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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Christmas in Vienna

I still can’t believe Advent is past and we are into the days of Christmas. In spite of the 4 weeks to anticipate it, I didn’t feel ready. Even the boys commented that this Advent passed really quickly. But pass it did.

We put up our Christmas tree later than in America, though a bit early for here. Since getting it home requires carrying it rather than putting it on top of the car, it was smaller this year than in years past. It was also missing lights this year, since I didn’t really come across any in a store.  Still, it was fun adding the familiar ornaments we brought from home. We added a new ornament for our first Christmas in Vienna. We reminded the boys how when they were babies we would put them under the Christmas tree to look at the lights and play with the ornaments. Jack, Gabriel and Sebastian decided to try it again.

The Saturday before Christmas we went to a Christingle service at church. They were each given a red candle placed in an orange with a red ribbon around it. Out of the orange were four sticks with good things to eat.  We sang this song explaining what all the things stood for:

It’s rounded like an orange,
this earth on which we stand;
and we praise the God who holds it
in the hollow of his hand.

A candle, burning brightly,
can cheer the darkest night,
and these candles tell how Jesus came
to bring a dark world light.

The ribbon round the orange,
reminds us of the cost;
how the shepherd, strong and gentle,
gave his life to save the lost.

Four seasons with their harvest
supply the food we need,
and the Spirit gives a harvest
that can make us rich indeed.

We come with our Christingles
to tell of Jesus’ birth
and we praise the God who blessed us
by His coming to this earth.

So Father, we would thank you
for all that you have done,
and for all that you have given us
through the coming of your Son.

The boys had school through December 23, but they had fun things there as well. Jack went with his class to see the movie Heidi. Isaac and Stephen went to the Christmas market near the Rathaus. I gave them €10 to share and told them not to feel compelled to spend it all. They got what they thought was ice-cream (though it turned out to be a marshmallow stuff instead) and cotton candy. They brought home 20 cents.  Gabriel’s class participated with some other classes in his school and did a Christmas program. Sebastian made Adam and me a picture frame in kindergarten. Jack and Gabriel sewed Christmas tea towels for their teachers. Jack also made rubber band bracelets for his classmates.

We were all happy to not have to get up and out the door early on Christmas Eve, though the door bell rang at 7:15 when the postman delivered the last of the Christmas presents.  We finished up the last minutes grocery shopping since the groceries would be closed early on Christmas Eve and remain closed until Monday since Saturday they were closed for Saint Stephen’s and they are always closed on Sundays. Adam gave me a gift card for a new watch, so I went up to Mariahilferstrasse and picked one out. We all went to a park near the house for the boys to play and then came back and let the boys open their traditional Christmas Eve gift–matching pajamas.  This year it was Star Wars. Adam also had gotten the Lord of the Rings Trilogy so we watched the first of them, though I confess to only staying awake for probably about half. Gabriel and Sebastian were also asleep before the end.

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Christmas morning we were up early enough that we decided to go on to the 8:00 service at church. It was a small group (though we doubled the size of it) but a nice service. We came home and lit all the advent candles and the Christ candle and left them burning brightly all day. We opened presents. There were many nice things, though I am most excited about the memberships to places and trips planned for activities around Vienna. Because the refrigerated biscuits we use to make monkey bread aren’t readily available here and I went to sleep before mixing up dough to make it from scratch so it could rise overnight, we had pancakes for breakfast, which we ate around 12:15. The afternoon was spent playing with new presents and talking with family over Skype. Adam cooked a chicken and I made mashed potatoes and peas for supper. I took a nap in the hopes that perhaps I would stay awake through the next Lord of the Rings movie. It didn’t work.

The second day of Christmas we visited the Haus des Meeres which is within walking distance from our house. There we saw lots of fish as well as some enormous snakes, some birds, some insects, and monkeys which ran around freely around us. One even brushed by Gabriel’s hand. On the ninth floor there is a balcony that goes all the way around the building which provides a fantastic view of Vienna. Before we headed home we played at the play ground next to the Haus des Meeres. I made calzones for supper–our first since being in Vienna.

The third day of Christmas we went to a new friend’s house. I met her at the dress rehearsal for the nativity play since her daughter was a shepherd and we discovered that our twin boys were only about a month apart. She invited us for lunch at their house on the outer part of Vienna. We took a long ride in the UBahn and arrived just in time to catch the bus. The children took to each other very quickly and there was much running around inside and out, playing hide and seek and fighting with sticks (and of course before the day was out some video game playing). She and her husband treated us to our first ever Yorkshire pudding along with chicken and brussel sprouts and potatoes and carrots. The day passed quickly with the children playing and us talking. By supper time we decided we better get back. But we are meeting at the zoo next week (another Christmas present) and I think going back for a New Year’s Eve party. I am grateful for new friends. I was too busy talking to take pictures. Maybe next time.

This morning I made the monkey bread which I started last night. I didn’t have brown sugar, so it wasn’t quite the same, but the boys enjoyed it anyway. IMG_3842Today Adam went back to work. The boys and I spent most of the day at home except for a short trip to the park. A two bedroom apartment gets a bit noisy with five boys in all day. I do miss our yard in Alabama and the big trampoline. Tomorrow we will have to venture out again.

I’m not sure where to put these pictures, but they are too sweet to leave out.IMG_3837IMG_3841

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