Sunday, December 1, 2013

Burrowing in

As it turns out, burying one's head in a long series of books for several months on end isn't nearly as entertaining as German schoolchildren. Or being a tourist. So I've been quiet for a while, not precisely because there's nothing to write about, but because most of it would devolve into a high-pitched, pathetic whine. Like a leaky teakettle.

Speaking of teakettles...

The things that have kept me sane over the past six weeks:

Tea
Chocolate
Pleasure reading
John Stewart
String cheese
Petfinder

Why the last? I'm really really deeply considering adopting a dog. I miss small fuzzy things. My apartment is wonderful and I love my own space, but it would be nice to share it with a small creature sporting big brown eyes and a wagging tail. I haven't had time to visit any shelters, that's the plan for after I've turned in my papers in another week or two. In the meantime I browse the websites and fall in love with a succession of sweet faces. I have a whole list of places to visit when I'm finally free. And while I don't have the time or energy to deal with a puppy by myself, you can bet your boots that I'll want to pet and snuggle any puppies currently in residence.

Fun fact: at least one university brings in local therapy animals and puppies for the students to cuddle during finals week. I think that sounds like a fabulous idea. I might consider trying to get it started at my university. But later. When I have time.

I'll leave you with my pile of books. The 23 (!!) of them represent only some of the books I've read for these papers, but some are already returned and others are on the internet. It's weird to read books on the internet, but highly highly useful.

Deep breaths. Breathe. Breathe.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stammtisch!

Just look at that beautiful German in the title there! And even better, look at what it represents - speaking German with Germans who help me to learn and remember.

I'm studying English literature because I love it, but sometime during the past year German wormed its way into my heart and has taken up residence. Happily, I found a local German group that meets twice a month to have lunch or dinner and just chat. Not everyone who comes is German (several are American, one is Ukrainian), but they all have learned or want to learn the language and enjoy practicing it together. We met at a Mexican restaurant (cosmopolitan!) and I spent ninety minutes exercising my already-flabby German muscles. And it was really fun! Everyone there speaks English fluently, so there's no concern that you'll just get stuck. The non-natives speakers want to improve. The native speakers like hearing their mother tongue in a country where it's rare. Everyone wins.

Sadly I can't go to the second meet-up this month, but I look forward to my regular doses of Deutsch, and I may look into the university German club as well. It just meets at a really inconvenient time. No matter what, though, I'm not giving up on my hard-fought language skills. I'll even fight for more of them. Hopefully that all goes well.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Priorities, people!

My "Intro to Graduate Studies" class just had me read a book about how to survive grad school and find a job. Most of it was fairly useful. I hope that I'll be able to reference it again as I get through the various stages of grad school

But. There's always a but. In discussing time management, the author talks about how hard it is to find time for research, teaching, and family. He suggests that grad students hold off having a family until they've graduated at least, or have a non-working spouse. If one can't manage such a thing, he says, one must be aware that something's gotta give. And that something cannot be your research. Oh no. It's sleep.

Now I don't mean to say that graduate students (or professors) should do poorly at their jobs. And part of that job is research and writing. But it seems like this particular author has taken a leaf out of the business playbook and decreed that unless you give 250% for the rest of your life, you might as well give up now. And I don't think that's healthy. Every job has push and pull. Every job has time management issues. If you are talking to a bunch of graduate students and advising them that they need to be chronically sleep-deprived in order to have a life outside of work? Something's wrong with your view of the world.

Sure, there will be times when this happens. And sure, being both a grad student and a professor is more than a 40-hour-a-week job. But it doesn't have to be 80 hours a week. It could be 50. And there should be regular breaks. I wish the author would have told his readers that students should take a good hard look at whether winning the career game is worth the things they'll give up, instead of assuming that's the path they'll take. Because for me? I'll do my work well. And it won't just be a 40-hour workweek. And sometimes the rest of my life will have to be the thing put on hold until the current project is finished. But time to sleep, exercise, read for pleasure, and recharge are worth not being The Ultimate Grad Student or The Ultimate Professor.

I just finished training to volunteer for the local sexual assault hotline. (Intense. Really intense.) One of the most important things we talked about was self-care - the things you do to help yourself relax and be happy even when the world around you isn't happy. Taking some times - ten minutes, an hour, a day - away from workworkwork is part of self-care. It's part of keeping the thing you love from driving you insane. And it's necessary, no matter how much other people want to shame you for daring to care for yourself sometimes.

I've been keeping a running list of things I do and don't want to do when I'm teaching a class. It includes things like "for lower-level classes, give a bunch of small assignments and grade them fairly instead of inflating. That way, you can also grade the papers more fairly and not feel like you're torpedoing the students' chance of success". After this book, I added "never tell students that their work should be their one and only. Remember that everyone has a life outside of study, outside of work, and that is a very good thing".

Of course these ideas can be hard when you really just want someone to pour heart and soul into your class. It has become my new goal to tell students that yes, they need to work hard, but no, their work isn't the most important thing ever. Sometimes other things are important. If you're working well, if you're not using it as an excuse for mediocrity, never feel guilty about recognizing when something else takes over that importance slot.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fuzzy wuzzy was a...?

When I was living in Germany, I shared my apartment with something small and fuzzy. I never actually saw the creature, but he lived in my ceiling and spent his time dashing about. Occasionally he did acrobatics. He also brought nuts or seeds back to his home, because sometimes I would hear something small and hard rolling around up there.

Based on how he sounded when he ran and the fact that I only ever heard one creature, it was determined that I had a Siebenschläfer living over my head.

This is a Siebenschläfer

So is this.

Helloooo
The name literally means "seven-sleeper" because the creature usually hibernates during the fall and winter. In English, it's a "fat dormouse". You can see that it looks like a cross between a squirrel and a mouse. And in Germany, they're a protected species - you can't set traps to kill them. Live trapping is acceptable.

I never saw the creature I named Siebe, but he never seemed to bring any friends home either. And during the coldest months of winter, he was pretty quiet. Unfortunately he didn't move out to his summer home in some tree come June and I admit that I was happy to sleep somewhere without audible reminders that rodents live among us.

Now I'm in a nice apartment in the United States. And guess who lives in my wall? No fat dormice here, but there's one and possible more than one squirrel in residence behind my shower. They make a lot of noise. And they get around a bit - sometimes they scurry around in my bedroom ceiling, and sometimes I hear them behind the stove. I've checked for holes they could use to get into my cupboards or apartment and haven't found any yet, but it doesn't stop them from being very disruptive. When they're especially loud, it sounds like I have a furry friend in my bathtub or kitchen cupboards. Very unsettling.

To add insult to injury, these little wretches have neither shame nor fear. Behold:

That's right, the squirrel is climbing on my screen door. While I was on the other side taking pictures. He also tries to munch on my basil plant when I put it outside for some sunshine. I shouted abuse at him and rescued it, but now it's drooping for lack of light.

Apparently I'm a Disney princess and the woodland creatures just can't help but get close. They've been quiet recently, though, and I can only hope they're planning to hibernate for the winter. In a tree somewhere. Fingers crossed.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Anniversary musings

It's been a year since I arrived in Germany!

(That's a lie, September 10 actually marked a year. But acknowledging the fact isn't nearly so pithy.)

I'm not teaching this year, though I will be teaching for the next three before spending a final year finishing my thesis. If all goes well. Instead I'm getting a handle on the aforementioned theory - I even read an understandable essay today, which makes Susan Bordo my new favorite person! And I'm learning my way around an enormous campus. My undergrad institution was south of 1500 people. You could walk across the campus in ten minutes. Now? There's a bus that takes students from the center of campus to their dorms. I wish I was kidding.

I get lost whenever I try to find a new place and realize it's in the opposite direction. Then, because I'm convinced the world is paying attention to the stupid things I do, I pretend to get a phone call and tell someone I'm "really close, be right there!" before changing directions.

Kidding. I only did that once.

Yesterday I had a meeting at a totally new building in the north section of campus. Everything else I do is in the south section of campus. Uncharted territory up there. Here be monsters.

So I looked at a map several times throughout the day and repeated the instructions to myself like a mantra. Those instructions? Leave the building where I had class, turn left, turn left, turn left, and walk a while. Impossible to get lost.

I left-left-lefted and walked across the river, so I knew I was headed the right way. All I needed to to was hit a main road and my destination would be right there. But then suddenly the street I was following turned sharply right. There was a sidewalk that continued going straight and some buildings over there, but I didn't see any busy road. And the street was turning on me! The map hadn't indicated that. Probably. This was not the first time I wished the university would put up maps of campus at strategic locations, like you find in downtown London. Highly useful.

My brave choice was to keep going straight, following the sidewalk instead of the street. Big mistake. After wandering between several buildings which were not the buildings I was looking for, I returned to the street, followed its curve, and a block later found myself standing right outside the correct place. The streets know what's what.

Also? I saw a rainbow! It was raining as I got lost and then the rain stopped and right in front of me was this huge arc of color. It was beautiful. I found my way around a city in Europe, right? When I first arrived I thought I'd be lost forever and only ever get around with a map. I'd be a perpetual tourist, the horror! I can totally manage a campus, even if the campus feels like it's just as big and with 1/3 the population. Which, when you're comparing cities to universities? 1/3 the population is still a disproportionately high number of people.

I can only hope that rainbows will keep appearing to cheer me up whenever I get lost. Because leprechauns are following me or something. I wouldn't argue.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Theory

The further along one goes in studying literature (and other subjects too, I'd imagine), the more it all becomes about theory. Not the kind of theory that is an intelligent guess or the best-we've-got, but the kind that takes something completely not-literature and applies that thing to literature to see what happens.

Ugh.

Sometimes what happens is really cool. Take feminism and Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and put them together. What do you have? Well, on one level you have a man (Petruchio) who eventually teaches a strong-willed woman (Katherina) to submit, as the patriarchy prefers. That one isn't so hard - very few people living now watch the play and find themselves in agreement with Petruchio's methods, including withholding food and sleep. But there are other levels too: at the end of the play, Katherina delivers a speech about how wives should submit to their husbands. Put your feminist glasses on and you might wonder if she's being sarcastic. Maybe that she's acknowledging that the world is set against women, but using such hyperbole in her "submission" that it's obvious she's not about to be always sweet and obedient. Maybe she's just telling her husband what he wants to hear and does what she wants most of the rest of the time (recalling that husbands and wives wouldn't necessarily have spent all day together in Shakespeare's day).

And so, with an infusion of feminist theory, there are ways to leave the theater less uncomfortable after watching Taming of the Shrew. The same thing can be done with Marxism (class struggles), post-colonialism (effects of racism and imperialism), and so on.

The tough part here is reading all of the theory. Most of the original essays that began and continued these theories are long and complicated and mostly involve the author informing you that this word means something else for the purposes of the essay. I've read engaging articles and essays before, and theory writing is not the least bit engaging, at least not to me. But theory is also a really big deal in literary studies and when actually applied to a novel, it can show you a whole new angle. Often we read novels with something like theory in the backs of our heads because we've heard about feminism, class struggles, racism, and so forth. So we recognize aspects of the story that the author probably never intended and maybe never even considered.

At its best, theory elevates the reader and gives us a fresh view. And I really like that. But reading it? Quite the chore. That's today's project. Wish me luck.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Parking v. Me

After living without a car for a year, I am both grateful and very frustrated to be driving again. Grateful because it's all but impossible to get around in the States without a car. Frustrated because that means I have to buy gas. Grateful because I can get somewhere whenever I want to with little physical exertion. Frustrated because driving is stressful and other drivers are mean to me. Grateful because if I'm two minutes late, I'm really just two minutes late instead of an hour. Frustrated because it's much easier to be a little bit late for things when you don't have to plan on being there thirty minutes early.

And then there's parking.

Thankfully my apartment has ample parking and so getting home is never a stressful thing. On campus, however, the story is entirely different. To begin, it's an enormous campus. There's a bus line that just serves the extended campus area. Walking from one class to the other can take a half-hour or more. As you might have guessed, a number of students have cars. And a number of students live off-campus and therefore have cars. And all the professors live off-campus, and therefore have cars. Is there enough parking for all of these entities? But of course not!

Now happily, as the recipient of some university funding, I get to be classed as an employee. That means that for a (rather high) fee, I can park in the employee lots, which are numerous and protected by a gate. I think there's more employee parking than student parking.

Before I could park in these magical lots, however, I had to buy my pass. I dutifully trekked over to the parking office (a twenty-minute walk from the visitor parking area) and stood in line for another forty minutes only to be told that the letter identifying me as an employee is illegitimate because it's a year out of date. Never mind that it specifies my program will take five years - the date at the top is 2012 and it's not good enough. So I go back to my department and ask for a new letter. First they try calling the parking office to verbally confirm my status. Not good enough. I need a letter. So they ask for a new letter. No can do - the dean of the graduate school issues those letters and is very busy right now. But one of the heads of the department offers to write a letter certifying my letter as valid. In record time it's written and signed and the next day I go back to the parking office.

I have ID, registration, letters, and a checkbook. I'm so ready for this parking pass. The man behind the desk inspects my letters, sighs, and tells me it's not quite right. He doesn't want to have to look through the letters to find the relevant information. He'll accept it this one time, but in the future, I need a letter dated from this year that simply says I have some university funding. Something that doesn't require him to look through anything.

The upshot is that I have my parking pass and have gleefully parked in the employee lots this week. Unfortunately the pass is only good for a semester, so I'll be back in the parking office come December, hopefully with the correct letter this time.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dinosaurs and volcanos

The funny part about this is that I promised myself I wouldn't let moving take over my life. Haha. It did. But now I'm safely ensconced in my new apartment (and dwelling #10 for the last three months, counting the B&Bs in Europe) with a working internet connection and everything.

So, as a catch-up, I present a few more gems from my time in Colorado.

En route to dinosaur tracks

People actually lived here, and left an oven or sink or something.

Still trekking onwards...

Graves from a Spanish mission.

OBLITERATE!

5 miles later, look! A dinosaur track...maybe.

We waded across this river. It was an adventure.

My foot is so small.

Now that's a dinosaur track. A meat-eating dinosaur track.

In New Mexico, on top of an extinct volcano.

Ooooo!

Benches thoughtfully provided.

And mule deer.
I also floated down the Arkansas river, but for obvious reasons involving electronics and water, I don't have any pictures. It's very unfortunate, especially since half the pictures would be of me beached on a sandbar. There were many sandbars. And some of them would be of me covered in mud from our launching point under a bridge, which was very very muddy. Plus there would be the fact that we were using pool floaties rather than real inner tubes and so they didn't float quite so well. I was perpetually wet. It was hilarious. And then we walked a mile back to the car through some farmer's field. Actually next to the field - no need to trample the foodstuffs.

So now I'm starting - actually have already started - graduate school. And while that world is not nearly as exotic as Germany or Colorado, I already have a number of entertaining stories to tell. Next time: my battle with the parking people. And quite the battle it was.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Buffalo tongue and ruined candles

I've acquired quite the number of new skills in the past few days. A smattering thereof:

Skill number one: cooking over an open fire. I cooked buffalo tongue (which I'm informed was actually buffalo liver) and onions over an open fire. It smelled rather nice, but bled every time I pressed it until it was pretty well charred. I'm also not at all convinced that it was cooked in a way that is safe to eat. No matter, the point is simply to have something period going on for the visitors to see, smell, and ask questions about. The funny thing about food at the Fort is that we are not allowed to offer food to any of the visitors and if they ask for a sample, the answer is no. If, however, they just take some without asking, we won't argue. And that's the exact spiel that we give visitors when they ask if they can have a bite. Gets the point across without any legal liability.

Skill number two: lighting fires. Previously I'd lit fires with a lighter and a bunch of newspapers. Now, however, I can light them with flint and steel. And I learned a new way to do it that involves making a little wind tunnel with two logs, lighting the char-cloth and kindling and sticking it in the middle, and then putting a third log on top. Wind or human breath through the tunnel helps the fire to grow and it burns hot, so it catches the logs pretty easily. I built a fire with this method without a problem, when I'd previously struggled to get one lit.

Skill number three: making candles. This one didn't go so well. I started out attempting to make dip candles by heating up a mix of tallow and beeswax over the fire I built, then dipping a string in (as one does). The strings refused to stay straight and the candles grew very very slowly. Since I was working in the hot sun I decided to switch to candles in a mold. Under instructions from one of the Fort bosses, I sprayed the molds with PAM (secretly, of course), mixed the tallow and beeswax, forced strings through tiny holes in the bottoms of the molds, and poured in the hot wax. I also poured the wax all over the ground until I found the little dip-cup used to make pouring easier. Then I moved a bench over to shade the molds and waited for several hours. At the end of those hours, the candles resembled a funnel - wax had leaked out the bottom where the wicks were drawn through and given them a collapsed center. Plus, though I sprayed the living daylights out of the molds, they apparently weren't non-stick enough and I only succeeded in snapping off several wicks. As this was happening at the end of the day, I tucked them inside and plan to ask someone what to do tomorrow.

Skill number four: cat wrangling. The Fort has two cats, as well as four oxen, two horses, three peacocks, three peahens, a dozen or so peachicks, and ten chickens. The cats are allowed to roam freely but have to be put in every night to keep them from being eaten by coyotes. I don't have any keys and can't help lock up, so while everyone else is closing down the fort, my job is to find the cats. They don't particularly like being shut away, though they tolerate it because food is there. So they don't fight me too much when I pick them up but they do hide themselves in various places around the fort as a matter of course. Today I found one sprawled out in the sun by the blacksmith's workshop, while the other was stalking some sort of creature in the woodpile out back. Turns out the creature was a bat, so I took the cat away. He promptly jumped out the window I'd forgotten to close and went straight back to the woodpile.

I'm hoping to churn butter tomorrow, and praying that turns out better than the candles.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hello and welcome to 1846

I spent the past few days as a pioneer woman in Colorado. I am not a pioneer strictly speaking - they mostly went on the Oregon Trail, to the north - nor is my presence at Bent's Old Fort entirely historically accurate. The Fort was a major trading post on the Santa Fe Trail, bringing together native tribes, trappers, Mexican traders, and American businessmen out to make money. As may not surprise you, white women weren't particularly common in a place that was fifty days travel from the nearest city and swarming with rough characters. Many of the men who lived and worked here married Mexican and Cheyenne women, not white ones.

Despite my improbable presence, the Fort has given me a costume and allowed me to volunteer for a while. I portray a generic ransomed white woman, captured by one of the native tribes - probably the Pawnee - and rescued by the people in the Fort. The historical record does indeed give us one woman, a Mrs. Dale, whose husband was killed in a raid and who was taken captive, later coming to the Fort and working for her room and board. But there's already a white female employee who plays her, so mine is a general rather than specific role.

I fill my time hanging up laundry, fetching water, mending clothes, and embroidering. Let it be known that I have never before embroidered and have been feeling my way through like the novice I am, to varied result. I'm nearly finished with a tree, so I'll take a picture of that once it's done. The mending is functional rather than attractive, mostly repairing splits along the shoulder seams of shirts and chemises. Hanging up laundry is easy and it dries very quickly in the parched Colorado air, while fetching water is solely to keep the buckets from splitting and cracking. They are made of wood and look much like topless barrels. Wood shrinks in dry heat, so unless the buckets are kept reasonably full, the slats will pull away from one another and leave us with a particularly non-functional watering can.

I also greet the visitors and give them a brief overview of the Fort before handing them off to an employee, since I'm not allowed to handle the cash register. I also answer the shuttle phone and relay shuttle requests to an employee, since I'm not allowed to drive the golf cart. That is courtesy of a volunteer who crashed a cart into a car and knocked off the car's headlight the day before I arrived. My hints regarding a perfect driving record go unheeded in that respect.

My most recent accomplishment is starting a fire with a flint and steel. It's something of a laborious process - you strike the steel against the flint until sparks fly while holding a piece of char-cloth (partially burned cloth made of natural fibers) until it catches. You place the burning cloth in the middle of a big nest of straw and blow on it until the straw catches fire. Then you lay kindling sticks over the burning straw and hope that one of them catches fire before the straw burns itself out. If that step is successful, you attempt to light the rest of the kindling and then lay all that against some logs, with the hope that the flames will spread to the logs and make something of a more permanent blaze. Usually this area of Colorado is dry and this process isn't too difficult, but we had some rain yesterday that finally caused one of the employees to go find a lighter, since the flint and steel method was not catching on the damp wood.

Next week I hope to cook, make candles, and churn butter - all demonstrations that the visitors can ask about and sometimes join in on. The men do blacksmithing or carpentry, make moccasins, whittle, and work leather. These activities are the most interesting part of the fort in my mind, since they make the visit interactive and allow people a glimpse into 1846. I'll report back on any further skills I learn as I learn them.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Back in time

I'm traveling to Colorado for a friend's wedding this weekend, followed by two weeks volunteering at a national park that is also an old fort. Apparently I'm to be allowed to dress up and historically re-enact, something I haven't been able to do since the days of playing a Puritan in Salem, Massachusetts.

Goody Bishop, Faith Clark, Sarah Shattuck - how I miss you!

So I look forward to introducing you all to this world of the mid-1800s Wild Wild West. It'll be a world of trappers, traders, Native Americans, soldiers, and me. The presence of a white woman at the fort is period inaccurate, but I don't mind. I really want to learn to blacksmith, and I also don't mind the period inaccuracy of that. The park employees don't seem to share my lassiez-faire attitude towards accuracy. We'll just have to see how this goes.

I'm pretty sure there are everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Visiting privileges

A dear friend of mine has been a second-grade teacher in Detroit for the past year. Her working life is far more difficult than mine ever was, for all the obvious reasons. But she's brilliant and talented, and she had a bunch of awesome ideas to expose her students to the wider world. One of these ideas was for her friends to send postcards from wherever-we-were to her class, allowing them to see and dream about far-away places they might visit one day. So I sent a bunch of postcards from Europe and on Friday went for a visit, bringing pictures along with.

I learned that second-graders are very wiggly, especially when they've already been in school for seven or eight hours. Like my German students, when reminded of what they were supposed to do, mostly they did it. Usually they then forgot, and I can understand. It's no fun to sit still and be quiet and attentive for hours when all you want is to be somewhere else.

I learned that second-graders are very curious in the best possible way. I brought a dozen or so pictures along to show them - cats in Corsica, the Porta Nigra in Trier, my school - and they had questions about every single one. They also had questions about the things that adults, recognizing the "main point" of a picture, never think to question. What's that fence doing to the side of this historical building? (Hiding construction equipment, it turns out.) Why did that man get banished into a clock that now sticks out its tongue at you every hour? (He stole things and played tricks, which led to several minutes of attempts by the students to catalog what exactly it was that he stole.) What is that statue standing on? (A pedestal.) Why? (I have no idea, because I'd always just accepted that statues stand on pedestals.) Maybe I shouldn't just accept such things. Why exactly is it that statues stand on pedestals? I'm sure it has something to do with a uniform base and such, but is that all?

I learned that second graders sometimes forget what you've told them as soon as the words are out of your mouth. Are there restaurants and zoos in New Jersey? (I don't know, I've never been to New Jersey.) In New Jersey, do people like to go to the zoo? (Uh...I don't know.)

Saturday morning we went to Eastern Market, an enormous farmer's market selling everything from produce to spices to bread to succulents. You could do your whole week's worth of grocery shopping there. It smells amazing, as farmer's markets always do.

I concluded the visit with the Detroit Institute of Art, which has an amazing collection of artwork including (in my friends' words) "that culmination of centuries of art and innovation: home decorations" . The DIA houses Van Gogh, Islamic calligraphy, African masks, and American (both North and South) carvings, among hundreds of other works. The masks were especially interesting, both in their size and their displays of community ideals.

Detroit on the whole may be going through a hard time, and I don't want to make light of that situation. But I was privileged enough to see some of its very bright spots: its art, its produce, and its future. And question the entire point of pedestals.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Finally home

July has been a busy month. Usually it's a supremely lazy month - day off from work for the Fourth, heat and humidity driving everyone indoors, no end-of-summer rush yet. The flurry of final summery activity belongs to August, with July kicking back in the shade.

I spent July moving. First I moved from interesting site to interesting site. Then I moved out of my apartment in Germany. At last I moved back to the States and am temporarily ensconced in my parents' house before moving to my new apartment in August, thence to begin grad school.

But more on that later. To the stories!

My family came for a vacation and to help me move. We saw my apartment and school, visited cousins, and then set off for some dedicated sightseeing. The town of Dinkelsbühl was probably our cutest stop. It's at least 1200 years old and was completely ignored by bombers in World War II, so its medieval buildings and cobbled streets are original, unlike the rest of Germany.

A look down the adorable street
All the buildings were titled with similar fonts...
...except this holdout at the edge of town.
And that holdout flower shop? Out of business. Serves it right for breaking the rules of cuteness and conformity.

Dinkelsbühl offered a few other memorable moments. In the evening we took the night watchman tour, which ended up resembling a pub crawl more than anything else. Interspersed with more educational stops to impart information about the town, we stopped at ten different guest houses where the night watchman sang a song, and each house brought out a glass of wine or beer for us to drink. In our group of eleven, five people refused anything more than the occasional sip and we weren't allowed to take the glass along. It became something of a chore to down a full glass every time we halted and at one point we poured a glass into a potted plant. The night watchman himself refused to drink anything and forbade us to give any to the patrons as well. Plus, he only spoke German, so I was the translator for my family and a Japanese couple who knew some English.

"Snails meeting for the first time, sniffing eyestalks"
 My brother titled this sculpture.

We got a parking ticket not because we were parked incorrectly, but because we'd parked in a one-hour zone without putting up the little "we'll be back at" clock that all German cars have. I'd forgotten to mention it to the family when we unloaded the luggage. Then it turned out that city hall closed at 4p, despite their door listing official hours as 8:00-17:00. We paid the next day before leaving the city.

Sad to leave though - it's really like a storybook city.
Then it was on to Salzburg, Austria, where we retraced Sound of Music sites and I picked up a little Jägermeister bottle full of holy water (no really!) at the church where the wedding scene was filmed. Several visits to the oldest bakery in town and a trip to the cathedral completed our time there.

The Untersberg, one of the famous mountain sites of Salzburg
I officially checked out of my apartment, though not before breaking the toilet seat when I stood on it to clean the shelves in the bathroom. Oops.

The penultimate stop was Bruges, Belgium. There we ate chocolate, climbed a clock tower, took a canal tour, and wandered around happily.

Typical Belgian architecture

Swans in the canal
 The story goes that the citizens of Bruges once killed a tax collector called "Long Neck" and as punishment were ordered to keep sixty swans alive to forever remind them of their crime. They now have two hundred.

Bruges clock tower, 82 meters high. We climbed it.

Isn't he cute just before he bites your finger off?

It's a trap!

View of the city from the clock tower
 And finally we found ourselves in Cologne for a day before flying out of the Cologne Airport.

Naturally we saw the cathedral

The official seal of Cologne
 The commas stand for St. Ursula and the ten virgins who where martyred in Cologne.

At least, on our way home
Twenty hours of travel, with flights from Cologne to Munich to Toronto to the States, and we were home. I went straight to bed, and spent the last four days sleeping, making and attending appointments, and generally trying to get my head screwed back on straight. It's good to be home.






Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Appropriations committee

A short but entertaining piece on the BBC about the German use of English words. The funny thing is, Germans use English words all the time - almost constantly, in fact - and so Chancellor Merkel's adoption of one is not all that odd to me. Even my most reluctant students talk about das Email, der Computer, ein Hacker, and die Information.

English was created from German and Latin/French; German has been taking words, especially those to do with technology, from English for decades now. It's actually funny to me how much non-German speakers can figure out on menus or street signs because German and English are so close. They're only getting closer.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Entr'acte

Last night I went to the second school play, this one put on by the older students. Called "Gefährliche Liebschaften" or "Dangerous Liaisons," it follows the plot of a 1782 French novel by the same name, wherein a group of French aristocrats play with one another's hearts, reputations, and bodies out of boredom and jealousy. 

Obviously it was a light and entertaining drama.

Any play called "Dangerous Liaisons" would indeed have said liaisons, and there was a lot of sex going on. I was a little uncomfortable because I knew and had taught so many of the students, but they handled the more risqué aspects very well. The whole play was enjoyable and fun to watch, even when the speed of delivery meant that I couldn't always catch what they were saying - they acted enough that I could follow the plot just fine. Although originally French it seemed an excellent choice for German students because Germans are rather obsessed with stories that don't end well. Watch any German movie and the ending will be depressing. Germans, for their part, find the American obsession with das Happy End in films and stories to be overly optimistic and annoying. Culture clash at its finest.

During the Pause I was reminded how much I still have to learn about German when a colleague's husband asked me where I was from in the United States and my brain couldn't process the question. I'm blaming it on the previous hour spent listening to the play, but who knows. Anyone who insists I must be fluent after ten months in Germany, meet my case-in-point as to why that's not true.

In a completely separate vein, I received a package today from an overly attentive delivery man who announced himself by popping his head into my open window rather than ringing the bell. At the end of the little dance of scanning and signing, asked if he might know my age. I blinked at him and said no. He was delivering alcohol, but didn't press it when I refused to answer, so I presume it wasn't any kind of official question. I'm assuming it was some sort of pick-up scheme, all things considered, but find myself mostly just confused.

My family arrives in two days for a trip around Germany, Austria, and Belgium. I'll be back in the States in less than three weeks. It's all moving rather fast, but I'll keep you updated as the internet permits.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Today at the train station...

Part of commuting regularly by public transportation is seeing the same people along your route nearly every day. I wait for my train with Black-Haired Bouffant Businesswoman and Perpetually Scared-Looking Woman with Bangs. On Fridays (when I go in an hour later) I am forced to share the platform with Sporty Green-Headphoned Smoking Woman. When it's raining she sits inside the shelter and smokes me out like an exterminator does pests; I always consider asking if she's seen the rather prominent no smoking signs. I think I picked up a healthy dose of Britishness while in England and have never done so.

I also see the same train conductors and one doesn't bother asking for my ticket anymore. That's a fun little perk, especially on the day after my monthlong pass expired and I forgot to buy a new one.

These people may be my commuting regulars, but sometimes the train station serves up a heaping dose of weirdness as well. Today I caught the later train home from work and so had to go all the way to the central train station rather than my usual stop. First I met two middle-aged men with very long beards that were braided from chin to somewhere near their navels. Then, while walking through the entrance hall, I came upon a group of ten or so young men all wearing hot pink cheetah-print bathrobes and drinking beer at the the little restaurant/bar. Alas, I couldn't figure out how to take a picture furtively. On reflection, perhaps they wouldn't have minded if I wasn't furtive, as they definitely weren't.

In addition to meeting several odd people, today marked my last official commute and my last official day of work. Through a quirk of my program, I cannot work anymore even though the school year doesn't end until next week Friday. In typically German bureaucratic style, I am in fact forbidden from working because I'm no longer insured by the state and if something were to happen, the school would have to pay for it. So today was something of an emotional day, saying a series of goodbyes and wishing my classes well. Thankfully we have a staff barbeque next week Thursday where I'll make my official goodbyes to my colleagues, meaning that I can have my emotions in two small doses instead of one overwhelming day.

My favorite part of today was the student who informed me that I am "much better than a dictionary" and I may make business cards to say just that.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Lions and tigers and bears

My fifth grade classes are learning about animals to wrap up their year. It's a good choice of topics because they love telling me about their favorite and least favorite animals, recalling trips to the zoo or to a farm, and drawing pictures of animals. This distracts them from the other thing that they really want to do, which is to not be in school anymore. I can sympathize.

So on Thursday I made up a worksheet with pictures of different animals, jumbled names, habitats, foods, and other pertinent facts. The students had to match everything up. Their favorite animal by far is the "pen-gween," and they also delighted in informing me that "pengweens live not in the Nort Pole. They live in the South Pole!" Guess who forgot to proofread her worksheet?

My original idea was to have the students give little presentations on the animals once they'd matched up who lived where and ate what. The teacher suggested that we play a guessing game instead. Word to the wise: kids love games.

Really, all I have to do is call something a game and they're excited about it. Recall that we turned birthday months into a competition.

So they started out using the animals from my sheet, giving as ambiguous of clues as possible. Then one particularly ambitious child asked if he could go off-script and have the class guess a different animal. I was a little nervous about the lack of vocabulary, but it turns out they know the word "octopus" as well as a host of other animal names. We guessed rhinos, elephants, dolphins, ducks, monkeys, bees, chameleons, and lambs before the bell finally rang. Then, because it was my last day with these students and they had a double lesson, we had a quick Q&A in German. The schools are pretty strict about monolingual classrooms, but the students were so excited that they could just ask the questions without worrying about how to phrase them in English, I think the teacher didn't mind.

One more week of school for me, and then my family is coming for a visit. It's odd to think that this chapter of my life is ending and I won't spend the next years reminding young Germans to use the present progressive or pronounce their "th" sounds correctly. I've been warned that at least one of my classes is planning a little party. I see tears in my future.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A musical evening

Last Thursday I went to the school musical: Milchstrasse 2, Stinkfisch und Killertomate.

As you might imagine, a musical put on by fifth, sixth, and seventh graders including the terms "stinky fish," "Milky Way Galaxy," and "killer tomato" is at the same time adorable and a bit difficult to follow. In brief, the follows a businessman who is grumpy that he's only the second-richest man in the galaxy, and that he's being beat by a woman named Emily Petemily. He decides that the way to beat Emily is to buy the hotel on Milchstrasse 2, currently run by two sisters who haven't had a guest stay there in thirty years, and turn it into a dog-grooming salon. The hotel's signature dish is stinky fish with killer tomatoes, made by a chef who is in love with her vegetables and has a special favorite: Paul, the mushroom. The chef is devastated that no one wants to come eat her food, since the vegetables are so wonderful; the sisters are sad that no one wants to stay at their hotel, but don't want to sell, so the businessman hires a spy/film noir type to trick them into signing over the lease. She successfully tricks one sister into selling the property, but somehow someone manages to get the paper back and rip it up. Problem solved.

At various points in the play we also met a scientist, a singer, a troupe of dancing constellations, two green aliens, a thief who sets off bombs Roadrunner-and-Coyote-style, and a policewoman. It was never really clear how their stories interacted with the main story, except incidentally.

A friend of mine noted that we find incompetence charming in children, and this was certainly true. The students often dropped things when changing the sets, whispered loudly and shushed one another, started playing the wrong scene, forgot lines, spoke unintelligibly, and tested the microphones in the middle of another scene. All was cheerful chaos. And the audience mostly refrained from laughing at the "no, it goes over there!" instructions the children gave one another. Or maybe, given the typical German response to jokes, it was a normal rather than a refrained response.

At the end of the play my students were very concerned that I'd understood everything, and I assured them I had. Waiting at the train station with several German friends, I confirmed that they hadn't understood everything either, so the confusion does not stem from language. Very reassuring.

A cute evening, all things considered. And I've seen posters up around town for "Kiss Me, Kate," so I may be stepping up my theater attendance at the end of my time here in Europe...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to succeed in a foreign country without missing home too much

I really like Germany. I've enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to live and work here for the past nine months; the idea that it will come to an end in three weeks is both hard to believe and sad. I am fortunate enough to live in a time when world travel is both possible and easy (if rather pricey and stressful sometimes), so I can say with some certainty that this will not be my last time in Germany. Despite that, I will miss my colleagues, my job, my friends, the language, döner kebabs, and the place I've called home.

That does not mean, however, that my time here has been all sunshine and roses.

The entire winter, for example, was cloudy. And grey.

Sometimes you really just want to have a normal conversation in English, without having to coach a reluctant student through unknown vocabulary. My colleagues are fluent and friendly, but there's something different about talking with a native speaker, especially one with whom you have inside jokes.

A couple things have allowed me to read and hear English on a regular basis. I highly recommend them to anyone who is traveling in a foreign country, has access to the internet, and just wants a taste of home.

Thing 1: The Daily Show. John Stewart is hilarious and the studio audience laughs along with me, unlike Germans. Germans aren't big into displays of humor.

Thing 2: The Colbert Report. Ditto. As an added bonus, you can watch both shows from anywhere in the world (or at least in Europe). For reasons unknown to me, they are not part of the "if you don't live in the country where this was produced, that's too bad for you, nya-nya-nya" rules that accompany pretty much every other thing on television.

Thing 3: My home library. In addition to its collection of real books - and I will be reveling in that collection soon enough - it has a number of electronic resources. I have downloaded audiobooks and ebooks all year with great joy and had a grand old time not working so hard to understand every single page. Don't ask me about reading children's books in German. No fun. I think many libraries have a partnership with a company called Overdrive, which provides these electronic resources. Check it out if you're so inclined.

Thing 4: Skype. Seriously, how did the world survive before video calling? I've had my bouts of homesickness both in Germany and while at college, and Skype has been a lifeline. I talk with family and friends regularly. It's nice to feel like I'm still somehow part of these important people's lives even though I'm across an ocean.

Thing 5: Chocolate. Sometimes you just need it. Chocolate is delicious.

So there you go. Along with actually liking the place where you live, making friends, and having a purpose for being wherever-you-are, this is my formula for living abroad. Feel free to add any other stress-relievers or tricks that you know.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Daily Chuckle #7

A seventh-grade student describing how the character in a story became embarassed:
Student: And then she turned into red.
Me: If she turned into red, then she is red now. Poof, I'm red!
Student: I do not think you are.

A twelfth-grade student writing a mock cover letter for a job in psychiatry:
Student: If I want to work with people who have problems with drugs, what is the verb?
Me: Um...to help?
Student: No no, for the people who have the problem. Do they consume drugs or consummate drugs?
Me: Definitely not consummate. Consume is technically true, but we say they use or abuse drugs.
Student: Oh, what does consummate mean?
Me: Ask your mother.
Student: She doesn't speak English.

A colleague in the teacher's room:
Colleague: Jessica, how is President Obama today?
Me: I...don't know. We don't usually talk.
Colleague: But you are American! You must know how he is, in your heart!

A fifth-grade student, after his neighbor says something to me in German:
Student #1: She doesn't speak German! English!
Student #2: Oh. But I don't know how to say in English.
Student #1 (in German): You should think about that before you say something in the future. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

The attack of the Hochwasser

Living along the Rhine has its literal ups and downs. This week specifically saw a pretty dramatic up, as in, the water levels.

Due to heavy downpour in the entirety of central Europe last weekend, every river was running high and pouring all the extra water into the large rivers, like the Donau and the Rhine. I got back from a visit to England on Monday, having not really checked the news for several days, to find that a bunch of ship traffic was waiting on one side of the bridge because the water levels were too high for the huge cargo vessels to fit underneath. This happens with some frequency, since ships are built larger and larger and bridges are not similarly supersized. I figured there had been some rain and the river had gone up a few feet.

Ha. Hahahahaha.

See the bush? That's where the path normally is.

The ducks are having a grand ol' time.

Construction bits moved to the top of the wall

Dirt and gravel dumped in the gap in the wall.

The river is trying to sneak around the gravel!

This entire area is usually construction headquarters.

High-walk.
The fire department helpfully installed this high walk, just in case the river actually made it past the wall that was purposefully built to keep it from getting this far. You know, the construction that woke me up for a month straight when I first moved to my apartment? The huge machines I still dodge nearly every morning on my way to the bus? The wall that has cost the city a great deal of time and money, and means that my lovely view of the Rhine is obstructed by backhoes and mobile offices?

Apparently no one trusts it.

So if the water were to come up as far as the houses, the fire department would bring in steps or ladders and we could all walk high above the river, safe and dry. Then presumably I could enter through my neighbor's window, swim downstairs to my apartment, and...cook? This seems rather unhelpful for those of us blessed/cursed with a first-floor dwelling. This is presumably why my landlady lives on the second floor of her house next door and rents out the first floor.

You will be happy to know that these pictures represent the highest that the water ever came. My apartment is safe, my feet are dry, and the river is slowly returning to its usual place. It's not quite there yet - the path is still underwater, with ducks and swans merrily paddling about - but I'm hopeful that by early next week I can go for my walks along the no-longer-flooding Rhine.

(Hochwasser, literally "high water", is the German word for flooding. Where English-speakers would say that the river is flooding, Germans say that the "high water comes!")

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Public transportation

Normally I'm a big fan of European public transportation. It's (mostly) non-sketchy, fairly cost-effective over distances under four hours, it runs regularly, and it saves me from the expense and stress of actually having a car.

I wish the States had a similar system. Seriously, I'm headed to Colorado this summer for a friend's wedding and my choices for transport are a) rent a car or b) rent a car. Or c) ride the Greyhound at 2am by myself from the sketchy bus station in an unknown city. So really, just a) and b).

But I digress.

Last Thursday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, called Fronleichnam in Germany. Don't ask me what that means. As is often the case, largely-secular Germany has a tradition of religious holidays and no one is willing to give that up because of silly things like not actually following the religion in question, so we had a four-day weekend. I headed to England to visit some friends who are studying there. As a cost-conscious person, I flew Ryanair, Europe's budget airline. They manage to be cheap because they fly out of the most inconvenient, non-central airports possible. In Germany it's not an issues - there's a bus that goes straight from my city to Frankfurt Hahn (the budget airport): eleven euros, one hour, badabing, badaboom.

Not so easy in England. London's budget airport is called Stansted and it is the spawn of the devil. Buses travel the two hours from Stansted to London with some frequency, but I was going to Oxford and I was on a pretty tight schedule to get there before my hosts left for an evening engagement. I wasn't keen on wandering the streets for several hours Friday night. I bought a ticket for one of the few buses that goes from Stansted to Oxford - as Oxford is a student town, you'd think there would be more buses, but no - and was three minutes late thanks to a combination of plane delays and England's obsessive, excessive border control. I missed the bus and discovered that the next direct one left in three hours, too late for my agreed-upon meeting time.

Thankfully I was able to work out an alternate route through London, switched buses, and made it with four minutes to spare.

On Monday, I again pre-booked my ticket on a bus direct to Stansted, waited at the nearest bus stop, and watched my bus drive right by without stopping. Again I found an alternate route through London, inquired at the main office as to the reason my bus had not stopped, and was told that I'd booked it for the wrong stop. That particular bus, uniquely of all the buses in Oxford, only stops at the places where you have pre-booked. I had accidentally chosen the city center rather than the stop closest to where I was staying when buying my ticket, and so the bus passed me by.

Equally thankfully, I was able to buy a ticket on another bus that got me to Stansted just in time for my flight back to Germany.

So this morning I was already feeling a little sour towards European public transportation. Just to tease me, my bus was late this morning, so I missed my usual train, and the second train was also late, though only by five minutes. I power-walked to school, arrived somewhat sweaty but (barely) on time, and promptly began to think longingly about my environmentally-unsound personal car waiting for me in the States. I know buses and trains are the way of the future and I'd really prefer that Colorado had some useful ones, but right now I'm not feeling kindly towards public transportation. Give me a car with automatic transmission over National Express or DeutscheBahn any day.

At least until tomorrow when I'd actually have to drive it. The Germans drive like crazy people.

Friday, May 24, 2013

All the world's a stage

Today my "middle school" students saw several plays in English, performed by the British traveling theater group White Horse Theatre. The sixth and seventh graders saw a play called My Cousin Charles and the eighth and ninth graders saw one called Two Gentleman, a modern adaption of the Shakespeare play The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

The theater group did very well presenting these plays to a young audience of English language learners. They spoke slowly and loudly, and usually accompanied everything they did with over-exaggerated actions (rather in the style of Monty Python), to make the whole thing very clear.  Mostly the students seemed to understand, laughing at all the right points, for example.

My Cousin Charles is about a girl who tries to play tricks on her hated cousin, only to have the tricks backfire. This past week we had my two sixth grade classes think about tricks they could play on hated cousins. Some of the options:


 - play hide-and-seek, tell the cousin to hide first, and then not seek him/her
 - put toothpaste/a mouse/gum/dust in the cousin's shoe
 - lock the cousin in a room
 - lock the cousin in a dark room
 - ask the cousin to crawl into a box and then not let him/her out
 - trip the cousin so that he/she falls into mud


The slightly older students saw Two Gentlemen with a changed ending, and mostly were able to follow along. What they didn't catch, they discussed with great animation and in German during the half-hour of class we had left at the end of the day. I was gratified to see them so interested in the play and can only hope that they'll keep their interest in Shakespeare for the twelfth grade, when they read him.

In the spirit of enjoying Shakespeare, I leave you with the Reduced Shakespeare Company's rendition of all of the Bard's comedies in one four minute segment. If you have the time, you can find other clips from their Shakespeare show online. The Othello rap is a particular favorite.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Weekday quiet

It's a recurring, overused, beat-the-dead-horse joke that the United States has a lot of space and Europe does not, comparatively speaking. I'm of the opinion that the difference in space is at the root of many differences, political and personal, but that gets into "serious discussion" territory. Instead, let me show you two pictures.

Picture #1

Picture #2
Two "suburbs", separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Obviously Picture #1 is American and Picture #2 German, as indicated by the space differences. The American suburb has single-family homes, front yards (albeit small ones), trees, and houses set back from the street. The German neighborhood (Europe doesn't have suburbs quite like the States, but this is a reasonable approximation) has a row of houses on either side, all sharing at least one and often two walls with a neighbor. You walk out your front door and there is the street, just a step down. No front yards, no green space, no sprawl. German homes are very compact.

At the end of the street here is a little park and the Rhine River. In the States, where anyone not living in a city has their own green patch, parks are nice but not particularly crowded unless they have a play structure for children. If you want to sit outside after dinner on a nice spring evening, you do so on your deck or on your porch or in your front lawn or whatever. In Germany, where a few lucky people have a balcony, the green spaces are overrun on nice weekends. This past weekend was gorgeous: mid-60s, sunny, hint of a breeze. It's a very pleasant time to stroll along the Rhine, as I and everyone else from the area proceeded to do. And everyone who wasn't strolling was covering the small green space with blankets, picnic baskets, portable grills, and lawn chairs. The sheer number of people here, where usually we have the construction workers and the period person+dog, was a little startling. Certainly there are places in the States that are equally busy during certain times of the year. At home, there's a park where everyone goes to watch the fireworks on July 4th. But I've never seen a public green space quite so full of people, so constantly.

The close proximity of so many people does not mean that we're all friends and hang out and have one big barbeque together. Quite the contrary - Germans are good at pretending like the other people they live so near don't exist. It's probably the only way to get around the fact that you have very little private space. But it was really nice to see so many disparate groups spending time in this green space for a weekend together. Groups of teenage friends, elderly couples, families, and single walkers all moved around one another like currents in the river.

And today? Well, I have Mondays off because I'm spoiled rotten, but nearly everyone else has to work. The park is nearly deserted except for a young mother and her young child, and only a few people are walking their dogs along the river. Everything is very quiet. I'm headed out for yet another walk and bask, all by myself. I think I prefer the quiet, as a ferocious introvert, but there is a loss of energy with the loss of so many other people.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Stop in the name of a pedestrian!

Germans really earn their reputation for being a rule-conscious, order-conscious people. This manifests itself in a number of ways, from street cleaners literally sweeping the sidewalks at 5am to homeless men chastising you for putting a recyclable into the trash can. Not that I would know.

The concern with order really comes out in things like traffic signals, perhaps because American me is accustomed to Bostonians ignoring walk signs and nearly getting themselves run over twice a day. Germans wait until the light tells them to go. Pedestrians usually don't walk across the street until walk signal comes up, even if there aren't any cars coming. When cars come to a crosswalk without signals, the presence of a pedestrian hovering at the side of the road will cause them to stop, even if there are no other cars behind them and they have to brake hard to keep from jutting into the crosswalk. I can count on one hand the number of times a car has not stopped for me.

I certainly don't mind waiting a few extra seconds while the car that is nearly past the crosswalk already goes on through. Also, I don't trust that the driver is actually going to stop, because American, and usually wait for the car to fully halt before crossing. This makes some people impatient, as all the Germans step blithely out into the street, secure in the knowledge that they will not be run over. Often I end up scurrying across the street like some sort of foreign mouse to keep from feeling like I've overly inconvenienced the person who didn't have to stop for me in the first place.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

This practice of yielding-to-pedestrians-with-a-vengeance became especially surreal when I left school yesterday to walk to the train station. I got to the street I always cross (it doesn't have a signal) and did my normal fearful inching out, only to step back smartly when an ambulance came around the corner. It didn't have lights or sirens, so I can only hope that it was just out for a relaxing drive and not headed to the hospital because it stopped and waited for me to cross the street.

My scurrying was especially fast, I assure you.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Winning!

It turns out that fifth graders make everything into a competition. Today one of my classes was learning about the months, which sound rather similar in English and German. After we'd established that Januar = January and Mai = May, I asked a few students when their birthdays are. The first two students both had birthdays in August and high-fived over the fact. The next two students both had birthdays in September and did the same to a chorus of "nooooo!" from the August pair.

The spark of a plan.

I proceeded to ask the birthdays of every single student in the class and kept a tally. Every time one of the months with many birthdays got another tally, the students with that birthday month cheered and everyone else cursed their luck in a ten-year-old's vocabulary. With the inclusion of the teacher, September and August tied at seven birthdays each, setting off a minor celebration among the students who shared those months.

Somehow these students, despite having no control over the month of their birth, were incredibly proud of being part of the majority. The little exercise turned into a competition. It was short-lived and no one went on to bully the only May birthday in the room, but still. I now have another data point to define fifth-graders, along with squeaky voices and a tendency to ask "write we a test today?!?"

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Daily chuckle #6

Sixth grade students still struggle with the verb "do" in questions:
Student: Where did you were on your holidays?
Me: Careful, we already have the past tense in "did" - what needs to change?
Student: Oh! Where did you was on your holidays?

My request for a sample gerund (verb ending in -ing) led to a slightly ominous response:
Student: I suggest having fun

My request for more samples led to a bit of an example argument:
Student #1: Instead of playing football, you should be learning.
Me: Very nice. Another example?
Student #2: I can learn by playing.
Me: Probably true. More importantly, correct use of the gerund.

An eleventh grade student had a hard time expressing himself and ended up sounding like Malthus:
Student: If were are being realistic, it is better for us if people in Africa die because that will make the income gap smaller.
Me: I...suppose that's true. It would also be tragic and a problem, right?
Student: Right.
Me: Phew.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Traveling hither and yon, part 3

The second week of my spring break, D and I made a four-day trip to Bavaria. We chose Munich as our home base and made a day trips to the cities of Augsburg and Triberg to get the complete Black Forest/Southern Germany experience. Also, because a friend was born in Augsburg and wanted some pictures.

Happy to oblige.

Odeonsplatz, Munich
There's a Jesuit church just to the right of this photo, and we stumbled upon a service inside. Naturally, we joined in and received a blessing (non-Catholics, both of us, so no Eucharist) from a very on-the-ball priest. Often when I attend Mass and go up for a blessing, the priests seem confused. I think mostly if you're not Catholic you don't go to Mass. I like to think I'm adding a little spark of interest to their days.

In this same Jesuit church we saw the schedule of which priests were available when for pre-Easter confession. Along with each priest's schedule was the languages he understood. Some were "just" German and English, but a number had four or five languages listed. Very impressive.

Schloss Nymphenburg, the palace of the kings of Bavaria

Inside the palace, very...frenetic.
Just one of the coronation carriages.
Baroque/rococo has never been my favorite architectural style. I find it very busy and rather overwhelming. The artists, architects, and rulers of Bavaria clearly disagreed with me based on the way they decorated their palaces and conveyances. It does make for a splendid museum, if a visually exhausting one.

The Munich Rathaus, or town hall/elector's palace
The clock tower here has a little tableau that plays at 11am every day. Regrettably, since the figures are protected from nesting pigeons by a net, it can be kind of difficult to see. But look, a pretty old German building!

A view from on high
The Chinese Tower, in the English Garden.
The permanent wave in the English Garden. Very dedicated surfers.
The English Garden is especially popular in the summer when all is warm, green, and sunny, but it was also pretty in the quasi-winter of our visit. Rather cold - I wouldn't have wanted to spend hours wandering around - but lovely nevertheless.

Augsburg's Golden Hall
We made a day trip to Augsburg, the third-oldest city in Germany and the site of the Treaty of Augsburg, which ended the Thirty Years' War. The Thirty Years' War was fought between Catholics and Protestants in Germany for (you guessed it) thirty years and was very destructive to both humans and buildings. Between that war and World War II, it can be difficult to find original buildings in a number of cities and Germany isn't known for it's towering old churches or palaces the way that France or Italy is because many were destroyed at least once, if not twice.

Triberg Waterfall
We ended our Bavarian trip in the town of Triberg (which isn't actually in Bavaria, but ssssh!), a quintessential Black Forest establishment that is home to Germany's highest waterfall and the original Black Forest Cake. We ate the cake (Schwarzwaldkirschtorte) at the cafe that claims to have come up with it. Yummy! Cake drenched in cherry schnapps was just the way to finish everything off.