Autumn is here

Last week the autumnal Equinox flew by, which means that it Autumn is officially here. We have been welcoming it with projects like apple pie and trying out the fireplace in our new house. Before we could try the fireplace, we had to bring some wood up to the first floor. The previous owners left us a lot of wood, which is really nice, since the price of gas just went up 50% for me. They installed a winch to lift wood up to the balcony, instead of having to schlep it up the stairs. Of course, you still have to schlep it from the back of the yard. I am not sure I would have installed such a thing, but since we have it, we decided to give it a try.

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This is how everyone brings wood to their fireplace, right?

This past Sunday morning I went to a swim meet to watch an 11 year old girl I know. She did quite well, beating all of her expected times

  • 50 meter back 49.09
  • 50 meter free 40.57
  • 100 meter free 1:29.52

Afterwards I picked up two used suits from the local classifieds for 80€, then I made two apple pies, which we shared with Sasha and Elena. They turned out really well. I ended up baking them a bit longer than normal, because I had adjusted the temperature (180C instead of 200C) to work with the convection oven, but I am getting the feeling that the suggested correction of the oven is a bit too much, so I think next time I will probably do 190C instead). Nevertheless, the pies came out nice and flaky. Thanks for teaching me how to make pie mom!

Wild pigs?

a family of wild boars in the grassland

Last week I noticed that a bunch of my lawn was torn up. I asked some of my friends what may have caused this damage, and they all immediately said “wild pigs”. I was surprised to learn that there are wild pigs roaming around near me, but I guess that might be the case. I did a little bit of internet research, and quickly found many articles about how to prevent wild pigs from tearing up your lawn, so I guess it is quite common in Germany. They use their noses to dig up the ground, which seems to match what I see in the lawn.

The question is, how did they get in? We have a pretty tall fence, which you can see below. We have left the gate to our driveway open some nights, so maybe they came in that way, but that would mean they would have to walk up about 8 stairs. Maybe I am living in a dystopic Orwellian future where pigs walk on two feet? Or maybe it has finally happened – pigs can fly!

Schwebebahn

Schwebebahn enterint station above the Wupper

While grandma and grandpa were visiting recently we took a day trip to Wuppertal to ride the Schwebebahn (swinging train). We had been talking about checking it out for some time, because it is a pretty unique type of train. Since we all had 9 Euro tickets, it was basically free. We stopped in Duesseldorf for some Asian food, since they have the biggest Asian population in Germany. We also enjoyed some ice cream in Wuppertal, and had a pleasant stroll along the Wupper river.

I don’t know that I would make the trip a second time just to ride the Schwebebahn, but it was worth it to see once.

Sunrise season

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This time of year is the best time of year for watching sunrises in my opinion, for a number of reasons. I think the most important reason is probably that the sun is rising about the same time that I am waking up and getting ready for the day, so I am most likely to see it. However, I think there are a couple other factors as well. While the winter tends to be very grey, and the summer quite sunny, this time of year, the sky is often partly cloudy, which is my favorite kind of sunrise, where the clouds turn all pink like cotton candy. We moved recently from a 3rd (4th by American standards) story apartment into a house, and I was worried that the view would not be as good for sun rises. The view from our bedroom window however is still quite nice.

sunrise
sunrise

A warm house

Last weekend we had a house-warming party. One of the great features of our new house is it has a very nice yard, and a garden house, great for entertaining. We invited as many friends and neighbors as we could. It was a lot of work, as we were not yet done unpacking everything from the move, but with Clare starting a new job on August 15th, we thought it would be better to have the party sooner rather than never. It was a warm and sunny day, around 31C (90F). Fortunately we had quite a bit of shade, though people did move some tables around as the shade moved, which was fine. In total we had about 50 guests. Things went fairly smoothly. We made lots of different types of wraps which we cut up into pieces with toothpicks. They were a big hit. The cucumber sandwiches were also popular. We also had a freezer full of ice cream treats, which probably did not get advertised enough. The biggest hit of the party was likely the chocolate chip cookies. It was a bit of a pain to bake them during the party, but they really are best fresh out of the oven. Clare and I took turns baking them.

Spencer actually had to go get his picture taken with his soccer team at 13:30. He called at 14:30 and asked if we were ready for guests yet, and I said no. I was still picking up the last things and setting out a few things. By 14:55, the first couple people started trickling in, just friends of the kids. Then we waited a bit for more guests. By 16:00, the party was starting to get going. By 18:00, it was in full swing. By 21:00 many people were starting to leave, and we said farewell to the final guests around 22:30.

I wasn’t certain if people would bring gifts or not, and most did. We got lots of flowers – some cut, and some to plant in the garden – even a fig tree!. I know that Clare is going to enjoy all the plants for a long time. We also got some other fun presents, including a picture of a map of Würselen with the location of our house. We also got some traditional bread and salt, which is a tradition in Germany for bringing good luck.

All in all I think the party was a success. The main thing I would do differently next time is get more non-alcoholic drinks, particularly Bionade , and get some coolers and ice, since refilling the refrigerator with warm drinks did not work very well. We are looking forward to more garden parties!

Panning photography

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I got a new camera earlier this year, and I spent some time watching youtube tutorials on photography techniques. One technique I have been wanting to try out is panning – this is when you intentionally move the camera while you are taking a picture. You focus on a moving subject, and move the camera along with the subject. This keeps the subject in focus and gives motion blur to the background. A few weeks ago I took Spencer go-karting with a friend and his dad. All four of us did one round (I came in last place), and then the boys did another round. I enjoyed taking pictures much more than driving. This was a perfect opportunity to try out some panning shots. I think they turned out pretty good. For the very last picture I actually did not pan. I used a faster shutter speed so everything is in focus.

To save or throw away

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We are nearly done clearing out our apartment, which has been our home for almost exactly four years. Today we got rid of some boxes I had saved, for example a box from an electric kettle. I thought it might come in handy some day, but it did not. However, I also found 2 plastic mattress wrappers, which will come in handy.

Plastic mattress cover

Fedibbletys and Soule-Reeves

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This past weekend our good friends Danny and Bethany visited us, after Danny gave a talk at a nearby conference. It had been almost exactly three years since their last visit. They were our first guests in our new house, and didn’t mind the chaos of unpacked boxes scattered here and there.

Every day we had a big breakfast with fresh rolls, which is one of my favorite parts of living in Germany.

Saturday morning we contemplated renting or buying Clare an e-bike, so our first stop was to a bike store, but unfortunately they did not have any available for rent, because of the global supply-chain issues. Clare was able to try out a few e-bikes though, which was very informative. I foresee an e-bike in our near future. Instead of getting an E-assist, Clare got a D-assist (D for Danny) as we all biked / skated into downtown Würselen to get some ice cream at Peppone. Then the adults ride on into Aachen for a bit of sightseeing. We showed Danny and Bethany all of our favorite sights, including the cathedral, the city hall, and Elisenbrunnen. We had some traditional German food at the Aachener brew haus, and then headed home. Clare was wise enough to take the bus, and Danny rode her bike back the uphill route to Würselen.

On Sunday, we went to Thomas’s birthday party at their garden house, which involved the usual mix of linguists and computer scientists. A very fun group of people.

Then on Monday, I took Danny, Bethany, and Alice to Monschau. I have been wanting to visit here for four years, but never got to go because he had to work or wouldn’t fit in the car. Clare was nice enough to sit this trip out and work on cleaning out our apartment so I could get the chance. We enjoyed the glass blowing workshop, where Alice and I made our own glass bulbs. We got some famous Monschau mustard, walked around the quaint town, up to the ruins for a panoramic view of the town, and enjoyed some lunch along the Rur river. We learned that Monschau came to prominence in the 17th and 18th centuries due to its textile industry, which no longer exists. One of the wealthy merchants from this period build the “red house” which still stands today.

It was a bit sad to see that about half of the restaurants and shops were closed, due to either the pandemic and/or the flooding from last summer. Nevertheless, it is still a great little town to visit.

Tuesday morning we had one last big breakfast of rolls and treats from Penny, such as apple turnovers, then it was time to bid Danny and Bethany Adieu as they head on to Berlin. It was so great to see you! Thanks for visiting.

Tilting at windmills

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For our one full day in Rotterdam we went to the Kinderdijk museum, which has a series of 19 wind pumps built in the 18th century to pump water out of the otherwise marshy land. We got a bit of bad advice on directions there, since there is both a water taxi, and water bus, and several people told us directions to the water taxi instead of the water bus. The confusion was further compounded by conflicting information about which water bus line was running at the end of May. Eventually we figured it out though. We took the water bus, which was a quite big and comfortable boat, for about 20 minutes, then had to transfer to a smaller boat where we were crammed into an open air standing section for a 5 minute ride.

At the museum we learned a lot about how the Dutch have been fighting water for hundreds of years. 40% of the Netherlands is below sea level. I knew about the dikes to hold back the seawater, but somehow or other, I hadn’t realized that many of the “windmills” in the Netherlands are actual wind pumps. That is, they are not used to mill flour, but rather are used to pump water upstream, in a series of channels, sort of like locks, until the water can be pumped into a natural river which carries it away. These wind pumps have now been replaced with electric pumps, but they kept them around for historical reasons.

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Clare and Rob at Kinderdijk

There are two windmills you can actually go inside and see how the Miller’s family lived back in the day. One of the mills still has the gears going to pump the water, which was pretty neat to see.

Fedibbletys at Kinderdijk
Fedibbletys at Kinderdijk