duh, Serious Shit

A dead squirrel


Occasionally I’m reminded of it in subtle ways.

On the rare day when I drive my daughter to daycare, it’s a minute long ride. We go there. I drop her off. Collect my kiss. It’s done.

When we bike, we feel the wind and see the sun rearing up over the houses. I shout at her to push me up the hill. We coast down the other side and I drag my hand out signaling a left turn. I drop her off. Collect my kiss. It’s done.

But if we walk – if we walk – we pick some flowers for mom, we look at a bird, we shout at the bus. We contemplate a dead squirrel in the road. We feel the air. We take off our jackets.  We take everything in.

Here is an illustration of what I’m talking about: Continue reading

duh, Germany, petpeeve

My Four Most Productive Months


About halfway through the summer of 2015 I discovered it – a large, scaly callous. And once discovered, I was bewildered. How do you even achieve a callous on your ankle bone? It wasn’t until two weeks later that I realized what had happened.

I woke up with our baby one morning and we began our normal routine – the same routine we’d had for the past few months. We sat cross-legged on the rug and played before I did my morning exercises. As I went to rise, I leaned in and felt my ankle scrape the rug.

At the time I was coming to the end of three months of paid parental leave. Being your typical desk jockey, I wasn’t accustomed to this much sandal-wearing, floor-sitting or child-lifting, and all of the cross-legged sitting had taken its toll on the old ankle bone.

In total I had taken four months of paid (60% or so) leave. My wife had taken 10 months. This is parental leave in Germany. Fourteen paid months in total between us. Along with state mandated protection for the mother’s job (or an equivalent post) for up to two more years of leave unpaid. Not to mention the special eight weeks of ‘Mutterschutz’ for the mother before and after birth.

I’ve had a lot of trouble writing this post in a constructive way.

Continue reading

beefjerky, duh, Serious Shit

Insult to injury in the world of coffee

Google result when you search ‘Worst coffee website ever’

Don’t mind this link. It’s just the worst website ever on some crappy news site, but the headline ‘Coffee prices fall after bumper crop‘ caught my attention.

So back in January the whole of Central America, Peru and Colombia exploded with an infestation of leaf rust, a fungus that sweeps through coffee farms, strips trees bare, and leaves spindly zombie bushes that are shadows of their former selves. Which is bad. For you. If you’re completely dependent on coffee for income – as most farmers are in countries where coffee is grown.

But then out of nowhere Brazil comes up with a predicted bumper crop in a supposed off-season prompting the bookies setting the futures at the NY ICE to lower coffee prices further. So what you have here is a textbook case of salt being heaped into a gushing wound. While some of the finest coffees of the world come out of Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the whole gang, there’s no income if there’s nothing to sell.

And it’s cool because all sorts of people are rallying around to help coffee farmers improve things. There’s this great Roya Recovery Project, the International Coffee Organization is up to some good things, and of course Fairtrade International is putting together  funding proposals and dong trainings, and the folks at Fair Trade USA have jumped on the bandwagon as well.

Now I apologize as I will get a bit cynical here. But what is it when we’re okay with it if farmers are struggling to cover  basic costs of production and can’t even afford a full meal everyday for their families. But then if  production falls and we can’t get the special coffees we so richly desire, suddenly it’s an international crisis.

No doubt it is a crisis as this is destroying people’s only livelihood in many cases. But what if folks in these communities weren’t completely dependent on coffee? What if there was a local economy beyond the coffee monoculture, maybe this crisis wouldn’t be so bleak? Or maybe the price of coffee ought to not only cover costs, but also extra so people can invest in improving their plots and fixing things up. But with prices as they are, even if these farmers had a full harvest, that wouldn’t happen.

So this stinks.

But there’s hope and people doing cool work out there. People like Coffee Kids, Food 4 Farmers and others who have the uncanny ability to look beyond coffee and see that people need options. People who understand that the future of coffee is dependent on people having choices. So maybe you should go over there and give whatever extra you would pay for a really fancy coffee to them to do their work.

duh, protest, Serious Shit

Du hast ein Gewehr?!

This picture comes up if you Google search ‘Gun Fun.’ There are other great ones too, but I’ll let you find that on your own.

It carried through to morning breakfast.

“Really, you have guns?” Edgar would say shaking his head.

The incredulous look would reprise during conversational lulls. And given my limited German vocabulary, conversational lulls were regular throughout this visit to a friend’s family farm in rural Germany.

Raversbeuren is eight kilometers up the steep valley of the Mosel River. Ascending through the forest on my bike, I eventually broke through to expansive rolling fields of wheat and hay interspersed with stands of forest. It looked a little bit like the hills just past Dubuque, Iowa, and in the evening light after six hours in the saddle, it felt like home.

I pulled into the farm and was immediately overwhelmed by nostalgia. My friend’s parents reminded me of my own as they griped over the number of broken machines in the barn and the price of milk, and lamented the departure of their children to the city – no one staying to take over the farm.

That night – after going over the basics of who I was, where I was from, how many brothers I have, etc. – we got on the subject of the recent shootings in the US. I relayed the fact that my family owned four guns (three shotguns and a rifle). I tried to properly convey the subtle nuances of people and their relationship with firearms in the US.

But it didn’t really work.

“Wirklich? Vier Gewehre?” Continue reading

cockfights, duh, Holy crap, protest

Dudley writes back

Every Sunday as we trundled out of the long nap commonly known as church, the whole family would eagerly board the Blue Behemoth – our Ford station wagon – and head for Roundy’s grocery where we had our choice of candy (on some Sundays this treat was supplemented by a sweet roll of the Long John variety). When I was younger I tended toward the Skittles (when there was just one variety), Mambo or one of those other chewy, sugar concoctions.

I can’t remember when it happened, but my taste eventually matured I started looking for things with more complexity. And so it happened. Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll came into my life. A combination of sugar and salt, crunch and chew, nougat and nut that kicks the ass of nut roll competitor, Payday (don’t trust the review though, not even close).

This amazing painting by Thomas Ojanpera comes up if you search for ‘Salted Nut Rolls in history’.

According to Pearson’s random, marginally dated website, the salted nut roll “was introduced in 1933 at the height of the depression and soon changed its name to the Choo Choo Bar in an effort to distinguish it from its competitors.” Mysteriously, this amazing name was changed back to the generic Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll to help confused customers find it among a sea of competing salted nut rolls.

I like the idea of a sea of competing salted nut rolls. And salted nut roll barons looking for every single competitive edge, slicing margins, corporate espionage all just to get ahead in the cut throat nut roll world.

I really hit that candy bar around the time of high school. The way the salt just so slightly overpowered the sugar was key. Beyond that, Pearson’s had enlisted the help one of the finest mascots the world has seen, Dudley P. Nut. My sense of irony had become more keen by the time I reached high school and I found in Mr. P. Nut a perfect foil for my sweet tooth. Continue reading

beefjerky, duh, Germany

Picnic table stage fright

This is what comes up as an image when you search scheiss Deutsch

I pulled up a seat at the Gut Ostler Farm Saturday Afternoon Open House in mid-October.

“Sprechen sie Deutsch?”

“Ja, ein bisschen,” I replied.

“Nein, Kyle sprichst gut Deutsch,” my friend interjected.

And then I froze.

As a person familiar with the stage and mostly comfortable in front of people, it was surprising how an intimate gathering of four around a picnic table could suddenly become the largest, most ominous audience in the world.

My throat tightened, my eyes searched for a way out and all looked at me expecting something to spring forth. And it didn’t.

I stuttered and stammered, and tried to remember how to say simple things. And eventually I excused myself to get some food.

My vocabulary continues to grow and my confidence has picked up a bit, but I am nowhere near to what I would call a good German. I’m not even sure if what I wrote up there is correct and I’m too lazy right now to go check, so please just apply a ‘(sp?)’ to it all.

I eventually returned to my table with a plate of meat.

When your language skills are right on the verge, you’re bound to occasionally end up with something you’re uncertain of (check out my next post for more on that). Being affirmative and smily can often carry you through to the the next contextual contact and may make the difference between interrupting the flow or finding a verbal lifesaver to pull you back into the conversation. Other times you end up with a large plate of gristly meat when you thought you’d be getting the potato salad platter with lamb shank.

My friends looked at my plate of meat and I proceeded to tear at it with razor-sharp incisors as if it’s exactly what I ordered. Fortunately, that gave me something keep my mouth busy until the conversation changed to a direction I could follow.

duh, Germany, Holy crap

Friend, Farmer and so on…

It’s all kind of obvious when I think of it now, but when I was a child we used to think Native American names were much more fun, interesting and descriptive than our names. Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Black Hawk – these are all so much more exciting than Bacchuber, Bauer, Freund and the like.

Growing up in a very German area, I assumed our names just appeared, attached to us on a tag as we shot out the womb. No meaning, no history. Nothing but a name. But now as I struggle to learn German, I’m beginning to realize that  these old names have old meanings from the old country and I’ve just turned the corner to interesting-town.

Continue reading