We hosted a Christmas Eve dinner for our friends who decided to stay local for the holiday. It was a fun affair with about 10 people. I may have gone overboard with the number of courses but almost all of the food got eaten so I will call it a success.
We went over to our neighbor's house the day after Christmas for luncheon. Unfortunately, I was sick so I only participated in the last hour of the event. Our neighbors have been such good friends to us and have welcomed us and guided us through all of the pitfalls and questions of living in a foreign country. We will be forever grateful to them and will definitely miss them when we move. All 3 of their sons were home for Christmas and Quinn was invited out with Marvin for his annual barhopping event with his buddies. Marvin is the middle son and is 23 years old. They went to 8 bars all around town and the evening ended at our place with this many guys still standing. As their "midnight snack" they cooked up some fondue and special mashed potatoes! Sure beats the Taco Bell that is the typical food at bar time in the States.
It was a fun Christmas season even though I was under the weather for Christmas day. Quinn got a break because I couldn't speak for about 36 hours. Turns out I am an excellent communicator by facial expression, gestures, and a series of whistles.
We took another jaunt to Colmar to celebrate the new year with our friends Kyle, Julie (plus kiddos), Linda, and Jerry.
It was predicted to be a sun filled weekend but instead a fog descended upon us and turned the whole area into a frozen wonderland. It was beautiful to see all of the frost covered trees and icy spiderwebs. This area really knows how to do the Christmas decorations and Christmas market. Everywhere you turn there is another square jammed with little stalls selling holiday trinkets, rides for kiddos, spiced wine vendors, and there is even a skating rink.
On new year's eve we trekked out to a neighboring town of Turckheim to do some wine tasting with Linda and Jerry. Turns out it is pretty much an all you can drink "taste" affair and there were so many to sample. I believe the final count was somewhere around 12, plus a whiskey.
We whipped up a fancy feast for New Year's eve including Salmon, cheese/meat tray, and a million little snacks. We welcomed the year in with Champagne and a little French/German New year fest on TV. It was quite entertaining.
The day we drove back to Germany the sun finally decided to show its face. Everything was still covered in frost. We went to another neighboring little town, Riquewihr, and hiked up into the vineyard and along the hillside. The photos don't really do it justice. The whole area for a 3 hour drive was covered in frost.
We were treated to another little surprise when we returned. Our friends from Yokota, Jenn and Matt and their son Mason hopped over to Germany. They came and stayed with us a for a few fun filled nights and we were able to catch up with them and enjoy making some new memories. One of those memories will be one which I am sure Jenn will want to forget, as she fell down the stairs and broke two of her ribs! OUCH. Fuzzy socks and wooden stairs are a bad combination. This actually happened to me a couple of months back but luckily I only ended up with some scrapes and bruises. Poor Jenn was not so lucky. Jenn and I also share the same birthday so we had a little birthday celebration together which was super fun. Quinn treated us all to his famous mussel dish followed by an ice cream birthday cake. I used my candles that my friend Melinda gave me years ago and it is fun to think of her every year on my birthday. Thanks Melinda. It was really great to have old friends to celebrate another milestone. Thanks for including us on your European tour.
On my birthday we took a little day trip to Dusseldorf. This town has the distinction of having the largest population of Japanese people living outside of Japan in one city. There were a few Japanese companies that opened their doors here and it has just grown and grown. So we went there to check out the city and enjoy some Japanese food for my birthday. We timed it so we could eat both lunch and dinner. We enjoyed sushi and udon for lunch and Ramen and Gyoza for dinner. I miss Japan. The downtown of Dusseldorf has a cute walking area and a really nicely developed pedestrian riverfront. Of course, being that it is winter it is not quite as scenic but it was still pretty. We went for a short walk but the icy wind kept us from staying too long. Also, I still had not kicked my cold at this point.
On one of the coldest days in January so far, we went to Eifel park. We convinced Elliot and Lissett to join us and I think they thought we were absolutely nuts. It might have snowed on us a bit. Eifel park is a wildlife nature park as well as an adventure park for children. They have some rides and playgrounds for kids. It is a huge place with quite a lot to do. However, in winter, the only part that is open is the nature park. They have a variety of animals and it is about a 2 mile walk to make the full loop of the animal part. We were just in time for the wolf feeding at 2:00. Since we were the only ones there the zookeepers chatted us up a bit and then offered to show us them feeding the lynx. They have a family of 5 lynx at this park which is highly unusual because lynx are typically solitary. Watching them throw the meat in and have the HUGE cats catch it in midair was super cool. The craziest part is that Ethan was allowed in the park so he was just a few feet away from some pretty mighty predators. Next up, they fed the bears. We got to go so close to the area where they were feeding them. I could see the plaque on their teeth! The bears were not fed enough over the summer (the zookeeper has since been let go) so they did not go into hibernation like they were supposed to. So now the zookeepers will have to feed them all winter. This is a bummer because taking care of the bears is about a 2 hour a day task. Bears need about 22,000 calories per day! Isn't that amazing? If they don't put on enough weight then their brains do not secrete the hormone necessary to go into hibernation. So we got to see their little nests and watch them chow down on sandwiches, grapes (which they ate one by one and spit out the seeds) corn (each kernel is taken off the cob) and raw pork. They took the food so gently from the zookeepers hand. It was incredible. Somehow the bears know when winter is coming and one year, one of the bears built himself a little den in the wooded enclosure and went to sleep super early. He didn't come out until almost April. The zookeepers thought he was maybe dead because he went into hibernation for 6 months. They went out there with the truck and sure enough, he popped his head out of his den after his long slumber. We really enjoyed chatting with the zookeeper and hearing all of his tales. Not often you get a private feeding tour. The rest of the pics are from our time walking through the wild enclosures where you are with the animals. Ethan was a little too interested in the ibex, donkeys, and rabbits.