Another Easter

I love Easter time in Vienna.  They really celebrate it here, and not just with chocolate bunnies and going to church — not that I’m opposed to either of those things, but both of them have limited appeal in my life these days.  Easter is widely and truly celebrated in Vienna, and though its roots are religious, not all of the celebration is.  It is similar to (though of a different scale) than the wonderful Viennese Christmas celebrations.  In Vienna, there are Easter markets, several days off from work and school and a general feeling of festivity that flows through the city.  In the same way that Christmas feels very much like a celebration of having made it through darkest part of the winter, Easter feels like a victory celebration — spring has returned, with brighter days and (slightly) more warmth.

Easter is also our unofficial anniversary in Vienna.  We arrived just before Easter and visited an Easter market right after having found our apartment.  The best Easter market in all of Vienna (in my opinion) is that same one we first happened upon, and it is right across the street from our house.  So, as always, we visited that market several times in the weeks leading up to Easter.

I always enjoy wandering through all of the markets.  I love seeing the intricate, painstakingly decorated eggs.  I enjoy the food and the shopping, and I always make a point to visit the bunnies in their market stall.  This year, the silver lining to the catastrophic mirror crash of last spring was that I actually got to shop for eggs — after our first few years, I had put myself on an “only one a year” plan, because we were collecting so many.  But, after about half of our collection met its end under a very heavy broken mirror last year, we “needed” some new ones.



We also enjoyed some fun Easter activities.  The boys painted eggs and played games at the markets, and we colored eggs at home (a process I’m finally getting the hang of here).  The boys did sweet arts and crafts at school, too.  I just love it.  I love being out in the city as the days begin to get noticeably longer, and as the sun begins to be ever slightly warmer.



1255As is our tradition, the boys celebrated Easter morning with a hunt for eggs, and we followed that with a trip outdoors.  For the first time, we actually visited an Easter market on Easter morning — I had no idea they were open on the big day!  But, it turns out that they are (or at least the one close to us is), and it was a fun way to observe the morning.  We visited the bunnies at the market again (closely scrutinized by the boys so they could attempt to discern which one was THE Easter Bunny), bought some flowers, and even stopped in to an ACTUAL church during Easter service — though just for a minute (which was actually really nice).


Then, in the afternoon, we were lucky enough to have been invited to join some friends and their family for Easter dinner, which was lovely.  Holidays are incredibly hard when you’re far from home, and getting to be with friends, rather than just celebrating with ourselves, was a nice change.  (Plus we got the added benefit of someone else preparing most of the meal — and it was someone who actually enjoyed doing it!)

All in all, we had another great Easter here in Vienna.  We had a lovely lead up to the day, enjoying the markets and the springtime weather.  And then, on Easter itself, we enjoyed the company of good friends, and the boys got to eat way more chocolate than they probably should have.  In short, a good time, and a happy Easter, was had by all.

What are THOSE?!?

Raising kids abroad is full of funny experiences.  There are so many ways in which their world view and mine differ fundamentally, because they are growing up in a different time, country and culture than I did.  And so many times, I don’t even realize how differently we see things until one of them points it out.  Language is one of the places that this is the most obvious — just this morning on the way to school, Liam noticed that “someone dropped their ‘schnuller’ on the ground”.  Yes, they had — a ‘schnuller’ is a pacifier.  Although, back when he was using them, we called them pacifiers or binkies, but he doesn’t remember that.  He knows the word from the kids at school who still have them, and it’s become his only word for it.  When Benjamin asked what Liam had said, I responded with, “Someone dropped their pacifier” and Liam got very angry at me for telling Benjamin the wrong thing.  He literally has no idea what “pacifier” means.  That kind of thing happens every so often — I say something, and they respond with a blank stare while I rewind what I said in my head and realize that I just used an English word for something we usually say in German (like pacifier, fire department, grocery store or playground).  We’re developing quite the odd little Germenglish patois around here.

But there are other funny ways that the cultural divide within my own house comes out.  Just before Easter, I was preparing eggs to dye.  Then we were interrupted by calamity, which is why I forgot to tell this particular story back then.  But once everything calmed down and we got ready to color our eggs, the boys happily climbed up to the table, took one look at the cartons of eggs I had boiled for them, and looked at me in disgust and surprise.

“WHAT are THOSE?!?” asked Benjamin.

“They’re eggs.

“But . . . why are they WHITE?”

Yep, although I was completely unaware of it, it seems that my kids have been 3+ years without seeing a white egg.  This was the first year that we found white eggs available at the supermarket, special for coloring for Easter.  (It’s the only time I’ve ever seen them, and they no longer have any — it really was just for Easter.)  I was so excited to buy them, because I’d always wanted to find white eggs to dye for Easter, but (as Benjamin demonstrated) white eggs are not the norm here.

And thus, I discovered another way in which I am raising poor, confused American-Austrian children who didn’t know that eggs come in white.

Bad luck

I’ve never heard anything like it.  There was a loud pop and the shatter of breaking glass, a moment of stillness, and then a second, floor-shaking, monumental crash that followed.  I had no idea what it was, but I didn’t look around.  We were all in the living room.  I ran to the kids and wrapped them in my arms.  Whatever it had been, they were safer right where they were than anywhere else.

As it turns out, the massive, gilt-wood framed mirror that hung in our dining room had fallen.  There was glass everywhere.  Our dining room floor was covered in jagged tiny pieces.  It was a complete mess.

photo 6

This doesn’t quite do it justice. We’d already started cleaning at this point (the vase was mostly disposed of, for example). It really doesn’t look quite right in the pictures.

The kids did great.  I closed them in the living room, put on the TV, attempted to impress upon them how vital it was that they not leave the room, and went to assist Dan with the cleanup.  It’s one of those jobs where there is no good place to start.  You just have to start picking at the edges and hope that it gets less overwhelming as you progress (which it did).  The mirror had fallen on a vase (a gift from my sister) which had been holding our Osterbaum, the boys’ Easter baskets, and a pile of papers, drawings and unopened mail that had not been sorted in much too long.  The vase shattering under the weight of the falling 40-50 lb mirror was the first sound we had heard.  Then all of that tipped onto the parquet floor which, though vacuumed earlier in the day, had toys strewn on it.  What a mess.

To my great and pleasant surprise, the actual Easter baskets survived, even though they, too, must have caught part of the weight of the mirror directly (points to Pottery Barn for sturdiness).  The eggs (all of the real ones and several of the plastic ones) and candy were mostly a loss (poor chocolate bunnies) and at least one of the fluffy chicks inhabiting a basket was beheaded.  The beautiful, fancy, hand-painted Austrian Easter eggs we’ve collected since our arrival here were mostly destroyed.  A few were basically vaporized — only spots of sparkly dust and a few sad, squished ribbons remained.  Most were just horribly broken.  Three were damaged but sound enough to keep.  I kept pieces of 3 others that were intact enough to hang again … more or less.

photo 8I dealt with the Easter carnage while Dan broke down the remains of the frame and starting dealing with the broken glass.  There was SO MUCH glass.  There were big, jagged triangles and long vicious-looking shards, plus all of the teeny, tiny bits and the pieces that had become little more than dust.  (Plus a lot of glitter from the destroyed eggs — and it’s very hard to tell glass dust from glitter.)  It took 2 hours, but we got everything cleaned up.  The kids patiently watched TV while we worked.  Our floor hasn’t been this clean in a while.

As it turns out, that huge, heavy, ornate mirror was hung with TWINE, which apparently broke.  It was just a question of time.  I’m kind of horrified at the way it was hung — we’d never looked at it, because it was MASSIVE, and it came with the apartment and had hung there for years without event.  We completely took it for granted.

We were so lucky.  We were running late, but we should have been eating dinner, or at least setting the table, at the time that it fell.  We weren’t.  We were all hanging out in the living room.  But the kids play in the spot where it fell, all the time.  Bailey lays there, often.  We walk back and forth past that spot dozens of times every day.  It is, quite literally, in one of the highest traffic spots in our whole house.  We are so lucky that no one was seriously hurt (or worse).  As it was, it was a huge pain, and a complete disruption to our typical Saturday evening, but no permanent damage was done, except to the mirror and some eggs (which I will miss).  Dan even managed to avoid injuring himself with the glass, which is beyond impressive to me.  All is well, we are all safe.  We’re down one huge mirror, but I’m just so, so glad that it wasn’t a much more awful story to tell.

Happy Easter 2014!

Happy Easter 2014!

Our Easter celebration this year started, as it always does, with the boys finding the treats that the Easter Bunny had hidden.  (He did a good job to avoid Benjamin, who was on high alert overnight to catch Herr Bunny this year.)  The boys were up bright and early to search the house.  The Easter Bunny left treats, toys, and a few impressively colored eggs around the house and even out on the terrace (which was a little unfortunate, because it rained overnight).  With a little help, the boys managed to find everything.  And after only a little encouragement, they decided they were again willing to share their collected treasures (the Easter Bunny did leave a note encouraging them to share) which prevented Liam getting 2 stuffed lambs with B having 2 giant Kindereggs.


After a breakfast of French Toast (which had seemed like a good idea but was, in fact, just more sugar added to the equation) we decided to get out of the house and enjoy the beautiful spring day.  I’ve always enjoyed spending at least a little bit of time outside on Easter, and this was a perfect spring day to celebrate.  We spent a little time at the playground, but when I suggested a stroll through the rest of the Rathaus park, both boys collapsed into miserable piles of “I can’t walk!” unhappiness.  We overcame this malady by discovering a very cool crane being used to assemble pieces of a giant stage in front of the Rathaus.


After returning home, and having a nap, I made my first attempt at homemade macaroni & cheese (which I saved from near-disaster halfway through).  We also had a “ham in an egg of bread”, which I think is an Austrian thing (it was tasty but difficult to cut and serve) followed by a cake MADE BY DAN (his first ever).  We finished up our day by Skyping some of our family at home.  As always, being away from our loved ones is the hardest part of holidays far from home, but getting to talk to some of them was a huge help.  We’ve definitely gotten the hang of celebrating festivities far from home, but our experience does nothing to lessen how much we’d like to see them and be together.  (Liam insisted we go to Grandma’s house for Easter dinner and explained exactly how we’d get there.)

It was another successful Calle family Austrian Easter.  We had a great day and the Easter Bunny was good to us.  A happy Easter all around.

Schönbrunn Easter Market 2014

20140424-145912.jpgThe Easter markets in Vienna are not nearly so plentiful as the Christmas markets.  I only know of 2 — the one near our house at the Freyung, and the bigger one at Schönbrunn.  We try to make it to both every year.  The Freyung market is quieter and very charming, and the focus is on the massive display of decorated eggs.  Schönbrunn is much bigger and has much more of a party feel, plus many, many busloads of tourists.  There’s a lot more food and a lot more to do at Schönbrunn (especially for kids), which makes it an easier place for a longer visit.

We didn’t make it out there this year until the day before Easter, and it was, predictably, a bit of a zoo.  But we had a great time.  The boys played quite a few games (like tabletop hockey . . . with chickens) and participated in some fun activities (walking on stilts), we all ate a little lunch, I visited the shop stall of my favorite Austrian folk artist, Lisl (who remembers me every time) and we all enjoyed a beautiful afternoon at the market.  (By contrast, last year it was rainy and cold the day we went to the Schönbrunn market, but still lots of fun.)


It was fun and festive, and good times were had all around.  It was a fun way to spend part of Easter weekend, and to enjoy a little of early spring in Vienna.





B even took on an adult in chicken hockey





All in a day’s work

As I’ve expressed before, I usually don’t feel like I have things very much together.  I often feel like I’m just barely managing the frenetic and delicate choreography of life with kids, and I think I’m usually the least likely mom to pull off something difficult with grace and ease.  Which makes it all the more impressive when I actually manage to.

Easter in Austria always means a long weekend for us.  Dan gets Good Friday and Easter Monday off of work (the latter is also a school holiday) so we get a four day weekend to color eggs, be festive for Easter and enjoy spring.  Our plans for last Friday were to color eggs and to finish up the few last-minute Easter preparations still to be taken care of.  I hadn’t been able to find the egg dye we’d used so successfully last year, but I found another type.  For this kind, the eggs needed to still be warm from boiling while being dyed, so Friday morning I set about boiling 20 eggs while Dan took the boys out to the courtyard downstairs to run off some steam.  (We figured they’d do better at not having egg-dyeing meltdowns if they weren’t too keyed up.)


The egg dye I was able to find this year

All was well, and the water was just about to boil, when Dan came in with both boys amidst a bunch of commotion.  Liam was very upset, as was Benjamin.  It turns out that while outside playing, Liam had managed to put a rock up his nose, and he was (understandably) not happy that it was not as easy to get out as it had been to get in.

Even after 5 1/2 years as parents, this was our first something-in-the-nose experience.  Dan assured me he had things under control as I attempted to figure out whether to try and save the eggs or to ditch them and take over with Liam.  I called out advice from the kitchen while Dan came up with a series of ideas about how to remove the rock.  (My main advice was, “I think he needs to see the doctor”, while Dan was sure he could address the problem at home.)  I left the eggs on the stove, set a timer, and tried to help . . . mostly at first by reiterating that I thought it was time for a professional.  Our regular pediatrician is (of course) out of town, but after a few minutes I persuaded Dan to call the backup doctor, just to find out what she suggested.  No answer.  I vetoed Dan’s ideas of using tweezers to remove it (sticking something ELSE in his nose did not seem like the solution to me) and I was on the verge of making a command decision that it was time for a trip to the ER when we decided to settle our debate the modern way . . . with the internet!

Liam's nose rock and a coin for perspective (a 2 cent Euro coin is about the size of a US penny)

Liam’s nose rock and a coin for perspective (a 2 cent Euro coin is about the size of a US penny)

We looked up how to remove a rock from a child’s nose and found this.  (Don’t read it if you’ll be bothered by being a little grossed out.)  We decided that we would try it, and if it failed, we would take the trip to the hospital.  So, although Liam was NOT into the idea, we held him down, and I . . . fixed the problem.  It actually worked!  Liam was a bit shaken from the whole experience, but otherwise completely well, and with a good life lesson learned.  I gave him a big snuggle and reassured him that he would be fine.  He recovered quickly, and went right back to playing.  (When I looked up the link, I was looking at my phone, so I didn’t see the suggestion of actually performing the procedure AT the hospital.  I’m really glad everything turned out ok.)

And I got back to the eggs before the timer went off.

I have to say that I kind of felt like a kickass mom.  Rock taken out of the nose and eggs boiled for dyeing, all at the same time.  We went on to have a fun and festive Friday, everyone was well, and I pretty much felt like I saved the day.


Freyung Easter Market . . . yet again

167The Freyung Easter market holds a very special place in our hearts.  Not only was it our first holiday market experience when we moved to Vienna, but it ended up being literally across the street from our home here, but we had no way of knowing that it would be the first time we visited it.  I love the Easter markets and the Christmas markets in Vienna.  I love how festive and fun they are, the feeling of neighborhood and community, the yummy treats and the sights, sounds and smells.  I’ve been completely won over by the whole experience.

We have learned, however, that for the kids, it’s not always as much fun as it seems like it should be.  There’s a lot 179to see, but so much that they aren’t allowed to touch.  There are lots of snacks and treats, but even though we try to say yes when we can, they end up hearing “no” a lot.  It’s usually pretty crowded, so they can’t run off and be free.  It’s fun for them, but not for as long as it’s fun for us.  We’ve learned that trips with the kids need to be short and sweet, and that if we adults want to go back and browse, we need to do it another time.

We made a quick family trip to the Freyung Easter market the weekend before Easter.  We looked at the amazing displays of painted, carved and beaded eggs (real eggs!), listened to some live 022music, visited the bunnies (Benjamin has decided that the black and white one IS the Easter Bunny) and ate some roasted almonds.  It was a short trip, but a fun one.  Visiting the Freyung Easter market truly feels like a celebration not just of spring and of Easter, but also of our Vienna anniversary.  I made another trip back later in the week to do some more thorough shopping, but we had a great time, all of us, just stopping by for a quick visit.


Frohe Ostern!

028We woke up early this morning to an excited Benjamin ready to start his search for whatever might have been left by the Easter Bunny.  As in years past, we let him get up and survey the scene before waking Liam.  After getting the general idea that yes, the Easter Bunny had come, and yes, there were, again, things to search for around the living room, he was a little hard to rein in.  He kept “finding” stuff as we attempted to drag him back to the bedroom to wake Liam.  Liam, for his part, was surprisingly hard to get out of bed.  But once we’d sufficiently given him the idea of what was going on (which included the very cute line by Benjamin, “Liam, der Osterhasen has come!  Wait . . . maybe he doesn’t know what an Osterhase is.  Liam, ‘Osterhase’ means Easter Bunny!”) he was awake and ready to go.

031The boys tore through most of the hidden items (Legos!  Plastic Eggs!  Chocolate bunnies!) in the living room pretty quickly.  (I think the Easter Bunny has to up his game on the hiding somewhat.  Note to the Easter Bunny for next year.)  B dominated the finding, but Liam found several hidden eggs, too.  The sharing was pretty successful (the Easter Bunny always leaves a note explaining that what is found must be shared) and Liam showed his relative lack of possessiveness by placing everything he found into Benjamin’s basket.  After everything was found, we settled in to play with some new toys and enjoy our morning, punctuated at times by the fantastic sound of Vienna’s many church bells celebrating Easter.

091It was also snowing (again).  Since today was not only Easter, but also Jo’s departure day, this was a little concerning.  Her flight ended up delayed by an hour, which was a little stressful, but meant we were all able to have a peaceful breakfast before her departure.  (It also was probably the most peaceful part of Jo’s day.  When she and Dan arrived at the airport, there was a flurry of rebooking and running for the gate — all with the intent of helping her make her final connection in New York.  We actually haven’t heard from her since she sprinted off to catch a London-bound flight this morning.  We assume she’s in transit.  I suspect I’ll have more to report on all of this stuff tomorrow.)

073We got to Skype today with some of our family from home this afternoon and this evening, which helped with the enhanced holiday homesickness that always strikes.  It’s hard to be away from home.  We’ve gotten pretty good at making joyous, festive holidays on our own here, but none of it diminishes our desire to be with our families.  But although we’re missing home today, and saying goodbye to Jo makes that even harder, we had a great Easter.  The boys enjoyed their Easter treats, and we all enjoyed a great day together.  Frohe Ostern!


Schonbrunn Easter Market

The downside to having Easter come so early this year is that being out and about at the Easter markets has been somewhat less comfortable and pleasant than in years past.  Our first time, we went in short sleeves and sandals.  Not so this year, where the winter weather has stuck around longer than is typical and Easter came earlier than usual.  All in all, it feels more like visiting the Christmas markets than the Easter ones!

But, we weren’t completely discouraged from attending — just wise . . . or so we thought.  We waited until the last possible day to visit the Schonbrunn Easter market, because we figured it would be the warmest.  We also watched the weather reports which seemed to support our hypothesis.  All week, the weather for today has looked the best of the week — partly sunny with a balmy high of 44.  Compared to what we’ve been getting, that’s nearly like summer.

012Alas, it was not to be.  Yesterday, which dawned cold and rainy, actuallly had a lovely sunny afternoon with highs in the mid-40s.  We missed our chance on that, though.  Today was cloudy, drizzling, and didn’t get out of the mid-30s.  Brr.  But still, we went.  We wanted to visit beautiful Schonbrunn, and we wanted to show Jo the lovely Easter market there.  Unfortunately, the entire population of Vienna appears to have had the same idea — so there were thick crowds of people packed into the market, in spite of the weather.

014Despite the chilly temperatures, we had a really nice time.  Upon our arrival, the kids immediately got caught up in a series of children’s games and acitivities.  In Vienna, you never know — sometimes a “children’s program” is a fairly uninteresting performance or a tiny corner of poorly set up arts and crafts.  And sometimes it’s a comprehensive, compelling collections of games, toys, rides and acitivities that captivates the kids for hours.  We went to the market today with no expectations except for doing some shopping and eating some food.  But the boys had a great time with a maze game with a wooden duck on strings with a ball (it’s not the easiest thing to describe), some 015chicken air hockey (not a real chicken), and a swan race (also, not a real swan).  They also tried out walking on stilts and got to talk to a guy on stilts in a chicken suit, who spoke English (as if walking on stilts in a chicken suit isn’t impressive enough).  It was a good time.

We ate too much food, shopped for handmade cards, hand-painted eggs and too much chocolate and got to practice lots of our German.  Even though it still feels like winter, it was a good day at the Easter market.




Dyeing eggs in Austria

This is, oddly, already our third Easter in Austria, although we haven’t yet been here two years (thanks to the weirdness of the calendar magic that determines the date of Easter).  The first year, our Easter celebration was a little improvised and strange, and didn’t involve dyeing eggs at all because we were living in a tiny temporary apartment with no kitchen table and I would have lost my mind if I’d even attempted it.  Last year, we had a really nice Easter, and we even colored eggs, but for that we used the dye I had bought in the US before our departure and had intended to use that first Easter but didn’t (which was also down to all of our things being literally on the ocean when Easter passed by — egg dye included).

As a result, this, our third Easter in Austria, was the first one for which I had to figure out how to dye eggs without familiar supplies from home.  My initial hope was that there would be a lovely display of Paas dye kits at the grocery store checkout, but no.  Easter eggs are a big thing here — the Easter markets sell hundreds (if not thousands) of hollowed out, intricately hand-painted eggs.  The grocery stores sell pre-dyed packages of 10 hard-boiled eggs (because eggs here come in tens, rather than dozens).  But I hadn’t seen any way to dye them at home.  (And food coloring is NOT a thing here, so that wasn’t an option.)  When we were in Salzburg last weekend, I saw some relatively familiar-looking boxes of egg-dyeing supplies, but not wanting to carry it all the way home, I opted out . . . only to come up empty everywhere I looked in Vienna.

20130330-161751.jpgThursday morning of this past week, I still hadn’t come up with a plan and I was running out of time.  B had painted eggs in school, so that was my fallback strategy, but I imagined that was going to be more frustrating than fun, in general.  So Thursday afternoon, I gave up, went to a grocery store and literally started digging through an Easter display, somewhat alarming the grocery restocking guy.  But I found what I was looking for!  A flat, thin package of 6 envelopes of “egg ink”.  The instructions were, of course, entirely in German, but I went for it, anyway.  Not knowing how much “ink” I was getting per envelope, I got two packs, and had Dan pick up 20 eggs on Friday.

Of course, this being Austria (where the organic eggs come stamped with their farm of origin, which is fantastically cool) all of my eggs were brown, and I didn’t know how that would impact our plans.  I sat down with Google Translate and came up with a rough idea of the directions, including a helpful guide as to which of the dye packets would work on brown eggs.

20130330-161731.jpgMy next job was to boil the eggs.  Which seems simple, but I couldn’t remember if the eggs needed to be prepared any special way, so I asked the Internet, and came up with a fantastic new method for hard-boiling eggs.  17 eggs (which is how many would fit in the two pots I used) and not a single crack!  (I had no idea if they were actually successfully hard-boiled, but they were, at least, more cooked than when I started.)  In fact, when I went to douse the eggs with cold water at the end, to stop the cooking process, I was surprised, after covering them completely in a cold water bath, to come back moments later to a pot of hot water!  The eggs held so much heat that they reheated the water on their own — it took 3 cold water baths to keep them cold.

Then I set up the dye — warm water and white vinegar, plus the dye packet, which really did look like ink spreading through the liquid.

20130330-162021.jpgAfter all of that, we sat down to color our eggs.  I had no idea how it would go — whether I’d bought the right thing, whether I’d translated the directions correctly, whether the brown eggs would work, whether the eggs were sufficiently cooked.  But, we gave it a whirl, and it was great.  The dye was strong and made rich, deep colors on the eggs, very quickly — and no problem that they were brown eggs.  Within a minute or two, the eggs were already darker than I’m used to after a LONG time soaking in the dye from home (my 20130330-162038.jpgfamily can attest to my propensity for leaving eggs in dye for far too long).  So, the only downside to the whole process is that it just didn’t take very long, which made it hard to keep up with the kids’ enthusiasm.  (And I think, had we spilled any dye, it would have been a major, and maybe a permanent, mess.)  Other than Liam dropping his first egg, pre-dye (which did at least let me know that the eggs had been cooked all the way through), and him squishing one post-dye, we had a very successful time.  Our eggs 20130330-162055.jpgturned out beautifully, and no one even had to be patient, since each eggs was finished before we could get the next one in.

The boys had fun, and it feels very Eastery here now.  Our first truly Austrian egg-dyeing experiment was definitely a success, but, as always, also an adventure.