Thursday, June 30, 2016

Stan Hywett Hall and Gardens

Last year I wrote a post about Stan Hywett Hall in Akron, Ohio.  My friend Alejandro and I visited this magnificent mansion when he was up here last summer.  I paid another visit to Stan Hywett last week with a couple of friends. 

Stan Hywett (which is Old English for stone quarry) is the largest house in the state of Ohio, and is the sixth largest historic home open to the public in the United States.  It was the residence of F. A. Sieberling, the co-founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and his wife and six children.  Construction was begun in 1912 and completed in 1915.  After Sieberling's death in 1955, the family donated the mansion to a non-profit organization.

The house is built in Tudor Revival Style.

The mansion has 65 rooms with a total area of 64,500 square feet.

The Music Room is where parties and important family events took place.  There is an organ with 2,433 pipes which can be played manually or with music rolls.

The Library features carved black walnut paneling and hand-painted canvas ceiling panels.

The Great Hall, which is three stories high, was a gathering place for family and friends.

The Dining Room was the setting for formal dinner parties.

Informal family meals, however, were served in the Breakfast Room.

The kitchen was state-of-the-art for its era.

The Seiberlings believed in an active lifestyle, and in the basement there is a gymnasium and an indoor swimming pool.

The Tower Grand Staircase leads up to the second floor.

The upstairs contains eighteen bedrooms.

The Master Bedroom featurres antique wood paneling which was bought from a 17th century English manor house that was going to be demolished.

The Colonial Bedroom is one of several guest bedrooms for the Seiberlings' frequent visitors.

After touring the mansion, we went outside to see the gardens.

The seventy acres of grounds seem very extensive, but originally the estate had more than 3,000 acres.

The Japanese Garden was restored to its original 1916 design.

The English Garden was designed in 1928 by a renowned female landscape designer by the name of  Ellen Biddle Shipman.

The Great Garden covers three acres, and includes a rose garden with heirloom roses.

I recommend Stan Hywett as one of the outstanding attractions in Ohio.  I might return for yet another visit in December.  I have heard that the rooms of the mansion are beautifully decorated for Christmas.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Das Essen Ist Gut

Das Essen ist gut!... The food is good!  That is one of the sentences which I have learned from my German lessons.

So, it was very appropriate that I had lunch today at the nearby German-American Cultural Center in Olmsted Township with my cousin Gail and her husband Wes.

The cultural center was established in 1970 by the Danube Swabians.  In the eighteenth century, the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa offered free land to farmers who would settle areas along the Danube River which had been taken from the Ottoman Empire.  Many Germans, especially those from the region of Swabia, took advantage of this offer.  Those colonists, whether they were from Swabia or from other regions of Germany, became known as the "Donauschwaben", and they formed an important minority within the largely Slavic region.

After World War I, the territory where the Danube Swabians lived became part of the new nation of Yugoslavia.  After World War II the Communist government began a campaign of repression against the German-speaking minority, and hundreds of thousands of Danube Swabians immigrated to the United States.

The cultural center includes a restaurant which is open to the public for lunch five days a week.  Our waitress was a very personable lady who was born in Vienna and came to the United States when she was a child. 

Here are Gail and Wes.  Gail is showing the chicken schnitzel which she ordered.

I ordered the Wiener schnitzel.  It was served over "Blaukraut" (red cabbage, although the German translates as blue cabbage) and "Spaetzle", little egg dumplings.


Whenever I am at a German restaurant, I always order "Spaetzle", hoping one day to run across something as good as what my mother used to make.  She always called them "Spatzli" which is what they are called in Switzerland.  My mom most certainly learned how to make them from her Swiss paternal grandmother.  I have asked my Swiss cousins if there is a secret family recipe for "Spatzli", but they say "no".

The Wiener schnitzel was excellent.  The "Spaetzle" were not as good as my mother's, but still... "Das Essen ist gut!"  

Monday, June 27, 2016

German Is Difficult

In preparation for my trip to Switzerland in August, each day I have been studying some German on DuoLingo.  I have gone through fifteen lessons, although at this point, I am reviewing the old lessons to try to make the material stick in my brain.  The website tells me that I am 29% fluent in German, which I find quite laughable.  I have under my belt perhaps a hundred words and phrases, and I have memorized fairly well the conjugation in the present tense of a handful of verbs.  But I consider myself anything but fluent!

English, in spite of its many words of Latin and French derivation, is a Germanic language, and it is interesting to see similarities.  For example, it's easy to remember that "hund" is the German word for dog since we have the word "hound".  Some sentences such as "Wir trinken Tee" actually sound quite similar to the English translation... "We're drinking tea."

However, in spite of the similarities, I am finding German to be rather difficult.

I am struggling with the pronunciation.  I am used to Spanish which is a very phonetic language.  The vowel sounds are very crisp and clear, and the consonants, with some notable exceptions, are fairly similar to English.  However, German pronunciation, as in English, is a bit of a mess.  Vowel sounds seem indistinct and muddy, and I still haven't got a handle on what that umlaut (the two dots over a vowel) does to the pronunciation.  The consonants are not much better.  I have figured out that an "s" at the beginning of a word sounds like our "z" and that a "d" at the end of a word sounds like a "t".  I find myself simply memorizing the pronunciation of each individual word, and I am sure that I would butcher any word that I have not learned.

Another difficulty is with gender.  My Spanish students used to find it odd that every noun is either masculine or feminine.  You have to memorize the gender of each word, but there are rules that make that easier.  You can usually bet that a noun ending in "o" is masculine and that one ending in "a" is feminine.  In German there are three genders... masculine, feminine and neuter, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.  Why is the German word for "girl" neuter?   Inanimate objects are often neuter... for example, "Essen" (food) is neuter.  But many other objects are masculine or feminine.  "Sonne" (sun) is feminine, but "Mond" (moon) is masculine.  And it is important to know the gender of a word because the definite and indefinite articles change according to the gender of the word with which they are used.  So it's "das Essen" (the food), "die Sonne" (the sun) and "der Mond" (the moon).

Making a noun plural is also difficult, although there are rules that govern that.  Some words add an "e".  "Brot" (bread) becomes "Brote".  Others add an "er".  "Kind" (child) becomes "Kinder".  And other words add an "n" or "en".  "Frau" (woman) becomes "Frauen".  Many times making a word plural will also require putting an umlaut over the vowel, and that changes the pronunciation.  I am still scratching my head over the word "Buch" (book).  The plural is "Bucher" with an umlaut.  For the life of me it sounds like they are saying "boo-ya".  

I realize that the English language is just as strange.  Now that I have dipped my toe into the study of German, I can better sympathize with a Spanish-speaking person trying to learn the vagarities of our language.

In spite of it all, I am enjoying my German lessons, and I intend to keep plodding along. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Truce With My Computer

I'm not going to say that I love my new computer... I don't.  But at least we have reached a truce.  It is no longer giving me a headache (literally), and I no longer feel like throwing it out the window.

I called the store where I bought it and talked with one of their tech people.  I told him that after one week my operating disc was so full that the two programs that I had downloaded (a paint shop program and a video studio program) would not work.  I told him, as suggested by blogger Gary Denness in a comment here, that the computer was suffering from "bloatware", an excess of unwanted, garbage programs.  Although the tech guy did not agree with that, he showed me how to uninstall unwanted programs.  (There were a bunch of them!  Yes, definitely "bloatware". )  He also showed me how to change the settings so that any pictures, documents, etc., that I add would go into the much larger storage disc instead of the crowded operating disc.  He said that to make my printer operate normally, I would have to go to the manufacturer's website and download software.  (I still have to do that.)

Another problem that I had encountered was that the Windows Media Player... which had worked perfectly fine on my old computer... would play music but not videos.  Again, Gary Denness came to the rescue, and told me that I would have to download something called a "codec" to remedy that.  He even gave me a website from where I could download it.  I did that, and now the media player is working.  Thanks, Gary!

I am keeping my fingers crossed that the truce between my computer and me will hold.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Computer Nightmare Continues

My misadventures with my new computer go from bad to worse!

Yesterday, my friend who had helped me buy the new computer, came over again to see if he could resolve some of the issues that I have been having.  He is not a computer whiz, but he knows more than I.  My first priority was to get the files that I had backed up from the old computer onto the new one.  (These included the thousands of photos from my travels.) He had no better luck than I getting my files, which were stored on an external device, to transfer to the new computer.  After a couple of calls to the manufacturer of the device, he finally managed to transfer them. 

However, I had assumed that my photos would automatically go to my pictures file, documents to the documents file, etc.  Wrong!  The files are on a separate drive.  I guess that basically they are still sitting in the device... it's just that now I am able to access them.  However, it's rather inconvenient to get to them.  I thought, "OK, I'll try copying one of my backed-up picture files and pasting it into the pictures file of the computer."  It worked!  Thinking that the problem was solved, my friend went home. 

I started on the task of moving all of my photos.  I copied a file of from another trip and pasted it into Pictures.  No problem.  OK, to make this less tedious, I copied a half dozen files at once, and tried pasting them.  I received a message that there was no room on the disc for them.  What the heck?!  This new computer is supposed to have a terabyte of space... much more than my old one.  How is it possible that after less than a week my computer is full?

On my previous post, blogger Gary Denness had commented that my computer was suffering from "bloatware".  The manufacturer fills up the computer with a bunch of crap.  I think his diagnosis is correct.  Disc C which contains the Windows operating system is virtually full.  However Disc D, which has a terabyte of space was empty.  I copied the few files that I had transferred over to Pictures, pasted them into Disc D, and then deleted the files in Pictures.  Sure enough, it had freed up a bit of space on Disc C (although it remains almost full).  So my question is, why is would my personal stuff like Pictures, Documents, Music, etc. be on Disc C rather than Disc D where all the space is???

Well, it's almost 10:00 in the morning.  The computer store will be opening, and I am going to call and let them know that this computer is one big headache.  Hopefully they will be able to guide me through a fix over the phone, and I don't have to take it back to the store.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

More Reasons to Hate Windows 10

I wrote in my last post that I bought a new computer, and it, of course, has Windows 10.  Initially, I was not impressed with Windows 10.  Now that I have had the computer for a few days, I am growing to hate the new system, and I wish that I still had Windows 7.

Whenever I go on a trip I use a video program to create a DVD slideshow.  On the old computer I used the Windows Media Player where I could "rip" my music CDs and create music files on the computer.  I would then use those files to add appropriate musical background to my slide shows.  The other day I tried playing a CD on the computer.  The new app that appeared is called the Cyberlink Power Media Player, and there was nothing there at all for ripping the CD to the computer.  Nothing!  How am I going to add music to my travel discs???  I did some research on the internet (not on the Microsoft site), and learned that my old Windows Media Player is still on Windows 10.  You have to type it in the search box.  Sure enough, the player with its ripping capability appeared.  So that problem was solved.  However, it irks me that Microsoft has that media player hidden away.  It is shown NOWHERE in their list of apps.  It's as if they want to force you to use their fancy-shmancy new player, which for me is basically useless.

The next problem I encountered, and which I have yet to solve, involves my printer, an Epson Workforce 1100.  I hooked up the printer, and installed the driver.  I even went to the Epson website and installed a driver update they have for Windows 10.  The printer was working... but with fewer options than I had on my old computer.  

Each year I print off my own Christmas cards.  Before, whenever I would print something, a window from Epson would appear which showed me my ink levels and gave me a number of printing options.  For my Christmas cards I would always select a heavier weight paper and "Best Photo" which was slower but provided a higher quality print.  Now when I try to print something I am no longer getting that window.   The window, which appears to be from Microsoft rather than Epson, does not show me my ink levels, and the only option I have is whether to print in portrait or landscape format.  I have NO choice as to what kind of paper I want to use, and I have no option for high quality printing.  How am I going to print my Christmas cards?!  I plan to call Epson Support tomorrow to see what the heck is going on.

I have had this computer for less than a week, and I already feel like Windows 10 is a piece of you know what!  

Friday, June 17, 2016

A New Computer

Yesterday we received much needed rain, so I took a day off from my gardening.  It was a perfect day to go shopping for a new computer.

My old computer was around six years old.  Not only was I running low on storage space for my huge amount of picture and video files, but the computer was acting strangely.  For some time it has been running very noisily most of the time, and has been running slowly.  Also the internet would stop working with annoying frequency, and occasionally everything would freeze up.  I would have to unplug the computer, then plug it in and turn it on again.  Yes, it was definitely time to buy a new one.

A friend, who knows more about computers than I, accompanied me to the store.  With his help, and the assistance of the salesperson, I picked one out for purchase.  We took it home, and my friend got it all hooked up, and set up.  He connected my printer and scanner and put in the security system that I had purchased.  Apparently, between the time that the computer had been manufactured and now there had been a lot of updates to Windows 10.  It took forever to upload all of them.  My friend had to go home, and I was on my own.

I managed to upload my video program that I use to make slide shows of my travel pictures.  I also hooked up my camera and downloaded the photos that were on my memory card.  OK!  Two important things taken care of.  However, I am stymied on one extremely important item.  When my old computer started acting funny, I had purchased an external backup gizmo, so that if the computer crashed, I would not lose all my pictures and documents.  I know that it was working...  I would get message boxes saying that the backup had been successfully completed, and that it was 37% full.   Yet, when I hook it up to the new computer, I don't see how to download all of the stored material.  The window that appears doesn't look anything like what is shown in the manual, and there is nothing to click on for "restore".   Hopefully my friend (he's stopping by next week) will be able to figure it out, or if I call the computer store they will be able to guide me through the process.  If worse comes to worse, all those files are not lost... they are still on the old computer.  There has to be a way transfer them. 

Frankly, I liked Windows 7 better than Windows 10.  Granted, it is largely a matter of just getting used to the new system.  However, my Windows 7 included a documents program, but there is nothing on Windows 10.  So I will have upload a program, and hope that when I finally manage to download the files from the old computer, that I will be able to open the old documents.

Oh, well, the sun is shining, and it is time for me to go out and work in the garden.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


As I have mentioned, my flower beds are filled with perennial plants.  I have reached the point where the only annuals that I buy are for my flower box, the hanging baskets and flower pots.  Most perennials only bloom once during the season, so the annuals provide color all summer long.

A couple days ago, after trips to various nurseries, I finished filling the flower pots.  I set them out on my patios.  I have three patios... one behind the dining room, another behind my bedroom, and a third out back by the storage garage.  I have several dozen flower pots.

Here is a picture of the back patio.

There is a wide variety of flowers... petunias, snapdragons, miniature dahlias, verbena, lantana and others.  There are also a couple tropical foliage plants... an elephant ear and a caladium.  In the center is a large plant, almost like a small tree.  It is something I found at the nursery, and which I have never had before... an oleander.   A couple years ago when I was in Valencia, Spain, I saw a lot of oleanders.  They grow as huge perennials in that climate.  They were gorgeous, and when I saw one at a local garden center, I decided to give it a try.

This oleander has pink flowers.  The plant has loads of buds, so it should be quite spectacular when it is in full bloom.  Come autumn, I am going to bring it inside, and see how well it does as a house plant.

Speaking of house plants, I also take out some of my indoor plants during the summer.  So far the only one that is out on the patio is this rubber tree plant.

I have had this plant for many years, and it has grown into a monster.  (Of course, it is not as big as the ones I see in Mexico City, where they literally grow into trees.)   It began as a small plant, but now, in its pot, it stands over five feet tall.  It always seems to enjoy being outdoors in a fairly shady corner of the back patio.  It sprouts new leaves, and adds another couple inches each summer.  It is no longer possible to carry it out.  I can't even haul it on a dolly.  I literally have to drag it across the back yard.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

It's Gone

A while ago I wrote that I was in the process of chopping down a large, overgrown juniper bush at the front corner of my house.  At that time I was about half way done, and I posted this picture.

After hacking away at it a bit at a time, the monster bush is finally gone.  It would have been a much quicker job if I had used a chain saw, but, frankly, I'm afraid of chain saws.  I used a pruner and a bow saw to cut the thicker branches.  The stump which you see in the picture below has since been sawed off close to the ground.  I am not going to dig out the roots since the gas line runs nearby. 

The azalea, which still has a few blossoms, is no longer hemmed in by the juniper, and will have room to grow.  I have to decide what sort of bush to plant in the big empty space.  It will definitely be something smaller, and it will be planted farther away from the house.  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Learning German

Four years ago, when I made my first trip to Switzerland to visit my new-found cousins, I had good intentions to teach myself some German prior to the trip.  I bought a book with an accompanying audio CD.  Well, I went through the first lesson and never opened the book again.  I told myself that the Swiss dialect was quite different from textbook German, and that most of my Swiss cousins were fluent in English anyway. 

I did pick up a few words here and there while I was in Switzerland.  On the few occasions when I was on my own and I needed to communicate with someone who spoke no English, I somehow managed to make myself understood in broken German. 

On my first morning in Othmarsingen, the little town where my great grandmother was born, I set off to explore the town without my cousin Werner in tow.  I went to the village church where my great grandmother was baptized.  I wanted to ask if the church was open.  In the churchyard there was an elderly lady who did not speak English.  I knew that "church" was "Kirche", and somewhere I had picked up that "open" was "offen".  So I said "Kirche... offen?", and she smiled and replied, "Ja".  "Danke," I said.

After visiting the church, I went to a small restaurant for breakfast.  (I had to go there, because it bore the same family name as my great grandmother!)  In this little, non-tourist town there was no English menu, and my waitress spoke only a smattering of English.  I managed to order a meal.  I still remember that "orange juice" is "Orangensaft".  While I was eating, there was a gentleman seated at a nearby table who kept looking my way with curiosity.  I later found out that he was another cousin of mine, Werner's brother... one of the few cousins who doesn't speak much English.

One day I took the train on my own to Zurich, which is only a half hour away.  I stopped at a stand on the street to have some lunch.  Looking at the German menu I was able to order a sausage, some potato salad and a soft drink.  I still remember that "potato salad" is "Kartoffelsalat".  (Zurich is an extremely expensive city, and that little lunch cost the equivalent of $30!)

I will be returning to Switzerland this summer, and I will be surrounded by my mostly English-speaking relatives.  Nevertheless, I decided that this time I should have a bit more German under my belt.  I found a free website called "Duolingo", and for the last couple days I have been spending some time there trying to pick up some German.  It seems to be more interesting and fun than the book I bought some years ago.  I already have learned a few more useful expressions.   A native speaker pronounces the phrases, and I try to imitate the sounds.  I am sure that my pronunciation is atrocious, but if I am able to make myself understood, that is all that matters.  After finishing a few lessons, "Duolingo" tells me that I am 4% fluent in German.  Ha!  That's being extremely generous!

From Switzerland, I will be traveling to Norway, where one of my Swiss cousins currently lives.  I could also try to learn some Norwegian on "Duolingo", but I fear that I would end up mixing the two languages.  From what I read, virtually everyone in Norway is quite fluent in English, so I think that I will simply learn a couple phrases, like "Hello" and "Thank you".

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Weekend in Chicago

I have not posted on the blog for several days because I spent a long weekend in Chicago. 

I went to visit my friends Tony and Terence who were celebrating their 25th anniversary together.  Five years ago, when civil unions were approved in the state of Illinois, they had a ceremony, and now that same sex marriage is legal throughout the country, their union is fully recognized as a marriage.

They marked the milestone on Saturday with a very nice catered party in the community room of their condo building. 

I didn't know what to get them as an anniversary gift.  After I arrived on Friday I sneaked off to one of their favorite restaurants, "Las Mañanitas", which is located only a few blocks away from their home, and bought them a gift certificate.  On Friday evening I also treated them to dinner there.  I had chicken enchiladas in "mole" sauce.

Although there was some light rain on Saturday, for most of my time in Chicago, the weather was beautifully warm and sunny.  Here are a couple views of Lake Michigan from their building.

It was great to see my friends again, and to be a part of their celebration... and it was nice to take a break from my gardening.

Congratulations to Tony and Terence!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Planting Annuals

I have finally cleaned out the perennial beds.  Now comes the more fun job of planting annuals in my flower boxes, hanging baskets and the flower pots that I place on the patios.
Yesterday I worked on the large flower box behind my bedroom.

At each end of the box I have a metal, obelisk-shaped trellis within which I planted white mandevillas, a tropical vine native to Latin America.  I have planted two different colors of dwarf dahlias.  (Did you know that the dahlia is the national flower of Mexico?).  There are also petunias.  Thank goodness the newer varieties of petunias no longer deadheading. And finally, I planted a variety of impatiens that do well in sunlight.  They are marketed as "sun-patiens".  

In a month, the plants will have filled in the flower box, the petunias will trail over the edge, and the mandevillas will climb the trellises.  In front of the box I will have a variety of flowering annuals in pots.  It will be a lovely sight to wake up to in the morning.