We had to decide between January in Austria or January in Shanghai this year. I had everyone convinced that Chinese New Year would be an experience of a lifetime and we were so close to accepting the sit in Shanghai, but the kids just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ski and play in the snow. Devastated, we turned down the offer for China but as we have watched the Wuhan Coronavirus sweep through the country, cancelling New Year celebrations and shutting down transportation we have felt so grateful for such a happy alternative in Austria!
We had a really great month there and enjoyed the home, the pets, the neighbors, the language, the adventure and the sunshine. It was sad to say goodbye this past Tuesday!
We tackled the full 15 hours to get to our next house sit in south-western France all in one day. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to drive through the Alps just check out the picture of the tunnel. The Europeans must have decided the best way to handle driving in the mountains was to just go through it because it is just tunnel after tunnel after tunnel! Not always the most scenic, but we also didn’t have a single bout of carsickness which is a first for mountain driving in our family!
The stir craziness was showing strong in our late night fart-noise frenzy video, but really it went so well. My kids never cease to amaze me with the way they roll with our long travel days! They’re little rockstars !
And now we’re so happy at our house in beautiful Dordogne! Happy to be able to speak the language, happy for such a cool house, happy to be able to walk into the village to buy fresh bread, and the kids are just over the moon to have a bonfire pit in the huge backyard! I think we’ve literally had a fire every day! My kids sneak outside as the sun is coming up and stoke the fire with the coals that are still hot from the day before. They stay out all day and go to bed with smoke in their hair, just as happy as can be. They say this is their favorite house sit yet; they say it reminds them of home.
… a kind Austrian lady who had stopped on his first walk down the mountain to say something in grumpy sounding German when Evan was sure he was being chastised for being on a hill he had no business being on, but this time just kindly took his skis and carried them down to where the green path started for him. Bless her!
He made it back to the lodge all in one piece just in time to join ski schule for lunch. He decides that he might like to try being a ski lodge Dad.
We spent the rest of the day on the Kinder (kid) slopes and had a great time skiing with our ski fanatic kids! They are SO impressive! Thatcher and Levi got back out with their instructor and mastered the crazy blue course, I really regret not getting back out and doing the green again, but really it was so much fun going up and down the bunny hill with Pepper just absolutely non. stop. She couldn’t get enough. And then taking Finn over to the bigger kinder slopes for the first time and watching him just light up and crush those runs over and over and over. They had to kick us out. We were the last ones off the mountain that day, we had to peel Pepper off the bunny hill. It was a great first day of skiing in the Alps and possibly Evan’s last. His knee is feeling much better now, though, thanks for asking 😅😬😣
… over and continue on our happy green trail. But I definitely had a moment of oh no, what was I thinking… If that was a blue run (the next step up from green) I was in way over my head. But the only way out of it was down. And then take a lift up to another higher trail and then from there you can get back to the bunny hill.
Poor Evan guys, it got a little steep jumping back onto the green and he was struggling at even that! He had a few wipeouts that really got me worrying about getting him back to the lodge safely. And we had so much further to go! Well, that path we crossed over to was only a small loop that took us right back to the blue hill we had just crossed and then there were no more green paths. The only way to get to the ski lift was straight down.
You guys. My poor Georgia boy. He told us we could go ahead and I hesitated but he insisted he wanted me with the boys. So Thatcher takes off and is showing us who’s the boss. Makes it down in no time. Levi is probably just more anxious than anything but I get him making nice big S Curves and we’re doing fine but we stop at one point to wait for Evan because my conscience is not ok with leaving Evan to do this alone.
At this point it should be noted that the man is wearing blue jeans. Blue jeans in the Alps. Because we just couldn’t scrape together enough winter gear, so not only is he feeling like an amateur at this point but he also really looks like one. And he just stands there trying to gather his courage for a good long time. I’m looking up from below and I see his hat, then I see no hat, I see some skis, then I see the man walking down the hill, carrying his skis. I’m relieved, honestly. But feel terribly sorry for him! But at least I know he’ll make it down safely so me and Levi take off again. We get down and we wait. And wait. And wait. And finally our heroic Georgia boy emerges, slipping and sliding down the hill in his ski boots. He’s ready to call it a day, his knee hurts, he’s beyond done and I’m looking around for someone with a snowmobile who could take him back to the lodge because the only way forward is back up and back down again! He makes it down again with the help of…
And last but certainly not least we took advantage of our first opportunity to ski in the Austrian Alps! We had planned on skiing all month but we had some serious sticker shock when we realized how expensive that would be. One day was enough to pack a pretty powerful punch to the wallet, so we lived it up for that one beautiful day!
The kids all took lessons; Finn and Pepper joined ski schule for the day and the older boys took lessons with a private instructor. It gave Evan and I opportunities to give the kids different one on one attention which was really cool!
We had time after we dropped the younger ones off at ski schule to do a run or two before the big boys’ lesson, so we picked a nice easy green route to start us off for the day.
Let me back up and just remind everyone about our skiing backgrounds:
I lived in Canada until I was 12 so I had been skiing a good handful of times as a kid. It wasn’t our family’s thing, but we went on school field trips and on occasion we’d go with my cousins, stuff like that. I can get by, but I’m by no means an expert.
Thatcher and Levi did ski school in Canada last winter and got really good and comfortable! We had a season pass and went at least once a week the 4 months we were there. Again, not experts by any means but Thatcher especially is really proficient.
Evan grew up in sunny, hot Georgia folks. It snows maybe once a year, and has only started skiing because he married a Canadian. We went once in Canada with my family, once in college with our friends, and then in Canada again last winter. And I thought he was doing really well! I kind of figured he’d gotten it down. 😬
So we’re off on this green run. Green is the easiest, by the way. I’m having a BLAST. I can’t believe how cool this trail is, I could do it all day. The boys are loving it too! Evan thinks it’s beautiful and really cool but is a little less comfortable and confident. So then we turn a corner and we have to cross a bigger run. Guys, the edge just dropped. off. I couldn’t see the ground even 10 feet ahead, it was straight down!! But that’s ok, we just have to wait for a break in the expert Austrian skiiers flying down the mountain to cross..
I don’t think we’ll ever forget our hauntingly beautiful walk through gorgeous downtown Salzburg after dark, in the rain, to visit the cemetery that inspired the cemetery scene in Sound of Music (it was actually filmed on a set in L.A.) and Nonnberg Abbey where I saw a real, live NUN!! It may just be my biggest life regret so far that I didn’t just say Hallo so we might have turned to see me too.
Lucky for Levi I have no shame so we were able to balance the heaviness of the concentration camps with complete sing-along silliness on the Sound of Music tour! We sat in the back of the bus with a touring drama group from the UK and had the most fun! Best enjoyed with sound on 😉 And if you watch nothing else here, make sure to watch the last video of Levi singing Do Re Mi as a tiny two-and-a-half year old!
I didn’t have near as much trouble accessing my emotions at Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Upper Austria. Thatcher expressed that even just the sight of the giant stone walls would have been enough to crush your hope and dash any thoughts of escape.
How are the kids coping?Thatcher took it all in stride. He’s a bit of a history buff like his dad and though it’s not something he is really passionate about at this point, he was very attentive and interested. Finn and Pepper seemed completely innocent, carefree and unscathed; though sweetly sensitive to the sacredness of the ground we stood on. They picked pocketfuls of tiny flowers they found in the grass and placed them anywhere they thought deserved a little reverence. Levi is my sensitive soul. He’s struggled with this side of history. He couldn’t finish the Diary of Anne Frank, he just feels so deeply. And that’s completely understandable and I really wrestled with taking such a tender heart to these sites. He gets scared! And I work hard to validate that and comfort him and protect him from things that he doesn’t need to see. But I felt so strongly that he couldn’t pass up this opportunity to fulfill a life long dream of mine and for him to learn about the Holocaust [at] a concentration camp. We don’t want our kids to hurt but we taught them that is so important to let yourself feel. Feel scared and sad for these people. Let your heart break for them. I believe that is what develops into compassion for our fellow travelers through life. We had a really beautiful conversation where I asked him to imagine what it would be like if something awful and tragic happened to you and when you wanted to tell someone about it nobody would listen. What if nobody could sit with the pain and discomfort of your story to validate and honor your terrible experience? With that Levi was able to move on, honoring the men and women and children who suffered as victims of unbearable crimes here.
Leaving the concentration camp was a profound experience. I tried not to take for granted that those imprisoned here would have given anything to walk right through those heavy, open doors, past the SS quarters and out the gate.