Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Mom's Visit

This month's Highs and Lows post is being supplanted by the following because 1.) I didn't have any lows this month - seriously, not one! - and 2.) most of my highs had to do with my mom's visit from the U.S..

While my dad is trekking and sight-seeing in the Himalayas, my mom popped over for a visit with us for almost two weeks. She arrived a week ago today, and one of the nicest things about her visit is that nothing is rushed. She has no "official" reason for being here - no cruise or other European vacation, no official exchange business, no parties to attend.

What this means is that my mom has spent some days seeing my life and what I do from day to day. This often includes hours of "down time" - she's taking a nap as I write this. We've been relaxing to the point of being dull some days, but everything we have done has been really enjoyable so far! There's more to come next week, but here's what we've done in the last week.

Good Meals

M and I have enjoyed cooking together for her.
Maultaschen in Brühe
Rouladen in the making

Rouladen mit Nudeln
(This is an older picture with Spätzle, but for my mom we made homemade noodles with our pasta press)

Spargel Überbacken
White asparagus with ham & cheese in a white wine-butter sauce
Züricher Geschnetzeltes und Rösti - one of our favorites
Forewarning if you ever plan to visit us: this is not a low-fat household and we don't know what to do for vegetarians. We cook everything from scratch, though, and buy as much from local farmers as possible. But it's all about the meat.

Bounty from Wisconsin

My mom brought a whole bunch of things I'd asked for, plus one surprise - a Marguerite Henry book I fondly remember from my youth, Five O'Clock Charlie! This was a gift from the son and daughter-in-law of my grandmother's sister. I associate this book with memories of my mom's Aunt June, because I always found it on her shelf and read it cover to cover when I visited.

Other items pictured: cutting boards in the shape of Wisconsin, refrigerator magnets and tea towels of Wisconsin and Sheboygan, Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate chips, a scarf my dad bought me in Argentina, a silicone pot scrubber, and Baker's string cheese (there are no words for how much I love this string cheese, bought fresh from the factory near my hometown (and then frozen for the overseas journey). The Wisconsin-themed items are for when I have occasion to give a gift and want to give something from the homeland.


On Monday we drove to Esslingen (I drove!!) to have a lunch meeting with friends who are in charge of the Esslingen-Sheboygan exchange and then met for ice cream and a chat with the Sheboygan, Wisconsin exchange students who are spending five months in Esslingen.

Kaffee und Kuchen

On Tuesday we drove to the Spargelhof in Bondorf where I always buy our asparagus - picked that morning - and in the afternoon we met six of my (former) students from Syria and Eritrea at a café in Horb for coffee. I was definitely looking forward to introducing them to my mom, and we had a lovely afternoon!

Moms Geburtstag!

Wednesday was my mom's 74th birthday, and she was treated to a lazy morning while I went to M's office for the English lesson. In the afternoon we picked up my Schwiegermutter from the Bahnhof, and in the evening we all four had a wonderful dinner at Straub's Krone.

 P.S. No, that is not a missing apostrophe in "Moms Geburtstag". In German possessives do not take apostrophes.  

our mums
friends since 1987, 19 years before their kids got married!
creme brulee with a birthday candle

American vs. British English

My mom and Schwiegermutter came with me to my Englisch-AG (where I teach conversational English at a school for students with mild learning disabilities), and we did several activities focusing on the differences between American and "proper" English, as I often call the two languages. It often seems true that Americans and Brits are "separated by a common language" (George Bernard Shaw)!

Ancestors' House in Nöttingen

On Thursday I drove my mom and Schwiegermutter to Nöttingen, where we met the couple living in the house my great-great-great-great grandfather built in 1797. They are such warm and gracious people! They had prepared for us delicious homemade cakes as well as a CD full of information about the village and the house - including details about the renovations they've done. The house is under Denkmalschutz, and when they gave us a tour they pointed out the parts of the structure that are original. They helped us visualize what the house and rooms looked like when Jacob Jung lived there.

a painting of the house done by a relative of the current owners


My ladies' riding lesson is on Friday mornings, and my mom was kind enough to come along and snap a few photos despite it being a bit cold. This was nice for me because I could finally have some pictures of me with Mallory, the little horse I ride most often.

Syrisches Essen

On Friday afternoon we were invited to the home where several of my Syrian students live, and they cooked for us several Syrian dishes: Taboule, Freekeh, and a dessert. The food was delicious, and the Deurabisch (Deutsch-English-Arabisch) conversation was very interesting! We talked about religion, customs in Germany, Syria, and the US, their journeys from Syria to Germany, and their hometowns. They showed us on Google Maps where they used to live (much of which has been destroyed by the war). Several of these men lived in villages outside of Damascus just a few kilometers from each other, but they first met when they arrived in this tiny German village back in September 2015.

Pre-Mom's-Visit Highs

The following highs happened before my mom arrived...
  • meeting one of my students twice for several hours so that he could tell me his story - of his life in Syria before the war and his journey from Syria through the Balkan route to Germany. His complete story is too long for a blog post, and since I will be talking listening to my other students and some of their friends as well, this may well be the start of a new project!

  • our sixth Kochkurs at Straub's Krone, this time focusing on SpargelWildkräuter, and Rhabarber.

That's it for April! I hope you had a good month as well!

    Saturday, April 16, 2016

    A Soggy Swabian Saturday

    Due to a lack of ideas lately but inspired a post by Courtney from Welcome to Germerica, I thought I'd try a "day in the life" post. Saturdays in Swabia are mainly about working around one's home and Hof, so I thought I could also use this as incentive to be busier than I usually am. Spring is upon us, so there's plenty of Gartenarbeit to keep us busy, and of course there's the Kehrwoche, which should be taken care of today.

    Mother Nature had other plans for us, however. It rained all morning, which meant that indoor work was the new plan for the day. There's always plenty of that, of course.

    First things first, though. A cup or two of coffee, a check for emails, and a look at the weekend newspaper.

    I had also received an SMS (text message) from my dad, who is trekking in the Himalayas with our 80-year-old friend. He said they had an exhausting day of hiking today but had made it to their lodge. While I got caught up on the news, M watched the qualifying for this weekend's Formula-1 race in China.

    After the qualifying M went to the office to do his Saturday jobs which happily didn't involve cleaning up cat puke, along with a few other tasks that are hard to get done during the week when the phone is ringing constantly.

    For me the next order of business after getting cleaned up and ready for the day was a walk to the butcher, since they close at 12:30 on Saturdays and I had lazed away too much of the morning already.

    Still raining, hence the umbrella. The butcher is only an 8-minute walk from home, though, and there's no way I'd drive there regardless of weather.

    I always pick up the weekly Lukullus magazine at the butcher, which has a different theme every week and ideas for recipes. Since Spargelsaison started locally on Thursday, this issue was very timely.

    I took some time to have a snack and look through the magazine when I got home. There isn't a recipe in there that sounds as tempting as the one we like best, but we might try one or two anyway.

    Since there was no more delaying it, it was time to start tidying up and cleaning the house. It's thoroughly embarrassing that I cannot manage to keep the house clean and tidy for more than a few days. I keep wondering "How hard can it be - just always put everything where it belongs when you return home from somewhere, and work on one thing at a time." And yet still, the clutter reigns and the house looks in disarray.

    I threw in a load of laundry (because the washer needs nearly three hours and the dryer another 2) and started in the bathroom, which is the job I hate the most. A Swabian isn't supposed to whine about cleaning, though, so I restricted myself to an occasional dramatic sigh.

    When M returned home he tackled the monster windows in the Wintergarten, which had been too long neglected.

    I did the ones in the bedrooms, which was a much smaller and quicker job. But housework is boring to write and read about, so what else is there to do on a Saturday when it's raining?

    Around 14:00 I checked Facebook and emails again knowing my peeps in the U.S. would be starting to awaken. Then I laid out my after-chores reading plan.

    The May Garten magazine arrived the other day, so I looked through that for seasonal instructions and ideas in the hopes of killing fewer plants than I did last year. Then it was time to see what's on special at Real next week and write my grocery list. After that I started writing to my daughter about my experience at the Ausländeramt the other day, and I intended to finish by reviewing some German.  There are still too many things I cannot confidently say in German, and it's getting disturbing.

    Dinner tonight was leftover grilled vegetables and steak (Entrecôte) from last night, which was absolutely delicious but not photo-worthy.

    I'm sort of between books right now, so I'm not sure yet what I'll be reading in the evening while M watches TV. Since my afternoon didn't include a nap, which is quite unusual for me, I'll probably fall asleep on the sofa while pretending to read.

    Update: Shortly after I wrote that last paragraph I fell asleep on the sofa. I'm probably good to go now for the rest of the evening and might be able to stay awake until bedtime.

    After dinner we watched "die Pferdeprofis", a show in which two horse trainers help horses overcome their people problems. I like this show, maybe just because I get to watch horses for 45 minutes, but one thing bothers me every time. The male trainer never wears a helmet when he rides, nor do any of his assistants, I think that's a bad example to set, and it makes me grumble. He usually works with horses and people who do western riding, but still.

    I'm finishing the evening with a combination of German learning, writing, and reading. M is watching a celebrity Völkerball tournament, which is kind of like dodgeball, and channel surfing when that gets boring, but he mutes the TV for me when he steps out.

    Next Saturday I'll be picking up my mom at the Stuttgart airport because she's visiting for two weeks!

    What did you do today? Did you have a good and productive day?

    Wednesday, April 13, 2016

    Another Swabian Compliment

    I've written about Schwäbische Komplimente before, and I assume my readers trust me that I wasn't exaggerating. M dished out a spontaneous one the other evening that I thought I would share.

    Let me premise it by saying that M doesn't really enjoy baked chicken for dinner. It's not that he doesn't like chicken, but more that it isn't a juicy steak. I like making it, though, because it's a meal I can do without any help from him, I can start it in the late afternoon so it will be ready by the time he gets home from the office, and the recipe I use is very easy, resulting in tender, juicy chicken every time. What's also great about it is that I can use the leftover chicken for a pasta salad or quesadillas the next evening and make a broth out of the carcas. But to M it's still "just chicken".


    While I was teaching the DaF class for the past few months, I wasn't home in the afternoons and therefore couldn't make any roasts or meals that required lots of prep. When he playfully grumbled about the time I was taking in the evenings planning lessons and writing worksheets, I'd usually say, "Well, look on the bright side - at least you don't have to eat chicken!"

    Now the class is finished, and I'm back to planning meals like I have for the past 3 years. Last week one of those meals was baked chicken, potatoes, and glazed carrots. M crinkled up his nose and I said, "Bet you wish I were still teaching, don't you?"

    After the meal he very genuinely thanked me for cooking, and added:
    "Since we haven't had chicken in so long, it wasn't even....."

    He let the rest of his Swabian compliment disintegrate into the wind with a sheepish grin, but his meaning was clear. To be honest, I hadn't expected such high praise!

    He accepts that I will bake a chicken for dinner every now and then, and I accept that he doesn't love it like many of the other meals we make. Since Spargelsaison opens tomorrow, we're about to spoil ourselves royally, and there won't be another chicken on our table for quite a while.

    Bring on the Spargel!!

    Friday, April 1, 2016

    Aprilscherz / April Fools

    Today is April 1st. In Germany that means the various newspapers, news media, young people, and groups will be pulling pranks, telling lies and laughing about it afterwards, etc. If you read or hear something that sounds unbelievable today, it just might be.

    School isn't in session right now because of the Easter holidays, so that means kids old enough to stay home unattended are on the loose to wreak whatever havoc on their neighbors and community they can conjure up while they're staring at their Smartphones. That doesn't usually amount to much around here, but it is a good idea to keep an eye out for mischief-makers.

    During the night of my first April 1st here in Germany, some local kids were apparently out TP-ing. I kid you not, I woke up to this horror the following morning on the path just opposite our front gate:

    toilet-papering, Swabian style
    I admit, the above photo is a reenactment, since I didn't think to take a picture of the actual evidence that morning. There were also individual scraps of paper scattered sparsely about on the street to accentuate the villains' work. This was annoying, because of course it rained in the wee hours of the morning.

    This is how the rotten little hoodlums do it in Wisconsin:

    My daughter looks "thrilled" because it was her classmates (and my students)
    who did this, but she helped clean up the mess.
    Haha. That's Reason #2 of at least 30 why, as a teacher, I hated Homecoming. This is an age-old "tradition" for teenagers in the Wisconsin, and it is a perfectly fitting example of some Americans' absolute disregard for waste (of time, money, and resources). Sure, TP disintegrates quickly, but as you can imagine or have experienced for yourself, it's a pain in the ass to clean up. The other thing the little parasites often do is stick hundreds of plastic forks in their victims' lawns and break off the handles, throwing those on the ground. And of course we filled six or seven plastic yard waste bags (that's right, in US cities natural yard waste that could decompose if disposed of properly is stuffed into large heavy-duty plastic garbage bags, which are then taken by the city waste disposal crew) that morning before I had to go and pretend I gave half a shit about a high school football game.

    News blurbs from today, which are related to a blog post I wrote less than two weeks ago, that are not but sound like Aprilscherze:

    • As of today in all of Germany, plastic bags are supposed to cost consumers some pocket change (10 to 20 cents each) in an effort to reduce their use and impact on the environment. So far this is voluntary, and some stores and businesses may still decide not to participate. This news comes less than two weeks after lawmakers in Wisconsin voted to ban potential future bans on the free distribution of plastic bags in stores. Keep that filth coming, folks!

    • Related to the above story, several Germans were interviewed coming out of stores, and they called the action of charging for plastic bags "absolut richtig" - absolutely appropriate. According to the report, 80% of Germans support charging for plastic bags, and 30% think they should not even be available at all. These are not "tree-huggers," my friends. These are people who are environmantally conscious and aware.

    • In Finland and Denmark, the average person uses four plastic bags per year. The average German uses 71 plastic bags and the EU wants to reduce that number to 40 by the year 2025. In the U.S., the average family brings home 1500 plastic bags a year.

    • The fabulous bakery in the next town is expanding their efforts to encourage customers to reduce waste. As of today they are offering a free Brezel to anyone who returns the paper bags the bakery uses to wrap bread, rolls, etc. If you think a pretzel isn't worth the hassle of saving and returning bags, you haven't ever eaten one from this family-owned bakery! Unlike the other bakeries in the area, they still make their products from scratch and on site rather than from industrial-produced dough delivered on a truck.
    Update: Although the Plaz bakery hasn't fessed up yet, I actually think this one is indeed an Aprilscherz, since their announcement says the returned (paper) bags need to be clean and ironed. I'm amending rather than deleting that bit because I can admit I fell for an April Fool's jest! (They do, however, offer a reduced price for coffee to those who bring their own mugs. That story was in yesterday's paper).

    I am going to see if I can start today and go the rest of the year without acquiring any new plastic bags. I'm part Finnish, after all, how hard can this be?

    What is one new thing you can do for the rest of the year (and by then it will have become habit) that will reduce waste and have a positive effect on the environment?