Thursday, November 30, 2006

Yea, we've had some casualties

Don’t let that angelic face fool you. We’ve had some “ornament” casualties. It seems that the “low hangers” are simply too enticing for Ginger (a.k.a. Sweet Kitty”) to resist. Each morning as we wander into the living room, we are greeted by a Christmas ornament has been stripped from the tree and wrestled to the ground, or has been turned into some version of a feline soccer ball.

What is not apparent to the naked eye is that all those ornaments on the low branches are non-glass. Ah, “Sweet Kitty”, you’ve been foiled again!

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

The first appearance of a Christmas tree, also known as Tannenbaum, was recorded in 1605 in Strasburg. As the story goes, "...people set up Christmas trees in their rooms...". Another recounting of that tale states "... no burgher shall have a Christmas tree more than one bush of more than eight shoes' length...". The decorations hung on a tree of that time were "roses cut of many-colored paper, apples, wafers, gilt, sugar". Typically, though, the tree was not decorated until Christmas Eve in most German homes.

The Christmas tree tradition dates back to the middle of the 16th century when the first of "Tannenbaum" ballads appeared in printing. By the 19th century, the tradition spread across Germany and abroad. It was those ever-so-trendy royal Germans who devised the custom of decorating a tree for Christmas; the custom soon spread across German borders, and reached into the United States.

So, as US folks who are living in Germany, we recently installed our Tannenbaum, although quite a bit early (actually on the first Sunday of Advent). We decided to go “all EMEA”…using only European ornaments in our decoration. Correction: That is a Thai tablecloth serving as a tree skirt...sorry...

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

For your viewing pleasure, the Thanksgiving photo 2006. Photo Credit: MY (thanks!)


And in the spirit of all things “Thanksgiving”, here is this year’s Hachie Gal expat list of thanks:

(1) Boots pharmacy – if you have to ask, you’ve never been.
(2) Sky Digital – enough said!
(3) Related to #2, NFL Live on Sky Sports…each and every Sunday.
(4) Some great trips this year and the promise of unlimited travel destinations in 2007.
(5) A season of fall foliage – it just doesn’t happen all that often in Texas.
(6) OV language films in Germany. Or better yet, English films that are NOT dubbed into other languages in other European countries. Thank you, France!
(7) My favourite German foods: Nuremburger sausages – these are too good, sauerkraut, and printen.
(8) A year and a half of Germany living under my belt; yes, it does make all the difference in the world.
(9) Christmas vacation in less than 4 weeks…in Texas. Yep, pardner, I do actually miss it sometimes.
(10) My global shopping network that sources the following: deodorant soap, brown sugar, canned pumpkin, canned sweet potatoes, vanilla extract, Rotel, Velveeta cheese, cream of “you name it” soups, various and asundry medincines, Crystal light, and corn tortillas. It is truly becoming an international sourcing operation.
(11) A great group of team-mates…they’re AWESOME!
(12) The Dusseldorf International food store.
(13) The American Women’s club – the best source of expat news available.
(14) Translation websites.
(15) Family and friends – we may not see each often, but you are all reasons to give thanks.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Advent in Germany

The four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve are a festive time in Germany; this year, November 26th, marks the commencement of Advent. On this day, many German families set up an Advent wreath in their homes, or Adventskranz, and light the first of the candles as a symbol that Advent has begun. During several jaunts this past week to local Christmas markets, I observed the purchase of these wreaths.

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Typically, a German Advent wreath is made of evergreen branches and decorated with red-green tapes, pine cones and four candles, one for each week of Advent. Traditional families still gather around the wreath on each Advent Sunday to light the next candle and sing Christmas carols. This was even more important in the past, when the Christmas tree was usually reserved for a special unveiling only on Christmas Eve. Until then, the Advent wreath provided the evergreen look and the special festive aroma in the house.

Fall foliage in Germany

Our Thanksgiving week also included some GORGEOUS fall foliage in central and western Germany. You know, “us Texans” don’t usually have the opportunity to enjoy “leaf turning”, as leaves simply go from being green on the tree to brown on the ground. So, I’m easily impressed.

Many of these areas were return visits for the Budman and me as well, but it is rather interesting how the season of year can change the look and mood of a place. Surprisingly, we were haunted by rain almost every day but you can’t tell by some of these photos.

Heidelberg’s fall landscape.

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The Mosel Valley, known for its many wine vineyards was a highpoint!

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Cochem and the Mosel River….by day and night.

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One note of commentary: OK, bummer that the castle’s last tour is at noon during the winter months. I felt like I’d failed as a tour guide this day!


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Dusseldorf, by night, from Oberkassel.

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Thanksgiving comes to a close

Well, a wonderful week of Thanksgiving celebration has come to an end. Not only did we enjoy a week of vacation during the time commonly known as US Thanksgiving, we celebrated the many blessings in our lives (home, family, friends, health, material blessings, etc.) with family in Germany. Thanks, Mike and Matt for making the trek to Dusseldorf! And for bringing those “essential” US cooking ingredients along.

A few candid shots from the week…sadly, the only picture of the four of us was snapped during our Turkey Day meal…and not by me! Hopefully photo will be forthcoming, but a few candid shots of the week.

Mike, Budman, and Matt in Heidelberg.

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Hachie Gal at the castle ruins in Heidelberg.

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M/M coming back from Cologne.

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Matt cooking up a storm on T-day.

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Budman - is the dressing ready yet?

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The guys in Cologne.

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How many Texans does it take to assemble a tripod?

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Hachie Gal in the Mosel Valley region.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Limburger Dom

This year, we'll get a real Thanksgiving celebration in Deutscheland! First, we've sourced the fixins for a true turkey day feast, family has arrived to celebrate the week with us, and for the first time in years, we actually have the day off for US Thanksgiving. Sounds like several things to be thankful for if you ask me.

Kicking off the holiday week of vacation, today we drove to the tiny town of Limburg, where there was the Limburger Dom (interesting but not sure it was worth the 2 hour drive in the rain). Upside, a good visit with family, and a nice piece of blueberry pie at the local cafe.

You can't tell from the photos but it is raining alot. Still a pretty little shot of Limburg (and not of the famous Limburg cheese fame, in case you are wondering).

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Add two more things to the list

Well, apparently vanilla extract and brown sugar are two more items that can only be found in the US and UK. Funny how we just take those things for granted. A weekend trip to the supermarket surfaced these new revelations.

A business trip to London tomorrow may provide one last opportunity to gather up these Thanksgiving meal ingredients. "So, Hachie Gal, what souvenirs did you pick up on your recent trip to London?"....ah, the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

It seems fitting

Well, since this could somewhat be called the “vacation of churches”, I suppose it is fitting that we end on that note, with two of these grand ladies, both Cathredales Notre Dame (what else), in Laon and Reims. Granted they all begin to look alike; Laon’s is no exception. What is most impressive about this church is that it sits atop a hilltop site – we definitely “oohed” and “aahed” as we drove in late that evening to our hotel.






The streets of Laon.




Ending on a final, impressive note, we saw THE church of kings, Cathedrale Notre Dame in Reims. All the kings of France were crowned here until 1825. The ravages of time and war have really caused damage to the church, but a significant restoration is underway. While the interior is lovely, it is the exterior façade that draws many visitors to this place, with carvings of all the French kings on its entrance side. Most of the church was built in between 1111 and 1211.





It is this church that Jean of Arc led “her king”, Charles VII, to be crowned. A small tribute to her in this magnificent church.


C’est fini!


Well, all good things must come to an end, including vacations. As the Budman and I headed back to D’Dorf, we made a pit-stop at one of the premier châteaux in France, Pierrefonds, located deep in the heart of Champagne. This HUGE château, begun in the 12th century, was restored in the 1860s under the direction of Napoleon III. Hence, why the interior decoration seen below does not seem to match the medieval architecture.

Its sheer size is quite impressive; a stroll around the outside of the castle grounds took us at least 25-20 minutes as we fianlly made our way to the entrance of the castle. I must confess that while it is wonderfully maintained, it left me with a very cold feeling. Don’t exactly know why…maybe the gray day of our visit or the fact that there were not a lot of other visitors contributed to this feeling.

















The Chapel inside Pierrefonds.