Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Goodbye Sutton's Bay, Hello Stars

For a few months now, I felt like my blog design needed some work. I loved my picture of the beach in Sutton's Bay, Michigan (you should go there if you ever have the chance!). But it did make for kind of a busy look.

My problem is that I'm not a very visual person. Design and I just don't mix.

And then I noticed a tweet from Operation Awesome, a website with resources for writers, interviews and writing contests (highly recommended!).

Most importantly, I saw the tweet at exactly the perfect time—meaning I was fast enough to win!

Leandra Wallace from Operation Awesome created a new header for me, and I changed the rest of the blog design to match. I'm pretty happy with the new clean look. And the sci-fi geek in me loves the stars!

So, thank you, Operation Awesome and Leandra Wallace!

PS - if you'd like to win a graphic from Leandra, I heard she might do another giveaway in the future. Follow them on Twitter to keep an eye out for the next contest! 
Operation Awesome on Twitter
Leandra Wallace on Twitter

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sundays in Germany - A Love/Hate Relationship

The past two weeks have been sunny with just the right amount of rain, so the hedge next to my parking spot has exploded with growth. Add to that a fully packed calendar, and I haven't had time to trim it. Two days ago, one of my kids could barely get in the car.  Yikes.

image by Wayne Stadler via Flickr - not an actual picture of the state of my yard ;-)
Today is Sunday—the first day I had time get out the hedge clippers.

BUT—today is Sunday, and I live in Germany.

It probably depends on where you live in Germany, but where I live, Sunday is quiet time. Seriously, quiet, like to the point of having to pay a fine if you're reported for doing something loud like mowing your lawn. In addition, there's no shopping (stores are all closed on Sundays!). No washing or vacuuming the car. No repairs around the house.

On the one hand, this forced quiet time can be nice. At least once a week, you're guaranteed a day of downtime. Take a bike ride to a biergarten. Drink coffee and eat cake with friends. Maybe go out to a matinee with the kids.

On the other hand, it means any work you need to do on a weekend all has to be done on Saturday. Grocery store aisles are packed, store parking lots are even worse. Then there's mowing the lawn and trimming the yard, fixing the bike, washing the windows, etc. All packed in on Saturday.

A lot of farmers live in the village where my husband grew up, and if a person rides by on a tractor on Sunday, you can bet someone in the family will go to the window to identify who dared to do that. One of my neighbors said she's been chastised by others in the neighborhood for doing yard work on a Sunday.

So here's me, an expat with this knowledge, standing in front of my overgrown hedge on Sunday. I know next week will be hectic once again, so I went ahead and trimmed the shrubbery (with manual clippers! I wouldn't dare use electric ones!). In the twenty minutes it took to do that, no less than five neighbors walked or drove by my house and eyed my quiet, yet verboten work. No one said anything. And I kept it short.

So that was my Sunday, living dangerously during quiet time.

Bonus pic: proof that using Sunday for coffee and cake can be worthwhile :-)

All pics by me or my family if not otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My First Maibaum (Maypole)

Happy Labor Day! 
Or Happy May Day!  
Or happy whatever other holiday you celebrate on May 1! (according to this link, May 1 is very popular as a holiday worldwide)

2017 seems to be the year to catch up with German traditions I've missed. Back in January, it was molybdomancy. Yesterday, I watched a Maibaum (maypole) being erected.

The Maibaum (maypole), decorated and ready to be set up.

The maypole is put up on the last day of April (or on May 1, depending on the region) and is a symbol of the beginning of spring. There are a lot of stories as to the origin of the maypole tradition. Most cite Germanic rites and forest gods. 

Four groups push up the maypole, using tree trunks called Schwalben. Here's the first group.

So yesterday I watched one being erected for the first time. It was a big deal in my in-laws village. About thirty men were needed to erect it. It was hard work—my husband ended up with scraped and bleeding hands. I also learned that erecting the Maibaum is a guys-only thing.  ¯\_()_/¯ Anyway, all total probably 100 people attended. Not bad for a village of 280 people. Besides the fun of watching the maypole, you could buy beer, soft drinks and bratwurst.

The second group joins.

As for the maypole itself, different areas in Germany use different types of trees, often birch or spruce. Some strip the trunk and decorate it, and some leave the tree as it is naturally. Other areas of Bavaria tend to decorate in blue and white, whereas we in Franconia use red and white.

With each additional group, the maypole is pushed higher. Here, the third group has joined with their Schwalben.

I've been told that the size of the tree doesn't matter, but when we drove through a neighboring village and saw how short their maypole was, we may have chuckled and called it a Bonsai Maibaum.  ;-)

Now all four groups are working on it.

How can you make a maypole even more fun? By stealing it! Seriously, stealing the maypole is a popular tradition, so often a few guys camp out next to the tree to guard it. If someone does manage to get away with it, they demand ransom–usually beer and food—before they'll give it back. And no, I have no idea how you'd steal something that big.

The maypole is so tall, I accidentally cut off the top when taking the picture!

The funniest examples I heard of stealing a maypole were:
- the people who used a helicopter to steal one from the Zugspitze mountain.

There are a lot of different maypole traditions around Germany. If you know of any (also from other countries!), I'd love to read them in the comments!

all pictures by me

Monday, January 9, 2017


I have no idea how I've escaped this German tradition so long, but for the first time ever, on New Year's Eve, I poured lead to predict how the new year will go.

What is this cool word Molybdomancy? And how does that work?

Molybdomancy is Bleigießen in German. Still not helpful? How about Lead* Pouring?

Here's how it works. You buy a Lead Pouring kit, which consists of small shapes made of lead** (which my husband says is most likely actually tin) and a spoon. You don't want to use your own spoon because it turns black with soot.

Light a candle, place a piece of lead on it and hold it over the flame until it looks like the liquid metal of a T-1000.

When it's melted, carefully pour it into a container of water. Be sure to hold it very close to the surface of the water before pouring because it can spatter (we ended up with lead flecks all over the table in one case).

The melted lead hardens immediately in the cold water.

But how does this help predict how the new year will go?

Look at the shape of the cooled lead. Hold a light behind it and check the shadow it throws on the wall. Then compare the shadow to the handy-dandy list of highly scientific translations provided with the Lead Pouring kit.
The shapes my family made.
My shape looked suspiciously like a teardrop to me, but since that wasn't one of the options (thank God, because it sounds like a year full of sorrow!), my friend suggested the shadow was the shape of a bottle. Perfect! A bottle means a year with good friends.

Just for fun, here are a few other shapes you might get (or hopefully not), and their meanings:
Tree – Fulfillment of wishes
Egg – An addition to the family
Antlers – Bad luck in love
Any number – good luck in the lottery
Hedgehog – Jealousy
Moon – High honor
Cross – A bad time to have an affair
Palm Tree – A good business year
Coffin – A death
Shoe – A happy life
Cup – Avoid alcohol
Pipe – Joy

Have you ever poured lead for New Years? What did you think about it?

*I realize molybdenum and lead are different elements, but that's how the internet translated it for me.

**The package said the metal should not be put in the mouth, must be kept away from food and beverages, and should be handled as "problematic waste," so I'm thinking it's really lead. Not sure I want to do this again.

All pictures taken by me.