The Very Best Shepherd’s Pie!

When my husband, Andy, and I were dating, one of our favorite places to go was this British pub in Houston called Queen Vic’s. They had great IPAs (we really miss IPAs) and amazing British/Indian comfort foods. It was the perfect Sunday lunch before our lazy Sunday Netflix marathons. One of his favorite dishes there was the shepherd’s pie, and he has been on me to come up with a good recipe. I’ve tried several versions of this, and I think I finally got it just right!

Lamb and garam masala give it a warm, Indian-inspired spice, while the cauli-parsnip mash adds a bit of sweetness that is just right. It’s baked in the oven and then broiled until the topping is golden and a bit crispy, so good! Andy even said he liked the cauli-parsnip mash better than the traditional potato topping. So there you go, straight from a true potato-lover. This is the perfect hearty meal for a chilly day, and perfect for St. Patrick’s Day, along with a dark beer (or IPA), of course!

The Very Best Shepherd's Pie

Meat Filling

  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil
  • 1/2 purple onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2/3 pound ground lamb (You can definitely use a pound of each, but you might need a larger pie or casserole dish!)
  • 2/3 pound ground beef
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons himalayan salt
  • 1/2 cup english peas
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca starch
  • 1 cup water

Topping

  • 8 cups beef or chicken broth
  • 1 head of cauliflower, diced into florets
  • 4 medium parsnips, diced to be about the size of the cauliflower florets
  • 1 heaping tablesoon paleo mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons himalayan salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425F or 220C. 

  2. In a stockpot, add chopped cauliflower, parsnips, and broth to cover the vegetables (around 8 cups).  Bring to a boil and boil until vegetables are soft, approximately 30 minutes. 

  3. While the cauliflower and parsnips are boiling, start the meat mixture.  In a large skillet over medium heat, add the oil. Add chopped onions, carrots and celery, and saute until softened, approximately 10 minutes. 

  4. Once the onions, carrots and celery are softened, add the ground lamb and beef to the pan, add salt, and continue to cook and break up meat until it is browned.  

  5. Turn the burner down to medium low, add the peas, tomato paste, garam masala, and cinnamon, and stir to combine.

  6. Sprinkle tapioca starch over meat mixture, and stir to combine.  Add water, stir, and allow to simmer until sauce is thickened, about 10-15 minutes.

  7. While the meat simmers, remove cauliflower and parsnips from stockpot and strain.  Add strained cauliflower and parsnips back into the stockpot with burner off.  Add mayonnaise and salt and pepper.  Use an immersion blender or high speed blender to blend until smooth, but not completely pureed (you don’t want chunks of cauliflower or parsnip, but you also don’t want it soupy).  

  8. Pour meat mixture into a large pie plate or casserole dish.  Add cauliflower and parsnip mixture on top, smooth out evenly.  

  9. Bake in the oven on 425 for 30 minutes, then broil for 10-15 minutes (you will want to watch this closely so it doesn’t burn) until golden brown on top. Let cool and enjoy!

Macros: Calories 385, Fat 20g, Carbs 22g, Protein 30g

Ringing in the New Year in Budapest

I promise, life as an expat is not all Oktoberfest and vacations. I spend most of my days waiting for the bus in the sleet, navigating life living under the same roof as two seventy year old Germans, and deciding whether or not I actually need to wear a bra out of the house, when I wear a puffy coat all day. But when I’m walking the dog in wintry mix, vacation planning is what pulls me through the winter blues.

Budapest was one of our planned destinations that I was most excited about. I did loads of research, and built this trip up in my mind so much that I was concerned it was going to be a let down. Other than my Budapest daydreams involving me tan, in cutoff shorts and Birkenstock’s, it was truly everything I imagined and more!

I actually planned on posting our Prague trip first, since we went to Prague before Budapest, but we loved Budapest so much that we convinced my sister-in-law and her husband to go, so I wanted to get this posted to hopefully help them in their planning.

What really drew me to Budapest was how unique it is from other major European cities. It’s eclectic, with it’s grand cafes and ornate thermal baths, but has the grit of a city that survived German and Soviet occupation for 45 years.

Two excellent resources I used in planning our travel to Budapest was the Extra Pack of Peanuts travel podcast on Budapest and the Offbeat Budapest site. Both sites had excellent suggestions for things to do, and of course, food!

WHERE TO STAY

Budapest has two very distinct sides separated by the Danube River: Buda on the West and Pest on the East. Buda is more hilly and green, and bit more settled down, and Pest is where the majority of the bars and restaurants are.

We stayed on the Buda side, although we found ourselves doing a lot of walking or cabbing it to the Pest side. So if I could do it again, I would stay on the Pest side, close to the Jewish quarter (because Israeli food). But on the Buda side, there’s the Buda Castle and several thermal baths, so you really can’t go wrong.

THINGS TO DO

Budapest was actually much larger, and had so much more to do than I imagined. We spent a week there, and could have spent even longer because there really is so much to see and do.

THERMAL BATHS

One of the most memorable things we did in Budapest was the thermal baths! I promise, there is no better way of risking a flesh eating bacteria, and I actually regret not visiting others while we were there.

Budapest is known for it’s thermal baths, which the Ottomans began to build back in the 16th Century. There are quite a few, but we went to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, which is Budapest’s most well-known. Get there early because it gets busy as the day goes on!

Not only are there outside baths, but there are dozens of inside baths and saunas, where you can warm up and then take a dunk into one of the cold baths. There’s even a sauna that smells like honey, which was my favorite. And unlike Deutschland, you get to keep your swimsuit on for this experience. German pools and saunas may have to be a topic for another blog post!

This was such a great time and I regret not getting to visit the Gellert and Rudas thermal baths.

PARLIAMENT BUILDING

Probably the most iconic image of Budapest is the elaborate Parliament Building over the Danube River. Head over to the Buda side of town and walk along the Danube to get a really fantastic view at night.

You can tour the interior of the building, which has a modest 691 rooms! But definitely walk around the outside both during the day and the night for the fantastic architecture and lighting.

CASTLE HILL

My favorite day in Budapest was the day we walked Castle Hill. Really, we walked pretty much the entire Buda side of the city! There is a trail that takes you up through the hills to the Buda Castle. It’s steep and strenuous, but so worth the views from the top! Throughout the walk, there are multiples vantage points to look out over Budapest and take some amazing photos. Plus, it was a beautiful day, and I saw the sun for the first time in probably a month!

Matthias Church

Once you’ve trekked to the top, you must stop by Ruszwurm, which is a Budapest landmark. The confectionary has been around since 1827 and is famous for their Ruszwurm Crème pastry, and having tried it, I can understand why it’s so legendary. Just be prepared to wait in a line! Their desserts are not a secret.

Sandor Palace, residence of Hungarian President

If you ate your Hungarian Wheaties that morning, keep going to see Gellert Hill and Citadella. Pro tip: end your walk by relaxing at Gellert or Rudas Thermal Baths, both right in the area, and a perfect way to end the day.

RUINS PUBS

Ruins pubs are an iconic part of Budapest, and a must-see if you’re visiting. There are a number of ruins pubs in Budpast, but Szimpla Kert is the most well-known.

Ruins pubs began in the early 2000’s by taking old dilapidated buildings in the Jewish Quarter, that had been deserted when thousands of Jews were deported during WWII, and decking them out with an eclectic mix of junk. They are now probably the biggest attraction in Budapest.

Since we are early birds, we decided to go to Szimpla Kert at 11:00 am and there was a great little farmers market downstairs with different types of cheeses, meats, jams, and of course, paprika!

CHRISTMAS MARKET

Christmas markets in Budapest run through New Year’s Day and they are literally all over town! Since we have seen quite a few German Christmas markets, it was fun to see the more eastern European flair in Budapest – lots of fur, spices, and the best food of all Christmas markets we’ve been to! Hungarians know how to eat.

MUSEUMS

I honestly can’t remember how, but we accidentally stumbled upon the Museum of Fine Art in Budapest. There was a Van Gogh exhibit while were there, so we went in to see if we could get tickets, but the line was out the door.

However, even if you’re not interested, or don’t want to see the exhibits, it’s worth going just to see the incredible statues out front!

One of the most popular museums in Budapest is the House of Terror. The museum is at 60 Andrassy Blvd., which was used by the Soviets during the fascist and communist regimes, to detain, interogate, torture, and kill anyone perceived as a threat to their agenda. The House of Terror is both educational and a memorial to those who were tortured or killed in the building.

If I’m honest, this is something I wouldn’t do again. Andy and I both find history really interesting, and it’s incredibily moving how much Hungary has gone through and what an incredible city Budapest is, despite being under Soviet power until 1991. However, in each room of the museum, you could only hear audio in Hungarian, or read these leaflets in English, which were really long! So by the end of the museum, we were exhausted from reading, and kind of wished we would have just bought a book on the history of fascist and communist regimes in Hungary.

WHERE TO EAT

Budapest has had such a mix of cultural influences, it has incredible food! Unlike what I’ve experienced in Germany, Budapest is with the times when it comes to offering gluten free, vegetarian, non-dairy, etc., which was a treat.

Like most places in Europe, if you want to eat at a good restaurant, you have to plan in advance and make reservations! And the number one reservation to make is at Mazel Tov in the Jewish Quarter. It’s Israeli food heaven, with with hummus plates, falafel, schwarma – it’s making me hungry just thinking about it! Plus the ambiance is so cool with the strung lights and greenery, it’s a must!

First Craft Beer & BBQ was another favorite stop. Being from Texas, we were suspicious of a BBQ joint in Hungary, but the food was pretty good! Not Texas barbeque, but great to get your barbeque fix in Europe. What they do really well is beer! Thanks to German beer purity laws, we really miss our IPAs, and First Craft knows how to make a good IPA. Jonas Brew House is another great spot for craft beer, right on the river, but I think First Craft wins for best IPA.

Several other recommendations are Hadik Café for a great lunch spot in a really cool, young neighborhood. Also, HILDA for a nice dinner. I got a fish dish that was not good, but Andy’s dish (some kind of meatloaf and potatoes, I think) was so good that it made up for my poor selection. I should know now to stop trying to eat fish in landlocked countries.

If you’re on the Buda side, we had a fantastic New Year’s Eve meal at Franco Kitchen, a really cute restaurant in the neighborhood where we were staying. The food was delicious, service was good, and they were playing great music.

And of course, you must make a stop by Hold Street Market. It’s an indoor food market with tons of different vendors selling meats, cheeses, and other goods, but they also have booths with prepared food from sushi to eggs benedict. We opted for a really popular joint that was serving huge schnitzel (because we don’t get enough schnitzel, apparently), and it was so big we shared it along with a cheap, light Hungarian beer.

Budapest also has some amazing street food. Langos are these puffy circles of dough that they top with goulash or some type of salad, and is an absolute must if you’re in Budapest! Chimney Cakes, which are these doughy pastries they bake around a cylinder, are extremely popular, although we passed while were there.

One of my biggest regrets was not getting a reservation at one of the grand cafes – either New York Cafe or Café Gerbeaud. The grand cafes look like a scene from Grand Hotel, with their tall, detailed ceilings and chandeliers. I think we may have to plan another trip back just to go to one of the Grand Cafes.

We absolutely loved Budapest – the culture, the people, the food, and I can’t wait to plan a trip back, maybe in the spring!

XO –

Christan

Mexican Chocolate Fat Bombs

For many years now, fat has had a pretty bad rap.  I grew up in the era where low-fat butter, milk, cheese and even peanut butter were main staples for most households.  Even doctors were advising to reduce fat intake because of obesity and heart disease.  Fortunately, there’s now a great deal of research debunking this myth and putting fat back on our plates.

Of course, not all fats are created equal, and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, fish, and even meat products in reasonable quantities, are proving to actually lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and aid in brain and nerve function. 

Fat is also great for maintain healthy body composition, because it doesn’t spike insulin, which leads to weight gain, and is very satisfying and filling, so you’re less hungry throughout the day. 

I love to make these “fat bombs” as an easy snack I can pull out if I need something nourishing in the afternoons.  They are packed with healthy fats and will keep you full and satisfied until dinner!  

This recipe is a bit of an adaptation of Mary Shenouda’s Phat Fudge.  She uses tahini and grass-fed butter, but I swapped for almond butter and coconut oil and made a few changes to the spices, and addition of collagen, to fit my preferences.  Freeze them in ice trays and once frozen, you can pop them out into freezer bags, and pull one out whenever you need a quick and nourishing snack!

My Favorite Things

I fully understand that we are only a few weeks away from Christmas, but if you’re like me you probably waited until the last minute to do your shopping!  One reason it’s always taken me a long time shop for Christmas gifts is because I want it to really be special and something my family and friends will love, not just a check the box gift.  So I rounded up some of my very favorite things this year. 

You’ll notice there’s a bit of a theme – warm and cozy or travel related, of course!  Also, in the spirit of authenticity, these are truly my favorite things, and it turns out, most of my favorite things aren’t cheap 🙂  I’ll start working on a budget list for next year!

Many of these items I bought prior to moving to Germany.  When we found out I would be quitting my job, I did some serious retail therapy to prepare for my new life on one income.  Not wise or prudent behavior, but I did get some really amazing things that I wear and use all the time.  So there. 

Christmas isn’t about things, but about being with the people we love.  But I hope I’m able to give you some fun ideas for gifts to make your loved ones feel really treasured this holiday.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

My husband bought this backpack for me for our anniversary, and I think it has been my very favorite thing I’ve brought along to Germany.  It’s a gorgeous color, and a soft leather that just gets more character with every scratch or drop of water.  I LOVE IT and I get so many compliments on it.  There is a smaller size that is really cute, but this size is perfect for me to carry to the gym or shopping. Absolutely perfect for the traveler or people on the go.  And right now it’s 25% off!

We moved to Germany in the fall, so before we left, I was on the hunt for a lightweight jacket that I could throw on at night that was stylish and easy to wear.  I tried on so many and fell in love with this one.  I wore this pretty much every day the first month or so until I had to store it away for Spring, and I can’t wait to pull it back out again.

This cardigan is constantly blogged about, and probably on a million other “favorite things” blogs, and for good reason!  I wanted this sweater for so long and when it went on sale during the Nordstrom annual sale, I snagged it!  Even the sale price made me wince a little, but I can say now that it was worth every penny.  It’s so comfortable around the house, but nice enough to wear out.  Worth the investment!

Another, “oh my gosh, I need to hurry and buy Lululemon before I quit my job” purchases!  But this is another thing that I wear ALL THE TIME.  If I could wear this every day I would.  The Breeze fit is different from the classic long sleeve that Lululemon has always carried.  It’s less fitted, so I find it more comfortable and appropriate in public.  Because of the fit, I feel like you could even wear it with jeans and it look nice.

I got these boots before a ski trip last winter, knowing that we may be moving to Germany, and it’s a good thing I did!  These are perfect for cold, wet days at the Christmas markets.  They are lined with wool inside, and waterproof, but comfortable enough for long walks.  And they’re on sale!  

Being from Texas, beanies are for cute Instagram pictures when the weather drops below 60F.  Living in a cold climate, I can see that the really do serve a purpose!  Keeping my ears warm, makes such a difference when the damp, cold wind is whipping.  This hat is lined around the ears, which is key!  And, of course, it’s super cute!

Okay, so this isn’t exactly winter wear, but I can’t wait for spring to pull these back out!  I saw these on someone and loved them, but was hesitant because of the price. They are the most comfortable, cute walking shoes you can find!  Great for spring, summer, and most of fall!  

Aaptiv is an app that has tons of different workouts available where a trainer walks you through the workout.  It’s like being in a class or with a personal trainer, in the privacy of your home or gym.  I think this is such a great gift idea for someone who is looking to get in shape, or for the traveler. I use it to do yoga at home, and have even used their guided meditation, which is great for someone who has no idea where to begin to meditate!  They also have running, strength training, and various other workouts.  It’s great!

The Canon T6 Rebel is such a great starter camera for someone looking to learn photography, but doesn’t want to completely break the bank.  There are various packages on Amazon with different lenses and accessories, but this has everything you need to get started. 

So, I’ll admit that I haven’t used this service/brand, but I have been following them on Instagram and I love the concept.  I’ve always wanted to learn how to knit, and now that I have more time, I started learning, and have found it really therapeutic and fun.  WAK allows you to pick a project based on skill level (Beginner, Medium, Advanced) and it sends you a cute kit with everything you would need to knit that scarf or hat you chose.  I love the idea of giving something that someone can learn in the new year, and knitting is a great cold weather hobby!

I bought a push pin map very similar to this for my husband for our anniversary.  I think it’s such a fun idea to pin all your travels and even mark where you are dreaming of going next!  

I have bought this diffuser both in the US and in Germany (different outlets) and love it!  It’s reasonably priced and works great.  I’ve loved using essential oils as a healthier alternative to scented candles, and even my husband has fun picking out and mixing scents (don’t tell him I told you).  This is a great gift for people wanting to go non-toxic, or someone who wants that “spa-feel” in their house. 

I tend to pick up random essential oils when I find them, so I haven’t used this exact set.  However, it has great reviews and looks like a great gift for someone wanting to start diffusing essential oils. 

Cookbooks make such great Christmas gifts!  I love getting them myself, and this is my favorite of the year.  It’s all Keto/Paleo/Anti-Inflammatory, and everything is super flavorful!  This is perfect for the person interested in cleaning up their diet, but who loves to eat!  Amazing low-carb recipes that are NOT boring!

It’s no secret that Beautycounter is my clean beauty brand of choice.  But I love some of their holiday sets, and this one is perfect for travel or for taking to the gym, because who really likes the hotel and gym soap/shampoo?!

Such a fun gift idea to treat a lady in your life, or yourself!  Beautycounter’s color intense lipsticks are highly pigmented, but go on smooth and stay on your lips all day.  This set is in mini sizes, so you have one for every occasion!

Maybe a little random, but does anyone else have the issue with not being able to keep their phone charged?!  I’ve always had this problem, but traveling and not having a car has amplified it, so I cannot live without my portable charger.  This is a great stocking stuffer for that person in your life who is on the go and maybe not the best at charging their phone 🙂  

Broccoli & “Cheese” Egg Bites

Now that we’re settled in, we both stay pretty busy during the week.  Andy’s at school all day and studying at night.  I walk the dog several times a day, go to the gym, hang our laundry to dry (sigh) and usually have some social outing, either getting coffee with a friend or hitting up all the Christmas markets.   So I’ve been searching for an easy, grab and go breakfast for us during the week. 

Eggs tend to be my go-to because they are easy, and so nutritious.  They are one of the best sources of protein and contain all nine essential amino acids. They are a great source of choline, which helps regulate your brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular system, not to mention, contain Vitamin D, in which many of us are deficient. 

Between the egg and ground turkey, this has plenty of protein to keep you full through the morning, along with vitamins and fiber from the broccoli and some “cheesy” goodness from nutritional yeast.  Prep ahead for easy breakfasts on the go!

Glühwein (Spiced Mulled Wine)

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Friends and family are always asking me to send them good German recipes, so this is my first to share, and it’s the perfect timing with it being the holiday season!

Christmas markets are open all over Germany, and along with pretty ornaments and Christmas decorations, the markets always have Glühwein, which is a German/Austrian spiced mulled wine.  And it is delicious!  It’s warm and cozy, and tastes like Christmas in a cup.  If you like it a little boozier, you can add a shot of Brandy to keep you extra warm.

If you’re growing tired of hot cocoa or eggnog, this is the perfect adult beverage for the holidays.  But be careful, they go down really easily!

Glüwein (Spiced Mulled Wine)

  • 1 bottle medium-bodied red wine (pinot noir or shiraz are good choices)
  • 1 medium orange, sliced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine wine, orange slices, spices and coconut sugar. 

  2. Bring wine to a low simmer and simmer for 30 minutes. Do not let boil

  3. Remove wine from heat and strain to remove spices and orange.

  4. Serve warm in mugs with orange rind and cinnamon stick (optional).

Joyeux Noël – A Day in Strasbourg

I’ll admit, it’s been hard this holiday season not being in Texas with family and friends.  Since we have a bit of the expat holiday blues, we are trying to make the holidays as festive as we can, and make our time together here really special. I have all the cheesy Christmas movies saved on Netflix, I bought a cute little Charlie Brown tree, and I’ve prepared one heck of a Christmas playlist.
And one thing is for certain – Europe knows how to celebrate Christmas.  Every year, in towns throughout most of Europe, there are Christmas markets with handmade wooden booths selling ornaments, decorations, and food.  We have quite a few Christmas markets on our list for this year in Germany, but Strasbourg, France, is known for putting on one of the very best.  And with it only being an hour train ride, of course we had to go check it out! Once we stepped off the train, we spent our first hour strolling around to see some of the more popular Strasbourg landmarks. Apparently one of the best ways to see Strasbourg is to take a river cruise.  There are plenty of boats available even during the winter.  Although we opted out for this trip,  we plan to be back during the summer for a warm and sunny river cruise experience!

It took us no time to fall in love with Strasbourg.  It is the perfect, quaint mix of German gingerbread style with a French flair.  You get on a train in Germany, and an hour later everyone is speaking French and wearing berets (yes, French women apparently do wear berets). The streets are lined with adorable shops that sell pastries, cookies, truffles, macarons, and all the delicious French desserts!  It looks like Germany, but feels like France.

Strasbourg is also home to Cathedral de Notre-Dame, which is one of the most impressive cathedrals in Europe.  The first version of the church was built in 1015, but later burned, and was rebuilt in the 12th century in the Gothic style that was en vogue at that time.  We walked around the outside, but unfortunately the line was longer than we wanted to wait in, and we had to get to the markets!
Once we walked around the river and cathedral, and filled our bellies with some great Alsacian food, it was Christmas market time!
The markets had beautiful, unique ornaments, decorations, and even Christmas villages that were made to look like old French maisonettes.  And of course, no Christmas market would be complete without a mug of Glühwein!
Glühwein is a spiced, mulled wine that is simmered with orange and spices and served warm.  This Christmas market staple is warm, spicy, and has been known to be pretty sneaky during cold Christmas markets, if you know what I mean.  Typically, at markets, it’s served in a cute Christmas-y mug with the name of the market, which makes for a fun souvenir.  Stay tuned – I will post my glühwein recipe later this week!
The very best part of Strasbourg at Christmas is the incredible street decorations! Every street is decorated, and most businesses and restaurants are decorated in some unique Christmas theme.  How can you be a Scrooge with teddy bears all over the buildings?
We had a wonderful time strolling the markets during the day, but the magic really begins at night when the lights all come on!  The streets became really crowded, but we didn’t even mind – it was truly magical!
We left on the train that night with bellies full of macarons and full hearts.  And we loved it so much we plan to book for a weekend next Christmas.  Joyeux Noël!

The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

If you were to ask me the question, “if money or skill were not factors, what would you want to do for a living?”, I’ve always had the same response.  I want to be the person who creates soundtracks for movies.  You know, based on the scene, they choose music to accompany the scene.  I’m not someone who remembers lines from movies, I remember the music.  So naturally, I love making playlists. And you’re in luck, because I made a Christmas playlist.  And it’s not just any Christmas playlist.  According to Spotify, I’ve been working on this playlist since July (yes, July), 2013.  So, here I give you my ultimate Christmast playist.  Enjoy!

LISTEN

What it’s like living in Germany

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It’s been 2 months now that Andy and I have been together in Germany, and I would love to say that it’s been all rosy.  I’m as an old co-worker used to say, a ‘keep it real-ist’.  So for my friends at home, or those that wonder what it’s like living in Germany, I’m here to give you the deets from my honest perspective.

First, I have to say that we feel incredibly blessed to have this opportunity, and live in a country as great as Germany.  We will get to travel and see things that we never thought we would be able to see, and experience another culture.  We’ve also been so lucky to get into a nice home, and have some instant friends here that have helped us get acclimated and listened when we’ve needed to vent.

But here’s where I’ll get real: despite all the fun travel adventures and new experiences, there are just as many moments of loneliness, fear, and feeling homesick.  You don’t hear that side of the story very often.  As it turns out, a photo of someone ugly-crying into their pillow or clutching their chest during a panic attack doesn’t typically make for great Instagram posts.  I’ve had to give myself lots of grace in not being okay all the time. I’ve also had to remind myself that I’ve climbed taller mountains, and I can climb this one too. 

Now, that you know where I am emotionally, I’ll give you some tidbits on German life according to Christan…

The language barrier is real.

If there’s any tip I could give to someone moving to another country, it’s learn the language ASAP!  Prior to our move, I did some online lessons, but didn’t have the time to really dive into language classes.  I’m currently on a wait list to get into an intensive course, but the time in between moving here and learning the language has been hard!  Feeling ill-equipped to communicate in day to day life makes simple tasks feel so much bigger and harder.  Last week, I was sick as well as our dog, and the thought of trying to schedule a doctor’s appointment and veterinarian appointment not knowing if the receptionists or doctors would speak English was daunting!

You follow the rules.

Germany is notorious for being very rule-based and unafraid to tell you if you are breaking a rule.  Coming from the United States, and Texas, in particular, I feel like we have a bit of a ‘devil may care’ attitude and feel very comfortable pushing the envelope and challenging rules.  But in Germany, rules were created to make the country an organized, safe place to live, and everyone is expected to follow them.

Many of them have been easy to get behind.  Don’t cross the street on a red light.  Okay, that makes sense.  When you’re driving on the highway and merge to one lane, there is a rule that you merge like a zipper.  And EVERY SINGLE PERSON does the ‘zipper’ like kind, emotionally stable human beings.  How handy would that have been in Houston traffic? I love this rule.

But there are some rules that just don’t make much sense to me.  But even when my unruly heart wants to put up a challenge, I remember that I’m a Christian first, a guest in this country second, and that I don’t know enough German to win an argument!

Everything is bigger in Texas.

Except for the beer and the schnitzels, that is!  When we were in Texas, we were living in a very small house for Texas standards.  Now we’re in about half of that space.  Our kitchen is only big enough to fit the four trash cans we require to properly recycle (that could be another post), our refrigerator is smaller than most wine coolers, and our freezer is about the size of a bread box.  I’m not going to lie, I REALLY miss my big, open kitchen with an island, and my big stainless refrigerator.  But I’m learning to appreciate the more minimalist way of living.  We aren’t tempted to fill our place with more STUFF, so we have more time to focus on the important things.  

Sundays are sacred.

That means that most stores, including grocery stores are CLOSED.  You have to be very strategic to make sure you make your grocery and drug store runs before Sunday.  Also, Sundays are quiet.  You are expected to not run your lawn mower, vacuum, or drills.  It’s intended to be a day for church, family and rest.  I happen to really love this rule.  When we were in the US, on Sundays we would go to church, but then Andy and I would go our separate ways.  I would go to Target (duh), Andy would go to Lowe’s, and then we would probably not truly spend time together until the evening.  Now we rest and spend time together – we take the dog on walks, we read books, or just catch up on Netflix and naps.  This is a habit that I sure hope we can keep when we move back.

Germans are green.

No, they’re not actually green like the color, but they are very into recycling and energy efficiency.  We now recycle with four different bins for the different types of recyclables.  Air conditioning and clothes dryers are far less common. That’s right.  Being from Texas, the thought of living without A/C is terrifying!  But here, most summers the weather doesn’t get too warm, so you just crack a window or get outside.  This last summer was a bit of an exception!  And yes, we live life without a clothes dryer!  I hang my clothes out to dry outside on a line during the summer and inside in the furnace room during the winter.  This is not my favorite chore.

Public transportation is common.

Germany, like a lot of Europe, has wonderful public transportation.  Many people rely on the local buses to jet around town easily, and the trains to travel regionally and even across Europe.  Since we are only here for 18 months, we chose to fully embrace public transportation and not purchase or bring over a vehicle.  This is really handy, although I do miss the ability to just hop in my car and go to Trader Joes.  And it makes grocery shopping more difficult since I can only purchase what I can carry home! What I don’t miss is fighting that crazy Houston traffic with people who don’t know how to merge civilly, like the Germans.

Restaurant service is very different.

First, most restaurants require you to make reservations.  The reason for this is because they believe that once you have a table at a restaurant, it’s yours for the night.  No one will push you along to hurry and get out so they can seat someone else.  Once you order and are served, the server is very likely not going to come around and ask if you need anything.  They feel it is interrupting and rude, so servers tend to leave you alone unless flagged down.  And finally, cash is king! That goes for restaurants and pretty much anywhere in Germany! Even many restaurants are cash only.

The world has felt a little turned upside down over the last few months, learning to fit into a new culture.  I miss so many of the conveniences of home, but I know that this is a season and one where we are sure to grow and also have some amazing experiences.  Prayers, chemical-laced cold meds, and Trader Joes paraphernalia still being accepted.

XO –

Christan

The Safer Beauty Products I Couldn’t Leave America Without

af30a79ba186599afe1b116d164bf51cAfter we decided to move to Germany and all the emotions had settled, we set into preparation mode.  Sell the house, sell the cars, figure out what to do with the pups, find somewhere to live, and then figure out what we were going to take with us.  Do we take all the furniture, or try to get a furnished place?  So many decisions.

We were so lucky to get to talk to some other expats in Germany doing the same things as we were about to do, but had much more time under their belts!  And of course, I had time to talk to the wives and get the real deal on what it’s really like to live in Germany, and their advice on the tactical things.  One thing they were all adamant about was to do our shopping before we leave.  If there are things that we really loved, don’t expect to find the same here, and if you do, it’s likely to be much more expensive.  Clothes, medicine, beauty products.  Buy it in America, pack it up, and ship it over.

For the last few years I’ve been committed to using safer, non-toxic products.  But I’m also a recovering Sephora junky, and I like products that are effective and make me feel beautiful!  Fortunately, there are several brands that I put my trust in, in both of these areas.

Here’s a summary of my favorite products that I just had to ship over, and why I love them so much!  

SKINCARE

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Beautycounter’s  No 1 Brightening Skin Oil: This oil has changed my skin over the last few years that I’ve used it, and I just won’t part with it.  And German Winter’s are cold.  This product uses all natural oils to moisturize and awaken dull skin.  Using oil on your skin tends to terrify people, and understandably.  We were all teenagers at some point.  The reality is that when your skin is dry and in need of oil, it actually ramps up oil production, which is more likely to cause the greasy foreheads and breakouts.  And facial oils work really nicely as makeup primers, filling in and plumping up the dry spots so makeup goes on nice and smooth.

Beautycounter Cleansing Balm:  This is my go-to all-in-one travel product.  When I’m traveling, I hate packing a whole skincare routine.  I like to keep it simple.  So this product is perfect for travel, because it does it all.  It removes makeup, cleanses skin, and moisturizes.  It can be used as an overnight mask and even rubbed on dry elbows or other dry skin patches.

Tinkles: Weird name, great invention.  Ladies, there are some interesting trends emerging, but hairy faces are not one of them.  These are basically face razors.  Don’t be scared, you won’t grow a beard from using it.  They remove the peach fuzz and even exfoliate. I love them.  Easy, affordable, and I don’t have to make an appointment.

MAKEUP

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Beautycounter Tint Skin Foundation: This foundation goes on super smooth, and is the perfect coverage.  I honestly haven’t found a foundation that I’ve liked more.  I use Linen in Fall/Winter and Sand in Spring/Summer, when I have a bit more color.

Beautycounter Sheer Lipstick: Lipstick was one of the first products I changed over to a safe brand I trust.  Why?  Well, because ladies, we pretty much eat it. Most lipsticks contain lead, parabens, and harmful dyes.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that ingested.  Beautycounter has an array of colors, but my current fave is Lily, which is a natural pink that looks great all seasons and on all skin tones.

HAIR & BODY

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Primally Pure Deodorant:  Smelly pits are not pleasant for anyone.  However, many deodorants contain aluminum which works by trapping toxins in your body, that end up being stored in your lymph nodes, and has been linked to Alzheimer’s and breast cancer.  When this dirty secret started getting more press, it put many of us in a really awkward position.  Risk chronic illness, or lose friends.  No one should have to make that choice.  At one point in my pursuit of an effective natural deodorant, I actually had to leave work during lunch to shower and change my clothes. If you’ve done the same, you know that many of the safer deodorants either don’t work and leave you with sweaty, smelly pits, break you out, or get all over your clothes.  That’s what led me to Primally Pure.  I LOVE this deodorant!  It keeps me dry, smelling like a daisy, and it doesn’t get all over my clothes!  Hooray!  I use Geranium, but there are several really yummy scents to try out.

Primally Pure Dry Shampoo: Dry shampoo is one of the best inventions for women.  Because we have way better things to do than to wash our hair everyday, right?  Aerosol and endocrine disrupting synthetic fragrances are just a few of the players mixed up in most dry shampoos. This uses kaolin clay and arrowroot powder, scented with essential oils.

Beautycounter Daily Shampoo & Daily Conditioner: I have battled with psoriasis since I was a kid, so when I had a bad flare about three years ago, I started taking a harder look at my personal care products and shampoo & conditioner was one of the first I decided to switch over.  I tried multiple brands, which didn’t seem to foam up at all, or left my hair feeling either greasy or completely stripped of oil.   Beautycounter has several lines of shampoo & conditioner for different hair types, but my hair happens to do best with their original line. It smells great, it lathers, leaves my hair feeling clean but not stripped, AND my hairdresser has even commented how my hair has gotten much healthier since using it!  WIN.

If you’re looking for ways to choose safer products or look into the safety of your current products, EWG – Skin Deep is a fantastic site, which rates products based on safety of their ingredients.  If you aren’t able to find the specific product, you can look up individual ingredient safety ratings.

If you have any questions about what I use or about switching to safer products, comment or send me a message.  Have a fantastic week, friends!

Christan