Sunday, December 29, 2013

a quick V I S I T from our KS friends

We were so excited to start December off with a quick visit from our Kansas friends {and neighbors} Steve and Tammy.
Oh, we have missed them!

We have really missed living across the street from such wonderful neighbors.
We loved watching as they worked on projects together as we worked on our own projects.

We really just want to be like them when we grow up.
Funny thing is how much Jim and Steve are alike.
Almost identical in a lot of ways.

Unable to get any time off work, our weekend together was quick but still wonderful.
We started off meeting them in Rothenburg ob der Tauber for the Christmas market and nightwatchman tour- a very cool way to learn a little bit about this walled city.

It was the first and only snow we have seen this winter and SUPER cold. We think they brought a little Kansas wind with them... brrr.

It was so nice to see them. I think we are even more homesick now.
Our countdown to get back to Kansas continues...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

an A B U N D A N C E of home

It has been an abundant two weeks for us.
Every part of the definition is applicable.

a·bun·dance  (-bndns)n.
1. A great or plentiful amount.
2. Fullness to overflowing
3. Affluence; wealth.
 
To have an abundance of something is to have more than you need. 
Abundance is the opposite of scarcity. 
{plenty, heap, bounty, exuberance, profusion, plethora, affluence, fullness, opulence, plentitude, fruitfulness, copiousness, ampleness, cornucopia, plenteousness, plentifulness}

An abundance of noise. 
An abundance of laundry. 
An abundance of food. 
An abundance of dishes.
An abundance of messes. 
An abundance of wrestling. 
An abundance of brotherly love.
An abundance of craziness.
An abundance of happiness. 
An abundance of home. 
Justin asked that we not plan any trips over the Christmas break.
He wanted to be home. He wanted to chill. 
It has been just that and could not have been much more perfect. 
Working out {for the boys}, eating, movies and time together.

We were reminded again {click here for my post from last Christmas} with a visit from our Oma across the street how blessed we are. She reminded me again that I have everything. 
She does not want to come in past the front door.
She won't come for a meal as I have invited her many, many times.
She does not want to be a burden. 
She also lights up seeing her boys and her dog.
We broke the news to her that this is our last German Christmas, our time overseas is winding down. She looked at us with disbelief and tears filled up in her eyes. 

I told her I will write to her. She does not know it yet, but I will keep true to my word.

Yes, we have an abundance.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

no longer a T E E N

We are elated to have our big guy home from college for not only the Christmas break, but his birthday today!
This mama bear is so happy to have all of her cubs in the den for at least a few weeks.

He went straight from the Frankfurt airport to have lunch with Coleman at school, then to make gingerbread houses with Caden and I at the elementary school.


After school, he managed to take the littles to the pool to swim while Ty was on lifeguard duty.

While watching a movie last night, he said, "I'm going to fall asleep in two minutes."
I think he made it another thirty seconds.

You know your kid is getting older when he puts a crock pot on his Christmas list.

Today, he turned twenty.

It is steak and salmon on the grill with cheesecake for his birthday cake.

I think at this point for him, it does not matter what is on the grill.
He is just excited to grill with his dad.

I can hardly believe it.
In October, when Ty and I left Justin in Kansas to fly back to Germany I held it together pretty well. The good-byes are always the hardest for this mama.

He hugged me and held me for a minute and reminded me that he would be home soon enough.

He then came over to the car {by this point, I had started crying}and reminded me that he was going to bring a scholarship home with him.

He is going to be a bear.

Last week, he gave his verbal commitment to play D1 football at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas.

Just six hours from Kansas City, the location is close to several bases. We hope to get close to him as we move the end of summer.

Two weeks ago, they flew him to Arkansas for an official visit- putting him up in a Marriott for the night as they showed him around.

Last week as he called the head coach to commit, we got to watch and listen to the excitement on both ends of the phone.

His new head coach said to Justin, "So, you want to be a bear? That is awesome. You just made my day, big guy."

Justin could not stop smiling.

He loved it.

Chick-fil-a in the cafeteria.
Cleats and even practice cleats paid are provided along with practice clothing.
Football laundry will all be done for him, with clean clothes hanging in his locker.
Full-ride scholarship.

It is pure joy as a mom to watch your kids work so hard through the highs and the lows of life to reach their goals.

It is going to be another exciting year for Justin.
We can't wait to watch it unfold.

Right now, he is already at the gym starting his new UCA workout.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

how is P O T T E R Y manufactured?

Here is a beautiful video of how this pottery is made:
How is pottery manufactured?
{click on the above link to watch, it is just four minutes long}

Here every dish is manufactured by hand from beginning to end.

We were here in this factory, with these workers, touching this pottery. 
It was jaw-dropping fascination for us.
Knowing something is hand made and seeing it made by those hands was an eye-opening experience for us. Speaking no English, it was all smiles and nods with the workers. This man graciously stepped aside and invited me up to his place at the wheel.

It was the perfect day for pottery shopping.

I had already mapped out the stores we would go to and had a plan of the order to go. We were pleasantly surprised to be almost the only ones shopping which makes it so much more enjoyable. A personal factory tour was not on my itinerary.

Thank goodness for flexibility and having an open mind.

Now, I would highly recommend anyone going to Poland to shop to take the tour. It changed the way we feel about the beautiful items we purchased.

With floor to ceiling of pottery and some rooms being super small- even a couple bodies in a single store is too crowded.
One of our first stops ended up being our favorite and made the whole experience the difference between buying it on a shelf and buying it from the factory in Poland.

Manufaktura is a larger store connected to their factory. They also have two outlet stores in town which also happened to be our favorites even before we knew that everything came from their factory.

After shopping around for a little while, I asked the guy working there {seemed to be a manager} if we could have a quick tour. I didn't want it to take our whole day {we were on a mission}, but we could see the potters through the window and our curiosity was piqued.

He had someone cover the front desk and was quite happy to take us on what ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. We felt like we had a backstage pass to a rock concert. I asked if I could take pictures. Initially, he said I could but not faces.

After taking a couple pictures, he gave me the go-ahead that it was acceptable to take any pictures that I would like. After scaring one of the first workers with the flash of my camera {he jumped}, they warmed up and were fine with our presence and our camera.
Walking into the painting room was what I imagined walking into a factory a century ago would have been like. The girls were lined up in rows of tables painting side by side. As we entered the room, there was talking and giggling.

As soon as they noticed we were there it got quiet. They stayed quite solemn for the duration {maybe 10 minutes} of our visit. We did not move around much, I think we were just fascinated by what was going on in there.
Curious as to how much they are paid for their labor, I asked our new friend if the girls make a decent salary. He let us know wages are not as high as in Germany {as if the Germans are rich}, but they do alright.

He also said many of them are immigrants from Kazakhstan, Hungary, Czech Republic and Lithuania, so the wages are much better than they could ever receive in their neighboring countries.
They use paint brushes and special sponges to hand stamp the pottery. They colors are faded as they paint them on, then brighten after they glaze and fire it up. Nothing fancy. Plain and simple.

They were so fast.
Their designs are beautiful.
They have traditional designs, and special patterns called UNIKAT.
UNIKAT involves much more color and detail usually signed on the bottom with the designer's name. We now understand completely why they are more expensive. They are truly works of art.
 
I could have watched all day.

Moving on to the one girl dipping each piece of pottery in the glaze was incredible to us as well. The guy giving our tour told us it is all natural and pointed out that she was not even wearing gloves. 
The more we watched, the more we loved it.
We meaning both Jim and I.
We were equally intrigued.

At the end of our tour, we walked outside to see the clay in the back, pulled from the nearby rivers. 
It was time to wrap up our shopping and dinner.
With no time to stop for lunch, we were so hungry.

Polish specialties for dinner did not disappoint....

Saturday, November 23, 2013

the price of S U P E R on the economy

I keep repeating myself.

We are running out of time.

Looking at the months we have left in Europe and the places we need to see, I am not sure there are enough weekends to fit it all in. But, we are going to try!

We could have moved back without going to Poland again, but why? I am the only one who has gone, and really wanted to go back with Jim.
Last week, the boys were out of school on Friday which also means I was off work. It was a good day to make a trip somewhere.

We decided a day or two before for Jim to take the day off and make a quick trip. 

With the boys starting basketball in December, we know open weekends off are soon to be filled up.

Ty had to work on Friday, so we had a cute girl come over to babysit.

With Ty finally driving- the problem with transportation is solved. A beautiful thing.


Poland is super cheap. We could have done a 24-hour trip again, but decided to spend the night instead. Our room was not fancy, and the bed was not comfortable, but for around $50 {including breakfast} we were fine. 

We left Mackenbach about 3:30am and drove straight to Boleslawiec- the beautiful town of ceramics. North east of our house, we drove through Dresden {a city I would love to spend more time in} and just over the border into Poland.

Our destination was slightly south east of Berlin- another city on our list.
No police stops this trip {Jim was driving}, but we did have Esso station issues.

We carefully mapped out where the last Esso station in Germany was in order to avoid paying for gas on the economy or in Poland.

Before filling up, I went in and asked the ladies at the gas station if they would take our Esso card- pre-loaded with $ which allows us to receive our rationed price.

They were not sure if it would work or not, so we decided to just test it with 5 Euro before filling up our whole tank.

I'm not sure what part she did not understand, but as soon as I tried to run our card to pay the 5 Euro, she realized they would take our card and told us to finish filling up. I tried to pay the 5 Euro, but she reassured me that it was fine- go fill up.

Unfortunately, because we had two transactions, it would not go through. So frustrating. She told us to figure it out when we got back to Ramstein. We ended up having to pay {economy price} right there.

Price to fill up was a whopping 94 Euro, which is $131.50.
Ouch.

Fortunately, Esso made it right and after filling out a dispute {once we returned to the base}, they approved it and refunded us the difference.

In order to do this, they go back to that day and figure out the price of gas.

Convert the euro to dollar rate that day based on the euro.
Subtract what we should have paid {our rationed price} from what we paid.

The bottom line shocked us.
If the transaction had been done properly, we should have paid $58.61.

A huge difference {our refund} of $72.89 on one tank of gas- more than it cost us to fill up.

Wow.

At least we had a full tank of gas and were on our way to a full day of shopping and togetherness.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

L I G H T S would be nice

Polish pottery is very popular among military and civilian wives who live in Germany. You see it everywhere. With cobalt as the traditional color, I did not initially fall in love with it.

While having dinner with friends, or walking past it in the mall, I always thought it was nice, but I could maybe live without it. It was a lot of blue and we just don't have a lot of blue in our house.

Until this summer.
We now have some blue.
I'm also now in love with it.

I'm not sure we can ever have too much blue now.

I don't know if it is better or not that I waited three years to decided I wanted our own collection.

In July, we had friends over for dinner. They were moving back to the states and I knew she knew how to shop and buy polish pottery.

I threw out the idea of going on a shopping trip to Poland that week before she left so she could teach me how to shop and where to go.

We convinced the husbands we needed to go and within a couple of days we were on the road.

Along with another friend, we left at 2:00am on a Friday morning.

The drive to Boleslawiec, Poland, the polish pottery capital, is about six and a half hours.

Our plan worked perfectly with one quick stop {by the policja} along the way.
We had crossed into Poland and noticed the police in front of us on the highway.

Not knowing the speed limit, I decided to just keep going slow behind them. You can't speed if you are following the police, right? We were going really slow.

Within a minute or two, they held their lollipop STOP sign out the window for us to pull over.

Seriously, I had no idea what I did. It definitely was not for speeding this time.

They {two of them} came to my driver's side window.

My heart was beating a little fast, but I knew we were fine.

One of them knew a few words in English, so we spoke mostly broken German between us. Crazy, I know.

We figured out we did not have our headlights on. In Poland, it is law to have them on twenty-four hours a day.

Oops.

He said I was flashing them on and off. All we could figure is that I had them on auto and they must have been turning on and off. I'm still not convinced.

I gave him everything I had and we waited in the van.

Where we pulled over, there was a chain fence with a padlock.

Michelle {our pottery expert who just forgot about the lights... we were so excited to shop} let me know we were NOT going in that gate- no matter what.

We couldn't stop laughing.

This is not always a good thing when you are trying to sweet talk your way out of a ticket. This is not the first time to have this happen to me.

In Poland, when you receive a ticket you are required to pay on the spot.

They will take you to an ATM to get the money if you don't have it.
They are serious.
A few minutes later, they motioned for me to come over to their car.
What police does that?
Polish police, obviously.

I had given him my international license, military id, germany driver's license, passport and our car registration. He asked which was my license and if I was a soldier.

Nope, not a soldier but I let him know my man was a mighty fine one. I'm not sure if they understood what I was saying, but they didn't ask me any more questions.

He wrote down one of the numbers from one of the ID's and let us on our way.  
Before leaving, I did ask what the speed limit was and reassured him the lights would stay on.
Lesson learned.
Welcome to Poland.

Running in to no fewer than a dozen more police that day kept us on our toes.
They were out in full force, but we didn't let that ruin our day of shopping.
We shopped all day without another person in any of the 10-15 stores that we visited. It was amazing and overwhelming at the same time. In the states, the prices are outrageous. In Germany, on base they are maybe not as high but still very expensive.

Not only are the prices better in Poland, the experience is unlike any other.
We finished up when the last shop closed at 6:00 and headed back to Germany.

Driving into Mackenbach right at 2:00am, it was exactly a twenty-four hour trip.
This weekend, Jim and I decided at the last minute to make a quick trip back.

We had a fabulous time.
This time, we decided to spend the night.
And, he kept the lights on.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Y U M

So much food.
So delicious.
It's tough living in Europe.

Monday, November 18, 2013

our F O U R country day

It was supposed to be a quick day trip to antique shop in Tongeren, Belgium.
This could probably be a five-part series on how not to travel.
Instead, I am putting it in one to maybe paint the picture of how long a day it was...

We got up early. It felt really early especially staying up the night before watching a Highland Scotties football game online.

Ty had to work, so we decided to take the little guys plus the dog.
Ugh.

Oh, well.

It was supposed to be under three hours and looked like a straight shot on the map. With Jim in Alabama, he took our GPS. 

I borrowed a GPS from a friend with only the German maps. I knew this, but thought after looking at the corner of Germany to our intended destination in Tongeren that I could get us there- no problem- using a real map.

That was my first mistake. I should have known it was not going to be a straight shot.
Nothing in Europe is a straight shot. I know better.

The drive was pleasant until we left Germany and knew we might be a little off track. We kept driving {past our expected ETA} then noticed a sign welcoming us to the NETHERLANDS.

Oops.

We were only planning on Belgium, not another country.
No biggie- it was another check on the list- our {first} bonus country. 
After several other wrong turns, a gas-station stop to ask a Dutch attendant for help, no TONGEREN signs and driving in circles, we got back on track and actually made it to the flea market. Problem was we were there with less than an hour left in the market. I think we might have even had less than a half hour.
Our two-and-a-half-hour trip was now probably up to almost five {or more} hours one way.

The littles were not happy.

Everyone was hungry- including the tante. I had to keep reminding them {all} that surely we would stop at the first McDonalds that we found.

We decided I could come back any time- mom and Marine needed to get out and shop.
We found a parking lot at a grocery store and carefully backed in to the itty-bitty space. Coleman, Caden, Lady and I slowly made our way up to the market to find something to eat. 
Food always helps everyone when we are traveling.

We found a nice Belgian waffle place which helped almost everyone.
Mom and Marine found some really cool treasures in spite of power shopping.

We made our way back to the car and ran into even more troubles getting out of the parking lot. The arm of the exit went up and down before I could drive out.

Of course, it would not work again and we were stuck in front of a long line of cars trying to leave the parking lot.

This is Europe- most things are somewhat difficult especially with a language barrier.
Finally, an impatient man behind us got out of his car and swiped his card to free us.

We were on our way.

No more than five minutes down the road, we heard a loud clang. Realizing Lady's metal water dish was left on top of the van and was now bouncing down the old Belgian road was the least of our concerns.

It was good for a laugh.

Oh, our fun was not over.

Getting back into Germany proved to be even more difficult.
I did not think that was possible.

Gas on the economy is extremely expensive- at least double the price we pay for our rationed gas which about $4.10 a gallon. We can get our rationed gas at Esso stations in Germany.

I thought we had plenty of gas to make it to our planned lunch stop: Bastogne, Belgium. Why not throw some history into a trip we were already taking?

We would buy a little gas on the economy to get us to Germany, then fill up at an Esso.

What we did not know was that Bastogne {a major WWII city} was super small in the middle of no where.

We passed up an exit thinking there had to be a city center. Lunch would be good. We would have gas and be on our way.

It didn't work that way. We buzzed past Bastogne.

No lunch. No gas.

We were in the middle of no where and took a chance taking the next exit.

No gas there either and the gas light was now on.

I'm known for getting low on gas, but even I was a little nervous at this point. I am not sure I have ever driven with the light on for so long.

Remember, at this point- we were still in Belgium with no GPS.

All we could do was try to go in the right direction.

Plus, it was a Sunday- everything was closed.

At a small cafe, we stopped and asked some ancient Belgian Opa's where to get gas. They pointed us down the road. At this point, even I was worried we would run out of gas.

The grandma, the aunt, two littles, the dog and I headed down the road.
Ahh, we found the gas station. We made it, or so we thought.

We waited our time in line, the pulled up to the pump. Without an attendant, it was sort of like a pay at the pump if there is such a thing over here.

There was one machine at the end. We watched a man in front of us fill up after several attempts at getting his card to work.

I noticed from his license plate that he was from Bitburg- an army base Germany.
Another American who spoke English, what a relief.

We asked if he would wait until we made sure our card would work before he left. He graciously stayed with us to watch our card {or any of our five cards between Mom, Marine and I} would work.

None worked.

By this time, the line to pay was backing up. We still had no gas- you have to pay ahead. They were impatient {more french-like than german} and getting restless.

One lady told us to get to the back of the line. He calmly said we were not getting in back.

We tried to use his card, which would not work either- in spite of the fact that he had just used it to fill up.

A woman behind us agreed to use her card, we would pay her cash. Hers did not work either. Unbelievable.

She said there was another gas station down the road, we could follow her if we wanted to. Of course, we were already coasting on fumes, but we had no choice.

We finally made it to the second gas station where Marine's card worked just fine. We pumped and were on our way with directions to what we thought was a McDonalds just down the road.

Not so.

Not only did we not find a McDonalds, we found nothing but a beautiful cathedral. Yes, the boys were thrilled when I pointed it out to them.

Hungry, tired and kinda lost- we kept on.

At least we had gas.

About this time, we saw a sign welcoming us to LUXEMBOURG and call from Ty asking where we were. We were supposed to be picking him up from work. He was more than a little surprised when I instead told him we were trying to get back into Germany.

"You're not in Germany?" was his reply.
Nope.

Adding Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany- it wasn't a four-star day, but  a four-country day

I told Ty to get a taxi home, we would eventually make it back.

Following the signs and the map, we did make it to Germany and eventually home.

We had Ty order and bring home food from our Burgerstube down the road.

A McDonalds or any other fast-food restaurant was no where to be found.
No Sonic in every small-town village over here- that's for sure.

Seriously, this is Europe. 

I couldn't make their entire trip so easy. This was my life for the first year we lived here!

Our schnitzel and flamkuchen was delicious.

We were exhausted and relieved to be home.

I think Caden might perhaps be scarred.
He did let me know more than a few times if I had gotten gas when he told me to {back in Belgium} that this would have never happened.

He is his daddy's boy and his brother's {Justin} clone.

I don't think when I go back to Tongeren that anything I might say can convince them to go.
I'll take my man instead- he missed out on this party.

Always an adventure.
Always.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

BEAUTIFUL Cochem and Eltz

A year and a half ago, we went as a family to Burg Eltz- possibly my favorite castle. 
At the end of that blog post {link above}, I said I would happily repeat a visit to this castle. 


I was delighted to take my mom and tante Marine. 
Even better, this time it was sans kids which made it the perfect day to take the tour.  
 
From Burg Eltz, we drove less than an hour to Cochem Castle.
The castle is beautiful,but the view of the Mosel River is my favorite part of going to Cochem.
We walked.
We shopped.
We ate.
Repeat.

I am obsessed with window boxes and the flowers here.
Flowers growing up from the smallest crack in the sidewalk amaze me.
{**click on picture to enlarge}
I was drawn to this window box in the above right corner. I then noticed an even more beautiful picture of the elderly woman next door standing at the window looking out.

This is typical and common. 

I still love it.
In our village, we have an older man who most afternoons can be seen standing in the window just watching the cars go down the roads in Mackenbach.

After a year of waving, he finally started waving back as we round the corner .
Now, we wave every chance we have.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

not-so-homemade G E R K I N S

There are just some places in this world that I don't think you can ever tire of visiting. 
Two years ago, we went as a family to Kehlstein {Hitler's Eagle's Nest} with Starr and Mac.It was absolutely stunning and a place I definitely wanted to take my mom and Marine.

For this day trip from Garmisch, we left the little guys in the cabin with Ty while we headed down to the Austrian border alone for a day full of more laughs than we could have ever planned.

For information on the beauty and awe of Kehlstein, you can read about our 2011 trip here.

After our visit to the top of the mountain, we decided we were ready for lunch.

It is always a good challenge to find a cool off-the-beaten-path cafe or restaurant for meals.

It is way more fun hanging with the locals than with the American and Asian tourists, right?

Starving, we were shocked how difficult it was to find a place to eat.

It was early afternoon, but we weren't in France- things should have been open.
Germans eat.

Finally, we spotted a patio area with umbrellas out that looked like a place food might be served. Taking a chance, we stopped.

In the small group of locals, one lady spoke English.
It was our lucky day!

She and her husband had biked over the border from Salzburg to have a beer at their favorite little hang out.

She asked the owner if she had any lunch and let us know she would prepare us some sausages. It sounded perfect.
They literally pulled out the seat cushions for our patio chairs and made us feel at home. We were really excited- this could count as Germany and Austria being right on the border.

Doesn't get any more off the beaten path than this, right?

While we waited, we had a nice cold drink and soaked up some sun.

The weather was delightful.

Then, our food came.
It was not quite what we had in mind, but still very nice.

Of course, her presentation was beautiful.

The breads are always delicious.
The tomatoes and cucumbers were garden-fresh fabulous.
The cheese was nice and mild.

Marine took one for the team and ate the onions and meats.
On top of this platter, we had pickles.

Delicious, crunchy German pickles.Not too dill. Not too sweet. Just right.

After being told {by our Salzburg woman} how everything was homemade, fresh and wonderful here we assumed that maybe the pickles were as well.

How in the world could we get a jar of homemade pickles?

By this time, our English-speaking woman was on her bike back to Salzburg. We were left with my rusty German and another man who let us know he spoke English as well.

On our first attempt, the woman said yes we could get more pickles and brought a plate out for us.

We ate those, but still wanted to buy a jar. A whole jar.
The not-so-good translating of our German friend ended up with him taking a pickle off our plate back to the kitchen to ask her if we could buy some.

How hard could this be? Using my limited German vocabulary, I even told him gurkins. We want to buy gurkins!

The owner came out with the man in tow still trying to figure out what these crazy Americans wanted. When I told her gurkins- she said, "Ahh, gurkins... "

We still can't figure out what in the world he was saying.
Even more funny, we ended up with a bottle {from Aldi} of Gurkins and an extra buck on our bill to cover it.

So much for homemade pickles.
I'm sure they are still laughing.
We are, that's for sure.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

rustic C A B I N

From Rothenburg, it was down to Garmisch.

Hotel rooms were booked, but lucky for us- they had a rustic cabin open. For the boys, it was better than a hotel room.
The boys could still swim at the hotel and feel like we were camping. Only we had clean sheets and modern conveniences including a refrigerator, TV with DVD player and Wi-Fi Internet.
Marine had the great idea of starting a fire and cooking hot dogs. The boys were thrilled to not only cook, but to play with fire. It did not matter to them that it was pouring rain. They were so happy.

As she mentioned to Coleman that she sometimes has good ideas, Coleman innocently let her know that "she did have one good idea."

Oh, Coleman.
The hot dogs were really  good. s'mores were delicious. 
Everyone was happy.
It didn't even matter that it was raining.