Expats Move Home : Farewell to Freiburg

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Saying GoodbyeThis post appears as part of the current Expats Move Home series that chronicles our family’s journey transitioning from German to American life.

If you were born in North America any time in the last century, chances are you’re well-versed in Goodnight Moon. For those not in the know, it’s a classic tale of a child – or a bunny, in this case – bidding goodnight to each little thing in his room before he finally slips off to sleep.

Goodnight room.

Goodnight moon.

Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.

Goodnight light, and the red balloon…

When it was time to leave Germany, we found ourselves in a similar story. Not goodnight, but Goodbye, Freiburg.

Goodbye favorite bicycle.

Goodbye salty, soft pretzels.

Goodbye closed-on-Sunday, and

Dreisam filled with pebbles.

With parting words to favorite people spoken, we turned our efforts to personally bidding farewell to each and every well-worn corner of our beloved city of Freiburg.

Make a List – Check it Twice

I wrote on Wednesday about the importance of saying goodbye (you can catch up here). In that post, I mentioned an article from my fellow expat Ute in which she also explains:

Every member of the family will benefit from gradually saying goodbye to the 4 “p’s”: people, pets, places and possessions.

No, the trees that welcomed autumn and signaled spring each year aren’t going to hug you back (well, not literally anyway), and that creamy dark chocolate gelato you first tasted on a double date won’t last more than a few minutes.

But long after you’re gone, these sights, smells, and flavors are what you’ll remember. Thank goodness it won’t be all the bumbles and blunders.

The importance of closing chapters in each of your favorite spaces is not to be underestimated.

Places and Spaces

In the hubbub of packing and planning, I hurriedly scribbled a list of our favorite experiences, spaces, and literal things we as a family wanted to savor one more time. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t worth framing, but it was ours. Uniquely us.

And, though time was not on our side, we worked through the list with purpose, devouring Brezeln, Laugencroissants, and the ubiquitous Apfelschorle one more time.

Goodbye Biergarten,

Goodbye Limonade and Radler.

Goodbye Spielplatz, for now

And every Sunday thereafter.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Saying GoodbyeOur little flat was nothing fancy. In fact, it was quite the opposite with its hospital-grade linoleum floors, vinyl “baseboards,” and industrial metal door frames.

But, it was home. The four, then the five of us shared 900 square feet and one toilet for four years. We hosted Thanksgiving for a score and squeezed in families of comparable size for the weekend. It was the only home our boys could remember.

Bit by bit, box by box, we said goodbye.

Goodbye elfin kitchen.

Goodbye windowless bathroom.

Goodbye you sweet neighbors,

And the sound of our laughter.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Saying Goodbye

In an effort to not completely ignore our children while packing up our lives, we also dropped by the boys’ favorite parks.

Goodbye thrilling slides.

Goodbye Vogelnests.

Goodbye ziplines, merry-go-rounds.

The dangerous ones were always the best.

Goodbye tall rope towers.

Goodbye gritty sand pits.

Clothed in Matschhose

Here my boys spent their hours.

 

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Saying Goodbye We cycled together along the river. We strolled around the Marktplatz. We splurged on a fancy grill picnic in the park, all the while letting the camera do its work of recording each and every favorite.

Say Cheese

Speaking of cameras, we also hired a photographer to shoot photos of us in the city that became so foundational to our family.

Our third child was born here, our two older boys only remember life in Germany, and we will forever be Triangles thanks to our German expat experience.

Goodbye ancient Münster,

Your steeple scraping the sky.

At least to your scaffolding

I’ll never have to say goodbye.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Saying GoodbyeFor several hours, our photographer captured glimpses of all the things we loved about Freiburg. Sure, the city is fabulous on its own. But, having a photographer there gave us the opportunity to freeze and remember ourselves in those spaces. The prints now hang in our new home, reminders of how we lived and what we loved in the city.

Wrapping Up

Life in Germany was often difficult, sometimes mercilessly so, but it was also remarkably beautiful. It is that part I choose to cherish, sometimes mourn, and will never forget.

When you’ve moved to a new place, what are some things you’ve done to remember your old home, old life? Do you think these memory makers help ease the transition? Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

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Expats Move Home: Saying Goodbye, Leaving Well, + Sweetening the Sorrow

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Saying GoodbyeToday, in our current Expats Move Home series, I’m covering the painful but universal experience of saying goodbye. Grab the Kleenex!

Friends, family, family friends, friends as close as family – saying goodbye to any and all of these dear people is the absolute pits.

For expats, friends made abroad quickly become as close or even closer than family, knitting very different people together into strong relationships that would otherwise take years to establish.

Tearing that bond asunder must be done with care… and cake.

There should always be cake.

Going Away Party #1 – Coffee, Cake, and a Dollop of Practicality

Parties are generally pretty awesome (the food! the fun! the friends!), but going away parties can be downright depressing.

Is it possible to enjoy yourself while saying goodbye?

Personally, I dread these kinds of gatherings. Saying goodbye is not one of my strong points, despite the fact that I’ve garnered quite a bit of experience in bidding farewell.

To be honest, this time we were so stressed out and busy from moving logistics that we really did not have the time or mental capacity to allow ourselves get wrapped up in the emotion of the moment. Lest you think we got off easy, the emotion caught up with us later in the form of nasty reverse culture shock.

For reasons too logical to bore you with, we ended up with two parties – a brunch hosted by us and a picnic hosted by our friends.

We hosted the brunch ourselves so we could hang out with our favorite people in our tiny apartment one last time… and to give buyers we knew personally the opportunity to pick up items we were selling and giving away.

This turned out to be brilliant, and not just because I baked four different flavors of brunch cake. The thing is, even with all my careful cataloging, I ended up with several big boxes of extra knickknacks I could not or did not want to take home to the US.

I displayed these items on tables and shelves at the brunch and requested that everyone grab a slide of cake AND take at least one bag full of free stuff.

If it weren’t for the fact that we had to actually say GOODBYE to such wonderful people, the blueberry lemon cake and a boatload of freebies would’ve made for a pretty sweet party.

Going Away Party #2 – The Classic Freiburg Grill & Chill

Several weeks before we left and before the aforementioned cake extravaganza, an American friend offered to host a going away party for our family, wherever and whenever it was most convenient for us.

I’m not usually one to say yes to such things, and actually, it is rather unusual to do this kind of party in Germany. Everyone throws their own parties in Germany, even the going-away kind.

But, seeing as I was already drowning in my to-do’s, I gratefully accepted.Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Leaving Friends Behind

One of the things I so loved about living in Freiburg was the beauty of the outdoors. The city is full of trees, and our apartment nestled up to one of the biggest parks in town.

We always looked forward to summer when we could roast marshmallows on our portable grill and lounge on the expansive lawn. Other people did the same, so it was like having one gigantic community backyard. It really was as awesome as it sounds.

I wanted to savor this experience one more time, so I took a chance on holding the farewell festivities in “our” backyard park.

Given that the big day fell during October in Freiburg, the plan was iffy at best. Rain could’ve squashed our plans as efficiently as a semi obliterates a gnat. Wind and cold could’ve kept the masses at bay. But, God saw fit to give us beautiful weather, and we were able to grill and chill with nearly all of our friends for the last time.

We snapped selfies, laughed, hugged, whispered goodbyes… and ate a whole lot of cake.

Goodbyes – The Expat Reality

After the glitz and the galette were gone, we were left with the somber reality of… goodbye.

Goodbyes are a natural part of every human being’s life, but they happen more frequently in the lives of expats. This is because the nature of the expat life is transient at its core. Whether the end date of the adventure abroad is known or not, the possibility always looms of heading back to the homeland.

As I mentioned above, friends made abroad become as close as family. A year before we left, a certain family we had grown close to were unexpectedly forced to move home. I still feel that loss to this very day.

Is it just me, or does it always seem harder for the ones left behind?

Well, now it was our turn to do the leaving.Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: Leaving Friends Behind

Goodbyes – Difficult but Necessary

In the summer before we moved, I read a post written by a fellow expat – How to Say a Healthy Goodbye When You’re Leaving. It impacted me, and I think every expat should read and process the concepts that Ute presents.

Leaving is really, really hard. Because it’s so darn difficult, there’s a tendency to neglect tying up loose ends and saying goodbye.

But, don’t skip this step. It is absolutely vital – expat or not.

I never realized just how important it was to finish the current chapter in every relationship until someone abruptly slammed the book on me.

I recall an expat friend and her family that moved away a year and a half before we did. Once they knew their time was up, they pulled away from their circle of friends. They became distant, both physically and emotionally, and this was weeks before they ever set foot on the airplane.

In their time of transition, they did not allow others to help them much, and they did not say goodbye. I found this incredibly difficult not only because I cared for this person and her family, but also because she was unwilling (or unable) to address the elephant in the room – that she would be leaving for good and that leaving would change our relationship.

As the post discusses, those situations – those hurts, expressed or silenced – are not forgotten. Ute writes:

During the leaving stage we tend to deny or avoid confrontation with those we had disagreements with. We think we won’t see this person again and since we are going to leave anyway, why bother? Fact is that unresolved problems will stick with us like a mental baggage.

Not that I hold a grudge, but the “what if” still pains me.

I struggle with the fact that there was never a chance to resolve that situation and part on peaceful terms. And, because we live in different parts of the world now, perhaps there never will be.

For more on this topic, check out another of Ute’s posts, Goodbyes are Hard for Leavers and Stayers.

Expats Move Home: Leaving Friends BehindJust Do It

I still miss our life in Freiburg and the amazing people we met there, and I pray we did what we could to leave well. Goodbyes are hard, and I am terrible at them. Even so, I hope we have been able to learn from other leavers, parting peacefully and on a positive note.

Life is short – say goodbye or at least “see you later.”

Even if you hate goodbyes (who doesn’t?!), please think of the other person. Consider that they may need closure even if it is awkward or painful for you.

And, if it helps, bring cake.

A moist slice really can do wonders to sweeten the sorrow.

Though the stakes are higher with expats, moving on is something that happens to every person at one time or another. What are your best tips or stories on saying goodbye and leaving well?Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

It’s Been a While, but WE’RE BACK!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Back to Blogging after Moving to AmericaIt’s been a while since, well, our world completely changed.

And, it’s been a while since I’ve written because, well, I haven’t been able to make the time… for reasons I’ll mention in a minute.

But, I’m back since, well, our story isn’t over just yet.

Continuing the narrative is important. Conclusions matter. They erase that nagging question of, “Whatever happened to…” Your story, my story, our stories, they’re all full of meaning that doesn’t deserve to be cut short.

Before I launch into the posts about where in the world we’ve wandered and all the grit of my reentry experience, I’ll briefly describe why it has taken me so long to reacquaint fingertips to QWERTY.

First and foremost, to be completely honest, it has just been too hard. It’s difficult to think about what I miss and how much I miss it. The longing for “the way things were” is an indefatigable foe.. and a deceitful one at that.

Life abroad was not always amazing; in fact, often it was so hard that I was brought to tears, anger, and desire to just.go.home. But this side of the pond, those memories are fuzzy. It’s all too easy to wish for the greener pastures of bygones.

Second, untangling the reverse culture shock has been tricky. It cripples, and its most wicked weapon is the element of surprise. I know my own struggles intimately, but I have been waiting to see how this major change played out in other members of our family. Not all effects of culture shock show themselves immediately, and I didn’t think it wise to proclaim “all is well!” in haste.

Third, life circumstances made it nearly impossible to write. I managed to steal an hour here and there and eke out a rough post only a handful of times in eight months. When we landed in the US, we had no job, no destination, and only a loose plan. Our one computer and all kid-free hours were assigned to finding and applying for employment.

I’m happy to report that Doc Sci has a fantastic job now, and we are no longer professional hobos (or, pro-hobos as I dubbed it). Stay tuned for more about our wild ride in a coming post.

Third and a half, I started homeschooling our boys full-time, both as we traveled before we had a job and after we settled. The few hours I previously devoted to writing while the boys went to German kindergarten have now been obliterated with spelling lists, times tables, Egyptian pyramids, and the solar system.

If you know me, this decision to do school at home might blow your mind a little, so hang on – a post about our current educational choice and the hows and whys is also on the docket.

Because I have missed you, friends, and because I don’t want to string you along too much in this post, I’ll answer the burning question… where in the world are we?!

Since 2014 turned into 2015, we’ve called a small-ish city in Arizona home. Doc Sci is teaching at a local university, something he has wanted to try for years. And, I am scrambling to figure out a new balance of my own teaching, establishing local relationships, and managing an American life that turns out to be way more complicated than I remember.

If you’ve even heard the term “reverse culture shock,” you might already know that everyone’s experience with it is slightly different. So, why write about mine?

One of the main purposes of this blog is to help others. I have many expat friends and readers who will likely face reentry themselves one day, if they haven’t already. As I said before, everyone’s reverse culture shock experience is different and depends on factors such as where he originated, where abroad she lived, how long he was gone, and how much she embraced and identified with her host culture.

But, certain themes are common to all expats returning home, and an awareness of what may lie ahead is always appreciated. I aim to share my story with you in hopes that you are able to use it as a beacon on your own journey, or in the journey of someone close to you.

For now, I just want to thank you friends (yes, you!) for waiting patiently in my absence, and I look forward to getting reacquainted in the coming weeks.

I would love to know what all of you have been up to since I last posted. Leave a comment, post a link, drop a line. Let’s catch up!Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Monday Montage – Guest Post on And Three To Go

Thrifty Travel Mama | Monday Montage - Freiburg, GermanyHey y’all..

I’ll be in the South (as in USA) soon, so I better get me y’alls and yonders back out and dust ’em off.

And speaking of dust, it hasn’t quite settled yet. Cleaning, sorting, packing, this move is wiping me out. I have managed to post a few updates on my Facebook page, but a full-blown post is just beyond my reach at the moment.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post for the fabulous Jenny of And Three To Go as part of her Monday Montage series. You can check that post out here. Consider it an ode to our adopted home here in Freiburg. We have only a little over a week left here, and I will miss it. Freiburg is an awesome place for traveling families.

So, do me a favor and click on over to read all about the daily life that we will soon leave (sad!). While you’re at it, be sure to follow Jenny as she writes about her family’s long-term travel adventures.

Also, be sure to like the Facebook page as updates will most likely be from there for a while until I can get back to blogging.

Thanks for reading and hanging in there during our time of transition!

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Leaving On a Jet Plane.. Destination TBD

Thrifty Travel Mama | Leaving Freiburg: where do we go from here? I’ve been a very bad internet friend lately. To all the really fantastic blogger friends I have out there, I just want to say… I’m sorry.

You have read my posts and commented and shared and tweeted and sent smoke signals. And I, well, I haven’t done much to return the favor.

I’ve read your posts on my phone in the five-minute pockets of time I can find in my day, but you don’t know that because I haven’t left any e-trails. My Feedly is full of your saved posts, ready to comment, pin, tweet, and all that jazz.

The thing is, for the past six weeks or so, we’ve been in the painful place of deciding our next step.. or rather, waiting for the next step to be decided for us.

Doc Sci has interviewed over the phone and in person for several jobs in the US, the majority of them in places we hadn’t really considered or even imagined. We’ve been on the proverbial roller coaster, screaming on the inside, for weeks. We didn’t have anything concrete to say, but we could feel the tension rising. The need to start purging, selling, planning, scheming was overwhelming.

I don’t know how I managed to post, let alone get through the chaos of kids finishing kindergarten and transitioning to staying home all day every day in the midst of planning a move with only one known variable..

But, friends, it’s happening.

The only thing I can tell you now is that we’re leaving Germany, and soon. The date, route, price, and beverage of choice is still TBD.

Because I can’t give any exact details (I’m not being cryptic; I don’t know them myself), I need to leave space open in my day to sort out the finer points of all the pieces that will eventually become part of the grand plan of moving back across the pond.

Even while I’m reeling from the enormity of this move, I have something else to consider: this blog.

I started Thrifty Travel Mama in 2010 as a way to tell friends and family back home about the quirks and adventure of our new life abroad. TTM morphed into something I never imagined: a full-fledged family travel blog. You guys, we have been to over 71 cities in 16 countries (not including the US), and I haven’t even written about all of them.

At it’s core, TTM is about budget family travel, but it’s also heavily influenced by my life as an expat (hence the tagline, “an expat life of marvels, miracles, and mishaps”). And now, I won’t technically be an expat. I’ll just be an alien, a stranger, a triangle.

I might be without reliable internet and time to write for months. After that, will I be able to rally and write about all travel stores I haven’t yet told? Or will I be too forlorn, mourning the loss of 28 vacation days, low expenses, and cheap childcare?

Only time will tell.

But, I would very much like to hear from you, my friends. What would you like to see happen to this blog?

Would you like to continue to read about our adventures, even if they’re fewer and not as exotic?

Would you prefer to hear more about how we were able to go so many places and practical tips for you to do the same?

Are you intrigued as to how reverse culture shock might manifest itself in our family and all the things we will find different / strange / just plain WEIRD when we go back to the US?

Do you have another idea that I haven’t even considered? Point me in the direction you’d like to see TTM go by leaving your ideas and thoughts in the comments.

And, in between booking flights and shipping boxes, I’ll do my best to clean out that Feedly and drop in on your adventures.Thanks for being awesome readers and amazing bloggers.

Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

Review: Librileo Book Boxes for Kids.. auf Deutsch!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Review: Librileo Book Boxes for Kids.. auf Deutsch!I know this might sound a bit strange, but the main reason I’ve worked so hard the past few months to really get my German skills up to usable levels is that we’re leaving Deutschland by the end of the year.

Wait, what?!

Why bother if we’re not going to live here long term? Well, for starters, it’s easiest to learn a language in a country where it’s spoken all the time. And, I’m determined to not sit by and watch my boys’ bilingual skills fade away. Since we can’t be certain we’ll end up in a city with a German school, the responsibility of keeping up with the language falls to me. So, you can bet I am all ears when it comes to getting tips on how to keep up the German in America… or wherever we end up.

Yes, we can (and will) look for other German-speakers to befriend, but it’s important to not stop there. In order to become truly fluent, one must also know how to read and write. Obviously, having German books on hand is important. But, what books? How does one choose? And how do I know what level of books my boys should be reading?

EnterLibrileo.

A startup company out of Berlin and the brainchild of Julius Bertram, Librileo is a genius idea for busy parents who value frequent and fresh reading material for their children.

The child receives a monthly box of anywhere from 1 to 3 books appropriate for their age range and according to that month’s theme. Past themes have included friendship, courage, and music (see examples here). Each box is reviewed in advance by a test family and a teacher before being sent to subscribers.Thrifty Travel Mama | Review: Librileo Book Boxes for Kids.. auf Deutsch!

I was thrilled to be contacted by Librileo and offered a box for review purposes. I only review products here on Thrifty Travel Mama that I would actually use myself and this service definitely fits the bill.

My oldest son is following in his mama’s footsteps and absolutely loves to get mail. He could barely contain his excitement when I told him the Librileo box was for him. July’s theme is science (Wissenschaft), and we opened up the box to find a gigantic book about technology and the environment as well as a small booklet with a cute story about water conservation.Thrifty Travel Mama | Review: Librileo Book Boxes for Kids.. auf Deutsch!

Librileo offers book boxes for a variety of age ranges so that elementary-aged children don’t receive board books and toddlers aren’t given chapter books to chew on. Currently, there are six different age groups: 0-1, 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 4-6, and 6-8. Have an older child? Drop them a line here. The company is considering expanding this fall to include boxes suitable for children up to age 10.

Parents can order Librileo boxes for their children either on a one-time basis to try out the service, a recurring monthly basis, or as a set three-month subscription. Shipping is included in the price which makes the boxes a fantastic deal.Thrifty Travel Mama | Review: Librileo Book Boxes for Kids.. auf Deutsch!

The cost to buy the books yourself is about the same as going through Librileo. However, Librileo takes the guesswork out of what books to buy and if they’re age-appropriate, as well as adding a touch of fun by following a monthly theme. And, they have their own children’s book writer and in-house graphic designer who produce an extra story for the book boxes that aligns with the theme of the month. Bonus!Thrifty Travel Mama | Review: Librileo Book Boxes for Kids.. auf Deutsch!

But, what if you don’t live in Germany? We’re moving soon, and we won’t be able to take advantage of the libraries or loan books from friends here anymore. Well, Librileo has just expanded their service to include international shipping! The international boxes include the 7 euro shipping charge, which is absolutely reasonable.Thrifty Travel Mama | Review: Librileo Book Boxes for Kids.. auf Deutsch!

To read all the frequently asked questions regarding Librileo, click here. And when you’re ready to order, this link will get you where you need to go.

Once we have finalized the location of our new home, Librileo will be on our list of great ways to keep up with German culture and language outside of Deutschland. Viel spaß!

Expat and bilingual families, what are some of the ways you keep up with foreign languages at home? Signature Thrifty Travel MamaDisclosure: I received a Librileo book box for review purposes. I was not paid to write this review, nor do I receive anything if you subscribe. You can read my current review policy here.

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.

Cologne

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

 

Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an AdultWhy, hello there. Didn’t think you’d see me ’round these parts again, did you? It has been a long time. And I’ve played out this reunion in my head many times. Has there been too much space and distance? Well, let’s just let it be awkward for a minute and then be done with that.

Over now? Good, moving on!

In case you’re new here, nearly four months ago I excused myself and backed away from this blog, forcing myself to turn and take one shaky step in the direction of serious language learning.

Fighting the this is never going to work fears and I’d rather be blogging thoughts, it took all I had in me to walk in the door of the language school near my boys’ kindergarten and ask what they had available.

You see, in our little city, the options for learning a language are as follows: (1) take an intensive course at a language school which means 5 days a week, four hours a day, (2) take a course at the community college for two days a week, two hours a day, or (3) find a private German teacher and pay through the nose.

That’s it. Take your pick.

What do you think I chose? What would you choose?

Like many bloggers, I’m an introvert. I despise group work and small talk. Busy work for the benefit of the whole class kills my desire to learn. Plus, I’m a mama, and I know from my previous experience taking an intensive course that there is just NO WAY I can manage being gone all morning, every day of the week, plus do homework at night for more than one week at a time.

The second option is just too slow. Plus, I honestly had no clue what level I was or which class to take.

Believe it or not, I swallowed my thrifty ways and tossed an incredible amount of cash at a private teacher.

Gulp.

But, old habits die hard, and I could not pass up an offer I found for two weeks of nearly free German classes. The catch? It was every night from 630-830pm, the absolute worst time of the day to leave my husband to solo parent. I love that man.

Over the course of nearly sixteen weeks, I took over forty hours of private German classes as well as eighteen hours of group classes. In between that, I struggled to finish my homework with one hand while warding off the laundry, dirt, and stench beasts with the other. We may or may not have had pizza and chicken nugget dinners every other night..Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Learning a new language as an adult is incredibly humbling.

I watch my sons chatter away auf Deutsch, and I can’t help but be a tiny bit envious. It’s true that they essentially are in their own intensive course while at kindergarten four hours a day, five days a week. But, they also have no inhibitions. They’re not self-conscious at all when it comes to making mistakes or speaking with an accent. Ah, to be six again..

My German classes literally brought me to tears on several occasions because I felt so unbelievably stupid. Why is this so hard?! I would ask myself. My brain is just not wired to learn foreign languages.

Undeterred by the snotty nose and runny mascara, I kept the end goal in sight: I am doing this for my sons, to help them keep up the gift of being bilingual as well as for own enrichment and mental health (ha). So, here I am, still plowing through, one umlaut at a time.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Despite the difficulty, I’m happy to say that the payoff has been huge.

HUGE!

Before these classes, I would shrink away from any opportunity to even attempt speaking German when it wasn’t absolutely necessary. I started almost every encounter with, “Do you speak English?” Now, I do my best to tuck that question away and only pull it out for serious situations like doctor visits and the like.

Just yesterday, I met with another mom from my church that I barely knew. I was aware that she spoke English, but I made myself start things off with, “Wie geht’s?” (how are you?). I occasionally had to explain a few things in English, but I steered the conversation back to German after each detour. Thirty minutes of this kind of mental workout left me exhausted and literally sweating.

Oh the things I never thought I’d do!

Here are a handful of other examples that just a few short months ago would’ve been impossible..

  • Argue with a police officer about why I was breaking the rules (if you must know, I was riding my bike on the sidewalk with my kids at a dangerous intersection).
  • Select, order, and pay for festival tickets over the phone (no hand gestures!).
  • Read an entire parent letter from the kindergarten without the assistance of my pal Google translate… and understand what I read.
  • Sign up for a tandem partnership with a total stranger.
  • Consider asking all my German friends to only speak German with me (okay, I’m still on the fence about this one..).

Sounds amazing and like I’m doing swimmingly, right? Well, don’t believe everything you read.

Some days, the words won’t come. Other days, I won’t let them because I just don’t feel like it.

In between those thoughts, I wonder why I am doing this. Why am I learning another language with the intention of becoming fluent? Why am I learning German?Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

And, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a downside. There’s always a downside, isn’t there?

The truth is, I now feel like I can’t speak any language well. I often trip over words in my native language, often forgetting what common items are called in English (!). I end up stuttering and then scrunching my face up in frustration because I just can’t manage to squeeze the right words (in the correct language) out of my brain.

I mean, I love bargains and all but the whole “buy one foreign language, get a free speech impediment” thing wasn’t exactly what I had in mind..

And when I’ve had a conversation with my tandem partner, for instance, I can’t seem to turn the German off and end up jabbering away in German to my husband who would rather just understand what his wife is saying, thankyouverymuch. The Deutsch monster just won’t shut up once it has been awakened.

So, what now?

Well, I simply keep on keepin’ on. At this time, I am done actively taking classes, at least the expensive private kind. I feel like my German is at a level now that I might be able to handle a regular group class (though my introverted, anti-group-work self will surely protest this possibility).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an AdultI bought a textbook and workbook with a DVD to keep up my independent study. But, really, what I need now is to just practice speaking as much as possible, hence the tandem partner.

And, in between all of that, I’m going to try to hang out here at Thrifty Travel Mama more regularly. But, don’t worry, I won’t start blogging in German any time soon.

Though I have missed blogging at TTM, I’ll admit it’s been a good thing for me to have a break, to refocus and, honestly, to decide whether I would like to continue writing. I’ve come to the conclusion that I do really enjoy blogging, because I often feel I have something to say either with the intention of helping others or simply throwing my two cents at the blogosphere.

So, pull up a chair, add me back to your Blog Lovin’, feedly, or subscribe to posts by email and let’s do this Thrifty Travel Mama thing again!

I often think to learn a second language you need as many of these things as possible – time, money, youth, and a live-in dictionary/language tutor. What do you think?

And, if you’ve learned another language as adult, how was your experience? Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

An English Speaker in an English Speaking Land… and a Little Announcement

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life: The English Speaking Bubble, Edinburgh

At the top of Arthur’s Seat, overlooking Edinburgh.

Before Paris, we had the most lovely whirlwind of a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.  We had gorgeous weather and a marvelous time together, just the five of us.  I long to tell you all about it – oh, how I do – but, for now, let’s just have a little peek into the wide, weird world of an English-speaking expat.

When you live in a foreign country and don’t speak the language, you get quite used to living in a bubble.  You may think the description cliché, but it’s spot on.

Inside the bubble, things are quiet.  Others may chat, giggle, debate, argue, or whisper around you.  But the funny thing is… you don’t really hear any of it.

There’s no picking up a snippet from the teenagers here or a stray comment from the elderly couple there.  You have absolutely no idea if the person next to you is gossiping about her best friend or discussing the finer points of Nietzsche.

When you open up your mouth to speak in your native language (because, of course, that’s what tumbles out first), those outside the bubble either stare or ignore you.  It’s impossible to tell whether you’re understood or not because interaction simply does.not.happen.

In some ways, you’re… invisible.

In other ways, you’re on display for all the world (okay, the train) to see.  Eating out, grocery shopping, waiting for the bus.. these are all relatively quiet affairs.  It’s a silent phenomenon, one that sneaks up on you and becomes firmly ingrained while you remain oblivious, until…

One day, you find yourself in another place, a land where everyone hears, understands, and -gasp- speaks to you.  This isn’t a forced exchange full of necessities and awkward pronunciation.  No, here the conversation is effortless.

The bubble bursts.  And suddenly, everything just got a whole.lot.LOUDER.

You try to finish your lunch, but the girl in the booth next to you just won’t shut up about her problems with the landlady. 

The college kids sitting behind you on the bus are bragging about how many countries they’ve visited (three), how cultured they now are, and how that one time they… was just SO funny!

A man stops on the street mid-stride to suggest you try the coffee shop (his favorite) around the corner because you’re discussing where you should go to warm up on this chilly morning. 

You ask the bus driver to help you figure out which stop is closest to your holiday apartment, and he agrees, smiles (!), and gives a shout when you’re nearly there.

It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced it, but going to a foreign country and hearing English spoken is really very strange.

We’ve come to expect this hokey-smokes-we-can-understand-everyone-and-CRAP-they-understand-us phenomenon when we go back to the US.  We become a bit disconcerted on the plane when flight attendants greet our children and make conversation. (Can you imagine someone talking to your child on the street and completely excluding you because they can tell you don’t understand?  For us, this is our normal.) This disorientation grows until we finally recoil in utter shock when the cashier at the sparkly, big-box grocery store chats us up.

“How y’all doin’ today?”

Say, what?!

This is reverse culture shock, and we live it every time we go to America.

But it was a new thing for us to experience a foreign country without a foreign language.  It was… fantastic.  Comforting.  Therapeutic.  Welcome…

Since we know it will be our last year to live in our current city, we often try to imagine ourselves as residents in the places we visit.  Could we live here?  Would we want to?

And while Scotland would take a lot of getting used to (I’ve never stared at traffic, drivers, and cars so much in my life – how do they drive on the left?), at least we would be insiders in a way.

Language.  We miss so much being outside the deutschsprachig circle here in Germany.  We cannot fight or fend for ourselves in many situations.  ‘Tis true that I have only myself, my lack of time, commitment, and determination to blame.  It is our/my struggle, and often brings me/us shame.

So, in between language blunders and fragmented exchanges, we wonder.  How important is it?  Should we make every effort to become fluent?  Is it time to pop the bubble and live out loud?

My answer… is yes.

And so with this long-winded attempt to explain the freakish feelings we experienced in Scotland, I have a small announcement to make.

I’m taking a break.

It’s not you.. it’s me.

I love this blog for many reasons.  It’s been my creative outlet for nearly four years.  It’s pushed me to explore some really random corners of the world as well as to find the marvels and miracles amid the many mishaps of (my) expat life.

But, most of all, I have loved meeting all of you.  I have made real life friends because of this blog, and truth be told, I don’t intend to stop.  While I need to set aside the time I normally spend here at Thrifty Travel Mama to study German, I don’t plan on disappearing completely.  I may post sporadic updates and quick recaps of our trips.  But, I won’t be able to create regularly scheduled content for at least a few months.

I still plan to answer comments (though you may have better luck with email), and I will still be reading your posts and cheering for your adventures.  I hope, when I’m finally able again, that you’ll be back to champion mine as well.

Wish me luck – it’s going to be DEAFENING out there.

Signature-Marigold

Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?Hey, hey, happy February!  ‘Tis the Valentine season, and cupid’s quiver is full of posts on…. Paris!  I’ll be sharing all sorts of adventures, tips, and tricks for visiting the city of love with kids (oh, how romantic!) in the next few weeks.

Other gals may go for diamonds, truffles, or expensive perfume and whatnot.  But, me?  I’m much easier to please.  A three-pound burrito wrapped in shiny tinfoil should do it.

Chipotle… in Europe?

While we were in the magical city of Paris, we savored our first taste of Chipotle in nearly eight months.  It was the lovely Maria of Busy as a Bee in Paris who first gave the heads up that the burrito king was in town.

Not long after, my friend Christy in Estonia (hi, Christy!) broke some even bigger news to me… Chipotle had recently set up shop in Frankfurt!  We needed to renew T-Rex’s passport in early January, and naturally we’d all be absolutely starving and in search of lunch after the morning appointment…

In a span of two weeks, we had eaten our hearts out at Chipotle in France and Germany

Chipotle… in Europe?  I must be dreaming.  But, I’m not.. they have SIX locations in London too!

So… How’s it Taste?

This is the real question, isn’t it?  If you slap a Chipotle sign on a mediocre Mexican joint, really, what’s the point?  The authenticity of ingredients and flavors is what’s important.

In short, both the Paris and Frankfurt locations dished up burritos and salads that tasted very close to American Chipotle cuisine.  However, we noticed a few slight differences.

German Chipotle:

  • Serves lemon-cilantro rice, not lime, that is extremely cheap in the worst way (think Uncle Ben’s, not basmati).
  • Beans are not as savory, especially the black ones.
  • Marinade on the chicken wasn’t as flavorful.
  • Salad dressing packs a punch – it’s much spicier than at home – and is noticeably creamier.
  • Tomatillo-Green Chili Salsa tastes even better than in America with a delicious, gentle heat.

French Chipotle:

  • Rice was also lemon instead of lime, but of better quality.
  • Salad dressing was extremely close to the original, but it had a subtle difference we couldn’t place.  Another taste test is on order..
  • Tomatillo-Green Chili Salsa is full of flame; our mouths were on fire!

In both the French and German locations, the portions were petty.  However, the staff acquiesced each time I begged for “a little more” of each ingredient.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?

Chipotle in Frankfurt, Germany

What’s Different?

Not much is physically different in the Paris and Frankfurt locations.  Both interiors are all done up in the same wood and stainless theme.  The brown paper packaging, logo napkins, clear plastic cutlery, Tabasco sauce bottles… it’s all there.  Even the water dispenser looks identical.

(Oh, and the water is free.  Some restaurants in Germany will serve you complimentary tap water but not cheerfully.)

The biggest difference between the American Chipotle and the French and German Chipotle restaurants is the price.

Both European locations charge 9 euros per entree (burrito, tacos, salad, bowl) with your choice of one meat (chicken, steak, barbacoa, etc).  All the toppings are included except guacamole which comes with an additional 3 euro charge.  Yikes.

Currently, a Chipotle chicken burrito in our old Orlando location costs $6.25 (steak, carnitas, or barbacoa will set you back $6.65).  If you were to convert the 9 euro German burrito price tag to dollars, you’d be looking at $12.15 per burrito… or almost double!  If you want guac with that, be prepared to fork over $16.20!

Thrifty Travel Mama | Chipotle in Europe: How Does it Compare?

Chipotle in Paris, France.

That’s some serious cash for a beans & rice fix.  You might be wondering… why are the entrees so expensive?

The simple answer: ingredients.  To make Chipotle’s marinades, salsas, dressings, and other delicious menu items, you need foreign ingredients like chipotle peppers, tomatillos, cilantro, adobo, jalapeños, poblano peppers, and chiles de arbol.  These are usually Mexican or American products which means that they need to cross an ocean.

Unfortunately, the European palate doesn’t seem to be suited for frijoles which means that the demand isn’t high enough to produce these kinds of ingredients within the EU (perhaps climate is an issue as well) which would help reduce costs considerably.

Now, I can’t say I’ve ever asked for “everything” on my burrito back in America, but both the French and German Chipotle locations allowed us to order every single topping (except guacamole – see above) without charging extra.  I seem to recall that the fajita vegetables were instead of beans and that one may order cheese or sour cream.  At the European restaurants, you can have it all!

At least there’s a small consolation when it comes to order budget (and waist-line) busting burritos…

The Verdict

Frankfurt is our closest Chipotle location, but it’s still two and a half hours away.  When we add the price of fuel to cost of a burrito, it ends up being too expensive and time-consuming to be worthwhile.

In Paris, I was shocked when I realized that 9 euros for a quick dinner was average, so there’s a good chance we’d be regulars if we lived there.

For now, we’re happily obsessed with our town’s taco truck.  But, that’s not to say we wouldn’t indulge if we happened to be in Frankfurt… and I’d be lying if I said we wouldn’t jump at the chance to try a British branch of Chipotle!

Any Londoners out there want to host a family of five for the weekend?  Burritos are on us!

Have you tried Chipotle in Europe?  If not, would you pay 9 euros for a burrito with authentic Mexican ingredients?

Signature-Marigold