January 29, 2017

DIY Lego Play Tray

A few Easters ago, instead of giving the kids lots of candy, I decided I wanted to  make something for their Legos.
I started by looking on Pinterest to find fun ways to display and/or store Legos.
I found things like:

These were great, but not quite what I was looking for or wouldn’t work for our needs.
So, I went to the craft store for inspiration and found wooden trays-the kind that look pretty on a cart or counter displaying wine glasses and such.  So, I thought-why not make them each their own Lego play tray!
The got the last 2 trays on the shelf.  They were natural wood, so I painted them when I got home.  Blue for my son and white for my daughter.  I chose these colors because of the vinyl colors I had available to make their names on my cricut, which was my second step after painting them.

After the trays were painted and the vinyl letters applied, it was time to make the trays officially for Legos.  I had ordered 10X10 Lego pieces from amazon.com.  I measured and laid out the 10X10 Lego squares- to see how they would fit, and how I would need to cut and piece the Lego platform inside of the tray.  This worked out easier than I thought due to the dimensions of the tray itself-WIN!
One LEGO 10X10 fit perfectly!  I just needed to cut a second 10X10 to fit in the remainder of the space.
The Lego squares are thin enough that all I needed to do is cut them with my kitchen butcher scissors and super glue them to the bottom of the tray.

After that, it was done!  This had to be one of the easiest and well received DIY gifts for the kids I’ve done yet.  It’s been 2 years and the kids STILL use them.
It’s great because they can pick up the entire tray, without disrupting what they’ve built, and move it from place to place.

What are your Lego creations?

January 20, 2017

Cochem Castle

Cochem castle is about an hour drive from Spangdahlem Air base, but worth it. 
The castle is gorgeous and has a lot to look at. 

The climb is worth it because the view is spectacular! 

We arrived at the front entrance and went into the little gift shop and asked about some tours we saw advertised.  The woman at the counter spoke English and was able to tell us that they provide tours throughout the castle every 10-15 minutes.  HURRAY!!!!  I paid for a 'family tour pass' which was roughly 16 euro for the ‘family package’, which was definitely worth it.  It covered 2 adults and 2 children. 

The gift shop was super cute and had all kinds of souvenires.  It also had an attached restaraunt with a gorgeous view and bathrooms as well (these were free too-if you are in Germany you will learn that you have to pay to use bathrooms in most cases).

We ended up with an absolutely wonderful tour guide.  She spoke little English, but enough to help us understand what we were looking at throughout the tour.  She gave the tour in German and then spoke English here and there letting us know some history of each place the tour stopped.  She also had handouts on the castle on certain points of interest.  The hand outs were in English, Spanish, Hungarian, and just about any and all languages you can imagine.  My children (5 and 7 years old) stayed interested through the entire tour, which lasted about 45 minutes. 
At the end of the tour, in the final room, the tour guide had my children open a door to a secret cubbie hidden into a wall.  Inside was an old looking treasure chest.  When the tour guide opened it, my children “aaaahhhhd” aloud as they saw hundreds of golden wrapped chocolate coins.  The tour guide let them each take one.  My kiddos thought this was fantastic! She was wonderful and the tour was very informative!!!!!  I cannot tell you how interesting this tour was.  My kids had a great time.  We even went into a dining room where Adolph Hitler ate and we saw his secret escape passage way that he had built into the castle.  It was fascinating. 

Dining room where Adolph Hitler dined.
They also had rooms with knight’s armor on display.  (I had a camera malfunction and these are the only pictures I could salvage.  You'll just have to go for yourself to see how unique this castle was.  The tour is worth it!!!)
The history of this castle is one of the most fascinating we have been to yet.  You can view a brief overview of the history of Cochem here.    

In the summertime, at the bottom of the castle, is a very small ice cream shop which we visited on the way out.  It was the perfect ending to our hot summer day-eating ice cream in the shade while looking up at a gorgeous castle.  Perfect! 

Here's the Cochem Castle homepage.

Across the way is a chairlift that takes you to the top of a mountain where you can see the view of Cochem castle from a distance.  You can read more about the Cochem chairlift in this post.

Things to know:

Location:  Reichsburg Cochem GmbH, Schloßstraße 36, 56812 Cochem
Parking:  Upon arrival there is a small parking lot at the bottom of the castle.  If this is full, there is some alternative parking.  Just before the bottom of the hill, that Cochem castle is on, there is some scattered parking along the road.  That is where we parked and it was free.
Once parked, you have to go up a slightly steep incline to get to the castle entrance. 
Hours:  Their hours of operation differ for each season, so be sure to check their website.
Guided castle tours
Duration apprx. 40 minutes
Adults6,- €
Children (6 - 17 years)3,- €
Groups (12 people and more)per person 5,- €
Pupils over 18 years old, Students5,- €
Family Ticket
(Parents with at least 2 children aged below 18 years)
16,- €
Individual guided tours
Only by arrangement and booking in advance and subject to availability
Normal minimum fixed rate price100,- €
Children’s tour
Only available by advance booking - Duration apprx. 40 minutes
Child orientated guided tour through the usual rooms in the castle
Minimum fixed rate price60,- €
Children3,- €
Adults5,- €

Photo from Cochem Castle website

January 13, 2017

Energy Efficiency in a German Home

In Germany the summer is HOT and the winter is COLD.  Nothing unusual, right?! But with the majority of the homes in Germany being tile flooring and made from cement-it can get REALLY cold in the winter.
The first winter here, we were freezing in our house.  A lot of German houses are made so there are doors throughout the house EVERYWHERE.  This means you can have the radiators on in one room of the house, and then close off the other parts of the house that aren't being used. 
However, our house is not made this way.  So, all of our heat rises to the upstairs.  This makes for a very chilly downstairs.  We would be in sweats and slippers our entire first winter here and were still cold.
-some German houses come with heated floors, which sounds lovely.  Other things to consider is if you have oil or electric heat.  We do not have heated floors and we have electric heat. 
So, our second winter I decided to do some research on cement walls and retaining heat in localized areas in the house.  The difference from the changes I made were drastic!   We couldn't believe it.  We used less heat and stayed warmer.
Here is what we did:
Since we did not have doors to close off our living room/dining room/great room combo downstairs, from the upstairs area, I made my own 'door'.
I used command hooks, a curtain rod, and a heavy black out curtain.

I also found out that the heat from our wall radiator was getting absorbed into our cement wall that it was mounted on.  Crazy, right?
So, I put tin foil on the wall in between the radiator.
The porcelain owl has water in it, that evaporates into the air and keeps the room from getting too dry.
Can you see it?:)
Here, let me help you.
It's such a small change, and yet we felt a HUGE difference in the temperature in our house.  The tin foil reflected the heat back into the room, instead of the concrete wall absorbing it.  The best part is that you can barely even see the tin foil. 

This was my solution to our winter chill.
But in the summer you can also save TON of money on your electricity by hanging your clothes up to dry.  On a hot summer day, I can get an entire load dried by the sun in 45 minutes.  It's crazy!

I love how this drying rack has little slots for your socks and smaller clothing-saves on space.

Also in the summer, keep those rolladens down so that you can keep the sunlight out and prevent your house from getting too hot.  Most European houses come with no air conditioning.  So, keeping the sunlight out is key to helping keep your house from becoming a sauna. 
These are rolladens. 
They are your black out shades that roll up and down on the outside of your window. 
Ours are cracked in this photo to let a little light into the living room.
You can 'trap' the cool morning air in the summertime too.  In the early morning, before it gets super hot, open your windows to get the cooler air to come inside.  To speed up getting the cool air inside, you can place a fan in front of the windows.  Have the fan pointed into the house to pull the cool outside air into your house.  Once it starts to warm up outside, close all the windows and trap the air inside your house.

Hope these tips help!
Do you have any solutions to keep your European house warm in the winter and cool in the summer?

January 06, 2017

Metz Cathedral

If you are wanting to visit a Cathedral for the books-Metz is one of them. 

The Metz Cathedral has the most stained glass of any cathedral in the entire WORLD!
It’s gorgeous!  My pictures do not do it justice.
I went with my mom to visit and explore Metz France and this was a must on our list.  We found it with no problem at all.  Once you drive into Metz, the top of the cathedral is visible from nearly every direction.
Once inside, prepare to spend at least 90 minutes. 
We went in late December and it was very cold outside, but almost as cold inside.  You’ll end up keeping your coat on while you walk around.
They have free brochures in English that you can walk around with, including a description of numbered areas in the cathedral.

Each stopping point has some information about what you are looking at that includes a translation in English at the bottom. 
To visit the cathedral, it is free.  But if you would like to visit the crypt and treasury, you must pay 6 euro/person.  We did this, and for us it was worth it.  The cathedral staff provide you with a history and talking paper for the crypt and the treasury in lots of different languages.  It was very accommodating and made it so that we knew what we were looking at and able to appreciate it more since we could read it all in English. 
One of the displays in the Treasury

In the Crypt

In the Crypt

Treasury display
It was breathtaking to view all the stained glass and a great way to see France for the first time.

Things to know:

Hours:  Sun - Sat 8:00 am - 6:00 pm

Location: About 1 hour and 15 minutes from Spangdahlem. 
Cathedral Address:  Place D'Armes, 5700 Metz, France
(there is a Metz tourist/information office across the street from the Cathedral.  We bought a Metz map for .50 euro that told us where historic sites and landmarks were in the city).
Picture courtesy of google maps app

Picture courtesy of google maps app

Cathedral: FREE (additional 6 euro for the crypt and treasury-you get access to both rooms with the 6 euro)
There is a little gift/souvenir booth inside the church
You can talk (quietly) inside the church and take pictures
Parking:  If you drive past the front of the cathedral, on the right is a parking lot where you pay hourly in advance.  But to the left of that parking lot, there is underground parking.  This is VERY tight parking.  My jeep fit, but I had to pull in my side mirrors to fit through the underground parking.  This was better parking for us.  If you travel Europe, a lot of times you pay for parking in advance from a parking meter machine, put the ticket on your car dash and then make sure to return to your car before that time expires.  The underground parking was better, because we didn’t pay until we were ready to leave. This meant we were not on any time constraints. 
Underground Parking address:  Rue D'Estrees, 5700, Metz, France
Picture courtesy of google maps app

Picture courtesy of google maps app

Restrooms: Beside the underground parking garage, to the left, are bathrooms.  These are free and they are actually very clean for public restrooms.
The opening to the right in the photo is the underground parking. 
The smaller door opening to the left in the photo is the restrooms. 
Picture courtesy of google map app
There are TONS of places to eat around that area, as well as lots of shopping!

January 01, 2017


If you've even traveled to Germany and experienced this country's fantastic Christmas markets (bucket list!), then you've heard of Glühwein.
My mom's first Gluhwein:)
What is Glühwein?
Glühwein is mulled wine.  Mulled wine is an alcoholic drink hot beverage that is traditionally drunk in Central Europe during the advent season, often at Christmas markets.(Wikipedia)
Basically, it tastes like a hot cider wine.

The following is entirely my own opinion about Glühwein.  Everyone has different tastes, but the following are my own suggestions and ways to make Glühweinn at home.

I have been in Germany for almost 4 years now.  I have sampled a variety of Glühwein at Christmas markets in the Rhein area.  I have found that I really do not care for the red wine Glühwein at all!  I usually have one sip and then pour it out or give it to someone else in our group to finish.  I don't know why I keep trying the red Glühwein-maybe I think that one time I'll actually like it.
I like red and white wine, so why not the red Glühwein.  I don't know.  I find it very dry and super pungent. 
I, however, LOVE the white Glühwein. 
I've tried making it a few times at home, and have found that pinot grigio is the best white wine (to my taste) for making Glühwein at home. 
I always make it on Christmas night, when we have guests over for dinner and games.  To make it super easy on myself, as the hostess, I make the Glühwein in my crockpot.  This way it stays piping hot all through the evening. 
This past Christmas was when I discovered the pinot grigeo secret:)
To make the Glühwein-you'll need one bottle of wine and the Glühwein tea bags.  I bought mine at the local grocery market "Rewe".  It's with all the teas and coffee and comes in these little packs.  There are five in a pack.  I think I paid less than 3 euro for a pack.
The directions tell you to mix about one tea bag for 3/4 bottle of wine.
It all depends on  your taste.  If you like your Glühwein to be more 'cidery' (yes, I just made up that adjective), then you could add a second tea bag to the wine.  I suggest using one Glühwein tea bag and then adding a second, after you have tasted your first batch. 
Mine ended up perfect, my best batch yet, when I used an entire bottle of pinot grigio and one Glühweintea bag.  I kept it on medium in the crockpot all evening after Christmas dinner and people just went in and out of the kitchen and ladled the drink into their mugs.  This worked out perfectly.
You can make it extra festive by using your Christmas market Gluhwein mugs
Dinner, Games, and Glühwein made for a fun filled evening.

Enjoy and please drink responsibly.

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