Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Market Tour 2012

So last Saturday, our whole family set out on our first German adventure together. Not wanting the Christmas Market season to pass us by this first year, we joined a USO Christmas Market tour/Train Orientation several weeks ago. I was so excited to go, especially after hearing from so many how beautiful the Christmas markets are and also wanting to learn more about how the train system works here.

Since we are still without a vehicle, we had to rely on a couple of friends to get us to the train station (where the USO tour guide met us for the tour) and then back to our hotel. Just getting to the train station was pretty exciting. My friend’s GPS cut out and we ended up taking the scenic route around Kaiserslautern. We finally found a sign for the Hauptbahnhof (the train station) and started following those signs until some of the landmarks started to match up with the directions I had received from the USO. It was a little crazy because we weren’t sure we were going to make it on time, but we did and I learned I could find my way by being able to look for those Hauptbahnhof signs. J

At the train station, we met our wonderful USO tour guide, Joanne, and a trainee that was with her training for the tour, Emma, and also found out that instead of the two we originally signed up for, we would be going to three Christmas markets. Joanne explained that there was more than enough time to do all three, so why not? J Both of these ladies were amazing to me because they have really become experts in what they do and enjoy sharing it with those who come on the tours. I enjoyed listening to and talking with them so much because they know so much about the area and the culture and because I have so much to learn. Before we got on the train, Joanne and Emma gave us an orientation of sorts about the train system in Germany. The train system, and Germany’s entire system of public transportation really, can be overwhelming and empowering at the same time. They make it so very easy for people to get around the entire country without having to drive their own vehicles, but there is a lot to learn. Joanne said it could take up to 3 train orientations to start to feel comfortable or you can just embark on your own and try things out.

After the brief train orientation, we went downstairs to purchase our tickets. In the middle of our group transaction, our machine actually shut down after taking some of Joanne’s money. Later, some of the other tourgoers (yes, I just made up that word) joked that Joanne was so calm about it because she knew she would be reimbursed by the USO, but that if it had happened to them, they probably would have just given up and left. J We also ended up in First Class on our first train by accident since there was no more space for us in the forward cars of the train. Joanne was, again, so calm - “We’ll just talk to the conductor later on.” I felt so bad for the guy who was sitting by himself probably looking forward to a quiet train ride and then, all of us climbed into his space with our excited kids and slightly tired baby. He was very gracious, though, and when we got off the train apologizing for our intrusion, he just smiled and said, “No problem. Have a good day.”

And then we were off the train and on to our first Christmas market, which was in Neustadt, aka Neustadt an der Weinstra├če (new city on the Wine Route). Someone had commented that Christmastime in Germany is like a fairy tale and I would say that is accurate –it’s like being transported back in time just a little. We had to walk about ten minutes to get to the Christmas Market and along the way I just admired the architecture of some of the older buildings. The architecture is so diverse and I’m still learning so I have no idea during what time period most of those beautiful buildings were built. On the way, Joanne showed us a very interesting and beautiful fountain, called the Elwedritsche Fountain. The sculptors are Gernot and Barbara Rumpf, natives to Neustadt. Joanne enjoyed sharing stories about all the different scenes going on within the fountain and explained that the locals attribute political/societal implications to them. Like, for instance, there is a scene where animals are walking into an open bag. She said some people say that illustrates how people will bury their head in the sand and ignore important issues. I can’t remember all the others, but it would be fun to go back and see it again sometime. The sculptors' signature is a mouse, so she asked all the kids to find the mouse while she talked to us.

When we arrived at the Christmas Market, Joanne made sure we all knew how to get back to the train station, gave us our time to meet up there, and then let us loose. There were lots of festive Christmas decorations, food and other vendors, some rides for the kids, and merry music. Since it was lunchtime, we hit up a bratwurst stand and also grabbed our first mugs of Gluhwein, which is a warm German Christmas drink made of Dornfelder wine and other spices. As well as Gluhwein, they have what’s called Kinder punch (which is just non-alcoholic Gluhwein) for kids and Allen got to enjoy some of that. As well as enjoying the Gluhwein, you can choose to keep the festive mug they give it to you in, which we did. J If you turn it back in to them, however, they’ll give you back a few Euro. Joanne, at the beginning of our time in Neustadt, actually gave us all plastic bags so we could easily collect our mugs. I imagine that by the end of our time here, we’ll probably have a sizable mug collection. The Neustadt Christmas Market was small, but we still enjoyed it so much, especially not having anything to compare it to and it being our first time out and about in the German community.

After about an hour and a half there, we got back on the train and headed east to Deidesheim. There, we got to see another fountain by the same people who had sculpted the one in Neustadt and again, the kids were requested to search for a mouse. Since it was a bigger market and we didn’t have as much time to visit there as we’d had in Neustadt, Joanne let us loose sooner. There were quite a significant number more vendors of all kinds and we found a beautiful hand-crafted Christmas ornament, shared some more Gluhwein, and collected a few more mugs. J It started raining while we there, but it didn’t dampen anybody’s spirits or slow down the crowds – they just kept on going about their business with umbrellas or none at all, occasionally taking shelter under a vendor’s large covered tables. We were only there about an hour and then, it was back on the train to Freinsheim.

Freinsheim is beautiful and, I think of the three places we visited, it would be the one I would want to see again the most - maybe because we didn’t have as much time in the daylight and because I couldn’t take as many pictures there because my camera batteries had started to go dead. One of the most beautiful and interesting features of the town is that it is walled-in. Joanne took us around quite a bit of the wall before leading us to the Christmas Market and the site of where a live Nativity play was going to take place. Before the Nativity play, we walked around a bit. Either we didn’t look hard enough or went in the wrong direction because we did not find as many vendors there as even in Neustadt. But, it was also the end of the day, so that may have been why. Around 5pm, the Nativity play began. All the narration and singing was done in the native Palatinate dialect and even though we couldn’t understand the words, many of the songs we did since they were familiar. J It was quite the attraction – lots of locals and visitors -  to the point where you couldn’t see the play very well from the back. Luckily, we were standing right near where the play participants made their entrance, so we got to see all the sweet angels and shepherds while they were waiting. J We also had to smile and laugh a little to see the Three Wise Men drinking some Gluhwein prior to taking part in the play. J The play didn’t last very long and afterwards, I got to talk with Joanne and Emma quite a bit while Jerry, Allen, and Lucy found a medieval store that sold play swords and shields. And, yes, Allen managed to bring one of each home. He was seriously excited! From where we were inside Freinsheim, it was about a twenty-minute walk back to the train station. We did lots of walking that day.


By the time we were heading home, it was just around 6:30pm. It got pretty busy on the train when we hit Deidesheim as other people were heading home, but once we hit Neustadt again, everybody headed for different trains. Lucy shared very clearly with us on the train back to Kaiserslautern that her threshold for all the fun that day had been reached, but other than that, it was a pretty quiet ride. And, considering Lucy’s very vocal nature and just how long we had been on-the-go, she really did so very well that day. When we finally got back to the hotel that night, a little after 8pm, we were all truly and happily exhausted.
I know Allen’s favorite things were riding the train, the Kinder punch, getting to walk and run around, and the medieval store. Jerry’s favorite thing for sure was the Gluhwein. J Lucy enjoyed many things that day – the train ride, the music, and just getting out and about. I have a hard time saying just what I enjoyed the most because I enjoyed it all. Being at the hotel so much, it was just a treat to get out and see and be in the German community. I’m most looking forward to doing more of that as we get settled in. I’m so grateful that we got to see and do so much in one day and enjoy some of the Christmas market season this year. I hope it’s something we get to enjoy each year we’re here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


For those of you who are checking this blog, I wanted to make you aware of a prayer request on behalf of one of my very dear friends. The weekend I left Tulsa, a dear girlfriend of mine and her family were supposed to come into town to visit with me. However, on Thursday, August 2, my friend called me to tell me that she and her husband had just been informed by his doctor that it was very likely he had testicular cancer. This came as an incredible shock to all of us and they decided not to come to town, which I understood completely. On Friday, it was confirmed cancer, and my friend's husband underwent surgery the following week to remove the cancer, and is now recovering. They are still waiting to find out what further treatments he will undergo, but please if you would do so, I would ask you to pray for them. They are currently serving in deaf ministry in Arkansas and were/are in the process of moving to Thailand for further training. They have two sons, one of which is nearly just a year old, the other just turned 3. Please pray for healing for him and for strength for my friend as she is taking all of this on. Pray above all that God would be glorified in their lives as they go through this. This is just one of many health issues that seem to be plaguing them at the moment, but they are trusting God completely to work in and through all these things. I always am grateful for your prayers and know so well that God hears them. Thank you for keeping up with me. I'm going to post again soon and try to catch you up on all my sojourning adventures!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I've delayed for too long

To sum it up -

My husband has joined the Army and is currently away at training, my little Allen (now 8 1/2 months old) and I have taken up the ancient practice of sojourning and are currently living with friends in Tulsa for another week or so, after which we will be leaving Tulsa, the home that I've known for nearly ten years, to stay with my parents in El Paso until the Army tells us where to go (and I can guarantee it won't be Tulsa), my stepdaughter and her son left our home a few months ago in dramatic and somewhat devastating fashion and have returned back to California, it is my husband's 42nd birthday today and he was due to take a PT (physical training) test and I still haven't heard how he did, my dear Tabitha Grace (my black-and-white cat who I've had almost as long as I've been in Tulsa) died today, one of my dearest friends (and whose house I'm living in) just got back from the Philippines today, one of my other dear friends' mothers-in-law is having health trouble, one of my dearest friends is investigating something she found in her breast, her deaf husband had a seizure a few months ago and is not allowed to drive himself around for a year, they are in the process of moving to Thailand with their two young boys next year, and are also coming to visit me the last weekend I am in Tulsa, my brother and his wife are preparing to move to New York City in October, my great-grandmother was buried in Belfast, Maine about a month ago, I'm hoping to visit my aging grandparents in Florida this October with Allen before time gets away from us, and Harry Potter's incredible story just came to an close. (The last one is not so dramatic, but it just seems to fit along with the theme of change for me right now.)

All this to say that life is going on and God is still in control. Otherwise, I don't know how I could very well endure most of the changes that life has brought and is bringing me and some of my very closest friends and family.

WOW! I really needed to get that out.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

belle of the borderland ball

Well, here I am in the west Texas town of El Paso, NOT falling in love with a Mexican girl, which I'm sure my husband and many others are thankful for. But, I am falling more in love with my little boy, who has achieved some milestones since coming down here. (By the way, the people in the picture above are my big brother Jonathan, the uncle - who as of yesterday is a big 24 years old -- geez! -- and little Allen, his nephew. Don't they look so very cute?) Little Allen has rolled over and back all by himself now and continues to sleep through the night longer as I give him opportunity to do so. He's learning to be content by himself for longer periods (but never TOO long) and is expanding his vocal horizons by covering the octaves in a few seconds (I remember Cathy warning me about this - how fun!). At first, it was hard to tell whether he was screaming in pain or just exploring his voice. But, he thought it was quite funny that I would appear out of nowhere and look worried when he made this noise, so I caught on pretty quickly. On that note, I can definitely say he enjoys talking to himself while waiting for me to come get him up from naps and will occassionally wake up an hour earlier than his normal morning wake-up time and talk himself back to sleep. He really is such a "good baby." I hate saying that, because what does that even mean, but that is all I can think of to describe his temperament. And, he is very social. He'd take a person's attention anyday over any toy and whenever he's upset, most often he can be soothed just by someone coming over and giving him some attention. He's just like his momma in this way, I think. As time goes by, he just continues to capture places in my heart I never knew existed and I catch myself many times just wanting to take in everything about him every moment of the day. Alas, that will never be reality, but being down here without so many other responsibilities has been so very refreshing for me. I have had "more time" to enjoy him and feel even more bonded to him than ever now.

As for my time down here (now that I'm done raving about my adorable son) -
It has been pretty nice. My parents are enjoying spending time with Allen and clicking pictures of him. We've had a few weird moments, but nothing too out of the ordinary. It hasn't been exactly like I expected, but every family is different, and while my dad could spend seemingly every waking moment with Allen, my mom could go either way. It's been interesting to say the least, but don't get me started.

My dad has been out of town this week training in Arizona and before he left, we celebrated my brother's upcoming birthday. It was quite fun. For those of you who don't know, my brother is a pastry chef and he works at a place here in El Paso called The Greenery (he works in what's called the Greenery Market and Bakery). He is really quite the celebrity and does so well at what he does, enjoys it, and every time I get close to his work and hear his passion for it, I just grow more proud and inspired. Well, anyways, we had dinner at the Greenery Restaurant, and it was such an experience for me. Only my brother and dad ordered something that the executive chef prepared himself and when my mom and I made comments on how the food was presented (being the "hicks" that we are), my brother thought it was so funny that he asked the executive chef to come by and see us. Not really a big deal for him, since he knows the guy, but I was really impressed to have the chef explain and show such passion for his presentation of a meal. The staff sang Happy Birthday and then we were treated to a variety of the things Jonathan prepares for dessert. I wish we had taken a picture, because I felt like royalty - the staff brought four trays, each with two different desserts. We were able to split up all the desserts and then each of us was able to have a taste of whatever we wanted! It was so fun! To top it all off, the Greenery quietly footed our bill as a gift to Jonathan. It's such an encouragement to me to see a staff that has such a high regard for not only their work, but for each other. They value each other's work and it's so obvious because all night, the interaction between him and all the staff was so genuine. And it's always a joy to see people who truly ENJOY what they do.

Also, last Saturday, I got to spend some time with my wonderful sister-in-law, Tianna. It was fun to actually get a chance to spend some time with her apart from my brother, which rarely happens since our visits to El Paso are normally so short. We went to see the movie Premonition and got to talk in the car. I would never have guessed the girl could talk like she did (this is not to say anything bad about her at all, in fact just the opposite, but you must understand that when my brother is around, he pretty much dominates a conversation) and I enjoyed getting to know more about her.

This week has been pretty quiet, since my mom has gone back to work after spring break and my dad is out of town. My brother's actual birthday was yesterday and I made Betty Crocker cupcakes. My brother says I can't lay any claim to them since they came from a box. I understand.

I also had to learn to drive a stick shift again, which I was extremely nervous about. It was either relearn stick, walk everywhere, try to ride the bus, or stay home. Desperation played a big role. But, my first time out with my dad last Saturday went pretty well and I didn't stall the car out once. Yeah me!!!

Please pray for my mom - she is having foot surgery next Tuesday and will be home recovering. It's nothing too serious, but she has been suffering pain from a hammer toe and bunnions and has finally decided to have something done about them before the condition gets much worse.

I have to admit the days have been kind of long, since I am temporarily Allen's only caregiver. I'm so spoiled by my husband - he normally takes the last and first feedings of the day, so I can sleep, rest, and have some "metime" - but it hasn't been too bad, either. I miss hubby and I know he misses us. I will definitely look forward to that little extra sleep, rest, and space when I get back.

Speaking of which, now would be an excellent time for me to go to bed. (And, I don't care what Blogger says, this blog post was completed around 1 in the morning.)

Monday, February 05, 2007

only the beginning

There they are - three of the most important women in my life. From left to right, my great-grandmother Avis, my mother, and my grandmother Betty. This picture was taken a little over three years ago, in September of 2003 - the year I was married and the year my brother graduated from college as a pastry chef. It was the last great family vacation (a big one, truly) before my brother and I married our spouses and was definitely two weeks I will not soon forget. This was also the last time I got to visit at all with my great-grandmother, whose house was sold the next summer when she was moved to a nursing home in Florida.

I remember talking to my parents the weekend before they went to visit her that summer the house was sold. No one had shared with me that the house I had made so many summer memories in was being sold. I only found out by accident and I was crushed! I couldn't believe there would be no more memories of my own, my children or any of my family for that matter made within those precious walls. And, I couldn't believe my great-grandmother was being moved from the home she had lived in for so long. It turned out it was only the beginning of the end for Grammy.

And, so I have some very sad news to share. While my little baby boy's life is just beginning, another one very dear to me has come to its earthly end. My great-grandmother, Avis Bradstreet, passed away two Tuesday evenings ago at the age of 93 in her nursing home in Florida. Her condition, primarily Alzheimer's, had been progressively worsening and was complicated by a fall she took that broke her hip in the latter part of last year. She wasn't getting around much due to this complication and because of her Alzheimer's, she didn't have memory of anyone except my grandmother, who visited her everyday. She was in a lot of pain, was on a lot of medication which made her sleepy most of her days, and wasn't eating well. About a month ago when I talked to my grandmother, I had a feeling her end was coming soon. From what my grandmother shared with me, the nurses said she went fast and just passed away in her sleep.

I remember my great-grandmother with so much love! And, it has been so hard to know she is in pain and see her body deteriorate over the past few years. Until I moved to Tulsa and really started to call this place home, hers was the one our entire family referred to whenever we said home. Whenever we visited her, I could hardly wait to turn onto Bayview Street, see that sea-green house, and her coming out to meet us. I have another post brewing about her house because the house alone just conjures up so many memories for me. But for now, I just want to share that -

Within the walls of my great-grandmother's house, I

Spent many summers with my family
Received many hand-me-down nightgowns from my grandmother (the kind that were perfect for twirling around and feeling all girly in-oh, they were so very beautiful!)
Watched my grandmother live out her faith
Watched her read My Daily Bread every morning
Watched her enjoy solving a great crossword (and when I got older, I even tried to help and really thought my grandmother had to be very smart to finish something so difficult)
Sat around the table in her huge kitchen and shared meals with my family
Helped her clean
Explored her house (she really had a huge house!)
Played hide-and-go-seek with my brother
Listened to the sound of the water coming in on the beach on those summer nights
Snuggled with my Grammy in her humongous king bed and watched Johnny Carson late at night, which always made me feel really special (and remember, late night on the east coast is REALLY late)
Upset my grandmother when my brother and I would fight
Learned how to make coffee
Discovered dentures for the first time
Teased my great-grandmother about her precious New England accent - "Spahkle papeh towels"
First learned what it means to lead a life well lived and that you don't have to accomplish "huge" things by the world's standards to make a difference
Learned the beauty of stillness
Was my great-grandmother's sweet pea
Always hated to leave
And always got so excited to see that sea green house on Bayview Street that was home to the dearest grandmother my life has ever known!

I loved my Grammy and will miss her dearly. I’m excited that her life beyond this earth is beginning and sad that she is no longer here. Her love has forever etched its mark on my life and her legacy will be shared with my children and beyond. In the words of Mercy Me, truly, "I've never been more homesick than now."