Friday, December 31, 2010

Thanksgiving in December

Last night we had a wonderful evening with close friends. We wanted to do something big to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our living in Germany. Yep...10 years now. It's hard to believe so much time has passed. Without the support and helpfulness of new friends, we wouldn't be as settled as we are. Since we are thankful for those special people and the good times we've shared, we decided to go all out and have a feast--we had Thanksgiving in December.

We started with cocktails and a bit of chatting, progressed to the red pepper soup, and then brought out the 8 kg (almost 18-pound) turkey stuffed with chestnut and herb bread filling, Kahlua sweet potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, orange-cranberry sauce, and salad. They couldn't believe how much food we served and were suprised to learn that a warm apple-plum crisp with vanilla ice cream would follow later.

One thing that made it interesting was that our guests had never had sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce or chestnut stuffing and though they'd had turkey meat before, they'd never had a whole roasted turkey before. We weren't sure if they would like the meal or not. We told them to help themselves to seconds if they wanted. Obviously, the food was to their liking since double portions of soup, turkey and sides were gladly eaten. Several cocktails, a few bottles of wine, a bit of old Scotch, and Lemberger liquor were also consumed. 

After eating so much, I thought no one would have room for dessert but lo and behold, second portions were also partaken. Despite all this merry consumption, there are enough leftovers to save me from cooking today.

We had a great time sharing a bit of American tradition and just relaxing with friends.  Thanksgiving in December...good for the soul, bad for the hips.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Long Gone

Christmas has come and gone and I haven't written anything about it.  I intended to write about many traditions, either those of my family or generalized German Christmas traditions. I wanted to write a post about the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath. I had hoped to share with you our adventures at the various Christkindlmaerkte (or Weihnachtsmaerkte) this year. I planned to describe the differences in Christmas trees (ours needing sturdy branches set further apart so we can attach the candles) and to highlight Katarina's performance in our church Singspiel on Christmas Eve. But a long battle with tonsillitis and preparing for the holidays, among other things, allowed the time to slip right through my fingers. So, let me begin where I am now--in this moment, on this day. December 28.

Here I sit, once again reminded how quickly time goes by. On this day at seven-something in the morning 10 years ago, my family landed at the airport in Frankfurt to start a new adventure.  Stefan already had a job lined up and we had a place to stay. Other than that, we had nothing but 3 suitcases and some hopes and dreams to get us started. We weren't sure how long we'd stay, if things would work, if life would be better, worse, or the same. There were only a few things we were certain of--that no matter what, we had each other, that it was extremely cold, and that I had to start learning German ASAP. To some people it might sound crazy. Why leave the states? Why put oneself in such a position? Why, why, why? They are fascinated by our choice and always have a million questions.

In actuality, my life hasn't changed all that much. As they say, the road hasn't changed, just the scenery. I still enjoy jamming to my music, LOUD, while Stefan is working and Katarina hopefully learning something at school. After all, who can clean without music? Not me. I still like to read and write and take walks through the woods. I love watching the clouds and sunsets. And hanging with friends. Enjoying good food and wine also tops the list (and the hips). I suppose some things in life never change.

On the plus side, unlike in America when Stefan was often away on business and working endless hours, I get to see him every day after work. Also, he gets 6 weeks vacation each year and we have more public holidays throughout the year. You can't beat that! Where people at home seem to "live to work" the philosophy here is more "work to live".

One thing that took getting used to is the store hours. When we first came, they closed at 6 on a weekday. That was tough. They have since extended their hours to 8 in the evening, some places to 10. They are still closed on Sundays. But that's okay. I just plan ahead. And that gives everyone more family time on the weekend. We can going walking in the woods, have a picnic, ride bike (bicycle paths are everyone and there is no risk of riding alongside cars). And in Germany in summer, there is always a Fest going on to keep one entertained. The downside--there are things I don't like about the school system, but hey, that's another post all together.

All that said, this venture has brought some challenges, but I've learned many things, had some great experiences. I wouldn't trade that in for anything. So...does that mean I am never moving back? Maybe, maybe not. If there is one thing I've learned most is that plans are just that. Plans. Nothing is definite. Fifteen years ago I never thought I'd live here. Ten years ago, I never thought I'd still be here in 2010. Ten years from now, who knows? I don't even think about it much. There is so much going on in the here and now. Lately, I think why not live in the present, enjoy the moment, because as we all know, this moment will soon be long gone.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Bit of Luck

Katarina had an awesome week.  While we were shopping, she won a Christmas tree. Pure luck. All the carts have numbers at the base, and the staff called out numbers every hour. I heard them ask for cart number "blah-blah-blah" to come to the service counter but had no idea what was going on or that Katarina had that cart. When we met at the exit, she stood with the gift certificate in her hand, beaming, proud she would be providing the tree for our family this year.  Since she won it, we allowed her to choose the tree herself. It was bundled and loaded into the car without my seeing it, and now it is propped up next to the basement door waiting to be unwrapped, set up, and decorated. I can't wait to see it.

On Wednesday, she represented her class in the Lesewettbewerb (reading competition). Her doing so was also a bit of luck. The girl who was supposed to take part became ill and Katarina stepped in for her. All participants had to read a chapter book beforehand. Katarina had just finished reading The Seventeen Secrets of the Kharma Club by Karen McCombie, so all she had to do was quickly prepare a speech introducing herself and explaining what happens it the book.

After reciting their speeches, each participant had to read aloud from their book to the judges (there were 8 of them). Of course, the students had time to practice this the past week or so. There is a grading system based on the number of errors made but points are also given in terms of how clearly they read and how exciting they make the story sound. They are looking not just for someone who can read well but a storyteller who reads with feeling and makes it interesting for the listeners. Then they had to respond to many questions the judges asked regarding the book.  That was the first half.

After that portion of the competition, the hard part came. All the students were given a book they had never read before and told to read from it. Now the pressure was on. Katarina said the word Pygmaeen (pygmies) came up in the story text and some of the others didn't pronounce it correctly. She, too, stumbled over a strange word of which she cannot recall, but she said she gave it her best shot. I guess it was good enough because she won the competition by one point and will now go on to represent her school at the district competition. She received a rose, chocolate, and a 15 Euro gift certificate to the bookstore. Being an avid reader, she always has a list of books she would like, so the next day we HAD TO go redeem it. She picked out a 223 page book, the third in a series she is currently into. (The Guardians of Ga'Hoole by Kathryn Lasky)

She thinks it is luck that she won. I told her it IS luck that she had the opportunity after her classmate couldn't take part, but luck played no part in winning.  She is a good reader, and she obviously showed the judges that. I am so proud of her.  I hope she does as well in the next round, but if not, I'll still be her biggest fan. Whether German or American (etc, etc), that's just how mothers are.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Sweet Winter Morning

In is no secret that both Katarina and I hate mornings. Especially cold winter Monday mornings. We'd much rather stay tucked under our comforters, warm and cozy. But this morning, despite the temperature and mix of snow and rain, we had an incentive to throw off the covers and start the day. Next to Christmas Eve, December 6 is the most anticipated day for children in Germany, because it is Sankt Nikolaustag.

Before going to sleep on the evening of December 5, children polish their boots and set them outside the door (in some regions the house door, others the bedroom door) in hopes that St. Nikolaus will leave a sweet surprise for them.  Traditionally, if the children have been good during the year, the boots are filled with oranges, nuts, chocolates and small gifts. In our region he is known to be accompanied by his helper Knecht Ruprecht who gives a Rute (a branch or twig) to the misbehaved ones.  In former times, the two of them would go door to door visiting the children who would sing songs or recite poems. Then Nikolaus opened a book that told him whether they'd been good or bad throughout the year. Good children received the treats while the bad ones received the rod by Ruprecht. Ouch!

You can see the similarities here. The boots are like the German equivalent of our Christmas stockings. Receiving a twig is like getting coal inside.  Even the name Sankt Nikolaus is the same when translated. However, Sankt Nikolaus is no fictional character. He was a real person born around 245 A.D. in the port city of Patara in what we now call Turkey. He later became the Greek Bishop of Myra. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in shoes. For more information on him, visit

Since I rarely buy candy, Katarina has always looked forward to this day. This year, in addition to the traditional sweets, we added some CrazyBandz, Cola lip balm, a charm bracelet, cosmetic bag (yes, I am tired of finding her nail polish and lip gloss all around the house), and a memory card so she, too, can have a bunch of songs on her cell phone (of course, according to her, ALL her friends have one and she looks like the "depp" again). Needless to say, she was satisfied with her presents.

I, too, was happy. For the past two years, Katarina has been playing St. Nicholas for us.  Last night she told Stefan and I to put our boots out, and before going to bed she filled them with chocolates and nuts. Yeah...she's alright.  I think we'll keep her. ;-)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Yes, I finally did it!

For some time now, my friends have urged me to start a blog. Most of them have either a personal blog where they offer a glimpse into their daily lives and/or a themed blog where they post on a certain topic such as reviewing the latest books they've read, posting their own poetry, or even spiritual stories. In my blog I will be writing about what I know best--my life.  I am hoping that friends and family will not only be able to keep track of what is going on with me but that they will also take with them a bit of knowledge regarding the cultural differences and traditions of Europe.

You might wonder why I titled it Linda's Life on the Other Side.  I thought of calling it Live, Laugh and Love with Linda and intended to write humorous and happy moments from my life. But life isn't just full of happy moments, and I had the feeling that the 70's hippie-type title might leave a few of my pals running for a bucket. I simply could have titled it Linda's Life except someone already started a blog with that name. I could have called it The Hofke Family blog, but since I am the only one writing the posts, that didn't sit right with me--not to mention that it would make an incredibly boring title.  I wanted something different, something perhaps a bit odd, and I wanted my name in the title. Hey, it is MY blog after all. Then during a conversation someone mentioned my being on the other side of the ocean and Linda's Life on the Other Side came to me. It has my name. It is different. It makes people think, "What the heck is this?" and I do so love to make people's minds spin a bit :-)  Someone who stumbles across it on the web might at first think it is about out of body experiences or visits with angels. Gosh, won't they be disappointed. For that reason, I contemplated if I really wanted to use it as my blog name.  Yet, the more I thought about it the more I felt that it fit. Sides. That was the key word. Everything has two sides--an argument, a friendship, a coin. Then there is the concept of yin and yang which I so love. Not only does my life have two sides (past and present) which predominantly revolve around two countries (America and Germany) but each experience has a flip side. The bad moments always have another side even if it's simply that the lesson learned made me stronger. The good parts, believe it or not, can also have a downside. For instance, even though I enjoy living abroad, it means being separated from family and old friends.

So, Linda's Life on the Other Side it is. I hope to post my first official "something" soon if Christmas stress doesn't take over (yeah, I know...procrastinate all year and then start the blog during the holiday season...brilliant, Linda.) I hope you visit from time to time to see what is happening on my side of life.  Oh, and if my intention to write again in the next week or so goes to the wayside, then I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.