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 Bläserphilharmonie 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 Maß biers at the Nürnberg Volksfest and the German-American Volksfest.

Nürnberg Volksfest

Crepes at the Nürnberg 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 Bjørndals & 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 Großbissendorf, 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…I’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

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About a Year Ago…

I’m still alive!! Moving back to the States really threw off my blogging. (Not that I was that consistent before!) We’ve been in the FT Leavenworth area since mid-July and we are enjoying being closer to family. Hopefully, I’ll write more soon about our transition and how we’ve been keeping busy. But first, I want to cross off another post that has been on my “To Write” list for the past year.

About a year ago, Brandon was sent to a conference in Brussels, Belgium. Since my job at the Tax Center had ended for the season, I took the opportunity to go with him and enjoyed four days exploring the city with Rudi, another spouse who had also accompanied her husband to the conference.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

After I played for Mass, we drove to Brussels. It was an easy 6-hour drive, and that included stopping at the Nuremberg airport to book our December trip to Majorca. On the way there, the car hit 50,000 miles! (Brandon is particularly proud that he was going 100mph when the odometer turned.)

50,000 miles at 100mph!

Unfortunately, once we arrived at the Crowne Plaza Brussels – Le Palace, we discovered that we left a few things at home. Brandon forgot his “cover” and I forgot the electric toothbrush. At least the hotel had toothbrushes, but they didn’t have any Army berets or patrol caps. We ate dinner at the hotel and enjoyed the fast & free Wi-Fi in the room.

Monday, November 14, 2011

While Brandon and Phil were attending the Counter-IED conference, Rudi and I started exploring Brussels. We followed Rick Steves’ self-guided walks of the Lower Town and the Upper Town.

Hôtel de Ville on Grand Place; Brussels, Belgium

Former Guild Halls on Grand Place; Brussels, Belgium

Maison du Roi on Grand Place; Brussels, Belgium

Manneken Pis; Brussels, Belgium

We stopped for lunch at Le Cirio and enjoyed delicious lunch accompanied by half & halfs…half champagne and half wine.

While Rudi & I were exploring the city, we found a cute restaurant called L’Estrille du Vieux Bruxelles that we went back to for dinner after the guys were done with their conference activities.

L’Estrille Restaurant on Rue de Rollebeek; Brussels, Belgium

We knew it was going to be a good restaurant when we saw the same two gay guys we’d seen at La Cirio at lunch! I had the sampler menu and not one of the six dishes was bad. The wine was also excellent! However, Brandon won best dessert by ordering a baked pear with Speculoos ice cream on a Speculoos cookie. I can’t remember what I ordered for dessert, but his was so good that we still remember it a year later!!

Brandon’s Pear dessert with almond ice cream on a Speculoos cookie; Brussels, Belgium

On our way back to the hotel, we made a detour to find the sister statue to Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis. What it is with Brussels and peeing statues??

Jeanneke Pis; Brussels, Belgium

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Today, Rudi and I started at the City Museum to see the costumes of Manneken Pis. It was amazing to see all of the colorful costumes from around the world for a statue!

We met up with the guys at lunch and they decided to skip the afternoon session for a day trip to Bruges. We had a nice time walking around, shopping, and enjoying the quaint city.

Dumon Chocolatier; Bruges, Belgium

Markt Square; Bruges, Belgium

We decided to go back to Brussels for dinner to avoid the late drive on full stomachs. We enjoyed dinner at La Villette.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rudi humored me by visiting the musical instrument museum. I saw some old clarinets and a really neat double piano. Even Rudi found it pretty interesting and there was a great view from the top restaurant.

Musical Instruments Museum; Brussels, Belgium

Musical Instruments Museum; Brussels, Belgium

View from Musical Instruments Museum Restaurant; Brussels, Belgium

The rest of the day we finished souvenir and chocolate shopping. We finally had waffles, but neither of us could finish because the chocolate topping was so rich and we’d eaten so much delicious Italian food at lunch!

Finding a dinner spot was tricky because the boys ran late and we were out at prime time. We ended up at Belga Queen, which was pretty fancy, busy, and good.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Brandon and I did some last minute shopping for beer before leaving Brussels. We also got to see Manneken Pis in costume! He was honoring the Compagnons du Beaujolais celebrating the official launch of the “Beaujolais nouveau.” Supposedly, he was also peeing Beaujolais that day, but we weren’t able to get close enough to sample.

We did stop for a beer across the street from Manneken Pis, and Brandon was finally able to try the Kwak beer in a genuine glass. It stays in the wooden holder while you drink it.

Unfortunately, when we finally got on the road, we hit several staus that slowed us down and we arrived home late. Still, it was a wonderful trip. While it was a bit cold, November was a nice time to visit Brussels to avoid lots of tourists. And we brought home lots of consumable souvenirs to help us remember it!