Today’s garden visitor…

Early this morning, Bill let Arran out to do his business. Arran immediately alerted to the ivy covered fence on the right side of the yard. It was very early– not even 6am yet– so it wasn’t a good thing that Arran was barking so assertively. Bill brought him back inside, but Arran remained obsessed with getting outside.

I prefer to let the dogs out, if they want to go out. I’ve cleaned up too many accidents to know that it’s not a good idea to deny them the chance to pee when the need arises. But Arran and Noyzi were both still fixated on the fence line, and I didn’t want them to piss off the neighbors, so I went over to see what the issue was. There, I saw it… a humongous spiky hedgehog, curled up by the fence. It’s daytime, and hedgehogs are nocturnal animals, so I figured it might be sleeping. Still, I’m not interested in having a dead animal in my yard, so I got a shovel and gently pulled it out for a better look. It took a minute or two, but I finally saw it breathe. So, after I took a photo for posterity, I put it back where I found it, and shooed the dogs back inside.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a hedgehog in my German backyards. The first time we lived in Germany (2007-09), I had to rescue a hedgehog from the jaws of my then beagles, Flea and MacGregor. Later, when we were still living at that house, I discovered an enormous hedgehog raiding the trash. My guess is that it was the same one I saved from my beagles. I see from Facebook, that happened in August, too…

Dated August 19, 2009just found an enormous hedgehog raiding the trash… good thing my hounds were inside.

I last saw a hedgehog in our garden in October 2020. I noticed that it lived under a platform in our yard. For all I know, this is the same creature, as according to my reading, they can live up to 7 or 8 years in the wild. I also read that August is when hedgehogs in this latitude usually give birth. Some babies are born in July or September, but in Germany, at least half are born in August. For all I know, this is a female hedgehog who is about to have babies. I sure hope she moves, though, because I don’t want my dogs trying to eat her. She’s very spiky. Or maybe it’s a he. I don’t know.

I remember seeing hedgehogs in the 70s, when my dad was stationed at Mildenhall Air Force Base in England. We moved back to the United States, and I didn’t see them again until years later, when Sonic the Hedgehog became a popular video game and people adopted them as pets. I don’t think hedgehogs are as popular to own as pets anymore. But they sure are around in the European wilderness, especially in Germany… I never saw one when we lived in Jettingen. There, we saw lots of field mice, which Arran was occasionally able to catch, even when he was on his leash (which he almost always was, since we didn’t have an adequately fenced yard). They are good to have in gardens, because they eat bugs. For that reason, I welcome our cute visitor. I’m always amazed at the things I learn as a result of living over here.

Hedgehogs were never really an issue for us in the USA. Over the course of 20 years and many different homes, we’ve had snakes, squirrels, deer, wild ducks, turtles, mice, rats, chimney swifts, groundhogs, toads, coyotes, moles, foxes, chipmunks, rabbits, and all manner of birds. But wild hedgehogs are strictly a European thing… kind of like slugs. I know there are slugs in the USA, but I never saw so many of them there as I have here. They are huge, and pretty gross. I remember our first German landlord used to put out bowls of beer to attract the slugs and drown them. I don’t take those steps myself, because I love beer and hate to waste it on killing slugs. Also, beer attracts bees, who also end up drowning.

I’m still kind of shocked by how big that hedgehog is. I’ll bet it’s a female who’s about to give birth. I’m not going to turn it over and try to look for the telltale sex organs, though. Like I said… lots of spiky quills! It’s already Monday; I don’t need any wild animal related mishaps today.

ETA: I just checked where I left the hedgehog, and it’s moved. So that’s a good thing… Hope it finds a less dangerous place to be.

Here’s a video of the hedgehog, who came out while we were eating dinner a few days later. I suspect it’s a female, about to have babies… or maybe newly postpartum.

fests, Germany, Sundays

Leisurely Ludwigsburg and unexpected fests…

Stormy skies hung over Unterjettingen this morning, altering my plans to hit a spa this afternoon.  We had a large collection of empty beer bottles that had been sitting in our pantry since our last Ludwigsburg beer run.  I asked Bill if he thought maybe today would be a good day to get rid of them.  He agreed, so off we went to the pleasant city for a little brew shopping at Getränke Heinrich 3000.

A lone poppy blooming on yesterday’s walk route.  Poppies always remind me of England, when we lived near a huge field of them.

We bought less beer than usual.  Much of it came from England, with a few from Bury St. Edmunds, a place in Suffolk that will always have a warm spot in my heart.  My dad’s last duty station in the Air Force was at R.A.F. Mildenhall, which is very close to Bury St. Edmunds.  Someday I’ll learn to stop being tongue tied when someone asks me in German if they can help me.  An employee did just that and I answered in English… and then he switched to perfect English.  Man, I wish I’d studied German in high school!

After our shopping excursion, we headed into town and parked in the Rathaus garage.  As we emerged from the underground part of the garage, I spotted what appeared to be the makings of a fest.  Evidently, it’s time for Ludwigsburg’s Brew Days (Brautage).  There were only a couple of stands open as we passed, so we continued to the main square, where someone had just gotten married.

The stage was set for music…

And a few people were drinking beer.

And there were places to stand, drink, and smoke.

The skies were still blue when we arrived.

I wanted to use my big new camera, but forgot to charge the battery.  The iPhone had to suffice.

Wedding party…

Complete with drones!

And a roving band… these guys were pretty good.  They worked their way around the square and played a couple of numbers for the bride and groom.  

But then the clouds darkened the skies.

The smell of shrimp and garlic lured us to outside seating at La Signora Moro, an Italian place we sometimes visit when we’re in town.  I don’t actually love this restaurant.  The menu is kind of limited and consists mostly of pizzas, which I will admit usually look good.  But Bill has decided to take a new job here in Stuttgart instead of Vicenza, so we figured we’d eat Italian again today.

I catch Bill smiling sometimes.


It was a busy afternoon, so service was a bit slow.  It took a few minutes before anyone acknowledged us and a few more before they took our order.  Fortunately, I wasn’t hangry today, so I didn’t mind the wait at all.  One thing this restaurant has is a great view.  You can sit there and watch Ludwigsburg in action to your heart’s content.

The good natured waitress was saying something about how she needed a light cart to carry all of the food and beverages.  The people at the table next to us started joshing with her about that, just as her colleague, a very good looking young blond guy came out with a small dolly.  Everyone laughed at the coincidence.  Even we Americans were in on the small joke.

Bill ordered the antipasti.  He was not expecting it to be this huge.  It really is a feast intended for more than one person.  It came with salami, prosciutto, olives, octopus, grilled peppers, Parmesan cheese, and rucola.  He didn’t come close to finishing it.  There was a whole lot of octopus and I think it was a bit too much protein!  I will admit that it was an attractive dish, though.

I had risotto with asparagus, salmon, a single olive, and two cherry tomatoes.  It took awhile to get this dish and I wasn’t able to finish it.  It wasn’t bad, but I think I’ve had a version of this dish before with shrimp and liked it better.  


We each had different glasses of white wine and shared a bottle of San Pellegrino.  I might have lingered a little longer, but it looked like it might storm at any minute.  We paid the tab, which came to about 44 euros before the tip.  Then we headed back to the parking garage.

I do think the ambiance at Signora Moro’s is charming.  And one of their signs doubles as a bike rack.  Clever!

Bill talked about how much he enjoys watching people just hanging out…  Ludwigsburg is a great place to do that.

Off in the distance, you can see weird art depicting what appears to be a snake draped over a pole over the road.

By the time we got close to the parking garage, the fest had gotten underway.  We decided to stop for a beer.  The one brewery was serving small glasses of a few styles including “Indian Pale Ale”.  Bill likes IPAs, so he ordered one.  I had a Maibock.

“Indian” Pale Ale?

The band had arrived.

I couldn’t resist taking this picture.  No, he wasn’t posing.  

There was salmon being grilled and chickens were rotating on spits.  I was kind of sorry we’d eaten in town.  It might have been better to eat at the fest.


I’m glad we won’t be saying goodbye to Germany just yet.  There’s always a good reason to have a fest somewhere.  This one in particular will be going on tomorrow, too.

 Hopefully tomorrow, we’ll go somewhere we haven’t already been.


Part 13… Mildenhall 38 years post PCS…

It may seem odd that out of all the places I could visit in the United Kingdom, I’d want to visit Mildenhall.  Mildenhall is a market town in Suffolk.  It is also home to an Air Force base that has been home to many Americans, including my own family.  My father’s last assignment as an Air Force officer was at Mildenhall.  He was the base engineer there from 1975 until 1978 and we lived in base housing.  Since I was born in 1972, I was just a little girl when we lived there.  I really don’t have any memories of living in Hampton, Virginia, which is where I was born.  I also don’t remember much of Dayton, Ohio, which is where we lived before we went to England.

Although I have been fortunate enough to travel all over Europe and beyond, I hadn’t been to Mildenhall since we PCS’d in 1978, when I was almost six years old.  I have been trying to get back there, though.  Two years ago, when we lived in Texas and Bill was finishing his Army career, we took two Space A trips.  I was kind of hoping we’d wind up at Mildenhall, but we went to Ramstein instead.

When I started planning our Scotland trip and we realized we’d have a few days afterwards to go somewhere else, I decided we’d finally get to Mildenhall, even though it’s not near Scotland and isn’t exactly known for being a tourist destination.  For me, it was exciting to visit again and see my old stomping grounds!

On March 24th, Bill and I said goodbye to Staffordshire and set off for Norfolk, the county next to Suffolk.  As a native Virginian who grew up near Virginia’s own Suffolk and Norfolk, it was a little weird to be going to the original ones in England.  Especially since once we got there, I noticed how much England’s Norfolk and Suffolk looked like Virginia’s Norfolk and Suffolk.

Unfortunately, Bill got my stomach virus, so the drive down there wasn’t as smooth as it could be.  We ended up having to pull off the road once so he could throw up.  I had chosen to book The Willow House, a bed and breakfast in Watton, a little village that was on the way to the airport in Norwich.  Although at the time, I was kind of sad we wouldn’t be able to stay closer to the base, I have to say that now that we’ve been to the Mildenhall area, I’m glad we stayed further out.  Mildenhall is very built up now and traffic is pretty bad there.

The Willow House in Watton.

Basic accommodations.

Thursday night, Bill and I were recovering from our run in with the stomach bug.  We had dinner at The Willow House, which has a pretty nice pub.  The portion sizes were huge and neither of us came close to finishing our meals.  On the other hand, I had a good rib eye steak, which was a nice change of pace after a week of so much fresh seafood.  The Willow House also has a nice selection of cask ales, which Bill and I appreciated as beer lovers.

Cute pub!

Bill’s huge jacket potato, which he said wasn’t quite cooked all the way.


My steak.  this came with chips, too.  It was way too much food, but the steak was good.


An example of breakfast at The Willow House.

The accommodations at The Willow House are pretty basic, but reasonably priced.  For years, my uncle ran the The Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center in Natural Bridge, Virginia.  They have “cabins” there.  Basically, they are little buildings with six to eight rooms in them.  The Willow House only has one building with rooms, but it really reminded me of the Natural Bridge Hotel cabins.  The Willow House has plenty of free parking and offers a great breakfast.

On Friday morning, after a good night’s sleep, Bill and I were both feeling fine again.  We had a big breakfast in the inn’s charming restaurant, then set off for Mildenhall.  Bill had set the GPS to find Tolley Cobbold Street.  If you click the link, you can get the backstory on why finding that street was on my bucket list.  The short version is that legend has it, that street was named after my late father, Charles P. Tolley.  I wanted to see if the street was still there 38 years after we PCS’d.

We got to Mildenhall and found Tolly Cobbold Street.  At first, I was a little disappointed.  Tolly Cobbold is the name of a beer that was produced for centuries in nearby Bury St. Edmunds until the brewery ceased production in 2002.  I was looking for Tolley Cobbold Street.  Unwilling to be let down by not finding it, Bill and I drove around some more and found the British school where I went to kindergarten.  We found the main drag, which features beautiful St. Mary’s Church and a charming little market square.  We also found our old house, which I easily recognized because it’s base housing and there’s a big field behind it.

Beyond those brambles is the field that backs up to our old house on base.  In my day, there were cows there.  Now there are horses.  I’d rather gaze at the horses.


Me in Mildenhall as a little girl, looking at the cows from our yard.

Tolly Cobbold Street


Tolley Cobbold Road!

I told Bill I wanted to drive into our old neighborhood.  He was reluctant because we didn’t have a visitor’s pass.  However, I noticed that the guard shack near the neighborhood (which I don’t think existed in 1978) was standing wide open and unmanned.  I kept pressuring Bill, so he finally relented…  And then, I saw it.  The sign… Tolley Cobbold Road (instead of Street).  As I snapped a picture of it, I had to wonder how many Air Force folks looked at that sign right next to Tolly Cobbold Street and wondered if it was a typo.

My old school.  I went to kindergarten here with a bunch of British five year olds.  My mom said she sent me there because the school day was longer.  I’m glad she did it, even if she did it for kind of selfish reasons.

Our old English house… the first one I have memories of in my lifetime.  I sent these pictures to my sisters, who were much older when we lived there and they confirmed that my memory hadn’t failed me!

I was a little sad to see all those trash bins under the gazebo.  

Scenes from around Mildenhall.  I hear they are planning to shut the base…  That makes me sad, especially since its been built up so much now!  And they like Americans, too… right?


Ten things I learned in Scotland and England…

We’re home at last!  And boy, did we have ourselves an eventful trip!  Since we were gone for almost two weeks and a lot happened, I’m going to do something now that I usually do after I write up my vacations.  I’m going to type a list of ten things I learned on our most recent trip to Scotland and England.  I’m doing that now because I know some readers would prefer a quick and dirty recap and I have a feeling this trip report will consist of many moving parts.

Even though Bill and I have been to England and Scotland before– and I even lived in England at one time in my life– we always learn new things when we travel.  And this trip taught us some truly surprising things.  We spent the first week on a whisky cruise on Hebridean Princess in Scotland.  The cruise focused on visits to whisky distilleries, though we also had a few non boozy excursions.   Next, we went to England and caught Avenue Q in Stoke on Trent and visited my old stomping grounds near Mildenhall Air Force Base.  We had an unforgettable trip that I’m itching to share with everyone.  So here goes.

10.  Apparently, Scotland has its own money.  Yes, it’s true.  Even though Scotland voted to remain a member of the United Kingdom, more than once, we ran into problems when we tried to use Scottish bills in England.  In fact, this morning Bill tried to pay a fee at the Norwich airport with a Scottish note and it didn’t work!  He quipped that he’d have to find a “non-Confederate” note.  But, just so you know, Scottish money is legal tender in England.  It’s just that they don’t seem to see it that much or something.

9.  Driving on the left isn’t so hard.  Bill was very nervous about trying to drive in the United Kingdom.  As it turned out, it wasn’t bad at all.  We had visions of Clark Griswold style driving mishaps when we first considered driving in the UK, but Bill did just fine!  And now he has a new skill to brag about.

We did not have any encounters with Eric Idle in England.


8.  There are many roundabouts in England… more than there are in Germany.  Fortunately, none we encountered were as bad as this one.

I heard there’s a really scary one in Swindon, though…


7.  My old house in England still looks the same as it did in 1978.  We drove to Mildenhall Air Force Base, which is where my dad did his very last assignment as an Air Force lieutenant colonel.  I was almost six years old when we left England, so it’s where my earliest memories come from.  Very surprisingly, it was easy to find the housing area where I once lived and the house my family lived in.  I sent a photo to my much older sisters who confirmed that I got it right.

6.  But Mildenhall itself is very different…  There are some things around the base that are the same, but I was very shocked by how many more people are there and how much housing there is.  Also, I was surprised by the traffic!  Forty years ago, Mildenhall was surrounded by small towns and lots of open space.  Not so, now.

5.  The story my mom told me about the street named after my dad was not bullshit…  And I will write an updated post about that eventually to explain everything.  Suffice to say, I found the street supposedly named after my dad and having seen it and noted where it is, I believe my mom’s tale was truthful.

4.  It’s not a good idea to drink from the same cup, especially among strangers.   Even though I am supposedly “overeducated” with master’s degrees in social work and public health, sometimes I still do really stupid things.  I did something dumb on this trip and ended up in deep doo doo.  On a related note, toilets in the UK are kind of weird.  It takes practice to be able to flush them effectively.

3.  Scotland is as beautiful in March as it is in November…  I managed to get some gorgeous photos on this trip.  I also got lots of video, which I hope to turn into a new YouTube film.  I will be busy for the next couple of weeks!

2.  Haggis can be delicious!  I don’t remember liking haggis that much the first time I tried it, but this last time, I thought it was very tasty.  That was quite a surprise for me.  I don’t know if it was because of the chefs on Hebridean Princess or just because of my Scottish ancestry.  😉  Having written that, I think haggis will be one of those dishes I sample only when I am in Scotland among people in kilts and surrounded by whisky.

1.  A cruise on Hebridean Princess is a marvelous, yet expensive way to see Scotland.  Okay, I knew that already, but it was reaffirmed on this last trip, even though I got hit with a stomach bug on the last day.  I will explain more about what happened as I blog… or, for those who have strong stomachs and high curiosity, there is a rather graphic account on my main blog.  I promise to keep the account on this blog more or less PG rated.

Anchors Aweigh!

Now, on with my trip report!

anecdotes, Military

On being a young American kid in Europe…

My very first passport photo before we moved to England.  I was about three years old and two feet ten inches tall.   I was born in Hampton, Virginia and my parents moved us back to that area when I was eight.  I grew up in Virginia and it’s now “home”, but I don’t miss it that much. 

As I was watching the dogs outside this morning, I had a sudden thought about being an American kid in Europe.  I spent part of my early childhood in England at Mildenhall Air Force Base.  We lived on the base, but I went to a British school instead of the American school.  My sisters went to the American schools.  At the time, living in England was perfectly normal to me.

I didn’t know I was in a foreign country, although I do remember my mom and sisters explaining to me that we were Americans living in England and that it was a “different country” than where we came from.  At that time, I didn’t have a concept of countries, though.  England was simply “home”.  I still have vivid memories of the primary school where I attended kindergarten with British and a few other American kids.  My mom told me she sent me there because the school day was longer and it kept me out of her hair.

Our backyard in England on Mildenhall Air Force Base bordered a big field with cows in it.  I was fascinated by them.  To this day, I still hate wearing shoes… and I love livestock.

We moved back to the States in 1978, when I was six years old.  At that point, I had spent half my life in England and it was really the only place I remembered.  I have only the vaguest of memories of our time at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Even though I’m American and was finally back in the United States after three years abroad, it didn’t really feel like my home.  It felt like a foreign country.  The time I spent as a small child in England changed me somehow, even though I am very much an American.  I guess living in England made me more aware of the world around me.  It definitely gave me a perspective that a lot of my peers didn’t have, although quite a lot of my peers were also military brats and a few of them had also lived abroad.


Me and my mom going to high tea at the Swan Hotel in Lavenham, England.  This photo was so fascinating to me that I used Google Earth to figure out where we were.  This hotel is still open and there’s a chance Bill and I might book a room there in March.  It depends on how nervous he is about getting us to the airport on Easter morning.

For some reason, I was thinking about kids who are born abroad and spend their formative years in another country.  They go to school with host country nationals, probably learn to speak the local language.  It’s “home” to them.  Then they move back to the country where they’re really from and it somehow feels “foreign” to them.  Even though they are among their people, they are different.  They were different when they were abroad, too.  They weren’t locals and weren’t likely to stay there longer than a few years, but they were mingling among the locals and got to see things through their eyes.

I think sometimes the first place you remember as a child is a place that really leaves an imprint.  I have always been kind of fascinated by England, though I haven’t spent a lot of time there since we moved back to the States in 1978.  We went to London in 2009 and I remember being questioned by the customs people.  They wanted to know if I’d ever been there before.  I told them I used to live in England.  That piqued their interest, until I told them I lived there as a young child in the 1970s.  Then it was okay.  I suspect there are a lot of Americans like me, people who lived abroad when they were kids and kind of feel like their childhood home is actually “home”.  I think my mom thought of England as home, too.  She said she cried all the way back to the States when we had to move.

My parents kept in touch with my dad’s British secretary from when we lived in England.  Before my dad died in 2014, they went back to visit her a few times.  She visited them, too, and even became friends with my Granny.  In fact, I saw her right before Bill and I got married.  I remember her fondly.  Before we left England, she asked me when I’d be back to visit.  I told her I wasn’t coming back until they built a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean.  She reminded me of that when I saw her last.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve flown across the Atlantic Ocean since 1978… or really, 1995.  I never took another trip abroad until I joined the Peace Corps.

My sisters cautioned me against marrying a military guy.  They saw my mom’s life as an Air Force wife and how it didn’t make her very happy.  I mostly enjoyed being an Army wife until Bill retired in 2014.  The lifestyle took me in a direction I wasn’t expecting, but I’ve been around the military my whole life.  It’s kind of second nature to me.  I didn’t have the globe trotting experience my sisters had because my dad retired from the Air Force when I was six years old.  But I definitely made up for that as an Army wife.  I eventually had roots when my dad retired, but now I’m not sure if I’ll root anywhere else.

Hebridean Princess in November 2012.  We’ll be back aboard in March.

In March, Bill and I will be going to Glasgow, Scotland to catch a cruise through the Hebrides.  We have decided that after the cruise, we will visit my old childhood stomping grounds, possibly with a stop in Stoke On Trent so we can catch a performance of Avenue Q.  If we do make it to Suffolk, Bill will probably have to acquaint himself with British driving.  I know it makes him nervous, but I feel confident he can do it.  If my parents could do it, he certainly can.  And who knows?  We may even move to England at some point.  The expat life definitely suits us.

I spotted this sign in Edinburgh.  My maiden name is Tolley.  My married name is Crossen.  Seems like a clue from the past.

I always thought I’d put down roots somewhere and raise a family.  That lifestyle is apparently not in the cards for me.  My expat career started with my being a very little kid in England and mingling among Brits.  Then I went to Armenia as a young woman and worked with others who also later became expats.  Seriously, a lot of my old Peace Corps friends are living abroad.  Now I’m on a second Germany tour.  I have no burning desire to move back to the United States anytime soon.  If I could, I think I’d stay abroad for the rest of my life.  We’ll see what happens.

For now, I’m really looking forward to going back to England and seeing somewhere other than London.  London is amazing; don’t get me wrong.  But it’s not what I remember about the first childhood home I actually remember.  Besides, England, Ireland, Scotland, and even Germany is where my people were from in the first place.

We lived in England when this happened…