holidays

Our International Thanksgiving…

Since we moved to Germany in 2014, our Thanksgiving celebrations have been decidedly less traditional. There’s only two of us, and we have small German appliances, so it hardly makes sense to roast a turkey. Yes, I know we could just do a breast, but I like dark meat. I think in 2020, we ordered a Thanksgiving feast from a local restaurant that was obviously catering to Americans. Otherwise, we’ll often go out to eat somewhere, since it’s not a holiday in Germany, or we’ll have something more mundane.

This year, Bill’s co-worker invited us over for Thanksgiving. I almost didn’t go with Bill, because I expected a couple of important packages. The one I was most worried about showed up in the morning. I was also waiting for dog food, which we really need. Sure enough, it showed up after we left. It’s sitting at our neighbor’s house as I write this. I’m surprised they didn’t just leave it on the stoop, like they usually do.

Bill’s friend’s house is enormous and beautiful, with charming, traditional accents, as well as the amazing international furniture one tends to find when one lives abroad for many years. My mom also collected some beautiful pieces when we lived in England. I inherited a couple of pieces, but they’re in storage.

Bill’s co-workers have a living room with a gorgeous view of the village, a large dining room, a terrace, and a lovely front lawn. I was there one other time, and had occasion to use one of the bathrooms in another part of the house. I even spotted an indoor pool! They had it covered up. Bill and I haven’t had a chance to buy a lot of nice furniture. Maybe someday, we’ll get lucky and acquire some, although now that I’m half a century old, it seems almost pointless. For instance, I always wanted to buy a home of my own, but now it seems like a bad idea, as Bill talks about permanently retiring. A house seems like something a person should buy when they’re young.

As nice as our house is, and as high as our rent is, my guess is that Bill’s friends are paying even more… But it seems fitting, as they have enough furniture to fill their home, and the furniture they have is good quality. We have a bunch of stuff that could be right at home in a college dormitory. I have to admit it. I was coveting their house, even as I realize that I’m allergic to dusting, and if I had a house that nice with lovely furniture in it, it would be cluttered in a heartbeat.

We had a very convivial group last night. Several of the guys were folks Bill knew early in his Army career, back in the era of Desert Storm. Now, several of them have managed to land in Wiesbaden, where they can talk about old times, sometimes to hilarious effect. One of the guys brought his huge dog, a female Hungarian street dog who weighs about 150 pounds. He said she can’t be left alone with his other two dogs, who are also from the streets of Eastern Europe. We bonded over our street dogs from Eastern Europe, as Bill and I have Noyzi, from Kosovo (and Arran, of course). The guy also has horses, which was another reason for us to bond. I spent most of my childhood in a barn. It’s probably obvious to some people.

An enormous street dog from Hungary who was bred to fight wolves. Her name is Ki (pronounced “key”) Oma.

Ki Oma was very sweet and friendly, but apparently she wants to fight other dogs. So she gets to travel a lot. Her master actually bought a van so he could transport her more easily. We were commiserating, as I drive a Mini Cooper and we can’t get Noyzi, our enormous street dog, into the back of that.

Another couple brought their dog, a very sweet shepherd named Izzy. She and Ki Oma didn’t interact, so there wasn’t any fighting.

It was really nice to hang out with people last night. I enjoy Bill’s friends/co-workers. Hopefully, I didn’t turn anyone off too much. Two of the guys brought their wives—one was from France, and the other was German. And one of the guys was, himself, half German. Two of them were even born in the same hospital in Stuttgart! It’s plain to see how long Americans have been living in Germany. There’s a very long history, and quite a lot of Americans are actually half German, too. Some have managed to find themselves making a home here, instead of our chaotic homeland.

At one point, we were talking about Mormonism, and the French lady was fascinated. She seemed okay with giving up alcohol, tea, and coffee… but maybe might have drawn the line at the temple garments (special underwear) required for the ultra faithful who have taken out their endowments. It probably wasn’t the most appropriate dinner conversation… but then it devolved into war stories, most of which were hilarious.

Bill and his buddies from way back… I had to take a photo so I could share it with another one of the gang who wasn’t there… He became Facebook friends with me because of a mutual friend. I knew the mutual friend from college, and he knew him from the Army, and he knew Bill from being in this cohort of Desert Storm veterans (although Bill didn’t fight in Desert Storm). The world is very small when you come from a military friendly state like Virginia.

We ended the evening with a photo of the four guys who spent time in Germany in the late 80s, early 90s. It was great to see everyone so happy and healthy. I’m grateful to be here, and I was grateful for the invitation last night. It was a lot of good food, good conversation, and bonding. A fun and festive time was had by all.

When we got home, we found that Arran hadn’t invaded the basement, like he did when we saw James Taylor. But he did tear up the box that held our pizza stone. I feel like he’s been regressing since he’s been getting chemo… acting like he’s 5 years old again. But then he makes up with us in the most adorable way. Noyzi, as usual, stayed out of trouble and camped out in his room.

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Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part five…

Friday morning, after yet another excellent and much smaller breakfast, we decided to visit the town of Bitche. I first hear of Bitche when an Army friend visited there with her family. My friend and her husband are both retired Army officers who were still on active duty when they were living in Stuttgart. We met them years earlier, when we were neighbors at Fort Belvoir, an Army post in Virginia. It’s always funny to run into people on military installations worldwide!

My friend, who is now living in Hawaii, had a habit of taking road trips with her children, and one of the places they visited was Bitche, which is of particular interest to military enthusiasts. The town, which is located very close to the German border in the Moselle department of Lorraine, features an enormous citadel that dates back 800 years. I knew Bill would be interested in the citadel, but I wanted to go there because of the name of the town. I’m immature like that. 😉 Remember, I also made a point of visiting Fucking, Austria, before its name changed to Fugging, thanks to obnoxious American tourists. We even made a pilgrimage to Fuckersberg, Austria, which is basically a big field. You can easily search for and find my blog posts about those adventures from September 2015.

Bitche has the distinction of having had its Facebook page erroneously and unceremoniously shut down. It was probably because of the name, and what “bitch” means in English. Maybe some Facebook bot thought Bitche was a bullying page. The page was later reinstated, and the mayor got an apology. Anyway, Bitche is not pronounced the way we pronounce it in English, just as Fucking, Austria was not pronounced the way it was spelled. Below is a video with the pronunciation of Bitche.

It sounds kind of like “Beet’sche”

Bitche is about an hour’s drive from Sessenheim. It’s also about an hour away from Ramstein and Kaiserslautern, so it probably gets a lot of American visitors from there. We didn’t do much more in Bitche than walk around the charming village, where I saw yet another adorable European beagle. He looked like he could have been the brother to the one we saw in Sessenheim. I didn’t get a picture of him, since he was being walked by his human, who noticed me admiring his pooch. He said “Bonjour!”

I did notice a nice looking restaurant on the main drag of the town. It was called Aux Gourmand ’10. We happened to be passing it just as it was about to open for lunch. I looked them up on TripAdvisor and noticed they got encouraging reviews. Plus, regular readers of my blog may know that Bill and I have a bad habit of putting off eating for too long. I’m glad I made a point of looking on TripAdvisor with the restaurant’s actual name, since typing in “Bitche” and “Gourmand” got me porn results. Below are some shots of the village.

Aux Gourmand ’10 is clearly a popular place in Bitche. It’s very stylishly decorated, although it’s not a very large establishment. A lot of locales were dining there and appeared to be enjoying themselves and the food very much. The menu changes daily, and was presented on chalkboards on the walls and on little easels that were placed on the table. Bill and I knew we would be enjoying a gourmet meal at the hotel on Friday night, so we were a little hesitant in ordering too much. We didn’t have to worry. The portion sizes were just right, and the food and service were very good. I had a faux filet with frites and a simple green salad (which I actually finished). Bill had a salmon filet with creamy risotto and grilled vegetables. His dish was great, except the vegetables included the dreaded mushrooms. I’m glad I avoided ordering that– I have learned that a lot of “vegetable medleys” include mushrooms.

I think our waitress was a little surprised by us, though. When we came in, Bill spoke German to her. And, like a lot of French citizens who live in that area, she spoke fluent German. It wasn’t until after we ate, and she asked if we wanted dessert, that she heard us speaking English. It turned out she spoke English, too, but she didn’t seem to know what language to use with us. I think she might have actually had Bill pegged as German! He does speak restaurant German pretty well, although I’m sure he has an American accent. But maybe it’s not as obvious to a French speaker. Or maybe I’m just humoring myself.

We did indulge in dessert and espresso. I had chocolate mousse, and Bill had creme brûlée, which was excellent, because it was very fresh. Bill said he liked that it didn’t taste like it had been sitting in a fridge for hours. I think the total bill for a sumptuous lunch with wine and dessert was about 70 euros. It was money well spent. We could have gotten out of there cheaper, though. The restaurant offers plates of the day (plats du jour) that are three courses for a low price.

After lunch, we drove up to the citadel to have a look around. It was closed, although that didn’t stop some people from walking around in it. According to a sign I saw, the citadel will reopen until December 11th on March 13th. We were just a little too early! Oh well. It really isn’t very far from where we live. Maybe we’ll visit again. The citadel is massive, so I know there would be many pictures taken during a proper visit. I did enjoy the views of Bitche from the hillside on which the citadel sits. It’s worth going up there for the views alone. There’s plenty of free parking, and a garden to explore.

After our afternoon visit to the citadel in Bitche, we went back to Sessenheim for a short pause before dinner in their much venerated Michelin starred restaurant. Since that meal involved several courses, and there are many photos, I will write about that in the next post.

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advice, dogs, Germany, takeout

“Be welcome here…”

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.

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