Votive Church in January - Vienna, Austria

Have any of you done a social-media detox?

I decided to completely unplug from all social media and blogs for the entire month of January, and it was such a nice, refreshing way to start the year that I might make this an annual thing. I literally have not opened up Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in over a month.  And I haven’t missed it one bit.

Instead, I spent the month spending time with family and friends, playing in the snow, and getting organized for 2017.

I’m also switching things up a little bit on the monthly Favorite Things posts. In addition to my favorite links from around the web, I’m sharing a few things that really made my month. I hope you like the new format!

A few of my favorite things this month…

Minimalism: a Documentary About the Important Things

I have been following The Minimalists for years. I have read all of their books, most of their essays, and I listen to their podcast every week. And I recommend their stuff to just about everyone I talk to. So of course I was excited to watch their documentary, Minimalism: a Documentary About the Important Things. (I swear I’m not a groupie, I just love minimalism!) The documentary was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. I especially liked that we were able to watch it as a family. I have been trying to talk to my 7 year old about minimalism and this documentary allowed us to expand our conversations about things like advertising to children and thoughtless consumption. Apart from a few swear words (which I wish they would have cut) it was great.

Grandparent Prints from 76th & Newbury

Every year, we struggle to think of meaningful gifts for our parents. They all have everything they could ever want or need. And we prefer to give gifts that won’t turn into clutter. So we try to give something that has sentimental value, and has to do with the kids. We gave this Grandchildren Art Print to my mother-in-law for her birthday this year, and she absolutely loves it. She had so much fun picking out the silhouettes to match the personalities of each of their 10 grandchildren. And she was even able to pick colors to match her decor. I am not sure who is enjoying the beautiful wall canvas more, my mother-in law or all of the grandkids who love finding themselves in the picture every time they come visit.

Nourishing Facial Serum

We have had a very very cold January here in Austria. (The coldest January in 30 years!) And all of this cold, dry air has been terrible for my skin. The only thing that seems to help keep my skin hydrated is a generous application of my home made all-natural Nourishing Facial Serum, morning and night. And sometimes mid day as well.

Evernote

I spent a lot of time this month getting organized. And my favorite tool for organizing everything from recipes to travel itineraries to my never ending to-do list is Evernote. The more I use it, the more impressed I am with the capabilities of Evernote. And how it helps me simplify my life. If you are serious about getting organized, and you aren’t already using Evernote, stop what you are doing and go download it to every device that you have.

A Man Called Ove

I was on the waiting list for A Man Called Ove at my library for months, and it was so worth the wait. Written by a Swedish blogger who has a few things in common with Ove, this feel-good story of “the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.” I loved this book so much that right when I finished, I got on the waitlist for all three of his other novels, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and LongerMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and Britt-Marie Was Here. (Judging by how many people are on the waitlists for each, I’m not the only one who had this idea!) This is best book I have read in a very long time. But be warned, I was crying ugly tears at the end.

A few more of my favorite things from around the web…

What are some of your favorite things lately?

A complete review of Reiters Finest Familyhotel - Voted the Best Family Wellness Hotel in Austria

Right before Christmas, we took a quick trip down to South Burgenland to check out Reiters Finest Familyhotel. Reiters was voted the best family wellness hotel in Austria, and we thought a nice relaxing weekend would be the perfect way to escape a little bit of the busy holiday season.

A complete review of Reiters Finest Familyhotel - Voted the Best Family Wellness Hotel in Austria

A complete review of Reiters Finest Familyhotel - Voted the Best Family Wellness Hotel in Austria

From the moment we walked in, I knew that was the best decision we could have made! Everything about our stay was fabulous. From the gorgeous light streaming through the windows of the brand new suite when we arrived, to horseback riding through the beautiful reserve. We loved it all.

And the card waiting for us in our suite said Collect Moments, Not Things. What could be more perfect?

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The Holiday Season in Vienna - from St. Martin's Day through Epiphany, the holidays in Vienna are magical!

The Holiday Season in Vienna

The holidays in Vienna are pure magic.

For nearly 2 months, the city comes alive with lights, music, Christmas Markets and more.

This is a quick guide to the holiday season in Vienna. (All from my expat point of view, of course!)

Everything you want to know about the magical holiday season in Vienna

St. Martin’s Day

The holiday season in Austria begins on November 11th, which is St. Martin’s Day. This day is celebrated in a few different ways.

Most kindergartens will hold lantern processions in honor of St. Martin’s Day. These celebrations usually consist of a reenactment of the most popular legend surrounding St. Martin, where he rides in on horseback, then shares his cloak with a homeless beggar during a snowstorm. The children carry their hand made lanterns and sing as they walk through the gardens or along the streets. (We love going to my youngest daughter’s Lanternfest at her kindergarten every year!)

Most Austrian restaurants and beisls will also have Martinigansl on the menu during this time. The traditional Martinigansl meal consists of delicious roasted goose, potatoes and red cabbage. (My personal favorite place to eat Martinigansl is at Hill Restaurant in the 19th district.)

St. Martin’s Day also marks the end of the wine growers’ year, and is the day that the new wine is blessed. In the wine growing villages of Austria, Martiniloben festivals are held in the beginning of November with music and wine tasting. (Read more about my visit to the Martiniloben festival in Purbach am Neusiedlersee)

And St. Martin’s Day is when most Viennese Christmas Markets open for the season. The city is adorned with lights and festive decorations, and the Christmas celebrations start.

The Holiday Season in Vienna - from St. Martin's Day through Epiphany, the holidays in Vienna are magical!

Christmas Markets

The first ever Christmas Market was held in Vienna in 1294. And still today, the Christmas Markets are the most popular things to see and do in Vienna during the holiday season. The Christmas markets usually consist of a group of wooden huts selling traditional food, mulled wine, and hand crafted goods, and are loved by both locals and tourists alike. Some of them are very family friendly, with rides and even special workshops for kids.

Read more about The Best Christmas Markets in Vienna, as well as tips for visiting the Viennese Christmas Markets.

The Holiday Season in Vienna - from St. Martin's Day through Epiphany, the holidays in Vienna are magical! The Holiday Season in Vienna - from St. Martin's Day through Epiphany, the holidays in Vienna are magical!

Advent Wreaths

Advent begins on the Sunday that falls four weeks before Christmas. This is when Austrian families set up their Adventskranz, or Advent wreath. Traditionally, Advent wreaths are made of evergreen twigs, decorated with ribbons, and holding 4 candles. They can be bought just about anywhere in Austria, or you can easily make your own. On each of the four Sundays of Advent, a new candle is lit, until all four are burning brightly in the days leading up to Christmas. (This is our favorite Austrian tradition that we have adopted, and will bring with us when we leave Austria!)

The Holiday Season in Vienna - from St. Martin's Day through Epiphany, the holidays in Vienna are magical!

Everything you want to know about the magical holiday season in Vienna

Nikolaus & Krampus

December 6th is St. Nikolaus Day (Nikolaustag), when Nikolaus and his counterpart Krampus come to reward the children who have been good, and punish those who have not.

Nikolaus is based on Sankt Nikolaus, the children’s saint, and is dressed as a bishop, wearing red and white. On the night of December 5th, Austrian children set their boots out for Nikolaus to leave chocolates, coins, apples, small oranges and nuts. On December 6th, Nikolaus will often visit schools and kindergartens and sometimes even private parties.

Krampus is a terrifying, demonic looking, horned, beast-like creature, who will come and take the children who have misbehaved from their home and beat them with twigs. Some Austrian towns hold Krampus Runs (Krampuslauf) where people dressed as Krampus run through the streets with whips, twig switches, rusty chains and bells to scare kids and adults alike. Some of them also carry barrels of fire. These festivities have been outlawed in some places because they can get quite out of hand. But it is not uncommon to see Krampus walking the streets of Vienna on December 5th. (See a real Krampuslauf in action in this video)

Everything you need to know about the Christmas Markets in Vienna

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve (or Heilingenabend) is the time for Austrian Christmas celebrations, not Christmas Day.

For many families, the Christmas tree doesn’t go up until December 24th. (This is one tradition we just can’t do. We still like to put our tree up in early December!)

For Austrian families with young children, the grandparents or other relatives take the children out on the afternoon of December 24th while the parents decorate the tree. This is also when the Christkind (the Christ child, represented by an angel child with long white gown, golden hair and wings) arrives, with gifts for the children. When the children arrive back home, they find the tree decorated and the gifts from the Christkind beneath the tree. Families then open gifts, eat Christmas Eve dinner, and later in the evening attend Mass.

Christmas Trees on the Graben, Vienna

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve (or Sylvester) is filled with plenty of events all around the Ringstrasse, with the New Year’s Eve Trail being the biggest. And the fireworks show is the best I have ever seen. Whether you watch them from one of the site on the New Year’s Eve Trail downtown, or from up above the city, they are remarkable. (From where we live in the 19th, the display of fireworks from all around Vienna is breathtaking!)

On New Year’s Day, the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) plays the world’s most famous and most watched concert, the Neujahrskonzert. Due to the popularity of the concert, tickets can only be bought through a lottery which is held in February. If you aren’t lucky enough to get tickets, you can watch The New Year’s Concert on TV, as it is broadcast in over 90 countries. In Vienna, it is played live on a large screen in front of the Rathaus. And you can also buy the music from each year’s New Year’s Concert and listen to it all year long!

Everything you want to know about the magical holiday season in Vienna

Three King’s Day

The Holiday Season in Vienna ends on Three King’s Day, or the Epiphany.

On January 6th, children dressed up like the Three Kings and holding up a large star walk around the city singing carols and knocking on doors to collect money for charity. If you give a donation, they write in chalk above the door 20+C+M+B+17 (or whatever year it is). The C, M, B stand for Casper, Melchior and Balthazar (the Three Kings), and also abbreviate the Latin words Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless this home.” The + signs represent the cross and 20 and 17 represent the year.

Frohes Fest! Everything you want to know about the magical holiday season in Vienna

Frohes Fest Aus Wien!

I love learning about how the holidays are celebrated in other countries around the world, and have enjoyed being a part of the amazing Viennese holiday season for the last 3 years. Although we won’t be in Vienna next year, Vienna will always be in our hearts.

Happy Holidays from Vienna!

Gift Guide for Little Travelers - all guaranteed to Inspire Wanderlust in your kids

Do you want to inspire a love of travel in your children?

Whether your kids are already avid little travelers, or you want them to be a bit more worldly, all of these gifts are guaranteed to give your little ones a major case of wonderlust.

(And with super quick shipping, they will all be delivered in time for Christmas!)

A few great gift ideas for little travelers

1.  A Year Full of Stories  |  This book is beautiful enough to sit out on any coffee table! In addition to amazing illustrations, A Year Full of Stories includes 52 classic stories from all around the world. These 52 myths, fairy tales and legends are arranged into 12 chapters for each of the 12 months of the year, so that you can learn about different holidays, festivals, and seasonal celebrations around the world.

2.  Our Blue Planet Puzzle  |  We love this round, two sided world puzzle. It features bright colors, wonderful illustrations, and with 208 pieces, it keeps the little ones challenged for quite a while. Plus the box it comes in is pretty enough to leave it out on the shelf.

3.  World Traveler Pretend Play Kit  |  This fun kit includes a passport, luggage tags, tickets, postcards and more, for the imaginary trip of a lifetime!

4.  Country Flag Cards  |  For the trivia buffs, this complete set of country flags is a fun way to learn the names and flags of each of the countries of the world. The best part is that they come with a lifetime guarantee. If you lose a card, the company will replace it free of charge!

5.  The Ultimate Travel Coloring Book  |  Older kids will love coloring 100 of the top travel destinations in the world. And in the back of the book are descriptions of each of the 100 places featured so that they can learn a little more about each location.

6.  Little Passports  |  With a subscription to Little Passports World Edition, your child can explore the world from the comfort of your own home. Each month they will discover a new country, with photos, souvenirs and activities from their pen pals Sam and Sofia. {Shop the Little Passports Last Minute Sale and save up to $25 on a gift subscription and download a printable card just in time for the holidays!}

7.  Around the World Stories  |  Around the World Stories is a collection of 52 original audio stories from 13 different countries in Europe. Each story features the fun adventures of children from one of the 13 countries, bringing to life the culture, food and language of that country. They are designed for children aged 5-12, but even my 3 year old loves listening to them. And I love that this gift is completely digital, meaning no clutter!

8.  Watercolor World Map  |  This beautiful, watercolor world map by Meera Lee Patel would look perfect in just about any room. And seeing it every day will help familiarize your children with the world.

9.  World Holidays Craft Box  |  The World Holidays Craft Box from Green Kid Crafts includes fun crafts from 6 different countries. Projects include making Diwali Candles from India, designing an African Mask, making Japanese Lanterns, creating a Chinese Hand Kite, making Aboriginal Rock Art from Australia, and crafting Guatemalan Worry Dolls. Also included is a little background on the craft, the culture, and the holiday traditions of each country.

10.  Atlas of Adventures  |  This may be called an atlas, but it is so much more that that! It features over 100 awesome, unique adventures to be had around the world. From sleeping under the northern lights in Finland to going on a canoe safari down the Zambezi River, these are adventures that your children will love learning about. (And may even be the inspiration for your next trip.) There is also the Atlas of Animal Adventures for all of the little animal loving kids out there.

Super easy DIY Chalkboard Gift Tags

I talk a lot about minimalist gifts, but haven’t talked at all about minimalist wrapping of these minimalist gifts.

It probably doesn’t surprise you that I like to keep things super simple when I wrap gifts. I use brown kraft paper and either cotton or hemp twine. Brown paper packages tied up with string… what could be better than that?!?

But I do like to add cute gifts tags, reusable of course. By buying simple unfinished wood gift tags and painting them with chalkboard paint, I can make a ton of these cute chalkboard gift tags for just a few dollars. The best part is, they can be reused again and again.

Making these DIY chalkboard gift tags is really so easy, it can’t even really be called a tutorial. Instead, we will call it inspiration.

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