Tour the Blackfly Kingdom: Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

How about a tour the Blackfly Kingdom? My favorite castle on the Rhine: “Pfalzgrafenstein” is kind of a mouthful, so people call it by the name of the nearest village, Kaub. ©Laurel Decher, 2020.

When we travel these days, we often drive or fly. In earlier times, the rivers were the highways. Big and long rivers, like the Rhine River in Germany were important for delivering people and things.

[Is that why Amazon is named after a river in Brazil? I don’t know, do you?]

If you visit, you can stay at the nearby youth hostel or the YMCA hotel in another castle, high up in the village of Kaub. Down at the Rhine riverbank, you take a small ferry across to the island.

This castle is the perfect place for collecting tolls from ships bringing cargo up and down the Rhine River. If you’ve ever seen a modern tollbooth, you’ll agree that this is about the fanciest tollbooth ever!

Modern tollbooth for cars.
Source: Shutterstock Royalty-free stock vector ID: 683431282

The first tolls were collected almost 800 years ago in 1257. The castle changed hands several times and new parts were added and reinforced. The Prussians finally stopped charging ships tolls here in 1866. Since 1946, the castle belongs to the state of Rhineland Pfalz in Germany.

Boy holding leeks in a hot air balloon with dragon and fairy godfather overhead, sleigh chained to the hot air balloon basket

If you like Pfalzgrafenstein castle as much as I do, you might enjoy Prince Nero’s adventures.

It’s a way to spend a little more time in the Blackfly Kingdom.

Happy reading!

Click here for more about the book.


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What is International Book Giving Day?

This beautiful poster was created by Sanne Dufft, an illustrator and picture book author from Germany.

What is international book giving day? https://bookgivingday.com/about/

Get the poster, bookmarks and bookplate here.

The website suggests 6 ways you can get involved:

14th February is about getting books into the hands of as many children as possible on 14th February #bookgivingday

“1 in 8 disadvantaged children in the UK don’t own a single book” [source: National Literacy Trust, Dec 2017]

6 Ways You Can Get Involved in International Book Giving Day!

  1. Subscribe to our website, join over 14,000 already committed to #bookgivingday.
  2. Leave a book for a child to discover, donate to a local charity.
  3. Connect with others celebrating International Book Giving Day via Facebook, Twitter  and Instagram #bookgivingday
  4. Download and print an International Book Giving Day bookmark and/or bookplate to attach to a book you give. They’re free!
  5. Share a photo of yourself celebrating International Book Giving Day. Use #bookgivingday on social media so we can find you.
  6. Invite your community to celebrate International Book Giving Day. Proudly display the #bookgivingday poster.

In addition, we encourage people to support the work of nonprofit organisations (i.e. charities) that work year round to give books to children. See the links in the side bar. This is not a comprehensive list, by any means.

International Book Giving Day has continued to grow & grow since it began in 2012.

International Book Giving Day is celebrated by people in over 44 countries, including – Ukraine, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Australia, Canada, South Africa, France, India, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, the Philippines, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Nigeria, Nicaragua, Brazil, Egypt, Poland, Greece, Portugal, Mexico, Macedonia, Malawi, Hungary, Malaysia, Israel, Denmark, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Thailand, Indonesia, Jordan, China, Puerto Rico and Bulgaria.

We hope that people around the world will think about the best ways to help children in need in their communities.

International Book Giving Day is a 100% volunteer initiative aimed at increasing children’s access to and enthusiasm for books.

International Book Giving Day is run by Emma Perry (My Book Corner, UK) and brilliantly supported by Catherine Friess – Story Snug (Germany) on Twitter.Contact: Emma Perry . email: emperry @ gmail dot com  — general enquiries


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Happy Day-Before-St. Nicholas-Day!

Small bread baked in the shape of gingerbread men in a bakery window
These “Bread Guys” are in a Luxembourg bakery. ©Laurel Decher, 2019.

Would your family like to celebrate St. Nicholas’s Day this year? At our house, it’s always been a nice start to a busy month.

Making Stutenkerle or “Bread Guys” is a fun, easy, and reasonably healthy after-school activity on December 5th.

Afterwards, the kids can do what German kids are doing: clean their boots and put them out for St. Nicholas.

On December 6th, our kids’ boots were full of things to get their own presents organized.

  • Gift bows or
  • tags,
  • ribbon,
  • a roll of wrapping paper.
  • And a chocolate St. Nicholas.

And the Bread Guys!

Bread Guys make breakfast the next morning VERY cheerful.

In the Rhineland where I live, you can buy Weckmänner in the bakeries.The word sounds like “Men who wake you up.” I’m still waiting for someone to explain that to me. . .  🙂

What, no German bakeries?

The easy way to do this:

  • refrigerator biscuit dough from the grocery store* and
  • raisins,
  • sprinkles,
  • almonds,
  • red hots,
  • or whatever you have for decoration.

*Fun fact:Knack und Back” is the German name for those refrigerator rolls that you smack (“Knack”) on the counter and they pop open. “Back” means to bake.

Stuck for ideas for those shiny clean boots? How about a copy of. . . . [you saw that one coming, didn’t you? 🙂]


Boy holding leeks in a hot air balloon with dragon and fairy godfather overhead, sleigh chained to the hot air balloon basket

LOST WITH LEEKS

A Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tale, Book 2

Argh! Crown Prince Nero is lost again. That’s what he gets for trying to fly a hot air balloon. Thanks to his fairy godfather’s gift, every map and compass goes kerflooey as soon as Nero touches it.

Even worse, his royal mom has just kidnapped St. Nicholas.

If Nero can’t find his true North in a hurry, he’ll never rescue him before St. Nicholas’s Day!

Ebook available at:

Kobo

Kindle

Tolino

Barnes & Noble

Apple Books

More stores coming soon!

Paperback and Hardcovers available at online stores and wherever books are sold (or borrowed!)

IndieBound

Amazon

Book Depository

Lucy Goosey

Wordery

Happy St. Nicholas’s Day!!!


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What You Say Depends on Where You Come From

footbridge covered with white and purple flowers connects market square to stone church with onion steeple, and to the "red house"
View of the Protestant City Church of Monschau (Evangelische Stadtkirche Monschau) and bridge covered with flower boxes. Monschau’s “Red House.” Monschau, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

The charming village of Monschau is in Germany, but Americans and Belgians were filling it up the other day. It’s very close to the Belgian border and so charming that it draws Americans from much further away.

It’s a mix of cultures. I overheard this classic exchange in a café:

“Salt or sugar?” An American tourist picks up the glass dispenser from the café table and shakes it.

Her companion says, “Sugar. No one eats that much salt.”

My German husband and I have been married 29 years, so I’ve forgotten things I didn’t know when I first came to Europe. This exchange resonated with me. I’ve heard it many times before. We don’t realize how much our cultures influence us until we leave home.

When we were first married, we met someone who was researching communication and conflict among international couples.

“How do you know if it’s cultural or if it’s personal?” I asked.

“Couples from the same pairs of countries say the same things,” she* said, somewhat dryly. “When you hear the same thing again, you know it’s cultural, not personal.”

Obvious to anyone outside the marriage. Impossible to see inside an international marriage. Two mini-stories:

We hadn’t been married a month when I asked my new husband if he’d like to take out the trash. “No,” he said, taking what I’d said at face value.

Another time, we watched TV with relatives in a tiny living room. I didn’t realize I was blocking anyone’s view, so when someone asked if I could see all right, I said, “Yes, thank you” and sent the whole room into laughter.

Learning to ask for what you need is challenging in any culture and is less tied to language than we think.

My mom once pointed out how children change their tactics when they reach school age. Babies and toddlers can point at what they want without being impolite or use brand-new words to demand something.

But once we have language skills, no one gives us credit for plain words any more. Older children have to gaze longingly and hope someone notices and offers it to them.

We know children need help to learn language, but it’s easy to think that some kids are born knowing how to communicate and others are “shy” and will never learn.

My upcoming book**, Trouble With Parsnips, is a fairy tale for readers 9 to 12 about a girl who is puzzled that no one seems to hear the important things she has to say. She’s moved on to become an inventor instead.

**The book is taking up all my thoughts and leaking out into every conversation! If you’re remotely interested, you can find out more here. If you’re not, sorry for the accidental commercial!

*I really wish I knew this researcher’s name, because I’d love to read her work. If anyone else knows, let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.

Stone tower with doorway through the middle.
Whoever built this Tower didn’t feel like chatting with strangers. 🙂 Monschau, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

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The Day the Wall Fell

Church and graveyard surrounded by green hills covered with vineyards.
A whole peaceful world in a tiny valley. The town of Mayschoß in the Ahr River valley. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

Yesterday, Germany celebrated the Tag der Deutschen Einheit, (literally, the “Day of German Unity.”) It’s the day when East and West Germany came back together after World War II.

Once as a student, I visited East Berlin while the Wall was still there. I’ll never forget the eerie passage through the restricted zone. Guards armed with machine guns stood their shifts in abandoned subway stops where you were no longer allowed to get off the train.

For me, this holiday is about the falling of the Wall. The Berlin Wall was on television in the U.S. when the first people were allowed out of East Berlin. Excited people were reaching down and pulling others up to stand next to them on top of the Wall. Guards waved tiny East German cars through. The razor wire was no longer relevant. People offered each other champagne and bananas in a violent place where peace suddenly and unexpectedly appeared.

Let’s help peace along wherever it appears. There are so many celebrations I’d like to see and smile about. So much healing and pain where we could help each other up instead.

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The Comfort of Home Food: Bagels in Leiden, The Netherlands

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This tiny bakery in the Netherlands, Better Bagels, sells the real thing. It also has Joe the Slicer, a 90 km/hour table saw for bagels. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

A German Brötchen is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

A chewy bagel is just about the opposite. So, of course, Germans crave Brötchen when they live in the United States and Americans crave bagels when they live in Germany. (Can you tell we’ve had both of these conversations in our international family?)

We were happy to discover this tiny bagel bakery on a recent visit to Leiden in The Netherlands.

While we waited for the bakery to open, we looked at this odd contraption in the window.

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More like air hockey than a table saw. Joe The Slicer slices bagels. We saw him(?) in action. That fuzzy circle in the bottom middle of the picture is a bagel in motion. The blade turns fast (90 km/hour) but it doesn’t saw right through the bagel, it catches it and flings it the length of the conveyer belt with a resounding thump. P1060254

This is making me hungry all over again.ABagelInLeiden

The owner told us how he learned to make bagels after living in Ramsey, New Jersey. A handy bagel flow chart painted all the wall shows all the boiling–chilling–baking steps. Once he convinced himself he could make them in his home kitchen, he opened this bakery in Leiden. It’s a kind of alchemy, moving food culture from one place to another.

Time to get back to work. I’m getting too hungry anyway and the nearest bagel is much too far away. I’m inspired by this “do one thing” attitude.

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6 ways rhythm helps us feel at home in a new world

2-day-old foal standing next to mare cropping grass in a green meadow.
New neighbor in our world. This 2-day-old foal is getting used to day and night, rain and sun, traffic and kids on bikes. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

On the weekend, I practiced a new skill and had a sudden aha! moment about learning to adapt to a new culture by finding the beat.

(1) Every culture has its own heartbeat. When I lived in West Africa for a year, the people next door talked all day every day. There are many languages in Ghana and I never learned the one(s) they spoke. I couldn’t tell if they were talking or shouting, angry or excited. But after a year of living near them, the rhythm of their voices told me when something unusual was going on.

(2) The beat keeps going. When I took my youngest to music class as a baby, the teacher taught us to pat the baby gently in rhythm to teach to idea that music is continuous. It doesn’t stop in the middle to do something else. It keeps going because music has a heartbeat like our own. When you’re trying to learn to join in the music, it’s stressful when you can’t find your place. There’s a feeling of jump rope game that’s going on without you because you don’t know how or when to jump in.

(3) Drinking coffee has its own rhythm. It’s not always the Gemütlichkeit of Kaffeetrinken in Germany or Austria where people sit down together and have a piece of cake with their coffee. Knowing “how” people drink coffee can make you feel at home.

In Sicily, people stand up at the counter together and knock back an espresso before heading out to do the things that need to be done.

A German friend who’d spent many years in the U.S. theorized just yesterday that Americans love their coffee to-go because American culture encourages busy-ness. Sitting outside in a café where everyone can see you can get you a “slacker” label. Hence few outside cafés. But she also mentioned the beloved bookstore cafés (and libraries!) where you can drink coffee and read.

(4) Every journey has a song. The rhythm I noticed for the first time this weekend was on the drive back from my in-laws’ house. We’ve used our GPS unit to find our way through the bewildering combination of highways, single lane country roads with two-way traffic (with cows), villages with traffic-calming and traffic circles to my in-laws’ house. This trip, I realized how much I need to practice this “song” until I recognize the rhythm. Looking at a map would definitely help me.

(5) Time to process. When we alternate between moving and resting, we’re much happier and less stressed when we come home. Writing a few postcards in a café or taking time to photograph something carefully helps us to process.

(6) Remember your own culture in this international world. I once invited two young West African friends for a big Sunday dinner and they arrived unable to eat. They had visited the American church in Bonn where Thanksgiving was celebrated as a huge potluck. They had eaten all they could already. I had forgotten about Thanksgiving because it’s not a German holiday!

We start to feel at home when the rhythm is familiar. It’s much easier to do things when we’re in sync. Picture books and songs with catchy meters stick in our minds. When we feel the beat, we can play instruments together in an orchestra or sing different parts in a choir. We can be ourselves and still participate in the group.

Questions for you: What have you noticed about the rhythm of your life? What happens when we internalize other peoples’ rhythms? Or if we make our own easy to follow?

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