|It is still Charlie Brown’s Tree, but it has more spunk now!|
Hard Hearty Holidays
Ok, I will admit it. I am among those people who usually have a bit of a roller coaster ride through the holidays. I have high standards for myself and I want things to be special. I want the archetypal Holidays with the whole family, tradition, music, cheer, friends, lovely decor and thoughtful-but-not-overly-comercialized gifts given with kindness and joyful spirit. I want to make beautiful things with nothing but my hands, carefully selected high-quality materials, and as much love as I can put into them. And, I desperately want everyone to feel and appreciate all that love and specialness when they open their presents, eat their food, or just happen into my effervescent company! I want to be Martha Stewart without the bitchiness, jail-time or divorce. And I want to bring joy into dark places just by force of effort and good will!
Do I know this is a patently unrealistic expectation? Well, yeah. Of course. But, try as I might to remind it, many parts of my psyche never quite get the memo.
Do I know that I am living in a household of geeky/aspie/sourpusses who have about as opposite a view of the holidays from me as a single family can hold and still remain a single family? Yeah, I know that, too! (DS excluded, of course. He is just as idealistic as I am in this way, poor guy!)
Those two things are generally enough to get the roller-coaster effect. I knock myself out trying to achieve the unachievable while those around me look askance and fail to share in my fantastical notions of Holiday Necessity!
But, this year you might also rightly ask: Do I know that we are currently about 1/2 a globe away from most of our friends and loved-ones, traditional decor and many other annual hallmarks of the season? Well, that one is pretty darned obvious, isn’t it?
So, yeah, there were a few tough days in there. It is frustrating not knowing where to go to find those little touches that make things “special” in my mind. Those unexpected twists and adornments that catch even the cynical geeks by surprise. In the states, I have a running mental catalog of every store we frequent. And the ability to quickly and easily transport myself to the tiniest specialty shop in the next county with a hop in the car or a quick click of a computer button. If I want to make a chestnut stuffing, I know where to get chestnuts. If I want to get DD a mid-grade pencil set, I know how to find it. And, of course, before the move, if I wanted to make something crafty, I had a lifetime of doodads and craft supplies to work with.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a little step sideways and remember where we happen to be!
A Few German Things for the last couple weeks
|Closed for the winter|
One day last week, David and I found ourselves early for Pick-up at Durmstrang, so, we went straight instead of turning left and circled around into a rural zone near town. The area has farms, and an odd green stairwell that goes down into the ground and disappears. But, by far the most bizarre place we found was what appears to be a children’s activity playland. Only, it is all made from about the least safe looking wooden bits one might imagine. I think I got splinters just looking at it. But, it does have a certain rugged charm. I suspect kids learn a ton and have a lot of fun in the place when it is open…. Or, maybe film crews just do horror stories there? Honestly, I could imagine either!
|All I can figure is that they let the kids build the things themselves?|
Here is something a bit more familiar- only we didn’t know it at the time. DS came home one Tuesday to inform us that there would be a ‘party’ at his school on Thursday- and that parents were ‘allowed’. Having no clue what this meant, we elected David to take the boy. As it turned out, the party was a recital where the kids in his class sang and performed on instruments. Then the parents made small talk for two hours while the kids snacked! I was sorry to have missed the performance, But, I am pretty sure the 2 hours of German Smalltalk would have left me feeling like jello.
|DS found himself unexpectedly front and center!|
Also interesting and German, but not toooo German- DS is participating in a regional science fair. His group is studying the effect of plastic on mold. So, here are his test tubes. Each has a hunk of cheese exposed to mold spores. Some have plastic containers, so glass, some have plastic wrap in with the cheese, others don’t, and 4 of them have water, as well.
One of the nicer things that reminds us that we are no longer in the states is the presence of- WEATHER. In this case, Snow! We did, in fact, have our first 2 snow storms over the last couple weeks. The snow melted off by the afternoon of the following day each time, but it was enough to make things very pretty. And, happily for DS, it was enough to play in!
|My favorite tree, outside our bedroom|
|Out front- even garages and factories are lovely in the snow|
|Funky, snowy art on a house in Offenburg|
|DS making a snowman|
|Snow just makes things prettier|
|Morning snow by camera flash|
|Snow in my hair.|
Spellbound Holiday Party
Yes, Geeky German Gaming Companies do the Holiday party thing, too. But, honestly, this year they didn’t do it all that well. I did my part. I dressed like a frightening stereotype:
|Bad hair day, bright holiday sweater, red lips and even a holiday teddy bear bag!|
And, the locale was impressive- they are trying to recapture the glory days of the Silicon Valley:
|(Anyone remember the slide at Excite@Home? I don’t actually find the comparison comforting!)|
But, this was the food (and I had to sneak in the kitchen to steal the hunk of bread!)
|That is a bacon-wrapped date, a piece of ham on a slice of buttered bread, and quark (a cream cheese) with nuts soaked in syrup, er, also on a slice of bread.|
I really wanted the party to be great. The last two were pretty fun and I met lots of people. But, there was really nothing to do, no dessert, very little food, no music, and, honestly, not that many people!
|These are like peanut flavored cheetos|
We did speak quite a bit with Florian, who is a huge German man with excellent English skills. He wears a sort of kilt-like skirt most of the time as his personal fashion statement. He is friendly and knowledgeable, has traveled to the states often to visit family, and recently lived in Madrid for 2 years. I like him quite a bit. He pointed us toward some potential English classes at the local Community College. We also got to chat a bit with Jacomi and Johan, one of the few other married couples at the company. They are both from South Africa, so we have a lot of similar experiences with being transplants. Unfortunately, the acoustics made it tough for me to hear their part of the conversation. I am hoping to pick their brains more in email.
Once folks had eaten, everyone moved into the game room where they had guitar hero set up (or was it rock band?) Whichever it was, they only had controllers for 3 players, so about 50 people stood around watching. We decided our presence was no longer needed and (unsuccessfully) snuck out.
SO, after that, I lost it a little bit.
Why? The party was dull, but not awful. Nothing horrible happened. But, it was just the culmination of a thousand little things tweaking all my holiday buttons. I felt lonely and frustrated and unable to make even the most basic changes. I couldn’t find the right gifts. I still couldn’t find the stockings. I hadn’t learned enough German or enough about Germany, yet. I hadn’t been able to drive for most of the past 2 months. And, we were about to spend our first Christmas with no one but our immediate family around.
So, I yelled at David for a while, then apologized to David for a while, cried on his shoulder for a while, and slept. Sleep can be a very good thing.
The next day I got in touch with my inner elf and figured out what still needed to be done. Mostly, I needed to adjust my attitude. We went into this to have new experiences. So, I figured out how to do my best with a mixture of New and Traditional. I had to let go of some things, but, I am getting pretty good at that. At least, most of the time ;-/ But, letting go and opening myself up to what is means I get a lot of unexpected and interesting new experiences to fill the places where expectations used to be. Who knew Germany was so Zen?
In any case, here is how we wound up handling Christmas Eve and Christmas. Yeah, I still found a way to go a bit overboard with the cooking, but, in the tiny kitchen it was a different challenge than usual!
|Our tiny German oven filled front to back with 4 dishes.|
|About to get Mulling!|
We decide that living in Europe, we had to try out the Goose thing. I originally thought I would roast the whole bird, but it turns out geese are BIG. Also, expensive. Not only would a single goose cost 50 EU, it would probably feed a fussball team and, oh yeah, I don’t think it would fit in the oven! So, we opted for a goose breast and goose legs. I roast the breast and did a confit with the legs.
|Roast goose breast with oranges and root vegetables|
I didn’t actually know what confit meant before making it! It used to be a way to preserve the legs, but these days it is largely fancy French food. You pretty much just slow bake the legs covered in goose fat. They turn out tender and flavorful. I actually liked them a lot better than the breast!
So, this is what we wound up with- 2 kinds of goose, orange sauce, cranberry sauce, roasted root veggies, homemade rolls (with *salted* butter! I did manage to find something special 😉 and mulled cider.
|Dinner is served|
|Everyone tried the goose (new to all but David)|
I let myself indulge on the desserts…..
|Then came the desserts- seasalt caramels, lemon poppyseed cake and orange shortbread chocolate chip cookies!|
|Here they are from last year. Pet stockings included.|
The next issue to be addressed was the stockings. This is a big deal to me. My great-grandma made my stocking before I was born. I made the ones for everyone else. I *thought* I had unpacked them when our stuff arrived Offenburg. But, when we went looking for them, they were nowhere to be found. Our apartment is not large. There are not many places to stash things. We searched each several times- but, no stockings.
What is worse is that Germans don’t do stockings. They do the hausshue thing on St. Nickolaus Nacht. So, there were no local stockings to be found! I thought I had seen some in Strasbourg, but the only day I might have been able to go check, it snowed. We will be getting snow tires soon, but, we don’t have them, yet. So, I didn’t want to make the trip. We even tried ordering some from England, but the company who makes them cancelled our order. All we could figure was that they were out.
So, 2 days before Christmas and we had no stockings! I had pretty much resolved myself to using pillowcases when David and DD came home with a solution. They had found 4 matching bright red shopping bags! DS came up with the final touch. We each made personalized paper decorations for our bag. I think they came out quite festive!
|That is a spider in a Christmas Hat to the right… not sure about the vine/tentacle.|
We usually do a photo of the kids coming down the stairs into the room with the fireplace… only, no stairs and no fireplace this year! So, silly hallway slow-mo dash works instead
|Who might have asked for a sled?|
|David and his Igel second head….|
|DS got some Goodies in his stocking!|
|Er, DH got some chocolate coated hobbits!?! (if you can’t read the package, click on the photo for a larger version)|
|DH and his new army of minions|
|One of my favorite presents- a tea pot with a warmer from DS- like the one in the restaurant!!|
|DD *almost* hugging DS- he didn’t quite trust her enough.|
|He did seem genuinely happy this morning, though!|
So, alls well that ends well. We had a very pleasant holiday. Skype helps a lot. As do email and facebook. And, of course, a good attitude is necessary equipment!
David has the next two weeks off from work, so we hope to do a little local traveling. Maybe take in a castle, a movie and perhaps even a trek someplace snowy. I will post when we have nifty new stuff to share