Goodbye, Mad Scientist…

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As I have mentioned more than once in my main blog, 2020 has been a hell of a year for a lot of people. Between us, Bill and I have lost three loved ones in less than two months. I lost a cousin and a different cousin’s spouse. Bill lost his father. My cousin and Bill’s dad both died in November. Last night, we found out that we also lost a good friend in a guy we have been calling the “Mad Scientist” since 2008.

I found out about the Mad Scientist’s death by chance last night, as I was looking up his Greek restaurant, Agais, in Entringen, Baden-Württemberg, a place where Bill and I enjoyed many meals and lots of wine. It was where I tried retsina for the first time, and learned to enjoy t’zatziki, a yogurt and cucumber sauce much beloved by anyone who enjoys Greek food. It was also where I learned the Greek word “γιαμας” (pronounced “giamas”), which is roughly equivalent to the English expression, “cheers”.

I became a late convert to Greek cuisine, having tasted it for the first time in Vaihingen (a part of Stuttgart near Patch Barracks) at a little place called Taverna Faros. Taverna Faros had wonderful food, and we ate there a bunch of times during our first six weeks in Germany back in 2007. At the time, we were living in the Vaihinger Hof, a rather crappy but cheap hotel located in Vaihingen, which, over the years, has hosted many people moving to Stuttgart. I’m not sure the Vaihinger Hof is still open these days, since Air BnB has provided alternatives to living in hotels. But we were there for six weeks, and got very familiar with the restaurants in Vaihingen, since there were no kitchen facilities at the Vaihinger Hof.

Taverna Faros was where I tried dorade and gyros for the first time. Unfortunately, the proprietor was rather abruptly forced to shut down because he allegedly didn’t pay his taxes. The place where Taverna Faros once was is now known as The Auld Rogue. It’s a very popular Irish pub, and if you explore this blog, you’ll see that Bill and I visited there many times when we lived near Stuttgart from 2014-2018. Every time I went in there, I remembered that it was once a Greek place, and later became a disco, which we never visited.

Anyway, in the fall of 2007, after six weeks in the rather dirty but lovingly staffed hotel, we finally found a house in a little town called Pfäffingen. It was just a few miles west of the great city, Tübingen. Agais is located in a little village called Entringen, which we frequently drove through on our way to the military installations in the Stuttgart area. It was about 2 kilometers north of Pfäffingen.

Since I had recently discovered a love for Greek food, I told Bill I wanted to try Agais. We kept passing it every time we had to go to Patch or Panzer Barracks, and I was very curious about the food. So one night, we stopped in for dinner. It was probably in 2008, since we moved to our house in November 2007 and it took us awhile to get acquainted with the area. I remember when we walked in, there was no one there. But then a smiling Greek guy with wild, curly dark hair appeared.

Our old friend.

At first, he thought I was Greek. If you were to see me in person, you might be as baffled as I was by that. I’m short, blonde, and very buxom, with blue eyes. Personally, I think I look very Celtic, which stands to reason, since my people were mostly from the British Isles. But the Mad Scientist initially spoke Greek to me. When I reacted with a baffled expression, he realized we are Americans and switched to English. He welcomed us heartily, and we sat down at what would become our usual booth (the only one in his restaurant, actually). He turned on Greek music– from Zorba the Greek. The walls, painted white and bright blue, were covered with personal mementos.

I remember after enjoying our first nice meal at Agais, I told the proprietor that I thought we’d be regulars. He said, “I think you should.” When we got home that night, Bill said the guy reminded him of a “Mad Scientist”. So that’s what we’ve called him ever since. His wife, Renate, is German and cooks the food.

Of course, the Mad Scientist had a name. I think he went by the name John in Germany, but I found out last night his real name was Ioannis. He was born December 27, 1938 and died on November 9, 2020, just one day after we lost Bill’s dad. I don’t know what ended John’s life, but in recent years, I did notice that he was not as vibrant as he once was. I don’t know for certain, but I suspected that he might have had a stroke during the five years we were out of Germany. I say this because when we first met him in 2008, he spoke perfect English. When we saw him again for the first time, back in 2014, he struggled to speak English and, in fact, may have even had some trouble with German, which he’d also previously spoken perfectly.

During our first two years in Germany, we stopped by Agais many times. We also brought visitors there. Those first couple of years, John was quite healthy. He told us that he used to work in Canada as an engineer. He moved there with his first wife, whom I think was Greek. Their marriage broke up, so he married a German woman, who brought him to Germany to live. That marriage broke up, and he married another German woman, the one we know as Renate. They had a son who, during our first tour, was attending the university in Tübingen. Sometimes, we’d see him in the restaurant, helping out. He looked a lot like his dad, complete with the wild, curly black hair.

Although I’ve had Greek food I’ve liked better, Bill and I loved to visit Agais because we could always count on an entertaining evening. John loved to chat about all subjects, and we’d talk about everything from American politics to Greek/Turkish relations. He learned how we liked our food, and we could always count on getting pistachio nuts and candy at the end of the meal, as well as ouzo. John was also famous for giving out eucalyptus drops, which will clear out your sinuses and are great to have around whenever you’re sick with a cold or the flu. I carried them around in my purse for years after we moved the first time.

In 2009, we had to leave Germany a year earlier than we expected. We never got the chance to say goodbye to John and his wife. I always regretted that, since they’d shown us such a good time when we were in Germany the first time. The five years we were back in the States, I thought about them a lot.

Just before we moved, they had opened up a “vacation apartment”. It still operates today. I remember on one of the last visits we had before we moved “home”, we happened to dine there at the same time John and his wife were hosting several obnoxious German couples. I wrote about that incident when it happened and the story can be found on this blog. The short version is, these couples were staying in Entringen and had been dining at Agais all week. They had sort of taken over John’s restaurant, dictating which music he should play, and running him ragged. I noticed they were casting derisive looks at Bill and me.

I understood much less German then than I do now, but I could tell at least one of them was making fun of us. And we also heard them disparaging the Swiss. When they finally left, John asked us if we understood what they were saying. Bill said we hadn’t. Chuckling wickedly, John said, “Those people have been here all week for marriage counseling. They’re here in a last ditch effort not to get divorced!” Apparently, there is or was a marriage counselor in Entringen of some renown, and the annoying jerks at the table near us were there to receive services.

When Barack Obama got elected, I remember John was excited. He said he was glad to see a black man in the White House. Then he added, “But I think he might get shot.” We were shocked at the time, but given the fact that John was an older man who had lived through the Kennedy administration and watched America from afar, I could kind of see where he might have gotten that impression. Fortunately, Mr. Obama survived his time as our president.

In September 2014, Bill and I finally visited our old friend again. We walked into his restaurant, and it was unusually busy. His wife saw us and recognized us immediately, giving us a huge grin and a welcome. It took John a couple of minutes, but then his eyes widened and he smiled and said, “You are back in Germany!” It was at about that time that we realized that he was not the same man he was in 2009. But we made a point of visiting him occasionally when we were living in Jettingen, which was probably a 15-20 minute drive from where he was.

I wish we’d had a chance to see him once more before we left the Stuttgart area about two years ago. I would have liked to have been able to say goodbye. Unfortunately, we never got around to it. The last time we saw him was in September 2018. I noticed that over the years, the portion sizes were smaller and the prices were a bit higher. And he’d stopped handing out pistachios. I don’t think it was necessarily because he was trying to be stingy. I think business had gotten rough for him, especially after he got sick (and he did confirm that he was sick for awhile). But his English did improve, even if it wasn’t as fluent as it once was. And we still loved to visit his restaurant, remember old times, and make new memories.

It looks like his wife is carrying on with the restaurant and apartment, although Germany is now back in lockdown mode until at least next month. On their Web site, it says they’re doing some renovation work. I hope she can keep the place going during these tough times.

Agais is the one place that bridged our two stints near Stuttgart. It’s the one constant of both time periods, a place where we were always warmly welcomed. A lot of the restaurants we used to love to visit during our first stint went defunct long ago, but not Agais. And we could always count on John and Renate to show us a nice time. I will always remember the “Mad Scientist” fondly. He was a very good man.

My online shopping life… or, the pandemic has made us learn new things.

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It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, Bill and I were preparing to journey to France to see my friends Audra and Cyril and celebrate Christmas with them and their family. This year, we don’t go anywhere. I’m serious. I haven’t left our neighborhood in over two months. It’s getting old.

But I’m trying to keep my spirits up. The other day, I ordered chocolates from Neuhaus. I was a victim of Facebook advertising, which kept showing me pictures of Belgian chocolate. Then I remembered that once upon a time, when I was still a working woman, I actually used to sell Neuhaus chocolates.

I worked at a place called Henry Street Chocolatier, which was located in Williamsburg, Virginia. They sold high end chocolates from Neuhaus and Joseph Schmidt, a now defunct confectioner out of San Francisco, California that specialized in making chocolate truffles. They also had locally produced pastries and coffee by First Colony, an outfit out of Norfolk, Virginia. I think First Colony as I knew it went out of business, but they also used to sell coffee to The Trellis, a restaurant where I worked a few years later. It looks like First Colony was sold, so the brand still exists, but it’s not the same people running it.

I ended up buying a shitload of chocolates. I bought a 500g ballotin of Neuhaus truffles, a 500g ballotin of regular chocolates, and a wine tasting chocolate set. Neuhaus also has champagne and coffee tasting sets– those are chocolates specifically selected to be tasted with wine, champagne, and coffee. Wine is not included in the sets, but you do get a nifty booklet in several languages.

I also bought wines from Georgia, Croatia, and Hungary, but they haven’t arrived yet.

Friday night, Bill and I discussed my desire to buy an electric guitar. I showed him the one I wanted, which is quite pricey. I ended up ordering one of those yesterday as my own Christmas present. I tried to get it through its manufacturer’s Web site, but the sale wouldn’t go through. Like, it wouldn’t even attempt to go through at all. So I found the guitar I wanted on another site and did successfully order it. I don’t think the charge has been processed yet. Hopefully, it will go through. Sometimes the credit card companies are very cautious when you live in Europe and have an American billing address. If it actually gets to me, I’ll post a picture of it.

I have about half the cash needed to pay for the guitar waiting in a savings account I usually use for traveling. We aren’t doing any of that, so it makes perfect sense to just get the guitar I want. It will give me incentive to keep practicing. Not that I need incentive. I made some real progress with my guitar playing yesterday, finally managing to awkwardly play several difficult chords in the same shape. No, they aren’t perfect, but a few months ago, I couldn’t even attempt them. Now, if I’m very careful, I can actually make them ring out somewhat. Anyway, Bill is going to buy me an amp, and once he’s learned a bit more on his guitar, he’ll probably buy one he likes, too.

We also ordered sushi from Tam’s Kitchen. It was a cold, rainy night, and didn’t really seem like sushi weather, but I was dying for some. And here in Breckenheim, we happen to have a really great sushi guy who does deliveries. I think he’s actually a caterer. I don’t think he has a restaurant, per se. But you can order sushi and it will be super fresh and delicious. So that’s what we did Friday night. I think Tam is actually from Vietnam, but he sure has a way with raw fish.

Last night, I watched the memorial service done for my cousin, Karen, who died a couple of weeks ago. She was the third family member I’ve lost since mid October. I learned some new things about my cousin, who was eighteen years older than I am. We weren’t very close, but she was very much beloved by her family and our extended family. Watching the video made me miss being at home somewhat, although I think during this pandemic, I’d rather be in Germany.

And Noyzi and Arran are doing fine. Noyzi is particularly adorable these days. He has a new habit of silently showing up, ghostlike, when it’s time to eat. I slip him a little snack from the table, which is probably not a great thing to do… but he’s so sweet and basically well-behaved that my heart melts a bit.

I suspect today will be more of the same stuff. It’s cold and wet, and Germany is still locked down. Oh, I guess they call it Lockdown Lite, since stores are still open, and it’s been extended until January 10th. But there’s nothing to do anyway, and the weather is icky. So we’ll stay home, listen to music, and buy stuff online. 2020 has mostly sucked… but in some ways, it’s been kind of awesome. I miss traveling, but it’s also been nice to find new ways to occupy my time and spend money. And we are grateful we still have the money to spend. Maybe it will help some people stay in business.

Thanksgiving 2020…

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A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Cem Klein Mediterrané, a local restaurant, was offering a takeout Thanksgiving deal. Bill and I were lucky enough to get to try Cem Klein in July of last year, before they changed locations. They used to be located in the Sonnenberg area of Wiesbaden. They are now at the Rheinblick German/American golf course. I guess, since they are now dealing with Americans all the time, they were prompted to offer a special pandemic deal for our Thanksgiving holiday. I noticed in their Facebook ad that they were willing to accept dollars or euros and, in fact, would not charge Americans tax on the meal.

Bill and I like to cook, but there are only two of us and we only have so much refrigerator space. We decided to try the restaurant’s deal, which included turkey, stuffing, yams, green beans wrapped in bacon, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and cranberry gravy. The price was $55 for enough food for two, and it was super easy to order, pick up and clean up afterwards. We also have leftovers. Here are some photos:

Cem Klein did a fine job on this meal and the price was right! If we’re still here in 2021 and they offer another Thanksgiving deal, we may have to order it again. It was nice not to have a huge mess to clean up.

The dogs enjoyed hanging out with us all day, listening to music and drinking wine… especially Noyzi, who is slowly getting used to being a pet and being friends with Bill. Every day, more and more of his personality comes out. Yesterday, Arran decided to play fetch with his new toys. He left one unattended while he ran around the house being silly. Noyzi casually got up from his bed, picked up the toy, and put it in his bed, then snuggled up next to it. It’s such an endearing habit, watching him hoard toys as if they’re his buddies.

I really do miss getting to travel and enjoy Europe, but the weather has been pretty gloomy lately. Yesterday, it was foggy, damp, and cold all day. Bill said when he picked up our food, there were people playing golf. I don’t know how or why. It was pea soup thick yesterday! I kind of like this weather in November, though. It’s weird seeing people back home wearing shorts and t-shirts. It didn’t used to be that way, even in the South. The warmer temperatures worry me.

My German friend, Susanne, asked us if we’d ever used a Romertopf, which is a German version of a Tajine (clay pot). I had, but Bill had, and he used to own a Romertopf when he was in Germany back in the 1980s. I decided to get us a new one so we can try our hands at clay pot cooking. It arrived yesterday.

Anyway… that’s our Thanksgiving. It was low key and pleasant. Bill will work this morning, then take the rest of the day off. Then it’s time to prepare for Christmas, which means I’ll be shopping online. Whoopee!

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 also be spreading their germs.

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.