Homemade Animal Crackers

Animal crackers, Chex Mix, M&Ms…also known as mommy’s craving jars.

One of my dear friends in Germany is the ultimate stay-at-home mom role model. She is always coming up with amazing Montessori activities, making play-doh and baking healthy snacks for her kiddo. After hearing about her amazing momming moments, I am forced to try them at home for Carson. Forced is a strong word. It’s more like, she had and executed a great idea and I should probably do the same because it’s a perfect enrichment activity for Carson as she isn’t in a kindergarten (preschool) yet.

One day, her little one was carrying around homemade animal crackers…let me say this once more for the people in the back, HOMEMADE ANIMAL CRACKERS! I thought to myself, I can do that. And I did! I used Pinterest and found an animal cracker recipe from A Modern Homestead. They turned out wonderfully. I have since made this recipe 3 more times because not only does Carson eat the crackers but so do her parents 😊. Below is the recipe.

Animal Cracker Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup milk
Cutting out cookies!

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (or 170 C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper. My German oven only holds 1-9×13″ baking sheet so I prepare 3 parchment sheets.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. The original recipe calls for an electric mixer but I do it all by hand as my American electronics don’t work in Germany and I don’t see the need to purchase something I’m only going to use sporadically for another year.
  3. Next add in butter, brown sugar, sugar, vanilla, honey and milk. If you are using an electric mixer as suggested, hold off on the milk until your dough looks like small peas. Then add the milk and process until your mixture forms a ball. Again, I stir it all by hand so it’s easiest for me to add the milk with the other ingredients.
  4. Divide the dough into two balls. Dump one of the balls onto a well floured surface.
  5. Roll the dough as thin as you can 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick.
  6. Use your mini animal cookie cutters to cut shapes. Place shapes on lined baking sheets until a tray is filled. For the first batch, I used a variety of mini cookie cutters. For the last few batches, I have stuck with a heart. I can quickly stamp the heart shape and can get quite a few of them on each tray (extremely helpful as I only have the 1-9×13″ baking sheet that fits into my oven at a time).
  7. Bake for 9 to 13 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to completely cool and store in an airtight container. I have found that if left in for 9 minutes, the cookies have a soft texture. If left in for 13 minutes, they are quite crunchy. My family likes the crunchy version so 13 minutes is our wait time.
  8. Repeat with the remaining dough until all the dough has been used. This can take quite awhile if you are not utilizing the surface of your dough to its maximum advantage (see: heart shape).
Top: cookies cooling. Bottom left: cookies ready to bake. Bottom right: lining up raw cookie dough.

Tip

As mentioned earlier, I lay out 3 pieces of parchment paper to line the 1-9×13″ baking sheet that fits in my oven. When my production is in full swing 1 sheet has cookies cooling, 1 sheet is in the oven with cookies baking, and 1 sheet is getting lined with raw cookie dough. Its a system that works for me and keeps things moving along in my small European kitchen.

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Cinderella Never Had To Unpack

We’re moving!?!

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the story of Cinderella. However, here’s a quick recap…scullery maid who is treated like garbage by her stepmother meets, falls in love with, and immediately marries Prince Charming. The 1950s Disney movie ends with Cinderella and Charming riding away in a horse-drawn carriage with the storybook closing and the last page reads “…and they lived happily ever after.” For the sake of this post, I am going to ignore the fact that Cinderella ran around town in a pair of high-heeled glass slippers and had very little to actually pack then move into the castle.

Well, my story is nothing like that of Cinderella’s. The only parallel is that I too met, fell in love with, and married my own version of Prince Charming. He is smart, handsome, funny, and above all else an amazing father and provider. So, when this amazing man got the opportunity to work in Germany, we packed up our things and moved! Unfortunately, unlike Cinderella…we came with a ton of cr@p, er, stuff and I definitely didn’t run around in glass slippers.

Packing up

All of our belongings were packed up on October 3, 2018. Lots of movers arrived at our condo in Chicago and packed everything…literally everything (yep, including the almost empty bottles of shampoo and wet outdoor rug). I was specifically instructed to create two piles for packing. One, the smaller one, would be everything we needed for daily life, also known as “Air Shipment.” The second, the larger one, is everything else, also known as “Sea Shipment.” The air shipment was to take one to two weeks to make it to Germany while the sea shipment was to take six to eight weeks. For us, those instructions meant pack everything the baby needed in the air shipment and everything else in the sea shipment. Knowing we would be moving into a fully furnished apartment and that none of our appliances would work meant that we also needed a third packing option, also known as the “Moving to My Mom’s” shipment. (Sorry mom, it was a lot of stuff…and thank you).

Jump forward a few weeks…we moved out of the hotel and into our German apartment on the European 2nd floor, the American 3rd floor (aka 43 stairs). We also had our meeting with the city to get our resident cards. While we didn’t walk out of the immigration office with resident cards in hand, we did walk out with a paper stating that our resident cards were coming. Our official cards would be coming through Deutsche Post in a few weeks. Everything was going well, right? Wrong! Let me be clear, the rest of the world thinks Germany is very efficient. They are not. Even with the paper promising our resident cards, NO ONE could move the rest of the process along. Everything we needed was at a standstill because we didn’t have the official plastic card. Ugh!

Things that can happen after receiving the physical residency card:

  • air shipment can be processed and arrive
  • sea shipment can be processed and arrive
  • the process of leasing or buying a car can begin

Yeah, you read that correctly. The air shipment, remember…one to two weeks until arrival from the packing date, couldn’t be processed or sent until we had the official plastic resident card. So, everything we needed for baby didn’t leave the US until early November. However, the sea shipment was already on its way. Let’s just say we made many trips to IKEA to purchase things like a play mat and high chair so I could safely set Carson down every once in awhile.

Thank you IKEA! Safe space for Carson to play/be set down.

Fast forward, again, to November 26th, the week of Thanksgiving. We got word that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING had arrived in Germany. All items had been processed and would be delivered bright and early Monday morning (if you are counting, that was eight weeks without our things). It was also the week that we were heading to Paris to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, see previous post. To say I was stressed doesn’t even begin to cover the wave of emotions I felt.

Unpacking…the beginning

Monday morning arrived and so did the truck, all of our things, and about 5 German men to unpack everything with only one speaking a little English. 4 of the 5 moving men worked tirelessly to carry up and unpack our boxes. The other one requested a fresh pot of coffee for himself while he watched the others work. (I never did get the coffee mug back…) The men had a system in place for unpacking the boxes…carry the box upstairs, unpack the box onto any available surface, remove the box. Unfortunately for us, they brought up the empty furniture, like the dressers AFTER they had unpacked everything onto all available surfaces. Again with the efficiency thing, not sure why they wouldn’t just bring the furniture up first, then unpack the boxes into the empty furniture…but then again what do I know? I don’t own, run or work for a moving company. The absolute last thing the moving men unpacked was the air shipment…you know, the one with all the baby items that was supposed to have arrived within 1-2 weeks of us moving to Germany. Two days later, we headed to Paris only to return to the mess a week later.

Unpacking hell…I still get stressed out looking at these pictures.

After we returned from Paris it took about 2 weeks to get all of the items sorted and put away. Some items that were packed we no longer needed and we had to find storage for them. It took another couple of months for me to organize, rearrange, and toss items for our apartment to start feeling like a home.

We have lived in Germany for over a year now. All of our things were delivered and unpacked a year ago and I am still salty about the whole thing. Needless to say, I now know what NOT to do when we move back to the states or should we make another international move.

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Danke!

When the holidays roll around, Jeff and I love spending time with our family. Usually we are in LA for Thanksgiving and DC for Christmas. For the past two years, we felt that flying to the states for Thanksgiving and then again at Christmas would be too taxing, especially on Carson. She is a great little traveler but the 3 day jet lag is no fun. Luckily for us, we haven’t had to spend Thanksgiving alone. Last year our LA family met us in Paris. This year our expat family gathered in the Eifel region of Germany.

2018: Paris, France

Grimm Family at the Eiffel Tower

Paris is a 5 hour drive from where we are living in Germany. Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, Jeff took a few days off from work and we headed to Paris to meet up with our LA family. In total we had 7 adults and 1 baby. We rented a beautiful 4 bedroom Air BnB near the place de la republique, complete with a full kitchen so we could prepare a somewhat proper Thanksgiving dinner. Days were spent exploring the city and nights were spent drinking too much wine and catching up.

Marche Des Enfants Rouges & a Croque Madame
Exploring Paris!

At that point in time, we had been living in Germany for two months and while I wasn’t completely homesick, I was definitely missing American TV…or anything in English. On Thanksgiving day the crew headed out to gather ingredients for dinner while Carson and I enjoyed couch time and American Netflix (yes, there is a difference in what is offered on Netflix dependent on the country). I was also stressed out because all of our belongings had been delivered to Germany the day before we left on this adventure and our new home was a complete disaster, more on that in another post. Thankfully, I was able to relax and enjoy some quiet time. Turkeys were unavailable at such late notice as they aren’t a staple in France, but we were able to scrounge up a whole chicken, herbs and fresh veggies for our feast.

LA Family & our Thanksgiving Feast

2019: Schleiden, Germany

This year for Thanksgiving, we celebrated with our expatriate crew: 31 adults, 1 teenager, 3 toddlers, & 2 dogs or 20 Americans, 5 Australians, 3 Germans, 3 Frenchmen, 2 Canadians, 1 Brit and 1 Egyptian. Two fearless leaders took charge and found an entire hotel for rent on Air BnB in the small town of Schleiden. Seriously, it was just our crew taking over this hotel that was complete with industrial kitchen, large dining room and bar area. Instead of taking off time from work and celebrating on Thursday (actual Thanksgiving), we all decided it was best to wait until the weekend. Days were spent exploring the outdoors on hikes and going to Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas Markets). Nights were spent playing board games and watching American college football.

20 weeks pregnant with non-alcoholic wine & Chex Mix and play time.

Not only is it pretty cool that our group gets along so well but that everyone did their part when it came to the Thanksgiving feast. Whether they made one of the 3 turkeys, prepared a side dish like green bean casserole, potatoes or stuffing, baked pies, decorated tables, or brought snacks for when we weren’t feasting…we all did our part.

Industrial kitchen food prep.
Food prep, turkey time & waiting on the feast!
Buffet style feast & dessert table (bad pic).

I’m looking forward to see what’s in store for Thanksgiving 2020.

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‘Tis the Shopping Season

‘Tis the season for some online shopping!

Hello and happy Monday…Cyber Monday, that is! In case you didn’t shop ’til you dropped on Black Friday, I have a few small businesses to recommend to you. I believe in each of these businesses and know that you’ll be purchasing quality items.

  • Iron Fox Clothing-Clothing for strong women who are looking for a fashionable, flattering, comfortable fit while participating in life’s everyday activities. Kristi, a mom of two boys and avid crossfitter, saw the need for a clothing retailer to provide clothes for, well, women like her. She found it difficult to find clothing that was flattering yet flexed with her ever changing muscular body so…she founded Iron Fox, a company that does just that. Seriously, there is something on this site for every woman! My favorite part about Iron Fox is that not only is Kristi one of the top models on her site but all of the models are real women wearing the clothes. To get the best deals and stay up-to-date on Kristi’s latest finds, join the Iron Fox Clothing Group VIPs Facebook group.
Iron Fox Clothing
  • Well Made-STiicks are magnetic poster frames that are made out of solid wood and magnets. They make framing your works of art effortless and elegant. Trust me, we have quite a few STiicks around the house showcasing some of our favorite prints. But Well Made is more than just STiicks, they are Rackless (floating magnetic key shelf), Pinch (mini magnetic frame), Visible Vinyl (minimal artwork/record vinyl ledge), and custom orders. On any given weekend in the summer, you can find Brandon (& his wife Simone) at the neighborhood street festivals in Chicago working the Well Made booth. Brandon is an extremely talented, hard-working, detailed designer who has been working on his passion, Well Made, since 2013. You may have seen his STiicks at the Guggenheim, Smithsonian, Museum of Contemporary Art or Target.
Well Made
  • Beyond The Paint-Do you love having your nails done but hate waiting for the paint to dry or paying salon prices? I do. Jamie, a Color Street Independent Stylist, “offers 100% REAL nail polish strips in a variety of nail colors and nail art designs. Color Street is actual nail polish strips, NOT STICKERS, that apply to your nail in seconds and last up to 2 weeks. No need for a base coat, top coat, 3 layers of polish! No smudging, no mess, just apply and you’re done!” At first I was a non-believer too. Join Jamie’s Beyond The Paint With Jamie Facebook group and request some sample nails.
Beyond the Paint, Color Street
  • H2Joe-Is a 2-in 1-coffee & water bottle! This one bottle carries both your hot & cold liquids and allows you to drink BOTH from the same lid. While still in the pre-order phase (so you wont get it by Christmas), the H2Joe team is working to perfect its design. Be on the lookout for your H2Joe in Q1 of 2020! Join the H2Joe Bottle Facebook group for updates on this awesome product!
H2Joe

This blog post is not an ad. Each of these businesses are owned and operated by my friends. I believe in their products and wanted to share them with you.

Merry Blogmas

Carson fireside at a cafe in Vienna.

Hello! Wow, it’s been awhile…like, a long while. What happened? Life. Life happened, which is why I have decided I will partake in Blogmas!

What is Blogmas? Well, it’s Vlogmas but for bloggers or aspiring bloggers (aka me). Everyday in December until Christmas (Dec 25th), I will be adding a post to Grimms Family Tales. Let’s be honest, this is going to be quite the challenge for me. I’m clearly out of the habit of writing and with a toddler and the exhaustion of pregnancy posting 25 blogs in a row is going to be nearly impossible…but I’m sure going to try!

Setting all of the excuses aside, I am actually quite excited to jump right in to help you get to know our little family and the adventures we’ve been on while living the expatriate life in Germany.

Traveling with Baby

In living the expat life, Jeff and I have been fortunate enough to up our travel game this year. As you may know…from following our blog…we moved from the USA to Germany in October of 2018. Since then we have been able to visit Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Spain, Hungary, Luxembourg, Denmark and in a few days, Italy. Italy will bring Carson’s country count to 11 (and technically 12 since we will be visiting Vatican City…yes, it’s a country too)! This also means that we travel a lot, more than your average household. Sometimes it’s a quick 1-2 hour drive across the border, but other times it’s a quick 1-2 hour flight.

Recently, a friend asked me about my travel “must haves”. Wow…me? I’m usually so busy packing “must haves” for the baby that I don’t even think about what’s in my bag. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I was able to tell her what I always pack and actually use! I’ve compiled a list of “must haves” for both me and C and included links in case it’s a “must have” for you too. All links take you to the item or a similar item on Amazon. I am not sponsored by Amazon or any of the products listed. These are just things I have found and love.

  • Must Haves For Me:
    • Travel Purse
      • My great friend Stephanie came to visit us a few weeks ago. She had a travel purse that held a lot of items and kept them safe at the same time. You had better believe I ordered it as soon as she left and can’t wait to travel with it on our trip to Rome in a few days. It’s a leather mini backpack with zippered pockets, hidden compartments, holds an iPad and comes in a variety of colors! Face wipes
      • These are a must. Travel can be hectic and stressful. Whether you have a 60 min flight or a 6 hour flight, it’s always refreshing to cleanse your face with a wonderful smelling, cool wipe. I prefer to use the Yes To Cucumber Soothing Hypoallergenic Facial Wipes for Sensitive Skin. These are a little hard to find in Europe so I use whatever I can find that seems legit.Hand sanitizer/disinfectant wipes
      • Thinking about all of the germs in/on public spaces…yuck! Don’t! Seriously…just don’t. One way to ease your stress about the germs from traveling is hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes. The Honest Company Hand Sanitizer is my absolute, hands down favorite. I love the different scents and the ease of the spray. Honestly, I carry 2-3 of these sprays with me all day, everyday…even while not traveling. I also love Clorox Wipes in a travel size. I personally love to wipe down the arm rests and fold away tray as soon as I take my seat in the plane. Small bag to hold cords
      • If you are anything like me, even while you are in a chaotic state, you like to stay organized. Not sure what it is about being organized that makes me feel calm but whenever I am traveling I have to have a small pouch or baggie to hold all of my electronic cords. If I’m really feeling inspired, I’ll even label them (doesn’t happen often). It can be a plastic baggie or a beautifully monogrammed zippered pouch as long as it holds all of the cords I have, it does right by me. (No link as this is probably something you already have in your house). I usually carry two of these with me. One for cords, as mentioned above. The other bag is for small items so they don’t get lost in my purse like floss-sticks, safety pins, a hair thing or two, moisturizer, nail file, clippers etc.Twist Ties
      • As silly as it sounds…twist ties. Yes, the twist ties that come on everyday items, yet I can’t think of one. I save and collect these in a way that makes my husband crazy. However, they make great binders for cords…you know, the electronic cords that are being stored in your small zippered baggie. Again, it’s the organization in a chaotic time that makes me feel at ease. Every cord is always wrapped and bound in an organized manner.Extra Charger
      • At this point in time, most airplanes have seats with charging ports. However, sometimes you will fly on a plane that is a little older and there are no charging ports to be found. You could turn off your devices but on a 9 hour flight my response is, “no way!” Especially not with a little one in tow. I always bring with me an external battery charger for my phone, iPad, electronics etc. This way, I know for sure that I am covered when the battery on my not-so-old-phone dies a little too quickly. Small Notebook and Pen
      • Even though most information is stored on my phone sometimes I like to actually write it down. Its always a good idea to keep a pen on you but I like to take travel notes in a little notebook/journal. Inflatable Neck Pillow
      • Let me just say that this is Jeff’s “Must Have”. He purchased these for both of us when we were traveling to China (15 hour flight) a few years ago and thank goodness he did! The Inflatable Neck Pillow provided some much needed comfort on long flights. Not only is it small and compact but it inflates incredibly easily to the comfort level of your choice. I only bring this with me on long flights where I want to sleep.
  • Must Haves for Carson:
    • Backpack Diaper Bag
      • When Carson was first born, I bought a beautiful leather diaper bag. It was large, elegant and heavy…very impractical. After a month of slinging this thing everywhere I went, my massage therapist suggested I get something a little more lightweight. I stumbled upon the Diaper Backpack. The backpack comes in a variety of colors and holds a lot of baby essentials. It is now our everyday diaper bag and we love it.Woofy, the Lovie
      • I’ve already mentioned our friend, Steph, but did I also mention that at one point in time, she was a nanny? She knows what babies want. At birth, she gifted Carson with a Lovie (mini blanket with an animal head). Woofy, the Lovie, is Carson’s absolute “Must Have” for sleep. Not sure if you’ve realized but we have quite a spirited girl with a huge personality. When she is tired, Woofy is all she wants/needs. Side note: we now have 2 Woofy’s…just in case. They are not allowed to leave the crib unless we are traveling. On travel days, we keep him in the diaper bag so she can have her comfort item on the plane. We also always leave one Woofy at home. Developmental/Busy Toys
      • Thanks to my expat/mom friend/the person I spend every day with Nicole, Carson now has a few toys that don’t leave the diaper bag. They are light weight and keep her busy when we are out and about.
        • The Dimple Toy by Fat Brain Toys is always a win! Carson loves pushing the colored silicone spots in and out. Another toy she loves is Pop and Slide Shelly a turtle toy from Fat Brain Toys. This one keeps both adults and children entertained. The colorful pieces on the turtle’s shell slide around and pop into place.The newest addition to our travel toys, especially on longer flights is the Wooden Lacing Watermelon Threading Toy. Carson fully concentrates and play with this toy for a solid 10-20 min. She enjoys threading the little green worm through all of the holes in the watermelon.Water Wow books by Melissa and Doug are also great to have on hand. Simply fill the little paint brush with water and paint the pages. When your little one paints, the water activates the colors in the picture including secret picture details. Painting on the go with no mess…sounds like a win-win to me!Travel Baby Chair
      • There are quite a few of these on the market at this point but we really like the super light weight, easy to carry portable high chair like the My Little Seat Travel High Chair. The portable high chair fits over the back of most chairs and keeps baby safe and secure. Many restaurants in Europe are pretty small and do not always have a high chair. This portable seats turns almost every chair into a high chair so you don’t have to eat with a baby on your lap.Pacifier Clips
      • Pacifier clips have been a must have for us since Carson was born. However, Carson has never taken a pacifier. She used to give us a look as though we had offended generations of her family every time we tried to coax her to take one. Almost 15 months later and she still hates them. The good news is that we don’t use the clips for pacifiers. We use them for, well, everything else. Attach one to the handle of a snack cup or bottle and “Voilà“, it doesn’t get lost when it is inevitably thrown. Clip blankets and toys to strollers with ease and again, they don’t get lost when the princess no longer wants these things.McClaren Travel Stroller
      • When I initially saw the price on the McClaren travel stroller, I about fainted. We already had a Running B.O.B. and a Chicco Car Seat Carrier. Why on Earth would we need another stroller! The good news is that we found one on CraigsList in decent condition. I’m so glad we did! It has traveled with us to 10, soon to be 11, countries. Harness Backpack with Leash
      • This is a new item that we will be trying out in the next couple of days. Carson loves, loves, loves to walk but doesn’t always love holding an adults hand while she is walking. She loves exploring and at 15 months old, doesn’t yet know stranger danger or the dangers of the environment around her. We thought it best to try out a backpack with a leash. Yep, we have officially become those parents. We are also going to call it her “snack pack” where we store her tasty treats…nothing too heavy as she is still pretty little.

Lady Luck

Before leaving Chicago, Jeff and I had quite the social circle. We loved spending time with our friends who, to be honest, became family. We knew that in moving to Germany our social group would change and possibly be nonexistent. I’ll just say that Lady Luck dealt us a pretty great expat hand.

Our expat community is large and includes members from Australia, the UK, Scotland, Spain, France, Germany and of course the US. We spend a great deal of time together but about once a week the ladies break away for Ladies Night (Montag oder Mittwoch fur Mädchens, Dienstag oder Donnerstag fur Damens, Freitag fur Frauen…you get the picture). Usually it’s a nice dinner with good wine, thoughtful conversation and belly laughs. Sometimes it takes us on an adventure or a weekend away (more on that in another blog post). Every time we are together I think to myself, these girls get me. We’ve all chosen or been thrown into the expat life and are surviving with grace.

I want to take a blog post to recognize these wonderful women, friends. Expat life comes with its challenges. These women are strong individuals and believe in celebrating each other rather than bringing each other down. They are trustworthy and honest, compassionate and non-judgmental, extremely supportive in good and bad times, humorous and are overall enjoyable to be around. We don’t need specific reasons to meet but occasionally it’s to celebrate a birthday or enjoy one last night together before an unfortunate departure.

As a stay at home mom, I live for these nights out. Please don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter with 100% of my being but I do love my nights away where I get to be “me” again. What some fail to realize is that stay-at-home moms don’t get to leave work or have weekends off. In fact, sometimes our “boss” can be a real pain, especially when tired, hungry, or well, it’s a Tuesday. My boss comes with me everywhere! And, not sure how your vacations are but mine are always work trips where my boss flails her little body around in a 2″ x 2″ space on the airplane.

Our ladies nights usually take place in restaurants around Essen. Essen is the town where the majority of us live. Coincidentally, essen also means food or to eat in German. However, as mentioned earlier, sometimes our ladies nights turn adventurous. Duisburg is a little town about 20 min from where we live. It is the home of an unusual attraction called “Tiger and Turtle”. This walk-in roller coaster like attraction was opened in 2011 and built atop a former dump. A climb to the top, promises beautiful views of Duisburg and the Rhine River on clear days. And the answer to your obvious question is no. No, you cannot climb upside down on the loop…but wouldn’t it be cool if you could?

A Moral Dilemma

Imagine yourself in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, and are unfamiliar with who to call when you need help (first responders; police, firefighters, paramedics, etc). Coming from Chicago, I would say there are some things I’m pretty savvy at such as taking public transit, perusing local museums, finding a good deal, and spotting a thief. That’s right, a car-door-handle-checking, thief.

Before I ask you the question, let me paint you the picture…My mom, friend Stephanie, Carson (baby) and I had just checked out of the hotel in Copenhagen (more on the trip in another blog). We were standing on the sidewalk with all of our luggage, waiting for Jeff to get the car from the parking garage. Rolling down the street on his pretty descent bike (I’m now assuming stolen) is a man riding extremely close to the cars. He was a little wobbly so I kept an eye on him. I was trying to assess whether he needed help or was drunk and well, looking out for my family, friend and all of our luggage. I’m to be on alert when we are traveling.

After watching him for a few seconds, it dawned on me that he was checking the handles on every car door to see if the car was unlocked. Again, coming from Chicago, I’ve seen this a few times.

Finally success! The van at the end of the street, three cars from where we were standing, was unlocked! He double checked that the van was really unlocked, parked his bike behind the van and jumped right in. He made eye contact with us before he jumped in as if to say “yeah, what are you gonna do about it?” but in Danish as we were in Denmark.

Steph, my mom and I acknowledged to each other that this was actually happening but were not sure what to do. If we approached he could possibly hurt one or all of us, which none of us were willing to risk with the baby in our arms. We also didn’t know if he was working alone or with a crew. At the same time if we approached, he could have been spooked and ridden off, saving the owner of the van their possessions and the hassle of filing a police report, an insurance claim, and trying to get their items back.

By this time, Jeff had pulled up with the car and we quickly loaded our luggage, the baby and told Jeff what was happening. He decided that while he might not be able to stop it, he could at least tell someone. He went to the nearest store, literally across the street from where the crime was happening and told the store owner. She immediately came out and called the police (or whomever) to report the incident. Unfortunately before she could come out, the thief had finished and ridden away with his treasures.

Jeff reported what he could to the police over the phone but since the crime was no longer in progress it was no longer an emergency. We waited for about 30 minutes for the police to show up but needed to get on the road for our 8 hour drive home.

Now, here is my question to you, what would you do? In Chicago, I would have called the police immediately, taken pictures for evidence and said something. But in Copenhagen, Denmark…I did not.

Please tell me in the comments. What would you have done and why?

A Tale of Two Cities…Buda and Pest

Ten adults, three kids, and one long Easter weekend in Budapest with friends, coworkers and family. Since Chamonix went so well (more about that in another post), we decided the group should travel again. Many of us are expats from the US so traveling around Europe is a high priority. What’s great about this group is that on trips such as this, we feel very comfortable breaking off to do and see things on our own then join the group for group activities. The bad thing is that with a party of 13, sometimes it’s difficult to find seating at a restaurant for dinner especially in Budapest where many of the restaurants we came across were quite small. For this particular trip we had 9 Americans, 3 Spaniards, and 1 Brit! The expat family that travels together stays together!

We arrived to Budapest on Thursday evening and after a night of restful sleep, well as restful as it can be with a toddler sleeping in bed with you, we decided to walk around the city and explore. The first sight we came upon was St Stephens Basilica. This incredibly beautiful neo-classical building houses a mummified relic, the holy right hand of King St. Stephen. You can even pay 1€ to see it lit up. Since we went over Easter weekend, the basilica was adorned with so many beautiful white lilies, daisies and tulips.

Next we walked north on the Pest side along the Danube to the Shoes on the Danube memorial. This memorial is “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45.” During WWII about 3,500 people, 800 of them Jewish were brought to the river, ordered to take off their shoes, and shot so their bodies would fall into the Danube. Living in Europe, there are reminders everywhere of WWII like memorials, tombs, and stolpersteins. This memorial made me quite emotional, especially the pair of children’s shoes. The pebbles represent prayers and all the shoes were full.

Some in the group are planners (not us) and booked a wine cruise along the Danube. A lot of interesting information is provided about the landmarks you can see from the boat. I highly recommend this as you taste the many different wines of Hungary…and by many I mean 7. You get 7 glasses, not just tastes, of wine. Since Carson counted as a full drinking human, we occasionally got a generous pour, like my glass of rosé!

After the wine cruise, we continued north. A short distance along the river is the beautiful, neo-classical Parliament building. Then found a spot for a quick bite to eat and refreshments (photo credit: Tracy Still).

Making sure to leave no landmark along the river on the Pest side unseen, we continued our journey through the Olympic playground/park then to the musical fountain on Margaret Island. We somehow managed to show up to the musical fountain for the last show of the evening. The fountain played music by Simon & Garfunkel and the Beatles, changed colors and shot various water streams of water to the beat.

Walking back to our hotel at the end of the night seemed to take forever but did provide beautiful views of the city at night.

Saturday we took a 3 hour Bike tour through Budapest. We saw a ton of landmarks and got a little different history from the day before. We learned that King St. Stephen has a daughter named Margaret. He promised to commit his daughter to a life of devotion if the Mongols could be driven from the land. They were and she was. She took residence on this island, hence the name, at the age of nine until she died in her early 30s. What amazed me the most about the bike tour was that Carson slept though most of it.

Saturday afternoon found us hiking up a hill to the Royal Palace/Buda Castle on the Buda side and Instagram posing along the way. Of course refreshments were in order once we made it to the top!

On Easter Sunday, Jeff took Carson for the morning and a small group of us headed to Gellért Thermal Baths. The Romans are said to have discovered the thermal pools and used them religiously. Now tourists and locals alike enjoy the warm therapeutic waters of the thermal baths that can be found all around Budapest. Gellért has 8 thermal pools ranging from 19-38 C. May-September there is also an outdoor wave pool but we didn’t get to experience that.

In the afternoon, Jeff got some guy time on a beer bus and I took Carson to the Easter Markets. So many local vendors, so many beautiful things for sale, so much delicious food! We also spent a little time letting the girls play in a park by a fountain. They were champs being confined to their strollers for most of the trip (…and yes, they matched).

As it was Easter, many things were closed so we decided to host the group to a large pasta dinner at our hotel, which was an apartment style hotel…the only way to go with a little one! Everyone pitched in and we were able to have a wonderful Easter celebration. The picture below is of me about to try a Rachael cake, a Hungarian Jewish traditional cake comprised of many layers. Let’s just say that I’m glad I tried it but it was not my favorite. Crushed sesame seeds make up the bottom layer and the flavor from the seeds overpowered the rest of the cake.

Monday, our final day in Budapest led us around the Jewish quarter where we were staying. We toured the Dohány Street Synagogue. It is the largest Jewish house of worship outside of NYC. The courtyard to the side of the synagogue was the burial spot for 2,200 unidentified Jews during WWII. Behind the synagogue is the Tree of Life Memorial. Each leaf on the weeping willow memorial has an engraved name of a person or family who was murdered during WWII. There are hundreds of thousands of leaves.

Not sure how or why we didn’t find the Ruins Bars earlier but on the last day our whole group made our way into Szimpla Kert the first romkocsmá (ruin pub). These bars started as pop up bars in abandoned warehouses in the Jewish Quarter. Now these warehouses/bars are comprised of many different rooms, tons of random items like one would find in a rummage sale, art installations and graffiti…everywhere! The ruins bars are really cool.

Food. Can we just talk about the food for a minute? Not only is the Hungarian cuisine divine, and I’m not just talking about the goulash, but around every corner was another delicious, tasty treat. Thankfully our group is great at sharing!

Road Trip!

When a friend from the states, who has explicitly gotten their passport to come and visit, finally comes to visit…Road Trip! And what better way to break in the passport then to go to as many countries as possible in a short amount of time. Jeff’s good friend, Grant came to visit recently and hopefully we his European adventure didn’t disappoint. Our 5 day adventure took us through Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Below are quick descriptions of places we visited and some pictures from along the way.

Day 1:

  • Cologne, Germany
    • Kölner Dom/Cologne Cathedral-This amazingly beautiful cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. One of its treasures is the Shrine of the Three Kings which it is believed to hold relics of the three wise men. The Cologne Cathedral became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
    • FRÜH am Dom-After admiring the cathedral we headed to a traditional German brewpub a few blocks away. It’s the kind of place where you find a seat wherever you can, share, tables with strangers, beers are refilled almost as soon as they are empty and your beer consumption is marked on your coaster. (The marks on this coaster indicate the beers of the group…not just me. We each had 3, 0.2L kölsch beers).

  • Remagen, Germany
    • Brücke von Remagen-In the closing weeks of WWII, this critical remaining bridge over the Rhine river was captured by the US Army. This bridge was on Grant’s list of things to see as his grandfather took part in missions that helped secure it. The bridge collapsed 10 days after it was captured in 1945 but the towers remain.
  • Koblenz, Germany
    • Deutsches Eck-The German Corner is in Koblenz and is where the Mosel river merges with the Rhine. At the eck is a statue of Wilhelm I, the unifying emperor of Germany. This statue was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in 1993.

  • Augenroller (Eye Roller)-This is a strange monument that you might walk by if you didn’t know to look for it (or what it does). It’s the face of Johan Lutter, a 16th century robber. His eyes “roll” back and forth like the pendulum of a grandfather clock and every half hour his tongue darts in and out for a few seconds. He was beheaded for his crimes so some say he is there as a reminder to stay on track others say that he is there to taunt the citizens of Koblenz.

Day 2:

  • Verdun, France
    • Verdun Memorial-An extremely well done Memorial/museum to commemorate the Battle of Verdun in WWI. Over 230,000 young men died out of 700,000 casualties (dead, wounded & missing) during the long battle, Feb. 21, 1916-Dec. 19, 1916.
    • Duoaumont Ossuary-Just a few minutes down the road lies a memorial and 13,000 crosses which hold 130,000 unidentified remains from the battle. The ground around the Memorial is still sculpted by all of the bombs that were dropped and each year they find more remains of soldiers who died on the battlefield.

  • Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
    • Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial-The burial spot for General George S. Patton and 5,073 WWII American soldiers. While sad, the cemetery is incredibly beautiful. Included in the entrance of the cemetery are 2 maps that depict happenings during WWII. We arrived 10 min after closing so we came back the next morning before heading to our next location.

  • Luxembourg City-After visiting the American Cemetery we explored Luxembourg City. It was a Sunday (which means a lot of things in Europe are closed) but it’s pretty small so we were able to see a lot of the greatest hits before checking into the hotel.

Day 3:

  • Brussels, Belgium
    • Brasserie Cantillon-small brewery that makes phenomenal sours. Seriously delicious! If you are in Brussels, make the stop!
    • City exploring took up the rest of our day. We took Grant to all of our favorite places from our last trip. Check our “I Can Show You The World” blog post for more on Brussels.

Day 4:

  • Rotterdam, The Netherlands
    • Markthal-We drove from Brussels to Rotterdam and went straight to Markthal. It’s an apartment building, parking garage, and food hall with just about every food imaginable including our favorite, the fresh made stroop waffles. I didn’t know about stroop waffles until we moved to Europe and now they are one of my favorite foods…especially when made fresh! Imagine a circular thin waffle, cut in half then slathered with fresh caramel in the middle. Soooo delicious! (Jeff’s new favorite is the stroop waffle with Nutella in the middle. Yummy!)

  • Cube Houses-These are quite interesting to look at. They are houses that have been tilted by 45 degrees. The houses are lifted and are supposed to represent trees. Together they are supposed to create a forest. One owner has turned his cube into a space that curious visitors can tour. Rotterdam is an extremely modern city full of art. It pretty much had to be after getting almost completely demolished in WWII.
  • Vessel 11-This British Gastro Pub on a boat docked in the old city harbor was a recommendation from a good friend. I’m glad we trusted her. The atmosphere is cozy and unique, very nautical. We had a few drinks and the Bitterballen. If you’ve never experienced Bitterballen, you should. They are Dutch beef ragout balls. If beef stew could be in meatball form, this would be it!
  • Fenix Food Factory-In an old warehouse lies the Fenix Food Factory. This collective of restaurant is extremely hip and modern. It reminds me of Union Market in DC, a lot of delicious restaurants in one location. We got beers at Kaapse Brouwers and a Japanese pork pancake. Both were excellent choices.

  • Delft, The Netherlands
    • The city of Delft-is located between Rotterdam and The Hague in South Holland. It is known for hand painted blue and white pottery and is said to be the birthplace of microbiology. There is a medieval Oude Kerk (old church) which is the burial site of the famous artist Johannesburg Vermeer. The main town square that sits between City Hall and the New Kerk (built between 1381-1496) has plenty of shops with fresh Gouda, ice cream, blue and white pottery, wooden shoes and souvenirs. The city center reminded me of Amsterdam with all of the canals that run through the city.

Day 5:

  • Haarlem, The Netherlands
    • Frans Hals Museum-Our last stop took us to Haarlem to visit the Frans Hals Museum. Grant has been a big fan of the way Hals painted regular, everyday people since he learned about the artist in college. Hals was a Dutch Golden Age painter alongside Vermeer and Rembrandt. The museums collection includes other Dutch artists from around the same time period as well as modern art from Dutch artists. This museum is a definite must see if you ever make your way to Haarlem as it is incredibly well done.