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In: Family

February 5, 2012

Got A Baby In My Tummy

Not in Milo’s tummy. Although he might begin to think that that’s what is in bellies because we started preparing him for some major expansion and eventually a baby coming out of mommy’s tummy. Of course Milo has no plan what that means until the new baby will actually steal a good chunk of attention from him, but we are pretty sure that underneath it all he will eventually be thrilled and thankful to have a sibling. He is just a people person and needs his own little play buddy always available.

Now, considering that we are doing him a major favor here, Milo didn’t make it very easy to make baby number two. Seriously, once kids turn 1, they switch on some natural birth control mode that makes it almost impossible to find time to do what you gotta do. There is teething, sicknesses, and other random night wakings that set off a second round of sleep deprivation that not only leaves no time and energy for parent time, but also makes you seriously doubt that you want to go through this whole baby thing again. Against all odds we were able to make it happen somehow, but trust me, it was hard work.

Little Tran number two is expected to arrive on the same due date that Milo had (August 15th), and hopefully he or she will not come out three days early so that both kids can have their own separate birthday. Six more months to convert the basement into a guest room and the guest room into nursery. After three extremely tired, mildly sick, and lazy months, the home makeover blog will be back full force very soon!

December 25, 2011

So This Is Christmas

Christmas is almost over. It is the evening of the 25th and the adults of this household are chilling on the couch with their computers shining in unison with the tree while the child can be heard sucking on his peacemaker over the monitor. Oh, what nice silence! Finally we are getting to the heart of Christmas spirit. The last couple of weeks were crazy busy – as always before the holidays. And as always we didn’t manage to send out all mail on time, print personalized cards, nor finish all DIY gift projects that were planned even though I started in November this year.

But at least we did manage to send cards at all, hand-wrote every single one, and got all presents purchased two weeks before Christmas. Let’s just look at the improvements here. Of course all the craziness was well worth it to make it Milo’s first memorable Christmas experience. As far as I can tell, he had a blast. The whole advent thing we had going on was a hit on its own. Every morning he demanded opening his advent calendar right after breakfast. He learned how to blow out the candles of the advent wreath (all set for his second birthday next year), and gazed at all the lights around the house as if they were new every day.

We made gingerbread houses and cookies with friends and went to see an amazing train display at Brookside Botanical Gardens.

Then Christmas weekend came and at first it didn’t look like it was gonna be all fun and smiles. Milo’s incisors decided to push through his gums and mama got a cold. But luckily both of those mean things turned out much minor as expected and so the fun began. As a family we are pretty new to this Christmas thing and will see how Tran traditions will evolve and play out over the next few years, but so far so fun. It all took off on the 24th at 2pm when we met my German family on skype during their Christmas Eve celebration. (If you are not familiar with German traditions, the evening of 24th is the main Christmas deal in Germany, not the 25th.) Everybody was just happy to spend an hour of quality family time together and even the usually crappy internet connection held up pretty nicely.

We got to open their presents that were shipped over here and they opened ours. Milo got some German books and a potty seat. He immediately got the connection, grabbed one of the books, and sat down on the potty for a good 15 minutes. Hm, who did you learn that from?

Afterwards it was time for us to prepare Christmas dinner. We had Linc’s parents and siblings over for a Bieringer style Christmas Eve. That means, nicely set table, four course dinner, and gift exchange between the immediate family members.

We made traditional pumpkin soup with homemade butter croutons and bacon crumbs, then a pecan cranberry spinach salad, then thyme apple pork chops with roasted rosemary vegetables. And baked filled apples with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce as dessert. Sounds like a lot of work, but actually most of the stuff could be pre-prepared and then just baked itself in the oven while we had time to tend to our guests. We even busted out my real silver ware that I got almost twenty years ago and had never used before. Just to throw in a little bit of craft blog, see here our table setting:

The next morning of the 25th began relatively unspectacular. Probably because the American in the house was still asleep and the German was running all the Christmas action. So no stockings filled with Santa goodies this year. I did manage to sew the stockings in a time crunch right the night before, but didn’t really have anything small to fill them with, so we will work on improving this part next year. I don’t know, maybe it would also just get too much. Because the biggest party of the weekend hadn’t even started yet. The extended Tran family Christmas party at Lincoln’s parents house. It is the usual craziness (a regular house filled with 30 people, tons of food, and 20 children of all ages) times 4. At least. Every family gives every single child of the family a gift , so we had an estimated 100 presents piled up around the Christmas tree. It seriously was a wall 5 feet high and 3 feet deep of boxes that almost completely covered up the tree.

Then the traditional photo of all kids in front of the presents is supposed to happen. Of course the kids couldn’t care less and have their eyes on the prizes, not the cameras. Surprisingly Milo stayed seated for the photo shoot when I told him to. Maybe we can apply this good listening to sitting on the naughty step next time he needs a time out? See here how it played out:

But wait, it gets even better. Someone starts passing the presents to the child’s parents, everybody sets up their station on the living room floor, and opens presents as fast as possible in order to not get buried. Kids get lost under wrapping paper, parents paper-cut their fingers, trash bags get filled with everything that is not in a child’s hand, … seriously, that’s how crazy it felt. Milo got completely overwhelmed, so I sent him to another room with the first best toy and then took more than twice as long as everybody else to open his gifts.

Yeah, it was fun and we are happy that we are done with festivities for a little bit. This week I will have three days off of work and we will do our best to just relax and play and relax and play. And hopefully see some of you Columbians for a play date and some of you Germans for a Skype date so that Milo can show his new toys and do a private happy dance just for you. Cheers!

November 22, 2011

C H R I S T M A S ! ! !

See the title above for how excited I am about Christmas this year. If you happen to know how excited I was last year to go to Germany and introduce my baby to friends and family, then double that. Wait, triple it. Minus the fact that I won’t get to see my family this year. But – this is gonna be my boy’s first Christmas that he will consciously experience with our little family’s first tree ever in our first house ever. Thinking back to my own childhood and how excited I got every year for Christmas I can only imagine how much fun he will have with all the lights and am on a mission to make it the most memorable first Christmas in history.

Christmas to me is all about family, friends, and love. Call me a helpless romantic, but I get all sentimental and lovey-dovey in December when it’s dark and cold outside, warm and fuzzy inside of the home, the radio stations play cheesy Christmas classics, people put up lights, cozy up with their loved ones … sigh! This is the time of the year when my pragmatically wired brain gets a rest and the rarely expressed emotional side of Nicola has free reign. Nobody knows about this, but it is pretty likely for me to spontaneously get teary-eyed from fuzzy feelings when driving in my car and listening to Christmas classics.

Now, I’ll be the first one to admit that I am a little bit of a Christmas opportunist. I fully indulge in the romantic spirit that comes with it, but am not too much into celebrating the religious reason for it nor into consuming tons of expensive goods. Not even for the sake of this sad economy. As far as the birth of Jesus is concerned, I think it’s totally cool that people still think back to such a significant event and celebrate it in one of the finest holidays on earth, but I’m not gonna lie and say that that’s on my mind a lot during December. If you really want to know my my humble opinion – there are so many good reasons and ways to celebrate love that it doesn’t really matter how and why you do it. Just show some loving for each other.

Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk business. Here is how Christmas goes down in the Tran’s house. Well, this is the first time we actually have our own house to celebrate Christmas in, so there will be a lot of firsts for us this year. First time impatiently waiting for Thanksgiving to be over so that Christmas decorations can be put up and almost starting to happy dance at work because Lincoln gave in and let me put up stuff 5 days before Thanksgiving. First time (in my life ever) to have an artificial Christmas tree. First time keeping Milo from taking down ornaments from the tree. The list goes on ….

But over the past few years of our young marriage we also established some original Bieringer-Tran fusion traditions that are made to last. The great thing is that we can pull traditions not only from 2 different families that we grew up in, but also from 2-3 different cultures. In Germany Christmas time starts four Sundays before December 24th. It’s called Advent and is the time of anticipating Christmas. Every of the the four Sundays people light up an additional candle on their advent wreath until all four are burning by Christmas. (Of course they are not kept burning the entire time, only when attended. Mostly for long and cozy Sunday morning breakfasts.) This is what a traditional advent wreath looks like on the first Sunday in Advent:

During Advent the Germans bake many many Christmas cookies. These are made according to special recipes that you won’t find during the rest of the year. Cinnamon, nuts, and chocolate are typical ingredients. Find a version of my favorite cookie recipe by clicking on the picture:

Next thing is the Advent calendar. It comes in many different forms and levels of creativity. The basic model is just two pieces of paper with the cover sheet having little doors cut out and the sheet behind showing picture of winter scenes. It can also have chocolates behind the doors, or really take on any 3dimensional shape like this for example:

All of them boil down to having 24 doors, socks, boxes, envelopes, or bags that hold little goodies like sweets or small toys. Every morning of December the kids are allowed to open one of them (with the number of the day’s date) until Christmas Eve is here.

Then, on December 6th we have the day of Saint Nikolaus, a guy who must be somehow related to the American Saint Nick. Basically, he was a very good man who helped people in need, gave away gifts, and died on December 6th. Read the whole story here. So, in Germany all kids polish their shoes or boots on December 5th, then put them outside of the front door and hope that they were good enough for Saint Nick to put some goodies in there. The next morning everyone gets up really excited to find some small gift, nuts, oranges, and chocolates in their boots.

Can you believe how much anticipation all of these traditions build up by the time Christmas is finally here? No wonder that with my 31 years I still get so excited about it. Christmas in Germany, by the way, is on December 24th. Christmas Eve. That’s the main big deal. It’s when families get together in their homes, sit by the real pine tree singing Christmas carols (at least my Mom was trying to keep the singing up until the bitter end), having a festive meal, and exchange gifts. So, whenever we are in the US for Christmas we are having Linc’s immediate family over on Christmas Eve for a three course meal and do the big gift exchange one night before all other Americans. And then it’s American Christmas again the next morning! I am in the process of making stockings for the three of us and will fill them with a small gift on Christmas Day. Hm, that’s only one American tradition. Can you tell that I am the big Christmas tradition initiator in our family? What other things do Americans do for Christmas that I am missing?