Tag Archives: Lisa

A Bit about Coffee. Finally! A Plan We Can Live With.

After God blessed us with three babies at once, our household’s caffeine requirements shot up like a ’90’s dot com IPO.

From the first trip to the grocery store in Bavaria all the way to Scotland, we suffered through varying qualities of coffee. Unfortunately, we like our coffee with half and half. Oh! If only we liked our coffee black or none at all, our life would be simpler, albeit much poorer.


[a German half and half.  We were a bit surprised at the baby bear on it and thought we might have grabbed baby formula?]

You heard about our search for half and half and how it was in the dry goods aisle. What you may not know is that a similar scenario has been replayed in country after country. A little google search unveiled that American half and half is milk with 12 percent fat. Whipping cream is 20 to 50 percent fat according to the information I found. So, for a while, I would search the ingredient proportions and discover the milk with the closest milk/fat ratio to half and half. (attempting to read in a different language, of course)

The type of coffee making capability our rented apartments will furnish is also a mystery until we arrive. Sometimes, it’s a French press, sometimes (rarely) drip coffee, sometimes a Moka espresso pot,


sometimes they expect instant coffee with us using an electric tea kettle. In Scotland, we had our first full up espresso machine.

I know, it’s complicated.

IF you buy your coffee at a cafe, IF you know what to order, the resulting brew will probably be famously yummy. Didn’t these drinks originate in Europe, after all? Usually a cappuccino is a safe bet. Those are fairly standardized, it seems, so you get what you expect to get. In Germany, the “American” version of unsweetened latte is a macchiato for some reason. But, who has the time or money to go to a cafe for all their coffee? In the US, I would order black coffee and add half and half to keep the expense lower. Here, without half and half, that’s not a doable plan.

We find an instant love for the countries with the cheaper cappuccinos.  Paris and London were the most expensive, often about $4 or so.  In England, Grigg’s (fast food type place) was often a go-to p;ace across the city. 


[grabbing a Starbucks outside of St Paul’s cathedral in London]


[the all-important coffee break while getting our learning on at the British Museum]

In Budapest, the coffee shops are a bit more rare and maybe that’s why even the neighborhood bakery had a coffee vending machine.  Part of the reason is that the Communist government closed them down decades ago to prevent revolution fomenting among the back booths.  I read that in a guidebook somewhere, so it must be true.  The cafes are definitely making a comeback there. 


We found great, cheap coffee out of those automatic machines in Budapest.  All across Europe, McDonald’s have a McCafe inside with lots of coffee options and pastries. 


Poland held its own in the affordable cappuccino category.  In Italy, you pay more to sit down at a table.  So, everyone stands up at the counter in the morning, drinks their coffee and eats their little pastry.  In Salzburg and Vienna, coffee is a kind of artistry and they take their cafes very seriously.




[a Vienna mobile espresso cart to get your caffeine fix while on the go]

Coffee even comes with a sidecar of water here and in Bratislava too. 


In Ireland, your kids grab the green food coloring and make you a leprechaun coffee when you’re not looking. 



Coffee machines are often an option. These machines are something that we would steer widely clear of in the USA. Here, they are more prolific and occasionally to be enjoyed. The coffee they produce is more likely to be sweetened and may have more local names. That means we will not understand what we are ordering.  It’s a little coffee roulette.

Once we arrived in the UK, our hopes for half and half further deteriorated.  Here, evidently their cream needs vary dramatically from the continent or the US.  My first attempt at half and half resulted in a solid product when I opened it at home.  Yuck.  For a while we used a rich, rich milk that seemed to turn sour rather quickly.  I think it was pasteurized.  That worked in London, sort of.  By the time we got to Scotland, that rich milk wasn’t an option (I didn’t see any equivalent in the stores).  Even though we speak the same language, we struggled.  They have a single cream and a double cream.  These have a relatively high fat content.  One cup is good, two cups make you never want cream again (but not quite want black coffee).  Finally, a new friend from church in Scotland, an American transplant, confirmed that half and half just isn’t a product they use here.

How then shall we live?

Inspired by coffee at our friends’ the Wingfields and the Bulises, we realized that frothed whole milk  (or even other fat percentages), produced a satisfying cup of morning joe.  Of course we can’t travel with a huge frother. 


But, this little piece of kitchen equipment is small and portable and gets the job done.  Yes, yes, Grandma Shirley bought us one of these years ago.  And, yes, yes, packing it from New Jersey did not even cross my mind.  How was I to know?

We could give up coffee all together.  But I don’t think we need to take that drastic of a measure yet.  One added benefit of the frother is that the kids LOVE it! They compete to make our coffee. Inadvertently, we created four little coffee slaves who never tire of frothing our milk for us (or themselves). They even froth their own milk, for kicks.  We still enjoy waking up to the smell of coffee and now I think we have a coffee way forward, at last.

Breathe easy, friends.


Casting a spell on us

London fills our minds with wonder as we marvel at where our own history began. Remnants of imperialism abound in the historical buildings and in the population. The Middle Ages, Absolute Monarchy, Industrial Revolution, Age of Information/Globalization — all are adequately represented on the streets and in the museums. Famous preachers like Wesley and Spurgeon leave their traces about town. However, besides the history centers, we pause as we pass the places of literary imagination. The (recreated) Globe theatre where Shakespeare performed his plays stands active and lively. We imagine the children at the train station in The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m on the constant lookout for Mr. Darcy (he did take trips to London, right?). We think of Oliver, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Eliza from My Fair Lady. We even notice where Lightning McQueen was in Cars 2. Everything looks familiar, even though of the Mesquits, only Brent had visited before. One special literary work dominated all our thoughts: Harry Potter.

As parents, we had the first clue, when trying to show the kids the renowned Thames river and the London Bridge. The kids only had eyes for The Millennium Bridge, the one destroyed by the Death Eaters in the 6th movie.  The Harry Potter wands accompanied us on most of our outings, just in case we passed an important site. We visited Piccadilly Square with Harry Potter in mind (movie 7). And of course, King’s Cross Station, Platform 9 3/4 and the adjoining St Pancras Station that is the actual location of Harry Potter’s “dream” conversation with Dumbledore in the 8th movie. We re-watched most of the movies at the end of our tiring days of touring. Fun.

Our biggest Harry Potter adventure was a pilgrimage to The Making of Harry Potter at Harry Potter studios. Wow. Here is Camille’s version of us arriving at the studio:

“…I just couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw a large double decker bus pulling up to the tube station lot. It was incredible! The bus was tall and you would have never missed what it was because there were pictures of scenes from the movie and a large ‘The Making of Harry Potter’ spread across the top. We were at the front of a small crowd. I hoped we would fit. Then, a friendly driver ushered us inside and everyone crowded in. Grandma stayed on the bottom [level] but I went on up to the next level.


‘Wow,’ the whole bus seemed to say as we pulled up to a large yellow building. … There were more people here than the Churchill war rooms.”

I agree. The entire crowd appeared awed to arrive at the studios, and our kids were among the youngest there.

Once inside, larger than life pictures of the characters gaze down on you from high on the walls. I’m struck with the affection I feel for many of them, like I’m perusing a baby album or a yearbook! A cafe is on your left and a gift shop is on your right.






Our tour began with a walk by the cupboard under the stairs and then into a movie theatre. Luke describes this part of the tour in his journal:



“We moved into the Harry Potter movie theater where we watched a short clip. Afterwards,the movie screen lifted up and the tour guide was there. Then, behind the screen the huge brass doors to the Great Hall appeared.”

The tour guide asked who had a birthday. The lucky birthday “boy” and “girl” shared the task of opening the doors to the Great Hall. They opened up to the full set, complete with costumes from teachers and each school within Hogwarts. The children disagree on the grandeur of the Great Hall. Luke says it was huge and I concur. But, I will share Will’s opinions on the Great Hall from his journal:

“The hall looked different from the movies in many ways:

  1. It had no roof. 
  2. It was extremely smaller. 
  3. There was no fire. 
  4. It wasn’t real marble. 
  5. It had a lot of mannequins wearing the costumes. 
  6. It had a gap in the wall. 
  7. It was decorated with Halloween. “









Walking through the Great Hall we entered the self guided part of the tour. A person could spend between 15 minutes and 2 days exploring the rest of the studios. The 15 minute estimate was for someone walking through briskly without looking at anything. Some displays discussed parts of the filming, such as the various directors or how they used animals in the filming. A large portion of the space was filled with sets and props. Do you want to see the time turner? It’s there. How about the Goblet of Fire? Check. The Potions room,


Dumbledore’s office,


Gryffindor common room,


Hagrid’s Hut,


the Burrow,


The Ministry of Magic,


the Night Bus,


Malfoy’s family table (scene of muggle murder),


the bridge, the Chess Set, 4 Privet Drive,


Harry’s parent’s home, and the infamous flying car.


Some sets appear small, some large. The beds in the Gryffindor room look terribly small and we learn that by the 6th movie, the actors had to hang their feet off the ends because they’d grown so much!


A giant green screen hung on two walls and showed how they created the flying scenes, fight scenes, and many of the landscape scenes. We enjoyed seeing Mad Eye Moody’s flying broom chair and the goblin cart.

An amazing part of the tour explained how they created magical creatures and Hagrid. Will found this to be among the most interesting parts of the tour. 

“They put a real flame thrower inside of the dragon! The goblins were drenched in make-up. The spiders were remote controlled,” he explained.



Camille agreed, “[I find it fascinating] that Hagrid’s head was animatronic. It seemed so real when he blinked, moved his head, and talked. It was really cool!”

She added, “Buckbeak the Hippogryph stared at us through animatronic eyes. Apparently they had to put every little feather in the right place.”

The section was followed by a walk through Diagon Alley. Ana loved walking on the “real” street, by the “real buildings”

“They had all the real buildings. They were real and all right there. They weren’t fake. They were a real street and real buildings.”




At the end of the Alley was the beginning of the planning section. Hundreds of drawings hung on the walls. These were the artists sketches in planning the scenes. Some were followed, some weren’t. They were beautiful to behold and led up to the grand model of the Hogwarts castle. I’m sorry to spoil it for you, but the castle is not real. Hogwarts is pretend. So, all the scenes of the grounds and the exterior of the castle were completed from this impressive model. 




Luke was especially inspired by the model. He said it encouraged him to build a model, which he later did.

Finally, the gift shop. Will bought a journal that he uses for planning. Camille said, since things were a little expensive, she bought candy. Ana bought a chocolate wand. We left with sugar quills, fudge flies, and chocolate frogs. Yum. We avoided the butter beer, since we knew of our distaste from our earlier visit to Universal Studios. If JK Rowling can’t turn that invention into money, something must be wrong with it!  





Overall, we soaked in the magic. 


Camille said, “I bet it would stay in my mind forever. It was great, just great.” 

Inspired, Ana said, “That one person could create such big influence. JK Rowling had all this stuff just because she wrote a book.”

Yes, thank you JK Rowling and authors everywhere for writing good books. 


The Catastrophe

Poland was hilarious.  We had some missteps: a mouse in the house, a middle-of-the-night knight, a mooing mother, and a great search for dessert.  (Brent will fill you in.)  But, the grand gem of the Poland trip was also the darkest.

Visiting Auschwitz was profoundly important for me for this trip.  I don’t know if I simply wanted to honor the dead, if I wanted to try to fathom how this could possibly happen, or perhaps to ask, “what would I have done?”



[Arbeit macht frei – “Work makes you free”]

Anticipating an emotional day, we chose to visit early in order to avoid the mandatory tour guide.  With the roughly one hour drive and exactly four kids and approximately two hot plates, a tea kettle, and one electrical outlet, this “early” proved almost too ambitious, but we arrived before the cutoff time by ten minutes.  On our own, we hoped to regulate the rate of exposure all of us, especially the kids, had to various parts of the camp.  Good call.




Seeing the camp, one of at least 20,000 such camps, loudly shouts that Hitler did not do this alone.  In fact, besides the obvious guards, thousands of people at many levels of responsibility orchestrated these camps.  Railcar operators, chemical suppliers, building contractors, accountants, food providers, postal workers and goldsmiths are among the types of citizens who would have helped the mission of the camp with a degree of knowledge.  Some estimates place the number of people involved with executing the Holocaust at substantially over 100,000.  The Auschwitz museum has direct records of 8400 guards who worked at Auschwitz.



While traveling this fall, cities have candidly displayed their previous deep root of anti-semitism, pre-Hitler.  In addition, Darwinian style Eugenics was incredibly prevalent.  We saw a sign at the Museum of London from the time between the World Wars that explained how improper breeding has led to terrible suffering and disabilities, and cited the number of blind and deaf in London at the time.  This was an advertising sign, not an editorial or an obscure website, but a sign. 

The powerful current for this mass elimination of those perceived unwanted flowed across Europe.  Those who wanted to fight it, did so at the risk of their selves.  The camp has meticulous records of neighbors or others who were also killed for giving a Jew a piece of bread.  Auschwitz has a special cell for a priest who resisted the Nazis.  By resisting, you agree to join your fate with theirs.



Also, displayed are the first reports of the camps in the US newspapers.  We read a clip from the LA Times.  Somehow, the tragedy seems just as difficult to grasp today, despite seeing it. 



According to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, six million Jews were killed by the Nazi government at work camps, extermination camps, or through other state sponsored methods.  Six million is approximately two-thirds of the European Jewish population at the time and over one-third of the World Jewish population at that time.  Today, the Jewish population still is not back to it’s pre-war levels.  And, the European Jewish population is a little over two million.




[Father Kolbe who volunteered to take the place of another man in a  starvation cell]

Furthermore, the German government killed approximately 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish citizens (sometimes at camps), over 20,000 Roma people, around 200,000 disable people, thousands of Jehovah’s Witness, and an unknown number of homosexual men.



[From the Dutch display–Anne Frank, second from the left, on her 10th birthday, Amsterdam, 12 June 1939.  She went to a different camp.]


[The first commandant of Auschwitz was tried and sentenced to death after the war by the Polish Supreme National Tribunal.  He was hanged on these gallows at Auschwitz in 1947.]

The camp is divided into two camps:  Auschwitz and Birkenau.  The SS forces “outgrew” Auschwitz and needed an additional camp that was more efficient.  We completed our Auschwitz tour and ate a picnic lunch at a park outside the camp.  Right next to us, a group of Isreali high school students munched on their box lunches after their tour.  Oh how we wanted to talk with them!  They were busy chatting with each other, and we thought better of peppering a person their age with questions.


Visiting Birkenau (Auschwitz II) required a little drive of a couple of miles. 



[The chimneys remain after each barrack was torched by the fleeing Nazis attempting to hide their atrocities.]

We tried to be brief as we looked at some somber lodging facilities,




[stones worn smooth by people sitting on the bricks for heat]

as well as the train stop at the selection platform where those in charge decided who would work and who would go straight to the chambers.  At least 75% were deemed ready for immediate execution. 






The chamber ruins are still there.  Now, a memorial to the Shoah, the Hebrew word for catastrophe, beautifully interrupts the killing places.




We returned to the parking lot a while later to find one of the doors of the SUV wide open.  Gasp.  Quickly we jogged back to see if our friends’ car was intact and if by any chance our electronic collection of iPads and camera equipment remained.  Thank God, nothing had vanished and the car was fine.  The battery wasn’t even dead.  A solid bit of gratitude at the end of a day of solemnity.

The day was emotional for all of us.  Contemplating that level of evil begs for explanation and leaves a mark on any tender heart.  As parents, we asked others who’d been, thought about it and debated taking the kids at all.  In hindsight, we are glad we showed this place to the kids but of course we don’t know.  It wasn’t what they were most keen to journal about.  We kept the museum visits to a light-hearted standard for several days afterwards.  That evening we took the family out for a nice dinner in the hometown of Pope John Paul II, a town on the route to our farm cottage.  When we ask them about our visit it doesn’t seem to have traumatized them. 


Secretly, I do hope it leaves a mark, and I think that’s why I wanted to see it with my own eyes.  I hope it reminds me to be brave.  I hope the children remember to be kind.  I hope we all are alert.  Where is this happening, now?  Who do we not value?  Who is expendable?  Where are we so blinded by culture that we can’t see terrible injustice?  What can we do now?



Finger Talk

Within 10 minutes of embarking on our Big Trip, this happened.

IMG_0965 IMG_0964

While I was on the phone, and still sad from leaving my parents, I made a miscalculation.  I thought that I could one-handedly catch a box of books toppling off the top of our duffels from the back of our mini-van while continuing the phone conversation.  Oops.  OUCH.

A day and three states later, an x ray revealed multiple fractures.  That’s when this happened:



But this helped!


Nine days and ten states later we were relieved to learn that I did not need surgery.  Ideally, we would have hand therapy, but could continue on our trip.  Off with the finger sling!  Follow up with a surgeon in Germany.  No problem.  :0)

OK, it was a little problem, but we did it.  The German surgeon, who spoke fantastic English, confirmed that I didn’t need surgery. My fingers were healing correctly without surgery.  Hurray! I was concerned since my finger was dislocating at the joint when I carried a sauce pan.  He said, “Don’t do that.”  So I’m trying not to.

Here’s how far I can close my hand now.

Trying to close my hand

They still hurt and I can’t really lift with my right hand, but they are improving every day.


Comedy of Errors

I probably don’t need to tell you that travel is not all rainbows and Lipizzaner ponies. :0). Not knowing the language and customs can sometimes cause problems.  And, since we are visiting numerous locations, they are not as thoroughly researched by us as we would like.

You might recall that we began our trip by showing up exhausted in small town Bavaria after all the stores were closed.  Eating the leftover Doritos and Oreos from our flight lunches was fun before tumbling into bed.  But the next morning, when we woke up late and jet lagged just after the bakery closed, we knew we would be eating on Plan B.  Enjoyably we survived on gelato and Octoberfest until the stores opened Monday.  However, I didn’t want to repeat that food strategy.  So, as we left Bavaria for Vienna, I shopped in advance for our Saturday night arrival and Sunday food needs.

That worked OK as long as the kids and I were happy with grocery bags underfoot and Brent didn’t mind the bags packed to the ceiling for the five hour drive that turned into a ten hour drive in the rain and traffic.  The next week when we left for Budapest we thought we would try a third strategy:  stop on the outskirts of town and only pack the car with groceries for the last thirty minutes of the drive.  (&arrive earlier!). Strategy C seemed like a winner with its great prices, big parking lot, more relaxed suburban folk, & only thirty minutes with a super loaded car until we arrived at the Budapest apartment only to find that there was no oven and we had bought frozen pizza for dinner and frozen breaded meat surprise for Luke’s birthday dinner the next day.  :-).


I hope you are laughing because cooking frozen pizza for six on a stove top is pretty funny.

The frozen meat surprise turned out to be Wiener schnitzel not fish sticks. We rarely know exactly what we are buying.  Was that tuna fish or cat food or both?  If that is really coffee milk, why is there a nursing bear on the label?  Was the baby formula section near the coffee?


Oh! I guess this will macaroni and mozzarella cheese.  Stringy goodness.  Did we buy a train ticket or a bus ticket?  Is that a road or a hiking trail? …. Oops a hiking trail. REVERSE!  (Thank you for back up cameras!)  Who said Brent’s military vehicular talent was going to waste?  “What does that sign with all the exclamation marks say?”  Two hours later into our hike … Ooooohhhhh!  The red signs are for advanced hikes!  Oops again.  I guess those exclamation marks meant this trail was for “advanced” hikers.  We don’t have a picture of the memorial to the fallen hiker as we needed two hands for holding onto the cable we were using to climb.

Some things, however, have been uber predictable.  The proliferation of Bath and Body Works in the States means that your scent of hand soap is always changing from Vanilla Bean, to Wild Basil, to Lavender Fields, to Pumpkin Spice.  Not so here.  Watch out Moses, this is the true land of Milk and Honey.  From our apartment, to the grocery store WC, to the toilette at the mountain lodge at the top of that 2 1/2 hour hike, in Salzburg, Garmische, and all the way to Vienna, the soap of choice is unanimously Milk and
Honey.  Seriously, every single place.  Only in Budapest did we finally get Aloe Vera.

Photo on 9-5-14 at 12.23 PM

If that sounds like a lot of bathrooms to you, it is. I usually shower in the morning.  One night in Vienna I awoke overly alert and panicked about how many public bathrooms I’d been in that day.  I had to shower before going back to sleep. I still think that was smart.


We also have had our share of city activity.  You see, we are on a budget, so we aren’t making the typical splurges you might expect during travel.  No sleepy tourist zone hotels for us.  I was pleased that a Slovak family of five was checking into the same Budapest apartment building as us (They couldn’t speak Hungarian either).   After a couple of days in Vienna, we learned our neighborhood was the place to go for marijuana. We heard a sound during the night that was probably a car backfire, but startling nonetheless.  From our window here in District VII of Budapest we’ve seen and heard a loud protest.  Moms, I promise our neighborhoods are “safe”.  But, they are in the city.   And, as much as we try, we JUST DON’T BLEND IN.  Even if a would-be thief didn’t notice the largest family in Europe as they entered the subway station, he or she would soon hear the nearly perfect English of one of our children, “Dad!  Look!  The train’s almost here!” or “Mom, Mom, Mom, which is your favorite Marvel Comic character?”  Or, “Dad, what powers would you have if …”  Or, they might notice the wrestling.  The girls are usually pretty quiet.  They don’t often make odd exclamations, but the boys.  The boys wrestle lovingly with each other from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed especially when we walk down the street.

I think in an effort to blend in, to compensate for the size of our family and our English ways, Brent will be buying a pair of yellow floral capris.  What do you guys think?  It’s the least he could do, really.

One last thing: romance.  Walking along the Danube at night with your husband while looking at the lit up bridge is romantic.  Walking along the Danube at night with your husband and four kids, calculating the swift current of the river and the distance of the fall to the river and the OH my GOODNESS how would they ever get out of the river and would they be run over by one of the speeding river boats before the boat could see the flailing swimming kid and are those waves too high for the boats to see them anyway while watching your kids wrestle and jump and walk two feet from the edge of the drop off to the Danube at night when surrounded by imaginary bad guys (and you don’t blend in) is not romantic.
I suppose worry is NEVER romantic.  In fact, this morning I remember 1 John 4:18,

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

My love is not perfect, not even close.  This year may bring extra occasions for all of us to practice casting out fear.  Practice is good, it makes you stronger.  Practice makes even your muscles remember what to do.

May I, may we, practice not letting what might happen detract from the magic of what is happening.  May I, may we, always remember that we can run to the One who is Perfect Love – no matter what.  We have nothing to fear.

Charmed, I’m sure

I’ll admit to previously having less interest in Germany than in other European countries.  I’m sorry!  I feel like I need to duck and hide when I say that, but I hadn’t given German(y) much thought.  As recently as June I declared that I didn’t like the German language.  Perhaps, I was a little too influenced by the Eastern German pilot training buddy of Brent’s who stood oh-so-close and kept spitting on me.  What I’ve found instead oozes charm, kindness, beauty, and surprisingly humor.

I love German!  The cadence strikes my funny bone fairly close to where the guy in Frozen in the mountain hut selling sunscreen resides.  And often words are either humorous or entertaining to say.  For instance, in order to exit the highway you take the “Ausfahrt”  — pronounced somewhere between “us fart” and “ass fart”  Try saying that with 4 ten and eleven year olds in your car without laughing. Yesterday, we had to turn around in Mr. Schmuck’s driveway on our way to Austria.  The poor Schmuck! (which actually means jewelry).  And the laundry … oh the laundry was a challenge.  I’ll tell you about that in just a minute.  I’ve found that several things are pronounced and mean the same in English.  Shoe is “Schuh” and pronounced the same.  Washing is “wasch” and pronounced “vash” and machine is “Maschine” and pronounced “machin-eh”.  Many words have that “eh” at the end or maybe an “en”.  Kind-eh fun-en.  :0)


I showed up last Saturday not even knowing how to count to ten.  Between our guide books, google translate and some kind English speakers we are getting along and learning.  So far our biggest disaster is toilet paper that ended up scented and decorated with flowers and some body wash that might be shampoo or shampoo that might be body wash.  The groceries to me seemed low threat because almost everything has pictures and is at least edible.  So what if your coffee milk is a little too sweet?  The laundry however was a more serious matter.

Several times on Monday I stopped by the communal washing machine and it was full.  So, I determined to wake early and haul our family’s three loads down three flights of stairs, through the underground basement hall, the shower room, the indoor pool, to the laundry room located just below the office before anyone else arrived.  Despite jet lag, I made it to the machine at 6 am.  No one else was there!

Hmmm.  No one else was there – to ask for help.  Besides feeling a bit creepy sitting on a bench in the basement downstairs from the office, I couldn’t read the settings on the machine!  This was serious!  One wrong selection and suddenly our clothes intended to last all year could end up pink or sized for Barbie dolls.  What to do?  I hadn’t brought my phone with Google translate because, even though I had prepared it the night before thinking that I’d want it for Facebook, I couldn’t see my phone in our darkened room without waking the kids.  Should I “Plegeleicht” the clothes?  How about “Extraspulen/Starken”?  Thankfully one English word shined amongst the choices:  “Dunkles/Jeans”.  Whew!


“I’ll wash the jeans and darks first, and then go find my phone,” I thought. So, I put a 2 Euro coin in the place where coins go — that much was obvious.  I knew how to put the soap in (I have vast laundry experience.)  But then, I was stumped.  A red button and a white button both lived next to the coin slot.  Buttons are meant to be pushed?  On the machine itself was a “Start” button, a “Startvorwahl” button.  In my pre-caffeinated mind “Startvorwahl” meant start now!  A grey button and an orange button with “Tur” next to it were also on the control panel.  In the end, I’m not sure what I did other than push each one at least once until it started.  After, I started the darks I sat on the bench in the quiet dark basement for a while.  I had heard that Germans had a lot of rules and I wasn’t sure what the rule was regarding leaving your laundry.  I didn’t want to be rude to our hosts.  Finally, I felt weird enough sitting next to the office in the near dark that I went back through the pool room, shower room, hallway, up the stairs, to the apartment.

Everyone was still asleep, but at least I found my iPhone.  Hurray!  I now had hopes to understand the machines with my translation app.  I quietly read until it was time to sneak back out the apartment and down the stairs, through the shower room, through the pool room, and to the laundry room. Still no one was there.  Unfortunately, due to the underground location of the laundry the translation app wouldn’t work — no cell service, no wifi.  Yikes.  Now I had a double problem.  I had a new load to wash without ruining and I was facing the dryer for the first load.  Here were my choices:


Wow.  Should I “mangle fecht” our clothes or “shrank rock” them?  Remember they were our jeans, so I couldn’t choose the no heat at all option, which I guess the Luften was.  I went with “Bugelfeucht” because it was under the general category of “Baumwolle” which sounded like wool to me.  I still don’t know the full translation, but from experience it leaves the clothes rather damp after running it twice.  That works, no damage done.  For the other load, I realized that it didn’t really matter.  They were mainly white, so if they got hot water they would be clean and if they didn’t, they would be a little less clean — a consequence I could live with.  For that load, I chose “Pflegeleicht” mainly because it was opposite Jeans/Dunkles.

Finally, my brain awoke enough to remember my phone had a camera.  I began snapping pictures of the dials and signs.  I went back through the pool room, shower room, hallway, up the stairs, to the apartment, carrying my remaining load (is it OK to leave my unwashed loads? I didn’t know the rule.)  At the apartment, the family was beginning to stir!  I typed the words into Google translate on my computer as soon as I’d finished making the pot of coffee.  Oops!  One sign said I was supposed to take my street shoes off on all those trips through the indoor pool.  The bench I sat on was for — shoe removal, not waiting for your laundry loads.  When I returned, down the stairs, through the hallway, through the shower, after taking my shoes off, through the pool room, and putting my shoes back on, I was better armed for the third load, and the office was open.  Within a couple of hours we had clean clothes and nothing was ruined.


Guess what else?  I love Germany!  We are in Oberaudorf, Bavaria only 3 kilometers from the Austrian border in the midst of the Alps.  The landscape includes beautifully green, forested mountains with both deciduous and evergreen trees.  Hiking trails lead to waterfalls, mountain peaks, farms of sheep that wear bells, cattle, poultry, orchards and bee hives.  The architecture is charming and the people are kind and welcoming.  God led us to the perfect place to begin our adventure.  The small town we are in is a German vacation spot, so tourists are normal, but Americans less so.  Our hostess speaks enough English to help warn us about Austrian tollways, but we are also inundated with opportunities to practice German.  The rural location adds to our feeling of safety.  Open windows and prolific walkers of all ages abound.  The baker and grocer are about 3/4 of a mile away.  I can now count to ten in German.  The kids are motivated to speak German.  “I just want to talk to them!  Most interesting to me is the familiarity I feel with this town.  It almost feels like a mix of Texas and Oregon.  The landscape and climate are wet, cool and lush, much like my experience of the Pacific Northwest.  We’ve already had a few glorious days of rain.  The part that reminds me of Texas is their pride of place.  On our hike, a farmer drove by in his European little van wearing his Bavarian felt hat with feather.  Liederhosen can be seen on men and boys around town and dirndl, the traditional dresses, are on display in several shop windows.  In my version of Google culture translate, I can see some farmers sitting in a gas station in west Texas with boots on donning their wranglers and western shirts.  Yes, I’m charmed.

So, Germany, I publicly apologize for my lack of attention.  You obviously haven’t been concerned.  I’m glad you are our first European stop.  Thanks for the kind welcome.