Saturday, December 23, 2017


This Christmas we ended up hosting three parties - yes, I planned it that way!  My philosophy is if you decide to do one, you might as well do more!  Once the house is decorated and cleaned you really don't have to do much more for the other parties.

We wanted to play a different game - no, we didn't throw out Dirty Santa.  We played this one in addition to it.  We always like to warm people up with a few fast games, before Dirty Santa comes into play and some people turn crazy!

I found this game on Pinterest and we just added to it.  I supplied 20 dollar store-type gifts, wrapped. (With the first party we actually only played this game with $5 generic gifts they brought) With the Roll the Dice game, after playing it with two groups of 20 people, we found both times as we went round the circle taking turns rolling the dice to see whether you would pass the gift right or left, or open, etc. there seemed to be one number you either got stuck on, or hardly ever rolled.  So after two rounds, we would declare the next person to roll a ________, whatever had not been rolled much, would be the end of the game.

The TWIST we added after the end and let everyone open, if it wasn't already, was this:  We gave the "Christmas is about giving" speech.  We told everyone they just thought the gift they just opened was theirs.  Now, we will go around the circle and give your gift to someone you think would like it.  We went one at a time, so everyone could see what the mysterious gifts were they had been feeling as they went around the circle.  It was fun and added another dimension to the game.  Some men who got kitchen-y gifts were giving theirs to the ladies and the ladies who ended up with a beef jerky stick gladly gave to a man.  :)  There were a few toys in there for the one pre-teen and he raked in several gifts as a result.  The few who didn't get one were okay with it, you see, they didn't have their gift very long anyway.  For the first party where they supplied the $5 gifts, we did say to look around the circle to see who didn't have a gift yet so everyone did take a gift home.

Hope I explained it well!  It was kind of hard to take pictures while keeping the game going!


Tuesday, December 19, 2017


So I guess any day on vacation in Europe is better than a work day at home, RIGHT?  

So the truth...Salzburg was...not our favorite.  By the time we left we were enjoying it, but we just didn't get the best vibes from the people there.  Couldn't find a simple map of the town in English.  So yeah, we wandered around a lot. I had been there and done the Sound of Music tour back in the 80's, so that was out.  The Hubs wasn't interested in doing it.  Maybe, just maybe, we needed a day of rest at this point in our trip...YES, I think so.

We did eventually get our bearings and enjoyed these things:

The Salzburg Fortress sits high above the city, and has been added onto throughout the centuries.  It has an amazing history!  We took the funicular ride up there and toured it - there were several museums housed in the fortress and it had great views of the city.  One of the museums was a marionette museum that was interesting.  Another thing I loved was ice skating in Mozartplatz!  It was just me and little kids; The Hubs decided to be the photographer for this outing. The atmosphere was magical with Christmas music playing and then the church bells ringing in the background!  We also found a great traditional Austrian restaurant within a block of our hotel and we ate there two nights in a row.  It was called Zum Fidelen which translates to the Lucky Monkey.

We took a day trip to Berchtesgaden.  We toured a salt mine and it was really interesting and fun!  The fun thing about it was that you get to ride through a lot of the parts of the cave.  We also slid down two slides to lower levels of the cave.  They projected images onto the walls to show how the salt was mined.  No pictures were allowed so we did buy the slide picture!  After lunch we went to Lake Konigsee outside of Berchtesgaden.  They have a boat ride that has several interesting views - Hitler's summer home and other things - and then a stop at a little church where you can eat in the restaurant or just walk around until the next boat comes.  It was a fun day but we had to switch a lot of buses to do it, and I think that stressed The Hubs out. The last morning we were there we hiked a trail up Kapuzinerberg Mountain for a great view of the Fortress, then came back down and found a delightful coffee shop, and ended our time there with a bit of the SternAdvent Christmas Market that was opening that day!

Window shopping in Old Town Salzburg - lots of fancy stores

Ice skating in Mozartplatz - the polar bear has handles on it for children

Looking up at the Fortress
Marionette museum in the Fortress

Zum Fidelen

Berchtesgaden - picture spot outside the salt mine

One of the slides we went down in the mine

St. Bart's church on Lake Konigsee

Clear water at Berchtesgaden
While on the boat ride they demonstrated Echo Mountain with a bugle player

The Fortress
Hiking up Kapuzinerberg to see the Fortress

My first roasted chestnuts

Stern Advent Christmas Market

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


I was nervous about visiting Budapest, Hungary.  I had read some things on TripAdvisor that were negative and then friends we asked gave us mixed reviews.  I knew the language would be even harder than German to decipher and that we would need to get yet another currency and figure that out.  BUT I knew they had a Christmas Market opening in mid-November and that it was only 2.5 hours from Vienna.  So we went for it!

All our expectations were exceeded in a good way!  It really was the favorite place we visited on our whole trip (5 different cities)!  One reason I think we loved it was that we stayed in a luxury hotel on rewards points The Hubs racked up with his business travel.  The hotel faced the Danube River and was the best location.  We were given a corner room with a balcony and so many windows to see the gorgeous views of everything lit up at night.  We loved waking up to an amazing view and enjoyed stepping out on the balcony to try to identify all the lit up buildings.  No wonder they call this the Paris of Eastern Europe!

Another reason we loved it was the Christmas Market at Vorosmarty Square.  It was only 2 blocks from our hotel.  We actually went both nights and I stopped by once more before we left the third day.  It was filled with delicious foods, cute decorations, and hand-made things to buy.  I bought most of my souvenirs there. We also unexpectedly LOVED a church we visited - Matthias Church.  It was one of the few we had to pay for to see, but so worth it.  The main reason we did go in there was to get out of the cold wind.  :)  It has to be the most unusual of all the ones we've seen on previous trips.  Most of the inside was hand-painted.  Like, every inch was hand-painted.  Really crazy-then add to that the amazing stained glass windows!

Here's some favorite shots from our time in Budapest:
From our hotel balcony

 Funnicular ride

Fisherman's bastion - some say this inspired Walt Disney to model Sleeping Beauty's castle after it!

Another view from our hotel with the pretty church and statue

Interior of Matthias church - every square inch is covered!

Christmas market

Chain bridge - first link of the cities of Buda and Pest

We walked across Elizabeth bridge

Shoes on the Danube Memorial - we watched "Walking with the Enemy" that has a scene about this sad time in Jewish history.

I thought the subway was interesting - some were newer and some were older - this one had leather straps to hold onto which I thought was neat.

Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park


Tuesday, December 5, 2017


What do Mark Twain, Adolf Hitler, and Mozart have in common?  Vienna, Austria!  Vienna is an amazing city with some great history.  When I knew we were going to get to visit, I quickly found some reading material to give me a little background on it.  What I found out was around the turn of the century - 1900 - there were many influential people all there at the same time.  As I read about Gustav Klimt and his famous painting, "The Lady in Gold,"  I found out about the Jewish population in Vienna, their education and wealth, and how it was taken from them abruptly in the war.  I found out that Adolf Hitler went to Vienna to pursue art and was rejected and became the sad person that he turned out to be.  Mark Twain lived in Vienna after the death of his daughter.  He had writer's block and had the need to get away.  He was nicknamed "Vienna's famous guest." I learned about Emperor Franz Joseph, the workaholic, and his beautiful wife Sisi, who had a heart for the people.  Mozart lived there some of his life, about 100 years earlier.  This city's history is truly amazing!

What impressed me about the physical city was the amount of old, large, box-like buildings.  Today they sit alongside modern art and graffiti.  It's an interesting mix of old and new.  There are lots of interesting buildings and palaces and museums.  I knew that The Hubs and I like variety, and didn't want to spend all our time inside a museum.  So here's a glimpse of our three days:

 First glimpse - lots of graffiti on the walls of the canal.
The Hubs enjoyed window shopping all the watches!  Rolex is his favorite!
 Belvedere Palace and Art Museum
 One of many Klimt portraits we saw at Belvedere.
 Even though the gardens aren't in bloom, it's still lovely!
 Off the beaten path - walking the trail on Kahlenberg Mountain with St. Joseph's church behind us.
Stephansdom all lit up in the heart of Vienna!

 We went up in the bell tower of Stephansdom and got to see a close up of the amazing tile roof!

 Me at Schonbrunn Palace - the royal palace of Franz Joseph and Sisi.
Making fun of our friend's Wienerschnitzel at Landtmann's.  
 Museums Quartier lights for the Christmas Market.  It was killing me that all these decorations were going up for the Christmas Market but we would be leaving before they would actually open!
Church on Sunday

This was never on my radar as a place to go, but we loved it!  Loved learning more about Jewish history here, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, seeing some amazing things and getting more connected with the missionaries from our church!

Resources we found to learn about Vienna:  The Lady in Gold, by Anne Marie O'Connor, the movie, "Woman in Gold,"  Other older movies with ties to Vienna:  "The Third Man" and "Sissi."

Monday, November 27, 2017


We just got back from a 13 day visit to several cities in Austria, Hungary and Germany!  It was exhilarating and exhausting.  I mean, you gotta take full advantage of the time while you're there, right?  It was chilly and overcast most days.  We went as representatives of our church to visit our missionaries in Vienna and also to join them at a retreat for Americans in Europe.  We also did some travel on our own!  It was all great and any fears or negative thoughts I've had about Europe the past several years were dispelled.  We found friendly helpful people almost everywhere we went!

Going to share a few favorites and then focus on each place in future posts:

 Vienna, Austria
Belvedere Palace in Vienna

Chain Bridge in Budapest
Christmas Market in Budapest

Castle museum in Budapest

Salzburg Fortress
Christmas Market in Salzburg

Lake Konigsee near Berchtesgaden

Rothenburg ob de Tauber Town Square
 Rothenburg from the Town Hall tower
Frankfurt skyline from our hotel