Garden Update

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It’s going to hit the 90s again today, and of course it ended up being one of the only free days we had to work in the yard.  Go figure!  Thanks to some friends of ours that Steve works with, we were able to tackle our little jungle of a yard full of stinging nettles and thorny bushes and vines.  That’s okay–in our yard work Steve found that the whole side of yard’s fence is covered in blackberry vines!  The #1 fruit in our house, and also a very expensive purchase around here is free for the next few weeks! Yeah!

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Our vegetable garden is hanging in there too.  The cucumbers have done well, though we’ve only yielded four cucumbers so far, it appears as though the peak of their fruiting season is yet upon us.  I guess I’m a little used to southern weather and the peak being in June/July–not August!

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The zucchini plants struggled at first, not sure why, but one really seemed to kick the bucket only to bounce back!  The green zucs are coming in to hopefully give us our first one this week or next; the yellow zuc (the one that struggled) was going to give us one to pick two weeks ago, but it shriveled up mid growth.  But, one thing I’ve noticed more of recently have been bumble bees!  They’re all around the garden now, and both plants have blossomed more and more flowers–so I hope that’s a good sign of veggies to come!

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The tomatoes continue to perplex me.  We got a first harvest soon after we bought the plant; however, since then, it’s only grown big green tomatoes (the first ones WERE red!) that are super tart, but never continue to mature into red ones.  Not sure yet.

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Next summer, we plan to clear out this whole terrace level and the next one down to garden the whole space.  We also received the okay from our landlord to put some sort of steps into the hill.  Lots of work ahead of us this fall!

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Since we don’t have any tv/cable set up, we’re not watching German TV (we’re really just living off our DVD collection for now), so we’re also missing out on the commercials.  This week, I’m thinking that’s not such a bad thing.  My mother in law is coming in after this weekend, and we plan to take a few trips, so I needed an oil change.  Since my car is German spec (the odometer is in kilometers), I have to bring the oil filters, air filters and oil to the Army base if I want to get my oil changed there.  Since I have NO idea where to get this done on the economy, the base was a perfect fit.

So off we went to Trost Auto…and encountered German advertising in six foot forms.  Me thinks this is probably a modest selection of advertisements, but nonetheless, it caught me and the kids by surprise.

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Nothing like a half dressed woman and sumo wrestler in a five feet span.  I really wish I could’ve captured the picture of Mikey standing right in front of her, staring straight up.  I’m thankful that we’re not at the “What’s that mama?” phase for him…yet.

And then I had to stare at this while I waited for my order to be located:

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That said, I’m going to take my neighbor up on his offer of finding me a cheap filter next time and save me the leg work (and eye sore and kid questions).  I’m trying not to make a big deal out of it so the kids think it’s no big deal and make a scene. And yes, I took these pictures as subtly as possible since there was a line that had formed behind me!


The Birds and the…Flies?

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Living in Europe has its wonderful advantages–we seem to be two hours from everywhere!  Two hour train ride to Paris; two hour drive to Austria; it took a little under two hours to get to Luxembourg, Luxembourg.  But not everyday is a living vacation!  We do live out our lives in a rural town in Germany.  And with that comes some interesting aspects that make me long for simple things like screens on the windows!

Our house has lovely eaves that hang over a few feet.  That provides the perfect setting for swallows to make nests.  They are an interesting bird to watch for sure–especially in the evening around 7p.m.; they seem to all come out and do their dinner hunting, so there’s this aerial show of swooping and banking.  The nests are probably a feat of engineering, but they’re pretty ugly to be honest:

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The other problem with having bird nests all along your houses eaves is that they stick their butts out of the nest and poop.  So it’s close to the house.  I’ve noticed other houses that have swallows’ nests put a layer of sand along their window sills and base of the house, so that they can just sweep it away (like an outdoor kitty litter box).  We might need to invest in that method, especially since this is the true view out my windows:

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The positive side to the swallows is that they eat flies.  Which apparently is well known, so it’s an ordinance in the area that you’re not allowed to remove their nests until after the baby swallows are big enough to fly!  However, living next to a horse farm means that flies are in an abundance for the swallows, and they can’t eat them all up (I wish).  On the day our movers arrived, the windows and doors were all open wide, all day long.  This is what our kitchen ceiling looked like:

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No, we don’t think there’s a dead body in our ceiling, they just like it there.  And this is what my ceiling looks like when I smoke out the house by broiling in my oven (still have yet to figure out how to NOT create a fire hazard…).  So once the kids are down for the night, Steve and I go on a little fly massacre.  We kill as many flies as we can, and then sweep them up–this was just round one and no, those aren’t raisins:

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After this was thrown away, we usually notice that the younger flies are walking on the ground and go get them too.  Never did I think I’d be washing handprints AND bug guts off my windows every day.  Nor did I think I’d be explaining death to my kids in the form of a baby bird, but we also had to deal with four babies found dead over three days–having been pushed out of the nest.

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(The kids trying to keep the bird alive)

But alas, this is the life of rural Germany! Maybe this is why Europeans go on ”holiday” so much–they’re dealing with this kind of stuff every day and need a margarita on the Spanish Isles as a break from it all!


The Garbage Post

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Ah, Germany and their garbage…or lack there of?  We have five ways of sorting our trash here.  It’s not too terribly hard, I just have to make a conscious effort when telling the kids which bin to throw things into!

The first is what to do with food scraps or bio, as they call it.  Anything that can decompose goes into the brown bin.  You have to get those somewhere around here–we don’t have a brown bin, so we created a compost pile in our backyard.  Hoping to add some local dung to it, and we should have a nice healthy compost to use in our garden next year!  This handy little bin was left behind by the previous tenant

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Its convenient location is under the kitchen sink–which comes in handy when I have to clean this out:

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A new hated kitchen task (as if I didn’t hate dishes and cleaning already…), is to clean out the food that washes off the dishes and has to go into the bio bin.   NO garbage disposal in my sink folks–living simply over here!

The bin on the other side of the bio bin is the paper bin–which goes into the blue container outside.  Paper, cardboard, but NO paper that has touched food (i.e. pizza boxes or mail with plastic).  This only gets picked up once a month.  We are running into the situation where ours is brimming full because we’ve ordered a lot that came in a box, or needed to buy a new appliance (like our fans, microwave, etc.).  THANKFULLY our landlord works in the garbage and sewage arena, so he came by with a truck last week and alleviated some of that load!

The most commonly used bin in our house in the yellow bags.  This is called the recycle bag.  Anything that can be recycled goes into here–Styrofoam, plastics, wrappers, food wrappers, aluminum, etc.  The kids have caught on quickly that this is where most of their stuff gets thrown:

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So commonly used it gets our old trash can as a holder.  But this doesn’t have an outdoor bin, you just put out all your yellow bags every other Tuesday.  Where does it all collect until then (because I can guarantee you the foxes rip that thin plastic right open!)?  In the garage or on the side of buildings–classy.

Next is the black bag/bin.  You don’t want to see what’s inside, so here’s our inside container in our boiler room:WP_20140711_004

As someone described to me when I asked what went in here, she said, “If it has a bodily fluid–it goes in here.  If it touched raw meat, it goes in here.”  This can from IKEA is a life saver–I locks in the smell.  The little swing top trash can that we had from the rental company leaked out the retched smell that comes out of this by the end of the two weeks–yes, this bag is collected every two weeks.  Why not change it more often?  Because these bags are specific, and like the yellow ones, you have to get at city hall (called a Rathaus–fitting, no?).  Not worth the extra trip and costs.  So one bag every two weeks for this houses “black bag” type garbage.

Oh, and there’s a plastic that doesn’t get put into the yellow!  Don’t forget, if you buy a plastic item on the economy, like bottled water or a beer that’s in plastic, it’ll have a little arrow on the label that tells you that you can get cash back for returning your bottle!  I know that in some locations, the trash guys will go through your yellow bags to look for thrown out bottles that get you .25 euro each!  That adds up!

The last thing to remember is that you don’t throw out glass bottles.  There are collection points in most communities….we have yet to find ours, so here’s our 8 week collection of glass that’s growing…

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Oh, and NEVER EVER EVER recycle your glass during quiet hours (12p-3p).  It’s a serious faux pas and you’ll get yelled at by the nearest resident (who probably is watching those bins because it bugs them enough!).

(what a collection site looks like in some towns…don’t know yet about ours!)

All things considered, it’s just an extra thought during the day (and on Monday nights, because each color is picked up on a different week!), and an extra step during chores.  Not to terrible and the country is one of the cleanest around, so I guess it’s working in some capacity!

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I still think that seeing everyone’s garbage bins out is a little ugly…but the pretty flowers everyone has seems to help ease the ugliness.


The Pub

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 A pub in Europe means something slightly different than in the U.S.  Most pubs have tables for sit down eating (as ours does too), and a bar.  The ones we’ve been in have been kid friendly, or small enough where people don’t mind.

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Unfortunately, our pub gal only knows how to make two things–pizza and flamkuchen, which is a crispy flat pizza with a cream sauce and chopped ham and onions on top.  We love her flamkuchen; after having a couple different ones–both store bought frozen and another pub’s–none seem to compare.  So on nights when I don’t feel like cooking, I ask her to fire up the oven and make us a couple! Yeah!

A few weeks ago I was her first customer to order wine!  So she didn’t know what to charge me (she’s only assumed ownership about six weeks before we arrived), so it was on the house.  Apparently, some of the regulars have bemoaned that since I arrived, she’s started drinking wine instead of shots with them.  Not sure how to take that…

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(This is Merela, originally from Romania, new owner of the pub in town;

loves that I’ll wash the dishes I bring back when she cooks for us!)

Today, the kids joined me at the pub while waiting for our pizzas.  Germany was playing France in the World Cup–and since the U.S. is out of contention, we rooted for our new home country!  And they won!  Seated next to Briana is Michelle, and her 2 year old brother, David, is off somewhere under the counter.

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A pub is generally family friendly because drinking isn’t really a shunned or hidden thing here.  But I’m not sure I want my kids asking for a “bier” at age 8…we’ll see how long we live here!

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Neither is smoking.  That’s still taking getting used to by me–and it’s taking some extra special talks with Briana as we’re going through one of her little science books which has a body section about “not healthy” things, and smoking is in there.  I don’t need her scolding 90% of German adults in Langwieden!

Our landlord also owns the pub (you’ll find that the more buildings we visit, the more we realize the family owns!).  And I find that in every building that the Schrass family owns, there are quite a few taxidermy items, hunting trophies, and it wouldn’t be Europe without a knight in every place.

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They do have some amazing taste in the little things like doors and accessories:

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All things measured–this is the place where we’ll learn our German, because I know the neighbors we run into here love practicing their English when we stop by!


Things I Miss Already

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Laying in bed last night after writing a slew of posts, I did the “ohhh I should’ve included this!” cycle in my head for about an hour.  I even contemplated getting up and writing!  Glad I didn’t and got my shut eye.

But writing about the food, I realized I wanted to include things I miss!

-Costco sized servings of berries.  The base sells fruit, but it’s over $3 for a tiny container of blueberries.  My kids can do without.  I had found a few fresh fruits at the Aldi and Lidl stores on the economy, but not much.  My landlord’s father came to the rescue the other day when he invited us to walk down by the soccer field and up a dirt road to a small pond.  There he has cherry trees, plum trees, raspberry bushes, a berry that I’ve never seen before but is tarty-goodness, and apple trees for the fall.  We’ve been saved!

-I miss Target of course.  My bank account doesn’t.  There’s a store here called Globus that’s similar in that it has a grocery, and everything else section…but it’s pretty chaotic feeling in there.  I remember when working for Target that there was a BIG deal put on the fact that every light works in the store and that it’s bright and the floors reflect the lights.  No joke, when the store is dim, it makes a difference in how I feel inside it!  Those retail psychologists were on to something!

-An oven in Fahrenheit.  Funny, the guy who came up with Fahrenheit is GERMAN…but they don’t use it.  I’m getting used to Celcius conversions and metric quickly…but my oven seems to cook things much faster and I haven’t figured out its kinks quite yet.  And it has six different settings to choose from after I set the temperature.  Through guessing and deduction, I think I’ve conquered it…I have yet to roast anything yet.

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Besides these silly little things, we really do enjoy it here and are getting used to the differences quickly!


School Days!

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A little early you say?  Sort of.  One of our first pieces of mail that arrived at our PO Box on base were two giant boxes full of academic goodies for one special kindergartner!

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I purchased a couple different curriculums to make sure we got some all around knowledge in this year.  A lot of curriculums for K come with a base of handwriting, phonics and reading, and math.  Seeing how this is my first go at homeschooling, I asked around for other curriculums to beef up what we did.  Thanks to the advice of a well seasoned mom–I found Timberdoodle.  It’s a site that finds some well based, highly rated curriculums for all subjects, so you don’t have to go searching.  I liked that the package had geography, art, a science kit, reasoning and brain teasers.  I could have found this all on my own, but I like how each topic was from different companies (some from the same).

Since we plan on traveling quite a bit, and entertaining guests, I decided that we’d home school year round.  Also, being expatriates, we don’t have to follow any laws regarding home schooling (some states require 180 days, documentation, etc.).  There’s a bit of freedom that we have that many do not *that also scares me!

While Briana works on things like a handwriting sheet, or math–Mikey and Evie either play:

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Or Mikey gets in on the schooling too! He loves to do exactly what Briana does, so he’ll sit down and color, or he’ll snag one of her learning tools like this magnetic handwriting board to teach lower case letters.  This is SO good for him because he still has some fine motor delays (I sent this picture to his teacher to show him his improved pen holding!)

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Both kids get read to — either in the back of the car:

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Or in our new little reading corner:

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With our school room set up and almost organized, we’ve moved our learning to the great room upstairs so that Evie and Mikey can play while Briana and I sit and do some one on one learning.  While Evie naps, we do things like a lesson from the science kit or put together one of the geography puzzles.

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We’ll do a bit more each day as we learn how to work together, learning styles, and get our schedule ironed out.  But I do love the flexibility to do some school in the morning, go to the park or on a trip to the store, and then maybe some more in the afternoon.  It keeps us fresh!


Food: Part 1

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A friend asked me what the appliances are like here.  Small and very efficient.

This is our fridge and freezer (which we’re supposed to be lucky to have one!)

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So far, we’ve been able to survive just fine with this size.  However, we’ll probably get a chest freezer to put out in the garage so we can get some beef from neighbors when they slaughter their cattle!  Ok, and to stock up on gelato…that stuff is amazing.

Our oven is pretty tiny.  My friend Jenny and her family spent three years in England and warned me that my cookie sheets won’t fit.  Well, she’s sort of right.  Some of my wider ones won’t fit, but my standard ones will, only because of the grooves in the over that’ll hold it in place!  Same goes for my roasting pan–if I slide the handles in the grooves, it’ll JUST fit.  Thanksgiving is ON!

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And of course, beer in Germany is cheap.  Even cheaper when you factor in that you return the bottles to these little bottle depots at many grocery stores, and you get cash back.  Each bottle returned gets you .25€ back.  So this bottle (which you can buy a case, or individual bottles) cost .49€

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and then once I return the bottle, I’ve really only spent .24€ on a bottle of beer.  It’s weird, but beer is cheaper to drink at a restaurant than water!

We’ve not eaten out much–at the pub next store, and at the Landstuhl castle (Burg Nanstein).  But we definitely like the Jager-schnitzel!  Our landlord’s family owns the restaurant at the castle, and was happy to hear of our food choices and likes!


Langwieden, Germany

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Our little village, or as Steve calls it, our hamlet, is called Langwieden.  Home to one of the oldest churches in the Palitinate, but also very tiny with a population of about 200 people.  Make that 205 now!

Upstairs, Briana and Mikey have their own rooms at the front of the house and have that church as their view each morning:

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We have had some incredibly beautiful weather, and with a view out our back door like this, it’s hard not to thank the landlord for putting in two huge glass sliding doors on the back of the house so it’s not obstructed!

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As you approach our town, you might miss the turn off–it’s a small road that juts off the main road quickly as you top the hill!  Here’s a view as you are coming up that hill towards Langwieden:

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The houses in Langwieden are older with a few new builds mixed in.  But I love the character of these places!

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(this is Olga’s farmhouse–very nice old woman that waves to the kids)

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(Animals painted into the supports of a barn)

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The roofs and colors are different on each house!

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Big paver patios are very common, but in the front of the house.  No one really has a front “yard”.  This house has a giant St. Bernard.  Our neighbors have an old black lab named Kiki that lays out all days and now wags her tail when we walk by.

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Our neighbors (Kiki’s owners) also own three horses–a black one not shown is Theodora, the brown one is Tiger, and the black and white horse is Angel.  Evie likes to moo at them when they go running out of the pen in the afternoons!  We’ll work on animal sound identification ;-)

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A new development this week has been the addition of sheep in the pasture back behind our fence line!  I wish they grazed a little closer (I kinda like sheep!)

It took us about three weeks, but we finally found the park in town!

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I bet they don’t have see saws in school yards anymore in the US!!  The parks here in Germany are INTENSE in some places–I saw a two story metal slide built into a hill.  It looked awesome!  Briana climbed to the top of the hill lined with tires, and looked down and decided she wasn’t up for a slide like that!

Also on the direct opposite side of town (closest to us since we’re on the south part of town), is a raised soccer field!  We bought a soccer ball a couple of days in, and the kids have asked to go play almost every day.  Problem is Briana keeps walking through stinging nettles at some point during our walk on the path to the field.  Those will take out a little kid for about 3 hours with painful bumps.  She’s so used to it now, she just hops home talking about stupid mettles.  But when they do get to play, the love it:

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First Weeks

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I’ll be completely honest, the first couple weeks were such a roller coaster.  We had no phones.  No cars (Steve took the rental to work).  No internet.  No friends or family.  Just me and the kids.  I have SO MUCH to be thankful for!  The kids got along amazingly–played with a back pack size collection of toys and had rental furniture to jump around on.  I had made an “invisible friend” before coming, and kept in touch with her over the few weeks up to our arrival.  Bless her heart and her minivan!  Sarah came and picked us ALL up on many mornings and accompanied me and the kids (with her 22 month old too!) to the base to get groceries, figure out IDs, bank accounts, phone set up, go shopping for appliances, and just company.  Pretty sure I over thanked her, but you betcha that girl has a pretty craft coming her way once I get my act in gear!  She does exist–just no pictures yet ;-)

Some of the hardest parts was navigating foreign things!  Like my washing machine:

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Or putting together wardrobes with directions like these:

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(I ended up breaking a piece because it fell over while I was holding two other pieces, and it hit the bed frame splitting the top!) But, it turned out nicely:

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Some things took getting used to, even coming from a “small” town in Virginia that had wildlife, and equestrian life, etc.  Like watching cattle being herded down the street:

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Or living in a house that has swallows’ nests all along the roofline:

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And then experiencing when they push the weak babies out of the nest and litter your front stoop for three days straight:

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Then, having to watch your kids try to encourage the baby bird to fly away and watch it die.  That’ll spawn some of those “talks” I didn’t think I’d have to have.  They took it well though, and went on with their days.

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There’s some cultural things too–the good and the odd.  I love that everyone has beautiful flowers in their front windows, yards, pots, you name it!  The Germans take a lot of pride in the outside look of their houses.  So Sarah joined me one day to Hanns Nursery and we spruced up our concrete troughs!

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Then there’s the somewhat odd.  Like the man that slooooowwwwwwly walks down our street every afternoon in denim cut offs that are a little short for my liking, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

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He’ll pace back and forth, usually until the pub owner arrives.  Living next to a pub has shown it’s perks (we’ve met most neighbors and some from down the road), and it’s cons (see picture above!).