Archive for November, 2008

These People Amaze Me

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

It was another interesting day at BFI where I take my German classes. Some sadness and some joy.

During one of the exercising in class this morning, I was paired with Sarmad, who is from Iraq. We finished our exercise and I thought he looked quite sad, so I asked how he was and we chatted for a bit.

I know a little bit about Sarmad from the questions we answer in class. I know that he has 3 children, including twin boys and a little girl. I have heard their names, but I have to say I can’t remember them right now. I know that he is hoping to bring them from Syria to Innsbruck soon to live, but is having trouble getting an official stamp to finish off the process. Waiting and waiting and waiting. One more week, two more weeks. And I know that back in Iraq he was a civil engineer, but isn’t working here in Innsbruck.

Sarmad said he was thinking about his family, and that was making him sad. I asked how long since he had last seen them. I thought maybe three months. No. Two years. Two years? Can I even imagine not seeing Annie for 2 years? I try but can’t even get my head around it, it seems so impossible…and so soul-wrenchingly sad. I chat about Annie quite a bit in class, talking about her little funny things that remind me of something we are learning. Is that hard to hear about other people and their children? I hadn’t even thought about it before.

Two years. And then he went on to tell me that he had to escape from Iraq. He was tortured, (toenails pulled off and god knows what else) and then scraped together enough money to pay to escape. What do you say to this? It is so out of the realm of my safe little world I was speechless. And I still am…so since I can’t really even process this information, let’s move on.

After class Amal invited a few of us to her apartment for lunch. She lives in a tiny place (basically one room divided with curtains and a bookshelf to make a kitchen and bedroom) with her 11 year old daughter. She isn’t working right now but is able to get by with a small pension that her husband left her when he died 11 years ago (her daughter was only 3 months old and her sons were 11 and 13).

Amal is from Egypt but speaks a bit of English. At this point, though, we can definitely get by with our  pieced-together our German. She had been cooking all day yesterday, I guess, since out of her little kitchen came macaroni beshemal, stuffed duck, chicken with potatoes, flavoured rice and two kinds of dessert. Incredibly delicious. I could barely move after lunch. Except that we had to start dancing. Canan (pronouced ‘Channon’) brought her computer so we listened to some Turkish music and learned a bit more Turkish dancing, which is a combination of belly dancing and very fast foot work. Crazy but lots of fun.

Amal and Canan dancing

Amal and Canan dancing

And Fatma too!

And Fatma too!

One of the women there was Fatma, who is a real firecracker and clearly very smart. Her issue is that she lives with her husband, her overbearing and controlling mother-in-law, as well as her husband’s father and 2 sisters in an apartment with 4 rooms, a kitchen and bathroom. That is 3 bedrooms (the sisters share) and one small area for TV and living. I think she is going a little bit crazy. We were doing an exercise where we stated with whom and where we would want to go on a trip. Fatma said she would go with her Mother-in-law. To Bagdad. So that maybe her MIL would be blown up. Hmmmmm.

Everyone shows up to class every day. Does there homework. Laughs and learns and contributes. I think I’m going to make a real effort to complain less and appreciate my life more. I’m so very lucky.

Why?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Today I launched a new page which I have been thinking about for a while. It is called Why? and is my take on some of the differences between Canada and Austria. I’m just getting started, so there should be more content there once I get to know my new home a bit more.

So my post today is to just direct you to that new page. Hope you enjoy.

(This is just for you, Sue) Do you have any funny stories about differences you have noted when travelling abroad?

A Little Jaunt to Hall

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Since I’m going to have a quiet day off at home tomorrow, Markus thought it would be nice to go for a drive this afternoon after I finished my class. We drove about 20 minutes to Hall, a little town about 10km east of Innsbruck.

After a tasty lunch at a restaurant called Geisterburg (with a great wood-fired pizza oven), we walked for a bit around the old town. It is such a pretty little place. There are about 12,000 people living in Hall, and it has a lovely small-town atmosphere.

Hall’s claims to fame includes a silver mine on the outskirts of town and a mint in the city, as well as a salt mine. The Austria silver coin, der thaler, was minted in Hall for centuries. This is where the English word ‘dollar’ comes from. Hall is about 800 years old, similar to Innsbruck. The old town has very pretty, narrow streets lined with storefronts that are centuries old, just like we North Americans think of when we imagine a European town.

I didn’t have my camera with me, but here is an image of how Hall will look in about 4 weeks after a couple of hearty snows:

This life where neither of us are working regular hours is pretty special. I know it won’t last forever, but I am certainly feeling grateful for the time these days spent with Markus enjoying the beautiful area around Innsbruck.

Cute Girl Update

Annie’s German is just incredible. I am constantly asking Markus what she is saying, and it is really helping me pick up on everyday words. Annie’s caregiver, Gabby, plays the guitar and teaches the kids songs. There are a couple where Annie knows all the words and hand actions, and she is teaching them to me. I’m especially a proud Mama when she inserts her own words to the tunes that she learns to go with whatever situation is at hand. (Clapping, eating, misbehaving, etc.)

I’m also pretty thrilled that Annie likes crafts. We sat on the floor a good while this evening cutting, gluing and tearing paper. With these sticky gluedots I have I was even able to make her some snowflake stickers (for her hand, of course, because that is where stickers go these days.)

And Dad is pretty tickled that Annie is into block building. I’m not sure if she’ll ever be as Lego-obsessed as cousin Devon, but she sure likes building towers, as this picture shows:

I just feel so in love with that little girl right now. Since we had such a hard time together a few weeks back, this makes me feel incredibly happy.

Little Latern Shining Bright

Monday, November 10th, 2008

As promised (warned), today’s post is about Annie’s lantern walk.

The daycare that Annie attends, Kindervilla, held a lantern walk in Hofgarten park near the old city centre. Kindervilla is on 2 floors and has a second building, so it doesn’t feel like a huge organization. But there sure were a lot of people there once all the children,siblings, parents and grandparents came together. Quite a sight.

Last week the children in each of the groups made different lanterns complete with candles: hedgehogs, moons, Chinese-style, apples. They were really lovely and obviously the teachers and children put some real effort into them.

Here is Annie’s:

Apple lantern

Apple lantern

The group showed up at 4:30 at the park entrance. Annie was quite excited to be finally holding her lantern, as Mommy had been mean, mean, mean and had not let her destroy it before the event. (No, we haven’t been beating her up; she had a little bite near her eye, which subsequent scratching made look like quite the shiner.)

The parade ended in a small pavilion where the kids sang songs and showed off the lanterns. Annie’s group used instruments to accompany their song; I was so impressed that Annie knew when to sing and when to shake her little symbols. Too cute. The school provided tea and cookies afterward for everyone to enjoy.

A wonderful little afternoon for all of us. Here are the pictures:

A bigger group than I expected

A bigger group than I expected

Ah, toddlers and open flames

Ah, toddlers and open flames. Luckily no fires ensued

The lantern walk

The lantern walk

Blurry, but still cute

Blurry, but still cute

The park pavilion

The park pavilion

Lanterns in the pavillion

Lanterns in the pavilion

St. Martin’s Day

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

We are a bit wiped out here today, as Annie was up several times last night with a stomach flu. I feel so bad for her when she is not well, and for us too as we changed sheets, blankets and pajamas several times. Annie was better today but of course we are all a little sleep deprived.

So I asked Markus for an idea of what to write about (sorry Andy, I haven’t had a chance to graph out the family tree here…that will take a while!) and he mentioned that it wasn’t random that Markus’ father made   delicious goose today for lunch.

November 11th (Tuesday) is St. Martin’s Day (St. Martini), which is the feast day of Martin of Tours and is traditionally celebrated by eating goose. Here is a cut of St. Martin’s life:

He was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying of the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me.

And another family event this week is linked to this day in that Annie is doing a lantern walk with her daycare tomorrow, which is another tradition of St. Martin. They made these very sweet paper apple lanterns and will be doing a procession at 4:00 in the afternoon. (Many pictures to be posted here, I’m sure.) Toddlers and open flames. Hmmmm, hopefully the event won’t be too eventful, if you know what I mean.

The day is more interesting historically, as in the Middle Ages Nov. 11th was the start of a 40 day fast before Christmas. Presents were exchanged and a hearty goose dinner enjoyed. From a practical perspective, Nov. 11th was also the day that contracts for the year were set including leases and interest rates.

Well, Markus and I are off to watch Quantum of Solace, as it is playing here for a few days in English with German subtitles. (This gives me hope for Twilight!) We are both big fans of Daniel Craig, though I imagine for different reasons. Ciao!

My Nod to Domesticity

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I had such a great day today. And no, there were no tours through castles, no jaunts off to Paris or London, and not even German class. I had the day completely to myself for 8 blissful hours. Sweet!

And what did I do with this precious time? Crafts of course!! I don’t cook, I hate (HATE!) cleaning, and frankly I don’t care if the cutlery, flatware and place mats match. But I did discover, somewhat late in adulthood, that I adore being crafty. It is really my only domestic interest and, dare I say, talent. As a child I was always terrified of art class as I couldn’t draw my way out of a wet paper bag if I had a gun to my head (serious metaphor mixing but you get my point), so never thought of myself as someone who would be interested in anything remotely artistic.

But then a friend got me onto beading and it snowballed into scrapbooking and now here I am, seriously lucky that craft supplies are not as expensive as heroin, because I am that addicted.

So while Markus helped a friend build a float for a festival in January (don’t ask, I don’t have any details) and his wife looked after Annie, I made Christmas cards. I hopped on my bike, pieced together enough embellishments (no, I didn’t create the penguins myself), cards, stamps and ribbon from three sad little hobby/paper shops here (ever heard of Michales people?!) and got down to work. When I was employed and time was so precious, I remember thinking that I wouldn’t ever bother to make cards, as people just throw them away. But now with time on my hands, I’m going for it and am having a great time. Of course, I only made 11 cards in 5 hours, so at my regular rate plus supplies, each card would cost about $25.00, but well worth it for the fun factor.

Here are the results:

I made these!!

I made these!!

I had to make 2 of these, they were so damn cute.

I had to make 2 of these, they were so damn cute.

By the end of the afternoon I was going a bit crazy, hand punching little stars onto sparkly paper and pasting them together to have a dimensional effect before gluing to the card. Luckily Rebecca reminded me that I had mentioned I was going to take break three cards ago and I was finally able to pull the plug.

But don’t expect some great European adventure next Wednesday when I am off from school; it is going to be all card making, all day. And if you want one of these lovingly created pieces, just send me your address (of the snail mail variety…these ain’t e-cards.)

Schloß Tirol Part Zwei

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Great shot of the castle courtyard from our friends at Wikipedia.

Walking through the castle was quite amazing. A direct contrast to our experience from the tourist mecca, Schloß Neuschwanstein. There were hardly any people in the building on this cool autumn day, and guests are allowed to wander though at their own pace.

Markus and I were incredibly impressed with the entire exhibit. I loved that there was a bit of everything that you would expect in a castle museum: paintings, coins, jewellery, chain mail, tombstones, maps, Papal edits to absolve wealthy Catholics, and books. And books. And books. Incredible books about everything you can imagine: torture manuals, lists of landholdings, detailed maps, and directions for how to divvy up the children if one lord’s people (property) married another lord’s.They even had a small display of English travel books about the region from early in the 20th Century.

One interesting room which was completely empty, although you could just feel the centuries of history. This room, known as the temple, (so we were told through the audio system), was the storage room for all of the ruler’s treasures until the seat of power was moved to Innsbruck.

I loved the doorways into the various rooms. Here is a decent shot of one that went into the chapel (you can click on all pictures for a closer look):

And I just had to take this one to show how short the doors were, especially when compared to Markus’ and my modern day height. It barely clears his shoulders! Thank goodness high ceilings were the rage or we would have had a stooped journey through the halls:

Another very interesting room was the kitchen. So as not to disturb the obviously ancient grounds, artifacts were displayed on a raised floor, with certain sections in Plexiglas so you could look down at the original structure. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to make the cook mad with all of the massive knives and scythes lying around.

The curators also made optimal use of the castle tower. They erected a multi-level display around a winding staircase to showcase Tirol in the 20th Century. I thought this wasn’t going to be as interesting for me, but of course the perspective is so different from other NA or European displays I have seen. The mood is quite a bit grimmer when you are the ones that keep losing the wars. One interesting fact I didn’t know was that there was a strong resistance movement in the area from the time Südtirol was taken from Austria and given to Italy. And Mussolini’s aggressive move to populate the area with Southern Italians didn’t help matters. Apparently there were rallies, threats and bombings for several decades.

Besides the fascinating displays and architecture, the other highly notable part of the tour was the views into the valley below. Markus commented that every inch of the mountainous land is used. This is apparent from this shot from the castle (one where you can see the thick walls of the building and a close up to see the incredible stepped farming techniques on the mountainside):

One of the stunning views from Schloß Tirol

One of the stunning views from Schloß Tirol

And a close-up

And a close-up

If you want more info on this incredible landmark, here is a fairly good site, although you have to work through the not perfect translations a bit: http://www.schlosstirol.it/content.php?lang=2

Ouch

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Well, all good stories have an element of suspense. I’ll have to employ this literary technique regarding my trip to Schloß Tirol, as I have managed to come down with the flu and can barely move or speak; writing intelligently is not in the cards tonight. (I’m reading all these books about using the beautiful energy that connects us all to heal ourselves, and I can’t even manage to will myself out of this massive headache. More practice needed I guess…bring on the Tylenol.)

I was completely brain dead in class today; obviously I can see now it was because of the onset of this illness. Hopefully my notes are sufficient to recall what we learned. We had a student teacher for a couple of hours this morning. It reminded me again how particular I am about how I learn things; I get stressed out when we jump into something that doesn’t build on what I already know. I like to learn things from the beginning, one step at a time, in a logical order. After a few deep breaths I managed to catch up though. Good practice for me to try to go with the flow…not my nature that is for sure. And in the end I did learn some interesting concepts and even a couple of tips on how to learn better. (Since it is so important in German to know whether a noun is masculine, feminine or neutral, I really need to start making some cue cards to help with the memorization.)

More pretty pictures tomorrow after (hopefully) a good sleep.

Another Day, Another Castle…

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

I am a bit knackered after a long but lovely day. I don’t want to miss a post in November, so I’m going to make my adventure to Schloß Tirol a two-parter between tonight and tomorrow.

Another memorable travelling Wednesday for Markus and me. Today after dropping off the girl we headed out of Innsbruck to Italy. Our destination was the town of Tirol in Südtirol to see Schloß Tirol. (Not the world’s most original naming scheme, but whatever.)

The trip there was less than ideal. Markus, being the sweetie that he is, decided to take me up the mountain pass so I could see the amazing views. Unfortunately, I became desperately carsick from the switchbacks, and then once we reached the summit the fog was so thick we couldn’t see anything. Oh well. By the time we reached the town and parked to see the castle, my stomach had settled, thank goodness.

Although it was a warm and sunny day in Innsbruck, once we hit the border the weather changed, as is common. (The mountains really do a number on the area’s micro-climates.) But it was still wonderful autumn weather in its own way, with calm cool air, appropriately medieval-like fog, and of course the yellows and oranges of the leaves on the trees and vines.

The 15 minute walk from the car to the castle was amazing. The hike started in the lovely little town or Tirol with tourist-friendly but not too tacky shops. The church on the side of the road had a beautiful cemetery; I just had to shoot these incredibly well taken care of graves:

Because I have a thing for cemetaries

Because I have a thing for cemeteries

Once we passed the town we saw yet another castle which I still haven’t been able to identify. Here is the picture though:

Because one castle is never enough

Because one castle is never enough

The fog was too thick to capture an adequate shot of the Schloß Tirol’s exterior (all my exterior pictures are muted and orangy from the odd light), so here is one from the ever-handy wikipedia. (However, this picture was taken in the summer so you don’t get the awesome effect of the fall colours):

The first castle was built on the hill before 1100, with a second phase in 1139 and a third in the second half of the 13th century. Until 1420 the castle was the seat of Tirol’s royalty until Duke Frederick IV moved the seat to Innsbruck. (Südtirol was part of Austria until it was divided up after WWI, and German is still as common a language there as Italian.)

Here is the last picture on the path to the castle. More tomorrow about our visit.

Oh That Money Thing

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

I think I’ve already discovered an interesting benefit of committing to posting everyday: I’m just not sure what I’m going to write about, so I have to look a bit deeper to find a topic. It is easy when I travel to Italy or visit a castle to know that is the next post whenever I finish writing it. But today was what has become a fairly standard day in my life in Innsbruck. Annie went off to daycare (although I usually take her, Markus did the honours today as I wanted to finish the page-turner I was almost done reading), I went to German class, spent the afternoon doing some chores, picked up Annie at 3:30 and then played with her for a bit. Not a bad life by any means, but not super blogworthy. But that opens me up to discuss other things that popped into my day.

Good friends Lori Stewart and Shawna Pachal (hi Lori and Shawna!), after listening to a presentation by Stephen Lewis, decided that all Christmas gifts this year for adults would be donations to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. I just love that. It is a wonderful way to honour friends in our lives. And I certainly know few people who need more things…certainly not me.

Moving to Austria has provided this family with a much, much needed re-evaluation of our finances and how we spend and (don’t) save money. We have scaled back significantly here, and are managing much better than before even though I’m not working.

And part of my reflections on finances is that I just really don’t need stuff as much as I used to think. I like to spend money on experiences like travel or excursions, materials for crafts, (which makes me very, very happy), books and reading material, and eating out a bit (although I haven’t minded cutting that down either). Annie wears beautiful hand-me-downs from her cousins, and Christmas and birthdays are sufficient for adding to the toy pile. I’m still figuring out the clothes thing; I want to update my sad little conservative wardrobe with some European style, but I don’t want to spend much doing it. For example, we are going to a very formal Viennese ball in the middle of November, and I just couldn’t bring myself to buy a new dress so am recycling one that is 8 years old. I compromised with new shoes ordered online from Ireland. I’m not sure what we are going to do when we have a new apartment, as I have absolutely no desire to spend a bunch of money on furniture. We’ll have to take that one as it comes I guess.

In addition to these personal musings, much of my downtime these days is spent viewing educational, fascinating, inspirational and motivational speeches on www.ted.com (waaaay more addictive than TV, let me tell you.) And these brilliant minds of our time are certainly not talking about how we can consume more or save up for a 4,000 sq ft home. Giving and helping and putting your love and energy out into the world to make it a better place is the message over and over again.

So will one gift to one organization change the world? I think maybe it will.