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Hey y’all. How are you? It’s been a long summer. After we left Hannover in early July, we spent time visiting family in the U.S. and then camped out in our house (yes, we kept the same house from before) with one bed and two kid mattresses on the floor. Our voices echoed through the rooms while we waited patiently (sort of) for our shipping container with our stuff to arrive.
After the ship arrived in Charleston Harbor after 4 or 5 weeks, our container was randomly chosen to be x-rayed, delaying it another few days. After that, it was randomly (really?) chosen to be hand-searched, delaying it another few days. After that, potting soil was discovered on some plant pots. I’m 98% certain this would’ve been residual American potting soil, since, sadly, I actually didn’t use my pots in Germany.
So a teaspoon of dirt was keeping us from getting our furniture. At this point, my patience was wearing very thin.
My friend Bettina helped me see the poetic side:
“I do like the notion of American soil being taken back and forth across the ocean and then being forbidden to re-enter… ” she wrote.
It’s almost enough to make me try writing poetry again. Maybe.
Our container finally arrived, and while you’d think this would be the high point of the transition, we found it to be the worst part, just as it had been on the other end in Hannover. It’s just so overwhelming to have to deal with the stuff all at once after having been free from it for so many weeks.
But we dug ourselves out of boxes fairly quickly, thanks to our kids being kept by their grandparents (thanks, parents!). We’re now putting the finishing touches on household organization. Not that a house is ever really finished, but, you know. We’re through the worst part.
The kids are in school, and I’m aaaallllmost ready to jump back into my work-in-progress, which I’m both super excited and also feeling chicken about. It’s a big leap to make after so many weeks away.
So glad to be back here with you! How was your summer? Are you glad to be getting back in the swing of things?
When berry picking last weekend, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. With our overstock of berries, I decided to make strawberry jam for the first time.
One problem. They don’t sell pectin by itself here in German grocery stores. It comes mixed with sugar, so none of my American cookbooks would help me much.
Another problem. The recipes on the back of the sugar/ pectin packages required a metric scale, which I didn’t feel like buying. Problem #3 since the pectin and sugar are mixed together in a proportion I couldn’t decipher, I couldn’t very well figure out how to control the sweetness factor, which is a big thing for me. Too much sugar drowns the flavor, I think.
And finally, I have no canner or Mason jars, no space to store them, and even if I did, they don’t sell them here. Or so I’ve heard.
So, I decided to wing it with my own made up version of freezer jam, tasting and hoping it would all turn out.
Luckily it seems to have worked. Sorry I can’t share a recipe, since I didn’t measure anything. It involved berries, sugar/pectin, lemon zest, and lemon juice.
In other news, I did a double-take when I encountered this under my computer desk:
Aaagh! Then I realized it was just a scrap from a current sewing project. It’s almost like I did it on purpose, right?
Tomorrow the European chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is doing a cool bloggy thing. Members across Europe (including me) have signed up here, where we’ll be sharing sketches and scribbles all day. It’s called the Summer Solstice Scrawl Crawl. Check it out.
Also, check out this totally simple but genius craft (below) at Holly Ramer’s stitch/craft. Perfect for keeping the kids entertained while traveling this summer. Why didn’t I think of this?
For a mom from a warm climate, learning to dress the kids for northern Germany has been an education. Luckily, my son’s dear kindergarten teacher is more than willing to educate me. You may remember the story about the silk-wool undershirts. In addition to undershirts and of course a jacket, he is expected to wear (until it’s absolutely hot) leggings under his pants, a scarf, mittens, and a hat. Every day, even when it seems a little overkill. Rainpants are a whole other story.
Overdressing is the preferred mode, and with Hannover’s weather as changeable as it is, it does make sense. A common refrain around the kindergarten: “Wo ist deine muetze?” Where is your hat? Meaning: put it on!
This has become so much a part of our morning routine that the other day, when we were in a hurry, my daughter (6) scolded me for not having mittens and a hat for our 3-year-old. “Mommy, what will Frau X say?” she said.
The only problem with all this gear is that it’s hard to keep up with and easy to get lost. I decided to take matters into my own hands and whip up several spring-weight hats from his old t-shirts. These take literally about five minutes to make. Maybe less. This way, if we lose a few hats, it’s no big deal.
There are plenty of more sophisticated hat patterns out there on the web. For these I basically traced a hat he already had which is made from just two pieces shaped like little hills. I stitched them together with a zigzag stitch.
My favorite t-shirts to use are his old pajama tops, since those are not only super-soft but also stretchy.
I had a bit of a dilemma with this one because I wanted to use both the cute little applique at the top and the nice finished hem. So the hat is a little long and funky, but it can scrunched or folded, and really, who cares? He’s three.
Bonus: He’s been proudly showing off his hats and (in German) bragging that his mother made them. I know this kind of pride in mommy-made items probably won’t last, so I’m just going to savor it.
I whipped these up the other night with a favorite basic bean filling recipe. It’s from Stephen Raichlen’s Healthy Latin Cooking. It’s a great book, but funny enough, as with many cookbooks, I gravitate toward one very simple recipe and just make it over and over. I really have to explore it more but for now, here’s the recipe. It actually is part of a dish called Bean Tortillas with Honduran “Butter,” but I’ve only ever made the bean part, though I’m sure the complete three-part recipe would be great.
adapted from Stephen Raichlen’s Healthy Latin Cooking
1 1/2 cups cooked or canned red kidney beans (available in Germany! as opposed to black beans, which I have yet to find)
3 TB minced onions (I use dried when I’m in a hurry)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 cup chicken stock
In a skillet or saucepan over high heat, combine the beans, onions, garlic, cumin, and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until all the stock has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and let cool for 2 to 3 minutes. Mash the beans with the back of a spoon.
I put the beans on top of a toasted corn tortilla, then added avocado and a homemade salsa made with tomatoes, onion, and a little of some kind of green chili that you find here. It’s not jalapeno but it’ll do.
If you know me well, you’ve surely heard me mourn the dearth of Mexican food in Germany. Thankfully a friend introduced me to www.mex-al.de, where you can order, among other delicacies, corn tortillas. You can get the flour kind in the grocery store, but to me, corn tortillas are the taste of Mexico.
For those of you who enjoyed the cauliflower recipe awhile back, I also tried a cauliflower curry with toasted cashews from the same blog recently, and it was delicious. Or as we say in German, lecker, lecker, lecker! True to form, I didn’t follow the recipe entirely. I’ve had so much success with the Thai Kitchen recipe on the back of the coconut milk can that I hated to veer from it and just don’t have time in my life right now to grind my own curry powder (though I do have a spice grinder and do believe in doing stuff like that). So, I used the 101 cookbooks recipe as an inspiration point, adding snow peas instead of green beans and oops, didn’t have red onion so I left that out, too. The toasted cashews really make it.
Give me a couple of days of sunshiny, above-freezing weather, and I’m delirious with Fruehlingsfieber (spring fever). I’m superstitious even as I write this that Jack Frost is reading and will surely punish me for hoping spring is really on its way. I know the sunshine can’t last, but if gray weather will teach you anything (and actually, I think it can teach a lot, more on that some other time) it’s to make hay while the sun shines. Go out! Enjoy it! This is what the Germans do and so am I.
I’m also feeling the creative sap flowing. Recently I’ve been getting deeper and deeper back into my YA novel and motoring through chapters as fast as I can, trying not to look back and overpolish before I’ve got a complete draft. It’s a totally new way of working for me, and I have to ask myself why I never tried it before. I guess I just wasn’t ready.
Meanwhile I’m getting further and further along on the self-dyed patchwork I started awhile back. I’m so excited about the way it’s coming together. Hope I can share it in full soon. It’s for my son (3) and he’s loving it, which is just the best.
Above is a little peak from the back. Do you notice those finished edges? I realized since it wasn’t going to be quilted that I needed to do something to keep it from fraying. So I’m zigzagging every last little seam. Yep. Crazy, isn’t it? But somehow so satisfying. Aren’t you proud of me for being such a stickler?
A few more random updates:
just finished The Hunger Games trilogy. Whew! What a ride! I can’t believe it took me so long to pick them up. Although, it’s kind of nice to be able to read the whole trilogy at once rather than wait for a year or so in between installments. This isn’t my “normal” favorite type of read, but these were way way awesome, very fine writing in addition to the exciting plotlines. They were also progressively engrossing. By the second half of the third novel the world just sort of fell away, dinner went uncooked, children made messes.
just discovered a new-to-me design-y/ crafty/ arty blog with a good sense of humor that I’m really enjoying: aesthetic outburst. Thanks go to Meg of elsie marley for the hot tip.
oh, um, in case you were trying to reach any of those links on my “projects” or “writing exercise” pages, they have now been fixed. Gotta tell me when these things are messed up, okay?
enjoyed this opinion piece by Mark Bittman in the NY Times re: the new dietary guidelines. It’s called “Is ‘Eat Real Food’ Unthinkable?”
Sunny hours in winter are hard to come by here in northern Germany. One thing that helps is my almost daily walks by the Machsee (mach is pronounced MOSH as in mosh pit. See is pronounced SAY, approximately). It’s always good to get some fresh air and exercise, and it’s on these walks that I see how beautiful winter’s gray, stark landscape can be.
The first picture above is from a day when it was raining on top of the frozen lake, giving this great moodiness and wonderful reflections. One thing I’ve noticed about gray is that it allows the subtlest colors to show off. On this day the ice looked a soft turquoise and the sky a yellowy-pink next to purplish clouds.
This one was taken on a foggy day when it seemed some mystical being might travel across the ice our way.
Here below is the ice from that day, looking blue and brown and wounded:
Same landscape, slightly more light, and hey, what’s that patch of blue?
And here above, sunshine! The yellowish color of these bare branches just glows up against the ice.
Luckily we’re getting a little more sunshine in these parts this week, and the daylight hours are increasing.
Once again, a recipe from 101cookbooks. I think this was the first recipe I made of hers, and it’s a favorite. Now that we have access to corn tortillas again (through mex-al.de), I can make it as much as I want.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I add chicken to this vegetarian soup (usually braised breast meat) and use chicken broth rather than the vegetable broth the recipe calls for.
I highly recommend adding some of the suggested fixin’s (goat cheese, lime, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado)—the lime especially.
The most popular part of this recipe is definitely the tortilla strips. That blurry motion you see in the photo is due to little hands grabbing strips while I photographed them.
It’s really handy to have a stick blender for soups. How did I get by without one before? The converter I have to use for the stick blender is shared with my sewing machine, way down our long hallway, so there’s lots of running back and forth for two of my favorite activities (sewing and soup-making).
If you like 101 cookbooks, you might want to know that she has a new book coming out and has offered, in advance of publication, a downloadable mini-sampler book on her website. Cool!
I’m currently reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and sort of missing my garden back in North Carolina. Not that I was a very successful vegetable grower. I guess I’ll have to try some tomatoes on the balkon and of course visit our many nearby farmer’s markets.
In the whole food vein, loved this post by Holly Ramer of stitch/craft—about her family covering the South Beach Food and Wine Festival. There’s a picture of her young son interviewing Jamie Oliver. Holly’s got some other great stuff on her blog, including quite a few tutorials. I especially like the gifts she makes, in particular children’s book-related gifts like those here.
My husband says I’ve gone native on the subject of shopping. As far as we can tell, Germans don’t do a lot of recreational shopping. They make a lot of small trips to the market and bakery and butcher, but they don’t seem to spend a lot of time at the mall or dreaming about their next clothing or electronics purchase.
When they DO buy something, though, they’re apt to spend more to get better quality. A bargain is less important. And the phrase in the title is a frequently heard refrain, one that I seem to have picked up.
Recently I went to my favorite little claustrophia-inducing neighborhood art shop in search of kid’s art supplies. There’s no Crayola there, folks. The crayons are pure beeswax. PURE. We opted for some fat colored pencils, which were 15 euros a pack. Yes, that’s 10 colored pencils for the equivalent of over $20! I know, I know. I justified with the handy phrase above. And you know what? The kids looove the pencils. They had some old ones from a cheap American box store (a place I love, it must be said) which they never used because they were just plain lousy. These colored pencils have deep, rich colors, and they use them all the time and carry them everywhere. I think we’ll be getting our money’s worth.
I was telling some friends about the pencils and remembering my own set of Swiss colored pencils given to me by my aunt and uncle when I was about 9. I treasured them and STILL have them. In fact, they’re here in Germany with me:
I have this pathological need to keep the colors in the same order in which they arrived. Thanks Aunt and Uncle! It was money well-spent.
In other news: check out this student review of Slowpoke at Kiss the Book.
Also, there’s a month-long feature about crafts inspired by children’s books over at “Once Upon a Thread” by No Big Dill. My favorite is the Dot shirt, inspired by The Dot by Peter Reynolds. The project is by Meg of Elsie Marley. Now I just need a craft project inspired by Slowpoke…….
Lately I’ve been getting emails from friends and friends of friends who are moving to Germany. They’re curious as to what they should do to prepare for the move. I’m no expert, but here are a few tips I shared about what to do before you go:
1) Run, don’t walk, to a language class.
If you’re moving for a job, this would often be covered by your employer or your spouse’s employer. Having some language skills under your belt when you arrive is so worth the time and trouble. When you arrive, you’ll be busy settling in and may not have time to study again for awhile. For me, the better my German skills, the more at home and independent I feel here.
2) Read up:
Learn something about the culture you’re entering and the expat experience. You can’t avoid culture shock, but you can prepare yourself a little bit. The Expert Expat: Soooo worth reading! Culture Shock! Germany : This series includes books for many countries. First Thousand Words in German: It’s a kids’ book but great for the visually oriented—a cross between a picture dictionary and Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever in German. Also available in other languages. It seems to be out of print, but I’ve linked to a used book site above.
Reading books and watching films that take place in your host country can also be very instructive.
3) Clean out your closets.
It would be almost unheard of to have closets here in Germany, and the wardrobes they use instead are way smaller. This was the hardest thing about fitting our things into our new space. The more you get rid of, the easier this part will be. I imagine this is a helpful step no matter what country you’re moving to.
4) Get an internet phone service.
Do thiswhile still in the U.S. and bring the box with you. Yes, Skype is great, but there will be times when you need to call businesses (or have them call you) and times when Skype just isn’t practical. Also, this way, friends and family can call you without having to pay for an international call, and without having to leave your computer on all the time.
5) Think through electronics.
Some will work in your host country with a transformer (blender, sewing machine), some will not or may be a little risky (tv, dvd player).
Before we came, we bought a dual-voltage TV so the TV would work when we bring it back to the US. It was also much cheaper than buying one in Europe. If you’re moving with a firm, you’ll most likely get an allowance to buy things like large appliances. For the most part, it will make sense to buy them in your host country, but it’s worth thinking this through before you go.
We’re celebrating one year in Deutschland today! What a wild and wonderful ride it’s been.
I hadn’t planned to share from this work-in-progress until it was done, but then I was inspired by this post, which challenges bloggers (quilting bloggers in particular) to share more of their process, not just finished projects.
So, here I am, showing you a strip from a large patchwork I’m working on. When I do patchwork, I’m not usually interested in following a traditional pattern or in measuring. Some people call this “liberated quilting.” For me it’s about being able to enjoy the process (I hate measuring) and also something we used to talk about it in art class called “showing the artist’s hand.” In painting this often means that the artist has let the brushstrokes show. I enjoy having my patchwork look handmade at first glance. If you’re familiar with the Gee’s Bend quilts, it’s that kind of aesthetic I’m going for.
I also prefer to work with mostly used or scrap fabrics in my patchwork (I keep saying patchwork rather than quilting because this piece is not actually going to be quilted). I think it’s because historically that’s what quilts were made from, and that thriftiness and ingenuity is part of what attracts me to patchwork in the first place. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a beautiful quilt made from new fabrics—-this is just a rule I give myself (and sometimes break, of course). The history of the fabric creates a story behind the project, and it also provides an extra challenge, kind of like painting a still life using only four tubes of paint.
This patchwork is for my son’s duvet cover, and it’s made from his crib sheets, most of which I hand-dyed, and also from the fabric I used in a failed attempt at making a shopping cart cover. You can see one of his crib sheets in this blog post. There’s also a bit of fabric left from making the curtains in his room.
When I was pregnant with my son, I went snorkeling for the first time and was inspired to create a nursery mural of a very simple school of white fish on a grayish-teal backdrop—blogged here. Now that he’s in a big-boy bed, I wanted to make him a new bedcover with a similar theme. I didn’t want to make literal fish but wanted to keep the feeling of simple white shapes moving over the space. Here’s my sketch for the piece—although I didn’t color it all in so you really can’t tell at this point which parts are going to be white. That part’s in my head. I may or may not follow the sketch entirely.
In addition to the Gee’s Bend quilters, another influence is the work of Malka Dubrawksy, a fiber artist, quilting blogger, and author I admire. Check out her gorgeous work made with fabrics she batiks and dyes herself.
Can’t wait to get some more done so I can show you my progress. Hopefully I’ll finish this before the little man goes to college. And if he doesn’t like it, I’ll hang it on the wall!
My dear husband, for reasons yet unknown, picked out these shades for the lights in our apartment living room. In most apartments here, the lighting fixtures are not included, and since we’re here for a limited time, we didn’t want to spend a lot on them. We have no pink in our house otherwise, so I can only guess he was asking for a dose of color in our lovely but very white white white apartment. Reactions from guests have ranged from: “Fresh! Modern! I love them!” to “Hmmmph. Why? Why?”
I felt the need to echo the pink somewhere else, so recovering our pillows was my first thought. Finding fabrics here has been tough, so I hit up the thrift store, bought old white cotton tablecloths and turned them into something that works.
First I doused the tablecloths in a good strong brew of coffee (no, I did not use the good stuff, honey). Then I broke out a favorite childhood toy.
I love these stamps. I used Deka fabric ink that I found at the local art store. I’ve used Deka ink before, a long time ago, which was more like a gouache consistency. This was different, more gel-like.
You may recognize this shape from another project using dishwasher gel.
I just realized my blog now has 100 posts. Woo! Woo! It’s taken me awhile, but I think I’m getting into the groove with it.
The weather in September and August here was pretty lousy, so we’re hoping for what our German friends keep telling us may happen: a “Golden October.” So far, October has been a massive improvement. As in, no need for long underwear and a wool coat and umbrella for the last few days.
Ever since we got here, even though we knew it was a cool, rainy, climate, we’ve been surprised at just how cool and rainy it is, especially in months we used to think of as summer months. The locals tell us again and again that it’s “not usually this bad,” that this year has been record-breakingly cool.
We’ve been here six months as of today! I can’t believe it. After six months, it’s a little bit easier to think of the cool rainy-ness as being normal and to just get over it. A little bit. Definitely we’ve adopted the local custom of (if possible) dropping everything and running outside when the sun shines. Another useful local habit is to dress for the weather and go outside anyway, which is also a good idea. Otherwise you would never get out.
With all the additional rain, it looks to be the year of the bumper mushroom crop. Mushrooms, like all seasonal produce, are taken very seriously here. There are several kinds, and restaurants are sporting full-page seasonal mushroom menus.
The photo at the top of the post is of mushrooms I found in the forest (don’t worry, I won’t eat any mushrooms unless they’re coming from a vendor). They look like little aliens to me. I’m sure there are plenty of mushroom varieties in North Carolina, but I definitely notice them here more, probably because I’m outside more.
The mushrooms above are called pfifferlinge. Aren’t they beautiful? I bought some and cooked them up, not really knowing what I was doing. They tasted fine, but I think I would rather have them served to me properly at a restaurant. I looked up the English translation for this particular mushroom: chanterelle. Funny that the “English” is actually French, eh? It makes sense when you consider that English is mainly made up of French and German and that, as far as I know, English-speaking people aren’t in general quite as passionate about their mushrooms. Chanterelles and pfifferlinge are much more specific and interesting than the prosaic “mushrooms.”
I’ll be back next week, hopefully with some newsy news which I’m excited to share with you.
Every year Frankfurt, Germany hosts the largest international book fair (Buch Messe) in the world. Last week, I took the train down to Frankfurt to see what all the excitement is about.
In the picture above, taken by Sarah Johnson, my gracious host and guide, I’m in the Boyds Mills Press booth, where Slowpoke was displayed (way down in the corner to my left). Yeah, my expression is strange. Just to my right the BMP foreign rights rep was having a meeting, so I guess I was feeling a little silly posing for a shot right beside them.
This book fair is all business. Whereas at librarian and teacher conferences the booth folk are very chatty, here they are all booked from morning til night with business meetings. There are few authors or educator types or average joe book customers, and the books aren’t sold individually. The idea is to show them to foreign publishers who might want to buy the rights and re-publish in another country/ language. Like this:
The hall for German publishers is a little different, with readings and cookbook demos and tv interviews going on all day. It had by far the most traffic of all the halls. Interestingly, the BMP booth was located in this hall, not with all the other American and British publishers in another hall.
American friends who had been before all told me to wear walking shoes. Now that I live in Germany, all my shoes are walking shoes. It was good advice, though. My shoes held up fine, but I was definitely sore from walking for hours and hours.
It was fascinating to see the books being written and published in countries all across the world. Even though I’m living overseas, I often still forget that the U.S. is just one market, just one place people make and read books, and English is just one language of many. The picture book artwork really stood out to me—-so many fresh and fabulous images.
This recipe comes from my friend Awanti. Our favorite Indian restaurant here (Mogul) closed awhile back, and we’ve been suffering from withdrawal. Dal, a thick lentil soupy-type dish, is a staple of Indian cooking. As I understand it, there must be a million different versions of it because every family has their own recipe. Thank you, Awanti, for sharing yours!
This recipe is great for cutting your teeth on Indian cooking. Easy and not too many ingredients. Also, although it’s flavorful, it’s not spicy-hot, so anyone can enjoy it. My kids lapped it up. I think if I were making it just for the hubs and me, I would add some more ginger and chili pepper.
1.5 cups yellow lentils
2 TB cooking oil (I used olive)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp garlic-ginger paste (available in Asian stores) or the equivalent half and half mash of fresh ginger and garlic
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
salt to taste
½ to ¼ tsp red chili powder (leave it out if you don’t want it)
fresh coriander leaves (i.e. cilantro—this is optional for those of you who can’t stand cilantro. You know who you are.)
Soak and cook lentils till tender (my package had directions, albeit in German). In a pan put in 2 tablespoons of oil, heat.
Add mustard seeds and let them start spluttering in the oil.
Then add ginger-garlic paste and onions. Cook onions till they are slightly browned. Add the lentils, and cook them into the onions. Add turmeric, chili powder if you like, and salt as per your taste.
Then add water – you have to decide what consistency your dal needs to be. All the water needs to be added now so that it cooks in and doesn’t remain watery. Bring to a rolling boil and keep stirring so it doesn’t boil over for about 3 to 4 minutes. Then let it simmer for at least 10 to 15 minutes with regular stirring.
Serve with finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and rice. Enjoy!
I finally finished this scarf from the cashmere/ silk yarn I bought at Tuesday Morning. It ended up being more of a scarfette, but that’s what I get for doing absolutely no figuring before starting. I can totally live with that.
For those of you who are knitters, I used a seed stitch. No brainer.
When it came time to weave in the ends, I couldn’t find my yarn needle. Story of my life since moving. I happened upon a craft shop when I was out and about. I didn’t know the word for yarn needle, though, and I realized when I began explaining that I must sound like I was looking for a knitting needle. I stopped to think a moment and then said, in German, “I knitted a scarf, and then…” here I pantomimed the hanging strings, then said, “Now I need to…” and pantomimed weaving in the threads.
The two shopkeepers burst into uproarious laughter, then offered me a yarn needle for free. I was pretty pleased with myself for not being afraid to look like an idiot. It’s all about getting my point across, right?
This scarf is so soft I’ve been wearing it a lot. Plus I love the color—-orange brightens up our gray weather. My daughter rubbed it against her face last night during story time.
Slowpoke has gotten a couple more positive reviews, from Booklist :
“Pearce’s succinct text will amuse emerging readers with her only slightly exaggerated references to the hectic pace of modern life. Ritchie’s fluid, cartoon-style illustrations are equally adept at conveying the story’s speedy absurdities…and its more relaxing moments”
Also, I just found out that Slowpoke now has an Accelerated Reader test (you have to enter the title into the search feature to see it).
Last week, I did a Skype author chat with Carver Elementary School in Florence, SC. It was really fun. The students are third-graders and had all read Slowpoke ahead of time. Their teachers helped them compile questions about the writing process. I missed being able to interact in person with the kids, but it was a good experience. The learning goes both ways with these kinds of things, and it’s always great to hear from readers. I’d like to do more of them in the future. For tips on hosting a Skype author chat, check out this article. If your school wants to host me, please contact bettyasmith (at) bellsouth (dot) net and put “author visit” in the subject line.
The picture above is me on the big screen in Carver’s library. Special thanks to librarian Debra Heimbrook for working with me on this inaugural Skype chat.
In Germany, Christmas celebrating and shopping begin before Thanksgiving, since they don’t do Thanksgiving here. And the Christmas markets (Weinachtsmaerkte) are where it’s at, not the mall.
German Christmas markets are like little wooden villages built inside the pedestrian zones just for the Christmas season. The markets are made up of actual wooden buildings, complete with roofs, windows, and live greenery. Vendors sell food, gift items, and gluhwein (a hot alcoholic drink) or eier punsch (egg nog). There are also carousel and train rides for the kids. It’s great to have something festive to do just when the weather is dropping to freezing temperatures.
We traveled to a special Christmas market the other day, held at a castle not far from Hannover. At Schloss Bueckeburg they call the Christmas market Weinachtszauber, or “Christmas Magic.”
This is a shot inside the castle. Love all that ornate detailing on the ceiling and the chandelier. All kinds of lovely things for sale: colorful cashmere scarves and sweaters, leather bags and ornaments, decorations. You should bring your magic wallet to the castle, though, because the prices are definitely fit for a king.
Below is a picture of an outside booth, where they were selling antique fencing. Cool, eh? Especially if you wanted to start your own cemetery.
It was freezing so we kept going inside and back out again. Above is a vintage organ with moving figurines on it. So fun. In another area, dancers demonstrated a traditional German dance in their lederhosen. We also saw, flitting about here and there, angels in white sweaters and massive petticoats, sometimes accompanied by St. Nicholas.
Sunday we also pulled out our advent wreath, and the kids have enjoyed lighting it every night and singing an advent song.
What with the dropping temperatures and snow I’ve been drinking a lot of hot tea. There is plenty of rooibos tea here in Germany, and in fact they have a blend of rooibos and caramel that is awesome (can you get that in the U.S.?). But I haven’t found any rooibos chai, which I’ve been craving. I’ve made my own blend before, but I lost that recipe, so this time I tried this one, with modifications.
Obviously, I used rooibos rather than black tea, but I upped the dosage to 2-3 TB to make it stronger, since rooibos can be a little weak. I also added some black cardamom (and when making the second batch had no green cardamom left) and subbed fresh nutmeg for the allspice. I had no anise, so I left that out. I used fresh orange peel rather than dried. It turned out really well. I didn’t realize that the ginger is what gives it such a nice bite, so if you want spice, use plenty of it. I used fresh ginger, but I’ll have to make a big batch of a dried version recipe so I can have the tea whenever I like.
Let me know if you see a rooibos caramel blend in the U.S. so I’ll know if I need to stockpile it before we leave Germany.
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to learn some new “more exciting” vegetable dishes, even if the kids won’t eat them. I figure more interesting veggies will mean more veggies eaten, at least for me (though hopefully my husband will eat them too). After all, nothing tastes very good if it’s just nuked in the microwave. And my kids tend to try new things when I’m eating them, especially if I don’t serve it to them or try to make them eat it.
So, I’m looking to one of my favorite blogs, 101 cookbooks, for inspiration, and for some reason her cauliflower recipes are just calling to me. Ha ha ha! No, but seriously, she makes cauliflower seem so delicious and fascinating.
I tried this recipe the other night, though I have to admit I did the lazy-I’m-not-going-to-the-grocery-store-again version with ginger paste (rather than fresh) and no chilis (not easy to find here), thinking the kids might eat it if it wasn’t too spicy. My six-year-old ate one bite after being bribed with a Skittle. She didn’t like it, but I’ll try again. The three-year-old wouldn’t touch it. I thought it was really good, though, and so did my husband. Since I had no chilis, I sprinkled a little red pepper flakes on top. I went really easy on the salt, but needed to add a little more. The difference between the slightly salted and properly salted versions was like, totally decent vs. totally delicous. I’m always trying to cut salt, but sometimes it’s necessary.
One thing that struck me about the recipe—–I had never thought of slicing cauliflower rather than cutting it in chunks. It’s so simple but really it makes the whole dish so much easier to cook and eat. So much more appealing, too.
I also finally broke down and bought Mark Bittman’s tome How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It’s so huge (perfect e-book possibility, methinks,but it doesn’t seem to exist in that format), but chock full of good stuff to try. The author of 101 cookbooks, Heidi Swanson, has a book coming out in the spring—yay!
These hand warmers began life as perhaps the most expensive children’s underclothes known to man.
Figuring out the right gear for the weather in Germany has been an ongoing education. When my three-year-old’s kind, dear kindergarten teacher told me he needed undershirts, I listened. He needed not just any undershirts, mind you, but silk-wool undershirts, from a boutique. I can’t even bear to tell you how much I paid for them.
Meanwhile, it’s very un-German of me, but I haven’t been able to kick the big ol’ energy-wasting American dryer addiction. Maybe there’s a 12-step program I can enroll in and by the time we leave here I’ll have cleaned up my act. Dryers do exist in Germany, but it’s much more common, regardless of income level, to use a drying rack. I do this some but not enough.
Sadly, this is what happened to one of the costly silk-wool undershirts:
Gasp! All those Euros gone to waste! I couldn’t handle it becoming just a doll shirt, and my daughter had been asking for a set of hand warmers. So I broke out the Kool-Aid (brought from the U.S.) and dyed it, using roughly these instructions.
If I had it to do over, I’d probably use one less packet of Kool-Aid to get a slightly lighter color, but oh well. It’s done. After that I just cut up the middle of the shirt and trimmed the top down so that the arm-piece of the shirt became the thumb-piece of the warmers.
I used an old T-shirt to line the arm warmers and finished them off with blanket stitching. Voila! You could certainly make a similar pair with a shrunken sweater, using the underarm corner as the under-thumb corner.
You know the Brothers Grimm, but maybe you haven’t heard of some other famous German brothers: Max and Moritz. They’re some of the most beloved characters in all of German literature.
Published in 1865, Max and Moritz is the story of two naughty brothers whose adventures range from mischievous to vicious. Their darkly comical story is told in a series of seven pranks, and in the end….well, let’s just say they don’t get away with their crimes. It’s not exactly a Disney fairy tale.
The subversive humor of the book and the boys’ flippancy toward adults represented a departure in the children’s literature of the time, which was strictly moralistic.
The book’s action-filled sequential line drawings are paired with relatively little text. It’s widely believed that Max and Moritz was the direct inspiration for the Katzenjammer Kids, the ”oldest American comic strip still in syndication and the longest-running ever.” (from Wikipedia)
The other day I made a date with myself to go to the Wilhelm Busch Museum here in Hannover. The creator of Max and Moritz, illustrator and poet Wilhelm Busch, lived in and around Hannover for several years of his life. The museum is located on the edge of the royal Herrenhauser Gartens. It’s my favorite kind of museum: small, intimate, a beautiful space with really strong exhibits. It houses some of the original Max and Moritz sketches—I love seeing the rough beginnings of things.
Here’s the museum below:
The museum also hosts temporary exhibits of illustration and caricature, and I was lucky enough to catch the show of Lisbeth Zwerger, famed Austrian illustrator. I’ve been a fan of her whimsical fairy tale illustrations for a long time, so it was really interesting to see them in person. Along with German and English editions of Max and Moritz, I couldn’t resist getting Zwerger’s Noah’s Ark, also in the original German—I guess it’ll be good for my language skills.
Also on display, and equally interesting, was a large retrospective show of influential British carticature artist Ronald Searle. I snapped a quick pic of this machine in the corner of the gallery:
What do you think it is? I’m guessing it’s a hygrometer to make sure the air doesn’t get too damp and damage the artwork, but I don’t know.
I can’t wait to get back to the museum for the next exhibits.
The Max and Moritz image above, which is in the public domain, was found at wikipedia. Information in this post com