Sunday Snapshots: Festivity!

Wisconsin, 2016

This is what happens when your friend and her fiancé figure, “hey, everyone will be in town for the holidays anyway, let’s get married right before Christmas!”

Which is exactly what they did. Winter weddings can be so pretty, and done for a dime if a venue is already decorated to the nines like theirs was. Major wedding hack right there. Then just get all the aunties to supply the Christmas cookie bar and it’s off to the races! Win win win. 🙂

Sunday Snapshots: Who Said More Cookies?

Franconia, 2016

Way back in 2011, VillageGal and I began a tradition of baking Christmas cookies together. Back then their daughter was but a tiny mouse, and we were highly unscientific bakers. Six years later, they’ve moved, added another little lady to the mix, and I’ve brought BV to the party. We are still highly unscientific bakers though, so not everything has changed.

Now that the girls are a bit older, they’ve graduated from napping while we decorate to taking full part in the whole cookie-baking process. The cookies pictured about may not fit the traditional Christmas aesthetic (pink butterflies? Sure, why not?) but they are Kinder-approved.

Sunday Snapshots: Lebkuchen Time!

Wisconsin, 2016

Last year when BV and I traveled to the States to spend Christmas with my family, we had a few extra items packed into our suitcases. Namely, gingerbread spices, and Oblaten, the white discs pictured above. Those are the special wafers that traditionally form the bottom of Lebkuchen. I don’t recall ever seeing something like that in the U.S., so we figured it was safer to bring our own.

While this attempt at German-style gingerbread was not particularly successful, I’m hoping that when cookie time comes around this year, we’ll do better! It’s December now, so we probably ought to get going on that one…

Sunday Snapshots: Epic Tree Location

Salzburg, 2014

Salzburg, 2014

Back in the day, my sister, dad, grandpa, and I were often dispatched on cookie baking weekend to go pick out our Christmas tree for the year. Some years we went to a tree farm and cut one down, but more often it was a gas station or home improvement store that was selling trees. Needless to say, this tree lot next to the Salzburg Cathedral crushes even the nicest tree display, strictly based on location.

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A Penguin for Your Thoughts?

penguin ornament

I wish I could say that I actually have a penguin to give anyone who reads this post, or to myself for writing it, but I’m guessing PETA would have something to say about that. Instead, we will all have to survive with only a picture of a penguin ornament as my slightly-awkward segue into this post about what the hell has been going on lately.

To say that life has been busy lately is something of an understatement. On the positive side, I’ve managed to pick up a bit more work. The timing was great, as some other work is/has been ending, and I was getting a little worried about filling the void. But things are looking up for next year, and finding a bit of work to finish this year off with was a very unexpected surprise. Not a ton of classes start right before Christmas, so I felt very lucky to fall into working with the school that I did.

On the downside, my three-week break will be interrupted by one day of work at the end of the month, as a company wants a trial lesson. What kind of maniacs are working between Christmas and New Year, you might ask? Hopefully the kind that really like me and want to have lots and lots of English lessons. I’m going to have to bring my A-game for that one, which may mean I need to find and dust off my A-game.

But of course, life hasn’t been all about work. Since my last post, BV and I have been either 1) working, 2) socializing, or 3) slightly ill. December kicked off with our hosting our fourth Thanksgiving together, with the usual chaos of a full house and all that goes with it. We took almost no pictures on the day (once again), but here’s the turkey….

turkey 2015

It looks a bit dry in this picture, but it was not. I’m basically a turkey ninja at this point. A big shout-out has to go to B (not BV), my sous-chef, who is an excellent chopper, and filler of cooking wine/prosecco. As an added bonus, we had enough leftovers for Thanksgiving II on the following day, when  BV’s parents joined us for lunch. Win-win!

Oh, and just in time for Thanksgiving, I finally finished painting/staining all of our new chairs. BV and I have been searching for wooden chairs since some friends gave us a new dining table two years ago, and as it turns out, it’s been a more difficult and time-consuming search than I anticipated. Now we’re shooting to have eight chairs at some point, but we are up to five, and they are all in service. It’s not a great picture, but here’s Marry die Katze modeling the table/chairs in the living room, where they are living until after his parents visit us on Christmas Eve (our kitchen has a dining nook, but it’s too small to actually use).

new chairs

That table is taking away half of our living room and making me nuts, but it makes more sense to just leave it in here over the holidays. Marry is mostly upset that it is temporarily replacing her favorite chair, so now she has to sit on the table to stare at us instead. Cats, am I right? Anyway.

Just a few days after Thanksgiving, the Christmas cookie factory officially opened for business when we hosted several of BV’s friends/colleagues for an evening of baking. We came out the other side with a few kinds of cookies, and a nasty cold for me. Luckily I recovered by the following weekend, when I headed south for the fifth year of baking with the Villagers. Their girls are alternately super helpful (decorating) and unhelpful (distracting me by standing on chairs/singing the ABCs at the top of their lungs on either side of me while I try to mix the tricky pink cookies with one hand and reread the recipe on my phone with the other hand. This led me to add waaaaaaaaaaaay too much vinegar, and then we had to start the whole damn thing over again.) but they are adorable enough to forgive most things.

My last week of work for this year was pretty enjoyable because the school feeling never seems to fade when it comes to Christmas vacation. That means movie time, and even Glühwein time in one group. Score! In my Wednesday classes, we watched an assortment of holiday videos, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, and a couple of different holiday episodes of The Office. Plus, I got some sweet goodies including…

bier book

That’s right, damn near 700 breweries and brew restaurants just in Franconia. Not in all of Germany, or even Bavaria… just Franconia. By that logic, we should have one in our garden. Just from flipping through, I already found one brew restaurant with my last name, so I fully intend on visiting it and staking my claim.

With work wrapped up for the year, BV and I settled into vacation mode starting last Friday. Preparations for the holiday are slowly being made, and on Saturday we went to visit our old tree man. He had a rough year due to the heat, and apparently a lot of his saplings didn’t make it though the year. We found a nice little tree though, and also enjoyed being followed through the “forest,” by this little cat…

tree lot

Slightly blurry, sorry. My iPhone isn't into focusing these days. Or working, generally.

Slightly blurry, sorry. My iPhone isn’t into focusing these days. Or working, generally.

Tomorrow will be our main shopping day, and luckily we don’t have too much to buy. I’m also hoping the weather cooperates, and we can have a bit of a poke around the Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt without getting soaked. The weather has either been rainy, or spectacular sunrises like this…

wed sunrise

…which then give way to more gray skies. The Wisconsin part of me hurts to say this, but snow would be preferable to rain. At least the Christmas markets would feel more festive. We visited the market in Fürth with friends last week, and the drizzle didn’t let up all evening. We still had a nice time, and handily the main Glühwein stand was covered, very full, and had a roaring fire in the center of it. We had a bit to eat, a bit to drink, and a bit of a wander around town.

When I look at some of the other bloggers in Germany, I feel pretty slacker-ish. I don’t know how in the world some of them manage to pack in as many Christmas markets and other festivities as they do, but well done kids! This year, I’ll just have to settle for two markets, but as you just read, it’s been a busy month over here.

Since chances are I won’t get around to posting again before Christmas, I’d just like to say I hope all of you readers have a lovely holiday and lots of time with family and friends! Enjoy lots of treats, good times, and maybe even a little snow, depending on your location. 😉

Frohe Weihnachten!

Consumer Alerts: German-Style

As I walked through the city today with a rain/snow mix coming down in gusts, an unmistakable smell was in the air. Sweet and smoky mixed in the air near stands with grills full of bratwurst, piles of roasted nuts, and Glühwein hot and ready to serve. They are already serving these tasty treats all around the city, and the usual red and white striped awnings of the farmer’s market have moved from the Hauptmarkt into the main part of the city. That can only mean one thing:

That’s right, tomorrow is the opening day of the world-famous Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt. Tomorrow evening, the woman chosen as this year’s Christkind will appear on the church balcony, recite the traditional speech, and officially open the market for the season. But anticipation for the market this year has been marred by some truly disturbing news…. 

I was driving to work with HP yesterday morning when I first heard the story on the news. I didn’t really think it was a big story but then… I saw it all over town….

Cup 50 cents up
Three Euros for the cup: Glühwein is expensive fun.

I saw at least four of these yesterday, and heard about it on the radio. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to live in a country that doesn’t have murders on the news every day, but is this really that big of a story? A 20% increase is fairly big (feel free to check my math on that one), but I don’t think they’ll sell that much less Glühwein this year as a result. 

So if you’re planning on visiting the market this year, consider yourself warned. Get your budget in order (and don’t forget to account for the Pfand on your little boot glass as well if you want to bring it home as a souvenir), and get ready for some Christmas-y goodness. For my part, I’m excited for the Heisse Caipirinhas in the Hütte at Cafe Lucas, and my first Feuerzangenbowle, which I was told I HAD to try last year, but never got to it. Oh, and another friend told me that the French stand at the ‘Sister City’ market has hot pear juice spiked with rum. Oooooh, this will be good.

I should probably eat something, too. Otherwise it’ll be a fairly booze-soaked event. Luckily there is plenty of food as well.

Cookies, cookies, cookies
A small Feuerzangenbowle
The usual suspects: giant heart cookies

Anybody else looking forward to the markets this year?

A Tale of Three Christmases

The first 25 Christmases I had on this planet were pretty standard. Every year I can remember, we had family over to our house. Over the years, the numbers fluctuated, but in the last few years, they were mostly going down. As my cousins grew up and moved away, older relatives passed, our Christmas got steadily quieter. It went from us kids providing the entertainment, to our pets providing the entertainment. Which they do quite well.

When I left the U.S., I pretty much accepted the fact that I wouldn’t always get home for Christmas. And while I miss my family, of course, I also pretty much know how it’s going to go, and what conversations I would (or wouldn’t) be missing. The last few years have proved pretty interesting, so if you’re bored, click on… there will be pictures! And everyone likes pictures, right? I mean, if there are pictures, that means less words, doesn’t it? Anyway. Click on!

2009.
My first Christmas away from home. Also the first Christmas away from home for my two roommates who were in the “Too poor to fly home” boat with me. Or didn’t have legal paperwork to leave the country. Small details. But we decided we would rally, cook, and generally make the best of our situation. Luckily, my roomie Karl was a pretty rockin’ cook, and was able to put together a veritable feast. 

We went out for a Christmas Eve walk around the city. It was raining just a bit, and the streets were almost empty. In the Czech Republic, the real holiday is on the 24th, so the tourists were the only ones left. The Czechs were all out at their cottage, presumably feasting on carp soup and potato salad.  Karl and I wandered about, counting Christmas trees, and he even managed to get me into a midnight mass.

And that’s not even all of them. Prague has a lot of Christmas trees.

The next day, we got up “early,” and started cooking. Here’s a quick rundown of our menu….

Appetizers: Bagel Chips and Cheese
First Course: Italian Wedding Soup
Second Course: Pasta with Meatballs and Roasted Chicken!
Main Dish: Roasted Venison (with Karl’s secret ingredient: 10000lbs of butter)
Side Dish: Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
Side Dish: Asparagus and Carrots
Dessert: Strawberry Dumplings with Berries.

We started cooking at about 10am and had the last course at about 2am. We also had a box of stuffing that we forgot to make, and dessert came the following day because we couldn’t eat anymore. And for entertainment, we of course had some sweet decorations and Christmas movies. See….

Our amazing Christmas tree. Which is lashed to a lamp. And when we unplugged the TV to plug the lamp in, we lost our satellite forever.
Amazing decor.
Artful presents.
More artful presents. We liked hand-decorated wrapping.
Presents under the tree.
Yes, we made up a drinking game to the best Christmas episode of “The Office.” Behold, the Benihana Christmas drinking game.
We also drank Becherovka with Bing.

It was a bit of a ridiculous day, but it was really fun. Eating, drinking, trying to connect to family on Skype, and just generally having a good time. So the next year when it looked like everyone was going to be gone from Prague, I was happy to have a back-up plan.

2010.
I spent Christmas last year in Germany with ex-Freund and his family, who had flown over for the holidays. It was my first time with a family besides my own, and he’s not a big fan of them. So it was pretty interesting. We spent the days before and after Christmas doing some traveling, but Christmas Day was spent at home. It had good points and bad points, but it was a pretty typical family Christmas. We had more food than we knew what to do with, and entirely too much German beer. Luckily we had help to drink it all.

The Villagers and their family also stopped by for a few hours, and we had a good time hanging out and playing games. A particular favorite was this one called “Werewolves.” It’s a role-play game, but was a lot of fun. If you’re a werewolf, you get to murder people, and who doesn’t love doing that to your family on Christmas?

Which brings us to this year and my triumphant return to the U.S….

2011.
I was pretty excited to get to tell my Grandma that I was coming home this year. And two seconds later, I told her that I wasn’t sticking around. And why not? Well, because my friend had secured four tickets to the Packer/Bear game at Lambeau Field, and one of those tickets was mine as long as I could get here! Luckily, my family is all Wisconsin born and bred, and they understand that Packer tickets are something that you do not turn down if you can help it. So our normal family Christmas was slightly amended to work around my schedule. We started off with the normal morning at home….

Kaylee kept up the Christmas tradition of eating as much wrapping paper as possible while we decorated her with leftover ribbon. Because she’s the prettiest girl in the world. And you remember when you were a kid, and you got candy (ok, and socks) in your stocking? 

Yep, in my old age, candy has been replaced with vitamin D. I maintain that M&M’s are better for you. But the handwarmers/footwarmers would come in handy for the game.

After the family arrived, we did some quick gift-opening, because I had to hit the road. And by hit the road, I mean take pictures while driving up to Green Bay because I was bored.

Ah, scenic Wisconsin in December. It’s prettier with snow, but I was quite happy to have clear roads for a 2+ hour drive. Especially since I’ve clearly been spoiled with public transportation because I was way too easily distracted while driving. Not good. I guess that means I have to stay car-free. 

But the end of the drive came soon enough. I stopped for my friend Alicia, and we made our way to the tailgate party in Green Bay. Luckily, my friend Courtney’s aunt and uncle live two minutes from Lambeau, and were happy to host us before the game since Courtney and her husband were taking the 3rd and 4th tickets. Everyone was properly attired in an absurd amount of Packer gear, and we got ourselves prepped for gametime. 

Court shows off her Christmas present… Packer bibs!
Ready to go to the game!

When we got to the game, we wandered around the tailgate area for a while. We soaked in all of the bratwurst scent, beards, mullets, and choruses of “Best Christmas ever!” out in the parking lot.  Then it was time to pile into the stadium….

The hallowed ground of Lambeau Field.
With 70,000 of our closest friends.

The first sight of the field. It’s so pretty!

Our seats were in the very top row, but there really isn’t a bad seat at Lambeau. Plus, that meant we had the green wall behind us which means a backrest, and no need to worry about people behind us. All around, a pretty good deal. 

View from our seats during warm-up.
More warm-up.
America! Yeah!
Opening kick-off.
And Aaron Rodgers takes the first snap of the game…
which led to yet another Packer win!
The girls after the game.

After the game, it was back to Courtney’s aunt and uncle’s house, where we warmed up and recuperated before heading back to Alicia’s house for the night. I think we got pretty lucky temperature-wise, as it was in the 30’s for most of the game. Needless to say, Lambeau has seen much colder nights. But the handwarmers did get some use. 

So that’s it. My very long-winded tale of three very different, but pretty good Christmases. Hope you all had some good ones as well!