Friday, 30 December 2016

The Final Chapter

Blog 53

After the return from our wedding in Germany, we did not have much time to settle into a daily routine before my friend Britta came for a visit. I enjoyed her company very much because we have been friends since elementary school. We talked about everything without any language barriers.

The relationships with my school friends are still different than all the friendships I have made in my adult years. We share the same roots, and we can remember our childhood or early adulthood together. Even when we do not hear from each other for months, it is still as if we have seen each other just yesterday every time we meet.

After Britta left, I was sad because I felt quite isolated again. However, I was also craving some alone-time to digest the events of the past two months. I did not have time to fall into a deep hole, because less than seven weeks later my friend Bettina came for a visit, followed by our friends Marion and Chris. I enjoyed all these visits and showing our German guests our new home and the Ottawa sights. However, I needed to connect with others and make friends to feel at home in our new environment.

My early friendships in Canada were based on the same mother tongue. However, often we drifted apart before we even got to know each other better because we realized early on that coming from the same country was not sufficient as a foundation for a friendship.

My first real friendships developed once we had our first child. They started out as playgroup meetings to socialize with other new mothers and find playmates for our kids. Over the years, our kids built their own circle of friends outside of the group, but I am still friends with some of the other mothers.

My deepest friendships developed, however, once I spent time with other painters, about ten years later. Being invited to a paint-out of a group of painters from the Orleans/Cumberland area was a turning point. They were just all very welcoming, even to a novice plein air painter like me at the time. The dynamic was very different from my previous friendships. Until this point in my life, I had always been the oldest, whether it was in my family or in my circle of friends.

Suddenly, among the other painters, many of them in early retirement, I was the youngest by many years. I felt that the others looked out for me while accepting me as an equal. The friendships with some of my early painting buddies have deepened and we have each other's backs not only in the tough business of art but also when life is challenging. We also celebrate our successes and highlights together.

With the prospect of being accepted as a landed immigrant, I had to study for my driver's licence. Fourteen years after I had passed my driving test in Germany, I had to start all over again as my German licence was only valid for a couple of months as a tourist. We extended this time span by leaving the country a couple of times. However, once I became a landed immigrant I needed an Ontario driver's licence. This was very strange because in Germany, I had to take many months of theoretical and practical training before I could register for the test while here people just needed to pass the written test to sit behind a wheel.

At the time, I had to take the written test and then the road test to receive a full G licence. I drove myself to the drive test office. There, they almost did not allow me to do the test because my passport still showed my maiden name. However, once this was settled, one employee was very helpful when I had some problems to understand the questions. I passed with 100% and got my G1.

After the test, I drove myself home, which was legally a bit of a grey area. I still had my German driver’s licence but after receiving the G1 licence, usually one is only allowed to drive when accompanied by a driver with four years of driving experience. The next step was the road test for the full G licence. I had a hard time to book the road test. I was devastated because the next appointment in Ottawa was only available in November. I called all around, until I finally could book a test in Cornwall for September 5 which I passed without problem.

The day after my G1 test, I finally became a landed immigrant. However, this was only the beginning of more running around. Next, I had to apply for the Ontario Health Insurance Program. Ahead, there were the prospects of more documents to fill out and more waiting around. I was quite frustrated. Three months later, I was finally insured.

As it turns out, the paperwork does not seem to end. As a German citizen and permanent resident to Canada there is double the paperwork to deal with as both my passport as well as my permanent resident card have to be valid to enable me to travel abroad and return to Canada. Since July 2015, the German embassy in Ottawa does not offer any consular services anymore, which means that my family and I have to travel to Toronto to have our passport renewed.

Looking back on my more than 20 years in Canada, I am now at a point in my life where it would be as hard to leave my Canadian friends behind as it was to leave my German friends behind when I moved to Canada. The move has challenged me in ways I never considered and brought me unexpected blessings. I feel content as an artist and instructor. This is a passion I would probably never have fully developed if I had stayed in Germany, where I most likely would have continued in the financial business field.

A Turkish friend of mine once said to me that he neither felt fully at home in Germany nor in Turkey. I now know exactly what he meant. I will always be torn between the two countries.

Winter Glow, Acrylic, 36" x 24"
Thank you for following me throughout the first chapters of my life in Canada. I hope you got a glimpse of the challenges immigrants face, and also learned some new facts about life in Germany.

I would like to wish all of you all the best for a happy and successful 2017. I will do my best to keep you entertained with my blogs which will be more art oriented again in the new year.

Friday, 23 December 2016

The German Wedding

Blog 52

In today’s blog we are finally reaching the wedding week. We started the celebration with the “Polterabend” on June 5. We still had lots of last minute errands to run. My grandmother needed a ride home from the hospital; I had some runs to the registry office to get a new copy of my birth certificate; we had to get the last groceries, drop the veil off at the florist's, and I also had a dentist appointment. As I was still a tourist in Canada with only emergency health care, this was my chance to get my checkup done. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law arrived in the afternoon by train, and they had to be picked up at different train stations.

However, the weather was fantastic with temperatures above 30 degrees. I was nervous to see who would come, and I hoped to see some of my school friends as well as former colleagues. People started to show up slowly, so that my mother was already worried that we would have much too much food, but in the end more than 100 people came to celebrate with us, some of whom I had not seen in years. We had a fantastic evening.

As Ingo’s and my family did not know each other, we had a relaxed get-together the evening before our wedding in my parents’ garden. A meeting between the two families is often not arranged before the actual wedding. I guess there was no necessity for it as even up to the generation of my grandparents many people stayed in their community so that everyone knew each other.

While I heard that it is customary in Canada to hold a wedding rehearsal and a rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding ceremony, this is a concept that is totally unknown in Germany. All Ingo and I had to do before the wedding was to talk with the pastor I had picked. It was the pastor who led our congregation during my confirmation years. When we got married, he was already retired but agreed to hold the service. He did not know Ingo. Therefore, our meeting was to get to know Ingo, and to go through the course of the ceremony. Neither Ingo nor anyone beside my immediate family had been inside the church before our wedding.

Our wedding day, June 8, was a beautiful summer day with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius.
We had decided to have the wedding photos taken before the church ceremony. However, we never thought about the fact that Ingo’s parents and siblings would meet us only at the church. Therefore, all the official wedding photos are only with our witnesses as well as my parents, sister, and grandmother. We have wonderful photos from the reception but not one single shot that shows us with Ingo’s parents, his siblings, and grandmothers.

It was so hot that we were already sweating during the photo shoot. Luckily, one of my father’s clients, the owner of a car dealership, had offered us one of his cabrios for the wedding. Therefore, the ride to the church and later to the hotel were quite pleasant. The old church building was also quite comfortable. The pastor even invited the two accompanying dogs into the church.

During the church ceremony both the German pastor as well as the pastor from the congregation in Mississauga took turns, which was very festive. However, I was too excited and nervous to follow the service.

When we left the church, we stepped directly into the “Brunnenfest”, a festival around the old fountain that was situated next to the church in front of the historic city hall building. The mayor served everyone beer, and water for the two dogs. When Lisa, my aunt’s Golden Retriever, left the church, she even gave a paw to the pastor. Too bad nobody captured that moment.

We were all so hot and looking forward to the air-conditioned hotel. Unfortunately, even though it was a newer hotel, it did not have air-conditioning. What was even worse was that Ingo and I were sitting with our backs in the full sunlight. After dinner, we went to the big courtyard where a band provided the entertainment for the evening. I was a little disappointed that I had not considered the practicability of my dress for dancing. It was almost impossible, so I limited my dancing to the bridal waltz, a dance with both my father, father-in-law, and the final dance of the evening with Ingo.

A slight letdown was the four-tier wedding cake. It tasted fantastic, but the Marzipan bears that were supposed to top the upper cake looked like pigs. Luckily, pigs are considered a symbol for good luck, and you can never have enough of it. To this day, Marzipan pigs are popular sweets as a gift on New Year’s Eve in Germany.

As a special treat, the hotel had given us a suit for the night. However, we were in for a surprise when we entered the room. Our siblings and witnesses had redecorated the room. The whole bathroom was filled to the ceiling with balloons. Once we had moved them out of the way, we had to find out that the toilet was covered with liquid soap. Very slippery! The light bulbs of the lamps near the bed had been replaced with oranges, and behind the curtains an alarm clock in the shape of a rooster was supposed to wake us, but it already went off before we even reached the room. However, they had made sure that we would receive a wakeup call at 6 and 9am. We were too happy to care.

At the end of today’s blog, I would like to thank you for your continuous interest and feedback. I hope you can leave all your cares and worries behind for a couple of days to enjoy the holidays with family and friends. Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate the birth of Christ.

Next week, I will write one more time about my last couple of weeks before I became a permanent resident of Canada. I hope you will continue to follow my blog.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Final Wedding Preparations

Blog 51

When I arrived in Germany, three weeks before the wedding, I immediately started to tackle the tasks that still had to be dealt with. On the day of my arrival, I ordered the flowers and the four-tier wedding cake. It was no problem at all. This was very different from my Canadian experience. When my future mother-in-law and I went to a florist about six weeks before our Canadian wedding to order a wedding bouquet and one bouquet for the table in the restaurant, the florist was stunned that I had not dealt with this task at least six months before the date. I guess she would have been shocked, if she had known that we had only decided to get married two months before the wedding date.

I also found someone who would iron my wedding dress for the big day. Despite the fact that it was hanging in a special place in the plane, it still needed some smoothing out.

Next was the organization of the “Polterabend”. The Polterabend normally takes place in front of the house of the bride's parents. While the couple announces the occasion, invitations are not sent out. The guests usually do not only include the guests of the wedding party, but instead it is open to the bigger circle of friends, neighbours, and colleagues.

Guests bring and break porcelain to bring luck to the marriage according to the saying “Scherben bringen Glück“ (Shards bring luck). The couple cleans up the pile of shards together as a preparation for their married life when they have to be a team not only in happy times but also work together through difficult situations. Drinks and food are offered, and the celebration often takes place under a tent in a relaxed atmosphere. My parents and I decided to empty the garage and then have the “Polterabend” in the driveway in front of the house. My dad ordered the waste container which we needed for all the porcelain.

A total surprise to me, one which I did not learn until the day of our “Polterabend”, was the tradition of hanging a clothes line in front of the house with babies clothes (in our case my own) to ensure quick child blessings. To make the expectations even clearer to us, my parents set up a Klapperstorch” (a stork that is supposed to bring the babies) carrying a pink bundle of joy. It worked indeed in our case: less than a year later, the stork dropped off a blue bundle at our door, a bouncing baby boy.

My maid of honour came over to look at my wedding dress to see whether the dress she had seen would fit with my dress. In Germany, you only have a maid of honour, a best man and maybe some flower girls. The concept of Bridesmaids is not known in Germany. The maid of honour and the best man pick their own outfit. It was an especially thoughtful gesture that my friend wanted to pick a dress that would look good with my wedding dress.

To get my health insurance issues solved, I also started working at my father’s architecture company. As an employee, I had access to health insurance. I checked tenders, and final invoices.

Despite all I had to do, I felt out of place. I stayed with my parents in their guest room. It was just the same as when I lived with my future in-laws, there was no place where I could retreat. While the house had once been my home, it did not feel like home anymore. My first apartment was transformed into office space.

Then, there was all the stress with my latest apartment, which had its own garden. My tenants had given notice and had not cared for the garden at all during their year-long stay. The garden looked neglected and needed some work before we could rent out the place again. As Ingo and I did not have time to do the garden work, we had to get a gardener which meant unexpected expenses.

As if all this was not stressful enough, my grandmother had to be transported with an emergency doctor in an ambulance to the hospital after her legs were swollen like those of an elephant. She had a blood clot. However, the doctors were optimistic that she would be released within a week.

There was another disaster on the horizon: Jessie had been run over by a car in front of our house the day before, and she was also in the hospital with injuries to her head. Ingo did not even want to tell me about the incident, but it slipped out of his mouth because he was so upset that he had not paid better attention. He was also traumatized because of the drive to the hospital and Jessie's desperate crying when he had to leave her at the hospital. I am just glad I was not there when the accident happened. I would probably been all hysteric. At least Ingo stayed calm on the outside. Jessie bled heavily so that our neighbours and Ingo wrapped her in bedding and raced her to the closest hospital. On the way, she continued to close her eyes. However, she was lucky. She lost a lot of blood, but her gums could be stitched together; her brain wave measurements and the x-rays were normal, so Ingo could pick her up after a day. This was all happening very close to Ingo's own departure two days later. Luckily, Jessie was in good hands with our realtor who had become our friend. However, she was still shaky on her feet and could not lie down by herself when Ingo had to leave her behind which was very hard for him.

Once I know that both my grandmother and puppy would be all right, I could finally enjoy some time with my friends. It felt so good to spent time chatting, to be updated on their lives, finally to feel among friends again who know me and with whom I can talk freely in my mother tongue without limitations.

Thank you for following my story. I hope you will return to my blog next Friday to read all about the big day.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The Out of Country Wedding Planner (Part II)

Blog 50

In the early months of 1996, I was slowly adjusting to the new environment. I was a stay at home wife because I was still waiting for the acceptance as a landed immigrant. We adopted a Golden Retriever puppy named Jessie, I started a weekly painting course at the Ottawa School of Art, I continued creating teddy bears, and was planning our church wedding which would take place in June in Germany. This was a major endeavour because I took this task on all by myself.

When I was not painting, I created the place cards, menu cards and decorations for our wedding. Ingo did not get involved in the planning and was happy with the bear theme I had picked. The centrepiece were two teddy bears in wedding attire. To avoid upsetting anyone with regard to the table number, the tables had fruit names and hand painted fruit decorations.

The closer the date of our wedding came, the more I worried about wedding details. For example, I dreamed about problems with my wedding dress that we had ordered the previous fall. Unfortunately, they proved to be true. While my dress had arrived, the lace for my veil had not been ordered. I was just glad that my sister was there to pick another veil with me. When I went to the store to pick up the dress, I was almost in tears when the dress was not pink like the one I had tried on, but a light peach. The clerk in the store told me that the manufacturer would not guarantee for colour deviations, but offered that I could return the dress. It was not really a choice as all dresses had to be ordered. The delivery for the dress they had received had taken about half a year, and my wedding was only two months away.

My sister, who had arrived for an Easter visit, and my sister-in-law assured me that the dress was still beautiful, but I was devastated. It was just not the way I had envisioned my dress. All our table decorations were colour matched with my pink dress. It was too late to make any changes.

Picking a new veil was also a problem because I needed it in a week, when I would come to Mississauga for the last time before my trip to Germany. Usually, the delivery time was 6 – 8 weeks, but in the end the store managed to get the order in within the week. However, I had to attach the headpiece by hand to the veil because there was no time to have it done.

The wedding invitation of one of my good friends from Germany made me feel quite homesick again. Her wedding date was two weeks after our wedding. Unfortunately, I would already be back in Canada at this time. Events like this still get me down. It still makes me sad that I have missed almost all of my friends' and relatives' weddings and special birthdays.

It did not help that I was also disappointed about my sister's visit. While this was her vacation to relax from the daily struggles as a teacher, I wanted to make the most of our time together. I had a hard time to accept that she was more interested in sleeping, her books and her school materials than in any activities I suggested. I felt lonelier than ever. It took until the second week until we finally had a good time. At the end of her visit, we both were sad that she had to leave. However, we knew that we would see each other again in five weeks. I also was very happy that two of my good friends had announced their visits for the summer and fall.

After my sister's visit, I felt quite homesick again. It had been almost half a year since my last visit in Germany. While I had met some women through the Newcomers Club, they all had small children and therefore different priorities. Meeting for a chat or an outing during the day was difficult for them.

On the first anniversary of our immigration to Canada, I noted in my journal that my world had changed drastically. While I did not miss work in my old company at all, I still missed my family and friends badly. I wished I could see them more often, or at least hear from them by phone or letter more frequently. The thought of being able to see them only on a yearly basis seemed unbearable. I hoped this feeling would change once we had children. Little did I realize at the time that this would mean even less trips to Germany.

Our standard of living was definitely higher than in Germany, despite living on only one income. We never could have afforded a house in Germany. Moreover, life was definitely less stressful.

While we lived in Germany, Ingo and I both had a very good salary. Our life in one apartment made it possible for us to have a comfortable life. We had two cars, were able to travel, and did not have to worry about money. However, it also came with a price. Especially since I had to work a lot of overtime hours. It would have been hard to live on one salary if we had decided to raise a family.

If you enjoyed my blog and would like to read all about our German wedding, please return to this blog on Friday, December 16, 2016.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Out of Country Wedding Planner

 Blog 49

When Ingo and I got married in a civil wedding in October 1995, we had already decided that we would have a church wedding with all our relatives and friends in Germany in the spring of 1996.

Planning the wedding from abroad was not that easy because I had to do everything by myself as the coordination with my sister and friends was too difficult. Luckily, my parents undertook the task of finding the reception venue.

However, there were some issues that were not directly related to the wedding that had to be addressed. First, there was the problem of getting health insurance for myself. As I was still only a visitor in Canada, we had to buy travel insurance for myself so that I was at least covered for the basic emergencies during my stay in Canada. The big problem was, however, insurance for my visit to Germany. As I was officially still registered in Germany, I would have been insured under my husband's insurance policy as a stay-at-home wife. However, as my husband was living and employed abroad, in a country where I did not have a residence permit, so I was not insured at all, and could not even buy private insurance. Therefore, we hoped that I would get my landed immigrant status before the trip. At the end of February, however, my file still did not even have a number. It did not look like my file would be processed soon.

It was not until the end of March 1996 that I received a letter informing me of the date of my medical examination which was part of my process to become a landed immigrant. I worried that the doctor would find anything that would prevent me from being accepted. I had to go through a thorough medical examination including blood and urine tests and x-rays. However, during the examination in the middle of April, the doctor and the nurses were all very nice so that I felt less anxious. Everything went fine, and the next step in becoming a landed immigrant was reached.

My trip to Germany was booked for May 16, 1996, two weeks before Ingo's departure. While my earlier departure was fine because I still had lots of errands to run to pull it all together, I was quite dissatisfied with our return flight arrangements. It looked like I would not only travel alone, but I would also fly back to Canada two days before Ingo and his family. This would have been horrible, having to leave behind my family and friends, and then not even being welcomed by a familiar face.

I had hoped for a romantic wedding, but we would not have a honeymoon or at least a romantic wedding night in a nice hotel room. Instead, I would have to travel back alone to our new house in a foreign country that still did not feel like my home.

At the end, Ingo and I were able to fly back together because Air Canada and Lufthansa made it possible when we explained the situation to them that I could switch my ticket with my brother-in-law’s ticket.

As if planning a wedding from out of the country was not already difficult enough, there were the worries for my grandmother who had been sick for a while but did not want to bother anyone. She waited a week to tell my sister who lived in the same apartment building. The doctor diagnosed an acute kidney infection. Luckily, my mother insisted on her hospitalization. While my grandmother was transported to the hospital she had a heart attack. She was taken to ICU. After two operations and a pulmonary embolism, she was finally not in critical condition anymore, but it was still not clear whether she would be able to continue living by herself. I found out about all of this almost a month after my grandmother was hospitalized through a slip of the tongue by my sister.

At the same time, my mother had further problems with her eyes, however, continued to postpone a visit to a specialist.

Then, there was sudden a break in all these gloomy clouds. My sister surprised me with her announcement that she had booked a flight to Canada. She would visit us in less than four weeks.

I had also managed to sell my first teddy bear. My first earning in almost a year. Another sale happened not even two weeks later. I was very excited. Things seemed to be turning around.

Moreover, I also submitted two paintings for the Ottawa School of Arts exhibition. After quite the struggle with one of the paintings which I covered completely three times before I was happy with the result, I felt proud of myself.

When we went to the Ottawa School of Arts open house, Ingo and I were in awe of the fantastic artworks. Some of the sculptures and paintings were so amazing that we would have liked to own them. Suddenly, I did not feel my paintings were that good anymore and wished that I could paint like some of the others. Then, I reminded myself that some of the artists were full-time students while others like myself were just hobbyists. I could definitely see the improvements resulting from my regular painting practices. However, above all I just had so much fun painting.

To read more about my wedding planning challenges, please return next Friday, December 9, to read about the final weeks before the wedding.

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.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Ten, Nine, Eight,...

Magic Pumpkins, acrylic, 16" x 20"

Blog 44

After I took a break in my walk down memory lane for the last couple of weeks when I wrote to you about the last two painting trips of this year, I will now return to the events of October 1995. For those of you who are new to my blog, I decided to dedicate most of this year's blogs to my experiences and impressions of Canada, the country which would be my new home after our move from Germany at the end of April 1995. I finished my last blog about my first year in Canada with the sale of our house. Please see the Blog of September 16, if you would like to go back to my story.

Just ten days before our wedding, our offer for a house was accepted. We finally had our own place to build our future together. I had a return ticket to Germany for October 20 and would therefore be able to arrange for our furniture to be shipped in time for the closing date. However, first we had more excitement awaiting us.

As I did not know anyone but Ingo's family here in Canada, we decided to have a wedding barbecue bash instead of the traditional bridal shower and bachelor party. We had a very nice evening with Ingo's friends and siblings at the Peters family home. As we did not have a lot of money, we had prepared everything ourselves with the generous help from Ingo's parents, who did not only offer us their house for the party but also bought the alcohol. Ingo's mother even baked a cake – actually twice, as the first one fell victim to a hunger attack the evening before.

I had not felt like celebrating at all after I had finally received a letter from one of my best friends. I had been uneasy for weeks as she has always been very thoughtful and communicative. We regularly exchanged letters even when I was still in Germany. However, I had not heard from her since our last meeting, not even for my birthday. She had had cancer a couple of times before and it had come back. I knew she was a fighter with a strong will to survive, but for the first time I had registered a bit or resignation in her words which made me very upset. I wished I could do more for her but all I could do is write a letter.

Just hours later, I received news that my mother had trouble with her sight. She had another appointment at the university hospital just two days before their flight due to the fact that her eye specialist had found out that she had lost almost all of her sight in one of her eyes. I was very worried that she would not be allowed to fly. However, there was nothing I could do but wait for her call after the appointment.

Due to the excitement in my own life, I did not really realize at that point that this would be a big problem in the years to come. It does not matter where I am, I always miss part of the people in my life, and often feel like an outsider when something happens to my family and friends in Germany. Even though I put a lot of effort into keeping the relationships alive, and while I am quite successful at it, I miss not being able to be a bigger part of their lives, both in happy and in difficult situations.

On our first Thanksgiving in Canada Ingo went to work to be able to take only one day of vacation for our wedding. It was a grey day, and the city seemed deserted. After work, Ingo and I explored the neighbourhood of our new house. It was really exciting: lots of parks, a path along the river that lead all the way to downtown, and even some tennis courts. We enjoyed walking through the forest. The smell of fall was in the air: it smelled of firewood and decaying leaves.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a feast of turkey breast in cider mustard sauce with apple pieces, a recipe we had found in one of the local grocery stores.

I was not aware that Thanksgiving was quite the family festivity in Canada with large turkey or ham dinners for the whole family. The three day weekend encourages Canadians to go one more time to the cottage and to enjoy the fall colours while hiking. The German “Erntedankfest” is only celebrated in the Christian churches, in general on the first Sunday of October. Usually the churches are decorated with produce to give thanks for a good harvest. In some areas, religious processions or parades are common. However, for most Germans it is of no importance.

In my next blog, I finally reach the highlight of 1995, our wedding in Mississauga in mid October. I hope you enjoyed my blog and are looking forward to finding out more about the wedding day, and whether or not my parents were able to attend our wedding.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Lake Clear - Plein Air Ensemble Fall Painting Trip 2016, Part III

Sunday, October 2, 2016

As expected, we woke up to rain. It was more mist than rain drops, and it had stopped after breakfast. Even the fog started to lift. Hélène and I decided to stay close to the cottage, so we went to the swamp next to the entrance. Hélène wanted to paint a second painting of the starting tree, and I decided to paint the beautiful red wine leaves in front of the barn.

Unfortunately, the rain started again and continued on and off. While I was pretty dry under my umbrella, Hélène was more exposed under hers and went back to the cottage while I continued painting until 2 p.m. When I arrived at the cottage, I was starving. I never feel hungry when I am painting because I am so focused on my image, but as soon as I stop, I am usually famished.

For the rest of the afternoon, I prepared my Tuesday drawing class, read, wrote parts of my newsletter, and took a quick nap.

Tonight, everyone was so tired that we skipped the Trivial Pursuit art game we had brought for the evening entertainment. Instead, we had lively discussions which was nice to see. As an organizer, it is always very rewarding if the people get along well. That makes our work really easy.

Monday, October 3, 2016

We were quite disappointed this morning when we woke up to rain. The weather forecast had promised sun with the occasional shower, but not mist and fog.

Hélène and I decided to drive around a little bit hoping that it would clear up. Even though the sun did not appear, at least the drizzle stopped. We drove towards Cormac, then turned towards Foymount. Unfortunately, the mountainous area was totally enclosed by fog. We returned to Cormac, and we continued through marshes and fields all the way up to Killaloe.

At the end, we went back to another swamp on Cormac Road, where the colourful fall trees and a view of the mountains caught our attention. We had an early lunch. Afterwards, we spent the rest of the day at the swamp. When we started painting, there was a complete cloud cover, then a couple of patches of blue sky and a little bit of sun had peeked through, but disappeared quickly again. However, by 2:30 p.m. the sun came out at full strength. Temperatures climbed to about 20 degrees. It was hot in the sun. I was glad that I had an umbrella. Unfortunately, painting the scene got really tricky as the bright sunlight changed the colours of the scene. I continued to compare colours with the areas of my painting that I had already worked on. There is still some work to be done but I am quite happy with what I painted. I found it quite hard to capture the foliage successfully. As we only had less than an hour left before we had to leave for the cottage, I just started a small painting of a tree stem overgrown by a red wine.

When we finally returned to the cottage, we were amazed how calm Lake Clear was. Neither this year nor last year had we ever seen the lake that quiet. There was absolutely no wind. What a beautiful sight! I took pictures not only of the big mountain on the other side of the lake, but also of a grey heron, and later of the beautiful sunset that tinted the water light pink and blue.

Tonight was our last evening together. Everyone put up some of their paintings from the weekend. We had the vote for the most creatively decorated name tag, and lots of discussions about the paintings and the beautiful spots everyone had discovered during the trip.

Hélène and I are extremely happy that everyone had a good time. We are looking forward to the spring trip at the end of March to Orford in Quebec. If you would like more information about the Plein Air Ensemble please contact me at

I hope you enjoyed my travelogue. If you would like more information about the Opeongo Mountain Resort please go to the website: Katia and Niels Klauk offer a very welcoming atmosphere.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Lake Clear - Plein Air Ensemble Fall Painting Trip 2016, Part II

Blog 42

Friday, September 30, 2016

Today, Hélène and I returned to Cormac Road where we painted the marsh. At first, it was nice and sunny, but later it got quite chilly when the clouds rolled in. I was struggling with the changing light conditions again, but managed to solve most of my problems by adjusting the colour temperature.

In the afternoon, we had to drive to the centre of Eganville to buy the wine for the Happy Hours, as well as some flowers and gourds for the still life we will set up tomorrow for everyone who would like to stay indoors for painting.

On our way back, we made a detour to Manning Road that was pointed out by our resort owners as having beautiful fall colours. We were not disappointed. On both sides of the road were some beautiful swamp areas, a couple of huge interesting rocks and beautiful trees in full fall colours. On our way out, we also saw a big flock of wild turkeys. This might become tomorrow's painting location. It is only minutes from the cottage and offers many picturesque spots.

We have figured out that it is best to stay in one spot or some spots that are close to each other to avoid the travelling time which cuts down the painting time.

In the evening, we were relieved that everyone made it safely to the resort. It was nice to welcome some of the older members back who had not been able to make it to any of the trips for the last couple of years, as well as one newcomer.

We had a good time catching up with our painting friends during Happy Hour and the following delicious dinner prepared for us by the resort owner and staff.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The weather was treating us to another good day. Hélène and I went to Manning Road where we had discovered the beautiful, but very smelly swamp yesterday. Hélène picked the side of the road where the smell was not so bad. However, the beautiful red trees that captured my interest were on the other side of the road, so I set up there. After a while, the smell made me cough, but I got lucky when the wind set in and drastically reduced the smell of decaying plants.

I was struggling with the overload of sensations, but managed to pull things together at the end. I am not completely satisfied, but curious how I will feel about the painting in a couple of days.

For the afternoon, we picked a huge rock as our subject. Having had to concentrate so hard in the morning, I decided to be a little adventurous with my colours. I used quite a lot of purple and pink for the rock and was doing quite well until I almost lost the impact of the rock in my painting. Luckily, I was able to recover my rock. So far, I consider this my best painting of the trip.

We had set ourselves a time to drive back to the resort to be able to prepare the plates for the Happy Hour and get changed without rushing. However, we had a hard time to stop painting because we were so close to the finish line. At the end, we were already late when we had packed everything into the car, only to discover that we could not find the car keys, or the spare. After looking around everywhere in the vicinity, I found them between the driver seat and the console. Despite this, we managed to have everything ready just in time. However, there were no minutes to spare.

We were happy to welcome the last two participants of our group that had to come a day late. We were treated to some wonderful music by our very talented musicians during the Happy Hour which we feel very fortunate to enjoy.

Tonight, Mette was nice enough to tell us about her adventure into the fashion world. She gave us a glimpse into how she has created beautiful clothes and home decor articles based on some of her flower paintings. It was fascinating – even the gentlemen of the group stayed for the talk. If you would like to see for yourself please go to

To follow me on our final two days of the Plein Air Ensemble trip, please return next Friday for the final part of the travelogue.