Thursday, December 29, 2011

New thing #12: Icky medical procedure

I wasn't sure I wanted to publicize this new experience since it's quite personal. So without too many gory details, I had a procedure done which required me to lay on a table and have needles stuck in parts that have never been exposed to needles before.

As I was waiting for my turn, I thought about my mom. She had treatment for similar symptoms back in the mid-70's. But her ordeal included surgery, an extended hospital stay and several days of recovery. Mine involved 20 minutes of computer-guided treatment, some minor discomfort and a couple ice packs. I'm grateful for those who have supported and conducted the research that led to this technology. And I will continue to be vigilant about my health, even if it's icky to do so.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011

New thing #10: Weihnachtsmarkt

Several people had told me that if I got the chance I should visit a Weihnachtsmarkt - a traditional German Christmas Market. So before flying home from Germany, I tagged along to the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt with my friend Jens, his mom and stepdad.

The Christmas market takes place on the main square in the heart of the old town. We took the train there on a cold, wet night and joined the crowds walking towards the symbolic Nuremberg Christmas Angel with her white and gold dress and golden crown. Along the way we passed outdoor stands selling fruit, sweets and and cups of hot Glühwein (spiced mulled wine). We also passed several street musicians, including two different Santas playing accordions. One had a little dog with him, dressed in a matching Santa suit. Once we entered the square we were able to watch the artesians at work, crafting and selling handmade ornaments of glass and wood, weird little dried-plum figurines, all sizes of Nutcrackers and clever little smokers. I made room in my suitcase for one of these funky little incense burners!

My Smoker!
We also sampled the food - Stollen, a bread studded with rum-soaked dried fruit; Lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread which has a communion wafer stuck to the bottom for some reason; all types of spiced nuts; macaroons the size of your hand; and really delicious Nuremberg Bratwurst, which is three little grilled sausages on a hearty roll - so good! We didn't get a chance to try the Feuerzangenbowle, a huge kettle of hot spiced wine with a tong across the top. They soak a big hunk of sugar in rum, place it on the tong and set it on fire. As it burns, the rum-soaked sugar drips into the wine. It looks really cool, but the line was huge and the area so crowded you could barely move. We settled for some Glühwein, which did wonders to keep the cold away while hot, but tasted kind of gross after it cooled off. I'm not a big fan of sweet wine.

We took a short detour on the way back to the train station to stroll through the Handwerkerhof ("Crafts Yard"). This cool little area, surrounded by the towers and walls of the medieval city fortification, is where craftsmen have set up workshops in little houses. We saw wax artists, bag-makers, potters, silversmiths, glass painters, doll makers and more - and every one of them was closed for the evening. Just one more reason to make a return visit to this great city!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Thing #9: Masserberg & the Ossis

I had the good fortune to travel back to Germany for an environmental conference. Although I've been to Coburg several times, this would be my first trip to Masserberg, a small town cut out of the forest in the mountains of the former East Germany

The drive to Masserberg was surreal. It was early evening but the sun had set so it was completely dark out, and the fog rolled in as we headed up the mountain. My German host was driving aggressively, taking his half of the road out of the middle as we went around the hairpin curves. His car phone rang and he took the call on speakerphone. It was a woman who was helping arrange the conference, and they had a spirited discussion in German. Our little Chinese colleague was in the backseat and had not fastened his seatbelt, causing him to slide back and forth at every curve. So here I am, riding along in zero visibility, listening to a disembodied voice shouting about flipcharts in another language, and hanging on for dear life as Peter somersaulted across the backseat trying to protect a camera that was as big as he was. 

Fortunately we arrived with no mishaps and settled in to a comfortable hotel next to the well-known Prof. Volhard Clinic, an oncology and orthopedic rehab facility. One of the best things about my job is that I get to travel and experience so many different cultures, and this time I was the only American in a group of about 40 attendees.  The conference lasted 3 days and was pretty good. 

The Ossis
I drove back afterwards with my two favorite Ossi colleagues, the Ger-merican and the Ger-nadian. Both of them grew up in the East, but they have different points of view about life before the Wall came down. The Ger-merican left before the Reunification in search of a better life. The Ger-nadian left afterwards, mainly in search of a job because the company he worked for went out of business. 

Just outside Eisfeld we stopped at the former border between East and West Germany. The fences are gone and only a sign marks the spot, but you can still see the wide swath of cleared forest that was on either side. A little further up the road was an old guard tower which is now a museum. The Ger-nadian arranged for us to have a tour, so on this grey cold day we entered another world. 

The main floor only held a small reception area and an office set with period equipment. Next we climbed narrow stairs up to the observation floor.  Here they had some maps and uniforms on display, and a diorama set up showing how the checkpoint had looked when it was operational.  The model was complete with the big cement barrier that would slam shut across the road if a car tried to clear the checkpoint without authorization. Back down the stairs to the lower level, through such a low doorway that even I had to duck, they displayed some of the equipment such as search lights, border markers, barbed wire and shackles.  This area was gloomy and sad, and I was glad to head back up the stairs.

This glimpse of a totally different lifestyle was a pretty sobering experience, brought to life by the stories shared by friends who were willing to enlighten a sheltered American.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New thing #8: Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade

I’ve watched a few good parades in my life, but I had never been to one as grand as the Detroit Thanksgiving Day parade. These folks give Macy’s a run for their money!

We've watched snippets of the parade on television in previous years, but this time Senior and I met the kids downtown and joined the crowds enjoying the parade in person. It had everything you could want - creative floats, huge balloons, marching bands, beauty queens, goofy clowns and an impressive Santa finale.

We had reserved Grandstand seats in advance. "Grandstand" is a generous term since they were just low metal bleachers, but it was nice to have a place to sit. The crowd was really into the parade, chanting “spin it, spin it” to the balloon wranglers, who complied by rotating those huge inflatables so you got a 360° view.

There was quite a variety of entertainment along the way. My favorites were the kids getting air on the BMX half pipe float while it was moving down the street, and the freakish dancing Big Head Corps. But the best part was my kids' faces as they watched the parade. For a brief time, behind The Boy’s wiry beard and The Girl’s rainbow hair, I could see a couple of little kids from upstate New York watching in wonder.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New thing #7: Turkey Trot

I love family holidays. There is a big age gap between my older siblings and me, so for many years it was just my parents and me day after day. Family holidays meant that everyone came home, and for a few sweet hours the house was full of life. Later when I met my in-laws, family holidays meant tables loaded with food zig-zagging through the house, and as many kids as there were adults. And when I had my own family, one holiday was extra special - my first child was born early on Thanksgiving morning. But as the family grows and moves away and the children start their own lives, sometimes the holidays seem like any other day. So in order to make this Thanksgiving Day unique, I ran in my first Turkey Trot 5K Race. In Detroit. In NOVEMBER. In a city where it often snows before Halloween!

Boy did we get lucky. It was a mild day, chilly but dry. I think the thermometer in the car said 36 degrees. Approximately 21,000 people had signed up for the three different races going on that morning, so traffic was a nightmare. Kim, Senior and I sat on the highway for an hour and twenty minutes just trying to get downtown. Luckily we found a parking spot pretty quickly and got to the starting line just as our race was beginning. Since we got there late, we were in the back of the pack, with the people pushing kids in strollers or running with their dog. This meant that our average pace for the first half mile was something more like a shuffle than a Trot. But this didn’t matter because it was so entertaining to see all the people who were running in costume! Yep, the Turkey Trot crowd is a little crazy, and they dress up to run. 

I started out running (shuffling) next to Darth Vadar, complete with light saber. We quickly passed several versions of turkeys and elves, and an entire family covered head to toe in real feathers. At one point I was passed by a 6-foot tall pink pig. But I was most impressed by the guy who ran the entire race with a fully decorated artificial Christmas tree on his shoulders. We all crossed the finish line together, somewhere in the middle of the pack. This was the first time I ran an entire 5K without having to stop and walk for a short while during the race. I felt... accomplished. And hungry! Bring on that turkey dinner.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New thing #6: Hiking Stoney Creek Metropark

Just one of the many beautiful places in Michigan that I haven't visited... until now.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New thing #5: Chocolate Almond Milk

I'm trying to live a healthier lifestyle, including making better choices in what I eat.  The label on the carton of Silk Dark Chocolate Almond Milk said that each serving has 120 calories and 50% more calcium than dairy milk.  That sucked me in.  The best part is that the single serving size comes with a cool little telescoping straw so you can drink it right out of the carton.  The flavor was chocolatey good but the consistency is kind of gummy. It reminded me of when you are mowing through a box of Whoppers malted milk balls and you get one that's all melted inside, so it's just a stale chewy shell.  I hate it when that happens.

Overall this wasn't bad, and at my age the extra calcium is a bonus. But since there are 22 grams of sugar in one 8-oz serving, (which kind of defeats the purpose of eating healthier) I won't be trying this one again.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

New thing #4: Rugby playoffs

We traveled to Detroit today to watch the Division III men's rugby playoffs. It felt a little like old times when every weekend was spent at the soccer fields, but now rugby has become The Boy's passion. The day was beautifully crisp and clear - a great day to "bleed and breathe rugby". To be honest, I don't understand much about this game. The Boy played a few games in a pick-up league last year,  but never had a win. This year he is on an official team with funding, a coach, and a winning record.

The Boy plays Hooker for the Oakland University team. He's the guy in the scrum (huddle) who is propped up by the other players so he can use his feet to "hook" the ball and win possession for this team. Ranked fourth, the OU team faced the first place team in the semi finals this morning. As games go it was fairly mild - a couple bruised ribs, a knot on the head, one guy nearly lost a finger - and OU dominated the play. They shut out the first place team and moved on to the finals. There the men played hard and with heart, but when the final whistle blew they were down three points. It was a bittersweet end to a great season, as a young inexperienced group of players formed a brotherhood on and off the field. They took the loss with grace and are already looking forward to the next season. I'll be right there cheering them on.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New thing #3: Zumba!

I was getting bored with my workout routines, so I decided to try a Zumba class at the gym.  Zumba is described as an hour-long mix of dance and cardio. Now, I'm not the most graceful person - I once fell off the sofa and broke my wrist - but in the spirit of New Things (and with my bff along for support), I headed to the class. 

The first thing we saw were some jingly sarongs that you could wear in the class. I passed on this since the last thing I wanted was to draw more attention to my clunky moves. The class was filling up quickly so we grabbed some back row real estate while I surreptitiously checked out the other Zumba-ers: 
   > Any men? (no
   > Anyone older than me? (yes
   > Anyone fatter than me? (yes)
OK, good to go. The instructor arrived and gave us some quick tips - work on getting your feet right, then move up to your hips and lastly your arms. Cue the music.

What I quickly discovered is that Zumba is really just good old aerobics, only faster and more aggressive. It's angry aerobics. Oh yeah, I got this. After all, I hadn't had a snack in a while, so I was kind of cranky. And as a veteran of Billie's Hilltop Bouncers, the aerobics couldn't be a problem, right? I actually did pretty good following the first routine, although every time I did a turn I caught my reflection in the mirror. It reminded me of the time I found a leech stuck on my foot and jumped around frantically trying to shake it off. 

About six songs later, soaked with sweat and out of breath, I checked the clock to see if we were done. 15 minutes had gone by.  Yikes.  But I survived the class and the two hours of foot cramps that followed. And you know what? I loved it! I will definitely do this again. Maybe next time I'll even wear the jingly skirt. 

I'm really glad I took the time to try something new. It's what this 'New Things' experiment is all about!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New thing #2: Corn Maze

I've been to several pumpkin patches and haunted hayrides over the years, but never walked through a corn maze. So as the sun was setting over a beautiful autumn sky, we headed to Bowers Farms in Bloomfield Hills. They have 3 separate mazes, each containing 6 checkpoints. You can play a game by finding clues at the checkpoints that will help you solve a "crime" against poor Farmer Joe, who apparently was the victim of an Animal Farm uprising. A downpour the previous day had turned parts of the mazes to muck. The sun had set by the time we got there, which made it more challenging. It's really hard to see muck in the dark.

We began with the llama-shaped intermediate maze. I mostly followed everyone around singing the Llama Song until we found the checkpoints, where my job was to use a hole punch to mark off the clues on our game card. We navigated through pretty quickly and moved on to the advanced maze. This one sort of resembled a dog wearing a hat. My sense of direction is usually quite good, but trying to make your way around in the dark while avoiding Stephen King's corn children is pretty challenging. My sister and I distracted ourselves taking really bad pictures with our camera phone while the rest of the gang looked for elusive checkpoint #6. We finally found it with a little help from Sis, who took a photo of the checkpoint map. The crime was solved; it was time to relax with a little hot cider by the bonfire before heading home.

So that was my corn maze adventure. It was fun, but I probably won't go again. And I'll leave you with some random observations:
  • Hardly anyone can resist making the goat noise when they see baby goats. 
  • The Post Bar runs a shuttle bus to this corn maze.  Really?  That's a good idea?
  • Corn fungus is as gross on the corn as it is in a tortilla as huitlacoche
  • This is what I look like when I'm lost in a corn maze:

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    New thing #1: My Blog

    When I was a freshman in high school, I started a journal. I wrote pages of teenage drama about the boredom of living in a small town, the frustrations of feeling like an only child with 7 parents, and the unfairness of my life because I longed for a boy who loved another girl. I carried the journal around with me in case inspiration struck. But one day at school, disaster struck instead, when a teacher with a propensity for pop quizzes made us clear off our desks. The journal slid under my chair, and I walked out of class without it. A few days later, a friend spotted it making the rounds - girls reading it during Trigonometry or study hall and then passing it on to their friends. The only saving grace was that I never identified myself in the journal. Thus began my motto "If it's personal, don't write it down" (along with the obvious 'don't take pictures' and 'never ever videotape').

    Today we have the internet and this thing called blogging, "a frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts and Web links". Well there you go. My short-lived journal never had a Web link. So now I've officially created my first Blog, which I'll use to track new experiences. Occasionally I'll link them to my Facebook account. (Yes, I realize that FB is basically a blog, but it's not the same. Since this is MY list of new things, I get to quantify.)

    This time I'm looking forward to sharing my personal journal. Partly because I've learned to focus on the positive things in life. And partly because I realize if you don't care what I have to say, you're probably not reading this anyway. Unless you're wasting time in study hall.