holidays

Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriage… Part one

I’ve been looking forward to November 16, 2022 for twenty years. That’s the day Bill and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. As some readers already know, I am Bill’s second wife. On some levels, I would say he and I have had a fairly easy time of marriage. We get along very well, and we genuinely love spending time together. We aren’t just husband and wife; we are best friends. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of dramas.

All year, I’ve been thinking about what we should do to celebrate our big milestone. Normally, I would come up with a fancy vacation of some kind, or at least a trip to somewhere we’ve never been, even if it’s not a luxurious destination. But then in September, I discovered that our beloved dog, Arran, had swollen lymph nodes. The diagnosis was B-cell lymphoma. We are now in our last days with Arran, who is a very special family member, and has a particularly close bond with Bill.

Originally, we thought it would be best to ease Arran into palliative care, but he’s repeatedly showed us he wants to fight. So he’s now undergoing chemotherapy, which has been kind of miraculous. He started treatment October 13th, and on November 20th, he’s still happy and spunky. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to board him. For one thing, we’ve come to realize that Arran doesn’t enjoy being boarded anymore. He’d much rather be with us. For another, I didn’t want to burden the Hund Pension with dealing with his medications, which aren’t that complicated, but do involve some risk. He takes a drug that requires gloves to dispense safely, and it’s not safe for his poop to be accessible to other dogs.

Finally, when we were celebrating our tenth anniversary in Scotland, Arran’s predecessor, MacGregor, had an undiagnosed cancerous spinal tumor that caused an emergency while we were traveling thousands of miles away. I didn’t want anything similar to happen this time. We lost MacGregor a week before Christmas 2012, just a couple of weeks after our return from our big anniversary trip. Arran, who joined our family on January 12, 2013, is named after a Scottish island we saw on that first trip to Scotland.

I decided we’d spend our big day in Ribeauville, France, which is about a three hour drive from us. We have been there half a dozen times since 2017, staying in apartments owned by Yannick Kopff, a Alsatian native and excellent host. Yannick is extremely dog friendly, and since our favorite of his apartments, Riesling, was available for our dates, we decided that was a good place to celebrate. I booked four nights– from Wednesday, November 16th until Sunday, November 20th, at Yannick’s Gites au Coeur de Ribeauville.

Meanwhile, we were also looking forward to seeing and hearing James Taylor perform a concert. Originally, the show was supposed to go on in February 2022. But COVID-19 numbers were too high at that time, and there were many restrictions in place. So James decided to reschedule his European Tour dates for later in the year. In our case, the Frankfurt show was rescheduled for November 8th. Perfect– a Tuesday night, over a week before our anniversary trip.

On November 7th, we got the news that James had to postpone several concerts, including ours. He finally got COVID, and was advised to rest in Zurich, Switzerland for a few days. We watched anxiously, as four shows were eventually canceled because they couldn’t be rescheduled. However, Frankfurt’s venue was open for November 19th… last night. We were supposed to be in France last night, but we decided to come home a day early to catch James’s show… and I’m really glad we did that, because it was a great show, in spite of James’s brush with COVID.

I don’t have a lot of exciting stories to tell about our most recent trip to Ribeauville. November, just before the Christmas markets, is the “off season”. A lot of places were closed in preparation for the frenzy that is about to hit the village. I don’t know how big their market was in 2021, but I’m pretty sure it was canceled in 2020. I have a feeling this year’s markets will be bigger, and I could see that people were preparing. But, in terms of having a lot to do while we were there… I can’t say that we did. On the other hand, we did try a couple of restaurants we had never tried before, and Bill tried a dessert that is a local speciality that we never had before.

This was also Noyzi’s very first trip with us, aside from when we went to Slovenia to pick him up in 2020. Ribeauville was a good choice, because it wasn’t too far away, and because Yannick is so good with dogs in his properties. It was a fruitful trip for Noyzi, too, since he finally learned to poop while on a leash. This is a big deal, because it will make traveling with him much easier and less worrisome. Eventually, we may have to take him back to the States, which means for his own health, he needs to know how to relieve himself when he’s not frolicking in the backyard. He did seem to learn the lesson on our trip.

Aside from taking pictures of the always beautiful village of Ribeauville, binge watching Netflix and cheesy French game shows, eating lots of French comfort foods, drinking Alsatian wines, and being together, we didn’t do much on this trip. It was a good opportunity for Bill to sleep. We also picked up some gifts for his daughter and grandchildren. The beauty of Ribeauville is that we’ve been there so many times that not doing anything doesn’t seem too much like a hardship. By now, the village feels like a second home, even if our last visit was in January 2020.

So… over the next couple of days, I’ll write up this trip and James Taylor’s concert. I don’t think I’ll binge write today, because frankly, I just don’t feel like it. The weather is kind of crappy and I feel like hibernating. But we had a great time, and I’m grateful we could do it. I hope we can do it again.

If you’re interested in reading about our latest trip to France, I hope you’ll watch this space for updates… Meanwhile, here’s a video I made a few days ago in honor of our anniversary and James Taylor’s show. He didn’t do “Secret O’ Life” last night…

This song has really grown on me over the years. It seemed like a good one for 20 years of marriage…

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A funny thing happened on our afternoon walk…

The sun is out this afternoon, and temperatures are kind of pleasant outside today. Arran missed yesterday’s walk because it was yucky outside and I was waiting for a package that never arrived. The package still hasn’t arrived yet, but I couldn’t miss the chance for some fresh air and exercise. Walks are also when Arran does his business best, otherwise we run the risk of him going in inappropriate places at inappropriate times.

On the way out of the house, Arran and I ran into our landlady. We don’t talk to her very often because her husband handles most of the business with us. We learned from the landlord that his wife’s brother built the house we’re living in. Our landlord then joked that he gets called “slumlord” a lot, but Bill told him this is the nicest house we’ve ever lived in. I think I agree with him. We’ve lived in a few houses we’ve enjoyed for various reasons, but overall, I think this one is in the best shape. The only place I absolutely hated in all ways was our apartment in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was the true epitome of a dump, along with inconsiderate neighbors, high crime, and shitty infrastructure. For that dump, we paid about $900 a month in 2003. By contrast, the house we’re in now is the most expensive of any we’ve ever lived in. But, for the most part, it’s completely worth it… and not just because it’s a nice house, but because we are treated respectfully, like adults with the right to privacy. It’s also a very comfortable home with many nice amenities and no one freaking out over dog hair in the doorway.

One nice thing about our current landlords is that they don’t mind dogs. Arran went over to say hello to the landlady. She gave him a pat and asked about Zane. I told her that he’d died. I’m sure they were wondering, but probably didn’t know how to bring it up. I mentioned that maybe we’d have a new dog after the holidays. She nodded in agreement, which makes me feel good. A few weeks ago, one of our elderly neighbors asked about Zane, and remarked that the dogs are like our children. That’s definitely true in our case. I was kind of happy that he’d asked, since I never know how the neighbors feel about our dogs. It seems like they’re well liked in this neighborhood. Obviously, Zane has been missed, and not just by Bill and me.

So we did our usual loop, and on our way through the messy field by the Rewe, I noticed an older lady coming down the hill with a little Yorkie. The Yorkie was off lead, which usually makes me nervous, since you never know how dogs will act when they first meet each other. The little dog came running up to Arran, who was whining and shrieking, trying to make contact. The lady smiled at me as our dogs sniffed. Her little dog was so cute, dodging, barking at Arran, yet curious and wanting to sniff my hand. I said to the dog, “Hello… aren’t you cute?”

Then the lady laughed and said, “You’re American?”

“Yes!” I responded, with a giggle.

“Me too!” she laughed.

We shared another awkward moment, then said goodbye. What are the odds?

I’ve heard there are a number of Americans here in Breckenheim. I know there’s a little hotel and there are a couple of Air BnBs here, too, where people have stayed until they find housing. This was the first time I’ve bumped into an American while walking the dog near my home in any of the three places in Germany I’ve lived so far. Or maybe I have run into them, but because I pass for German and so do a lot of other Americans, I just didn’t know it.

Anyway, it was kind of a funny encounter. Maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime. I hope so, since I think Arran and her dog may be buddies now. I love how our dogs serve as such excellent canine ambassadors. I’ve met a lot of nice people in Germany thanks to my dogs.

Today also happens to be the seventh anniversary of losing MacGregor, who was Arran’s predecessor. MacGregor was such a wonderful dog. He was best friends with Bill, who was probably the only man he ever liked. I can’t believe it’s been seven years already since we lost him. Time flies!

MacGregor, posing on our well-loved loveseat at our very first German house… Our first German house was almost as beautiful as the one we’re in now. We lost MacGregor in Raleigh, North Carolina seven years ago today. Canine cancer sucks!
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advice, anecdotes, cruises, Scotland

We’re going back to Scotland… why we’re doing another Hebridean cruise

Hebridean Princess.

I already announced this on my main blog, which tends to get more readers than this one does.  It’s mainly because I am a bit rawer on my main blog than I am here, where I try to be somewhat genteel.   Today’s post will be somewhat less genteel.  I’m writing it because I want to convey why I think Hebridean may be the best cruise line ever.  If you can afford it, that is.

Bill and I took our first cruise(s) on Hebridean Princess back in November 2012.  It was in honor of our 10th wedding anniversary.  Originally, I had planned to take one five night cruise, but then it occurred to me that we could take a second five night cruise with little overlap of ports.  They were the last two cruises of Hebridean’s 2012 season and they were relatively inexpensive.  Each five night segment was priced at $1960 for the lowest priced cabins.  If we booked another cruise, we’d get a 5% discount.  I told Bill that if we left after the first cruise, we’d be traveling during the busy Thanksgiving rush.  Moreover, I wasn’t sure when we’d ever be back to Scotland.  That was before we ever knew we’d be back in Germany.

Fortunately, Bill agreed.  We made the booking and went off to Scotland in mid November 2012, not knowing that our sweet dog, MacGregor, was suffering from cancer.  Unbeknownst to us, he had a malignant tumor in his spinal column.  We had him on prednisone because he’d been having some problems with walking.  Our vet thought it was arthritis and/or disc disease.  She had instructed us to wean him off the drug, but that coincided with our trip.  We asked the people at the boarding facility to do it for us.

We had a wonderful trip to Scotland.  We went to Glasgow first, spent two nights there, then got on the very small vessel, which was originally a car ferry.  Hebridean Princess only handles 49 people at a time and is special enough that Queen Elizabeth II has chartered it twice.  Prior to cruising on Hebridean Princess, we had been on SeaDream I twice.  I thought that was an amazing experience.  I had no idea.  After ten nights on Hebridean, my mind was changed.  I still love SeaDream, but it is no longer #1 to me.

Anyway, our Scottish cruise was insanely awesome.  Once we boarded the ship, we were completely taken care of.  They didn’t even ask us for a credit card.  The service was just impeccable.

While we were cruising, MacGregor was having some problems.  The people at the North Carolina boarding facility where he was staying took very good care of him, but he really had trouble when he went off the prednisone.  One day, he just up and collapsed.  The folks at the kennel had to take him to our vet.  They were in constant communication with us, which was frustrating because there was nothing we could do from thousands of miles away other than worry.  At one point, the kennel manager sent us a letter from our vet advising that we put MacGregor out of his misery before we came home.  Naturally, that was devastating news to us, especially since we thought he had arthritis.

On the last night of our wonderful cruise, there was a gala event.  Bill and I were dressed to the nines, but I was very upset about the dog.  Bill had called the vet in North Carolina, who told us that MacGregor wasn’t on the edge of dying or anything, but he was in pain.  We told him to keep MacGregor comfortable as best he could.  We would get back after a few nights in Edinburgh and have him checked out.  We eventually took him to NC State, where an MRI was done.  That was when we found out he had cancer– up until that point, we had several vets arguing about what was wrong with MacGregor and we didn’t know who to believe.

The Hebridean staff was wonderful as we were dealing with all of this stuff.  But what was really awesome was what happened later on the last night on the ship.  It was the last night of their season.  After throwing up when I heard about MacGregor and before the haggis, I suddenly realized that Aunt Flow had come to visit me.  Somehow, I had come onboard completely unprepared.  I had remembered everything else we needed on our trip.  But I had forgotten to pack maxi pads.

Haggis!

I was very upset about everything that was going on: my dog ailing in North Carolina, vomiting, and now, an unexpected visit from Aunt Flow.  So Bill, being the wonderful guy he was, grabbed the assistant purser, a lovely Latvian lady named Valeria.  He said, “I need your help.”  She looked at him expectantly as he said, “Jenny just started.”

That was all he needed to say.

Valeria said, “I can’t promise I’ll get the best selection, but I’ll knock on your door…”

Ten minutes later, Valeria discreetly presented Bill with a bag of feminine hygiene products she’d collected from other staff members.  While I am sure this problem has come up before, I doubt it happens often.  On our first cruise, I was the youngest one onboard at age 40.  The second one included a couple of younger women, but for the most part, people on Princess tend to be silver haired and well past their childbearing years.  Valeria handled the situation like a champ.

I had enough supplies to get me through the night.  The next morning, the purser gave me a hug and wished us well.  I was later able to get the products I needed (and I have never made that mistake again).  We got back to North Carolina a few days later and took care of MacGregor until we sent him to the Rainbow Bridge on December 18, 2012, after we learned of what was really ailing him.

A month later, we adopted Arran.  We named him after one of the beautiful islands we visited in Scotland.  He remains a wonderful companion, though I just found out last week that he had a cancerous mast cell tumor (which was hopefully entirely removed).  I only hope when we get on Princess in March, he’ll still be just fine.

My MacGregor memorial…

Scotland video…  which is a little less emotional.

Anyway, with service like that, I knew we had to sail Hebridean Princess again, especially after mom raved about it last week.  I can hardly wait.  And I am hoping that this time, we have no sick dogs or menstrual catastrophes.

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And finally, how my late beagle Flea helped break down barriers in Germany…

We lost our beagle, Flea, in November 2009, right after we moved back to the States from Germany.  While we lived in Germany, Flea ended up being both a hinderance and a help to us.  Most of the adults didn’t like him because he was really loud and obnoxious.  Kids loved him, though, and he did help break the ice between us and our German neighbors.  The featured picture is of MacGregor, who also helped us meet people.  Below, is Flea when we still lived in Germany the first time.

Flea

Flea, canine ambassador, helps us break cultural barriers in Germany!

Sep 12, 2008 (Updated May 9, 2012)

The Bottom Line If you live in a German neighborhood, it’s good to have dogs.

It’s hard to believe that on September 17, 2008, my husband Bill and I will have been living near Stuttgart, Germany for an entire year. The time has gone by fast and, after just a little bit of a culture shock and six weeks spent in a hotel, I find that I actually really love living here.

Bill and I have been very lucky since we arrived in Germany. First off, we didn’t get stuck living in a stairwell apartment on any of the local military installations. Bill is an Army officer and, as such, is subject to strict rules regarding housing. The biggest rule is that if there is housing available on a military installation, the servicemember must accept it unless he or she has a very compelling reason not to. As it turned out, when we first arrived in Germany, a lot of the housing was being renovated or was otherwise occupied. That meant that we were allowed to live in German housing on the economy. We ended up finding a huge house in a charming little town about twenty miles south of Stuttgart. The area is beautiful and authentic. Better yet, we have quiet and privacy.

A lot of people prefer the stairwell apartments on post because they are convenient. After all, people who live in those quarters are surrounded by their fellow Americans. Work, school, and shopping are closeby and the area is certainly secure, since armed guards man the entrances. If Bill and I had children, perhaps living on post would have been worthwhile for us. However, living off post and out in the country has turned out to be great… mainly because after ten months, I’m finally starting to get to know and like my German neighbors!

Even though Bill and I first moved into our house in November 2007, it’s only been very recently that we’ve started talking with our next door neighbors. Their household consists of an older couple and their daughter, her husband, and their adorable little two year old boy. When we first moved into our house, I immediately sensed that the family patriarch next door didn’t trust us. He seemed to gaze at our unkempt lawn with contempt, while his lawn and garden were kept pristine. Once, when my dogs were barking at him through the window, I saw him yelling back at them… of course, I couldn’t hear what he was saying because he was in his glass enclosed patio area. Even if I could hear him, I wouldn’t have been able to understand him. But his facial expressions and body language said a lot.

Ironically, it was our dogs that eventually got us talking to each other. My older dog, Flea, is a beagle who sort of behaves like a little canine ambassador. He loves children of all ages and is especially enchanted by little ones. The little boy next door, an adorable tyke with blond curls, is certainly worthy of enchantment. Every time we took Flea outside and he heard the little boy, Flea would start to whine. The little boy seemed equally intrigued by Flea and MacGregor (my other beagle). He would stand at the edge of his lawn and gaze at the dogs as if he longed to pet them.

One day, Flea saw the boy and let out a pained, eager yelp, which made the boy’s parents laugh. Bill took the dogs to the edge of the lawn and starting using his very basic German skills. It turned out the younger couple spoke some English. They chatted for a bit while Flea eyed the two year old, who shyly backed away. But it wasn’t long before the boy finally started to pet Flea, who was as gentle as a lamb.

After that, I noticed the family was a lot friendlier. We would trade “Guten Morgens” in the mornings and wave cordially. Flea would continue to fret whenever the boy was outside, amusing everybody.
One day a few weeks ago, the boy’s mother stood at the edge of our yards with a small bucket and asked me in German if we liked raspberries. Apparently, they’d had a bumper crop! With that invitation, Flea dragged me over to where she was standing, eager to visit with her little boy, who was hiding behind her. She apologized for her English skills, which I thought were pretty darn good. We ended up chatting for awhile and she confessed that her son had developed a fascination for dogs.

A couple of weeks later, when Flea demanded to have a chat with the toddler next door, the boy’s mother said that she and her husband had bought the boy a toy dog. He had named it Flea and slept with it every night! Also, the boy had taken to using the word English word “dog” instead of the German word, “hund”. We both had a big laugh when I asked her if she knew what the word “flea” means in English. I soon found myself describing what a flea is and telling her that Flea’s rescuer had been the one to name him! Her little boy presented me with a little branch full of cherry tomatoes he’d helped his dad grow in their green house. The boy’s mom said she hoped they were sweet enough.

The other night, Bill was working late and I found myself chatting with the neighbors again. The family patriarch had joined us. I was a little worried about how he would react to Flea and MacGregor being nearby, since they had seemed to annoy him when we first moved in. But when Flea went up to him, he seemed happy to give him lots of attention. Apparently, he’d had dogs as a boy, though he was not familiar with beagles… for which I finally learned the German word. I haven’t seen many beagles in Germany and have actually been stopped a couple of times by neighbors who have asked me if Flea and MacGregor are beagles. I get the feeling they aren’t common here, though people seem to think they’re pretty cute. On the other hand, I’m not sure that many Germans understand that beagles bay when they get on a scent. I’ve gotten a lot of surprised and annoyed looks at times…

Since we’ve been in Germany, my dogs have helped me break the ice with my German neighbors all around. I also get the feeling that they provide some entertainment for the local children. A couple of months ago, we were victims of repeated “ding dong ditching”. A local prankster would ring our doorbell in the early evening, then run away. Of course, it would get the dogs going, which I’m sure was the purpose for the prank. We ended up disconnecting all of our doorbells. In a way, that’s not a bad thing. Most of the people who ring our doorbell nowadays are people trying to sell something… including religion.

It’s true that getting our dogs to Germany and taking care of them here has been, in some ways, a challenge. And goodness knows we’d be able to travel more if we didn’t have our dogs to consider. On the other hand, I doubt I’d be getting to know the neighbors if it weren’t for Flea and his affection for kids. I think having our dogs is going to really enrich this whole international experience for us. And MacGregor, as shy as he can be, is even getting in on the act!

 

MacGregor is looking at the camera while Flea looks off to the side…

 

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