Saturday, December 31, 2016

December Highs and Lows 2016

The year draws to a close today, whether we're ready for 2017 or not. A lot of people are saying that 2016 totally sucked, and on the world stage that is surely true. Personally, though, I had an unexpected and really good year. Life has been grand anyway, but it was in January 2016 that I started teaching and getting to know quite a few Syrians who settled in our area. I also started working for the first time since moving to Germany after three years of doing not much! Ok, I had kept myself busy in the garden, writing and reading, walking, and traveling, but I was not gainfully employed. Now I'm making my own money even though it's only part-time work, and my job (teaching German to non-Germans) is easy because I truly love it.

My blog has slowed down since I started teaching at the VHS, but there's a point when an expat has pretty much written about all there is to describe about life in another country. By now life here is normal, and very little strikes me as significant enough to write about. Perhaps it's time to change the theme of my blog.

I thought about doing a "Highlights of the Year" post, but that seems redundant and I don't want to bore my five readers. :-) Here, then, are the final Highs and Lows of 2016.


  • having our neighbors over for drinks to thank them personally for letting us borrow a Stellplatz (parking spot) in their driveway while the construction was going on around our house. We had planned on parking at the office, which is only a 4-minute walk from home, but it was much more convenient to park next door and we were grateful. It was a really nice evening; we are lucky neighbors.

  • starting individual riding lessons (every second Wednesday) because teaching makes me miss the Friday morning Damenreitstunde (ladies' riding lesson). Mallory continues to be sassy, but I like her anyway.

  • joining M and several colleagues on an evening outing to the Weihnachtsmarkt in Esslingen. I only made it to two Weihnachtsmärkte this year! 

  • Christmas Eve with M and my Schwiegermutter. We do enjoy quiet, stress-free holidays, and we spent the majority of Christmas day reading. We had raclette on Christmas Eve and lamb stew on Christmas Day.

  • the holidays in general. M doesn't have to go to the office every day, and when he does it's just for a few hours. It's like a two-week-long weekend! We have lazy mornings and relaxed afternoons and don't do anything we don't want to do.

  • dinner at Straub's Krone - twice, actually. 
Gruß von der Küche

Vorspeise: Ziegenkäse im Speckmantel

Schweinesteak in Pilzrahmsoße mit Gemüse und Dauphinkartoffeln

  • Silvester - New Year's Eve - with M and his mum. It's only mid-day, but the soup for tonight's fondue is cooking, I picked up a fresh baguette this morning, made the salad for lunch, M will be making sausage rolls this afternoon, we'll enjoy a long, drawn-out fondue dinner with pork and beef tenderloin, watch "Dinner for One", play a trivia game, and wait for the neighborhood fireworks at midnight. I look forward to this night every year!


  • realizing I have only read (finished) 21 books this year. Dismal.

  • having to cancel a riding lesson last week - and M was going to come along to take pictures of me riding Mallory! - because of a night of stomach cramps. I had been so looking forward to that! Arg!

  • this Swabian housewife fail:

I tried to make Brioche buns for pulled pork sandwiches (M did the pulled pork, which cooked for 48 hours in the sous vide machine). The above photo shows Fail #1, Fail #2, and the buns we ended up using for the sandwiches. Humiliating. I need someone to teach me how to bake with yeast.

I hope 2017 is a better year for the world than 2016 was. 
and I wish you, dear Reader, a graceful start into the New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sometimes it's the Little Things

It's fitting that my first blog post in a while is about teaching, since teaching is what has kept me from blogging. I'm not complaining - I spend a lot of my free time preparing lessons and creating worksheets, but I enjoy that!

If you were hoping for something about Christmas, I can refer you to these posts from previous years:

 Advent in Deutschland
 Heiligabend (How we spend our Christmas Eves)
 Christmas Eve to Boxing Day (Plan ahead, because everything's closed!)
 Supermarket madness around the holidays
 Staying warm in the winter despite Lüften

I'm also planning to write more in the next two weeks about whatever holiday topics I haven't covered yet.

What I want to write about today, though, is something fun that happened in class yesterday during a grammar lesson. "Fun? And Grammar?," you say? Absolutely! We were combining two concepts we've learned in the last few weeks - adjective endings and comparatives/superlatives. For those of you who haven't learned German and have therefore never had to live through the horror of learning about adjective endings, consider yourselves lucky. The creators of the German language came up with this system to torture foreigners. I'd still like to know what they were smoking. It's widely believed that suspected criminals in Germany during the Middle Ages were tortured with sharp instruments heavy wheels, and frightening devices. No, no, no. That wasn't necessary at all. The sadistic beasts just locked their charges in cold, dark, solitary cells until they could correctly say "The nice man in the blue suit gave the pretty lady at the noisy party a large bouqet." Few survived.

Yesterday my students needed to learn how to say and write sentences like the following:

That is a big book.  This is a bigger book.  This is the biggest book.

Sounds fun, no? And super easy! English.

However, in German, most articles and adjectives - and even some nouns! - have special endings which are determined by the gender and the case of the noun they modify. The German sentences look and sound a bit like this:

That is a biges Book.  This is a biggeres Book.  This is thes biggste Book.

To prepare for this lesson, I stuck three books of different sizes into my schoolbag (visuals are always helpful). My smallest book, which was going to be used for the "That is a biges Book" sentence, was a only slightly larger than a normal-size reading book. For "thes biggste Book" I used our textbook.

Here you see my biges Book and my biggeres Book.
Having already been a teacher for 16+ years, I can anticipate questions and comments that will likely arise. As a teacher you also know there is going to be some wise ass (and I say that with great affection) in the class who is going to try to throw you off or disagree with you, especially when you make it easy for them. (I know that isn't a big book.) So I armed myself with a perfect come-back and then hoped for the best.

I introduced the subject with way too many words and gestures, and then I brought out my first prop.

"This is a biges Book!" I said.

No kidding, as if on cue, one of my Kasachstani ladies looked skeptical and said, "Nein!"  With great drama, I looked shocked and said, "This is NOT a biges Book?"  She insisted it wasn't. I reached into my bag, pulled out another book, and said, "But it's bigger than THIS book!"

Thank you, Lilliputians!
She and the other students had a good laugh, I could feel terribly proud of my cleverness, and we went on with the lesson.

It's little moments like this that make teaching so much fun. Seriously, any time I can make my students laugh or smile while they're learning grammar... those are good moments. I like being able to anticipate my students' questions, mainly because the lesson goes smoothly when I can answer them without faltering. It's also fun to be ready to stay ahead of the wise guys - but that takes years of experience!

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a festive season!

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Bus

You know you’re getting old when…

One day this week I took the local bus for the first time in a while to get to and from school because M needed the car. The ride down at 8:00 was fine, and the bus wasn’t crowded. But after class I caught the 13:00 bus back to our village, and the stop is in front of the Gymnasium (grades 5-12, I think). I waited for 20 minutes while more and more kids showed up and my mood waxed darker and darker.  At 12:57 the bus arrived, and a billion kids stood in a herd of pubescent filth jostling for position, cutting in the non-existent line, shoving past me… The bus driver (I’m calling him Gustav) opened the door and barked at the youths to move back. I admire this man, though I’ve never seen him before. The "horrible phalanx of pubescence"* oozed back, and as the first two students stepped onto the bus and dutifully flashed their passes, the rest of the swarm pushed forward again threatening to crush the youngest under their filthy, impatient feet. Gustav barked at them again, and they pretended to comply and remain orderly. A kid next to me moaned, “Der Tag war so schön, bis jetzt!” (It’s been such a nice day, until now!”), which was clearly a shot at the bus driver, though I nearly said to him, “My thoughts exactly!” aimed at the kid and his cohorts! Gustav was my hero for the day.

*Reference to one of my all-time favorite films. Can you name it?

He stayed at the door as kids passed, and every now and then he must have seen someone cut in the still non-existent line (Germans don’t know how to queue – it’s something expats have been pointing out for years), and he sent them to the back of the line. One little tart dared to say, “But I didn’t do anything!” Gustav puffed up his chest, shot daggers out of his eyes at the cheeky upstart, and said, “Do you need to have done anything? Get BACK!” He was like the soup guy from “Seinfeld.” Shit, I was starting to get nervous, knowing I’d have to hold up the line while I paid for my one-way ride.

I managed to get in about halfway through the mob, paid quickly, money in hand, and sat where no kid would ever choose to sit – right behind my hero, Gustav. I watched the rest of the show silently cheering on Gustav and high-fiving him in my imagination every time he sent one of the grubby little hoodlums back to the end of the pack.

After more kids squeezed onto the bus than I would have thought possible (some had to stand in the aisle), Gustav shot them one more “Don’t mess with me” look, closed the door, and we pulled away. Our next stop was the Bahnhof, and this is where I started to shake my head at humanity. Only three people got on, all adults – a Syrian man (I know him), a woman not older than I wearing a beautiful headscarf, and a German man who appeared dirty and probably homeless. Other than the one other adult woman who had sat next to me from the Gymnasium and me, the entire bus was filled with little kids ages 10 to 17. Not one of them acknowledged the adults who had just got on the bus to offer their seat. Ok, the men were not old, and perfectly capable of standing – and probably very used to doing so. The woman was also young enough and not apparently in any special need. But when I was young 150 years ago, it was just understood – kids do not sit on a crowded bus while an adult stands. I don’t even know how I know this, because although I remember taking the city bus often when I was young to get around town, I don’t recall it ever being crowded. I also don’t recall my parents or any teacher instructing me about bus etiquette. Perhaps it was just obvious?

I am certain this was also standard protocol in Germany not terribly long ago. In fact, I am happy to say that about two years ago on probably the same bus when I had to stand because it was full of smelly kids, a young girl offered me her seat. I thanked her more than was necessary, but told her it was ok – my stop was not far. I wish that girl knew that, two years later, I still remember her thoughtful - and apparently unusual - gesture.

My students have told me about witnessing this time and time again, because they do all their traveling here in Germany by bus and train. They have told me that in Syria it would NEVER happen that an adult – especially a woman! – would have to stand on a bus or train when there are children seated. Some of them have expressed surprise at such disrespect in German kids. I actually doubt that it is blatant disrespect, despite appearances. I think it is plain ignorance (though I do not know which is worse). I think it just wouldn’t occur to most kids nowadays, who are sitting comfortably in a seat on the bus because they were lucky enough to squeeze on ahead of the rest of the mob, to relinquish that seat to anyone else.

This is not something kids should have to be taught in school. This (consideration for others) is something parents should be teaching their children. Why are children not learning to give consideration for others when they are out and about? It might be because their parents are not good models. How much time do parents spend with their faces in their Smartphones rather than noticing teachable moments for their kids? Kids don’t learn what we don’t teach them.

You know you're getting old when you find yourself grumbling about TWO generations behind you - kids who don't offer their seat to adults on a bus and their parents!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

November Highs and Lows 2016

This day-late post is brought to you by Poor Planning, Inc.

I guess we all know what the month's biggest low was, and I would love to say I'm going to make it through this post without mentioning it. Let's see what happens.


  • my birthday dinner in the Andrea-Stube at the Wellness Hotel Engel in Baiersbronn-Obertal and the rest of the week we spent there relaxing in saunas and enjoying exquisite meals
fancy starters

  • attending another Kaffeekränzchen at my friend Hedda's house with a group of interesting and engaging ladies. 

  • another Kochkurs at Straub's Krone! The theme this time was a "stress-free Christmas," which is somewhat ironic because we never have stress at Christmas. We have our little routine, we each have our jobs and duties, we're a good team in the kitchen, and we don't have a big family gathering. This year we will be three, as is often the case: M, my Schwiegermutter, and me. However, the Kochkurs was still fun, and fellow American blogger Adventures of La Mari and her German husband joined us!
  • getting an email from one of my former Syrian students inviting me to a concert given by the choir he sings with in Eutingen, a neighboring town. It was really lovely, and I'm so glad I went!

  • starting with a new integration course at the VHS, though it's actually a class-in-progress (I took over the class from another teacher). We're in our third week together, and things are going pretty well.

  • several riding lessons on sassy Mallory

  • our first Weihnachtsmarkt of the season!!! I will never get tired of these Christmas markets. This is the first year since I moved here that I don't have unlimited time to visit them as often as I want to (because I teach every morning). We went to the Horber Weihnachtsmarkt, which is only held on one weekend, and I've already been briefly to the one in Esslingen due to a meeting scheduled in the Rathaus

  • the construction project around our house is finished, and we have a new patio, walkway, and driveway. We really like the look of it, and although there's landscaping work to be done in the spring, the main part is done.


  • learning that a dear friend of M's family died in Switzerland, not long before he was supposed to come to Esslingen for the Christmas markets.

  • Blogger changed the layout of what I see on my blog "behind the scenes". I really hate change. I no longer easily see things I often checked and have to click around to find things I want to see. Why do you hate me, Blogger? Why?

  • yeah, the election. It's been three weeks, and I still have a hard time believing what happened. Reporters from three different newspapers called me the day after to get my reaction, and here's one of those articles. Here's another one, and although that article features a photo of M and me, the quote in the title is from someone else they interviewed.

    I just don't know how anyone could vote for such a filthy, despicable person. He inspires hate crimes and general nastiness, bigotry, and hatred. He tweets like a spoiled child and has been appointing or nominating wealthy friends with questionable (at best) views about humanity to cabinet and advisory positions. His empty campaign promises (the wall, "locking her up", etc.) are no surprise and they were stupid things to say in the first place.

    I have not communicated with anyone who voted for that horrifying oaf, and I don't have any intentions of doing so. That's one more reason to be glad I live here - it's unlikely I'll even bump into any P-elect supporters. Am I lumping the lot of them together into one pot? I guess I am, much like many of them lump all Muslims into one pot. Fair is fair, right? 

I hope you had more highs than lows and a good November! Enjoy the Advent season; it's nearly impossible not to if you live in Germany and don't work in retail.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Activities for Integration Classes

During my Mittagsschlaf this afternoon I dreamt the idea for this blog post. It won't become as famous as that other work of art which came from a dream ("Kubla Khan"), but Coleridge had the benefit of opium to boost his creativity.

I know it looks like I'm sleeping,
but I'm actually lesson planning.
I've been teaching German for quite a few years now, and along the way I have come up with ideas for short review activities and learned of other activities from my language-teaching colleagues. I thought I'd share a few of them in case any of my readers are also teaching Integrationskurse or are taking a course from a teacher who is open to suggestions. These activities also work well for language classes with younger students.

I'm going to focus on warm-up and cool-down activities for starting and ending class. I tell my students that warming up with a language is just as important as warming up for a sport. Start with something that is very do-able though it might hurt a little (stretching) but will spare you serious pain later. In a language class it is important to get the new language in your head and on your tongue in the first few moments. Use what you learned yesterday in today's warm up for practice and reinforcement.

These activities are also good for winding down at the end of a tough class (especially when the emphasis has been on intricate grammar).


This is by far my favorite activity. It can take as little as five minutes or as much as 30 - the teacher and students decide how long to keep going.

On regular sized index cards, write conversation questions your students should be able to answer. I have done this as early as Day 2 of class, by which we have already learned and practiced basic intro questions:
  Wie heißt du?  Wie geht's?  Wo wohnst du?  Woher kommst du?

Every day I add new questions, and the stack of Fragekarten keeps growing throughout the course. It takes no time at all to come up with more than 100 questions - just look at the topics and grammar points your books cover. 

When we do modal verbs, I use the Fragekarten with modal verbs:
  Was musst du heute Abend machen?  Welche Sprache (außer Deutsch) möchtest du lernen?
  Was dürfen wir in der Schule nicht machen?

When we review present perfect (das Perfekt), I use those questions:
  Was hast du gestern Abend gemacht?  Was hast du heute früh getrunken?
  Was haben wir gestern gelernt?

When we're in the middle of adjective endings, I encourage them to use adjectives when answering these questions:
  Was hast du neulich gekauft?  Beschreibe die Person neben dir.  Was findest du schön?

That's the only teacher preparation - just write questions on cards to create the Fragekarten, preferably with a marker and large print so they're easy to read.

At the start of class, each student gets one Fragekarte. Everyone stands up. The teacher starts by calling on a student and asking the question on her (the teacher's) card. The student answers the question with help or correction from the teacher as needed. Then the student calls on another student (but not one standing directly next to him) and asks the question on his card. After the second student has answered the question successfully with help if needed, the first student may sit down.

There's a reason for everything. Why does everyone stand? Because the it's easy to see who has not yet answered a question. The students don't call on those who are seated. Why can a student not call on his neighbor? Because the neighbor can easily peek at the card and read the question himself rather than relying on his listening skills. This also leads to students calling on a different classmate every day rather than always the same friend sitting next to him. Why does the asker of the question stay standing until the person he asked has answered? Because he is more likely to listen to the answer while he's standing (and he might have to repeat the question).

Skills practiced:
  listening, reading, pronunciation

  • If students trickle in late, this activity gets everyone else started on time, and as the late ones arrive, the teacher can just hand them a card.
  • If the teacher finds herself with 5-10 extra minutes at the end of class, which is not enough time to start a new activity, this is a great way to end on a positive note. 

Nenne 3 Dinge

I often do this activity right before or after the Fragekarten, and the students also respond well to this one. Teacher prep is again minimal: Write a list of vocabulary topics (Essen, Getränke, Schulsachen). I have 40 topics on my original sheet, but the possibilities are endless. My list looks like this:
  1. Nenne 3 Getränke.
  2. Nenne 3 Sachen in deiner Schultasche.
  3. Nenne 3 berühmte Deutsche.
  4. Nenne 3 deutsche Bundesländer.
This activity then has several variations.
  1. The teacher calls on students one by one and gives each a different question/topic.
  2. The students have notebooks and pens ready, and the teacher reads the question to everyone. Each student writes down answers, and after a minute the teacher calls for responses.
  3. Partnerarbeit - everyone gets the questions, but students work with a partner to come up with answers.
Don't forget the articles when appropriate! ("DAS Bier", not just "Bier")

Skills practiced:
   articles/genders of nouns, vocabulary, pronunciation, genders

  • Appropriate for all levels and mixed classes! Level A1 come up with the basics, but level B2 can push themselves further.
  • Flexible in time - can take 4 minutes or 10.
  • If the teacher has to take care of something else - attendance, etc. - a student can take over the teacher's role.
  • Topics can be added with each chapter.

Fünf Finger

This more advanced activity works very well for reviewing past tense or the subjunctive mood (Konjunktiv), but could also be adapted for other grammar points.

Everyone holds up one hand, fingers and thumb extended. This is the party game "I have never...", and the goal is to be the last person with one or more fingers still up.

Practicing Perfekt:
  The teacher starts with a sentence: "Ich habe nie ein rotes Auto gehabt."
  Anyone who has ever had a red car puts one finger down.
  The teacher gives another example: "Ich bin noch nie nach Frankfurt gefahren."
  Anyone who has driven to Frankfurt puts a finger down.

  Then the students give sentences about things they have never done.
  "Ich bin noch nie in die USA geflogen."
  The American teacher puts a finger down...  😊

Sentences for Konjunktiv:
  "Ich würde nie AfD wählen."    "Ich würde nie Bier trinken."  
  "Ich würde unsere Lehrerin nie anlügen."

Sentences for A1 level practicing haben and Akkusativ:
  "Ich habe einen Hund."     (Everyone who doesn't have a dog puts a finger down.)
  "Ich habe zwei Söhne."      (Everyone who doesn't have two sons puts a finger down.)

Sentences for A2 level practicing adjective endings:
  "Ich habe einen blauen Pulli an."
  "Ich habe heute eine schwarze Katze gesehen."

This activity is more challenging because the students have to come up with sentences on their own.

Skills practiced:
   speaking, listening, pronunciation, creative thinking

  • This works best with smaller groups; large classes can form two or three groups.
  • Flexible with time and works well for the last 5-10 minutes of class.

For those of you teaching language classes, which activities work well for you and our students during warm up and cool down?

For those of you who are taking or have taken classes langauge classes, what have been your favorite activities?

If the activity explanation is too long for a comment, send it in an email and I'll publish another post with guest suggestions (giving credit of course!).

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Day After

It's the day after the day after, and I'm still not really sure how I feel. I've read a lot of reactions, and I've sympathized with a lot of people. I think I can agree with one person who said "This is probably not the end of the world," but that's easy for me to say.

   I'm white.

   I'm not Muslim or Jewish.

   I do not have a disability.

   I'm not a member of the LBGTQ community.

   I'm not overweight or particularly ugly.

   I'm not poor.

   I can afford health care.

   I'm not an immigrant in America.

   I'm not a foreigner in America.

   I'm not in America.

I appreciate some of the eternal optimism (something that's very "typical American") I've seen because I'm glad to know not everyone feels as disheartened as I do. For me it's not about that person getting elected; it's about all the people who cheered for him and fed his ego despite the things he said and the things he did. The speeches yesterday about working together were all nice. But it will take more than pretty speeches to repair what's wrong in the hearts of people. If you doubt me, read the open comments sections of just about any article or video from the last days. Or this article.

As I wrote to my parents this morning, if an imperfect but charismatic and genuinely likeable African-American man wth a sense of humor could not bring the people of this country together in eight years (because no one person can do that), there is little chance that a misogynistic, insufferable, maniacally egotistical bigot will be able to do so.

Some are saying that this person will be different in office than he was on the campaign trail. I don't believe that, but even if it turns out to be true, what's that all about? More than half of us don't want him, and the others voted for the guy they saw and heard during the campaign. Now he's going to be a different person? All those people voted for what they saw, and early on many were saying they liked him because "he says what needs to be said." And then he insulted, ridiculed, and verbally attacked everyone who wasn't like him and everyone who didn't support him, and incited violence and rage, and they continued to support him.

What I do believe is that he will not accomplish much of what he yammered on about at his rallies. That was obvious to educated people from the start. There will be no wall, he will not ban Muslims from entering the country, he will not deport millions of illegal immigrants and likely won't do anything to change or improve the immigration system, he will not touch Roe v. Wade, he will not bring back waterboarding, and he will not "lock her up." These never were the things I was afraid of.

The thought of that person representing the American people on the world stage is what is distasteful to me. He is the quintessential "ugly American," and while I am harsh on my own people, I do not believe he is an appropriate representative.

But he won, as he boasted so often and so loudly that he would, and now we have to live with it.

I was called yesterday by journalists from three different newspapers for my thoughts. Although my head wasn't clear yet (it still isn't, but I'm getting there), if you're interested, the articles were in the Südwest Presse, the Esslinger Zeitung,* and the Schwarzwälder Bote-Freudenstadt. I can't find the last article online, but it's in the printed paper.

*Note: While the Esslinger Zeitung article shows a photo of M and me as the main photo online, the quote in the title is from a different person interviewed. 

Good luck, America.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Wellness Week in the Schwarzwald

M and I just returned from a wonderful week at the Hotel Engel Obertal, during which we fully spoiled ourselves by relaxing, doing nothing in particular, and eating like royalty. The Engel is a Wellness und Genuss Resort in Obertal, only 45 minutes from home! The wellness culture thrives in the Black Forest with the crisp, clean air, meandering valleys, and variable weather, and many of the towns are labeled Kurorte (health resorts or spa towns). People come from all over Germany - Europe, really - to bask in the good life.

We have been to the Engel before - in 2007 for two days. That was my introduction to the German sauna culture, which was quite a shock for me initially (we Americans are real prudes). When we decided to do a wellness week, we knew we wanted to come here again.

The hotel is located in a very quiet village with plenty of walking paths and trails of all difficulties. One can choose to stay in the valley and walk along the stream or venture up into the hills and forest for a more strenuous hike. In hindsight I recommend doing some good hiking when the weather cooperates to offset some of the calories you'll put on during meals!

The Engel offers a well-organized activity program which includes outings, hikes, fitness classes and training, water aerobics, and specialized classes in Qigong, Smovey-Gym, and Pilates. The activities are spaced well apart so that one could participate in every class they offer during the day. Being the Fitnessmuffel that we are, we only nodded appreciatively at the offerings and later watched some of the exercise classes while sipping wine on our balcony. 

outdoor saunas, jacuzzi, and ice cold bathing pond, as seen from our balcony
fitness pavillon is out of sight to the right
We actually did brave that ice cold bathing pond! I dipped in to my knees the first time, almost my waist the second time, and nearly to my chest the last time. Softly whispered profanity was part of that process, but sitting in a blazing hot sauna afterwards is a wonderful feeling. M went in once and up to his neck, crazy bugger brave lad!

Each evening before dinner the lounge is open for Happy Hour with a different mixed drink featured.

Side note: I was not compensated in any way for this blog post. I had planned on writing it because we really like this hotel and the wellness experience they offer. We celebrated my birthday during this week, and I was greeted warmly that day by everyone on the staff who knew. They left a birthday card and a bottle of wine in our room while we were at breakfast and had decorated our breakfast table with rose petals. I asked about taking pictures and was told by the managing director that I could photograph anything as long as other guests were not pictured, and she gave me permission to use photos from their website as well.

Every morning at breakfast guests find the Urlaubsblättle at their table detailing the day's offerings, a "thought of the day", wellness tips, the evening menu, products offered in their wellness shop, and a thoughtful story encouraging one to reflect on the positive things in life. The weather and the menu were the important bits for M, but I read most of it.

The service personnel is exceptional. Every single person we passed or interacted with made us feel special, welcome, and appreciated. Each staff member greets the guests with a genuine smile and a "Schönen guten Morgen!", "Guten Tag!", or "'Nabend!", and when we had the slightest need it was fulfilled almost immediately. The housekeeping crew was rarely visible, but they swooped in and out expertly while we were otherwise engaged - at breakfast or dinner, normally. Fresh towels, folded or turned-down sheets, chocolate on the pillows, clean water and wine glasses...To them this is standard and expected for the level of service they promise, but guests like us enjoy these little details and recognize that the behind-the-scenes team is sadly underappreciated.

There are cozy seating areas at every turn, which we would have been happy to use had our favorite place not been our suite! There's even an easy chair with footrest right before the Toilette near the restaurant in case one needs a rest on the way there. One can check out books (we brought our own, though we hardly touched them) or purchase magazines and newspapers from the reception. A complimentary copy of  Die Welt awaited us each morning, and I always intended to read it...

Wolke 7 reception area with bistro
The real highlight for us, and I dare say for most guests, is the Wolke 7 Wellnessbereich (Spa). It opens at 11:00 and closes at 19:00, and I was already looking forward to our time there while enjoying a delicious and extensive breakfast buffet. (Just as a side note, the pool area is open longer: 7:00 to 22:00.) We went there once or twice a day to sit and sweat as long as we could stand it. The area begins with a group of Dampfbäder - steam saunas. Each one has a different atmosphere, scent, layout, and temperature. This area is a textilfreie Flüsterzone - a fabric-free (nude) whispering zone. The focus is on relaxation and wellness. And sweating.

There is one dry sauna in this area - the Schwitzstube - in which there is an Aufguss session each afternoon with a different featured scent. There are several showers for rinsing and cooling off between saunas and plenty of places to hang one's towel and robe. In the Dampfbäder you don't bring in a towel because it's steamy and wet in there, and your towel would be sopping after your first session. Each Dampfbad has a hose for rinsing off the seats between visitors, which seems a good idea but probably doesn't actually matter.
We settled into a familiar routine: after we did our three favorite Dampfbäder we showered again, had a glass of water from the drinking fountain between the saunas and resting area, and headed outside - although it got cold this week! Outside are two Finnish-type saunas, the Kaminsauna at 90°C and the smaller Erdsauna at 110°C. These are both fabulous! Guests wear their robes or towels to these saunas, but inside they are textilfrei. Germans - M included - can't imagine sitting in a sauna wearing a swimsuit. How uncomfortable that must be! For my American readers I'll write another post about the sauna culture here vs. the body shaming we (women) are constantly exposed to in the U.S.. Believe me for now that it is a unique and liberating experience, and it's not at all strange.

The Engel offers several pools and a zillion lounge chairs for resting from all the relaxing. Especially in the afternoons lots of people camp out on the lounge chairs to read, nap, and enjoy the gentle spa music.

One crazy experience is the floating pool. This is a small indoor pool of water as salty as the Dead Sea, and you just...float. It's not for swimming, you're asked not to splash, and they recommend you don't spend more than about eight minutes in there because the skin doesn't tolerate the salt well. After you wade in, you lift your feet off the floor and float around.

resting area surrounding the salty floating pool (through the doorway)
You can book many different types of massages and beauty treatments, though we didn't this time. One of my favorite overheard quotes of the week was related to a beauty treatment. Several Swabian women in the Kaminsauna were chatting about a honey massage from another spa: "Des macht net schee. Des macht bäppig!"

Truly, the food and those who prepare and serve it deserve their own blog post. We booked the Halbpension, which meant that dinner was included with our room, along with breakfast and a lunch buffet, which we skipped half the time to save room for dinner. Each dinner was a multi-course delight ending in a sheepishly deserved food coma. We learned to skip either the starter or the soup, I gave up the cheese course before dessert, and by the second last evening we could both make it through the last course without feeling we'd eaten way too much. The regular menu was a starter, a choice of soup, a salad buffet, a Zwischengang (a light in-between course), a choice of three for the main course, the cheese buffet, and finishing with a dessert or dessert buffet.

Here's a teaser for my future post about the dining experience in the main restaurant and the elegant Andrea-Stube:

Roh mariniertes Rinderfilet

Crepinette von der Milchkalbshüfte
My main course is reflecting the food coma face I'll be wearing shortly...

dessert from the buffet

This was truly a wonderful and relaxing week, and we will surely come back. We made notes about what to pack next time so we can avoid driving home on day two for a wardrobe change. One of the best things for me was seeing M actually relax into the experience and partially forget about work for a while.

And that's what wellness is all about.

Monday, October 31, 2016

October Highs and Lows 2016

Here we are at the end of another month! Today is Halloween, a "holiday" I think I've always hated. Costumes and especially masks make me uncomfortable, I don't enjoy anything in the realm of scary, and I have vivid memories of my parents having to go through the candy I begged from strangers [because this one day of the year the "never accept candy from strangers" rule is nullified??] searching for razor blades, pins, and other tampering that parents were warned against back then. But tomorrow is both my birthday and a holiday in Germany (Allerheiligen, or All Saints' Day), so that's something to look forward to.

Bah Humbug, right? Sorry.

Let's get on with this month's highs and lows!


  • taking a riding lesson - and riding speedy Mallory - for the first time since spring. 

  • a short weekend trip to Breisach to visit family including M's sister and nephews who were spending their fall holiday week with M's mother.

  • while in Breisach finally getting my stupid absentee ballot witnessed by an adult U.S. citizen - a total stranger I bumped into along the Rhein.

  • meeting my friend and Sprachpartnerin, Hedda, in Tübingen for a few hours. She helped me find a fall/winter jacket I can wear even when I need to look a little dressy. I really hate shopping, but she made it fun.

  • having coffee and a chat with several of my former students, as well as meeting two of them individually for my interview project.

  • going out for dinner with M and another former student before he moved to another city. His moving is actually a low for me; he was really the first Syrian I got to know (and I was the first American he's met!), but it was nice to have one last chat with him before he moved on to better opportunities and a hopefully wonderful life.

  • spending a week at the Hotel Engel in Obertal, a Black Forest wellness hotel with Finnish saunas, Dampfbäder (steam rooms), Ruhezimmer (resting rooms), pools, a jacuzzi, a salt water floating pool, lawn chairs everywhere for resting, reading, and dreaming, a fitness pavillon, and a classy restaurant with very attentive and friendly servers and skilled and creative chefs. A more comprehensive post will follow.
Naturbadeteich, Jacuzzi, Erdsauna, und Kaminsauna
This was the view from our balcony.
  •  attending another Kochkurs, this one focusing again on Wild.
Wildschwein (wild boar) wrapped in bacon on a quince-pumpkin relish
Venison ragout wrapped in Wirsing (Savoy) with grilled carrots and Kartoffeltrofie


  • beginning about mid-month our yard has been a big, messy Baustelle (construction zone). We're having the stone replaced on our driveway, walkway, and patio, and it's been a muddy mess for two weeks. I'm sure this will be a high when they're finished and next year after the grass comes back, but for now, yuck!
This mudhole is where our Terrasse was and will be again, eventually.

  • on our first morning at the classy Hotel Engel, leaving our suite and striding down the hall, greeting the Zimmermädchen (cleaning crew) and marching into the suite they were cleaning, having missed the elevator to our left which would have taken us downstairs to the breakfast room. Oops.

Other Happenings

  • I have a granddog. His name is Albie and my daughter adopted him. Although he isn't a collie, I had to admit he's kind of cute.
  • I got a call from the VHS a week or so ago, and I will be taking over another integration course in mid-November. I know at least two of the students in this class, and from my previous students I already know that I need to be stricter regarding punctuality and Handy use in class. I hope it will go well.

  • a reporter with the Esslinger Zeitung briefly interviewed me about the upcoming election in the US, my thoughts about the nightmare, and what the mood is in Esslingen's sister city (my hometown). Her article will appear shortly before the election, which of course is Tuesday, November 8. If you're voting for Trump, follow his instructions and vote on November 28th.

I think that's it for the month. Have a Happy November!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

10 Things I Love About Life in Swabia

I came across a blog post with a similar title and theme the other day, and I loved the positive tone of it. This world needs all the positivity it can find these days, so here we go, though this is not a ranked list - it's just a numbered list.

Ten Things I Love About Life in Swabia

10. die Lage / Location

While I happily spend most of my time in the Schwabenland, its location in southwestern Germany allows for us to travel in just a few hours to other favorite spots as well:
  • der Bodensee / Lake Constance
  • Breisach on the Rhein and the Elsass area of France (also Straßburg)
  • Niederau in Austria
  • München
  • Bamberg
  • Switzerland
  • Vienna 
  • heck, even Rome was just a short flight away!
Austria (2008)

9. das Essen / the food

Maultaschen, Zwiebelrostbraten, weißer Spargel in the spring, Kässpätzle, Kartoffelsalat, Butterbrezeln...What can I say? I enjoy eating and I love Swabian food. Not all Swabian dishes, I assure you. I like my Wurstsalat Swiss-style (the Swabian version has blood sausage in it), I don't plan to try saure Kutteln (innards of some sort) anytime soon, and I prefer my Linsen mit Spätzle und Saitenwürstchen without the lentils. I do like many Swabian dishes, however, and I enjoy trying to make several of them at home from scratch.

Zwiebelrostbraten mit Bratkartoffeln
Maultaschen dough needs to be thin enough to read a newspaper through it!

8. meine Nachbarn / my neighbors

By this I mean the people I have met here in the area and also literally our neighbors. One neighbor has shared the bounty from his apple, plum, and quince trees with us, another has invited us over several times including for Christbaumloben and we've had them here for a Grillfest and fun conversation, two have offered to let us use part of their small driveways to park our car during our construction phase (we're having all our stone replaced - walkways, patio, and driveway). The people we know here are genuine, friendly, helpful when help is needed, reserved, and kind. 

7. die Geschichte / the history

The history of Württemberg especially is very interesting to me. The Württemberg royalty had connections with the Romanovs, there was much strife within the family line regarding successions and residences, and many of them (including the wives of rulers) did important things for the country and its people. The Reformation played a crucial role in Swabia's history as well, but all I knew about it from my education in the US was that Martin Luther nailed 95 complaints to the door of some church and then split from the Catholics. I have much still to learn, but even today the divide between the Catholic and Protestant communities is significant and intriguing.

I'd have to get out my notes to give you more, so I'll just say that I enjoy digging into the history of every new town I visit, discovering new castle ruins, and expanding my knowledge about the area. For me, living in a place where I can learn something new every day if I choose...that's huge.

6. mein Dorf / my village

Others might be bored to death here, but I love it. We have one star-worthy restaurant, a quality butcher, and Mustafa with his produce truck stops in front of our house every Tuesday evening. It is so quiet here that we know when the neighbors' grandchildren are visiting, because we otherwise hear nearly nothing. Not even dogs barking. I can walk the perimeter of the three sections of the village in about 45 minutes, we have a peaceful little cemetery behind a lovely little church, and we are within walking distance of our supermarket for those days when I'm feeling less lazy than usual.

5. andere Städte und Dörfer / other cities and towns

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you know my favorite city in the world is Esslingen. Talk about history and beauty... But in the Schwabenland you can also visit Nagold, Herrenberg, Stuttgart if you want a big city, Ludwigsburg, Tübingen, Schwäbisch Hall, Ulm, Rottweil...





4. der Schwarzwald / the Black Forest

We live almost on the edge of the Schwarzwald, and when we have a few free hours, we can just go for a drive along windy, hilly roads (M does the driving, of course). The scenery is gorgeous, and if you like hiking, biking, wellness hotels, river fishing, camping, nature in general, skiing, or motorcycing, the Schwarzwald is the place to visit. Cuckoo clocks are a thing too, for the touristy types among you.

on the Lotharpfad

der Titisee

3. Weinberge / wine country

I'm not a fan of beer except on a horribly hot day when the beer is diluted with Sprite (a Radler), so it's a good thing M didn't settle in Bavaria. The most typical Swabian wine (Trollinger mit Lemberger) is not my favorite, but regardless, there are usually plenty of options that fit to every dish I might want to order in a restaurant. And the servers in the restaurants know about wine. If I don't recognize on the wine list what I like, I can tell him or her that I like a dry white wine but not Riesling, and s/he can recommend one that is usually right. The vineyards themselves are beautiful in the summer and fall and provide lovely scenery for a Sunday walk.

near Esslingen

2. meine Freunde / my friends

If we didn't live where we do, I wouldn't have met the folks who were my students and who have become my friends. I would have met other people, probably equally nice, but not these guys. We meet for coffee now and then, and they bring a huge American smile to my face when I see them in town. When I haven't gone to the almost-weekly Sprachcafé for a while, I miss them! One has moved away, though, and another is moving in a week. They are going where they have relatives or better opportunities, but selfishly, I wish they'd stay here.

I also met my friend and Sprachpartnerin, Hedda, right in our town at the second Kochkurs we attended two years ago. We've had quite a few interesting experiences together since then - I joined her on a trip to Straßburg to visit the EU Parliament, she visited my class at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg twice and met my Syrian and Eritrean students, she took us all to a café after their final language test, she came to watch a riding lesson of mine, and I've been to a Kaffeekränzchen (tea party) at her home with a group of her friends.

1. unsere Zeit / quality time with M

I won't get too schmaltzy or kitschig, but truly my favorite thing about living here in Swabia is the time M and I spend together. We are best friends and soulmates, and after living the first 6 years of our marriage on two different continents, this is our time. I don't like being gone in the evenings, and I don't plan anything on the weekends that we can't do together. This why it's hard for me to return to the U.S. for a visit, because he normally can't come with me. I feel out of my element when we're not together, and I'm generally irritable. We're both better people when we're together. Home is where he is, and although I love to travel, this is where I want to be.

What do you love about where you live?