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Get your plaid on

It’s almost here — New York Tartan Week — held annually in New York City. This year the parade is on April 8, brought to you by the St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, the New York Caledonian Club, The American-Scottish Foundation and Clan Campbell.

A complete week of events is in store from March 31-April 9, with theater and clan gatherings and more.

This July in the Pacific Northwest, I’m looking forward to another Scottish Highland Games and Clan Gathering in Enumclaw. Dates to be announced soon.

Meanwhile, I’m having a marvelous time indulging myself, every so often, in episodes of the BBC series “Monarch of the Glen.” What a terrific cast of actors in an absolutely gorgeous setting. I’m hooked.

Trips end

Chambers Bay Golf Course

Chambers Bay Golf Course

We’re back home in Seattle, where the U.S. Open golf tournament is about to begin.

What a trip, beginning with chill and blustery Scotland, continuing in warmer, drizzling Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and concluding in Freinsheim Germany with a heat wave.

altstadtfest in Freinsheim

Reformed Evangelical Protestant Church tower in the center of Freinsheim

And with plenty of toasts at the Freinsheimer Altstadtfest. To close, below are just a few photos and memories.



The Altstadtfest runs for three days. We only lasted one (because our flight left early on day 2, naturally).

croft on the battlefield at Culloden

Croft on the Culloden battlefield

bicycles at the central train station in Amsterdam

Bicycles in Amsterdam, at the Centraal train station

bird magpie

European magpie

couple at restaurant

Piet de Leeuw on Noorderstraat in Amsterdam, a restaurant that serves horse. (No, we didn’t try any.)


Spargelmania, and the Wohnmobile

Spargel fieldThis morning Matthias and I bicycled, at my request, to an asparagus field. Perhaps a strange tourist stop, but I couldn’t picture how asparagus is grown underground here (on purpose, to keep it white instead of green). When we arrived, we stood for awhile watching the morning harvesters. Asparagus (Spargel) is picked twice a day, in the morning and the evening. If you want to go deeper, read all about “Spargelmania” here.

As we stood gazing at the field, Matthias turned to me with a quizzical expression. “What do you call those pieces of timber that hold up the roof of your house?” he asked, gesturing over his head.

“You mean, like beams?”

“Right, we call the rows here “Spargel Balken,” asparagus beams because they look like the beams in a ceiling,” he said, gesturing out at the long square rows.

imageThe harvesters dig into the soil rows, jab out the asparagus spears, then build back up the soil so the plant will continue to sprout spears. Once the season has ended, in late June, the soil “beams” are flattened out, the asparagus allowed to go to seed.

On the way back to the house, Matthias and I passed through a parking lot full of German RVs, known as “Wohnmobiles”.  Owning a Wohnmobile appears to be a trend in Germany. The RVs come in all shapes and sizes, just like in the U.S., but their purpose is a bit different. Throughout the year, so many festivals are held in small villages throughout Germany. It’s difficult to get there and back in a day, especially if you want to enjoy the local vintages late into the evening. The solution? A Wohnmobile, of course.


Orange, ho!

imageAnother landmark on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh is St. Giles Cathedral, considered the “mother church” of Presbyterianism. The crown spire is in the shape of the royal crown. It seems this cathedral is the only building of three churches in downtown Edinburgh that still is used as a church, which struck me as significant, given the histories I’ve been reading about the intensely zealous 17th and 18th century Scots Presbyterians. Note Dave’s orange jacket, a beacon to help me find him in a crowd, and a hint to where his heart truly lies, in his Holland homeland.

imageWhere we have now arrived, in that fair city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Fair indeed, but it’s been raining ever since we arrived, as evidenced by this cloudy scene at the Maritime Museum (Scheepvaartmuseum).

In the evening at a local pub/restauraunt, Dave spoke French to the waiter, prompting him to raise one eyebrow and ask where we’re from.

“The United States,” I said, laughing. “But Dave here is of Dutch descent. Not that he can speak it.”

The waiter shrugged. “That’s the way it is today. My wife is of Polish and Italian descent, but she can’t speak a word of either language.” He turned to Dave. “So you are of Dutch descent?”

“Yes, my great-grandfather came to America, he was a religious man.”

“Ah, then he must not have been from Amsterdam, probably from a village in the countryside. It is still like that today.”

Greetings from Holland.

A word about the close and the Highland cow

I remember first wondering about “the close” when listening to an audio CD of Anthony Trollope‘s The Warden, which kept mentioning the term. I couldn’t picture a close. In context, it seemed to mean something near a house, like an entry. Or maybe a small backyard? I looked it up, but “narrow alleys” didn’t conjure a proper image. City blocks in the U.S. are taken up by buildings, with foreboding alleys full of rubbish bins between them, mainly for cars and delivery trucks.

imageAt last, wandering the Royal Mile on Edinburgh, I enjoyed my first glimpse of a close. Lots of closes, actually. They’re pedestrian alleys that squeeze through between storefronts leading to inner courtyards. Here is the entrance to Paisley Close (right by a Whisky store, naturally).

Riddell's CloseAnd here is the inner courtyard of Riddell’s Close, where David Hume once lived. Daniel Defoe wrote in 1726, “… that in no City in the World do so many People live in so little Room as in Edinburgh.” The closes, and streets too, were crowded and disgusting, since people had a habit of dumping their chamber pots out the windows, shouting “Gardy Loo!” (from the French, Gardez l’eau!–watch out for the water). In 1754, Edward Burt wrote “I was forced to hide my Head between the Sheets, for the Smell of Filth thrown out by the Neighbours came pouring into the room to such a Degree, I was almost poisoned by the Stench.”

imageWell. To freshen the air, just for fun, I’ll close with a photo of some Highland cows–they sure are cute.


Ohio bound

I’m headed to Ohio, where I’ll be giving a variety of talks about the “story behind the story” of writing my historical novel The Last of the Blacksmiths and the little-told story of German immigrants to Ohio and Cleveland in the 1800s.

My first event is April 10 at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea for their German American Kulturabend.

Next up, Historic Zoar Village Saturday afternoon, April 11. Then Saturday evening I’ll be back in Cleveland Heights for an author reading/signing at Mac’s Backs– Books on Coventry with author Susan Petrone.

All the details about the events to come are on this web page here.

During my weeks of travel between now and the Ohioana Book Festival April 25, be sure to check back often — I’ll be sharing discoveries, genealogy tidbits, adventures and more on a daily basis.

Deductive reasoning, aka reading the classics

Confessional moment: Yes! I’m working on my next novel. This one is about Scottish immigrants in the 18th century. And just like the initial phase of my research for The Last of the Blacksmiths (German immigrants in the 19th century), I’ve started by reading some classics of the day. (See one of my earliest blogposts here, Call me a schlemiel)

This time, instead of Moby-Dick, I’m devouring Kidnapped! by Robert Louis Stevenson. Until I downloaded this classic to my digital bookshelf, my knowledge of this author extended as far as the recurring crossword puzzle clue: Author of Treasure Island. Answer: RLS

To my amazement, the historical novel Kidnapped! covers the same era, and territory, I’m researching–the Scottish Highlands just after the Battle of Culloden. From the writing, I’ve picked up quite a few insights into the clothing, the foods, differences in social status, in languages and dialects, in political allegiances (woefully enmeshed with religious beliefs) and local customs. But sheesh, what to do with it all? Especially since, sadly, hardly any women show up in this book.

There are other classics I’m looking forward to reading. Poetry by Robert Burns, and the picaresque novels of Tobias Smollett. Granted, it’s a broad-stroke way to hone in on a particular story. A lot more work than hunkering down to a preconceived notion of what the book wants to be. Deductive reasoning, messy but often delightful and surprising. When I get impatient, that’s what I tell myself anyhow.

Odd sights to a foreigner

St. Lubentiuskirche in the south of Limburg

St. Lubentiuskirche in the south of Limburg

odd sights spaghetti ice cream

Spaghetti Ice Cream with chocolate and nuts (it has whipped cream in the center)

odd sights locks on the gate

Inscribed locks on a gate by the Lahn — a custom of lovers

odd sights guinea pig farm

A guinea pig farm in Roedinghausen

odd sights cigarette machine

They smoke more often here — maybe it’s the cigarette machines.

A big oops

Well, I’ve done it again. I make the oddest mistakes, sometimes, and this one had a ripple effect that still has me feeling abashed and off balance.

The story of my first two days in Freinsheim. Of course I want to see all the relatives as soon as I possibly can. At the first opportunity, Matthias and I sit down with the calendar. I have my notes ready — as we decide on the times and places, Matthias makes the calls. That very same afternoon, I write it in my notes: 3 p.m. coffee with his mother, Baerbel Weber. The next morning, Friday first thing, 10 a.m. visit with Tante Gretel and Onkel Otto. Lunch with Tante Inge, 12:30. Interview with the Die Rheinpfalz newspaper reporter (gulp!) 3:00 p.m. A lot of German conversation ahead, but I brace myself and figure we’ll get through it somehow.

plum cakeBut already, time is passing. Delighted that Baerbel will see me so soon, I make preparations to go. I arrive at Baerbel’s precisely at 3. We have a wonderful, two-hour visit, in German, with — wait for it — plum cake! How awesome, and delicious!

Friday morning, Matthias urges me to get going to visit Onkel Otto and Tante Gretel. He points out it is a half hour walk, and that I should take a bicycle. I agree, and leave a few minutes late. I bicycle fast, and am proud of myself for arriving right on the hour of 10 o’clock. Tante Gretel is walking down the steps to meet me as I lock up the bicycle. We go inside and have a delightful conversation.

otto and gretel

I am perfectly happy, but Tante Gretel seems nervous, she keeps glancing at the clock on the bureau behind her. I think maybe she is getting tired or has something she must do like take her medicines, so I say my farewells. I am worried about arriving at Tante Inge’s too early, so I sit in a park and do a bit of journaling. As 12:30 rolls around, I get on my bicycle and head over to Tante Inge’s. Even though I have a map, I do arrive a few minutes late because I take a wrong turn.

“You are one hour late!” Inge greets me.

“What? It was supposed to be 11:30? Matthias told me 12:30! He must have gotten it wrong. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not so easy, when I cook dinner for you, to keep it warm for so long,” she says.

I feel terrible, disconcerted, and sorry sorry sorry. Tante Inge is very gracious and serves me a delicious meal (“not hot enough, it’s better when it’s hot,” she points out) and share memories and stories and news.


The menu is superb, chicken cordon bleu, broccoli with cheese, salad, potatoes, and for dessert cookies and coffee.

Tante Inge, like Tante Gretel, has a clock on the bureau behind her. When she turns to glance at the time, I see it is already 2:30. How have two hours flown so quickly? I wonder.

“You must meet the journalist at 3?” she asks. “Where must you meet her?”

When I explain it is in the central marketplace, Tante Inge says it will take me two minutes by bicycle, and sees me out the door on time. Matthias meets me at the marketplace, and introduces me to the journalist. After the interview, he and I return to the house. We are sitting on the back deck discussing the day, and I tell him the sad news that there was a confusion about the time for lunch with Tante Inge.

“No, that was right, Tante Inge said 12:30. I’m sure of it,” Matthias says.

“Maybe it is a language problem. You say in German half until 1, that means 12:30. Maybe she said 11:30, and you said to me in English 12:30 by mistake.”

“No, I know this. She said halb eins, 12:30. And right now, it is 5:30, halb sechs.”

“No, right now it is 4:30, halb funf.”

“No, it is 5:30, halb sechs.”

Then it dawns on me. I thought it was only an eight hour time difference between Seattle and Freinsheim — but it is nine hours. Ever since I have arrived, I have been one hour behind!! I have been so serene about it all, and here my glassy lake was full of choppy waters. Everyone has been so good-natured and kind, welcoming me regardless of my rudeness. Once again, I stand in awe of the gracious generosity of the Palatine people.


Flashback: the February 15 Book Launch

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESMy nephew Nicholas Gebben has made a wonderful Book Launch Highlights video from my novel release party back in February. (Click on the book launch highlights link to view it in Youtube.) Thanks Nick!

In addition, below are more photos of wonderful friends and family on that day. I smile just to see you all smiling.

Thanks to every one for make the launch of The Last of the Blacksmiths such a memorable day!!!
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