Monday, July 20, 2009

Fun weekend

On Friday I drove to my hometown in east-central Illinois for a reunion of sorts with my best friend from high school, Mary. Since I won't be attending my 30th class reunion later this summer, I told Mary that I'd come over and we'd do something fun. Mary got on the internet and discovered that the Woodstock Folk Music Festival was this weekend. I know this is the 40th anniversary year of THE Woodstock festival, but this was a much smaller festival in the town of Woodstock, Illinois. Then she discovered that one of my favorite artists, Natalia Zukerman, was going to be performing at this festival, so it was a definite Must-Go! Mary had seen Natalia in concert earlier this year on my recommendation and agreed that Natalia's not to be missed.

It was about a 4 hour drive to Woodstock and we got a little mixed up with a detour but finally found the town square. The venue was great, the weather was great and the music was great. Mary packed us a lovely picnic lunch--quiche, salad, fruit, linen napkins and tablecloth, fruity tea, biscuits--Mary calls herself the Martha Stewart of Birdland. Natalia took a photo of us with Mary's iPhone. If Mary can figure out how to send it I will post it.

After we got back to the prairie I got a tour of Birdland. I enjoyed seeing the aviary and meeting Ellis and the chickens. I liked the screened in vegetable garden and the Adirondack chairs that Mary made. The house at Birdland is very old, and Mary and her family have been working very hard to fix it up and enlarge it for the family. Every time I go, I see big changes!

I'm enjoying this cool's actually pleasant to be outside.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I am very lucky to have raspberries growing in my backyard. There were some black raspberries growing in the yard when we moved here 3 years ago, way in the back corner and almost swallowed up by large coniferous trees and a 50+ year old lilac bush. We moved the plants to over by the shed that first summer hoping they would be happy there, and I have to say that this year they've been very happy!

My dad has grown red raspberries for years and years, and gave me about a dozen plants 3 years ago. I planted them around a rotting stump and they've had 2 very good producing summers. I've been picking raspberries almost every day now for 2 weeks and have 2 gallons of berries in the freezer. We've eaten some fresh, of course, and friends have come over to pick berries, too.

I made my first batch of raspberry jam today--10 half-pints of black raspberry jam. My dad really likes black raspberries, so I will give him several of these jars, and when he comes over for the Fourth of July weekend I will make him a black raspberry cobbler. I'm sure it won't be as good as his stepmother made, but I can try!

I also harvested a cucumber, some side shoots of broccoli and half a head of cabbage. Yes, half a head! This is my first year trying to grow cabbage and the slugs got the better of me. I tried pouring beer in shallow dishes but wasn't consistent with it. So one side of the cabbage was slimy and the other side was nice. The rest of the garden is looking good. The cauliflower heads are just starting to appear. I'd almost given up on them; the plants are huge! Lots of squash, zucchini, celery on the way.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Coldplay for my birthday!

Yesterday was my 40-somethingth birthday. I had a leisurely morning, then Caroline and I drove over to meet my parents for lunch at the Beef House. My parents had been on a trip with a club they're involved with and were on their way back to Illinois. On our drive home, we heard on the radio that there were still tickets available for Coldplay at Verizon Wireless Music Center. We stopped at the box office to see if any lawn seats were available, and I purchased 3 tickets for us. There were already people in line for the 6:00 gate opening when we bought our tickets at 3:30, so we ran home, packed a picnic dinner and waited for Karl to get home. Fortunately it's a quick drive to Verizon.

We arrived back at Verizon at 5:15. Verizon Wireless was there doing a promo where the first 100 Verizon customers who showed a Verizon phone could get in the "Jump The Line" gate area. Caroline has Verizon service, so I took her phone and got in that line while Caroline and Karl stayed in the regular line. When it was time to open all the gates, the Verizon gate was opened first, and it wasn't until all the Verizon people has been admitted that they opened the regular gates. It paid off, as I was able to place our blanket in the very front of the lawn section in the center section.

We ate our dinner and waited for the show to start. The first band was called Howling Bells. Didn't much care for them. Then came Snow Patrol, which at least I'd heard some of their songs. At this point Karl and I were beginning to think maybe we were too old to enjoy concerts...until Coldplay took the stage.

AWESOME! That about sums it up. A real crowd-pleasing show. Chris Martin has so much energy and really seems to enjoy what he's doing. Fun and entertaining to watch. About half-way through the band left the stage and went to a mini-stage located in a side section of the pavillion where they played a couple of songs. Then back to the main stage for a couple of numbers, then the band went to another mini-stage in the lawn section to our left. Finished up on the main stage. They played all the songs I wanted to hear except Speed of Sound.

As we were leaving Verizon we were handed a CD, which we promptly placed in the CD player of the car. Here's a link to get a free download of the CD that was handed out after the concert. It's 9 songs performed live by Coldplay. Fantastic!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

My vegetable garden

Today I finished planting the vegetable garden. Over the past month Karl and Caroline have helped me make my soil mix on a tarp and then dump it into the raised bed. I found I couldn't do it alone so always had to wait for someone to be available to help. Thanks to both of them for their help.

I can't harvest the lettuce fast enough. It's growing faster than we can eat it. I have some almost every day for lunch, and I use it to amend the store bought lettuce mix, but it's still way too much. It will become bitter soon with the hot, sunny weather.

The broccoli and cauliflower are looking good and strong. Can't wait for the yummy part to start growing. The inside leaves of the cabbage plants are starting to form the heads.

I planted some old green bean seeds about 2 weeks ago, but only one has germinated, so I may have to buy some new seeds and try again. The little celery plants are looking ok.

My zucchini, patty pans, and spaghetti squash plants have nice flowers on them. The cucumber plants are growing well but haven't yet reached for their pole-and-string trellis yet. I planted a couple of watermelon plants, too.

I have 5 Roma tomato plants and 1 Husky Red tomato. It's a dwarf plant and I'm curious about how big it will grow. It already has a golf-ball sized tomato.

I went a little pepper crazy this year. I have 2 cayenne pepper plants. Karl likes to dry these peppers and grind them up for cayenne powder, which he uses to spice up my not-so-spicy foods. There is 1 jalapeno plant, with a 1" long jalapeno growing on it already! I also planted 5 bell pepper plants-2 green, 1 each of red, yellow, orange. Most of the peppers have flowered and are starting to grow peppers.

The self-pollinating dwarf Braeburn apple tree was full of blossoms last week. I have no idea if it will produce fruit this year, but it was exciting to see all those blossoms. The yellow delicious finally came out of dormancy (I was beginning to worry about it) and is leafing out.

The red raspberries are starting to get a slight pinkish tinge to them and are still quite small. I enlarged the raspberry patch, but most of the transplants didn't survive, so I will have to do that again. Not a problem; there are plenty of suckers growing. We have a nice little strawberry crop that we are reluctantly sharing with a chipmunk.

The cherry trees are looking good; one had some blossoms. Karl planted the locust trees today while I was at work. Last summer we had a 120-or-so year old oak tree die, and the city came and cut it down. (Thank goodness it was on the city's right-of-way!) We plan to put a tulip poplar in its place. There's a volunteer in the front flower bed that we'll move over there.

I feel now like I have the yard the way I want it. I can't think of anything more that we need or want. Well, we did talk about planting a patch of whatever critters like to eat, with the hopes of keeping them away from the flowerbeds. One day last week I was in the bedroom and heard rustling and a chewing noise. I looked out the bedroom window and there was Walter the woodchuck happily chomping on some knee-high sunflower plants. I'd love to have some milkweed for the monarchs. And then there's the matter of moving the peony bushes...ok, so maybe I'm not done!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Vegetables and Fruits

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year. Each spring I get overly enthusiastic about gardening and buy too much stuff for the time I have. Last year we dug out nearly 20 yew shrubs that were 30 years old (no small task but clever Karl created a great stump removal method!) and I went crazy buying perennials and small shrubs to replace the yews. Amended the heavy clay soil, and planted, planted, planted, then ended up shoving the rest of the plants in the ground until "next year" when I could properly plant them. (Seems to me I did this a couple of years ago, too, and still have salvia, ox-eye daisy and something else growing in the far end of the strawberry bed...not their permanent home, to be sure!) I get so frustrated with myself about doing this every year. I need to pace myself and take care of what I've got before buying/trading more plants. Maybe I should make a deal with myself, like, "I can not buy any more plants until I have moved the peony plants that are scattered about the yard." That would stop the spending for the rest of this growing season!

I've spent as much time as I can outside getting the garden ready. So far I've planted broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, and lettuce. The garlic I planted last fall is coming up. The red raspberry patch is going crazy again this year, although I don't anticipate as good a crop this year as last. Last year the weather cooperated and killed all the Japanese beetle larvae so there were very few eating at my raspberry plants. The wild black raspberries are looking healthy, too, but need to be moved. We dug these out of our wooded area and moved them over by the strawberry patch (temporarily!) a couple of years ago, and they are still there and the plants in the wooded area are as big as ever, too. The strawberry plants are looking fantastic and I will have to cover them with bird netting in the next couple of weeks, as the berries are starting to form. And I have to plant the asparagus plants I bought, but don't have a plan of where to put them (maybe by the strawberries with everything else!)

All the rain we've had lately has really helped these plants grow! You can water with the city water, but the plants really thrive with the rain. One of my 'someday' goals is to have a rain barrel.

For Mother's Day & my birthday Karl bought me a nice compost bin. Since we moved here we've been carrying our kitchen scraps to the brush pile but it doesn't get hot enough to make good compost. Last year I dug deep and got some nice looking compost, spread it on my vegetable garden and ended up with a nice assortment of weeds. Oops. Here's my new composter:

I still need to make my soil mix and get the rest of the expanded-this-year garden planted. I make my own soil--1/3 peat, 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite. Makes a wonderful, light soil that the plants do great in. I do raised bed gardening so no tilling necessary. Karl made me a rabbit-proof fence to go around the garden bed. Worked great against the rabbits, but Walter the Whistlepig did a fine job of eating through the fence last fall. And of course, I've already purchased the tomato plants, cucumbers, squash, peppers to put in the garden---the garden that's not ready.

I spent much of Thursday planting apple trees. I bought bare-root trees via mail from a recommended nursery. I bought 3 trees-- Arkansas Black, Yellow Delicious, and Braeburn. They're 3 - 4 feet tall and seem excited to be back in the ground, as they're starting to leaf out already. They'll be small (8 - 10 ft) trees. I also bought a couple of self-pollinating cherry trees--one sweet cherry and one pie cherry tree. Haven't planted them yet but maybe this weekend.

Also, I have started receiving bi-weekly deliveries from I received my second delivery on Wednesday. This week I received potatoes, carrots, a large onion, a large bunch of broccoli, 13 apples, a couple of grapefruit, a lemon, half-dozen oranges, wax beans, asparagus, snap peas and spring mix lettuce. Here's why I like this service:

1. It's nice quality, mostly organic produce. In the past I haven't always bought organic, but would like to eat more organic food.

2. The food will be locally grown later in the season. Right now most of the food is from far way, some even from Mexico (not too crazy about that) but I really want to support local farmers in-season. I like the idea that my apples (not the ones in this week's box, but those that will come later) traveled only 10 miles to get to me rather than 2000 miles. (With any luck, in a couple of years my apples will travel only 20 feet!) In this order I got a pound of locally grown asparagus! YAY!

3. It will encourage me to try new recipes as I get veggies I wouldn't normally buy. I have no objections to wax beans, but honestly have never bought them. So now I have a pound or so of them and have already researched recipes.

4. It's flexible. A few days before my delivery I get an email telling me what will be in my box. I then can customize the order, removing items my family doesn't like and substituting what they do.

5. They also offer local meats, baked goods, jams, jellies, dairy items, and pretty much anything you'd like. One of my goals is to eat less meat and make the meat I do eat come from local sources.

6. In this week's box I got some tulips (for Mother's Day, perhaps?)

Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yummy, easy, fast asparagus recipe

I made this asparagus side dish last night for dinner and it was really good! The three of us ate a pound of asparagus!

1 pound of asparagus
olive oil
1 teaspoon or so of Cajun seasoning

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash and trim asparagus and pat dry. Put asparagus in a shallow dish with a little bit of olive oil and lightly coat each spear. Lay spears in one layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with cajun seasoning. Bake in preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until tender.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Germany trip photos

All my Germany photos are now on my Flickr account. Have a look!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Monday--last day in Germany

We spent most of Monday getting packed for the return trip. In the late morning we drove to Homburg, (not Hamburg) Germany to visit the Schlossberghoehle Caves. These caves are the largest in Europe. They are man-made caves, dug in the 11th - 17th centuries, then forgotten. The soft, crumbly sandstone was used as an abrasive for cleaning, for making glass and in mortar. The caves were rediscovered in 1930 by some school children. There are about 12 levels of caves there. During World War 2, Homburg was heavily bombed because of the industry there. The caves were used as an air-raid shelter. The winter of 1944 (I think) was very cold and there was nothing left to burn as fuel. Some families moved into the caves for 6 weeks. The cave is a constant 50 degrees F, which was much warmer than the winter's outside temperature. Russian POWs were kept there during air raids, too, but in the top level of the caves.

At 3 in the afternoon, Jana's uncle, aunt, and 4 year old cousin came over. We ate cake (there were 5 cakes for 10 people!) and then played lawn games like badminton and frisbee. At 6:00 we said goodbye to Jana and her family, and drove to Frankfurt. We returned our rental car at the airport, ate dinner at the airport, then took the train into central Frankfurt to our hotel.

On Tuesday morning we took the train back to the airport and flew through Philadelphia on our way back to Indianapolis. Our plane was over an hour late leaving Frankfurt because a scratch on the door had to be documented. We had a long layover in Philadelphia so it wasn't a problem for us. Our plane to Indianapolis was supposed to leave at 6:50 then rescheduled for 7:35, 8-something, then a little after 9. I'm not sure what time we actually left, but I remember looking at my watch at 9:23 and I was sitting in the airplane at the gate. We arrived in Indianapolis at 11:00 p.m. By the time we got our luggage, took the shuttle to the car, and drove home it was nearly 1:00 a.m.--a 23 1/2 hour journey for us!

Easter Sunday

On Easter Sunday we ate breakfast around 9:30, then had a "nest hunt" in the backyard. Actually it was an Easter basket hunt, but Jana's mother called it a nest hunt. When she asked me about it earlier, I thought we would be hunting for Easter grass nests, so I told her that "nest hunt" was a good term to use, not realizing that we would be searching for baskets. So anyway, we went out in the back yard and Caroline, Jana, and Jana's sister each had a nice Easter basket and the adults each had a small candy gift to find. It was fun!

We then traveled to a place near Mettlach, Germany where the Saar River makes an interesting bend. It's called the Saarschleife, and is the most famous spot in Saarland. It was a hazy day, but I imagine it would be quite beautiful if the sky were clear. We then continued on to Chateau de Malbrouck, a castle near Manderen, France. Twenty years ago the castle lay in ruins. A massive restoration project was begun in 1988, painstakingly meshing the new with the old. It took ten years, but the castle was beautifully restored. (I think I have the dates right.) They were having an interesting exhibition on Napoleon and I learned a lot.

After our afternoon at the castle we stopped at a manmade lake/recreation area near Losheim, Germany for a quick look. Of course we had to eat cake, as it was 4:00 p.m. The lake was nice, but the Bostalsee we visited the previous day was nicer. We got back to the house around 5:30 and relaxed a bit before our dinner of leftover potato soup, scrambled eggs, beets, and leftover meat from the cookout. A few games of rummy were played before bedtime.

I added more photos to my Flickr site. Click here!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday in Saarland

When I took German in Junior High School, my teacher told us that Saarland was very industrial and dirty. Well, that may have been the case 35 years ago, but now it is BEAUTIFUL!! Saarland is the smallest German state and borders France and Luxembourg. While there is industry in the southern part of Saarland, most of the coal mines and steel factories have closed. We did drive by a Ford factory today, and I read in the paper today that they plan to work a regular work schedule for the rest of the year.

We are staying in northeastern Saarland. It is somewhat hilly here and very agricultural. I've seen lots of cows, some sheep, rapeseed, and what I think are potato plants (which would make sense, as potatoes are VERY popular here). There are also nice wooded areas and recreation areas.

Today we visited Bostalsee. It is a man-made lake with many recreational opportunities. There was a sightseeing boat, sailboarding, motorboating and paddle boats. We took a couple of paddle boats out on the lake for an hour. Then we went to the playground so Caroline and Jana could act like little children :-) Next we rented bicycles and rode around the lake. We stopped at an art gallery/museum to look around.

After returning the bikes, we got in the cars and drove to a little town to have the compulsory afternoon snack. Today I had Apfelschoerle (sparkling apple juice) and strawberry cake. Next we drove to Marpingen and visited the place where, in 1876, the Virgin Mary appeared to 3 young girls. There is a shrine and a small chapel there. Then we hiked up a hill, looking at the Stations of the Cross until we got to a well of Holy Water and an open-air chapel--very pretty.

We came back to the house for a barbeque. There were several different kinds of sausages, a few kebabs, and some grilled pork. We had frozen french fries, tossed salad, Caprese salad and bread. Not much different than an American barbeque, and very tasty! I tried an interesting beer--Schoefferhofer Grapefruit. I was a little skeptical, but it was very good!

After dinner Jana, Lena and Caroline dyed and decorated Easter eggs.

Friday--Goodbye, Munich

Friday April 10--We got up today and packed all our things. It was the day to say goodbye to Munich. Karl walked to the train station to get the rental car and the girls and I checked out of the hotel and carried our belongings outside to wait for Karl.

The drive from Munich to Ulm was very busy and stressful. Today was the beginning of the long Easter weekend. A 3 hour trip took us 4 hours. Lots of start/stop driving and jammed roads.

Our stop for the day was a little town on the Neckar River called Bad Wimpfen. It's a beautiful old town that the tourist buses bypass. There were a good number of tourists there, but it wasn't a tourist town. Our first stop there was the train station which was located on the right just as we entered the town. It also serves as the Tourist Information center. We picked up a map with a walking tour suggested and went only a short distance to the first site--the Roter Turm (red tower). It was built around 1200 as part of the Imperial Palace of the Staufen kings. We climbed to the top to see a nice view of the town. Then we walked around the narrow, winding cobblestone streets looking at medieval homes and buildings. Bad Wimpfen has several half-timbered Fachwerk buildings--very cool! We ate lunch at a restaurant next to the "Blue Tower", then continued on our walk around town. We saw the church and a gate to the old town that allowed access from the south.

We left Bad Wimpfen around 3:30 p.m. The Autobahn was less crowded and we made good time. Easy to do at 150 km/hr (95 mph). On the way to Jana's house in Saarland we passed Ramstein Air Base. Our first clue was the huge, slow American military cargo planes landing and taking off. Jana's parents said that sometimes the planes fly over the house every 5 minutes. We arrived at Jana's house in Saarland around 6 p.m. We relaxed a while then enjoyed a tasty dinner of potato soup and apple pancakes.

While sitting outside we heard a funny noise--a clacking, chattering, ratcheting noise, and noisy children. In Germany it is a tradition that church bells not ring on Friday and Saturday of Easter weekend. Instead, whenever the bells are supposed to ring, the children go up and down the streets of the town with a special noisemaker. Sometimes they visit houses, where candy and money are given. A photo of this noise maker can be found here.


Thursday we went to Dachau. We walked to the Munich train station and bought a ticket for around 12 Euros ($15) that the 4 of us could use the entire day on any bus, commuter train, subway or tram. We then took a commuter train to the town of Dachau. From the Dachau train station we took a city bus to the Dachau Concentration Camp. We stopped at the visitors' center and picked up an audioguide.

We first saw where the SS lived, and then turned 180 degrees to see the main gate into Dachau with the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate. When you enter through the gate, you stand in the roll call area, where the prisoners would have to stand and be counted a few times each day. Sometimes this took hours. The workhouse was on the right and the barracks area was on the left. There are a couple of reconstructed barracks, one of which we could enter. The conditions in the early years weren't so horrific. In the mid 1930s, the prisoners (mostly political prisoners from Munich, some priests and Jews) had their own designated space in the long bunk bed with a small wooden divider and a little shelf above each space for personal items. The was a space to hang one's towel and colorful bedding. In the later '30s the barracks were divided into a sleeping room and a room with individual lockers and tables and chairs. No longer were there individual sleeping areas in the long bunk. Then by the 1940s the living conditions resembled those that one commonly thinks of when imagining a concentration camp. 30,000 people crowded into space built for 6000.

We then walked down the lane between the two sets of barracks (now only the foundations survive) to the religious memorials. From left to right there is a Protestant chapel, Catholic memorial, Jewish memorial. A Russian Orthodox chapel is elsewhere in the camp.

We then had a look at the deterrents to escape. First there was a grassy area between the walkway on the perimeter of the barracks and a concrete trench. Then there was an area of trip-wire followed by a fence. Next came a gravel area with a watch tower, then a wall. On the other side of this wall there was a stream/river, followed by another wall. I'm guessing not too many people escaped this way.

We crossed a small bridge to the west and looked at the crematorum and gas chambers. Officially no one was gassed at Dachau, but there is some evidence to the contrary. Of those who were executed, most were killed with a bullet to the neck. Many, many Russian POWs were executed without being processed (therefore not officially counted) after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

We then watched a documentary film about Dachau, and toured through the workhouse which is now an interesting museum. I think we spent about 3 1/2 hours at Dachau. It was worth the trip, but needs some money put into it, as many of the outdoor display boards were faded to the point of not being able to see them. They are building a new visitors' center that will be a great improvement over the one that exists now.

We took the bus back to the train station and ate sandwiches and salad at a small cafe across the street. We were on an express train back to Munich and arrived in about 15 minutes. We had planned on a "Third Reich Walking Tour" but got back too late from Dachau, so we went to Olympiapark instead. This is where the Olympics were held in 1972. It is now a lovely park. You can swim in the Olympic swimming pool where Mark Spitz won his 7 gold medals, go up the communications tower for a look around Munich or eat in the revolving restaurant. There is ice skating, a place to go to concerts, a beautiful's a very pleasant place. The village where the athletes lived during the Olympics are now apartments.

We spent a couple of hours in the Sea Life aquarium at Olympiapark. It was well done with nice exhibits, but overpriced.

We then took the subway back to Marienplatz and ate dinner at Riva Bar Pizza. We each had our own pizzas, and they were very different and very good. We ate outside in view of the Isar Tor, one of the gates of the old city. After this exhausting day we walked back to Marienplatz and took the subway 2 stops to Theresienwiese, the stop closest to our hotel.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Wednesday in Munich

Wednesday April 8th was our day to explore Munich. We walked from Hotel Uhland to Sendlinger Tor. On our way we passed an 18th century Rococco church, Asamkirche. Fantastically gaudy and facinating. It isn't a free-standing building; rather a "store-front" church.

When we got to Marienplatz the first thing we did was go up in the tower of the Neues Rathaus for a nice view of Munich. Then we went back out to Marienplatz to watch the figures on the Glockenspiel dance, as they do 3 times a day. They tell the story of a wedding of a Bavarian duke in the 16th century, and also do a little dance to keep the plague away. After this, we went to the Viktualienmarkt to have a snack before going on our bike tour. Again the weather was upper 60s, bright sunshine. How lucky are we!

I had read about Lenny's Free Bike Tour in Rick Steves' Germany 2009 travel guide, and thought that the price was definitely right, as the other bike tour that leaves at the same time and sees the same sights costs 24 Euro per person! We had a good guide, Connor, from Ireland, and there were a total of 11 people on the tour. We went to the Hofbrauhaus, Odeonsplatz, saw some old and new government buildings, and some other places. We stopped at the Chinese Tower Beer Garden in the English Gardens for about an hour. Karl ate a fried pig's knuckle, Caroline ate french fries, Jana ate bratwurst and sauerkraut and I had Leberkaes, a kind of Bavarian meat loaf. It was ok, but not great. The English Gardens are famous for the nude sunbathers, and we did see some in the distance. There are a couple of them that frequent the spot and like to dance for the bike tours--I'm glad they weren't there on Wednesday!

On our way back to central Munich we stopped at the end of the English Gardens to watch the surfers. You can watch a YouTube video of it here. After World War 2, the American soldiers put some concrete barricadesAfter the bike tour we went into the Hofbrauhaus to see the inside, then decided to go to Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet to see the Sophie Scholl memorial. Sophie Scholl was arrested and executed in 1943, along with her brother and others, for distributing literature speaking against the Nazi Regime. If you haven't seen the movie, "Sophie Scholl--the Final Days", I would highly recommend it. The memorial itself is very clever. It looks like the fliers that Sophie and the others distributed and they are embedded into the pavement outside the building where she was arrested. There is a photo of it on my Flickr page. Inside the building there is a bust of Sophie, and a plaque commemorating the "White Rose" resistance group that Sophie was a part of.

For dinner we met a friend of mine at Augustiner Braeustuben. Margot was an Austrian girl whose father was a professor in my hometown. My friend Mary and I befriended her and had lots of good times. Margot returned to Europe in the early '80s and once came to visit us in 1988. I hadn't seen her since then, and actually I had lost touch with her from about 1996 until about a year ago. I Googled her brother and found him living and working in Vienna, sent him an email, and shortly afterwards had a reply from Margot. So we have been in touch for about a year now, and it just happened that she moved to Munich in February, so we were able to arrange a dinner together. It was so fun to see her again, and we really had a nice time chatting. The food was traditional Bavarian fare. Karl had sauerbraten with red cabbage, Margot and I had Schwaebische Maultaschen (a meat ravioli with onion sauce) and sauerkraut, and Jana and Caroline had turkey breast with rice and tomato sauce. We are eating very well on this trip. I'm hoping all the walking is counteracting the food intake!


Tuesday, April 7
Tuesday we went to Salzburg, Austria. It's only about a 2 hour train ride from Munich. There's a train ticket available where a group of up to 5 people can travel in one German state for a day for 28 Euro (less than $40). Since Salzburg is the first stop on the other side of Bavaria's border, it is included in the area one can travel in with this ticket.

Our intital plan was to go on the Sound of Music tour, being huge fans of the movie. Unfortunately with our cheap train ticket we couldn't leave Munich until after 9 a.m. so if we'd gone on the S of M tour we wouldn't have had time to do much else in Salzburg. We agreed that exploring on our own would be a better choice. We did see alot of the sights where the movie was filmed and I will refer to Maria and/or the children in this blog.

Our first stop was Mirabell Gardens. If you look at my Flickr photos you can see some of the gardens with Salzburg's castle in the background. The flowers are pansies in orange and purple. The photo was taken from the stairs where Maria and the children sing the Do-Re-Mi song. Also at Mirabell is the tunnel they run through, the fountain they run around and the little dwarf statue that Gretl stands next to.

We then crossed the Salzach River into the older area of Salzburg. We walked down Getreidegasse, a busy pedestrian-only shopping street, and saw Mozart's birthplace. Jana and Caroline weren't interested in going in it, so we didn't. We visited Mozartplatz, and then went to Residenzplatz to see the fountain where Maria splashes when she sings, "I Have Confidence". Unfortunately the fountain is under repair and was covered in a huge wooden case. The scene in the movie where the Nazis march into the square and there is a large building in the background decorated with the Nazi flag was also filmed at Residenzplatz.

Adjacent to the Residenzplatz is the Domplatz, where the beautiful Salzburg cathedral sits. It, too, is under construction. We bought a couple of large pretzels to share here for lunch. THen we went into the cathedral. It was heavily damaged during WW2, but was rebuilt in the 1950s and is quite beautiful today. The crypt was open, so we went down there too. Since the church was rebuilt in the 50s, the crypt isn't very creepy. When we left the cathedral there was a man cutting silhouettes. We had Caroline's done. My mother has a silhouette of her as a child and me as a child, so now we have 3 generations of silhouettes.

Next it was time to visit Hohensalzburg (the castle) so we took the funicular up the mountain. It was an absolutely gorgeous sunny day in the upper 60s. We will be coming home from Germany with a start on our summer tans! The view from the castle was fantastic. On one side you can see the Alps, and the opposite side is a view of the beautiful city of Salzburg. We looked inside the castle at some museum areas for a while then went outside into the courtyard of the castle. If I were able to time-travel I would like to go back to the 14th or 15th century to experience life inside a castle's walls. After a snack we went back inside the castle for a very interesting audio tour.

Back down in the city we went to the Sankt Peter Cemetery and Catacombs. This cemetery was the inspiration for the cemetery scene in S of M when the Von Trapps are hiding from the Nazis at the convent. We then came to the Festspielhaus auditorium where the Von Trapp family sang before escaping Salzburg. We couldn't go inside.

We continued our walk back to Getreidegasse and started looking for somewhere to eat. This area of Salzburg is particularly expensive, so we crossed the river and found a restaurant on the way to the train station. We got on the 7:18 p.m. train and were back in Munich at 9:18 p.m. We were exhausted from all the travel and walking--my pedometer read 9.82 miles!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Monday at Neuschwanstein

On Monday April 6 we left Jana's house (with Jana in tow) and set off for Bavaria. We stopped along the way for a snack and to get gas, then continued toward Neuschwanstein. The weather was warm (60s) and sunny when we arrived. We decided not to tour Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, the former being King Ludwig's childhood home and the latter being the castle he had built in the 1890s, I think. It was already early afternoon when we arrived, and if you want to tour the castles you tour Hohenschwangau first, then Neuschwanstein 2 hours later, and in between you have to hang out in the town where most of the shops are owned by the same people that own the castles. Kind of a nifty racket for them! So we took the bus up the mountain to Marienbruecke, where everyone gets the fantastic shot of Neuschwanstein that you always see on posters and in tourist publications. We were disappointed to find that that entire side of the castle was covered in tarps and scaffolding. We took the obligatory photos of other tourists with the castle in the background, and other tourists took our photo, too. We then walked to the outside of Neuschwanstein just to look around. Definitely a nice view; no wonder King Ludwig chose that spot for his castle!

Instead of taking the bus back down into the town we decided to walk down. I had read about Poellat Gorge, and the beautiful walk it was, and while I was talking to Karl and the girls about finding this path, an Australian man overheard me and told us that it was closed because of rock slides. So we found a different walking path.

It was interesting because while the ambient temperature was somewhere in the 60s, there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground. Jana and Caroline made a little snowman and for some of our hike we had merely a footpath that was clear while the rest of the trail was snow/ice covered. The mountains looked quite nice wearing their snow caps--very picturesque.

After our hike we drove a little ways to the Sommerrodelbahn at Tegeberg. The Sommerrodelbahn is somewhat like a luge. You sit on a small sled with a stick in front of you. If you push the stick forward you will go faster and if you pull the stick towards you, you will slow down. A cable pulls you uphill, then you are released in a stainless steel chute-like track. You wind your way downhill. It's very fun!

We stopped for more photos after the Sommerrodelbahn and then set out for Munich. We are staying at Hotel Uhland, which is located on a quiet street about 15 minutes by foot from the main train station. Hotel Uhland was originally a mansion built in 1889. We have a large room with a king size bed and a full size bed, nice sized bathroom, table, chairs, TV, and a wardrobe. There don't seem to be too many other guests around. The first morning the breakfast room was packed but nearly empty the other mornings--so it's quiet.

Photos on Flickr

I have posted a few photos onto my Flickr account. Click here to see them. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sunday in Sankt Wendel

Sunday April 5th
We spent Sunday in Sankt Wendel where Jana and her dad participated in a relay. There were 2 others on the relay team, and between the four runners they ran a marathon. We went with Jana's mom, sister and sister's boyfriend to watch and cheer for the team. The town was very busy with rides for the children, food tents, bands, and American-style cheerleaders. It was very festive, and then on top of the marathon festivities, the town was decorated for Easter.

After we watched Jana's team finish the race, Jana's mom took us to the St. Wendel catholic church and the protestant church. We also sat outside at an ice cream shop for a snack. Caroline and I shared a crepe with Nutella and Amaretto. Tasty!

Later we ate dinner at Taparia Pizzaria. Present at the dinner were Jana's family, the other 2 team members, the wife and daughter of one of the team members, and also his in-laws from England. It was a good time with good food. I had a Diovalo pizza with pepperoni, onions and hot peppers. Karl had the Solo Mio pizza with garlic, pepperoni and black olives. Caroline had the Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple.

After dinner we went back to Jana's house and played Yatzee (or Yatzy, as it's spelled in Germany).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Trier, Germany

Saturday, April 4--typical German breakfast of rolls, cheeses, meats, spreads, and fruit. After breakfast we drove to Trier, Germany, less than an hour away. Jana's parents drove us there in their cars (there were 6 of us, so we needed 2 cars) and showed us the sights.

Trier is the oldest city in Germany and has Roman ruins from about 180 AD. It was a favorite place of several Roman Emperors, and was called the "Second Rome". We first visited Porta Nigra, part of the old city walls and gate from the Roman times. Then we visited the Dom. Afterwards we stopped at a cafe on a shopping street for a snack. I had Apfelschorle, which is apple juice with bubbly water, Karl had coffee and Caroline and Jana split a large ice cream concoction. Again, the weather was perfect, and it was very enjoyable to sit outside and watch people and chat.

Afterwards, we walked to the Kaiserthermen, the Roman bath ruins from the time of Emperor Constantine. Very interesting. A nice interpretive center is there, and many underground passages to explore. The above ground portion of the ruins is 3 stories high. It's interesting to walk around and think about how it was 1700 years ago.

A few blocks from the Kaiserthermen is the Amphitheater. It was hard to imagine the gladiators and lions having show-downs there. In the walls you could see the pens where the animals would've been held, and you can go underneath the arena to see where the gladiators and/or condemned men were held with the animals.

I really appreciated the accessibility of these ancient monuments. It was great to be able to walk through the ruins of the baths and amphitheater and gate and not have to view them from a distance or be roped off from them.

We ate dinner at a restaurant called Kartoffelkiste (Potato Basket). We sat outside again and ate, chatted, and watched people. Potatoes are very popular in Germany so I was not too surprised to find a restaurant that served dozens of different potato dishes. I had a casserole of potatoes, ham, pineapple, cheese sauce, topped with more cheese and browned in the oven. Different, but very good!

We got back to Jana's house around 7:30, and played one of our family's favorite games, Settlers of Catan.

Spring Break trip 2009

We are having a fantastic time in Germany! I intended to blog every day about the trip, but have been busy and/or tired and have had hit-or-miss internet service. So I'll get started on catching up now.

Friday April 3rd--We arrived at Frankfurt airport and rented a nice Mercedes B-class car and drove to Heidelberg. The drive is less than an hour. We parked in a parking garage near Universitaetplatz and started walking around. The Alte Stadt of Heidelberg is pretty compact so doesn't take too long to get from one place to another. We walked to Kornmarkt and took the Bergbahn up the cliff to Koenigsstuhl. Fantastic views from up there. There was also a little restaurant, a falcon show and a "Fairy Tale Paradise" for children but we didn't do any of those things. Coming down from Koenigsstuhl we stopped at Schloss Heidelberg. We were very tired so didn't feel like doing a guided tour or an audio tour, so we just walked around on our own. It was interesting to see the different architecture styles from the different periods it was built. We took photos of ourselves at the Grosses Fass, which is a huge wine barrel where all tourists seem to have their photo taken.

After visiting the castle, it was time for lunch. We returned to Kornmarkt and then walked to Marktplatz where there were a number of restaurants. The weather was beautiful (sunny and 60s) so we chose a table outside at the restaurant called Hahn im Korb. Karl and I had the "Haenchen-Wellness" (grilled chicken breast) with vegetables and "Salzkartoffeln"--a kind of potato. Caroline had chicken noodle soup. No beers at this meal---we all needed to stay awake!
Many restaurants have "Wellness" items on the menu. It can be totally in German, and have the English word Wellness in the name. We enjoyed people-watching and listening to the church bells.

When we finished lunch we walked around the corner to the Alte Bruecke, a bridge across the Neckar River. Nice views from here, and we watched a barge of gravel go under us. Then we walked back to the area around Heidelberg University and visited the Studentenkarzer. This was a jail where unruly students were detained. The walls are covered with artwork done by the detained students. It's really fantastic. I remembered it from my visit to Heidelberg 32 years ago. Afterwards we visited a couple of churches, the Heiliggeistkirche and the Jesuitenkirche.

Then it was time to visit Jana and her family! We got stuck in a ridiculous traffic jam on the Autobahn and were about 20 minutes late. Fortunately, I had a cellphone that works on the European network so I was able to call and let them know we were running late.

It was nice to finally meet Jana's parents and sister! They are very nice, welcoming people. We had a tasty dinner of goulash with noodles and red cabbage, followed by cheesecake, ice cream, cherries and chocolate. Jana's house is lovely. It is located above the village and has a very nice view. Caroline stayed in Jana's room and Karl and I stayed in a room on the lower level of the house.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thoughts about plastic

My 30th high school reunion is coming up this summer, and I'm pleased to say that over the years I have kept in touch with my best friend from junior high and high school, Mary. We were like-minded then, and thankfully still are today. We're planning a girls' weekend away in July with another friend from high school. We're planning to go to a folk music festival in northern Illinois.

Mary lives with her family in rural east-central Illinois on a farm that belonged to her great-grandparents. She teaches English at the University of Illinois and in her home life she gardens, raises poultry, and preserves food. Mary also writes a weekly column, entitled Birdland, for the Piatt County Journal Republican newspaper. She has graciously given me permission to link to her latest column, in which she writes about plastic and its danger to animals, recycling and reducing use of plastics.

Please read her other posts as well! She has nice photos and interesting things to read about.

pdf to word

For a while now I've been creating .pdf files from my .doc files, but hadn't thought about converting .pdf to .doc files. Here's a neat little tool from Nitro Software to convert .pdf files to .doc or .rtf files --and the best news is, it's FREE! I selected a large .pdf that I had saved on my computer. I then entered the file path into the box, waited about 2 minutes, and the .doc file appeared in my Inbox as an attachment to an email. I opened the attachment, and there it was! All the formatting, text, and pictures/graphics were there. If you need to create a .pdf you can use their downloadable software found at I've never had a problem using primopdf. Again, it's free!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Night-time Visitor

Thursday evening was very windy. I was sitting in bed, checking my email with my cat, Winnie, by my side. The wind was blowing against the house and windows and one particularly loud gust got the attention of Winnie and me. I saw what appeared to be a light-colored leaf stuck in the screen. As we intently watched the 'leaf', I noticed it wasn't moving as a leaf would move. Winnie ran over to the window and jumped on the little shelf in front of the window that Karl constructed for her to sit on. I went to the window as well. In the darkness (our backyard is very dark) I couldn't tell if what i was seeing in the window was Winnie's reflection (she's the dark Tabby featured as my avitar) or an animal on the other side of the window. I then realized it was an animal sitting on the window ledge. I knocked loudly on the window and the animal looked at was a raccoon! Unfazed by Winnie and/or me, it continued to sit on the window ledge and eat bird seed. I yelled to Karl that there was a raccoon on the windowsill and he immediately grabbed his camera and headed outside. Soon after, the raccoon jumped down but continued to eat birdseed. With the wind blowing as it was, Karl was able to sneak up on the raccoon unnoticed. After Karl took his photo, the raccoon dashed off for the safety of a maple tree. You can see the photo here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

That smile gets to me, too.

I read today that Muntadher al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist that threw his shoes at bush last year, is now on trial. Mr. al-Zaidi said, "I could only see Bush and feel the blood of the innocents flow under his feet, as he was smiling that smile -- as if he had come to bid farewell to Iraq and with the last support and more than 1 million martyrs". Hopefully the charges can be reduced from "assaulting" to "insulting" a foreign head-of-state, a much less severe charge. Since throwing shoes is a very insulting act in Iraq, and considering Mr. al-Zaidi didn't actually hit bush with the shoes, it seems to me there was no assault.

I can't stand bush's condescending, smirky smile either.

You can read the article here:

You can thow shoes at bush here:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Here I am!

This is my first attempt at writing blog entries, although I do read several blogs each day using Google Reader. If you use iGoogle as your personal homepage, you can easily add Google Reader as one of your gadgets. Google Reader can bring new content from your favorite blogs and news sites to your iGoogle page. It's easy to manage your subscriptions, too. Go to for more information.