Thursday, December 31, 2015

December Highs and Lows 2015

Today is the last day of the year, and I hope you can close 2015 saying there was more good than bad, more laughter than tears, and more peace in your soul than unrest. As for me, I don't need to review this thread of posts to know that there were more highs than lows in 2015. I am looking forward to 2016 and the adventures and challenges it will bring.

For something new, I'm going to try this month to limit my mention of food in my "Highs". Let's see how that goes.


  • meeting another expat blogger (Around the Wherever) in Esslingen at the Weihnachtsmarkt and hanging out for a few hours on a Saturday. She's originally from the American Midwest as well! We played Mäuseroulette, and I actually won this time! I kept my stone but gave the prize to a little Italian girl who had played that round as well but didn't win.
Darling Zora posed before running into the house with my stone on it!
The children are doing "mouse applause" with their fingers.
  • visiting Tübingen's Chocolate festival for the second year, buying gifts, and tasting samples. Yum!!

  • visiting the Hermann Hesse Kolleg several times and sitting in on classes where refugees are learning German. I was able to participate in the class and work with the students I was sitting near. One of the students asked me what a "Schirm" is, and I answered in German and pantomime: "When it rains I need an umbrella." He understood and wrote down the definition in Arabic. Then he looked at me and said, "You know English - why didn't you just tell me the English word?"  "Because you don't learn as well if I just give you the answer!" :-)

  • Friday morning riding lessons. I ride a sweet little horse named Mallory. Actually she's more bitchy than sweet, but she does her job well and puts up with me. 

  • appearing in a newspaper photograph that accompanied an article about the weekly Sprach-Cafe I attend where refugees, volunteers, and townspeople come together for refreshments and conversation.

  • Christmas, of course - a lovely, quiet celebration with my Schwiegermutter, M, and me as my kids headed to Disney World with my parents. Given and received were several books including two about food photography, calendars, socks (because M actually does like getting socks for Christmas!), lotion, knife sharpener blades, an in-home cooking class featuring sauces, and a day out shopping for "horse stuff."

  • bumping into an acquaintance of mine on a spontaneous trip into town and being offered a job! I wasn't looking for a job and never thought I'd want to teach again, but there is a need that I can fill. I can only commit to part time, but it looks like I'll be teaching basic German to at least one class of refugees four or five afternoons a week.

  • meeting my Gastmutter, my exchange partner, her husband and three of their kids for lunch in Esslingen. Although we didn't take any pictures, I truly enjoyed the afternoon! Incidentally, my exchange partner married an American and they live in Wisconsin, and as you know I married a Swabian and live in southern Germany. Little did we or our parents know, back when we applied for that exchange 30 years ago, how all our lives would change because of it.


  • news from the U.S. that Donald Trump is still the most popular GOP candidate for the presidency. Seriously, people? 

  • the package I mailed to my family in Wisconsin not making it there in time for Christmas.


  • 250g of powdered sugar costs €1,19, while the same amount of regular sugar costs €0,16. I can make powdered sugar in our Thermomix in 10 seconds. Guess who's never buying powdered sugar again?

  • Vanilla extract is not sold in Germany - at least I've never been able to find it, and it's not an ingredient ever called for in German recipes. I learned that one can make vanilla extract by immersing sliced vanilla beans in vodka and letting it rest in the cellar for 8 weeks (giving it a shake once a week). I'll let you know at the end of February how it turned out.
one bean per 2 ounces of vodka

That's it for the year. Tonight we have fondue, "Dinner for One,"the British comedy sketch that is cult in Germany - Bleigießen (pouring melted lead into cold water to tell our fortunes), and neighborhood fireworks at midnight while M prowls around the house checking for errant burning rockets. Cheers! Slainte! Prosit!

Prepping the fondue:
roasting the soup bones means less fat in the soup

Suppenfleisch, roasted bones, long pepper, anise, veggies, herbs from our garden
and parsley simmer on the stove for hours

pork and beef tenderloin, fresh veggies, Sahne Dip, fondue broth...ready to begin!

Although we have the DVD, it's really the wrong version -
the narrator's original grammatical mistake is edited and corrected. So we watch one of the many airings on TV.
Watch for the narrator (Heinz Piper) in the beginning doing the "Merkel Diamond" - all the way back in 1963!
Bleigeißen tools - plus a glass of water

I wish you all a fabulous New Year's Eve 
and a great and healthy start to 2016!!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Storm before the Calm

It's Christmas week! Although it's warm like autumn here with no snow in sight - which is totally fine by me! - we're making final preparations for our small Christmas celebration. The tree is up and decorated (American tradition - do it early so you can enjoy it longer!), the Advent wreath's fourth candle was lit last night, the nativity scene is arranged though Baby Jesus is in the drawer with the remote controls until Christmas Eve (why that drawer? So we don't forget where we stashed Him), the meat has been ordered, the outside icicle lights are up and on a timer to turn on every morning and evening, most of the presents are wrapped, and the stockings are hung.

I believe I have all the groceries we need for the next two weeks except for what I'll get from our vegetable guy tomorrow evening and the meat I'll pick up at the butcher. But today I did have to go to the grocery store one last time for a few additional things.

What a ZOO!!!

Monday is always somewhat busy at the store because it's closed every Sunday and people are getting ready for the next week. But today was even worse - I barely found a parking space - because of what's coming at the end of the week.

On Thursday, Christmas Eve, the store is open until 14:00 (2:00 pm). It will re-open the following Monday. That's right - the grocery store is closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day (the 2nd Day of Christmas), and on the 27th because stores are always closed on Sundays here.

I've said it before - I really like it that the stores are closed and even the employees - all the employees - can spend the holiday time with their families. Sure, it can be inconvenient for us, like last year when I forgot to buy the pork roast that was to be dinner on New Year's Day and only realized this 20 minutes after the stores closed on New Year's Eve. M foraged around in the freezer and found four duck legs, and we had a wonderful meal anyway - trying out a new recipe besides!

the Barbarie Entenkeule that should have been a roast

Everyone has to plan ahead around the holidays and stock up on the things one can't do without, like coffee, milk, bread... I've made a list and checked it thrice, and this morning I went to the store along with the entire rest of the community. Shopping carts everywhere, grannies and their mates trudging along very, very slowly, younger people half pushing, half leaning on their carts while diddling with their cell phones, temporarily abandoned carts blocking shelves everywhere, employees stocking shelves and pulling huge carts around the store dodging customers, neighbors stopping in the middle of the aisles to chat, a line at the butcher, a line at the cheese counter, a line at the bakery, a line at the produce scales, and a long line at the checkout. Ugh. The only way to keep your sanity is to be patient and appear friendly. Nailed it.

This is so last year - this year we have only balls on the tree and no snow.
Although the stores will be crazy tomorrow and Wednesday as well, as of mid-day on Thursday all will calm down and we'll enjoy the quiet. Three and a half days of no shopping, no fighting crowds exchanging unwanted gifts, no dashing about for after-Christmas sales. Just quiet time with family. Walks in the valley, perhaps a snowless drive into the Black Forest, rounds of Trivial Pursuit, holiday films, reflecting on the past year and planning for next, and relaxing. The Germans really know how to do Christmas!

As for us, it will be just M, my Schwiegermutter, and me this year. My parents and kids have some grand plans in the U.S. (for instance driving from Wisconsin to Disney World and back over a week). We'll make Raclette on Christmas Eve, Lamb Stew on Christmas Day, Fondue (with soup, not oil!) on New Year's Eve, and on the other days Cordon Bleu, Shepherd's Pie, Ostpreußische Schusterpastete, and grilled pork (Schweinehals) with Bratkartoffeln.

Oh jeez...there I am going on about food again.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a good slide into the New Year! May 2016 bring peace.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Never Say Never

Yep, this is how I'm feeling these days, even though I know I have only my silly self to blame.

When I left the U.S. and moved to Germany in 2012, it was for good. I quit my job teaching high school German and English at a Catholic high school in Wisconsin belting Handel's Hallelujah Chorus all the way home after my last day, gave away most of my teaching materials and books, loaded the household items and books I couldn't part with onto a moving van (ok, the movers did that), sold our house and my car, said "Auf Wiedersehen!" to my friends and family. Although I had taught basic German to American high schoolers for 13 years, I knew I would no longer need any of the books, flashcards, workbooks, props, films, or games I'd accumulated over the years. I was moving to Germany, after all; I certainly wouldn't be teaching German to anyone over here!

Who would possibly want to learn German from someone who hasn't mastered the flaming language despite 33 years of varying degrees of effort?

I knew I would never teach again.

This is actually one of my former students.
photo credit: another former student know what they say:

Never Say Never!!

Turns out there are some people here in Germany who could benefit from my own struggles with learning German, the tricks I learned while teaching the language (did you know you can sing the alphabetized list of dative prepositions to the tune of "the Blue Danube Waltz"? If not, I'll bet you also didn't know that the alphabetized list of Wechselpräpositionen match the tune of "an die Freude"), and my efforts to integrate into life in the Schwabenland.

A few weeks ago I agreed to teach a two-week basic beginner's German class to a small group of exchange students from my hometown who will be spending five wonderful months in Esslingen, just as I did in 1986. Back then the Sheboygan schools still offered German as a foreign language, but these students are coming over with little preparation. They'll arrive just before the craziness of Fasching/Fasnet, and after they wake up from that nightmare, we'll go to it and see how much they can learn in two intense weeks.

More recently I have gotten involved with the Freundeskreis-Asyl in Horb as well as the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg, which is a language school in Horb. There is a great need now for DaF (Deutsch als Fremdsprache - German as a foreign language) teachers to help the million-plus refugees who have fled to Germany this year learn German so they can then apply to study or work, as well as blend into life here.

I've sat in on several classes at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg in recent weeks, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Today (Day 7 of their instruction), the teacher had them practicing ALL SIX verb tenses with regular and irregular verbs! Granted, this is the more advanced class, but when the refugees arrived between 2 and 12 weeks ago, they spoke little if any German. The students are all men from Syria and Eritrea, a country I'd never heard of until now (supporting the stereotype that Americans suck at world geography). Some of the refugees know a helpful amount of English, and others have to rely on their friends and classmates who can translate grammar explanations into Arabic or Eritrean.

Due to my other commitments, I won't be teaching a regular class because they are three hours a day from Monday to Friday, but I'll find my niche and perhaps jump in as a substitute teacher when someone's ill or team-teach with one of the regular teachers.

So here I sit wondering what it is about teaching that won't let me go.

While in college I started down the secondary education path, then fled after several terms of observations in high school classrooms. The squirrly little bahstuds couldn't be bothered to study, practice, or learn, but had plenty of time for screwing around and watching game after game of whatever sport was in season. I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English knowing that the one thing I would NEVER do was teach. Five years later I was a teacher.

16 years later I left the U.S. knowing I would never teach again. A year later I was once again a teacher. At a friend's request I started a "Fun with English" class at a Förderschule for students with mild learning disabilities, and now two more years later I'm getting ready to teach beginners' German again.

There's something totally different about what I'm doing now, though. I'm volunteering. I'm doing this because I want to. There are no tests, I don't have to give or correct homework (though I do sometimes), the students want to learn what I'm teaching, there are no parent-teacher conferences (although I never minded those), it's part-time, and best of all, there are no in-services!

I guess I can't deny it's in my blood. According to at least some of my former and current students, I don't suck at it.

That's right - I can get a couple of tough high school football players
to pose with a stuffed kangaroo before the big game.
How? By asking them if they'd do this for me.
I was teaching when the news of Columbine hit and our sense of security within our school campuses was shattered. I was walking with my students into mass when we got word that two planes had crashed into the twin towers. I was teaching when we learned that our student, Jeanne Giese, was probably going to die of rabies and when we welcomed her back after her miracle cure. I brought six groups of German students over to Germany for 15-day summer trips including home stays with German families and heard comments like, "Frau H., now I get why you love this country so much!"

My first dream career was veterinarian. That came to an abrupt end when I watched a cat get declawed and nearly lost both my lunch and consciousness, so, as I often told my high school students, I decided to work with a different type of animal. My lifelong dream has been to become a writer of novels.

But I can't get the teacher out of me. Some people never learn...  :-)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Debo's Story

This is a plea to anyone who sees this. Please choose compassion over fear, understanding over intolerance, and empathy over hatred. I do understand fear, but please do not reject an entire race or religion because of the very bad apples. Find and read stories of individual refugees and families, and compare them to your own story, your children's lives, and your parents. Try to imagine in their place you and your children, siblings, parents, nieces, nephews, and cousins - having to choose between abandoning your home and fleeing for your life or staying put and being killed or forced into service for an evil army because you weren't lucky enough to be born in America.

I'm not asking you to donate money, and I'm not asking you to get physically involved and help. I'm only asking that you not publicly reject or applaud the rejection of fellow human beings who are not so different from you - young people who want to study and find good jobs to support their families, parents who want their children to live in safety and be able to walk to and from school without fear of being killed by bombs or rockets, people who don't want to be forced to serve a corrupt government or a terrorist organization.

In our local newspaper the other day there was an article about a young man who fled his war-torn homeland after imprisonment and brutal abuse and made his way to Germany. With the editor's permission, here is my translation and summary of that article.

The real brutality of the civil war in Syria, which began in 2011, is not shown on TV in the interest of piety. Persecuted and in constant mortal danger, injured and traumatized, millions of Syrians have fled their homeland with nothing but the clothes on their backs and precious few worldly possessions to escape the violence and destruction. The journey itself is dangerous as well and arduous, but leaving their homes was the less awful of two unacceptable choices.

Abdulkalik Debo is one of these millions, and since October he has been living in the town of Weitingen, not far from Horb. Though he is only 19 years old (one year younger than my son), he has witnessed atrocities most people his age will never know.

Debo (because his last name is short and easy to pronounce, everyone calls him that) was born in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, where he also attended a school which has since been destroyed by bombs. Aleppo is the second largest city in Syria and was named the "Capital of Islamic Culture" in 2006. Its old town was ranked a Unesco World Heritage Site. Since then the city has been mostly destroyed, especially the quarter in which the rebels fighting against Assad have hunkered in.

in Aleppo
One day several years ago the war came to the Debo family with their six children. One of Debo's cousins was severely injured by shrapnel from a rocket attack on his way to school. Debo (15 at the time) and a friend called for a taxi to take his cousin to the hospital. They were sent from one hospital to another because the injuries were too severe for regular care - eventually they ended up at the university clinic. During the drive they complained about the Assad regime and the brutality of his troops and the militia, not knowing that the taxi driver was an Assad supporter. He reported these teenagers, and the friends were arrested and turned over to the security police. Debo didn't have his i.d. papers with him and resisted being "recruited" by the government troops - he was much too young anyway, but he looked older because of his strong build and growing beard. His parents were summoned because the police didn't believe his reported age.

Debo was kept under arrest with 200 other prisoners in a room so small that it was impossible for anyone to lie down. They could only lean on each other, half sitting and half collapsed, and sleeping was impossible. During his parents' interrogation Debo was handcuffed and forced to kneel with a sack over his head in the next room. He could hear his parents, but they did not know he was so close. Remember, he was 15 years old.

During the time of his imprisonment Debo - like all the other prisoners - was badly abused, frequently beaten with clubs, kicked with combat boots, and burned. There was very little to eat. Debo doesn't remember anymore how long he had to endure these conditions.

On the day of the massacre in 2013, in which 200 opponents of Assad who had had high hopes about the "Arab Spring" revolution were murdered, Debo should have been among the dead. He remembers the day. Groups of prisoners were marched outside and one by one slaughtered with meat knives or shot when they refused to recognize Assad as their "god". By the time it was  Debo's turn, blood was already flowing through the yard like a river. A soldier shouted at him, and Debo answered, "My god is Allah." He was stabbed and beaten like the others and lost consciousness. His body was tossed into the nearby riverbed, where several kurdish villagers found him a short time later. Debo was one of four men they found still alive. He only regained consciousness a few days later in the villagers' home.

When he had recovered somewhat, he wanted to return home as quickly as possible. But no one was there. His family's house was partially destroyed and the home of his brother and his wife and child was deserted. Then the next shock. A neighbor told him those of his family who were still alive had all fled to Turkey and thought Debo was dead. Two of his siblings (ages 24 and 26) were killed when the house was destroyed, and Debo's twin brother was killed by a rocket on his way to a shopping center.

Debo made his way to the container camp just over the border with several thousand other refugees, where he was able to find the surviving members of his family. They hadn't heard from him in five months and had assumed he'd been killed. When his mother first laid eyes on him she fainted. She hardly recognized him - he'd lost 125 pounds (56 kg) during his ordeal and now weighed only 132 pounds(60 kg).

The family was able to stay together for two years, and even grew by one when a granddaughter was born. Debo found work as a specialist repairing mobile phones and was able to save enough to get to Germany - a journey that cost several thousand Euros.

His mother has suffered from the whole ordeal and has health and heart problems. Debo himself still suffers from the trauma and wakes frequently from horrible nightmares. Because of the physical abuse he has stomach problems and difficulty keeping his balance.

They are safe now, but because the family arrived in Germany at different times, they were separated and sent to different housing facilities in opposite ends of Germany. His parents and remaining siblings are near Flensburg in the north.

Debo will be allowed to visit the rest of his family for ten days over the Christmas holidays. In the mean time Debo is learning German and hoping to eventually work as a medical devices technician.

refugees from Syria and Eritrea learning German
One of these men was one test away from finishing his higher education and medical degree
when his university shut down. Now he's in Germany learning German and basically starting over.

Please have compassion. And perhaps speak up in the name of mercy when people around you rage against offering shelter to those who are fleeing from war, corruption, violence and terrorism.

We are all members of the human race, and we have more similarities to each other than differences.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Sankt Nikolaus and His Shady Buddy

December 6th is Nikolaustag in many parts of the Western world. Children go to bed the night before after hanging their stockings at the fireplace or putting a pair of shoes (or boots, because they hold more) in front of their doors, hoping for a visit from St. Nick, who will fill them with candy, treats, fruit, nuts, and perhaps a small gift.

This is another tradition that is mainly Catholic (most Protestant religions don't recognize saints). My clever Lutheran parents held off with the stocking thing until Christmas morning to buy themselves some extra minutes of sleep. When my brother and I woke up we could run downstairs to see the wrapped gifts under the tree, but we had to keep relatively quiet until our parents got up. We were, however, allowed to grab our stuffed stockings and unwrap, play with, or devour anything that was in there. We usually made just enough noise to wake them up before long, but when that didn't work our cooperative Sheltie helped us out. "Where's Mom, Lassie Buffy? Find MOM!"

When my kids were young, I followed the German custom. They put their shoes in front of their bedroom doors when they went to bed, and I, er, I mean St. Nick filled them with treats during the night.

Few children ever ask who St. Nick was. ["Who cares? Just give me the candy. Yeah, you can keep the orange."] Well, I'm here to answer that question for my lucky readers.

There are actually several versions of the story, of course, but this one, which I learned from my Schwiegermutter, is my favorite.

Sankt Nikolaus is depicted as a bishop wearing a red miter and red cloak and carrying a shepherd's staff. He has gray hair and a flowing gray beard. He was the bishop of Myra, in modern-day Turkey, in the first half of the 4th century A.D.. He was a kind and good man who cared for the less fortunate. A poor man in his community had three daughters who all had reached or were nearing marriageable age, but he had no money to provide a dowry for any of them. The girls were in danger of having to turn to lives of prostitution, because of course no man would marry a woman if her father had no money to give him. Nikolaus was wealthy and wanted to help, but secretly so as not to insult the father's pride. During the night while the family was sleeping, Nikolaus tossed three bags of coins one by one into their chimney as he passed by. The girls had washed their only pairs of socks the night before and had hung them at the fireplace to dry. Into these socks the bags of money fell, and when they awoke, the girls were delighted to see that they each now had enough money to marry.

Don't ask how the sacks of coins landed in the stockings.
Just go with it.
Many American Christmas traditions come from Germany, and you can see some of them here: Santa Claus also wears red and has white hair and a beard, we hang our stockings at the fireplace (if we have one), gifts are delivered secretly during the night... And it was German-American artist Thomas Nast who first gave us our image of Santa, which appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1866.
one of many of Nast's depictions of Santa, 1881
Ah, but there's more. In Germany even today, Sankt Nikolaus doesn't travel alone. He's got a dark creepy companion who sloths behind him and scares the living bejeezus out of children. This cad's name is Knecht Ruprecht, and you just don't want to mess with Servantboy Ruprecht. Like St. Nick, he carries a sack over his shoulder - but his isn't filled with toys. It's filled with the sad, now-repentant little hoodlum children who dissed their parents, sassed their teachers, or pulled the wings off butterflies in warmer months. That's right, Knecht Ruprecht's job is to gather up all the bad children and carry them away in his sack, never to be seen again by their loving parents. He carries a switch, too - a beating stick. The naughty little urchins get whacked before they're thrown into the dark sack and dragged away.

I totally chose this image because of the horses.
This side of the tale isn't just German (and in fact nowadays the Germans have toned down the frightening story), but rather widely known throughout Europe. No one explains this tale better than David Sedaris, so I urge you to take 15 minutes out of your day or evening to listen to this clip. The whole thing is good, but the St. Nick story begins around 3:45.

Three times the horror
Photo credit: Michael S.
American kids get off easy in comparison! They just get threatened with empty stockings or pieces of coal if they're naughty around this time of year. But Germans have been scaring their children into behaving for generations with the help of the brothers Grimm, Max und Moritz, and stories like Suppenkasper and der Daumenlutscher, so the whole Knecht Ruprecht thing just fits right in.

At any rate, I wish you a happy Nikolaustag, and children, I surely hope you've been good!

Monday, November 30, 2015

November Highs and Lows 2015

Hello again, friendly readers. We come to the end of another month, and that means I recap my highs and lows of the last 29 days.

The obvious low was the terrorist attack in Paris on Friday the 13th. I am so sick of people killing each other, especially in the name of God. People of all religions consider their god all-powerful and all-knowing, right? I am no theologian, but I am very confident that a GOD does not need puny humans to do His work for Him. If He wants people to die (which I am unconvinced He does), He has the power to take care of that Himself. I do not believe He wanted Catholics to kill Protestants and vise versa generations ago, and I do not believe the Christian God or the Muslim Allah want their followers to kill each other - no matter how much nutball humans twist the holy books.

But on to happier things. I love November in Germany. It begins with my birthday and ends with Christmas markets!!!! The air is crisp and cool, the leaves are raked, I've unpacked my winter clothes, and my warmest winter Federbett is on my bed. I burrow into that thing like a hibernating hedgehog.


  • Of course we went to Straub's Krone for a birthday buffet lunch.
Starters - there are samplings of 13 different dishes on my plate. All delicious!
The one at 6:00 is cow tongue.

I actually chose the vegetarian option that day:
Tagliatelle mit  Steinpilzrahmsoße / Tagliatelle with Porcino-Cream-Sauce

and the dessert samplings
  • I made the Quittenchutney from our Kochkurs to go with pork tenderloin, and it turned out ok!
ingredients for quince chutney
  • I also baked a Rührkuchen (pound cake) from scratch. Yeah I know, big deal. Who can screw that up? But after my apple pie failure (see below), this was very satisfying.

  • spending a weekend in Breisach with a fabulous and fun branch of M's family for the 80th birthday of their Oma (M's father's cousin).

  • meeting fellow American expat blogger Adventures of La Mari, her husband, and their Mops at the Hohentwiel ruins in Singen. So much fun!
Abner, the Mops
fabulous ruins
  • participating in the first annual Worldwide Read a Terhune Book day. Albert Payson Terhune was one of my favorite writers when I was a child. He is most famous for writing stories about collies and is responsible for my adoration of the breed.

  • dinner at our neighbors' house. I cannot believe I didn't take any photos, at least of the food! It was delicious - venison pate, salad with PfifferlingeZweierlei venison, the most delicious Rotkohl I've ever tasted, mashed potatoes, poached pears, and two different kinds of gluten-free brownies I baked and brought for dessert.

  • joining the Freundeskreis Asyl Horb and getting involved (finally) with local efforts to help the refugees. This was in response to my second "low" of the month (see below). In the last 10 days I have met Syrian refugees in the area, worked with a class of 15 or so who have just started learning German, had coffee with refugees and other volunteers which is a weekly thing, and offered to help translate the Freundeskreis website into English as soon as it's up and running (few refugees arrive here knowing German, but some know enough English that a translation could be helpful).

  • watching this late night clip, and this one, and especially this one. I am starting to think that the best way to catch up on American news is to watch the Daily Show and the Late Show.


  • my first attempt at baking an American-style Apple Pie. It might look almost ok, but it was a total failure and, in fact, inedible.
  • coming across several Facebook posts by Americans I know ("liked" by other Americans I know) crying out to refuse Syrian refugees in America or their particular U.S. state. I came to the realization that such people are simply terrified of the "what ifs," and there's no reasoning with fear. That doesn't mesh well with the whole "...home of the brave" business, or with the spirit of joy, love, and giving at Christmastime, or with the notion of coming together and sharing bounty at Thanksgiving, or with the Golden Rule, but fear is a crazy, debilitating thing.

  • reading about the various GOP (Grand Ole Party = Republican) presidential hopefuls and their visions of the world. What in holy hell is going on over there, folks? The pyramids were built to store grain? Muslims should be rounded up, registered, and perhaps have some kind of marking put on their clothes to identify them? Rabid dogs? Bad peanuts? Admitting only refugees who practice the right religion? And all this time, they're squealing like halfwit children in a poopy sandbox over 10,000 refugees in one year (more than 4 million Syrians have been displaced by war since 2011). 

Other Moments

  • While in Breisach, M and I went into a vinothek to purchase a bottle or two of wine to enjoy that evening. We were assisted by the owner, who was incredibly helpful and friendly. She asked what we like, broke open a few bottles for us to taste, suggested others... M considered out loud going up the hill to get our car so we could transport several bottles home. The owner said if we buy at least 2 cases, she'd drive them up to our hotel after closing. Tempting! Then she happened to mention that shipping is free starting at 5 cases. €310 later, we walked up the hill to our hotel with our two bottles of wine, a Corkcicle wine chiller, and a fancy red wine pouring thingy, happily anticipating the arrival of the rest of the wine the following week.

  • A new friend (who is my daughter's age and decided right about the same time I did to jump in and get involved with the Freundeskreis Asyl) and I sat in on a German intro class to observe, and the teacher included us in every activity. It was really enjoyable! The students were all refugees from Syria between the ages of about 20 and 55, and as with every class, some students learn faster than others. The faster ones helped the others with either quick explanations in Arabic or telling them what to say. They struggled, they laughed, they volunteered to go to the board for a writing activity, they listened, they took notes, they gave their best efforts, and they were clearly proud when they did or said something correctly. Some had studied outside of class, and others hadn't. If there was a difference between that class and every class I have ever taught, I didn't notice it - except that they were all adults and classroom management was not an issue! I loved it.

I hope you all had a good month, too, with more highs than lows, more love than fear, and more joy than pain.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The 10,000

Before my American Landsleute get too bunged up about the possibility of accepting 10,000 refugees next year* and the terrible risks involved with helping people (yes, I agree there is always a risk when helping people), know that Germany, with its population of 81 million and being half the size of Texas, took in over 400,000 refugees between September 1st and mid-October this year. Estimates are that Germany will have taken in 1 million refugees in 2015.

In 2013 about 127,000 asylum seekers came to Germany, and in 2014 there were more than 202,500. Let me repeat: in 2015, we’re talking about 1 million (1,000,000) new refugees in Germany.

*Taking in 10,000 refugees in this crisis is a little bit like going to your neighbor’s house during a flood and offering to help bail out the basement with an eyedropper. Just sayin’.

Fond du Lac, WI flood, 2008
"Anyone got an eyedropper?"

People and politicians are fighting about this all over Germany. Many communities have formed friendship groups to aid the refugees in whatever ways they can, but there are also Pegida groups and individuals filled with hatred and fear who participate in protest marches and rallies, burn down facilities meant for temporary refugee housing, and spread their hatred and fear through social media.

Many people (including Americans) were shocked and saddened for perhaps 48 hours by the photograph of Aylan Kurdi that made headlines around the world not long ago. By now (according to a Bloomberg poll) 53% of Americans don't think the U.S. should accept any Syrian refugees, and the governors of half of the states have said they will refuse to accept refugees. (Uh, sorry guys, apparently you don't actually have the power to decide that.) It's good to know that some Americans recognize the need for humanitarian aid in this crisis.

But lately I’ve read about this grumbling over being forced to accept 10,000 refugees and the risks involved with doing so – some of them might be terrorists!! Yeah, that’s possible. Among the terrorists responsible for the recent Paris attacks, I believe one of them might have entered Europe with the flood of refugees. [UPDATE: No, none of them came to Europe with the refugees. They were all European nationals.] Four of them were French citizens, if I'm not mistaken.

I’ll make this short and go back to writing about nice things as soon as I can. This is the world we live in. Those who need to shout against helping refugees should do as they must. But those who also call themselves Christians – what exactly are they learning in their church? Did Jesus say "Love (and help) your neighbor as long as it poses no risk to you"? Remember “WWJD?” (“What Would Jesus Do?” – a slogan American Christians wore on t-shirts and bracelets several years ago.)? Would Jesus turn the refugees away and say it’s too risky to help them because some among them might be terrorists? I am not claiming to know, because Jesus never spoke in my ear. But then I’m not one of those who display Christian slogans or attend church regularly.

I don't think it's necessary to make such a big fuss about accepting 10,000 refugees in a year. There must be at least 10,000 lunatics with easy access to guns loose in the U.S.. Americans' safety and security are not guaranteed by refusing to offer sanctuary to 10,000 refugees fleeing from the same demons they are afraid of. It seems a wee bit contradictory to shake fists on the one hand shouting "We will not be afraid! If we show we're afraid, then the terrorists win! Show them we're strong! God bless America!" and on the other hand to say the U.S. shouldn't help people who are fleeing from terrorists because of the fear of potential risks.

Help or don't help. Whatever. But all the fuss over whether or not America should bring an eyedropper to a flooded village sounds a little silly to me.

This post was brought to you by Sometimes I Just Can't Keep My Mouth Shut Productions.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

11. November, Martinstag

Martinstag sneaked (snuck, for American and Canadian readers) up on me this year! I should have wished M well, I should have made a reservation at the restaurant, I should have prepared or purchased a small gift and a lantern...but since I still use an American calendar (yes, one of those old-fashioned paper ones) which doesn't mention Martinstag, I'll be scrambling this morning to make up for my forgetfulness. I've already noted it in next year's calendar, so I will have no excuses then.

So if you'll allow me, I will re-publish last year's post about this special day. I was pretty thorough, and I don't know what more I could write anyway.

On November 11th Americans celebrate Veterans' Day. This date is special in Germany as well, as it is Martinstag, or the Feast Day of St. Martin. If your name is Martin, this is your day!

The tradition of the Namenstag goes back to the Middle Ages. Birthdays were not seen as very important, and often a person didn't even know his own birthday. Perhaps this was because the mortality rate among infants and children was rather high, and by the time a child had made it through the most critical period, the family members may not have recalled on exactly which day the child had been born. Dates other than significant church calendar dates weren't terribly important anyway.

A child named Martin therefore celebrated his Namenstag on 11. November every year, because that was the day assigned to the name Martin (to honor St. Martin of Tours). The Namenstag or feast day was normally assigned based on either the baptism date (as in the case of St. Martin of Tours) or the death date of the saint. Although the custom began with Christian origins, it has become more of a cultural thing than a religious one nowadays. At the same time, the Namenstag tradition is more common in Catholic regions and in Catholic families. Protestants don't have to feel guilty about recognizing the day, though, since Martin Luther was baptized on 11. November.

There is at least one saint assigned to every day of the calendar, but some Namenstage are more significant than others and recognized with various traditions or rituals. One that's known throughout the western world is, of course, Nikolaustag, or St. Nick's Day, which is celebrated on 6. December. There's a really lovely story behind the tradition of hanging stockings by the fire that are filled in the night with treats, which I'll write about at the appropriate time.

In Germany Martinstag is (somewhat surprisingly) not a holiday, but it is recognized and celebrated by many. Like the American holiday of Thanksgiving, a bird is the traditional beast to be consumed, but while Americans prepare and eat turkey, Germans cook and serve goose. And of course there's a story behind that!

"Die Gänse haben St. Martin verraten, dafür müssen sie jetzt braten."

St. Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier who was baptized when he was an adult and became a monk. When the citizens of Tours wanted to make him a bishop, he did not feel up to the task and ran away. While his pursuers were hot on his tail, he hid in a barn full of geese thinking they'd be thrown off the trail. Unfortunately the noisy beasts weren't too thrilled with their visitor who was stepping on their food and stinking up the joint, and they honked their disapproval and annoyance. His goose was therefore cooked, as they say, and he sheepishly accepted the ordination.

The quote above is "Because the geese St. Martin betrayed, today they land upon our plate." (I tried to make it rhyme, but it sounds much better in German.)

"Run, damn you! RUN!"*
November also happens to be the time of year when geese are fattened and ready for eatin'. Not everyone could afford a fattened goose, so it was also common to serve a duck or chicken. And not everyone wants to eat goose. It's a very fatty bird, with about 30% fat to its meat. In its defense, though, it's also high in protein and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zink. M has had goose on his Namenstag before, but I have never tried it and don't recall ever seeing it on a menu in the U.S.. Last year we had dinner at our favorite restaurant, where they served a special Martinstag menu of Martinsgans. It was delcious! (We're hoping to dine there again tonight, but I since I forgot to call for a reservation, I might be baking a bird myself tonight. Hopefully they'll still have a table available, but I'm not going to bet on it.)  Update: They do have a table! My bird's back in the freezer (and by bird, I mean two duck legs).

And here it is. Goose, stuffing, dumplings, roasted chestnuts, Rotkohl, and gravy.

For those who want more history and tradition...the Martinsgans was served traditionally on 11. November as the last big meal before the Advent fasting time. At the end of Advent, goose was served again - on Christmas Eve. If I'm not mistaken, the "Christmas Goose" is mentioned near the happy end of the well-known Dickens tale. Nowadays approximately 10 million geese land in an oven or pan between Martinstag and Christmas.°

In the Middle Ages the traditional Christmas dinner was a Schweinbraten - pork roast. Why was this replaced by goose? The most popular explanation is that Queen Elizabeth I was in the middle of a Christmas feast of goose when she received the news that her navy had defeated the Spanish Armada. She took this as a good omen and declared the goose as the Christmas Roast in 1588.

I can't end without mentioning another Martinstag tradition that those of you living in Germany may see in your villages - the Martinsritt. Elementary school children make paper lanterns (with candles inside) in school and then gather - usually in the early evening - with their teachers, classmates, and parents, and parade through the streets singing songs about St. Martin. There is almost always a rider dressed in a Roman costume with red cloak on a horse leading the procession. The parade ends with a bonfire and snacks for all. This tradition reminds people of the story of St. Martin before his conversion, when he was a Roman soldier who came upon a poor man freezing in the cold winter. Martin stopped his horse, split his cloak down the center with his sword, and gave the homeless man half of his cloak to keep warm. The next night as Martin lay sleeping, he saw Jesus in his dream wearing the half of the cloak he had given the homeless man. This story (yes, told even in public schools) helps to teach young children the value of sharing and being kind to strangers.

My daughter The rider is wearing a red sweatshirt instead of a red cloak,
but this will have to do until I actually witness a Martinsritt.
Had I known of this story when I was a child, I would have asked my dad to tell it to me over and over again. My mom would have felt touched that I wanted to hear a story about sharing, but really it would have been because there was a horse in it.

11:11 (am) on November 11th every year is also the official start of "the Fifth Season", or Fasching. Things don't get nutty until the weeks before Ash Wednesday, but the season has begun nonetheless.

°Source: "Dem heiligen Martin zu Ehren." Schwäbisches Tageblatt; Südwest-Presse/Neckar-Chronik. 31. October, 2014.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Southern Germany: Wegkreuze

If you go walking, cycling, or running in southern Germany, you're bound to pass one dozens of these. This is called a Wegkreuz or Feldkreuz, which translates to "wayside cross" or "field cross". Bavarians and Austrians call them Marterl.

They are often found at intersections of walking paths, and they are typically made of stone (some are made of wood or metal). Most Wegkreuze were erected in former centuries and often have the year it was dedicated inscribed on it somewhere as well as (sometimes) the name of the person or family who sponsored it.

The Wegkreuz is generally a Catholic thing, which is why they are more commonly seen in southern Germany than in the north. The top is nearly always a crucifix or an image of Mary and Jesus, and the base includes one or several inscriptions such as a Bible verse, a message to passers-by, or a poem.

The poem on this Wegkreuz reads:
      Wenn tiefer Kummer Dich betrübt,
      kein Pfad des Lebens Dir mehr glückt,
      so eile hin mit mutigem Gebet
      zum Kreuz das an dem Wege steht.

      When deepest sorrow brings you down,
      no path of life brings you success,
      hurry with courageous prayer
      to the cross that stands upon the trail.

Another thing you'll notice is that there are often fresh, seasonal flowers at the base of the Wegkreuz, planted either in the ground or in a pot. Someone is taking care of those flowers. It could be a family who lives nearby, the church community, a local foundation, or just someone who cares.

There is sometimes a bench near the Wegkreuz for those who want to rest and reflect, and I have often seen someone sitting there. I always wonder if they are just using the bench because it's a peaceful place to sit awhile, or if they are praying or remembering a loved one.

In earlier times a Wegkreuz was erected in remembrance of someone or as a show of the family's or individual's faith or gratitude. When Christians passed one they often paused a moment, made the sign of the cross, and/or said a prayer. Farmers on their way to their fields would probably pass several of these crosses.

The Wegkreuze also helped with orientation as important pathway markers in the days before trail signs. The one above is at a crossroads of five different paths, and if M asks me where I went walking on any given day, I can tell him I went "down the hill by the tennis courts and took the second path left after the Wegkreuz". Some of them are even shown on hiking maps. There are also Wegkreuze that mark a dangerous place or remember an accident that occurred at that spot.

The above Wegkreuz is actually on the edge of a farmer's field across a highway from a walking path, so you only see it from a distance. Only by taking a picture of it and zooming in was I able to see that it was put there in 1924 in memory of World War I ("zur Erinnerung an den Weltkrieg 1914-19"). The top of it is a stone carving of Mary with the crucified Jesus in her lap, and the inscription under that says 

O Maria, schmerzensreiche Jungfrau und Mutter aller Christgläubigen, bitte für uns
O Mary, sorrowful virgin and mother of all believers in Christ, pray for us.

There are thousands of Wegkreuze in Baden-Württemberg alone. I'm not an overly religious person, but there's something comforting to me about them. Someone cared enough* to pay good money to have a semi-permanent monument placed in that spot as a reminder to all who pass by that God is there. They are not in your face like Christian bumper stickers announcing that the driver loves Jesus, they don't ask for donations, and they don't preach. 

*Yes, I know that some people paid for such monuments in the hopes of increasing their chances of getting into heaven or in penance for some sin committed - to each his own.

Today there are few new Wegkreuze erected in the traditional sense on hiking trails and at crossroads. These days it is more common to see a new wooden cross on the side of a road marking a place where someone was killed in an automobile accident, such as this one between our village and the next. Notice the autumn leaf necklace - someone placed that recently, though the date on the cross shows the year 2000.

There are three such markers within a short distance of each other on this highway.

For cyclists, hikers, runners, and wanderers, the traditional Wegkreuz signals a fine place to stop for a rest, perhaps a snack, or even a group meeting point to start or end a tour. Along with a bench you may find a garbage bin, and the setting is commonly under a group of shade trees which can provide needed relief from the blazing summer sun.

All of the above Wegkreuze are within an hour's walk from our home, and I would really like to know the story behind each one.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

October Highs and Lows 2015

Our October weather felt more like November - gray and dreary almost every day. But the rain held off for the most part, so I was able to reach my 10,000-step goal almost every day. To be honest, it's good walking weather - the sun is nice, but not sweating is nicer. At one point on one of my walks in the valley the sun came out and warmed right through my fleece just at the moment when John Denver's song "Sunshine on my Shoulders" started on my little MP3 player. That's right, I often listen to John Denver while I walk, like all the cool people do.

So here we go...


  • a walk with M to the Uracher Wasserfälle on a beautiful autumn afternoon.
"Not exactly Niagara Falls, is it?"
But look at all those visitors!
the ruins of Hohenurach
  • horseback riding!!! I finally called the stable near us to set up a riding lesson. I've had two lessons, and I'm pleased to say the instructor already has enough trust in me to leave me alone while I get the horse ready. I asked her to let me know when she thinks I'm ready to join the Friday ladies group, and she said I could join them now. "They don't ride better than you." Nice!! But they ride for an hour, and I don't think my butt body is up for that yet!

  • trying a new recipe that we both liked - Whisky Chicken! It needs tweeking, but we both agreed it has potential even though it's chicken (M says chicken doesn't really count as meat because it's not a steak). The whisky - we used  Glenmorangie because it's all we had - goes into the sauce and is then flamed - very exciting, and it smells divine! Can you tell we're missing Scotland? 

  • meeting my friend H for Kaffee und Kuchen and a chat. We hadn't seen each other for a while because of our vacations, so we had lots to catch up on. I drove home along a new (for me) road without using the GPS - another driving baby step! And the fall colors were still gorgeous.

  • driving to Esslingen on the spur of the moment for a short meeting, and not being panicky or afraid at all! The drives there and back went well - three traffic jams, of course, but that's normal. And I was able to buy a new pair of obnoxiously overpriced walking shoes (what I can buy at Kohl's in Wisconsin for $35 cost €119 in Esslingen - and the Euro and dollar are nearly equal these days).

  • trying another chicken recipe that M liked well enough - Jamie Oliver's Hit 'n' Run Traybaked Chicken. It's SO easy!! I used regular paprika, though, and we're pretty sure it needs the smoked paprika (which our grocery store didn't have). They also didn't have boneless skinless chicken thighs, so I had to skin and debone the things myself. Not my favorite thing. But I also threw in a breast to see how that would turn out, and although it was ok, the thigh meat is much better for this recipe.

  • our fourth Kochkurs - this is something we totally enjoy doing together, and it's almost even a social thing!


  • I've got nothing here. In an entire month, I can't think of one single thing that would count as a "low". That's kind of breaking the rules. Of everything that went on, something had to have been the low point. Oh wait, I've got one:

  • cleaning. I don't love cleaning, but it's got to be done, so there's no sense in whining about it.

  • I suppose paying €119 for a pair of damn gym shoes wasn't a highlight, either. But they are really comfortable.

Thermomix Successes of the Month

  • Marmorkuchen and Banana  Bread: Obviously those baked in the oven, but I used Thermomix recipes and the machine for measuring, mixing, and chopping.

  • Apfelmus (Applesauce): I should have left out the optional Vanillezucker, but it was easy, had a great consistency, and tasted good.
third try: possibly perfect this time
(For my second try I didn't peel the apples. It was ok, but I prefer it without chunky bits.)
  • Chocolate pudding: I probably could increase the sugar a bit, but it was good. I don't love the film that forms on the pudding as it cools, so if anyone knows a trick to avoid that, let me know.

  • Frischkäse (like cream cheese): mix and heat Quark (like plain yogurt), Schmand (like sour cream), a frightening amount of Butter, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for 6 minutes. Cool. Easy peasy, and a good spread. Now if only I could find good bagels...

  • Carrot-Apple-Walnut Rohkost Salad: basically just chop everything together with walnut oil, salt, and pepper. This one's a keeper!

  • Hefezopf (braided yeast roll): I wish you could have been there when M returned from work as I was trying to mould a third of the dough into a long, floppy dough roll. Rolling it on the counter wasn't working (I'd floured the surface and shouldn't have), so I was dangling it in the air while rubbing it and letting gravity help. "This isn't working well!"  "You're holding it wrong." Awkward (and yet hilarious)...
not perfect yet - I'll have to try again
  • Tortellini-Mushroom Casserole: Not the best, and sadly not great as leftovers. But it was not a failure!
  • Quittenmarmelade (quince jam) with Quitten our neighbor gave us! We just made this today.

Other Moments

  • Two gentlemen from the Watchtower showed up at the door to tell me that many people wonder, when they pray, if anyone is listening*. I actually pulled the "Oh, gee, sorry. I'm from the U.S. and I don't speak German." They had their pamphlet in English, too. No, not that either. But I wished them a nice day.
    *I don't wonder that. I think if there's a greater power up there, He's got better things to do than listen to my drivel. I only pray in gratitude, but I do that nearly every day, usually during my walks.

  • A guy came to our door selling apples. I like apples, but every time I buy even just 3 from our vegetable guy, they sit there for weeks until I either force myself to eat them or stuff one in the cavity of a chicken I'm baking. He took 3 different apples out of his apron and cut off pieces for me to try. I told him I'd buy five apples, but we really can't use more than that. His minimum was 10 kilos. I do not need and cannot use even 2 kilos of apples. But you guessed it - after saying "Nein" at least three times, I bought 10 kilos of apples. They're now in a box in the cellar. He said they're from somewhere near the Bodensee (he gave me the town's name twice, but I didn't understand it), and he said they'll last in the cellar for 3 months.

    It was right after his visit that I called the riding stable to set up lessons. At least I'll have somewhere to take the apples when I get sick of eating and baking with them.

    I really need to stop answering the door.