Sunday, February 29, 2004

We have had a super-snowy weekend, and the nice part is that we haven't had to shovel the first flake off our own driveway. The only white stuff remaining here in Mannheim is the little patch in the shade at the side of our house. But there's lots of other snow that's within easy visiting distance.

Yesterday we got up semi-early and headed off for the northern part of the Black Forest. We got off the highway at Baden Baden, which is about an hour south of here, and then traveled on back roads for another 30 minutes to a little town called Sand. There, we found a skiing and sledding area called Mehliskopf.

Mike and I spent the morning trying out our new snowboards on the lower area of the slope while Fred tried to turn Annabelle on to the sport of skiing. Unfortunately, her reaction to skiing was very similar to her mother's back in 1989, which is to say it involved a lot of crying and ultimately quitting. She has decided that sledding is her winter-sport of choice.

After lunch, we tried out the Rodelbahn, which is essentially a bobsled run on tracks. Here are Fred and Mike getting ready for their first ride:

While Annabelle and I were waiting for our turn, I took this picture of her showing off her new teeth. She is very excited to be getting them! She has waited a long time to be able to make a th sound.

Fred and Mike spent the rest of the afternoon riding the ski lifts and cruising back down the hill while Annabelle and I hung out in the sledding area. It was nice to have a mini ski vacation where it wasn't necessary to rob a bank to pay for lift tickets.

This morning we stayed closer to home but still got plenty of snow time. We returned with the Mitchells to our favorite sledding hill in the Odenwald. Mike and I took our snowboards, and while my big accomplishment is that I stood unassisted twice and went about 20 feet without killing myself, he is getting rather good. He even caught a little air going over the bumps on the sledding course. Here he is with his new board:

After a morning in the snow, it was nice to limp across the street and into the restaurant/hotel Zum Morgenstern for a hearty lunch. Even after all the various schnitzels, soups, and salads, we still had room for dessert. They make a cappucino torte that is to-die-for good, as well as an amazing lemon-flavored cream cake.

This evening I spent some time messing around on the computer and exploring some never-before-used software to create a panorama of the morning's sledding scene. If you click on the picture below, you can view an even bigger copy of the panorama.

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Friday, February 27, 2004

Here's a shocker: It seems I'm a fan of French rap music. Who would have thought?

When Fred and I watched the finale of SATC the other night , I was captivated by the song they played as Carrie ran across Paris while Miranda pursued her mother-in-law through the streets of Brooklyn. I've been haunted by the sound for the past few days, so today I finally looked up the song credits online.

The song in question is called "La Belle et le Bad Boy," by MC Solaar (not to be confused with his American cousin MC Hamaar, I suppose). If you want to hear a 30-second clip of it, click here. Catchy, eh?

I don't let the fact that I speak zero French get in my way of enjoying the music. Come to think of it, if I didn't speak English, I'd probably like American rap better, too.

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Thursday, February 26, 2004

We woke up this morning to a couple inches of fresh snow and more pounding down on us at an alarming rate. I opted not to go to the Odenwald for sledding, as the roads were supposedly pretty icky. By the time the roads cleared, there just wasn't enough time for sledding before the kids' language school in the afternoon.

So instead we did some shopping, both at the mall and downtown, and came home with . . . 2 brand new SNOWBOARDS! One for Mike and one for me. Fred already has his skis, and we took Annabelle by Outdoor Rec to get fitted with rental skis for the weekend. We are planning on going out for the day on Saturday to try out some of the smaller ski areas that are within a couple hours drive from here. I'm looking forward to having an opportunity to practice in a low-key and (hopefully) low-cost setting.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

My friend Amy and I took the streetcar down to the train station this morning to book tickets for our upcoming trips. She is planning another holiday in Holland during tulip season, and I got the tickets to Venice (and Legoland and Lucerne) for when Frank and Teresa visit. Now all I have to do is book our hotel for our one night in Switzerland, and the rest of that trip will be on autopilot. Still on my list of arrangements to make though is the hotel for our upcoming weekend trip to Berlin with Fred's parents next month.

The other exciting thing that happened today is that I finally was able to finish downloading the series finale of Sex and the City. I had hoped to get it on Monday so that I could watch before I knew the ending, but alas that was not to be. Not only was it a headline on the news on Yahoo Monday morning, but the next day the "Stars and Stripes" ran a half-page article detailing the plot. Meanwhile my computer and/or internet connection decided to be extra slooooooow, so it took until today to get the complete file. Oh, well, at least I know I'll be happy with the ending.

It was very thrilling last fall when I realized that I could get just about any TV show that I missed from the States. But now it's really becoming somewhat of a drain. The kids try to get online to check their neopets, and I run across the room screaming like a shrew: "My download! My download!" How sad is it that I'm almost happy that 2 of my regular shows (SATC and Friends) are ending this season just because I won't have to worry about downloading them anymore? I've already got my mom on board to tape Six Feet Under for me when it comes back on in the summer. If anybody out there is a regular viewer of ER who would like to assume the responsibility for taping those for me, I'll be happy to pay in either money or chocolate.

The other big news of the day is the weather. It snowed hard all day long, but as the temperature sat just above the freezing mark, none of it stuck to the ground around here. The kids are hoping, however, that the Odenwald got a good solid layer. I've already told them that if there's enough snow up there to do anything with tomorrow morning, we'll blow off school and head for the mountains. Heck, we might even stop by Outdoor Rec and see about renting a snowboard.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Ack! Here it is, Day 2 of my blog-something-every-day-this-week resolution, and I almost forgot!

I guess the most blog-worthy thing going on here today is that I am getting lots of practice as a travel agent. So far I have hotels set for 3 out of the 4 nights we plan on being on the road when Frank and Teresa visit. My friend Amy found us an excellent package of hotel rooms, breakfast, AND Legoland tickets for the first day and night. From there we'll take off for 2 nights in Venice, which has been interesting.

I sent emails to a bunch of hotels I found in the latest issue of Let's Go: Italy. In case you don't know, Let's Go tends to be the most budget-minded of the travel guides and caters to people who don't mind sleeping in some pretty primitive conditions. Well, one of these "budget" hotels wrote me back and said that, yes, they would be delighted to offer us two 4-bed rooms for 2 nights. At 300 euro per room per night! Granted, that includes breakfast, but unless they're serving diamond omelets, I hardly think that's much of a bargain. Fortunately, I was able to find a good deal at a suburban Holiday Inn instead. It's within walking distance of the train station and only about a 25-minute ride into the heart of the city.

Now I just have to nail down the hotel in Switzerland, and we'll be set. I have several emails out, and I've gotten a couple of responses. They're rather pricey but centrally located. I found an excellent deal at--again--a suburban Holiday Inn, but in this case there's no train service, and the taxi from the station would run around $25. So anything we saved on the rooms would be more than spent on transportation.

Tomorrow I'm going downtown to the train station to set up our train tickets.

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Monday, February 23, 2004

I'm afraid I got out of the habit of regular blogging on our trip back to TX. To get back into the swing of things, I am going to commit to blogging every day this week, even if the most blog-worthy item of the day is what I had for dinner (Froot Loops tonight!).

We're looking forward to finally having some company over here. Fred's parents are coming for a couple of weeks in March, and we're planning on exploring Berlin with them. Then in April Fred's younger brother Frank is bringing his family over, and we are planning a whirlwind tour of Legoland, Venice, and Switzerland. And then later in April my sister is coming over as well!

Right now we're still just settling back into being at home after so much time on the road. The kids are busy with their school work, and I continue to shuffle piles of paper from one end of the house to the other. I bought out Halfpriced Books while I was home in Texas and shipped over a bunch of stuff, and they have been enjoying having new resources to work with.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

We had a terrific time in Holland over the 4-day weekend! Our friends the Mitchells took the train over and met us there, and the kids enjoyed getting to explore with Rebecca. We all stayed out at the Holiday Inn in Leiden, which is where Fred and I spent our first New Year's Eve together back in 1989. The one bummer was that the pool was under renovation, so the kids weren't able to take advantage of that. Even without the pool though, we were never at a loss for something to do.

For our first dinner in Holland, Fred and I wanted to find the Argentine steak house that we had eaten at during our first trip there. I, unfortunately, had forgotten to copy down the name out of my old photo album. Even so, we were able to find it, and it was just as good as we had remembered, although the ribs were a little overdone this time around.

Most of you know that Fred is neat and orderly, while I . . . am not. In fact, in my family the verb "to fred" means to put something away before the user is finished with it. Coffee cups and wine glasses that were just sitting there waiting for seconds are frequently fredded and can be found on the top rack of the dishwasher. I thought it was funny how even when it comes to garbage, Fred is so much tidier than I am. Here is my boneyard:

And here is Fred's. Notice how neatly the bones are arranged. Why, they're practically in alphabetical order:

On Saturday morning, we took the bus to the train station and the train into Amsterdam. We bought tickets on the canal boat-taxi and after a little confusion regarding where we were supposed to catch the boat, we headed off to the Anne Frank house.

They have done a lot of work on the house since I was there back in the 1980s. As powerful as it was then, it's even more so now, with lots of televised testimonials of witnesses. We bought a copy of the newest edition of the diary, which has about 30% more material than the original edition. Mike started reading it that night when we got back to the hotel room.

In the afternoon, the dads took in the Heineken Experience, while Amy and I took the kids to a nearby cafe to have a softdrink.

That evening, we had reservations for dinner at the Kinder Kook Kafe, where children prepare and serve the meal. We could have dropped the kids off at 3:30 to be a part of the staff, but we opted to all go strictly as customers for the first time.

The Kinder Kook Kafe is about a half block south of the notorious Red Light District. There is an invisible line where the neighborhood goes from downright seedy to pleasantly residential. If we had known exactly where the restaurant was, we could have spared ourselves the stroll right through the center of the district. Instead, the kids got the field trip of a lifetime, complete with underwear-clad prostitutes modeling in the store windows and the smell of marijuana wafting through the crowd. On a positive note, the odor of the pot effectively masked any smells that might have been wafting from the pissoirs scattered here and there along the sidewalks.

The food at dinner was a bit unconventional, with an Indonesian theme and rather soggy rice, but the experience was wonderful! It was so cool to see the kids working so proudly to serve the food that they had prepared. I think that it would be a wonderful program to copy in the States, though I'm afraid that all of our rules and regulations might get in the way. Apparently, the Dutch don't have a problem with 9-year-olds serving beer and wine, for example. Here is a shot of Phil and Amy with our chef and waitress:

Sunday morning we all piled in the van and drove out to the Zaanse Schans, which is a working model of an old Dutch village. (If you say the name of the town correctly, you will hawk a loogie when you get to the "Schans" part of the name, which is pronounced Skqkqaaantz, as near as I can figure.)

We got to see them making wooden shoes, and we got to sample a lot of delicious cheeses. The cheese factory was the scene way back in 1987 where I accidentally ate a big bite of beeswax hand cream. Hey, it was just sitting there right next to a bunch of different honeys that were available for sampling, and it looked like it might be a spread of some sort. Ha ha, joke's on the American, and I got to walk around with Nivea breath for the rest of the afternoon. This time I studiously avoided eating any cosmetic products. I did, however, mention it to the staff, and they said people do that all the time. So much for being special in my stupidity!

The kids enjoyed wearing the big wooden shoes:

They even got to sit in a REALLY big wooden shoe:

But they especially enjoyed talking to the goats and sheep and feeding the ducks:

After lunch we headed out to Den Haag to visit Madurodam, which is a collection of famous Dutch landmarks set out in miniature. Here are the kids next to a church:

We capped off our visit to the Netherlands with supper at a British pub. How multicultural are we? I had wanted fish-and-chips but had to settle for chips-and-fish instead.

No trip to Holland would be complete without taking home a little pot, so yesterday morning on our way out of town we stopped off so I could buy . . . a little pot of irises, a little pot of crocuses, and a little pot of something called Allium. Gotcha! It's Bonnie's Kitchen Windowsill: The Next Generation.

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Thursday, February 12, 2004

Well, we made it! The C-5 on Tuesday night proved to be just the ticket for getting us home. We arrived home shortly after noon on Wednesday. Fred treated us to a welcome-home dinner last night at our favorite schnitzel restaurant.

I had been worried that I would have to hogtie Annabelle to get her on a plane out of Texas again. She was sad to leave but glad to be home. She said to Fred over dinner: "You may find this hard to believe, but ich liebe Deutschland!"

We'll be saying farewell to Deutschland again tomorrow though as we head off to spend the Presidents' Day 4-day weekend in Holland. We're going there with the Mitchells and will be staying in the same place where Fred and I spent our first New Years Eve together. It's in a little town called Leiden, which I recall being approximately a half hour outside of Amsterdam. We'll definitely make at least one trip into the big bad city to show the kids the Anne Frank house.

Check back on Tuesday, and I should have some windmill and wooden-shoe pictures posted!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Space-A Warrior Woman reporting yet again, and boy is she ever tired! It's 5:40 a.m. here in Dover, where we just checked into the guest quarters for the "night." Long story short, we caught our C5 out of Kelly this afternoon, and it was fine. The kids thought the C5 was their dream come true, offering a combination of civilian airline seats (OK, so they face backwards and there are no windows, but still!) with tons of leg room and the famous military box lunches.

We spent a few hours on the ground in Dover and then loaded back up to head for Ramstein. We had gotten about an hour away and the kids were each sacked out across a whole row of seats when one of the crew members announced that we were returning to Dover. It seemed fairly low-key at first but then once we got on the ground in Dover, we were treated to a full-scale emergency evacuation. We had to climb down a very long ladder into the cargo hold, race the entire length of the aircraft between piles of cargo, and zip down the stairs at the other end. When we emerged into the cold night air, we were greeted with a fire truck and men in fire protection suits. One of the ground crew said "Wow, 15 years of flying, and I've never seen this before!" (I'm still not sure what "this" he was referring to.) They herded us off to the bus, verified that we were all there (all 15 or so of us), and took us back to the terminal.

We've been there for the past few hours waiting for them to bring our luggage and personal items off the plane. Now, like I said, we're in the guest house on base and will be trying to get on yet another flight tomorrow night. Our original flight has been delayed until Wednesday night, so we hope to get on one of two that are going over tomorrow. Personally, I'd be just as happy not getting on that particular airplane again anyway.

Wish us luck for tomorrow! Nighty-night!!

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Sunday, February 08, 2004

Yikes--has it really been a whole week since I last updated this blog?! Our time here in San Antonio has absolutely flown by. We're set to start trying to get out day after tomorrow (pray for good C-5 karma), and it feels like we just got here yesterday.

We have all had a lot of fun, and I'm really glad we made the trip. Annabelle and I have spent most nights here with her friend Annie's family, while Mike has bounced around from friend to friend. I know that leaving is going to be really hard (again!).

God willing and the creek don't rise, we'll be back in Germany on Tuesday, and I can upload some of the pictures from our trip plus give a more detailed account of the joys and un-joys of flying space available. We're planning on heading to Amsterdam with friends for the upcoming 4-day weekend, which gives us something to look forward to as we start yet another long transatlantic journey.

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