys, time to sort through and deal with problems, time to let go of them, and time to just enjoy each other in a beautiful surrounding. 

There were bitterly cold days (both literally and metaphorically speaking), but when the sun came out it was simply glorious, and I'd love to return again in warmer months and actually be able to enjoy the beach and water, and hire myself one of those cute Strandkorb to lounge in.

Thanks for the wonderful memories Carolinensiel. It's back to the real world for us now as we settle in our holiday home in Mannheim while we embark on our next task of finding a home to live in.