Monday, April 7, 2008

VOTE FOR DAVID COOK!

I watch American Idol, and I am not ashamed to admit it. That and Dancing with the Stars are my guilty reality television pleasures. However, this season, I have a legitimate reason to follow Idol. I know David Cook. For real. While the jury is still out on whether or not he would still remember who I am, especially since he's all famous now, I really do know him. We attended both middle and high school together and were involved in some of the same activities. We were in musicals/melodramas together in middle school and both participated in Forensics (speech and debate, not Crime Scene Investigation). I was even his escort for his first try at the Mr. Jaguar male "beauty" pageant (he later went on to win the competition his senior year). You better believe that I'm going to be digging up some embarrassing photos and videos from those "Coming of Age" days the next time I'm home. I have to be ready if Fox comes calling. The coolest thing is that he's actually really good. He has a legitimate shot to win the whole thing. Now that he's in the top ten, he's pretty much assured a record deal. The solo album that he put out a couple of years ago is fantastic--it's in the CD player pretty exclusively these days. Obviously I'm pretty excited for David. But I'm also amused. It's crazy to see him on TV and to read about him in US Weekly (which I only read at the gym) and on Wikipedia. And it's hilarious to read blog posts from girls--and married women--who think he's "hott." Good for him! If you're a David Cook fan (or if you want to be), I suggest checking out this very excellent website managed by some of his good friends. It's very tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing, right down to the Chuck Norris-esque list of reasons why David Cook should be the next American Idol. http://www.davidcooktheamericanidol.com/ Don't forget to vote Tuesday nights!

This Trip Brought to You by Facebook

Rather than being sad when I found out that Jon was going to be taking another "business trip," I immediately started thinking about how I could occupy my time. With no real job or commitments (other than my weekly tap dancing class), I wanted to travel. Specifically, I wanted to travel with my girlfriends.

Fortunately, a friend from home who relocated to California seconds after graduating from college had some time in her schedule to accomodate a guest. This was a great opportunity to finally visit sunny San Diego like I'd been promising for years. As if that wasn't a good enough trip, she then suggested that we drive to Arizona for a couple Royals Spring Training baseball games. (She informed me of this possible plan via e-mail, which I received while still on the Spanish honeymoon. It was hard to contain my excitement, but I figured I better since I was in Spain, after all, with my new husband.) The added bonus of the trip is that we would be meeting up with another friend whom neither of us had seen since high school; they had recently become "Facebook friends."

I have really been dragging my feet with this whole Facebook/mySpace thing. I know these social networking sites are a great way to stay connected with old friends, but I'm really nervous that all my adolescent students would be able to find my page. Not that I would post anything, um, inappropriate, but what if a friend of a friend did and it was linked back to me? Plus, as I am back in the job market, the same reasons apply. (Yes, I am aware of all the privacy settings and know that everything would be just fine.) However, the real reason that I am resisting is because I'm pretty confident that I would quickly become addicted.

I'm not a gossip...exactly. I just have an intense curiosity for knowing what's going on in other people's lives. It's not a malicious desire and I'm not interested in spreading rumors. But I do like keeping in touch with people and hearing about what they're up to. Unlike a lot of people, I am pumped about my ten-year high school reunion and am bummed that I missed the five-year. It's always fun to get updates about people and I'm glad that the Facebook crowd is keeping me in the loop. Everyone I know who is part of that exclusive club, from high school friends to college friends to Germany friends, is pretty persuasive, so don't be surprised if I crack one of these days and ask to be your friend...

But I digress. Only about a week after returning from the honeymoon, I hopped on another plane, this time to San Diego. I'd never been to that part of California, so I definitely had the wide eyes of a tourist. It's beautiful. I was shown all over the city, both by car and by foot. That night, we met up with another friend neither of us had seen since high school who also lives in San Diego now. Another point for Facebook.

The following day I was on my own and ended up exploring Old Town San Diego. As you may have expected, this is a pretty historical area. In fact, it's a State Historic Park. I'm ashamed of my geographic knowledge, but I forgot just how close San Diego is to Mexico. After spending the day there, it's official. Now I want to go to Mexico. Did you ever notice that traveling usually sparks a desire to do more traveling?!?

Luckily we had that opportunity. That afternoon/evening, we hopped in the car and drove to Arizona for a pair of Royals Spring Training games. This is the one time of the year when Royals fans have hope that maybe this year will be different (we did sweep the Tigers in our first series) and we might creep ever closer to that elusive .500 record. That being said, I sort of resent the media guide's assessment of the season, even if it is positive: "Oddly enough, the Royals have reason to be optimistic in 2008..."

The first game we attended was at the Royals home field in Surprise, Arizona. They dropped a heartbreaker to the Padres in the 10th inning. But the game wasn't a total wash, as I got to re-connect with some college friends. That was truly the theme of the weekend. I'm not trying to make it sound like I have a ton of friends or anything...it's just that it was really cool to meet up with people in various parts of the country (or world, in the case of the honeymoon).

Following the game, we drove down to Tucson where we met up with the aforementioned high school friend. Even though I hadn't seen her in close to eight years, it was as if no time had passed. I think we both felt guilty that we let the friendship slide, so there you go, Facebook, another point for you.

On Easter Sunday, after church at the Cathedral, we headed out to the stadium where the Royals faced the White Sox. The boys in blue racked up enough runs in the early innings that they were able to hold on and defeat their Chicago rivals by a score of 6-5. They were surely spurred on by our cheering...and good-natured heckling.

The moral of this story is two-fold. First of all, don't count the Royals out yet. And secondly, do whatever it takes to stay connected with old friends. Even if it involves a huge sacrifice, like taking a vacation down to California and Arizona.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Luna de Miel

That's Spanish for "honeymoon," at least literally. I'm not for sure if Spaniards follow that tradition of escaping...I mean, taking a vacation...after getting married. At any rate, we decided to spend our extra week of traveling in Spain, hitting Seville and Barcelona, as well as some additional side trips. I'd never been to Spain (with the exception of Mallorca, which is more of a beach getaway than a traditional Spanish experience), and although Jon did travel there after leaving Germany the first time, he was game for a return trip. I was anxious to put my Spanish minor to use (seven years well spent, believe me), so off we went.

The morning after the wedding we picked up our weary travelers at 6:00 am. I don't know what we were thinking, scheduling a flight so early the day after getting married. Regardless, we drove down to Munich, desperately trying to translate radio reports about the Muenchen Flughafen ("airport") and a strike. Evidently the baggage carriers went on strike--we actually saw them protesting--which had us very worried about the status of our flights. Luckily for us (and unluckily for lots of people), only domestic flights were cancelled, meaning that we left the gang at security and went to catch our flight to Spain.

Sevilla (Seville): Totally exhausted from the week's festivities, it was a pretty quiet plane ride. We changed planes in Barcelona and continued on down to Seville, the sister city of Kansas City (the Plaza is modeled after its Spanish counterpart). Our honeymoon started off on a great note as we both fell asleep face down on our matching twin beds.

We were able to rouse ourselves to go out and seek dinner at about 10:30, and we were quite fortunate to discover a tapas bodega not far from our hotel. For the unenlightened, tapas are smaller portions of a variety of dishes (depending on the bar/restaurant), like little snacks or appetizers. For example, over the course of several days, we ordered things like potatoes with ali-oli sauce, eggplant fries, chorizo sausage, Iberian ham straight off the pig leg, etc. Yum. Rejuvenated by delicious tapas and a decent night's sleep, we hit the ground running the following morning. Luck smiled down on us again as we stumbled upon a weekly flea market held mere blocks from the hotel. We found a great little carafe and painted tile (that is currently serving as a trivet), and I picked up a copy of Don Quijote en espanol. I can't resist used books, even in foreign languages.

We hit some of the big tourist destinations, like the Cathedral and the Real Alcazar (royal palace). Now that we were on our own and didn't have everyone else's photos to depend on, we were picture-taking machines. I think we ended up with more pictures that first day alone than from the entire week prior. We covered a lot of ground and saw lots of interesting sights, but one of the highlights for me was the flamenco show we attended in the evening. The performers were amazing. I think I must have been a flamenco dancer in a past life because I immediately wanted to break out my souvenir castanets ("click-clickies") that I purchased on my last visit to Spain and jump up on the stage.

Cadiz: Since we'd planned to take the night train up to Barcelona, we decided to spend our next day in another town that was also on the train route. The real draw to this city was that it was on the coast, and while it was too cold to actually go in the water (which didn't seem to stop the overweight elderly gentlemen in Speedos), it was really nice to walk on the beach. We very nearly spent the entire day in a cafe, however. Since the town isn't very large, the train station didn't have a place to store luggage. Neither one of us was interested in hauling our stuff around all day, so we tried a couple of hotels before learning at the Tourist Information center that the bus depot was the only place with a room to store luggage. Making grammatical errors left and right, I was finally able to communicate what we needed to the right person at the right place, and the day was saved. The weather was again beautiful--the sun slightly toasting the fair Scandanavian skin we both share--so we spent the majority of the day walking around and enjoying the scenery.

Shortly before we were to leave, we stopped in a little cafe "off the beaten path" because Jon needed some coffee. While there, we met a new friend, Pepe. Incredibly friendly--and probably a bit inebriated--he spoke to us for a long time. I was able to understand most of what he was saying, but really found myself nodding a lot. Poor Jon was totally lost, but was able to pick up bits and pieces here and there, and I translated the best I could. Pepe was very excited to learn that we had just gotten married and congratulated us profusely. He also tried to convince us to stay the night in town at his apartment in order to meet his wife, who likes to practice her English. But, alas, we had a train to catch. We'd planned this train ride to Barcelona so carefully, yet were utterly devasted to discover that what we'd thought was a private sleeping cabin was in actuality two reclining seats. Thankfully, they were able to upgrade us, so we celebrated by drinking the bottle of cava that Mama had given us at our reception ("Macgyver" figured out a way to chill it in the sink).

Barcelona: Lo and behold, when we woke up the next morning, we were in Barcelona. We immediately walked to our hostel, aptly named At Home Guestrooms. It was a literally a spare bedroom in "Uncle Emphysema's" (not his real name) apartment. He pointed out several places of interest, and we were off...after enjoying a traditional fattening Spanish breakfast of churros con chocolate (deep-fried dough dipped in unbelievably thick hot chocolate). The biggest challenge in Barcelona is that Spanish isn't the native language. Barcelona is in a region of Spain known as Catalonia, and Catalan is more than a mere dilect; it's a totally different language which we deduced to be a hybrid of Spanish and French. We muddled through with my (primarily Latin American) Spanish, but it was fortunate we went to a lot of tourist locations. We went through the Cathedral and Picasso museum before seeing some wacky Gaudi architecture, including the famous Sagrada Familia ("holy family") cathedral.

Again, we took lots of pictures and videos, but opted not to go inside the latter because we had plans to meet some friends who were spending their Spring Break in Barcelona. One of Jon's co-workers put it best when she said, "Jon, you are the only person I know who would take two dudes along on your honeymoon." Fair enough. But I'm so glad we were able to meet up because we had a great time...and ate some amazing (and interesting) food. (Both friends--who are brothers--are very knowledgeable about both food and wine, so if you thought I talked a lot about food before, beware.) On a search for a cafe with a view, we climbed to the top of this hill/mountain that had breath-taking views of the city. After spending some time catching up, we went "tapas hopping." While Jon and I had been playing it relatively safe, typically ordering only one or two unknowns, our friends were immediately drawn to the most exotic tapas on the menu or in the bar. They were also adventurous when it came to full meals, pairing them with the perfect selection of wine. We ate everything from snails to baby goat to paella (a traditional rice dish) to rabbit to pig's feet to razor clams. But you would be proud of me because I tried it all...and was surprised to enjoy most of it.

[Check out their blog for more great food and wine info: http://bobrothersbythebottle.blogspot.com/]

Montserrat: According to our What is Montserrat? book, it is a mountain, a monastery, and a spiritual community. It is also really cool. A relatively short train ride from Barcelona, Montserrat was a nice little day trip. We rode the aerial tram/gondola to the top where we explored the grounds and cathedral. We then rode a funicular train to a smaller chapel on a different part of the mountain. More than just a funny word, a funicular train is one that goes up and down a hill...in case you're like me and had never heard of that word until just now. At any rate, we followed the trail, which contained statues representing each of the three sets of Mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious) that are prayed as part of the Rosary. At the end of this trail was a small chapel. The whole place had an aura about it that was incredibly peaceful and spiritual. It's not surprising that the monks chose to locate their monastery in this place...that and the sighting of the Virgin Mary that truly prompted them to settle there.

Sant Sadurni: The next day was also spent just outside Barcelona, this time in a town called Sant Sadurni, the "cava capital of Spain." Cava is sparkling wine, Spain's version of champagne. Basing the entire trip off of blurbs from the travel books initially appeared to be a gamble because we arrived just in time for the town's siesta, or "nap time" when everything was shut down for a couple hours. The woman at the Tourist Information office did her best to find us a tour at one of the many wineries and recommended a couple of places to stop. We tried to follow her directions, but prematurely stopped at a location with a similar name. What a serendipitous discovery! We met a winemaker named Pere who, along with his father and good friend, shared some of his very own cava, as well as his philosophies on life. We were there for nearly two hours until his son came home for lunch. We then saw the other end of the wine-making spectrum as we went on a tour of the giant Freixenet winery. The contrasts were striking. Where Pere had a hand in every bottle of wine produced, the humongous winery was full of cellars and machines. We all agreed that Pere had it right. It was time to return to Barcelona, so we picked up some small bottles of cava for the train ride and enjoyed an impromptu serenade from the band on the train.

Garmisch: Okay, so Garmisch isn't technically in Spain. But since we were flying back to the States from Munich, we had to return to Germany at some point, so we took the opportunity to hop a train toward the Alps to meet up with another couple of friends from Bamberg days. They, too, were enjoying their Spring Break in Europe. Again, it was marvelous to catch up over dinner and a trip to the Irish Pub. While it was a fairly long train ride to go out to dinner, it was totally worth it to meet with old friends. Sometimes you just have to make the effort to maintain friendships. I wish we could have stayed longer; the Alps were beautiful the next morning. However, we had a full day of traveling ahead of us.

It would be hard to compare the German adventure to the Spanish getaway because they were so different. It's like we were able to take two vacations at once. That's a whole lot of memories for two weeks.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Getting Married...Some More

It's official. We're married. No *asterisks* by our wedding date or telling people that "we're married, but..." This is the real deal, and it couldn't have been more wonderful. Not to get too mushy-gushy or anything, but the day ended and I was married to my soul mate, so how could it be anything less than perfect?!?

Honestly, the wedding was the least of our concerns in the whole German adventure; it was certainly the least stressful thing we did (not that anything was stressful, per se...). Of course, it was the whole reason for hauling eleven other people overseas, but I've watched one too many episodes of Bridezillas to get hung up on the little details. That being said, other people took care of those details so I had nothing to worry about. My lovely sisters-in-law transformed me into a bride, and my uber-supportive former roommates selected my bridal bouquet. Everyone, from the Moms to the people who sneaked away from work to be there, had a similar relaxed attitude.

It was a simple ceremony, which was appropriate. We were married by a Catholic priest but opted to forego the full Mass as Jon is Lutheran. Our siblings were the attendants and Jon's sisters read. The music was beautiful and our Polish priest gave a great homily (sermon) and even remembered to call us Jon and Kristin, instead of "Yon and Kristine" (his accent is fairly pronounced). Before I knew it, the whole thing was over. While I made sure to consciously remember every single moment, it still went by in a blur. Usually at weddings I am very aware, very observant of all that is going on; heaven knows I've been to--and in--enough. However, this time was different (duh). I made sure to focus only on Jon and the sacred vows we were repeating.

And then it was time to party. We were able to find a photographer who was willing to take some additional pictures downtown, so we loaded up everyone back in the van to drop them off at the hotel before the reception so we could begin our photo shoot. (We also had to send a group on the bus--classy, huh?--but they didn't seem to mind as we next encountered them eating some post-wedding doner across the street.) While the entire day was my "favorite part," one of the coolest things was the reaction we received from the Germans.

We had agreed to meet our photographer near the hotel. However, there was some miscommunication about the location, so we found ourselves waiting around in our wedding finery. Apparently not too many people are just hanging out in downtown Bamberg wearing a white dress and veil or black suit--especially on a Tuesday--because we certainly attracted a lot of attention. We were immediately approached by a group of about ten guys who wanted to take their picture with us. Various people of all ages wished us "viel glueck" (good luck) and we had a veritable fan club when we paused for pictures on the bridge.

But we couldn't hang out with our paparazzi forever, as we had people to entertain, pasta to eat, and pinot to drink. Our "reception" was held at our favorite restaurant in Bamberg, an Italian restaurant owned by an Italian-Cuban couple who only speak German, Spanish, and Italian (very impressive). Just as we remembered, the food was amazing, the wine incredible, and the proprietor, affectionately known as "Mama," delightful. Once again, it was fantastic to see our friends and family mingling and having a good time. There was a lot of laughter, yet also a lot of touching moments. That's a pretty vague and general description--just know that the entire event was very memorable and very special.

So, now we're married (again). The celebration has only just begun...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Adventures in Deutschland

Have you ever been faced with a task so overwhelming that you couldn't even begin? I certainly have. Enter Exhibit A. I've been meaning to write about our epic journey to Germany and the wedding that ensued pretty much since we returned, but I just haven't been able to get started. (This is probably the same reason I haven't begun my first book yet.)

I mean, really, how do you possibly describe such an incredible experience so that it captures--in even the slightest way--how fantastic it all was?!? I still can't believe we pulled it off...we must be absolutely crazy. What were we thinking, taking nine (and meeting two more) members of our families to Europe?!? In retrospect--heck, even at the time--it was wacky idea, but I'm so glad we did it. It goes without saying that Jon and I had a great time...and I think I can confidently speak for everyone who was there that it was a trip to remember for a lifetime.

Okay, enough gushing. Time to get down to business...

Day One: Lufthansa is genius. Not only do they have a great bi-lingual flight crew and free drinks, but they wisely seated all of us together...in the very back of the plane. (I'm not being sarcastic--this was great because we could be the noisy, excited group we were and disturb a minimal amount of people.) We were somehow able to coordinate flights so that the Seattle crew could rendezvous with the Kansas City crew in Denver before flying on to Munich, Germany. Talk about a potentially awkward first meeting between two families who are basically stuck together for life. But everyone got along (or faked it really well) and the flight was pretty uneventful.
[Side note: Jon graciously put together notes and itinerary for everyone, complete with alternate activities. Day One's alternate activity was, and I quote, "swim to Germany."]

Day Two, Munich: Despite being ridiculously tired, we forced the group to stay awake in order to acclimate to the time change (7 hours earlier for those in the Central Time Zone, 9 for those in the Pacific Time Zone). I must say, they were troopers. After depositing luggage at the pension, we dragged them to see the Glockenspiel (carillon bells), a couple of churches, and a food market in the old town. How wonderful it was to taste bratwurst in Germany again! Next, we hopped a train to see a BMW exhibit near the museum (I don't really know a lot about cars, so that's all I'm going to say about that). We started to lose momentum as we walked to the 1972 Olympic Stadium and had to take a little break before dinner...at the famous Hofbrauhaus! If you're thinking oompa music, busty waitresses carrying six giant beers at a time, and meaty German food, then you have the appropriate image in mind. It was all going great...until we realized we were sitting at the table reserved for the regulars (called the "stammtisch"). When they arrived, they were none too happy, so we moved our party elsewhere.

Our group split up at this point, but Jon and I valiantly led a few die-hards to a Starkbierfest, or Strong Beer Fest. When we walked in and saw hundreds of drunken Germans (in lederhosen, no less) standing on benches singing along to cheesy '80s music and swinging one-liter krugs, I was so happy, I nearly cried. I'm pretty sure that my brothers could have left the next day and been 100% satisfied with their German experience.

Day Three, Munich/Dachau Concentration Camp/Nuremberg/Bamberg: Okay, so not everyone visited all of those places--we were following Jon's alternate activity suggestions. The boys procured a 9-passenger van and promptly got stuck in traffic on the autobahn, my brother and his wife toured the original concentration camp, and the girls took the train to Nuremberg. The weather was rainy and sort of gross (just like Seattle...kidding, but only kind of), so we just walked through the square and a couple of shops before getting back on the train to Bamberg. Even though I only lived there for 5 months, when I walked out of the train station, I instantly felt like I was home. After settling into the hotel, we did what anyone who's ever lived in Germany would do: eat doner kebab. (My mouth is watering just thinking about it.) If you've never had one, the closest comparison would be to a gyro or schwarma. All you really need to know is that it's a giant slab of meat rotating on a stick...delicious.

The next thing to do in Bamberg, of course, is go to one of the town's 10 breweries. Jon, his friend, and I were enjoying a beer, waiting to meet a friend who still lives in Bamberg. Right before closing time, he strolled in...followed by another friend who I thought was currently in Virginia! Holy crap balls! He traveled all the way to Germany for our wedding (and because Bamberg is so awesome); I still can't believe it. Our now sizable group ended the evening at the infamous Irish Pub. There were cardboard Guiness glasses involved...let's leave it at that.

Day Four, Bamberg: The entire group (the ones we brought with us, not our unexpected guest) reconvened in the morning and piled in the van for a trip to the Nutcracker Store and a whirlwind (literally--it was crazy-windy) tour of Bamberg. We went up to the Castle before breaking for lunch...more doner kebab for some, at the very best doner place in Bamberg. After feasting on doner and/or crepes, some of us went on a walking tour of downtown. We went to the nearly 1000 year-old cathedral and another of the major churches, as well as the town hall which is in the middle of the canal. Another major tourist destination was Jon's old apartment. It really is no wonder that Bamberg is a World Heritage site (I'm not totally sure what that means, but Bamberg's pretty cool, so it must be a good thing).

It was then time to head to another of Bamberg's illustrious breweries. We met the rest of our official group who had flown in--despite the wild weather conditions--for dinner and a raucous card game. Jon was acting kind of weird, as he and a friend kept excusing themselves to talk on the phone. I didn't really think too much of it, and when he informed me that he had to go pick up another friend whose car had broken down, I was having too much fun to even suggest going with him. When he finally returned a couple of hours later, he walked into the room (they put the noisy Americans in a separate room) by himself. But before I could ask where the other guy was, four more friends who I thought were still in the States strolled in. Imagine my shock to see them, especially after they had told me the previous week on the phone how much they wished they could come but it just didn't work out. And then, to everyone's surprise, another former roommate walked in (after a harrowing traveling experience that involved having a flight cancelled in Amsterdam and an 8-hour train ride). Apparently, they all thought it would be fun to surprise me...and they were right. I still cannot thank them enough for being there. Amazing.

Day Five, Bamberg: We began the morning early by having a quick wedding rehearsal at the chapel with our delightful Polish priest. Okay, so maybe I wasn't all that organized...but in my defense, we (Jon) had a lot of other stuff to plan. At any rate, everything went fine and we were set for the wedding in two days. We then rallied most of the troops to go "dorfing." For the uninitiated (basically anyone beside Jon, who I'm pretty sure invented the term), dorfing entails driving through small towns throughout Bavaria, many of which end in -dorf. We had everyone psyched to eat lunch at a little brewery that specializes in half-a-chicken, literally a small chicken cut in half. But alas, it was closed! Tragic. So we compensated by eating at a castle (rough, huh?) and exploring the grounds, as well as a couple pilgrimage churches.

Since the trip was essentially all about food, the next notable event was dinner. We split up by family; the most memorable thing by far for me was the pizza my brother ordered covered in sardines. As second-in-command on this trip, I really had to step up my German game, especially when I was sans Jon. I did my best to translate menus and train schedules, but that sardine-covered pizza slipped past me. Regardless, the evening ended at yet another brewery. Big surprise.

Day Six, Cheb/Bamberg: The majority of the group piled in the van and an additional rental car in order to venture across the border into the Czech Republic. Cheb is a little town just inside Czech that is often frequented by Germans searching for Bohemian crystal. I went for lunch. Dumplings and sauerkraut remind me of being at Grandma's...except at a restaurant in a foreign country. We did some shopping and sightseeing, as well as kolache hunting. Kolaches can sort of be described as open-faced jelly donuts (although that's not really accurate). This also reminded me of being at Grandma's...except not as tasty. I guess I'm biased.

As it was the night before the wedding, we met at (all together now)...a brewery! Our "rehearsal dinner," if you will, was held at the home of the world's second best beer (at the time). Surrounded by family and friends, the night was full of merriment...and cards. It was great seeing so many people we love mingling together, laughing and joking, in a town so dear to our hearts.

The only thing left to do was get married...

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