Quality Tapas Time with My Lady Friends and a Bit on Fashion

So I'll only mention it once more, but the weather yesterday was again freezing me up. As my American expat friend, Robin, so eloquently stated on facebook two days ago, "It's really cold here in Austria today. When I go outside, the part of my brain behind my forehead feels strange and almost numb-like."

A nice 20 minute walk with Elsie to the vet in 14 degrees (fahren.) had me cursing those bloody ticks (ooh, a pun)...the reason I will be taking her every 2 weeks for 8 weeks. (And paying a small fortune to keep those buggers at bay...Art and I need one too actually.)

I was perked to have a social obligation on tap for last night. It's been too long. People don't get out as much in this weather. I miss getting even semi dressed up. Cold weather can really put a damper on the fashion. Not that I'm normally a fashionista, but I've sunk to a pretty low level that consists of stretchy work-out pants with tights underneath, my black long underwear shirt that makes me look like a burglar when worn alone, with a big brown, fuzzy fleece, a pea coat (that might bust a seam in the back because I'm stuffing so much 'puff' into it) and my Russian hat. Sometimes with Uggs...a lot of times with my crusty running shoes.

Fashion goes out the window when warmth is a top priority. My spandex-like skinny jeans have been neglected for months as they become uncomfortable after walking around the block. Good purchase, huh? All this to say that it takes a tiny toll on your psyche...at least mine.

In other fashion news, and I realize this is ridiculous..posting a picture of my husband getting dressed at his wardrobe in a measly button down shirt, but I got him to wear a pink shirt! And buy a pink shirt! I've been working on this for years. At the store this past weekend, I pointed out this thin-striped pink and white shirt (like I always point out the pinkies) and he just said "ok, get me a medium" and took it to the register. Just like that. Sometimes life surprises you with wonderment like this. And he's also wearing corduroys...another favey of mine.
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He wouldn't, however, get the terri gray elf shoes. Man's got boundaries.
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So, back on topic...last night I met up with the English Club for some tapas at a cute little Spanish place. My friend Anita joined us and will be joining the club! It has been forever since I've seen her and her girls. So nice to get girl time and have help translating a letter from the government. Um...do I have to do taxes? In German? Do they have Rosetta Stone Turben Taxen?

This is my new friend, Caroline:
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(We miss you, Monika!)

(Don't even get me started on that 'bang' dangling on my face. No more Hair Hunter for me.)
Caroline is from the Netherlands, but has lived all over. She is a huge walker and is trying to recruit me to go on walks with her to Mariatrost, a suburb that takes even awhile to get to on the tram. A two hour excursion there and back...yes, in this weather. She's lots of fun, though, so I may have to do it. And maybe it will help my pastiness that has become ever apparent in this photo!

And, that's it for now folks. Have a good weekend.


Art should really be behind the lens most of the time

Since my blog well is kinda running dry this week, like my throat, skin and eyes (people are saying this is the coldest, snowiest winter Graz has seen in a LONG time. Yeah, they said that when it rained for two months straight in the summer too. Somehow the bad weather is always 'so unusual'. Nice luck we have) we're going back in time to show you some of Art's old photos...mostly of his quaint, charming hometown: Charleston, South Carolina...where the sun shines, flowers bloom and Madras plaid adorns the masses.

As you can see, I should be handing the camera over to him most of the time...but I'm greedy and want to learn and hog it all to myself. And, you know how I was calling it the motherload? I saw that word in an article the other day and noticed it's motherlode...foolish. Shame on me.

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His old beast of a car. A 1991 Chevy Blazer. We've tried to describe how big this car is to our Swedish
friends and they can't really comprehend.

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I think I took these out of a car window when we visited Charleston 2 or 3 years ago. Not hard to tell
it's the work of an amateur. Still a great subject. I loved all the houses there.

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Shrimp 'n' Grits, we love and miss you. - The Valentíns

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The Year of the Wisitors

We're perked cause we got lots of fam coming to see us this year. All in the nice warm months. Let's give you a run down of our lineup:

First up is brother Jimmy.
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Here he is with his girlfriend, Natalie. Unfortunately, Natalie won't be joining him as he is embarking on a guy's ski trip to Mayrhofen, which is close to Innsbruck. He'll be here early March and swing by Graz for a night in Hotel Valentín before heading to Geneva for some business travel. He's a lover of all cuisine, so we'll have to take him to a good ole Styrian joint to give him a taste of the local flavor.

Next up, we got Marilia and Arturo Valentín, Art's lovely parents:
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They will be flyin' over and staying for two weeks come late April when the weather is magnificent. (I can not wait for those days!) I think they've found themselves a nice little bed and breakfast and I know Arturo is really looking forward to meeting (and feeding) Elsie. And, I know Marilia will appreciate the glory they call pastry shops here. They may venture out on a nice trip to Loipersdorf spa or other parts of Austria.

And shortly after Art's parents leave, the Modglins (my sister Erin and her husby Jason) will arrive!
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And unfortunately for me, but obviously too difficult for them, Sam will not be joining. That's ok. He will keep busy doing what he does (and loves) best. Vacuuming, sweeping and the like. He used to open doors non-stop which led my Dad to believe he might be a fine butler one day, but now we're calling him Sammy the mini Janny (Janitor).
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Erin and Jason will head to the City of Eiffelness first and probably travel to one or two other places before making their way to Graz and departing out of Vienna. They'll be in Europe for two weeks as well. And, they shall stay at our humble abode for 4 or 5 days.

Then come July, Mom, Dad and little sister Molly head on over.
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This was a week or two ago before one of Molly's 4,564 high school formals. We used to tease my parents long ago that they'd be 60 when Molly was 16, but they look pretty hip and hop don't they? The joke's on us.

So, they will come over in July, stopping off in Paris first as well and making their way to us. They will rent a car, because my mom must have control of her transport at all times, and make side trips to Salzburg and possibly Budapest before heading to Vienna for their last stop. Art and I just might accompany them on some of these trips as we have not seen these cities ourselves. A great family European road trip in the Audi.

My oldest brother and his wife (one of my friends) might also make it over in the fall!

Of course we have a list of Graz sites we will take each wisitor. We're so excited to show our families our little town we've called home for almost a year now. The pressure's on us to show them a good time!

Cue the choirs of angels singing...

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Die Sonne ist da!

I'll Be Back When...

- I don't have a horrific cough that keeps all of us awake
- I don't have a migraine to go on top of that, so when I do cough, it feels like my head might blow off
- It isn't snowing AGAIN, this time on top of the underlying ice
- I actually get to venture beyond these four walls
- And when, and for the love, let it come soon: the sun shines again.

Signing off,
Grumpball in Graz

EU

Did you think this was gonna be a post on the European Union? No way. It's an Elsie Update. You see, as her fur keeps growing and growing she's starting to get some curlage on top of her head.

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She doesn't know or care. She just cares about her leaf that was interesting enough to carry around and chew like tobacco for an hour.
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And when it gets really out of control...we call her Lyle.
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Whoops. That makes her mad.
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She prefers being compared to Lady.
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Life in Austria. Part 2. Healthcare

With healthcare being such a hot topic in America, I thought I'd fill you in on how the Austrian system works. Note: not like the U.S. Note 2: better! Note 3: much smaller country (we're talkin 8 vs. 308 million) with a totally different government, so not really fair to compare (I'm giving America a little break here.)

This is Michelle Obama giving a talk on healthcare back in September. Glad she's wearing her seatbelt to emphasize safety. She loves her some big thick belts. I do like a lot of her clothes though...as if that's what we're discussing here.
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I mostly have to go from my own experience with doctors and insurance here and fill in some gaps with information and facts I've gathered online. {So, please, any healthcare gurus out there...go easy on me..I'm a novice serious issue reporter...meaning I'm usually discussing coffee froth or how to put tomatoes and mozzarella between two slices of bread.}

Austria is well known for it's top-notch healthcare system. It's an affluent country with some serious organization and efficiency skills, so it's not surprising they got it going on in this department. It is ranked 9th in the world by the World Health Organization and #1 in Europe in a 2007 study by Health Consumer Powerhouse, a renowned Swedish organization.

Everyone living and working in Austria has to make health insurance contributions, and everyone is covered under this socialized system. There are, of course, different payment scales depending on salary and type of employment. I think ours is fairly reasonable. Probably more than what we'd pay for insurance out of our paycheck in America, but all basic services and most specialist services (including dental and hospital stays) are free. Meaning I NEVER fork over any money when I go to the "Arzt" (doctor). Oh, once I paid 4 euros for blood being drawn. 4 Euros! I am automatically covered under Art's insurance being his dependent. I'm totally an independent woman though, k? Throw your hands up at me.

There is private insurance as well, but since we don't do that, I don't know too much about it. Everyone in the public system carries an e-card that they swipe through a credit card like machine at the check-in desk and it has all your info. Genius...why don't we have this? Oh, I forgot...we make it as complicated as possy. No filling out paperwork everytime you go to a new doctor. This little card is wondey:
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Doctors here must work solo. There are no group practices. I don't know why, it's just not allowed. And they don't seem to work too much as their general hours are M - F from 8 - 12 or 1 and T & Th from 3 - 5:30 or something. This is usually how it works. Someone told me they go on house calls in the other hours? Do they bring a black doctor bag with them like in Pollyanna? This concept is foreign to me and seems so old school, but probably nice and convenient for those that need it.

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There are no "office" buildings here in Austria (or at least in Graz), so doctors' practices are located in a regular old building among the apartments. There are little arrows around town pointing you to doctors' offices. You usually must go see your general practitioner first for everything. He/She will then refer you to the appropriate specialist if need be. I have found waiting times vary...sometimes 10 minutes and some offices I wait at least an hour every dang time. And when you walk into a waiting room, everyone greets you (usually "morgen" because it's morning) and when you leave, everyone tells you goodbye. It is quite humorous. There is no talking in between...heaven forbid...you don't know these people and that would be just downright obscene you crazy American, you!

Sometimes it does take too long to get an appointment. For instance, I called in November for a thyroid check-up and was told I could come March 13. Um, nein danke. Is there a thyroid shortage out there or what? When I call my other doctor, they usually tell me to come the next day.

Are you wondering how I speak to these doctors? Luckily, most doctors here speak pretty good English. I usually ask when I make the appointment. I've at least gotten that part down...speaking with the receptionist. Oh, and Elsie's vet is great. Her shots have been the most expensive health cost we've had (besides our monthly payments). Unfortunately, Elsie doesn't have an e-card, but she does have a micro-chip in her neck that when scanned tells you her address and shot history. She was actually an illegal immigrant from Slovakia that was luckily granted citizenship by our kind vet with the insertion of this chip.

Prescriptions are always 4.80 € with the e-card, unless you are getting over the counter meds, which are only in the Apothekes (pharmacies), as nothing druggish is sold in a regular store. We ain't got no CVS or Walgreens. You literally must ask for them from the pharmacist and receive them 'over the counter'. They are pretty expensive here too. I do like that you can buy contacts without a prescription because in the U.S. you had to go see the dumb eye doctor every year just to get more contacts. I hate that eye puff.

So, that's my fairly basic rundown of the healthcare system here. I'm sure there's much more to it, but for now, this suffices for me. Oh, and my general doctor is next door...how's that for too convenient? Hey, I haven't gone to see her once during this whole nasty cold/cough/misery-at-night debacle. Ich bin kein Hypochonder.

Snowflakes Keep Fallin' on My Head

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....they keep fallin'.
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But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turnin' red
(oh yes it does...one of my eyes is red and stinging)
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Cryin's not for me (sometimes I cry when this gets all over my floors)
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Cause I'm never gonna stop the snow by complainin' (complaining only starts the 4th consecutive day of snow)
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Because I'm free (actually feel sorta restricted in my mounds of winter gear)
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Nothin's worryin' me (except that a big icicle's gonna be fallin' on my head)
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{lyrics borrowed from B.J. Thomas}

Life in Austria . Part 1 . Coffee Drinkin'

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Then come to Austria. In a hurry? Then don't come to Austria.

--Real quick, let me explain to you that I'm gonna start a little series of posts on Austrian culture...telling you what regular life and daily activities are like here (and how I'm finally adapting for the most part). So bust out of your comfort zones people...this is gonna be a wild ride. It might just make you appreciate your sink disposal.--

So, first up is coffee. When you give up your addiction of Coke Zero, coffee becomes of utmost importance. (I didn't say I was going off caffeine, did I?) In fact, since stepping foot here, I've learned so much about coffee and come to really love the stuff. I love getting the silver tray topped with that little white ceramic cup filled with the perfect looking coffee (and usually the daintiest frothy pop on top) and a little glass of water next to a tiny bowl of sugar cubes. I'm a sucker for presentation. It beats a clear plastic cup whose top pops off when I grab it and with my name (usually misspelled) scribbled on the side. I mean...seriously...so tacky. I'm so sophisty now. Hand me my beret please.

Austria is famous for its coffee houses and their laid back atmosphere. The cafes in Austria are very old (first one in Vienna in 1693) and all have the same sort of old-fashioned feel to them...like you would spot a poet (or perhaps Mozart?) writing at a small round table in the corner. Drinking coffee with friends (or by yourself) usually lasts longer than 30 minutes and sometimes hours. This is normal. You are supposed to sit back and enjoy yourself and your company over 30 Verlängerters. Waiters don't rush you...you could sit there all day reading a book (like I have done) and they won't get feisty. There are no Starbucks here..(well, yes some in Austria), but not Graz because that would be 'too commercial' for this old historic town. At first that annoyed me, but I like that they keep the character and history to this place. In the few hip places where you can get coffee to go, it's heavily advertised like "Hey, check out our novel idea!". Even then, mostly college kids frequent these spots.

Now, there are tons of varieties of coffee and you don't just ask for "coffee" or you will be slapped silly by some serious Austrian waiters. There is no drip-style coffee here like we are used to. We were a little overwhelmed at first spotting of a coffee menu here. Art being the creature of habit that he is was quite annoyed he couldn't just order regular coffee. Now, we are doing better.

So, I've put together a little list of typical Austrian coffees complete with pictures for you. Those of you visiting us this year...study up!

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Some Unexpected Benefits to Blogging

When I started this blog in April, it was an easy way for me to share all of our pictures without having to e-mail each and every family member or friend or use annoying Kodak gallery. I could also use it as a way to keep a digital scrapbook of our time here and I got to play around with some graphic design like I like to do. I sometimes even used it to vent some living abroad frustrations. These are all great bloggy benefits.

What I didn't expect were some of the perks that go along with it.

Like, remember when I posted this wondey house from a House Beautiful spread a month ago?
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Yeah, well I got an e-mail from the owner a couple of days ago thanking me for posting her home. She even told me she enjoyed our pictures and seeing Austria. When you are a design lover like me, this is like...well, cool.

And then, this past weekend Art and I were cruisin' along the main street downtown with Elsie on Sunday when there's hardly anyone out. We stopped at this other couple with a dog because the dogs always like to sniff each other and the girl goes "Are you Carolyn?". We had never met in person, but Anna had e-mailed me several months back because she had found the blog and she too was moving to Graz with her husband. She had some questions about getting set up here and we exchanged many e-mails. She said she mostly recognized me because of Elsie...she had seen her on the blog. I've had about five other people e-mail me and ask me similar questions or even if they should move to Graz. Now, that's a little hard for me to answer, but I try to give them some advice. It's nice to be able to help answer some questions from anxious soon-to-be Austrian dwellers because I know just a little knowledge and preparation can help a lot.

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And, back in October, I got an e-mail from someone at HGTV asking me if we had any interest in being on House Hunters International. She had found us through the blog and said we looked like good candidates. Now, I used to watch HGTV (a little too much) and know this show inside and out. I was perked. But, as it turns out, we had things going on and there was a lot of work involved, so we declined at the time. I also don't like seeing myself on camera...I'm like "oh, she's kinda annoying".

And finally, I now have more vanilla extract and Almay eye makeup remover pads than I know what to do with! You mention it, you got it.
(oh, and lots of chocolate chips, but I know exactly what to do with those.)
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A New Year

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So, we were really quite lame and didn't go see the huge firework show downtown on New Year's Eve. You know what they call New Year's Eve here?

Silvester.

Totally makes you think of this, doesn't it?
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Art's been told he looks like SS more than once. I'm not gonna lie...I see it a bit.
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We were definitely planning on going, but I was hacking up a lung with a terri cough and it was already 31 degrees at 9:30 pm. (And, let's admit it...we were tired by 11:00.)

We definitely heard it though... and saw some of it outside our window. My friend that went last year said it sounds like a bomb raid from the top of the Schlossberg hill where they shoot them. They LOVE fireworks here. Everyone shoots them all over town. In that picture of a Graz Silvester above you can see how many fireworks are being shot off around the city...that photo was probably exposed for 4 seconds rather than a split second instant, but still..you get the idea.

And what is the mass marketed item for Silvester? Pigs. They set up shops a week in advance filled with pig paraphernalia....stuffed, bobbled-headed, the size of a thimble so you can carry in your pockey...and even pastries shaped like piggaroos. A pig brings you viel Glück (good luck). or probably not.
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And not that you care about my plan for a better me, but I'm going to list my three resolutions here. I'll feel more accountable if it's on the internet.

Rezzies for Twenty Ten:

1. Eat more fruits & veggies

2. Cut out the Coke Zero for cryin' out loud
(I've been addicted to Diet, now Zero...for a good 5 years)

3. Learn more Deutsch on the double

And because my sister just posted this on facebook, I'll show you how we joined in on the Christmas morning gift exchange at my family's house:
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Kinda felt like we were there. Looks like Art's trying real hard to see something...prob. because my big noggin's in the way. Ana's eyeballin' that last gift on the table.

Happy New Year peeps.


Our Year in Photos



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