Sunday, January 1, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Living without a functioning computer since the day after our Thanksgiving celebration and with Riannon already gone for Christmas in the Netherlands, I found myself spending an enormous amount of time baking and listening to the radio. All week I baked cookies for my students: sugar cookies and snickerdoodles, two kinds of cookies that are non-existent in Austria and Thursday night I held a bake-a-thon making 5 different kinds of cookies for the my colleagues, while watching Christmas movies with Lora.

And so the week was filled with lessons on Christmas in America, word games, explanations of fruit cake, and debating the Coca Cola Santa Claus' role in advertising.

Winter break began and still there was no snow. To get in the spirit and celebrate the end of school for the year with those still remaining, we decided to build our own Gingerbread House.
Lora and Christine arrived with candy in hand, while Nicole supplied the powdered sugar and was accompanied by her French Erasmus student friend, Jeremy.

hmmm, what have we gotten ourselves in to?

Ok, the house is stable, the decorating can begin.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Ta-da, a finished Gingerbread house

Lora and I headed out to explore the last night of the Christmas markets, as they would officially close the following afternoon on Christmas Eve...

I spent the day listening to Christmas songs on the radio and illustrating the Night Before Christmas poem as a present for my landlady, who had invited me to celebrate with her family. We were supposed to spend the day hiking Ulrichsberg, but she'd come down with a terrible cold. That evening, I joined her family for the Christmas Eve celebration. I listened to her daughters chat, with one visiting from Graz and the other from Germany, they were in fine form. Christina, who lives above us showed me pictures of her wedding. We sang songs, while Christina played guitar and the candles on the tree were set aglow. Irene happily stuffed me full of her delicious foods: sauerkraut with fresh horseradish, 2 kinds of sausage (smoked and boiled), Bratapfel (roasted, stuffed apple), and a variety of cookies. After we each read a poem aloud (a dramatic reading of the Night Before Christmas, was presented on my part), or shared a song, the opening of presents began. I was pleasantly surprised by a book from Irene and chocolate Mozart liquor and chocolate-covered, jellied fruits from Christina. Around 1am, I sleepily crawled into bed.

The next morning I was off to the Bauer Family to share a late Christmas lunch, complete with roast Turkey and Reindling, a traditional cake stuffed with raisins and cinnamon.

The following day, known as St. Stephanitag in Austria is another important holiday. Not only is it the name day for anyone named Stephanie or Stephan, it is a day to spend with family and continue the Christmas celebration. At 9am I was in church in the little chapel-sized building at the end of the Lendkanal with Ingrid Bauer, the daughter-in-law of the woman who grew up in the same house as my grandfather. For lunch, I joined Helli and Konrad and followed by watching fairy tales on TV with the two of them. We enjoyed Sterntaler and, my personal favorite, Die Zertanzten Schuhe (literally, the danced out shoes, or as we know it, The Twelve Dancing Princesses).

The following day my parents should have arrived. BUT...
They were slightly delayed. I was sitting at home, expecting them to arrive any minute, when Helli called. My Omama had just called her to say that my family had to land in the middle of the night and would hopefully arrive the following day. No sooner did I hang up the phone, then it rang again, this time with my Omama on the line. The plane had lost electrical power, just before it was about to begin crossing the ocean, so they had to land on emergency power, after being re-routed to an east coast airport. After spending the night, the same plane finally took off...just with the ovens removed. Apparently they were wreaking electrical havoc. This meant no hot meals on the flight over, but hey, at least they were on their way. At long last they made it to Munich, only to begin the several hour long wait for the flight to Klagenfurt. They were circling Klagenfurt, looking for a way to land through the dense fog. Unfortunately, the fog prevailed, and the plane was redirected to Graz. From Graz everyone was sent on a bus to the Klagenfurt airport. From there, they were finally able to rent a car and show up on my doorstep.

Meanwhile, before they arrived, the Hilberts came to visit. They had driven down from Germany for a few days just to come visit me. We chatted up a storm, trading stories, and eating lunch together before biding them farewell.

It finally snowed in Klagenfurt!

My parents and brother arrived after their epic journey and after a dinner of my homemade pumpkin soup and apple cake, as well as a visit from Ingrid, were off to bed quite early.

The next morning, we drove to the Bodental, which is the next valley over, to visit the Hilberts where they were staying.

We began with lunch, where I finally had the specialty of the region Käsnudeln (aka. giant ravioli-type noodles stuffed with cheese and covered in butter)...

Then we went for a walk to the fairytale meadow...
little stream and cabin in the Bodental

At last we came to the Märchen Wiese (fairy tale meadow), known for its impressively short grass, which always remains the same height due to the gnomes who live beneath the earth and eat the grass from below ground.

After a dinner of Kaiserschmarrn, we were on our way back to Klagenfurt.

The next morning, we were on our way with Ingrid and Konrad Jr.'s family to the mountains for a day of skiing.

We arrived just in time for our family-group lesson with the ski instructor. After a stressful beginning of trying on ski boots, filling in our height and weight on the automated computer system (and looking for the little American flag to fill in as our nationality, but not being given the choice), and stashing our shoes in the car.

Our instructor put us through our paces; hopping over innertubes, balancing on one ski, and "skiing" down the barely inclined hill.

Skiing in Turracher Höhe, which sits on the border between Steiermark and Kärnten

After an hour, he bid us farewell. We asked where we would be able to ski after the lesson and the instructor informed us that we were not ready. "Fist you go down this hill. Then, you go to the mountain. You are not ready. Maybe 3-4 more hours of a lesson. Then you ski."

With those encouraging words he set us free. We did a few practice runs on the slightly larger hill nearby, swerving around orange cones.

After a break for lunch, during which we realized that we had forgotten our carefully prepared sandwiches and Ingrid lost her car key somewhere in the snow. This led to a frantic search, but did not turn up the key. Konrad and Helli drove up with the spare key, so all turned out well in the end.

Ingrid ate lunch with her family and my mom, while my dad, Karl, and I went to investigate our options. We ended up buying a point-pass, which allows you to buy a certain number of points on a card, which are then deducted as you pass through turnstile to the ski lift. The three of us went up in search of the beginners slope. At the top, with the wind fiercely blowing we were left with a variety of different trails and no markers. We shuffled one way and then the other, picking a direction at last, until we reached a sharp drop-off.

Quickly, we backtracked, avoiding in-coming skiers and discovered a trail that looked a bit simpler. We headed off in the that direction, crossing back over underneath the ski lift. We reached the final hill before the bottom and I lost control of my speed. Attempting to slow down, I felt myself slide backwards and suddenly, I was careening down the hill on my back. My dad and Karl stopped, helping me to my feet and with Karl's guidance and jelly for legs, I made it down to the bottom of the hill.

My heart racing and every muscle in my body quivering with fear, I found myself breathing heavily at the bottom of the hill. I sat out a round to catch my breath while my dad and Karl braved the hill again.

The next time Karl and I rode to the top on the "teller-lift" ( a plate that you stick behind your butt and it pulls you up the hill. and at the top it became tangled around my leg, causing the entire line to shut down, while I slid away in embarrassment. With that accomplished, I followed Karl down each step of the hill and this time made it down with out falling, but almost crashing into a tree.

At the bottom of the what we would call a mountain, but the Austrians refer to as the beginners hill, we ran into our mom. She and Karl headed to the top, while I returned to the car to join my dad. we carefully removed our gear and returned it to the shop, one after the other. Then, all of us exhausted, we headed back to Klagenfurt.

New Years Eve we spent wandering around Klagenfurt. By 2pm, everthing was closing, including the mall, which was the one source of warmth while we were out and about. So, after touring around and enjoying some cake at the one open Cafe, we went back to my place to warm up. We promised ourselves to head back out later to enjoy the festivities...waltzing in the street, bands, music, fireworks etc.

However, we were just too cold and stayed inside to celebrate in our own way. Each person was awarded a special "Glücksbringer" (bringer of luck for the new year), which took the shape of a pig (there's even a phrase called "schweine Glück" in German), a red mushroom, a chimney sweep with a ladder, or a horse shoe.

Happy New Year!!

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