Sunday, May 31, 2015

May Highs and Lows 2015

What's not to love about May? Magnolia trees, lilacs, forget-me-nots, rhododendron blossoming, Pfingstrosen... even one of our climatis bloomed early. I just took these photos this morning...


These Pfingstrosen didn't get the memo -
they're late.

Pfingstrosen - Peonies
we love our rhododendron - they remind us of Scotland

Among other highs, May is rife with holidays. A holiday for us means that M only has to spend up to two hours at the office - though sometimes he takes the whole day off - rather than his usual 9 1/2 hours. These were this month's holidays, which meant that three of the weeks were short ones:

  •   1. May   Tag der Arbeit (Labor Day)
  • 14. May   Christi Himmelfahrt  (Ascension Day)
  • 25. May   Pfingstmontag  (Pentecost Monday)
In addition, this coming Thursday is Fronleichnam (Corpus Christi - I still have to look up the significance of this day, though I know what the words mean), and we're in the middle of the two-week Pfingstferien (Pentecost holiday), so I even get a break from my school-related volunteer responsibilities.


  • attending our third Kochkurs at Straub's Krone - this time the focus was on Spargel, Bärlauch, and Rhubarb. Once again, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the cooking, the company, the new tips, and the food we prepared! (photos below)

  • getting a new phone - a smart phone! My first, because I've been holding out since I've never needed one. I'm optimistically putting this in the highs in the hopes that by the last day of the month I will be used to it and actually know how to use it.
    Update: this has turned out not to be the case, but my daughter assures me it just takes time and practice.

  • watching Circus Halligalli where the two hosts had to sit in a room for 3 hours together and not make any sounds louder than 30 decibels, which is whispering. During that time they were given various challenges, such as sitting on a Furzkissen (whoopie cushion). The last thing one of the guys had to do was a "suicidal tequila" - instead of the usual way of doing a shot, he had to squeeze the lemon into his eyes, snort the salt through his nose, and drink the tequila. He actually did it without setting off the noise alarm, but as soon as the time was up, he screamed like a little girl.

  • receiving three cards in the mail for Mother's Day - one from each of my kids, and one including a letter from my parents!

  • seeing this adorable little hedgehog cowering next to the wall of M's man cave after M had chased him out. He looks so very sad! I'd never seen a real hedgehog before, though apparently they're nearly as abundant as bunnies. And M says they're full of fleas, which is why - although I named him George - I couldn't keep him.

  • meeting my friend HC for lunch and trying out a new place - a Berghütte in Lauterbad. We took the scenic route there, and one can't park there - you have to park in the village below and walk up to the "hut" - perhaps a 15-minute walk. I had a venison burger - delicious!
  • attending an English Speaking Circle group meeting and making a new acquaintance who lives in our village, then meeting her several times for walks around the neighborhood. I've been a bit of a hermit for 2+ years, but now I'm getting out and meeting some very nice people! This is good for my language skills, because at home we speak mainly English.

  • booking our flights to Scotland in September. Ok, we had already booked our cottage on Mull, but still... Each step toward finalizing a trip is always exciting.

  • booking a hotel for a weekend in Bamberg because I want to finally see this town and visit our former exchange student who is studying there!


  • watching Moonshiners on "the man channel" (DMAX), which is a show about a bunch of hillbillies in Appalachia who distill and run moonshine with far less class and sex appeal than the Dukes of Hazzard. I could feel my brain cells trying to kill themselves throughout the episode. It's on Friday nights, in case you want to check it out - but I don't recommend it.

  • this Marmorkuchen fail:
Broken cake, however, still tastes pretty good.
  • learning about what's going on in the realm of education in my home state of Wisconsin.

  • having to drive myself unexpectedly to a volunteer thingy, which meant a 50-minute drive to a remote village in the Black Forest. I made it there and back, so this should probably be a high, but I did not enjoy the drive. I did it because horses were involved.

"Oh shit" Moments

You know what they say about dementia, right? It is not at all a big deal if you forget where you put something, go downstairs to get something but forget what you were going for when you get there, and so on?  The problems start when you start finding things in wierd places, like your car keys in the medicine cabinet, or your watch in the pantry. Well... M may or may not have found an empty and clean measuring cup in the refrigerator the other day. Now, while he willingly takes the blame for everything that goes wrong around here (he prefers that to discussions), he does not put away clean dishes. That's not a criticism - he just doesn't have to because I do it. was I who put it there.

And then there was the day I arranged to meet my new friend for a walk. She called my cell phone and we agreed to walk in each other's direction and meet half way. I got to her house without seeing her, and then thought I should call her and find out where she was. I could not figure out on my rarely-used cell phone how to find the last call and redial it. Luckily she called me back. She was standing in front of my house - we had missed each other at the one place where there are two options - she went one way, and I went the other.

"Oh well" Moment

One of M's employees, someone I'd call a friend of ours, helped me set up my Mi Band fitness tracker with the app at his desk in the office. There's a point where the app asks for the user's height and weight. When we got to my weight, he discreetly looked away, but I couldn't remember my weight in kilos. So I had to ask him to look online what xxx pounds is in kilos, which was still only a guess. Turns out I estimated 3 pounds over my actual weight. If I were younger, I'd probably care.

Kochkurs Photos

getting the Schinkenchips ready to go into the oven

squeezing out the gnocchi

starter: Roher Spargelsalat mit gebratenem Garnelen Tarter
raw asparagus salad with fried shrimp tartar

second starter: Bärlauchgnocchi mit Spargelschaum & Schinkenchips
wild garlic gnocchi with asparagus cream and smoked ham chips

rolling the Spargel-Pfannkuchen

anrichten: serving the main course
Kalbsrücken im Kräuteröl gegart & grün-weiß Spargelpfannkuchen mit Kräuter-Hollandaise
veal tenderloin cooked in herbed oil & asparagus pancake roll with herb Hollandaise sauce

serving up dessert

Rhabarber "Carpaccio" mit Zabaione und Rosmarin Crumble

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Oh, Wisconsin

Teachers in Wisconsin recently got another kick in the face with the state government's earnest attempts to strive to reach the bottom of the pile in terms of standards for teaching, education, and learning.

Wisconsin State Capitol
It's always so sweet when politicians on committees* make decisions about education based only on the all-important bottom line ($$$) with no regard for what works in real classrooms. With the interests of the state at heart, they have to find places to cut spending to make the budget look good, and the first place the Republican representatives like Mary Czaja gleefully hack to bits is education. At the local level when faced with less money to educate kids, programs like foreign language, art, and music get slashed (never anything sports-related, of course, because after money, Americans value sports most of all). Languages, music, art...that's just culture, and who needs that?

*COMMITTEES:  Because none of us is as dumb as all of us

(thank you, demotivational posters of

The most alarming part of the state's proposed budget (but believe me, there are other significantly alarming bits regarding education) is that a teaching license will be as easy to get as a fishing license** for people who want to teach 6th to 12th graders. As long as a person is deemed by the public school district or private school "proficient" in the area s/he wants to teach and has real world experience in the subject field, s/he will be granted a license to teach by the state.

**For the benefit of my German readers, a fishing license in Wisconsin does not require knowledge of various types of fish, techniques used for fishing, or rules as it does here - you just go to a gas station that sells fishing licenses, pay the yearly $15 fee, and collect your permit.

Even a bachelor's degree won't be required to obtain a teaching license except, perhaps, for the four core subject areas: English, math, science, and social studies.

This means that (for example) if your neighbor graduated from high school, married a German [real world experience], can convince several people who don't speak German that he can, and perhaps spent some vacation time in Germany [more experience], he will be granted a license to teach German to middle and high school students in Wisconsin (grades 6 to 12).

However, since German programs are being cut left and right in Wisconsin schools because there's just not enough money and the whole world should speak English anyway, that wasn't the best example.

Your other neighbor who owned a small cafe can teach business, computer, and economics classes because he has real world experience in the field of business. Mary Czaja herself suggested that, for instance, a local mechanic could teach middle and high school shop classes. I have a lot of respect for mechanics, but I would be slower to suggest they should teach a bunch of 6th to 12th graders in a classroom.

To teach math or science the candidate might need a bachelor's degree, but still no classes in how to teach. Any idiot can teach a class of 25 hormone-infested teenagers most of whom don't give a flying shit about the class, after all. Right?

It doesn't take any special skills or talents to teach while dealing with all the interruptions that come in the course of a class period as well as the students who approach the teacher after the starting bell to announce that they have returned from their week-long hunt with Dad but didn't do any of the homework she prepared for them before their departure as requested because they were, well, in a tree stand all week, and are wondering if they missed anything during their five-day absence. The emails from parents wondering why their child is not getting an A in the class when she got As in all her previous math classes will also be no problem - the untrained teacher can answer those during her 45-minute prep period. Learning the various components of an effective lesson or unit plan? Pish posh. This teacher won't expect to have to deal with a 10th grader wimpering, "Mrs. Smith, Johnny took my pencilllllll!", but that won't be a problem either because she has real world experience and is good at math.

No longer will the people standing in front of your child's classroom have to waste years and lots of money on college classes focusing on teaching methods, assessment strategies, reaching students with special needs, multicultural education, philosophies of education, or any of the other silly classes that prepare a person for the teaching profession. If they can present themselves in an interview as competent enough in the subject area and possessing real life experience, they're good to go.

With that line of thinking, since I raised two children to adulthood, I should be able to get a Wisconsin medical license to be a pediatrician, a counselor or therapist, a nutritionist, or a nurse. Someone who has tinkered with wiring in his own and friends' houses without electrocuting himself or burning anything down should be able to get an electrician's license in Wisconsin.

Home schooling isn't even legal in Germany - for religious or any other reasons - because in Germany formal education is deemed important enough to be handled and directed by professionals. In Wisconsin, though, if this budget passes, just about anyone will be able to get a license to teach classes of other people's children from 6th to 12th grade whether he or she is cut out for teaching or not.

Good work, Wisconsin. Good work.

the Wisconsin high school where I taught for 13 years after wasting time in college
and taking additional classes after college to learn how to be an effective teacher

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Driving 9: Dear German Drivers

Dear Patient German Drivers,

Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have no idea how much it means to me when you keep a safe distance behind me until we come to one of the four places in southern Germany where it seems safe for you to overtake me.

With heartfelt gratitude,
Ami im Schwabenland

Dear All You Other Nimrods,

Look, I know you need to get to your destination. So do I. It would be great if you could do all you can to make sure we both get there. I swear, I'm doing my best. I may not be driving as fast as you think I should, but if I drive any faster on these narrow winding Black Forest roads, I will hit something. I really am going as fast as it is safe for me to go, and you hanging on my rear so close you could climb into my trunk is not helping either of us.

Here's the thing:

And that's quite an understatement. I'm terrified. I suppose I love life just a little too much at the moment, but I'm not ready to crash into a wall, into you, into a tree, or hurl down a steep Black Forest cliff because I had to veer off the road to avoid hitting you, even though the terrain and scenery are pretty enough to make for a nice final resting place.

Just the other day there was yet another terrible accident on the adequately-wide though shoulderless road between our town and the next in which the two drivers were critically injured and transported to the hospital. This happened at 2:15 in the afternoon and the cause of the head-on collision was one driver overtaking another, failing to notice a car in the oncoming lane at the moment he chose to pass. Visibility was limited due to a slight hill and a curve, and that's where he chose to overtake the guy in front of him.

The next time you are stuck behind someone who is driving cautiously around blind curves, braking because oncoming traffic has drifted across the center line, or for whatever other reason too slowly for your taste, imagine that it's your daughter, who is a new driver getting used to the dangers of the road. If you don't have a daughter, consider some other person you hold dear and tell yourself it's him or her.

Back off and be patient. I don't know about you, but I think it would be better for you to have to spend 3 extra minutes on the road because I'm slowing you down than for you to have to spend the next ten days or weeks in the hospital recuperating from the head-on collision you caused in your need to pass me. I promise you, I am not going to speed up just because you are determined to kiss my tailpipe.

Ami im Schwabenland

P.S. No, I am not going to pass the guy in front of me for any reason at any time. That is why I am leaving enough distance between him and me. Feel free, but for the love of all that's holy, wait until it's safe!

I found out today that I will have to drive 30 miles through the Black Forest tomorrow to get to my volunteer thingy. I was going to hitch a ride with another volunteer, but she's been called in to work. Immediately after I got the phone call, my stomach started to rebel and my back began to ache fiercely. M came home from the office early so we could make a practice drive to the place I have to drive tomorrow. He chose a different route from our GPS because that would have led me along narrower, scarier roads. So I made the drive there this evening and am not looking forward to repeating the experience tomorrow.

I wonder if my public health insurance covers fear therapy. I'll be checking into that...

Monday, May 25, 2015

In the News IV

Other than the usual news about past, present, and pending train driver strikes, kindergarten personnel strikes, bus driver strikes, postal worker strikes, and injuries and deaths due to traffic accidents, there hasn't been a lot of stuff to report that you folks haven't heard about yourselves. For this thread I like to find unique blurbs that make me think, "Huh. Well that's new."

These are the stories that caught my eye recently.

High Dining

Did you know that a town in the Schwabenland - Baiersbronn - has more chefs with Michelin stars factoring for population than any other place in Germany? One of these star chefs has recently created several menus for Lufthansa! His name is Harald Wohlfahrt, he is one of Germany's best chefs, and apparently the New York Times counts him as one of the ten best chefs in the world*. He runs the Traube in Tonbach, and although M and I have been to Baiersbronn a few times, we have not yet eaten there. 

Passengers flying long distance with Lufthansa in May and June can enjoy his creations, which should be a real treat!

The only catch is that you have to fly first class.

*Kienzle, Ulrich. Ulrich Kienzle und die Siebzehn Schwaben. Sagas.edition, Stuttgart, 2012. Page 52.

Schwarzwälder-Bote WOM; 8. May, 2015

20 Year Anniversary: Stuttgarter Roßbolla

The "Stuagerder Roßbolla" is a tasty treat whose name translates to Stuttgart Road Apples, or Stuttgart Horse Turds. This should surprise no one who knows that another Swabian sweet is called Nonnenfürzle (little nuns' farts) and thick Swabian noodles are called Buabaspitzle (little boys' tips). These Roßbolla - chocolate-covered candies made of nougat, vanilla flavoring, hazelnuts, and more chocolate - were created  in 1995 by a Swabian confectionary and were intended to remember the days when steaming piles of horse dung were scattered all over Stuttgart's streets.

Ah....the memories.

23. May, 2015

Wanted: Executioners

Lately in Saudi Arabia there have been so many death sentences handed out (85 so far this year - almost as many as in the whole of 2014) that the country's six executioners are overwhelmed by the work load. The kingdom has advertised in its online job portal for eight men who are interested in being commissioned in the name of the religion to carry out the growing number of beheadings and chopping off of hands and/or legs in accordance with the Scharia laws. About half of those executed were foreigners, and about 40% of the executions were the result of drug offences.

No special qualifications are required of applicants (except, I guess, the willingness and ability to chop off another human being's head or limbs).
20. May, 2015

Dirty Germans??

According to a recent study, these days Germans are spending 2.5 fewer hours cleaning every week than they did ten years ago. While I have to doubt this is also the case in the Schwabenland, the question is whether German homes are dirtier or if there is some other meaning behind this strangeness. Four theories were offered.
  1. Demographics: Perhaps the older generation spent more time cleaning, and since Oma is now in her 80s, she's spending less time with the Putzlappen (cleaning rag) and more time resting. Plausible.
  2. Technology: The average German is more modern than his reputation. Max Mustermann* has bought a vacuum cleaner robot and he mows his lawn on Saturdays with a remote control mower. Among those who have money to burn, perhaps.
  3. Cleaning Agencies: Modern Germans just don't have the time anymore, so they hire someone to clean their homes. Unlikely in the Schwabenland, but plausible elsewhere.
  4. Young Helpers: A new generation of cleaning freaks is taking the work load off the older generation. When teenagers get bored with their smart phones and tablets, they grab the Putzlappen and help out their parents. Uh...possible, but unlikely.
It can't possibly be that German homes are dirtier, can it? If that's the case, I haven't seen the evidence. But, as former Schlagerstar Roberto Blanco crooned back in the 80s, "Ein bisschen Schmutz darf sein!" ("a little dirt is allowed!").

*Max Mustermann is the German name for Mr. Anybody - like John Doe in the U.S..
20. May, 2015

And thus endeth another installment of "In the News".

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Expat Win

You gotta love it when you're reading a book about your Swabian neighbors and the writer includes a line in the Swabian dialect that you totally understand:
"Wenn er frech wird, dann hau i em abrr eine!"
("Wenn er frech wird, dann haue ich ihm aber eine!" or in English "If he screws with me, I'll give him one in the kisser!").

But when you look at the Hochdeutsch translation provided by the writer...
"Wenn er frech wird, dann ziehe ich ihm eins über!" know you wouldn't have understood it.

Translating into English, I would have thought the Hochdeutsch line meant "...then I'll pull one over on him", which would mean to pull a prank on him. Not the same.

OMG...I'm getting there!

Unless you're an expat, you have no idea how much this means.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Mi Band & Smart Phone Update

I'm enjoying my Mi Band and slowly (painfully slowly) learning how to use the smart phone. Now that I've joined the ranks of smart phone users, the only hold-outs I know are my Schwiegermutter and my mother, whose purse was stolen the other day from a hotel lobby but her cell phone was discarded into an elevator. When she asked my daughter why someone would do that, my daughter told her "No one wants a phone like that."

[Side note: the purse was recovered the next day because the thief had tossed it into a public mailbox after removing the cash. Mom had to pay the U.S. post office $5.95 "postage due" to get it back.]

M showed me how to get a photo from the phone to my laptop where my photos are stored, but I wasn't impressed enough with the phone's camera to use it again. It will still be handy if when I get into a car accident and want to document the damage.

The photo I took: Pfingstrosen (peonies) in our garden

I do not know how you people thumb-type and so quickly too, but I do now understand why few people seem able to manage sending messages without tons of errors. Everytime I want N, I get M, and finding punctuation is a pain ("Ahh...That's why so many people don't bother with punctuation and capital letters! Because you have to hit an extra button or two..."). I spend more time on the backspace key than any other.

a note about your privacy:
"You don't have any. Press 'accept and continue'."

The apps I use most on my tablet are installed -, unit converter, and list master - and of course the Mi Fit app. I was going to install the Esslingen app as well, but since I have my Schwiegermutter, I really don't need it. No phone would have the storage space to contain the information she has in her head, and the app can't answer questions.

I also installed the Kindle app in case of emergency (= I'm on the train and finish the actual book I brought with me), and I just downloaded a book I could read 1000 times and never tire of - Black Beauty.

The Mi Band and its app aren't exactly accurate, but there are some advantages. This morning, for instance, I walked from my bed to the WC to the sofa, and the Mi Band registered 197 steps. It was more like 40.

The advantage, though, is that so far I am more motivated to walk - enough to make sure I meet my wimpy current goal of 10,000 steps in a day. The other day the train strike prevented me from getting all the way home to Horb, so I took the S-Bahn to Herrenberg where M picked me up. I had to wait about 20 minutes for him, and because of the Mi Band on my wrist taunting me and reminding me I was only at 8000+ steps, I spent that time walking around the parking lot, down a street and back, around the Bahnhof, and through the parking lot again rather than just standing there reading.

It was no surprise to learn that I sleep very well and long enough. The Mi Band tells me what time I fell asleep, what time I woke up, and how many of those hours and minutes were deep sleep and half sleep. If I got up for any reason during the night, it tells me how many minutes I was up. I can't judge the accuracy of the sleep report, but I will say that it usually nails the time I go to sleep and the time I get up. I can also see my averages for the week.

I can't see any indication of the nap I took yesterday afternoon, though. I wonder if there's a nap app. I'll have to check into that.

I wonder if six months or a year from now I will be as skilled with my smart phone as everyone else seems to be with theirs. This is doubtful, since the other day I couldn't even figure out how to find "recent calls" on my old phone - and I've had that phone for 2 years.

M warned me already that I'll have to get used to charging the phone every night. I charged my old phone once every 2 weeks or so, so that will take some getting used to. Remember the days when we didn't have to charge anything we used? (I do!!) We just had to change our watch batteries every few years.

For those who already have a smart phone, the Mi Band is a very good deal for about €17 and free shipping from Tiny Deal.  You get some feedback about how much you move (or don't move) during the day and your sleeping patterns, and it might motivate you to park at the far end of the parking lot and get in some extra steps wherever you can.

And speaking of that, since it's already nearly 14:00 and I have only logged 3200 steps, I better get my sorry self off this chair and outside! Since the Mi Band counts steps through movement, I could just go into the kitchen and grate potatoes and carrots - but I don't want to start cheating this early in the game.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

It's Just a Word

On Thursday evenings after dinner M and I watch a cooking show called "die Kochprofis". Three esteemed chefs from around Germany come to a restaurant that is failing for any number of reasons and try to help the owners out to turn their business around and be successful. The chefs all own their own restaurants, including one - Frank Oehler - who has a restaurant in Stuttgart, and they work very well together as a team.

Although there is sometimes too much silly drama, we watch it for the cooking tips and to see their reactions when they do the initial "Testessen" - their first step is to order a bunch of items from the menu and see what kind of quality they get, assess the prices, and check out the service. Usually they are able to work with the cooks, service personnel, and owners and save the restaurant, but sometimes the place closes.

But this post isn't really about that show. It's about cursing, swearing, and cussing in Germany - basically using the kinds of words that led to my parents threatening to wash my mouth my brother's mouth out with soap when we were young.

Where's the connection? Look at the shirt Andi (on the right) was wearing in a recent episode of "die Kochprofis":

I don't know what the bottom part says, but it seems to be some creative version of the word "anyway."

This is something I've only realized since moving here - many Germans have no idea how offensive and shocking "the f-word" is. If he knew how inappropriate it is and that English speakers watch their show, I highly doubt Andi would have worn that shirt any more than he would have worn a shirt that says "fick dich".

I am not dissing the show, and my intention is not to criticize Andi's fashion decisions. It's not just about this t-shirt. We also like to watch "Schlag den Raab", a periodic prime time game show in which a contestant competes against well-known entertainer Stefan Raab in a bunch of silly games, trivia contests, and physical challenges that goes on for hours, and it is extremely common for Stefan to yell "FUCK!" when he screws up. Granted, with the German accent it sounds more like the last name of the biathlon competitor Jakov Fak, so "FAHK!", but still. I'm not personally offended by the word; it just takes some getting used to hearing and seeing it so publicly.

A teen comedy (rated for 12-year-olds and up) that came out a year or two ago in Germany is called Fack ju Göhte ("Fuck you, Goethe*"), and a fourth grader walking past me on his way out of school the other day shouted that as he opened the door. I'm guessing he had no idea what he was yelling, but it was a bit of a shock for me. That word can't even be used in the dialog of a movie rated lower than R (not for children under 17) in America, if I'm not mistaken.

   *Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was one of Germany's most famous writers and poets.

Just two days ago on the train a group of school kids settled in the previously quiet car where I was, and the first thing I heard as they started looking for seats was "Fuck!" followed by "Shit!" for no apparent reason (there were plenty of seats).

Curse words in German or English are not censored on the radio or on TV here - they're just words, I guess. And again, it's important for English speakers who might otherwise be taken aback to understand that Germans just don't get how inappropriate some of those English words are. Ok, among friends it's not a big deal to cuss - but to hear "fuck" and "shit" rather than "BEEEEEP" on TV, in songs, and in conversations in the school yard or to see them so prominent on a t-shirt... it's just strange.

But why do (some) Germans* think the word "fuck" is not that bad? I think I've figured that out.

*Disclaimer: I have to say that none of the Germans I know personally go around saying that word, and those I have heard use it are either in my generation or younger. I surely never heard that word here back in the 80s when I was on the exchange... Maybe this is an example of how language changes over the years.

It's a real hoot to watch American shows on "the man channel" (DMAX) about truckers, loggers, sasquatch hunters, moonshiners in Appalachia, and so on, because those characters curse with every few words, and the lips are pixeled out but the words aren't bleeped. You hear the English pretty clearly in the background but the German is dubbed over the top, and the swear words are totally toned down.

In this clip from German comedian Michael Mittermeier, he has recently returned from a trip to New York and has to unlearn how to insert "fuck" into every sentence, (just like we English speakers over the age of 35 have to unlearn inserting "like" into every clause). He shows how ridiculous this would sound in German.

Basically based on American TV shows and movies, comedy sketches, popular songs, and undoubtedly what they read online, Germans think Americans curse all the time and use "fuck" most often.

I'm not a prude, or at least not much of one. I have been known to curse like a drunken sailor when in pain, but I normally feel guilty afterwards. I use curse words in my blog when more creative adjectives just don't cut it. On the one hand they're just words. On the other, I wouldn't say "fuck" in front of my parents or Schwiegermutter - and they'll probably find it quite shocking to read it so often in this blog post!

I think Germans' casual use of "fuck" may be similar to Americans not understanding how intense the words "bloody" and "bugger" are to the Brits. We think they sound cute - at least I do! In fact, to Americans those are nice alternatives to the words we're not allowed to say. But - unless things have changed drastically in recent years - those are vulgar words in the UK - the equivalent of "fucking" and "fucker." British readers - am I right or wrong?

The typical German curse words are just not so bad. Really, the worst [non-blasphemous] ones are the equivalent of "damn" and "crap". When someone says, "Ach, dieses Scheißwetter!," he's only saying, "Ach, this crappy weather!" I have seen, however, in the English subtitles of German movies, where that phrase is translated to "this fucking weather."

It is no wonder the Germans think we Americans say "fuck" all the time, and that it must therefore not be a very bad word.

This whole use of English curse words in Germany is something I've started warning our exchange students about. I tell the Germans heading over to Sheboygan, Wisconsin very specifically which words they must avoid using in this very conservative community, and I tell the American exchange families that their kids will come across these "bad words" while they're in  Germany. I would share this post with this year's Sheboygan students and their families, but I am quite certain the parents would not allow their children (7th and 8th graders) to read it because of the uncensored and repeated use of "the f-word" in it.

I wonder why these words come across as shocking, vulgar, and offensive. Who decided these are the words we can't say? Why do we scold kids for saying "shitty weather" but not for saying "crappy weather"? Aren't shit and crap the same thing? And why, when I ram my toe into the foot of the bed, do I feel so much better after saying "Shit!" than if I'd said "Darn!"?

Ah, the mysteries of language...

Friday, May 15, 2015

My Mi Band

I ordered a Mi Band fitness tracker and it arrived the other day. One of the guys at the office had one, and after he showed me what it can do (very basic; no bells or whistles), I ordered one. Well, I ordered three - one for my daughter, one for M, and one for me.

Unlike the popular Fitbit, which is over $100, the Mi Band costs just $18 and includes free shipping, at least to Germany. It can count steps (though it's not completely accurate, of course), track sleep patterns, tell you what time you fell asleep and what time you woke up, vibrate to tell you your phone is ringing when you have the ringer silenced, and vibrate gently as an alarm to start waking you up before your obnoxious alarm jolts you out of a deep sleep. Our friend said having the thing on his wrist has not proven to be motivation to move or exercise more, but I figured it would work on me for a while. Having visual proof of how lazy I am should kick my ass into moving more, especially since we live in an area that has oodles of fabulous walking/running/biking paths.

The Mi Band comes with everything you see here:
the band, a USB charger, a nice sturdy box, and set-up directions in Chinese

I have absolutely no problem with the lack of English (or any other western language) on the instructions, but I was glad our friend was available to help me set it up since he knew what to do.

Unfortunately, one needs a smart phone to install the app to see the data. Damn. I have no smart phone. I have a tablet (Nexus 7), so we thought that would work. After 45 minutes of trying, our friend figured out that my Nexus doesn't have a new enough Bluetooth (it requires 4.0). Right, so I can wear my Mi Band, but I can't get any data from it.

That evening M figured out that his smart phone doesn't have the right Bluetooth either.  That didn't matter anyway, because he was unwilling to give the Mi Band app access to all the data from his phone that it requires - address books, calendar, blood type, shoe size...), so he wouldn't have installed the app anyway.

BUT...his tablet does have all the right stuff, so he installed the app on it. Now my Mi Band is linked with his tablet, to which I don't have the password (we respect each other's privacy like that). This is where it gets weird. He knows how many steps I walked in a day before I do.

The first steps I recorded were from my laptop to the freezer for an ice cream bar. I more than doubled my steps when I brought the empty stick to the garbage and the wrapper to the gelber Sack (recyclables bag).

On my first night I got 8 hours 38 minutes of sleep (Thursday was a holiday, so I slept in), and 4 of those hours were deep sleep. Don't hate me - sleeping has rarely been a problem for me, except on airplanes.

For 2 1/2 years he has asked me every morning "Did you sleep well?" This morning when I got up he said, "I don't have to ask you if you slept well. I already checked."

So M decided yesterday to get me a smart phone. I have never wanted or needed one up to now because I do not need to check email or do anything else online when I'm not at home or at my Schwiegermutter's house. But I think it's sweet that he's willing to buy one for me, and he found a pretty simple one for the bargain price of €125.

What this means is that, instead of spending €100+ on a fancy Fitbit, I bought the cheaper Mi Band for just €16, and then had to buy a smart phone for €125. Suddenly the Mi Band isn't such a bargain afterall.

But hey, if all of that turns me into this, it's all good.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Vatertag / Father's Day 2015

Today is Father's Day in Germany! In honor of the occasion I am reposting last year's write-up about the day. Nothing has changed about the tradition, so it still fits.  Happy (German) Father's Day, Dad!!

Mother's Day in Germany is celebrated very much like it is in the U.S.. It's on the same Sunday as in the States as well. Children buy cards and flowers or a gift for their mother, but here they have to remember to do that at least one day in advance, because of course all the stores are closed on Sundays.  Perhaps the family goes out for a nice meal, and the mother is pampered appropriately.  Father's Day is quite another story...

In Germany Father's Day is always on Ascension Day, which falls on a Thursday forty days after Easter. Ascension Day is a federal holiday in Germany and many other European countries, so Dad automatically has the day off and a short work week. Many dads take Friday off as well, for reasons you'll understand shortly, giving them a three-day work week.  Mothers get their day on a day already set aside for family and rest. Hm.

Vatertag is also called Männertag or Herrentag (Men's or Gentlemen's Day), depending on the region, and therefore it's really a day for all men to celebrate - not just fathers. Hm.

Vatertag in Germany is about hiking, hanging out with your buddies, and drinking a significant quantity of beer. Women are not generally welcomed. Hm.

Disclaimer: Although the following customs and traditions involving Vatertag are common throughout Germany, I don't actually know anyone personally who celebrates in this way.

Ingredients needed for a proper celebration of Vatertag/Männertag/Herrentag:

  1. a wagon (you may borrow your child's Bollerwagen)
  2. several crates (or a barrel) of beer
  3. some non-alcoholic beverages (not required, but a good idea)
  4. charcoal & matches
  5. some meat to grill (keep it simple)
  6. bread - baguettes work nicely
  7. a couple of Kumpel (buddies)
  8. an absence of women

You and your Kumpel agree where to meet, and it would be best for that to be at someone's house where everyone who doesn't live within walking distance can crash until the next day. Load up the Bollerwagen with your beer, non-alcoholic beverages, and grilling supplies, and hit the road (on foot). You and your Kumpel parade through town, singing, drinking, and fooling around, and head toward a picnic grill area, where you will likely meet other groups of buddies with the same plans.

Fire up your grill, cook your meat, and eat it with plenty of bread to help soak up what you've already drunk and will consume during the next while. Listen to some music (hopefully one of your Kumpel brought along whatever it is that people use to play music in a park these days), tell some raunchy jokes, fart and belch at will, pretend that it's you - and not the woman you live with - who is in charge of your life, and enjoy the comaraderie until the first of you gets a phone call from home saying time's up.

Unfortunately the incidents of drunk driving in Germany rise on this day to three times the usual, perhaps in part because the police are on high alert, so it's probably a good idea for everyone else to stay off the roads this day if possible. Boys will be boys, as they say in the U.S., and most men deserve one day a year to let loose. Those who let a little too loose are the ones who take Friday off as well - to recuperate amid the scorn of their womenfolk.

Personally, I prefer the way Americans have celebrated Father's Day since 1924: children give their fathers cards, a tie, socks, or coupons for "help" with yardwork, the family goes out for a nice big brunch or Dad grills big steaks on his Weber grill, and if he's lucky he gets to enjoy a few cans of beer while watching a baseball game (the only sport that gets any attention in June).

And in the United States, the land of equality and all that, both Mother's Day and Father's Day are on Sundays - a day already set aside for shopping, yardwork, washing the car, cleaning out the garage, sanding the deck rest.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Out for Dinner in Nagold

On the enthusiastic recommendation from an acquaintance of ours, we went out to eat last Friday night at the Eisenbahn in Nagold. Since we can't always eat at our favorite restaurant, it's helpful to hear about other good restaurants in our general area. Nagold is a lovely small town with plenty of history, beautiful buildings, several parks, a large playground, and castle ruins to hike to on a hill above the town, and it is good for shopping. It is not touristy but absolutely worth a day's visit.

The  Eisenbahn is located at Olgastrasse 1, not far from the Bahnhof. It's a Gasthof, so they also have rooms for overnight stays. The short version of our review of the meal is that the prices are reasonable, the portions are sizable, the service was excellent, and the menu definitely appeals to those looking for regional Swabian cuisine. The atmosphere is nice and gemütlich, the room and table decorations are simple and inviting, and the menu is varied. There is a lot of Schwäbisch on the menu - sayings, descriptions, etc. - which I find charming.

My dad would (will!) love this restaurant. When he comes to Germany he wants authentic German food, not Italian, Chinese, etc. He likes to try local specialties, loves Maultaschen, and appreciates a filling and satisfying meal.

I took the picture of the menu before I'd settled on my decision, but I ended up ordering the Waidmannstopf, which is pork tenderloin and chanterelles in a cream sauce with Spätzle. I forgot to ask for a kleine Portion (small portion), so I had to request our server to box up my leftovers, which she gladly did. I probably could have finished it, but I wanted to leave room for fresh strawberries with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream!

The meal began with a gemischter  Salat (mixed salad), and I really liked the dressing. It was somewhat creamy and not too tart. In Germany a mixed salad has some lettuce, tomato, sometimes peppers, etc., but underneath there is also potato salad, finely grated carrots, thinly sliced radishes, corn, cucumber salad, and/or a red beet salad. There are usually five different types of salads on the plate. Americans need to know that restaurants in Germany have their own house dressing, and you do not get to choose a different one from a list of ten possibilities.

Notice that I always have the sign for the strawberries in my sights...

M ordered the Schlemmertopf, which was similar to my dish but also with beef and a darker sauce. We tried each other's, and I am really happy that I ordered what I did. The Schlemmertopf was also good, but for me the pork and sauce really hit the spot. Both are very Swabian dishes - meat and mushrooms, Spätzle (homemade noodles), and tons of sauce. They were very filling, the Spätzle were clearly homemade, and everything we had was convincingly made from fresh products. We cook with fresh produce and meat at home, so it's a real turn-off for us to be served frozen or canned vegetables, deep-fried potato products, packaged Spätzle, or sauce from a jar or prepared mix at a restaurant. At the Eisenbahn the Spätzle and sauces are homemade and the chefs use recipes from the current owner's great-grandmother!

This was what was first served on my plate, but there was another hot plate on the side with the rest - another serving about the same size! Since I had my mind set on this since I'd walked in...

...I went easy on the main course and brought it home for leftovers.

Naturally, since it's May, they had a special Spargelkarte (asparagus menu) and many of the choices looked quite tempting. I had just bought two kilos of Spargel that morning, though, to cook for Mother's Day - so we decided to order from the regular menu instead.

The service was friendly and attentive in a German way. This is one of the things I love about dining out in Germany - the server will usually check on you once during your main course, but otherwise he or she leaves you in peace to enjoy your meal! In the States they're at your table every five minutes interrupting your conversation to ask how things are, refilling your drinks whether you want a refill or not, and often whisking away people's plates while they're chewing their last bites and before others have finished their meals. In Germany the server usually waits until it appears that everyone at the table has finished (which you can signal subtly by placing your knife and fork together at the side of your plate), then she comes once and asks if everything was ok - which is exactly how it was at the Eisenbahn. Lovely!

Our only complaint is that the side dishes were limited to mainly Spätzle or Pommes (french fries). We like Spätzle, and theirs were really good! But I don't really like french fries, and I'm not always in the mood for Spätzle. With a Zwiebelrostbraten, for instance, I prefer Bratkartoffeln. They do offer Kroketten (like tater tots), Rösti-Taler (hash browns), and Salzkartoffeln (boiled potatoes) with certain dishes, so perhaps it's possible to request one of those sides instead of Pommes or Spätzle.

Update: I have heard from the Wirt (owner) that it is certainly possible to substitute side dishes, and that they sometimes have Bratkartoffeln as well. Good to know for next time!

All-in-all, we were pleased with our meal and will definitely return to the Eisenbahn, especially with guests. Parking is not a problem near the restaurant, and they have a nice Biergarten for when it's nice enough to sit outside. Although it was not busy the Friday evening we were there (it was Mother's Day weekend, so most families were saving dining out for Sunday...), our acquaintance recommended reserving a table because it was very busy both times he dined there recently. It is possible to reserve a table via email, which was a bonus for me - I still don't love talking on the phone in German if I can avoid it - and I received a response within one hour.

Wednesday is their Ruhetag (the restaurant is closed), as it states on their website, "damit d'r Wirt a'mol Zeit für d' Wirtin hat!" (so that the innkeeper also has some time for the hostess/his wife!).

Saturday, May 9, 2015

This is Why I Love Bookstores

The other day I had a dentist appointment, but as usual I was early and had some time to kill. Happily Horb's bookstore is just a few steps from my dentist, so I popped in there for a few minutes. I don't think the store has a website, but it's located at Hirschgasse 17 (the internet is wrong - she has relocated from Christophorusbrücken 1).

Look, Amazon is great. There's almost nothing they don't have, delivery time is quick in Germany, and searching online is easy. But it's still not a bookstore. The kind where I can wander in, amble around, flip through pages of books on display, and ask for assistance finding just what I'm looking for even when I'm not quite sure what I want.

Granted, I rarely ask for help because I love browsing. But one of these days I will ask Frau Kohler to recommend for me some German historical fiction novels written originally in German, because I do not want to read English books translated into German. I'm pretty good at finding historical fiction on my own, but I want to make sure they are written by German authors.

In the store in Horb I usually migrate straight to the ample section about the Schwabenland, though, which is what I did the other day. I saw the usuals, some of which I've already bought and read, and some I haven't bought yet. But this one jumped out at me:

111 Reasons to Love the Swabians
I flipped through the book, spotted words like Laugenweckle, Kehrwoche, Neigschmeckter, Maultaschen, and Stäffelesrutscher, and I bought it. And then for the next few days I had to force myself to put it down - to take care of things like the laundry and Kehrwoche.

I have searched for and bought several books on Amazon about the Swabians, but still this book hadn't shown up on my recommendations from them. When I went to enter it into my Goodreads collection, I discovered it had only just been published a month earlier, on April 1st, 2015! I even wrote a review of the book on Amazon because no one else had yet done so.

But this is why, although I'm grateful for Amazon when I need to order something quickly and know exactly what I want, I will always prefer bookstores for browsing. I wrote down the titles of two other books I saw that day that I'd like and found them on Amazon for the same price, but I will return to our little bookstore in Horb to buy them because I know bookstores are struggling, and I hope she stays open forever.

Spending time in a bookstore is for me what candy stores, clothing and shoe stores, and hardware stores are for other people. I can't get enough. When M and I are meandering through a town and a bookstore looms in the distance, I usually hear, "Oh no." But hey - there's usually a cafe nearby where he can have an espresso, so everybody wins!

Folks, wherever you are, support your local bookstores! Wouldn't it be sad if 20 years from now no one remembers bookstores because Amazon has taken over the world and we can't hold real books in our hands anymore before we buy them? I can't tell you the number of times a book I later loved has all but jumped off a shelf into my hands and screamed, "Buy ME!! I am the book you came here for!" That's never happened to me on Amazon.

P.S. I just have to add one of my favorite lines from this book: "Würden Psychiater nicht so viel kosten, hätten sie hier im Schwäbischen bestimmt mächtig was zu tun." ("If psychiatrists didn't cost so much, they would have a load of work here in Swabia.") That said, the author, Jo Müller, presents Swabians in a very positive light and really shows what there is to love about these people and their land. I sometimes feel like I know a lot about the Swabians, being an observer of them for quite a few years - since long before I moved here. But I learned a pile more from this book!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

There's a Season for Grilling?

Germans love the outdoors. They love street cafes, going for strolls, working in their yard or Schrebergarten, biking, hiking, sitting on benches or on a blanket on the grass watching the world go by, and they love grill parties. As soon as the grass gets long enough for the first mow, cooking magazines, store adverts and displays, posters, and local newspapers declare "IT'S GRILLSAISON!!!"

Now, I'm from Wisconsin, and my husband loves to grill. Fans at Packer games go tailgating before the games even in the bitter dead of winter, which is both a little crazy and quite normal for Wisconsin - or at least for Packer fans.
This was our Packer tailgating party on 20. Jan., 2008
Temperature: -4 °F  (-20 °C)
Windchill: -24 °F  (-31 °C)
The tarp did not help keep us warm, but at least it blocked the wind a little. And I'm not kidding about the temperature or the windchill that day - Google it.

Once you've grilled in Wisconsin in the winter, grilling ceases to have a season. Ours begins in January and ends in December. Our local butcher doesn't even bat an eye anymore when I ask for  "Schweinehals zum Grillen" (pork neck for grilling) in February, and she knows to cut them thick.  M has grilled in all kinds of weather - in driving rain, blazing heat, blustery wind, and even snow storms. If we have decided to grill (and by "we" I mean "he"), he doesn't change his mind because of the weather. I offer an adequate amount of sympathy, and he bundles up when it's snowing and gets wet when it's raining.
I can't believe, with all the times M has grilled in the snow in Wisconsin,
I don't have one single picture of that. This was our backyard, though,
and you can just see part of the covered grill on the left. 

To M, "Grillsaison" sounds as silly as "cooking season" or "television season." We love grilled meat. Often M grills Schweinehals  and I make Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) on the stove. He does hamburgers, thick steaks, shish kebabs, Turkish meatsticks, beef or pork tenderloin - well, he'll grill pretty much anything, even vegetables bathed in olive oil. But we don't do what most Germans grill - sausages. There is an elaborate sausage culture over here with endless varieties - not just the bratwurst and Italian sausages available in Wisconsin. But when he fires up the grill, he's putting a couple of steaks on it, not sausages.

When he grills, he turns his back on his Swabian side and goes full-on American. The steaks need to be thick, the grill needs to be big, and the beer needs to be chilled. And he doesn't care what the meat costs.

I don't actually know when Grillsaison ends in southern Germany, but I'm guessing March isn't part of it.
Wisconsin - March, 2008
At least most of the snow had melted.

Since this is Germany, there are rules during grilling season, which appear in a spring edition of our community's newsletter each year as a reminder. It's a darn good thing we live in a single-family home and our neighbors don't seem to be complainers. Because according to the rules, we grill too often.

Wait. You can't grill whenever you want to in Germany?

It depends. If you live in your own house and don't pick fights with your neighbors, they probably won't complain. However, if you live in an apartment building or a multi-family home, you do not have total freedom when it comes to grilling. From April to September, renters are allowed to grill once a month on their balconies or patios. If it's more often than that, your neighbors have the right to complain and the law is not on your side. The problem is, of course, the smoke from your grill wafting up and into your neighbors' windows, which are almost always open because people don't have central air here.

Once a month?!? We grill at least once a week from April through November, and probably every other week throughout the winter!

You should also not grill spontaneously if you live in an apartment. The other residents in your building who might be bothered by the smoke and the delicious smell of grilling meat while they are digging in to their Linsen mit Spätzle und Saitenwürstchen (lentils, noodles, and hot dogs) should be given a 48-hour notice that you are going to grill so they can plan accordingly by closing their windows or leaving home for the evening.

Our neighbors have had a fair chance to get used to our grilling habits since we started right after moving in, so we're probably safe. I think M bought his grill before we had living room furniture. Priorities, people.

Correction: He had the grill before he had the house. It sat in its box at the office until after the closing.

Recently our neighbor bought a big fancy Weber grill - one model up from ours, we think, but we don't want to be too nosey - and has tried it out a few times this week. M thinks he's only done sausages, so we're pondering finally inviting them over so M can show him what that grill is capable of.

Grilling season. Don't be silly.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Driving in Germany 8: Don't Flinch!!

Seven months ago I gave up driving in Germany except for a few places near our home to which I have to drive - like the grocery store and the local Bahnhof. I ended that blog post with a picture of a sad puppy because puppies make everything better.

"Please don't ever make me drive again."

Last week we got a new car, and yesterday I decided to try it again (it = driving). The mere fact that I did drive the 14 km (8.7 miles) from home to Nagold on a new (for me) road is reason enough for me to feel good. Then M took over as we meandered through the Schwarzwald, often behind cars driving as slowly as I was on the way to Nagold, but I also drove the 14 km home from Freudenstadt.

Yesterday morning I was all...
Still a little freaked out, but willing to consider another step.

The key to being suddenly willing to drive those harrowing 14 km is apparently having a car with an automatic transmission. That's a bit silly since I've owned nothing but stick-shift cars since 1998, but whatever works. It's one less thing to think about while driving, so that's probably the difference.

The issues and fears I still have to face and overcome are...

Narrow Roads

My depth perception has never been great, so the narrow roads seem even narrower to me than they are. As I've written before, there are no comforting shoulders on the sides of roads, but rather thick wooden posts, ditches, curbs, stone walls, cliffs, or rocky crags.

Isn't that pretty? Notice this particular road is too narrow for a painted center line. I do realize you can't see how narrow the road is, but according to road width minimums, it is probably 5.5 meters wide (18 feet). It really does feel like 30 seconds into this clip from The Holiday.

Oh, and the speed limit here is 100 km/h (62 mph).

This nice wide road with a painted center line below is a whole meter wider - 6.5 m (21 feet). Please, someone in Wisconsin, go outside and measure the width of the street in front of your house where the speed limit is 40 km/h (25 mph), and let me know what it is curb to curb.

Notice the curb and sidewalk right at the edge of the lane. If you flinch, you tear off a wheel or screw up your alignment. M's solution?  "Don't flinch."  Speed limit here is also 100 km/h whether or not pedestrians are present.


It rained the whole time we were out today - one of those steady, dull it's-going-to-rain-ALL-DAY-LONG rains. Maybe it's because I'm getting old, but visibility was not great, the windshield wipers were distracting, and oncoming cars were noisy. Which brings me to...

Oncoming Traffic

See, if all roads in Germany were one-way roads, I'd be much more comfortable. The way it is, though, oncoming cars are part of the game. They usually stay in their lane, but you can't completely rely on that - especially in curves, and especially the big trucks. I hold my breath when we pass oncoming cars whether I'm driving or not if we're going faster than 50 km/h (31 mph), or, when I'm not the one driving, I use my "anti-panic glasses" (close my eyes). Those are most helpful.

The slightest flinch with oncoming traffic could cause a terrible accident. So again - "Don't flinch!"

I honestly don't know how people get comfortable with this.

Blind Curves

Blind curves at 50 km/h (31 mph) are not a problem at all. We've got four or five of those in Wisconsin, as well. But at 100 km/h, they feel suicidal. In a forest. In the rain. On a road too narrow for a painted center line. With possible oncoming traffic.

Admittedly, while the speed limit here is 100 km/h, M was not driving that fast around this blind curve. I don't know how fast he was going because I put on my anti-panic glasses right after I took this picture. He drives very sensibly, but a hell of a lot faster than I do.

At one point on the windy road down into the valley on the way to Nagold, I dared to glance at our Navi/GPS to see what the speed limit was. I was going what felt like a daring and slightly reckless 60 km/h (37 mph) with no one behind me. "You cannot possibly tell me that the speed limit here is 100!" Indeed it was.

To make this clearer to my American readers, where I felt like 37 mph was fast enough for the narrow curvy road, the posted speed limit was only slightly below the fastest speed allowed on Wisconsin freeways. Freeways.

Maybe that's one of my problems - in the U.S. the posted speed limit says, "If you can't go as fast as 55 mph on this road, you probably shouldn't be driving here." Here in Germany the posted limit says "If you're not going at least 100 km/h, you're going to have someone tailgating you who will probably get impatient enough to overtake you in a dangerous spot and cause frayed nerves or a bad accident, so get your ass moving. P.S. Don't flinch."

I don't know how it will go from now on, but things are looking up a little. I can at least get to two nice towns within 10 miles from our home without having to rely on the bus. With a little more practice, who knows what's possible?

Oh, and M told me afterwards that I did fairly well this time. So now I'm all...

At least I'm still on my feet.