Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Busy Elf Here

I have so much to post but right now I'm knitting Christmas presents and have no time. So in the meantime, you can watch Arlo and I do our elf dance here.

Thanks to the people at OfficeMax for helping me waste precious time.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Trip to DHL

I finished my Christmas cards for my Christmas card swap on swap-bot. These green stars are from the same packet as the white ones that I used in my Christmas decorations. I also finally mailed the scarf that I finished eons ago (see here). The deadline for mailing the scarf got moved from December 1st to December 15th. I hope I get mine before I leave for Ireland. My main reason for heading to DHL today was that Arlo needed some application materials mailed. This job search is really taking a toll on him and I'm trying to help wherever I can. There isn't much that I can do ... but I'm really good at walking to DHL.

Now here is the weird thing. Arlo's officemate took his envelopes of application materials to the Post Office and was charged 8 Euro per envelope to mail them to the US. I took a batch (a week or so ago) to DHL which is owned by Deutsche Post (the post office) and was charged 4 Euros per envelope. But today when I took in the packets of materials, I was only charged 2 Euros per envelope. Maybe Deutsche Post is owned by Xeno.

It was quite an international shipment today. Arlo's materials were being mailed to the US and Canada. The scarf was mailed to Sweden and the three cards were mailed to Belgium, Australia, and the US. I should have mailed something to Chris and Renee in Japan just to round it off. Maybe next time.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 26, 2007

November Wrap-Up

Well here it is the last week of November ... not a good blogging month for me. I had this huge Elephant in the room whenever I sat down to blog ... Catan. I thought if I just posted his picture with dates that would appease the elephant and I could get back to blogging but it seems to have taken some time to work. As fate would have it, I had signed up to participate in the NAtional BLOg POsting MOnth this year. All I was supposed to do was post every day (no matter how short) during the month of November. Oh well ... maybe next year.

To answer those of you that wrote comments and sent me kind emails, I'm not exactly sure what happened to Catan. The wonderful family that was keeping him for me while Arlo and I played here in Germany think that he ate something ... possibly antifreeze. I am suspicious of the timing. I have always had black cats and I've never allowed them to go outside during the weeks around Halloween. I have no evidence of foul play, however and his host family (we joked that he was an exchange student this year ... living with a family that spoke both cat and dog) had no choice in letting him out. He managed to escape a few months ago. He stayed close to the house, but wouldn't let anyone come near enough to scoop him.

Moving on to more timely topics ...
Thanksgiving was wonderful this year. We opened our house to all of our newfound friends. However, since it was a Thursday and clearly not a holiday here in Deutschland, not all of our friends could come. While we missed people it was probably a good thing since the 19 people that were here had a tight fit. I could have bought a turkey here, with a special order, but the smallest turkey (about 9 lbs) would not fit in my oven. So instead I cooked 3 chickens. The chicken was good, but I missed the turkey gravy ... chicken gravy is just not the same. I bought fresh cranberries for my cranberry sauce. I was quite excited to find some in the grocery store that specializes in gourmet and foreign foods. I made mashed potatoes (of course) and my cornbread stuffing. Many guests brought additional dishes. Everything was tasty.

My greatest culinary achievement for the season was in making a pumpkin pie. Would you believe you can't buy pumpkin in a can here? Nor can you buy ready-made pie crust. So I bought a pumpkin and I made my own crust (so easy ... I should have learned this years ago). The pie turned out really well. I had to make up my own spice mixture since I did not find allspice. I have since been told that it is available (its is called pimento). I was unable to make my favorite ... pecan pie, but Arlo was thankful that he was able to eat his "vegetables" for breakfast in the days following Thanksgiving.

I'm usually a little afraid of Black Friday and so tend NOT to shop on the day after Thanksgiving. However, here in Bonn, last Friday was the opening day of the Christmas Market. There are hundreds of booths selling handcrafted and traditional Christmas items. The food is fantastic as well. I wandered through part of it with my friend Carla after our language class. Then Arlo and I went out again Saturday evening to see everything lit up. There are three Christmas trees near the center of town that have not been decorated yet. I am not sure when they will be. It seems that the tradition here is to decorate your Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. I don't know if this goes for public trees as well. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Avent so perhaps they will be decorated then.

I decided that I needed a little Christmas spirit in our apartment. Of course I did not bring any of my Christmas decorations and I am not willing to spend money decorations for just a few weeks. We won't even be here for Christmas itself. But walking by the equivalent of a dollar store, I stopped in to see what they had. I bought this tiny set of lights and the white stars for less then 4 Euro. The Tannenbaum branches were 3 Euro at a flower stand. A guest at our Thanksgiving dinner gave me the Angel as a present. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

I just read a fantastic book ... "The Queen of the Big Time" by Adraina Trigiani. I had heard of this book about a year ago but never had a chance to read it. It was in the library here, in the English language section. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it. It spans a woman's life in an Italian community in Pennsylvania from her teen years in the 1920s through her death in the 1970s. Trigiani is a fantastic storyteller and I hope to find more of her books at the library.

My sister sent me "Anne of Green Gables" a few months ago. I had never read these books as a kid and I clearly missed out. I loved it. I keep checking at the library but while they have the 3rd through 6th books on the shelf, they have not had the 2nd book. I think I can probably go online and request the book, but that requires working in German. I'll check a few more times before I resort to that. One of the blogs that I read had this post, recently. She (the blogger) is writing a cookbook based on the food found in the beloved childhood classics. I think that is a book I will want when she finishes it.

Well, while I won't win a prize for NaBloPoMo this year, I hope this long blog entry makes up for some of my lack of posting lately. I am happy to say that I did win a prize in a drawing recently. I often listen to CraftSanity while home during the day. Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood has fantastic interviews with all sorts of crafty folks. Her last interview was with Kristin Roach who puts together Craft Leftovers, a zine and packet of crafty odds and ends that she sells each month. She does all of this as a college student. I'm really impressed. I won the December Craft Leftovers packet and it is being sent to me. Here is the post that shows what is in the packet and here is the post that names me as the winner.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Martinstag is November 11th. This starts the Karneval season in Catholic Germany. On this day, the children of Germany carry lanterns, sing songs and are rewarded with candy. In addition to going from door to door, most towns have a parade "Martinszuge" ending at a huge bonfire. I don't understand the reason ... but Martinstag was celebrated on different days this past week in each of the local communities. The celebration for central Bonn was on Friday night. I stood in the Munster Platz and watched the parade go by. It took a half an hour for all of the children to pass me. I then joined in with the parents walking along the side of the parade to the bonfire in the Markt Platz. I marvel at the Germans' lack of fear of fire. Children (some as young as 3 years old) carry paper lanterns with candles in them. There were fire fighters all over the center of town and particularly concentrated at the bonfire.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bunny Monster Abroad

I spend quite a bit of time each week exploring the online crafting world. So many people have marvelous crafty businesses. Maybe at some point I will put some of this effort to work for myself ... but for right now I just inundate my sister Karen with information for her crafty business -- Karen's Monsters.

I am privileged to own the very first bunny monster, called L'original on Karen's site and Häschen Monster by those who know him in Deutschland. We were recently in London visiting friends so we took the traveling egg cup idea to a new level:
This is at the Alter Zoll in Bonn. We needed to try out a few techniques for holding the Häschen Monster in front of the camera.
Look kids, Big Ben ... Parliament Building.

Westminster Abbey

We asked the Beef Eater politely to hold the bunny monster for the picture and he just as politely said "No ma'am!"

Rebuilt Globe Theater (Shakespeare's old haunt)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Strickentreffen and other Knitting news

Sunday mornings in Tucson found me in Espresso Art (a cafe by the University) knitting with a great group of women. While I love knitting alone, I really like the social aspect of gathering to knit. I've noticed that I don't knit nearly as fast in these groups as I do alone ... but I love to see what everyone else is doing. We end up teaching and learning from each other and just sharing our lives.

Since coming to Germany, I've been trying to fill some of this void with my internet explorations. The knitting/personal blogs that I've been reading have been quite inspiring. I really like the knitting podcasts that I've been listening to. I treat these almost as I would a knitting group ... I put on the podcast and start knitting. But it is not the same.

I went into a yarn store here in the Fußgangerzone but the proprietress was so unfriendly that I didn't ask her if she knew of any knitting groups in town. I posted an ad on Craigslist -- Köln has a city entry but Bonn does not. I figured Köln is not too far away and perhaps Bonn people look at it. This would have the advantage (or disadvantage, however you look at it) of reaching knitters that speak English. But alas, I had no response to the ad.

One of the women in MPI suggested that I go to the Münster (the main catholic church right in the city center). She was fairly sure that they had a knitting group. So I found the Münsterladen (church store) and asked about this. The nun I spoke to (I started in German, but she switched to English) was very confused by my question. She wanted to know who had told me that the church did such a thing. After much explanation she said that no they do not have a knitting group. I should try the Protestants ... they do that sort of thing.

Well before I could go to Kreuzkirche (the big Protestant church in the center of town) I went into a different yarn store in town. This proprietress was very friendly. She responded to my attempts at speaking German by speaking very slow, simple, clear German herself. So I asked if she knew of a knitting group that I could join. She owns two stores and her store in Rheinbach (two towns over -- about 20 minutes by regional train) has a Strickentreffen (knitting meeting) every Thursday evening. I've gone twice now and it has been great. I get to listen and practice German ... but if I'm really confused they will clarify in English. It costs 5 Euro per week. I wish it didn't but if you think about it, I spent about 5 dollars each week buying a coffee in the cafe where I met up with my last group.

So now some postings of my latest projects:
Here is a scarf I made for my niece in California. It is based on the scribble scarf in Mason-Dixon Knitting. It is very lightweight and yet snuggly ... perfect for California. This was made with stash yarn. I think the blue is shine sport from Knitpicks and the white is boucle that I got in some super yarn sale Michael's had last summer.

I mentioned that I didn't like the washcloths here so I was knitting a few out of some cotton yarn I had in my stash. It washes nicely but after one use it is completely out of shape. I think I could get used to knitted washcloths, however, I like the feel on my face.

I finished Arlo's hat (Mütze auf deutsch) I like how the crown looks on his a little better than I like the look on mine. That's okay though since I won't see the crown of my hat when I'm wearing it. Although, I will be hard pressed to see the crown of Arlo's hat when he is wearing his.

Lastly, I finished my first knitted swap project. It is not due for mailing until December 1st ... won't my partner be surprised when she gets this in October. I knitted this 6 foot 2 inch scarf from the touch of whimsy pattern. I had never done an I-cord cast-on and cast-off. That combined with the double knit edging makes for a beautiful border.

I'm still working on the baby jacket for Isobel. I have the back and the two front pieces done. I'm working on the arms now. I would like to start a sweater for myself. I think I will go buy some more of the blue yarn that I used for the scarf. If I get truly bored, I could always knit one of these ... if only I knew a horse:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Internationales Frauenzentrum

These past two weeks, I have been incredibly busy with the Internationales Frauenzentrum (International Womens' Center). About a month ago, there were a bunch of organizations with tables in the Marktplatz. I saw IFZ there but did not have the confidence to try to speak with them (it turns out they probably could have spoken with me in English). I went home, instead, and looked them up on-line. While they have some information in English, most of the events are described in German. Through my poor translation I thought there was a meeting on the second Monday of every month to introduce women to the center. So I waited, then last Monday (the 8th, I think) I went to the center. It turns out that the event I thought was an introduction to IFZ was in fact a tour of the city and it is done on the second Monday of the month ... when there is enough interest. I.e. I needed to have called ahead.

I ended up speaking with the president of the organization who speaks Korean and German ... but very little English. There was a lot of pantomime and dictionary flipping ... but I managed to understand what was going on. So now I go to 3 classes a week and co-run another. I am taking a sewing class. It is a good thing I already know how to sew. Our teacher speaks only German and speaks very very fast. Add to this the fact that everyone else in the room is talking and she is usually sitting at the sewing machine with me behind her (not a good set-up for my hearing problem) and I understand very little. It is going well though. I am also taking an "Integrierender Orientierungskurs für Migratinnen" -- a course for immigrant women to help them understand Germany and integrate more smoothly into society. I missed the first class. Last week was a bit of geography, learning about the German states and capitals but focusing mostly on the state we live in -- Nordrhein Westfalen -- and particularly the Bonn area. The class is entirely in German but there were lots of pictures and maps and I got a lot out of it. Tonight and next week's classes will discuss Democracy in Germany and the following week will be on the festivals and holidays of Germany. I'm really looking forward to that last one.

The third course is Deutsch Konversationkurs -- German Conversation. I think this will be a really good class for me ... but I didn't like the last class very much. I will try again this week. The teacher kept speaking English to me. Oddly enough, she did this for words I understood. I kept telling her I was understanding fine, but maybe I had a puzzled look on my face. My father thinks that perhaps she wanted to show-off her English skills. Who knows.

The center needed an English speaker to lead the English Konversationkurs so I did that this past Monday night. There is a Kenyan woman who is able to lead the class some nights, but not every week. I brought in a Wikipedia article about the Western United States and we read and discussed it. The class seemed to really like it. The previous class, the text that was chosen was at a college level. Most of the participants were struggling to understand and so they were not getting an opportunity to practice speaking.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Perfect Fall Day

This past weekend we went to Braubach to see Marksburg Castle and had the most amazing day. The forecast called for rain but if you let weather make your decisions for you ... you might not see anything in Europe. I believe it did rain in Bonn, but in Braubach and Koblenz we only had a perfect fall mist. It was cool enough to be called crisp and have the changing colors of the leaves make sense, but not too cold to be uncomfortable. Braubach is a very small town and it was clear that the people all knew each other. Everyone said good morning to us and it was a great Deutsch speaking experience. In Bonn, if I have to ask someone to repeat or slow down, they almost always switch to English. In Braubach, however, people were unhurried so they were happy to speak slower and simpler for me. The tours of Marksburg were only given in German with a written guide in English (or a few other languages). The written guide was about 2 sentences long for each room and the tour guide spoke for 5-10 minutes in each room. While she spoke very quickly I was able to get a general picture of the information she was giving.

Here are a few pictures of Marksburg Castle:
The castle on the hill

The herb garden (along the battlement) has been continuously cultivated since medieval times.

These window seats show the thickness of the wall of the castle.
From the kitchen -- this may have been the item that most impressed Arlo. He loves how you can see the centuries worth of use on this butcher block top.

Here is the cute tram that took us up the hill to the castle.

We walked back along a path that was once a medieval road.

Where we could look down upon the old city wall and tower.

This Inn is just outside of what was once the city gate (for late-comers I suppose).

Here is a street in the Altstadt.

Today is German Reunification Day (a national holiday) so it is only right to end this post with a picture of some pieces of the Berlin wall. These are situated at the Deutsch Ecke (German Corner) where mother Mosel and father Rhein meet (Koblenz is at the confluence of these two rivers).

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Funny Signs

So, we've come across many funny signs while here in Germany. We thought we should start photographing them and sharing them with all of you.

This sign is 60 meters from the river (the Rhein) in Bad Godesberg. The street has a bit of a downhill slope and ends at the crossroads of the pedestrian pathway along the river. There is a guardrail, but I guess they took artistic license and left that out of the picture.

We saw this sign in Braubach (a small town upstream and across the Rhein from Koblenz). It is in a garden at the old well. I think it should have been on a shorter pole if they want the dogs to be able to see it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Podcasts and Craft Swap

I have been spending a lot of time listening to podcasts lately. It has been great! Since I am so late to the game, when I find a podcaster that I like, there are tons of back podcasts to listen to. My favorite knitting podcaster is Kelly from Knit Picks. Knit Picks is my favorite internet yarn supplier and I'm very sad that they won't ship to Europe.

Well, I've made it through all 21 of Kelly's podcasts (22 comes out later today sometime ... but I probably won't hear it until Monday) so I've started in on Sister Diane from Crafty Pod. She posts to the blog daily ... with all different crafts and posts a podcast once every other week. (You can click on the podcast category to find all of the podcasts). I still have 43 of those podcasts to go. That should last me a few weeks.

I've learned about all sorts of craft ideas from Crafty Pod. Currently I'm excited about this idea of a craft swap. She had an interview with the founder of Swap-Bot (Crafty Pod episode 45) which is a website that features all sorts of craft swaps. Here's my understanding of how this works. An organizer says I want to start a swap for ___. They post it saying when people need to sign up by, when items need to be mailed and how many partners each person will have. People sign up to swap ___. Once the sign-up deadline arrives, the computer matches people ... this is done in a way that an uneven number of participants can play. People get emails saying who their swap partners are. They can then look up information on their partner's profile and make a very special ___. They send theirs out and they get one in return ... made specifically for them.

So I've signed up for three starter swaps. One paper craft, one knitting, and one networking. The first (and easiest) closed today. I should get an email tomorrow as to who my partners are. I will have four partners to whom I email my blog address. I will also get four blogs to check out. It is encouraged to post comments and actively participate. -- So look lively folks, we're about to get company. My paper craft swap is to make three Christmas cards and send them out. That should be fun. And my knitting swap is a winter scarf. This swap is a Europe only swap so I will "meet" two other European knitters (one that I send my scarf to and and one that sends a scarf to me).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Düsseldorf II

Longtime readers of this blog (way back from two weeks ago) may notice that there was never an original Düsseldort post. Good Job! However, this trip to Düsseldorf last weekend was our second trip.

What these two trips had in common:
1. Beautiful Weather
Both times we traveled to Düsseldorf we had bright blue sky and it was at least 70° F.
2. Charming Altstadt
Here is a photo of the Rathaus (city hall).
3. Walk Along the Rhein
Many people enjoyed the last hurrah of summer weather.

Here the similarities ended. The last time we went to Düsseldorf we went with a group of at least 50 Goethe Institute participants. The normally excellent German train system was out of whack. There was a problem on the tracks which delayed all trains and made it difficult to get from Köln to Düsseldorf. So we went via the Netherlands (not quite ... but almost). Anyway, it took 4 hours the first time but only an hour this last weekend. With such a long delay the last time, we only had a few hours in Düsseldorf but we did see the Media Harbor, the Altstadt, and Königsallee (Rodeo Drive of Germany).

Königsallee has a canal (part of the Düssel for which Düsseldorf is named) running through the center. There is a street on either side (one direction of traffic each) and then expensive shops. The first time we went was a Saturday ... the street was so crowded you couldn't even look in the windows. The second time was a Sunday so all of the shops were closed. This seems like a great time to window shop ... but I was with two men.

The trip this last weekend was for the purpose of meeting up with our friend Eric. I've known Eric since my first year at CSU Hayward (for my masters degree). While at Hayward, I took some mathematics classes at UC Berkeley where Eric was a graduate student in Mathematics. Eric taught me lots of math. Fortunately for our friendship, Eric and Arlo really like each other and I really like Eric's fiance Mette. Eric and Mette are currently living in Nijmegen in the Netherlands (a common theme when it comes to us and Düsseldorf) where Mette is working at the university (Art History). Unfortunately, Mette was sick and a bit overwhelmed with her course load and so was unable to join us this weekend.

It was Sunday so there were very few places open. However, the main point of the trip was to visit and catch up ... so we walked for a while and then sat for a spell before we repeated. We had a beautiful lunch in the Altstadt (on what I call Restaurant Row).

The mathematicians deep in conversation
Lunch in the Altstadt.
While walking through the Hofgarten we saw this sleeping beauty tree (or the mys-tree as Arlo and Eric wanted to call it). The case appears to be preserving some sort of lichen on the tree ... but I'm not sure.
It seems like the wrong time of year for babies ... but these baby black swans were adorable. I tried out the movie feature on my digital camera. I think it came out pretty well.
Some interesting architecture in Düsseldorf (in the media harbor)