Germany


Thus far, here on the edge of the American prairie, winter has been so wintery. Our snows began in November and this weekend, they continue.

This winter is reminding me of past winters although it has yet to reach the quality and quantity of the winter snows of 1980 in Munich, Germany. That year, the snow accumulated for months and it wasn’t until April that the main sidewalk through the Perlacher Forst housing area reappeared. The regular work of snowplows had created streetside mini-Alps mimicking the mountains in the distance. Children walked to school in the street because they were rarely equipped with crampons, ropes, and carabiners.

In this age of warmer winters, though, this winter feels old-fashioned. On the edge of the prairie where the latitude ‘enjoys’ the hot/cold changes along the boundary between Arctic chill from the north and puffs of steam from the Gulf of Mexico, this sustained cold is testing our resilience. We’re almost out of bread and milk at the store. [wink]

Luckily, for us photographers, the weather is picturesque. For that, I am grateful.

02 streetlight Brushstroke

Streetlight on a foggy winter night.

One of the nearly universal emotions expressed by military brats is homesickness. Given our nomadic early lives, we have many homes for which we feel a longing. Yes, military brats aren’t the only kids who move and times change for everyone. I know of local Facebook groups whose topic is “remember when” with entries about landmarks and businesses that are long gone. Children of foreign service officers (the staff in embassies and consulates), missionary kids, and corporate kids all move, too, but my tribe are the military kids who were bounced around the country and the world like Bingo balls on a Friday night.

I think much of our longing is for “halcyon days,” those years before we realize that life is complicated and messy. These years can be from whichever decade we spent our childhood, the swinging ’40s, the rocking and rolling ’50s, the psychedelic ’60s, staying alive during the ’70s, doing our hair during the ’80s, kicking it through the ’90s in our Doc Martens, and doing whatever happened after Y2K. We remember sights, sounds, and smells that evoke the relative simplicity of childhood and the adventure of where we lived.

One problem for us is that so many of our former homes no longer exist. Yes, the places we lived are still on the map, but our homes, unsere Häuser, onze huizen, nos maisons, nuestros hogares, nossas casas, le nostre case, 私たちの家, ang aming mga tahanan, 우리 집, ko mākou mau hale, منازلنا, heimili okkar or evlerimiz, are gone. Installations are closed, host nations have demolished buildings, the places where we ate, bathed, slept, and woke up on Christmas morning are no more. One thing that we can sometimes carry with us is food.

 

Birthday pzza

Birthday pizza specifically from Freddie’s, near Gibbs Kaserne, Frankfurt, Germany. (he was happy; I just caught him in mid-chew)

 

Some of the most poignant memories are of local dishes, pantry items, and candies. I know that one memory from my early childhood in England is of Peek Freans cookies, either the custard creams or the similar cookie with the jelly dot on top. I think I must have had them frequently.

While I was still a kid, I had forgotten the cookies by the time my pre-teen years arrived. Then, the Air Force stationed my dad in Bermuda and I tasted one of the locally purchased Peek Freans custard creams. A taste revelation! I remembered the forgetting. The times in my elementary school years when I knew there was something I missed from when I was younger, but I couldn’t remember what came back to me. Then we left Bermuda. I lost them again.

Skip forward decades. This time, the exposure to local food wasn’t as a brat. Now I was the mom of brats. Our family spent most of our twenty years of life overseas in Germany. My youngest arrived at the age of four and left at fifteen. She spent her next two years in Belgium, so we weren’t that far from Germany and could return when the longing became too great. She arrived in the US calling both the heating and cooling system “air conditioning.” To her radiator-trained mind, both functions conditioned the air.

When we arrived in the States, I had cookbooks, but not (I thought) ingredients. Ingredients from different countries have their own flavors. It might be a surprise to some that bottled Mexican Coca Cola from the grocery store tastes like the Coca Cola we drank in German restaurants.

With the rise of the Internet and online shopping, I could soon buy German ingredients from my dealer-of-choice, GermanDeli.com. The loss, though, strikes again. The outlet is closing tomorrow and has ceased all online orders. The homesickness continues.

I have pictures of our homes. I have some foods (World Market). I have YouTube videos. Still, I miss my old homes. The sound of tires on rain-wet streets sounds like England. Cool summer nights are from South Dakota. The sound of waves is Bermuda. The smell of wine and beer (I was an adult by then) is Germany. The most delicious cheese and bread I’ve ever eaten is Belgium. I love my life, but I still miss my homes. If it weren’t for grandchildren, I’d be in the wind.

Army Lt. Col. Tandy Brown, center, commander of the 7th Special Forces Group, serves a soldier and his daughters during a Thanksgiving Day meal on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 24, 2014.

 

Many families celebrate Thanksgiving with their extended families. Airports and highways are so crowded that a video of Thanksgiving traffic on a Los Angeles freeway makes an iconic picture of the trek to go home. The song Over the River and Through the Woods vies for top Thanksgiving honors with We Gather Together.

Where do you go, though, when you’ve only been “home” for a few months, or for a couple of years at most? Whose food reminds you of Thanksgiving when Grandma is across an ocean? Where do you make memories if all your dishes are still in transit, wrapped in packing paper, and (the gods willing) unbroken?

If your family is a military family, you may go to the dining facility (DFAC), formerly known as the chow hall, mess hall, or mess deck. What you call where you eat depends on the service to which you (or more likely, your parent) belong.

 

ARABIAN SEA (Nov. 22, 2012) Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Job David Santiago, from Manila, Philippines, frosts a cake aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) on Thanksgiving. Jason Dunham is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Deven B. King/Released)

 

Usually, dining facilities are reserved for service members on active duty. Their primary purpose is to feed the Army that, in the words of Napoleon Bonaparte (or Frederick the Great, depending on your source), marches on its stomach. On Thanksgiving (and sometimes on Christmas), the dining facility is open to family members. This is a treat that many military Brats look forward to when they are children, and reminisce about when they are grown. My sister and I recently rhapsodized about the shrimp cocktails we remember setting on our trays as we moved through the dining facility line.

In Facebook groups for Brats, the talk in this week leading up to Thanksgiving has been about eating at the dining facility. Among the comments were those about tables full of fruit and candy, how the cooks decorated the dining facility even up to ice sculptures, and food that included roast turkey or ham, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, in addition to fancy food such as that delicious shrimp cocktail, crab legs, and prime rib. My own favorite memory (in addition to the shrimp) was going to the milk dispenser and lifting the heavy weighted handle so that the milk shot into my glass with enough force to produce bubbles. I must say that, as a basic trainee pulling KP in the mess hall, I wasn’t quite as thrilled to heft the five gallon cartons of milk into the dispenser cabinet — those suckers weigh over 40 pounds.

 

Army Spc. Matt Squairs shears off a corner from a block of ice he is sculpting into a pumpkin on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 21, 2014. Squairs, a culinary specialist assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group Airborne’s Group Support Battalion, and other cooks spent more than two weeks preparing a Thanksgiving meal held in the unit’s dining facility.

 

We Brats doted on being allowed into the dining facilities for holidays, but I don’t know that we fully appreciated the work that went into feeding people their daily three square meals, seven days a week, plus holidays — way more people (and food) on the holidays. As someone who has seen both sides of the serving line, I’d like to give all the cooks a rousing cheer, despite the cadence songs we sang about the food. After a day of KP, I felt as if I’d been pulled backwards through a keyhole and my feet …, oh my poor feet how they ached.  I can’t imagine the endurance it takes to be a cook.

 

Army Spc. Trinh Tran, a cook with the Operation Iraqi Freedom Dining Facility at Fort Hood, Texas, covers prepared salads and dressings for the evening meal service, Nov. 21, 2013. Trinh is on a team to assist in preparation of the upcoming Thanksgiving Day dinner. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kim Browne

 

Hooray for the dining facilities and all the cooks in all the services.

I hope they have a restful day-after-Thanksgiving.

 

All photos are released from the DoD photo archive.

What it is.

 

Google’s Cardboard function is an application that works in conjunction with a viewing box that fits 4” – 6” phones. Using Cardboard is like looking into a Harry Potter Viewmaster — the view moves as your head scans the displayed scene. Peekaboo totaliarmus!

It’s almost like being there, wherever “there” is.

 

Google Cardboard stereoscopic view.
This view is of one of my former homes — favorite destinations for me. In the late 1980s, me, my husband, and our kids lived in the Perlacher Forst housing area of the Munich Army military community. Our apartment was the one on the 2nd floor.

 

Where you can go.

 

If Google Street View cars or walkers have gone there, you can go there, too.

All it takes is a smart phone with the Cardboard app loaded, choosing a Street View location, tapping on the Cardboard viewer icon, plopping your phone in your Cardboard viewer, and looking into the viewer. The thrill of Potteresque apparating, but without the danger of being splinched.

 

Why to go.

 

The cost of any Cardboard viewer is cheaper than any ticket to faraway lands.

Other perks are:
No suitcase to lug.
No lines at airports or other travel departure points.
No waiting for your color to be called when debarking from a ship.
No electrical transformer thingamajigs needed.
No visa needed (although maybe a Visa).

You also get to sleep in your own bed afterward, but maybe that’s just important for people who’ve had to sleep in many, many different beds.

In any case, for the cost of about a meal for two at Mickey D’s, you can have armchair travel adventures from around the world.

 

Bon voyage!  Gute Reise!  Happy Trails!

When I’m writing a story, sometimes I get stuck. I’ll forget where my characters are in relation to each other. I’ll forget the exact sequence of events. I’ll forget where the characters are standing. I’ll forget how many people are even in a room.

When I have these lapses, I’m almost cheerful because that’s when I can legitimately play with some toys I (said I) bought for the grandkids — Playmobil playsets.

The two men on the (invisible) motorcycle are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the car. My heroine, the woman on the balcony, will roust a colleague and they'll be finding fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the car can go up in flames.

The two men on the (invisible) motorcycle are about to throw a Molotov cocktail at the car. My heroine, the woman on the balcony, will roust a colleague and they’ll be finding fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the car can go up in flames.

 

I first found Playmobil toys in 1976 after we moved to Germany for the second time.  My husband and I gave our son two sets of them for Christmas.  In the years since then, the company has expanded their range of playsets so that people like me can now use them in ways the designers probably didn’t imagine. At the moment, I have a motorcycle policeman on order. In future, my characters won’t be riding invisible motorcycles.

I’m happy to say that when my little characters aren’t busy getting up to no good in my imaginary worlds, they’re happily inhabiting the more innocent stories of little children.

The Veterans Writing Project picked up my story “Beer Here” for their publication, O-Dark-Thirty.

Procession from the Kreuzberg monastery up to the crosses on the mountain.   Picture courtesy of Wikpedia.

Procession from the Kreuzberg monastery up to the crosses on the mountain. Picture courtesy of Wikpedia.

Beer Here

Barb Hoskins, a Cold War-era CI investigator runs into a platoon-mate from Basic who is on her way back to the Land of the Round Doorknob. They go out for a last-minute fling at a monastery, famed for its beer, and wind up with more action than they bargained for.

The story is one of a series that will be part of a book, Culture Shock.

Today’s blog-topic came up because I saw a query on an email list for tips on leash-training a cat. Our family has had many cats, but only some of them have been leash-trained.

The first cat we walked on a leash, Screech, seemed happy enough to do so because it got her out of the car during the rest stops we took while driving over Christmas vacation from the east coast to Missouri and back. My husband and I were young, and lucky, and didn’t realize that most cats would rather lie immobile, perhaps until forever, rather than walk while wearing a harness. Screech didn’t object either to the harness or to being walked while we stopped at a rest area along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Screech was a trooper.

My husband and Screech, taking in the Pennsylvania Turnpike in December.

My husband and Screech, taking in the Pennsylvania Turnpike in December.

The second cat we had that we leash-trained, Pippin, took to it as if he’d been born to walk on a leash. It helped that Pippin loved traveling in the car and he associated the leash with going on car rides. Again, we lucked out.

 

Me and Pippin near the border between West and East Germany.

Me and Pippin near the border between West and East Germany.

 

[The above photo will look odd to military personnel who were stationed in Germany before 1989.  Part of my husband’s job at the time, though, was to keep an eye on changes along the border while not looking like a soldier.  Odd, but that was the way it was. With Pippin, he definitely didn’t look like an American soldier.]

Pippin’s ‘sister,’ Merrie, apparently took her cue from her older ‘brother’ and tolerated the harness-and-leash setup. (yes, that’s a Lord of the Rings theme going on there with the cat names) The leash-training was probably easy because Merrie was a tiny kitten when she joined the household. Harness-wearing was something she grew up with.

Pippin meeting Merrie

Pippin meeting Merrie

After the death of Pippin (the old guy made it to 19) Dinah joined the household. Dinah was a stinker, an adorable stinker, but a stinker nonetheless. Like Merrie, Dinah was introduced to harness-wearing when she was a kitten. Both Merrie (18) and Dinah (just missed 20) have joined Pippin.

Our daughters at a motel in South Dakota.  Merrie is behaving herself, as she usually did, but Dinah is being a rascal and trying to get down.

Our daughters at a motel in South Dakota. Merrie is behaving herself, as she usually did, but Dinah is being a rascal and trying to get down.

Dinah, probably scheming.

Dinah, probably scheming.

Dinah’s ‘siblings,’ Foofie and Pudding, were adult strays when they came to us. They didn’t appreciate harnesses.

Foofy, our white cat, after rolling in the dirt. That's what outdoor cats do.

Foofy, our white cat, after rolling in the dirt. That’s what outdoor cats do.

 

Pudding, the junk yard thug.

Pudding, the junk yard thug.

The current crop of cat-friends–mama Minka with her youngsters Rusty, and Audrey–don’t wear leashes, probably because we aren’t traveling with them. Our previous cats all joined the family during my husband’s military career and traveled with us in the United States as well as in Europe. Now that we’re a retiree family, no one is going to show up at the house with cardboard boxes and pack away everything to take all of it somewhere else, so the cats have no need to travel. They occasionally mosey out into the back yard, but that’s about it for their vacationing. One of our daughters is a veterinarian so even their health care (so far) comes to them.

Minka

Minka

Rusty

Rusty

Audrey

Audrey

I wish I had some useful tips about leash-training cats rather than just pictures, but other than starting them off with the harness as kittens, I think a lot has to do with the cat’s temperament. That and luck. Lots and lots of luck.

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