Dec 26, 2011


We'd been talking about wanting to experience the Christmas markets in Europe for a few years now. Having not yet experienced them in other cities, I'm pretty sure Prague's old city offers what we were hoping for. The main square in the old city is really spectacular with this huge towering church surrounded by brightly colored historic buildings. At night, its especially impressive. So, its a perfect setting for Christmas markets with a huge tree surrounded by little stalls selling food, drinks and handicrafts.

I love the hot mulled wine you can buy all over town and sip while you walk through the winding cobblestone streets. The girls love the sweet breads and sausages.

While the city is festive and fun to explore, I admit, I had a few moments where I was having trouble remembering this and was focusing on what we were missing; (friends, family, and a home with Christmas traditions we knew.) We'd spent several Christmas's away from home before when we'd lived aboard our sailboat and traveled and I loved it, but it was different now with kids. This is now our 4th Christmas as parents and I guess I'm still trying to figure out what traditions we want to stick with to make the holidays special for them. How many gifts are appropriate without spoiling them? How far do with take the whole Santa thing? What should we do this Christmas in a new city to really make the most of this experience.

So, I thought about these things without a lot of clarity while Christmas was soon approaching. Then, one morning I came across some quotes about gratitude and they really helped me refocus.

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." Melody Beattie

This Christmas was a subtle reminder to be grateful for what we have. The five of us were together and relatively healthy, if you don't count some coughs and sniffles which seem to plague us every Christmas no matter where we are. We had basically what we had envisioned, a new city to explore and the freedom to create any kind of Christmas we wanted. We could escape all the typical obligations and keep things simple.

So, I let go of any preconceived notions about what I thought Christmas should be and appreciated the little things. I realized that this Christmas wasn't magical because of loads of presents, but because of an experience that we were having together. That this would live in our memories longer than a Christmas at home.

Thus, our holiday unfolded... We'd first thought we didn't need to get a Christmas tree, that we'd enjoy holiday decorations in the city instead of at home. Embrace this new city life... But, we'd seen the tree lot at IKEA and Brooke insisted we had to return to get a tree. Jeff said it was a bit of work to carry it on metros and by foot through the city, but if that's what Brooke wanted, that's what we'd do. I'm glad we did, it gave us the opportunity to spend time making decorations, and really went a long way in making our little apartment feel 'Christmasy'.

We attempted to make some Christmas cookies realizing too late that we had no measuring tools. So, these were by far the least attractive and least tasty Christmas cookies I've ever made, but the girls had fun.

Christmas traditions in Czech Republic involve many of the same things as home; getting together with family and presents. But traditional Christmas Eve dinner is quite different. Fried carp and potatoes are the typical fare and big tubs of carp, a freshwater fish begin to scatter the city the week before Christmas. Many people buy a whole fish and let it swim in the bathtub to stay fresh till its time to cook it for the family, but you can request a certain amount to be fileted and chopped to your needs as well. Brooke was fascinated by seeing the tubs of large fish and watching the men remove them with a net to be chopped. So, while at first we weren't too excited about fish for Christmas dinner, we finally decided that we had to take part in the tradition. However, unfortunately we waited too long and Christmas Eve is apparently too late to go out and get carp. The city was pretty quiet by then as people are already home cooking and celebrating.

So, this part of the holiday didn't quite go as planned. We decided to head out in the city and see if we could get in a restaurant. There were quite a few open, but after walking the city and stopping for a drink, Savannah was not in the mood. She'd been fighting a cold and at 2 1/2 is at an age where sometimes she is great without a nap and some days she is not. So, as traveling with 3 young kids goes, we have to stay flexible and do the best we can. We headed back to the apt. for a night in, had whatever was in the fridge for dinner and went to bed early.

The details about Santa or St. Mikulas, as he is known here, got a bit blurry. I'm starting to admire the parents that keep that magic alive for so long. Last year I remember Brooke asking, why Santa used the same wrapping paper we had. (Come on mom... make a little effort, these kids are too smart.) She didn't ask a lot of questions this year, which was good.

Savannah woke first and even though we first pointed her toward the tree saying. "Look, its Christmas, you have presents!" She looked mildly interested and said, "yes, but look, baby brother is awake!" As I was hoping, our Christmas was simple and they enjoyed the few gifts for each other as much as their own.

The girls loved their box of projects and it kept them busy most of the day.Jeff wrapped up things like tape and glue sticks and he was right, they were just as excited about those as any other toys.

So, Christmas morning was like I hoped. We opened presents, made Czech Christmas bread French toast casserole. The girls crafted and then we all got dressed to go out to lunch.

Despite the very crooked tree with half finished homemade decorations, I was happy with the Christmas pic of the three of them.

We found a place nearby that Jeff had been eying which was advertising honey ribs. Without over-planning it, this happened to be our favorite meal out yet. The girls were patient for a long lunch and the food was great. After a few beers, we were feeling pretty relaxed and content with our Christmas day.

Note to self for the new year... Stop worrying so much! Things will work themselves out just the way they are supposed to.

Dec 19, 2011

First week in Prague

Its been a week now in Prague; a big city, in a new country where we don't know a single person. Its exciting and the city is as beautiful as I'd remembered it. We'd last been here 4 years ago, when Brooke was a baby and I remember it exceeding my expectations.

Our apartment for the first month was pretty much as we'd expected from the pictures and we settled in pretty easily. This is the living room/office area.

This is the room the girls will share for now. Its even pink! One of our first outings was to the nearby IKEA where the girls could pick out a duvet cover they liked to make their room feel their own.

I think we brought plenty of books and toys, I'm even thinking we brought too many sometimes and they end up either scattered around or not even used that much.

And, just like at home, we seem to spend most of our time in the kitchen.

The biggest challenge has been jet lag/sleeping issues with the kids. We'd brought them to Europe a year ago and after a few tough nights, we seemed to have adjusted, but this time a week later, Savannah was waking up at midnight, saying she's hungry and isn't tired. No matter how much we try to wear her out and feed her during the day, I guess her body is still stuck in CA time and it was affecting all of us. Collin was also having some challenges, I was so tired! We were sleeping crazy hours and places...

Despite lack of sleep the first week, we've been getting out each day to walk the city, find a new playground, and go out to lunch. This continues to be our daily routine for now. With three kids, by the time we get through the morning routine and bundle up to get out the door its usually at least 10:30, so this makes a pretty full day for us.

We'd brought this big stroller for Collin, but eventually realized that letting the girls use it for long walks and me carrying Collin in the frontpack was the best way to get around.

Getting around town will continue to take getting used to for me. The city is so big and especially here in the old town the little cobblestone streets are not straight and easy to navigate. Jeff has no problem, but he has spent time studying the maps and has a general knack for this. Still, he is continually saying how much he loves the map app on his phone, which shows the photo/gps tracking and makes navigating easy. He's going to set this up on my phone, hopefully it helps. I am definitely directionally challenged.... Then there is the metro system, which I suppose I'll get used to.

One thing we are definitely loving is the price to go out to restaurants. There are no shortage of awesome places to eat here around the city center and they cost about 1/2 what they would at home. Beer/wine prices are even better with beer running $1 to $1.30, wine about $1.50 a glass. So, we can go out and enjoy ourselves and not worry, which is a nice change from home.

The girls are finding plenty they like, sausages, schnitzel, croquettes, pastries, pizza, and of course Europe wouldn't be complete without Nutella.

One thing that had swayed our choice from other locations we were considering was the amount of things for kids in Prague. There is a website called which has an extensive list of indoor and outdoor playgrounds, swimming pools, kid friendly restaurants (meaning places with play areas in the restaurant, almost unheard of at home if you don't count McDonalds...), activities, classes etc. We have visited a different playground everyday since we've been here and still haven't seen them all.

These indoor places are awesome, some even offer babysitting for a relatively small fee, so the kids can play while we shop or dine. So easy and so nice to get a break once in a while!

So, I think the kids are adjusting pretty well. Savannah had been asking to go home, but seems to have put that behind her and is feeling at home again here.

Collin is really growing so fast and is so sweet. The girls literally love him to pieces and can't leave him alone. He usually loves the attention and only once in awhile they take it too far... I still have to keep an eye on them.

So, overall its a good start to our adventure over here. I'm trying to be patient and remember it takes time to feel settled in any new place, despite being a completely different culture.

Dec 18, 2011

We made it!

After months of preparation and anticipation, we left the house in Big Bear Lake CA, which we'd spent years building, possibly for the last time. It could likely sell before we returned and Jeff may or may not return to move stuff. I wasn't sure how this would feel when the time actually came. It could be that I was relieved to not be packing and preparing to move, but leaving the house and driving to the airport felt amazing. I felt such freedom, like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. A felt an excitement that we could reinvent our lives and ourselves. It did feel strange, I remember thinking, we can't just move across the world because we feel like it, who does that? But, we were actually doing it.

I had to just try not to dwell on the people we'd be leaving behind. I was going to miss my family and friends, who I didn't know when we'd be seeing again. I guess it helped to remember when we left on the sailing venture and returned, knowing we'd see them again one day and pick up where we left off.

Well, Savannah was asking to go home and Brooke was asking if we were there yet about 5 minutes into the drive, but otherwise our 24 hour trip from California to Prague Czech Republic went amazingly well. Our friends helped us get ourselves and our 10 large duffel bags of stuff to LAX.

Thanks to the help of a nice airport bag guy (what are they called?), we got all the luggage and ourselves to the check in counter. It took forever to check in, they weren't sure how to handle our one way tickets and eventually ended up requiring us to buy return tickets (fully refundable).

The wait in the airport went quickly, the girls looked so cute carrying their own little carry-on luggage... So, relatively speaking, the overnight flight was great. All three kids slept almost the entire flight and I even watched most of a movie and slept a bit. Nothing like some previous flights which were incredibly tedious and long trying to keep the kids entertained. We then spent a 6 hour layover at London Heathrow. We decided it would be worth the money to pay $100 for the 5 of us to spend the time in the lounge, which had free food, drinks and several different rooms to relax in. The kids room was smaller than we'd expected but we had it to ourselves and it was just enough for the girls to relax on beanbags, watch tv, and play.

The rest of the time in the airport was fine and before we knew it, it was time to board a short 1.5 hour flight to Prague. The girls slept again and although Savannah woke up pretty cranky, we were all in pretty good spirits when we finally arrived in Prague. It was late and the airport was empty, which was worrisome at first because we weren't sure if we'd be able to load all the luggage by ourselves. It didn't seem possible at first, but finally with Jeff pushing two carts and me pushing one and the luggage tied together so it wouldn't fall off, we made it the short distance where fortunately our van and driver were waiting.

I'd worried that us and everything wouldn't fit in the van, but it did, barely...The driver was really friendly, spoke great English and sounded like he even might be a good prospect for the transportation we needed for the tour business. We eventually entered the old town city center. Seeing the amazing architecture and castle lit up on the hill was really quite beautiful.

Fortunately the driver helped Jeff carry our 10 50 pound bags up the 5 flights of stairs to our apartment. Even with help, Jeff said he felt like he was going to keel over after that. So, we'd done it, the trip was behind us, now to settle in.

Nov 28, 2011

We're moving to Prague!

We leave for Prague in less than two days. I am finally sitting down to attempt to describe why we are doing this and how it feels. So, why the heck would we want to move halfway across the world with 3 little kids?

Well, as with many life altering choices, many events led up to and contributed to it. Let's see... the underlying reason is - travel. Since Jeff and I got together 11 years ago, we have been to Europe many times, Central America, Asia, and lived aboard a sailboat for 4 years, (traveling halfway around the world sailing from Florida to New Zealand.)

Our trips have always been a good time. Good food, drinks, beautiful cities and quaint villages. Jeff is an amazing travel planner, he loves it, sometimes I think more than the actual trip. So, there haven't been any major mishaps to complain about and hasn't been much not to like. But, only over time have I really started to gain an appreciation for international travel. Its actually somewhat addicting. The more I have seen, the more I want to see and the sooner my feet get itchy with the desire for an experience outside my normal routines.

Its been over five years since we returned to CA from our life aboard s/v Illusions, our 40 foot sailboat, which we sold at our last port in Auckland, New Zealand. We returned with plans to invest, work, and save for another venture. We met many families who were traveling "cruising" with their kids and we decided at the time that we wanted to do the same thing. I have often wondered what have I really gained or learned from spending this much time traveling and I've decided its the ability to question things and think outside the box. To realize that there are many different ways and places to live happily. It is this perspective that I think will be so beneficial to the kids.

So, as Jeff's career comes to a turning point, we have often discussed what we wanted to do next. . Jeff had worked full time while building a very time consuming log home. He was feeling burnt out, needing a break and change of pace, so after job searching a bit, he eventually decided that staying in the same industry and taking a new job (if he could get one) wasn't exactly what he wanted. Knowing that his current job didn't have good long term prospects, I'd been prepared for some time that we'd be moving somewhere... We contemplated moving all sorts of places. I hadn't really settled on where I thought was the ultimate location, but was feeling more excited about living abroad for awhile as opposed to moving somewhere new in the states. I've come to fully believe that travel is a great learning experience for the kids. But, I was hesitant about spending too much of our savings without a goal. I wanted to figure out a new direction for our lives.

We spent a month in Costa Rica last summer; knowing change was on the horizon, and hoping that getting away from home would help us think clearly about what we wanted to do. We'd been talking about living abroad at least for awhile and we'd thought Central/South America had what we were looking for (low cost of living, the girls could learn Spanish). But, we realized pretty quickly that while we enjoyed our vacation there, it didn't offer quite what we wanted for long term.

I had recently read a book; "What should I do with my life?" by Po Bronson. This book is a collection of true stories about people who have have had the courage to really figure out their true calling in life and follow it. It is not an easy question to answer and most people are afraid or too busy to really figure it out. I'd been suggesting Jeff read it for months but it wasn't till we were away on vacation that he had the time.

Anyway, it was this book that really provided the ultimate inspiration think about how to turn a passion into a career. Reading stories of people's experience completely changing their lives to pursue what they finally realize to be their true calling, made it clear that just looking for a job and moving somewhere just to get an income wasn't sounding as appealing as designing a life and career to suit our tastes.

The result? An entrepreneurial idea combining Jeff's two passions; beer and travel. Now, saying you are passionate about beer might sound a bit foolish, but not the way Jeff looks at it. He is passionate about the culture, ingredients, the entire experience of it. He's looked at opening a brewery, but ultimately decided it was too risky and expensive. So, we contemplated beer tours... Providing tours for other beer enthusiasts (a growing market these days) seemed like a pretty exciting combination of his two passions. But, more than that, its relatively lucrative and doesn't require a lot of capital or risk to start up. But where? Well, time in Central America made us realize that it was culture, architecture, and food/drink we love. Europe just has so much to offer and is definitely the epicenter for those interested in experiencing the history and culture of beer.

We'd first looked at Germany, where we have friends and would definitely be in a prime location for beer tours. Eventually, we began considering neighboring France and Czech Republic which would also be good locations. There was a lot to compare, cost of food, housing, language, and long term visa requirements. We'd been back and forth between the three several times, but it finally started looking like Prague, Czech Republic was winning. It has the lowest cost of living, we could afford to live in the city, something we'd never experienced. Especially after small town living in Big Bear Lake, we were craving a city life experience at least for a little while. Jeff just had to apply for a trade license for the business and they would allow us to get a long term visa.

So, we returned home only three months ago and began setting in motion this plan. Sell the house, downsize our stuff, and prepare to move overseas. With a brand new baby, a two year old and a four year old, I might add. Yes, what about the kids? Most people want to know. Well, they are young enough where we can move around and they aren't in school yet. But, actually, we had planned on homeschooling here in the states anyway. Having met so many families on our travels who were homeschooling, my eyes were opened to the possibility of this for our kids. I have since read and learned a lot about it to become convinced that it can be an amazing way of life and education for our family. We want to look at enrolling them in school at least part time where we settle though so they can immerse and learn the language.

How does this all feel? Not really easy to answer that question. Partially affected by pregnancy hormones and then the exhaustion of having a new baby with 2 kids, my response would vary from day to day, maybe minute to minute. If I wasn't too tired, I could remember the big picture and all these reasons described above that we wanted to do this. Then I'd be able to say I was really excited about this opportunity and that I think it will be an amazing experience for all of us. But, if I was feeling overwhelmed with the kids, packing, trying to sell the house etc. I'd probably say honestly that it just seems too hard, not worth all this work to move us all across the world. But, we just kept working a little each day and selling, giving away and packing our stuff till one day we were finally leaving the house; bags packed for a new life in Prague, Czech Republic!