Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas in Deutschland Part II

Snow is coming down in our part of the world. We had our first "real" snowfall this weekend. We also had a chance to attend a German soccer game. It was INTENSE! We had a lot of fun and nearly froze ourselves in the below zero degree weather we've been having here. Beautiful, but cold!

Here's what the small quad area right next to our house looks like. Kids were taking advantage of the snowy weather on this Saturday morning.

Our house (once more)

The Borussia Dortmund soccer stadium

At the Borussia Dortmund game. FREEZING at this point--- reason I look ridiculous.

No matter the weather, soccer is something of a religion here in Germany (and all over Europe). It's similar to our football fans in the U.S. One side of the stadium (opposite to us) was where it appeared all the di-hard season ticket holders sat. These people were intense with their flags. No joke, all of them were jumping at exactly the same time up and down repeatedly.

A closeup of the intense fans area

Before the game

These horizontal lines you're seeing are scarves people are holding. Scarves are popular for soccer fans to have of their favorite team. They are the American equivalent to a hat or t-shirt.

Blurry scarves and faces

We happened to be there on their 100th anniversary. So, naturally, they would create the largest banner in the world and cover the fans with it, right? This thing was HUGE!!!

Fans on opposing sides were equipped with either a black or yellow (their colors) sheet of contruction paper to stripe the team colors all over the stadium. We didn't have paper because we were on an end.

Huge, right?

Give it more perspective... check out the goalie and then look at how enormous the flag is!

At the end of the game, this is what happened. It was planned. We were leaving as this was happening.

After the game, we set out to explore Dortmund. It's a pretty big city and we hadn't been there before. It appeared that the Dortmund folks really like their fish. It was everywhere. Here's a fried fish stand.

Big Christmas tree in the center of just one (of many) Christmas markets in this town.

Eating the spiciest meal of my life. We bought Chinese takeout (love it!) and I poured on some spices that I had no idea would create an intense fire inside my mouth. I did, however, finish the meal. Thank you.

This is a huge version of a German Christmas pyramid. We plan to purchase one that's much smaller for our decorations someday. We already have it picked out, too!

You can't make it out too well because of the lights, but here's a mulled wine stand.

Christmas in Germany = Weihnachten ..... and Weihnachtsmarkt = Christmas market. The German language uses a lot of compound words. This is just one of many examples.

Church in Dortmund

Many Christmas markets have rides for children. Here is a driving track in the middle of the city.

Cookies. We thought this was only a Munich Oktoberfest thing (first place we saw them), but it turns out they're year-around fun! The heart says "Ich liebe dich" meaning... I love you.

Ray proudly sporting his new Borussia Dortmund soccer hat!

A few more Christmas scenes from our house...

We've been craving cinnamon rolls... but they don't really exist in the same form here in Germany... so we made some! Here's our first attempt making "from scratch" rolls. We were pleased with the results!

I think I made these too big. I envisioned Cinnabon... but got a loaf of cinnamon bread instead. The small ones turned out perfect, though. With icing, they'll all taste just fine...

Speaking of icing... a little butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla. LOVE.

Except... German vanilla tastes and smells like Pina Colada. Don't ask me why.

Driving in to work on Monday morning for a few hours before the official kickoff to our holiday break!

Beautiful, right?

And finally... to leave you all with Christmas joy here's this: Our virtual Christmas card
(it's the same video you can see on the side of the blog, don't watch it twice if you already saw that)

And the journaling for the last few days:

Mittwoch 16.12.2009 (day 93)
I couldn’t sleep at all last night. Like, I woke up every hour or so. Needless to say, coming into work with Ray this morning was low on my list. When the alarm sounded, I said, NO. I’ve also had a sinus headache that I think was the reason my sleep was so restless. I’ve never had insomnia before and I certainly am not welcoming it now. I headed downstairs when Ray left to check out the flurry of snow outside and sleep a little more on the couch. Ray came home at lunch and picked me up for our German lesson. We planned to make apple cider for the employees, but noticed that when we walked in there was a spread of food in the kitchen already. It was Margaret’s last day. She worked at the company for forty years! I guess it’s tradition for the person who is leaving to bring in celebratory food for lunch. The spread was per usual for a German party: mincemeat burger patties (no bun or toppings… just patty), schnitzel, tomatoes, baguette, and potato salad (Kartoffelsalat). We stashed our box of goodies in our office and left the brownies and cookie bars in the kitchen. Sabine showed up for our class and we got started. We just about shut down the building again and left around 6 p.m. It was nice and frigid in our car as we drove home! It definitely feels like Christmas around this area. I made a nice Italian meal for dinner (aka pasta) and we sat in front of the television frustrated about British Airway union workers’ decision to strike at this time of year. My parents are flying BA on the 21st—ONE DAY before they are said to begin their strike. Luckily, they also end before my parents head back to the States. But, I feel for those who may lose their chance to see loved ones this year.

Donnerstag 17.12.2009 (day 94)
Oh, how I hated the sound of those bells again this morning. When I know that I have an early wakeup, I automatically trigger something in my brain that forces me to sleep extra light and hear those darn bells. Ray and I both. We had to wake early because Sabine wanted our lesson to begin at 8:15. OYE. That’s pretty early for German. Not that I can’t wake up early—since I do that when I work anyhow, but it just isn’t fun when we automatically assume we will hurry up and get ready to wait when we arrive at work. On a positive note, we woke up to a winter wonderland this morning! A coating of white was on everything outside. We’ve had a bit of (schnee) snow for a few days, but mostly just a flurry. This was real snow and it was still coming down! It came down until around noon and was just beautiful. Sabine arrived after 8:30 and we started our lesson at 8:45. She had to hurry because she had a massage appointment. Apparently with socialist health care, you have to wait maybe four weeks to get in for your massage. Insert sarcasm here. Our lesson went well and we had four worksheets and a book activity for homework due tomorrow! That’s probably the most we’ve had yet. We all said our goodbyes to Margaret because today was her just-kidding-today-is-really-my-last-day-day. We all gave her hugs and said something sweet. Since she speaks no English whatsoever, Ray and I had to use German. Ray congratulated her on her retirement and I ended with “Net Sie kennenzulernen” – which means, “Nice to meet you” in German. Everyone clapped. I felt very special. Ray and I made apple cider with all the yummy spices, put out a few boxes of Cracker Jacks for everyone to try, and peanut butter with pretzels. It was nice to complete our German lesson early and to have the rest of the day to work (Ray) and do homework, write and search the Internet (me). We headed home around 6 as the rest of the employees were leaving for the day. We stopped by Netto to grab a few things and headed home to cook a stir fry for dinner and relax…

Freitag 18.12.2009 (day 95)
Ray went in to work and left my lazy behind at home. Yes, I was being lazy. I didn’t do anything this morning other than veg out. I guess it’s allowed. I feel like I am one with my teacher friends right now. It’s almost Christmas break and I want it now. Not that I personally need a break from living a leisured life, but I want to spend all my time with Ray exploring. Or friends. Or family. I just want someone to hang out with. I can’t wait to finally get connected to a church in Illinois and meet people our age. I could have them over for coffee (though I drink coffee only socially, really) and dessert. We could go for walks together. I am excited for the future, but excited to be in the present, too. I watched a bit of women’s skiing qualifiers for the Vancouver winter Olympics and fixed lunch for when Ray arrived home. When he got there, he told me that he saw his first deer on his drive up the hill to Neuenrade. So exciting! This marks the first wildlife either of us had seen since we stepped foot in Europe (other than squirrels, rabbits, dogs, and cats). We headed back to work and Ray got back to work and finishing his German homework. Did I mention we had 4 worksheets? I’m sure glad it was all review. Ha! As if I didn’t have to look up a ton to complete it. Alas, it’s still done. Sabine arrived for our lesson around 2:30 and we worked until around 5:00. I have to say, learning German today was painful. We feel like children in the last hours of school before summer break. It was hard to focus and care whether it is “eine” or “ein” in the accusative or nominative form. Frankly, either will do. Haha. We had some great goodbyes and lots of “Frohe Weinachten” and “Frohe Neues Jahr.” We left work around 5:00 because everyone else was and headed to the grocery store. Before heading to bed, we had a long talk about our time here in Germany. We’re so excited to be here, but admit that many things are hard and limiting. For example, we receive our mail (sometimes weeks to months late) and we cannot correct anything in due time. We’re both so proactive, that living in another country on a different continent and completely different time zone makes things frustrating. We love our weekends and the traveling. Ray is really enjoying the learning experience and I’m enjoying all the wonderful people we’ve met and learning about another culture. But, of course there’s a learning curve—one we’re just getting used to 3 months after our move here.

Samstag 19.12.2009 (day 96)
I don’t think we’ve ever been colder in our lives or inhaled more secondhand smoke than we did today. We can thank European soccer for both. Just after we had lunch, we headed to Hit supermarket for some items on our list. We’re trying to get everything ready for our families when they arrive! Since we’d received a few inches of snow last night alone, it made for some fun play opportunities for the German kinder. We drove by sled tracks in a few places and were pretty excited ourselves to see everything covered in snow. It’s been pouring down on us for the last few days and our town remains cold enough to keep the pile high. We bought a few items at the store and wondered if they would freeze if we left them in the car during the soccer game we were going to. After the store, we drove to Dortmund, a really large town about 40-50 kilometers away. We saw the Borussia Dortmund team play the SC Freiburg team. Our seats were 1 and 2. You’d think they would be on the end… but no, in the middle of the row. Ha. This one game was also in celebration of their 100th year as a soccer team. It was pretty exciting. Seeing a soccer game in Europe—where it’s way more popular than in the States is a great experience we knew we had to experience before we left. This weekend was as good as any, considering we didn’t have many plans, and we would be really busy after this weekend. Our seats were pretty good. We were in the 14th row slightly diagonal from the goal. There were tons of rituals and songs just like at any game you’d see in the U.S. We can most associate it with a U.S. football game. The fans were energized. They even sang “When the Saints go Marching in” – in German! That part was really fun to see. It’s always neat to be a fly on the wall (though we sat in seats) of others’ lives. We were amazed at how energized they were in below 10 degree weather. It was frigid. Here’s the part I mention how we shaved off a few days of our lives: the guy in front of us, and the guy directly next to us (who didn’t have a ticket for that seat, of course) were chain smokers. Miserable! For the most part, we really enjoyed ourselves, if we had any feeling in our feet or hands. We wore ski socks, Under Armour cold gear, sweatshirts, jackets, and shells, hats, scarves, thermal pants, jeans, and ski gloves (I had a cloth pair underneath, too!), and we were still freezing. When it’s that cold, people don’t usually subject themselves to sitting in it for 2 hours… but we were determined to see a soccer game! We even had blankets. Nope, still numb. I went to the restroom during the half and women were huddled around the heater in the restroom. Many didn’t even want to use the restroom, other than to stand and thaw out. Overall, it was a great time, though. The Dortmund team won, 1-0. Sadly, we had to watch a guy have a stroke and be carried away on a stretcher with 12 minutes left in the game. I sure hope he’s alright. We left the game and somehow made it to the car on feet that couldn’t move. Ray bought a Dortmund hat. I joked that I would have to write his name and phone number inside because he’s always losing his hats. Ha. Of course I won’t… but it’s funny. We headed to the city center since we had never been to Dortmund to explore before. It reminded me a lot of Trier, a city we visited with Andy & Jen a few weeks ago. We parked in the best possible spot ever and walked up (they have mostly underground parking structures here… because there’s no other room!) right into a Christmas market. It was a really big one, too. Every corner we turned, it seemed another section would pop up. There was tons of food at this one. There were almost no other vendors other than food, actually. We particularly noticed the amount of fish being sold. We’ve never seen so much fish at a Christmas market or in a town before. There must be something we don’t know about that town. We bought some Chinese takeout—no, I can’t get enough—and I foolishly poured about 2 tablespoons of the spicy red sauce on. It wasn’t a regular sauce, though. It almost seemed homemade. I regretted it. I have never in my life eaten something so spicy. I was sweating and hurting. My mouth burned for a couple hours later. We had to race down to the car and grab some drinks to put out the fire in my mouth. Absolutely flaming! We walked around some more, took some photos, went into some stores along the shopping district strip, (maybe grabbed a piece of Pizza Hut pizza to share), and headed back to the car. We got home and watched “Das Super Talent”—the equivalent to “America’s Got Talent” in the U.S. There are mostly singers, but they have fire dancers, dancers, and people with other talents on there, too. I also found out that their version of American Idol—I think it’s something like “Das Deutches Super Star” will be starting on January 6th. Since I’m missing our American Idol and The Bachelor (so sad), I’ll have to find some temporary replacements. What’s even more interesting is that they sing mostly American songs, in plain English. We had a great day. Tomorrow is all about cleaning, relaxing, and dinner with our tutor in the evening. Monday my parents come!!! One last cold note… as we drove into our town (it’s elevated a few hundred feet from the company), the temperature dropped to -17 degrees Celcius. That’s 1 degree. ONE degree.

Sonntag 20.12.2009 (day 97)
We had no reason to get up early this morning… especially knowing it was snowing outside. Speaking of snow, our house has been feeling the cool effect lately. Being 300 years old, it’s not hard to imagine why heating in these old houses sucks. Insulation is close to none. The heaters themselves are universal in Germany as we’ve noticed. They are attached to walls in all of the rooms and run hot water through them to radiate off of them. I would say these are rather inefficient, but I hope they’re cheap. They warm small rooms fine, but do little to heat and large room. And since the whole house is run on the same heater and on the same water line, it often weakens the heat if you shower, do dishes, or laundry, etc. But, we have managed to make a few rooms especially warm. The kitchen and living room are both always comfortable (if not too hot) to be in. The upstairs region is a different story! It continued to snow all day to the point that we have at least a foot on the ground at the moment. I still think it’s snowing at 10 p.m. We spent time mopping, shaking out rugs, scrubbing, and cleaning all things in preparation for our parents’ visits! We’re very excited and figured after 3 months we should do a deeper clean anyhow. We were supposed to have dinner with Sabine (I planned tostadas because I had some corn tortillas left from our visit to the U.S. last month and Sabine has been wanting to have a “cooking” class or something like that… to share our cultures). Well, she canceled. We still had delicious tostadas though, don’t worry. Her car wouldn’t start because our weather has been around zero degrees Fahrenheit. Also, she was worried that even if she could get it to start, that she may not be able to get back home after it snowed considerably more being at our house. She drives a small European car called a Volkswagen Polo. They’re pretty tiny hatchbacks. We had a random lunch of whatever leftovers we had around that I wanted to get rid of (that’s just about every lunch we have. Hey, we’re living like the Germans!). Of course what we really want are sandwiches from Quiznos, but that’s just not realistic. So, leftover randomness it is. We both did some workout videos and decided to make cinnamon rolls. I bought all of the ingredients awhile back because I anticipated making them on Christmas day when our original plans were to be home. Since those plans have changed and we’ll be on the road, I figured we’d make them anyway--- just a few days early. Perhaps since my parents will be here tomorrow, we can have them on Tuesday morning on our way out of town. This was the first time I make cinnamon rolls from scratch. Honestly, if we could access the Pillsbury-in-a-can kind, that’s what we would be doing instead. But, ever since we moved to Germany, I’ve been more daring with cooking. Since some things we crave just don’t exist on this continent, we’ve had to improvise by making our own. I even found a website for a woman who is an expat living in the Netherlands who makes her own corn syrup even! Ray helped me make the rolls and everything appeared to work pretty well. We cut the rolls and made a few monsters, too. We’re rebels. The rising, cooking, and all things related took forever… which is why I probably won’t be doing this again. I also had a traumatic experience while mixing the ingredients. Pretty basic: flour, oil, water, yeast, salt, sugar, and a couple eggs. Yeah. I hate eggs. I’ll eat them in baked goods, though. So, off I went to open the refrigerator and grab the eggs. I picked up the first one and bam, instant disgust. These “fresh labeled” eggs were fresh alright. Complete with FEATHERS! I’m a vegetarian for so many reasons, and this just adds to my disgust of all things animal. So there’s that. As the rolls began to expand to the size of a child’s head, I prepared the frosting. Butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Pretty simple, pretty delicious. Except, we live in Germany… which means, learning curve. I had vaguely remembered reading online that the vanilla in “Europe” (not sure how general that should be) is just not the same as American vanilla. Well, I finally understood. The vanilla I bought was called “butter vanilla”—I like butter and vanilla… so what’s the problem? Well, the vanilla tastes like Pina Colada. So confusing. Either way, it doesn’t really matter as long as there’s sugar, butter, and cream cheese. That was not so traumatic. I was also pleased that the yeast actually worked. Earlier this year when we lived in California, Ray and I attempted to make homemade bagels. We were pretty excited until the yeast did nothing to assist in rising. Our bagels were a disaster. After that, I swore off yeast because it obviously just doesn’t work for me. My faith is reinforced with these buns! Overall, today was super relaxing and we’re really excited to hang out with my family tomorrow! Praying for no delays (Europe is being blasted right now—as well as the U.S. Northeast with unprecedented snowfall!) and a safe flight for my family!

Frohe Weihnachten und einen guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr!
(Merry Christmas and a good "slide" into the New Year!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas in Deutschland

This post is full of random Christmas-ness. We're getting the cold front that the U.S. had last week, which means temperatures definitely below freezing. While we hope it warms up a bit during our road trip with our parents, we are enjoying the "Christmas" feeling the cool weather is bringing!

We are SO excited about family coming to visit and all the fun adventures we'll have!

The below photos are a mixture of Christmas we have been experiencing here. I apologize for not editing the photos before posting them. I realized that after I already posted them and didn't feel like the extra work. If you want a closer look, though, you should be able to click on the individual images to enlarge them.

These first photos are the ornaments we've collected. Since our honeymoon, we've been collecting a Christmas ornament from all the different countries we visit. We plan to have a separate tree specifically for these ornaments in the future at our house (we haven't bought yet!). We have already collected some from the Frech Polynesia (Tahiti), New Zealand, and Canada before collecting these:

This one is from Holland (The Netherlands):

We bought this one in Spain. There were lots of mosaics everywhere and lots of color. We actually bought this ornament twice because the first one was accidentally left on the train for someone else to enjoy. There's a sticker on the back telling where it is from:

This is from Slovakia. We visited for only a few hours, but felt we still deserved credit! It was the first place we actually saw the Danube River:

We had lots of difficulty finding this one in Luxembourg. Some countries just don't sell ornaments. We try to buy ones that have the name printed on them in some way. This one had no print, but we plan to write the location on the back:

I think this is my favorite. These were everywhere in Hungary. Some were of better quality than others. This one is handpainted and porcelain. Some are wood. We chose the more delicate of the two options:

Brussels was another difficult spot to find an ornament. I wanted Manneken Pis to be on the ornament because that's the most popular site when visiting Belgium. It's also a little controversial and a little funny at the same time:

Here's the Austrian ornament. I don't like it. It's huge. If it were smaller, I think I might like it. And, we didn't see any cows, so a cowbell makes no sense! But, in Ray's defense, I was sick with food poisoning and he was forced to find one solo (and options were slim). We are going back to Austria in a week with or families (to Salzburg-- a region with cows, so we'll probably buy another one-- or see a cow to make it actually make sense!

And finally... here's the German ornament we purchased. Since we have time left, we may be purchasing multiple. These are popular here. I am also partial to nutcrackers which are also German, like many of our Christmas traditions. However... stockings are an American thing. They use plates. Just so you know.

We'll be buying more ornaments when we visit a few more countries in the next few months, of course!

Here's the Christmas tree next to our house. This is why we didn't buy a tree. That, and we don't have room.

In the same area as the tree, here is the decorated fountain.

Okay. So, I talk about ice cream a lot. Here's why. It's amazing. I bought this for when our parents visit. I may buy another... and another. This was less than 3 Euros. They are on sale for 1.77 Euro. Watch out!

Totally random... this is a whole bag of poppy seeds for ONE Euro.    1.

We bought apple juice and spices this past weekend and perfected a cider recipe. I think we drank ours down (the test batch, you know) in less than a minute. YUM. I added a special ingredient--pepper--to my spice ball (aka tea infuser) and it was extra delish. I plan to make this tomorrow in a larger quantity for the company people. I also made some brownies an cookie bars for them, but noticed that the kitchen was already flooded with goodies today (someone's last day = bad timing) so we decided to make the cider tomorrow. Cider, sweet treats, a few boxes of Cracker Jacks for them to try, and Peanut butter with pretzels. You know, the really good kind of peanut butter they've never had with just peanuts and salt. We're determined to convince Germans that peanut butter is delicious and nutritious. Wish us luck.

Here's Ray after we made brownies. Did I mention he just celebrated birthday number 28? Here's my skinny mini husband in his new undershirt. It's cold here. Below freezing-- did I mention? So, we bought undershirts/pants at the grocery store (yeah, that's Germany). I plan to go back and buy some for me. They're Tschibo. It's a company that specializes in coffee. And jewelry. And clothes. And electronics. ?

Here's the first winter "dust" we received this past weekend! It's actually been flurrying all day, too! It was negative 6.5 degrees (Celsius = 20 degrees F.). Brr!

Here's the Christmas tree at the company. Notice the base. It's a Bellhousing. The company manufactures them. Pretty fun.

And finally... I just bought this. I have scoured the Internet for one. I love them. I got a great deal on it, too! You can check it out HERE if you want. Of course then I noticed that Joann's was selling one for $15, shipped! Oh well. I love the one we bought and I can't wait to put it in our future house next year at Christmas!

Since this will be my last post before Christmas, Merry Christmas! I'll be back on here posting photos from our adventures with our family after the new year. Expect photos from a few different countries!

Here's the journaling for the week:

Donnerstag 10.12.2009 (day 87)
Ray left early this morning (like 6 a.m. early) to pick another guy up and head to Frankfurt. As expected, I slept. When I got up, I caught up on the world and had another 30 minute workout in the living room. I’m so proud of myself for keeping with this! It’s week 3 since I stopped being the laziest person ever and I feel so much better. While a little tired of the same videos, I think they’re successful at getting me pumped. I’ll keep it up for the next 3 months and then I’ll get a gym membership in Illinois like the rest of the U.S. citizens (I can’t say world because I know gyms are mostly a U.S. thing—though they have them, they’re less used and more scarce). I worked on my German homework, showered and cleaned up, fixed lunch for myself, and began a practice test for the Illinois Basic Skills Test. I didn’t really need to take this practice test since I’m familiar with the questions since I took the CA Basic Skills Test already. When I head back in February, calling California off the hook to send my test scores is on the list. I just really don’t want to waste my time and money on something I’ve already done—just because the people in the CA Credentialing office aren’t interested in answering my mail. Anyhow, I took the test because I sort of like that cruel torture. I watched the Obama Nobel Peace speech and was really impressed. Well, I’m always really impressed by his speaking skills. While I also don’t agree with giving him this award at this stage, I was impressed with his eloquence and ability to turn the speech to explaining the state of the U.S. in the war situation. After the speech and the practice test, I worked on the blog and more things I’ve been putting off organizing related to our travel photos. It’s a good problem to have, but it takes a long time to name all the photos with correct names/spellings, post, rename, etc. But, when this is all over and done and when we look back on our travels, I’d like to remember them correctly. Plus, I’m pretty anal about the whole thing. I like order and this is how I feed my sick addictions. Haha. Ray emailed me telling me that he will be home late… bummer. I guess it’s better than him spending the night! I also got an email from my mom telling me that one of our prayers was answered. I’ve been praying like crazy. God is good. Off to fix some dinner for myself and continue with my crazy organization!

Freitag 11.12.2009 (day 88)
After I finished writing last night, Ray walked in the door—before 10 p.m. I thought he was surely going to be home later than that. That was a nice surprise. He had hardly any voice left from working all day and being a bit sick as well. I woke up with Ray because he was coughing a lot and I wanted to make sure he was doing okay. It turns out he’s fine and just a little congested. I worked out again (seriously, 4 days in a row should get me something!) and went through my normal routine of checking out Larry King—someone I never watched in the states, but that allows me some sense of American normalcy. Considering we get no American shows and all our “English” news is British presented, I actually perk up when seeing that guy’s face. I fixed lunch and then Ray came home earlier than he usually does. We left our apartment and walked outside to more Christmas trees. Two businesses just yards away line each door with a Christmas tree. They’re serious around these parts. At work, we plugged in the laptops and just as we did, Sabine showed up. We had no idea she would be coming that early—but it turns out her class was cancelled, so she showed up to teach early. We had 3 hours of German and left around 5ish wondering what to do with a Friday night. We are never in town on Fridays because these are our days to head out of town for an adventure. Given huge adventures coming up with our parents, we are staying in town the next two weekends. We have no real plans this weekend other than a haircut for Ray and dinner for his birthday. We’re actually celebrating his birthday next weekend by going to a Dortmund soccer game! We’re pretty excited about that. So, we went home and explored the Internet for cruises we can’t wait to take (read: Mediterranean cruise probably for our 5-year anniversary) and houses we would dream of living in. Goodnight!

Sonntag 12.12.2009 (day 89)
We had a really great day. Sleeping in followed by bagels and Philadelphia cream cheese started the morning out right. We left for the Stern Center—the equivalent of a mall in Ludenscheid, approximately 15 km from our place in Neuenrade. We walked around the shops searching for Christmas postcards to send out to some close family members. We aren’t doing cards to all our friends this year because it’s just really expensive! We’ll be back on board next year and we already have those cards purchased, to boot! We walked around the Christmas market there in Ludenscheid and Ray had a bratwurst, per usual. He just can’t stand the mouth watering as we walk by the large cookeries. Ha! I, however, pass every time. I tried on some hats in search of my perfect one and I’m still coming up short. Ray finally got a haircut after our lunch and we headed into DM, a store that sells mostly cosmetic and drug store products. They’re also much cheaper than buying those items at the supermarket. Like in the U.S., buying lotion at a grocery store is overpriced and rarely done. Here, they don’t have Target, so you must go to various stores to meet your needs that specialize solely in those products. It’s not so bad because we have lots of time on our hands this weekend. I do appreciate the conveniences of purchasing orange juice, socks, and lotion all in the same place at Target when living in the states, however. We bought some items at the Rewe market located in the mall and left. On the way home we explored Hit, another market. They sell the same brands as Toom or Rewe, so we really liked it. Unfortunately, all of our favorite markets are at least 15 km from our living quarters, so we usually shop at Netto, Kaufpark, Lidl, and Aldi. They’re okay, but don’t offer all of what we want. Since this will be our last week of work before Christmas and New Year’s, we wanted to treat the employees to some treats… but certainly couldn’t purchase something for everyone—especially since it’s their own country and they already know their stuff well enough. We had a thought to buy bulk boxes of Cracker Jacks, but forgot and the time is too short. So, we are giving only a few boxes of Cracker Jacks to the lead guys and one to our tutor… and leaving the other three boxes to be up for tasting. We also bought some really good peanut butter when in the states that we brought back and we’re serving that with pretzels with a hope to convince them that peanut butter really is good! I’m making some cookie bars (the Eagle brand kind because they’re delicious!) and just today we decided we needed to add something else to our mix—spiced apple cider! Since they have all the spices and apple juice here, it makes perfect sense. They use all those mulling spices to make their mulled red wine which is also very popular here this time of year. We headed back out at this point to Kaufpark, then Lidl, then the other Kaufpark and finally found all the spices we needed and the apple juice. As we walked, it began to snow lightly. Our first snow here in Germany!!! We headed back home and made a test batch. I added a little pepper to spice it up, some orange & lemon rind, mulling spices (various), and cinnamon. It was divine! I can’t wait to make it for the rest of the employees. I think it will be a fun, festive treat during their last week of the year. After we got the cider going, we made dinner and then brownies. It’s Ray’s birthday tomorrow and he wanted brownies… early. So, brownies he gets! Luckily Ray’s mom gave us a box of brownies to bring back from Maryland when we visited. They are indeed a Ray favorite. I’ve been searching online for a long time to find a perfect advent calendar and I finally found it! Here’s the link in case you’re interested in checking it out:,37-643,default,cp.html . It gets fantastic reviews and I’ve been so disappointed by the ones I’ve seen online getting such terrible reviews. This one even has a swivel and rotates 360 degrees! I got it on sale at 50% off, plus another 15% off, plus 7% cash back on top of that! It made the price just over $40 with shipping and I’m proud. I hope this is a piece I can pass down in our family in the future. It’s something I never had growing up but that have become more and more popular over the years and now they’re all the rage. I’m excited to start traditions with this guy next year! We researched more of our favorite things we plan to decorate our future house with, but bought nothing more. I did however find a book I love on the Barnes & Noble website and had to send it to my sister-in-law. Her birthday’s coming up… but really I would’ve probably sent it anyway. I have it in English and since she speaks Spanish, I figured she’d love it, too. It’s called The Little Prince. In Spanish, El Principito. Now off to bed since it’s after 1 a.m. as I write this!

Sonntag 13.12.2009 (day 90)
Happy Birthday to my incredible husband! God has blessed me big time with him and I am just the luckiest person to have him. God also gave him a great ability to sleep in. Until nearly noon. The only reason he got out of bed was because I walked upstairs and turned on the lights. The celebration begins! We actually woke up to a bit of snow outside! It wasn’t too much, but enough to cover the tops of cars completely in white. The ground was already warmed and melted, but there was a lasting impression left on our bench outside and the plants. We had breakfast and walked to drop off some mail at the Post and then had lunch… watched some TV, he did some Rosetta Stone (such a dedicated one)… and wished we could be in California eating Island’s burgers for dinner. I wouldn’t be interested in a burger, but a veg burger of which they make an amazing one. For dinner, we headed next door to Franko’s Italian restaurant. Ray had a calzone and I had a pizza. The food there is decent, but I wouldn’t write home about it (except that I am right now, I guess). We like the owner. He always greets us with handshakes and remembers that we live next door. It’s just nice to see a familiar face and have a bit of conversation (in what little we speak of German and what little he speaks of English). We headed back home walking about 20 steps in the 0 degree weather (freezing point) and popped open a bottle of champagne. The owners of our apartment gifted the bottle to us when we arrived here a few months ago and we were just getting around to drinking it. We obviously aren’t big drinkers. It was surprisingly good! It was a Spanish champagne that we thought would be too fruity for our taste. We’re not wine snobs either, but fruity usually means sweet and we know that’s not our taste. We played a German game that was similar to bingo. There were cards with 9 boxes and 3 die you roll to find out if the boxes match the criteria. For example, if you roll a red ring, blue inside, and yellow moon and these all match an exact box on your card, you place a chip. It was really as simple as that. We attempted to play another game about flipping small plastic pieces into a cup but couldn’t manage to get a single one in the cup after about 100 tries each. It was a great birthday, indeed. Cheers to my superb husband.

Montag 14.12.2009 (day 91)
Usual morning. Ray went to work, I worked out. This routine has been working out quite well. Notice all the forms of the verb, thank you. Though I had enough energy for the workout, I felt a bit under the weather today. Ever since we ate out last night at Franko’s, I’ve been feeling like I need to hang out close to the bathroom. Not a good thing. Food poisoning #2 strikes again. This wasn’t quite as severe but yielded the same results in a very minor way. We also found out that British Airways will be striking this Christmas season! And what airline are my parents flying? British Airways! We were so nervous... but then they announced their strike schedule from Dec. 22- Jan 2. Myparents arrive on Dec. 21 and leave Jan. 4. Wow! Close joke! No German lessons today because Sabine had to pick an instrument up at someone’s house and the girl was only available this afternoon. Although I felt a bit yucky, I still headed off to work with Ray because we have a Christmas dinner to attend this evening at the Chinese restaurant in Werdohl. Before leaving the company we turned on the windshield wiper fluid and wipers… and it instantly froze! So, again, for the second time today, Ray had to get out and scrape the window of ice. It’s seriously cold now. We’ll certainly get more snow in the coming weeks. Lothar predicts next week. We’ve had a little (less than an inch), but he thinks things will start to intensify. Around 6 p.m., we headed to Jade, the restaurant and we all sat at a long table. It was really nice! We ate the buffet and it was really relaxing. I felt instantly better. I guess it was short-lived. I’m pleased about that, of course! We were able to talk with a bunch of people we don’t normally have a chance to converse with throughout the day. We speak a little German and they speak more English. We were there for 3 hours! We got home just after 9 p.m. and settled into our routine of showering/putting on comfortable clothes, cranking up the heater (it’s in the 20’s here!), and watching CNN with laptops in hand. Great day, indeed.

Dienstag 15.12.2009 (day 92)
We’re officially 3 months into this journey! Today was definitely interesting. Everyone once in awhile I’m thoroughly humbled and reminded that I live in Germany and people here speak a different language. While I know a little, I don’t know enough sometimes. Ray left this morning for work this morning and I stayed home. I wanted to clean a bit since my parents are coming in 6 days! Around 2 p.m., the doorbell rings. I answer the door to a girl about age 16 with a clipboard in her hand, dressed in street clothes. I assumed she was asking me to sign a petition or donate money. That’s what it is in the U.S. anyway. Well, she couldn’t speak any English, and the German she was using didn’t sound familiar. I noticed that the home owner’s name was on the paper along with the names and addresses of all the neighbors. I was able to understand her asking (in German) when the owners will return, because I told her I did not own the house. She left, questions unanswered. Around 4 p.m., another girl, same age, wearing street clothes, same clipboard came to the door. Same situation. She leaves without questions answered. At 5:15, both of the girls return pressing the doorbell approximately 30 times this time around. I guess they were anxious. Same clothes. Same clipboard. This time, they articulated the one request in English, “We need to see the water heater.” Oh, well in that case, here it is. I opened the cupboard located right next to the door, they wrote down the numbers and left with a “goodbye.” In the U.S., meter readers are adults. But, in Germany, schools are set up differently. I am assuming that these girls are students of the Real Schule = real school. This school is the middle/lower level of the high school options. Students leave school early and learn “real world” jobs and tasks. I am assuming that’s what these girls were doing. They didn’t appear to have an apprentice, however. Not one I could see. Between these doorbell rings, I managed to get another workout in and bake some magic bars (dessert) to take into work tomorrow along with other goodies we have stocked and ready. Today also marks 6 days until my parents arrive! We’re really excited!!! We are even more excited to head out on our “road trip” with our families and share with them what we’ve been living for a few months now. I sure hope it warms up a bit, though! It’s been below freezing for a few days and CNN reports that it will continue this cold spell for a few more days at least. Perhaps it will get a bit warmer for our road trip? One can only hope. Ray said that when he went outside this morning and scraped the window, the ice was pretty thick. It was also -6.5 degrees (Celsius) when he left this morning. When Ray got home, we had dinner together.