Friday, December 30, 2011

Our First Christmas in Germany

I am embarrassed to admit I found myself almost dreading Christmas this year. I knew it would be incredibly difficult being so far from our loved ones on such a cherished holiday that is so centered around togetherness and being with family. I kept reminding myself that I needed to focus on the important part of the season, as well as the fact I needed to treasure making Christmas our own with our own sweet little family. I also reminded myself what a cool opportunity it is to be here and I need to enjoy the ride!

Christmas is a pretty big deal in Germany. There are Christmas markets held throughout the country; smaller towns typically hold them one weekend sometime between the end of November and Christmas, while bigger cities hold them open the whole time, even during the week. Münich, Dresden, Nuremburg and even Stuttgart are some of the better-known markets, but there are literally hundreds scattered all across Germany as well as Austria and Switzerland (and likely elsewhere too)! Going to a big, crowded market wasn’t really our cup of tea, especially with two small kids, so we opted for a small market in the nearby town of Maichingen. It is a 25 minute walk from our house. We were half way there when I discovered I forgot my camera :P We were surprised with how crowded this “unknown” market was…it was so packed we could not maneuver the stroller! My severely claustrophobic husband stayed on the outskirts with the baby while I took Kane and browsed the various booths of homemade goods, offering things such as scarves, ornaments, food, etc… We met up with my friend Friederike and her family, and they were so kind to treat us to some gluhwein, which is hot, mulled wine. It was delicious and perfect for a crisp, December night! I didn’t end up buying anything and had intended to go to at least one other market, but it didn’t pan out between fighting colds, lack of a car, and it being a bit of a hassle to go places with two little ones. Next year! I hope we can check out Esslingen, Ludwigsburg, Ulm and Tübingen at the very least.

I finally got some holiday cheer when we found a cute little pre-lit tree on base. It was the weekend before Christmas and I could not wait to put it up. Kane was an excellent helper and his excitement over Santa coming to visit was absolutely contagious! Nearly every day new packages arrived from our loved ones and Kane couldn’t wait to get them settled under the tree. Christmas is NOT about the gifts, and about so much more, but seeing those packages arrive and wait under the tree was a constant reminder of our wonderful families that lovingly sent those gifts from so far away.

On Christmas Eve, I made a roast, with mashed potatoes and gravy and greenbeans flavored with bacon and onion. And a cherry pie (thanks to Sara Lee). It turned out nice and Lucy got her first bit of solid food (squash) to celebrate as well! We had decided we would have the kids open their gifts from us and Chad’s side of the family that night, since they celebrate it on Christmas Eve. But first, Chad read us the story of the birth of Jesus from Luke. It was a special memory watching him read it as Kane eagerly listened in his lap. I couldn’t help but think of missing our family, but it also struck me that we were making it our own and starting our traditions. It was a really wonderful evening.
I could not contain my excitement over Santa coming to visit and gained a whole new appreciation for our parents and the lengths they went to for us making Christmas morning special. We had decided the kids would receive one present from Santa and one or two from us, and well as one from each other. That is it. We knew they’d be getting many other things from their grandparents and we did not want the emphasis on Christmas to become about how many presents they get. Kane asked Santa for a “see-saw” and “cutter thing”, which we knew to mean tools. Lucy didn’t care obviously, but she definitely needed some age-appropriate toys! Before bed, we made sure to leave Santa some peanutbutter cookies I’d made and some milk and we wrote him a note. While I got Kane settled in bed, Chad already started putting together his tool bench. We could not wait to see his face the next morning!
It went just as I had imagined…he loved it and I think was just as excited over the fact Santa ate the cookies and drank the milk! My mom happened to be up extremely late and skyped with us at about 9 a.m. and it was a treat to see her face and have Kane show her all of his favorite new things.

We had planned to drive to Strasbourg, France for Christmas Day…however we had to change the plans when Chad realized he’d need his International driver’s license and there was an issue taking the rental car out of the country or else we’d face a huge fine if caught. We chose not to risk it and decided to go to Hohenzollern Castle instead. It was a place I’d been wanting to go for awhile and one of the only things open on Christmas. It was windy and cold, but both kids did amazingly well and tolerated me stopping every 50 yards to take another picture. It was beautiful, and while it wasn’t quite France, it was still a really neat adventure. 

Our Christmas 2011 was a most memorable one, not only was it our first with Lucy, it was our first we made our own. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Eventful November

A Special Visitor
November came and went in a flurry of big events for the Jones family! My mom came to visit and was here from the 10th through the 15th. It was too short, but still such an awesome visit. She flew in on my sister-in-law Kaylee’s buddy passes through US Airways and flew from Denver to Philadelphia, where she boarded her plane only to be faced with mechanical difficulties and was delayed by 6 hours. She then flew from Philly to Frankfurt and took a train from there to Stuttgart.
I had only had my driver’s license for a few weeks and only driven alone a handful of times and was nervous to go pick her up in the heart of Stuttgart (big, busy city!) I missed the correct autobahn exit not once, but twice, so I was very late picking her up. It was so surreal and exciting to see her face! I then proceeded to get turned around by turning right when I should have turned left because our GPS can be hopelessly vague and late to the party. I needed a serious glass of wine by the time we made it home, but it was an adventure we conquered nonetheless, and it was so wonderful to have her here.
During her time here, we made a little trek to the Ikea that is about 5 minutes away…she’s never been to one. We were sucked in to buying a few household goods and so incredibly tickled by our lunch that cost €10 and we bought 3 entrees, 3 desserts, and 3 drinks. We also took a 25 minute walk to the nearby town of Maichingen, which is so charming and we got Döner Kebap (sort of like gyros), falafel, and pizza and then enjoyed Italian gelato on our way home. The weather was beautiful the whole time she was here…exactly how you’d imagine a perfect autumn, complete with colorful trees and fog-covered mornings giving way to bright and cheerful afternoons. We also showed her the base and went to dinner at a great place called the Römerhof in Vaihingen, where we got our first taste of spätzle…an amazing homemade German pasta.
                                               Enjoying some Turkish food

On her last day here, we had really wanted to do something special and show her a neat part of Germany.  The original plan was to go to Heidelberg, but our Land Rover was acting a little funny, so we were nervous taking it too far. My friend Friederike recommended we go see Tübingen, a town full of character and beauty that sits on the Neckar River that was only 30 minutes away. I am SO glad we went. The weather was crisp and gorgeous and immediately we were taken with its charm. We went to lunch at a place called the Neckarmüller that is a brewery. Mom was anxious to try some famed German beer. We ordered pretzels and potato and sausage soup and it was beyond delicious. We then walked to the Marktplatz (basically like town center/square), which was a maze of narrow, cobblestoned streets edged with shops and historic buildings. Mom desperately wanted to see a castle while she was here. As luck would have it there was one! Schloss Hohentübingen was originally a castle from the 2nd Century, that was rebuilt and added upon over the centuries and became a part of the university in 1816. It was closed for tours that day, but we were able to enjoy seeing the outer walls and take pictures from the amazing view as it overlooks the whole city. Overall, it was an amazing, most memorable day.
It was so difficult to see her get into the taxi the next morning and I spent most of the day moping, but Kane, my dear, sweet boy was intuitive to my sadness and kept giving me extra hugs, kisses and love. It was exactly what I needed!

We Have a Kindergartener!
The next day was a momentous occasion for us…Kane started Kindergarten. In Germany, the children attend Kindergarten from ages three through six. I was a little shocked at myself that I didn’t get more emotional at the thought, but we were in too big of a rush for it to hit me. It did a few days later! He was so excited and had zero apprehension. He walked right in the classroom and started playing with the fun new toys and other children. There are two groups, one I cannot attempt to say or spell, and the other is the Sonnenkinder (Sun children) which is the group he is in. He has one teacher that speaks fair English and the other two do not speak any. They all are lovely, wonderful ladies. He has had a bit of an adjustment…re-learning how to share and play well with others. The last year I was not working and he had little interaction with other children. This has been SO wonderful for him and he absolutely loves it. It also gives momma a nice break and the chance to have some special time with Lucy.

The end of the month was rounded off by us hosting our first ever Thanksgiving. It was kind of a big deal for us because this was the first time in our lives we’d ever not spent it with other family and the first time hosting. I was afraid to tackle a turkey in the oven I had not yet figured out, so we decided upon Mexican food…something hard to come by here and something we’d been craving. I made a big pot of green chile, homemade refried beans, a Mexican chicken casserole, dip (with chips), and a sourcream-based soup (that never even made it out to the stove because I forgot about it. So like me). Five of Chad’s work colleagues came and it was a really lovely time. It was fun to celebrate in the company of others and meet some new friends!