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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Yes, We ARE "Those People!" or For Love of Dog

Our neighbor, Mark, brought over a Christmas gift for us (yummy peppermint bark--thanks, Marchant family!) Then Charlie and Puddin' brought some chocolate chip cookies that Lynne had made! (We have such good neighbors.)

Now that they've moved into a bigger house, Mark and Liz's kids are holding them to their promise of getting a dog and Muggle is just the right size. Talking of Muggle naturally leads to talk of agility. Which led to talk of the hilarious movie, Best in Show. If you aren't familiar with it, it's a parody of the intensely, freakishly dog-obsessed folks who frequent the dog show circuit. Mark asked if there are similar characters in agility.

"Oh, yeah! But not us. I mean, we don't have any kids, so we spoil the animals, but we know they're pets," I told him. Then felt the need to qualify. "Well, I mean, sort of. We aren't as obsessive as the Best in Show folks, but maybe we over do it a bit with our babies."

Muggle with his Christmas "loot."

Then I had to go in to check on homemade chicken jerky I was making for Muggle in the dehydrator.

This morning, looking at the wonderful pile of gifts under the tree, it struck me. Yes, we ARE "those people" from Best in Show! I didn't want to be one of "those" dog-obsessed, crazy people whose life center's around their dog. That's almost as sad as people whose life center's around their human children! Almost. Human kids grow up, become independent, and move on. Our dogs are dependent on us for their whole lives.

The evidence of our (my) obsession with my dog is overwhelming and it's been right in front of my face the whole time. I just didn't want to see it:

  • Drawers full of "Muggle" and agility clothing.
  • A whole "travel bag" just for roadtrips with Muggle (crate, toys, food and water dishes, treats, blanket, pillow, 2 leashes, bandana)
  • The agili-tree.
The Agili-tree: decorated with Muggle's agility ribbons.

  • Albums and albums of Muggle on Facebook.
  • My gifts from Matt: solar panel for the car to run the seat-heater at those cold, outdoor agility trials, and a Muggle photo collage.
  • Making homemade treats for Muggle.
  • More gifts for Muggle under the tree than anyone else!

My Christmas gift from Matt: an Agility-photo Collage

Guess I have to face the facts. We ARE those people. And it's not a bad thing at all. Animals are and should be treated as part of the family. We love them, take care of them, and while we may have other interests and friends outside of them, to them, we are everything! I can't think of a better, more admirable or redeeming quality in a person than for them to be an animal lover.

From our house to yours, and from our furry, 4-legged kids to yours, Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Frohe Weihnachten, and a happy, healthy New Year filled with much barking, meowing, and many sloppy, wet kisses!

Lynne, Matt, Muggle, Spooky, and Minerva

Minerva and Spooky

Me and Matt in DC

Saturday, December 15, 2012

'Tis the Season: A bit of Christmas past

We have some family friends who are visiting Germany right now. Their blog posts about the small towns and Christmas markets they've visited around Stuttgart and in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France have brought back wonderful memories of our Christmases in Germany. The excitement and goodwill of the season thrive in the festive markets and even a curmudgeon like me can't help but feel the joy!

With fond memories of Christmas past, here's a repost from a blog of our first Christmas in Germany.

December 2005

Glűhwein, Socks, Knives, Axes and Gerbils – Christmas in Germany
At the Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt
Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, Happy Hannakuh and more from Wendlingen, Germany! 

The most obvious and telling signs of the Christmas season in Germany are the Weihnachtsmarkts–Christmas Markets (sometimes called ChristKindl Markts)–that every town, large and small holds in the weeks before Christmas. Some of these are small, weekend long affairs in the town square, with a few booths selling ornaments, candles, sweaters, toys, and of course, food and beverages. The preferred beverage of the season is Glűhwein: hot, spiced wine, either red or white. It might be the heating that does it, or the addition of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and orange peel to super-sweet wine that does it, but whatever it is, this is POTENT STUFF! But oh, so wonderfully warm and aromatic on a cold night outdoors wandering through the Christmas villages of booths decorated with everything from Santa and his reindeer to the nativity.

Skating at the Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt
The the BIG Weihnachtsmarkts last from November 24 or 25 through Christmas. These spread through all of the squares, parks, and marketplaces in town and include everything from ice skating rinks and “restaurant” booths with sit-down table service, to live music and sleigh rides! 
But the really spectacular, and truly unique markets are the medieval-themed villages.  Esslingen, a medieval, walled town known for its vineyards, is the perfect setting for a medieval Weihnachtsfest–the old town was spared bombing during WWII and portions of its original wall still surround parts of town. Some of the buildings date back to the 13th century. a true medieval town.
The Esslingen Weihnachtsmarkt

The medieval theme brings out all the “Goths” in Baden-Wurttemburg and we were never sure if the people walking around with dyed black hair, black nail polish and lipstick, black flowing robes, and chains were part of the entertainment, or visitors. The vendors knew their crowd and about ½ the booths were selling amulets, celtic-designed jewelry, dragon and gargoyle items, and incense.  Lots and lots of incense. 
Medieval musicians at the Esslingen Christmas Market

Jugglers, musicians, and acrobats roam the crowd and periodically perform on stage, in between church choirs and youth singing groups. There are people dressed up as knights, pages, lords, and ladies, and vendors selling period clothing for all of them.  We could have bought some wonderful robes, poofy-sleeved “pirate shirts,” and leather shoes with pointy toes that curled up at the end (they even offered to specially make a pair for Matt’s size 15s!) 

 Not only were there people in period costume, but the vendors were craftspeople plying their trade, as well as their wares: candlemakers, leather workers making hats, gloves, slippers, and those pointy-elf shoes, women spinning wool into yard and then making sweaters from it, and a blacksmith forging corkscrews, axes, and knives. And socks.  There were lots of booths selling wool socks. Maybe the German’s know something we don’t about the coming winter? I felt this perhaps indicated severe weather to come, like the red stripe on woolly caterpillars, so I bought some. 

If you wanted to test out the wares before buying, the game booth next to the blacksmith–knife and ax tossing--gave you the chance. And nearby, you could test out a freshly-fletched arrow (and NOT the suction cup kind of arrows, either) at a booth where a lemon hung from rafters by a string. Stick the arrow in the lemon and win a prize! Right across from that was a food vendor with a whole pig roasting on a spit... hmmm... makes you wonder, doesn’t  it? Surrounding all of the games involving sharp and pointy objects were booths selling Glűhwein, eggnog, Christmas punch, beer, and wine! We're pretty sure there's no ATF in Germany!

Test your aim at the bow shooting booth!

Maybe someone had good aim with the bow and arrow?
There were rides for the kids, too.  Like the hand-powered ferris wheel. About 5 m high, the wooden wheel had “troughs” for the kids and two young guys worked handles to turn it, sort of like contestants on “The Price is Right” spin the big wheel to get into the showcase. Other games included throwing a lead ball at an egg sitting on top of a log and trying to smash it, trying to land a 1 Euro coin into the center circle drawn at the bottom of a barrel  filled with water (about .5 m deep), and our favorite – Maus Rondell!

Yes, you guessed the correct English translation.  Mouse Roulette.  A misnomer since they used a gerbil. How can you resist a game called Maus Roulette, especially when the playing area had clear indications of a live mouse being involved? The round table, divided into 12 “pie slices” that each had a small cardboard “mouse house” at the end, and evidence that some of these houses had been “inhabited” at least briefly. The gerbil was released into the center of the table and we all waited eagerly to see which house he’d run into. After many “here mousey-mousy-mousy’s,” lots of kissy noises to lure the gerbil in, and three bolts into houses with no coins on them, the gerbil finally ran into Matt’s house and he won...a small stuffed mouse. I was really hoping for the gerbil. Probably for the best since Spooky is gnawing away at the prize as I write this.
Maus Rondell

After all that fun, we needed some much deserved glűhwein and a wurst, then we headed back home to put up our Christmas tree!

Esslingen Christmas Market

Matt setting up the tree at our house in Wendlingen

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Giving

Last year I promoted selecting charities that are meaningful to those on your Christmas gift (the humane society for the animal lover, American Heart Association for someone who has or has lost someone to heart disease, etc) and making donations to those charities in the name of your gift recipient:

Random Thoughts by Lynne Hinkey: Christmas shopping?

That's what Matt and I have been doing for the past few years and will continue to do this year. Very few of those on our gift lists really need any store bought items or more clutter for their households but they all have causes near and dear to their hearts. We'll contribute to those causes on their behalf. I hope you'll all consider doing the same.