Monday, December 31, 2012

Auf Wiedersehen 2012: Year in Review

Friends, it has been a year. 2012 was intense. Let's review...

This year:

-we moved from Virginia to Germany

-we celebrated our first wedding anniversary (in Prague!)

-we became aunt and uncle to our sweet nephew and learned about our niece (coming soon in 2013!)

-we got a puppy (ohmygosh!)

-we both changed jobs within the same organization. I transferred to the German branch of the company I've been with for the past 4.5 years and Z transferred to a new unit in the Army.

-we started learning German

-we traveled to 6 different countries on 3 continents

-I learned how to drive a 5-speed

-I read 36 books (let's remember I had a lot of time off in between jobs)

It was a big year. It was wonderful in so many ways and hard in so many ways. But here we are. Saying goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013. I can't wait to see what the next year holds!

Happy New Year, friends!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in Germany

Merry Christmas! Maybe it's a day late, but when you blog, you're allowed to be late. These are the rules.

Sigh. Where to begin? Christmas was very much bittersweet this year. It was so hard to be away from our families and the traditions and surroundings that are familiar to us. It changes your perspective on a lot of things...

BUT I have yet to have a meltdown and this is owed almost entirely to the fact that our Christmas gift this year (from us, to us) was an adorable, precious, sweet Great Dane puppy named Olive.

Here she is...I mean, can you even stand it? 






I fell in love with Great Danes in college (one of my good friends had one) and decided that when I finally got a dog, it would be a Dane. Z loves big dogs and was on board from the beginning...but the timing of this pup was all his doing. He is a wise man and new that this time of year would be especially hard for me, so he arranged for us to get a puppy right around Christmas in hopes of distracting me cheering me up. 

It worked. Anytime I felt especially sad or headed towards the depths of despair, Olive would do something adorable or hilarious or terrible (she IS a puppy, after all) and my emotions would be re-directed. Anytime I voiced my sadness to Z, he'd smile sympathetically and say "go hug your puppy". You really can't argue with that...there is something downright medicinal about hugging a puppy.

So allow me to avoid talking about missing our families and traditions and trying to make Christmas special for just the two of us thousands of miles away and just let me be an obnoxious puppy parent, just for this one post. Please? It's therapeutic.

We stumbled upon Olive almost by accident...when Z told me a few months ago that we'd get our puppy around Christmas, I immediately started looking for breeders and doing a lot of research. Fun fact, Great Danes are not actually "Danish" at all, but German! Their true name is "German mastiff" and the German standards for breeding Great Danes are INCREDIBLY high and very strict with lots of involvement of vets and officials from the Great Dane Club of Germany, so we knew we'd be getting a top dog. I did a lot of searching (which wasn't always easy with 95% of the breeder's sites exclusively in German) and finally found a breeder that we were very comfortable with. She had puppies due in December, ready to bring home in January. We anxiously refreshed the website the week of their due date only to find out that there had been a problem and either it was a false pregnancy or none of the pups survived (translating the German proved difficult here). We were bummed out, big time. 

Back to the internet. I spent about a day searching for German breeders and sending inquiry emails about planned litters or available puppies. I sent all of the emails in German, but always asked if the breeder spoke English, hoping against all odds that we could find a breeder to clearly communicate with us, but expecting to have to proceed in whatever broken German we could use, plus Google Translate. I heard back from 4 or 5 promising breeders, but still hadn't found one I felt really good about. BUT THEN...an email pops up from a breeder, in ENGLISH, stating they had two puppies available that would be 8 weeks and ready to go home by December 22nd. AND one of the available puppies was a female merle, EXACTLY what we were looking for. We knew we wanted a female (they don't get as big as the males) and we really loved the merle colored dogs. After a phone call with the breeder (IN ENGLISH!) and a LOT of questions on our part, we decided she was the puppy for us.  

The Saturday before Christmas we drove across the country (which isn't that bad when it's a smaller country) to get our girl. I cannot even handle how precious it was to walk into this family's backyard to 7 wiggling, clumsy, adorable puppies running around. I don't even know how they get anything done; I would just watch the puppies all day long. 

So we spent some time with the family talking about Olive and puppy care, etc. and then it was time to put her in the car and head home. Oh you guys. This poor puppy. 8 weeks old, just removed from her only familiar environment, taken away from her mom and siblings, stuck in a car with strangers...she was terrified. She was shaking like a leaf and making this pitiful moaning/grumbling sounds. I lasted about 15 minutes before I told Z I needed to drive and he had to sit with the puppy. I just couldn't handle it. I almost cried; I felt so bad for her!

Now she's home and happy, still scared when put in a new situation with new surroundings (we haven't QUITE mastered the concept of "going on a walk") but she's still just a baby...she'll get there. 

We LOVE her; it's ridiculous. She is such a smart puppy, picking up on house-training so quickly, sleeping in crate without too much whining, pushing the limits but always responding to a firm "NO!". She is going to be HUGE, so we're enjoying the time where she can sit on our laps when we get down on the floor to play with her, and being able to pick her up and move her when we need to (those days will be over soon for me, she's already heavy enough!). She's  hilarious and clumsy and so ridiculously cute. We don't stand a chance. She grumbles more than she whines or cries, and that is mostly amusing. She gets a wicked case of hiccups anytime she is scared or startled or we yell NO! when she's doing something she shouldn't. That's probably my favorite quirk about her. She shoves her nose into our legs or feet when she wants to feel close to us. She sleeps on Z's slippers. It's all just too much cuteness to handle.

We really feel like we hit the puppy jackpot, and she certainly made this Christmas away from our families more bearable...a true miracle. 

We hope your Christmas was filled with family and fun and laughter and joy. Merry Christmas, for our home to yours!
Our little German Christmas tree

No fireplace, so this is where the stockings were hung

At one of the Christmas markets (freezing our buns off)


Friday, December 14, 2012

What?

Ok. I don't know what happened... I was doing some maintenance on my blog and suddenly noticed I had a post in my "draft" folder. What? How did THAT happen?

It was the post about our 1st anniversary trip. You guys, I don't know if I ever posted this? Maybe I did and I accidentally reverted it back to draft one day? Maybe I didn't ever post it! I don't know. 

Either way, just in case I never posted it, click HERE to read about our 1st anniversary trip to Prague!

And if I did post it and you've already seen it, click HERE because ohmygosh I can't even handle it.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

SNOW MY GOSH

A few disclaimers: If you've ever lived in a place that gets a lot of snow, this post probably won't make sense to you. But I haven't, and now I do, and it's exciting and new and crazy for me. So there's that.

Also, let's remember I am OCCASIONALLY dramatic (when absolutely necessary). And just know that I am completely safe and home right now. So it all turned out ok. So don't worry. Crisis averted.

Good? Good.

Today started out completely normal. I woke up excited because I was headed to Nuremberg with a friend to (finally) see the last Twilight movie...Z had to work this weekend so I was looking forward to getting out and spending some quality time with this new friend. As I was getting ready, I checked the weather to determine what to wear. It was freezing cold and snow was supposed to move in later in the day. Nuremberg was supposed to be cold but clear all day. No snow in the forecast. With this in mind I decided to forgo my serious snow boots and wear my very cute but very tread-less and not very warm fashionable boots. I was pleased that we had decided to see the 11:15 am movie because it meant we'd be home before the bad weather AND before it got dark...and I hate driving in the dark. And I've never driven in a snow storm. 

So we go to the movie and afterwards walk outside to find a thin layer of snow covering the ground...wait, this isn't right...it wasn't supposed to snow here. It's snowing hard. No matter, let's just get in the car and go. We'll make it home in an hour and it will be all good.

FALSE. You guys. Where do they give out the blue ribbons, because I need to pick mine up. I drove through a WHITE-OUT, blizzard-esque, extremely treacherous snowpocalypse without ending up in a ditch, crying, or calling Z to come pick us up. That snow came so hard and so fast that the plows didn't even have a chance. Sure, we saw 4 snow plows on our way home. ALL GOING THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION. 

I don't even know how to explain to you what a crazy experience it was. We never got past 3rd gear, we slid down every hill and fishtailed around every curve and corner. I lost my breath every time I felt the wheels leave pavement and fight for traction. We couldn't see the road...we relied on the tire tracks in front of us. We passed cars spun in the opposite direction. I prayed we would make it up every hill. I drifted around turns in a way that would make Vin Diesel proud (Fast and the Furious reference, keep up). And the whole time I'm contorting my body every which way because my wipers kept freezing, making it nearly impossible to see around the slushy splashes across the windshield. We had to stop multiple times to knock the ice off the wipers. We kept up pleasant conversation, cut short by every slip and slide of the car, then haltingly restarted with a nervous laugh or deep exhale. We agreed wine was in our future. It was THE most stressful slash exhilarating drive EVER. I think it turns out that it was better that I was driving...as least I felt like I had some tiny amount of control as the driver...I would have been a nervous wreck as a passenger. Also, now I have accomplished a treacherous icy drive. So I know I can do it. I know how my car responds and how to take a turn that I know will throw the back of the car into a spin. I know how to ride 2nd gear down a hill instead of braking. I feel incredibly proud of myself. I am not in a ditch on the side of the road! (To be fair, I was never seriously worried about our safety. The only TRULY scary moments were when the road was flanked by deep ditches...otherwise, I think we could have recovered from any other mishap. Probably.)

When I got home after dropping off my friend at the bottom of the hill leading to her house, I couldn't get my car into our driveway. Cruel world, I made it all the way home and NOW I can't accomplish getting my car into MY OWN DRIVEWAY? No sir. Z was still at work so I went inside, changed into my serious boots, and came back armed with the snow shovel. I shoveled out a spot and revved my little car right into the driveway. Take that, Winter.

Afterwards I looked outside and just couldn't help myself. SO much snow had fallen and was continuing to fall. I had about 30 minutes of daylight left, so I grabbed my phone and headed out on a walk around our town. Oh, it was just magical. So quiet. So beautiful. I was truly, completely, wonderfully happy. Here's some pictures I took...


When I left this morning, there was no snow on the driveway. I had to carve this spot out.

Walking down our street




The tree in our little town. I LOVE this.




Frozen stream in our town

It's like living in wintry movie scene





There's a road there somewhere





Ahhhh. I love it so much. 


Friday, November 30, 2012

Serious snow

So, it snowed again. But this time FOR REAL. 

Last time was definitely real snow, don't get me wrong. It was real enough to win the bet.

But this time it's serious snow. Like 5 inches in one day and continuing for the next three days, bring out the snow plows, salt the roads SNOW.

Z and I don't have much experience with serious snow. This was most evident when Z walks in last night and announces he's going to be outside for a while. But why, you just got home? Well, turns out when he parked his car in the driveway and got out to open the garage door, his car slid right back down into the street. Don't be alarmed, there's no real danger since we live way out in the country. Not much traffic on our little road. Also turns out we didn't have a snow shovel yet. So I'm pretty sure Z cleared the snow from our driveway with his windshield ice scraper. I don't know exactly what went on, I just know he was gone for a long time and when he finally came in he said "well, my car's in the garage. I had to get out on the passenger side, but it's in there". So in the fight between Z and the icy driveway, I'm not really sure who won. I am sure Z will be home with salt and a shovel tonight though.

I managed to slingshot my car into the driveway with enough speed/force so as to avoid the most treacherous patches of ice, so I'm ok for now. I still go check every so often to make sure my car is in the driveway though. So far so good. The BMW is made for this, right?

ALSO, turns out you need to plan extra time to get to your destination because when you leave the house, you WILL have to clear your car of snow. Even if you just did it a few hours before. Snow accumulates awful fast.

Living in place that knows how to handle snow is also a very new experience for me. I was awakened at 5:30 am by the sound of snow plows zipping around, clearing the roads for the morning commute. Life goes on as normal when it snows here. The grocery store remains fully stocked, schools and businesses stay open...it's life as usual, just covered with powdered sugar.

But the upside, Oh the upside! It is BEAUTIFUL. Take-your-breath-away, am-I-in-a-movie-right-now? beautiful. I went to lunch with a friend (A FRIEND!!) today and had to park a few blocks away from the restaurant. We were meeting in this adorable little German town about 15 minutes away and as I'm walking to the restaurant I was just overwhelmed. Here I am, living in Germany, walking through a picturesque, snow-covered town, listening to the church bells toll noon, snow falling quietly around me...it was so unreal. And I can hardly stop myself from pulling over on the side of the road every few miles to take pictures of the snowy scene, but that wouldn't be safe. I wish I could though...maybe this weekend Z and I will take a walk and I'll bring the camera along, because you guys have to see this. 

To give you an idea: have you seen the movie The Holiday? You know the scene where Cameron Diaz's character is hauling her luggage down the snowy lane and it pans out to show the country landscape before she gets to the house? Yes...that. THAT is what it looks like here. I kid you not. And when she goes into the town to grocery shop..yes. This is my life. I'm living in those scenes from the movie. 

Z LOVES the snow. He is so happy about it and his enthusiasm is contagious. I think I'm willing to forgive winter for being so horrible if it continues to snow like this, because the beauty just outweighs the negative aspects. Plus, huge bonus, the white snow reflects light so well that it's brighter around here than it has been in WEEKS. This is wonderful news. Let is snow, let it snow, let it snow!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving in Morocco

Strap in you guys, this is going to be a long post. If you need to take a coffee or Cheerios break, please do. I know I did.

We just got home from Morocco and one of the first things I wanted to do was sit down to write about our experience because the need to get these thoughts “on paper” is overwhelming. Not as overwhelming as the need to start the laundry or take a shower or very carefully inspect the suspicious bites I have on the back of my right arm (do not google bedbug bites, do not google bedbug bites), but still. I spent most of our hours of travel today mentally turning over of the details of this past week and I’m just not sure how to relate them in a way that does justice to our Moroccan experience. But I’ll try. Also, the pictures I’m including are about a tenth of the pictures we actually took. Trying to decide which ones to post here was quite the endeavor.

Our hotel rooftop terrace
Back in June I came across a livingsocial deal to Morocco and sent it to Z to look over. We decided early on that we’d take advantage of our time in Germany by doing as much travel as possible, and this trip certainly fit the bill. We booked the trip for Thanksgiving week for a few reasons. One, we knew Z would have time off for the holiday. Two, we knew it would be freezing cold in Germany at that point and we knew Morocco would most likely be warm and sunny. Oh, how right we were. It was 70 and sunny the entire time we were there. In fact, I spent one whole day laying in the sun, soaking up 
the warmth and vitamin D and reading a good book. It was perfection.  ANYWAYS, also, it was a nice way to spend our first holiday away from our families…while I still had some pangs of sadness over being so far away, I was easily distracted and  it was hard not to enjoy the day when you’re vacationing in an exotic, foreign country.

Door to our room
I’m not quite sure how to describe Marrakech, where we stayed, except to say that it was an assault on the senses. Our hotel (called a riad based on its size and style) was located inside the Old City wall and when we pulled up to the front door we really weren’t sure what to expect. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, that’s for sure. But the inside was truly impressive. It was so stylish and so very Moroccan. The best part was the amazing rooftop terrace where we had our breakfast every morning (and usually alone, the other guests always ate downstairs and who knows why, but that was fine by me).  On the terrace you got the best sun during the day and it was surprisingly quiet for its location, save for the the wailing call to prayer echoing over the city like a haunting siren from the mosque minarets. Everything about it was beautiful.

My sunny spot for the day


Crowded street
One of the mosques
We set out to explore the Old City and oh my gosh, you guys…OVERWHELMING. I’ll include pictures in hopes that they will give you a better glimpse into the city than my words could. It was harmonized chaos and very stressful. There were people EVERYWHERE…walking, on bikes, on motorbikes, on donkeys, riding mule carts, in horse carriages. I am amazed that we didn’t see multiple collisions and accidents…we did, in fact, see the aftermath of one traumatic accident that left a child quite bloody…but otherwise it seemed as if everyone adjusted their courses at the exact second to avoid catastrophe. How they all managed to do this was beyond me. I was the unfortunate victim of a donkey cart collision…although my injuries are only emotional. I was so sure I was going to find a huge bruise on my hip where the cart hit me, but alas. No proof. It was actually very scary to be hit and pushed into  a wall of people, but helpful hands pulled me out of harms way and I’m no worse for the wear…although I remain very wary of all donkey carts and hugged the inside track of every street from there on out.


Courtyard we stumbled upon, tucked away off a side street
So we’re in this city, being pushed and pulled and prodded along and trying to take in the souks and markets and squares…there was SO much to see and so many smells and so many people yelling at you. We stood out BIG TIME as tourists (no head cover, short hair, I’m like the epitome of “not Muslim”) and the Moroccans and Berbers were SO pushy.  Everyone wants to show you where to go, everyone wants you to come follow them, everyone wants you to look at their booth or buy their goods or eat at their restaurant. And they all want money. It was nerve-wracking trying to take pictures because you never knew who would yell at you and demand money for you taking a picture of something they laid claim to. I resorted to taking stealthy pictures with my camera by my side, so some pictures didn’t quite come out. Oh well, it was easier that way. You basically had to be very rude or VERY firm. OR speak German. Most of the people spoke Arabic, French, and English, but very few spoke German. So we just threw some German sentences out and usually people would walk away after hearing that. Phew.
Spices, etc. in the market
A typical market alley
I resorted to simply ignoring whoever approached us, and even then, this was sometimes not effective. We were walking by a man with a monkey in the market and before we knew it, he had thrust his monkey on Zach’s shoulder and was yelling at me to take a picture. It was traumatic for both Z and the monkey I think. I mean, what do you do in that situation? You've just had a monkey thrown on you. I don’t know what the protocol is, but Z managed to remove said monkey and on we walked…a little stunned, mostly amused.
HOW do they stack the spices like that?!

The square at night






For our cooking lesson, we went to the market and watched as our chicken was selected and killed...freshest chicken I've ever had!


One of my favorite moments was when we decided to spend a few dirham to take pictures of the snake charmers, because really…when do you see that? So we approach these snake charmers and before we know it, they’ve draped a snake (harmless garden snake, SO THEY SAID) around Z’s neck—he was not thrilled and I don’t blame him—and they have my camera and are snapping pictures like crazy. I really just wanted one, maybe two, pictures of a cobra but we got way more than that. After all of this, the man demands 300 dirham…which is like 27 euro…or about $35. Z is the best and firmly tells them they can have 40 dirham. The snake charmer is NOT happy and demands another gift then. Um, what kind of gift?


We walked away 40 dirham less and minus one ballpoint pen. I think we got the better end of that deal.




Ok, so we explored the city, we spent a day soaking up the sun (mmmm), rode camels, had massages and a cooking lesson at our hotel (Moroccans do not shy away from flavor! It was a good meal and we came away with a killer eggplant recipe), and then…our favorite day. We had a private excursion to the Atlas Mountains, a few hours outside the city. This day was amazing. The weather was beautiful and the scenery was so dramatic and so breathtaking…the pictures do NOT do it any justice, I’m sorry to say.



Moroccan cooking lesson

Our meal...yummy

 We visited a Berber household (the cow lives in the house…), we went to a herb garden, we went through a Berber market, and we trekked through the mountains to an amazing waterfall, took in incredible panoramic views of the mountains, drove through almond and olive tree orchards, had lunch IN the riverbed…it was incredible. Definitely a welcome respite from the hustle of the city…I filled up an entire memory card with pictures of the views we had that day. Unreal. I spent most of the day thinking “oh my gosh, are we really here? Are we really seeing this?” As I said, it was truly an assault on the senses, overwhelming in every way. Take a look...


Valley of olive trees

Momma and baby cow...just chilling inside a Berber house, right next to the kitchen


Our Thanksgiving riverbed lunch

One of our souvenirs! Handmade Moroccan pottery plate

Gorgeous waterfall. If you look closely, you can see the teeny tiny person standing a little to the right and above the 2nd big rock in the bottom left corner of the picture. We hiked WAY up the mountains.

Berber village by the river


Some really sturdy, safe, up-to-code bridges





Whew. This is entirely too long and I feel like it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what we experienced those five days, but that’s the big picture. A one-in-a-lifetime experience and we’re SO glad we took the opportunity. We’re also glad we went in the “winter” because I’m not sure I could have stomached the city (and the smells) at 100+ degree temperatures. We came away with great pictures, wonderful memories, and some fun souvenirs too (Moroccan spices and coffee included)!

I’d say it was a successful Thanksgiving.