Last weekend we spent much of the time celebrating the button in our family – that is, the person who holds everything to together – Clare. Meg made several projects for her, including one that was a school project, plus several she came up with on her own, or saw on youtube. While Clare was at work the kids and I went shopping a couple times in downtown Würselen to get some presents – including ordering some flowers, and some fancy Belgian pralines.
Clare requested scallops for her special meal. I went on Friday to the local fish monger, but they were out. They said they would have some on Saturday. I went back Saturday, and they still didn’t. So I got a nice salmon filet instead. Clare got some fresh asparagus from the local farm stand, and we had a nice meal. We decided to eat on Saturday instead of Sunday, because it was fresh.
On Sunday, Meg woke up around 7 o’clock to get all the surprises ready for Clare, including making french toast. I went out to get rolls from the bakery for pulled-pork for dinner. I was also going to pick up the flowers from the florist we had ordered earlier in the week. I ended up not getting rolls, as the line at the bakery was half-way down the street, and it was starting to drizzle a bit. so we ended up having our pulled pork sandwiches on english muffins instead, which was still good. Clare also bought fresh strawberries and rhubarb at the farm stand. There was just enough for 2 pies. The strawberries were so sweet that I halved the sugar. I also need to remember to thank my mother for teaching me how to make pie. We shared one of them with our friends down the street at typical “Kaffee und Kuchen” time. They provided the coffee, which is always very tasty. It was the first time we had visited anyone in nearly 2 months! (thanks Covid 🙁 )
2020 Easter is not like most others, but we managed to make it as nice as we could. In particular Meg went out of her way to try to make it as nice as possible with lots of decorations, and she even came up with some fun games for us. She hung up some candies from our loft, which we had to jump and touch, in order to get them. We also had a race trying to hold easter eggs on a spoon. Meg was the only one who didn’t drop the egg.
We also kept up some old traditions, in particular making hot cross buns. Meg helped a bunch. She has been practicing making pizza dough the last couple months, and she is getting pretty good at kneading. We are lucky that we had enough flour and yeast, which have been hard to find during the Corona-virus crisis. We also lucked out with the weather. It has been sunny and around 70 F all week long. We enjoyed our Easter dinner of ham, green beans, and potato dumplings on the balcony.
The weather in our neck of the woods has been really nice lately – sunny with highs around 70 most of the last 2 weeks. While the playgrounds and beer gardens are closed, at least we are still allowed to get exercise outside in groups of 2, or with the immediate family. We have been taking advantage of that to try to get out and enjoy the fresh air as much as we can.
Shortly after we moved to Germany we bought bikes for all of us. The one that we got for Clare turned out not to be a good fit, so she hadn’t been biking at all. Last summer I bought some extra bikes for visitors, and upgrades for the growing children. Clare agreed to try one of these extra bikes, and it has worked out quite well. With the extra time on our hands she was able to test it out without any particular destination or time pressure, and after a few test runs, was willing to try a longer ride. I had done this ride a couple times before – once with Meg, and once with the Soule-Reeves when they visited last summer. It is about 5 kilometers (3 miles) each way, mostly on bike paths.
When we got there, we had a little snack we had brought with us and Meg gave us a bit of a tour around the outside (the inside was closed because of Corona restrictions, but contains a fancy restaurant, and open-air amphitheater, and a mini-golf course). Meg had been there recently for a treasure-hunt birthday party, and showed us where the treasure was. Hopefully we will find more time soon for family bike rides.
I’ve been making this recipe long enough that I have made it my own and want to keep track of the recipe. Spencer loves these muffins with cream cheese. These have been a good treat to make during the COVID-19 isolation, until we ran out of cream cheese.
1/3 cup (75 g) melted butter
3 very ripe bananas, peeled
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla sugar packet
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C), and spray oil in a silicon muffin pan.
2 In a mixing bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Mash bananas into melted butter.
3 Stir in the sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla sugar (or extract).
4 Mix in the baking soda and salt. Sift and mix in the flour in 3 half-cup portions.
5 Pour the batter into your prepared muffin pan. Bake for 10 minutes at 350°F (175°C), or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. If you prefer it as bread, you can use a loaf pan, but then it bakes longer ~ 45 minutes.
6 Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for a few minutes. Then remove the banana muffins from the pan and let cool completely before storing, if there are any left after devouring them while still warm.
Originally inspired by this recipe: https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/banana_bread/
The last week has been anything but usual for most of the world, including at our home in Würselen, Germany. Schools have been closed since Monday, and throughout the week more and more businesses closed. Rob’s company recommended working from home as of Monday. Clare stayed home Monday, but went in Tuesday, only to find out that the entire research institute was closing as well.
Last weekend Clare put together a fantastic schedule mimicking the kids normal school day, comprised of 45 minute blocks with some 5 minute breaks, and a couple longer breaks as well. We also came up with a bunch of different types of school-related activities for the kids to do. Both of the kids were going to have assignments from their teachers, but they didn’t come immediately. I had to pick up Meg’s assignments from the school in person on Tuesday. Spencer’s assignments came via e-mail on Wednesday and Thursday. While we waited for these assignments, we thought of some ourselves, such as logic puzzles, typing lessons, and art projects. Meg came up with several projects on her own as well. Some she had already started before the Corona virus changed all of our lives, such as the small greenhouse she got for her birthday. Meg had also been pushing hard to use her whiteboard for meal planning for many weeks, which we finally implemented just a few weeks ago, once I found some magnets to hold it up on the refrigerator. After the first day home, which involved a fair amount of fighting and complaining, I also asked Meg to create a behavior chart, which she accomplished lickety-split.
One silver lining for us was the weather – it is definitely feeling like Spring here, and after several weeks of clouds and rain, the sun finally came out. We let the kids play at the park for “recess” until Wednesday afternoon, when they officially closed all the playgrounds. Saturday we walked to the farm stand to get more fresh milk, eggs, and butter, and strawberries (yes, local strawberries in March – much earlier than normal). We saw a few other people out walking, but definitely much emptier than a normal Saturday here. Clare went shopping on Tuesday afternoon. She reported that the store was not as busy as normal. They have not implemented maximum number of people at a time like in some places. But they were out of many things, without much rhyme or reason as far as we can tell. Like other places around the world, toilet paper seems to be in high demand. In fact, apparently someone in Würselen smashed a car window recently to steal toilet paper out of it. They were not out of canvases though, so Clare picked up a couple so Meg could paint some. Meg decided that we needed a pretty picture in our bedroom. She has dubbed the painting “Rosa rosada rosina”
Crazy times. We are getting through it though, and Meg has been super helpful. She remains cheerful (most of the time), and we really appreciate all her various projects.
Similar to Spencer’s birthday, we celebrated Meg’s birthday first at home, and then with friends. For her birthday dinner, she decided on French toast and fruit salad. To celebrate with friends, she picked a place in the Netherlands called Clip n Climb, which was the location for one of her friends’ parties last fall. This year she requested a galaxy cake. Two of her friends asked for the recipe, so it was definitely a hit. That’s another notch on Clare’s cake-making belt. Even though she claims to not be good at it, she has a track record of some pretty incredible cakes.
One of the climbing adventures was a timed one – Meg did it about 10 times in a row, getting faster each time. I think her first one was over 40 seconds, and she eventually got done to about 15 seconds!
This year we didn’t really celebrate Spencer’s birthday directly on his birthday, because his birthday was over Carnival weekend, and we instead went to Berlin for a long weekend. Instead we adjusted the schedule a bit, but kept some of the traditions. We had Spencer’s family birthday dinner of Schnitzel, Käsespätzle, Broccoli and ice cream cake with Dave and Ellen on the 18th. Then on Friday the 28th Spencer and most of his soccer team, plus his best friend from school Andre celebrated at the local laser tag place. It was legen — wait for it — dary!
For our second full day in Berlin we first headed to the Berlin wall museum at Checkpoint Charlie. I think we all really enjoyed it. There is a huge amount of artifacts and information about the wall packed into a relatively small space. Other than the occasional piece of the wall here and there scattered about Berlin, it is nearly impossible to notice the differences between West and East anymore.
For our first full day in Berlin, we headed out to Potsdam to visit the famous palace of Sans Souci, which means “without worry” in French. Frederick the Great spent his summers there in the 18th century. The entire park houses several different palaces. Sans Souci was Frederick the Great’s favorite palace. It is actually not that big for a palace, with only about a dozen rooms. We took the train from Berlin out to the park. We arrived near the new palace, but had timed tickets for Sans Souci, which is on the other side of the park, so we had a pretty long walk to get there. Fortunately it wasn’t rainy.
After the tour of Sans Souci we had a little snack of leftover rolls from breakfast and some fruit, and then found a bus that took us back to the new palace for the tour there. We stopped at the museum shop there to get a cookbook that Meg liked, and then we got a tour of the new palace, which is much bigger than Sans Souci. Frederick the Great had it built to display the wealth and power of the kingdom of Prussia. Emperor Wilhelm the second spent much of the last several years of his reign during World War I here. One of the many interesting facts we learned was that Frederick the Great allowed common people to tour the palace even while he was in power, so long as they were dressed appropriately (which for women apparently meant wearing a dress 6 feet wide).
After the tours we had a tasty lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in Potsdam, then made a brief stop at the Nauener gate before heading back to our aparment in Berlin near the Brandenburg gate.
We had to change trains from the S-Bahn to the U-Bahn at Zoologischer Garten, and I managed to drag everyone to the Kaiser Wilhelm remembrance church, which, while only a few blocks away, seemed long for tired legs. I think it was worth it though, to see the contrast of one mostly-destroyed church from WWII, and the new church right next to it, which is bathed in blue light from the stained glass windows.