Thursday, July 31, 2014

July 2014 books

Ah, July, that most productive reading month (because vacation).

The Thief (The Queen's Thief, #1)The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First reading 2009.

Second reading July 2014.

Jeremy read this series last month, so I thought I'd give it another go. I remembered thinking that the author's mind's eye and my mind's eye worked differently enough that it was hard for me to picture the scenery and action. That was still true the second time around. I also felt like the book's manner of presenting the story was disingenuous. The first-person narrator hides things from us that technically I think we should hear since he is our only point of access to the story.

Still, it's a good story and an enjoyable book, as long as you don't mind the fact that you can't always tell exactly what's going on.


The Queen of Attolia (The Queen's Thief, #2)The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First reading 2009, rating 3 stars.

Second reading July 2014, rating 4.5 stars.

It's been five years since I read this for the first time, and what a difference it has made! I liked the book so much more this time and I can't wait to re-read book number three.


The King of Attolia (The Queen's Thief, #3)The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First reading 2009.

Second reading July 2014.

My opinion didn't change so much on a second reading five years later. This was good, but I like The Queen of Attolia better. Attolia and Eugenides are some of the most interesting characters I've ever read.



A Conspiracy of Kings (The Queen's Thief, #4)A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. If I didn't already know and love these characters, I could not have handled more than five pages of this book. It would have worked better as a few chapters in a book about someone else (Gen or Attolia, please), rather than following Sophos the whole time.

Still, some Gen and Attolia is better than none, so I'll take it.


Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know about Air Travel: Questions, Answers, & ReflectionsCockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know about Air Travel: Questions, Answers, & Reflections by Patrick Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a charming book - "everything you need to know about air travel." Its format allows you to pick and choose the parts you read. I was more interested in the consumer side of air travel. (Not so much the "How much do planes weigh?" variety.)

Plus, dude (a pilot) speaks truth. I loved his manifesto about the things every airport should have - free WiFi! sufficient seating at the gate! seamless international transfers! And he and I are on the same page regarding the loveliness of Emirates airlines, especially compared to American carriers. I said it here; he says it much better on page 254:

"None of those things [small niceties listed in the previous paragraph, including some of the things I mentioned in my blog post], you'll notice, was especially luxurious...and that's all right. What the [US] airlines haven't quite figured out yet, is that satisfactory service doesn't have to be elaborate. The average passenger doesn't expect to be pampered. What he or she expects and deserves are convenience, respectful employees, and a modicum of comfort...What he yearns for is a clean, halfway comfortable space to sit in, something to watch or listen to, maybe a sandwich, and for God's sake an occasional bottle of water. And something else too: workers who are polite and professional."

PREACH.


Paradise Interrupted: Romantic Adventures Backpacking Across the Philippines, Baby in TowParadise Interrupted: Romantic Adventures Backpacking Across the Philippines, Baby in Tow by Sarah Bringhurst

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A charming mini-memoir of a trip through the Philippines by the author, her husband, and their tiny baby. I loved how the author was very open about how foolish and naive they sometimes were. It was fun to read about their misadventures, even though I'm sure it was very stressful at the time. I'm also impressed that the author somehow got us to laugh with her, never at her - we are always on her side.

I enjoy traveling with my kids, too, so it was a treat to read someone else's travel stories from the comfort of my (overseas) living room.

Fire and HemlockFire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All the old-fashioned awkwardness and mismatched love interest ages of Summer of My German Soldier and Daddy-Long-Legs, plus the nightmare-you-can't-wake-up-from feeling of The Magician's Nephew, with a cover straight out of LABYRINTH. I even considered scrolling through the covers here and finding a more respectable one, but no, I'm going to keep Perky Breasts Woman Riding a Horse for authenticity's sake because this is the actual copy I read. Jeremy made fun of me every time he saw me with it. The weird thing is that this book is by and large about a 10- to 13-year-old girl who doesn't have perky breasts and at no time rides a horse, so it's doubly mystifying. There is also very little fire and/or hemlock in this book.

And yet. I really liked this book, especially once I accepted that the enjoyment would be in the journey of reading it, not in the destination. I carried this book with me everywhere in hopes of a chance to read a few pages or even a paragraph. Yes, carried it with me, in public, even with that awful cover! There are things that happen in this book that you will not understand, even after you've read all the way through, but I found that I was OK with that.

You see, I think this book is not so much about magic and mystery and the answers to our questions as we'd like to believe. I think it is rather more a story about Polly growing up. Seen that way, as a coming-of-age story, the book works better, at least for me.


We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars.

After I loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, I purposely stayed away from anything else the author had ever written. I did not want to know anything about her or find out about any other characters she had created. I was worried that my beloved book would be tainted by anything less than genius from the same mind.

Five years after I first read TDHOFLB, I have lifted my embargo on all things E. Lockhart for We Were Liars. And it was pretty good, I guess. Spookier than I thought at first; sweeter than I thought at first. A worthy entry, but it pales in comparison to TDHOFLB.

Rebel Belle (Rebel Belle, #1)Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The perfect Jeremy-is-out-of-town book. I loved this book's main character and its (and her) big heart. An excellent twist on the "normal kid finds out she actually has special powers" theme.



Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of EnglishOur Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John H. McWhorter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. I can never figure out if I like mainstream language-y books like this one more or less because I'm a linguist. This one comes off as a bit of a diatribe at times - what is he so worked up about? Some of the chapters were a review of stuff I already knew, but I did appreciate his take on the current state of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Ah, but I do enjoy a good, meaty debate about linguistics of an evening, and this fit the bill.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

(Not) walking to the beat of a different drummer

Sterling turned 10 months old on the 28th. I've been looking forward to this age because it's when my babies tend to learn how to walk. Miriam and Magdalena both were walking at 10 months + 10 days. Motherhood is a lot more fun for me when I can put my child down and have him walk on his own two legs (plus, the other developmental milestones that come around soon after walking are fun, too).

But Sterling doesn't seem that interested. He's stood up on his own without help a few times, but he prefers to get down and crawl. He finally fixed his form and so now he is quite speedy on all fours.

I'm having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that Sterling will probably not be walking in 10 days. The girls were so similar in their development that I just expected little brother to follow along.

Have your kids been on different schedules for achieving milestones?


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jeremy at the Chiemgauer 100k (26 July 2014)

(I mentioned that we went to Catholic mass on Sunday because we didn't have a car, because Jeremy was out of town. He was out of town because he was running his first ultra marathon - a 100k in Chiemgauer, Germany. Here is his (very long, but no apologies!) account of his first ultra marathon. I am so proud of him!)

On Friday July 25, 2014 I left Königstein for Ruhpolding in southeast Germany to participate in a 100k ultra marathon race. I signed up for this race after we bought plane tickets to spend our summer here. I have never run more than 50k in one day, and that 50k was just a few weeks ago here in Germany by myself at a leisurely pace on multiple hiking trails in the area. In preparation for this event, I ran a total of 270k in May and 370k in June. This race is called the Chiemgauer 100. You can read about it here.

The home page has a map showing the whole 100k route in red. The cost was only 50 Euro. I am happy that I chose this as my first ultra. The organizer avoids a large media presence, sponsors, and other frills. There isn’t as much pageantry or giveaways as would probably be elsewhere. It’s almost like a local event that a few outsiders join each year. The problem with choosing this event as a first-timer, though, is that the elevation change is considerable and the cutoff times for each stage are not generous. The total elevation change for the 100k is about 4,500 meters (nearly 15,000 feet).



Before leaving Königstein, I entered into our GPS the address of the farmhouse in Ruhpolding where I was planning to stay for two nights. The GPS showed that it would take some 3 hours to get there. I started off in our nice affordable rental car (Seat Ibiza from Spain). After only 10 minutes of driving I picked up a stout young man dressed in what I thought was traditional German festival clothing. The young man asked for a ride to the next village, Plech (Yes, it sounds like you have some sort of a phlegm problem when you say it). We first determined that his English was better than my German and off we went. (Side note: the other night I was on a long run and tried to hitchhike home but no one stopped for me (it was dark), so I paid this one forward.) I asked the young man if he was on his way to a festival – which showed my lack of local cultural tradition. It turns out that he was a carpenter going to an interview for a new job. His duds were pretty cool and they were the uniform of his trade. When I dropped him off I asked his name – Bieber, he said. I replied: “Oh, like Justin Bieber?” He gave me a courtesy laugh and said, “zat is an owld choke.” I like this guy. Here is a random photo of the carpenter’s traditional clothing.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Catholic for a day

Jeremy has been out of town for a few days, if one can be out of town on vacation. He took the car with him, which left us without a ride to church this morning (the Mormon chapel is a 30-minute drive away).

So we decided to be Catholic for the day. The handy thing is that most villages here have the worship times posted on a sign as you drive into town, so we knew when mass started. Bright and early this morning, the kids and I walked down the hill, through the main part of town, and back up the hill on the other side to make it to St. Michael's, the Catholic church.


The Catholic church here has the more modern-looking building (1965, above), while the Protestant (Evangelische) church inhabits the building that dates back to 1817. I guess it used to be the other way around, but they switched some years back?

The bells started ringing just as we were walking up the stairs to enter the church. The girls were so impressed - seriously, in awe! (Note to the Mormon church: look into bells.)

My maternal grandparents (and mother) were Catholic, so this wasn't my first time attending mass. But it was certainly my first time in a long time, so the girls and I read up on protocol the night before. This morning, the first thing I asked the man we sat next to in a pew near the back was if it was OK that I had the kids with me - there wasn't another one in sight! To my great relief, he said it was "kein Problem" - no problem. To my even greater relief, a young boy walked in with his mother just a few minutes later.

We did all the sitting, standing, and kneeling during the mass, though I hadn't seen where to pick up the hymnals, so we couldn't join in the singing. And of course, beyond the Alleluias, I did not know the proper responses to some of the things the priest said. There was a reading from 1 Kings, which is interesting because we just finished studying that in Sunday School. Another reading was from one of the Pauline Epistles; not sure which because German. The main sermon from the priest was about treasure, which I know because I just barely learned that word from a billboard that is all over the place here (something about driving safely, but it uses the word Schatz, treasure).

I was just getting nervous about the part where we'd have to perhaps awkwardly sit out communion, but Sterling started making a lot of noise - just happy, cooing noise, but still noise in a very quiet, very acoustically gifted room. We slipped out and left a little early.

Those of us who belong to churches know that we are very welcoming to visitors, and we want them to come, but this morning's experience reminded me how intimidating it can be to not know the ins and outs and behavioral expectations for children, etc. Even though it wasn't what we're used to, I'm so glad we could be Catholic for the day and get some worship in.

Friday, July 25, 2014

July 25th, outsourced

This reporter put TGI Friday's "Endless Appetizers" promotion to the test on a 14-hour mozzarella stick binge. The twist is that even the first one was gross (language warning).

You will not be able to stop watching these goats playing on a piece of bouncy metal.

Inglorious fruits and vegetables - malformed produce for cheaper!

Remembering your first language - really interesting thoughts about forgetting your native language after 25 years.

Has it been 10 years since Lori Hacking was killed? It has. An interview with her mother.

Nothing like a good old gender switch to make you see things in a new light - here's what happens when you replace women in everyday situations with men. [HT Cait]

Beautiful photos of motherhood around the world from 50 years ago. [HT Kat]

Every episode of The Simpsons will soon be available online. You guys, I look for Simpsons clips to use on this blog all the time and I can never find them! No more. [HT Crys]

Six funny Alex Trebek moments on Jeopardy!

I found this animation of the history of Israel/Palestine/Canaan to be beautifully drawn and very, very sad. [HT Suzanne]

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hiking in Bavaria

I take the kids on a hike every morning here. The trails start about 50m from our front door. We have a few favorite routes, though there are enough criss-crossing trails that we can mix and match the path we choose to get anywhere.

There's Ice Cream Mountain (we hiked that one when we were here before).

Johannes Kappelle, where you can go inside and ring the bells (!!!!).

and Amy Kappelle, which is actually called Romanische Kappelle.

We call it Amy Kappelle because a dog named Amy lives in a house near the trail, and she often joins us for some play time near the chapel. That's her on the stairs, in fact.

Sometimes we get lost in the network of trails. Sometimes we have to blaze our way through a stinky cow manure field and up a steep, forested hill to get back on track. Sometimes Sterling starts to fall asleep in the backpack and we have to laugh and goof with him like fools so he will wake up again and take a proper nap once we're home.

We run into a lot of spiderwebs. We pretend we're Hobbits or some of Robin Hood's merry/henchmen. We get caught in the rain. We do Choose Your Own Adventure hiking where each kid takes a turn deciding whether to go left or right at each fork in the road. We come across signs that say "Botanische Lehrpfad" and do not understand what that means.


That happened last week. I kept the phrase in my head all the way home and looked it up first chance I got. Except I typed it in wrong and Google Translate told me it meant "Botanical Instructive Mortgage" and I was so confused.

It actually means "Botanical Learning Trail," and we went that way this morning. I think all the lehr (learning) has been taken out of the Pfad (trail), though. It was just a regular trail. But still a nice hike. We came across this old wall.
Who knows how long that's been here?

I'm soaking in this summer of hiking. Trails and forests and spiderwebs in the face, even, are good for the soul.







Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Flossenbürg Concentration Camp


This post might suffer from a touch of Feeling Introspective After Visit to Concentration Camp.

Today, we visited Flossenbürg Konzentrationslager, about an hour away from where we're staying. This was my first visit to such an awful place - while we were there, I was trying to think of anywhere else I've been that made me feel so awful awful awful. Quneitra came to mind, but even that misery was on a much smaller scale.

The interpretive materials on site were so well done. The most moving aspect of them was the way they set up displays of old photos around the site on the spot they were originally taken. It gave the site so much more meaning and context, to be standing in the courtyard, for example, looking at an old photograph of prisoners lining up just there.

I was apprehensive about bringing the girls there. Fortunately, they have been really interested in Anne Frank since we came to Germany, and that has provided a relatively child-appropriate access point to the whole mess of WW2. Still, I hated having to tell them that some horrible people did horrible things to other people, right here in this place. I do think their naivete and their tendency to see things only in black and white will protect them for now. On this visit, they had ears only for stories of good guys and bad guys, allowing none of the ugly complexities of these people's nuanced, difficult lives to cloud the picture.

I recall a moment in one of the exhibit halls, standing in front of an image showing the pictures of a dozen female guards who worked at Flossenbürg. They had soft hairstyles and warm smiles, and yet these women helped run the concentration camp machine day after day after day. Magdalena looked at the pictures and was immediately able to categorize the women as bad guys. I looked at them and thought of the parents, siblings, or children they were supporting during a frightening time of war, possibly with the only work they could get. Shades of grey can be so unsettling sometimes.

It was overcast and raining when we first showed up at Flossenbürg. We spent time in the exhibition halls and visiting the grounds, and gradually the sun came out. The kids and I headed back to the car ahead of Jeremy, and as we walked out through the gates, we made an effort to shake off the feeling of that horrible place. Thankfully, we were successful. The sunshine definitely helped.

Here are a few pictures, though I felt gross somehow taking any.

In the foreground are markers for each country who lost people "to bloody Fascism," as the Russian put it. In the background is the crematorium chimney.

"In honor of the 90th US infantry division which liberated Flossenbürg Concentration Camp April 23, 1945."

 There was a wall with cards where you could leave your thoughts. These were Magdalena's two contributions. "Never forget the war today. 22.7.14 war time 1938."

"In the next few years it got better in the war."

Yes it did, thank goodness. Even though this was a pretty terrible place to visit, I'm glad we have the chance to do so.

Monday, July 21, 2014

More fun than Disneyland

We've never actually taken the kids to Disneyland, but I have to believe that they could hardly have more fun there than we did at Playmobil FunPark near Nuremberg on Saturday. And for a fraction of the price and hassle, too!

This place reminded me of Enchanted Forest in Oregon - low-key, laid-back, not too sprawling, lots of shade, (almost) no lines, and focused on fun for a range of ages. Sterling (age 9 months) even got to be more than a blob in the stroller - there was a baby obstacle course that he enjoyed, as well as a water play area that he hung out in quite happily for a while.

For the big girls, there were more difficult obstacle courses, paddle boats, a castle, a pirate ship, a Wild West area, dinosaurs, and mini-waterfalls to play in after we were all hot and sandy.

I think in two or three years, Miriam will have aged out of the activities this park has to offer, but for this stage of our children's lives, we could not have chosen a better place for all of them to have a blast.

Plus, I had so much fun watching them have fun - you know the feeling?

Friday, July 18, 2014

July 18th, outsourced

Here's an interesting and fairly interactive infographic about where certain majors end up working. [HT Bryce]

Sorry for the clickbaity source, but these really are neat Google tips.

Maybe I don't entirely agree with his tone, but seriously, sometimes kids need to travel and yes, it is harder for us (the parents) than for you to endure.

I do not fully understand the context, but there's some crazy obstacle course and recently, a woman successfully completed it for the first time. Pretty awesome.

Ooh, long cons in the social media era: how to flawlessly predict anything on the internet. [HT Andrew, maybe?]

This was a tough week for international news. In Gaza, "Imagine for a second that Hamas had leveled a synagogue. Can you imagine what Israel would feel justified in doing as a response? Or imagine if a Jewish extended family of 18 had been massacred by Hamas, including children? Would we not be in a major international crisis? At some point the lightness with which we treat Palestinian suffering compared with Jewish suffering needs to be addressed as an urgent moral matter. The United States is committed to human rights, not rights scaled to one’s religious heritage or race."

Also in Gaza, four boys, dead on the beach.

In Syria, more heritage treasures are being damaged or destroyed.

Dresden

We spent the day in Dresden. It was our first trip to (the former) East Germany since we were in Berlin in 2002.

I confess I expected a little more firebomb-burned-out Dresden, and a little less thriving-restored-Baroque Dresden.





Then again, it's been almost 70 years since 3900 tons of bombs were dropped by the Allies on Germany's last untouched city in the east. I understand the need to rebuild. Frauenkirche (in the last picture, above), however, was left in ruins as a war memorial until very recently - 2005, I think? There's something to be said for that particular depth of emotion that can be experienced when looking at a beautiful thing ruined by war. Berlin and its Gedächtniskirche agree.

It reminds me of how I felt when they announced that the Nauvoo Temple was being rebuilt. Hooray, but visiting there as a teenager, I loved the feeling evoked by those lonely foundation stones lying in their sunken plot of ground more than I loved the rebuilt temple when we visited there in 2010.

But Dresden was beautiful, as you can see. Since we were there with our kids, a random (awesome!) park made it onto the day's itinerary.

And Magdalena made friends with a statue.

We also tried to go see the hill that was made by the hauled-away rubble after the bombing in 1945. It's called Türmberg...and nobody seemed to know a thing about it. A lone hotel doorman said he remembered his father (age 80) talking about it, but he thought it was not a place you could visit - just some rocks and junk in holes.

Another attraction of the day was a visit to the Mormon temple in Freiberg. It was opened in 1985, which means it was the first temple (and maybe the only one ever?) behind the Iron Curtain. Go read the Wikipedia article - it's pretty interesting. Today, there were no secret police to bother us. Instead, a local member opened up the chapel and small photo exhibit for us to look at.

I remember knowing of East Germany's existence as a kid, and one of my first news-related memories is of the Berlin Wall falling down. I was also somewhat obsessed with WW2 as a kid, so today's day trip was interesting to me on many levels, even if it's possible that my kids admitted to the park being their favorite thing!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Der Müll

In German, nouns are capitalized (the Bread, the Milk, the Juice), and nowhere is this more deserved than in the case of Der Müll - The Garbage.

Garbage is a big deal here. Or rather, producing as little of it as possible is a big deal here. Look, I'm from Portland. I am fluent in recycling, and this has still been an adjustment for me. In the US (and in the UAE, to a lesser extent, where we do have some recycling capabilities but also access to an essentially bottomless dumpster), recycling was more a post-consumption issue. When you're finished with something, you either recycle it or throw it away.

Here in Germany, more and more I find myself thinking about this issue pre-consumption. For example, there is one brand of milk here whose carton is not easily collapsible. I don't want to buy that kind anymore, because it hogs all the room in the recycling bin.

This is also one of those countries where plastic bags are not provided at check-out. You bring your own reusable bags (or those fancy pop-up baskets - love those!). If you're willing to endure the shame, you can buy some sturdy plastic bags from the store for around 70 (Euro) cents each.

But back to The Garbage. We are living in the upstairs of a house. Our landlady and her husband live on the ground floor. Her daughter and grandson live in the basement. Altogether, there are six adults and three children living on this property. Here is how big our common Garbage can is:

And you guys, I'm not even sure that it's collected once a week. I think it might be once every two weeks. So yeah, we think long and hard before throwing something away in our house these days. It's actually easier to recycle something than to throw it away mindlessly. Isn't that the way it should be?

There's just one problem: diapers. Those pile up fast and there are too many of them to fit in the bin along with the other trash. What to do? Well, our first Sunday here at church, an American woman who had just moved here mentioned driving around town with bags of trash in the trunk of her car, looking for a random dumpster she could throw it in because her bin at home was already full. We kind of laughed with her...and then thought, "brilliant!!!" We went home and did the very same thing because it's the only way those diapers are getting thrown away.

But guess what? There aren't even random dumpsters here! Sometimes you can find a medium-sized can at a gas station, but that's about it. When you do find one, surreptitiously throwing a bag of trash in there feels like disposing of a body - you're worried someone might see you and trace it back to you.

So now we are hyper-aware of all the Garbage we produce, and meticulous about throwing it away elsewhere, if possible. In the UAE, we'd get home from a road trip and clean out the car by bringing in all the refuse to the kitchen Garbage bin. Here, I try to clean out the car anywhere else but at home.

While we have Garbage on the mind, check out these photos of Americans swimming in a week's worth of their own Garbage. We really do produce quite a bit of waste!

Monday, July 14, 2014

My new German BFFs wear lederhosen without shirts

I don't know that I have ever, EVER been as embarrassed in a foreign country as I was today, and I include in that assessment the time I begged for money in Japanese train station. This was a slightly different kind of embarrassment, though, as you will see.

It all started when my friend Anna (who lives here) showed up at my house so I could follow her on the day's outing. She mentioned offhand, oh-so-casually, that she was going to take a different route out of the village "because they're asking for money for the Kirwa [that's how you spell it] on the main road and I don't want to drive by there again."

Maybe she set me up, though, because on the way home, she left to go to her house, with my kids, leaving me alone in my car, and I drove on through the main road. And saw ahead, to my horror, what was probably every young man from town dressed in lederhosen, but without shirts, jovially/drunkenly harassing all the passing cars for the (dubious) sake of donations. As I pulled up at the narrowest part of the cobblestone road, where two cars can barely pass each other anyway, half a dozen youths were dancing around a stopped car with music blaring and headlights flashing. And I was next.

I immediately decided to play the not-entirely-true "I don't speak German" card. But as I rolled down my window, I realized it wasn't going to be that easy. They wouldn't have cared if I spoke only Chinese. They were determined to have their fun.

To my great, great relief, at least they were quite drunk. That way, I could kind of pretend this was not happening. I tried to give them all the change I had in the car (about two Euros) right away, thinking maybe they'd let me leave. But first we had to chat about me being American, and World Cup (DEUTSCHLAND!!!), and our favorite players on said team (thank goodness I've been paying attention), and my name, and how it's the same as Bridget Jones (that was interesting, actually, since in the Middle East they go straight for Brigitte Bardot), and how I was so beautiful, and if I ever wanted a beer, my new shirtless lederhosen BFFs Johannes and Matthias would buy one for me and give me a kiss, too. I am not making any of this up. By the way, Johannes looked to be about 18; Matthias was probably a little older.

As I drove away (finally!), I could hear Johannes and Matthias chanting, "Bridget! Bridget! Bridget! Bridget!"

Greatest/MOST EMBARRASSING day of my life.

I wanted to google a picture of "shirtless lederhosen" to put on this post for you, but no. Just no.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

An evening at the cemetery

We were going to walk to the village kurvo festival celebration thing (I have no idea how it is spelled or even if that is exactly how it sounds. Part of being a foreigner is that you are only ever about 60% clear on things you hear from the natives), but it ended up being a longer walk than we bargained for. Magdalena and Jeremy pressed on while Miriam, Sterling, and I spent time at the village cemetery.

As the daughter of Suzanne Walker, I have learned to appreciate cemeteries. This was my first German cemetery, though, and it took some getting used to. There were no pictures on the grave markers (unlike in Russia and other Slavic areas), except for one near the back. The markers were very large, with one for each family, and the names and dates were inscribed on the back. I didn't see any relationships listed, like you sometimes see in the US ("beloved mother," etc.). Miriam and I found the oldest birth date (1837), the most recent death date (May 2014), and the youngest deceased (a two-month-old baby who died in 2003).

Miriam and I talked about the kinds of lives these people must have lived - those who were adults during the war years, those who were babies growing up during the war years, and those who lived very long lives spanning both WWI and WWII - there were so many long lives represented in that cemetery! Also, so many Georgs, Andreases, and Margarethes. We even saw a Magdalena, as well as a Hedwig (!) and an Elsa.

We looked for death dates during the war years. There were a few, but not as many as you might think. Most were from 1944, and several of them were distinguished by the letters "VERM." I could tell it was a German abbreviation - perhaps something like the English "KIA" for "killed in action." I told Miriam so, but made a mental note to look it up when we got home.

Thus it is that I googled "German gravestone abbreviations" and found out, with great sadness, that "VERM." probably means "vermisst" - "missing." What a picture that paints of a life cut short. One stone in particular told a story - two brothers, born one year apart, early in the 20th century. One was missing (dead) in 1944. The other lived until the 1980s.

For being an unexpected trip to the village cemetery, Miriam and I (and Sterling, in all his obliviousness) had a very quiet, meaningful experience. I hope we make it to the kurvo (or whatever it's called) another day, but I'm glad things went the way they did today.

Friday, July 11, 2014

July 11th, outsourced

I just realized that today is Friday. Since it's not the Sabbath here, I am so disoriented and I hardly ever know which day it is. So here is the Outsourced post!

The PepsiCo CEO on women having it all.

Penny in your Pants: how to ride a bike without your skirt riding up! [HT Crys]

Modern slavery. [HT Crys]

Humpty Dumpty at my beloved Enchanted Forest in Oregon actually fell off the wall. Sad day.

The best times to buy international plane tickets. Ooh I hate that game.

Statistics explain how Tim Howard had the best match of the World Cup against Belgium last week. [HT Andrew, maybe?]

An average Saturday morning, with kids and without kids. Especially funny since I read it way too early in the morning, having been woken up by my kids.

Mitt Romney flies coach! At least according to all these people who social media-stalked him. [HT Kathy]

Awesome World Cup photos. I am freaking out about #14. (There are some scantily clad Brazilian ladies in a couple of these.) (And seriously, #14 looks so photoshopped to me, but I Googled it and it seems legit.)

Gregarious in Germany

We are one week into our five-week stay in Germany. We are renting the upstairs floor of a house in a small village outside of Nuremberg (the same place we spent spring break last year). This area is a popular destination for hiking, so we've been doing a lot of that. We are hanging out with our friends who live here. We've also been eating a lot of food. Yesterday I was walking through our neighborhood and a bread truck drove by in the same way an ice cream truck would drive through a neighborhood in the US. I did not have money on me at the time, or this post would be a review of the different kinds of bread I tried.

(Don't worry, a post about food is coming, including the fact that my new favorite phrase in German is zum Fertigbacken, which is written on packages of bread they sell here that is almost all the way cooked, but not quite, so you put it in your own oven and finish baking it so it's fresh.)

Aside from the differences in food and environs - it's been rainy and 11C the past two days - I've noticed differences in the social habits of people here. In the UAE, gregarious is the order of the day. Employees and many other people who are just out and about will engage you in small talk and go out of their way to be social and friendly. Here in Germany, so far I've noticed that we all just kind of let each other be - friendly still, but at a distance.

For example, when we showed up at our rental house one afternoon last week and met our landlady for the first time, she took us upstairs, showed us the space and how a few things worked, dropped off some homemade raspberry cake, and then excused herself and went back home. It took all of five minutes. I have to admit that as an introvert who was almost out of her mind with travel fatigue (remember we took a plane, two trains, metro, and a drive to get here), it was the kindest thing she could have done.

Compare that experience to when we showed up at our rental apartment in Amman, Jordan in 2007. Our landlady met us there and showed us the space, and then took us over to her house on the other side of town and fed us a full-on Jordanian dinner. I still think about that and how kind (and gregarious) that was, too, even if it was hard to enjoy since we were so exhausted.

Anyway. We are happy to be here and enjoying lots of hikes!

The view from our window.

The view from a hike.

The view of Sterling.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

World Cup 2014

How. about. that. GAME last night. Jeremy was a little late getting to the living room and when he missed Germany's goals at 11' and 23', I thought he'd missed all the scoring the game was likely to have. I neglected to consider the possibility of further goals at 24', 26', 29', 69', and 79'. I kept thinking I was seeing replays, but no, they were all new goals. For Germany's players, it was like


This world cup has been extra fun for us for two reasons.


First, the girls have been following along with the World Cup sticker book I got them at Carrefour in Sharjah. They did chores to earn stickers and every morning during the group stage, we filled in the match results.

Second, we are enjoying these awesome Germany games IN GERMANY. I don't know what the usual standards of flag-based country worship are here, but there are flags all over the place right now. The games are on late, so we are watching the games in our own living room instead of at the pub surrounded by semi-drunken Germans. But we do get a sense of the community of fans out there because we can hear cheering through our open windows when Germany scores.

In conclusion, this is my favorite World Cup since 2002. I didn't have a sticker book that year, but I cut out the World Cup bracket insert from The Moscow Times and hung it on our apartment wall. I seem to remember lots of fun upsets from that year. Japan and Korea made a good showing, if I remember correctly, and Turkey ended up third (!!!).

I can't wait until the final. Go Deutschland!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Zoo, grocery store, traffic

We spent the day yesterday in Nuremberg, mostly at the zoo but also grocery shopping and getting stuck in traffic in some of the most beautiful surroundings you could imagine.

Zoo (Tiergarten). It was awesome. They had a dolphin show that was as educational (if you understand German) as Dubai's is flash-bang exciting. In other words, there were no laser lights, fire, or Ukrainians in leotards at the Nuremberg dolphin show.

Grocery store. The thing about grocery shopping here (as compared to at home in Sharjah) is that you have to make it a priority. The store in our village closes early and often - if you realize you're out of milk at 7pm on Saturday night, too bad. So while we were in Nuremberg we decided to seek out a bigger grocery store and stock up on a few things. This decision led to a golden moment at a gas station wherein Jeremy was asking the cashier for directions and told her that we needed a big gift (geschenk) instead of a big store (geschäft). I have missed foreign language gaffes like this one. It's good to be humiliated once in a while.

Stuck in traffic. At the end of the day, we were all tired and ready to be home already. A few minutes into the 40-minute drive, we hit a wall of traffic. Sterling was fussing and could not be consoled. We hit the Detour button on Lady Edith and  our new route ended up taking us past a field of U-pick blueberries, raspberries, and cherries. Jackpot! We pulled into the field just in time to have the very stern German man tell us that since it was 6.50 and the picking closed at 7pm, he wouldn't let us in. Miriam, no joke, started crying (you do NOT promise a Palmer raspberries and then go back on your word). And Very Stern German Man, no joke, was unmoved.

However, he very kindly sold us some already picked berries. We let Sterling crawl around in the grass for a while, ate some berries, and drove home, the traffic having cleared itself out during our pit stop at the field.

All in all, a good day.



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