Saturday, January 31, 2015

January Highs and Lows 2015

Well, that's it for January. I don't really like January, especially when it snows. To me snow means extra work, cold, and chaos and additional danger on the roads, though I admit it looks pretty from a distance if I'm snug and warm inside. It snowed again yesterday, and I'm hoping that's it for the season. M and I have decided we're going to tackle Ben More (the highest mountain on Mull at 3850 ft  / 1174 m) in September, and it's time to get training! When I was in Esslingen the other day I climbed the 350 steps to the Burg overlooking the Altstadt, and I had to stop to catch my breath three times! This is not good news.

On with the month's highs and lows...


  • New Year's Day duck dinner - it was fabulously delicious! One of last month's lows was forgetting to buy the pork roast for our New Year's Day dinner, but M saved the day by cooking duck legs (which were in the freezer) in the Römertopf. After my first bite I was glad I had forgotten the roast!

  • watching "Little Women" with my Schwiegermutter, which I gave her for Christmas. I wept. I always weep, dammit, and I've seen this movie several times! Ordered the book... (I read it when I was young but only remember being annoyed by my namesake and wanting to be Jo.)

  • learning about my son's good grades from his first semester away at college. I had been confident that this college was a good move for him, and he has obviously been working hard.

  • getting permission via email from musician Iain Thomson to use one of his songs before we posted the video M made of pictures from our trips to the Isle of Mull. 

  • hearing that my daughter was accepted into her first choice school for graduate school and earned a merit scholarship besides!

  • receiving an invitation for coffee from the mother of one of my Englisch-AG students. She said her son enjoys my class so much!

  • M's company's Christmas party - we went bowling and I didn't totally embarrass myself, and we ended the evening with dinner at our favorite restaurant.

  • spending three days in Esslingen where I a.) met a college friend for dinner, b.) met my host mom for lunch, c.) attended a meeting of applicants for the 2015 Esslingen-Sheboygan middle school exchange, and d.) stayed with and hung out with my Schwiegermutter.

  • reaching 15,000 hits on my blog the morning of 27 January. I'm not aiming to be famous or anything, but it's nice to know a few people beyond my parents read what I write. :-)


  • finishing the last four cream crackers in our possession, a stash we'd replenished in June. This is both a First World problem and a personal tragedy. They're insanely expensive on Amazon, but I think we're going to have to bite the bullet. I'd sooner give up chocolate than Jacob's Cream Crackers.

  • realizing three days after I published a post about Mull that I had already written about the island back in October. Well, that was embarrassing. But that's how much I love Mull! :-)

  • returning to our car with groceries and hitting the "unlock" button only to notice that the car didn't flash its lights AND it hadn't been locked. M has taught me well, and I always lock the car. Crap! 

  • realizing, as I reached for the back door handle, that it was not my car. In my defense, it was also grey silver, and a Combi (like ours). I'm calling this a low because M would want me to recognize our car next to another grey silver car. If they had been two silver grey horses, I would not have made the same mistake. But all grey silver Combis look the same to me. 

  • taking the entire month to finish Little Women because it just wasn't as satisfying as I expected it to be.

  • noticing, while reading over an email I'd just sent to a group of English- and German-speaking colleagues, that I had typed "to" when I needed "too." After a distressed and anguished moan of despair, eye cent another massage correcting myself and insuring them that eye due no the difference between to and too...

  • learning that the governor (Ministerpräsident) of my home state in the U.S. is proposing that one doesn't need to learn how to teach in order to teach. He says a bachelor's degree, some job experience, and a competency test in the subject area is enough. Apparently he thinks teaching is so damn easy, anyone can do it. I'd like to see him try - but luckily for the students he wouldn't be eligible because he never finished college and therefore has no bachelor's degree.

  • getting our water usage report for 2014. We paid €80 for rain. There's a charge for owning land fully or partially covered with cement - like sidewalks and patios, because the rain water that falls there ends up in the sewer system rather than in the ground.

Other Moments

  • cooking a vegetarian dinner but first walking to the store to get M some meat to go with it.

  • while sitting in his mancave outside during his lunch break, M heard someone vacuuming and wondered with a scoff and scowl who was disturbing the Mittagsruhe. When he came back inside he discovered it was his wife.

  • Overheard on the train: "Ok, aber sprechen wir von echten 10 Minuten, oder deine 10 Minuten?" ("Ok, but are we talking about an actual ten minutes, or your ten minutes?") The speaker was a man, and he was talking to a woman on his cell phone (like that wasn't obvious).

  • entering our bedroom after a two-night absence and realizing M had been enjoying an open window for sleeping while I was away. Holy beachballs it was cold in there!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

In the News II

Several gems came up this week in both the newspaper and on an alternative news program we watched on Saturday evening.

First, from the local paper on Wednesday, 21. January...

Geisterfahrer* wegen Navi / Wrong-way Driver because of GPS

A truck driver near Bingen in Rheinland-Pfalz turned around on the Autobahn-60 to go in the other direction because his GPS instructed him to "Bitte wenden" ("Please turn around"). The Highway Patrol reported that no one was injured - it's probably a good thing the incident happened during the night. An on-duty police officer happened to see the manoeuver and pulled the 42-year-old driver over shortly afterward. He was not drunk, but rather just blindly trusted his GPS (called a Navi over here).

Under supervision of the police, the driver turned his truck around, but during this manoeuver he bashed into a guard rail and caused €1300 in damage.

*The Germans have a word for a person who drives the wrong way on an Autobahn, road, or street - Geisterfahrer, which can translate to "ghost driver." This is unfortunately a somewhat common accurance, according to the frequency of such reports in the newspaper and on the Verkehrsfunk.

Fünfjähriger tötet Bruder / Five-year-old Kills his Brother

You know this one had to come from the U.S., and I'm not making light of it. I find these reports tragic and absurd.

A young boy in Elmo, Missouri shot and killed his nine-month-old brother with the loaded 22-caliber pistol he found lying on a bed in the home. He picked up the pistol, shot it, and the bullet hit the baby, who lay in a playpen, in the head. No charges will be filed - of course not against the boy, but also not against the parents - because in the U.S. there are no regulations regarding proper storage of loaded or unloaded weapons. It's perfectly legal (though a little stupid) to leave a loaded gun lying around anywhere in one's home whether small children are present or not.

But to end on a positive note...


You've heard of Airbnb, right? People who have unoccupied apartments or rooms in their homes can register with Airbnb and rent the space to travelers, often for less than what a hotel would charge. I haven't tried it out yet but want to and know of plenty of other travel bloggers who have used it repeatedly.

Well! Now there's an app called Airpnp for people who are out and about and find themselves in urgent need of a toilet. The original idea was mainly intended for women, but anyone can use it. Those with toilets to offer register with the site and indicate how much they charge for use, and travelers who find themselves in sudden, urgent need can use the app to find the nearest private toilet. Some charge $1 or more, but believe me, I myself have been in a state where I would have happily paid more if only I could find a pleasant place to...uh...sit for a few moments. 

Although the program did specifically mention a few Airpnp spots in Stuttgart, the app doesn't yet have a big following in Germany. In the Netherlands and Belgium, however, there are tons of people offering their loos for hire.  The idea will probably never catch on in the U.S. because there are public restrooms all over and in pretty much every store. Besides that, except in the big cities people are rarely about without their cars, with which they can easily get to a place with a restroom.

What's been in your news?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Life in the Schwabenland

You know you're acclimating into life in Swabia when...

  • your collection of books about your [adopted] Heimat and its people continues to grow.

  • on a winter's day when your house feels uncommonly cold, instead of turning up the heat you don long johns* and ski socks.
    *Long johns are called "lange Unterhose" (long underpants) or "Liebestöter" (love killers) in German.

  • that same evening you light 12 tea candles in the living room in decorative candle holders because, even if they don't actually warm up the room, it seems warmer.

  • you snort in disgust in grocery stores in the U.S. when you see "Black Forest ham" in packages from Oscar Meyer, knowing full well what Schwarzwälder Schinken is and should look and taste like.

  • you grow concerned when your wine cellar is down to five bottles.

  • you have a conversation with your husband one evening about saure Kutteln (tripe, or stomach/intestinal lining of cows or pigs), Blutwurst (blood sausage), Niere (kidneys), and Hirnsuppe (brain soup), which were not unheard of meals when he was a child.

  • you get extra excited about a present that has two useful purposes - like a weekly calendar whose pages become postcards when you tear them off on Monday morning!

  • you hear a joke about how frugal the Swabians are (see below), but you wonder what's so funny about it since being frugal seems to be a very good idea.

  • you understand the prepositions 'nonder, 'nauf, and 'nei.

  • you feel dreadfully guilty on Sunday morning when you realize you forgot to sweep your sidewalk and the road in front of your house the day before (this is not to be done on Sundays).

  • you mean what you say and you do what you say you will do - without fail.

  • although you are pretty frugal and strive not to waste money or food, you are willing to cough up the cash for a good bottle of wine and/or an occasional good meal out. You can do this because you save in other ways.

  • you want a Butterbrezel from the bakery but you buy a regular pretzel instead - saving 20 cents - take it home, slice it open, and put the butter on yourself.

  • two of your language teachers are called Äffle and Pferdle. It's from these guys that you learned what "Mei Uhr isch hee" means.

  • although you find beautiful every part of Germany you have visited, you wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Swabian jokes:
Winegrower Carl and his wife Caroline emptied the contents of their cess pool into two barrels (to use as fertilizer) and carried them up to the top of their hillside vineyard. Then Carl tripped and the contents of his barrel spilled over the retaining wall. "Oh, oh," Caroline wailed, "you idiot! We spent half the winter shitting for nothing!*

Football/Soccer match in a Swabian village: To decide sides, the referee tossed a coin into the air. 2000 people were injured.

*Your Swabian Neighbors. Larson, Bob. Stuttgart: Schwaben International Verlag, 1981.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Word Sex

Well, if that's not a title that will raise eyebrows...

a brilliant book, by the way,
if a titch blasphemous

Language learners probably figured out that this is another post about the genders of nouns. Almost every Western language besides English (and, as I recently learned, Hungarian) assigns genders to nouns. In German a noun is either masculine, feminine, or neuter/neutral. The English language has this concept as well, as we refer to ships and many other machines as "she" and we have "Father Time" and "Mother Nature," but for the most part, a male is "he," a female is "she," and a thing is "it." In German, however, a girl is "it," a tree is "he," and the keyboard I'm typing on is "she."

More on that in a minute.

There are lots of articles, essays, and blog posts written by English speakers about how silly this all is, and many of those are deliciously funny. I recommend especially the master Mark Twain's essay The Awful German Language, and especially the section called "The Tale of the Fishwife and its Sad Fate." I also recently read David Sedaris's book Me Talk Pretty One Day, and the chapters in which he is struggling to learn French are particularly good. He explains his brilliant but expensive solution to not being able to remember the genders of French nouns in the chapter called "Make Mine a Double."

I have not, however, read many articles or blog posts which explains why the genders seem so screwed up and ridiculous. I thought I'd throw that out there for those who want to know.

Leave it to a teacher to suck the fun right out of even a Mark Twain essay...

First of all, these are the genders we're dealing with, the definite article in German (and its English translation):

      masculine = der (the)     feminine = die (the)       neuter = das (the)        plural = die (the)

I'm not going to claim that the genders of German nouns are logical. But I will tell you that the gender is based on the word, not the thing it is. This why the thing in your living room that you lie on while reading or watching TV is both das Sofa and die Couch. Most foreign words are neuter, and Sofa is a foreign word (Turkish/Arabic, based on Couch is....shit. Not German. There is no German word that begins with C.* It's an Anglo-French word. Couch is feminine. Just learn & accept it. Let me try again.

A sea is feminine - die See. A lake is masculine, though the German word is the same. In this case, I guess, size matters. A sea is normally larger than a lake.

                                 die See = sea                                           der See = lake

Wait. The gender is determined by the word, not the thing it is. So the above example is a crappy one as well.

Last try: I'm going to use the example of that thing you put your money, driver's license, and insurance card into:

                                    American English: wallet                Proper English: purse

In German, this little bugger can be any gender you wish, as long as you choose the proper noun:

  die Brieftasche - most German nouns ending in -e are feminine
  der Geldbeutel - most German nouns ending in -el are masculine
  das Portemonnaie - most borrowed foreign words (that one is French) are neuter

Ok, haha, the funning is over (though nothing I wrote above is untrue). Following is a list of actual rules that apply to the genders of German nouns and have proven to be very useful for me. My source is, in addition to what you see there, 13 years of teaching German in an American high school and trying to make the tips, clues, and rules as simple as possible. And if we were together in my classroom I would now have to pause to define "noun" to half the class.

Please note: The last rule in each category or gender trumps all the other rules.
   Example: Names of trains are masculine (der). However, it's die S-Bahn, because Bahn is feminine.

Always Masculine:

  • days, months, & seasons (der Dienstag, der Juli, der Winter - Tuesday, July, winter)
  • points of the compass, sky, & heavenly bodies (der Norden, der Himmel, der Mond - north, sky/heaven, moon)  Exception: die Sonne
  • precipitation (der Regen, der Nebel, der Schnee - rain, fog, snow)
  • names of cars or trains (der Porsche, der Mercedes)
  • nouns ending in -ismus and -ner  (der Rassismus, der Rentner - racism, pensioner)
  • male beings and professions & occupations carried out by males** (der Bruder, der Sportler - brother, male athlete)
  • all compound nouns that end with a word that is masculine by itself (der Schneemann - snowman)
**No, this does not mean that in Germany there are "boy jobs" and "girl jobs". This means that when the occupation is held by a male, his title is masculine. Der Pilot is a male pilot. Die Pilotin is a female pilot - the word (and often enough the salary) changes to indicate the person is a female.

Always Feminine:

  • names of aircraft, ships, & motorbikes (die Boeing 747, die Titanic)
  • cardinal numbers (die/eine Eins, die/eine Vier - the/a one, the/a four - important for school grades, which are numbers rather than letters)
  • nouns ending with the suffixes -heit, -keit, -tät, -ung, & -schaft (die Weisheit, die Einsamkeit, die Realität, die Bescherung, die Mannschaft - wisdom, loneliness, reality, gift exchange, team)
  • nouns ending with the suffixes -ie & -ik (die Philosophie, die Grammatik - philosophy, grammar)
  • borrowed foreign nouns ending in -ade, -age, -anz, -ette, -ine, -tion, & -tur (die Toilette, die Aktion)
  • female beings and professions & occupations carried out by females (die Schwester, die Sportlerin - sister, female athlete)
  • all compound nouns that end with a word that is feminine by itself (die Handtasche - handbag)

Always Neuter:

  • nouns ending in the diminutives -chen, -lein, and the Swabian -le (das Mädchen, das Männlein, das Häusle - girl, little man, little house)
  • infinitives used as nouns [gerunds] (das Essen, das Lesen - eating or food, reading)
  • names of colors (das Blau, das Weiß - blue, white)
  • names of most hotels, cafes, and theaters
  • cities (except der Haag - the Hague, in the Netherlands)
  • (this one always cracked up my students) almost all of the 112 known chemical elements
  • all compound nouns that end with a word that is neuter by itself (das Stinktier - stink animal [skunk])

There are also helpful lists of word groups that are usually masculine, or feminine, or neuter.

Now, does all this really matter? Who cares about the sex of words?!? No German teacher would ever publicly admit that it doesn't matter, but frankly, in casual conversation it doesn't. Yes, screwing up the gender of a word can lead to an embarrassing mistake and giggles from your German friends, but in pretty much all cases whoever is listening to you will understand your meaning even if you say you need to step into the bench (der Bank) to get some cash.

When does word sex matter?
  • on your German Lebenslauf (résumé or curriculum vitae)
  • on a written German grammar test
  • on a written assignment for a German class
  • in an oral exam or job interview if you want to demonstrate mastery of German
  • when you write emails or letters in German (since if you're in doubt while you're writing, you really should take the time to look it up), especially cover letters
  • when you are writing something in German that you intend to publish (in print or online)
  • if you're the kind of person who wants to avoid language mistakes

Another great thing about living in the Schwabenland (which is neuter, by the way, because it is a compound noun ending in Land, which is neuter) is that most everyone swallows 50% of the gender-specific article anyway. You can get by very well using "d'" for every gender: "d' Wurst", "d' Hund", and "d' Spiel" are just three examples (sausage, dog, game).

So if you're embarking on the impossibly frustrating but exceedingly rewarding journey of learning German, do yourself a favor and learn the gender with each new noun. Don't learn "Schornsteinfegermeisterin = female master chimney sweep." Learn "DIE Schornsteinfegermeisterin = THE female master chimney sweep"! Don't learn "Auslandskrankenschein = health insurance document for foreign travel." Learn "DER Auslandskrankenschein =  THE health insurance document for foreign travel." It will make your German-learning and -speaking life a lot easier in the long run.

And if you have to guess at a noun's gender because it doesn't follow any of the "rules" you've memorized, guess masculine (der), because the majority of German nouns are masculine.

*There are words that begin with C which are used in German, but they are borrowed words, and not German.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

In the Local Newspaper 1

We subscribe to our local newspaper - in print. It arrives every morning that is not a Sunday or a holiday, and an extra fat edition arrives on  Saturdays. I'm one of those old-fashioned types who still likes to page through the things I read rather than scrolling and clicking. This paper is three times the size of the local paper in my hometown in the U.S. and contains all kinds of articles of local interest after the sections devoted to Germany, Europe, the world, the economy, and sports.

Quite often I come across an article that I think would be fun to share and comment on, and so I'm going to try out a new thread called "In the Local Newspaper." I even got M to play along by setting up his fancy photo tent and taking some pictures for me!

I'm finally starting this thread because an article that appeared on Friday is just too good to skip. And it's about something from my homeland. Not really my homeland - this news comes from the fair state of Alabama whereas I am from Wisconsin in the North. Might as well be two different countries. But I digress...

Apparently a principal in a middle school in Alabama has recommended that parents send their children to school with cans of vegetables to use against intruders who might enter the school. To be fair and not to discriminate against canned fruits, the term "canned food item" is used in an English article I found.

In Germany various sizes of canned goods are readily available.
This is what we found in our pantry.
In case of an Amoklauf (shooting rampage) in their school, the 11- to 13-year-old students would be able to grab the canned food items, which would be stored in each classroom so the kids don't have to carry them around all the time, and hurl them at the intruder thereby catching the killer off-guard and perhaps even knocking him out.

The German article says parents should give their kids canned food items so that they can be prepared in case one day something awful happens (my translation). It also says (and this is not in the English article) that the students would be taught to throw various objects - basically whatever they can get their hands on - to defend themselves as a last resort if they were not able to escape from the building.

The German reporter goes on to say that it's probably true that a crazed shooter wouldn't be able to shoot freely all around him with a group of children pelting him with chairs, books, staplers or canned vegetables. "In a country where an average of 14-34 students die in school shootings every year, it seems futile to hand a child a can of vegetables" (my translation). Indeed it does, but perhaps there's something to the idea of giving kids an idea how to defend themselves and the training and means with which to at least try.

Heck, Nick "Crocodile" Dundee uses the same technique to down a purse snatcher in New York City (fast forward to 1:22)...

I'm happy to see that no one has yet suggested that we arm American middle or high school students with pistols, rifles, or semi-automatic weapons, though it wouldn't surprise me in the least to hear that suggested sometime in the next decade or two. It's already been suggested (and is in practice in some schools) that teachers be armed with guns and trained how to use them. Let's definitely not look for a way to get guns out of general circulation and dangerous people out of schools; that's simply unrealistic. Just make sure school children are at all times armed with cans of beans.

The German reporter did get one thing wrong. He called the vegetable-wielding students tenth graders. Tenth graders are 15-16 years old, attending high schools, and (in the U.S.) driving. The students at this middle school, who would/will be trained to hurl canned food items at intruders, are in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.

We don't have young children, but I went down to our pantry to see what I could offer them if we did. The cans of peas and corn are pretty small and wouldn't be very effective. The pineapple would be better as it's slightly larger than a Campbell's Soup can. But the can of lentils and soup greens! That sucker weighs 970 grams (2 pounds). I wouldn't be able to throw it with much accuracy, but then I lack the training.

At the end of the school year, unthrown canned food items will be donated to a local food pantry.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mid-month Confessions

This is a weird time of year. I don't particularly like January or February, and March isn't anything to look forward to, either. Christmas is over, the weather is dull, gray, and hopeless, there are too many months between now and the end of the school year, and my feet are always cold which makes me as discontented as a cat stuck out in the rain. I am sure I will never understand Fasching/Fasnet, but I should be able to get others' enthusiasm for the tomfoolery. At least it livens up the drabness of winter.

In an attempt to get back my sense of humor, I thought I'd offer a few confessions.

In the last few days or weeks, I may or may not have...

  •  ...published a blog post I really liked about my favorite island, only to discover while I was looking for something else in my archives that I had already published a post about the island in October. No wonder I couldn't find the draft I'd thought I'd written.

  • ...regifted (to the Sternsinger and my students) some of the candy from M's and my Adventskalender because we couldn't eat that much chocolate every day!

  • ...let loose an audible anguished groan upon noticing the sixth mistake/typo in 12 pages of what appears to be a printed copy of the E-book version of an American classic I've been longing to read, which I ordered from Amazon. Good my lord, who types these things?!?

  •  ...fished a piece of tin foil out of the gelber Sack (I'd only put it in there 2-3 minutes before) to reuse on the leftovers headed into the refrigerator. If you were a Swabian, you'd understand.

  •  ...written two scathing emails to two different people on the same day and then jetisoned them both because some people are just too stupid to bother with.

  •  ...spent €101 on home decorations (2 pillow covers, 1 small table cloth, and 6 placemats) because they had owls on them and I love owls. I was disappointed in the quality of what arrived. And I had to spend €10 on pillows to go into the pillow covers.

  •  ...apologized to M for spending €111 on useless, cheap (but kind of cute) owl crap in the same month that he made an additional house payment.

  •  ...left a stove burner on level 4 all night after boiling potatoes at 22:00 for the next day's Bratkartoffeln. M found a nice warm kitchen when he went for his coffee the next morning.

  •  ...celebrated silently because I have a 3-week break from one of my volunteer jobs. I want to like the work but don't.

  • ...had a conversation with M about the gender of the German word for orgasm. Masculine, feminine, or neuter: one guess, folks.

  •  ...lost this entire blog post after it was nearly finished because I had unplugged the network cable to sit in the living room to write, got an error message when I tried to add a photo that wouldn't go away even after I plugged in again, and hit the big red X because I was too proud to ask M to fix my problem for me.

  •  ...apologized to M for bitching about losing my blog post when I could have asked him for help before hitting the big red X.

  •  ...eaten an entire package of licorice I brought back from the States. Apparently I miss licorice. And now it's gone.

  • ...thrown a semi-major hissy fit because my Nexus required a system update and now everything looks different. I HATE change!!!
Owl in the center isn't new - he traveled in my suitcase from the U.S.
when I moved here.
Well hell, I have to admit, this was fun!!

Ok, fellow bloggers and dear readers - what are your mid-month (or end-month...whatever) confessions?!? Let's liven up this dull season.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Beautiful Mull

a tribute to the beautiful Scottish Isle of Mull...

This post is somewhat retro and somewhat forward-reaching, since all the photos are between four and nine years old but we have booked a week on the Isle of Mull for September 2015 and expect to have plenty of new pictures and memories when we return.

In 2006 M and I got married on the island, on a day so beautiful and clear even the local photographer was impressed. We would have had the tiny private ceremony in the library of the Glengorm Castle, but the decidedly unscottish weather allowed us to be outside on the lawn next to the castle overlooking the sea.

behind us: blooming Rhododendron bushes, the sea, the mainland of Scotland,
and the peaks in the background are probably the Isle of Rum
When I say private ceremony, I mean it was just us and our two witnesses from Edinburgh (and of course the registrar who performed the ceremony and her assistant*). We didn't want anyone to feel obligated to make that long and expensive trip, and to be honest we wanted this to be a private moment just for us. It felt very intimate and meaningful and if we had it to do over again, we wouldn't change a thing.

*An unexpected guest was Pip, the castle's semi-retired Border Collie, who popped out of the Rhododendron with a plump and freshly killed bunny hanging from his mouth, which he devoured undisturbed by our intrusion in his dining room. Afterwards the assistant, who'd kept her poise during the feast, doubled over in horror saying, "'Twas awful! I could hear the bones crunchin'!"

We stayed three nights in a room of the castle with a stunning view out the windows overlooking sheep fields facing the sea.

In 2007 we returned with both of my children and M's mother for a week in one of Glengorm's self-catering cottages. We went hiking, explored Tobermory and two castles (Duart and Torrosay, the latter of which was sold a few years later and is no longer open for tours) plus the Aros castle ruins, drove around part of the island and hiked to MacKinnon's Cave, into which my Schwiegermutter's cousin (one of our two witnesses, both of whom joined us for several days on the island) scrambled with my son - there was only time for those two to go in because the tide was rising - ate at a great restaurant in Salen, and hiked some more. My daughter and I went pony trekking twice also, once on Glengorm's grounds and once not far from Loch na Keal.

Sorne Cottages, no longer available for short hire :-(

coastline of Loch na Keal
Tobermory, the "capital" of Mull

Highland Cattle with Duart Castle in the background
My son wanted to scramble up, into, over, down, and through everything,
and mountain-runner Keith happily went with him. Thank goodness,
since he had to fish him out of this river when he crossed where it was
deeper than expected!
After our week on Mull the five of us drove through the Highlands on a trip planned by M's mother. We stayed at the Clachaig Inn near Glencoe, toured Eilean Donan Castle (where, when my Schwiegermutter asked the brazen guide - surely a blackguard cousin of the clan who owns it - what he wears under his kilt, showed us a bare cheek!! I may or may not have let out a shriek of surprise...), Urquhart Castle, and Blair Castle, rode the Hogwart's Express Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig and back, overnighted in Spean Bridge, Drumnadrochit, and Kinloch Rannoch, took a boat tour on Loch Ness, explored touristy Pitlochry, and strolled around the battlefields of Culloden, Bannockburn, and Stirling.

on the Jacobite Steam Train

Eilean Donan Castle

Urquhart Castle ruins overlooking Loch Ness

We returned to Mull in 2010, but this time my son decided he didn't want to come with us. Silly lad. This time we stayed for two weeks in Sorne cottage and took many more hikes and one day trip to the Isles of Iona and  Staffa. Thank heavens for me, the sea was very calm that day, so the ride out to Staffa wasn't at all horrifying, which I have heard and read it can be.

Iona Abbey

the uninhabited Isle of Staffa

Staffa's black basalt columns, formed some sixty million years ago
by a massive undersea explosion. 

Puffin - these birds are so adorable!

pony-trekking again - cantering along the beach of Loch na Keal
Pure heaven!

Many of our hikes led to the sea, where I could sit for hours.

Several hikes took us past abandoned houses or villages.

This is our kind of vacation. We seek out places where we can
be alone with nature and our cameras. Although Mull depends
somewhat on tourism during the summer months, one can hike
for hours without seeing anyone else.

heather, bracken, and the sea

I have to share two of my favorite pictures from our time on Iona, but first an explanation: my Schwiegermutter and I love museums, churches, castles, etc.. We like to take our time and read carefully. M and my daughter like museums, churches, and castles to a point, but they both read quickly (and retain more than I do!) and can make it through a self-guided tour in about half the time. While I was wandering around the ruins of the Iona Abbey, I saw M and my daughter sitting on a bench. Awww.... sweet picture! They grinned, I snapped it, and then wandered off. I turned to see if they were following me, and snapped the second photo. This pair of photos makes me giggle every time I see them.

In September we're going alone and staying in one of Glengorm's self-catering flats. This trip will be about hiking and photography, and M wants to visit the Puffins on Staffa again. I'm not so sure about that unless the sea is as calm as last time - and what are the chances of that?! I might have to wait for him on Iona and explore that island more.

We have been told we should visit other islands in Scotland and that there is much more to see! We're sure this is true, but there is something so familiar and special to us about Mull, and we keep longing to return. There's still more to see on this small island, too - for instance we haven't climbed Ben More yet! And with the vacation nine months away, there might even be enough time for us to get fit enough to give the ol' mountain a try.

One more thing we'd like to do is hear & see Iain Thomson, Mull's "singing shepherd," live in a pub or at a cèilidh. We heard his music playing in a shop in 2010 and promptly bought his CD, which we love. When we found his second one, we ordered that, too. I'm listening to his music as I type this, and I could listen all night. Instrumentals, Scottish reels, original songs, cover versions, traditional tunes... One of my favorite lines is from a song on his first CD, called "Come by the Hills": "The cares of tomorrow must wait 'til this day is done." I am so grateful that little shop in Tobermory was playing his CD the day we walked in!

This video is a montage of M's and my photos set to Iain Thomson's song "Ulva Boatman" (used with permission). M made it the year I arranged a penpal exchange between my students in Wisconsin and students at the high school in Tobermory, to give my students an idea of what there is to see and do on the island.

It's best viewed in the small version rather than full screen, and it probably won't work on a tablet or android.*

My words can't do justice to the wonder and beauty of this island, but hopefully the pictures speak for me. Mull has captured my heart, and I cannot wait to return.

*If anyone knows how to post a video on Blogger that views well on full screen with clear photos and without using Youtube and is willing to share, please send me an email! :-)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Dreikönigstag 20*C+M+B+15

Today is Dreikönigstag, Epiphany, and the 12th day of Christmas, which signals the end of the Christmas holidays here in Germany.  Tomorrow school and work resume.  In the States, for the most part, school and work resumed on Jan. 2 - as soon after New Year's Day as possible.

On Dreikönigstag here in southern Germany, groups of children called Sternsinger go from house to house dressed in kingly costumes and carrying a lighted star. They sing a song, recite a poem about the three kings, write a blessing on the door frame, and collect a donation for a charity. This year the money raised goes to children in need in the Philippines.  People whom they visit may also give them a treat - some chocolate, candy, etc. - to give them energy to carry on through the day and evening. I had baked very American chocolate chip cookies on the weekend in anticipation of their visit.

This year's group was the most adorable yet! They sang so well I wish I had asked if I could record them. Most of them had their lines memorized, and they were very grateful for our donation and the nibblies. I explained that I am from the U.S., and that the cookies were very typical American treats.

The blessing they write on the door frame is (this year) 20*C+M+B+15.  Each piece of the blessing has a meaning.
    20...15 is the current year.
    The * represents the Star of Bethlehem.
    C M B stands for Christus Mansionem Benedicat** ("Christ Bless this House" in Latin)
    The three crosses represent the trinity.

**It is a common misconception that the C M B stands for the intials of the names of the three kings, which coincidentally are Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar.

The blessing stays on the door until the next Dreikönigstag, when the entire blessing is wiped off and rewritten for the new year.

I truly love this tradition, and I got giddy when our doorbell rang! It brings closure to the Christmas season in a really nice way, I think.

After the Sternsinger leave, it's time to take down Christmas. The decorations go back into their boxes, the tree branches get cut off and placed over garden plants to protect them against the cold, the tree trunk gets chopped up and put in the garage to use for firewood in 2 years when it's dry (because nothing gets wasted or thrown out in Swabia!), and the nativity scene gets packed away until next December.

It was a lovely Advent and Christmas season, and I am always a little sad to pack up the decorations. I have enjoyed reading other bloggers' impressions of Christmas in Germany, descriptions of Christmas markets I've been to or not, and plans for 2015. It should be a good year!