Happy birthday / solstice / advent

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Yesterday marked my 43rd trip around the sun. We had a nice celebration. After a typical breakfast of fresh rolls, the kids were eager to give me their presents. Meg got me a spoon rest from Malta, and Spencer got me a nice black belt. Presents from Clare and my parents came later, including a pair of boots, and some new cymbals and cymbal stand for my drum set, which I have been really enjoying playing. The low-volume cymbals are designed to be just that – low-volume. They have a bunch of holes in them. I did a bunch of research on them, and decided to ask for the Millennium brand, which is an in-house brand of Thomann.de. They are not fancy, but they are indeed much lower volume, and they feel and sound very nice. I am really excited to do some low-volume drumming for the next six months in our apartment, until we move into our house and I play a bit more loudly.

Our friends Thomas and Ulli invited us to their garden house to celebrate with some Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and a little bonfire. Most of the Christmas markets are cancelled again this year because of COVID, so it was really nice to have some Glühwein. We made Grünkohl (kale soup), and had other goodies like cheese and crackers, cookies, and an Italian type of Christmas cake called Panettone. Clare recalls that I used to get annoyed by Christmas traditions spoiling my birthday, but I guess as I have aged, I have come to enjoy mixing them all together.

We decided to throw in some solstice celebration as well. We sang Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles, and the Holly and the Ivy. We called the four spirits of East, North, West, and South, and celebrated the fact that the sun is coming again. Then we wrote our intentions done on slips of paper, tied them to a wreath of holly, and burned them.

Burning solstice wreath

Thomas and Ulli got me a Spätzleblech for my birthday, which is a kind of metal grate which goes on top of a pot, which allows you to easy push the dumpling dough into the boiling water. We promptly put it to use for a different purpose, which was to douse a sugar cone in rum and light it on fire, allowing the caramelized, boozy sugar to drip into the pot of red wine. In German, this is called a Feuerzangenbowle. It was fun and delicious.

Feuerzangenbowle

The birthday celebration continued on Sunday. We still had a whole second bag of kale, so we decided to cook it as well. This time we decided to make it without potatoes. It went really well with the rest of dinner – sour roast beef, potato dumplings, red cabbage, and kale. I didn’t used to be a big fan of kale, but I really like the German way of cooking it, which makes it less bitter. You need to make sure to sauté it with some onions until it becomes bright green, and then continue to cook it with some broth for at least 30 minutes. I like a little bit of white wine in it, along with some mustard, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. After it has cooked for quite some time it actually develops a bit of a sweet flavor. Most German recipes also call for bacon and sausage, but I made it vegetarian so that Meg could eat it as well. Other tips for good kale is to only pick it after the first frost. Clare bought it at the local farm stand, so it was hyper-local and fresh.

Lebkuchenhaus

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Alice is crazy about Christmas, reading books, watching movies, decorating the tree, and keeping us all in bright spirits during the dark days of December. She also really wanted to try making a gingerbread house again this year. Last year we made one, and I messed it up while trying to put it together, though Clare saved it from total catastrophe. This year we invited Alice’s friend Jana over to join in on the fun. Once again, when it came time to actually start constructing the house, I failed. But fortunately we had some extra dough, and had a second chance. Clare read on the interwebs about using canned goods to help prop up the gingerbread pieces while the frosting sets up, and that seemed to be the magical trick to keep everything from falling apart. Clare keeps saying that I did all the work while she only came in for 20 minutes, but it was a very important 20 minutes. All in all, a team effort.

We mostly followed the recipe from Alice’s favorite cookbook for girls that Grandma Fran bought her several years ago, other than the spices. It called for 2 tablespoons of ginger, and nothing else. We decided to do just 1 tablespoon of ginger, and also 1 tablespoon of Lebkuchengewürz, which is a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and anise.

St. Nicholas

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We put out our shoes on the eve of the 5th, and sure enough, they were filled with goodies on the morning of the 6th, including some tasty candies, a holly tree, a glass Christmas tree, and a Feuerzangenbowle set. We spent most of the weekend baking Christmas cookies. We made our favorites – peppernuts, spritz cookies, sugar cookies, and chocolate mint delights. We put together a number of cookie plates, and shared them with neighbors and friends. The Germans really seem to like the “green cookies”. Spencer’s favorite are the chocolate mint delights, which seem to be the least favorite among the Germans.

Happy Thanksgiving 2021

Ready to eat

We had an international Thanksgiving celebration today with 4 Americans, 1 Belgian, 1 Italian, 1 Austrian, and 1 Liechtensteiner, in Würselen, Germany. We all had a great time, and much tasty food was consumed. We made turkey, gravy, bread dumplings, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry relish, and pumpkin and apple pie. Thomas and Ulli brought mini quiches, red cabbage, and apple streusel. Lorenza and Jeroen brought an endive salad and a tasty cauliflower and caper dish, plus some Italian wine. Spencer and Meg both helped quite a bit with cleaning and cooking. It was really nice to celebrate. With COVID numbers rising as they are, it seems likely we will be going back into lockdown soon.

Happy Halloween 2021

Finished jack-o-lanterns

Alice had a halloween party with 5 of her friends; she dressed up as a skeleton doll from the movie Coco. Spencer dressed up as Maverick from Top Gun; the leather jacket is my grandfather’s, Robert Goold. Robert “Bud” Goold Jr. kept it until his death a few years ago, and we inherited it this summer.

This was the first time I had gone out trick-or-treating in Germany. Halloween is not a traditional German holiday, but has been gaining popularity over the last 20 years or so. It seems to very hit and miss whether or not people celebrate it here. We went trick-or-treating in a nearby neighborhood with lots of kids, which is known to have lots of houses which hand out candy. Unlike in the USA, halloween in Germany only focuses on spooky stuff – no princesses or superheroes here really – only ghosts and goblins. One thing I noticed while trick or treating – most of the dads out with their kids had beer – a very nice improvement.

One more golf game

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Spencer, Grandpa Dibble, and I woke up early today to play one last round of golf before flying back to Germany. Spencer went with grandpa several times, but I was too busy with packing up the house, so I only made it today. We had great weather, and all had a great time. The highlight was probably Spencer’s 250 yard drive. Thanks for taking us Dave!

Felty group photos

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It wouldn’t be a visit without capturing a group picture. We tried a couple different spots around grandma and grandpa’s new condominium. Still not certain what the best option is. I finally had to replace the batteries in my remote control after 12 years or so. That little remote was a great buy! Which picture is your favorite?

It was really great to get together. We have really missed the Feltys. Hopefully it won’t be two long years again before we see them. In the meantime, we are thankful for the modern technology of video chat.

Happy Mother’s Day

Enjoying ice cream by a fountain

It seems like Meg gets more excited about Mother’s Day each year. With the Corona pandemic, the kids have only been going to school every other day, and most activities are still cancelled, so Meg had extra time to work on gifts for Clare. She made a variety of different cards and paintings and such. I really like the pop-up style of cards she has been doing lately. They are really fun and creative.

One new idea Meg had this year was to make a room service menu. There are so many stories and movies in which kids make breakfast-in-bed for mom on Mother’s Day. The thing is, Clare doesn’t really like to eat breakfast in bed (and I agree). So instead, we just had breakfast at the table, but made it a bit special, and we let Clare decide ahead of time what she wanted. She decided on omelettes. I made the omelettes, while Meg made a fresh fruit salad.

After breakfast, we migrated upstairs to give Clare all of her presents.

Even though the weather in the week leading up to Mother’s Day was mostly wet and dreary, Mother’s Day itself turned out to be beautiful – almost too warm in fact, at about 26C (79F). We decided to take a bike ride to the park we recently discovered in Bardenberg. They have a nice table tennis table and basketball court, a large field great for picnics, and a sort of rope swing from a tree which Meg really likes. Spencer surpassed Rob at soccer and running a couple years ago already, but Rob frequently can still win at table tennis. It seems unlikely that will be the case for too much longer.

We also finally got to try out the new ice cream place – Delzepich. They have had a store in Aachen for a number of years, and are quite famous, but only recently opened a store in Würselen. They make the ice cream fresh every day, and when they run out, they close. They sell out nearly every day, and there is almost always a line. The lines are a lot longer at all places right now because of Corona, and you are not allowed to eat the ice cream within 50 meters of the establishment. Basically, they don’t want crowds of people without masks on, and you have to take off your mask to eat. No problem, we found a bench by a peaceful little pond full of turtles and fish. The ice cream was quite good, although I think that I might like Peppone better, and the line is usually shorter. Clare happened to have a gift certificate from as part of her going away present from her work colleagues, so the ice cream was already paid for (and we still have some money left, so we will be forced to go back 🙂 )

Happy Easter

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This was our second Easter during the global pandemic. In 2020, our trip to the United States was cancelled. In 2021, our stay at a vacation rental in the nearby Eifel national park was also cancelled. Nevertheless, we tried to make the best of our staycation. We had some tasty food like hard-boiled eggs, chocolate candies, and a lamb cake, which reminded me of a pound cake, but in the shape of a lamb.

We had hoped to do a bunch of hiking, but it turns out the weather was pretty bad most of the week too, alternating between snow, sleet, hail, rain, and graupel. Meg organized a board game marathon. We played a number of rounds of Settlers of Catan, The Game of Life, Azul, King Domino, Skyjo, Hell, Set, Uno, and Monopoly Deal. I think Meg won the tournament overall. There was one game of Hell where I won in 2 rounds. We all seem to have different games that we excel at, which is fun. At some point during the week Meg and Spencer invented Supersiedler, in which they played Settlers of Catan just the two of them, but they used all four colors, so each person played with both colors, and they played up to twenty points. Also a good variation.

  • Easter card front
  • Easter card poem
  • Easter card back

Meg also made an Easter card, which you can see above. She wrote the poem herself.

The easter bunny
 he is so funny
 he likes to hop
 and do the pop
 the kids find his eggs
 and they run with their legs
 he eats carrots
 just like parrots

Good Friday = Hot cross buns

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One of the great traditions I learned from my mom is hot cross buns. I have taken the tradition from her and been making them with the kids for several years now. As a kid I remembered having them for Easter, and at some times during Lent as well, even though one should technically be fasting. The last couple years I had been waiting until Easter to have them, but I learned last year that I had been doing it wrong – they should actually be made and eaten on Good Friday, so that is what I did this year.

Meg and I had lots of fun making them. Spencer helped out with the frosting part. I also decided to put the recipe on the website too, in case you want to try it at your house. They came out particularly good this year.

In addition to hot cross buns, we also made cream cheese mold cookies. I am actually not sure what they are called. My mom made them with Meg a couple years ago when we were visiting them in Michigan, and Meg thought they were super cool. My mom gave us a couple of her candy molds so we could make them ourselves. Clare tried to make them with Meg once last year, but they ran out of powdered sugar and gave up. We also used up so much powdered sugar that we had to ask a friend for some more for the hot cross bun icing.

Cream cheese mint delights
Cream cheese mint delights

We made green mint trees, lemon yellow stars, orange sunflowers, and red almond roses ( and also some yellow roses, because the stars didn’t come out very well). I remember my mom making these for church events when I was young, but I don’t really remember helping. After some trial and error with the consistency, I realized that I needed to take the mention of “play-dough” in the recipe seriously. The dough needs to be quite stiff in order for it not to stick in the molds.

In addition to tasty treats, we also have been enjoying all the magnolia trees in bloom. Clare and I took a long walk today while the sun was peaking out and snapped a few pictures.