Friday, 25 November 2016

Adapting to the New Town

Blog 48

Since we moved to our new house in Orléans in December, we had hardly met any neighbours. They seemed to be hibernating. This was not a problem for Ingo, who went to work during the week, but I felt quite lonely and homesick.

Adopting a dog, the Golden Retriever puppy Jessie, was the first step to getting me out of the house. However, at first I was too scared to walk her by myself, so I waited for Ingo to come home. I was not afraid that I could not control Jessie, but rather that we would meet other dogs that would harm her. Unfortunately, my fear was confirmed when my in-laws dachshunds came for their first visit and bit not only Jessie but also myself when I tried to protect her by taking her into my arms. This incident meant a step back in my recovery from my animal phobia. I realized that I could not keep Jessie and possibly myself from harm, and so I relied on Ingo to take the lead.

On the other hand, Jessie served as a good guinea pig to practice my English without judging me. She did not care whether I made mistakes or did express myself stumbling and in simple terms.

However, a dog is not a replacement for contact with other people. Ingo and I decided that we should join a fitness centre. I had been a member of a couple of fitness centres in Germany and was eager to get back to exercise classes and weight training at the gym, even though I had started doing exercise with the help of TV fitness programmes almost as soon as we had settled in Ottawa.

While we were still looking for the right gym, we headed out for the first time to the Rideau Canal. If you know the Ottawa winters, you will agree that you can only survive the long winters if you like winter sports. Skating on the canal was my first time on skates in more than ten years. I had only ever skated on an indoor rink. This was a very different experience, and while we were a little wobbly, we had a lot of fun. We also went cross country skiing which I had never done before. It was just wonderful to be able to glide through the winter wonderland.

In mid January 1996, I also started my first painting class at the Ottawa School of Art. I had taken oil painting classes in Germany with artist Inge Besgen in my early twenties but stopped when I started my studies in business economics. I was excited to pick up the brush again, but also nervous that I would not understand what the teacher would be talking about. The first obstacle was that I had no idea what an easel was when the teacher asked us to pick up an easel and find a good spot to paint the still life that was set up. While my general vocabulary was quite good, I was definitely missing all the subject specific vocabulary.

Over the years, this problem has become a two way problem. To date, there are whole areas where I do not know the English translations and others where I know the English vocabulary but not the German equivalent because I was never confronted with the situations in Germany. Sometimes, it is also due to the fact that there is not an easy translation, but you have to paraphrase what a certain expression means. I definitely make good use of the help the Internet offers to translate certain words or idioms.

While I was excited about going to the painting classes, it was also quite frustrating. I had hardly painted for a couple of years and it showed. I felt just like an athlete who had stopped training for a long time. The skills come back faster, but if you do not practice continuously, you get rusty.

To meet more people, we also joined the Orleans Newcomers Club, where we participated in a couple of clubs, from Games Night to Potluck Dinner Night. Most of the time, we went as a couple but I also joined the Lunch Group. It was quite difficult to follow, let alone participate in the conversations, and most of the time I came home with a big headache from having to concentrate so hard. I felt out of place because I was not able to articulate myself in the way I could in my native language. I felt that this was a big obstacle in making deeper connections.

We also invited our neighbours for coffee and cake. Well, half a cake to be precise because Jessie got to the lemon cheesecake first and took a good bite out of it while we did not pay attention. Luckily, all our neighbours had animals and a good sense of humour.

At the same time, the contact to my German friends was very infrequent which left me quite depressed. Every day, I waited for the mailman. Generally, in vain. Sometimes, I wished I could just stay in bed but there was Jessie to look after. Usually I pulled myself together and cleaned the house, painted, played piano, and practiced Spanish and Turkish. Luckily, I also had our church wedding to plan. Another endeavour that was not without complications.

I hope you will continue to follow me on my journey to the past. Please forward my blog to your family and friends who might enjoy my story.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The New Family Member – Everlasting Love

The Bone, 16" x 20", acrylic

Blog 47

I ended the old year and started the new year 1996 with a bad cold. I was so sick that I slept most of the time. However, whenever I was awake, I felt very alone and homesick. I lived in new house in a new country far away from my family, and friends. I did not know anyone in the neighbourhood as everyone seemed to hibernate during the cold winter. I felt shy about speaking English, and was not allowed to work as I was still waiting to become a landed immigrant. Ingo looked after me as much as he could but he worked downtown during the week, so I spent a lot of time by myself.

On the first Friday in January, Ingo and I went out to the outskirts of Montreal to “just look” at some Golden Retriever puppies. I don't remember when we started to think about getting a puppy. It must have been quite a sudden decision as I have not found any mentioning in my diary. I do remember, however, that we talked to the Humane Society to find out what dog would be the best for us as I suffered from severe animal phobia. This anxiety was so bad that I did not want to leave our house because there were many dogs in the neighbourhood. I was so afraid of dogs that the smallest dog would be enough to cause a panic attack. We were advised to get a puppy so that I could get used to a slowly growing dog.

However, before we left, I had already bought a light blue blanket, a small green collar, and a leash. It was a very cold night. We went before supper because Ingo thought we would only need less than 2 hours to get to the breeder. As it turned out we had quite some problems to find the place. We were driving in circles in the darkness. At one point, Ingo went to a gas station and bought some chocolate bars for us. I will never forget how solidly frozen they were.

At the breeder's, the puppies were in a big playpen. Suddenly the puppies parents came in the room: two beautiful Goldens. I was too scared to take a good look at them. However, the small puppies were so cute. The breeder who knew about my fear of dogs, just placed the little one named Penny in my arm. Do I even have to mention that we took her with us the same evening? She was so warm and soft. I held her in my arms in the huge blue blanket the whole way home. I still remember how excited I was to have my first puppy.

We renamed her Jessie because we did not like the name Penny. She was very good the first night at our house. She probably was in shock – away from her mother and siblings with those two strange people in a big house.

The big surprise came the next morning when we went to the kitchen. There were little puddles everywhere – not that this was a surprise, but what we had not expected were frozen pipes. No water and a puppy who was peeing and pooping everywhere were not a good start into the day.

The next night was a different story: Jessie cried the whole night like a baby. We had decided that we would stay firm, and not let her into our bedroom. However, it was too heart wrenching to listen to. Therefore, we spend a good part of the night rocking her in our arms on the sofa. We were exhausted when we got up, and called the breeder because we were not sure what to do. The purchase of a cage and lots of patience lessened the problem.

Jessie did help me to get over my fear. However, it did not happen overnight. The first couple of weeks, I was totally overwhelmed. It did not help that I had a relapse and felt awful. For the first week, Jessie woke us up every couple of hours, barked almost non-stop when she was not able to see me, and followed me everywhere when possible. I had absolutely no idea how to deal with her. I was still scared despite all the cuteness.

Luckily, she was a very clever girl and loved to please. After less than a week, she was able to follow the command “sit” and got slowly used to her crate. Ingo and I spent a lot of time training her, and she developed into a fantastic dog. The most admired trick was for her to take her own bag of poop to the garbage bins and drop it inside.

Jessie - Forever in my Heart, 11" x 14", acrylic
When Jessie died due to cancer on October 30, 2005, the day after her 10th birthday, I was heartbroken. I still do not remember how I made it through the first two months. She was basically my first child. I hardly spent a day without her except when I went to see my friends and family in Germany. She was my constant companion while I tried to get settled in a new country far away from my family and friends. She opened my world to so much pleasure and the unconditional love dogs give. She was at my side during many life crises.

Even though we adopted another Golden Retriever, our beautiful Candy, and our energetic Alex, who I also love dearly, she will always be special and never forgotten. It is no wonder that we have many painting of her. To this day, she is my most painted subject.

Despite our new companion, I still had to try to cope with the frigid and long Canadian winter. Please follow me next week, to see what I did and how I succeeded to adjust.

Friday, 11 November 2016

The Move

Blog 46

When I returned to Ottawa in the middle of November, the city was covered under a thick blanket of about 30 cm of snow. We spent three more weeks in the apartment hotel, until we moved into our very first house.

I was just in time for the “26th Help Santa Toy Parade”, which reminded me of the carnival parades – only that all the floats were decorated in Christmas themes. The parade was organized by the Ottawa Professional Firefighter’s Association to collect toys and money for less fortunate children in the Ottawa region.

After many visits with my family and friends, I suddenly had to get used to being by myself the whole day while Ingo was at work. At least I could enjoy the thick snow flakes that kept falling over the next couple of weeks. The white landscape looked like a wonderland, especially with all the Christmas lights.

On December 1, we received the keys to our new house. As our furniture only arrived three days later, we had a big job in front of us as we were confronted with a living and dining room that had three different wallpapers. At least we had left the rest of the home as the former owners had painted it.

It did not help that I had severe pain in my right side which finally forced me to see a doctor just days after our move. I was afraid to deal with a doctor in a foreign language so I had postponed the appointment for weeks. Only when I feared an appendicitis, I finally went. Luckily, it was not an appendicitis.

When the container with my furniture arrived, the movers were not too happy about the high snow as they had to bring my sofas as well as the piano in from the back of the house which meant they had to carry them all around the townhouse block through a small path, the garden, and up a small flight of stairs.

I spent the next couple of weeks unpacking to create a home for us. I worked until I got sick from the exhaustion which increased my homesickness, especially because of the Christmas season when many families gather together to celebrate the holidays.

Despite all the unpacking, we even made time to bake Christmas cookies, an important tradition for me.

We also took the time to visit the Ottawa Little Theatre for the first time, a gift we had given each other for “Nikolaustag”. “Nikolaustag” is celebrated in Germany on December 6 in remembrance of the Byzantine Bishop of Myra. According to the legend, he performed many wonders, often for children. When he was canonized, he became the patron saint of children.

In Germany, children put their clean boots out on the eve of December 6 in the hopes of finding them filled with goodies the next morning. Saint Nikolaus comes over night bringing gifts for children who have been good, and a twigs as punishment for the nasty ones.
Nowadays, the boots are usually filled with nuts, oranges, chocolates and small toys.
While Santa Claus comes to Canada on December 25, Germans already open the gifts that the “Christkind” (Christ child) and the “Weihnachtsmann” (Father Christmas) bring on Christmas Eve.

Even though we did not celebrate Christmas at home, but rather with Ingo's family, Christmas not at home but with Ingo's family, we bought a real Christmas tree and decorated it with real candles – the way I was used to. However, because the candles were so expensive, we added a small string of lights.

We spent our first New Year's Eve in our cozy new house watching the falling snow. It could have been very romantic if I had not been sick again. This time I caught a very bad cold. We still enjoyed our time together, but it was the last holiday we spent alone. Five days later we adopted a new family member.

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Friday, 4 November 2016

Wedding Day

Wedding Day, acrylic, 16" x  20"

Blog 45

Sooner than we had originally thought, the big day of our wedding had arrived: October 14, 1995.

My parents and my sister had arrived safely the Thursday before the wedding. As they had never been outside of Europe, it was a big adventure for them.

The day before the wedding the weather had been fantastic. The temperatures climbed to the high 20s. We went to Niagara Falls where we and enjoyed a trip on the “Lady of the Mist” along the falls, all dressed in what looked like huge blue garbage bags. The mist from the waterfalls surrounded us. We even saw a rainbow in front of the falls. After our boat ride, we had lunch at “The Pillar and Post” in Niagara-on-the-Lake, then walked through the beautiful little town. We walked through the beautiful town, marvelling at the beautiful fall colours and decorations.

My mother, my sister, and I also went to a bridal store and picked out the wedding dress for the spring. I picked the dress I had seen and fallen in love with while studying bridal magazines: a pink silk dress with white flowers on the bodice. The veil would be sewn with the same flowers. It was twice as expensive as what I had budgeted, but my mother, and sister as well as everyone in the bridal store was enchanted. It did not hurt that my mother offered to pay for the dress. She had offered me her dress, but when she saw me in my dream dress the decision was easy. I was glad because my mother's dress was short and I had dreamed of a long dress.

On the wedding day, it was raining. Ingo and I got married in a civil service at Mississauga City Hall presided by his church’s pastor. It was my wish to have a big wedding in Germany with my family and friends who would not have been able to come to Canada. I was very nervous, and afraid I would forget the vows. I was just glad that the marriage ceremony was very short. The pastor spoke slowly, and he divided the vows into short paragraphs. It was perfect for a foreigner still getting used to adapting to the language spoken outside of the classroom setting.

After the ceremony, we went directly to the “Cataract Inn”, in Alton, ON. in a tiny room. As the rain had stopped, we took the wedding photos.

The lovely celebration was held in a tiny room with low ceilings which was only accessible through an even tinier passage, a real challenge for some of our guests who only could fit sideways which resulted in a lot of laughter. It felt like being in a doll house.

At night, we went to Toronto to see the musical “The Beauty and The Beast” at the Princess of Wales Theatre. We had decided on a musical as a good option of entertainment as the music would go beyond the language barrier.

The next day, instead of going on a honeymoon, my parents, my sister, Ingo, and I squeezed into our Ford Escort for a drive to Ottawa. It was a very cozy ride as we also had all our luggage and the wedding gifts on board.

While it had been very mild in Mississauga, it was freezing in Ottawa. It was time to get out the hats, scarf, and gloves. We still had a great time. I showed my family Ottawa's traditional landmarks including Gatineau Park. Unfortunately, most of the leaves had already fallen. However, the big stands of pumpkins at the Byward Market provided lovely fall impressions. We also visited the special exhibition of the Group of Seven at the National Gallery. During a trip to Orléans, we were even able to show my family a similar home to the one we had purchased.

After three days, we left Ingo behind in Ottawa and returned to Toronto. The next day, after visiting some Toronto landmarks, my parents, my sister, and I boarded the flight to Germany. I felt very sad to leave newly-wed husband behind, especially knowing that I would not even be there for his birthday.

I spent four weeks in Germany. During the time, I arranged the shipment of our belongings, and said good-bye to all my friends and family, not knowing when we would see each other again.

It was a busy time, but I still missed Ingo. It must have been even harder for him as he was alone in a new city, and did not have family and friends to distract him.

I feel very blessed for both my family and friends here in Canada and in Germany. They are what is most important for me in my life. I cherish all of the different relationships, and do a lot to keep them alive. Every month, I send out a German newsletter with the latest news from our family to keep the ties alive and strong. It has paid off: I still have contact to most of my friends and family. Social media and video chat have made it possible to increase the intensity of connection even further. These days, I do not have to wait weeks for a response to my letter. It has made communication a lot easier.

How do you keep in touch with the important people in your life? Is the phone still the most effective tool? I would like to hear your experiences.

I hope you enjoyed following my memories. Next week, I will write about my first experiences with the real Canadian winter.