Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sorpesee Lake, Ikea, and more Birthday fun! 08.10.2009 - 13.10.2009

It's been a quiet week on the home front. We don't have very exciting photos to share from the past week because we stayed local last weekend. Mike was in town and he had a few good meals with him and just relaxed through the weekend instead of racing all over the Autobahn as we usually do and will be doing this upcoming weekend-- mystery trip... so exciting!

These first photos are of poor quality because they were taken with our webcam. No camera at work, but I wanted to capture how wonderful the people here have been in welcoming us. As a surprise, they baked me a delicious chocolate chip (covered with chocolate) bundt cake and gave me a German cookbook (written in English and with American measurements!). What a great honor.

Here I am with the Dr. Oetker cookbook the staff gave me as a present (he's all the rage here and even has his own food product line!).
Delicious cake!
On Sunday we visited the Sorpesee Lake. It's a man-made dam but is pretty popular! They have boats that can take you across this 12 kilometer lake and there are lots of bikers and runners everywhere. Because everything in Germany shuts down on Sundays (very hard for Americans to get used to... but also very relaxing), people are seen walking around and being leisurely. We went for a very short 4 km. jog-- which isn't much... but since we've been really bad at exercising while we've been here, it's not bad!
Another view. The weather is just starting to pick up here and we've been getting more rain. Soon the water levels will rise again...
Here is our latest aquisition. There's this great store called "The Depot" in the Lüdensheid mall and we spotted these great candle holders. We love things made of wood and metal... and since they were about $30 Euro each at full price, we hoped they'd go on sale. Well, they did! They marked them down to $23 each and took another 50% off of that price... doing the math... we paid $23 Euro for both! While still expensive because of the exchange rate, we liked them a lot and we're excited to eventually decorate our soon-to-be-purchased-in-the-next-6-months house with them.
Random shot of a water bottle. I paid .19 for this 1 L bottle of water, but the recycling tax was .25! It's really spicy here and there's very little trash waste because of it. People take their recycling seriously and separate trash into about 5 different containers and recycle like it's their personal business. There are mini-recycling centers in every grocery store. You print a receipt when finished and they deduct it from your grocery order. The random shot was taken to show the "Vegan" & "Gluten-Free" labels. As if any water has any sort of animal product or gluten?!?
Poor quality and taken with the webcam. This is the view from our "office" -- actually the conference room we've set up shop in. It's also where we have our German lessons.
Here's a photo of Sabine (zuh-bee-nuh), our German tutor, on our way back home from Ikea.
Traffic on our way back from Ikea. Not on our side of the Autobahn, but pretty heavy in the alternate direction. Reason for the photo: a rule in Germany states that in construction areas, trucks are absolutely required to be driving on the far right. Hence the crazy line of trucks parked.
Ikea in Germany! While quite similar to the U.S. in size and items, the restaurant itself is enormous! There were probably 100 tables! They offer full plate options and they also have a mini-cafe near the checkout downstairs similar to the U.S. stores. I'm positive some people just go there to eat. How crazy! That entire window is how long the restaurant goes.
And here's the journaling for the week:

Donnerstag 08.10.2009 (day 24)
Oh Thursday! Our day began with German lessons, as it does for most workdays. We had another 4 hours and I just grew frustrated with things today. I get frustrated with myself for making the same repeat mistakes and after 3 weeks, I am still working with short, basic sentences that aren’t completely grammatical. Even though the learning struggles are there, I love living here, experiencing the wonders of Germany, meeting the really amazing and genuine people, and being on an adventure I know is once-in-a-lifetime. The people really are fantastic. We’ve been treated with the utmost respect and sincerity by everyone and we’re grateful. While I have plenty of German homework I am conveniently waiting until tomorrow to complete, the rest of the day was pretty fun! Ray and I left a bit early after he worked through some of the website launch concerns and made a phone call to Chicago. From work, we headed to Lüdensheid for a visit to the Stern Center (mall) to walk around and spend money. We walked around all of the floors and went into this great Pier-1ish store called The Depot. There are tons of fun home decorations there and we went in because we saw 50% off signs… and I recalled these great wood candle holders for our future dining room table (in our future home). Well, what was once 23 Euro each was 50% off… getting both for the price of just one! Walking more, we purchased an English-Deutsch dictionary—I know… it has been 3 weeks but we still didn’t have one yet! Ending our journey, we bought some groceries at the mall grocer and headed back home for some dinner. A night of laptops and CNN, and our Thursday was complete!

Freitag 09.10.2009 (day 25)
I woke up before the 7 a.m. bells this morning because I was a bit nervous. Mike was coming to visit and there was to be a manager meeting at work today. Being the wife of someone with such an incredible gift, I want to be just as successful in learning the culture and language as Mike himself was. I was thankful to hear that Mike also struggled his way through learning the language and he even admitted that he has to re-teach himself when coming here after a hiatus. He also told us that at around 3 months of his immersion, he finally had a breakthrough. It has only been 3 weeks. I needed to hear the encouragement because (we) both are hard-pressed on trying our best. After the meeting, we headed to lunch with some others to a place we’d been to once before. The great thing about Germany is that there are great restaurants… but there aren’t a ton of them. You likely visit the same great restaurants often enough when staying in our small area of “Sauerland.” At least you know what you’re getting is great quality! After espresso, we headed back and worked some more on the website that has just been launched (and looks considerably better and more user friendly… thanks to my incredibly talented husband!), met for some more talks… then off to our house in Neuenrade. Since we’ll be “celebrating” my birthday tomorrow out to dinner with Mike and the other execs, we wanted to have a more private celebration this evening. Being the simple person that I am, we headed for a walk around town and then next door to our pizza place neighbor, Franko’s restaurant. Such delicious bread, pizza, and lasagna… and we had a great night. We brought along our new dictionary and sat as we waited for our food pouring through every word we didn’t understand on the menu. That’s a way to get us remembering… when it comes to food, we want to be educated! I also enjoyed “real-life” training ourselves and being able to enjoy all that we wanted to as we’re here. We feel pretty comfortable in that restaurant, too, because the owner knows who we are and where we live. It’s acceptable for us to “try” our minimal German and be encouraged. And, it helps that the menu has repeat items we can decipher and then learn many items at the same time. Since chili peppers are called “peperoni” and they don’t actually use real American pepperoni here (called Salami and it’s legitimate salami), it’s nice to be able to learn such things! All-in-all, it was a great day and we feel great about our progress. Although, ask me on Monday as I struggle with the verbs and sentence structure (again) and I may have a different story to tell. But, it is the weekend and I shall treat it as such! The day before your birthday is always weird. You feel kind of awkward—I just don’t know how to explain it. We ended the day with an episode of Spongebob Schwammkopf dubbed in German—yes Spongebob Squarepants! Cartoons are about the only shows we can watch and surely understand the plot and possibly make out some of the words!

Samstag 10.10.2009 (day 26, and ironically, the day I turned from 26 to 27)
Three-cubed. The morning started well. We slept in and opened the door to the mail lady who had a package for me! Samantha is so thoughtful! She gave me a cute new North Face zip-up sweatshirt and some Godiva chocolates. Ray made me a card because I thought it was silly for him to buy me a card while I was with him (since we’re together about every minute of every day lately). It was very sweet and heartfelt. I also got cards from the rest of the family… thank you all so much for the love! I’ve been quite showered with presents, cards, and emails that make me feel quite special. Mike, Woody, Anya, and Lothar met us at our place in Neuenrade after noon and we gave them a grand tour of our apartment. Then, off to a cute town about 10-15 kilometers away that has a huge man-made lake/dam that has recently been re-done and is spectacular. Despite the downpour, we found a nice restaurant to have lunch in and walked a bit along the lake. It was really nice and I can’t wait to go back with some jogging shorts soon… if the weather lets us. You never know here in Sauerland; sunny one moment and downpour the next. We came back home to rest up before dinner this evening and I watched a bit of Mr. Bean and Hannah Montana as Ray took a short nap. Hey, I’ll watch anything with a “dumbed down” plot just to encourage the German understanding. Mike even encouraged us to take up reading children’s books. Not a bad idea at all. Dinner at the hotel where Mike and Woody were staying was excellent. We had been there before, but the meal this time was much more exciting for some reason. I decided that instead of a salad appetizer, I would drink wine. So far that arrangement is working out quite nicely. A dinner of Swordfish, chocolate mousse and espresso ended the perfect meal (Ray had beef and a salad with bacon). It was really great spending time with Mike and Woody. Since Mike has always treated Ray and I as family from our very first meeting (and Ray much longer than I), it is comforting when we can have dinner and learn more about each other still. He’s placed such a great deal of his trust in us and there’s just no doubt we will treat this opportunity with the best we can offer. Also, Ray has been given another opportunity and is taking over more responsibility with his new job than expected this soon. I won’t write details here, as this is a public copy—but it’s very exciting! Overall, it was a different birthday experience, but one I’m not going to forget. Next weekend is the real celebration. We head off to a country I’ve never been to as a “surprise” location. Who gets to do that!?! I’d say the celebration is continuing and not a moment is being taken for granted.

Sonntag 11.10.2009 (day 27, and my first full day of being 27)
What a great, relaxing day! There’s nothing better than not having to put on an ounce of makeup and getting to hang out with Ray. I certainly have nothing to complain about going to fancy dinners and rushing from one beautiful European town to another. But, a day of just rejuvenation is really super. We slept in and watched a bit of television (Larry King Live & John Stewart—two shows that never come on here but apparently random times on Sundays). A late breakfast, then off to the lake we visited yesterday to go for a 2.5 mile jog. While worth the effort, my stomach was pretty unsettled and has been the last couple days. It was perhaps the salad with raw fish I had yesterday. While I’m not bothered by sushi and I actually enjoy it, I don’t think my body was ready for it since it hasn’t been in my diet for awhile. It scared me a bit more, too, because I thought it was supposed to be trout and it looked as pink as salmon (maybe it was salmon but the language barrier caused me to believe otherwise)! I think I had some minor food poisoning, but nothing to keep me in bed. We came back home and had grilled cheeses and tomato soup; something I make at home all the time. The flavors were different, though. I remember Mike telling us last night about the difference in acidity of our foods v. the U.S. foods. Although the same ingredients, it was different! No chance to visit the market though… since everything is closed Sundays—I can’t say that’s very fun for us! I desperately want to go buy a pillow from Ikea (about 60 km. away), but we haven’t managed to find the time except on Sundays, when they’re always closed. Bummer! An afternoon of German homework, Rosetta Stone, and expense reports for us. Rosetta Stone is okay, but I think being immersed in the culture is absolutely crucial for us. I also think it’s helpful having a tutor to explain the random reasons why the verb comes in the second position of the sentence, etcetera. We made a VPN phone call to Maryland to speak with the clan over there and that was really nice. I plan to call my parents via Skype in a couple days, too. Very exciting to catch up with family!!!

Montag 12.10.2009 (day 28)
Early to bed, early to rise… arriving early to work because Ray had a list of work items he needed to accomplish before our 3-hour German session began at 9 a.m. It went by fairly quickly today as we worked through some of our homework and re-visited the verbs. Verbs, verbs, and more verbs. We headed out to grab some lunch from the nearest grocery store, Netto. We grabbed some fruits, veggies, some delicious bread, and some lunch items. Back to work and I headed to the kitchen to cook the baguette we just bought. That’s something great about Europe. Bread. The kitchen at the company is particularly unique (to Ray and myself). We’re used to working at places with break rooms/kitchens that don’t have dishwashers, stoves, or ovens! While there are no tables or chairs for people to eat together, the kitchen itself is quite superb. A freshly baked baguette in the middle of the day; how so very nice. While I was in the kitchen, Ray came in to summons me back to the conference room (which we call home usually). It turned out the office made me a delicious chocolate w/chocolate chips cake and wrapped a German recipe cookbook for me as a belated birthday present that they all signed! How very sweet! The cookbook is in English and in the U.S. measurements even! I have some real plans to take a week around our departure date in March and cook a dish per day for everyone to taste from the cookbook. There’s no way I can make a meal for the entire company, but I think it would be a fun event to see if they would enjoy their food made by an American. Just an idea… for 5 months in the future. More information about birthdays: while they put tealight candles next to the cake, there were none in the cake. I’m not sure if they follow the candle tradition, but I know they don’t have a birthday song like we do. Well, they have adopted other songs, but if they do sing Happy Birthday, it’s generally the American tune. They did not sing me a song, but they had such kind words to say and I was honored. What a great group of people I really appreciate. Ray wasn’t sad about the chocolate cake, either! An afternoon of me searching the web and doing German homework while Ray actually did some work. I chatted with my mom on Skype for a bit before leaving around 5:30. We headed to another grocery store, Kaufpark, before heading back home. We needed to get some of the items we couldn’t get when we visited Netto earlier that have to be refrigerated. We also snagged some fresh veggies which I like buying at this slightly-overpriced store. Home for a dinner of veggie & noodle stir fry and another night of German television! Tomorrow should be fun… a trip to Ikea!

Dienstag 13.10.2009 (day 29)
I can’t believe we slept through the bells this morning! Luckily, we were able to set our alarm for 30 minutes later because we were picking our tutor up at her house in Altena at 9:30. Altena is located about 15 kilometers away from our house—but the GPS said that it would take 30 minutes to get there… and they were right! We were a bit late picking her up because our estimates were incorrect. Onto the autobahn we went on our way to a town called Kamen. We needed to buy some pillows because the pillows here are far too soft for our jagged-American ways. Germans are efficient, but like a more breezy, softer lifestyle overall; right down to their pillows! After a month, I needed a new pillow. Pulling up to Ikea about 40 kilometers later, we noticed the enormous restaurant from the parking lot. We were told that some people go to Ikea just to eat at the restaurant! Not so in the USA. Not so. We just have so many options in the U.S. that I don’t think anyone would think of finding an Ikea just to eat there. In fact, we went up to the restaurant first and found it hard to find a table and chairs because all 100 of them were packed! We arrived there around 10:15 and grabbed some drinks (and I also got an ice cream… I know it was 10 a.m. but who can resist a delicious vanilla-schoko soft serve at .50 each!?). A lesson about all things grocery store in German for about 1.5 hours and on we went into the store for pillow purchasing. We ended up buying the following: some super cheap slippers for me at 1.79€, 2 pillows, 2 pillow cases in pink (cheapest color… haha!), and some Ikea-tupperware. All items will be left behind in March when we return to the states… but these we necessary to spruce up the apartment a bit more. The prices here are no different than in the U.S. and the same products to boot. As a matter of fact, they’re actually more expensive here because of the exchange rate. Back up to the Ikea restaurant for lunch (having Swedish meatballs in Germany tastes the same as in Carson, California says Ray) and off to take Sabine home and head into work. Our drive through Altena was nice because it was scenery we hadn’t seen since our first week here (wow… it’s almost been a month!!!): Burg (castle) Altena, a huge power plant we’re quite curious about, and another Toom market. We arrived at work halb 3 (30 min. before 3 p.m.) and stayed for about 2.5 hours before heading home to make dinner. A little laundry, cartoons, and Ray working on his laptop for all things work-related until almost 9 before we actually fully settled down. Our friends Nic & Alison made their way back to the States today and I’m kind of sad. It’s not like we had seen them since our adventure to Munich over a week ago, but knowing they were on the same connected soil was a bit comforting—like friends also exploring and being vulnerable with you. Oh, and I’m getting so excited for our surprise trip on Thursday night!!!
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