Friday, December 21, 2012


Here's my grandmother's Pfeffernusse recipe. I make half, which produces plenty of cookies, at least 5 dozen, but here is the full recipe:

2 1/2 lbs flour (8 3/4 cups)
1/2 lb brown sugar (1 1/8 cups)
1 1/2 lb dark Karo syrup (2 1/2 cups or 1 jar  + 4 oz)
1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp baking soda disolved in a little water
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp crushed anise seeds
1 tsp grated lemon rind
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Mix and heat the syrup, sugar and butter. Add 1/2 of the flour and dry ingredients. Cool, then add the rest of the ingredients. Cover and let set in a cool place for 2 weeks*. Roll dough into a sausage. Cut pieces about 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick. Bake in a 375 deg oven for about 11 minutes. Let cool and coat with powdered sugar (put in a gallon sized zip-lock bag and shake).

 *I never actually let it sit for 2 weeks, and I'm not sure of the purpose for letting it sit for so long. I sometimes refrigerate it over night after I've rolled it, because the dough is very stiff.

Back in Germany, in time for Christmas

This is going to be a long post! I am back in Germany, and also finally have internet so I can finally catch up on some stuff I wanted to blog about.

It's been a busy couple of months! We got our stuff packed and shipped - the air shipment made it here with my rigid heddle loom and spinning wheel. My sewing machine, serger and 4-shaft loom are currently en route via sea container.
We had been in a temporary, furnished apartment so we also were occupied with all the things one does changing apartments: packing, moving, cleaning, unpacking, cleaning, buying furniture from IKEA, putting together furniture from IKEA, cleaning, getting cable and internet connected, etc., etc. Oh, and more cleaning. We had to clean our old place, of course, but I didn't expect to have to clean the new one. The previous tenants did leave us a closet full of cleaning supplies - I just wish they'd used them during the 4 years they were here. I went through an entire bottle of Mr. Clean, numerous sponges, two sponge mop heads, and a pair of rubber gloves. The good news is that scrubbing floors, bathroom tile and ovens burns calories. Along with lots of walking, I've been able to lose about 15 pounds, despite a diet that includes beer, pretzels, spaetzle, and bratwurst. When my sewing machine gets here I will need to make some alterations to some of my clothes - and of course make some new ones!

But it's not been all work and no play (oh yeah, I did quit my work and am now a full time hausfrau!). We've been enjoying Christmas in Germany. Most of the towns have Christmas markets, either for just a weekend or for the entire month.

Stuttgart Christmas Market
You can buy Christmas ornaments and decorations, gifts, kitchenware, scrub brushes...the scrub brush booths are very popular and sell every type of brush you could imagine - Germans do like a clean house (the previous tenants in our apartment were Americans).

Christmas decorations in the Nuremberg Christmas Market

Of course there is also food at these Christmas markets. Bratwurst, of course, but chocolate covered fruit is very popular as well as warm nuts. But the most important item at the Christmas market is something called glühwein. It's a warm, spiced wine that will help you deal with the bitter cold as well as the crowds in the market. Every (adult) seems to be holding a cup of steaming glühwein - usually a colorful one, decorated with the name of the town, which you can keep or turn in to get your 2-3 euro deposit back. We've begun a small collection of them.

One of our favorite Christmas markets is in Esslingen, Germany. They have a market with a medieval theme, with stalls selling handmade items like baskets, knives, and soaps. The glühwein is sold in more rustic looking mugs and cups. I spied a booth selling spindles and just "had" to get one, along with some fiber. I was looking at a spindle that was more decorative but was undecided, then a woman walked right up and bought it! So I looked at some others and was actually glad she made up my mind for me because I chose one that was better balanced. The seller saw me twirling it in my hand and asked if I spun - or at least I think she did since I still don't know much German. I indicated I did, and the woman gave me a hunk of plain white fiber - I presume to practice with before I spin the purple fiber I bought. So nice!

Drop spindle from Esslingen Chistmas Market
Video from Esslingen Medieval Christmas Market 

I've created a little Christmas in our apartment too. We have a little, potted live tree, and I made a wreath for the front door.

And finally, I made Christmas cookies. I make them every year, but making them in Germany is special because these are recipes from my German-heritage grandmother. The white cookies are Pfeffernusse, and I made the sugar cookies I've made many times in the past (link to recipe here).

I had a little difficulty getting the oven temperature right. Not only is it an oven I've not used before, but I had to convert the baking temperature to Celsius. The first batches were a little overdone. But the cookies came out pretty good, and I will admit to eating more than a few - but having to scrub the oven beforehand worked off some calories and I deserved a reward!

I still have photos to share of some of the places we've visited, such as Italy, and I also have some knitting FOs to share. But I'll save that for another post since this one is now quite long.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 05, 2012

The issue of UFOs

I'm talking about those pesky, unfinished objects, not ET. Since we're going to be gone for 3 years, I've been approaching the stuff in the house with this question in mind: if I don't bring it with me to Germany, will it be relevant in 3 years when we get back? This has helped me part with stuff like magazines I thought I'd get around to reading and electronic gadgets that I don't want to bring but will be very obsolete in 3 years. It's also made me face my UFOs. Many of these projects have been sitting idle for years now already, do I really want to condemn them to 3 more years?

For example, there's the Burda jacket I started over 5 years ago and never got back to. I don't know why I put it aside so long. Maybe I thought that since I'd gained a little weight it would be too small, so why bother, or maybe it just seemed too complicated. But I tried it on and it will fit (I have lost a little weight), the style is still OK, and I must say that my workmanship on it was very nice, so I think it is worth finishing. It's coming with me and I will get it finished.

There's a myriad of knitting projects in various stages - three sweaters need blocking and seaming and a little finishing work and there are a couple of single, unfinished socks that either need to be frogged or finished (along with a mate). All are coming with me. It's going to be a UFO marathon!

But there is also fabric, yarn, and fiber for new projects, however not as much as I thought I would bring. After reading Rose's comment on my last post I realized I was way too ambitious in my thought of what I could use up in my projects. I probably still am. With a desire to sew, knit, weave and spin I have to accept that my project-time has to be split among these activities. It also made me realize that I have far too much fiber for spinning. I must, must, must resist buying more no matter how soft and tempting it is. At least fabric, yarn, and fiber can fit in my suitcase so if by some miracle I actually use up what I bring I can shop my stash during a visit home.

That is all...back to packing!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Maximum stash anxiety

I have a problem. It's what could be called a  princess, 1st world, or champagne problem, but it's a problem for me none the less. You know from reading my blog that I haven't been sewing much over the last few years. Except for my annual Christmas party dresses and some home dec, the sewing machine has been pretty idle. Well, now I have time while I'm taking a break from work to live in Germany for a few years. At least I'll have time for sewing during the week - our weekends will be spent traveling as much as possible. But that week will have to split among my many interests as well as my desire to learn German and explore the local surroundings. That's princess problem #1: too many hobbies, not enough time.

Princess problem #2 is that I have too much fabric. Selecting what to bring is giving me anxiety. I had a crazy idea to create a huge SWAP (Sewing With A Plan) to cover the next few years, but there's just not time or energy to do that. I am only home for a few weeks to gather what I want to have packed and shipped to Germany. It's totally out of the question to bring all the fabric - there's far too much, but at least I don't have to get rid of what I don't bring. Most of my fabric is stored in plastic bins and swatched on cards so I know what I have, but confronting it sort of feels like you do after you eat an entire box of cookies. I'm sick to my stomach that I acquired more than I can really use, but I want them all. There's some really great fabric stored away that I'd like to bring, but I think the best strategy right now is to bring the fabrics that aren't stored. Some of the fabrics are ones I pulled out because I had intentions of actually make something with it (ha!), and some are purchases from over the last few years that never got stored or swatched. It's all good stuff, and while I don't have exact plans for all of the fabric, I have some ideas of what it can be used for. I think this way I'll have fabric to sew and hopefully I won't have to buy fabric locally, where it's expensive and probably redundant to what I have at home. I will be making some trips home so I can bring some fabric back with me if I really need to. Hmmm, should I bring all my swatch cards to Germany or will that just make me nuts because I didn't bring the perfect fabric with me?

Princess problem #3 is too many patterns. Darn those sales at Joanns! I also have a sizable collection of Kwik Sew, Jalie, and independent patterns. Burda? I have 13 years of Burda magazine patterns. Thirteen years. And lets not forget the other foreign magazines - Patrones, Diana, Ottobre, a few La Mia Boutiques. I've done a bit of traveling and buying them is one of my weaknesses. So my plan for patterns is to bring a selection of envelope ones that I think would work with the fabric I'm bringing and to bring the last two years of Burda magazines. I still get Burda delivered to my address in Germany and of course I can go to any newstand and buy Burda and other sewing magazines (Ottobre, Patrones, Diana), so I don't think I will have a shortage of patterns to use. And if I really want a Big-4 pattern for some reason, I can probably have someone (mom?) mail it to me.

Princess problem #4. I also knit. So problems #2 and #3 apply to yarn and knitting patterns/magazines as well.

Princess problem #5. I also spin. At least fiber is squishable.

Princess problem #6. I also weave. My 4-shaft loom is somewhat portable and the rigid heddle folds up, so that's good for space issues. And I can weave with the yarn I spin, so there's a bonus! Well, at least the weft - I still need the right warp yarn.

Ok, my head hurts now, and I need to get back to deciding what to bring. I haven't even touched my notions. Scissors, thread, elastic, zippers, buttons...this is going to be harder than I thought.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Regensburg, a set on Flickr.
We visited Regensburg, Germany earlier this month. It's one of Germany's oldest towns, founded in 179 AD by the Romans. A lot of the medieval city center is preserved, so there are lots of skinny, winding streets to explore. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Generations and Generations

I’ve been researching the genealogy of my family for a number of years now and have quite a lot of information. I love puzzles and solving things, so hunting down ancestors fits right in with that. I know that many of my ancestors came from Germany so I was hoping to be able to do some further research while I am here. When I reviewed my data I was thrilled to see that one family came from Stuttgart, Germany, which is where I am living right now! Even better, I was able to attend a seminar here on how to search for your ancestors. We had a personal tour of the Landeskirchliches Archiv in Suttgart, where most of the “church books” are held that contain all the names and birthdates of people who lived in this area. A German genealogist helped explain how to go about our research and also helped to decipher the German script on the microfilms of those church books. We were a small group of five visitors at the archives but I was the lucky one who actually had ancestors from here and knew the town they were from, so the genealogists where able to help me with real research. You must know the name of the town when searching because there is no index of surnames to help you. Based on the town name (Fellbach), the German genealogists were quickly able to locate my ancestor’s name on the microfilm and confirm that he was born here and immigrated to America. He’d changed the first letter of his last name so I wasn’t confident of other research I’d found that linked him to a long family line here in Germany, but now I feel I can link to it. Assuming this other research is correct (I don’t have definitive sources), I can go back 14 generations:

father – Robert Olsen (1925 – 1998)
grandmother – Marguerite Coxey (1892 – 1978)
great grandfather – William C. Coxey (1866 – 1939)
2nd great grandmother – Elizabeth Edler (1829 – 1906)
3rd great grandfather – Jacob Lange Edler (1782 – 1852) <<<< he’s the one I researched
4th great grandfather – Johann Caspar Idler (1742 – 1815)
5th great grandmother – Anna Maria Schäfer (1709 – 1763)
6th great grandfather – Johann August T. Schäfer (1672 – ?)
7th great grandmother – Anna Fridle (1639 – 1693)
8th great grandfather – Martin Fridle (1607 – 1669)
9th great grandmother – Apollonia Rebmann (1586 – 1634)
10th great grandfather – Hans Jacob Rebmann (1557 – 1597)
11th great grandfather – Jakob Rebmann (1525 – 1575)
12th great grandfather – Hans Rebmann (1500-1565)

I can also go back 12-13 generations on many other paths, including the Idlers back to 1536. Pretty neat, but also amazing when you think about how if just one of those people had died as a child, like so many of them did, I wouldn’t be here. It’s also mind boggling when I start realizing how many ancestors I have. I decided to calculate the number of people in the early 16th century (around 14 generations ago for me) that were needed to pair up to create the offspring that eventually led to me.

Are you ready?

One generation is 21 = 2: mother and father
The next generation is 22 = 4: two sets of grandparents
Three generations back is 23 = 8: four sets of great grandparents
...and so on
So 14 generations is 214 = 16384 or 8192 sets of great-great-great-great-great…ok, 12 greats in there…grandparents.

Somewhere there has to be some duplication because if you keep going you’d need more people than were alive. I obviously don’t have all the names of my ancestors, but I do have quite a lot. I started seeing the same name in different generations that weren’t in the same line, so I’m sure that if I did have all the names, I’d see that I don’t actually have 8192 different sets of 12th great grandparents. Also, this number includes people in other parts of Germany and also Norway and England, where I know I have ancestors from as well.

And then there’s the other direction. How many people are the result of Hans Rebmann being alive from 1500 to 1565 and having children? A lot, and I’m sure he was just happy that his son, Jakob Rebmann, survived.

But back to the Idlers. They all lived in Fellbach, which is about 6 km from where I am. I am definitely going to make the short trip over there and walk around, take pictures, and imagine my relatives living and working there.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Thursday, September 06, 2012


More travel photos! But this post is short. I have a lot of photos to go through - it's easy to click, click, click and take hundreds of photos but not so easy to sort through them all. At least it's not film! I remember those days - the smell of the film, lead bags to get through the x-ray machine, and then the price of having to get those rolls developed! But I digress...

On our way to Vienna in July (goodness, it's been that long already!), we stopped at the little town of Melk, which is about 50 miles (86 km) west of Vienna, on the Danube river in Austria.

Melk, Austria
We stopped here because my "Off the Beaten Track Austria" book explained that the large building on the hill was a Benedictine abbey and that you couldn't miss it from the motorway. So we thought we'd get a closer look and stretch our legs.
The pictures don't do it justice. It was a gray day, getting late and we didn't have a good vantage point. Click here to see a much better photo from someone else.

Melk, Austria
But we did have a nice little stroll through the quaint town.

Melk, Austria
Melk, Austria
There are few more pictures on

Friday, August 31, 2012


Aaron's Trip by jezzybelly
I like this photo my husband took on his work trip to Sydney and Singapore. I think this was in Sydney, as I doubt they'd allow "wall art" in Singapore, but I could be wrong.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Knitting frustration

I'm still here in Germany and I have pictures of our travels to post, but between work and my latest knitting frustration, I have been too busy to get to them. But I am going to vent about the knitting frustration. I just ripped out about a month's worth of knitting over it.

I'm working on this sweater: Laguna Jacket. I bought the pattern and yarn in Wellington, New Zealand when we visited there two years ago. I tried on a finished jacket in the store so I had a good idea how the jacket would turn out and fit. It seemed like a great little cardigan and I assumed it would not difficult to make, especially since the pattern isn't very long and is labeled "intermediate." When I was going through my yarn and patterns before leaving for Germany, I thought this would be an ideal project to knit over the summer. In hindsight, I should have checked first because despite over 2 million registered users of Ravelry and an average of 500,000 active users per month, NO ONE has made this pattern. This meant that I was on my own when I had problems with the pattern. And oh yes, I had problems. I have not found any errata for the pattern either which left me questioning "is it me, or is it the pattern instructions?" While I'm not the most experience knitter, especially when it comes to knitting sweaters, I do know something about construction of garments and I do know math. It's not me.

I will be posting my experience with this pattern on Ravelry but I need to vent about it here on my blog first. First let me say that while I have never written a pattern, let alone one for publication, I have friends who have. I know they spend a great amount of time making sure the pattern works for different sizes and checking it for errors. I also have friends who have tested patterns for designers to make sure the instructions are correct. So I am very disappointed to find that the same care was apparently not taken with this pattern and that it has cost me a lot of time and caused me a great deal of frustration.

So where do I begin? The pattern has sizes listed with the dimensions for chest, actual measurement (which I assume is the finished chest size), sleeve length and sweater length. This is more than most patterns provide so it seemed like a pretty good start. I had tried on the size large in the store, so I didn't pay much attention to the measurements - I just circled the stitch counts for the size large in the pattern and began knitting. It's a cardigan, with the body knit in one piece, so you knit from the bottom up to where the armholes begin, and then you place the front left and right sections on stitch holders and knit the back, with small bind off sections where the armholes begin. At the neck you leave the shoulder stitches on holders (and bind off for the neck edge in between), and then you go back and knit the front sections. The front and back shoulders are joined using a 3-needle bind off. Finally, you pick up stitches at the armholes and knit the sleeves. Seems fairly straight forward, but the problems are in the details.

Here are the mistakes I found, both small and large:
  • Divide for front and back: says "Place 41(45, 49, 52, 57) stitches for each side on markers"  - I think she meant holders, not markers. Nit-picky error but an error none the less.
  • Back: "Starting at right side at the back (RS facing), attach yarn and K74(82, 87, 94, 103)." - Should be K73(81, 86, 93, 102), I think. For size large, the stitch count is 49-98-49 (side-back-side), and when you get to the bind-off where the armhole begins, you bind off 6 stitches on each side so it's 49-6-86-6-49. I can't think of where the extra stitch comes from to make it 87, not 86 stitches for the back.  
  • Front and neck shaping: says "work front as for back, including all shaping". There was no shaping! The instructions for the front have you work in stockinette until a certain length and then bind off a set number of stitches and continue in stockinette until you reach the sweater length. The problem is that for size large if you do this you end up with 34 stitches at the front shoulder, which doesn't match the 28 stitches of the back shoulder. I believe the instructions are missing the neck shaping. After I bound off the first 15 stitches per the pattern, I bound off another stitch each row until I reached 28 stitches and then I knit straight. This resulted in a slightly curved neckline like what is shown in the photo of the sweater on the model.
At this point I was mildly annoyed with the pattern instructions but I was also leery of the seemingly huge armhole that was created when I followed the dimensions for the length. I should have stopped right there, but thinking I was missing something (and still trusting the pattern), I continued on.

  • Sleeves: large size says to pick up 88 stitches. Now I hate picking up stitches because it's never quite clear which part of the stitch to pick up, especially when you're working across stitches that change direction. But there was no way I could pick up 88 stitches and have this sleeve look correct. If I picked up every loop, I counted 154 stitches in my sleeve opening. On my first attempt I attempted to pick up only 88 of those loops - this resulted in an open, lacy kind of sleeve join and looked wrong. I tried twisting every stitch to help close it up, but that didn't work either. Then I tried picking up every stitch but knitting two together so that I'd have a total of 88 - again that looked wrong because the sleeve diameter was too small compared to the sleeve opening.
Thinking the huge armhole was due to a mistake I made following the dimensions, I studied the pattern some more, but this just made me more disappointed in the pattern instructions. The dimensions are given in both English and metric. I'd been following the English so I decided to see how the metric dimensions compared. But I found more errors, and this has caused me to completely distrust this pattern. Before dividing for the front and back, the instructions say to knit "for 1 inch (4 cm)." One inch is not 4 centimeters, it's 2.5 centimeters! Had I knit for 4 centimeters, my armhole would be a bit smaller - still not enough smaller, but better. A quick check of some other places where both inches and centimeters are shown also show poor conversion. I wondered if I would have had better results by following the metric numbers, but the sizes and overall dimensions are only given in inches so one would think that the pattern was written for English measurements (despite the fact that New Zealand uses metric).

At this point, I accepted that I could not solve the armhole problem. I tried calculating how I could pick up 154 stitches and reduce it to a normal-looking amount to make the sleeve fit, but ultimately decided that I had to do the inevitable. My husband asked me if my knitting friends could help but I knew their conclusion would be the same., back to where I divided for the front and back. Closer inspection of the photograph of the sweater also tells me that I should knit more than 4 cm before the armhole begins and certainly more than one inch. At least the body of the sweater is in stockinette (the lace bottom was a simple pattern but hard on the hands to knit). Plus I already know to apply the missing shaping, and I'm prepared to be cautious of the remaining instructions for the sleeve. 

I do still want to finish this sweater. I like the simple look and that it's not a sweater that is knit in pieces and then sewn together. Except for the giant armholes, the body portion seemed to fit well. I just wish the pattern instructions were either correct and complete or that the designer had made this an expert level pattern with instructions for the knitter to apply appropriate shaping and assess dimensions accordingly - at least then I would have known what I was in for.

Monday, July 30, 2012

5 countries in 15 days

Since we still don't know whether our "European Vacation" will be 3 years or 3 months, we are making the most of our time right now, especially while we have the long days of summer sunlight. You'd think we were actually on a vacation to be able to be in 5 countries in a short period of time but my husband is actually working during the week and I've done some work remotely from here as well. Fortunately from where we are geographically situated here, driving to different countries is similar to driving to different states in the US.

Starting on July 14th, we went to Strasbourg, France, befitting because it was Bastille Day.

The next day we headed south and decided to venture into Switzerland where we spent the day strolling around Schaffhausen. I will have to tell more about Schaffhausen and how it was serendipity to wind up there.

The next weekend we left on a Friday and made a long weekend out of driving to Vienna, Austria with a stop in Salzburg on the way home. We could have driven not quite 90 more kilometers east to Bratislava, Slovakia and added one more country to our list, but we decided it would take time out of seeing Austria, so we chose not to go.

This past weekend we drove to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg and stayed overnight.

I have pictures from all of these places and plan to post them here and on Flickr, with a little commentary about where we visited.

The Produce Man Returns

After figuring out that the Produce Man comes every 2 weeks, around 8:30 in the morning, I was ready for him. I had my list, my Euros, and most importantly the key to the apartment because the door locks behind you. Of course I needn't have worried about my inferior German language skills - the Produce Man is young and speaks better English than I speak German, though I did speak German when I could. I also wrote down the German words for what I wanted but it turned out I already knew them after buying them in the grocery for the last 6 weeks: Kopfsalat, Tomaten, Heidelbeeren, Kirschen, Erdbeeren, und Eier.

I suspect the price was higher than at the grocery, but it's worth not lugging the bags up the hill or spending fuel to drive to the commissary. And if you can't tell from the picture, the produce is quite nice. Silly as it sounds, it was a fun experience and I look forward to buying more in 2 weeks. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fourth of Munich

MunichMunichMunichRiver Surfing in Munich, GermanyRiver surfing in Munich, GermanyA Surfer on the Eisbach River in Munich
Surfing in MunichMunichMunichMunichMunichMunich
Store in Munich that sells colorful feltMunichMunichMunichMunich Rathaus and GlockenspielMarienplatz in central Munich
Munich GlockenspielMunichElaborate May-pole in MunichMunichMichael Jackson shrine in MunichMunich
Munich, a set on Flickr.
We could have celebrated with hot dogs, beer and fireworks on the Army base but instead we skipped the festivities and opted for a day trip to Munich.

Hopefully it will be one of many trips to the city, and we'll be able to explore more. On this trip we stopped first at the Biergarten in Englischer Garten where we enjoyed oversized pretzels, beer and some sandwiches I'd packed. We could have lingered there all day and enjoyed the German band that was playing in the Chinese Pagoda, and of course more beer, but since I hadn't been to the city since 1992, I was curious to see if I'd remember any of it and how much it'd changed. Turned out I didn't remember much at all, except for the famous Glockenspiel that every tourist to Munich visits.

We headed toward the Marienplatz, where the Glockenspiel is located, but first I had to witness the river surfing. Yes, surfing on a river. About a half dozen young men in wet suits took turns hopping from the banks of the Eisbach River onto their surfboards to ride the wild rapids that form on the river just after a bridge. Apparently people have been surfing here for 40 years but 2 years ago Munich made it legal to do so.

From the bridge over the Eisbach River we walked toward Marienplatz, passing through the Hofgarten. We had mssed the last show of the Glockenspiel (11 am but also noon and 5 pm in the summer) but perhaps we'll catch it another time. I do remember that I saw it 20 years ago - about all I can tell you is that characters come out and twirl around and music plays. I'm sure there's a Youtube video of it out there.

On our way back to Englischer Garten where the car was parked, we stopped to see a huge memorial to Michael Jackson. We don't know why there is such a huge memorial to him - it takes over the statue commemorating a Bavarian musician. At any rate, it was somewhat amusing to read the heartfelt messages and see the items left by his fans. It was certainly impressive to see such an expression of adoration. I don't know if there was a special connection he had with the city, other than probably playing concerts there.

Munich is about 2-3 hours away, depending on traffic, or more accurately the amount of construction on the autobahn that causes the traffic. We'll be back, I hope.