Friday, November 28, 2008

The pull of tradition is strong!

Yup, we did it! We said we weren't going to bother with a big Thanksgiving dinner. Without family and all the hype around the four-day holiday weekend, without any other ex-patriots around or even German friends to cook for, we didn't want to set ourselves up for disappointment. There is no Thanksgiving in Germany, after all.

But we went for groceries on Wednesday evening and there he was, a big Tom Turkey in the freezer case! We could not resist. Aaron had an extra vacation day and decided to use it today, Friday. So this morning we found ourselves cooking up a storm- turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green beans and apple pie! Thanksgiving came a day late to us in Soerup, Germany, but it came. The potatoes were lumpy, the stuffing was dry, the gravy was soupy but it all tasted great!

We sat and lingered over the meal, reminiscing about past holidays and funny family moments. We reflected on the many things we are thankful for this year. We are so grateful for the loving family and friends we have- absence really does make the heart grow fonder. We are so glad we have each other to lean on in this grand new adventure. Neither of us could do it alone. And we are thankful for new opportunities and all the doors God has opened to us. It is exciting to think about where this will lead.

So, even though things are business as usual here in Germany the spirit of Thanksgiving is here at our house. Not the same as always but a special day all the same.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh, Tannenbaum!

Our Christmas tree, still bundled up from
its big journey from Michigan

Not lookin' too good! I guess four weeks
in a container rockin' on the ocean wasn't so fun!
Fluffed and trimmed- as good as new!

So, we not only started our Advent calendar on Sunday (which is tasting very good, by the way) we also decorated our house! We really laughed as we took the "coat" off our tree to see how smashed and flattened it was. Branches were falling off and it was quite pathetic! But a little wood glue and some bending of branches got it back in shape. So, we are starting to get into the holiday spirit.

Hope you are too!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Turkeys survive first Transatlantic flight!

Wow! I’m nearly speechless. And not just because my mouth is full of cookies!

In my family, Aunt Bev’s turkey cookies have transcended tradition to become legendary. Baked only at Thanksgiving, they are the perfect combination of crisp and chewy, spiced and sweet, and they have a pretty translucent icing. And like anything you can only get once a year, they are a hot commodity. When Aunt Bev knows that the Rileys are gathering for Thanksgiving, she sends the cookies to one house to be shared and enjoyed by all. More than once, we’ve asked her for a cookie "head count" so they can be rationed accordingly.

And now, wonder of wonders, I have turkey cookies here in Germany! They flew overnight from my aunt’s house to my mom’s house, in time to make a bigger shipment of treats she was sending. Aaron and I opened the package at lunchtime today and marveled over our good fortune and kind family members. Now do we keep with tradition and save some until Thursday? Something tells me they won't make it that long!

Thanks, Aunt Bev!

Advent begins- for us, anyway!

Advent calendars are definitely the "thing" here. Starting back in October we started seeing them everywhere! Of course, there are lots with candy and chocolate but what really amazes me are the toy Advent calendars. You can buy several varieties of Playmobil Advent calendars, Legos, Barbie, Polly Pockets, etc.- all with 24 little toys inside! Wow!

We didn't think we would get a calendar since we will be leaving on Dec. 16 to spend the holidays back home. But where there's a will to eat chocolate, there's always a way to rationalize! We went shopping on Saturday and found this beautiful Lindt calendar with three-dimensional towers that you assemble. How could we resist? It turned out that, starting yesterday, there are 24 days until we fly back to America. So, Advent has begun! Hurray! And Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

America's biggest export- culture!

Some things are completely the same- like a McDonald's cheeseburger. I am not a big fan of fast food for myriad reasons so it was with some dismay that I agreed to eat lunch with Maren under the golden arches. There were so many different things on the menu that I got overwhelmed. Then I realized that I could surely just get a burger- simple, familiar, less than 1000 calories. We ordered up two cheeseburgers and two "colas" and what do you know? It tasted just like America!

We also have Burger King and Subway if we get the urge. In Berlin and Hamburg, I have seen Starbuck's coffee shops. I'm sure there are other franchises...

Generally, we have been surprised by how many "American" products are available here. M&M's, Pringles potato chips, Doritos, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Snickers bars and most other major candy bars. And the things we've tried have been just like what we know.

There is a Tommy Hilfiger store right in Flensburg. I've seen Wrangler jeans in the department stores. People wear The North Face jackets.

And they know all about U.S. television programs. I watched "Happy Days" dubbed over in German at a friend's house! Ha! We have another friend who is hooked on "24." And of course they see American movies. Many are dubbed over in German and they always use the same voice actor for a particular American actor. So they think Brad Pitt sounds totally different than he really does. Funny!

American (and British) music is played on the radio a lot. The good, the bad, the 1983 ballads! I think I've heard "Africa" by Toto more in the last few months than I did in the last 25 years in the U.S. And it's such a hard song to get out of your head.

They even import some of our words-e-mail is e-mail, shopping is shopping, computer is computer! It's crazy! And sometimes frustrating!

But one thing they can't duplicate here is all the fantastic friends and family we have in the U.S. We miss you! Looking forward to holiday visits with everyone!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Miscellaneous musings about the weekend

Soerup's Christmas tree (and me)
Friday night we were invited to dinner by Aaron's boss. The kind of thing you don't say "no" to but don't exactly look forward to, multiplied by language issues and a wife who seems cool and aloof (the boss's wife, not me of course)! We went to their family's favorite Italian restaurant in a nearby, slightly larger town. A nice young waitress came up to our table, overheard English being spoken and immediately switched to English-only service. She sounded just like a teenager in the United States. When we told her that we moved here from Michigan, she lit up, "I've been there!" What do you know? It is just a small world. We had great pasta and a nice evening. Boss's wife turned out to be quite nice, apparently has been nervous to speak English in the past but spoke fluently and we were able to understand when they spoke German to us. All was well...
Saturday we went out for a jog and came back to town to find this enormous tree on Main Street! I wonder how they will decorate it. Do they have Girl Scouts in Germany? Isn't that who usually takes care of such projects? Anyway, seeing the Christmas tree and eating homemade tacos were the highlights of the day, a very good day!
Sunday morning the sun was shining so we went for a walk on the beach. There were tons of people out- I guess we are all tired of the rain! And we found sea glass. We weren't even looking and I noticed a piece in the sand. I was never able to find any on Lake Michigan! After that, I was sort of obsessed with looking down as I walked. Not exactly the way to take in the scenery but it felt like a treasure hunt.
Our weekend was not exactly a big adventure like seeing Berlin last weekend but sometimes normal life feels good too.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


That basically translates to crossing light man and he is a pretty big deal in Berlin! This fellow, who seems to be universally described as "jaunty," is the East Berlin version. Over the years he became very popular in East Germany for teaching young children traffic safety. In the early days of reunification, he was in danger of becoming extinct. There were great efforts to turn Berlin back into one city instead of the two that had existed for over thirty years. They were anxious to get rid of reminders of the differences and separateness. East Berlin needed some modernization and the traffic signals apparently had antiquated electronics so they had to go. But Ampelmann was adopted by an industrial engineer and soon there was an outcry from the media and the public to save him. He has now showed up at some street crossings in former West Berlin, and elsewhere in western Germany. It seems that time has lent some perspective and not all that was East German is discarded. He has grown over the last decade into a kind of cult symbol of Berlin and the merchandising has been quick to follow. Now you can find Ampelmann keychains, bottle openers, pasta, gummi candy, t-shirts, bags, soccer balls.... Even though we knew it was a tourist trap, we couldn't help but go into the shop. It's hard not to like Ampelmann, both for his jaunty stride and for what he represents in Berlin.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Berlin

Standing in Pariser Platz square looking at the Brandenburg Gate
(Aaron is pretending that he's on this tour because he likes to look of their bicycles!)
The Berlin Wall ran just behind this structure and was the first place where East Berlin was sealed off from the West. This is also where the Wall first started to come down on Nov. 9, 1989, nineteen years ago this week!
In Gendarmenmarkt square (former East Berlin): a monument to poet/playwright Friedrich Schiller, with the German Cathedral to the left
and the Berlin Concert Hall to the right
There is so much history in every building and structure. First built by the Prussians, expanded and beautified later, damaged in WWII bombings, rebuilt after the Wall came down... I felt like I should be reading a history of Germany as I looked around the city. You just can't appreciate everything by looking at it.
Trying to be good Germans: Drop everything for afternoon coffee and cake!
The cake at this cafe was good but the crepes we had for dinner were the highlight of our day of eating. Entree crepes filled with ham, cheese, mushrooms- yum! And dessert crepes with Nutella and citrus flavors- heavenly!

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Friends, New City

Actually, Adrienne and I go way back- back to diapers! But we haven't stayed in touch over the last two decades even though our moms remain good friends. Since she and her husband Ilarion moved to Berlin two months ago, it was a perfect time to reconnect.

We headed to the city Friday afternoon and made it by dinner time. On Saturday we explored a lot of Berlin on foot. There is a huge park in the center and they live just at the edge of it. It was lovely to see such open space in the midst of a metropolis. We came out the other side near the Reichstag- Parliament building, where we got to witness a protest march regarding unemployment benefits. Then we walked through Brandenburg Gate, which stands at the former East-West border. It was packed with tourists but still felt symbolic and important. In most places we could not tell whether we were in former East Berlin or West Berlin. There are some remnants of the Wall, and in ths photo Adrienne, Ilarion and I are standing in front of a section.

The four of us talked and talked about our experiences of living in this country and it was great to share it with others who are going through the same things. Between the four of us, our German got us around without any problems until we encountered a waitress who didn't speak it! She was French, and thankfully could speak some English. You just never know! It was refreshing for Aaron and I to be in a city, where foreigners are not so uncommon and you hear people speaking many different languages on the streets. Here in Soerup we sometimes feel a bit isolated being the only Americans in town.

We had a great time and realize how much there is to see in Berlin! I'm sure we'll be back to take in some of the many museums and cultural offerings, and visit our friends again!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Having a Smurfy good time!

They're back! Or maybe they never went out of vogue in Germany. Whatever the case, The Smurfs, or Die Schluempfe, turned fifty years old in 2008 and Germany is celebrating by featuring them in the Kinder Surprise eggs.

Kinder Eggs are the most popular candy among children here, with very good reason. A foil-wrapped chocolate egg shell that contains a toy surprise inside. Often a very good toy! I cannot imagine why these are not available in the U.S.

Naturally, Aaron and I are hooked. What do you mean we're too old for toys? Now that there is a possibility of getting a Smurf I absolutely can't resist the thrill of the hunt. (Okay, well, there's also the thrill of delicious milk chocolate melting on my tongue...) The odds of getting a Smurf were 1 in 7 and we had no luck. So, when we found these 6-packs at the store last night with 2 Smurfs guaranteed we were so excited! So far we've found one Smurf out of the four eggs we opened! The anticipation is killing me. It feels just like Christmas, and like my Smurf-themed seventh birthday party!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Way to go, America!

Of course, we're all feeling some emotion about who won the election. But what makes me really proud of our country is the stories I'm reading about us- the people of America! There was a record number of voters, and so many first-timers. How wonderful that more people are finally engaging in what is a citizen's obligation and privilege. I hope everyone will keep right on caring and speaking up.

The voting lines were so long in some places. And I heard stories of people being friendly- sharing umbrellas in the rain, making coffee runs, directing strangers to free parking spots! I love it! It really makes me wish I had been there.

Like him or not, Barack Obama has inspired a lot of people to believe again in the future of this country. A lot of responsibility now rests on his shoulders. But I think that the real possibilities for the United States rest with each one of us. If we can all just share our umbrellas, think what might happen!