Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September Highs and Lows 2015

Obviously the highlight of this month was the two weeks we spent in Scotland together. The rest of the month was mainly about planning, packing, and getting ready for the trip, and unpacking and getting back into the daily routine.


  • a day trip with my Schwiegermutter to the Kloster (monastery) ruins in Hirsau

  • on the same day we went to the Stiftskirche in Tübingen for a special tour of the choir, which has been the resting place of tomb monuments of important Württemberger since the Reformation
Graf Eberhard im Bart, founder of the Tübingen University (1477), among other achievements
  • meeting up with a friend of ours in  Tobermory for a pint - he lives on the island with his family, and he kept us entertained with stories of island life, mountain biking and running, dealing with highland cattle...

  • visiting the Great Polish Map of Scotland close up and standing on the peak of Ben Nevis! Post pending - I'm very eager to write about it, but I want to make sure I do it justice.
panorama of the map - Mull is the light-shaded island in the foreground
  • meeting my 10,000-step goal every day for 22 days in a row (still going!). I find it is much harder to exceed those steps at home than it was while we were on vacation.

  • the weather - in Scotland it was much better than we'd expected with some sun almost every day and not nearly as much rain as is common, and since we've been home it's been sunny and pleasant. The cool crispness of fall is refreshing after the scorching weeks we had this summer.

  • reading the novel Edge of Eternity, by Ken Follett. I picked it up in Oban and ditched the book I'd brought along and was dragging myself through. The novel takes place during the cold war - not at all my area of interest - but it's the third of a trilogy and he is such a brilliant writer that it's hard to put down.


  • sitting next to a woman on the plane who was so heavily perfumed I got a headache, then in Frankfurt having to walk through the perfume section, followed by sitting amongst a group of stinky hormonal teenagers on the flight to Stuttgart. I apparently have a rather sensitive nose at times.

  • missing our connection to Stuttgart because of a delay in Edinburgh and having to sit in Frankfurt for five hours

  • both of us getting a cold while on vacation

Funny Moments

At our friends' home in East Linton near Edinburgh, one night after a huge and delicious meal plus dessert, we were lounging in the living room, watching a little TV, having some wine, chatting with our friends, etc.. At about 9:30 Keith asked us "Would you like some supper?" I must have looked at him like he'd grown a second head, and thought to myself, "Has he gone mad?!" There was no way I could fit in so much as a bite of cracker, much less another supper!  Turns out "supper" in Scotland is what we Americans call a bedtime snack!

After coming down from Arthur's Seat and deciding where to go next in Edinburgh, M asked me, "Do you still want to find Old Friar's dog?"  "What? Oh, you mean Greyfriar's Bobby?  YES!"

Old Friar's Dog
At our friends' home in East Linton, I chose the side of the bed with the reading lamp on the night table. The night table on the other side had a decorative bowl on it, and M doesn't read at night like I do. One night I got up to use the loo while it was still very dark. I heard M fumbling around a bit, and when I came back into our room he got up as well. I turned on the lamp next to me so he didn't have to navigate back in the dark, and when he came back in he paused a moment and said, "Hm. No wonder."  "What?" I asked. "I tried to turn on my lamp for you, but it was a bowl."

I wish you all a happy October!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Glengorm Castle, Isle of Mull

*This is not a sponsored post - I do not make money through my blog. We just love this place!
Glengorm Castle

I certainly must begin with a post about Glengorm. We got married here in 2006 on one of the most beautiful days imaginable. Even the photographer was surprised. We returned with my children and M's mother in 2007 for a wonderful week before touring through the highlands, and in 2010 we were here again with M's mother and my daughter (my son opted out of that trip), but that time we stayed at Glengorm for two weeks.

When we got married we stayed in the castle in one of their B&B rooms - Laorin.

In 2007 and 2010 we stayed in a self-catering cottage - the same one where M and his family had stayed in 1985, when they first got to know Glengorm. Sorne Cottage is no longer used for short-term rentals, but we have fond memories of our time there.
These are two cottages; we stayed in the one on the right.

This time M and I stayed in the Steadings, which accommodates two in a flat above the coffee shop. It was really perfect for us, both in location and in ammenities. There's a jacuzzi bathtub, a computer with wi-fi, a well-appointed kitchen including a water boiler for tea and a fancy coffee press/machine, an enormously comfortable kingsize bed, an open fire place and a woodpile and axe outside (M did some chopping to get the logs down to size), and a collection of books and DVDs for those who prefer to remain indoors on rainy days. While it would be silly to do so, a couple could be quite happy for some time never going further than the flat and the coffee shop.
the Steadings flat is above the nature lab and its entrance
We could pop down for a cappuccino as of 10:00, and the coffee shop sells Glengorm beef and lamb - both of which we bought for meals we cooked that week - and venison. They also sell homemade jams and chutney, shortbread, some staples one might need for cooking, dried herbs, beverages, mugs, postcards... And they offer delicious meals until 16:30. Don't neglect a stop here if you come to the estate for accommodations or to hike on their grounds!

Tomato-Basil soup (as delicious as my grandmother's!), roast beef sandwich & salad

The castle and estate have a very interesting history even though it's not very old. It was built in the 1860s by James Forsyth, an unkind man who ran the tenant farmers off his land when he decided to convert the estate to one suitable for stalking/hunting and fishing. One of the evicted tenants cursed Forsyth and said he would not live to see his castle completed, and this came to be true! The name Glengorm means "blue valley," and the name was suggested by another evicted tenant because of the smokey bluish color produced by the burning of the tenants' homes! Forsyth liked the sound of the name but didn't grasp the irony.

The estate changed ownership quite a few times, and in 1969 the Nelson family bought it. The current owner, Tom Nelson, grew up on the estate. It is a working farm where they raise sheep and highland cattle with the help of their Border Collies Spot and  Flea, and they have an extensive garden which provides fresh produce for the coffee shop, the castle breakfasts, and markets around the island. They also have two "working Cocker Spaniels" whom you will see in and around the castle, but an insider assured me they do very little work! :-)

This video shows many beautiful images of the estate and the grounds, and you'll meet Tom himself as well as Glengorm's wildlife steward, Stephanie Cope. We arranged a walk with Steph through the grounds to the hide on Loch Mingary, where we were able to see and photograph an eagle, two young stags, curlews, hen harriers, and divers (loons). The video does not exaggerate - Glengorm truly is that beautiful.

at the hide
Steph writes a blog about the wildlife project, and this is my favorite post of hers, explaining the colored markings you'll see on the sheep in the fields. She's not only a knowledgable nature expert, but she's an excellent and entertaining writer!

One of the things we love about Glengorm is that it's familiar. We know we want to walk along the paths to Dun Ara (an ancient hill fort overlooking the coast) and the bathing pool on our first day. We know where to find the standing stones, and on our second walk we'll go through Sorne Forest and wander past the ruins of tenant cottages from the days of James Forsyth. We'll then get more adventurous and stray from the clear paths, and inevitably we'll end up calf-deep in a bog (hidden swamp) or in a field facing curious and skeptical highland coos - not a problem as long as it's past calving time and they've no bairns to protect. We'll explore parts of Mull we haven't seen before as well, but we like to begin with what we know we love.

coastline and bathing pool from Dun Ara
We also really like the self-catering idea. We enjoy cooking together and appreciate the privacy, knowing we're the only ones who will be in the cottage/flat during the week. We don't have to tidy up for maids, we wash our own clothes and towels as needed, and we don't have to make smalltalk in the mornings over coffee (or tea, in M's case). We built time into our schedule and went to the Tesco in Oban before our ferry arrived to get most of the things we'd need for the week, which saved us money over doing the shopping on the island. We bought quite a lot and still spent only slightly more than what dinner at the hotel near the Edinburgh airport cost the night before!

As I mentioned before, the coffee chop sells Glengorm meats as well as local bacon. We'd planned on this, and on Sunday we bought a 1.5kg leg of lamb for about €31 ($35). That may seem like a lot, but it was beautiful meat, and the stew we made fed us for three days - in other words we got six dinners out of it. Lamb stew reheats wonderfully for leftovers!! We left our recipe in the  kitchen drawer for future guests to try. :-)  Oh, and when we discovered that there was no pot in the cupboard large enough for our stew, I inquired in the coffee shop if we could borrow one - they were happy to loan us a huge pot!

By the time we'd finished off our stew we'd bought beef to make Gulasch, which fed us for two evenings. Our plan worked very well - we made two hearty meals that are still tasty as leftovers, and made plenty so we didn't have to cook every night after our long walks. The coffee shop is open every day from Easter to the end of October, but I imagine you can still get Glengorm meat by contacting them if you are there during the off season.

In a future post I'll write about what we enjoyed doing when we left the estate to explore other parts of Mull, but I'll end here with things we recommend while staying at Glengorm along with a few additional photos so my kids can relive their memories.

Recommendations while at Glengorm:

  • have a Ordinance Survey map and/or buy one of the many books about walks on Mull, and walk every path through and around Glengorm that you can find. You can stray from the paths, but make sure you wear (waterproof) boots because you're likely to land in a bog.
  • join a guided walk with wildlife steward Steph Cope - she can tell you all about the flora and fauna on the estate
  • have a meal in the coffee shop
  • if you're in a self-catering accommodation, plan to cook a lamb stew!
  • ...and bring a knife sharpener for the kitchen knives (we always pack one when we travel)
  • visit the Producers Market in Tobermory on Monday - we bought a delicious Glengorm venison pie along with fresh greens and bread
  • treat yourself to a full Scottish breakfast (and cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit, toast, juice, coffee or tea) at the castle one morning - you need to reserve at least a day before, and you can do that via email or phone.
  • walk out to the coast with a picnic lunch and soak in the fresh ocean air, the rays of sun or the wild clouds, and the peace.
full Scottish breakfast, sans black pudding

sheep, coos, castle, Sorne Forest, and one of many bogs

the view from our castle bedroom (2006)
one of the paths to the sea
You'll sometimes have to share the single-track road to the castle with others.
This may require some patience. Don't rush the coos;
they'll move when they're darn well ready to.
Glengorm's standing stones

We will never get tired of Glengorm or the Isle of Mull, and we will keep coming back.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Impressions of Scotland

We've just returned from two wonderful weeks in Scotland. This was our fourth trip there together but our first time back alone since our wedding* in 2006. I am eager to write about it, but there is so much to say! I'm planning a themed multi-post series, so you can easily skip the bits that sound boring to you.

*We still get trouble about this from our parents, but the only guests at our wedding were our witnesses, who live in East Linton (see below).


The short version is that we spent a week on the Isle of Mull in a self-catering flat, then two nights in the Trossachs at a lovely B&B, and ended with three days and four nights in East Linton near Edinburgh at the home of dear friends of ours (my Schwiegermutter's crazy mountain-running cousin and his Austrian wife). From their home we took three day trips. We enjoyed every minute of our time in Scotland!

We hiked walked, we tromped around castle and priory ruins, visited a few churches and one museum, we ate great food, we drank tea, we stargazed, we slopped through bogs, we didn't smash into anything driving on the left side of the road, we climbed Arthur's Seat (that's not a dirty euphemism - it's a hill above Edinburgh), I stood on the tippy-top of Mull's tallest munro - Ben More - though we didn't walk up it - and we walked around the entire coastline of Scotland in one day (stay tuned!), I pet an owl (also nothing dirty), I met my 10,000-step goal every day - often by lunchtime, I touched some standing stones (but they didn't transport me back in time), and we enjoyed crackling fires in the evenings.
this is Tee. I want an owl.

I thought I would start with several things that we noticed in the first few days. These are not necessarily new things for us, but they reminded us that we were no longer in Germany.

Scottish Hospitality

The first thing that struck us almost right off the plane was how friendly and chatty everyone was. I never say that Germans are unfriendly, but they are very business-like and professional and don't smile a lot while working. Nothing wrong with that! We'd arranged a rental car through ADAC/Sixt, and we queued behind a couple at the counter. The woman was punching stuff into her computer and all the while chatting - asking them where they were going, if they'd been to Scotland before, etc. When it was our turn she asked all the same things, and we gave short German answers. I kept it short so she could better get her job done:
"Where are you going?"        "The Isle of Mull."
"Oh, nice! Have you been here before?        "Yes."
We weren't rude - I smiled as I answered. But I've gotten used to not chit-chatting with people who are working.

When we checked in at the hotel that evening, it was the same thing. The lad at the counter was friendly, chatty, and asked all kinds of questions that Americans tend to love answering and elaborating about. By the time we got to our B&B in the Trossachs, we were used to this again and had nice chats with the prioprietors - but not while they were cooking our breakfast!

I think part of German efficiency is asking only the questions that are relevant, and giving only the answers that matter. I do not mean to imply the Scottish are not efficient - we found that they were. They're just also unnecessarily friendly - and that's not a bad thing either!


The second thing that struck us (besides nearly a car) was that driving on the left side of the road sucks! I was in a constant state of alert as branches, parked cars, curbs, and stone walls whizzed by me as M concentrated on staying far enough from the oncoming cars shooting past him. I have grumbled often enough about the narrow roads and lack of shoulders in Germany, but this is worse in Scotland in part because everything is on the "wrong" side. M did a great job driving and avoiding accidents and sheep dashing about, but we were fortunate quite often that the rental car had good brakes. I could have driven according to our rental car agreement, but I wisely did not.

In the end, we actually both prefer the single-track roads on Mull, where oncoming traffic means using a passing place and some stopping and waiting. Part of the appeal is that there's not a lot of traffic on the island.


The third thing that struck us is that we have no idea how to tip in Scotland. None. It's so easy in Germany - round up to an even amount and pad it a bit (roughly 10%). It's even easier in the U.S. - add 15-20% to the pre-tax amount and leave the money on the table. But we (still) have no idea how or how much to tip in Scotland.

Tantallon Castle ruins, North Berwick
We do need to fix that tipping thing, because we're planning to go back again in 2-3 years. Or we'll just avoid it and stay at self-catering cottages where we'll cook for ourselves! :-)

So stay tuned for more about Scotland if you're interested. We're not experts on Scotland, but the more often we visit, the more we long to return. We are drawn to its rugged wilderness, its unpredictable weather, its history, and its spirit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Things That Make Me Chuckle

This representation of "an American breakfast," recipe included, from a TV magazine that came last week:

"American Breakfast"

Hm. What's wrong with this picture? Pancakes - sure, we Americans eat those. But we don't eat them with a fruit compote garnished with vanilla beans. We smother those babies in butter and maple syrup or fill them with chocolate chips and eat them with a side of bacon. Americans have been known to eat pancakes with fruit, but then they're stuffed with blueberries (and topped with butter and sticky-sweet blueberry syrup) or covered with sugary strawberries and a huge dollop of whipped cream, like this:

Click here to see what you can get at IHOP (International House of Pancakes - a popular American restaurant chain), but don't be fooled by the tiny spoonfuls of whipped cream on those pictures - they put four times that amount on the pancakes and waffles when they're not being photographed for the website.

Now this...this is the kind of breakfast we eat in Wisconsin:

I don't actually know what that is, but a relative posted it on Facebook a while back, and I saved it with the caption "WTH Breakfast". There's definately some buttered toast there, and piece of pineapple slapped on a plate that's too small ("presentation" is something for only the finest restaurants in the U.S.). That looks like some kind of chunky gravy dumped over hashbrowns and diced ham. I would guess there's an egg under there somewhere, and probably onions.

It makes me giggle to imagine a German having breakfast at that place, choosing something unfamiliar from the menu to try something new and exotic, and getting served....that. It looks like it could be a compilation of what the previous four diners didn't eat.

Here's another typical American (Wisconsin, anyway) breakfast - one I ordered:

My friends had similar breakfasts - it's good hangover food (not that we were hung over!). Hash browns, eggs, bacon or sausage - or both, whatever - and buttered toast with jam, all squished onto a plate. Since there wasn't enough room, the toast is on top of the bacon, which is on top of the eggs.

So when  Americans travel to Germany, book a room "with breakfast" in an economy hotel*, and wake up to find this...
fresh fruit, fresh-baked rolls, cold cuts, cheese, fruit, yogurt,
tomato and cucumber slices, juice,
and teeny-tiny plates

...they understandably stumble around in a confused daze looking for the "real" food.

     "Where are the sweet rolls and donuts? Where are the pancakes? The scrambled eggs??"

     "And for the love of God, where is the BACON?!"

     "What are we supposed to do with cold cuts, cheese, and vegetables?!"

     "No, seriously. We're having sandwiches for breakfast? I want hash browns."

            "We call those Rösti. You can order those with dinner."


Andere Länder, andere Sitten, or different strokes for different folks... I can enjoy a good ol' Wisconsin breakfast during a visit, but I find the typical German breakfast more sensible.

*If you book at a more expensive hotel, such as the Mövenpick, you'll find a breakfast buffet to die for - hot food, cold food, fresh bread with every possible thing to put on it, bacon and sausages, and the sugary cereals and sweet rolls that Americans expect.

What do you like for breakfast when you travel? What about at home?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Elisabeth & Death

I grew up with parents who loved (and still do love!) musicals. I've seen a fair number of the old ones on stage :
   Brigadoon, the Man of LaMancha, Oklahoma!, the Sound of Music, South Pacific, the Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, 1776, the King & I, and West Side Story

some of the newer ones:
  Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Miss Saigon, and Mamma Mia

...and I've also enjoyed the Disney Movie-turned stage musicals like:
  Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, and the Lion King.

I've seen others on TV or DVD and I attended the spring musical every year while I was teaching, but the above is what I recall seeing performed by professionals or semi-professionals. I hope I appreciated the theater experience when I was young, but I surely do now as I look back. Every musical I've seen has at least several songs that I really like and love to sing along with - when I'm alone! I've only seen the Lion King and Tarzan in German, and I actually prefer the German version of Tarzan.

There is an Austrian musical that will probably never make it into the English language (though it has been translated from the original German into six other languages including Finnish and Korean) because it is about a story unknown to most Americans. The musical is entitled Elisabeth, and it's about the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Hungary - affectionately called Sissi. She was a beautiful Bavarian princess whose sister was supposed to marry Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria, but Franzi fell in love with Sissi instead. Her story is as magical and tragic as that of Princess Diana. Sissi was young and beautiful, full of life, yearning for love but also freedom, wanted to decide for herself how her children would be raised, and was plagued by depression and weighted down by the rules of court and others' expectations of her. The musical was first performed in Vienna in 1992, but her story had been portrayed in several films before the film (trilogy) was released with Romy Schneider in the title role in the late 1950s.

portrait of Sissi by Xaver Winterhalter
I saw the musical last year, though only on DVD. There were several songs I had heard from it and really liked, and they were even better when I understood the plot and characters of the musical. Much of the rest of the musical, though...merp. It's very severe and somewhat techno - I don't know how else to describe it. But that's not really the point of this post.

After seeing a few scenes on Youtube, I noticed that there's a raging debate about who is the better Sissi and who is the better Death. That's right - Death is the second most important character in the musical - Emperor Franz Josef is just the guy married to Sissi. So the one school of thought says the original pair (Pia Douwes and Uwe Kröger) can't be surpassed and really embody the characters as they should be portrayed. The other school says the second best known pair (Maya Hakvoort, who took over for Pia after two years, and Máté Kamarás, who assumed the role of Death in 2003 and is playing him again now in the Germany-Austria tour) hit the mark.

I have watched several key scenes with both pairs, and I can fully understand the debate. Following is the final scene with both pairs. Choose carefully which one you watch first, because often the one we like best is the one we see first.

Pia and Uwe (forgive her the voice slip near the beginning; it happens):

Maya and Máté:

Seriously, Gänsehaut pur (pure goosebumps)! Sissi was assassinated in Genf by an Italian anarchist whose target was actually a different dignitary who changed his travel plans and didn't show up that day. He stabbed her in the heart with a small dagger, hence Death's passionate kiss at the end of the scene above. Sissi was anorexic and physically weak, depressed and lonely due in part to the death of her son nine years earlier, and had she known Death was coming that day, she probably wouldn't have minded. That is the scene in the clips above and my brief explanation for why she approaches Death somewhat hesitantly but mostly with relief. Throughout the musical Death has accompanied her and watched her, has sung and danced with her, and reminded her that she will be his and only his in the end, which is, in fact, true for us all.

For me, one version shows Death as he probably is - cold, emotionless, pale as a dead fish. It's a brilliant theatrical depiction. The other shows Death as I hope he is when it's my turn to meet him, and I just melt watching them. The way he looks at her...sigh. Interestingly, both Deaths have great hair, don't you think?

So...what do you think? Which pair do you prefer?

Although the text is far better in German, here is my loose and unrhymed translation for those who are curious what they're singing to each other:

Der Schleier fällt (The Veil falls)

  The veil falls (or slips away)
  Step out of the shadows.
  I have yearned for you so.
  Don't keep me waiting.

  Turn the night into dawn.
  Let me be freed and safe.
  Erase my memories
  and give my spirit a place to rest.

  Let the world collapse.

  I want to drown with you in nothingness
  to rise again with you as fire
  and vanish into eternity.

  I laughed, I cried,
  was dejected and hoped anew.
  But no matter what I did,
  I stayed true to myself.

  The world will try in vain to find
  the meaning of my/your life.

  Because I belong only to myself!
  Because you belong only to me!

For a last treat, this is part of a Helene Fischer show that was aired a few years ago in which you hear the most well-known song from the musical ("Ich gehör nur mir" / "I belong only to myself") sung in the seven different languages in which the musical has been performed, by leads who have played the part. The last singer is the hostess, Helene Fischer, a popular deutsche Schlager singer.

The languages are: German, Hungarian, Japanese, Finnish, Korean, Dutch, Swedish, and German again.

Sissi's sepulcher to the left of the Kaiser's
their son Rudolf lies to the right
Kapuzinergruft, Wien/Vienna

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sisterhood of the World, part deux

One of my favorite bloggers, Bevchen, recently nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Blogger Award, which means I will receive a ton of money for being a really good writer. Hehe...just kidding. It's definitely more fun than that. I appreciate the nomination, Bev!

I was nominated earlier this year, and you can read that post here. Honestly, I find these posts (written by others!) interesting and fun to read, thought-provoking when I have to think of my answers, and agonizing when it's time to come up with questions to ask others.

So here we go.

Bev's questions and my answers:

Why did you start your blog?

I started it because I thought friends and family back in the U.S. might be interested in how different life is here in southern Germany and what I'm up to since we're not often together anymore. My parents and my daughter still read it pretty regularly. By now, though, I think most who find my blog worth reading are other expats and some neighbors and friends here in Germany, who have told me they enjoy reading about their home from the point-of-view of someone who didn't grow up here.

What is the best food you've ever tried while traveling?

Lamb chops in Scotland - specifically on the Isle of Mull at the Glengorm Coffee Shop after a day of strolling through sheep fields in June and watching gorgeous little lambs dashing about and calling for their mums when they got separated. I realize that sounds a bit twisted to non-meat-eaters, and no, I would not want to be involved with slaughtering lambs or anything else. But those chops were so delicious.
"Hamish! Don't just stand there staring at those 2-legged beasts.
For the love of mercy, RUN!"

If you could have a second home, where would it be and why?

I have one (besides my home town, of course, at my parents' home) - Esslingen, Germany, and specifically my Schwiegermutter's flat. My host mom from my high school exchange experience also lives in Esslingen, and she is family to me, as well.

If you were a ghost, which place would you haunt?

Oh dear. My original answer to this question back-fired on me. I woke up early in the morning thinking about the concept of haunting someone or somewhere, and I got freaked out! While I think a cool super power would be to become someone's conscience and prevent him or her from doing wrong, I'd be a terrible ghost; I'd rather sleep at night. :-)

Have you ever planned a trip just because a book/film was set there?

I adore this question because I have such a trip planned! My all-time favorite writer from my childhood is Albert Payson Terhune, who wrote brilliant stories about collies. His home, where he bred and raised his dogs, is in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey (USA). My daughter recently moved to Philadelphia, and Pompton Lakes is only about 2 hours from there. When I visit her we will go to Pompton Lakes. And from there we'll probably head south to Chincoteague Island, Virginia, the setting of many stories written by my other favorite childhood writer, Marguerite Henry. I've been dreaming of visiting these places since I was 10.

Terhune and Henry books

What is your favourite item in your home?

I found this incredibly hard to answer but very interesting. My gut response was "my pillow!" but my final answer has to be MY BOOKS!

What is your favourite pancake topping/filling?

Butter and maple syrup, I guess. I haven't had pancakes in years, but I used to like them.

Which song title best represents your life right now?

I can't imagine there's a song title out there that could represent my life. I'll go with "Caledonia" because we're headed to Scotland next, and a line from that song is "Caledonia, you're calling me..."

Which of your blog posts has the most views?

German Double Beds, but I have no idea why. It keeps coming up on the key search words that led readers to my blog. I guess those beds really are unusually interesting to non-Germans!

What is a book you've been meaning to read for a while but keep putting off?

I cleared that shelf a while ago, but there are two books I've started several times only to give up again: McTeague, by Frank Norris and das Haus in der Rothschildallee, by Stefanie Zweig.

And here are my ten questions...

  1. What is a blog post you wrote within the last year or two that you really like?
  2. What photo from your travels really makes you smile? Please share it!
  3. What is a career or profession you imagined having when you were a child?
  4. What type of blog post do you find the most difficult to write?
  5. Which book could you read over and over and never tire of?
  6. Do you have periods of writer's block where you feel completely uninspired? What do you do?
  7. Is there a German* TV show you enjoy watching?
    *(I mean a show produced in the country in which you live/d, not a show from "back home".)
  8. Where are you on your journey of learning the language of the country in which you live?
  9. Which dialect (of any language) do you really enjoy listening to?
  10. Make up a question you'd like to answer, and answer it! :-)

Yikes - now I have to nominate others knowing that some people hate this kind of thing. But hey - if nothing else it's nice to know someone out there really enjoys reading what you write, right?
Here they are, and if I've nominated you before but you didn't respond yet, feel free to mix and match questions to get to ten, or answer all of them from both nominations!

  Ali at Starting over in Stuttgart
  M and Abner at Adventures of La Mari
  Razorbacks and Bratwurst
  Around the Wherever
  Welcome to Germerica
  and my daughter, who wrote a blog during her study abroad semester and who should start another one!
   (if my questions about blogging don't apply, replace them with your favorite of Bevchen's questions!)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Loving Southern Germany 3: the Food

Wherever you live or visit, you should get familiar with the local cuisine, don't you think? I can assure you that if you think German cuisine consists merely of bratwurst, Sauerkraut, and beer, you have absolutely missed the mark. If you're into that, you can find the ingredients anywhere in Germany and order that in most German restaurants just like you can get a hamburger anywhere in America. But I don't recommend limiting yourself to that, especially in Swabia.

Germany is twice the size of my home state of Wisconsin (USA), and in fact Wisconsin and Illinois together are almost the size of Germany. I don't think there is a "midwest cuisine" at all, and certainly no difference in typical foods or dishes between Wisconsin and Illinois. There is, however, a great difference between typical dishes in northern Germany and those in the south, as well as between Bavarian and  Swabian cuisine.

I can't say much about typical food in northern Germany because I haven't spent much time there. But I can certainly tell you about some wonderful traditional dishes to try when you visit Swabia.

Swabians were poor once upon a time, and M still calls meals that are hearty, filling, and inexpensive "good Swabian meals," despite the fact that pork tenderloin and beef have slithered their way into several Swabian favorites. Swabians got good at using all parts of an animal - mainly pigs - including the organs, tough cuts, lard, and blood. Potatoes are cheap and filling, and some flour, eggs, salt and nutmeg can make enough Spätzle (homemade noodles) to go nicely with any dish with a sauce.

That's one more thing to mention about typical Swabian dishes - tons of sauce is part of the deal. In a recent short article in our local paper about Swabian food, the writer said Swabians are Nass-Esser (wet-eaters) - everything must be dunked in a broth or sauce.

Since Swabians seem happiest when they're working, nearly everyone with a yard or terrace has a garden, where they grow as many of their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs as possible. If they don't have a yard or terrace, they can rent a Schrebergarten. They like knowing where their food came from, how fresh it really is, and that it wasn't sprayed with chemicals. I love this idea, but I am an utter failure at keeping basil, parsley, and chives alive for more than 3 days. Yes, even chives. I keep forgetting to water them, and they die a slow an agonizing death that makes me feel horribly guilty.

But what are some examples of Swabian meals and snacks?

homemade Maultaschen, spread on my counter, ready for rolling and cutting 

Maultaschen (Swabian Ravioli) in broth with fried onions

Zwiebelrostbraten mit Bratkartoffeln
Beef, fried onions, and fried potatoes

Spätzle mit Soß / homemade Swabian noodles and sauce

Linsen und Spätzle mit Saitenwürstle
Lentils and Swabian noodles with sausage

Laugenweckle - amazingly delicious, especially with butter
Pretzels and pretzel rolls - with a soccer ball design during the soccer season
Sadly, I don't have pictures for all the fabulous (and some sketchy) Swabian dishes, but I'll list a few more and you can google them or order them in a Swabian restaurant while visiting.

Beilagen / sides:

 Kartoffelsalat (potato salad - Swabian potato salad is not the same as other potato salads!)
 Knöpfle (noodles in the shape of tiny turds buttons)
 Schupfnudeln (thick homemade noodles that are then fried, sometimes called Bubespitzle)

Hauptgänge / Main courses:

 Kässpätzle (homemade noodles with cheese, but anyone who calls this "mac n' cheese" should be excommunicated)
 Gaisburger Marsch (a type of stew)
 Bodenseefelchen (little fish caught from the Bodensee, or Lake Constance)

For the adventurous:

  saure Nierle  (sour kidneys)
  saure Kutteln  (sour tripe)
  Schwäbischer Wurstsalat (meat salad which includes blood sausage)

Readers who are familiar with Schwäbische Küche, what did I miss?

Loving Southern Germany 1: Beautiful Towns
Loving Southern Germany 2: The Landscape

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

That Darn Cat

The neighbor's cat and I have been having a bit of a territorial dispute this summer. It thinks it can come into our house, and I say it cannot. I'm not sure which one of us is winning, but judging from the pounding of my heart earlier, she scored one today.

On nice days we like to leave our windows and doors open.  We don't have screens on most of the windows and no screen doors. When the front door is open, it's open wide (and admittedly a bit of a security risk), and our Wintergarten (sunroom) only has big ass big glass sliding doors. When I'm home I tend to leave the Wintergarten door open all the time, especially when I'm working in the garden.

Despite what the cat thinks, this is my house, and I will damn well leave the doors open when I want to. That is not an invitation for the local wildlife to come in for tea. Yes, I have to deal with a few flies, some wasps, and the occasional dragonfly, but thankfully no birds have flown into doors or windows that were open (a few have slammed into ones that were closed with a resounding thud).

A few weeks ago as I was at my computer in the (home) office, I got up to get something to drink and bumped into the cat creeping in through the front door. I was startled, of course, and yelled something like "What the fu...!!" She dashed back out the front door and down our walkway to the street.

Four nights ago I came into the office to shut down the computer before going to bed, and a horrifically enormous large hairy black spider was on the wall in the corner just next to my computer. I let out my spider shout, and my hero came armed with a can of Raid to take care of it. Even he admitted that was the biggest one he's ever seen inside the house. Then I started to wonder where that beast was while I was sitting at my desk earlier that evening... M said it probably came in through the tilted window because it was cold outside that evening, and although I'll go with that, I'm still checking for big spiders under my desk before I sit down.

Then today, again I'm at my laptop researching things to do in Edinburgh for our upcoming trip, and I wanted to check something on the map I'd left in the living room. The front door was closed but the Wintergarten door has been open all day. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something dark and hairy scuttle on the floor, and I freaked out. I'm still on high alert because of the damn spider, after all. This time, as if I should expect a response, I yelled, "What the hell are you doing in this house?!?!?!" as she scrambled on the slippery floor and dashed back out the open door. She was half way out before I knew for sure what/who she was. Thank goodness at least it wasn't a spider.

not the neighbor's cat
The cat in the photo above was another uninvited houseguest at my Schwiegermutter's flat 8 years ago. He climbed up a tree and landed on her second floor balcony, peering in at us through the glass door. We invited him in, and he spent the evening curled up on the sofa after a snack of pork tenderloin (it was all we had). He returned the next night and the next, and we thought he was gorgeous. But that was not my house. And I digress...

In Germany roaming cats have to be tolerated. In our local newspaper just the other day there was a letter in an advice column from someone asking if he can do anything about the neighbor's cat wandering through his yard, pooping in the grass, etc.. Nope. If the cat causes damage to anything (scratches the furniture, damages plants - as if that's easy to prove), then the owner has to pay for it, but otherwise we need to put up with them. Cats go on walkabout and refuse to heed property lines, posted signs, or adages about what curiosity can do to them.

I can live with the cat skulking through our yard (I don't have a choice anyway), and M has to live with cleaning cat poo off the mower blades, but we do not have to accept that or any other cat slithering into our house. But what to do?

Since our nephews came to visit one hot weekend this summer, we now have water pistols, and I know how much cats like water.

With one in each hand, I could go full Tatort mit Til Schweiger on that cat if she enters my house again, but of course that's just wishful thinking. I don't believe in keeping loaded guns in the house and my aim sucks anyway.

So the only thing it seems I can do to keep the neighbor's cat out of our house is to keep the doors closed when I want them open. And that just makes me angry.*

*For the record, I'm not angry at the cat's owner staff; the neighbor is doing nothing wrong, so this will not be a cause of neighborhood strife. I just want to give the cat the message that it is not welome inside our house.