March 26, 2017


T minus 9 days until our trip to Germany. I'm deep into the excitement of planning. Could I possibly have more fun on our vacation than I'm having during the planning phase? I kinda doubt it. I keep telling myself that if for some reason we had to cancel our vacation I would still be satisfied.

I'm especially excited about the food. Germany has its drawbacks in that arena, most notably the giant wobbly knuckles of pork that are on many menus. But it's also a country that embraces vegetarian food, and is rapturously enthusiastic about the appearance of some seasonal foods.

Spargelzeit is asparagus season. It is likely that our vacation coincides with Spargelzeit, or as every sidewalk blackboard outside of a German restaurant declares, "SPARGELZEIT!!" Remember my amazing airline meal on the way to Italy? It even had asparagus dessert. This is the kind of thing I'm hoping for.

We're a little early for Grüne Soße season, but I'm hoping. It's a condiment that is heavily identified with Frankfurt, the first stop on our vacation. There is a Grüne Soße season and a
Grüne Soße Festival, the whole nine yards. The festival is in May, so we'll miss it. However I've asked Mr. Piston to help us find some when we're in town. He reports that he loves green sauce. He also loves Girl Scout cookies, and I am bringing him four boxes of Samoas. This is how cultural exchange works. Maybe I'll bring him some cranberry sauce, also. The people of the world love cranberry sauce and it's hard to find elsewhere. I once carried two cans of it to Japan.

Meanwhile, I got my German culcha on yesterday at our local German / English deli.

Many rabbit chocolates abound.

March 19, 2017

Squirrel Broth

I was on the sofa with a cold last week. One evening I had a hankering to leave the house for a minute and get some fresh air, so I took my blanket out to the deck and watched the sun set. I was going to miss it entirely if I didn't just get up and go, so I ignored mrguy's entreaties to put on some shoes. As happens in such circumstances he called out "Don't go all William Henry Harrison on me," by which he means that he doesn't want me to go to inaugural day without my hat and then die. Then I started talking about squirrel broth, therefore setting off the age-old argument about which president died of a cold and which one, lingering from a gunshot wound, asked for squirrel broth.

So it was on this day that we stopped arguing and looked it up to find that it *was*, in fact, William Henry Harrison who died of a cold. 

I did not die of cold, as I used my blanket to keep my feet from touching the ground. And it was Garfield, lingering after a gunshot wound, who called for squirrel broth.

We can't recall where we learned of this story, but it smacks of Ken Burns. Or Sarah Vowell. And it seemed to be a little too good to be true. So then *that* needed investigating as well, because the story we had heard is that there were two girls who, upon hearing that the president had called out for squirrel broth, sent their pet squirrel to the capital to be made into soup. After some digging in I was able to verify the names of the girls, and via Ancestry I was able to confirm that these young ladies did, in fact, exist. What actually happened to the squirrel is up for debate. Ellie and Laura Hoke, I hope that your family has held onto and celebrated this story. I am so jealous.

 Hmmm, did they let it go or did the president's children keep it?

While researching this topic I also learned much about the indignities of Garfield's passing. Newspapers of the day spared their readers of no minute medical detail in reporting on the president's condition. Temperature, pulse rate, what he said to the doctor during a sponge bath and after vomiting. He received nourishment by both mouth and enema. To say I was surprised is an understatement.

The Enquirer had nothing on these people.

So ends the argument about William Henry Harrison v James Garfield. Mrguy is right.

Germany 2017: The Lead Up

I am German, but I'm not German. Some of my ancestors came from there a very long time ago and I enjoy researching their stories and learning about the places where they lived. Until a few years ago I thought this was impossible. This is the story.

25 years ago I knew that my Germans, who had an uncommon surname, had lived in a small town in Ohio. I was able to track them through the census, and learned that they ended their lives in Texas.

A few years ago I decided to put more effort toward finding out more about this family. My ancestor's tombstone mentioned his birthdate and the place, Freiberg, Saxony. Could I somehow learn more about his connection with Freiberg? I did more digging on the American side. He was a soldier in the Mexican War. He had land. He applied for a passport once, and traveled back to Germany.

The breakthrough came via Google Book. There was an obituary for a guy with the same surname. Then I hired a German researcher to figure out whether this could be the father. Over the last few years she and I have worked together to unearth records about the family. She finds specific things for me (like birth records or marriage records), then I do more research using what she's found. I've ended up learning about the Enlightenment in Leipzig, the lives of portrait painters, and about the Sorbs, the smallest Slavic minority.

It's been a blast. In two weeks we're visiting Saxony to visit places and see things that have been uncovered in the research. I cannot wait.

March 17, 2017

Kiss Me, I'm Gonna Be Irish

Readers of mrsguy know I'm really into genealogy. I love research. I love stories. I love history.

I think many of us of a certain age can credit Alex Haley and Roots for this. The year that it came out, I remember being asked to put together a family tree, and that's what got my dad writing two long bits of narrative about the family that I still refer to for inspiration to this day. My mom did this, as well.

Pop was Irish. This I knew clearly. He grew up with that identity (although his mother was born in Norway) but not very much information about where or when. We were told that the family was from Limerick, and when we visited Ireland many years ago we went there. It took a person on a genealogy forum for Limerick to dispel me of this notion. She knew that my family name wasn't common in that area, and found records in another area that showed the births of ten of my grandfather's siblings. Years later she provided me with the actual birth records.

Pop always wanted to become an Irish citizen. After Brexit, so did I. After our election, I was all LET'S DO THIS THING!! Not that I don't love being American. I do, and I'm never leaving, and it's all going to be ok, but I need a mental escape hatch. I've researched the steps and the many many many pieces of documentation I will need, but I'm going to do this.

On this St. Patrick's Day, kiss me I'm *gonna* be Irish. And mrguy, too, because he's married to me and I'm more Irish than he is.


Next year we will break in my new passport on a trip to Ireland.

March 8, 2017

European Vacation 2014, Part 11

I'm going to cram the last of the vacation into one post.

On our final day we went back to find the flea market. along the way was this gorgeous building.

I fell in love with these Gmundner dishes.
This mess was so disturbing that I quickly snapped a picture (so I could see what it was all about later) and walked on. Lots of dollies with their tops off (ewww) and then pig dollies with their tops off. I blew it up so you can fully appreciate the horror.

Yikes! Luckily there was more interesting stuff nearby, including the Secessionist Building:

We wound up our final night in Vienna with a traditional meal and a bit of conversation in broken French with a nice couple at the next table. 
 The city looks magnificent lit up and foggy.
The rest of the trip is a bit of a blur. Turns out Trzesniewski has an outpost at the Vienna railway station. And they make little boxes that fit perfectly on the armrest of your train seat. That's pretty snazzy.

Our final hotel was by the Frankfurt airport, and had no nearby restaurants. It was late when we got there, and the only place open was a Chipotle. Not quite what I was looking for, but I recall really enjoying my burrito, my margarita and some Stevie Wonder.

 After that we were on our way home. Sorry it took me so long to post this, but even at home on the sofa with a cold it took me days to do this.

European Vacation 2014, Part 10

We ventured out to go to a non-existent flea market at Am Hof. Then we went to see the modern auction items at Dorotheum auction house. What an eyeful! Mrguy was able to see many things in person that he'd only seen previously in catalogs or the Internet. He was a very happy boy. And I liked the cheap stuff being sold in a room on the ground floor.

On the way to something else we inadvertently discovered the Loos House, which was one of our intended sights. At first mrguy was calling out the garish marble, but then he realized what it was attached to. Here's the building across the street, Hofburg palace. Story has it that Emperor Franz Josef had the shutters nailed closed on that side of the palace after Loos built the building which, you can imagine, was a huge middle finger to the architectural norms of the time.

Loos House is currently a bank, but the bank expects and supports architecture nerds with a friendly attitude, historical displays and free chocolate.

After that happy accident we went to Trzesniewski for many egg salad sandwiches and equally teensy beers. A friend had told me about this place earlier -- an all egg salad sandwich restaurant with tiny beers. What a weird concept! We shared a table with a lady who wore fur, was in Vienna because she needs it for her life, and loves Peruvian gold.

Then we took the train to our second lunch at Cafe Pruckel. Super cool furnishings and my soup was tasty. Mak, the design museum, was across the street. The Vienna 1900 exhibition was a mind-blower.

Evywhere we went we saw amazing buildings. Like the Vienna chamber of commerce. The guards said we could could come in so we did. I slipped upstairs to take some photos of amazing furnishings. Then we found the postal museum (Loos) and took pictures in there.

This, my friends, is a heater.

[This was written while we were in Vienna]
Our hotel in general is amazing. I'm sitting in a window seat looking out onto a city square with a full-on horse statue with a dude on it, and museums and giant green patinaed domes on buildings around me. When you walk out the front door, you can smell the Lippizaner stallions. I will remember this forever. So swank. They give you business cards with your name on them to give to people if you're doing business in town. The soap comes in little phase boxes.

Tomorrow's our last full day of fun. The rest is travel. Shopping. I want to shop.

European Vacation 2014, Part 9

Today -- Vienna by train.

This hotel was a super splurge. Across the street from the opera house, and near the horse stables, which you can smell if you open the windows. Some would call this a bug. I consider it a feature. And it's right in the center (museums, shopping) of town. Mrguy was super into the design details here. Like the name designer coat hooks. Our bedside lamps are shaped like birds. There is a window seat with a view of some amazing old (for Americans) buildings.
 First stop outside the nest was the American Bar by Adolf Loos. It's not very photogenic at night, but was gorgeous to our plain eyeballs. 

Then we looked for dinner and I found us a vegetarian restaurant. Strangely tasty, plus the accordion music was great. The owner helped me with the CD info, and I bought it when we came back.

For some reason accordion music has been doing it for me the last few years. 

On our return, and none of this was very far from the hotel, our neighborhood had turned into the International Bad Behavior Zone. Run!

European Vacation 2014, Part 8

We took Ryanair from Brussels to Budapest. It was my first Ryanair experience, and it was great. If you set your expectations really really low and have good earplugs, it's no problem.

Why Budapest? It started the first time I saw Shop Around The Corner (1940) filmed entirely on a studio lot somewhere. The setting seemed romantic and the names of the characters were unusual to me, and it's a great movie. I asked mrguy to take me to Budapest, and he did. It was awesome, if brief.

Prior to our visit I had had all sorts of notions of what we'd be doing in Budapest, and where we'd be eating and we did almost none of that. Instead we ate at our hotel both nights (and it was super yummy) and did what we could do by bus. If I'm not mistaken, we'd done so much at this point that we were pretty pooped. I still regret not getting to the park where they gathered all of the Soviet statues. But if we'd done that we would have missed other things.

Our hotel is the orange one on the right in the background here:


What I didn't realize was that Castle Hill, in Buda, is a tourist destination. But during this time of year at night, all of the castles and monuments are lit up and you have them to yourself. Mrguy and I walked around a lot after dinner and looked at the parliament building across the river. Insanely big, that building.

Looking back at my photos I realize that one of the things that I loved about Budapest was that it was so immersive. The Hungarian language has no Latin roots to hang onto. The city is full of old buildings and there are commemorative plaques everywhere telling me important things that I can't read. I have many photos of plaques that I should translate. Just for fun, I'll pick one at random:

OK, well that's ten minutes of my life I'd like back. This plaque commemorates a "Hungarian royal home office clerk." But there were many cool things to see in the small slice of Budapest we saw. Does anyone know what the BSD daemon has to do with Hungarian cuisine? The B does not stand for Budapest!

We went here: 

and came out with smoked paprika. I know this is typical tourist fare, but it is now my go-to spice. Paprika does not need to be terrible, People!! Major revelation. Smoked paprika makes all food taste like bacon, and I do not have a problem with that.

We had a tasty falafel, bought curtains by the pound, and I almost had to save a woman from walking backwards into traffic while staring at my hair. I was prepared to grab her by the coat collar if I had to.

My all time favorite thing in Budapest was the Hungarian National Museum. The earlier parts of the museum were easier to follow (more English signage), but it was all interesting. Especially fascinating was a description of contemporaneous civilizations in Hungary (not sure of the period, but AD) separated by the Buda River. They were as different as could be. One was almost Iron Age in its development, and the other seemed centuries ahead. Yet if two people from those cultures stood on the banks of the river they could see each other with the naked eye. It blew me away.

Oh Budapest, I'm longing to see you again. Lord knows when that will happen again, and the government is being harsh to immigrants, so I'm conflicted.

Anyway, on to Vienna

European Vacation 2014, Part 7

Next, Belgium.

The night we got there we ate dinner at a place called Never Full. It had an amazing Art Nouveau exterior, with great fake Cubist paintings (think Ferdinand Leger) inside. The food was delish. We had marinated anchovies, and a bunch of local beers. My favorite was a very dry IPA called Mad Tom. The art was beautiful, the staff was so kind. A lovely experience.

That was Sunday. Note to people traveling to Brussels: don't go on a Monday. Effectively Brussels is closed on that day. Lots of antique stores full of not-quite-French mid-century furniture and knick knacks -- all of it tantalizingly out of touch. Oh well.

My main goal for Brussels was to go to Mini-Europe. I know, I know. There are so many more interesting things about Brussels, like the European Parliament and moules frites, but I wanted to see a theme park comprised of miniaturized versions of the Great Wall and the Eiffel Tower.

Monday morning we headed out to the flea market. Not a lot there...and I had an ominous rumbling in my intestines. Nooooo!! But I rallied for long enough to buy this gorgeous tin box, commemorating the Brussels International Expo of 1935.

But by the time I saw this gorgeous giant salt-glazed pot, all I could think of was sitting on it and pooping in it. Not good! I have regretted not buying it, and I took this picture just to remind myself of how funny that was.

Due to unforseen circumstances within my digestive track, we went back to the hotel. I took a bunch of immodium and napped while mrguy went out to eat some lunch. A few hours later I was back in business.

Another of our targets, in addition to Mini Europe was the Atomium. Turns out they share a fence. Once we got out there we figured out that they were both on the same site as the 1935 Expo, which I learned about from my tin box of a few hours before. We checked out the different buildings and then headed over to the Atomium.

I didn't really provide scale, so you can't tell that there are stairways within the parts of the Atomium. I could have rallied, but the lines were 90 minutes long and I couldn't fathom being stuck in one of those tubes for an hour. Instead we took many photos. And we bagged on Mini Europe. I could only withstand one of the sites, and the Atomium was the more compelling of the two. Absolutely gorgeous.

We made our way back to the hotel, and passed by this stumbling stone commemorating a woman from Poland who was killed at Auschwitz. The Stolpersteine Project resonates with me because it embeds the story of someone who was removed from that location into the ground. I first saw these in Hamburg a few years ago, and I really appreciate the ability of the markers to remind you of the person, that they existed, why they don't exist now and that bad things happened right where you innocently or not so innocently stand. It's powerful.

Later on, despite the morning's intestinal turmoil, I somehow I found myself hungry and had this classic Nicoise salad. As I recall, they played amazing 60's French music.
Saw this on the way home to the hotel and thought I'd take a picture of it so I could remember to try some if I saw it somewhere else.

so ends the day.
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