Sunday, December 30, 2012

The year old goat cheese

Thanks for indulging my quilting addiction - now back to our regularly scheduled Turkey adventures. Lots of pictures this time.

This past month I had another opportunity to venture to the nearby city of Adana with some friends. Someday I hope to be experienced and brave enough to go adventuring on my own in Adana. But I'm not there yet. I have six more months until my fabulous guide Karen leaves us. So there's a New Year's Resolution for ya.

After the usual struggle of parking an American size minivan in a Turkish size parking garage, we set out to explore Old Adana. Our goal was some Christmas shopping.

Cute little shoe repair booth on the corner.
One of the first shops we went into was a shoe shop. Lisa saw some boots that she liked but when she picked one up to look at it - this happened.

 The whole row fell like dominoes. Lisa was so embarrassed but the rest of us (including the shopkeeper thankfully) thought it was hilarious.

And then on the street, right outside a little deli we saw this:
Doesn't it look like something out of a horror movie?

 We looked for a head or other appendages but not finding any, we could not identify what this might be other than it was hairy and creepy.

A little later we saw these two. Not quite as hairy or creepy but still mysterious. It wasn't until our way back to the parking garage that the mystery was solved. A man heard me wondering what Big, Black and Hairy might be and began to talk to us. His English was not great (again, better than my Turkish) but he managed to tell us that it was a goat and that there was cheese inside. This cheese was kept inside the goatskin for a whole year and it was very good. To prove this point he spoke to the deli owner who produced several slices for us to sample. Eating year old stored-in-a-dead-goat cheese was never on my list of goals in life, but when a slice is being offered to you by a nice English speaking Turkish man on the streets of Old Adana, you just put it in your mouth and hope for the best. It wasn't horrible.  It was VERY VERY strong cheese. But I've tasted cheese in a ritzy French Bistro that smelled and tasted like it had been stored in a hairy gym sock for a year. This wasn't near as bad.

I learned later (from asking one of Brannick's Turkish co-workers at the BX) that the cheese is called tulum cheese because the goat skin bag is a tulum. Its a delicacy and rather expensive. Why it was necessary to keep the creepy long goat hair on the tulum I wasn't able to discover.

In addition to our goat cheese adventure, we also visited a puzzle box shop where I purchased a box for Carson. They sell these on base and in the alley but we got a much better price in Adana. This particular one has four steps to open it and the key is stored in a secret compartment on the box. Carson loved it.
 We also went to a copper shop were I purchased this bell for our front door.  Its hard to see but there is a little whirling dervish right in front of the scroll work.  As I am partial to keepsakes that have a function other than collecting dust, I was very happy to find this. Geoffrey was kind enough to hang it for me right away.
We tried out some smaller fabric stores and also visited the big 5 story one again.  I found some flannel and other fabric for my next baby quilt and a few others that I had to have a meter or so of.  I'm dangerous in a fabric stores.

And then we visited a candy factory/store. They made all sorts of Turkish Delight and other candies there. The shop owner spoke very good English and kept forcing samples on us.

We all bought a box of various treats to bring home and share. I even bought a block of this fudge looking substance that was made from sweetened Tahini  - sesame seed butter.  Its called halva and both my mom and husband remembered buying this in the states as a child. I had never tasted it before but thought it was really good.

The best treasure in the candy store was this great old photo we found framed in the back. Every business you go into will have a picture of Ataturk hanging somewhere but this was a picture we had never seen.
The seated woman is his mother.  I think she looks like a queen.

We made it back to base safely, in time for the bus, and with a whole new strain of bacteria colonizing in our gut. All in all - a successful outing!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Another quilt post

****Disclaimer - This post does not have anything to do with our adventures in Turkey. But check back tomorrow for a description of downtown Adana and eating 1 year old goat carcass cheese.
I finished Brannick's quilt!! And even a few days before Christmas. After much web browsing he chose Michael Miller's Urban Grit Nevermore fabric for the focus fabric. He had just finished reading some great Edgar Allan Poe in a literature course and thought the ravens and the script were cool. And far be it from me to discourage a love of great literature!
The ravens and inkwells were pretty cool.

I used the Helix pattern in Emily Herrick's Geared for Guys book. It was easy - right up until the point where it wasn't. That point was when you took your simple courthouse steps spiral and cut it on a 60 degree angle before continuing to add more steps. All that bias edge was hard to keep square and by the time I was done piecing the top, it was very NOT square. But after several frustrating attempts, I managed to trim it square again.

He requested minimal quilting so it would stay soft. So I stiched in the ditch (which I hate) around the whole spiral and then quilting some random triangular points in the black fabric only. A scrappy binding of both the black marble and the Nevermore finished it off.  I made him wait until Christmas morning to open and enjoy it. As a gift it went nicely with his authentic Turkish bathrobe. He was one comfy teenager!

The other finish I have to report on is more recent - today, in fact. I found a great tutorial on Moda Bakeshop for a padded steering wheel cover and decided to try it. Because here in Turkey I am driving a mom bomb- the most boring white minivan you can possibly imagine. It is old and smells funky and the doors are hard to open and close and the interior is drab grey.
Exhibit A -the used Ford Winstar minivan we purchased here. Meh.

So I took some lovely batik FQs that I bought in Germany in October and made a double sided steering wheel cover.  The tutorial was easy to follow. The only changes I made were to add ties made from Moda twill tape wrapped around two jelly rolls. This was a concession to my husband who was afraid that the cover might slip during an emergency. So I tied the cover on to either side of the center area. Nice and secure.
Here are the pinks.
And here are the greens.
I love them both but am loving the pinks slightly more. Which one do you like?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Taurus for Thanksgiving

Did you know that Tarsus, as in Paul the Apostle's hometown, is only about an hour from where I live? Yep, its the truth. So the day after a quiet Thanksgiving here on base, we set out with our crew and a GPS to visit Tarsus.

I drove.  You are surprised, yes?  Well, I have told you about my troubles navigating with Turkish maps but perhaps I haven't mentioned how much anxiety it causes me when Geoffrey gives up on my horrid navigating and attempts to read the maps AND drive at the same time. So I drove. We didn't even get through Adana before a badly marked detour caused us about a twenty minute delay so maybe the new system wasn't perfect.

The rest of the drive to Tarsus went smoothly until the GPS coordinates for St. Paul's well put us smack in the middle of an auto repair shop district with no well in site. And if you think that Americans driving a 3/4 ton Ford Excursion with a brushguard on the front and a steel bumper on the back through an auto repair district can be inconspicuous then you haven't been abroad much.  The Turkish people just fell out of their shops to gape at the monstrosity that is our vehicle. I felt like we should have just gone ahead and gotten a neon green and black paint job with flames and the words, "The Soul Crusher" or something equally intimidating on the sides. The boys seemed especially thrilled and would run along the truck yelling, "Cool Car! Cool Car!" as we squeezed down the narrow roads.

After giving the local mechanics several slow drive-bys in our search, we finally gave up on the well and set out for our next set of coordinates, St. Paul's Church. This we found but it was a bit of a disappointment as the church was only named for St. Paul and had only been around since the 1850's. (See how your perspective of history and age changes?)  But we paid the fee and poked around the old, dilapidated church.  Next time,  I would have skipped it.
Our third planned destination was the waterfall. My older kids had been there this past summer on one of their youth center trips. But as we drove through town (Geoffrey was driving now as the failed well attempt and resulting attention had completely flumoxed me) I happened to see a sign that said St. Paul's Well. We followed a couple such signs and found ourselves in a touristy shopping center. We had planned to eat lunch at the waterfall but as it was now past noon, the troops began to request sustenance. Geoffrey ordered some cheese bread at a small cafe. We were expecting the flat puffy bread with gooey melted white cheese that we get here in Incirlik or Adana. What we got was two slices of white bread with a piece of melted cheese in between. Hmmm . . . but the kids said it was all right and it filled their stomachs.

The well turned out to be just beyond the shopping area.  I can't uncover anything that supports the assumption that this was in fact Paul's well or that the excavations you can see through glass flooring are in fact Paul's house. But has long been accepted that the well and the house did belong to the great apostle.  The water is considered holy water.
You can see in this picture that there is a cover on the well. But when asked, the man in the fee booth gladly came out and lowered the bucket into the well to draw us up some fresh water. He dipped in a metal cup and allowed each of us to drink some of the cool water. (Delaney thought this was unsanitary but the rest of it chanced it.)
Just behind Geoffrey you can see the glassed excavation. It goes down 10-15 feet and has artifacts from several different periods. On the other side of the well there is a lovely garden to walk through. We met another American couple there who are also stationed here at Incirlik.

I can't say that I felt anything special at the well or that I believe that Paul really did live in that exact spot and drink from that well. But he did live in that city, and you never know.

As we walked back to the car we crossed under this canopy of green. It was so lovely I had Brannick take a picure.
The left side of the vines connects to the garden around Paul's well. 

Near the well we found another piece of Tarsus's ancient history - the Cleopatra gate.  Not built by the Egyptian Queen herself but rather it was the city gate at which Marc Antony came out to greet her and was instantly charmed by her beauty.  It probably didn't hurt that she was dressed like Aphrodite. That woman knew how to make an entrance. Antony had invited her to Tarsus to see if she would join him against Octavian. She did.

The gate now sits in the center of the city in the middle of a round-about. It has been restored and seems to have very little original stones in it - but still. That's pretty cool!
Here you can see the difference between the restored and the un-restored.

The last item on our itinerary was the Tarsus waterfall. Once again our GPS failed us miserably, telling us to exit on a freeway which had no exits. So we switched drivers and Geoffrey attempted to navigate us around and under the freeway to the coordinates. We succeeded, sort of.  We ended up at a nice park with a dam and a waterfall and a restaurant. But our teens informed us that although we had found a waterfall, it was not the waterfall. By this time it was 3:30 and we were all starving so we ate some good standard Turkish fare at the restaurant. Sunset is at about 4:15 this time of year so it was dusk when we started for home. We were heading out of the city (I was driving again) when Carson hollered that we were passing the waterfall. Sure enough, there it was. So we pulled over and had a gander. It was too dark for photos by then but the falls were nice. There were tables and chairs and little food booths around. I could see it being a nice place to visit in the summer. Or in daylight at least.

We arrived home well after full dark but without major incident. Overall the trip might have gone smoother had we gone with someone who had been there before and knew more where the sites were located. But where is the adventure in that?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My hair

So I've been planning on doing a blog post about my haircut.  I wanted to wait for the new look to kind of settle in my own mind before doing it. But fate and facebook intervened when a photo of me decorating the club Christmas trees showed up on my timeline. So I guess it's time.

In preamble, here are a few facts about me and my hair.
1) I have great hair. Fairly thick, medium wavy.
2) I hate having hair on my neck when I'm hot. I have to put it up.
3) I can not accomplish much of anything when with hair in my eyes and face. It has to be pinned back out of my face for me to get anything done.
4) The result of numbers 2 and 3 is that I wear my hair up about 90% of my life.
5) I just turned 40.

The combined result of these facts is a new do'.  About a month ago I took some pictures with me, walked in to Pretty Man Woman salon in the alley and asked Mustafa, who looks like Antonio Banderas Turkish brother, to cut it off.  Getting a haircut in Turkey can be somewhat of a claustrophobic experience as there are always at least 2 and sometimes 3 people hovering around you. One to cut, one to brush hair off you, hold the dryer or comb or whatever, and one to sweep up the hair under your feet. I don't enjoy it. But I like the cut. It feels good.

I admit that it doesn't look much like the Sharon Stone pics I brought in but I think that's mostly because with the weight of length off, my hair is curlier.

One of my concerns about cutting it off was how it would look with my roundish face and um. . . thick figure.  All plus size models have long hair and bigger gals are advised against having short hair cuts.  But I think it looks okay on my body.  I am consciously trying to lose my vanity as I get older.  And with short hair, I don't look like a model or the heroine or a young sexy babe. But I look like me. And looking like me is okay.

The reactions have been interesting. One of the gals on the street said, "Wow, that must have taken a lot of courage to do that." I took that as a great compliment.  Because it did take some courage. My favorite Turkish checker at the commissary winked at me and told me I looked younger.  Brannick didn't like it, although he did like the AWFUL highlighting job I had done a week later and then had to get fixed. Geoffrey likes it.  I know one of my brothers-in-law will hate it. My sisters will be surprised and then tell me they like it and that it makes me look like our mother. What do you think? 

Carson's birthday

Last of the birthday stretch. Carson is now officially a teenager!!  My efforts to come up with something unique and fabulous for each birthday this summer/fall had just about been exhausted. But Carson's recent re-reading (listening) of the Lord of the Rings series gave me an idea. I commissioned my talented friend Jayne to make me a Lord of the Rings cake.
The elvish writing on the outside is the actual script from the inside of the ring. 

She even made it marbled inside. 

It turned out pretty darn amazing!! Carson requested lemon cake and Jayne said she was so happy to be able to do something other than chocolate!  Carson was so tickled with it.

I was also smart enough to take Brannick shopping with me at the BX. I had waited too long to order in gifts and was despairing at what to buy him here on base. But he came up with some great ideas, the best of which was this pleather jacket. Since he is still growing (daily it seems like), we didn't want to go with a more expensive real leather yet but this jacket looks and feels great. And Carson loved it. We also got him a more comfortable seat for his new bike and a few other small things.

If anybody can tell me how to flip a picture I would appreciate it!

Geoffrey took him on an outing to Adana to have dinner and find the RC store and the go-cart track. They had quite an adventure but in the end they decided to order an RC truck off the net. It should come soon.

Carson has handled this drastic change so well. I see a new confidence in him as he gets older. Sometimes that confidence means that he is a more daring in annoying his sister, but its still a good thing. Over Thanksgiving he even said he was thankful that we were able to move around so much! I was surprised and grateful. I don't know that I would've handled so much change as well when I was a teenager.

Quilting in Turkey

     Disclaimer: this post is not strictly about adventures in Turkey (although it does include a trip to a Turkish fabric store). But at least one of my quilting friends wanted to see what I have been up to sewing wise.

I still order fabric off the internet - the blessings of having an APO address. In fact the only Black Friday shopping I did was for fabric! Two different sites and I'm not admitting what the total damage was. But this month I did venture down into Adana to visit the 5 story fabric shop. I dutifully brought my camera to document the trip. And then failed to take a single picture. ... .sorry.
     The bottom level of this fabric store was where the cottons were sold. Other levels had suiting/shirting fabrics, home decor fabrics, and drapery fabrics.  The walls are lined from floor to ceiling with shelves full of bolts of fabrics. In front of the walls are counters. And between the walls and the counters are clerks. You aren't allowed to go behind the counter yourself and look at the fabric. Instead, you indicate to the clerk which bolt you would like to look at. He (they were all men) will bring it down and unroll it on the counter so you can feel it. He will do this again and again and again until you have a whole mess of bolts on the counter.  Then when you decide what you want and tell him (by the meter), he grabs a meter stick does a rough measure in the air with the fabric and cuts it with scissors. No careful smoothing on a flat surface to ensure exact measurement. But it works. He then keeps the fabric and begins to write up a ticket. When you are done with all your purchases at that counter he will give you the carbon copy of the ticket and keep the original and the fabric. The check-out is at a high counter near the door. You hand that clerk you carbon ticket and pay, after which another clerk will give you your already bagged fabric as you walk out the door.
       The quality of the fabric is not five star, $10 per yard standards. But its not cheap Walmart fabric either. Somewhere in between. And quite a bit of it is double width. So one meter of fabric is a LOT of fabric. The prices were 12 Lira for the double wide and 7 lira for the single wide. So that's about $7 per yard and 4$ respectively. Not bad.
         I didn't go in there looking for anything specifically but I did buy several different black, white and red fabrics. And then I saw a double wide width that reminded me of a fall color scheme and a maple leaf quilt block that I wanted to try. So I bought the backing and then then matched some solids for the leaves. I probably won't cut into these for a while but it was fun to get them and fabric doesn't go bad.

       Meanwhile, I have been doing some sewing. I've made three baby quilts in the last month or so. The Primary president in our branch had a sweet little girl named Magnolia. Maggie for short.  I don't have a lot of girly baby fabrics but I did have some leftover ladybugs from the Grouchy ladybugs wall hanging I did for my sister and some leftover flowers from a skirt Delaney made. So I found some more scraps and came up with this:

Its a disappearing nine patch. A little small but its a great size for tucking around a car seat.

In looking through my scraps I realized how much orange I had. So the next baby quilt, which was for Ayten's new granddaughter was destined to be orange.  This one was just off-set bricks. I used scraps of yellow minky in both, which made for some lovely softness but was a pain to work with.  This one finished out much larger, a good crib size.
Isn't she a lovely model?

Because of the strict rules here about American military goods getting onto the black market, you have to be very careful about giving gifts to Turkish people. And they have to be careful about accepting them. So Ayten had me drive her to the gate, and drop her off. She walked through on her own, and then I walked through with the quilt in a bag and gave it to her outside the gate.  Since I had not used anything from the exchange or the commissary,  I thought it was alright to give it to her. She said her daughter loved it and it was 'cok guzel' which means very beautiful. The baby was her first and was named 'Yamer.' 

The third quilt was for my next door neighbor's new baby. She had not found out the sex beforehand so we didn't know it was a boy until he was born. I was relieved because I didn't think I could come up with another girl quilt.  I did have plenty of boy fabric, including some leftover tumbler blocks from Evan's space quilt. Remember that one?

Well, I had enough tumbler blocks to do a quilt center and enough leftover scraps to do two borders (with a little fudging) and the binding all from the same line of space fabrics. Not enough to do the backing but I did have something from a clearance sale at Creative Sewing Center in Texas that would work. (In fact, I think I like it better than the backing on Evan's quilt.)

I finished this on in one day, thinking that I would take it to the new mom when I brought part of a meal. But, then the neighborhood ladies started talking about doing a baby shower and then my neighbor had to go back to the hospital for two more days (she's home and okay) so that turned out to be over-ambitious. I like how this one turned out.

Future quilting plans? Well, Brannick is dying for me to make his Edgar Allen Poe spiral quilt. He's been a bit jealous of these baby quilts. And I've been considering sending a quilt up to Frank and Crystal in Germany as a thank you for being such wonderful hosts. With all the scrapbooking I need to get done before Christmas ordering deadlines, I'm not sure that is feasible but we'll see.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My first Carpet Party

      Last night I went to a carpet party. A what? A party held at a carpet store during which you eat a delicious Turkish meal, learn about carpet types and quality, and then mingle with the carpets. At this point it becomes a bit like clubbing. You are encouraged to take off your shoes, walk around on the carpets, touch them, examine them from different angles to see the colors change. And if one of them really strikes your fancy you can take it home for the night. Or a few days. This practice is called 'dating' a carpet. You can see how things work out before making a more permanent commitment. Of course, this lead to several funny comments about maintaining your standards while dating- not getting horizontal,  staying out of bedrooms, etc.
This is Lisa and Michael - our hosts for the carpet party. Michael is somewhat of an expert on carpets. They have a collection of 30. They have a rotation schedule of sorts to give them all some floor time. Its like he's a carpet polygamist!

        Near the end of the evening the power went out. We wondered if it was a deliberate move on the part of the shop owners to really lower inhibitions and get the carpet chemistry going. But as the whole block was without power, we reconsidered. In any case, it did create a romantic ambiance that my friend Melissa couldn't resist. This carpet was the softest one we had feet-felt and with the lights off she gave in to temptation and rolled around on it. I caught her with my flash camera. The owner saw the picture and asked if he could have a copy. He's thinking of producing a 'Carpets Gone Wild' DVD.
        The floor roll must not have been as great as she was hoping however, because although I gave her first dibs, Melissa decided NOT to take this lovely thing home. So I did.  It is truly so soft and has a gorgeous tree motif on it. And because I know you are wondering - its price (discounted just for the party) is $750.  It fits perfectly at the end of my bed.  I haven't rolled around on it. Yet.

      I also took home this one - which is much bigger and has a striking color combination of navy and aqua that doesn't really show up well here. Its price tag is $1750. I probably won't buy either of them. I have a rule about never owning anything whose value would force me to do bodily harm to my children when they damage it.  So this will be just a one night stand sort of thing.
      Geoffrey was not able to attend the party. He was on call, had spent all day at the clinic working and seeing patients. So I wanted to take home a carpet or two to show him.  I'm sorry he couldn't go as he would've really enjoyed learning about all the different types of carpets and the regions they come from.
     There will be more carpet parties and I'm hopeful he will make it to the next one.  I'd like to go to one held by a merchant who sells the less expensive machine made carpets. I hear that those guys play fast, loose and cheap. Yee haw!

Startling update:  Geoffrey loved the carpets I brought home!! We invited Lisa and Michael over this evening to tell us more about them and about carpets in general. And we are considering keeping BOTH the carpets.  I'm not sure which is more shocking - the fact that we are considering buying two carpets that together cost more than my first car or that my husband actually liked the two that I picked out and wants to commit to them without going to check out every other carpet in the store himself first!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hedgehog hunt - Success!

This past weekend we have had visitors from the Bulgaria Sofia Mission. Elder and Sister Bower, who live in Istanbul, came to visit our little branch of the church here in Adana. The branch members all took turns having them for dinner. Ours was Saturday evening.

I made Cafe Rio salads and Apple Pie Cake for dessert. We had a lovely dinner and enjoyed visiting with the Bowers. They lived in Hawaii for most of their lives and raised their family there. They also served as mission president for the Fiji mission. As missionaries they now teach institute and seminary classes and help train church leaders in the Istanbul branch.

After dinner we gave them the option of playing games or going for a walk in search of hedgehogs while we let our food digest. They chose the latter. Sister Bower brought her camera and I fervently hoped that we would find some hedgehogs for her to photograph. We did!! We found the first one over near the perimeter fence. Geoffrey and Brother Bower were standing there talking for a while. Once we caught up, they moved on down the path, not realizing there was a hedgehog just 5 feet behind them.

The trick is to look for lumps on the grass.  Some of them are just lumps but others will be cute little spiny potatoes with legs.  I noticed a lump on the hill and told Evan to shine his flashlight on it. Sure enough, it was the biggest hedgehog we have seen yet.  The Bowers were fascinated and Sister Bower got several cute pics of it.  We all touched its spines (which don't come loose or have poison) and then nudged it into a ball so they could see how completely it rolls up.

After a while we walked on some more. Near the tennis courts Evan found another one! We've never found two hedgehogs on the same hunt so this was a personal best! We tried to get this one to run away so the Bowers could see how cute their little skittery legs are. But he was determined to stay where he was.  Oh well.  On the way back home we were also able to show them examples of the spotted frog population and the huge nasty spiders that live in holes in the grass here. 

Sister Bower told me today in church that her favorite part of this trip was the chance to be in the church members' homes and visit with them. They were not expecting that and had really enjoyed it.  I hope our hedgehog adventure will be a pleasant memory for them and maybe a good story to write home to their kids.  And now when we get up to Istanbul we will have some friends to take us around to the sites of the city. So bonus for us!

BTW - if you are thinking of trying this at home, I'm afraid that won't be possible. There are no indigenous hedgehogs in the Americas.  Or Australia. But you can buy them as pets. Just sayin'.

P.S. There are also 4 young elders in Istanbul right now. They are only here on visitors visas and not allowed to do any active proselyting. But it's a start!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Catch-up Part Two - Germany with the Fam

 In mid-October we took a trip to Germany. Geoffrey has been to Germany several times. The rest of us - not so much. This month found Geoffrey again traveling to Germany for his Occupational Medicine boards and then again a week later for a water survival refresher training course. So he took the week in between off and planned for us to come and join him.
     To do so, the kids and I had to travel Space A ( the 'A' stand for available for you civilians) by ourselves. Something I've never done before. But after getting the right paperwork and advice from more experienced Space A'ers, we made the attempt. And got on the flight the first try with no problems. We even had seats together! Whew!
      Geoffrey was there to meet us with a rented 8 passenger van and our good friend/relative Frank Kleiner.  Frank and Crystal are pictured above. That shot was actually the last night we were in Germany but it's the only picture I have with both of them.  They are family although not by blood or marriage either at this point. But family all the same. My older brother married Sonya Kleiner, a lovely girl from Germany. Frank and Crystal are her parents. And although my brother is no longer married to Sonya, she is still very close to our family. Every time Geoffrey has been through Germany they have taken good care of him and been very kind. They were especially so this time and the trip wouldn't have been nearly as wonderful as it was without them.
      In my last trip I made a few comments about being an American. Here's another thing about the good ole' US of A - there is a stunning lack of castles! Not so with Deutschland. On the way from Ramstein to Idar-Oberstein Frank took us to our first castle. They kids were all enthralled. We were barely out of the van before they all decided that our next assignment should be in Germany. Here are a few fun shots of that castle.
         We got to Idar-Oberstein just in time to have Crystal's fabulous soup and bread in their tiny little apartment. She is the cutest lady and the best cook ever! The whole visit Frank kept encouraging her to speak to us in English but she doesn't like to. So although she understands most of what we say, we had to guess a lot when she spoke. Rory thought she was a grandma and gave her lots of grandma hugs, which she loved as most of her grandkids are far away in Utah.
        Sunday we went to church in their branch. It was all in German of course but afterward we did find two different families from Chile, both of whom wanted to speak to me in Spanish and talk about my parents' mission time in Chile. My Spanish is not great but its better than my German so we managed. They were having a testimony bearing meeting that day and Carson got up to speak, which surprised us all. Frank got up next to him to translate, which surprised Carson. So between the two of them, Carson bore a simple but sweet testimony of his faith. I was impressed that he would have that much courage. He said to me afterward, "I just kept thinking that I would never get a chance like this again."
        After church we visited the gem cutting museum. Idar-Oberstein is known for gem-cutting through-out the world so a lot of the tourist sites center around its gem cutting history. The museum had some amazing pieces. Huge Geodes along with quartz replicas of all the famous diamonds in the world.  We began to get a feel for how gem cutting had shaped this area. Later, we would visit the mines and a gem-cutter.
Here is the before shot of the stone he cut for us.
This is all of us watching him cut the stone.

Here is the after shot. Its super shiny and beautiful and guess who got to keep it?  ME!!!!

This is his masterpiece. It took 5 years to cut and has hundreds of facets on it.

This thing is gorgeous!

Frank took us to visit Crystal's cousin - Ralph Ditmar. Crystal family is from that area and are gem cutters from way back. Her cousin still cuts gems for a living out of his home. So we got to watch him take a clear quartz from a rough hewn cut with a basic shape to a super shiny, gorgeous three-sided pyramid - called a mirror cut. He gave it to me when he was done. I'm going to have it set into a necklace.
      I'm getting out of order here but that's okay. Monday we went to another castle! Burg Eltz, which is still a residence for Count Eltz and his very lucky family.  Part of the castle is open to tours and houses all the old furniture and treasures from the middle ages. We took the tour while Frank waited for us outside on a bench. One funny thing about Frank - he was always disappearing and then just as we would say, "Where's Frank?" he would turn up. So the kids started calling him Ninja Frank. He protested that he didn't have a svelte enough figure to be a ninja but they insisted. So Ninja Frank it was - the rest of the visit.
Here's the castle. We had a lovely hike down to the castle and back up. The kids didn't think the back up part was so lovely.

How would you like to live there?
    We also went to Trier, twice actually as the first time we got there to late to tour the cathedrals. Near Trier we drove through the Mosul River Valley, the same valley of which a certain J. Caesar said, "Veni, Vedi, Vici."  HOW COOL IS THAT?????
I know I'm not looking too happy in the shot. I think I was trying to get Rory to stand still.
            This is us in front of the Black Gate, which sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings but was actually made by  - THE ROMANS. Again, very high coolness factor.  Trier was great. The churches were a little more adult interesting than kid interesting but our crew made the best of it. Several times they sat in the pews and played quiet games of 'I Spy' while waiting for the grown-ups to be finished.
             On the way home we stopped in a lovely little town called Bernkastel-Kues and dropped in on the Kempers - some friends of Frank's that had put Geoffrey up for the night while he was in Frankfurt taking his boards. They were in town visiting their grandma in her 100 year old house and happily invited us in for juice and cake and then took us on a walking tour of this charming town.

       Doesn't that just make you want to eat a strudel or something?  Speaking of which, we did eat strudel and schnitzel (Crystal made it for us - YUM) and spiessbraten - the local speciality.  I had eaten Sonya's version of the grilled meat before and it was good. But the real thing was so much better. The meat was so flavorful that I didn't care that it was blood red inside and if you know me at all, you know that is saying something.  Geoffrey and I went out once by ourselves and got some and then on our last night we took the whole family out to partake.
Marinated in onions, salt and pepper - cooked over an open fire on a rotating grill = magic in your mouth.
       Well, those are the highlights of our trip. We left Geoffrey there to do his water survival training and go on to Ohio for the next week.  The kids and I waited for and made it on the rotator home. I won't lie- there were times that I questioned my sanity bringing five children with me (much like the man sharing an airline seat row on our way home). But all in all, we had a fantastic time. Frank was so patient with my kiddos and so wonderful in his tour guiding. And Crystal was so sweet to cook for our big bunch. And Germany is just so indescribably beautiful. I'm glad we went.