Sunday, December 18, 2011

Frohe Weihnachten! Markets, Parties, & Glühwein...

Before I talk about the super fun Christmas Markets, I must finally post a few pictures from Thanksgiving. It was an international Thanksgiving to go with my current position at an international school. We had 7 Americans (it was OUR holiday, after all), 2 Spaniards, 1 German, and 2 Canadians. We laughed a lot and it was one of my most fun Thanksgivings ever. My cooking skills were put to the test because my oven is so incredibly small.

I precooked turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce and then stuffed them inside a pastry shell (store-bought because I'm not a masochist!) to make Turkey Wellington. It was really delicious and a pretty good idea for leftovers (or the main meal if you cook in an easy-bake oven!).

So, here are a few pictures from our 'Merican Thanksgiving. Our biggest issue was not enough chairs. Fortunately, right before the dinner began, there was a random chair out in the hallway of my apartment building. Ask and ye shall receive, right? HA!

Lauren working on the mashed potatoes. No messing up the manicure!

The German version of my Thanksgiving Wellington before cooking.

The American Version. Was pretty good. Still needed gravy though!
This was my first time making gravy! Didn't even have to call my parents for guidance...just a quick pre-cooking phone call! Pretty proud of myself! 

Our lovely international party!

Dessert begins and the laughs continue.
I love this picture since something must have been REALLY funny!

The last month in Germany has been quite delightful, once the narrative report cards were done.  I will admit that I have had complete ADHD since they were due and have been only mildly focused on my job since then. Instead, I have entertained myself with trips to the Weihnachts Markt...the Christmas Markets.

The lighting of the tree back in November.

Glühwein is mulled red or white wine. It is delicious, especially when a bit of Amaretto is added. Standing out in the cold is so much better with a mug of glühwein in your hand! I am really going to miss them after Christmas is over since it is so fun to just pop downtown and walk through the lights with a mug of glühwein.

Everything is lit up for Christmas.
This sign says "Welcome to the Old Town."
Not too different from downtown Fort Collins when you get right down to it!
(Big difference...Fort Collins wasn't blown to pieces in WW2!)

Light that hangs all over the "blue" Christmas market.
All of the stalls are lit in blue at this market.

The beautiful lights of one of the markets right in downtown Düsseldorf.
The markets go from the last weekend in November all the way through to Christmas. 

Drinking from a boot with Lauren!
PS- I got about 7 inches cut off my hair a few days after this.
No more braids for me!

Opening night of the markets with Takayo and Tina.
After a few of these glühwein, one feels the need to do some teeth brushing since it is quite sweet!
Besides the glühwein, I love just walking around and seeing all of the crafty stuff for sale. I'm not religious but I sure love Christmas decorations. 
German village replicas. So cute!

Frohe Weihnachten means Merry Christmas in German!
You can see why I love going to the markets so much! And, these were only the ones in Düsseldorf! They are literally everywhere. But, I am not very motivated to walk around the outdoor markets when it is really rainy...the Colorado in me hates rain so I didn't quite make it to another town...there's always next year.

Last weekend, our school had the annual Christmas party. WOW! Working at a private school sure is different! The party was at a ballroom at the Radisson hotel. Basically, it was like going to someone's wedding but without a wedding. It was great fun and we all danced the night away to pretty much the worst band of all time...or the best band if you like cheesy, terrible musics from the 70s & 80s. Or, it would have been perfect music for the third wedding of two people in their mid-50s! 

Another occasion to wear my favorite dress!
Our "office" Christmas party!
So now, I have 2.5 days of school left. I fly back to the good 'ole USA on Thursday. I cannot wait for some free diet coke refills that are filled with ICE! Last weekend we went to the movies and my giant drink had no ice. I think that I could live in Europe for the rest of my life and never get over the lack of ice in drinks! 

Of course, I am SUPER excited to see my family and some of my friends. It will be a short trip home but I'm really looking forward to it!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Evil Narrative Report Cards Lead to Blog Post Thievery!

I've gotten home from school at about 9pm every week day for the last two weeks due to my school's requirement for narrative report cards. This means that after I have graded the kids' work (sometimes multiple times due to revisions), I have to write several paragraphs about each kids' achievement level toward the standards. Ugh.

Anyway, not to belabor. But, it is time consuming.

It was also Thanksgiving. I had 14 people over for dinner on Saturday and basically prepared a Thanksgiving dinner (modified creatively) in an extra large Easy Bake Oven.

I haven't had time to blog about it. But, my friend Barbara wrote about it on her I invite you to read her blog entry so I don't have to write one! 

Please click here to read it!

Some day soon (after Friday) I will have time to create my own blog and not have to mooch off others'. Counting down the minutes!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trip to Denmarkia to visit my Denmarkian relatives...or wait, maybe they're Dutch?

You might think that Copenhagen (Kobenhavn in Denmarkian) is the capital...
but nope, it is Kebabenhavn...or maybe that is just a kebab stand! HA!
This past weekend, I traveled to Denmark again to see my cousins who live there, the Lauritzens. As always, we had a really fun time with lots of laughs! It has been a long time since I'd seen them all in the same place because Terese was studying in Massachusetts when I was visiting this past April. I saw her in June in Colorado but this trip was fun because everyone was together.

Both Nina Camilla (19) and Terese (16) have spent a year of high school in the US. While there, people always asked them if they were from Denmarkia and if they spoke Denmarkian. Or, they just thought that they were Dutch! So, all weekend, we made references to this.

The weekend started with a little I was on my way to the airport (I take a tram and then a bus and the whole trip is like 25 minutes), I realized halfway there that I didn't have my passport. AAH! I jumped back on the tram and then literally ran as fast as I could in clogs with a rolling suitcase back to my apartment. I grabbed a taxi back to the airport and made it to my flight with about 15 minutes to spare. But, the kicker was...NOBODY CHECKED MY PASSPORT or asked me for any form of identification at all since I'd checked in online. All that panicking was for naught! At least I only live 10 minutes by car from the airport! This seems to be a constant problem for me as the last two times I've left Germany,  I have forgotten my passport.

A selection of Grecian/Roman noses! (And two Denmarkian ones!)
Terese (left) and Nina Camilla (right)
On Saturday we went into Copenhagen and went to an art museum that is owned by Carlsberg brewery. Since my cousin, Lisbeth, works for Carlsberg, we mostly got in for free. They were having a Gaugin exhibit (not pictured above, obviously) which was pretty cool to see. Gaugin certainly got around the island circuit and after going to the Van Gogh museum, it was fun to see more works of Gaugin. Apparently the two of them were friends and had had a fight when Van Gogh cut off his ear. Gaugin was so freaked out by the craziness that he left and that was the end of them living and working together in Arles, France. Our favorite on Saturday was a painting by Gaugin that had a pooping pig. We're obviously very sophisticated art aficionados.

One of the Queen's horses. He was in love with Nina and worked his head over the
bars so she could pet him.
After the museum, we also walked by the Queen's Stables. These were all beautiful (and huge) horses used for fancy-schmancy ceremonies. Copenhagen is such an enjoyably bike-friendly city. There are bike lanes everywhere that are SAFE and divided from the rest of the sidewalk and from the street. It is possible to be a bike commuter without the constant fear of vehicular manslaughter, which is excellent. Düsseldorf has some bike lanes, but in the downtown area, there aren't any and you have to be willing to ride with cars and trams, which I am not.

Roskilde Cathedral.
All of the Danish Royals for the last 1000 or so years are buried in here.
The Lauritzens actually live about 30 miles outside of Copenhagen in a town called Roskilde. It is right on the fjord and their house has a view of the water and only about a five minute walk down to the edge. We went for a walk in the morning and it was very cold but still pretty sunny! Roskilde is also home to a very famous viking ship museum and so there is always a bustle of activity at the water's edge. For pictures of that, please see my last blog post about Denmark. Click here to read it!

I cannot lie. I love that I am only an hour's flight from visiting Denmark. It took less time to fly to see them than it does for me to fly from Denver to Omaha. I just can't get over that. Maybe someday I will, but for now, it is still a completely amazing and awesome novelty to get out of a car, plane, train in another country and you're IN ANOTHER COUNTRY! My logical brain understands it, but the rest of me does not.

Shout out to the Viking heritage!
I've been informed that I'm a bad Viking descendant because I don't like pickled herring.
That's okay. I really like pillaging so maybe that can make up for it!
It was a great weekend! I can't wait to visit again...and it is so easy and cheap that I likely will! They will be coming to Germany next though so I'm looking forward to hosting!

And now for a wee bit o' teacher talk...

If you are a science teacher or you know a science teacher...GET THIS BOOK!
My friend Melissa Botteicher, a PEBC staff developer and science instructional coach, recommended this book to me and I've been blown away by it. It is so simple- teach kids a framework (or Thinking Routine, if you will) to talk about their scientific discoveries. Practice using the framework. Have kids' evaluate each other's use of the framework. Create/construct understanding around the framework. And then, step back and watch as kids become so much more sophisticated in their scientific reasoning skills. In ONE WEEK since I've taught this, I have seen improvement. 

My "anchor charts" for using this thinking routine.
This framework takes out the "well, I watched this tv show about blabbetty blah and so I know that blabbety blah is true," and forces kids to really evaluate data they've collected. I want to throw this framework in the face of the evolution haters but because it is so based on evidence, reasoning, and logic they probably won't understand it anyway! They'll just keep quoting their "scientifical" evidence**. 

**(For those who don't know, a mom of a student a few years ago tried to "convince" me that there is no "scientifical" evidence for climate change and that they don't believe in it in their family and therefore I shouldn't talk about it in my class. I responded with the fact that I would be teaching evolution in a few weeks too. She said that as long as I don't teach it as fact and only a "theory." I reminded her that gravity is also a "theory" and we've put people in space based on that "theory." Ah, religious nutballs. Good times.)**

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to seeing how my kids' grow as scientists using this framework. If Danny Birmingham is reading this, tell the author (he meets with him weekly at Michigan State) that I would like to thank him! You could also show him my anchor charts, I wouldn't be sad!

I've got about 1 million papers to grade and report cards to write (significantly longer process when there are no numbers involved and everything is a narrative!) so I should end this!

Christmas is right around the corner and I'll be back in Colorado soon! Can't wait to see everyone!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Visit from the Parental Units...

This week my parents came to visit in Düsseldorf and we did a mini-road trip of the Mosel Wine Region, our little homeland town, Langenfeld, and a short excursion to Amsterdam. It was a really fun week and with a little help from my parents, my apartment is starting to look less like somebody else's leftover junk and more like my own place! 

Marv and me in front of Jan Wellem in the Düsseldorf Marktplatz. It was COLD!

We then took off for the Mosel River Region in our rental car. I'm definitely getting the hang of the German Autobahn and think I got into the 90 mph region this time. Our car was a stick shift this trip (automatic last time) and I was nervous that I was going to be stalling my way through Germany. Turns out I only stalled twice and it was within 20 seconds of each other after I'd already been driving for a few days.

The Parents on the Mosel.
 But, not surprisingly, for how much we all like wine, our relatives emigrated from just down the of another major German wine region...the Mosel Valley. It was beautiful and sunny and full of delicious Halbtrocken Riesling (Half-Dry, that means...I'm fully a wine snob at this point...but would drink out of a box if necessary, so not too snobby!). I bought another 12ish bottles of wine and am getting quite desperate to buy a wine rack!
Another adorable view of another adorable wine region.
Berg Eltz. The only part without scaffolding. 
We also got to visit a few castles. But, this was further proof that I actually have a curse. The castle was like 1000 years old or something, but wouldn't you know it, it was covered in scaffolding. What? They couldn't wait a few more weeks until I am not there? It was been standing for 1000 years...surely it could have made it a few more weeks. This is the same thing that happened to me when I went to see the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the Acropolis in Athens...cursed. Cursed I tell you.
A relative on my mom's side immigrated to Michigan from Langenfeld in the mid-1800s.
It is now a town full of giant vacation homes in the hills. I am pretty sure our illiterate farmer ancestors were not the owners of one of them! It was a twisty, switch-back filled drive to the top of the hill but I did not stall!

A few of Langenfeld. Really steep hills everywhere around the town. You can see why a bunch of farmers with huge families had to leave, there just wasn't much farmland to be had.

The Catholic Church in Langenfeld. It was not there when the immigration occurred but was quaint and pretty nonetheless. 
There was also a castle down the hill from Langenfeld. This is probably where our family would have worked as poor peasants and not as actual inhabitants of the castle! 

No scaffolding but also closed for the day randomly.
It is a curse. 

In conjunction with our visit to Langenfeld, we also visited the city of Koblenz. Apparently, Koblenz means "confluence" in Latin and wouldn't you know is the exact spot where the Rhein and the Mosel Rivers come together...a "confluence" if you will. We stayed over night here and spent the morning freezing and walking through the town.
This monument is at the "Corner of Germany" where the two rivers come together. 
With the heat blasting, we drove back to Düsseldorf. I had asked that we devote one day with the rental car to making large purchases that I cannot manage on the tram. I needed to buy a ton of stuff at IKEA. I've never actually set foot in an IKEA until now and I am sold. I can see why people were camping out at the one in Denver before it opened. They have EVERYTHING and it is seriously easy to spend a lot of money there. I got all new kitchen stuff so that I didn't feel like I was living in a college apartment anymore and also finally got some curtains which my mom then spent about 6 hours hemming so that they would fit my windows! (THANKS!!!)
My friend Chris was not nearly as excited about IKEA as I was.
I love how organized it much better than American Furniture Warehouse in Colorado because you don't have to see every item at the same time, making it way less overwhelming. Plus, they serve meatballs in the snack bar....take that Jake Jabs. (This will only make sense to Colorado people!)
We spent the day getting lost in downtown Düsseldorf, even with the GPS as I am not accustomed to driving around here. I'm much better on foot, buses, and trams. It was actually pretty stressful having to drive around downtown because I am forever scared of sharing the lane with trams. My house looks much better now though thanks to all of this scary downtown driving. And, when I have Thanksgiving at my house, people will be able to use matching silverware AND plates. Yahoo!

Our next adventure was a 2.5 hour train ride to Amsterdam...or Hamsterdam as a partially-illiterate, stoner 8th grader whom I used to teach, called it. He told us that school wasn't important because he was going to move to Hamsterdam and sell weed. Good luck, buddy. The law is changing and only Dutch citizens will be able to buy it. And here I thought that he'd might have actually made it there...NOT. (His dad also liked to remind me in some super tactful, but regularly sent emails that his tax dollars paid my salary. I wanted to remind him that my tax dollars paid for drug prevention programs that were obviously not working either.)

Yay for sun! This is the first trip here where I've seen blue sky!
You can totally understand why Van Gogh freaked out the first time he went to the South of France and saw the sun!

We had a great time in Amsterdam, stayed at a wonderful hotel, ate delicious sandwiches (twice from the same place they were so good) and went out for AMAZING Indonesian food with my friend Jonathan who lives there. I could totally live there. We did all the typical stuff...Anne Frank House Museum, Van Gogh museum, canal walks, and of course, a canal boat tour (where, as usual, I fell asleep just for a quick is just so warm and rocks you, I cannot help myself.).

And, most importantly...WE FOUND THE SHOE!!!!
It is so dorkily touristy but WHO CARES! It is so fun!
Amsterdam is such a great city. I've been three times in the last year and would go back tomorrow (but annoyingly, I have to go to work instead!).
Nice hat.

The Swansons also LOVE cheese.

Dutch Milkmaids are We! 
Our new shoes. They just don't pack well, though.

$10,000 Delft Tulip Vase. I bought three.

Dutch Mini-Van.

SUNFLOWERS! Van Gogh needed some meds...badly. Who knows if his painting would have been as good, but he might have lived a bit longer. Poor guy. 

Cheap Heineken at our fave sandwich shop. 
My dad and I have eaten Magnums across Europe. THEY ARE THE SHIT.
They are also probably a billion calories. We didn't eat any on this trip. Sad day. I'd have to run a few miles before and after. 
If you thought I was a wine snob now...I'm not. Plastic cups still do it for us!
We did bring our own bottle on the train, though! Always thinking.
Score again for Germany!
It was a great trip. We had a fun time and I'm looking forward to Christmas break when we go skiing in Vail. Oh, my life is rough!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Deutsche Weinstrasse...German Wine Road!

This weekend was a three-dayer thanks to it being German Reunification Day...meaning...the day East/West Germany came back together in 1990. Four of us girls from school, (Lauren, Rhonda, Kendra, and I) went on a road trip to the Deutsche Weinstrasse- the German Wine Road.

The Wine Road is a 50 km stretch of road in southwestern Germany where there are hundreds of wineries and vineyards as far as the eyes can see. We were incredibly lucky and had AMAZING weather. It was cloudless and 75 (don't ask for the Celsius, I don't know!) the whole weekend with low humidity. PERFECT.

We rented a car and so I got to drive on the Autobahn this weekend. It wasn't really that exciting to tell you the truth. Maybe if I had a really nice car that was really smooth at 100 mph then I would like it. But, our rental car was a Chevy Cruze, there were four of us and we had about 40 full wine bottles in the trunk...not exactly optimum conditions for driving without a speed limit. For me, it was more stressful than fun as the Germans I encountered were massive tail-gaters, non-turn signal users, and there was often traffic that would stop rather suddenly. I guess next time I will have to rent a really expensive, fancy car in order to take full advantage. Driving in Düsseldorf in the dark on Friday night was probably the most stressful part of the drive as there are construction projects, trams, bikes, and many pedestrians everywhere and I don't know where I am going even with a GPS! But, now that I've rented a car once, it won't be so bad in the future. It makes me feel like an independent, real person unlike last year in England where I was too chicken-shit to drive and also I didn't have easy access to renting a car anyway.

Being that it is 2011 and who doesn't like to be connected, we had plenty of technology with us!

Two i-pads, one kindle, 4 digital cameras, 3 smart phones, 3 ipods, a GPS, and a good 'ol-fashioned road atlas got us through Germany! Guide book....schmide book! 

There are bike paths and walking paths everywhere in the area. We could just walk right into the vineyards, and so, of course, we did!

Creeping through the grape vines!

There were still a few grapes left of the vines. Yummy!
There were some delicious food options too! The traditional food for this time of year while tasting wine is called a Zwiebeln Kuche....which is basically like a piece of bacon/onion quiche. It was delicious and very cheap everywhere! But, most excitingly, there was Black Forest Cake and lots of it.

Twenty seconds later...
All for only 1€!!!
Now, I have passed by the world's largest ball of twine in Kansas before but if you want to find the world's largest wine barrel, you will not find it in Napa! Instead, it is right along the Deutsche Weinstrasse!
I feel like our car's trunk was actually carrying this much wine!  At least that is what it felt like when I tried to "step on it" while on the Autobahn. The lack of pick up might have had to do with the cake we consumed too! 
The Weinstrasse's best wine (at least in our opinion) was a Halbtrocken (half-dry) Reisling. We visited a castle and sat in the sun on the castle's patio enjoying a glass of it. It was one of those moments that really made you feel lucky to live in such an interesting, new place (and made you wish you'd worn more sunblock!)!
Lauren with our new favorite wine.
Castle walls, delicious wine,  gorgeous weather, and amazing scenery.
Great weekend!
There was also another way to get around the Weinstrasse...a wine-o chairlift. Being a skier, I sure do love chairlifts! We didn't even get to ride it but I am obsessed with the sign for it. When you don't speak German (well, I know about 60 words now), you often just figure things out from the picture or you watch to see what everyone else is doing!
This picture was easy to guess! A wine-swilling chairlift!
The view from the castle was also quite beautiful! Hambacher Schloss- it was called.
We now know that "Schloss" is the German word for castle.

When my parents were visiting Germany in the 1970s, they were standing about a block from the Rhein River but couldn't see it. They were asking everyone around them "Wo ist der Rhein Flusse?" which means "Where is the Rhein River?" and people were really confused about what they were asking since the river was within spitting distance. So, we now like to ask where things are when we are literally standing right in front of them. "Wo ist der Schloss?" was our question while sitting on the patio of the schloss/castle. Maybe it was the delicious Reisling that made this so especially funny! :)

The little hike up to the castle. 
Remember that I could have been living in Kuwait this year!
I am betting that there are not any Kuwait Wine Roads where they serve bacon-filled snacks!
Score again for the land of pork and alcohol!
Though the Wine Road was only about 25 miles long, it took us two days to get down it. Part of that was because there were so many little places to stop and part of that was that we didn't plan ahead and get hotels. So, because of that, we had quite a drive to our hotel (and I say "hotel" loosely...we stayed in a boarding house which was like living in the dorms again!). Next time, we'll plan a bit ahead when traveling on one of the biggest travel weekends of the year. So, we spent a long time in the car. But, I always love a good road trip!
I like big bottles and I cannot lie. Baby got bottle! (Thanks, UT!)
Finally, we got to the end of the Wine Road where there is a Wine Gate. The Wine Gate was built in the late 1930s in order to celebrate German wine over French wine. I remember hearing SOMETHING about Germany being a bit overly-patriotic in the late 1930s but I can't seem to remember many details...oh, wait. The Wine Gate is only about 150 feet from the French border.
Rhonda "coming in for a landing" in front of the Wine Gate.
I know it is blurry but it looks like she fell from the sky and landed right in front of the gate!
So, because we were within feet of France..(Wo ist France?) we had to go there! And, you can't say you've gone somewhere (according to my cousin Terese in Denmark) unless you've had ice cream there. So, we hopped across the border and had a McFlurry! We were tempted to also order "Le Big Mac" but just being able to say "Le Big Mac" wasn't worth actually ordering one!
Standing on the Germany/France border.
"Ich bin in Deutschland" and "Je suis en France" on the other side!
In two countries at once!
That's a first for me (although I've been in 4 states at once!)!
Last night we stayed in Heidelberg because it was the closest hotel we could find. Heidelberg was about an hour from the end of the wine road and about 3 hours from Düsseldorf. Today we visited Heidelberg Schloss. It was very pretty and at the top of a giant staircase...that's okay, we needed to work off the cake, wine, and McFlurrys!
View from Heidelberg Schloss.
We, again, cracked ourselves up "looking for" the castle while standing directly in front of it.

The French blew up the castle in the 1600s and it hasn't been the same since!
This was such a fantastic weekend. When you get into the daily rut of school, workout, dinner, laundry, etc. (Notice that house cleaning is not on that list because I GOT A CLEANER!!!) I forget why I am living so far away from everyone I love when I'm just going through my routine. I like to remind myself why I'm living so far away by having the kind of weekend I just had.

If you're keeping score...and I am...

Score:      Last year-  0 This year- + 1 million.

Next up: Parentals visit in three weeks! I can't wait!!