Friday, March 24, 2017


Ahh, I've been way too busy to catch up with my blog! Sorry mom! I know you're over there like, psshhh, when she gonna upload the Christmas pictures? and they've all just been sitting neatly and chronologically in this draft for ages. 
I mean once I found my other missing SD card they have anyway; with pics from three phones and two cameras plus a few extras from other people, organising and editing them all took a long time, and it was driving me crazy that I'd misplaced some. By putting them somewhere safe and logical, as always. This surprised no one.

There was a week of virtually no work but plenty of jetlag and reverse cultural disappointment (as opposed to culture shock, because Tangerine Voldemort and his Motley Crew of Morons have a perfect monopoly on that at the moment) when we got back, and I then ended up with tonsilitis again which also surprised no one, but then things picked up in a big way. 
Not only every single weekend but a great many weekdays have been packed with interesting shit and events and socialising since we've been back.

So, without further ado, because I told myself that posting about Christmas beyond February was just unacceptable, here it is at the end of March! Our glorious Weinachten in Deutschland. 

Better than the last big overseas family holiday trip, anyway, when I didn't get around to posting the first part until exactly this same time last year, but the second part didn't get finished until mid-May. I have no idea how many posts this will eventually equal. Six? Eight?

I still haven't even posted about our road trip around Germany at the beginning of 2015 or our Japanese Inland Sea cultural-artsy-outrageously-expensive-because-of-the-shinkansen excursion from last fall or the rest of my difficult-to-talk-about time in Romania in 2011! 
I'm not panicking, you're panicking! 

Anyway, I digress: in Germany, people open gifts on Christmas Eve, the 24th, and have Boxing Day off, so this post covers the entire three-day holiday extravaganza.

Making a list, checking it twice, gonna scare the hell out of some kids
 as a brutish bellowing Santa tomorrow.. lol just kidding, I'm sure Hannes' dad made a great Santa. This was the day before, when he just wanted to try the costume on.

He and Hannes also have this tradition of wearing dumb ties.

Mulled wine, two large pots of the stuff, and how gloriously wrekt it gets you.

My mom took lots of pictures of people arriving. 
Being German and platinum blonde, Nico is pretty pale, but he was even paler and doing cute little orphan coughs and sneezes with his coat on the whole time because he was getting over the flu not a moment too soon.

Nico and Andrea's daughter Hanna, who's obviously a literal magical Christmas elf and too adorable for her own good.

Mandy, Stefan, and Andrea's sister Julia

This is Lina. She's pretty clever and straightforward about what she wants.
Idk, it's just funny to meet an assertive and confident baby.

She's like, "I know, right?!"

And that's her brother, the poor wee lad's allergic to more foods than I am and more severely than I am. I compare him to myself because his situation honestly sounds very similar to mine, and he might very well have a more serious case of the same immune disorder I do. Time and tests will tell!

And this is Katrin, obviously their mom!


It's Ivanhoe!
No, seriously people reading this who don't know these people, that's his name. Badass, right? He's not cute, he's cool. He repairs German military helicopters in Djibouti.

Also if you're thinking the woman on the left has the same face as Katrin, you're right, and it really freaked me the fuck out at first. They're not twins but I was seriously like, "Wait.. Those piercings definitely weren't there before.. -narrows eyes, rusty gears slowly turn, recognition slowly dawns, meanwhile she's wondering how drunk I already am-"

Aww! Wait what the hell, how and why are we wearing such similar outfits?

Really. This wasn't planned

Hannes and Denny on the balcony - Anke and Marco are on the top floor of the apartment building, with a nice view of the city. 
Those cute kids are Denny's, the assertive one and the allergic one.

Get serious, it's time for tiny Santa hats and Denny and Katrin's gluten- and dairy-free stollen. (I feel terrible for their son but I mean, how lucky was that for me)

This is how my mom looks when she's happy and excited and loves me but fucking hates that I'm taking a picture of her, which is every time I take a picture of her >_>

Talking with Solvig

Derp. At least Andrea looks nice

Boy does Hannes look drunk and do I look chunky in my super comfy but very loud cardigan thingy these days haha 
(-Nico unintentionally photobombs because he's the same height as Hannes-)

One of the only things I specifically requested of Hannes' parents was to find us a church to go to on Christmas Eve, for my mom. No one has to come with us, I said, but this I want her to have. Virtually all of the churches in Germany are historical, and maybe all of them since it's such a secular society. It sure seems like it, anyway. 

My first pick was "The Pointy Church", the one that dominates the city skyline. The interior is pretty minimal, with a high vaulted ceiling and wooden ships hanging above the center aisle; it's very maritime, such northern, many Baltic, wow. Since I was making this request months in advance I thought that making a reservation or whatever one does for such things would be possible, but Hannes' mom decided that we should just go to the local medieval church more or less across the street. As luck would have it we unfortunately didn't make it to the main one at all, but whatever; we visited more than enough of them.

We went to the Kirchengemeinde Toitenwinkel, an Evangelical Lutheran church established in god-knows-when. Since everything in this region is so goddamn old people don't really seem to concern themselves with specifics. They're not all hung up on securing legitimacy by proudly reciting the year X thing or Y thing was established the way Americans usually seem to be. I went to the website, assuming pretty reasonably that their own information section would have the date if any place would, and I don't understand a lot of German, but well, it's not there.

People have been passing under the arch out front and worshipping here "for over 500 years", and the church was constructed "in the pre-Reformation period in the 14th century". It goes on to casually mention the medieval "folk Bible" frescoes on the ceiling and the symbol of the "lords of Moltke" visible above the altar; this was a powerful noble family based in the area from 1262 onward.

The goth in me rejoiced. I said this was super fucking black metal and Jharrod was like, "It'd be way more black metal if that church were on fire". I said that's what I was thinking as we sat through the service.

There was this unexpected and adorable choir of local children acting out a weird rendition of the Nativity and then singing various songs in their too-quiet-because-they're-nervous-little-kids way. One of these songs was "Christmas Party For Jesus" but I didn't manage to catch that in the video and no one believed us. They did sing that, Lars! They seriously did, it was so cute and idiotic!

This is how Hannes feels about church and churchgoers; 
he fell asleep for some of it and was angry for hours after leaving.

Dat aesthetic tho

The aforementioned medieval frescoes

I was excited about this for the architecture. Brick Gothic is so cool, and I mean, look at how primitive these freaking paintings are. Even not-well-known churches in this region casually display huge oils in gilded frames from the 12th century onward, it's insane. Also the tree was pretty.

Half expecting Rob Stark and his supporters to get slaughtered?
Me, too.

Here's the video of the little derplets singing.

Hannes left pissed and stayed that way, shocked and dismayed that so many local people believe in the Bible at least a little bit, but my mom loved it and I loved the aesthetic, so you know, whatever.

Before we did leave, though (and Hannes ended up yelling at me to hurry up because his mom was sitting there with the car running, waiting, and he wanted to gtfo asap), I took a walk through the graveyard, which is a thoroughly pleasant, time-honoured Christmas Eve tradition.

One of those things is true.

If you think this is disrespectful then, well, sorry, but these pine arrangements were beautiful and quite elaborate. It was quiet, damp, and cold, with the occasional wisp of smoke rising out of the chimney of one of the spacious, boxy brick homes visible through the trees. It was lovely. 

And gothic/black metal af.

Back at Hannes' parents' place, post-church, it was time for Santa to entertain the local kids briefly before coming back so we could eat yet more sweets, have yet more coffee, and open our gigantic pile of presents, even though we were all very tired (and headachey from drinking all day).

"Once is not enough, you have to check it twice. Don't forget."
"I know, dear."

Looks like quite a few presents, right?
Yeah. No.

人形焼き, the somewhat terrifyingly named "human-shaped baked things" that my young Suntory group (the same age as us and under) gave me as a goodbye present. The box of sweet bean paste and sweet potato-filled cakes came from a shop famous for them in Asakusa. I don't get gifts from students or clients anymore so this was really nice!

The adorable tin of Snow Mickey and Snow Minnie chocolates I brought from 

Oh boy, once you've added in every single dessert and sweet snack in the house and the freshly-made coffee it starts to look a little bit out of hand

Hanna made these ones together with her grandma!

It's, I mean, it's just really a lot. 
It's great, but there's that panicking feeling again

Oh geeze

Whiskey, books, shows, sociopolitical issues to discuss, and snuggles. 
That's basically all this guy wants or needs. While I felt like my gift looked sad and sparse next to his, he said this was perfect, exactly what he wanted, and he ended up loving the book. (Now I want to read it, too; it's based on a true story and the trailer for the movie, starring Charlie Hunnam, is already out.)

The flash makes mom look a bit pasty and weird here but it was nice to catch a moment of genuine pleasant-surprisedness

In addition to the spectacular camera Hannes also got us this really nice poster to frame and put up in our first German (re: "real") apartment when we get it. Aww..!

Marco loves the sporty zip-up my mom got him..

And Anke loves her super cozy ("kuschelig") flannel cardigan wrap-around thingy even more!

I just kept sticking them to my head like I've always done, there were so many

This was my amazing gift from Ale, brought all the way from Phoenix in my mom's luggage. She collaged two boxes (which I have since collaged more, sealed, and kept on my nightstand) and included two books: a feminist classic by a Jungian psychoanalist called Women Who Run With the Wolves, which you can of course see but that I wanted to type out so that it might come up in searches, and The KGB Bar Reader, a book of writings by the literary regulars of this renowned East Village bar, which we actually visited together.

Chaotic, I know, but this is my constantly-evolving nightstand. Boxes Ale has painted and collaged for me form the foundation of it. And that little ceramic bird there at the bottom was actually made by Hannes' mom, who's really good with ceramics. She sent my mom home with one of what was originally a trio as well, even though we tried to insist that she not break them up.

Both books are from the 90's, both are fantastically thoughtful and meaningful gifts, and I'm working on the first one now and it's pretty intense. The woman is also a poet and a cantadora, so it's also very beautiful and full of powerful imagery, skillfully woven into her analyses. Every woman should read it. Seriously.

This is my serious face, as I read it at work. Seriously.

She also included two mixed media paintings on postcards, which I have displayed prominently on our wall since we got back.

I had sent Ale one of this tiny canvas and easel sets even though she hadn't felt like painting for a while, and I was super surprised to get it back, finished.

It's also prominently displayed here on the shelf in our two-square-metre living room.

Here's a closer pic, including the candle she also made for me, because she's been making candles.

And another, with the dragonfly barrette she not only made for me but painted to match the box she decorated for it.

Here is my awesome gift from Erin: she had been kind of insistent about getting my something, so I said "headphones as black as my metal and my coffee", because I just had some 10-year-old Skullcandy ones that are sitting in the bag of old and broken electronics I want to recycle. She worried they weren't "nice enough" or "exactly what I wanted", but she's stupid and should shut up, because they are exactly what I wanted. Thank you both!

New favourite lipstick for sure. My mom always manages to choose at least one bold wardrobe addition that's a genuine surprise and a real winner.

I've gotten plenty of compliments on it, too!

Let's see, what else did my mom get me? A huge set of gluten-free cookies and brownies..

And this funny decapitated snowman sweater and matching warm winter leggings, among other things!

Lovely gifts from Hannes' grandma Edith, a variation on which we all received.
My mom and I especially loved the colourful old-fashioned teacup and plate sets, and we're almost 100% sure she made the placemat handkerchief thingies herself.

It's similarly become part of our living room shelf display (we only have one shelf).
I guess this is an advantage of posting this stuff 3 months later, right? Showing a sort of "this is where they are now, we love and appreciate them".. I know, this post is so late and I have no excuse, sorry lol

Found in a photobook of last year, when we were in the States for the holidays hahah

Even our slight failure of an Airbnb landlady came through on Christmas:
we found these at our doors when we came back that night. Sweet, huh?

While we're happy to adopt the German tradition of opening presents the night of the 24th after drinking our own weight in gluhwein, my mom and I had already both decided independently, before talking about it, that we wanted to at least continue our own tradition of having stockings and opening them first thing in the morning on the 25th. Plus, you know, I had accumulated a lot of small gifts and treats for my mom, and this was more attractive than a bag or bucket or something.

She really likes the cute pin of Van Gogh's "Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass" I got her when we went to the Van Gogh-Gaugin exhibit last fall!

And I liked my stocking too, derp

Derpidy-derp. Good packaging design gets me every time.

Here's a close-up of what I'm holding there, plus neat "gourmet gum" my mom also gave us, plus the little things I put in Hannes' stocking. I don't know if he's ever going to put that patch on anything, but it obviously describes him perfectly. The postcards came with it: they and the patch are by Sarah Graley, one of the artists who works on Rick and Morty. Wubalubadub-duuuubs!

The Christmas goose in the oven on Christmas Day. 
Actually, I almost fully support this: Marco got it from one of his friends, who raises his own geese very nearby, and they're very well-cared for, free-range birds that by all accounts lead very pleasant lives right up until the holidays roll around and they're mercilessly executed.

These balls are potato knöedel, which are fluffy and spongey and often contain wheat flour, but these ones don't. Also tangy red cabbage and seasoned tofu, complete with special vegetarian onion gravy just for me. God fuck it was delicious uuurrrrgh

As it turns out, geese surely have the equivalent of a wishbone, but it really just doesn't work the same as with turkeys. At least, it didn't for us.

It almost got violent here and really wouldn't break lol

Hannes setting up his new tablet, which I was very surprised to see was a Huawei, because those were advertised like crazy in Tokyo for the last few months of the year even though no one had ever heard of them before. They must be doing something right.

"Rice Dwarves" and a coconut milk latte!
I learned the word for "dwarf" because, fittingly, we were watching The Desolation of Smaug. Oh Aidan Turner, you and your love of that elf maiden were not even slightly in the book but are so, so okay. 

The day after Christmas was Nico's mom's birthday, and conveniently, she lives right across the street from the Airbnb property. Hannes' mom said we should really take the time to visit her, since her birthday tends to get nudged aside by the holidays. I'm sure Christmas and New Year babies everywhere can sympathise, and we were more than happy not only to visit her just because but also to see her apartment and where Nico grew up, because they're one in the same. Her rent is stupidly low, which is the case with a lot of people in East Germany who signed rental contracts in the GDR, and we were super jealous.

Here's the Airbnb building. Our two rooms plus two more and the laundry room were in the half-basement.

View quaint as fuck

Kitchen quainter as fuck

Holiday window decals the quaintiest

Hrnnggg classic decor and crown moulding, high ceilings, large windows, hrnnnggg

Moni cracked open a casual bottle of sparkling wine to share with us, and she even had more rice cookies for me. It was really sweet! Even though Nico, Andrea, and Hanna were coming over in a couple of hours to spend the day with her, she seemed so happy that we wanted to make a point of saying "happy birthday". 

Aww, I wish I'd had my super nice new camera for this one..

And then we went back to Hannes' parents place to have a traditional family meal of so much fucking delicious melted cheese that it made us feel like we were going to die in the best way, with Hannes' grandma Edith and her boyfriend.

This is the view from their kitchen.

And this is the same view but with the sanddorn on their balcony. It's a hardy coastal shrub ("sea buckthorn", apparently) whose little orange berries are made into everything from candles to jams to very potent liquors whose flavour seems to be either loved or hated.

Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of our glorious Cheesy Feast of Cheese Lords, but this is what Nico and Andrea's (thank you for letting us borrow it!) set looks like. You have these little individual pans for melting the cheese and above them is a grill. I was mostly doing smoked tofu, leftover sliced potato balls, and I think bell peppers. Jesus it was magical.

Here's how happy Edith was when she got my mom's gift, a super soft and cushy throw blanket like the one she sent Anke and Marco that you can see in the equally cute picture below:

Such a nice group shot!

Not a great picture, and yet, the perfect picture.
That was our Christmas, and it was everything anyone could ever hope for.

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