Thursday, January 26, 2006

"Ladies" Lunch

I met Tanja through a language partner exchange program, a week or so after we moved to Munich. In addition to simply helping me learn the language and the culture, she has also been a great friend. I've spent several meals in her home (a couple of times she and her husband invited both Steve and me over together), but we just now coordinated a time for her to come to my home. I felt a little apprehensive at first, since she has a two-year-old daughter -- I just wasn't quite sure how well that would go over with our landlady. After the first time I mentioned it, though, our landlady kept asking when my "acquaintance and her little one" were coming over. At that point, I realized she might just have more fun with it than any of us. I guess she really likes children and is not very easily disturbed by their child-like behavior... at least I hoped that was true.

So today was the day. I met Tanja on the train platform, helped her carry her "Kinderwagen" (stroller) down a flight of stairs, and walked the 20 minutes on the icy sidewalks back to our home. I was glad that the sun was shining, so it was a beautiful day to walk. Upon arrival, the little girl headed for our landlady's stack of toys for which, thankfully, I had already cleared permission. As Tanja and I made the pizzas, we could hear the other two, the 88-year-old and the 2-year-old, chattering in the other room. Every once in awhile, we would have to move out of the way of the "doll parade," and before we knew it, it was time for lunch. I invited our landlady to join us -- an invitation she rarely accepts! Well today she was on a mission to get the little one to eat a few bites of her meal, so she sat and enjoyed a slice of pizza, obviously playing the role of "example."

Afterwards, more playing in the living room, and then it was time to go back to the train station. So reverse the process -- 20-minute walk in the sunshine to the train station... but somehow the Kinderwagen was more difficult to get *up* the stairs.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Spontaneous weekend trip to Austria

Since we arrived in Munich, we've been talking about a trip to Gmuend, the small town in which Steve spent 4 weeks as an exchange student when he was 15 years old. We contacted Steve's host father a couple of weeks ago, and by the time we coordinated our schedules -- mid-week, last week -- we had two days to rent a car and plan the trip. By Saturday morning, we were on the road to Austria.

Now you must understand, our family often experiences "scope creep" in organizing our excursions to various places. "Scope creep" is a term used in the business world when projects grow and grow and grow... just like our trips. By the time we finished contacting two of Steve's former teachers, we had 3 families to visit in the 25 total hours we were in Austria. Might as well make the most of the time we're there!

First, we had Saturday lunch with Magda, the teacher who organized the school trip to Austria in 1992, in Spittal, a large(r) town near Gmuend. She served us traditional Austrian fare, then led us on a refreshing walk in the sunshine to see the high school which Steve attended during his month in Austria. Here we are, sitting with Magda in her beautiful sun room.

We then stopped by to say hello to the family of Steve's high school choir director. It was fun to reminisce a bit about the amazing musical the director organized in which the *students* composed all the music. He has quite a gift for inspiring young musicians, saying that "everyone has music somewhere inside them." Here is Steve with the family.

We then spent an relaxing evening with Sepp, Steve's guest father:

Sepp graciously hosted us overnight in his home, cooked us delicious food, and took us to his church the next morning. The church is such a sweet, friendly community, with especially impressive music accompanied by only an electric guitar and a xylophone/marimba like instrument. Sepp treated us to a nice lunch at a small-town Austrian restaurant (Beth tried deer meat and veal liver for the first time!), and then we went to the local Porsche museum. Apparently during WWII, Herr Ferdinand Porsche and his colleagues moved their personal automobile operations from Stuttgart to Gmuend, disguising their small factory as a manufacturing facility for some other type of goods. It was here that the first auto to bear the name "Porsche" -- the Gmuender Porsche 356 -- was built. This photo shows us in front of a Porsche Spyder and its "wooden model." After each metal piece was pounded into shape, it was laid against the model to see what parts still needed to be pounded. It was taken back and forth, pounding it as necessary, until it laid flat against the model -- a perfect fit.

We are so thankful for the opportunity to make the trip, and we appreciate all the wonderful people who helped make it possible.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New Year

December 31st was Munich's annual "Sylvesterlauf" -- a 10 kilometer race through Olympia Park. We ran as part of the BMW team -- a group of 15 or so BMW employees whose finish times counted toward a team placement. There was a lot of snow on the ground, but it was 10 degrees warmer than the previous day, so most of the race course was dirty slush. It was so crowded that it was impossible to keep our shoes dry, and we found ourselves doing almost more maneuvering that straight-out running. Our goal time was one hour, and were pleased that we both finished in 50-something minutes! Afterwards, we got bananas and warm tea in a souvenir mug, thankful that we still had the warm rental car to take us home. We were both a little sore the next day, but we were so glad for the opportunity to participate in such an event. This photo was taken after the race. The tower in the background between our heads is the Olympia Tower, a significant landmark from Summer Olympics 1972. After the race, we enjoyed a quite evening at home. Fireworks awoke us briefly at midnight, but we went right back to sleep--a good ending to Steve's vacation.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Trip through Switzerland and Southern France

Steve took a week off work and rented a BMW (this time he was given a 3-series). We drove through Switzerland on the 26th and had a delightful dinner with some relatives who live in France, just across the border from Geneva. The next day we continued on through Southern France. We saw some spectacular scenery along the way, including this bridge:

"Navi," the vehicle's navigation system, took us right to the village, though at times we wondered where she was taking us...
We like her ("Navi") a lot more now that we finally figured out how to mute her, so she can just show us where to turn on her little screen. After driving through the town, Steve recognized the V's house--from his visit last February.

The visit with the cousins was short but very relaxing. It was neat to hear the family play their instruments and sing together, play foosball and other games, and catch up on everyone's life.
Wednesday afternoon, they took us into the city of Toulouse where we met Michel's parents and walked around for a while. It was quite cold, but nice to get a better feel for the city anyway.

We left Thursday morning and decided to drive straight through to Munich. There was a lot of snow coming down in a few places, but we still made it home safely in just over 14 hours. Unfortunately our landlady wasn't expecting us home so early, so we had to wake her up (at 12:30 am) to unlatch the chain and let us into the house!
Although we spent so many hours in the car, the trip was refreshing and we can now both say we've been to (through) Switzerland.


Christmas Eve
First we went to a party at the apartment of one of our friends from church. We then spent most of the evening with our good German friends whom we met at CIU in South Carolina. It was fun to get acquainted with their brand-new baby boy. When we arrived home, we found a beautiful gift: a plate of home-baked cookies prepared by our landlady.

Christmas Day
Our International church had a noon service, celebrated in a newly re-modeled buildling. Then we surprised both families by participating virtually in their celebrations (in Texas and Guatemala, respectively) thanks to the Internet, web cameras, high-speed Internet access at our friend's apartment, and our wonderful brothers who made it all possible. It was great fun!