Through the years

Jeremy and I celebrated our sixth Christmas together this year, which was surprising as we both thought it was five until we glanced into the rearview mirror that is the buddymollys' holiday cards.

What began in Hawaii turned heavenly as it shifted to Bavaria; it was monumental, but never a drag (well ...) and was always served with a healthy dose of love.

Happy holidays from the buddymollys.








The arts have it

It’s been nearly a year since a simple facebook post ignited a surge of creative endeavors.

It read like this: The first five people to comment on this status will receive a homemade gift from me throughout the year. They must repost this status and too make five homemade gifts for the first five people to comment on their status.

It’s pay it forward, art-style.

The five folks who signed up were as unique as they were distantly located – so I needed some extra time to process proper gifts. I was a bit unprepared, so I created the simple above-pictured mixed media painting to air my apprehensions before getting down to business.

The first handmade items completed were for my friend Lauren, a Northern Ireland resident who was about to get married. I made an espresso body scrub to be used on her wedding day. It provided both soft skin and a boost of energy needed for special day exhaustion. I also threw in a homemade candle, red and white to symbolize lovely-dovey stuff.

(As an aside, I tested out the body scrub product before sending it, stupidly at 9 p.m. I was up until nearly 6 a.m. Conclusion: I found the gift to be effective).

My second attempt at art was a painting made for my friend Corki – a serpent for a serpent. 

The third gift soon followed, and I must admit, I had help on this one. For Jaleh, a librarian and fellow book nerd, I commissioned Jeremy’s help in making her an invisible bookshelf, courtesy of instructables.

The fourth gift was a new attempt for me. Finding a strange looking toy at the thrift store, I turned it into a snow globe. It’s weird, so am I, and so is my friend Tom, so it seemed like a good fit. The use of glitter proved troublesome though. It’s been said that glitter is the herpes of craft supplies and five months later, I’m still finding it in places I simply shouldn’t.

For my final art attempt, I collected sticks for a few weeks on my daily walks with Skydog to create a flower vase for my BFF and bona fide earth goddess, Crystal. After she received it, she commented that she’d like to live in house like that someday. It will take a few more walks, but I’ll see if I can make it happen dear friend. Perhaps that will be next year’s art endeavor.

I received a special piece of art from STL’s own Jeff Miller well before I started my projects. And Jeremy, who also signed up to create five homemade gifts, has yet to finish his. But, the year’s not quite over, and sliding in minutes before deadline is par for the course with a house full of journalists.

Deadlines are kind of our thing; art, however, is everyone’s thing.  


Distilling the perfect adventure

Every time I visit Scotland I wish I could stay longer.

Though it’s always cold (the average temperature in the height of summer is just under 60 degrees), Scotland’s gregarious people more than make up for the chill in the air -- and after a few whisky tastings you might not even need your jacket anyway.  

The key to any visit, like adding those critical drops of water to a dram, is finding the right balance.

Building on last year’s five-day, whirlwind man-trip to sample Islay’s finest (and peatiest) whiskies, we decided to shift gears to the lighter, sweeter Speyside spirits of Moray County, which sits about three hours north of Edinburgh.

The Speyside region boasts nearly half of all the whisky distilleries in Scotland, and a majority of those lie within a 20-mile radius of each other.

We had our work cut out for us, but could have done a better job planning.

Scant public transportation and figuring out ways to not drive while intoxicated proved to be formidable obstacles, but could not compete with 4 science brains and 4 of average Trivial Pursuit intelligence.

Though many of the distilleries weren’t open on the weekends (a fact that remained obscured until a few days before we flew out), and one distillery closed for the summer for the first time in its 188-year history just two days before we arrived, we still managed to visit eight distilleries in six days.

(Note: The number of tastings we sampled in the Edinburgh airport while waiting to depart could have bumped that number to 12).

And although the process is almost exactly the same from distillery to distillery, we learned to pick up on the nuances and appreciate the subtle effects each factor, like the shape of still or the barrel’s composition, contributed to making an impression on our taste buds.

Other than that, nothing exciting happened.

We didn’t cross paths with the world's only blue-haired Asian bartender with a Scottish accent; there were no near-death collisions caused by a driver starring at sheep; we never figured out what possessed our car radio; none of the tour guides ever answered JR’s infamous “methanol” question to his satisfaction; and a Chinese man definitely did not fart on one of us (ahem, Michael Kreis) in the passport line.

There’s always next year.


Belgian Blitz


As part of my mid-30s birthday celebration this weekend, we hopped a train bound for Belgium, the land famous for its delicious beer and out-of-this-world fries. Apparently they have chocolate, too.

As opposed to German beer, which honors the simplicity of making the most out of four ingredients, Belgian beer celebrates various styles from light and fruity to dark and make-you-forget-your name, along with every permutation in-between.

We blazed through Brussels, Bruges and Ghent over a long weekend but never felt like we were rushing. Between the museums, architecture and historic sites, there were plenty of distractions, but, as you can see by Molly’s photo essay below, we maintained our focus.
round one: cafe in Brussels
round two: pouring like a pro
round three: dinner in Bruges
round four: bike ride to Damme
round five: kwak and a Bruges tripel

round six: put your leffe in, put your leffe out

round seven: mussels in beer (and beer) in Bruges
round 8: cold chillin' at the train station
round 9: a day in the life in Ghent

round 10: sidewalk sale

round 11: back in Brussels
round 12: still thirsty
round 13: it's getting darker
round 14: Brussels bar, repeated
round 15: designated "regulars"

round 16: unpack, move in


Another trip to Dresden; So it goes ...

The New Town, in all its hip glory.

I went to Dresden. Again. Last weekend was my 6th trip in the past four years to the Vonnegut-famed city, including a two-week stint for a German course in February highlighted by a monumental, albeit brief, run in with Bill Murray

But I still went. Again. I grabbed my friend Caroline, left Jeremy to hone is hausfrau skills, and went. Again.

Graffiti dances over the New Town
Our time in Europe is coming to an end; and we wrestle with trying something new versus revisiting our favorite places. We have so much earth in Europe we haven’t walked on, new cultures (and food!) to experience. So why visit somewhere you’ve been many times before?

It’s simple. When you revisit a city, your surroundings become more vivid. It’s like watching a movie more than once – your understanding of the plot deepens, you notice secondary nuances.

Likewise, with a city, you begin to learn the culture outside of museums and tourist-packed walkways. The city becomes more familiar and you become more familiar in it - people stop to ask you for directions; glances and friendly smiles from passersby on the backstreets become commonplace.

You are in it. And Dresden in one of favorite places to be “in it.”

A glimpse at the Old Town from the Elbe River.
The city was completely destroyed during World War II, and until the ‘90s, remained in a somewhat state of devastation. Now, it is a rebuilt version of its historic self. The baroque architecture is peppered with new innovative structures creating a unique mix of old and new.

Vonnegut's protector.
The Elbe River separates the New and Old towns. The New Town is actually the eldest, as it endured the least bit of destruction and was rebuilt first. But it appears newer with its gridlocked rows of concrete communist-era buildings, tagged with elaborate works of graffiti. 

The Old Town was built with new materials masked by the rubble of its former self to give that old town feel. The Frauenkirchen, a beautiful church in the center of the Old Town, was rebuilt meticulously using original pieces placed in the exact same spot as it stood in the former structure.

And it works. It all works. The city is inviting. The New Town is hip and fresh, full of artists and hippies, bars and vintage clothing store. The locals of the New Town refer to their side of the river as "the dark side." 

The Old Town is refined with quiet restaurants and quaint shops lining cobble-stoned streets, flushed with churches, monuments of yesteryear, and an impressive castle once belonging to Augustus the Strong. 

It is without a doubt worth a visit to Dresden if you find yourself in Germany. For me, it may even warrant a move. Because like St. Louis and Honolulu, Dresden feels like home - not just “a” home, but home. 

And sometimes it feels good to just go home.


O’zapft is? Yeah, we tapped it.

The first mass of the morning is always the best. 
Over time, after you’ve lived in a place for a while, you become in tune with the rhythm of the seasons. 

So as fall approached and the warm sun began to succumb to the inevitable nip in the air, we knew it was time to break out the dirndl and lederhosen, and practice heaving those maß beers high in the air.

Three years ago when we were just learning the Oktoberfest ropes, it wasn’t pretty: Out of the four in our group, three threw up and one was forcibly divested of his underwear – all before noon.

Not about to repeat our inaugural performance, this year we set about to plan a dignified, respectable day at Oktoberfest, where 6 million people consume nearly 7.5 million liters of bier, 500,000 chickens, 58,000 pork knuckles and countless pretzels over the course of 16 days.*

The dignified plan included several “nice to haves” we never considered in years past.

For instance, rather than crashing in the Turkish hotel (an unusually tall 1980s-era VW bus), we booked a hotel. We left all keys and unnecessary but easily misplaceable objects in the room.

A stellar example of dignified prosting.
We established a game plan at the outset for where to meet if we lost each other.

And since we arrived just after 9:30 a.m. and didn’t leave till about midnight, a comfortable “maß consumption” pace interspersed with water served us well.

Thanks in part to our mental preparation, Molly also conquered an arch-nemesis – the cantankerous, 80-year-old Toboggan Rutschbahn – which left her limping two years ago, and I even left with every article of clothing I brought (although the next day I was still removing glass shards from my lederhosen, a byproduct of some overzealous prosting).

All in all, we opened and closed Oktoberfest on the opening weekend with a sophisticated level of intoxication, and that’s more than we can say for the rest of the fest’s 6 million people. 

* From the Munich Tourist Office website. Additional interesting fun facts included the number of vendors (Germans actually refer one group as “carneys”) and the following lost items of 2012, which were listed under “curiosities”: leg warmers (a pair of dress pants and two pairs of “unusual” traditional pants), two wedding rings, five notebook computers, two license plates, sheet music, two French horns, a hearing aid, a handicraft box, eyeglasses with Swarovski crystals, a pair of leg cuffs, a baby phone, a ping-pong racket, a Playboy magazine (with a personal autograph from the current Wies’n playmate) and a dog. The delivery rate was 19 per cent.


The eyes have it

Metamorphisizing into 20/20

After 25 years of being called “four-eyes” – most recently by my husband who swears it’s a term of endearment – I have officially joined the ranks of the seeing community, sans glasses or contacts.

But it wasn’t my idea. I hadn’t even entertained the thought. It was all Steve Derr. He, too, had worn glasses/contacts for many years and was looking for a “surgery buddy.” I fit the bill. 

After finding a reasonably priced clinic in Munich, and after a few appointments to determine we were qualified for the operation, we prepared ourselves for Lasik last Tuesday.

Now, every person I spoke to who has had this procedure told me it was the best thing they ever did.
Last known shot of "four-eyes." 
Every single person raved about it. Not one, (seriously, not one) told me anything about the uncomfortable, burning, blurry, itchiness that comes directly after, not to mention the smell of burning eyeball you have to endure during the surgery. But all and all it was worth it. I’ve had a few days to heal and I rather enjoy waking up to a sharp husband rather than a blurry outline of what I have always trusted to be Jeremy.

The day of the surgery, however, wasn’t as clear. After lying down on a table, the doctor taped my eye open, then suctioned my eyeball straight. As he began to cut into my cornea, he repeated over and over again “don’t move, stay still, don’t move.”

Seriously? What if I had to sneeze? What would actually happen if I did move?

Then the laser came, and the “don’t move, stay still, don’t move,” was only amplified by a burning stench as my cornea was shaved down. (It sort of smelled like my hair was on fire).

The procedure itself took about 10 minutes and I  didn’t feel anything, really, just a bit of pressure peppered with an uneasy feeling in my gut. Post-op, you don a pair of goggles that must have come from the set of “The Fly.”

I couldn’t see a thing.

Luckily for Steve and me, Jeremy offered to be our shepherd for the day. He took us by the hand and guided us to our hotel room, where we tried our best to sleep off the pain.

But that’s all behind us though. Now we can actually focus on what’s in front of us. 

The next day: We are not trying to look cool. We are trying not to cry.


Hut, hut, hut, hike!

We were a motley crew. For four days we hiked, crawled, stumbled and climbed our way through the lush, picturesque scenery of Southern Germany, fueled solely by determination and sweat (and the prospect of more beer at the next mountain hut).

The hike wasn’t just a walk in the Alps either. After camping on Thursday night, we took a short, scenic boat ride to St. Bartholomew in the Berchtesgadener Land district of Bavaria bright and early to begin the journey. For the next five hours we climbed 10 kilometers of steep switchbacks, gaining more than 1,200 meters with 30 pounds of gear strapped on our backs.

Because there were nearly a dozen in our group, we inevitability split into various levels of speed and ability with “team cougar” bringing up the rear. (This would later be memorialized in a song).

The worst of the hiking was over as we reached the Kaerlingerhaus, and the views were absolutely amazing.

Mountain huts are a plenty in the Berchtesgaden. They offer minimalist accommodations - single bed in a room with fellow travelers, complete with pillow and warm blankets. They serve food and drinks and a warm shower for an additional cost (usually three euros for three minutes; freezing cold showers are usually free). The huts are only accessible by foot, so the other travelers you meet are often on a similar journey. 

Day two was relatively low key, but that didn’t make strapping those 30 pounds onto our backs again any easier. We started out early and made it to the next hut in less than three hours.

The scenery was drastically different from the first day. We bouldered our way over a moonscape of sizable white rocks for the seven kilometers, sprinkled with an alarming amount of Lord of the Ring references.

We woke up on day three to torrential downpour and, after accepting the inevitable, trudged 7 kilometers, gaining more than 950 meters of altitude, en route to our next hut. We were climbing through a barren landscape of slippery rocks.

Our small group of six, who became known as “Family von Crap” due to harmonious flatulence, managed to stay together the whole time. We sang as we climbed, attempting to get the most annoying song in everyone’s head. “Never Gonna Give you up,” had the lead with “Mmmm Bop” coming in as a close second, although our rendition of “Day-O” was pretty spot on.

We made it to the Ingolstaedterhaus in a modest three hours and warmed up with schnapps and hot chocolate. This was by far the best night and the best mountain hut. Jeremy and Mike lugged their ukuleles on the hike and this proved to be a fabulous idea. We sat in a circle and jammed all night, singing Johnny Cash songs and serenading the room with a loud, off-key version of “Country Roads.” Everyone sang along. If there is ever a way to win over a room full of Germans, John Denver works every time.

We made friends with the kitchen crew and partied well past our bedtimes.

Waking up Monday morning was bittersweet. As our adventure neared its end, we prepared for the more than 1,900-meter descent before us.

Walking downhill may not be as physically taxing, but it does a number on your knees. It took more than five hours to climb back to our original destination and we were collectively sore and exhausted.

 Jeremy and I agreed that this was one of the best trips we’ve taken this year. The scenery, the sense of accomplishment, the exercise, all was great, but most of all it was the company. Our rag-tag team came together, everyone bringing a unique perspective to the group.

Hiking in close quarters with someone really solidifies a relationship. So does snuggling up next to them in a mountain hut, listening to them snore and watching them cut loose at 1,500 meters up.


Euro furlough? Take it SLO

Last weekend, we experienced the first of what will be 11 furlough Fridays from July through the end of September.

Although I don’t agree with the process (which is basically a tax on DoD civilians because Congress couldn’t figure out a budget), Molly and I have been hard at work trying to figure out ways to make the most of these forced days off without pay.

We had months to prepare but it came down to a game-time decision: we chose to soak up the summer in Slovenia, near Lake Bled, which is only a 5-hour drive from us.

So we packed into our friend Steve’s Passat, paddleboard and all, without anything really planned except for lodging. (Ok, Molly scoped this place out and had several solid ideas; it was Steve, Eric & I who didn’t do any real legwork).

Riding on Molly’s excellent planning, we hiked the pristine Vintgar Gorge and lounged the entire next day on the shores of Lake Bled, which reminded me of an unspoiled Lake Tahoe, but without motorboats or overpriced vacation rentals.

Oh, but with crystal clear water and a 17th century church perched atop an island in the middle of the lake.

So pretty much Lake Tahoe.

We had a surprise visit from our friends Mike and Sonya - fresh off a 10-day Alpine motorcycle excursion, who joined in on the fun in the sun.

We took excursions around the lake, sipped cold beers on the island and savored ice cream in the sun. It felt like the first day of summer – in the past four years.

Rounding out the weekend, we stopped in Ljubljana (pronounced “loob-li-ah-na”) for a city stroll and some lunch.

This weekend we took to the road again, this time to the Bavarian Forest National Park, which, when combined with the Bohemian Forest on the other side of the Czech border, is the largest protected forested area in Europe.

After a quick climb to the top of the Baumwipfelpfad, an egg-shaped, wooden dome that surrounds a few 90-foot trees and offers panoramic views, we hiked through the surrounding area, making friends with a moose or two and some birds of prey in what seemed like a part-zoo, part-wildlife reserve area.

Although we’re still nailing down plans for the next 9 furlough weekends, we have decided on one thing: If they're going to force us to take Fridays off, we’ll just travel like it’s our job.