#100happydays

One of my colleagues turned me on to the idea of 100 Happy Days. I jumped on it because I felt my 21 days of gratitude exercise a few years ago really had a positive impact on my outlook on life.

The concept is to post a picture every day that makes you happy. You don't have to explain it, just post it on your medium of choice. I chose to do them all on Facebook because it was fast and easy. A few of my other friends joined in, too. It was fun to see what was making them happy.

My last day was yesterday and this is my favorite picture of all.

Joan, Charles, Bill and Mary - Pfister kids
My Dad is turning 80 next week and three of his siblings flew out for the party. They got in yesterday and weren't expecting me to come over but I surprised them by leaving work early to go hang out. I'm lucky to have a family that I truly enjoy being with.

I reviewed all of my pictures today and saw that I missed posting more days than I thought I had. Not a big surprise, those were days from my last Germany trip when we were working 10, 12, 14+ hour days.

Here are some of my other favorites and why.

First posted picture - I love reading and discussing books with my friends.
We've had so much fun with our Dark Shadows marathons - looking forward to the next one.
Celebrating my birthday with the fam and honorary fam, The O'Malley Babes.
Continuing the birthday celebration with a wine tasting with Sonja and Steven and more Parrot Heads.
Touching the Berlin Wall.
Miniature Wonderland in Hamburg - I've been there twice and would go again.
With my snuggle bunny, Thom, at the DBacks.
I love that Steven and I go see all of these movies together.
Ladies of the Round Table (Directors and Senior Manager group).
I've really enjoyed getting to know these women better over the past year.
Quite representative of our Germany trips.
This was taken because the next day was Saturday and I got to sleep in.
That was worth celebrating.
My standard beer in our hotel bar in Hamburg. The staff went out of their way to offer me these at all times.
Doing fused glass crafts with my Chick Poker group.
20 years or so of friendships.
Home after one of my longer Germany trips.
There's really no place like it!
The first day with the new babies.
Our daily view from my trip to Seattle.
Tracy and Scott's surprise visit to Arizona. Miss them so much!
Another DBacks game, this time with Scooter.
I always post a selfie of us and call him My Sweet. This last time, people really thought we were dating.

Overall, I thought this was a good exercise but I'm glad it's over. It had become more of a chore than a pleasure to find something, especially on days when I was down. It will be interesting to see how everyone else felt about it.

Speedy Seattle Siteseeing

One of the lures of going to the Laid Back Attack event in Seattle was a chance to see the city. I've only been there once for a four hour layover at the airport. That wasn't very fun.

My San Antonio peeps offered to let me tag along on Thursday as they ventured into the city to see some of the action. We started on the light rail at one end as our hotel was right next to the airport and ended on the light rail at the other end. Then, it was a monorail ride to our first destination.

It sure looked tall.
The idea was to have lunch at the restaurant in the Space Needle. The reality was that we should have made reservations way ahead of time. The line just to go up was super long so we made ourselves feel better that "our" towers were taller. Of course, my tower was in Berlin and theirs was in San Antonio.

For the record, we were justified in that feeling of superiority. The Space Needle is 605 feet tall, the Tower of the Americas is 750 feet and my TV Tower dwarfs them both at 1,207 feet.

We decided to head back towards the water to have lunch. But, first a beer stop was in order. After all, it was past noon! I was so thirsty and not alone in that feeling. We walked by an establishment and turned like bloodhounds towards the smell of hops and barley.

Thank you, Blue Water Taco Grill, for having Dos Equis Amber on tap!
We ended up eating out on the patio at The Fisherman's Restaurant and Bar. The food was good, the company was delightful and the view was great. 

I wondered what the poor people were doing at this time.
After lunch, we started roaming around in what felt like a random fashion to me but there was some planning involved. We walked along the water and saw the outdoor markets and learned that parking is dear down there.

The original Starbucks.
There was a line out the door to the first Starbucks. Crazy people waiting to shell out their hard earned cash for overpriced coffee just to say they've been there. My Dos Equis cost less than a grande, mucho macho largo whatever with flavors to make it not taste like coffee drink so I think my money was better spent.

We HAD to watch them toss some fish!
We walked through the Pike Place Fish Market and perused some of the wares. We also saw them toss a few fish back and forth at the famous Pike Place Fish Company. Fun!

Walking back to the light rail took us on more of a city tour than expected because we went up the wrong street and walked two blocks further than we needed to. For the record, I was not in charge of the route.

Our ride home took us past CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field again so I get a different view of both but no pictures. It was after 5 PM and I'd been up since 4 AM traveling and then walking (again with all of the walking) so it was all I could do not to completely snooze in my seat. Oh, and I had some beers in there, too.

Some of the gang did more touring on the other days, including a guided tour of the underground tunnels. They said it was great but I was more than happy to try to catch up on some of the sleep I lost in Germany and be ready for the live music that started at 11 AM. 

The site I saw the rest of the weekend.
It didn't suck.
My only regret is not seeing the Gum Wall. We were so close! I'm sure I would have found it disgusting but, hey, it's famous.

I know I only scratched the surface so I would love to go back and spend several more days exploring not only the city but the surrounding area. Putting that on my to-do list for when I have both time and money to do so. 2019, maybe?

Phamily Reunion

It's not an uncommon Parrot Head practice to replace the letter f with the letters ph when typing. Phriend, phlock and phlocking and phamily. Some go to the extreme and throw away their f key, some use the replacement judiciously and some absolutely hate the practice.

I use it when it gives better meaning to my words. Hopefully, that helps you get what I mean by a Phamily Reunion.

Every year, I try to hit a new Parrot Head event put on by another club. This year, I chose Laid Back Attack up in Seattle. I've been meaning to go for years and a friend of mine said he would attend, too. Our plan was to go in early, explore some of Washington then hit the event.

Unfortunately, he couldn't get the time off from work so I just scheduled myself to get in on Thursday and leave on Sunday. Fortunately, that worked out well since I was trapped in Germany for so long.

I have to admit that, even though I'm a major social butterfly, I was a little anxious about attending a weekend event without a designated wingman. I knew there were going to be several hundred people in attendance and I suspected I knew a dozen or so for sure but that was it.

As the event drew closer, I saw a few of my phriends on Facebook talking about going so I felt a little better. But, I still had a bit of the "first day at school and I'm the new kid" flutterings in my tummy.

I needn't have worried.

First thing, I ran into Cheri from SoCal on the shuttle bus to the hotel. Then, as I was standing to check my luggage, Cooler Dave from San Antonio walked by and invited me to go with his gang to explore the city. Before I even had my room, I had a fully booked day!

Thursday evening found me sitting with a pair of friends from the local club. He's a bit of an introvert, the kind of guy who sits back and laughs at the silliness of others, and he was amused by my continued surprise at finding more and more people there that I knew. It finally got to the point where, feeling cocky, I asked him if he wanted me to introduce him to anyone in his own club that he didn't know.

I was even trusted to guard the San Antonio PHC mascot, Woody! 
By the time the weekend was over, I had reconnected with people from Washington, California, Texas, Alberta, Tennessee, Arizona, the West Indies and Florida and I could be missing some locales. I also made several new friends, natch.

The group was more than just a bunch of party companions to me. We talked about families and travels and what was going on in our lives and I recognized that I've been with some of these people for years and we'll continue to be in each others lives for many years to come.

And, to give you an idea on how much we care about each other, let me tell you an anecdote. One night, I decided to take a power nap between the two major bands playing. While I did wake up with my alarm an hour later, I decided to put on my jammies and go back to bed instead of rejoining the party. The next morning, I was heading down to breakfast and couldn't find my purse. I suspected I had left it on the chair in the ballroom but I had no concerns at all that it was permanently missing. I "knew" one of my friends would find it and keep it safe for me. And, they did.

It was an awesome Phamily Reunion!

The family you're born into is a matter of luck. I'm very lucky in that regard. The phamily you end up with is a matter of choice. I chose wisely.

Amsterdam

On our last trip to Germany for work, we decided to fly into Amsterdam and explore the city for the weekend then drive to Hamburg on Monday. We landed on Saturday morning after the usual grueling overseas trip and, after taking the right bus the entirely wrong way, got into our hotel early to shower then head back out.

Here's the first thing I learned about Amsterdam, the main train station is the center of all activity. No matter where we wanted to go, it was via the train station to get either a bus or a tram. It was actually pretty convenient once you got the lay of the land.

You gotta give Europeans credit for building impressive train stations.
We wandered around like aimless tourists then made our way to the Heineken Experience. I can't pass up a brewery tour. In retrospect, I could have passed this one up. It's no longer a functioning brewery and, while they did give some history lessons, it was more of a "Hey, watch this cool video promoting our beer!" I don't really care for Heineken so I didn't even finish all of the free samples.

Yes, I left free beer on the table.

Not so much a brewery as much as it was a commercial.
And, not worth the 16 EUR we paid.
I have to back up in the story a bit to explain better this next part. We had taken the bus to where we thought was the closest stop to the brewery. However, there were no good signs as to where to go from there. My colleague pulled out his iPhone and tried to look it up on maps. While he was still trying to get it figured out, I walked up to a hostess at a restaurant and she gave me explicit directions. By that time, my colleague's phone had figured out and he announced it was a "six minute walk".

I don't know whose giant steps they use to calculate a six minute walk but it's nowhere near the same pace and rate that I'm willing and able to walk.

It actually wasn't too bad to get the Heineken but then we decided to go to the Sex Museum next. He looked it up on his phone and, you guessed it, it was six minutes away!

Or, more like twenty-six. We wandered all over hell and back only to find that the Sex Museum is riiiiiight by the train station. That would have been a quick bus ride away from where we were and that we could have easily found. But, no, we walked. In circles. And, squares.

Finally found it!
The Sex Museum was well worth the 4 EUR entry fee. Sure, some of it was cheesy. But, they have an impressively extensive collection of pornography from the late 1800s forward. Not surprisingly, people got off on the same types of photos as they do today. They also had quite a few art pieces and some interesting decorative objects. I'm not sure I would be comfortable sporting a penis tipped walking stick but some dude in the 19th century liked his.

One advantage of the six (and six more and the other six) minute walks was that we got to see a lot of a beautiful city.

So many canals, so little time.

Oh, yeah, we were there during World Cup. Lots of futbol decorations.
On our way back to the train station to catch the bus to our hotel, we meandered down several of the Red Light rows. There were some gorgeous women in those windows. I suspect the naughty school girl might have gotten more takers if she hadn't been smoking. I know it ruined the fantasy for me. ;)

The plan for Sunday morning was for my colleague to go running while I went to the Van Gogh Museum. He's a marathoner and seems to really like to run. I'm a museum nerd so it seemed the best way to start our day.

Fortunately, I had read that you should pre-purchase your tickets so I got mine for 9 AM and was proud that I managed the bus then tram trip to get there on the dot. OK, 9:05. But, still.


They were lined up but I got to walk right in!
I opted to pay an additional 15 EUR to get the multi-media tour and it was well worth it. In addition to reading every word on the walls as is my wont, I also got to read additional material, hear someone read some of Van Gogh's letters and saw a couple of videos on painting technique. They also had some hands on activities. Even with doing all of it and taking a short soda break, I was done within 3 hours. Highly recommend it!

I got back on the tram and got to our meeting place (near the train station, of course) then texted my friend that I was done early. My text woke him up. So much for his run. He cleaned up as fast as he could then headed off to my location.

In the meantime, I enjoyed people watching as I had some cocktails outside of a restaurant. I also got to meet some Americans. One of them was quite racist (and clearly too old to change her ways) so I was both amused and appalled that she felt comfortable sharing her opinions and stories with me. No lie, she actually asked me, "Where do all the black people come from?" My answer was, "They live here."

To further explore the city, we decided to take two different canal tours, back to back. What a great way to see things. 

I would drive my car into the canal if I tried to park that close to the edge.

The epitome of picturesque.
It was a very relaxing way to see the city and you could get on and off the boats as you wanted to. Since it was late in the day, we didn't venture off at all but I would recommend this as an all day way to explore the city.

We picked a place (near the train station) for dinner and ended up talking to a guy from Turkey who spoke great English. He looked like a rasta-hippie freak but he was a web designer who had moved from London after being inspired to change his life while attending Burning Man in Utah. He had some great life experiences to share and I was envious of his willingness to just pack up and start over in a completely new country.

The non-negotiable for me on this trip was to see the Anne Frank House. I had tried to get online tickets but they were sold out so, on Monday morning, I had us leave the hotel extra early to be in line before it opened at 9 AM. Thankfully. We got in a little after 9 and, when we left, the line was down the courtyard and spreading out to another street.

This was only the start of the line.
What an incredibly moving experience it was. Anne's Father, Otto, was the only one of the family to survive the war. When they wanted to make the house a museum, he insisted on leaving all of the rooms empty because the Nazis cleaned it out after they were captured. He felt the symbolism of the emptiness the Nazis left in his life was an important message and he was right. 

They did put furnishings in it once but only to take pictures of what it looked like. Those pictures were hanging on the walls of the individual rooms. It's mind boggling to imagine that eight people lived in those rooms for so long. And heart breaking that they almost made it through the occupation before someone exposed them.

You must experience it.
My suggestion if you go to Amsterdam is to get the bus/train/tram pass. We paid 12 EUR for 48 hours and it got us everywhere we wanted to go. The sole exception was to get our rental car on Monday but only because our 48 hours would have expired during the middle of the three mode changes. You could certainly bike as well, depending on where you stay.

As true Americans, we didn't take the train to Hamburg but drove instead. Our German colleagues just shake their heads at us and ask, "How long did it take you? Did you know there was a train?"

We don't care - we love our cars.

It didn't take that long to get back to our German ways and places.
Oh, and in Hamburg? The iPhone still says everything is a six minute walk away.

I Felt REALLY Secure

With the new rules about proving your cell phone and computers can turn on before boarding a plane, I thought I would share the security process I went through at the Hamburg airport on my way to Newark. It's going to take longer to get through security than it is to fly...OK, not really, but still, it's getting to be a lengthy process.

  • Passport check and questions answered about who packed my bag, etc. before being allowed to check my bag.
  • Passport verified again when checking in at United counter.
  • Regular Germany security. Shoes on, metal detector, computer out of bag.
  • Newly implemented (second time only) additional scan of computer that was carried by security to a side room and swabbed down before returning it.
  • Free to head to gate.
  • Get to gate and go through customs check.
  • Additional security scan. Shoes off, pockets empty, computer out, the wooshy full body scanner. Computer swabbed again. My TSA Pre status meant nothing.
  • Another passport check with further questions about what I may have purchased at the airport (done by the same guy as the first time).
  • Final passport verification when boarding the plane.
Here's the thing. Once I got past the customs check, there was no place for me to go. All of the final security checks were literally within 20-30 feet of each other. I don't know what shenanigans they thought I could pull off in trading identities or who knows what. But, hey I did it and I didn't complain. Because I just wanted to get home.

DNA sampling can't be too far behind.

I Thought I Would Never Get Home

We were finally going live with our German corporate acquisition in June. The plan was for a colleague and me to fly in to Amsterdam and check out the city for a weekend then spend two weeks in Hamburg for the project cutover then spend another weekend in Prague before coming home. We also were considering an overnight to Copenhagen to visit another colleague on the weekend that fell between the two Hamburg weeks.

How did that work out for me?

Well, Amsterdam was cool.

The details of every event that conspired against us are the stuff of a novel. A long novel. I'll spare you all of those but, to give you an idea, we had three separate medical situations amongst our team members. How does that happen? Seriously, what are the odds that three different people would go down in one implementation?

A few days in to the first week in Hamburg and we called off Copenhagen. At the beginning of the second week, we knew Prague was going to fall by the wayside. Midway through the second week, I knew I had to extend my stay another week. In that third week, I considered extending my stay again but ultimately decided I needed to come home more than it was useful for me to stay since two of our colleagues were coming over from Phoenix to cover that week.

In total, I was in Europe or traveling to and fro for 23 days. That's just too long.

Here are some of the many reasons I knew I was gone too long and worked too many hours:

  • It goes without saying that I would know all of the hotel bar staff. But, I also knew all of the front desk personnel and when they were scheduled to work.
  • I gained a nodding acquaintance with the early morning hotel cleaning crew and the later afternoon cleaning crew at the office. The former actually changed their floor mopping schedule until after we got off the elevator in the morning.
  • Despite wearing my pants three times and my tops at least two times, I had to send out laundry. Twice.
  • There are easily 20 to 30 restaurants within two blocks of the hotel and we were repeating them.
  • I was living off of two time zones that were 9 hours apart. Early to the office, late at the office then back on the computer after getting back to the hotel so I could work real time with my home team became the norm.
  • I stopped wearing jewelry after day 2.
  • I stopped doing my hair beyond curling my bangs after day 4.
  • I stopped wearing makeup after day 6.
  • I had to restock my shampoo and conditioner.
  • Breakfast became a 3 EUR dried fruit and nut snack out of the mini-bar so I could eat something in the car on the way to the office.
  • In the last week, dinner two nights was the two 3 EUR Carlsberg beers in the mini-bar. Seriously, that was all I had.
  • Sleep became the most previous substance on earth. I chose to go to bed whenever I could instead of going out for dinner and/or drinks. That ain't natural.
File this one under "There's no place like home".

The New Kittehs Are Here - Finally!

Exploring the new digs.

Yesterday was the day that I brought home my new babies. It was a long time coming but it was worth it. Steven and I drove down to Tucson to pick up Starbuck and Samwise Gamgee from Rhonda and Chuck in Tucson. I had to retype that sentence twice because I had some help:

Starbuck is quite the typist.
Poor Chuck had to drag them out from under the couch where they were napping and, at first, they seemed OK with going into the carrier. That OK feeling lasted until 30 seconds after we were in the car and the crying began.

They mostly settled down once we hit the interstate and after I realized that they were shifting in the carrier to get away from the sun. There was one close call with an escape attempt along the way. Samwise managed to push the zipper back and got his head out. As I was pushing him back in, Starbuck popped her head out on the other side. Kitten containment was preserved, though.

When we got home, I let them out one at a time and put them in the litter box with a little push on their butts. They got it and have been using it since. They also found their food and water. And, the underside of my bed where they ended up hanging out for most of the night.

Until 2:30 AM, that is.

I woke up to two purr balls making the big leap on to the bed. There was a little scrambling involved on Starbuck's part as she is the smaller of the two. They then proceeded to play King of New Mommy Mountain and How Many Times Can We Knock The iPhone Off The Nightstand. I loved every bit of it. Well, except for maybe the phone part.

We played for a while before they settled down, both draped on my right arm and purring into my ear. When I finally decided I needed to get some more sleep, I moved them off and they willingly jumped down. Briefly. They were soon back, this time with a crackle ball toy, but I played dead until I fell back asleep.

When I woke up again at 5:30, they were curled up against my back and resting peacefully. The peace ended as soon as they knew I was awake. Shades of George with that one.
The flash is too bright!

Pouncing on each other in bed.
It's difficult to get a good picture of them because they're always on the move. Hopefully, I'll be able to capture them in a shot as they enjoy the new kitty condo that my parents bought them.

Yeah, they're spoiled already.

PS This just happened before I could publish this post:

Holy crap!





Whirlwind Berlin

It's amazing, and tiring, how much you can fit into one day!

With so many schedules to work around, we were forced to stay over a weekend in Germany on our last business trip. We decided to use that time to go to Berlin and see the sights. We got there late on Friday night so saw little more than a restaurant for dinner but we were good to go on Saturday to explore the city.

We knew we wanted to do a bus tour but were were complete rubes when it came to finding where the tour started. As we stood around outside our hotel trying to get the map apps on our phone to give us some direction, this woman came up and said, "Did you want to do a tour?" Turns out, the spot we were in was one of the tour bus pickup/drop off sites.

It was the Yellow bus, not the Red that I was looking for but we decided, "What the hell? Let's do it!" and got on. Lesson learned. The Red bus company is much better than the Yellow. We did the Red in Frankfurt and they filled you in on a great deal of the history and current details on the city while you were on the move. The Yellow company just really told you about the landmarks as you were in front of them then played music the rest of the time.

It was good to get the lay of the land, though. We took it all the way through then waited until it got back to the stop nearest the Berlin Wall and Check Point Charlie where we got off.

There's not much left of the wall but there are some spots where they show you where it used to be.

Of course, Phred Parrott traveled with us!
What is left of the wall is close enough to touch if you lean over quite a bit. Much of it has been carried away by "woodpeckers" as they call the folks trying to take souvenir pieces of the wall home with them.

Touching history.
They've turned this piece of the wall into an exhibit across from what used to be the SS headquarters. Much of that building (along with a lot of Berlin) was damaged in the war and eventually completely torn down except for some basement rooms which are part of the full exhibit.

Also on the site is a museum documenting the Nazis rise to power and the persecution and murder of Jews, Gypsies, the mentally and physically infirm and prisoners of war. It also had quite a bit on the key players in the process and their subsequent post-war lives. It was sobering and also angering. Too many of the people who committed or ordered the atrocities ended up living out long lives outside of prison. Some served in the new government, others were lawyers or politicians and quite a few became spies for other governments. We spent about two hours there as the amount of information to absorb was impressively large.

We kept forgetting the name so we called it the "Tower of Terrors".
It felt good to shake off the depression from this exhibit but it's difficult to not think about it as you travel through Berlin. I think it's also very important to spend time there. We should never forget how good people stood by while this happened and I hate that genocide and blind hatred of those different than us still happens today.

We were happy to get to Check Point Charlie. They have "soldiers" on duty and they've learned how to make some euros here. For 5 euros, you can get a set of passport stamps in your actual passport. One of my colleagues and I were all over that.

These are from all the countries that had a presence in Berlin post WWII.

You could also get your picture taken (for another fee) with the soldiers. I chose to just get something from afar.
The infamous Check Point Charlie.
Kathy and Phred at Check Point Charlie.
We then spent some time at the Wall Museum which is an outside exhibit with many pictures and stories about the Wall and the people trying to get across or through or under it. Again, the stories were powerful ones of desperation and sometimes death.

What's interesting is that one of our colleagues is from Poland and she was on the "bad" side of the wall. The Wall came down in 1989 when she was pretty young but she doesn't remember it as being that bad. Sure, you had to wait years to get a car, or know someone who could pull some strings, but everyone worked and they had food. She told us how people came up to here after the Wall was down and gave her candy and money because they felt sorry for her being under Soviet control. As a kid, she was just happy to get the cash and the sweets.

We continued to hoof it through the city and saw many famous buildings a little closer than you could get from the bus.

The Brandenburg Gate.
Schloss Charlottenburg - largest existing palace in Berlin.

Humboldt University - established in 1810.
Reichstag and Berlin Cathedral (Dom) in a panoramic view from my iPhone.
Reichstag (main government building)
TV Tower - tallest structure in Germany at 368 meters
View from the TV Tower
We ended our sightseeing with a drink at the top of the TV Tower. One of my colleagues suggested walking back to our hotel. I pulled a "Frak, no!" so we took a cab. That was a good call as it was a 6K walk and took us 15 minutes just by car. For the record, the one who suggested walking went to bed when we got back to the hotel while the other two of us still managed to go out to dinner.

I know we only scratched the surface of Berlin but I am content that we got the most out of it in the time we had. As much as it can be tiring and frustrating traveling for work, I'm grateful that this project is giving me an opportunity to explore places that I probably wouldn't have gone to on my own.

Bonus that it's also a country where everyone pronounces my last name correctly!