Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Monday, December 26, 2011

christmas is...

- eating too many freshly-baked croissants with nutella...so that I have to spontaneously register for a half-marathon in May...I’ll start training tomorrow.

- wandering to church while the church bells are ringing like crazy -I love the insane ringing, like they are so darn excited about something which they want the whole world to know…think I’ve heard that somewhere before.

- cleaning up…after a great meal, after opening presents, before guests come, after guests leave.

- lighting candles for our mothers...hi mom.

- getting a Christmas care package from ‘home’ filled with stepmum-baked Christmas cookies, some small presents and a package of Kraft macaroni and cheese…how funny! Of course I cooked it up for great guy on Christmas Day. He thought it was interesting and I just giggled and ate!

- missing, with an aching heart, the first Christmas my brother is celebrating with his boy.

- schrille nacht…not stille nacht – partying with max and bärbel, rock‘n roller, and a bunch of other friends into the wee hours on Christmas Eve.

- reflecting on the past year, and hoping the changes that will come upon us in the new year are good ones.

- feeling blessed.

- a birthday.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

trés bonn(e)!

The wait is over. It finally snowed! I woke to a powder-sugared, wonderland of white, and it made me happy. The banks of the, now swollen, river were all white. The cathedral and burg, all lovely and white, were covered with heavy white snow. And, as I drove to Mickey’s weinhaus to pack up wine to send to some very late customers, I laughed at my grumpy co-workers who weren’t at all happy about the snow. But, unfortunately, by the afternoon it was basically gone, with only slushy remnants left behind.

On Saturday evening, great guy and I zipped off (after he put in another long, long day at our baustelle) to Bonn. I really wanted to experience a bustling, new-to-me city on the Rhein, packed full of history…and Christmas revelers. Bonn used to be the German capital city, before the wall came down in 1989, giving the capital city reigns to Berlin. The architecture of Bonn’s buildings in the altstadt is beautiful, and along with a flowing design of the pedestrian zone along the river, it has a comforting feel about it.

‘Magical’ is surely defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘wandering the evening streets admidst a German Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market)’. I had heard that Bonn had an amazing markt, and it did not disappoint! In three different squares of the altstadt huge, 10 meter tall, wooden Christmas pyramids were turning, displaying shepherds with their sheep, mary and joseph heading to Bethlehem, angels trumpeting in star-filled skies. The markt stands were full of happy, glühwein drinkers and tourists purchasing Christmas ornaments and last-minute gifts. We walked arm-in-arm, soaking in the amber glow of the street lanterns, sipping at terracotta mugs filled with steaming wine while snacking on baked, sugary almonds. Yum yum.

Our weekend was book-ended by two wonderful parties, one at max and bärbel’s on Friday evening (I think max turned 29 again) and the other on Sunday night at jülchen and rock ‘n roller’s (jülchen actually turned 29, or is she only 28…oh man, I feel old). Both fests were filled with terrific, new-to-me, very nice people; such as kerstin#43 (everyone here is named ‘kerstin’…it’s like the American ‘linda’, only much prettier sounding) and dave, the half-breed (his dad is American, and as jülchen introduced us, she said ‘dave, say hi to nina, she’s from Canada!’-he said hi-it was magical).

The best thing about both evenings, other than being in the homes of wonderful friends, was that great guy and I just laughed. Especially Sunday night. It is a great thing when someone just wants to see you laughing, and whether it’s because of snow falling or great guy’s silliness, it feels so good to laugh. I hope that wherever you are today you will share a laugh or two with someone you love…or don’t. Just laugh.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

a christmas reim.

For anyone who speaks a little bit of German...and a little bit of English, this is pretty darn funny. I, actually, spend most of my days speaking like this..sounds kind of horrible auf der dauer, as great guy will tell anyone, but hopefully I'm getting a bit better. He probably thinks I wrote this poem!! But, I didn't. I would love to give credit to the writer, but I think it's one of those viral emails with an unknown writer, which came to me via great guy's sister. Thank you for the laugh! Enjoy!

Anglo-germanisches Weihnachtsgedicht

When the last Kalender-sheets
flattern trough the winter-streets
and Dezemberwind is blowing,
then ist everybody knowing
that it is not allzuweit:
she does come - the Weihnachtszeit.

All the Menschen, Leute, people
flippen out of ihr warm Stüble,
run to Kaufhof, Aldi, Mess,
make Konsum and business.
Kaufen this und jene Dings
and the Churchturmglocke rings.

Manche holen sich a Tännchen,
when this brennt, they cry "Attention".
Rufen for the Feuerwehr:
Please come quick to löschen her!"
Goes the Tännchen of in Rauch,
they are standing on the Schlauch.

In the kitchen of the house
mother makes the Christmasschmaus.
She is working, schufting, bakes
hit is now her Yoghurtkeks.
And the Opa says als Tester:
We are killed bis to Silvester!

Then he fills the last Glas wine –
yes, this is the christmastime!
Day by day does so vergang,
and the Holy night does come.
You can think, you can remember,
this is immer in Dezember.

Then the childrenlein are coming
candle-Wachs is abwärts running.
Bing of Crosby Christmas sings
while the Towerglocke rings
and the angels look so fine –
well this is the Weihnachtstime.

Baby-eyes are big and rund,
the family feels kerngesund
when unterm Weihnachtsbaum are hocking
then nothing can them ever shocking.
They are so happy, are so fine –
this happens in the Chistmastime!

The animals all in the house,
the Hund, the Katz, the bird, the mouse,
are turning round the Weihnachtsstreß,
enjoy this day as never nie,
well they find Kittekat and Chappi
in the geschenkkarton von Pappi.

The family begins to sing
and wieder does a Glöckchen ring.
Zum song vom grünen Tannenbaum
the Tränen rennen down and down.
Bis our mother plötzlich flennt:
The christmas-Gans im Ofen brennt!"

Her nose indeed is very fine
Ende of the Weihnachtstime.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

rock'n roller is from china

Rock’n roller came by last night. He knocked on the door, let himself in, asked if we had a schluck wein for him, sat down and lit a cigarette. Great guy and I sat there and just looked at him. Then, he casually mentioned that the women are sitting over in the haus, in pitch blackness. What? There’s no electricity. Don’t know why, but don’t worry, we’ll deal with it later….let me tell you about my day. Great guy clarified, ‘Are julchen and angie at home?’ ‘Ja, they’re sitting in the dark. But, you don’t have to go over there right now. Let’s have a cigarette first and relax. They’re fine over there.’ Oh my.

Last weekend, at our fest, with 25 people cozily packed into our little stellwerk haus, rock’n roller and I got into politics. I should know by now that talking with him, beyond a certain point in the evening has no real productive outcome, but I kind of miss chatting about the world’s craziness. At the point in the “conversation” where rock’n roller said to me, in all seriousness, that he is not a German right now, that I should not consider him German, I knew that I might burst out laughing at any moment (at least I wasn’t going to cry this time!). Of course, I interrupted his rant and asked him, ‘where are you from right now?’ And he said, I’m not kidding, right now I’m from China. Of course. Then, thankfully, before I had to listen to him spew about the current situation there (because of course he knows all about what it’s like to be a Chinese person in this current global climate), I excused myself to concentrate on our other guests.

Amidst the lunacy of the week, great guy and I managed to head out for a dinner celebrating the actual day I arrived here a year ago. We followed dinner in the Goldener Engel (which sounds way less cheesy in German than in English – Gold Angel) by a romantic, yet freezing, stroll beneath the lit-up burg (castle) of the Ingelheim Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). With glühwein in hand to warm us, the smell of gebrante Mandeln (roasted almonds) wafting in the air, we walked among the stands set-up within the castle walls. It was very cool, cool. I asked great guy where he thinks we might be in a year from now, and in his not-so-romantic way, he said, ‘maybe we’ll be right here’. I guess that wouldn’t be too bad.
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Friday, December 2, 2011

bomb

A 4000 lb. bomb is lying in the Rhein; an HC 4000 out of England, for all you who know your bombs. 'They' will explode it on Sunday, after evacuating 45 000 people in Koblenz, including a hospital and 2 nursing homes. This giant bomb, along with many other newly-discovered, smaller bombs have been lying in the Rhein since WWII. And, because we are now experiencing record water-lows in all the rivers around here, lots of interesting things are being found in the now-barren river beds. A bomb. Cool.

Two weeks ago, they found a little bomb which 'they' said is only a fog bomb. Since it's already really foggy out, the news station said that nobody needs to worry about when it will be 'dealt' with because nobody will notice.

Great guy asked if I wanted to go to Koblenz on Sunday and engage in some 'bomb tourismus'. But, as anyone who knows me well or who has gone camping with me knows, I am petrified of anything that has even the slightest potential for exploding...including propane tanks. I think I will pass on this little piece of German-British history.

P.S. A year ago tonight I arrived in Germany, on the Rhein. It was nowhere near as explosive as this weekend could turn out to be...we are having a huge party tomorrow night!
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Sunday, November 27, 2011

waiting

‘Tis the season...for waiting. It is the first Advent and everyone is waiting; waiting for a holiday and a break from work, waiting for family, for presents, for the birth of a baby. I am waiting for snow.

It is the first time in my life that I am living somewhere where at the end of November there is still not a hint of snow…not even a whisper. In Alberta and Saskatchewan I don’t think it is even possible to miss snow. It always comes much too early and stays way too late…like an irritating party guest. And, now I am here, on the first Advent, wandering through a Christmas market, in a small town on the Rhein, on a +10 degree, sunny, dry, windy day. It feels much too early for Christmas.

Last weekend, great guy spontaneously said that we should go away for the night. Since he rarely likes straying far from home, I jumped at this opportunity to cash in one of my best western gift certificates. After googling and then booking, we started driving, and ended up…falling in love. We found our new fave place. This little boutique hotel, in Boppard (which sounds funnier and funnier the more times you say it as great guy was doing the whole way there), is nestled on the Rhein, and filled with family history and character dating back to the 1800’s. The wide, sweeping staircase with family portraits of the hotel’s former owners, enchanted me. I took photos, like a geeky tourist, wanting to remember these faces, and wishing I could hear their stories. They had names like Johanna, Lissy, Karolina, Horst und Jakob.

But, the elevator was by far the coolest. It was old (or should I say ‘antique’) and it was small. It had one of those sliding doors which you had to push open. And then, inside there was a blue, leather bench at the one end…a seat perfectly built for two. All the furniture in the hotel was so interesting. The famous furniture maker, Michael Thönet, who stems from Boppard, beginning in the 1800’, had original pieces displayed on each floor. I’m not that well-versed in my antiques, but the curved wooden armrests, the intricate workmanship, and the beautiful fabrics…it was all beautiful.

Great guy and I entered our quaint, cozy room and went straight onto the wrought-iron balcony taking in the peaceful view of the Rhein cliffs, the massive freighters, and the flowing water right below us. I tell you, lying in bed and looking out the window and being able to see the lights of the ships floating by is actually very cool. We sauna-ed and then went for a fabulous Italian meal, where I am sorry to say to any PETA fans, that I ate weinbergschnecken (wine hill snails) sautéed in garlic butter. I figured that since we are in wine berg country I should try these little creatures…isn’t it like eating Alberta beef when you’re in Alberta? Although, supporting the wine industry probably means drinking wine and not eating snails. Ok, so I’ll rectify that and pour myself a glass right now.

A little while ago our relationship came to a breaking point. We have now turned a corner in the direction of togetherness and, I think, we feel more solid and calm now than we have up to this point. We both made a choice…not just to keep flowing along, but to stay. This little hotel, in this little place, with time to just walk and talk and eat together without interruptions, helped a lot. We will be back…maybe when there’s snow. I am waiting.
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Saturday, November 19, 2011

rude ducks

Last week, Germans celebrated St. Martins Day. I would describe it as Thanksgiving mixed with Halloween - does that paint a good picture? Probably not.

St. Martin was a knight, back in the day when there were knights, and apparently one wintry evening he pulled his steed to a stop to cut off a piece of his cloak, handing it to a coatless beggar on the side of the road. His fellow knights were impressed by his generousity. And, as with many of these simple, kind gestures the guy became a saint. I mean, didn't a guy named Valentine also just give someone he liked a card?

There is a very cool blog called kindnessgirl.com, in which a Richmond, Virginia woman encourages people to do good deeds, and shows by example. She does things like leaving sweet notes in library books, putting ice cream cone gift certificates into the pockets of new backpacks at department stores during back-to-school season, tying messages like 'It's going to be okay!' to a flower and leaving it in a public place, or leaving $5 Starbucks gift cards on bus stop benches. She should be nominated for super-sainthood! Is there a form or a call-in process for that?

So, back to St. Martin's day. What happens on this day is that all the kiddies, who have spent the week making lanterns, dress up warmly and wander together through the nighttime streets, following a guy on a horse (St. Martin) and singing their hearts out...'Ich geh mit meiner Laterne...'. Seriously, it's the cutest thing. I asked every one of my kiddie-English classes to sing this song for me (it's like 4 verses long) and they just belt it out, and sing and sing and sing. I'm going to start teaching them English Christmas songs because hearing kids sing is a great noise. Oh, there are also lots of Duck-eating feasts on St. Martin's day. Legend has it that after Mr. Martin became a bishop (because of his good deeding) he was giving a mass and was interrupted by a group of 'schnatternden' (a new German word for me, which sounds very funny) ducks. So, of course, now ducks everywhere have to pay for the sins of a few. Be kind (ducks and y'all).

A note: two quotes which helped me get through this particular week.

'If you fall down 7 times, stand up 8' – a good ‘ol Chinese proverb.
'When you don't know what to do, do nothing. Get quiet so you can hear the still, small voice.' - that one from good 'ol Oprah.
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

doctor love

I have a friend who has fallen in love with her doctor...her plastic surgeon to be exact. Okay,‘fallen in love’ is maybe too strong to say, but she definitely has a big ‘ol, badass crush. She has been watching online videos of him, trying to figure out if she can tell whether he’s married or single. She has rehearsed what she’s going to say when she sees him again at her follow-up appointment. ‘How do you get onto a personal level with a medical practioner?’, she asks me. He is so sweet and warm and friendly. ‘Do you think that he is like that with every patient?’ Hmmm, could be, could be.

Unfortunately, she went to her first two consultations with her husband. So, now there is the added problem in that she thinks that the doc thinks she’s probably not interested in something more, if the doc happened to be interested in something more, because he would think that she thinks that he’s just being nice. Do you get what I’m saying? It’s a conundrum.

In her first follow-up appointment, after surgery, he was very rushed…friendly, but rushed. He inspected his two new creations with warmth and good humour, but in all her anxiety about what to say, she ended up not saying very much. He did tell her that he wants to see her again, a week before Christmas, and so, that’s hopeful. She will dress all up, with an LBD and maybe some cute, kitten heels and tell him that she just happens to be coming from a Christmas party at work. Then she’ll slip him a card inviting him out for a drink. It’ll be her last chance. I mean, hoping that something goes wrong with her post-op recovery just so that she can see him more…that’s just plum crazy, right?

I wonder how many cards he has stashed away in his desk. On the other hand, I think I have read many a story in People and US magazines about very, happy celebs who have lived happily ever after (in Hollywood years) with their plastic surgeons, right? How weird is it to get to second base with someone you like without them knowing that you’re all excited to be at second base. The life of a doctor…uh, plastic surgeon.

P.S. I should say that I am proud of my friend, not necessarily because she had surgery (to each his/her own) but because she had an operation that was for herself and not for attention. I don’t think that there is anyone, other than those close to her, who would be able to tell that she had anything done. I like that. It was a private thing, between her and her husband…and her plastic surgeon.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

sick

I have been felled by the German cold bug and, I don’t think that it’s a relation of the Canadian cold bug…not even a distant cousin. This is a brash and persistent bug; it perseveres even in the face of extra-strength Echinacea and lemon tea. It’s hearty. It toils at its task and doesn’t give up. And, some might even call it unfriendly.

I haven’t had a cold in at least four years. I’ve been flattened by a host of other weird ailments; an infected skin duct, a nasty spider bite, a brutal infected blister, strep throat a couple of times, and a kidney infection. But, the unassuming, Canadian cold bug I have managed to avoid.

Now, for the past week, as I refuse to just lie in bed all day, the cold bug is hanging on. My head feels like a giant melon which might explode at any moment. I keep dropping things (and will need to buy more dishes the moment I feel better) and forgetting why I went all the way downstairs or why did I just put my coat on; where am I driving to? It's been a confusing time.

Not to mention, that the week before, great guy was taken completely out of commission by, what the doctor diagnosed as, wildsauunverträglichkeitsyndrom (translated by oxford, surely, as 'unabletohandlewildsowsyndrome')...I'm not kidding. We had eaten a lovely meal at friends', along with a little too much red wine (which great guy never normally drinks) and the doctor chaulked his 'illness' up to the poor little pig, giving him a sick note for the rest of the week. I'm pretty sure great guy forgot to mention the beverages we had had that night.

So, I will pull myself up by the bootstraps (good thing I recently bought a new pair of tan, suede boots!), like the good half-German that I am and will carry on with my work and play. Granted, working amidst tiny, snotty-nosed children each afternoon does not help, but I will not give up a paycheck for something as un-fun as a cold. Kindergarten must be where Germans build up their immunity to this hard-working little creature. Or…maybe this is where they learn…from the smallest role model. Is this another one of those mustard seed examples?
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

11% of pure goodness

If God has a nectar then it is surely called federweissen. Unfortunately, last night, I drank 2 cups of ‘fedi’ (as mickey and the wine folks call it) and I woke up this morning with a massive headache. It must be all the pure goodness and high nutritional content which mickey keeps mentioning.

Fedi is a ‘for a limited time only’ drink…and just like ‘roll up the rim’ time in Canada, everyone here is mad for federweissen for the one month it’s available. There are stands here on almost every block selling it, big signs outside of every hotel and restaurant advertising it, and there are lots of ‘fedi-ed’ folks zig-zagging along the sidewalks having consumed it. I’m just joking on that last point, but I would’ve been zig-zagging last night if great guy would’ve let me go out wandering in my condition!

Federweissen is the pure juice which comes from grapes being pressed. Nothing is added to them. Essentially, the grapes are picked (some vintners here in this area still do it by hand because the winehills are so steep), then pressed, resulting in a sweet, milky-white (like a white feather, hence the name ‘feder weissen’), insanely great-tasting liquid. The natural yeast and sugars in the grapes ferment (quicker if they are left at room temperature) and when consumed immediately, before being processed and lagered, then the alcohol content is about 11 %! I just looked that up on Wikipedia…having had no idea that it’s quite THAT potent. So that, combined with the fact that it tastes like juice and it’s so good you want to drink a lot of it, makes it dangerous stuff!

I had my 2 cups of fedi with a slice of scrumptious zwiebelkuchen; kind of like an onion quiche made with roasted onions, cream cheese and eggs. Apparently, you are supposed to consume them together, so I figured, ‘when in rome’! Yummy.
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

roadtrips

Last week, I headed out on a wine delivery tour for Mickey, driving a fully-loaded wine bus for a two day trip. I started off at 5 am, hurtling along on the autobahn in the pitch dark. Surprisingly, I was in a really good mood. I had decided to change the tour plan a little bit so that I could spend the night in Hamburg where great guy’s great friend and girlfriend live. I have been hearing a lot about this incredible city, with its kilometers of harbour, bustling night life and funky, modern style…more Amsterdam, less Berlin…and I was eager to finally visit.

After a very long 15 hour delivery day, and almost getting fired (and therefore almost quitting) because I had altered the tour, I arrived at great friend’s flat in the heart of St. Pauli, a block from the reeperbahn (for those of you who know what that is). I was so happy to finally be there. The 3 of us stayed up late, drinking wine, eating pasta, and talking…and das baby slept. In the morning, before I continued on my route, we took a drive along the harbour. There was so much to see. The Speicherstadt fascinated me. Rows and rows of old, red brick buildings, separated by narrow water channels where the ships of yore used to move through, unloading their wares, which were then pulled up into the windows above…things such as spices and rugs from the Orient, and coffee from South America.

My tour on the second day led me through the back lanes of the Lüneburger Heide, rolling countryside with soft, bushy forests of softly changing colours. I passed countless couples riding their bikes on the open, winding, country lanes, while I bumbled along in my wine bus, singing loudly with Adele on the stereo, and the sun shining. Throughout the afternoon, I noticed, several times, motorhomes randomly standing on autobahn exits, each with a simple sign on the side saying ‘sexy girls’. I naively thought it was some kind of fun, girl-power club, but no…they are brothels on wheels…really?

The next morning, bright and early, great guy and I set out on the 2 hour drive to pick up his quite-old-but-new-to-him boat, which he and the father bought off ebay. On the way, we stopped at a roadside, self-serve pumpkin and squash stand. I love these self-serve stands…so simple, so trusting, so cheap! We picked out a couple of small pumpkins, a long, yellow-y spaghetti squash and a big acorn squash. Since Thanksgiving I have been craving and, therefore, making different pumpkin soups each week (thankfully great guy eats everything!) and now I am going to try squash soup. I am a firm believer that everything can be made into soup.

With barnacles and shells still clinging to its bow, and seawater still dripping from the motor, we arrived to see that the boat had survived the long journey from the Spanish coast. The boat was much bigger, shockingly, than on the little online ad and for the first ten minutes or so, we just walked around and around it. Then we hopped in, opening all the compartments, finding water skiis, a swim tube, safety vests (including a super-cute baby one), a fishing rod and a full tackle box. It was just like Christmas.

Great guy’s work colleagues had told him we would probably arrive at the pickup spot along with 20 others who bought the same boat. We had heard lots of ebay horror stories, but thankfully everything was as promised and getting it home went quite smoothly…well, after great guy spent 3 hours fixing all the electrical hookups so that the boat trailer had lights!

The father thinks great guy should name the new boat ‘Duck’ because he thriftily already has the signage for it, but great guy told me he might name it ‘Funny Hunny Bunny’…what a dreamboat! I mean great guy, of course.
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Sunday, October 9, 2011

thankful

Happy Thanksgiving, my Canadian friends.

Sitting here on a cool, fall day, the air filled with the sweet, almost rotten-fruit smell of the thousands of grapes in the area, being squashed and readied for their barrel homes, I am feeling melancholy, knowing that I am missing Thanksgiving in Canada.

So, I have been trying to infuse my days with snippets of Thanksgiving-like activities. Last weekend, there was a holiday Monday here in Germany, so we invited great guy’s family over for a Canadian-style Thanksgiving feast. We had sweet potato soup with cornmeal biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy, shredded beet and carrot salad, cauliflower with cornflake-crumb topping, and, of course, a turkey…thank you Food Network for the scrumptious sage-infused turkey recipe. Oh, and pumpkin pie made with the Station’s awesome pie crust! It was so much fun cooking and then even more fun having a lovely family meal together. Afterwards, as everyone complained that they had eaten too much, I said that that was also a completely normal and expected part of Thanksgiving in North America…feeling stuffed!

Other days have included buying pumpkins, decorating with those tiny, weird-looking squash, finding recipes for the pounds of left-over turkey meat (even though the only turkey I could find in the supermarket here was a baby turkey), enjoying cool walks with my loved one in the afternoon sun, and regretting the many pieces of pumpkin pie which I couldn’t help eating.

And today, most importantly, I will think of the things I am thankful for… and will share them you.

I am thankful for:

-friends who send me notes that say things like, ‘I will continue to send good vibes across the ocean so that waves of happiness find their way to you and flow into the river outside your door.’ Friendship.

-the physiotherapist telling great guy that he does actually have ONE very well-defined muscle…his coughing muscle, and if only he could work on developing a few more muscles that would be a good thing. Funny.

-nephews…my nephew…many prayers were said in the creation of that little guy’s life, beginning years ago…thank You.

-on that note, baby kisses…I am thankful for his way of grabbing (with lots of baby force) your face with both of his tiny hands and pulling it with all of his might towards his wide open mouth…you cannot help but feel the love! Love.

-Stieg Larsson, for writing books which engrossed me at times when I really needed to ‘get lost’ in something so far from my current reality. But now I really want to go to Sweden.

-being invited to ‘jag at 8’ even though I am millions of miles away….it’s awesome knowing that you guys are thinking of me. Go Riders!

-the 2 rivers who join almost at our doorstep, carrying ships and boats, and nourishing the picturesque wine hills all around us, and whose existence caused the counts and emperors to build all these incredible castles here…like one every km! Pretty.

-Canada Geese…and the perfect tattoo which I have of them on my forearm. I will always be thankful for the artist who drew it so spontaneously for me. Beautiful.

-the strange-looking cat who sometimes graces our presence and who, if she feels like it, lets us pet her until she gets bored. Great guy and I stop everything we’re doing the moment we see her…we really need a pet…or a baby?

-that it’s difficult to buy Thanksgiving or fall paraphernalia here…or Valentine’s or Easter or St.Patrick’s stuff for that matter. These ‘holidays’ aren’t so grossly over-marketed here, as in North America, and it’s kind of refreshing. If you want to buy something for one of these holidays you do it because you really want to and not because you are bombarded with messages saying that you have to.

-three, four, and five year-olds (not that I want to discrimate, of course). I am thankful for their hilarious questions and insights into how they think the world operates (like thinking that the best way to take a cat for a walk would be by putting a slinky around it’s neck), and I love that they always want to hold your hand.

-my good health…don’t know why I have it and others who I love don’t…so, I will be thankful for mine and try not to waste it.

-for great guy… even though he sometimes makes me crazy, most of the time he just wants to make me laugh.

-for my wonderful friends and family, who I know would be so happy to see me if I showed up on their doorstep at any time of day or night…but don’t worry, I’ll call first…I’ll need a ride from the airport!

-and, I am so thankful for everyone who is reading this….THANK YOU for your encouragement!!
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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

picking up jesus

The father came by on the weekend to pick up jesus. Yup, jesus was here at our house. I had looked out our front window and saw the father walking slowly, carefully, with his head bent down as he negotiated his steps on our uneven gravel path. In his right hand was a statue of jesus.

This subject has been talked around and around, at our kitchen tables, for the past few weeks. At random times the father would show up to talk or hang out, or we would all be gathered together having a drink or dinner, and then he would bring up, ‘Christoff’ as he once called him, or ‘Joseph’ another time…at which point, because I thought it was so funny that he couldn’t get Christ’s name right, I said, ‘Do you mean Billy?’ The father actually laughed! I think it was the first time he laughed at one of my jokes…mostly because he usually doesn’t listen to me.

He has been trying to figure out what to do with the big cross which stands at his parents grave, a grave which he has now stopped leasing. In Germany you rent your grave plot for a limited time…say 10 years, 50 years or 99 years. Now, the time was up on the grave of great guy’s beloved oma, Barbara, and her husband who died when he was still quite young.

The other day, great guy sawed off the part of the cross which held the names, built a little copper roof for it, and gave it a pedestal. The father was happy that he can now add this to his own grave plot, where great guy’s mom is buried. Jesus is already hanging there…so now the question is, where did he take the other one? What can you do with such a statue…or a better question is, what should you do with it? At least, last night at dinner grave plots were no longer a topic of conversation. It is finished.
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

angelina's scar

Have you ever heard of a stress scale? A dear friend of mine told me about it a few years ago while I was going through a difficult time. I had been sick to my stomach for weeks and weeks, leading into months. I had had every medical test, and for all intents and purposes I was perfectly healthy. Physically healthy, at least. The stress scale lists events which a person may experience and their stress impact on a person. And, when she mentioned to me that within the past year I had started a long-distance relationship, lost my mother, quit a beloved job, moved to another province, started a new job, and then had the relationship end, it became evident that I was experiencing the major effects of too much stress. I healed.

Fast forward three years and, again, I have a new relationship (now a year old), two new jobs, new language and I moved to another continent. I am fine, but the stress has been quite evident over the past 3 weeks….just ask great guy. I feel overwhelmed with everything that I need to get used to and my head feels all a-jumble. I have been feeling insecure, wondering what I am doing here and why, and not feeling like I am doing anything very successfully at all. I haven’t been able to write (apologies to all my faithful blog readers) or workout, and up until four days ago I was not feeling very happy with the current state of my life…even as I look out at the castle and the Rhein.

Then yesterday came along and things got a whole bunch more stressful. Let me tell you…the Oxford Dictionary definition of stress is: hurtling down the autobahn at 140 km/hr, in a huge van filled with glasses and wine bottles, sitting in the passenger seat while a cocky, 19-year-old manboy is driving, a day after you’ve had a giant, infected lump carved out of your stomach and you wish you could just stay still and not move….ever again. Stress.

But, I have decided to move past my current stressors (and to never let the manboy drive again) because I realize my life is actually quite good (I don’t want anyone to think I’m complaining!). I am forcing myself to write. It’s good for my head, and maybe I’ll start yoga again, which will be good for my body.

One REALLY good thing, is that the surgeon told me he stitched up the hole below my ribcage so perfectly and with such care, that it will leave a scar good enough for Angelina Jolie. That’s something.
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Thursday, September 8, 2011

flaming hot!

The three days before we flew back to Germany, I was feeling very stressed out; overwhelmed, I think, and somehow just unhappy. I think that the stress of selling all of my stuff and boxing up the rest of my belongings (which I could fit into my little VW Golf), along with the fact that I would now be flying away, for the first time, without a return ticket and with no idea when I would be able to visit again, really took its toll. All I could think of were negative things, I was crying constantly, and I caused no small amount of stress for great guy. He, miraculously, didn’t tell me to just stay put, even though I was seriously contemplating it.

I got on the plane. And, the moment I did so I began to feel a bit better. Everything was sorted out and organized and taken care of (all with the help of some great friends) and I couldn’t do anything more, but sit back, relax and watch some movies, while snuggling with great guy. He was so silly, we laughed and laughed, and we weren’t even indulging in the free, intercontinental alcohol on board!

Now, being back here for a few days, I feel good and positive and excited about my future. My new little job started on Monday and I think it will be really fun…although I haven’t the Friday class of teaching 12 four-year-olds yet, by myself! I will most likely have something to say about that in the near future.

Last night, we had an incredible experience, and in my mind, it was the perfect 'home'-coming for me. Every year, there is a huge winefest here for 10 days, and on the Wednesday there is a giant fireworks display which the city sets up on great guy’s lawn. All of his friends show up (the special few) while hundreds and hundreds of people (the less special)gather to watch on the other side of the river. The city gives him red, tea lights to put in each window of the big house and with fire lights staked into the river on his shoreline, the entire place looks as romantic as you can imagine.

His friends had been telling me about it, everyone was excited, and the bridge above our place was blocked off to foot traffic. I tried to prepare. I bought drinks and made appys, like spündekäs (a great dip for salty pretzels, which is super easy to make) and bruschetta (using maid marion’s plump tomatoes), along with little toasts of B.C. salmon which we had just brought back with us (they were eaten up in about 5 minutes flat!) and tried to imagine what it was going to be like having fireworks shooting from our front door with the entire city watching.

What ensued was pure magic. Completely incredible. The Germans definitely know how to put on a fantastic fireworks show. We all gathered on the terrace overlooking the river, while great guy, myself, and max und bärbel watched the show from his little boat. In the middle of the river, rowers from the nearby rowing club were anchored, each with fire-lit torches, and the entire far side of the bank was jammed full of people. We hooted and hollered in delight with each fantastic burst of colour and design. It went on and on; giant explosions, raining colours, pouring waterfalls and bursting flowers, right over our heads. At the end, everyone, everywhere clapped and clapped. Perfection.

Afterwards, we headed across the bridge to join in the winefest festivities. We said hi to mickey who was manning his winestand (and where I’ll be working the next few nights), then wandered the packed, cobble-stoned streets from stage to stage, winestand to winestand, as old friends stopped us along the way to say hi to great guy. We ended the evening with our arms around eachother, swaying to the awesome oldie, german tunes (which I even knew) like ‘Sterne im Himmel’ and ‘Skandal um Rosie’-I’ve been singing them all morning! A terrific evening, with friends, fireworks, and a flaming hot guy (sorry, I couldn’t think of another ‘f-word’!)…oh‘fun'!! Duh.
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Friday, September 2, 2011

fishing, fishing, fishing

Great guy is having stress dreams about fishing. Last night he dreamt that he had finally got something really big on his hook. He reeled it in, realizing that it's too big to be a fish, worried that it was his sister's dog. But no, it turned out to be 2 elephants. Him and Frankie had a really difficult time getting the hook out of them...then they stressed about what they were going to do now with 2 elephants. Great guy woke up sweating.

After four crazy, but nice, days of wedding; setting up the site, hammering down the details, standing up for my bro, sitting down for a pig roast feast, dancing up a storm with kiddies and friends, and then, finally taking it all down the next day, great guy and I headed for the hills.

Along with great sister and frankie, we drove northwest, with 2 campers and 2 dogs, to go fishing for 4 days. Some highlights:

-great guy and I canoeing in the morning hours, crystal clear and calm lake, mist dancing about on the surface of the water, freshly snowed moutains in front of us, a loon softly calling behind us, waiting for fish...lake was empty.

-a wild stallion holding his ground in the middle of the gravel logging road, standing tall and rugged and steadfast...incredibly beautiful...we took a different route.

-paddling through giant lily pads surrounding our canoe...no frogs.

We had 3 days of rain and so most of the highlights happened today. I, ashamedly, made a big deal of the fact that I can canoe and that noone needs to show me how to do it. Then, after a beautiful canoeing experience with frankie (a loon came 2 meters away from us, calling and calling...to me, of course), we pulled up to the shore and I stepped out. And, the canoe flipped up and frankie flew out, into the freezing water! Oops, my bad. Yah, I felt stupid.

Nice days with lots of fishing, but no fish. As great guy pointed out we were at Beaver Lake, not Trout Lake.
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Friday, August 26, 2011

oh canada, oh brother

Great guy and I are in Canada.

Beautiful mountain goodness filled with family-time chaos,
sprinkled with treasured friend moments.

Tomorrow my brother becomes a husband...and I can't believe it.
Just yesterday, it seems, he was following my friends and I around, irritating the heck out of us and driving us crazy. And now, everyone just wants to hang out with him.

The two of us have always been close; us 2 clinging to each other through childhood, riding the nutso wave that was our family life. We were surrounded by amazing adults and friends who loved and cared for us and taught us how to be good people (whatever that actually means).

One of my favorite memories with my brother was travelling to France on a spontaneous trip, before he headed to Ghana. The 2 of us laughed and walked and laughed, for 2 weeks straight. We would infuse each sentence to eachother, with whichever french words popped into our heads, just so that we could feel 'French'. My brother would tell me historically inaccurate tales about the area we were in, cracking me up like I've never cracked up before. All I remember of that trip was sitting on river benches drinking wine, eating baguette, and laughing.

My brother is strong and fragile, brilliant and normal, funny and dark, warm and warm. He is a wonderful father, brother, friend and, I have no doubt, will be a wonderful husband. I'm so honoured and excited that I get to be his 'best woman' tomorrow as he marries his best friend.

Congrats Bruderherz...and welcome to the fam, Jai!!
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Sunday, August 14, 2011

cheers!

This morning I got into a car, then hopped onto a train, and then boarded a plane. As I passed through security in Frankfurt, before boarding said plane, this happened to me:

'This-would-never-happen-in-Canada' Story #827

As my 2 pieces of carry-on luggage pass through the scanner, I see the scanner guy (you know the one with blood-shot eyes, looking so bored out of his mind he might fall over and die any minute?)sit upright to get a closer look at the 3D image of my suitcase on his screen. I mentally re-trace my packing steps from late last-night, thinking that I couldn't possibly have put any sharp or liquidy objects in the bag. The friendly bag-checker lady waves me over and asks me to open the suitcase, telling me that it looks like I have 2 piccolos (mini-bottles) inside. Oh @$@#%$%*! I put the 2 bottles of my liebling sekt (favorite poor-man's champagne), which I wanted for my birthday, in the wrong suitcase!!! Arrgh! Oh well, so I tell her how stupid I am and that it's sad that I have to throw them away, and she says, "Well, you can drink them right here if you want". I was like, "What? Seriously?"...."OK, why not!" I only had 20 hours of travel ahead of me...ok, it was only 9 am...but it was 5 o'clock somewhere!! So I opened one little bottle and handed the other one to the guy behind me, we 'cheersed' and then I had a little drinky with him and his girl-friend, at security, in the airport. That would never happen in Canada.

As I write this entry, I am sitting 32 000 feet above...somewhere, having just watched the Justin Bieber movie (actually a very moving piece of cinematography...I cried...and now can't stop singing "baby, baby, baby ohhh"...passengers are starting to notice). And, I have been going over the events of this past week.

I started a new job. A real job. With a significant contract. It took me about 4 weeks to actually sign it. Great guy and I talked about it a lot. He encouraged me to go for it. But, it's a committment. Now, with my first week behind me, I am feeling like this will be a good decision for me. When I return to Germany at the beginning of September, I will begin teaching English classes to cute, little German kids ages 5 to 7, every afternoon, in beautiful, little German towns on my side of the Rhein. The classes are run through a private organization, for interested communities and groups who want to learn foreign languages. There are 'English for Seniors' classes(which I might also have to start teaching..how fun!) along with classes for companies wanting to learn English-specific terminology and conversation for their industry. I'm excited.

This week I realized that as I jump over and push through each little hurdle here; whether it has to do with the language, work, money, relationship stuff, or moving to a different continent, I am feeling more and more comfortable and able and secure in my new life, in this new place, with my g.g. One less lonely girl.

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Monday, August 8, 2011

birthday partying

After days of sweeping, mowing, weeding, cleaning and hauling reno garbage away, great guy’s birthday finally arrived. I had the day off from my tutoring and wine mini-jobs and so I woke early to make coffee for the birthday boy and drove him to the train station (saved him the 5 minute walk…nice of me eh?).

I spent the morning snipping and chopping, picking and slicing, preparing for the little grill fest we were having in the evening. I even baked a typical, Canadian, chocolate cake complete with Kick-Ass Icing, whose recipes I have from my dear Saskatchawan-ites. Then, I headed out to get flowers and fresh bread.

Now, I love bakeries, and the ones in Germany are great. But, something that I love even a little bit more than a bakery is a bread ATM. Yup, that’s right. There are bread ATM’s here, where upon pushing the photo of a baguette or bun or a whole assortment of different breads, out plops a warm, freshly-baked loaf, smelling amazing. I have absolutely no idea how it works…to me it’s bread magic.

So, I pushed the baguette button four times and down dropped my beautifully, smelling baguettes. Then I headed to the pick-it-yourself field of sunflowers. Here you snip away, creating bouquets of whatever flowers you wish, then simply deposit your cash into a little 2 metre- high, wooden hut when you’re finished…I call it honour picking.

After great guy got home, and had a birthday nappy, he began to set up his new grill. It is stainless steel and shiny…so he was very happy (the guy is very easy to please). The father and maid marion and best friend were the first ones to appear on the scene…and the festivities eased into place.

Friends began arriving, amidst showers of pouring rain, with warm smiles and arms loaded with gifts of flowers and bottles of wine, even a huge basket overflowing with fresh-picked, garden veggies (super cool gift!). We christened the giant, fire bowl (a gift from the father) which we placed close to the river surrounded by wooden benches. There was laughter, umbrellas, bratwurst, and lots of wet.

The evening ended, late into the night, with rock ‘n roller and mickey in a heated discussion about the environment. Business as usual.

Happy Birthday Honey…let’s do it again next year!
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

dock?

As we stepped into great guy’s little motorboat Sunday afternoon, he said to make sure we bring along the hedge clippers. I thought, ‘how many hedges are we going to clip as we zoom around out on the river?’ As usual, I had no idea what he was thinking, and so I just grabbed the clippers and plopped them into the boat.

It was the first, nice, blue-sky afternoon in a long time and so we were heading to our favorite place to have a currywurst with pommes and mayo (something I love way too much), and a schoppen (wine spritzer). Since this fave place sits right on the Rhein (hence, why we like it so much) it just makes sense for us to take the boat…and saves up parking spaces for the poor losers who need to take a car!

The only problem, which great guy has turned into an adventure, is that he doesn’t actually have a dock at this fave place. People can rent their own private little dock, but there is no public one. And since one of his life’s mottos is ‘why spend money when you don’t have to’, he came up with his own docking solution.

The first time I went along by boat, stepmum happened to be with us from Canada, fresh from her knee operation which she had here. She howled and laughed with glee, as we zoomed up the Rhein, really really happy to be on a boat again. As we slowed down and glided past the boats tied up at their own docks, I wondered where we were going to tie up. Would we throw down our little anchor and have to jump out, somehow carrying stepmum with her crutches through the water to shore? Oh my, how glad I was that my dad wasn’t here to witness this!

Of course, great guy had a different plan. We came up to a drainage canal and he turned into it. There was a cement wall, about a foot wide, which he tied the boat to. Handily, there was an iron loop right there, for us to use…most likely great guy welded that into place years ago! The wall slanted upwards to the top of the small, bushy shoreline. The canal water was murky and algae-infested and I had no idea how stepmum was going to climb up the wall, without putting weight on to her leg and falling in. I already had visions of pulling her out, all drenched, covered with weeds and green stuff.

But, she’s a sportler or maybe ‘trooper’ is a better word. She laughed and thought it was all quite funny. With me on the wall, great guy in the boat, and a crutch in one hand she climbed on to the wall and very cautiously shuffled up the small slope. At the top, great guy showed us a vague path through the thorny, bumbleberry bushes, which we needed to negotiate. He went ahead, stepmum hoppled along, and I followed. It was all surprisingly smooth and easy.

So, yesterday, as great guy and I sped up the Rhein, passing long, slow freighters with great names like, ‘helena jacoba’, ‘illusion’ and the best, giant boat name ever, ‘sneek’ (love it!), he told me that the clippers were to clear a better path through the berry bushes from his own, private ‘dock’. ..probably for the next time we bring outta town guests to our fave place. Ahh, all clear now. Sometimes I’m a little slow. Sneek.
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

fast cars, fast city

This past weekend, I dragged great guy to the German Formula 1 Grand Prix taking place at the Nürburgring. I was very excited. I wanted to experience the crazy noise of the race cars and the throngs of people and I wanted us to just have fun doing something we’ve never done before.

The weekend did not disappoint.

Great guy got into the spirit of the race, beginning already on Saturday afternoon with the qualifying round. He had his binoculars hanging around his neck, he picked out a great place for us to stand so that we could see the straightaway and the shikane (tight curve), creating max opportunity for excitement.

After the qualifying round ended, we fought the crowds to get to our car and headed to Köln (Cologne) for the night. Our navi frau, Ms. Tom Tom, guided us away from the autobahn along landstraßen (smaller, secondary roads) for most of the way, assuring us that it was the fastest route, through the beautiful, dense, woods of the Eifel region.

The city of Köln has a reputation. It is known for some hard-core partying during carnival time. At Christmas, my cousin told me that you cannot visit Köln during carnival with your significant other because traditionally everyone’s morals are a bit looser during this time. I didn’t quite believe him, and assured him that great guy and I could handle Köln during carnival without sleeping with random strangers. Nevertheless, there are many stories about carnival craziness…I’m guessing it’s a little bit like Stampede time in Calgary…but thankfully carnival happens only in February!

We cruised into the altstadt (old city) of Köln around 5 pm, found the hotel which I had booked online and were pleasantly surprised at how cool it was. One entire outer wall of the hotel was made of thick, glass cubes in a bright shade of blue which let the sunlight stream through in bluey goodness. We went down to the sauna and swimming pool where great guy shocked a few American guests by lying in the sauna buck-naked, while I swam in the pool and saw their horrified expressions as thez quickly came running out. Funny.

Then, we headed outside to experience this incredible old part of Köln, an area new to both of us. The Dom is a massive structure and one of the only things in the city to miraculously survive WWII bombing raids. I can’t even begin to describe how huge it is. We went inside the dom and then walked around the outside, just staring at its impressiveness.

Afterwards, we walked the uneven, cobble-stoned streets which were packed with Saturday evening Kölsch drinkers…soon including us. Kölsch is a pale ale, brewed in Kölner breweries and served in short, narrow glasses. In any locale, waiters come round with trays of kölsch, continuously replenishing your supply until you put a coaster over your glass signifying that you’ve had enough.

Great guy and I dined on schnitzel and kölsch, in an historic building, packed full of young and old. There was singing and laughter and we thoroughly enjoyed the gemütlichkeit (comforting atmosphere) of this altstadt. A great night.

Sunday. Race day. Pouring rain.

Great guy and I found another perfect place to see the race. He ‘built’ me a silly rain cap out of a plastic bag, laughing every time he looked at me. Miraculously though, the rain stopped almost exactly at race time.

I wish I could describe how great the race atmosphere was. The speed, the super-sleek cars, the noise and the cool fans…somewhat schicker (more elegant) than, say, monster truck fans. Seeing the ‘fighting’ of the three leaders, Hamilton, Webber and Alonso, over 60 laps was totally spannend (exciting). We encouraged Vettel, who seemed off his game right from the first round, and were shocked when Heidveld spun out off the track, right in front of us.

Great guy was an awesome sport, taking an interest in the event and making it as fun for me as possible. One of the best things about him is his ability and interest in making me laugh. And, he did that a lot over the course of the weekend. Good times. Good race. Good guy.
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

running phone guy

Today, a guy got on to the treadmill next to me, at great guy’s gym where I run. I honestly can not describe this man because I didn’t look at him at all. But, the moment he got on and started running, I noticed that he was holding an iphone to his ear, and chattering away.

He was running the same speed as me, and talking on his phone the entire time. He would end a call and then dial someone else and continue blabbering away, all the while running at 10 km/h...even 15 minutes into the run. Meanwhile, I, on the other treadmill was trying very hard to just keep going, giving myself little pep talks, as I usually do. I was half way to my goal and did not want to stop, especially with running phone guy next to me, chattering away. I mean he wasn’t even huffing and puffing…that is a whole different level of being in shape.

But, the good thing is…no, the incredible thing is, that I ended up running 5 km in 30 minutes. I know for many people that’s not fast, but I’m pretty sure that’s the fastest I’ve ever run that. All thanks to running phone guy.

I will leave you with a great quote off of a card I received from a sweet friend:

If I could,
I’d find a fairy godmother
with a magical wand
and combat boots
so that she could grant
your wishes and kick
the crap outta anything
that tried to get in the way
of your happiness.
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Friday, July 15, 2011

a bachelorette party

The invitation said, ‘Dresscode: Kittelschürze und Kopftuch (apron and head scarf)’.

First of all, I had no idea what a ‘kittelschürze’ was and second, this was going to be my very first, lone, social event. I was nervous. But, it turns out, I was not as nervous as the bride-to-be, whose surprise bachelorette party we were all going too!

Max and Bärbel are getting married. And, everyone who knows them is very excited. They are a lovely and interesting and very easy to be around. I don’t think that Bärbel really wanted a typical bachelorette party (who really does…except for maybe my soon-to-be sister-in-law!). But, she knew that something was happening, because she had been given her kittelschürze, so it’s not surprising that she was worried. I was worried too. I had no idea what a German bachelorette party looked like!

So, great guy and I headed to the second-hand store in Ingelheim for me to find my ‘costume’. He directed me to the kittelschürze section (yes, there really is an entire section). Now, these are not your typical, tie-around-waist, aprons. These are the long, sleeveless, button up, dress-like, mou-mou things that you would picture an old hausfrau in, who is cleaning the house all day. And, surprisingly, that is precisely who they are for! Every single kittelschürze was in size 50 or higher. There are, apparently, no Kate Moss-type hausfrau, cleaning ladies around.

After getting a colourful (and baggy) kittelschürze, with a matching kopftüch (why shouldn’t I try to match?) I began to mentally prepare for spending an entire evening with a bunch of women who I don’t know very well, on a planwagon (I’m not sure if there’s a specific name in English cause I’ve really seen one like this in Canada…except for at the Calgary Stampede or on Little House on the Prairie re-runs… a little covered wagon with a wooden table and benches inside and little holes to hold your wine glass…pretty much the cutest little wagon you’ll ever see) touring the wine bergs (wine hills) and drinking lots of wine. (I apologize to my writing prof, that was a very long sentence.)

Of course, the moment great guy dropped me off at the designated meeting spot on party night, and I climbed out of the truck, all was well. We all screamed and laughed at each other’s outfits and I preceded to have one of the most fun evenings I’ve ever had in my life. Truly.

This was a really wonderful group of women; a few who I knew a little and now much better, and a few who I didn’t know and now can’t wait to see again at the wedding. There were 13 of us in total, with Mickey driving the tractor (in the pouring rain) which pulled the wagon through the hills. It was bumpy and loud and hilarious. Mickey drove right through his family’s vineyard, back and forth, through the rows and rows of plump, ripening grapes. The tractor putt-putted up the steeper parts and, after a few shared bottles of sekt, we all just laughed and hung on to each other, hoping the tractor would not start reversing.

Our destination was a tiny hut, where bien-chen (little bee) pulled out picnic baskets stuffed full of meats and cheeses, spündekas (a delicious, cream-cheesy dip) and pretzels, olives and sun-dried tomatoes, and the best bread I’ve had up till now. It was a smorgasbord of goodness…along with many bottles of Mickey’s sekt and grauburgunder wine.

We spent hours standing around talking and laughing, eating and drinking, getting to know each other better, or at all. And, at…I have no idea what time it was…dusk-ish, maybe, we all climbed back into the wagon, with Mickey at the tractor wheel, and we putt-putted down the hill, back into town.

This was the absolute perfect way to celebrate an absolutely wonderful person. This is how all bachelorette parties should be (no North American kitschy ‘suck-a-buck’ t-shirts!!). Great women=new and old friends, great food=baggy clothing, some grapes=all forms, and a tractor.
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Saturday, July 9, 2011

mickey and minnie and the east

I have a loud boss. Let’s call him Mickey. And Mickey has a loud family. There are 9 siblings in all, who, along with their numerous, small, yappy dogs, create loud, albeit friendly, mayhem whenever and wherever two or more are gathered.

Mickey talks a lot…in harried, spontaneous fashion…going off on every conceivable tangent, but again, always happy and friendly; stopping to talk and tell stories to anyone he meets.

Mickey’s lebensgefährten (a great German word for life-partner, much better than ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’ if you’re over, say, 19), let’s call her Minnie (because it fits better than I could ever hope for), had a baby girl four months ago, who her step-brother has named ‘wurst’ (sausage).

Last week, I went with Mickey and his small dog, Emil, on a northern Germany tour to personally deliver wine to over 40 of his customers. It was a loud, but happy day. I learned a lot about wine, and about the towns and people who we visited.

We started off at 5 am, heading north on the autobahn, in a wine bus filled to the brim with boxes of weiss and grau burgunder, riesling, dornfelder, CAbernet-meRLot (which Mickey has named ‘Carl’ in honour of his newest nephew), and sekt, of course. We headed as far east as Magdebourg and as far north as Braunschweig, through towns with names like, Wolfbüttel, Gunsleben, Schöppenstedt and Hornburg.

But, the most outstanding part of the day for me, was definitely crossing the former East German border. At this particular border crossing, almost everything from 20 years ago was still intact, except for the actual machine guns and soldiers. The gun towers were still there. The high, spiral, barb-wired fences, which used to hold machine guns set to automatically fire when motion detectors were set off, were still there. The panzer brechers (tank breakers) were still there.

I stood there. And I could not believe that just 20 years ago I would have been shot for doing just that. Standing THERE. Mickey spent hours telling me stories about young Russian soldiers being fed and clothed by East Germans, the very same people they were supposed to shoot upon sight if they were seen trying to escape; or how the Russians ordered all hog barns near the border to be dug down a few extra metres so that in the event of an uprising of East Germans trying to escape, soldiers could be hidden there to surprise and kill them; or about Gorbatchev’s leadership and how his decision to stand firm with the West led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Nearby, at a roadside cherry stand, Mickey loudly and jovially bantered with the bored, East German guy who was manning it. Mickey loaded up on cherries and apples to bring home to Minnie, wanting to pump a bit of money into this fella’s pockets. And, for the same reason, we stopped at a very, lonely-looking bakery and bought some heidesand cookies (an East German specialty) for Minnie and great guy (though his didn’t survive the 4 hour trip home). After 30 years of a wall, 20 years has not been enough time to erase the impact of it. There are signs of restoration and rejuvenation…all good things…next to signs of shambles and shame.

It is completely incredible how quickly the world (or the places in it) can change, either for the bad or for the good. And, often it comes down to one person.
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Friday, July 1, 2011

canadian on the rhein

Ok, so I know that I’m not the only Canadian living close to the Rhein, but today it really feels like I am.

It’s Canada Day. This morning I told great guy that he has to wear red today. He didn’t. I didn’t either. I don’t think I have anything which is red…and besides, I never used to do that in Canada. But, I did love this holiday. It was always the first major camping weekend, if May long was too cold and before I started attending Anniversary camping in June. It’s also usually the first, great, summer weekend in Alberta (especially this year, from what my sources tell me). And, best of all, it’s a day where everyone gets to celebrate and be included…new Canadians, old ones, the very, very first ones, the younger ones, those young-at-heart, and even the ones old-at-heart. Cool.

I walked through town today and nothing. No kids running around with flags tattooed on their faces. No annoying car flags flapping from every car window. No red and white hats or sunvisors or big, Styrofoam fingers. No parks overflowing with bbq-ing wieners and steaks. No one singing ‘Oh say can you see…’ my bad, I mean, ‘Oh Canada, our home and native land…’ I guess that wouldn’t really make any sense if Germans were singing that, hey (eh)? But, I can! Just watch me!

Come on people! A country was born today. A really good country no less.

And, if I see American flags here in 3 days, I am going to be ticked. Germans are supposed to love Canada…the mountains, the bears, the cowboys and Indians, all the really, really nice folks. Maybe, since Obama gave Angi a medal and threw her a big, whitehouse bash, all that has changed. Well, at least we have Will and Kate.

Man, what I wouldn’t give for a trad, a hamburger, some fireworks, and all my friends!

Calling all Canadians on the rhein!
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

river rat

A rat was sitting on our door step as I opened the door to go to work. A big, white, creepy albino rat with red eyes and a long tail just sitting there. Now, I come from Alberta…rat-free Alberta. I have never seen a rat, unless you count ‘ratatouille’ and I don’t ever want to see another one, unless it’s animated.

Of course, it turns out that it was my fault that the rat was hanging out at our house. I am trying to endear another cat to hang out at our place with food and milk. This cat is very small and I think it’s hungry, ergo the cat food on our doorstep.

The romanian happened to be nearby, and after I screamed, he came and right away said that the rat had to be killed. I have been haunted by the noise the rat made during that process. In order to spare future lives I will try hard not to entice any more unwanted creatures to our door. Does that include rock ‘n roller?

So, note to self: do not place cat food outside your door when you live by 2 rivers…and start closing your doors.
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

spanish solstice

Spain greeted great guy and I with field upon field of happy sunflowers. Storks had gathered in parties atop their electrical-post nests. And roosters and small, yappy dogs welcomed us loudly with their never-ending salutas.

We have spent the past few days soaking up the sun, walking in the cool, wet sand, body-surfing in the rolling waves, and reading. The mornings and late evenings are spent at the father's and maid marion's quiet, flower-filled, ferien wohnung (holiday house). Great guy, remarked on our second day here, how nice it is to have privacy...to sit in the garden or in the house and not have people constantly walking by or coming in. We are relishing the time of just being alone, together, and totally relaxing.

I have loved walking on the beach, in the footprints of small children and older ones, in the footprints of people from all over the world, and even some hoof prints from a group of riders who galloped past me in the sand. We have spent evenings in the ocean harbour, watching the hobby fisherman returning, who park their boats loudly by bumping and grinding along the docked boats until there is room enough for their own.

Last night, we spent the longest evening of the year on a secluded beach, sitting close together in the sand, leaning against a heavy rock, watching the sun disappear into the calm sea. We opened a bottle of wine and toasted the sun and the water. Happy.
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Friday, June 17, 2011

singing catholic?

I could never have cracked the Da Vinci Code…well maybe with Tom Hanks.

On Wednesday evening, I was sitting beside a Catholic woman, who is the mother of one of the girls I tutor in English. She had invited me to sing in her choir…a new, fun, casual, community choir. Well, actually I didn’t know at the time that it was a community choir. She had only mentioned that choir practice was Wednesday evenings, in a church, in a nearby neighbourhood.

It is shocking to me how little attention I pay to some things. We already know that I am a very unhelpful witness at a crime scene, and on Wednesday it struck me again, that I need to buck up and take more notice of the things around me. I had driven to and then entered a building which I just totally assumed was a Catholic church. I hadn’t looked at any church signs, hadn’t noticed that the building totally didn’t look like any Catholic church I’ve ever seen (you know, like how most of them, or maybe all of them, have a steeple?), and hadn’t noticed that there was not one single crucifix (should ‘crucifix’ be capitalized? Hmm, I don’t know. Shoot, now I feel guilty).

So, I’m sitting beside this nice woman and, after a few moments, as more and more (I’m assuming) Catholic choir members fill the side room we are in, I lean over to her and say, in a hushed tone, ‘Am I actually allowed to be in a Catholic church choir, even though I’m not Catholic?’ You know, I was thinking that it’s like going to a Catholic school, you need to be Catholic, don’t you?

As you can probably guess, she started laughing, and it wasn’t too quietly. Then she said, again not too quietly, ‘We aren’t in a Catholic church. I’m the one who’s out of place here!’ Heads started to turn to look at the moron who warranted that response, and immediately I wanted to say, ‘Sorry, I’m from Canada, I didn’t know!’ Which is what I say many times a day, when I make some sort of social, cultural or directional error, but in this case, that didn’t make any sense. I opened my eyes, and my brain, and looked around and realized that this church looked pretty much exactly the same as the hundreds of humble, unassuming Protestant (or branch thereof) churches I have been to in Canada. I seriously would not have known what country I was in if I woke up and found myself sleeping on a pew in this particular church. Even the songs we were singing are exactly the same…some in English and some in German…like any good ‘ole Mennonite church I’ve ever sat in.

Come to think of it, even the choir director reminded me of Duff, the kind, dictatorial but witty choir director I was blessed to sing with back home. Only this new guy spoke German. Actually Duff spewed German tidbits every once in a while too. At least there the trains zooming past the back door made it obvious to me that we were practicing in an old CP Rail station. Even I noticed that.

At the end of the day, I don’t really care where I am singing, but just happy to be doing it again…as long as my fellow choir members sing louder than me!
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Monday, June 13, 2011

oldtimers

We spent Sunday looking at oldtimers...while being accompanied by some oldtimers.

In the morning, great guy and I hopped on his ’76 BMW motorbike (a beautiful, but scruffy relic) and headed up into the hills to look at an oldtimer tractor and bike show. We rolled up to the entry tent and as the lady was about to tell us how much the entrance fee was, great guy said, ‘I’m actually riding an oldtimer, can we just take the bike in?’ She looked at us, a little suspectly, but then said, ‘okay, sure, go on in.’ Great guy was quite proud of himself that he saved us the 4 Euros!

Later, after looking at rows and rows of tractors in a field, and then returning home, another oldtimer rolled up to our house-the father. Well, he rolled up in his car and then, he and his not-so-oldtimer dog, Golfo, walked the rest of the way.

The 3 of us, plus dog, spent a really nice afternoon at the Wein-Höfefest (vineyard fest) around Burg Layen. Burg Layen is a little, rolling, wine town in a valley enclosed with steep vineyards. About every third house is a wine family’s hof (a hof is foreign to North Americans-it’s kind of like a farm yard, but can be right in the middle of a town or city, and in wine regions they are often very elegant and high-end places).

In Burg Layen, on this weekend every year, you will find wine tours and live music, wine tasting and excellent food, wine consumption and oldtimers. This particular oldtimertreffen (a meeting of oldtimer vehicles, in this case, cars at least 30 years old) weaves through the entire town. There were old porsches, mercedes, alfa romeos, bmws, rolls royces, and even some oldtimer Volkswagens. As Golfo and I walked a few steps behind great guy and the father (dogs need to stop every 5 seconds!) I found myself being quite interested in some of these oldtimers. These old cars had so much class and style…like black and white photos of the ‘20’s. I think these oldtimers should become the new trend, just like legwarmers and pleats.

The atmosphere of music, lots of people, sunshine and cool cars; along with classy wine höfe offering scrumptious smelling spießbraten or jägerschnitzel and delightful pouring riesling, weißbürgunder or dornfelder wines, all the while being surrounded by hills of grapes, was wonderful. Sorry, that is much too lame a word to describe the experience. One downfall of my improving German is that I have complete brain freeze when trying to think of interesting English words. Apologies.

A side note: For anyone wondering, really old tractors sitting in farmer’s fields in Germany look exactly the same as really old tractors sitting in farmer’s fields in Saskatchewan. Just saying…
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Friday, June 10, 2011

robbery

Best friend tried to take down some robbers the other day.

Great guy and I had gone out in the evening. As we had driven away from home, on his motorbike, we noticed a schick, black car with a guy in the driver’s seat, talking on his cellphone. He was parked beside our little driveway, on the parking lot of an empty building which is between us and a small grocery store. The only people who ever use that lot are our friends, when they come to visit us. So, great guy slowed down and we got a good look at him, but we didn’t stop. I remember thinking, surely this guy isn’t here to rob our house, cause he’s so obviously sitting right where we can see him.

He wasn’t there to rob us.

But, about 15 minutes later, as best friend was returning from her Nordic-walking outing (so funny how many under-50 folks partake in this sport…is it really a sport?), she noticed this vehicle, again, now standing right in the middle of our driveway. She asked the guy what he is doing there, and he just looked at her and jumped in the car and drove away.

As she was alone, she decided not to continue along the driveway, but to go up the bridge and down the stairs, which is closer to our houses. All of a sudden, 4 young guys ran up the stairs and jumped into the car, which had stopped at the top of the bridge. She knew something was amiss.

Instead of calling the police, best friend took matters into her own hands. She ran down to her car, jumped in, and started a mad pursuit. As she zoomed up into the neighbourhood, frantically trying to find the suspects, the police (who had been called by the grocery store workers who were just robbed), noticed a speeding, crazy person and stopped her, thinking she must be involved in this caper.

Anyways, about 5 minutes after great guy and I returned home, the police descended on our house, in the darkness with flashlights emitting an erratic, scary light. Needless to say, I was worried and had no idea what was going on. In the end, they had to come to talk to all of us and to get info, and eventually witness statements.

You know that you’re living ‘real life’ when you spend one and a half hours in a police station trying to identify a man you saw for about 30 seconds. We all ended up pointing the finger at a dummy photo. It’s anything but boring here. Spannend.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

rheinswimming

Rheinswimming deserves a stifling day
The freighterships on the current, glide on by us,
Turned around backwards I am stronger now
Every shipwave reveals the power in its course
Still, I’m so much stronger
I willnot fall down in this water’s deep
Cause great guy will watchme

Rheinswimming deserves a muggy day
I’m not sure all my people understand
It’s not like months ago
The fear of getting dead
I’m recklessnes in water
He cannot see me drowned
These streams, I go again,
Revealed by every wave

Rheinswimming, relinquishing my might
Great guy is leading me
I’m feeling for the stream
And what if we were two
Side by side in current
Amidst the wild Strom?
That bright, light endless hum
Does not describe Rheinswimming

Rhein, I think I know you
Rhein, I willnot judge
Rhein, I doubt you know me
I am laughing excitedly overcome with free
Rheinswimming

The freightership recoils,
Every waveline an invitation
Rheinswimming deserves a nother day, deserves a nother day.

Note: Thank you, R.E.M., for the tune that would not leave my mind since I was Rheinswimming.
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Saturday, June 4, 2011

wine fest

On a hill, high above the Rhein, with vineyards stretching out in every direction, there is a quaint, romantic, nighttime wine festival which takes place each June under a giant nuss baum (walnut tree). Die Nacht der Verführung.

For three evenings, under lights strung through branches, people sit on long wooden benches, tasting and enjoying wine from a few different, local wine houses, while a band plays in the background. The atmosphere is light and happy and the view is spectacular.

For the past couple of nights I have been working at the festival in the wine stand of my new employer. There are tons of people, some I know and many I don’t, but the work is happy and busy, and the wine is not so bad either. I haven’t had an employer before who makes sure I drink before the customers arrive! Of course, he just wants to make sure I can describe the various wines to customers if they ask for my suggestion. After a couple of sips though, I can’t really remember the differences.

The other night, great guy came, with best friend and some others, and we had fun while I poured and he tasted. That seemed to be a combination which he enjoyed. Zum wohl!
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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

wine

In the Rheintal (Rhein valley), there are two major industries; tourism and wine. Up until yesterday I had focused on the tourism side of the river, and as of today, I am going to throw myself into the wine side…and hopefully not drown.

After thinking a lot, and being totally exhausted all the time, I decided to quit the hotel job. I had asked for weekends off and a regular shift. Bossman said that he really didn’t want to lose me and gave me weekends off, but said that he couldn’t tell me ahead of time when I would work…and that just stresses me out. That, along with working until 10 pm and then being back again at 6 am, was wearing me out. I was close to booking a room in the hotel, for myself.

So, yesterday, after getting off work and after taking a wonderful pedal trip with great guy up the Rhein and down on the other side, I got a phone call from one of great guy’s wine friends. He asked if I would like to work for him, doing this and that and everything, and I said ‘sure’.

I buy wine. I like wine. I drink wine. I can’t foresee any problems.
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

gramps

The other night, great guy and I went to our lieblings platz (favorite place), called ‘the bauer’. On this particular evening, a cheery, old guy approached us and loudly said, ‘Hallo!’ Here was a man; white, wavy hair, over-sized glasses sitting too far down on his nose, a blue, plaid shirt with suspenders, too short trousers, with brown socks and sandals…seriously, a text-book description of a fairy-tale grandpa.

He used to help great guy get parts for his old BMW motorbike, but they hadn’t seen each other for a while. So, gramps sat down with us and chatted away.

Gramps talked about everything, from motorbikes to how he and his wife were star-crossed lovers when they first met, from being a postal carrier to how his son and daughter-in-law won’t move out. But, then he started talking about his wife’s family, and how his wife’s sister (the first child) was born in a Lebensborn, on the outskirts of Wien (Vienna), sometime around 1942.

I had no idea what a Lebensborn was, and so he explained it to me. Shocking. The abridged version, is that Hitler created these idyllic, serene, luxurious nests in the late ‘30’s and through-out WWII. The Nazis would hand-pick all the blonde, blue-eyed, beautiful girls from around Germany and Austria and ‘invite’ them to live in these beautiful places. Here, they wanted for nothing, where all around them on the outside people had nothing. And, in these places, the soldiers and generals from the Nazi Reich, and these girls would ‘hook up’…thereby creating, what Hitler hoped, the perfect people.

It sounds so unbelievable to me…like it could only have been a film plot. Of course, I know that there were many unimaginable things that happened here, and which still happen in places all around the world. But, I just would like to ask one question: Why was Hitler trying to create a perfect group of people which he never would have belonged too?
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

work

So, apparently my great job isn’t actually so great in reality. I received my work contract yesterday and great guy translated it for me. Wow, I didn’t really know how little hotel folks pay their employees….they can actually contract themselves out of paying minimum wage. That is not possible in Canada. Along with not having any breaks in an 8-hour work day...working every Saturday and Sunday all summer (plus 3 days during the week which are never in a row)…a boss that reems you out for every little mistake but just chuckles when he himself makes one=fun.

I spent the entire night thinking about what is important to me and how I want to spend my first summer in Germany and I’m not sure this particular place of employment is the place. My co-workers are very nice and I like the checking in/out, chatting with guests about their trip, computering invoices, etc., but not if I have to work every night until 10 pm or every Saturday and Sunday at 6am. Even the wonderful ferry ride across the Rhein is not so wonderful at 5:30 am!

Likely I will spend the short night tonight, again, thinking about what to do and nervous about making demands tomorrow, or pissing bossman off by giving notice. Crummy. I had such high hopes about this job. Can I say that I will not miss answering the phone in German? Man, I hate that! People speak so darn fast on the telephone, and every time I take a message for bossman, I misunderstand something and get a 5 minute lecture!

Oh well, we’ll see what happens. I know that it’s important for me to work and to get ‘out there’ in German, and in this community. It’s good for me and good for my relationship. It’s all just a little bit harder than it was in Canada. But, it’s worth it to me to persevere, and so I will. Wish me luck.
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Friday, May 20, 2011

fascinating

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fascinating

I have been spending my evenings (well, the rainy ones) watching TV, with great guy beside me and a fascinator on my head. Yup, I ordered a Vivien Sharp fascinator. It arrived, all fancy, in a black and white hat box, with a gold, Royal Mail postage label, from London. Honestly, wearing my beautiful fascinator (which is now my favorite article of clothing) makes me feel a little bit British, a little bit royal.

Great guy laughs when I come up the stairs wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and my fascinator, or… if he comes home and I’m working on the computer, wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and my fascinator. He just smiles and shakes his head, like I’m a little bit crazy. But, he also says that it actually looks kind of good. So, I’m going to run with that. Either way, I kind of love it.

My brother recently sent me some money, which in a roundabout way came from our mom before she died. So, I used a little bit of that money to buy my fascinator. I think my mother would approve. She loved interesting clothing especially when she was younger...loud prints, bright colours, show-stopping hats...she had great style back in the day.

My family is having its own royal wedding this summer and I’m hoping I’ll be able to wear my fascinator. Because, honestly, other than while I’m home vacuuming, I’m not sure where else I will have the guts to wear it!
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

river commuting

I have a new job. And, the best commute. Four days a week I take the ferry across the Rhein…a total of 9 minutes. There is no road rage or traffic jams, no deer or moose jumping out on the road, no snowstorms or freezing rain to worry about, and no parking fees or packed C-trains to negotiate. All there is are freighters slowly moving along, the peaceful sounds of water sloshing, coolish river breezes messing my hair and the gentle bumping of the ferry slipping in and out of the dock. Quite relaxing.

This entire region is populated by tourists from May until October, and luckily for me, almost all of them speak English, at least as a second language. So, because of that, and my event management experience, I landed a pretty great hotel job. I’m excited. And, surprised.

The hotel lays right on the Rhein, with four floors of beautiful river views out front and rolling weinbergs out the back. Large groups of Americans, Japanese and Belgiums regularly visit, keeping the place hopping. It is quite fun for me to greet fellow North Americans in English, an English which they right away recognize as very familiar. ‘Hey, you sound like an English person!’, and I respond with, ‘Ya, I sound like a Canadian!’ Canada has such a lovely reputation around the world, especially in Europe, and that makes these interactions so much fun.

The challenge, for me, will be to get used to switching back and forth, quickly and professionally, between English and German, in a way which doesn’t make me sound like I have a brain injury.
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Monday, May 16, 2011

brunching, boats, and eurovision

Saturday morning started off with bright sunshine, heat and 6 of great guy’s work colleagues over for breakfast. The pressure for me decreased significantly the day before when he told me that all of his colleagues are male; there wouldn’t be a single female coming over. Whew! Men are way easier to please, I think, with food than women are.

Great guy’s colleagues are, in his opinion, are a bunch of simple, but friendly, misfits…hmmm, interesting. I was excited about meeting them since I often hear stories about them when great guy comes home from work. There is the very nice, much younger than great guy, boss-man. Also zeki from Turkey, the Italian named Mario (of course, what else would his name be?), the 55 year-old guy who still lives with his mother, and the talker named roland.

We sat out on the terrace, me beside the talker (I listened) at our long wooden table, overlooking the river. Coffee was consumed by the carafe fulls, fresh brötchen (buns) were eaten by the basket-full, and I had made easy cottage-cheese bake (that’s it’s official, un-elegant name), which came through for me here, as it always does in Canada. And, along with lots of cheese and würst varieties, we had put out Canadian salmon which I recently brought over. That was definitely a big hit…almost as big as Crown Royal! (Should I clarify? We didn’t serve crown royal…it was only 10am! We’re not in Bavaria!).

After the group toured the house, and ooohed and aaahed (fun!), great guy and I jumped in the land rover and headed to the hafen (harbour) just outside of Wiesbaden for a spaziergang (walk). One thing we both love to do is to be by the water, watching boats, water dogs and ducks, and dreaming about which boat we someday would like to take on a watery holiday. Relaxing.

In the evening, we stayed inside, cozy and warm while it finally poured rain outside, nibbling on peanuts and watching the Eurovision Song Contest 2011. I have been hearing, none-stop coverage of this finale show because last year’s winner was from Germany and she was defending her title this year. But, I honestly didn’t understand what the show was about. In my North American naiveté, I thought this song contest was just some European, American Idol spin-off. Kind of ignorant of me.

Eurovision is in its 55th year and it involves every European country (the current number being much larger than it was in the beginning). Each country has its own competition in the months before to pick their winner, who then competes against the other countries on this finale night. But, the very cool thing is that all the callers who call-in to vote cannot vote for their own country person. Callers vote for a country other than their own. I kind of love that…along with the geography lessons. Did you know that there is a country called San Marino? Then, after watching all of the contestants sing (the songs are all originals, no American idol karaoke happening here) the last half hour is dedicated to watching the results come in…kind of like watching federal election results, but a bit more interesting I must say. By 12:20 am the winner was declared, and this year it was a couple from Azerbaijan. Germany’s Lena placed a respectable 10th. Good show.
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Friday, May 13, 2011

pigeon

If a pigeon could give someone the finger, yesterday, one would have given it to me. As I was implementing great guy’s strict lawn watering program, a pigeon was hanging out on one of the freshly seeded, grassy areas peckishly having lunch. Thinking that great guy would not like a bird eating away all of his grass seed, I proceeded to try and remove said pigeon. I walked right up to it saying, ‘shoo, shoo’. And, it just looked up at me, as if to say, ‘buzz off, I’m eating’.

Later, after returning from one of my tutoring sessions, I saw the pigeon on the lawn with its head in one of our new porcelain bowls…eating my müsli! Great guy had made him/her (how do you tell?) breakfast. The guy surprises me.

It turns out that the pigeon had 2 racing rings on its legs, which I hadn’t noticed (I would make a horrible witness). Great guy said that sometimes, when pigeons are on their way back home, they can’t make it the entire way and need to rest. So, he was trying to re-energize the little guy.

There is something about my character that immediately assumes that a bird would be giving me the ‘bird’. Why wouldn’t I have thought that it needed food, or maybe a ride home? My bad.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

red bull...and a 'red hot' name

On Sunday, great guy and I took the motorbike up to friends, gerd and dora, in Henchhausen. Henchhausen is a small, small town, surrounded by bauernhöfe (farms), nestled high above the Rhein. The drive up and down the steep weinbergs (vineyard hills) was so much fun on the bike…I was hanging on for dear life. But, the smells along the entire drive were just as enchanting; ranging from lilacs in full bloom, wein wirtschafts (vineyard restaurants) whipping up their evening menus, forest earthiness, vines beginning to sprout, all the way to good ol’ spring farm smells! Delightful.

Zooming through turn after turn, giving gas, then braking hard, reminded me of watching the formula 1 race that morning. My dad has always been a huge formula 1 fan, and back when we were kids my brother and I would regularly watch it with him. When bro and I visited France a few years ago, with a day trip to Monaco, we both knew that a ‘must’ on our itinerary was to walk through the ultra-cool grand prix tunnel, which runs right through a hotel and up alongside the ocean. And, recently, while in Canada, my dad and I stayed up until 4 am to take in the live showing of the Shanghai Grand Prix. Spannend!

While watching that race, my dad told me that my name comes from the Finnish wife of Jochen Rindt, who was born in Mainz, very close to where I now live. My parents had seen her while attending a race at the Salzburgring in the late ‘60’s, and had kept the name in their minds until they had, well, me! Unfortunately, Jochen Rindt was killed in a practice race in 1970, but went on to win the world championship that year posthumously.

So, formula 1 must be in my blood somehow. And, right now, I’m a little bit obsessed with the Red Bull Team, and their current German super-star, Sebastian Vettel. The whole Red Bull story is fascinating. A toothpaste salesman visits Thailand in the early ‘80’s, meets a Thai guy who has created an energy drink, the two partner together starting a company in 1987, and go on to build an empire…the most popular energy drink on earth…each man worth something like 4 billion in 2008! They have sports teams, an NFL star, a ‘holy shit’ tab on their website featuring extreme sports photos, and even a Red Bull record label. And, they have plenty of controversy…starting years ago when reports came out of Austria that Red Bull Cola was laced with cocaine. And, of course, we all know the effects of one too many Jägerbombs the next morning!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not endorsing Red Bull, the drink or the company, but it is a good story. And, a good story, mixed with crazy roads and fast vehicles, makes for an exciting day in my books.
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

bruno engler

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pippi, perfume and bruno engler

A ski jumper sails through the air in a 1973 black and white, Bruno Engler photograph I bought for great guy while I was in Canada. He is soaring over the Banff townsite, with the cloud-covered Rockies watching closely. It is a whimsical photo, almost magical, because the ski jump is out of site….so all you see is the skier flying through the sky in cool, ‘70’s paraphernalia.

I show the photo to step-mother and her close friend, who I immediately upon meeting want to call ‘Pippi’. The two women were giggly and warm and very happy to be together on this particular afternoon. They began to tell me stories of Mr. Bruno Engler. Apparently, back in the day, step-mother and Pippi knew Mr. Bruno a little bit, through the heli-ski operation where they worked after coming to Canada, as young German girls.

One story was of stepmother, at a party at the Banff Springs Hotel, belly dancing for the crowd, whereupon Mr. Bruno tried to get her to dance with him. Her belly must have made a striking impression with the crowd…or would it be the hips? I’m not exactly that familiar with the belly dancing art form.

Upon showing the photo to my father, who also took a great interest in it albeit for different reasons, he mentioned that he used to ski jump a little when he was a teenager living high up in the German Alps. Seriously?! Have any of your fathers ever said, ‘Ya, I used to ski jump a little bit, but the farthest we got was 30 meters’? I guess that’s the equivalent of Canadian farm boys growing up playing pond hockey out on the back 40.

So, back to Pippi. I met her, we sipped Pineaut de Charantes (all I can say is ‘yummy’), and the first thing I bought in duty-free when flying back ‘home’ was Dior Addicted – Pippi’s perfume. Now, I spend my European days smelling like, and trying to channel, this ultra-cool, a little bit crazy, really fun-loving woman. It is inspiring to come into contact with people who you want to be a bit more like…whether it’s through an old photograph or through a front door. We are better people for meeting them.
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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

thievery

We have a thief. He or she or it sneaks into our home when we are gone, emptying wine or taking beer. He or she or it leaves behind dirty wine glasses, if there is only beer in the fridge. And, after I have washed the wine glasses and have left them on the counter, he or she or it starts using the clean glasses again. So weird, so rock ‘n roller.

On Sunday afternoon, great guy and I first went on a beautiful bicycle ride along the Rhein towards Ingelheim, and afterwards took the motorbike to Mainz to listen to rock ‘n roller’s shitshakers perform in the Volkspark. It was a gorgeous, warm day and the park was filled with families grilling sausages and steaks, couples sitting in the biergarten having a drink, and kiddies splashing around in the wading pool. Everyone was singing along and tapping their toes to the shitshaker’s rock-a-billy tunes.

At the long table which we joined, there was an older lady, all white, disheveled hair, bobbing along to the music. She nursed one beer over the few hours we were there, and every once in a while she would turn to us, and smile a huge, pink-lipsticked smile…another song she was loving. After the set, I ran over to rock ‘n roller and told him he needs to join us, to meet a new fan. She was thrilled, and actually compared him to Santana! Hilarious. But isn’t this what music is all about? I think this is what rock ‘n roller talks about when he goes on and on about only singing and playing the songs which are in his heart. Without that, I’m guessing the crazy-haired, old lady might not have been as moved. Cool.
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