I actually hate to write about this subject again. I am sick to death of reading about face masks. I hate looking at them, and I definitely hate wearing them… but I feel compelled to write this post, if only because if I weren’t an overeducated housewife, I’d probably have a job in public health. This morning, I was reading comments on an article about face masks that was posted by The Atlantic. The article, entitled “Why Aren’t We Wearing Better Masks” was originally published on January 13th. I read it the first time it popped up on my feed. It’s back again this morning.
The article is about how homemade cloth masks were supposed to be a “stopgap” measure until better masks could be made available to the general public. Ten months into the pandemic, a lot of us are still wearing the cutesy face masks that we bought on Etsy. Well… actually, if I’m honest, I only wear the medical surgical masks. From the beginning, I decided I would not indulge in wearing fashionable face masks because I do not want face masks to be permanent fashion statements. I really don’t. I think they cause a lot of problems for people, even though for now, they are necessary. But— now, thanks to new mutation of the COVID-19 virus that is more contagious, though not necessarily more dangerous– experts are saying we need to ditch the cloth masks and wear medical grade masks.
As I was reading the comments, I noticed that a comment from someone who claimed that Germany is now requiring everyone to wear N95 masks. And they were presenting that fractured fact as if Germany is doing COVID-19 better. Well, if I’m honest, Germany IS doing COVID-19 better than the United States is; however, N95 masks ARE NOT currently required here.
The current rules stipulate that in most areas, medical grade masks are now required in shops, on public transport, and in crowded areas where social distancing isn’t possible. Bavaria is the only state that currently requires everyone to wear a FFP2, FFP3 or N95 style mask on public transportation, in shops and supermarkets, or in crowds. Bavaria has been hit harder by COVID-19 than other states, hence the stricter rules. Everywhere else, disposable surgical masks will still suffice, except in nursing homes, where the FF92 masks are also required to be worn by staff. Also, the FF92 masks are only required on Bavaria’s local trains and buses. On long distance trains, the medical/surgical masks are still okay. Face shields and visors without masks are not.
And, while I know many people think the masks are required everywhere outside someone’s home, I’m here to tell you that in my neighborhood, no one wears a mask of any kind when just walking around outside. They do wear them at bus stops and there are signs reminding people to don them, but I hardly ever see people hanging around the bus stops.
This is not to say that the FFP2 masks won’t eventually become required everywhere in Germany if the COVID-19 numbers don’t improve soon. Despite the effective response here last spring, Germany’s currently having a lot of problems with COVID-19… though not as many as in the United States. There aren’t as many sick people here, and not as many people are dying… but enough are, which is why the better masks are now being mandated.
Incidentally, I have also read that the government is going to make the masks freely available to people over age 60 and chronically ill people, so they won’t have to shell out a lot of money to acquire the better quality masks. But since I’m neither chronically ill, nor over age 60, nor a regular German resident, I can’t comment too much on that.
I’m really hoping that we can get a handle on COVID-19 soon. This lifestyle sucks, and I want to get back to enjoying Europe and writing fun articles about food and travels. The vaccine should help… or, I sure hope it does. We did enjoy some takeout Italian food last night, but I really miss sitting in restaurants and seeing other people.
Several weeks ago, I was hanging out on Facebook when an Armenian guy I follow posted about ordering Ararat Boxes for his staff as Christmas gifts. He described the boxes as being full of yummy treats from Armenia, as well as a great fundraiser for good causes benefiting Armenia. Since I spent two years living in the Republic of Armenia as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was interested in finding out more about Ararat Boxes.
So what are Ararat Boxes? They are boxes filled with snacks, stickers, and other goodies made in Armenia. The official Web site says that they put in 18-20 different items, everything from candy to teas and coffees. Every month is different and you don’t know what you’ll get. You can purchase the boxes once, or do a monthly subscription. When I showed the Web site to Bill, he decided he wanted to try it. He bought a three month subscription for the 2kg box ($49.95 for a single box, less if you subscribe). There’s also a 1kg box available that costs a bit less ($29.95). Shipping is available worldwide, and costs $15 for the big box and $10 for the small one. You can pay easily on the Web site, which calculates everything for you. The boxes come directly from Yerevan, Armenia, and come covered in bubble wrap, adorned with Armenian stamps and script that looks like a bunch of coat hooks.
This project was created by Renderfrost, which is a large IT company based in Armenia. Renderfrost has over 10 million worldwide users and is one of the biggest video platforms on the planet. It currently employs 80 people. Last year, people from Renderfrost came up with the idea for Ararat Box as a way to support small businesses in Armenia. They traveled around the country, visited 150 different businesses, tasted over 1000 products, and selected items that would be featured in the box. Each month, different vendors are featured, which means the boxes change. Ararat Box is also involved in charities, and donated 400 boxes to children in Artsakh, whose fathers are currently engaged with the military on the front lines of Nagorno-Karabakh.
We received the January edition of the box yesterday. It got hung up in Belarus for some time, waiting at the customs office. Here are a few photos.
Of course, there’s no wine or brandy in these boxes… bummer! Those are my favorite Armenian exports of all. But I was pretty heartened to see all of these cool Armenian snacks. When I lived in Armenia, one of my side projects was using Armenian produce to create recipes and potential products. I worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on that, and they even gave me a stovetop electric oven to use, which was a pretty big deal. Most of us had to rely on propane stoves and makeshift ovens crafted from big pots and kerosene heaters. You get pretty innovative when you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer in a developing country where there is no reliable electricity or running water. Things have gotten much better since the 90s, though.
I remember that back in the 1990s, most of the snacks available in Armenia came from Turkey or Iran, unless you wanted to buy something local at the shuka. It was very possible, for instance, to buy beautiful local fruits. Armenia had some of the most gorgeous produce I have ever seen. Or you could buy sunflower seeds or dried fruits and nuts. But chips and candy and the like were often sourced from other places. Although it was interesting to see the kinds of products you could find in Yerevan in the 90s, (I once found a package of Chips Deluxe cookies priced at the AMD equivalent of $7), it’s good that Armenia now has its own products.
Each box comes with a handy guide in English, explaining about the products and the best ways to enjoy them. Bill and I have so far tried a few of the snacks, all of which are of good quality. We look forward to seeing what will come in the next two boxes. I have a feeling we could extend the subscription!
Although I can’t deny that I was ready to leave Armenia in 1997, it will always have a piece of my heart. Living there changed my life for the better and really opened my eyes to the world. I still have friends from Armenia, as well as so many memories. It’s great that I can share the culture with Bill and we can enjoy these products together. And, on a more personal note, it really does make me excited to see the place where I did my service obviously improving in leaps and bounds. It makes me feel like I really did contribute something by going there and bearing witness to how things once were, compared to how they are today.
Edited to add… We just got our February box. Yes, it arrived just one day after the January box. We are now flush with Armenian snacks. Here are a few more photos!
Our German neighbor used to have an adorable Labrador Retriever named Levi. Levi had been adopted from Americans who were leaving Germany and couldn’t take him with them. Levi recently got very sick and passed away, so our neighbor acquired a new puppy, name of Tommi. Tommi, like Levi, is a lab, although it looks like she got him from a breeder. I adored Levi, and was very sad when he died. He was a very sweet, friendly, and gentle dog, who always wanted to say hello. He was also well behaved and well trained, and would come over to visit us. Tommi looks a lot like a young version of Levi, and is just as friendly and outgoing. It looks like he’ll be a lot like Levi when he grows up.
A few days ago, I had Arran and Noyzi on their leashes, ready to take a walk. Our neighbor was outside with Tommi, packing up her car. It looked like she was headed to the barn, where she boards her mare. I once tried to have a conversation with her about horses. I spent most of my childhood showing my Appaloosa. But she seemed doubtful that I knew anything about horses and, in fact, even doubted that my horse had been an Appaloosa. The picture I showed her was of us mid flight over a fence and his spotted rump evidently wasn’t so easy to see. When I showed her another photo of us winning reserve champion at a state 4H horse show, then she realized I knew what breed my horse was. In that photo, she could see his spots.
I think this is a common thing with some Germans. Sometimes they act like they know better about certain things, even when it’s clear they don’t. 😉 But rest assured, I did spent years working in barns and taking care of horses and, at least in those days, I knew what I was doing. Someday, when we settle down, I would love to have a horse in my life again.
Anyway… I think our neighbor distrusts Arran, mainly because Arran’s a bit high strung and bossy. When we first moved to the neighborhood, he didn’t seem as friendly as our other dog, Zane, was. Zane was a beagle with a touch of lab in him. He never met a stranger. Arran is a beagle with, I think, a healthy portion of German shorthaired pointer, and possibly a touch of coonhound. He’s very sweet, but kind of cranky and emotional.
Noyzi, by contrast, is very nervous around people he doesn’t know, especially men. But he LOVES other dogs! He’s only about two years old, and still wants to play. Arran will play, but Arran is eleven and doesn’t have the stamina he once had. And he’s only now, after three months, starting to come around to liking Noyzi at all. Consequently, when Noyzi and Tommi first touched noses, I think Noyzi fell in love.
A couple of days later, Bill took the boys out for a walk. The neighbor was outside with Tommi again, and he came over to greet Arran and Noyzi. All three of them started trying to play. Bill had Arran on a long Flexi-lead tape leash, while Noyzi was in a harness and two regular nylon webbing leashes. Tommi was off lead. Bill said it was clear Noyzi liked Tommi and wanted to play some more. After their walk, he kept looking over at the neighbor’s house, eagerly searching for his new friend.
As you can see in the video, he now knows Tommi’s scent and seems to want to leap the fence to get to him. I think he’s more likely to try to climb the fence than jump it, and he’s big enough that I think it’s possible he could clear his obstacle. However, I have not seen any indication that Noyzi wants to run away from us. He doesn’t charge the door when the doorbell rings, and he seems very attached to me… and to his bed and food.
We may have to find him a younger playmate, though. It’s so nice to see Noyzi acting more like a regular, goofy, funny dog. He’s really settling into his life in Germany, and making life during a pandemic a lot more interesting and fulfilling. I hope someday, he and Tommi can have some fun. If he was a human, I think he’d be knocking on the door, asking our neighbor if Tommi can come out to play!
By savior, I mean the man who saved Noyzi’s life when he was unceremoniously dumped on a street in Pristina one day in 2018. Noyzi’s very first rescuer is a young man named Florent who has a habit of taking care of street dogs. There are many homeless dogs in Kosovo, and a lot of people don’t like them. So Florent does what he can to help them. He gets some help from others who like dogs, like my American friend Meg, who was responsible for bringing Noyzi into our lives. Meg used to live in Kosovo and has many contacts in the countries that were once collectively known as Yugoslavia.
Kosovo’s population is mostly Muslim. On the whole, the Muslim culture doesn’t value canine companionship. There are also many poor people living in Kosovo. Many of the dogs that have value in Kosovo are working dogs, rather than pets. At the same time, spaying and neutering pets is not a popular practice.
Just last week, someone dumped three female puppies near Florent’s house. Meg has told me it’s because females get pregnant and people don’t want to deal with pregnant dogs. I saw a picture of the female puppies that were rescued in another part of Pristina last week. They look like could be Noyzi’s sisters, and they are just as young and tiny as he was when he was found… about four weeks old. They’re lucky they were simply dumped. I read a horrifying account of what regularly happens in nearby Albania, when it’s time to cull street dogs. A woman from New Zealand who lives in Albania rescued a street dog and blogged about it, as well as the plight of beautiful Albanian dogs who roam the street and are horribly abused or killed in very inhumane ways. Parvo virus is also a constant threat to puppies in Kosovo.
So there I was last night, newly friends with Florent, and he was telling me about Noyzi, and how he got his name. Kosovo is a “brother nation” to Albania. The people who live there are mostly ethnically Albanian and speak Albanian. There is a rapper in Albania whose name is Noizy. Florent says he likes Noizy’s music, and the dog, Noyzi, was kind of noisy when he was found. He’s not very noisy anymore. I did change the spelling of Noyzi’s name for a couple of reasons. First off, I’m a spelling nerd, and kept wanting to write Noisy instead of Noizy. And secondly, on his paperwork, it’s spelled Noyzi. I figured it would be easier to keep it spelled as it is on his documents. I had originally meant to change Noyzi’s name, but I could not think of an appropriate new name for him. Now that I know that the name has a connection to his homeland, I’m glad we kept it.
Around the time we first got Noyzi, Meg told me a bit about how she came to take him into her rescue. I wrote about that on my original blog. It was back in October, just a few days after we finally had him in our home, when I was thinking about how the stars aligned for us to have this dog from Kosovo in our family. We’d been waiting a long time for a new dog to come into our lives after we lost our sweet beagle, Zane, on August 31, 2019. We tried to adopt another beagle in March of 2020, but that experience ended in senseless tragedy. About a month later, April of last year, I saw Noyzi’s picture for the first time. There was something about his face that touched my heart. I wanted to know more about him. Before I knew it, I was agreeing to adopt him.
It took six months until we were finally able to get Noyzi and bring him home. That adventure, which happened in early October, involved going to Slovenia to pick him up. That was the last time I left our neighborhood… and the last time I was in a car. COVID-19 has really altered my lifestyle in so many ways. A year ago, we were planning trips to France. Now, we’re waiting until it’s safe to travel… and instead of writing about our adventures in other countries, I’m writing about this big, sweet, skittish, and shy dog from a country not everyone even recognizes. And I literally haven’t been anywhere in months since we brought him home. Surprisingly enough, it doesn’t bother me that much.
Last night, while many of my friends and loved ones were reeling from the drama happening in our country, I was sitting in Germany, and Florent was telling me about what it’s like to live in Kosovo. According to Florent, Kosovo is kind of like a “jail”, which is only good for people who are wealthy or politically affiliated. Maybe Donald Trump ought to look into moving there, since it seems like no one else wants him. On the other hand, Florent makes it sound like Kosovo has more than enough problems. I got the sense that maybe he’d like to move somewhere else. I understand how that feels. I was ready to leave the United States in 2014, and that was before I knew what was on the horizon.
Florent shared a couple of videos of the tiny puppy version of Noyzi, greedily eating kibble and yogurt. I can see that he’s always loved food, although it took him awhile to learn the concept of treats and “people food” in our house. He will let Bill pet him and give him a treat, but only if he’s in his bed. The bed seems to be his safe zone, and he stays there almost all the time. But he will come to me for treats and snacks, and to be walked. He loves taking walks, though I had to teach him about leashes and show him that they aren’t meant to hurt him. He will let Bill walk him, but only if I put the harness on him. He won’t let Bill do it.
Although his savior was a man, Noyzi doesn’t like men. When he sees male strangers on the street, he panics, and will backpedal or try to bolt. When we first got Noyzi, he used to get so scared that he’d pee involuntarily. Some things would literally scare the piss out of him. That behavior has stopped, which is a blessing. However, I have never needed to house train him. He naturally goes outside to do his business. Noyzi also doesn’t like sudden movements or noises. It’s like he has PTSD. And yet he’s so sweet and basically well-behaved. He doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. He keeps himself clean, and even takes care of the dog toys, “saving” them from our other dog, Arran, who likes to destroy them. Noyzi will grab them when Arran isn’t looking and stack them in his bed, like they’re his friend.
Noyzi has been acting more like a normal dog lately. He loves to run around the yard, especially before and after a dump or a walk. He loves being brushed, and although he’s so far only had one bath, he does enjoy being bathed. Once he realized that warm water feels good and being scrubbed is a pleasant experience, he was happy to sit in the shower and get clean. Florent told me that street dogs are very smart. They know what it’s like to have no food or water or love… so when they find a home, they adapt fast. Florent also told me that he had rescued a dog that ended up going to one of our soon to be President Joe Biden’s friends. I can believe it, since there are Americans who work in Kosovo. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of them, working in government service, took one of Florent’s rescues.
Our conversation went on for about an hour or so, and then Florent said something that was very profound to me. He told me that he rescues dogs because “they are angels, and God is testing us with them. And if we help them, God will love us.” I remember being a senior in high school, when the Eastern Bloc was falling apart. My government teacher, Mr. Jim Eccleston, was talking about the fall of the Iron Curtain, and described Albania as the “Iron Lampshade”, since all of the other countries were opening up and Albania was the one holdout. At one time, it was the site of the harshest and most repressive Communist regime in Europe. When I lived in Armenia in the 1990s, there was a violent uprising in Albania that became the Albanian Civil War. The Peace Corps program there was suspended and the Volunteers had to be evacuated. They later reopened the program. I have always been curious about Albania, and I’ve seen that parts of it are very beautiful. I would like to visit sometime… but hopefully at a time when the street dog problem is handled more humanely.
Florent says Kosovo isn’t such a great place right now. A lot of people don’t have anywhere to go. He described himself as “a sunflower planted in the wrong place”. But then he told me about how he and Meg once rescued six puppies stuck in a hole at a train station. One by one, they pulled them out… and if Florent hadn’t been there with Meg, those puppies would not have survived. I can’t help but think that this young man, who obviously has faith in God and a love for animals, is a sunflower planted in the right place. He brings light, beauty, hope, and humanity to dogs who just want to find loving homes. They just want a safe, warm, dry place to sleep, enough food, walks in the sun, and someone to shower them with love in the form of kind words, loving pets, and treats. And every time one of Florent’s dogs finds a new home, the sunflowers are planted anew… in Germany or the United States, or Poland… or any of the other places where they find themselves with people who want them and are committed to loving them forever.
It’s been such a privilege to have Noyzi in our lives, especially during this endless pandemic. He’s given us something to focus on besides all of the bad stuff. And every day, he surprises us with something new and adorable. By saving Noyzi’s life, Florent gave us an amazing gift… and a permanent bond to a country where there are still many sunflowers waiting to be harvested. Florent may not know it, but what he’s done has had ripple effects way beyond Kosovo.
Those of you who follow me on my personal Facebook page might have already read about this. For those who don’t follow me there, here is a quick update on our pandemic pup’s progress.
Noyzi, our adopted Kosovar pandemic dog rescue, has serious trust issues regarding men. It might be that he doesn’t like certain types of men, such as older white guys. My husband, Bill, is 56 years old, but he doesn’t look it. Noyzi is, nevertheless, very afraid of him to the point of keeping a distance from him whenever he can.
Our Eckbank Gruppe is in what was probably supposed to be the dining room. Bill and I were sitting there last night, listening to music and drinking wine. Arran, our other dog, wanted a treat. I got up to get him one, then called Noyzi. Noyzi is reluctant to go into the kitchen, especially when Bill is in the dining room. He has to pass Bill to get there. But even when Bill isn’t home, he doesn’t want to go into the kitchen. I have his water bowl outside, and that’s where he goes to drink, rather than in the kitchen where Arran drinks.
So anyway, there I was in the kitchen calling Noyzi. He was definitely interested in the treats, but too afraid to pass Bill. After a few minutes, I finally grabbed him by the collar and slowly led him through the dining room. He gave me the whale eye a couple of times, and panicked a bit, backpedaling. Bill kept his eyes downward, not looking at Noyzi at all. I kept reassuring him and coaxing him forward.
Finally, after a couple of minutes traipsing through what must have seemed like a shark infested ocean to Noyzi, we got close enough to the kitchen at which I was able to grab the bag of treats. I gave him a couple of them, then let him go. He ran right back to his bed. But then he noticed that Arran was still in the kitchen eating treats. He looked at me and I said, “Noyzi, you can come back in here. It’s okay.”
After a couple more minutes, he got up and cautiously came back into the kitchen. Bill never moved from his spot. He had a couple more treats, then went back to his safe spot in his bed, where he seems to be most at ease. About an hour later, I tried again. It took a couple of minutes, but he finally did come to the kitchen for another round.
This morning, after breakfast, I had Bill put the harness on Noyzi. Normally, I do it, because he’s so afraid of Bill, but not so much that he won’t let Bill walk him. Today, I held Noyzi by the collar and reassured him as Bill put the harness on. He backpedaled and panicked a bit, but Bill was able to get him suited up and ready to go. They had a walk and Noyzi got more treats. I have a lot of empathy for Noyzi. I have suffered from phobias myself, and I know how hard it is to get over irrational fears. To him, being terrified of men isn’t irrational, though. Someone in his past probably really traumatized him.
Once again, I am amazed by how fast he’s learning. A couple of months ago, Noyzi wouldn’t even eat treats. He wouldn’t eat “people food”, either. He’d never been exposed to it. I’m glad he’s turning out to be food oriented. That makes working with him easier. And, in some ways, he’s better behaved than his teacher, Arran is. For instance, I have yet to clean up any doggy messes from him, other than his hair, which he sheds copiously. He seems naturally predisposed to doing his business outside, which is a real blessing, since he’s a big boy.
I hope that soon, he and Bill can bond more. He hit the jackpot in doggy daddies. He just doesn’t know it yet. I am grateful to have him around. He’s helped make this lockdown more interesting and fun.
Well, we made it. 2020 is over. We had a pretty typical New Year’s Eve, except we didn’t have as many fireworks. One thing we did this year that we don’t usually do was order dinner. As a matter of fact, in 2020, we ordered takeout on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. It’s not unusual for us to dine out on Thanksgiving, but we usually cook on the other days. This year, we decided we preferred to help out the local restaurants and spare ourselves from cooking and cleaning.
For New Year’s Eve, we went a bit more casual and didn’t break out the china. Karim’s Brasserie, a Moroccan restaurant in Wiesbaden, was offering a New Year’s Eve menu. They had a couple of options available– chicken or lamb. Bill likes lamb, but I don’t, so we went with chicken. For 36,50 per person, we could eat for days. Seriously, they really loaded us up with great food! Here are some photos!
We started at about 7:00pm with the appetizers. I was, of course, very familiar with the hummus, since we are big fans of it. Karim’s version was very light and creamy, yet delicately flavorful. The Zaalouk, otherwise known as Moroccan eggplant salad, was a nice change of pace for us, since we rarely eat eggplant. Neither Bill nor I are big fans of eggplant, but this was pretty good. Bill loved the Moroccan carrot salad, which was slightly sweet and offered a contrast to the spicy M’hammara, paprika cream with pomegranate syrup and walnuts. Bill especially loved the M’hammara. He likes spicy foods. The Laban by Khyar was basically a Moroccan version of t’zaziki. It consists of yogurt, cucumbers, and mint.
The chicken was delicious! It was very tender and juicy, and fell right off the bone! It was such a pleasure to try it prepared in a different way. There was a time when Bill wouldn’t eat apricots because they are supposedly bad luck for “tankers”, which is what Bill was when he was in the Army back in the early days. I love apricots, having gotten acquainted with them in Armenia, where they are very popular and delicious! They went so well with the chicken! Glad we have leftovers!
After a bit of time digesting, we tried the desserts– typically nutty and fruity, but not too sweet or heavy. It was a good way to end a fabulous New Year’s Eve repast. We will be grazing on the leftovers for days. I think we got a lot for our 73 euros. I look forward to the day when we can dine at restaurants again. Bill and I ate at Karim’s Brasserie once when we were moving to Wiesbaden and liked the food very much. We probably ought to go there more often, or at least get takeout. This was a great change of pace for us. I think it was my favorite of all three of our holiday takeout meals of 2020.
I learned about a German tradition yesterday when someone in the Pets of Wiesbaden Facebook group posted that they had come into possession of a female piglet who was wandering around Clay Kaserne, one of the two U.S. military installations in Wiesbaden. I had never heard this before, but apparently in Germany, it’s good luck to encounter a pig on New Year’s Eve. Typically, Germans give out pigs made of marzipan with a penny or a four leaf clover in its mouth. Alternatively, sometimes people put a freshly washed piglet in a basket and pass it around. Anyone who touches it will have good luck and a “happy year”.
I can’t be sure, but it sounds like the piglet who was found yesterday might have been intended to participate in this custom and somehow escaped. She was found on the Army post and advertised on Facebook, as none of the surrounding farms would claim her. Eventually her rescuers found her a farm to go to. I’m not absolutely sure, but it sounds like she’s headed to a sanctuary. I sure hope so, anyway. Anyway, a lot of people got a kick out of seeing her, and I learned something new. I’m sure the military police are now checking the fence around Clay Kaserne to see if there are any breeches. It’s more likely someone brought her on post, but it’s possible there’s a hole somewhere.
According to the link I shared earlier in this post, we violated German tradition by having chicken on New Year’s Eve. Evidently, it’s verboten to eat poultry in Germany, due to a very old superstition. However, people in the Rhein area apparently didn’t get the message, as a lot of people do eat goose on New Years’s. I am not in the habit of eating goose, anyway… but I never turn down chicken unless it’s prepared with the food I never eat– mushrooms.
Toward the end of the evening– later than he’d intended, since he’d forgotten– Bill called his mom and we visited on Skype. It was great to talk to her. I also chatted with a cousin. I probably should call my mom today, too.
Bill brought our landlords champagne and a bag of lentils, which are also considered good luck/good health promotion on New Year’s in Germany. We had a very short fireworks show that lasted about twenty minutes, since fireworks weren’t on sale this year due to COVID-19. It suited us fine, since Bill was struggling to stay awake. We also had some snow, although it was all melted by the time we got up today. It was kind of strange watching fireworks go off as it snowed. This morning, we slept in… it was the first time in a long time I woke up after sunrise!
So far, 2021 is off to a good start. I pray that it’s a better year than 2020 was! Happy New Year, everybody! Keep the faith, and stay healthy and sane!
Can you believe it? New Year’s Eve is finally upon us. The year 2020 will go down as one of the worst ever for a lot of people. It wasn’t too bad for me, personally, and it didn’t drag on for me. In fact, we had some very good things happen this year. But I do know that many people have been waiting for this day in a year that, for most people, was like no other.
The last few months of 2020 have been punctuated with losses for Bill and me. I lost a cousin, a cousin’s spouse, and our old friend, the Mad Scientist of Entringen. Bill lost his dad, who was also my father-in-law. But Bill gained one of his daughters, his son-in-law, and two grandchildren. We both gained a new family member when we adopted Noyzi. We got to do some unique traveling, and we went to places we probably would not have gone to if not for COVID-19 and the need to stay kind of local. This was also the first year in quite a few that I didn’t fly anywhere. We’re both learning guitar! This year, I started with no guitars in my house. Now, I have four of them! I’m not a great player yet, but I make improvements every day.
I don’t know what’s in store for us in 2021, although I do look forward to the end of the Trump era. I also look forward to some smart scientists making better vaccines and medications to fight COVID-19. And there are a few things we’ve been doing this year that I wouldn’t mind continuing, like working from home for Bill and fewer TDYs.
It looks like we’ll be staying in Germany for at least the foreseeable future. But if there’s one thing we have learned, it’s that nothing is for certain when you work in government contracting. We’ll see what Biden has in store for us. If anything, I hope it’s more civility and decency than what we’ve been seeing from Trump and his peeps.
I don’t think we will see too many fireworks this year. I believe there’s a curfew tonight. People are supposed to stay inside from 9:00pm until 5:00am tomorrow. If folks have fireworks left from last year, I’ve heard it’s okay to set them off. But there weren’t any for sale this year… which means that this will be a quieter Silvester. Supposedly, this is to prevent crowds and injuries that would send people to the overworked hospitals. This doesn’t really affect Bill or me, since we always have a quiet New Year’s and, at least for the past couple of years, haven’t even made it to midnight still conscious. But I expect we will enjoy some champagne and we’re planning on having Moroccan food takeout.
So… on with the end of 2020. Let us all hope for better days in 2021, even the new year is always kind of weird at first. Happy New Year to you all! We have some snow right now, so I think I’ll go enjoy it until it turns to rain.
I just counted the number of Christmases Bill and I have spent together in Germany. We’re now up to nine. That’s 2007, 2008, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and now, 2020. Bill spent a few more Bavarian Christmases here before we knew each other, when he was a lieutenant in the Army. Technically, we were in France last year for Christmas, but we still put up the tree at home and opened presents in Germany… so I count that as a German Christmas, too.
Yesterday’s Christmas was very nice. The best part of it was the lack of drama, which is a feature in almost all of the holidays I’ve spent with Bill. We really get along well, so being together on Christmas is a pleasure. There’s no fighting. Bill and I have both experienced enough holiday fights to last us the rest of our lives.
Anyway, our day went like this. Arran woke us up at 5:30am, as he always does, to go out for a pee and have his breakfast. Bill came back to bed and Arran snuggled into my arms. I slept until about 8:30am; these days, that is unheard of for either of us. We got up and had breakfast, then opened presents. I always get Bill more presents than he gets for me, so our gift exchange is always lopsided. This year, I decided to get him some really silly things. Here are a few photos.
There were other gifts, of course. I got Bill new shirts, a singing bowl (got one for myself, too), an Anova vacuum sealer and bags for his sous vide (a gift from several years ago that he uses a lot), and a really cool puzzle from Thailand made of wooden shapes. Bill got me a guitar repair kit, a couple of music books, a couple of t-shirts from Prairie Artisan Ales (in Oklahoma), and a guitar amp, which he gave me earlier this month to use with my new guitar.
My mother-in-law sent me a digital picture frame for the computer and, for both of us, a very interesting looking cookbook by a TV chef from eastern North Carolina. I was not familiar with the chef, but the pictures in her book make me think we’ll have a lot of fun with her southern recipes. We got so many new books that I am going to have to buy a new bookshelf.
My favorite gift of all, though, was a video Bill had sent to me by Vartoush Tota– otherwise known as Mary Basmadjian. Mary Basmadjian is the “Funny Armenian Girl”, and her videos are all over Facebook. I happen to love her comedy because I lived in Armenia for two years in the 1990s, teaching English as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I haven’t been back there since 1997, but I’ve been wanting to go. So Bill requested a video shout out from her, including a script that he wrote. It was a total surprise and I loved it! I didn’t think I would get such a kick out of a “shout out” video, but I totally did!
After we opened gifts, Bill went to one of our favorite local restaurants, Villa Im Tal, and picked up our Christmas dinner. We usually like to cook for holidays, but since COVID-19 has impacted restaurants so much, we’ve ordered food for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. I’m not sure what we’ll do for New Year’s, though. Maybe that holiday will be a bit low key.
Anyway, this was our fabulous meal… Bill broke out the china and fancy silverware for it, too.
I’m not sure why Bill ordered duck for me. I think I would have loved the prime rib just as much. I did taste it, and it was sinful! I liked the duck too, and we do have leftovers for today. The biggest surprise for me, though, was the soup. I didn’t find the color of it very appetizing. I have a weird thing against beige foods, I guess. But– after the first spoonful, I was eager to finish the rich, velvety soup. The croutons were surprising. Some of them managed to stay crunchy even though they were saturated. There was also salmon in the soup, which balanced the base. It was delicious. I’d love to have it when it’s not take out. I also liked the dessert very much– cubes of chocolate cake artfully arranged with fruits and cream. God, I miss dining out, but this was a nice compromise. I think Bill said it cost about $160.
Villa Im Tal is also offering a New Year’s Eve dinner, but the choices for that don’t look quite as appealing. They involve a lot of liver and caviar. If we did order one (and I guess they still have availability, since they included an ad for it in our order yesterday), we’d probably go for the middle choice.
We finished off the evening by watching a few Rankin & Bass children’s specials from our childhoods. These were classic Christmas shows that came on TV every year. They probably still do…
We watched three specials, but had to quit after the third… There’s only so much Rankin & Bass I can take in one sitting. I switched to reading more of John Bolton’s book, which I hope to have finished very soon. I’m ready to start a new book that has nothing to do with politics.
All in all, it was a great Christmas. Noyzi and Arran had fun, too. Especially at dinner time! Bonus– I also got some housework done, so I don’t have to do it today.
One last thing… I made a music video the other day. It’s a pretty Christmas song that Olivia Newton-John did for the collaboration effort, Liv On, with Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky. I thought it was a moving and unusual holiday choice, so I decided to cover it. I used photos and video from our 2016 Ireland trip… Wish I could be there now.
This post also appears on my main blog, because I have different audiences…
I know a lot of people think this year has dragged on. For me, it’s flown by. It’s hard to believe that a year ago, we were in Nimes, France, celebrating Christmas 2019 with my good friend Audra and her husband. Audra and I grew up in the same small town and attended the same small college. We have both ended up living in Europe, although Audra has gone native and will probably stay in France. I, on the other hand, will probably leave Europe at some point. Or, I’ll probably leave Germany, anyway. I don’t know when, and I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere.
I like living in Europe. I’m grateful we were able to move here well before the pandemic started. We’ve had a lot of fun over the past few years, despite some of the hassles. I don’t really miss life in the United States. I do miss a few people and some of the conveniences of living in my homeland, but the German lifestyle appeals to me. I like that life isn’t just about working. I like that the leaders seem to care about the citizenry. I like that our town is clean and the people are nice.
The weather could be better, but it’s not bad here. It’s noticeably milder these days than it was during our first time here. Of course, that’s probably because of global warming, which is kind of depressing. But in the meantime, global warming makes winters less snowy and icy, on the whole. We do have lots and lots of rain, and that’s turned our backyard into a sloppy mess. But it’s fenced in, and we have plenty of privacy. The dogs get to enjoy a few minutes out there to do their business without the need of a leash. We also have a really nice and considerate landlord. He likes dogs, and yesterday brought us three bottles of bubbly and a box of chocolates, as well as free firewood.
Bill and I have a lot to be grateful for, even if 2020 has been a most unusual and horrifying year for so many people. We did have some losses, but we’re both still basically healthy and happy… and a few genuinely great things happened, too. The highlight was Bill getting to see his daughter again after fifteen years and meeting his son in law and grandchildren.
Also… I think Noyzi the Kosovar street dog was meant to be our dog. He’s settling in well and enjoying being a pet with his own big, hairy bed, and his own private water bowl, because he doesn’t like drinking from the one in the kitchen. Noyzi and Arran aren’t buddies yet, but I have seen a few sparks of playfulness. He’s becoming a goofy clown. I notice he sniffs the air when something is cooking and he silently sneaks up behind me when it’s time for us to eat. I’ll feel his big nose tap me on the back as if to say, “Don’t forget the Nozyi snack tax.” It’s been very rewarding to watch him adapt and enjoy things that so many dogs love… like walks and treats and belly rubs.
Arran is still very spry and engaged with life, despite being about eleven years old. He still loves his walks, food, sleeping with us, and cuddling with Bill, who is his favorite person. I’m grateful that I caught him heading downstairs last night before we went to bed. He needed a potty break, big time!
Bill and I are also learning guitar. A year ago, I didn’t own a guitar. Now we have four of them, and Bill is shopping for an electric version. I was even talking about picking up bass guitar last night. If this pandemic goes on for much longer, I might have to go for it. I’ve managed to make some nice vocal recordings, too, even if they aren’t as popular as my blog is (which isn’t saying that much).
I’m also grateful to all of you who continue to read and comment on my stuff, even when I go a little off the rails. Thanks for giving me a reason to write. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas. I may or may not write tomorrow. Depends on how bored I get, and if inspiration strikes.
I was really struggling for something to write about today. I wanted to write something nice… something non-depressing. I wanted to write something different than my usual stuff. As I was enjoying lunch with Bill, I happened across a new video posted about a disabled dog I’ve been following on Facebook. His name is Hugo, and he has a Facebook page all of his own.
I first became aware of Hugo when my German friend, Susanne, shared his story with me. Hugo was born in Romania, where there is a big problem with stray dogs. Someone very cruel wanted Hugo dead, and decided he should die in an incredibly inhumane way. This person took Hugo to a pile of snow, tied up his legs with wire, and left him there to suffer as he waited to die in agony. No one knows how long he was left like that. Although the dog did manage to free himself, unfortunately, when he was found, all four of his feet were necrotic. The vets in Romania could see that Hugo was a fighter, so they decided not to euthanize him. But all four of his paws had to be amputated, leaving him with stumps that didn’t want to heal too easily.
Hugo’s story… in German.
For six months, Hugo was unable to stand up, and he lost a lot of muscle. He was eventually adopted by a German woman who lives in Baden-Württemberg. Unfortunately, the stumps were miserable for Hugo. His new “mom” tried everything she could think of to help him. One day, she asked for ideas about how to cover his stumps on Facebook. A local shoemaker named Daniel came to the rescue and made custom shoes for Hugo. The shoes made all the difference. Hugo can now walk and run, although the shoes have to be repaired occasionally. Daniel did this work for free– unless you count the chocolate he was given by Hugo’s grateful family, who make it a habit to adopt special needs dogs.
On December 12, Hugo’s family visited the Tierheim (animal shelter) in Heilbronn, where they found a little dog named Viva who has no hind legs and gets around using a “wheelchair”. Hugo came along for the ride so he could meet Viva. Apparently Hugo liked Viva just fine and was happy to have a new “sister”. Viva became part of Hugo’s family, along with an existing blind dog named Bertl. Another dog, still in Romania, will soon be joining these three. And how are Hugo and Viva getting along? See for yourself! Bertl is also in the video, but plays a supporting role.
When I saw the video I linked above, my heart just melted. These two dogs don’t seem to realize that they’re in any way “handicapped”. They’re happy as they can be to be able to play together in a loving home. And they’re able to play pretty much as if they were both completely normal dogs.
Maybe I should think about Hugo and his friends next time I’m feeling depressed and incompetent. A lot of people would have euthanized Hugo when they saw how badly injured he was when he was found in Romania. But he was given a chance and he’s risen to the occasion. The same goes for little Viva, who is certainly living up to her name. Both of these dogs have indomitable spirits, and they have been able to thrive thanks to the loving care of good people who were willing to find a way to surmount what must have seemed like insurmountable problems.
There are some really terrible people in the world. People who have no qualms about screwing over their neighbors to get what they want. People who would resort to violence and threats to get their way. People who are abusive and mean, who lie, cheat, and steal, or commit violent acts against innocents.
But there are also people who would help dogs like Viva and Hugo, and do whatever it takes to give them a good and loving home with an excellent quality of life. And there are kind people like Daniel who want to help, and create special shoes that not only helped Hugo, but also provide a precedent for another animal who might be in the same predicament. My heart is so full after watching these two beautiful animals play together, so happy and carefree, and really wishing for nothing more than what they already have. We could all learn a lot from them.
Incidentally, our own rescue dogs are doing great, too. Noyzi, our pooch from Kosovo, is getting more and more acclimated by the day. This morning, I let him out to pee and he got a sudden burst of crazy dog and went tearing around the garden at top speed. You’d have to see him in person to understand what that looks like. Noyzi is a big boy, so he can cross our backyard in just a few strides. But he’s quick and agile and can turn on a dime. He was especially animated this morning, and kept dive bombing Bill’s empty garden plot, which is still full of soil. When he was finished getting the tickles out of his feet, he came back inside and relaxed, very contented and happy.
I have never once regretted adopting any of the dogs we’ve had. Noyzi has been especially rewarding to get to know. He’s come so far in just under three months. He’s still afraid of Bill, but every day, he’s a little bit less so. It’s obvious that he loves having a family and a nice warm bed of his own. It’s an honor to be able to provide that for him.