Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Planning Scotland 2017

Half the fun of traveling is the planning!!!

view to the sea from Glengorm Castle

Shortly after New Year's my daughter (S) and I were chatting online (I still don't Skype), and she off-handedly mentioned that it would be fun to take another family trip to Scotland. Ha ha, ja, ja... dream on. I mentioned her comment to M, and within 30 minutes we were looking at which self-catering accommodations at Glengorm were available for five in June.

She was in Wisconsin for the holidays and playing cards with my son (A) and his girlfriend (O), and I told her to ask him at some point to see if O wanted to join us. She laughed and said that he had *literally* just asked her how to ask me if O could come along. She enthusiastically said "Yes!" So we were apparently all on the same page.

Over the next several days we booked a flat in the castle, a rental car, our flights coming from three different locations, a B&B near Tyndrum and the Real Food Café for our first night in Scotland on the way to Oban, and the same B&B for a night on our way back to Edinburgh because A wanted to make a stop in Falkirk to see the wheel and the Kelpies. We also found an AirBnB flat in Edinburgh for our three nights there at the end of the trip before everyone flies back to their various homes.

We found flights all arriving in and departing from Edinburgh within 2 hours of each other (we're pressing our thumbs that no one has any delays and Lufthansa pilots & personnel don't go on strike)!

Then the "kids" (they're all over 20) started looking for "Things to see and do in Scotland". They're all Harry Potter fans, so I came up with the idea to head north after our week on Mull to Glenfinnan to see the viaduct. O mentioned Loch Lommond and the Trossachs as well as Glencoe, A had already talked about Falkirk and wanting to see castles, and S focused on Edinburgh (the Elephant House Café, Arthur's Seat, Greyfriar's Churchyard...)

family trip, 2008
Our week on Mull will be similar to previous visits: Duart Castle, Tobermory, hikes around Glengorm, to the coast, up hills and around lochs, possible pony-trekking, and something new for us: a wildlife boat tour to the isles of Lunga and Staffa. M, S, and I have been to Staffa before where the gorgeous puffins are, but Lunga and the wildlife tour are new. For those of you who know Scotland, don't worry - we know the weather could be shitty, and we'll roll with it. Variable weather is part of Scotland, and we pack accordingly.

Puffins on Staffa, 2010

pony-trekking on Mull, 2010

my kids at Loch Na Keal, Mull, 2008
My son, who is now majoring in history, said he wanted to see castles. Off the top of my head based on where we'll be, I came up with eight possibilities:

  Duart               (on Mull)
  Glengorm        (though there's no tour, I can tell him about its history),
  Linlithgow             Mary, Queen of Scots was born here in 1542
  Callendar House   Mary, Queen of Scots' 1st marriage agreement was signed here
  Tantallon               Mary, Queen of Scots stayed here in 1566
  Hailes                    Mary, Queen of Scots stayed here in 1567
  Holyrood               Mary, Queen of Scots lived here in 1561
  Edinburgh Castle  Mary, Queen of Scots had a baby here (the future King James VI and I)

Tantallon Castle ruins, with Bass Rock
Bass Rock is a bird colony. It looks white because it's covered in bird shit.
I'm not obsessed with Mary, Queen of Scots, but it seems she was everywhere in Scotland at one point or another. I think the only reason she wasn't at Glengorm was that it wasn't built until 1865. Admittedly, I find her story fascinating, and I'm half-tempted to re-read Margaret George's novel about her.

It is so much fun to see the kids excited about the trip and getting involved in the planning. M and I loved our trip to Scotland in 2015 and really enjoyed the time for just the two of us, but it's also great fun to share the excitement and planning with others.

We will pay a visit to the Great Polish Map of Scotland during our days in Edinburgh and have a meal with our dear friends (and only wedding guests/witnesses), who live near Edinburgh.

I know it's not a common thing for bloggers to write about a trip before it happens, but I'm caught up in the excitement and the planning, and I couldn't help myself.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wishes and Goals for 2017

This is very unusual for me - a post like this. Even thinking about goals, much less writing them down and publishing them openly, is just not my style. I'm a realist, and I'd more likely think, "The first step in not reaching a goal is setting one." I let life come at me as it will and go with the flow.

To-do lists work well for me. I just wrote one for today, in fact, although "Write a blog post" is not on it.

Why not give this ol' setting goals thing a try, though? Funnily enough, I do like reading other bloggers' lists of goals and wishes for the year to come, which is why I decided to ponder mine. Here we go.


  • for the war in Syria to end.

  • that all 17 of my students achieve the B1 level on their German test in April.

  • that America's future P stops tweeting. Fremdschämen pur!

  • to see both of my kids during the year (I already know this will happen, as long as my son locates his passport)
    Update: The passort has been located!
This was a few years ago; they're 21 and 23 now.


  • get back to Scotland (this is cheating; we just booked a trip there for the summer!)
Glengorm, Isle of Mull

  • complete my interview and writing project

  • drink more tea (and less coffee)
  • live more healthily - snack less, walk more

  • read more, and actually finish the books I start before I start reading another! I'll set my goal at a measly 30 books, since in 2016 I only finished 21!

One wish and one goal are happening for sure: my daughter mentioned that it would be nice to go back to Scotland, and three days later the trip was booked! My kids and my son's girlfriend will fly over and meet us in Edinburgh, and then we'll spend a week on the Isle of Mull followed by a few days in the Edinburgh area. We've already had fun planning meals (we'll stay in a self-catering flat in Glengorm Castle while on Mull) and activities including hikes, a wildlife boat tour, time in beautiful Tobermory, climbing one of the hills in Edinburgh, The Real Mary King's Close or Greyfriar's Churchyard or the Writers' Museum or Holyrood Palace, the Great Polish Map of Scotland, several castle ruins...

I'll be seeing my parents this year as well because my dad is coming for several weeks to take a German course at the local language school, and my mom will follow later for the 50th anniversary of the Sheboygan-Esslingen sister city partnership in May. In July five middle school students from Sheboygan will be in Esslingen for their summer exchange program, and after that I have no plans at all. Maybe I'll teach again, maybe I'll focus one of my books. 

We'll just have to see what comes. 

What are your wishes and goals for 2017??

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! Yeah....in 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!