Our halls are decked again…

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I didn’t do any writing yesterday because I wanted to put up the Christmas crapola. I usually put them up around Thanksgiving, but one of our neighbors already has up their Christmas lights. I like the way the lights look and didn’t feel like waiting. So I hauled our two trees up the steps from the basement and did the yearly decorating ritual.

Christmas in Germany is usually kind of a magical time of year. There are usually markets, which have rides, ice skating, food, and lots of unique gifts for sale. This year, thanks to COVID-19, the markets won’t be happening. Wiesbaden won’t have its adorable market in the big square, pictured above. Our little town of Breckenheim won’t have its one night event where everyone gathers for Gleuwein (hot mulled or spiced wine) and Lebkuchen (gingerbread). I suppose some people will still do that privately, but one of the nicest things about living in Germany is the community spirit here. I love going to fests and seeing people enjoying themselves. Thanks to the virus, we can’t this year. Just across the Rhein River in Mainz, though, there is hope for a new vaccine that will help us get back to living.

I have not left our neighborhood since early October. I don’t even remember the last time I was in downtown Wiesbaden. I’m reminded of the first time we lived in Germany and almost never visited downtown Stuttgart. I never even got a good look at that city during the first two year stint we spent in Germany from 2007-09. Now, I know Stuttgart pretty well, thanks to all of the traveling and exploring we did when we lived there the second time.

Last night, I told Bill that I would probably spend some money this year on Christmas. Last year, we spent money because we traveled to Nimes in France to see my friend Audra, and her family. This year, we can’t travel, so maybe it’s time I bought some stuff that make being at home better. I’m sure the economy could use the stimulation.

Here are a few photos from yesterday’s decorating drill…

Why do I have two Christmas trees? It’s because when we moved to Germany in 2007, I somehow forgot to pack our Christmas decorations. We ended up buying a fake tree at the PX in Stuttgart. That little tree, which really should be plenty for a couple like us, has followed us around ever since. I remember it was pre-lit with 220 bulbs, which I cut off when we moved to Georgia in 2009. Then when we moved to Texas, we got rid of our original tree, which I bought from Rose’s discount store in Fredericksburg, Virginia (we were broke in 2002). I got the new tree– the lovely fake Costco version which is so much easier to put together because the branches don’t detach.

I have never had a “real” Christmas tree. Mom didn’t like them because they were messy. I also used to love decorating for Christmas, but now I can see why Mom gave me that job when I was growing up. It’s tiresome, especially when it’s only for us. However, I do like to look at the lights. Mom also ran her own cross-stitch, needlepoint, and knitting business in Gloucester, Virginia, which she’d have to decorate for Christmas. She’d get a florist to come to our house and put up real pine garlands on our porches and hang pine wreaths. It was very pretty, but I’m sure it was expensive and exhausting, too. Incidentally, my mom made our stockings, too, although we never bothered to hang them when I was a kid. I can remember some years, my mom had me wrap my own presents! And I actually suck at wrapping presents, so they looked pretty terrible.

I guess it makes sense that I’d be kind of spiritless at Christmas. My mom always treated the holiday like a chore. She was also a musician, so she’d be busy playing Christmas music at church or with other ensembles. My dad was always in different singing groups, too. The holiday season was very busy for them, and probably wore them out, thanks to their businesses (dad’s picture framing and art selling business complimented mom’s). I would like to enjoy Christmas more, but for many years ,it was a source of angst for a lot of different reasons. But I do like the music and the lights… and this year, I will miss the markets very much.

Well… I may not catch the Christmas spirit this year, either… unless you count the spirits in Harris Gin. But at least the lights are pretty to look at, and we have Noyzi to help us celebrate. Noyzi was more upset about the unfamiliar boxes in the living than the trees. Go figure that dog!

“Be welcome here…”

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Tomorrow, Bill and I will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. Normally, we travel for our anniversary. This year, we can’t go anywhere, thanks to COVID-19. I decided to buy a few new attachments for the air fryer I purchased at the beginning of the pandemic. We don’t use it very often, in part, because the noise from it seems to bother Arran somewhat. But we have discovered that we can use it in the laundry room and Arran doesn’t mind.

Last night, Bill made air fryer brownies that turned out great. This morning, we had a sausage, egg, spinach, sun dried tomato and cheese casserole made in the air fryer. Noyzi is getting braver and now hovers near me at mealtimes, hoping I’ll share with him. I don’t mind doing that because he’s so polite, and it does help him be less fearful.

After breakfast and starting another load of laundry, Bill and I put leashes on Arran and Noyzi and started on our walk. The sun is shining and the temperature is mild. It’s the perfect day to enjoy fall weather. As we were heading down the “Weg” to the main drag, a tall, slim, older German woman approached. She was wearing black slacks, a purple blouse, and a big black sweater. I noticed she also wore black gloves. Bill and I had just been talking about how Germans seem to bundle up a lot more than we do, even when the weather is nice.

I noticed the woman’s face as she looked at Noyzi, who is a very handsome and striking specimen. Noyzi was shying away from her noticeably. He was nervous enough that he dropped a single nugget of poop, but then he calmed down while Arran hung nearby, eager to keep walking. I fought the urge to pick up the poop as the German woman started talking to Bill. She quickly ascertained that we weren’t German when Bill opened his mouth to speak. She switched to careful, halting English, asking if we were the “new Americans”. It so happened that we were standing right next to a house that reportedly contains Americans. I guess native Breckenheimers talk about who’s who, and who’s new.

Bill explained that no, we weren’t “new” here. We moved to Breckenheim in late November 2018, and we live at the top of the hill. The woman wore no makeup. Her straight, silver hair was pulled into a ponytail. I don’t know how old she is. She appeared to be older than we are by some years, but she was very fit looking. In her hand, she held a bundle of some type of herb– perhaps thyme. I’m not sure, because I stood farther away from her than Bill did.

The woman didn’t wear a face mask. Neither did we. It’s probably a good thing, as she was very soft-spoken and I’m not sure we would have been as able to hear and understand her. She was very intent on sharing a message with us. She told Bill that today is a special worldwide holiday. She didn’t know how to say it in English. Bill thought maybe she meant it was like Remembrance Day, but having looked up holidays for November 15th, I don’t think so. I have no idea what she was talking about. She said it was a worldwide holiday, but is especially recognized in Europe. It was the first I’d heard of it after living here for several years.

Edited to add: My German friend Susanne tells me that today is Volkstrauertag (people’s day of mourning), and the lady was probably on her way to the cemetery or church, both of which we have in our area. I kept thinking maybe she was referring to Advent, but it’s a bit early for that. Volkstrauertag happens two weeks before Advent starts, and it commemorates members of the armed forces of all nations and civilians who died in armed conflicts, to include victims of violent oppression..

Regardless, of what the actual holiday is today (now I know– Volkstrauertag), she seemed very keen to talk to us about world peace. She spoke about how there’s no such thing as an enemy. We’re all people and we all deserve peace. Bill told her that he’d been to Iraq. I heard her say, “And you survived.”

She went on some more about having regard for our fellow man, avoiding war, and remembering those who died at war. And then, as she started to walk away, she said “Be welcome here.”

Bill turned to me and I could see the tears in his eyes. He was clearly moved. He said, “Well… that was a message.”

It’s not the first time we’ve run into someone who has imparted a message to us in an unusual way. Five years ago, I was stunned into peace and calm by a Buddhist monk we happened to run into at an Italian restaurant near Munich. It turned out he was a famous Japanese peace crusader named Toyoshige Sekiguchi. He was traveling the world, promoting peace and nuclear disarmament. I didn’t even speak to him, and yet he had a profound effect on me just by being who he is and being in my presence.

We lost Bill’s father a week ago and, naturally, Bill wasn’t able to attend his dad’s funeral on Friday. He was emotional about that last night. We spent some time talking and I was doing what I could to assuage his guilt and soothe his grief. He was still pensive and a little moody this morning. Perhaps that’s why got our special message as we walked the dog.

Bill is normally a very approachable person, but he was especially open-hearted today, which may have been why that woman felt the need to speak to us. Or maybe she stops everyone to talk about peace and loving everyone. It was a good message, though, and seemed kind of appropriate under the circumstances. Maybe she wanted to tell us her message because we represent Americans and most Americans around here are with the military. She might have thought Bill was a war monger, although he’s definitely not your stereotypical military man. In fact, I’d say Bill is not even like the typical guy. He’s unusually in touch with his feelings about most things. Maybe she figured we support Trump, though we definitely don’t.

I think a lot of people, with good reason, think that everyone in or affiliated with the military is a war monger. Most servicemembers I know want war less than anyone does. And anyone who knows Bill knows that he’s a gentle, caring, considerate, and kind man. I, on the other hand, graduate of social work and public health master’s programs and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, tend to be a bit feisty. Go figure that!

Anyway, we had a good walk. Noyzi has really come to love the daily walks. He still won’t let Bill put his leash on him, but he will let Bill walk him. And today, since I came along, I got a special treat in the form of butts. As I was putting on my shoes, Noyzi came up behind me and stuck his big nose right in my ass, as if he was greeting a new canine friend. Then, he came around as I was tying my laces, stuck his butt in my face, and backed up, swinging it side to side as if he wanted to use my nose to scratch his behind. He didn’t actually reach my nose, thank goodness, but he did seem to offer me his butt for sniffing. I guess he’s getting more comfortable here. I may have to teach him not to goose me in the ass when I’m tying my shoes, though.

A couple of nights ago, we ordered Greek takeout from Akropolis Restaurant in nearby Delkenheim. Bill wasn’t feeling like cooking, probably because he’d lost his dad and couldn’t go to the funeral. I was tickled because they sent him away with a small bottle of ouzo! I’ve had better gyros, but the rest of the food was pretty good. We had plenty leftover for lunch yesterday, too.

I wore my favorite dog walking shirt today. On the back, it says in German “Life is too short to drink shitty beer.” I was kind of glad it was covered up with a sweater today, after talking to that very deep and spiritual lady.

Negligent actions have consequences…

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This post is also appearing on my regular blog. I’m cross posting it here, because it’s about travel, and my travel blog can always use extra content during a pandemic and “lite lockdown”.

Yesterday on my travel blog, I posted an article about SeaDream Yacht Club’s unfortunate COVID-19 situation. SeaDream, for those who don’t know, is a fantastic all inclusive luxury cruise line. It has two identical “super yachts” and it’s known for being an awesome cruise experience for couples. Bill and I have sailed with them three times. Our last voyage with them was in May 2013, when we sailed from Rome to Athens with a trip through the Corinth Canal.

Bill and I love SeaDream, but circumstances have not lined up for us to sail with them again since Bill left the Army. I still follow their message board on Cruise Critic. Ever since the COVID-19 crisis hit, I’ve been anxiously wondering if this line will survive the pandemic. Things were looking hopeful over the summer, when SeaDream managed to complete several Norway centric cruises without anyone getting sick from the virus.

After their success in Europe, SeaDream came back across the Atlantic and, last Saturday, attempted their first round trip Barbados cruise. In order to pull this off, SeaDream had to change a lot of its standard operating procedures. Prospective passengers had to get a negative COVID-19 PCR test at their own expense 72 hours before flying to Barbados. They had to take another COVID-19 test before getting on the ship, as well as have an interview with the ship’s doctor. Their luggage and shoes were cleaned with ultrasonic technology. Halfway through the voyage, they would have had to have another routine COVID-19 test to satisfy the rules for returning to Barbados. And, while they were cruising, they visited empty beaches, took catamaran cruises, and engaged in activities that did not allow them to be in contact with any host country nationals.

Having been on a SeaDream cruise, I can tell you that I’m sure it was just fine even without the freedom to engage with locals, shop on the economy, or go exploring. I’m not sure if the piano bar was open, but that was my favorite part of a SeaDream cruise anyway, besides the many cocktails and endless champagne.

Unfortunately, someone DID get sick with COVID-19. As of Wednesday morning, the 53 passengers have been stuck in their staterooms, which I can attest to being really nice, but not very large. The windows don’t open and there are no balconies. It’s a nice cage, but it’s still a cage.

A video done by a couple of Geordie lads who have been blogging about SeaDream’s voyages. They are on the ship as I write this.

The person who got sent to a Bajan hospital with COVID-19 was part of a group of six who evidently decided to overnight in Miami on the way to Barbados. From what I’ve read, other passengers heard the afflicted one talking about partying in the south Florida city for a night. Four others in that group also had positive COVID-19 tests, but evidently aren’t showing symptoms. The fifth person’s test was inconclusive.

Now… in thinking about this, it occurs to me just how many people have been affected by this group’s decision to overnight in Miami…

  1. 47 people have had a very expensive and luxurious vacation ruined.
  2. 66 crew members have had their livelihoods directly threatened.
  3. 113 people have had their health threatened.
  4. The entire cruising industry has had another blot on it regarding health and safety standards.
  5. Hundreds of future passengers will be affected because SeaDream will be cancelling upcoming cruises.
  6. All of the businesspeople depending on support revenue for the cancelled cruises will lose money– ie; pet boarding, taxi services, airlines, etc.
  7. People watching SeaDream to see if cruising during a pandemic could be done safely will be affected.
  8. A whole lot of people have been affected by this… I hope that night out in Miami was worth it.

It really is a shame that this happened. As I wrote in my travel blog, I won’t consider cruising again until there’s an effective vaccine against COVID-19. I don’t think cruising while fretting about a virus on a luxury ship is a lot of fun. Hopefully, we’ll get this virus under control before too long. On the other hand… I’m not holding my breath.

Hopefully, those who got sick won’t get too sick… and the passengers will be able to get off the ship and go home without too much trouble. We’ll see what happens. Actions have consequences. But, on the bright side, by undertaking this experiment, SeaDream has provided some valuable data for others. Perhaps that will help some smart people figure out the best way to get back to a life approaching normal at some point.

ETA: the count is now up to seven COVID positive.

SeaDream Yacht Club forced to return to Barbados due to COVID-19…

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Some people are bound and determined to try to keep living life the usual, pre-COVID-19 way. As much as I would like to do that myself, I know, as someone who has an advanced degree in public health, as well as someone with plain old common sense, that it’s not a good idea. Cruising, right now, seems especially ill-advised, even as it remains a tempting diversion.

Bill and I enjoy cruises. We particularly like to sail on small vessels with all inclusive terms. So far, we’ve sailed on Royal Caribbean (one four night cruise), Hebridean Island Cruises (five cruises), and SeaDream Yacht Club (three cruises). Hebridean and SeaDream are both considered by many people to be “luxury” cruises, mainly because they offer a high standard of service and are all inclusive.

Until recently, I’d been wanting to sail on SeaDream again. Our last cruise with them was in May 2013. Over the course of an unforgettable week, we traveled from Rome (Civitavecchia) to Athens (Piraeus). It had been our habit to pre-book cruises on SeaDream. We’d pay $2500 for an “open booking” while still oboard, which would allow us to choose one at a later date that fit our schedule and logistics. But in 2013, Bill was staring down his retirement from the Army, and we weren’t sure what the future held in terms of his employment. We didn’t pre-book another cruise on our last voyage and, so far, things haven’t lined up for us to cruise on SeaDream again, although we are more able to afford it now than we ever have been.

Even though it’s been over seven years since our last magical SeaDream cruise, I’ve continued to follow them on Cruise Critic’s message boards. SeaDream has been in the news lately because it’s resumed cruises in the Caribbean. It recently had a three week transatlantic crossing for SeaDream I, which began in Oslo, Norway and arrived in Barbados. The resumption of cruising was met with many cheers. Indeed, right now, there are several representatives of the press and travel bloggers aboard the ship, including a representative from Cruise Critic. Everyone was hoping they could make cruising during a pandemic successful so that people might start having some fun again and people whose livelihoods come from cruising could get back to work.

One blogger in particular, Gene Sloan of “The Points Guy”, has been covering the voyage extensively and posting pictures on Twitter. A few days ago, he posted photos of staff members not wearing face masks. That led to a lot of angry comments from people who saw the post. But, Sloan reiterated, that before anyone was allowed to embark the ship, everyone had to have two negative COVID-19 tests– one prior to flying to the island and one by the ship’s doctor prior to embarking on the ship. Everyone in the group that has been cruising recently tested negative– and there are only 53 passengers onboard, as opposed to the 112 that SeaDream vessels can usually accommodate. Staffing is at 66 members, so service has probably been incredible. Aside from the testing, SeaDream invested in ultrasonic cleaning devices that supposedly made cleaning “hospital grade”.

Apparently, passengers were assured that they would not have to wear face masks on the ship during the cruise. That was the main reason some people booked the voyage in the first place. They wanted a break from the COVID-19 nightmare and the oppressive face masks that have come with it. And– make no mistake– despite my public health background, I do hate the masks, even as I understand that they’re necessary for now. I totally understand why some people booked so they could escape having to wear the damned things. Since SeaDream did have a successful three week cruise from Oslo and required so much testing prior to embarkation, I’m sure plenty of people felt perfectly safe. I know I would have.

As it turns out, a passenger on the current voyage did start feeling poorly. Passengers would have been required to be tested again anyway, per Barbados’ requirements, but the passenger who felt ill requested a test prior to the one that was already planned. It came up positive. Prior to the positive test, SeaDream had reversed course on its no mask requirement, and passengers were asked to wear masks when they weren’t eating, drinking, or in the water. People were pissed off enough about that– but now they’ve been ordered to their staterooms until they’re all tested again. And who knows if they will be able to continue the cruise, thanks to the one person who tested positive.

I posted about this situation last night, since I have at least one friend who has had the magical SeaDream experience (in fact, that’s where we met). I wrote this:

Not good. They are getting bad press, too, because they weren’t making people wear masks. I wouldn’t want to be on a cruise in which I had spent $10,000 (for two people) and be forced to wear a mask, either. Seems like now isn’t the best time to be cruising. And now they have someone who is COVID positive. Yikes.

In response, I got this comment:

Would you want to spend $10,000 on a cruise and catch the virus because someone didn’t wear a mask?

I was actually a little surprised and disappointed that someone would assume my comment was simply an “anti-masker” statement. I do hate the masks and feel quite fine in saying so out loud. That doesn’t mean I’m non-compliant or in need of an intervention. I do understand why masks are required for now.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, my mantra has been that it’s more important to stay home as much as possible. That’s what I’ve been doing. I have literally not left our neighborhood since October 4th, when we came back from Slovenia with Noyzi. During that trip, we didn’t even eat in a restaurant. This is the same thing I did for about three months last spring– I stayed home almost exclusively from March until June, going out only to walk the dog. That, to me, is much better protection against COVID-19 than a mask is. People will still get sick whether or not masks are worn; it’s just a question of the ease of virus transmission, which is somewhat less when people wear masks. So, to the person who made the above query, this was my response:

No, I would not consider spending that kind of money on a cruise until a vaccine is available. I don’t plan to cruise if people are going to be required to wear face masks, especially on a line like SeaDream, where alcohol is included. I have sailed with them three times and have seen firsthand how people can behave. Lots of money plus entitled attitudes plus booze equals trouble, particularly during a pandemic. People drink a lot on those cruises.  

The blogger who was sharing pictures of the staff members not wearing masks got screamed at by a fellow passenger. Evidently, they were told that masks would not be required and they would not have booked the trip if they were told they had to wear them onboard.

The mask mandate came on Monday night after the pictures went live and people were posting angry comments about the irresponsibility of not masking, despite the many measures that were taken before people were allowed to embark. But, as this article reports, despite everyone being tested three times pre cruise, someone came up positive. I have gotten sick on cruises before and would definitely not want to risk it right now with COVID. It’s very easy to get sick on a cruise. But I also hate the masks and would not find cruising fun while wearing them, anyway.

To be clear– I think it’s crazy to spend five figures on a luxury cruise right now. Some people don’t mind wearing face masks everywhere. That’s good for them. I would definitely not enjoy being forced to wear a mask on a cruise, yet I understand that masks help stem the tide of COVID-19. I will wear them where I have to wear them, but no one needs to be on a luxury cruise during a pandemic. So, until an effective vaccine is available, I won’t be cruising at any price.

I will admit that I would be particularly pissed off if I’d spent $10,000 to be stuck in my stateroom and forced to wear a mask in a place like Barbados. I have been to Barbados, and it’s a very beautiful place akin to actual paradise! But I don’t need to go there so badly that I’d travel there from Europe during a pandemic. And now, it’s possible the people who are on that cruise will spend ten-fourteen days holed up in Barbados in quarantine, likely at their own expense! No, thank you.

There is promising news of an effective vaccine being made out of company in Mainz, Germany, only twenty minutes from where I live. The story surrounding the creation of the vaccine is fascinating on many levels; I hope someone will make a movie out of it or write a book. The married couple who have been working on the vaccine are really interesting people who seem to be focused on doing actual good. I can wait to cruise until their work is completed and we have an effective weapon against the virus that makes it less contagious and dangerous.

As I mentioned before, I have sailed with SeaDream three times. It’s a beautiful experience. The staff is wonderful and kind and mostly genuine. The ship is small– a bit old, but pristine, and immaculately maintained. The itineraries are interesting, exciting, and unique. I have met several great people on that ship, to include a couple of famous folks (who were surprisingly normal). But as incredible as SeaDream or any other cruise experience is, I have experienced getting sick on at least three cruises– twice with nasty colds and once with the dreaded norovirus, which made me puke and gave me horrendous diarrhea for about 36 hours of sheer digestive hell as I was also enduring my menstrual period (fortunately, the sickness was coming on as we were disembarking).

It’s VERY EASY to get sick on a cruise, although with only 53 people onboard, there’s plenty of room for social distancing on SeaDream I right now. The fact remains that you’re in an enclosed environment and you eventually will be exposed to everyone. In fact, I remember on our last cruise on Hebridean Princess, one of the staffers told me that he was always having to battle sickness. It was passed around the ship. If someone came aboard who was sick, there was a very good chance everyone else eventually would be, too; and they’d still have to work, regardless, so that means they’d be spreading their germs, too.

Alcohol is included in SeaDream’s fare, and they weren’t going to require masking while eating and drinking. I have seen firsthand that booze is freely offered on SeaDream. You could spend the whole time drinking champagne and eating warmed peanuts if you wanted to– and I have done just that. Ordinarily, that would be a selling point for me, but I have seen the way some people behave after a few drinks. On one SeaDream cruise, Bill and I witnessed a drunk man helping himself to booze, getting very angry at a group of passengers, and actually inviting one or two of them to “step outside”. Imagine how he would react to being required to “mask up” after paying so much to be onboard the ship!

I am a writer myself, although not a famous one (at least in most circles). I can imagine innocently posting a photo from my travels, having it go viral due to someone noting that precautions aren’t being taken, and then being yelled at by another cruiser for spoiling his experience. That has happened to Gene Sloan from The Points Guy, who no doubt was doing his part to publicize SeaDream’s cruise and get the industry going again. Yes, you’d better believe that some people will pay for a maskless experience– same way some people will pay for a condomless prostitute. I can’t blame them at all for wanting to vacation without a mask, but doing so right now isn’t a very smart idea. And paying $10,000 to do it and expecting that nothing will go wrong is also not a very good idea, even though SeaDream cruises are forever tempting. The fact remains that COVID-19 is a real thing and it’s sneakily determined to fuck up everyone’s fun, no matter what.

So I’m going to stay on land for now. I don’t want to wear a mask on a cruise. That wouldn’t be fun for me. And I don’t want to pay $10,000 to be on a luxury cruise, having made the extreme efforts to be COVID-19 negative, only to be trapped on a boat and confined to my stateroom because someone comes up positive (and I don’t blame them– they probably have no clue where they got the virus). I really hope SeaDream and other cruise lines can stay afloat during this mess. I would love to sail with them again, but not until we’ve sorted out this pandemic. Norovirus was bad enough. I’d like to avoid respirators for as long as possible.

I’ve got the lockdown blues…

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It’s November, and in November, Bill and I typically plan a Veterans Day weekend trip. Our wedding anniversary is November 16th. This year, it’s number 18, which is nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately, this year we aren’t going anywhere because we’re in lockdown lite status, thanks to the stupid coronavirus.

Before everything shut down again, I had been toying with the idea of going somewhere local. Actually, months ago, I bought tickets for Keb’ Mo’, who was scheduled to play in Mainz on our big day. Mainz is only about twenty minutes from where we live. But Keb’ Mo’ rescheduled for April, thanks to the pandemic. Hopefully, the show will go on, because I miss live music and I’ve been wanting to see Keb’ Mo’ for ages!

I think of this song as our theme… especially when there isn’t a pandemic.

So then I thought maybe we could do what we did last year. Last year, we booked a really nice room at the Jumeirah Hotel in Frankfurt and had a nice dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Then, the next day, I accompanied Bill on a TDY trip to Wroclaw, Poland. I hadn’t actually wanted to go on that trip because when I tag along on TDYs, I tend to get kind of bored. But since it was our anniversary and I do like Poland, I relented. And we flew to Wroclaw and had a pretty good time there. I’m now really glad I tagged along. Wroclaw is a cool city, and I didn’t know then that this year would end up being such a cluster fuck.

Frankfurt does have nice hotels and restaurants. We could have stayed in another one this year and given Noyzi the chance to meet the people who take care of our dogs when we travel. But COVID-19 has ramped up so much in Europe that restaurants aren’t allowed to do dine in service and hotels can’t accept travelers for tourist purposes. Shops are open, but everything is stricter than it was a month ago, and if the infection numbers don’t go down, they will lock down even more.

I think about how I wanted to move to Germany because of the travel opportunities. I have to admit that we’ve been able to take advantage of a lot of them over the past six years. Prior anniversary trips included Baden-Baden, Ireland, cruising in Scotland, the southern Caribbean, and even an amazing meal at the Alte Post in Nagold, which was a town near where we lived before we moved to Wiesbaden. Unfortunately, the Alte Post is now closed, but it was a wonderful place for food. This year, we’ll have to make do with each other.

Oh well. We have a lot to be grateful for, especially in 2020. Germany has been so good to us. We have gotten to see and do so many things, most of which I’ve chronicled in this blog. And now we have a new dog who is rewarding us every day by being awesome and sweet. I’m sure we’ll get to travel and eat good food again someday.

Thanksgiving is coming up, too. I was thinking this year, maybe we’ll order a meal from a restaurant. Cem Klein, which Bill and I tried before it moved locations, is offering a Thanksgiving deal this year. And we like to do our part in keeping the restaurants going. In fact, I think I’m going to nag Bill into getting some takeout today or tomorrow. I’m getting tired of his cooking, anyway. 😉

I’m kidding… This week, he got really daring and made injera, a type of east African sour bread. Here are a few photos and a link to the recipe. Bill likes exotic stuff more than I do, and his time working for AFRICOM really introduced him to new cuisines. Of course I’m grateful that I have a husband who cooks and does it so well. But I do miss the dining out experience and trying new and exciting dishes. I especially miss the desserts.

Well… maybe instead of planning a fancy trip, I’ll buy an electric guitar. That’s the next big purchase I’d like to make in my quest to be a pandemic era guitarist. We’ll see what happens. One thing is for certain, though. This year, we’re going nowhere fast.

Noyzi’s new walking skills! And booze free treats!

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Here’s another update about Noyzi, the street dog from Kosovo. He’s really come such a long way since four weeks ago. For the first couple of weeks in our home, Noyzi was terrified of leashes and harnesses. He was so scared he’d actually submissively pee and run away in fright. But, as you can see from the video below, he’s come around.

He loves to explore the neighborhood and is probably calmer than ever when he’s walking on a leash.

A month ago, prior to his adoption, his rescuer, Meg, sent me videos of Noizy’s first stabs at leash training. She described him as a big child and sent me a couple of videos showing him lying down while on the leash, completely shut down from the concept of being led. When we got him to our house, I spent about a week leading him around the fenced backyard. He didn’t like the leash at all and would rear up or backpedal.

I started taking a few minutes to brush him before our lessons. He liked being brushed. I’m sure it felt good, both because of the personal attention and because it scratched his itches. Noyzi had never had a bath before and was shedding something fierce. The brushing helped with that, too.

As you can see at the end of the video, Noyzi now walks like a champ, although he still needs the harness because he startles easily. I have a feeling it won’t be long before walks are old hat. I took a walk with him and Arran alone, too. It wasn’t as easy to walk them together without Bill, but we’ll work on it. Below are a few fall photos from our area. It’s not quite as pretty as Jettingen is, but it’s not bad.

I sure do miss traveling, but having Noyzi around is very rewarding and fun. It’s been great to see him progress over the last month. Every day, he gets more confident and adorable. Below is a video of him almost playing with Arran. Arran is still trying to get used to sharing us, but I notice that Arran has already taught his little brother a lot. For example, Arran taught Noyzi that treats are a good thing.

They aren’t too rowdy yet.

Moving on…

This week, Bill ordered a couple of alcohol free treats he saw advertised on Facebook. One product he ordered is called Lyre’s Dry London Spirit, a type of alcohol free gin. Lyre’s is an Australian company, but they have an outlet in Europe and specialize in producing alcohol free versions of libations. Bill likes gin, but is wanting to cut back on alcohol for health reasons.

We tried the gin, and while it didn’t taste exactly like the leaded version, it wasn’t bad at all. It has no burn, but it does have sort of a citrusy flavor– bitter orange peel and a hint of lemon. There is no taste of juniper.

He also ordered a bottle of Gimber, which is an alcohol free cold pressed ginger based mixer. It consists of ginger, lemon, herbs and spices and can be mixed with spirits or alcohol free beverages like sparkling mineral water. The Gimber is very spicy, but you can dilute it until it suits your tastes. Gimber also has a classic dream story behind it. Its inventor, Dmitri, was tired of sugary sodas and bad wine. He sank his last euros into buying a ginger press. Now he’s got a product he can sell on Facebook to bored Americans like us!

And finally, last night, I took a few photos of the “blue moon” as it appeared in Germany. This was supposed to be an especially rare moon, since it was visible across all time zones. I took several of these pictures with my digital camera, which I don’t get to use very often these days. For some projects, it’s better than my iPhone.

Well, that about does it for today. We don’t have much going on, thanks to the pandemic. I miss going on trips, eating in restaurants, and hanging out at naked spas. But maybe someday we can get back to it. For now, we have new products to try and a new dog to teach how to enjoy being a pet. Things could be worse!

Toilet seat hunting… one way to crap off the week…a

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This post was written in November 2018.  Sorry for the confusion!

On Monday of this week, I wrote a tale of woe about the toilet seat in our upstairs bathroom.  The bumper on the old toilet seat in our current house busted the other day.  Bill decided to get a new seat.  Off we went to the Toom in Herrenberg to find one.

Bill was armed with the measurements he’d taken of our current commode.  We spent several minutes perusing the impressive array of toilet seats available at our handy German hardware store…

There’s a whole wall of seats.  They range from the colorful to the plain.

Bill found a couple of contenders.

I was amused by all the beach scenes, especially since I grew up pretty close to the ocean and miss it.

This one was in 3D!

I probably would have preferred the zebra.

I was eyeing the toilets jealously, but then remembered that our new house has new toilets… or so we were told.  To be honest, with all the houses we visited, it’s hard to tell who said what.  Suffice to say, I don’t think the toilets in our new house are “water saver” types like the one in our current house’s upstairs bathroom.

Bill paid about 30 euros for the new seat, then we headed into Herrenberg for lunch.  We could have had lunch at the Toom, since they have a full scale snack bar there.  We got to town a little bit later than optimal for lunch.  It was about 1:30pm, which is getting close to “pause” time.  I’m going to miss Herrenberg, so I took a few pictures.

I took a photo of this store because I hope someday to visit and buy a table here.  They have some really beautiful custom made tables in this shop on the main drag through town.  It’s called Lieblingsholz.

Closing down the Saturday market.

A charming sign…

Just before we stopped to take a picture of this sign, we stopped at our favorite local pizzeria.  It was closed today, just as it was last time we were in Herrenberg.  I was looking at the sign and an elderly German guy came over and asked us if we wanted to “have a coffee”.  I was actually talking to Bill when I said, “What did you say?”, but I guess the guy thought I was talking to him.  It turned out the German gent spoke perfect English.  He told us about a really nice bakery down the street that serves coffee.  We were very charmed by his inclination to help us find coffee, even though we were looking for lunch and have lived near Herrenberg a total of six years over two tours!  It was such a nice, welcoming gesture, though!

Herrenberg kind of feels like home.  I fear Wiesbaden may not feel that way to me, because it’s so crowded and people have more money there.  But I have met people from Hesse who live down here near Stuttgart and I have met a guy who is married to someone from Stuttgart who lives in Hesse.  So I guess we’ll find some friendly folks regardless.

Yesterday, Bill stopped by our vets’ office in Herrenberg to pay for the dentals we had them do on our dogs and take care of the VAT form.  One of the vets had recommended that we stock up on wormers and flea and tick pills, so it would be on the VAT, too.  I’m going to miss our vets, too.  They’ve taken great care of our boys and I’ve gotten to know them fairly well, for professional purposes, anyway.  I told them I wouldn’t be surprised if we came back to the area at some point.  This is the place for guys like Bill.

We ended up at Hanoi Pho.  We have eaten there once before and I remembered liking the food.  I liked it today, too.

Shot of Bill after he asked our waiter what the lady next him was having.  She had a bowl full of fried stuff that looked just right for me.

But I ended up having shrimp with vegetables and peanut sauce.  Unfortunately, this had a couple of mushrooms in it, but Bill came to my rescue.  It was otherwise very good and lightly spicy, if not a little heavy.  

Bill went with pho made with beef and noodles.  In the picture, you can also see the mushrooms he took from my dish.  Thankfully, there was just one cut into a few pieces.  It didn’t affect the flavor of the dish.  Bill used some red chili sauce in the pho and it was apparently very potent.  He ate the whole thing and even threatened to drink the broth.  As we were leaving, he was wiping his eyes and nose because the sauce had brought on the waterworks.

The proprietor dropped hints that he was ready for a smoke break when he brought us our bill unrequested.  It came to about 25 euros.  We were about finished anyway.  Bill had to go look for a wrench so he can install the new toilet seat.  Then he said, “I guess I better get some wine, too, since we only have two bottles.  One is Moldovan and the other is semi-sweet.”

My response was, “Oh God, yes, get some wine.”  That’s my Bill.  Always a provider.  He’s been busy today, taking care of some minor maintenance issues like changing lightbulbs and offloading trash.  When he removed the old toilet seat, the bolts were so rusted that one snapped clean off.  It was definitely time for a new seat.  Hope the new tenants like it.

Tada!  After Bill installed this snazzy new seat, he fetched a bottle of wine.  I have now christened the new seat and it’s a vast improvement over the old one.  

If you got through today’s post, I would like to share with you some glorious photos from a couple of sunrises this week.  I think the view at our current house is the best part of our experience here.  I’m going to miss it, too.

These were from Tuesday…

And these were from this morning.  For about twenty minutes each morning, especially when it’s going to be cloudy, we get amazing sunrises and sunsets at this time of year.  Unfortunately, the view from our new home will include a lot of rooftops.  We weren’t as lucky in finding a rural location in Wiesbaden.

I took these on Tuesday with my digital camera, which is capable of zooming.  I loved the big blackbird.  He sits in that tree all the time, looking for rodents.  Sometimes it’s exciting to watch as he and his buddies swoop into the fields, competing with the many cats that prowl the area.

I’m not sure what tomorrow has in store for us.  I suspect I’ll be purchasing some rugs at the PX.  Maybe we’ll stop by the Auld Rogue or something.  Next weekend, we’ll be in Baden-Baden resting up and celebrating our anniversary.

Noyzi’s first bath!

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We took Noyzi and Arran for another walk this morning. Afterwards, we gave them treats, and then it was time for the moment we were dreading. Time to give Noyzi his first bath!

I don’t know if he ever had a bath before he came to our house. Truth be told, though he was a bit stinky when we brought him home, he seems to prefer being clean. I noticed the worst of the doggy odor went away after a few days of being a house dog. Still, he is shedding a lot and we needed to see how he’d do in the shower. Fortunately, our laundry room has a shower we never use for ourselves. It’s open on two sides, making it perfect for a big boy like Noyzi.

With some effort, we wrangled him into the stall. It wasn’t easy. He went belly to the floor, so we had to pick him up. I couldn’t have done that by myself, because I’m not as strong as I used to be and Noyzi is pretty heavy, though he’s not fat at all. But we finally got him into the shower…

At first, he panicked a bit and tried to escape. But then, once I started rubbing the shampoo into his coat, he relaxed. Obviously, it feels good to get a back scratch and lose some of that undercoat that is currently littering my rugs. After a minute or two of struggling, he relaxed. Pretty soon, I was able to drop the leash and film him. Here’s a video of my metrosexual street dog!

The secret is out. Noyzi is a metro! And I’m really a mom at heart.

He was, by the way, completely perfect on his walk, too. I picked up the harness and leash. After a minute of nervous dancing, he came over and sat on command. I put the harness on him and he took a perfectly calm walk around the neighborhood. Then, he gently accepted a treat afterwards. Arran, on the other hand, demanded one! Arran could learn a few things from our street dog.

Arran at the breakfast table this morning. He was impatiently waiting for us to finish eating so he could lick the bowls…

I continue to be amazed at the leaps Noyzi has made since three weeks ago. Last night, he was even hanging out with us in the living room! It really is rewarding to watch him grow every day. I knew Noyzi was going to be special when I first saw him in a picture. He’s proving me right!

Training “Private Noyzi”…

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So, as of tomorrow, Noyzi will have been in our lives for three weeks. I thought I’d offer an update for those who are interested. First of all, the name… I had been planning to change his name, but none of the names I was thinking of seemed suitable. It also occurred to me that he’s been through so many changes in the past month that it seemed cruel to force him to get used to a new name, too. So we decided to just call him Noyzi. We changed the spelling because “Noizy” was offending my grammar/spelling snob complex. Also, that’s how it was spelled by the vet in Kosovo (I’m assuming) who made their version of the pet passport.

This week, we took Noizy out for his very first walk outside of the backyard. The first walk was just halfway down the block. He submissively peed a couple of times before we got him out the front door. But once we got him on the leash, he did quite well and seemed to enjoy himself. Then, when we brought him back inside and Bill took Arran (our senior dog) for a longer walk, Noyzi finally ventured upstairs for the very first time. He was fascinated by the balconies!

Noyzi still pretty much stays in his little area of our living room, although he has been ranging more bravely into the foyer and dining room. He’s also taken to hanging out by the couch instead of the back door.

Bill is still a scary boogeyman to Noyzi. I get the sense maybe someone hit him with a belt or a leash, because until the past few days, he was petrified of the leash. And he peed on himself when Bill took off his belt. He also doesn’t like the broom, although I am hoping that after seeing what it’s used for and never using it to hit him, he’ll see that he doesn’t need to be so scared. This dog doesn’t like men very much. He’s not very trusting of anyone, but he definitely seems to prefer women. Hopefully, he’ll get used to Bill after a few more feedings which include homemade goodies– chicken, sweet potato, and green beans on top of kibble! He’s learning to appreciate treats, too. He takes them gently from me, the way Zane used to. But it wasn’t until he saw Arran eating them that he realized that’s what he’s supposed to do, too.

I’ve seen some evidence that Noyzi likes to play and would enjoy a play session, once he gets more confident. A few days ago, he even play bowed to me, although he’s so big that it’s not the best idea to play inside. Maybe at some point, we can take him to the dog park on post. He needs to learn to come to me more reliably, first. He also likes toys, but this week, he doesn’t seem to need to sleep with one in his bed. That is such a cute habit! It’s like he needs a teddy bear!

We did a couple of walks around the block this week, and this morning, Bill, Arran, and I took Noyzi on his very first trip around the full walking route of our neighborhood. He did extremely well. Yesterday, he got a little panicky when a German man who was carrying things got too close to him, but today, he was much better. In fact, he was calmer today on his walk than I’ve ever seen him. I was very proud of the way he was carrying himself, his powerful stride matching mine. He reminded me of a supermodel!

When we brought him back in the house this morning, he followed me upstairs, took a look around, then went back downstairs. I think I heard Arran bitching at him. It probably won’t be long before he starts hanging out with me in my office. In fact, as I write this, he’s hanging out in the upstairs hall.

Speaking of Arran, he’s handling this a lot better than I thought he would. He seems to understand that he hasn’t been replaced and, in fact, is now promoted to “big daddy dog”… or maybe “gramps”. He leaves Noyzi alone, except for when Noyzi encroaches too much. I expect there will eventually be a fight, and then it’ll be okay. Noyzi is super gentle and not at all alpha, anyway… or at least he doesn’t seem to be.

I noticed in videos I have of him as a puppy, he once seemed very confident and self-assured. I don’t think he’s naturally timid. I think maybe he’s experienced a lot of trauma, but he’s a quick learner and so sweet. He just wants to be loved and a member of the family.

A few of our neighbors met Noyzi today. One asked us about Zane. Bill explained that we lost Zane to cancer last year. I’m sure they were curious about where he was. I wonder where he is, too. :'( I still miss him, although Noyzi is turning out to be a very rewarding project. Best of all, he seems to have come to us mostly housetrained somehow. He prefers to do his business outside and seems to only need to go once or twice a day. He doesn’t mark or cock his leg, either. He’s a squatter!

Anyway… since COVID-19 is flaring up, I’m not so sure how much traveling and dining out we’ll be doing. But I think Noyzi will keep me plenty busy. It’s a good thing we went to get him this month. With the virus flareups going on, I don’t think we would have managed as easily if we had waited. Now we need to get him to the vet and checked in on post. Hopefully, he’ll have a chance to try out the Hunde Pension soon, so we can travel again… when the virus isn’t running amok, that is.

As I close this post, Bill and Arran are trying to negotiate around Noyzi, who has taken up residence on the steps. As Bill and Arran tried to pass him, he pooped a little. He seems to do that when he’s scared. At least he doesn’t do it in the bed, like Arran does sometimes. I have every confidence that he’ll be one of the gang very soon!

Bringing your dog to Germany? Here are a few vital tips for when you arrive…

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Since COVID-19 is ramping up again, the weather is icky, and we’re not really seeing the sights right now due to those factors and our new pooch, I thought today I’d offer a few handy tips for people who are planning to bring their dog(s) to Germany. This post isn’t about travel tips. I haven’t brought any dogs overseas to Germany since 2014, and the rules have changed since then. Even now, I look at our new family member, Noizy, and realize how huge he is. If we have to take him in an airplane, I’m pretty sure the process will be different than it was with the other four dogs we’ve flown with (three of whom are now at the Rainbow Bridge).

This post is more about encouraging Americans to do things they might not think is necessary. I’ve now spent a total of eight years living in Germany. I was here in Stuttgart from 07-09 and 14-18, and now in Wiesbaden from 18 until now. Having been in two different military communities, I’ve seen a lot of people expressing reluctance at doing things the German way. I’m here to tell you that if you’re one of those people who doesn’t think it’s necessary to get pet liability insurance or register your dog with TASSO, you may be making a big mistake.

The very first piece of advice I would offer any American moving to Germany with a dog is to get pet liability insurance. While you’re doing that, also get personal liability insurance. If your dog damages something or gets into trouble, the insurance is a great thing to have. I would highly recommend using a local broker to get the insurance, which is not very expensive at all. For two dogs, we pay about 80 euros a year. And that covers us if something awful happens, like one of the dogs runs away and causes a car accident, or the dog damages the house in some way. We got our insurance through a German broker who was hanging out in the local Facebook groups. Chances are, you can get it that way, too. Or ask around for a recommendation.

Personal liability insurance is good to have for when YOU have an accident of some sort. We have used ours. Most Germans have personal liability insurance, which also isn’t that expensive and can save you a lot of headaches, unless, of course, you’re dealing with someone who is greedy, entitled, and dishonest, which sadly, can also happen. But that’s a rant for another post. It’s good to have the insurance, though, because the insurance company will fight on your behalf if a person wants more money after an accident or mishap. Also, many Germans won’t expect you to have it.

The second piece of advice I would offer is registering your pet with TASSO.net. This organization is committed to helping you find your pet if he or she gets lost– kind of like an Amber Alert for pets. You send them photos and information about your pet(s), as well as their microchip number(s). They will send you tags to put on your pet’s collar and, should one get away from you, they’ll make flyers that can be posted and shared on social media. When our failed adoptee, Jonny, escaped his pet taxi last spring, TASSO sent us a helpful flyer with contact information. At that time, Jonny was still registered with the rescue he came from and when he was sadly found dead the day after he escaped, authorities were able to contact the rescue to let them know. Both of our dogs are now registered with TASSO, in case something should happen.

Jonny was also covered by the rescue’s pet liability insurance, because we hadn’t yet completed his adoption when he met his demise. If we had taken him in and not transferred his coverage to ours, we would have likely been on the hook for paying for the accident he caused when a driver hit him. Always make sure you have that coverage BEFORE an accident happens, especially if you’re adopting a dog while over here. Our new dog, Noizy, was on our pet insurance before we picked him up two weeks ago. That’s the way it should always be. Don’t forget to get the insurance in the excitement of adopting a new dog, especially since dogs who are new to your family might be more likely to panic and run away from home and you will be less likely to know what could trigger them to behave in unexpected ways.

Many people also look into getting pet health insurance. We haven’t done that ourselves, mainly because our original dogs, Zane and Arran, were too old for it. Veterinary care in Germany is very reasonably priced, especially compared to the United States. Some vets will even take the VAT form, which if you’re American, makes you exempt from paying German taxes on some goods and services. Not all businesses will take the VAT form and they are never required to, but the ones who cater to Americans often will. That can save you significant money, as long as the forms are filled our properly. Our former vet in Stuttgart had some issues with the VAT that resulted in money having to be paid. Fortunately for us, they were willing to pay because it was their mistake, and we didn’t even have to ask them to do it.

Arran getting a belly rub.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with Germany’s laws regarding pets, too. For example, it’s illegal to drive here with your animals loose in the car. They have to be in a crate or wearing a “seat belt”. You can purchase those items easily at any pet store.

Certain items that are legal in the USA are not legal here. Shock collars are not allowed, for example, and you can get in trouble for using them if you get caught. Likewise, you’re not allowed/supposed to leave your animals alone all day. This isn’t an issue for us, since I am at home most of the time, but if you’re in a dual career family with no one home during the day, you may need to hire a dog walker or use a doggy daycare. They do exist here. Germans are also very big on training dogs, so don’t be surprised if someone tells you to take your dog to the Hundschule. That happened to us a couple of times when we lived here the first time– back then, Germans weren’t as accustomed to beagles, who bay when they get on a scent. Beagles are becoming a lot more popular here now, but most German dogs are still very well trained.

If you’re here on SOFA status, make sure you register your pets with the vet on post. Otherwise, German tax collectors will expect you to license your dog(s) locally, and that can get very expensive. German dog taxes are more than what you’d expect to pay in the United States, and there are also fines for failing to register.

We don’t regret having our dogs with us in Germany. Germans love dogs and they can make great ambassadors in facilitating meeting people. It’s easier to travel with them here than at home, although we’ve found some excellent “Tierpensions” for when we can’t take them with us. I love having the dogs around for company, especially when Bill travels. There is a learning curve, though. Above all, I urge all Americans to please GET THE INSURANCE. And definitely register with TASSO! If your dog gets loose, you will want and need both of those protections.