Gemütlichkeit

September - December 2005

Why am I at all distressed about being unemployed? I mean, really, aren't I now what others merely aspire to be? I'm a jobless grad school graduate, living in Europe with my dogs, shacking up with a guy who rides a motorcycle. Life is good. Come visit!
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Every year since I moved to Germany (and that's five years this coming February), I've hosted at least two visitors from the USA. But I haven't heard any of you say you might visit in 2006. Come on... we live in a gorgeous part of Germany, and everywhere worth seeing in Western Europe is accessible from here -- and then some. Check out this page I created specifically for those thinking of visiting me. It's got details on how to choose your arrival airport, and an overview of the many things you can do in our immediate area (although I left out the option of laying around our flat, just drinking German beer or local wine and enjoying the view).

If more consulting jobs or a full-time gig comes my way, I'll be here through 2007, maybe a bit longer. But that's just two more years. So -- don't miss your chance!

Best time to visit, as far as my schedule goes: February or March, or anytime after May.

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Got the travelogue for Bruges, Belgium up in record time. That's because it was just a weekend trip, and because I'm unemployed... yes, we went by motorcycle, but we forgot the camera...

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Yes, Germany really does have a government office called the Office of Order. How, oh how, did I ever end up in this country for so long...

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The big news is that, after three long years, I finally finished my MSc in Development Management. It was a total trauma getting my final project to the post office, which I do not wish to recount right now, and then two days later, I found out I hadn't sent everything in -- and that meant a big rush and much hope, as not fulfilling all of the requirements by the deadline date means an automatic flunk with no possibility of a retake. Then my plans to celebrate fell through for several reasons... so my celebration for finishing my Master's degree was me sitting here at my computer, listening to Leadbelly. Not what I had envisioned... very anti-climatic and semi-depressing.

In some ways, I guess it was an appropriate end -- there was nothing easy about doing this degree. It was wonderfully interesting but frighteningly hard. I'm very, very glad that it's over. I will say that I got my best overall average in this course, and I was oh-so-pleased with my final grade -- that felt good.

Now, I'm going through all sorts of self-doubt. Was this three years of stress and time and money for this Master's Degree worth it? How long before I get my answer? The studies helped me tremendously at my last job, and I still refer to many of the readings... but I'm so ready for these classes to help me at my next job...

My job search... I only started applying for things in July, and half of my applications have been just to enter consultant rosters for possible future short-term positions abroad, rather than for actual positions anywhere. So far, I've been quite picky about where I've sent my CV -- I've submitted just 13 CVs in six months. I don't want just any job. I'm ready for something more challenging than my last job in terms of scope and responsibility, I'm so ready to apply all these new skills and experiences I gained from my previous job and from my MSc, and, as always, I'm ready to learn more . I did land three short-term consultancies in 2005, all of which I could do from right here at my home computer; I'm hoping to be at least as lucky in 2006.

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For oh-so-many weeks, all of the domestic birds at the "Tiergarten" near our house were locked up in sheds: the various chickens, the white swans, the black swans, the all-white domestic geese, the gray and white domestic geese and the peacocks. Each day, the white geese -- but none of the other domestic birds -- got to come out into a special yard for a bit, and there was a cacophony of honks, so loud you would have thought there were hundreds of geese loose, not just six. This continued until the bird flu panic was over. The idea of bird flu killing those mean bossy birds breaks my heart -- I really hope it doesn't hit here ever, but it's probably inevitable. Still, I'm not really worried about people-to-people infections -- I remember the panic over swine flu, which turned out to be a big bust, and the panic over SARS, which proved to be largely unfounded. Plus, well, 15,000 people die from the REGULAR flu in just Great Britain every year -- people forget that we've got oh-so-much bigger threats.

I would have liked to have been there when the birds finally got released, on December 12th -- the noise was incredible, I'm sure. Albi and I walked by a few hours after they were free, and they all looked both worn out and relieved. A week later, the black swans rushed us at the fence and made their unique "get away from me" sound that I can't really describe accurately, other than to say it sounded somewhat like a diggery-do. To make the sound, the swan had to lay his/her head and neck completely on the grass. It was hilarious.

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Stefan sent me an email one day recently that said this:

Um... no? Ofcourse Germany has a word for this: Eierlegende Wollmilchsau. Germans have a word for everything.

By the way: Stefan has written a book to help those in Europe interested in touring the USA by motorcycle. It is available in both German and English. The book helps the potential traveler to:

The book is very reasonably priced, and will save a person hours and hours and hours in prep time for such a trip. And at the time of this writing, he's already sold three!
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Lately, Stefan and I have been correcting everyone else's marketing efforts. No matter what the event, restaurant, bar, whatever, we can come up with a dozen ways to get more people there and to keep them coming back. There's a pseudo-Mexican restaurant in Remagen -- it's not bad, but their marketing is pathetic, and there's rarely anyone there. He and I could pack the place. In September, we went to the Bad Breisag annual Onion Festival. There were no onions. That's mistake number one. The organizers need to go to the Gilroy Garlic Festival, where EVERYTHING is garlic related. Instead, this "festival" was just junky stuff for sale: knock-off designer belts, cleaning products, hats... I was really annoyed. That same day, we went to Remagen, for that community's wine festival. There were no signs anywhere pointing to where it was. I assumed it would be down on the Rhine -- wrong. No signs there either. We finally found it in another part of town. Had we not known there was a wine festival in town somewhere , we would never had known by even being in . That means all of the hundreds of people who biked by the town on the Rhine that day had no idea there was a festival going on. It means anyone who stopped at the train station waiting for a connection didn't know either. No wonder the festival was so tiny. But the wine was good. So we drank wine and talked about how we would have marketed it. We got the free shuttle back to Sinzig -- it was empty, because no one knew about it! (we knew about it only because Stefan reads the community newspaper cover to cover).

We really need to start our own marketing business.

The next day after the Remagen wine thingy was the annual Poker Run in Emmerichenhain, in the Upper Westerwald, near Rennerod (for those of you following our adventures via incredibly detailed maps). It's actually a "Blessing of the Bikers" kind of thing (Motorfarradgottesdients). We skipped that whole religious part. The event is in this *tiny* village in this *tiny* Catholic Church. They had more than 600 riders -- no need for us to draw up better marketing plans for this event. We didn't talk to anyone else until we all went to our bikes to wait to start. We talked to a young woman riding by herself, parked quite near us. She is a university student, doing her thesis in freakin' physics (color me intimidated), and she was riding a little Kawasaki. She said she took up motorcycle riding because she won't be able to afford a car for many years, but she's actually fallen in love with it and can't imagine traveling any other way. There were more than a few women riding on their own. There were a TON of Hondas, including three Honda Dominators, not counting Stefan's. But there was not even one Honda Africa Twin which, when I've traveled on the motorcycle with Stefan, has seemed to be the most popular touring bike in Europe.

On a related note, I read the Ewan McGregor/Charlie Boorman book about their trip around the world, and Stefan kept poo pooing what I read him because they sometimes had a crew with them (and I must note that they rarely had the crew with them). All bikers think their way is the best way. Stefan should get to meet Ewan McGregor, because he doesn't think of him as an actor -- he thinks of him as that motorcycle guy, "that McGregor guy." Since I've given Stefan way too many English books to read, I bought him the video of the McGreor/Boorman trip for Christmas. Hopefully, seeing the trip rather than me reading it about it and giving him a synopsis will impress him a bit more.

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We finally visited the Roman Villa ruins in Ahr Weiler, just a short drive from our house (had the weather been better, we could have ridden our bikes there). It's outstanding . It's the bottom walls and foundation of a huge Roman villa that was surrounded by vineyards and farmlands (the vineyards are still there). Some of the paint and decorations can still be seen on the remains. The ruins are completely enclosed in a very tall, airy wooden structure that provides lots of natural light, and there are wooden ramps criss-crossing the ruins so you can have a look at the rooms from various different angles. The touring guide book is available in English (this is often the case -- just ask at the front desk!).

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Continuing our somewhat local adventures, we went to the wine festival in Dernau in September. It's about five villages West from us by train. We live right at the top of the red wine district, where the Ahr empties into the Rhine, and just a few kilometers from our house, the vineyards stretch high into the steep hills -- and all along the road and even under the roofs of restaurant patios. Another fabulous innovation brought to us by the Romans... ("but what have the Romans ever done for us?").

The Dernau annual wine festival ("Winzerfest") could NOT be more different than the Remagen wine festival. There were tons more people, and more people of different ages, and the whole thing was just, well, HUGE. We thought it was just along the main road and were quite satisfied with the vast selection of food and wine there, but as we were leaving after a few hours, we discovered the festival goes far, far back into the city. This festival is, in my opinion, a must if you are in this area in September.

My favorite part? The little knitted wine glass holders that you wore around your neck, on sale for a dollar each from the woman who makes them. We bought the one in the colors of the German flag.

We headed back to the train station at 10, as the last train of the night was near the half hour and we weren't sure how hard it would be to get to the train through whatever crowd might be there. Well, by the time the train got there, there was a HUGE crowd. One group of women were playing a children's game like "Duck-Duck-Goose," and the chaser fell onto the tracks. The train wasn't coming right then, but it was scary... she just jumped up and laughed. Anyway, the train came, and the crowd surged towards the first two entrances. I grabbed Stefan's hand and we ran along the opposite side of the platform, behind the crowd, to the next-to-last entrance. And remarkably, we got on (I saw about half a dozen people who didn't). We were packed in like sardines -- happy, singing, drunken German sardines. There were even guys on the train going home to far North of Cologne. The festival runs until 4 a.m. I can't even fathom staying up that late anymore...

We got to Bad Bodendorf just fine, then walked through the farm fields for home. Such a nice night.

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The local adventures continued -- in October, Stefan took me on my last motorcycle ride of the year. We had wanted to go to a major American military base far south of here so I could go to the grocery there and get stuffing, macaroni and cheese and corn bread mix, but it turns out they no longer allow US citizens on base -- you have to be military. So, I suggested we look up a sort-of-kind-of relative of mine in Idar-Oberstein whom I'd never met. It goes like this: my paternal grandmother had a sister, and that sister had a son, Tommy. When Tommy was in the US military and stationed in Germany, he met and married Julie, a German woman, and brought her back to the states. They live in Evansville. Julie's brother, back in Germany, was an artist: Hans-Eyke Dommer. He died some years ago, and his wife has kept his gallery and studio open in Idar-Oberstein. Julie said we could drop in some time when we were out on the motorcycle, so, we did!

Margot, Julie's sister-in-law, is terrific. She treated us, two strangers, in such a warm, welcoming manner -- I was so touched. She hardly speaks any English, so Stefan translated. I had to draw a quickie family tree so she could know where I fit into it all. We had coffee with her and she took us on a tour of Herr Dommer's paintings and drawings. His studio still breathes with so much life, all the art work and sketches and papers and art supplies scattered about, as though he'll be back in just a moment.

Idar-Oberstein is a really funky town about two hours away from Sinzig. It's known for its jewelry-making and other crafts made from precious stones, and for a medieval church built high above the city into a cavern. It was a perfect day trip.

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An upside of unemployment is that I can walk Albi an hour every morning, even take her on short errands with me, and that I can take care of Buster the way he deserves in the twilight of his life, as well as work on some really important personal projects, continue with Spanish classes, and plan a trip to Jordan to celebrate my 40th birthday in January. If unemployment continues into 2006 (gulp), then, well, I'll have time to resume German classes, travel to Spain in the last weekend of March to hook up with some friends, go to Italy in May to hook up with Stefan on his next motorcycle trip, and do a family history project that I've had to shelve for years. So, officially, I run out of things to do in, like, June 2006. The money should last slightly longer.

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I went to Birmingham, England for a conference in November, to present a paper, and was surprised to find the city much livelier and hipper than I ever expected. It was one of those rare cases where Lonely Planet was way off in describing the place. Apparently they've had a lot of redevelopment, and it shows. I would love to have seen the sites, the art museum and the sea life center in particular, but all were closed during my only free time Tuesday afternoon before I left. It was definitely most attractive at night, with the canals lit up by the Christmas lights everywhere. I was excited to hear that there was a Christmas market in town, but it turned out to be nothing unique for me -- it was a German Christmas market, with vendors from Frankfurt. The best part of the trip? Indian food for supper... twice! I've already used up one bottle of curry that I brought back.

I got a very cheap flight via German Wings, which no one at the conference had heard of. It's a budget airline that flies all over Europe. It has a hub quite near us, at the Bonn/Cologne airport. I've used it to go to Madrid, Barcelona, and the Czech Republic. And they fly you to real major city airports (unlike Ryan air, who says they are flying you to, say, Frankfurt, and who fly you to an airport NO WHERE near Frankfurt). So, if you are visiting Europe and want a really easy way to visit us, check out the German Wings web site. You can buy your tickets online. But note that the tickets are NOT refundable, and I don't think you can get your bags transferred from an international flight to a German Wings flight -- I think you have to pick them up at baggage claim and go back through security and all that.

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If you have HBO, or a friend with HBO, do whatever it takes to see the Flight of the Conchord's comedy special. You do not want to miss "New Zealand's 4th most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo." Betsy made a tape for me of Simpson's episodes, Bill Maher's show and the Daily Show, and somehow, this got on the tape. It's been a long time since I laughed that hard. I doubt they will tour Europe any time soon, but the USA could be a possibility -- be on the lookout.

Speaking of tours, Robbie Fulks seems to be planning a "European Vacation" Tour for 2006. Please go to his site and vote for a concert in Frankfurt!

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Yes, we're still going to Jordan in January, to celebrate my 40th birthday. I still went to Madrid, I still went to London, and when I lived in California and the wacko Christian Taliban was blowing up health clinics and shooting staff, doctors and volunteers, I still worked with Pro-Choice groups. Set phasers on F*ck 'em.

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Two important quotes:

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The importance of adjective placement:

How does one detect explosive dogs?

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Unemployment also means I have time to finally learn how iMovie works. iMovie is software that came with my iBook that allows me to splice together the short video clips I take on my digital camera. I can also extract audio from the clips, or add/substitute my own audio or sound effects. The video files have to be saved in a certain way, and iMovie claimed that was only possible if I had the paid version of Quicktime, which I don't. So I dug through my old software, almost all of which I've saved, and there I found MoviePlayer 2.3.7, from 1997. And it saves files however I want. Whoopie!. It took me about five hours of figuring things out, but I managed to splice together a short movie about my dogs (if you want to see it, email me). Next project: a short movie about where I live. I'll save the investigative documentaries and high art films for later.

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I got an oh-so-sweet surprise in December -- the movie "The Scarlet Empress" on DVD. The gift card said, "Thank you for having all of the information about taking a dog on the airplane to Germany. It was invaluable! Lisa Westbrook (and Bella).

I cried. Getting thank you's for the information I have on my site always touch me, but a gift from a total stranger -- that's just beyond sweet.

How did she know what to get me? Because I put up a gifts page for my family and friends, who have kvetched over the years at not knowing what to get me (please, someone show it to my grandmother, who just sent me NINE jumble bottles of Hunt's barbecue sauce, thinking that's what I needed...).

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After editing the Wikipedia entries for Henderson, Kentucky, and some professionally-related topics near and dear to my heart, I took my first crack at submitting a brand new topic: Theater for development. I wonder how long before it gets edited so much that I no longer recognize it?

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I want to be able to have live, voice communications with family and friends via my computer. Since I'm on an "old" computer, I cannot use Skype. And Yahoo doesn't allow Macs to use its free PC-to-PC calls feature.

So, I looked around, and I found this FREE cross-platform software, which came highly recommended: iVisit, created and constantly improved the guy who invented of IP video conferencing way back at Cornell University in 1991.

Therefore, family and friends, if you have a headset or a web cam plugged into your computer, and you miss hearing my voice, please download the appropriate version of iVisit. Once you install it on your machine, restart your machine with your headset or web cam plugged in. Then start the iVisit program, and it should walk you through the process of registering. And once you have done so, send me an email and let me know your ID. For now, I just have a headset, so only audio is possible.

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Hall of Shame: Scripps Howard and the Evansville Courier Press

My hometown of Henderson, Kentucky got hit by a huge tornado a few weeks ago (and ended up on CNN, which was just surreal to watch from here in Germany) and severe flooding in November (my grandparents house of 50 years was flooded, and they have had to move permanently to an apartment). So I went to the web site for The Gleaner, my home town paper, hoping to get more information.

The Gleaner web site used to be terrific: easy to use, easy to navigate, and focused on Henderson. Since its sale to Scripps Howard, however, and its management takeover by the Courier Press over in Evansville, Indiana, the site has become riddled with technical errors, impossible to navigate, and marginalizes news about Henderson. When I try to read stories, I am repeatedly asked to register, even though I HAVE. And, yes, my computer accepts cookies. When the tornados hit, several friends who knew I was from Henderson tried to register on the site so they could read about my home town -- and they repeatedly got error messages when they tried to submit their information. Also, the site often switches me over to Courier Press sections as I attempt to navigate it -- if I want to read the news about a city in another state , I'll go looking for it, but otherwise, I want the news for which I have logged in!

It just got worse a month later, when a pillar of the community, Dr. Cantley, died. Not only could I not read the front page story no matter how I tried to log in, but when I asked the web master if he would send me the Dr. Cantley article, he sent me the page 2 obituary -- another example of how the site is concerned only with Evansville, Indiana, and is completely out of touch with the Henderson community.

For creating a site that only people with the very latest software on an IBM clone can use, and for marginalizing the news from my hometown, Scripps Howard and the Evansville Courier Press are entered in my HALL OF SHAME.

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I never dreamed I'd live in Germany this long, and, therefore, I never dreamed I'd be so far away from old-time or alternative country music. Concerts that I'm interested are rare here -- and when some alt-country star comes to Europe, they usually don't come to Germany. Thank goodness for online radio stations: Hober Thinking Radio (my favorite), and KUT Austin (Texas), in particular. I recently downloaded iTunes 2.0.4 (the last version that will work on my old iBook, and so far, have liked BootLiquor the best by far (can't believe there's no good Spanish-language station offered).

Because my computer is so old (five years, which is completely ancient these days -- ridiculous but true), iTunes is not an option for me to download new music (it's only for people with the absolute latest and greatest everything -- again, ridiculous but true). Somehow, I found www.emusic.com, and that's turned out to be a decent deal. After the first free trial month, I decided to subscribe -- and it's way cheaper than buying even one CD a month. I should run out of things to download in about three more months.

The best things I've downloaded? "Forbidden Broadway" selections, "Georgia Hard" by Robbie Fulks, Leadbelly "Live," and "All Relationships are Doomed to Fail" by my friends the Meat Purveyors (maybe their best yet).

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I have joined a new church -- the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And I feel that it is not only disrespectful to teach intelligent design, but not the beliefs of my new church, but also, that it is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which is full pirate regalia.

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Please note that I have said the word "Christmas" several times in the above. And noting such, I want to say that I am SICK of the LIE that there is a war on Christmas. I have *never* heard a fellow atheist from among my friends -- nor my Islamic, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist friends -- complain about being wished "Merry Christmas." Not one . But I have heard oh-so-many Christians get oh-so-upset at being wished "Happy Holidays," followed by claims that there's some kind of movement to get rid of Christmas. I've never, ever criticized anyone who wished me "Merry Christmas", and I've never heard anyone criticize someone for doing so, so please *stop* criticizing those of us who chose to be inclusive by wishing others "Happy Holidays" or "Happy New Year." Say whatever you want to -- and please let me do the same.

"Happy Holidays", for the record, literally means "Happy Holy Days." And, for the record, most practices associated with Christmas are pagan in origin.

THERE IS NO WAR ON CHRISTMAS. Even someone on "Fox 'News'" has said so.

For some notes on the REAL history of "Christmas" (and the real "reason for the season", which you probably aren't going to be very happy about learning):

"Why do we celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25", from The Straight Dope.

Why is Christmas abbreviated Xmas?, also from The Straight Dope.

The History Channel presents the origins of the "Christmas" tree

I just wish I had "A Charlie Brown Christmas" to watch for the holidays. I guess that, once again, my Christmas movie selections are going to be "Meet John Doe" and "Die Hard."
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"Always do what you are afraid to do."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm going to keep that mind for 2006.

Hope I don't get an allergy attack on New Year's Eve, like I did last time.

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Some things to check out until next time and, until next time, Merry Christmas, Channuka Sameach, Yo Saturnalia and Happy Festivus:

If you have read this blog, PLEASE let me know. Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing.


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