Sunday, March 28, 2010

Random Happenings at the Wilson House

This is my new magazine subscription. That's right. Midwest Living.
We fell in love over the weekend. We love this chair at Crate & Barrel. It would go great in our bedroom.
We've already made the decision to buy this table... it's just a matter of when. Within a few months. Picture an elk antler chandelier hanging over the top and chairs made with some kind of cool-tone fabric. That's where we're headed with our dining room.
Oh, and on Monday we bought me a new ride. It's not new, but a 2007 Accord with leather, heated seats.
To all my education & Pepperdine friends... I'm representing once again. :)
Here's what our family room is looking like lately... nevermind that since nearly all of our furniture is in this room that the actual living room is almost completely empty aside from a loveseat, plant, lamp, and small table. Surely nothing is exactly where it will end up, but we wanted to get everything in a place to make it feel more like home. I think we've accomplished that. You can't tell, but there's wallpaper in this room (and many others) that will be coming down. We're also happy to see the floor in this room after boxes took over for the entire first week of our lives in this house. Craigslist works magic. I post boxes and people come get them. We help others, reuse boxes (being good recyclers), and we don't have to wait for weeks to finally get rid of all the boxes in our recycle bins.
Here was Ray's recent project: using Europe photos to fill old picture frames that used to house all of his Africa pictures from just after college. Now we just have to peel all the wallpaper off, paint, and find places to hang these guys!
...things are coming together...
--and notice the picture on the wall. We used our gift certificate (from my former roommates, Catriona and her husband Howard) to purchase two framed portraits for our walls. We now have 3 photos from places we've lived: Manhattan Beach (I posted that here), Cologne Cathedral in Germany (about 1 hour from our home in Neuenrade for 6 months (that reflection still to come), and finally, Chicago (see next photo). If you click on this photo, you can probably see the Cologne Cathedral better.
Here's that Chicago photo I mentioned. It's of the Wrigley Building (think gum). I think the building is so gorgeous and it's not the typical photo of the city. I love the element of water and land and we have that in all 3 of our photos from places we've lived as a married couple.
Thanks to Ray's parents (yay for Home Depot!), we are proud owners of this lively fellow. We sure needed some plants in our house. We gave our 2 plants to my parents and our friends Nik & Solange before we left Los Angeles. We needed some replacements and the gorgeous pot that goes with it!
Here are two other plants we're working on... one is a blueberry bush (eventually) and the other is actually just the bulb of a scallion that I'm trying to re-grow. I learned about that online and I'm experimenting. We also have some flowers that will be planted outside on our deck in a cute holder this week, just in time for spring.

Here's the new king bed! We don't have a bed frame just yet, but that will come in time.
Check out that organization in our master closet! Yeah baby!
The office is functioning quite well (aside from that atrocious wallpaper).
I signed up on this website called House Party and they send you a bunch of stuff to share with friends who come to your house to promote a product. I was chosen to "host" a Stouffer's party and they sent us 15 reusable bags, 15 coupons for $1.00 off their new toasted subs, 15 coupons for me to buy subs for people who come to our house to try them, a notepad, potholder, napkins, and plates. All I have to do is upload some pictures afterward and share about what people liked and disliked about the product. Sounds fun, huh?
Samantha sent us this really nice box of goodies from the best store ever, Trader Joe's! Those chocolate-covered powerberries are amazing!
I recently found out that I have to take 2 of 3 teacher tests to fully clear my teaching credential in Illinois (mine is currently preliminary until 2012) and only one (the easiest) of my gazillion teacher tests in California was transferable. I will be tested on Illinois state history among other things... and since the only thing I know is that Abe Lincoln lived here (my friend Solange corrected me when I said he was born here... not true... see, I hardly know anything about Illinois!) and the governors are always getting in trouble, I knew I needed to brush up on my knowledge. We went on a library date Friday night (they're open until 9pm!), signed up for library cards, and I checked some kid books out-- on Illinois. Some 4th grader isn't going to be too happy when they realize I took nearly all the stock. Hahaha! Did you know that there was a population of 100,000 natives called "mound builders" that build dirt mounds that are still present today in Illinois?
This is for my family: Our family has serious issues with reindeer. First, there was Rodney tragedy (RIP Rodney), then there was the wooden reindeer plant holder that repeatedly broke every single year, and now, our tragedy. We bought this after Christmas for a sale at Pottery Barn last year and look what happened during our move! Can you believe the luck? Antler down. Call the medic.
We checked out a new church this weekend (that will be our 4th) and we have decided that it's the place we need to be. And... we scored a really cool welcome bag to boot! Included: New Testament Bible, papers, a pen, reusable grocery bag and... wait for it... a FIVE DOLLAR STARBUCK'S CARD! Um, sign us up! Haha. I've never experienced that kind of welcome from a church before. All we normally get is a coffee mug. We loved the music (totally radio contemporary), the people were really nice and actually talked to us, they wear jeans, and the congregation is a decent size. We saw a lot of people our age and met a few. We're going back for Easter Sunday.
Oh, and this is where we spend the majority of our time: Ace Hardware. The cross palm is unrelated... except that it's Palm Sunday!
We're having a great time being homeowners, spending too much money on home-related stuff, and spending way too much time on things that should only take us 15 minutes to do. I love cooking in my new kitchen. Last night we had homemade zucchini soup and sandwiches. Tonight, who knows? 

Happy Sunday, everyone. :)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ramblings of a New Homeowner

Well, it's homeowner(s), but since my husband never writes the blog...

We are loving our new home. Sure, we're terrified of it and all costs related to it, but it's pretty fun owning this much square footage. Every item we had in our old beach bungalow seems miniature now placed in this big house.

On our moving day (last Saturday), it snow-rained the ENTIRE day. It's okay, they couldn't rain on our parade. We were highly successful in having every item moved from the storage unit --> truck --> garage within 5 hours. As we were finishing up our last load, we saw our neighbor walk up to our front door! Our first visitors! And if we didn't already think that we lived in suburbia, we were certain to have that knocked into our senses. The woman and her daughter live on the opposing corner and brought us warm chocolate chip cookies and a card to welcome us into the neighborhood. They are the Smiths. Of course they are. Welcome to the Midwest suburbs of America, right?!
Here's the cookie layout:
Just a little appliance love affair I have going on... isn't she a beauty?
And... since I have a beautiful new kitchen, I am now kicking myself into gear and being more creative with my meal preparations. I made this self-made recipe last night for dinner (and again for lunch today!):

Chicken Panini:
Chicken breast, cooked & sliced
Avocado (I made a guac spread using lemon pepper, garlic, and salt)
Cheddar cheese
Sliced Italian bread (buttered outsides)
Mixed greens lettuce
Sliced tomato
Hot Italian Giardiniera
Sliced scallions
and... of course... the George Foreman Grill (I acquired this from marriage. Every bachelor owns one). We don't have a panini press and never really want one. Between our reversible griddle and the Foreman, there's just no need for that additional appliance!

I may be in love with this new idea... and if you come visit... you may find yourself having one...

Now onto other ramblings...
  • I love seeing the school bus drive by everyday.
  • We have seriously no furniture, it's pathetic. But rest assured, we will have beds!
  • We took a walk last night and realized our area, known as Green Trails, is quite possibly the best place to live ever. Now, only if it could get (and stay) about 50 degrees....
  • There are 3 parks with play equipment within a 2 block radius of our house and you see no cars getting there. You walk entirely on trails within houses in our secluded neighborhood.
  • Squirrels are really fat around these parts and they run all over our yards all... day... long.
  • People love wooden swingsets here. I say this as I sit here at the kitchen table and stare at ours, and our neighbor's.
  • Geese are HUGE birds that use the sidewalk as their litter box. But, I will admit that I like seeing them.
  • We found a new grocery store called Michael's Fresh Market and I am thrilled. It's such a cool place and they carry all kinds of crazy items I've never seen in any store! 
  • I just saw 6 middle school students walk by our house. We live 1 block away from the best middle school in possibly all of Illinois. I think it's a top contender to beat most in the country as well. That makes this educator really happy.
  • We're going to have serious issues finding window treatments for this house. There are approximately 3 billion windows. Haha. Perhaps my exaggeration was a bit high?
  • We're scared to turn on the heater too high and we wash our faces with cold water. We have no idea what the bills will look like for a house this large!
  • Our first mortgage payment is April 1. For 30 years of our lives. Woah.
  • We are recycling way more than ever now that we live here for a few reasons:
    • Germany trained us. They recycle and separate everything and have almost no trash. The trash truck only came about twice while we were living in Germany for six months. Also, since we were made so conscious of being wasteful, we can't go back to being wasteful again.
    • It's expensive to throw trash away! A 32-gallon bag of trash costs about $2.50 for a trash truck to pick up. Recycling is free and you can purchase as many bins as you want for $7 each and they will pick up for free. I like it.
  • We love our house and we're going to try (I think) our fourth church this coming weekend. We liked the one last week, but we are struggling to find a church with people our age who don't already have kids in preschool. 
  • I will make my first roast for Easter this year. I will. I've never done it and it's time to become a big girl. :)

Thursday, March 18, 2010


That's right. Today, we bought our first home. We love it. LOVE it!

Here's a little more up close & personal. More photos to come in future posts. Don't mind the dead landscaping. There was snow on the ground practically 5 minutes ago. And... there's more to come... (Welcome to Chicago, right?)
Okay... now... come visit!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland. Vielen Dank!

Well, the time has come. In some ways, it feels like we just arrived. In other ways, it feels like we've been here for a long time and have become quite cultured. We're used to the differences that have come with moving to another country and we're now heading back to the U.S. to take our permanent residence in the Chicago suburbs. I cannot believe this California girl is going to be a Midwesterner. As I've told my husband, you can take this girl out of California, but your sure as heck cannot take the California out of this girl. It's inherent. It's about guacamole, good Mexican food, smog, and amazing weather.

But, back on topic. We drove around the other day to grab a few snapshots of a couple gorgeous places we enjoyed looking at during our lives here in the Nordrhein Westfalen region of Germany. The castle is in Altena and we took our parents. We've been a couple times now and think it's amazing that castles are just everywhere in Europe. No big deal, right? Such incredible charm. And the right is just a small snippet of the incredible churches (big and small... big = Cologne cathedral as the most breathtaking and we visited 3 times!) we lived amongst.
Surely before we left... it was required to visit the gelateria next door. It was closed for much of the winter and has since re-opened. Here are the beauties:
Our 300-year-old German house is to the right about 10 steps. Picture it.
In true Wilson style, we had Mexican for our last meal in Germany. I know... 

Why would you have Mexican when you're leaving the land of potatoes and good sausage?

Well, the honest answer is: I hate sausage, Ray's had at least 2 tons of it, and I LOVE Mexican (as those of you close to me already know). Anyhow, I had nachos and they were actually really good. We know better than to be hopeful about good Mexican food this far from Mexico (New Zealand takes the cake on worst Mexican food of all time), but surprisingly, it was tasty! Well, mine was. Ray didn't really have "Mexican food" at all. At least I don't classify a chicken breast topped with peanut sauce and a side salad as Mexican.
Hmm... well, they almost got those nachos right. Kidney bean {failure}!
We're pretty certain they put Ray's chicken breast through the schnitzel press.

But something that didn't disappoint... the drinks! That margarita was definitely excellent & Ray had a Corona.
Prost! (Cheers!) ... to a wonderful adventure, great friends, amazing travels, having friends and family visit us, experiencing and appreciating other cultures and this beautiful world...

Now onto our next adventure! Did I mention we will be officially homeowners in about 3.5 days? Life is great!

Here's (almost) the last of the journaling. While I won't be writing a daily journal (I wanted to write the entire European adventure and I'm on the 103rd page!), I will be updating regularly with our Midwest adventures. I have one more day of writing and my book is being shelved. I hope you enjoyed. It will be something fun to look back and read in our upcoming years! I'll add the final day of writing in its own post when we're settled in Chicago.

Well, without further adieu...

Dienstag 09.03.2010 (day 176)
Lunch day! I like cooking for others, but I get nervous. I want to make sure they enjoy the food and have a pleasant time eating it. When Ray left, I got up and started the soup again to warm it up. The soup was actually still a tad warm from the night before and I had it sitting in the fridge for EIGHT hours! It shows that the contents of that pot are intense, and that the mini German fridge we’ve been using has no power. Then I boiled the pasta (I bought 3 bags) and began the process of adding the ingredients together for that dish. When Ray came home at 11:00 to pick me up, we loaded the car with the soup and pasta bowls—yes, don’t have a bowl that can hold it all, and headed out to the bakery at the Lidl market in Werdohl to pick up some baguettes for lunch. I proudly spoke with the woman in all German asking if I could have a baguette and if she had any more than the one I saw there. I ordered three smaller baguettes and “hausbrotchen” as well and had that sliced. We got to work and hauled the food inside and I began preparing and making it available for lunch time. Unfortunately, the only minor mishap was that the soup started to burn at the bottom of the enormous pot (shocking really because it takes about 25 minutes for a pot of water to boil). After fishing out a few black chunks, I gave up and decided that it wasn’t worth getting all bummed about. Who doesn’t like a few black chunks in their pea soup, right? People were so kind about the lunch, but since there were some vacationers (oh, and I made food for 60 people, haha), we had leftovers. We left around 4:30 and headed home with more food than we intended on having left. I made dinner a bit later of leftovers. It’s going to be a reoccurring trend for the next few days, actually. We also found out that our flight leaves Monday morning here and arrives Monday night rather than Tuesday like we thought! I don’t know what we were thinking. We are gaining time going back west, so of course we will arrive on the same day. Karston is taking us to a hotel near the airport on Sunday night so we can have a normal night’s sleep before our flight. And… so he doesn’t have to wake up super early and deal with traffic on Monday to get us there on time and stress about that. We spent the rest of the night watching the Amazing Race I taped and relaxed. Nothing more to report here!
Mittwoch 10.03.2010 (day 177)
My whole body ached this morning. I worked out serious on Monday and I have been feeling the pain ever since. My feet even ached. No pain, no gain, right? Well, I’m not gaining much today considering the lack of movement I’ve been doing. I was sitting on the couch watching Larry King (comes on at 11 a.m. here) and the doorbell rang. Oh, that sound. It gives me such anxiety because it means I will have to explain that I don’t speak well enough to understand them talking in German at a mile-a-minute. It was a woman this time. She wasn’t carrying a backpack, clipboard, or any meter-reading devices. She was carrying a basket of fruit. They are so much more rustic here in Germany than we are. They carry baskets everywhere! They have wooden ones and sleek metal and canvas ones. She had a wooden one with a knife, oranges, apples, and bananas inside with pieces cut out of the fruits. She went on talking about vegetables and fruits and was obviously soliciting the purchase of her produce to me. I let her know that I was sick… okay… that was a lie but I was wearing my PJ’s, had no makeup on, and my hair was a mess. I sure looked sick and anyone who is in their PJ’s until after 11 probably is… unless you’re just being lazy like me. She stepped forward and began cutting the fruit to hand me a piece, now inside the house. I told her no, politely and she left. Weird. Weird. Weird. I promptly showered, changed and cleaned myself up in case anyone else showed up at the door with fruit. While it’s in my brain, I should also mention something about doorbells. Our new home has a doorbell mechanism in the hallway, but no place to ring the doorbell outside. There is no button at all! Weird, huh? I wonder where it went and how they covered it up. There are two door knockers, so that’s all that we really need. I don’t care that much about the doorbell so long as we can hear when people come to our door. We need to replace those door knockers, though. I do believe someone else’s name is engraved on them—if they leave them behind. We’re also wondering if they will leave the bathroom mirrors behind. There are 6 mirrors in question and I sure hope they do! That’s a good chunk of change to have to replace because they are high quality and match the hardware and wood in the bathrooms. Ray came to get me a little after noon and we headed back to work. Kirsten & Sascha both brought soups to celebrate their birthdays. They made a “cheese” vegetarian soup and another cream soup with mushrooms and meat. Oh, and cake. I poked around online for cars since I’m in the market for one pretty soon here… and jobs. Oh, how daunting. I even looked into possible college positions. Most call for a PHD, but many junior colleges accept Master’s degrees along with teaching experience. I applied for one position, but like all the rest, I am but a number and an online paper. It’s even worse than being a real paper! It’s so much easier to turn the computer off or click buttons than get rid of paper on your desk in forms of resumes. I am just going to be patient, feel things out when we actually live on the soil in Illinois (oh man… woo hoo!), and pray about it. I guess there is a plan for me. We left work around 5:30 to drive and take some photos. Since we have 5 days left here, we figured we’d take some photos while the sun is bright, the days are longer, and winter is finally leaving. Well, I guess we didn’t leave early enough because the sun wasn’t as bright and the dusk haze was setting in… but the few I did take will be posted to the blog on the weekend. We headed back home for a dinner of leftovers and American Idol from last night!
Donnerstag 11.03.2010 (day 178)
Can I just say that I’m still sore from working out on Monday? I must have really overexerted myself on that one. So, in true lazy style, I chose not to work out for the rest of the week. Awful, right? I prepared lunch and Ray came home to eat with me before heading back to work. I watched The Bachelor wedding and actually thought it was very pretty. I loved the green they used. I prepped American Idol for our viewing this evening and at around 4:30, Karston came into our office to lead us to the conference room. There, about 15 employees were there with Prosecco, liquor, drinks, salads, and 2 platters of sandwiches! They also had a really nice gift waiting for us. We spent some time just talking and giving small speeches, and opening our present: a digital photo frame with photos from all the people at RL. The photos were all taken by Manuela. She is such a great person and one of my favorites at RL. She’s young like myself, a vegetarian, and she reminds me a lot of my former Scottish roommate, Catriona. I miss Catriona, too! The food was put together and picked up from the Metzgerei (butcher) by Siegrun. She is quite possibly one of the nicest and most sincere people I’ve met and certainly the nicest we met in all of Germany. She just makes you feel warm and comfortable. When she isn’t at work, you can tell. She just makes your stay that much more special. We watched the photo show, drank some champagne (okay, just me), and hung out until nearly 7 p.m.! Our tutor, Sabine, showed up to celebrate as well and we said our goodbyes to a lot of people today. We’ll be at work tomorrow, but some of them may not. When we left, we headed to Sparkasse to get some money from the ATM (learning curve…) and headed home. Ray isn’t feeling 100% and it doesn’t help that Lothar is sick and has been the last few days. I made Indian for dinner and ate alone—Ray had enough to eat at the work function. We watched the episode of American Idol that I downloaded and relaxed for the duration of the evening.
Freitag 12.03.2010 (day 179)
This is Ray’s last working day at RL before we leave on Monday morning. We already said many goodbyes yesterday, but today we’ll give our final farewell to everyone but Karston, who will be driving us to our airport hotel on Sunday evening. I woke up and was up before Ray left for work and we were reunited again at lunchtime. Coming home for lunch is probably coming to a close now that we’re heading back to the States. I don’t think Ray would come home for lunch and I’m not sure I’ll ever be home to make it! I am yearning for independence. I love my husband and I am so thankful we’ve had the last 8 months together, fairly uninterrupted. However, I need to have my own car, visit stores on my own, meet friends and spend time alone, and get my own mail. Seriously, this mail thing has made me pretty depressed. I feel like I have no communication (aside from the Internet which isn’t always warm) with anyone. Our mail is often returned to sender from our PO box and I am so anxious to stop all the forwarding, know my mail carrier by name, and receive my own boxes and packages in my own mailbox. Next week, reality starts. Cannot wait! We’re awaiting 6 days until we own our dream home! And yes, it has a cute mailbox. The afternoon was fairly uneventful. We said goodbye to Lothar as he and Anya will be vacationing in Dubai for the next week, starting tomorrow. We cleaned all of our items out of the office and took them with us. Our main route to our city, Neuenrade, has been closed for the last couple weeks. We were told that it often shuts down for repair during hard storms or after the storms are over for repair. We have been taking the long way up and down and so has everyone else. When there is only one way to an area, it can be quite congested. Well, as we made our way to this long and winding street, we saw a traffic backup. There was a fire in some house and the Feuerwehr (firefighters) were putting it out, they blocked the road. We had to drive into this neighborhood and thanks to the GPS, we managed to pass above the blockage and continue on our way. When we got home, we had dinner from the limited stock we have left on hand: pea soup, eggrolls, pasta, or leftover Indian. I had pea soup and an eggroll (these are amazing and I will miss them) and Ray had leftover Indian and an eggroll. I sure wish we could buy good quality to-go eggrolls in the U.S. They sell them in single packages and they’re the size of burritos. They cost about .59 Euro cents each. Speaking of meals… I’m practically on a pea soup diet. It wasn’t meant to be this way, but since I made so much for work this week and had so much left over, I didn’t want it to go to waste. Also, we are trying to use up all the food and save money. Whatever we have left, we take back home and exchange for dolla dolla bills! Since we have to buy a new fridge and mattress upon moving, we are saving those pennies. So, pea soup has been a part of my daily diet for 4 days now. I actually really like it and I’m sad it took me so long in my life to discover that! My mom would make it when we were kids, but she would always include the ham—and since I thought it looked gross and I hate regular pees, I was never interested. We watched the American Idol results show and spent the rest of the evening hanging out. We’re feeling about 10% under the weather from being around sick people and the crazy weather changes, so we need to rest. There’s nothing fun about being sick on very airplane rides!
Samstag 13.03.2010 (day 180)
We woke up late. It was marvelous. I love Saturday mornings! I woke up earlier than Ray by 30 minutes and made us pancakes for breakfast. We dug in, did a little Internet searching, then got ready for our day. We left the house around 1 and headed to Kaufpark to turn in our final collection of bottles and purchase a bottle of wine to take over the one of RL’s newest employee’s house. We also bought another tea. If you (whoever reads this) ever come to visit us, ask to try some of our German teas. We will have 5 varieties and they are excellent. We started our drive 1.5 hours to Martin’s house. We got gas along the way (last time in Germany!) and made it by 3 p.m. We sat down for coffee and this incredible coconut cake (probably my favorite dessert in Germany thus far) that Martin’s wife made. She works at a bakery and it looked absolutely gourmet. We also had a chance to meet and hang out with their daughter, Stella. She’s 8 months and full of personality. We toured their new home (they had it built in 2008, the same year they were married—two months before us!), looked at their wedding and home-building photos, and had dinner with them. They made pizza from scratch and it was tasty! We had a great time with them and we’re really happy that RL is adding a great leader to their team. We look forward to having them out in Chicago to visit us. We drove back home just after 7 and arrived in Neuenrade at 8:30. We began our packing spree and laundry at this time. It’s near 1 a.m. and I’m still listening to the dryer. We have one more load to dry… but that will have to wait until the morning. We’re going to be packed to the brim on our luggage because of a few things: all the books & technical manuals Ray has, the ski clothes, and the new jacket he received from Rosta that is huge! We were really good on luggage space until all those items started appearing… we’ll make it. Now, for our last night in our adorable 300-year-old German house!
Sonntag 14.03.2010 (day 181)
Peanut butter toast for breakfast. Now we’re really trying to use up all the good stuff so we don’t waste it. Let’s just say we’re pretty sure the layer of peanut butter was thicker than the bread in which we layered it upon. Haha! After being woken up 3 times (2 by bells outside and once by our cell phone downstairs), I figured it was time to get up. We finished our packing and we’re definitely bursting at the seams over here! I’m so glad we have nothing more to take. We’ll be wearing our big jackets on the plane simply because we have no space left in our suitcases for them. I am hoping that our luggage is not overweight… we’ll find out! Oh, the prospect of not living out of suitcases excites me more and more everyday! We had pasta for lunch and cleaned a lot for our landlords. We want to maintain a good relationship with them because it’s possible that the company may use their rental unit again. I cleaned the bathroom, all the laundry, dishes, and put everything away. We put back all the furniture we had moved to our liking and left everything nice and tidy. At about 3:30, we headed next door to the gelato restaurant. Can you believe we hadn’t been there in all of our 6 months? In our defense, it was closed for about 3-4 months of our stay… but still! We figured, now, or never. We bought a mandarin frozen yogurt and a chocolate gelato. They were excellent and only .70 Euro cents each! Too bad we hadn’t experienced the greatness sooner! We packed up our car with our extremely heavy luggage (we may need to make some changes to avoid heavy charges!) and drove out of Neuenrade for good. We headed down the long way (the other way is still closed) to RL to meet Karston and drop off our car. We loaded our luggage into his car and headed for Frankfurt. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant. Ray picked this hotel over others because they had a Mexicanisches Restaurant. Well, since I know German-Mexican food is so sub-par Southern California’s food, I had low expectations. The menu wasn’t all that promising either. The “vegetarisches” section of the menu consisted of 4 items that consisted of a whole-wheat tortilla, random vegetables, and a baked potato. That doesn’t resemble Mexican food in the slightest. Luckily, I spotted the nachos! I ordered nachos with guacamole (gasp!) and beans. Ray ordered chicken masala which came served with peanut sauce on top and a quesadilla (microwaved) and a small salad on the side. Oh, and let’s not forget about the drinks: a strong margarita (with table salt on the rim… oh…my…) and a Corona. Drinks were good and my meal was good. Ray’s was good too, he says, but there was nothing “Mexican” about it. My food arrived without the beans I ordered, but the manager promptly brought them out… KIDNEY beans. Who puts kidney beans on nachos? Eh, either way, I got my beans and the meal was actually really spicy (hard to come by here in Germany) and delicious. Ray actually wanted my meal instead of his and wish he’d ordered my meal instead! We went back to our room to relax and prepare ourselves for tomorrow! Now I’m sitting here on extremely slow Internet contemplating whether we should rearrange some of our luggage to even out the weight. Eh. Later. I’m attempting to blog with this slow Internet connection… but perhaps that’s impossible! Tomorrow is a big day! I am going to be an official Midwesterner. But, what I told Ray stands… You can take the girl out of California, but you sure can’t take California out of THIS girl!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Grillo Family Adds Another!

That's my best friend (matron of honor in our wedding) and their new addition! Baby Scott was born today weighing in at 8 lbs, 14 oz. This day holds a special place in my heart because the last time Alison was on that hospital bed, I was there with her, holding her leg and nearly passing out as Alison was perfectly fine giving birth for the first time (no joke--the nurses had to give me juice because I was on my way towards unconsciousness). While she doesn't need me (she's clearly got a great husband that handles it all), I still cherish being there for her on that day when she gave birth to her now five-year-old, Gabrielle.
The last time we saw Alison & Nic was back in October when they came to visit in Germany! We went to Oktoberfest in Munich together and we still look back at the fun we had standing on tables singing random German songs very loud, drinking liters of beer and eating large pretzels and potatoes...
Alison was pregnant in this photo (drinking an alcohol-frei bier). Oh, and thanks to Nic for the photos I ripped off of his Picasa album and blog. Congrats friends! We miss you!

Now Alison, go get yourself a margarita! You deserve it! 
How I wish I was there to celebrate with you! See you in October!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Northern Germany + Hamburg

Lothar and his wife, Anya, had been planning to take us with them to Hamburg before we left Germany on March 15th. With only one weekend left remaining, we planned the trip. It had been beautiful and spring-like including temperatures in the lower 50's for the past week! Until... it snowed Friday night. Three inches and considerably lower temperatures. We made it out of the house and off north regardless. But, my first stop was the ground as I slipped on ice for the 247th time this winter. Bruise, check.

Our first stop was for lunch in a city called Bremen. It's a charming city and we walked through a farmer's market in the marketplace center and down the famous Böttcherstraße. It translates into "Cooper Street" though I'm still not sure what that really means. The city itself was beautiful though.
Left: Town Musicians of Bremen statue (Brother's Grimm Fairy Tales)
Right: Roland statue signifying freedom, civil rights, and independence. Stay tuned for the rest of Roland...
Left: Here's the rest of Roland!
Right: Böttcherstraße famous street of cute shops and restaurants
Just across from our (lunch) restaurant on Böttcherstraße. As we passed by, hundreds of people were standing with cameras out as the bells (upper right) chimed and the rounded wall pillar (center) rotated.
On Saturday afternoon, we arrived in Hamburg. Our first stop was our hotel at Le Royal Meridian and our second stop was the Miniatur Wunderland (miniature wonderland). Here's one photo from our visit:
After a night of driving the town and dining at a great Italian restaurant, we walked the streets the following day. Here are photos of the Rathaus.
Not bad shots for a cheap $80 camera, right?
Lothar, Anya, myself & Ray in front of the Hamburg Rathaus
On our way home, we stopped off in a town called Münster. Something incredibly special about this town is that one of its world sister cities is Fresno, California. Yes... sarcasm at its finest. Wow. How to compare a place with this killer cathedral to Fresno, the armpit of California. I guess it's because they still have a Woolworth?! Woolworth, haven't seen that place since I was a child!
Münster was actually a really nice college town with lots of charm in the old center. We enjoyed our stop there for espresso and America's finest, McDonald's.

I'm almost done journaling! Only one more week...

Mittwoch 03.03.2010 (day 170)
I had some nightmares this morning, which should’ve been a good sign to get out of bed. I decided to sleep some more and “cover up” those nightmares with dreams instead. Okay, so that’s just an excuse for being a girl who loves to sleep in. Oh, and a girl who is lazy. Haha. When I did finally wake up, I made myself a bowl of oatmeal (per usual) and became acquainted with the world and all the news it had in store for me—including California teacher layoffs. As if it wasn’t bad enough last year… now I have friends who are tenured and have taught for 5 years that are now getting the boot. It’s just horrendous. I’m thankful that we are able to live off of one salary, though my dream is obviously to get back into the classroom. But if that cannot happen anytime soon (in Illinois where I’m unsure about jobs), at least we’ll be okay financially. We may not be banking a ton like we were last year with two salaries, but at least we’ll be provided for. I just wish great things for all my lovely teacher friends and those students who will be crammed into classes of 30 (for K-3!!!). I made a random lunch of a bunch of things that surely added variety to our day. I think my favorite addition to our lunch were the peanut butter-covered English muffins. Yum! At work, Ray had a board meeting with the Chicago folks and the board (obviously). I was finally able to watch the Bachelor finale and was disappointed as I expected to be. I blogged about our recent trip to Switzerland and we headed home quite late—around 6:30. At home, we had spaghetti and I finished watching the rest of the Bachelor episodes… and have nothing else to report! Tomorrow we’ll be watching American Idol! Normally we watch it the next day, but the website we usually download episodes from has been slow to upload lately. We also thought that we’d be leaving for the North tomorrow, but I guess we had the dates wrong and we’re actually leaving Saturday. I’m still confused about the whole thing, honestly, but we’ll get there and have a great time.

Donnerstag 04.03.2010 (day 171)
We’re so excited to go back home. While it’s been incredible here and Germany is a lovely place, we’re ready. It’s the same way we felt when we packed up our things just a week or two before leaving California. It’s a bandaid you need to pull off and you’re just waiting for the right day…but you know it’s coming. This morning was uneventful until Ray came home for lunch. We jetted off to work after that and I watched both episodes of American Idol from Tuesday & Wednesday. I usually download them and watch them with Ray, but unfortunately the website only had them available for viewing, not downloading. We can’t watch full episodes at home on our Vodafone sticks because the bandwidth cannot support the content in a video as long as those. I pulled Ray in to watch the good performances, though. We headed out of the office around 5:30 and made plans to be available at 8 a.m. for Lothar & Anya to come pick us up for our trip up north. We won’t be going to Denmark, sadly, but we will have a chance to visit the north near the North Sea! We’re pretty excited about that because it’s just about the only region in Germany we haven’t visited yet. We left work and headed to Iserlohn to hit up our favorite grocery store in all of Deutschland, Kaufland. It’s almost as nice as Toom, but offers better prices. It’s about the same size as a Toom, also. Unfortunately, it’s about 30 kilometers away from our place. Visits are infrequent because of the distance. It was our last time visiting that store before we leave since we’re leaving in 1.5 weeks! We dropped off our crate of bottles we’ve had in our pantry since we moved here and visited our first “Getranke” store. They have separate stores for drinks and food. Because Germany is so “green”, glass bottles are used and stores in crates that are taken back to the store and a deposit is reimbursed to the buyer when they are returned. Glass bottles produce less waste because they are able to be sterilized and reused. Plastic bottles purchased outside of a case are worth .25 Euro cents! It’s definitely worth it to recycle your bottles here and everyone does. This drastically reduces the waste products and contributes to their green mentality. We got back 12.50 Euro and took our voucher with us to shop. We handed the voucher in to the cashier and she deducted that price from our purchase. It’s a pretty good and fast system. We headed back home and cooked dinner. While we waited, I checked my email and found out that the sellers reduced the price of our house by $5,000! Our attorney requested this action (on our behalf) because we needed it to match our appraisal price. Considering the appraisal doesn’t include the interior upgrades and only verifies square footage (ridiculous considering one of the main reasons in purchasing this house was because of the amazing upgrades… but I guess $90,000 in upgrades doesn’t contribute to the value of a home. Silly, right?), we were disappointed that the appraisal came back $10,000 lower than the selling price. We agreed to meet in the middle with the sellers and pay $425,000—what we consider a very reasonable price for the house and all the upgrades in the neighborhood it’s in. That was a huge blessing and we’re so thankful that God keeps blessing us. We cannot wait to move in and sleep in our house!!!

Freitag 05.03.2010 (day 172)
I went in to work with Ray this morning because we were so excited about signing the latest addendum to our house agreement at $5,000 cheaper! Woo hoo! We arrived and had an overall quiet day. I did my usual thing and was able to watch the American Idol results show while Ray did some real work. It snowed off and on today and at lunch we headed to Netto to pick up some food for lunch, a couple boxes of tea, and a couple jars of pesto. We left a bit early from work today and headed to Kaufpark to pick up some Blood Orange tea we wanted to bring back to the States. We love this tea brand, Milford, and we want to have a stash back in Chicago. We also plan to bring more back to Lovejoy because we already brought 3 different boxes and they loved them. Milford tea is not sold in the U.S. so it was an obvious choice to purchase it before we left. We tried the first Kaufpark in Neuenrade (located on one end of the 2 mile stretch) and they didn’t sell the blood orange variety. We drove behind the houses to the other Kaufpark and were exploring the amazing charm of the area. It really is gorgeous and we’re super lucky to have lived in a charming town that is hundreds and hundreds of years established. We noticed little crests on personal homes and just beautiful intricacies that we never noticed before---because it’s usually dark! Since the days are getting longer, we’re able to explore more and appreciate more with the daylight. Next week we plan to drive through Altena and take some photos of the amazing castle adorned with beautiful German architecture surrounding it. I mean… we lived about 8 miles from a real castle for 6 months! How amazingly cool is that? We headed home after our third market visit of the day and had dinner and packed for our short trip up north with Lothar and Anya. They’re picking us up tomorrow morning at 8. I opened our front door and there’s at least an inch of snow on the ground. Really? Ugh. I totally want spring in a bad way. I was thinking I’d be eased into this whole winter thing… but it’s not going as planned. Ha!

Samstag 06.03.2010 (day 173)
Lothar & Anya came to pick us up in their new SUV and head north at 8 a.m. As soon as I got near the car, I completely slipped on the pile of ice lining the streets! Yeah… it was like a cartoon. At one point I’m standing, and the next I’m slipping with my feet in the air, landing on my side. Ouch. I have a bruise for sure. Bummer. Aside from the minor embarrassment, I survived. Wasn’t I just talking about spring and the snow being completely gone? Well, it’s not. It came back with a vengeance last night and everything is covered with at least 3 inches. We set off and stopped off to get some coffee along the way to Bremen. When we arrived at Bremen, we parked at the Hilton and walked around a famous street, Böttcherstraße, saw some famous statues of a knight and a children’s fairy tale statue, and stopped in for lunch as a small restaurant on the street. I had a curry vegetable meal and the others had pork chops and a fish plate. We headed back into the car and headed further north to Hamburg. On the way, I saw 5 deer and one windmill! That was the first wildlife I’ve seen in all of Germany so far. I guess they all live in the north. When we arrived in Hamburg, we parked at the hotel, rested a bit, then headed back out to an exhibit. The exhibit is called Miniatur Wunderland (Miniature Wonderland) and it features very small exhibits of famous places in the world—bust mostly Europe and the Americas. There was a miniature Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, Miami Beach, and lots of places in Europe & Germany. It was pretty intense and really engineered well. There were trains going throughout the exhibits making them all cohesive and there were cars that were run by programming and magnetism. Cars & trucks would even stop at certain points, put on their turn signals, wait in traffic, etc. They knew exactly when to make these moves. We saw an exhibit area that is in the process of being built and the amount of programming and intense miniature architecture that goes into each piece was amazing. We left there and drove around Hamburg during dusk and were able to see a lot of the latest buildings and drove by to see a huge cruise shipped docked here. The city is gorgeous. It reminds me of a mixture of San Francisco, New York City, and San Diego all in one. It has San Francisco’s brick loft charm, New York’s big city life with great restaurants and shopping, and San Diego’s water port area with lively nightlife. It doesn’t feel like any other place we’ve visited in Germany. Lothar and Anya love this city and wanted to show us around—which is why we came with them. After the driving, we parked the car at the hotel, relaxed in our rooms for a bit before heading downstairs for drinks before dinner. After drinks, we walked about 3 blocks to an Italian restaurant. Dinner was excellent. We probably spent 3 hours in that place eating so much. We had an antipasti starter and they came out with this amazing platter of all things delicious for us to taste. We could’ve been done with dinner right there! We waited a bit for dinner because we had just eaten so much and had the rest of our dinner arrive later. The chef, waiters, and all the people there were really great. We headed back to Le Meridian and headed to our rooms 30 minutes before midnight. It was a great day and we’re exploring a little more of Hamburg tomorrow before heading back to Neuenrade.

Sonntag 07.03.2010 (day 174)
We started the day off right. First of all, the shower in this place has to be the best we’ve ever experienced. I’m sure every second wastes about a gallon of water considering the buckets that are poured every second. Magical! Breakfast was fabulous, too. We headed upstairs to the 9th floor and saw a ridiculous view of the water and city. I guess they can actually walk out on the ice during the full winter. At this point in March, it’s starting to melt. We ate from a great breakfast buffet before heading out to walk around the city before heading back in the car for our drive home. We walked down to the Rathaus about 7 blocks from out hotel and walked down many of the streets. This part reminded us of Michigan Avenue in Chicago! There are so many great cities that this area is a mesh of… very nice. We headed back to the hotel after about an hour and packed our things before heading to Muenster. We’d never been there either. We stopped for espressos and walked around the old street (Altstrasse), saw some gorgeous buildings and churches, and stopped in at McDonald’s for a quick bite. They are now selling vegetarian sandwiches in Germany, too! I’m thrilled that they’re offering something for me (finally), but now we’re heading back to the states. It was good. I thought it was better than Burger King’s version at 1/3 the price. We left this college town and headed back home. It was a long day of driving, but we saw at least another 3 dozen deer on the way home! Where have they been our entire visit? Since it was sunny today and snow was covering the farm fields, they stuck out like sore thumbs. I love wildlife. When we arrived home, we made some food for dinner—Hamburger Helper & potato/corn soup. It was a good weekend and we only have 8 more sleeps until we’re home in the U.S. permanently and nearly home owners!!!

Montag 08.03.2010 (day 175)
With this very post, I will make it to my 100th page of journal writing. With one week left, it was certainly more than I bargained for! Originally I planned to only write a few sentences for each day, but then I realized that I’d miss out on the richness of our learning experiences and the culture we’ve been immersed in had I only dedicated a small amount. Ray went to work and I stayed, per usual. This is the last week of that schedule! When I got up, I answered some email and did my usual Internet update before having lunch and making a few items in the kitchen. Since I’m trying to use up all of our food before we leave, I’ve been making some items ahead of time so that it’s convenient just to heat up and serve. Way back when we started, I bought 11 cans of salsa. We’re down to 2 cans and I’m sad to say I may not finish them! If you know my Mexican/salsa obsession, you’d know how big of a deal this is for me. Haha. After lunch, I did some organizing and cleaning. I was putting things back where they were when we first moved into Zweite Strasse 18 in Neuenrade. I was collecting items that needed to be packed so that we wouldn’t forget them. I even brought out the suitcases—but haven’t inserted anything into them yet. That may happen tomorrow. I worked out for about 40 minutes on my own routine of about 15 different actions, showered and did laundry. Today, Ray went with Karston to Ludenscheid to check out a prospective building that RL may consider moving into. Lothar was feeling under the weather yesterday and had intentions to go, but ended up staying home instead. I didn’t go into work with Ray today because I usually like to stay home on Mondays and because he was going to be out and about for the majority of the day and couldn’t come get me. I haven’t had my own car since June 2009. It’s been 9 months since I sold my beloved Honda Civic. I absolutely still miss that car. It was so reliable and very comfortable to drive. Since we are moving into a relatively empty house and have all kinds of things to consider financially now, we are looking into getting me a Honda Accord when we get back into the States. I may actually have my own car again! It was fine here in Europe, but in the States, it’s not going to work. Ray came home at 6:15 and we had leftovers for dinner before entering in to an all-night cookout. We had plans to make lunch for the company (around 40 people) tomorrow and that requires some work! We started chopping all of the veggies I had started earlier in the day—broccoli, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, sundried tomatoes… and I cooked and diced the chicken. We started making the pea soup and it took hours. It normally takes a couple hours to make one batch, but we quadrupled the recipe! A 1-2 hour soups takes over double the time to cook. As I type at 10:20 p.m., the soup is still a-cookin’. The rest of the items are ready for the pasta and all I’ll have to do tomorrow is boil pasta and mix the ingredients all together (pesto, chicken, pasta, lemon juice, parmesean cheese, chili flakes, sundried tomatoes, broccoli bits, salt, pepper, and garlic). The big issue is creating this feast in a small European kitchen. The burners are so small that I have to use two burners to heat one pan! We’re also planning to buy baguettes tomorrow and slice them for the pea soup and pasta luncheon. Normal German pea soup is made with sausages and lots of bacon. So much bacon and sausage that the normal serving size (generally equivalent to one cup) is about 31 grams of fat! Can you even imagine? Since there are a couple veggies other than me, I decided to make the soup veggie by omitting the bacon/sausages, but adding chicken to the pasta (and setting some aside without chicken for the few of us). While I’m sure they would much prefer the sausage and bacon… I just couldn’t bring myself to creating something so unhealthy. I may as well have served cake for lunch. Other than that, there isn’t much else we had time to do tonight!