Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I'm feeling pretty depressed today. I know I've been all "oh anything could happen" about Fred's trip to Charlottesville in October, but it got officially cancelled out from under us today, and I'm just devastated. I think I was looking forward to that more than I knew. So I've spent today licking my wounds and hating the army.

I did have a couple of good smiles today though. First, one of my internet buddies suggested that I try this Build A Better Bush site. And then my friend Lauren in San Antonio sent me a link to the Dialectizer, which will translate any page into a number of different dialects for you. Mom and I had a fun time reading my blog in the different dialects.

My dad had a less than fun day yesterday. The tree guys came to take down the rest of the oak that snapped off in last week's storm. This afternoon he sent us a couple pictures of the damage, such as this one:

And this one:

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Monday, August 30, 2004

"The Hell You Don't Know" Tour: Part V 

We left Nowy Sacz sometime around noon on Friday, August 13. The road out of town was a twisty 2-lane mountain road, and our progress was much slower than we had expected. We passed through the town of Limanowa and near the town of Zakopane, both of which looked worthy of closer exploration. We, however, weren't stopping for anything, not even to eat. Instead we snacked on what remained of our travel munchies.

We crossed over into Slovakia in mid-afternoon. I immediately pulled over so that Annabelle could get out and breathe that Slovakian air:

I was much more impressed than I had expected to be by what I saw of Slovakia. Several times we would just be tooling down the road, round a curve, and be confronted with an amazing sight. I managed to pull over to take a picture of the Orava castle where the original Dracula movie was filmed in 1931:

The Strecno castle was another suprising and equally impressive find. I wasn't able to pull off anywhere to get a picture, however, so I skeeched this one from somebody else's website:

We were zipping through Slovakia when my cell phone rang. My dad was on the phone to tell Mom about Hurricane Charley's approaching wrath. We had been in such a news blackout that we had heard nothing at all of it. Strange to be chatting with Florida from somewhere high in the Slovakian mountains! (For the record, Charley left my parents' house in DeLand unscathed, but an unnamed storm the following week took out one third of an enormous oak in their back yard. As I type this, my father is awaiting the crane that is due to arrive from Daytona for the removal of the entire tree.)

When we reached the town of Trencin, we had a decision to make: push on south toward Bratislava before hopping west toward Vienna or heading immediately west through the Czech Republic. The first option would get us back into German-speaking territory sooner, but it would make for a longer drive overall. We decided to go with the second option, figuring that we hadn't been able to speak the local language for most of the week anyway, so why start now?

We were on backroads all the way to Brno, where we finally picked up a divided highway. At around 10:00 p.m., we pulled into a truck stop just outside Brno where we watched some of the opening ceremonies for the Olympics, had a delicious supper, and tried to figure out a good place to stop for the night. A customer at the next table spoke English, and he suggested that we try a place some 20 kilometers on down the road. He wasn't sure if there was a hotel there or if it was merely a rest stop but he thought it was worth a try. If not there, he said, we would surely find plenty of hotels at the next exit. We thanked him and headed off.

Just over 20 kilometers later, we saw a sign for a hotel. Figuring this was the place he had in mind, we pulled into the parking lot of the Hotel Annahof. The kids had been begging for most of the day that we stop at a really nice hotel (our accomodations in Poland had been rather spartan, even the good ones), but I was so tired by this point that I would have gladly stayed in the Norman Bates Gasthaus.

Mom and I went into the reception area and left the kids in the locked car. While I was in the middle of getting us checked in, they panicked at the sight of the security guard and triggered the car alarm, sending me racing out to the parking lot. Mom watched the action on the security camera at the reception desk.

At first the desk clerk offered us either 2 double rooms or an apartment. I had seen an apartment at the hotel in Auschwitz and hadn't been impressed, so I opted for double rooms. Ultimately though she insisted on putting us into the apartment but only charging us the price of the doubles (approximately $100 total, with breakfast included). We wound up being so glad that she did!

Even though it was midnight by this time, our new luxurious digs renewed our energy. We sat up together in the living room watching BBC News on our satellite TV for news of the hurricane. The kids eagerly explored our 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Here they are with Mom in the larger bathroom:

The next morning after breakfast they went for a swim in the whirlpool tub:

We wished that we could have stayed there for a couple more nights, but we had to get back on the road for our last day of driving. Just after we pulled back onto the interstate, we passed a rest area that did indeed have a hotel. This must have been the place that the truck stop customer had recommended!

We stopped for lunch in a truck stop in Germany, where Annabelle found this adorable stuffed dachshund holding an enormous stuffed beer. She wanted to buy it for Fred (she said), but I didn't think Fred especially needed a $15 stuffed dog, even if said dog was drinking a stuffed beer. She settled on just getting her picture taken with it, so Fred--this Bud's for you:

We finally pulled into our driveway at around 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 14. We waited until Sunday though to start unloading the pottery. And as we unwrapped box after box after box of the stuff, all Mom and I could say was, "We wanna go back!!!!"

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"The Hell You Don't Know" Tour: Part IV 

We awoke in Nowy Sacz the morning of Friday, August 13, to the sound of rain pouring down. At first we thought that we would just start heading towards home, but after we enjoyed a delicious breakfast downstairs in the hotel restaurant, the skies started to clear. We would be able to explore the town after all!

Here are a couple of photos that show the view from our hotel windows. The apartment house was directly across the street from us:

And we were catty corner to the church:

We checked out of the hotel, stashed our bags in the van, and headed downtown on foot. Along the way, we saw these movie posters, which I found amusing:

The homeless man in the church doorway, not so amusing:

We happened to stumble upon a street market. We wandered around for a while but didn't buy anything:

The town hall in the middle of the downtown square is amazing. I had to make a vertical panorama to fit the whole thing into one picture. Also, note the little dog in the foreground; we saw him all around town that morning:

Mike took this picture of Mom and me in front of the flowers at the town hall:

We stopped in at the courtyard of St. Margaret's before continuing on our way:

Mom was itching to grab some dirt from the motherland, so she and Annabelle perched on this rock wall where Annabelle could enjoy some bread while Mom scooped dirt into a plastic bag:

The remains of the castle were especially interesting to us. The kids enjoyed climbing around on the ruins:

And I took this picture of Mom sitting in the window:

From the castle, we hiked back to the town square and caught a taxi back to the hotel. It was by far the cheapest taxi ride I've ever taken--something in the neighborhood of $2.

We sat in the hotel parking lot for a while, studying the map and trying to plan our way home. Finally, the non-English-speaking attendant (who has a sister in Cincinnati) came over to help us out. The route he suggested would have been more direct, but it would have also involved a lot of backtracking. I still had to get some Slovakian air for my little girl. And besides, we don't call this "the hell you don't know" tour for nothing!

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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Well, we're home. Exhausted, but home.

I knew going in that making a 6:50 a.m. flight home from St. Petersburg would not be fun. What I didn't know was that we would have to leave our hotel at 1:30 a.m. in order to get across the bridge before it went up for the rest of the night. I will be having a small prayer meeting with my travel agent tomorrow morning.

I've got all the typical post-travel challenges going on right now: too much laundry, not enough food. On top of that I've got at least 200 photos that I need to go through so that I can get this trip blogged. Before I start that though, I want to get finished with the Poland trip from earlier in the month as well as a few catch-up posts I've been working on for events that I never got around to blogging. I hope to work on all of this tomorrow morning.

I've been meaning for ages to post a link to a really cool website I read about in the paper: World66. World66 has a neat little mapmaking feature--you check off the countries in Europe (or countries in the world or states in the USA or provinces in Canada) that you have visited, and it will generate a map with the visited areas colored in.

There are a couple of things I don't especially like about it. First, I wish the map included outlines of each country. Second, it seems inaccurate to have every visited country be the same color, regardless of amount of territory covered or time spent there. Should our 15 minutes in Liechtenstein carry the same weight as our multiple trips throughout Switzerland? Should our 3-day visits to 2 Russian cities entitle us to color in so much area?

Despite these drawbacks, it's a fun tool. The kids and I are eager to color in as much of the map as we can in our remaining year in Germany. Here's what our current map looks like:

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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Greetings from Moscow! We finally have a minute to figure out how the internet cafe works here in our hotel. It's not a bad deal: 80 rubles (not even 3 bucks) for an hour. We have 3 computers going for the 6 of us at the moment.

I had doubts about blogging right now, when there's so much to say and so little time to say it. Also, I can't upload my photos (all 180 of them so far and counting) until I get home.

We're having lots of adventures and overall it's fun, but it's not Disney-style fun. Moscow is a lot dirtier than I remember it being in 1986, for one thing. I don't know if the Soviets were just a little more on top of things or if all the litter was buried in the January snow. The food seems to have improved quite a bit though, and there's all kinds of stuff to buy that I didn't see last time.

We've hit all the big sights of Moscow. I've got dozens of pictures of St. Basil's shot from every angle. We've done Red Square and walked through GUM. We've ridden the Moscow metro more times than I care to think about. We stood in the pouring rain at the Kremlin yesterday afternoon while an armed guard and I yelled obscenities at each other at the top of our lungs, and then we celebrated Annabelle's ninth birthday at the Moscow State Circus yesterday evening. Today we took a boatride on the Moscow River. All the usual Moscow stuff, you know . . .

Tomorrow we visit Sergei Posad, a small town about an hour outside of Moscow, and then we take the night train to St. Petersburg. I'll try to get on at least once from there, but no promises.

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Saturday, August 21, 2004

No matter where I'm going, it never seems as though I make it all the way through my to-do list before hitting the road. In the case of this trip, all the unfinished details are right here on my blog. I have pictures ready for the last 2 posts about our Poland trip, as well as several posts in draft form for catching up on various events that I never got around to blogging this summer. I also wanted to put up a cute baby picture of Annabelle in honor of her birthday on Monday and post a couple pictures from her party the other day. I guess all of that will have to wait until I get back from Russia.

Amy, Mom, and I wound up driving to the airport tonight to check our bags in. Who knew that Lufthansa allowed prior-night check in on certain flights? We even got our boarding cards! Now all we have to do is drag ourselves out of bed in less than 6 hours, catch a cab to the train station, ride up to the Frankfurt airport, and head straight for the gate. At 7:15 tomorrow morning, we'll be winging our way to Russia.

I promise to take lots of pictures and will one day get this blog up to date.

До свидания!

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Friday, August 20, 2004

I'm blogging from bed just because I can. Mom and I brought the laptop up here to catch up on episodes of this season's Six Feet Under that I've downloaded but haven't had time to watch. I was trying to upload some pictures, but my wireless connection is pitifully slow, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

We celebrated Annabelle's birthday today (yesterday now, I guess) at Kids' World in Lampertheim. Her actual birthday isn't until Monday, but we'll be in Russia then (we have tickets to the Moscow circus that night). This was her chance to celebrate with her friends, and all in all it was a really nice party.

Getting ready for this trip is going to drive me crazy. It's hard enough to figure out what kinds of clothes we should take--are the weather reports right, or are we going to get there and either freeze or roast? On top of that, we're trying to put together enough American snack food to sustain the kids if the food is as bad now as it was in 1986, the last time I was there. I'm also trying to brush up on my basic Russian as well as reviewing my German adjectival endings so that I don't humiliate myself with our tour companions. Did I mention that we're going on a German tour?

I'm not taking the computer to Russia, so I'll have plenty of blogging to make up for when we return. As it is, I've got my final 2 Poland posts as well as several "catch up" posts from the summer sitting here in draft form, just waiting to be finalized and posted. Cross your fingers that I get it all done between now and Sunday!

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Thursday, August 19, 2004

[Written on September 5 but slipped in here to preserve chronology. Happy birthday, Annabelle!]

Annabelle chose a puppy theme for her ninth birthday, which we celebrated at Kidsworld in Lampertheim on August 19th. She gave out "doggie bags" filled with treats to her guests, and we decorated her cake with tiny plastic dogs:

I tried taking a normal group shot of her with her friends, but the one that came out best was the one where I instructed them to make goofy faces:

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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

"The Hell You Don't Know" Tour: Part III 

We left Oswiecim at around lunch time and continued heading southwest. We stopped in the town of Wieliczka to visit their famous salt mine. When we got there, we had to wait in line for an hour and a half, but there was no way we were going to miss this!

Once inside the mine, you walk down some 50 flights of stairs to begin the 3.5 kilometer hike. Everything in the mine is carved out of rock salt, like these figures:

And this one:

Even the pope is carved out of salt:

Each chamber holds a new surprise. In this one, a band played marches for us:

This entire chapel is carved out of salt, from the tiles on the floor to the chandeliers that hang from the salt ceiling:

At the end of the tour, you reach an underground restaurant. We wound up having supper there, feasting on kielbasa and pierogi. It was the perfect place for us, as we were able to point at what we wanted rather than trying to decipher a menu.

After we ate our supper and bought our postcards, we got back in the van and headed toward Nowy Sacz. Here's a picture of something interesting that popped out of nowhere as we rounded a curve next to a lake:

We pulled into Nowy Sacz at around 8:00 p.m. and promptly got lost. Our finely honed American navigational instincts kicked in, and we started following a series of McDonald's signs. We managed to find a gas station and went inside to purchase a map.

We already know that I don't speak Polish. The clerk didn't speak English. He didn't speak German either. He did speak some French, but that didn't help, as the only French I know are the obscenities my cousin taught me (thanks, Julie!). "Hotel?" I asked timidly.

"Ah, hotel!!!" he exclaimed. He jabbered on in Polish and pointed out the directions on the map. Somehow we understood, and a few minutes later we found ourselves at the Orbis Hotel Beskid, the swankiest joint in town. We took our showers and climbed into bed, happy and relieved to have finally reached our ultimate destination.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

"The Hell You Don't Know" Tour: Part II 

We left Boleslawiec at around 4:00 p.m. after a full day of pottery shopping and headed southeast. Our ultimate goal was to make it to Nowy Sacz, in the area that my great-grandmother came from, but we had some places we wanted to visit along the way.

I had heard a lot of warnings about the quality of the roads in Poland, and to an extent they were true. I drove on some of the worst roads I've ever been on, but I also drove on some of the absolute best roads I've ever been on. Oddly enough, they were very often the same road. At one point we might be driving bumper to bumper on a road that has one lane going in each direction (once with the tires on the left side of the van a good 5 inches higher than the right side tires) and then we would reach a point where we had 3 immaculate lanes mostly to ourselves.

About an hour and a half outside of Boleslawiec, we were feeling rather lost. "Lost" probably isn't the right word for it, as we knew exactly where we were. We simply had no idea how to get where we wanted to be, and my European road atlas was proving less than helpful.

Annabelle announced that she needed to make a potty stop, so I pulled off at the next rest area I found. As Mom and the kids were putting on their shoes and I was furiously studying our pathetic map, a young man approached the car. He was, he said, not selling anything, merely asking for opinions on this soon-to-be-published atlas of Poland. He opened it up and showed it to us, and we were amazed. THIS was the map we needed.

How much, we asked. He told us that in a couple of weeks when it is sold in bookstores it will sell for about 35 euro. I explained that there was no way I could spend that much on an atlas of a country that I was going to be in for only 48 hours. Yes, but TODAY, he said, he could sell us the map for only 10 euro. SOLD!

Mom took the kids and went in to find the restrooms, while I sat out in the parking lot and chatted with the map man. He was such a nice guy--he used my new map to show me exactly how we needed to go to reach our destination. I took his picture and gave him the blog address, telling him to look for himself in about 5 days. I'm a day late on that promise, but Map Man, if you're looking at this, thanks again for an awesome map! We would have been so lost without it! Here's his picture:

We stopped in Gliwice and checked at the Hotel Qubus for rooms. It would have run about 150 euro though for the 4 of us, and we were feeling poor after our day of shopping. Besides, we figured, better to press on into the night and wake up in the morning where we want to be instead of facing yet more driving.

And so we pressed on into the night, and we were doing just fine. Then we learned the Polish word for "detour." It's objazd. Suddenly we were flying along twisty little 2-lane roads in the pitch black darkness, still getting passed by Poles and searching desperately for the next objazd sign. Every time we found one, we shouted out "Oh-bee-jaaaaahd," in the style of the "what's uuuuuuuup" beer commercials.

At around 9:00 p.m. we pulled into the parking lot for the Hotel Glob in the town of Oswiecim. I left Mom and the kids in the car while I went inside and booked us into a quadruple room. I came back to the car gloating about my bargain find. Sure, it's spartan, I said, but it's clean AND it's only costing us $55 with breakfast! We put the van into their guarded lot and went upstairs to our room.

We knew the hotel was located next to the train station. We could see it plainly from the parking lot. But it wasn't until we got into our room overlooking the tracks that we realized that trains were going to come screeching through every 10 minutes until well past midnight and start up again at dawn. I wish I had thought to videotape one so that you could hear the sound, but I didn't. I did, however, take a picture of the view the next morning:

I passed out Benadryls like they were mints for the pillows, and we all eventually fell asleep. We did have one brief moment of excitement shortly after midnight when we got up to watch the aftermath of a minor car accident from our darkened window. Here's a picture of Annabelle sitting on her bed at the Glob:

When the trains started roaring by again at around 6:00 a.m. our $55 hotel room was feeling like less and less of a bargain. It's very hard to complain about our accommodations in Oscwiecim though, as it is better known by it's German name . . . Auschwitz.

After breakfast at our hotel, we set out to visit the concentration camps. Our guide book recommended that visitors be at least 14 years old, so I had some doubts about taking the kids. In the end though, I figured that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we decided to do what we termed Auschwitz Lite.

We did visit both Auschwitz and Birkenau. We walked beneath the arch bearing the words Arbeit Macht Frei and saw the standing cells and the shooting wall at Auschwitz. We visited the remains of the gas chambers and crematorium at Birkenau. We took a pass, however, on the film at Auschwitz and we only visited certain exhibitions in the prison blocks. "Everyday Life," sure. "Women and Children," no thanks.

Our visit to the Auschwitz camp lasted only about an hour, and we expected to go through Birkenau quickly as well. We were amazed, however, at the enormous size of Birkenau. Not much is left intact, as the nazis burnt most of it before they fled. Mostly it's a huge field with barbed wire fences encasing the foundations of ruin after ruin after ruin:

In the far back corner of the camp, the shower building has been converted into a permanent exhibition. You walk through on a raised clear acrylic sidewalk and follow the path that was walked by new arrivals at the camp. In the final room you see this photo mosaic, which reflects on the floor:

Just beyond the shower building is this pond, where ashes and other remains were dumped:

This was by far the eeriest place at the camp. How strange to stand in the cool shade of the trees after walking so far in the sun and see pictures of women and children standing under these same trees, waiting their turns because the gas chamber was full. I thought this picture well reflected (pun unintended) the eery quality of the area:

By the time we reached the pond, we were hot and exhausted. We hadn't thought to take water with us, as we had planned on a quick visit, so we were thirsty and dreading the walk out of the camp. You might think it's impossible to complain about minor physical discomfort at a place where a million people were murdered, but the kids did a pretty good job of it. I entertained myself on the walk by musing over which whining is harder to listen to--the kind you get at Disney World or the kind you get at a concentration camp.

Fortunately, I didn't have much longer to think about it, as this nice man drove up in a van and stopped for us when Mike and I stuck out our thumbs. He gave us a ride back up to the parking lot and tried to refuse the tip I offered him. He was excited to learn that we were Americans and told us that he has a something (sister perhaps?) in CLEEV-uh-land:

We ransomed our van from the guys in the parking lot who had been watching it and headed off in search of happier touring.

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Monday, August 16, 2004

"The Hell You Don't Know" Tour: Part I 

We set out last Tuesday morning only an hour behind schedule, which for us is practically right on time, and pointed the minivan in the direction of western Poland. We had a cooler full of juice boxes and water and a box of fruit, sandwiches, and chips. Oh, and Krispie treats--can't have a real roadtrip without Krispie treats!

The drive itself wasn't bad, but it is a solid 8 hours from my driveway to the pottery shops in Poland. The drive through the areas that made up the former East Germany was by far the nicest, as the west has pumped a ton of money into bringing their infrastructure up to par. The highways over there are much more what I envisioned in my pre-Germany days when I thought about the German super-highways--uncrowded stretches of 3 smooth lanes heading in each direction.

Crossing the border was no big deal, but there was a distinct change in the economic scenery. Mom and I agreed that it reminded us an awful lot of little backwoods places in the Florida panhandle. Almost immediately we found ourselves sitting in a traffic jam in a construction zone. Two young men strode up to the van and began to wash our windows in spite of my protests. A couple of euro later, and they were happy to pose for a picture:

After they left, we all laughed about it. Mike said he had been waiting his whole life for somebody to wash our windshield by force, just like he has seen in movies set in big cities. Within 5 minutes, we got to enjoy it all over again when this young man and a friend came along and cleaned us off again:

By the time we pulled into Boleslawiec, the window washing had lost its charm. I started scanning the roadsides for kids with spray bottles and squeegees and adjusting my speed to avoid having to stop near them. We drove through town and got a little bit lost and decided to back track to the Motel Elite, which we had driven past on our way in and which we knew to have guarded car parking. We got our windshield washed another couple of times in the hotel's front parking lot, but then we moved the car to the locked lot and had no further problems.

We got 2 double rooms at 220 zloties (about $62) per room, including breakfast. The rooms were small and simple but very clean. We had supper in the restaurant downstairs (Chinese food) and headed for bed.

As an American headed for Poland, you hear all kinds of cautions: Watch out for carjackers. Careful where you park--your car might be stolen. Oh, the roads are such a mess. Their gasoline just isn't the same as ours. It goes on and on. So when you arrive in the country with your head spinning with this well-meaning advice, you feel rather anxious and defensive. Getting washed against your will doesn't do much to allay these fears. We were plagued by doubts about whether or not tackling this project on our own, without the benefit of a bus tour, was a wise decision.

The next morning, however, Boleslawiec was a different town. The window-washing urchins must have been in school, as we had no further problems in that area. All of the shops that we visited had plenty of parking, and we never felt the need to shop in shifts so that one of us could guard the car. Because we were there in the middle of the week, we frequently had the stores to ourselves.

The kids were not very excited about the shopping part of the trip, but they generally rose to the occasion. Here's Mike enjoying the lack of crowds at one of our favorite stores:

Annabelle probably enjoyed the shopping more, and we have the little Polish pottery animal figurines to prove it:

We started our shopping with the factory shop directly across from our hotel. We were overwhelmed by choice and left practically empty-handed.

We were in a hurry to get to the shop the Americans call the Painted Fence. (Their website isn't much to write home about, but they do have a nice picture of the shop. Plus, the pictures of the kids were taken there, so that gives you some idea of the amount of pottery they have. We bought the bulk of our haul at this shop, which we wound up visiting 3 times that day.

Another good store was Wiza, which was directly across from the factory store next to the Painted Fence. I managed to score a tablecloth printed with a pottery pattern as well as 6 cloth napkins in pottery designs. That store also had wine corks, and Mom and I each bought 4.

After we shopped out the stores in the same complex as Wiza, we realized that we hadn't been doing enough shopping for other people, like my friend Amy, my cousin Julie, and my Aunt Suzie, who were counting on us to bring them back goodies. We made our way across the street back to the Painted Fence, but we were overwhelmed by the choice. It's hard enough to spend your own money when your head is spinning with pottery, so I whipped out my cell phone and we started making phone calls. First I called Suzie, then I called Julie, telling them both: "We're surrounded by pottery. What exactly do you want?" We took their orders and breezed through the store like a well-oiled shopping machine.

We were starting to feel pressed for time, as our plan was to get several hours down the road before stopping for the night. We breezed through a couple more stores, including this one where I bought a half dozen Christmas ornaments decorated in the Americana pattern that say "Operation Iraqi Freedom 2004." Not that I especially want a reminder hanging on my tree, but they were only 5 bucks each, and I'm sure I can sell them in the thrift shop for $12 to $15.

One of the things Julie had requested from the Painted Fence was 6 cereal bowls. After we left the Painted Fence to visit other stores, Mom and I started kicking ourselves for not having grabbed some for ourselves as well. So we went back to the Painted Fence for one final hurrah, grabbed a dozen cereal bowls, and headed out of town.

I still have 1100 miles to account for on this trip, but I want to put all the pottery information together. Yesterday morning we unloaded all the cartons from the van and carefully unwrapped each piece and entered it into our inventory so we could easily straighten out who owes what for which item. If you've ever wondered what 900 bucks worth of Polish pottery (bought, I must add, at obscenely good prices and not all for me) looks like, it looks a little like this:

When we returned home, I had the following email waiting for me from Julie:

The last time I was in Poland (that would be the ONLY time), we had to trade money on the black market, and we were thrown out of our train car so that it could be taken apart and searched. We had to smuggle chocolate in and were bribed for it once by a train conducter, and we called your mom just before going in (to a then-communist Poland) to say over a TERRIBLE connection, "WE'RE GOING IN." I just CANNOT wrap my brain around the fact that you drove your MINIVAN in to go SHOPPING, and called me on your cell phone to place an ORDER! I just keep laughing hysterically whenever I think about it!

I guess it is pretty funny when you think about it. There's something else that's outrageously funny, but both my mom and my husband insist that it is way too raunchy to be included in my generally-PG blog. So if you want to read the dirty details and see the pictures, you're going to have to send me an email.

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Saturday, August 14, 2004

We just rolled in from what will go down in the Boyd/Taylor history books as the "Hell You Don't Know" tour of eastern Europe. We dubbed it that because I refused to retrace my steps, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that doing so might make sense. Instead we pressed on in a giant circle, starting with a day of pottery shopping in western Poland and making our way over to my great-grandmother's hometown of Nowy Sacz, dropping down through the mountains of northern Slovakia, and heading home by way of the Czech Republic.

We covered 1500 miles in 5 days. I hope to start posting the best of my 100+ photos sometime tomorrow. In the meantime, I have at least a half dozen boxes of Polish pottery that are crying out for me to unload them. When the pottery talks, Bonnie listens.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I need to go wake up the rest of my crew if we're going to have any hope of hitting the road by 9:00, but I wanted to share this first. I just found a news story on Yahoo about a teenager, Brandon Maxfield, who was paralyzed from the neck down when he was accidentally shot by a babysitter years ago. The gun maker was found partially liable for his injuries because the gun could be unloaded only when the gun was in firing position. (The babysitter was trying to unload the gun when it went off.)

The gun manufacturer has filed for bankruptcy protection, and 75,600 of its unassembled guns will be auctioned off on Thursday. The teenager is raising money to purchase the guns, which he plans on having melted down and formed into a sculpture of some sort.

I went to Brandon's website and donated 20 bucks to his cause. It's not much, but according to the website, that's enough money to keep 10 guns off the street. I don't generally use my blog as an opportunity to shill for a cause, and I will admit that 30 minutes ago I knew nothing of Brandon. I think it would be wonderful though if some of my readers would help support what he is trying to do.

My Florida readers might be especially interested to know that the bankruptcy proceedings are taking place in a Jacksonville bankruptcy court. Click here to read about the sleazy legal maneuverings of the company's owner and plant manager.

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Monday, August 09, 2004

We're off on another adventure tomorrow! Originally, Mom and I had planned on leaving the kids with my friend Amy for 1 or 2 nights and heading just over the Polish border to go pottery shopping. Then we got a bad case of "it's a shame to be so close and not see . . . " Before we knew it, we had decided to take the kids, stretch the trip out by a few days, and make a pilgrimmage to my great-grandmother's ancestral village of Nowy Sacz. We'll come home by way of Slovakia and Austria.

Annabelle was underwhelmed by the change in plans, and I decided that I was prepared to resort to bribery to make this trip happen. What, I asked her, could I offer that would make this trip palatable for her? I was thinking of a material bribe--a toy perhaps, maybe some cash. Her answer after a long moment of thought, which I figured she was using to figure out the maximum amount she could extort from me: "I want you to promise that we can stop in Slovakia, and I can get out of the car and breathe Slovakian air." Um, sure, sweetie, I think I can manage that. Heck, I'll even get you some Slovakian water to drink if you're extra good.

[Mike just read that over my shoulder and is now insisting, "I don't wanna go! Bribe me, bribe me!!!!" Fat chance, dude. You're already on record as looking forward to the trip.]

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Found in "American Roundup" in today's Stars and Stripes--an AP photo of a hummingbird moth:

A Hummingbird Moth hovers feeds on flowers early Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2004 near Archer, Fla. This moth is often confused with the hummingbird as it feeds in the same areas and mannner as the hummingbird. This insect is about 2 inches long and can be seen usually from May to September in the South.
Remember though, you read it here first. And second, come to think of it.

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Sunday, August 08, 2004

Wow, I just realized that I started this blog exactly 1 year ago yesterday. Happy late blogiversary to me!

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Thursday, August 05, 2004

My mom arrived safe and sound Tuesday evening and will be here until September 3. She was supposed to be on a nonstop flight from Orlando to Frankfurt, but somewhere over the ocean another passenger had a heart attack, and they were forced to land in Ireland. They sat on the ground at Shannon for a couple hours and then continued on to Germany.

We've been taking it easy as Mom adjusts to the time difference. Yesterday, for example, we took the kids to an indoor playground, as Annabelle is scoping out potential sites for her upcoming birthday party.

This morning she and I made a quick trip downtown to check out the market. We were gone and back within 3 hours, but it was a nice little trip. I bought tomatoes, 3 different kinds of berries, a couple of plants, and a half dozen eggs from happy chickens (as opposed to grocery store eggs, which generally come from oppressed chickens). We enjoyed a wonderful fruit salad for lunch, and I found myself wondering why I don't go to the market more often.

Here's a shot of one of the many flower stands:

And here's a picture of the statue in the middle of the market square:

Annabelle had a playdate with her friend Tatiana this afternoon. Mom and I were going to take Mike to the skatepark, but he wasn't feeling very well. So instead we went and rented a couple DVDs and spent the afternoon eating popcorn and watching "The Sixth Sense" and "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star." Six thumbs up for both films--it was a perfect mix of suspense and idiocy.

Mom and I are planning on going to Poland to go pottery shopping sometime next week. Then it will be time to start gearing up for our trip to Russia.

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Sunday, August 01, 2004

This will be a post about a number of random, unrelated subjects. First, to demonstrate my renewed commitment to maintaining my PG rating, I give you this picture of a bee not having sex:

I had hoped to attract a butterfly or 2 with my garden. Instead I have drawn the entire bee population of the greater Mannheim area.


Amy tells me that there were actually 9 other people in the audience at the movie the other day, not 5 as I had reported. The other 4 must have sneaked in once the show had started.

Here's a picture of our local movie theater, Kinopolis:

And here are some of the shows that are currently playing:

I went to see Die Frauen von Stepford last Tuesday when it was the English movie for the week. I went with 6 friends from the neighborhood--4 of us have husbands who are currently deployed--and we had a terrific time. It was the perfect chick-flick! I wish though that we had thought to dress the part, like my sister and her gang when they went to see it. Here's Jenny looking her Stepford best:


Speaking of my sister, I've always thought she was a textbook case, and it turns out I was right. Jenny works for publisher Harcourt and was chosen to portray a teacher in this photograph for a Mississippi fourth grade social studies textbook:


Yesterday the kids and I went with my friend Elle and her daughter Delana to Schwetzingen for the festival of lights at the palace there. We got there quite early in order to find a good parking spot, and then we killed time by going out to dinner at the Brauhaus across the street from the palace. We took turns taking pictures of each other to send to our husbands in Iraq. Here's my crew:

And here are Elle and Delana:

At around 5:30 we strolled across to the palace and began exploring the gardens. We immediately realized that we weren't very well prepared for the evening. Most of the Germans were staking out a bit of ground with tablecloths and coolers. Since we weren't prepared to establish a picnic site, we just wandered around enjoying the beautiful scenery and the various musical acts that were scattered throughout the park, such as these ballerinas:

As we tromped through the woods, Annabelle hitched a ride on Mike's back:

There were thousands of paper lanterns strung up all throughout the gardens, but alas we didn't get to see them lit. I don't know if it was the heat, the humidity, or the schnitzel I had for supper, but by about 7:00 p.m., my tummy hurt and we were all ready to head for home.


Sure, lots of neighborhoods have ice cream trucks. How many have nutcracker trucks though? That's right--every few weeks the nutcracker truck drives through Grant Circle. Unlike an ice cream truck, which generally blares obnoxious music (think "It's a Small World"), our nutcracker guy plays soothing melodies.

How funny. Just as I was typing this, what do you think should go cruising past my window? The ice cream truck! Now if only the commissary would make deliveries . . . I might never have to leave my house.

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