It was the first time we heard from him in almost two weeks.
Every time he’s called in the past, he always seemed a little disoriented about the dates. To him, the weeks have flown by; he’s been so busy. And with little access to the outside world and absolutely no access to the Internet, it’s been easy for him to lose track of the seasons and current events, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if he didn’t immediately recall that our wedding anniversary is later this week, but he did.
He remembered, and wished me a happy anniversary right away.
Such a good man.
This is the first time in our marriage that we are apart on our anniversary. Last year, we renewed our vows in a small ceremony with our family and friends in Cincinnati. At the time, we were feeling pretty settled and in a good place — in our 30s with three kids and a nice house and steady income, living the dream — and we wanted to celebrate the milestone of keeping it together for a whole decade.
At that moment one year ago, Martin joining the military again was not on our radar.
But there we were then, and here we are now.
Communicating through sporadic letters and phone calls.
Disconnected as we individually deal with stressful situations.
Despite all that, though, I feel like we’re experiencing a different type of renewal this year.
And it’s not a benchmark, but a beginning.
So I’m not disappointed at all with our circumstances this anniversary.
Because even on the days when I’m overwhelmed and feel like an unbearable clamp is on my heart from the frustration and loneliness, I feel so confident that we’re right where we’re supposed to be.
Okay, let’s just stop and let that soak in for a second.
Eleven years ago.
In December 2001, I wasn’t very focused on the holidays. I wasn’t really paying attention to the fact that it was my last holiday season while living in Germany. I should have been paying more attention to the snow. The Christmas markets. The hot spiced wine sold from street vendors in wooden huts. The villages looking like postcards.
I wasn’t focused on any of it.
Nope, I was a 20-year-old focused on the spring and my upcoming wedding … eleven years ago.
For this Flashback Friday, I’m posting the blog entry I wrote that first week in December. I had a nightmare about the wedding. As I re-read this post now in present day, I actually remember that nightmare very clearly. It was so real and vivid. I remember waking up in my studio apartment in Kaiserslautern, grappling in the dark for my turquoise cell phone (which was the size and thickness of a large juice box) to make sure my family from America hadn’t called me, to make sure that dream wasn’t real.
Fortunately, it was just a nightmare, and months later, the wedding was a dream come true.
Pam wrote me a note — actually, she wrote a few notes because in keeping with my nature, I unintentionally left a few items at her house — but my most favorite note from her was the one where she admitted she looks at the wedding photos multiple times throughout the day.
I know how that goes. I’ve been looking at my photos from Germany multiple times a day every day since I got back.
Since I haven’t posted them, I’m using this Flashback Friday to post the photos I took my last day there. (I promise – these will be the last from the trip!)
I spent the day with my sister-in-law Tabea and my niece Jo-Jo and Tabea’s nephew. Later in the day, my brother-in-law Christian got off of work and we all headed into downtown Nuremberg. It was the day we visited the Semi so I could get photos, which I’ve already posted.
But the rest of that evening was spent walking around the city, up to the castle, and through the market square. I also took photos there, as well as the next morning when Tabea drove me to Frankfurt to fly back home.
That trip was amazing. It allowed me to reconnect to a place that feels just as much like home to me. And not because of the beautiful scenery and food, but because of the people there.
Even though we are thousands of miles apart, I felt especially close to Martin as I visited our old stomping grounds today here in Germany.
My brother Christian handed over the keys to his Volkswagon, and after breakfast, my niece Jo-Jo and I headed into Nuremberg and Erlangen. Our first stop was to St. Georg’s church in a tiny village called Kraftshof.
It’s where Martin and I got married more than 10 years ago.
The day was exactly as it was more than ten years ago: brilliant blue sky, endless sun, not a single cloud. The church was open, with a few workers making repairs around the courtyard. Jo-Jo laughed at me as I snapped dozens of pictures as we walked up to the fortress surrounding the church. Obviously, she wasn’t there the day Martin and I got married, so I was constantly pointing out different areas of the church and courtyard, where dozens of our friends and family gathered to celebrate with us.
As we pulled back the church door and stepped inside, I was struck by how everything was so clear and familiar to me.
And it made me wonder why everything remained so vivid to me despite all the years and despite the fact that Martin and I were only there for just a few hours for our wedding day. This place wasn’t his normal church. But like the births of my children, so many details about my wedding day are burned into memory and those memories were becoming alive again as we walked down the stone aisle up to the medeval altar in front of the church.
St. Georg’s church was built in the early 1300s, and served as a fortress for the village to protect from neighboring warlords. It survived all those centuries until February 1943, when a fire resulting from a World War II air raid over Nuremberg burned the church to the ground.
Along the back of the church are portraits of the church before the war and immediately after the burning, showing the stone shell of the church. The people rebuilt it, and all the surviving artwork remains on display. I took photos from nearly the exact spots.
Before we walked out, I signed the church’s guest book, mentioning our wedding there and that Martin and I are a family of five now.
I look forward to the day I can bring our children there to that church and show them around, let them stand at that altar and visualize what it was like for us the day.
Once outside, Jo-Jo and I spent some time walking around the fortress. We climbed up onto the walls and took a peek at the countryside on the other side. Even though this village is really just a few miles from Nuremberg, it’s really quiet there with lots of open fields.
I really did have a fairytale location for my wedding.
Next, Jo-Jo and I headed to Erlangen, which is where Martin was born and grew up. It’s also where we spent a lot of time before we were married, when I was stationed at Ramstein.
Martin was in the Bundeswehr, so we only saw each other on the weekends and usually at his mother’s apartment in the city there.
Jo-Jo and I went directly to the city center, and it was as if I was stepping back in time, of course. My niece and I walked around, stopping at an ice cream shop for a snack, and visiting the place where Martin and I had our wedding reception in the middle of the city.
Martin and I saw SOOO many movies in this movie theater. And our favorite Asian restaurant is right there in the top corner in the shopping center next door.
Since it was so warm and Jo-Jo was being such a good sport, walking all over the city with her sentimental aunt, we stopped at a playground for awhile. There were a lot of families out and about, and I couldn’t help but wonder what life would be like for me if Martin and I made different decisions early in our marriage. What if I had been the one to leave the military, and Martin had a long career in the Bundeswehr? What language would we be speaking with our children? Where would we be living? What would we be doing?
There are no regrets, of course. It’s just interesting to wonder. Being back here in Germany has made it clear to me that we — Martin and I — can not let another seven years pass before we return. Though we are able to communicate with our German family on a regular basis, it is not the same as actually being here.
After a few hours, Jo-Jo and I headed back to her home via the Autobahn. It was awesome being back on there, driving in the sun with the music playing. German drivers are so disciplined, and driving is actually enjoyable. A far cry from the roads of Washington DC.
As soon as Christian and Tabea returned home from work, we headed out to a nearby village to a beer garden for some dinner. I ordered the jagerschnitzel, salad, and spaetzle, which is a type of noodle dish very popular here. It was such a great evening, just sitting around under the trees, listening to the live band across the street, and just being with my German family.
Pam and Björn’s wedding day started really early, and it ended exactly 21 hours later.
It was the perfect day for a wedding.
The skies were clear, the temperature was nice, and at every stop in the day, there was champagne and cake.
At one point in the evening, I said to one of the other guests that it felt like it had been five days within one, just because we were doing so much. All of it was a lot of fun, and I’m so glad Pam and Björn invited me to be a part of it.
Pam and me in Munich in 2002. I was rocking the hoops, wasn’t I?
I first met Pamela twelve years ago.
We were both teenagers.
She was 18, from Berlin, and visiting her aunt who worked in the headquarters building on Ramstein Air Base. I was 19, from Cincinnati, and the newest Airman in the public affairs office.
We discovered the both of us had been high school foreign exchange students: she in New Mexico and me in Nuremberg.
And that was it.
Friends for life.
Every so often, I visited her in Berlin or Munich, where she was stationed with the German Air Force when she later joined as one of the first females EVER, becoming an officer.
Two years later, she was one of my bridesmaids in my wedding. And we’ve visited with each other over the years ever since. It’s one of those friendships that, despite the distance, feels so easy and natural, like we can pick up at any time and just keep talking, no matter how much time has passed. It’s been that way long before social media made it easier to keep in touch.
Early next week, I’m flying over to Germany to attend her wedding.
As much as Martin and I really want to take the family back to Germany all together, we want to make that an extended trip, especially for as much as it costs to fly everyone over there.
So, it’s just me this time.
It’s going to be a whirlwind, that’s for sure, but I’m so glad I’m going to be there to see Pam as a bride! I wouldn’t miss it.
That it takes place in Germany is pretty cool, too.
For my Flashback Friday post, I’m posting this entry I wrote when Miss C and I visited Pam in Hamburg in 2005.
Since I published the first page, I’ve posted more than 1,245 times on three different hosting sites.
If someone read just three of our posts a day, it would take 415 days — that’s 59 weeks, more than a year — to read our entire blog … and that’s if I don’t post new content from this date onward.
When I started our website, I did not think it would evolve into an online documentary of our marriage. It started as a way to keep our family around the globe up-to-speed about our wedding plans. It wasn’t until 9/11 that I realized the opportunity to share a more complete snapshot of our lives, sharing our perspective and thoughts on things in addition to updates and photos.
That’s still the blog’s purpose, even though we know our readership has grown beyond those who know us. And while technology and the whole concept and business of blogging has evolved, I like to think we’ve stayed pretty true to our mission, which is just to share as life carries us forward.
Martin and I renewed our vows during an informal gathering of friends and family in Cincinnati.
Way back when we made the decision to get married in Germany, we tempered it with the promise to one day have a reception for my stateside loved ones. We intended to do that sooner than later, but life got in the way as we moved to Italy, became parents, and moved to Washington D.C., and the idea fell by the wayside.
Then, about a month ago, Miss C was watching me digitize some video clips of my wedding reception, and asked a dozen questions about it before declaring it a shame that she wasn’t able to be there.
“I really wish I got to be at your wedding,” she said. “I would have had a really good time.”
I laughed, and pointed out that she got to be at her Aunt Jill’s wedding as the flower girl a few years ago.
“Yeah, but I would have been a great flower girl for you guys, too,” she declared.
That was enough to get me thinking. With our ten-year anniversary coming up, why not do something nice that would satisfy both that long-ago promise of a family gathering and Miss C’s wish to participate in our celebration?
Why not a vow renewal and reception?
Martin thought it was a great idea.
So did Miss C.
It worked out perfectly, too, that our anniversary fell on Easter weekend in the middle of Miss C’s spring break, meaning we wouldn’t have to pull her out of school to travel to Cincinnati, where my family lives.
Of course, we had to find a place for the event. I was familiar with some Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky venues, but something made me think of Mecklenburg Gardens, a well-known German restaurant in downtown Cincinnati that serves authentic dishes. I was ecstatic when I saw that it not only had banquet rooms, but a giant Bavarian Banquet Haus that would be perfect for what we had in mind.
We booked it immediately and spent all our free time in the evenings make invitations and coming up with ideas for the day, which I hinted at in an earlier post.
I also reached out to my friend Rev. Deb and asked if she would officiate the vow renewal. Back when I was a teenager in Northern Kentucky, Rev. Deb was the Reverend at the local Episcopal church where my best friend, Amanda, attended with her family. Amanda and I were pretty inseparable, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to attend her church and its youth group events, which were led by Rev. Deb. There were youth group meetings and weekend retreats in other parts of the state. I even joined the children’s handbell group.
After a few years, Rev. Deb moved from Northern Kentucky with her family, which included her little daughter, Lindy, and we lost touch. However, thanks to Facebook, we reconnected a few years ago, and even though Rev. Deb is now retired, she was more than happy to perform the service for Martin and me.
I especially liked this connection, as Father Frank, who married us in Germany, was Martin’s mentor when Martin was a teenager.
The whole event was so much fun, if not typical for our family.
Moments before the renewal ceremony was to start, Jaz got super fussy, so my Aunt Sue took him just as Lola decided she wanted to be carried. But before we could reason with her, the music started, so to everyone’s amusement, Martin and I walked down the center aisle holding hands while he held Lola as Miss C dramatically tossed rose petals in front of us.
Once we got up front, Rev Deb started the ceremony as the two girls stood up with us, off to the side.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that Lola was not happy. I could also see Miss C struggling to make a “big sister” decision. Without a word, Miss C finally decided to give Lola the flower basket in an effort to cheer her up.
Instead of cheering her up, though, receiving the basket merely tapped into Lola’s inherent German nature to have things neat and orderly.
Within seconds, she was down on the floor, picking up every single rose petal her sister had tossed just moments before.
She did this for the entire vow renewal, working her way back up the aisle until every petal was put back in the basket.
Throughout it all, Rev. Deb kept the ceremony going, performing the traditional vow renewal liturgy while making us laugh with some improvisations. She made bulletins for everyone to follow along, and included my anniversary blog post on the very back, which I thought was the sweetest gesture.
My most favorite part of the whole thing, though, was when Miss C got up on the stage and read 1 Corinthians 13:4-13. It’s the same reading my stepmom Linda read at our wedding ten years ago, and when Rev. Deb suggested it, I knew it would be perfect, especially since it’s so simple: both the text and the message. A few days before, I printed out a copy for Miss C to study and rehearse.
She did so well. I couldn’t stop smiling as she read clearly and with confidence.
After that, Martin and I both said our vows in English. This past decade, I occasionally teased that there were some things lost in translation the last time when we both said them in German, but this time, everything was perfectly clear. I especially liked that Martin squeezed my hands as we spoke.
Just before the final blessing, Rev. Deb’s daughter, Lindy, who was just a little toddler the last time I saw her, stood up and read some beautiful prayers for us and the family.
And then we sealed everything again with a kiss and the hope to another wonderful ten years and beyond.
Martin and I have been married for ten years today.
While yesterday was the civil ceremony anniversary, April 6, 2002 is the date we have inscribed inside our rings. That’s the day we stood up in front of our friends and family, and pledged before God to be committed to each other as husband and wife.
It’s really hard to believe that we’ve been together a whole decade. The time has flown by so quickly, and yet here we are, with ten very solid and full years behind us, living the life we’ve always wanted for ourselves.
As it goes with anniversaries, I’ve been reflecting, staring at the wedding photos of our younger selves and noticing how we’ve changed, trying to figure out what has kept it all together.
And it dawned on me.
We’ve stayed together because of the kids.
I’m not talking about these kids, though.
While Miss C, Lola, and Jaz are the inspiration for many of our choices, we do not pin the responsibility and challenge of sticking to our marriage on them.
No, I’m talking about these kids: the young Julie and Martin who were very certain about a lot of things back in the beginning.
How I hated to be called a kid back then!
Of course, the numbers were not on my side to winning that argument whenever someone pointed out that we were just babies, andmarrying so young.
I was three weeks shy of my 21st birthday when I married Martin. He was already 23.
But we were together for a few years by that point, and both of us were living on our own at the time. Both of us were serious and ambitious.
I didn’t like that our decision to marry was being judged by our ages. We were adults. We had it all figured out.
However, I look back now, and in that laughable way that time and perspective plays with us, I understand that we were kids back then.
But, oh, we knew a lot of things.
We knew we loved each other.
We knew that we were meant to be together.
We knew the odds were stacked against us.
We knew we could face anything if we stuck together.
We knew we had it under control.
We knew we wanted a family.
And having both grown up with divorced parents, we knew we didn’t want the dysfunction and drama we experienced as kids.
We knew we could do it better.
I’d like to say this anthem of knowledge has sailed us through this past decade, but as any married person can tell you, that would be a lie.
In the beginning, it’s easy to think that the intense love, hope, energy, and passion for the future will carry you through a lifetime.
But then you quickly learn that marriage doesn’t work that way.
No, marriage works on a day-to-day basis. There is no coasting.
It’s a conscious effort every single day.
I look back on the past 10 years as the happiest of my whole life, and I’m so proud of what Martin and I have created for and with each other. The good days far outnumber the bad. But it’s interesting to note that the worst days of our marriage didn’t happen when we were facing something extremely difficult, like my deployment or unhappiness with our jobs. In fact, we worked most effortlessly during those times.
Instead, the worst days of our marriage were/are the times when we figuratively beat each other with the short ends of our patience sticks, so to speak; utterly worn down by exhaustion, stress, boredom, fear, disappointment, or whatever it is that got piled on while in the trenches of parenting young children and sustaining a household.
Yeah, that’s when marriage seems like a ridiculous institution meant only for the insane.
That’s when it’s easy to forget that we once promised to always apologize in front of the children lest we raise our voices at each other in front of them.
But at some point in all of those stormy moments, there came (or comes) a clarity that it’s pointless to turn on each other like that. And that’s when armor is dropped, lessons are learned, and vows are made to try and try again.
In ten years of marriage, here’s what I learned.
Apologies are necessary.
Forgiveness is crucial.
And hang on for the kids.
Those kids who so confidently committed to each other.
Those fearless kids who vowed to stick it out.
Because even though we are older and more worldly, more weary of what could possibly lay ahead, we don’t want to let those hopeful kids down.
You know the story. I’ve only mentioned it HERE, HERE, and HERE.
So instead of repeating the story of how Martin overslept after a night out on the town with the boys, how the only tie he had at the time was a Christmas tie, how we barely made it to the required civil ceremony on time, how I didn’t have a bouquet until Martin’s mother bought one from a street florist for me, how my sister didn’t have her passport, how our Oma — our sweet, 90-year-old grandmother who died on our anniversary last year — stepped in to be my witness, how it was all over in a matter of 15 minutes, how our friends and family spent the rest of the day helping us set up for the wedding reception the next day …
Instead of telling you all about that again, I’ll just show you some photos of that day, most of which haven’t been posted here until now. Continue reading →