Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Trees & Happy New Year

I am ending the year stronger than last and am excited for the year to come. 

Wishing You All a Healthy, Happy and Joyous New Year!

Leaving you with some Winter Inspiration.  It has been a great snow season up here.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

More Munich Food & Drink

Go to the Christmas market for the food.  Who knew it was going to be an all out street food festival?  I love strolling and eating and being drawn to enticing smells.  We only ate at a restaurant 4 times that week and I had originally thought it would be mostly if not all restaurant meals like it was in May.  No way. 

You can eat all 3 courses easily pretty much everywhere.  There were so many different types of wurst and beef sandwiches but if you go, try the potato pancakes.  They were the best hash browns I've ever had (fyi has egg in it and they serve it with apple sauce(?) or tzatziki).  And the waffles were light as air. 

Didn't take to the gingerbread cookies (Lebkuchen).  They were good and soft but I prefer a cookie with more ginger, enough to warm you up inside.   Don't leave without trying a Splitterball -- A giant dark chocolate covered homemade marshmallow with waffle pieces inside.  Quite sweet but addictive!

And don't worry if you didn't like the Gluhwein.   There were at least 5 more colourful alternatives -- Burgundy, orange, clear (looked like a mojito), purple etc.  Don't ask me their names.  The only one I know is "Eierlikoer" or German egg nog.  It is not as thick as what I am used to at home but had far more depth of flavour, likely due to the vodka and brandy in it -- No rum. 

And the best part?  They served it from what looked like a frozen drink dispenser but was medium warm, in a white wine glass topped with whipped cream!  I'm supposed to be off eggs and dairy but I cheated and took 3 gulps.   It tasted wonderful.  Because the dispenser was sealed, the alcohol stayed in and was the most potent drink I had that week.   Ended up getting a hive but was so worth it. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Update From The Mountain

I have more to say about Munich but we are dealing with Internet issues (we are using a neighbour's connection for the time being) and am waiting for a technician to arrive.  Not impressed as this is the 3rd time in the last year we've had issues. 

They are the only game on the mountain and for some reason we are getting "kicked out" by the system when they are doing maintenance on other accounts.  I don't know what's really going on.  D needs Internet to work remote. 

In other news, remember how D's bonus last year ended up getting fully taxed because the paperwork to get it sheltered didn't get confirmed properly?  It has been corrected for this year so we are set.  D's yearly review went really well and because his performance "rating" went up, so did his bonus by 30%.   He calls it blood money as this was the toughest year he's ever had in his career. 

Since the money is going to be sheltered, the tax refund will serve as additional savings to be sheltered again.  We've also decided to stop saving money in a non registered account for the time being and concentrate on maxing out D's tax sheltered account as he has a lot more unused room than I do.

Visibility on the ski hill is not so good today due to low clouds so I'm staying put to deal with administrative stuff while D is out giving it a go anyway -- Not surprised.  He's much more intrepid than I.  It's a busy day as many people are still off for the holidays as kids won't be going back to school until Jan 7th. 

Monday, December 24, 2012


Originally I thought Christmas Markets were going to be all about small handicrafts and ornaments, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and this thing called Gluhwein or mulled wine. 

Being not much of a drinker I was curious to try it out but we didn't have great expectations of many more than just one as sweet and wine weren't our favourite combination.  Wrong again!  I think I had about 6!  Not all at once...D was totally surprised with my response and his own too.

So the biergarten culture switches over to gatherings around the numerous gluhwein stands throughout the city.  What fun it was!  After lunch, after work, we saw loads of people just taking their time, talking to others, standing and leaning on the stands, watching the crowds and passing time.  Though our German wasn't so great, we smiled and nodded and raised our mugs with others.  Universal.

At first we drank the stuff too fast (a warm drink outdoors on a cool day is so good!) until we kinda learned to slow down and savour it.  Because the wine isn't boiled, the alcohol stays in and for a lightweight like me, you can get tipsy!

The recipes differed from stand to stand and so did the mugs.  They were often custom to the stand and people could keep them as a yearly memento.  We brought home 2 different ones.  Part of the price included a deposit for the mug so if you turn it in at the end, you get it back.  Costs varied depending upon the style of the mug.  My mug deposit was 5.50 Euro whereas the one D kept was 3 Euro.  The gluhwein itself ranged from 2 Euro - 4 Euro.

The incentive was there to go from stand to stand to try out the different brews.  We quickly learned which flavours of the hot stuff we preferred (the more citrus and spicy ones) and looked forward to our daily dose of enjoyment.  The different stands were so creatively decorated with custom signs, we wished we were able to understand them all.  So we resorted to the simple method of ordering things we didn't recognize and it served us well. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Münchner Christkindlmarkt

Munich In The Winter

We arrived to find Munich covered in about 3 inches of snow.  The first thing I noticed was that they don't seem to clear snow or use salt on their sidewalks or train platforms.  Instead they used cut gravel the size of pea gravel.  People were sloshing around going about their business.  The only time we saw a sidewalk plow was on a day when it was pouring rain and everything was melting.

Upon further inspection, the gravel made for good traction and when stepped on by many, served to break up the snow.  Made walking noisier than normal though.  Coming from Canada, we are used to public snow removal once accumulation reaches 2 inches and salt/sand mixture applied pretty much everywhere. 

Along the same theme, long boots were worn by most women, understandably to shield from the splashes from walking through slush.  Coats were also longer than what we tend to see in my neck of the woods -- Just above knee length.  Again made sense since most people walked everywhere. 

Wearing a coat that covers one's behind and part legs makes such a difference in heat retention.  Before this trip, I bought myself a longer coat and even though it doesn't have as much down fill (550 vs 700) as my regular jacket, I felt warmer and more comfortable after being outside for hours. 

We stumbled upon the nicest sporting wear and goods store ever -- "Globetrotter".  Ranks right up there with how a luxury goods store is designed and layed out.  Unfortunately their website is pretty utilitarian.  D fell for a line of ski wear sold there-- Bergans of Norway

As a fan of most things Norwegian (new coat is by Helly Hansen) I wasn't surprised.  In fact all the sports stores we visited in Munich carried Norwegian gear as its higher end offerings.  When D found a few Dale of Norway sweaters at one shop, he realized what a deal I got on the ones I lugged home this summer.  They were priced at 450 Euro and up.

Despite the snow and slush, people were still riding their bicycles all around.  And they didn't have any special tires or anything.  Most are sporting a granny or a not too technical bike.  When you think about what a prosperous city Munich is, it made no sense. 

But then again, maybe it does.  Perhaps we are too gear conscious here.  We wouldn't consider riding our bikes in the winter without proper tires, proper gear etc.  Whereas seeing well dressed people on commuter bikes that were bought for the express purpose of being exposed to the elements without worry is actually really practical.  Made us feel like we were too fussy or coddled. 

Being that Munich is the headquarters for BMW, it is no surprise that you see a lot of them -- Mostly 5 series sedans and wagons.  D, being a huge fan of the "old man wagon", feels very much at home in Munich.  A few months ago, he test drove a 5 series and I wouldn't be at all shocked if that will be his next vehicle.  Again we didn't end up making it to BMW Welt.  I have a feeling one visit will cement D's decision.

Something I didn't notice when we were here in May were the number of smokers.   A lot of people were smoking, standing outside bars and restaurants, while walking.  How could I have missed that?  No answer for you.  D remembered seeing and smelling a lot of smokers the last time around but I didn't and I have the sensitive nose in the family.   Losing my touch.

Smokers were very aware of the people around them especially when moving as they made a point of making sure their cigarettes did not contact anyone nor blew smoke at anyone as there were crowds pretty much everywhere we went.   That was much appreciated. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Return to Munich

My usual jet lag has me up much earlier than usual.  After about 20 hr of travel we are home.  We are lucky the storms in the Midwest did not adversely affect our flights home.  There was thick fog in Amsterdam and were delayed because of it. 

It was a real treat to have been back to Munich especially this time of year.  We stayed at the same apartment and the owner greeted us with a big smile.  He went through the improvements on the apartment since our last visit and a funny moment occurred. 

A feature wall was painted in the living room, new shower head, sink etc.  We weren't expecting any changes so they were pleasant surprises.  It was the way he described the renovations that made us stop for a few seconds until we got it -- "I did some pimping in the bathroom". 

Remember those early viral ads that Volkswagen did?   

I'll be back with a review post and some photos.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Time

It's time to forget for a little while our regular life.  My work for the year has been completed.  The office is organized for 2013.  Our home is in good hands. Everything else can wait. 

The bags are packed.  Checking in soon for our flights to Munich.  Christmas markets and magic here we come.  Back in time to spend Christmas at home.  Then off we go out west for some mountain air, skiing and skating. 

Wishing You All the Very Best this Holiday Season.

I leave you with videos of beautiful hand writing and Calligraphy.  A lost art. 

Peter Unbehauen at book signing

Start at 5:22

I write with the next size up, the MB 146

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Trap Is Set 2

Maybe my novice violin playing and our noise making (same difference depending on the day...) helped?  We did not hear any sounds from below the last couple of nights.  D hung a LED flashlight in the crawlspace as that is supposed to make things uncomfortable too.  The trap door sprung the first night but nothing.  The sardines around the trap were eaten.  D reset it and no action the second night.

We have done all we can do for now.  Our wildlife guy will take it from here as we won't be able to head back up until the new year.  And over the winter, everything depends on the weather.

The plan is he is going to install a one way spring loaded door today if our guest has not been trapped yet.  Then he will be digging along the foundation to lay some kind of impermeable cloth so nothing can dig through again.  Once he is sure the raccoon has left (has to go out sooner or later), then the door will be removed and area sealed.   Other than having take up part of deck to do the work, he doesn't feel it will be too big an issue.

It has been a busy last 3 days.  Because I am the way I am, I also had fireplace contractors, township personnel, natural gas contractor and our realtor come by too.  We're not selling yet but wanted an idea of market value as we will be appealing our property value assessment for both the house and cottage this year.  More on this process another time.

Our gas got turned off as part of the cottage closing without our permission.  They have never done that before so luckily we had another source of heat or else we would have been even more mad and cold.  So we obviously had a new person assigned to our place.  We are grateful this new person brought to our attention the animal thing even though it ended up being a coincidence that the real problem is in the other half of the cottage (The crawlspaces aren't connected). 

The fireplace guys were redoing the caulking around the chimney as we found a couple of drip marks on the floor.  Their work was tested shortly after as we got a good dose of  rain/freezing rain.  No issues.

And finally the township fellow was over to discuss ideas about managing random pieces of furniture we've found by our garbage box twice this year.  Because we and our 2 neighbours are at the end of a quiet street with 14 acres of wood behind and to the side, it is a good place for people to dump their stuff instead of bring it to the dump and paying the $6.  Or waiting until the once a year large item pickup where 5 items are picked up for free which is what we've done with our finds.  Turns out our neighbours have had that happen too and I guess it is our turn. 

Here's the kicker.  Should the township pick it up while on their patrol, whoever's garbage box it is beside gets charged -- 1st time warning, 2nd time $125, subsequent times $350...You can probably guess my reaction to that news. 

So we are going to start a neighbourhood garbage watch amongst the 3 of us and cover for each other to help avoid those fees.  I just can't believe people would do this in the first place.  Talk about not taking responsibility for yourself and your stuff.  Plus it is really bad Karma.

The township fellow was really understanding and nice.  Apparently it is happening all over the place.  He has written it up as a littering violation and offered to remove them (lawn chairs) for us. 

We came up with something better.  Because we rarely use our garbage box and are used to taking our garbage and recycling home (due to animals) anyways, we decided to store our box away in the garage.  So it will no longer be a sitting duck for someone to lean something else against.  The township can only send letters to box owners they can identify. 

We've left messages with our neighbours telling them what we've done and I know the one will likely follow as he rarely leaves garbage out either.   Our other neighbour comes up more often and has someone maintain her property so she will probably continue to use her box.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Trap Is Set

So we do have something living under the cottage.  Not in the same area as where the plumbers were but underneath our bedroom.  We just loved being woken up at around 4 am by what sounded like something was playing around with the copper pipes.  Great.

D called the wildlife animal control guy again and was lucky he was able to come out the same day.  Now we have a trap set -- For a raccoon.  We will be keeping an eye on it until we leave to go back home and he will take it from there.  The next step will be to seal the entrance once the culprit is caught. 

Each visit by our wildlife guy costs $50 and he estimates the rest of it including clean up will be in the $400 range.  I'm not concerned about the cost but I asked him why now after 9 years of being intruder free?  He didn't have an answer for me.  We joked that the bacon we eat must smell too good.

We went out shopping for a new smoke detector, plumbing antifreeze as well as a radio today.  The radio in combination with a timer is supposed to irritate the animal encouraging it to leave.  We couldn't find a suitable option so left it for tomorrow. 

When we got back an idea came to D.  We didn't really need a radio.  Why don't I play my violin in the bedroom?  Surely it would aggravate the raccoon enough for him to want to leave!  I rolled my eyes at him but couldn't disagree with the concept.  So practice I did.  We also made a point of walking loudly on the hardwood floors.  We'll see if it amounted to anything tonight. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012


I had a 10 minute fit (felt much longer) the other night after coming home from art class when I thought I had lost my keys.  D drives so I usually put my wallet and keys in my art bag as back up.  My car won't lock unless the keys are out of the car whereas with D's car, you can. 

What to do at 10 pm?  I was ready to call the school to see if there was anyone in security I could talk to.  All I could think about was "How am I going to get into my office tomorrow?  Crap, a new key to my car is going to cost $$$!  OMG, someone has keys to my house, cottage and shed!  Lucky I have the ski condo keys in a different place...where are they again???"  One thing led to another and I was driving myself crazy. 

I have all my lessons on one day now.  So we started retracing my steps.  Got home from music OK.  So obviously had keys to get into the house and make it to ballet a few hours later.  And got home from ballet OK and I know I put the keys in my art bag like I have done the past 14 weeks. 

My "art bag" is actually a laptop case.  All the compartments work great for separating ruler from brushes from packs of pencils and other stuff.  My keys were in a sub compartment I didn't use.  One that was padded and velcro shut (middle) from the main ones so when I emptied and felt around, I couldn't hear or feel them.  They had dropped in there by error. 

What a mental emotional nightmare.  Losing a wallet is a big deal but losing keys would be too.  Knock on wood neither have truly gone missing.  Being more diligent will solve this problem as I cannot see a way around keeping keys together to mitigate potential loss.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I had 2 colleagues confide in me yesterday.  One (A) I've known for over 10 years but wouldn't consider "close" and the other (B) I had just met for the 2nd time.  Both women.  A is 50 and B around 27 years old.

"A" wanted to run something by me.  It was a work dilemma at her part time job.  She works full time and part time.  The terms of her contract were up for review and what was being proposed is a significant pay cut.  The original rate was set taking into consideration it was a fledgling business requiring a moderate commute.   I guess it is still struggling financially (huge overhead) and the owner wanted a bigger cut. 

What was being proposed would still be considered reasonable but obviously not when compared to what she is currently being paid.  So the question was, "Am I being unreasonable?".  To which I asked "Do you need this job?  Does he need you more than you need him? Why are you doing this?"  I'll get to her response shortly.

"B" is new to work, almost 5 years into it.  Am starting to see the financial potential and enjoying the first real burst of consumer power.  Bright eyed and bushy tailed, she does good work and is well liked.  The conversation started with "I haven't told anyone outside of my boyfriend...".    I wasn't sure why I was hearing this when we didn't really know each other. 

Turns out she has decided to buy something expensive but was feeling shy about sharing her indulgence with family and friends who would not likely understand.  The item was a luxury automobile (first vehicle)... 6 figures.  And she thought I would understand because I drive an expensive one too.  I think she thought she was following in the footsteps of seasoned colleagues?  She had saved all year for the down payment towards the lease.

I didn't know how to feel -- Insulted?  Sure made me wonder what type of vibe I was giving off!  I don't know if she was looking for encouragement or congratulations.  Leaving my opinions aside, I congratulated her on her new lease, asked a bit about the car (she didn't know much...which really surprised me) and was told about the "great" deal ($1500/month, down from $1900 because she knew someone who knew someone).

When it was my turn to talk, I told her I bought my car used, 2008 with 35K on it.  I think I burst her bubble.  I didn't tell her what I had been driving for the 14 years prior as it was a used one too.  That would have probably done her in.  There is obviously no glamour with buying a used vehicle in her eyes and our reasons for buying a performance vehicle differs.  I don't think I'll be privy to many more confidential talks like this.

The person who would understand would be A.  The reason why she is working 2 jobs is because of debt -- 300K line of credit of which roughly 1/3rd is mortgage.  Scary right?  We aren't close because I just don't find talking about going shopping and buying new clothes every month fun or exciting anymore.  I used to when I was much younger.  Now I channel my monies towards travel and education which in turn really doesn't excite her.

I'm scared for B.  It is likely her income will stay strong but what if her relationship doesn't?  A large lease would compromise her ability to qualify for a mortgage.  And what about maintenance?  Everything costs more on a vehicle like that.  I doubled our "car" working account when I decided to buy mine just in case.  And should something happen and the cost of repairs sickens me, I will have no problem going back to a less expensive vehicle. 

So A needs the job but her pride is hurt.  I told her to go over the numbers and see what her gut says.  It isn't a bad deal, just that what she has been getting was an ultra good one. 

B is picking up her new ride just in time for Christmas and she is over the moon with excitement.  I can certainly understand the excitement part but hope she doesn't become A in a few decades. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Wildlife Update & Another Documentary Recommendation

Relief washed over us when the first words out of our wildlife animal guy was "I don't know what kind of plumber you have working for you...". 

Apparently we have plumbers who are afraid of spiders (been there for as long as the cottage has been around we're sure) and ones who cannot tell a real animal threat from a false or old one.

There were no signs of anything living in the crawlspace.  There may have been a mole at one time who dug underneath the foundation and got in (based on some really old poop) but no tracks in the snow or anything current that required a trap or plugging of holes. 

As for spraying for spiders, it can't be done because of our proximity to 2 streams.  He would lose his license.  He didn't even recommend us using Raid under there for fear of seepage and we agreed with him. 

The plumbers we use are the biggest outfit in the area and after 9 seasons of openings and closings we have decided to look for someone new not solely due to this incident but because we would prefer to work with a company that doesn't come across as abrupt.  I have less patience than D so when he has had it, I know it is time. 

On a much scarier note, here's a link to another documentary for you, about genetically modified foods, their origins, the politics around them and their (our) developing future.  A great place to start if you are wondering what they are about and if you would want to eat it.  The film was made a number of years ago and what it showed was frightening enough.  Can you imagine what is going on now?