Anyone who knows me, knows I try to keep it real. The good, bad and the ugly. So it occurred to me tonight to share something with those recently engaged along with my newlyweds, a little about my marriage, nine years in the making.
For those of you who don’t know our story, Steve and I were 6 months pregnant when the two of us got married on a picturesque beach in Maui. Then a month later, our daughter, Chloe came into the world three months early. To say we were thrown into married life and parenthood is an understatement. Within a few months of Chloe being out of the NICU and at home, my mom sold her condo in order to find a house closer to us, and ended up living with a pair of newlywed, new parents. Oh and did I mention that my sister was our nanny at our house when I went back to work full-time?
If you’re counting, that makes five of us in the house on a regular basis. And though having my mother and my sister were absolute blessings that I can’t thank enough and we couldn’t have made it through that first year without; we also weren’t alone as often to figure it all out as typical newlyweds are. Luckily, we had already lived together for a year and a half before we got married, so we thought we were more than experienced in domestic life.
Days, weeks, months and years flew by. Then came raising a toddler. That’s it’s own story, any parent will attest to that… When Chloe was four, I quit my full-time job as an Intelligence Analyst after working as a photographer and analyst at the same time for two years. Then came Steve’s promotions, his Bachelor’s degree, and then his Master’s degree, while working nights as Chloe and I lived regular schedules…except I would stay up until he came home at 1am, otherwise I wouldn’t see him for at least four days out of the week. Oh and did I mention that I was building my own wedding photography business from the ground up at the same time? Then when things really picked up, and I found success and an amazing stride, I suddenly found myself shooting 30-40 weddings a year, along with almost the same amount of consultations and engagement sessions, along with editing and the rest that comes with being an entrepreneur. And somewhere during that journey, our baby girl went off to school, and didn’t even turn back and wave after she saw her teacher. She was off, starting her own journey before we knew or prepared for it.
Since we were working on the degrees and careers of our dreams, raising an amazing little girl, and coaching soccer in what little free time we had, we never realized how quickly time was flying by. That’s what’s funny about time, it’s both a giver and a thief. The days are long, but the years are short. And next thing you know, we found ourselves talking about the trips and traveling that we used to snuggle on the couch and dream about, all the while knowing that we weren’t going to take those trips anytime soon.
Then came October 2017. Our friends invited us to go to Mexico with them on spring break, or so I thought…and Steve (an infamous procrastinator), was for some reason really on top of us getting our passport pictures like the next day. And then this happened:
If you can’t understand me through the blubbering and the crazy hair, yoga pants and no makeup “work from home” uniform I’m wearing, I read the passport application he printed for me, and it said that our travel plans were to go to France and Germany in December. The part where I lose it and break down crying…that’s when I realize he was taking me home.
You see, I grew up in Germany. And in 2000, at the ripe old age of 19, I followed my parents here to Phoenix, this oh so foreign place after spending 13 of my 19 years in Germany. I didn’t handle it well for the first six months to a year. Although I’m an American, I felt like I was in a foreign land. Why were the vehicles so large? How is it that these roads are so damn straight and there’s stop lights everywhere? Why the heck are American’s obsessed with so much ice in their drinks? Where are the grassy rolling hills? Who knew milk and juice could come in plastic containers? Why the heck does everyone keep their house at a freezing 70 degrees in the summer?! Where is the history and random 16th century buildings here and there? Where is the moss and mildew?! Why aren’t there tractors randomly driving 5km an hour with not a care in the world if you’re late for school or work? And the sun… Why the heck is it sunny like all the time? Doesn’t this place get overcast, rainy and gloomy ever?
Anyone who has come to Phoenix from another state probably experienced some of that themselves too. Maybe not the ice part, apparently that’s something we prefer in Europe, along with ‘gas’ in our water. However, what it’s like growing up in Europe is hard to articulate. On weekends instead of driving from Phoenix to Chandler for a soccer game, we’d go from Germany to Belgium. Or Spring break was spent in the Catalonia region of Spain. Drinking was legal before driving was. Belgian waffles are served hot and are crispy, chewy and filled with pearls of sugar, no syrup needed. Needless to say for me, in America, the language was familiar, but almost everything else, foreign.
What I didn’t realize or appreciate, being a military child was that it gave me a wanderlust. Staying in one place for too long made me itch to get away, buy a new house, move to a new house, state, country, dangit something!!! All the while, I married a man whose heart lusts to wander in it’s own way. This man, who left Pennsylvania to attend college all the way across the country in Colorado, had a curiosity about the world, and other cultures, but most of all a desire to know that the world was bigger and more complex than the life he was living at the time. So, he decided one day to go backpacking in Nepal for six months. (Who does that?! Lol I guess he does!) And after those six months, of wandering aimlessly at times, taking in the beauty of the region, the culture and growing to love the people of this poor and tiny country, he was asked by some American doctors to run their new orphanage for boys. So, there he found himself, at the ripe old age of 21, in charge of 40 boys from the ages of 5 to 18, in a third world country, barely speaking the language.
He dove in, got private lessons and within a couple months was fluent in Nepali and found so much pride in helping raise those boys. Children who, for a multitude of reasons, didn’t have parents. Lives that began and childhoods fraught with death, extreme poverty and hunger. He knew he could provide them structure and love, and that’s exactly what he did. That was (in addition to those hazel eyes of his), a huge part of the man I fell in love with. And the wild spirited American girl raised in Europe (along with some other assets I won’t mention) was someone he fell in love with too. Yet life happened. And although it was a wonderful life, we both felt this ache deep within us, this desire to explore, share and see the wonders of the world through each other’s eyes.
So, being the romantic and infamous gifting winner he is, this past December, Steve surprised me with a two week trip to Europe. First, we’d go to Paris, where I could show him the beauty and excitement that only exists in the global center of art and culture and ROMANCE! And then, to top it all off, over a week in Germany, revisiting my home, the places I walked and played as a child, and to take in the spirit, celebration and joy that one finds in the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets) in Germany.
We went into the trip thinking it was just a vacation, but quickly realized that it was oh so much more than a vacation, it was an exploration of our relationship, our first real time together alone as a couple in almost nine years. To be honest, it was like fast forwarding ten additional years and seeing if we’re going to like each other when it’s just the two of us, after Chloe leaves for college! And what did we find? We found that we’re perfect travel buddies, each one with skills that help us, my unabashed willingness to speak to strangers in languages I haven’t spoken in decades, or ever haha, and his organization and explorer’s heart led us to places that took our breath away. We navigated trains, met and befriended random people from across the globe, intentionally got lost in cities and drank and ate until we could drink or eat no more.
What we found was ourselves, as a couple. We had always been there, but we had been too busy to notice that the skills and differences in our everyday personalities were in fact the ones we appreciated and connected us the most as we traveled. We fit like a puzzle. Whether here in day to day life, or across the globe wandering down streets and districts of Paris the average traveler never sees.
This whole long story is to tell you this, even when everyday life is in front of you, remember that beneath those layers of stress or exhaustion, is the person you fell in love with. They’re there, and sometimes you just need to take a second and pause real life to connect in order to realize they’ve always been there all along.
Now, here’s some obligatory images from our trip to Europe in December. In an effort to be a distraction free as possible, I left my camera at home. (Yes, professional photographers can do that.) It’s not as hard as I thought it would be. So, these are the images taken with my iPhone, and they’re just as precious, if not even more so, because I was in the moment with him, in every single one of them.
PS – We loved Europe so much, we’re headed back in July and this time we’re bringing Chloe along with us! I can’t wait to share so many places and things I love with our precious girl!
“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” J.K. Rowling
On the plane, headed to Paris! Excited for our adventure!
In the courtyard of the Saint James Albany Hotel in Paris, where we stayed for five days.
The beautiful Notre Dame was decorated for Christmas. It was incredible to see the architecture in person.
I pretty much ate croissants for breakfast and steak au poivre for dinner each night lol! My favorite restaurant was Le Relais de l’Entrecote. We found this gem while wandering around in St. Germain. This place has no menu, because they only serve one thing, the most delicious steak au poivre covered in their secret sauce with . It was hilarious when we first sat down since our French is limited and the waitress spoke little English. After sitting and looking around for a few minutes, I realized that there was only one thing on everyone’s plate and figured out that the menu I was holding was for us to select what bottle of wine we wanted! To be honest, I don’t know why more restaurants aren’t like this. If you make one thing, and it’s amazing, why bother with anything else?!
Meanwhile I cried when I saw The Winged Victory of Samothrace. And may have cried at the sight of a few other paintings.
Steve getting to see the painting in person that covers most of his back as a tattoo. That was a special moment for him.
Taking it all in. I mean really, this place used to be a palace, then they turned it into a museum filled with some of the most incredible works of art that exist. The fact that I had the opportunity to be in the presence of such beauty again did not go unnoticed.
Taking in the architecture of the exterior of the Louvre. But mostly, he’s probably thinking about how excited to be free from looking at more paintings with his weepy wife : )
Obligatory selfie at the Eiffel Tower! We actually FaceTimed our parents from there that night so that we could share the view with them and Chlobot.
May or may not have stood in the middle of the street to get this pic. Super stupid since driving in Paris is a free for all, but it was worth it.
That Bachelor’s and Master’s degree Steve received after years of working full time and studing every other free moment he had was in History, so while I love things that are beautiful and artistic, he’s obsessed with the history of the places we went. So the catacombs were definitely on our list of places to visit, and it didn’t disappoint. Poor Steve is so tall he was hunched over for much of it though haha!
Seriously, there’s amazing architecture and buildings down every street!
Catching the train from Paris to Trier!
We couldn’t visit Germany without catching a Bundesliga game, and incredibly we got to watch out favorite team Borussia Dortmund play against Mainz in the Opel Arena. What an incredible experience! Plus I loved that the only beer available is from my hometown, Bitburger for the win!
When the Dortmund team has a home game, there’s a section called the Yellow Wall of Borussia. It’s Europe’s largest free standing terrace where 25,000 fans stand and cheer the entire game. It’s intimidating to the visiting team, and encouraging to the Dortmund players. Although we didn’t get the chance to see the actual Yellow Wall in action, we did get to sit right next to their supporters section, where every single one of them stood and sang songs and cheered the ENTIRE game. It was so much fun to watch!!!
I don’t think I can remember a time where I was colder in my entire life. By the end of the game, we were both shivering uncontrollably!
Walking around the Christmas Market in Trier, where I spent countless days as a child, enthralled with the beauty and festive atmosphere. Seeing it as an adult made my heart soar.
Getting Steve hooked on currywurst was easier than I thought.
Spent some time at the Porta Nigra in Trier, which was build in the Middle Ages and was at one point the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. Steve was in love…
Oh you know, just the random buildings I grew up around. They look like they’re our of a friggin fairytale or something.
Sugar pretzels…if you don’t know, now you know.
Enjoying more of the Trier Christmas market at night after a midday nap.
I mean seriously, how can you not feel festive when you’re surrounded with this stuff?!
Our hotel in Garmish. It was built in 1634, and it was a dream…historic on the outside and completely modern and renovated on the inside. Loved it!
Funny fact – we loved the separate feather blankets so much, we now have them on our bed here at home. Trust me, it’s a genius idea!
Enjoying beer while surrounded by hilarious Bavarian decor.
Skiing the Alps! We hit the Zugspitze on our second day, well actually if I’m honest, the Zugsptize hit me since skiing is not a skill that is like riding a bike. I spent a lot of time on my a** that day.
Although it was painful at times, the view was breathtaking!
Steve’s an awesome skiier, who apparently thinks that it is like riding a bike, so I chose to eat delicious food and drink beer while he hit the slopes that I would never even consider skiing haha.
In the middle of the square stood St. Michael’s Church, the largest Renaissance church north of the Alps. I was obsessed with the baroque architecture and all the gold details. It was so beautiful!
The one place Steve had on his ‘must see’ list was the Hofbräuhaus. It’s one of the most popular locations during Oktoberfest, but since it was December we actually were able to find a seat! With essentially pitchers of beer and huge pretzels along with lots of other yummy food, I was in heaven! Plus it’s open seating, so you get to make friends with people from all over the world! Or if you’re an introvert like Steve, you pretend they don’t exist and wonder why your wife feels the need to talk to every possible stranger she encounters.
I got to meet Saint Nicholas! I decided I would thank him for the candy over the years and skip over the time he put sticks and stones in my shoes. I’m going to guess I deserved it.
It started snowing as we explored (and consumed more and more Glühwein to stay warm). Definitely a highlight of the trip! Real snow falling while walking around Munich…perfect.
We spent most of each day walking around the streets of whatever city we were visiting. Later we realized we walked an average of 3-5 miles a day.
Our last night in Munich (and Europe), so we partook in more Glühwein and ate the best schnitzel I’ve ever had!