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.