Saturday, December 31, 2016

And that's a wrap!

I seem to blog in extremes: 100+ pictures or none at all!  And this is an almost none at all -- I do have a few!

It's been very quiet around here which has been nice and sad at the same time.  Our whole married life (14 years this year woohoo!) I think we've had more Christmases by ourselves than with family and I enjoy it but family Christmases are so wonderful!

The kids loved Christmas though -- Megan declared that Santa did awesome this year and truly, we were all a little bit spoiled.  The kids were super excited to get sleds and I honestly can say that I hope we get an opportunity to use them!  With the girls riding the bus to school, I don't feel obligated to drive in bad weather.  William is in preschool 5 days a week so a day off here and there won't hurt him.  But our winter has been pretty mild.  Looking out the window now our yard is beautifully covered in frost, but no snow.

Because Christmas Day was on Sunday, I was worried about how the kids would react to going to church.  Especially since they've been sleeping in or playing until 7:30 or 8 and we have to leave the house by 9.   I shouldn't have worried.  They were up at 6 and had plenty of time to open presents before we left.  We had a beautiful "music and the spoken word" type sacrament meeting and it left me wishing that we would go to church every Christmas day.  What a wonderful way to refocus our thoughts on what is really important!!

These 2 weeks of break have been so nice and low-key.  I took Abby to the eye doctor and she needs glasses.  She picked out a pair in purple and they should be here in about a week.  Chopper took each of the kids on an individual date and spent some great time with them.  I've sewn a lot and watched favorite movies and the kids have played beautifully together for the most part.  I'm a little sad to go back to school next Tuesday!

One of Abby's presents was a cake pop - mini cupcake - mini donut maker.  We tried it out and were happy with the results!  I think there's going to be lots of pastries in our future!

I finally let the kids dig into their gingerbread houses.  Picking off candies one by one turned into a giant smash fest.  They ate hardly anything of course and in the end there was graham cracker on every floor downstairs so they were banished while I swept and vacuumed.

We've been getting little packages from friends in Texas -- it's been so sweet and fun!  The girls art teacher sent a copy of her new book that she has illustrated and an adorable little felt bat that they've been selling with the books.  They are both wonderful!

Tonight we're going to some friends' house for pizza and fireworks and then tomorrow is a new year!!  I don't need to recap this year certainly but its definitely been something else and something amazing!  I'm really grateful that the kids have adjusted so well and are enjoying this adventure that we're on.  I'm grateful that we are safe and comfortable in our everyday small-town German life and I'm grateful for the American bubble that the military and the church provides!!

As a family we have several goals for the new year:  to become better at family spiritual things and to explore more of Europe of course!  Right now we're planning on Prague in the spring, England and Scotland in the summer, and Austria in the fall!  Then of course our Saturdays doing day trips and the occasional long weekend at various destinations in Germany.  Individually I think Chopper's goals are to lose a little weight and get his program at work flowing smoothly.  Mine of course have to do with reading and sewing but I'm also going to try to hit the language hard this year and learn as much as I can.  Megan will hopefully continue to progress with overcoming anxiety and social situations and I expect Abby's reading to really take off.  William will start kindergarten and I'm hopeful that he'll start growing out of some of the things that make me crazy!  We're looking forward to an exciting and hopeful new year!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Today is Christmas Eve . . . and We're Ready!!

Halloween was last week right?  Time has just been flying.  And I am slightly disappointed to say that we are NOT going to have a white Christmas.  It's raining outside but apparently it's just not cold enough for snow.  

We had our ward party on the 10th and I was in charge.  It turned out well though -- family activities followed by a short program and dessert.  I should've taken pictures of the decorations!  I thought it looked really nice.  The activities were making a service manger, nativity ornament, and decorating cookies.  I ran around making sure everything went well and Chopper got these few pictures of the cookie decorating.

Most of our Christmas shopping has been online.  We have found places to shop here but most of what the kids wanted this year was just easier to get online -- especially books in English!  So we've been getting packages galore.  But my favorite was this quilt!!  My dear friend Lisa made it for our going away party back in July and everyone there wrote wonderful messages.  She had it quilted and did the binding herself and it arrived just a week ago.  Such a wonderful Christmas gift!  You know this is the first quilt I have ever received?  It's a wonderful feeling honestly!

 The kids have had this entire week of school off and were begging to do gingerbread houses.  Now the size of my oven means that if I bake the gingerbread, it would take an age.  So we went in a different direction and did graham cracker houses with a variety of candies we don't normally use because, well, we don't have access to what we normally use!

Hmmm, I guess I did not take pictures of the finished products!!  

Chopper has vacation time that started Wednesday so at the beginning of the week we made a last minute decision to got to Dresden and spend a night.  A lot of people rave about Dresden and it's only 3 hours from us.  After the Christmas market attack in Berlin we almost didn't go but decided that we need to live our lives and be aware and careful and pray for safety!  Dresden had put up cement barriers and police everywhere (with full on machine guns -- kind've weird to see) so they were doing all they could.

On the way there, Wall-E's head popped off!  Ok Abby had him hung by his head in the seat handle and pulled him out and off it came.  Thank goodness I had a needle and thread in my purse to stitch him up because she does not sleep well without Wall-E!

On our drive there, I read a lot of the history from Rick Steve's Germany guidebook.  Yeah that's probably a plug.  I like his books because they're interesting to read and informative and his personality comes through -- I like being able to hear an author's voice!  Dresden has a pretty spectacular history, although we really tend to focus on the WWII aspect.  But the architecture (Baroque by the way) really came about because of Augustus the Strong.  Germany wasn't Germany until like the mid-1800s.  Until then, it was mainly a series of German states that were ruled by a prince electorate who fell under the leadership of the Holy Roman Empire.  Reading German history is therefore confusing because there's so many people involved.  Dresden has been the capitol of Saxony and Augustus the Strong was the Prince Electorate who pretty much made it what it is today.  
In WWII, Dresden was heavily firebombed by the American and British forces and the old town heavily destroyed.  Then of course Dresden was in East Germany and so most of the building that was done was Soviet style.  A lot of the older buildings that have been awesomely restored didn't get started until after the reunification of East and West Germany. 

Interesting fact, the reason all the buildings look dirty is NOT because of soot from the firebombing.  It's because the local sandstone that is used oxidizes over time and turns black.

We spent our first afternoon wandering around the Old Town.  It was very very cold!  Dresden has 12 Christmas markets.  We didn't seek them out per se but did wander through a few.  Our favorites were the medieval market and the Striezelmarkt with all the oversize displays.  Despite having read the history before we went, the buildings kind've all look the same so that first day we didn't always know what we were looking at -- and I hesitate to haul guidebooks out in public.  Just one more thing to make us tourists!!

That's the Frauenkirche in the background

This mural is amazing!  It's the history of Saxony and was completed in like 1904.  It's made up of 24,000 porcelain tiles.  Porcelain was considered white gold because no one but China knew how to make it.  Augustus started his porcelain collection by trading 600 men and their horses for Chinese porcelain pieces that belonged to another German prince electorate.  Then he asked an alchemist to figure out how to make it.  The alchemist said no because he had already failed to make gold so Augustus locked him up until he complied.  Now, there's a town called Meissen about 10 miles north of Dresden that is famous for their porcelain and the German rulers used a lot of it!

Also, this wall survived the firebombing -- the porcelain tiles were fired at like 2400 degrees when they were made so the 1800 degrees of the city burning down was only a second firing for them.

The kids wanted so badly to ride in the carriages!!  But we didn't.  They loved the horses with their Santa hats.

It's hard to tell but this is a two-story carousel.  


Our hotel -- we stayed in a hostel and it was bare bones but for $50 for a night to sleep all of us in one room?  Yeah I'll take that.  And it wasn't bad except that we forgot a fan and you could hear every little creak and turn.  It was actually a really bad night - but not the hotel's fault!

This is a big hunk of the Frauenkirche that is in the square as a memorial.  It burned for 2 days before collapsing.

Up close pictures of the mural.  You can't tell that they're individual tiles.

That is Augustus the Strong and his horse is stepping on a rose which stands for Protestantism.  Saxony is home to Luther of the Protestant Reformation.  Frauenkirche is a Protestant church and he is highly revered.  But Augustus the Strong also wanted to be the king of Poland so he converted to Catholicism and got what he wanted. 

That spire belongs to the Hofkirche which is Catholic and this is the inside.  There was a group practicing their Christmas program and we stayed and listened to the boys sing for a bit.  It was really beautiful the way it echoed in the space. 

We let the kids choose one ride.  They chose the Ferris Wheel over the Carousel and William hid his face almost the entire time.  But it gave us some great views from the top!

They also had this oversized wooden nativity on display that was just beautiful!


Fun at the medieval market

The medieval market had the best kinderpunch we've had so far!  Blueberry I think and it was soooo good.  Plus cool mugs.

Inside the Frauenkirche -- I don't think I was supposed to take pictures . . . . but those balconies!

Found out later these are lindon trees -- lindonberry juice is delicious!

All the buildings have these funny slanted windows.  I kept thinking they were to give perspective maybe?  Nope -- there's a spiral staircase there. 

Next year I think this is on our Christmas list -- but probably a smaller one.  Although you can buy them as big as Megan for about 4000 Euro.

We needed to find dinner eventually but we were freezing so we went to the hotel and checked in and then drove back out.  We ended up at a mall -- a real mall -- and ate at McDonalds and wandered around.  We rode up and down every single escalator there for the kids.  Hey, when you're traveling with kids you keep them happy!

 I might be repeating pictures -- sorry.

Ok after our terrible nights sleep -- the pictures from day 2 are a lot less!
There was a piece of the Berlin wall in front of the hotel.  When we go to Berlin, we'll have to prep the kids more about why there was an actual wall around the city.  I wasn't quite sure if I should be smiling for this picture though!

Back into the city -- this really is a beautiful church on the outside!

There are two palaces in Dresden that now hold some amazing museums.  We went to the museums in the Royal Palace (no pictures allowed) and next time we go will have to do the Zwinger museums.  
The Palace museums hold the treasures of Saxony and they were amazing.  There was a lot of jewel-encrusted stuff but the extraordinary things were the items made from giant rock crystals, carved ostrich eggs (a whole wall of stuff made from ostrich eggs -- goblets that looked like ostriches and you had to take their heads off to drink from them), this huge ship with sails and 50 sailors tinier than my pinky all carved from ivory and 3 cherry pits that were carved with scenes and faces.  You had to look through a magnifying glass at them.  It was incredible.  There was also an armory room, and a Turkish collection.  Dresden moved most of their arts and treasures to underground mines where it survived the war but was taken by the Russians. Then it was returned after Stalin died as a sign of goodwill.  

The courtyard of the Royal palace where we waited to get in. 

Ok Chopper snuck this picture of parade armor made in the 1500s I think?  What's incredible is the talent that people had and used in creating all these things.  I don't know if that kind of talent exists today honestly!  They also had suits of armor for the young princes and Megan was a little put out that princesses didn't get any. 

Because Chopper thinks this stuff if funny

After the museums, we walked over to the Zwinger and went through the courtyard.  The plan is to come back to these museums because they have an Old Masters Gallery that has some pretty amazing painters in it and a porcelain gallery. But by the time we got over there, the kids were done with museums.

The statuary was hilarious!  Their faces were . . . drunk maybe?

The kids thought this guys butt was hilarious

Oh we ordered a new Wall-E and it arrived the day we came home!!

Excavation of a basement

The crown gate -- the large crown for being Prince electorate of Saxony and the small one for being King of Poland (yep Augustus the Strong again)

Those bells are porcelain and have a beautiful sound

More weird statues and more weird children

Chopper was thrilled at this delicious burger he got at the restaurant we had lunch in.

I was thrilled that I got some Dresdner Stollen!  It's their thing apparently and it's delicious!


Germans do not throw anything away!!!  In addition to the crazy amount of recycling that we do (a good thing, but also kind've a pain), when you go to these Christmas markets or other festivals, you don't get disposable eating materials.  I mean if it can be wrapped in paper and carried around and eaten you do but if it needs a plate or cup (Dampfnudeln in Guteneck and all Gluhwiens or kindpunch or any drink really), you get a real plate or mug.  It costs extra but if you return it, you do get money back (Pfand).  I don't know if the Germans do it, but the Americans collect these mugs big time.  And we have definitely jumped on that bandwagon.  We've also been buying an ornament from each market with the name of the city.  We plan to have a whole travel tree by the time we leave!  

The mugs though -- I think we'll quickly get to a point where we have too many!  These are the ones we've been to (minus Amberg because I kind've broke it): Left to right -- medieval market Dresden, one that was gifted to us with a bottle of Gluhwein (which we regifted), Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Schloss Guteneck, Striezelmarkt Dresden (I had to have 2 because they were so cute!  It has a little mitten on the handle).  

Well we are done with markets for 2016!  The kids are super excited that it's FINALLY Christmas Eve -- particularly William who doesn't understand the concept of time or waiting.  So probably a Christmas post in the next few days and then that's it!  Our blog book for this year -- and every year for a while -- is going to be pretty fat!