Monday, November 25, 2013

European Traditions: Advent Calendars

When I was a little girl I remember receiving an advent calendar. It was a large flat rectangular box with a Christmas scene printed on the outside. Twenty five little doors each held a piece of milk chocolate to help me count down the days until Christmas. Being a child, it was so hard to not open every door on the first day! It was a very special gift mailed to me from a relative. As the years have passed I haven't really thought too much about that Christmas advent calendar.

 Now days the new American tradition seems to be the Elf on a Shelf. Apparently, Santa has started sending elves into our homes to report back to the North Pole on good and bad behavior among children. Some of the elves can become rambunctious and Pinterest is loaded with plenty of examples. I haven't had an elf visit yet... but I anticipate one several years from now.

In Germany, the advent calendars are hard to miss. They are everywhere in food markets, department and craft stores. Some of the calendars are geared towards kids with Lego pieces, Playmobile people, or cartoon characters like Hello Kitty and SpongeBob. Others are more adult friendly with fancy tree shaped boxes, alcoholic truffles, or top of the line chocolates.

The crafty people avoid these premade boxes and get....well, crafty. Visiting the craft store I was presented with many unusual, unique, advent ideas. Hearing my friend talk about her advent calendar project and seeing all the possibilities persuaded me to give it a try this year. Husband has been so wonderful lately when my time has been spread thin, that he deserves a little appreciation.

Like most of my craft ideas, I got antsy and could not wait to get started.  Monday evening I spent close to three hours price comparing and planning my project in the city center.  At the local craft store I was shocked at the prices for empty blank advent bags and boxes. Going with my rustic advent vision, I looked at a set of 10 brown bags but quickly put them back when I saw the price of 5.99 Euros.  These bags were tiny and definitely marked up for the advent season.  ( I would have had to buy two packages...)  Then I saw a set of 25 little round brown boxes but again walked away when those were price marked at 19.99 Euros.  Irritated and refusing to pay those type of prices, I left the craft store and walked down to the drug store.

At the drug store I headed for the paper goods aisle.  I was hoping to find brown paper lunch sacks but found something even better!  There I found 80 white paper sandwich sacks for less than a euro!  So my vision of brown paper advent bags turned to white paper sacks.  Saving 11-18 Euros made this no problem in my book!
The White Sandwich Bags

After figuring out the advent packaging, I spent the remaining time walking around the city center looking for little fillers for each sack.  I had a couple of requirements for my advent presents. 1. The items had to fit in the sack so they needed to be on the smaller side and 2. I did not want to spend more than a euro per day for the items. Whenever I put challenges on my projects or create goals for myself it keeps me from over spending and forces me to get creative.
Hung and decorated with items already on hand.

One of my favorite stores in Munich is called Butlers.  I believe the store is originally from the UK but it reminds me a lot of Pier 1 or World Market.  At Butlers I can always find fun gifts, seasonal home decor, and funky kitchen items.  There I bought a package of 5 small jars filled with different jams made in France for 3.99 Euros.  Opening up the package, and dividing the jars out among the advent sacks meant I had 5 days done for under a Euro a day!

At Galeria Kaufhof (a department store), I found a set of 4 miniature glass ornaments designed for boys.  There was a dinosaur, Nintendo controller, pirate, and dump truck for 4.99 Euros.  Dividing up the ornaments into 4 separate sacks ended up being a little bit more than a Euro per day but all the fillers evened out in the end.  We are decorating a Christmas tree this year and it will be our first one in Germany.  These boyish ornaments will be a nice touch among our bright glass balls.

The rest of the sacks I filled with different Christmas chocolates, winter tea, and marzipan hot chocolate packets.  Originally, I had bought a raw hide dog bone to go into a sack for Husband to give to our dog Shelby. While I was filling each sack, Shelby started acting extremely "look at me" well behaved.  When I realized she had sniffed out the bone I HAD to give it to her.  I just couldn't resist that cute face.

Overall for the sacks and advent fillers I spent around 20 Euros total.

At home, I painted the numbers on the outside of each sack in 3 different greens and 3 different reds.  I folded each bag and clipped it over a yarn garland with clothes pins.  Everything I used to decorate and hang the bags I already had on hand.  I hung Husband's advent calendar in our entry way over the bench.  Each morning, on his way out the door, he can grab a bag and enjoy a small treat.
Hanging in our Entryway

In the end this project was a lot of fun and not too costly to put together. It wasn't expensive because I didn't allow it to get out of hand. I enjoyed doing something small to show Husband how much I appreciate him.  Someday when we are back to living in the States, I imagine I will continue putting together an advent calendar each year for him.

Isn't December such a fun month?  From the Elf on the Shelf to the traditional advent calendar everyone can feel the excitement this time of year. How do you count down the days until Christmas?

28 Days,

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tasty Thanksgiving

This weekend Husband and I did not leave the house.  I'm talking Saturday I stayed in my pajamas all. day. long.  Eventually, I did change my socks but that was about it.  I only sent Husband out of the house one time and that was for a very necessary grocery run.  A cleaning girl has got to eat.  The rest of the time we deep cleaned our house.  It's getting crazy ya'll.

For the past month (or longer) our home has been neglected and over run with junk, Junk, JUNK. Seriously, where does all this stuff come from?  I finally disassembled my craft station, took down all the fall decorations, and threw out three pairs of shoes just because it made me feel good.  

When I say Husband and I deep cleaned I mean we DEEP cleaned.  I vacuumed the broom for Pete's sake.  The bed was moved and the floor underneath went through a dust and dog hair removal process.  The sheets changed, everything that has a surface in any room was dusted, and the bathroom is finally sparkling white once again.  (Thank you Husband for scrubbing the tub) Three loads of laundry have been put away and the dirty clothes pile is slowly shrinking.  

We hang dry all of our clothes in Germany.
Dryers are not too common!

We even went through our "Important" papers box and tossed out a whole bag of useless old letters, bills, and so on.  Not so important now, huh? I have vowed this before but I will vow it again, junk mail will no more come through our front door.  Do you have papers that just seem to collect and collect in your house? Ugh.

In less than a month our very first niece is expected to be born.  I know pregnant women go through a stage of "nesting" before their baby is due but is it possible for the Aunt to "nest" as well?!

Next weekend Husband and I are putting up our Christmas tree and the decorations will be out on display.  Every year before I start my holiday decorating I like to do a good scrubbing on the house.  Knowing everything is perfectly clean makes the decorating process much more fun.  Having the house deep cleaned, reorganized, and the junk thrown out makes me feel so much more relaxed.  

Now then before we can put out those Christmas decorations there is a holiday before that shouldn't be missed, Thanksgiving.  
-Roasted Turkey and Carrots
-My Grandma's Apple-Sausage Stuffing
-Homemade Green Bean Casserole
-Husband's Cranberry Sauce
-The American Classic- Pumpkin Pie

Wednesday night I will bake our Pumpkin Pie and a Sweet Potato Gingersnap Pie. (for my staff dinner) Other than that, as I have told you, Husband is in charge of putting together the entire feast.  He is a great cook so I am looking forward to a prepared meal.

Have you finished your Thanksgiving shopping?  How long was your grocery list?  Is your husband partaking in the preparations?

Thankful for a clean house,

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree!

Yesterday I finally changed out the October calendar. Is anyone else like this? Switching to November got me thinking two things; 1. I really need to work on planning our Thanksgiving meal and 2. Is it too early to start hanging our Christmas decorations?
Our Christmas Tree in 2011
(Our theme has always been traditional red and white, Scandinavian snowflakes)

With the all the preparation that has gone into the Christmas markets it has made me antsy for the holidays a lot sooner than normal. I have always said Thanksgiving is one of my favorite traditions but the day is easy to overlook living in Germany.
Thanksgiving 2012

This year Husband took off of work both the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving. He will be the one in the kitchen, wearing the apron, and preparing our meal. I am a bit sad to turn over the cooking responsibilities but at the same time it will be a nice treat to come home to a waiting feast.

So as you can tell, my brain is already on Christmas.

Last year, we did not put up a Christmas tree. We left for the States in mid-December and did not feel a tree was practical. Huge mistake. We both regretted this decision and said this year we will put up a Christmas tree. So last night, I searched on for some "Christbaumschmuck" Christmas ornaments.

I found three coordinating ornament boxes of the same colors but different styles. Using my Teacher Appreciation gift card, I purchased these, socks, and the book I Heart Christmas. I was excited to have accomplished something  on my To Do list. Christmas was on it's way!
Bright New Ornaments

 Last night before going to bed, I checked my email. An Amazon confirmation email was sitting in my inbox so I took a look. Shockingly enough, the estimated delivery date for my Christmas items was listed as January 13th! Nearly two months from now!! What is going on Amazon? I thought I was "ahead of the game" with the date being November 17th and all.

So now I have two options. I can either take the time to figure out the cancellation policy that is worded in German OR my personal favorite choice, put up and a Valentine's tree.

Husband looked up my order summary and realized I had clicked the option to ship in as few of boxes as possible.  (the cheapest shipping option) When he clicked on each item in my basket it showed which were "In Stock" or "Out of Stock".  Two of the ornament boxes were "Out of Stock" which was why the delivery date was so far out. BUT....then something is not adding up quite right.  After Husband clicked the option to ship the items individually (which added 15 Euros to my total) they suddenly were able to be delivered by the end of the week.  Huh?!? So now I will have all of my items "In Stock" or "Out of Stock" by the end of this week.  

To me it is worth the 15 Euro gamble to be suckered into switching my shipping option to guarantee our Christmas tree will be up and decorated on Sunday, December 1st.  

In other news, during this whole Amazon shipping situation I googled the ornament's brand to see where they are located.  Turns out the company, Inge-Glas of Germany, has been glass blowing Christmas ornaments since 1596.  I thought I was just buying some temporary, won't ship when we move back to the States, Christmas ornaments. (Knowing I needed to use my giftcard) Looks like I might need to hold on to these bright colorful balls.  I have always wanted to decorate a cupcake themed Christmas tree and these colors would match my vision perfectly.  This just might be my excuse to start collecting cupcake ornaments!

What style of Christmas tree are you? Traditional, modern, glitzy, themed, woodsy, family memories...  Back in the States Husband and I had two trees.  One was our official tree with glass ornaments, coordinating colors, and scandinavian snowflakes.  Our other tree was a fun one to support his college, Texas A&M and to show my college's spirit, Texas Tech! Do you change your Christmas tree theme each year? 

Happy Holidays,

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Christmas Markets

A few weeks ago I was trying to decide if I could take on three Christmas markets this season. Last year I participated in only one market and it was rather last minute. It ended up being a lot of fun and a great experience to meet new people.

Working full time, blogging, creating things to blog about, and spending time with Husband means I am blessed with a full plate of always being busy. Adding preparation time for three Christmas Markets (each wreath takes about 3-4 hours) meant that for a few weeks some things I normally would like to do have had to take a back burner.

For the next few weeks I have time managed ever available hour up until December 17th. Currently on hold is the new season of Downton Abbey (British version), reading for pleasure, and let's face it, our handmade Christmas cards are just not going to happen this year. Husband has really stepped up to help with the cooking and we try to keep our house clean but right now I feel accomplished from one load of laundry.

I blog in the mornings on the train to work. The current time is 7:14 a.m. Thursday but this blog probably won't post until Friday evening.  I write most of the entries on my phone then finish them up on my computer.

The computer is in our bedroom so while I craft I watch listen to movies and Husband uses the TV in the living room to watch whatever stuff it is that he watches. (Something Trek...???) To add to the craziness, I moved the kitchen table into our bedroom for more work space. Husband luckily just laughed when he saw this and Shelby doesn't seem to mind passing underneath to get to her own bed. ***Yes, moving internationally will most likely mean you have to give up having a craft room. Sigh.***

Well guys, you won't be hearing from me again until Market #1 is over and done.  It is this Saturday so wish me luck or you are all getting wreaths for Christmas!!!

'Tis the Season,

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Vineyard Visit

Earlier this month Husband and I took a weekend trip to Vienna, Austria. The city is beautifully planned, well kept, and enriched historically. We enjoyed spending Friday and Saturday surrounded by such a grand city. 
Weekend in Vienna, Austria

Sunday, we went an hour northwest of Vienna into the Austrian countryside. We drove along a winding two lane road dotted with farm houses, massive piles of sugar beet harvest, picked bare grapevines, and a lone church up on a hill. Just 20 kilometers from the Czech border Husband and I arrived in a town city village. There we had the privilege of visiting one of Austria's family run vineyards, Schlosser.
Baby Grapevines

Sugar Beet Harvest

On a dreary, rainy day it was so comforting to step into the Schlosser tasting room. Austrian decor, fresh garden flowers, and a wood burning cast iron stove warmed Husband and I immediately. Framed black and white photographs show generations working together to perfect the family tradition of wine.
Beautifully Set Table

Frau Schlosser prepared for us a typical Austrian meal. She made oven roasted pork, potato salad, flour dumplings, and molten chocolate cake. Husband said the pork was the best he had ever had. The pork was prepared perfectly with a crispy outside and an inside so tender I never picked up my knife. Since our delicious Sunday lunch I have asked Frau Schlosser for her recipe. Husband's hopeful!
Inside the Wine Tasting Room

Now what would be a tasting room without some wine? I know I jumped into food talk but our day with the Schlosser family really started with a glass of wine. Immediately after hanging up our jackets, Mr. Schlosser handed us glasses of Schlossecco, their sweet bubbly white wine. Husband and I  bought 6 bottles and 4 of them were the Schlossecco. It was my favorite! Our plan was to bring 2 bottles back to the States to share...but...I am not sure that will happen.
The Grape Squeezer
Fermenting Grapes!

Husband's favorite Schlosser wine was a special one. The "mond" moon wine is unique because the grapes have to be harvested during the nighttime. That means when the temperature is just right, beneath the light of the stars and moon, these particular grapes are hand picked off the vine. We bought a couple of bottles because of the care and attention that goes into this particular wine.
Shelby having a muddy blast on the farm!

The Schlosser wines are one of the few remaining Austrian vineyards that still handpick their own grapes. During the late summer weeks the Schlosser's grown children come back to the family farm to help with the picking. The grapes are fermented on sight, bottled in a sterile room, and gorgeously labeled. Around 10,000 bottles of wine are produced every season. This truly is a family run business.

"Schloss" is Key

Visiting the Schlosser Vineyards was a wonderful experience for this suburban girl. Seeing a product go from farm fresh to the table and the artful process that is wine making was intriguing. Husband and I had a fantastic time visiting the Schlosser family. Our vineyard visit was a peaceful ending to a relaxing weekend in Austria.
Thank You Schlosser Family!

Making Memories,

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Weekend Trip to Vienna, Austria

When Husband and I first moved to Germany we made a Top 10 Travel list of places to see while living here. We know our time here is a precious opportunity to see as much as possible. When an unexpected forgotten 3 day weekend was just a week away, we decided last minute to get outta town.

Using Google Maps, I centered Munich, Germany and looked at all the possible weekend spots within a four hour drive.  We did not feel up for Italy this time and our friends are taking us to Prague next year. Our choices were narrowed down to Zurich, Switzerland and Vienna, Austria. Less than 5 minutes later, after a quick Facebook poll and a room search on, it was clear Vienna would be much more budget friendly.  

If you are planning a trip to Vienna, please read on for our trip reviews!

Hotel Review:
In Vienna, we stayed at the Imlauer Hotel. It is outside the Ringstrasse but nicely located between two subway lines and a tram stop. Nearby were several bakeries and Augarten, perfect for walking our dog. Our room was on special for 62€ a night and we earned points toward a free night in the future by booking through In addition, the Imlauer staff members were outstanding with answering my million questions and booking us reservations at restaurants around town. The hotel also gave out drink vouchers if you skipped a day of cleaning services and had a swanky sauna that was perfect for relaxing. This hotel had all the perks Husband and I were looking for during our short stop in Vienna.
Augarten- Mozart and Beethoven both played here!

Husband and I are also keeping a list of castles and palaces we have visited. When planning our trip to Vienna it was not surprising to see two palaces as our must sees for Vienna. Friday we toured the Hofburg Palace and Saturday, Schönbrunn Palace.

Sightseeing Reviews:

Hofburg Palace:
The Hofburg Palace is where some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history resided, including the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In modern day, the current president of Austria calls the Hofburg Palace home. I scheduled a guided English tour of the Hofburg Palace and Sisi Museum. We were not impressed with our tour because our guide rushed us through the rooms and it was very crowded with others listening on audio guides. I would recommend skipping the guided tour and doing a self audio tour so you can look at your own pace. I did find the Sisi Museum, dedicated to the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, very interesting with antique photographs and personal items on display.  What girl wouldn't love looking at actual Victorian era, Empress ballgowns flowing with Hungarian handmade lace and teardrop pearl details? Afterwards, our ticket was also good for the Imperial Silver Collection. Oh. My. Room after room lead us through 7,000 pieces of porcelain, bone china, hand painted, gold plated, ivory accented, cut crystal glasses, plates, serving pieces and silverware. You would have to be the Empress to have a china cabinet big enough to fit it all! 
Hofburg Palace

Schönbrunn Palace:
When people recommended that we visit Vienna, nearly everyone also said how amazing Schönbrunn Palace is to see.  It is the 1,441 room former summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs. It had similar architectural details as the even more well known, Palace of Versailles.  This time Husband and I did not take a guided tour.  We instead opted for the self audio guide through 22 state rooms.  Afterwards, we both agreed it was the best audio tour we have experienced.  The audio guide told you just what you needed to know, without the elaborate, over-the-top details. In fact, afterwards we regretted not paying for the extended 40 room tour. The outside gardens were equally as impressive with elaborate water fountains, tree lined walking paths, and even a Imperial Zoo! Since we visited at the beginning of November, the summer flowers had been pulled out and the fountains turned off, but the fall foliage made for beautiful scenery. I would love to go back in the warm weather and see the garden blooms.  Everyone was right, when in Vienna, you must see Schönbrunn Palace!
Schönbrunn Palace

Vienna State Opera:
Standing in the former bedroom of the Emperor for me was okay, but stepping foot inside the Vienna State Opera House I became giddy like a silly school girl.  Dressing up with Husband and going to a Saturday night ballet performance in one of the world's grandest opera houses felt like Christmas.  Would you be impressed if I told you we went to the movies and bought a bucket of popcorn?  Probably not.  What if I told you that our evening at the ballet with a live orchestra cost about the same as a night at the movies?  During the daytime anyone can purchase a tour ticket of the opera house or for just a few more euros go see an actual event and get the true experience.  This was one of my all time favorite trip experiences and it was a dream come true!
Vienna State Opera

In between these three big events, Husband and I enjoyed walking around the areas within the Ringstrasse.  We stopped in and listened to opera worship music at Stephansdom, one of the tallest churches in the world, and at Augustinian Church next to the Hofburg Palace.  Several times we road the tram around to see the elaborate buildings lining the streets.  We walked around the Rathouse (City Hall) and through several gardens.  

Remember when I wrote about Husband and I refusing to pay 80 Euros for a 30 minute gondola ride in Venice?  Well, Vienna offers something similar with horse and carriage rides around the city center.  I really wanted to do this at night to see the elegant buildings lit up.  When we went to inquire about a ride, we were quoted 50 Euros for 20 minutes!  I refuse to be suckered in to these ridiculous costs so instead Husband and I opted for our own two feet.  Vienna is a beautiful sight at night and should not be missed!

Is Vienna on your travel list?  I am already thinking about our next time in Vienna and the places we should see! 
Inside the People's Garden

Happy November,