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Tschüß, for now

Pressed pennies and tokens filled our memory piggy bank.
Pressed pennies and tokens filled our memory piggy bank.

It seems like this blog could use some concluding thoughts, no? Assuming anyone’s here. Well for the record anyway. So here I am on the way home, waiting in Chicago for my delayed flight to Madison, traveling with our last suitcase (ski box with skis that Emily made, Maya’s skateboard, and who knows what else?) retrieved from a short visit back to GaPa. We’ve been back in Madison a bit more than a month, back in school, back to teaching, back to our selves, bad habits and all.

Being back to Garmisch for 36 hours was somewhat surreal. Not quite long since we left to really feel all that different or unusual. Conversations were had in German at stores. I could still be angry or make fun or tourists (like the airplane load of Finns wearing Lederhosen on the way to Oktoberfest – which despite being a super awesome party, I can still skoff at like a local).

But It did make me think about what we learned or missed. Sabbatical is like being at summer camp in some ways. It ends feeling like something changed. Lots of emotions, adventures, some that are even hard to describe. And hard to talk about negative things to someone back home when they ask “How was your year abroad, galavanting around the world?” So in some ways, nothing changed. Maybe not exactly summer camp, more like a survival wilderness camp. Because nothing comes prepackaged, and one is uprooting a family and their lives and every little detail from visas to schools to buying a car to work environment customs must all be navigated mostly on your own. So I suppose that’s a healthy thing.

With that, I think I’ll just conclude with a reflection on the things I miss and don’t miss. I tried to separate them, but then I realized for most of things I thought about – it’s hard to separate the two.

Free weekends – Obligation free weekends and a sense of “we’re in Europe, we can’t just sit around all day” led to a lot of day trips, hikes, ski runs and the like. But it’s nice to have more friends to visit and Shabbat programs for the kids and not feeling guilty about being downright lazy.

Unstructured time and half day schools – Work days and home days had far less structure for everyone. No teaching, school out at noonish everyday, very few after school activities. We all learned to be more independent and creative. But it wasn’t easy. There’s something nice to having a bit of adrenaline going between various activities of life. But it’s nice to have the kids free to roam back in Madison and 11 year olds make great babysitters!

Goat based traffic jams and other driving wünder – To survive the high speeds of the autobahn and the narrow streets of its villages, not to mention their complex driver’s tests, Germans tend to relatively law-abiding drivers (and pedestrians – Berlin excluded), which makes getting around predictable, even if hair raising when being passed at 200 km/hour or having to maneuver around a herd of goats or cows passing by your apartment (a regular thing), shepherded most likely by one of Maya’s classmates. But to have wide streets and cars big enough to load all of crap into and ability to actually take advantage of cruise control and gas that costs half the price – kinda nice.

Ski and bakery dates and hiking out the back yard – Monday mornings were reserved for ski dates in winter and bakery or hiking dates in the spring and summer. More vertical to climb on trails right outside our house than five Wisconsins stacked on top of each other! An entire meal out of dark, crusty, hearty Bavarian bread, nothing of which like it exists in America. Definitely miss these. Nothing to not miss here.

Renting – It sure was nice to not have to deal with maintenance or yard work or various utility bills. We came back to a house with new basement flooding spots, a bat in the bedroom, paint job getting worse by the minute, attic crammed with all our junk, and other endless things. On the other hand, the kids have their own rooms and bikes and are happy to be in them or on them and running around their neighborhood.

Beer – Bavaria has more breweries than just about anywhere else and each bar serves one brand of beer and each town has their own beer. Lots of history and folklore with breweries going back 600 years in some cases. 1/2 and 1 liter mugs. Low alcohol lunch time beers and beer mixes like Radlers (half lemonade, half beer). And yet, the lack of variety, ales, flavorings made many of the beers quite similar to each other. It’s nice to be back in microbrew heaven.

Lost in translation – There’s something nice about the clatter of languages, ignoring most of it, and the sense of being lost. It heightens the senses to pay closer attention to things and not worry so much about the small talk. Of course, this also meant very little small talk, random overheard conversations, and getting things done the right way the first time.

I learned a lot last year. Lots of old projects at work got finished and new projects got started, including some exciting new research initiatives. New friends were made. The kids became resilient and adpatable and excellent travelers. They speak another language. We saw our roots, culture, and heritage in Germany, Israel and India. At some point, each of us cried or missed something terribly. And at some point, each of us did something awesome or for the first time. And the University gets its money’s worth with renewed scholarship (I hope).

So thanks for following or reading. Maybe some short stories from the kids on their adventures in Iceland and a few trips not reviewed will pop up. I owe the blog a guide to gluten free eating in Garmisch. Maybe another random note on some idea or another.

And then whatever technological communication platform of the day exists in another 7 years – we’ll be there!


Between the continents, in the land of fire and ice, we bid adieu!
Between the continents, in the land of fire and ice, we bid adieu!


I have been traveling so much that I didn’t have any time to write any posts. So I will start with our Schachenhaus hike we did in June.

King Ludwig II was a crazy king who built a bunch of castles everywhere and then “mysteriously” died in shallow water. One he built is on top of Dreitorspitze (three-humped-peak), which is 2,682 m tall. The castle is 1866 m high. so we’re like great, let’s go to see it and spend the night. Sarita whined: “Mom, you always say: it’s a sunny day, lets go on a hike”.  But soon she was happy.

Luckily, the whether got nice, and we hiked 11 km up. But there’s a secret trick: Some rocks on the trail are magic rocks. When you give them to a grown up and you’re a good hiker they turn into food or candy!

Finally we got there. SCHACHENHUAS!  From the outside it looks like a regular barn house:

But on the inside, it is a party room!

Now of course, we were very tired and we spent the night at the Hutte next to Schachenhaus (Hutten are huts placed all over the alps, something were gonna miss in Wisconsin) and slept cozily:

The next day, we went to an Alpine flowers garden on the first day it opened. It was beautiful!


Then we saw a large field filled with pictures made of rocks. We called it rock graffiti!

Rock Grafitti

Lela, Mom, and Sarita went to make rock grafitti while Dad and I hiked up from Schachenhaus to a notch between two of the three peaks, where Meiler Hutte was, at the border of Austria and Germany. First we hiked switchbacks for forever… and then we finally saw it. But how in the world would we get there.

hutte far away

We hiked through loooooootttttttttssssss of scree and snow (was it really worth it? oh yes, well, at least I thought it was fun) and climbed lots of rocks.

hiking thruogh snow Meilorhütte

Finally we got there. I had hot lemonade and my dad had coffee. The people there were surprised that we got there. Then we hiked back down to Schachenhaus and had a warm dinner.

The next day was hike-back-12km-down-day. We wanted to go a different way down that said LIFE ROPE. We didn’t know what that meant so we went. Down. 4000 ft vertical. The trail was called Teufelgsaß, which means Devil’s Palace. That should have warned us!


sarita climbing


It meant that there was a rope to hold on to because there were cliffs. And a few waterfalls to cross too!

After we finally got down, there was the flat part. And then it poured and poured and poured. It was muddy and miserable. It was so nice to run into Partnachalm Hutte to dry out and drink cocoa. We didn’t want to get back out. When we finally got home (elevation 750 m), we were relieved. Now, what kind of hike should we go on tomorrow?

First Day of School to Last Day of School

On my first day of school in Germany, it was scary. We had to go to church and we didn’t know where it was. We found a girl with her dad, so we asked them and they said come with us and we will show you.  (Emily was very excited that he spoke German at her speed.) We also couldn’t find my classroom. I could not speak or understand German.  I first found the second grade classroom, but then we finally found 1a. I didn’t have my colored pencils and I had to have them, so I had to get them from the Gammler (where the lost pens and pencils go). After we colored, we were done with the first day of school. 

On the last day of school in Germany, I could speak fluent German, almost. We also had church, but it was at the gym hall and the Priest came to our school.  All the other kids had homework, but I didn’t.  We ended at 10 AM and had a going away party at my school. THE END!      IT WAS A CRAZY STORY                                                                                                                                        love


T-4 weeks

Rumors of the disappearance of the badgers and their blog have been greatly exaggerated. We’re still here, still rooting around or whatever badgers do:

Badgers feel up smooth baby bottoms in Prague…

It’s less than four weeks left in Bavaria and we have many stories to share since our Passover Passage to India. However, after reading Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad (free epub at the link), a very blog-like book about his attempts to walk (Alpenstock and all) through Germany and the Swiss, Austrian, and Italian Alps in the late 19th century, I feel I have little to add. I identified with many of his observations about culture, Alpine scenery, customs and language, even 130 years later. An entire appendix on everything wrong with the German language. How do I even come close to writing like that?

So more stories will be shared eventually, maybe here, maybe in a correspondence in person where all tales can be exaggerated to proper extent, about the the not-so-lazy days of summer, including the family history tour and croquet match of Berlin, an excursion to Prague with Tante June and mostly other Americans, Austrian 40-story ice caves and an Italian frozen dead guy, our 22-km too-steep-for-non-insane-royal-types backpacking trip to King Ludwig II’s Turkish themed hunting lodge/opium den, not to mention his castles and his shallow-water “murder” site, Maya’s adrenaline rush and my sore arms from tackling the hardest verrückt course at the neighborhood high ropes park, why all pre-schools need giant wood chippers, and lots of picnics, hikes, and spending time with friends.

Right now, Germany is in full-throated, horn honking (an unusual thing that) World Cup fever, which will likely end very soon. We’ve even gotten into the act, providing asylum to Americans at our house:

Dual allegiances all around.
Dual allegiances all around.

And now we are in our last four weeks, pondering but putting off the pitiful pitching, packing, Prius-selling, and preparations of departure, which involves squeezing one last stopover in the volcanic western outpost of Europe known as Iceland, and then a New York reunion with Rob Zombie, a.k.a. the beast, a.k.a our minivan, and family, and one last road trip through the Midwest, which does not look like this:

Possible Wisconsin a few million years ago? Right now, a place we could walk to from our apartment is 7 hours, if one is willing to hike a mile straight up.
Possibly Wisconsin a few million years ago? Right now, a place we could walk to from our apartment in around 7 hours, if one is willing to hike a mile straight up.

But I suspect we’ll be happy to be back to our lakes and creaky insulation-lacking house, and neighbors and friends and family, and stores that are open on Sunday, streets wide enough for a car (or two!), small talk that’s a little bit bigger, compound words with proper use of hyphens and spaces, the ability to actually use cruise control and cheap gas, proper fake mexican fast food, and relaxing back home to the land of bratwurst, beer, cheese, cows, … hey wait a sec! 

Indian Pesach

This year, Passover was a little different from in years past.  We spent Pesach in three Indian states: Kerala at Kuzhupilly and Cochin; Rajasthan at Mt. Abu, and Gujarat at Godhra and Amdavad.  I got introduced to a lot of new foods, so I hyperlinked a lot to make it easier to find out what I’m talking about.

Erev Pesach

Pesach stories start with preparation.  Aside from choosing, printing and copying our 60-minute Haggadah, this one doesn’t start in earnest until the day of the first seder with some produce shopping and a quest for a hair drier. (Yay not being home!) Traditional Ashkenazic (Eastern European Jewish) staples are hard to come by in a rural equatorial setting.  As this area is at 10° North or the same latitude as Costa Rica, Columbia and Venezuela we got to experiment with some new foods on our seder plates.  We decided on cilantro for parsley, Karela (bitter gourd) for bitter herbs, sour lemon pickle instead of horseradish, and raw beet root for lamb shank.  We had some illegally imported apples from Germany that we made into charoset and also made a date and cashew version that was quite mortar-like.

Bitter Gourd

Having neglected to get wine at the duty-free store, we visited the long line at the state liquor store, where our tuktuk (rickshaw) driver asked a man (the entire line was men) at the front of the 20-person line to get us a couple of bottles of wine.  By no choice of our own, we ended up with port, which ended up working quite nicely for our purposes.

For the first seder, we had the pleasure of the fünf Badgers, Ankur’s sister and parents, and our host at the Kuzhupilly beach house, Anish.  With Jew, Jain, Hindu, and Syriac Orthodox, we were missing representatives of only a couple of prophets. Our 60-minute Haggadah still engaged us for 90 minutes before eating with some help from Anish, who took me up on the suggestion to ask questions.   We hoped to enjoy some Pesaha Paal (Keralan Matzah), but Anish told us that only the nuns know how to make it and they only do it on Maundy Thursday.  We could never quite clarify the date discrepancy for him of why our seder was happening on Monday, while his wasn’t going to occur until Thursday. After the seder ended, we got to hear some of Anish’s views on the supremacy of Jews and Russians along with the decline of the USA.

This year’s travels have taken us to many lands with vestiges of formerly vibrant Jewish communities: Germany, Poland near the Belarus border (the pale of settlement), Venice, Vienna, and Cochin, India.  It’s difficult to reconcile with the Elders of Zion type conspiracy theories even when they’re accompanied by prejudice that typically appears diffuse and nebulous. At least in India, I can compare the creation of the state of Israel with Partition and it’s very easy to point fingers at the Brits.

Day 1

We went to Cochin for the day and saw giant chinese fishing nets (of which we sent a postcard to G.G. with a magen david cancellation), a Cathedral that held Vasco de Gama’s remains for 14 years, ate at the Menorah Restaurant, and visited the Mantancherry Palace Museum.  Ankur and I stayed for the second seder with the Chabadniks while the rest of the crew went home to eat and sleep at a more reasonable time.

Day 2

We started off at the Paradesi Synagogue where we foolishly arrived on time for Ma’ariv.  We were soon joined by a novelist, her neuropsychologist husband and anthropology major daughter studying abroad in Hyderabad.  We had plenty of time to get to know each other before the Rabbi and two sons, a long haired dropout, and Darren arrived.  The women’s section was very chatty (all 3 of us) because we were firmly planted under a very loud fan, could hear nothing, and were pretty sure no one could hear us, either.

At the Chabad House, we found the entire Cochin community waiting for us.  Five Bubbes were seated at the seder table, having had their own private seder together the first night.  One of the women, Queenie (Esther)  inspired a recipe in the paper of record. Three children and a Rebbezin were also there. The Chabad family had arrived only a month ago, just after Purim.  She grew up in Bombay until she was twelve, so they were able to get long-term work visas, unlike the previous family who was expelled from the country for working on a visitor visa.

Samuel Koder. Queenie's Father and Cochin Macher.
Samuel Koder. Queenie’s Father and Cochin Macher.
Menorah Restaurant.  Queenie's Childhood home
Menorah Restaurant. Queenie’s Childhood home

The seder was read in Hebrew and supplemented with stories in English.  We were served homemade wine and juice and hand-imported Kedem grape juice.  Somehow they had managed to find lettuce, but it was iceberg, so sweet instead of bitter.

We charged Alice, the novelist, with getting Queenie to tell us more about being one of the last Jews in Jewtown, but Darren intervened.  He wanted to joust over Chabad and where it was going without the Rebbe.  Then he wanted to talk about how and if humans are different from other species on the planet.  He was quite the nihilist and I was disappointed to not hear more Kochi stories, so I turned instead to my study-abroad neighbor for conversation.  After he left, I asked, “Did we ever find out Darren’s day job?”

“Oh, you didn’t hear? He’s Darren Aranofsky.  He made Black Swan.” I guess between that and Noah he’s still got wrestling with the lines between species.  It’s like me and the four sons.  Every year I’m struggling with why the son who doesn’t know how to ask gets the same answer as the wicked child.

After Darren left, we did get a chance to ask Queenie about her Pesach habits.  I was hoping for some insight into Kitniyot.  Kitniyot are legumes and other grains prohibited by minhag (custom) by Ashkenazik or Eastern European Jews, but not prohibited by halachah (Jewish law and tradition). Queenie would never eat dosas (South Indian lentil pancakes) on Pesach.  But in the Times article, she talks about making dumplings with rice flour.  Those are Persian, not Indian, so…clearly, it’s complicated.

So, I would need to draw my own line in the sand for Kitniyot.  Matzah is called the bread of affliction for a reason.  For me, passover is not about what you don’t eat, it’s about what you do eat.  Eating matzah is the reminder of slavery.  Omitting bread is not the reminder. If I’m going to eat matzah as a staple at every meal, which is what I believe is the intent of the prohibition, then I’m going to have to exclude tastier starches.  If I allow ersatz breads, I’m going to eat them and then I won’t need to eat matzah and it will sit in its box on the shelf until next year when I decide it’s still edible.

It turns out there’s a lot of really great matzah replacements in India. Would I rather eat  Palappam (Keralan rice crepes) or matzah? Dosa or matzah? Pappadum or matzah?  Khandvi (amazing Gujarati chickpea rolled crepes) or matzah? Nasta (crunchy chickpea flour snacks) or matzah? If I ate all these delicious foods, I’d never go for the matzah and it just wouldn’t be Pesach. (Don’t worry, I got to eat them all before and after the holiday.)

If legumes are abandoned completely from my diet, I end up eating a lot of cheese, eggs, and more meat during Pesach than I do during the entire rest of the year. That just doesn’t seem the way to commemorate slavery and hardship, so kitniyot seem worth eating, especially while spending the week with vegetarians.  There’s a limit to how hard I can be on myself and still maintain whatever arbitrary rules I’ve eneacted for the week.

How to enjoy some plant protein but not eat foods that are chometz-like?  Not be hungry, but still feel like it’s Pesach?  I think I found my land in the sand, eat whole kitniyot, but not foods from kitniyot that are made into flour.  I ate dal, but not dosas.  I ended up avoiding rice, too, because it usurped my matzah intake.  It worked pretty well for me, although I learned quickly that piling dal or vegetables onto matzah is very messy.   Substitute matzah for a fork only at the peril of one’s clothing.

Also on this day, Scientist Maya learned that elephants have ritualized eating habits.  The ones she saw swung their trunks side to side, down to the side, touched their foreheads, swung between their legs, and then brought the food to their mouths.  14 times she saw this.  Ritualized eating habits, people, animals?

Chol Hamoed and the last days

Our raw beet root got turned into a delicious coconut-beet puree for dinner.  Yum!

We left behind the steamy tropics and flew north to Ahmedabad to see Ankur’s family.  It turns out, sometimes, all you need is the right word to make yourself understood.  The Jain side of the family was on board with the concept of fasting.  It’s kind of a weird fast, but the idea that you don’t eat certain foods for a week resonated.

Isru Chag – Immediately After Passover

I thought real leavened bread would be hard to find, but I picked up the Indian street food version of a veggie burger, vada pao, a spicy potato patty on a Parker House-type bun while waiting for a laser-light show to begin.



It has rained for the past week and a half. The rain is like  this: It rains for three hours and then it stops for twenty minutes. when ever it stops my mom always says “Go out-side!!” and we drop our homework and rush out side.

On Saturday May 18th, our family decided to go on a hike on a gorge with water-falls, Partnachklamm. We decided to go because it was raining and we wouldn’t mind the spray of the water falls. of course, that was the one day that that it didn’t rain. Although that was o.k because we were tired of rain and we got the splash and (lots and lots and lots of) drips of the waterfalls.

Well, last time we went on this hike, it was the beginning of our trip and we were jet-lagged, tired, and not used to walking a lot. when we got to the fun part where you had to pay, we just decided to go back to our hostile.

this time, the hike we took that time, seemed like nothing, it was just to get to the adventure that lay before us…

First, we went through the gorge. We thought it was raining. It was actually dripping really hard. there were lots of long, crazy, dark, tunnels. we never thought to bring a flashlight. We never thought we’d be climbing through holes in drippy rocks! But it was very beautiful and there were some holes for light.

Then, we hiked up, up, up, a really steep hill. It was cool because then we got ice cream! Mom says she will miss  being able to go on a hike and just say “we’ll run into a restaurant soon” when we get to Madison. The ice cream was yummy. Then Lela spotted a bunch of really cute ducklings! They were fuzzy!

Then we started down a really steep, steep, steep, even steeper than the way up, road. Scoot, scoot, scoot. 😛 Then Lela saw (thank-you for your eyes!) a foot-path Yay. but even then it was steep and we had to climb over mud and rocks. It was really fun! 🙂

Then we got a pressed penny of Partnachklamm because we collect them.

photo 1      photo 2

-Maya ∆∆


Gujarat (India’s Part 2)