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Apr 30, 2013

Burg Rheinstein

Now that all of my Paris recaps are over, I can finally start moving forward and showing off all the other fun trips we took last year! Guys, I'm backlogged 9 months now. It's a little overwhelming. And with our huge cruise happening in just 5 days (and 7 other fairly substantial trips the rest of this year), it looks like I'll be recapping trips from our time abroad even after we move back stateside next summer. I can sleep when I'm dead, right? Right. So, next up is a little visit to Burg Rheinstein that I took with two dear friends who came to visit us after we returned from Paris. D and I literally had 4 days in between sending Nancy & Mark (the friends we took to Paris) home and welcoming Leslie & Sean (friends also from our college days) to Germany. Last summer was definitely a summer jam packed with trips and visitors...probably why we enjoyed it so much! Leslie and Sean had just come off of a 2 week yacht trip around various ports in Turkey with their family and decided to stop by Germany on their way home to visit with us. We only had 4 days with them, so I had to make them good! Burg Rheinstein was among some of the castles D and I had yet to explore on the Rhine River...and with it being just an hour away from Wiesbaden, it couldn't have been a more perfect sight to start with!

Burg Rheinstein is a striking medieval fortress built on a rock overlooking the Rhine River in the Loreley Valley. The castle was constructed in 900 A.D. to serve as a customs port for the German Empire, but eventually fell into disrepair under a lease to the Archbishops of Mainz. In 1832, the castle ruins and stone were purchased by Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig, the Royal Prince of Prussia, and was rebuilt by famous castle architect Claudius von Lassaulx. Since 1975, the castle has been privately owned by the Hetcher family who repaired and restored the castle over a period of 19 years to regain its former glory over the Rhine. I have to admit, it's one of the prettiest castles I've visited in this area. Everything had been beautifully restored and the views from the top of the highest castle tower were breathtaking. Although, climbing up the narrow winding stairwell to get up there was a bit frightening. If you've only a few castles to explore while visiting Loreley Valley, this is definitely one to top the "must-see" list!

*linking up with Helene for Travel Tuesdays & Lisette for Just Because Link Up*

Apr 25, 2013

An Extraordinary Love

I have an extraordinary spouse. D has never been one to stay within the confines of just being "great"...he's always excelled at whatever he does; whether it be duties of the Air Force, school, or courting me, he's always put his best foot forward. When D and I got married at the ripe old ages of 20 (me) and 21 (him), we already had a great foundation. After dating for almost 7 years throughout the most formative years of our lives, I knew exactly how he ticked, and he knew exactly what ticked me off. They say that the first year of marriage can often be the hardest one of all, but that wasn't true for us. Growing up together made our first year utterly blissful. We finally got to experience all the things we'd been dreaming about for so many years as young kids in love. We had the cozy little apartment that we decorated, just the two of us. We had the sweet little puppy that we took care of like a child. We cooked dinner together, hung curtains together, and sat out on our patio mulling over our days with a glass of wine together. All the perfect little things I'd always wanted to do with my soul mate. Little did I know that those sweet simple moments would be just the tip of the iceberg of how wonderful D is to me. How extraordinary of a husband he's been in our almost 6 years of marriage.

There's quite a bit of backstory here (mostly stories no one knows), but hang on, it will all come full circle! When we got orders to Germany in the spring of 2011, we were both ecstatic. We'd been praying for months to be stationed overseas and God was faithful in granting us our heart's desire. I knew moving to Germany would mean my career as a Nutritionist would be put on hold, but that seemed like a small sacrifice to make to follow D around the world for a few years. In fact, it didn't seem like a sacrifice at all. It sounded like a dream! And it has been. But it hasn't always been an easy dream to follow. Stepping back from my career plunged me into a bit of an identity crisis shortly after finally making the move abroad. I was virtually alone here. No job, no routine, no friends (at the time), and no real sense of direction for my life. Yes, we were still adjusting to living in Germany and planning as many trips around Europe as we could stomach, but during the week...when D was at work and I was home, alone, just me and my thoughts...I felt lost. I did a little bit of job searching, but it always proved to be fruitless. Finding a job here within my career field wasn't going to be possible. And working at Burger King didn't seem like a step in the right direction for me either. So, I turned to blogging. I had started my blog almost as soon as we got orders to Germany just to keep my family and friends updated on our move and adventures abroad. I didn't have any aspirations to turn it into a business at the time, nor did I even know anything like that was possible. Blogging was just a hobby to me. Another ho-hum activity that was there to drive away boredom. I felt others viewed my new hobby that way, too.

Do you want to know what my LEAST favorite question in the world was after moving here? "So...what do you do all day long?" Anytime I heard that question, my heart sank into my chest. Before moving to Germany I could have said, "I work everyday from 8-5, then I hit the gym for an hour, go home, make dinner, plan for the next day's work, spend time with D, and hit the hay." Those first few months here in Germany, if I didn't lie to save my pride, my answer would came out panicked and veiled with shame--"I wake up, go to the gym (maybe), clean the house (if I hadn't already made it spotless the day before...I mean, how much can you clean one small apartment?), I'd blog (but not wholeheartedly), then wait around the house mindlessly watching TV or playing on Facebook until D got home and I'd finally get some human interaction." The looks on their faces were either of pity or jealousy. Jealous for the life of leisure; to spend days doing whatever one wanted. Although in my mind, there was nothing to be jealous of. Pity was more the feeling I felt, and it was like a dagger to the heart every time someone else shared those same thoughts about my daily routine. I was living proof that the grass isn't always greener. 

Thankfully, D was always there to rescue me from my self-loathing. All the insecurities I felt about my new roll as a stay at home wife, D was quick to shut down. He appreciated that I kept our home neat and tidy. He didn't care that I'd still be in my pajamas when he arrived home from work. He comforted me as I navigated myself through feelings of worthlessness when all I had done that day was check the mail and put makeup on my face. But in the back of his mind, he knew I wanted more. He knew that to be the best version of myself, he'd have to push me. But he also knew I needed time to search my heart for direction. And so that's what he gave me.

I went back to America for two different weddings just 2 months after moving to Germany. One wedding was for my cousin and the other for my best friend. They were two months apart, so I decided to stay in NC with my family from the middle of August to the beginning of October. All the while, D was still in Germany starting his new job. Alone. D knew I was struggling a bit (silently to the rest of the world), and completely supported my trip home for such a long period of time. He hoped it would allow me to regroup and come back to Germany with a fresh set of eyes, ready to take on my new life abroad. 

During my time at home, I pretty much stopped blogging. I kept telling D during our daily phone conversations that I didn't feel inspired to write anymore. It was fun for a while, but my insecurities were starting to cloud my vision and I wanted to throw in the towel. I'd warped myself into thinking everyone who knew I blogged, thought that it was silly. Just a silly little thing Casey was trying to do to keep herself busy. It's true what they say--whatever you feel about yourself, you convey that to the world, and they start believing it too. I was my own worst enemy. I had changed, my thoughts and love for blogging had changed...but D wasn't going to let me stay that way. That's when he put the bug in my ear that changed the whole blogging game for me. "Make it your business, babe. Build your readership and make it something you look forward to nurturing each day because it's your own. Turn what you love into something you are proud of. No one could fault you for that." Those words struck a cord in me. I could turn this "hobby" into my business. I could create my own income and fill my empty days with the endless opportunities that blogging creates. I needed to squash my insecurities about not contributing to our family in a significant way. And so the passion began stirring again. I got excited...D got excited...and then we prayed. Feverishly. Soon after, we knew the steps I needed to take and we devised a plan to propel me to my new goals as a blogger. The words "blogging" and "hobby" together, were never spoken from my mouth again.

Coming back from the states was going to be the test. All the things we'd prayed over and talked about were going to be put in motion after I stepped off that plane back in Germany. I felt ready, but D wanted to make sure I was ready. This is where I hope my long winded story starts making sense! As I walked back into our half decorated apartment after 2 long months away, D told me to cover my eyes. I thought he had graciously unpacked all the crap that was still in boxes and wanted to surprise me, but the surprise I got was even greater than that. D walked me over to where our living room ends and our sunroom begins. There was a curtain over the sunroom entryway (one we had hung together just months before), and stuck to the curtain with a flimsy piece of tape was a sign that read, "Casey's Office." I peeled back the curtain and before me was a new chair, a desk, and a brand spanking new iMac computer. Taped to the top of the computer monitor was a note that read, "Your dream starts today!" Tears form in my eyes every time I think about it. D created a space for me to blog, to write, and to start feeling good about myself instead of wasting away into the insecure Casey I was becoming. He dressed up the desk with notepads and pencils; anything he could think of to spark my creativity, and more importantly, make me feel valuable again. 

From that moment on, D has been the biggest cheerleader for me and this blog. He sat with me as I cried about blog designs, inspired me through bouts of writer's block, celebrated with me as my readership grew and I made my first ad sale, and talked me off a ledge when I thought about closing up shop in moments of self-doubt. He's my most faithful reader...having read every single post (without me pestering him about it, too!). When I was working towards hitting my 1,000 follower mark, he would call me from work each morning and say "857!" and I knew he was watching my blog grow just as intently as I was. Those are just a few of the many examples of his continuous support in this endeavor he sparked. When I found that quote from Fawn Weaver on Pinterest this morning, I knew I had to share this story about my amazing husband and how this blog really came to be what it is today. To D, I owe this whole creative space. The success, the klout, the passion...all because he cared to take interest in my wellbeing as his wife. To him, my soul mate, I feel the deepest gratitude for his unwavering faith in me, even when I had no faith myself. Once again, he brought me back from turning into the worst version of myself and has continually kept his promise of "for better or for worse." 

Today (in case you were wondering), I embrace my life as a stay at home wife and almost full-time blogger. It took some time to realize, but it's been the greatest gift D's career in the Air Force could ever have given me. I used to feel bitter about being the "dependent," the spouse who's always flailing in the wind, changing their plans for the greater good of the military. But, knowing my husband supports me and wants to see me successful and happy just as much as he loves and fights for his country, makes the struggle to find my purpose all the more worth it. When you have someone walking beside you, encouraging you to be the best version of yourself even amidst so much change, you've got an extraordinary love.

 D is extraordinary in every sense of the word. I'm so blessed and honored to be loved by him. 
To the moon and back, my love! xo

Is your spouse extraordinary? How so? Share your story with me!

Apr 23, 2013

Pros & Cons of Living in Germany : Part Drei

PRO: The multi-person beer drinking bike machine
Remember how I said Germans will put a bar anywhere? This is the perfect example. The first time I ever saw one of these things was the second week we were living in Germany and we took a day trip to explore Frankfurt. We were sitting at a biergarten, enjoying the scenery, when all of a sudden this contraption that looks like a bar surrounded by bicycle chairs and barrels came breezing past us. I almost couldn't believe my eyes! It's a bar, but it's also a 12 person bicycle. You can drink and ride anywhere around the city. Amazing. I realize there are probably similar brew bikes in the states, but Germany wins the award for the first my eyes had seen of such a marvelous invention...and now I see them ALL OVER EUROPE. Amsterdam, Belgium, Prague...European's love beer biking it up! I also recently discovered one of the towns in the Rhine area has started a wine bike tour group. I may never leave Germany now!

CON: Staus
Ugh. These are the bane of my existence. Stau is German for "the world's worst traffic jam." Ok, not really...but it is German for traffic jam. I'm the one that thinks they are the worst in the world. Normally, the autobahn is traffic-less. I remember telling D how amazing it felt to drive and not be suck in bumper to bumper traffic every single time we wanted to go to the grocery store like we are in America. You can drive fast, weave in and out lanes, and coast along for miles without a worry on the autobahn. But, when you see those little red triangles pop up on the digital road signs, you better prepare yourself for a long wait. 30 minutes, if you're lucky. Multiple long hours, if you're me. I swear, it's like the universe heard me tell D how much I loved the lack of traffic in Germany, because ever since I spoke those words, we've been stuck in the worst traffic jams I've ever experienced in my life. Once, on our way to Ramstein for a test D had to take, we were at a standstill for 2 hours because, get this, cows were crossing the autobahn. COWS! I mean, really, Germany? Another example...coming back from Cologne one evening, we were stuck in the pouring rain on an autobahn on-ramp because of a massive wreck. When there's a wreck on the autobahn, they're usually pretty awful and very deadly. High speeds and bad drivers don't mix. So, traffic was stopped that day for just shy of 3 hours...barely creeping along at a snails pace. Germans are so used to painfully long traffic jams that they turn off their car engines, pull out a lunchbox, and sit on the hoods of their cars just like they were picnicking in the park. No big deal. All the while, D and I banging our heads against the dashboard, cursing our lives and wishing we'd peed before we left the house. Staus, are indeed, the devil.

PRO: Recycling
I wrote a post about this in my German Idiosyncrasies series a while back, so you can go read all about it here. All I'll say about this topic today is that Germans are on point with recycling and are amazing examples of how I think the world should go about recycling. Even though D and I felt like complete idiots trying to figure out the recycling system here (which took us months to get right), it has totally changed my views on green living and taking care of our Earth. We recycle almost every single piece of trash we use each day. Like I said, in the beginning, it was a total headache...that fact I won't lie about. But, now that it's become second nature to us, we will never go back to throwing away our garbage so mindlessly. To Germany I say, "BRAVO!!" 

CON: Giant Pillows & No Top Sheets
{Don't let these pictures fool you...those pillows are tucked under themselves. Sneaky Germans. ;)}
This one just boggles my mind. Every single time we've stayed in a hotel in Germany (and Austria, Switzerland, Prague, Amsterdam, Paris, Italy, & Poland), they've got giant pillows and no top sheets on their beds. When I lived in America, I thought the "Euro sized pillow" was just the name of a different size pillow that you could use as bedding decor. My eyes have been opened to the fact that the Euro pillow actually came from Europe. Duh, right? It's the size of pillow many people sleep on here. D and I, hate them. They're never fluffy enough, so we have to fold them in half, but then end up with gnarly neck aches the next morning.  In addition, I freeze to death because there's just this thin twin sized duvet for bed covering. And each of you have your own. No shared duvet. There's also a fitted sheet on the mattress, but no top sheet. And often no spare blankets in the room. D and I have become hip to the European sleeping simplicity, so we almost always bring our own pillows and blankets if we're driving to our destination. It may seem like we're making a mountain out of a molehill (it is just bedding after all), but sightseeing and enjoying vacation can easily be ruined by a horrible nights sleep. I'm the worst sleeper EVER, so stuff like this can make or break a vacation if I'm not prepared.

PRO: White Asparagus

Ahhhh we are just entering the white Asparagus season here in Germany and the farmer's markets are all abuzz with the coming of Germany's most coveted spring vegetable! When we were downtown this past Saturday, there was a line 10 people deep at one of the market stands just waiting to purchase their bundles of Spargle, as it's called here. White asparagus is not as common in America as green asparagus is, but here in Germany, white asparagus reins supreme. Before moving here, I'd never tasted a single white asparagus. They just looked abnormal to me (they're grown underground, completely deprived of all sun...vampire vegetable, anyone?). Almost 2 years later, I'm here to tell you that white asparagus is delicious. It might be the way that Germans cook them (you can usually find white asparagus dishes with sides of creamy hollandaise sauce...my favorite way to eat them), but I'm totally on board with spargle. The second that white asparagus begins making its appearance in the markets, almost every German restaurant in town creates special spring menus centered around the vegetable. You can find it as a topping on pizza, served alongside your plate of Jägerschnitzel, or pureed into a seriously delicious soup. Germans have dozens of ways to enjoy spargle. Lucky for D and I, there's a farmers market stand right at the end of our street. Spargle for everyone!

CON: Jaywalking
If you want to look like a total American while out and about in Germany...just jaywalk. You'll get strange looks and stares if you do. Germans don't cross the street unless that little green walking man tells them to. The photo above is the perfect example. They stand and wait patiently no matter how dead the street may be. From my experience, it's because jaywalking looks bad and, of course, is dangerous. Germans don't want their children learning to cross the street without following the signs, so they don't do it themselves. I mean, it makes total sense. Children learn by example and Germans want their children to be safe and follow the rules, just like their parents do. BUT, where this practice becomes annoying to me is when we, as Americans, don't realize that's why no one else is walking behind you after you step off the curb and you get yelled at for it. Having a German person yell at you, IN GERMAN, with stern looks and wagging fingers is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed. Locals will yell at you for jaywalking in Germany. Some will call you baby killers. No joke. I was on the receiving end of this interaction once. Thankfully (or not?) a friend who spoke German (not a German) was there to translate for me. So, if you ever find yourself vacationing here, heed my warning. Just don't jaywalk. No matter how late you'll be for your train, wait for the green man! You do not want to be the neighborhood baby killer. Trust me.

*Please keep in mind that all of these pros & cons are formed simply from my experiences and perspective as an American living abroad*

Until next time, Freunde! 

Apr 18, 2013

PARIS: Dinner and a Sparkly View

On our final night in the city of lights we took it easy and tried to relish our last few hours of vacation. We tried ourselves some authentic French Onion Soup (yum!), ate our last real French crepes (double yum!), and swooned over the beautiful Eiffel Tower as it sparkled one last time for us on our Parisian adventure. It was bittersweet because not only was it the end of our vacation in one of the most spectacular cities in the world, but it was also bringing our visit with my college roommate, Nancy, and her husband, Mark, to a close. We all had such a wonderful time together sightseeing and sharing in the wonder of visiting a new place for the first time. I have to say, had they not been there, I'm not sure Paris would have been quite as fun. Enjoying the blessings of life is always more fulfilling when you have special people to share it with. The next morning, we did have a few hours to stroll around the Champs de Mars and the river once more before catching our train back to Frankfurt. All in all our Parisian vacation, albeit short in length, was one for the record books. A big thank you (and MISS YOU!!) to Nancy & Mark for helping to make our time there so darn memorable! Well, folks...that concludes my recaps of Paris! Whew. Took me long enough, huh? Worth it. :)

Apr 17, 2013

WANTED: Guest Posts!

As many of you know, D and I will be setting said for a fabulous 12-day Mediterranean cruise in just a matter of weeks! We are BEYOND excited as this trip has been on both of our bucket lists for a while and we've been feverishly planning every detail for the last 2 months. Since we'll be galavanting around Europe, we both plan on being unplugged for the duration of the trip (mostly because internet rates on board are INSANELY expensive), but hopefully we will be able to find WiFi around our ports and in internet cafes for those much awaited instagram updates. With all that being said, things will be pretty silent around these parts while we're gone. I've got a couple of scheduled posts in the works, but with so many days away, I feel like I need a bit more vacation blog padding. That's where you guys come in!! 


That's right...I'm opening up 5 SPOTS for anyone in blogland to come share anything on their heart on my blog for a day while I'm away. These spots will cost $15 a piece and include a 300 x 175 spot on my sidebar for 15 days from May 4th to May 18th. You can guest post on any topic under the sun (ahem...as along as it's PG and falls in line with my blog theme and values), or take the opportunity just to introduce you and your blog during your post. It's really up to you! All I ask is that you make sure it's quality work with fun photos and lots of personality! Not too hard to do, right? ;)

Just so you know, I will not be accepting any other form of paid sponsorship for the month of May, so this is a great opportunity for some low-cost, quality exposure for you and your creative space! As mentioned above, there are only 5 of these spots available, so head on over to my sponsor page and snag your spot via Passionfruit Ads. Once you've secured your spot, you will receive an email from me with more info and a date your post will be scheduled to go live on my blog. You will need to email me your guest post in HTML form by May 1st AT THE VERY LATEST! And once these spots are gone...they're gone. So, get them while they're hot! Good thing for you I have another cruise coming up in July, so you might just see this offer again later!

Thanks for your help, guys! Happy hump day!

Apr 15, 2013

PARIS: Locking Our Love on the Ponts des Arts

In Paris, there stands a bridge. A bridge covered in padlocks of every size, shape, and color. But these locks aren't ordinary locks...locks that keep away trespassers or ones used for hiding things behind closed doors. These locks are locks of love. Locks that are symbolic of the commitment between two souls bound together by the ties of the heart, left on the Ponts des Arts bridge to show the world a love no one can break. Written on the faces of the locks are the names of those who've found their heart's desire. The keys to them lie below, floating along the current of the Seine River, never to be found again. 

D and I left a lock, our lock, on the Ponts des Arts bridge our last night in Paris; something we'd always dreamed of doing if we ever found ourselves in the city of love and lights. It was a special moment we shared with two dear friends of ours, who also left a lock on the bridge themselves. As we stood there, throwing our keys to the bottom of the Seine, memorializing the life we'd built together, passers by gave their congratulations. Some even clapped. It was impossible to wipe the smiles off our faces. It's amazing how something so silly as leaving a lock covered in Sharpie on a bridge can bring all the feelings of bliss from our wedding day back to my mind. The love, the commitment, the congratulations...all while standing on an old metal bridge in Paris. It's a moment I'll soon not forget. If you ever find yourself in love and in Paris, take your special someone on a romantic stroll to the Ponts des Arts and leave a lock of your own. I hope one day to return to see it still hanging there as a shining symbol of my unfailing love for D. 
The Eiffel Tower may have all the glitz and glamor, but it's got nothing on the sacred beauty of this bridge. 
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