Saturday, July 30, 2016

Highs and Lows July 2016

The early edition...

I haven't written much lately because I'm busy with teaching and failing at keeping the homestead in good shape. I've had things to say/write, but little energy to write them well, so instead I spend my evenings creating lesson plans and worksheets, reviewing the passive voice, and lying on the sofa with my cold fluffy pillow watching "the Mentalist" or "Big Bang Theory".

However, as always there were highs and lows this month, and I like reflecting at the end of the month on what's been going on - especially the positive things.


  • the C1 (Deutsch als Fremdsprache / German as a Foreign Language) test. It was a good experience, and I passed it!!

  • meeting a college friend of mine and three colleagues of his in Esslingen and giving them a tour of my favorite German city! It was my first official tour of Esslingen and so much fun! They were interested in what I had to tell them, were very enthusiastic about the places and views I showed them, and if they enjoyed it half as much as I did, then it was a near-perfect evening.

  • the arrival in Esslingen of four young exchange students from Sheboygan, WI (my hometown).

  • chaperoning this group and their German partners on a day trip to Ulm and leading the "Stadtführung Lite". They all joined me on the climb up the tallest church steeple in the world, and most of them went all the way to the tippy-top  (768 steps) while I waited at the third lookout platform.

The students climbed this; I did not.
  • my daughter's 23rd birthday
  • my son's 21st birthday three days later

  • another day trip with the student group to Tübingen, my second favorite German city.

  • seeing two of my former students at a film showing about Syria: before and since the war. I sat next to one of them, and during the "before" part it was so nice to hear him talk about his homeland. When a picture came up, he leaned over and told me what it was I was seeing. The "since" portion was heart-breaking, though.

  • finding out that in August I might be able to take over an integration course at the local VHS from a teacher who is going on family leave. The best part about this is that two of my former students are in this class, along with two other Syrians I know from another class at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg and the Sprachcafé! I am just waiting for official permission to teach at the VHS level.

  • in preparation for the above, taking a practice Einbürgerungstest (German citizenship test) and scoring 90% on my first try before starting to study. 56% is needed to pass. I just took that online practice test and scored 93%. Those darn colors pertaining to various political parties will get me every time - except for the Green party; I nailed that one.  The other wrong answer was a stupid misread of the question.

    Want to try your hand at the US Citizenship test? That one has 96 questions, so it will take a few minutes. I scored 92%. Here's a shorter one. Apparently the actual test is not multiple choice, but rather an oral test. The candidate is asked 10 questions, and she or he must answer at least six of them correctly.

    The pool of questions for the US test is 100 (from which the interviewer asks 10). The pool of questions for the German test is 310, from which 33 are asked (the last three are state-specific), and 17 need to be answered correctly.

    Back in 2008, all 310 questions appeared in the newspaper, and M copied the list and sent it to me. I still have this list, so handy that it took me less than two minutes to find it! It was one of those "I bet I'll need this some day" things, and sure enough.
my study material for the next few weeks
Update: I finished this book/workbook today.
  • receiving an email from one of my former Syrian students. He was just checking in and letting me know what he's been doing lately, about the integration class he's taking, and asked how I was. It's always so nice to hear from these students!


  • the shooting in München on my daughter's birthday. Although this happens so often in the US that it hardly makes the news anymore, this type of crime is rare in Germany because the gun laws are quite strict. The shooter (an 18-year-old German-Iranian boy who had trouble in school and presumed psychological problems) had been researching mass shootings and acquired his weapon illegally - the serial number was scratched off. It also turns out that, despite knee-jerk reports that he was Muslim and shouted "Allah...", it now appears that he was a racist neo-nazi (I'm not going to capitalize that) who hated foreigners and Muslims.

  • finishing our tour of Ulm and arriving in plenty of time at the Bahnhof to catch our train back to Esslingen, and seeing on the schedule display that our train wasn't running that day. Why? No idea, no information. Waiting another hour for the next train.

  • the Republican convention, though this could be a high because most of what I watched about it was from late night comedy, and those guys are hilarious. I just didn't hear anything about or from the convention that could be viewed as positive. Hatred, paralyzing fear, the economy is in the toilet, and the world is going to hell - those are the messages I heard. I read something the other day about the dire state of the economy - the writer advised people to turn off the news, go outside and look around their neighborhoods and cities. Where is the evidence of the economic crisis? Are houses being built? Are gas prices low? Are people still driving SUVs? Are businesses advertising "Help Wanted"? Are people still loading carts full at the grocery store? Shopping in malls? Going on vacation?

  • learning on the day of the film showing about Syria that the US had had dropped bombs on and killed several families - more than 50 people - near the town of Aleppo, having mistakenly identified them as IS fighters.

  • reading a news story about a former student of mine from my first year of teaching at my last school in Wisconsin. I remember him well. He was one of the participants on my first trip to Germany with teenage students (17 of them!), and he was one of the good ones - great sense of humor, well-behaved, and just generally nice and thoughtful. I learned this month that he committed a heinous crime in Virginia - attacking a couple (the husband had just fired my former student's wife), slashing their throats, and leaving them for dead. He was apprehended and tried, and he was sentenced to 2 life terms in prison. How does a kind, funny, thoughtful, intelligent kid from a Christian family end up there 15 years after high school?

    I wrote a blog post about it but just couldn't publish it.

Since I don't like ending with negative things, I will close with this fat little brown bunny with floppy ears (Schlappohren) in a teacup.

Have a great August!!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Martinisms III

It's been more than a year since I last wrote a post about how my husband keeps me laughing, and since what's going on in the world these days is just too heavy to write about, I thought it was time for another installment of Martinisms.

Here is my sometimes sardonic, dark-humored, witty Swabian husband on...

Swabian Frugality

I was reading one of my many books about Swabians and the Swabian dialect, and I commented:

    B: "This book is so old, "a Zehnerle" is translated as "ein 10-Pfennig-Stück."*
    M: "Well, Swabians still have plenty of those."

*the Pfennig was the currency (coin) in Germany before the Euro came to circulatory life in 2002.



After seeing a preview to a doctor drama TV show...

    B: "Ooh, that would be nice, waking up to a doctor as good-looking as that leaning over me!"
    M: "Sure, until you find out he only treats privately-insured patients."

Dr. Gonzo Gates (Gregory Harrison) - I had a major crush on him
in my youth.  Photo from Pinterest

Wordless Martinism

M was grilling, and I was sitting at the patio table reading a book.

    B: "I'd like you to know that I just had a question I decided not to ask because I'm not supposed to chit-chat by the grill."

    (M grins but is otherwise silent.  Silence.  More silence. I read on for a moment.)

    B: "You should also know that I'm not at all surprised that you did not just now ask what my question was."

Bucket Lists

Every now and then we discuss things that have to be done with the house in case I outlive M. There are tons of things he takes care of that I don't have a clue about and need to learn!

    M: "We have to pay property taxes."
    B:  "That's not automatic? How often?"
    M: "Every 3 months. I can probably set that up to be automatic."
    B:  "Take care of that know..."
    M: "Ok, can you put that on my bucket list?"
    B:  "That's not exactly what a bucket list is for."

Biblical Geography

Every now and then we have a Biblical dispute.

    B:  "Jesus was crucified at Calvary."
    M: "No, it was Golgatha."
    B:  "No, really, it WAS Calvary. I left the church long after you did*, and I know this."

Turns out Calvary is Golgatha. Who knew?

*In Germany if you declare being of a specific religion, you pay a church tax (8% of one's income tax in our state), so I abnegated the whole business.
Stadtkirche, Esslingen


I was reading a book in which this Latin phrase appeared, and I know M took Latin in school...

    B:  "Do you know what 'Caput tuum in ano est' means?"
    M:  [ponders...]  "Head of yours, in ass is."  [Your head is up your ass.]
    B:  "No way! How do you say, 'Head of HIS, in ass is'?"
    M: "Hm...'Caput suum in anus est.'  No wait!  ' ANO est.' Because it's locative."
    B:  "Of course it is."   (Thinks: "What the hell is 'locative'?")

Anger Management

While snacking on a fresh warm pretzel with butter (Butterbrezel):

    M: "I don't know how you Americans manage without being able to have a Butterbrezel every now and then."
          [Munch, munch]  "That's probably why you need guns."


While watching some TV show in which work had stopped because one character refused to apologize for something...

    B: "Why on earth wouldn't the guy just say 'I'm sorry' if that's what it takes to move on and get a job done?"
    M: "It makes our balls shrivel to apologize to another alpha male."


    B: "There's been quite a bit of drama lately that I haven't told you about. Your mom will assume you know about it, 
           though, so if you want, on the way to Esslingen I can tell you."
    M: "Or I can just shake my head knowingly."

Pretty Little Lies

We had a darling little hedgehog visit our house last year, and when we saw him the second time, I named him George. During a particularly cold spell at the end of April after it snowed...

    B:  "Poor George! His toes must be cold! He could have died from the cold."
    M: "Yes, he could have."
    B:  [with a shocked, indignant look] "That's not what you're supposed to say!"
    M: "Uh, oh....sorry. I....he...I'm sure he's fine."


Marital Bliss

A few weeks ago we attended the wedding of one of M's employees. At the beginning of the ceremony, when the lad was standing in front of the church waiting for his bride to appear....
    B:  (feeling all sentimental) "I wonder if he'll cry."
    M: "Well, sooner or later, he will."


On a Sunday while M was at the office briefly, I vacuumed the kitchen floor. He came home in the middle of my crime.

    M: "What will the neighbors think?! Vacuuming with the windows open on Sunday..."
    B:  "Look, if I have a dirty floor on a Sunday, I'm going to sweep my floor on a Sunday."
    M: "No one would object if you'd swept the floor..."

I have a Word document where I save all these gems, and it's 8 pages long by now! Some of them are...ähm...not for public viewing, and others I've censored out because you really have to know us well to understand why I can laugh at some of his comments. The most important thing, though, is that we laugh a lot together and enjoy each day.

I hope you have a good laugh today!!

For more of his humor:
  Martinisms I
  Martinisms II

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

July High

I'm a permanent resident of Germany, Baby!!!

Residency Permit - unlimited!

I picked up my unbefristete Niederlassungserlaubnis this morning, which says I can stay as long as I want to, unless:
  1. I get deported (for, for instance, bad behavior),
  2. I leave the country in a way or for a purpose that is, ipso facto, not temporary, or
  3. I leave the country and do not return within six months.
I'm pretty sure I'm good on all those accounts. I don't intend to misbehave, although I do occasionally forget my Kehrwoche and have been known to vacuum during the Mittagsruhe. I surely won't remain away for more than six months voluntarily, and I can't even imagine a way or purpose of leaving that would be ipso facto not temporary.

This makes me wonder just a little bit about the Muslims living in America who were either born there or who naturalized. Trump says he'll round them up and boot them out. Do they not have something like my Niederlassungserlaubnis? Especially the Muslims who were born in America and who are U.S. citizens with U.S. passports...can he really kick those folks out because they practice the wrong religion? (Obviously he can't, which makes one wonder why he keeps saying he can.)

Luckily the leader of Germany does not have that power, so regardless of whether I practice the right relgion, the wrong one, or none at all, I cannot be kicked out because of my beliefs. 

Since M also picked up his renewed deutscher* Reisepass (passport) this morning, we celebrated tonight with a beef tenderloin cooked sous vide- style then grilled, and Bratkartoffeln (because I'm in charge of the sides and my skills are limited). I'm going to claim we also had a  healthy salad with the meal.

It was farking delicious and perfectly cooked to my preference of "the light side of medium." Why would I ever go out for steak again?  Oh, and we have leftovers for tomorrow because I bought more than twice what you see here. It was on sale this week.

Now the Portugal-Wales soccer game is on, so it's time to close. I am so rooting for Wales!! Their passion and energy is inspiring, and I like to cheer for the team that is not necessarily expected to win (unless that team is playing against Germany).

Good night, y'all!

*M has dual citizenship, so he also has a British passport. But he's going to wait and see what the hell happens over there before he goes through the hassle of renewing that one.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Proud to be an American?

photo credit: Sophie S.
Today is the 4th of July - the USA's Independence Day. I think it's a strange day for many US-American expats. We're used to having the day off as well as an excuse to party with the neighbors. There's usually a parade during the day and fireworks at night. Americans all around the country are wearing their Old Glory t-shirts and patriotic flip-flops, and the radio stations play and replay every patriotic song they have on file.

Over here in southern Germany, school is still in session and it's a regular working day. It's easy to forget it's such an important day in the US.

As I was baking chocolate chip cookies yesterday morning to give to my students as a 4th of July treat along with some little flag decorations, I started thinking about the idea of being "proud to be an American."

The short version is that I am not. But the opposite of proud is ashamed, and I'm not that either.

Here's the thing.

A number of years ago, I asked M if he was proud to be German. His response was something I'd never considered before, but it made a lot of sense to me: "Why would I be proud of something I had no control over?" He said he can feel proud of something he accomplished, or an ability he has, or reaching a goal, but being born German was not an achievement. It was dumb luck.

I am proud of my ability to speak a second language tolerably well and make Bratkartoffeln, I'm proud of working to overcome enough of my fear of driving in Germany to be able to drive to and from Esslingen when I must, I'm proud of my children and their accomplishments, and I'm pleased and proud to be able to say that my students seem to think I'm a pretty good teacher most of the time.

The reason I'm an American, though, is because I was born to American parents living in America. I'm no prouder of that than I am of my blue eyes and "dirty-dishwater-blonde" (now graying) hair, or that I am 163cm tall. That's just the way it is, and I had no say in the matter. I am American through no effort on my part. Am I glad I was born into this American family? Definitely! I have lived a very privileged life and can complain about nothing. I have always had a place to call "home" and clean water to drink and bathe in, my parents saw to it that I had a great education, I've had a job when I've needed one, I have not had my home devasted by bombs, I have not had to live in a refugee camp, and my country is not under attack. I was lucky to be born in America.

I don't understand, though, why so many seem obsessed with being "proud to be an American" and shaming those who don't feel the same way. "America is the greatest country in the world." Oh really? What makes it so? Because Americans say it is? Because America ranks fifth on the "Countries with the highest quality of life" scale? I actually think Germany is pretty great, and Scotland too. What makes a person go around saying the country s/he was born in or lives in is the greatest in the world? Isn't it enough to say you're glad you live in America and are happy there?

The only time I've heard a German say that Germany was the best was in a song by die Prinzen (which I happen to love) dripping with satire and irony.

Flying the flag is cool if that's your thing, but it's not mine and I won't fly it except for fun. (We don't fly the German flag either - we're just not flag-flyers.) If we ever have a July 4th theme party, I've got plenty of things in the basement for decorating. But it's unseemly in Germany to fly national flags except during a soccer tournament. Nationalism is frowned upon here, and that's fine with me. The only time you can find German flag themed items in a store is during an international soccer tournament. The display offers all kinds of fan articles as long as Germany is still in the tournament, but as soon as they're out or they've won, POOF! the stuff is gone with shocking swiftness. When our village flies the German flag at the town hall, there is always a notice in the local newsletter several days beforehand explaining why the flag will be flown. At the town hall. Imagine Americans feeling the need to explain why they're putting up the flag when they do so. Imagine a governmental building or school in America without a big American flag out front. It's inconceivable.

I'm wearing my American flag t-shirt and earrings today (but also my Germany bracelet because we beat Italy on Saturday in the European Championship quarter finals!!), I'm bringing American flag napkins along for serving the typical American cookies I baked, and I've written a trivia game for my Englisch-AG students about the USA for class today.

It's all in good fun, and I am using the American holiday as an excuse to bring in a treat to share. But please don't ask me if I am proud to be an American. I don't need to be proud of something I didn't accomplish.

All the same, I wish my fellow Americans a Happy Fourth of July!!

Friday, July 1, 2016


I took the German Telc (The European Language Certificates) test today - level C1, which is the level one would need to pass in order to study at a German university. I took the test because passing it could enable me to be certified to teach Integrationskurse (integration classes for foreigners)  in Germany. The results won't come in for about four weeks, so by the time they arrive I will have forgotten about the test. At least it's behind me.

What a strange position to be in - as  teacher of beginning German courses (both back in the US and more recently at the language school here in Horb) I have written and graded many tests, but I haven't taken a test in a good many years! I haven't missed that old once-familiar feeling of tightness in the chest, a queasy stomach, a fuzzy head, and that voice inside screaming...
For the love of God, do NOT embarrass yourself!!
It's crazy the number of things that can cause a person Prüfungsangst, or test anxiety. Usually it's feeling unprepared, something unexpected coming up the morning of the test, not sleeping well the night before, realizing your lucky shirt is in the wash, or oversleeping and having to skip the most important meal of the day. For me it was one little thing: a pencil.

I HATE writing with a pencil. The sound of that lead pick scratching on a piece of paper is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, though ironically the fingernail thing doesn't bother me, I can handle a very sharp pencil for a few moments, but after no more than 8 words, I need to sharpen it. Today I had to fill in 75 little scan-tronny bubbles (not a problem, though I can only hope I pressed hard enough for the grading machine to read my answers) and then write 350 German words with that damn pencil. Thank goodness my tinnitus is loud enough to deaden the sound somewhat, but I would have paid money to be allowed to use a pen.

this thing is the devil
You might wonder how I felt about the test, or rather my performance. The parts I was worried about - writing and speaking - went much better than I thought they would. My nervousness was caused by doing several practice quizzes and not being thrilled with the topics about which I was instructed to speak or write.

Example: Read the following quote, and then talk about it. What does it mean? Do you agree? Give reasons and examples."
The quote: "Tourism is a danger to the environment!"


The other part of the speaking bit is to make a presentation about a topic they give me. One does get a choice between two, and I know they are supposed to be so general that everyone could speak about at least one of them, but I saw enough samples of topics I could not speak intelligibly about.

Topic: "What is the national sport of your passport country?"

Ugh. Who cares?

WELL... the gods smiled on my sorry soul today, and I couldn't have picked better topics for myself. I had to write about teaching and learning (basically "discuss" in an essay whether it's better to learn with fun and games, or with hard work and discipline). I've got plenty to say about that, so I had no problem getting to 350 words (except for that damn pencil scratching a hole through my skull!).

One of the two speaking topics was to discuss a work of literature and why I consider it important. Seriously?? What better question could an English teacher and avid reader ask for?? Here is a topic about which I can speak confidently, and even with enthusiasm!! I chose The Prophet, of course, and I could have rambled on for hours a while about it.

The quote I had to speak about was something like, "Money gives you independence, but realizing you can live without money leads to freedom."  I lucked out with this quote; my partner had one that I didn't even understand!

The listening section was the worst for me, probably because each thing we had to listen to was only played once. I should have practiced that more, especially the part where I had to listen to a presentation and take notes on slides where information was missing. I basically missed one entire slide. The topic of that exercise wasn't one I know or care much about, which also makes it difficult to listen carefully.

It was good for me as a teacher to be in this position of having to take a test to judge my language ability. I should be able to give my students better advice from this point on, and I also know now which kinds of activities to practice more in class. (Sprachbausteine*, I'm looking at you!!)

*Sprachbausteine is on page 12 of the practice test I've linked to below. It looks easier than it is.

If you're a German learner and want to try your hand at some stuff you're supposed to know in order to do well on the C1 test, check out this site, or this one. And here is one of the practice tests. I am more than a little pleased to be able to say that I don't have to spend any time on those sites tonight.

I'll end by saying that M and I spent last weekend at the Bodensee for our 10th anniversary, and because this test was coming up, I brought my grammar books along. We had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant right near our hotel, which our neighbor recommended. This was the Porterhouse* steak I had, but the reason I'm posting it here is explained below:

Just beyond the plate is a pile of German grammar cards, which I was going through before the steak arrived. I found this handy, discrete little box of cards at some shop in the town. That's right - on our anniversary weekend, I didn't buy a new blouse or a pair of earrings. I bought a pack of grammar cards. This will not surprise my family. Nor will the fact that I actually enjoyed going through them and testing how much I know.

I'll let you know when I get the results of the test. Or maybe I won't. I guess that will depend on how I did.

Happy July!

*Although the restaurant called this a Porterhouse, I know it isn't (at least not in American terms), They also offered a "T-Bone mit Filet (Tenderloin)", which is actually what we Amis call a Porterhouse. The steak I got was without any Filet/tenderloin at all, which actually makes it a "bone-in strip steak." I didn't hold that against them - it was delicious!