Monday, September 29, 2008

We're home again!

We returned late Sunday evening from our whirlwind trip down the length of Germany! There were so many wonderful sights and experiences I think I could write for weeks!
In the first picture, Aaron and I are walking along the street in Cochem, in the heart of the Mosel River valley- wine country. This was a touristy village, but still very quaint- set into a steep hillside beneath a castle and overlooking the river. We stayed for two nights, did some fun shopping, wine and mustard tasting, and ate some delicious meals. We also toured two castles- the second picture shows Mom and Dad just outside the courtyard at Burg Eltz. This castle was breathtaking and has such an amazing history! It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. (More details to come)
After Cochem, we drove to Baden-Baden and took in the world-famous bath/spa there. It is famous with good reason- we spent three hours there and all came out feeling pampered and relaxed! Delightful! On Saturday we met up with Jurgen, a friend Mom and Dad met when he stayed at their home through an international Rotary exchange program. He and his girlfriend Steffi gave us a walking tour of the city and then took us into the Black Forest. We finished our day at a harvest restaurant that is only open in September and October and serves fresh harvest meals to the locals. It was very interesting!
Sunday was a really long drive home and today is a rest day (except for Aaron who is back at work) because we will be up at 3:30 to get Mom and Dad back to the airport for their morning flight tomorrow! It seems that the time has gone too quickly but we have packed a lot into the visit. I'll continue to hit the highlights of the trip this week now that I'll be back to my slower daily routine!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Our First Guests

I have been a bit neglectful of the blog this week, so I'm sorry for those of you who have checked and been disappointed. BUT, it is with good reason. In the first part of the week, I cleaned, shopped and cooked in preparation for the arrival of my parents on Thursday morning. They had a relatively smooth journey and are recovering quite well from their jet lag.

This is their first trip to Europe and we have had a great few days so far! We showed them around our little town, visited a few old churches, treated them to an authentic German meal and ventured to Sonderborg, Denmark (where we finally found brown sugar!). Dad and Aaron also went for a long bike ride there as part of their annual fall tradition. Tomorrow we will meet our German tutor and her family for the traditional afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) at a restaurant by the Baltic sea. On Wednesday, we will head south to the Mosel River valley and then to Baden-Baden, so more on those adventures later.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main...

Last night we had another fun "first!" We got to go sailing in the Flensburg Fjord on the Baltic Sea! One of Aaron's colleagues (in picture) just got a sailboat this summer and has been going out whenever the weather is good. As you can see, we had sunshine and lots of wind so it was a great day for it! The wind was so strong that the boat really got leaning. The waves were big- up to 6 feet- and we got splashed by the waves several times!

The Flensburg Fjord separates Germany from Denmark so we were able to see the coastlines of two countries as we sailed. It was interesting to watch 21st century kiteboarders skimming across the water against a backdrop of 18th century wooden windmills!

Afterwards, we ate fisch broetchen (sandwiches on fresh mini-baguettes) at the marina restaurant. This is a regional specialty and you can get them with Matjes (salted) herring, Bismarck (pickled) herring, tiny shrimp from the North Sea, or fried fish. Of course, our friends insisted that we try all types! Not bad- better than smoked eel!

It was a boost to our spirits to be out in the wind and water! We came to Germany because we wanted to experience a different way of living and try new things. But some days at home feel mundane and other days we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of this life change, frustrated by the effort required to accomplish the most basic tasks in a different culture and language. So these days when our experiences transcend all of that are truly a breath of fresh air to revive us, and we feel blessed!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sea monkeys are not real pets!

We miss our cat! I know we did the right thing by leaving her with Gramma and Uncle Joe. She is eighteen years old- too old to start cavorting around the globe. And I know she doesn't miss us. When we visited her at her new home just a few weeks after she arrived, she seemed to barely notice us. (Okay, it could have been the silent treatment but I'd rather believe that she just didn't care.)

But now we're here and I am in the house all day with no one to talk to! We can't exactly read the newspaper yet, but every week we turn to the last page and pour over all the animals that need to be adopted. Cats, dogs, pot-bellied pigs, ponies, goats, koi fish... gotta love the variety! We are trying to be rational and it just doesn't make sense to get a pet while we're here. We want to do a lot of traveling within Europe and we know we will have many visits back to the U.S. We don't know how long we will live here and I'm not sure I would want to put an animal through the stress of a prolonged journey to a new home on another continent. So...

We decided to grow the sea monkeys that my nephew Will gave me for my birthday last year. I purified the water, added the eggs the next day, fed them on day 5, and now we have a little aquarium full of tiny brine shrimp that you can barely see. They provide about 30 seconds of entertainment in my day. But they are not warm and furry, they don't follow me around the house, and I don't even feel like trying to talk to them!
Maybe we can borrow a cat...

Friday, September 5, 2008

How many books does it take...?

We first visited Germany together back in March and before we came, Aaron picked up a pocket-sized German phrase book. It has already proved invaluable when we're "on the spot" in a restaurant or store. When Aaron started private lessons in early June, our teacher loaned us two large hardback dictionary volumes- one is German-English and the other is English-German. Wonderful, but bulky! I had picked up a smaller dictionary at a used bookstore and that too is helpful because you can actually carry it around with you. We each have a set of books for our lessons- a reading book and a workbook. Phrase book, complete dictionaries, pocket dictionary, lesson books- that's six books! And we're not done!

How many of you recall your English grammar lessons from elementary school? Direct and indirect objects, predicate nouns, adverbial prepositions, relative pronouns- starting to ring a bell? No, me neither! So, we had to have a book of English grammar because if you don't know the rules of your own language you're hopeless for learning a second language!

Then, we started to tackle verb conjugations. In English this is not so complicated as in many other languages. There is a different form of a verb for "I" "you" "he/she/it" "we" "they" and the plural form of "you" (which we don't have but use "you guys," or "y'all.") And that is true for every tense of the verb- present , past , perfect , subjunctive, future. So, we needed The Big Yellow Book of German Verbs, featuring 555 fully conjugated verbs with a cross-referenced index of 4,200 verbs (see photo)! Could it possibly get any better than this?

Yes! There's more! We are moving beyond basics, starting to build sentences and asking a lot of questions about sentence structure, use of prepositions, etc. We found that we needed a reference book for German grammar. So, after extensive research on, I located Hammer's German Grammar and Usage, 4th Edition. I am waiting for the post man to ring the doorbell any minute to bring this latest treasure, which will bring our total number of books on German language to NINE!

Oh, and don't be fooled by the picture! I hardly ever look so cheerful when I'm studying!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Deutsch follies!

It's not so easy- learning a new language while living in a country where you require its use. I'm amazed at how many words I know after two months, but my vocabulary is nowhere near what I need to be able to read, for instance, the manual for the washing machine!

I had been here for about a week when I decided I should tackle the laundry. Aaron was at work and I thought, "How hard can it be to get this thing going?" It is a style that is new to me- front-loading with a separate compartment for soap. Actually, the soap drawer has three different compartments- labeled with symbols which are decoded (in German) in the manual. I knew I wouldn't get far with that so I poured the detergent in the spot that had a little soap bubble on it- perfect! Hit "Start" and an hour later I have clean clothes. I went on like this for five or six weeks feeling quite pleased with myself for figuring this out without reading the instructions first!

One day I walked in while the machine was on its final spin. "Hmm, looks a bit soapy," I thought but carried on without further thought. A few days later, after I had finished all the week's laundry I decided to try reading the manual since I had now acquired a small German vocabulary. With the help of my pocket translator and my German/English dictionary I deciphered the symbols. It turns out I had been adding the detergent where the liquid fabric softener is supposed to go! I was so embarassed that I didn't think I could tell anyone, but in the end I couldn't resist. Aaron got such a good laugh. He now knows why he starts to "suds up" when he's running! Ha!

But he has had his fair share of mishaps too. Since our freezer is too small to hold a frozen pizza, our grocery shopping day corresponds with "Pizza Night." It was Aaron's turn to choose and he had his mouth set for a sausage pizza. He picked it out, threw it in the cart and off we went. At home, while it was baking it smelled... different. When it came out, he said "I think something is wrong." "It smells like fish," I agreed. A photo of TUNA pizza on the packaging looks quite like sausage pizza! As we later learned, tuna is a common topping and sausage as we know it is virtually nonexistent in Germany. Once you got over the fact that it was fish, it wasn't so bad but Aaron could not be assuaged!