Thursday, December 22, 2016

We are all a little weird, right?

 Or quirky. Quirky sounds better. Either way, here are three new things I've found to confirm my own weirdness...

1. I have found that I have an endless love and amusement for the funky mix of US & European music that is played everywhere...department stores, radio stations, you name it.  You might be in a nice store and instead of elevator music, you'll hear Eminem, followed by Hey Jude, followed by a French reggae song, followed by a techno version of Jolene. Yes, that really exists.  I heard it today.  And in a bizarre way, it just brightened my day. Sometimes I almost laugh out loud while shopping. But then all of the German people would really think I'm weird.

2. Calling my friends & family who live in large cities: Please tell me I'm not some type of psycho voyeur for liking the view of all of my neighbors' windows.  It's not like I stare at them. But it's somehow comforting to look out and see their lights and Christmas trees across the back yards.  Almost like I have extra Christmas decorations that I didn't have to put up and won't have to put away.

This picture really doesn't do it can't see the Christmas trees. :)

3. I've discovered I like liverwurst.  Really!  The Germans have a love of all sorts of ...errr... interesting meat products and aspics. And they have such a wide selection sold at every meat counter, that I'm assuming that people must actually eat these on a regular basis. I have no idea what most of these are called, what's in them, or even how you would serve them.  The most interesting one I've seen so far looked like spam with a gelatin Christmas tree inserted in the middle of it.

Anyway, I digress. Today, I stopped by the butcher shop near Jackson's school to buy lamb for Christmas day.  I've avoided the butcher until now due to my lack of German vocabulary and stuck to the grocery's meat counter, which is easier, though limited. But I studied prior to today's trip.  Unfortunately, the conversation didn't go in the direction I had hoped, since they were out of the cut I wanted and then we had to discuss alternative options.  While we were discussing, a man came in and made a joke involving the words "English" and "Deutschland" which I vaguely understood.  The woman clearly felt sorry for me afterwards and gave me a free tube of their housemade leberwurst as I was leaving, saying it was their best. (Or perhaps she didn't feel sorry for me and it's just a normal thing to give out liverwurst at Christmas time??)

So, tonight the boys and I tried our first liverwurst sandwiches on gluten free bread and, we all agreed it was SO good!  Another view of the butcher shop...

4. Germany has far superior squirrels. This isn't really about my own weirdness, but sort of fit with the theme... so I threw it in as a bonus.  See the red fur and long tufts of hair coming from the ears??  I'll try to get a better picture so that you can fully appreciate the prowess of the ears.

And on that note, I'll bid you a Frohe Weinachten!  Tschüss!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Meet Vixen

I have a bike!

Notice the front light, back light, bell and reflectors needed for it to be street legal...and brakes. You know, since those are so easy to forego.

It's name is Vixen.  If you've ever seen A Year Without a Santa Claus, you'll understand.   If you've never seen this gem rotten egg of a children's Christmas movie, you're missing out.  Here's a clip:

I'm only a little less stressed to ride it than I am to drive the car.  At least it's legal here to ride Vixen the wrong way down a one-way street.  Sometimes.  


For Weeks and Days

Brandtley has a new phrase that has captured my heart.  (May he never grow up!) The phrase is "for weeks and days". If you ask him to use it or explain it, he'll just say, it means that's the way it is now and until you die.

Or if he uses it in a sentence, it might be "we will stay here for weeks and days".  I noticed it when I told him we were going on a trip (speaking of a weekend trip) and he asked "For weeks and days?"

I've also heard him tell his brother, after correcting Jackson's misconception that perhaps he would someday heal from his Celiac disease, "No, I will have it for weeks and days".

It almost sounds biblical in its simplicity yet captures the brevity of a lifespan. :)

And then he turns back into a 4 year old, more interested in squirrels than lofty ponderings on eternity.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Traditions

As we settle in, it hit me that some of our traditions will naturally not be possible here...obvious ones such as as traveling "home" to visit parents & family for the holidays top the list, but there are a number of little traditions too, that either aren't possible or require modification.

Update: The Elf on the Shelf survived the trip & was waiting in the Christmas tree box. Depending on who you ask, this is either fortunate (kids) or unfortunate (for those of us responsible for him).  Maybe I should have thought that through a little more before packing...too late now!!

However, I think we may have stumbled upon a few new traditions this past weekend.

On Friday night, we attended Jackson's class Christmas party at school, during which his class performed a poem and two songs for the parents.  We didn't understand a word, but were so proud of him.  The next morning, we looked up one of the songs and found that it's actually a SPANISH Christmas song! No wonder we didn't understand the 6-7 year old children's pronunciations!

The next day, we drove to Cologne, which is a larger city north of Bonn, for a Christmas party with Matthew's coworkers.  A great time was had by all - including the kids, who were able to participate in kids activities, crafts, watch a Christmas movie, and even visit Santa!

Since it would be late, we got a hotel room and stayed the night.  The next day, we attended Mass at the Cologne Cathedral, which was a beautiful experience.  The boys' choir sang and the third advent calendar was lit.  We sang chant and hymns.  During the Sanctus, the sun suddenly came out and lit up the stained glass windows, which was breathtaking (literally - I think half of the people in the cathedral gasped).  We chose to leave during communion since Brandtley needed to use the restroom (and had first notified us when we had sat down in the pew an hour before).  As everyone else filed to the front, we filed out of the row and turned toward the back.  I was startled to see a large crowd of onlookers behind the barriers at the back of the church - tourists & sightseers stopping by but not attending the service.

I chose not to take pictures before or during the service (I wanted to!!) but snapped a few discreetly as we stood to leave and while everyone else was standing to go forward for communion.

Roman ruins from the 2nd century AD that have been excavated next to the foundations of the church. When the foundations were dug in the mid-14th century, they were laid on top of the ruins & destroyed many of them. However, when a parking garage was being built underground in 1969, these were found.  This was a house with a cellar. The wall on the right is the foundation of the church.

Next to the public restrooms, we saw a sign stating admission to the Cathedral tower.  We thought that sounded cool, so we purchased a family ticket and didn't realize what we had signed up for until we saw the stairs.  Impromptu climb in dress shoes to the top of a cathedral!!  It was well worth it, though.  The views were fantastic, the kids had a great time, and we all got a good workout.  We could even still hear some of the organ music of the service through the walls at times.   

We climbed a circular staircase inside this tower - near the top, you can see small rectangular windows, which were windows to the stairwell.  

View of the Christmas Market below.

On our way home, we stopped for lunch near one of the old city walls of Cologne and walked through this gate.

Matthew & the boys under the gate.

I hope to make this a tradition to be repeated each year we're here - perhaps not the tower climb, but the opportunity to attend Mass in the Cathedral is something I will cherish.

Tschüss and Frohe Weihnachten!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Surprise Gluten Free Findings in Siegburg

When we visited the Siegburg medieval market, we were pleasantly surprised to find a few gluten free options that we had not anticipated.  The German Celiac Society publishes as list of glutenfrei food vendors at the Christmas markets each year, (can be found here), and I've been referencing it prior to each of our market trips.

Siegburg did not have any vendors listed, so we didn't expect to see anything.  However, one vendor selling Suppe had a sign posted saying that allergy information is available. I sadly forgot to take a picture.

We later visited Brando Coffee shop to purchase a bottle of water and found the following glutenfrei pastries in the display case!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Whirlwind Road Trip Part IV: Tongeren, Belgium and Maastricht, Netherlands

On Sunday, we drove into Belgium to visit Tongeren for the antique market, which is held every Sunday morning.  This market was extensive!  And so fun to wander through for hours!  Even the kids got into it and got so excited to look at "old stuff"!

One small alley lined with antiques that had been brought outside for the market.

We spontaneously visited this church, which had a walk-through nativity story set up inside.

Part of the walk-through nativity

This statue of Ambiorix is in the square in front of the church in Tongeren.  Ambiorix led a revolt against the Romans (c 54 BC). Although he was forced to submit to the Romans a year later, Caesar later wrote that the Belgae were the bravest of all the Gauls.

On our way back home later that afternoon, we stopped in Maastricht, Netherlands to visit this bookstore inside an old church.  

The bookstore even had a cafe.  More Cafe Latte & heiße Milch for all!

We also fell in love with Maastricht and hope to go back again to explore further.  It's hard to describe just how magical the cities feel, all decorated for Christmas as you walk through in the dark.  The lights and architecture are just beautiful.


Whirlwind Road Trip Part III: Valkenburg Caves

We stayed at a fabulous Airbnb in The Netherlands both nights of our trip.  This is an old renovated bakery (or Bakhaus).  It sits on a centuries old farm which also has a manor house and moat.  It was perfect for our family and even had a playground & trampoline in the backyard.

The inside, downstairs, taken from the kitchen, looking into the living/dining room. There was a bedroom upstairs.

The hosts even provided a lovely cake and breakfast too!  Croissants, fresh bread, fruit, eggs, meat & cheese.

On Saturday, after a relaxed breakfast, we headed into Valkenburg, where we explored the ruins of the Valkenburg castle and the caves beneath the castle.  The caves were created originally by mining the marlstone beneath the castle hill to build additional fortress, beginning as early as 1050. This created several kilometers of tunnels under the castle that were used later for military strategy.  Much later, they were used during WWII to hide local residents, Jewish people, and American soldiers.
The kids loved climbing and exploring all throughout the castle ruins.  This room was the chapel. See the arches?

We felt like we were in Game of Thrones as we looked out over the walls & expected to see John Snow or Tyrian Lannister run by. :)

The cave paintings date back to the late 18th century when the caves were used as secret chapels during the French occupation when Napoleon demanded that Roman Catholic priests swear allegiance to France.  

During December, the caves are decorated for Christmas and a Christmas market is set up in them.  This was the main reason we went to Valkenburg, but I actually would recommend seeing the caves without the extra distractions to better see the paintings & inscriptions.

We also enjoyed exploring the town of Valkenburg, which sits on the river Geul.

Valkenburg has endless sidewalk cafes that are heated with outdoor overhead heaters so that you can still sit outside.  We researched ahead of time and found one that had gluten free options!  For once, Brandtley got to order at a restaurant! 

I don't want to post too many pictures of food, but we all tried new Nederlander dishes that we had never heard of and we all enjoyed our selections.

My Zuurvlees - which was like a cinnamon spiced pot roast

Matthew's bloedworst, or blood sausage, topped with baked apples & served with sliced brown bread & jam

Croquettes with fries

We walked miles & miles.  The kids kept up so well and we had a great time!