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.

HIGHS

  • 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.

LOWS

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Activities for Integration Classes

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


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

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

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


Fragekarten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skills practiced:
  listening, reading, pronunciation

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

Nenne 3 Dinge

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

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

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


Fünf Finger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skills practiced:
   speaking, listening, pronunciation, creative thinking

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

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

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

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



Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Day After

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

   I'm white.

   I'm not Muslim or Jewish.

   I do not have a disability.

   I'm not a member of the LBGTQ community.

   I'm not overweight or particularly ugly.

   I'm not poor.

   I can afford health care.

   I'm not an immigrant in America.

   I'm not a foreigner in America.

   I'm not in America.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Good luck, America.



Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Wellness Week in the Schwarzwald


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Roh mariniertes Rinderfilet

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

dessert from the buffet

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

And that's what wellness is all about.




Monday, October 31, 2016

October Highs and Lows 2016

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

Bah Humbug, right? Sorry.

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

HIGHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOWS

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

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

Other Happenings

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

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

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