Category Archives: Germany

23 and me – yes, me!

As a Christmas gift to myself, I bought a 23 and Me kit. I grew up not knowing any biological family members and I was curious to see how much of the limited family lore might be confirmed – or disproven. For years I had considered my heritage to be pretty cut and dry (50% German, 50% Irish), but I had come to learn that DNA is not really that clean and simple. Yes, both of my parents had been born in the counties from which I associated them, however, that didn’t necessarily mean there hadn’t been other ethnicities mixed in with their German and Irish blood. It was time to learn for real where my people had originated.

Within days my kit, which I had ordered on Cyber Monday, arrived in the mail. I registered it online and started trying to produce enough saliva to fill the test tube to the marked line. Not an easy task for a person whose salivary glands have been damaged by radioactive iodine, folks. Approximately 40 minutes later I had what I thought was an acceptable ratio of spit to foam and capped the tube, placed it in the box and dropped it in the mail.

I received an email when the specimen was received and a couple of weeks after that, I received my results and…

Drumroll…

Apparently I’m of 100% European descent. Shocking, right?

Here’s my makeup:

  • British & Irish – 65.3%
    (Ireland, United Kingdom)
  • French & German – 20.4%
    (Germany, Switzerland)
  • Spanish & Portuguese – 0.5%
  • Broadly Northwestern European – 11.6%
  • Broadly Southern European – 1.3%
  • Broadly European – 0.9%

Despite a friend’s long held assertion that I must be Jewish, that does not seem to be the case. My love for matzoh ball soup, bagels and pickled herring remains undiminished, I assure you.

In terms of genetic makeup, there may not have been much revealed, but there were a couple of things that prompted unexpected emotions. The first was the almost immediate contact made with a woman who shares the surname of my father, the parent I never met. It’s an unusual name, outside of the county where my father was born and raised, and seeing that name, and the scientific evidence that linked she and I together, was so powerful that I couldn’t immediately even process it. Days later, I was brought to tears by this connection with someone I will likely just like my father, never know. The map that accompanied my results also confirmed my sense of community, my feeling of belonging to a family, with its concentration of relatives in Donegal, the county from which I know my father and his family originated.

I know there are controversies about services like this and about having one’s genetic information available for public consumption, but, you know me and my ridiculous drive to be transparent. I’m not all that concerned about that really. Finding out at 52 that the person you had hoped was your parent more than likely was, made 23 and me add up perfectly for this a bit long in the tooth colleen.

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Filed under aging, Europe, family, Germany, ideas, Ireland, Irish, Observations, Recommendations, relationships, Uncategorized

Things I’ve learned during my 52nd trip around the sun

  • Honesty is free, yet more valuable than pretty much anything else.
  • With each birthday, I feel more compelled to celebrate.
  • My dog is smarter than I gave him credit for being. Last week during an “intestinal bout,” shall we say, he opened the screen door to the back deck rather than literally lose his sh*t in the house. Good boy, Jeter.
  • It’s really hard to keep moving forward without ever looking back.
  • A relationship that is healthy, positive and satisfying sometimes seems like a lot for which to ask. Settling for less, though, isn’t an option.
  • Maybe I read too many Danielle Steele novels as a teenager, but just once it would be nice to feel like someone fought for me. Not literally, but by playing their A game consistently.
  • The more places I visit, the more places I want to visit. I can’t imagine a life without travel, or at least the desire to travel.
  • I have no idea what the future holds and I’m getting better at dealing with that uncertainty.
  • My sense of loyalty is strong. Example? I’ve had the same dental practice, ob-gyn and optician for nearly 25 years.
  • Finding a good therapist is almost as hard as scoring a new patient appointment within the next 18 months with a new primary care giver.
  • A Catholic funeral mass is incredibly comforting. The tradition, complete with words, music and incense, is proof that death has been a part of life for a very long time.
  • Working to have my outside accurately reflect my inside has been my biggest accomplishment this year. There’s still progress to be made. Isn’t there always?

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Filed under aging, Austria, birthdays, Czech Republic, Europe, favorites, Germany, Italy, love, musings, Observations, relationships, road trips, travel, Uncategorized, vacation, Vermont

Reflections on Summer 2018

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  • My travels have taken me new places and I am so appreciative of the memories I made and the food I ate and the wine I drank and the friends I hugged.
  • Cape Cod without children is like shared custody following the end of a marriage/relationship – a dirty little secret in all the best ways. (Credit to LGP for the custody thing)
  • Summer is a time for me to take on larger household chores, such as organizing and weeding out extraneous stuff that can weigh a person down. During these tasks I always stumble upon things I find interesting – like my journals from the early 90s.
  • One of the most important parts of summer, for me, is spending time with people I don’t always have the luxury of seeing. Pool dates, lunches and nights out with friends, have made Summer 2018 exceptionally special.
  • Being reminded of past heartbreaks and lessons learned can be really comforting. I think that every relationship that I was in that “failed” was followed by a much better personal situation. Sky’s the limit. Full steam ahead.
  • It’s been a hot summer and I’m fortunate to not have to work in what have been extreme temperatures. I’ve been able to accept the heat without needing to fight it. Night runs have been tremendous and I’ve mastered closing up the house to keep it cool during the daytime. It’s summer. I like when the seasons perform as expected.
  • In the last week or so, I’ve encountered a number of work friends and a couple of students. Seeing them reminded me what the very best part of my job is – the people with whom I’m lucky enough to work.
  • There are some ways in which I feel like a different person, as if I’m evolving into a new, hopefully best, version of myself. Some of it originates with physical change – different hair, new car, but more of it comes from having been through a lot emotionally and feeling a little less naive. Currently doing my best to retain and refocus “wonder” as a word of future possibility instead of rear-view second guessing.
  • Authenticity is topping the list of new words in my vernacular these days. It appears above catfishing and intentional mind fuck, not just for alphabetical reasons either. Authenticity deserves its own damn blog post. Stay tuned for that.

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Murderous Dachau

 

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This is a replica gate. The original was stolen, but was recovered and now is on display in the museum.

Two of my sons are big history buffs. When we travel, more often than not, we visit places steeped in history, particularly 20th century wars. Our most recent trip earlier this month continued that tradition and we took in some intense WW II history in (or near) each city we visited. It’s always a speech robbing experience, which is why I’m only finding the words two weeks after we paid our respects at the first of our stops, Dachau.

483AEA12-9529-487E-A133-4501599FE841I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Normandy, the Ardennes Forest, Nuremberg and Anne Frank’s house and have seen things that are beyond my comprehension in terms of hatred and heroism. Dachau, though, was a whole nother level, as it was designed to be as the first and model example of a concentration camp. 

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One of the watchtowers.

Visiting Dachau is really easy, in terms of transportation, from Munich. It was a train and a bus all on the same ticket. The bus was packed with students and groups, but we wedged our way onto the first one and arrived at the camp in time to get in on one of the day’s English tours, scheduled to last approximately 3 hours.

Our guide was terrific – thorough, knowledgeable and a resident of the area whose own grandfather had been punished with a sentence at Dachau, yet survived to never talk about what he witnessed or was subjected to. He didn’t want to risk going back. Despite his Opa’s reticence about discussing his time imprisoned, our guide’s repeated use of the word “murderous,” revealed his deep understanding of the grounds we walked.

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Smoking forbidden.

The tour physically moved us from where the trains would arrive to the processing building, which offered displays and photographs to visually recreate what occurred in which area. The sleeping barracks were replicas, tidy and clean in a way that they never could have  been with hundreds of humans denied every basic need. It was horrific. The toilet and wash room bearing the load of so many…

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Only the foundations remain of the original barracks.

We toured a building which was the prison within a prison. Individual cells with perhaps a toilet, maybe not, and heavy wooden door with wrought iron bars. I couldn’t decide if it was better or worse than the chaos of the general barracks, but I imagine the lack of nourishment and the addition of regular beatings and other abuses probably swayed things to being worse, if that’s even imaginable.

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Haunted by how those bars may been bent.

It was a heavy day but, just like the large groups of German children who were there as a required component of their curriculum, it felt compulsory to me. If you’re in that area, I recommend a guided tour (minimal cost) and a walk around the small city of Dachau, if you can manage it. We didn’t have time but I would have been interested to see some of the city. It would have been nice to get a different definition for a quaintly pretty city that has been synonymous with death for decades.

 

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Filed under Education, Europe, Germany, Observations, politics, Schools, travel, Uncategorized

Riding that train

Most of my recent trips to Europe have been with my uncle and aunt, which means that I haven’t had to really deal with transportation once I hit the ground. Our primary means of travel has been by auto and I’ve only had to buckle up and sit back. Easy.

This trip has been quite different but surprisingly almost as effortless – Europe knows what they’re doing when it comes to transportation. Aside from our inner city travels, also fairly priced and convenient, we’ve traveled between 4 cities in three countries and it has been a piece of sachertorte.

In an increasingly frequent leap of faith, I opted to not book any tickets in advance. I’m not sure if there were any financial consequences to that decision, but I found the prices for tickets to be reasonable, even a bargain when you factor in the quality of the trains. I’ll get to that, but first the prices: from Munich to Salzburg (for two without any discounts) was 31 euro, from Salzburg to Vienna 53.80e and Vienna to Prague via Linz was a combined total of 68e. I think that converts to about $185 give or take a little, a deal when you consider it would have cost us almost $170 for two to travel from Albany to NYC on Amtrak.

The ticketing process is super simple. I downloaded the Trainline EU app when I was in Munich and set up an account. Searching for tickets is easy and you can choose which criteria is most important to you – time, price or speed. Most of the time I went with what was direct and cheap. There definitely were faster trains at higher prices, but our longest journey was a total of 6 hours when we went from Vienna to Prague. There was a nearly one hour layover in Linz, though, to factor into that. It was actually a welcome bonus for us because we had sufficient time to pick up some food for the trip from the Spar market in the bahnhof.

Other advantages of train travel? Well, there’s the pleasure of stretching one’s legs and walking around rather than being crammed into a car. Pit stops for bathroom breaks are unnecessary since the train has WCs available and speaking bathrooms, the bathrooms on the trains we were on were cleaner than 90% of the bathrooms I encounter at home. Immaculate, well stocked and modern with automatic water, soap dispensers and hand dryers. The contrast with what I’m unfortunately accustomed to on trains in New York, is dramatic. Eating and drinking is also a comfortable option with many of the seats set up in little booth arrangements.

The train stations are so pretty…

In addition to comfort, there are amenities such as power outlets and WiFi on most trains. I was a bit bummed that we didn’t have WiFi on our lengthiest trip, but the friendly guy sitting near us said it was a good introduction to the difference between Austria and the Czech Republic. I can live with that since the ride was scenic, my legs could be extended and I had the cutest little table to eat my grocery store lunch upon.

…and quaint!

One final advantage – I don’t seem to suffer from motion sickness while writing or reading on a train. If I were in a car, I wouldn’t be able to relax and bang out a few posts. Reasonably priced, reliable, clean, comfortable and scenic makes European trains right on track.

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Moments in Munich

Spending 48 hours in a city like Munich, especially when the weather is outstanding, is practically criminal. I should be embarrassed by how little I actually learned about the city or how to navigate my way around it. I concluded, though, that I do better with that sort of thing when I travel solo. If I have someone else willing to study maps and figure out directions, then I have more time to sit outside, drink beer and people watch. That’s really what I’m there for anyway.

Without a doubt, the most important part of my stay was the time spent with family and a friend from many years ago. Catching up on the last year or 26, was just awesome. Isn’t it amazing how there are people we don’t see for months or even decades, yet the connection and comfort with one another remains? Life lesson: that soul filling is worth every effort it takes to travel and connect with those kind of people in your life.

We did do a few traditional tourist things beyond consuming beer and pretzels, though, such as…

Lots of walking around the city center. The buildings are beautiful, the streets are cleaner than a New Yorker can imagine and there are bright flowers everywhere you look.

We watched Croatia beat England while we sat at a sidewalk cafe with a television monitor and a diverse and fun group of soccer fans. C0A0E0C4-442D-469F-8620-06E69A883AA3

I ate gelato, more cheese than I typically eat in a month, and a terrific white wurst served with sweet mustard. For the train ride out of town, I picked up a falafel sandwich which was dynamite, if a bit messy. I neglected to eat any pastry or cakes. Personal fail.

We spent a good part of one day visiting Dachau, but that’s another post. After that excursion, I was left wanting little more than warm sunshine and cold beer. My son went to visit Bayern-Munchen’s stadium while I indulged myself and he seemed to really enjoy the tour he received and his independence to go do something of interest to him.

C2D7DD47-A497-44D5-8DDE-19292D6488F9Our last morning and early afternoon was spent hitting a couple of spots – the BMW museum and Olympic Stadium are in the same area and we checked both of them out prior to leaving for Salzburg. For me, one engine looks like another one so I may have under appreciated the more mechanical aspects of the tour, but the cars were pretty and BMW does own Mini these days so I’m practically a shareholder, aren’t I? We didn’t really have the time to commit to a stadium tour, but did walk around the Olympic Park and saw the memorial to the athletes from the ‘72 games.

62DB0B5A-C584-47A8-9041-C49E151DB1CAWe finished with a walk through the Englischer Gardens and a last weisse beer for me. I did no shopping, nor did I splurge on any spectacular food or experiences, but I boarded the train feeling richer from my time spent in Munich and confident that one day I’ll be back.

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Scattered

I’m feeling scattered. The end of the school year brings lots of activities that (often delightfully) disrupt my work days and my personal life has taken a positive turn which has caused unexpected, but very much appreciated reverberations. Summer is looking really good and I’m so ready for it.

My middle son’s upcoming trip to Thailand has been my focus recently and I’ve spent very little time working on my own trip to Europe this summer. Gathering the necessary documents for his required visa has taken some work and I’m constantly checking in with myself and him about what is his responsibility and what I should be taking on on his behalf. It’s a balance that is kind of new – next stage parenting, I suppose.

My oldest son and I will be visiting Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and Prague. Other than Munich, which I visited in 1992, I haven’t been to any of those places before and I’m pretty stoked. The big stuff is done – a plan to meet with family, our accommodations, an outing or two, but I haven’t even looked at details such as transportation or scouting out where we’ll want to eat or what sites we won’t want to miss. I think we’ll be winging it. Suggestions are welcomed.

For a period of time next month, all three of my children will be on different continents. I’ve been trying to process this fact ever since it occurred to me a couple of days ago and I’m still not quite there. Wow. How did I/we ever get lucky enough for this to even possible much less accurate? It’s amazing to me and I don’t take it for granted on any level.

Somehow, I have children who are comfortable and excited by adventure. They are interested and curious about history and people and the world we live in and that prompts me to be so very proud of them. I appreciate that the experiences I’ve cultivated with them have been influential, but it certainly isn’t all due to me. These upcoming trips were inspired by Anthony Bourdain (Thailand) and the Von Trapp family (Austria) and I can’t tell you thrilled I am that my sons are eager to collect their own memories of places around their world and that sometimes I get to be a witness to their wonder.

Scattered isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you think about stars and seeds. Here’s hoping that summer 2018 brings light and new life to each of us.

 

 

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