Thomahof Farm Visit

One of the many things I love living in Upper Bavaria is that we live in the country and yet we’re just an hour away from the world-class city of Munich.

A few weeks ago, we visited a farm called Thomahof, which is a ten-minute drive from our house.

Griaß God am Thomahof (Greetings at Thomahof)

Beautiful upper Bavarian farm field

I’ve already been back a second time so that I could go to the farm store, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Thomahof farm is truly a typical Upper Bavarian working farm, but the farming family has made their farm very welcoming for a family visit. Our farm visit was a Krabbelgruppe (toddler play group) field trip.

upper Bavarian farm

As we drove to the farm, I explained to Rosebud that we were going to visit some farm animals. She then provided a nice backdrop of farm animal noises and was telling her little brother about the animals we would see. I think that Superdude may have ended up being disappointed that we didn’t see a giraffe, as she had promised, but I digress!

First, we visited the cows in their barn.

Cows eating freshly cut grasses

I liked this poster, which says “Our milk makes Bavaria strong!”

Our milk makes Bavaria strong!

Rosebud enjoyed feeding the cows and was truly giddy to discover that cows have really big tongues. She cackled with delight when they stretched out their tongues to nibble on some grass. I explained to her that cows and other ruminants have four stomachs and they chew their cud, but Rosebud sort of looked at me like, “Oh, whatever, Mom,” and skipped on to the next thing.

Alongside the milk poster in the cow barn were trivia questions geared toward older kids, asking questions like “what kind of grasses are harmful to cows” and “how much milk can the average cow produce”, etc. For the most part, cattle in Bavaria tend to be of the milk-producing variety. As we walked around the farm, it occurred to me just how much the landscape reminds me of upstate New York (where I grew up) and Wisconsin (where I went to Lawrence University), which are also dairy cattle regions. It’s probably not too surprising when I say that Bavaria is known for its cheeses, yogurts and Quark fresh cheese and other dairy products. We are about half an hour from the region called Allgäu which is especially known for its cheese production, particularly Emmentaler, or what we often call Swiss cheese in the US. (Side note: Swiss Emmentaler usually designates Emmentaler from Switzerland, but the name Emmentaler can designate cheese in that style that is produced in Germany, France, etc.).

After visiting the cows and the calves, we visited all the other farm animals (except for the chickens, as they were in their coop).

Sheep may safely graze

A farmhorse

Pigs in the outdoor pen

Rosebud was always delighted when the animals made their noises, as were the other kids in our group.

Oink, oink!

I was wearing Superdude in the baby carrier while walking around the farm. From time to time, he would coo or babble, so I think he got a lot out of the farm visit. Or maybe he was trying to find the promised giraffe…

Toward the end of our visit, all of us walked up a farm path to find a place where we could sit down for a mid-morning snack. There was a large gravel hill, which turned out to be a great climbing hill for Rosebud and some of the slightly older kids.

Farm tractor, of great interest to the kids

Rosebud walks along the farm path

She was so pleased with herself for climbing up to the top.

playing on the gravel pile with the other kids

By the time we finished with our visit and snack, Superdude was exhausted and ready to be home. I had been hoping to visit the farm store, but decided to come back another day.

And so we did this past week, this time with two mama friends of mine and their children. Rosebud was thrilled to see all the animals again, and her favorite animals still seemed to be the cows.

Rosebud reaches for some grasses to give to the cows

However, on this second visit, the chickens were happily strutting about in their indoor pen. (According to a sign, if I understood everything correctly, they were young chickens and not quite ready to strut out in the open area attached to their coop and indoor pen). Rosebud really enjoyed the chickens, which she thought were terribly funny.

Chickens wandering

After visiting all the animals again, I was determined to stop in the farm store. I’m very happy I did. The farm store offered some greens, fresh eggs, a beautiful selection of meat products, freshly baked bread, pasta, jams and cheese. I bought some pasta made from spelt flour and farm eggs, cheese, whole grain spelt bread, oxtail for stewing and cheesy sausage wrapped in bacon called Berner Würstl. I am so excited to know about this farm store, because everything I bought has been amazing (as you’d expect, fresh from the farm). I can’t wait to go back to the store, and I know that Rosebud and Superdude will always be happy to see the animals.

Moooo, cow!

Speaking of animal sounds, many German animal sounds are fairly similar to English ones. For instance, the animal that says “muh” is, of course, a cow. To learn about German animal onomatopoeia, here’s a German-English animal sounds chart.

(For more sound fun, check out this list of Cross-linguistic onomatopoeias.)

Another view of the cow barn

A lovely Easter weekend

This spring, we’ve had exceptionally nice weather. It’s been unusually warm for Bavaria in April, but I am not complaining. We had a four-day weekend for Easter and we profited from the gorgeous weather. One thing I’ve learned about living here is that if the weather is nice, you should jump at the chance to go outside because you can’t always know how long the weather will stay nice.

Saturday, the 23rd, was the nicest day of the entire weekend. For Bavarian standards, it felt like summer had arrived, as we had temperatures in the seventies and clear skies. We visited our friends Honi and Lilly in the town of Murnau am Staffelsee.

Along the path to Ähndl

The train from Oberammergau to Munich, via Murnau and Tutzing

Murnau is a picturesque town, which exemplifies upper Bavaria in my opinion.

View south from Murnau

We took a walk from Murnau to Ähndl Gastsätte and back:

A Gaststätte, by the way, is usually a restaurant that can have a Biergarten (or the Gastsätte might simply be a Biergarten) or it might be like a pub. I believe there are regulations in place for what constitutes a Gaststätte, but I’ll have to ask someone about that. After having had our luncheon at the Ähndl Gastsätte, I can highly recommend this locale for anyone who visits upper Bavaria. We found the prices to be very reasonable and the menu offered many typical dishes, expertly prepared. Not only that, the Gaststätte had a playground. As you can imagine, this made it ideal for us. Rosebud was too excited by the slide, swings and sand pit to eat anything.

Rosebud at the playground

It was a really lovely walk, and so nice to sit down in the middle of our walk and have a leisurely lunch while the girls played. And, of course, it was especially nice for Rosebud and Lilly to spend some time together.

The Alps and the Murnau moor

Lilly and Rosebud, visiting a tree

We went to an Easter breakfast and church on Sunday morning, which gave me the chance to dress Rosebud up in her Dirndl. She really loves getting dressed up in her Dirndl. I didn’t have my camera with me, but I’ll have to remember to take some photos of her in her Dirndl the next time she wears it.

On Sunday afternoon, I planned to do our Easter egg hunt with Rosebud, but instead we had the first thunderstorm of the season complete with pea-sized hail. We needed the rain, and the air smelled and felt so wonderful during the short-lived storm. Rosebud got to have her Easter egg hunt on Easter Monday, instead. Following her egg hunt, we went for a walk in the forest behind our house. It was cooler than Saturday, but still gorgeous weather and perfect for spending the day together as a family.

We hope everyone had an excellent weekend with their families, whether you were celebrating Easter, Passover or simply the springtime.

Rosebud's Easter egg hunt

Rosebud spots an egg

Mom, I have a blue egg!

Lilacs are blooming, at the end of April!

Daddy and Rosebud throw sticks into the stream

Superdude is happy to be out for a stroll

Springtime walk near our house

Another picture of the stream by our house

Rosebud in the woods

Making Easter Eggs with Rosebud

For weeks now, Rosebud has been asking when we could color Easter eggs. This is the first year she’s been able to understand the idea; it’s been several years since I’ve colored Easter eggs myself, so I was pretty eager to color eggs, too. I’ve always enjoyed making them from when I was little, and my sisters and I would get fairly elaborate with all kinds of patterns.

If I had a little more time, it would have been fun to experiment with making homemade natural dyes, but instead we used a kit. Next year, I’m going to try making natural dyes.

If you know me fairly well, you may have learned at some point that I really hate eating eggs. I always think eggs look appealing to eat, but both the scent and texture of eggs makes my stomach turn. And I’m honestly sad about that fact, because I think dishes like omelets look amazingly delicious. But due to the fact that I don’t eat eggs, they are one of the few foods I haven’t learned how to cook. I’ll readily admit that I had to look up directions on how the hard boil our two dozen eggs for dyeing. It was surprisingly easy (imagine that!), but the smell of the eggs still put me off.

Rosebud and I simply dyed our eggs solid colors. To give the eggs a bit of shine, I rubbed a smidgen of vegetable oil on them. I also found some mini Easter stickers for Rosebud to put on the eggs, but they didn’t stick too well because of the vegetable oil. No matter; Rosebud still greatly enjoyed looking at the stickers and deciding where to place the stickers. I briefly thought about using a white wax crayon to draw designs on the eggs before dying them, but since Rosebud was eager to get started (and Superdude was fussing and wanting to be snuggled with Mama), I tabled that idea for next year. Rosebud dropped one egg, which cracked, but that gave me the opportunity to see that I at least had correctly cooked the eggs. I offered Rosebud some of the hard boiled egg, but apparently she feels the same way I do about eating eggs. I can’t blame her in the slightest!

While we were working on our Easter egg project, I thought about how I once learned to make Ukrainian Easter eggs, or Pysanky; here’s another link about Pysanky. When I was about 12 or 13 years old, there was a Pysanky class offered at the public library in the town where I grew up. For awhile after that, I was really interested in making my own Ukrainian eggs. It’s a creative and fun process. The websites I linked describe making Pysanky really well, but here’s what I remember from when I did it. First, you take a stick of beeswax and melt it into a miniature funnel (using a candle), and draw your design by carefully dripping the wax onto the egg; the lines you draw should be delicate and of course you want to use as little wax as possible. Then, you dye the egg, starting with the lightest color you plan to use. Then repeat the process to add to your design and the colors you want. Finally, once you’re happy with all the patterns and colors on your egg, you melt the wax off, gently using the candle, and wipe the wax off which reveals your finished egg.

After I took the Pysanky class, I talked my mom into buying me several colors of Ukrainian egg dye. I believe that I proudly displayed several of my creations in Mom’s china cabinet, and the eggs are probably still there. They’re not at all authentic in terms of design, but it was really fun. Maybe when Rosebud and Superdude are a bit older, I can do this again and teach them, too.

Speaking of Easter eggs with intricate designs, we visited the Ostermarkt, or Easter market in Bad Tölz yesterday. We only had about half an hour to look, as we needed to catch a bus (great cheap thrill for Rosebud, taking the bus!). One of the artisans at the market had a stand of gorgeous painted Easter eggs. I let Rosebud pick out one for herself (a kitty) and I bought an owl one for Superdude. You see, when Superdude coos, he sometimes sounds like an owl. I had a nice chat with the artisan, who told me she studied fine art in Krakow, Poland. I plan to go back and buy a few more as gifts, because they were amazingly beautiful.

Springtime 2011

First, I apologize for neglecting my blog. Often when I have the chance to sit in the afternoon, with Baby Superdude snoozing on my lap, I doze off or find myself busy with other things. Frankly, I don’t always feel like writing even if I have lots of ideas in mind.

Second, we’ve had a lovely spring so far. Last year, it was mostly cold and rainy from the onset of spring, continuing through the summer. This year has been much nicer, and although a few neighbors have said how unusually nice the weather has been, I feel like we’ve earned the nice weather. It’s given me the chance to go outside with Rosebud and Superdude a lot.

Sometimes, when we are ready to come back inside, Rosebud protests. Loudly. And in fact, one of my neighbors even said to me, “I think I heard your daughter the other day. Was she fussing because she didn’t want to come inside?” Fussing was a polite way to put it! And yes, that was my daughter you heard screaming down the street. I always feel bad, dragging Rosebud back inside when she clearly wants to spend more time outside. But when you have a little guy to take care of, sometimes you just have to head back home.

I thought I would share some photos and videos of the children so that everyone can see how much they have grown and changed:

Here’s Superdude, enjoying his baby food luncheon (and a little scenery eating from Rosebud):

I have to say, I love the German baby food, both in terms of quality and variety. It tastes very good. Some of Superdude’s favorites so far are squash-potato which he is eating in this video, peach-banana-millet and fruit-and-quark. Plain mashed bananas, pureed carrots and other such early baby staples rapidly disappear when Superdude is seated at the table. He is, shockingly, almost seven months old and doing very well. I’m enjoying his infancy very much, and will be a little sad once he reaches the toddler stage (but on to bigger and better things).

He has also been discovering his ability to “talk” and make sounds, which is always exciting! I think watching a child gain language is one of my favorite parts of infancy. You’ll even hear him say “mama” in this video:

And hey, look – a slideshow!

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The Art of Skiing

The other day, I was watching some vintage Goofy cartoons with Rosebud. One of the cartoons we watched was The Art of Skiing, released in 1941. It’s a classic!

I laughed when in the beginning, you see a book titled The Art of Skiing and then underneath, it’s written: “pronounced SHEEing”. You see, in German, that is in fact how you pronounce Ski (originally, German never had an “sk” sound; the word ski likely came from Norwegian which does have the “sk” sound). Although this cartoon doesn’t necessarily take place in the Alps, I liked all the allusions to this part of the world: the yodeling, the Almglocken (alpine bells), some of the background music and also the alpine-looking mountains.

When I was growing up in upstate New York, I took some alpine (downhill) skiing classes and went skiing at a few ski resorts south of us (Swain, Bristol Mountain, also Cockaigne in the western part of New York State) and also in the Adirondacks once or twice. But I’ll be perfectly honest: although I had fun downhill skiing, I wasn’t ever very good and I’m actually a bit frightened of downhill skiing.

I absolutely adore cross-country skiing, however. Not only is it fantastic exercise as it’s both aerobic and great for all your muscle groups, I always feel so at peace when I’m cross-country skiing. It’s kind of too bad that I’m a stay-at-home-mom while we are living here in Bavaria, because there are lots of cross-country skiing trails around our house. My cousin tells me she went cross-country skiing with her twins when they were babies, but so far I haven’t had the courage to go out on skiis with Rosebud on my back, and now Superdude. I have thought about getting some toddler cross-country skis for Rosebud, because I think she would really enjoy doing a little skiing, but then I never get any further than thinking about it. Maybe that’s something for next year, if I can find toddler skis like that here (I’m sure I can, I just have to look!).

But back to the alpine skiing. Within half an hour of our house, we could go downhill skiing at Blombergbahn or at Lenggries, and of course, one of the most famous skiing areas in Germany is in Garmisch, which is also pretty close to us. In fact, you may have heard that the recent Skiing World Championship 2011 was held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I listened to some of it on the radio here. I didn’t watch it on the tv here at home, because our television isn’t actually connected to the German network. When I was visiting my neighbors next door one afternoon during the WM (Weltmeisterschaft, or World Championship), I enjoyed watching the Skispringen – the ski jumping with them. The first time I really thought about ski jumping was in 1988, when the Brit Eddie the Eagle competed in the Calgary Olympics.

Watching the above Goofy cartoon also made me think of a former student of mine, who is a fabulously talented competitive skiier, so here’s a little shout-out to her (she knows who she is – she’s amazing in all respects!). She could teach Goofy a thing or two!

Carnival Traditions in Germany

I wrote this for the blog Gen X Moms Blog and wanted to share it here.

Carnival Traditions in Germany
Or Why Bavarians Eat Donuts After the Christmas Season

In the United States, if someone mentions either Mardi Gras or Carnival, we’re likely to think of the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, Louisiana, or we might think of the carnival festivities in Brazil. Carnival is celebrated here in Germany and throughout Europe. In the Rhineland region of Germany, it’s called Karneval. Particularly famous is the Cologne Carnival, and most small towns in the region have their own festivities.

Here in Bavaria and Swabia, it’s more commonly called Fasching or Fastnacht. To be honest, I don’t know as much about the customs here in southern German as much as I do about the customs in the Rhine region, but just like Mardi Gras and Carnival, it has to do with preparing for the Lenten season.

Carnival celebrations start in early November but cease during Advent and the Christmas season. Then on Three Kings Day, January 6th and the twelfth day of Christmas, carnival celebrations begin again.

Throughout the rest of the winter, there are various parties and celebrations, culminating on the last Tuesday before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. In southern regions of Germany, Mardi Gras is called Faschingsdienstag, which means the Tuesday before fasting. Other special days include Weiberfastnacht, a day for women to be in power, and Rosenmontag. On Weiberfastnacht, among other things, women get to cut men’s ties, symbolic of the women taking charge (men are advised to wear an old, unfashionable necktie). Rosenmontag is the most important parade day of the Cologne carnival.

One of my friends wryly commented to me that carnival is just an excuse for the young people to go out and party. As with most holidays here, the festivities are rooted in religious traditions, but likely originate from earlier customs.

When I was an exchange student near Cologne, Karneval was taken very seriously – nearly everybody in my little town participated, and we were given a few days off from school. Our town had its own parade, and I had the chance to dress up and take part. I distinctly remember getting to waltz in the streets with pretty much everyone in our group, even though I had never danced the waltz in my life! We also tossed candy to all the kids who lined up to watch the parade.

But what about the donuts? Why do Bavarians eat donuts before Lent begins?

The answer to this question goes back to the religious meaning behind Mardi Gras and Lent. The Tuesday before Lent is about getting ready to fast (which is why it is called Fasching or Fastnacht in Bavaria) and to give up meat and fatty foods, for example. The word carnival itself has to do with “carne” or “meat”, so the meaning is similar; Mardi Gras means “fat Tuesday” in French, also referring to fasting during Lent. Basically, the period leading up to Mardi Gras or Faschingsdienstag is an excuse to revel in excesses before giving them up. And that’s where the donuts come in.

In other words, a perfect food to enjoy before going on your Lenten fast would be donuts! Donuts are, after all, cooked in hot oil. In this part of Germany, they’re called Krapfen. Yes, go ahead and giggle – the word sounds funny in English. I must confess, whenever I go to our bakery and look at the donuts and ask for Krapfen, the eight-year-old inside me says, “She said Krapfen, tee hee.” Being non-natives living in Bavaria, I consider it our duty to try everything. Krapfen are no exception.

How about a glazed donut filled with… Nutella?

If you think this tastes as good as it looks, you would be right. Rosebud completely agreed, and this particular donut rapidly disappeared.

I heard it on the radio

I’ve always been a fan of listening to the radio. If I had been growing up in the mid-twentieth century, I think I would have been one of those kids who would have listened to radio dramas like Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story:

As it is, I am a big fan of NPR and nowadays, there are so many excellent Podcasts out there which you could consider the modern version of the radio program.

Here in Germany, each state has its own public broadcasting channels, including radio, which are similar to the BBC in the United Kingdom. All German public broadcasting (both radio and television) is organized under ARD. The German public broadcasting network is more extensive than what we have in the United States. I would say, though, that public radio in states like Wisconsin and even more like in Minnesota are somewhat similar in terms of scope and offerings.

For instance, the Bayerischer Rundfunk, or Bavarian Radio (BR), offers seven different channels, including pop music, classical, talk/news and cultural programs. I’ve always thought it neat that many of the state radio organizations in Germany, like BR, have their own recording orchestras which often perform live on the radio or pre-record broadcasts. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is one of the most best-known radio orchestras. (The BBC Symphony Orchestra is another well-known radio orchestra.) Given that we listen to lots of classical music in our household, I really enjoy the classical offerings on BR’s classical music channel.

When I was an exchange student living in Köln, in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, I remember switching through the various channels to listen to all the different public radio stations there (also organized under ARD), under the name West Deutscher Rundfunk, or WDR. Their music channel, Funkhaus Europa is a particularly fun mix of tunes.

In March a year ago, it was especially fun for me to listen to all the radio stations as I was driving from our town to the NRW city of Wuppertal. As I was driving along, I even picked up the American Armed Forces Radio Network.

There are, of course, privately-owned radio stations. One that I often listen to when driving around with Rosebud and Superdude is Antenne Bayern. This radio station, commercially supported, plays a lot of music from the 80s and 90s as well as the current pop hits. It’s nice for the kids, and in listening to it, I’ve discovered a number of German pop music singers that I like. Since I know there are a good number of German students out there who read, I thought I’d share some of the music I’ve been hearing on the radio.

1. Ich + Ich – great pop music group. Check out their album Vom selben Stern on iTunes, or a more recent album, Gute Reise which you can find on Amazon.com. Their latest radio hit from Gute Reise is a song called Pflaster, which means Band-aid, and is very catchy indeed. You might be able to hear it on Youtube:
(music doesn’t always work because of copyright issues).

2. Unheilig – I am not too familiar with Unheilig’s music, but I heard the song Winterland the other day. It’s a lovely song about winter and someone who is thinking about being home, and I was actually thinking this might be an excellent song to use in the German classroom. The lyrics are fairly easy to understand.

3. Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester – Raabe and his orchestra specialize in performing music from the 1920s and 1930s, and also covering modern songs in that style. This song, “Küssen Kann Man Nicht Alleine”, is his latest top hit – “One can’t kiss alone” (or maybe I’d translate it as, “It takes two to kiss”). The video is really cute, and the puppet reminds me of Kermit the Frog.

Speaking of this kind of German language music, in the early 90’s, Max Raabe recorded a song called “Kein Schwein ruft mich an”, or “Why does no one call”, which was originally a Comedian Harmonists song.

I especially like the double bass player in this rendition.

When the Swine Influenza epidemic broke out a few years ago, Leo Wundergut and the Swiss tenors recorded a humorous version of the same song called “Kein Schwein steckt mich an”, or “No swine will infect me”:

4. Lena Meyer-Landrut and her winning Eurovision song (sung in English), Satellite:

There’s not much to this song, but it’s been quite popular here, so I hear it from time to time on the radio.

5. If you like jazz, especially with an eclectic flair, maybe you’d like the Austrian jazz musician David Helbock and his recent project, Random/Control. I heard several excerpts from this album on BR-Klassik, along with an interview of him. You can listen to music and Helbock in his own words (with English subtitles) in this promotional video:

6. If you like rap/hip hop, check out: Kool Savas and their rap/contemporary R&B song, “Der bester Tag meines Lebens”.