Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an AdultWhy, hello there. Didn’t think you’d see me ’round these parts again, did you? It has been a long time. And I’ve played out this reunion in my head many times. Has there been too much space and distance? Well, let’s just let it be awkward for a minute and then be done with that.

Over now? Good, moving on!

In case you’re new here, nearly four months ago I excused myself and backed away from this blog, forcing myself to turn and take one shaky step in the direction of serious language learning.

Fighting the this is never going to work fears and I’d rather be blogging thoughts, it took all I had in me to walk in the door of the language school near my boys’ kindergarten and ask what they had available.

You see, in our little city, the options for learning a language are as follows: (1) take an intensive course at a language school which means 5 days a week, four hours a day, (2) take a course at the community college for two days a week, two hours a day, or (3) find a private German teacher and pay through the nose.

That’s it. Take your pick.

What do you think I chose? What would you choose?

Like many bloggers, I’m an introvert. I despise group work and small talk. Busy work for the benefit of the whole class kills my desire to learn. Plus, I’m a mama, and I know from my previous experience taking an intensive course that there is just NO WAY I can manage being gone all morning, every day of the week, plus do homework at night for more than one week at a time.

The second option is just too slow. Plus, I honestly had no clue what level I was or which class to take.

Believe it or not, I swallowed my thrifty ways and tossed an incredible amount of cash at a private teacher.

Gulp.

But, old habits die hard, and I could not pass up an offer I found for two weeks of nearly free German classes. The catch? It was every night from 630-830pm, the absolute worst time of the day to leave my husband to solo parent. I love that man.

Over the course of nearly sixteen weeks, I took over forty hours of private German classes as well as eighteen hours of group classes. In between that, I struggled to finish my homework with one hand while warding off the laundry, dirt, and stench beasts with the other. We may or may not have had pizza and chicken nugget dinners every other night..Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Learning a new language as an adult is incredibly humbling.

I watch my sons chatter away auf Deutsch, and I can’t help but be a tiny bit envious. It’s true that they essentially are in their own intensive course while at kindergarten four hours a day, five days a week. But, they also have no inhibitions. They’re not self-conscious at all when it comes to making mistakes or speaking with an accent. Ah, to be six again..

My German classes literally brought me to tears on several occasions because I felt so unbelievably stupid. Why is this so hard?! I would ask myself. My brain is just not wired to learn foreign languages.

Undeterred by the snotty nose and runny mascara, I kept the end goal in sight: I am doing this for my sons, to help them keep up the gift of being bilingual as well as for own enrichment and mental health (ha). So, here I am, still plowing through, one umlaut at a time.Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

Despite the difficulty, I’m happy to say that the payoff has been huge.

HUGE!

Before these classes, I would shrink away from any opportunity to even attempt speaking German when it wasn’t absolutely necessary. I started almost every encounter with, “Do you speak English?” Now, I do my best to tuck that question away and only pull it out for serious situations like doctor visits and the like.

Just yesterday, I met with another mom from my church that I barely knew. I was aware that she spoke English, but I made myself start things off with, “Wie geht’s?” (how are you?). I occasionally had to explain a few things in English, but I steered the conversation back to German after each detour. Thirty minutes of this kind of mental workout left me exhausted and literally sweating.

Oh the things I never thought I’d do!

Here are a handful of other examples that just a few short months ago would’ve been impossible..

  • Argue with a police officer about why I was breaking the rules (if you must know, I was riding my bike on the sidewalk with my kids at a dangerous intersection).
  • Select, order, and pay for festival tickets over the phone (no hand gestures!).
  • Read an entire parent letter from the kindergarten without the assistance of my pal Google translate… and understand what I read.
  • Sign up for a tandem partnership with a total stranger.
  • Consider asking all my German friends to only speak German with me (okay, I’m still on the fence about this one..).

Sounds amazing and like I’m doing swimmingly, right? Well, don’t believe everything you read.

Some days, the words won’t come. Other days, I won’t let them because I just don’t feel like it.

In between those thoughts, I wonder why I am doing this. Why am I learning another language with the intention of becoming fluent? Why am I learning German?Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an Adult

And, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a downside. There’s always a downside, isn’t there?

The truth is, I now feel like I can’t speak any language well. I often trip over words in my native language, often forgetting what common items are called in English (!). I end up stuttering and then scrunching my face up in frustration because I just can’t manage to squeeze the right words (in the correct language) out of my brain.

I mean, I love bargains and all but the whole “buy one foreign language, get a free speech impediment” thing wasn’t exactly what I had in mind..

And when I’ve had a conversation with my tandem partner, for instance, I can’t seem to turn the German off and end up jabbering away in German to my husband who would rather just understand what his wife is saying, thankyouverymuch. The Deutsch monster just won’t shut up once it has been awakened.

So, what now?

Well, I simply keep on keepin’ on. At this time, I am done actively taking classes, at least the expensive private kind. I feel like my German is at a level now that I might be able to handle a regular group class (though my introverted, anti-group-work self will surely protest this possibility).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Tongue Tied: Notes on Becoming Bilingual as an AdultI bought a textbook and workbook with a DVD to keep up my independent study. But, really, what I need now is to just practice speaking as much as possible, hence the tandem partner.

And, in between all of that, I’m going to try to hang out here at Thrifty Travel Mama more regularly. But, don’t worry, I won’t start blogging in German any time soon.

Though I have missed blogging at TTM, I’ll admit it’s been a good thing for me to have a break, to refocus and, honestly, to decide whether I would like to continue writing. I’ve come to the conclusion that I do really enjoy blogging, because I often feel I have something to say either with the intention of helping others or simply throwing my two cents at the blogosphere.

So, pull up a chair, add me back to your Blog Lovin’, feedly, or subscribe to posts by email and let’s do this Thrifty Travel Mama thing again!

I often think to learn a second language you need as many of these things as possible – time, money, youth, and a live-in dictionary/language tutor. What do you think?

And, if you’ve learned another language as adult, how was your experience? Signature Thrifty Travel Mama

An English Speaker in an English Speaking Land… and a Little Announcement

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life: The English Speaking Bubble, Edinburgh

At the top of Arthur’s Seat, overlooking Edinburgh.

Before Paris, we had the most lovely whirlwind of a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.  We had gorgeous weather and a marvelous time together, just the five of us.  I long to tell you all about it – oh, how I do – but, for now, let’s just have a little peek into the wide, weird world of an English-speaking expat.

When you live in a foreign country and don’t speak the language, you get quite used to living in a bubble.  You may think the description cliché, but it’s spot on.

Inside the bubble, things are quiet.  Others may chat, giggle, debate, argue, or whisper around you.  But the funny thing is… you don’t really hear any of it.

There’s no picking up a snippet from the teenagers here or a stray comment from the elderly couple there.  You have absolutely no idea if the person next to you is gossiping about her best friend or discussing the finer points of Nietzsche.

When you open up your mouth to speak in your native language (because, of course, that’s what tumbles out first), those outside the bubble either stare or ignore you.  It’s impossible to tell whether you’re understood or not because interaction simply does.not.happen.

In some ways, you’re… invisible.

In other ways, you’re on display for all the world (okay, the train) to see.  Eating out, grocery shopping, waiting for the bus.. these are all relatively quiet affairs.  It’s a silent phenomenon, one that sneaks up on you and becomes firmly ingrained while you remain oblivious, until…

One day, you find yourself in another place, a land where everyone hears, understands, and -gasp- speaks to you.  This isn’t a forced exchange full of necessities and awkward pronunciation.  No, here the conversation is effortless.

The bubble bursts.  And suddenly, everything just got a whole.lot.LOUDER.

You try to finish your lunch, but the girl in the booth next to you just won’t shut up about her problems with the landlady. 

The college kids sitting behind you on the bus are bragging about how many countries they’ve visited (three), how cultured they now are, and how that one time they… was just SO funny!

A man stops on the street mid-stride to suggest you try the coffee shop (his favorite) around the corner because you’re discussing where you should go to warm up on this chilly morning. 

You ask the bus driver to help you figure out which stop is closest to your holiday apartment, and he agrees, smiles (!), and gives a shout when you’re nearly there.

It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced it, but going to a foreign country and hearing English spoken is really very strange.

We’ve come to expect this hokey-smokes-we-can-understand-everyone-and-CRAP-they-understand-us phenomenon when we go back to the US.  We become a bit disconcerted on the plane when flight attendants greet our children and make conversation. (Can you imagine someone talking to your child on the street and completely excluding you because they can tell you don’t understand?  For us, this is our normal.) This disorientation grows until we finally recoil in utter shock when the cashier at the sparkly, big-box grocery store chats us up.

“How y’all doin’ today?”

Say, what?!

This is reverse culture shock, and we live it every time we go to America.

But it was a new thing for us to experience a foreign country without a foreign language.  It was… fantastic.  Comforting.  Therapeutic.  Welcome…

Since we know it will be our last year to live in our current city, we often try to imagine ourselves as residents in the places we visit.  Could we live here?  Would we want to?

And while Scotland would take a lot of getting used to (I’ve never stared at traffic, drivers, and cars so much in my life – how do they drive on the left?), at least we would be insiders in a way.

Language.  We miss so much being outside the deutschsprachig circle here in Germany.  We cannot fight or fend for ourselves in many situations.  ‘Tis true that I have only myself, my lack of time, commitment, and determination to blame.  It is our/my struggle, and often brings me/us shame.

So, in between language blunders and fragmented exchanges, we wonder.  How important is it?  Should we make every effort to become fluent?  Is it time to pop the bubble and live out loud?

My answer… is yes.

And so with this long-winded attempt to explain the freakish feelings we experienced in Scotland, I have a small announcement to make.

I’m taking a break.

It’s not you.. it’s me.

I love this blog for many reasons.  It’s been my creative outlet for nearly four years.  It’s pushed me to explore some really random corners of the world as well as to find the marvels and miracles amid the many mishaps of (my) expat life.

But, most of all, I have loved meeting all of you.  I have made real life friends because of this blog, and truth be told, I don’t intend to stop.  While I need to set aside the time I normally spend here at Thrifty Travel Mama to study German, I don’t plan on disappearing completely.  I may post sporadic updates and quick recaps of our trips.  But, I won’t be able to create regularly scheduled content for at least a few months.

I still plan to answer comments (though you may have better luck with email), and I will still be reading your posts and cheering for your adventures.  I hope, when I’m finally able again, that you’ll be back to champion mine as well.

Wish me luck – it’s going to be DEAFENING out there.

Signature-Marigold

Kindergarten Art: The Tobacco and Alcohol Edition

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - KindergartenI know today is election day.  It’s one of the few days of the year I am 110% happy that I do not live in the US.   I just can’t handle all the rhetoric and only slightly sophisticated “you’re dumb” rigamarole.

Unless you live under a rock – and sometimes I try hard to be present in that state – you’re probably noticed a constant stream of “never ever”s leading up to this day, both from people’s mouths and from campaign machines.  “Never ever”s such as, “never ever will I vote for this guy again,” or “that guy could never ever make our country better.”

Golly gee willikers.

It is our American duty to vote though, so unless extenuating circumstances apply hopefully you have cast your vote one way or the other already.  So then, let’s focus on another “never ever,” as in “never ever would a child in the US use alcohol and tobacco products for art projects.”

Yep, seriously.  I can’t believe I’m going there.  I often have to remind myself that I couldn’t make this stuff up, even if I tried.

Last summer, the kindergarten that both of my boys currently attend put a box in the lobby with a big sign on it asking parents to donate packaging materials such as boxes, containers, paper towel rolls, etc.  The children could then use these items for artistic endeavors.

The parents did indeed donate, though perhaps they went a little above and beyond the call for materials.  Among the items were packages associated with alcohol and tobacco.  And then the teachers made the things available for student use.

Hey, it’s all recyclable… and therefore good for the environment to reuse such materials… right?

Let’s just say it’s a good thing that these kindergartens don’t teach the children to read.

The absolutely awesomely amazing trash truck, by T-Rex.

I’ll never forget the day T-Rex brought home this amazing mixed media design.  It’s a trash truck (and you totallyknew that, right?  right!).  He was mighty proud of his creation, and so was I.  Only upon a closer look did I realize that he had fashioned the trash part of the truck from two tobacco canisters!

Wait, whaaaaaaat is that thing made of?

The best part?  The generous donor had even left a few wiggly scraps of the stuff inside!

How thoughtful.  Really.

T-Rex eagerly showed me how he constructed the driver of the vehicle.  He put several wooden dowels on two wine bottle corks and hot glued the whole dude together.  And the project was definitely not complete without a beer bottle cap to act as the garbage release mechanism.

He used those exact words.

Okay, maybe not.

But those exact materials, for sure.  All I could think as he’s showing me (other than, awww shucks son, what an imagination you have!) is that this project would never ever in a million years have been put together in any institution involving children in the United States of America.

My T-Rex in the workshop taking a break from the hot glue gun.

Well, without a lawsuit, that is.

And shall we talk about how this innovative piece was put together?  Why, it would be rather impossible without the use of power tools.  A drill, a saw, and a hot glue gun had everything to do with the making of the Müllwagen.  I’m absolutely certain that the teacher was right.there.with.him.the.WHOLE.time.  Yeah, you betcha.

Anybody see a teacher around..? Anybody..?

Now, T-Rex is four, almost five.  Perhaps I’m just underestimating the power tool skills of a preschooler.  But Screech was TWO and had been at kindergarten a whole THREE days when he brought this pop art beauty home.

Art according to Screech.

A lively composition using beer bottle caps (some rusty, some fresh) and hot glue if I do say so myself.  Standard materials and equipment for a two year-old, obviously.  Again, there couldn’t be a doubt in my mind that Screech had constant, closer-than-white-on-rice supervision.

It’s too bad having another baby zapped 2/3 of my German skills, because I would LOVE to hear what the teachers have to say in defense of these materials.  I’m sure the philosophy on allowing 2 to 5 year-olds to use power tools would be equally as entertaining.

So, today, as you are entertained (or repulsed) by the unfolding of America’s choice, remember this: “never ever”s may be come “some day”s… perhaps even sooner than you think.

German Intensive Course

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - Language LearningEver since I finished Rosetta Stone, I have wanted to do something to further my German skills.  But, what?

My city only has one place where a student can study German two days per week.  All the other schools only offer classes that run every single day.  T-Rex is in kindergarten Monday through Friday, but Screech only goes to his little school three mornings per week.  Unfortunately, the times of the two-days-per-week school don’t fit within our family schedule.

I can’t afford private lessons, so that option is also a no go.

Hmmm.. what to do?

I mentioned my frustration to a friend who suggested an intensive course.  Several schools in the area offer these courses; one can start on any Monday and stay for as many or as few weeks as desired.  After thinking about it and talking it over with Doc Sci, I decided I could commit to one week.  Not great, but better than nothing.

After finding a school that had availability and a small class size, I was required to take a placement test.  As far as I understand it, German language proficiency is divided into the following levels from basic to advanced: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1.  I took a practice test online that recommended I start in B1.  The language teacher at the school suggested the end of A2.  However, the A2 class wasn’t offered in the morning, so she agreed to let me try B1.  If it was too hard, I would be, well, out of luck.

Fortunately, I was able to hack it.  Barely.  But not for the reasons you might think.

I understood almost everything going on in the class except for two things.. some vocabulary here and there that the class already knew from being together for several months (which is unavoidable, really), and grammatical terms.  The latter frustrated me to no end.

In my opinion, the lack of grammar is both Rosetta Stone’s strength and its Achilles heel.

I learned a lot of German in five levels of Rosetta Stone and appreciated not getting bogged down in tedious grammatical rules and diagrams, but I did not learn really important grammatical terms like noun, verb, adjective, adverb, accusative, dative, genitive, perfect, imperfect, present, past, future, etc. in German, and how they corresponded to the grammar taught in Rosetta Stone pictures.

For instance, Rosetta Stone will teach you to say “The dog ran”, but it will not teach you that “the” is an article, “dog” is a noun, and “ran” is a verb.  If I was to continue taking a traditional German course in a classroom, I would have quite a bit of catching up to do in this area.

Luckily, my objective in taking the class was not to learn grammar (and the teacher was nice enough to help me understand what in the WORLD I was supposed to do for some of the exercises).  Rather, my aim was to improve my speaking skills and perhaps pick up some new vocabulary along the way.

In this regard, I considered the time spent in class worthwhile.  A major plus was the class size – only three other students besides myself.  This gave the teacher plenty of opportunities to call on me and force me to fumble through speaking.

(If I haven’t said it before, I loathe speaking foreign languages.  I’m slow to process what is said, slow to think of how to respond, and slow to actually speak my reply.)

Though I think the experience was helpful, taking an intensive course is not something I could do every week even if I had childcare.  Most students in the schools’ classes were 5-10+ years younger than me, unmarried, and without children.  After all other daily responsibilities were done, I barely had an hour for homework at night, let alone time to attempt memorizing vocabulary and grammar from the previous days’ lessons.

But, I enjoyed the chance to get out and try something new.  Now, if only I could find a conversation group in my neighborhood or some alternative or creative way to practice other than with government officials and medical office staff!

Reentry

We’re back from what feels like Outer Space! Didn’t miss me?  Don’t worry; I try not to make it obvious when I’m gone.

After over three weeks in our native country, it’s back to German life.  And I’m even more convinced that I am not at all sure which one is my real life and which one is a myth.

We played the trip differently than last year.  I made sure we had more time and not to over-schedule ourselves.  As a result, we did not get to visit everyone we wanted to see, but we felt more rested during and after our vacation.

The time was both amazing and difficult.  Amazing in that we so thoroughly enjoyed our time with the friends and family we visited.  Difficult in that it felt like when the three weeks were over, we were moving to Germany and saying goodbye all over again.

I thought I’d be begging to get out of cholesterol-laden America.  I thought I’d be longing to ride my bike and spend Sundays on walks outdoors.

I was wrong.

What I really wanted was to reconcile my two worlds – to have my American friends and my German life in one neat and happy package.

Too bad that’s entirely impossible.

So, I’m working through it (and can I just say that the pregnancy hormones do NOT help), and striving to find joy in this moment.  This one.  Right now.

I have to remind myself that America is not the solution nor is it the enemy.  Germany is far from perfect but is a very good place to live.

My boys seem to switch flawlessly between the two worlds, probably because they have no concept or understanding of the very real geographical divide and the impracticality of going back and forth more often than once per year.

As they get older, things will change.  They’ll make more lasting friendships and realize the meaning of “goodbye.”  Cultural differences that they’re currently indifferent to now will frustrate them.

But today T-Rex and Screech are happy to be where Doc Sci and I are.  And they were happy to be with us traveling through six states they probably don’t remember, greeting people they barely know.

These two have helped to remind me – home is where your loved ones are.  It’s not in a dream, it’s not in a longing, it’s not in a fantasy.  It’s right here, wherever that here may be.

Mittagsruhe

Walking home from dinner last night, I realized I had not blogged yet about a very, VERY important element of German life: mittagsruhe.

Loosely translated, it means midday peace & quiet.  It’s a blessing and a curse.

As a mama of two boys who still nap (thank you, God), I’m extremely happy about two hours of quiet time in the afternoon.

The problem comes when said children decide they aren’t napping according to German rules (usually 1pm-3pm) but according to their own (say 2pm-4pm).  Neighbors protest, arguments ensue, and complaints are filed.  Not that I would know anything about that…

Other than children screaming at the top of their lungs, other outlawed activities include laughing, partying, drilling, hammering, marching, lawn mowing, drumming, shooting, bass thumping, snoring, and the like.

Should you happen to know in advance that you might not be quiet during the mittagsruhe (shocker!), it’s to your benefit to ask and/or warn your neighbors.  You still might get an earful, but at least you have the opportunity to offer chocolate cake in an attempt to pacify their protests.

If you happen to find mittagsruhe a bit extreme, I should warn you that Sundays are a full day of peace and quiet: Sonntagsruhe.  Ahh, Germany, what would you be without your quirks?

p.s. – Construction crews and the weather get a free pass and somehow get out of abiding by mittagsruhe rules.

Quirky Korea

Every time I visit a new place, I’m bound to notice the quirks, you know those funky things that make here different from there.  And boy, oh boy, did Korea have plenty fodder for the funnies.

Before you have a look, let me just make it known that I am in no way trying to put down or insult Korean culture.  We’re not stereotyping here; we’re just making observations.  Every people group is weird in their own way, and some of those ways are just hilarious.

SPAM! Koreans love it. Not only do they eat it, they give it as gifts. I found this multi-pack in Home Plus, the Korean version of Tesco. Up close, it looks like free toilet paper with massive Spam purchase, but the photo looks more like paper towels. Well, whatever, free gift with SPAM purchase!

Remember the ramen+convenience store love I mentioned yesterday? It's not just for school girls. Forget the lunch specials at the steak house. Just grab a bowl o' noodles at 7-11. Heat, eat, and go. Oh, and there are TVs everywhere (cars, taxis, buses, subways, elevators, mobile phones). For some reason, this one is not on. Must have TV with ramen!

If you've never seen a Korean drama (aka k-drama), you're missing out. Of course if you have seen them without subtitles, then you're REALLY missing out. We found multiple restaurants with photos such as this, noting the restaurant's involvement in a particular k-drama. This is serious advertising because Koreans LOVE their k-dramas.

Vitamin Water in Seoul? Yes! But, be careful. Korea is known for their knock-offs and you might get stuck with not-exactly Vitamin Water. Some imitation brands I saw were The Red Face (The North Face), LeadSports (LeSportSac), Orion (Oreo), as well as a plethora of very good designer fakes (Gucci, Coach, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, etc).

Korean women do not like freckles, wrinkles, and sun spots. Actually, loathe, detest, and fear might be better words. We rarely saw a woman outside without a ginormous visor and gloves (unless she was going to the office). Many had face masks underneath the visor, just in case the sun decided on a sneak attack.

I cannot for the life of me figure out what these white leg cover thingies are. I mostly saw them on girls in Myeongdong who were trying to get customers in their stores. But, I also saw them on girls in Home Plus who were stocking shelves. Protection or statement?

There's a lot to be said about Korean couple culture. But, the most hilarious thing to see are the matching outfits. His and hers for just about anything imaginable.

This dude is Haechi, or Seoul's mascot. He's supposed to welcome visitors, but I think he's rather disturbing. Though you can't quite tell from this picture, he's got fangs. These haechi figures are actually quite fierce since they're supposed to be protectors. In typical Korean fashion, the haechi has been "cute-ified" and turned into a cartoon character.

Bowing is the typical, respectful gesture in Korea. But this might be taking it a bit far. The poor woman in the picture had to bow to each car that came into the hotel parking lot at Lotte World.

No, it's not a mime in bronze paint. Yes, this woman was there long enough for Doc Sci to take several pictures of her, reading a statue's book. Too bad I don't read Korean; the text must have been mesmerizing.

I don't speak Korean, but I do speak English! Maybe I should give Fun Talk a call. One of my dream jobs is to be a professional does-this-translate-well-into-English proofreader. But, then sites like this would cease to exist.

You had me at ...

Nothing like encouraging violence in the streets.

No soap dispensers, only communal soap on a stick.

And, yet, if you need to know if a bathroom stall is occupied or not, you just check the digital display...?

Girls, break out your Buns of Steel tapes and get ready for squatty potties! Almost every public bathroom had half Western toilets and half squatty potties. But hey, at least I never had to pay for the bathroom workout experience. Score!

And, on that note, we’ll conclude our two-week re-cap of my recent trip to South Korea.  Check back next week for an exciting update to Where in the World!

Some Things Just Don’t Translate Well

CORNY granola bars?  The only thing corny about that is the name!

I set up the boxes, looked through the viewfinder, and found a little thief. It seems mail isn't the only thing stolen around here...

And this thief's good, very good. He makes sure his face isn't captured by the surveillance cameras. But he's also not so smart. The little stinker can't get the wrappers open =). p.s. - he prefers sweet & salty peanut over iced coffee!

 

 

Just in Time for Christmas…

In case you're not satisfied with the one you've got!

I haven’t forgotten about you – I’ve been getting snowed on.  In Prague!!

Since I can’t go anywhere without something happening to me, you know I’ve got lots of stories in my Santa bag for you.  I’d like to say I’ll be posting during our time here, but I’m (trying to be) on vacation.  So look for stories in your stocking next week.

For now, I leave you with this “some things don’t translate well” picture – from Germany.

(p.s. – apparently Schmuck means jewelry in German.  Huh.)