Ketchup: The Past Four Months + the Future in 1000 Words (or More)

Practicing our Spiderman skills in Croatia

Practicing our Spiderman skills in Croatia

So now that I’m back in the saddle, I thought I’d try to close the distance between where I left you and where we are now.

I’d like (you) to think I’ve been nothing but a good student for the past four months, but I’m a terrible liar. While it’s true I always did my best to complete my homework, it’s equally as true that I played hookey a good bit during my studies. In between the worksheets and flashcards, our little family has had plenty of adventures near and far, both exceptional and everyday.

Ready for the recap?

In no particular order..

Multicoolty, a blog that compiles stories about expats living in Germany, featured me in May, though I wrote my thoughts way back in January. Check out what I had to say and a silly old picture I dug up from our first trip to Berlin here.


Köln (Cologne)

My husband gave me a fantastic birthday gift this year – two days alone (ALONE!!) in Köln (Cologne). This was before language lessons had started, so it was a blissful quiet time to do whatever I fancied whenever I pleased.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Keukenhof Gardens with Kids

The biggest boy exploring the tulips with me at Keukenhof in the Netherlands.

To ease my disappointment over last year’s pathetic lack of tulips at Keukenhof in the Netherlands, I took my oldest son on a quick trip for a better look. We took the overnight train up to Amsterdam, bussed over to Keukenhof to gawk at the fields of tulips, made our way back to Amsterdam, scarfed down a pancake dinner, and caught the night train back home. Whew! And yes, it was actually fun, and yes, he was a champ on the overnight trains. I would definitely do it again!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro

Flying away in Zadar, Croatia.

Several days after our up-and-back Netherlands trip, the five of us flew to Croatia for ten days. During our trip, we stayed in Zadar, Dubrovnik, and Split. We also drove through a bit of Bosnia and took a day trip to Montenegro. One of the most fun moments of the trip was meeting SJ of Chasing the Donkey and her family!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Mexican Food in Germany

The taco truck!

While we didn’t find any Mexican food in Croatia (and opted out of another fantastic dinner at Los Pilones in Amsterdam in favor of a pancake feast), we have been going gangbusters at the Holy Taco Shack taco truck. We took our American-expat-in-Luxembourg friends there a few weeks ago. They’re just as salsa-crazed as we are, and they gave the burritos two thumbs up. Now, if I could just get the taco truck to deliver…

Thrifty Travel Mama | potty trainingThis little champ has kicked daytime diapers and now only uses a nappy at night and during his nap. We did the same thing with all three boys – an awful, torturous, bodily-fluid-soaked potty training boot camp for a weekend followed by the shock and awe of daytime dryness.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Picking Strawberries in Germany with KidsStrawberry season came earlier this year, and we hit the fields several times. We made many of our favorite recipes from last year including strawberry fruit leather, strawberry syrup, and strawberry shortcakes.

Those strawberry shortcakes were made with coconut cream for me as I went dairy-free at the beginning of the year and have kept it up except for a four-week break while we traveled to Croatia. P.s. – I miss cheese and there is NO substitute that even comes close..

Thrifty Travel Mama | Losing TeethOur oldest little adventurer has lost enough teeth to officially apply for Jack-o-Lantern status, and the tooth fairy is flat broke. This photo is a few months old. He’s now missing three teeth on top, and two on the bottom!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Riding a LaufradThe youngest learned to ride a bike without pedals (Laufrad). And now we are losing sleep over his daredevil ways that now are ON WHEELS. Yikes.

Can you guess why we called it the poo hike?

Can you guess why we called it the poo hike?

As soon as the thermometer sailed over the 12C mark, we flexed our hiking muscles. In between our travels, we’ve been able to do a handful of hikes, including one we affectionately call the poo hike and one insane 15km trek with four kids and nearly no complaining. Kilimanjaro, here we come!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hiking in the Alps with kids

Back in the Alps!

And, speaking of hiking, we (okay, mainly me) became obsessed with the Alps after our excursion to Schilthorn last summer. Last weekend, we took our first summer hike near Engelberg, and we’ve got more ideas for Swiss outings than there are Saturdays before the snow falls again.

Due to an insane amount of planning and the wonderful generosity of friends, I managed a week of solo parenting (single parents, I know this is wimpy – hats off to you!) while my husband went off to Milan for a conference.. and to look for a new job.


The last point brings me to a big change coming for our family…

We have decided that Doc Sci won’t be renewing his employment contract here in Germany when it ends later this year. Professionally, he needs to move on; unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity to do that where we currently live.

Where will we end up? Only God knows, but most likely, we’ll move back in the US, though we may consider something in Europe if the circumstances are right. This is a decision we have wrestled with for months. We love so many things about living in Europe; it will not be easy to leave our life here behind. But, ultimately, we both know our days in this city are numbered. Sigh.

And, if you will forgive me for throwing one.more.thing your way, I’ve decided to change the boys’ nicknames here. When I started this blog, I never dreamed that anyone would read it, let alone the hundreds that do. I also never thought I’d be writing for nearly four years. In that time, the boys have painfully outgrown their silly pseudonyms.

This also may be a good time to explain why I use nicknames. Yes, there’s the usual safety concerns, but really, it’s a matter of respect for me. My kids aren’t old enough to know that I write about our life on the internet (heck, they don’t even know what the internet is). As such, they have no say in the things I post.

When they are older, they may not wish to have their faces and names plastered all over this space for public viewing. So, until the day when we can have a conversation about their wishes, I’ll respect the option of anonymity by using nicknames.

But then, there’s the matter of what to call them. I thought Small, Medium, and Large was good enough for me, basic… but boring. I tried it in German, but I just can’t call my kid Gross (large).

I’m still keeping it simple, but I’m steering in the ABC direction. The boys will now go by the first three letters of the Pilot’s Alphabet that is commonly used in the travel industry – Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie. Plus, these names are actually spot on when it comes to their personalities, Creepy!

I’m seriously over my 1,000 word target, and that’s about all the changes and updates I can handle. If you have a blog, post a link (or three) below with exciting news, fantastic trips, handy DIYs, or winning lotto numbers. I’ve love to catch up with you, too!

Now, tell me, which of our adventures above would you like to read about first?Signature Thrifty Travel Mama


Do Vegas Up Family-Style: 5 Kid-Friendly Activities

My memories of visiting Las Vegas as a child are of endless subdivisions and eternal buffets.  The Strip then wasn’t what it is today, and the best thing we found to do was play arcade games inside Circus Circus. 

But, boy things have changed!  As today’s guest writer Kendra Thornton points out, Las Vegas may surprise you as a family-friendly (and budget!) destination. 

Do Vegas Up Family-Style

Believe it or not, Las Vegas is one of the family-friendliest places to travel in the United States. While you may associate Vegas with the more adult-themed activities that have led to its negative reputation, it is important to know that much of this is just hype.

Las Vegas may be marketed toward those who will spend freely as they imbibe in libations; however, this can easily work toward your advantage.

Businesses frequently make it cheap to travel to and stay in Las Vegas because they know that most adults will spend big money once they hit the casinos and clubs. This makes it easy for you to utilize cheap travel packages to take your kids on less-expensive and family-friendly cultural activities that I have included on this list of my favorite Vegas hot-spots.

1. Chill at Serendipity

If you have never had frozen hot chocolate, then you are in for a treat. In the rest of the country, everyone else may be warming up to a mug of hot cocoa. However, drinking it cold Las Vegas style will be a thrill for your kids. At Serendipity 3, the fun is just beginning when you walk in and are greeted by funky décor and an exciting menu. Enjoy your frozen hot chocolate as you plan your next grand adventure.

2. Thrill at Adventuredome

Inside Circus Circus you’ll find the Adventuredome, a five-acre theme park that is sure to dazzle your kids. Here, roller coaster enthusiasts from all over the world come to find their thrills. Enjoy world-famous rides such as the world’s only indoor roller coaster with a double loop and corkscrew. Then, have fun rock climbing. Those who are less adventurous will also love the arcade.

3. Lounge on a Hoover Dam Houseboat

Even if your kids have seen it all, they still have not yet had the thrill of enjoying a stay on a houseboat. A houseboat on Lake Mead can be rented for a single night or several days. In addition to being an event to be remembered, this can also be less expensive than traditional hotel stays. On a Hoover Dam houseboat, you have lodging and entertainment covered. Then, you can take in the view while enjoying the nature-side of Las Vegas vacations.

4. Experiment with Indoor Skydiving

It may or may not be your kids’ dream to jump out of a plane. Here your kids can try it out in the safety of an indoor space. This thrill is achieved by using a wind tunnel to mimic the effects of an actual skydiving experience. As a parent, you can enjoy giving your kids a great thrill while making sure safety is a priority. As an added bonus, this is even less expensive than the real thing.

5. Experience a Venetian Winter

If you would have never thought Las Vegas could be a winter wonderland, then be prepared to be surprised. At the Venetian, the halls will be decked for the season this winter. Here, you can enjoy an ice skating rink. Then, listen as real-life carolers sing holiday melodies as they roam the halls. Every night, they serve spiced cider so you can sip and enjoy the sights while visiting with your family.

This year, experience an unbelievable vacation full of holiday surprises in the amazing city of Las Vegas. Although they may say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, your family will be too delighted with their adventures to keep them a secret. Whether you explore the Hoover Dam or dine on a divine frozen hot chocolate, every moment will be savored. By exploring the other side of Vegas, your family will always remember their time in this amazing city as one of their fondest memories.

Kendra Thornton is the former Director of Communications at Orbitz. She lives in Chicago with her 3 wonderful children and loves sharing travel stories and advice from her extensive experience traveling the world.  Follow her on Twitter here.

What other bloggers are saying about family-friendly Vegas:

Would you take your kids to Vegas?  Which one of these activities would your family enjoy the most? Signature-Marigold

Happy 1st Birthday, Baby!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Happy birthday, baby!I’m sure I’m not the only mama out there that breathes a HUGE sigh of relief at the arrival of baby’s first birthday.  I always feel like it’s such a miracle to make it to one.

This special moment is a milestone of the best kind, one that can’t be criticized, analyzed, or compartmentalized.  No matter what your baby is doing – eating, sleeping, crawling, walking, somersaulting, bungee jumping – the first birthday is a day for the whole family to celebrate.

Big Foot’s arrival was a bumpy one; but, I thank God every day that through it all, we made it through with a healthy baby.  I know we are so blessed, so lucky, to have the biggest complaint lie in almost 8 months of sleepless nights.

This is a season of wonder for us.  This cranky baby who took 7 months to decide that life outside the womb was okay, even good, now shrieks with laughter and joy.  We are amazed at his determination to walk as early as possible and to perfect his balance in order to chase after the big boys.  As the big 1 approaches, we are so thankful for this bright-eyed boy built of solid muscle and trimmed in pinchable pudge.

In his first year of life, our wee traveler-in-training has visited 8 countries and 4 US states, crossed the Atlantic four times, traveled by train/bus/car/and plane, made his mark at 8 castles, and sneezed at one of the highest mountain peaks in Europe.  That’s a busy 12 months for such a little guy!

We love you, Big Foot, and we look forward to the many adventures to come over the years.  Happy birthday, baby!

P.s. – In case you are wondering about the photo… For all the emotions this kid has in him, he barely blinked at the sugar high served to him on a plastic orange platter.  No glee – no tears.  I guess this is preparing me to expect the unexpected from this little man!Signature-Marigold

Change Up Your Clean Routine

I love a clean house, but I hate giving away the ridiculous amount of time it takes to get there.  I like things to be neat and organized, and I don’t want to have crusty food on the table or crumbs all over the floor.  With three kids, it can seem like nothing is ever clean, and I often want to throw in the towel and give up trying.

However, with a few simple strategies, it is possible to have a clean home in less time.

Are you one of those people that cleans on a certain day or time of the week?  When I was single and also when I was first married, I would spend several hours on Saturday morning cleaning.  Everything got done then: the bathroom, the kitchen, the floors, dusting, etc.

After T-Rex was born, I struggled to keep up with the routine and standards I had maintained for years.  Three or four hours on a Saturday morning was not something I had to give anymore.

Teach your children to clean up their own toys (age appropriately) and, in turn, to be a good steward of the things they have.

Teach your children to clean up their own toys (age appropriately) and, in turn, to be a good steward of the things they have.

Shortly before Screech was born, I discovered Stephanie O’Dea’s Daily 7.  You may know Stephanie from Crockpot 365, a challenge to use her slow cooker every day for an entire year.  Awesome – but I’ll have to save my Crockpot love for another day.

Stephanie’s Daily 7 (based on the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey) rocked my world.  I loved the idea of having little tasks to do every day so that the house stayed pretty clean the whole week through.  Why not clean the bathroom while you are already there supervising little boys in the shower?  Why not take the extra five seconds to put your dish straight in the dishwasher instead of leaving it on the counter or in the sink?

We don't have a dishwasher - at least not the kind you plug in!  We have to keep things clean because that 19" of counter space you see is all we've got.

We don’t have a dishwasher – at least not the kind you plug in! We have to keep things clean because that 19″ of counter space you see is all we’ve got.

The concept seems so simple – and, it is – but putting it into practice made a huge impact on my household productivity, not to mention my stress level.

The boys love to help by pushing the buttons on the washing machine.

The boys love to help by pushing the buttons on the washing machine.

In trying to make this Daily 7 idea work for me, I realized that not all of her 7 fit my situation, my home, or my personality, so I came up with my own version.  I encourage you to make your own list as well based on the particular needs of your family and living space. Here are mine:

  1. Clean up after yourself and help children do the same.  Duh, but a great reminder.  Be an example – your kids are watching!  Help them to accomplish what you eventually want them to do on their own.
  2. Make beds right away.  If you don’t already do this, make it a habit.  And, along the lines of #1, this is a chore that even very young children can learn to do.  It makes a huge difference in the appearance of your home.
  3. Wipe down bathrooms.  When you’re in the shower, scrub it.  When you’re waiting for the kids to finish their bath or shower, give the rest of the bathroom a quick clean.
  4. Do a quick clean up before naps and bedtime.  Less toys scattered about the house means more focus for me during downtime and at night.
  5. Keep the kitchen sink empty.  Put your dishes straight in the dishwasher.  It’s an extra 5 seconds, but the aesthetic payoff is huge.  If you don’t have a dishwasher (I don’t in Germany), try to wash the dishes right away and stack them in the drying rack instead of leaving them on the counter.
  6. Vacuum the entryway and around the dining table.  These are the areas most prone to debris, and you can eliminate that dirty house vibe with a quick swipe of the Hoover.
  7. Wipe down dining table and kitchen counter.  Simple, but highly effective.

By now, you may be thinking, this sounds GREAT!  But, what about the rest of the house?  I can’t just vacuum the entry way and under the table.  Eventually the rest of the floors are going to get pretty grody.

Before we bought a dryer, I had to wash one load of laundry per day in order to give it time to dry on the rack.

Before we bought a dryer, I had to wash one load of laundry per day in order to give it time to dry on the rack.

What works for me is to do one or two “big” chores every day.  Here’s what that looks like in my house:

  • Monday – Grocery shop, put away food, quickly organize fridge and pantry.
  • Tuesday – Wash sheets and towels.  Dry and either fold or put back in their places.  We only have one set of bath towels, so I just hang them back up after they’re dry.
  • Wednesday – Vacuum and mop.  Beat or wash rugs.
  • Thursday – Sort and pre-treat laundry.  Dust house.
  • Friday – Wash and dry laundry.  Meal plan for the upcoming week.
  • Saturday – Fold and put away laundry (can also be done on Friday night while watching a movie).

I don’t have to clean the bathroom or wipe down the kitchen because that’s done daily.  The kids pick up their own toys, and the bedrooms look neat because the comforters and pillows are in place.  This leaves more time for hanging out together, taking care of other priorities, and – of course – traveling on the weekends.

We do the German thing and use a brush to clean up under the table, but if you have a Dust Buster, I'd recommend using that instead!

We do the German thing and use a brush to clean up under the table, but if you have a Dust Buster, I’d recommend using that instead!

You may have noticed I don’t do a Martha Stewart job on my house.  You’ll never see me cleaning my light fixtures with a Q-tip.  My home is meant to be lived in, not shown off.  But, I’ll concede – every now and again the house needs a bit more than the above routine.  So, twice a year we do a “deep clean” in our home.

This little helper is cleaning his own kitchen!

This little helper is cleaning his own kitchen!

Most people do spring cleaning.  I prefer to do a late winter cleaning because it takes me several Saturdays to accomplish such a formidable task.  I’d rather be stuck inside scrubbing on a dreary, cold day than a beautiful, warm, sunny one.  We also do a fall cleaning once the chilly rains begin in late October, again because there’s no advantage to traveling then.

We use our Saturdays for deep cleaning because, truthfully, there just isn’t time during the week.  And, now that the boys are a little older, we can give them easy tasks to keep them occupied and help us out.

I compiled a list of items to be completed as part of the deep clean, and I filed it in my Household Notebook.  I am not publishing it here because it’s specific to my apartment, and you probably wouldn’t get much use out of it.  But here are several links to exhaustive deep clean lists that are extremely helpful when making your own deep clean checklist:

We’re midway through this year’s late winter cleaning, and we should be finished by the time the sun decides to show its face.  Then, we’ll have plenty of time for exploring all that Germany and the surrounding countries have to offer, and a clean home where we can return and relax after our adventures.

Have you implemented any of these cleaning strategies?  Any tips that I may have left out?


A Jar Full of Date Nights at Home

Thrifty Travel Mama - 35 Ideas for Date Nights at HomeSo, how was your Valentine’s Day?  Say, what Valentine’s Day?  Right, right, the one last week.  Did you strike out?  Buy overpriced red roses that died the next day?  Bought milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate?  Totally forgot the day all together?

Well, here’s a thrifty idea sure to patch things up and even win over the Valentine’s Day haters – a home date night jar!

We are blessed to have some great babysitters here, but using their services every week is more than our budget can handle.  It’s doable for us to splurge once a month, but what about the rest of the time?

Relaxing with a movie at home is our Friday night activity of choice.  But, it can get old.  And what if there are no new interesting and/or appropriate movies to watch?

I came across this Home Date Night Jar on Pinterest, and I thought it would be a fabulous Valentine’s Day gift for Doc Sci.  It’s ridiculously easy; the hardest part is coming up with ideas that you know you and your significant other will enjoy. To (hopefully) make things easier for you, I’ve listed 35 ideas below.

I scrawled each one on a small scrap of colored paper and then shoved them inside the jar.  I threw together a quick label, attached it with packing tape, and voila!  Done.

Like my label?  Download it here: Date Night Jar Label.  I’ve included the color and a B&W version.  Free for personal use only, please!Thrifty Travel Mama - 35 Ideas for Date Nights at Home

Date Nights at Home – Ideas

  1. Make Fondue (cheese, pizza, meat, chocolate, etc.)
  2. Play a board game
  3. Dig out the cards and play Gin, Rummy, or the like.
  4. Poker Night – get creative with what to bet with!
  5. Make Milkshakes and watch That Thing You Do!
  6. Start a bucket list and post it somewhere that you can both see it and add to it
  7. Whip up some hot chocolate and sit outside together
  8. Bake a batch of the most amazing chocolate chip cookies ever
  9. Do a puzzle together
  10. Dream about where you want to be in 5 years
  11. Scour You Tube for hilarious videos
  12. Mexican fiesta – tacos, chips & salsa, and Nacho Libre
  13. French theme night – French onion soup, French bread, and watch Amelie
  14. Italian evening – pizza or pasta, gelato, and The Italian Job
  15. Korean wave – grilled, marinated chicken or beef, karaoke, and My Sassy Girl
  16. Have a chocolate tasting and watch Chocolat
  17. Eat ice cream sundaes and watch old videos you have made
  18. Write the story of how you met
  19. Make an Amazing Race audition video
  20. Order take out and eat it by candle light
  21. Wii Games – husband’s choice
  22. Wii Games – wife’s choice
  23. Find a book you both want to read and take turns reading out loud to each other
  24. Watch a movie made before 2000
  25. Be a kid – stock up on junk food and watch your favorite TV series from childhood
  26. 80s dance party in your living room
  27. Wine, cheese, and fruit night – keep those pinkies held high!
  28. Sports Night – watch a game, eat nachos, drink soda, and root for the home team
  29. Chow down a picnic in your living room
  30. Cook breakfast for dinner and watch cartoons
  31. Write silly love notes to each other and hide them around the house
  32. Eat cake and watch your wedding video
  33. Bake a dessert from when you were dating and share your favorite memories
  34. Try your hand at making some gourmet popcorn
  35. Go to sleep early!

Want more?  Check out Six Sisters’ Stuff for hundreds of other ideas.

What would you add??Signature-Marigold

Baby Food in Germany: The Jar Options

My neighborhood dm stocks a wide variety of jarred baby food.  Muller and Rossman are other drugstores with decent baby food departments.

My neighborhood dm stocks a wide variety of jarred baby food. Müller and Rossman are other drugstores with decent baby food departments.

Big Foot has just made it to the six month mark (yay!), and he’s decided to join his brothers in becoming a fast and ferocious eater.  The kid LOVES food.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to sleeping well at night, but that’s another topic for another day…

As with the other two boys, I’m making my own baby food.  I use the schedule and the frozen food cube method from Super Baby Food.  For the most part, it’s worked well for me and the babies.  But, I have to admit – it lacks portability when traveling.

For instance, Doc Sci and I took a road trip when T-Rex was about five months old.  I packed my food cubes in a cooler on ice for a 12 hour trip (uh, yes, we were totally nuts, and no I do not recommend a road warrior mentality when traveling with an infant).  By the time we arrived at our destination, all those neat and pretty food cubes had melted into each other, and it was impossible to tell where the avocado ended and the banana began.

Never again.

As you might know, when Screech was ten months old, we moved to Germany.  Luckily, I had a heads up about two months in advance that we might be hopping the pond, so I busted my you-know-what to make sure Screech was down with the chunkier textures and scarfing down the same stuff as his big brother and parents.

He was game to grow up a bit ahead in the baby food game, and I found that a pair of kitchen shears was all I needed to make my plate of spaghetti into Screech’s delight.

And good thing, too.  The baby food jar options in Germany are, well, um, interesting to say the least.  Now that I’m gearing up to take another road trip next month (only 7 hours this time!), I’m again venturing into the commercial baby food world to weigh my options.

Want to take a look with me?  Let’s head down to my neighborhood dm and give it a gander.

But first, a few notes to help decipher labels for those traveling to Germany or new to the country…

  • Bio = organic, and it’s pronounced B-O as in the gym locker fragrance, not Bi-oh as in biology.
  • Ohne Salz Zusatz means without added salt and Ohne Zuckerzusatz means without added sugar.
  • Hipp is usually the most expensive brand, but almost everything is organic and of good quality.
  • Nestle/Alete is usually the cheapest brand and has a rotten reputation.
  • Foods are labeled with which month they are appropriate to use (usually 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 months).  The higher the month, the chunkier the texture.
  • Just like in the US, the jars are rather expensive.  I’ve included prices in the photos below for reference.
German babies all start with the same food - carrots.  It is the only vegetable I have found that comes by itself in a jar.  Watch out though - some brands have added oil to provide omega 3.

German babies all start with the same food – carrots. It is the only vegetable I have found that comes by itself in a jar. Watch out though – some brands have added oil to provide omega 3.

All other vegetables come packaged with something else.

All other vegetables come packaged with other ingredients.  No single green beans, peas, or broccoli to be found here.

Spinach is processed with milk and cream and labeled as suitable for four month-old babies.  We have a history of food allergies in our family, so milk is completely off limits at four months.

Spinach is processed with milk and cream and labeled as suitable for four month-old babies. That might be okay for some little ones, but we have a history of food allergies in our family so milk is completely off limits at four months.

The only other green vegetable I've seen is zucchini.. but again, it's with potatoes.  Carrots and potatoes are the German baby food staples.

The only other green vegetable I’ve seen is zucchini.. but again, it’s with potatoes. Carrots and potatoes are the German baby food staples.  By the way, this stuff smells and tastes totally rank.  There’s nothing zucchini about it.

Here are some more potato-laden baby food options.

Here we go with the lineup of potato-laden baby food options.  I guess the Germans think the potatoes will make the other veggies palatable..?  But parsnips.. who eats parsnips?  I’ve never even seen them sold in grocery stores here, let alone considered them as infant fare.

There are more fruit options than vegetable ones, but often they are paired with apples.

There are more fruit options than vegetable ones, but often they are mixed up, shaken, not stirred, with applesauce.

Many fruit options also have grains included.  Spelt (Dinkel) is a very popular baby food option here.  Watch out if you have a history of wheat or gluten allergies/intolerance.

Many fruit options also have grains (Getreide) included. Spelt (Dinkel) is a very popular baby food option here. Watch out if you have a history of wheat or gluten allergies/intolerance.

And speaking of grains, Germans feed their babies Milchbrei (cereal with milk or formula).  I find it super ironic that the organic, bland, sugarless culture feeds their babies cookie and chocolate flavored infant cereal.

And speaking of grains, Germans feed their babies loads of Milchbrei (cereal with milk or formula). I find it super ironic that this organic, bland, sugarless hippie dippy culture feeds their babies cookie and chocolate flavored infant cereal.  But, they do.

If you've got a poor sleeper, or a hungry monkey, you can give a "Good Night" jar a whirl.  Apparently these mixtures are supposed to take longer to digest and therefore help the baby sleep longer.  (Unfortunately, this hasn't worked for us...)

If you’ve got a poor sleeper, or a hungry monkey, you can give one of the “Good Night” jars a whirl. Apparently these mixtures are supposed to take longer to digest and therefore help the baby sleep longer. (Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked for us…)

If you're going for pureed meat (mmmmmm, delicious), a few companies produce jars of plain chicken and plain beef.  It's quite expensive though, as you can see.

If you’re going for pureed meat (mmmmmm, delicious), a few companies are hawking jars of straight up chicken or beef. It’s quite expensive though, as you can see.

I am used to giving my babies one food at a time, waiting a few days to check for any allergic reactions, and then moving on to another single food.  I am not sure how you do this in Germany without making food on your own.  Other than the few fruits and vegetables I have pictured, the rest of the baby food jar options are "menus" or complete meals.  Here are a few of the menus for four month-old babies.

I am used to feeding my babies one food at a time, waiting a few days to check for any allergic reactions, and then moving on to another single food. I am not sure how you do this in Germany without making food on your own. Other than the few fruits and vegetables I have pictured, the rest of the baby food jar options are “menus” or complete meals. Here are a few of the menus on the market for four month-old babies.

This one baffles me... noodles (wheat), tomatoes (highly acidic), pork (hard to digest), and the long-standing staple, carrots... for a four month-old.

This one baffles me… noodles (wheat), tomatoes (majorly acidic), pork (hard to digest), and the long-standing staple, carrots… for a four month-old.  Say, what?!

Here's another good one.. Lamb?  What?

Here’s another good one.. Lamb? Well, it’s new.  Maybe it’ll be a flop.

There's a tie for the most outrageous four month-old meal.  The first contestant isn't pictured; dm was out of the salmon in cream sauce.  So, this one wins.  Who feeds their young baby veal?!

And the award for the most outrageous four month-old meal goes to… Wait, it’s a tie.  The first contestant isn’t pictured; dm was out of the salmon in cream sauce. So, this crazy concoction wins. Who feeds their young baby veal?!

As in the US, there are a few toddler TV dinners.  I'm not big into these because by the time the baby is one year old, they usually eat everything that the rest of the family eats.  But just in case you're looking for a microwave meal, there you have it.

In case you’re itchin’ to know, there are a few toddler TV dinners on the German baby food market. I’m not big into these because by the time the baby is one year old, they usually (hopefully?) eat everything that the rest of the family eats. But just in case you’re looking for a microwave meal, there you have it.

Okay, the TV dinners and these squeezy fruits aren't jars, but whatever.  I know these pouches are all the rage in the US, but they have just started catching on in Germany.  They're here, but few and far between.

Okay, the TV dinners and these squeezy fruits aren’t jars, but whatever. I know these pouches are all the rage in the US, but they have just started catching on in Germany. They’re here, but few and far between.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our little tour of the baby food section at my neighborhood dm drug store.  Unfortunately, I’m still without a traveling baby food solution.  Maybe I could convince Big Foot to subsist on carrots and pears for a weekend?  Yeah right…

Marvel: Homeschooling in Germany – Illegal!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - MarvelsCan you believe it?  Educating children at home in Germany is illegal!  And I don’t mean illegal as in it’s illegal to operate a dance hall on a Sunday in South Carolina.  No siree, trying to homeschool your kids in Germany is dangerous business.

I’ve known about this rule for a while now, but I never gave it much thought.  When we first arrived in Germany, T-Rex was only 2, and Screech was barely 10 months old.  We had no plans to stay for more than one year.  Since children must already be 6 to start first grade, what concern was this homeschooling law to me?  Plus, I wasn’t even sure I would want to homeschool.

Actually, I’m still not sure.  But I like options.  I don’t like serious fines and legal mumbo jumbo and threats about taking away custody of my children because I might decide that a German primary school isn’t the best place for them.  Unfortunately, that’s the reality for any family who dares to fight the iron-clad, you-must-not-educate-your-children-yourself rule.

Germany is very serious about their compulsory education.  All children are required attend a state-approved school, no exceptions.  Absences must be sorted out in advance.  My neighbor had to secure special permission to take her daughter out one day earlier than the scheduled Christmas break so that the family could fly to their homeland for the holiday.  If she had not obtained this approval, she could’ve be stopped at the airport and denied boarding with her daughter.  No, this is not North Korea we are talking about; this is Germany.  One of the richest and most prosperous countries in the world is also one of the most fearful.

Fearful of what?  Of course one could argue that fanatics of any religion might want to indoctrinate their children and isolate them from peers and open thinking.  This is a concern to be sure.  But that doesn’t seem to be the underlying thought when it comes to this particular law.  No, this fear is fixated on losing control of the masses.

All governments around the world share this anxiety, at least to some degree.  If enough of the people do not agree with the government and teach their children to dissent without respect, then disastrous consequences could ensue.

While these worries may be reality in some places to some extent at some time, it’s extremely pessimistic.  Loads of creativity, innovation, and advancement are also possible, perhaps even likely.

Fortunately, not every country in Europe is as tyrannical as Germany when it comes to homeschooling.  Sweden is an ally in Germany’s prohibition, but Switzerland, France, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom allow home education to some degree.

Do some families in Germany risk fines, imprisonment, or even losing custody of their children in order to homeschool?  Yes.  Some teach at home under the radar, doing their best to avoid detectionOthers are advocating for change, allowing themselves to be examples to the world and hoping the exposure of their trials makes way for dialogue that leads to a reversal of the law.

But, what about Americans and other foreigners living in Germany?  Are they exempt from the German education laws?  Usually not.  Some members of foreign armed forces or families of diplomats can get away with it.  But everyone else must obey and send their children to a German school (public or private).

This is not to say that German schools are inherently bad or that they are brainwashing children on the sly.  I merely aim to point out the lack of choice and bring attention to the prevailing public thought that the government knows what’s best for all children in Germany.

Be thankful for your freedoms, Americans, hug your children tightly, and pray for the wisdom to handle the challenges – educational or otherwise – of raising them.

You can read another excellent post discussing homeschooling in Germany here.  If you’re looking to get involved and help a homeschooling family, you can find action steps at the end of this article.Signature-Marigold

Children and Television – Help or Hindrance?

Screech and T-Rex “cycling” together with the Wii.

I used to be one of “those” mamas.  You know, the kind that smugly says she doesn’t need TV and her kids won’t be watching any until they are two.  If ever.

I only had T-Rex at the time; and, really and truly I didn’t have a need for TV.  But, then I found myself about to have another baby (that would be Screech – and he was scheduled to arrive, ahem, before T-Rex turned two).   One day while making dinner, I suddenly panicked.  What would I do with T-Rex when I needed to feed Screech, cook, or (gasp) have five minutes of time to do something for myself?

All of a sudden TV didn’t seem so “bad” anymore. 

(Just to keep things clear, when I say TV, I mean the actual television set.  We’ve never had cable, and I can’t keep track of air channel listings for the life of me.  We almost exclusively watch DVDs.)

So, I did what I could to encourage a toddler who had no interest in TV to sit still and watch a black box for a few minutes at a time.  I had no idea it would be so much.. work.  Getting a toddler boy to sit down for ten minutes seemed like a serious, award-winning accomplishment.

Fast forward a few years, and here I am today expecting baby #3.  T-Rex is four and a half and will usually watch about 30 minutes of TV if I need him to do so.  Screech, on the other hand, lasts maybe five to ten minutes max.  He’s almost three years old, and he’d much rather destroy the house than watch Lightning McQueen learn to make friends.

Speaking of friends, I one in particular here (she’s American) with three children, ages three to eight.  Her kids will watch TV for hours.  When she told me this, she probably thought I’d judge her.  We do a lot of judging each other as parents which hurts us (because we’re often wrong) and the other person.  I’m sure she was surprised when I didn’t.  Nope – I thought, lucky!

Now, she doesn’t plant the kids in front of media every day.  And nor does she do it so she can lounge in a back room, paint her nails, and check Facebook.  She works from home and due to some circumstances has no childcare for a few months.  She has no family here, and no means to afford a babysitter for even a half day for three kids, five days per week.

Come September, all of her kids will be in school again, she can work during that time, and the hours-long television fests will be a thing of the past.  She’ll only pull that trick out of the bag on special occasions.  But, mostly it will remain a memory of a desperate measure utilized at a desperate time.

Desperate.  Yes.  That’s where I find myself sometimes when I think of how on earth I will get anything done with three little boys under the age of 5.  Quiet boxes, special toys, off-limits games (like the Wii), etc. only work with my boys for so long.

About two months ago, Doc Sci suggested I have the boys choose between reading a book and watching TV every day while I make dinner to help them get used to sitting (somewhat) still for 30 minutes.   (Keep an open mind here..  Remember what I said about judging?)  No matter what the two of them chose, it rarely lasted more than 10-15 minutes.

That is, until family movie night.

We decided one Friday night to do something different with the boys.  We’d let them watch a movie with us during dinner and stay up a little later than usual.  I’m not one for animated films, so I chose The Parent Trap.

To my surprise, my two can’t-eat-enough boys barely touched their dinner.  They were mesmerized.  We only watched about 1/3 of the film that evening, but I turned it on a few times in the next week while cooking dinner.  Each time, they sat there, riveted.  When we eventually reached the end of the film, Screech immediately said, “Watch it again, Daddy!”

And then it dawned on me.  Maybe the key to a longer attention span is not to encourage a shorter one.

Everything that flashes across that screen teaches my boys something whether it be educational, moral, spiritual, etc.  All of the DVDs in my current rotation are children’s programs – short and sweet – ten to thirty minutes tops.  But maybe the propensity to cater to kids’ attention spans actually reinforces their immature tendencies.

I tested my theory this weekend when we watched several Olympic events (a rare time when the “television” function of the TV was actually in use).  Swimming, gymnastics, diving, cycling, tennis – they both sat for longer than I’ve ever seen during each event.  When we turned off the TV, they wanted to act out what they’d seen – especially the swimming and gymnastics.  And, they wanted to do it with us.

TV gets such a bad rap when it comes to children.  Among other things, it gets blamed for childhood obesity and for a lack of connection and communication in families.

I’m not saying everyone needs to train their children to sit still and watch a black box.  If you have a backyard – use it!!! I don’t have one, and I won’t have one any time soon.  If I did, I probably wouldn’t even be thinking about TV as an option to help my household run a bit smoother and my sanity to stay intact.

I’m also not suggesting to throw caution to the wind and let children watch any kind of programming.  Discretion should still be used when selecting which programs to watch.  I just think that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to choosing children’s programming because it’s been marketed to us as what kids want (and should) watch.  Parents should still be in charge of the process, even if they can’t always sit down and watch the entire program (because they’re, say, feeding a new baby or cooking for five).

If television is used as a tool – for a determined purpose and time – I believe it really can be a help instead of a hindrance.

What about you? Do your kids watch TV at home? Have you found some programs to be more successful or beneficial than others?  Do you think the short format of children’s shows helps or hinders their attention span, growth, and development?

Shameless Repost: Are German Parents as Superior as French Parents?

I don’t often think about if German parents are different than American parents.  That’s a no-brainer.  I just know they are.

But one thing I haven’t given much thought to is the question of how German parents differ from their American counterparts.

Several weeks ago, I ran across an article listed in Simple Mom’s Weekend Links that happened to be from the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Why French Parents Are Superior.”

I loved it.

Since then, I’ve been consciously thinking about two things I took away from the article: delayed gratification and teaching my children to entertain themselves by playing alone while I am busy.

As I read the article, though, I wondered how similar French and German parents are.  The last time I spent more than one day in France, I was pregnant with my first child and not at all into hanging out at playgrounds or observing child rearing techniques.

And, even though I have lived in Germany for a year and a half, I am still no expert on German parents.  So, I was quite pleased to run across a comparison on the German Way Expat Blog of French and German parents based on the aforementioned Wall Street Journal article.

Head here to read the full comparison.   (Or you can cheat and read the final count here: Similarities – 3 and Dissimilarities – 2.)

T-Rex Cycles to School

Last summer, I posted about T-Rex learning to ride a pedal bike at the ripe old age of 3 1/2.  After a lot of practicing in the park, Doc Sci and I thought he was ready to ride to school.  We were right.  And wrong.

As I mentioned in the last post, ability doesn’t necessarily equal responsibility.  While he’s nowhere near as observant as an adult would be, six months has given him a lot of time to learn (and actually do) things like don’t ride too far ahead, stay to the right, stop at red lights, etc.  He’s doing exceptionally well in this area, and I rarely have to go over the rules anymore before setting out.

However, we realized last fall that the bike he was riding was actually too small.  It was almost impossible for him to keep up with Doc Sci or I when riding on the street.  He would pedal furiously, we would pedal lazily, but still a large gap remained.

Since it’s not really safe (or comfortable) for T-Rex to ride his bike in winter, we waited until the weather warmed up to make any changes.

Several weeks ago, I bought T-Rex another bike (again at a flohmarkt), one size bigger than the bike he already owned.  It took him a few days of practice in the park, but then he was good to go.

Wow, what a difference a few inches in wheel size can make!  We now almost always ride side by side, and sometimes he is even faster than me.

As I cycled home with him from school with him the other day, I thought to myself how strange it must be that my four year-old rides 1.5 miles to and from school every day.  Instead of trying to describe the experience to you, I’ve decided to show you in pictures.

So, without further ado, please enjoy a photo story of T-Rex’s ride to school.

T-Rex on his new bike, ready to go.

We start out slow and steady. Our street has relatively little traffic, and we have a dedicated bike lane on the sidewalk.

First intersection. Today, there's road work on the sidewalk, so all bikes have to ride in the street with the cars.

In general, children under the age of 10 must ride on the sidewalk. Since there's no dedicated bike lane on the next stretch of pavement, I ride with the cars, and T-Rex goes on the sidewalk. We both pass over the freight rail road tracks.

After the tracks, the bike lane reappears, and it's back on the sidewalk. This is by far the easiest part of the route.

Easy doesn't last long. The next intersection is wide and confusing. T-Rex must go straight through to the sidewalk and then go left, and I must turn left across traffic to access the bike lane which is now on the street.

The sidewalk and bike lane are separated. We are fast approaching another intersection.

This intersection features cars AND tram tracks.

Watch out!!

Here begins one of the most stressful segments, again with me in the bike lane and T-Rex on the sidewalk. If it weren't for the flag on the back of T-Rex's bike, I would not be able to see him riding due to the line of parked cars that lies between us.

This light is always red for us. I don't mind; I need a breather because the next stretch of road is even worse.

Not only are we separated by parked cars, but this street is always busy with pedestrians which slows down T-Rex's sidewalk cycling. Plus, it is the only segment of the route that I must be extra careful to watch for cars on the side streets, because they don't stop for little boys or their mamas.

This is T-Rex's favorite part, riding under the city's main railroad tracks.

Just after the railroad underpass, we come to one of the busiest intersections in the whole city.

When the bike signal turns green, we hurry across, all the while being mindful of red light runners.

Thankfully, the bike lane goes back on the sidewalk, and T-Rex can ride next to me.

But not for long! I'm about to end up in the street again, this time keeping my eyes open for buses pulling over at the upcoming stop.

After crossing one more intersection, we turn off the main road, and I breathe a little easier. I much prefer riding in alleyways than on the street.

We cross one last road, and enter the final alley.

We've arrived, sweaty (and stressed). Time to take a break and get some work done, because in about four hours, we'll have to do it all over again!