Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Gardening in Europe

Our house came with a little backyard which we have exclusive access to, since we occupy the lower 2 floors of the house. We love it. It's private and the kids can go outside to play any time. 

However, with exclusive access comes the responsibility for yard upkeep. Which isn't our strong suit. In fact, we really dislike yard work.  

This wasn't a problem in the winter.  We moved into the house in November after the weather had turned cold and the grass didn't start growing until recently.  And with all of the rain that we get, it's grown long quickly.  

The yard really isn't big enough to need a mower, so we'll probably end up using a weed eater. In the meantime, though, the house came with a SCYTHE! A what? Oh you know, just one of those sharp blades that you swing at the grass to cut it by hand. Doesn't the grim reaper hold a scythe too? I can't remember, but I am pretty sure he holds a sharp blade. 

Yes, that thing came with the yard.  As if we would know what to do with it.

This was the first time I had ever seen one in person and really had no intention of using it. But the kids were bored (don't so many adventures start with that?) and since the yard is starting to look pretty bad, I decided to try it out with them and document our efforts. 

[Can you tell Matthew's been gone a lot lately??]

Just me & my scythe.  Note the long grass.

You're supposed to swing it, right?  Nope! According to the youtube video instructions I found, this is not the way to cut your grass.

Jackson demonstrates correct usage. He was actually much better at it than I was. Maybe due to his angle?

Our scythe is not very sharp, so it really didn't do much other than flatten the grass.

Brandtley tries his hand.  Kindof hard when the thing is so much bigger than you are. He resorted to just dragging it behind him as he walked around the yard. 
(The kid was feeling very European today and dressed himself in his skinny gray jeans paired with a gray shirt.)

Ultimately, our grass is no shorter. Some patches were pulled out in the process. And it was well flattened.  

But! I have found a solution for the weeds growing through our paver stone patio! While walking through the botanical gardens with a friend, we saw a man igniting what appeared to be a lawn mower with a propane tank strapped on. Intrigued, we stopped to watch and take pictures. He found this really weird, but it's completely normal to want to take pics when you see a man lighting what appears to be a jet-propelled lawn mower, right?

Turns out, there were little flames under the front hood which burn all of the weeds & debris on the gravel path as he pushed it.  Much more effective than weed killer and more environmentally friendly.  Do they have these in the US??  (It's very possible that these are prolific and you each own one and I have just missed them due to lack of interest in anything yard-work related). 

Can I get the kids one of these for Christmas?? 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Köln: City Shopping Trip

Last weekend, the kids and I spent Saturday exploring the shopping in Köln (Cologne), which is the larger city just north of Bonn.  Cologne has a trendy area with a bunch of cute shops, coffee roasters, and cafes. It was very hipster and reminded me of midtown Atlanta but with a European setting and a foreign language. :)

In case anyone is interested in the places we found, I took some pictures (mostly of furniture since we were furniture shopping. We're still filling in our place here.). The belgisches Viertel (Belgian Quarter) is full of independent, quaint places, and yummy food.  I plan to come back for brunch someday. 

How We Live is a cute shop just south of the belgisches Viertel.  They have some rugs, side tables, knickknacks, and such. It's so cute.  I wish it were down the street from me so that I could wander in just to browse whenever I feel like it.

Image result for how we live köln

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ROOMS Cologne - has tables & chairs.  Didn't have anything we were looking for, so no pictures. But that entire street has furniture stores on it (mostly modern design). Hohenstaufenring 48.

The Flying Fawn on Aachener Str. is full of fun home decor & cute stuff. Also, Aachener str is full of restaurants and shops I want to explore.

Image result for the flying fawn cologne

We stopped for lunch at a very hipster little burger bar which offers gluten free buns. It was awesome.  What was not awesome was Brandtley climbing into Jackson's chair as we were getting ready to leave and taking a bite of Jackson's gluten-full burger & bun. We spent all of Sunday at home making frequent trips to the bathroom. I could have strangled him, but am hoping that the natural consequences of his actions have been punishment enough. Thankfully the bathroom necessity didn't start until after we got home later that afternoon, but his tummy started hurting within an hour.

Hipster German cashier complete with man bun and fedora and a snooty hipster attitude. We felt right at home.

(Note: this place doesn't have much seating. There are 3 tables outside & 1 inside which were all full, so we sat at the bar.  There are a few standing tables too, but those would have been way too tall for the kids.) 

My burger with goat cheese, bacon, and apple slaw.

Really great sodas. A German friend explained to me that the lemonade "Kölsches Wasser" is made in Köln and the name is a joke. There is a very famous perfume that has been made in Köln for many many years (the German version of Channel No.5) named Kölnisch Wasser.  This is a play off of that name and ridiculing the perfume's exclusive reputation.

After lunch, we ventured out of the belgisches Viertel to several warehouse-style furniture shops in random places around town.  These are the coolest places that I keep finding around here. They are independent shops who find, (sometimes) restore, and re-sell vintage furniture. Often industrial or shabby-chic or rustic. You never know what you'll find. Which is the fun of it. And can also be disappointing if you're looking for something specific.

Here are some of my favorites that we've found:

Rarehouse - (Ernst-Heinrich-Geist-Sr 12) These are the people who furnished the big Burrito Rico locations  (the one on Aachener Str in Köln & the one in downtown Bonn).  I talked with the owner for a while, who was very nice & friendly, and she also recommended the shop Schee.  Schee has a location in Düsseldorf with reclaimed furniture (which I plan to visit) and a location in Köln with decor.  

Rarehouse is pretty large, with a lot of pieces.  Their website has pictures of the interior showing how large it is.

Geliebte Möbel (translated: Beloved Furniture)  - This place had a much smaller selection than Rarehouse but more refined, less rustic pieces. I didn't check any prices, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were on the high end.

Exquisit - really cool stuff, some is pricey. These photos were taken a few months ago when we first visited. By the way, all of these warehouse places are unheated in the winter and are FREEZING!

 Kultliving - Not really a warehouse like the others since their furniture is all new. But similar eclectic styles. They have a warehouse location in Bergisch Gladbach and a new concept store in the southern part of Cologne.

I have a whole Pinterest page of other places I want to visit, but a few of my top picks are GrünBlauGrau (looks like a fun decor shop similar to How We Live), Waage Vier, Schee, and Mill - Vintage & Interior.

One funny story from our day...

We took the long train back to Bonn because it was more convenient than making a connection.  During our trip, one lady near us enjoyed watching the boys play and spoke to them in perfect English. She had a suitcase and full shopping bag with her, which is not uncommon on trains, and I didn't realize until near the end of the ride that she was a bag lady.  However, she clearly enjoyed speaking with us and before she got off the train, she pulled a tract out of her bag and offered it to me,  telling me that I might enjoy reading something in English.  She clearly doesn't read English as well as she speaks!  Here is what she handed me:

So there's that. And now I have the suicide hotline number. :) 


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Circus Fun!

When I was a kid, we put on a musical performance every year in elementary school.  At Jackson's school here, the kids put on a circus performance!  Every year, the school has a "project week" in which normal classes are suspended and the kids work all week on a project.  Once every 4 years, this project is Circus School.  All of the kids are divided into different groups and each group learns a circus skill together.  At the end of the week, the kids put on a circus and perform for their families.

Friday afternoon was spent at the Circus party, complete with concessions of popcorn, ice cream, and other treats.
Brandtley enjoying popcorn.  Here, the popcorn is popped with sugar (similar to kettle corn) and he loves it!

Then the kids performed their show, which lasted nearly 2 hours!

There were clowns, magicians, tightrope walkers, gymnasts, unicycle riders, and jugglers...just to name a few.  Jackson was in the group who learned "tellerdrehen" (literal translation: plate turning) which is the spinning plates on a stick.

In this video, Jackson is one of the kids on the floor:

Jackson's group walking in.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a good angle for pictures, so this was the best I got of him.

Clown performance

Tightrope walking


Showing off his red nose after the show.  
(Side note: The days are getting very long here now. The sun doesn't go down until nearly 10pm and this picture was taken at 7pm but looks as bright as mid-afternoon.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A week full of news

Do you ever have weeks on end where nothing new happens and then everything happens at once? This past week brought a lot of good news for us and a little bit of not-so-good news. On the Good list, we've FINALLY gotten both boys enrolled in the school programs that we've been waiting on!

Brandtley has been going to his trial kindergarten afternoons over the past two weeks.  We knew he had received a full-time place starting in August for the next school year.  This kindergarten has 3 rooms of 20+ kids each and every May, they invite the new kids to come play in the afternoons while the teachers observe and then they assign the kids to each of the 3 classes based on the teachers' assessment of personality, friendships, etc. Thursday was the last day of the assessment and when Matthew went to pick him up, the director told him that they have accepted Brandtley to start in June instead of August! He is SO excited!  He's had a great time playing there and making new friends over the past two weeks!

Earlier in the week, I sought out the OGS director at Jackson's school to ask when next year's slots would be assigned. (OGS is the afternoon program at the school.  He currently is finished with school at 11:45 or 12:45 every day while most of the other kids stay and play or do activities. He very much wants to go to OGS and we do too so that he can make friends and develop his conversational language skills through play & interaction.)  This teacher only speaks to me in German and very quickly, but I am fairly certain that she said he will be given a slot for next year and that we will be notified officially via letter in the next two weeks. YAY!

When Jackson first started school, we told him that we needed to continue asking her and telling her how much he wants to go to OGS. He really took this to heart and continues to ask her every time he sees her...which can be daily.  As he put it, very simply and in a very German manner, "She will say no until she says yes." And yes, she did. :)

Also on the good list, Jackson definitely does not have Celiac. Both boys had blood tests performed two weeks ago to test for inflammation markers, and Jackson's came back fully in the clear.

Unfortunately, Brandtley's results did not come back so great.  This blood test is routinely performed 6 months after a Celiac diagnosis to ensure that the gluten free diet is working and his body is healing from inflammation.  The inflammation markers are supposed to be below "10".  Brandtley's registered at 33. (as a reference, Jackson was at 0.2).  However, six months ago Brandtley was at 135.  So, compared to that he has improved greatly and may just be taking longer to level out & heal.

Due to the improvement so far, the doctor said that she feels it best to test again in 3 months.  If he continues to improve at this rate, then he won't need to see the specialist.  If not, then we will go to the pediatric GI specialist at the hospital to troubleshoot whether there is a secondary cause (such as corn, soy, or other protein triggers), or if somehow he is still consuming gluten. We realllllllllly want to avoid this.

I've struggled a lot this week with frustration and worry.  It feels like we're already doing everything we can for his diet, so how can we do more??? It doesn't help that he hasn't grown again in nearly 2 months.  I don't know if that's a sign of gluten contamination or just him being a normal kid who grows in spurts.  But then what if he continues not to grow and goes to German first grade next year looking like a 4 year old?  I know God has a perfect plan for his life, but I'm praying it includes health and growth. And that I can trust that with peace while "trying harder" to help him heal.

To end on a good note, Brandtley has graduated to a bigger bike! It's still slightly too big for him, but his little bike's chain kept falling off so we pulled out Jackson's old bike to see if B could manage it. He rides well, and is doing great! (Even though he has to jump off every time he comes to a stop!)  He's able to go much faster on this one and is SO proud of himself!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

I cut down a tree for you

Monday was the first of May, which is celebrated both as Labor day as well as May day. It's a public holiday, so schools, stores, banks, etc are all closed. Unlike May day in the US, the day seems to be much more celebrated here.

The night before (April 30th) is Walpurgisnacht which is a legend involving wintry witches & devils welcoming spring. We saw posters advertising midnight dance parties to "Tanz im den Mai" (Dance into May), but did not see any witches or devils. :)

However, we did see another traditional celebration associated with May day.  To show affection for a girl, a boy will cut down a birch tree from the forrest, decorate it with brightly colored crepe paper, and tie it in front of her house (or to her house).  The tradition dates back to the 17th century and originated from an older pagan tradition to symbolize the reawakening of spring and fertility.

I noticed on May 1st that several houses on our street had what appeared to be colorful ribbon decorations on an existing tree in front of the house, but upon closer look, they were indeed cut birch trees!

This morning, we found this one on our way to school, dedicated to Miriam.

A friend took this picture of their neighbor's house, which received TWO trees! Are there sisters or just 1 lucky girl??

I must admit, I was impressed. I had no idea German boys were so romantic!  It could help that supposedly part of the tradition says that the boy must remove the tree after a month and that he will receive a crate of beer from the girl's parents!!! I need to find out if this part is true too!