Friday, August 14, 2015

Our French Holiday

We just returned home from a road trip to France! This is one of the benefits of living in mainland Europe, and we plan to take full advantage of that while we are in Germany. We've been told that it's very "American" of us to drive everywhere and not use public transportation, but for us, driving to Paris is the same distance as driving across the state of Washington. Plus, we can pack all the "just in case" items for Eloise.

After spending a month in Paris two years ago, we wanted to visit again with no pressure to visit every museum or cathedral. So we returned for a short stay to experience our favourite places again, and to see a few of our St Andrews friends. We ate pastries, baguettes, falafel, and nutella crepes, and drank delicious wine. The Luxembourg Gardens, a night walk along the Seine, and Notre Dame were also on our list. I got to spend an afternoon with Kari and Amy eating pastries from Pierre Herme, and then we all met up again with our spouses for a picnic in Place des Vosges. It was wonderful to see familiar faces and catch up.

(I didn't take my DSLR, so my iPhone had to suffice!)

Eloise is a little over ten weeks old and has already traveled to four countries, soon to be five in September and six in November (Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Scotland, and the USA)! She is an awesome traveler, and I've fed her in some very cool places. Our number one thing we've learned is that everything takes longer with a baby, but we don't mind. Garrick always wonders why so many people are smiling at him and then remembers he's wearing an Ergo with a sleeping baby inside.

After Paris, we drove to the countryside in Normandy. Our cottage had no wifi and was a great place to unplug and enjoy time together as a family. We read in the garden, played games, ate ice cream bars, and took Eloise for long walks. The village we stayed in was named Le Brieul, near Falaise.

During our time in Normandy, we visited Omaha Beach and Le Mont Saint-Michel. It poured down rain the day we visited Omaha Beach, but it was well worth the trip. It was surreal to stand at such a historically significant place. 

Garrick's high school French class had a poster of Le Mont Saint-Michel, and he's wanted to go ever since. I don't know if his 16-year-old self pictured his visit with his future wife and daughter, but I think he was happy to have us along. We parked and road the shuttle to the island and quickly found a place to eat. We were ushered to the back with all the other families with young children, and Eloise made friends with the staff right away. Normandy's special dish is Mussels and Fries and they did not disappoint. Then, we made our way along the VERY crowded street in the rain, and I luckily found a tiny space in the wall that had a staircase leading to the Abbey at the top. The views were stunning!

This morning, we got an early start to Giverny, home of Monet. His gardens were the perfect ending to our trip. 

This was the first time that we left for a trip as a family, and when we opened our front door it felt like home. It's not always been easy, but I'm grateful to be settling in to our new life in Germany.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Burg Eltz + Beilstein

When Garrick and I first started to plan our move to Germany, it was all very overwhelming. There were so many big milestones along the way: my last day of work, moving out of our flat, Garrick's thesis defense, our drive from Scotland to Germany, setting up our flat, the birth of Eloise, Garrick's graduation, and learning a new language. When I pictured us at the end of this marathon, I imagined driving through the German countryside on a sunny Saturday as a family of three, off to explore new places. Well, yesterday, my dream came true!


This is Burg (Castle) Eltz! It's about a two hour drive from Wuppertal and sits in the hills of the Moselle Valley. It's been owned by the same family since the 12th century. Garrick carried Eloise in the Ergo, and we set off on the 15 minute treed hike from the car park. It felt so good to be in the woods, out of the city. Finally, we turned a corner and saw this dramatic castle in the distance.


We joined a tour and got to see the furnished interior of the castle. No photos were allowed. We enjoyed the original artwork, painted walls, tapestries, huge beer steins, and even a hunting room featuring a moose head from Alaska! At the end, we sat in the shade and enjoyed a local beer. Eloise attracted every elderly woman at the castle. She is a people magnet. It's really special to take her to all these places with us!


After a feed and diaper change  in the car (Garrick may have been pooped on), we were off to Beilstein, a village thirty minutes away. We drove along the Moselle River and took in the stunning views of German wine country. There were several idyllic towns along the way, and castles dotted the hills. Wuppertal is not particularly beautiful, so it was so refreshing to get out and see such amazing places!


We sat at an outdoor cafe for dinner and sampled a local Riesling. I will be looking to purchase some very soon! After eating and taking in the views, we went for short walk around the town and finally ended our trip with ice cream before the drive home. We hope to do a day trip every other Saturday and are so thankful for such a sweet baby to take with us!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Eloise Harper Allen

Birthday: June 1st, 2015
Time: 12:13am
Place: St. Anna-Klinik, Wuppertal, Germany
Weight: 6 pounds, 6 ounces
Height: 18.5 inches

Birth Story:

On Saturday, May 31st, I noticed that Eloise was less active. She also seemed to have changed positions in my belly. I would press on my stomach and she wouldn't respond as normal. Garrick was away playing baseball in Cologne, so when he got home I told him I was worried. He phoned the local hospital and they told us to come in right away. At first, everything appeared normal. They hooked me up to a heart rate monitor and we heard her beautiful, strong heartbeat. Then, it slowed drastically. Suddenly, there were several doctors and nurses in the room telling Garrick what needed to be done, and he tried his best to translate for me. They began prepping me for a c-section, had me sign a few pieces of paper, and I was thankfully able to make a quick FaceTime call to my family. They were all together at a birthday dinner for my uncle, and it was very comforting to have them all praying for us.

I had to go into the operating room alone while Garrick got in his scrubs. I was in a room with no native English speakers, I wasn't completely sure what was going on, and Garrick wasn't with me. It was at this point when I put my fear and anxiety aside and prayed for peace that surpasses all understanding. I felt God's presence in the room with me. I was finally joined by Garrick right before they made the incision. I've never been more happy to see him in my life, hair net and all. After lots of tugging, pulling, and pressure, Eloise was born and we all cried. Her umbilical chord was wrapped around her neck three times, and she was in a transverse position, which is why her heart rate was dropping. She was quickly brought around the curtain to us, but I was only able to see her for a few seconds. Garrick told me she was perfect and beautiful, that he was so proud of me, kissed me, and then went with her into the recovery room.

It took another 30 minutes to finish the surgery, and I am so thankful for the anaesthesiologist. In his best English, he asked me lots of questions about where I was from, gave me updates on Eloise and the surgery, and patted my head several times. I want to go back to the hospital and thank him! Finally, the c-section was finished, and I was wheeled into the recovery room with Garrick and Eloise. She was laying skin-to-skin on his chest. The nurses and doctors quickly started referring to her as "kleine mouse" meaning "little mouse," a term of endearment in Germany. Then, I got to hold her on my chest! Those moments were very precious, but also a bit fuzzy as I was just out of surgery. We slept for quite a while, and she wrapped her hand around my finger. At about 3am, Garrick left to go home. He greeted us at 7:30am the next morning, all smiles.

The day after the surgery was by far the most difficult and painful. Each day since then I have felt exponentially better. The nurses were very sweet and attentive, and by the end of my stay my German had improved quite a bit. (It helps when your are motivated to get your pain medication.) Garrick was my rock during these early days. He constantly encouraged me, changed every diaper, helped me in and out of bed, and also brought me lattes. I was able to completely focus on healing and being a new mom.

From the beginning, Eloise has been kind to us. Her temperament is calm, happy, and even silly at times. She sleeps in 4-6 hours stretches at night, and is more awake and active during the day. She gets grumpy between the hours of 7pm and 9pm. I've never cried or laughed as many times than over the past few weeks. From changing several diapers in minutes, to Garrick's songs about the diapers,  to middle of the night feedings, and enjoying several "firsts," this experience has deepened our marriage.  Being parents has made us appreciate simple moments, like playing cards while eating fresh apple strudel, or watching a movie while Eloise sleeps between us. We tell each other several times a day how much we love Eloise. It really can't be put into words, but the best way I've heard it put is this: "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." - Elizabeth Stone.  

Eloise Harper, you are the greatest gift we've ever received.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Month in Germany

Hallo! It's hard to believe that one month ago we drove our weighed-down Volkswagon Golf from St Andrews, Scotland to Wuppertal, Germany. I don't think I imagined I would ever move countries 33 weeks pregnant, but to my surprise, it can be done!

For dinner on Thursday night in Dover, England, we stumbled upon a quaint pub serving tapas. It felt like we were back in Spain. After complimenting the chef, he bought us each a drink on the house: a beer for Garrick and a cranberry and soda for me. Our hotel room got upgraded to a suite with a sea view, and we truly relaxed. This was an unexpected blessing for us as I had expected the trip to be something to get through, not something I would enjoy.

The next morning we caught the 7:20am ferry to Calais, France. Our drive through France, Belgium, and Germany was pretty uneventful, although Garrick just received a speeding ticket in the mail from France. We arrived and quickly looked around our new flat and planned what we could do with the space before calling it a day. On Saturday, we took of first of four trips to the place we love and hate: Ikea.

And now we've been here over a month! "One day at a time" has been my mantra. This move has been like our move to Scotland on steroids. The language barrier being one reason, and another, the fact that Garrick has to do most of the work because I'm in my third trimester. But, I feel like our move to Scotland gave us the wisdom and skills to equip up for this move. This past Friday was the one month mark of our new life here. Most nights are spent enjoying a slow dinner, followed by a game of cribbage, and then a movie. This time as a couple before our first child arrives has been wonderful in so many ways.

Here are some highlights of month one:

- Our flat is now a home! My next post will be a photo tour. Garrick hopes to never again put together Ikea furniture.

- I've established care with a Frauenarzt and have had two great appointments. Eloise was breech but turned and we now await her arrival! We'll attend an information session at the birthing hospital this evening. 

- Garrick has continued working at the Theologisches Zentrum Wuppertal and developed a routine he enjoys.

- We've set up wifi, mobile phones, etc.

- Saturdays are usually spent exploring Wuppertal and surrounding cities. We've found a few great restaurants and walked around the Botanical Gardens near our house. We also took the train to Münster and found a lovely market and enjoyed the local brewery. 

- We've attended the Evangelical church below our flat and the first two songs were in English. My favourite line of one of the chorus' was "Jesus lives in my house."

- Friday night we had our first dinner guests.

- We've enjoyed getting to know Garrick's colleagues and enjoyed meals together and birthday celebrations.

- I've slowly found most of the items we needs for Eloise. It's been quite the challenge since most of my product knowledge is North American, but things are coming together.

- I've been working on my German and making slow, slow progress. 

- Garrick is playing baseball for the Wuppertal Stingrays and has his first double-header this Sunday.

To close, here are some iPhone photos of our recent happenings. I've not taken out my DSLR in a while, but I will soon!

Downtown Elberfeld (Wuppertal)

Sankt Laurentius Kirche (Wuppertal)

A rainy view from our kitchen window. 

Our hospital bag is packed!

The Luisenviertel (Wuppertal)

Garrick's birthday spent with new friends. They gave him lots of German food to try!

Bikes in Münster.

34 weeks! (I'm now 37.)


Pinkus Müller Brewery, Münster

Pinkus Müller Brewery, Münster

Bringing the Castle Sands to Germany.

First batch of chocolate chip cookies in our new home.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cheers, Scotland.

We arrived on 3rd September 2012, and we're leaving on 16th April 2015. That's 3 years, 7 months, and 13 days. That small amount of time doesn't seem to equal the major ways in which this experience has changed us. With our move to Germany just 4 days away, I feel more prepared than I thought I would. Here's why:

Transition is complicated, but builds character. Our first flat in St Andrews was less than ideal. We signed the lease sight unseen, and the mould that greeted us upon arrival almost had me on the morning plane back to Seattle. That first night we slept in our sleeping bags on the living room floor, and I cried. Hard. The next day we walked to the East Sands beach and I told Garrick, "I guess I can live here."

In just a few days, we're moving to another country, Garrick is starting a new job, and we'll become parents in early June. These changes are all good and we cannot wait for our daughter to finally be on the outside. But we're going into this knowing there will be rough times. Garrick's German is decent, and mine? Well, I know how to ask for help at the grocery store. It will take a few months at least to feel settled, but I know we'll get there.

Our second day in Scotland at the East Sands.

Community is essential.  A week after arriving in St Andrews, we met our first friends at church. A year later, new faces arrived, and we made more friends. And, some left. This was our first taste of the transience of the academic life. While we were excited to make new friends each year, we were sad to say goodbye to others.We also made friends with my coworkers, and we tease them that they are our local tour guides.

During our time here, we had times of joy and times of sorrow. Academic accolades often came with lots of rejection. I had several job changes, some positive, some negative. There were deaths in my family, and also the birth of new family members. We are joyfully anticipating the arrival of our baby girl in June, but experienced two miscarriages last year. In these times, we had people eager to celebrate with us and to comfort us. As our families were thousands of miles away, these people became our family.

We are being very proactive about forming a community of friends in Wuppertal. It's slightly more intimidating as we are the only Americans we know of so far, and our language skills need work. But I know that we need community to thrive.

PC: Spencer Bentley

Living in Europe is a privilege. Being a Washingtonian, it takes at least a full day of travel to get most anywhere in Europe. Plus, jet lag is a pain. When I list the countries I've visited since moving to the UK, I'm immediately thankful. In Germany, so many beautiful places will be within driving distance. It's pretty cool that our daughter will have dual citizenship and travel to many different places from birth!

Different isn't bad. In Scotland, vegetables are tinned, not canned. Eye glasses have legs, not arms. "Hiya" means hello. "Cheers" means goodbye. Washing machines often are in the kitchen. And these differences are minor in comparison to accents or other cultural conventions. In our early days, I would come home exhausted. I felt like I was translating all day long. I would often revert to the thinking that my way was the best way, and anything different was bad.

But soon, I started appreciating some of these new ways of doing things. I'm excited to learn from the German culture and adapt to a new lifestyle. I'm sure some things will drive me crazy, but I'll be less quick to assume that the differences are negative. Also, I will actually be translating all day; not just trying to understand new accents.

We're on the same team. I'm competitive and so is Garrick. It's easy for us to forget that we are in this together. On days when I had to walk to work in gale force winds, or when we were tight on money, I would often blame Garrick. This was counterproductive to working through anything. I often remember the words Brian Muchmore said at our wedding, and the baseball he gave us with "Team Allen" written on it. This truth grounds us. 

We both decided to move to Germany. This will be true on good days and bad ones. We have been focusing on being good friends and supporting one another through this uncertain time. I even stayed up late to watch the first Mariner game of the season last week, and Garrick has been very attentive to all of my pregnancy needs and makes me laugh all the time. What a blessing it is to do all of this with my best friend!

Cheers, Scotland!