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Monday, February 28, 2005

The hills are alive! 

The Sound of Music is being staged for the first time ever in Austria, and I am struggling with myself over whether or not to try to get out to Vienna to see it. I saw the play in Deland, FL, and I saw it again at Ft. Shafter in Hawaii. But how cool would it be to be able to say I saw it in Austria?

I went to the website for the Volksoper and discovered that I could get REALLY good seats for me and the kids for 90 euro, which isn't bad at all. But then you have to add on the 8-hour train ride each way and a couple nights in a hotel, and it starts turning into a much more major undertaking. I don't know that I'm ready to return to Vienna when there are so many other places we haven't been to even once.

If you go here, you can sample a video clip of the play by clicking on Videobeispiel and several audio clips by clicking on Klangbeispiele. I get a kick out of hearing music in German that I'm used to listening to in English.

This season the Volksoper is also staging Fiddler on the Roof, which is called Anatevka in German. Go here and click Videobeispiel and Klangbeispiele again to check it out. I'm a sucker for musicals and doubt that I could go all the way to Vienna for only one of these shows.

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Filling in my calendar 

According to the really cool timetracker that Fred sent me (which you are going to be able to see only if you have Excel on your computer), we are almost done with day 286 of this deployment. Unfortunately, we also have somewhere in the neighborhood of 128 days (or 11,078,539 seconds) left. It's hard to be precise, because we don't have a set end date yet.

When I looked at the timetracker for the first time, I was rather shocked. I guess mentally I was much further down the road than we really are. How is it possible that time can fly, when it comes to seeing everything we want to see in our final months in Europe, and drag simultaneously? We're doing our best to stay as busy as possible while we wait.

Saturday I'm taking the kids and flying down to Rome. I was sitting on the couch the other night messing around on the Ryanair website, and I found tickets for the 3 of us for 260 euro roundtrip. Not a bad deal at all! So I booked those and set to work looking for a hotel. Ultimately I decided on Notti a Roma, which my neighbors recommended. I've booked us a triple room with private bath for 100 euro per night.

Our plane leaves Saturday evening, and our first order of business on Sunday is to take a daytrip by train to Pompeii. (We're going to visit the Reiss Museum in downtown Mannheim on Wednesday to whet our appetite with their Pompeii exhibit.) We will have all day Monday and most of the day Tuesday to explore Rome before our plane leaves Tuesday night to whisk us back home to Germany.

After Rome, we'll have 3 days to rest up and get ready for our trip on Saturday, March 12, a 10-hour train ride to Copenhagen. We have friends from Texas who are living there, so we thought we should make a visit before they return to the States. We'll return to Germany on Thursday, March 17, again by train. I'm considering taking the train up to Stockholm on Monday and Tuesday, but it might be a bit much to add yet another 10 hours (round trip) to our train time.

Once we return from Copenhagen, my calendar is more or less empty until April 14 when my sister arrives for a 12-day visit. We will be driving to Holland that first weekend to see the tulips with my friend Amy and her daughter Rebecca. Sometime that next week we hope to make a trip over to Poland for some more pottery shopping.

Sometime in early May, my friend Sandra is coming over with her son and a friend of hers. We're still undecided about what we'll do then, but some destinations that have come up for discussion are Paris, Switzerland, and Prague. At the end of May, my friend Gretchyn (of last May's 2-day, 700-mile, 5-country driving tour--part 1 and part 2--as well as November's Austrian adventure in Vienna and Salzburg) will come back, and we will venture forth to discover the secrets of Belgium.

I guess that just leaves me with June to get through, and then Fred will be home, and we will have 30 days to travel with him before we move. I've asked everybody to make a list of 3 Things I Must Do Before I Can Leave Europe. Fred's 3 things are: visit the area of England his grandfather came from; see the beaches at Normandy; and touch Africa, preferably Egypt. My mother just loves this last part, as she's convinced that we will be blown to little bits by terrorist bombs. Annabelle meanwhile is worried that she might come home with some horrible parasitic disease. Thank you, Discovery Channel, for that lovely show Eaten Alive featuring 101 disgusting things that might take up residence in your body should you ever dare to visit Africa!

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Call me crazy . . . 

. . . but I think my TV is trying to tell me something.



I guess I'd better go wrap my head with tinfoil to keep the evil messages from getting into my brain.

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Reunited and it feels so . . . moist 

Last summer I made a couple of posts about reunion photos that I especially liked: one was a little girl greeting her dad who was returning from Iraq, and the other was my aunt welcoming my uncle home from Vietnam. I found another one in today's Stars and Stripes that I really wanted to add to my collection. It was a shot of SPC Amy Egbert cuddling her dog upon her return from Iraq.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find that shot online. I did, however, find a picture of her husband, SGT Dallas Egbert, being greeted by the same dog, while his wife looks on:



The Egberts were deployed together as part of the North Dakota National Guard.

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My productive day 

I am in a much happier mood today. For one thing, these little boogers are popping out all over my front yard, and I can't help but feel good when I see spring coming on:



I planted a hundred or so randomly through my lawn last year and enjoyed them so much that this year I hired Mike and Annabelle to plant another hundred. One thing I did not enjoy last year though was watching people WALK THROUGH MY YARD and all over my precious flowers. So one of the first things I had Fred do while he was home on R&R was put in a small wire fence that goes all around our front lawn. Mike thinks that the fence makes me look like one of those cranky old ladies who taps on the window and yells, "Hey! You kids get out of my yard!" What Mike doesn't realize is that I AM one of those cranky old ladies. And now I have a fence. I just wish I could electrify it.

Lest you should think that I am cruel for putting Fred to work over his R&R, let me tell you that if Fred were a dog, he would be a border collie. He is not happy unless he has something to work on, and I happily accommodated him by presenting him with 4 pieces of IKEA furniture that needed assembling and bolting to the wall. (I teased him as he finished the last piece: "You realize, of course, that this is all just busy work, right? As soon as you leave, I'm taking everything apart and returning it to the store.") So now I am a cranky old lady with a fence, 2 bookcases, a shoe cabinet, AND a DVD storage rack. Oh, AND a much tidier basement. While the old song is right and it is indeed "nice to have a man around the house," it is even nicer to have a man who is secretly a border collie around the house. That is much harder to sing though.

Another (more important) reason that I am in a good mood today is that Fred and I have hashed out the whole promotion ceremony thing and come up with a plan. He is going to go ahead and get promoted on May 1 in Iraq. It will be a small ceremony, which he will get one of his guys to videotape for me. They can have a little celebration afterwards with Near Beer and their stinky cigars. I am off the hook as far as the VTC goes, which is a huge relief. Then, when he returns for good in July, we will have another ceremony (the REAL ceremony, as far as I'm concerned, although I will graciously allow the Army to start paying him like a colonel effective May 1). I'll pin him on one side, and the kids can give him his beret. And then we will have one big honkin' promotion party, and there will be NO Near Beer allowed, but I just might smoke a cigar.

So what, you are asking, have I done with all this happy energy? I have . . . I hope you're sitting down (although how many people surf the web on their feet?) . . . cleaned my bathroom. Not just "cleaned" as in introduced the toilet to the toilet brush and took out the trash. I mean "CLEANED," as in I purged outdated medications, I sorted, I scrubbed, I inhaled way too many toxic chemicals. I put EIGHT extra combs in a box to take to the sort center. How on earth does any one family wind up with EIGHT extra combs? And now it is so pretty, I am thinking about getting those brass poles with velvet ropes that museums use to keep people a safe distance from the exhibits. I will put them up in the doorway and just move into the kids' yucky bathroom for all my bathroom needs.

Check me out! This is what it looks like above my sink:



All those little bags in the top cabinet are those makeup bags that I get with my "free gift" after I buy my $25 pressed powder from Lancome. I probably should get rid of some of them, but while I can be merciless with extra combs, I seem to have a tender spot for zipper pouches. Who cares? Will you just LOOK at all that empty cabinet space?

Here's the true work of art though. This is what it looks like under my sink:



Do I rock, or what? Keep in mind, of course, that the health department could shut us down any day based on the state of the rest of the house. But they won't be able to find one expired aspirin in my bathroom! Or more than one comb.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Free to home 

I have no personal experience with Freecycle, but it's very popular among my invisible friends. As I understand it, there are email lists for different geographical areas and members of these lists can advertise to find new homes for their unwanted belongings. My invisible friend Jennifer reported finding the following on her local Freecycle list a few days ago:

She is a 13-year-old papillion (butterfly dog) who in her youth was a show dog who won numerous awards. She was my aunt's baby but was loved so much she was neglected and spoiled.

She is a nasty dog. She bites me and the children. Thankfully she only has half her teeth and leaves no marks. She has no manners and doesn't know the meaning of play. She has no idea what a ball or chew toy is. Until I got her, she spent her life in a 9X12 foot room with linoleum on the floor and was allowed to urinate where she pleased. Needless to say, she has kept up that habit. I try to let her out every 2 hours. She sleeps in a cat carrier at night. Unless I chase her out of my garage or off the step, she does her business right there.

It's not her fault really. She hasn't been taught otherwise, nor had contact with people let alone loud kids. She is a beautiful dog who basically eats, sleeps, and pees on my doorway carpet!

She has a cardiac issue which she receives meds for and needs a dental cleaning soon. Otherwise, I swear to god she will live forever.

I can't take it anymore. I am a recent single mom with small children, and her days are numbered at my house. If you can give me a good reason why you would want this dog (her name is Sea Bee), then she's yours.
Hard to believe, but as of today there are apparently no takers.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Daytripper 

The kids and I went with my friend Amy today on a USO shopping tour to France. We started off with a couple hours at Cora, which is basically like a French Super Walmart, and finished off the day with a couple hours looking at pottery in Soufflenheim.

Cora was a bit of a disappointment. We started off with a terrific pizza lunch in their restaurant, but after that we were decidedly underwhelmed by the merchandise. I bought some chocolate and some cheese fondue, and the kids talked me into buying some squirrel food. They have visions of luring squirrels to our yard by the hundreds.

We enjoyed Soufflenheim more, although the pottery doesn't do it for me like Polish pottery does. In fact, I made it out of town without buying a single item. It was fun though, strolling through the quaint little streets and smelling the smoke from the woodfired kilns. We stopped in at a little cafe for a Fanta for Annabelle and hot chocolate for the rest of us.

When we got home this evening, I was delighted to discover that Fred FINALLY has access to his email. We emailed back and forth for a while, which was really nice.

I'm feeling a little blue right now though. As you know, Fred came out on the promotion list for colonel back in December. The Senate has been dragging its collective feet with confirming the list. I know it's been making Fred nuts, but I have secretly been enjoying it--the longer it would take them to confirm the list, the later his promotion date would be, and the greater the likelihood would be that it would happen after his return from Iraq and that the kids and I could be there for it, right?

So what happened? I guess the Stupid senate must have finally done their thing, because now Fred has a tentative promotion date. Of May 1.

I was so hoping for June. I figured if he was eligible in June, waiting for July wouldn't be any big deal. But May? I don't know if he'll be willing to wait, and I don't know if it's fair for me to ask.

This is the last and biggest promotion for him. I knew he would make major. I knew he would make lieutenant colonel! But full-bird, eagles-on-the-shoulder colonel? That was never a foregone conclusion. We have known some incredibly brilliant and talented people who have not been fortunate enough to make this step, and the thought that I will probably miss his promotion ceremony is killing me.

He asked me in an email how I would feel about attending via video teleconferencing (VTC). We have a special room here in Mannheim that is open 24 hours a day and that is dedicated to setting up VTCs between families here and their deployed soldiers. I have NEVER been the slightest bit interested in doing such a thing. The idea of seeing him and not being able to touch him makes me cry on plain old normal days. To think of doing such a thing for something as important as this is unthinkable to me. Why not just have somebody take pictures or shoot some video that we can watch later? Because wiring us in with a camera does not change the fact that WE ARE NOT REALLY TOGETHER FOR THIS!

I know I have no right really to whine. After all, there are fathers who are missing the births of their children, which is way more important in the overall picture.

I thought it was so cool last summer when high schools over here managed to VTC their graduations. I still think that was cool.

So why do I feel so crappy right now?

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Comment on THIS 

Blogger claims that they have improved their comment system, so I'm taking the plunge and enabling commenting on this blog. I'm worried that having my diary talk back to me might weird me out or that having nobody leave comments might bum me out. I do get very excited though anytime I get an email about something I have written, and I am pathetically overjoyed whenever somebody takes the time to sign my guestbook. So I'm going to give this a try and hope for the best.

If it doesn't work out, I suppose I could always change my name, undergo extreme cosmetic surgery, and assume a new identity. Or I could just turn the comments off.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

A little this, a little that 

Well, we're 3 days into our last 4.5 month chunk of this deployment. We got a phone call from Fred yesterday afternoon, letting us know that he made it safely back to Baghdad. He can't access his email for some reason, but I can't stop myself from writing to him anyway. It's a bummer though, when I check my email every 5 minutes or so and see that nothing new has come in.

I went downstairs earlier this evening to start a load of laundry and was delighted to find 2 of Fred's dirty shirts at the bottom of the basket. They smell just like him! I didn't have the heart to wash them, so I just took them upstairs instead. I think the rugby shirt might be my new PJs.

***

Last Monday was, of course, Valentine's Day. We took the kids to Miramar, the indoor waterpark, in the hopes that a few hours of swimming would force the little buggers to go to sleep before midnight for a change. On the way home, Fred made a U-turn to stop in at a flower shop.

I thought we were just getting potted tulips for me and a new primrose for Annabelle to replace the one we accidentally stewed in front of our dining room radiator. He also ordered 12 of the red roses though, just for me! This is what they looked like on my lap on the drive home:



And here they are on my kitchen windowsill:



They're starting to look pretty decrepit, and I think tomorrow I need to face tossing them out.

***

We took the kids to the Odenwald on Wednesday in hopes of doing a little sledding. Annabelle wasn't feeling well, but I expected she would perk up once she saw the snow. She didn't, which is how we knew she was really sick. So we just stopped in at Morgenstern for lunch and dessert. (This place has the best cakes I've found in Germany.) We managed to get a window seat and enjoyed the view:



***

Thursday afternoon Fred and I went out alone to test out an Indian restaurant I've been dying to try. It was delicious! The chicken tikka was the most tender I've ever eaten. There were strange crunchy things (like unsweetened Cap'n Crunch) in the raita, but it was oddly appealing.

After lunch we stopped at the mall to pick up blueberries for yet another breakfast of pancakes. This month the mall is decorated with exhibits featuring huge Steiff stuffed animals. I took a few pictures, including this one, which I call "The 3 Bears":



***

On Friday the kids had their first official day of circus school. I'm really glad Fred got to see the setup, even if we couldn't watch the class. I can say, "I've enrolled the children in a free circus program in a tenement building in the industrial district with the children of war refugees from the Balkans. The teachers look like the cast of Godspell." But really, that doesn't even begin to describe it.

While the kids were practicing their circus skills, Fred and I ducked into Al's Dinner for a quick cup of coffee. That's not a typo; it really is "dinner," not "diner." Al's Dinner is an old railroad car that has been painted yellow and converted into a very small, very smoky cafe:



***

After circus school, the kids convinced me to come outside and take my new unicycle on her maiden voyage. I borrowed Annabelle's unicycle poles, which are about 8 inches too short for me and force me to ride (if you can call it that) hunched over like a spider. I stuck with it for about a half hour and was finally able to drag myself very slowly the length of the road in front of our house. Fred came out and gave it a try as well, but his attempt ended in near disaster.

As I promised the other day, I have video of both Fred and me demonstrating that Ringling Brothers won't be hiring us anytime soon.

***

Friday night we took the pictures of the kids back to back with Fred that I posted the other day. I also got Mike to take one of me with Fred:



That night we all went out for one final schnitzel together, and I took this closeup of Fred in all his scruffy, unshaven, R&R glory:



Note how the hair on the top of his head is almost the same length as the hair on the bottom of face, kind of like a mane. My brilliant idea is that he not shave at all for his 30 days of block leave at the end of the deployment. I'm just insanely curious to know what Fred would look like after a month of not shaving.

***

As I said in Saturday's post, it was snowing like crazy all the way to and from Rhein-Main. Here's a picture of Fred, shivering in his desert camo outside Tent City:



We spent the rest of Saturday laying low and licking our wounds. Annabelle put on her fuzzy bathrobe and stuffed it full of her favorite critters. That's Snickers the anteater (bought in Russia last summer) tied with her belt:



***

This afternoon we went with some of our friends back to the Odenwald for the sledding we didn't get to do last week. It was rather icy, and the snow was thin in spots, which made for some rather muddy landings. Here's Mike getting ready to try out the German sled Fred and I bought:



***

Now that I have the blog more or less up to date, I think I will go upstairs and change into my new dirty rugby shirt and hit the sack. Before I do that though, I need to add one story that I find rather amusing.

The other night I was trying to be all Mary Sunshine for the kids about Fred's impending departure. "It'll be OK," I cheered. "We're on the downhill stretch now!"

"Mom," Mike replied, "We're unicyclists. The downhill is pretty much like the uphill. You can't coast. You just keep pedaling."

Damn.

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Goodbye, again 

On any other day, the discovery of 4 inches of snow on the ground with more falling from the sky by the minute would have been greeted with much rejoicing. Today, however, we had to get Fred back up to Rhein-Main AFB between the hours of 5 and 7 a.m., and it would have been a lot easier on clear roads. It was a white-knuckle ride all the way to and from the airport, although maybe it helped to distract us from the unpleasant business of saying goodbye.

The farewell itself was fairly calm and mercifully brief. I wonder though if I wouldn't have been better off with one big boo-hoo. Instead, I've been on the verge of tears for the rest of the day. I'm sure I'll feel better once I've got our calendar put together so that I have a plan for these next 4.5 months, but for now I'm just drifting and it all pretty much sucks.

Yesterday the kids posed back to back with Fred to show how much they've grown over the course of the deployment. From left to right, the photos were taken in May (wow, he left exactly 9 months ago today), in October, and last night. We'll finish the series sometime in early July:


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Friday, February 18, 2005

From the did-you-learn-to-whisper-in-a-sawmill files 

Sometimes it can be so neat watching kids acquire a second language. And then sometimes it can be so . . . not neat.

Tonight we went to dinner at our favorite schnitzel place for our last supper together on Fred's R&R. The table next to us was populated by a half dozen middle-aged German men. Over our salads, Mike announced excitedly (and loudly): "Mom! I just heard the word Arschloch!!!!"

ME: Um, Mike? This is like sitting in The Outback in Orlando and shouting out "Mom, blah blah blah ASSHOLE!!!!"

I can't believe R&R is almost over. We drop Fred off at Rhein Main AFB tomorrow between 5:00 and 7:00 a.m.

By all accounts, the goodbye after R&R is a million times worse than the initial goodbye. I would have been inclined to agree based on our experience after the SJA conference in October. But I'm really feeling OK right now. I'm not happy, naturally. But we're almost done. We're really almost done!! The kids and I have got 6 months worth of stuff to cram into the remaining 4.5 months of this deployment, and I think we're going to make it.

I'm way behind on my email, so if I owe you a letter, please know that I feel mildly guilty about it but not so guilty that I would have taken one precious moment of these past 17 days to empty out my inbox. That's tops on my list of stuff to accomplish this weekend though, so you should hear from me soon. Also, I have a week's worth of photos and video that I need to get uploaded. Check back soon! I've got video of Fred and me trying to learn how to unicycle as well as updated photos of our daily-growing children back to back with the incredible shrinking Fred.

One more goodbye, one more hello, and then this whole hellacious chapter in our lives is O-V-E-R!!!!!

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Garmisch trip report (finally!) 

Our R&R trip to Garmisch left me with lots of photos to sort through. I've finally selected my favorites and fixed them up for posting.

First, I have to give a mixed review to the new AFRC hotel, the Edelweiss. On the one hand, it is truly a gorgeous facility. On the other hand, the food is a real letdown after the offerings at the older (and smaller and quainter) AFRC hotels in town. The Edelweiss reminded me too much of a Disney facility, with its fake log walls and animatronic bird and cats squawking at us from the rafters of the restaurant. We did, however, have a gorgeous view from our room (the steam is rising from the hot tub down below):



Mike planned on spending his 2 days snowboarding, and Fred planned on spending his 2 days skiing, but Annabelle and I were undecided as to how we would spend our time. We wound up renting a board and boots for her on the first day (hey, they were free as part of the R&R package), and she had fun letting Fred drag her around the backyard, behind the Hausberg Lodge . . . for about 20 minutes:



She lasted longer than me though. I strapped on my board for 5 minutes:



before deciding that I really didn't feel like killing myself in front of all those people:



Annabelle and I spent the rest of the ski time hanging out together in the lodge. The second day we got smart and took her Gameboy and book along to amuse her.

Fred and Mike spent all of Monday refreshing their skills in the Hausberg's backyard. By Tuesday, however, they were ready to head for the Alpspitz. Fred took a few pictures with his camera, which was good for me as I'm highly unlikely to ever get up there myself. Here's a shot from the top:



And here is Mike, trying to figure out which way to go:



And here he is, actually getting somewhere:



Each day when the guys came in from the mountain, we all headed over to the sledding hill where the kids worked on their sledding skills:



and Fred and I tried desperately to stay warm by huddling together over cups of hot wine (that's Annabelle's cat hat I'm wearing):



Mike and Annabelle found that the coming down was well worth the going up, even if the going up was pretty darn hard:



One of the best parts of the timing of our ski trip over Fasching was getting to see all the Germans who showed up in costume. This little guy was especially fun to watch on the sledding hill:



I also liked this father and child pair:



And this guy is an even bigger clown on skis than I am:



We checked out of the hotel Wednesday morning and headed for Neuschwanstein castle. We opted to travel up and down the hill in a horsedrawn carriage, and it was worth every penny:



The biggest problem with Neuschwanstein:



is that it's really hard:



to stop taking pictures of it:



As many times as I've driven past the castle, this was my first time doing the tour of the interior. The kids, who have been castled half to death between Scotland and Russia and Vienna, were most impressed and declared it to be one of the best castles ever.

As we were heading back to our car, Mike and Annabelle were thrilled to find a new addition for their Beanie Baby rodent collection. Fred and I were thrilled that they had something to amuse them for most of the drive back home.

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Happy birthday, Jenny! 

Have I ever mentioned here that my sister and my daughter are twins? Well, they are! In honor of Jenny's thirty-second birthday, I offer you this composite shot of Jenny and Annabelle, separated at birth:



(P.S.: Annabelle is the one on the left.)

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Meet my midlife crisis 

OK, I'm not sure it technically qualifies as a midlife crisis if your kids goad you into buying it. And it has only 25 percent as many wheels as the typical midlife crisis. Still, I don't believe that at the ripe old age of twenty-eighteen I qualify for anything with more power:



The kids are convinced that if I learn to ride, they can guilt Fred into learning. Everyone needs different motivation for learning--the idea of Fred on a unicycle just might do it for me. All I know is that I am now officially one-tired woman!

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Back from a winter wonderland 

We just arrived home a little while ago from our R&R trip to Garmisch. We had perfect weather with lots of snow already on the ground. I'll post a full report ASAP, but first I have to start going through all the photos we took. That is one downside to such beautiful scenery--I just can't stop taking pictures!

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Saturday, February 05, 2005

Catching up 

So much to blog, so little time! First of all, yes, Fred's flight did indeed get in a little before 2 a.m. on Wednesday, and we were all home and passed out cold by 3:30 a.m.

One thing that was high on the kids' List of Things to Do When Dad Is home was eating his famous blueberry pancakes. So Tuesday afternoon I found myself searching for fresh blueberries. Apparently, they are not plentiful in Germany in the dead of winter, but I persevered and finally found some at the produce stand at the mall. Would you care to guess how much one might pay for 3 teensy little trays of New Zealand blueberries at this time of year? If you said the equivalent of $15, you are correct! If you think it wasn't worth every penny, however, you are dead wrong. Mr. Pancake Man was in his element:



And the kids were in heaven eating the fruits of his labor:



***

Thursday, February 3, was my birthday (as well as my cousin Ally's birthday and Dooce's baby Leta's birthday--happy birthday, Ally and Leta!). To celebrate my twenty-eighteenth birthday, I wanted us to travel by train to Cologne for the first day of Fasching, which is basically German Mardi Gras. It's that last big party before Lent, and I figured it was as good a place as any for a birthday celebration. Besides, this Thursday was Weiberfastnacht, the day when women may do as they please, and it pleased THIS woman to go to Cologne.

The train from Mannheim carried quite a few people who were obviously on their way to the party. Men in kilts and kangaroo suits walked through our wagon, reminding me of the train scene at the end of the movie Trading Places.

We arrived in Cologne at 10:00 a.m., and found a frenzy of costumed chaos in the train station. Here are Mike and Annabelle with a couple of guys whose costumes we admired:



This was the scene outside the train station. Even though it was only mid-morning, the ground was already littered with beer and champagne bottles. It's funny, because the Germans are positively anal about deposits on glass bottles the rest of the year, but apparently they set that aside for Fasching, as I have never seen so much broken glass in my life:



Fasching was a bit different than I remember it being when I lived in Cologne in 1987. For one thing, back then they had carnival rides set up all around the cathedral, but there were none this year. For another, I don't remember it as being such a drunken orgy. Then again, maybe I was just too drunk back then to notice. At any rate, we were definitely the only sober people in town on Thursday. We alternated between walking through the heart of the action, where the crowd scenes became almost frightening at times, and hanging out on the periphery for a breather.

Annabelle was impressed by this gentleman's costume, which appeared to have been constructed from the wrappers and plastic yolks of chocolate surprise eggs:



We managed to time our potty breaks for the civilized facilities in restaurants and major department stores. This was the scene for those desperate enough to use the street toilets:



By 4:00 p.m. we were exhausted and ready to head for home. Our reservations, however, were for the 5:00 train, so we killed the better part of that last hour in the bookstore in the train station. By that point the crowds were full of a lot of REALLY drunk people. My biggest regret is that I didn't stop on the way to the train station to take a picture of the inebriated killer bees who chose to sit in the street in front of McDonald's to eat their supper. I was just too tired by then though to reach for my camera.

Upon our return that evening to Mannheim, we capped off the evening with schnitzel at one of our favorite local restaurants, Zur Kurpfalz. All in all, it was a very happy birthday!

***

I love this time of year in Germany! The flower shops are filled with bulbs from Holland, and just like last year I'm enjoying displaying them on my kitchen windowsill. Here is my current collection:



***

Having Fred home is just the best. Wednesday counted as a travel day for him, so his actual leave didn't start until Thursday. We've got him until sometime between 5:00 and 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 19th, which is when he needs to be back up at Rhein Main AFB to catch his ride back to Iraq. We're not thinking about any of that right now though, just enjoying having him with us and watching him work his way through the sizable honey-do list I've created for him over the past 8 months ("Honey, do this . . . Honey, do that . . . ").

***

Tomorrow we leave for 3 nights in Garmisch, and I doubt I'll be blogging while we're there. In fact, I'm thinking about not even taking the laptop with me at all. I promise though that I'll take lots of pictures and will make updating the blog a priority upon our return on Wednesday. In the meantime, if anybody needs me, here's where you can reach me!

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Hurry up and wait 

Fred called this morning (I guess by now that would be yesterday morning) with the news that he will be arriving at Rhein-Main AFB on Wednesday at 2:00 a.m. When I called the airport at 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday (an hour ago), I was told that the arrival time had been moved up by 2 hours. So the kids and I jumped in the car and zipped up the autobahn to be here for his arrival.

Anybody care to guess the punchline? Yep, you got it--that was bogus information. The desk sergeant has been really, REALLY nice to us though. Besides giving his OK for us to get into the terminal, which is technically closed right now, he is letting us hang out in this really nice little lounge. That's where I'm posting from.

So we're settling in for a little wait. It's kind of a pain, but on the other hand, it's not like I was going to get any more awake the later it got for the drive up here. We're here, safe and sound, and the next time you hear from me, we'll have Fred, too. We can't believe R&R is finally here!

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