Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Two Advent Calendars, please...without alcohol

I don't usually post twice in one day, but this just had to be shared. Since December first is two days away, this afternoon we traveled to the magical land of Advent Calendars.  I.e. we walked 10 minutes to the beautiful department store with an entire department devoted to "Adventskalendaren". (Did I correctly make that plural? probably not...).  I have such wonderful memories growing up of opening tiny advent calendar doors every day each December and couldn't wait to share this with our boys.

While Matthew kept the kids occupied elsewhere, I devoted myself to reading ingredient lists to find a gluten-free advent calendar.   After about 10 minutes of looking, I noticed a few had a little speech bubble on the front that said "Ohne Alkohol!"


That ingredient wasn't even on my radar!

This raises several important questions, such as: Are these intended for children? Or are adults continuing their childhood nostalgia with the purchase of a colorful cardboard box filled with treats? And if so, how many of them really open only one door each day?

This newfound knowledge narrowed down my search considerably. I still read the back of probably 50 or more different calendars.  And possibly even reached a point where I was willing to make sacrifices...rum doesn't have any gluten in it, so it's safe, right??  Thankfully, I found ONE single calendar that met both criteria of being gluten-und-alkoholfrei.  And bonus -- it has a beautiful picture of a train on the front!

A few adult advent calendars came close to slipping into my bag too, but I settled on these for us instead.  

Frohe Weihnachten! Tschüs!

Merry Christmas!

Yesterday we decorated our tree! It fits so perfectly in our living room in front of our windows.  Our agent told us that it's popular to walk down the streets of our part of town to see the Christmas decorations, so we felt obligated to put our tree in front of the windows that face the street instead of in a larger, more accomodating corner.  But it looks perfect. :)

Our living room.

Unfortunately, we haven't been able to plug it in yet, which is a bit of a downer.  It was a little anticlimactic to finish decorating and not to see it light up.  However, we brought our artificial tree from the States (my nose just can't handle a live tree) and so it has a US plug.  We have ordered 2 voltage converters from Amazon and they should be here later this week.  This will allow us to plug in our tree and our TV, which are nearly the only items with US plugs that we brought with us.

This is what we need for the TV & Christmas tree.  While small items can be plugged into travel-sized adapters that will allow them to connect to the wall, those don't actually transform /convert the electricity to the level necessary for larger items.  Anything large or that has lightbulbs needs a true converter to prevent it from frying.

I also hope to make a trip to OBI in the next few days to buy lighted garlands...which will have the correct plugs!

After decorating the tree, we all enjoyed hot cocoa. :) The grocery near our house had a cocoa mix safe for B to drink, and he enjoyed it greatly, despite the expression he made in anticipation of a hot drink. haha!

Frohe Weihnachten aus Deutschland! Tschüss!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Driving and Other Adventures

Today I tackled either the bravest or dumbest adventure yet.  I took two children 3.5 hours north via 2 trains, 1 U-Bahn, and 1 Bus to another town to pick up our new-to-us, manual-transmission car and drive it back solo (with two children) via both the autobahn & downtown driving...in Europe. Did I mention that it's a manual transmission?

My study materials this morning. 

Side Note: If you look closely in this picture, under "Special Signs", you see the first one means "Danger! Rabies!" ...What? This is actually a road sign? Does "Rabies" have an alternate meaning or did something get lost in translation?

The manual transmission actually turned out to be the least of my concerns and the autobahn was great!  I discovered our second train had been cancelled when we arrived at the transfer station 1.5 hours after initial departure.  We found an alternate route and continued on!  However, the 2nd train was 7 minutes late, so we missed our U-bahn connection.  But there was another 10 minutes later. And then our bus was delayed too, so we ended up taking a different bus.  BUT the end result was arriving prior to the dealership closing! Success!

The kids enjoying riding on the 1st train. This was B's first train ride in Germany!

On the U-bahn. I didn't get a pic of the 2nd train or the bus. Just imagine a city bus. They're pretty much the same. But cleaner here. :)

And here's our car!!  Safe & sound at home on Poppelsdorfer Allee!

Altogether, it wasn't a bad trip. We made it home a little around 8:30pm after a half-hour search for parking and one of the worst parallel parking jobs of my life.  Hopefully we can find a spot to rent nearby before too long. I am terrified of parking in the wrong place (either a no-parking zone or a zone other than our permit allows).  I double-checked this one.  And *may* have run out to check again after the kids were in bed, at which point I discovered the car behind me had left & now I would have had all the room in the world to park!  

Now we can venture out further than just the surrounding few km on foot and not be strictly tied to the train schedule.  Let the adventures begin!


Monday, November 21, 2016

Weinachtsmarkt Time!

In my head, the song from Charlie Brown is playing "Christmas Time is here..." but now it's "Weihnachts time is here!"  The Christmas market in Bonn opened this past Friday night.  The kids and I didn't make it to the opening festivities due to that being the day our furniture arrived.  Between unpacking, running up & down the stairs directing the movers to where things go, and also walking 4km to take & pick up Jackson from school, I was wiped out. My fitbit ran out of battery life and died at 3pm and I had already hit 8.6 miles for the day. Who knows what it ended up being by the end!  Here's a sneak peek at our house with furniture!  We still need to fill in a few missing pieces that we didn't bring over, add wall sconces (you can see the wires hanging out of the wall in the picture), and buy more rugs, but it just feels so civilized to be able to eat at a table again! :)

So we went to the Christmas market on Saturday instead. Brandtley had already gotten a glimpse of the market a few days before as it was being constructed and had told Jackson all about the ferris wheel and car rides that he had seen.  I had also promised the kids a gluten free pizza from Vapianos (the Italian restaurant we tried a few weeks ago which is one of the few restaurants that we've found with gluten free options).  They were beyond excited!

A Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas Market is a street festival in the Altstadt ("old town" or downtown) in which small wooden houses are set up that sell everything Christmas... from ornaments to toys to candles and of course all sorts of candy, food, and beverages.  It is lit beautifully with Christmas lights and there are rides for the kids. I believe most German towns have one, though some are larger or run longer than others.  Bonn's will run from 18 Nov through 23 Dec. 

The Christmas Pyramid in front of the Bonn cathedral 

The main attraction for the boys - the ferris wheel

View of the Christmas Market from the top of the ferris wheel. The market actually extends into other streets & squares throughout the downtown area.  This view is only a small portion.  This square is usually an open cobblestoned area with cafes around the edges.

Roasted Chestnuts!  I have loved these ever since first trying them on the streets of Rome during our trip in college.  Thankfully, they are safe for Brandtley to eat!  Sadly, they are the only thing safe for Brandtley to eat at the market.  Some of the larger markets sometimes have a GlutenFrei food vendor, but I haven't found one here.  I may start bringing gf chocolates in my purse for him so that we can all enjoy a treat!

A statue of Santa Claus.

Ornate candles at one of the stands.  So pretty.  I look forward to doing more shopping on our next trip to the market once Matthew returns.

Riding the car ride :) There needs to be a glühwein stand next to the car ride! Then we could all have fun.  As it was, the boys were too excited about the rides to stop long enough for me to try a glühwein.  

After a few rides and just a little walking through the stands, we enjoyed our GF pizza. :) Happy boy.

Then on our way home we stopped by Puppenkönig which is a large 3 story toy store.  The boys enjoyed watching the train set in the window with other kids. :) 

There are many other Christmas markets throughout Germany and neighboring countries.  Some of them have themes and different attractions.  One is in caves, another is a medieval-themed market, and another nearby is Dickens-themed this year.   We hope to see several more throughout this Christmas season! 


Thank you to EBSCO!

Each year I've worked at EBSCO, we've been given pecans as a Christmas gift.  While my pecans from last year are long gone, the bag they came in has become incredibly useful as a grocery bag!

(I can't remember if this bag is from Christmas 2015 or 2014...either way, it's cute and very useful). :)


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Restaurant Review: Hans im Glück

We recently ate at Hans im Gluck in Poppelsdorf, Bonn. The food was excellent. We planned on eating out as a celebration for my older son's first day of school (his choice = no food restrictions), and as such, I was prepared with a separately packed lunch for my younger son, Brandtley, who has Celiac.

I ordered a burger with fig jam and goat cheese on a sourdough bun with sweet potato fries and it was amazing.  But not gluten free. I noticed that the menu had a note at the back that allergy information could be provided, so I checked their website when we got home. Unfortunately, I found the following:

Leider können wir eine Vermischung von Zutaten in unserer Küche nicht zu 100% ausschließen. Spuren von Gluten, Ei, Erdnuss, Soja, Milch, Schalenfrüchten, Sellerie, Senf, Sesam und Sulfiten können somit in allen Produkten enthalten sein. 

[Unfortunately, we can not exclude a mixture of ingredients in our kitchen to 100%. Traces of gluten, egg, peanut, soy, milk, peel, celery, mustard, sesame and sulphites can be contained in all products.] 

However, a menu is also available online for download which notates exactly which items have which allergens in the ingredients.  Of course, depending on production method, gluten-free menu items could still be cross contaminated, and even so, there were only a few items that did not contain gluten in the ingredients.  These included a side salad, sauerkraut, and the fries (both sweet potato and white potato). The fries would need to be questioned as to the oil's contamination as well.  

If you're interested, the allergen-notated menu is here. I greatly appreciate that they have published this information and find it has been helpful.  Much thanks to Hans im Gluck for their consideration!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jackson's erster Schultag

Today we got up early, ate breakfast, and walked 1 km to school in gray mist. Jackson was so excited he was awake before I was. Fingers crossed that he will be excited for day 2 tomorrow!

Riding scooters to school

The front of the school. This is actually the administration building.

The courtyard behind the administration building. The white building is where the classrooms are. Jackson's class is at the top left in this picture.  The kids all gather in the courtyard until the teachers take them inside. We were early, so there were not many kids there yet.

The playground is on the other side of the white building. He said this was his favorite part of the day. :)

The rest of the playground.

Jackson is following his teacher into school. His teacher is the tall man in the blue jacket.

There was a lot of this today.

Jackson's class walking down the street.

After dropping Jackson off, Brandtley and I walked down the street to visit another Kindergarten. We had only just walked out of the gate of the school when Brandtley declared, "I miss Jackson!"  
After leaving the kindergarten, we had the treat of seeing Jackson's class all walking down the street with their gym bags.  This morning was "Sport" (PE) and they walk a few blocks to the gym.  

The kids are wearing bright yellow reflective vests and I saw that Jackson had been given one too. When we were waiting in the courtyard before school, a girl from his class came up and introduced herself. She spoke only German, but we were able to understand her name, age, that she would be in Jackson's class and that she remembered him from yesterday. She was wearing one of these vests, so I asked her what it was.  She replied with a lengthy explanation in German, of which I only understood that they wear those when walking on the street. I got the impression that only the younger kids wear them.  

I tried to catch a video of them walking. Jackson is near the back, not far from the teacher.  He shouted to me that they are walking to the gym, which is 10 miles away! His teacher laughed and clarified "10 minutes!"

He had a GREAT day!!  To celebrate, we ate lunch at a restaurant.  I was prepared & had packed a lunch for B since there were no safe options.  I let Jackson pick, and he chose burgers.  haha!

The restaurant had decorative aspen trees inside.  Brandtley asked our waiter why there were trees inside and the guy simply said, "Because it looks good." :) 
Brandtley eating his pear from home with our grosse Wasser mit gas (large sparkling water).

After that we went home for Jackson to do his homework, then back out to get his lengthy list of school supplies.  Thankfully, one store had everything, including Sportshuhe (gym shoes), and a very kind salesman helped me collect everything. 

By the way, this store was similar to a department store but had an extensive stationery/school supply department. This is just one row of many rows of pens in every color and type. Made me think of a few people I love who would also love this section of the store! ;)

After another stop at the grocery store, we headed back home to cook dinner. Over dinner we talked more about what school was like.  He liked Sport and said they played games.  One had to do with fish.  It sounded similar to games like tag and red rover. The teacher would repeat instructions throughout the day in English for him, and his math homework is very similar to what he was doing back in the States. There is a German language class for several kids after school on Wednesdays, so he will stay an extra hour for that while I meet with his teacher tomorrow.  

I did speak with the OGS teacher. Or rather, she spoke a lot and I nodded. I understand that: 1) there is not a place open right now, 2) there is a list, 3) I have a paper to fill out to put him on the list, and 4) I have an appointment with her on Thursday. Though I'm not sure why. However, after much discussion of the list, she brought out her calendar and wrote my name on Thursday at 12:00.  I have a meeting with our agent that morning as well, so I might take her with me to translate, if she has the time.

The kids and I are all worn out tonight. I checked my fitbit and supposedly walked 7 miles today. All of them with Brandtley. Much of them in the rain.  However, I happened to catch this beautiful view in the middle of it, which made it worth it. 


Monday, November 14, 2016

Bovine Statues and Red Rooms

We've noticed a theme among our homes...of bovine statues and red rooms. Around the corner from our last house, a home had a statue of a black & white dairy cow in their yard.  It would "dress up" for all of the major holidays including Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, 4th of July, etc.  We assumed the original owners were somehow affiliated with Chickfila. Why else would you have a cow statue in your yard?

I regret that I never took a picture of the cow decorated for the holidays. 
I had to pull this photo from Google maps.

When we visited our apartment in Bonn for the first time, we laughed because a few houses down is a statue of a bull. I can't imagine this one dressing up in a pink feather boa for Valentine's day.  But it did receive a hug & kiss from Brandtley a few days ago. :)

The second theme we noticed when we walked inside.  The living room is painted a dark, warm red. The first house we purchased, in Houston, had a red living room, and our most recent house in Atlanta had a red dining room.  Most German home interiors seem to be painted white or a light color, so this is unusual. Our landlord also made the comment that it is dark and expressed dislike for it, remarking that he could refer us a painter if we wanted to repaint. However, given our history, I find it cozy and comforting for now. 


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Just the details of life...

So, I've been debating what to put in the next post or if I have enough material to even write a post.  Nothing particularly spectacular or exciting has happened, but I've said from the beginning that I wanted this blog to be a true reflection of what life's like, so here's what that is right now.  {And after typing up a rather long post, it turns out I had plenty of material!}

That introduction sounded ominous, but really it's not.  It's just daily life.  Which just got a little harder since Matthew left and will be gone for over 2 weeks.  This mostly feels normal. After all, our family is used to one parent or the other being gone on a regular basis.  But usually not this long. Or in Europe. There's a little voice inside my head that keeps thinking "Oh my gosh, I'm alone with my kids in EUROPE!" So far, I've been able to keep that voice in an excited tone of wonder and not a voice of fear. :)

But it's definitely not always easy to adjust. We knew this and are prepared for things to be difficult at times. And I know that the true culture shock is still yet to come. So, right now, I'm choosing to stay focused on the beauty of our surroundings, the fun differences of Europe, and the incredible opportunity we have here.  I'd rather share the beautiful pictures.  Like this one of a little boy who decides he hates to walk about 10 steps after leaving the house every day. And sometimes sits down and refuses to go any further. But this time he found a rock to sit on and looked so cute.

So, what are we doing?  A lot of grocery shopping.  Seriously.  This takes a long time and many, many trips per week.  We walk to the store and buy what we can carry. I have a large back pack as well as cloth shopping bags. The boys also take their back packs.  The stores do not give you bags - you bring your own and you buy for a few days at a time. I find that I like this.  There's less waste. Even once we get a car, I think it will be easier to just walk....while the kids are in school.

My black grocery backpack sitting on our entry shoe bench.  In Germany, you take off your shoes when you enter a home. 

Where do we shop? Definitely not a super store! There are general grocery stores that contain what you would expect - produce, frozen foods, dry goods, milk, cheese, some meat.  These are perhaps a 10th of the size of a Kroger/Publix, though. Then there are butcher shops, fish shops, bakeries, produce markets, general/convenience stores which sell things like cleaning supplies, soaps, lotion, etc, specialty health food stores, and pharmacies (which just sell medicine). There is a good grocery a few blocks from our house.  I have found it carries a little of everything including some cleaning supplies and meat, but there is better selection if you go to the correct store.

Our time spent grocery shopping is further compounded by Brandtley's gluten free diet. The grocery selection of gluten free options is roughly equivalent to what I'd expect to find in the States, so long as you know where to look. I've found a health food store that has a good selection of certified gluten free pasta, oats, grains, and even good GF bread. But as a specialty store, we don't buy all of our groceries there (it doesn't sell everything a full grocery would) and it's a bit further to walk to.  So we only make a special trip there when we need those things. However, we must make sure that all sauces, spices, canned goods, packaged-goods of any kind do not even contain traces of gluten or even have been processed in a facility that contains gluten, so any item that does not state "gluten frei" or "ohne gluten" on the label must be examined. We would be doing the same thing in the States only now the labels must be translated.  Thank goodness for Google Translate and German Celiac apps!  Unfortunately, this means a grocery trip for 2 days worth of food will take several hours.  And I've made at least 12 shopping trips in 2 weeks here!

Side note on the groceries: produce here is great! So are the potato chips. :)  I was never a big potato chip connoisseur in the US, so these flavors could be sitting on the shelf at Korger and I not know about it.  It seems so European, though, to have Balsamic or Rosemary or Oregano chips!  They are DELICIOUS!

Some of what I bought today - isn't the clementine cute with its little stem & leaves?? The brown bottle is local, full-cream milk. So good!

Several people have asked about Jackson's school and if he has started yet.  We've found a school with an opening in his class that is not too far from our home.  Now that our immigration registration is complete, and we have taken residence in our apartment, we can register him for school. We will meet with the Principal on Monday to start that process, and find out the next steps then.  I know he will need a health check up (similar to the well check up required for school in the U.S., but he needs one by a German doctor), but we can't schedule the appointment until he is registered.  Our agent said that he may be able to begin attending prior to his health check up.  We will see.

Other updates:

Our furniture is in Germany and is currently going through customs. We have a delivery date of Friday! Yay!  I asked if we could get it sooner, but the moving company has to get a permit to park & unload on our street since it is narrow and the city requires the permit be requested a week in advance. So the moving company requested it on Friday for the following Friday, 18 Nov.  We are so ready for a couch and a kitchen table!!! :)

We found a car!!  It is a few hours north of us at a small car dealership.  Matthew took the train there and test drove it the day before he left.  We then paid for it and are waiting for the paperwork to go through so that we can insure it, then register it before taking possession.  I will register it on Tuesday then take the train with the kids to get it and drive it back. Fingers crossed on getting there and driving it back with the kids. I'll post pics once we get it... assuming I get it back in one piece. haha! It's a good thing I'm not allowed to take it until the insurance is in place!

Speaking of the kids, they are both starting to go stir crazy and get on each others' nerves. And on my nerves.  Hopefully they will both be in school soon, though I know that will jumpstart the next emotional rollercoaster of German immersion for us all.

Working on our German. Jackson received a German For Children package for his birthday and we're working through it together. 

I found a kindergarten (preschool) down the street from us that has an opening.  I've submitted an application for Brandtley, but there are 2 other children on a waiting list ahead of him.  It is very hard to find an opening for a child his age mid-year, but persistence is key.

Last but not least, I have a cell phone!!!  If you know me, anything cell phone or technology related is a major point of frustration even in English. Since Matthew's gone, I'm summoning all brain power and patience to tackle setting this up on my own. The only alternative, though is waiting another two weeks.  I'm going to be brave...And I'll keep you updated!

It looks exactly the same but now I get a cool European outlet plug 


Monday, November 7, 2016

6 Fun Things About Our House

I spent all of yesterday at home, awaiting deliveries.  Side note: the delivery services don't seem to be ok with leaving a package at the door.  I currently have an alarm clock waiting at a shipping facility for me to come pick it up since I wasn't home when they tried to deliver.

However, this time gave me the opportunity to more fully explore, in between screwing in the 256th IKEA screw and trying to remember which trash can to use. More on the trash later...once I get it figured out. ;)

Here are 6 fun things I thought you might enjoy learning about our house:

1. We live in the bottom half of a large home built in 1907 +/-.  We have the first floor (ground floor that you can see from the front picture below), the Souterrain (floor below - similar to a walk-out basement), and the floor below that which is the cellar and includes our laundry room.

2. This is our new washing machine.  It's wash cycle is 3+ hours.

I'm wondering if this button might help speed that up? (translation courtesy of Google Translate app)

3. This is our Swedish dryer. The instructions are all in Swedish. It's not like an American dryer but more like a dehumidifier that blows air at the clothes.  It can also take hours. Because of the time and the fact that electricity is expensive, most people just hang their clothes to dry on racks.

4. We have these really awesome outdoor window shades. They are electric & will go up or down with the press of a button.  When they are closed, they are completely light-blocking. Here's a pic of the front of the house with them closed.

5. All of our doors have cool old locks and keys. Including the cellar doors...If I disappear someday, it could be due to the kids locking me in the cellar. (We've already set the rules that the keys aren't to be touched, but if you know Brandtley, then you'll know that rules are made to be broken.  It's only a matter of time.)

6. Our microwave says I can put aluminum foil in it and grill meat. So there's that too. We'll make sure to invite you when we grill out. You can bring the fire extinguisher.