Monday, May 31, 2004

[This post was actually typed at a much later date--August 2, in fact--but I'm putting it here to maintain the chronology. Greetings from the future!]

We woke up the next morning to the sound of cowbells in the pasture across from our hotel. After a delicious breakfast of warm croissants and hot chocolate, we headed for Elm, home of Elmer Citro (think Swiss Sprite). Elm is the town we were shooting for way back in March with Fred's parents when we got turned back by the snow on the road.

We made it to Elm with no problem and set about exploring the tiny little town. Mike and Annabelle had fun frolicking in the flowers next to our parking lot:

Here's a picture I took from that same parking lot, looking up past the town into the mountains that tower above:

Mike is reaching that stage where he is starting to be taller than a handful of adults. He is keeping a list and was delighted to be able to add Gretchyn to it. They decided to size each other up right there in the middle of the road in Elm:

After stopping by the town grocery store to grab a few bottles of Elmer Citro, we got back on the road and headed for the Klaussen Pass in hopes of being in Luzern by lunch time.

The Klaussen Pass is without a doubt the most beautiful drive I've ever made. The roads are narrow and curvy--the natural enemy of the American minivan--but the scenery is so breathtaking that it helps to distract you from the fact that you're inches from plummeting to a certain death.

The lower fields were full of cows, all wearing their musical cowbells. Gretchyn taught Mike and Annabelle to shout out, "We need more cowbell!" which apparently is a reference to a Christopher Walken sketch from Saturday Night Live. They thought that was quite hilarious.

As we climbed higher, we started passing areas of snow on the side of the road. At the insistence of my traveling companions, I pulled over and took this picture of them making snowballs. How do you think they repaid my kindness? Naturally, by pelting me with the snowballs the minute I put the camera away:

The little patches of snow were soon overshadowed by vast fields of snow as we reached the top of the pass. Here's Annabelle sitting, quite literally, on the top of the world:

Gretchyn took this picture of me with the kids to show how deep the snow was on the uphill side of the road:

In case you're wondering if the area is at risk for avalanches, here's your answer:

It was right about at this point that the "check engine" light came on in my car. Little did I know that my car had been molested by a small ferret-like creature and merely needed an air hose reattached. That little red light cast a pall of anxiety over the rest of the trip for me, but it didn't keep us from having fun.

We finally reached Luzern in the early afternoon. I managed to stuff the van into a parking garage downtown, but I had to execute a stunning 30-point turn in order to make it line up properly with the parking space.

We stopped in a knife store in the shopping district so that Mike and Gretchyn could by Swiss army knives. We left the knives there to be engraved and set off in search of fondue for lunch. Here I am with Gretchyn, enjoying our chocolate fondue:

After lunch we went to a souvenir shop so that Gretchyn could buy a Heidi dress for her daughter Alexandra. You would think that should be pretty easy to do in a major town in Switzerland, but it turned out to be rather complicated. The kids and I waited on the sidewalk while everything that could go wrong with Gretchyn's transaction did go wrong. Suddenly I had a wave of panic that the knife store might close before we got back there to pick up the engraved knives. I left the kids waiting for Gretchyn and ran back to the knife store, stopping only long enough along the way to take a picture of this lovely family. I'm thinking I might try to pass them off as us for our Christmas picture:

When I reached the knife store, I found that they had indeed closed for the day. I could see a worker in the back though, so I banged on the door until he let me in. After I got the knives, I went back for Gretchyn and the kids and we hopped on the highway heading north.

If we were ever undecided about going to France, it wasn't hard to choose a path when we reached the Swiss border. We found a huge traffic jam waiting to get into Germany and nobody at all heading towards France.

We reached Strasbourg at about 9:00 p.m. We stayed for about an hour, just long enough to look at the cathedral and buy a few postcards. It was starting to get pretty dark by the time we left, but here's a street scene that I took on our way in:

Somewhere between Strasbourg and Germany, the needle on my gas gauge dropped like the proverbial rock. Gretchyn and I got off the highway and found a pub in a tiny little town. The nice people there directed us to the next town over where, they said, you could buy gasoline 24 hours a day so long as you had a credit card. What they did not know, however, is that you need a Eurocard. We tried every American credit card we had between the 2 of us, and nothing worked.

I was getting ready to burst into tears when out of nowhere another car pulled up to the pump across from me. My guardian angel is a middle-aged French man who speaks German but no English. He understood our predicament and allowed us to give him cash in exchange for him buying our gas on his credit card. He even pumped the gas for me!

Pretty soon we were back on our way and heading to Germany. Somehow I managed to get hopelessly lost and wound up having to drive a good 30 miles out of my way to find a place that I could get home from. We arrived home well after midnight and stayed up most of the rest of the night talking, despite having to get Gretchyn back to the airport by 8:00 in the morning.

All in all, we had a wonderful time. Even our misadventures somehow added to the fun, although I could have done without the check-engine light and the gas problem. We're all looking forward to November, when Gretchyn plans on bringing her daughter and her husband back for a visit.

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My sister rocks! Jenny just called to say that she managed to get her hands on 2 of the 109 Neopets toys that McDonald's is giving away in their Happy Meal toys this month. Yes, we have McDonald's here, but unfortunately our toys are Hot Wheels cars and scary-looking My Scene dolls.

Annabelle is dancing with joy at her good fortune. It's not easy living in Europe and getting dragged from one stupid castle to another when your friends back in the States are getting stuffed toys with their burgers.

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I'm finally ready to start posting photos from my excellent adventure with Gretchyn. It was kind of like Thelma and Louise, only without Brad Pitt. We could have driven off a cliff any number of times though, so at least that part rings semi-true.

As I said last week, when we started out of here Monday morning we were going to France. Somehow though, I managed to miss the road I needed. Next thing I knew, I was cruising down the highway thinking, "Wow, I don't remember the A5 being this scenic." That's because the A5 runs parallel to the pretty hills; I was tearing through them on the A6 instead.

After a quick consultation with my co-pilot, I decided to stay the course, so we headed for Liechtenstein instead. About an hour north of the Germany/Austria border, Gretchyn was getting very excited about the Alps way off in the distance. I kept telling her, "It's going to get even better." I don't know if she really believed me though until we found ourselves driving through the very same mountains we had been admiring from afar.

Our tour through Austria was brief as we merely dropped in long enough to skirt the far eastern shore of Lake Constance. Before we knew it we had crossed from Austria into Switzerland and from there into Liechtenstein.

We didn't stay long in Liechtenstein. We managed to find downtown Vaduz and pulled over long enough for a potty break and to let Annabelle buy a red Swiss army knife with white flowers on it. I also took this picture of the castle, which looms over the town from a nearby hillside:

I was eager to find a place to stop for the night, as I figured that we would be better off facing the most breathtaking scenery and the most challenging driving after a good night's sleep. So we hopped back in the van and put Liechtenstein in the rear-view mirror.

When we pulled into Glarus, Switzerland, I knew we had found our home for the evening. The hotel at the train station did not have any 4-bed rooms, but the man at the front desk directed us to the Hotel Rößli, which did. For 200 swiss francs (about $160), we wound up in a huge loft room with 4 beds, a sitting area, and a private bath:

The decor was neo-Brady Bunch, right down to the little crocheted hat that covered the extra roll of toilet paper:

The view, however, was right off a postcard. We could even hear the cowbells from the pasture across the street. Here are Mike and Annabelle checking out their new 'hood:

We walked back over to the hotel at the train station to have our supper. On the way, I took pictures of Gretchyn, Mike, and Annabelle resting by a fountain in the middle of town:

and the kids sitting in a park:

Supper was delicious. Gretchyn and I both had the cordon bleu, while Annabelle had ravioli and Mike had schnitzel. Not only was the food tasty, but it was pretty as well. Here's a shot of Gretchyn's salad:

and one of my asparagus:

When we got back to the room, the kids watched Cats and Dogs in French, and then we curled up under our down comforters and went to sleep.

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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Woo hoo! We got our first phone call from Fred this morning!! Fortunately, I was running late on taking Mike up to the Boy Scouts' bake sale, or we would have missed it.

He sounds great. He just got done visiting Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, for a few days and was on his way to Camp Doha in Kuwait. He called from Camp Wolverine, Kuwait (who names these camps anyway? 13-year-old boys?).

He said that there was a little excitement last night at the airport in Iraq, as the airfield took some mortar fire. Passengers were instructed to stay in the tents during the attacks. I guess that's par for the course, considering we shielded a generation of schoolchildren from Soviet nukes with school desks.

Fred reports that the internet connectivity has varied between "stinks" and "stinks on ice." It takes him 10 minutes to download a message, 10 minutes to switch to reply mode, and 10 minutes to upload his reply. So if he owes you an email, there's a darn good reason. And if he sent you an email . . . well, you're just blessed.

I celebrated my extreme happiness over the morning's phone call with a day of shopping. My friend Amy and I drove over to Kaiserlautern for the 415th BSB's summer bazaar at Rhein Ordnance Barracks (now, there's a REAL name for a post). The same vendors generally show up at these bazaars time and time again, so it's easy to breeze through and grab what we want. Today's booty included: a Beanie baby (not for me); a case of Belgian waffles (not for me); a case-and-a-half of wine, a bottle of Eißwein, a really cool corkscrew, and a set of Eißwein glasses (all for me).

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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Isn't this little guy cute? Meet the Marder, a hungry rodent who figures prominently in some of the high drama of my life these days.

There we were Tuesday morning, crossing Switzerland's Klaussen pass in my minivan, when suddenly the "check engine" light went on. Gretchyn and I pulled out the owner's manual and got the following helpful advice: "Take vehicle to Toyota dealer." Gee, thanks. Unfortunately, there are very few Toyota dealers right there at 2000 meters above sea level. I didn't even see a mountain goat who looked as if he might be handy under the hood.

The van seemed to be handling all right in spite of the warning light, so we decided to forge ahead with our journey. I drove through the rest of Switzerland, the southeastern corner of France, and home into Germany half expecting important parts to start suddenly falling off the car.

This morning I took the van to the AAFES car care center on Taylor Barracks. A German mechanic went out with me and looked under the hood. There, lying in the middle of all that engine stuff, was a rather traumatized looking piece of hose. Even I could see that the hose should probably be connected to something. "Holy crap!" I exclaimed. "What has been chewing on my car?!"

"I don't know how to say it in English," said the nice mechanic as he jammed the hose back onto its proper connection, "but in German it's called a Marder. They come out at night and chew on rubber hosing." Isn't that nice? Some people have lice; I have weasels.

The kids are very excited by this recent brush with wildlife and are hoping that we can catch a slow Marder to domesticate as a pet. Yeah, right. That'll happen.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

I'm afraid it's going to take me longer to blog our adventures with Gretchyn than it took us to actually HAVE said adventures. I've got almost 100 photos to sort through, and I have to start somewhere. So I'll start with the first day (Sunday) here and hope to begin posting the pics from our big trip tomorrow.

I picked Gretchyn up at the Frankfurt airport Sunday morning and drove her out to the Odenwald for lunch at Zum Morgenstern, home of the fabulous cappucino torte. Later that afternoon we headed over to Schriesheim so Gretchyn could say she had seen a castle ruin up close and personal:

We paid the 50 cents admission charge for the privilege of climbing to the top of the tower. Instead of traditional stairs, we climbed wooden ladder after wooden ladder. Once at the top, we enjoyed the view of the town and vineyards below us:


In other news from Taylor-town, Mike is pleased to report that his mean old mother finally gave in and took him to her stylist for the highlights he has been begging for. First, they encased his head in plastic wrap; then they used a teeny-tiny hook to pull individual strands of hair through the plastic layer.

They smeared these strands with bleach and stuck him under the dryer for what seemed like ages.

Finally, they washed out the bleach, gave him a trim, and spiked it out all over the place. Here's the final product, of which he is quite proud:

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Quickie post here! It's 1:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, and Gretchyn and I have to get up in a few hours to get her to the airport for her flight home. Just wanted to let everybody know that we have arrived home safe and sound.

We left Monday morning and headed for Strasbourg, France. I somehow got on the wrong road, however, so we went to Liechtenstein instead. We managed to cover 700 miles in 5 countries in 2 days. I hope to start posting photos tomorrow. Good night for now.

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Monday, May 24, 2004

I'm sure my neighbor across the street thought I had gone 'round the bend last night when I showed up on their doorstep, clutching a wine bottle and claiming to have an alcohol problem. I did, however, have a very serious problem--my corkscrew was firmly embedded in the cork but, try as I might, I couldn't get the stupid cork to budge.

Fortunately her husband was at home. He took the bottle, knelt on the floor clutching it between his knees, and struggled fiercely with it for a few minutes. Finally, bit by bit it started to come loose, and he finally succeeded in pulling it out. I returned home with my freshly opened wine and a more user-friendly corkscrew that is better suited to the life of a single girl with minimal upper-body strength.

I'll be away from the computer for the next couple of days. My friend Gretchyn is visiting, and we're going to head out for a roadtrip with the kids this morning. Details and photos to follow shortly . . .

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Friday, May 21, 2004

Not much to report on today. I finally heard from Fred early this evening that he had made it safely to Iraq. He'll hang out there for a few days and then start traveling around to meet his people.

Mike is sleeping over at a friend's house tonight, so Annabelle and I are having a ladies' night. We're going to go upstairs now and be ladies-who-read-themselves-into-oblivion-in-bed. Good night . . .

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UPDATE: Snaps for my Aunt Suzie, the Queen of the Photoshop Universe, for successfully removing the red eyes from our going-away pictures!! You might need to reload the page to be able to view the new photos, but it's worth it. We no longer have that delightful "Children of the Damned Visit the Airport" look going on.

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

I'm happy to report that Fred made it to Kuwait last night, safe and sound. He hung out there today and will be moving on to Iraq tomorrow.

I got several emails from him during the morning, which was especially nice. If I didn't know better, I'd swear he was just at the office.

I took the kids out for Thai food at lunch today, which is quite the treat around here. While we ate, we made plans for cool stuff we want to do to keep busy while he's gone.

We're taking a few days to lay low and lick our wounds. But then my friend Gretchyn arrives on Sunday. She's only here until Wednesday, but we have lots of plans. We're hoping to make it to Strasbourg, France, and down into Switzerland.

I was going to buy our rail tickets today, but instead I participated in that longstanding tradition of getting caught unawares by a German holiday. (Hey, happy Christi Himmelfahrt, by the way! Sorry I didn't get the cards out. And your present is under the tree.) When a German holiday pops out of nowhere, life as we know it shuts down. Today it meant not being able to buy my train tix because SATO was closed. Back when I was a college student over here though, it meant living on ice cream from the Shell station for days on end because the grocery stores were closed. No commissary to rely on way back then!

After Gretchyn leaves, we'll have just 3 and a half weeks to get through until my dad arrives to escort us to Scotland for a week and then to just hang around with us in Germany for another 3 weeks. Now I'm working on getting my mom over here later in the summer as well. Plans are shaping up quite nicely.

I made the mistake at lunch of mentioning a really cool deal I found on a package trip to Mallorca (round-trip airfare from Frankfurt; 6 nights in a hotel; plus breakfast and supper every day for only 700 euro total). I mentioned it just as an example of some of the really cool, unconventional opportunities we have available to us, and now Mike says he knows where he wants to have his birthday: Mallorca. Yeah, right, like that'll happen, kid. Who would have thought I'd ever be nostalgic for the days when he wanted to celebrate at Discovery Zone?

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I don't have a lot of energy for writing right now, but I do have some photos to share, and I wanted to let everybody know that we made it through the big goodbye scene this afternoon.

We decided that we did, in fact, want to go to the airport, and I'm glad we did. The typical airport commotion proved to be a great distraction for all of us, and things didn't start getting emotional until right before we left. We had planned on staying until he boarded, but we had already waited 2 hours when they delayed boarding for another 2 hours. So we had our hugs with a minimum of fuss and emotion and headed for the car. All in all, the actual goodbye wasn't nearly as hard as a lot of moments I've had in the past few weeks.

Before Fred put on his boots this morning, we took photos of him standing back to back with each of the kids. We plan on taking the same photos a year from now so we can see how much they will have grown.

One of the strange yet nifty features I'm going to miss about my little Nikon (which, by the way, I'm keeping until the Sony arrives and then shipping on to Fred) is the ability to take self-portraits like this one from this morning:

My friend Amy went to the airport with us to lend moral support and also to take photos for me. We posed in the airport diner for one last family photo for a while. (If it shows up as our Christmas photo, try to act surprised.)

And here are the photos of our goodbyes. If anybody out there can tell me how to get rid of the red-eye effect without looking like I burnt our eyes out with a cigarette, I'd be forever grateful.

Here's Mike's hug:

Here's Annabelle's:

And here's mine:

Thanks again for all the support, thoughts, and prayers. I'm going to bed now.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

If it's true that shopping soothes the soul, then I spent most of yesterday engaged in some pretty intensive retail therapy. I've been meaning to order a new digital camera for weeks now to replace the one that Fred is taking with him to Iraq. Every time I tried to get serious about my research, the sheer quantity of cameras to choose from completely paralyzed my ability to think clearly. Yesterday though, I decided the time had come to get down to business.

First, I have to say thanks to everybody out there who wrote in to tell me about their cameras--what they liked and what what they didn't like. Several readers also alerted me to review sites (Steve's Digi-cams and DP Review) that were very helpful as well.

The hard part in shopping for a camera is that there are so many different features to choose from and such a huge range of prices. It was so much easier when I bought my current camera--a Nikon Coolpix 2500. At that time, all I wanted was a camera that was cheap, cheap, and cheap but that also had the LCD monitor on the back. (With many of the truly cheap cameras I looked at, you couldn't see your photos until you uploaded them to a computer.) The Nikon had the LCD monitor, and I picked it up at Walmart for the equivalent of $100. This time though I was prepared to make a bigger financial commitment and wanted to put a commensurate amount of thought into the process.

Even once I had decided that while 3.2 megapixels was the minimum I would accept and that I was more interested in cameras in the 4 and 5 megapixel range, it was hard not to be seduced by the occasional bargain. For example, I found the Nikon Coolpix 3200 at Best Buy for $400. Best Buy is currently offering 10 percent off all point-and-shoot digital cameras, and this particular model also has a $100 rebate, bringing the total price down to a meager $260. Not bad at all. I had trouble walking away from that one, especially after my previous pleasant experience with Nikon.

In looking at 4 and 5 megapixel models, I had yet another choice to make, and it proved to be the one that brought me to my final decision: how big a camera did I want? There are teeny-tiny cameras that resemble a deck of playing cards, and there are much larger cameras that are more in keeping with traditional 35-mm body styles. I was sorely tempted by a couple of the larger models, but I decided that size does matter, and when you're schlepping a camera all across Europe, the best size is small.

So here's what I wound up choosing: the Sony Cybershot DSC-V1 from Best Buy. It's a 5-megapixel cutie that weighs in at a svelte 11 ounces. It has a 4x optical zoom as well as a 4x digital zoom. It will also take video clips, which can be fun on a ski slope. The list price was $499.99 minus the 10-percent discount, for a total of $450. The only downside was that I couldn't have it shipped here to me at my APO address. I'm having it sent to my parents, and while the shipping is free, that will open me up to paying sales tax on it in Florida. Oh, well. I'm still happy with the deal; our local PX is selling the same camera for $679 and anytime an outside competitor can undercut AAFES, it makes me feel all warm and happy inside.

Best Buy also kicked the PX's monopolistic hiney in the storage-media arena. For example, through their website AAFES offers a 128MB Dane-Elec (who?!) Memory Stick for $85. I, however, scored a 256MB San Disk Memory Stick PRO from Best Buy for $75, and that was BEFORE the $20 mail-in rebate. Ha, take that, Post Exchange!

So the bottom line is I'm very excited about my new camera, and I think I got an excellent deal overall. Having to ship it to Florida is one teensy fly in otherwise pristine ointment. I'll have my dad bring it with him when he comes for a visit in mid-June.

Until then, I just have to wait patiently. And we all know how I excel at waiting patiently, so this shouldn't be any problem at all, right? RIGHT?!

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Monday, May 17, 2004

To go (to the airport) or not to go? That's the question.

Fred leaves out of Frankfurt early Wednesday afternoon. He has to be up at the airport by around 11, which means leaving here around 10. He can't travel in a private car (pesky weapon issues--can't take a military-issued gun in anything but a military-issued car), so his NCO is going to drive him up. What I can't decide is whether the kids and I--and my friend Amy who has agreed to hang with me that day for moral support--go up as well or whether we say our goodbyes here at the house. I guess it would help if I could picture the scene either way, and frankly I can't.

I feel like there is such conflicting information on how I should be reacting here. On the one hand, there's the conventional "It's OK to be sad and scared" wisdom. Following that, I guess I should be crying in front of them, but the truth is I'm not even crying behind them . . . yet. I get the occasional trigger, like the milk-expiration-date thing or writing my post from April 30, where I tear up and have to bite my lip. Frankly, I cried a lot more in the weeks leading up to leaving Hawaii, though I feel 10 times worse about this.

On the other hand, military parents hear quite often from the Propaganda Machine that "your children will react as you do." I remember seeing that distinctly in the news when it was announced that 1st AD would not, in fact, be coming home after their year-long tour was up. If your children are sad, the message goes, it's because Mom can't keep herself together. It's certainly not through any shortcomings on the part of the Army. Never.

I've gone through crises both ways, and I can't say that I see a distinct advantage in one over the other. Aside from this deployment crap, I'm perfectly happy over here in Germany. Annabelle, who goes through occasional cycles where she cries to go back to Texas every night, seems utterly unaffected by my bliss, and frankly I feel a bit like a traitor to her by loving it here so much. On the other hand, the kids and I spent months in a collective grief-fest over leaving Hawaii, and I don't know that it was any better or worse that way. It still pretty much sucked.

So given that saying goodbye really bites, where is it better to do it? Part of me lives in horror at the idea of a huge breakdown scene at the airport. The other part though can't imagine sitting here all day thinking, "Well, he should be at the airport by now . . . Well, I guess he's getting on his plane now . . . Probably taking off now . . . "

A blog is really just a diary that talks back, so talk back to me. What would you do?

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Sunday, May 16, 2004

Seen from my yard this weekend (in no particular order):

(1) armed guards;

(2) a blue-and-gold macaw named Rolly, walking down the street beside his owner;

(3) a clown on a unicycle (OK, that was Mike, but he's getting pretty good); and

(4) two people on horseback taking a goat named Trixie for a walk.

And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street . . .

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Friday, May 14, 2004

Multiple items of interest today!

Care to guess what I found at Walmart this morning? Kindereggs! They must have had one final shipment, I suppose. I grabbed 96 of them--32 each for my kids and their friend Rebecca. I got some interesting looks from my fellow shoppers as I carried the 4 stacked trays to my car.


This afternoon we hosted Fred's office's hail and farewell here at the house. I never did an official nose count, but we had something like 40 people (including kids) on the RSVP list, and we seemed to have a good turnout. The clouds looked a bit threatening at times, and it was cooler than I would have liked, but overall everything went well.


Finally, I knew that Fred planned on cutting his hair short for Iraq, but he surprised me this week by getting it done here. Here's the new 'do:

To really appreciate the full effect though, you have to see the profile:

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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

We had a rude shock at Walmart yesterday. We went there to pick up several trays of Kindereggs, both for our own personal stash and for friends back home who had requested them. The eggs are usually just sitting there in stacked flats at the cash registers, but yesterday there were none.

I went up to the customer service desk and asked about them (remembering, of course, that the Germans don't call them "Kindereggs"). I was stunned when I got the answer: No more!

Could it be? Had the Greek and British Gegeneier won? Had they really taken our beloved Kindereggs away from us forever?

No. They have taken our beloved Kindereggs away from us for the summer. They will be back sometime around the first of September, but in the meantime, no eggs! I guess in a land where air conditioning is the exception rather than the rule, it's not practical to expect chocolate to maintain an egg shape through the hottest months of the year. Scrambled Kindereggs just don't sound as appealing.

When I look back on recent weeks, I realize that Walmart's egg supply has been dwindling. I just wish that we had caught on to reality before eating our last egg. That way we could have tapered off instead of going cold turkey. I wonder if there's a patch for this . . .

Maybe we'll take up smoking?

And in other news, we are now officially into the one week countdown until Fred leaves for Iraq on May 19th. Everybody keeps asking me how the kids and I are doing, and I don't know what to say. Quite honestly it all seems unreal. I think I've been operating under the assumption that this is all just going to go away, and I'm starting to think now that maybe it won't.

The milk I bought a couple days ago expires on May 18th. That means that Fred will be gone when the next milk I buy expires. I don't know why that bugs me, but it does. I would really rather not have my first encounter with reality at the commissary. I can just see myself crying like an idiot in front of the milk case. "Herb, we need a wet cleanup on the dairy aisle!"

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Monday, May 10, 2004

The kids and I are spending the day in a partial media blackout. The season finale of Survivor airs here tonight from 7 till 10, and we're just petrified that we'll inadvertently find out the winner before then.

Fred came to me this morning and confessed that he had been "contaminated." I, of course, immediately thought of his recently re-done smallpox vaccine (which by the way also appears to have failed "to take") and wondered when we'd all start breaking out. Turned out though that he merely meant he had flipped on CNN this morning out of habit and accidentally found out the ending that way.

It wasn't in our paper, and I have my AOL welcome screen minimized. The kids are allowed to play with their Neopets online and to watch Cartoon Network, but all other websites and television channels are off limits. Meanwhile, I'm afraid to read my favorite blogs, lest someone should start off with "I couldn't believe it on Survivor last night when . . . "

Here's hoping Rupert wins! Or Jenna. Or even Amber. Or ANYBODY but "Boston Rob."

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Sunday, May 09, 2004

Last night we attended the JAG spring dinner-dance, otherwise known as "JAG Prom." It was hard to feel very prom-like with the disgusting weather we've been having lately: rainy, windy, and c-c-c-cold! Nevertheless, I went out Saturday morning with my friends Sharna and Amy to go have our hair professionally glammed at the Peter K Salon in Lampertheim:

I spent most of the afternoon between the hair appointment and the prom lying facedown on the couch. It was the only way I could rest without worrying about smooshing my hair.

The prom itself was nice enough as far as those things go. Major General Marchand and his wife Jan were there from DC. Poor General Marchand--somehow the airline managed to send all of his luggage including his dress blues to Sudan (I am not making that up)! When I saw him in a coat and tie in the receiving line, I thought maybe he had retired and nobody had bothered to tell me. He was a very good sport about it though.

One of the best parts about moving as often as we do is that I can re-wear the same formal dresses and always have a new audience. This year I wore the fuschia crepe gown that I made several years ago. Fred wore his mess dress uniform (as always) and cracked jokes about further depreciating his wedding attire (as always). I shouldn't mock him though--at least he can still fit into his wedding clothes!

Any time Fred and I attend an event that has a hired photographer, we like to get our picture made. Here's the glamour shot from this prom:

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Thursday, May 06, 2004

There's a place on the official website for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign where you can create your own campaign poster. You simply choose your state or favorite coalition group (e.g., Homeschoolers, Military, Arab Americans) and--like the directions say--"easy as 1-2-3" you are rewarded with your very own poster suitable for printing. Of course, since Hewlett-Packard has yet to create a printer that can handle toilet paper, that's of limited use to me.

Back in the good old days, the Sloganator--so dubbed by Wonkette editor Ana Marie Cox (be forewarned if you click: she's quite the potty-mouth)--didn't restrict the personalized portion to states and groups. You could enter almost anything you wanted, with the only limits being your own imagination. I say "almost anything," because the Sloganator was programmed to reject certain obvious lingo, like garden-variety vulgarities, as well as the terms "dumb" and "Iraq." Cox pointed out though that it did accept "racist" and "homophobe" and that one could get around the other limitations by simply placing a space between the letters of the forbidden term.

Needless to say, as word of this toy spread through the world, the site was mobbed by people making such various posters as Take That, America!, Keep Expectations Low, and Don't Change Horsemen in Mid-Apocalypse. All neat and tidy, and all bearing the official seal of approval: "Paid for by BUSH-CHENEY '04, Inc." What could be cooler than that?

Well, it just kept getting better. As the site was barraged with people eager to make their own posters, the Sloganator developed a hiccup, in which it sometimes misrouted the final product. Wired News, for example, cited the following experience:

One reported entering a sexually outrageous slogan and getting back a poster reading "Sportsmen for Bush-Cheney 2004," raising the possibility that somewhere in America a bewildered GOP duck hunter was wondering what on earth was going on with his party.

Alas, nothing so sweet could last forever, and so it was with the Sloganator. When BUSH-CHENEY '04, Inc., caught on to the merriment being had at their expense, they castrated the poor Sloganator, leaving it a mere shadow of its former self.

The glory days of the Sloganator live on, however, in the Sloganator memorial. It takes a while to load, but it's worth the wait. It's also more moving if you have your sound on. (And, like with any of the Wonkette links above, it contains the occasional bit of foul language. Don't click if that's not your cup of tea.)

Meanwhile, somebody else has given us the Kerry Sloganator, where you can create posters that say things like Only looks French from the back and At least I can beat Nader. It's just not the same though. Any idiot with halfway decent software can hack together their own official-looking-yet-defamatory poster. The beauty of the Sloganator was in using the official Bush website to release snarky anti-Bush sentiment.

Juvenile? Perhaps. And yet, like plastic vomit and whoopee cushions, supremely satisfying.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

All hail the incredible edible egg! No, not the kind that came before the chicken--or was it the other way around? I'm talking about Überraschungeier ("surprise eggs") or, as we call them in our best fractured German, "Kindereggs." Each chocolate Kinderegg opens to reveal a plastic yolk, which in turn opens after some mighty fierce struggling to reveal a small plastic toy.

We bought our first Kindereggs at the train station on our way to Bremerhaven last fall to collect my van from the port. What started off as an occasional treat has grown into a daily ritual. I buy them by the 24-egg flat at Walmart and keep them in a basket on our bookcase; each day Mike and Annabelle dip into the basket for their mid-morning egg.

At first it was enough just to enjoy the unique toys inside the eggs. It didn't take long though for us to realize that the toys came in sets, and the mission became collecting these sets. Over Christmas they worked on collecting the figurines from the new Lord of the Rings movie. Most recently, they completed die Motocoyoten ("Motor Coyotes") set.

When we went to Garmisch shortly before Thanksgiving, we turned their friend Rebecca Mitchell on to the joy of Kindereggs. She, in turn, got her father hooked, and they have been very helpful to Mike and Annabelle in trading for that last toy to complete a set. Phil has even discovered the joys of hunting eggs on German ebay.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a roadtrip with the Mitchells up to Frankfurt where the Kindereggs company was celebrating 30 years of business with a museum exhibition. The exhibit turned out to be rather small--it took us longer to drive there than to see everything--but we still had a nice time. Here are Mike, Annabelle, and Rebecca posing with the giant inflatable egg:

This photo shows a selection of some recent Kinderegg prizes on display at the museum. See the Mr. Potatohead (Herr Kartoffelkopf perhaps?)? We have him. And the goony birds--we have tons of those as well. And that flying thing in the bottom right corner. Got him, too.

The best part about the museum exhibit was getting to see the prizes from the 29 years before we started collecting. There were Star Wars toys and Aristocats toys and Smurf toys and Peanuts toys. I enjoyed seeing this chair that was decorated with egg wrappers and empty plastic yolks:

I could have enough wrappers and yolks by now to fancy up an entire dining room set!

Lest you think that Kindereggs are just benign fun, let me assure you that they can be quite controversial. We can buy other Ferrero products (such as Nutella and assorted chocolate bars) at the commissary but not the eggs. The reasoning is that a child might choke on the plastic yolk or toy. Never mind that children choke on hotdogs every day, but the commissary has no qualms with delivering those instruments of death.

Apparently, the fear of plastic-munching tykes is not strictly an American phenomenon. In recent months, Greece and Great Britain have called for a boycott of all Ferrero products by the European Union. Thus far the EU has advised the Gegeneier (this is a German word that I just invented, which means "egg opposition") to suck eggs.

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Monday, May 03, 2004

First, I have to say thanks to everybody who took the time to write after reading my post from Friday. It means a lot to me to know that we have support from so many different sources, whether lifelong family and friends or simply neighbors from the internet.

I'm pleased to report that we had a wonderful weekend, with just the right mix of boring (Saturday--gardening and grocery shopping) and exciting (Sunday). We drove to Stuttgart yesterday and met up with our friends Paul and Kim Cale and their 2 kids. We've known the Cales for 14 years, through 2 tours at Ft. Bragg, 1 tour in northern VA, 1 in Ft. Sam Houston, and now here in Germany. They took us to their favorite Biergarten for lunch in downtown Stuttgart.

After lunch, Anastasia and Annabelle had fun making daisy chains:

They even made one for Fred in honor of his 43d birthday:

After lunch, Paul and Kim took all the kids back to their place while Fred and I stayed downtown to see Das Phantom der Oper:

The show was just amazing. Our seats were in the very middle of the front row in the first balcony, which gave us a fantastic overview of the whole stage. We could even see down into the orchestra pit.

I spent the weeks leading up to the show doing my homework. I found a copy of the German libretto online and printed it. Then I listened to my CD of the German version over and over again, as I followed along on the printout.

As the show started, I found myself experiencing a twinge of anxiety that reminded me of taking tests in college and law school. Had I studied enough? If only I could go through the material one more time . . . Better yet, if only I could take my notes in with me!

I needn't have worried though. While I didn't understand every word (heck, I can't even follow every word in the English version), I had no trouble keeping up. I was a little bit thrown, however, to discover some minor modifications in the translation since my CD was recorded. Die Musik der Dunkelheit ("the music of the darkness"), for example, is now die Musik der Nacht ("the music of the night"). It matches the English version even better, but I've spent 15 years listening to die Musik der Dunkelheit.

Fred and I were both surprised by how many of the cast members weren't German. Our phantom, for example, comes from Florida. It's kind of silly if you think about it though: we think nothing at all about non-Italians singing Italian opera in the States, so why should we be so surprised by this?

If you're familiar with The Phantom of the Opera in English, you might enjoy the following 30-second audio clips in German, brought to you courtesy of Amazon.de:

Denk an mich ("Think of Me")
Engel der Lieder ("Angel of Music")
Das Phantom der Oper (duh!)
Die Musik der Dunkelheit ("Music of the Night")
Mehr will ich nicht von dir ("All I Ask of You")

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