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.