Monday, November 30, 2015

Cologne Christmas Markets 2015

Hard to believe, but this was our first family trip since we moved back to the UK in the summer. The 9th grader had a school holiday the day after Thanksgiving, so we decided to travel to Cologne for a long weekend to kick off the Christmas season.

Cologne is on most lists for best German Christmas markets. But honestly, my big motivation for traveling to Cologne was the cathedral. It didn't disappoint, particularly the facade. The interior was about what I expected, but the exterior was loaded with all sorts of detail. 

Unbeknownst to me, each of the six separate Christmas markets in Cologne has its own theme. We visited five of the six and returned with a souvenir mug from four of them. The 5th one we didn't bother to get a mug because the market was small and the cup was unattractive.

This trip wasn't about fine dining, but rather carb-filled street food. We munched on sausages, pretzels, fried potato pancakes, strudel and frites. I plan on fasting  a couple days this week to detox my sugary body.

Even our hotel was tricked out in Christmas decorations. It was located right across the street from the cathedral, so it was the perfect location for sightseeing in the old town.

While we were taking a private tour with local guide Marcus, we stumbled upon a wedding party right outside of city hall, which was also decked in holiday decorations.

 The markets as night were so festive. But they were also super crowded and you had to shuffle along through clouds of cigarette smoke. All in all we had a great time and are already starting to contemplate which German Christmas market we'll visit next year.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Here Comes Santa Claus

The halls have been decked, as Santa-ed as it's gonna get around here since I only shipped five plastic bins of items from my extensive collection. Of course, I had to add a few things like a couple Santa prints and another few items to round out the decor. No doubt I'll have to buy several plastic bins when everything goes back into storage after the holiday. There will be no Christmas tree this year, but that doesn't bother me since it's always the most time consuming part of my holiday set up. However, I did spring for a fresh wreath and seasonal entry mat to pretty up the front porch. 

Here's Santa in the kitchen.

Santa catching some rays in the sunroom.

Santa ready to sup in the informal dining area.

Santa saying hello in the entryway.

Santa's many options for a beverage in the formal living/dining room.

Santa in wood and metal on the upstairs landing.

HOCO 2015

Back in Texas, we called it homecoming. Over here, they call it spirit week. The 9th grader was fine with dressing tacky, in her pyjamas or in the class colour so long as she got out of wearing her school uniform for the entire week. She said they had a pep rally on Wednesday during advisories, which I would have loved to see. Since this is our second expat stint and I knew this week would be in the line up, I mentioned it might be fun to purchase/ship over the items to make homecoming mums. Small ones rather than the ridiculous, over-the-top sort found at all Texas high schools. It's a southern thing, but I thought the daughter might enjoy sharing our local custom with her friends. I guessed wrong on that, per the sigh and eye roll I received upon making the suggestion.

Here she is in front of the fireplace, posing for a pic before she and her best friend were dropped off at the school dance. They went stag, but that's no surprise. At her American-International private school, there are only 100 kids in 9th grade. About 50% of them are American, so that means there are about 25 American boys in her class. And not one of them worked up the nerve to invite the daughter or her best friend. Of course, I much prefer that over being all snugged up with some hormonal high school Casanova. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Ms Michelin 2015

I've always liked quilted jackets... from afar. On model thin folks that can wear multiple layers and still look adorably stylish. As a life long member of the hearty appetite club, I realised at a young age that it's best to stay away, miles away, from any article of clothing that adds weight to my frame.

When you're a little kid, the rolls are cute. Not so much when you hit the mean middle school years and beyond. 
Since we're back in cooler climes these days, I decided to go in search of a nice, mid-priced quilted jacket that wouldn't pack on the visual pounds. After considering several options, I decided on the Barbour brand. If it's good enough for Queen Elizabeth and the rest of her royal tribe, then it's good enough for me.

I opted for a lightweight and very moderately priced version in black since that colour goes with everything and is slimming.

I ordered the jacket online and it was delivered in this lovely green box. I thought it was cool they included the royal warrant stamped on the lid. It's nice to think about Lizzie spending the last umpteen years tramping around on one of her country estates in the same brand, though no doubt pricier version, of the same coat I wear to walk the dog and toodle to the grocery store. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Just Like Her Sister

I was reading through the weekly school e-newsletter and clicked on the link to see pics they've taken around school in the past couple weeks. I found four of the 9th grader, three of them taken with friends around campus.

After going through a reallllly long awkward stage for several years, she continues to emerge from her cocoon and more closely resemble her coed sister. Wearing braces, losing the baby fat and figuring out how to handle makeup correctly has been helpful. But I think a lot of it is just confidence. Maybe doing these things led to the confidence - I'm not sure. But I see a glow about her that I noticed about a year ago. 

I think the 9th grader was pleasantly surprised when a certain social media app started tagging her as her older sister. She certainly took it as a compliment. Of course, we're WAY more proud of how our little resident chick has had such a successful transition to life as an expat high schooler, getting actively involved and making outstanding grades on her first report card. She shines brightly from the inside out. Keep up the great work, gorgeous girl!


The big chill is headed our way. After enjoying a relatively mild autumn, it seems winter is hitting this weekend with lows a bit below freezing. Highs will only be in the 40s, so you know what that means. It's time for a little two day hibernation.

Our brand of weekend hibernation includes making a crockpot full of chicken taco soup, baking a chocolate cake with white icing and piling up on the sofa to either binge watch something on Netflix or crank up the college football. When we were in Texas a few weeks ago, I bought a packet of mulling spices from my favourite little store in Fredericksburg. If I can get my hands on some apple cider, that will just about round out a lovely weekend indoors.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

29 and counting

Those folks that are all aghast when they hit the next big reunion year crack me up. Call me crazy, but it seems like eons ago since I was a senior in high school. Lord knows my body, head to toe, tells the story of the past 30something years. 

I can't help but think it would have been cool if we'd had social media back in the day because I'd love to know what I was up to on Nov. 18, 1985. That was the fall of my senior year in a tiny little town in southeast Texas. Had I received my college acceptance letters yet? What were my plans for the Thanksgiving holiday? What had I done recently with my best friends? Were we planning to cruise the drag this upcoming weekend in my 1971 baby blue VW Beetle with no air con or AM radio, being like totally cool with the emergency brake engaged and not realising it? Oh yes, I was one of THOSE teens. Might as well have worn a nerd herd sign permanently affixed to my back.

The reunion committee has already set the date of Oct. 22 for our big 30th. That gives folks plenty of a heads-up to try and lose a few pounds. Maybe take care of those forehead wrinkles. But let's face it, there's no way to turn back the clock to resemble our younger selves. So maybe we should just dive in feet first and give out cheesy, warts and all awards for the real class of '86. Who looks just like they did in high school or has been married the longest - do we really care? Here are a few examples of awards that would be waaaaay fun and probably appropriate for some of our alums.

Most Likely to Be Trawling for a 4th or maybe 5th Husband/Wife
Most Likely to Have a Big Belt Buckle Hiding Beneath a Tremendous Beer Gut
Most Likely to Plan all Family Events Around Hunting Seasons
Most Likely to Think I'm Still a Hottie When it's Obvious I'm Nottie
Most Likely to Have a Lift Kit on my Truck Just like I did in High School
Most Likely to Have Less than Half of my Permanent Teeth in my Mouth
Most Likely to Still Live in the Same House as I did in High School
Most Likely to Be a Bit Be-yotchie in Middle Age

That last one is mine!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Close to Home

Throughout history we've waged war against extremists, but they keep popping up to inflict damage upon citizens across the globe. Human bombs, crashing planes into buildings, televised beheadings - all part and parcel of modern extremists' hate crimes against humanity.

Living abroad has given me a new perspective on international terrorism. My daughter spent Friday night, the same evening Paris was attacked, with her schoolmates in Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, and the Hard Rock Cafe in central London celebrating a friend's birthday. My husband commutes to the east side of London where there are many large financial institutions, traveling across the city centre every day on the tube. 

When terrorism reared its ugly head once again in Paris this weekend, about 325 miles from where we live, I wondered how much I'm supposed to worry and fret about our safety in the 'burbs of London. Granted, the fact that England is an island and has strict immigration laws does lend some comfort. However, it would be a plum of a target if these evil-doers could spew their agenda of hate upon an unsuspecting British population. Despite the cameras and security measures in place, as well as ongoing vigilance by the government, there is no place that is safe from a person with evil in his/her heart willing to die for a twisted cause.

I'm so glad our school's varsity soccer and volleyball teams were in either England or Germany for the international school tournaments this weekend. Although they do rotate to other schools, thankfully Paris wasn't a site for competition this weekend. That would have been an awful nightmare for parents since France closed its borders in the wake of the attacks. 

Bottom line - we won't cower or hide or live our lives any differently. We'll be happy and productive and carry on with the understanding that evil will never be snuffed out in a world where some people don't value human lives, including their own. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

One Less Thing to Worry About

We all do it, worry about our kids. We hope and pray that they're motivated and successful, whether it's academics, sports or extracurriculars. That they make good friends, the forever sort, like some of the ones I've been blessed to have. That they find a vocation in life that makes them fulfilled like teaching does for me. 

Thankfully, the older daughter, a college junior, is really thriving at college. It figures that about the time we get her transferred back to a university in Texas, we hop the pond once again to live in the UK. However, the coed doesn't seem to be fazed by the fact that we're not living in the same country anymore. She's having a blast making great grades as well as enjoying her friends and sorority.

Fall Saturdays in the south mean college football is in full swing, and so she's tailgating. And attending midnight yell practice and learning all of the cool traditions at her new university.

When I was back in Texas for my surgery last month, my mother and I drove about seven hours roundtrip to have lunch with the coed and see her new apartment. That was my old stomping ground back in the late 80s, so it's fun to see how things have changed (or not) since I was there. 

I'm so proud of both girls, but especially our oldest right now for making such positive choices and really taking a bite out of college life. With 97 hours at the end of this semester, she's starting to consider graduate school options and we couldn't be happier for her. I look forward to seeing what her future holds.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Seasonal Potty Humor

Yesterday I put up Christmas decor in the house. No need to wait to enjoy it since we don't have to get Thanksgiving's turkey decor out of the way later this month. I had the mover ship over five plastic bins of miscellaneous Santa items, and I've purchased/will purchase a few more things to finish the look.

Needing a hardback version of Moore's Twas the Night Before Christmas to place on the entryway table, I sifted through Amazon looking for a cover I liked. While I was checking out the options, I stumbled upon this.

Not sure what to expect, the teacher in me was pleasantly surprised to discover it's a counting book. Santa goes from house to house on his December 24 ride and consumes lots of refreshments, thus the need to wee. 

Poor guy has to wait until he gets all the way back to the North Pole to relieve himself. That is one big bladder on the jolly old elf. Just glad there isn't a book about all of those cookies working on Santa and how he needs to poo, too!