Oct 302012

Legolas, what do your Elf-Eyes See?
Crebain from Dunland!

Holy Crow, Batman!  I think that is a murder!!!  Yes, those swarms of birds swooping around our local shopping center are mostly crows.  For those not in on the joke, groups of crows are called “murders”.  Some medieval jokester probably thought up that one. But, whatever the case, huge murders of crows gather and create a deafening show around dusk these autumn evenings.  Honestly, it fascinates me.   Here in Germany we have far more crow-varieties than I ever noticed in California.  I have to look them up when I see them.  There are crows, rooks, ravens, jackdaws and magpies! Ravens are just big crows with somewhat lumpy beaks, but the jackdaws and magpies can be surprisingly colorful when their feathers hit the light and shine purples and blues.  Rooks look like crows with a weird white patch at the base of their beaks.  All of them are smart, social and plentiful.  And they really seem to love hanging around the freshly plowed fields where all sorts of seeds and insects have becomes suddenly free for the taking!

They really are pretty impressive when they get together in these huge groups!

 Other signs of Autumn

I have been making a concerted effort to notice the signs of autumn around us.  They are not, perhaps, quite as dramatic as what my step-sister Starr posts about from her home in Connecticut.  I think this is because the Black Forest is a mixed habitat with evergreen conifers interspersed with deciduous arbors that love to put on pretty shows.  Color is certainly not absent.  But, it has an uneven and sometimes scraggly look.  Perhaps for this reason, the locals seem to really enjoy planting glorious color-changing plants wherever they get the chance.  For instance holly:

And whatever this gorgeous bush is.  These line the freeways and roads in many areas and are breathtaking as you pass them!

This one is just kitty-corner to our apartment.

Otherwise, much of what I see is pretty similar to what one might notice in a well-planned and watered area of CA. 

Neighborhood trees

Tree outside our apartment building.

On the other hand, THIS is not something we saw much of in CA- We got an early snow storm moving through this week.  Local wisdom seems to be that this may be a strong winter because it was a hot summer.  Dunno if one necessarily follows, but it is off to a cold and early start!

Never did manage to stick more than on a few rooftops at our level.  But, cars from the local hills brought down piles that they dumped on the roadways whenever they made a sudden stop :)  DS was absolutely in his element, though!  He LOVED it.  And, much to his pleasure, the weather has taken a definite turn for the COLD ever since.

Here he is frolicking and catching snowflakes on
his tongue
It fell all day long

And did collect a little on the roofs

DS went for a scooter ride in the snow

He brought back a snowball he had gathered.

It broke into three pieces when we threw it :)

Then it was hot chocolate time!!

Speaking of chocolate, here is a local food update:

This is a “chocolate muffin”.  It is much more
like a cupcake, but about 2ce the size and no frosting.
If you accept that it is neither a muffin nor a cupcake, it is delicious!

This was a failed effort by a local bakery to make something
Halloweeny.  It is a sweet roll that is supposed to
be in the shape of a witch.  It was dry and flavorless, though
so no one wound up eating it.

This, however, was delicious
Chocolate covered strawberries on a stick!
David’s favorites: Cinnamon Almonds- sold hot in a paper cone from street
vendors all season long.

Another of David’s favorites, not commonly available.  So I made some.
Cinnamon Sticky Rolls!
Autumny Meal: Chicken galette, apples (dipped in honey- just ’cause) &
tangerines, and spiced glühwein
And, homemade pumpkin pie
(the pumpkins on the table will make pies later!)

Our friend makes these wonderful little piggies and sells them on Etsy.  There are some really darling ones–  I encourage you to browse.  (EDIT: She just made the local paper with her business!  Woot!  Article is here.  Go Charlotte!)  They come in a dizzying array of colors and characters.  But, I asked if she would create something special.  DS loves the combination of Dark/Bright Blue and Black and he has been trying to teach himself to juggle well.  I asked if she could make blue/black pigs with a slightly heavy filling.  So, she kindly obliged, and DS is now a happy pig-hurling kid!

Black and Blue Piggies!
My photo doesn’t do them justice.  They have really cute faces!
getting started

getting the hang of it!

Halloween in these parts isn’t much of a thing, really.  Though, interestingly, perhaps, All Souls and All Saints days are work holidays!  So, DH gets Thursday and Friday off this week.  But, for the most part you might catch someone having carved a “schnitzenkurbis”, a “carving pumpkin” into a jack-o-lantern…

I had to look hard, but then I did spot them.  They are on the posts.

…or notice that there are some special candies on sale (not for trick or treating) and, of course, there are costume parties at the local clubs and, sometimes, ghostly treats at the local bakeries– like the witch above or the “Gespenst Kuchen” (specter cookie) DS is eating here.

Much better than the witch.  This was a lemony flavor!

But that is about it.  So, I am trying to get more into the spirit of things, ehem.  I started off with Pan De Muertos. 

Mom thought it looked spidery, but it is supposed to be a skull and bones

Skull got a little deformed in the oven, though!

That was delicious (and even better, there was enough to make into French Toast the next day… and maybe even enough left after that for some bread pudding.  It was a BIG loaf is what I am saying!)

I am not sure what else to do, though.  Just the four of us getting costumed up and sitting at home seems…. well, a little anti-climactic.  We will definitely watch Nightmare Before Christmas on DVD and possibly some other seasonal favorites.  Hmm.  May have to go with the flow on this one and call it a split-holiday.  Since, really I think Fasching takes over a lot of the Halloween role in this region.

The kids are on vacation for two weeks, though, and David has the end of this week off and some vacation time to spend.  SO, we are trying to think of wunderbar seasonal ways to entertain ourselves.  As I mentioned, it has gotten cold- and Daylight Savings ended here, so it is dark quite early in the evenings all of a sudden.  Puts one in the mood for the holidays.  So, Stay tuned!  

 Upcoming: Well, looks like more autumn and winter and such!

Oct 202012

(WARNING: This page has poorly drawn nude images of men and women on it.  If that squigs you out, don’t scroll down.  BUT, also be warned.  Its sort of funny, so you might be missing out if you skip it.)

The Book.
So, let’s say that you run a school whose main purpose is to teach students from a variety of backgrounds and language origins.  And, let’s say you want to create a science curriculum that can be accessible to all the students with all their different backgrounds.  What will you do?  Well, one approach might be to create a science book with tons of pictures and (almost) no words.  Not bad in theory, I suppose.  Only, they decided to make it… well.  Like this:

Page One:

Right off the bat you know you are in for something special.  Picture A shows a white mouse, a black mouse and some small grey mice.  Ok.  Maybe it is talking genetics?  Families?  The next picture is fine, too.  Seed grows into tree.  Yeah, that seems sciency…. Only, wait.  This is a science book meant for 15-16 year olds.  This may be a little simplistic.  But, we are just getting started.  What else do we have?  Picture C… um, the mouse hears music, sees a baby mouse and smells cheese.  OK.  Picture D… The bird made of dots gently lifts a caterpillar so it can nibble on a leaf.  Eric Carle would approve.  And, in E, our dot-bird breathes.  Fair enough.  Now, moving away from the pointillism inspired crow,  in F we find… What the?!  Is that a rabbit?  A person?  An…. OMG.  I don’t even know.  But, that fluffy cloud dog is peeing on the sunrise.  I am scared.  I am very afraid.

Soon, we have lost all cohesion and any attempt at understanding becomes an act of creativity.  This page seems to tell us that alcohol and music cause minivans to bleed.  Also, that Operation Game Clown is swearing comic book exclamations from every major organ while filling out a chart with way way way too many martinis on it.

Apparently from the emojis at the bottom-
some people keep drinking well past the time when they are dead.

I think this page has something to do with the structure of the respiratory system.

Any guess what the bronze lung knobs are for?
Wanna do the bronchi-geometry problem in the second panel?

Then there is this guy.

By now I am getting the idea that the artist here
was trying really hard to get the gig
to make international traffic signs.

Ok, I get that the theme on this page is water.  But, I don’t think I can take it further…. Anyone?

First off, notice the lady taking a shower above is fully formed, but the guy that that baby below grows into is… not.  Plus-
Holy crap.  The hand is dripping blood right off the page! What is with this book and bleeding?
Also, in regards to the green troll being on the middle of the page- have you *ever* seen asexual reproduction rendered so… sexually?

At least the baby is upside down.  Keeps it from
seeing too much of the blood beneath it.

This, by the way, is how they cover sexual reproduction.

When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much, they hum really loud and
think about each other.
Then, insert tab a into slot a and um
iiiiiiii!  AAOOH!
(I just learned that men speak in caps and women in lower case.
Also, all adults have clown mouths-
and women, apparently, don’t grow hair on their arms or legs-
which renders the multi-billion dollar depilatory industry moot.)

Somewhere in Belgium a group of adults sat in a conference room and decided *this* would be the best approach to their science curriculum.  These are some of those people:

These are the people responsible for this
(4-5 means 4th and 5th grade of Secondary school)
Oct 202012
Goethe and two very creepy looking women

So, one of the things that is sort of annoying about the kids’ schedules is that there are many days when they get out of school at completely different times.  Generally, one or the other of them will be ready 2 hours earlier than their sibling.  Since it is 1/2 hour drive from Hogwarts to home this creates a dilemma.  If I drive back home, then I can have an hours rest.  But I create an extra hour of driving.  On the other hand, if I hang around near the school, well, I have to figure out something reasonable to do in Strasbourg with the other child for a couple hours.  Sometimes we shop, or get a snack.  Sometimes we explore.  Thursday DS and I decided we wanted to find a good park.

We tried at first to make it to the biggest park in Strasbourg- L’Orangerie.  But, oddly, we couldn’t find a place to park once we got there!  Then we got lost in the University area for a while and eventually found ourselves just a few blocks away from the school.  I remembered there being a decent park nearby, so we wandered until we found this place.  And, honestly, it is one of the best community parks I think I have ever seen! 
First: the obligatory Clean Up Your Dog Stuff photo.  France as a zillion of these and every one is hysterical:

“And Here?  Who will pick up Kiki’s Turd?”

Then, we went into the park.  I have to admit, it seems to have a little something for everyone.

Table Tennis courts are common park inclusions throughout France and Germany
But, the large water-play area is unusual!  The girl in red kept demanding that
I “pussez la button pour ma douche!”  Push the button for my shower!
As her parent was not in sight, I declined.

Rope climbing

DS is sitting on a sled that slides back and forth on the runner- I think it is
meant as a sort of balance trainer for skateboarding.

Soccer practice area enclosed by a cage- there were also
basketball courts here
Large clay area for bocci- these old men all had
magnets on chains to retrieve their balls so they need not bend over

This is only about 1/3 the area with the clay court

And then there was the main beauty feature- a large, meandering duck pond.  Really quite stunning.

DS had not seen this many lily pads- you can see a mallard swooping just above the

Blurry, but here he was coming in for his landing
And, touch down
There were a few swans

DS and I were walking in semi-silence around the pond- occasionally oohing or awing.  When he saw the swan he looked up and without missing a beat said “I once saw one of those go to the bathroom- it just opened up a hole and everything fell out all at once!”  Then he skipped on ahead, leaving me to blink and cope with the new image of Swans gifted to me by my preteen.

I have no idea how she managed it, but this lady was
feeding only the white ducks.  There were dozens of mallards,
but around her were only these four.

The park attracted people of all sorts.  Older folks walking in pairs, people with dogs, many many people with kids, folks on bikes, joggers, disabled people, and many people out for some sort of exercise.

This young man was one of a couple who seemed intent on getting an upper-body
workout.  When DS looked interested in the apparatus, he asked him in perfect
English if he wanted to swing.  Then he took a running start and got the
thing spinning fast enough that DS had to hang on while his legs swung
out behind him.
Then the young man proceeded to do pull-ups WHILE swinging and
spinning around!  Here DS has dropped off and is looking for
a chance to grab the handles and get back on

 One very nice feature of the park was a particularly extensive set of adult-targeted exercise equipment.  Even in this urban park, most of it was maintained and functional.

DS took my photo
One of the few broken pieces- DS
still managed to make it work for him

 And what, pray tell, is THAT?

I thought at first it was for climbing or just a sculpture

Not a great one, but still relatively fun.
I gave it a try- Sturdy!

 To my amusement, the ground was littered with these weird nut things.

What are those- they look sort of like….
Yes- they are chestnuts!  Much of the park was coated with huge, lovely chestnuts!
And not a squirrel in sight.

 (EDIT- A friend tells me these are actually slightly poisonous ‘horse chestnuts’ and google seems to confirm.  I wasn’t planning to eat them, but still- good to know!)

And, there was art- not a ton, but this statue caught our eye.

Other Bits-Back home, Orcish War Machines were back.  First one turned the earth over.

Big Blades

Nice rows.  thought they would leave it like this over winter

But, a second machine came a few days later and smoothed it out:

Oddly enough, this took way longer to do than that…..

Also, ordered some gluten from England.  Cost way to much to have it shipped, but it worked.

High bread was created!

Hogwarts Update: This is me ready to do battle with a Wild Snape in his natural habitat.  I thought it was time to pull out my hipster layers and 2.5″ heels.  And, yes, my hair was looking mighty fluffy that day.

I am a bit over 6′ in heels.  Snape… isn’t.  That was an interesting chat.  Mostly we agreed to completely disagree and have no common ground whatsoever.  But, DD will cater to his OCD by not messing up her papers with … drawings.  The man was practically apoplectic about the state of her “presentation”.  You could just see his strict world order unraveling at the seams when presented with such unacceptably ‘unstructured’ papers.  Mind, you, DD is incredibly structured, herself.  It is just that her structure is slightly different than his.  He was actually quivering when he pointed to a small, amorphous doodle to the side of one paper. It looked a bit like smoke and I could cover it with my thumb.  So, DD will draw on a separate sheet. And the two of them will each attempt not to show open hostility in class.  Other than that, we can just do our best to teach her French and work to just get through the year.

Today, we went back to the fischmarkt.  I had some terrible scampi and some really greasy deep fried jumbo prawns.  Sort of disappointing.  But, still, fisch!  Or at least, Seafood!  When we arrived in town, the church bells were pealing- long and loud.  Turns out this nice couple here was getting married :)

Weddings in these parts are not quiet affairs

And by the time we walked back, all the kids were outside with heart balloons

 The fish may have been disappointing, but David liked his ‘French Crépe’ served on- is that a waffle cookie?  Yup.  Ok, then!

He likes them with cinnamon and sugar
This also caught my eye.  ‘The Original Wattwurm!’ They sell very large wurst. 
Wattwurm apparently means “Mudflat worm”… YUM!

Just in time for Halloween some jumbo spiders have moved into the back of the garage.    Hard to tell in the photo, but that one is about 2″ long.  There is one of equal size hiding up the tube to the right.

I like spiders.  But, yeah.  CREEPY!

Oct 132012

Hot Chocolate done Right- Real chocolate pearls and whipped milk

Hamburger Fisch Markt is in town!

Yes, it is Fish!… from Hamburg.  I guess?  What it really is, is an excuse for a Street Fair.  Missed it last year for some reason.  But the rain abated long enough today to go check it out today.  The first thing we noticed, of course, was that there was a huge pirate ship in the town square- and they are serving Beer!

Lots of Candy Carts, too- bigger than the ones at Weinfest.

And, of course, fish sellers Everywhere!  I was surprised that mostly it is
selling prepared fish, though there was some fresh fish to take home, too.

These folks were hysterical.  Well, to us they were hysterical.
They seemed to take themselves seriously.  And if anyone else thought
it was weird for a pair of middle-aged performers to be
dressed in nautical gear singing nothing but German Fish Songs,
they didn’t mention it.  I almost bought a CD.  Almost.

This is one of our local Characters- we call him The Mustache Man, or The Whisker Guy
for obvious reasons.

I had already eaten, but David ordered the Scholle- Served, of course,
with DICED HAM on top!
And plenty of bones inside.  Scholle, it turns out, is
Flounder.  I had a bite.  Salty, but not bad.

They were smoking salmon in this booth.
I still haven’t gotten over the fact that glass
is still common here- and that a soda is
.33 liters.
This guy was hawking French cheese like he was running
his own infomercial.  Constant banter.
The only line I remember was “Money, Money,
Come Here Money!!!”

Made me laugh.  The locals just bought cheese.
This guy was also there.  We think
he was someone’s ad, but
he had a weird umbrella
and chased Squealing Tweens down the street.

Sneaking up on his next

In hunt for Autumny Things
After the Market, I decided I wanted to go for a quick drive in search of Autumn Foliage.  Seems that it is mostly too early for true color, but we found a few fun things.

Pumpkin Displays and silly children

Me, DD and DS

All Pumpkins 1.30 EU per Kilo
Grass in the meadow was up to his shins-
and full of little wild flowers

We found a Pick Your Own Flowers site.  They trust you to put
money in the can when you are done.

Pick to your heart’s content!

Hillside is still pretty green

But, you can make out some yellows and golds mixed in.

many of the vines on walls are turning fall-like colors, though

Other Recent Stuff and Germany Bits

First gingerbread of the season- Light and Orangy

Here is how they do powdered sugar for decoration
you get it in a stick that looks like chalk,
then you rub it on a mesh sieve.
DS asked for this ham and cheese
bread for eating with breakfast.
Yes, he ate it all.  Growing kid!

I made Madeleines.  Not bad!

One of David’s favorites, it is Streusel Küchen.  It is very dry
by US standards, but the tons of streusel (pronounced Stroy-sl here)
make up for it in his opinion.
DS’s art assignment.  He had to make it with a real pen- that you change out tips and
dip in ink.  He was covered in black smudges by the time he was done.  But,
his patterned chainmail teddy bear looks pretty good!

Just some random building in Strasbourg near the art store.
This is what is different driving around Germany.  You frequently
just sort of wander past buildings that are older than the U.S.

David saw this at the store and thought of me.

 But, check it out.  Made in Belgium.  Sold in Germany.  Printed in… English!

After all that pretty black packaging the chocolates were
surprisingly beat up inside.  AND, they did not, in
fact, have wine in them.  They were just recommended
for eating WITH wine.  Disappointment aside,
they are quite delicious, anyways.

The Harvest
The Orcish War Machine was back this week to take out our corn field.  It took 2-3 days off and on, but the field is now flat and the birds are feasting on the leavings.

A similar war machine with red-colored blades came out of a field on my way to pick the kids up.  It literally emerged from its pass straight toward the car as I drove down the highway.  Stopped not 3 feet from me.  That will keep you awake on your commute!

Looks so benign from the side.

This is what they load the grain onto

And, yes, I had to drive behind him for a few Kilometers.
Not sure how the kernels manage to stay in that pile
without falling.

They just line them up along the edge of the field

I was glad he didn’t tag the neighbor’s car-
looked close, though!

Orcish War Machine Doesn’t stop for nightfall.  Legolas’s voice rang out-
They run as if the very whips of their masters were behind them.”
He did stop after a few more passes, though.

This morning he finished the last rows.

Mind you, they are quite LOUD

Dey- Me say De-eh-eh-GU- Just a few cute Degu photos

Trist likes to snuggle in my now-ubiquitous scarf

All three degus jumping back and forth
between the kids.  Humans make great playgrounds!
A little giggly, though!

Giana is Close- David has a current version for playtesting.  So, the kids are doing their share :)