Wednesday, September 30, 2009

There and Back Again

Don and I made it back safely to the U.S. of A. although not quite exactly as planned, but better. Our flight home from Frankfurt had us laid over in Michigan with a quick hour and a half connecting flight. For those of you who haven't done much international traveling, that's not much time to arrive, deplane, clear customs and recheck baggage. That's right, at your first point of entry into the U. S., you actually have to go to baggage claim, retrieve your luggage and then check them all over again. Can't trust those foreigners to screen properly - probably a good idea for homeland security.

To begin with we were more than 30 minutes late departing in Frankfurt. Apparently we taxied for too long so our brakes heated up and we had to sit on the runway for 20 minutes while they cooled down before we could take off. By the time we arrived in Detroit we knew it was hit or miss whether we and our luggage would make it to the plane on time. We made it through customs no problem, retrieved our luggage rather quickly, dropped it off at the recheck point and were on to security screening with our carry on luggage.

I made it through pretty quickly but then was selected for additional screening. So I got to stand in a vorpel tunnel with my arms out and turn seven different directions while they scanned me 360 degrees. Also, despite wearing extra thin socks, they still had to feel the bottom of my feet. Not sure what they thought I might be hiding in there. Maybe some dental floss to try to strangle somebody with? So next Don makes it through security screening but then they need to check his carry on bag. Turns out he had brought two metal dice about the size of an egg that were causing a blip on their radar. Even though it was quite obvious that these were the metal items and shape showing on the radar screen, the attendant still had to go back to the beginning of the line and rescan them three times before she was convinced and would let us continue. Too put it kindly, let's just say that this woman was not particularly fit so she burned about 10 minutes of our precious time waddling back and forth and clumsily thumbing through our belongings. At least they didn't confiscate them as weapons though and let Don have his precious dice back.

Finally we were released and started the long trek to our gate. If you have ever been to the Detroit airport, then you know it is basically one long straight stretch about two to three miles from either end. So we started the mile long sprint to our gate and arrived just in time to join the end of the line for boarding and last call. Despite the fact that we had made it to the gate, however, we discovered as we made it to the front of the line that they had already rebooked us for a different flight and our seats were no longer valid along with three other folks from the same Frankfurt flight. Ooops! Oh, well, at least we burned a few calories trying to make it there on time. While Don and I were actually somewhat relieved to not be immediately boarding another 5 hour flight after the 9 hour stint we just did, the other passengers were far more disgruntled and one girl in particular was making a really big fuss and really rattling the attendants chain.

As she retained her professionalism and started to work trying to see if there were still available seats to get us on this outgoing plane, Don and I offered to step aside and let the other passengers be taken care of first since we had no rush to get back. In that end, the other girl's extremely rude behavior in contrast to our kindness, really paid off for us. After the other customers were taken care of she thanked us profusely and said she would set us up for a very comfortable return flight home. We requested a return flight for the next day. Since Don's grandmother lives in Detroit, we thought it would be nice to get out for a visit and see her. So she gave us a hotel voucher, some food vouchers, and set us up in first class on the first flight out the next morning. What a deal! We had a wonderful dinner with Grandma Early, a great night's rest in a comfortable bed, and we finally got to see what it was like on the other side of the curtain.

A few things about first class. Under very few circumstances would I ever pay for it, but when it comes for free there are a few perks. The seats are certainly more spacious and comfortable. You never have to wait in line for the lavatory since you are sharing with a smaller crowd. The drinks are free, served in a glass instead of a plastic cup, and they never run dry. We got served a nice full breakfast while the rest of the plane got pretzels and peanuts. But my favorite part of first class I think, is that in addition to the tray table, there is also an armrest with a small shelf to set your drinks on so you don't have to have the tray table down the whole flight. Plus, getting on and off the plane first was quite lovely as well.

So here we are now, home safe and sound. While it did mess a little bit with our plan to readjust to the time change by spending that last night in Michigan, I think it will be worth the few extra days it may take us to get over the jet lag. Luckily Don has today off and I just have to hang in a few more days to the weekend. With one day back at work so far, it was a welcome reprieve to come back and find that my talented staff had done and excellent job handling everything while I was gone and I was able to pick up where I left off without feeling like I had ever left. Well one thing feels different. I feel refreshed, renewed, and happy. What a wonderful vacation.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Last Day

This morning begins our last full day in Germany. Tomorrow in the early morning we pack up and head to the airport. It is Jim's birthday today and we will be celebrating with a big block party which means, oh dear, more food and drinking! Things have exceeded our expectations all the way around. And while I don't think I could possibly live any farther away from our family then we already do, I do feel that Germany is a place I could be happy if life ever brought us here for some reason. The scenery is beautiful, quite similar to North Carolina in fact with the farm fields and rolling hills. I'm also quite loving the architecture with the beautiful buildings and steep clay roofs. And people really take pride in their gardens here which is something I hope to learn some day. I've picked up a thing or two on hospitality also since I've been here which I will bring home with me.

But even of all the fantastic experiences we have had getting to travel and see a foreign country and do touristy things, it wouldn't have been half the experience it was if we hadn't gotten to do it with our family. It has been really special to get to know Don's Aunt and Uncle and cousins more. Now we have a bond thicker than blood with real experiences and memories to go with it. And even Jim and Sharon whom we have seen so seldom over the past few years, we have gotten to see new sides to them as well. Time goes so fast as did this our longest vacation we have ever taken together. But I do feel refreshed and renewed from this trip in a way that will carry back to every day life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Differences

In LA we have the shopping carts that are magnetized so if you try to take the carts off the lot, the wheels lock up and the carts won't move. In Germany, they have found another interesting solution. The carts are chained up to the bin and require a euro coin to release and use them. You then have to take your cart back to the bin and put the chain back in before you can get the euro back. It's an interesting solution. Although it doesn't help as well with keeping people from stealing the carts all together, it sure does get people to pick up after themselves and put the carts away when they are done rather than leave them scattered around the lot.

Additionally, a great sandwich they have over here is the turkish version of a gyro called a doner. I thought gyros were delicious until we tried a doner. The meat was a crispy juicy pork and a delicious creamy tzatziki sauce with shredded cabbage and tomato. What they call pita is actually more like a giant kaizer roll than the Greek flatbread we are used to. Not only is it delicious but it holds the sandwich together much better. But what really stole our hearts was the giant brick of goat cheese they served on our doner special. We will definitely be looking up Turkish restaurants when we get back to LA to find out where the nearest place is to get our doner fix.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Family Photos


How can you not smile when surrounded by this beautiful country?

Clan Hall - Uncle Chuck, Don (goes by Donnie here), and Dad (Jim)













Dad - He uses the same charming smile when he asks you to get him a beer. Works every time.













Chuck - getting fresh with the fresh produce













Ripsy and Angie - getting their morning dose of sun.













Sharon - my sweet southern mother-in-law














Cousin Daniel - Breaking out the family Tree. Shortly after this he made the comment about one of these guys on here he thought he was related to. Do ya think? Surely it was a twist of the tongue, but we all had a good laugh over that one.









Chuck and Heike - sporting his Army Barret. Still looks good!













Suzanne and Peter - Great neighbors! They just returned from a two week hiking trip in the mountains with lots of hiking. Talk about my dream vacation! Suzanne and Peter are from Czech but Peter is also half Hungarian. The camera doesn't quite capture it but in real life he has eyes like Daniel Craig. He was very happy to hear this of course!







Dad - with the first glass of beer of the trip. 10:30 AM upon arrival of course!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Heike's Garden

Heike has one THE most beautiful gardens I've ever seen. I may intentionally miss my plane so I never have to leave this beautiful home.



















Cordy Clone


Look Familiar?

Look Closer.

This isn't Cordy, but her brother from another litter - Ripsy.

We owe our our love of doxies to this beloved dog, who first captured our hearts.
Isn't he gorgeous?

video

They don't just look the same either, they move the same, bark the same, act the same. And he's just as smart too.... Here he is, eating a bee. :)


Saturday, September 19, 2009

German Fellowship

Don and I so seldom get to see family. It is really about the only complaint that we have from living in LA, though anywhere else we have lived has not ever been truly "close" to our relatives before this either. But the lack of vacation and minimal time spent with family is a loss we truly feel. The real magic of this trip is not just that we get to travel to a foreign country and experience a new culture, but that we get to experience it with family that we never get to see. I've only met Jim and Sharon (Don's dad and stepmom) twice, at the wedding and a family reunion 5 years ago. And Chuck & Heike I had met only once at the same reunion. Yet they have welcomed us so warmly and openly that I am already lamenting how many years may pass until we see them again. As we have experienced in our short travels so far, getting to meet a variety of people from various cultures (German, Hungarian, Puerto Rican, Czech, and others), people are generally the same. They all like to eat, drink, and be merry, and we are having a blast being merry together. My favorite moments have been those around the table communicating through a mixture of German and English (Germlish), story telling, laughing, and having so much fun. I thought it might be difficult being in a foreign country where we don't speak the language, that communication would be hard and awkward. But we have been so welcomed and language has been such a small barrier to the fellowship we have experienced here. Unfortunately, not everyone chooses to participate in this fellowship. We did have a small disruption this evening from a disgruntled neighbor who called the German police over a noise complaint. So Germans have their disfunctional neighborhood feuds like Americans and any other society. But even the police could see that we were inside our own home, with no music playing, and conducting ourselves civilly so just suggested we close a window and went on our way. On a night like tonight, where I feel so blessed to be surrounded at home and around the world by amazing people with warm hearts, I feel bad for those who close themselves off to the heartfelt fellowship of those around them. I'm happy to belong to a warm and open hearted family, and grateful for the time we have together.

Augsburg Confessions

Well, here I am in the land of the original Augsburg Confessions. When I signed on to blogger this morning, the instructions were actually in German!

It is so good to be here. After 18 hours of traveling, we arrived to a warm greeting from Don's parents who had arrived about 30 minutes before us from North Carolina, and his Aunt and Uncle and their two children, our host family. We've been made to feel right at home and had a wonderful day yesterday of eating, drinking, visiting, and loving on some dauchshunds which I can now pronounce with a real German Accent. We also got to meet an array of German companions yesterday, two sets of neighbors, grandma & grandpa, great grandmother, and retired Army friend Jose from Puerto Rico. We're enjoying the crossover back and forth from English to German and already picking up a bit of the language.

We're hoping to have already kicked the jet lag. We got expert advice from our family which told us the best thing to do is stay up as late as possible the first night and sleep in to about brunch time but don't oversleep. I limited myself yesterday to one 1 hour nap and I think that did the trick. We will see how we do today but so far I feel pretty good. Don and I are set up in a nice room in the basement, rather comfy for a hideabed but lots of privacy and room to spread out our luggage so we ware quite happy with the accomodations.

One thing I love about Germany so far: they have cake time every afternoon at 3:00 or 4:00. So yesterday as we sat around the picnic table and were presented with a Plum Tart, Black Forest Cake, and Lemon Cheesecake, or at least their German equivilants. I opted for the Plum Tart yesterday and today I think I may try the lemon cheesecake. I think we should start this tradition in the U.S. I also like the way Germans do their baking, subtly sweet instead of overladen with sugar.

I love that we have 10 full days here. Our host family has taken vacation too so we will all get to enjoy our time together. I haven't bothered to take many photos yet. I thought for the first day we would just enjoy our time and settle in. Plenty of time to take pictures later and will try to post them as I am able.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Burning

We are safe from the fires. But the air is disgusting. No sign of rain in sight and the valley doesn't get much wind. Who knows how long we will be trapped in our homes with the brown clouds looming outside. At least we will escape for a couple weeks in September.