Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sam's Playhouse Loft Bed

For Sam's 3rd birthday, we gifted him a homemade playhouse loft bed. I started building it in July 2011, but as is typical, life generally got in the way and the bed took a long time to build. The bed was "complete" by early October (ahead of his birthday), but I purposely did not attach the ladder until this weekend.

First, thanks go to Ana White and her incredible website. Ana is a pretty incredible person - she's an at-home mom who likes nice things, but is frugal. So she started making furniture at home so that she could have nice things, similar to what you'd find in Pottery Barn and the like, but at a fraction of the cost. And over the years she's put her plans & specs online for others to use. Her website has a bunch of plans that she (and now other contributors) have shared. The design that I used is the Playhouse Loft Bed.

I had two main hurdles in making this bed:

1. I'm in Europe
2. Ladder / Stairs Options

Being in Europe has many advantages and opportunities. But for any red-blooded American educated with the US customary system of measurements, the metric system can be daunting and downright frustrating when working with lumber. The Playhouse Loft Bed plans are written to include 1x2s, 1x3s and 1x4s, and other such US units. In German stores, the closest equivalents I could find were 18x43mm (1x2 equiv), 18x70mm (1x3 equiv), and 18x95mm (1x4 equiv). However, the equivalents are not true equivalents, so I had to take the board thickness into account when using Ana's plans.

The other problem I ran into being in Germany is the cost. Lumber is ridiculously expensive here, as compared to what we could have gotten in the States. And it had an impact on what I was willing and able to make. The Playhouse Loft Bed plans on Ana's site include a supplemental design for building really cool "storage stairs", which looked safer than the purely vertical ladder on Ana's original plans. But when I took the cost of German supplies into account, the storage stairs would likely have cost me about $300 US, and that was in addition to the cost of the bed materials. No thanks!

Since I didn't trust Sam's abilities, at 3 years old, to consistently and safely climb up and down a vertical ladder, I decided to deviate from Ana's plans and build a diagonal ladder - reasonably inexpensive and moderately safe. The big challenge there was not having easy to read and understand plans on hand. Fortunately for me, Joshua (our eldest) has a bunk bed, so I was able to use his ladder as a reference when designing Sam's. Using some basic geometry, I figured out that Josh's ladder extends about 27 degrees vertically off the side of his bed (about 63 degrees from horizontal). With that knowledge, and knowing the height of Sam's bed, I was able to calculate rough dimensions I'd need to build the ladder.

Original Ladder Design (by Mike)

As it turns out, the dimensions of the ladder sides were dead-on. I initially estimated about 12 inch ladder rungs (steps), but eventually decided to build them out to roughly 15 inches, which added room for Sam's growing feet, and it helped make the ladder a little closer to the actual width of the bed's opening between the rails at the top. And although my initial plans were to have 4 evenly spaced steps, I ended up putting five on there, with the bottom step as close to the top of the ladder as reasonable since there's still a decent sized step up from there to the top of the mattress.

All in all, I'm very happy with the results. Sam climbs up and down like a champ. He's actually taking his first nap on top now, as I type this blog post. Although he liked sleeping under the bed (in the house) on a futon mattress these past couple of months, I'm sure he's much happier up top, sleeping "way up high" like his big brother does on the bunk bed.

I kept a photo diary of the work as I was building. Click here to see history in the making.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kids Clothing in Germany & Maybe Just a Little Too Much of my Opinion

As an American, I don't know if I'll ever get through Sundays here in Germany.....nothing is open. However, my friend just told me that closer to Christmas, some stores will have special opening hours for shopping on Sundays. However, it's only in the German papers....so, I'll have to keep an eye out to see what I can find out.

I'm still struggling a bit to find good quality reasonably priced clothing for the kids in the area. I have discovered a couple of places since I've been here. Most of them can be discovered by most Americans as well but, I thought I would throw it out there for anyone preparing for a move to Germany.

I highly, highly, recommend those who are moving to the area in or around Christmas time, to purchase snow gear for their children before departing the states. If there's no room in the suitcases, find out the FPO/APO address, and mail it so that it can be ready for the kids upon arrival. Baby stroller bunting as well! JJ Cole brand are nice and they now have water resistant bunting. Although snow gear can be found in the area, it's much more expensive.

Most of the time, I still purchase my boy's clothing online and have it mailed to us. I haven't had too much trouble getting packages here in a timely manner.

H & M Clothing is the gold standard when shopping for the kids. It's fairly priced (For German stores) and it will withstand washes. H & M is located in Kaiserslautern which is about a 20 minute drive from Landtuhl. The train can be taken there as well. Also in Kaiserslautern in the same shopping district is S. Oliver and Esprit. These companies both have adorable stuff but are ridiculously expensive. 20 Euro ($27) for a toddler shirt? No thanks! Keep an eye out though, Both S. Oliver and Esprit have point card systems and sales. I learned quickly that drying things in my little European dryer absolutely fries my clothes and they continually become shorter and shorter. Most of the time I still stick with line drying everything.

I count myself very fortunate in that I can shop at the commissary and exchange. The exchange seems to be lacking in boys fashion (and girls from what I hear) it still seems pricier than what I can find in the states on my own. If one is lucky though, one can find clothing for their kids there. Jeans are usually not a problem. The rule always is though, if I see them, I buy them right then in there. This goes for just about anything I see at the exchange and want. Otherwise, they will be gone. In Landstuhl there is a shop called Ernsting's Family. This is a chain store that offers an assortment of children's clothing and women's clothing as well. The prices are cheaper than H & M but, I've found the quality can sometimes be lacking. If something is needed in a pinch, it's worth it. Their outfits are pretty darn cute. My problems have always been the buttons to the adjustable waste falling off and the snaps not snapping on the shirts after several washes. Within Landstuhl there is also Charles Vogele Shop and Takko. Both have good prices but again with my experience the quality was lacking too.

Despite the quality complaints the fitted look on boys clothing here is appreciated. It just looks a little "sharper" to me compared to the baggier pants. I really like Children's place denim though. Same fit at Euro style but, much cheaper.

Besides price, I do really look for where these clothes are being made and under what conditions.
Not trying to be preachy....Ok, maybe just a little (here it comes) but I urge parents and consumers in general to try and buy local products. Meaning, things that were manufactured in the USA. I've decided to really work on this and make this a mission. I try and purchase products that were manufactured in the USA, Europe, or other countries that adhere to laws and standards for humane treatment of employees and respect for the environment. I can't always do it...for example Joshua's winter jacket. I tried to find something warm enough that was manufactured in the USA or Europe but, I just couldn't bring myself to pay nearly $200 for a boys jacket. I realize it's not always possible for people to do this. Sometimes it's just too expensive, but sometimes it's not or, sometimes the price difference is so minimal it doesn't really matter (For instance, pencils at Target; USA pencils made from sustainable wood (Cedar). A 24 pack for $1.00 vs. 24 pack for $0.30 made in China....I think we can all afford to pay a $1.00).

Also, look and see what's in the product and how it was manufactured. Here in Germany it's clearly marked if the cotton fabric is organic, if it was produced through fair trade and if any alternative energy was used during the manufacturing (ie: made using 20% solar/wind energy) America is starting to label it's products as well. I've also realized that my kid does not need a new backpack every year for school. We've bought him a red backpack that has a classic look and we sew patches on it of where he's been (I know, very grunge right?). Also, he's had his lunch pail now for 5 years. I'm planning on getting him a classic metal pale that he can decorate on his own and will last him for years to come. It's nearly impossible to find anything that is manufactured locally these days. I try to buy thrift store when I can or get second hand clothing (It saves money and I'm not investing my money into China or some other country that doesn't promote healthy working conditions or adheres to environmental standards) There are not many thrift and consignment stores here in this area of Germany (There are some in the Kaiserslautern shopping area and I just spotted one here in Landstuhl I'm planning on checking them out soon). They do have flea markets though. Just about all the major military bases in this area also have thrift stores. They are also all on facebook. Unfortunately the season is just about over with for flea markets. Come spring though, I'll be prepared.

Don't worry, I'm not a judgy-mcjudgerson......if I ever meet any of my readers or, my family, I usually don't preach to their face or debate with them or lecture them. Honestly, I can't stand it when people do it to me. For the most part it doesn't help and it makes me more abrasive and closed off to the cause they are trying to make me aware of. Blogging is my outlet. I get to send out my opinion through cyber space and not push it on the people around me. My hope is that it educates folks and sparks a little fire inside of them. It also saves me from loosing friends!

Be a conscious consumer and make the right choices when it's possible! Our buying power is strong. Americans are the world biggest consumers.....what we buy says a lot about who we are and what we will stand for.

Side note: Also looking into the whole chocolate thing.

OK, I've said my 2 cents and now I'm sticking a cork in it. Happy shopping!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Everyday Life

A small note....the post below is similar to this one....however, Mike thought it relevant because some of the things were different....so, enjoy!


As Summer has come to an end, the holidays have been ramping up fast. We have just been so busy we can't even see straight. Joshua has school, homework, guitar, soccer, and Cub Scouts. Things will feel normal again once soccer season ends but needless to say we have just about no time for anything else. Last night was a "nothing" night and Mike and I literally did nothing. We could have carved the pumpkins but we just didn't have it in us. Mike's wrist has been killing him and he's got to get in to see the doctor.

The fabulous thing about our tour here in Germany is that there are many of the conveniences of America right here in our neighborhood. Friday is pizza night. I was making my own pizza. My mother gave me her pizza stones and I've been hooked on home made pizza ever since. There's something about a fresh crispy crust! Well, since our tour into the busy parenting life, making my own pizza is just not as enjoyable... I don't have the flippin' time! Thankfully, we have delivery! Yes, I can call one of two places in my area and order pizza. Something that is virtually impossible living in Japan (unless you know Japanese very well and like squid ink pizza :) Napoli and Taormina both deliver. They are pricier than the states but on a busy night it's worth it! I've done Napoli because it's easier (I can just order online) but I heard Taormina is really good. Just about every time we order at Napoli we also get a free bottle of wine. They also give out points.

Recently we also went to a Hockey game with Joshua's Cub Scout den. I can't say enough good things about the Scouts. This is Joshua's first year. Even though he's started late and had to catch up, his den has been completely supportive. The activities and field trips they plan have been great. Mike has mostly been taking him to everything because all the events seem to fall when Samuel needs a nap or should be in bed. However, we've all been able to attend the recent Rain Gutter Regatta and hockey game. Joshua earned first place in his den for the Rain Gutter Regatta; we were so proud. The Hockey game was in Zweibrücken about a 30 minute drive from our area. In Zweibrücken. there is an ice rink where one of the boys practices his figure skating and his dad is on a rec hockey team. Anyone PCSing here that is interested in keeping up ice sports, this is most likely the place to do it. Across from the rink is outlet stores. This being Sunday evening, I couldn't check them out but, it's something that really caught my attention. Here is a link to anyone interested in checking it out and filling me in if I don't blog about it soon: The Style Outlets. The hockey game was a lot of fun. Loud and cold sums it up. The last time I had been to a hockey game was in San Diego watching the Gulls play. Here they are the Zweibrücken Hornets. Click on the link and the schedule can be found on their webpage. Adults are 6 Euro and Kids are 5 Euro. We stayed for 3 periods and then took off. We knew it was time to go when Sam was laying on the sticky popcorn laden floor and knocking over drinks. The 3 year old was OK though and we didn't feel awkward or anxious about our kid behaving because it was a loud rowdy place anyways. Parking was easy too. A good family outing for sure. Just bundle up! It's cold inside!

Cleaning is my thing these days. Especially because I know that I'll be hosting the neighborhood Thanksgiving. Our neighbors will cook one turkey, and Mike and I are planning on doing our traditional deep fried bird. We started this in Japan when we didn't have an oven big enough for a turkey. Mike went out and bought a deep fryer and propane tank. We deep fried our first bird and haven't looked back since. It's the absolute best way! But, I am hosting and it should be interesting because well, I don't have much furniture or anything for that matter. I am completely depending on my neighbors who are much more abundant on this type of garage inventory. The one thing I can be sure of though is that our house is clean! Lately I've fallen in love with a German cleaning brand called Frosch. It was the smell that first snagged me in but now I appreciate the message of the brand as well. Environmentally friendly and natural. I've always kinda been a treehugger with my cleaning agents when I can (I'm also cheap). My main cleaning ingredients are vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. However, I really miss that chemical induced "clean" smell that major brands provide... this is where Frosch has helped me. Also, Ariel brand detergent has been my favorite... again for the smell but I'm going to try and move towards a more environmentally friendly brand there if I can as well.

Also, in preparation for company I am trying to cover my naked floors. Now when I was planning on moving here, I read that I should stock up on carpets before the move. I decided against it. I didn't know what size of a house we would have. I figured I could just by them here. That's #287 things I regret that I didn't do before moving here! Note to anyone out there planning to move here. BUY RUGS!! I can't stress it enough. The prices here are atrocious. For one large "cheap" carpet here it will cost you the same as a Pottery Barn rug... ladies, you know what I'm talking about! Rugs here are stupid expensive. I've been looking for good quality inexpensive rugs here and I'm at a loss. Ikea and Poco Domain are the inexpensive household goods. I might try Ikea again but Poco for rugs is not really my first choice. I'd love to buy some online... if only Pottery Barn would ship rugs here (Always with the Pottery Barn right?). But alas, most rugs will not ship through FPO/APO. So, I've been also hitting up Ramstein yard sales. I've had to be vigilant and patient but I've found some good deals there. I got two "oatmeal" type rugs for $35 and another semi nice 5x7 one for $50 (I had to bargain down that one from $100) Because I've got faux wood laminate and tile the echo in my 4 floor home is awesome and not the good kind of awesome. So, I've also been surfing Ramstein yard sales for plants. Another really inexpensive way to buffer the sound bounce.

Last night I took Joshua to get a hair cut... he was seriously in need. Mop top was an understatement. My favorite place to go for haircuts in Landstuhl hospital. The old school guy in there really does a great job. Unfortunately it was past 5:00 and I wasn't sure they would be open. So, I headed to Ramstein. I like Ramstein because of everything that's available there... I hate it because it's packed with people all the time and it's HUGE. We were headed to Ramstein when I hear on the radio that traffic was at a standstill because of an accident. I was close enough to the autobahn entrance headed towards Mannheim so I zipped onto the autobahn and headed to Vogelweh. I had no idea where a place was for him to get a hair cut. So, I went into the Moms shop. (AKA video rental shop) He told me to go to the shop right outside of the gate. The woman who owns the place used to have a place on base but didn't put in a low enough bid when they were opening up the new salon... so, she decided to open up right outside of the gate. Hollywood Beauty and Barbershop/ Day Spa was a nice place to go. They did a good job for Joshua and I was happy with them. The wait was not long at all in fact, I walked in and they took me. (Unlike Ramstein... arg) And, at 8.50 Euro the price was right. I'd definitely go back there.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Just an Update

Our family has been very busy the past few weeks. Ever since school started, it has been a whirlwind of activities. Joshua is enjoying his new school year and also has Cub Scouts, soccer and guitar lessons. Cub Scouts was something new this year. Ever since he had his birthday, he is fascinated by pocket knives. Mike and I really want to be able to get him a Swiss Army knife from Switzerland. I was also worried about a boy his age carrying around a knife!!! That's what kicked off the idea of Cub Scouts. The Cub Scouts teach about proper knife usage and drill into the boys' heads the safety rules. At Joshua's age, the boys are eligible to carry a knife. However, like us, most parents in the den are choosing to hold off on that one! Every week, he has Cub Scout homework. This includes push-ups, sit-ups, soft ball throw and long jump. He also must memorize the Cub Scout motto and learn the proper salute.

Soccer has been a joy. Joshua has a good time out there and the team has a good spirit for sure. Guitar lessons have proven to be a real asset to Joshua. His teacher is teaching him how to read sheet music (notes) tune his guitar and rhythm. This will definitely help him with his fine motor skills. Joshua has a bicycle obstacle course coming up for Scouts as well. This has motivated him to fine tune is biking skills. Everyday after school he hops on his bike for training. The other day, he took a curb to quickly and skinned his knee something fierce. Screaming and with blood running down his leg, I carried him up to the bathtub to "hose" him off with the shower head. The scrape was pretty bad and there were several shards of gravel that I had to wash out. I was a little worried and knocked on my friend's door to have her take a look. She said there was no need for stitches and even if there was it was too ragged of a scrape to actually stitch up. Assessing myself later, I realized that I hadn't really watched him as he went out and he was wearing shorts and Birkenstocks out to go bike riding. The very next day I went out and got him knee, elbow and wrist pads. I also updated my first aid kit that I noticed was expired.

An exciting event just happened recently. In second grade, Joshua had an assignment to write a letter to a member of the Obama family. Joshua chose to write the dog, Bo. Just recently, we received a letter back from the White House. Mrs. Obama wrote back to Joshua!!! The letterhead had the presidential seal and was hand signed by the First Lady herself. Enclosed was also a small picture of Bo with fun facts about him on the back. We are very proud for him and I'm working on getting this framed so he can hold onto it for a very long time.

All of these activities have kept us all very busy. Samuel's birthday is coming and Mike has been working very hard on a playhouse loft bed for him. We are all very excited but Mike especially has really enjoyed his first wood project. We are looking to make it fully equipped with a working door bell & magnetic wall.

Several weeks ago we were able to meet my very dear friend Nathalie in France to enjoy some time with her. She's currently living in Korea with her family however, she is French and was here to see her sister who just had her first baby. I'm so thankful to Nathalie's family for sharing the time that they had with her. Her Father lives about 3 hours from us in the country. He actually joked and said that there are more cows in his town than people. This was truly a great experience for our family. We had a late lunch; authentically French in just about every way. It was outdoors at a long table. Her father grilled wild boar (which he hunts himself), sausages, and pig intestine. It sounds totally gross but was just about the best thing on the platter. After the 1st course there was cheese... lots of cheese. About 12 different types. Bread and salad were served with the cheese, followed up by coffee and dessert. Made special was a Mirabelle pie/tart. Mirabelle are like a small yellow plum but are specific to this region of France. The kids were able to play together while the grownups ate and enjoyed wine and---what else? Champagne!

When we left Nathalie's father had us pick apples from his tree (which was so loaded with apples that he had sticks holding up the branches) also he gave us a jar of Mirabelle jam and walnuts. Needless to say, his generosity is much appreciated and I'm planning on making something to send him. A side note that made me laugh: Her father has buckets of fallen apples at the bottom of the tree. He leaves them there for the boars to eat. He sits outside early in the morning with his rifle and waits.....

Last night was our first time ordering pizza delivery. We ordered from Napoli down in town. We ordered Salami, Hawaiian style, and veggie for me, with a liter of Coke. The total was about 24 Euro so about $33. The sizing of the pizza is smaller than the States, so the medium and 2 family size pizzas looked like a small/personal size and 2 mediums. It was no bargain but hey we are in Europe. Just about nothing is cheap! It was good pizza. Mike said the Salami and cheese tasted like something from Italy. After looking at the webpage it looks like one of the guys that works there also drives the gelato truck through out neighborhood. Big plus to have a delivery service that I can actually order from without knowing German!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2 Castles and a Waffle please!

For my birthday everyone kept saying, "I hope you do something fun!" and "What are you doing today?" Well, my actual birthday was pretty uneventful, although really nice too. Joshua was in school and I met up with a good friend of mine, with Samuel, and we enjoyed the "Dyno Park" together (Otherwise known as the Kaiserslautern Gartenschau). This is a park in Kaiserslautern with indoor and outdoor garden exhibits, several playgrounds, a water play area, a small creek that runs through the park, a skate park, mini golf, and large dinosaurs throughout the pathway. Mike and I got a family season pass and it was totally worth it. For 35 Euro, a family of 4 can have a season pass to the place. I believe the regular price is around 15 Euro, so if we were to go 3-4 times we would more than make up for the cost. The season pass also gives families entry into the Japanese Garden. We haven't had a chance to check that one out. We've been told it's not very kid friendly, so we are waiting on a time where the kids are off doing something else. Right now, the Gartenschau has pumpkin exhibits portraying famous fairytales.

Mike got me something that had been on my wishlist for years... a stoneware breadbasket. It helps keep bread warm out of the oven. Also, a very very nice card. This Birthday weekend proved to be a blast.

It started off right at a neighborhood BBQ. Our house basically looks like apartment buildings on the outside. On the inside however, it's pretty impressive. The great thing about it looking like an apartment is that we are able to block off the driveways and enjoy a BBQ. The kids just brought out their favorite bike or scooter and had a great time until it just got too dark. Mike, being the wonderful husband that he is, made me a cake and had everyone sing happy birthday. He also had the admiration of every woman in the neighborhood.

We woke up and headed to a local castle in our area. Affectionately referred to in our household as "the Kusel Castle" but know by others as Burg Lichtenberg Castle. It's a beautiful castle that, for it's age, is still very well intact. There were about 4 weddings going on that day. At the Castle there is a restaurant, cafe, and museum. We didn't sample the food but we did enjoy the museum. The first floor was more interesting for the kids as it had a lot of taxidermy animals on display. The weather couldn't have been better and it was great to go out and enjoy it. We got home and had a lazy rest of our Saturday.

Sunday rolled around and it was proving to be a lazy one as well. I had just recently gotten a new publication of BlickwinKL. This magazine comes in our mail and is "the magazine for the American Community" or, at least that's what they say. It's an extremely helpful publication (albeit a little Christian leaning, but helpful nonetheless). The Blickwin usually has 5 articles and countless advertisements and calendars filled with events for the next 2 months. For anyone living in our region, I highly recommend going to their webpage and signing up for delivery if it isn't already being delivered. Near the back of the magazine was an article on the new Burg Nanstein Restaurant; Burschanke Nanstein. For readers who have been here a while, they will say there has always been a restaurant at the castle. However, just recently ownership was taken over by Paul Schmitt. Mr. Schmitt is a prominent guy in these parts and along with some bakeries also owns a lot of property in our neighborhood (including our building). He's trained as a German pastry chef. We walked down to the castle and enjoyed Chicken Stew with Spatzle. Joshua had Turkey Schnitzle and both boys enjoyed Pommes, or French Fries. The view is beautiful up there. They have ample outdoor and indoor seating as well. During the winter I can imagine enjoying a big beer by the fireside. The outdoor seating had the quintessential HUGE umbrellas that most German outdoor seating has. The restaurant also provides small blankets and bowls of water for a patron's favorite 4-legged canine friends. The kids got the wiggles but they were able to play in the surrounding area without bugging anyone. This gave Mike and me a chance to just enjoy the afternoon. The article in the Blickwin mentioned that many times there is wild game on the menu. I didn't see anything but I'm looking forward to going back and looking again for it. This place has special openings for big parties and also has a buffet for New Years. Since it's literally about a 5-10 minute walk from our house, this could be one of our haunts from now on.

On our way back home, I noticed that chestnuts were falling from the tree by the playground. I was pretty surprised since they shouldn't be ready for another month or so. It looked like just recently the tree had been cut/cleaned up. It made me wonder if it made the nuts go into hyper growth mode. At any rate, it got me pretty excited and I dragged Joshua out to gather chestnuts. I had never really done this before and for anyone who knows what a chestnut looks like, knows that the process can look daunting. The nut looks like a little porcupine. I wondered how one could safely gather them without poking their fingertips. However, after several Google searches, I could not find anything on it. There was a ton of information on how to roast them just not how to safely gather them. From what I gathered, most of them just fall out of their protective spikes. I did wear gloves and this protected me from the pokes. Most of them were already out of their spikes. We took home probably about 1000 grams (2 pounds) or so of nuts. My initial thought had been correct. The nuts had gone into hyper growth. It seems as though they were small and difficult to get out of their shell. I was able to roast about 200 grams and I also used another 200 grams to make Chestnut puree. Come to find out, this stuff can be very she she la la (another technical term would be fancy schmancy pants). Known to the French as Puree De Marrons, it can sell for 8 Euro a "tin" or as us Americans say a "can". It's used as a spread for bread or croissants, topper for ice cream, or ingredients in other recipes. I came across a cheesecake recipe that I'm very interested in trying.

Monday was Labor Day, an American holiday, so we took advantage of the day off by driving to Brussels, Belgium. Now, just about NOTHING is open on a Monday in Brussels. When I say nothing I mean all the museums and attractions. We made sure to check the schedules of places before we cemented out plans. It's about a 3.5 hour drive from where we live. We dragged ourselves out of the house at around 9:00, stopped at the ATM and for gas, and we were gone. Our first stop was the Grand Place - it was just as magnificent as the pictures. They were just cleaning up after a festival of some sort in the square, but to look at all the buildings was truly a treat. The detail of the sculptures with the gold paint accents was magnificent. The wind was strong that day and we were hungry for lunch. Joshua made a great suggestion for pizza and we stopped at one of the many restaurants near the square. Brussels apparently is famous for it's seafood options (Mussels and other shell fish). There were many many restaurants to choose from. I recommend doing a little research beforehand though; because of the variety and cost there is a high chance that one might experience a "dud" restaurant. We didn't do any research on eating, so we went with a safer option... pizza. Our dining experience was comfortable. As we ate we heard French, German and English being spoken. We sat outside for the view and ambiance. Unfortunately the clouds came out and the rain fallowed. The whole staff scrambled to get their patrons inside. Needless to say it was an adventure. Thankfully, the rain didn't last, like many of the rain storms here. When the sun peaked out again, we walked several blocks to Manneken Pis to get the quintessential photo. Next to the fountain, there are lots and lots of chocolate and waffle stores. I don't care who you are... if you're going to Belgium, you gotta get a waffle! Joshua and I went into a shop and ordered a Belgian waffle with whipped cream, strawberries and chocolate syrup on top. I mean, if I'm gonna have a waffle... I'm gonna have a waffle! A little funny side note, the vender, who was a teenage girl, almost burned the waffles and in a perfect French accent exclaimed "Sh*t!" I smiled and said, "I suppose that word is universal" the poor girl was so embarrassed and apologized over and over again. I had to repeatedly tell her, " it's OK". Joshua, Samuel and I shared this treat and it was very decadent to say the least. Belgian waffles seem to be sweeter than American breakfast waffles. I'd really love a recipe. Mike was able to stop in and get a sampler of 6 trappist beers that are available in Belgium. Since we were so close, we also went to see the Jeanneke Pis . Now, the link that I just inputted is to Wikipedia that doesn't even have a photo! Poor Jeanneke. I suppose that women's lib hasn't fully infiltrated wiki. I think it is a cute little tribute to the more famous Mannekin Pis.

After the enjoyment of waffles and a full visual display of children going potty, we headed to our car and on to our next destination; The Atomium. It was only about 5 kilometers from the Grand Place but because of the traffic, it took us about an hour to get there. Let's hear it for rush hour! Mike had a picture of himself at the Atomium. I thought it was kinda cool after I heard the story about it but I was unprepared for the actual size of it. It was huge! Next to the Atomium, there is also a park with miniatures of European sites. On warmer days, there is also a water park and a good sized playground. Today we were short on time so we took the elevator up the structure and enjoyed the view.

We got on the road around 6:30, expecting to have a 3.5 hour drive home. However we are rookies when it comes to the autobahn and historically we are magnets for traffic jams. This was a doosy of a STAU! I think it took us 2.5 hours to move 5-10 kilometers. The cause was a pile-up with a big rig involved. The stinker of traffic jams in foreign countries is that no traffic information is available to us on the radio (Because of our lack of Flemish, German, or French speaking or understanding skills). So, if we are stuck, we are stuck. Many times people turn off their cars and wait for hours. Our only hope of knowing what happened is if a fellow driver knows English and can tell us what happened and how long it will be. We didn't get home until after 11:00PM. As we drove by the pile up, we said a quick prayer for the people involved and throughout it all we said to ourselves that we weren't going to let this ruin our day. Which it didn't; it was still spectacular.

Our family did do the touristy stuff of Belgium. Nothing too phenomenal from a hardened travelers stand point. But, lets face it we are tourists!!!....and, we have a family so we are gonna do the touristy stuff and doggone it, it was really a blast!

*Most of the words or places have links. Click on the link for a better explanation. If there's something in here that may need a little more explaining or if there are questions about certain places... let us know! We can try and help. Plus, it will help other travelers with kids figure out the ins and outs of traveling in Europe with a family or, on their own. Like we did in our blog about Japan, we are providing our family & friends a window into our lives but also trying to help others in our position so, any other suggestions help us a lot!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

8 Years Baby

Today is supposed to provide record-breaking heat for this time of the year. In fact, there is a heat advisory out. It's the perfect day to be icing a cake in no A/C! I'm making a rainbow cake... totally awesome! The link is not the exact recipe that I used, but the effect is the same (I didn't have gel color for the batter and I didn't use diet cake recipe... barf). For his party, he's got Dad making a Garfield cake.

This is beside the point, though. Today is Joshua's REAL birthday. He'll be having his party this weekend, but for today, he is all ours! Eight years old today and already acting like an 18 year old. He woke up late, walked down the stairs to see me in my pajamas belting out happy birthday while brushing my teeth. I was promptly met with rolling of the eyes and, "Mom, maybe you should wait until your done brushing your teeth?!" So I waited, put the toothbrush down and sang again. Thankfully for him my breath was minty fresh when I gave him a smack on the cheek. That's right, I'm gonna take kisses and hugs while I can still get them. Samuel wasn't up yet, so we took a moment to go through his baby book and talk about one of the most important days of our lives... when he came into our world.

7 has been great and 8 promises to be a big year as well. His room just says it all. It is the culmination of everything "Boy". Legos, K'nex, and comic books are the order of the day. He's got sports trophies, air show posters, and maps up on his wall. The most important quintessential boy decoration: glow in the dark stars and planets! What a fun age. He's got a real sense of humor about him and a loving giving personality. What more could I ask for?

He's off swimming with one of his friends today. No need staying with mom. :( Such is the life. Lasagna for dinner (It's Garfield's favorite).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Refocus!

It's been a while... hasn't it? Our family, since the beginning of summer, has been on a whirlwind adventure.

My littlest sister came to spend a week with us. Her high school French class organized a small group and she spent 2 weeks in France and Spain. My sister spent most of her time in the south of France and very much enjoyed the Basque region. At 15 years old, I can only imagine what a life changing trip this was for her. She also just could not stop talking about Paris during her time with us. It really made me smile to know how much she enjoyed her time. After her France and Spain trip, the school group went home while my sister came to see us. We were able to take a road trip to Neuschwanstein castle, Dachau, and Legoland.

Once her week was up with us, the boys and I packed up and took the same plane back to California with her. Upon arrival to Frankfurt airport and after hours of waiting we were told that our flight was canceled. After a crazy crazy evening of walking around the airport with a herd of 500 other travelers, we were taken to a hotel near the airport, spent the night and boarded our flight the next day. 12 hours in the air and we made it safe and mostly intact! My mother was there at San Fransisco to pick us up and we vegged out for the next day or two to get used to the time difference. The weather was another shocker. Coming for 50 degrees to 101 degrees can be tough. Actually, it felt pretty darn good... for the first few days.

During my time in Sacramento, I was able to spend some much needed time with family and friends. My girlfriend and her husband just opened a local restaurant in my old neighborhood and I cannot say enough great things about it. Truly truly an American dream story. I missed the grand opening of the Pocket Bistro. We moved to Germany right before it. I was so sad not to be able to be there. Jade is one of my closest friends. Our friendship has endured since second grade. She was my maid of honor. She's accomplished in her own right and manages her mother's office supply business. Her husband, Edmund has been in the restaurant business for 20 years. He decided to leave his job as a chef at Ruth Chris and open up his own restaurant. This was truly a dream of theirs. Many folks have this dream but few have enough guts to go for the glory. They have. The food is very good. I always knew Edmund could do steak and chicken but during this last visit, I found out that he and his team in the kitchen are phenomenal. The drinks are fantastic. This is really one of the only "full" bars in the Pocket/Greenhaven area. The neighborhood really needed this. The walls are decorated by paintings done by a local artist and they already have many regulars. One woman at the bar said that she has dreams about the ceviche! In short, I can not say enough good things about it all. They own a small business in the neighborhood where they live and their kids attend school. This is truly something to smile about. Even if I didn't know them and they were so close to my heart. Especially in these economic times.

After 2 weeks in California, the boys and I flew to Virginia to meet up with Mike and visit with his family. We had a layover in Minneapolis. We had a good 3 hours so the boys and I ate lunch at... where else?? Mickey D's. As I ordered ice cream, I heard someone shout "Nicki" behind me. I ignored it. It was a woman's voice and I was with my boys so I figured they weren't referring to me... then I heard it again. I turned around and who should be behind me but my neighbors from Germany! They too had a layover in Minneapolis at the same time but were on their way home after spending time with family in the Midwest. What a one in a million chance! I don't think the initial shock of seeing one another went away entirely. Our conversation was short and we were on our way.

Our stay in Virginia was fun but felt rushed, short, and limited. There simply wasn't enough time to do all of what we wanted to do and see everyone who we wanted to see. The trip was built around Mike's very good friend who was FINALLY getting married. Mike was in the wedding and it was gorgeous. Mike's other very close friend was in the wedding as well and sang two songs at the ceremony. He sang Con te Partiro and Ave Maria and it was, as always, a beautiful performance. Mike sings for the Sea Chanters in DC so, predictably, it was going to be perfection. I believe for Con te Partiro there wasn't a dry eye. He was also the best man for (my) Mike. I only wish we had him sing for us. I'm no expert but he was the closest thing to Andrea Bocelli that I had ever heard. Maybe at our vow renewal?

What could go better with a wedding than a Baptism... 2 sacraments in 2 days? Impossible you say? Not in our family! Mike's family pulled a few strings and we were able to have Samuel finally Baptized at St. Bridget's, Mike's old Church where he went to school and grew up in. Despite it being a rushed event, it was special. We were able to have the G0dparents in attendance, and some close friends. Samuel was his "spirited self" and kicked and screamed through the whole thing. Mike B., our "best man" and Sea Chanter took a video on his iPhone... all 17 minutes of screaming and flailing. I'm looking forward to getting a copy for sure.

10 days literally screamed by us and we were on our way "home" to Germany. No sooner had we arrived then I felt we had to hit the ground running. I'm starting to get Joshua ready for school and just today I had a Red Cross Orientation. I am looking to volunteer a bit during my time here. Our first winter was a tough one for me. I spent a lot of time feeling down. This Summer I decided to take preemptive action and find things to keep me busy. Volunteering with the Red Cross will help me look outside of myself a little bit. I'm in the air about what direction I should take. I have a feeling though, my heart is sending me to the moral side. Helping with our wounded warriors seems like it would be a truly rewarding experience for my spirit and something I could really only do while I'm here. To be able to really be there and play a small part for our soldiers, sailors, and airmen I think is too much of a blessing not to receive. So, wish us all luck as Autumn sets in. We are gonna need it as our calendars fill up!


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Look what's hanging above my neighborhood this afternoon. After a summer of cold and rain, that's an impressive sight.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

USA! USA! USA!

With credit to ESPN for the photo, I want to commend our USA Women's Soccer team for their triumphant comeback victory over Brazil. The US played a good portion of the game with only 10 players, due to a red card. Despite that, they made it out of regulation with a 1-1 tie, after a horrible call that gave Brazil two tries at a penalty kick... the first try was blocked, but the ref decided to give them a second try inexplicably. The second try went in and equalized the game at 1-1.

In overtime, Brazil quickly went up 2-1 over our shorthanded ladies. With about a minute left in OT, one of the Brazilians went down in an apparent injury. She wasted about 4 minutes of the game, then the stretchers came out and began carrying her off the field. Then as soon as she was off the field, she jumped off the stretcher and ran back in, and the ref only gave her a yellow card for wasting the time, instead of letting the US women punch her in the gut a few times. Finally, they announced that there'd be only 3 minutes of injury "extra" time added to the game. In the final minute of injury time, the US scored!!! (Tying the match at 2-2).

Next up, penalty kick phase. Our goalie blocked Brazil's third PK attempt, and we scored on all five of ours, winning the game.

Best. Comeback. Ever.

p.s. - in case you're wondering how this relates to Germany, the World Cup is being hosted here. The game was in Dresden.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pula, Croatia

This Memorial Day weekend, our family flew to Pula, Croatia. This was our very first big trip outside of Germany. I have to say, I was a little weary of going to Croatia. The name itself conjures up memories of... really bad stuff (Um... Bosnia?!). But, through research we were assured that modern Croatia is not a war torn country. In fact, for the last several years, this place has taken its place once again as a fantastic holiday/vacation spot. So, we took the chance and booked tickets. We had heard about Ryanair's great rates. We booked last minute and our tickets cost us about 41 Euro per person for the round trip. Ryanair utilizes some serious fees and nickle & dime stuff. Altogether, I want to say it was about 360 Euro for everyone when the grand total came up. However, after checking with other "major" airlines, we would have paid about twice that for the same trip. Still a FANTASTIC deal!

There were things that we did on our "virgin" Ryanair trip that we might do a little differently. For example, they charge a lot for check-in baggage. If we can help it, we are going to really try to have all carry-ons next time. One thing that was totally worth the extra charge was priority seating. This means we get a head start on boarding the aircraft. Ryanair is set up similarly to Southwest Airlines in the States. Seats are on a "first come, first serve" basis. Western Europeans generally seem to be just a little more... ahem... "assertive". In other words, people sometimes aren't very courteous around small children or slow pokes. They WILL push folks out of the way. Having the priority seating ensured that we wouldn't get this treatment and that we would all be able to sit together as a family. With small children, this is especially important to us.

Our flight was short, just about an hour and a half each way. The Pula Airport was fairly small, similar to a local small town type of airport. The people here are very kind. 90% of the population is Roman Catholic and it shows. They are very mindful of small children (we even had a man coast down the road in neutral on his scooter to avoid startling the kids with his engine). The society itself seems family-oriented. Many Croatians can speak multiple languages; primarily Italian, German and a little English.

The weather was warm. The end of May is still considered off-season, so we got a good deal for our hotel. We stayed at the Splendid Resort. The pictures on the web give it a lot of justice. The outside of the hotel was not so pretty. Concrete was the order of the day and most complexes had not been painted in quite a while. Reception held on to our passports until we checked out... apparently this is common practice, but being American, this royally freaked us out. We didn't have a car, so the walk to our room was a little bit of a hike with luggage, car seat and kids; but it was totally doable. The room itself was very nice. We had 2 bedrooms; one with a queen size bed and the other a queen size bed and twin size bed. There was also a futon in the living area. We had 2 bathrooms with showers, toilets, and bidets. In the kitchen there was a freezer, refrigerator, sink, and double burner stove. The kitchen was also stocked with basic kitchen items (pots, pans, plates, utensils, cups, etc.) The colors of the rooms decor reminded me of a hotel we'd stay in had we been in Mexico (lots of orange, lime green, and sky blue). They had AC but, we had to buy a 5 Euro card to turn it on...so, we went without. It wasn't the warm. Mike had to smile and say I was being very European in this decision! :)

We were starving when we arrived, but because it was around 8:00PM, just about everything was closed except for a restaurant on the hotel grounds. We simply did not have the energy to be adventurous so we ordered pizza from the hotel restaurant. It was really good. I haven't been to Italy (yet), but the pizza was probably the best I've ever had. After reading the tour book, I found out that, in general, Croatian food is really yummy. Many places are bringing back traditional Croatian dishes while creating other mixes with Italian influence. A popular item is the truffle - as truffle are used in various items on the menu. Also, their sheep's cheese is delicious (similar to Parmesan but milder) and ham (again a milder version of prosciutto). It's more common when going out to eat to see Croatian, Italian and German languages on the menu. Thankfully, I took Spanish and have been in Germany long enough to decipher many of the things on the menus. One thing I wish that I had done was picked up the tour book before going. There were a couple of key phrases that would have helped. The Croatian language sounds very similar to Russian to me. Although in reality, Croatians can probably understand Russian just about as much as English speakers could understand German. We always left a restaurant feeling "Vegas" full. In other words... we could have just rolled on back to the hotel we were so full.

As money savers, we probably should have purchased more groceries at the store for breakfast. The kids got up so early that just about nothing was open. Most establishments opened around 10:00AM. There was a cafe open, but they didn't serve breakfast items (we did get a ham and cheese omelet and fries). Right next to the cafe was a small market that sold grocery items, but we could have planned ahead a bit better to utilize it.

We decided to rent a car the first full day. We could have probably taken a bus, but Samuel is at that weird age where he's heavy in a backpack, a stroller is cumbersome, and if he walks... EVERYTHING is interesting and amazing... so it takes forever to get anywhere. For about 40 Euro, we were able to get a compact car to drive down to town. The ruins in Pula are absolutely phenomenal. They even have a Roman coliseum. The outer wall is fully intact. Other points of interest include the Temple of Roma and Augustus and many Catholic Churches overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The beautiful rocky white coast and aqua colored waters definitely got me thinking of Roman and Greek myths and legends.

When we got back to the hotel, we took the kids down to the pool. The pool was awesome and there was a children's camp program for older children. Because of the holiday weekend, there were other American families.

The second day we just enjoyed the hotel, pool and sunshine. We walked to Red Wings restaurant and ate grilled fish plate (scallop, squid, some sort of whole fish, and shrimp), typical meat plate (ground beef patties, meatballs, red pepper sauce, sausage, and chicken cutlet). So good! The Istrian area of Croatia (where we were) is also the wine region, so many homes had archways over their driveways with grapevines. Also, honey, almonds, olive oil, and sea salt are popular things to take home. The second day we really started to see the charm and magic that so many other vacationing Europeans had already found. At the end of every meal, a small shot of brandy is served for the adults and lollipops are given to the children. When we got back from our lunch excursion, Mike and Sam took a nap and Joshua and I explored the tide pools. The jellyfish were out but apparently the big ones don't sting... so we were safe. We saw all kinds of crabs and collected several shells. On our walk back we spotted a topless sun bather and I swiftly guided Joshua to a different route. We went to the pool again and enjoyed another great dinner at the hotel "village" cafe.

Although it was still off season, the weather was great. I could imagine this hotel totally overcrowded with families during July and August, the peak season. The hotel was set up as a village in the sense that it was pretty much all inclusive. If we wanted to we could have easily spent our whole time there. There were many German and Italian tourists, who made their way to Croatia by motorcycle. I could very much picture kids riding their bikes up and down the pathways during the peak season.

The third day, our flight was at 2:00PM, so we had a leisurely breakfast and headed to the airport. Samuel was so tired that he was a menace the whole way back, but we lived through it and had a fabulous time. It just so happened upon our landing into Germany, the temperature was 15 Celsius (about 59F) and raining... as we walked down the stairs off the plane in our short sleeves and sandals we took a big sigh and smiled, 'We are home'.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Strasbourg

Ever since Mike received his tourist passport, he's been chomping at the bit to get out of the country. France was at the top of his list. After doing some research, I found out that Strasbourg would be a fun day trip. For one reason or another, we get a little caught in the trap of procrastination during the weekend. We say we are going to go somewhere, but we end up sleeping in on the weekend, slowly sipping our coffee and goofing off, until it's around 12:00 in the afternoon and we have nothing packed and planned. This Friday was different though. I got our picnic packed, complete with a Chardonnay for the grown-ups, juice for the kids, salami, cheese, veggies and creamy yogurt dip and fruit salad. I also went on the computer and wrote down the addresses and read the commentary from previous tourists to get an idea of what to expect. I was very proud of myself. It's very rare that I plan this well.

We were armed with our international GPS that guided us to the French border. Unlike the Mexican border, this border was fairly uneventful, with an EU sign for Frankreich on the German side and an EU sign for France on the French side. It was about another hour drive before we reached Strasbourg. All in all, it was about a 2-hour drive. The autobahn is dotted every 20 kilometers or so with stops for a picnic, garbage, and toilets. Upon entering France, we had to pay tolls. Total cost was inexpensive; about 20 Euro total for the whole day trip (including tolls, parking and snacks; though not including gas). One thing I was unaware of with the Euro is that each country has its own coins. Although they can be spent anywhere within the European Union, each EU coin has representatives of it's own country... if that makes any sense. So, a French one Euro would have a French leader or famous person on it.

Believe it or not, Asia is not the only country with "hole in the ground" public bathrooms. I was unlucky enough to discover that one! Like the States, there are gas stations that also have small cafes and convenient markets with snacks and drinks. I was excited to see my Vittel water that I hadn't seen since Japan (It may be here and I didn't spot it). Unlike the States, there are not as many fast food joints. I'm curious if it's because the government limits this, or because the people just don't want it. Either way, I think the only golden arches we saw were right at the border. (and, no we didn't stop there!!! YEESH)

We found Parc de l'Orangerie fairly easily. Parking was "OK"; we parked on the street but were worried that we would get towed. We didn't quite understand the signs but it looked like a good place to park, and we followed the lead of other cars. I think we drove by the EU Parliament building and, on the way to the park, we drove through a neighborhood of very nice old homes, many with gold plaques (indications of an Ambassador residing there) and surrounded by large gates and cameras. I couldn't help but think of the children's book series "Madaline" and how she lived next door to the Spanish Ambassador and his family. This neighborhood was just too similar, lined with trees and large homes.

The park was the perfect spot for a picnic. With all the planning I did, it was inevitable for me to forget something. I forgot the blanket. Fortunately, the grass was dry so we planted ourselves down and had our picnic by the pond. Apparently, this time of year the storks come to town to nest. Joshua and I had just read the fairytale of The Marsh Kings Daughter and it was very appropriate to see all these storks walking and flying around. I think this is a tourist hot spot for that as well because just about everywhere were nicknacks of storks being sold. At the park there were vendors selling pretzels, waffles, ice cream and other treats as well as restaurants where one could sit outside and enjoy the park view while dining. I was happy we stopped at the park first. After a long drive, it was nice to see the kids able to run around. There is a playground there and also a ride where the kids can drive cars. Many of the locals brought their children there to ride their bikes or scooters. It's as stroller friendly as Europe can be.... meaning that there were wide open pathways but some stairs. The public bathroom is very well kept and there is a changing table on the ladies' side (Mike ran up to change Sam only to find out there was no changing table in the men's side. The cleaning lady was there and told him that he could go on the women's side). There are several places in town to rent a bicycle. If we didn't have small children, we would have definitely done it this way. I was a little envious of the young couples biking together through town, I must admit.

We didn't stay very long - just long enough for us to eat, feed the ducks, and walk the loop of the park. The clouds were looming and we wanted to be able to get to the Cathedral before the sky opened up and dumped on us. Parking downtown was difficult. The streets were small and skinny. We decided just to pay for parking in the garage. That was packed as well, but we were able to find a spot. The Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg was quite phenomenal. I'm not sure how tall it actually is but it seems to be at least 13 stories high. With Mike's wide lens, it was still difficult to get the full tower. Inside there was a flurry of mostly French and German tourists. If there were Americans, they were busy making themselves unnoticeable. We, on the other hand, are hard to miss. With a 7 year old yapping away and a 2 year old climbing and yelling in unmistakable English, we can be a walking target at times. There was modern style instrumental music and dance happening in the middle of the Cathedral which gave it more of a spiritual feeling. There were vendors inside the Cathedral selling tourist items (which seemed odd to me... selling things inside a Church.). The other popular thing to see within the Cathedral is the Strasbourg Astronomical Clock. There are many rumors and stories surrounding this clock but for how old it is, it's truly amazing. We didn't see the clock in motion but, here is a youtube video: http://youtu.be/FAY0wnSD0BA . Our DIY tour was short and we made our way out the doors. The raindrops started to fall and I had not planned for rain. The whole family was in short sleeves, so we decided to cut our trip short and skip La Petite France. I know for sure we will return. It is just too close and too beautiful to only see once.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Beauty Products & Drugs

Lately, I've run into some German women who have helped me navigate the ins and outs of this area. I'm always on the look out for interesting and fun things about my host nation. One of the things I've discovered is that certain beauty products here are seriously pricey! I love O.P.I. nail polish but had trouble finding it on and off base. I asked at the exchange salon and they informed me that it's really hard to find off post and, when I find it, it's expensive. Something like 16 Euro a bottle. I was chatting it up at baseball practice with a few other mommies who informed me that beauty products in general off post are just more expensive. Unfortunately, I can't even order it online because it can't be mailed via USPS. (Nail polish must be a threat to national security?) Anyway, I'm able to get other brands of nail polish. Just recently, I went for glitter toes. A suggestion by Joshua. Up next is blue and suggestion by Samuel. :) Just recently we all got Birkenstocks so this way, my toes can be interesting!

Having European friends in the past has helped me a lot here. One of the things that a French girlfriend of mine always did was use homeopathic medicine for common ails like cold symptoms, bruising, or insomnia. The US has just started jumping on the homeopathic bandwagon with Hyland's brand leading the way. Just about every American mother is familiar with the Hyland's teething tablets. I ran into another German mother at the hospital. She was venting her frustration over tri-care so, I listened. Unfortunately there wasn't much I could offer other than comforting words. For any woman who's been up since 3:00AM this is really all they need! She was a nice woman and new to the area. We struck up a conversation and I asked her if Germans also used Homeopathic medications and if I could just walk into a drug store and buy some. She said yes and in fact the pharmacist could help me figure out what I needed. She suggested that I try Dm-drogerie next time I was in a bigger city and Alnatura. Alnatura looks almost like a Whole Foods Market. She said that some common medicines that she always asked her mother to mail to her while she was in the US were Hustagil, Prospan, and Mucosolvansaft.

I suppose in closing for any German woman/mother moving to the US, stock up on your favorite pharmaceuticals! They are very pricey to buy on line apparently and even if German family members are sending them, the shipping costs can be astronomical. On another note, for any American woman moving to Germany, stock up on your favorite beauty products. Most everything is available here but I guess the prices are much higher!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Homework Machine

by: Shel Silverstein
reenactment by: Joshua

The Homework Machine, oh the Homework Machine,
Most perfect contraption that’s ever been seen.


Just put in your homework, then drop in a dime,
Snap on the switch, and in ten seconds time,


You homework comes out, quick and clean as can be.
Here is is – “nine plus four?” and the answer is “three”.


Three?
Oh me…


I guess it’s not as perfect
As I thought it would be.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Gartenschau" in Kaiserslautern

Spring break at our residence has been pretty low key. However, we've able to do some fun things and I've been able to get some things done that I had been putting off. I was able to finally purchase some sandals for the summer. Silver, Rio-style Birkenstocks... HOT! I also purchased Birki's for the boys. We are gonna be stylin' this summer for sure!

Today, a neighbor friend took me to Gartenschau in Kaiserslautern. It was a little chilly today, but honestly the kids didn't mind at all. What a fantastic place for kids and families! The daffodils where in full bloom along with tulips and other bulb flowers. According to the webpage, there are about 80 different replicas of dinosaurs throughout the walking trail. Several playgrounds are bunched together with equipment for all ages. There is also a miniature golf course. When the weather gets hotter, I know the boys will have a great time in the water play area. Samuel couldn't wait for warmer weather, so he got both pairs of pants soaking wet. Thankfully it didn't bother him at all. Also, during the spring, summer, and fall season there will be outdoor concerts. Concessions and a small (but good quality) gift shop are here as well. Apparently there are also temporary exhibits shown as well through out the season. I ended up getting the season family pass for 39 Euro. A really good deal considering it also includes entrance into the nearby Japanese garden.

What a great time! I admit, I was freezing when we were done there but it was worth the trip. I'm so grateful to have a friend nearby who is adventurous and willing to show me the ropes. My next adventure... is not so fun but it needs to be done! Joshua's 1st Communion is coming up fast and I need to find a suit for this boy. I've got several recommendations of places and am hoping to find what I need. Just yesterday, I was hopeful that I could get him measured at the exchange and then order through them. It's proven not so easy. The exchange does not do boys suits. (Considering that there are about 8-10 1st Communion classes... about 80-100 kids receiving 1st communion this year... most likely half of them boys... it's a very bad business decision in my opinion!) so, I'm left to look out in town. This forces me to get out of my comfort zone. Armed with a GPS, it shouldn't be too hard and being able to accomplish this task on my own makes be feel pretty confident.

So, YAY ME! (-Sam's favorite quote)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Libraries and Dinosaurs

I recently read a blog post that gave me a little more perspective. My time in Germany has not been the pleasant beginning I expected it to be. We came in November, right smack in the beginning of a nasty weather season. Just as the weather was getting better and we had hopes of paying off our moving expenses, we were facing the threat of furloughs. We were pretty terrified for a while about how we were going to survive in a foreign country with no paycheck. But, while I was anxious about all my expectations being lowered, I was also not noticing the "unexpected". We live in a very nice house in a very nice neighborhood. Mike is able to work for the military again, something I think his heart has always been in. Joshua goes to a great school with a supportive teacher. I can get both kids in after-school care for CHEAP, and I mean cheap. It's quality care with meals and snacks served. We have a ton of inexpensive resources at our disposal.

One resource that we have here is the library (we have them in the States too, but here it really feels like a gem). The library is something that I just recently discovered again. The people that work there are extremely helpful and some of the latest books are always available. The Landstuhl library also has DVD and CD check-out. Since we are still on a mission to pay off our moving expenses and other things, this has served as a really great resource of FREE entertainment. Limit on DVD check out is 10 per library cardholder. Another fantastic service that I recently found out about is the library's online services. If for one reason or another the Landstuhl library doesn't carry a DVD that I'm interested in, but that DVD is located at another (on-base) library within Germany, I can request it and they will have it sent to my Landstuhl library for me to pick up. How awesome is that?! There are also a few bookshelves with free-bee books. I found a Dan Brown & John Grisham book that I'm planning on reading. I highly recommend everyone go and check out the library. It's such a fabulous resource.

With the big WHEW moment that came this Friday (Budget finally signed) the weight was lifted a bit. Joshua had the day off on Friday and I had Samuel reserved at the Childcare center all day, so I was fortunate enough to get Joshua all to myself. I absolutely love both of my boys (or, should I say all of them?) but there is something really special about having one all to myself. I rarely have the time to really listen to Joshua when Samuel is around. When things get a little quieter, I can really focus on him and I find out all kinds of information I wouldn't normally find out. Joshua was really bummed that Sam was going to have "school", so I decided to take him to the local Dinosaur museum. GONDWANA-Das Praehistorium is located about 45 kilometers away. (About a 30-45 minute drive). Because most local children were in school, we had the place virtually to ourselves. The facility has a small cafe and also English translator devices available (just leave your ID as a deposit). They also asked me for my zip code. Upon entry, there is a huge dinosaur's skeleton. The tour starts with a film (about the scientific explanation of life beginning on earth) then we moved on to the real fun - the dinosaurs. There were skeletons but there were also robotic dinosaurs. Near the end of the museum loop, there was a display with snakes (red tailed boas) and tarantulas. At the end there was another short 4D movie about the death of the dinosaurs. This was really a fun day for us. Joshua even told Mike that "it was only the best museum ever!"

A neighbor friend told us that TOOM (basically a German Home Depot) was having a sale on soil. 1 Euro for a 40-liter bag. We decided this would be the day we were going to tear up the weed infested "garden" in our backyard. It took us about all day but in the end we were able to remove the weeds and rocks, replace the border and add fresh top soil. Our plan is to put veggies in the area. The one things we've been told we have to worry about is the birds eating our food. Also, I hear that slugs and snails are another pest. One thing that I learned can be done about slugs is leaving out a shallow dish of beer, or yeast mixed into a little water. The smell of the yeast attracts the pests to the dish of yeasty smelling goodness instead of the garden. I'm going to probably test this one out once my tomatoes are in the ground. When Fall comes I'm looking forward to planting some sort of bulbs.

Some other things on my short list of things to possibly to with the kids are Gartenschau-Kaiserslautern and Wildpark Potzberg.

In summary things are looking up. The sun is up and the tank is clean! (-Nemo)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Globus

All over the place I've been hearing about Globus. I saw an add for it in the Find-It Guide and was intrigued, but wasn't in a big hurry to go see it (I unfortunately have the attitude of "Well, I've got 3 years. What's the rush?"). At any rate, I started up the GPS and drove on over to K-town to check it out. For those who are unfamiliar with the area or, are planning on moving here, K-town means Kaiserslautern. We are in the village of Landstuhl. Ramstein, Landstuhl, and Kaiserslautern are all very close to one another. In fact there are many people who may work at Ramstein but send their children to and live within Kaiserslautern. Where a person's children go to school is determined by what district they live in, not what district they work in. Kaiserslautern, or K-town, is about a 10 minute drive on the autobahn from Landstuhl. K-town is where a lot of the shopping is. There is a fair amount of shopping in Landstuhl Village. One can find the necessities and a little more there. Landstuhl has some really adorable small boutiques for clothing and a couple of chain apparel, houseware and grocery stores. However, K-town tends to have all the big chains (like Toys R Us). Globus, from what I understand, is one of those big chains. I went on a weekday and found out that they open at 8:00 which is pretty awesome. There is a restaurant, bakery and deli in the front. Also surrounding the main shopping area, there are several specialty shops, an eye glass shop, an Esprit clothing shop and S. Oliver clothing as well. Once in the main shopping area, there is produce, dairy, frozen goods, meats, packaged breads, office supplies, small appliances, toiletries, and toys. The closest thing I could equate it to in the States is a Wal-mart Super Center. I didn't eat at the restaurant. There are mixed reviews on the quality of the place. Some folks say it's good others say "no way!" I've got no idea. I'm assuming that it's kinda fast food German style. I did buy a lot of baked goods. I just love the pretzels here and the little chocolate chip bread.

Once we aren't so broke, I could really have a field day in this place. I REALLY want to get a vacuum. I have an American one but it's a pain-in-the-patooty to plug in the transformer and then plug in the vacuum. If it were just a one level house it would be OK but I have 4 floors to vacuum! Luckily it hasn't been huge on the priority list, since I've got tile and laminate, and I can just sweep the floors. That being said, the purchase of a 220V vacuum would really make my day.

Another place I was fortunate enough to be shown was a little bakery up the road. My neighbor took me to Franz Westrich and I am so thankful she did. What a beautiful assortment of goodies. I can drive and park easily in front of the place. It is also close enough to walk to. Most likely I can find the way by foot. There is a woman there that speaks English and is very kind and helpful. This was just one more reason I'm thankful for helpful neighbors and friends. Since the sun has come out folks are getting outside and saying "hello". Being able to meet and become friends with the other women in the neighborhood has enabled me to learn a lot about the area quickly. It's helped me become more outgoing again. Just how I like it!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Today was one of those days. I've been exploring the whole potty training thing with Samuel. That means I've been doing a lot of mopping and cleaning. YUCK. He's gone in the potty a few times but, I think those times were a bit of a fluke. The rest has been on the rug or on the floor. I usually am a "natural" cleaner. It didn't start so much as me wanting to be conscious for the environment. For me, baking soda and vinegar were just more economical.

Being overseas has its perks. Most international food has made its way across the ocean, but something that has not made it is international cleaning products. For example, I have this fabulous little broom that I got at the 100 yen store in Japan. It's one of the greatest brooms I've ever had and I haven't been able to find something like it anywhere else. I really relish that thing.

Here in Germany (and it looks like throughout Europe) they have great mops. I know that sounds weird but I went to the store and picked up a Vileda mop system. I've got f-ood (fake wood) laminate floors and I had no clue how to clean them. My understanding is that it's bad to get them sopping wet. These mops are made with a highly absorbent material that also can be rung out (using the bucket that comes with the system) to nearly dry status. Despite my appreciation for the system, I wasn't sure if I would be able to clean the mop head in the wash or if I would have to replace it over and over again after just a few washes. Turns out it can be washed. Thank goodness. With all the cat hair and crud that I mop up every week, I need to wash it. The company recommends that they heads be replaced every 3-6 months. I love this system but after looking at the site a little bit, I figured out that I might actually need the flat mop (kinda like Swiffer). I love that I don't have to bend down to ring out the mop. Good stuff.

Yesterday I went with a neighbor to "her" bakery. This has beat all since I've been here... Cheese covered pretzel rolls... So yummy. I also split a strawberry cake with her (to take home) and some strudel (Cinnamon sugar flavor). I'm so thankful that I've been able to meet good neighbors. It really does determine how I enjoy my time here. It's so important to have friends and a great support network. They can let you in on all kinds of information that otherwise would go "unknown".

April fools today. I pulled some good ones on Joshua. I will have to fill you in when he gets home!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ohne Abkühlung=Without Refrigeration?

Englisch bitte! Okay fine.....

This had been bugging me for a while so I thought finally I would do a little research behind it. When I'm at the German grocer, I notice that there is milk on the shelves. Just, hanging out.....GASP! Not in the cooler/refrigerated section?! What is up with that!? Upon further inspection I noticed eggs, as well, were not refrigerated. Some milk is still kept in the refrigerated section, but a lot of it is sitting on shelves.

Being American, this seemed very strange and dangerous. I thought to myself that maybe the milk was evaporated milk, or maybe soy or almond milk (By the way, is there a German grocery where I can by Almond Milk?). When it came to the eggs, I thought maybe they are hard boiled? I was stumped. But, every time I would get home I'd forget to look it up. Finally, this Sunday it occurred to me to get my tush to the computer and do it! So I revved up the Google search engine and found out these interesting things:

The non-refrigerated milk on the shelves is ultra pasteurized and then sealed in Tetra-packs (same company that does many of the milk cartons in the US), making it fine to store in the market at room temp and at home at room temp. If taken home and refrigerated, it is recommended to stay kept in refrigeration. I don't know the science behind it, but there it is.

If eggs are just brushed off after they've been collected (not washed off) they can stay out in room temp or on a kitchen counter for about 14 days. Many Europeans recommend leaving them out on the counter for better flavor.

Apparently people who buy their eggs at a farmers market or have hens at home do this all the time. I don't know the science behind it. From what I gather from popular opinion on the internet, it's perfectly fine to do here in Europe & some farmers stateside who sell their eggs at farmers markets recommend to leave them on the counter to have the best tasting hard boiled eggs. That being said, many folks say because of the US practice of mass producing eggs/keeping chickens in close quarters /not corn fed/chemically treated can cause more risk of salmonella and things like this. I found no proof of this, just a theory by many. By the way, if there are any foreigners reading this, not ALL American eggs are produced this way. Get over yourselves! There are many producers that use the good old fashioned methods. I think in Sacramento, laws just passed for folks to legally keep chickens in their backyard. I used to go to the farmers market every week to get my eggs. I'd get close to 30 eggs for $3.99. Cheaper than the grocery store. Plus, Joshua preferred the brown ones... I have no idea why. I did too when I was a kid.

The non-refrigerated milk thing freaked me out a bit. Especially because if milk is not pasteurized correctly/stored correctly people can get REALLY sick and die. But, at the same time, I thought back to not so long ago when people got their milk from the milk man everyday. What happened if the milk man delivered the milk and no one was home? Did the milk go bad sitting out all day? Obviously if people were getting sick all the time, the milk man would have been out of a job. I read something too that people used to put silver coins in their milk jugs to prevent the growth of bacteria? Is this true? Are US regulations on milk and eggs just outdated? Is it truly healthier to refrigerate our dairy and eggs? The Europeans have been drinking non-refrigerated milk for about a decade now and are still going strong.

In the US it's gaining a little momentum (ever go to Costco and buy the organic chocolate milk packs by Horizon?).

Needless to say, this question has led to many more questions. Any thoughts? If the benefits outnumber the risks, what a fabulous energy conservation idea (which, maybe isn't such a "new" idea).

Again, I don't know the science around it all... so I don't recommend folks just start leaving their things out, but it's still a good thing to look into I think.