Sunday, September 23, 2018

Kronberg

Friends invited us to accompany them to the "Apfel Fest" in Kronberg that boasted 100 different varieties of apples. Like Milli Vanilli, we'll blame it on the rain, but there were only two different stands of apples that included fewer than two dozen different types. Admittedly, within that much smaller sampling there were a bunch we had never heard of, much less tasted. And of course we brought home several kilograms of apples to eat fresh, make apple chips, apple crisp, and other delicious apple treats.

Then we took the opportunity to wander around the town. Absolutely charming. The kids gave out assignments: they handled scouting duties, I was the photographer, one friend was the "noticer" (noticing and pointing out cool things to look at) and the other friend was the all-around "helper."

I hope I fulfilled my duties sufficiently :-)

 Half-timber, but with brick
 Carving on the corner of someone's house. 
The guy who makes up the beam on the right has a flower covering his crotch.
 A Socratic quote someone decided to paint on their home. 
The real question is, why don't we all do this?

According to the slate numbers (look closely among the slate tiles), the house was originally built in 1456.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Single Parenting is Hard

Disclaimer: I am still happily married to the father of my children, who provides financial and emotional support as much as the six hour time difference allows, so I recognize I do not face many challenges truly single parents do.

I'm into my first month as a single parent. For three days in the first week I tried to get to the grocery store but by the time I got home from work, cooked dinner, fed the kids and myself, cleaned up and spent a few decent moments with them, it was their bedtime. I could have gone to the store then, and one night I did pop out for milk and bread, but generally the remaining hour before my own bedtime was filled with dishes so we had clean things to eat from in the morning, a bit of work I had brought home in returning for leaving a bit early, other chores and maybe a shower.

My work day is pretty solidly 8 hours, plus 1/2 hour lunch and the 20 minutes or so it takes to get there or back. My children do plenty of chores, from dishes to laundry to cleaning the bathroom on the weekend. On the evening that we came the closest to running out of food we just had sandwiches for dinner. In the world of actual hardship, mine barely registers.

And yet.

Single parenting is hard.

When one child is completely melting down and needs my full attention for an entire hour, dinner doesn't get made. The other child's needs are ignored. Lunches aren't planned, dishes aren't cleaned, and everything waits until the storm passes. The evening logistics become especially challenging because children have a relatively short window for all that must be packed in between coming home from school and going to bed, and generally the adult things need to just wait. The work day is crunched back into eight hours - for the last few months it had been expanding longer and longer - so now there is always a small anxiety that something there is being missed or forgotten.

Bless the people who do this without an end in sight. Bless the people who do this with younger children, unreliable transportation to work, erratic or long work hours, a rush hour commute.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Saalberg Roman Fort

On Labor Day weekend (not a holiday for the kids) we ventured over to Bad Homburg to check out the Roman fort. Having spent time in northern England, and from reading Rick Riordan books, we thought we were pretty well versed in all things ancient Roman empire.

The fort does a really good job with presenting what life must have been like for the Romans living in Germany. There were exhibits, for example, showing how they made shoes - from cutting the leather, to the kinds of thread used (boar bristle) to the nails used to attach the sole onto the upper.

There was also an exhibition and lesson of how to properly throw a spear. We would have been failed recruits of the Roman army, but it was fun and interesting nevertheless.

There was also this room of life-sized paintings where people could put themselves into the picture. And a trunk of "Roman" clothes for people to dress up, if they chose, while doing so.
Farming is hard


We stopped for lunch in the museum's restaurant, which had been billed as having traditional Roman cuisine. I think my mushrooms sauteed in honey and I forget what else, served with bread and a soft cheese loaded with herbs, was probably a relatively authentic option. The kids' schnitzel ... maybe not so much.

Zoltan had forgotten his fleece so he and I shared mine, so we may have cut the day a bit shorter than if we had all been warmer. The kids insisted on stopping at the gift shop, where each one procured a new implement for the arsenal.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Oh, and I got tenure on Friday

Other than teaching and the foreign service I'm not sure of too many other professions that have a tenure process. Essentially, it is when an employer agrees that it no longer holds the right to fire you absent seriously egregious behavior and sometimes not even then.

In the foreign service, generalists have five years from the day they start A-100 to be granted tenure. The first assessment is at the third year of service, the second assessment is about a year later, and the third assessment is 6 months later. If it's "three strikes you're out",  then by the five year anniversary the employee is heading to his or her "separation address" - which most of us consider the place we want the Department to send our stuff when we retire.

Roughly 40% of employees are tenured on their first look. There are certain requirements that must be met before a person can even be considered, such as language training and Consular work (or being in the process; for example one colleague of mine was tenured in her second month of consular work and I know people have received tenure when they have not yet completed their first experience with language training). I'd have to guess, but it is something like 90% are tenured on their second look.

It has become something of a tradition for these lists to come out on Friday DC-time-zone evenings, ostensibly for people to have the weekend to get over disappointment. The rumor mill had been working feverishly this time, with all expectations that it would happen the Friday before Labor Day.

And this time the rumors were right. So Saturday morning I woke to a few notes of congratulations, checked to  be sure and it was in fact true.

ol' Uncle Sam has saddled himself with me.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Rüdesheim

With the advent of the children, the tourism has commenced. Before Terry left we managed a trip out to Rüdesheim to do the usual "rundfahrt" or round trip: a cable car ride up to the Germania monument, celebrating the unification of Germany.




Then the 45 or so minute hike with lots of stopoffs for things to see ...


 ... then over to the chairlift ride down to the Rhine river and the town of Bingen, where one catches a ferry back to Rüdesheim.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Eclipse

July 27 saw the longest lunar eclipse in a hundred years. Although I hear the US wasn't able to see it, it was supposed to be well visible from Europe. Around the time it was supposed to start, I started wandering around looking for the moon. Between trees and buildings, I couldn't see anything. I checked in with friends and neighbors here in Frankfurt and for a good hour there was no news. Then someone mentioned it was visible. I ran out.

Not having a videocamera or a high quality camera of any kind, I had to capture it on my Smartphone. Although the photos were nothing at all, the videos at least caught the essence of what was going on. In the first video the moon is clearly reddish. By the end, the moon was passing out of our shadow and becoming much lighter, brighter and whiter.

Yes, the quality sucks. But it was cool to see it.

Which reminds me that back in November a friends mentioned that the International Space Station would be visible overhead in the DC area, and the kids and I went out to watch it pass.  Didn't capture that one at all, but it was pretty cool.

Around 11:15pm



Monday, July 16, 2018

Idstein

The food at the Burg Eltz cafe didn't appeal to me so I decided to stop somewhere on my way home. I had heard Idstein was a pretty city to visit so had it in mind. Hadn't really thought through that it's an hour away from Burg Eltz and I only left there close to 2pm ... suffice it to say I was hungry and grumpy when I got to town.

Most of the restaurants were closed in mid-afternoon but I found one that was open and not too far from where I parked and I tried a potato-and-bean-pancake (like a latke but with some kind of small white bean among the potato, presumably to protein it up). It was very tasty and the radler I had with it was refreshing so I was ready to hit the town after I ate.

The main sight in Idstein is the "Hexenturm" or Witch's Tower. Unless my German is way worse than I think it is, you can go to the tourist info center and ask for the key to go inside. When I wandered past the building there was a tour guide just closing up, but I plan to visit the town again so it wasn't a big deal not to get inside.
The town is filled well amazingly well preserved, colorfully painted half-timber housed. I may have mentioned this before but I am beyond charmed by half-timbered houses.
 It looks like it's falling down, because of the angle of the timbers.
That is not a real cat on the side of the house

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Burg Eltz

Nothing gets me moving like the recognition that things are soon changing. After essentially hibernating for a year, I'm going sightseeing. Burg Eltz was spectacular and beautiful but it was also a bit of schlepp to get to and I don't think Terry and the kids will care that much if they miss it.

Burg Eltz is still owned by the Eltz family - more than 850 years after the first part of the complex was built!  To get to the Burg*  from the parking lot you can take a shuttlebus or wander for about 15 minutes through the forest. Obviously, I walked.

The only way into the castle is with the tour, and they do tours about every 15 minutes. I probably missed or misunderstood some of what the tour guide was saying;  between impatience and wanting to use the German I've learned, I opted for the German language tour although there was an English speaking one 15 minutes later.

No photos are allowed inside the building, so 95% of what would be interesting to see is not captured. Although the first part of the burg was built in the 1100s, most of the items they had on display dated from no further back than the 1500s. There was a lot of original furniture, armament, and other household items ranging from about the 16th century up through the present day - in one room, along with 16th century portraits, is a photo of the family that could not have been taken more than 10 years ago. One portrait from an ancient patriarch noted that he lived to 94 years of age - in the 1500s! Another two rooms contain the hunting trophies, including antlers from deer, moose and elk, two enormous bear rugs with heads still attached, and pelts that had to have been wolves.
The inner courtyard, where we waited for the tour to begin

The admission ticket also includes entry to the "Treasure Room". One entire wall was covered in beautiful shotguns, many with the owner's name carved or engraved in metal and with other ornamental metalwork. There was a case of swords, and one of hunting implements. Another case held a variety of small clocks, and another held various objet d'art. I guess when one family holds the old homestead for more than 800 years, it isn't too hard to go searching for antiques in the attic.

The building is beautiful and well preserved

* I had to look this up and was fascinated by the explanation. "Schloss" is the commonly understood word for "castle" in German, and this was clearly a castle, so why "Burg"? Apparently, a "burg" is a castle wherein defense is a, if not the, purpose of the building - as opposed to a "schloss" where defense was less important and a nice, solid fancy building is sought. Learning new things every day.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sunday Hiking

On Sundays in Germany nearly all establishments are closed. Restaurants are largely open, museums of course, but little else. Many folks go to church. Nearly everyone (seemingly) goes hiking.

A friend found this fabulous-looking magazine last week that mapped out 60 hikes in the Frankfurt area. We chose one and set off. Just getting to the starting point was an adventure, as it had us traveling to a town about 40 minutes away where we had never been before. We drove through horse country and spent time on tiny roads where two cars could come nowhere near abreast each other. Happily there was just field to either side so nobody had to drive backwards for a half mile, as could happen on the Maltese goat roads.

The magazine rated each hike based on how much time was spent in forest vs. field vs. road, how long each hike was in terms of kilometers and expected length of time (at either relaxed or sporty paces). The descriptions were as detailed as "and then there are three wooden benches to your left...". It seemed we could not go wrong.

And yet.

My legendary lack-of-sense-of-direction did not fail. Within 5 minutes of our hike nothing matched the map or the written out description. We asked a fellow passing hiker for help. We learned we were looking at the wrong map - rather than have written directions on the page facing the map, the magazine set them on the same page as the map on the other side, the better to tear out the one perforated page and carry with you.

Turned out that didn't help us orient ourselves.

In the end, we picked a landmark located at a point around the far corner of the hike, used Google Maps to get there, then set the return course for our starting point. We hiked through very pretty woods, had a lovely conversation, then got wurst at the restaurant that was the starting point.
 
Terry needs to build one of these at the cabin.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Porto

Waaay back, in 2017 (barely), Terry and the kids came to Germany for holiday. They spent almost a week in Frankfurt, getting over jet lag, celebrating Christmas, and hanging out. Then on my birthday we got on a plane and visited a country that had been on my must-visit list for a long time - Portugal.

Recognizing that we'd have a holiday and a Sunday in our first weekend in the country, we opted for an air-b-n-b in Porto for our first stop. The apartment was wonderful, one of the bigger places we've stayed, and the hostess left a bowl of fruit, Oreos and milk for us :-)

Unfortunately, the market where we planned to stock our shelves closed a few hours before we got there, so that was a downer. After our fascinating and delicious experience in Barcelona's La Boqueria, the visit was a planned high point. oops.

Gate closed, no vendors inside. This market is closed.

The plethora of intricately tiled homes and narrow, windy, twisty streets makes a stroll around Porto one of the best ways of spending a day, and that is exactly what we did.


The Dom Luis bridge connects the northern side of Porto (where we stayed) with the southern side (where all the wineries are).  Below, the barges full of barrels of port.

In the midst of the wandering, we found a playground for the kids to burn off some energy.  They will probably report back that the playground was their highlight of Porto.




There was a huge street festival with music and entertainment for new year's eve, right around the corner from where we were staying. We told the kids if they wanted they could stay up for it, and we'd go out to to ring in the new year.  By 11:00pm they said they were ready to go home and go to bed. Turns out we could see a bit of the fireworks from one of the windows, so Terry and I still got a taste of celebration.

On New Year's Day, again, there was little open so we spend the day outdoors wandering through the city. The cable car was one of the few operational tourist happenings, and we took a ride.

In front of the train station they even tiled the rocks!  It was fun for the kids to take a little break and get off their feet for a few.

Terry doesn't like port, and the kids are kids, so in the end I didn't even taste a drop of port while in Porto. Leaving something for the next time!