Dinkelsbuhl and Rothenburg (ob de Tauber).

That last bit, the “ob der Tauber” part, really matters.  But more on that in a moment.

On one of our days of exploring Germany, one where we weren’t just on foot around our little town but instead were able to take a car and travel, we sort of did a tour of medieval walled cities of Germany.  Or two of them, anyway, which are located along what has been named “The Romantic Road” of Germany.  The first of those was Dinkelsbuhl.  I really wanted to see Dinkelsbuhl because I’d actually been there before, many years ago, when I was traveling with my college choir.  We flew into Frankfurt and made our way down towards Vienna, where we were performing, and on the way we stayed in Dinkelsbuhl.  I remembered it being pretty and charming, but as it turns out, it was even better than my memories.  This tiny little city is, well, like something from a storybook.  It is surrounded entirely by a wall, which was the medieval way of keeping safe- the original gated community, I suppose.

Merely by fabulous chance, we couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful day for our travels.  It was a Sunday, and the weather was that perfect fall type where the sky is a deep blue, without a cloud in sight, the temperature somewhere in the high 70s, and just the right amount of crispness in the air.  We went through Heidelberg, our first time to visit that city, and then continued along the Neckar River, ending up in what was decidedly not the Rothenburg we were looking for. Which is why the “ob der Tauber” matters.  It means “on the Tauber”, and we were on the Neckar.  Not to mention that we had found Rothenberg, not Rothenburg.  Oops.  Here is where we ended up:

Lovely, yes.  Even idyllic.  But not a walled city on the Romantic Road.

Lunch in Eberbach.

And so, after a kind German couple who had been hiking the nature trail near this spot set a straight, we continued on our way.  I do wonder how much they laughed at us after we left.  Fortunately, we hadn’t gone too far out of our way; we were merely on the scenic route instead.  And what a scenic route it was.  It put us in a lovely town called Eberbach right at lunchtime, so, naturally, we made the best of it.  It was hard.  As you can see.

Eberbach- home of Germany’s best playground.

Oh, and by the way- this is the town with the best playground that we came across in Germany, and that counts for a lot in our world.

Charming bulding- quite possibly the hotel I stayed at when I was here in college! in Dinkelsbuhl. But that could be just wishful thinking.

Thus, after refreshments and a little playground time, we continued on to Dinkelsbuhl.  I know I’ve said it before, but I have to say it again:  this place is like something from a fairy tale.  It is quite possibly the cutest town in the whole world; at the very least, it’s on the short list.  Completely walled, and every building is painted a festive color.  Huge church in the middle (I LOVE that), and cafes and bakeries everywhere.  Of course the streets were cobbled.  We wandered around for a while, ate something delicious at a bakery, and just enjoyed life in general.

Inside the church.

After kicking around Dinkelsbuhl till nearly sunset, we were finally on our way to the correct Rothenburg.  Now, I went here too when I was traveling in Germany in 1990, but I didn’t remember it at all, so I had no idea how truly beautiful this city is.  It’s another walled medieval city, but it’s not just another walled medieval city (is there such  thing?  For crying out loud, I live in the US!)  This place is unbelievable.  And because I cannot describe how pretty it is, I will simply add photos.  You’ve got to see this place to believe it, really.

Rothenburg (ob der Tauber- that matters, you know), early evening.

We arrived in the evening, due to our wee detour.  Which meant dinnertime!  There is, of course, a common theme within our travels… finding good food.

Rothenburg, again.
Are you getting the idea as to how gorgeous this place is?
And, because I can’t help myself, more photos of the Cutest Town in the World (Dinkelsbuhl).
How to enjoy a Sunday afternoon in Dinkelsbuhl. I think I could get the hang of this fairly quickly.

Fall reading.

Perhaps Heidi saw windows like this when she went to Frankfurt!

Time and time again I hear how uninspiring education is today, however through the power of story, it is possible that meaning and learning can powerfully coexist.”  Laura Fleming

We read everywhere we go.  One of my biggest goals as a homeschooler is to instill a love for reading in my children.  I want them to love learning, so therefore I want them to love reading- it’s hard to separate the two.  You kind of can’t help learning when you read, right?  That said, we’ve been really busy with our reading thus far this school year.  As part of our preparation for traveling to Germany, for example, we read “Heidi” together.  I read it myself as a child, but I didn’t remember how wonderful it was.  We all loved it, and it has been the basis for a lot of discussion as we traveled around where she would have lived.  Okay, I know that the main part of the story takes place in Switzerland, but she did travel to Frankfurt, and Switzerland is nearby, after all.  So we traveled around close to where she would have lived.  But it was such fun to hear “Oh, that reminds me of Heidi- when she…” coming from the back seat.

The next book we’ve finished this year is “Breaking Stalin’s Nose.”  Wow, what a terrific piece of historical fiction for kids about the Stalinist era in Russian history.  I’m pretty sure that my kids know more about that period of time now than most American adults do (which probably isn’t really saying that much because I suspect that most Americans know little about Soviet history.  Why would you?  I’m an oddball, I know, with a minor in Russian history).  But it was a very good book, and we zipped right through it.  That’s the real test for a good book at least in my house- when we can’t wait to get back to it but it’s teaching us valuable things through story.  This one taught not only history but the value of thinking for one’s self, among many other powerful lessons.  And I got to pull out my own Pioneer scarf from when I traveled to Kazakhstan in 1991 and stayed in a Pioneer camp for several days!

“The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate” was next, and it was wonderful.  I let someone else read this to us, meaning I checked out  the book on CD and we listened to it while in the car.  Which meant that we found ourselves sitting in the driveway because we couldn’t bear to leave the story.  This book is set in Texas in 1899, and follows an almost 12 year old girl named Calpurnia Tate as she learns about the world and about herself.  In particular, she is learning from her grandfather to be a naturalist, and thus this book has inspired much learning about science around our house, in the quest to be like Calpurnia of course.

And now, we are in the middle of “Fever, 1793,” which I read as we were driving around Germany.  It’s another page-turner!  Set in Philadelphia during the late summer of 1793, it is the story of a young girl who survives the plague of yellow fever that hits the city during an unusually long and hot summer.  I love historical fiction- what a great way to learn history!  Again, we have found ourselves driving a little slower and taking scenic routes so that we can finish a chapter, and we’re about halfway through the book right now.

That quote at the top sums up pretty well how I feel about learning through story.  I realized, as I was searching for yet another book to go along with our schooling, that what I remember most vividly from my elementary school days (besides playground time) are the books that my third grade teacher read to us.  She read “Where the Red Fern Grows” and “Old Yeller.”  And I remember how much we all loved them and couldn’t wait for more.  I’m counting on the same being true for my kids.

Ah, the power of story… I’d take that quote at the top even further:  not only is it possible for meaning and learning to coexist, it is imperative for meaning and learning to coexist.

That is, if you want the learning to be genuine.

Anderson, L. Fever, 1793.  New York, NY:  Simon & Schuster.

Fleming, L.  (2011).  Connecting meaning and learning through storytelling.  Huff Post Education. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-fleming/connecting-meaning-and-le_b_843923.html

Kelly, J. (2009).  The evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  New York, NY:  Henry Holt and Co.

Spyri, J.  (1880).  Heidi.  New York, NY:  Sterling Publishing Company.

Luxembourg American Cemetery.

Luxembourg, at the American Cemetery.  I didn’t know what to expect here.  I certainly didn’t expect it to be so moving.  But it is.  It is a powerful and beautiful monument to those who gave their lives in the war, and if you ever have the chance to go, you should.

And we were lucky the day we were there, because one of the curators spent about half an hour telling us stories about the different monuments and the different people who visit, especially veterans, some each and every year.  He also told us about General Patton’s grave, which is located there as well.  It’s been moved- it had to be put in a place by itself because such deep ruts were being worn in the grass as people walked through the cemetery that other gravesites were being damaged.  And that the people of Luxembourg won’t allow his grave to be moved out of their country (which was considered at some point- I’m not sure why), because he is a national hero to them.  I could have listened for hours, but as it was, we were there half an hour past its usual closing time.  This is because we got stuck in a traffic jam trying to get into Luxembourg.  It should have taken us only an hour to get here, but it took several.  But, it was worth the frustration, I assure you.  We got to hear Taps being played, and watched the flag being lowered, and that only added to the somber feeling of the place.

I can’t explain what made it so moving.  I’ve been to other national cemeteries, in the US, but I think the fact that this one is overseas makes it different.  It makes what these men, or boys, really, went through even more dramatic to me.  Have you ever been sick while traveling?  I have.  You just want to be home, in your own bed, preferably with your mom bringing you soup.  So I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be wounded, or worse, so far from home.  Perhaps being that far from home myself brought new meaning for me to the sacrifice that our military members have made, and are still making, each and every day.

Patton’s gravesite.
Cemetery entrance. I know my kids didn’t really “get it”. How could they? But someday they will.
The pilot in teaching mode.


Our long-awaited, much anticipated adventures have begun.

We spent the last week in Germany, and it was wonderful.  Talk about a history and geography lesson!  To prepare, we spent a couple of weeks doing a unit study on Germany that I found on the internet called Passport Germany.  I would recommend it, although I found it impossible to do in the week you’re supposed to complete it in- WAY too much information in this for a week!  I liked it well enough that I am thinking about buying another one, this time for France.  Here’s the link in case you’re interested:  http://www.unitstudy.com/PassportGermany.html.

We stayed in Landstuhl, Germany, which I mentioned in my last post, and thoroughly enjoyed our week in a walking city.  Mostly, though, we used it as a home base for our many other adventures.  One of those adventures took us to the city of Bernkastel, located in a beautiful wine-growing area of Germany along the Mosel River.  This link, http://en.bernkastel.de/events/christmas-market-in-bernkastel-kues.html, will show you the city when I’d REALLY like to be there, at Christmas!!  But, it is beautiful and charming pretty much anytime, as far as I could tell.

In order to get to Bernkastel, we took the Autobahn (yikes) and then exited where it crossed the Mosel River.  We then followed a small road that wound along the river till we found Bernkastel.  The scenic route was certainly worth the extra time- the river twisted its way through mountains with grapevines planted on every imaginable, possible spot.  How they harvest there I have no idea- some places the vines are growing on ground that is so steep that I’d consider it mountain climbing to go check your crop.  But apparently it works well, and I can attest to the fact that they are growing some tasty white wines here.  I don’t think the picture above really does the steepness, or the beauty, justice.

The city itself is as beautiful as its surroundings, and we had a great time exploring its narrow cobbled streets.  I absolutely love half-timbered buildings, and this is the place for that.  There are several town squares- you know, the type where people gather and walk around and interact with one another in a non-road rage sort of way?  You can tell I think they are a good idea. But these town square are surrounded by tall half-timbered buildings on every side, and the effect is stunning.  Flowers in boxes under every window add to the beauty. 

And it’s real, not a Disney set!

Of course, lunch was a top priority for this family, and we had a delicious meal (in one of those half-timbered builidngs!) of schnitzel- the kids’ new favorite food, and potatoes cooked with bacon.  Oh, and that delicious salad that the Germans make that seems to involve shredded vegetables of various types and dill in some form.   I know very little about German cooking, but it is very good, very hearty stuff.  Not light, but tasty!

On that note, we ate a lot of schnitzel over the past week.  I admit with great shame that though I took two years of German in college, I don’t remember much, and schnitzel was something easily recognizable on the menu.  However, words were starting to come back to me by the end of the week, so perhaps there is hope.

Playgrounds of the world.

Funny, before I had kids I couldn’t have told you where any playgrounds were (of course).  But now, I manage to find them wherever I go.  Last Saturday, we spent a beautiful, cool early fall day at a playground in Landstuhl, Germany.  We stopped and bought a few sandwiches on our way, as well as the pretzel that my son just had to have.

This is our pretzel, halfway gone already.  So much for gluten free.

It was a perfect day for the park- the temperature was just right, and the playground was a good one.  I can say that with confidence being the playground connoisseur that I am.  We walked here from where we are staying.  I absolutely love that- being able to walk places.  It amazes me here in Germany, or perhaps Europe in general, that even older people are out riding bikes and walking.  It has to be a healthier lifestyle…  And after our walk, I got to sit and enjoy watching my kids play while they pretended to set up house inside the playground’s castle.

We ended up back at this particular playground many days in a row, naturally after a bakery stop.  We even did our math and reading in this lovely spot in the sunshine (does school get any better than that, really?).  That first day, though, after spending several hours here, we climbed further up the hill to the castle ruin that is located at the top.  Schlepped around that for a bit- quite fascinating, really.  It’s not that old- only from the 1500s.

I don’t think it would take me long to adjust to a lifestyle where I got to walk everywhere.  Not long at all.

Then, here we are a few days later at another playground, this time in a pretty little town called Eberbach that we stopped for lunch in on the way to a walled medieval city called Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  My kids were thrilled with this playground- check out that terrific swing!!

And here they are running and leaping on the old bridge in Heidelberg.  If you can’t find a playground, you can always make your own, I suppose.

Adventure in the tree tops.

We recently went on a very new sort of adventure for our family.  We are regulars at an indoor climbing gym, where my kids climb (safely!) like little mountain goats, and  we also love our state parks.  We have favorites here in Georgia, one of those being Amicalola State Park, where we go as much as we possibly can- the amazing waterfall keeps me coming back, and then there is the view! Incredible!  But we decided to try something new:  Panola Mountain State Park, just southeast of Atlanta.  It is a beautiful place, and is another granite “monadnock” (new word for me!) much like Stone Mountain, only it’s still wild and untouched.  In fact, you can only hike on it during guided tours with a park ranger, because they are protecting some rare species that have managed to hang on, even living so close to Atlanta with its serious case of sprawl.  From the park’s website:   “This unique park just outside Atlanta protects a 100-acre granite monadnock (mountain) similar to Stone Mountain and Arabia Mountain. Minimally developed, the mountain shelters rare plants of the Piedmont region.”  It is worth the relatively short drive if you are in the area.

This time, we didn’t just hike, as we usually do when we visit a state park.  We climbed trees.  With ropes.  And went very, very high, and had a ball doing it.  The tree that we climbed is named Naomi Ruth, and she (I suppose) is a Southern Red Oak that is about 100 feet high.  Now, this tree climbing business is hard work:  you are pulling your entire body straight up using a foot hold rope and a knot that you slide up as you go higher.  I am going to be very, very sore, mostly on one side of my body.  But I’d say it was worth it.  It’s an odd perspective that you get from sitting so high up in a tree.  At one point I managed to get high enough and get my body swinging so that I could hoist myself onto a branch.  Now, you’d think that you might feel more secure, sitting on a branch instead of just dangling from ropes.  But this is not the case- I actually felt much less at ease on the branch, which is of course entirely psychological.  The ropes and harnesses still have you, it’s just that, well, perhaps I was remembering my childhood days of tree climbing when sitting on a branch meant you better hang on because you could fall off.  And then, that moment when you must push yourself back off of the branch and once again trust the ropes entirely- let’s just say it took me about ten minutes to work up the courage for that.  I got brave, though, and hauled myself even higher and stood on the same branch and then stepped off… and swung at about 50 feet off the ground…

It had been a long time since I climbed a tree.  And I think I’d do it again.