Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Bavarian Forest

At the tail end of summer, just before school started, the four of us (plus our new dog!) squeezed in a week-long trip to the Bavarian Forest.

Spoiler: it was beautiful!
Our first stop was the Waldwipfelweg (Tree Top Sidewalk). It's a wide, gently sloping wooden pathway that takes you up 30 meters (98 ft), to the top of the trees. I was also very brave and walked over an extra section of hanging bridge, which wobbles as you tread on it.

While searching for things to do, I found that there are twenty-five castles or castle ruins within 50 km (30 mi) of our hotel. So, obviously, we had to check some out. These are ruins of a 12th century fortess in Runding.

A couple of days later, the morning news was full of reports of a group of people who got stuck in gondolas on their way up to the Mont Blanc. Yikes! So of course, that's the day we decided to go up on a mountain ourselves: the Grosser Arber. Granted, this mountain was not as high, but we did have to get into gondolas and pretend we hadn't just seen the stunned vacationers stumble out of their 12,000-foot-high, nighttime prisons.

The Grosser Arber is technically part of the Bohemian Forest, but some claim it for the Bavarian Forest.

The dog did surprisingly well at climbing the last bit to the summit. We think he's part mountain goat.

I think that's the Czech Republic in the distance.
Next, we made it safely down the mountain and had a wonderful walk around the Grosser Arbersee.

What looks like dry grass is a floating island (aka Schwingrasen). See below for more details.
When you walk around the lake, you're repeatedly warned about the dangerous trees.

Trees may strike without warning.
If that sign didn't convince you, here is proof: a boulder-eating tree.

But the most fascinating thing about the two glacial lakes, Grosser Arbersee and it's sister, Kleiner Arbersee, has to be the natural floating islands. Plants called Schwingrasen have grown off the shoreline onto the lake.

What's Schwingrasen? Definitions from LEO

In the case of the Kleiner Arbersee, these mats of Schwingrasen have even detached, forming floating islands between 3 and 9 feet deep and sturdy enough that spruce trees grow on them. When there's a storm, the islands are literally blown around the lake.

During our trip, there was one missed opportunity. Our apartment was in Bad Kötzting, which is only a few miles to the Czech border, so I thought we'd take a day trip there. Nope. Turns out you can't cross the border without having everyone's passport. The four humans had theirs, but we'd left the dog's at home. True story.

You thought I was kidding, right?
If you're in Germany and looking for a nice place to spend with family, I'd highly recommend the Bavarian Forest. Our apartment even had free daily entry into a nearby spa/water park, good for kids and adults!

Bonus shot! My 9-year-old's dream: a life size toy, still in the box.

All pictures by me or my family members.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

I Blogged about Twitter for SCBWI!

A colleague at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) was asking about Twitter - what it is and how it works. So I blogged about it. 

The recommendations of who to follow are geared specifically toward writers, but the rest is generic, so feel free to stop by if you're interested in finding out more.

Click here for Social Media in 140 Characters (Twitter, Tweetdeck & Co).

Thursday, August 25, 2016

I Miss You

When someone you love dies, the grief in your heart can be so powerful, so loud, it's with you no matter what you do. After a certain amount of time, sadness becomes background noise that you may not even hear over the clamor of everyday events and appointments. You don't forget, but for the most part, normal life takes over again.

But I'm finding that grief comes in cycles, and it's been hitting me hard the past month or so. Lately, I miss so much.

I miss standing in front of the house as I watch my kids play and talk to you on the phone. And suddenly, an hour or two have gone by.

I miss how adventurous your cooking and baking was (Banana split bread! Zucchini pie!).

I miss how you could love ten "different" shades of paint, although every one of them was beige to me.

I miss how you bought armfuls of Halloween costumes for the kids for 75-90% off after the holiday was over.

I miss shopping with you. It was a family activity often done after 9:00 pm. It was like going on a treasure hunt, but with coffee.

I miss how you'd say, "Let's go to show," when you wanted to go to the movies.

I miss having someone in my family (except my dear husband) who likes science fiction and fantasy.  If only I could have showed you that I would write sci-fi and fantasy someday.

I miss your advice on being a parent.

I miss your confidence in me, and I'm so grateful for it, because it made me who I am today.

I miss being with you.

I miss you, Mom. 

Related posts:
The Ring...A Puzzle
I Love...Cookbooks

Picture by me

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Not Your Average Renaissance Festival

I live in Germany, and every summer, my town holds a Middle Ages Festival.  Many of you have been to Renaissance Faires before. The coolest things about my town's festival are:
  • Location
  • Authenticity
I'll show you what I mean.

First, the location: right downtown. In my town, Main Street is littered with historical buildings and two wonderful old towers as it is. Add a few stands and people in costume, and the centuries-old look is complete.

As you can imagine, if it just takes place on Main Street, there's no way to charge admission. The festival's free the entire weekend. You only pay for things you buy.

Next, the authenticity.

There are two stages. For those who want more party and less authenticity, there is one "real" stage with a band and amplifiers. But the other stage is basically an empty square on the size of the cobblestone street. It's for jugglers, acrobats and minstrels you need to get close enough to hear. There is no loudspeaker.

Need more attractions than that? How about ye ole' hand-crank carousel?

The food: don't come looking for chicken nuggets, curly fries or ice cream. We bought a delicious, dark onion bread, fresh from the wood-burning oven, so warm we could barely eat it without burning our fingers.

I didn't have the patience to stand in the long line for a type of Transylvanian cake, baked over an open fire, but it looked amazing too.

Of course you can buy things besides food.  Glassblowers make ornaments. My daughter bought a child-size bow and arrow (with suction-cup "points") that she's been shooting at the living room door ever since. I'm grinning and bearing it.

My son bought a small earthenware mug from this stand. He looks very medieval as he drinks his orange juice in the mornings now.

The blacksmith sold scissors he made himself.

Woven baskets are still used pretty regularly in Germany, for small shopping trips or to transport a minor amount of things. So this stand could be useful. The timbered house in the background is a restaurant.

The festival even sports a camp behind the town's castle, where costumed people live in tents during the two-day festival, cook over open flame, lounge and practice fighting. They looked so much at home, it would have felt intrusive to take a picture.

So our festival might not be as big and spectacular as the Renaissance Faires you're used to. But it has its charm. I'll close with a look back down the street at the second tower, flying the town's traditional black and yellow flags late in the evening.

Interested in more on my town?
Bet you didn't realize signs could be this beautiful.
Why my town's called The Town of Bent Necks.

All pictures by me.

Friday, July 22, 2016

I Am An Immigrant

Calls to end immigration are growing louder. This is the case in many countries. My home country, which used to pride itself on the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty, has citizens demanding an immense and impossibly expensive wall be erected to keep foreigners out.

I am an immigrant.

For two decades, I've lived in my adopted country. I love it as much as my home country, just in different ways, like you might love each sibling differently, but still to the bottom of your heart.

Sometimes, when people talk about banning immigration, they tell me things like, But we don't mean you. You're different.

I disagree. Now, years after arriving, I am established.

When I first moved here, I entered the country as a tourist, but intending to stay (for love, but that's another story).
  • I had no residence permit and no work permit.
  • I had just enough money to get me through a couple of months.
  • I had double-digit-thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt.
  • I lived in my boyfriend's student dorm "illegally"*. The facility manager's apartment was two doors down from my boyfriend's room, so she knew what was going on. Lucky for me, she turned a blind eye.

  • I'm married with two children.
  • I have a residence permit and a work permit.
  • My student loan debts are paid in full.
  • I am a house owner.
  • I am a Senior Project Manager at a well-known international company.
  • Which means I am a taxpayer.

What did I need to get to this point?
  •  A good education, funded to a high degree by parents who worked hard and long to provide it.
  • The willingness to take a risk.
  • Hard work and often long hours.
  • Support from both loved ones and strangers.

But also—and I know this is true—the "right" skin color and the "right" home country so that there was little to no prejudice. Not for my parents back home. Not for myself back home. Not for myself in my new country.

So when you think something like, But we don't mean you. You're different, consider what you are really saying. I was poor, jobless and basically homeless. So, is the biggest difference really skin color?

Interested in more on immigrants in the US in history? Check out this post.

*living in the dorm "illegally" = dorms are for students only, no additional rent paid for an additional person. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Word Nerd

Once upon a time, I visited Noah Webster's house.

Today, Merriam-Webster liked one of my tweets.

Word Nerd Heaven.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Love and Puzzles and Triangles

Describing two people in love as "puzzle pieces that fit" is pretty common. I find it a very apt image, and I'm going to go into way to much detail to show you why. ;-)
image by Horia Varlon via Flickr
First, I like the thought of the jigsaw pieces coming together to make something bigger and clearer than they were alone. Since I've never believed in the idea of "one true love," I also like that each piece has at least two to four others that would connect properly. Each individual piece is still the same, but then, the "big picture"—the couple's dynamic—would be a slightly different one.

Taking this one step further...I know a lot of people don't enjoy love triangles in books (but if you do and you haven't read The Grisha Trilogy beginning with Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, you should, because love square!). A good love triangle just means there are two different puzzle pieces that fit, maybe on opposite sides. Each piece gives the main character something important, completes them in a different way. Each side offers an aspect the other side of the triangle is incapable of.

So how do you explain those amazingly unlikely couples that somehow work? Well, this morning in the shower (best thinking place, right?), I realized puzzle companies probably print their images on cardboard stock, then run a standard cutting die over them. Meaning many different puzzles most likely share the exact same cut lines.

So you could have a King Tut burial mask puzzle with the same jigsaw shapes as a jelly bean mixture puzzle. King Tut's lower lip and the blueberry jelly bean might physically be a perfect match. Maybe the pictures don't make sense to everyone around them, but that doesn't mean they don't feel perfectly right together.

The final thing I think makes the puzzle a perfect analogy? Unless you're a puzzle mastermind, it takes time to find the pieces that fit together. Especially when life offers you a 15,000 piece box.

Whether you're writing a story with romantic elements or looking for a special someone, I wish you the best of luck in finding a piece that matches.