Thursday, December 29, 2016

Quoting my friends

I'm so lucky to have fun, funny, creative, intelligent, and wacky friends. Sometimes what they say gets me in stitches.

One friend said, "He's so awesome that I'd like to trade brains with him."

What a strange, but funny, compliment. 

Another friend, who has performed on stage, said "My favorite thing to do on stage is to die. I love dying on stage. I got married 10 times on stage and that wasn't as interesting. I'd much rather die."

This one slayed me. What funny things do your friends say?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Even more about the Weinachtsgurke!

On the eve before the eve before Christmas (don't get lost in that one), the New York Times even has published an article about the Weinachtsgurke. 

Go take a gander at the article; they even mention Frankenmuth, Michigan, just as I had. (I beat you to the story about seeing it there, NYT. I'm ahead of the curve!).

However you plan to spend the next few days, whether it includes a pickle or not, I wish you peace and happiness.

Monday, December 19, 2016

In which we violate societal norms & start a new holiday tradition

My lovely friends invited me over for some "wichteln," which was very enjoyable (but also a bit confusing, because of my understanding of German, or lack thereof). They had decorated for Christmas and even created a jaunty, if not lopsided, gingerbread house.

We ate dinner, played Dixit (my new favorite tabletop game, though it's certainly not new), and exchanged small gifts. Then something interesting happened. My friend had been joking (or so I thought) about eating the gingerbread house. Imagine our surprise when she brought it to the table on its tray and presented it to us, as one would a glorious turkey.

We actually ate the gingerbread house*! Do people actually do that? Where will Hansel and Gretl live**? Did we violate social norms somehow? Or is this not so unusual? Have you heard of anyone doing this? I did make a joke about Germany being really good about recycling so we were merely doing our part.

Despite it being slightly dry as a result of being displayed for 3 weeks, it tasted good. We knocked off the "shingles" (Haribo random gummies) and then started chipping off the gingerbread facade.

It was so enjoyable that we plan to repeat the experience next year. For some reason they want to build me a Barbie gingerbread house. Of course I had to tell them about the Barbie dreamhouse in Berlin and that whole story. Somehow we decided that we'll make a gingerbread house to eat in June so we'd have something to look forward to, and that it would be a Barbie beach house. I love my wacky friends.

*Not all of it, technically.

**Okay, so they probably ran for their lives or something like that after the witch tried to eat them, but still!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Two of my obsessions combined in a disconcerting Christmas scene

I'm a bit obsessed with roadside candy machines (if you are obsessed too, click the tag for them). I like them because frankly, they effect both curiosity and revulsion in me. I always wonder who'd be cool with eating the candy in them because the machines are outside and don't look particularly clean.

I'm also fascinated by a Santa Claus decoration I've only seen in Europe: a Santa who's usually tacked to the side of a building and appears to be breaking in. What the heck? Is it because many modern houses don't have proper chimneys for him to enter the house? Has he left his life's mission of giving behind and intends to become a burglar?

Imagine my delight when I walked by a Lokal (local bar) in Kaiserslautern and saw Santa using a ladder and a roadside candy machine to scale his way into the bar. He's like the high class MacGyver of home break-ins/or gift distribution.*

*Or he's a bit drunk after visiting the Lokal and doesn't realize that he's next to the door and could have used that instead.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I saw the Weinachstgurke!

I wrote about the time my German friend asked me about the German Christmas pickle, which she couldn't believe was true. I have one myself, and it's a Christmas tree ornament in the shape of a pickle. Americans believe that placing such an ornament and rewarding the first child who finds it with a gift is a German tradition. Ask most Germans about it and they will exclaim in disbelief, "Hä?"  (or even better yet, "Das ist eine Verarschung!," as my friend said) and then tell you that it's not really a German tradition and they don't put them on their Christmas trees.

Imagine my delight when I visited the Pfalzbibliothek and saw the Weinachtsgurke display. The library hid a Christmas pickle in its Christmas tree and included a description of its legend (which might or might not be made up by Americans).
I translated the yellow sign and this is what is says: 

"An old custom is revived

Yes, you have read that correctly. Pickle. More accurately said: the sour pickle.
The “German Christmas pickle” is an old custom allegedly from the 20th century that is very popular with the Americans. The Christmas pickle is hung in the Christmas tree and must be found without touching the tree. The lucky winner gets to be the first to unwrap his gift.

This tradition allegedly developed in poor families who couldn’t afford gifts for all the children. Whomever found the pickle received the only gift.

The second historical story is based on a legend from the Citizens’ War. John Lower, a Bayerisch soldier, was taken captive by Americans. Completely weakened, he asked for a cucumber as a last meal. Amazingly, he regained his strength and every year after that he hung a pickle on the Christmas tree in thanks.

This area is mostly pickle-free, to the astonishment of the Americans. However, from year to year the number of families decorating their Christmas trees with pickles grows.

In our Christmas tree, one is hidden. Searching [for it] is wished."  (Source: Pfalzbibliothek, translated from the German by ATW).

I found it! Of course, I looked like a major weirdo looking for it, but oh well.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Haus der Nachhaltigkeit (near Kaiserslautern) Christmas Market Dec.10-11, 2016

My favorite Christmas market is coming up on December 10-11. It's only about a 15 minute bus ride from Kaiserslautern. With handmade and local goods and delicacies on offer, and set on grounds that abut the woods, it's a charming market.

Check out my more extensive guide that I wrote last year, with this link.

To experience fewer headaches with transportation, take the bus from Kaiserslautern. Driving there and parking are a nightmare but the bus is worry-free.

Friday, December 2, 2016

German class this semester

This semester, I'm taking a B2.2 German class. I remember the first class that I took at the Uni; I felt so lost on campus and nervous about attending lessons entirely in German, even though I had already earned an Associate degree in the language.

What a change there has been in the last two years! Now I know the campus reasonably well and have met a decent amount of students along the way. I can find the class and reasonably easily converse about the topics, make silly remarks, and even better yet, join the class's grammar debates.

Yes, you heard that right. Since we're an upper-level German class, we've moved beyond regular grammar and are learning about academic-level usage, as well as learning about bettering our writing and expression. Along the way, sometimes we get into debates about grammar, usage, and other topics. Since I love language and grammar, it's right up my alley, and reminds me of home (we've debated redundant phrases and the pronunciation of Spanish at my family's holiday meals before).

Sometimes our class conversations are downright ridiculous though. We were reading an article about food waste and one of the example sentences noted that the bananas had "Stellen," or spots. This word effected confusion and chaos because there are other definitions for the word.

Then we somehow transitioned to a debate about bananas specifically, what color they can be, and the fact that they cannot be brown, according to one student. He needed to be doched and so then I extolled the virtues of banana bread, an excellent use for bananas that have gone brown. The other students didn't believe me that such a thing existed. I then shut my mouth because I realized that I was inadvertently part of the hijacking of the class. Our teacher is patient about answering our questions and we actually are quite engaged -- maybe too much so!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Blah Friday

Even though it's always a bittersweet experience to spend a holiday like Thanksgiving away from one's family and sometimes there's a bit of homesickness while being away, one thing that I did not miss was the whole Black Friday mess of consumerism and greed.

For me, the day after Thanksgiving is the antithesis of the Thanksgiving spirit. One can't turn on the tv or the radio in the US without being bombarded by advertising for store sales. In the past, stores were closed on Thanksgiving Day so families can spend time together. However, stores would also start with crazy sales at 3 a.m., for example, the day after, or more stores are opening the day of Thanksgiving too. Yuck. Can't we have 1-2 days a year of no shopping?

People have started to set up tents outside the stores, sometimes days in advance, in hopes of snagging some deals. Once the stores open, sometimes pandemonium erupts; people have been trampled as the crowd rushed in. In an equally ugly situation, fights have broken out among customers to grab the last of an item.

I thought that, having moved to Germany, I'd be away from such things. However, this year I've noticed extensive advertising for "Black Friday" or even in some cases, "Black Week" (which is not really what we'd call it though). I've seen it in Germany and in France, too, when I visited Colmar for the weekend. Check out the photo below from a Colmar storefront.

Ick. It's an American invention that I would happily do without in Europe.

A bit of irony: when I emailed myself this photo, I tried to type "Black Friday" on my phone and instead ended up with, thanks to autocorrect, "Blah Friday," which totally fits!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Some Denglish that is way off

I attended a language exchange meetup and was introduced to my friend's new roommate, T, a friendly chap. He immediately leaned in and said quietly to me, "I have something I really want to ask you."

Me, to myself: okay, so I'm just meeting this dude; what's his burning question? To him: "Okay, what is it?"

Him: "I need to know something important about American English. What do you call it when a bunch of people watch a sports game together in public?

Me: breaking into laughter because I know where this is heading: "it is certainly not called a public viewing."

In other words, Americans use the term "public viewing" way differently and our term applies to death and grieving. Actually, we'd just say viewing or visitation, which is another term for a wake, in which family and friends gather to say goodbye to the loved one before the funeral. Usually the coffin is in the room and sometimes it's open; other times it's closed. The most common term I've heard in my US region, the Midwest, is a visitation. 

In Germany, a public viewing means watching a soccer game, somewhere in public, such as in a town square, with the game being projected on a big screen. There is no visiting a deceased person during such an event.

This discussion with T led to him asking me what we'd call this event -- I mean the sports one. We don't really have a term for it; we might just call it "watching the game" or we may specify the opponents, like "I'm going to watch the Honeybadgers play the Sloths."

Generally, we don't gather in a town square to watch sports games, especially since the US is so suburbanized and our downtowns are not always so vibrant (though they can be). It seems that most of the time a bar or bar/restaurant will show a(n) (American) football game on their big screen tvs. Sometimes businesses will host Superbowl Sunday parties in honor of the big competition at the end of January. Since it is common for Americans to have big screen tvs, many people just watch the game from home, either alone or with friends whom they've invited over for a party.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

It might be after Halloween but it's still freaky

I saw this poster and it brought back nightmares memories of Guillermo del Toro's film, Pan's Labyrinth. Freaky mandrake anyone?

By the way, the movie is excellent, highlighting the innocence of children and the horrors of war. It's not a comfortable movie to watch, but then again, it shouldn't be, either.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Dutch and peanut cheese

One of the joys of living in an international environment is that one learns about other cultures, and sometimes this includes learning about those cultures' food. I know someone who's Dutch and after a recent trip to the Netherlands, he brought back some delicious Dutch snacks.

I received three different types of Gouda cheese, including old, middle, and young. I liked the old the best because it's more pungent and flavorful. I also received stroopwafel, which has two cookie-like crusts with a caramel-like filling inside.

I was most delighted by the jar of peanut butter that he brought back. It's like a lovechild of creamy and crunchy peanut butter; it's mostly creamy in consistency but has little bits of peanuts, the best of both worlds.

Even better yet is what the Dutch call peanut butter: pindakaas, which means "peanut cheese." Another Dutchman told me that at the time when peanut butter was first being marketed, the word butter was protected and only meant butter. Therefore, the Dutch decided to call it peanut cheese because it was a savory topping. That's an interesting justification.

Stroopwafel, peanut cheese, and a lovely mountain of Gouda

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Important announcement

Dear readers: I would like to make an important announcement to you, especially to the European and German readers.

I would like it to be noted that:

-It was cold out
-I was still getting over being sick


the big reveal is:


Best photo editing ever
Not really a rock, more of a carving, with my disembodied hand, but you get the point. One of my body parts was touching it, it was cold, and I did not get sick. That's close enough to illustrate this story.
My friend and I had taken a walk and decided to sit for a while and converse. Since there is a dearth of park benches in Kaiserslautern, we sat on cold rocks. Our tushes froze. Neither one of us got sick from that.

I just wanted to share this important event with you, mostly because of this belief that I've heard from German friends.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Well aren't you sweet, Aldi

It's now possible to pay with an honest-to-goodness credit card at Aldi, both in the US and in Germany. By credit card, I mean like a full-on Visa, Mastercard, and I'm sure a few others, and not just a German EC Karte.

When I received my credit card bill after shopping at Aldi, in the vendor name column, I saw this:

Cute, huh? The name is Aldi South says thank you. I thank you, Aldi, for finally getting it together and accepting credit cards.*

*Note: this post isn't sponsored, especially as evidenced by my not-so-commercial note.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My weeks: through October 23

On October 10-11, M and I continued our trip in Edinburgh. I came up with some lists about what I thought was more convenient in Scotland and what I missed from Germany, for your blog reading pleasure.

I went back to work on Wednesday and had a horribly sore throat. I could barely talk and was eating cough drops, Ibuprofin, and ice all day. I really just wanted to go home but stayed at work because there was so much to get in order. I just had to do it mostly in a whisper.

The next day I was massively sick. Burning up with fever, I was dreaming/hallucinating that I was writing the abstract and conclusion of a scientific paper. What a nerdy way to be sick, especially considering that I'm not a scientist!

I eschewed visiting the doctor and getting antibiotics because I've been reading up on antibiotic resistance. Last time I got a sinus infection, I was mostly better in a day and a half without antibiotics. This time around, I was feeling miserable so five days later, I visited the doctor and she prescribed me practically a pharmacy's worth of everything and I was grateful for it.

Even though I visited the American medical practice, the doctor I visited is German. The German system can be a bit liberally cray cray about giving time off. Seriously, if one has a sniffle, one could practically get two weeks off. She was going to write me time off for the remainder of the week. Even though I felt horrible and sick, that just sounded too unreasonable to me because I had already missed two days the week before. I told her to write my return to work day as Friday.

I felt guilty about even taking that much time off, but I ended up needing it. I've been mentioning (whining?) in the blog that I've been exhausted the last several months. I think that my immune system finally gave up and crashed. I slept probably about 14 hours a day during the week.

I worked a whole day on that Friday but by quitting time, I was completely exhausted and went home to read in bed until bedtime. I'm still not feeling the greatest; I'm tired, congested, and coughing, but back to work I go.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

My week: October 9 ed.

This week, I attended a travel talk in German. I'd attended a different one in the past and it was decent. This one was...well, it wasn't my style, let's say. It wasn't so much a talk as it was him showing a very long video of him on his journey, and some of the people he met along the way and joined for meals. Instead of interviewing them or providing some personal interest stories, it was more of a recitation of what happened, or just looooong clips of him and his friend en route.

I attended a language cafe and am still giggling about a conversation. I sat with a doctor and a med school student. We were talking about being tired after eating and in German the student told me it's because there isn't enough "Luft" (air) in the head. Huh? As far as I know, air shouldn't be rushing around in there. I finally realized that he meant Sauerstoff, which means oxygen. We had a good laugh about that one.

Afterward, my friend Ay. came over to work on some travel plans. We're going to visit Katowice in February. We're probably insane to visit Poland in the middle of winter, but it's inexpensive to go then and we haven't visited that country yet. Since I'm from Michigan and I like cold weather, it should be fine. I hope Ay. bundles up since she's from somewhere more temperate.

In German class, we worked on what I call "filler" words. These words add to the conversation and give emphasis but aren't integral to the sentence and can be left off (which is exactly my plans for these dumb things because I feel as if I'll never get them correct). We learned about eben, ja, aber, eigentlich, denn, ruhig, mal, and the one that drives me the most nuts, doch.

The latter is like the Swiss Army knife of German filler words (and I will recognize the irony of using something that's Swiss to describe something German). Anyway, doch can mean a seemingly contradictory bunch of things and often one must hear how the word is spoken to determine how it's being used. attempts to explain it and it takes several pages; you can read it here if you'd like to try to wrap your head around it. Our book in class only gives two sentences. Ha! That's a good one to try to explain something so nuanced. I hear the dang word all the time. I mostly hear it when someone contradicts someone else and it's somewhat like saying, nuh uh!

I was also relieved to learn that eigentlich is a filler word because I hear it all the time and it's been confusing me. In the context that I hear it, it usually seems to mean "really." My friend told me it doesn't mean that and Duden tells me otherwise. However, I've taken it to more mean something like "actually," "in fact," etc. So, can one use eigentlich like wirklich, or is it more like actually only? Leave a comment if you know, please.

After letting all that language learning percolate, the next night I stopped by Ay's house to work on more travel plans. She was cooking chicken biryani and invited me to eat some. I sampled the rice portion and enjoyed the spiciness. She later told me that when she served it to her sister, her sister was asking if I was okay because it seemed really spicy to her. I thought it was perfect. It was funny that the gringa liked the spicy food.

On Saturday night, M and I flew to Edinburgh for a weekend away. I had tried to visit Edinburgh when I was a study abroad student years ago and it was flooded. I was excited to finally see it, a decade later. More will follow...maybe.

Friday, October 21, 2016

What I missed from Germany while in Scotland

Earlier I talked about the conveniences I enjoyed while in Edinburgh. I forgot to mention the food - holy wow, was it delicious. I ate Mexican food cooked by actual Mexican people and it had NO curry powder or added sugar (I'm giving you the side-eye on this one, restaurants in Kaiserslautern). Apparently there is an enclave of Mexican people in Edinburgh. Who would've guessed? It was awesome, and yes, I'm one of those horrible tourists who tries the Mexian food everywhere. I usually feel pessimistic that it'll taste good yet remain hopeful. Edinburgh came through on this.

However, there were some things that I missed about Germany, too.

-Recycling: since we were grabbing convenience food such as salads and boiled eggs from the grocery stores, we were left with a lot of plastic packaging, but no recycle bins in sight to dispose of them. I felt guilty going through that much plastic. In Germany, there are usually bins readily available to recycle one's waste. In fact, Germany has one of the highest recycling rates of EU member states.

-Inexpensive grocery food: we loved the convenience of the supermarket food, but the prices were definitely higher. Germany's cost of food is quite low, especially at discount markets like Aldi and Penny.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Frankfurt Book Fair this weekend

The Frankfurt Book Messe (Fair) is being held again this week. It's the world's largest book fair and has many fascinating things for the book lover to see and do. I wrote about my experience visiting it last year; click here to read more about what I saw and did there.

The Book Fair will be open again to everyone this upcoming weekend,  22-23 October.

Frankfurt Book Fair link with more information, in English.

The Local wrote an article (in English) about the 2016 book fair. Read it here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

So convenient Scotland, compared to Germany

Although I love living in Germany, I sometimes feel as living here is "glamping," a contraction of glamorous camping. Germany is advanced in many ways but in other areas, it can feel a bit behind the times. For example, stores aren't open on Sundays and during the week, the ones open "late" usually close by 8 p.m. Sometimes one must pay to call customer service lines. Life is perfectly fine here, but sometimes it doesn't feel nearly so convenient as my life did in the US. Hence springs my feeling that one has what one needs here and then some, but it's not metaphorically like staying in a full service hotel; it's more like staying at a fancy campground.

During my visit to Scotland, I reveled in some of the conveniences and social conventions that reminded me of life in the US. Here are some of them:

-Stores were open on Sunday. Yasss!

-There was a 24 hour open corner store. Hecks yes. Other stores, like Sainsbury's, a grocery store, were open from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. Fancy a late-night snack or need some toiletries outside of convenient times? There you go.

-If people even seem close to bumping into you, they say excuse me. If I had a euro for every time someone in Germany barged into me, I'd be rich. If you gave me a euro every time they said excuse me (or entschuldigung, sorry, or es tut mir leid)...I'd be poor.

-People actually know how to queue in Scotland. Germany, proper queuing does not mean: standing in a misshapen clump, barging ahead of other people, cutting, pushing, etc.

-People actually hold the door open for you. In Germany, even if the person entering the building is directly before me and I'm practically on his heels, I have lost any expectation that he'll hold the door for me and I'll most likely have it slammed in my face.

-We could pay with credit cards almost everywhere, even for small amounts. I hardly needed any cash.

-FREE WiFi, all over the place.

-Beautiful, cozy coffee houses (with WiFi!) that are open later. Okay, so I know that in bigger German cities, there are plenty of these, but Kaiserslautern's coffee house scene promptly shuts down at 1800 for the convenience of the owners. How I would love to cozy up at a coffee house, maybe surf the net a bit, and read a book later at night - in a place with NO smoking, as in 0, zilch, nada, nichts. (Technically, most places around here are supposed to be smoke free but because of a legal loophole, a lot of the bars and some restaurants allow it inside. Ick.)

-OMG, the prepackaged food at the grocery store! As a low-budget traveler in Edinburgh, I planned only a few meals out in restaurants. For the rest of the meals, I wanted to buy something quick, easy, and inexpensive from the grocery store. Yes, there are some things like prepackaged salads and others at German grocery stores, but you're more likely to have to build your own snack.

At the grocery stores in Edinburgh, we marveled at the convenience, prepackaged foods, many of which were healthful. Would you like cut up veggies and dip? Help yourself. How about a pack of boiled eggs for protein? Yep. They even had a cup of falafel patties. *Swoon.* It was perfect for a meal on the go.

Am I dissing on Germany? That's definitely not my intent. Some things are just more convenient in other countries. In the next entry, I'll talk about some of the things that I missed from Germany during my trip.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

My week: October 2 ed.

This week, I cracked my tandem partner up. I told her about the Christmas pickle, which Americans believe is a traditional German ornament. The legend is that the first person who finds it receives an extra gift.

She asked me if Americans really believed that Germans do this. I said yes. She started howling with laughter and said, "Das ist eine Verarschung!"

Well, Americans think it's traditional, I told her. I had never heard of it until my friend visited Frankenmuth, which is meant to look like a German village in the thumb area of Michigan. My friend bought me one of these ornaments and it included a description that described it as a German tradition. Apparently it's not; A has never heard of it and apparently thinks it's quite funny, so there you go.

Source The unassuming Weinachtsgurke
Later this week, I provided an online training for everyone worldwide. I'm doing a lot more with training lately and I like that. I won't lie: it's certainly good for the resume to say that I train 70+ locations worldwide. It also gives me the opportunity to think that my undergrad degree perhaps was worth all the extra work (getting the teaching certification is basically like adding a second major, in addition to my two minors).

German class was a relief. I was moaning to the teacher that I wanted to take the B2 test but I needed to do so much more studying and I felt so behind. "Why?" he asked. "You could pass it right now with no problem." He said that some of the other classmates have passed that and even the C1 test and they still make mistakes, but I'm at least as good as the B2 student and there should be no reason I wouldn't pass. Yippie! By the way, I know it sounds a bit blunt about what he said about the other students. There was no malice in it and I see it as the German directness, which I like (outside of schimpfing ;)

I went on a "friend date" with M and we saw Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I had read all three books in the series and felt very conflicted about the movie. I think that if I had only seen the movie, I would have liked it. However, while it uses elements of the books, it makes some very major changes that are jarring.

One major change is that the main character's love interest is totally switched around. They took Emma's character and gave it Olive's talents. The original Emma can summon fire and even has a fiery personality. Instead, they gave her Olive's floating ability. In the book, Olive is a much more passive personality; for the most part, they use her as a lookout and sometimes they even forget her as she's floating above. Book Emma is very strong and independent and by her example, Jacob learns how to be courageous (or as I'd say, he stopped being such a wuss after witnessing her courage). Movie Emma is much more restrained. Boo!

Also, there is a very significant difference from the book and the movie regarding Jacob's grandpa. I won't write it to avoid a spoiler, but it is definitely not how the book went and the change in the movie would make Jacob's quest way easier. The whole point of the books is how he develops courage and loyalty (which isn't really giving away a whole lot, so no worries) through trying quests. The movie made it much easier for him. Hrmph. So, would I recommend the movie? If you've read and loved the books, it might be a bit disappointing. If you haven't read the books and don't plan to, then go ahead; if you like quest movies, you'd like this one then.

There has been criticism of the movie because it does not include any minority characters except for the main villain, played by Samuel L. Jackson. I don't have a problem with the main cast not being diverse because in the books, they're not, and it's not through purposeful exclusion by the original author. In the book, the majority of the characters are from England and Wales in the 1940s (or they were from earlier time periods too). There wasn't a lot of immigration at that time and therefore the population wasn't that diverse.

However, making the villain a minority is problematic because in the book, he's not. In fact, the movie smooshes together several villains into one so Samuel L. Jackson's character is a mashup of people, none of whom were a minority in the book. My main beef with his movie character was that Tim Burton didn't let what makes SLJ shine out that much. I mean, the guy's a bada** (in an awesome way) so why not let him be a bit more of one in the movie? Yes, I know it's somewhat of a kids' movie, but still. Kids can appreciate SLJ too.

In addition to the movie, I also attended a friend's birthday party on the weekend. I brought some egg liquor that I was trying to get rid of and a guy was drinking glasses of it, straight. I hope he didn't have an unpleasant following day!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

My week: September 25 ed.

This week, I worked out, baked cupcakes for departing coworkers, met with both tandem partners, and traveled to the Stuttgart region.

My friends who live near Stuttgart invited me to a dinner party. Most of the guests were not only German, but they were also Schwäbisch, and they spoke that dialect. In other words, I could only understand about every third word that one of them spoke!

It was a lovely dinner but I made my appearance in a manner that is very rude in German culture: I was late. Not only was I late, but I was very late. Normally I'm on time but I just couldn't get it together. I had left a door unlocked at home and had to turn back to lock it. Then I had to fuel up the car. Even worse was that I thought that the party had started half an hour later than it actually had and I thought that it was a casual party where people stop by whenever.

It turned out to be a sit-down, dinner party. I was mortified to be so late, as I should have been, especially when I saw 3/4 of the dinner party finishing up the first course. I apologized profusely and was welcomed warmly despite my bungling of the arrival. The other 1/4 of the dinner party arrived 20 minutes later, so at least I wasn't the last person there, but still...!

I brought some neuer Wein, which thrilled K, especially after our ridiculous quest for it the weekend before. It went well with the delicious salad, bread, and soup dinner. There was pumpkin soup, which is a fall favorite in Germany (or at least the Pfalz), and then also goulash. I was trying to stifle a giggle as the Germans exclaimed how "hot" it was (spicy) because I hadn't realized that it had any spicy seasoning before they had said that. It wasn't what I would call spicy at all but most Germans are not known for the ability to tolerate spiciness in food.

For dessert, we ate a dulce de leche cheesecake I brought. Before one goes and thinks I'm a really fancy chef, realize that Nestle carried the weight on that one. I made it from a mix. It was delicious.

I already knew everyone at the party, since I had met them a year and a half before at C+K's garden party. That doesn't mean that I can understand the Schwäbisch dialect any better now, though ;) I mostly spoke with one lady, who was perfectly understandable and she was pleased that I spoke German, saying that I spoke it well. There is so much that I need to work on but I'm pleased to be able to converse at a dinner party.

I stayed over after the dinner party and enjoyed a lovely full German breakfast with C+K the next morning. They create such a lovely meal, with lots of bread, cheese, cold cuts, jams, cut peppers and cucumbers, etc.

After we had stuffed ourselves, we traveled to the Kloster (Monastery) Maulbronn. It's a world heritage site and a well-preserved group of buildings dating from medieval times and farther. We didn't have much time so we didn't pay to visit the museum but did stroll around the grounds. Afterward, we visited a festival being held farther along in the city, at the firehouse.

I had to hurry along because I was expected at a group event back in Kaiserslautern. I said goodbye to my friends and attempted to get home in haste. This doesn't happen in reality in the Stuttgart region, which has some of the worst traffic in Germany, as evidenced by a Stau on a Sunday. When I did reach the event, I managed to see most of my friends. At least this event was meant to have a flexible start time.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Moo insists on a sick day

I got sick this week, following a trip, and talked to my boss to get caught up on what I missed at work. During the phone call, Moo tried to hang up on him and then he also mooed right into the phone speaker. I guess Moo was upset that I was working a bit while I was sick?

Friday, October 7, 2016

In which my German skills are praised & we look like yokels

When K and I visited Bacharach, we had hoped to buy some neuer Wein. It's a fall special, beloved in the Pfalz, and is a sweet and effervescent drink made from fermented grape juice. The time window to buy it is short, as is its shelf life.

We decided to see if we could find some in Bacharach. Even though we were no longer in the Pfalz, we were in the Rheinland, a region of wineries, and even part of the same state, so there had to be some there, right?

When one buys neuer Wein directly from the grower, one can bring her own container. I happened to have a gallon jug in my car that I normally fill with water to take to work. Even though we didn't plan to buy that much wine, the jug would do in a pinch.

We walked through the wine festival downtown but had no luck finding a booth that sold neuer Wein. Giving up, we stopped at a gift shop so I could buy some postcards. In German, I asked the woman how much the cards were. She just about fell over, effusing about how wonderful my German was.

I held the postcards, shocked, then said in German, oh, thank you, but I still have a long way to go. She continued. I then told her I live here. She still gushed. Um, thank you, that is very kind, I told her.

It was definitely hyperbole, as kind as it was. I should be much more fluent and have better pronunciation, especially considering that I've been learning German for five years and practice with native speakers. If I had been a tourist, then yes, my German was darn good. For someone who've lived here almost four years, my progress is very slow.

I finally managed to pay her for the postcards and we moved on. However, finding no neuer Wein sellers, we came back and K asked her in excellent German if the woman knew of somewhere that we could buy it. Of course she mentioned the wine festival but we had no luck there earlier.

Then K held up the gallon jug and was babbling about how we live in the Pfalz and normally one brings a jug and buys the wine from a farmer on the side of the road.

The woman looked a bit horrified. I don't blame her, imagining drinking a whole gallon of neuer Wein. It's sweet as heck and would cause extreme gastrointestinal distress in such quantities. I also think we struck her as a bunch of redneck yokels who drank that thar wine stuff down in da Pfalz and we wanted to get our alky-hol on. Here the city was having a perfectly genteel wine festival where one could buy a glass of wine and it looked as if we wanted to swill it.

Oy vey. All we wanted was a glass or two each and it's cheaper to buy a whole liter than it is to buy a glass of it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

My week: September 18 ed.

This week, I spent several weeknights at home because I was worn out. Why am I worn out? I think that it was the usual suspect of poor sleep resulting from nighttime congestion related to allergies. I also think it was to do with work and learning.

Work is very busy right now and we've all been running in circles and working on multiple, simultaneous projects. At home, I have stacks (or should I say lists?) of (virtual) books to read because I'm trying to update my skills. For example, I really want to up my Photoshop, project management, online teaching, marketing, and video producing games (or in some cases, start them!). All of these skills are very relevant for my job, which is amusing because one wouldn't normally associate such skills with the type of job that I have. In addition, I'm working on my German almost every day and I hope to take the B2 test sometime next year.

It's starting to look as if my brain can't handle this so adeptly any more. Basically, since I've been 14, I've juggled a heavy load with education, work, and hobbies, and I could easily and quickly move among these. Several decades later, I feel about ready to come home and crawl into bed after a long workday that's been loaded with problem-solving. I love my job, no doubt, but man, have I been tired and a couple nights this week I just came home and read books in bed for the remainder of the evening.

I did meet up with my tandem partner A. and we discussed Redewendungen, or phrases and idiomatic expressions. This term, I'm focusing on higher-level German since I'm in a C1 class and it's a major component. Also, it will be useful for the B2 test. The middle and higher levels of German focus on language that one would see/use at work, school, or the news. It's becoming more academic as we move away from "hello, I'm soandso and my hobbies are..." to "I agree with the research, but I also think that further exploration is warranted." Okay, that's not exact, but it's the feel of what we're trying to do.

K came to visit for a girls' weekend and we traveled to the Rhein region for Rhein in Flammen, or "Rhein in flames," which is an event with fireworks along the Rhein River. It occurs five times a year from spring to fall in different cities along the Rhein. (More information here.) The celebration we attended was in Sankt Goar.

Along the way, we stopped and visited Burg Sooneck in Niederheimbach. We arrived just in time for a tour in German. The man giving the tour was very animated! I didn't catch everything he said, but K, although Romanian, is fluent in German and filled in the spots that I had missed. My favorite story was the one he told about a writing kit that was, as the guide put it, like the laptop of the 19th century.

Laptop of days gone by
After the tour, we visited Bacharach and found a wine festival in the town. We didn't actually drink any wine since we had been hoping for neuer Wein and there was only regular wine. The town is small, but beautiful. However, I recommend parking the car outside of the city walls, along the B9! We drove in to the narrow, one-way alley and I had to maneuver the car back and forth to go out another tunnel. It's not enjoyable.

Defeated in our quest for neuer Wein, we drove on to Sankt Goar. The town was crammed with people and cars in anticipation of the fireworks. We lucked out and found a parking spot about 3/4 of a mile from downtown. Even better yet was that we found a Weinstube and drank a glass of neuer Wein.

We continued the way down to the river and entered the town. There was freshly-made Flammkuchen so we shared one then watched the fireworks. There was an alternating show of fireworks in the river, from the castle on the opposite side of the river in Sankt Goarhausen, and from the castle in Sankt Goar.

K stayed the weekend so I made an American breakfast on Sunday. When I stay with her and C, they present an impressive German breakfast. Mine was not as varied but we had more than enough to eat. I made pancakes from scratch, using a recipe with an egg. This made them like a cross between a pancake and a crepe - quite good! I also made pepper and cheese omelets. I was very pleased that the one I made for K turned out well since I am awful at turning them over. I transferred it to a plate to turn it and avoided turning it into a crumbly mess.

K soon had to leave and I spent the rest of the day lounging around. It was just what I needed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A long drink of (Moo) water

When people meet Moo, they comment on how big he is and that always surprises me. He seems to just be Moo-sized to me and not exceptionally huge. However, after seeing some other cats, I'll acquiesce and admit that he is a bigger guy at 14 pounds.

The other thing is that he's long drink of Moo-water. If he stretches out, he takes up my lap and part of my legs. I also sometimes drape him around my neck and he makes an excellent (if somewhat exasperated) "fur."

He's just more to cuddle!

Monday, September 26, 2016

A carbonated drink by any other name

Carbonated, sweetened drinks are called soft drinks, pop, soda, or Coke* in the US. In Germany, the generic name for sweetened carbonated drinks is Limonade, or lemonade. Sigh. This one is a cola, marked as caffeine containing lemonade.

 In my mind, lemonade is made of lemons or is meant to taste like lemons, is not carbonated, and is NOT cola.

*To me, this is the most ridiculous one in the bunch. In some southern states, people call all soft drinks "Coke." They'll say, "do you want a coke?" If the other person says yes, then the first person might say something like, "okay, do you want a Pepsi or a root beer?" Coke is Coke, folks. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A beautifully embarrassing mistake

Learning a language and navigating its nuances is a long journey. Along the way, one is almost certain to make some embarrassing mistakes.

I'm no stranger to making mistakes as I'm learning German; I'll share one that had me turn red. It started when my American teacher told us that if you say someone is nett (nice), it's a bit of a "meh" compliment. [I guess I have to translate that from English...hmm, "meh" means non-committal or unenthusiastic.]

I knew that schön usually means beautiful or pretty, but it can also mean nice. For some reason, I got it into my head that calling someone a nette Person was a "meh" compliment and schön fit better and would mean "nice" in this case. I thought we had learned this in class.

So, imagine how strange it sounded when I told my German friend about a woman I met with whom I planned to work on a community event, and I said she is a schöne Frau. That earned some raised eyebrows from my friend and I was confused; after all, the lady is really nice. Oops. I guess one normally wouldn't say that about a volunteering partner!

I didn't make that mistake again, but I was very confused about the rule because I swore that our teacher told us this. Then again, maybe I transcribed my notes incorrectly, but I was confused why I had heard that things could be schön, even when they were something that didn't seem to be beautiful. I gave up on knowing what the difference was because it was more important to stop making the mistake than to know exactly why, especially since I have 1,001 questions about German that feel more pressing.

Thanks to recently listening to an audiobook for learning German, I learned that nice people are nett and nice things can be
schön. That makes so much more sense.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My week: September 11 ed.

Monday of this week was a holiday so I slept in, bummed around, and went out to pick blackberries with my friend K. This year's crop of blackberries were pitiful; they were either shriveled from being in the sun too long, or were too small and bitter. We spent about an hour picking the ones that looked decent and each took a quart bag home. Last year, I picked so many blackberries that I filled my freezer and even shoved some into the freezer at work.

To be honest, though, I'm rather glad that this year I didn't feel obligated to pick blackberries like I did last year when I probably spent about 18 hours picking them. That sounds completely insane and as if I did it all the time, but it was over the course of a few weeks. I used the activity to relax after an all-consuming work project while listening to audiobooks and the new Tunde Olaniran album. I did get a bit sick of eating blackberries and haven't finished all the bags from last year yet so I can accept the significantly smaller yield this year.

Another night, A and I attended a lecture about Vietnam, which covered its history, culture, and the speaker's experience living there. The lecture was in German so it was a good chance for us to practice our listening skills. There was one part where neither one of us understood what the presenter was describing though. I'm still curious about that part!

I met a group for a language exchange meeting and sat next to a Syrian guy I had met before at a similar meeting. It had been weeks since I'd last seen him; during the previous meeting, he was excited to start a practicum. Curious, I asked him where it was going to be and what he'd be doing. At the time, he had no idea since the organizers hadn't told him much about it, but he was looking forward to working and being productive.

At the current meeting, he filled me in since he'd just finished the practicum. He had been placed in an office that helped others, including some of the refugees too, and had enjoyed the work. While he speaks very good German for someone who has lived here for only a year, he decided that he wants to pass the C1 test to really integrate in the work place.

I did feel sad about part of our conversation. We're hosting an event and we said he should invite his family too. I was starting to say it would be good to bring them, "weil die meisten Leute die Syrer nicht..." and before I could finish, he said, "mögen?"

The next word in my sentence was actually going to be "kennen." In other words, I had said that he should bring his family because most people don't _____ Syrians. He thought I was going to say that people don't like them, when what I actually said was that people don't know them and I went on to explain that it's good to meet people from different backgrounds. It's too bad that he thought that people might not like them. Maybe there are some people like that out there, but in our group, that's not who we are, and I'm glad.

Another evening was the start of a new Volkshochschule class with the same teacher I had in the spring. He's an excellent teacher but the class is somewhat too hard for me again. After much debating with myself, and asking his opinion, I decided to attend. My problem is that I feel as if I'm stuck between levels. Outside of vocabulary, I feel as if I'm past B2. However, C1 is a bit too difficult for me. Why does it feel as if I've missed so much? Is it such a jump between the two levels? Feel free to comment if you have any insights. I do know that I really need to kick my tush into gear with learning vocabulary because that's where I'm the weakest.

At the end of the week, I was exhausted so I stayed home and in one go read the entire 400+ pages of The First 15 Lives of Harry August by Claire North. I love time travel books and quest books; it was right up my alley.

On Saturday, I made my circuit around town, checking out some of the thrift stores, visiting downtown to see what was popping, and studying German for a while in the park. I love having what seem to be slightly lazy Saturdays, which are actually sneakily full of errands of a nosy sort.

After that, I visited the university's gardens for a free tour (in German) about herbs. I had planned to stay for the whole event but it was quite hot in the sun and after biking all over the city, I was hot, sunburned, dehydrated, and tired so I left early.

Sunday was Tag des offenen Denkmals, which is a nationwide heritage day in which historical buildings and sites are open for free tours. A. joined me for a stroll around Kaiserslautern and we visited the former Friedenskapelle, or the site of a small city cemetery that will be renovated as a center for community events. We also visited the Pfalzgrafensaal, which had been part of a castle located downtown, and were given a quick tour of the tunnels under the building.

We wrapped up our wanderings with a dinner of nachos at my place. I told A that people probably think that this is how Americans always eat. For the record, we don't ;)

Monday, September 12, 2016

It's Tracht tiiiiiiime

It's Tracht time, it's Tracht tiiiiiiiimmmmmme...

You know when I'm down to my Dirndl it's Bier time...

Anyway, after that strange interlude of trying to appropriate Flight of the Conchords lyrics and failing, let me just say that the Tracht is out in full force right now at the stores. Tracht is traditional German clothing and the most commonly known versions are men's Lederhosen and women's Dirndl.

In the Pfalz, people don't usually wear Tracht, even at local festivals, unless they're Americans, but there is plenty to buy in the area. I previously wrote a guide to buying Tracht in the Kaiserslautern area; you can read it here.

Tracht has been popping up in many other places, too. I've seen it at Aldi; in one aisle, you can buy fizzy water and the next aisle you can buy Tracht or school folders. Such is the strange wonders of the discounter. Even Tchibo has gotten into the act. However, this will be a short act with not too many encores, so if you're seeking less expensive Tracht and you see something you like at the store, pick it up. After all, the next day there might be track pants instead of Tracht Hosen in the same spot.

Even Aldi gets Tracht up.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

My week: September 4 ed.

Man, was I tired at the beginning of this week. Even though I wasn't sick from allergies, which have been mostly held at bay thanks to an aggressive daily routine of allergy pills and maintenance breathing steroids, my immune system still freaks about goldenrod and other allergens. I kept wondering why I was so tired but when I saw the goldenrod, I figured that must be the reason. I haven't been sleeping well because of congestion and also since my bedroom gets too hot. If I leave the rolladen up for air flow, then there's too much light coming into my room. If I leave them down, then the room gets stuffy. I turn on the fan and then I'm too cold. The whole thing is a bit ridiculous.

I met with my tandem partner and for the second time, followed her recommendation where we'd each speak our target language the whole time. I managed to work my way through a complex sentence, complete with relative clauses and multiple ideas, and I did it right. Yay! It's easy to get lost in German sentences, especially when using subordinating conjunctions and relative clauses. After watching out for verb order and keeping an eye out for splittable verbs, by the end it feels as if one has come up for air.

Another night, I invited my friend Ay. and her sister over for dinner. Ay. is from Pakistan and wanted to try to macaroni and cheese because "it's what single dads always make for their kids in American movies." She is always cracking me up and I tumbled into a heap of giggles over this reasoning. I bought Kraft Mac n' Cheese because she wanted the typical kind. Both gals liked it. Heck, I like it, as low-brow as it is, but mostly avoid it because the wheat in it gives me a headache.

During the weekend, I took a trip to the Stuttgart region. My friends C+K, who had previously lived in Neustadt, moved there. While I'm sad that they're no longer an easy 30-minute train ride away, I'm still glad to be in contact with them and the Stuttgart area does have some interesting activities.

On Saturday, we spent some time at their new apartment then started our journey to Tübingen, a university city about half an hour away. On the way, we stopped at C's parents' house to drop off some things. We were just in time as his mother, R, had just put a pizza in the oven. I've stayed there last year with C+K during C's annual garden party, so it was a nice reunion. My German has improved so much even since then so it was nice to talk more with C's father, who doesn't speak as much English.

After that, we drove to Tübingen and wandered around the city. More will follow about this trip, as a separate blog entry, but below is a picture of how pretty it is. I'm a sucker for cities with bodies of water.

The next day, while C did some work around the house, K and I visited the Keltenmuseum Hocdorf/Enz in Eberdingen. It's a museum dedicated to the Celts who lived in the area and includes artifacts from the grave site there. Entry was 5 euros and we spent about an hour there, looking over the exhibits. Most parts are in both English and German but the last third of the museum was only in German.
What's up, Celtic statue!
As we were leaving, I saw a sign for a free museum in the neighboring town of Markgröningen and we decided to visit. The Wimpelinhof Museum is sparse but offers some information about the local sheep herding traditions. K and I were very sad to learn that by a week, we had missed the annual herders' festival, where women wear Tracht and run races with water buckets on their heads, among other things. I would have been keen to view the former as I enjoy strange traditions.
Wimpelinhof Museum
After we wandered around the city a bit more, ate ice cream, and got rained on, we cut our visit to Markgröningen short. It's a shame because the town is quite lovely, full of historical fachwerk buildings. However, we didn't bring umbrellas and didn't feel like standing around in rain so we went back to their house. For dinner, I cooked raja masala, which they enjoyed, and then I drove home, content after catching up with some good friends.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Used taxidermy: a further exploration

Yesterday I wrote about my adventure at the Kaiserslautern thrift store and the [overwhelming] display of donated [?] taxidermied animals.

I was wondering who on earth wanted to buy pre-owned taxidermied animals. Apparently it's a thing and Men's Journal even wrote a guide to buying used taxidermy.

When I just wrote "pre-owned," I imagined going into a taxidermy store that looks like a used car dealership, and customers immediately being accosted by a salesman who's wearing a polo shirt that has a lower neckline than usual for a dude's shirt (you know, to show that he's suave). He has greased-back hair and smells a bit like formaldehyde mixed with Axe body spray. As the buying negotiations take place, he asks, "what'll it take to get you into a pre-owned jaguar today? Shall I throw in the jackelope for your game room?"

His colleague, a guy of average height and slightly overweight, with a bushy hipster's beard and thick, black rimmed glasses, talks to another customer and gesticulates to a deer's head with a unicorn horn.  "Brah, srsly, you'll have this before it's even cool. Press a button and it expels glitter. You totally need this. No one else has it."

[Exhibit A of why I don't usually get bored/lonely when I'm off doing my own thing because I'm always imaging strange situations, such as the exchange above.]


Anyway, can I just say that I'm NOT into taxidermy? I get a little wigged out about dead things. I know this sounds awful, but at open casket wakes, I just can't bring myself to go and look at someone's shell. I prefer to remember the person as he was and I find the viewing a bit macabre.

Taxidermied animals don't evoke such strong emotions, but I do find them a bit grotesque and they're not something I'd care to use as decorations in my home. When I lived in Lapeer, I used to get my hair cut at a barber shop that had dead animals littering the shop. It was supposed to be "manly," I guess. I'm not a man but went for the weekday special for a $7 haircut. I could put up with some glassy eyes staring at me for a good haircut at a reasonable price. I just never thought I'd come face to snout with so many taxidermy animals at a thrift store.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Thrift store shopping gets dead weird at Kaiserslautern's Schatzkiste

On Monday, I was enjoying the magic of the American Labor Day holiday. It's lovely and a bit surreal to have a day off when the Germans don't; it almost feels as if one is playing hooky from work because one can actually get stuff done since the stores are open. With my free time, I made a trip to some local thrift stores, which turned into a strange excursion.

When I visited the Schatzkiste (I reviewed it previously here), I came across a display of...merchandise?
dead animal at the thrift store, and presumably for sale
Don't badger me! I'm dead n' stuffed!
We're just chilling next to an overpriced, second-hand lamp.

Dead animals?

taxidermy gone wrong
Don't be such a weasel. C'mon, buy me!
Mackelmore might've bought a fur coat but you can buy the whole dang animal at the Schatzkiste. You could even make your own taxidermy zoo with their impressive collection.

I lost all composure when I saw this sign under the menagerie.

"As much as you need."
I tried to smother my giggles as I pondered just how many taxidermied animals that one person could possibly need. I also considered: who buys second-hand taxidermy animals? Is that a thing?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

My week: August 28 ed.

This was a very international week, with what I'd call a varied cultural program. Oh wait; every week is mostly like that and I find it grand.

I met with my tandem partner and she suggested that each speak our target lessons the whole time. I'm almost always tired when I visit her because it's after a long day of work and my brain is just about kaputt by then. However, I acquiesced and can agree that it was a good idea.

Want to give your brain a workout? Speak your second (or third? I'm not fluent in Spanish so it probably doesn't count) language while your tandem partner speaks her third language, which is your first language. Then correct her 3rd language's grammar using your 2nd/3rd language and get teased when switching back to your first language since it's difficult to keep all the languages and grammar straight when you come from a monolingual background.

Later in the week, I attended a cooking course/cultural night presented by some Georgian students (from the country, not the US state). They played Georgian Youtube videos of traditional songs and dances for us; I especially liked the guys performing prancy type dances (I should've asked for the technical term).

The gals taught us how to make a stew, meat dumplings, bread, salad, stuffed eggplant, sauces, dessert, and more. The event was listed as lasting for seven hours, which I thought was a typo. Well, cooking all those items took 5.5 hours since it was all made from scratch; even the grape juice was pressed from grapes. My friend Ay. and I arrived after work and were completely exhausted by the time the food was done. We did enjoy ourselves though, and heartily ate from the feast.

I asked the Georgians if they'd normally cook like this and they said no. While these are national dishes, some of them are only made at holidays, such as a walnut/honey toffee-like concoction.
Georgian food
A feast of Georgian food
cooking class
Meat dumplings
I was invited to two back-to-back potlucks on the weekend. One was from a colleague and the other potluck was from the friend of one of my German friends. I enjoyed both of them very much and there was some very tasty food, as well as some German speaking.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Tubby little teddy...

Laugh of the night : a German mistakenly typed "Winne the Po."*

*"Po" means "bottom" in German.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My week: August 21 ed.

I met with my tandem partner to practice German. I've been wanting to practice pronunciation so we worked on words like Eichhörnchen (squirrel), hören (to hear), and some other umlauted words. I don't think I'm ever going to get ö, ü, and r correct in German. I've given up on ever saying that it's humid outside because an umlaut makes all the difference and can dramatically change what you're trying to say (German speakers know what I mean on this one).

It's been about the two year mark since tandem partner A. and I've started meeting. She's helped me immensely with German and any errors are mine, despite her excellent tutoring. A. is pleased with her progress in English and I'm impressed. She uses many idioms and employs a wide understanding of English. I highly recommend that those learning a new language practice conversation regularly with a native speaker because it enforces what one learns in the classroom.

I took off Friday and headed to Darmstadt for a seminar in the evening. I was feeling as if I could use a mini vacation so I decided to explore the city and meet some locals. 

I ate lunch at Djadoo, a Persian restaurant that offers a buffet lunch for about 10 euros. I won't lie; this lunch was part of the reason for taking the day off. The other more pressing reason was that I was feeling a little burned out so a day off seemed a good way to refresh myself. Anyway, I was able to snag a table inside at this handsome restaurant. I think it would've been even nicer to sit on the terrace under the umbrellas. If you'd like to do that, make a reservation. The buffet was tasty with various rice and sauce dishes, plenty of them vegetarian. There were sauteed vegetables, salad with dressings, and a few desserts. My favorite was the eggplant dish. I tried the ghormeh sabsi, which I also eat at home (from a tin), and it was good but a bit more citrusy than I usually enjoy.

After lunch, I took a short walk to Waldspirale, a housing development designed by an Austrian, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It undulates over a whole block, and is mostly apartments with some businesses scattered throughout. For those interested in art and architecture, it might be worth stopping by to view the building.

I wasn't done with viewing architecture; my next stop was Mathildenhöhe, an Art Nouveau artists' colony, reached by a pleasant 20 minute walk across town. I am enraptured by Art Nouveau and enjoyed my time very much. I visited the museum, which is somewhat small, for 5 euros, and admired works from the artists who were in residence in the early part of the 20th century. I also stopped by the lovely Orthodox church on-site and basked in its opulence.

Afterward, I stopped by the bustling downtown area to look around before the seminar that had brought me to Darmstadt. It's a typical German downtown with chain stores but does also have a palace, a theater, and other amenities, and was very busy.

The next item on my itinerary was the seminar, held in a suburb. It covered optimal body alignment for both everyday living and for sport and performance. I was chosen as someone to work on at one point and I unintentionally turned my session into a stand-up comedy routine, with full support from the teacher. He's from Ohio originally so we joked about Ohio-Michigan rivalry. I made sure to tease him about "The" Ohio State University. Yes, really, that's how the university refers to itself -- always with "The" in front of the name (I find this practice silly and pretentious.) 

The other participants had been shy and demure; I am neither, so we definitely had a lively session. One of the ground rules of using this method is that one has a head and a body. The teacher started to ask if I had a head. I told him that I definitely had a mouth. At first the other students were a bit shocked by our bantering (they were mostly Europeans and seemed rather serious) but they really seemed to get into it and clapped loudly at the end. I hadn't set out to be so raucous but since the teacher encouraged it, why not?

That night, I stayed with an architect. Man, the theme really was architecture on this trip! We had a nice chat and the next morning he made a lovely German breakfast.

I then met another Darmstadter for a hike at the Freizeitpark am Oberwaldhaus, which cracks me up a little bit at its name. It's a "free time park." Heaven forbid that one goes there when one should be doing something else! I enjoyed a nice chat with the woman who showed me around and I even navigated us successfully back to the parking lot after she missed a turn (I'm usually quite good with navigating, even in new places).

I really enjoyed Darmstadt, which I hadn't expected to enjoy to that extent. I'd recommend it to those who enjoy architecture. Oh yes, and I'd also recommend it to those who enjoy Persian food, too, as there seem to be several Persian restaurants in town!

The next day, my coworker hosted a potluck for my friends. We all had a great time and she was happy to meet some new people. She enjoyed it so much that she offered to host again! How sweet is that? I love to introduce the people in my life.

It was an excellent week, filled with architecture, friends, and new experiences.

Friday, August 19, 2016

My week: August 7 ed.

Ooh, we're out of order here.

Anyway, I worked on German a bit this week, attending a tandem meet-up. I didn't meet with my tandem partner since she wasn't available.

The big thing this week was the Autofreies Lautertal, the auto-free day when the B270 is closed to traffic between Kaiserslautern and Lautertal. Ever since my first year here, I've attended it.

It's a contrast between the first time I did this ride (I describe my first one in 2013 here). Until last year, I spent most of my year suffering from allergies and sinus issues. I finally decided to listen to the advice I've received from many doctors over the years and take the inhaled steroids they recommend. As a result, I've gone from feeling crummy and/or getting sinus infections often to getting sick very infrequently now.

So, this year, even though the bike ride is during high allergy season for me, I could breathe freely and wasn't recovering from being sick. It definitely helped with my endurance and I did not huff and puff like the first year during the 18 mile ride.

I also bought myself a much nicer bike than my previous $200 sporting goods store bike. (Well, I bought the "new" bike two years ago so I guess it's not so new now.) Having a quality bike makes a huge difference. I love the commuting kit on it too, which a heavy duty, built-in bike rack and hardwired dynamo lights.

I've upped my activity levels since I moved here. Though I'm still tired at the end of the ride, 18 miles by bike isn't daunting like it was before. It also helps now that I'm familiar with the route and that makes it not feel so long. The awesome thing was that I wasn't sore after the ride the next day.

Reflecting on this ride, I think of the way I've come over the past three and a half years I've been here, and the people who've come through my life. The first year, I was unfit and sick and struggled on an old bike. I rode with a Scottish lass, who'd become a very good friend, and her two British sidekicks. The next year, I went with a German guy and an American gal and we played drums along the way. I'm sad that isn't offered any more! In 2015, I rode with a Persian guy and made him stop along the way so I could pick some sumac to make lemonade. This year, I rode with a Palestinian guy and a French lady and most of the time we spoke German. What I love about all of this is that it combines enjoying the beauty of the Pfalz region with interesting people from a variety of backgrounds.