Thursday, December 31, 2009

Holiday hoop-la

Holy cats. It's been quite a holiday over here.

Our family has been torn apart by a Wii. (And my decision to remain childless has been confirmed by a very immature Jason terrorizing Katie on Mario Kart.)

Our only nephew turned a year old. (And is officially hell on two feet now that he's walking proper.)

I've single-handedly ensured a banner Q4 for Gap, Inc. with my exploits at Banana Republic. (And I'm preparing my mission to kick off Q1 with just as much gusto.)

We've experienced nothing but extreme lows at the Hurricanes home games. (And extreme highs when they put a shellacking on the so-called 2nd best team in the country, the Crapitals.)

The Sanger Girls Pajama Club got back to our annual Cry Till You Look Like Rocky movie night after a sickness-imposed hiatus last year. (And truly outdid ourselves this year, amassing a pile of tissues the likes of which Kleenex Corporation would be very proud, indeed.)

I've played animal show [line up all the stuffed animals and sing into a remote control about how they're getting ready to perform all their tricks], zoo vet [wrap tissues around various broken or wounded extremities and lay the animals in the bed/recovery center], polly pockets, Barbies, and more rounds of Hungry Hungry Hippo than I can count. (And have never been happier to do so.)

And I'm not even going to talk about all the food. (And I'm avoiding mirrors until March.)

See you next year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Planes, Pains and Automobiles

La neige.

Notice the lack of exclamation points?

Let's just say we knew we were in for it when our connecting flight from Newark to Raleigh had already been cancelled before we even boarded our long-haul flight in Brussels. Our flight and every other southbound flight out of Newark. All due to the blizzard working its way up the atlantic coast. Beaucoup la neige.

We de-planed in Newark, made our way through immigration and baggage claim, and then joined the masses in the bowels of hell. Otherwise known as the Continental airlines "re-accommodation queue". Upon seeing the length of the snaking line and deciding there was no way we were going to get a hotel if we waited for all the people in front of us to be told they weren't going anywhere for at least 24 hours, Jason got on the horn and started calling around to secure a room. Marriott. Booked. Hilton. Booked.

This was not looking good.

We finally made it to the front of the queue and sure enough, were told that we weren't going anywhere for at least 24 hours. I quietly resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be sleeping in the airport with my Louis Vuitton and Rebecca Minkoff strapped to my body with about 50 yards of duct tape and a taser in my hand to take care of anyone who stepped into my personal space.

Little did I know, I was about to suffer a much worse fate: a Holiday Inn in Cartaret, New Jersey.*

(*I kid. I know we had it much better than some. We at least had a warm bed, a hot shower and free wifi. Some really did have to sleep in the airport. I am very grateful that Continental took good care of us. But it makes a better story if I bitch about it.)

We were given hotel and food vouchers and directions to the hotel shuttle pick up and sent on our way. We decided that we'd better eat something at the TGI Fridays at the airport instead of relying on whatever food options might be available to us at a Holiday Inn twenty minutes outside of Newark.

You know things are dire when a TGI Fridays is your most appealing option.

After having our fill of mediocre chain food, we figured it was time to resign ourselves to our fate. When we arrived at the hotel shuttle pick up point, we realized just how insane the snow had gotten. It was blowing everywhere. It was even snowing UP fercryinoutloud. And this was no nice quiet snow with big fat flakes like in holiday movies when someone looks out the window and states in childlike wonderment, "It's snowing." No. It was itty bitty stinging snow.

So... we assumed the hotel shuttle would have snow chains on the tires or something like that and that the driver would be some sort of no-nonsense, take-charge type of guy yelling authoritatively into a walkie talkie. (About what? I don't know. I can't be bothered with details.)

Turned out, the hotel shuttle was a regular old Holiday Inn van with regular old tires and the driver was a 60 year old lady in a pink fuzzy hat and matching mittens who occasionally mumbled to herself. (About what? I don't know. I can't be bothered with details.)

She appeared to be the night housekeeping lady who'd been hastily asked, "Stan can't make it in. Can you drive a van in the snow between here and the airport about 50 times tonight???" I imagine her reply was, "Eh, I guess so."

Against all odds, we made it to the hotel and nabbed the very last non-smoking room. After settling in, I got on the phone to the one friend who I knew could appreciate the hilarity/horror of my situation (love you B) and Jason went to explore the facilities. He came back with a bottle of Moet in an ice bucket. Apparently it was either a $15 bottle of Korbel or a $75 bottle of Moet. (And I think we all know where I stand on these types of situations.)

We had, in our possession, a bottle of champagne which cost more than the hotel room. And wouldn't you know it, it was off. Not like take-a-sip-and-spray-it-across-the-room-off, but more like take-a-few-sips-and-turn-to-your-companion-and-ask-if-it-tastes-kind-of-off-to-them-off.

Not to mention that we were supposed to be going to a hockey game in Raleigh that night; one of only five being played on home ice during our holiday visit. Instead, we listened to the Hurricanes beat the Panthers online while drinking slightly off champagne in a Holiday Inn in Cartaret, New Jersey. (Have I mentioned lately how frustrating it is to be a season ticket holder and live 4,000 miles away from the home team? Because it is.)

If that weren't enough, I realized that I was without the following items: jammies, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, a toothbrush and razor. Because I keep a stash of these things in Raleigh so I don't have to constantly remember to pack all my toiletries or waste valuable luggage space on pj's when we go home. So I had to sleep in Jason's t-shirt and use Jason's stuff. And I smelled like a boy all day the next day. At least he uses Aveda products and not whatever's cheapest at the grocery store like some dudes.

Anyway, long story longer...we finally made it home (about 26 hours late). And Jason's mom had a potroast and a bottle of wine waiting for us. And it finally started to feel like Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

La neige!!!

As someone who was born and raised below the Mason-Dixon line, I get pretty excited about snow. I think it's glorious. I think it's beautiful. I think it's peaceful. I think it is everything northerners think it is not.

Well, when I heard we were expecting snow here in Brussels, I was ready. I had my hot chocolate. I had my loungewear. I had my books. "Buh-ring it", I said.

And Brussels said, "Okay. Here it is."

It begins.

It accumulates.

It covers.

And it ends.

I was pleased.

And for the first time in my life, I experienced "snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes". I had to go get Jason's drycleaning and the snow stuck to everything on my person. My coat, my jeans, my purse, my hair, my face and yes, my eyelashes. I kept having to wipe the flakes away so I could see.

Funny enough, I had just complained to Beth and Larry that one of my pet peeves was fake movie snow and how it doesn't melt when it lands in the actors' hair or on their clothes. And there I was, covered hat to boot and everything in between, looking for all intents and purposes like a damn snowman.

As I said to Beth in an email later that day, "I stand corrected. Sometimes, snow doesn't melt when it hits your hair and coat and stuff. Sometimes, it just goes right on being snow."

EDITED TO ADD: So, the thing is this... I wrote this post a few days ago, the evening before we were to fly out of Brussels and into Raleigh and scheduled it to go live today. Since I wrote this post, I have had a snow experience that has somewhat changed my once-friendly relationship with the wet white stuff. I'll recount this adventurous tale soon but for now, suffice it to say that I now kind of understand why northerners aren't so enchanted with snow.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ladies of Leisure

In a big ol' F you to the environment, I worked on increasing my carbon footprint by seeing how many trips I could possibly take in a week's time.

Dresden - check.

Dublin - on it.

Dusseldorf - comin' right up.

I was very excited to spend a few relaxing days with the Morrisseys...and, I'll admit...to see fair Dublin with her halls all decked and whatnot. Beth and I shopped, lunched at the Harvey Nichols cafe, took in an excellent movie at the cinema, had tea and pastries by the fireplace at The Merrion, strolled, chatted, lounged, and pretty much hot chocolated ourselves into a sugar coma. It was glorious. And so were the holiday decorations...

{Grafton Street lights}

{Benetton's sweater tree}

{The Merrion's two-story giant tree}

The only downside of the trip was that I managed to develop the worst head cold I think I've ever had. I chugged Lemsip like it was my job, but to no avail. On Thursday, the take off and landing portions of the plane ride back to Brussels very nearly ruptured my brains, eardrums and eye sockets. On Friday, I woke up dead.

I might be exaggerating about that last part.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Just let's see what happens and get surprised!

Sound the trumpets! Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace and blog entries for all!

I knew that if I didn't get these upcoming posts written before we left for the holly-days, it would never happen. And because one of the main purposes of this blog is so Jason and I can have a record of our trips and adventures to reflect fondly upon at a later date, I have never let a major happening go undocumented. Every holiday we've been on since 2005 is tucked away right here. So I ain't about to stop now.

(Also, I ran out of books to read and I'm looking for ways to procrastinate packing.)

So, without further ado and/or delay, here is the story of how we lived like the King and Queen of Saxony. (Well, for 2 nights and 3 days at least.)

While I was still in Raleigh, sorting the sale of our house and celebrating Turkey Day, Jason took the liberty of arranging our accommodations for Dresden. The Christmas Markets are quite a popular event though and much of the city was booked up already. Except this one pretty nice place. You know the type, popular with heads of state and such. But alas, all they had available was suites.

Now, when I say "pretty nice place", what I really mean is the "poshest joint in town". And when I say "heads of state and such", what I'm really saying is "President Obama stayed here" And when I say "alas", what I actually mean is "HOT-DIGGITY-DOG!!!!!!!".

I told them not to bother with the whole red carpet thing just for me but they insisted.

And it had a beautiful spa. I was pretty pumped.

Sorry about recycling content here but there really is no other way to say it so allow me to do a direct copy & paste of my Facebook status from December 2, the Wednesday prior to our departure:
I just checked the spa menu of the hotel we're staying in this weekend and one of the treatments is called "Floating on Clouds" with the following description underneath: "Just let's see what will happen and get surprised!" Ummm, how about not. How about you tell me *exactly* what you're going to do to me before I get nekkid on a massage table.
To be fair, translations don't always quite work out the way one means for them to. (For abundant proof of this, head to Engrish.com.) Still, I opted for a different treatment. One with a very detailed description of what was going to happen.

Yet, I was "surprised!". I won't go into details but I'll say two things:

1. The Germans are 100% the most-comfortable-with-nekkidness people I've ever come across.

2. Thank heavens I'm pretty regular with the ol' bikini waxing.

Re. item 1 above, I have many examples to back this up. Nekkidness in a spa environment is nothing to them. This is something I struggled with in my early European days. For crissakes, I once freaked out when a seamstress tried to help me out of my wedding dress. But I've gradually grown more accustomed to it. I even went topless on the beach in Croatia two summers ago. (When in Rome, right?) Yet, I was taken rather by "surprise!" about a quarter of the way through my treatment. But once the initial shock passed, I'm proud to say I was able to slip right back into my relaxed state.

It helped knowing what was waiting for us in the room upon return. Earlier, as I was on my way out to go to the spa, the doorbell rang. And what to my wondering eyes did appear? A maid with a tray of goodies! The prime goody being a bottle of champagne on ice! My instant reaction was "Oh sorry but I think you've got the wrong room. We didn't actually order anything." To which she replied, "Oh no! Is for you. Is velcome. Velcome to Dresden. No pay." To which I replied, "Well, what are ya waitin' for sister? Wheel it on in!"

The best part? (I mean, besides it being FREE and all...) The champagne was no ordinary house champagne. Oh no. It was Ruinart. One of the Champagne region's finest champagnes. An 85 euro bottle of champagne. FREE!

So we hung about and enjoyed our velcome gift till there wasn't a drop of velcome left and then braved the elements to get our first taste of the oldest Christmas Market in the world.

In Christmas Market world - this is what passes for dinner:

And behold Striezelmarkt, the first Christmas Market ever recorded in history in the year 1434 - 575 years ago.

It began as a market day prior to Holy Christmas Eve where families bought their Christmas roast. Over the years, additional items were added. First bread and festive baked goods; then dollhouse pottery as gifts for the children in the 1600's; stockings and painted wooden dolls and toys in 1700; and by 1704 the vendor list had grown to include potters, glassmakers, goldsmiths, knitters, weavers, lace makers, iron mongers and wood carvers.

Enjoying another hot chocolate on the ferris wheel...


And a stroll over to Neumarkt before calling it a night. (Sidebar: I'm not sure what's going on with some of these photos, especially this one, because it looks very grainy on blogger but definitely does not look like that in my iPhoto.)

The next morning I woke up to the sound of Jason on the phone inquiring about breakfast. Twenty minutes later, the smorgasbord arrived. There are worse ways to start your day!

After a trip down to the spa to relax by the gorgeous infinity pool, we made off for the Medieval market. This is the only one you have to pay to get into but it's pretty cool. First stop inside was for...

a glühwein, of course.

An old fashioned merry-go-round. By the looks of this thing, there's no way they would let anyone near it in the US without them signing a serious waiver.

The Medieval market is set up in the courtyard of the old royal palace and they try to stay as true to the time period as possible. For example, the christmas tree has no lights and is decorated with only real dried fruit and pinecones, etc.

It was very nice during the day but my advice would be to stay away at night. This thing attracts goths and other various and sundry oddballs like mad. You know the kind of people who dress up and attend Renaissance fairs and wear hooded cloaks even just to run to the drycleaner? Yeaaaaaaahhhhhh....

Prepare the noms...

Appreciate the beauty of the noms...

Nom, nom, nom!

And now, because I'm kind of tired of writing, what I think we need is a montage. (MONTAGE!) So here is a montage. (MONTAGE!) A montage (MONTAGE!) of some of the beautiful and delicious things for sale at the markets around Dresden:







Then, somehow we got stuck in the middle of this swarm of people. It was like a vacuum. We got close and it basically swept us up and sucked us into the crowd. And there was NO. WAY. OUT. You just had to let yourself be basically carried through and deposited out the other side. Not an agoraphobe's ideal situation, let me tell you.

Nothing like tea time at the hotel to warm up and recover.

The skating rink in the courtyard of our hotel.

An unexpected gift left on each of our pillows at turndown service! These wood carved ornaments and candleholders and things are sort of a signature Dresden item. Trust me when I tell you that they get WAY more intricate than this.

The next morning we had short-lived blue skies so we took the opportunity to get a couple of photos of Dresden, minus Christmas.

It really is a beautiful city.

And now, one more montage. (MONTAGE!) This time of the many faces of Dresden's Christmas Markets...

Wood carving guy!

Hand cranked swing ride guy!

Caroling guys!

That montage wore me out. Let's pause for a glühwein.

A trip back to Striezelmarkt for some Christmas shopping and a gratuitous self-portrait.

This was the only time the entire weekend we went to an actual restaurant. The rest of the trip it was all market food, all the time.

Jason made the most of it and got the most ridiculous thing on the menu. Whatever it was called, I'm pretty sure it's German for "Death by Meat".

Though dusk was beautiful, it was a little sad because that meant it was nearly time to leave.


And after a horse drawn carriage ride through the city, we did just that. Auf wiedersehen, Hotel Grand Taschenbergpalais. I'll never forget you.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hark!

As occassionally happens, I have lost the motivation to work on the blog. I have done nothing productive this entire week. Most days I have done nothing more than sit around in my finest lougewear and read books from The Luxe series (and also eat large quantities of Doritos, as my Facebooks friends probably know).

(And ladies, if you haven't yet experienced this guilty pleasure...run, don't walk, to the bookstore and buy all four. It's basically Gossip Girl crossed with Jane Austin. Which...may sound odd...but...trust me. It works.)

So, for now, to buy myself a little more time I'm going to provide you with some holiday entertainment for which I can take no personal credit. From the geniuses at I Can Haz Cheezburger.com, I give you:


Monday, December 07, 2009

Bite me

Well, having just returned from our first German Christmas Market experience of this season, I'm now off to Dublin for a few days to visit Mr. and Ms. Morrissey. And the day after I return from Dublin, Jason and I are headed to yet another Christmas Market in Dusseldorf. But I wanted to squeeze in one last catch up post before I go AWOL... As promised - a date with Edward Cullen.

My sisters-in-law and I all read the Twilight series together last spring. (Well, I won't name names but one of them has some attention span issues and couldn't get through the virtually Edward-less New Moon so she has no idea how the whole thing ends.) We were a little late to the game and only finished Twilight right before the DVD came out in March. (You may remember our viewing party.)

Well, by the time the movie was over, Jenny was already planning New Moon Day. As in, a sun-up to sun-down girly day centering around going to see New Moon in the theatre on November 21. Yes, we know it officially opened at midnight on the 19th, but we have limits. And pre-teen girls going apeshit every single time Edward or Jacob appeared on screen is well outside those limits.

When Jason and I found out we would be moving to Brussels for a few months, Jenny's immediate reaction was "What about New Moon Day?!? You'll be back for that, right?!?" At that point, I doubted it very much so they found someone to take my ticket and I resigned myself to the fact that I would miss out on this sisterly bonding experience.

Cut to early November. We have a deal on our house. Closing scheduled for November 23. The wheels in my brain start to turn. I email Jenny to let her know the good news and get myself a ticket on Fandango. In return, I receive an hour-by-hour itinerary of the days activities. (Jenny is very organized like that.)

First up is the 10:00 am Twi-brunch. We meet at Jenny's for some delicious noms, Twi-rivia and a Twi-viewing.

My contribution to the festivities were the specialty cocktails: Bella-linis and Bloody Edwards. The first being your basic bellini mixture of peach juice and champagne and the latter a more experimental concoction of fruit punch and champagne. It was tasty! Even though it was supposed to be more red and less pink... (I wanted to do Blood Orange Mimosas but would you believe they don't sell blood orange juice?)

Jenny went all out for this and had her family room plastered in Twilight posters and paraphernalia. This isn't even the half of it:

And then, there was the main attraction - a life-size Edward cut out. From left: Jennifer (Eri's roommate who's practically a Sanger by now), Amy, Edward, Jenny, Erica, me.

Then we were off to the theatre to get our place in the queue. We were totally first in line, a fact of which I'm conflicted as to whether - as a 32 year old married woman - I should feel proud or ashamed...

The rest of the day went something like this:
  • Start watching New Moon
  • Gasp with excitement the moment Edward first shows his tortured face
  • Place hand over heart and/or grab a fellow sister's arm during any subsequent moment when Edward's gorgeous mug shows up
  • Laugh at the women/girls who squeal when Jacob takes off his shirt
  • Finish watching New Moon
  • Chatter about how beautiful Edward is
  • Massages
  • Gush about how gorgeous Edward is
  • Sushi and drinks at Sono
  • Much discussion about Edward, Edward and Edward
  • Determine that Amy, Jenny and I are definitely veering into cougar territory
  • Anticipate when Eclipse will be released
  • Back to Jenny's house
  • Call husbands and apologize for mind-cheating all day
  • Sleep
  • Dream of Edward
  • Wake up and pass around the December issue of Vanity Fair
  • More discussion on the beauty of R. Patz/Edward
  • Wash, rinse, repeat...