Sunday, March 31, 2013

I'm traveling...

The other day, I decided I wanted to go ahead and promote my blogs more.  I mean, why not?  I tried to put the title of this one on one of my favorite Web sites and it wouldn't fit.  So I took out the word "overeducated".  Then, it fit.  And it occurred to me that "The Traveling Housewife" is a snappier title anyway.  So I sort of renamed the blog...

I'm just a traveling housewife now... at least as long as circumstances allow!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Beautiful places...

Just made these videos today....

The photos are mostly of Europe, though some spots in the Caribbean and United States are also thrown in for good measure.  The music is "The Water Is Wide" by The O'Neill Brothers and "How Great Thou Art" by Amy Grant and Vince Gill.  Enjoy!



And Scotland...



And more beautiful places...

I can't help being American...


A couple of days ago, I got into an interesting conversation with a couple of German women who married soldiers.  One of the women is 24 years old and very opinionated.  She was complaining about America and Americans.  Frankly, given where she lives, I'd probably complain too...   The area around Fort Bragg is not exactly the most picturesque place in the country.

Anyway, she and this other lady, who must live near Fort Carson out in Colorado, were bitching about our country.  They went on and on about how so many Americans never travel, are uneducated, uncultured, and generally inferior.  I interjected that many Americans don't travel for any number of reasons.  It takes a lot of time, money, and frankly, effort, for Americans to travel.  A lot of Americans don't own a passport because they take time, money, and effort to get.  And America is such a vast country that just about any climate or scenery you could ever want, you can find it without going abroad.

I am the last person to say that people shouldn't travel.  I love to travel and will do it as long as I can afford airfare and fit in the airplane seat.  But... I can see why so many Americans don't travel.  It's a big hassle.  Just getting through security at the airport is a grueling and potentially humiliating exercise.  It's expensive, uncomfortable, and then once you get to where you're going, you run the risk of being treated badly by the locals, who may have anti-American attitudes.  Who wants to pay thousands of dollars for that?

The two women backpedaled when I wrote that I hoped they didn't think all Americans were the way they were painting us.  They quickly excepted me from their generalizing!  I reminded them that if they really thought Americans ought to travel more, they should do their part by being welcoming and kind.  Yes, I understand that there are a lot of "ugly Americans" who make no effort to understand the local mores or be culturally sensitive.  But assuming that all Americans are like that is not the answer.

Honestly, I think a lot of people like to insult America and its citizens, but few of them ever take the time to look at things from the other perspective.  I know that every time I've gone abroad, except for when we moved to England (because I was a toddler at the time), it was beaten in my head to be culturally sensitive.  "When in Rome, do as the Romans do", right?  But rarely do I see that same attitude being practiced among people who come to the United States from abroad.

My German friends were complaining about how in America, they have fewer personal freedoms than they do in Germany.  I thought that was an interesting comment, since when I was in Germany, I noticed a lot of rules and regulations.  They were reasonable rules, but there were a lot of them.  For example, it's forbidden to own Nazi era paraphernalia, especially if you mean to promote war or hatred.  My neighbor wanted to add on to her parents' house, but the local government denied her and her husband the right to do so.  If you get pulled over by a police officer who suspects you of driving drunk, your blood will be tested.  You can't opt out, like you could in America.  If you are found guilty of driving drunk, you will lose your license and you will have a hell of a hard time getting it back.  For more on this, check out this article.  

If you do something unorthodox, on the whole, Germans are quick to speak up about it.  Yes, America has its share of freedom erosion, but I don't know that it's any worse or better than other places.  And I don't know that Germany is "free-er" than the USA is.  I think we have freedoms the Germans don't have... and Germans have freedoms that we don't have.  Whether one is more free than the other is depends on your perspective.    

I think what may be going on with these women is what happens to a lot of people when they move far away from home.  After the cultural high, there's sort of a depression, which happens when you start to miss home and being with people who are like you are.  It happened to me in Armenia and Germany.  It didn't happen when I was in England because I was too young to know the difference.  For all I knew, England was home... and frankly, it could have been had my ancestors not moved to the USA.

I refuse to apologize for being American.  I am American because I was born here and my parents were born here... and their parents were born here.  People in our ancestry made the decision to come to America for whatever reason.  Otherwise, I'd be European like they are.

Anyway... those are my thoughts.  I can't help being an American.  It doesn't make me an inferior or bad person.  Moreover, we're not all assholes.  Pass it on!


   

Monday, March 25, 2013

The pooping nun... AKA Caganer!

In April 2009, Bill and I paid a visit to Barcelona, Spain.  While we were there, I did some shopping.  If you read my blogs, you might have noticed that I have a disgusting affection for scatological humor.  Therefore, I was delighted when I first encountered caganers.

What is a caganer, you ask?  It's a sympathetic character from Catalan tradition.  According to the Web site, Caganer.com, the caganer was an obliged figure in the Christmas cribs of the eighteenth century.  At the time, people believed that the caganer's "deposits" would enrich and fertilize the soil, thus promoting healthy crops.  The caganer was also supposed to bring good health and calm to the body and soul.  In other words, having a caganer was supposed to be good luck.

I purchased two caganers on our trip to Spain.  One is a painted tile of a shepherd pooping.  It's hanging in my bathroom, of course.  The other is a small pooping nun.  Last night, Zane woke up in the middle of the night and threw up on the rug in our bedroom.  Bill took him out, but on his way to the door, he rubbed up against my nun and knocked her off her perch.  She broke in several pieces.  Fortunately, I was able to glue her back together.



Now I have an excuse to go back to Barcelona.  Not only is it a beautiful city full of interesting architecture, amazing food, beautiful beaches, and vibrant culture; it's also a place where I can replace my broken pooping nun caganer!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Train tickets...

I'm a little overwhelmed by the prospect of buying train tickets in Italy.  The last time I did significant train travel in Italy, I had a Eurail pass.  Things have gotten more complicated since then.  Italy now has a few private train lines as well as the national line.  And Bill is not wanting to buy tickets now because he doesn't want to lock us in to a specific time of day.

I like to have things paid for upfront.  But I guess there is something to be said for waiting until we get to Italy before we buy train tickets...

I'm getting pretty excited about our trip and really looking forward to it.  On the other hand, it's a little bittersweet, because after this trip, we probably won't get to do as much travel.  Bill will be in transition and whatever his new job is probably won't be as liberal with annual leave as the Army is.  Or he may not get a job and we might have to live out of a box!

But for now, I look forward to Italy and Greece and wish we could stay longer and travel more...

I also look forward to the piano bar on SeaDream I...


This was taken on our last SeaDream cruise.  The piano bar was sort of my second home that week.  I love a good singalong!  That week, a bunch of Norwegians were onboard.  They were very boisterous and annoyed the Brits on the ship.  However, they were nice to me... until they started taking pictures of me while I was singing.


They did get this shot.... I'm looking very sunburned and bloated... but Bill seems to be enjoying it.

This time, I plan to stay out of the sun... and hide my digital camera!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ireland... it's on the bucket list!

A few months ago, Bill and I took back to back five night cruises on Hebridean Princess in Scotland.  We had a great time, except for the fact that our old beagle/basset hound MacGregor had health problems that suddenly manifested while we were away.  We were very worried about him while we were in Scotland and when we got home, we had to put him down, which we truly hated to do.

However, despite MacGregor's health problems, we will never forget Scotland, which is a land that figures prominently in my history, along with England and Germany.  I probably have some Irish in me too... now that I'm married, I definitely do, though not as often as I'd like!  My husband's father's family is very Irish.  His mom is of English, Scottish, and Dutch heritage.  Our last name is Irish... straight from County Donegal.

We had so much fun in Scotland, that I immediately started wanting to plan a trip to Ireland so we can visit my husband's ancestral homeland too.  Hebridean Princess does go to Ireland, but fares on that ship are STEEP.  If we can ever afford it again, we'd do it in a heartbeat.  I have a feeling we might end up sticking to land, though.

For now, though, I'm content to enjoy a Black and Tan...

 
Excuse the Pilsner Urquell beer mug...  We picked those up in the Czech Republic after touring their excellent brewery museum!


This photo was taken off Sanda Island, which is very close to the Irish coast.


Alas, I didn't get a chance to try this beer when we were in Scotland...  Maybe I'll try it in Ireland instead!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Italian style...


This photo was taken at the Galleria in Milan, Italy.  It occasionally flashes across my computer monitor.  Every time it does, I'm struck by the way people are dressed.  Check out the guy in the leather jacket.  He's stylin'...  Incidentally, this photo was taken in May.  Notice how many people are wearing jackets.  Guess I better pack a few warm things, even though we'll be on the water.

I am a fluffy American who appreciates style but can't wear super stylish stuff. Or maybe I just can't be bothered.


This is a shopping mall, by the way... It's a super fancy place.  Even the McDonald's is fancy.

















Shopping in such a fancy place is a bit intimidating.  I did end up buying an Italy travel guide.  I'll be using it very soon when we go to Italy and Greece in May!  I'm trying to find some somewhat decent looking clothes to wear, so the Italians won't look at me with disdain...






Thursday, March 14, 2013

Real Bud...

When I was a young woman in my 20s, I thought American Budweiser was the shit! I drank it all the time and thought it was an iconic brand... an excellent beer! I even worked for Anheuser Busch at one point... Okay, so I worked at Busch Gardens. You still couldn't avoid the beer culture working at the theme park, even if AB beers suck in general. American Budweiser has been sold in America for a long time... since 1876.


Courtesy of Wikipedia

In June 2008, my husband and I were living in Germany. For my 36th birthday, Bill took me to Passau, Germany, to spend a long weekend. During that weekend, we took a day trip into the Czech Republic. One of the places we visited was České Budějovice, the town where the real "Budweiser" has been made since 1785.



Courtesy of Wikipedia

On my 36th birthday, Bill took me to the city where real Budweiser is made and we had a delightful lunch...


As you can see, it was someone's wedding day...


A brass band was playing near the town hall...

At lunch, I had duck and croquettes... and a big glass of authentic Budvar beer. It puts American Budweiser to shame!


I wish we could have spent more time in České Budějovice. It was a neat town. Instead, we went to
Český Krumlov, which is a very charming town that reminded me of a theme park because of all the foreign visitors and the fact that so many people were dressed in medieval garb.


Church overlooking the river and kayakers.


Yes, I did climb this tower... Phew!


We were rewarded with this view...


Bears were guarding the moat.


We didn't know that we happened to show up in town in time for the annual Five Petalled Rose Festival...

I thought the people in medieval garb were employed by the town, but it turns out my birthday is just in time for their summer solstice festival. It was very cool! I love this photo.

The Czech Republic was one of my favorite countries to visit when we were in Germany. I'd go back in a heartbeat!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Planning the route...

It's going to take us a few days to move to San Antonio.  San Antonio is about 1300 miles from here and we'll probably have a UHaul or something so our life is bearable when we get to our new home, wherever that ends up being.  We'll probably have to spend a night in a local hotel because after we clean the house, we're going to want to have a decent night's sleep before starting the journey west.  Since we have our dogs, the places will have to be dog friendly.

When we left Georgia, it was relatively easy.  We boarded our dogs for a couple of days while we cleaned the house.  Then the morning we left, we picked them up.  The drive to North Carolina took about six hours.  Piece of cake.

This time, we will have to find pet friendly hotels.  I have a feeling we will become intimately acquainted with La Quinta, since that chain is famously pet friendly and there are about 80 of them on our route to San Antonio.  I suspect the first leg will take us to the Atlanta area, where we'll try to pick up some excellent JailHouse beers.  The next day, we'll probably stop somewhere on the Gulf coast... maybe Biloxi or Mobile or maybe even somewhere in Louisiana.  The third night, we'll probably stop in eastern Texas somewhere.  Maybe Houston?

I don't know.  Bill says the Army expects us to drive 400 miles a day.  I look forward to Texas, but dread the driving and heavy lifting and cleaning...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Count the dogs!

This photo was taken sometime in 1996, when I was in the Peace Corps.  I had gone to the northwestern Armenian city of Gyumri, formerly known as Leninakan.  On December 7, 1988, there was a massive earthquake that affected Gyumri.  55,000 people died with many more injured.


I was walking with a friend through Gyumri and didn't have my camera with me.  He was kind enough to snap this shot and give it to me later.  Lots of street dogs in Armenia get their dinner out of trash cans.  Street dogs were usually kind of mean.  I love dogs, but didn't enjoy running into most of the street dogs in Armenia.

I don't know if Gyumri still looks like this.  I hope it's better by now.  We looked in some of the vacant apartments and could see remnants of peoples' lives, complete with painted murals on the walls.  It was very surreal.  I know that the Austrians came in and built a village in Gyumri.  It's weird, because that village looks like it was plucked out of Europe and put in a very incongruous place.

People from Gyumri were said to be the funniest in Armenia with the most developed senses of humor.  It's hard to laugh about this.  If they managed to, more power to them!



Pictured above is a former five star hotel, Soviet style.  It didn't fare well in the earthquake, either.  My friend quipped that this area was referred to as "Little Beiruit" by Peace Corps Volunteers who served in that area.



This photo was taken in Gyumri in the summer of 1997, just before I left.  I'm not sure what this once was... but the earthquake truly fucked up this building.

December 7, 1988 means something to me for another reason.  I was 16 years old on that date and when I was in school that day, I learned that a much beloved member of our high school football team had died.  He'd had aplastic anemia that became apparent just after the first game in September.  When they found out his condition, he was sent to NIH (National Institutes of Health) in Bethesda, Maryland for treatment.  Sadly, it failed.  I remember when we were told he had died.  The whole school was silent.  He'd really made an impact.

Little did I know that years later, I'd be in a place where that same day was devastating for other reasons.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Daylight Savings Time again...

It's time to switch the clocks again.  I think George W. Bush is to blame for making this date come earlier than ever.  I used to love Daylight Savings Time.  Now I think it's kind of a pain in the ass, especially since it means things get started an hour earlier.  On the other hand, they also end an hour earlier the following week.

Back in the 1990s, I was in the Republic of Armenia.  In those days, Armenia still participated in changing the clocks twice a year.  For some very weird reason, the second year I was there, local officials forgot to have everybody change their clocks.  Consequently, in the dead of winter, it was still dark outside at 8:00am.  I remember having to walk to school mid morning in almost darkness.  I hated it.  Ever since then, I've been able to see quite clearly why changing the clocks might not be a good thing.  Armenia has since done away with clock changing.

Since those days, I've wondered if I was in the twilight zone or something, just imagining that the clocks weren't changed.  But I was watching the news this morning and they were talking about how Stalin introduced the practice in the former Soviet Union in 1928.  And they also mentioned how the Russians would often forget to "fall back" in autumn.  Since Armenia was once part of the Soviet Union, I now know that they really did forget back in 1996... or was it 1995?  I actually think it was '96, because I remember expecting them to do it and being surprised when they never did.

I know not everywhere in the United States does the clock changing thing.  I do enjoy having extra daylight in the evening.  Hell, when we lived in Germany, it would stay light until almost 10:00 at night!  That was fun!  Of course, in the winter, it was dark very early.  I remember being in Poland in November and things were going dark at about 3:30pm.

Anyhoo... here we go again.  When the clocks change, that means spring is on its way...  and I'll have to break out the lawnmower.


Courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DaylightSaving-World-Subdivisions.png

Blue countries use Daylight Savings Time.  Orange means DST was once used but is no longer.  Red means the country never used DST and doesn't today.





Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Harry's Bar...

So today, while watching 7th Heaven, I was inspired to look up the recipe for a champagne cocktail called "Bellini".  Bellinis are basically champagne or prosecco and pureed peaches.  They were invented at Harry's Bar in Venice.

  Bellini cocktail

As it turns out, there are also Harry's Bars in Florence and Rome.  Neither of these other Harry's Bars are related to the one in Venice, but maybe it would be fun to drop by for a drink...  Maybe we could have a Bellini pub crawl or something...  Or maybe not.  Italians are snappy dressers and I might be disappointing...  And these bars might be too touristy.

On the other hand, I read that Harry's Bar in Florence makes a very dry martini.  Bill is a fan of dry martinis...  

We'll see...




We're within two months!

Two months from today, Bill and I will be wandering around Venice.  I hope the cultural high will be enough to sustain my energy that day because we'll be getting there in the morning, several hours before check in time.  I should be alright if I have a nice espresso or something. 

I'm really looking forward to this trip.  I've been wanting to go to Venice with Bill for a long time now, even though it's a touristy city.  There's no denying that it's beautiful and unique and I suspect Bill and I will have a blast, even though we'll only be there for a night.  Of course, I just found out that you can buy public restroom passes.  That ought to be interesting.  Like just about everywhere else in Europe, you have to pay to use the toilets.  It looks like Venice has quite a markup, too.  The public potty appears to be twice as expensive as other places in Europe.

All we really need to do now is figure out the transportation between Venice and Florence, Florence, and Rome, and Rome and Civitivecchia.  And then, from Pireaus and Athens.  Unlike the last time I went to Venice and Florence, all of this stuff can now be taken care of online before we get there.  

I can think of other places in Europe I want to visit just as much as Venice and Athens and all the places we're planning to see in between, but there are only so many days we can be gone.  And I have no idea when we'll have the chance to do this again, so I intend to enjoy every minute.  I'm still fondly remembering Scotland, too... and wishing we could go back there, too!

Hopefully this time, our dogs will be okay and there won't be any frantic emails from the pet resort.  And there won't be any obnoxious people holding court throughout the cruise...  and I won't get seasick.




Monday, March 4, 2013

My German friend...

A couple of months ago, right around the time my dog MacGregor died, I picked up a new friend on Facebook.  It was a German Army wife who had seen the Facebook page I made for MacGregor and worked with the beagle rescue that gave us Arran.  It's been fun getting to know her.  I imagine that being a German living in America must be, in some ways, like being an American living in Germany.

My friend, Susi, is about sixteen years younger than I am.  When I was her age, I was single and living in Armenia, serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Susi is married to a soldier.  I'm assuming she met and married him when he was posted in Stuttgart.  Incidentally, that's where Bill and I lived when we lived in Germany.  In chatting with Susi, I've been very impressed by a lot of things...

First off, she has quite an affinity for profanity.  I am not offended by this, actually.  I like to cuss too.  She often uses profanity to express her displeasure with America.  I'm not sure if she feels this way because America-- especially where she lives in North Carolina-- is not as exciting as Germany is.  I mean, the weather is milder here, but we don't have the really beautiful old buildings or picturesque towns that they have in Europe.  And we have a lot of ugly big box stores and fast food restaurants.

Last night, she commented on how American kitchens were not designed for people who like to cook.  When we lived in Germany, we actually had a very nice kitchen.  Our landlord had a masonry heater that had a bench built into it, as well as a table bolted to the floor.  We had an infrared stove, which we hated, and a convection oven, which was smaller than what we were used to.  The Army gave us a refrigerator, which was nice because European fridges are smaller.  I didn't necessarily think that kitchen was better than any I'd had in America, though.

Also, my husband and I love to cook.  My husband has actually turned it into a hobby and has become quite proficient at creating a nice meal.  I taught him a lot and he has since learned more on his own.  There are a lot of Americans who cook.

On the other hand, Americans who are lucky enough to have a job typically work long hours.  And they don't tend to get as much vacation time as Europeans get, nor is it necessarily guaranteed that Americans will even get a vacation.  The upshot is, a lot of us Yanks eat convenience foods.  Bill and I don't, really... we cook most days.  But a lot of Americans do.  So maybe that's why our kitchens "suck".

I wonder if Susi had a cultural high when she came to America.  I know I did in Germany, though it was actually pretty stressful to move there because we were stuck in a hotel for six weeks with two noisy beagles.  Susi has an advantage because she speaks excellent English, while I don't speak a lick of German.  And even if I did, it's likely the Germans I ran into would switch to English anyway.

Given a choice, I'd probably prefer Germany to America.  It's beautiful there... the food and beverages are excellent... so many wonderful places are within driving distance.  Granted, America has its share of beautiful places too.  But America has become too generic, to the point that you can go most anywhere and it won't be that different.

I didn't make a lot of friends in Germany.  There were a few locals we interacted with a bit, but we found that it takes time to get to know Germans.  Once they know you, they seem to be wonderful friends who are solid to the core.  But it takes awhile to crack the surface.  I wonder if Susi finds Americans too easy to make friends with.  Culturally, we are very different... even those of us who have German heritage (and I do, a little, but my family is more Scottish/English/Irish than anything else).

I also wonder if Susi has a trash disposal and if she enjoys using it.  I know compost heaps are big in Germany.  I give Susi props for knowing the town where I lived in Germany.


One of the many views from our back yard in Germany...


An even better shot...


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Our next... (last??) move...

Since January 2007, my husband and I have moved five times.  The first move was within a half a mile.  We moved from the little white house we'd been in since October 2003 to a brand new house.  We had to move because our old house was being renovated.  I was sorry to leave it, because I actually liked that house... but the new house did have some updated features like a gas stove, FiOS, and a tiny fenced in yard.  Bill deployed in January 2007, so I lived in that house mostly by myself.  He came back in August 2007 and we moved to Germany in September 2007.

We expected to live in Germany for three years.  We ended up getting barely two years, owing to my husband's asshole ex boss in Iraq, who got Bill requested by name to take a job in Atlanta, Georgia in September 2009.  I loved Germany and cried when we had to leave.  We traveled a lot, loved our house (and our neighbors and landlord) and felt very comfortable in Europe.  We got paid more in Germany, too.  Moving abroad is a big pain in the ass... It took six weeks to get into our house and when we were PCS'ing, we had to deal with new potential renters breathing down our necks, wanting to rent our house.  It sucked.

But we moved to Atlanta in September 2009 and it was okay... we were there for 18 months because my husband's post was shut down and moved to North Carolina.  So we moved to North Carolina in April 2011.  We got out of our time in Georgia a new dog (Zane) and Bill picked up some mad home brewing skills.  Our old beagle, Flea, died about two months after we got to Georgia because he had prostate cancer.

So now we're about to have our second anniversary in North Carolina...  I'm just now meeting people, mainly because we adopted our new dog, Arran, because sweet MacGregor died a few months ago.  North Carolina is not that exciting... it's very close to Virginia, which is where I'm from, and not far from where family live.

Today, Bill tells me we will likely be expected in San Antonio, Texas around August 1, 2013...  He retires next year, which means this will be the last time the Army moves us unless we move after he retires.  The Army will pay for a move when he retires, too...

For the third time since 2009, I'm househunting on AHRN, which is a housing rental service for military folks.  I hear San Antonio is wonderful, so I'm hoping we like it and stay awhile.  And I hope we don't end up living in a box.  Meanwhile, I still want to plan trips and, in fact, was checking out Hebridean Island Cruises YouTube channel and wishing we could do another Scotland cruise this year.

I guess in July, we'll need to take a trip to San Antonio and find a house.  Then in late July, we'll need to take a 3 or 4 night road trip and drive the 1300 miles to get there.  It was a lot easier to move from Georgia to North Carolina.