Monday, June 29, 2009

Dye Job? More Like Die Job...

I just don't get it. I am incapable of getting a good haircut here in Germany. Well, actually, the haircut is fine, it's the hair color. Back in Michigan I used to get my hair colored brown with auburn undertones. I loved it and it was pretty close to the real thing (back when I was 17, before the "real thing" became gray).

Here in Germany, there's no such thing as soft red undertones, it's a shocking purplish-red. Afraid of looking like I soaked my head in an oak barrel of Zinfandel, I opted for just plain brown. The word is even the same sound in English and in German so one couldn't claim "lost in translation." Somehow my hair ended up nearly black. Each time I went back I explained I would like it a softer, warmer brown. No darker than milk chocolate. Each time I went home looking like I've just rubbed black shoe polish all over my head.

Finally, I decided that perhaps if I got highlights over the nearly black hair, it would soften the look. Nope, I looked like a zebra. No soft highlights, only white stripes. After multiple trips, the result of repeated black base and white highlights, I looked like I had a head of gray hair...the VERY THING I was trying to cover up in the first place. Ugh!

When we moved last December from one part of town to another, I took that as an opportunity to "break-up" with my hairdresser. I found a new one in my new neighborhood. Fingers crossed, I enter the salon. They apparently speak EVEN LESS English than the last place. After 3 hours and 4 people working on me, I was somewhat satisfied with the result: brown hair with more natural looking highlights. The problem? This cost me 160 euros!! I did not realize that prior to getting the work done. OUCH! The zebra effect at the old salon only set me back about 60 euros.

So today, I go back to the salon (yes, the super expensive one) and decide to go for just brown. I figured opting out of the additional highlights would save me some serious euros. Besides, they had come pretty close to brown last time. I had hope. I spoke with the stylist about what I wanted, I even showed her an example in the sample book. What did I end up with? Black-brown shoe polish head again. Silly me for having hope. Fortunately (??) this only set me back 113 Euros this time.

I wonder what I would look like if I went the next 5 months until we move home without getting my hair colored? Should I go for it? I think I might be mortified by how much gray I really have.

So add that to my list from yesterday (things I'm looking forward to having upon repatriating): a good hair salon that can get my hair color right...or, at the very least, a shade found in nature.

PS - I know you are all wishing I would post a picture so you could see the shoe polish head for yourself....including the stains from the hair color on my forward all along the hair line where they didn't do a good job of "coloring within the lines." Ha! I've got to wash my hair and scrub at my skin about 20 times between now and when we get home to Michigan on Friday. I have a wedding to attend on Saturday.

PPS - Now I know why hairstylist is the worst paying job in Germany.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

For the Love of God, A Little AC Please!

With only about 5 months left here in Germany, we are already starting to think about the things that we are excited to have again when we move home. Here are three really big ones on my list these days:

(1) Air conditioning - though it's not often needed here, today is one of those days. It's not really all that hot but the humidity is off the charts. What I wouldn't give to be able to switch on the AC just long enough to cut some of the humidity. I was trying to blow dry my hair this afternoon (normally I wouldn't have bothered but we were having dinner with friends and I wanted to try to look nice) and my head was sweating faster than the hairdryer was drying. Yeah, I know, so gross. As I'm typing my arms are stuck to the kitchen table. They make a very audible sticking sound when I lift them up.

(2) US sized washer and dryer - It takes me three loads of laundry to wash the sheets and blankets from Carter's bed. 1 load for the mattress pad, 1 load for the cotton blanket, and one load for the sheets -- and it's only a twin sized bed. And don't even get me started on the dryer...over 4.5 hours to dry those 3 loads. Plus, the dryer doesn't vent to the outside like at home, it collects the water in a plastic bin that needs to be emptied after each load. This just adds to the ridiculous humidity already.

(3) Ben going to a proper barber for haircuts - Since we've moved to Germany, I have had the "pleasure" of cutting Ben's hair. It's nothing against Ben, his hair, or the hair cutting profession, but I hate that job. Even though I have been doing this for 2 years, I am still so nervous when I do it. The pressure is just too much. I am so scared that I am going to give him a hideous haircut for which the only cure is a full on buzz cut.

Of course, there are dozens of things that we will miss desperately once we repatriate, but that's for another day/posting. In other news, our garden is coming along nicely as you can see from the picture of our butter lettuce. We will be enjoying that in a salad this week. Our sugar snap peas are ridiculously tall and I imagine that they will be ready for feasting on when we return from our trip to the US. Now, you loyal readers may be wondering about the slug situation. The slug poison has worked wonders and now I never see any slugs at the front of the house. In fact my basil plant is starting to grow back. Occasionally I will find a slug or two in the back garden but usually just in the yard waste/compost pile. I have purchased another box of slug poison to sprinkle around the plants just for good measure.

OK, off to the wet sauna that we call a laundry room to fold some more laundry.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Sweets #1

I have been on a HUGE fruit kick lately and just can't seem to get enough berries. I bought 3 pints of blueberries, 3 pints of strawberries, and 1 pint of raspberries at the market today. And when I promptly ate one pint of the strawberries for lunch, Ben asked if I was pregnant (I'm not).

I stumbled across a recipe for Blueberry Cobbler in an old Real Simple magazine and so this week instead of a "Sunday Supper" posting, you are getting a "Saturday Sweets."

Blueberry Cobbler

2 pints blueberries
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups heavy cream

Heat oven to 375° F. In a shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dish or a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate, toss the blueberries, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon flour.

In a medium bowl, combine the baking powder, salt, lemon zest, and the remaining flour and sugar.

Add the butter and blend with your fingers or 2 knives until coarse crumbs form. Add 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream and mix until a shaggy dough forms.

Drop mounds of dough over the blueberry mixture. Bake until the berries are bubbling and the top is golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve with the remaining cream for drizzling, if desired.

Serves 6.

The yummy blueberries all sugared up & waiting for their doughy blanket.

Here's my finished cobbler. Doesn't quite look like the picture that came with the recipe, but the blueberry juices oozing out the sides look pretty good to me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Couple of Carter Stories

I need to find a way to download my brain to Blogger. While I'm putting Carter to bed (during the quiet time that I lie down with him) I compose smart, witty, entertaining blog posts in my head. Then I get distracted and forget them before I take the time to sit down and blog. Ah well...

Tonight, I do have a couple of humorous Carter stories to share.

This morning during breakfast I was reading the news on my computer. Of course the big story was Michael Jackson's passing. Included with the story was a picture. Carter looked over my shoulder and said, "Mommy, that's a scary looking lady." Oh boy, isn't it ever!

When I picked up Carter from school today, one of his teachers (Melanie) told me that Carter invited her home with him to sleep in his bed with him under the covers. OK, so I just learned some things about my son: he's not afraid to ask a girl out and he likes older women. Then this evening as I'm putting Carter to bed, he tells me that when Melanie comes over to sleep with him, I am not allowed to be in the room. Hmmm...I'm not ready for this stuff, yet.

Carter has been much more aware of his dreams lately. Maybe they've only just started or maybe this is just the age that kids become aware of them, I'm not sure. Of course, along with dreams come nightmares. A common one for Carter is a growling sheep outside his window (tricky since it's the second floor, but that doesn't seem to matter). It's hard for me not to laugh when he tells me about the scary dreams. Does that make me a bad mother? What is so cute is that he calls dreams "movies in his eyes."

Lately, I've been reading a lot of Berenstain Bears books to Carter at bedtime. I've been OK with that as I think they are good books that teach a lesson (manners, healthy eating habits, the golden rule, telling the truth, etc). But tonight, I finally had to put my foot down. Carter wanted me to read the same three books that I have read to him every night this week: The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food, The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, and The Berenstain Bears and the Bedtime Battles. These are long books and he knows them so well now that he notices if I try to skip a sentence. The kid just won't let me get a break!

Well, I'm off to bed myself. It amazes me how this family gets to bed earlier on Friday than any other day of the week.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Supper #4

Today I am sharing with you one of my favorite recipes from Kraft Foods. I actually have had a craving for it lately but we can't get Stove Top Stuffing here in Germany.

Bruschetta Chicken Bake

1 can (14-1/2 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pkg. (6 oz.) STOVE TOP Stuffing Mix for Chicken
1/2 cup water
1-1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp. dried basil leaves
1 cup KRAFT Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place tomatoes with liquid in medium bowl. Add garlic, stuffing mix and water; stir just until stuffing mix is moistened. Set aside.

Place chicken in 13x9-inch baking dish; sprinkle with basil and cheese. Top with stuffing mixture.

Bake 30 min. or until chicken is cooked through.

Feel Your Boobies

OK, you might think I've lost my mind, but really I'm just posting a friendly reminder to all you ladies. After reading Middle Place (by Kelly Corrigan) and meeting Amy (breast cancer survivor) on the cruise, breast cancer has been on my brain a lot.

Women in the United States have the highest incidence rates of breast cancer in the world. Among women in the US, breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second-most common cause of cancer death (after lung cancer). Women in the US have a 1 in 8 (12.5%) lifetime chance of developing invasive breast cancer and a 1 in 35 (3%) chance of breast cancer causing their death.

So of the roughly 200 female Facebook friends I have, over 12 of you will get breast cancer. Did you know that you are more likely to find a woman with breast cancer (12.5%) than a female engineer (9%)? Did you know that research shows that "feeling your boobies" is just as effective at identifying changes or lumps as doing a formal self-breast exam?

Feel Your Boobies is a non-profit breast cancer organization. It's mission is to utilize unexpected and unconventional media to remind women, especially those under 40, to "feel their boobies" or do a self-breast exam. As a way of raising money, they sell humorous t-shirts (like the one above), bumper stickers, etc.
So go ahead and do it...feel your boobies and participate in a local Race for the Cure or Breast Cancer 3-Day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Michigan Christmas

I got confirmation this morning from my director that I need to be moved home from Germany to start work in Dearborn on January 1. He said that we can move home in December to be home for Christmas. Of course this has been the going assumption for a couple of weeks now but it's nice to have confirmation from (nearly) the highest level.

Am I excited? Absolutely! I am looking forward to being closer to family and reconnecting with friends. I am looking forward to buying a house and making it our home. But it's also a bit bittersweet. With roughly 10 remaining vacation days unplanned, how should we use them? Geneva? Budapest? Vienna? Scotland? Ireland? Heck, we haven't even made it to Berlin, yet. Which items do I want to purchase as "souvenirs?" as reminders of our time in Cologne?

Two years ago to the day, I was on a plane to Germany. Our house in Northville was totally packed up and we had temporarily moved into my parent's basement. It was Father's Day and I was leaving Ben and Carter behind once again for my final business trip to Germany prior to making the official move. I can't believe how quickly the time has passed.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bodensee & Neuschwanstein

We are just back from our third vacation in 6 weeks. There are so many German holidays in May and's wonderful. This trip was to the Bodensee and Schwangau. You may not be familiar with these places…the Bodensee is also known as Lake Contstance and Schwangau is home to Neuschwanstein (or Cinderella's castle).

During the drive to the Bodensee, we drove through some fantastic farm land. Apple orchards, cherry trees, asparagus, strawberries, and a mystery crop. This was a vine like thing that had a really intricate support structure for it to grow on. After finally asking, we learned that these were hop plants and, upon further research, I have discovered that southern Germany is the leading producer of hops in the world (the Pacific Northwest is the 2nd, in case you were wondering). This picture below is just a small patch. Imagine acres and acres of this -- it's really amazing to see.

In Lindau, a city/island on the Bodensee, they were preparing for their annual yacht race. We had so much fun just watching the boats arrive by trailer and then get assembled on the spot. A crane had obviously been contracted to move the sailboats around. It was so amazing to see these 40-50 ft yachts dangling from the crane and then lifted into the water. We spent most of Thursday just watching the activities and the preparation. There was an "Oompa" (or polka) band playing and Carter insisted on stopping to watch for about 30 minutes. This gave Ben a chance to sample some of the beer.

On Friday, we took Carter to Ravensburger Spieleland. For those of you not familiar with it, Ravensburger is a brand of toys (most famous for their jigsaw puzzles) and this was it's theme park (like a Legoland, but not as cool). We all had a great time with all the rides and games. A special attraction (which was Carter's favorite) was a huge water slide. Ben took Carter and they had an absolute blast. Then Ben decided it would be fun to offer to Carter to have his mommy take him….knowing full well that I'm afraid of heights and drop offs. You can find all of the pictures from Ravensburger Spieleland by clicking here.

Next to Ravensburger Spieleland was another "tourist attraction" called Minimundus. This is a nicely landscaped park with miniature sized replicas of some of the world's most impressive buildings. They claim you can see the whole world in one day! We originally thought this would be more interesting for me and Ben and not so much for Carter but it turned out that Carter loved this place. I think it was that he was bigger than everything. There were over 80 different replicas. You can find all of the pictures from Minimundus by clicking here.

On Saturday morning we drove about 2 hours from the Bodensee area to Schwangau, which calls itself the town of King's castles. This is on the edge of the Alps and absolutely beautiful. The first of the two castles was Hohenschwangau. This was King Ludwig's childhood home. The view from the castle was so breathtaking. It looked out over the Alpensee and had the Alps in the background. King Ludwig decided to build a castle across the way, a place he called Neuschwanstein. The king was borrowed ridiculous sums of money to build 5 different castles. Not surprisingly, he was declared crazy and unfit to rule. King Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances before the castle was finished, however, the rooms that were finished were extraordinarily ornate. I was so disappointed because we weren't allowed to take any pictures inside of either of the castles.

Hohenschwangau Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Following the castle tours and a nice hike through the woods back down to the valley, we went to the Tegelbergbahn which is a huge cable car that takes you to the top of the Tegelberg peak. Unfortunately the line for tickets moved so slowly that we missed the last cable car. BUT!! the summer luge run was still open. The picture below is of Ben and Carter crossing the "finish line." This was by far the highlight of the weekend for Carter.

We have to admit that we have been so lucky with the weather for each of our vacations. We certainly can't complain if the weather is a little gray and rainy in Cologne this summer because we've had incredible weather when it counted. We have just over two weeks (hopefully quiet and restful) at home in Leverkusen before our trip home to the States the first week of July.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sunday Supper #3

Today's recipe is a two part deal. The first recipe is for homemade spaghetti sauce. This is a recipe my mother actually created and has become a family favorite. I owe my mother many thanks for teaching me this recipe as I think it was what gave Ben early on the impression that I was a good cook. Whether that's true or not is debateable -- we have very different definitions of "good cook."
Some of you may be thinking: why make homemade spaghetti sauce when you can buy perfectly good stuff at the store? My reason: it impresses the husband! I like to cook on a gray, rainy day that is best spent at home. There is something comforting about making the whole house smell delicious and having a stockpile in the freezer. Besides, it's ridiculously easy.

Mom's Spaghetti Sauce
2 lbs ground round
4 – 28 oz cans tomato sauce
1 – 18 oz can tomato paste
2 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 c. dried parsley
½ t. dried oregano
2 t. crushed garlic
salt & pepper to taste

Cook the meat with onion until it is brown. Drain the fat. Add all the ingredients to a large pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 1 ½ hours, stirring often.

Makes about 5 quarts. Great for freezing.
I probably never make this the same twice. I have gotten to the point where I don't really measure the ingredients. One thing I always do is add extra garlic but that's really an obsession of ours. This time I opted for fresh herbs from our garden and I don't know off hand the conversion from dry herbs to fresh herbs. All I know is that when using fresh, you need less. I'm too lazy to actually look it up on the internet or open up my Joy of Cooking.

The second recipe is for lasagna. I think I got it out of Cooking Light years and years ago. I have, of course, made several modifications over time. What I have given you below is the original. My changes include replacing the "cook the meat" and "add sauce" steps with my own homemade spaghetti sauce from above since it all ready includes the meat. We also like really "saucy" lasagna in our household so I don't really measure it out, I just go by what looks good. Sometimes we substitute mozeralla for the cheddar's really whatever we have on hand.

Lazy Lasagna

1 pound ground round
1 (26 ounce) jar of low-fat spaghetti sauce
1 (16 ounce) carton fat-free cottage cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Cooking spray
1 (8 ounces) package precooked lasagna noodles
1 cup (4 ounces) pre-shredded reduced-fat mild cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cook meat in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Drain well, and return meat to pan. Add sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Combine cottage and Parmesan cheeses in a bowl; set aside.

Spread ½ cup meat mixture in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 4 noodles over meat mixture, then top with half of cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup meat mixture, and 1/3 cup cheddar cheese. Repeat layers, ending with noodles. Spread remaining meat mixture over noodles. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheddar cheese and bake 5 more minutes or until cheese melts. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

As always, I would love to hear some feedback if you try any of the recipes that I have posted. Or, better yet, send me some of your favorite recipes.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Scandanavian Cruise Part 1 - The Boat

Our cruise was awesome. So much fun, perfect weather, beautiful cities, great people, and too much food. I kept a travel diary during the trip and thought about submitting a post for each day. After thinking about it for a minute or two, I realized that it would be way too much work and would likely put you to sleep. In my attempt to summarize our trip, I have broken it down into two postings: the first (this one) is all about the boat, people, etc, and the second one (you'll see tomorrow) is all about the ports of call.

The State Room -- We ended up with the perfect room for us. It was right at the very back of the ship with a balcony that looked out over the ship's wake. We spent a lot of time out there...looking for other boats, watching seagulls (or eagles as Carter calls them), or being impressed at the captain's "parking job."

We had a sliding door that separated the stateroom into two parts. Perfect for when Carter went to bed every night as it meant we could still have a light on in our half of the room. In Carter's half of the room, he had a choice between a pull out couch or a bunk bed that folds down from the wall. Of course he chose the bunk bed and totally loved it. Here's a picture of Carter in his bed with his magnetic Bob the Builder toys hanging from the railing.

The Food -- So much food. It was unbelievable. This was the only reason I was happy the cruise has ended. I had no self control and just needed to be away from it all before I ballooned up. Breakfast options were french toast, waffles, pancakes, eggs made to order, omelets, hash browns, pastries, bagels & cream cheese, cereal. Though we consider ourselves fairly bagel deprived in Cologne, we opted more often for french toast or waffles instead of bagels. We didn't eat lunch often on the ship...only when we were at sea all day. When we did partake, nachos was probably our favorite choice, though pizza, made to order pasta, hot dogs, hamburgers, and various salads were also options.

Tea time was probably our favorite meal, at least it was mine. Every day from 4-5pm there were finger sandwiches, fruit tarts, cookies, scones, bite size desserts. After a day of touring a new city, this was the perfect snack to take the edge off until dinner. The dinner options were endless, too. We opted for the sit down dinner nearly every night. The service was impeccable. Perhaps living in Germany has really lowered our standards.

The People -- There were over 1700 passengers and 800 crew members aboard our ship and I think they all knew Carter after the first couple of days. Carter was one of very few children and he managed to charm the socks off of everyone. Towards the end of the cruise, Carter was getting high-fives from all the old men and wait staff as we walked through the breakfast room each day.

When we booked the cruise, we opted for a large dinner table that would seat 10 guests. We figured the more people at the table, the more likely we were to find people we liked. I was so afraid that with a small table we would be stuck for 12 days with a couple or a family that we didn't like. A larger table meant more options. As it turned out, we sat with two other families and loved them both.

The first was a family of three from western Arkansas. The father retired at the ripe old age of 39! He had been in the oil industry and grew tired of it and wanted to spend time with his son who had just been born. Fortunately for them, he is still getting residuals from some of the oil he discovered when he was working. Now he runs a ranch for fun. The son just finished his undergraduate studies and is starting dental school in the fall. The cruise was his graduation gift.

The second family was actually three generations: grandparents (Lee and Joann) and grandson (Hunter) from northern Louisiana and the daughter/aunt (Amy) from Texas. Lee had the most impressive handle-bar mustache. His wife, Joann, is a gun-toting, traveling nurse. Their daughter, Amy, is a 45 year old breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer at the age of 37. Fortunately she has been in remission for the last 4 years. Carter immediately fell in love with "Miss Amy." He was broken hearted the nights she didn't come to dinner in the main restaurant. Amy was just too sweet to Carter. She read him books at dinner, bought him some cars at a flea market in Helsinki, and two small Legos in Copenhagen. I think that Carter would have happily ditched us and gone home with Amy.

The third family that we befriended on the cruise was a family of three from Edinburgh, Scotland. The daughter, Kate, quickly became Carter's best friend at the Fun Factory and as a result we got to know the parents (Scott and Pauline) quite well. Carter and Kate were nearly the only two young children on the entire boat and Scott and Pauline were one of the only other couples under the age of 50. As Scott said, it's not the quantity but the quality. We enjoyed having cocktails together after dinner in one of the lounges while the kids played together in the Fun Factory. We are hoping to visit them in Scotland before we need to move home to the US. Pictured below are Kate and Carter (she's standing and he's sitting in a chair...that's why he looks so much shorter).

Another group worth mentioning were all the Jewish ladies on our St. Petersburg Jewish Highlights tour. These were all New York Jews currently living in the Miami / West Palm area and they were professional cruisers. At first you could tell they were quite upset to have to share a tour with a 3 year old but by the end, Carter had them wrapped around his little finger. We were actually thanked by one woman for bringing Carter along on the tour. Another woman said, "Oy, my granddaughter would be perfect for him." And a third woman told us to have more children. The part that cracked me up the most was when one of them admitted to going to the Jewish services on the ship in order to find a fourth for Mahjong.

The Fun Factory -- This is essentially an on-board club for kids. In other words, free babysitting. They had scheduled activities every day, all day long. On port days, Carter would only go to the fun factory after dinner. On sea days, we would pick the activities in which Carter would be interested and then plan our day around them. Generally there were a lot of craft type activities and Carter would just play with his cars or Legos by himself while the other kids did the crafts. The two best activities were the Family Bingo and the Family Scavenger hunt. Of course the parents were far more competitive than the kids.

The Winnings -- Yes, you are reading that correctly. Ben entered two Texas Hold'Em Pokers tournaments in the Casino on the ship and won. The first tournament, he came in 2nd place. The second tournament, he came in 1st. Combined he won $500! Way to go, Ben. I can't say that I fared as well in Jackpot Bingo. However, the Gale family dominated Family Bingo in the Fun Factory and won great prizes like a Velcro wallet, a pillow, a beach ball, and stuffed (plush) starfish, and a beach bag...all with the Celebrity logo. Don't get too jealous.

Part 2 - Ports of Call will be coming tomorrow.