Sunday, January 31, 2016

January High and Lows 2016

We're off and running with the New Year! The first month is over, and it was a good one. I've been busier than I have been in a while, and very happy. I hope it's been a good month for you as well!


  • starting a new job teaching German (A1 Level) to refugees living in our area. I was in München for three days last week, and I'm eager to get back to the classroom on Monday!

  • M taking me shopping "for horse stuff" at a big saddle shop in Heimsheim. That was one of his Christmas presents to me, and he promised to be patient. :-)  He was great!

  • a few days later M came with me to my riding lesson and took pictures! 

  • at the lesson above, I rode a new horse, Fee ("Fay"). She looks gorgeous but moves more strangely than any horse I've ever been on - as if all her joints are loose. Sadly she's gone again because she wouldn't have worked well for a lesson horse. I was flattered that the instructor was confident enough in my riding ability to put me on a horse they were unsure of.

  • my Sprachpartnerin visited my class for part of an afternoon and enjoyed the experience. She was impressed with my fabulous students and they welcomed her warmly. She wants to come back next week!

  • three days in München with my Schwiegermutter! The purpose of the trip was to renew my passport, but we'd decided to stay two nights and do some sight-seeing. I know München well, and it's one of the few big cities I like. Like with Rome and Vienna, even when we walked about at night, I never felt unsafe. I would never want to be out at night in Milwaukee, Chicago, or any other American big city.

    We stayed in an AirBnB flat for the first time, and it worked out well. We got the 3-day public transportation pass and navigated the system easily. She and my daughter are the perfect travel partners for me - we love to visit churches, museums, and historical buildings, we can walk all day with a stop now and then for a coffee, and after dinner we're done! No need for night life - just go to bed early, read a little, and be fit for the next day's adventures!

    Englischer Garten in January, München

  • coming home to a sweet email from one of my students saying the class is looking forward to my return on Monday!


  • having to stand on the street outside the U.S. consulate in München 100 feet or so away from the entrance until they decided it was time to let me in for the security check. Luckily the weather was fine and I had a book, because I waited out there for 10 minutes - that would have been nasty had it been pouring down with rain, windy and stormy, or very cold. 

  • the news

Let me leave you with a poem/prayer I plan to do with my students this week.

Gebet für die Weltkirche

Segne uns alle, allmächtiger Gott.
Wir brauchen Deinen Segen,
   denn wir sind so verschieden
   im Glauben, in der Farbe, in der Sprache.
Es ist manchmal so schwer,
   jeden so anzunehmen, wie er ist.
Wir tun uns so schwer, die Art zu verstehen,
   wie der andere lebt, wie er reagiert, was er ist.
Gib uns Mut, aufeinander zuzugehen.
Bewahre uns vor dem Fehler,
   die Menschen in Gruppen einzuteilen.
Wir sind ja alle Deine Kinder,
   Brüder und Schwestern,
   eine Großfamilie
   und wollen es auch bleiben.

Prayer for the Church of the World

Bless us all, all-powerful God.
We need your blessing,
   because we are so different
   in faith, in color, in language.
It is so difficult sometimes
   to accept someone as he is.
We try so hard to understand the way
   in which others live, how they react, what they are.
Give us courage to come together.
Protect us from the mistake
   of dividing people into groups.
We are all Your children,
   brothers and sisters,
   a large family
   and wish to remain thus.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Students

It's been ten days since I last wrote about my class of delightful students, and in the mean time I have asked for and received permission from them to write about them publicly. When I last wrote, it was after just two days of class. I was enthusiastic, I was enjoying it, and I couldn't have had any idea how much I would continue to love this experience.

I can hardly keep up with them - I teach them how to construct a sentence with Modalverben (helping verbs), and they want to know about Modalverben with trennbare Verben (separable prefix verbs). Ok, we do that next. Then in a reading exercise practicing trennbare Verben they see an example of comparatives and want to know how to do those. I think the thing I say most often is, "We'll learn that in the next few days!" or "That's on my plan for this afternoon!" They seem eager to learn everything. They have even requested homework.

I wish you could meet them. Ayman is the 19-year-old who is frustrated because he hasn't mastered the language in 7 weeks, although he's made so much progress! Danyal, who I did not realize was not German when I first met him, helps his neighbor, Hadi, who is working hard at German pronunciation. Ahmad, whose name I have been practicing pronouncing because the H is like an exhale, is eager to volunteer and has a very solid grasp of grammar. Eyad understands most of my explanations (also about cultural things - most recently the Catholic Kreuzweg, or "Way of the Cross" situated on a hill in Horb) and is always ready to translate for the rest into Arabic. Amanuel is from Eritrea and has the best grasp of grammar of the four Eritreans, so he helps the others as needed. Adhanom struggles at times, but when he is confident with an answer he's giving, I see it in his eyes and face. Talal gets my jokes and has a charming smile, and Mohammed Asaad is earnest and friendly, and doesn't want to waste any time. He never leaves the room during our 30-minute break - rather he stays in the room and studies. There are always students during the break who ask me questions about how to say various things rather than going upstairs to play Tischkicker or ping-pong, and I'm glad to help them. Basel has a jolly personality and good ideas of what he thinks they should learn (for instance 10 new verbs each day), and I'm taking his suggestions whenever possible. Yonas and Abraham are soft-spoken and I don't always hear their responses very well because they sit near the far end of the table, but I know the others near them are helping. Omar doesn't always come to my class, preferring one of the morning classes - but he's clearly learning a lot there because he participates unhesitatingly when he's with us.

These are some of my students with their former teacher -
the one who gave them such a strong foundation in the German language
that my job is easy!

I enjoy class so much because of them. When one of them fehlt (is missing), something in general fehlt from the class. They work straight up until the minute it's officially time to quit, and the three hours fly by. Last Friday I said to them that they had worked hard with heavy grammar almost all afternoon, and we could either quit 10 minutes early (as some of the other classes had) or practice our conversation questions until 5:00pm. They chose to practice the questions. They want to use every minute and learn as much as they can. This is every teacher's dream.

Each one of these men has a story of what his life was like back home in Syria or Eritrea and his passage to Germany. Most, if not all, of them have faced hardships my family and I will never experience. And yet they are so eager to laugh, smile easily, and appreciate the opportunities available to them here. They are in the midst of navigating through German bureaucracy - something that makes Western expats quake and tear their hair out in frustration - the intricacies of the German language (their third language after Arabic/Tigrinya and English), and piles of snow and freezing temperatures. But for these three hours of German class, they have a safe and warm place to learn, and classmates who gladly help them.

Although I'm not a fan of superlatives, I do feel like the luckiest teacher alive.

The Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg is in this building - das Steinhaus.
It was built in the 14th century and once served as a storage building
for the Kloster Reichenbach as well as the town's Kelter (winepress).

My friend and Sprachpartnerin visited our class on Friday and was impressed with the students. They welcomed her warmly and then interviewed her with the conversation questions we've been practicing. She helped out with some questions that stumped me - there are always some of those. One of the questions I have not been able to answer is why the H in many German words is pronounced, but it's silent in others. My Sprachpartnerin gave us the answer:

When a consonant follows the H, then the H is silent. If a vowel follows the H, then it's pronounced.
Examples: die Wohnung, das Geheimnis, fahren, Haushalt, ohne

There may be some exceptions, but this rule works for us!!

I wish I had time to share with you each of the fascinating questions and conversations we've had in and after class - about language (German, English, Arabic, and Tigrinya), culture, customs, and religion. One student told me he is Muslim because he was "born that way" - as in, his parents are Muslim. I guess that's the same reason I'm Christian. Another asked me about what Germans say before they eat ("Guten Appetit") and what it means ("Enjoy your meal"). He said in Syria many say "Gott/Allah sei dank" (God be praised - as in thanking God/Allah for the meal.). I told him it is common in American Christian families to pray in thanks for the food and to the cook before the main meal, and although I don't know any Germans who do this, I'm sure there are some.

There is much need here for volunteers willing to help the refugees learn German. For those of my readers who live in Germany, all you need to do is search for the "Freundeskreis Asyl" for your area, and you can find dozens of ways to get involved or the name of someone to contact. If you have only one spare hour a week, there is something you can do. Getting involved is one way to get to know these people that you only otherwise hear about on the news.

I will always believe that when people of different cultures come together face-to-face and get to know each other, barriers, misunderstandings, and prejudices fade away into the wind.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Life is not a Wish Concert

This morning I was introduced to another fabulous German saying! While I was getting my coffee, M came into the kitchen and asked me, "If someone said to you 'Life is not a wish concert,' would you know what he means?" Well, no - I've never heard that before, but it's not too hard to figure out.

Das Leben ist kein Wunschkonzert.
This means that you don't always get to decide things for yourself in life; sometimes you have to take what comes.

This is apparently a well-known Sprichwort in German, though I'd never heard it until now. The thing that made M laugh is that it was said in a press conference by football/soccer trainer Jürgen Klopp, who was born in Stuttgart and is now coaching in Liverpool, and of course he was speaking English. He translated the saying literally into English, which almost always ends up sounding funny when the phrase isn't also known in the language into which it was translated!

Klopp is a very emotional coach, and his face hides nothing.  I find him fun to watch.
In English there are sayings vaguely similar to this, but I still like the "wish concert" the best.

    Life isn't always a bed of roses.
    Life isn't all beer and Skittles.
    Life is no picnic.

Those all basically mean that life can be difficult. I can't think of an English saying that means the same as "das Leben ist kein Wunschkonzert."  We do say "beggars can't be choosers," but the German saying has nothing to do with begging.

The German phrase also - of course - lacks the cheery optimism of "When life throws you lemons, make lemonade!"

Perhaps "Sometimes you just have to take what comes" is the best we can do, but that's simply a truthful statement and not cleverly phrased.

Anyway, I am quite certain I'll be adopting this phrase into my day-to-day language, just as I use other German words and phrases when speaking with those who know both languages - such as "Donkey-Bridge" (Eselsbrücke) for a mnemonic device I create to help me remember something.

So just remember, the next time you don't get what you want, life throws you a curveball, or something happens that you weren't prepared for:

Life is not a wish concert!!


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Here we go again

It snowed here yesterday. ALL day long. We have had no more than ten flakes of snow this season until yesterday, and temperatures have been nearer to autumn than winter. It's still not very cold by Wisconsin standards - hovering close to freezing, but still warm enough that sidewalks are clear of snow and ice in the sunny bits where they have been shoveled.

It might be pretty if I liked snow even a little. I do not. The only thing snow means to me is work (shoveling and snowblowing), potential injuries from slipping on our front steps, and even more danger on the roads.

I readily admit that photos of snowy mountains - the Alps, the Tetons, the Rockies - and snowy Alaska in the winter look long as I am looking at postcards or online photos from the cozy warmth of my living room. I have fond memories of cross-country skiing with my family in northern Wisconsin, a few vague memories of downhill skiing on bunny hills, ice skating with friends in a park near my childhood home, and sledding on the one hill in my hometown. I'm glad I have those memories, and I have no desire to resume any of those activities.

So we have deep snow now (deep for here). Hopefully it will melt in the next few days so I can drive again. You see, here's the problem...

Shoveling in Germany

Streets are narrow, and the sidewalks are right against the curb at the street - no spacious row of grass between the sidewalk and the street. As I've written before, most Swabians have fences or huge hedges at the edge of their property. So when it comes time to shovel a healthy dose of the "weiße Scheiße", where do they go with snow? They push it into the street.

In the above photo I'm standing on our sidewalk looking at our driveway, and beyond is our neighbors' sidewalk. I took this photo because it shows the width of the sidewalk with and without snow, the height of the neighbors' hedge (in other words, there is no way for them to throw the snow over the hedge into their yard), and how much snow is on the street. If I'd taken a photo in the other direction, the street would look the same because I had to teach yesterday afternoon and didn't have time to do a proper job.

When dry and snowless, our street is just wide enough for two cars to drive slowly past each other. With snow it's a single-lane street with the thankfully infrequent traffic going both ways. 

With a high hedge, wall, or fence at the property line, I get it that the snow has to be pushed into the street - there's nowhere else for it to go. All the neighbors on the left side of the street above have an additional problem of having no front yard. They have only driveways, garages, and hedges, so there is also no place to throw the snow. But even people who have low hedges or fences do this. Our hedge is now chest-high on me, and it's a pain, but the Wisconsinite in me cannot shovel the snow into the street. I throw it over the hedge. Luckily we have a snowblower, so if I were willing to use middle-weight machinery, snow removal would be even easier for me.

I want our entire sidewalk to look like our driveway does - no snow at the curb. Our neighbors would probably think I'm nuts - I forget to do Kehrwoche on Saturdays, but I waste time shoveling snow from the street/curb.

It would probably be futile anyway, because of course when the snow plow comes through the snow would all be back. That's no big deal - I'm surely used to that from Wisconsin. You just go back out and do it all again. The joys of winter.

"I know you just spent 2 hours shoveling, kids,
but the plow just came past again. I'll get the hot cocoa ready."

One more thing about snow in Germany: there are lots of paths snaking through our village behind and between houses allowing pedestrians to get around more easily. There's one directly across from our front gate, and that's M's usual route to the office.

This is the path during a nicer season,
and just beyond the bicycle barriers is our front gate.

At the start of winter city workers put up a sign here saying "Kein Winterdienst", meaning they're not going to bother shoveling or salting this path during winter. But we (and others) use this path all the time - I use it when I walk to the butcher, the bus stop, the recycling center, the mailbox, and the grocery store. Since we have a snowblower, M usually plows this path up to the point where it turns into someone else's driveway. That person shovels or plows his driveway, of course, but stops at the start of this path (behind me as I'm taking this picture). Yesterday evening when M plowed here, that guy was shoveling as well and said to M, "You know, you don't have to clear snow from there." M said he knows, but since he uses that path everyday, he would rather clear the snow.

While I am slowly turning into a Swabian (or at least a Neig'schmeckte), some of the American has rubbed off on M as well. An American - if he had time and especially a snowblower - would shovel or plow this path because 
  a. it makes sense to do so especially if he uses the path, 
  b. he's already bundled up anyway and it won't take long, and/or
  c. ...why not? 

A German would tend not to clear the snow here because
  a. he's got enough to do with his own chores, or
  b. it's not his property, or
  c. there's no law or rule that says he has to.

Those are M's footprints from this morning. He would be tromping
through ankle-deep snow if he hadn't cleared this last path night.
The path forks here - clearly people also use the path to the right,
though no one but time and nature will clear that snow.
It's not that I'm blaming Germans for not clearing snow they're not required to clear. Life in Germany is so heavily regulated by laws and rules for what one must and may not do, that if there isn't a rule or law for something, there's no need to think about it. Winter brings snow and snow means boots, because sometimes you'll be trudging through snow banks (like when you need to cross a street in our village) or snow-covered paths that no one is required to clear.

My point, in case you've read this far, is that although I am often hard on Americans and tend to favor the German way of doing things, clearing snow is one of the things Wisconsinites do better. Granted, they have much more space available for shoveled or plowed snow - huge yards and parking lots, for instance. But even though most Wisconsin streets are wide enough for at least three cars to drive abreast with or without snow, Wisconsinites do whatever needs to be done to keep the snow off the streets.

I'll end with a few more photos of what I do not miss about Wisconsin.

This is Wisconsin - pretty much all winter long.
And it's so cold that any uncleared snow quickly turns to ice
and stays ice until sometime in March.

There were weeks when - even with all this space - we didn't know
where to throw the snow. The drifts were too high.

We sometimes had to climb onto the drifts next to the driveway
to shovel the pile further into the yard so we could add the snow
from a new storm.  Fun times.

P.S. This post was not approved by a German. M sees nothing unusual or wrong with the way Swabians shovel, and I accept that. :-)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Back to Class

I haven't written much lately because I have been otherwise engaged and because I've got some things on my mind I want to write about but that seem too heavy and serious for this blog. I have nearly completed several posts that I probably won't publish, and no fun or funny ideas have come to mind since the new year.

On January 7th I started teaching German again! I have made reference several times since November about getting involved with efforts to help refugees in our area acclimate to life here, observing occasionally and participating in one class or another at the Herman-Hesse-Kolleg among other things. When one of the teachers became no longer available, the director asked if I'd want to take over his afternoon class. Only one student showed up last week (a possible miscommunication about when classes resumed after Silvester) but this week more students came to make up a full - but small - class.
Update: This afternoon everyone on my class list was there; I have 16 students.

I had a fabulous Day 1 with my new class  on Monday! These refugees adult students from Syria and Eritrea want to learn German, learn quickly, are motivated, ask great questions, and were willing to participate in all the activities I'd planned. They have a wonderful sense of humor, are very respectful, help each other and want to know what I can teach. Despite the fact that three years ago I said I would be happy to never set foot in a classroom again, this is different. I have always wanted to teach an entire class of students who want to learn.

Several times on Monday I stood there while the students spoke Arabic to each other clarifying something for those who didn't understand my explanation, after which I said confidently, "Yep, exactly!" They knew I didn't understand a word, so they laughed. I realized as I was listening to them that Arabic sounds really beautiful, and I certainly wish I could understand it.

Look, I know it was just Day 1. I've had many Day 1s before. Surviving them is key.  This is more than surviving, though. I enjoy planning lessons and activities, I look forward to going to class. and I feel in my element in the classroom, especially with these students.

This is our classroom.
I hope the students do or will feel like they're making progress with me, and that they look forward to coming to class as well.

I studied English and German in college. I taught English for 16 years and German for 13 years to teenagers in Wisconsin. I've had exchange students in my classes from various places around the world. And I am certain that everything I have done in my educational and professional life has been preparing me for this. These students need to learn German to function here in Germany, and I have the time and ability to help them do so. I've already told them my German is not fehlerfrei (free from errors), but because I have also gone through the process of learning German, I understand some of the challenges they're facing.

What an experience this is!

One last thing. You've heard about the terrorist attacks including the one in Istanbul yesterday in which a group of German tourists were killed. You've heard about the assaults and thefts in Köln (Cologne) on New Year's Eve. You've probably also heard about right-wing neo-nazi types protesting about having so many refugees in Germany and burning down facilities that either are being used or are intended to be used for temporarily housing refugees. What you undoubtedly haven't heard of - unless you live here in Germany - are the many, many Germans who are reaching out, getting involved, and volunteering in their communities to help refugees. Groups are popping up all over and organizing getting-to-know-you coffees or meals, arranging talks with speakers who help the Germans and the refugees understand each other better, and finding ways to help the refugees integrate. Retired teachers are coming back into the classroom to teach basic German, churches and community centers are offering available space for German classes, tutoring, and for doing homework in a quiet place. I could go on and on.

The refugees with whom I have spoken have said their impressions of the Germans they have met face-to-face are very positive. Locals have helped them learn about the way of life here, the grocery store routine, visiting a doctor, introducing them to local dishes, showing them around, inviting them to join a Fußball (soccer) team, tutoring them in German, and answering the many questions they have, like "Why are there suddenly red and white flag banners hanging around the streets of Horb?"

Oh lordy...Fasnet/Fasching is coming.

It is wonderful to see what people can do when they are not blinded by fear and prejudice. I just want my faraway readers to know that there is a lot of good going on here in Germany, despite the fact that the press usually prefers to report on the bad.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dreikönigstag 20*C+M+B+16

For long-time readers, this is an old post slightly edited and updated for this year with new photos taken moments ago.

Today is Dreikönigstag, Epiphany, which signals the end of the Christmas holidays here in Germany. Tomorrow regular work resumes for those who didn't already have to be back earlier this week, though classes don't resume in Baden-Württemberg schools until Monday.  In the States, school and work resumed on Jan. 4th - as soon after New Year's Day as possible.

On Dreikönigstag here in southern Germany, groups of children called Sternsinger go from house to house dressed in kingly costumes and carrying a lighted star. They sing a song, recite a poem about the three kings, write a blessing on the door frame, and collect a donation for a charity.  People they visit may also give them a treat - some chocolate, candy, etc. - to give them energy to carry on through the day. In our little village several groups of children are deployed with their adult chaperones to every house. Most people are home to greet them because today is a stiller Feiertag (holiday) in Baden-Württemberg.

This year's group was adorable! They sang very well and had their lines memorized, and they seemed to appreciate our donation and the nibblies.

The blessing they write on the door frame is (this year) 20*C+M+B+16.  Each piece of the blessing has a meaning.

    20...16 is the current year.
    The * represents the Star of Bethlehem.
    C M B stands for Christus Mansionem Benedicat** ("Christ Bless this House" in Latin)
    The three crosses represent the trinity.

**It is a common misconception that the C M B stands for the initials of the names of the three kings, which coincidentally are Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar.

The blessing stays on the door until the next Dreikönigstag, when the entire blessing is wiped off and rewritten for the new year.

I truly love this tradition, and I got giddy when I heard their footsteps on the front porch! It brings closure to the Christmas season in a really nice way. If I could send one holiday tradition to America, I'd send this one.

After the Sternsinger leave, it's time to take down Christmas. The decorations go back into their boxes, the tree branches get cut off and placed over garden plants to protect them against the cold, the tree trunk gets chopped up and put in the garage to use for firewood in 2 years when it's dry (because nothing gets wasted or thrown out in Swabia!), and the nativity scene gets packed away until next December. This year we're actually going to wait a bit; our neighbors told us just the other day and my Schwiegermutter confirmed it that the Catholic tradition is to wait until Mariä Lichtmess (Candlemas - February 2nd) to take down Christmas!

It was a lovely Advent and Christmas season, and I am always a little sad to pack up the decorations. I so enjoy the lights on the outside of the house, our lighted Christmas star and tree, and the general cheer of Christmas decorations.

I've enjoyed reading other bloggers' end-of-year and/or New Year's posts, and although I probably won't write one of those since I'm too much a realist for resolutions or personal goals, I should be able to come up with something interesting to write about in the next few weeks.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Loving Southern Germany 4: The Holidays

As I have written before, southern Germany has been historically predominantly Catholic. Although I don't know a lot of Germans who regularly attend church, Christianity is deeply imbedded in the culture and way of life here. Every town I know of still holds its Catholic or Protestant identity, and the locals know which towns are which. Eutingen is Catholic. Mühlen, 3 km away, is Protestant. Freudenstadt is Protestant as is Esslingen. Horb is Catholic.

This does not mean that Catholics are not welcome in Protestant towns - just that, in most cases, during the Reformation and especially the 30 Years' War (1618-1648), it was decided through battles, bribes, or the citizens' preference which religion the town would support.

The point of this post is not a lesson in religious history, however. The importance of the fact that southern Germany is more Catholic than Protestant is that we have, in Baden-Württemberg, more public holidays connected to religion than the poor saps in the north. Up there my birthday is not a holiday, but in the south it is. Ok, it's not a holiday because it's my birthday, but because it's Allerheiligen (All Saints' Day). There's at least one other holiday here that they don't have up north, but I keep forgetting which one that is. Fronleichnam (Corpus Christi), perhaps. Most schools around us also have a week off during the nuttiness of Fasnet/Fasching, which is unusual north of Köln. Oh, and of course Dreikönigstag is not a holiday up there either!

Schmotziger Donnerstag, or Dirty Thursday

The way the southern Germans do holidays is something I truly appreciate, and it is very different from the way Americans do holidays. This is one of the many reasons I love living in southern Germany.

die Sternsinger on Epiphany

Right now in the U.S., Christmas is over. School resumes tomorrow, and it would have started yesterday - on January 2nd - if it hadn't been a Saturday. On December 26th I saw quite a few Facebook posts beginning with "Now that Christmas is over..."  Here in Germany December 26th is the second day of Christmas, and it's a holiday. Remember that holidays here mean all stores - including grocery stores - are closed. Christmas isn't "over" in southern Germany until the day after Dreikönigstag (Epiphany), which is January 6th. This year the powers that be in Baden-Württemberg decided not to send kids back to school on a Thursday, so classes resume on January 11th.

Later in the year both Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are holy days and again, everything is closed. Altogether we have 12 holidays during the year when businesses and stores are closed (only three of those are non-religious), though I guess Easter Sunday doesn't have to count because stores and businesses are always closed on Sundays.

I don't know of a single day during the year when stores are closed all day in the U.S.. Holidays are a time to draw people into the stores for at least a few hours with holiday sales. It would certainly convenient to have grocery stores open in the morning of Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Day, but we manage just fine by carefully planning ahead.

On Silvester (New Year's Eve) there are several fun traditions, and the night ends with fireworks at midnight. Some cities have professional displays, but many people buy little ones in the day or two before Silvester and shoot them off from home. We don't spend money on such things, but we go outside at midnight and watch the neighborhood show with a glass of Sekt and sparklers.

Bleigießen - melting chunks of lead and dropping it into cold water.
It solidifies into a shape that should look like something. 
While all three of mine looked like sperms, I'm going to call them arrows.
My Schwiegermutter asked me this year if there are any New Year's Eve traditions in America, but I couldn't come up with anything except watching the ball drop in Times Square on TV. Friends or family get together for a party and usually lots of drinking and couples kiss at midnight, but that's it as far as I know. It's fun, and there's nothing wrong with the way Americans celebrate New Year's. The important thing is being together with loved ones and ringing in the New Year.

This was yet another long-winded post intended to say that another reason I love living in southern Germany is that holidays are truly holy days and even M doesn't have to be in the office as early or as long as usual. His employees don't return until Thursday this week (the day after Epiphany), and many other German companies operate with a skeleton crew between Christmas Eve and Epiphany. Even for those who are back to work normally as of January 2nd, Epiphany is a holiday.

Anyway, holidays are great - quiet, relaxing, enjoyable - in southern Germany. And that is the fourth reason I love living here.

Loving Southern Germany 1: Beautfiful Towns
Loving Southern Germany 2: The Landscape
Loving Southern Germany 3: The Food