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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Could we be any more ready to go to Venice? 

Probably not:



Pellet is horribly excited at the prospect of being the first rodent gondolier in the Venetian canals. Ratzo and Rizzo are going along for the romance and because Pellet has promised them discount tickets on his boat.

Our human companions for this trip are Sandra (a friend of Fred's from law school), her son Heath, and her friend Theresa. They arrived Thursday morning, and we've been having a great time together. Tonight I took them to Heidelberg to eat some schnitzel and climb up (and up and up and up) to see the castle.

Tomorrow we will drive to Garmisch, where we will stay the night at the Hotel Forsthaus. On Monday, we will make our way to Venice. We will spend 3 nights in the Holiday Inn Express in Quarto d'Altino, where we stayed last spring when we went with Frank and Teresa and their boys. When we start heading home on Thursday, we will stop for the night at the Hotel Krone in Attinghausen, Switzerland. I believe this will be the fifth time I've stayed there since 1987.

So there's our itinerary, in case anybody needs to reach us while we're on the road. Stay tuned for details and pictures next weekend!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

For those about to shop . . . 

I occasionally get hits on my blog from somebody who is obviously seeking information. A Google search for "Spangdahlem bazaar", for example, or a Yahoo search for the recipe for "Klondike jello" (whatever that is). They got linked to my blog because I mentioned buying knives at the Spangdahlem bazaar or I posted a recipe and my son went to the Boy Scouts' Klondike Campout and I mentioned the term "jello." Not overly useful stuff. Today, however, I want to do something different. If you came here hoping to learn a little bit about shopping for Polish pottery in Poland, this post's for you.

Jenny and I set out with the kids last Wednesday and drove the 420 miles between Mannheim and Boleslawiec. It was slow going at first because of the heavy rain, but a couple hours down the road the weather cleared up. We were stopped at the border and had to get out of the car to get our passports stamped. The border guard made me bring out my car registration and took delight in pointing out to me a typo: it seems that they left the a off the end of Toyota. "No a, blahski blahski blahski!"

When I went last summer with my mom, we stayed at the Motel Elite, which is the first hotel you come to as you enter the town. It was quite adequate, but they don't have rooms bigger than doubles, and Jenny and I really wanted us all to be able to stay together. So instead we opted to stay at the Hotel Protea, and we were glad we did.

Our room was really nice, especially considering that it cost us only $80 total (80 zloties per adult and 40 zloties per kid). The Protea has locked parking, as does the Elite, but we really preferred its more secluded location.

The Protea is a nonsmoking facility, so Jenny had to go outside to do the smokey-pokey. On her way back in, she ran into a group of Air Force wives who invited us to joing them in the sitting room for wine.

Pottery shoppers are like their own little sorority. We shared their wine and swapped tips and hints. One of the women and I even discovered that we had a friend in common back in the States!

That night for supper, we went down to the hotel restaurant. Again, what a winner! I had stuffed cabbage rolls and a glass of wine; Jenny had the cheese-filled pierogies and a glass of wine; the kids each had a soda and a bowl of the chicken noodle soup ("clear chicken soup with pasta") and shared a fried chicken fillet; and we all shared a baked apple in vanilla sauce for dessert. The tab? 20 euro. Here's Jenny enjoying her supper:



We were done with breakfast (included in the cost of the room) by 8:00 the next morning and ready to hit the shops. I had shopping lists from 7 of my friends and family members, so we decided to loosen up by spending other people's money.

Our first shop was the CER-FAR shop just around the corner (in fact, we did all of our spending within a mile of the hotel). This shop is known to me and my friends as The Painted Fence because of its elaborately painted fence (never let it be said that we're not an original bunch). This place is just amazing. I took this picture and this one, which show you some of their offerings. Lots of the shops offer discounts based on the amount of purchase, and I spent enough in those first 2 hours to qualify for their maximum 10% discount--and all I bought for myself was a ladle!

The Painted Fence also has this really cool tree decorated with pottery:



After we finished there, we moved next door to the Ceramika Artystyczna factory shop. This is the place to go for butter bells, those hard to find little crocks that keep butter magically fresh and at room temperature right there on your countertop. I bought 3 of them!

From there, we headed across the street to a little shop that I adore. Its name is Z.A.K.-ART, and they have some great bargains in coffee mugs. The lady who works there is super friendly, offering tea or coffee the minute you walk in the door. Best of all, they have a clean bathroom that customers are welcome to use.

Just around the corner from that shop is another shop that Jenny and I dubbed the Black Cat Store, because it was the only place we saw that carried this one Unikat pattern that was decorated with black cats. We did a fair bit of shopping there, as well as at the other stores in that one strip.

We went down the street to the Zaklady factory shop to take a picture of the rodents (and Snickers the anteater) enjoying the pottery:



From there, we headed back to the Painted Fence and back across the street to the strip of stores we had just come from. That's one thing I really like about driving myself over instead of going on a bus trip--the freedom to revisit places where you should have gotten that one special piece.

Six hours after we started, we were all suffering from severe pottery fatigue. We headed back to the hotel where we enjoyed the same dishes we had had the night before. Again, a 20 euro tab!

We left town around 4 p.m. and made it home before midnight. The next day we hauled 8 boxes and numerous bags from the van and started going through our finds:




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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Very big day! 

Well, it's officially official now. Fred is a colonel, with eagles on his shoulders. Today was the first of his 2 promotion ceremonies, this one taking place at Camp Victory in Baghdad with the second one happening here in Germany this summer. I had hoped to have pictures to post, but Fred's computer is acting cranky this evening and won't let him get on. I do have this one though that he sent earlier:



I was, of course, sad to miss the ceremony, although I'm glad that it is a milestone that we can fairly easily re-create at a later date.

Jenny and I went with Amy and Sibylle out to the Hotel Morgenstern in the Odenwald this afternoon for cake and coffee. Sibylle bought a bottle of champagne as a post-cake treat, and her 6-year-old son Constantin took this picture of us (and his friend Benji) toasting Fred's success:



Cheers!

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

C is for cookie 

The Cookie Monster might have turned over a new leaf, but Fred and the members of one of his offices in Iraq look mighty happy with the incredibly large gift of cookies they received from a Girl Scout troop in the U.S.:



Fred says, "We got so many cookies we can’t possibly eat them all, we are sharing them with our many clients."

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Redecorating 

In order to make room for our massive pottery haul, I prepped the van by removing the middle 2 seats. I didn't want their metal feet to damage the hardwood floors that we have throughout most of the house, so I stuck them in the kitchen, which is tiled.

We're back from pottery shopping now, and the van has been unloaded. I should put the seats back in, but I'm kind of enjoying having them in the kitchen. Jenny and I sat in them tonight, while we enjoyed most of a bottle of wine each and 2 different kinds of fondue (cheese and chocolate). It was very comfy, but in a high-class yet rednecky sort of way.

We met some Air Force wives in Poland who warned us repeatedly about the dangers of car theft. They advised us to shop in shifts, but I decided that we just didn't have time for that kind of caution. If somebody wanted to steal the car, I figured, at least I wouldn't have to get the damage from the accident fixed.

Jenny and I both woke up at 2:15 a.m. on Thursday when a child (who shall remain nameless to protect his dignity) started snoring like his father. Neither of us could get back to sleep, so we lay there playing the "what if the car does get stolen" game.

Jenny asked me, "Have you thought about how you'll blog it?" We decided that if the unthinkable should happen, I would post a picture of the 2 middle seats sitting in my kitchen and title the post "All that remains." Instead, I'm happy to be able to post this picture of our little indoor tailgate party tonight:



I like it so much I'm thinking of keeping it this way.

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How much Polish pottery . . . 

. . . can you buy in 7 hours? About this much:



I'm not even sure how much we spent. I do know that my credit card quit working shortly after noon, and we had to go to Jenny's. I guess I need to add that to my list of stuff to do today: "Call USAA and convince them that my Master Card hasn't been stolen by pottery-buying hooligans."

We have some major unpacking to do. I hope to start uploading pictures and a trip report later today.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Because you can never have too much Polish pottery . . . 

Jenny and the kids and I are off tomorrow for another whirlwind trip. Destination this time: Bolesławiec, Poland. Purpose: to shop until we drop or the van fills up, whichever comes first.

We're trying a new hotel this time, the Hotel Protea. I have reserved a room for the 4 of us for $100 including breakfast. That's where we'll be tomorrow night if anybody needs us.


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Monday, April 18, 2005

Dutch treat 

Friday--The Keukenhof

Friday morning we set off for the Keukenhof and enjoyed a day of wandering through the beautiful gardens. The weather was cool and cloudy, but the rain that had been forecast was absent. I figure if each picture is worth a thousand words, I can be brief in describing a few of my favorites.

Here are some closeups I took throughout the park:





The kids posed with the rodents (Ears, Ratzo, Cheezer, and Pellet), who were modeling their authentic Dutch footwear:



I broke with tradition and hopped into one picture, along with my good friend Ratzo:



The kids had a great time playing on the playground:



I thought this group shot came out nice. Some day when I have extra time, I might Photoshop myself into it:



The manicured gardens were beautiful, but I was especially enthralled by the fields of flowers that surrounded the park:



The only negative thing I have to report on from the Keukenhof is the food. We had one truly unimpressive yet disgustingly expensive lunch that day. My advice to prospective Keukenhof visitors would be to take a sandwich along with you!

Saturday--Amsterdam

We took the train into the city Saturday morning. The weather was cold and rainy, and Mike was coming down with a cold, so it was rather bleak.

Our first mission in Amsterdam was to find NEMO. Really. NEMO is the biggest science center in the Netherlands. We bought the kids' admission tickets and set them loose, and then Amy, Jenny, and I hung out in the coffee shop while they played.

From NEMO, we made our way over to Artis, the Amsterdam zoo. We braved the elements to visit the zoo, because it is the only zoo in Holland that has a giant anteater, and Annabelle is all about anteaters these days ("They're endangered, and NOBODY IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT!!!!"). Unfortunately for us, anteaters have the good sense to stay in on truly icky days, so we had to settle for watching the anteater over a video monitor as he slept in his den. Annabelle did enjoy posing with this picture of an anteater:



After the zoo, we stopped in Waterlooplein to watch a 3-D movie about Holland. While we waited for the next showing, the rodents posed in this fake red-light-district scene:



What to say about the movie? Gosh, I don't know. How do you say "sucks" in Dutch anyway?

We went to the movie at my insistence, and by 5 minutes into the show I was whispering to Jenny, "I feel like I need to start apologizing as soon as this thing is over." By 10 minutes, I was thinking I should buy everybody's tickets.

The film quality itself was atrocious, but that paled in comparison to the cheesy special effects. In an effort to give us our money's worth of 3-D experience, the film makers had birds and bees flying at us for no apparent reason and little Dutch girls poking at us with umbrellas. At one point, the film showed windsurfers, and suddenly a screaming mannequin on a surfboard shot across the stage in front of the screen.

The film left me with many unanswered questions. Why, for example, were those people having a dinner party on a raft? And are there really THAT many helicopters in Holland? And what's up with that scary sand-castle Buddha anyway? We left the theater thinking that perhaps the movie would have made more sense if we had eaten some wackie brownies first.

We walked from the theater back to the train station. We could have made the trip without actually entering the infamous red light district, but Jenny really wanted to see it. So we made a quick detour down a side street where we got to see marijuana plants growing in a shop window. Further down the block, we had the strangest offer of the day: "Live sex show! We offer a family discount AND have free babysitting!" Um, yeah, dude, I'll leave the kids with you . . . NOT! As Mike said, "What do you want to bet they would put us to work making the brownies?"

We drove back to Germany yesterday, stopping off in Spangdahlem to check out the international bazaar at the Air Force base. Now we're getting ready to take off to Poland day after tomorrow for pottery. Yes, Chris, even the special pottery items!


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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Blogging from Holland . . . just because I can 

Well, we made it! Jenny is so jet-lagged she doesn't know whether to scratch her watch or wind her butt, but we're having a marvelous time. Jenny figures that she has had about 1 hour of sleep in the past 30 hours.

We just got back from an Argentine steakhouse that Fred and I discovered back when we were dating. Mmm . . . good sangria and awesome ribs! Jenny stole cheese from the salad bar on our way out the door. (Actually, she asked very nicely, but the waiter didn't speak so much the English.)

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

On the road again 

Well, our 3 week vacation at home is almost officially over, and it's time to get back to business: traveling. My sister arrives from Florida tomorrow morning, and the kids and I, along with our friends Amy and Rebecca, are going to grab her at the Frankfurt airport and head immediately for Holland.

We'll be staying in the Holiday Inn in Leiden, in case anybody needs to reach us. Current plan is to visit the Keukenhof garden on Friday and venture into Amsterdam on Saturday. Sunday, we drive home, maybe stopping off in Spangdahlem for a quick visit to a bazaar at the Air Force base.

Next week the kids and I are taking Jenny to Poland for one last orgy of pottery shopping. I figure we'll drive over on Wednesday, shop all day Thursday, and then arrive home late Thursday night.

I'm not taking the computer with me, but I promise to take lots of pictures of the pretty flowers . . . and of the rodents, wearing their tiny wooden shoes.


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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What time is it, boys and girls? 

It's asparagus time! Or, more precisely, Spargel Zeit. I scored my first Spargel of the season yesterday at the German grocery and then bought a little more at the veggie stand across the field from my house. One can never have too much Spargel! Please pass the Hollandaise sauce . . .


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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Please add this to the list of Stuff I Never Want To Do 

Item #764: Give a cat an enema. This is the story of a poor kitty named Fred who needed an enema and his poor owner who had to give it to him. It is illustrated with cute little pictures like this:



It had me laughing out loud.

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Friday, April 08, 2005

This and that 

It has been a busy few days here, some good, some bad. On a good day, I go to the movies with my friend Sibylle and we giggle like schoolgirls over how hot Til Schweiger is. On a bad day, I wreck my car a little bit and cry like an idiot for the 2 hours immediately following the accident and then off and on for most of that night. I would blog all the details of both, but last night was the crying night and I'm just too beat to go into it all right now.

On a happier note, I took this picture in my neighborhood this morning. I love the pile of stuff dropped on the front porch. Obviously, somebody was in a mighty big hurry to get inside with his family:



Here's a closeup of their sign:



We don't have an official date yet for Fred's return and won't for some time still, but we have reason to believe that we are now well within the final 100 days of this little misadventure (don't bother clicking unless you've got Excel). 28,075,682.55 seconds down, 7,693,917.45 to go. But, hey, who's counting?

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

No songbirds were harmed in the writing of this post 

When I was in the 8th grade, my class spent an hour on 2 consecutive days sitting in the dark of the school library and watching the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. I was so impressed with the film that I went home on that second afternoon and pulled my parents' paperback copy off the shelf and began to read. I read that copy to death over the years, and when I read it for the last time--probably 10 years ago--each page I turned fell away from what was left of the spine. I threw that book away page by page.

Fast forward to this past winter. Mockingbird was offered as a selection in our Scholastic book club, so I ordered a new copy. I wondered at the time if Mike would be ready for it yet. I certainly didn't want to risk exposing him to such a wonderful book too early and having him hate it for all eternity. At the same time though, I couldn't stand to wait. A couple weeks ago, I got out the new copy and offered to read just one chapter to him with the understanding that if he didn't like it, we would put it away until he was ready. He liked it, and I read the rest of the book out loud over the evenings of the next couple of weeks.

For the first few nights, we stuck to one chapter per session. As we got deeper into the book though, his interest grew and he wound up begging for multiple chapters at one time. We read the entire court scene in one sitting because neither of us could bear to stop in the middle of it. And when we got to the chapter that ends something like "And thus began our longest journey together," I insisted we stop for the night. I knew that once we embarked on the events of that Halloween, we would be unable to stop until the end of the book, so I needed to save my energies for yet another marathon session.

I was pleased by Mike's intense interest in the book. I do not normally enjoy reading out loud--it's frustrating, as I can read so much faster in my head--but Mockingbird was fun. Mike's enjoyment inspired me to do it up right, and I invented voices for each of the main characters, which I tried to keep consistent.

Just about every night, Mike would ask, "So are we almost to the point of finding out how Jem broke his arm?" And one night, he asked, "Hey! Did they ever make a movie out of this?" Did they ever make a movie out of this? Oh, boy, did they ever! I decided then and there that our Mockingbird experience would culminate in a showing of this film classic.

I checked the DVD out of our local library yesterday afternoon, and last night he and I parked ourselves in front of the TV. Watching To Kill a Mockingbird with Mike was what I imagine it must be like to go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show with Andy Rooney. Either way, you're watching a grumpy guy yell at the screen.

First of all, the actors in the movie didn't match the characters Mike had seen in his head. He writhed in agony, "Oh, no, now I'll never be able to see them my way again!" He was especially outraged where an actor's appearance openly conflicted with how Harper Lee had described the character. Dill, for example. "Dill has white hair," Mike insisted, "not a mouthful of goofy teeth!"

He was horrified at every change, no matter how big or small. "Where's Miss Maudie's fire?" he asked indignantly. "Where's Judge Taylor's house break-in? What did they do to Aunt Alexandra? That's her line, not Miss Maudie's! Hey, how come Scout and Jem didn't go to church with Calpurnia? And WHERE is Mrs. DuBose?!"

He was especially incensed that they changed the date of Tom Robinson's alleged crime. "It was NOVEMBER," he declared, "not AUGUST! Why did they say it was August?"

I explained that they had to do a lot of editing to make the book fit within the parameters of a 2-hour movie, but Mike wasn't buying it. Finally, in exasperation I suggested that perhaps he should write the screenplay for the remake (oh, yes, he thinks there should be a remake!), and he thought that was an excellent idea:

"I will! And I'll put everything in, not try to compress several years into one. And I'm going to replace the actor who plays Jem every year or at least age him a little!"

I asked who he had in mind to play Atticus, figuring that he would have a tough time coming up with somebody to fill Gregory Peck's shoes. No problem there. He already has the part cast. The part of Atticus Finch will be played by . . . Johnny Depp.

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Shaken, not stirred 

My big souvenir of this deployment has been the development of a benign essential tremor. That's medical talk for, "Yup, you shake, but we can't figure out why, and we don't think it'll kill you."

Sometime last summer, I noticed that my right hand quivered oddly if I held it in just the right position over the computer mouse. I didn't think much more of it, even when my mom came to visit in August and noticed it. "Oh, yeah," I said, "that's just something freaky I do." Fast forward to early October when the kids and I met up with Fred in Charlottesville for a meeting. He and I attended a cocktail party together, and I found it nearly impossible to stand in my high heels with my purse hanging on one wrist, a plate of food in one hand, and a glass of wine in the other. When we got back to Germany, I headed for the doctor.

Apparently, the treatment of choice for this sort of tremor is blood-pressure medication. That's kind of scary for somebody like me whose blood pressure tends to hover at around 95 over 60 in the first place. Give me enough drugs, and yeah, I'll stop shaking. And breathing. And then who's going to drive me to the hospital with Fred being gone? The doc was hoping that we would be able to treat it on an as-needed basis (for those times when you just don't want to be sloshing your wine all around), but unfortunately you have to titrate up to a dose that's high enough to be effective. And then there are the side effects to consider--weight gain, hair loss, and constipation. These are not a few of my favorite things, so I basically blew off the prescribed medication after trying it a time or 2 while I was at home in Florida.

Over the past few months though, the tremor has gotten much worse. I always thought of it as the kind of thing that nobody noticed until I mentioned it, my little shaky secret. But when I went to visit a friend recently whom I hadn't seen in a while and told her about the tremor, she said yes, she had noticed it right away and wondered what was going on.

I've tried treating it on my own. Some people find that alcohol diminishes the tremor, but it hasn't really worked for me, and god knows I've tried. I even tried some Valium that I borrowed from the friend of a friend, on the theory that if I could be relaxed enough for the tremor to disappear just one time, then I could at least have hope that when Fred comes home and life goes back to normal, maybe I can lose the Katherine Hepburn routine. I had only 4 milligrams though, and it didn't even touch it.

I was disgusted to realize that the tremor is aggravated by exertion. Like I needed ANOTHER reason not to exercise! I'm also pissed off every time one of my photos turns out blurry. And then, as if shakey arms weren't enough, I recently developed what's called an internal tremor. When I lie down at night to go to sleep, I can feel the inside of my body vibrating. I can liken it only to how a cat must feel when it purrs, except that a cat who purrs is happy.

I was venting about all this on my Amazing Message Board of Invisible Friends the other day, when my friend Jutta (who is German) suggested that I try Schüßler Salze. They are an array of homeopathic remedies that come in little melt-in-your-mouth tablets. I'm ready to try anything and had, in fact, been contemplating trying the magic brownies on our upcoming trip to Amsterdam just to see if SOMETHING would stop the damn tremor. Given that I could pick the salts up at the Apotheke at Walmart AND maintain my marijuana virginity, I figured it was worth a try.

The dosage instructions are pretty open ended. You can take one tablet every 5 minutes (for how long?!) for acute conditions, 1 to 2 tablets 3 to 6 times a day for chronic conditions, or you can make a tea out of 10 of the tablets and hot water and sip it.

I don't want to speak too soon, but I think the salts might be working. I don't have a routine yet with them, and I worry about whether I'm taking them too often. I have 55 left out of the 80 that I bought Friday afternoon.

I didn't really notice any difference until this morning. I was carrying a cup of hot chocolate and astounded the kids with my relative smoothness. They were suitably impressed: "Wow, Mom, usually you're all [insert spastic movements here]." And then tonight when I went to give Mike his nightly Benadryl, we realized that for the first time in ages you couldn't hear the pills vibrating in their little blister packs. Mike ran to get me a glass of water for a truer test, and the tremor is still there but very faint, maybe like it was last summer when I just thought it was a quirky thing.

I said, "Wow, I think Jutta cured me!"

And Mike said (in his best Jim Carrey voice), "I have exorcised the demon. This house is clear!"

Hmmm . . . an exorcist. Now that's the one thing I never did consider.

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Saturday, April 02, 2005

The April Fool that got away 

April Fool's Day ended 15 minutes ago, right about the time that Annabelle reminded me that I had forgotten to send my trick to Fred. I started planning my gag shortly after he deployed last May: I would mail him a 10-pound bag of playground sand and a small assortment of sandbox toys. Get it? Sending sand to the desert? What a riot am I.

Oh, well, you have to admit that it would have been a heck of a lot nicer than my trick of 1996 when I presented him with a positive pregnancy test courtesy of my very pregnant neighbor.

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