Monday, August 30, 2010

A Day at the Zoo!

I love lists. I love charts. I love calendars. I love anything where I get to "tick-off" days, times, or things that have been completed. It's a fulfilling feeling, and it's fun for me... weird, I know.

Last week, Finn completed his "stay dry chart." I created charts for both boys where they would work on different things and earn check marks each day they completed their "daily goal" for the chart. Finn's chart was regarding him no longer wetting his pants. He is completely potty trained, but he gets distracted. He knows he has to pee, but then doesn't want to stop playing, so he lets it go till it's too late. However, with this "stay dry" chart I have successfully trained him to pay attention to his body and let someone know if he has to pee if he can't find a bathroom himself. He had to do it for two weeks solid not counting the weekends (though he stayed dry for those too), and I really feel like the problem has been solved. Every kid has some accidents, but as long it's not a lot, it's understandable. This was all the time, and now... it's not.

Anyway, for "staying dry" Finni chose to earn a trip to the zoo in the end. The day after his time was completed, I geared up Phineas, Nicolas, and their friend Finn (another one) to head to the zoo in Koln. The zoo in Koln was actually REALLY nice and quite big! We got there around 12:30pm and spent a little over 5 hours there. The boys hadn't been there in FOREVER, so they were really excited. We saw bears, flamingos, water hogs, hippos, elephants (my favorite, and there were a TON of them -even a baby!), penguins, fish, frogs, crocodiles, zebras, tapirs, gazelles, and tons of birds... and more! We got brawts in the park and ice cream, and I packed apples and carrots - I felt in SUCH mom-mode right then. It was perfect...

Plus, true to European style, there was a HUGE and amazingly structured playground area near the back of the zoo. The park had room to run around and places with shade and sun depending on what you wanted. There were giant slides, bridges, and even an old train engine... it was cool. Places for parents to sit down were where they could still see their kids. It was great cause we had seen most things, then they had a break to just play and chill for an hour and a half, right next to the elephants... So, I got to watch the animals and the boys while calling my mom. It was a nice break in the day and just fun.

The train rides were long and the day at the zoo was long, but the boys were great nearly the whole time. When they started to show signs of tiredness that's when we loaded back onto the bahn for an hour ride back home. I let the boys fall asleep - well, the two Finns... Nico hardly ever takes naps anymore. I played "Rock, Paper, Scissors" with Nico for about 1/2 an hour, but it quickly turned to a creative version where someone would say, "It's dynamite. You explode!" or, "It's a dinosaur coming to eat you. What's yours?" (That was Nico.) My reply was, "It's the comet striking to planet to make the dinosaurs extinct." Haha! My favorite:

"Mine is a tree, falling down on you!" - Nico
"Mine is a traffic light... I don't know why." - Me
"Well, your's isn't really alive... so it can't die. You win." - Nico
"Wow... I would've given that to you..." - Me

Haha! I love these boys!

Song of the Day: Here's the newest song recommendation... I found it on a new show I'm obsessed with - White Collar. Um, SO good! Haha... I really like that crime-fighting and CIA or FBI stuff though. See if you dig it... For now, just dig on this song from one of the episodes - Shane Alexander's, "Feels Like The End." Enjoy!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Paddle Boats & Bugs

These past few weeks I have had the boys full-time, meaning I was up by 8am and had them till almost 8pm. Some days I was able to drop them at Koko's at 5:30pm, but it still made for some long hours. Don't get me wrong, I had fun, but I was exhausted by the end of each day. Kids take a lot out of you when you're a teacher, but they go home... I live with these ones. Haha! Luckily, I love them to death, so it's okay with me that they're always around and wanting so show me a "cool trick," or tell a new story. Plus, they have learned my "rules" by now - I do not do whining, no hurting one another, tell the truth, and... always give me a good-morning kiss. Others have formed over time, but those are the basics I began with and built upon.

Anyway, one of the fun things I did with them LAST week was taking them to the Rheinaue and getting in the paddle boats. If you don't know what they are recall the movie Ten Things I Hate About You and think about Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger's date after paint-ballooning. They got into paddle boats and used their feet to paddle across the water while sitting in these little boats. If you have never seen the movie mentioned above, simply look to your left. There you go.

I took the boys for an hour ride out onto the lakes surrounding the Rhine (only 10E), and they LOVED it! I also LOVED it! Haha... I sat there thinking, how have I not done this sooner? I plan to do it a few more times before I leave... Imagine riding through the park lake during the Fall - ser schon! Our favorite part of this ride would have to be the ducks though... Haha! They were LOVING on our boat, and we were loving on them back... It was a good ten minute relationship.

Something that I have been involved with that does not involve the boys is young adult FHE (Family Home Evening) with the missionaries and members of our ward. We always have a little spiritual thought, time to chat, snacks, and a game or two. It's great! This past week we had FHE at a young couple's home, the Curth's. We were all sitting about playing a game called Bluff (really fun, by the way!) and one of the Elder's says, "Ew! What's that?" as he points to a giant beetle under the couch. After he picked it up and we freaked out a bit over the grossness, they saw ANOTHER one! That's when we knew... it was a joke. The beetles looked crystallized... and then one of the Elders popped it into his mouth. Um - YUCK! Even though we knew it was a hoax, we still had to freak out JUST a little bit.

Then, THIS happened:

If you needed a closer look - here is an up-close shot:

Yea. I ate that bug. A BIG beetle bug. There were three of them, and after the Elders had their turns, I was the one who gave in and said, "Why not try it out?" Just as the video stated, it tastes just like bacon, which is pretty good... for a moment. Then, it's turns to a woody taste... which is NOT so good, at any moment. Haha! I swallowed it all except for half of the head. I could quite get past the pincers.

Song of the Day: So, for those who don't know I am actually a HUGE fan of Indian music, food, clothes, film, dance... all of it! Haha... I'm not talking Native American "Indian," either, but that from India. I really, really would love to go there someday - REALLY. I think it would be awesome! Thus, when my favorite from last sesason of So You Think You Can Dance (Kent Boyd) did a Bollywood dance, I grabbed at the song and downloaded it right away. Here is that dance video to the song Om Mangalam, by Kambakkht Ishq. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Always Time for Friends!

Remember the time my friend, Melissa, came to visit me in Bonn, Germany? Yea, it was pretty awesome. Haha! She was in Berlin for the week before and then caught a train down to Bonn on that week's Friday morning. I met her at the hauptbahnhof in Bonn and after taking a few moments to find each other, we headed back to the house, dropped our stuff, and then headed out via bike to see Bad Godesburg and Bonn.

First, I rode her the back way to show her some of the local neighborhoods and areas I have to ride everyday. We headed up towards Badgodesburg to walk through the area, get some lunch, and see the Castle. We stopped a little Donner joint for lunch and Melissa was like, "What is that?" about the meat hanging from the ceiling spit. Haha! It does look pretty sick at first, but it tastes good - promise. Haha! We grabbed donners and went to eat on the steps below the castle in the city before hiking up to the Badgodesberg castle.

I had never been up there before, even though it's RIGHT near my house, so it was cool to see the view from the top of the castle. You can virtually see the whole surrounding area, which is beautiful. We stayed up at the top of castle and chatted for a good while about our jobs and where lives are at now. It was so great because even though we haven't seen each other in over two years, there was an instant reconnection and it was SO good to visit with her. We stand the same on a lot of things and both are growing into accomplished individuals in different ways... It's cool to see the changes in both of us and how I feel as though I connect with her even better now with age. We're the same people, but different... you know what I mean. It's great that we have both grown in positive ways - good to see.
After we climbed down from the castle, we got back on our bikes and headed to Bonn. We biked along the Rhine - BEAUTIFUL! Haha... We stopped off at the Japanese Gardens, too, which was fabulous. I love that place! We walked around Bonn seeing how it's set up and just talking about culture here. We didn't have locks for our bikes, so we found a little ice cream shop that we could park our bikes by and eat our ice cream outside. Now, ice cream here that is made into fancy Sundaes has alcohol in it... yea. Luckily, I told Melissa this first and then when I forgot to order without she reminded me in time to save our Sundaes. Haha... We sat outside in the beautiful summer dusk, eating ice cream and chatted for about two and half hours before making our way home. It was just so nice - we chat like we've never been apart and are even closer in a lot of conversation than before. I wrote it above too, and it's true.

We came back, watched some of Bachlor Pad (Yep. Don't hate.), and then headed to bed to get some sleep before a beautiful and very interesting Saturday.

Saturday we got up and had a nice breakfast with the family before heading over to the main park by the Rhineaue for the MASSIVE flea market they have one Saturday each month. It's always cool to walk through and see the old crap, and new crap that people try and sell or pawn off. There is actually some really nice jewelry stands and such set up there, but past the few feet of legit stands, it turns into peoples old "treasures."

Melissa and I even gave in. We bought some old German lady's wooden elephant sets (they were elephants - I had to get them for my collections.. yes, I collect elephants), and Melissa found an old, authentic (we think) pistol from England. I'm not a gun fan, but it was a quite a classic beauty.

We packed up our "treasure" and biked over to the boating dock for a ride up to Linz, Germany. I've been to Linz before, but it was cool to take Melissa and show her around there. It's such a CLASSIC, old-school German town - touristy, but not overly so - and it's the perfect place to catch a little culture and downtown from the bigger cities. I plan on taking my parents when they come in November. It'll be quite a bit colder, so we'll have to see about the boat ride, but we can dream that it'll warm up for a few days... right? Right? Haha... We even found an American flag on the way up the Rhine - coincidence? I think... yes.

We walked thorugh the little city, got lunch and ice cream, Melissa did a bit of shopping there, and then we got on bikes and ventured toward home. I have biked home from Linz before (about 14 miles), and it was no big deal. I'm even in better shape now than I was before. However, this experience was different. We decided to bike down the same side as Linz, and not ferry across the river and ride back on the Bonn side of the Rhine. We were told the trail we were taking was a bit more difficult, but this was beyond what we'd planned for. It started out more hilly than the other side, and thus, naturally we took a bit longer. We even stopped to take a fun picture at the Remagen Bridge and I told her the stories of WWII, and how it was involved. Then, we found ourselves riding through some random little towns and trying to make sure we were following the biking signs... It was all pretty poorly marked and confusing, but we were doing alright... until a few miles down the road...

We ended up somehow going down a random back path that turned into a mini-jungle of German plants. You may think that's nothing, but then you have never heard of Stinging Nettle. What is sitning nettle, you ask? Yea, I asked the same thing the first time I touched some... So, for those who were like me, here is what it is:

"The stinging nettle is a herbaceous flowering plant found in Europe, Asia, Northern Africa, and North America. The leaves and stems are covered with brittle, hollow, silky hairs that contain three chemicals, a histamine that irritates skin, acetylcholine which causes a burning feeling, and serotonin. When brushing up against the plant with any bare skin, either the legs, or the arms, will result in a rash similiar to poison ivy." (Picture wanted?)

The rash has never happened to me, and we ended up in FIELDS of this stuff, but perhaps it turns that way for some. Thank goodness I knew what it was an TRIED to avoid it. However, it was like going through the Burning Bush. Yea. We started by feeling it just a little bit, but as we were in shirts and t-shirt... We ran into more and more of it, biking into it a lot, and ended up with some severe sting-age. Not cool.

After our hour riding through the burning bush and blazing sun, we found ourselves in Bruhl and running late for the YSA BBQ at our house. We caught a train back to Deutsche Telekom, right by my home here, and rode quickly on our bikes back to our house to get things for the BBQ ready. People were already there, but they were understanding when we explained about the stinging nettle... let's be honest. They mostly just laughed at us. We ran upstairs to change and came down for the BBQ and to finally just take it chill for the day. It really was a fabulous day, but we were both exhausted by the end and hit the sack after watching the rest of the Bachelor Pad episode.

Sunday was a good step for me... It was the first time I sang in church here (I have missed it SO much!), and I did it in German! I sang with Luise and the missionaries, and it sounded pretty good. We sang "Komm du quelle, judes sagens," OR "Come Thou Fount." We did the first and last verse in English and the second verse (the one MoTab does that's not normally sung) in English. We blended well, sang with the spirit, and others were touched - that's what matters. So good...

After church, Melissa and I ventured home, ate lunch, took a walk and talk in the park (again, SO good - she just gets me!), took some hardcore naps, and then got up when Luise came over that evening. The evening was mostly Melissa packing and us making her music mixes from my ITunes, chatting more, and eating choclate. Classic. Haha! She had to catch a train at 12:30am that night/next morning, so I took her and dropped her at the station to see her off and make sure she got on the right train. German trains are easy enough if you understand some German, but if you know NO German, it can be really tricky with no one to help you. I know form experience. Haha!

It was sad to say good-bye! I wish we had more time, but it was SO nice (and needed) to see a familiar face and rekindle a friendship that had dwindled a bit in the past two years. She really is an amazing person - I feel such strength from her. It's quite amazing, really.
My final thought - more of my friends should probably come and visit me while they have a free place to stay and free tour guide. Serious. Less than four months left, guys!
Song of the Day: I came across this jam recently while filling out my "twice a month music surveys" from a UT radio station. Haha! I know I'm not there right now, but it keeps me up to date on new music. So, here is Auburn (Feat. Iyaz) with La La La. It's gotta the ATB beat from the past in there - you know what I'm talkin' 'bout. Enjoy!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mariazell: Austria, Part II

So, the second half of my Austria trip was full of its ups and downs - ups being being on top of the Alps and taking AMAZING pictures, and downs being cracking a tooth in the pool. Haha! I'm going to proceed to give the reader's digest version of the trip because, truth be told, I don't wish to write out everything and there is not a TON to tell.

The day that I returned to Mariazell, it was the day after the Oma's (Patrick's mom) birthday and one of the Uncle's had a birthday the next day. So, we did a huge celebration with a slide show (that made me really realize how in the 21st Century our generation is a part of), cake, gifts, skits, and visiting time. It was nice, but I felt a bit awkward because I couldn't really contribute much to the event. In fact, as great of a time I had it was a bit awkward at moments because I was an outsider. No matter how you spin it, I am not a Merl - I'm a Struiksma. So, it was just different.

Anyway, the next day was nothing exciting... So, I'm gonna browse over it.

Friday, it was raining like cats and dogs in the mountains, and even when it let up it was prone to random sprinkling and constant cloud-cover... I would make a great weather-girl, huh? Perhaps I'll just shoot for that upon my arrival back n the USA. Haha! Since the weather was not ideal, we headed into downtown Mariazell to do some sight-seeing by walking down the streets and going into the HUGE Catholic cathedral on the hill - a retreat center for youth groups, etc. all the time. There was even a group of older, teen boys that checked in to our family center the day before we left for a retreat.

The Cathedral was really cool! It contained a bunch of old "thank you posters" in the upper wings. "Thank you posters" were people writing down bad things that had happened to them or their family, and how the mother Mary had saved them. It was kind of amazing to see that faith beyond these old Catholic pilgrims, and in SUCH a beautiful building. We also were there for part of a funeral randomly, and it was a great reminder for me of the things I believe. I am so grateful that I know I have a Father in Heaven who lives and loves me, and that I will be with Him and my family again someday. I know that. I know that, and it's a blessing to have that faith have turned to a knowledge for me. I grateful.

The following day the family split and some headed to the Gingerbread house and some to the Alpine Slide. I chose to head with those that hit up the Alpine Slide. What is the Alpine Slide you ask...? Um... see the picture to the side and just know I went down the entire mountain side, steepness and all, on that little "monster bike" scooter. Yea. CRAZY! Haha... I had a helmet, and no padding and just WENT... I could have died... but I didn't. Thus, I am here to type about it. Haha!

Before the Alpine Roller-biking, we actually took a lift up toward the peak of the mountain and overlooked the Alps... OH MY WORD. It was GORGEOUS! I was so amazed by the beauty before me. I know it sounds cheesy, but it was amazing... Everything was SO huge and SO green.... and so vast before us. The mountains just kept going and going. The pictures I have below do not do it justice.

I also went swimming a TON with the boys and cousins while I was there, including that Saturday night. The kids LOVED taking pictures on my under-water camera, and I must admit - it's pretty bomb. Haha! I'm SO glad I went with the camera I bought! However, that evening something ELSE went down... Guesses as to what happened?

Yep. I had a giant, hard-plastic crab chucked at me by one of the cousins (on accident of course - the girl felt awful) and it split my lip around and chipped my tooth. I have to get the number for a dentist now that I'm back in Bonn and my lip is healed, so that I can get it fixed. Boo... a crumby way to end, but overall... Meine ferientag war ser schon!

Next entry - Melissa's visit to Bonn!!!

Song of the Day: Here's a new jam and artist I am lovin' on... Just The Way You Are, by Bruno Mars. He's got a great voice and style... I love it! Enjoy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vienna Waits For You! : Austria, Part I

"I'm going to Austria. I've been there before, but this time I'll be in the Austrian Alps and it should be pretty cool, I guess..." - Me
"Linze. Can you believe that you can just say that?" - Sarah

I guess it's official. I'm a travel snob. Sorry.

Along with taking care of two of the most adorable children on the planet, I also get taken on pretty awesome trips sometimes. Usually while the family travels, I have been known to venture around Europe by myself. However, this last time there was vacationing time I chose to go with the family to the Austrian Alps for a week! Other than a WAY too long car ride (I've become spoiled, because I travel that much in a car all the time in the states -but I'm not use to car rides anymore...), it was a pretty classic trip. I even was lucky enough to hop over to Vienna for two days - which was FABULOUS! I really love the beauty and solidarity you feel in the countryside, but I'm a complete city-girl at heart.

So, where to start? Well, the first day we were in Austria we decided to do a hike around the lake and take in the basic beauty around us in the small (mostly touristy only to Austrians) of Mariazell. My word, it was SO lovely there. Yep, I said lovely. It was quaint and calm, and just pure beauty. Walking through the lake's back trail, the smells were like that on the Soarin' Over California ride in Disneyland. I'm not kidding... You know what I'm talking about. On that ride they spray the scents of citrus and pine - and that was the smell in Mariazell's forests. I wish I could have captured it with a camera - haha! I did, however, capture the LOOK of things with my camera, if not the smells.

After the hike we laid out on the beach for a bit and soaked in a few rays before heading back to the place we were staying for dinner and visiting time. While this was going on, I packed for Vienna!

I left on Monday morning on a real cool, old train and rode through the Alps (a trip that should take 45 mins, but takes about two hours on these old trains) toward Vienna. It was beautiful, and though I often fall asleep on the trains here, I just couldn't cause I was drinking in the sights around me. I got into Vienna late in the morning and headed to Koko and Patrick's old apartment in the city. Now, their nephews live there and they allowed me to crash on their couch to save me some money and time with looking for a place to stay. It was really nice of them AND there is SO much history in this apartment... all the way back to WWII, which I didn't know at the time. I'll get to that later.

I dropped my stuff off at the apartment and headed into the city to start seeing the sights and walking the streets. I started right in the center of the city with St. Stephen's Cathedral and then ventured out from there, walking around and gettting a bit lost until later in the afternoon when I FINALLY stopped in the Rathaus (City Hall) for a map. I should have done it in the beginning, but I had basic notes from Patrick and Koko and they told me where the tube stops for things were... So, I just followed the tube stop to St. Stephen's and then walked from there to other places. The city is a pretty close together one, so it was simple enough to walk a lot and I think people see more doing that. I mean, there are so many RANDOM pictures I have in cities from just wondering around. I mean, you don't wanna go into the shady places, but one can carefully wander and keep themselves safe and seeing quite a a bit.

On the first day I saw St Stephen's, the Anchor Clock, Parliment, the Hofburg Gardens and outside of the palace (I never went inside because time was short and I chose to focus on other things), the Rathaus, University Bldgs., and a lot of downtown Vienna. I also took a ride on the #1 around the city. The city is set up like a giant ring, with areas inside and surrounding the ring of trains that run AROUND the city. The U-bahn and buses run through the city, but the some of trains along the ring are old school and really cool.

Vienna is SUCH a cute city - yep, a cute city. It has a lot to offer and you feel safe and secure walking the streets there. I was never worried I was going to get jumped or pick-pocketed. I was still smart, as one should always be in ANY city around the world, but I could wander without worry - which was nice.

That night I stayed in with Perry and Christian - Patrick's nephews - and some of their friends to watch my first movie in German - Runaway Jury. Luckily I had seen it before and was able to use my knowledge of the film from before to follow where my language gaps were. However, I was surprised with how much I generally understood. That's good, right!?

The second day I spent the entire morning at the Schonn Brunn Palace. I have been to quite a few palaces in my day (I know, that sounds snobby again... hm.), but this one had SUCH an impressive garden. The palace it's self was cool, but only okay. The one in Salzburg is MUCH more beautiful and interesting in my opinion. However, I had a great time! It was fun to walk around and see everything the palace, grounds, overlook & viewpoint, and maze had to offer. Oh yea, there was a maze yard! Haha... There was an adult maze and a kids one, and a game one. Yea, a game one! Haha... The game one was super fun because there was all these random water games you would stumble across, AND there was a tanzen glockenspiele (Dancing Bells)! It's basically like one of those giant foot keyboards... and I took a video of me dancing on it! Haha...
Here's testing who actually reads this blog - which block did I NOT step on?

The last thing I did at the palace was hit up the bakery for the "Apple Strudel Show!"
Haha... When in Austria... It was just a cheesy little demonstration about how to make Austrian strudel and eat some (YUM), but it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed myself and then headed back into town right after to grab some lunch and chill around the city.

I hit up the Nachmarkt - a giant street market with clothing and food products - and it was really cool to see.
However, the more and more I travel around to different countries the more I see the little differences in each place, and the similarities. Every country has those markets, but each one is slightly different. It's different in how the sellers approach buyers and how the products are displayed. However, the content is mostly the same, as are the ideas and methods used for bargaining. There are only slight differences in each city Market... but enough that I'm SURE someone could write a dissertation about it - if it hasn't been done already.

I bought an eighth of a giant watermelon and ate that in the park for lunch - Es war ser schön! Really. I headed from this little park over to Carl's Church, oder Karlsplatz. It's another old church, but it was fantastic. I love churches with old art on the walls, and beautiful carvings. I loved how the receipts said, "Thank You for your generous donation!" too, when they MAKE you pay to enter. Haha... I just think it's funny. I would perfer no sugar coating. For example, "Thank You for not sneaking in!" That would be much more delightful.

After visiting good ol' Carl's I headed off to the apartment to take a little nap and do some scripture reading - which I have really been getting into and doing great with! - before I headed back to the Rathaus for the evening's event. What was the event, you ask? Three animated opera shown on the giant projection screen to hundreds of people. The operas were The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, and Carmen. With each piece, the animation and voices got better and better... it started out cheesy, but ended with cool animation and presentation. It was just a lot of fun and made me want to bust into opera again. Haha! PLUS, I had a lovely dinner view in front of the Rathaus - they had TONS of restaurant vendors there set up around the Rathaus, and I found decent Mexican food there!!! Be still my heart... decent Mexican food in Europe? Love it.

After the operas were through, I headed to the apartment to watch The Grown-Ups (The new Adam Sandler movie) with Perry and Christian. It was pretty hilarious and not too inappropriate or anything... It was a good one-time see at least! :)

The next morning I boarded a train and headed back to Marazell - riding the same beautiful way I came through awesome countryside. It seriosuly reminds me of Pennsylvania and Wyoming mixed in Austria. They have the hilly farmlands and then the massive mountains with gorgeous pine trees... but they're greener! I have AMAZING pictures of the Alps, but I'll have those for the next post. For now... I gotta be out and gettin' my sleep on. This week is putting me in FULL care of the boys all day because school is out for another week and a half. So, I get the little tykes full days - which has actually been a BLAST! I'll be sure to write a blog about our adventures this week... It's been a great one!

Austrian Alps - Austria, Part II... Coming Soon to a Blog Near YOU!

Song of the Day: This is a fabulous choice that I discovered on Koko and Patrick's IPod along the Austrian roads. Black Devil Car, by Jamiroquai = BLISS for a long road trip! :) Enjoy!