Thursday, December 27, 2018

How a Crucifix Caught a Thief

We bought a cool and (so far) deliciously creepy book about local legends for the family for Christmas.

Sagen aus Franken: Von Geistern, Gold und wilden Rittern
Written by Susanne Rebscher, illustrated by Sibylle Vogel

The book contains tales from the region of Germany we live in: Franconia. The stories are not more than three pages long, so they're good to read with kids (as long as they're not easily frightened!)

Last night, huddled under cozy blankets, we read the legend of how a crucifix caught a thief.

In the Neumünster church in Würzburg, there was a crucifix, arms and feet nailed to cross as we know it. Someone donated an expensive gold chain to the church, and the necklace had been placed around Jesus's neck.

One day in the middle ages, a thief entered the church. Jesus looked down on him on the thief, but that didn't stop him from his greed. He stole the gold chain from around Jesus's neck.

Jesus's arms ripped free of the cross to hold the thief in an iron grip. The thief cried and whined and prayed, but the Jesus figure wouldn't let him go. Finally, the thief screamed for help. Some people nearby ran into the church, grabbed the thief and hauled him to prison.

But Jesus's arms never moved back to the cross. 

Don't believe it? I didn't either, so I did a little digging in the internet...and found that you can see it in the Neumünster church in Würzburg today.

Schmerzensmannkreuz, image by Rufus46 via WikimediaCommons
If you can read German, and especially if you're familiar with Franconia, I highly recommend this book!

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Attribution: Rufus46 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Mackinac Island

I've known since we returned from vacation in September that I wanted to share some pictures. I decided between being busy and the dreary fall weather to come, showing them in October would be a good idea, a way to bring up my mood.

Ha! We've had the most beautiful October I think I've ever seen. Sunny, warm, with bright red and yellow trees. We've been lucky, especially since we're getting a new roof (that's a whole other story, and actually a reason to need a pick-me-up, come to think about it).

So…onto our trip! One of the places we went on vacation was Mackinac Island, Michigan. Usually we've visited the island on day trips, but this time we stayed overnight.
View from Mackinac Island, with lighthouse and ferries.

Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, and the only ways to get there are by ferry or a small plane. We love taking the ferry: the water, the wind, the sun.

Evening view from the island to the Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan's Upper & Lower Peninsulas

Mackinac (pronounced mack-i-naw) originally stems from the Ojibwe word meaning big turtle (Mitchimakinak). The French changed the pronunciation and spelling, then the British shortened it until the name Mackinac was kept. If you're interested in more information on the etymology of the name or more about the island's history, Wikipedia has details.

Mackinac Island was a summer vacation spot in the 19th century and has a number of beautiful, historical houses. The island itself is listed as a National Historic Landmark. A fort was established there by the British during the Revolutionary War – you can still visit it today. Even our hotel's origin was fascinating: the retirement spot for Odawa/French Magdelaine La Framboise, prominent business woman and fur trader in the early 1800s.

The Harbor View Inn, our hotel
One of the most unique things about the island is that motorized vehicles were prohibited in 1898 – and outside of a few very rare exceptions, it's still valid today. In fact, the island's home to the US's only state highway without motorized vehicles: M-185. About 80% of the island is preserved as the Mackinac Island State Park. So how do people get around the island? By bike or horse-drawn carriage.

This is what a "garbarge truck" looks like on the island.

Besides the lack of motor vehicles, the people who live on the island have some pretty unique hurdles in daily life. While there is one full-time doctor and a small grocery store, anything but the basics means a longer trip. Need to see the dentist? Have to go to the mainland. Need to buy supplies? Get on a boat or airplane.

One of the most interesting things I learned was about how the approximately 500 year-round residents feel about the winter. I'd expected it to be scary and isolating. But once the ice bridge forms between the island and the mainland (they mark the safe path with old Christmas trees!), the islanders have a few weeks of freedom. They can get on snowmobiles and go across to the mainland anytime they want. They consider winter and the ice bridge freedom.

We biked around the island on M-185. This is about ten steps off the road.

Want to see more of the island? Look up the 1980 movie Somewhere in Time. It was filmed there, although they brought cars to the island so you will see some. And no, we unfortunately didn't stay at the pricey, Victorian-style Grand Hotel pictured in the movie trailer.

If you're looking for a place to go and have the chance, I highly recommend Mackinac Island, especially if you can manage it outside of school vacations.

All pictures by me or my family

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Reading The Past

On the very last day of my vacation, my aunt dropped by to give me two books she’d found in my grandfather’s house after he passed away.

That grandfather’s line of my ancestors came from Germany and apparently lived in a German-speaking community once they reached America where it was important they continue to learn the language.

One book was published in 1872, the other in 1909. The older book is in pretty bad condition, worn and torn. Both prove that scribbling in textbooks is not a modern behavior. Mary Rothermel traced the pictures in now-faded ink and wrote her name and age (8) in the margins of the older book. Hildegard Paulus signed her name over and over in the 1909 book—and dated it January 5, 1912. I'm not sure, but I don't believe either girl is related to me. It's likely that ma family got the books second hand.

The 1872 book is alled Neue Fibel oder Erstes Lesebuch für die deutschen katholischen Schulen. It is completely in German despite having been printed in the US.
Try to recognize individual letters in the script on the first page :)

By 1909, many of the students must have been stronger at speaking English than German. The 1909 version has two titles—one in English and one in German. It's called German-English Readers for Catholic Schools: Erstes Lesebuch and contains German words and phrases along with English translations.

Some highlights (especially for my German readers).
  • The 1909 book contains "Bemerkungen über die neue deutsche Rechtschriebung" (notes about the reformed German spelling rules).
  • The old font Fraktur.
  • The old handwriting style called Kurrent.

Reformed spelling rules

And sentences to learn reading and writing that illustrate it was a different time:
  • My brother saw the emperor.
  • The quince is yellow and ripe.
  • Good children obey willingly.
  • Clara has a white muff.
  • I bought you a fine horse.

I did a little research, and it turns out the publisher, Benziger Brothers, is still operating today. Founded in Switzerland in 1792, the first American printing house was opened in 1853. It is currently based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

all pictures by me

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

From The Sky

“You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky.”
  -Amelia Earhart

I think of my dad as kind of a vehicle genius. It doesn’t matter what it is—he can drive it, expertly. Cars are the simplest things. How about an 18-wheeler? No problem. A boat? All the time. A motorcycle, a snowmobile, a four-wheeler, a huge tractor…if it’s got a motor, he’s a master.

So there’s one special thing he drives that most people aren’t used to seeing in a "normal" person. Our family isn't rich by any means, but my dad owns his own airplane.

"Who wants to go for an airplane ride?"

It isn’t a huge jet (google pictures of John Travolta’s home if you want a jaw-dropping moment) but a teeny-tiny two-seater built in 1946. Yes, that’s 1946. He bought it used years ago. It’s so thin and lightweight, he pushes it out of the hangar by hand in about two seconds.

Tiny, old plane...tiny, old cockpit

I remember hanging around small airports as a kid, bored while while he talked to the airport geezers in their loose, greasy overalls or while he tinkered around on the plane. It felt like ages but was probably only 20 or 30 minutes of going through a checklist.

Waiting was boring but we grew up soaring through the air like it was a normal, everyday thing. Flying in a small plane feels nothing like traveling in a jet. It wasn’t until I was twenty that I flew with a commercial airline for the first time. I was so excited…and then so disappointed. I didn’t feel hardly anything. Turning and banking. Dips. Meh.

One advantage of a small plane is that you aren’t necessarily way above the clouds. You’re up high and can see everything, but you’re low enough that you can still see everything. The murky cloud a boat trails behind it on a still lake, the Christmas tree farm built in a circle with an irrigation system running around it like the hand on a clock, your family waving as you do a fly-by.

Lake Missaukee, Michigan

I was on vacation last week, so I got to ride with my dad in his plane again. And I have to admit it—I’ve gone really soft. We had some bad luck with the weather and it was a kind of windy day, so I FELT EVERY BUMP. In a plane that small, there’s nothing to hold on to but your own pantlegs.

Dad Humor - when your dad is a pilot
As a kid, I took it all for granted. It was a while before I realized what an unbelievably special thing my dad shared by flying with me.


All pictures by me or my family.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tax Payer Remembrance Day

Yesterday was July 18, Germany's "Steuerzahler Gedenktag" – basically Tax Payer Remembrance day.

What does that mean? On average, every Euro people earned in Germany went to the government tax collector from January 1-July 17. That's right. Over half the year.

Starting on July 18, your paycheck goes to you.

Amazing, right? Horrifying even?

Not exactly.

I'll be honest, I've whined about taxes before. Of course I have.

But the more news I see from back home in the US, the more I'm happy to pay these taxes, for socialized health insurance, etc. Things aren't perfect here, but I have never once seen a GoFundMe for a German trying to afford surgery or dental care. I've never heard of anyone here losing their house because they had to pay enormous hospital bills. People here don't have tens of thousands of dollars in debt (or more!) when they get their college degree. They don't work until a day before a baby's due. And child care is subsidized, so you don't end up working for almost nothing just to keep your job.

So would I like to pay less taxes? Sure.

But would I want less taxes enough give up what my German taxes are used for? Not a chance. Because even if I was rich enough to not have to worry about all that stuff for me (which I'm not), I just don't know how you live knowing your neighbors might wonder how they'll make it through the month.

Monday, May 7, 2018


A couple of weeks ago, I booked my first trip to the US in three years. And I've been scared to admit it, but for the very first time, I have mixed feelings.

I really, really want to see my family! It's been far too long!

I can't wait to revel in the Enchanted Mitten that is Michigan, with all its breathtakingly beautiful lakes. 

Look at how beautiful!

I even look forward to eating all those (terrible, wonderful) things you can't get here in Germany, like Twizzlers, Cheetos, and Ranch Dressing. (I'm so classy.)

However . . .

American politics.

One option is to just not talk about our different opinions and hope we'll all get along. But political developments are not just conversation topics. Decisions made are real things that impact real lives.

Removing protections for transgender people, for example those stipulating that a doctor must treat transgender people, will seriously affect one of my loved ones. Could even be life threatening.

Taking away the ACA would mean a good friend, with a pre-existing condition they can do nothing about, can no longer afford health insurance, would no longer be able to afford the medicine that keeps them able to work.  

30 million dollars for a ridiculous military parade, and racism-fueled spending to build a wall to Mexico that experts say wouldn't help anyway will use up money that could be spent on things that could make a real difference. Better pay for teachers like one in my family. Better education for all children (and not only those in private schools). De-escalation Training and Racial Sensitivity Training instead of increased police brutality more likely to affect friends who are people of color.

The name calling, lying, and loss of dignity in government. The resulting loss of respect throughout the world that I see on a daily basis as an expat.

And of course, my home country has the loosest gun controls in the developed world, which lead to more gun-related deaths per capita than any other country. It makes me wonder, makes me fear, that we could be next in the statistics. In case you're wondering, as of May 1, 2018, it's been 4685 people who have died of gun violence in the US this year alone. People with families, friends, colleagues. Not to mention over 8000 injured. People in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could just as we hit one of us.

You may think my view of things is too simplistic. It's not money for the wall vs money for education because one's at a federal and the other at a state level. I don't want to get into the nitty gritty details right now. The point is it shows the priorities of our country right now. Priorities that honestly sicken me.

So do I look forward to going back home after so long. Most definitely.

But with a heart that's tattered and torn and praying the country will be able to bounce back from the dangerous direction it's headed.

picture by me

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Taipei Connection

I spent last week in Taipei, Taiwan on business. Since my company had actually sent me there to work, the amount of time for sightseeing was severely limited, but I wanted to tell you about one especially amazing evening.

My colleagues and I—each from a different country—left our hotel in search of a restaurant for dinner. On the way, we found the stunning Hsing Tian Kong temple and went inside.

The temple was crowded, with the scent of incense in the mild evening air, people praying, and a soft clacking as people cast moon blocks onto the stone floor for divination. One of the temple disciples saw we were foreigners who were obviously curious but worried about disturbing everyone. She gave us a pamphlet in English and pulled us through the crowd to let us see.

We eventually left the temple, and after a dinner of noodle soup, we wandered around the streets of Taipei...and got kind of turned around. The map we had only partially helped, and when we saw brilliant, colorful lights shining at the end of a dark alley, we decided we couldn't get any more lost than we were and followed them. Was it a wedding? A concert?

The alley was packed with tables, families eating and drinking. A couple of older men waved us forward and explained that it was a community celebration to honor the birth of a god. They pulled us right up to the altar, gave each of us three incense sticks and showed us, step by step, where and how to pray. 

When the praying was done, they poured us beer (I'm not a big beer fan, but I thought it tasted pretty good). They asked where we were from, and when we said we lived in Germany, one of the (tipsy) men hummed the German national anthem. Thank you to the World Cup, I assume. ;)

Before we could leave, the men passed out ice cream (I am a big ice cream fan, and it was yummy). A warm rain began pattering down. It was getting late and we had to work the next morning, so I pulled out the hotel card and asked them to point us in the right direction, which they did.

It was such an amazing, lovely, spontaneous connection—a group of people eager to share a bit of their culture with strangers, and the three of us, nervous about what we might be getting ourselves into, but truly touched that we could try it out.