Friday, June 23, 2017

Midges and Memories

As I sit here scratching the last remains of the midge bites I acquired two weeks ago despite being covered with Avon's Skin-So-Soft® while sitting outside on the phone (no reception inside the B&B) trying in vain to resolve a rental car problem, I am getting ready to settle back into the routine of normal life. I start with a new Integrationskurs on Tuesday which will go until the end of January, and although many families are getting hyped up for summer and vacations they'll take, we are finished with ours for the year.

M and I just returned from Scotland, where we met my two children and my son's girlfriend for a 12-day trip to the Isle of Mull and Edinburgh. The internet connection on the island was sketchy at best, and I had no time for blogging anyway.

There were many highlights and funny moments during this trip, and it was wonderful to spend time with the kids again. I had visited my daughter in Philadelphia last spring, but I hadn't see my son in two years. It is always nice to get back to Mull again, which we've all but vowed to do every two years from now on. The wild, rugged, natural place is good for the soul. Our souls, anyway.

the view from our self-catering flat in Glengorm Castle
We did some of our favorite activities and hikes on the island as well as some new ones, and it was a good week. Despite the rental car issues (we were towed back to Edinburgh despite multiple phone calls to the rental company to tell them the car's dash was warning us the car would not start in 300...200...150...miles) we had a fabulous trip, which ended with a day in Edinburgh and a day visiting the Great Polish Map of Scotland and two castle ruins east of the city.

Returning to a heat wave and dry spell in Germany makes us miss Scotland all the more. It's crazy to see on the photos that a mere week ago we were bundled up and soaking wet. No wonder our rhododendron bushes are looking weak and sad.

We returned with only two sleeves of Jacob's Creme Crackers, which we will carefully ration over the next few weeks, a deliciously-scented bar of Isle of Mull soap and candle, a calendar for next year, no new whiskey glasses but two new slate Mull coasters, more notecards that I won't use because occasions important enough to write on them don't come up, and four new books (five, if I count Ravished by a Highlander, which two of our travel companions gave to me after they read it).

The laundry is done, but the memories are still thick and I'm not quite ready to think about real life just yet. M is back at the office, but I've got a few days of recovery time before I'm back to work (part-time, at a job I love - not exactly a hardship).


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Helpfulness & Honesty

The other night M and I watched the Quiz Show "Hirschhausen's Quiz des Menschen". It's a fun trivia show based mainly on health and biology, and we always look forward to it because we learn a lot by watching and testing our own prior knowledge.

This question appeared on last week's show:

Which is the most helpful country in the world?
   a. the USA
   b. Deutschland  (Germany)
   c. Norwegen  (Norway)

My first question - which was also asked by a contestant - was "How did they measure this?" The host, Dr. Hirschhausen, explained that a survey was done in some city of each of the countries, and the question asked was: "Have you helped someone within the last four days?"

Ok, fair enough. But then I wondered something else, which again one of the contestants verbalized as if reading my thoughts:

"But hold on - did anyone verify whether the Americans answered truthfully?"

The thing I find curious about this is that neither I nor the contestant asked that question of all persons surveyed in general - only of the Americans. What does that say?

If you ask non-Americans what stereotypes they are aware of about Americans or what they themselves think of Americans, much of what you'll hear is positive: Americans are helpful, friendly, generally happy, and smile a lot. There are negatives, too: Americans are not very smart, have little knowledge of the world outside US borders, are superficial and insincere.

I haven't heard or read, though, that Americans are dishonest. Insincere is close to that, but the most common example of that is an American saying, "Let's get together soon!" - which Germans understand to mean we're actually going to get together soon, but which actually means, in American, "See ya!" He's not really being dishonest; he's just speaking American.

So I wonder why that German contestant and I both jumped right away to assume the Americans in the survey were probably dishonest. I would imagine it's because we both have the impression that appearances are more important to Americans than the truth. That sounds pretty harsh.

Most of the Americans I personally know (as in, have spent a significant amount of time with) are honest in my view, and definitely helpful. But I think most of us would also stretch the meaning of "helping someone" when faced with that survey question.

On Monday and Tuesday this week (that's within the last four days), I subbed for a teacher who had a conflict. So I taught a small class for 8 hours. Is that helping? Somewhat, but I got paid to do it. So no. Other than that I didn't really see many people except other shoppers at the grocery store. No one stopped me on the street to ask directions, no one asked for any favors, and I didn't even have a chance to hold a door open for someone.

I would therefore have to answer "no" to the question of whether I've helped someone within the last four days. And that makes me sound like a jerk, doesn't it?

By the way, the answer to the question "Which is the most helpful country in the world?" was...
    a.) the USA.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Meine Rede / My Speech

As I wrote recently, my hometown Sheboygan, Wisconsin and the city of Esslingen, Germany are celebrating this year their 50th anniversary of city partnership. Since 1967 the two towns have been sister cities, and the high school exchange program started in 1970. The current mayor of Sheboygan, Mike Vandersteen, recently wrote an article for the Sheboygan Press about the beginnings of this city partnership. A delegation from Sheboygan came to Esslingen this week (roughly 30 people), and a full program was arranged for them including some tours, a day trip, and an afternoon with Esslingen's Feuerwehr (Volunteer Fire Department).

I was asked several months ago if I would be willing to give a speech on the occasion of the celebration, which was held last night in Esslingen. I agreed and spent the time since then writing, discarding drafts, rewriting, and editing. The last changes were made on the train ride to Esslingen yesterday.

I thought it would be ok to put my speech on my blog, since quite a few people came up to me afterward and said they enjoyed it. It was more personal than the other two speeches of the evening (the Oberbürgermeister of Esslingen and the mayor of Sheboygan spoke first), so perhaps it struck people differently. I delivered the speech in German, but a written English translation was provided for those in the crowd who didn't speak German.

Here is my speech (if you're interested in the English translation, let me know).

My Denglish Life, Thanks to the Sheboygan-Esslingen Austausch

Guten Abend Herr Doktor Zieger, Mayor Mike Vandersteen, liebe Gäste aus Sheboygan und Esslingen, meine Damen und Herren, Mom und Dad... Vielen Dank für diese Gelegenheit, über den Sheboygan-Esslingen Austausch und Städtepartnerschaft zu sprechen. Außer Mutter zu werden hatte nichts mein Leben so stark beeinflusst wie dieser Austausch. Für die Gäste, die mich nicht kennen, ich bin B.K.H., ich komme aus Sheboygan, und ich habe 1986 an dem Austausch teilgenommen. Ich wohne seit fast fünf Jahren in Deutschland. Heute ist besonders schön für mich, denn alle meine Eltern sind hier: meine echten Eltern aus Sheboygan, A. und J.K., meine Gastmutter, A.G., und meine Schwiegermutter, P.H. Ohne sie würde ich heute nicht hier stehen.

Mein Aufenthalt in Esslingen war unglaublich wunderbar, mit Höhen und Tiefen. Meine Gastfamilie hat mir viel von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz gezeigt, und ich habe viel über mich selbst gelernt. Die Welt sah damals ganz anders aus - stellen Sie sich vor: keine Internet, keine E-Mail, keine Handys, kein Skype oder Facebook und keine digitale Kameras. Ich habe meiner Familie und Freunden in Sheboygan Briefe und Postkarten geschickt - und bekam 14 Tage später eine Antwort. Ah...those were the days!

Meine Beziehung zu meiner Gastfamilie war nicht immer problemlos - genau wie bei einer echten Familie. Meine Gastschwester und ich waren nicht immer die besten Freunde. Seitdem sind wir aber eng befreundet. Übrigens, sie hat einen Amerikaner geheiratet und wohnt seit 22 Jahren mit ihren Kindern in Madison, die Hauptstadt von Wisconsin - 180km von  Sheboygan entfernt!

Ich hatte ein Tagebuch, in dem ich fast jeden Tag geschrieben hatte, und ich habe es immer noch. Deswegen weiß ich, dass ich meinen Mann, M, am 23. April '86 zum ersten Mal getroffen habe - im Palmscher Bau [ein Restaurant in Esslingen]! Er war mit seiner Mutter zum Schülertreffen mitgekommen und freute sich eigentlich nur auf sein Eis. Damals hatten wir keine Ahnung, dass wir für einander bestimmt waren, und 2006 auf einer Insel in Schottland heiraten würden.

Als ich nach dem Austausch nach Hause geflogen bin wusste ich, dass ich zurückkommen musste. Khalil Gibran hat genau das geschrieben, was in meinem Herzen war: "Wie soll ich in Frieden und ohne Trauer gehen? Zu viel von meinem Geist habe ich in diesen Straßen verströmt. Nicht ohne Wunde im Geist werde ich diese Stadt verlassen...Es ist kein Gewand, das ich heute ablege, sondern eine Haut, die ich mir mit eigenen Händen abreiße."

Nach dem Austausch lernte ich weiter Deutsch, und Deutsch war auch mein Nebenfach an der Uni. Ich unterrichtete in Wisconsin 16 Jahre Deutsch und Englisch, und in diesen Jahren war ich 20 Mal in Esslingen zu Besuch - manchmal mit meinen Kindern oder Eltern, manchmal alleine, manchmal mit Schülern. Jedes Mal wenn jemand mich nach Esslingen gefahren hat, war es wie im Film: Der Blick auf Esslingen und die Burg wenn man von Festo runterfährt wurde und wird nie langweilig.

Seit 2012 wohne ich mit M in Horb am Neckar. Obwohl das keine schwierige Umstellung für mich war, musste ich doch einiges lernen. Das Leben in Deutschland ist nicht wie das Leben in Wisconsin. Was müssen wir Ausländer und Austauschschüler lernen, um gut und komfortabel im Schwabenland zu leben?
  • Mülltrennung: Biomüll, Restmüll, Altpapier, Glas-Recycling und Pfand
  • Kehrwoche
  • Fasnet
  • Mittagsruhe, Sonntagsruhe, Nachtruhe, und stille Feiertage
  • täglich Lüften
  • Warte, wenn das Ampelmännchen rot ist!
  • Sei pünktlich!
Ich habe mir den Namen "Nei'gschmeckte" wahrscheinlich noch nicht verdient, aber das ist nun alles völlig normal für mich, und ich habe mehr Schwierigkeiten, wenn ich wieder in Sheboygan bin! Werfe ich wirklich Batterien in den Mülleimer?? Es gibt keine Zugverbindung zwischen Sheboygan und Milwaukee?? Und Heiligsblechle, fahren die aber langsam!!

Letzes Jahr habe ich angefangen, Integrationskurse zu unterrichten. Als Ausländerin helfe ich nun anderen Ausländern und Flüchtlingen Deutsch zu lernen und deutsche Politik und Geschichte zu verstehen. Seit zwei Jahren komme ich im Februar für zwei Wochen nach Esslingen, um bei den Austauschschülern aus Sheboygan Deutschunterricht zu geben. Alles, was ich in meinem Berufsleben gemacht hatte, hat mich auf das vorbereitet, was ich jetzt tue. Und das hat alles mit diesem Austausch zwischen Sheboygan und Esslingen angefangen.

Meine Vorfahren sind 1853 aus einem kleinen Dorf bei Pforzheim nach Sheboygan ausgewandert. Sie waren Immigranten in einem fremden Land, so wie ich jetzt. Vielleicht deswegen hatte ich das Gefühl schon vor 31 Jahren, dass ich nach Esslingen gehöre. Das ist eine Familiengeschichte, die vor 164 Jahren begonnen hat - und für mich persönlich mit diesem Austausch. hier schließt sich der Kreis, und ich bin zurück zu meinen Wurzeln gekommen. Das war nur durch diese Sheboygan-Esslingen Städtpartnerschaft und Austausch möglich gewesen.

Aus tiefstem Herzen sage ich vielen, vielen Dank!

I was so blinking nervous - there were a lot of people there, and a lot of people I knew! But I made it through and am glad I didn't chicken out.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dad's Visit

Goodness gracious, it's been nearly three weeks since I last published a blog post. It's a good thing I don't have self-imposed deadlines for these, because I'd fail miserably.

You might have seen on my last post that my dad arrived in April to spend four weeks with us while taking a German course at the local language school. That time flew by, and he's gone again, sort of. At the moment he's in Esslingen with a delegation from my hometown including the mayor, members of the Mayor's International Committee, and People to People members who have come to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Städtepartnerschaft (Sister City relationship) between the two cities. The group, which also includes my mother, arrived yesterday and was treated immediately to a delicous lunch with Esslingen's Oberbürgermeister (Lord Mayor).

After lunch the group was taken to the Merkel Park for the planting of a Sugar Maple tree (the state tree of Wisconsin) in honor of the Golden Anniversary.
Sugar Maple

the mayor of Sheboygan, Esslingen's Oberbürgermeister,
and Esslingen's mayor of culture and education

the delegation, warm and jetlaggy

So that's what we were up to yesterday. Oh, and I was seated at lunch next to the Oberbürgermeister to act as a translator as needed (not often) while he chatted with Sheboygan's mayor, who was seated on his other side. My Schwiegermutter, who usually sits there to help, gave me the honor this time so she could concentrate on her other duties for the group.

But what about the four weeks my dad was staying with us?

My dad's class schedule was Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday 9:00 - 15:00 with an hour lunch break, and Wednesday & Friday 9:00 - 12:30. Most days after class he spent anywhere from one to four hours doing homework and studying beyond what was covered in class. He was a very determined student! I was able to answer every grammar question and most of the vocabulary questions he had, and he surely learned a lot in those weeks - including that it takes longer than three weeks to become proficient in German. A woman who joined his class several times actually dissolved into tears one day!
He's reading - and agreeing with - Mark Twain's essay,
"The Awful German Language"
I had started out this post with the title "All the Things We Didn't Do," but during the time when he wasn't in class, doing homework, or catching up on news from the Homeland, we actually did do quite a lot!

We didn't need to do any touring or sightseeing because he's been to southern Germany often, but having not spent a ton of time in our local area, there are some lovely little villages I'd intended to show him - HerrenbergNagold, and maybe Rottweil. I also meant to take him for several walks around our home - through the valley, along the Neckar, around the perimeter of our village, to the Biergarten and back, and to the bakery in Eutingen.

The weather during almost his entire stay was typically German crappy, cold, and wet with several mornings of frost, and it didn't inspire us to feel the walkies. We did hoof it to the bakery once and took a long walk through the valley on the first nice day, but that was it for real walks. We did also stroll to one end of the village to take photos of the gorgeous Rapsfelder, because we'll walk anywhere for beautiful photos.

Besides that, though (in May because I already covered what we did in April), we drove to Esslingen to meet this year's exchange students from Sheboygan, went to the Sprachcafé twice, went out for dinner a few times including to the Eisenbahn in Nagold and of course our favorite restaurant (Straub's Krone), ate most of our meals at home because M and I love to cook, and went for a Mother's Day stroll to get photos of Horb and our little piece of the Neckar Valley.

My dad also joined us for a Kochkurs at Straub's Krone! Here he is schnibbling herbs for the Wan Tan (wonton) filling.

We made these!
He and I watched the musical "Elisabeth" together, which is about the life of Kaiserin Elisabeth ("Sisi") of Austria-Hungary, and all three of us watched "The 13th Warrior" and "Idiocracy." My dad was shocked and dismayed by all the correlations between that last movie and what's going on in the Homeland today. The movie, which came out in 2006, was supposed to be a satire, but it turns out to have been more of a documentary of the future.

Finally, we enjoyed many a Feierabend together, outside on the terrace when the weather played along, and in our Wintergarten when it didn't.

Now M and I have Sturmfreie Bude, which is a term normally used when teenagers have the house to themselves because the parents are away for the weekend. In a bit over a week (after my parents return from Salzburg and Vienna) my dad and I will chaperone the three Sheboygan exchange students on a short trip to Berlin, and then both my parents will come back here for five days before returning home to Wisconsin.

What has been keeping you busy lately?!?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Highs and Lows 2017

This has been a busy but good month. I finished my most recent Integrationskurs and my students took their test (results not in yet), M and I had a mini-vacation, and then my dad arrived. It's a lot of fun to cook for him because there's almost nothing he doesn't like, and he is very appreciative of our efforts in the kitchen.

On with it. Here are my highs and lows for April:


  • meeting several of my students for two extra review sessions before their Deutschtest für Zuwanderer. I offered to spend some extra time with them during the free week between the end of our class and their test, and a handful came!

  • three days with M at the Engel wellness hotel in the Schwarzwald, delicious food, relaxation, saunas...

  • participating in another Asian Kochkurs, this time with sushi. Admittedly not my thing, but I tried quite a few! This was our ninth Kochkurs.

fish Vorspeise

anrichten - I take my jobs very seriously
  • our first Spargel überbacken of the season, and driving to the Spargelhof to get the white asparagus
  • lamb stew for Easter

  • my dad's arrival. He's spending several weeks with us while attending classes at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg because he wants to improve his German! He has been working really hard and asking great questions. He's in an A1 class, but I taught him adjective endings this week just for fun.
    My mom will come over in mid-May for a few weeks of fun and travel, and they'll fly home together the day before M and I fly to Scotland.

  • my daughter spending a day at the Rolex Three-Day event in Lexington, Kentucky, where local boy Michael Jung and his horse fischerRocana are competing. She attended the cross country day, and snapped this amazing photo of the two of them!
Michi und fischerRocana

  • today M and I made Maultaschen from scratch. It's quite an undertaking - we started at about 15:30 (having made the pasta dough earlier so it could rest) and ate around 19:00 with only one 10-minute break for a Feierabend glass of wine. After learning a few things at our Swabian Kochkurs more than a year ago, we have fixed almost all the mistakes I made in that first attempt from 2013. My dad took some photos, so perhaps I can write another updated post about the Herrgotts-B'scheißerle.


  • April weather. Frost. Snow. Just...No. My tulips and I protest!
"No, no, Mother Nature. Go ahead. We'll just be sad."

  • uh...ten minutes ago I discovered a crack in my fake tooth (crown, I guess). It's one of my two front teeth, and it's a holiday weekend. I can only hope it won't get worse before I can get my dentist to look at it!


dinner at the home of a hunter friend
That's Tyrolean mountain goat with Spätzle and Rotkohl.

On his first day of class I gave him a Schültüte
filled with treats, an eraser, a pocket notebook, etc.

Spargel dinner at Straub's Krone - with breaded pork tenderloin

Dad and I went for a walk yesterday to photograph the Rapsfelder
(rapeseed fields)

It's my dad's turn to sit and have a glass of wine
while someone else grills the tenderloin!

This morning we drove into the Schwarzwald
and walked the short but interesting Lotharpfad.

at the lookout platform on the Lotharpfad,
looking over the Schwarzwald toward France

sharing a laugh about any number of things...
We're having a good time!

I hope your April was awesome as well, despite the weather!