I Wonder

I know that Christmas is coming and that the holiday season is here. How do I know? Well, mostly from the level of stress that I am feeling. Between making an authentic advent calendar for the kids, finding perfect presents for the family and squeezing time to sip some punch and wine with friends before the year’s end, this month is like riding the little mini-ferris wheel at the Altes AKH Christmas market. It’s no wonder that I am struggling to feel festive.

Next week I fly off to the States to spend the holidays with my family. Because my family is the typical fractured family of the modern age, we will celebrate 7 Christmases across three states in a one-week or so period. For me, it’s the mad dash to get it all done before frantically rushing out the door to the next celebration. For the kids, however, it’s a land of presents and great food. It’s no wonder that they love America.

It makes me wonder, how can I get the Christmas wonder back in my life? I genuinely want to feel excited about the holidays like my children do. I want to wake up on Christmas morning and not feel like I am preparing for a battle. I want my eyes to shimmer and shine and belly laugh like a bowl full of jelly (but if this is a fantasy, there would be absolutely no jelly!). And while I am at it, indulge in all sorts of Christmas goodies and not even think for a second which part of my thighs they will settle upon. I want Christmas to be wrapped in this veil of mystery and magic, sit in wonder and awe under the tree as presents present themselves.

In mindfulness, there is the concept of the beginner’s mind. This idea is rooted in using our mind to see things like it’s the first time, absent of preconceived notions or judgments or expectations. Basically, it’s like the face of a small child on Christmas morning, full of wonder, awe and curiosity asking, “I wonder what this is?” It asks you to put aside your fixed ideas and beliefs and approach life with true wonder. Indeed, it presents a gift of curiosity and possibility into a situation that I associate with stress and challenge.

I wonder if I can do this. I wonder if I can find a way to let go of my preconceived notions of the holidays and just see things with a twinkle of my eyes. I wonder if I can wake up Christmas morning with a sense of joy and whatever presents itself in the moment. I wonder if I can find joy in the moments and gifts of the season, even if they are calorie-rich. I wonder if I can willingly suspend my disbelief and feel the magic of it all alongside my children. I wonder. I wonder. I wonder….

Thanksgiving in Vienna


Just before the winter sets in and covers everything in icy white and shimmering Christmas lights, the last Fall days put some sunshine through the orange of the fallen leaves and remaining pumpkins. The crisp breeze spreads a smell of a tipsy apple juice and a lovely celebration happens: Thanksgiving. For the ones not so familiar with it – this is a celebration meant to give thanks to the past year and for the blessings of the harvest.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving”, was originally celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621. This feast lasted three days, and — as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow — was host to 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. In the United States, Thanksgiving is agreed to happen on the 4th Thursday of November. With the same meaning but different dates, Thanksgiving is also celebrated in Canada, some of the Caribbean islands and Liberia (further details about the Thanksgiving in the United States and other countries can be found in Wikipedia).


The good part of living here in Vienna, is that some of the population is embracing the diversity of the people and is also preparing for Thanksgiving – this year on the 23rd of November (American style). If it is the offer of turkey in the meat shops or the restaurants that prepare the Thanksgiving meals (and help you just get rid of the cooking and dishwashing part of the feast), Vienna has it all.

Our savvy VFN members helped compile a list of things and places that will come handy for this celebration:

For the ones that enjoy cooking and make it part of the Thanksgiving ritual:

Some places for buying turkey: Try Wildhandel Kriegler (23rd district) or the Poultry butcher shop on 47 Stumpergasse (6th district). Did you need a big turkey? Advice for next year would be to go directly to your local grocery store and order a big, fat turkey, a few weeks in advance. You’re not too late for a decent-sized Christmas turkey, though! The turkey here is normally smaller than the ones back in the US. Note from the editor: I find smaller Turkeys good, because the young kids usually don’t appreciate the taste and won’t eat that much of it anyway.

Stuffing tips: A lovely VFN member has shared her grandma’s recipe – white bread, salt, pepper, sage, mushroom and celery.

Mushroom soup: an instant powdered mushroom soup packet mixed with a cup of 3,5% fat milk (known as Vollmilch here) is a good substitute for Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup for green bean casserole.

Pie-baking tips: Canned pumpkin for baking pie can be found at Bobby’s and Prosi

Cranberries: these can usually be found at Spar Gourmet and Merkur.


For the ones that just want to enjoy the meal and skip the cooking:

Hard Rock Cafe is joining the fun and has a menu for almost all the American celebrations.

Strebersdorferhof – a charming restaurant, just at the outskirts of Vienna, in the lovely Strebersdorf (worth a visit no matter when). You need to be fast to book a table, though, as it fills up fast.

Frank’s American Bar & Restaurant & Music – dresses up for the occasion and welcomes it’s guests in a home-away-from-home atmosphere.

So, no matter if this is your holiday and your life was always filled with its tradition, no matter if you just adopt it now, because of your international family or just because you want to experience it, don’t forget to enjoy and create, together with your kids, your family’s own traditions, so they too have something to dream about when they are older.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Article by Daniela Damian

Edited by Gail Schwarz

Pop Some Tags!

As a child, my mother loved yard sales. She would open the local Rochester, NY paper on Friday to the back section where people would place advertisements for their weekend sales. She would circle the ones of interest and then map out a plan. Saturdays and Sundays after chores she would load us kids into the back of the station wagon and off we would go. She would drive up slow, quickly assessing if it is was worth it or not to stop. If it was a go, she would park the car and then we would wait breathless for what came next, “Alright, you can come out.” Woo-hoo! We would get the chance to find treasure and if we were lucky, the perfect cheap toy that she would approve or we could get bundled into some other purchase. “Stay here!” We would frown and sit like rejected puppies, unable to keep from driving each other crazy in the tight space of the trunk of the car.
We would spend hours each weekend day trekking all across the greater Rochester area all in the quest for the perfect finds. Our house was largely furnished, our bodies mostly clothed and our toy basement stocked by her yard sale finds. While we would whine as she would pull up to yet another unsuspecting family’s driveway, we also knew not to complain too much.

While yard sales are a thing of my past and not the usual weekend fare here, Vienna does offer its fair share of thrifting in the form of flea markets. From the Naschmarkt on Saturdays to the bi-annual fun of the Neubaugasse street market to the joys of children’s flea markets with their beloved old toys spread out on blankets on the street, there are opportunities to find diamonds amidst the coal. And while I love all of these flea markets, my favorite for families is definitely our very own VBC Flea Market. All biased aside, it truly is an amazing market and place to “pop some tags”. Here’s five reasons to fall in love with our fall flea and design market:

1) Real people with really good stuff. Everyone there with tables are real everyday families with all the everyday stuff that comes with having kids. It’s stuff we actually need! And, it’s at prices that won’t make us feel guilty when they grow out of it in a month.
2) Yummy baked goods for good causes. 100% of the profits on the incredible offerings of sweet treats go to help a charitable cause. This time it’s Kinder Krebs Hilfe. A cookie against cancer? Don’t mind if I do 🙂
3) Fun for both children and adults. No need to leave your kids in the car! The VFN Junior Market offers children the opportunity to get into the joys of popping tags with tables of their very own. A great way to help them develop business skills while clearing out their cabinets.
4) Businesses made for us, by us! It’s not just for baked goods and second-hand goodies, it’s also a design market with handmade and unique offerings from businesses from our community. From family photographers to multilingual consultants to that perfect pair of little shoes, the goods and services of the design market are all good!

5) Friends old and new It’s not only deals on older clothes and toys that we look forward to catching: it’s catching up with old friends that we may not have seen in a bit. And true to all VFN events, it’s also a chance to make some new friends, too.

So, pack your families into cars (or into public) and get out to the fall VFN International Flea and Design Market this coming Sunday, October 22nd at the Berufsschule Hans Mandel from 9-1pm. Pop some tags and fall in love with flea market fun!

How Do You Do It?

Recently at an event of my son’s I go the working mom question. Some of the other moms, a mixture of both SAHMs and working mothers, were admiring my six layer rainbow cake. One mother marveled at the deliciousness of the cake (admittedly, it was really pretty and tasty 🙂 and wondered how I found the time to do it while being a full-time teacher and mother of two. And somewhat biting and with a little dose of snark, she made the inevitable comment, “How dooooo you do it?” I laughed and went to my typical response, “I don’t sleep!” Laughs and chuckles all around as my little white lie reassures them all that I am indeed not any better at this mom business than any of them are.

Yet, the truth, the real truth, is the answer I gave my sister when she asked that same question, though with much less snark and more pity head shaking. I don’t do it. I don’t do it all. Never have, never will. The real truth is that I am part of a parenting team. I don’t do it. We do it.

While there are plenty of times in my life where I prefer to go it alone, parenting is not one of them. Parenting is tough, really tough. It takes an exasperating amount of energy which no one outside of toddlers themselves possess. It takes patience. Patience that Zen monks have because they are meditating on mountains while the rest try not to lose it. I would love to see those monks be patient trying to get my daughter out the door. They would be back up in those mountains in no time! There are days when parenting feels like climbing Mt. Everest and days where parenting feels like you are placing a flag on the summit (anyone who has ever potty trained their child knows all about this!). But just like climbers, and even those monks, no one gets there all by themselves.

Today is Father’s Day and I am very privileged to have my husband as a father to my children. Together, we do it. That cake got baked because he put the kids to bed. He packed their lunches for the next day while I packed ingredients into the mixer. He folded clothes he washed while I folded the batter. He arranged play dates and our upcoming calendar while I arranged Skittles into a rainbow on the top of the cake. He picked up my daughter and in-laws to attend my son’s event while I picked up my classroom at the end of the school day. Together, we do it.

My partner in crime with our two little convicts.

My partner in crime with our two little convicts.

While I am referring to my husband, the whole pictures includes much more than him. We have in-laws, aunts and uncles and “aunts” and “uncles”, and friends that help us through with G&Ts that keep us from joining those monks. The thing is, no matter what the arrangement of your family or circle is, none of us do it alone. Yet, all of us mothers seem willing to ask or have to answer the question, “How do you do it?” I doubt my husband has ever had to ask that question. I doubt that other dads stand around asking each other this question over cake. Yet, the question is as legitimate for him as it is for me.

Which brings me to the point- this question is not legitimate. We need to stop putting undo pressure on ourselves and other mothers to “do it all”. We legitimately need to acknowledge and respect the partners on our side. Dads do not babysit. They parent. Parenting involves all sorts of people and groups. Let’s replace the question “How do you do it?” with the question “How can I help?” Because let’s face it, parenting is tough. Let’s not making it any tougher than it already is by trying to go it alone or by leaving each other alone in our struggles. Together, we can do it.

When we together, it's a piece of cake :)

When we do it together, it’s a piece of cake 🙂

Game On!

With the holidays right around the corner and three weeks of break headed my way, one can imagine long, peaceful days reading next to the fire with warm cups of cocoa as I watch the snowflakes fall. Did I mention the word “imagine”? Because, let’s face it, holidays are nowhere as calm and peaceful as the Christmas songs make them out to be (chestnuts roasting on an open fire, my ass!). Instead, the holidays can often vasicillate between crazy, hectic, sugar-fueled madness to the long, slow, he’s-breathing-on-me insanity.

While the electronic screen can easily provide hours of distraction, there are others to pass the time slightly more peacefully and productively- games! Simple, straight-up board and card games can provide golden family time without ridiculous theme songs. While they may not always be peaceful, they can give families the opportunity to enjoy some quality time together and have a little fun.
Looking for some diamonds in our midst? Consider these:
Old Maid (Schwarzer Peter): A simple card game that can be played with young and old alike. Basically a game of chance that helps younger children recognize pairs and older children attempt to strategize their picks.
Snail’s Pace Race (Tempo, kleine Schnecke): Made for little ones but there is definitely added fun when you get bets going with older kids 🙂
Chutes and Ladders (Snakes and Ladders): Another simple game that relies on chance and builds with excitement in the hopes of making it past the snakes to reach the top.
Monopoly: The original version is actually crazy complicated (did you know you could take on mortgages in the game?) but simpler kid-friendly versions are out there too. We love the Monopoly World Edition that has kids collect stamps on a passport instead of purchasing properties (kind of like our lives, too!).
Trouble: I just cannot help popping that bubbble over and over and over again. Plus, there is something so deeply satisfying about landing on someone and sending them back!
Sorry (Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht): Another classic that also includes satisfying sending of opponents back.
Enchanted Forest (Sagaland): An 80s game that I love to this very day involving story book characters in a forest with trees. Essentially an elaborate memory game where you get to peek under trees.
Candyland: Always makes me a little hungry but the visuals alone make it appealing.

I could go on an on with games that my family loves to play together and there are thousands out there. What they all have in common, however, is that they offer the possibility of family fun that does not revolve around a screen and probably teaches some other skills while you are at it. Whether it’s building memory, developing number sense or building a sense of fair play, games give us all room to grow. Years in early childhood education has shown me over and over again that play is critical to learning- and this goes for older children and adults as well. We can tell our children about fairness and being a good sport, but it is actual practice that teaches. We can practice rote counting all the way up to 1000, but it is the movement of the little marker around the board that often makes it stick. While life lessons taught during gaming are often not pretty (my son ends many a game with tears, time outs and, “I’m never going to play with you again!”), they are indeed lessons to be learned in between the victories and losses. When it comes to gaming, we all have something to win.

TIPS: On the go for the holidays? Many of the little travel versions of the games are great for on the go and for restaurant visits. Most toy stores here have a seciton dedicated to them and they often run great sales.
Looking for new game ideas or a way to kill time during the cold winter days? Head over to the Spielebox in the 8th district. http://www.wienxtra.at/spielebox/ With over 6,500 games to choose from, kids can play in the location or you can rent games to take home and try out.

Gaming with adults? The raunchy and oh-so-revealing Cards Against Humanity can be loads of fun (especially with a few drinks!). More subdued games like Mexican Train with double 12 dominoes provide fun for all ages. And if your family is anything like my loud and vibrant Italian-American crew, Pictionary can be an all-out war!