Turkish Family Travels: Bucket List FAIL and the Mishap That (Almost) Ruined Our Trip

Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

This post appears as part of our Turkish Family Travel Adventure series, chronicling a fun fall fling in the city of Istanbul… well, except for the hotel shenanigans I’m sharing today.

It’s obvious from comments both written and spoken that some people think the life of an expat or long-term traveling family is one of endless glamour. It must be amazing to see so many places in the world! You are so lucky! I wish I had your life! Hmmmm.

Amazing? Yes, at times.

Perfect? Hardly.

I think the travel blogging community doesn’t do enough to show the other side of travel. You know… the my-kid-threw-up-on-the-train-and-we-just-had-to-leave-it-or-miss-our-connection side. The diaper-blowout-that-coated-the-entire-car-seat-at-4am side. The I-so-looked-forward-to-this-place-but-it-totally-let-me-down side.

I’m definitely an accomplice in this only-show-the-pretty-side routine. It’s not that I want to purposely hide anything. It’s more that I prefer to write about the fun times and often forget to write about the travel disasters.

So, today I’m sharing a bucket list FAIL and a nasty hotel mishap that nearly ruined our trip.

You can read more about our mishaps and total travel fails in Italy, Bulgaria, Karlovy Vary, and Seoul via the links provided.

Out of Time

You’ve probably seen my bucket list here. The last item on the list is something I’ve never done before – visit two continents in the same trip without flying between them. Fortunately, this is easily done in Istanbul… if you have time.

But, time we did not have. Sadly, we could only sail between Europe and Asia, touching the former but not the latter. All in all, not a super big deal. Plus, it means I’ll have to go back. Three cheers for silver linings!

Now, on to the dark cloud..

Istanbul Accommodation Hunt

Normally we stay in vacation rentals when we travel. They’re cheaper, provide more space than a traditional hotel room, and give us the opportunity to imagine living in the city.

I had a terrible time looking for accommodations in Istanbul. It seemed that all of the apartments were in Galata – or much further away.

I wanted to be within walking distance of as many places as possible in Sultanahmet since we only had three days. I had no idea (and had no time to research because we were moving) how we would do on public transportation, and I didn’t want to risk it.

Numerous searches did not turn up any apartments that fit my criteria – and yes, I continually loosened my expectations over the weeks I looked for a place. Finally, I had to fact the facts – a holiday apartment was out. Time to look for a hotel.

Shabby Digs – Chic Prices

Many of the hotels looked ridiculously run down, shabby quarters with royally high prices. We needed a cot of some kind for Charlie at least two double beds for the rest of us. I hoped for a door of some kind to make the room a suite so that Doc Sci and I could hang out at night while the boys went to sleep. A kitchen is also a huge plus for us.

The hotel rooms my search returned were both depressing and hilarious. Some of them were decorated with antiques in a rich, granny style which is fancy but never feels clean to me. Others appeared so cheaply put together and dirty I could easily imagine the grime and the bugs (not pictured, of course).

My absolute favorite was a “family room” (their words, not mine) sporting a double bed and a single bed in one room… both were nestled in the main room next to a hot tub with neon lights. Just – wow.

Lucky Strike?

I finally found a hotel I thought could work. The Hotel Enderun featured a beautiful breakfast area enclosed in glass and a small green area perfect for little boys to let off steam in a stressful new city.

The rooms did not have kitchens, but I figured that we would not need to cook when staying only a few days. Having breakfast provided would be enough for 1-2 meals a day (we usually make sandwiches with buffet items).Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

The description on the website stated that the Family Room (the language suggests they have only one) had two connecting rooms, one with a double bed, and the other with a single. However, the photos showed two singles and one double. Either way, that would work for us – and it had a DOOR! After all, that’s what connecting means, right?

Wrong.

When we arrived, we were shown to a regular hotel room (ONE room) that had one double bed and three portable cots. Yep, this hotel expected my big boys to sleep in baby beds. Even worse than that, they completely lied about the description of the room.

From the Hotel Enderun website:

Family Connected Room has 2 Connected Rooms each other. One of them has 1 Single beds and the Other Room has 1 Queen Bed, Private bathroom with shower, Dual action (heating and cooling) air-conditioner, 24 hour hot water,Satellite LCD TV with major European channels, Direct dial telephone, Mini bar, Hair dryer, Safe deposit box,WI-FI, Free internet connection. Buffet Breakfast, Non Smoking. Maximum 3 Person per room in existing beds.

 

At first they were “full” and then they suddenly had an extra single room next to that “family room” that they could give in addition to the room we currently had. But, my kids are too young to sleep alone in a strange hotel in a new city, and I didn’t feel comfortable going in the hallway in the night if they needed us.

Plus, this was NOT what I booked. The manager on duty finally admitted that the room we had was a “deluxe” room – great, but NOT what I booked.

I can handle a lot of stressful situations but being tricked and ripped off is not one of them.

I explained that this situation was unacceptable and showed them on their own website. I asked repeatedly to see that room in the pictures. The manager told me he had never seen those photos and had no idea they had that kind of room. Wow… Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

After a bunch of “But, we’re full..” garbage, I was finally allowed to see a suite – again, not the same as the photos. I was assured nothing could be done that night. And I assured them I would not be paying the quoted rate for that night.

We had no choice but to sleep in the room offered or be on the street that evening. I paid half of the nightly rate and also negotiated a free return taxi to the airport at the end of our stay.

The Saga Continues

The next day, we finally were able to see what was supposedly the advertised room (“It’s our best room! You’ll love it!”).

Want to guess what we found?Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

Inside were one double, one single, and one roll-away bed (NOT four real beds). There were indeed two rooms at one time, as in probably a hundred years ago, that now are one big room with a six-foot opening in between.

No door.

Once more, c’mon, let me hear it… NOT WHAT I BOOKED!!!!Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

I was – naturally – furious. But what could be done? Either I could accept this room and make it work, or I could let this ruin the rest of my vacation.

We chose the former.

Buyer Beware

Unfortunately, the photos of this fake room are still up on the website.

I know now that these are photos from various rooms, not one room, put together in a slideshow to lead the customer to believe they’re getting something that does not exist.

I know this because I’ve been in these rooms. The bathroom pictured is from our first room (the one with three baby cribs for three big boys). And several of the other photos are from the other family room I was shown, but that we did not stay in.Thrifty Travel Mama | Turkish Family Travels - Bucket List Fail and Major Hotel Mishap

I write about this not to shame a particular hotel (though that is an added bonus), but to caution you. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

In this instance, the price wasn’t outrageously high or low, and nothing about the website seemed sketchy. I wish I would have had a backup plan so that when I was offered a room at another hotel, I could’ve had something to bargain.

Be Bold!

False advertising?! Language translation error?! Who knows – what I do know is that I wasted hours on this mess, and it nearly ruined our entire vacation since we had to deal with this garbage on two of our three days in town.

If blatant misrepresentation happens to you, do not be afraid to call management out on the error and negotiate terms to make the stay acceptable to you.

These infuriating shenanigans are part of that less glamorous, least-publicized, rarely discussed side to travel. These kinds of situations are the mishaps that make a place memorable – for better or worse.

What about you? Have you ever bumped into false advertising on your travels or had another mishap nearly ruin your trip? What would you do if what you got was not what you paid for?

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Lead image credit

All other images are from and link to the Hotel Enderun website.

Mishaps: Our Not-Exactly-Perfect Italian Adventure

Thrifty Travel Mama | Our Not-Exactly-Perfect Italian AdventureOkay, this is my LAST Italy post, and then I’ll shut up… promise!

When I post personal vacation pictures from our travels, I often get comments about how great it is that we travel the world.  And it is…. and, it’s not.

We are so, SO blessed to have this experience.  It’s awesome to pack up the kids and head to Italy for two weeks.  However, I just want to bring things down to earth, and share some of the utter chaos that often accompanies us when traveling as a family.

What follows is a short recap of our mishaps – the Italian edition.

Saturday… 330am

We wake the kids up in the middle of the night in order to knock out several hours of driving while they sleep.  We discover that Big Foot has a massive squidgy poo in his pants.  Annoying, but this is life with a baby, right?
Somewhere between Basel and the infamous Gotthard Tunnel, the poor thing has another blowout.  This one is even more epic and reminiscent of the early infant days, creeping its way up all over every possible surface within a six inch radius, including his car seat that conveniently does not have a washable cover…
And we wondered why he only slept about ten minutes of the first 3 hours of driving.  Huh.

Saturday… 330pm

By this time, we have been sitting in standstill traffic on the Italian highway for nearly three hours longer than expected.  We can’t exit the highway because the rest stops are clogged with other travelers escaping the eternal gridlock, and we are about to go bonkers listening to the bored boys in the backseat… screaming, crying, fighting, tired.

Saturday… 830pm

We realize that due to the morning’s unforeseen fecal fiasco, we seem to have forgotten the older boys’ stuffed animals that they sleep with every night.

Sunday

Screech is playing in the yard in front of our villa, being creative with the available materials.  He pretends the gravel is chicken and stuffs it in the stone grill.  He rips the unripe pears off the tree and uses them to bomb the “bad guys.”
He then picks up a terra cotta vase that is used to decorate the yard.  As I warn him not to use the (ancient? irreplaceable? collectible?) artifact,  he promptly drops it like a hot potato and laughs as it smashes to bits.  There goes our security deposit…

Monday

In Siena, T-Rex tumbles head first down a flight of stone steps.  He lands on his face, bruising his nose and knocking three front teeth loose.  I have nothing more to say on this since I’m still *slightly* traumatized.

Tuesday

Doc Sci tries to hop onto the swing where I am sitting on the playground just outside Pienza, and splits the front of his one good pair of shorts wide open.  Daily photo ops are now over.
Later that evening, I am doing cartwheels with T-Rex in the front yard when I accidentally kick him square in the mouth, in the exact spot where he had injured his teeth the day before… I could not have aimed more perfectly if I’d tried.

Friday

The boys have managed to break half of the pool toys we brought along, including two brand new super squirters.  In just a few more days, they will have managed to reduce every last pool toy – literally – to pieces.

Saturday

Despite our harrowing experience the previous Saturday, we decide to risk taking the highway for a short distance between Chianti and a pit stop near Pistoia.  We have not learned our lesson… and endure an unnecessary hour in standstill traffic.

Monday

I leave my brain by the pool instead of taking it with me to Firenze.  I grab the wrong paper map, fail to pre-load my “Tuscany with Kids” Google map on my phone, and forget the Frommers guidebook in the car.
We know our way to Brunelleschi’s Dome.. but after that?  No clue.  We wasted hours (hours!!) looking for a wifi spot in order to revive the map and trip notes on my phone.
I could go on, but you get the idea.  Life with kids is unpredictable and wonky in the best of circumstances; traveling with them just takes the pandemonium up a notch (or ten).
May our mishaps serve as the catalyst to bring contentment to the place you’re currently at (traveling or not) and anchor your dreams to reality (traveling with kids is only done by crazy people).
Got any good traveling-with-kids horror stories?  I’d love to hear them in the comments below!Signature-Marigold

Our Attempt to Experience the Famous Palio di Siena Horse Race

Thrifty Travel Mama | Siena with KidsOutside of Tuscany aficionados or Italy insiders, few people have heard of the Palio di Siena.  I first read about it in my trusty Frommers family guidebook, and instantly thought it could be a fabulous, insane but authentic Sienese experience.  So, what the heck is it?

In a nutshell, the Palio di Siena is a horse race, held twice per year in the summer.  The bareback riders dash around the main square in Siena, the Piazza del Campo.  The contestants are decked out in colors and patterns representing one of the city’s seventeen districts.  Though I didn’t know it at the time, the Palio is a really big deal in Siena.Thrifty Travel Mama | Siena with Kids

Two of the seventeen district flags.

Two of the seventeen district flags.

Though I paid attention when the guidebook mentioned that taking small children is problematic in that crowds top 50,000 and getting to a toilet is nearly impossible.

But, a side note encouraged me in this crazy plan: “To experience the event for free, aim for the trial races, also held in the Campo.  It’s still busy but it’s bearable, at least for the morning sessions.”  Perfect.  We aimed to attend the 9am trial race on the 13th of August.

To get a feel for the city, I thought we might just want to visit Siena the day before the race and check things out.  You know, just in case…

As we approached the Campo, the first thing we noticed was that every entryway that led into the piazza from the surrounding streets was closed.  What the?!Thrifty Travel Mama | Siena with KidsAfter what seemed like at least a half an hour of searching, we stumbled upon the only open entrance which just happened to be right next to our first destination of the day – the iconic Torre del Mangia.  We noticed that the square was already set up for the race: bleachers erected, dirt track laid, metal barricades entrenched.

Lines for the tower can be incredibly long since only 25 people are allowed up at one time.   Lucky for us, we were definitely within the first group of 25.  Unlucky for us, we found ourselves standing around with the early birds for forty five minutes past the opening time of 10am.

Ready for the Palio di Siena

Ready for the Palio di Siena

When the boys went from restless to obnoxious, we started asking around.  The word on the street was that the horses had already practiced that morning, and the contenders had used the base of the tower as a stable.  Since tourists would hardly be impressed by the unsightly gifts left by the horses, someone had to sanitize the place.. and on Italian time.

No official explanation or apology, no “poop clearance in progress” sign on the door, no estimated time of completion.  When we had wasted an hour of our day in Siena, we finally gave up.

Next stop – a snack and then swings & a slide at the Orto Botanico.  Only it wasn’t open.  Chiuso per ferie.  Closed for the holidays.

Boo.  Hiss.

Determined to keep our chins up, we quickly popped in to the neighboring Museo di Storia Naturale to have a free look at a gigantic whale skeleton and make a pit stop.  Though seeing the big bones like that was totally rad, you have to admit that it’s rather pathetic when the best thing about your morning is a dead whale.

Museo di Storia Naturale

Museo di Storia Naturale

After a sandwich and a bit of gelato lifted our spirits, we took a deep breath and trudged on to face the crowds in the Piazza del Duomo.  The facade of the church is incredible.  I desperately wanted to see the inside, but I had to make a choice.

My boys weren’t going to put up with hours of art, and previous research told me that the Santa Maria della Scala was the more kid-friendly attraction.. Church or old-hospital-turned-museum?  The guidebook insisted on the latter, but my gut wanted to go with the former.

Research trumped momentary desire, and we shelled out 12 euros to enter the Santa Maria della Scala.  As promised in the promotional literature, there’s loads to see in this museum – art, science, religion, archeology, history – and it’s quiet.  The cycle of frescoes depicting medieval medical care is not to be missed, though my boys would argue the best part of the museum was the graffiti wall in the children’s area.

Santa Maria Della Scala

Santa Maria della Scala

Santa Maria Della Scala

Santa Maria Della Scala

The Duomo

The Duomo

But just between you and me, I would’ve rather seen the inside of the Duomo.  Zebra stripes are intertwined with delicate pink marble to decorate a most stunning facade second only to the Duomo in Firenze.  Sigh.  If its this exquisite from the outside, I can only imagine the interior.

At this point, Big Foot decided to give up the fight and fall asleep (the poor kid still has not learned how to nap on the go) which meant we had to keep walking or risk waking him up.  Our route took us by the best gelateria in Siena, the Kopa Kabana.  I’m still dreaming about the Coca Cola gelato!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Siena with KidsBut even the awesome ice cream could not revive our spirits.  The heat bordered on unbearable, the narrow streets were clogged with fellow tourists, our feet ached, our boys whined, and we couldn’t shake our feelings of discouragement.  We had spent nearly an entire day in the city, and yet we had virtually no authentic Sienese experiences to show for it.

The great divide - sun and shade.

The great divide – sun and shade.

To make matters worse, my heart sank when I realized that the next day, the first day of the trial races, would only intensify our frustrations.  We’d have to endure swarming crowds and scorching sun while waiting hours for a 90-second thrill.

Sounds a bit like Disney, doesn’t it?

Dejected, we did what we could to salvage the day.  We sampled pizza and schiacciata and let the boys roam around a few playgrounds as well as the Fortezza.Thrifty Travel Mama | Siena with KidsThrifty Travel Mama | Siena with Kids

But try as we may, we couldn’t catch a break.  At the very end of the day, we forced our tired legs down the stairs of the Fortezza in the direction of our car.  T-Rex stumbled, tripped, and fell face down on the stone steps.  The poor guy landed – smack – on his face.  Blood everywhere.  Three loose teeth.  Massive freak out.

Thank God, he’s fine.  The teeth weren’t broken, and they’ve been hanging on for over six weeks now.

Oh, Siena, I desperately wanted to like you.  But the stars were stacked against you, my friend, and things just did. not. work. out.  I hope we’ll meet again another time, in another season, and things will be different.

If you’re just joining us now for Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy series, you might think we had a really awful time in Tuscany.  No, no, no!  Click on the link to read some of our other (awesome) adventures.

Okay, your turn!  Have you been to Siena?  Did you have a beautiful experience, or a rough go like we did? Signature-Marigold

Cruising the Chiantigiana.. and A Lousy Time in Greve

Thrifty Travel Mama - Chianti with KidsBeyond the food and wine, Tuscany is known for its unbeatable landscapes.  The Chianti region especially is famous for its picturesque little villages and rolling vineyards.  Since we had a car at our disposal, I wanted to make time for a classic drive on the Chiantigiana, also known as the SS222, between Castellini and Greve.

I couldn’t wait to burn up my camera with gorgeous images.  I had an idea in my mind of what we’d see, how perfect it would look, and where I would hang the lovely prints in my home.

Bahahaha! 

Someone please check my head please, because I must have forgotten reality.  Here’s a reminder (ahem, mostly for myself) – traveling with kids is never perfect, and things rarely turn out in the way you expect.

And that’s the heart of it, really.. expectations.  Keep them low, and you will often be amazed.  Set them high, and prepare for disappointment.

On the day of our wandering through Chianti, we had a late check out from our villa near Lucignano and at least six hours to kill before we could check in near Pistoia.  I made sure the boys had lots of snacks to ward off the where-are-we-going?-are-we-there-yet?-this-is-SO-boring broken record.

After getting turned around a few times, we made a left onto the infamous road.  I could hardly wait!  But, wait I did.  And wait, and wait some more.  My framed print never went from dream to reality.Thrifty Travel Mama - Chianti with KidsIn some places, the trees along the road were so thick, one couldn’t see the beauty beyond.  In other places, the sun beat down in such a way that the light was too harsh to capture anything worth remembering.  Not only that, the road was dangerously narrow and offered very few places to pull over.

And try as we may, we could not find this postcard picture.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Chianti with KidsAs if that weren’t enough, Big Foot didn’t feel like napping; instead, he decided screaming would be a more exciting way to pass the time.  We gave up gallivanting about, and parked in Greve.

Allllll the guidebooks tell you how charming Greve is.  And maybe they’re right.. except on Saturday mornings in August.

The main piazza was drowning in vendors and visitors.  Yes, the produce was gorgeous.  Yes, the cheese stunk to high heaven.  Yes, the shops were quaint.  But, it was difficult to enjoy the experience while suffocating from all the hype.  Thrifty Travel Mama - Chianti with KidsThrifty Travel Mama - Chianti with KidsIt’s hard to love a place when you’re being burnt to a crisp under the scorching sun, you can’t find a bathroom, and you pay through the nose for ice cream that’s worse than Walmart brand.

Even the punto panoramico was lame, and I’m always a sucker for a nice view.

Gah – what bum luck.

Well, am I saying that you should skip Chianti in general and Greve in particular?  Not exactly.  Everyone’s tastes are different, and you might visit on a Tuesday in May and love it to pieces.  Perhaps it’s magical at sunset when the light is softer and you’re not slathered in sunscreen.

Or maybe you’re super extroverted and savor being lost in a crowd.. in which case, what are you doing in backwoods Greve?  Get thee to Florence!

As long as you remember to keep your expectations low (hello, note to self!) and focus on what’s really important (time together as a family, for starters), you’ll always make memories… no matter where you go.

Your turn – have you gone wild with anticipation before traveling to a particular place?  What did you learn from the experience?Signature-MarigoldThis post is part of Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!

Yep, I’m THAT Parent

Thrifty Travel Mama - Expat Life MishapsAn open letter to those bystanders who opened their eyes but not their hands…

Hello, you.  Yes, you.

Have you forgotten how it feels to have a baby in your arms, in your care?  I suppose if you’ve never had one, I’ll grant you that excuse.  But your face betrays the fact that you know.  May I presume then, that you’re drawing a blank as to what it’s like to run errands toting a baby who protests his presence in your plans with all the force his twenty two pounds can muster?

Because you look like you’re judging me.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who parks her bike + trailer as close to the bank door as possible without actually blocking the exit or getting anyone else’s way but still manages to absorb the sneer of the suited man on his way out to grab coffee.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who precariously positioned her baby on the ledge jutting out in front of the ATM, while flailing arms punched numbers, grabbed cash.  Yes, I know I could’ve put the baby on the floor, but wouldn’t you have glared harder had he howled in protest at being only an arms length away from his beloved?

Yep, I’m that parent who weaved through the pedestrian crowds with said bike + trailer the length of a minivan, accidentally bumping old ladies and chanting “excuse me” right and left as if tossing flowers for a bride behind.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one that found a marginally acceptable place to park the self-propelled minivan in front of the home goods store only to have the entire bike and occupied baby seat tumble over while reaching for the steel U-lock nestled on the floor of the trailer.

But you, you were the one who wagged your head at me in judgement as my baby wailed more from shock than pain.  You offered me no help.  You craned your neck to peer at the poor woman who surely must be idiotic or inconsiderate to allow her child to topple toward the cobblestones.  You wondered, was I that kind of parent?

Yep, I’m that parent, the one whose left arm cradled a concrete ten month-old and with the right clutched a bag containing a rather fragile plate bearing a chip not noticed until purchased with precious little pocket money, all the while praying that neither arm would give out.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who rehearsed the phrases in another language, debating word choice, verb order, correct question grammar, formality all in a whisper while shushing her still-whimpering baby.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who fumbled over her lines, voice trailing, humiliation apparent, yet surprisingly emerged victorious with a darling new, chip-free plate destined to be the centerpiece of friendship and fellowship for as long as it shall live.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who held her head high as she walked past you, the onlooker sipping her coffee in the shade of the cafe and squinting at me in disapproval, only to realize that the awful crunch and creak coming from below belonged to a hopelessly flat tire sentencing me to an even further frustrating walk home.

Yep, I’m that parent, the one who has these kind of adventures almost daily, the one who sometimes finds kindred spirits and kind faces, that blessed stranger that gives empathy so warm you care not if summer ever arrives or if it should leave without notice.  But, alas, not today.Signature-Marigold

Visiting Strasbourg, France with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama - Strasbourg with KidsI waited three days for the rain to stop.  And then, I decided to make a run for it.  A run for the border, that is.   Well, okay I didn’t actually run – I’ve already learned my lesson on that one.  No, this run to the border had a lesson of a different kind.

When traveling with kids, timing is everything.

This was supposed to be one of those hey-look-isn’t-France-so-stinkin’-amazing-and-check-it-out-my-kids-think-so-too posts.  But, that was before I realized T-Rex had bruised his heel while swimming the day before.  The boy who could hike the tallest mountain in South Korea was not even interested in walking a hundred meters.

Big Foot developed an awful cough and was majorly grumpy.  Turns out the poor thing had a touch of bronchitis.  Nice one, mama.

And, Screech, well, he’s just a major sass these days since he’s going through the “impossible 3’s.”  Don’t let anyone tell you the twos are terrible.  They’re a cake walk compared with the threes.

So there we were, a band of aches, pains, and trantrums, stomping our way around Strasbourg.  Below is a peek at our adventure.

The first thing I do when researching a new destination is to search for existing kid-friendly city guides.

The first thing I do when researching a new destination is to search for existing kid-friendly city guides.  I mainly look for playgrounds, natural attractions, inexpensive places to eat, and shops hawking wares that my boys would like.

I found a few good tips here, including the suggestion to visit the largest and oldest park in Strasbourg, L'Orangerie.

I found a few good tips here, including the suggestion to visit the largest and oldest park in Strasbourg, L’Orangerie.

Not only does L'Orangerie have an expansive playground, but it also has a small zoo.

Not only does L’Orangerie have an expansive playground, but it also has a small zoo (free).

My boys enjoyed seeing all sorts of creatures like ostriches, goats, mountain lions, flamingos, tortoises..

My boys enjoyed seeing all sorts of creatures like this owl, as well as ostriches, goats, mountain lions, flamingos, tortoises..

Bonus - the park has restrooms at the west entrance (Allee de la Robertsau)..

Bonus – the park has restrooms at the west entrance (Allee de la Robertsau)..

And they're free!!

and they’re also free!!

As we left the park, I noticed that it is located very close to the Council of Europe.  Strasbourg also houses the EU Parliament.

As we left the park, I noticed that it is located very close to the Council of Europe. Strasbourg also houses the EU Parliament.  Unfortunately, my kids aren’t quite into government yet, so a visit to these institutions will have to wait.

We hopped a bus to take us to the city center, and passed this beautiful cathedral on the way.

We hopped a bus to take us to the city center, and passed the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral on the way.

After stepping off the bus, we discovered this funky fountain (Fontaine de Janus).  It would've been a nice place to tear into a baguette, but I was just plain ol' too cold.

After stepping off the bus, we discovered this funky fountain (Fontaine de Janus). It would’ve been a nice place to tear into a baguette, but I was just plain ol’ too cold.

I should mention that Strasbourg has one of the best Christmas markets in all of France which just happens to be open after Christmas as well.

I should mention that Strasbourg has one of the best Christmas markets in all of France and it just happens to be open after Christmas as well.

But I have to be honest.  I was not in search of winter trinkets.  No siree, I wanted a burrito.  Doc Sci was ready to order tacos for a month.  To go.  But La Cocina's owners decided to take a siesta... for two weeks.

But I have to be honest. I was not in search of winter trinkets. No siree, I wanted a burrito. Doc Sci was ready to order tacos for a month. To go. But La Cocina‘s owners decided to take a siesta… for two weeks.

Instead, we ate our sandwiches in the Petite France section of Strasbourg which is positively charming.

Instead, we ate our sandwiches in the Petite France section of Strasbourg which is positively charming.

We discovered two playgrounds right on the canals (off of Rue des Moulins).

We discovered two playgrounds right on the canals (near Rue des Moulins).

We were totally bummed about the burritos, and that made us totally not in the mood to even have a bite of Alsatian cuisine at one of these funky little weinstubs.

We were totally bummed about the burritos, which killed our appetite for even the smallest bite of Alsatian cuisine.  Should you be keen on downing a flammkuchen, do so at one of these funky little weinstubs.

Strasbourg seemed to be filled with two kinds of shops: those selling sweets..

Strasbourg seemed to be brimming with two kinds of shops: those offering sweets..

and those selling ridiculously cute but outrageously overpriced children's clothes.

and those selling ridiculously cute but outrageously overpriced children’s clothes.

I'm sure you guessed that we went for the sweets.  A great stop to make with the kiddos is La Cure Gourmande.

I’m sure you guessed that we went for the sweets. A great stop to make with the kiddos is La Cure Gourmande.

They get you in the door with the free cookie samples and keep you there with the mouth watering caramels.

They get you in the door with the free cookie samples and keep you there with the mouth-watering caramels.

Right outside La Cure Gourmande is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg.  It's magnificent.  And huge.  I wanted to climb the tower, but all the injuries/attitudes/coughing shut that idea down right away.

Right outside La Cure Gourmande is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. It’s magnificent. And huge. I wanted to climb the tower, but all the injuries/attitudes/coughing shut that idea down right away.

So despite my plans for spending the day lollygagging around France, we decided to fold and go home.  All three boys dozed in the car while Doc Sci and I took in this amazing sky.  Strasbourg, I'll be back.

So despite my plans for spending the day lollygagging around Strasbourg, France, we decided to fold and go home. All three boys dozed in the car while Doc Sci and I took in this amazing sky. Strasbourg, I’ll be back.

Visiting the Alsace region of France?  Don’t miss Colmar or a trip to the three castles near Ribeauville.Signature-Marigold

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birth

Disclaimer: This is NOT a short post!

Ever heard of the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst?  It’s a classic tale of an entire day gone awry for a little boy named Alexander.

Alexander, dude, I can so totally relate.  I had a day like that, only so much worse.

I’ve often been asked about my experience giving birth in Germany over the past eight weeks (eight weeks!  already?!).  Was it good?  Bad?  How did it compare to the two other births in the US?  As the title of this post suggests, it was H-E-double-hockey-sticks.

The terrible awfulness actually began with my due date landing smack dab in the middle of August.  Though some people may try, it’s not like you can really plan these things.  And, even if I did plan it, I would never have known to avoid the month of August.

August is the one and only month a mama should absolutely positively should avoid if ever giving birth in Germany.  It’s holiday time – and I mean holiday in the British sense, not in the Christmas-St.Patrick’s Day-Easter sense.  Doctors, midwives, friends, anesthesiologists, firefighters, garbage collectors, telemarketers, nose pickers, etc. all skip town to lay on a beach somewhere in Italy until they’re crispy.

While my friends fried themselves in the sand of faraway countries and continents, I was left to wonder what in the world I was going to do with the existing children while I popped out the next sibling.

As my due date approached and the baby made absolutely no signs of making an early or even on-time appearance, I began to realize I would have no other choice but to have my labor induced on the last possible day of the month when I’d have reliable childcare for Screech and T-Rex.

Yeehaw – I just love partying with Pitocin.

By the way, convincing a doctor in Germany to induce labor before your due date is next to impossible unless you have complications.  I somehow found myself with an extremely kind hospital obstetrician who agreed to put me on the drip just one day after my due date… but only because I had already had two other inductions and I managed to put on a rather impressive puppy dog face.

On the morning of the appointed day of dread, everyone in the house got up as usual.  I knocked some breakfast back, kissed T-Rex & Screech goodbye, and walked myself to the hospital, sniveling the whole way.  You’d have thought that would’ve put me into labor.  But no.  Apparently, I’ve got a bomb-proof amniotic sac.

Doc Sci dropped the boys off at our neighbors house and then hopped on his bike to meet up with me in the labor & delivery ward.  Upon arrival, I was given an ultrasound, a nasty needle in my arm, and the depressing news that I was only 2 cm.  I was not, however, given a hospital gown or a label on my wrist with my name, blood type, and favorite flavor of ice cream.

The king-sized bed and that blasted CTG.

I was then shown to my room.  It was twice the size of the rooms in the hospital where I had Screech and T-Rex, complete with a king size birthing table, a jacuzzi, mood lighting, and a minibar serving up your choice of regular Pitocin, extra-strength Pitocin, or no-pain-no-gain Pitocin.  I voted for the full-on, let’s-get-this-pain-train-a-rollin’ cocktail, but the midwife and doctor wanted me to start with the wussy stuff.

Speaking of doctors and midwives, I was assigned two midwives (a “real” one and a student) and a doctor.  Predictably, I saw the student the most.  In Germany, it’s the midwife that runs the show, but if you’re in the hospital you do need the doctor for a C-section, rupturing membranes, or other serious matters.

I was ordered by said midwife to lie down on the bed in order to record 30 minutes of baby heart rate and mama contraction data on the monitor (known in Germany as the CTG).

Well, thirty minutes turned into hours.  Doc Sci and I asked every hour (or more) when my water would be broken, when the Pitocin would be turned up, when I could walk around, when the pain hurricane would let loose.  “Just wait a little longer,” we were told.  “The doctor wants to see more data on the CTG.”  What is this thing telling the doctor?  My fortune?  Winning lotto numbers?

I had hoped the doctor would break my water upon arrival.  But it’s rare that doctors will rupture membranes at only 2cm.  I needed to dilate more, and I needed Pitocin to help me dilate.  Such a sick and vicious cycle – all charted on the CTG, of course.

Defying all natural birth common sense, I was never given the chance to get up and walk around to get the contractions going.  I was just supposed to lie down and take it.  Er, I mean give it… to the slave master CTG.

Lying down. all. day. long.

Well, except for lunch.  The staff needed a lunch break, and they didn’t want pesky patients ruining their schnitzel unless it was an absolute emergency (and apparently getting my baby out RIGHT THIS MINUTE did not count).  In order to keep us from buzzing the midwife in between her bites of bratwurst, we were sent off to the patient kitchen in another part of the hospital to have our lunch.

The kitchen was deserted.  No one paid any attention to what, if anything, I ate.  A stein of Bavarian beer and a basket of pretzels was supposed to be waiting for us.  Instead, we got water, bubbles or no bubbles, because the hospital was crazy busy and didn’t know to send a lunch up for me.  Good thing Doc Sci happened to bring some sandwiches and snacks.

When we had had enough of being bored and ignored, we went back to the labor and delivery ward.  Empty.  Still working on the schnitzel apparently.

Lunch finally was delivered a few hours later – bread, butter, cheese, cold parboiled carrots, and tea.

Well that’s all fine and dandy ya’ll, but I’m here to have a baby and I would like him to come out NOW.  It was like the Soup Nazi worked there.  No baby for you.  Come back, one hour.

And come back I did.  Time and again.  Begging and groveling like a total loser.  Oh please oh please oh please send the doctor in.

At half past four, I finally made the cut.  The doctor showed up and agreed to break my water.  Too bad I was still only 2cm.

I’ve had my membranes artificially ruptured twice.  I couldn’t feel anything either time except for whoosh and gush that comes afterward.  But, you know things can’t be that simple in a culture where pain is noble.

Instead of the crochet hook, I got fingernails on a chalkboard.  Doctor Does-It-Hurt-Yet scratched a hole in my membrane.  Let’s put things in perspective.  After 8 hours of Pitocin pulsing through my veins, I could barely feel the contractions (and by this time the drip was turned up as high as they would allow it to go), but I felt every last scrape of her nails.

Doctor Does-It-Hurt-Yet’s partner in crime was the Merciless Midwife, a.k.a. the second shift queen of nastiness.  She again gave me the bit about lying down for 30 minutes of CTG recording.  After 8 hours of that mantra I was done being told to stay horizontal when vertical is what you need to speed things along.  I informed her that I would be getting up to use the bathroom, and she retored, “Well, it’s your birth – do you what you want.”

Oh, GOOD!  We’re finally getting somewhere.  Now that I can do what I want, I’d like to get in the birthing tub.

That big teacup is the birthing tub.  Water birth is very common in Germany, and all the staff are trained to deliver babies in the water if the mother so chooses.

From that point on, things started to really heat up.  I was the frog in the pot that just kept getting hotter, and I was about to be boiled alive.

Sitting in the birth tub, the contractions became too intense to handle.  I felt like my tailbone was being smashed to bits.  And that’s because it was, only I didn’t know it yet.

I admitted to Doc Sci that I just couldn’t take the pain anymore.  It was time for an epidural.  What I failed to explain to him, however, is that German hospitals don’t give out epidurals like candy.

In the US, the mother is encouraged to sign all the consent forms for an epidural before going into labor so that (ideally) at the exact minute she wants one, she can have it.  In Germany, doctors and midwives purposefully do not give the mother any information or paperwork for an epidural for the express purpose of delaying the intervention as long as possible in order to (hopefully) avoid giving it to her.  The bottom line – if you want an epidural in Germany, you’re going to have to fight like mad to get it.

And fight – and scream – I did.  Remember Miss Merciless Midwife?  Here’s a little exchange I had with her…

“Hi, how are things going?”
“I want an epidural.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I want an epidural.”
“Do you feel a need to push?”
“No, I feel a need to get an epidural.”
“Do you want me to check you?  Maybe you’re 10cm.”
“No, what I want you to do is call the anesthesiologist.”
“Okay, I can do that.  But let’s just give it a little time and see how you’re doing.”
“The only thing you’re going to give me are DRUGS!”

At this point, I start shaking uncontrollably because my body does not handle adrenaline very well.  Here I am, scantily clad, convulsing, shrieking, and begging for a fix.  If it weren’t for the swank hospital suite on my insurance company’s dime, I could’ve very well been in some back alley in the Bronx.

After my scary self convinced Merciless Midwife to actually call the anesthesiologist, I had to wait about an hour for him to arrive.  The hospital was incredibly busy due to – as I mentioned previously – lots of staff members being on holiday.  Plus, Germans generally like to use fewer staff to do more work.  I later found out that there was only one anesthesiologist there that night for the entire hospital which just happens to be one of the largest in the whole of Germany.  Brilliant.

Because I couldn’t stop shaking, I was given drugs to stop the contractions so I could sit still enough for the big poke.  Then I was given Pitocin again to restart the contractions.  Back and forth between two extremes, and yet in all of this the baby was not coming down and out.

I wanted to avoid an epidural if at all possible.  I somehow managed to get Screech out without one, and the recovery is a million times faster.  But if you need it, you need it, and better to get it over with and the baby out as soon as possible.  When I had an epidural with T-Rex, and it was glorious.  After more than 18 hours of induced labor, I fell asleep for two hours, woke up, pushed for 10 minutes, and that was the end of that.

However, this epidural was NOT the heaven I remembered.  I still could feel every. last. contraction.  I was breathing through each one, shaking from the adrenaline, and in a world of hurt.

Before the anesthesiologist left, he instructed me to wait 15 minutes and assured me that the drugs should work by then.  But, the crash, bang, boom happening at the end of my spine was not letting up.  I had to once again beg, grovel, and plead with Merciless Midwife to call him back.  And what did she tell me?

“Just wait a little longer.”
“How much longer?
“Five minutes.”
“… Okay, it’s been five minutes.  It’s still not working.”
“Just wait a little longer.”
“What is this, a prerecorded speech?  How much longer?”
“I don’t know.”
“THEN CALL HIM!  In case you somehow missed it, the epidural is NOT WORKING!”

I told you she was real special.

When she finally called him, he had gone home for the night, and the next anesthesiologist had to be briefed.  The new guy gave me something else which did end up working after another 20-30 minutes.

But by then, I had had it.  It was almost midnight, and all I could think of was how ridiculous the whole ordeal was.  The staff was not interested in helping me get this baby out at all.  The last hours were spent in a freakishly awful pendulum of pain and progression (though mostly pain and little progression).  The whole point of me being in the hospital at that time was to get the baby out.  And he was not coming out.

I looked at Doc Sci with all seriousness and said, it’s time to do a c-section.  I can’t handle this any longer, pain or no pain.  I’m giving up.  Yep, I’m a wimp.  A wimp who wanted to see my new baby and get home to my kids and away from this sick hospital circus.

We called the doctor (she actually came!) and asked her to do a c-section.  Shocking my socks off, Dr. Does-It-Hurt-Yet agreed and said it was no problem.  But… she wanted to check me first.  Surprise, surprise, I was ready to push.

Pick-your-poison pushing positions.

In the US, I included a request in my birth plan to push in some position other than the standard flat-on-your-back approach.  The doctors told me flat out they were uncomfortable delivering babies any other way.  In Germany, my hospital room came complete with a smorgasbord of pushing options.  However, given that I had an epidural and wasn’t able to stand up, I couldn’t take my pick.  The midwife and doctor both wanted me to push while lying on my side.  It was one of two moments that saved me from utterly despising their total existence until the end of time.

As precious baby boy #3 sailed his way into the world, he was abruptly shoved back the way he came.  I’m sure if he could consider it rude, he would’ve.  But, it was brilliant from my perspective since that one nasty smack from the midwife saved me from blasting open a wider escape route for the dear little bub.

And when he finally, finally came out, he was, as the Germans say, looking at the stars.  Sunny side up and screaming his little head off.  And, speaking of his head, the poor thing must have been so sore from banging against my tailbone.  all. day. long.

Well, even if he was sore or misshapen or madder than a wet hen, I couldn’t tell.  All I could see was a beautiful baby boy – here at last!

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

You’d think that would be the end of the story.  And that would be lovely if it were true.  But no – there’s more…

A (much) nicer midwife measured and weighed him, and gave him back to me sans bath and still covered in stinky white stuff that no one in the hospital ever bothered to wash off (!).  We were then moved to a temporary holding cell (hang on to your hats, it’s about to get prison-like) where my awesome, amazing, and exhausted husband was forced to try and get some sleep on a stool.  No back.  Extra grease on the wheels.

The holding cell – red light special.

Around 330am, I was finally given a room.  Only the maternity recovery ward was full (see? August is a terrible time to have a baby in Germany!!), so I was wheeled to a room in another ward on the other side of the hospital.  What I didn’t realize at the time was this ward was full of sick women, and only one (ONE!) nurse was on duty.

Oblivious to what I was getting myself into, I sent a weary Doc Sci home around 4am.  Our sweet neighbor was staying the night with the kids, and I wanted her to have at least some normal sleep in her own bed.  Oh, and Doc Sci was not allowed to stay in the room with me unless we paid for a “family room” which cost almost double the price of a single private room.

The single private room. Doc Sci must have taken this without my knowledge!

I buzzed the nurse, and asked her to remove the epidural that was still in my back and also the “baggage” that comes along with getting said epidural.  She said no.

No?

NO, she would not call the anesthesiologist (only he could remove the annoying little thingie shoved in my spine) because he wouldn’t come anyway since he had other important things to do.  NO, she would not help me try to stand up because she was alone and didn’t want to have to help me up if I fell down.  NO, I could not go back to the labor and delivery ward.  NO, she would not do anything at all because there were other people more in need of her than I was.  NO, I could not believe this was happening.

So there I lay, alone, in a small room with a tiny new baby.  I was unable to open the window, get something to eat, use the bathroom, or change the baby.  I was stuck in bed incredulous at this frustrating turn of events especially after all that I had been through in the past 24 hours.

Thank God, I had my phone next to me, so I called Doc Sci.  But, there was nothing he could do either.  He couldn’t leave the boys, and he couldn’t ask the neighbor to come back until a more decent hour.  I decided right then and there I was going home at the first possible instant.

If I had possessed the ability, I would have scooped up the baby and gone home in the middle of the night.  But several items of business had to be taken care of first, so I pestered the nursing staff every hour in order to get everything I needed to be discharged.  At 3pm, I was ready.

The new baby’s hospital bed. It must be taken everywhere you go inside the hospital – bathroom, shower, kitchen, etc.

I’m used to the high security hospital wards in the US, but from my experience in a German hospital, I’d guess baby stealing and switching is only an American fear.  Doc Sci did not need to check with anyone or show any ID before coming in my room.  When he walked the baby over to the pediatric nurse station to get more diapers, no one stopped him or asked where he was going.  Upon checkout, no one verified that the baby I left with was actually mine.

Sheesh.  Good thing I’m sure.  I think.

So, there you have it.  The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birth that left me with a handsome, healthy boy we’re calling Big Foot.

Welcome to the world, Big Foot!

Herzlichen Glückwunsch!

Insurance Makes the (German) World Go ‘Round

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - InsuranceGermans LOVE insurance.

It comes in all shapes and sizes and seems to make the world go ’round in the way that lawsuits do in America.  In contrast to the sue-happy American culture, the insurance-addicted German culture makes things possible here that aren’t there (say, sending your child to school with a peanut butter sandwich for lunch).

Of course, we have your garden-variety health and auto insurances here.  Both are required.  In fact, we cannot legally live in Germany without health insurance.  And auto insurance is a whole ‘nother ball game – a separate post for a rainy day.

But, the flavor of insurance I find most interesting – and applicable to families with children – is the personal liability insurance, or Haftpflichtversicherung.

We found out about this insurance several months after we moved here. The policy provides protection in the incidence of all kinds of personal accidents: throwing a ball through a neighbor’s window, tripping an old lady, bicycle collisions, and any other “oops” moments that involve damages.

I’d never heard of such thing before moving to Germany, and I assumed it had to be expensive.  Wrong.  It’s actually quite cheap.  We have a family plan that costs something like 7 euros per month for a gazillion euros of coverage.  It’s the one kind of policy us non-insurance crazed foreigners really should have.

When Doc Sci finally went to purchase a policy (after we lived an entire year here without it – eek!), the agent told him that one of her clients rode his bike in front of a tram and somehow got the bike stuck in the tram track.  The tram driver slammed on the brakes, and passengers went flying.  Some of the elderly ones sustained injuries requiring hospitalization.  The guy riding the bike was responsible for the whole thing – but lucky for him, his insurance paid for it all.  Had he been without a personal liability policy, he would’ve had to pay out of pocket for all injuries and damages.

(By the way, the story wasn’t a sales pitch; Doc Sci had already signed on the dotted line.)

I recently learned that some landlords will not rent to tenants without this personal liability insurance.  In the US, renter’s insurance will cover the tenants’ belongings as well as any accidental damage to the property.  In Germany, renter’s insurance only provides protection for the stuff.  We aren’t required to carry this kind of policy where we live, but most likely we’ll need it when/if we move.

Before we had this oh-so-German insurance, I was on the edge of a freakout whenever my kids got a stick or a rock anywhere near someone else’s car.  Or rode a bike too close to an elderly person in the park.  Or visited a new friend’s house (especially if said friend had no children).

Now that we have the policy, I still maintain a level of caution, but at least that caution is several steps down from the former paranoia.  I hope we never have to make a claim, but at least if we do, we’ll be covered.

Road Trip!

I recently commented to several separate friends that I felt more comfortable and prepared to take my kids on an 8, 9, or even 10-hour flight than a two-hour road trip.

How ridiculous is that?

It’s true – we fly and travel by train a whole lot more than we ride in a car.  So when Screech barfed several times in his car seat while we headed up the Capital Beltway into Maryland on our recent trip to the US, I was caught off guard.  Embarrassingly so.

I had no paper towels, no change of clothes, nothing to clean him up or stop the flow of vomit.

Oh, and no GPS.

We just guessed on which exit would hopefully lead us to a shopping center, gas station, or fast food joint of some kind where we could clean the poor kid up.

After what seemed like hours on some random residential road, we found a McDonalds and helped ourselves to a tree’s worth of napkins.  Doc Sci remembered we had a suitcase in the trunk with too-small clothes destined for our storage unit.  As I scooped out handfuls of upchucked cheerios and curdled milk, I thought to myself, gee, aren’t you supposed to be like some TRAVEL mama or something?

I had somehow forgotten everything I know about road trips.  And I’ve been on some road trips of the 1,000 mile-a-day variety, both as a passenger and a driver.  But in the years since then, I’ve just grown much more accustomed to alternative modes of transportation.

I decided I’d better remember some skills or the next journey, a 12-hour drive to Tennessee, was going to be downright torture.

First, I made a list of all the things we’d need for the trip.  At the top – paper towels and changes of clothing.  Oh, and big note to self, and never give Screech straight up milk with breakfast.  Ever.  Again.

Then, I thought about the departure time, keeping in mind how we could avoid rush hour traffic in big cities like Atlanta, maintain our boys’ regular schedule, make stops that would allow them to burn the maximum amount of energy, and still make the entire 12-hour drive in one day.

Oh yeah, and I got myself a GPS.

And a portable DVD player.

Duh.

But not a mini-van.  I haven’t joined that club yet, but I am starting to slowly understand the appeal.

Two of the best stops we made were Chick-fil-A (for the sweet tea + lemonade and the air-conditioned play area) and Red Top Mountain State Park in northern Georgia (to let the boys be boys outdoors).

Searching for rocks at Red Top Mountain State Park.

Tossing rocks and blowing off steam.

Checking out the geese. Screech wanted to chase them in the water.

Both times (to and from Tennessee), we left at the crack of dawn so that we could get 1-2 hours of driving out of the way before eating breakfast (bagels with peanut butter, bananas, sippy cups with milk/juice, and paper towels.. lots of paper towels).  Doc Sci hated getting up so early, but shaving those extra hours off the total entertainment, er I mean travel, time was definitely worth it.

Our other favorite stop - Five Guys Burgers & Fries. YUM.

It was harder to convince the boys to nap in the car, but the strategic stops and sticking to their normal routine helped.  If you’re going to “try this at home,” just make sure to fill your gas tank up and empty all passengers’ tanks (you know the kind I mean) before attempting an on-the-go nap, because the little ones wake up when the car stops.  Doc Sci and I also like to listen to a book on CD while we drive because it helps the adults stay awake and bores the kids to sleep.

To be honest, I wasn’t too creative with the en route activities.  I just packed the boys’ backpacks full of small toys and books, brought a DVD player (which we actually only used once), and hit the library up for kids CDs and DVDs.  That’s it.

Screech and T-Rex after 11 hours in the car, goofy and not into having any pictures taken.

And, somehow we made it.  Safely.  Sanity intact.  And without further vomit.  I’d call it a success, but I wouldn’t want to do it again anytime soon.  For now, we’ll just keep to our trains and planes, thankyouverymuch.

Are you a road trip warrior?  Share your tips for traveling by car with kids below.

Thanksgiving Recap

I seem to always be giving you yesterday’s (er, last week’s) news.  I know today is December 1.  You should totally make an advent calendar if you aren’t in possession of one already.

However, I keep getting questions about my Thanksgiving, so here’s the skinny.  The dinner, fabulous.  The weekend, insane.

I cooked my turkey (and almost everything else) on Thursday.  I was on my feet something stupid like 8am to midnight.

And speaking of stupid, I invited a handful of Muslim friends and put bacon in the green bean casserole.  Doh!  At least I remembered to tell them; and they were gracious enough not to be offended.

Making the turkey a day ahead was genius.  Not only did it free up my oven on Friday (the day of our dinner) and ensure the turkey was super moist, but it also avoided a potential crisis.

Monsieur Jacques: brined, buttered, roasted... about to be hacked to pieces.

I cooked a BIG (by German standards) bird.  As such, I could barely fit Monsieur Jacques in a borrowed roasting pan.  I put foil up the sides and tented the top.  But when this dude was done, the juices started a-flowin’.  I ended up with a river of melted butter and turkey fat on the bottom of my oven that burned black and stunk to high heaven.

We tried to let it burn off, but the smoke detector wasn’t having it.  At least the turkey was done, so I could turn off the oven.  After scrubbing the cooled black bits with baking soda + water, I was back in business.

We had guests from Israel, Morocco, Germany, Russia, New York, and Wisconsin (practically countries in themselves if you’re from FL).  And, even though the kids almost outnumbered the adults, the munchkins got along.  Conversation NOT involving who-smacked-whom-upside-the-head took place.  Unexpected, for sure.

Since we had some Thanksgiving newbies again this year, I decided to write little explanations on the table cloth next to the dishes so I didn’t have to repeat 50 times what in the world that brown nasty-looking stuff (ing) was.  No one touched the cranberries though – just like at home.

Table tattoo.

My pumpkin pie was amazing.  The spekulatius cookie crust made all the difference in the world.  I’m going to include the recipe below since I’ve had a few requests for it.

Pumpkin Pie #1 of the weekend.

Since I had some time on my hands Friday morning (because I pre-cooked the bird), I busted out the markers and drew a thankful tree I found on Pinterest.  I am not addicted, really.

This year's thankful tree.

We also introduced everyone to the wishbone cracking tradition.  We chose the two oldest children to compete.  The parents had to help us translate what to do, and the first time neither one pulled hard enough to break it.  It was boy vs girl, and the boy won!

Muscles vs beauty.

After our Friday fête, I went to a baby shower, a wedding, and a Christmas event (Adventskaffee) at the kindergarten on Saturday.  If that wasn’t enough, we were invited to a Texan’s Thanksgiving on Sunday that lasted half of the day.  Sheesh.  After a MAJOR cheat weekend, we are back on track with the Abs Diet, eating our protein and greens.

Hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Pumpkin Pie.. from a Pumpkin

The pumpkin pie recipe is really easy.  I got it from this website, but here’s the recipe with my notes.

For the filling:
1 c sugar (I used about 3/4 c)
4 t pumpkin pie spice (or 1 1/2 t cinnamon + 1/2 t nutmeg + 1/2 t cloves + 1/2 t ginger)
dash of salt
3 eggs
3 c fresh pumpkin puree *
12-18 oz evaporated milk (I used 4% kondensmilch) **

Blend all ingredients together using a mixer.  When sufficiently soup-ified, pour into crust.  Put two sheets of foil (criss cross them like an X) underneath a springform pan and fold up around the sides because the butter from the crust leaks!  If using a flour/butter pie crust instead of the cookie crust below, cover edges of crust in foil.

Bake at 210C for 15 mins, then turn down oven to 175C and bake for an additional 45-60 mins (I did 60 mins).  You want to be able to jiggle the pan and the middle move only slightly.  It doesn’t have to be 100% set in the middle since it will still cook from the outside inward while on a cooling rack.  You just want to make sure it doesn’t still look like soup in the middle.

Cool to room temp and then refrigerate.

*for this pie, I used two very small hokkaido kurbis that I bought at Aldi on sale for 29c ea.  You could use a medium-sized one instead of two small.  Wash the outside (you will be eating the rind), cut in half, scoop out seeds, cut off the stem and any weird-looking parts of the skin, place on a baking sheet cut side down, and roast at 200C covered in foil for about 30 mins or until a fork or sharp knife glides through the skin and flesh as smooth as butter.  Let cool and then puree in a food processor or with a handheld stab mixer.  You don’t have to get the 3 cups exact.  Eye-balling is totally allowed.

**If your pumpkin is wet like it looks from the can, you only need 12oz of the kondensmilch.  If it’s dry, you’ll probably need the 18oz.

For the crust:
I used this recipe.
1 1/2 c finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/3 c white sugar
6 T butter, melted

I used spekulatius cookies, and I ground them in a food processor.  Since we don’t have pie pans here (only springform and they are BIG), I used more like 1 3/4+ cups of the crumbs, which is about the capacity of my food processor.  If I make this again, I will decrease the melted butter to 4 or 5 T.  I don’t think it needs this much butter, and a lot leaks out the bottom of my springform pan.

Mix the crumbs, sugar, and butter together in a bowl.  Then dump a little at a time in the bottom of the springform pan and press down with your fingers until completely covered (if you want to transfer your pie to a serving dish, line the bottom of the springform with parchment paper and then put down the crust).

Then, make little piles all around the edge of the pan so that you will somewhat evenly cover the sides.  Press the crumbs up onto the sides.  They’re very fragile, so just do what you can to hold them there until the pie filling gets poured in.  After filling the crust, I pressed the edges down because they just ended up falling down anyway, and this way they are baked into the pie and don’t look weird.