Thursday, May 31, 2007

31 May: Looking Ahead

We napped off and on most of the day on Sunday and it rained all day Monday, so we holed up inside, only venturing out to walk Cody. On Tuesday I had Deutschkurs and regaled Stefanie with stories about our trip to Michigan. She was very interested to hear about John’s meeting and Chrysler's (mostly positive) reaction to the sale, and to see pictures of our house and Rochester. I spent the rest of the week unpacking, doing laundry, and resisting the urge to fall asleep at my desk.

Yesterday I spent some time searching for Katzenpensionen (cat hotels) and found one about twenty minutes away that offers single accommodations, with lots of rave reviews in their guestbook. I sent the owner an e-mail inquiry in German and she confirmed that they have room for Scotty in June. I called today and set up an appointment to visit the place with John this weekend (this may have been my most successful German phone conversation yet!). With any luck, come Saturday, Scotty will have a new home away from home.

Tomorrow and Saturday I’ll be getting the house in order in preparation for my mom’s arrival on Sunday, when we'll drive up to Frankfurt to pick her up at the airport. She’s visiting for two weeks, and we’ll be flying to Rome for a little mother-daughter getaway towards the end of her stay. I plan to take her on day trips around Stuttgart, mostly to some of my favorite places, but maybe we’ll venture out and explore some new spots too – maybe even take the ferry out to the island of Mainau in the Bodensee.

As May comes to an end, so too does our 21st month in Germany. Spring is rapidly turning to summer in Stuttgart – with all the recent rain, the forest outside my window is looking more jungle-like all the time and the gardens of Botnang are overflowing with roses. The question looming now is – how many more months will we have to enjoy the delights of Deutschland? Certainly I can look forward to a summer of traveling and writing; I’m just hoping that selling off furniture and saying goodbye to my friends can be put off until the fall. There's still so much to do and see. I’m immensely pleased that we’re going ahead with our two-week trip to the U.K. at the end of June (particularly after all of the agonizing I have done over our itinerary). If John can stick it out for just a few more months, I’m hoping we will get to fulfill our plans for a driving tour of the Swiss and Italian Alps, as well as a trip to Dresden and Prague. We might even pay a return visit to Rallye Deutschland in the Mosel Valley in August – I still need to take John back to Burg Eltz and get that picture I missed out on last time!

25 May: Goodbye, USA - Hello, Jetlag!

I had breakfast with a couple former co-workers at the Downtown Cafe and then John picked me up at 9:30 to take me over to the doctor’s office. My doctor had talked to the cardiologist’s office and confirmed that all my test results were normal. She said they might not be able to tell me exactly what was causing the irregularity, which I found hard to believe since I can feel it so distinctly! The whole experience has been rather frustrating, but I'm glad to know that I don't have a life-threatening condition.

John dropped me off back at the house and then went off to have lunch with some friends from Chrysler while I went about vacuuming, doing laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, and generally preparing the house for another long period of vacancy. I even had time to play my piano for a bit, discovering that it was not so terribly out of tune as I had expected, and called a couple of friends that I hadn't had a chance to visit during the week. When John came back from lunch we shut off the water, turned down the thermostat, and put antifreeze down all the drains. I felt more comfortable leaving the house this time, having done it all once before.

We had an hour to kill before we needed to leave for Pontiac, so we drove up the street to the brand new Papa Joe’s Market, which is a self-described gourmetrion. If there’s one thing to look forward to when we move back to Michigan, it’s being able to walk a couple blocks up the road to shop at this amazing market! It’s a two-level extravaganza of groceries and gourmet cuisine, complete with wine tasting bar and open kitchens on the top floor. We stopped at the neighboring Starbuck’s for frappacinos and strolled around the new mall for a few minutes before heading to the airport in Pontiac.

Interestingly, the flight back to Stuttgart was nearly full - and, with the exception of one American woman and us, all Germans. One of them was carrying a traditional U.S. mailbox covered with signatures - apparently they are coveted souvenirs over in Deutschland. The woman who always checks us in at Pontiac insisted that they have heard no rumors that the shuttle will stop flying on July 1. Nevertheless we treated it like our last corporate shuttle flight. We left early (that’s the wonderful thing about a private jet – if everyone checks in early, you can leave early) and the trip went by in a blink of an eye – only 7.5 hours with good tailwinds. I knitted my way through A Good Year (which we had rented just a couple of weeks ago) and we both watched Charlotte’s Web. Dinner was quite good: spinach and artichoke-filled pastry; green salad with pine nuts, blue cheese, dried cherries, and raspberry vinaigrette; choice of lamb with curry sauce, chicken cordon bleu, or seafood Alfredo; and raspberry torte for dessert. Try as we might, even in those cushy seats, we couldn’t get to sleep (we never can – even after guzzling several glasses of wine). They turned on the overhead lights what seemed like minutes after the second movie ended, and then it was time for breakfast. I couldn’t bring myself to eat another huge meal (french toast, fresh fruit, cold cuts, cheese, and croissants) so I just had the yogurt topped with granola and fruit.

We arrived in Stuttgart a full hour early – 6:15 a.m. on Saturday morning. We picked up our luggage, went through customs, loaded everything into the E-Class, and drove home, where we promptly fell asleep for nearly three hours. Fortunately we had set the alarm for 10:30 so we could pick up the pets before the Tierhotel closed at noon.

Cody was happy to see us as usual, but Herr Ratibor told us that Scotty had come down with diarrhea as soon as he had arrived and did poorly all week. I had to explain two or three times that Scotty had not been sick before we brought him in. I thought Herr Ratibor understood me but when I said that Scotty had just been to the vet right before we left, Herr Ratibor asked, “But you did not tell him the cat had diarrhea?” So I had to explain again that Scotty was fine prior to our trip. Honestly I am surprised that they did not take him to a vet if he was that sick all week. Unfortunately I think that Scotty’s problem is largely psychological: I imagine he is incredibly stressed by the communal lifestyle at the Tierhotel and I don’t think the change in food agrees with him either.

When we got home I immediately took Scotty upstairs to give him a bath, only to discover that the hair above his eyes had been rubbed thin and he had some sore spots on his skin. It looked like he had been rubbing up against something all week, or else frantically washing his face over and over. Suffice it to say that we have decided we need to find Scotty a kennel where he can have private accommodations. That will be my task next week, since our next trip (to the U.K.) is coming up quickly in mid-June.

We took another nap in the afternoon and then went down to Neukauf to pick up some groceries to get us through the long weekend (Monday is a holiday).

24-25 May: Shop 'Til We Drop

Happy Birthday, Mom!

For variety we stopped at the Panera on Rochester Road for breakfast, then spent the morning shopping at Somerset mall in Troy. We had just enough time to buy John a new wardrobe of dress shirts at Macy’s and pick out some summer fashions for me at Eddie Bauer before we had to head back to Rochester for our dentist appointments. I had somehow managed to chip a tooth while eating a carrot a few weeks back, so I had that filed down. We picked up six months’ worth of prescriptions and contact lenses and then headed over to Rochester Mills again, where we had invited a bunch of our Michigander friends to join us for drinks and dinner. With my myriad medical tests out of the way, I rewarded myself with nachos and a buffalo burger washed down with a Rochester Red.

After yet another Panera breakfast and a quick stop at Home Depot to stock up on light bulbs, we spent virtually all day Thursday back at Somerset mall, completing our summer wardrobes. We had a late lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and then stopped at REI to buy me a heart rate monitor before heading back to Rochester. I had called the cardiologist this morning to ask about my test results and the woman who answered the phone was quite startled to hear that I was flying to Germany tomorrow and needed to know my results. She said the doctor would call me in a couple of hours, so I had to walk around with my cell phone in my pocket all day waiting for his call. He finally called when we were on our way to REI, but the connection was terrible – it sounded like the signal was traveling all the way to Germany and back. All I could make out was that my test results were fine and they wanted me to come in again when we get back from Germany. Well. That wasn’t exactly the informative discussion I was hoping for, but I will be going back to my doctor on Friday, so maybe she will be able to tell me more.

We bought four more bags of mulch (hoping it would help fight back the ever-advancing weeds over the summer), which I applied to the back beds in the sweltering late-afternoon sun. I was still frenetically digging up clumps of dandelions in the lawn when John finally told me to give it a rest. We walked to Sumo Sushi for dinner again and took some pictures of downtown Rochester to show to my friends back in Germany. After dinner I met my friend Nina for coffee; we relished the ability to walk up the street to Caribou and sit outside sipping iced lattes on this warm spring evening.

22 May: I, Lab Rat

I fueled up with apple juice and a spinach soufflé for breakfast at Panera and then we hung out for a while waiting for my stress test appointment. John had originally planned to leave me at the cardiology center for the 2+ hours it was estimated to take and go do some shopping, but thankfully he decided to wait with me, as I was more nervous than I had realized. I had not planned on engaging in any serious physical activity this week, so I cobbled together a sad excuse for a jogging outfit from the clothes I had bought at REI on Sunday. Fortunately I had brought a pair of lightweight sneakers with me for walking around town.

We arrived for my appointment a half-hour early, as requested on my instruction sheet, and I answered a bunch of questions, to which most of my answers were an emphatic “no” (do you smoke, are you diabetic, do you have shortness of breath, do you have chest pains, etc.). I was actually somewhat excited to hop on the treadmill and get a readout on my cardiovascular performance. What I was decidedly not prepared for was being injected with a radioactive isotope and lying completely still with my arms above my head for fifteen minutes while a scary-looking machine rotated around my torso taking images of my heart. One of the technicians put an I.V. port in my left arm and injected the first half of the isotope, then I had to go sit in the waiting room for a while as the lovely radioactive stuff coursed through my veins. This was the first time I’ve ever had an I.V. (my only “surgery” – knock on wood – having been getting my wisdom teeth removed as a teenager) and the darn thing hurt! I am not very good with needles and blood and it actually made me feel quite whoozy for a few minutes. I kept telling myself that my dad has probably had five hundred I.V.s stuck in him so I could certainly survive one without passing out. (It wasn’t until the next day that I realized the I.V. hadn’t been inserted very well; I ended up with a lovely bruise in the crook of my arm that lasted for a week, making me look like a drug addict.)

After the first round of imaging I lay down on a table and got hooked up to another EKG machine. This time there were even more snappy things stuck to my chest and I had to wear a velcro belt around my waist to keep all the wires together. To top it all off I got to wear a blood pressure cuff around one arm, and of course I still had that nasty I.V. port so they could shoot me up with the rest of the radioactive isotope while I was on the treadmill.

The technician told me that I would have to walk until I reached my target heartrate of 161 beats per minute. (Your estimated “maximum” heartrate is calculated by subtracting your age from 220, so my maximum heartrate is 189. Then you take 85% of that to get your target heartrate.) Every three minutes the treadmill would speed up and the incline would increase slightly. I was supposed to stay on the treadmill for at least one minute after reaching my target heartrate. After seven minutes I was up to 120 and starting to get warm. The technician kept asking me how I felt and I said I was fine. Around the ten minute point I reached my target heart rate and they injected me with the rest of the isotope. I kept going, walking faster and faster, and the technician asked me if I wanted to go up to the next level. I said sure – heck, I wasn’t even jogging yet! Finally I went up to the fifth level and actually had to start jogging at that point because my legs couldn’t keep up even at my fastest walk. The technician ended the test after 12 minutes and 38 seconds, at which point I was at my maximum heartrate. I had never really thought much about my heartrate before, but now I finally understand the point of keeping your heart at 85% output for maximum efficiency. This brings what I feel when I’m running into a whole new perspective! The technician showed me the EKG printout, noting that while the irregularity was quite obvious when I was lying down, it completely disappeared while I was exercising.

After the treadmill test I had to wait for my heartrate to come back down and then I had another round of images taken. It was a lot easier to lie still this time, after my little workout. Before I left they gave me a sheet of paper indicating that I had been injected with a radioactive substance, just in case I set off the radiation detector at the airport on Friday. (I was actually sort of hoping this would happen just to see how the people at the DaimlerChrysler terminal reacted, but sadly the radiation had apparently left my system by that time, as no alarms went off.) The two technicians assured me that the cardiologist would call me in the next day or two with my results, and sent me on my way. I wasn’t too much the worse for wear except for the sore spot from the I.V. and a pounding headache.

John treated me to Baja Fresh for a late lunch and we did a few errands at the Village of Rochester Hills mall before heading to Ann Arbor. My headache hadn’t subsided yet and, as we hit early rush hour traffic on I-275, I was questioning the soundness of our decision to go to Ann Arbor, but I really wanted to pick up a Michigan shirt for Oda and have dinner with my friend Elizabeth, so we kept going. We didn’t get to Ann Arbor until nearly 5:00, so I called Elizabeth to push our dinner back slightly. We found a Michigan volleyball T-shirt for Oda at Steve & Barry's and picked up a few more books at Border’s before meeting Elizabeth and her 3-year-old son at Zanzibar for a light dinner.

Back at home, lying awake in bed Tuesday night, I came to the startling realization that I could actually hear my heart beating irregularly. I woke John up and made him listen too, just in case I was hallucinating, but he could hear it distinctly as well. At this point I started to freak out. I had never given much thought to the functioning of my heart before. It’s always been there, steadily pumping away, sturdy and reliable, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Suddenly my faith in that lumpy mass of muscle that keeps me alive began to waver slightly. I couldn’t understand how there could possibly be something wrong with me – I spend nearly two hours a day walking or jogging for goodness’ sake, and have been doing so for nearly two years! Suffice it to say that I was anxiously awaiting the cardiologist’s call to reveal the nature of my abnormality.

21 May: A Slight Change in Plans

I had scheduled our annual physicals for Monday morning, thinking it would be nice to get them out of the way early in week. To my surprise, my doctor heard something funny in my chest and decided to run an EKG. I'd never had an EKG before, so I found it quite interesting to have these little plastic stickers with what looked like snap heads attached to them stuck onto my chest, arms, and ankles. It took several minutes to get all of my snaps wired up and half that time to get the actual reading. My doctor showed me the printout, which confirmed in very obvious form that I had an irregular heartbeat. She assured me that it was probably nothing, but seeing as how I was only in Michigan for the week, she thought we should run some tests just to be sure. With surprising efficiency, her staff set the wheels in the motion to schedule me for a heart sonogram and a stress test. Fortunately they had a cancellation that morning with the sonogram technician right in their office, so I went ahead and got that out of the way. This involved lying on my side while the technician applied gel to my chest and rubbed a hand-held transducer all around my heart. I obeyed her instructions to breathe, hold my breath, exhale, and stop breathing for a few seconds at a time. About halfway through, the machine started making these fascinating sloshing sounds which I suppose was the sound of blood pumping through my heart. By the time I was done, the receptionist had scheduled my appointment for a stress test at a cardiac center in Auburn Hills on Tuesday afternoon. Fortunately we didn’t have any specific plans for Tuesday other than going to Ann Arbor to do some shopping and visit friends.

We rushed off to John’s dermatologist appointment, then John dropped me off at the house so he could go to Chrysler to meet with his bosses. While I was stuck at home trying to figure out what made me more anxious, my newfound heart problem or the outcome of John’s meeting, I got some chores done and called the lawn service again (we were playing phone tag).

John was inexplicably very late coming back from Chrysler, so I had to call Rochester Mills and convey a message to our friends Jon and Alison (of Paris trip fame) that we would be late for dinner. Jon offered to come pick me up and I was just leaving John a note explaining my whereabouts when they both pulled into the driveway simultaneously. As luck would have it, the guy from the lawn service stopped by just a few minutes later so we were able to make the arrangements for our lawn mowing on the spot.

We had a nice dinner at the brewery, although I was not allowed to drink alcohol because of my stress test, which sort of defeated the purpose of going to the brewery. After dinner John and I went over to Border’s while Jon and Alison put their girls to bed, then we went over to their house for chocolate cake and ice cream and our regular dose of Sebastian the Bernese Mountain Dog and Sophie the cat. Alison gave me a stack of books to take back to Germany, so I think I have enough reading material now to get me through another six months.

John explained that his big meeting was largely a non-event. The good news is that his bosses did not see any reason for him to rush back to Chrysler right away, and basically gave him the go-ahead to stay until the end of the year if he can live with the Mercedes politics. John has been having mixed feelings about staying at Mercedes ever since they announced the potential sale, so he is going to have to do some serious thinking over the next few weeks. John was excited to see some of the projects going on at Chrysler, so partly his decision will be based on whether he feels he could be doing more interesting work in Michigan rather than staying at a company that really has no vested interest in him anymore. (As we like to joke, not only is John “the foreigner,” now he’s "the foreigner from the company that was just sold off!")

19-20 May: Yard Work & Fast Cars

Our first priority on Saturday was to clean up our yard. After a quick stop at Starbuck’s for coffee and pastries (where, to John’s dismay, he discovered that you still have to pay for Wi-Fi), we headed over to Bordine’s Nursery and bought a dozen bags of mulch, which just about filled the back of the Subaru. We spent the next several hours giving the yard a makeover. John cleaned up the front yard and mowed in back while I mulched the flower beds, trimmed back the overgrown burning bushes lining our front walk, and made a vain attempt at pulling up the myriad dandelions populating our yard (most of which had already gone to seed, which means that our lawn will probably be more dandelions than grass by the end of the summer). We cut back the huge viburnums growing along our side fence and tied them up so they wouldn’t hang over the path. I looked around the backyard for my Michigan natives, which I have been slowly adding to the garden over the past few years. Most of them seem to be doing great without any help on my part – the wild geraniums and meadow rue in my shade garden were over 18 inches high, and my sprouting clump of Joe-pye weed is bigger than ever. I do have to admit that I miss my garden. We stopped for lunch midday – sub sandwiches and fries at Penn Station – and finished up around six o’clock. After dinner (I can’t for the life of me remember where we ate) we were feeling awake enough to go see Spiderman 3 at the AMC Theater in Sterling Heights, our first movie out in nearly a year. It was great, although we agreed that Spiderman 2 was better.

On Sunday we had breakfast at Panera (which has free Wi-Fi), where I ran into our former neighbor - the one who was supposed to be watching our house. She was very surprised to see me (she hadn't gotten my e-mail yet saying that we were coming for a visit) and explained that they had moved into a condo because her husband's health was declining. She apologized for not telling me that they had moved out and promised to drop off our house key this weekend.

After breakfast we headed up to Waterford Hills to check out the track event. As most of you who read my annual holiday letter are aware, John’s boss at Chrysler rents out the Waterford Hills road course for one day every year, and a few dozen select invitees get to go and satisfy our need for speed by driving around as fast as we can. In recent years the neighbors living around the track have upped their noise complaints, so there are severe restrictions on when you can drive and how loud your car can be. We figure that eventually the neighbors will complain so much that the track will be shut down, so we are taking advantage of it while we can. This year’s event just happened to be scheduled for while we were in Michigan (I swear this was only a lucky coincidence).

Visiting the track was a bittersweet experience, since we had no car to drive. My Audi A4, which I had to sell before we moved to Germany, is now owned by some guy in Royal Oak who doesn’t know a stick shift from a broomstick, and John’s Mitsubishi Evolution is under wraps in our garage, resting on bald tires without a battery. So for the first time ever we were mere spectators, hoping nobody noticed the hideously ugly vehicle that we arrived in, watching jealously as various Chrysler and GM employees whizzed around the course. It was good for us to be there, because John got a chance to socialize with friends and colleagues. We brought our helmets just in case we could bum a ride or two, and I finally got to go for a ride in John's boss' Viper (that's me in the top photo). The Viper is a very fast car and John's boss is an experienced racecar driver, so this was, shall I say, a thrilling experience. I actually think he should consider offering it as a chiropractic service, as I definitely worked out a few neck kinks in the process. He found it quite amusing that they offer rides in a race-ready Viper on the Nürburgring for 250 Euro per lap – I suggested that he could make a pretty good living doing that if he ever wanted to give up designing cars. John went for a ride in the Viper too, but I caught him looking longingly at another guy's Mitsubishi Evo (bottom photo).

We ran some more errands in the afternoon and then walked over to Nina & Brian's house for an excellent hamburger dinner, with entertainment provided by 18-month-old Tommy.

18 May: Traveling in Style

I made it (just barely) to the Chick Flick on Thursday night and was glad I did; it turns out this was the last chance to see Rhoda, who is moving back to the U.S. for good on Sunday (after two years in Heidelberg and two years in Stuttgart). She was bleary-eyed from crying for the past few days, and I found it all too easy to picture myself in her shoes in a few short months. Coincidentally, she’s from Springfield, Virginia, where I lived (actually in the nearby suburb of Burke) for a couple of years as a kid. She even knew of my school, Ravenswood Elementary. We were joined at Emily’s by Shannon, Eliza, Brenda, Anne W., and an extremely pregnant woman named Sunny. What was really funny was that while last time we amassed a pretty good feast (veggies and dip, chips and salsa, chocolate cake, rice crispies treats), this time none of us had bothered to make anything (except Emily, who, being a dutiful host, had made chocolate cupcakes with red, white, and blue sprinkles). I thought I had a pretty good excuse, seeing as how I was leaving for Michigan in the morning and wasn’t even sure I was going to make it there. All of us had apparently made the same last-minute dash to the corner store and grabbed whatever caught our eye – which in my case was a package of cheese crisps and some cookies. No matter, we drank lots of wine and pigged out anyway.

My hopes of getting home at a reasonable hour (since I still had a tiny bit of packing to do) were dashed when we encountered technical difficulties with Emily’s overly complex stereo system. We couldn’t seem to get the volume turned up to the point that our gaggle of giggling girls could actually hear what was going on. After a good half-hour of futzing with the stereo, we retired to Emily’s bedroom to watch the final episode of Germany’s Next Top Model on her small but adequate television. Finally, when we were just about convinced that we were going have to watch the movie all squished together onto Emily’s bed, she got a hold of her husband on the phone and was able to devise a solution to our volume problem. Our film selection was The Holiday, which, despite featuring one of my least favorite actresses (Cameron Diaz), was quite a charming movie. Needless to say I didn’t get home until 11:30 and stayed up until almost 1 a.m. finishing up my packing.

We arrived at the airport early (for once), parked the E-Class in the garage, and lugged our four bags to the DaimlerChrysler terminal. (We decided to fill our two huge Micato safari duffels with winter clothing and shoes that we won’t need again, and leave it all in Michigan.) We waited for half an hour or so in the sleek black-and-silver waiting room (above right). Our flight left promptly at 10 a.m. with a grand total of eight passengers (on an Airbus that seats 48 – and would normally hold 120 as a commercial airliner). The photo at right is the actual DCX plane and the one below it is of the DCX terminal at the Stuttgart airport. The picture of me in the cushy seat is actually from our look-see trip in June 2005.

Only later did John hear rumors that they
will stop running the DaimlerChrysler shuttle this summer. Thus our flight back to Germany could very well be the last time we will ever travel on the DaimlerChrysler corporate jet – or any corporate jet, for that matter. Interestingly, I noticed that they did not serve sparkling wine and orange juice as soon as we got to cruising altitude – apparently they are cutting costs already!

I stole the menu as a souvenir this time, so I can describe in detail the ridiculous amount of food we consumed on our 9-hour flight: For an appetizer - sliced chicken breast with thyme, olives, roasted cherry tomatoes, and fried ceps accompanied by potato salad with petso and black tiger shrimp. For the main course, we had a choice of beef with morel sauce, fried codfish with apple curry sauce, or chicken piccata with pasta. Dessert was an apple tart. Just in case that wasn’t enough to fill us up, we got a “snack” prior to landing – asparagus with endive salad, cheese and tomato ravioli with pesto butter, and mascarpone cream with berry sauce. The flight attendants (who are always women) came around during the meal service with baskets of warm bread, and later with cookies and chocolates, just in case we got hunger pains between meals. We watched two movies – Bandidas (everyman’s dream of Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz duking it out in a western) and Music and Lyrics, which I’d actually been wanting to see. The flight was so long that they showed a third movie, Rocky Balboa, which I tried to sleep through, rather unsuccessfully.

We had excellent views of northern Scotland and Canada (see photo) on this flight, but unfortunately Greenland was obscured by clouds. As we descended over the southern tip of Lake Huron and crossed central Macomb and Oakland counties, I was really struck – more so than usual – by the extent of suburban sprawl in southeast Michigan. The photo below is of Stony Creek Lake and surrounding development, just a mile or two north of our house. I found myself dreading the sight of endless cookie-cutter subdivisions and ugly strip malls. We landed at about 1:30 p.m. Michigan time and picked up our rental car, an atrociously ugly metallic gold Subaru Tribeca (John had requested a wagon or small SUV because we needed to be able to haul mulch for our yard). I really wonder who thought it would be a good idea to name a Subaru SUV after a neighborhood in New York City.

Driving through Pontiac on the way home further exacerbated what I can only describe as “sprawl shock.” I don’t know why it affected me more now than on previous visits home – probably because the end of our time in Germany is looming, perhaps sooner than I expected. I was relieved when we finally arrived in Rochester, with its quaint downtown shops and century-old neighborhoods. It comes as no surprise to us that the Germans who visit Chrysler from Mercedes all know Rochester, and describe it as their favorite town in Michigan.

Our elation at being back in Rochester was cut off abruptly when we pulled into our driveway. We had thought we could wait until we got home to set up our lawn service for the summer, but we were wrong. Apparently the recent rains followed by warm weather had sent our lawn – and its accompanying dandelions – into hyperdrive. There were also branches and leaves scattered all over our front walk and driveway, making the place look decidedly abandoned. We surveyed the damage, left an urgent message for the lawn service people, and set off to run some errands and satisfy our craving for raw seafood at Sumo Sushi.

Upon our return a couple of hours later, we were shocked to discover our lawn sheared to within an inch of its life. At first I wondered if the lawn service had gotten my call and come to our rescue already. That would have been fine, except that there were grass clippings scattered all over the driveway and sidewalk, making the place look almost worse than it had before. As soon as we got out of the car, the mystery was solved – our neighbor Greg across the street called out, “Hey, are you guys back? I mowed your lawn – it was starting to look like nobody lived there!” Which, of course, was indeed the case. He planned to come over and clean up the clippings as well, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. We thanked him profusely, as now we only had the overgrown backyard to contend with.

Inside, we found things to be in pretty good shape. All we had to do to “turn on” the house again was switch on the water, hot water heater, and furnace. We washed the antifreeze down all the drains, made up our bed, and plugged in the fridge.

I ran into Alexander, our nextdoor neighbor to the east, on Friday evening. His house is up for sale and it turns out he has already moved out but was just stopping by to pick up a few things. He informed me that our neighbors across the street to the west had moved out some time ago. This was a stunning piece of news because this couple had been watching our house religiously. (Over the winter, without our knowledge, Dawn had plugged in our garage door and was driving her car into our garage because she was afraid of coming into an empty house. My friend Alison encountered the tire tracks in the snow one day and got so freaked out that she was considering calling the police. Fortunately I figured out what must be happening and called Dawn at work to tell her not to use our garage anymore!) Dawn had promised to water our plants and put flowers out in the summer, so I couldn’t believe that they had moved away without telling us. To top it off, our neighbors across the street to the east also have their house up for sale, which means poor Greg is going to be surrounded by empty houses, for a while at least. Finally, Alexander told me that our neighbors directly to the west of us, who had their house up for sale in December, decided not to move after all. Now that we were all up to date on the state of the neighborhood, we fell into bed – leaving the mess of grass clippings and branches for tomorrow.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

17 May: Home Again

This will be my last post before signing off for our week-long trip to Michigan.

Postcript from the Nürburgring: John’s friend Gert had a great time and definitely plans to return with his Mini. He also said, “I didn’t know women could drive like that.” It’s always nice to be able to poke a hole in the stereotype that all women are bad drivers!

This has been a busy week – on Monday I cleaned house in preparation for hosting the IWC book club on Tuesday morning. In the afternoon I walked Cody down to the vet for his annual vaccinations. Dr. Röschke once again complimented me on my German. Cody was very well-behaved while he got his shots and Dr. Röschke gave him a treat when he was done. I told Dr. Röschke that this might be my last visit because my husband works for Chrysler, but then I remembered that we will have to come back to get the pets’ travel paperwork signed. It started to rain while we were at the vet but fortunately I had brought an umbrella, so we took a nice stroll through the woods on our way home. (It’s been cold and rainy all week, by the way – in stark contrast to April’s balmy weather!) I decided to bake a blueberry coffee cake for the book club at the last minute and was up until 11 pm on Monday night waiting for it to finish!

We had eight people at the book club again – me, Debbie, Heather, Brenda, Katrina, Beth, Jane, and Ula (our first German participant!) – which I think is a good size; any larger and we wouldn’t be able to fit in my living room! We had a lovely time discussing Buddenbrooks. Debbie brought along a huge book about Thomas Mann and showed us pictures of the author and his family – upon whom the characters in the book are based – as well as the Buddenbrooks house and various landmarks in Lübeck, Mann’s hometown and the unnamed setting of most of the Buddenbrooks story. We had a fun time discussing the characters and Mann’s wonderfully descriptive, surprisingly humorous writing style. We had another successful book swap and I managed to come away with a whole stack of interesting new reading, just in time for our long flight home! We hemmed and hawed for a while about what book to read next. We all agreed that we wanted something more uplifting and modern. Heather remembered that I had mentioned that I was reading North to the Night by Alvah Simon at Shannon’s house last week. It is an incredible story about a man and his wife who sailed north of the Arctic Circle and spent the winter of 1994-95 frozen in the ice. After I described the book to the group, we decided it would be a good choice.

After the book club I had to take Scotty down to the vet for his vaccinations. (I’ve decided it is much easier to take the pets one at a time!) Scotty accepted his fate with the shots but when it came time for the nose drops (which is how they administer the feline leukemia vaccination here), he went into attack mode and seriously mauled several of my fingers. I asked Dr. Röschke for a towel so I could protect myself and when we were finally done he swabbed my fingers with iodine. This is the second time I have required first aid at Dr. Röschke’s office so he suggested that next time we get the towel out before we start!

Evelyne has wanted to show me some of her old home movies for some time now, so I went over to her house in the afternoon to see them. Oda came home from school while I was there and joined us. Evelyne has all these great silent 9-mm films of trips she took in her youth. One was from her 1976 trip to New York, which was primarily footage from a boat ride they took around the city, set to German marching music. But what she really wanted to show me was her 1979 tour to California and Nevada with her family. They visited Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and various places in between, along with a scenic flight over the Grand Canyon, over a period of ten days. She had footage from flying into San Francisco and I was able to identify the Dumbarton Bridge for her and point out roughly where we lived on the Peninsula. The films are somewhat grainy and overexposed, but they convey the atmosphere of the places and times quite well, and it was really fun to see all of these familiar California landmarks through the eyes of a 20-year-old German woman. After that we watched some hilarious videos of Oda and Birk as babies – including a visit from St. Nikolas (actually their uncle dressed up as St. Nikolas), who reads out of a great big book, telling the children what naughty and nice things they have done over the past year. Oda, who was watching all of the videos quite gleefully, started laughing so hard at herself and her brother that she had to leave the room. Finally Evelyne showed me her very oldest film, taken by her father in 1956, when she and her twin sister were just about a year old. They were wearing little white dresses and hats, having a picnic in a sunny meadow with their mother and aunt. The film was silent of course, but someone had added some hauntingly beautiful piano music that suited the idyllic scene perfectly.

After my visit with Evelyne and Oda, I had to rush home to walk Cody and get ready for the IWC’s monthly dinner. This time we went to a place in Stuttgart-West called Weinstube Trollinger. I was already running late and I had to take the U-Bahn downtown and then get on the S-Bahn, which is the larger, faster train network in Stuttgart that runs out to some of the farther-flung suburbs. Fortunately virtually all of the S-Bahn lines run from the Hauptbahnhof, where I got off the U-Bahn, through the stop I wanted, so I only had to wait a couple of minutes for the next train to come. I hadn’t been on the S-Bahn in nearly a year and a half – the only time I have had to take it was to get to a couple of German classes in Esslingen before I had a car. Ironically, as soon as I got on the train, a guy came around checking tickets. This was only the second time I have ever had my ticket checked on any Stuttgart train – the other time being my very first S-Bahn ride with Rocco back in October 2005. Fortunately I knew what to expect – once again the guy wasn’t wearing a uniform, but at least I understood what he was asking for!

I got off at the Feuersee stop and found myself directly across the street from the restaurant. It was a small group of ten or so this time but I was glad I decided to go because my friend Monique was there (she’s the one who loaned me North to the Night last summer) and I hadn’t seen her in months, so we had a good time catching up. The restaurant is famous for its meal-sized baked potatoes, so I ordered the Ofenkartofel Klassic – actually two baked potatoes smothered with sour cream, fried onions, and crispy bacon bits. I don’t even want to know how many calories I consumed. After dinner I walked to the U-Bahn with Eliza (who also lives in Botnang) and we rode home together. It turns out that there is a U-Bahn station about four blocks away so I could have avoided the S-Bahn altogether!

On Wednesday morning I had to take Cody and Scotty to the Tierhotel because Thursday is a holiday (Christi Himmelfahrt) and the Tierhotel is not open on holidays, in order to respect the peace and quiet of the neighborhood. Herr Ratibor was there to greet me and he told me once again that they always look forward to Cody’s visits because he is such a “special dog.” I told him that Cody is very well-known in our neighborhood because he is so friendly with everyone and all dogs. Herr Ratibor said, “Oh, so it is not just me? I will try not to be jealous.” I talked a bit with Herr Ratibor about the Chrysler situation; he said he was very disappointed to see things end this way. He and his wife had just looked at the Jeep Commander but they determined that the cargo area just wasn’t big enough for a Leonberger (the breed of dogs that they raise at the castle)! As I was leaving I got to see them take the dogs out for their group walk at noon, and the image of Cody bounding along joyously with his fluffy rear end bouncing in the air was priceless. Herr Ratibor walked me to the gate, as his two daughters were just arriving home from school. He saw our E-Class and wanted to check it out. I told him we had just driven it on the Nürburgring and he was quite impressed!

Today (Thursday) is a holiday so John is home and we are planning to spend the afternoon going through our clothes and picking out a bunch of stuff to take home and leave in Michigan. We have no weight limit on the corporate plane so we can take as much as we can fit into two bags. If we get all of our packing done in time, I will hopefully be going to the Chick Flick night at Emily’s house this evening.

As a parting thought, I realized this week that John will be able to say that he was the first and only Chrysler designer ever to do an exchange at Mercedes. He will be meeting with his bosses at Chrysler on Monday; after that we will have a better idea about how long we will stay in Germany.

Monday, May 14, 2007

14 May: A Sad Day in Deutschland

How ironic is it that on the very day that my blog has finally caught up with my journal, we find out that we might be leaving Germany?

It seems fitting that our first violent spring thunderstorm hit last night (on the 13th no less), just hours before DaimlerChrysler announced that it has decided to sell Chrysler to a financial services company called Cerberus for the tidy sum of $7.4 billion. John told me about it when I got up this morning (he had an early meeting so he was up before me and read about it online) and I had a text message from Beth waiting for me when I got back from walking with Evelyne. Beth told me to watch the news this morning and, sure enough, they announced it on CNN at 9:30 am. Daimler held a press conference at noon but I completely forgot to watch it. Apparently Daimler wasn't planning to announce the sale until next week, but the Detroit Free Press got wind of it and ran a story about the Cerberus deal on Friday, so Daimler basically had to fess up.

Suffice it to say that I am pretty depressed. One glimmer of hope is that I read in one of the newspaper articles that it will take until fall to finalize the deal, so there is a slim chance that Mercedes will agree to keep John on board until then. Of course John’s “worst case scenario” is that he will literally be locked out of his building within days. I honestly don’t think that will happen, but they could very well send him packing before the deal is finalized. I’m just hoping that we can stretch our stay until August so that we can put in a full two years here as originally planned.

>I will be extremely disappointed if we have to return to Michigan earlier than planned. It is difficult to explain my feelings about this...I know in my heart that I do not want to live in Germany forever, but I am not quite ready to return to the "real world" in Michigan. There are still so many things that I want to do in Germany - more writing, more traveling, and spending more time with the wonderful friends that I have made here. I don't think I will ever be quite "ready" to leave, but after everything that John and I have invested - physically, mentally, and emotionally - in moving to and living in Germany, I want to see this experience through to its conclusion. For now, all we can do is wait and see what happens in the coming weeks.

The weather seems to be reading my mood - drippy and dreary. I am going to go cheer myself up now by baking a coffee cake for the book club, which is meeting at my house tomorrow morning.

13 May: Return of the Ring Fever!

We were up bright and early to prepare for our departure for the Nürburgring. Gert drove up in his new dark silver convertible Mini at seven o’clock sharp and we all piled into the E-Class for the three-hour drive. I took the backseat and caught a few minutes of shuteye en route while John and Gert talked about Chrysler rumors and the thrills of working at Mercedes.

When we were about an hour away I turned on my cell phone to call Jürgen and found that he had already called me and left a text message. I called him back and told him we were 70 km away. He was staying with his family about 45 minutes from the track, so he said he would meet us at the Grüne Hölle (the restaurant at the entrance gate) at 10:00. We had to backtrack to find gas on the Autobahn so we arrived a few minutes late. (John insisted on finding a gas station where he could use his DaimlerChrysler credit card, as he wants to milk Mercedes for every penny!) I simply had to take this picture at the gas station (right) of a McDonald's, a strip club (the sign below "Erotic" says Erdbeermund, or "Strawberry Mouth") and a 24-hour casino, just to prove that the global decline in moral values is evident even in Germany.The weather was looking good – cool with some patchy clouds. The parking lot was not as busy as last time and we found a parking space easily, then located Jürgen socializing with some other bikers outside the restaurant. He was wearing a black leather one-piece Alpinestars suit, which he had to wear all day because he didn’t bring a change of clothes. He was riding his slightly battered blue-and-orange Yamaha, as he subscribes to the philosophy that one should not spend a fortune on one’s motorcycles, especially when one frequents the Nürburgring. (Remember, this is the guy who couldn’t tell me how many times he has crashed on the track!) Needless to say, despite the old bike, I would not be surprised if he was one of the faster guys out there today.

John was going to buy a 4-lap ticket at first but Jürgen convinced him to buy an 8-lap ticket since it is more economical and Jürgen could always use any laps that we had left over on another day. The photo at right shows the booth where you buy your tickets. If you want to pay cash you can use the Kassenautomat out front. John drove first, of course, with Jürgen as his trusty co-pilot. The next photo shows the entrace gate, with emergency workers and an ambulance waiting on the sidelines. Less than two minutes into our first lap we saw our first crash of the day – a dark green Lexus SC that some guy had slammed up against the wall only moments before. (We ended up seeing fewer crashes today than last time – a BMW Z3 that spun out and scraped the wall and a minor motorcycle accident, and two more that I will discuss later.) Jürgen must have been a little tired this morning because he kept mixing up right and left. Fortunately his hand signals are always on the mark and his most useful guidance is whether the next turn is “fast” (meaning you can coast through it without breaking or even accelerate a little) or “less fast” (meaning you need to tap the brakes), or “ very tight” (meaning you’d better slow down or you are going to end up slammed up against the wall just like that BMW!).

John did his laps with the traction control off and used the paddle shifters to manually override the automatic transmission. This can be tricky because once you have shifted manually, you have to hold the “up” paddle for a couple seconds before it switches back to fully automatic mode. The E-Class performed surprisingly well with four people in it – the tires had excellent grip, and the suspension, while a bit softer than we would prefer, held up to the rough-and-tumble nature of the track and was not so squishy that we were being thrown around too much in the back. The photo at right is a John's-eye-view of the final straightaway. After two laps, we decided to take a break and let the brakes cool off. John, Gert and I had coffee in the restaurant while Jürgen did a lap on his bike. He was back in no time at all, and then we watched some of the paddock action for a while. The BMW M5 “Ring Taxis” were out today but there was no sign of Sabine Schmidt, the "Queen of the 'Ring." There was also a bright red Viper taking individuals out for the tidy sum of 270 Euro per lap! We went out for two more laps as a light rain began to fall. I never looked at my watch once today, so I have no idea what kind of times we were doing - which is for the best. On one lap John came up on a bright orange PT Cruiser with flames painted on its sides; he went to pass on the left in a curvy section and we had our only real scare of the day – the PT Cruiser started drifting towards us and we barely made it, John had to cut the corner really tight, and we barely made it through cleanly.

We stopped again just after noon, and drove over to the Bike World shop where we had lunch last year. I had my favorite “death by schnitzel” – breaded pork smothered in mushroom cream sauce, with a pile of salty french fries and a side salad. Jürgen insisted on buying our lunch since he used one of our laps. After lunch we returned to the paddock area, I visited the restroom one last time (how could I forget Jürgen’s warning from last year about not getting into an accident with a full bladder?), and then hopped into the driver’s seat for my first turn around the ‘Ring. The rain had disappeared and the track was pretty clear. I must say I had butterflies in my stomach as I stuck the card into the reader, but as soon as that gate opens you are fully committed! I had already decided not to worry about shifting and just focus on my line. I also left the traction control on, which did wonders – I could barely tell I was driving a rear-wheel drive car; in fact, it felt uncannily similar to my old Audi A4, only, well, a bit bigger.

As usual, Jürgen’s calm instructions made the experience much more enjoyable than it would be without a guide. By this time I knew I could trust him when he said a turn was “fast,” but it is still hard to let yourself plough full-speed into a turn when you can’t see through to the other side (or over the crest of the next hill). I agreed with John that the 20.8-km track didn’t feel quite as endless as it did on our first visit, and driving an automatic was much easier.

After two laps we stopped for another break and were chatting in the paddock when we heard them announce over the loudspeakers that the track had to be closed due to an accident (we later found out that it involved two cars and no injuries). Not knowing how long it would take to clean up, we decided to drive over to the Formula 1 track to take a look around. Unfortunately the café there was closed so we didn’t get to look out at the track, but we wandered around a bit and visited the fan shop (where John and I bought a hat and three posters). On the way back we drove up the hill to Burg Nürburg, a very atmospheric castle with pointy turrets, where Gert bought a postcard and stole a piece of the castle (he collects both).

We could hear cars running from the castle, so we knew the track was open again. We drove back to the paddock and I headed out for my third and final lap of the day. Gert says he thought I was as fast as John on that last lap. It was exhilarating (even if I did get passed by about six motorcycles that made me feel like I was standing still)! When we got back to the paddock we saw a silver E-Class wagon come limping into the carpark with a smashed-up front fender. The car was packed with people and a trunk-load of luggage. It looked like some family had decided to take a spin around the Ring on their vacation and gotten into a spot of trouble. We also saw an S-Class and a couple of C-Classes in the parking lot but I don’t think we saw a single SLK today. There seemed to be a lot of BMWs and Audis, the usual garishly colored Porsche GT3s, a couple of Evos, a couple of Lotuses, and quite a few Ford Foci, but not quite the level of exotica that we had seen on our last visit. We did pass a tour bus on the track again, but the prize for slowest passenger car of the day must go to the slate blue Citröen 2CV!

Jürgen was itching to take another lap or two on his bike, and he wanted us to get some pictures of him, but he hesitated because he felt that he would be trying to impress us and might do something stupid. I pointed out that if he was going slower I would get better pictures of him. Finally his Ring fever got the best of him and we followed him over to one of the spectator viewing areas, where he left us, promising to come back after “one lap, maybe two.” We were at the 16 km point on the course so we had to try to estimate how long it would take him to ride back to the paddock, buy a ticket, and get to our point on the track. We watched anxiously with eyes peeled, hoping we would recognize his bright red helmet coming over the crest of the hill. As it turns out he was pretty easy to spot and I got a good sequence of photos while John took a video. (Note how ridiculously far he leans over in the turn; yes, that is his knee brushing the track in the second photo.) Unfortunately I didn’t have my zoom with me – if we manage to come back one more time with Jürgen, I will be sure to bring it. We weren't surprised at all when he came around again about eight minutes later, and when he returned to our viewing spot he was grinning from ear to ear. We hung out there for a while longer so he could cool off and then decided to call it a day, as it was approaching 5:00. We said our goodbyes to Jürgen and he extended an open invitation for us to come to his house and “drive” the Nürburgring on his Playstation setup, complete with an old Mercedes R-Class seat, steering wheel, and pedals. (All kidding aside, this is actually a great way to get to know the track safely and practice at the same time!)

The drive home was uneventful. Frau Dörr walked Cody for us today but he was still quite happy to see us when we got home just after 8:00.

12 May: A Bilingual Wedding

There’s nothing quite so much fun as a wedding –especially a bilingual one! John ended up having to work today so he wasn’t able to accompany me. This was probably for the best, as going to a stranger’s wedding was not high on his list for how to spend his precious Saturday afternoons. The wedding was held at the Bergkirche (literally “hill church”) in Heinsheim, a small village near Bad Wimpfen (home of the famous Blauer Türm where, you may recall, I used the watchwoman’s bathroom last spring).

I knew full well that I needed at least an hour to get to the church but I still cut it very close, taking a wrong turn when I was just a few minutes away. By the time I pulled into the parking lot the church bells were ringing, so I quickly swung the E-Class into a too-tight space and got attacked by a thorny bush as I climbed out of the car. I got rocks in my sandals as I trotted past the smiling bridesmaids waiting outside the door and hurried into the church, which was an incredible 9th-century stone structure with a gorgeous view of the Neckar Valley. But I'd have to enjoy the view later - everyone turned to look at me as I came in the side door and I felt incredibly embarrassed! I quickly scanned the group of about fifty people but didn’t see Beth in the black hat she said she'd be wearing, so I slipped into an empty pew near the back. The bells were still ringing when Beth and Axl walked in about three minutes after me. Whew!

A few moments later the church’s tiny organ started up and Judy entered on her father’s arm, a vision in billowing cream silk and pearls, along with her two bridesmaids in fluttery aqua dresses. Judy’s family brought their reverend from London and there was a female German minister from Bad Wimpfen, as the ceremony was to be carried out in both English and German. The English reverend started out by saying how pleased he was that their German hosts had welcomed the “English invaders” into their church. He laid some ground rules before the official ceremony began – including “please throw things at the couple outside the church – rice, birdseed...eggs, whatever.” He said we would find the words to the hymns in English and in German in the program and that we would be singing them in both languages simultaneously – “hopefully arriving at the end at the same time.” He wrapped up his greeting with some reflections on something the Stuttgart registrar had said at Judy and Achim’s civil ceremony on Thursday: A marriage is like two grapes, which “when squeezed together, make fine wine – Auslese. (Auslese is the highest German quality classification for wine.)

The sequence of the ceremony was not far off of that of an American wedding. After the greeting, the Junge Chor Stuttgart (the choir Judy sings in) sang in English, followed by an introductory prayer from both ministers, and then we all sang a hymn together. I found it very hard to sing along in English while the choir sang in German, so I switched to the German version halfway through.

The two ministers gave short individual sermons (I could understand enough of the German to recognize that they were two different sermons), followed by readings of the well-known “Love is patient, love is kind” passage from 1 Corinthians 13. Then the bride and groom exchanged vows – Judy in English and Achim in German. There was a hilarious moment when the English reverend said, “Do you Judy take Achim as your wife,” and Judy responded “I take Achim as my…husband,” and everyone burst out laughing. I couldn’t see the minister or the couple, as my view was blocked by a woman wearing a large fuschia hat with enormous plumes of black and fuschia feathers bursting out of it, but I am sure the minister’s face matched the color of the hat at that moment! The rest of the ceremony proceeded without incident – the giving of rings, the blessing, another song by the choir, and the final prayers. We sang another bilingual hymn together, the marriage bible was presented, and the choir sang a gorgeous rendition of “Scarborough Fair.” (It was so beautiful that two of the small children in the audience were howling pathetically as the last notes faded away.) Finally there was the recessional accompanied by organ music and the audience walked through a red rose arbor formed by the members of the choir as we exited the church.

I stayed for the champagne reception outside – it had been a bit overcast this morning but by afternoon the sky was blue and dotted with puffy white clouds. As part of German tradition, the newlyweds had to perform some little tasks together – one of which involved two of their friends dressed up in lab coats and holding beakers of dubious-looking liquids. We weren’t close enough to hear what was going on but Judy and Achim had to put on lab coats and drink the contents of the beakers. Beth said that at her wedding she and Axl had to saw through a log with a double-handled saw. After greeting the happy couple, I chatted with Beth and Axl for a bit about the Chrysler sale and we explored the grounds of the church while sipping champagne and munching on meat- and cheese-filled puff pastries.

I think I've mentioned that Achim works for the Stuttgart transportation department, so somehow they were able to appropriate an antique Stuttgarter Strassenbahn bus from the Mercedes museum to transport the wedding party to the reception at Burg Hornberg, a few miles away. The newlyweds posed in front of the bright orange bus before driving off. At this point I said my farewells to Beth and Axl and watched the rest of the guests leave. I stayed behind to take some pictures of the church and valley and then drove leisurely back down to the Neckar River, stopping to take pictures of the 12th-century Burg Ehrenberg, which is perched on the side of a hill just a bit north of Heinsheim. I stopped again to take pictures of the E-Class in front of Bad Wimpfen, and then headed home. All in all it was a lovely afternoon!

11 May

I met Beth at the Starbucks on Calwerstrasse this afternoon. (Coming up from the U-Bahn station I accidentally stumbled on Calwer Passage – a glass-enclosed shopping street lined with expensive clothing shops and cafés. I'd been wondering where it was for a year and a half.) We spent a good 2.5 hours talking about all manner of interesting topics - my book, Beth's new handbag business (she wants to design a stylish diaper bag for moms and an evening bag that can actually hold more than a lipstick and a credit card), life in Germany, what to wear to Judy's wedding, etc.

After leaving Beth with my English copy of "Buddenbrooks" (she took a stab at the German but found it slow going), I went to the Tritschler store and found a cute Alessi kitchen timer and a nice wedding card for Judy and Achim. I had forgotten to ask Beth about European wedding gift-giving traditions (especially for last-minute invitees) so I decided a little something would be better than nothing!

10 May

Yesterday's mild storm blew through and it was sunny but very blustery today (must be those March winds that we never got in March…). It started out cool but by this afternoon it had warmed up significantly. I took Heather’s advice and tried to keep my heart rate down this afternoon when I went running – and guess what? It worked! I ran for more of my route than I ever have before, and even though I was going a bit slower I still managed to beat my time by one minute because I didn’t stop to walk. Maybe there is still hope that I will become a reasonably capable runner…or should I say jogger, since I can’t really claim to be “running.”

9 May: April Showers...in May

Now that the tulips are long gone, the lovely lilacs are on their last legs, and the chestnut blossoms have nearly all blown off and formed snowdrifts on the walkways around our house, it has turned cold and rainy! My new friend Judy from the IWC is getting married this Saturday and, in her own words, is terrified that the German monsoon season has finally begun. I told her there is nothing she can do about the weather, and to just focus on having a happy day. She invited me and a couple other people from the IWC to her wedding ceremony and champagne reception afterwards. John may have to work on Saturday and isn’t all that keen on going to a stranger’s wedding, so I might go alone. I found out yesterday that Beth is going too, so that will make it more fun. I’m excited about the opportunity to attend a German wedding!

Also on the agenda for Sunday is our second trip to the Nürburgring. John's colleague Jürgen has been dying to go again and he will already be in the area visiting family this weekend. John’s friend Gert wants to come with us for a reconnaissance trip before venturing out on the track with his new Mini. So yes, we are taking the E-Class and we will have four people in the car! Should be very interesting. I told John that he can’t expect to tackle the track with quite the same aggressiveness as he did in the Brabus. Of course he told me that I was just as aggressive as he was – I suppose things look and feel different when you are being tossed around in the back seat. This time we will have a boat of a car with rear-wheel drive and slightly squishy suspension, so we will have to be quite cautious.

On the topic of traveling, I have started putting deposits on hotels in the U.K. and bought our tickets to the Goodwood Festival of Speed on June 24. John is still not sure this trip is going to happen but I didn’t want to lose a couple of really good hotels. After I find out what Beth knows, I may purchase trip insurance that would cover our deposits if we had to cancel the trip.

I went over to Shannon’s house this morning for an IWC coffee. I picked up Eliza on the way – I had a little trouble finding her because she dropped her daughter off at kindergarten and she wanted me to pick her up in front of the Edeka grocery store on the way to Feuerbach. Unfortunately I got Edeka mixed up with Lidl, another grocery store. (Why is it that every grocery store chain in Germany seems to have a similar blue-and-yellow logo? Neukauf is blue-and-yellow too!) I found Eliza eventually and we arrived at Shannon’s without further incident. We were joined by Anne M., Heather, Sabina, and Shannon’s very quiet Japanese neighbor whose name I won’t try to spell. We had a great time talking about German dialects, English and American accents, books, dogs, traveling, etc.

This afternoon it was still sprinkling a bit so I just took Cody for a short walk. On our way home we encountered a woman with an 11-week-old Berner puppy named Rebecca, on her first outing in the forest! The woman was a little worried about Cody and said she didn’t want the puppy to have any bad experiences with dogs. I said Cody was very friendly and had him lie down, but he still whined because he wanted to play. The puppy was a little nervous and eyed Cody warily while I talked to the lady. Poor Cody had quite a hard time trying to understand why this wriggly little puppy wouldn't play with him!

8 May: When it Rains, it Pours!

Well, it didn’t exactly pour, but Evelyne and I got thoroughly soaked on our walk this morning. Just moments before we arrived back at her house, the sun came out. On our way back we saw Herr K with his little dachshund Wastel. Herr K looked exactly the part of the quintessential German gentleman, with his olive green felt coat, wooden cane, and brown rubber loafers.

Evelyne invited me in for coffee and homemade rhubarb cake while she put my very wet jeans in the dryer (she has a dryer!!). Today she showed me more family photos from their trip to Europapark (the German equivalent of Disneyland), her son Birk’s confirmation (hard to imagine that cute smiling kid turned into the glum hippie skateboarder I’ve glimpsed only twice!), and more Eiko photos. Mixed in between somewhere was a photo of a boar’s severed head lying in a bucket - obviously from some successful hunting party. I'm still trying to imagine being invited over to someone's house in the States and seeing a picture of a boar's head.

It clouded up again in the late afternoon and I went running with Cody in the rain. I love it because it keeps me cool and I feel like I can run forever, but Cody was rather miserable and I had to drag him along. Of course I paid dearly for my pleasure because Cody left muddy smudges wherever he laid down for the rest of the evening.

Beth called today and we arranged to meet on Friday afternoon for coffee.