Action Paintball (also spelled O-U-C-H)!

August 31, 2010

Day started out nice enough...

Paintball this weekend made for quite a Saturday. I don't know what I expected, but I'm not sure I would have signed up had I known how incredibly painful it is when one of those little balls hits you! All in all, it was pretty fun, but I know I would've had a much better time had I been better covered (padding, for example) and more prepared for the rain and muck. It was definitely a plus to be out with a new group that was entirely German.

It was fairly clear when we arrived that this was a boys club - the four girls in our group were the only ones to be seen. Also intimidating was the look of the players who looked to be regulars: camo garb, army boots, cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, not to mention being absolutely filthy. The fact that every person in our group (my hubby aside) was a paintball virgin, relieved at least some of my fears.

Our first of the paintball fields - Astroturf & inflatable barricades

As we began to suit up (gloves, chest shields, neck guards, masks...), I worried that my flimsy athletic pants and sweatshirt (and lack of a full-head helmet!) wouldn't cut it as defense against the paint-filled ammunition - and I was right. During our first game, I was doing my best to stay covered behind the giant, inflatable barricades, scared out of my mind at getting hit. The paintballs rained down on my cover, some of them making it past and grazing me so hard, I was surprised that I didn't see paint when I looked down.

Unfortunately, my first game ended when I leaned out from my cover and was hit right on the lower arm that was holding my gun. I nearly lost my breath, it hurt so bad. As I raised my hands and headed back to our team's 'base,' my arm started to tingle and I had to switch the gun to my other hand before I dropped it. If only I had known that huge raised welt on my arm was just the beginning (no, that was not the worst)....

My nastiest battle wound (ouch!)

I went on to take pretty painful hits right in my mask and on the side of my leg (see above), but started to get hang of it enough to even get a couple of people out - including my experienced husband. The games on the first field ended with a break to refill our gun's tanks (to ensure proper pressure with which to shoot out those little balls of pain) and head over to one of the more 'authentic' fields, with shorter plywood and tire covers in an actual field of dirt and grass. Shortly after we began this match, the sky opened and began dumping rain so cold and so hard, I was certain it was hailing. This also meant I could barely see out of my mask, which when coupled with the increasingly mucky mud my shoes were sinking into, really made it feel as if we were on a true battlefield.

Even paintball mascot Alli couldn't avoid some 
collateral damage (note the pink fur)

After huddling under an awning, waiting for the pounding rain to stop, I was thoroughly chilled to the bone and ready to call it a day. Dry clothes helped a bit, but I couldn't shake the chill for the rest of the evening, even as I warmed myself next to the BBQ. Once everyone was finished, we ended up cooking some meat on one of the tiny grills made available by the paintball place. 

Grilling for 11 people was a tight fit

This being our first outing with an entirely German group, only a few of whom we'd met a time or two through other friends, it was an interesting dynamic to experience. Our conversational German is poor, at best - on the plus side, we've mastered restaurant menus, telling time and how to say we don't speak good German - so either two people make the effort to understand or nine people are forced to communicate in a secondary language for our benefit. Seeing as we were the odd ones out, German won this time.

I tried my best not to feel left out, but it was hard not to. When you don't understand all of the conversations going on around you, it's a bit like being a little kid whose parents are spelling the big words, and often makes one feel equally small. This feeling of inequity is something I can only blame myself for - I haven't studied long enough or gotten out and tried hard enough to practice this difficult language. My lack of confidence aside, I know that my vocabulary (and limited knowledge of verb tenses) holds me back. At eight months in, it's time to step it up.

And so we begin our first full week with our new Deutsch instructor and I hope this will get us closer to where we need to be. Our first experience with him proved no one's going to slide by on 'close enough'; he insists that everything is pronounced correctly, with the right article clearly articulated, before we can move on. To help with the vocabulary issue, I've been thinking I need to take it upon myself to make some flashcards to fast-track our conversation abilities. Learning family members, professions and numbers only helps our day-to-day life so much. What about making beauty appointments? How do I communicate my concerns to a doctor? These are all things that will come with time - hopefully sooner than later.

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Rheingauer Weinwoche

August 24, 2010

One of our favorite wineries at the fest

Wein, wein und mehr wein! It has been a lovely, indulgent week with the Weinfest going on just in town. How easy it has been to walk into the Stadtmitte, enjoy a night out with friends with several bottles of wine and then walk back home. The wine festivals back in the states have got nothing on this week-long celebration!

The imposing Rathaus and Marktkirsche overlooking the fest

A big plus of the Weinfest? The incredibly affordable wine! When looking at the cost of glasses (usually between €2-3) compared to the price of bottles (between €9-20), it was hard to pass up just buying whole bottles, especially when going with a group. Bottles of wine at wine festivals in California are much more expensive, though not any more spectacular than what we enjoyed. Not a bad perk to living in German wine country, I must say.

Willkommen to the Weinfest - pull up a bench and stay awhile

The abundant tables and benches allowed for people to settle in for hours of wine enjoyment and catching up with friends, whereas in the states there's never seating at such festivals and so people are encouraged to keep moving, rather sit and relax. Another check for the German way of life.

Poffertjes: best fest food ever!

Secondary to the wine (though not by much!), was the fest food. We enjoyed the usual Wurst - curry and regular wurst with bread - but also indulged in Weinfestbrezel (bigger than my head), banana and Nutella crepes, and my new favorite thing, Poffertjes - these kind of mini Dutch doughy, pancakey things served warm off the griddle with powdered sugar and many sauce options. My favorite was probably the vanilla sauce, but the hangover-inducing Grand Marnier-soaked ones were pretty amazing as well.

Bailey can't wait for next year - & more Weinfestbrezel!

It was hard not to compare the Weinwoche here with similar (but oh-so-different!) festivals back in California. Aside from having better, cheaper wine, yummier food and just being a much bigger celebration in general, there were the obvious cultural differences. First, the diversity of the attendants was much more impressive, which I'm certain had to do not only with the sense of community here, but also with the much lower drinking age. This was no middle-aged, wine snob event. Considering the varying age of people there, I was also surprised at everyone's restrained drinking behavior. Usually, if a group of teens, 20-somethings (and heck, even 30- and 40-somethings) had all day and night to sit and drink continuously anywhere else, there would be some questionable behavior. Aside from the one girl we saw the first night getting sick (who looked about 13 years old), no one was loud, embarrassing or otherwise acting like publicly drunken fools. Well, there was that American... 

While there has been a lot of wonderful things to do and fests to attend in the summertime, I must say this was the most enjoyable. If you're thinking of visiting Germany, I highly recommend this time of year. 

In even more exciting summer plans, our countdown to Spain has officially begun. Mallorca, Barcelona....we're coming. I can't wait!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische 


August 18, 2010

In the midst of dreary weather and my first summer without requisite California beach time, I would do anything for some sun-drenched days coupled with an ocean view. And so I hope that our plan to soak up some much-needed sun in Spain pans out next month. We could both really use a vacation...

I need to be laying out on that deck in a few weeks time. Cross your fingers for us!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische
**Photo courtesy of Agroturismo Sa Pedrissa

Summer days

August 13, 2010

Vines overhead on patio of newly discovered winery

Summer is winding its way to a close - and I have very mixed feelings about it. It seems as though summer has really jump started our lives here: we made several new friends; discovered more towns and new places; started our much-needed language courses; hosted our first houseguest; finally finished covering all the dirt on the walls with fresh coats of paint. On the other hand, I'm so ready to bid farewell to the sporadic thunderstorms and hot summer rain. Bring on sweater weather!

View from an inlingua language school classroom in Wiesbaden (sadly, not ours!)

It's hard to believe that in just over two months, we'll reach the expiration date on our initial visa to be in Germany. With so much still to explore and learn about the culture - and the language! - I couldn't imagine calling it quits on our new home so soon. I feel like my ambition to improve my German has finally surpassed the complete and utter embarrassment at my new, limited communication skills. As our language abilities improve, so does our desire to get out and see more of the country we now call home. We'll definitely be applying for a longer visa this time around - we're here to stay!

We've been saved by honest-to-goodness Mexican food, courtesy of a San Antonio expat's restaurant in Mainz

In addition to providing us with a little California company, our first houseguest also allowed us a fresh take on where we live now. We've been so enchanted and completely won over by life here, I'm pretty sure most people back in the states are sick of hearing how much better we think everything is. So it was nice to have someone new here to offer their take on German living...and substantiate everything we've been saying! She raved about everything - the architecture, the sight-seeing, the shopping, the food, the ice cream, the drivers. I was anxious to see how she'd like it, for fear this would affect everyone else's likelihood of visiting if Deutschland didn't meet her expectations. Having my fears completely put to rest, I can't wait to have more visitors to show our life here.

The Marktkirsche - a must-see for all of our guests

Perhaps I'm also anxious for summer to be over because it means my parents trip out to spend the Christmas holidays with us is that much closer. In addition to being their first visit to see us, it will also be the first time either of them have really been to Europe (aside from my mom's brief rescue mission to London to bust me out of the hospital and nurse me back to health in a hotel room, so that doesn't count). It has been a tough several months to make a home and a life without them here, but I hope their visit will be the first of many and they will see why we've made such a major move in our lives. Aside from working with my mom nearly every day for the year prior to our move, she's also my best friend. Their Christmas trip will be pivotal in accepting the distance that is now between us and figuring out a way to make it work.

The beautiful patio at Weingut Reichert decorated with the winemaker's wife's lit steel artwork. Amazing.

As we try to enjoy the last bit of summer we have left and take advantage of some much-needed travel time my husband's been accruing, I can't help but think of everyone I left back in California. August is typically the month in Europe where everything shuts down and people take a month off to regroup for fall. My husband has much less work to do these days because many of their offices in other countries have literally no one there to do the work right now (more reason for us to get away now as well!). I'm fairly certain my former colleagues at all my previous employers are working away, nose to the grindstone - especially those in the education sector, as they gear up for back-to-school time.

It seems that in the San Francisco Bay Area especially, people are expected to work crazy hours, be reachable while on vacation (if they actually ever take one) and all to barely afford a little piece of the American Dream (aka - property) that they hardly even see. I can't help but wonder why. After seeing how life can be somewhere else, I can't ever imagine going back to that lifestyle. I hope all my friends find a way to balance their life with some much-deserved time to enjoy, you know, life. By the way, I know somewhere in Europe you can come and stay for free. ; )

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische