Thursday, April 30, 2015

April Highs and Lows 2015

I just realized a few hours ago that today is the last day of April! Tomorrow is a holiday here - May Day / Labor Day - and we're planning to go for a drive in the Black Forest in our new car, which I actually enjoy driving! More on that shortly.

Things are picking up again. There's been some sun this month, mowing and weeding season has begun, it's warming up, and everything looks more cheery even when there are dark clouds overhead. It's amazing what leaf buds and blossoms on trees and blooming flowers can do for a person's mood, isn't it? April was a good month with one major and extended lowlight. Read on...


  •  my Schwiegermutter staying with us for a week around Easter and the two day trips she and I took together - one to Nöttingen and one to Rottweil.

  • being asked by a founder of Multicoolty to do an interview for their website!

  • one of M's employees (I'd call him a friend of mine, but he's German and probably wouldn't go that far) fixing my sluggish Nexus tablet by wiping the data and loading the factory image magic, so now it's not so slow anymore! 

  • passing 21,900 hits on this blog. Woot! Feelin' like a celebrity...(yeah, not quite).

  • our favorite restaurant adding my blog to their website's "interessante Links"

  • Spargel (asparagus) season has begun!!

  • Having lunch in Reutlingen with my new friend HC, who agreed to be my Sprachpartnerin (language partner) and then touring a riding stable where she used to ride and is still active. I also chatted with an 86-year-old woman who was preparing her horse for a riding lesson and met a 3-year-old son of the dressage wonderhorse Totilas.

  • a day trip with my Schwiegermutter to Ulm

  • this meal at Straub's Krone

    Bondorfer Spargel mit Kartoffeln und Sauce Hollandaise
    und Lachsfilet mit Bärlauchkruste
    (Asparagus and potatoes with salmon)
  • flowers, flowers, flowers!

  • watching bits of the Rolex 3-day event (horse show) in Lexington, Kentucky online, where local boy Michael Jung won first and third on his two fabulous horses Fischerrocana and La Biosthetique Sam.

  • picking up our new car, which M ordered in December. When the salesman brought us into the room where the car was waiting, it was actually covered by a soft shiny tarp, which he then invited me to pull off. That was a bit overdone, but that's fine. Though I have hated driving here since arriving 2 1/2 years ago, I actually like driving this car! I'll admit sheepishly that it's an automatic, which means one less thing for me to think about while driving. I'm planning to drive to Nagold tomorrow, and home from Freudenstadt (M will do the rest of the driving). 

new car - darker shade of gray than the old one
(plus 4-wheel drive and memory seats)


  • tending the hellcat who lives in M's office while its human was on holiday for more than two weeks. It's a cute cat as long as it's asleep and you stay at least five feet away from it. It only took five days this time for the vicious beast to draw first blood, while M was trying to free it from the harness it wears to go outside.

  • taking a bunch of "selfies" so I'd have an updated picture of myself for the Multicoolty interview - totally awkward even though I was home alone. Since I don't have anything like a Smartphone, a "selfie" in my world involves a tripod, my Canon 40D and its 10-second self timer.

  • catching another cold - what the heck?

  • discovering at about 335 feet up the church tower in Ulm that I have a touch of Höhenangst (fear of heights)

Neither High nor Low

The 17-day daily and very effective reminder of why we do not and will not ever have pets.

Stinky* the Hellcat
*name has been changed to annoy the vicious

Other Pics from the Month

Kapellenkirche, Rottweil
Römisches Legionsbad (Roman bath), Rottweil

Ulm on the Danube
The reason I love collies and writing - Albert Payson Terhume (1872-1942)
My other favorite writer as a child - Marguerite Henry

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Speaking English

Forgive me for this rant. I taught English in an  American high school for 16 years before I packed up my furniture, my clothing, and my dried-up once-idealistic dreams and left the country for good.

I can't stand it any more. I'm trying to be kind. I'm trying not to complain. I'm trying to accept that many of my Landsleute just aren't good at English. I know that normal people don't consider it important to use standard language skills when writing publicly (social media, comments on news stories, etc.) in their native language, but as a former English teacher I'm tempted to scratch out my eyes and turn up my tinnitus.

If an American attended grade school - and most of those alive today did - he or she learned was taught proper standard English. Alongside basic addition and subtraction, third grade teachers teach their students the difference between "me" and "I" and when each is needed. We ALL learned that, when in doubt, remove the other person and see how the sentence makes sense. For instance:
The police want to talk to Chuck and I. (Removing "Chuck," does it make sense?)
Sam and me are going to the beach today. (Removing "Sam," does it make sense?) 
This is not rocket science, folks. It's American English, and it's your native language. I get it that foreign languages are just too hard, and too expensive to teach judging from the amount of school districts eliminating them from their curricula due to budget cuts. But should people not be expected to at least know and speak their own language better than a non-native speaker?

I will never - NEVER - fault a non-native speaker of English for making mistakes in this crazy language. But most mistakes Germans (for instance) make when speaking English are vocabulary, word order, or pronunciation errors. I have never heard a non-native speaker say "Me and Frank..." as a way to start a sentence, as I have never heard a native speaker of German say the equivalent = "Mich und Frank..."

Side grammar note: Do not EVER say "me and...". It is NEVER correct. Please trust me on this.

Americans say "me and..." all the time. The Germans even have a saying for that one:
"Nur ein Esel nennt sich selbst zuerst." ("Only an ass mentions himself first.")

When exchange students head over to the U.S., I'm tempted to beg them "Do not copy the English of the people you'll meet or what you hear on TV!" They will return to their English classes at their German schools and fail tests because crappy English will sound ok to them. I am not talking about accents or dialect; I'm talking about "I have went," "lay down," "less friends," and "there's three..." among others.

The other day I went to a German Facebook group I follow where the main language is German, and I saw a post in English. It happens now and then and is not a problem. But this guy's post was a poor display of English, and when a German responded to his question, her English was just fine. The American responded with worse English, erratic capitalization and little punctuation creating a run-on sentence, and the German responded again briefly in perfect English, using standard punctuation and capitalization as well as nailing the correct use of "you're."

I realize the guy who set me off this time might have a disability, and I shouldn't judge. M asked me if I'm sure he's American, because a German could have written his question as well. While he was asking me that I clicked on the guy's name and showed M his title picture - a big ass bald eagle. "Well, ok then."

There are too many American TV shows aired in Germany, and although the voices are dubbed into German, you can often still hear the American English in the background. The German speakers actually correct the grammar in the voice-over translations. "Me and Sam know each other real good" becomes "Sam und ich kennen einander sehr gut" (Sam and I know each other very well). "Him and I's first truck was a Ford" becomes "Unser erster Lastwagen war ein Ford" (Our first truck was a Ford).

"Him and I's truck"?!?!  What the hell?  I do not care if you didn't go to college. I do not care if you didn't graduate from high school. In third grade you were taught how to use possessives, and "I's" was not on the list.

We English teachers can only do so much. We have our students' attention for at most 20 minutes a day during the nine-month school year (not including Homecoming week, March Madness, Prom week, or days right before and after long weekends or holiday breaks). During the rest of their day and days they are hearing their friends, siblings, and parents speak and listening to songs written by people who don't know the rules of English grammar any better than they do. Just the other day I heard "In the end it's just me and you" sung repeatedly in a song my husband said is on the radio all the time. Super.

(found on google images - sorry for the totally lame attempt at citation)

While the above graphic makes me grin a little, it's really not one's education that is "at fault." I use standard (American) English because it was important to my family and because I care enough to do so. If it hadn't been important to my parents and grandparents, perhaps I wouldn't know the difference between its and it's or how to use I and me. Perhaps I wouldn't look up the spelling of a word when I'm not sure. And perhaps I wouldn't proofread what I write.*

But I do, and hearing and seeing so many errors so frequently bothers me as much as it would bother some people to look at someone with a mis-buttoned shirt, to hear metal scraping on concrete, or to watch an entire movie with the lip-sync out of whack. We all have our quirks, and I guess this is mine.

My mom patiently explains why it's not ok to say "Me and my brother..."
while my brother whispers, "Learn it now, Kid. It'll make your life a lot easier later on."

Please know: it is never too late (or too early) to learn your own native language and how to use it well.

*Do I still find mistakes after sending or publishing something? Darn it, yes. Where possible, I go back and fix them. Occasional mistakes and typos are one thing (or two). Not knowing or not caring how to speak and write your native language correctly is something else that we English teachers and language lovers just can't understand.

So much irony...

If you see anything awkward or a typo in one of my blog posts, do let me know! My parents quickly catch most of my mistakes, though. :-)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Day Trip 6: Ulm

Ulm is a city on the Danube with a population of about 123,000. It lies in the state of Baden-Württemberg, but Neu Ulm, on the other side of the Danube, is in Bavaria. It is a unique town with lots to offer the casual tourist, and even more for travelers who want to dig into some history, art, church architecture, and culture.

Ulm was first mentioned in written records in 854 AD, and in the 12th century it became a free imperial city. The building of the church began in 1377. Albert Einstein was born here in 1879, and on your walk from the Bahnhof to the church you will pass a monument marking the location of the house where he was born.

As always I recommend going first to the Tourist Information to find a tour book in your language of choice and get some advice from the friendly staff about what to see and where to eat. They'll also be able to provide you with a map.

Apropos eating: plan to have lunch around 13:00 (1:00 pm), because many restaurants close their kitchen between about 14:30 and dinner time. This is standard in most German towns, and although you'll always be able to find something open, it may take some hunting (which is unpleasant when you're already hungry).

We had lunch at the Zunfthaus der Schiffleute in the Fischerviertel (Fishermen's Quarter), and although on that day service was a bit slow, the food was delicious and we were not in a rush. I had the Katzagschroi, which is a horrendous name for a dish ("Yowling of Cats"), but it was delicious to the last bite.

Katzagschroi - roast potatoes, strips of beef, and scrambled egg

Ulm's Tourist Infomation is on the Münsterplatz, so head toward the big church. You'll want to see the church first anyway, so it's a convenient location.

Buy some postcards; the church always looks better
when photographed by a professional.

The church is the Ulmer Münster (Ulm minster - though I have yet to meet an American who knows what a "minster" is, and I only have a vague idea myself). It is not a cathedral, because although "cathedral" only means "big church" in America, a European church must be or have been the seat of a bishop to qualify as a cathedral.

If you are not afraid of heights, I recommend you climb the steeple early in your day while you're still fresh, before exploring the inside of the church, and before lunch. The brilliant thing about climbing this tower is that - up to a certain point - the staircase has one-way traffic. There is a stairway to go up, and another one to come down. The builders of the tower (finished in 1890) already anticipated plenty of tourist traffic - clever lads! If you want to go all the way up to the peak, then you need to navigate a narrow two-way spiral stairway. If you accomplish that you will have climbed 768 steps to the top of the highest church steeple in the world (161.5 meters, or 530 feet).
The view does make the climb worth it.

This is the tower I did not climb to the peak.

The church itself is rife with statues, frescoes, altars, carvings, and paintings and probably deserves its own post. For now I'll recommend you have a look at the tabernacle to the left of the choir, the altar with Last Supper painting, the Man of Sorrows to the right of the choir, and the choir itself. The stain glass windows are the original windows from around 1400, and the choir stalls are impressively carved (from oak) with important faces and representative figures. The ornate baptismal font near the exit was created in 1474.

The sanctuary seats 2000, but in the Middle Ages there was room for 20,000. Can you figure out why, when the church has not changed in size?

After you've explored the interior, do walk around the church as much as construction will allow, and have a look at the gargoyles (some of which you will have seen close up during your climb up the tower) and portals.  Can you find an elephant gargoyle? What about an ostrich facing backward (so that when it rains, the water comes from its bum)? There's a legend behind that one!

The Rathaus is also worth a visit with its rich fresco paintings, astronomical clock, and ornamental windows. Look for Ulm's coat of arms (a shield with black on top and white below) and the two-headed Reichsadler (imperial eagle) showing that Ulm was once a free imperial city. The Fischkasten (fish fountain) located on the south side of the Rathaus is Ulm's oldest fountain and was once used by local fishermen to sell their fresh fish, which were swimming around in the fountain until purchased.

Go then through the Fischerviertel and don't miss the Schiefes Haus, which is a very crooked and slanting hotel. We knocked on the locked door and asked to see a room, which the woman who answered was proud to show us. I took some photos, but she said they should not be published online, which I will honor. The floors of the halls and the rooms are dramatically slanted, the mirrors in the bathrooms are atilt, and the windows aren't straight. But the beds are all flat and adjusted as needed so guests don't roll out - each has a built-in level!

das Schiefe Haus
From the Fischerviertel you can go up onto the town wall and walk east to one of the bridges over the Danube. You'll pass the Metzgerturm (butcher's tower) which is visibly tilted - another town legend here!

As you cross over the bridge you'll have one foot in Baden-Württemberg and one foot in Bavaria, as the river is the border. When you get to the other side of the bridge you are in Neu Ulm, whose American partner city is New Ulm, Minnesota. Makes sense. Turn right after the first few buildings and find a path leading along the Danube. As you walk along west toward the next bridge, you will find lovely views of Ulm with the towering minster.

Cross over the Danube again back into Ulm. At this point we were nearing the end of our time and ambled back to the Bahnhof to meet our train. The Wilhelmshöhe offers a lovely view of Ulm, so include that on your way back. Instead of that we walked through the Duft- und Tastgarten (scent and touch garden) and were rather disappointed. Perhaps it's more impressive in the summer.

There are several museums which I hope to have time to see on another visit - most importantly the Museum der Brotkultur (bread museum)! I'd also like to visit the Ulmer Stadtmuseum (city museum).

This is not all we saw, and there are other things to see and do in Ulm that we didn't have time for. If you're not with a group I would arrange to stay overnight and give the town at least two days. As always, my Schwiegermutter and I had a lovely day together. Neither of us likes shopping (though Ulm appears to have plenty of stores and shops for those who do), we love doing self-guided tours through towns and reading about all the sights we can find, she's patient while I stop to take photos, we are both interested in churches from an artistic and historical point-of-view and like challenging ourselves or each other to identify various saints by their attributes and other figures or scenes. Basically we both love learning, and there is a ton to learn in every town we choose to visit together.

Ulm is well worth a visit, and I am looking forward to returning in July with a group of 7th and 8th grade exchange students from Sheboygan, Wisconsin (USA) and Esslingen, Germany.

Perhaps I'll even pretend to be courageous enough to make it up to the tippy-top of the church steeple.
Schau'n mer mal. (We'll see.)

das schmale Haus (narrow house) - only 4.5 meters wide
Three rooms are available as b&b - there's no space for a restaurant!

Stadtmauer (city wall)

Heumarkt (former hay market square)
The city's stocks and gallows were here.

the new synagogue, built close to the spot
where the original synagogue was located

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Preparing for a Day Trip

This week Friday - if the Bahn strikes don't get in the way - I'm off to Ulm with my Schwiegermutter for a reconnaissance tour in preparation for a summer trip with a group of 14 middle school students (7 from Esslingen and 7 from Sheboygan, WI USA). We've both been to Ulm before, but we want to plan our route and schedule and see how much time it takes to do our little town tour, (hopefully) climb the church steeple, and get back to the Bahnhof in time to get the kids back by suppertime.

A day trip like this for us doesn't involve just buying a train ticket and going there. I like to have a general plan before arriving in a town which involves ordering books and reading up in the days or weeks before the outing.

A few weeks ago I ordered a book and the Merian magazine about Ulm and found my old books and brochures from previous visits. Last week and yesterday afternoon, I started digging in earnestly to re-learn about the town and decide what is interesting enough to show and tell the students and what is dull enough to be left out.

I cued up on my Nexus, got out my notebooks, pens, and highlighter, found my reading/writing glasses, and got to work.

We'd already decided to head straight for the Münster (big church) via the Stadtinfo when we get off the train, so I started my reading and note-taking there. Two hours later I still wasn't even out of the church yet. Granted, I had a few interruptions, but it is so interesting!! (though probably not for middle school students.) The artwork, the carvings, the architecture, the sculptures, the history, the frescoes, the gargoyle water spouts, the arches, the portals, the statues... The teacher and life-long learner in me is going nuts!

Then reality reared its ugly head and I chose six things to tell the kids to look for when we go into the church, which they should be able to locate in the seven minutes before they lose interest and start thinking about ice cream: the Moses sculpture with horns, the tabernacle, the Ulmer Spatz (sparrow), the original Schmerzensmann (man of sorrows), the choir stalls and Herrgottsbscheißerle, the stain glass windows from the 1400s, and the choir arch fresco. I may challenge them to find the carving of Pythagoras in the choir stall if any of them have heard of the Pythagorean theorum.

Then, if I make it on Friday, I'll challenge the kids in July to a climb up the tallest church steeple in the world - 768 steps to the highest outlook platform. I need to try it myself first because it would be rather humiliating to challenge a bunch of kids to a climb only to poop out half way up. (See update below)

After that we'll take a short break for lunch and then have a walking tour around the rest of the town and along the Danube. Because Hans and Sophie Scholl lived with their family in Ulm for several years, I'll be able to tell them some of the story of "die Weiße Rose" (the White Rose). I'll share with them the two town legends I know about Ulm - the one that explains why there are statues of sparrows all over town and the one about the water spout on the church which is an ostrich facing backward with the water coming out of its bum. We'll stroll through the touch and scent garden at the close of our tour and end up back at the Bahnhof. And hopefully we'll keep them interested throughout the day.

But this Friday is about preparing for all that. I'll take all the scenery and attraction photos I need then so I can focus on the kids in July and take people pictures. I'll also scope out possible locations for group photos.

What do I pack and bring along for a day trip like this?

I try to stuff all of this into my camera bag/backpack, which is filled mainly with the camera but has lots of other handy pockets. I can't leave any of it behind. Of course I bring my newest tour book and a highlighter, as well as the train and S-Bahn schedules for getting me from Horb to Esslingen and back. I've learned to bring an extra camera battery and memory card just in case, and naturally at least two packs of tissues, lip moisturizer, and hand lotion. I also bring hand sanitizer because I'm one of those who can practically feel the creepy crawly filth lurking on the parts of the trains and buses one must touch.

Then we have the angry owl wallet filled with some Euros, my insurance card, a credit card, my Bahn25 card, driver's license and Aufenthaltstitel (residency permit), as well as some Euro coins in case I need to use and can actually find a public restroom. The yellow thing* is a canvas bag in case I buy something that doesn't fit into the camera bag, which is incredibly unlikely because the one thing my Schwiegermutter and I never do on day trips is shop for anything! But in Germany you never go anywhere without a canvas bag or two tucked in somewhere.

*For those of you to whom the Schwäbisch dialect is as much a mystery as it is to most Germans not from Swabia, the saying on the bag translates to "Wir kaufen nichts, wir schauen nur" in Hochdeutsch and "We're not buying anything, we're just looking" in English.

You see my old-school Handy (cell phone - and I say "old-school" only because it isn't a fancy Smart Phone and I don't spend all my time playing with it and staring at it) there as well, which I actually remembered to charge this week, a bottle of water, and an Ohnmachts-Snickers. "Ohnmacht" refers to a loss of consciousness, and "Ohnmachtsbrot" is a word made up by a family friend for a snack to bring along while hiking, biking, or skiing in case you are suddenly overcome with hunger and need a nibble to prevent yourself from fainting. My Ohnmachtsbrot is usually a Snickers because it's got everything I need - protein in the peanuts, caramel, and chocolate. In the scorching heat of summertime I usually swap the Ohnmachts-Snickers for a bag of Ohnmachts-Butterkekse (cookies).

I used to bring my reading glasses, too, but in the name of saving space and bringing no extra ballast, I now just make do by holding my book at arm's length.

What do you pack when you go on a day trip?

Update: I made it up 335 feet to the third platform. Fitness-wise I could have made it to the top without a problem,  but apparently I do have a touch of Höhenangst (fear of heights) and was already feeling dizzy, unsteady, and slightly freaked out. To go up to the tippy-top I would have had to go up a very narrow winding two-way stairway, and that sounded like a seriously bad idea. I already felt just a bit like this goat.
"What the faaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!"

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Martinisms II

I think it's time for another round of Martinisms. As I've written before, my husband makes me laugh. A LOT. He lets fly with his Swabian wit and sardonic sense of humor pretty much every day, although he's not trying to be funny. I know readers can't get his tone of voice with a post like this, which is half the fun, but I just can't resist.

So here's Round II. My Swabian husband on...


Discussing his business partner's cat, who doesn't do one useful thing I'm aware of...

M: "Most cats sleep something like 20 hours a day."
B: "Barn cats don't! Melissa's barn cats do all kinds of stuff, and kill mice!"
M: "Yeah, every now and then they get up to appear busy."

doing what he does best

A Free Evening

B: "So, what are we going to do tonight?"
M: "You could watch your documentary."
B: "The one your mom told me about? About Friedrich II of Prussia?"
M: "Right."
B: "But what will you do?"
M: "I'll just be sad."


Discussing the young lad who gets cast for the role in the musical Tarzan, which we saw in Stuttgart...

M: "That must be tough. They have to find a young boy who can sing well and won't throw up when it's stuck to the ceiling."


Lying in bed discussing the fact that my skin was cold (I'm pretty much cold all the time)...

B: "Your skin is often cold, too."
M: "No it tisn't."  (British accent, remember)
B: "Yes it is. It's cold right now."
M: "It doesn't matter. My skin knows its purpose."
B: "And what is that?"
M: "To keep my bowels* from spilling out."                *guts

Guest Martinism I

In Vienna, sitting in a cafe with my Schwiegermutter, "P"...

B: "What was the name of that third museum we could have seen with the Globe and Papyrus Museums? It sounded like a Mexican guy's last name. Oh, I got it! Esperante!"
P (Giggling): "That's not a guy's last name, B. It's Esperan-TO. That was a language which was developed to possibly become a universal language."
B: "Oh...right. Now that museum sounds much more interesting."

Social Life

Talking about a couple we are acquainted with who owns a restaurant...

B: "They're such great people. It would be fun to be friends with them. But I guess they can't have much free time, running a successful restaurant."
M: "Well, that's perfect then. They can't have a social life, and we don't want one."


I was being rather dramatic because of a zit on my face...

B: "Wirst du mich noch lieben, auch wenn ich die Pest habe?"  ("Will you still love me even if I have the plague?")
M: "Well, I won't love you for long, but yes."


Discussing our climbing climatis plants looking a bit dried up...

M: "They haven't been getting much water lately."
B: "They got a ton of water when it rained last week!"
M: "And you ate well a week ago Sunday."
B: "Hm. Good point."

Guest Martinism II

In Esslingen with my Schwiegermutter looking at the cute little swan babies paddling around in the canal...

B: "They're so cute!"
P: "They sure are. Hope the river rats don't get 'em this year."

swimming lesson in the Neckar canal

Family Psychology

After relating the above guest Martinism to M...

B: (laughing) "What is wrong with you people?!"
M: "We're serial realists."

The City of Love

Hearing that my daughter suggested Paris as a possible mother-daughter trip destination for last December...

M: "You go to Paris with your fiance, not your mother. You know. 'City of Love' and all that. So they can walk hand-in-hand along the Seine and get robbed by a local thug."


B: Asks some question about nature - probably about birds or lions or something.
M: "I don't know."
B: "Why don't you know that?"   (Seriously, the amount of stuff he does know is astonishing.)
M: "Because I'm not Dr. Bloody Bronowski."


While on a walk one day through a residential neighborhood, seeing a woman's bum as she bent over working in her garden...

M: "See, that's why you crouch down while doing yardwork. It's easier on your back and on innocent passersby."

Perhaps you had to be there, and perhaps his sense of humor wouldn't suit you. But damn, he keeps me laughing! I hope to heaven you have someone in your life too, who can make you laugh just by being him- or herself.

For more:
Martinisms I
Martinisms III

Saturday, April 18, 2015

OMG - It's Spargel Season!!!

I'm not gonna lie. I flippin' LOVE weißer Spargel (white asparagus). In this too, I fit in well with my German neighbors. Weißer Spargel is practically a cult over here - Germans go mad for it and sit on the edges of their chairs with bated breath chafing under the vexatious restraint of waiting for the announcement that....Spargelsaison ist eröffnet! Then they run, drive, crawl, ride, or frolic jubilantly to the nearest local Spargel farmer where they buy at least a kilo of the glorious stalks that were picked that morning to be cooked that evening.

Neither Germans nor I care that Spargel turns one's pee a funny color or gives it temporarily a strange odor. Nobody bothers about its subtly phallic shape. It's doubtful they even care about the health benefits of eating Spargel. It's just damn delicious.

Four days ago, Google's search page let us know it was time to get out our Spargeltöpfe (asparagus pots):

While there is green asparagus in that picture as well, that stuff is nothing special. One can get that almost all year round, imported from God knows where. It's the white which is beloved in Germany and that has a limited season, so Germans eat as much of it as they can while they can, knowing that's it again until next spring. The season starts around mid-April and ends on June 24th. Yes, that's right, every year the Spargel picking season ends exactly on June 24th. That's Johannestag, or the Feast Day of St. John. Why does the season end then? Because that leaves at least 100 days until the next first frost, which is how much time the harvested Spargel plants need to grow back and gain enough strength to produce a good crop in the next season.

There are even helpful sayings about Spargel to help growers remember the rules:

"Kirschen rot, Spargel tot!"   "Cherries red, asparagus dead!"
"Stich den Spargel nie nach Johanni!"   "Never prick out asparagus after St. John's Day!" 

Germans ate an average of 1.5 kg of Spargel per person in 2014, which is why Spargel is the vegetable with the largest acreage of cropland in Germany (ca. 24,100 hectares).* That accounts for about 20% of Germany's vegetable cropland.

But enough with statistics that no one cares about. How do you cook this delicious goodness?!?

Our favorite home recipe is called "Spargel überbacken". Here we go:

  1 kg weißer Spargel  (white asparagus)
  3 liters water
  80g melted butter + 10g butter
  white pepper
  1/8 liter dry white wine
  300g ham
  40g grated Emmentaler cheese (oh, be serious - double that!)

(Serve with salad and boiled potatoes.)

The strange presentation is my fault. I'll keep trying.
  1. Wash and peel the Spargel (white must be well-peeled!!).  Wash it again and drain it.
  2. Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot. 
  3. Add Spargel and cook for 15 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and let drain.
  4. Preheat oven to 200° (Ober- und Unterhitze)
  5. Lay Spargel in a casserole dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  6. Pour melted butter and white wine over the Spargel.
  7. Cut ham into 3mm x 2cm strips. (Seriously? Can I have that in inches, please?) Spread over the Spargel.
  8. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top, drop pats of butter on top of the cheese.
  9. Bake at 200° for about 10 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven and serve it right away, Baby!
Mama Mia! This dish isn't pretty, but it's doggone tasty! While it's in the oven it is literally lying in a buttery white wine bath. I'm getting teary-eyed just thinking about it.

Don't like ham, cheese, or white wine? Slap a steak on it and serve it with homemade Hollandaise sauce:

One of the menu items during Spargelsaison at Straub's Krone
I kid you not, every restaurant in Germany that serves German food has a special menu for Spargelsaison, so get it while you can. Remember, after June 24th, that's it except for the canned variety, which I had once in a crepe from a street vendor. Igitt!! 

We're such snobs we decided to wait for the first pickins to be grabbed by others, and I'll drive to the Spargel farm next week for our first kilo. That's right - I love weißer Spargel so much that I will actually drive alone several km from our house down a scary curvy two-lane highway to a narrow two-way farm road that is only wide enough for 1.5 cars with ditches on both sides, just to buy this stuff freshly picked.

White asparagus isn't really a thing in North America. Americans, you have no idea what you're missing.

*Source: "Woher stammt der Spargel?" Lukullus. B&L MEdienGesellschaft GmbH & Co. KG, Hilden. 17.04.2015.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Advice to My Kids

Sometimes it still seems impossible that I am the mother of adult children. They are 19 and 21, both in college (my daughter is headed to grad school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia next fall), and have lived all their lives up to this point in Wisconsin, USA. I'm not sure if they consider themselves fortunate or unlucky that they grew up with a realist for a mother, but I was never one to tell them pretty little lies or make them empty promises.

"You can be anything you want to be!" No, you really can't. I wanted to be a jockey when I was young, and no amount of effort on my part would have ever made me short or small enough to be one. Find out what you're good at, and use that to establish your education and career goals.

They know when they ask me for advice I will be honest with them and tell them what I think, and they know to expect unsolicited advice, which they almost always take well. I accept when they don't follow my advice, and they know enough not to complain too loudly to me when they don't and things go badly. They know I go to my parents and my Schwiegermutter for advice as well and have benefitted much from their life experience and wise decisions. In several ways already, my daughter is much wiser than I was at her age, and from what I can tell, so is my son.

For whatever reason, I woke up the other morning pondering what advice I would give my adult children as they enter their early twenties, and I decided to put it in my blog. So here it goes, kids. Volume One.

Ready to listen?

See the world!

You have been lucky enough already to have been with M and me to Germany, Switzerland (sort of), France (briefly), Austria, the Isle of Mull and the highlands of Scotland. S. you and I have been to Rome and you studied for a semester in Berlin. A, you've been on a road trip with friends. And you have both seen some parts of the U.S.. There is so much more to see! Make travel part of your budget and get out there!
Isle of Mull, Scotland

in the Austrian Alps

Read books!

There's more to life than text messages and Instatwitter, and far more to be learned from books. I loved seeing you both consumed by books when you were young and reading yourselves to sleep every night. Keep your mind and your imagination alive through reading.

My son starting reading alone early.

before the days of social media...

Keep learning!

Don't ever stop learning. When you're finished with your studies and gainfully employed, find something you want to learn more about and dig in. Learn as much as you can in your lifetime. If you have children, encourage in them a love of learning. Learn another  language. Learn how to fix a car or how to cook amazing and healthy meals. Learn how to fix things around the house or how to take really good photos. Learn how to play another instrument (or re-learn the piano!).

installing surround sound speakers

Speak and write well!

You know this is an important one in our family. Using language properly is important. Many people seem not to care about using correct grammar these days, but there's no reason not to when you know better. Making language mistakes could cost you a potential job - especially on your resume, cover letter, or in your interview. You know the big ones: Never say "Me and...", it's "should have gone" not "should of went", use "lie" not "lay" in almost every instance in the present tense, and say "There are three things" instead of "there's three things." You also know the difference between its and it's, your and you're, and too and to. Don't be lazy; when in doubt, look it up. And don't forget to proofread!

P.S. Four typos have been spotted, reported, and fixed since this post went live!

Take breaks from social media!

When you are spending time with a person, be with him or her. Communicating with someone else on social media sends the message that the person you're actually with is not worth your full attention. During meals, put your phone or tablet in another room. Unless you are expecting an emergency, you do not need to respond immediately just because your phone buzzed, beeped, or vibrated.

Don't marry (too) young.

Make darn sure you know who you are and what you want out of life before you settle down and get married. If you figure that out after you're married, there's a good chance you and your spouse will be headed in different directions, and that rarely ends well. I'd recommend marrying someone you know really well, and knowing someone that well takes years. There's no rush.

Don't have children just because it's what people do.

Wait to be a parent until you want to be one (and take the necessary precautions to ensure that). You will never hear me say, "So, when am I going to have grandchildren?" That's your business and your decision. I know lots of people who are happy and living fulfilling lives without being parents. Parenting is the most important, most wonderful, most painful, most rewarding, and most frustrating thing you will ever do if you do it. Once you go down that road, you are changed forever. Don't take it lightly.

Don't do anything just because someone says you should.

The someone includes your best friends, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your future spouse, and yes, even your mother. You alone are responsible for your actions, and the validity of the "But he told me to do it!" excuse expired in about the third grade. Be willing to say "no," and practice it if necessary.

These photos may have been taken before you learned to effectively say "no" to me, but oh my goodness, the cuteness!!


Do what you say you will do...

...and don't make false promises. Pause before you promise to do something and make sure you can commit before saying so. Don't say, "I'm sure that won't be a problem" as a way to end a conversation. Maintain integrity, and finish what you start.

Keep shoveling, kids. You're not done yet.

Do not buy on credit!

Ok, you'll probably need a mortgage someday, and maybe a car loan. But pay your credit card bill(s) in full when they are due. Do not ever carry a balance on a credit card through several months, because that is no different than walking down the street dropping dollar bills. You are giving your hard-earned money away to the credit card company. If you cannot afford to pay cash for something, wait to buy it until you can.

Save for emergencies and unavoidable expenses.

And start saving with your first real paycheck - even if it's only $5. Unavoidable expenses: car repairs and maintenance, home repairs and maintenance, a necessary flight home for a wedding or funeral, utilities, gas, phone, insurance, yearly car registration, rent or mortgage, groceries. Everything you want to spend money has to come after all of that.

Have a hobby you're passionate about.

Yes, many hobbies can be expensive, but you need to have something outside of work that brings you satisfaction, preferably something that doesn't involve bars or casinos. You've had a lot of exposure to various activities while growing up - riding, judo, kayaking, swimming, basketball, gymnastics, soccer, hiking, photography, golf, travel, football, baseball, music... What's next?

And don't forget to call email your mother!

I don't expect you to call overseas, but regular emails are important! When you want to talk, let me know and I'll call you.

Have fun and laugh often!!

Lastly, thank you for making parenting pretty darn easy and most definitely enjoyable! Ich liebe Euch!!

Photos posted with my kids' permission.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Crap I Do for Photos

On Wednesday my Schwiegermutter and I had another opportunity for a day trip, and it was a beautiful day. We decided on Rottweil, another town I'd never been to. It's only 35 minutes by train, and it's interesting, pretty, unique and is the oldest town in Baden-Württemberg. It was founded by the Romans in 74 A.D., and archeologists have found lots of evidence of its origins underground.

I'll probably write a later post about the day in general, but the most dramatic business was my climb up the Hochturm (High Tower), just west of the Stadtmitte, or town center. I climbed it because it was there, and because I wanted to see the impressive view described in the town brochure.

Hochturm in Rottweil

The tower is only 54 meters tall and there are 187 wooden steps to get to the outdoor observation deck. It's a pretty comfortable walk up with a few platforms along the way. But let's start at the beginning.

To climb the tower you need to go to the Tourist-Information or the Dominikanermuseum to request the key. You hand over your personal id card, pay €1, and they give you the key and an info-and-instructions sheet.

Please note: Climb the tower at your own risk!! The city administration is NOT responsible for accidents or injuries!

That set the tone nicely.

Read the instructions on your walk to the tower:
  • No smoking.
  • Don't touch the Aufzugwinde (I don't know what an Aufzugwinde is, but I'm sure I didn't touch it.)*
  • Only use the fire extinguishers in case of fire.
  • Don't throw anything out the windows or from the observation deck.
  • No eating or drinking.
  • If you open any windows to take photos, remember to close them again.
  • Tower visits are limited to 15 persons at one time.
And here's the best one:
  • After you enter the tower, lock the door behind you from the inside.

I naturally followed all the rules (I do that), but it did feel weird to lock myself into a stone tower that was once used as a prison. I imagine this is to keep marauders from following me up. Another woman with a key showed up at the same time we arrived, which turned out to be a very good thing for me. My Schwiegermutter didn't want to climb, so she found an accommodating park bench and sat down to read about more details of the town. The other woman and I locked ourselves in and headed up.

Every time we got to a platform I thought maybe that was it, but then I found another set of steps and kept going. I hadn't realized yet that there was an outdoor observation deck, but she knew and kept saying there must be more. Finally I got to a narrow set of steps that felt more like a ladder, and I went half way up. The level above me was clearly the end - I could see roof rafters in a cone-like shape above me, and it was very dark. I stopped mid-stairs and said I don't think it goes any higher. She said it must and urged me on. If she had not been there, no way in hell would I have gone up into that tower attic. We fumbled around in the dark until she found a door and opened it. Sure enough - that led outside. 

She stepped out and said some version of "Holy crap!" It was not the view that was so stunning, but rather the flimsy low railing (just about rib-height on me) and the height. She kept exclaiming her nervousness and surprise, but took off around the tower roof. We were standing on concrete, which felt nice and solid, but the American in me likes the security of a high railing or glass barrier when standing on the tops of towers or buildings. 

I don't think I'm afraid of heights. I mean, I did it, and I think I walked all the way around. But I kept repeating "Holy Mother!" and didn't for a moment let go of that little iron railing. I had my big camera with me but took the pictures one-handed, leaning back against the tower's pointy roof. The other woman walked around the tower, returned to where I was (not far from the comforting door), and announced that she was going back down. SHIT! You're leaving me up here alone? What if the door locks? What if I'm stuck up here? I'm already dizzy, but I don't have all my photos yet!  Please - pretty please with sugar on top, DON'T LEAVE ME!  

She left. But not before asking me to hold the door open while she walked across the dark tower attic to the stairway because the light from outside would help her find the stairs. 

My flash is lighting up the dark scary tower attic.
The smart thing to do would have been to screw the rest of the pictures and leave with her. But no...I had to decide to prolong the horror and make sure I wasn't missing anything on the other side.

overlooking Rottweil

safety railing

the other side
At one point, leaning against the tower and holding onto the railing, I held my camera over the railing pointed down and took a photo. I'm not bothering to include it because it doesn't provide the terrifying effect I was aiming for.

Right, time to go back down. I held the door to the tower attic wide open and as I let go, and made a dash across the attic to the top of the steps. The next level down was lit well enough, so I anticipated no trouble. As my right thigh started to cramp, I remembered I'd only had coffee to drink since getting up, and (forgetting a former student's advice) no water. Silly twit. Now I face the danger of cramping and falling down the creaky wooden stairs with my good camera, and I remembered the locked door. Even if I yelled for help and my Schwiegermutter actually heard me, she'd have to walk 10 minutes to the Stadtinfo to get another key and perhaps summon the fire brigade to retrieve me with a stretcher.

I kept hobbling down, one step at a time, holding tightly to the wooden railing and cursing myself for wanting photos that weren't all that good anyway. "Hey look! The tops of houses!"

But like a cat distracted by a piece of lint, all of a sudden I spied the prison cell. "Cool!" I forgot my cramping leg and the creaky steps and shimmied around for the best angle.

I was relieved to reach the locked door and let myself out, ending with the thought that I wouldn't do that twice.

Then again, Ulm is on my plan for this spring and summer, and I know I'm going to do the same darn thing again just to take stupid pictures of the tops of houses and to say that I climbed the tallest church steeple in the world.

And not a soul is going to care whether I did or not.  Oh well. At least I'll have some photos to prove I did it.

*An Aufzugwinde is a hoisting winch. Yep, definitely didn't touch a hoisting winch.