Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nikon 1

After much thought (and since my broken down Olympus point and shoot camera is still packed up in the middle of nowhere) Clayton and I decided to get me my Christmas present early. . . a sweet Nikon 1!!  I was hesitant at first. . but we are living in Europe after all and I need to remember these moments for the rest of my life! . . right??!?

We took the pups out to play (which by the way they absolutely LOVE the snow) and I decided to try out my little gift for the first time . . . here is what I came up with :


Also took some nature shots just for practice. . . and it is absolutely wonderously winter!



Monday, December 3, 2012

House Hunter International. . . the not-so-glamorous version

It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions here in Germany as we try to locate our new dwelling place for the next two years.  Before arriving I thought it would be "neat", "cool", "an experience" to live in a traditional German house. . . maybe an old one with some character and history. . . . I didn't want one of these brand new houses that all look the same.  Boy have I changed my mind!!  Our first house we visited on the second day we were here was one I had had my eye on for a few weeks before we even arrived.  Our sponsor drove us 30 min away to the town of Kusel to view it.  From the outside it was charming!!  It was a large (6 bedroom, 3 bathroom) house with three stories and a couple of parking spaces.  Upon entering the "house" we found that most of the flooring consisted of the rubber "bubbled up" floors one might see in a medical clinic.  The few rooms that did not have this flooring were instead covered with bright blue carpet, thoroughly stained.  There were three bedrooms and a bathroom downstairs with the kitchen and the remaining bedrooms upstairs.  There was also a rather large basement.  There was no real dinning room or living room, I guess one of the bedrooms would suffice.  The overall opinion of the house was that it was just a renovated office complex.  No to that one.

The next house we went to see was a couple days later.  Again, it was huge!!  I think it was over 7 bedrooms and 3 baths, three stories AND a basement.  This house was recently renovated and had a "spanish" type flair to it.  It was ok.  Clayton loved it.  The walls were all tan. . . reminded me of an apartment building.  There was a definite living and dinning room in this house but it was all separated with walls. . . mad the house seem closed in to me. . . and we didn't need that much room.  It was also oil heating so we would have to pay and upfront price of $1K for oil.  I wasn't sold. . .
Unfortunately I did not save a picture of this house and I think it might already be taken as I can no longer find it on the website.

Gries, what a nice little house it was . . . wasn't actually little, but it was nice.  Had a good sized yard, big living room, white walls and plenty of light.  We were all excited by the end of the visit only to find out that there was no high speed Internet access . . . there went our hopes of moving into this house.

We set an appointment for a townhouse in downtown K-town and drove by the building days before our appointment.  It was located in the heart of the city with no parking spaces and we would enter the house on a road that seemed to be no larger than an alley.  Trash bags lined the street.  Not what we were looking for.

Next up . . . a charming, renovated old farmhouse located about 30 min away from work.  I had been e-mailing the owner for about a month and thought I owed it to him to at least come visit the place.  It was the worst yet!!  The inside of the house smelled like urine!  The heater was broken ("It will be working when you move it" we were informed), the backyard fence was broken, the banister upstairs was broken and he forgot to mention that it was a duplex.  He also used the word "renovated" quite loosely as the only thing that was renovated was some cheap pergo floors upstairs and some new tile in the bathroom.  It was depressing.  Upon getting back into the care I informed Clayton, "I LOVE
it!!"  You can image the look he gave me. . .

There was a beautiful house about 20 min south to the hospital and we made an appointment to see it this last Monday. . . "This could be the one" I thought.  It looked to be a newer house, had plenty of room and parking places, nice big back yard for the dogs, open fireplace, whirlpool tub, etc.  Unfortunately I called Monday afternoon to see if he could show it a little earlier than the appointment time and was informed that it was taken as of 30 min ago. . . emotional roller coaster once more.

Otterberg is a beautiful, colorful, and quaint little city that we immediately fell in love with!  There was a cottage-style house there that we made an appointment to see.  It really reminded me of 112 C Street from the outside (no brick though).  It had a really nice two car carport, which is important as it snows here and I have never lived in the snow, and a nice sized back yard with trees and a stream running through it.  When we stepped inside I wanted it.  Yes, it was small. . . yes the basement kinda smelled nasty (just slightly). . .but it was lovely! Before we even got to the upstairs we went outside to view the back yard.  We were discussing the babies (mika and milo) when the owners said. . "oh! no dogs! Absolutely no dogs!" and he wouldn't budge even though they are tiny and cute and sweet.  We left before we saw the upstairs :-(

I found a historical home that was close to 400 years old. . was listed as "on the edge of the forrest", old renovated mill.  Of course there were no pictures with the post.  We decided to check it out at about 6 pm one night (6 pm means pitch black dark here).  After getting lost several times even with the GPS we had to finally meet the owners in town and then they took us to the house from there.  It was pretty incredible from the outside.  It was a 3 story brick building with the old water mill still attached on the outside.  The inside had very tall ceilings with wood beams across the top, wood floors and a great staircase.  Unfortunately it also had a terrible kitchen straight out of the 70's complete with nasty wall paper.  The bathrooms left much to be desired as well.  This house had SO MUCH POTENTIAL, but I wouldn't dare touch it as a rental.  Oh the things I could do if I actually owned the house!

The house we are currently considering is a brand new house still under construction.  We did a walk through even though it is not ready to be moved into yet and it is really, really nice . . . and did I mention BRAND NEW?!??!  None of the dark, stained carpet, no mustard yellow bathrooms, nasty wall paper, smells of mold and dust . . . and no finders fee!  (If you rent a house through a realestate agent they charge an astronomical fee!!  Like over $2,500 straight out of your pocket!!  No thanks!!)  The owner is fine with the "little ones" and said we could paint the walls as well, as long as they are painted white again when we move out.  It is looking like a really good possibility. . .we just have to make sure high speed Internet is definitely available.  There are plenty of bedrooms in the house (5) so please come visit me!! (just wait a month or two for us to move in. . . we don't have furniture yet.  Still in the possession of the ocean carrier)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bonjour from Strasbourg, France

After a week of forms, headaches and stress we decided to take the day on Saturday and do some exploring.  We had our choice of tours from the USO on the base . . Brugge, Belgium . . Innsbruck, Austria . . Black Forest. . and Strasbourg, France (capital of the French Alsace region).

We started out at 6 a.m. and took a $35 taxi to our bus station just 11 miles away (highway robbery!!)  We then rode on the bus two hours before arriving in Strasbourg.  It was such an adventure!!  The first main stop on our walking adventure was the Cathedral Notre Dame (not to be confused with the Notre Dame in Paris) and it was spectacular!!  This Gothic cathedral took approximately 400 years to build.  The carvings were so intricate and there was the biggest organ I have ever seen hanging what seemed to be hundreds of feet above us lowly beings below.  It was here that I lit a candle honoring a dear family friend that had just passed from this life.


Continuing on our adventure we ended up in La Petite France, a section of the charming old city lining the Ill River.  Here we witnessed the quaint 16th and 17th century timbered houses already being decorated for the Christmas season.  We were able to amble around the market places and streets on our own for the next three hours . . . we ended up in multiple pastry shops. . .actually buying one eclair from one shop and eating on our way to the next where we purchased another!!  (several times of doing this finally gave us our fill of eclairs. . .until the end of the day were we bought two for the road) :-)  We were also able to try flambee which turned out to be similar to a thin crust pizza. . .only much saltier and with added grease.

We then took a river ferry around this city which was quite neat as the bridges had to be moved in order to let us pass and in several sections the water level had to be brought up to allow us access down the river.  By this time, to my everlasting shame, I was exhausted from the walking, eclairs and cold and happened to nod off for most of the time on the warm and cozy ferry.

Strasbourg is a must see in my opinion!  Loved it!  Clayton stated that we must return (with a wide angle lens of course) and that it was actually a city he would love to live it!  I must get some refresher on my French though. . . I was speaking a combination of French, Spanish, English and some German. . . trying to find anything they would understand and often getting confused myself. .

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sworn in to the Army

I am officially an employee of the United States Government!
Some random laws we have come across here: If you have a dog you must walk your dog at least 1 hour a day.  You cannot keep your dog in a kennel.  You must observe quite hours between 2200-0600 every day, all day on sundays and any German holiday.  You cannot leave your car running while parked for more than three minutes.  You must separate your trash into three separate containers: recycle, paper and waste (this is not an option).
The German government imposes a tax of 19% on everything :-(

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

We have landed!

Whewww!  Traveling with two small, high maintenance pups over two days and thousands of miles is quite an ordeal. . . . but I have to say they did quite well in spite of everything!  Mika only had an "accident" once in her carry on and Milo only had to be out of his and on our laps on all three flights to avoid continuous yipping and crying (I had to hide him under the blankets).  Once we arrived on Ramstein AFB we were absolutely exhausted. . . and looked horrible!  The 8 hour plane ride from Baltimore had caused swelling in feet, hands and face, capillaries were busted in the eyes, hair was frizzed and frayed. . . my poor supervisor must have wondered what she got herself into!  We arrived at our Temporary Living Quarters which was a massive house with 6 bedrooms and 3 baths around 3 pm.  We then promptly found a way to blow up our perfectly good HP (we were given an adapter for the outlet, but not the converter).  There was sparks, flames and smoke!  . . . and if that wasn't bad enough I then managed to fall halfway down a flight of marble stairs!  I found myself pouring silent tears and just wishing for 112 C Street and the comforts of home.  "It has to get better" I told myself repeatedly. . . only to wake up multiple times through the night for a hit of albuterol.  By the morning I was in a full-fledged asthma attack!  Good thing I brought my nebulizer, right??  This time we plugged our American machine in to the actual converter which turned out too pathetic to run the Neb. . . in the midst of the asthma attack Clayton did the next thing he could think of. . . he plugged it straight into the wall to give it more "juice". . . sparks, flames and fire!!!  I was panicking!  (the house was super old, smelled of mold, had live plants all over inside)  We had to get out! 

The next day consisted of running some errands, visiting the hospital where I will be working and taking a drive out to beautiful Kusel to see a house I have been viewing over the Internet.  Turns out the house was super cool!!. . . from the outside at least.  The inside reminded us of an office building with no real living room and the kind of flooring you would see in a hospital.  We then relocated to a new apartment free of allergens and spores.  My lungs survived the day . . let's hope they hang in there the rest of my 728 days in Germany :-)

(this was the house we went to look at. . not the one that induced the asthmatic state)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Moving. . . a long, LONG, way away . .

Tomorrow we set off on probably the biggest adventure of our short lives. . . we are moving to Landstuhl, Germany.  I know. . super CRAZY, right??  Sometimes I still can't believe it and will call Clayton up just to say "Wow!  We are moving to Germany!"

This great adventure started out with a little girl's dream to one day move to Europe after her 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Wilcox, would tell wondrous stories in history class of castles, gems, romance and wars.  That dream stuck with me my whole life and was reborn when my dear husband stated "Let's move to Europe" early last year.  "Are you serious?" I asked. "Because if you are serious, we will do it."  I immediately started looking for a way to make that possible but it wasn't until I found (with the help of a co-worker) the largest military hospital outside of the United States that the dream started to become a reality.  There were no positions available in the hospital and I had read online that there was a 3 year waiting list for civilians to get in, but I was determined.  I emailed the human resource department of the hospital with my resume and a simple letter stating my interest in any position that my qualifications were sufficient.  I received and e-mail from the director of Labor and Delivery at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center six months later.  I believe God greatly has his hand involved in this whole affair as I never applied for the job, never had an interview, and was offered the position on my first phone call from Germany.

It has been a long process and has not been completely smooth. . . forms, travis air force base, tests, passports, forms, phone calls, headaches, forms. . . did I say forms?? . . . but will be completely worth it I am sure.

Today I sit in my hotel room (as my house has been rented, my car left at the port over two weeks ago bound for Germany, all of my belongings on some European bound cargo ship, my dogs living with my parents) with nothing except for two suitcases and a computer.  I have conflicting emotions. . . excitement, apprehension, tad bit o'fear, joy. . . . my stomach doesn't quite feel right (although that could be from the delish chocolate cake I had for late night snack and breakfast) . . . I am excited and thrilled to see what God has in store for us.  Of course goodbyes are the hardest part. . we will be doing that most of the day, mixed in with some grandma Hammonds' homemade doughnuts :-)  Nothing like leaving the country in a complete sugar coma!  I love all of my family and friends and will miss you all dearly. . . please don't forget us in your prayers. . . I am sure we will need them . . .

Friday, November 2, 2012

India. . . Days 7 and 8

Today we started off on a journey to the Amber Fort, the ancient capital of Rajasthan.  On the drive there we stopped off on the side of the road where a local snake charmer and also a boy and his elephant were.  I was the only one brave enough to snuggle up to a 7 year old (baby) elephant . . . it was so totally worth it!  I was one happy girl . . . couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face.

From there we continue to the Amber Fort and my smile turned into jumps of glee as I found out we were to ride elephants up to the fort.  It was amazing!  We even bartered from the back of the elephant for an elephant throw blanket.  The fort was impressive to say the least . . . but boy was it hot!!  The fort was begun in the 17th century and is perched atop the Arvalli hills overlooking the Moat Lake.  The Sheesh Mahal –Hall of Mirrors-was most beautiful!

(beautiful Amber Fort. . . you can see the elephants accending if you look closely.  They are the red dots)
(our ride on the elephant)
After the Amber Fort we were taken to a jewelry store in Jaipur where we were able to witness the process of taking rock and making them into beautiful jewels.  We then went to the City Palace Museum and Jantar Mantar (the largest of five observatories founded nearly 3 centuries ago.)  The observatory housed 14 massive masonry instruments that were used for measuring times, predicting eclipses, tracking stars’ location as the earth orbits around the sun, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and more.  We were then allowed the evening to stroll through the streets and bazaars, however by this time Clayton was feeling quite sick (we weren’t sure if it was from dehydration or something he ate) so we opted to return to the hotel.  By 8 pm I joined him in his sickness and by the next morning we felt as if we were dying in a foreign country and would not make it back to the states.  We discovered that others in the group were sick as well as we boarded the bus for the 10 hour trip back to Delhi.  To add to the suffering, the AC in the bus went out 3 hours away from Delhi . . . the bus did not have windows. . . once again we weren’t going to make it back to the states. . . . Harvey and Percival were wreaking havoc on our bodies. . . 

Somehow we found the strength to endure and boarded the plane at 12 a.m. to begin the 14 hour plane ride back to the states.  We almost kissed our U.S. customs officer as she welcomed us back home.  It was a magnificent experience . . . but we pretty much decided we saw enough of India to last our lifetimes.    

Monday, October 22, 2012

India . . . . Day 6

Fatehpur Sikri was our first stop for day 6.  Fatehpur Sikri was once the capital of the Mughal empire built by Akbar himself in the 1500’s.  It was abandoned shortly after due to the lack of water and intense heat, which we witnessed firsthand.  It was well over 105 F with about 80-90% humidity.  Today it is a ghost town built of red sandstone . . . but if you looked through the hallucinations of dehydration, you could picture it as it once was a beautiful palace and capital of a huge empire.
From Fatehpur Sikri we continued on our way to Jaipur, stopping at a rural Indian village called Anterhera.  We took a tour of the school and were even able to meet the matriarch of the village.  It was a refreshing experience as none of the children were begging and we did not have to pay for every picture we took.  The villagers seemed to be as intrigued by us as we were by them.  Clayton was very involved in this stop, drawing pictures on the children’s blackboard and asking everyone in sight “Aapka naam kya hai?” (“hello, what is your name?”) At the end of our visit we were all taking turns having our photograph taken with the village matriarch.  Clayton took one side, I took the other.  Apparently she was intrigued by my sunglasses and pulled them off of my face . . . she then asked us something in Hindi and as we had no idea what she was saying (thought she was asking to try them on) we said “yes, go ahead!”  She did indeed try them on and promptly waved good-bye to us.  It was obvious then that she must have asked if she could have them.  As she seemed delighted with her new acquisition I decided to wear my back up $5 Wal-Mart sunglasses with skull and crossbones in the corner for the rest of our vacation. 


Our final stop for the day was the bazaar in Jaipur.  It was both delightful (as the streets were packed with vendors, colorful goods, sights and smells) and frightening (never knowing if you will return to the outside once you entered into a store, pushy vendors, pickpockets, etc).  It does get a little tiring when you know they are increasing the price 10 fold when an American is sighted.  I had wanted an article of clothing and when I asked how much I was told 1,200 rupee ($24 US).  I knew good and well this piece of fabric was not worth that much and offered 100 rupee ($2 US).  The man appeared to be offended and stated that it was hand stamped fabric, worth so much more, I was asking for it for free, etc.  I ended up buying it for 200 rupee ($4 US).  Take that!! My mother would be proud.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

India. . . Day 5

Today started early at 5:30 with a sunrise tour of the Taj Mahal.  I cannot express in words the beauty and awe of that magnificent tomb.  Pictures cannot express either. . . I guess you just have to see it for yourself.  It was stunning, majestic, amazing, beautiful. . . these words just do not capture the essence.  The first view through the gates literally took my breath away and I immediately had goosebumps.  The Taj was built in the 17th century by Mughal Emperor Sha Jahan as an expression of his love for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  The Taj took 22 years and 20,000 laborers to build and now houses both the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Sha Jahan.  The marble work is inlaid with many semi-precious stones and was quarried 200 miles away and transported by a fleet of 1000 elephants.

(These nice people asked to take a picture with me. . . Never had anyone random asked to take a picture with me before. . . felt like a celebrity)
After the Taj Mahal we returned back to the hotel for the breakfast that we were not able to enjoy earlier in the morning.  We then proceeded to Sikandra, the sandstone and marble tomb of Akbar, the the 3rd Mughal Emperor.   While we were visiting in the courtyard one of the members of our group was holding a pinapple juice box which a rather large male monkey noticed.  The poor woman was charged by a teeth baring monkey and only escaped by tossing the desired juice box to the sandstone floor.  It was rather comical and scary at the same time.  About 15 min later the group broke up to use the facilities.  During this time Clayton decided to take an up close picture of the same monkey.  The monkey, however, did not appreciate having his picture taken and my poor dear husband was then charged as well and escaped by running as fast as his feet could carry him.  Unfortunately I missed seeing this spectacle.

We then proceeded to the Baby Taj which was actually built before the Taj Mahal.  It is also known as Itmad-Ud-Daulah and is the first Mughal structure built totally from marble.

  After the Baby Taj we stopped by a marble store in which we were shown a demonstration of how the semi-precious and carved and inlaid into the marble, the same process used for the Taj Mahal.  The pieces for sale were fantastic and I found a beautiful table made with elephants marching around the perimeter.  I fell in love!  . . . until I found out it was 120,000 rupee ($2,400)!!  I settled for a small magnet for the fridge.


 By the end of this day we had resorted to washing our clothes in the sink.  We had run out of clothing items and could not re-wear items as they were soaked in sweat. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

India. . . Day 4

Today we traveled 8 hours to the south-east of Delhi to the ancient city of Agra.  Agra was once the capital city of the Mughal kingdom .  Within Agra lies the Taj-Mahal, the Agra fort, and the “baby Taj”.  When we got to the city (which is not much of a city but rather a road with small shops on both sides) we checked into the hotel and then Clayton and I ventured out into the city on foot.  An Indian man with his own bicycle rick-shaw decided that we absolutely needed to ride his rick-shaw although we had told him no numerous times.  He followed us for quite a while until Clayton had to yell at him.  The streets here are crazy.  It is not uncommon to see cows in the middle of the roads, people jay walking across 6 lane highways and lanes in which the population pay absolutely no attention to.  We also witnessed a young man riding his elephant down the highway on the way to Agra.  There is abundant amounts of trash and rubble lining the streets (was the same in Delhi) as if the construction took place an there was no afterthought to clean up the rubble left behind.  We didn’t spend much time in the city, as we were melting in the humidity and were starting to feel a little unsafe.  We rented a tripod vehicle to drive us back to the hotel.

When we met back up with our group we were taken to Agra fort, a massive sandstone structure which was built and inhabited by six generations of Mughal emperors (of which one of them was responsible for the building of the Taj Mahal and was later imprisoned in the fort by his own son and successor).   Inside the fort were palaces made of marble and an impressive view of the Taj Mahal.  It was truly amazing!  I cannot tell you how many times I randomly broke out into song, mostly consisting of “Prince Ali” from Aladdin.