The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Walk, Don't Run

I've posted most of the pics from this past weekend so I guess I should do a blog entry to go along with them.

Nikki had Thursday afternoon free so she and I went shopping in Mannheim. We poked around the main shopping area in the middle of town for several hours and then ended up at an Irish pub called Murphy's Law for Irish coffee, beer and fish and chips. It was 9:30pm when we got home completely satisfied with our afternoon and evening. It was the first opportunity since I got here that she and I had had to go out, just the two of us, and catch up on some much needed 'Mom and me time'. We kept marveling at the fact that I'm not just here for a visit, that we will be able to do this whenever we want to!

When the kids were in elementary school at Ramstein Air Base I think I was the queen of the field trip moms. With three kids so close together in age their classes went to a lot of the same places, though usually not at the same time. My work schedule was very flexible so I chaperoned a lot of school trips. The kids and I still laugh about how many times I went to the dinosaur museum in Frankfurt and to the planetarium and Luisenpark in Mannheim. They each went once a year, but I would go 2, sometimes 3 times each year!
On Friday afternoon Nikki and I decided to take a little trip down memory lane. We went to Luisenpark. It was a gorgeous fall day and I had forgotten how beautiful it is there. We simply strolled through the park admiring the brilliant autumn colors. Down one path, over to another and back on another. We had packed sandwiches so we found a couple of chairs in the sunshine and were entertained by a couple of free roaming storks who were hoping for handouts while we ate our lunch. Unfortunately, the battery in my camera died after just a few pictures so I missed some beautiful shots but it was a wonderful afternoon. The Strassenbahn (streetcar) let us off and picked us up right outside the front gate of the park. This was such a different experience from my previous trips to Luisenpark. Very relaxing compared to my memories of herding a group of overly excited 7 or 8 or 9 year olds, trying to make sure that they all had fun but also that nobody fell into the water or took off from the group, never to be seen again!

On Saurday we met up with Nikki and Bert's friends Benjamin and Miriam for another afternoon of easy wandering through the wine fields. They brought their 6 week old baby who just enchanted us all. If you look at the pictures you'll see that Bert is pushing the carriage most of the time. He had such fun. And the baby was so cute!

As if we hadn't had enough walking, on Sunday the three of us set out again. This time to the Odenwald, a beautiful forested area just east of here. It was so peaceful and once again the changing colors of the season visually filled us to overflowing. Unexpectedly, we found an old Jewish cemetary within the forest. It was fenced to prevent intruders but up close we marveled at how old the grave markers appeared to be. Nikki could actually read a couple of the names written in Hebrew. I looked it up online the next day and found out that it was established in the 17th century! The cemetary has over 1000 graves and was still in use well into the early 1900's.

I haven't posted the pictures from Sunday's walk in the woods yet but I will soon. Walking is a national pastime here. It's what everyone, young and old, does to spend time outside together and enjoy the beautiful country in which they live. Because of that there are countless number of walking trails all over, all very accessible and very well maintained. I wasn't much of a walking enthusiast the last time I lived in Germany but this time I plan on wearing out some shoes!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Belated Wishes

Yesterday was Wade and Sarah's 14th anniversary! Happiness in a family is contagious. Yours spills over to us all. Big hugs to you both and here's to growing old together!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Somebody Down Here, Too....

I've been so busy the last few weeks that I haven't had time to acknowledge the death of one of our greatest actors....Paul Newman died on Sept. 26th. The man had class....

Monday, October 13, 2008

German/American Relations

Bert's mom, Regina, arrived for a visit Saturday after Nikki and Bert returned from Baden Baden. Nik had planned Regina's visit as part of Bert's birthday weekend. He and his mom are really close. So it was the perfect surprise. After introductions, showing Regina the new apartment and having coffee on the balcony, we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was a very pleasant evening.

The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast and then drove to die Weinstrasse (the famous German wine road), very near to where Nikki lived during her first year in Germany, for an afternoon of wine sampling and walking through the vineyards. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, perfect for meandering and taking in all the brilliant fall colors. The wine was pretty good, too. I, of course, couldn't pass up the opportunity for more Neuer Wein.
At the end of the afternoon we said goodbye to Regina. She had about a three hour drive home to southern Germany. Nikki, Bert and I took the train in the other direction back to Ludwigshafen, our backpacks laden with several bottles of wine.

It was a pleasure to meet Bert's mom and I can see why Nikki likes her so much. I'm sure we'll see more of each other in the future. And as my German improves we'll get to know one another better. I've posted pictures of the afternoon under The Colors Of My World on the sidebar.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Happy Birthday Bert!

Today is Bert's 30th birthday. Last night Nikki, Bert and I met up with a couple of their friends, Basti and Martin, at 'Josephine' for a celebration that included a complimentary bottle of champagne from the establishment at midnight. Josephine is a cute little bar located very near to their old apt so Nik and Bert are well known there.

The evening's conversation was a mixture of English and German. Nikki, Bert and Basti are all fluent in both languages and Martin's English is better than my German but he is shy about using it. So I spoke English, Martin spoke German and the other three flipped back and forth. I am amazed at how much I understand, even after being gone for 15 years. I would say I get about 85% of what is being said in any given situation. If only I could produce at that percentage! But Nik says that's very normal (I know that as well). Understanding increases by leaps and bounds, whereas production must be coaxed and cojoled (here kitty, kitty, kitty...come here..)

As a surprise for Bert, Nik planned an overnight birthday getaway to Baden Baden. They left this afternoon about 2pm and I think she was not planning to tell him exactly where they were going until their train arrives at their destination. Baden Baden is a very well known spa city. Nena and I went there once, years ago, along with her friend, Julie. It was heavenly and the spa was so relaxing. Nikki booked a nice hotel and plans to take her sweetie to dinner this evening. I'm sure they'll have a wonderful time. Bert has another surprise coming tomorrow. About an hour after they get back from Baden Baden his mom will arrive from southern Germany for an overnight visit. I'm looking forward to meeting her.

Sooo....Happy Birthday Berti! Thanks for making my little girl so happy. I think you're pretty great!

Monday, October 6, 2008

I'm Here!

Lucy and I have made it successfully and safely across the pond. We were all a little worried about how she would do given that she is 18 years old but once we finally arrived at Nikki and Bert's apt and opened the door to her kennel she came strolling out and immediately began exploring. She has never been a timid cat and has never exhibited normal cat behavior such as hiding under or behind something for a while when presented with new surroundings. She thoroughly investigated every room in the apt and it didn't take her long to decide that she approved. She has settled in quite nicely in the past 3 days. N&B's friend Nadja came over for dinner last night and, by the end of the evening, was trying to figure out how to hide Lucy in her bag when she left.

After breakfast on Saturday Bert left for an over night camping trip with a couple of his friends so Nik and I went to the Farmers Market down the street and came home laden with fresh fruits and vegetables including half of a fresh pumpkin that Nikki used to make a delicious pumpkin soup for dinner last night. Around midafternoon we headed out for the weinlesefest (wine harvest festival) in Neustadt.

The best part about arriving in Germany at this time of year is that I'm just in time for the Neuer Wein (new wine). It is the first press of the wine before it has gone through all the filtering processes that prepare it for final bottling. It is cloudy, sweet and packs a real punch. Nik and I ate and drank our way through the Fest and then did some window shopping (and lots of yakking!) before returning to Ludwigshafen on the train.

Yesterday we slept in and puttered around the apt until about 2pm when it was time to go check out my potential new apt in Mannheim (Mannheim and Ludwighafen sit side by side, separated only by the Rhine river). One of Nikki's colleagues at the Business College in Heidelberg had mentioned in conversation that the small apt above her house is seldom used anymore because her grown children don't visit as much as they used to. Lots of houses here look like single family homes but are actually divided into three separate apartments. Barbara and her partner, Peter, live in the ground floor apt and they rent the lower apt to a young couple with a baby. So when we began seriously talking about my moving to Germany Nikki thought of Barbara's comment and asked her if they would consider renting the top floor apt to me for the duration of my stay. Barbara said, "Sure, bring your mother to look at it when she gets here." So we made an appt to be there yesterday at 3:30pm. I wasn't getting my hopes up about it before we looked at it. We hadn't discussed the cost of rent or whether it would be OK to have a cat or if there was internet access or any other particulars.

It is the cutest apt! It's fully furnished, right down to dishes and linens. The largest bedroom is as big as the living room. The kitchen is small but very well designed. There are hardwood floors throughout and the bathroom was recently renovated. The overall feel of the place is just very cozy. Perfect for one person, but with room for guests (hint, hint!). There is internet access in the apt, cable TV that even includes a few English language channels, Lucy is welcome and in the basement there are two washers (one for each of the two smaller apts) and a shared dryer. The stairs to the attic are right outside the apt door with plenty of room for extra storage.
And the cost for this most perfect apartment? 300 euros (about $450) a month which includes internet, cable and all utilities!! OMG! What a steal, uh, I mean deal. I think the reason the rent is so low is that, unlike the lower level apt, they have never used this apt to generate income. It's always just been for visiting family so all they are really asking for is the cost of utilities and a bit extra. Lucky me! I'm very excited about my new apartment. Lucy and I will be so comfy. Door to door from Nikki's place to mine will be about 45 minutes via Strassenbahn (streetcar). I agreed with Barbara to take the apartment in January.

In the meantime, Nik and I have hatched another scheme. We had originally decided that I could do 'private' English tutoring as a means of support. But without the proper training and qualifications I wouldn't be able to do anything official (the way Nik does). Then Nikki found a four week program from Cambridge University that is taught at the Berlin School of English (in Berlin, of course). It is called CELTA (Certification for English Language Teaching to Adults). To qualify for English language teaching positions a person must either have a university degree or be certified to teach English to adults. CELTA is, worldwide, one of the most widely recognised certification programs. With CELTA certification I could teach anywhere except at a university. The cost is a bit pricey but doable for me and it is something that I could use in the future as well as while I'm here in Germany. So I have already requested an application package for the class that begins on November 10th and runs through December 5th. If I am accepted, I will spend the next month here in Ludwigshafen with Nikki and Bert and then the following month in Berlin. Just a couple of weeks later will be time for Christmas at Ruth and Bill's in Colorado with all the kids.

My other goal while I am here is to improve my German. The last time I lived in Germany I could get by with my limited German, because we were here with the military and part of such a large American community. My language skills are sufficient to 'get by' but not to function comfortably in a total immersion environment. I'll probably take actual German language classes but, at the very least, Nikki is going begin tutoring me at home.

So, those are my plans for the next couple of months. Never a dull moment, these days!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lucy In The Sky.....

The Bitty is on her way! I dropped her off at the airport this morning at 6am. No problems this time. The shipping company picked up all of my boxes on Tuesday and the next door neighbors bought my car yesterday. So all that is left is for me to get on the plane myself this afternoon!