2012.

Another year down, folks.

And in keeping with my previous musing on little things, here are a few extra little things from this past year that never made it into my travel accounts.

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This is the little Fiat Punto that drove us around northern Italy back in February. It was just a bit wheezy and sputtery, but J had fun getting back to his roots with the standard transmission.

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The mosaic museum in Gaziantep, Turkey is full of little things turned into big things. This museum and the scenery on the drive there and back was my favorite part of our day. The markets that many raved about, however, did not impress me…

Late March must be daisy season in Izmir...

Late March must be daisy season in Izmir…

Also in Izmir. This dog clearly had plans to meet up with someone staying in the hotel across the street. Apparently, either the dog was early or the person was late... We watch him wait patiently for quite a while.

Also in Izmir. This dog clearly had plans to meet up with someone staying in the hotel across the street. Apparently, either the dog was early or the person was late… We watch him wait patiently for quite a while.

The mosque in Adana is no little thing, but the surprising softness of the carpet under bare feet was an unexpected treat.

The mosque in Adana is no little thing, but the surprising softness of the carpet under bare feet was an unexpected treat.

YogaLoft Adana and all of the wonderful people there. This is a few of us after the final class that I taught there this summer.

YogaLoft Adana and all of the wonderful people there. This is a few of us after the final class that I taught there this summer.

After we arrived in Germany, I had my first new car buying experience. Watching the odometer hit 100 miles for the first time completely blew my mind!

After we arrived in Germany, I had my first new car buying experience. Watching the odometer hit 100 miles for the first time completely blew my mind!

 

Lots of family walks this fall...

Lots of family walks this fall…

...and lots of rainbows, too. (I have a sneaking suspicion that this just might have something to do with all of the rain we get around these parts.)

…and lots of rainbows, too. (I have a sneaking suspicion that this just might have something to do with all of the rain we get around these parts.)

We had a wonderful time exploring the Mosel valley and Fairy Tale road with J's parents. (This was more of a big thing than a little thing. We packed a lot in for a four night excursion!)

We had a wonderful time exploring the Mosel valley and Fairy Tale road with J’s parents. (This was more of a big thing than a little thing. We packed a lot in for a four night excursion!)

And I also finally had the chance to bask in fall foliage again--it had been far too long!

And I also finally had the chance to bask in fall foliage again–it had been far too long!

A continuing theme throughout the year. Yoga+Poodle=cute. (And sometime annoying... especially when balancing is involved...)

A continuing theme throughout the year. Yoga+Poodle=cute. (And sometime annoying… especially when balancing is involved…)

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Beautiful snow in early December. I’m ready for more! Fingers crossed…

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My first Christmas tree–ever. In my mind, it’s really more of a “Winter” tree. All I know is that it makes a lovely glow when the lights are on.

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And, finally, a (gluten free!) Parisian eclair. (A preview for a post to come…)

Happy 2013!

 

 

 

Big Thoughts. Little Things.

On Tuesday I had a conversation with one of my yoga students after class about kindness and about “being good.” I had admitted, at the beginning of the class, when faced with a group simply buzzing with holiday-induced stress, that I’m a bit of a Christmas novice due to my Jewish heritage. I told them that it made me sad to see them so frazzled during what is, ostensibly, such a festive time of year, and I invited them to use our little hour practice as a time to let in a bit more joy.  And at the end, as he was leaving, one of my “regulars” remarked to me, “You know, I don’t know if it’s like this for you and your background, but I was raised Catholic, and after all of that formal *stuff* I had to deal with, the only thing I ever wanted to tell my kids was this: be good.”

And I told him that I grew up with that, as well. Just…be good. Be kind. It sounds simple–simplistic, even. But, really, I think it’s far more difficult to be these things than to follow even the most convoluted of dogmas. Easy to say, hard to do.

So… I’ve only read a few news articles from the NY Times, and I feel like I have heard all that I need to hear. (Once again, I’m thanking my lucky stars that we have no cable or satellite tv.) Facebook feeds have exploded, unsurprisingly, and in my minds-eye I can picture the maelstrom of television headlines, special reports (complete with their own logo), the vulture-like circling of hungry-eyed news casters kept awake by their networks only to repeat the same bits of tragic information while dangling the assumption that more titillating details will soon emerge. Am I close to accurate? I hope not…but probably, yes, I am.

We torture ourselves with 24-hour news streams, as though by gluing our eyes to the television or by sending prayers on facebook we can somehow absolve ourselves of survivor’s guilt or the realization that we’ve been focusing on Christmas shopping instead of writing our congressmen about BIG… IMPORTANT… issues. But we are none of us psychic predictors of the future or inventors of time machines, and no amount of communal self-flagellation will bring back the lives of 28 innocent people.

So here’s what I think… This is not the time for prayer–or for the posting of links to studies and statistics in the effort to change or enlighten minds, for that matter. In the wake of yet another absurdly unnecessary tragedy, the best that we can do is re-examine our priorities. Be good. Be kind. We can allow that kindness to replace righteousness, finally. It seems like such a small thing, and it is. And that’s exactly my point.

For me, in all practicality, kindness is the small things. It means giving a student a hug when she’s shared something heartbreaking after class. It means bringing my own bags to the grocery store. It means paying my taxes graciously, and it means valuing the sanctity of human life (humans born, skin touching air) and the human experience above all else. And I just wonder what would happen if everyone decided, finally, to give (or, give over) just a bit for the sake of simple kindness. We don’t all have to be Mother Theresa, and, honestly, that shouldn’t be necessary. But what would happen, really, if, for example, everyone recycles most of the time, if we decide that it’s ok to let go of a few colonial era “freedoms” for sake of the safety of our children, or if we allow ourselves to soften into the practice of democracy rather than stampeding forward to “fight” for it? Give a little, get a lot. We won’t need heroes to swoop in and save us if only we can agree that it’s time for the small kindnesses that will allow us to save ourselves.

I could go on. I could go on and outline exactly how all that I’ve said above should play out in the minds of those who lobby against gun control or those who vehemently protest against making their necessary contribution to the financial viability of our nation. Or, especially, for those who think that the only solution to our nation’s problems is righteous chest pounding, all while taking the supposed fight for our freedoms elsewhere. Instead, I’m going to resist (mostly) pounding my own chest over this since I know there are plenty out there ready to do that for me. Instead, for now, I simply want to ask–no, implore–any one-issue gun enthusiast voters for a deep breath, an unclenching of fists, and a small concession of kindness.

Please. And thank you.

“But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbour, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvellous products of our labour.”  –Lyndon B. Johnson, The Great Society

“For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”  –Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

 

Weekend in Brussels

For two weeks in the middle of August, my mom and sister stayed with us for a visit. In addition to day trips to several cities in the region (Cologne, Aachen, Sittard), we also spent a long weekend in Brussels.

While Brussels, in theory, should have only been a couple of hours away by train, our route seemed to take quite a bit longer with several stops and train changes. I’m willing to bet that a more direct route exists, but with no internet at the time, I never had the opportunity to do any research, and we simply showed up at the Sittard station and hoped for the best. Despite a few confused and hectic moments, we still managed to get into the Brussels Centrale station mid afternoon on a Friday, and we easily hoofed it on over to our B&B in the fish restaurant neighborhood.

Just around the corner from our B&B. With Place St. Catherine at one end and a fanciful sea-themed fountain at the other, this pool is lined with fish restaurants on both sides.

Even though it only took us about 15 minutes to walk to the Grand Place, we definitely felt like we were a bit removed from all of the tourist cacophony just a few streets away. After dropping our bags and getting a map from one of the B&B owners, we headed out to do a walk about and scope out as many of the outdoor sites as possible while the sunshine and warm weather remained. (Honestly, we lucked out during my mom and sister’s visit as a whole. I don’t think it rained for the entire two weeks that they were here, and much of our Brussels weekend felt downright toasty.)

The shift in tone as we approached the Grand Place became increasingly apparent. For example:

From the window of a restaurant in the Place St. Catherine…

And then this…

Typical? Ok…. This from a business just off of the Grand Place. One of the many (many!) Haagen Daz kiosks drew a multinational crowd across the pedestrianized street and a group of college-aged American backpackers with piles of gear lounged in the outdoor seating, apparently enjoying their “typical” beers.

Despite the crowds, the Grand Place was beautiful in the afternoon light. While J tried to dodge the packs of tourists for the sake of good photography opportunities, my sister did her civic duty. As the only gluten eater of our little group, she took one for the team and sampled her very first Belgian waffle.

It’s a tough job, but…

Just a part of the Grand Place in afternoon light.

After orienting ourselves (i.e. pinpointing the location of the chocolate museum for the next day and then seeking out ice cream), we finished off our evening with dinner at a recommended fish restaurant close to our B&B.

Since the earliest opportunity for breakfast the next morning wasn’t until 8am, J and I decided to take advantage of the early hours, by getting out and using some of that prime crowd-free time for picture taking.

The Grand Place at 6:30am (and no one bumped into me while I took this!).

Chocolate sheep! This made my day.

After breakfast, we made it to the chocolate museum. The actual museum section reminded me of my hometown’s local science museum in its very earliest incarnations (pre-funding). We saw a pretty collection of historic hot chocolate pots and china sets, but much of the scientific/historical information about chocolate and chocolate production looked like little more than a middle-schooler’s science fair project with labels typed on printer paper and pasted onto colorful poster board. BUT, you could find little bowls of free chocolate scattered throughout the exhibit, and a little cocoa buzz and sugar haze made all the difference. The museum experience culminated in a demonstration of how to make the outer shells for truffles which ended with another tasting opportunity. Not too bad for 5 Euro.

We walked off that chocolate on our way to our next museum destination. We had read and heard many great things about the relatively new Magritte Museum, and it definitely lived up to its reputation. Organized in such a way that takes the visitor chronologically through Rene Magritte’s life and work as you move from the top floor back down to the entrance level (conveniently, the museum shop is right there, wouldn’t you know!). The work was beautifully displayed and the museum had an easy flow that accommodated a high volume of visitors. It also had great views of the city from its hilltop vantage point in the Upper Town are.

After a late lunch at the museum cafe, we walked by the palace where they were also doing a sound check for a weekend music festival. It just happened to be some sort of modern folk Irish group, so we listened in sunshine for a little while before making our way through a park full of tongue-in-cheek sculpture art.

A Brussel sprout! Imagine that!

We visited the cathedral on our way back to the city center and then eventually back to the B&B to rest our feet a bit before dinner.

Upon the recommendation of a friend of our B&B owners (they were having a little birthday gathering on the patio, and guests were welcome to stop by), we had a delicious outdoor dinner at a casual bistro around the corner. J and I had been drooling all day over the pots of steamed mussels we saw diners enjoying all over town and we decided to share an order. With frites and white wine, it was just about a perfect meal.

On Sunday morning we made a last few stops to pick up some street sketches we had been eying the day before and to seek out the slightly less famous of Brussels’ famous peeing statues. There’s a boy, a girl, and a dog. The dog is my favorite. After lunch we headed back to the train station and said goodbye to Brussels. Or, so we thought. A minor adventure ensued involving left-behind car keys, Brussels revisited–briefly (for J and myself), and my sister possibly saving a woman’s life in Liege. But, that’s a whole different story for a different time and place.

Instead, I’ll leave you all with this:

From somewhere on our Brussels rambles. I think those forgotten keys were meant to be forgotten…

Tchuss!

Back on the grid!

Well! After 6 weeks without an internet connection in our house, we are now back up and running. Between unpacking, some visits to IKEA, and much bureaucratic mumbo jumbo with cars, id’s, gate passes, banking, etc, etc, we’ve still managed to do a bit of exploring of our surrounding area.

Sittard is a small Dutch city only about ten to fifteen minutes away. We’re slowly making our way around the square trying their numerous restaurants. (Can I just say how nice it is to have food choices again? Turkish food was lovely, of course, but, most of the time, the Turkish version of other cuisines was not so lovely.)

Aachen is the closest German city of any decent size. The drive takes about 40 minutes, but the charming city center is full of pretty shops and plenty of restaurants. The colorfully painted and ornate facades of the row houses above the store fronts allow you to imagine how the city might have looked with horses and carriages moving along those cobbled streets. The city center’s claim to fame is the Aachen Dom (or, cathedral). One of the oldest  churches in Germany, the central portion of the cathedral was first commissioned by Charlemagne in 805 A.D. I have poked my head into a lot of cathedrals and churches over the last couple of years, but this one is most definitely something special. The mosaics that cover the ceilings glitter with gold tiles and give a warmth to the interior that many of the larger, “grander” cathedrals entirely lack. This place is art, and it is stunning.

This is the underside of the dome of the central and oldest section of the Dom.

…and these went on, and on, and on… Some told stories while others simply wove intricate patterns. The cobalt blues that dominated much of the color scheme gave the entire space a peacefulness that strongly reminded me of the mosques I’ve visited. I need to polish up on my religious history, but I have a feeling that even in the year 805 some of those shared monotheistic roots might have still have been showing. Perhaps? Just a thought…

We also spent a long weekend in Brussels, which deserves a post of its own.

Mussels in Brussels. When in Rome–er, Belgium!

The fish restaurant district very early on a Saturday morning. It seems like we have a pattern forming here: Bodrum, Istanbul, Izmir, and now Brussels–somehow, I always end up talking about fish. Well, in this case, blame Tripadvisor. Seriously, though, it’s a great location to stay if you’re looking for somewhere walkable without the crowds.

Just this past weekend we visited Maastricht for the first time to check out a little food and music festival in the central square. It was essentially a “Taste of…” festival, where local restaurants set up booths and sample menus. These booths, however, were like mini restaurants themselves. You could even sit and have the food and drinks served to you. Unlike similar American equivalents, I didn’t get a sense that visitors attended with the goal of tasting as many bites as possible. Instead, it reminded me of cafe culture on a more compact scale. Groups parked themselves at a location with bottles of wine in buckets, ready to settle in. Maybe they’d move on, and maybe not. Each booth got more and more crowded as the evening wore on and as visitors packed themselves into the nooks and crannies looking for a place to pass some time. While the event itself was quite over-priced, it was nice to see the vibrancy of the Maastricht restaurant scene. I’m definitely looking forward to going back and checking some of those places out.

Don’t let this post fool you, though, with all of the pictures and the chatter about exploring new cities. Most of my outings for the last month and a half have taken place here:

One of the many walking and bike paths that cut through the endless farm fields around here.

Sadie and I go on a lot of walks. She meets a lot of new dog friends, and I do my best to use her as a canine ice breaker. I’ve been told many-a-time during our orientation/settling in process not to be offended or surprised if Germans don’t seem as chatty or friendly as Americans (I’m really not easily offended, for the record, but whatever…). However, those people dispensing such “advice” must not have been dog owners. Sadie is a regular international ambassador, apparently. Dogs get the utmost respect in these parts, and that needs no translation.

More to come soon–I promise!

 

A few images from the week…

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A break in the clouds… Although they were having a warm spell when we first arrived in country, it’s been raining on and off since our move-in day. Four seasons in a day is what they say around here…

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Walking paths through the fields. We’ve seen rabbits and a fox (and a woman learning how to ride motorcycle–J gave her a huge thumbs-up the fifth time she trundled past us.)

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Sadie’s first couple of days in the house were consumed by what I’m calling Pig Mania. Never did I imagine the frenzy that two guinea pigs in an enclosure in our neighbor’s garden would cause. The canine hysterics have subsided somewhat, although she still keeps careful watch over all pig-related activities. You can’t be too careful, after al…

haus {before}

Two back-to-back posts might be a record for me. Before my time off the grid (length to be determined…) begins when we check out of the hotel tomorrow, I figured I’d give any interested parties out there a few more glimpses into what will be keeping me busy for the next little while.

Our living space:

The windows clinched it for me. Grey skies are apparently the norm around here, so it’s hard to say no to nearly a wall of windows! Our living room furniture will likely go over towards the right and our table will probably end up in the foreground on the left-hand side.

The kitchen (with J, our landlady, and a neighbor pouring over the house inspection document):

I love the funky green walls. I also love the South-facing window over the sink.

A view of the patio and the rear of the house from the yard:

Here’s hoping this mild weather sticks around long enough to have at least a few summer bbq’s on this patio…

Of course, I meant to take a picture of the bathroom, but by the time we got upstairs I got distracted by its shininess and by the fact that it has a shower and a tub in separate places!  For me, this is a big deal.

When exactly I’ll have internet again, I’m not sure. It might be a while… (Family, don’t fret. Cell phones will happen fairly soon, and, one way or another, we’ll have a way to call the States.)

In addition to getting the keys today, we spent much of the afternoon chatting with a very talkative and helpful Air Force retiree who now lives with his German wife in our new village. He is good friends with the landlords and seems like quite the man to know about town. He took us on a little tour of the town, showing us many of the back roads, pointing out his favorite restaurants and hang-outs, and the trails and parks where he takes his young son. He informed us that he plans to just pop over tomorrow to check in and say hi while our movers are there. I think we already have a buddy.

So, that’s that for now. I’ll see ya’ll when I see ya!

 

Week 1

Since our internet access is a bit limited at the moment, I’ll keep this short.

We arrived in Germany a week ago yesterday. We’ve already eaten out at Italian, Greek and Japanese restaurants (a perk of hotel living is the excuse to try new places). We move into our house on Tuesday, J’s gradually getting situated in his new office, and Sadie’s learning just how much Germans love their dogs. I’m appreciating the cooler weather and the space.

Here a few images from our first week. More to come!

Sadie’s first morning walk in Germany on Sunday morning. We’ve learned that dogs are the ideal conversation starter around here. “Poodle” works in both in English and German.

Our soon-to-be backyard. (Note that it has green grass!!) We get the keys tomorrow, so more pictures to come!

Swans in the river along the walking trail.