Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year - Our Year in Review

Happy New Year to our readers. It has been an incredible year.  Before we look to 2012, we wanted to recap some highlights of our year as well as our blog.

We have had quite an active year living in Germany.  If it wasn't enough living in a foreign country, we did a bit of travel out of the country.  This year, we have travelled to (to name a few):

Berlin (April)
America (May) Dana and Dylan only
Austria (June) Bryan only
Netherlands/Belgium/France (August)

In 2011, has had nearly 5,000 unique visitors in 98 countries.  What has started as a way to keep our friends connected to our adventures has become an opportunity to share our story with readers all over the world.  We really enjoy hearing from everyone and we would like to see our interaction with our readers increase in 2012 (read: please comment more!  We love to hear from you!).

With that being said, we would like to like to hear from you.  What would you like to read more/less in the New Year on our blog?

Year in Review in Photos:

Karneval, Köln 

Berlin Wall

Annapolis, Maryland

Dylan turns 2

Achensee, Austria

Pröbsting, Hoxfeld, Germany

Anholter Schweiz, Nature Park, Germany

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Brussels, Belgium

Nord Paz de Calais, France

Germany vs. Bosnia basketball game, Bremen, Germany

Oma and Opa come to visit, Borken, Germany

Oktoberfest, Munich 

Edgewater, Maryland for Christmas

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from the Foltice Family

We wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  It's been a great year filled with unforgettable memories.  We are so blessed.  

Foltice Family 2011
Everyone made it safely to America where we will be relaxing and spending time with Dana's family in the Washington DC area.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pip's Doppleganger

We recently found my brother Pip's (real name Derek) doppelgänger.  We had to travel 4,000 miles to find him, but we saw this picture on the train from Borken to Essen.  Needless to say, we had quite a good laugh and were really gald we brought our camera along.  Enjoy. 

As you can see from the pictures below, I may resemble hockey great Steve Yzerman, but compared to the match that we found for my brother, Stevey Y is not my doppelgänger. My doppelgänger remains at large. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

5 Tips for Eating At a Restaurant In Germany

Our monthly University staff meeting affords us a nice lunch at various restaurants in Munster. It's also a nice way to pick up on small nuances of eating a meal with my German colleagues. Based on these experiences, I have some small differences that I would like to pass on to Americans that may find themselves eating a meal at a restaurant with other Germans.   Here are the top 5 tips in no particular order: 
  1. Conserve your Drink. There are no free refills here in Germany, even at a fast food restaurant. If you want another drink, it's fine. You will just pay full price for it. This is a tricky rationing situation, especially if you don't know how long a meeting will last. I usually allocate half of my drink to before receiving our food and the other half after we receive the food.
  2. Don't drink the water. Not because it's harmful for your health, but because if you order a water, you will pay for a full bottle of tonic water.   The water here is usually just as expensive, if not more than any other drink.  There is no such thing as a free ice water here. I haven't asked for ice water directly, but I am pretty sure that the waiter would suggest that I take an empty cup to the bathroom if I really wanted a free water.   
  3. Don't use your hands...ever. This nearly killed me the first time we had pizza. In Germany, the pizza comes whole, not cut into slices. Germans eat pizza from the outside in, with a fork and knife. I tried this tactic for a short time until I became so frustrated that I finally grabbed a big chunk and said with my mouth full, 'Forget this. This is how you eat pizza.'  The same rule applies to burgers. People eat their hamburgers with a knife and fork. At this point, I put my foot down and refused to even try eating a hamburger with utensils. I can't imagine people eating Five Guys Burgers with a knife and fork. I think they would get thrown out of the restaurant if someone would try.   
  4. Finish your food and don't ask for a doggy bag. It is quite normal that everyone at the table, I mean everyone, eats every scrap of food on the table. I am not sure if eating everything on their plate is a story passed down from the grandparents ala a Wiemar hyperinflation story. No matter how much food is dished out, it gets eaten. I got laughed at when I asked for doggy bag. It's possible to get a doggy bag if you ask, but it is not a typical request. I would advise against it. 
  5. If it's your party, you pay.   Normally, if you are hosting a celebration (graduation or birthday) at a restuarant, the honorary person (new graduate or Birthday boy/girl) pays the bill.  This shocked me at first when we had a dinner celebration for a two guys who received their Doctorates in the Finance Department. At the end of the meal, instead of the dinner party coming up with the money to pay the bill, the two new graduates grabbed the bill and paid for our night.  
Are there any other tips that I am missing? 
I know the first place I am going to eat when we land in America over Christmas..Five Guys. 

That's how you eat pizza.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    More Weird German Children's Books

    Dylan insisted on getting a book about police (Polizei) out from the local library.  I glanced at the book but didn't really get a good look at it until we got home and Dylan sat on my lap so we could read it together.  I know that culturally Germans are very frank, realistic people and I guess I should expect no less when it comes to discussing the harsh realities of police work in children's books.

    Let's teach our kids about Crime Scene Investigation and forensic techniques as early as possible.  My favorite (if you can see it) is the blood dripping from the broken glass in the window on the right. 

    Terror in the train station!

    This is like one of those "See how many crimes you can spot!" games.  Or just a regular day in a park in Germany.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    A Conversation With Dylan - written by Bryan

    This past weekend, as I was trying to recover from being sick, Dylan kept pestering me to read to him.  I finally relented, but instead of reading a book about Bears or Cars, I read what I was reading, Crisis Economics, by Nouriel Roubini.  Yes, readers, this is what I actually read for leisure.

    Anyway, after I stopped reading my book for a while (he actually listened as I read why credit default swaps should be more regulated...are you listening Occupy Wall Street people?)  we had a short but interesting conservation about what Dylan wants to be when he grows up.

    To preface the two occupational choices that I gave Dylan, you must know that Dylan loves to count and he loves to pray.  His prayer is adorable and he says it in German before we eat and before he goes to bed - "Dear Jesus, Danke schön für alles.  Ich liebe dich. Amen."

    Me:  Dylan, what do you want to be when you grow up?  Do you want to work in finance like Daddy, or maybe be a banker?
    Dylan: Umm, I don't know.
    Me: You could be a pastor and pray for people.
    Dylan: No, Daddy.  Mess with people.
    Me: So you want to be a banker, then.
    Dylan: Umm, Yes.   

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Date Night at the Essen Christmas Market

    Every date night is a reason to rejoice, but Bryan and I were particularly looking forward to our most recent date night in Essen for the Christmas Market.  Dylan's babysitter came at 4:00 on Friday afternoon and we caught the 4:30 train to Essen.  It always amazes us how close we are to nice, big cities like Essen, Münster, Dusseldorf and Cologne.  And hour train or bus ride in any direction and we're in a pretty cool destination.  And hour traveling in any direction in Jacksonville and we'd be, well ...  probably still somewhere in Jacksonville.

    Essen's Christmas market is very large and beautiful.  Unlike Münster's and Cologne's markets where there are 5-7 mini-markets set up around the city, Essen's market all seems to wind its way through the main shopping district but always remains connected.  So instead of traipsing through a large city on a cold day to multiple smaller markets, Essen's is one very large market that seemingly never ends.

    Plus it has this:

    I really wanted to go on this ferris wheel but Bryan distracted me with Glühwein and shopping, so we were pretty much in Dorsten (half way home) by the time I remembered that I wanted to go on the ferris wheel.  Bryan has a selective fear of heights.  He gets all willy-nilly at the top of the Eiffel Tower or on a ferris wheel, but his acrophobia miraculously disappears when it's time to go on roller-coasters or do something that he wants to do.

    Anyway, our first order of business at the Essen Christmas Market was to get Bryan a wurst.  This wasn't a difficult task because I think there is some Christmas Market Law that requires every 5th booth to be a wurst + pommes (Bratwurst + French Fry) stand.  Our second order of business was to have a Glühwein (hot, spiced wine), which I'm easing myself back into drinking after a particularly embarrassing episode during last year's Christmas market where someone thought it was a good idea to give me a "bottomless cup" of Glühwein that turned into quite a debacle (Borken basketball people, you know what I'm talking about).  German readers who aren't familiar with the American expression "bottomless cup" - it means free refills.  This year to keep it under control (and avoid the worst possible hangover ever), we limited ourselves to two-cups each.

    Bryan about to enjoy his bratwurst.
    Less than 10 minutes later while I was buying the Glühwein, Bryan snuck off and returned a few minutes later with a second bratwurst.

    Dear Glühwein,  It took me 11 months to forget what you did to me last December.  I forgive you.  We can be friends again, but I will only take you in small doses.  

    We then spent the next 3 hours wandering from booth to booth, exploring the different kinds of Christmas decorations, jewelry, chocolate and other goods.  A lot of factors went into this probably being my most favorite Christmas Market experience yet.  I mean, leaving Dylan at home with a babysitter is enough alone to push this experience to the top of the list, but that combined with the size of this market, the good weather and the festive atmosphere made Essen's market one that I'll want to return to next year.

    No, that is not a booth going up in flames behind me.  The camera was doing weird tricks with the nighttime lighting.

    If I ever forget that I'm in a foreign country, all I have to do is look at the names on these cups.  Dieter, Ingo, Felix, Janus... Bryan said "Hey look, there's a Brian.  Oh no wait, that says 'Biano.' Nevermind." 

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Our (Absent) Thanksgiving

    It has been a really busy fall season. Between school, basketball, and family, there hasn't been much else going on. It has been one big juggling act. I am actually typing this post on the bus heading to Münster, so if the post abruptly ends, you will know the exact point where I throw up coffee in a sweet old German lady's lap.

    I have had basketball 5-6 nights a week for the past few weeks and am really in need of a break. Both my body and Dana are at the 'this schedule needs to end' point. We will get a long break over Christmas when we head back to America for the holidays. The schedule, once we get past January, should not be so hectic.

    I am currently taking two classes, Econometrics and Experiments for the Phd program. While the experiments class is no major cause for stress, the econometrics class is a bear. Both of these classes are taught in English, though the Econometrics class might as well be in Greek. Oh wait, it is. If attrition is any indicator on how a class is going, we started the class with 25-30 students, and now are down to 10 as of the last class. It doesn't help that the class starts on Friday morning at 8:30 am in Münster. Unfortunately, I have basketball practice every Thursday night until 10 pm. That means, I don't get home until 10:30 pm and I usually don't get to sleep until 12-1am. My classmates must think I have a major drinking/and/or smoking problem when they see my puffy, red eyes every Friday morning.

    The class that I am teaching, a Master's level Behavioral Finance class, is done with the class material and will be having the final exam in the middle of December. Here in Germany, it is typical to only have one comprehensive exam at the end of the semester that counts for 100% of the grade. The 60-70 exams will be waiting for me to be graded when we come back from America after the New Year.

    Thanksgiving came and went in a blur. I taught the final Behavioral Finance class on Thanksgiving morning and had an away basketball game on Thursday night. We weren't able to have Thanksgiving dinner or watch any football. Fail.

    The good news about not celebrating Thanksgiving in Europe is that Europeans get to jump into full Christmas mode earlier. In America, you usually wait to bring the Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. Or, in my parents case, on December 22 at the last minute. Here, we brought out our Weinnachtsbaum (Christmas tree) and our very few Christmas decorations the weekend before Thanksgiving. Christmas markets started here around November 20th, and as you can see from Dana's previous post, it's impossible not to get into the Christmas mood when you have to walk through a Christmas market every day to get to the bus stop. Dana even has 4 different Christmas cookie batches under her belt. We both know that Christmas=break=sleep, which is probably why we are in the Christmas spirit so soon.

    There are more things I would like to write about, like how I missed 4 free throws in two games or Dana's 6 month review of her role as Residential CFO of Foltice, Inc, but we will have to wait for the next bus ride.

    Here is Dylan reading Frosty the Snowman.  This "audio book" is narrated by his Oma and Papa, so every time Dylan opens it up he thinks he is talking to grandparents. 

    Our Christmas tree.

    Here is Dylan "helping" Dana in the kitchen.  By "help" I mean "eat cookie dough and lick the beaters."

    Borken's Christmas Market over Thanksgiving weekend.

    Dylan got to ride the lion on the carousel.  No other seat would do - it absolutely HAD to be the lion.  He actually waited a round or two until the lion was available.

    He got to ride the lion once a day for the duration of the Christmas Market.  He was really sad when we walked through town the Monday after the market was over and the lion was gone.

    More Borken Christmas Market...

    This is one happy little boy ... last time on the lion until next year.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    German Things that Make Me Giggle

    Living in a foreign country is wrought with oddities and differences that sometimes leave me (Dana) shaking my head and other times just make me giggle.  I snapped some photos around town this past week so I could share some of those things.

    This sign translates roughly to "Have a good trip" but seeing signs like this one around Germany bring out the middle-schooler in me and I always giggle.

    Here's what I imagine the brainstorming session was like for the people at Simba when they created these trampy dolls:
    Marketing Guy 1: Dolls these days just aren't slutty enough.  Let's give our new Mystic dolls goth chokers and mesh skirts.
    Marketing Guy 2: Ohhh, neon fishnet stockings are really in right now.  Except lets reinstate the mis-matched, one-high one-low fad.
    Marketing Guy 1: Yea, and they each should have a rabid, feral looking pet cat.
    Marketing Guy 2: These dolls look good, but something is still missing.
    Marketing Guy 1: I've got it!  A thigh tattoo!
    Marketing Guy 2: That's sooooo hot.

    This is a very literal translation to how I feel in the morning before I have my coffee.

    Wall Street to Americans means the epicenter of finance and investing, but here in Borken Wall Street (or Wallstraße) is literally the street that has the town wall on it.

    This is an ad for eyeglasses, but I'm so distracted by the dorky guy with the long red hair and full beard wearing tight red pants that I can't imagine this ad brings many customers into the shop.

    Dylan was looking at the newspaper with Bryan and came across this article about a man who has more than 400 body piercings.  Always ready to state the obvious, Dylan points at him and simply says "Big mess."  Yes, son, a big mess indeed.

    Thursday, November 24, 2011

    Kicking Off the Christmas Markets in Münster

    One of my absolute favorite things about living in Germany is the wonderful Christmas markets every November/December.  Knowing that the Christmas Markets are coming makes the cold weather and short days almost tolerable. And by the way, the days here are crazy short.  Way shorter than in Michigan or Florida or anywhere else we've lived. (Borken is 51 degrees latitude whereas Grand Rapids, Michigan is only 42 degrees latitude - we're almost 10 whole degrees further north on the globe which means 6 hours of day light in the winter and 18 hours of daylight in the summer).

    Anyways, I've been desperate for a day where I can do some shopping just be out of the house by myself without dragging Dylan around with me.  Because sometimes I just really need some time where I can dawdle and peruse shops at my own leisure without having to bribe Dylan to sit still and be quiet with brötchen or Gummie Bears.  Bryan came to the rescue and on Monday night suggested that he stay home with Dylan on Tuesday so I can go to the Münster Christmas Market ganz allein.  I was so excited for my day away that I got to the bus station at least 20 minutes early because I just couldn't handle sitting around our house any longer.

    I got into Münster around 11:30, just after the Christmas Markets opened up for the day, so I got a really good slow tour of all the booths without having to jostle my way through any crowds.  The booths featured toys, jewelry, Christmas decorations and lots and lots of food.  The one thing the Christmas Market was missing, however, was music.  It seemed really strange to have all these Christmasy booths selling Christmasy things but there was no Christmas music being played ... anywhere. And since I was there first thing in the morning, there weren't too many people around so it was kind of quiet.  But I did still prefer the silence to the usual constant questioning from Dylan of "Whatareyoudoing, Mommy? Whatareyoudoing, Mommy?" and "What's that? What's that? What's that?"

    After I got my fill of the Christmas Market I managed to spend some time going into stores that I usually don't get to go into because they either have breakable things in them or they have women's clothes in them, or both.  The funny things about the stores in Münster is that they have names that either sound like clown name (Nanu Nana, Bibo) or they are a complete mouthful to say (Peek & Cloppenburg, Applerath-Cüpper) but are nonetheless fun to shop at.

    By 3:30 I was wiped out and made my way back to the bus stop to being the hour long journey back to Borken.  I must say that after taking the bus to Münster there and back, I have a lot more compassion and empathy for Bryan's daily commute.  The ride alone is pretty tiring, and I spent the day shopping and lolligagging around town.  I can't image doing it every day for work.

    Here are some photos from my big day out:

    Love, Love, LOVE the Christmas Markets!

    The market huts get so pretty at night (or when the sun sets at 2pm) with all the lights and festive decorations.

    Most scenic street to shop on.

    The entrance to one of the larger markets in Münster

    A view from above.  Yes, I did get strange looks when I barged into a restaurant, took pictures out the window then left, narrowly missing a big collision with a waiter carrying a full armload of food.

    Yummy falafel sandwich

    I thought these polkadot rain boots were cute, but they were 189 Euros.  Ummm, no thanks. This was one of those stores where everything was adorable in that thrift store / homemade kind of way, but nothing cost less than 100 Euros.  

    My favorite little Münster street artist is probably crazy rich.  His Münster-themed paintings are really cool, but one of his little 10x10 centimeter paintings is 89 Euros.  He's always doing business, so I'm pretty sure he lives in a penthouse on the Prinzipalmarkt.

    The "Occupy" movement has come to Münster.  The sign says the demonstration is for "Democracy, No Criminalization, Against Exploitation, Suppression and Fighting."  There were about 10 really cold looking people with tents near the sign.