15 January 2006

2005 Christmas Letter

This is an extended and hyperlinked version of the Christmas letter we sent out to people this year. Yes, it didn't go out until 2006. Yeah, I know. We're bad.

Jeannette, Santa & Me
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our friends and family!

We have now joined the realms of the Christmas-letter-writing crowd. I guess we are getting to that age.

Since we moved to Germany in October of 2004, we have experienced a lot of new things. Last Christmas was still pretty hectic, though, and so we apologize that we were unable to send holiday greetings to you all then. That just gives us more to talk about this year, really. (Unless you regularly read our blogs - then you might find that this letter is just the back-flap summary of our year.)

Last year we spent our first two months in Germany (October - November 2004) living in a hotel/apartment - one room that contained the bed and tv, plus a separate kitchen and a bath. While our employer was willing to let us stay there a couple more months, it didn't take us long to decide that it wasn't going to work. (The catalyst was the first night that one person couldn't sleep, but had nowhere to go.) We looked at many apartments - liking some better than others, obviously - to get a feel for what was available.

In early November we found a great apartment on the river and close to work - not only enough rooms and doors for non-sleepers to be able to be awake, but a guest room so that all y'all can come visit. (Just not all at the same time). Now it even has a bed (the guest room, that is, our room had a bed from the first day on)!

Even though we hadn't been here long and we were used to the method of vacation accrual our companies used in the States (i.e., spread across the whole year), when December came around our company told us to go on vacation for two weeks because vacation is given here as a lump sum and needs to be completely used every year. It took us a while to get used to that idea, but we decided to go to England, visiting an old friend of Jeannette's and overlapping with the vacation of a friend from Colorado who was also on vacation in the UK at the time. Thus, we spent our first German Christmas, not in our apartment in Germany, but in a hotel in London with 30 of our newest, closest friends.

Stonehenge & Lens Flare
The new year started out (once we had woken up from the party on NYE) with a trip to Stonehenge where the demons dwell and the banshees live (and they do live well). You can't get much more traditional than that. Allan feels that it is the best henge he has ever seen, and indubitably stone.

Heilbronner Faschingsumzug #2
By February, Jeannette was feeling right at home, and making German tourist plans - Fasching (Carnival) was coming, and childhood memories came flooding back. She wanted to share with Allan the fun of a Black Forest celebration. The good news was that this would be easy, because Heilbronn (that is where we live, by the way) would, for the first time in 20 years, host a Fasching parade - an occurance that is still only scheduled on 4 year rotations (that puts it right up there with the Olympics, World Cup & presidential elections), so obviously not to be missed on this one. To top it off, the parade was going to go right past our house. It met Jeannette's expectations, but was marred by the fact that years ago Jeannette was traveling in a pack of girls, and hence a focus of the parade antics, but this year, as a married woman, was overlooked in favor of a group of girls with devil horns who rather inconveniently took up place right next to us. Allan (benefitting from proximity?) received a condom as a favor from one of the floats, and when a witch with a bota offered Jeannette a drink, some spilled on her camera, dissolving the orange juice crud gumming up her camera's shutter release since our trip to Finland in 2001. (Lucky lucky, you're so lucky!)
Heilbronner Faschingsumzug #7

Allan had a bit of culture shock when he found out he had to throw his own birthday party at work - he is still trying to figure out if that is just a joke played on the new guy, or if it really is a German custom. Afraid of violating German laws, he complied.

Icy Münchnen
March hosted the coldest week of the century (and I mean a hundred years, not just THIS century). Allan had a business trip to Munich and nearly didn't make it because the train switches froze (aren't you glad you aren't the person whose job it is to run in front of the train and switch them manually?), and once he got there, he never left the hotel due to the arctic conditions. Jeannette was home alone, and one day didn't get to work until an hour late, because she just couldn't bear the thought of going outside. It was really cold. And we grew up in Iowa and know what cold is. So trust us. It was cold.

Reflections in Nürnberg
Later that month, after the Ice Age ended, Allan's mom and stepdad took their first trip to Europe, and didn't come to see us. We went to see them, though, meeting their boat in Nuernberg, and entertaining them for their four hours of "personal time". The boat trip through Europe probably treated them better than we could've, so all worked out well - they left with promises to return.

Randy, Missy, Brigitte, Me, Jeannette
Shortly thereafter, we jet-setted back to Iowa to visit family and attend the wedding of the year. With Jeannette married off and off the family's rolls (something her parents had long ago given up hope of), the way was finally open for Brigitte, the next youngest sister, to get married as well. And marry she did. But that's their story, not ours.

Brigitte & Randy's Wedding

We had a fabulous weekend in Dresden, leading into a work trip for Allan, and luckily got there the weekend of the International Beer Mile. We also saw some sites in town. Unfortunately, the morning of Jeannette's departure she got very sick, and the last day was spent walking from park bench to park bench and trying not to vomit. After the weekend, Allan sadly put her on a train, where she suffered the 6 hour ride home in blissful silence. The next day Allan caught it, so that finally he understood how brave and strong Jeannette had been. This also put a damper on his business trip.

Late May was Heilbronn's Trollinger Marathon. In a fit of insanity, we were convinced to run the half-marathon with colleagues. We trained pretty steadily from January on, and things were looking good with one week to go. The day of the race, though, was a blistering 36°C (that's gotta be at leas t 92°F [hard-core dance for y'all]). While taking pictures before the race, we were sweating. It was pretty miserable, but we finished. I think it might have taken us longer to walk the kilometer back from the finish line to our house than the 5 km before that, but we got home and went to bed for the rest of the day.

Really, other than that day, the weather for the summer was gorgeous. We were pretty good about getting out and about, hiking and biking up to Wartberg (a watch tower/restaurant in the vineyards outside town), taking part in a 40 km bike ride for which the highways were blocked, and again enjoying our location as the Neckarfest - a riverside festival with bands playing on the islands and barges, and fireworks - took place right outside our window. This was an especially convenient location, as Jeannette had been recruited for work's co-ed dragon boat team. This was also an excuse for the first party we had at our apartment, and we made way too much food for the number of people we invited, forcing us to eat Velveeta and Ro*tel for the next 37 days.

In July, the Heilbronn skyline became much more interesting - the largest church tower in town had been under renovation and covered with scaffolding when we moved to town, but was finally finished this summer. What we knew only as a shapeless blue blob is now a beautiful work of art that we can see every day from our balcony.

With more friends visiting Europe as the impetus, we drove to Brussels (via northern Germany, the North Sea coast, and France). It is a good thing we have friends to visit, or we might not go anywhere!

August rolled around and the Volksfest set up on a field near our apartment. Kind of like a county fair, there were amusement park rides, beer tents and live bands every night. There were also coupons for buy one, get one free chickens and liters of beer every night from 5 to 7 pm, so for 2 weeks we were sorted for food & friends.
Drunken Allanimal 2

This was followed by the Weindorf - 40 local vintners set up stands on and around the main market square and served up their wares, together with more live bands and food. For another week, we were sorted. (Gripped!) And rounding out the festival season, Bad Wimpfen (a renaissance town just up the road) held their 614th annual Zunftmarkt - a market where leather and black smiths, for example, could sell their products. After the summer festival season ended, we had remember how to cook again.

Garden of the Gods Silhouette

Sometimes it felt like Allan travelled more for work this year than he did when we lived in the States. In September, he went once again to Colorado for a 2-week business trip, and he got to satisfy his cravings for food readily available in America but not Germany (mainly a good hamburger, anything Mexican, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups). He also had a close encounter with a bear on a Colorado highway and was nearly eaten by a mountain lion that was stalking his hotel.
Mountain Lion in Area

Jeannette, Julie & the Pylon
Just a couple days after Allan's return to Germany, we met one of Jeannette's old friends (she's not old, she's been Jeannette's friend since ye oldene days) in Switzerland. While there, we pretended to site-see while talking non-stop. Using our museum pass, we were the last to be kicked out of one museum the first night, and the first to go back in the next day, because we hadn't seen things properly the first time. We went together to the point where the three countries (Germany, France and Switzerland) meet. With no border control there (or even lines painted on the ground like on the maps), we weren't really convinced that it was an officially recognized border, but it was a nice photo op. As our companion returned to her conference, we moved on to Lucerne, where we stayed in a converted prison and toured the covered bridges and medieval fortifications while taking in the mountain scenery. Unfortunately, we had overestimated the weather, and ended up wearing our single jeans and sweatshirts every day all week, until the day we got up to get on a train headed home. Of course, that day the weather was beautiful, and we could finally put our clean shorts on.

Heuchelberg Vineyards

In October, we saw our first autumn in Baden-Württemberg, and were inspired by the fantabulous changing colors of the vineyards. With many weekend bike rides and camera-toting hikes, Allan captured (and released) many images.

Later, Allan made Jeannette go to Stuttgart, where we were surprised to find an exhibit on the Roman occupation of the area, which had nice interactive portions, such as trying on Roman clothes, listening to Roman music and praying to Roman gods, which apparently was so exciting that a girl (not Jeannette) puked. Since Allan made Jeannette go, he gets the blame for her tripping on a staircase and twisting her ankle. He is still paying off his debts to his lovely wife through manual labor. But at least we found a good place to get ethnic food missing in Heilbronn.

Jeannette started taking a German class, which has had some interesting effects, such as meeting new people and learning new words. The class is advanced grammar for fluent non-natives, and she spends time discussing random grammar rules that not even Germans know. For Allan, this means that he has time every Thursday to buy presents for Jeannette (remember what happened in Stuttgart).

The November excursion was to Worms. As in the Diet of, not earth, ring, or fried. Worms is the home to the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe, and it provided the subject for Allan's most critically acclaimed photograph so far (on the left). Also, many seemingly innocent questions posed to Jeannette even today can trigger a quick lecture on Middle-high German epic poetry, influenced by this trip and Worms' Nibelungen Museum and a similarly named movie. While in Worms, we got hungry, but found ourselves in a non-restaurant side of town. After finding several closed restaurants, we found a bar claiming "good, common cuisine". While we normally aim for the uncommon, we were getting desperate, and so we went in and asked for a menu. The large bartender, who had his own weather system and several small satellites orbiting, shuffled over and said, "Today we have meat with potatoes and carrots. Do you want one or two?" hmmm. no choices? Choices sometimes just complicate things. OK, bring us two. It was wondrousful and taste-a-licious.

December, the season of Christmas markets, inspired a new batch of day (and longer) trips. With the opening of a new train line, we had a good excuse and an appointment to go to Öhringen, where we, and (according to the local paper) 49,996 other people, rode the train for free, visited the Christmas market, drank Glühwen, ate Flammkuchen, Wurst and Pommes. We attended the first 30 minutes of a school Christmas concert, which left us wondering - if we noticed that they sang "We wish you a Merry Christmas and a HEPPY New Year", how many things do we say just that tiny bit wrong?


Weihnachtsmarkt in Limburg
Later in the month, we travelled north to visit some friends and the Christmas markets in Oberhausen, Koeln, Limburg, and Trier. While in the car munching on carrots and toffees, Allan lost a crown. Jeannette's morbid curiousity and lack of crown experience had her trying to subtly stare into Allan's mouth, sometimes with a flashlight. It looked pretty nasty, but apparently the black crud was all just old cement. The dentist praised Allan's German and his toughness, but didn't give him a lollipop. The repair cost us a mere €18. Hurray for German health insurance! Together with our visitors from the US we toured in Koeln, Venlo (in the Netherlands) and Trier. Our first overnight guests stayed with us on Christmas day, and we took the opportunity to visit Schwäbisch Hall, a beautiful town very near us, but inaccessible (not easily, anyway) until the new train line (mentioned above) opened.

The year ended on a sad note, because both of us lost grandparents in the month of December, but looking back at this year we also received news of at least 5 weddings and 5 babies (both safely arrived and on-the-way) and many other happy moments. We hope that your year was as exciting as ours, and we are happy to have the opportunity to share it with you. We would love to hear from you as well, and would enjoy it even more if you could find the occasion to visit.

We each have a blog that can help you keep in touch with us:
Jeannette's is at: http://xhiler8ion.blogspot.com
Allan's is: http://allanimal.blogspot.com

Happy New Year from both of us!

Allan & Jeannette

PS: Some of you have asked about our pets that had to stay behind when we moved. Coco and Tort were happily living with a family with 3 kids who loved to play with them both. Unfortunately, old age caught up with Coco this year, but Tort is still swimming happily and playing with her new family.


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