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Saturday, July 30, 2005

London, ho! 

Tomorrow we leave bright and early for our 5-day vacation in London. If anybody needs me, we'll be at the Holiday Inn Mayfair.

Our tentative plan calls for visiting Stonehenge and Salisbury on Tuesday and the "real" Watership Down on Thursday. Other than that, we will be exploring the city. Oh, and we have tickets to see Lion King Wednesday night. We'll be back home late, late, late on Friday.

The rodents have lots of cute little British costumes, so check back in a week or so for pictures!

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

What it must be like to be a vampire 

When I was in elementary school, my grandmother gave me a full-length wall mirror. Everywhere I have gone since then, that mirror has gone, too. When we got to Germany 2 years ago, Fred hung the mirror on the side of our closet, which is clearly visible as you approach our bedroom from the hall.

The mirror left with the rest of the household goods way back in June, but every time I climb the stairs to the second floor and turn left towards our bedroom, I expect to see myself in the mirror that is no longer there. I think I could live here for another 2 years and never get over the mild shock that I experience each time, when I catch myself wondering: "Hey! What happened to me? Where did I go?" I can only imagine that this is what it must be like to be a vampire, only without the bloodsucking parts.

Speaking of vampires, I got a wonderful surprise the other day from my cousin Julie and my Uncle Johnny! (No, they are not vampires. Or at least I don't think they are.) They wanted to send me something to amuse me on our long journey back to the Motherland, so they sent me a copy of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. In case you live in a box and haven't heard, that book is the new Dracula tale.

I'm very eager to dive into my new book, but I'm forcing myself to wait a while. There is very little that is worse than setting off on a 10-hour plane ride with only 50 pages to go in a 650+ page book.

I'm also a little nervous. The last time I read a vampire story, I was in the seventh grade and it was Salem's Lot by Stephen King. I slept with the covers pulled up to my chin until I was well into college. Also, the one bit of wisdom I remember from that book is that a vampire cannot come into your home without an invitation. Every night before I fell asleep, I would silently revoke any and all invitations I might have issued that day, unaware that the recipient was a blood-sucking ghoul.

So, Johnny and Julie, thank you so much for the book! I can't wait to get started. And if I'm wearing a necklace of garlic next time you see me, at least you'll know why.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Me? The mom of a TEENAGER?! 

Yes, it's true. Our bouncing baby boy became a teenager today. He's still pretty bouncy, but his toys are a lot more expensive than they used to be. Here's a picture of us from our younger days:



Happy birthday, Mike!

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Buy candy from these people! 

Shameless advertising coming up here!

Back when the latest Star Wars flick was in the theaters, our PX had a display of special M&M candies that were part of a Star Wars promotion. My friend Amy discovered that the dark chocolate M&Ms were especially tasty, and once she introduced them to me, I also went to the Dark Side.

It was a sad day in Mannheim when all the dark chocolate M&Ms were gone, so Amy and I set out on a quest to find more. Everywhere we went, we were always on the lookout, but we never struck gold.

Amy's birthday was coming up in early July, and I knew that dark M&Ms would be the perfect present for her, so I secretly broadened the search to the internet and found them at Carol's Candy Corner. I bought out Carol's remaining 14 bags and sat back to wait.

The package from Carol's Candy Corner arrived about a week later (excellent shipping time for over here!). When I opened it up, I was puzzled to see a small gift bag of assorted treats. The handwritten note on the invoice explained it all:

Thank you for your purchase. We appreciate all that you do and the sacrifices made. We enclosed a little thank you gift. Take care!

Carol
I could scarcely believe my eyes! There are any number of mainstream businesses out there that for whatever reason refuse to ship to APO addresses. And here was a business that was actually sending something EXTRA because I had an APO address?! That gesture really touched me.

So please remember Carol for all your candy buying needs!

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Catching up 

When we lived on the east coast, it wasn't uncommon for our kids to have birthday celebrations that stretched over a period of several weeks. First, they would have a home celebration, which would usually be followed by small parties at their grandparents' houses. Fred's homecoming has been a lot like that, a veritable festival in honor of Fred. A Fredstival.

The Season of Fredstivus began with Fred's redeployment from Iraq and continued through his parents' surprise visit. Last week we all piled into the van and made an overnight trip to the Black Forest so that Fred could pick out a German clock, which was his promotion present from me.

We spent the night in Freiburg, where I had spent my last semester in college back in 1987. We did a little sightseeing in the town square and visited the huge cathedral:



It's pretty impressive on the inside as well, with lots of beautiful carvings and amazing stained glass:



Then we drove out to neighboring Littenweiler to our hotel:



We read, took naps, played with our Gameboys (OK, so that was just Mike and Annabelle) until supper. The food in the hotel restaurant was every bit as good as I remembered it, and we stuffed ourselves.

The next morning, we headed for Triberg to find the clock. Fred is a very speedy shopper and after about a half hour in the House of 1000 Clocks, he had made his selection:



As we drove out of town, we stopped and had our picture taken in front of what is allegedly the largest cuckoo clock in the world. I call this photo "4 Big Cuckoos and Their Clock":



Once we got home from the Black Forest, we threw ourselves into preparing for Fred's promotion ceremony and party on Saturday. We rented a huge fest tent and picnic tables for the back yard and hung our neighbors' enormous American flag from the balcony to act as a backdrop for the promotion. COL Jim Pohl did the actual ceremony and said a lot of very nice things about Fred. Then his dad and I pinned the eagles on his shoulders! In this picture, I am soliciting dares to pound the birdie into Fred's shoulder--just to make sure it sticks, you know:



Fred got a little choked up afterwards when he gave his speech and talked about how everybody in the Army exists for 1 purpose alone, which is to make sure that some young soldier who is charged with holding ground has what he needs to do his job. I got a little misty, too, but mostly I couldn't stop smiling, because I was just so darn happy. Fred surprised me with a bouquet of roses, which was definitely a sweet touch. Here we all are together right after the ceremony:



Once the formal portion of the evening was over, I was able to kick back and enjoy myself. The guest list read like "This is Fred's Life"--we had several of the captains who worked with him this past year in Iraq, and we even had someone who worked with him when he was in Germany as a captain. Old friends, new friends, red friends, blue friends. We all gathered together to share in celebrating Fred.

Happy belated Fredstivus!

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Monday, July 18, 2005

It might not be easy being green . . . 

. . . but it sure is a welcome change from khaki:



Fred went back to "work" this morning. I say "work," because he doesn't have an office or even a job really. He does have some paperwork to finish up from Iraq, so I guess he'll do that for the next couple of weeks. Then he'll go back on leave for most of August, which is when we will do our last round of traveling.

I have got loads to catch up on from this past week, but I thought I would pop in just long enough to announce that things are officially back to normal. Whatever normal might be.

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Punk'd! 

I am a lousy liar. Always have been, probably always will be. So I'm especially proud of what the kids and I were able to pull off this morning.

Back when Fred and I agreed that we would re-do his promotion ceremony here in Germany once he redeployed, I got the brilliant idea of asking his parents to come over as a special surprise. As it turns out, they needed very little coaxing. In fact, the discussion went something like this:

ME: Well, we're going to have a promotion ceremony and the kids and I were wondering if you guys--

FRED'S DAD: Yes!!!
Since then we've been conspiring to make it happen. I knew that we would need a solid excuse to get Fred to the airport this morning, so I told him ages ago that my grandmother and her husband would be spending the day there on a layover on their way to Africa. (This was only a quasi-lie, as they will indeed be making that journey later this summer. Yes, my grandmother is very cool.)

I had a mild shock yesterday, however, when I came across the flight itinerary clearly labeled for Don and Mary Taylor in a pile of papers that Fred had tidied up on the table. I spent the rest of the day looking at him cross-eyed, wondering if he was on to me. Was he cleaning, I pondered, because he knew we were having company the next day? Or was he cleaning because he is Fred and he can't help himself?

At the airport this morning, as we waited for Grandma to come through the sliding doors from Customs, I was pretty sure that he was clueless, especially when he pointed out one lady with white hair and said, "I think that's her! No, wait, she's Asian." When the doors finally slid open to reveal his parents and Fred's jaw dropped open, I delivered the line that Mike had suggested for the occasion: "Dude, you have been punk'd."

There were hugs and high-fives all around, and I herded everybody together for a quick reunion pic:



We've had a lovely time together today. We went out to the Odenwald for lunch at the Hotel Morgenstern and then spent the rest of the afternoon just chilling out.

I won't be around much for the next few days. We're all leaving on Tuesday for a quick trip to the Black Forest. We will spend the night in Freiburg at the same hotel we stayed at shortly after we arrived in Germany almost 2 years ago. On Wednesday, we are driving home through Triberg so that Fred can pick out a clock to commemorate his promotion. I hope to have some pretty pictures to post when we get back.

Speaking of pictures, we did remember to take the final back-to-back shots to demonstrate how much the kids have grown over the past year:





Isn't it amazing what a steady diet of Cap'n Crunch over the course of 14 months can do?

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Mission accomplished 

'Nuff said.


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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Too excited to think of something clever to call this post 

Sometimes I thought this day would never come, but we are finally counting down in hours. One more wakeup, and this chapter in our lives is over.

You gotta love modern technology. One of the attorneys Fred worked with this past year just sent me a picture taken 2 hours ago of him at the airport waiting for his ride home:



She also sent a very nice letter with the subject line "Papa Bear heads home." It was so sweet that it got me kind of choked up, and I have to share some of it here:

Bonnie,

We are sending him home to you. . . . Safe to say that this time tomorrow he will be where you are and those that have served with him these past many months will breathe a collective sigh of relief. It has been hard for you all and we truly appreciate your sacrifice. Thank you for the tremendous support you provided us through your care for him.

I was thinking about the past ten months and what it has meant to have COL Taylor as a role model and safety net. I then thought of your family and the empty space in your world during this time. It is selfish for us to be overly sad at his going, but people are naturally selfish. Working for your husband has been the single most meaningful experience of my career. I hope that I am able to do him justice as I continue to serve my country in the shadow of the high standard he has set. In his quiet way he made us brave and strong. He taught us to believe in ourselves and maintain our professionalism in the face of foolishness. I am sure that you know better than I the make of the leader I have followed for what feels like too short a time. I just wanted you to know....
It's funny. I've been so focused on getting him home to us, I never really stopped to think of what his leaving might mean to those left behind down range. I wish I could wave my magic wand and put them all together with their families tomorrow morning as well.

I feel like there should be some sort of reckoning, some sort of evaluation, perhaps an after action report to sew the year up neat and tidy, but I'm not even sure where to begin. As my dad would say (and you'd have to ask him who he's quoting), some days were diamond, some were stone.

We hung tough, and we hung together. Far from simply not being a burden, the kids were my rock, the ones who kept me sane when the other option seemed so much more attractive. We found resources we never knew we had, but I wouldn't recommend the experience to anybody. That which does not kill us may indeed make us strong, but first it hurts, and sometimes it hurts really bad. When it stops hurting though . . . wow, it feels like the whole world is brand new.

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Juggler on the roof 

Sometimes I think my neighbors should have to pay admission for the privilege of watching the freakshow that is my life. It dawned on me yesterday that one of the things I meant to do before Fred came home was learn to ride my unicycle. (I also meant to lose 5 pounds, but that ain't happenin' by Wednesday.) Mike got bored with walking up and down beside me, holding my hand, so I fashioned my own training wheels out of a garbage can, which I pushed up and down the street:



Then Mike decided that it would be fun to ride his unicycle on the roof of our carport:



And then he started juggling up there:



Meanwhile, Scott and Lisa and their friends from Buffalo sat in their yard and enjoyed the show:


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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Not sure what this has to do with heart disease . . . 

I was surfing around auf Deutsch yesterday, trying to find pictures and news from the Live 8 concert in Berlin, and I came across the following headline on Yahoo.de: "X-Faktor bedroht schottische Herzen" (X-factor threatens Scottish hearts). Normally, this isn't the kind of article I would click on, but I have to admit, the accompanying photo caught my eye:



I searched for and found the complete article in both English and German. Apparently, "unknown factors not linked to diet, smoking or poverty may make Scots people more prone to heart disease, research led by University of Edinburgh has revealed." OK, but why the naked Scottish bootie? And why only in the German versions?

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