31 December 2011

I'm a Master Furniture Builder!

When is being single not a whole lot of fun? When your car has been making a funny noise for a while. (I must take it to the shop on Monday.) When you need furniture built. Wait a minute. Not so much when you have Ikea! Don't laugh at me! Looking at their German and American websites the prices are almost spot on at what they are in the store.

I'm from the US Gulf Coast, and I had never heard of Ikea before I moved to Germany. For those of you like me it is a huge warehouse/box store with inexpensive, easy to put together furniture and some accessories. Who doesn't want to live here?

Or here?

A couple days ago I bought a bin organizer and a shelf with a removable changing table.

Cute carpet too, huh? Both only took a little while to assemble and were very easy too. The toy bin is a lot more study, well built than the shelf. It's made out of press wood and the flat pieces on the outside is only held on with baby wooden dowels/rods about an inch long. I don't expect it to last more than one or two moves - about 5 years.

I think one of the best things about Ikea is Small Land. Sometimes its really nice to just be alone. They take kids 3 and up for an hour and a half. I have confidence that my kids are fine there but they are 4 and 8. All you need is your Ausweis or Passport. Driver's licenses are not accepted.

In this area there is one store in Mannheim-Scharhof (right off the A6) and one in Waldorf (a few kms south of Heidelberg on the A5). A word of warning: I would never, ever leave my kids in the Small Land at the Waldorf location. If you need details let me know.

If you go:
Frankenthaler Str 123, 68307 Mannheim (Scharhof)
Hans-Holbein-Str. 2, Walldorf, 69190
Sells furniture,accessories, a Swedish food area, and a cafeteria style restaurant

27 December 2011

A Christmas Find

On Christmas Day we had a Skype Christmas to the States. I was lonely. Perfect time for our normal 2 mile dog walk. This (like lots of things) goes much slower with 3 kids. Sans bikes I decided we should skip the normal route through Rohrbach and go the oposite way. The great thing about living here is that there are bike paths all over the place. Everywhere! It really is quite nice. When we were in the states I don't think I knew what a bike path was.

Aparently right behind Rohrbach is Kircheim and the Heidelberg Messplatz. This is where they have special events like the flea markets. We saw something with a lot of bright lights. The boys decided we needed to investigate. I thought it was just the garden restaurant. Wrong! This is what we found:

The Heidelberg Weihnachts Circus. If we didn't have the dog we would have seen the show. You can see other pics here.  What a treat for anyone.

If you go:
Heidelberg Weihnachtscircus
Heidelberg Messplatz
Kircheimer Weg, accessible by bus/tram
tickets range from 20-30 Euros for adults and 5Euro less for kids

Let me know what you think!!

25 December 2011

Restaurant Review: Pizza Hut

On December the 23rd I had a brilliant idea. We should go down to the Heidelberg Christmas Market. The one in Mannheim was open, so Heidelberg's should be too. Not so much. So my kids and I just walked around and did some more exploring of the Altstadt (Old Town). We found an African restaurant, a seafood restaurant that I've heard a lot about and a bar built around a tree. All are must try's. We ended up at Pizza Hut on Hauptstrasse.

Since Santa just had a baby and there is a ball coming up we ordered kids meals and dessert. Their food was 3.90 Euro a piece and came with a drink. One guy ordered pizza and the other had chicken and fries. Who orders this a Pizza Hut? My little weirdo. We also had a large Cola Light and the Chocolate Chip Cookie dessert. The bill was 14.90 Euro. A bit more than $20.

In true German fashion it took us an hour and a half.  I love long leisurely meals, just without 3 kids in tow. They were satisfied with the food and it was decent. I was surprised that the waitress brought us a fun pack "Viel Spass mit der Hutt Mutts" (have fun with the Hut Mutts). Inside were too little toys to keep them entertained. We got a whistle helicopter, a puzzle, a fun eraser and a little wooden toy that we deemed to be for the baby. We've been here plenty of times and this was the first time we were given anything for the kids.

In Heidelberg there are two Pizza Huts. One on Hebel Strasse across from McDonalds and the one on Hauptstrasse. I know the one on Hebel Str. has a lunch special during the week and also a special between lunch and dinner. Both are around 6 Euro and include a drink. I believe the lunch one has a two topping personal pizza and garlic bread. The afternoon one has a one topping pizza and a drink. totally enough food though.

If you go:
Hebelstrasse 3 or Hauptsrtasse 111, Heidelberg
Cuisine: REAL American pizza, pasta and salads
I would estimate 30-40 Euro for a family to eat individual meals or less if sharing a pizza.
Kid friendly and has room for strollers
Bathrooms are okay, but could be cleaner. I would never use their changing table though.

UPDATE: I forgot to tell you all that there is a take out window on the fussgangerstrasse. Very affordable. I beleieve I paid around 7 Euros for 3 pieces of pizza and a 0,3l soda.

20 December 2011

Different? The Same?

The more time I spend here in Germany the more I realize how different Americans are to Europeans. Basically, people are all the same: school, spouse, kids, a good life. However, we just don't think or behave the same.

Germans are more, humm, aloof or standoffish. They are very abrupt and straight forward. It used to bother me a lot because I thought no one liked me. How insecure is that? I volunteered/worked at this nonprofit; I thought that the lady who ran the place hated me. I would avoid her at all costs. Come to find out we were just different. I have also found that the older generation is different from the younger one. That's everywhere. There are exceptions on both sides. I did have a doctor, that was not much older than myself, tell me 'I just don't understand why you're asking questions.' I was beyond thankful when my OB showed up!

Americans tend to live in a bubble. We're taught that we are right, the way we live is the right way and there is no better place in the world to be. The more time I spend abroad the more I realize this is just wrong. I am so grateful to be an American, but there are other great societies too. There are so many different cultures and languages here. It's completely normal to hear German, English, French, Russian or other languages all in one outing. You drive for a few hours and you're in a different country with all new customs and traditions. Are Europeans just more adaptable than us? Our states decided to form a union, so it may be a little different but its all the same. Is that the big difference? That Europeans are just more aware of other countries?

17 December 2011

Expat Survey

The other day I found this survey. It is for an American living in Brussels that is a lecturer on migration and politics. The questions are very interesting and thought provoking. While I don't consider myself to be an expat, maybe you do and wouldn't mind helping her out. The survey is here.

16 December 2011

Uncle Sam

This is completely random, but I just can't stop thinking about it. In America we all have an Uncle Sam. Sometimes he's pushy and demanding. It doesn't really feel like he cares about his family. You do what he says mostly without question. He definitely has too much say in my life. He always wants to borrow money. Sometimes he repays a bit, but mostly he just wants more. (I always pay Uncle Sam without complaints) Once he even surprised us all, he gave us more than we expected. Yep, that's right. Uncle Sam is the good ole USA. It's a nickname for our government.

Being government employees sometimes we don't get to chose where we work or live. Okay, only once in the last 10 years did we almost get a choice. Plans were changed at the last minute. Because of this I have had the joy of explaining the nonsensical to my kids. How do you tell them 'we just have to move' or 'no, honey, we can't go back to our house in Georgia for a few more years'. They will just keep asking questions. Lately I've just told them 'Because Uncle Sam says so'. Thankfully they are small enough that this is a good enough explanation.

Do other governments have something like this? What is it called? What would Germans have? An Uber BergerMeister? Do other nations have a national identity like this? Surely they must, no? Please tell me!!

13 December 2011

Oh no!

I'm on home confinement. Another day of this I think that I will go crazy. My little guy sounds like a toad. He has a cough for like the last couple days. He's been surviving on lots of Triamenic and being attached to Mom. While I love the little guy, let me out!!

11 December 2011

Going Green

It's hard not to pay attention to the footprint that you leave behind. Here in Germany it is mandatory to recycle. There are bins for rubbish, paper/cardboard, yellow bags (plastics, aluminum and things like that) and Bio waste for composting. It always irks me when my neighbors don't seperate their garbage. How hard is it really? Recycling is the first step. Then comes homemade cleaners and cloth diapers...

Now, I'd like to tell you that I started making my own laundry soap because I am sooo Earth conscience. Actually I was broke and the $10 Tide wasn't cutting it anymore. Not having a job sucks! For the record I would use the recommended amount of liquid detergent and a booster, like OxyClean, as well. Don't forget the Snuggle. Now, I use my homemade cleaner, about half a cup, a booster like OxyClean and vinegar. I've been making my own detergent for more than a year now. I really am happy with the results. I still have to use a booster for my kids clothes. They are just so hard on their jeans.

I originally got inspiration from the Duggar Family. They are inspiring in many ways. Here is the recipe I use: I'll tell you at the end how I change it up for me

5 gallon bucket
one bar of soap
1 cup Washing soda* (not to be confused with baking soda)
1/2 cup borax*
essential oil if you like
*can be found in German stores too

Grate the soap (using a regular ole cheese grater)

Fill up your bucket about half way with warm water. Put a good size pot of water on the stove, add your grated soap. Stir until it is melted.

To your bucket add washing soda, then the borax. Stir until dissolved.
Next, add the soap mixture and stir well. Fill it all the way up with warm water.
Put the lid on and let sit overnight. This is what it will look like:
It will be a gel like. Wisk it up good, then fill your container half way with the detergent and half with water. Shake it up before you use it. That's it! Easy.

Notes: Most recipes you find online are all about the same. Some tell you to use a certain amount of water to melt the soap. They also tell you to use Fels-Naptha bar soap. I've never seen this, nor is it available here. I still can't figure out what is so special about this soap. I've used Dove because that is the only soap I will put on my face. This last time I used this organic Lemongrass soap that was uber easy to grate and smells wonderful.

Most recipes tell you a certain amount of water melt the soap in. I just fill up my gumbo pot about half way. I also use a 15l bucket. Where in Germany am I going to find a 5 gallon bucket? Also, I only cut the detergent with water to a 3:1 ratio. My kids are hard on their clothes. We have no hand-me-downs. I also still you OxyClean as a booster in their loads of clothes. I have never had any problems with my clothes. I also use vinegar in a Downy Ball instead of fabric softner. The first time you use it you will smell it when you open the lid, but it will smell normal after drying. I haven't noticed since that first load.

This was an easy transition to make. It is simple, and last for quite a while. I feel good that I reuse one plastic container (usually until I give it away) instead of 2 a month. If you don't want to make so much just cut it down to fill the container you have. My friend uses 1/3 of the ingredients to fit in a gallon bottle.

Other great make at home cleaners are a multipurpose spray, glass cleaner, and dishwasher detergent. I am just venturing into cloth diapers and wipes. We make our own play dough too! The kids love this. What do you do to reduce your footprint?

10 December 2011

Mannheim Christmas Market!

I LOVE Christmas time! Not the getting of presents on the 25th, but everything between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's the feeling in the air. The atmosphere. People are nicer; the air is crisp. (Last year at this time there was snow already) People are more giving of themselves. My favorite place at Christmas is Natchitoches, LA. I went to a boarding school there for the last couple years of high school. I loved to go and walk down front street and window shop. Stop in to Cafe Isabelle (no longer there) for a cup of hot chocolate or the ever cool cappuccino. I went back there 5 or 6 years  ago, and I still miss it.

Anyway, in Germany they have Christmas Markets. I think all towns have them. The larger ones are open everyday. The smaller cities' markets are open just on the weekend or they are only for one weekend. A couple days after TOM Turkey we took the S-Bahn to Mannheim with a few friends. Seriously, America needs to get with it on public transportation! We spent like 6 hours at the market there. On the way to the library we drove past the market, and by the time we went on Saturday they could barely contain themselves. There is rides for the kids, plenty of vendors selling everything from gemstones and decorations to vintage signs, and all kinds of food. The best part is the gluwein!! Hot red wine, yum! Sometimes you can get white, honey or in Heidelberg, Heidelbeere. I haven't tried that one yet though I've heard it's the best. It was such a wonderful day. Shopping. Eating, drinking. Lots of great conversation. If you ever have a chance to go to a Christmas market you should.

If you decide to go:

In Mannheim, open daily from 23 November to 23 December, 11am to 9 pm
It is all around the Water Tower, just a short walk from the Hauptbahnhof
There is also a smaller market at the Kapunizerplanken behind Engelhorn
Go here for more markets and info. Also, they get the photo credit for the pic at the top. Have fun!
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