Monday, November 26, 2012

Adventures in Crunch Land

Maybe it's that I'm getting older or, cheaper.....I'm not quite sure what's bringing this all on but I find myself becoming more and more like a cruncher.  A California tree huggin' granola cruncher to be exact.  Okay, not so much granola these days....I prefer oatmeal, but I'll digress.

Along with finding my Reine soda today, I also came across my favorite Kappus soap, discoverd yet another type of store, and learned a little tidbit of information along the way.

Other than the fact that Kappus Honig Glyzerin Seife smells just like honey, it's very mild on the skin and for 3 bars it's about 1.50 Euro.  I couldn't find much information on this product except on the site:

'This 3 pack of soap is made of a mild formulation of honey that is highly beneficial for skin. They are 100 % biodegradable and are made with 72 % organic vegetable based oils. The natural fatty acids and organic oils used will keep your skin luxuriously moisturized. Kappus also mills their soaps 6 times to ensure a longer lasting bar of soap. Kappus glycerin soap is non aggressive and hypoallergenic to most types of skin, and they are not tested on animals. Axel Kraft International Honey Soap'  

I really, really love bar soap.  I use scrubby gloves in the shower with my bar soap and it's my favorite way to go.  The added benefit is that it's better for the environment.  Liquid soap requires more packaging and doesn't last as long as the good old fashioned bar.  I still use liquid in the kitchen (it's a little more sanitary) and the guest bathroom for the kids (it encourages them to wash for some reason and, it's the guest bathroom sanitary reason....) Kappus brand has been doing the soap thing for a long time here in Germany.  I really enjoy trying their soap. I've never tried their lotion yet but it was recommended for eczema from a French soap vender (where I buy my donkey milk heard right, donkey milk.  It's all the rage here in Europe) when I was shopping so, I'm guessing it's probably good.

Something else that I've been contemplating is creating my own sanitizing spray.  Like a natural Lysol.  To do this I need essential oils.  Because of my short attention span, I sometime just like to go to a store and find it instead of ordering it on the internet. So, I took my first steps into the local Reformhaus.  I was able to come out with the Rosemary oil that I needed. The lady at the small shop down in town was helpful and I'm looking forward to going back to explore a little more.  Another adventure that I'm looking into is finding Tallow.

The Commissary has stopped selling washing soda.  I use this to make my laundry detergent.  Unfortunately, I couldn't for a couple of months because I had no clue where to find it other than at an American store.  My online friend informed me that she found some at Globus.  I went to Globus looking and couldn't find it.  Just recently after doing some research online, I decided to go again.  Armed with a little more information this time, I went again. The Germans call this Wasche Soda or Reine Soda.  From what I understand, it can be picked up in just about any laundry isle at the store.  The bag I picked up was 500 grams which seems to me to be about 4 cups. It seemed as though the commissary may be running short on Borax....this may become another hurdle to blog about but for now, I am safe. 
Herbacin Wuta Kamille and Glycerine Hand Cream  
Another tidbit of information that I've found out recently is German Chamomile. Apparently, it can be used for all different ailments but the one I'm planning to try it on is eczema for Joshua.  Some studies have shown German Chamomile Lotion does an equal or superior job to hydro cortisone cream.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Line Drying & Tricks of the Trade

Technically, I'm now going on my 6th year of not using a clothes dryer (very much) for those out there in cyberworld who have gone all the way, I commend you.  When I first moved to Japan, I thought the house looked so....well, "3rd world" with all the clothes hanging out.  It the states, that just would not be okay.  In fact, some Home Owners Associations have rules about having clothes hanging out to dry for fear it will lower property values.  Living off base in Japan got me started with line drying.  The dryer we had there was well, pretty pathetic.  If we had the dryer and the microwave going at the same time, a circuit would break in the house. It literally took 3-4 hours to dry a load.  I was sooooo done with it.  So, I bought a rod and clips and got going.  I found out my clothes were drying faster outside then they were inside and I wasn't heating up the whole house with the dryer going.  At first the stiffness of the clothes bugged me but really, I started to like that feeling after a while.  I also loved that when I went home to California to visit, I could literally smell the Yokosuska seaside on my clothing when I opened my suitcase.  And yes, I  line dried my skivvies even when I was at risk from the panty thief.

Then we moved back home and I kept up my line drying fetish.  My husband thought I was a little odd.  We bought an "old fashioned" hanger to post up in the back yard.  (Although, I did miss the Japanese style of line drying. They dry their clothing on rods and not on lines.  Click here to see an example.  The Japanese also have all kinds of knick-knacks for drying odd items like stuffed animals or shoes. ) The American washing machines don't wring out the water as well leaving much wetter clothing to dry.  In the dry hot Summers of California that wasn't much of an issue but still, American washers don't seem to be set up to encourage line drying.  I still did it though!  Well, mostly.

I confess, I've always had a clothes dryer in my home but I find I'm using it less and less. Just recently, I read a lament about learning how to cope with line drying.  I've been there.....there was a period where I HATED it.  But, I encourage everyone out there who is new to the whole line drying world: Take heart.  It's like Stockholm syndrome.  You get used to it....and you even start to like it.  Here are a few tips I've learned throughout the years along with some reasons why line drying is a good thing.


  • It's better for the environment (duh, I think this should go without saying but hey, I'm gonna put it out there) Just knowing that a circuit would break every time I had the dryer and the microwave on was enough to tell me....yeah, I'm using A LOT of power in my house.
  • My clothes last longer.  I found that the colors stay brighter and the elastic doesn't wear out as much in your pants or undies. (rubber elastic going through super hot dryer....means broken elastic)
  • It keeps the house cooler during the Summer
  • It keeps the power bill down 
  • Sometimes it really does dry faster
  • I can smell sunshine on my sheets....for serious. Despite what the package says, mountain fresh "scent" is not the same as actual mountain fresh smell.


  • Sunshine really is natures bleach.  Now, I'm not saying anyone in this house has yellow sweat stains....but if they did, this gets it out.  Also, if you want blinding white sheets, hang them out in the sun! Not even bleach gets them this white.  Ever been to a flea market and see the clothes that have been hung out in the sun for too long and they are all faded?  Well, that's what sun does to whites with stains.  The Ancient Pompeians did it and so can you! (They also thought Camel urine was the most fabulous liquid to wash clothes in....but, the sunshine thing seemed to stick)
  • Again, refer to the first tip....sun can fade your clothing.  So, to prevent this, turn brights inside out if they are drying outside in the sun.  For folks out there who are fortunate enough to have a covered patio, then just hang them there. 
  • Hang all shirts on hangers.  Purchase a cheap clothing rod on wheels for this or, hang them on the balcony rails.  When they are dry, just take them from that area and hang them in the folding or placing on hangers neccessary. 
  •  Use inexpensive spring loaded curtain rods placed in door ways to use for drying.  In most homes they can be place there without any interference of "door operations".....they are also temporary and can be removed without scuffing up the walls or paint. 
  • During the winter, I place my hanging rod near the dryer.  Clothes dry faster this way.
  • Don't want to iron?  The German dryer fries my clothes.  My pants shrank majorly and lets face it, high waters can't be fixed.   If you don't want shrinkage (MEANING: CLOTHES! READERS, GET YOUR MINDS OUT OF THE GUTTER!) place clothing in the dryer for 10-20 minutes then take them out and hang them.  They will "steam" dry.  This will cause them to dry quicker and not wrinkle.
  • Most German stores also carry mini lines that hook on to the heaters in the house.  This is fantastic for winter because the clothes dry pretty darn well this way. It's just another one of those space savers.
  • If you find yourself without a clothes dryer, use fabric softener for your towels.  It's not the same as fluffy soft towels but it helps. Seriously, I knew military house wives that gave bottles of Downy as gifts to their Japanese friends.  I think a small bottle off base was like 800 Yen. (About $10) it was a highly prized "luxury". :)
  • If you're lucky enough to have a bathroom with heated tiles....during the winter, this is the absolute best place to dry clothes.
  • For pants, hangers with clips seem to do it best for me.  I use something I got in Japan that I've a little overzealous about and it works great. Here's what mine looks like.
  • Once the washing machine is done, get those clothes out on the line!  Because European water has no chlorine in it, things get that musty nasty smell really quick.  For this same reason, the toilets get nasty quick too.  Get a little hangy thing that clips to the side of the toilet and "cleans & freshens"  when it's flushed. American foreigners may notice that their sinks may just get stinky.....vinegar and baking soda or, lemon and baking soda work for this.  Every once in a while, it helps with the funk.  There are also cleaners available for your washing machine.  Sometimes, German washing machines end up stinking after time.  It's a good idea to run a clean cycle through or, having baking soda on hand or borax run with laundry detergent keeps it at bay.  A German friend of mine says she user uber hot water with bleach on her white towels every once in a while to kill the smell.
  • Purchase local clothing.  Most European clothing is better designed for line drying. Knit tops sometimes are lighter or, have a little more polyester in them to dry quicker and with less wrinkles. Despite the synthetic cloths bad reputation, polyester is fabulous for keep stains at bay too.

    Lastly, I'll include a couple more fun links to webpages that might be more informative or just plane fun to read:
An American house wife sharing her experiences of laundry in a foreign land.  Along with some other real interesting stuff.

More information about German washing machines and laundry

Missing Japanese stuff?  This is a site that will ship to you!  Especially cool laundry hangers. 

Our Japan Blog also has a laundry entry which is very similar to this one.....creepy.

Housewife in Japan.  This is a goofy video about laundry in Japan.  The one thing that I disagree with her on is the hot water thing.  Hot water is available but,  the machine hose just needs to be hooked up to a hot water faucet.  If your home doesn't have one....then, yes you can only access cold water for your machine.

Hans Rosling does a fabulous TED talk on the washing machine and the strides we've made and how lucky we really are.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Keepin' Cool

Most if not all German households do not have a central heating and air conditioning system.  If there is a house with one, I have yet to witness it.  Most modern homes are constructed of concrete.  This has it's pros and cons.  A major "pro" is that it's great insulation.  With double pained windows and concrete walls it keeps the sounds and "environment" out and the "indoors" in.  For most of the year this works splendidly. I equate German summers as mild.  Similar to Central California early spring or late fall.  Meaning cool mornings and warm afternoons and cool evenings.  So, to keep it comfy in the Summer we open the windows in the morning close up during the afternoon and then open up in the evening. 

The trouble or "con" really starts during that one super hot humid week or two during the year and there really is no relief.  Which brings me to another trouble with German homes.....NO FLIPPING SCREENS! I don't mind bugs I most truly do not....except for fruit flies and they are abundant during the Summer.  Also, regular flies are a nuisance but I can usually swat them outside (and yes, I am one of those crazy granola crunchers who puts out the bugs and doesn't kill them). Screens are sold at the local home depot store.  A screen door for one of my balcony window/doors would cost 69 Euro.  WTH?! For all 4 of those doors it would cost close to $400 and that doesn't even include the regular windows. This along with built in closets and bathroom shelving gets checked off as  'things that are just automatically included in a rental property at home'.   A good thing to invest in is fans.  The cheapest I've found them is about 20 Euro.  (I'm talking about a good sized standing fan. Now again, ceiling fans or whole house fans don't seem to exist here). The fans I have seems to keep the fruit flies and gnats disoriented enough to not pester me.  Something with moving air detours them I've found. Portable AC units are available, I believe the price tag on those was about 400 Euro.  But, for anyone who needs this it might be worth it.  Also second hand is always an option.

Another way to keep cool and this seems to be what most Germans do is to go to a local lake or pool.  There is usually a public indoor pool in most areas. Azur, Waschmühle, and Monte Mare or some that came up from my Google search. In our area there are many many local lakes as well.  The closest one to us is in Kindsbach.  It's a old old man made lake (There are not many if any natural ponds or lakes in German forests most are man made and in olden days, were stocked with fish) Barenlochweiher is a small lake with a wading area for smaller tots, a Cafe, restrooms, and playground and it's free to enjoy.
Another place that I've just heard of is CUBO. This I've heard is a fantastic natural pool (no chlorine or saline just plants are used to filter it) there is also an indoor spa.  Click here for a link in English. Something I've mentioned in the past but will again here is Gartenschau.  For families this is really a fun place.  There is a creek that runs through the park area along with a water play area.  This is fantastic for parents like me don't necessarily want to "bless" everyone with an appearance in their mom bathing suit.  This park is great and for a little over 40 Euro families can purchase a season pass.

So, keep the faith newbies.  When the thermostat reaches a hefty 98-100 degrees with humidity in the "hell" rating, go swimming and for heavens sake, don't cook!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Going Barefoot

Readers may have noticed that we haven't posted in a very long time.  Our family members back home have smelled the stench of dreariness.....It's true.  After our cruise (which we still haven't posted about) it's been kinda down hill.  The weather in Germany this Summer has been especially awful.  In fact we talked to someone who said it hasn't been this bad since a Summer back in 1987 that he can remember. It has been rainy and cold.  Most days the high temps have been in the mid to upper 50's and the sun is hidden behind clouds with the drizzle of rain ever present.

I had a lot planned for our family.  I was going to try and make sure Samuel was able to go to preschool every other day.  With this schedule, I would be able to hang out with the big boy and do big boy stuff.  The key word here is ACTIVE big boy stuff.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get Samuel into his regularly scheduled "school" (which is another frustrating story all together) and, the weather hasn't been conducive to outdoor ACTIVE type stuff. I've been stuck with the kids most days inside.  Joshua has been reading or workbooking or gaming.

So, here's where a person might want to stop thinking about punching me in the face (ie:'You little twit, you're in Europe quit whining!') I'm turning my bitch-fest car around right now, I promise.  The sun came out finally!  The last 2 days, have reached the high 80's and we've been taking advantage.  I've been doing the minimum house work that I need to be doing and going outside.  We've been spending some time at Gartenschau.  I bought the family pass this year again and, going to the nearby Kindsbach lake is on the list as well.  I was able to get a last minute slot for Samuel at his school and Joshua and I took a "big boy" road trip to the bare foot park.

Just recently, I read an article on this park and it reminded me that I needed to go.  What a concept right?  A park that people pay money to walk around in bare foot?!  Despite my amazement, this place was crawling with people.  Joshua didn't know what to expect and I was anxious to see his reaction.  The park is basically a  trail that loops around to form about a 3 kilometer obstacle course for our feet. The beginning part was loud and boisterous.  People where chatting and laughing.  Then the second "course" came.  We walked through very squishy knee high mud.  Apparently this mud is very good for the skin.  The reactions from everyone were very fun to observe.  Some people laughed and squealed with delight, one preschooler screamed in terror and discontent. I didn't like it.  The beginning was okay but by the middle of it, I was more than ready to get out! Maybe it was the idea of not seeing what I was walking in that threw me for a loop.  I'm not sure.  For Josh, this was his favorite part.  He loved the soft, slimy, squishy feeling.  After the mud part of the course we went on to other textures.  The whole time, people actually started to get more quiet.  It seemed like most folks didn't want to divide their attention from the feeling on their feet.  I fell right in line with the crowd. 

Even though, I took my older son, I think with some assistance, preschool children can definitely participate in this fun.  The place was fairly easy to find with my GPS.  When I got to the center of town, I just had to be sure and keep and eye out for the signs.  If someone has a whole day, I'm sure there are several places to do some wine tasting out there and I believe there may be some baths or spas available as well.   One could really get lost in the Google world when it comes to the health benefits of going barefoot or, the barefoot concept.  However, below are several links to articles I found very helpful for this trip:

Bad Sobernheim: Kick off Your Shoes to Enjoy Barefoot Trail  (Click on the picture in the article for a slideshow.  This article also includes ticket prices and park schedule)
Bad Sobernheim City Webpage
Information on Barefoot Parks throughout Europe (This includes a listing of other parks throughout Europe and a free Design Guide for those garden architects out there!)
And, of course, a Wiki Link: Barfoot-Wikipedia

Monday, May 28, 2012

Luxembourg American Cemetery Camp Out

What better way to celebrate Memorial Day weekend than to camp out in the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial?  Josh's Cub Scout Pack does this as an annual event, and this year was our first year to join in.  What a blast! 

We arrived on Friday evening, set up camp, and enjoyed some quiet time around the campfire while the boys played in the woods.  It was Sam's first time camping, and he really took to it rather quickly.  Probably helped that he was surrounded by older boys the whole weekend... always someone there to look up to.

On Saturday morning, Josh's pack conducted the flag raising ceremony.  Then, the boys cleaned the grave stones, set flags and a single rose at each, and prepared for the Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery.  The ceremony was a wonderful tribute to the 5076 fallen soldiers who rest eternally young at the cemetery; and to the relationship that has been formed between the people of Luxembourg and America, as a result of our presence and assistance there during WWII.  Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, Commander of U.S. Army Europe, spoke and presented a wreath; as did a host of other people representing the U.S. and Luxembourg.  The Air Force, out of Spangdahlem AFB, performed a fly over in "Missing Man" formation.  We witnessed a 21 gun salute. 

In the afternoon, the Cub Scouts held the "Bridging" ceremony, when the boys move up in rank.  Josh moved with his den from the Bears to the Webelos.  After the ceremony, they lowered the flags at the cemetery and we returned to the campsite to relax, enjoy skits, and have fun.

Sunday, the boys raised the flags again, while I packed up our campsite.  When all was ready, we did our final Cub Scout "Leave No Trace" walk through and headed out.

Pictures are on Flickr, here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Easterworld (AKA: Holland)

Click here to see all of our pictures from this vacation.

During Joshua's Spring Break, we took a family trip up to Holland. We were in desperate need of some vacation action.

The question was, where to go? One of the things on my personal bucket list was seeing the tulips in full bloom at Keukenhof. Keukenhof is a town that has one of the most extensive tulip gardens in the world. After I found out where this town was, and considering it's proximity to Amsterdam, we decided to go there too. That's "Amster-darn" for the kids!

Our family is on a budget and Amsterdam is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. Hotels for families here in Europe are pricey just about everywhere. After several vacations we realized that most rooms are available for a family of 3. Anything more than that and another room has to be purchased. We could have looked for an apartment to rent in Amsterdam. However, we found a hotel that fit our budget. The Hotel Schiphol A4 Van Der Valk at first glance seems far away from the action, however it's considered an Amsterdam Airport Hotel. For couples, this is a great deal but many young single people might prefer staying in the city center. However... it is a great option for families. Parking is free for guests and the hotel provides a free shuttle to and from the airport. The train station at the airport was a great starting point for getting to Amsterdam Central station, which is only a 3-stop ride.

The hotel rooms here are very spacious. The equivalent of two king-sized beds are located in the room; along with a couch, coffee table, TV, and desk. The entryway was separate and could be closed off from the living space, and included the bathroom, separate toilet room (or WC), and closet space. I always love it when hotels do this. Essentially, this means we can shut the door to the entryway and the bathroom; so we can take showers, use the toilet... whatever, without disturbing sleepers! The bathroom was large with two sinks, soap, shampoo, lotion, and shower gel available. Unfortunately there was no fridge in the room.

This statement leads me into a little side note - I'll reiterate that Amsterdam is not cheap! The breakfast available at the hotel is not included in the price of the room and was priced at a hefty 20 euro per person. I highly recommend bringing a large selection of snacks and breakfast food. This seems to very much be the "European Family Style". It was nice to have the snacks and breakfast food with us. I think we spent 100-150 Euro for food the first 2 days. If we didn't have breakfast already packed, tack on 60-100 more Euro to that price tag... YIKES! (Going by the exchange rate that would have been about $200-$300, total). Things I packed were pop-tarts, fruit snacks, nuts, juice boxes, bottled water, grapes, apples, single serve milk and a few hard boiled eggs. Something else worth packed next time for a trip like this is maybe a jar of peanut butter and jelly with a loaf of bread. I know that some of the things I packed weren't stellar in the health department, but hey, it's vacation... and, I wanted to pack stuff that my kids would actually eat and be excited about... they only get pop tarts for vacations! Don't judge!!! :)

Drive time from our place was about 4.5-5 hours without traffic. The drive was easy and scenic. Upon arrival in The Netherlands, I just could not believe how much it looked like some scene off of an Easter card. Old fashioned wind mills, wild daffodils, open fields with hopping bunnies, waddling geese and yes, even frolicking baby lambs. It is now deemed the end all, be all Easterworld. I don't think anything can compare.

We changed our initial plans at the last minute to leave early from our house. We had taken a quick glance online and realized that the Anne Frank House was sold out on all days; except for our day of our arrival. So, upon arrival at our hotel, we promptly cleaned up and went to downtown Amsterdam to take our tour. Before touring the house, it's important to take a look at the webpage, especially if planning to visit with young children. It was not recommended we bring small children and we initially planned to tour separately, so that one of us was always with Samuel, our youngest. However, with most times already sold out, we really didn't have a choice - it was either all or none. Before going to see the Ann Frank House, I read a couple of age appropriate books to Joshua about WWII and the Holocaust. I think it helped him understand more about what we were going to see. Although it was really crowded, we were happy we went.

For those planning to visit the Anne Frank House in the future, I can't urge you enough to purchase tickets online in advance. Later on our trip, we stopped at a tourist information location to inquire about Vincent Van Gogh Museum tickets. A man came in a little frantic asking if he could purchase tickets for the Anne Frank House. The lady at the information booth said that they were sold out until the 16th of April. So, he could get tickets in 3 days. That would have been pretty heart wrenching for me... for many tourist though, they are coming from other countries. There may have been no hope for this poor man. So, book those tickets online, people! Another consideration, the line at the Anne Frank House ticket window is generally at least an hour long wait, so booking online saves time and allows you entry without waiting.

After the tour, we stepped outside for some photos, when I noticed a young couple enjoying a Passover picnic matzo dinner. They were a couple of backpackers from Israel. They were generous enough to share their matzo with us... or, shall I say, Sam. He was the one who charmed the socks off of them. They were headed back home the next day so they were happy to lighten their load of matzo. Sam enjoyed feeding the ducks with it!

We enjoyed a pizza dinner ourselves at one of the many restaurants in the town square. I have to confess that I didn't stick to the all-matzo diet. It was pretty difficult to do while on vacation. Before vacation, I really did try. I even cleaned out my whole pantry and fridge! I hope I'm forgiven and that next year will be the year I stick to it!

After the 5 hour drive, tour of Anne Frank house, and more public transportation than we had dealt with in a long time (all the while through the rain)... it was time to go back to the hotel and sleep.

The next day was spent at Keukenhof. Keukenhof is about 25 minutes from our hotel, or about a 40 minute drive from Amsterdam. This park has one of the most extensive tulip gardens in the world. It is rather hard to put into words just how pretty it was; even pictures probably don't suffice. We truly lucked out as this was the only day on our vacation that it didn't rain. It was such a refreshing break from the city of Amsterdam. Very wheelchair and stroller friendly. Although it was busy, it didn't feel crowded and we were able to get a lot of photo opportunities. Along with tulips, there were ponds, small water ways, a Japanese garden, windmill, boat rides, bike rentals, small farm animals for kids to pet, and several playgrounds. If I were to do it over again, we were have packed a lunch (A small plate of Dutch mini pancakes were 7 Euro... ouch. Some of the best pancakes I ever had... but still!). Food prices were comparable to Disneyland prices! I also would have booked the boat ride first. The boat ride takes tourists around a large plot of land that is filled with tulips. Truly breathtaking. However, by the time we reached the area, it was a 2 hour wait until the next available tour. Our family was just bushed... so, we didn't wait it out. We had driven to the gardens. When we finished our time in Keukenhof in the early evening, we returned to enjoy the hotel pool before dinner time.

On the third day, we went back to Amsterdam. We took the Canal Bus through the city to the Vincent Van Gogh museum. A note for families, we were able to purchase tickets at the information building across the street and bypass the long line outside. It saved us about an hour of waiting. The Van Gogh museum was interesting and well laid out, but was not one of the better options for our children of 8 and 3 years. We were allowed to bring the stroller in with us, which was helpful, but still difficult with limited access to elevators. (I think Mike is putting this very nicely....however, a note to people who can take stairs: TAKE THEM. Don't cut off people who are handicapped and have strollers to hoard elevator space. It's incredibly rude. I think we waiting for 15 minutes and after being cut off twice, we decided to just carry the stroller down the stairs. It would be a good idea for the museum to have an attendant by each elevator entrance delegating and playing "moral police").

The canals through Amsterdam are spectacular. Several date back to the 17th century and are now listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The Canal Bus tickets that we purchased were "Hop on, Hop off" tickets, meaning that we could ride for 24 hours unlimited. The Canal Bus offers various routes through the city's canals, and was a great alternative to walking through the small, but densely populated (and busy traffic filled) city. At the very least, it provided a perspective of this unique city that we would have missed by walking alone, or by taking a taxi cab. It's important to note that these canal buses have tables it's a good idea to bring a snack/lunch and a couple pocket games for the kids if families decide to take the long tour around the whole city. Also, if it's raining, the boat itself is covered so we stayed dry!

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the large park by the museum, followed by another Canal Bus back to the central station, where we embarked on the train back to the airport, to catch the shuttle back to the hotel (yes... in one journey we rode a boat, a train, and a shuttle bus). We enjoyed our second dinner across from the hotel at a small strip mall. Located there were several eateries: a cafeteria style restaurant, Burger King, KFC, Asian Restaurant and Grill place. Again, nothing fancy but for a family on a budget this was perfect.

For some readers, there may be questions...

Yes, Amsterdam has a lot to offer families, and;
No, it doesn't need to involve smoking anything funny, and;
No, it doesn't need to involve the Red Light District.

The people of Amsterdam are incredibly nice and EVERYONE that we ran into spoke English. Amsterdam is a wonderful city, rich with cultural charm.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Climate, Wildlife, Pests and Other Things

Just recently I was getting some information together for a German neighbor and friend of mine who is moving for the first time to the US. She's visited but, this will be her first time moving completely away to another country. Away from her family and friends. For me, this brought back memories of my first move OCONUS. As I boarded that plane and said goodbye to my family I was crying for sure. The finality of it all just hit me at that moment. It was scarey and sad. While a part of me was screaming, 'Don't get on that plane' another part of me was saying, 'Suck it up, you're gonna be OK' and I was......... but I had always wished I had someone near by to explain to me some of the "ins and outs" of my new home.

In the information I got together I put in some information about the local wildlife and pests for her area. This made me think....."Hey silly, you should really blog about German wildlife and pests!" so, here I go.

Our area of Germany is considered "foothills" or, at least that's what it feels like around here. "Foothills" is right before travelers hit mountains. There is still farmland but also lots of forest as well. This means that we have some forest critters to contend with. One of the more regular pests is ticks. If readers have pets that go outside regularly or adventurous children, they need to be checked when they come inside. Especially during the Summer. It's advisable to be sure and have children take baths when they come in from playing. Especially check around the bottom of the legs, behind the ears, and any other "crevices". For adults, hairy regions of the the body are important to check. For animals, it seems ticks love to latch on around the neck and head. However, give them a good rubdown everywhere. Most tick bites are painless therefore can go unnoticed. The local pet stores have an array of collars and other treatments available to fight ticks. For more information about ticks in Germany this thread can help!

Another precaution to take is against spiders. Although I haven't seen any poisonous spiders yet, (Knock on wood) venomous spiders in this region can be a threat. The majority of venomous/poisonous spiders here in Germany are the same as ours in the states. Most common is the Black Widow and the Brown Recluse. Both of these types of spiders can be dangerous but the Black Widow is not aggressive and the Brown Recluse usually lives up to it's name. When "discovered" black widows will most likely try to flee or run away. Brown Recluse will act aggressively if it's discovered. During the seasons take care to pack away garden gloves and shoes and take caution around wood piles or other outdoor things that have been sitting for a while. For more information about German Spiders click here.

There are several poisonous snakes in Europe. Most of them are the viper variety. These include the Common Adder, Long Nosed Adder, Pallas Viper, and Ursini's Viper. All of the names I've listed also have wiki links attached to them. However, for a "cliff notes" version, click on this link.

There are many many wild birds and predatory birds located here as well. I very much recommend having a bird house and a couple of feeders out. It's nice to have the birds singing during the Spring time. The colors and markings on these small birds is beautiful. Every time spring comes, all I can think about is Disney's Snow White singing with the birds. A precaution to move your window shades (ruladins) up and down periodically. If a shade is left untouched for a while it creates a perfect habitat for a nesting bird. If one wants to get up close and personal with predatory birds and local wildlife, there is a wild animal park in this area call Waldpark in Potzberg. This park also has non-local wild life like Bison and wolves but it's a fun day trip.

One more pest that is rare but, deserves some recognition. There is a type of German Weasel called a Steinmarder or Beech Marten in English. This species will nest in the car in the evening. (Since it's a nice warm spot to sleep) It will leave in the early morning hours so, not to fear. However, if the car is used for commuting to work and back one should be aware. If they go back and forth between to "male territories", this animal can cause considerable damage under the hood. The best precaution to take is to place chicken wire on the driveway. This creature does not enjoy walking on it and it will prevent them from making your car their little territory. There is however, another theory from Wikipedia that gives another explanation as to why these creatures enjoy destroying cars:

'Since the mid 1970s, the beech marten has been known to occasionally cause damage to cars. Cars attacked by martens typically have cut tubes and cables. A beech marten can slice through the cables of a starter motor with just one bite. The reason for this is not fully known, as the damaged items are not eaten. There is however a seasonal peak in marten attacks on cars in spring, when young martens explore their surroundings more often and have yet to learn which items in their habitat are edible or not.[26] The fishoil, often contained in the cables of cars of Japanese origin, may contribute to this.'

For more on this little creature, click here.

Also, for more information on wildlife in Germany click here.

On to the next subject! For German standards, the climate here is fairly mild. However, for me it took a lot of getting used to. My first winter here, it felt like the sunshine just forgot about Germany. We are far north which means we don't get a lot of light during the winter. The sun starts going down at around 3:00-4:00 in the afternoon. If we were lucky enough to have the sun come out from the clouds, we would literally drop everything bundle up and go outside. Snowfall here is usually minimal. There are strange years like of late where snowfall is generous. Just 2 years ago, the store ran out of salt for the roads. The Summers are very mild. It gets warm here for about a week. I would use the word "hot" cautiously as, it hits the 90's maybe. The reason why a lot of folks find it very hot is because there is no air conditioning. The majority of household don't have screens either. Most Summers we will have lots of flies, gnats, and sometimes the occasional bee or wasp will find their way in. It's important to keep things very clean during the Summer. If there is so much as a cut open onion on the counter top the gnats will attack! For some who are highly sensitive to heat and bugs there are portable AC units that are sold on Ramstein Yardsales or, out in town. Also, screens are sold out in town as well. There is a good amount of rain year round. Coming from California I was amazed that the farmland didn't have irrigation systems.....they don't need to. It just rains enough. According to some charts the driest time of year is April & September.

Well, there's my report for the day. I hope I helped. If anyone out there has anything to add, please let me know and I can include it in the post. Happy Trails!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

German Dishwasher

It's very exciting that our home has a dishwasher. In Japan we didn't have one and it was a bummer! I know there are mixed opinions out there but honestly, I really really enjoy having a dishwasher. There isn't too much difference between a stateside dishwasher and a German dishwasher except for a few things. Here in Germany, we have hard water. Because of this, the machines have a special area to put in Spezial-Salz. Spezial-Salz can be picked up at the commissary or, out in town. Even though my link shows a Somat brand, any brand will do fine. This product look a little bit like rock salt. There is a spout in our dishwasher that unscrews and the whole box of Salz is poured in. It's inexpensive and makes a world of difference when it comes to the cleanliness of the dishes. It doesn't last long though. I've found that the "jet dry" doesn't last long either here in the machines.

Our machine also has an area that detaches to reveal a removable filter. This filter gets dirty so, clean it out every couple of days depending on how many loads of dishes are done a day. I will usually use a toothbrush and scrub it under the facet.

I've also start making my own dishwasher detergent. 1 cup of washing soda and 1 cup of Borax. I shake it up and and have powder detergent. The only down side is that it's leaving some soap scum in the machine. Other than that, it does a pretty good job, all natural and it's cheap.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


As a Mom, I know that having time on my own is important. I'm not lucky enough to have my mother living in the same town, so I have to depend on resources outside the family to care for my precious treasures. If you are PCSing and in the same boat, I hope you find this post helpful!

The first and best place to start would be your sponsor or employer first. They may prove to be the most valuable resource of information in your hunt for a good childcare provider.

Here in the Ramstein, Landstuhl, Kaiserslautern area, there are many CDC (Child Development Centers) for children of all ages. The service is available to Military and Civil Servants. CDC centers are run very much like daycares in America. In many instances, they have to answer to a much higher standard of care than privately run Stateside facilities. However, like just about everything overseas, space is limited. A person's family and professional situation determines how "high priority" that person is on the waiting list. I'm low priority because I don't work or go to school. Other factors affect positioning on the wait list, such as having two working parents, parents seeking higher education, a single parent situation, or dual military personnel. I recommend seeking out and contacting the facility that is closest to your future work/home. Army and Air Force CDC facilities are completely separate operations and need to be contacted in this manner.

Many parents moving to Germany are eager to get there children into a local school. Like me, I really felt it would be exciting and educational for my son to go to the local kindergarten here. I came in with grandiose ideas about completely melding into the culture. This hasn't been my experience. Unfortunately in this area it's very difficult to get a child into host nation school. The facilities are funded by the German government. The rule is, a person needs "kindergeld" to send their child to these schools. From what I understand, "kindergeld" is a type of voucher given to German Citizens (AKA: tax payers). Since, as foreigners, we don't pay into the system, we don't get the benefits. It's heartbreaking but, at the same time, completely makes sense.

Right now, because of the high concentration of non-Germans in this area, the local kindergartens here are fairly strict on this policy. It's always a good idea to check it out though. If there is a family out there in a smaller more distant village, they may be able to get a spot. I highly recommend doing the research despite my discouraging review. German kindergartens are good quality care at a low cost.

Another option to try is a religious kindergarten. Many larger villages will have a Protestant and/or Catholic kindergarten available. This could require some paperwork through the village bureaucracy. From what I understand someone has to become a "friend" of the Church, but it can be done.

There are a handful of private "international" schools in the area. These are more costly but are run similar to how an American preschool is run. The first place to find out more information on these places would be to look in the online Find-it guide. If you have enough time and have a fairly good sponsor... ask them to send a hard copy to you in the mail. They can pick up a copy at the closest USO office.

A small note, I've found that as a general rule here in Germany, when trying to find out information on anything, I get a better reply over the phone. I've sent many, many unanswered emails during my search. It can feel intimidating to some and I, myself, am very bad when it comes to this... but, pick up the phone and call!

If German kindergarten is not an option for you, another route would be placing an ad or contacting a nanny agency. On Ramstein Yardsales, Many people advertise services, or place ads, for child care. Ramstein Yardsales is the most economical way to find a nanny. I do caution to use common sense when using this site. This webpage is similar to eBay or Craigslist... buyer beware! I've never had a bad experience using these sites but it's important that I state this warning. Online agencies will cost much more money (A friend of mine was quoted 1500 to 5000 English pounds a month for a live in nanny). However, the benefit here of course, is that they are fully screened.

It seems when all else fails, word of mouth tends to be the order of the day. When it comes to childcare, there are limited options and a lot of people looking. (I don't know any Mother who freely gives up her babysitter's information.) If you know that you're going to need child care for small children upon arrival, I highly recommend aggressively seeking out your options. Try to keep in mind that the options may feel more limited compared to your homeland. For many people apprehensive about moving to a foreign land, this may feel like just one more overwhelming hurdle. "Don't give up" should be the constant mantra. The fantastic thing about coming overseas with the military environment is that "you are not alone" .

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Is It a Question of Faith?

For many Americans living OCONUS, this is their first time. I remember my first time moving overseas. I was so nervous about moving to an entirely different country that I didn't research our move very much. I ended up thinking we were going to spend our time packed into some 500 square foot apartment with no resources. When we arrived overseas, (at that time, Yokosuka Japan) I really wished that I had done my homework. I started Googling for information about my new host country only to find a lot of dead ends. This got me motivated to help others who might have similar questions. Along with other mothers, I started a "mom" group and blogged about the "ins and outs" of living in Yokosuka (A link to this blog can be found here: . Not only did I include where to visit and "sight see" but also, where to shop for cheap food on the go, what services were available on and off base, etc.

When we found out that we were moving to Germany, I started to try and do research. I had a lot of trouble initially. Many of my online questions were met with "Oh, yeah, we have that here you'll find it when you get here." I found the "feel" here was very different too. Not bad, just different. So, I've started to try and do the same thing here that I did in Yokosuka. Our goal on this blog is to show our experiences and, along the way, help others in our situation.

One thing I've been very happy to discover is that there is an actual Rabbi Chaplain stationed at Ramstein AFB. Rabbi Gary Davidson holds Friday night Shabbat services at the Ramstein Southside Chapel. Services are at 7:00PM and a dairy/vegetarian kosher "nosh" always follows the service. For the most part, this is a "reform" style service. It's also very family friendly. Readers of our blog know that we have a 3 year old and 8 year old. There is a play room close to the Jewish Chapel room. The play room isn't close enough to leave my 3 year old all by himself, but anything less than a padded room that is locked & sound proof is not appropriate to leave my 3 year old unattended! Congregants are called upon to do readings as well (In English. Don't worry Hebrew skills will not be tested.....unless this is desired...). It's a small group and there is usually a new face every time we go. The atmosphere is open and welcoming. The Jewish Chapel is also shared/adjoined with the Muslim Chapel. There are also all types that attend Shabbat services. Families, single soldiers/airmen, Jew curious, and non-Jews, so don't feel anxious!

Just recently, we celebrated Purim. Our family and a few others dressed up. There were about 50 people that attended. (Even the base Commander and his wife!). It was truly a lot of fun and for me, has been a really fulfilling part of my experience here in Germany.

Rabbi Davidson also currently leads a Judaism 101 course and a Children's class once a month. Sometimes these classes are moved or postponed. If anyone would like further information, I highly recommend stopping by the chapel or coming to services.

As far as the Christian religions are concerned, there are a lot of choices. Not only can one find their choice of Sunday services at Ramstein, Vogelweh, Pulaski, and Landstuhl but there is also a Church located in every village (In this area of Germany many times there is a Catholic and Protestant church). There is daily Catholic mass held at the Landstuhl chapel. Ramstein's Catholic Community also has Sunday school classes. Below are links to the information I found for the local military chapels. Some of the information may be outdated. I highly recommend stopping in or calling to find out the most current information. No matter what chaplain I've run into, I've always had a positive experience and they will usually go above and beyond to be of service to anyone seeking out faith & community.

Ramstein Southside and Northside Chapel Schedul

Other Military Chapels and local Churches (This information is dated 2005. Again, be sure to call or stop by a chapel for current information!)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

German Ovens

The majority of ovens here have 2 knobs. One is for the temperature (which is measured in Celsius) the other is the "type" of heat you need. Most American ovens (unless they are super ultra modern) don't have these settings. For those locals who are confused a quick google search should produce some results. This link is to a British explanation for these settings. It doesn't cover all of the settings that we have but, I thought this would help: German Oven Settings

Our family is huge fans of frozen pizza. (Mainly because we are natoriously cheap and don't want to pay to eat out or get delivery) Apparently, the Germans are too because frozen pizzas take up about 2 rows of freezer space at the market. They even have tuna pizza......for some of the readers this might sound nasty but it's good. I swear! The pizzas that are sold are smaller than the average American frozen pizza but they run 2-3 Euro ($2.50-$4.00) per box depending on what brand it is. The majority of German frozen pizzas that I've tried have been great. The crust is crispy and thin. For folks who love to have frozen pizza at home, it's a must to explore the "off post" options. There is actually a setting on the German oven that theoretically will let us cook several pizzas at a time. We haven't tried this yet but I think next pizza night, we may experiment.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Yesterday, the Bofrost man paid me a visit... again. I actually like what they are selling, but they always seem to come at the wrong time. I thanked him but told him that I would have to sit down and translate everything and make my list and he'd have to come back next time for an order. He dropped off their new spring catalog so that should be of help to me.

Bofrost is similar to the American company Schwans. They are a frozen foods delivery service. I used them for Christmas when Mike's parents came to visit and although they are a little more expensive than going to the grocery store, their stuff is pretty good and it's delivered, which in the painfully cold weather can be nice.

This afternoon, I decided to be more proactive and translate some things in the catalog. My family is craving fish something fierce, so this is where I started. I found out that this will be helpful to have when I'm out in town as well; and also thought it might be helpful to the other English speaking types in the neighborhood:

Rotbarschfilet- Redfish or Rockfish Filet

Kabeljaufilet- Cod Filet

Nordsee Schollenfilets- Halibut Filet (This took some research!)

Schellfischfilet- Haddock

LinkSeelachsfilet- Pollock or, Codfish Filet

Talapia- um, yeah, it's the same

Lachsfilet- Salmon Most fishy folks can spot this one but I thought I'd include it. If your wondering if it's smoked or regular I believe in German it would say "Geräucherter Lachs"

Pangasiusfilet- Pangasius Fillet. This is a type of shark/catfish. Also called, Vietnamese River Cobbler, Basa Fish and White Catfish, Tra, Gray Sole (The information I received on the net about this fish was not very good. I advise researching before buying)

PS: Click on the name to see a picture of what the fish looks like.

I tried to research health regulations in Germany regarding food but came up with a blank. If anyone has more information on this, please send me a link or type it below. I'd love to be better informed.

I do know that if you see a little blue fish label on the package it means Certified Sustainable Fisheries. The fish is farmed but apparently under environmentally responsible farms. I'd very much like to know if there is a label for "wild caught".

For folks who don't know, there is a green "bio" label on anything that is organic. This is the EU or German label for organic food.