Game On!

With the holidays right around the corner and three weeks of break headed my way, one can imagine long, peaceful days reading next to the fire with warm cups of cocoa as I watch the snowflakes fall. Did I mention the word “imagine”? Because, let’s face it, holidays are nowhere as calm and peaceful as the Christmas songs make them out to be (chestnuts roasting on an open fire, my ass!). Instead, the holidays can often vasicillate between crazy, hectic, sugar-fueled madness to the long, slow, he’s-breathing-on-me insanity.

While the electronic screen can easily provide hours of distraction, there are others to pass the time slightly more peacefully and productively- games! Simple, straight-up board and card games can provide golden family time without ridiculous theme songs. While they may not always be peaceful, they can give families the opportunity to enjoy some quality time together and have a little fun.
img_4564
Looking for some diamonds in our midst? Consider these:
Old Maid (Schwarzer Peter): A simple card game that can be played with young and old alike. Basically a game of chance that helps younger children recognize pairs and older children attempt to strategize their picks.
Snail’s Pace Race (Tempo, kleine Schnecke): Made for little ones but there is definitely added fun when you get bets going with older kids :)
Chutes and Ladders (Snakes and Ladders): Another simple game that relies on chance and builds with excitement in the hopes of making it past the snakes to reach the top.
Monopoly: The original version is actually crazy complicated (did you know you could take on mortgages in the game?) but simpler kid-friendly versions are out there too. We love the Monopoly World Edition that has kids collect stamps on a passport instead of purchasing properties (kind of like our lives, too!).
Trouble: I just cannot help popping that bubbble over and over and over again. Plus, there is something so deeply satisfying about landing on someone and sending them back!
Sorry (Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht): Another classic that also includes satisfying sending of opponents back.
Enchanted Forest (Sagaland): An 80s game that I love to this very day involving story book characters in a forest with trees. Essentially an elaborate memory game where you get to peek under trees.
Candyland: Always makes me a little hungry but the visuals alone make it appealing.

I could go on an on with games that my family loves to play together and there are thousands out there. What they all have in common, however, is that they offer the possibility of family fun that does not revolve around a screen and probably teaches some other skills while you are at it. Whether it’s building memory, developing number sense or building a sense of fair play, games give us all room to grow. Years in early childhood education has shown me over and over again that play is critical to learning- and this goes for older children and adults as well. We can tell our children about fairness and being a good sport, but it is actual practice that teaches. We can practice rote counting all the way up to 1000, but it is the movement of the little marker around the board that often makes it stick. While life lessons taught during gaming are often not pretty (my son ends many a game with tears, time outs and, “I’m never going to play with you again!”), they are indeed lessons to be learned in between the victories and losses. When it comes to gaming, we all have something to win.

TIPS: On the go for the holidays? Many of the little travel versions of the games are great for on the go and for restaurant visits. Most toy stores here have a seciton dedicated to them and they often run great sales.
fullsizeoutput_3d19
Looking for new game ideas or a way to kill time during the cold winter days? Head over to the Spielebox in the 8th district. http://www.wienxtra.at/spielebox/ With over 6,500 games to choose from, kids can play in the location or you can rent games to take home and try out.

Gaming with adults? The raunchy and oh-so-revealing Cards Against Humanity can be loads of fun (especially with a few drinks!). More subdued games like Mexican Train with double 12 dominoes provide fun for all ages. And if your family is anything like my loud and vibrant Italian-American crew, Pictionary can be an all-out war!

Losing Our Sense of Loss

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day and I am at a loss of how to best honor this day. I know too many of us woman who have had to suffer the loss of a pregnancy or an infant. Every situation is different, every woman’s experience their own, except that in the end, all of the women had to deal with the loss. According to the American Pregnancy Association, “Studies reveal that anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage.” That means that an average of 1 in 6 pregnancies end in a loss. That’s a lot of loss.

Yet, there is a not a lot of discussion or acknowledgement of that loss. Many women view this loss as a private matter, hiding it even from their partners. Other women express feelings of failure, as if they somehow were not living up to their jobs as women. Some women do talk about their loss and share their experience with family and friends. Truly there is no judgment here or easy answers of how to deal with loss. Much like every woman is unique, so are their struggles and experiences.

Personally, I have had miscarriages. The first time round I did not say anything to anyone. The times after I did. I was hesitant to do so but was surprised when sharing just how many women shared back their experiences. It opened a whole new world to me of loss and how different women deal with it. I was shocked at how many women I knew, some very well, and yet I had no idea of just how much they were dealing with or had experienced. It opened my eyes to see a world in which loss was significant and I was significantly lacking a sense for it.

After battling two very difficult pregnancies with hyperemesis, having more children is too big of a risk. When people often ask me if others are on the way and I laugh it off, but behind the laugh is the sadness of a choice taken away from me. Upon reflection, however, I realize that I am just as guilty when it comes to this. Some of my well-meaning comments, jokes or questions could have been painful. My seemingly innocent queries into when a brother or sister might be on the way could have triggered pain. My joking about who might be next woman at work pregnant might open a world of worry, shame and hurt. Talk of that nature is common and a topic of discussion for families, friends and colleagues. Looking around, it appears that while we do not talk about loss all that much, we do like to talk about a woman’s family planning quite a bit.

We cannot do much to prevent loss of pregnancies and infants. It’s not really in our hands. What is, however, is how we approach woman and family planning. So to honor today, I am taking a pledge to be more aware of loss. I will do my best to keep my comments and questions about a woman’s family planning to myself. I will lend a listening ear and wait for what is offered me. I will offer support, share in loss and be there for any woman who sees fit to share with me her personal and unique situation. I will celebrate the joys of woman in pregnancy and childbirth, but will also try not to forget the struggle that can be associated with those triumphs.

Today at 7pm in every time zone, there is an international wave of light for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I offer my light, and my hopes that we can all develop a better sense of loss.

The Ones That (Never) Got Away

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, expatriate is defined as a, “person who leaves one’s native country to live elsewhere.” Simple definitions, however, can be simply misleading. On the one hand, I pretty neatly fit that definition. I left the United States 14 years ago and have resided elsewhere since. On the other hand, my children have never resided in the US and so while they never left, they can also be considered expats. Indeed, it can be a struggle to define native country and so often the question, “Where are you from?” can trigger as much confusion as clarity. We come to terms with what works for us and for families. We watch with curiosity how our children define themselves, how they answer such questions like, “What is your native language?” or, “Where is your home?”

While the noun version of this word is tough, the verb definition is more unnerving.
ex·pa·tri·ate \ek-ˈspā-trē-ˌāt\
transitive verb
1. banish, exile
2. to withdraw (oneself) from residence in or allegiance to one’s native country

The verb definition hits on a sore spot for me this time of year as we mark the beginning of the school year and the end of the summer. All throughout the summer we practiced goodbyes. We watched good friends pack their bags, their homes and their lives here into shipping containers as they withdrew for their next residences. For some, it was a more joyous exodus, a sign of a new position or a return to a “native” land. For others, it felt more like a banishment to a place of uncertainty, an exile to a land perhaps more foreign for comfort. Yet again, I coached my children (and myself) through the process of saying goodbye with little traditions to help ease the pain. Friendship books were made, countries to visit added to the list and contact information exchanged with promises to keep in touch. As the ones who always stay, my family bears witness to to the ones that go away. Somehow, we too feel like the “ex” in expatriate.

As tempting as it is to want to “withdraw oneself” and my family from the expat scene, we also recognize that life is too transitive to hold only one allegiance. I have learned the value of friends who can be family, regardless of how long they enter our lives. As the school year begins anew, there are opportunities to make new allegiances. Perhaps my child’s new best friend will be here for just a year, maybe 3 if we are lucky. Perhaps we will befriend a family who will share in adventures we will cherish for years to come. And although we will certainly say goodbye to ones that will get away, we will also certainly be introduced to others that will stay in our hearts.

We are expatriates. We are more than our definitions. We will not be exiled.

Saying goodbye to a good friend

Saying goodbye to a good friend

5 People You Meet at Vienna’s Swimming Spots

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The summer is fast approaching and when the temperature rises, the people of the city all make their way to the closest thing to decent air-conditioning that Vienna has to offer, the Danube and other swimming spots. While my family usually spends the majority of the summer in the States, we do get chances in both early and late summer to catch some time in the water. Vienna has an amazing amount of great places to get cool, but that does not always mean that the people you see there will be 😉 Here’s a playful look at the five people you will meet at Vienna’s swimming pools and beaches:

1) The old guy in the Speedo. An old man rocking the Speedo with a belly so big that at first glance it actually looks like he’s naked. This man is most likely also an incredible shade of leather brown with skin texture to match.
2) The macho man. Perpetually without a shirt, this man roams and wonders like he owns the place. He does not swim but rather struts around, only occasionally stopping to do some push-ups or hit the chin-up bar.
3) The busy mom. A blanket spread out and covered in sand. Food in all sorts of containers but no match for the ice cream at the buffet. Cries of “Mama, look at this!” constant in between constant coaching and splash refereeing. A good summer read dying to be read but will not get touched except by sticky little fingers. Aka, me with my kids at the pool/beach.
4) The fitness crew. A group of tan and fresh youths just kickin’ it and relaxing between various fitness fun rounds of soccer, volleyball and any other sport that is physically demanding enough to match their physiques. Girls tend towards bikini and little short-short combos and guys manage a tank top that comes off for the game. Sunglasses permanent and they never look they actually sweat despite all their activities. Yes, I am jealous.
5) The love birds. The fresh air just too much for the couple in love, these two spend most of the day making out as if there was not half the city there to see. Most likely accompanied by pop music coming from their phones and giggles of kids from busy moms when they walk by.

Clearly, the trips are worth their while simply for the great people watching. Here’s my top 5 favorite spots for families that include busy moms like me (in no particular order):
1) Krapfenwaldlbad With many pools, lots of shade and bouncy fun, this makes for a great outing.
2) Neuwaldegger Pool Neuwaldeggerbad This 1920s styled pool is a quiet retreat with a good buffet as well.
3) Gaensehaeufel On the Old Danube, this large beach caters to everyone (even the naked crew!).
4) Therme Wien Thermal Baths Vienna Expensive but expansive, this bath has both indoor and outdoor options plus lots of water slides for adventurous swimmers.
5) Wasserspielplatz Donauinsel Water Playground Danube Island Part of the Danube Island’s impressive offerings, this park offers water play from the littlest to the biggest of children.

Got more time or wheels? Check out some of the lakes and river spots in the areas surrounding Vienna. Our recent joyous discovery is the Aubad Tulln, a man-made lake with sandy beaches, boats and water slides surrounded by green goodness.

Here’s to Speedos, sunshine and sandy beaches in a land-locked country!

We’re Going To Disneyland! Adventures in Amusement Parks

So you think it will be amusing to visit amusement parks with your family?

This school year has been a big one for my family and amusement parks. We visited Legoland in Germany this fall and Disneyland Paris in February. Were they amusing? Sure. Were they also stressful at times? Definitely. As amusing as these parks can be, there is nothing amusing about breakdowns and tantrums or trying to coax your child through a really long line. So for all of you families out there considering taking on amusement parks, here is my low down on the highs and lows of family park fun.

Legoland

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Located in Guenzburg, Germany (driving time around 5 hours from Vienna), this park has a lot to offer Lego fans and families. There are many options for smaller children, rides aplenty and great play spaces to explore around the park. Two full days are sufficient for you to see most of the park, so a long weekend with two full days for the park is enough time.

The Highs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1) The park is super friendly for kids of all ages. Most of the rides are not too scary and there was lots to do for our crew that featured children from aged 2-7.
2) The price is reasonable, especially if you book in advance. There is also a special price for returning the next day at reduced cost. The food is also reasonable considering it is an amusement park.
3) You do not need to stay on-site to get the magic. While there are places to stay right next to the park, you can use their website to find a package that works for you with many of options in the area at https://www.legolandholidays.de/ibecms/en/booking/package/search.html
The Lows
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1) Timing matters. There are no fast passes so if there is a line, there is a line. It is hard to estimate how long the wait time will be. Choosing a non-holiday weekend made a difference as the weekday (Friday) had little lines and crowds while the weekend was busier with increased wait times. We spent the first day hitting up the things we really wanted to see and spent the weekend day just visiting what we could with the time permitted.
2) The weather counts. There are some indoor activities but it is mostly an outdoor park. Rainy days can present real challenges for enjoying all parts of the park.
3) Entertainment/shows are minimal. There are some shows and special presentations but the fun is mostly based on the rides and attractions.

Disneyland Paris

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Located outside of Paris (about 1/2 by taxi from the airport), this classic theme park is Disney with a European twist. With two parks combined, there are lots of possibilities for family fun but much can be accomplished within a long weekend of 3 full days. The park is magical and designed for all ages.

The Highs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1) Disney magic. The kids loved seeing their favorite characters, the afternoon parade and the evening light/firework spectacular show. Disneyland is its own little world where children and adults alike can find happiness in being awed and amazed with magical touches everywhere.
2) Endless possibilities. Between the two parks, there are lots of choices for both indoor and outdoor fun with rides and attractions that appeal to all ages. Want to play it safe? It’s a Small World and Dumbo Elephants are waiting for you. Want a little risk? Space Mountain and Tower of Terror are there for a good thrill.
3) Packages can make a difference. Taking a package deal with a hotel on-site hotel provided us with lots of vouchers (which they actually printed on paper?!) for dinner, snacks, Fast Passes for each of us each day and gave us two hours before the park opened to the public just for residents at on-site hotels before the park opened to the public (8:00-10:00). If you do not plan on sightseeing Paris while you are there, a package deal for an on-site place will probably be cheaper than staying somewhere off-site.

The Lows

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1) Lots of walking, lots of lines. Even with Fast Passes, wait time can be significant. Timing matters here too as picking days/times for your visit can be a big factor in how much enjoyment your family can have. Furthermore, timing matters with reservations which are necessary for most restaurants and should be made in advance of your visit.
2) It’s big Disney fun at big Disney prices. From snacks to the awesome shops to the restaurants around you, be prepared to spend some money. We set a limit of just one small item per day that the kids could buy (had to fit in their carry-ons!) to help keep things in check.
3) Be prepared, but also be prepared to be flexible. Planning your visit is a must but can be tricky to keep up with as the wait times, closures and weather shifts throughout the day. We downloaded their App while there with the idea of using it to see wait times around the park, but found Wifi to be difficult to locate. In the end, we did a lot of splitting up with the kids so that each child could get to what they wanted.

All in all, amusement parks are filled with memorable moments but take a little planning and research to make the most of it. Take some time to visit travel sites and read reviews to get an idea of what will work best for your family. For example, looking at reviews of our on-site hotel for Disneyland gave us the tip to upgrade to a different room and allowed us a breakfast room separate from the main hotel, getting us a hot breakfast without the lines in the morning. No matter the park, come prepared for long lines with snacks, water bottles and in-line activities like books and toys enjoyed in line (and yes, this could mean a iPad). Take lots of pictures and keep on smiling :) In the end, you can proudly give yourselves a gold star for rock star parenting!

TIP! Looking for some amusement park fun closer afoot? Check out Family Park in Burgenland, about 45 minutes from Vienna. http://www.familypark.at/en/home/ This park caters to a younger crowd but is just right for a day of family fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA