Together, Around The Table


Before we moved here, Melissa and I decided to scrap our old kitchen table and upgrade.  We went to Homemaker's furniture in Des Moines and bought a nice (for us) 8-10 person dining room table for our family and had it shipped to our house just in time to have it packaged, put on a container, and shipped to our new place.  Since then we also bought a breakfast-nook table for our main dining room.  That is the one that gets most of the use....unless we have company.

WAY BACK on December 3rd, I put the leaf into the new dining room table to make room for our coming guests.  My parents came on the 4th and stayed for 2 weeks.  We had a great time with them here.  We had some much-enjoyed quality time and encouragement, and they were, of course, always jumping in to lend a hand with the kids, meals, and tasks around the house.  They left on the 17th, and just a week later Melissa's parents were able to come, and we had more of the same.

WE ATE AROUND THAT TABLE A LOT.  Breakfasts and lunches and dinners.  Christmas meal with my family.  Christmas meal with Melissa's family.  Meals at the table were punctuated with birthday celebrations, opening of presents, playing UNO or Prince Caspian, and others.  When we weren't around the table we were just hanging out or watching TV or out and about exploring the Rhineland-Pfalz.  In short, we had fun - not because we did so much, but because we did it together.  It was nice to have company.  It was nice to see family.

This morning, Melissa left early to drive her parents to the airport for their trip home. While she was gone, I took the wing out of the dining room table.  It had been extended for company almost a full month, and now it is back to it's normal size of six chairs pressed into the corner, mostly to be used as a base for homework.  And it will be a while before it comes out again.

We like Germany.  No - we love Germany.  We can already see there are so many things that we'll wish we could take back to the states when that time comes, and we are content to stay here as long as my firm allows.  We have all adjusted really well and are not complaining.  But it's bittersweet.  We loved the company.  We loved seeing family, parents and grandparents and in-laws, and spending time sharing our new place, town, and country.  The hard thing about expat life is that this is one item you just can't package up in a box, put in a container, and have shipped to you.  Time with family and old friends is fleeting and far between, and the coming of New Year's Eve means that for us it's over for a while.

And that makes these otherwise Happy Holidays a little more somber for us.

The mild winters here in the Rhine Valley

"It's warmer here in the Rhine valley," they said.  "We get a lot of sunshine and not a lot of snow," they said.

"Oh sure it snows," they said. "But it really doesn't accumulate much." they said.

"Winter driving? Oh, hardly ever a problem here in Neustadt." they said.

"Just a light dusting every now and again.  Nothing like  the big heavy snow you get in Iowa," they said.

Well, they lied.

Dom zu Speyer & Weihnachtmarkt

TODAY WE DROPPED THE KIDS OFF AT SCHOOL, left Jazlynn with a friend, and carted off to Speyer, about 20 minutes away.

Speyer is a beautiful small city.  It's landmark is the Dom zu Speyer, an ancient Cathedral that holds the remains of almost a dozen former emperors and kings in the crypts beneath the nave, same laid to rest almost 1000 years ago.   It provides a striking view against the blue sky and some colorful artwork in the interior.

From there, we walked to the downtown for another Weinachtmarkt, another glass of Glühwein, and an excellent lunch that could only happen sans kids (photos).   We did a little walking and shopping, but it was too cold to enjoy outside for long.

Deideshiemer Weihnachtmarkt

THE SIGN OF THE COMING OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON in Germany is the opening of the Christmas markets.

Thousands of cities and towns across Germany host outdoor Weihnachtmarkts,  where you can stop in and shop in open air-gift boutiques, and shake off the cold with a glass of traditional Gluhwein.

WITH COMPANY this week (my parents), this was a great time for visiting the Weihnachtsmarkts nearby. Last weekend we stopped into Neustadt's for some Gluhwein and conversation with some friends, then later that weekend went to the Christkindlmarkt in our Hambach neighborhood.

LAST NIGHT we walked to the train station and took a Regional Bahn (our first experiment in using the train system here) to Deidesheim, where the train dropped us off right outside one of the area's better Weihnachtmarkts in the area.  We completely underestimated the crowd -  the train was packed and the streets even more filled - But a bratwurst and glass of Gluhwein later we were no worse for the wear.

Weihnachtsmarkts are a a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.  I'm a noob at night photos, but even so a few pictures captured the great atmosphere in Deidesheim.

How we spent Danksgiving Part II

NORMALLY, OUR THANKSGIVING would be spent with friends and family back in the USA. But without a recognized holiday here and with the distinct lack of family, you sometimes have to improvise.

Saturday night the John Deere expat community gathered in a restraunt not too far from here where 7 or 8 families dined together on a traditional Thanksgiving menu: Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, and some pumpkin soup (who doesn't have pumpkin soup on their Thanksgiving table? was excellent, BTW).  Unfortunately Melissa stayed home with the young ones who were sick, while Anna, Chase and I went to enjoy some good old English conversation (Topics included such things as, "What? Your kids didn't have to get the Meningitis vaccination?!?)  I give credit to the organizers, it was an excellent meal and atmposphere and a nice getaway.


All week long Melissa and a couple of other American expat wives in Neustadt had been  scheming on a Thanksgiving dinner for our families. And it was a rousing success -  It had all the marks of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie...all of it just like if you were having Thanksgiving dinner a Grandma's house. With a few additions.

THE PRE-DINNER APPETIZER FOR THE MEN WAS A CUBAN CIGAR.  I had forgotten entirely that the lifelong ban I've lived under for Cuban cigars doesn't necessarily extend to Europe, so I was quick to jump at the offer. Maybe a little too quick, because it was only when I was sitting on the patio smoking a cigar with the fellas and noticed the kids gawking at me shockeyed through the windows did I recall that they probably have never seen Melissa or I smoke a cigar before, and that I might have just erased 10 years of no-smoking education from their minds ("Ah, but I don't inhale, kids.").

After the dinner and desert were down and the conversation was  still on high, Brian then broke what is sure to become another new Thanksgiving tradition - some Polish Buffalo Vodka.  I don't know how Polish Buffalo Vodka is different than any other kind of Vodka (it's all grocery store Smirnoff to me), but I am pretty sure that when I'm offered a Vodka from the place where Vodka was just about born it would be downright uncouth to turn it down. It was not a bad chaser for Turkey and pumpkin pie.

WE MIGHT HAVE STOPPED THERE, BUT FRANZ WAS NOT TO BE OUTDONE. Franz and Sabine were two of the local neighbors from nearby that accepted an invitation to join us for the American holiday.   Franz is probably in his fifties with more genuinely interesting stories than days I have on the earth, so when the vodka came out he started to to tell about his friend who does a little moon-shining. Soon, Franz disappeared from the house only to return a few minutes later with a clear unlabeled bottle of pear liquor made in someone's backyard.  That was genuinely pretty good too, but I think by that time you probably could have served us all a flute of antifreeze and we would have been sitting around commenting about how smooth it went down.

So our traditional Thanksgiving dinner from the last years this year was replaced by a dinner with our family from Iowa, one from Missouri, a Ohio family with Spanish roots, and German family in a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving.  It had a traditional American fixings, bookended by Guban cigars, Polish Vodka and German moonshine.

And that was not a bad way to spend it at all.

Of course it's not locked. Do you think I'm stupid?

THE WEATHER HAS BEEN HORRIBLY LATELY, with an unnatural amount of rain, snow and ice.   So it was no suprise this morning when we woke up to a land covered in a sheet of ice and snow.  Unfortunately garages are rare, so that means that this morning began with an aggressive scraping of the ice off of the little BMW.

On my way to work I decided I was a little low on fuel, so popped into a gas station.  That's when the trouble started, because my car's fuel door was entombed in a casket of ice.

I have a push-to-release fuel door, and while parked next to the fuel pump I pushed it, and it didn't give a millimeter.  It was completely caked in ice inside and out. I managed to scrape the ice off of the door, and pushed again, harder, but it still wouldn't release.  I used the only tool I had - my keys - to try to scrape the ice as best as I could from behind the fuel door, but darned if it still wouldn't release.  It seemed, I dunno, stuck somehow.

AFTER ABOUT 10 MINUTES SOMEONE AT THE NEXT PUMP TOOK PITY ON ME, and happened to have a small spray bottle of antifreeze in his car.  He came over and started to spray around the fuel door and as I watched the ice melt away I figured that would do the trick, but still no release.  He handed me the bottle left to fill his tank and go pay, and when he came back he found me there still holding a now nearly empty bottle of antifreeze and still prying at my fuel door wondering how it is there could still be ice stuck behind it.  After a while my new friend decided he had better things to do and gave up, but he was nice enough to alert the gas station attendant inside that there was a big dumb American in the parking lot clogging the fuel pump because he couldn't get his fuel door open.

SHE RUSHED INTO ACTION,  taking a liter of water from the glass cooler in the gas station and warming it up, and a few minutes later came out with a piping hot bottle of water. She emptied the entire bottle of water over and into my fuel door. There was no physical way there could possibly be any ice left after that, so she stood back and motioned to the door, and I pressed again....and nothing. Stuck.

I looked at her and she and me, and she frowned, scratched her head.  I was thinking about how I must have damaged the door somehow when I was prying at it, and that I was going to need to drive to the dealership when it opens in a few hours and have them take a look, and thinking about how this was going to throw off my work day when I heard her ask, "Ist es verschlossen?"  Wait a moment...mentally translating....'Is it locked?'

"Nein", I said out loud emphatically.  It couldn't possibly locked, I'm not stupid.  And just to prove it, and I took my keys out of my pocket and hit the unlock button on the key fob.

And the fuel door popped open.