Thursday, October 20, 2016

10 Things I Love About Life in Swabia

I came across a blog post with a similar title and theme the other day, and I loved the positive tone of it. This world needs all the positivity it can find these days, so here we go, though this is not a ranked list - it's just a numbered list.

Ten Things I Love About Life in Swabia

10. die Lage / Location

While I happily spend most of my time in the Schwabenland, its location in southwestern Germany allows for us to travel in just a few hours to other favorite spots as well:
  • der Bodensee / Lake Constance
  • Breisach on the Rhein and the Elsass area of France (also Straßburg)
  • Niederau in Austria
  • München
  • Bamberg
  • Switzerland
  • Vienna 
  • heck, even Rome was just a short flight away!
Austria (2008)

9. das Essen / the food

Maultaschen, Zwiebelrostbraten, weißer Spargel in the spring, Kässpätzle, Kartoffelsalat, Butterbrezeln...What can I say? I enjoy eating and I love Swabian food. Not all Swabian dishes, I assure you. I like my Wurstsalat Swiss-style (the Swabian version has blood sausage in it), I don't plan to try saure Kutteln (innards of some sort) anytime soon, and I prefer my Linsen mit Spätzle und Saitenwürstchen without the lentils. I do like many Swabian dishes, however, and I enjoy trying to make several of them at home from scratch.

Zwiebelrostbraten mit Bratkartoffeln
Maultaschen dough needs to be thin enough to read a newspaper through it!

8. meine Nachbarn / my neighbors

By this I mean the people I have met here in the area and also literally our neighbors. One neighbor has shared the bounty from his apple, plum, and quince trees with us, another has invited us over several times including for Christbaumloben and we've had them here for a Grillfest and fun conversation, two have offered to let us use part of their small driveways to park our car during our construction phase (we're having all our stone replaced - walkways, patio, and driveway). The people we know here are genuine, friendly, helpful when help is needed, reserved, and kind. 

7. die Geschichte / the history

The history of Württemberg especially is very interesting to me. The Württemberg royalty had connections with the Romanovs, there was much strife within the family line regarding successions and residences, and many of them (including the wives of rulers) did important things for the country and its people. The Reformation played a crucial role in Swabia's history as well, but all I knew about it from my education in the US was that Martin Luther nailed 95 complaints to the door of some church and then split from the Catholics. I have much still to learn, but even today the divide between the Catholic and Protestant communities is significant and intriguing.

I'd have to get out my notes to give you more, so I'll just say that I enjoy digging into the history of every new town I visit, discovering new castle ruins, and expanding my knowledge about the area. For me, living in a place where I can learn something new every day if I choose...that's huge.

6. mein Dorf / my village

Others might be bored to death here, but I love it. We have one star-worthy restaurant, a quality butcher, and Mustafa with his produce truck stops in front of our house every Tuesday evening. It is so quiet here that we know when the neighbors' grandchildren are visiting, because we otherwise hear nearly nothing. Not even dogs barking. I can walk the perimeter of the three sections of the village in about 45 minutes, we have a peaceful little cemetery behind a lovely little church, and we are within walking distance of our supermarket for those days when I'm feeling less lazy than usual.

5. andere Städte und Dörfer / other cities and towns

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you know my favorite city in the world is Esslingen. Talk about history and beauty... But in the Schwabenland you can also visit Nagold, Herrenberg, Stuttgart if you want a big city, Ludwigsburg, Tübingen, Schwäbisch Hall, Ulm, Rottweil...





4. der Schwarzwald / the Black Forest

We live almost on the edge of the Schwarzwald, and when we have a few free hours, we can just go for a drive along windy, hilly roads (M does the driving, of course). The scenery is gorgeous, and if you like hiking, biking, wellness hotels, river fishing, camping, nature in general, skiing, or motorcycing, the Schwarzwald is the place to visit. Cuckoo clocks are a thing too, for the touristy types among you.

on the Lotharpfad

der Titisee

3. Weinberge / wine country

I'm not a fan of beer except on a horribly hot day when the beer is diluted with Sprite (a Radler), so it's a good thing M didn't settle in Bavaria. The most typical Swabian wine (Trollinger mit Lemberger) is not my favorite, but regardless, there are usually plenty of options that fit to every dish I might want to order in a restaurant. And the servers in the restaurants know about wine. If I don't recognize on the wine list what I like, I can tell him or her that I like a dry white wine but not Riesling, and s/he can recommend one that is usually right. The vineyards themselves are beautiful in the summer and fall and provide lovely scenery for a Sunday walk.

near Esslingen

2. meine Freunde / my friends

If we didn't live where we do, I wouldn't have met the folks who were my students and who have become my friends. I would have met other people, probably equally nice, but not these guys. We meet for coffee now and then, and they bring a huge American smile to my face when I see them in town. When I haven't gone to the almost-weekly Sprachcafé for a while, I miss them! One has moved away, though, and another is moving in a week. They are going where they have relatives or better opportunities, but selfishly, I wish they'd stay here.

I also met my friend and Sprachpartnerin, Hedda, right in our town at the second Kochkurs we attended two years ago. We've had quite a few interesting experiences together since then - I joined her on a trip to Straßburg to visit the EU Parliament, she visited my class at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg twice and met my Syrian and Eritrean students, she took us all to a café after their final language test, she came to watch a riding lesson of mine, and I've been to a Kaffeekränzchen (tea party) at her home with a group of her friends.

1. unsere Zeit / quality time with M

I won't get too schmaltzy or kitschig, but truly my favorite thing about living here in Swabia is the time M and I spend together. We are best friends and soulmates, and after living the first 6 years of our marriage on two different continents, this is our time. I don't like being gone in the evenings, and I don't plan anything on the weekends that we can't do together. This why it's hard for me to return to the U.S. for a visit, because he normally can't come with me. I feel out of my element when we're not together, and I'm generally irritable. We're both better people when we're together. Home is where he is, and although I love to travel, this is where I want to be.

What do you love about where you live?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Rest of the Story

My absentee ballot is in the mail on its way to Wisconsin. Whether it makes it to its destination and is counted is out of my hands, but at least I've done what I can.

Just as a quick re-cap, I signed into my account and printed my absentee ballot from the MyVote Wisconsin website. Along with the ballot I printed the official certification and the instructions. This is when I discovered that, thanks to Wisconsin's new Voter ID law, I now need an adult U.S. citizen to witness the filling out of an absentee ballot. The closest American I know is in Stuttgart, and although she kindly offered to be my witness, I was slightly vexed that voting absentee was going to cost me time (several hours to get there and back) and money (€20 for the train).

At the suggestion of friends and acquaintances and with a few ideas of my own, I contacted:
  • the German-American Institute in Tübingen (DAI)
  • the Volkshochschule in Horb
  • the Volkshochschule in Nagold
  • the Ausländeramt in Horb
  • the International School in Sindelfingen
  • U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt
  • an online community (forum) at
  • the language department at the university in Tübingen (a friend did this for me)

Each contact ended up fruitless, though the people who know me personally sent me additional ideas as they thought of them.

The end of the story is this: M and I spent last weekend in Breisach on the Rhein, and on the off chance that I would bump into an American, I brought my ballot and all the other papers with me - including the page of Act 261 concerning the witness to prove that "if the certificate is missing the address of a witness, the ballot may not be counted."

After checking in at the hotel on Saturday afternoon we headed toward the Rhein, where there are often river cruise ships docked while their passengers explore the pretty little town and the Münster. I eavesdropped on each group we passed but heard mostly German. Finally from a slight distance I spied a couple who looked American. I don't know what it is, but somehow Americans are usually easy to spot. The man had what looked like a DSLR camera, and the woman was calling to someone on one of the ships. I approached the woman and asked if she is an American. Bingo!

She was willing to witness my ballot, sign her name, provide her full address according to the instructions, and even to have her picture taken with me!

The deed was done, she gave me her email address so I could send her the photo, and she's got a funny story about meeting a strange American in Germany while on her river cruise.

Interestingly that very day an article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal that thousands of absentee votes might not be counted because they lack the witness' complete address. How could someone neglect to write his or her full address on the form, you might wonder?

Although apparently these forms vary across the state (explain that one to me), my form is deceptive, and was probably designed by an intern. The single line for the witness' address is shorter than the signature line. Every form I recall having seen provided two lines when an address was required. Until this new Voter ID law, the ballots were accepted with only the street address.

In addition, there is no line for the witness to include her date of signing. Only on the instructions does it say "One adult U.S. Citizen must witness you mark your ballot and sign and date the certificate." (emphasis mine)

The certificate is deceptive in another way as well. Under the voter's signature is a line labeled "date." Again, almost everything I have signed requires the signer to include the date of signing. That is logical, and that is what I would understand with the label "date." The instructions, however, say "Be sure to sign the certificate and provide your date of birth in the presence of your witness." (emphasis mine)

So on the certification no date of signature is required? That seems odd. The designers of this law are supposedly so terribly afraid of voter fraud, yet without the dates of signature, how can they be certain the witness actually witnessed and signed the certification according to the instructions? The state has already announced that ballots without full addresses won't be counted - has no one noticed the issue with the date of birth vs. date of signing?


I wrote to my "state legislators," but of course I don't expect to hear from them. I'll post an update on this post in the unlikely event that I do.
Um...awkward update: I just read that one of those two legislators died yesterday.

Update 2: an aide to my remaining representative responded moments ago with an email confirming that it is true that I need a witness (which I clearly already knew) and wished me luck finding one. She also added another requirement that does not appear in the instructions or on the ballot: the witness' signature must be legible. My ballot is already in the mail, so it's lucky that my kind witness had beautiful handwriting - I had even complimented her on it. I don't know about you, but I know plenty of people whose signatures are not legible. I guess if that's an additional requirement they should also include a space for the name to be printed.

I want to mention before I end that on Monday I was contacted by a professor in Tübingen who said he would be happy to witness my ballot, and I also received a phone call from a woman who'd received an email from the DAI about my problem. She would have also been willing to meet me in Tübingen to witness my ballot. I will therefore have plenty of options for next time and just need to remember to start the process early enough to give people time to respond before I get nervous.

In celebration of this saga ending, I baked banana bread today - a typical American treat that Germans find a bit odd. Strangely, I don't like bananas all that much and the smell of them makes me gag. But banana bread (including the smell) is somehow delicious - especially warmed and with butter.

This is actually a baking fail. It should be twice that high.
Oh well, still tastes good.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Word About Locker-Room Talk

Regular programming will resume tomorrow.

This post has been brewing in various forms for several years, but the latest advertisement for America's rape culture, courtesy of a presidential candidate, has pushed me over the top. Those who deny or encourage rape culture get to say whatever they like and brush it off when called on it, while those of us who have dealt with the results of that culture remain silent because we make others uncomfortable when we talk about it.

Make no mistake - kissing a woman without waiting for consent and "grabbing her in the p***y" because she won't stop the offender...this is sexual assault. Using one's power, position, or ability to intimidate in order to do sexual things to a person is sexual coercion. The fact that she didn't say "no" because she didn't want to lose her job or hurt the man's feelings does not equate to consent.

I recently had the misfortune to read an accusation on social media that 95% of all of us (not just men) have made similar comments, and anyone who is "still offended" by those comments should consider what kids hear on TV shows, in rap music and movies, and in school. While I have to disagree that so many women banter and brag about committing sexual assault, perhaps I've just been hanging out in the wrong right locker rooms. The same person implied that women who are offended by what was said in the van video feel that way because the media and Clinton supporters are telling us we should.

Contrary to what some believe, most of us women are able to think for ourselves and form opinions on our own. We don't need the media or anyone else to tell us how to feel. I am not offended because someone told me to be.

I do agree, though, that children hear rotten things, and that they are listening and learning. The creep that lured me into that locker room our presidential candidate brushed off probably heard remarks like that during his youth: "You can just grab a woman [young girl, in my case] in the p***y and she won't even stop you. It's lots of fun."

This is not locker-room banter. This is our rape culture.

Dismissing it passes it on to our children, particularly our sons.

The candidate's comments have been a trigger for me. I wasn't in the least surprised that he was caught bragging about doing something so vulgar, and I am not more disgusted by him now than I was before. I am more offended by the rape culture in our society than I am by the comments of someone I had no respect for even before he bragged about committing sexual assault.

In the middle of writing this I read that thousands of women have been sharing their sexual assault stories since the release of that van video, and I guess I'm adding my voice to theirs. I don't need to describe what happened because our Republican candidate already did exactly that in such pithy and presidential terms. I don't remember how old I was (8 or 10?), but I remember what I was wearing and that it took place in a racquet club in Mequon, Wisconsin. My parents were there for a tennis tournament, but I got bored and wandered away. I told them about it during my freshman year in college. I didn't tell them right away because

   a. I didn't actually understand what on earth had just happened, and
   b. I assumed I would get in trouble (I knew the rules - you do not wander off by yourself!).

That person (an employee - who later grinned and waved at me as my parents and I left) might have heard about this idea from someone in a locker room who talked like those cretins in the van. This was in the 70s before song lyrics and TV show scripts started to get really offensive, so perhaps his plan came from a movie, his friends, his family, or his own sick head.

The rape culture, though.  Some people scoff and say it's just a feminist theory. Some people dismiss it as locker-room talk. Some people say everyone talks like that. Therein lies the problem. Refusing to acknowledge the effects of sexual comments, objectifying women, and sexual assault is one key part of the rape culture. Blaming the victim ("If you don't want to be raped, then don't dress like that"), trivializing what happened ("What's the big deal, he only grabbed your p***y; it's not like you got raped"), and justifying one's actions ("You never said 'no', so I didn't rape you.") are all pieces of rape culture.

Have you ever heard older men (say over 50) make lewd comments about high school cheerleaders or flirt with young waitresses? I have, and I should have said something. Why didn't I? Because I wasn't strong enough to deal with "Oh, lighten up, it was a compliment!" No, a nice tip is a compliment; a comment about the length of her skirt or the shape of her legs is not. And nothing other than "She's talented" is a compliment about a 16-year-old cheerleader when it's said by a man over fifty eighteen.

In case this post has reached any men who occasionally make lewd remarks (probably thinking of them as compliments) about a woman's body - and I'm going to use a waitress as an example - I would like to ask them to consider the following.

  1. If the waitress is wearing a short skirt or a low-cut top, remember that's her uniform. She doesn't have a choice. She might have been wearing that same uniform that permits you to gawk at her thighs when she was sexually assaulted last Tuesday on her way home. (Remember that 1 in 4 American women has been sexually assaulted by the time she reaches her 20th birthday, and 1 in 6 women has been a victim survivor of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.)

  2. Imagine you are that young woman's father sitting at the next table, and you overheard the "harmless" comment you just made or thought. Would you, her father, beam with pride that a stranger gawked and leered at your daughter and made a comment about her breasts, legs, or ass, or would you want to punch him in the face?

  3. That "harmless" comment you're thinking as the waitress is trying to do her job so she can provide for herself or her family...does it really need to be said out loud? Would silence be the higher ground? What are you hoping to gain by making the comment? If there are women in your group or near enough to overhear...really??

  4. The waitress who is pretending to enjoy your flirting is doing so because behaving otherwise will jeopardize her tip. I promise you, no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise, she is tolerating it, not enjoying it. I waitressed for one agonizing summer, and I assure you I never once felt pleased about or flattered by leering looks and suggestive remarks. I found it creepy and pathetic, but I responded pleasantly enough to keep my job and hopefully earn a tip.

  5. If you are in the presence of other men who make lewd remarks, please stand up for your daughters, granddaughters, wives, sisters, nieces, and neighbors. Perhaps all you are capable of is remaining stonily silent and not laughing along - that is at least a start.

Do I really want men to remember those thoughts before they make a comment in public about a woman's body? Why, yes, I do, just like every time I hear a comment like that, I wonder what the sicko in the tennis club heard during his life to lead him to believe what he did to me was acceptable.

I don't feel sorry for myself and I don't see myself as a victim. But sexual assault is not something a person just gets over, nor is it something to be taken lightly or dismissed. Boys aren't born with the burning desire to grab someone's p***y or make public comments about a woman's body; they learn these behaviors from others.

It starts somewhere, and most often it starts with thoughts that become comments that become ideas that become actions.

It's time for us to start talking about this, and by the looks of social media today, the discussion is underway.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Voting Shouldn't Be This Difficult

I have been trying since last week Thursday (five working days so far) to take care of my absentee vote ballot so that I can mail it to the municipal clerk in FdL*, Wisconsin (USA) in time to count for the upcoming presidential election.

Voting should be easy and free, right? In fact, look at that! I even found a graphic to support my assumption. (To be fair, requesting the ballot was easy and free.)


Thanks to Wisconsin Act 261 (specifically Sections 76 and 78) from 2015, I need an adult U.S. citizen to witness me fill out my ballot and place it in "a small envelope" and then sign his or her name and write his or her address on the "Official Absentee Ballot Certification," which I then place in "a larger envelope" to send off to FdL soon enough that it has a chance of arriving before election day. Sounds reasonable, and I've got envelopes of all sizes at home.

Yeah, I know. Looks easy, doesn't it?
For most people this would not be a problem, but here's the thing: I do not know any Americans in my area. The nearest fellow American blogger I know is in Stuttgart, which is an hour and €20 ($22) away by train, and the other lives near the Bodensee, which is two hours and probably about €40 from here by train.

They have both offered to help me, and while I would enjoy seeing them again, I do sort of think that a person should not have to drive that far and pay that much to vote in an American presidential election. I may, in fact, be taking the train next week to see one of them for the two minutes it will take for her to witness my ballot, but I keep thinking there must be a solution that costs very little time and no money.

Last week Thursday I started making phone calls and sending emails to explain my predicament and try to scare up an adult American citizen in my area willing to sign her/his name and address on my ballot certificate. Although I firmly believe it is no one's damn business where this person lives, the small print in the Act (seen only online, not in the instructions that came with my ballot) states that the ballot is invalid if the witness does not include his or her address.

These are the people/organizations I have contacted or tried to contact so far:
  • German-American Institute in Tübingen (DAI)
  • Volkshochschule in Horb
  • Volkshochschule in Nagold
  • Ausländeramt in Horb
  • International School in Sindelfingen
  • U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt
  • Online community (forum) at
  • the two American bloggers I know who live 60 and 90 minutes from me by car (without traffic problems) respectively
I emailed the DAI but received no response. After the holiday weekend I called, and the receptionist said she can send around an email to their contacts, but she couldn't promise anything.

The director of the language courses at the VHS in Horb doesn't know of any Americans in town, but he gave me the name of a colleague of his at the Nagold campus.

I emailed his colleague in Nagold and got an automated response: she is out of the office until tomorrow and therefore won't be able to respond until at least next Monday.

The Ausländeramt in Horb can't tell me if there are other Americans living in the area because of privacy laws.

I sent an email to the International School, but they have not responded yet (it's only been one day, though).

I called the consulate, but did so at 4:30 p.m. and they close every day at 4:00 p.m.. I don't actually think they can do anything for me anyway, unless I drive three hours to Frankfurt which I am not going to do. The second time I called, the person I was transferred to was not available.

I got a few responses through the expat forum recommending I contact the consulate or the DAI in Tübingen, and one American in Stuttgart spent quite some time writing back and forth, not believing me that I need this witness because he couldn't find any proof online. I don't even blame him. He said he might be willing to help me, but he first wanted verification that my request is legit.

My dear friend HC came to see me this afternoon, and I told her about this ridiculousness. I told her one of my ideas is to go to Tübingen (a university town), wander around until I hear American English, and ask the person to witness my ballot. She lives near Tübingen, and she suggested we go together next week, stop first at the DAI, and if that's a dead end we'll go trapsing around together in search of people speaking American.

We agreed to meet on Monday, and then I found out the DAI is closed on Mondays. We'll have to pick another day.

I now carry my ballot, certification, detailed and highlighted instructions, a printout of the relevant part of Act 261 with the bits about the required witness highlighted, and a small and large envelope with me in my purse, on the off chance that while I am out and about I overhear someone speaking American.

Wish me luck! I'll let you know how this ends, and I hope to get a photo of me with the person who agrees to sign this damn thing (which I will not post without permission!).

Believe me, I'm trying.

*FdL is the abbreviation of the last town I lived in in Wisconsin, and where I am still registered to vote.

Friday, September 30, 2016

September Highs and Lows 2016

For the first time since I started this routine of ending each month with this post, I'm ending on a low. I probably shouldn't write this post today; we'll see if I publish or scrap it.


  • dinner at Straub's Krone is always a high, and I think we might have dined there three times this month. One spontaneous visit was because of this weekend special (lamb):

  • despite the lengthy low you'll see below, I still enjoy teaching German in Germany!

  • beginning to interview another refugee from Syria for my local project. His story has been hard to hear at times - I cannot imagine going through what he experienced last year - but I feel genuinely privileged that he has been willing to share it with me. I'll be spending some time this weekend putting my notes into text.

  • my new home office arrangement. M set me up with a double-screen system with two obnoxiously large screens, and I'm somewhat afraid that I'll never be satisfied with just my laptop (which is tucked under the screen on the right in a docking station) again. Now I can have my Wörterbuch open on the left while typing a text on the right.


  • several days of unexplained and annoying shoulder pain that mutated overnight (last night) to pain that prevents me from moving and using my arm normally without whimpering. It's my right shoulder, so I'm trying to do most things with my left hand now. That doesn't work for writing on the board, and I can't lift my hand/arm above shoulder-height without shooting pain. I jokingly posted on Facebook a few days ago that I should start riding again, since my hip pain got much better only after I started riding. As of today I wouldn't be able to lift the saddle onto the horse's back. Ibuprofen has been as helpful as TicTacs, and I'm feeling old and broken.

  • the big one: doubting my ability to teach well enough. I've told the director of the language program at the VHS that I am available to teach a full Integrationskurs (600 hours of language instruction + 60 hours of Orientation Course) starting sometime this fall. Today I'm full of self-doubt.

    The thing that's been troubling me lately is that approximately half of my students come 1-2 hours late to class and/or leave an hour early, and many of those same students concentrate on their Handys while they're there. They are adults, and I don't feel right treating them like children (i.e. telling them to put their phones away, scolding them for being late, etc.). I enjoy teaching, and I am passionate about teaching German. I love the language, despite - and sometimes even because of - its complexities! I surely understand it's not easy to learn, but foreigners (like me!) living in Germany need to learn it in order to work and thrive in the community,

    When someone is focusing on his Handy during my class, that is a loud and clear message to me that he (or she) is not interested in what I am trying to teach him. It's the electronic version of flipping me the Stinkefinger, as the Germans call it. Imagine a student sitting in a class for an hour just showing his middle finger to the teacher and doing nothing else (occasionally putting the finger down to read a few sentences when called upon). That's what smartphone use in class is to me.

    I'm not talking about checking the meaning of a word or googling something connected to what we're learning. I'm talking about students completely blocking me out. Eye contact from the students who give it has become a warm fuzzy for me.

    The other thing I assume is that they don't care whether they learn enough to pass the final test or not. I can't force them to care. They're old enough to realize that if they don't learn, they're not going to pass the test.

    Obviously if I were a better and more interesting teacher, my students wouldn't be so focused on their Handys and Facebook during the 3 1/2 hours of class. One of my students told me today that it was definitely not like that with their former teacher. Everyone came and left punctually, and Handys were used at most for looking up words. This student seemed as baffled as I am. Clearly I am doing something wrong.

    I throughly enjoy the interaction with the students who are engaged. I like to see them learn and progress, and I will continue to spend hours every afternoon and evening - gladly! - planning lessons, creating activities, writing worksheets and practice quizzes for them. I am fully there for the students who are willing to do whatever they need to do to learn. I am sad about the other ones.

  • frankly, I miss my "Dream Team" - my first group of students at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg. When that class ended, I considered giving up teaching (again), because I knew it could never be that good with any other group. My next ever-changing group at the HHK went well, too, but I fear I've made a mistake in continuing. 

  • my failed attempt to drive to Esslingen earlier this week

  • the disappearance of the "Blogs I Read" thingy (gadget?) in the margin. WTH, Blogger?!?

That's all. I'm going to curl up on the sofa with my bum shoulder and a light-weight book and try to think about something else.

Have a beautiful October!