E&B 2013 Highlights (a.k.a. The Christmas Letter!)

2013 went by so quickly! So quickly that the “Christmas Letter” has turned into a “New Year’s” letter. I’ve discovered that getting things done with an infant in the house is a bit of a challenge. I asked Brandon to consider writing our year-in-review, and he responded, “not much happened.” If not much happened this year, I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to know what it takes to be an eventful year! Read on for the details of our “uneventful” year.

January

We rang in the New Year in Omaha with Brandon’s family, and then it was back to “work.” Brandon went back to Intermediate Level Education (ILE) classes at the Command and General Staff College at FT Leavenworth, KS and graduate classes towards his Master of Science in Administration through Central Michigan University. I started a new section of review classes for the CPA exam. I also took (and passed!) my first section of the exam. January was the mid-point of my pregnancy, so I began making more frequent visits to my doctor, but everything remained “boring” and normal.

February

Even though February is a short month, I managed to take (and pass!) my second and third sections of the CPA exam!

March

During Brandon’s Spring Break, we did some traveling! The first weekend was spent in South Dakota celebrating my grandma’s 95th birthday. The second weekend was spent in Omaha meeting our new nephew, Callan Gregory Frost. In between, we flew to Las Vegas for our last child-free vacation for the foreseeable future. We enjoyed the Tournament of Kings, Jersey Boys, Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon, and delicious dinners at Hofbr√§uhaus and Roy’s.

April

I took and passed my last CPA exam along with the ethics exam required to become a licensed CPA. We also started looking at houses in Manhattan, KS and we had a signed contract by the end of the month! My sister hosted a baby shower for me in Atlantic, and my mom came down to help me sort the entire collection of baby clothes handed down from our nieces. We enjoyed seeing Brandon’s brother and his family when they visited Omaha the last weekend of the month.

May

At the beginning of May, I was completely surprised by a baby shower thrown by Brandon’s ILE small group. On May 29th, I had my last OB appointment and was immediately admitted to the hospital because Little Girl slept through her last ultrasound and didn’t pass the movement test. I was induced the morning of May 30th, and Sonja Anneliese entered the world via C-section at 01:13 on May 31st.

June

June was a crazy, busy month! We brought Sonja home from the hospital on June 3rd and we drove to & from Manhattan on June 5th to close on our new house. Brandon graduated from CMU on June 12th and he graduated from ILE on June 14th. The packers arrived on June 21st, and we moved to Manhattan on June 26th. Thankfully, it was a door-to-door move, so all of our household goods were delivered the next day. In the midst of all of this, I was struggling with breastfeeding Sonja and recovering from a complication with my C-section incision.

July

We spent the 4th of July in Omaha with Brandon’s family and spent the following weekend in South Dakota with my family. We enjoyed shooting fireworks off in both locations! I officially became a licensed CPA in the State of Tennessee (our legal state of residence). Brandon started working as the Planner for 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at FT Riley, KS.

August

The first weekend in August, we drove back up to Iowa for the “Fasse Birthday Bash,” celebrating Emma turning two in July and Hannah turning six at the end of August. Brandon started traveling again with a trip to Bulgaria. While he was away, I had two job interviews and was offered both positions! I accepted the offer to work at a local CPA firm, Sink, Gordon & Associates.

September

Over Labor Day weekend, Brandon’s family visited us. We enjoyed visiting the Flint Hills Discovery Center for the first time. September 3rd was my first day of work and Sonja’s first day at daycare. Thankfully, I only work part-time until tax season, so Sonja doesn’t have to be at daycare all day. Brandon made his first trip to Africa in the middle of the month. 2nd Brigade is regionally aligned with AFRICOM, so Brandon attended several planning conferences for future training events.

October

Brandon’s parents came to visit us over Columbus Day weekend. We explored the pumpkin patch at Britt’s Garden Acres and the Sunset Zoo. Shortly after that, Sonja started solid food and figured out how to roll from her tummy to her back. Sonja turned 5-months-old on Halloween!

November

My parents visited us the first weekend of November. For some reason we seem to be seeing our parents more now that we have a baby! Brandon made his second and third trips to Africa.

We had a quiet Thanksgiving as a family of three in Manhattan because Brandon left for his fourth trip to Africa the following day. Thankfully, my parents offered to drive up to South Dakota with Sonja and me so we could spend the rest of the holiday weekend with family.

December

And finally we made it to December! We’ve ended this busy year with another busy month. Sonja started teething. We traveled to South Dakota the weekend before Christmas to celebrate with my family. Then, we spent Christmas in Omaha with Brandon’s family. Both families came to Manhattan the following weekend to celebrate Sonja’s baptism.

We wish you a very happy 2014!!

Erika, Brandon & Sonja

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Waiting for Little Girl

40 weeks!

My due date was Friday, May 24th, but we are still waiting for Little Girl to make her appearance. My mom contacts me daily wondering if anything is happening yet. ūüôā We’ve had a quiet Memorial Day weekend waiting at home, unlike our past Memorial Day weekends in Norway, Cinque Terre, and Berlin.

We did have a nice evening out in downtown Kansas City on Thursday. We ate dinner at The Flying Saucer, a restaurant Brandon had been wanting to try because they have more than 50 different beers on tap and even more bottled. Of course, with all of those choices, he ordered Paulaner Hefeweizen from Munich! After dinner, we¬†attended the Kansas City Symphony’s Contributors’ Concert. The concert was by invitation only to volunteers and donors at any level. The program was enjoyable and consisted of the following:

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Overture to May Night
PROKOFIEV Concerto No. 1 in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, 1st Movement (Performed by the 14-year old Young Artist Competition winner,  Emily Shehi)
BEETHOVEN Overture to Egmont
BERNSTEIN Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
SAINT-SA√čNS¬†“Bacchanale” from¬†Samson and Delilah

So, while we currently don’t have much to share, I’ll hopefully have adorable baby pictures to post soon!

Where to Start??

Again, I have ignored this blog as life has continued to fly by much too fast! It’s hard to believe that we have now been back in the U.S. for nine months and our time at FT Leavenworth is quickly coming to a close. Brandon will start his last section of classes next week and will graduate from the Command and General Staff College (CGSC or “Major School”) in June, which means we’ll be moving shortly thereafter.

Our next duty station will be FT Riley, KS. I am grateful for the short move and staying relatively close to family in Nebraska, Iowa & South Dakota. Brandon is happy to be rejoining the “real” Army and an armor unit after our last few years at the training base before his current school. We are in the process of buying a house in Manhattan, KS, so that is adding another layer of complexity to our moving plans. However, if all goes smoothly with the inspections and financing, we hope to be closing at the beginning of June!

In the meantime, we are still anxiously preparing for the arrival of “Little Girl” at the end of May. We have been overwhelmed by the¬†generosity¬†of our siblings & family members with the amount of “baby stuff” we’ve been given. We are happy to not need to purchase so many new items, and those that have given us things seem equally happy to have the tubs of items out of their basements!

So, that is our quick & dirty update. We had a lovely trip to Las Vegas in March for Spring Break sandwiched between my grandma’s 95th birthday celebration and meeting our new nephew, so hopefully, I’ll have a chance to write about those things soon and share some pictures. In the meantime, here’s a picture of me at my recent baby shower at 34 weeks.

Baby Shower

Coming Back to America

German_American Flags

Six months ago today, we boarded an airplane at Ramstein Air Force Base to return to the United States. For the past three and a half years, Brandon and I had been stationed at USAG Hohenfels in Germany. While adjusting to life in the United States has not been as difficult as it was originally moving to Germany, it has still been challenging at times. We tried to embrace the German culture while we lived there, and the differences between Germany and the United States really became obvious when we returned. What follows is a list of the major differences between German and American life that required us to readjust.

  • Carbonated Water: In Germany, this was the default when you purchased water. While we were there, we learned to like “bubble juice” (as one friend’s daughter called it) and now it’s a challenge to find it! I can’t order it in most restaurants and haven’t been able to find it at gas stations when we’ve stopped. Instead of paying a fortune to buy bottled water, I gave Brandon a SodaStream as a belated birthday gift. For a time, we were going through a 60-liter carbonating bottle every week! While we’ve tried some of the soda flavors, mostly we just drink the plain carbonated water that we became¬†accustomed¬†to in Germany.
  • Beer: As expected, Brandon went through a German beer withdrawal when we moved back. You just can’t beat German beer. While you can get some German beer here in the U.S., it’s not the Bavarian regional specialties of Winkler Br√§u Kupfer Spezial, Plank Hefeweizen, or¬†Weltenburger Kloster Anno 1050. (Supposedly, even the Pope has to have the Weltenberger beer specially delivered to Rome. Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of pull to get it here to Kansas/Missouri!) ¬†Brandon shipped a three-month supply of beer with our wine shipment, so he technically didn’t have to adjust until October. Thankfully, there are some good microbreweries here in the United States, so Brandon is finding something to drink. At least he hasn’t had to start brewing his own…yet.
  • Shopping:¬†When we first moved back, I couldn’t believe the selection at the grocery store and big box stores. Bed Bath & Beyond was beyond overwhelming! We needed a washer & dryer at our new house, so we stopped at Nebraska Furniture Mart to look. Silly me, I thought there would be about three options: cheap, expensive and middle of the road. Boy was I surprised to find multiple rows of washers and dryers! I didn’t even know where to start. Luckily, we ending up finding a nice used set on Craigslist!¬†It also took me a while to remember that stores are open more hours here. I had to remind myself that I could shop on Sundays and after 6pm during the week. We even went to Lowe’s after 9pm one night…crazy!
  • Restaurant Service: Surprisingly, we had to adjust to eating out in the U.S. again. Eating out in Germany was an entire evening event. Once you had a table, it was yours, even if you were just lingering over a beer or coffee. No pressure to leave, and you had to ask for the check when you were finally ready. Now we often feel rushed when we eat out here.¬†The food comes out so fast that Brandon doesn’t even have time to finish a beer before dinner. And as soon as we finish or decline dessert, the check simply appears at the table.¬†It is remarkable that we can order, eat, and leave in under an hour! I also have to admit that having free soda and water refills is nice again.
  • Driving:¬†It was difficult adjusting to driving in Germany, and it has been equally frustrating coming back. We got used to driving 100+mph on the Autobahn! Cruise control is now our friend.¬†Many American drivers also fail to observe the “keep right” rule that generally states on multi-lane highways to keep right except to pass and move right if blocking overtaking traffic.¬†While this “rule” is not “law” in most U.S. states, it is the law in Germany and it is actually illegal to pass on the right. Brandon and I are trying to break our German habit of driving super close to slower cars in the left lane until they move over to the right! Finally, roundabouts create some problems here in America. We have a new one right near our house that we have to use to get to and from FT Leavenworth. Needless to say, most people don’t know that you are supposed to yield to anyone already in the roundabout and signal when you are leaving¬†the roundabout, not when you enter it, so there have been some interesting close calls!
  • Mail:¬†For some unknown reason, I love getting mail! This has been one of the benefits of moving back to the U.S. My mail is no longer at the mercy of the Military Postal System. I¬†receive¬†my Real Simple magazines before the issue month begins instead of after the month is over, and packages arrive in days instead of weeks. Also, instead of having to stop at the Community Mail Room on post to pick up everything, and inevitably wait in line to pick up a package or anything else that wouldn’t fit in the small box, my mail is delivered directly to my house, even on Saturdays! It’s the simple things in life that give me the most pleasure!
  • Recycling:¬†The Germans recycle everything!! When we moved into our quarters, Housing gave us a whole packet explaining what could and could not be recycled and how to go about it. Paper of all kinds in the paper bin that was picked up once a month; plastics, aluminum,¬†Styrofoam¬† etc. in the yellow bags that were picked up every other week; glass of all colors could be dropped off at the facility on post or at the collection site in our little town; yard waste and hazardous materials (including batteries, electronics and¬†light bulbs)¬†were collected on post. It was quite the system to learn, but soon it became second nature. Brandon was trained to wash almost all food packaging and throw it in the yellow bag. While we are fortunate to have some recycling here, it is definitely not as comprehensive! For the first month or so, I’m sure we threw much more in our recycling bag than we were allowed. And I still catch Brandon rinsing out packaging that has to ¬†just be thrown away!
  • Post Gate Guards: This didn’t require a major adjustment, but I was surprised at first by the ease of getting onto Fort Leavenworth compared to garrisons in Germany. In Germany, our military IDs had to be scanned and there was a process to sign in guests that didn’t have military IDs. At Fort Leavenworth, we just show our military ID and the gate guard generally lets on on post. Our visitors have only needed to show their driver’s licenses when they have been with us. I guess it’s a lot easier when the Force Protection level is Alpha! (It never went below Bravo in Germany.)
  • Language: Unfortunately, we never became fluent in German while we were stationed at USAG Hohenfels. This made even simple things complicated in Germany. Google¬†translator¬†was one of my favorite web sites, but it has its limitations, especially when you are not near a computer. When we first moved back to the U.S., I still hesitated to ask questions in stores because most of the time I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed when we were in Germany. Or if I did know how to ask, I usually couldn’t understand their response. Of course, unclear responses are still sometimes an issue here in the U.S., but at least I know how to ask follow-up questions! Understanding the language is a huge benefit to being back in the U.S.

While moving to Germany and now back to the United States has had its challenges, the overall experience is still one of the best of our lives. And we would do it again in a heartbeat!

If you’ve lived overseas for any length of time, what were some of the challenges/differences ¬†that you faced when you moved back to the United States?

It’s a…

GIRL!!!

Profile

I am 20 weeks pregnant as of yesterday, but we had our ultrasound back on December 20th. This allowed us to tell our families in person over the holidays. We gave both sets of grandparents the photo above in a pink frame to make the announcement. Let the pink onslaught begin!

Of course, the most important part of the ultrasound was learning that our little girl is healthy and growing at this point. While a little smaller than average, she waved at us with five little fingers on one hand and her internal organs all looked good. We can’t wait to meet her at the end of May! Now to just find a name on which we can both agree…

Hi! Hand, Arm, Hand, Arm

Happy 2013!

Brandon and I enjoyed spending the holidays with our families this year, making the loop through Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska. It’s especially fun spending time with our energetic nieces and nephew!

On December 30th, we celebrated our 6th anniversary. We had a wonderful dinner experience at Dario’s Braisierre¬†in Omaha. I am quite certain that we will be returning for the delicious food and quality Belgian beer the next time we are in town.

Now our seventh year of marriage begins, and I am confident that it will be just as eventful and amazing as the past six!

E&B 2012 Highlights (a.k.a. The Christmas Letter!)

2012 was a great year for us, full of traveling and transitions. Read on for the details!

January

At the start of the year, Brandon and I were recovering from our pre-Christmas trip to Mallorca and our week of ski lessons in Garmisch-Partenkirchen between Christmas and New Year’s. Both trips were enjoyable for completely different reasons, although I might have enjoyed Mallorca a bit more since it didn’t involve bruises, blisters and lots of falls! Brandon loved finally getting back on the slopes with the Intermediate/Advanced class while I happily stuck with the Beginners.

I started my third year at the Hohenfels Tax Center on January 3rd. As one of the senior preparers, I played a key role in the training at Vilseck and Bamberg. Brandon continued to work as the Executive Officer (XO) for the Badger Team, the Counter-IED training team.

February

We knew we would be departing Germany sooner rather than later, so we made sure to get our final “souvenirs”: a custom-made dining room hutch for me and a 2011 BMW 335i xDrive for Brandon.

I continued to play clarinet with the Bl√§serphilharmonie Regensburg up until our move. In February, we had a weekend of rehearsals at Burg Trausnitz, followed by a weekend of concerts to celebrate Fasching, Germany’s Mardi Gras. The concert featured marches of all origins and genres. The audience was quite surprised when I introduced Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in English.

March

After spending a few months around Hohenfels, we started venturing to other countries again in March. I finally made it to Poland to do some pottery shopping with my friend, Rudi. We stayed one night at the Blue Beetroot in Boleslawiec and did some serious shopping in the two days. I definitely should not have waited so long to go, but I made the most out of my one trip!

At the end of the month, Brandon made a quick 2-day trip to Brussels for some NATO meetings.

April

After the craziness of playing the piano for all of the Holy Week and Easter masses, Brandon and I spent the next week in Slovenia for Spring Break. I actually blogged pretty thoroughly about this trip, so you can read about all of the details here. It was a beautiful country and a memorable trip around Lake Bled, the Julian Alps and Ljubljana. Another place where we would definitely go back!

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

After Slovenia, Brandon had to go back to Brussels for another NATO meeting. While the long drive was not fun, at least he could bring back as much Belgian beer as he wanted!

With the nicer weather, comes Fest season in Germany. We enjoyed the live music, carnival rides, crepes, and Ma√ü biers at the¬†N√ľrnberg Volksfest and the German-American Volksfest.

N√ľrnberg Volksfest

Crepes at the N√ľrnberg Volksfest

German-American Volksfest at Hohenfels

May

In May, the moving madness began! After some question about whether the orders for FT Leavenworth would actually arrive, we finally received the Request for Orders (RFO) on May 2nd. We were able to get the official orders on May 8th and could then start making all of the transportation arrangements. There’s a lot to coordinate with an overseas move, including household goods, unaccompanied goods, shipment of two cars, the special shipment of our wine collection, what to sell/give away, and what to carry with us. Needless to say, we worked it all out, and by the end of the month our household goods and my car were on their way back to the U.S.

Loading our household goods into the truck

In the midst of all of the moving arrangements, life went on. Brandon was inducted into the Order of St. George and was farewelled by the Badger team. I wrapped up my duties as the 1st Vice President of the Hohenfels Community Spouses Club and prepared my successor at St. Michael’s Catholic Parish to take over my role as the musician.

At the end of the month, we escaped the moving madness with a trip to Norway to visit my cousins there. (You may remember that we last visited them in August 2010 with my parents.) It was nice that the Norwegian holiday of Whit Monday (Pentacost) corresponded with the American Memorial Day! We flew up to Trondheim on Thursday night and took the train to Oppdal on Friday morning. Over the long weekend, we hiked to the Losvold summer farm, observed muskoxen, and just generally enjoyed the beautiful scenery and generous hospitality!

Losvold Summer Farm

Muskoxen

The Bj√łrndals & Caves

June

My last day at the Tax Center was June 1st and two days later we were on the inaugural sailing of the Carnival Breeze for our “Last Hurrah Cruise.” It was a 12-night cruise departing from Venice with stops in Dubrovnik, Croatia; Athens, Greece; Izmir, Turkey; Messina, Sicily; Olbia, Sardinia; Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy; Livorno, Italy; Monaco; and ending in Barcelona, Spain. Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip and I need to blog about it in more detail at some point! For now, enjoy these few pictures.

Acropolis; Athens, Greece

Mount Etna, Sicily

Porto Cervo, Sardinia

Via Appia Antica; Rome, Italy

Ponte Vecchio; Florence, Italy

Eze, France
(Nice & Eze Excursion from Monaco)

Carnival Breeze in Monaco

After the cruise, we kept working on the final moving details and tried to savor our last few weeks in Germany. We took lots of walks around Gro√übissendorf, ate at our favorite restaurants, visited Kuchlbauer’s Bierwelt in Abensberg to celebrate Brandon’s birthday, and enjoyed a final day in Regensburg that included a tour of the Thurn & Taxis palace and Sommerfest.

July

After finally selling our “beater” car, cleaning & clearing housing, and mailing our final packages, our time in Germany came to an end when we flew from Ramstein Air Force Base to Baltimore on July 10th. We picked up Brandon’s car at the Baltimore port the next day and started driving to our next adventure at FT Leavenworth, KS. On our way, we stopped in Iowa and Nebraska to visit family for a few days, and then began the moving process in reverse! Gradually, we were reunited with all of our belongings and settled into our new home in Platte City, MO.

At the end of the month, we attended the 60th Haugland Reunion at Inspiration Hills outside Inwood, IA.

August

The first weekend in August, we drove back up to Iowa for the “Fasse Birthday Bash,” celebrating Emma turning one in July and Hannah turning five at the end of August.

The next weekend, I visited my friend Allie who lives in Nixa, MO while Brandon started his coursework towards a Master of Science in Administration through Central Michigan University at FT Leavenworth. On August 13th, Brandon started his Intermediate Level Education (ILE) classes at the Command and General Staff College (CGSC). In typical Army fashion, they changed the name a week later to Command and General Staff Officer’s Course (CGSOC). All I know is he goes to school every day and had a lot of reading and assignments until Novemeber!

September

Over Labor Day Weekend, my sister and her family were our first visitors to our new home. We visited several kid-friendly attractions in Kansas City, including Science City, Hallmark’s Kaleidiscope, the Kansas City Zoo, and Alldredge Orchard.

My parents and Aunt Sandy were our next visitors a few weekends later. We explored historic Weston, MO on Saturday and then enjoyed the beautiful weather at the Plaza Art Fair on Sunday.

October

Brandon’s family came to visit us over Columbus Day weekend. Brandon’s dad was born just up the road from us in Atchison, KS, so we went up there for a crafty Oktoberfest and to learn a little family history.

I started the Becker CPA Exam review classes on Oct. 11th. The first review section was Regulation, so at least I eased into it with a topic with which I’m comfortable: individual taxation. There are four parts to the exam and I will be done with the first two parts of the review by the end of the year. My hope is to take those first two parts of the exam in January/February 2013 and take the last two parts by the end of April. While my application to take the exam has been submitted to the State of Tennessee (where we are legal residents), I am still waiting for approval to schedule the exact dates to take the various parts.

This year was my 10th reunion from Wartburg College, so I went up to Homecoming with my sister and her family. I was a little disappointed that more folks from the Class of 2002 didn’t attend the reception, but it was nice to see those that were there. And I always have a great time with Hannah and Emma!

On Halloween, we announced via Facebook our biggest news of the year: we’re going to have a baby in 2013! Little Pumpkin Cave is due May 24, 2013.

November

We finally found a free weekend to go up to Nebraska so Brandon could be in Lincoln for a Husker football game. Brandon and his dad attended the Penn State game and were treated to beautiful weather and a 32-23 win. I stayed in Omaha to watch the game from the comfort of Brandon’s sister’s house. (However, since I didn’t attend the game, there are no pictures.)

Thanksgiving was celebrated at Brandon’s aunt & uncle’s house in Omaha. It was a nice treat to actually be with family for the holiday and to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Brandon’s mom always gets an Iowa-grown turkey from a family friend in Atlantic and it was delicious!! After watching the Nebraska-Iowa game on Friday, we headed over to Atlantic to see my family for the weekend. (Again, sorry there are no pictures‚ĶI’m obviously getting lazy and need to get my camera out more! Is it that seeing family is actually becoming routine again?)

December

And finally we made it to December! Brandon and I kicked off the holiday season with the Kansas City Symphony’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. I loved it! Brandon thought it was a little long.

Now we are finishing up our classes, so we can enjoy more time with family over Christmas. We will be making a big loop from Platte City, to Atlantic, to Des Moines, to South Dakota, to Omaha and back to Platte City. Looks like there will be lots of time to review my CPA exam materials in the car!

Thank you so much for reading my blog throughout the year, sporadic as it is! The New Year will surely bring us new and exciting experiences as we welcome Baby Cave in May and move again next June. (No, we don’t know where yet, but hopefully the Army will tell us in January or February.)

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2013!!

Erika