Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Years

Post-Christmas Bliss

A few pictures of our first ice-skaing experience...
Gettin' Ready to Ice Skate

"Woah!!! Hold on tight to me, Daddy!"

"Wow... this is hard work!"

Headed Home

So what does an American family living in Germany do to celebrate the New Year? Well, if you have little kids, as we do, then you go light fireworks off at 9:30pm and tell them they stayed up til midnight. Actually, we were as tired as the kids were so none of us needed much convincing to celebrate early.

We had planned to be out of town for New Years but that didn't pan out. We found ourselves here on the 31st with no plans, little food, and most shops closing at noon. We had to think fast. I sent Gerard to find some goodies at the airport grocery store (that one is almost always open no matter what holiday) while I searched online for some ways to ring in the New Year- German style.

What I came across was this rather peculiar T.V. program called "Dinner for One", or "The 90th Birthday" (its German title). "Dinner for One" is an old British sketch comedy that is replayed on a variety of German channels here on New Years Eve. Here's the Wikipedia synopsis:

The sketch presents the 90th birthday of elderly upper-class Englishwoman Miss Sophie, who hosts a dinner every year for her close friends. The problem is that given Miss Sophie's considerable age, she has outlived all of her friends, and so her equally aged butler James makes his way around the table, impersonating each of the guests in turn. Miss Sophie decides on appropriate drinks to accompany the menu of the evening, consisting of Mulligatawny soup (Miss Sophie orders sherry) , North Sea haddock (with white wine), chicken (with champagne), and fruit for dessert (with port) served by James, and so he finds himself raising (and emptying) his glass four times per course. That takes its toll, increasingly noticeable in James' growing difficulty in pouring the drinks, telling wine glasses from vases of flowers, and refraining from bursting into song. Even before the alcohol begins to exert its influence, he has trouble coping with a tiger skin sitting on the floor between the dinner table and the buffet.

Dinner for One has become somewhat of a cult classic here in Germany. Some people have even developed drinking games around the 15-minute sketch, while some hard core fans even try to recreate the scene at their own "Dinner for One" parties. I first heard about this strange viewing ritual from my midwife and her husband. They had told me that Germans love to watch it and that it was quite a funny little show. I didn't realize that it had such a HUGE German following, however. This little black-and-white slapstick (typically televised in its original English version) has apparently become the highest-rated TV show in German history, despite the fact that few English-speaking countries actually know of this quirky little show. Apparently, Germans are so taken with this sketch that the mere mention of the tag-line, "same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie" will elicit the reply, "Same procedure as every year, James" and hysterical laughter ensues. I wonder if Germans realize that the rest of the English-speaking world isn't really in on their little joke. I suppose the cultural phenomena that "Dinner for One" has become here is comparable to "The Sound of Music" in the U.S. Many Germans have little knowledge of the musical. Since I know you're all interested to watch this funky little sketch now, here's a link.

After watching Dinner For One, we decided to try out some traditional German New Year's cuisine. A google search revealed that many people eat fondue on New Years. I thought a moment - Hmmm, I think I have a Fondue pot downstairs that someone gave us a wedding gift- never opened. Ah ha, if I can find it it's the perfect time to break it in. I ran downstairs and on this rare occasion, I actually knew where said fondue pot had been placed. I came back upstairs with the pot. We made a cheese fondue and a chocolate fondue. Not the greatest meal but fun nonetheless. Gerrit particularly enjoyed the marshmallows dipped in chocolate. :)

Next German tradition- Bleigiessen (pronounced BLYE-ghee-sen). What the heck is that, you say? Yes, that's what I said, too. Bleigiessen is "lead pouring." A small amount of lead is melted typically by putting a piece of lead in a tablespoon and holding it over a candle. Then the melted lead is poured into a bowl or bucket of water. As the lead cools it forms a shape. The shape is supposed to predict the coming year. For example, if the lead forms a ball it means that luck will roll your way, a cross signifies death, a fish means luck, a flower symbolizes new friendship, etc. Apparently, they sell Bleigiessen kits in the store. Too bad we didn't know about this before the stores closed. Oh well, perhaps next year.

New Years celebrations can't be complete without fireworks and believe me, Germans KNOW how to do Feuerwerk. None of these puny little fireworks we used to get in California when fireworks were actually legal. No, no, no. These Germans have some crazy pyrotechnics, all available at your local grocery store. It's amazing. Seeing as how we have little rug rats who probably wouldn't last til midnight, we took our little fireworks kit of puny fireworks out to the edge of town (yeah, you can still by lame fireworks here, too) and lit them off at 9pm. Gerrit was freaked out by some of the louder ones but he loved the sparklers. Hey, what kid DOESN'T love sparklers! :) I still love them and I think Gerard even has video of me doing some sort of funky colorguard moves with them. Yeah, I know I'm a dork.

Gerrit enjoying his sparkler

We got the kids in bed, had our champagne toast and watched the crazy home fireworks display from our attic room. Soon after the fireworks began, a thick haze of smoke filled the sky, masking the church steeple in the center of town. Then the air was just a smoky mist with bursts of color out of nowhere. The whole experience went on for a good 40 minutes. Just amazing!

The distant sky is the main street in town.

Fireworks were shooting off up and down

this entire street.

So, that's how we rang in our New Year here. Next year, maybe we'll even try the popular German New Years drink "Feuerzangenbowle" ("flaming fire tongs punch"). That one sounds like an adventure all in itself.

Jake, Steph & Willem- All tuckered out

Learning to pose for the camera

Shopping, fun, fun!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Hello Family and Friends!

Yes, I know I've been a complete slacker when it comes to keeping up this blog lately. Ever since coming back to Germany this fall, the time seems to get away from me. Perhaps a New Year's resolution should be for me to try to keep it updated more often. ;)

We have many things for which we are grateful. We are thrilled to have survived our first year in Germany. In fact, we are beginning to enjoy our time here much more, and we hope to be able to get out and travel more in year two. We were fortunate to enjoy a week in Granada, Spain, in November. Gerard taught at a workshop and we tagged along. We have also greatly enjoyed the German Christmas Markets this December, complete with mandeln (burnt almonds- my personal favorite), and gluhwein (warm spiced red wine- Gerard's favorite). Gerrit and Gerard even attempted ice skating at one of the markets.

Gerard has been quite busy working on the telescope in Chile. His group completed installation of PRIMA and its first on-sky results are very promising for future success in planet detection. On the home front, my own Hausfrau skills are improving. This, of course, is a relative statement as my domestic skills were non-existent when we arrived. That of course means that even minute progress is an improvement. ;)

Willem is on the verge of walking (about 5-10 steps at a time before he gets over-excited and falls). In addition to several gutteral grunts and utterances, Willem has actually added a few words to his repertoire. His first word was in fact, "Nein" (the German "NO"). Not surprising, considering Gerrit is always saying, "Nein Willem, you go away!" whenever Willem charges at one of Gerrit's toys. Willem's vocabulary also currently includes, "Mama, Dada, daw (for dog), nana (for banana), and Tschuess (pronounced "Choos"- a friendly way to say "Bye"). He adores his older brother, and does not believe that he is too small or young to accomplish anything that brother Gerrit does. Ah, Willem, this perseverance will serve you well later in life.

Gerrit's German is improving almost as quickly as mine. He often includes a few random German words in his speech. He enjoys kindergarten very much. Although he still gets frustrated communicating with other German kids, his language skills are improving all the time. Though it's been a bit of a warm winter, it did snow a bit last week. This meant we were able to take Gerrit on his first sledding adventure. Fortunately, we have a great little sledding hill right here in Neufahrn so it was just a hop, skip, and a jump for us. A few times down the lower part of the hill, and he insisted on tackling the peak, where all the "bigger kids" were sledding. Gerrit had so much fun, and I was tickled to see how much he enjoyed himself.

First Sledding!

And a view from the top!!

Since I'm a slacker, I was unable to get Christmas cards out in any decent time frame this year. Heck, I'm terrible at updating this thing, so are you at all surprised? Therefore, I'm including a link to some online Christmas cards I created. There are about seven pages so feel free to browse through the pictures.

And now, I have far too many presents left to wrap, and things to prepare for tomorrow. We are actually having a few guests over for supper. This is the first time I've ever made an entire holiday meal so I'm nervous. It is compounded by the fact that our guests are German, with German palates. Alright, I'm off to do battle with the German stove yet again. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.