Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas in Germany

While it is still the Christmas Season, we wanted to answer some questions about how we spent our first Christmas in Germany. We were able to move into our apartment on December 17th so that we could have a Christmas at home with our own stuff...but we didn't get as far as decorating or getting a tree. So all of the great after-Christmas-sale stuff I got last year will have to wait yet another year. ;) On the bright side, I didn't have to buy anything new this year and by next year I will have forgotten what I bought last year and just decorating will be like an early Christmas, surprise after surprise. haha

A lot of Americans, as you can imagine, head back to the States for the holidays, but a few are like us and had reasons not to leave. We felt that we were not yet settled in enough to leave and didn't know how to make plans for the animals while we were away...so, we'll head home to PA for family visiting later in the winter. We started talking to some of our American friends who were sticking around to find out what people do for Christmas here, secretly hoping to not have to cook at all...and had several lovely invitations to dinners, activities and parties. We also learned that the Army Base Chapel, where we attend on Sundays, has a Christmas Eve service annually. So we started to make plans...

We planned to attend Christmas Eve service, where we were asked to participate by reading and lighting the final advent candle, the Christ candle...then we planned to go home and open our gifts from family so that the next morning we could take our time getting ready to go on a hike to a hutte/lodge where we would eat Christmas dinner with friends who Ben works with and then sled back down the hill...get home, shower & clean up, go to Ben's office to call home and talk to our families (we still don't have our own phone line...any day now!)...before we headed off with more friends to join a dessert party up the mountain in Ettal.

PLANS CHANGE.

We did attend the Christmas Eve service, AFTER we had what can only be described as an emotional meltdown resulting from the changes, adjustments, stresses and sadness of missing our family and friends. But God is good and we were able to pull ourselves together and make it to the service. Being a part of it felt really special since we are so new here, but it also felt natural-after all, we were with God's family. The Chaplain, Larry Pundt, gave an excellent sermon on how God fooled the devil at Christmas...reminding us all of God's sovereingty. If you google that title, you can find this sermon, apparently it is popular, but Ben & I couldn't remember hearing it before...and Larry is a man of God with a passionate heart and certainly made it his own.

We did open our presents Christmas Eve. :)

Christmas morning it was raining. So we didn't hike. We did stuff around the house, watched a couple of movies, made nachos and talked more about what had caused me in particular to breakdown the night before...but Ben was able to share a lot of what he is struggling with too. Mostly, the hardest thing has been not having good communication with our support systems. I know we have each other, and that is a true blessing...but when you are both feeling crummy about things and aren't paying enough attention to the feelings of the other...or expressing yourself properly, things get mixed up pretty quickly. So after talking about what we were each having a hard time with, we agreed to help each other out, made some goals and we both felt a lot better about our new life here...when you know someone else is missing some of the same things, it helps!

We did get to talk to our families (except my dad who we left a message for)...and our nephew Logan sang to us...something about his bicycle has no handlebars...he is Brook's son, afterall. :)

We did go with friends to the dessert party and had a fabulous time.

So, our Christmas wasn't a happy or spectacular or fun adventure like we had hoped...but it was certainly a time of reflection...reflection on God's love in the form of the Christ-child, reflection on how we are doing after moving to a new country, a new culture, a new life...relfection on the goodness that God shows us-as undeserving as we are. And it was fun!

Have a fabulous New Year...and remember to reflect on God's goodness in your life!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Confessions of an EisBaer

Ok, so I think it is about time that I get to put my 2 cents in about this whole move to Germany thing since no one ever really stops to ask the dog what she thinks-I'm gonna tell you anyway. Thus begins my first-ever blog entry.

I have to admit that at first I was not so keen on this whole idea of leaving my house, my yard, my dog park buds. In fact, the week of the move, my "people" made me sleep in this small one room house they called a hotel-so I found a secret hidden room that they did not seem to notice and slept in there. I heard them call it a closet, but I think they just didn't know that you could easily fit in there to sleep comfortably...I didn't tell them b/c I wanted it all to myself.


After they let all of those men steal my bed and my toys they made me ride in a big car with all of the stuff they managed to save threatening to fall on me at any sharp turn, just to stay in another hotel that didn't even have their so-called "closet" so I had to bunk on the floor next to their bed...for like 5.5 hours before they made me ride in another big car to this giant place with lots of lights and nice people who I wasn't allowed to sniff. They put me in my crate and then put my best friend (inside of his crate) on top of me and wheeled us around until they let these men in blue shirts steal us away...I can't even tell you what happened next...I have erased those memories...

...but soon enough Rascal and I found ourselves in another big place with lots of lights and people. We were thirsty and scared b/c the people in the blue shirts just left us sitting under a sign that I think said "Odd Baggage"...until my people finally came and got us. They took a while figuring out what to do with me though b/c my crate was too big to fit on any of the carts...so finally they let me out to walk through the big place until we found the USO. I liked that walk-not only b/c it was good to stretch my legs, but I guess I am a celebrity in that big place b/c people were pointing and staring and smiling and even laughing at me and my people. I wish I could have stopped to meet them all, but my silly people don't let me do that-I guess they think it increases my myseterious quality to not meet EVERYONE who I pass on a daily basis. I can't think of any other reason.


My people seemed very pleased to find the USO in the land of Chicago O'Hare but immideately I was taken outside to find a nice grassy place to do my business. It was exciting b/c not a lot of dogs had been where I was so I got to claim a lot of territory.
Just as I was getting used to the USO and the walks, they put me back in my crate and gave Rascal and I to Calvin. Calvin was very nice. He gave us water and was gentle...but he put me back in that loud, cold place that I refuse to tell you about b/c I don't want to scare any little kids who might read this.


We had one last stop in another big place...but this place was different. It had a lot of nice people, but they talked funny and they just left Rascal and I out in the middle of the floor on a cart with suitcases, so my people didn't find me right away. They walked right past me and I was worried that they wouldn't see me and I was too scared to bark at them. But they did find me and they took me to a quiet room where a nice funny talking man met me and petted me and said something like "Welcome to Munich, Germany" but I just hoped that they would let me out of my crate soon so I could run around.
Lucky for me, two nice lady people named Katharina and Arlene had a really big van to take us away from the scary big place and they petted me and drove me to a new house.
The new house what NOT what I was used to. It had no big yard and my people put me on a leash everytime they took me to the little yard. BUT, I did get to walk in fun new places and try to meet new friends. Some of those funny talking people called me EisBaer which always makes my people laugh...I don't really get it b/c I don't know what a polar bear is, but apparently I look like one. EisBaer is not the only new word I have learned. I have also learned HUND and SCHON and NEIN. I am now a bilingual pooch!

Over time, I learned to like the new house but I didn't know where my bed or toys went or why we had so little room-it sure seemed like my people had made a MAJOR DOWNGRADE.

Oh, I didn't even tell you the worst part. SOMEONE STOLE MY CAR. Seriously, one day I was riding around in it, the next it was nowhere to be found. In Germany, my people made me walk everywhere or else ride the bus, which I hated waiting for. I never had to wait for my car.

So I made the best of it and enjoyed my walks and especially the river-ice cold running water. HEAVEN.

I guess Germany isn't all bad. They let me go into a lot more buildings here like shops and restaurants. Once my silly people figured it out, they started taking me with them to dinner most nights. Here I am waiting to see if I will get any scraps of burger or fries...I love mustard.


It has been a long adjustment, but I think Germany is growing on me. I like the mountains-after all, I am a mountain dog. I also like the snow-a lot. And my people finally moved me into a bigger house where I have a yard right outside of the door next to my bed...and yeah...some other men found the men who stole my stuff and they brought it all back to me...my bed, my toys, even my car! So, it feels a little like home now.

Now I take big long walks in the snow, like today, and I am still a celebrity...people stare at me everywhere I go, they want to talk in their funny talk about me. If my man is there, he will funny talk with them, but if it is my woman, then she just smiles and says a few funny words until the funny talking people walk away. But, they must really love an EisBaer here in Germany, b/c they sure love me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter, Christmas, and German customs

Winter has finally come to the Bavarian Alps! Just as we received our car and moved into our apartment the snow and REALLY cold temperatures blew in. Before that all happened, we found a War Memorial up in a pasture on the mountain. Storm found a fountain to take advantage of. It was sad to see all the plaques with pictures of young men, and the place where they died. Most were from WWII, and most died in Russia.



The view from the Memorial is a good one- you can see all of Garmisch and the ski jump from the Olympics.



After we got our car in Stuttgart, we came and left for a quick day-trip to Salzburg. It was a great starter trip- we'll definitely want to go back for a few days to explore the narrow alleys.



Every other vendor at the Christmas markets sells sweets! The roasted, sugared and cinnamon almonds are our favorite.





Partenkirchen, which is connected to Garmisch, also had a Christmas market. The end of it had a really cool view.

On Dec 16th we moved into our apartment and received all of the houshold goods that we decided to bring along. Since then, and for the next few weeks, we'll be opening boxes and figuring out where to place things. It is a great feeling to settle into a place and know that it is yours for a long time. It's also quite a challenge with absolutely NO closets! It's wonderful to experience what is better in Europe, but challenging to miss the things that are certainly better in America. Closets being one of them. The other is the abundance of laws and order.. sometimes to extremes here. The one we're getting used to is the fine you will likely get if you leave your car running while you scrape the frost off your windows. And don't think that there's no way the authorities will catch you!! We've heard that many neighbors will have no problem dropping the dime on you.
I think we'll catch on fairly quickly, enjoy the good things and cling to some of the things that make us distinctly American. Our grill also arrived, and we'll be using that thing every day no matter the weather!












Saturday, November 28, 2009

Here's a bunch of pictures, kind of out of order, covering the food and adventures over the past few weeks. If you're interested in seeing an apartment we liked, see previous post below.

Above, a view from the bus stop on a rainy day.

Esther and I at our favorite place for pizza, "La Mamma".

The booths serving brats and gluhwein are just starting to pop up for the Christmas season. Last night, Nov 27, a band played along side.

It never takes Rascal long to find ways to be a Rascal.


This is Esther's apple strudel with cream and vanilla ice cream, served at the mountain hut. It was definitely as good as it looks.



Storm has found her sleeping corner.



On her walks, Storm loves wading into the alpine river. It has a blueish/green color, I guess because of the glacier up on the Zugspitze peaks.


In between German and Italian meals, we found an all-you-can-eat rib dinner.



This meal was served at a mountain hut after an hour hike. It was amazing!




One of the frescoed buildings in Garmisch pedestrian zone.


From Left To Right: DUNKLE WEISSE !!! (Can you tell that Storm likes Beer??)



More and more Christmas decorations are going up in town.



I look horrible, but the bratwurst is in focus!







A welcome sign during a hike.













Apartment we like

A few weeks ago we viewed an apartment we like. We're hoping to settle here, and working on our patience as the housing office is taking a while with people out on leave. It's not a huge rush, but we're really missing easy yard access with Storm. Sometimes it gets us down.... but the food sure helps! So here's some pictures of the apartment. Please see the other post about food/adventures... That combination sure helps to cheer us up while we wait for permanent housing (and our real BED!!)



The yard is really nice, plenty of room for grilling and hillbilly golf!








The dining/living room windows face south and west, which is great for light and sun.








Sunday, November 22, 2009

Laundry and other adventures...

Living in Germany for 30 days now has had it's ups and downs. There are wonderful things about being immersed in a different culture and there are difficult and frustrating times as well. We are having a hard time with learning when things are open. First you have the American amenities on the base that all have different hours-some daily, some most days and others only certain days. Then there are the German stores and restaurants. Some things close in the afternoons, others don't open till evening...trying to find an early dinner at 4pm is a challenge and hoping to find an open store after 8pm is nearly impossible. I think this is part of what they mean when they tell you it will take 6 months for you to start feeling comfortable. It will take at least that long for us to figure out when things open and close. In the mean time we are trying to stay flexible...but we are more used to the stores and restaurants being flexible 24/7-not us.

Laundry is a different subject here too. Staying in our temporary apartment-our "ferienwohnung"-is I guess comprable to staying in a vacation condo in the States. We are responsible for all of our own cleaning and laundry. The landlady will clean our bedding for 5 euro a set (that is $7.50) or we can do it ourselves. BUT we can't use her facility. So she recommended I take our laundry to the Waschsalon-German style laundromat-that is a couple of blocks from our ferienwohnung. So, I did. I packed up our dirty clothes, towels, etc. in a suitcase and rolled it down the street to the only-German-speaking wasch-frau at the Waschsalon. Upon learning that I knew as much German as she knew English, she proceeded to put my dirty clothes in the washing machines for me (wierd), put in the soap and run them (3 loads). She instructed me to come back in one hour. I was confused by this point but willing to go with it-practicing the art of flexibility-so I left and came back an hour later. She had moved some of my things by then to the dryers so I quickly went through to make sure nothing shrinkable had made it in and then moved the rest myself. Once things were set, she started the dryers (at what heat, I have no idea) and told me to sit and wait. So I got out my wordsearches-thank you 3rd grade teachers!-and proceeded to wait. 15 minutes later I was pulling my warm, dry clothes out and folding them nicely into the suitcase. I then went to the counter and waited for the wasch-frau to take my money. I didn't know how much it would cost, so I was prepared for anything. She got out her calculator and added up 3 loads of wash and 2 dryers running for 15 minutes....total=20.80 euros. WHAT? Could that possibly be correct? Ok...being flexible, I paid her (all in coins b/c she wouldn't take my 20 euro bill) and left with my clean laundry. I cannot describe the feeling of shock I had walking the 2 blocks back home realizing that I had just spent $30 on 3 loads of laundry!!! THIRTY DOLLARS!!! Unbelievable. A few days later a friend on base told me that there are laundry facilities on the base camping grounds that take quarters that I can use. So, my second laundry experience was packing the suitcase, taking the bus, walking on base to get American Dollars from the ATM (you can choose Euros or Dollars), walking to the campgrounds, finding the laundry, putting my bills in the change machine, starting 3 loads of laundry myself, putting them in the dryer myself, and then folding it and returning home. All of this for less than $5...go figure. A little more effort and a TON of savings. Some things will just always be better in the States. :)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Language Issues

Something that I have learned is that German students take 6-7 years of English class, so many of them understand and/or speak English. The problem is more that I don't understand any German-yet. There is a Rosetta Stone Language program at the garrison library. I haven't started it yet, but hope to before the end of the week. Ben has been great at translating important things and at communicating with German waiters, shopkeepers, etc. Also, our current landlady is German with as much English as I have German-so Ben has been asking for help from collegues when he needs help communicating with her. Most Americans here don't seem to bother much with the German language, but I am looking forward to learning a new language...it feels very helpless to not be able to communicate basic things with people. I will often get comments or questions about Storm when we walk and it is so awkward to try and express that I only speak English when someone is looking eagerly at you to respond to whatever they just said. I am trying to learn phrases, but when I have to use them I just freeze up...or I want to respond in Spanish, which is the only foreign language I know. Isn't that funny? Someone speaks to me in German and I want to answer them in Spanish-if I can pick up on what they said in the first place. HA!

Have you ever been in a restaurant with someone that you know so well that you don't even have to talk much b/c there isn't much to be said-especially if he is your only friend on the whole continent...well, that is Ben and I every night at dinner. And normally, I would enjoy a little eavesdropping to pick up on local interests but when they are speaking German, that is out of the question...so many meals, we sit quietly, chatting about our days, making plans and me, trying to pick out words or phrases I recognize that I can ask Ben to translate-if he can. I wonder if I will ever be good enough at German to eavesdrop in the restaurants here...? Should that even be my goal? haha Maybe not. ;)

Adjustments

So we have been here in Garmisch, Germany for 11 days-it seems longer than that even though several of those days were spent mostly just trying to stay awake. The first adjustment to conquer was definitely the time change. An 8 hour change from Utah time was significant. For instance, it is 9am as I write this but in Utah it is 1am. Try telling your body to be awake and stay awake for another 12 hours when it is used to being in deep REM...Ben was better at that than I was, but then again he had to be at work Monday morning after our Sunday arrival...and I have always needed more sleep than him. ;) Anyway, by now, we are in good shape. I have even gotten up before 8am the last few days and left the house with Ben for work-oops, does that sound braggy? (Any The Office fans out there?)

So now that we have adjusted our sleep schedules, we are still adjusting to not having our own place. The apartment we are in is a comforatable enough place for a one week vacation spot, but to live in....not so much. So we have resorted to sleeping on the futon which is more comfortable than the bed and cannot wait to have our first shipment of goods arrive with REAL pillows...they have these feather pillows here that you have to bunch and bunch just to get like a 1/2 inch of height out of them. I don't mean to complain, but I think I'm gonna need some serious chiropractic care if our own pillows don't arrive soon. ;)


Not having a car yet has been interesting. Our apartment is about a 20-30 minute walk to the base (where Ben works, computer/internet access, commissary/grocery, PX/shopping, library) so we have had to figure out other modes of transport b/c the walk is just a little too far for some of the back and forth our schedule has required. One of Ben's co-workers has lent us 2 bikes which are awesome, but in the rain/snow, we have learned to use the bus which is much more efficient. I still walk the dog during the day, giving us both exercise, as long as weather allows. Most rainy days it clears up by afternoon so that hasn't been a problem. There are tons of pedestrian only walkways even besides the shopping district in Garmisch, which is only 2 blocks from our apartment.

Storm and I have been having fun finding new places to walk. They have a walking/bike trail right by the river that reminds me of the Ogden River Parkway. It has little covered bridges that cross...very pretty, quiet and perfect for our walks. We may have arrived a little too late in the season to get any real hiking in before winter really sets in-especially with our limited clothing options at this point.


Yesterday and today we had appointments to start looking at long term housing. We looked at a very large house in Garmisch that is old, not at all updated and too big for our little family. So that won't work. We also saw an apartment very close to Ben's work that we liked. It is a ground floor and basement apartment with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, new wood/laminate floors and a fenced yard for the dog to roam in. The bedrooms are "snug" so we would have to make that work with our furniture but the living room space, kitchen, bathrooms and guest space are all great. The patio has a mountain view and there is plenty of light. There is a faint smell of smoke from the previous tenant, but we think that if the landlord takes out his curtains and we put our own up that might help with the smell. So far it is our best option. We are anxious to get into our own place but don't want to jump the gun, either.


Another adjustment has been not having internet in our apartment...I didn't anticipate that since most hotels, B&Bs, etc in the states have wireless. But, there is a cafe on base (where I am now) and a pub close to base that have free wireless so I am figuring out their hours and how best to lug our new (bigger) laptop around safely and efficiently. I guess I have been spoiled. :) But since we don't have a phone yet the internet is our best connection to friends and family in the states, so it is pretty important to work something out...and I think we have. The bus runs from 1 block from our apartment right to the gate of the garrison where the cafe is. So, if I load the laptop up in the backpack (that we had to buy when we got here b/c Ben's messenger bag wasn't cutting it) and hop a bus, I can sit and drink tea and enjoy my happy connections to home. :) Hopefully that will mean more frequent blogs.

Speaking of connections to home, we have German Cable TV in the apartment but the only english channels are MTV and CNN, so we are either learning all about world weather and politics or we are watching disturbing music videos or reality TV shows-so the TV is not often on...which is pretty typical since we didn't have Cable TV in Utah. It is helping me to learn some German, though...the commercials crack me up!



The last adjustment is the fact that we are eating dinner out everynight, which is fun but a lot of work finding good places to eat and then changing it up often enough. There are plenty of restaurants around and we have returned to some of our favorites a couple of times. There are a couple of good Italian places in Garmisch-and I had really good pizza for the first time since our Philly trip in July. The German cuisine has been like American cuisine in that if you are in a good restaurant, you may get some really good food, but if you are in a bar/cafe you may get great drinks and ok food. Ben is, of course, loving the beer, while I am learning to drink hot tea with dinner or Coke with no ice or tap water if we are in an American-friendly place. :) There is a McDonalds in town, and I hate to say we have been there a couple of times-but it is the only take out place we know of and sometimes we just want to sit home and watch a movie instead of enjoying the long lingering dinner experience that is common in Europe. Eventually we will be in our permanent housing and will be able to cook-also, we will have a car so we can buy more groceries to take home-now it is whatever we can carry, which isn't much.

Be sure to comment and ask questions-there are lots more things I want to blog about, but I am curious what kinds of questions you have that I can answer. I'm sure I am leaving out plenty of things.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Settling in in Germany

We made it! I'm not sure how this post will turn out, as we're trying to attach pictures from a new laptop, at a new WiFi spot here on the small Army base in Garmisch. Ourselves and the animals all arrived safely, smoothly, but very worn out. Our last week or so has been adjusting to the new time (much harder from UT than the East Coast), getting our personal lives in order, and keeping track of our animals as they also adjust to apartment life! Below is a pic from our balcony of the Zugspitze and the Alpsitze mountain peaks.




And below is our apartment from the outside.





Here is Ben's new office building:


And here's a quick picture of the pedestrian zone in Garmisch.

Sorry for the short post- we're still settling in. Much more to come!!

Ben and Esther

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Strange....

We went to buy milk yesterday, so of course we routed through looking for the latest possible expiration date..... and then we realized that they all expired AFTER we leave the country!...... Strange....

We found a great doggie crate for Storm and have devised a plan for her to play with a really energetic buddy for a few days before our departure. Hopefully she'll be exhausted and will sleep most of the flights. Rascal will hopefully just go with the flow. It'll be interesting to see if we can get him litter access during our 7 hour layover in Chicago.... maybe we can bribe somebody to let us in a closet somewhere.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Esther let the word out on facebook, so we better put it up here- We're moving to Germany!!!
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Over the summer we saw a job opening at a dream location I've had my eye on for years, right on the Austrian border in the Bavarian Alps. Under the logic of "What could it hurt?", we went for it.... after several months of being on the edge, we received travel orders with a report date of 26 OCT!












Ben is really excited about the change in job (more of a diplomatic cooperation mission instead of aircraft support), and Esther is excited about the adventure (REALLY sad about the great colleagues and students she'll be saying goodbye to). Although we're able to take Rascal and Storm, we also made the tough decision that Harley and Stella are much less likely to handle the stress of an overseas flight very well.... Although we love them, we found an AWESOME couple who are happy to give them a new home. They've been married for a year and a half, are fixing up a house and looking forward to some companionship (sounds familiar!).

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So we have a few weeks to sell our beloved Honda Accord and rent out our house. It's been a really tough, busy summer getting the fixer-upper into rental condition. More to follow....