Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June Highs and Lows 2015

It's the last day of June, and therefore the day I recap the month. The last month of school in Baden-Württemberg starts tomorrow, whereas school ended in Wisconsin in early June. The German students moan when I tell them American kids get three months off for summer, when they get only six weeks. We have to appreciate the longer and more frequent breaks during the school year, but in the end German students still do 220 days of school every year to Wisconsin's 180.


  • long walks in the valley, spurred on by my Mi Band and my daily goal of 10,000 steps

  • Reitturnier (horse show) in Nordstetten

  • daughter's college graduation

  • spending time with family and friends in Wisconsin

  • meeting six of the seven middle school students from Sheboygan, Wisconsin participating in this year's Sheboygan-Esslingen summer exchange and having the opportunity to tell them a little about what to expect in Germany

  • buying (actually eating) fresh string cheese from Baker Cheese

  • not actually hating my flights to and from Chicago via Zürich on Swiss Air. On the way over I had three empty seats next to me! There was hardly any turbulence, and the food was enjoyable, not just edible as it is on Delta.

  • celebrating our 9th wedding anniversary at our favorite restaurant with M's mother and our witnesses from Edinburgh, who happened to be passing through at the right time and spent the weekend with us


  • not being able to bring the fresh string cheese back to Germany with me - I could kill for some as a snack right now.

  • the Fremdschämen of watching on German news hoards of Americans protesting the removal of the Confederate flag from government buildings in South Carolina. Don't worry, people. You can still glue Confederate flags to your bigass pickup trucks, wear confederate flag t-shirts, and fly the flag at your own home to advertise your affection for the values that flag represents. Sweet Jesus...

That's actually it. I've got some exciting things coming up in July:
  • a day trip to Strasbourg, France for a visit to the EU Parliament with my friend and Sprachpartnerin, H
  • our final preparation meeting with the exchange families for the summer exchange; the American students arrive near the end of the month
  • a weekend trip with M to Bamberg, a beautiful Bavarian town I've not been to before
  • a tour of Esslingen based on an historical novel that takes place in the town in the 14th Century

I hope you've had a good month and will find plenty to enjoy in July.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Returning Home

I returned home last Wednesday after spending 12 days in my passport country with family and friends. I love spending time with "my people," but I do not share the excitement and enthusiasm most other expats feel when they return to their passport countries. Therefore this will not be one of those gushing posts about how great life in America is.

I need to repeat myself so any of "my people" who might read this will hopefully understand - the time I spent with them was fabulous: at my daughter's graduation, the party my parents hosted for her, the leisurely evenings hanging out with my parents, best friend, and one or both children, the afternoon and evening with my son and daughter in Appleton the Saturday before graduation, walking around my parents' neighborhood, playing dominoes and cards, the 24 hours I spent in Fond du Lac with my two best friends and our mini roadtrip around the area, the meals we prepared and the four we went out for... It was quality time with everyone, and I appreciate the time they took off work and out of their routine to spend with me!

The main reason I can't gush about being back in the U.S. is that I don't like myself much when I'm there. I'm irritable and critical, and I say things that are unnecessary. I need to practice keeping my mouth shut and just smiling. Back in high school I learned how quickly people tire of hearing about what things are like in other countries, and these days I am exquisitely happy at home in Germany - so I try not to talk about my life much. I know I fail at that often, but I think I'm getting a little better with each visit. I'm acutely conscious of hearing myself start to say, "In Germany...", and it makes me feel guilty.

I am only fully myself and content when I'm at home with M. When I'm away I miss the rhythm of our rather dull routine. Nowhere else does the bed feel just right, the pillow is fluffy and inviting, the coffee is delicious, the shower is calibrated to my preference, the laundry detergent smells like it should, and the sofa is perfect for a nap. There is nothing wrong with the beds, pillows, coffee, shower, laundry soap or sofas* where I stay in Wisconsin. But it's not home.

*And in fact, my best friend's sofa is MUCH more comfortable than ours!

I remember my mom telling me years ago after one of their two-week trips overseas that she was always glad to return home again, despite having had a really nice trip. While I lived in Wisconsin and only visited Germany once or twice a year, I couldn't understand her. Now I do.

There was one extreme positive I experienced in Wisconsin that had nothing to do with "my people": Driving. It was truly fabulous to be able to get into a car and drive on highways and the freeway (Autobahn) without fearing for my life, holding my breath every time an oncoming car or truck passed, or suspecting that every curve meant some oncoming fool overtaking where he shouldn't and endangering everyone else around him. The streets and lanes are so deliciously wide and the comforting shoulders (Sandstreifen) are there for the using in case of emergency.  Good Lord, the freedom! The lack of stress and tension! Being able to listen to music while driving and sing along rather than only hearing my tinnitus and terrified pounding heart...

Look at this residential street - it's almost twice as wide as
highways in Germany!

Sheboygan Marina

Sheboygan, on the shore of Lake Michigan
Photo credit: M

My parents' neighborhood - huge houses and yards the size of small parks.
I walked the circle several times a day but rarely saw anyone outside
except those who were mowing or watering plants.
Photo Credit: M

The weather was beautiful the whole time I was there, we had delicious meals, several of which were childhood favorites of mine (Sloppy Joes, homemade Spaghetti, grilled beef tenderloin), there was a lot of time for relaxing and shopping for cheap affordable clothing, and I ate so much string cheese and squeaky cheese curds that my digestive system didn't right itself until about three days after I returned. 

There was much to enjoy and appreciate when I wasn't irritating myself by being someone I don't like, but nothing more than the people with whom I spent my time. I don't know when I'll be back, but it may be a while. I'm now looking forward to some of "my people" visiting us here in Germany, though that means they have to leave their homes and the places they are most comfortable.

It was a nice visit, a very special occasion, and I am also glad to be home.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Daughter's College Graduation

I returned to Germany yesterday after spending 12 days in Wisconsin (USA). The very special occasion was my daughter's graduation from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, but most of the time was spent in Sheboygan, my hometown where my parents still live. The first weekend was graduation, and on the second Saturday my parents hosted a really nice party for her with family and family friends.

Lawrence University Chapel, Appleton, WI

Main Hall - My daughter's great-grandfather, grandparents, and parents
all attended classes here as she did!*
*My daughter is actually a fifth-generation Lawrentian, as the college her great-great-grandmother attended, Milwaukee-Downer College, merged with Lawrence in the 1960s.

Warch Campus Center

Lawrence is a beautiful campus, and it's always a joy to return for a visit - especially since my daughter started studying there! She earned her B.A. in German and Psychology and is headed next to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The graduate, her little brother, and her proud mom

My daughter's support team and fan club
My parents are on the left.
I enjoyed the time I was able to spend with my children, my parents, and my two best friends. M had to stay behind because of work (contrary to popular belief, being a business owner does not mean one gets to leave whenever one wants to), so I was also glad to return home yesterday. I will write another post in a few days about the trip in general after I shake off the jet lag, but I wanted to explain why I have not written anything since early June.

Bis bald...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Geeking Out at a Horse Show

I'll just warn you straight off - this is a post that will only interest my daughter and perhaps one other friend of mine. I won't feel bad if you don't read on, especially since it has nothing to do with expat life, Swabia, Germany, or food.

It's all about horses.

Not long ago I read in the local paper that there was to be a horse show (featuring show jumping) at a stable near us. I've been tempted to pop in at other local horse shows, but either the drive or bad weather made me change my mind. Today it is a gorgeous sunny day, and this particular horse show was less than ten minutes away by car.

I have no idea who these riders are. But this is what I do at horse shows - take pictures. And I could do it all damn day. I am out of practice, though, so the horses are not as sharp as they should be. I'll work on that.

The real pull, though, was that a rider I really admire was on the list of competitors - Michael Jung. His riding and training facility is also nearby, so he's a local boy. He is featured in the sports section of our local paper rather often, but here's the universally interesting thing: he's a flippin' Olympic Gold Medalist! In 2012 he won the individual and team golds for eventing. He has won European Championships, German Championships, and a few weeks ago he won first and third place at the Rolex Three Day Event in Kentucky. For the non-horsey people who might still be reading, he rode two different horses, which is how he could place twice.

These are not Michael Jung yet. He was the finale, in that I left after he competed. 

One interesting thing about this small show is that the warm-up ring is the show ring also.
While one pair is competing, the next one or two are warming up in the same ring.

I was trying not to raise suspicion or look like a stalker (or worse, paparazzi), but I might have failed. At one point I went into a building near the show ring to get out of the sun, and a guy came over to someone sitting near me to ask a question. I glanced over, and it was Michael. Ho. Lee. Crap. After I popped my eyeballs back into my skull, I realized he's just a regular guy, in the way that Thomas Müller is a regular guy, or Aaron Rogers. As M said later, he puts his riding pants on one leg at a time, too. Yeah, still. I could have walked over and said something to him, but he looked like he was enjoying his lunch and I didn't want to interrupt. I probably would have stuttered anyway or said something embarrassing.

I had the best angle at this jump, which is why most of the postable photos are of this one. I don't know who these riders are either, but they've got good-looking horses!

I was standing right at the rail near the entrance/exit from the ring, and I was conscious of not wanting to scare the horses with the clickclickclick of my camera. Such a thing shouldn't scare them, but you'd be amazed what freaks these guys out. A flag, a hat, a puddle, a box that didn't bother them in one direction, but from the other direction it totally looks like something that might eat them... Poor Michael had a rail down because his young horse got distracted by the horse and rider that were standing quietly at the gate waiting for their chance to step into the ring. Thank God he said that after they finished, because I did not want the problem to have been my camera!

This is still not Michael Jung, but it's the fence where he and his horse had a rail down -
coming straight at the camera!
I was only there for about 2 1/2 hours, and I saw horse after horse ride the same jumps in the same order, lamenting only that I couldn't stand in the ring to take my photos like the official photographer. If I had stayed another four or five hours I would have been able to see Michael ride again, and on a horse I've heard of - der Dürer. But it was hot and I was alone. If it had been partially cloudy or if my daughter had been with me, I/we would still be there.

The horse I saw Michael ride is Daniels Jack. And here they are:

As I headed back to the car staring dreamily at all these beautiful horses, I spotted them again. Thank goodness he was looking in the other direction, or he might have finally started getting nervous about this creeper with the camera. (There were no other people around with big cameras once the official photographer left.) But at least Jack looked at me!

Seriously, I could watch and photograph horses all day long. 

Update: As if to punctuate that sentence, M offered to return to the show today (Sunday) and give me some photography pointers. Between the two of us we took a few hundred pictures, and here are some highlights for those of you who didn't already have enough.

Photo credit: M

Photo credit: M

Photo credit: M

Thursday, June 4, 2015

In a German Bed

This is a topic that many expats write about, but somehow it just never gets old. I wrote about it already as well, in my second year here. Recently BerLinda at Expat Eye on Germany covered the topic, and the ensuing discussion M and I had led to this post.

Ordnung muss sein

I have to admit, I love our separate Federbetten (duvets). There is no way M and I would ever have the same thickness of blanket at any time of the year - while I am snuggling under a thick fluffy blanket (even still, and it's June), he's bursting into flames under the thinnest blanket we have. He probably doesn't even need the actual Federbett and could probably just use the empty duvet cover during all but the coldest of months.

Theoretically the husband is never in danger of having his blanket stolen, because the wife has her own all to herself. But I did actually steal M's once, so the German system isn't fail-safe. I had kicked off my own blanket one night during a warm spell, and when I got cold I grabbed the nearest one (his - I apparently tore it right off his peacefully slumbering body), burrowed in, and went back to sleep. I woke up when he started fumbling around, asking if I knew what happened to his blanket. I cosily said, "Nope."

Some people have wondered how a couple snuggles when they each have their own blanket rather than one double-wide that spans the whole bed. We have no trouble snuggling, but since my college-age kids read this blog, I don't want to go into detail. To be honest, snuggling is nice and all, but we both need our own space when we're sleeping. I like to be warm at night, but cuddling with M is like cuddling with the smouldering embers of a camp fire. It's best that we have our own blankets.

The thing that causes more confusion than the separate blankets is the separate mattresses. We also have this - a double bed frame into which are nestled two single mattresses, each with its own fitted sheet. This system allowed for us to get two different grades of mattress with the firmness we preferred - the poor man's Sleep Number bed!

This is Germany, where lines are clearly defined and property borders are marked by hedges, fences, or stone walls. "This is my dance space, that's your dance space," Baby. If you're coming over into my space, you better have a good reason."

I know this looks like 2 single beds pushed together,
but it's one frame with edges to keep the mattresses where they belong.

And guess what? There's a German word for the cravasse between the mattresses. No lie - it's called the Besucherritze (visitor's gap or, if you prefer, visitor's crack). If you check out that link to the dict.cc online dictionary, you'll see that Besucherritze is officially defined as "the space between two double [sic] beds; humorous suggestion that a third person could sleep there."

First, they're not two double beds - they're two single mattresses. In a proper frame the two beds are held together, so they don't slide apart like they would on American-style bed frames and box strings.*

Secondly, M said last night,
"It's not about a third person. It's that if you want to visit the other person, you have to cross that canyon first." 

A college friend of mine who works for a German company once told us his understanding of the pillars of German engineering, which fit to the German double beds thing pretty well, I think, especially the first one.

The Three Pillars of German Engineering:

  1. Why would you do it any other way?
  2. If we don't make it, you don't need it.
  3. It was difficult to make, therefore it should be difficult to use.

So there you have it - your guide to spending time in a German double bed. This is all I know here (except in the fancy-schmancy hotels where the Federbetten are still separate but the king-size mattress is one piece), and it never occurred to me to be troubled by it. [Pillar #1]  When we bought our bedroom set, this two-mattress thing was all we saw in the furniture store. [Pillar #2]  The furniture makers put a lot of thought, time, and effort into creating a bed that is practical and functional, and if we have to put some effort into learning how to use it effectively, that's ok with them. [Pillar #3]

M pondered last night writing a guest post about how much he hates sleeping in American beds. I will happily publish it if he writes it!

*We did stay once in a hotel that didn't have the mattresses fitted into a frame that held them together, and...well...that didn't work well for anything besides sleeping.