Saturday, February 22, 2020

Wildlife around here

This post is written by Sidney and Ida, the cats of Brownville, NY! Well, we made it over ok from Germany. Please don’t ever make us get into a plane again! Sebastian did ok, too, but he went to cat heaven before Christmas. We miss him - he was 19 years old, so it’s ok.
There are lots of new and unusual pawprints in the snow around our house. We didn’t get too much snow in Germany and definitely not so many wild animals (besides us). A couple of weeks ago, this guy/gal was hanging out next to our shed. 

I went hoarse (again)- this is Sidney- after chittering at this bunch in the neighbor’s yard! I laughed as they chased the crows, squirrels and jays near the feeders and around the trees! Then I laughed as they ran up the slight hill behind our house, and then back down the hill to rejoin their friends.

Next, here is someone walking along our closed garage door:

Human grandpa says it’s a fisher. Then, the herd was back, and this time they crossed the street, but nobody knows why. We have at least 4 huge blue jays, several active squirrels, and other smaller birds that hang around. 

I miss the huge windows in Germany (this is Ida). I used to be able to look straight out into the back yard from the bed where we lived before here. I don’t look out the windows so much any more, but I LOOOOOOVE rolling around on these wall to wall shag carpets! What’s up with that? They have to vacuum all the time – ha ha. I also like the fireplace, even though it’s gas. Nice and cozy.
me playing with a stuffed mouse from Dubuque! good thing our most important cat toys were on the plane with us!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Reverse Culture Shock

Upon returning to the US after living in Germany for just under 5 years, I knew that I might have a hard time dealing with some of the differences in lifestyle/what is considered “normal”. Here are my top 10 so far:

1.     The most important shock I knew I’d LOVE is the GIGANTIC parking spaces in the US. People, you have no idea how luxurious it is to get out of your car and not have to squeeze past the door of your own small car in order to not hit the car next door or a pillar in a parking garage. Whee! That said, we are pretty wasteful with our massive US cars! But the comfort and joy of parking spots is tremendous.
Ours is the middle vehicle. When I parked there were NO OTHER cars nearby. This is what I saw when I came out of the store in Syracuse, NY!!!!! I honestly thought: "am I on candid camera?" 
2.     “Rats, I forgot to go to the pet food store” on a Sunday afternoon...until I realized that I COULD GO IF I WANTED TO! I got used to not being able to shop at all on Sundays, which is usually a good thing in Germany. Workers have more rights in Europe, so it’s a shock to see nearly every store open here on Sundays.

3.     We can really get things done quickly here sometimes. Our internet seemed fine on our phones, but I was not able to livestream my classes in our new house, so we had to get connectivity quickly. I don’t know who he talked with or how much it cost (burying head in snow instead of sand), but when I threatened to quit school because I couldn’t get anything done online, we had 100% internet the next day. It took weeks in Germany to get cable/internet at home after we ordered it.
4.     I don’t like how a lot of food tastes here. I am trying new grocery stores, restaurants, and even the ubiquitous gas station shops and have found a wide range of quality and flavor available. Not that I loved all the food in Europe, but quality here seems to be more of the “quantity” variety- I don’t need huge portions of so-so food.
Grocery store pre-cooked food is pretty good in the USA!
5.     I had really been looking forward to having mail delivered to our house- that is something I really missed in Germany (military folks have a P.O. box on base/post near where the military member works, and the benefit is that only U.S. postage is required even to send something to Europe). However, we managed to pick one house – out of the 13 looked at- that does not have home delivery. Our village has a Post Office and everyone has a P.O. box.
not at our house, but a good idea!
6.     How many kinds of Charmin toilet paper are there? More than one, I tell you. When I worked as a MFLC (Military & Family Life Consultant), I gave post-deployment briefings where one of the things mentioned was reverse culture shock. I heard from military members that they would look in the cereal aisle with amazement after deployment because there are so many choices. This is what I felt like in the toilet paper aisle. We were told by our land lady in Germany that we could not use American toilet paper because it would clog the drains, so we used the OK German kind. I was really looking forward the Charmin. So I bought some here and was happy as a clam (why are clams happy?). Then I bought another package but it was not the same as the first kind- it was an inferior quality knock off. Huh? Then I saw a coupon in the newspaper that had yet another kind of Charmin- gah! I now learned how to tell which color background on the Charmin package is the "right one" for me!
view from our rest room recently
7.     Short church services. “What?”, you say? I have pretty much always experienced a one-hour church service, with occasionally longer for special events, etc. Is it a northern NY thing to have 3 different services run between 40-50 minutes including communion? I have been in Bible studies for the past 5 years that are 1.5 hours long (and we have to stop the discussion, it could go on)!

8.     Good customer service. Not 100% here, but better than for the last 5 years. We were comparison shopping for home appliances and one store didn’t offer a 10% military discount but said if we opened a store card then we would get 10% back in store credit. A nearby store that does offer a military discount said that their appliances were already discounted 10% and they could not give a double discount. When I stated the other store’s 10% reduction on the same price, the second store said the manager would meet the first store’s price. Interesting!
peeps still in Europe will especially appreciate magnets on a magnetic surface!
9.     Finding stuff I did not know I needed. True confessions, I did not iron anything for 5 years. I had a nice laundry area in our Massachusetts basement, and I ironed every week for nearly an hour. I got a German iron from an American who was moving away when we arrived in Germany, and I just never used it. Most of the German clothes I bought required line drying, which resulted in clothes that were not too wrinkly. Last week, I discovered scented ironing spray to help wrinkly clothes get ironed “quicker” and nicely fragranced. Hmmm, do I really need this? My US iron has a water reservoir and spray feature so I could put in mineral-heavy water that would get crusty and gunky, OR I could get this nifty scented spray! Could I have found scented ironing spray in Europe? Maybe/probably, but I don’t remember ever seeing it.

10.  Being able to understand just about anything that people around me are saying. Huh? I speak passable German, but there were plenty of times when I didn’t understand what was being said to me or near me while we were in Europe. It’s nice now to not have to worry about “how do I say this?” when going about routine activities. Whew! 

Friday, January 24, 2020

Furious about how kids in U.S. custody are being treated

Children are sleeping on cold cement floors with foil blankets and insufficient adult supervision. I traveled to Texas this month and learned about the abuse of children perpetrated by Americans due to the immigration status of those children. According to the Associated Press, “69,550 migrant children held in U.S. government custody over the past year, enough infants, toddlers, kids and teens to overflow the typical NFL stadium” (November 2019).
mural at a shelter in Austin, TX
The same article states approximately 4,000 children are still in custody. I met with a number of professionals working in Texas, including an inspector who confirmed first hand that the situation described by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2017 is still the case: “egregious conditions … including lack of bedding (e.g., sleeping on cement floors), open toilets, no bathing facilities, constant light exposure, confiscation of belongings, insufficient food and water, and lack of access to legal counsel, and a history of extremely cold temperatures”. Multiple professional workers stated this month that the children in U.S. custody as young as two years old were still being locked in chain-link fence enclosures inside concrete rooms without windows that the children called “dog cages”, with temperatures so cold that they were shivering and sick, calling the rooms “ice boxes”. There is photographic evidence of children sleeping on cement floors with only a foil “blanket”. I am sickened that anyone thinks that it is ok to treat young children like this. No matter what you think about their parents seeking a better life in the United States, young children don’t deserve the horrific conditions they are forced to endure.
Rio Grande, TX
Will you join me in saying “no” to little kids growing up behind bars? One way to do this is by signing a petition with Amnesty international at and (type in your representative’s name and sign your name at the end of the pre-typed letter)
near Alvarado, TX
According to Teachers Against Child Detention, “The average length of stay for a child detained by ICE ranges from 100 to 240 days, and these children are often held far from family members and without legal representation. Within the last year, the DHS Office of Inspector General has issued three reports finding poor treatment and spotty oversight in ICE facilities. ICE officials have been arrested for the sexual abuse of children in their care. (Source:  National Immigrant Justice Center, ACLU).” Details are available on their website.
Laredo, TX
Rev. Dr. Jay Alanis (one of my professors at Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest) asks: “Where does human dignity, justice, solidarity and accompaniment come from?  Part of our national narrative is:  "and liberty and justice for all."   What do the words "for all" mean in the context of our national history and how are these reflected at the border?  What does justice require of the nation and the church for asylum seekers and refugee seekers?   Are they not deserving of human dignity and justice for all?  Lutherans confess that "we are justified by grace through faith."  If so, what are implications of our justification?   Is baptism just "fire insurance," or does it have implications for human relating to the neighbor no matter who that neighbor is?   Or is the neighbor only someone who looks like us?  As a nation we benefit from the cheap labor of immigrants and the cheap prices we get on products because members of the human family are crafting cheap goods for our benefit and consumption.   How can the local church provide sanctuary whether in New York or Texas via the stewardship of our national church budget?  According to MLK Jr, the budget is a moral document."
Seminary library, Austin, TX

Monday, December 30, 2019

An upstate New York phenomenon?

Someone please tell me if this is common in other states- it was not in Eastern Massachusetts. I have been surprised to discover the high quality of some products in GAS STATION shops!!! In several communities around Boston where we used to live, you could get a soda and a slim jim while paying for gas, and in later years, maybe a slushee and a hot dog. In Germany, it was about the same in regular gas stations.
The military “shopettes” in Europe were known for a huge selection of food, beverages, magazines, and more, which was a nice convenience unless you just wanted to pay for your gas and had to wait in line behind people doing a larger grocery shopping trip! Just kidding… sorta.
Anyway, I didn’t pay any attention to the gas station shops in our new community until I was enlightened by Mr. Ice Cream. He was thrilled that the “Stewarts” near our house has fantastic ice cream. We have on occasion disagreed about the quality and flavor of some foods, but I regret that this time he was spot on! I don’t like ice cream in the winter but I was convinced to give this place a try, and it was the best ice cream I’ve had in New York state, and in the USA in general for a long time.
My favorites so far have been gelato in Europe, moosetracks ice cream in Swampscott, Massachusetts, and peach ice cream in Texas. The following week I gassed up at Stewart's for the first time, and I noticed that inside the clear cover of the gas nozzle handle was a frequent ice-cream buyer card!
Anyway, someone else referred me to the “Dexter Market” in the next town over, so I decided to give it a try. Guess what? It is a gas station mart! And it is phenomenal! After the usual suspects of dry goods, beverages, and frozen items, there was a nice selection of local cider, fruits/veggies and a huge deli section. I got maple bbq sauce that was tasty and a few freshly made items. They even had the right light bulbs that we needed for 3 different fixtures in our new house!
Now I notice when I drive past most gas stations in the area that the signs feature the retail store larger than the type of gas sold. According to Mr. Ice Cream, some of them have “good” pastries, others feature dairy/deli, etc. etc. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

More Missing Boston

The first time I returned to Boston after moving to Germany, I had some reverse clture shock, even though it had only been a few months since the move. For example, in Germany speeding tickets are issued by cameras placed at the sides of the roads, so people tend to follow the speed limits much more closely than Americans. I was surprised that people were blowing past me on the Mass Pike like I was standing still (I was not!). Also, the speed limit in Maryland seemed so slow (55 MPH), which I tried really hard to stick to in the interest of avoiding a ticket.
outside my doctor's office in Germany (1 of 4 parking spots)
Most of my posts go on and on about the wonders of Europe, but I’m grateful for many things in our former home state. Today I was reminded how much I liked the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I also like really huge American parking spaces, which you all take for granted. Most of us over here can barely fit our cars into the spot, and then the door doesn’t open all the way so you are doing the limbo to get out without scratching the neighbor’s car.
I miss the salty air in Boston and Salem. The woods in Germany smell fresh, but the breezy brine is just something else. I get all sentimental when I hear a seagull here in Norway or see the ocean in the Netherlands. I don’t miss waiting around for the T in Boston. Near our house in Europe, they apologize if the train is one minute delayed!
Kelly's Roast Beef, Saugus, MA
I also miss the seafood in New England, especially lobstah! You can get fried fish filets in southern Germany (sometimes frozen), and plenty of seafood in the north of Germany, which is 7 hours away by car. My favorite in Hamburg is teeny tiny shrimps in mayo on a fresh roll (Nordseekrabbensalat). The last time I was in Massachusetts, I was like Forrest Gump: lobster roll, lobster salad, lobster pizza (meh), lobster bisque, whole lobster with butter, etc. etc. Too bad the prices are pretty high, but once per year or every other year, I can blow the budget on my favorite crustacean.
Dubuque, Iowa
The food in Europe is outstanding, but you have to make an effort to find healthy choices when dining out. I used to get Schnitzel all the time, but am definitely eating less meat, and the portion sizes are usually too big. Pretzels taste wonderful, and in the region where we are now, they are cut in half at the bakery and slathered with butter between the pretzel halves!!! Pastries here are ok, but French pastries are way better. I can’t really eat American baked goods any more because they taste way too sweet.
If you've ever had these, you know where they are from!
OK, more to come after some summer travels!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Perth & St. Andrew’s, Scotland

Our final location in Scotland was Perth, which we used as a base to visit St. Andrew’s on a day trip. The tour dinner in Perth included the option of haggis, which I passed on. Others at our table said that the way it was presented made it taste like shepherd’s pie (not too bad). The “Haggis Ceremony” included a bagpipe march around the room with a chef carrying the platter of Haggis, and a reading of a poem about haggis.
St. Andrew’s was chilly and windy but beautiful. I missed the ocean while living in Germany, so it was wonderfully sentimental for me to see sand and waves. The golfers in the group were thrilled to see such an elegant golf course and could have played as guests for 200 Pounds. 
There were lots of souvenir shops and thankfully a lovely used book store. If you have time for an extended tour of Scotland, I would recommend a day in St. Andrew’s.
Sticky Toffee pudding in Edinburgh

Perth was an interesting city. We got a tour of St. John’s Kirk, which blended the ancient stone walls with useful and pretty wood additions inside to subdivide the space. We passed interesting shops and cafes but did not have time to go into any of them.
Smoked Fish Stew on Iona
Overall, the food on the trip was good. Some was better than others, but it was no hardship dining in Scotland. There is an increase in vegetarian restaurants and understanding in traditional restaurants. Some of the dishes had unusual-to-me flavors, but it's more than worth trying something new.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Inverness, Nairn, and Culloden, Scotland!

The natural beauty of Scotland is remarkable. I couldn’t capture the photo I really wanted: dozens of wooly sheep on acres of green hillsides, wandering around to their hearts’ content. Maybe I can find a calendar of sheep grazing on the hillsides of Scotland.

After departing the Isle of Mull for the ferry to Oban, our bus was off to the highlands! Our first stop was at the interesting visitor center in Glencoe. We learned of the history of the area and had outstanding mac’n’cheese made with local dairy.

We continued on to Inverness, where we had a few hours to walk around and have dinner. Both the vegetarian places were closed for dinner, but we lucked out with a table at Mustard Seed and enjoyed a delicious and healthy meal. I wish we had more time in Inverness, but that is the hazard of taking an 8-day tour of a beautiful country including 2 islands on the west coast.

We stayed overnight in Nairn at my favorite hotel (except for the segregated/pathetic breakfast there, just for our tour group). The hotel room was huge and the bathtub was huge and there were 3 resident “hairy cows” on the property! We couldn’t find them in the morning on the meadow, but lucked out as we were returning to the hotel: 2 other group members had bought a basket of hay to feed to the cows, and the hotel staff told them where the cows were likely “hiding” (sleeping), and we tagged along. Adorable (IMHO) photo above.

The Highland Folk Museum was comprehensive and interesting! There was a sign asking guests to please keep the door to a house shut because the chickens liked to go inside. As I was admiring the chickens, someone else opened the house door and this is what happened (see video). Guess where the chickens were going?

Culloden was a sad battlefield that felt somber. Always good to learn about political conflicts that end in bloodshed- why do we keep repeating history? A short presentation by a highland clansman warrior was interesting and entertaining. The museum was comprehensive and the gift shop yielded us our Christmas cards!

We continued on to Perth… stay tuned!