Easter in Vienna 2016

We were glad to share our first Easter here in Vienna with Kathy and some good friends. In the days leading up to Easter I learned a few new things. First, in addition to Christmas markets, Vienna also has Easter markets. Shops are constructed a couple of weeks before Easter to sell delicious food (like bread bowl soup, pretzels with chocolate and cotton candy) and crafts including some of the most beautifully painted eggs I have ever seen. IMG_4493IMG_4494I had read about painting eggs using water colors and thought that we would give that a try this year instead of dying Easter eggs. Then I realized that I haven’t seen white eggs since moving to Vienna. Apparently they are here somewhere, but I hadn’t come across any, so I decided we’d use acrylic paints instead. Sebastian came home from kindergarten with a request to bring eggs to school for their Easter party. After a brief German conversation (accompanied with some hand gestures) I learned they were supposed to be blown out and then cooked to kill the bacteria instead of being hard-boiled eggs. It was my first time to blow out eggs and the family was waiting for me to finish so we could use the eggs to cook breakfast. I gained a whole new sense of appreciation for the hundreds of blown out eggs at the Easter Market and the boys got a good laugh out of watching me. The painting was a success–more fun (and more time-consuming) than dying eggs. We did both blown and hard boiled eggs, but I like the hollow ones best because then I don’t have to crack them and mess up the picture.

Here people hang their eggs on pussy willow branches. I had been planning on buying some just before Easter so we could decorate for Easter morning, but I forgot on Saturday until the stores were closed so I trimmed a forsythia branch off one of the bushes we pass on the way to the park, hoping I wouldn’t be scolded by anyone for it. We made paper chains and hung  the palm crosses from palm Sunday from them. We also tried sugar string eggs, but they weren’t dry enough so we ended up hanging them balloons and all.  IMG_4532

The Holy Week services were not well-timed for children so we did our own Maundy Thursday service. We made it to Good Friday service, though there was some napping through it which resulted in someone not being ready for bed. Saturday night we held our own Easter Vigil following this service my friend Heather wrote using the Jesus Bible Story Book by Sally Lloyd Jones for the readings. I think next year I might ask about organizing some family services.

Not having a yard to hunt eggs in, this year we had an indoor egg hunt. It was a beautiful day, so Adam took the boys to the park while I hid the eggs. I also sent them on a scavenger hunt to find their baskets. Sebastian has already asked to do it again.

Our friends Byron and Elsa came in the afternoon on Easter and ate soup and finger foods with us. They came bearing chocolate bunnies and Robin’s Eggs from the U.S. for the boys. We had a great time with them, as always. The weather turned warm just in time for Easter and it really felt like all things are being made new.IMG_4534

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Welcoming Gran

We looked forward to March 10th with great anticipation. We were welcoming our first guest here to Vienna–Adam’s mom Kathy, known to the majority of our household as “Gran.”  I should begin by saying thank you to all of you who made the trip for her possible–the one who gave sky miles to purchase her flight, the one who sent money for her to get her passport, the ones who gave so generously so she could do all the things she wanted to do while she was here, and the ones who were willing to do without her for six weeks so we could have this special time.  I cannot begin to express how dear the memories of these past three weeks have been, how dear to me the smiles on my children’s faces are that she brings. Thank you is not enough, but thank you.

When we purchases furnishings we got the basics, so before Kathy arrived Gabriel and I made a trip to IKEA to pick up some extra things needed for hosting guests as well as a few other things we had been adding to a list. We had a great time together–he chose to help me shop rather than going to play in the children’s room.  He made fun of his own as we gathered up items. He did accidentally startle someone who walked past  and saw him unexpectedly in his “car.”

We made a special nook in the living room for Kathy and future guests to call their own. IMG_4346 We marked off days on the calendar. Gabriel made a paper chain to count down the days. The boys prepared a welcome sign. Finally the day came that Gran was to board the plane in Birmingham for her first ever flight. She gets five stars for bravery to make her first flight one that would carry her over 5000 miles from home and to do it all by herself.  About 20 hours after her departure I took the train to the airport to meet her. Unfortunately, the train I was supposed to take was cancelled, so I arrived about 30 minutes after I had planned. But it worked out perfectly and I got there just after she had picked up her bag and walked out.  I only got about 5 phone calls from the boys while I was gone asking if we were almost home. IMG_4402

We have been busy showing Gran all the places we like to go and the things we like to see and what our normal, everyday lives are like.

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Showing Gran Stephansdom for the first time.

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The Kunsthistorisches Museum

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Schönbrunn Gardens

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At the park close to our apartment where the younger 3 boys like to play.

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I have always told the boys I am too big to slide on this slide, but to their delight Gran did it!

We have introduced our favorite foods.

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Kebab sandwiches. Gran liked them, but after she tried falafel, she hasn’t gone back.

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Mozart Chocolate

She has made the boys laugh as they try to get her to say German words. She has been here to anticipate a much longed for Spring with us. IMG_4456We have talked and laughed and wondered together and just been. And it is wonderful.

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Ice Skating at the Rathaus

IMG_4380Winter for us has been long. Someone has been sick for the last 5-6 weeks–flu, stomach bugs, colds and coughs, kidney problems, sore throats. People say if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. So I haven’t blogged in a while. I’m sure I could have found something nice to say, but I have been tired. It occurred to me the other day though, that March was just around the corner. It gave me hope that Spring was coming and with that the realization that the seemingly long winter–and with it the opportunity for ice-skating–was almost at an end. Since I had promised the boys we would go ice skating this winter, I decided this week I better make it a point to go. So we made plans to go skating this past Thursday at outdoor rink set up outside the Rathaus. (FYI: Rat means counsel. Rathaus is the city hall building. The word for the animal rat is Ratte.)

The weather was a bit cold and wet, but we had the very pleasant surprise when we arrived that they were offering free admission, courtesy of Coca-cola and the Special Olympics, so we only had to pay to rent a few pairs of skates. Sebastian has been skating every week with his kindergarten, so he was pretty comfortable on skates. I went with him one week so I wasn’t too out of practice. It was fun seeing all his friends and I practiced my German with his teacher.

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This  was Gabriel’s first time and the other’s first time since our first year in Minnesota. Jack was 4 and the twins were 5 at the time. Our friend Lynn from church came along. The setting was beautiful with big open areas for skating as well as winding paths to circle around on. There was also a small beginners area with penguins to push around for balance. They did great.

It was a lot of fun and good exercise. I think next year I might have to get a season pass and go skate for an hour each evening. For now though, the ice skates are put away and we are looking forward to Spring. Today on the way to the playground I saw tulip leaves coming up!

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“Gingerbread” Houses

IMG_4067The boys have always enjoyed decorating gingerbread houses. Last year we deviated from the traditional flat houses I have always made and attempted three dimensional houses. It was terrible.  This year we had to be creative. I couldn’t find molasses for gingerbread, so we made shortbread cookies instead. I couldn’t find powdered sugar for the icing I normally make, so we used Nutella. We had some M&Ms that Adam’s mom sent and a few other things left over from candy the boys bought in the States. We missed gum drops most of all, but they had fun decorating and eating all the same.

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Isaac

Isaac

Sebastian

Sebastian

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Gabriel

Gabriel

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Jack

Jack

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Stephen

Stephen

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Stephen’s house

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Schönbrunn Zoo

IMG_3902January 2nd we all packed a lunch and headed back to Schönbrunn Palace, this time for a trip to the zoo.  It is the oldest zoo in the world, established in 1752. We met up with friends who had been there many times before and acted as tour guides for us.

IMG_4015It was cold, so we spent most of the time in indoor exhibits: reptiles, insects, the rain forest, and the monkey house. Unlike American zoos, we could sit in the comfort of the exhibits and eat our lunch while we watched the animals around us.

Jack’s favorite were the snakes. IMG_3955

Gabriel likes the monkeys. One the second floor of the money house were images famous paintings and other art that featured monkeys which was neat.

IMG_4007 Sebastian liked the penguins.

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Stephen’s favorite were these aquatic animals I failed to learn the name of. He called them “mushroom thingys.” He took a really good picture, but it won’t load for some reason.

Isaac liked the Brillenbär (bears with markings like they are wearing glasses) best.IMG_4023

The animal highlight of the trip for me was the elephants. The zoo has 2 young elephants, 1 year and 5 years old, that were busy at play, wrapping their trunks together and pushing on each other with their heads. The older sister elephant came over at one point, apparently to keep the bigger of the 2 elephants from playing too rough. A zoo worker happened by while we were watching them and I learned more about elephants than I ever have known. The elephant herd is made up of the females and the young. Adult male elephants live on their own. Elephants only have 4 teeth which they change out 6 times. (Jack was truly impressed by this, exclaiming “4! I have 20!) They do not lose their teeth like humans though. Their teeth are big, so losing one outright would leave a huge hole in their mouth and only 2 teeth to chew and they would starve. Instead the new teeth grow in and the old ones gradually crumble away. If  there 6th set were to wear out they would starve, but the elephant’s heart usually fails before then. There was more he said I’m sure, but it was cold and there were 7 children bouncing around me as I listened.IMG_4037

We watched some birds being fed. I miss birds! The boys pretended to be prairie dogs in some tunnels.  We didn’t begin to see everything, but have a year long pass, so we will be back for more.

The other highlight was watching the boys develop good friendships and making some of my own.DSCN0730

 

 

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New Year’s Eve in Vienna

IMG_3888This New Year’s Eve the boys and I ventured out for their first ever New Year’s Eve party at our new friends’ house. They played and pillow fought, roasted and ate countless marshmallows and lit sparklers. They caught their marshmallow sticks on fire and waved them around. We sent large paper hot air balloons up in the air. There were all kinds of things to elicit “Gran nervousness” had she been there and some Momma nervousness too, but they had a great time and there were no injuries. At 9 pm (which is midnight in Dubai) my friend Natascha gathered all the children together with a light for the sun and globe and talked about how midnight came first in one part of the world and then moved around the earth. We talked about traditions, how in Vienna at midnight people eat some kind of fish (ours were cookies). The fish symbolizes good luck and so you eat the tail first so it can’t swim away. We danced the waltz. My friend is from England, so we listened to the bells of Big Ben strike twelve and sang Old Lang Syne and danced to that. We threw confetti like in America. We said “Happy New Year” in Arabic. The children had Kindersekt (children’s champagne).

We left soon after the festivities to join Adam at home before midnight. Gabriel and Sebastian gave out quickly once we were home. The rest of us watched part of Fantastic 4 while we waited for midnight and then stopped and watched the fire works going off all over the city from our apartment window. There were lots of them. Some were far off. One hit our apartment window soon after we closed it which caused a bit of excitement.

It was a really fun time.

We have spent a quiet New Year’s Day. Adam and I managed to stay in bed until 10:30 and woke up to falling snow. We went out on our own for omelettes and coffee. We’ve played lots of games, both board games and video games. The boys have enjoyed staying in pajamas all day.

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Schönbrun Gardens

The Christmas holidays with seven people in a two bedroom apartment require some walking excursions, so the other day we hopped on the Ubahn for a quick ride to Schönbrun Palace. (I never dreamed I would be saying that I would take a quick ride to a palace!) We were hoping we could explore the labyrinths they have there, but learned before we left that they are closed for the winter. Since they are made of hedges that currently have no leaves, that makes good sense. Instead we walked around the gardens and walked up the hill to see the palace from afar. It was a cool day, but pleasant to be walking and a good excursion for all of us.

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Walking the garden paths

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Schönbrun Palace from afar

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Christmas Market at Schönbrun Palace. Stephen recognized seeing it in the Vienna episode of Street Foods.

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Schönbrun Palace up close.

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Some green in the midst of brown.

 

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