Friday, December 29, 2006

Wine Mass!

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On Wednesday and Thursday we visited our friend Markus (from Damon's Harvard lab), who originally comes from the Rheingau area and is home over Christmas. The Rheingau is a wine-growing region along the Rhein a little west of Mainz. His family has a winery in the town of Johannisberg which has passed through several generations and is now run by his older brother.

Markus took us through several of the little towns in the area (photos to go up on THE PHOTOS! very soon) and then we had a tour of the family winery and tasted six wines or so. After this, we all went to a special Mass that seemed to be especially for wine! The Mass was held in a chapel connected to Johannisberg's schloss and was held in honor of St. John (Johannes of course - the patron saint of the town). Since he is the patron saint of the town, and the town is a winemaking town, the Mass was very wine-oriented. Markus' brother took down a banner that was hanging in the winery and brought it along. The banners of all the local wineries were there, and joined the procession to the front of the church at the start of Mass, and stood behind the altar for most of the service. (See above Markus holding the banner for his family winery, Weingut Johannishof.) His brother also took a couple of bottles of wine to the church, and set them in front before Mass, where there were many, many other bottles as well - an offering? The area Wine Queen & Wine Princess were in attendance and also in the procession. Toward the end of Mass, everyone drinks a tiny glass of the town's very first "young wine" (different from the "new wine" I mentioned drinking in the fall), donated by the schloss winery. The Mass is really popular (free wine, right?)! Nothing like one I've ever attended! And a note on Germans that I don't know if I've mentioned before: They don't have a fear of singing like Americans do. Markus told us his church is well-known and made fun of for singing so quietly, but it was much louder than any service I went to in the US.

Afterward was more dinner and wine, followed by even more wine with Markus' parents. Markus was born in 1973, and for the occasion of us all being together, his dad brought out a bottle of wine from that year - made by himself since he was the winemaker at that time. I don't think I've ever had old wine like that before...It was completely different.

The next day we saw some more local sights, all of which will be on the photo site, though the weather - rainy and foggy - didn't work in their favor. The area is gorgeous and very English-friendly thanks to tourism - maybe a little too much so. After this we went inside to warm up at the fire, and of course drink more wine, before catching our train back to Heidelberg.

Wherein We Are Spoiled

Yesterday we returned from our trip to visit our friend in the Rheingau and discovered no less than ten Christmas cards in our mailbox! Then today, we received no less than FIVE packages!! This really redeemed the day, which was in danger of being seriously damaged by the latest in the work permit story (that will be a different post).
Packages received today:

* Jen! She knows exactly what I miss: she sent two boxes of Annie's (much needed!! I was down to one precious box!), a package of Oreos (I need to make some mint chocolate covered ones!!!), and a copy of the Onion to remind me how much I miss Chicago. (*snif*) She also sent a gorgeous glass ornament that is maybe from Egypt, where she disappears off to every now and again. :) THANK YOU!!

* Dad, Jean, and Ali! They also sent me a newspaper - a copy of the Des Moines Register to remind me how much I miss Iowa. To make it even more sappy/nostalgic, there was also a CD filled with family photos, some of them of my young grandparents. (*snifsnif....*) They also sent a red sweater to keep me toasty now that the Heidelberg weather has finally gotten down to where it is supposed to be (hovering around 0'C). THANK YOU!!

* Damon's parents! They sent us a large selection of food goodies, including one I don't know how I have lived over three months without: Cookie's BarBQ Sauce (made in my hometown)! Damon opened and dug through that one so I'm still not sure what else was in there, but all I need to know is the sauce, man. (I'm so easy to please....laptops? Household appliances? Trips? Just pass the $3 bottle of sauce.) THANK YOU!!

* Cathy and Jason! They sent us a sugar dish, which Damon was really missing here (we had one at the guest house, but don't have one here). They also sent us soap, shirts from Cathy's now-defunct former employer, South Coast Casino, and a coozie...what could be more Iowan than one of those? THANK YOU!!

* Allison! She shopped off our Amazon lists and I am now looking forward to a full night of old-school Sesame Street watching, which I hope includes lots of Bert and Ernie! I have been waiting forever for something like this to come out and I can't believe it took so long considering there's probably a huge market for it. In the meanwhile Damon will be studying up with some wicked serious tomes from his list.

And, a shout out to packages received over the past month that I didn't blog about yet:

* Suzanne and Bob! Suzanne sent us (in the coolest wrapping paper) shirts from the Cards' World Series victory! We have to wear them in a prominent and obviously German location and send the photo back to her! THANK YOU!!

* Erin and Monica! Did I mention this one before? I can't remember. They sent all the junk I used to eat around the office - Twizzlers, peanut butter cups, and Oreos!! Monica also made us a little foam Christmas tree with our names on it, which was our only tree through most of December. I haven't even opened the peanut butter cups yet...I'm dying to but afraid I won't be able to keep from eating them all instead of savoring them :) As for the Twizzlers...Damon and I went on a Friday night Twizzler binge one night when we couldn't hold out any more. Ye Gods, it was good while it went on, but we sort of regretted it later, hehehe. THANK YOU!!

* Mom! Mom plotted to keep us both toasty all winter with a cardigan sweater (I was dying for one) and a puffy vest for me and a fleece for Damon. Already the cardigan is living outside the closet because I wear it all the time. THANK YOU!!

*Also, Sara sent me the world's best origami paper. Must carefully use each gorgeous piece.... but she said that more is coming so I will save up the big entry on hers for later.

Stories to come: the trip to the Rheingau, and hopefully the near-conclusion of The Work Permit Story.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Frohe Weihnachten....Again!

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Here is our little tiny Christmas tree, on our little tiny Ikea table (that we finished ourselves!), with our one little tiny ornament (a lucky mushroom with a lucky ladybug crawling on it).
We walked the Philosophenweg today, as did many, many other people, and then ate Christmas dinner (pork w/ apples and carrot salad). Damon got me a German name book and a bird ornament (not seen on tree yet), and I got him a tiny framed owl print. All in all, nice and calm, like the Christmases of yore. Well, of false yore, if this article is to be believed: link to Boston Globe - a little commentary on how much American Christmas sucks now, but showing also that it probably never was all that relaxed!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Frohe Weihnachten!

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Only 25 minutes to Christmas here in Germany! Tonight we had dinner with one of Damon's old Harvard friends, who just moved here with her family. She is from the US, actually lived in Germany previously and married a German, but they spent seven or so years in the US before moving back here. In fact, she is a fellow U of C alumna! Anyway, we had a great time there!

Some notes on Christmas here:

1. Germans really put candles on their Christmas trees - something that in the US we only see in drawings on Christmas cards! When we wondered if it was a fire hazard, no one thought so at all. One commented, "Well, we're all here so if it lights on fire there are plenty of us to go get some water." They also put their trees up later, though, so the tree is still not totally dry tinder by Christmastime as it might be if they went up earlier.

2. Sometimes the family also sings carols together at home. Hahaha, this sounds very corny to me, but somehow I'm glad it happens somewhere in the world.

3. Somehow it just feels more traditional. I don't know why. Maybe I'm just feeling more happy with Christmas this year because I'm not dealing with traveling, with my mother-in-law trying to guilt trip us about not visiting her over the holiday (some psychological tricks work on me, but guilt tripping isn't one that does - at all - I don't recommend it), with trying to balance visiting all three parental locations within a short period of time with them all comparing with each other how much time each is getting, with buying perfect gifts for everyone (it was so easy to just get German candy and send it off, and we're too poor for anything nice anyway), with time off from work being so short, with the throngs of travelers and shoppers and the ridiculous "gift" packaging and pricing of regular items, etc, etc, etc. So I guess some of the pluses have to do with being too poor to deal with it, some have to do with a different atmosphere here, and some have to do with being far away enough to have an excuse not to deal with all the really bad aspects.

Other stuff:

* Still no work permit. I think things finally fell into place with the institution where I will be working, enough that I think they are going to let me get the work permit. But of course everything just got lined up at the end of last week, and now I'm supposed to go back to the immigration office to get the permit, not knowing what kind of situation I will face there or how long it will take this time. Last time they told me they would let me know, but no one let me know anything. I didn't know until Friday afternoon if they would send it to me, if I had to go in for it, or anything about what I had to do. Now there is very little time because I am supposed to start work in January, but Monday and Tuesday are holidays, and Wednesday and Thursday we are visiting another Harvard friend near Mainz. I have to get the permit, and take it in to my workplace to sign the contract. I don't know if this is all going to happen - especially with many of the people to help me being on vacation!

* The apartment problems never end! Our shower intermittently decides it is just not going to drain. It has no apparent correlation with anything we do in the apartment - not with how much hair is in the drain trap, not with whether we ran the washing machine today, not with whether we used drain cleaner, not with anything we can figure out. It will drain fine in one part of the day, and in the next the showerer is left standing in six inches of water. I can't say that it's endearing me to this apartment much more!

* I really miss my old social life. Well, I miss having one at all, really. I have met many really cool people in my class, but they of course all live either in Mainz or another city - none here. The people from Damon's lab are all cool, but don't seem to plan much together. I could really go for a great house party right now, but so far I can't tell if Germans even throw great house parties. It's only been three months so I'm sure this will get better...I hope so anyway.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Strasbourg - New Photos!

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I'm popping my head in for a second to advertise our latest new photos - click THE PHOTOS on the right to see them! We spent Sunday in Strasbourg, which is a couple of hours from Heidelberg, just across the French border. I promise to update soon!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Oh yeah? Where's some wood to knock on?

Just checking in lest anyone hadn't guessed yet that I am back in class, spending all my time either in a classroom or on a train between here and Mainz! Today was my day off, and this week I'm back in again through Thursday. Very tiring. And, as of right now, the bike that needs to get me to the train station in only a few short hours is in pieces on our living room floor! On my way back yesterday I noticed it was dragging a lot and it looked like one of the brakes was a little misaligned. While trying to fix that Damon also though the front wheel was wobbling too much so he's trying to figure that out. My poor takes a bit of damage having to be parked at the Hauptbahnhof, unfortunately. The place is so packed full with bikes (many abandoned) that they are often smacked and dragged against each other as everyone tries to get theirs in and out of the tangle. Not good.
Today we went to a chemistry/opera event at the university. Every year the chemistry students stage this event and it's apparently pretty difficult to get tickets (Damon got them through another person in his lab). They play parts of the opera Lohengrin, some recorded and some performed live and accompany it with lots of pretty-looking chemical reactions and fires. Afterward we had our zillionth really unhealthy meal at the Christmas Market, heh.
Here's hoping the bike gets me to the train on time tomorrow morning. See you again after this class module ends!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Just Call It a Tannenbaum

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Another thing I have noticed about holidays here, is that no one seems to be up in arms about any aspect of the holidays. This is unlike the US, where each year we must put up with constant outcries by one group or another about the holiday and how they don't like how someone else handles it.

In one example, I received an email forward today from someone in the US (not to be named, sorry) with a picture of a Christmas tree, arguing that it was indeed a Christmas tree and not an "Allah bush" or various other names I'm sure no one ever seriously tried to call a Christmas tree. At the end of the message, it urged the reader to "take a stand!" Huh? Take a stand against what? Having other religions in your country? Separation of church and state? The funny thing is that decorated trees aren't even Christian or in the Bible, so how are you going to take a stand against anything when you already have no argument? I know the email is only about Christmas trees, and I agree, they aren't for Hanukkah or any other holiday, but to get all freaky about what they are called is just bizarre. Every year in the US, there's a crowd of people mad when businesses say "Merry Christmas" and a crowd on the other side mad when businesses say "Happy Holidays". Hobbies, people, you need 'em!

It's all very confusing, and blissfully I don't see a lot of it here. It's very relaxed. Maybe the US just needs a good shot of gluehwein. Drink up, guys!