Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Commute

I have an idea for a spin off movie from The Hangover. Actually, it’s based on my experience this past Monday. It would be appropriately called, The Commute.

Zach Galifianakis plays the man who gave me a push and later randomly meets me at a night club in the new movie, The Commute, based on a true story.  I would imagine (at least in my mind) Tom Cruise or James Franco playing the role of myself.
I left a snowy and icy Munster at 4:30 pm on Monday afternoon; giving me plenty of time to get back to Borken in time for basketball practice at 8 pm. As I got into my car, I could see traffic gridlocked as far as I could see. However, waiting until later would only mean more rush hour traffic, so I got into the car and jumped into the gridlocked traffic.

Once stuck in traffic, the ice on the road was so bad that it took a few seconds to get going in the “stop and go” traffic. At one point, I couldn’t gain any traction for a full minute and the guy who was driving behind me had to get out and give me a push. I wanted to pull over right then and there, but had no option to do that at the moment. I pressed on through the city center, skating from one street light to the next. In addition to the accidents on the road, only a handful of cars could get their cars going fast enough to make it through the intersection each light. It was a disaster.

Finally, the roads cleared a little bit by the time I made it to the Autobahn. I made it at a break neck pace of 60 km/hour (36 miles per hour) for a while down the Autobahn (so much for no speed limit) until the fog rolled in. And it rolled in quickly and was really thick. A couple miles later, and I can’t see a thing. Not only was I dealing with snow and ice on the roads, I was now contending with dense fog. I wondered if God was going to bring locusts next. The fog brought me out of the “Just really concentrate, go very slow and you’ll be ok” mode into the “Am I going to die?” mode. I reviewed our family’s life insurance policy in my head. That was my queue to get off of the Autobahn.

So, here is the new rule of life:

1. If you are doing something that makes you think about your life insurance policy, you should immediately stop!

I crawled off the Autobahn at the next possible exit. At the end of the exit, I could barely read the sign which was covered in snow telling me where the nearest towns were. I could see a couple of towns that were 8 & 10 km’s away to the right and there was a covered up name that was 1 km to the left. It was a no brainer: take a left to the no-named village 1 km away.

After driving 1 km that felt like 20 km’s I pulled into a parking lot of a small shopping center and stopped the car. I was safe, but now what? Where was I? What was I going to do?

I walked around the small city to figure out where I was. I saw that I was in a small town called Appel- something. There were a couple of restaurants, a brothel, a hotel, and a gas station from what I could see.

I found the town’s only pay phone near the center of town. I put in 50 cents and hoped for the best. I got a hold of Dana on the phone. I had 1 minute and 5 seconds to talk. Dana was met by a frantic voice saying, “It’s me. I am stuck somewhere near the Autobahn. I don’t know where I am, or what I am going to do tonight. All I know is that I am not driving any more. Please call Borgi” (my basketball coach.) She could tell I was really stressed, so she gave her best advice, “You will figure something out, I am sure. Good luck.” I was back on my own.

I went to Hotel Bonaparte to see what the room rates were, but nobody was there. The brothel’s neon signs clearly indicated it was open for business, and I contemplated for a moment if I could get a room for the night without committing to a ‘Thai massage.’ This was probably not a good idea. Now what?

It was only 6:30pm, so I had time to make it back to Munster, where at least there would be more options to stay. How would I get there? I asked a pedestrian if there was a train station in town and was told that there was one 15 minutes by foot down the road. I decided to make the long walk down the dark road to the train station.

This would be a good time to mention that it was 16 degrees (-8 degrees Celsius) and feeling in my legs were starting to go numb. I felt like Aubrey on Christmas Vacation when the family was out getting a Griswold Family Christmas tree.

15 minutes later, I found the train station. The only reason I found it was because I ran into the train tracks. The station was on the other side of the road, and because of the dense fog, I couldn’t see the train station.

Not surprisingly, the next train to Munster was delayed by 10 minutes when I arrived at the platform (Uncovered, by the way, from the cold weather). The delay grew to 20 minutes; then 30 minutes. As I waited on the platform, my legs started to lose even more feeling. I had to use the restroom, I think. How could I really know?

The train finally arrived before I involuntarily wet myself and it was a short ride back to Munster. Feeling came back to my feet and legs and I was on my way back to the office around 7:30pm. I called Dana from my office and explained, more calmly, the situation. I booked a cheap hotel in Munster to stay the night.

That’s pretty much where the story ends. The movie, called The Commute, could potentially add a crazier night in Munster to make it more interesting. I, on the other hand, ate a nice dinner and spent the night (18 month old child free) in Munster before working at the University the next day.  Nobody (at least they didn't tell me to my face) noticed that I was wearing the exact same outfit two days in a row. 

Later that day, I took the train back to Appelhulsen in the afternoon to retrieve the car (thank goodness it was still there and not towed away) and continued my journey back to Borken, 24 hours after leaving initially.

The Netto in Appelhulsen, where I left the van for the night.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dizzy Dylan and Other Dylan Updates

Here's a little update about Dylan and what he's been up to lately. He hasn't had any tantrum episodes as bad as the night we went to see St. Nikolaus, but he's been on the verge a few times, usually when he's really tired or really cold from being outside. Mostly, though, he does a lot of fun and cute things.

First, Dylan really loves to spin around and around then see if he can walk while he is dizzy. It's pretty funny to watch him do this but we're always running after him try to protect him from table corners or walls. We call this "Dizzy Dylan" and usually when we say that to him, he starts to spin wherever he is. I tried to catch him on video and captured a pretty funny spill. To Dylan's defense, the lamp cord that he trips on isn't normally in that spot.

He talks a lot now and says many different words, especially words that begin with the letter "B" - like ball, book, baby, blanky, bird, banana, etc. He also says "Ocky" for Oscar, and "guck" for duck. When he wants to watch Sesame Street he says "Ernie! Ernie!" over and over again because Ernie is his favorite character. He's pretty good at trying to repeat what we ask him to, except for when we ask him to say "please" which, for whatever reason, incites him to scream and cry. He also does goofy baby talk that sounds like he's saying "Oye oye oye oye oye" and speaks this into his toy cell phone, which makes us wonder if that is what we sound like to him when we're on the phone. Not a lot of German words come from Dylan's mouth yet, but then again, not a lot of German words come from our mouths either, although we're making improvements.

He can be pretty sneaky, and this past weekend Dylan learned how to play "Trick the Babysitter" to get her to let him stay up past his bedtime while Bryan and I were at a Christmas party. We were only a few blocks away, so she called for help and I came home to get him in bed then left again to go back to the party. 

Dylan spends a lot of his time throwing a ball against the wall and trying to catch it.  He's getting pretty good and it and this activity gives us a nice break from chasing him around.  Bryan brought him to the gym a few days ago to play with the big basketballs and we're pretty sure Dylan was in heaven, so we plan to bring him back more often so he can get some energy out.  Here are a few pictures of him after one of Bryan's recent basketball games.

Dylan also has a sweet tooth and really loves the Christmas cookies that I made. Last year he was too little to have one, but this year "cookie" is quickly becoming one of his favorite words. I video taped him eating his very first Christmas cookie, which was so cute until the end when he realized I was only going to give him one cookie and not however many he wanted.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's Just Not That Interesting

I figured when we moved over here that there would be so much to blog about and topics would be very easy to write and they would be really interesting.   What I found out in reality is that what I am doing each day is not that interesting.   Want some samples?  No?  Here are some anyway. 
1.   I spend a lot of time in my car.  While getting some good me time is nice, it doesn’t really deserve any blog posts.   I currently make 3-4 trips to Münster from Borken each week.  Each way takes about 60 minutes without traffic or snow/ice/rain.   
Though I have gotten good at understanding the traffic and weather on the radio spoken in German from these long trips, I am at the point where I will seriously consider driving into a ditch if I hear C-Lo’s ‘Forget You’ one more time. 

2.   I love school/research.   I still have trouble believing this.  After all, I was the basketball player that could barely stay academically eligible to play after my first semester of college.  The only reason I knew how to get to the library was because I once followed a hot girl there.  Me: “So this is the library.  Hmmm.  Where was I originally going?”  

My University of Muenster Web Profile
Unless, you want to hear an entire post on momentum strategy, asset allocation, or exponential growth bias projects, I will keep them off of this blog (but hopefully into the academic community). 
3.   The basketball club posts basketball news and information for those who are interested on their website.  Okay, for our American friends (both of you), these posts don’t really translate to English that well.  One of the headlines translated into "The Fruit Hangs High for Borken."  Is that a good thing or a bad thing? 

When all else fails, you can look at the bottom of the article and count how many total points each player scored and compare that number to the score in the article to see if we won.  That’s how I did it for a long time. 
Okay, maybe I could do better writing about basketball.  Maybe.  
Here's an example:

We won 84:66 for this game.  You can confirm by adding the points together. 

 RC bark Hoxfeld: Dunker (8), Dzaferagic (5), Demes (14), Foltice (30), Bosse (14), Holt
(5), Fechtner (2), Gruczyk (2) and Dohler (4)

The team is currently 5-5 heading into Christmas break.  We have a chance to make a run the second half of the season.  I am looking forward to seeing what happens in the New Year.  
Hopefully, some more interesting topics will come out over the Christmas season and into the New Year.  We will keep you posted. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sprechen Sie Dutch?

3 Months into our time here in Germany and I have been very busy with everything.  Sorry for the absence of postings.  Though I have noted that the majority of comments that we receive on our blog come from Dana’s posts, so maybe I should take the hint. 
Nevertheless, I recently have been feeling discouraged about the rate that I am learning German.  (Why can’t I just go to sleep and wake up speaking fluent German?)  Today, I read this blog post from another basketball player who is also playing basketball in Germany, Tony Skinn, (you might remember him as the point guard from George Mason’s Final Four run a few years ago) that has feeling better about where I am at.   Here is an excerpt from his blog: 
“Yes, Ive been able to pick up on a few Dutch words/phrases. Luckily the majority of the people I encounter on the day-to-day basis are able to communicate with me in English! While Id love to learn the language, it has been extremely difficult to pick up on.

Looking back, it was much easier for me to pick up on both French and Italian than it is Dutch, probably because I was forced to take Spanish in College. I used to surprise myself when communicating with the locals in Italy and France, but I dont even try here in Germany.

Try ordering a pepperoni pizza in Dutch? Almost impossible, if you ask me! Lets just say Ive gotten a lot better in using sign language to communicate.”
I would totally agree with him that Dutch and German are difficult languages, though he might be surprised at how well he can communicate if he ever plays for a team in the Netherlands. 
So, if you are keeping score at home, it’s currently:
Tony Skinn 1 (being a better basketball player)
Bryan Foltice 1 (knowing Germany's official language)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Weirdest Christmas Tradition Ever

On Saturday a friend invited Dylan and I to go with her and her daughter to see Santa Claus in our neighboring village of Burlo. I was excited because it would be Dylan's first time seeing Santa (or, St. Nikolaus, as he is known here in Germany). I mentioned these plans to another friend and she replied:
"Oh yes, every year St. Nikolaus comes with Knecht Ruprecht, the dark-faced, scary Santa."
Huh? Why would anyone want to see a scary Santa? Doesn't Santa scare enough kids each year while trying to be friendly and jolly?

Here's what I learned: Santa comes each year not on Christmas Eve, as he does in America, but on St. Nikolaus Day (or around it), which is Dec. 6. St. Nikolaus looks a lot more like a Catholic Bishop wearing a Santa beard than "Santa Claus" and he is in charge of giving candy and small gifts to children who have been good. The naughty kids are dealt with by St. Nikolaus's travelling companion, the sinister Knecht Ruprecht, who looks a bit like the Grim Reaper and very out-of-place in the shot-gun seat on St. Nick's sleigh. A long time ago Ruprecht would whip naughty kids with switches, but now he just gives them a stick instead. I guess the German's take this "naughty or nice" thing pretty seriously.

Laugh all you want, this is totally for real.  This photo was taken from someone else's website because we couldn't get close enough to get our own (keep reading to find out why), but I can vouch that Burlo's St. Nikolaus and Ruprecht looked very similar to this.
My friend gave me the run-down on how this was going to play out.  Everyone (that is, kids from the local elementary schools and their parents) would meet at a spot in Burlo where a sleigh with Nikolaus and Ruprecht would come through and everyone would follow through the woods for a while until we got to a second meeting place.  There would be some music and songs, then St. Nikolaus would hand out candy and Ruprecht his sticks.  This all sounded well and good, but Dylan inserted his own idea's in to how the night would go - such as, throwing the biggest temper-tantrum in history and ruining everyone's evening.

He started out doing OK, but somewhere between the first meeting place and the second, he tripped and fell down and just couldn't recover.  Perhaps it was a combination of the cold weather (it was snowing), being bundled up and not wanting to walk (we were taking turns with the stroller since only one would fit in the car), but he quickly spiraled out of control.

Here is Dylan with his friend, Amy, shortly before the meltdown.  He is holding Amy's lamp, which all the children carried to light the way in the woods.  We need to replace the lamp because in Dylan's blind-rage it was destroyed.

As soon as the pageantry began at the second meeting place, Dylan fell apart.  I removed him away from the crowd of people as far as I could, but nothing would console him.  He didn't want to be held, he didn't want to stand/walk/run/play, he didn't want to be in the stroller, no food, water, or anything would help.  So I let him writhe around on the ground flipping and flopping all over the place, banging his hands on my legs, screaming and crying while I watched bewildered wondering "Whose devil-child is this, anyway?".  My friend came and found us and said "He sounds like a Gremlin.  Are you sure he isn't sick?"  Yes, I'm sure, although there were moments where I had to give him a really good hard look and make sure he wasn't actually having a seizure or something - it was that bad.  Here are some thoughts that ran through my head:

This is like a scene from The Exorcist. Is he possessed?
I hope Kristin calls me again.  Maybe next time I'll get a babysitter.
Is he seriously the only child out of 200 that is crying right now?  How is that possible?
We are never bringing him out in public, ever again.
If the guy dressed as Ruprecht had any sense of humor, he'd walk over here and give Dylan a stick for being naughty.

The program finally ended and it was time to go, although our car was parked about 1/2 mile away.  Dylan refused to go in the stroller (he slithered out of it) and wouldn't walk, so I had to carry him.  1/2 mile felt like 10 miles ... up hill ... in the snow (and the snow part was true!).  My arms were on fire by the time we got to the car.  Dylan, of course, was generally well-behaved in the car and went to bed immediately once we got home (all that freaking out really got him tired).

So the lesson learned from tonight is that Dylan is strong-willed enough to go to whatever means necessary to get what he wants, even if it is not in his best interest (he could have gotten candy, after all).  16.5 years until he moves out and goes to college ... and counting.
He was so happy while we were getting ready.  No visible signs of the future meltdown.

Here is Dylan in his long-underwear.  This photo will embarrass him when he is a teenager.

"Look Mom, it's snowing!  Can we go into a big crowd of people where I can throw the mother-of-all-temper-tantrums and leave you wondering if I am a Gremlin?  Can we?!  Can we?!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dylan und Oscar's erster Schnee (first snow)!

The day my parents returned home from visiting us, it snowed several inches. We stuffed Dylan into his snow pants and took him and Oscar outside to see how they like the cold weather. "Stuffed" is a good way to describe Dylan in his snow pants since they are at least one size too small and if he falls down he can't get up without help. When he fell in the stairwell heading up to the flat, he couldn't get up.  This prompted Bryan to say, 'Come on Ralphie!  Help me, Ralphie!  Wait up,  Ralphie!' before helping Dylan up.  I am pretty sure Dylan did not understand his Dad's 'A Christmas Story' reference.

Dylan likes the snow OK, although I don't think he really cares what the weather is doing as long as he can borrow our neighbor's soccer ball and play with it in the driveway. Sun, rain, snow - it doesn't matter. Whenever we go outside Dylan radars in on this ball, which is kept on the back of our neighbor's bike, and runs over to it shouting "Ball! Ball! Ball!" He subsequently throws a tantrum when it is time to go inside and put the ball back. I think I know what his favorite Christmas present will be this year...

My little "stuffed sausage."

"Dad, these snow pants are giving me a wedgie!"

Oscar, on the other hand, is crazy over the snow. Every time we go outside we let him off the leash in the driveway and he does the crazy dog run-around-in-circles thing, slipping and sliding everywhere and burying his face in the snow. That is, of course, until a snow/ice ball develops on his paw, which turns Oscar into an overly dramatic, limping wuss who whimpers and won't walk anywhere until we stop everything to wipe his paw off.

Oscar the crazy snow dog.

Snow at this time of year is highly unusual. Average temperatures for this time of year are in the mid-40s, but this week they have been in the high-teens.  Bryan calculated that in order to even the average, we are due to have about 10 70 degree day's in a row.  I sure hope that's true.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

International Hotel de Foltice: Part 2

After two days of traveling to Münster and Amsterdam, we all needed a respite at home, especially Dylan who desperately needed a day or two with a normal nap schedule. So we spent our time Christmas shopping in Borken and having Thanksgiving, which was a bit strange since we were the only people in town (and the country) celebrating.

Dylan bonding with grandpa while watching Sesame Street.

The Dom Cathedral in Koln
 Friday was our day to go to the Christmas market in Koln, which is our favorite city. Bryan and I have spent a fair amount of time in Koln, including twice going to Karneval (German Mardi Gras) and visiting several other times for shopping and sight-seeing. Most impressive in Koln is the Dom Cathedral, a massive Gothic-style church that dominates the skyline.

Dylan had other plans for Friday, namely not traveling anywhere.  He was amicable during the hour-and-twenty-minute drive there, but once we got on foot he pretty much refused to sit in his stroller and was extremely "shrieky."  Ever since Dylan was quite little he has had the ability to create a head-splitting, blood-curdling shriek that will make your ears bleed and cause permanent hearing damage.  It happens most often when he is tired (or teething), but sometimes he seems to do it just for fun.  Turns out that on Friday he was both tired and teething, which made the shrieks that much more unbearable.  I got a lot of grief that day for forgetting to bring the baby pain medication.  I can name about 100 other things that I did remember to bring, but of course we would have traded every single one for a drop of infant-Tylenol. 

Bryan and Dylan with the Dom in the background.

Mom and Dad in front of the Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt) boat.  We really wanted to go inside to warm up, but Dylan was too shrieky to go anywhere enclosed so we had to stick to the outdoor markets.

Mom, Dylan and Bryan.

Mom and Dad in front of market booths.

The main entrance to the Christmas Market.
We originally planned to stay until nighttime to see the markets under the lights (and miss traffic), but it was really cold and since Dylan's shrieks prohibited us from going inside anywhere we were chilled to the bone so we left early.  

The next night was Bryan's basketball game, then a babysitter came over to watch Dylan while we went out to dinner and to enjoy Borken's Christmas market in the evening.  It was bittersweet since we all knew that Mom and Dad only had one day left before going back home.

Bryan took Mom and Dad back to the Düsseldorf airport first thing Monday morning.  International Hotel Foltice is awaiting their hotel service assessment and will tell you the number of stars we receive for future guests to look at. 

We went to eat at a local restaurant called Kaffeeklatsch.  Somehow the waitress was British so we didn't have to stumble through ordering like we would have in most other places.

Enjoying the Borken Christmas market.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

International Hotel de Foltice: Part 1

Sorry for the month-long absence from blogging. I'd like to say it was because I was just so busy that I didn't have time to write, but it really was the opposite and nothing too interesting happened until last weekend. The beginning of November was consumed with planning, cleaning and organizing for my parent's coming to visit, which meant we didn't really do a lot of extracurricular activities.

Alas, on November 19 my parents hopped on a plane and made their first overseas journey to visit us, becoming our first official guests at the International Hotel de Foltice. They were to stay for 10 days and we had a lot on our itinerary. Details of our escapades will be split into two posts.

Here is a  map of the main places we visited with my parents.  The orange dot in the middle is Borken.  The purple dot just to the left of Borken is Winterswijk.  The blue dot to the right is Munster.  The yellow dot on the far left is Amsterdam.  The pink dot near the bottom is Koln.

Although they left the US on Friday, they did not arrive in Dusseldorf until Saturday morning. Bryan set off in the big van to pick them up while Dylan and I got some fresh German pastries for breakfast. Day 1 for them was very low-key, since they had been up for 24-hours travelling and still had to make it to 9:00 p.m. Germany-time before they were allowed to go to bed.  This is the best way to force yourself to adjust to a new time zone.  We went on a long walk around town, stopping at the park for Dylan to run and helping them get acclimated to German village life.

Dylan holding his grandma's hand at the park.  He was so excited to have two additional people to entertain for a whole week.
Grandma and Grandpa smuggled on the plane some of Dylan's toys that we had to leave behind, like this car steering wheel.  He was so excited excited to get some toys back, it was like his birthday all over again.
On Sunday, we were planning on touring 2 or 3 nearby castles, but Bryan said that someone (he couldn't remember who) told him that Winterswijk, Netherlands has a good Sunday market.  I said numerous times that didn't sound right - no one has markets on Sundays here because nothing is open on Sunday.  Truly, the only establishments open on Sunday are about 1/3 of the bakeries and restaurants in town.  Everything else - grocery stores, retail shops, etc. - are all closed, so a Sunday market is really odd.  He insisted that his information was solid, so we all piled into the van and headed for Winterswijk, a 20 minute drive away, only to find the city a virtual ghost town.  No market, nothing open.  Doh!  We rerouted to Gemen, a suburb of Borken, where there is a nice moated castle that is now a hostel and were at least able to tour one castle before all of us were ready to head back home.

In front of the Schloss Gemen on what was probably the warmest day of the whole week.
 Monday was our first real travel day, where we took a daytrip to Munster.  Bryan was able to show off his office and the University and while he worked for a few hours, we did some shopping and enjoyed Munsters first day of their Christmas markets.  Bryan joined us at lunch time and we took Mom and Dad out for their first Turkish doners, our personal favorite food here.

Bryan, Dylan and my parents in the Prinzipalmarkt in Munster.
Dylan was a travelling champion this day and made it through the day with virually zero complaints or tantrums.  The more we traveled throughout the week, the more Dylan's patience for us lessened and by my parent's final day here he pretty much flat-out refused to sit peacefully in his stroller, even for just a walk around town.  Lesson learned.

Tuesday we headed off to Amsterdam, for our farthest excusion of the week.  Driving into the city was ... interesting, to say the least.  Bryan got accurate highway directions, but once we were near the city his directions stopped, so we "felt our way there."  We had no information about where or how to park, so we ended up driving through the most pedestrian/bicycle congested areas in a giant 9-passenger van.  To be frank, it was scary and stressful. The van's 1st gear kept sticking, so Bryan stalled a few times ... which lead my very helpful dad to make fun of him and shout "Third gear!" each time he stalled (implying that Bryan was trying to move forward from 3rd gear instead of 1st). This made Bryan very angry/flustered because he insisted he was in 1st gear.  With each stall he became an increasingly aggressive driver - I'm surprised we didn't hit anyone or anything.  I finally had to referee and tell Dad to "keep it to himself" if Bryan stalled again and for Bryan to calm down and take a few deep breaths.  Driving got better after that, as it was a little safer and everyone was quieter.

We finally found a parking space outside the main city area but couldn't figure out how to use the meter, so we just sent up a prayer that the car would still be there when we returned and that we wouldn't get a ticket.  Thankfully both came true and we parked for free instead of paying 45 Euro's for parking in a garage for the day. 

We walked through Amsterdam's most infamous district (hint, hint) first because it was morning so there were fewer assaults on our eyes and morals but we got out of there as fast as possible. We then headed to the shopping district, then finally to the Anne Frank House side of town, and enjoyed how beautiful the city is (outside of the red light district).

Me, Mom and Dylan - somewhere in Amsterdam.

Bryan and Dylan in front of the European NYSE headquarters.  To Bryan's surprise, there wasn't a huge lineup of people waiting to have their picture taken in front of this building.  Actually, he and Dylan may very well have been the first people ever to request getting their picture taken in this spot.  Bryan even went inside and asked for a tour.  The security guard laughed at him. 

Bryan and I by a canal.
The trip home from Amsterdam took twice as long as it did to get there.  Traffic was simply atrocious - it seemed like every single person in the Netherlands works in Amsterdam and commutes home outside the city.  Mom saved the day and had a Tootsie-Pop sucker in her purse, which we gave to Dylan.  It pacified him for a good hour until we got home.  No one seemed to mind the sticky mess he made as long as he was quiet.

Part 2 coming up soon...