Monday, December 31, 2012

A Vacation from my Vacation

Since our feet hit the ground in Texas, we have been on the go, go, go.  Doctors, dentists, college tours, friends and family. Plus a wedding, bowl game and state special ed certification test for me. I am just about ready to head back to England on January 2 so I can get some rest. 

The current year has been filled with some great travel and big decisions. It looks like 2013 will be even more eventful. I pray we are all lead in the right direction regarding colleges and new teaching opportunities. See y'all in the new year!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Days of Christmas

Six universities, five flights, four hotels, three carry on bags, two rental cars and one daughter who needs to decide which campus will be getting our money next year.

This afternoon we arrived at my in-law's house and boy am I glad to be here. We left England four days ago and have since toured six colleges. It has been a whirlwind trip thus far, but has allowed the teen to cross a few campuses off her consideration list. Then she came up with the bright idea to ADD another one to the list late this afternoon... Ohio State University.  It's gonna be a bikini wearing day in the English winter when I agree to assist with a 12th application.

Tomorrow we will celebrate Christmas with my husband's side of the family, our first one where the younger daughter doesn't believe a big fat man is gonna deliver her presents overnight, and I am not talking about my husband sporting his red golf style shirt. As I said earlier this month, our family is getting memories in the form of a trip to Kenya in February (already booked) and a visit to China in April (in the works).  Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night in a king sleep number bed rather than the four hotel queens where we have crashed while on the road.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On the Road Again

We have taken our high school senior on a trip to visit college campuses where she has applied with the hope that this will help her narrow down the list to about six serious contenders.  The girls and I flew to Texas on Thursday to meet my husband and in-laws at the airport. We handed off our big suitcases and the 6th grader to them before collecting our carry on bags and hopping a flight to Kansas City.

Yesterday we toured Mizzou and were pleasantly surprised. The campus was clean and compact and is surrounded by cute shops and restaurants within walking distance. Plus there was some leftover snow on the ground - nice touch. Yesterday evening we arrived in Lawrence to tour the University of Kansas. We saw a bit of it before the sun went down and thus far we aren't impressed. The town is cute, but not really big enough to be convenient... but at least you can get to the big city of KC in less than an hour. The teen's requirements for a college thus far seem to be pretty sorority houses as well as interesting off campus dining options and handy stores for some retail therapy. Strength of various degree programs doesn't seem to be on her radar, especially since she is now torn between majoring in nursing and business/accounting.

The tour-college-campuses-like-your-hair-is-on-fire trip moves to Texas tonight when we fly into DFW. I am interested to see what she thinks about TCU, Baylor, A&M and UT.  That just leaves a few random college apps out there to further muddy the waters at places like Clemson and the University of Vermont where we won't hear a yea or nay for a couple more months.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Fridge

It has been downright balmy the past couple days, with highs right on top of 50.  However, this was the scene last week in our back garden... for days.

Ollie and I crunched around on the grass while he contributed some poopsicles to the frosty winter landscape. It really was pretty once you got up close to some of the plants and saw how thick the ice crystals were after accumulating for several days.

The above pic looks as if the leaves have been sprinkled in granulated sugar.  As I turned to head back into the house, the frost covered remnants of a spider web hanging from the pergola caught my eye.

I love how the bits of frost on top of the pergola are in focus rather than the dangling web - makes it look as if the wooden slats are sporting a burr haircut.  And then I looked down and saw an even more interesting spider web.   I'm thinking now it would almost need to be referred to as an igloo.

My favorite frost pic is the one below, taken over near the playhouse that sits on these concrete pavers.  

In between each one they've purposely grown grass.  I love how this little patch of frost covered green looks so symmetrical.  

I'm thinking somebody, meaning me, needs to get a life because this frost post looks like a cry for help, right.  It's kinda early in the winter season to be exhibiting this sort of cabin fever behavior.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

All in a Row

The only problem with putting up Christmas decor the weekend before Thanksgiving is that it's out long enough to require dusting. This year I've added a new Santa to my tabletop collection.  I found these fellas at one of the Christmas markets on our river cruise, but can't recall which one because it's all a blur of gluhwein stands in the midst of eerily similar old towns decked out in holiday decor.

These nesting Santas are supposedly from Russia. They could be from China, but I like the Russian story the lady told me and so I'm sticking with it.  

They had a set of the traditionally shaped Santa nesting dolls, but the pointy headed version is unique and that appeals to me.  After 20+ years of collecting Santas, and having a Santa only tree, I'm looking for Santas with a twist. Earlier this week, I purchased a glass ornament Santa in a space ship a la the Jetsons with the clear bubble around his head.  You just don't see one like that every day.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Speyer and Heidelberg

Our last full day on the river cruise before disembarkation in Frankfurt was spent in Speyer and Heidelberg.  The wind certainly picked up the night before and was ushering in colder weather the next morning as we strolled into Speyer.  We were on our own for the morning, so we didn't have a serious agenda.  

The red sandstone church we passed on our way from the Rhine into the town center was really pretty.  I can't resist a crypt, so we wandered around down there to see a bit of old artwork and statuary affixed to the walls.

It was a tad too early in the day for all of the Christmas market stalls to be open, but we still had fun walking around to see what they had on offer.

Lo and behold, we ran across a temporary Kathe Wohlfahrt store, the Christmas ornaments mothership, and we had to take a look.  Of course, we found a few things we just couldn't resist.  SOME of us packed light so we would have plenty of space to bring back souvenirs.  And then there was Imelda Marcos my mother, who packed FIVE pair of shoes for a four night cruise, and thus I got to ferry back most of the loot she purchased in my suitcase.

After lunch back on board the ship, we headed out for a bus ride to Heidelberg, where we took a walking tour that afternoon and got to do a bit more snooping around the Christmas markets.  By this time, we were just about Christmased out.  Seriously, neither of us wanted to invest in a larger tree to accommodate all of the super cute ornaments and decorative items we were seeing.  Plus it's not like you can keep this stuff out all year without looking like some sorta freak... right?

We had a nice time in Heidelberg, the old city on one side of the Rhine and beautiful period homes gracing the opposite side of the white capped water as cold wind whistled across it.

The Christmas pyramid, above, would look really nice as part of my holiday yard decor.  It would be a wonderfully festive touch out by the pool at our home in Texas.  We can get the girls to man the gluhwein stand directly beneath it.  Maybe add a keg of beer since it's seldom cold enough for hot beverages during a typical December in the Lone Star State.

There were lots of college-aged students roaming the streets and I was immediately struck with the thought that this would be a great place for the teen to do a semester of study abroad.  After a whirl through a permanent Kathe Wohlfahrt store, surprise-surprise, we dropped into a bakery with attached tearoom.  We sat for a while until one of the efficient German waitresses stopped to let us know that we needed to place our dessert order next door in the bakery while ordering our quiche and drinks from her.  As expected, the older German ladies wanting a slice of kuchen stepped right in front of me to place their order even though I had been standing there before they arrived and they knew it.  I hadn't opened my mouth, so it's not as if they knew right off the bat I was an American.  This is one of those little European quirks that bugs the hell outta me, this inability to be polite and wait for their turn.  They get so many things right - train timetables, great cars, tasty sausage - but all of that is negated when they cut in line in front of me.

The Christmas stalls were all beginning to look the same to me, so here are some pics of interesting things I saw in old Heidelberg.

Above is Heidelberg Castle atop the hill overlooking us. We had the option of touring it, but it was over uneven ground, only a shell and in the cold winter wind, so we just had a nice view of it during the walking tour of old town.

Here is a pic of our ship when we were docked in Speyer.  It was launched in May of this year and had lovely modern decor.  

And below is a shot of a large tree outline along the river when we returned from our trip to Heidelberg.  I don't know how I missed this in the daylight since we walked right past it, but I did.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Let It Snow

Last week we got a bit of that white stuff falling from the sky here in England, something we seldom see back in Texas.  It fluttered down from above and looked as if the back garden greenery had been dusted in powdered sugar.

The few and far between flakes continued for about 20 minutes and then came to a halt.

Because it was late start day and the bus wasn't scheduled to pick up the girls until 8:40, their first hope thought was that maybe classes would be cancelled.  Wishful thinking, indeed, since we received maybe 1/4" of snow.  Nevertheless, it was a lovely way to start the day and served as a wonderful reminder of the beauty of the Christmas season.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Our trip along the Rhine continued through Alsace.  We quickly discovered the adopted symbol in this region is the stork.  I loved this example perched atop a Christmas markets chalet right outside the cathedral in Strasbourg.

Inside the cathedral, constructed entirely during the Middle Ages from the 12th to 14th centuries, is an amazing astronomical clock.

At 12:30 every day, all of the automatons are put into motion, but we were too early to see it on our tour, so we just got this little taste of it.

The Christmas markets in Strasbourg were beautiful and quite extensive.  We took a tour in the morning with a guide, returned to the ship for lunch and then took a shuttle back to the markets in the afternoon for some more snooping.  This is my favorite picture of my mother from the trip, all smiling and for once not having to hover under an umbrella.

This is supposed to be the largest outdoor Christmas tree in France.

Below is a bakery (named Christian) we discovered that had the most amazing creations in its windows. We found quite a few places in Strasbourg that allowed us to indulge our sweet tooth.

As always, I was enthralled by the architectural details I spotted and captured the following with my camera.

It's obvious my fascination with signs continues.  I love these shop signs I keep seeing in the old town centers across Europe, the ones crafted from metal and painted.  They're simply beautiful and so very different from gaudy modern ones.  I would love a coffee table book of old European shop signs. Somebody needs to get on that.  Or maybe I'll just add it to my post-retirement bucket list.