Friday, September 24, 2010

A-Marketing We Go...

I decided to bring my camera along with me this morning to the open market. I am definitely living out my ideal grocery shopping scenario. We have a tiny fridge-- think of a big dorm-sized one-- so I can't keep many perishables on hand. We have one rack in the pantry where I keep coconut milk, nuts, etc., but otherwise all of our food is either on the counter or in the fridge-- which means I need to keep buying small amounts almost every day.

All week long, there are green grocers with their tents set up in the city square. These items are bought from a big market in Nuremburg in the wee hours of the morning, and many of these are imported from other countries. These stalls are convenient, but I try to wait for the actual farmers to come on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
The daily vendors. They are becoming familiar with me, and today one of them taught me the word for "basket," very patiently writing it down when it was clear that I was not quite getting the pronunciation.

My first shopping day is Wednesday, when I go to buy produce, wild vension, and whatever seasonal items show up in various booths-- this week it was mixed wild mushrooms and wild cranberries. There is a spice vendor there as well as a Turkish man with all sorts of olives, cheeses, hummus, etc.

Fridays are the biggest market day. There are lots of meat vendors, along with breads booths, fish mongers, and farmers. This probably doesn't look too appetizing to you, but this marinated turkey is wunderbar.

Bread cart. I love the old-timey look!

My favorite is the rotisserie truck! You can buy whole roasted hens and geese. I do plan on picking up a goose one of these days, but I usually buy two small chickens-- one to pick apart with Amelia for lunch (she gets out of school early on Fridays,) and the other to use the meat and bones for chicken stock and soups during the week. I tend to be kind of shy with the camera, but asking this man if I could take his pictures warmed him right up, and in turn, he asked me some questions about living here. I love making relationships with the vendors, it makes the whole process of shopping so enjoyable!
Roast Geese.

Why so nervous?

There is also the Herb Lady, who makes beautiful wreaths and little woodsy decorations.

She speaks English pretty well and makes really good pestos and chutneys, and goes to great trouble to explain things to me. She told me today that there will be a festival coming up that the churches celebrate, kind of like Thanksgiving, in honor of the harvest. This explains one of the fancier displays today.

And maybe the presence of a basket weaver...

...And a clog maker...?
It's really nice to see everyone out and about, enjoying the beautiful Fall weather. There was a large group of people from a nearby elderly home.
And look who I ran into! It's Ingrid!
(She tells me she'll be at the upcoming flohmarkt, so stay tuned for that shopping fun!)

This is what I came home with today, minus the meats.

Anyway, I'd say Friday is my biggest shopping day. Many of the farmers return on Saturday as well, so it's nice to walk around and look as a family, but not needing to do much actual purchasing. Every other week or so, I go to a big grocery store to buy some dry goods and such. Then most days, I realize that I am missing one or two items and I go to a little grocery about four stores away on our street. There are little shops nearby that are a mix between a deli and a butcher shop, called a Metzgerei, where I buy meat if I need some for dinner that night. All in all, I get by without really going to a real grocery store for a long time! Food goes through our kitchen quickly, but it is very easy to restock. And I must mention that our food budget is about the same here as it was in Portland!

In light of all of the food allergies I have had to juggle for Jeff and Amelia, and some nagging health issues, our family is transitioning to a grain-free lifestyle. I took a picture today to turn in to a contest on a website that has been fun and inspiring for me, detailing what our family eats in a typical week (delicious-looking child not included.)
Not pictured, but written in: 1 Kilo Fresh Turkey, 1 Kilo Wild Venison, 2 Rotisserie Chickens, and 4 Dozen Pastured Eggs.

Although it could be difficult to make such a big switch, the setup here is so ideal, it has actually simplified my life quite a bit. We basically eat meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and butter. And I enjoy some other dairy. We are all pretty happy with this, and of course feeling good too! I love doing all of the marketing, and look forward to my shopping days very much.

Thanks for coming along with me today!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Here's an old post. It makes me even more glad to be done with that phase of the transition! I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that it would indeed get much, much better!
July 26th

We are finally in our apartment! We had a grueling day on Saturday trying to make it happen, and of course I can't pass up the opportunity to tell you how it went.

We rented a car for the day, and Jeff had to take the bus to go pick it up. It was pouring rain, and as a personal favor to me, he had taken Amelia and her car seat with him. They were soaked by the time they got to the rental place. He drove right away over to the mattress store to pick up the the mattresses we had paid for the day before, but they were closed. They sat in the car for ½ and hour, and finally got the mattresses. Here they make them so that you can roll them up and stuff them into a compact car. We got two twins for us rather than a queen-- it's the European Way. They all barely fit into the car, and Jeff drove them to our apartment. It got real real complicated, with this being his first day driving here, and us living on a pedestrian street, an unfortunate foray onto a one-way street, and mattresses blocking the view. Fortunately, a new German friend was on call and crammed himself into the car with the three mattresses, Jeff and Amelia. He helped him get some parking and then haul them up the 35 stairs up to our apartment. Whew!

It was 11 a.m. When Jeff picked me up, and he was already sweating bullets. Luckily, I had been enjoying the rare solitude while cleaning and packing up our hotel room, so at least one of us wasn't strung out when we hit the autobahn. And it was good I started out cool, because I am a very, very untrusting passenger. I like driving, in part because I don't ever think other drivers are paying nearly as much attention as I am. So it was a trust exercise-- which Jeff and I both passed with flying colors as we sped over to Nuremberg.

We got to IKEA pretty quickly, with a vague idea of what we needed and a clear sense of the little cash we had on hand and plenty of resolve to push our way through the crowds. To my delight, Amelia really wanted to go into “Smalland,” even though I explained to her that we couldn't go with her and there would be tons of children inside. She was so excited, and Jeff and I couldn't believe our good fortune, shopping on our own! This good feeling lasted until about 20 minutes later, when the pager we had been given went off. For some reason, Jeff felt sure that something terrible had happened, and went running through the store to get to his probably-bleeding-or-in-hysterics-daughter. When he finally got through the mobs of people and furniture, he found her just watching a movie, bored with all of the options in “Smalland.” Poor guy. Needless to say, shopping got MUCH more complicated after that. We got the bare minimum that we felt like would make us feel at home, and that we could fit into our VW Golf. On our way to checking out, I realized that the set of dressers and armoires that I really loved but couldn't afford were on sale, at least 50% off! I snagged a lowboy dresser, and we made our purchases. To my surprise, we had only spent half of the money allotted for this trip! We packed all of the items into our car, and they barely fit. But I still wanted those armoires... So we decided we would have them delivered. Somehow, this decision ended up landing us in various lines for over two hours! All told, we spent six life-sucking hours at that store, but it had to be done, and we were just glad it was over when we left.

Our original plan for the day had been to go to IKEA, check out Nuremberg and see if there were any other home stores there to look at, maybe get a meal, who knows? We left IKEA at 6:30 and had a 45 minute drive ahead of us. So, we decided we'd drop things off, go to the grocery store (we still hadn't been to one, since we didn't have a car and the bigger ones weren't walkable with a little one) and go out for dinner. Having Amelia wet her pants at IKEA while in the shopping cart waiting in line made this a lot more complicated. Once we got to Amberg, we decided to go shopping first, and cram the groceries into our stuffed rental car. It took a long time to find the store we wanted, even though we were right there all along-- it was just a shop the people we asked directions from weren't familiar with! We did our quick shopping of a few basic items, and went to pay. There was a line behind us, and I couldn't find the bigger bill I'd been counting on! We'd spent all of our cash at IKEA except the amount I was planning to use for shopping! This is, in my book, the worst social situation ever. Somehow, I have always had this fear of not having enough money on hand in front of other people. Anyhow, I have now faced that fear. I had to quickly pick out the items that seemed less vital till we came to a total we could afford. Lame.

I know this is getting long, but bear with me. It gets worse. We were starving for dinner and it was 8:00. We wanted to go out to eat, but needed to take care of Amelia's very stinky clothing situation. After the unloading process (remember, 35 stairs!) I decided I'd give Amelia a bath while Jeff went to pick up our suitcases from the hotel-- we didn't have any clothes at the apartment yet. So Amelia bathed, and we waited and waited. She just hung out in a sheet (we still don't have towels) until Jeff finally got back with our luggage. But he had forgotten her suitcase!! At this point it was getting too late to even consider going out to eat. I fed the nude little Amelia some odds and ends while Jeff went back for her things. But... He had locked the car into the parking garage, and couldn't get back in, so he had to walk to the hotel and back. We finally got her into her Pjs and in bed, but... Her “blankey,” sippy cup and pet zebra, all of which are bedtime essentials, were locked in the car, locked in the parking garage. And this was her first night in her new room-- there was MUCH wailing. Jeff and I ate some salad on our stairs, and I went in to lay down with her while Jeff just stood around outside the parking garage waiting for the door to open.

In the end Jeff got in, we got the essentials, and slept here. But it was definitely not what I had envisioned!! We still don't have fitted sheets, towels or anywhere to hang our clothes. We have no shelves or chairs, but our dining table is in a flat box waiting to be assembled. The armoires will be delivered tomorrow. Yesterday (Sunday) went better, and we went with some local new friends to a “kinderfest” in town. It was a much better day. We'll take our time with all of the rest of the stuff, it's good to finally be in our own space! And this, my friends, is the reality of following a romantic notion of leaving all of your things behind and moving to Europe! And I'm afraid we'd do it all over again, given the opportunity.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In the in-betweens...

So there are plenty of big events, like going to Munich, starting school, flohmarkt-shopping, etc. But what about all of the spaces in between? Amelia is at school for much of the day, Jeff is gone before I wake up and back around dinner. I have zero social engagements, and ride in a car twice a week, tops (and it's usually a five minute drive to the grocery store,) and some weeks not at all.
So, what am I doing during all of that time when I'm not parenting, going to work or riding in a car?

Well, I would be sitting on a couch, if we had one. The only sitting places here are at our dining table or on our bed (mattress on the floor.) But my favorite spot to hang out and read (currently it's Molecules of Emotion by Candice Pert,) journal or "compute" is on one of our broad window sills.
Here I am right now. The view is great, and I get to be a nosy neighbor. I also get a little sunlight into my system, even if it's overcast, which it often is. My behind gets sore, but it's worth it. Also, down that street is a little cafe that roasts their own coffee. It's really sweet and cozy, and has coffee even Portland would be proud of. (The other places here, not so much.) The tables outside offer lap blankets on nippy days-- how adorable is that?! There is a little courtyard with a fountain and little bronze pig statues, with big chestnut trees overhead. I also like to take Amelia there so she can "bathe" and "feed" the piggies.
So, lots of downtime. I am sorely in need of that, after two months of being on my own with Amelia all the time, trying to get all sorts of things done. My life right now is an introvert's paradise-- no one else home most of the day, no friends, no work, no social obligations. I do like people, though, and so it is even more wonderful that I can talk to friends and family on our Vonage phone. I intend to make friends and somehow get involved in something here in Amberg. But in the meantime I am trying to recharge my severely drained batteries.

I would like to just stop and say that I love my life here. I don't think we stop and recognize that which is making us happy often enough. And there seems to be an unhealthy rule in many circles that you don't share your joys, for fear of making someone else feel bad for not having the same experiences in life. But we should tell each other-- happiness is worth expressing! Let me just take a moment and tell you:

I love walking Amelia to and from school.
I love having a great little cup of coffee and sitting for as long as I want to at the local cafe.
I love shopping at the open market, even if it can be difficult to communicate sometimes.
I love just looking out all of my windows-- it's so dreamy!
I love my daily schedule.
I love our big, empty apartment-- it is just beautiful.
I love not spending time in cars, and that I haven't driven for months.
I love walking everywhere, and biking is awesome too.
I love being alone.
I love all of the fresh, high quality food I can buy here-- wild venison was my favorite find this week.
I love that it's turning to fall-- I don't know what winter will be like, but I always have this giddy energy that comes with the nip in the air and the golden light. They call it "Herbst" here, which sounds so woodsy.
I love starting over with new people in a new place-- I am only the person I am today-- not the one I was years ago, and no one has ever heard of me before. That is liberating for me, coming from a big, well-known family.
I love that every view from any angle in my new life is a great one.

I walk around smiling all of the time. How could I not? This is kind of a sweet time for me, after the very arduous move and time of adjustment... We still have plenty to do in terms of settling in. We're saving our money for a couch and some other furniture. We'd like to paint. I want to go to Paris pretty badly. But I am reasonably settled and don't have a sense of urgency for anything. I've made it! Now it gets better! Also, in a week or so I start school. I will be attending PSU online as a full-time student. I have no idea what this looks like, in terms of daily time commitment. But I'm looking forward to it, and hopeful that I may even finish my degree within a year! And I am looking for a German language class to sign up for here in Amberg. I will inevitably be much busier than I am now, so I am trying to just relish the open slots of time I have at the moment. Sure, I spend time cooking and cleaning a lot, but I can do it at an enjoyable pace, not crammed into the cracks in a busy, loaded schedule.
I am thankful.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Home Snippets

I really do want to take you on a complete tour of our home, I promise, but it's kind of a wreck. You wouldn't enjoy it. There is no furniture, our living room is just our recycling center with piles of cardboard and bubble wrap. But we do have some cute corners and consistently-tidy areas. I'll show you some of those, so you get the general feeling without all of the riffraff.

I always start with the kitchen when I move somewhere, so this one is more doable. As I wandered around the house just now, with my toothbrush in my mouth (don't know why inspiration seems to strike mid-brush!) and camera in hand, I chose to spare you the unwiped counters and the open dishwasher. There were a couple of angles, however that were eager to be shown off.

We have a ton of counter space! It is so nice, and makes cooking much easier, being able to spread out a little.
By the way, those brown apothecary jars and the glass cloche are from Ingrid.

Next was my favorite corner in Amelia's room. I thought about this nook long before we moved here-- a cozy little spot for her to sit and read. Of course, I was in complete denial about the fact that Amelia would never actually choose to be in a room alone. Maybe this corner was really for me. I should have made it in my room...

And let's get real for a moment here, folks: will her room really ever be much more photographable than this? I don't clean her room for her any more. Her bed will be made by her after her nap, but it never really looks great. She's a kid! It's pure vanity for me to want it to look pretty for my friends.A real bed would sure help, though! By the way, I am thinking of getting this wallpaper to put in the alcoves in here, and painting the inside edges a pretty light pink.

Our bathroom is HUGE. Huge! There is so much open floorspace that we could seriously put a queen sized mattress on the floor in there for guests. (Any takers?) The bathtub is awesome, and Jeff tells me the shower is just fine.
The door goes into the laundry room, and then goes into our bedroom.
Our bedroom holds some of the only furniture in our house, we were that determined to "do it up big" after sleeping in a tiny attic space where we couldn't even fit a box spring, let alone sit up in bed. Of course, our bed is now covered in laundry (that's what happens when you have the laundry room a few feet away!) but you can see our furniture and cool light.
This, in my opinion, is some of the only IKEA furniture that doesn't look like "IKEA furniture." and they discontinued it. This is sad, but it also meant that it was less than half-price!
There's another armoire on the right, but, toothbrush in mouth and camera in hand, I didn't feel like tidying up that area.I love it. It casts the perfect shadows at night, too.

So, now you've seen at least a bit. There will be more.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

This weekend I died and went to Flea Market Heaven.

I am lucky enough to have already made a friend here. She is an older woman named Indgrid, and we got connected with her during the first week we arrived in Amberg. There was a woman staying in our hotel who spoke English, and through Amelia's charms we quickly befriended her. It was great to have someone to ask relevant questions, like "Are there thrift stores here? Where can we buy cheap stuff?!" Although most of the facts about 2nd hand wares were discouraging, she was still able to help us out. She called Ingrid, who was downsizing and moving to a tiny studio apartment. She gave me Indgrid's number, and we went over there and bought a lot of her stuff! It was such a huge blessing, because I was able to get cookware, houseplants, platters and vases and that sort of thing from her-- it saved me SO much money and work! She has been really kind and helpful to us-- she spends the cold part of the year in Australia, so her English is excellent and she knows what it's like to be a foreigner. I have been able to call her and ask her cultural questions, and she has given me lots of helpful advice on where to find various items, when it's OK to haggle, etc. She called to tell me that the very best flea market in the area was in a town called Neumarkt, and it was being held this past Saturday. She assured us that there would be plenty of antiques, unlike the "flohmarkt" here which was mostly people selling their junk on card tables, like a neighborhood yard sale (although that was not so bad-- we came home with a drill-- it wasn't what we'd hoped for.)

We are still lacking SO many household goods-- even as people who like to live minimally. So we ventured out, and were very well rewarded. The size of this market was surprisingly big, and the stuff was all amazing. I just walked around, smiling-- it was all so beautiful, unique, interesting and cool! We didn't even get to see everything, there was so much! I swear I could have taken one of everything there, but I was very happy with what I walked away with. Five euros seemed to be the magic price of the day, and it certainly helped that we were there right before everyone was packing up, and eager to unload a few more items. Here are all of my Five Euro Finds:

Isn't this the coolest little tea kettle?

I had been hoping to find something like this, and I had seen some on various websites, but of course for much much more.

This is solid iron and super heavy. It's hard to see the size from the picture, but it's big-- about a foot wide.

I could have seriously gone crazy with all of the beautiful table linens-- embroidered, striped, etc., and all pure linen. This one was a good bargain, and just the right size for our tiny dining table.

No matter how many fancy ways I've tried preparing coffee, nothing beats a cone drip. I love the ceramic ones, and although it's hard to find them in stores here, there were plenty of vintage ones there. Now to find a matching Melitta coffee pitcher...

A little enamel bowl. So practical, so irresistible.

A couple other things were definitely worth a little more, but were still very good deals:

An antique Swiss military first aid box! This will be perfect for vitamins...

And, my favorite, a vintage educational poster on brassicas. Our walls need to be painted really badly, and this is not only wonderful to look at, but covers a very awful-looking wall in our kitchen.

Driving away with all of our new things, I felt so lucky! I really felt like was taking advantage of living in Europe, and although everything else seems to be much more expensive here, I had finally hit the jackpot. This market is held once a month, and I think Jeff and I will try to be there every time.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Let's Get Down to It.

Yes, I am rather backlogged on things I want to share with you. First, we'll talk about Munich.
Three weekends ago, we planned a rather last-minute trip to Munich. We found a European version of Hotwire and locked in a great price on a "top secret" hotel near the English Garden. It turned out to be a gigantic Hilton, in a truly amazing location. Our hotel room, while not anything special, looked out onto a river on the edge of a forested area surrounding the garden.

The weather was sweltering-hot. I had no idea it would be the last warm weekend here in Bavaria-- I might have enjoyed it a little more in that case! But the cement and stone of the city just made the heat and the sunlight really intense. It was a three hour drive because of terrible traffic, and our car doesn't have any A/C. The evening that we arrived, we a took a bus to a nearby shopping district and mostly walked around, and did some clothes shopping for Jeff. I also found my very own dirndl at a quirky little shop there. (As a side note, people really wear dirndls and lederhosen here! I couldn't believe it. Sure, there are the older gentlemen in the full ensemble, including feathered hat-- but also young guys chilling at a coffee shop in their lederhosen! And whenever there is a festival, women are seen everywhere in their cute dirndls, and it's a common restaurant server uniform as well.) We had some wonderful Greek food for dinner, and called it a day.

The next morning, we set out to really "see" Munich. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and most everything was closed. But cafes and restaurants were open, and plus you don't have to go through any doors to see all of the incredible Gothic architecture of the city. We wandered around for a very long time and finally came to the Marienplatz, where we found some breakfast. The sun was so hot and bright, that we tried to stay in the shade us much as possible. The place was just crawling with tourists, and we were right next to the city hall with a famous Glockenspiel that people were crowding into the square to see every hour. We mostly walked around for the morning, then were looking for some refuge from the sun.

The English Garden was the perfect shady escape. It's not so much a garden as I would think of one, but a really big, beautiful green space. It was actually kind of like a nature amusement park. It is one of the worlds largest public parks, even bigger than Central Park. It was fairly crowded, and there were various attractions-- the Chinese pagoda, a lakeside restaurant, meadowy sunbathing spaces, etc. Also, lots of live music, of the oom-pah-pah variety. It was really nice! One highlight was a rickshaw ride from one end to the other. I didn't get many good pictures, but you'll just have to trust me that it was like a movie set akin to the "Jolly Holiday" scene in Mary Poppins.
Crammed into the rickshaw!
One of several stream that help keep the whole place cool-- we had fun taking our shoes off and wading in it.

After the long, hot drive going to Munich, we decided it would be best to hit the road early in the afternoon. Fortunately, we made great time getting to Amberg, and having the full evening ahead of us here made us feel more refreshed after a fun weekend. Although I don't have any more plans to travel for now, it was so much fun to get out and be a tourist for a couple of days, not needing to worry about anything but having a good time as a family-- such a welcome relief after all of the packing, moving, unpacking, adjusting, etc! We really look forward to going back again, and can't believe it's such a reasonable drive for us.

Monday, September 06, 2010

It's the "First Day of School" Post.

Somebody is very excited.

Ever since we arrived, we've all sort of been waiting for that magical moment when Amelia would start going to school. She does so well with lots of variety in her days, and plenty of social interaction. I do so well with solitude and less excitement. It was a very long wait. But now we have entered that wonderful season of morning routines, busy days for Amelia and quiet, productive times for me. She is SO excited about her school!

This is our "front door" to our apartment, although it's shared by several others.

She has come home very happy every day. It's hard to figure out what exactly goes on over there, since she has always been very tight-lipped about the events of her school day. But there is lots of snacking on fresh fruits and vegetables. They serve herbal tea, very diluted juice, and water. Eating and drinking have always been the main-events of Amelia's days. There is a little dining room where she eats lunch, that looks like a kids' restaurant. No one speaks English well there, but she comes home each day with a few new German words.

I love crossing the bridge each morning.
Here, she is getting really tired of me snapping pictures, and just wants to get there already. I'm glad she humored me anyway.

The walk to school each morning is really wonderful. It is at the same time as one of the church's bells toll for morning mass, and we pass by the big beautiful doors as all the elderly ladies line up outside and coo at Amelia passing by.

I love the above picture. Amelia's in school six hours a day now, and it seems like such a big change. Even though the kindergarten is very play-based, it seems like she's really started her school career.
Her adorable classroom. I think she spends most of her time in this play kitchen.

Exciting times for all of us!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sassy Pants...

Amelia was in fine form tonight at dinner. Here are a couple of snippets.

"Some moms don't really make very good food for their kids. But Mama, you are doing very well with your cooking."

Amelia: Papa, tomorrow YOU get to take me to school!
Jeff: I'm excited-- I've haven't been there before.
Amelia: Yes, and I will even show you the bathroom.
Jeff: Could you show me the snack room?
Amelia: Sure! But you can't eat in there. The food is just for the kids.
Jeff: But what if I'm hungry?!
Amelia: (Firmly) Well, then you can eat your saliva.

Also, I think we need to watch the way we talk to her, because when she talks to us, everything comes out as super condescending.