31 March 2009

What I am reading: March 2009

  1. Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara
  2. Cast in Courtlight by Michelle Sagara
  3. White Witch, Black Curse by Kim Harrison
  4. Many Bloody Returns edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P Kelner
  5. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon: It seems that this may be the year for Sherlock Holmes pastiches. This one is a slight (125 large font pages) novel from an author whose style I enjoy. After 19 months in Berlin, I may finally be ready to start reading books that touch upon the Holocaust. This is the most fleeting of glances,and thus a gentle introduction,perhaps, to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas waiting on my shelf.
Otherwise it has been a very light month. With almost two weeks in the US and lots of travel time what I read this month was mostly magazines and newspapers: easily portable and easily recyclable.

26 March 2009

Home again, home again...

Back from the States to our Berlin home.

We actually got back Wednesday morning (plane touchdown at 9 am, arrived at apartment at 10:30) but since we left for the airport in Orlando at 9 am the day before we were a bit tired when we arrived.

It was an epic return, of sorts. We had mistaken the time of our departure on Tuesday by an hour (earlier, not later, which was unfortunate). The day before, the German had run off to Downtown Disney to exchange some Cinderella shoes (size marked incorrectly) and to pick up a Dornroschen dress and because the time was not listed on the website (and no one answered the phones at the store when we called) we didn't realize that they were open until 11 pm while Tar-jey was open only until 10 pm, missing our window of opportunity to return some items there.

So we packed all night (discovering that there were two driers in the house because neither actually worked- made me think of you, Diane :-)). Then we set the alarm for 8 am, and when I checked our flight schedule again, discovered the discrepancy. Oops. We ran around like mad while our friends, who left about an hour later and were domestic not international, looked at us. Then we dashed to Tar-jay where I returned items (a wrong size swim suit for Dad, unopened bottled juices and Mott's for Tots, etc) and the German picked up two cheap duffles to carry our overflow.

Then we ran to Lenscrafter's to pick up my glasses. We had gone there on Monday and gotten my prescription done. Strangely enough, the dr. found no astigmatism in my right eye, unlike Fielman's. Perhaps that explains why I kept having a hole in my field of vision in my right eye as Feilman's insisted that I had a severe astigmatism there?

It was such a relief to have a prescription that worked. When I told the dr. about my problems here I said that I felt that I was giving the wrong answers to the dr. here and I was grateful to be tested again with the US tests that I have been used to since my first pair of glasses (about 40 years ago...) and when I described the tests here he was astounded. Said that he hadn't used or seen those tests seen he was an intern, that they were not used in the US as they gave poor results. So now I know. He also dilated my eyes and checked their structure. We chose a new pair of frames and then ate lunch at Panera Bread (man, I love their Greek dressing. I now have a bottle in the refrigerator).

While we waited for my appointment, we took the kids to KoolKuts, where they both had their hair trimmed and both for the first time. The hairdresser was terrible, but the kids had a great time (and I was so afraid that Thing1 would have hysterics- she didn't want a cut) and sat in trucks with seatbelts while watching videos. Since it was just a "trim", the fact that it was uneven wasn't so bad. At least the ends are healthy now and we will find a place in Berlin to even it out in a few months.

After we got my glasses (no time for any adjustment) and filled the gas tank we lit out (as much as one can in a Sienna LE with two small children) for the airport.

I thanked the Lord aloud when we got to curb side and saw that Orlando allowed international curbside check-in (JFK does not).
We got a skycap and unloaded:
  • 7 suitcases and 1 duffle to be checked.
  • 2 car seats to be checked.
  • 1 double stroller, check at gate
  • two backpacks, adult
  • 1 purse
  • 3 carry on duffles
  • 2 kids' rolly back packs (Disney princess')
  • 1 kid's back pack, small, Tinkerbell
  • assorted foods and drinks to be swallowed or discarded before security
  • 1 case of Passover matzah to be hand carried
  • 1 Costco size carton of Goldfish (cheddar)
What a great skycap. He took our passports and went off to handle everything while the German ran to return our minivan rental ($424 for 8 days versus lowest offer of $1400 when we called all the companies ourselves: I love you Priceline!). The skycap even came back after giving me all our tickets and claimchecks to see if he could help me through security, but I told him the German wouldn't be able to find us (only 1 American SIM between us). (I had tipped him quite well.) We arrived at the curb at 10:58.
The German came back and we were 35 minutes before our flight (per the car receipt of 11:18 and 7 minutes for him to get back). Also fortuitously, the security line was light (flying on a Monday at noon) and we went in the family line and moved quite expeditiously. Everyone was just so nice. We grabbed a monorail to our gate area (it's a hub and spoke design in Orlando which never leaves you too far from your gate) and we actually arrived at our gate after boarding had started but before our zone had been called.

Can you imagine my relief when we actually got settled into our seats? There was a "deadhead" airline officer sitting behind Thing1 who was helping settle carryons in (the plane had the "extended" overheads, which was nice. Then nothing but calm (and giving the kids toys to play with).

We had a 5 hour layover at JFK and it was all fine. We piled our masses of stuff at the gate and made forays out for food and bathroom visits. The kids played fort under the stroller and bags and Thing1 sat for a while in the window and drew (she is really great) while T2 napped in my arms and then the German's (she is too heavy for me!). The German and I were both a bit ill (stomache and head) but we survived.

It was amazing to me to see the calorie counts listed on the display menus of all the fast food places. This policy (is it NY only?) must be making a dramatic difference in eating habits. I know that it made one in mine as I considered what I wanted to order and I am a relatively sophisticated consumer who has actually requested calorie counts before! I think it's great and that it should be required everywhere.

As we boarded our plane (pre-boarding for folks with small children who need extra time- first plane since I have had kids to do that) I heaved a sigh of relief. Not least because they had changed our planes and instead of sitting 2x2 we were 3x1, which meant that I would be able to catch a few zzz'z myself:).

An interminable trip, with the kids eating only cookies and fishies, but relatively calm and quiet. The girls slept the last 4 hours and didn't wake up until we woke them after landing.

We gathered our things at Tegel. It took two luggage carts (important tip: American quarters work in SmartKarte slots), we dragged out our winter coats (I had put jeans on in the plane) and we trudged like overladen sherpas through the Zoll. I looked at the beamtor looking at our luggage and I could see him blanch. As he pulled over a perfectly inoffensive German with a single small bag, I could almost read his thoughts:" No way do I want to deal with that!".

The special large taxi/van home and within 40 minutes all our luggage was inside (the elevator worked!), a modicum of bags unpacked, our teeth brushed and the kids were in the bath. I love Tegel.

We then went to sleep for 5 hours, picked up Chinese for dinner, and had a late night again (hard getting the kids to sleep). Then a lie in today with several loads of laundry and lots of tidying (it rained- it's how I recognize Berlin:)). Kids had another bath, left-overs, and they are still wandering around like ghosts every few hours, although we put them down at 8 (at 11:45 the two just wandered past on the way upstairs to go to bed in "Mama's bed").

I hope to get some posts about the trip up over the weekend: not because I think it's so interesting to everyone else, but because I love my blog as a form of journaling with search capability and photos.

18 March 2009

Tuesday's with Dorie: French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze

You might be wondering, how can G be cooking for TwD when she is gallivanting around the US East Coast rather than at home in her kitchen? Well, it's because I actually made today's French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze on February 25th, for a book club at my house which I really need to post about (perhaps when relaxing at Disney later in the week?).

I would like to thank Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction for this choice: I have actually made the classic French Yogurt Cake several other times and I really liked Dorie's version (and it's glaze) very much. In fact, I made the two versions side by side and decided to taste test them and Dorie's won it was completely eaten, while the other was only partially eaten).

I used all flour instead of using partial almond flour (not a nut lover) and we were all very happy with the result: flavorful, not too heavy (although not as light as the other contender, Clothilde's from Chocolate & Zucchini). In particular, I made the glaze with bitter grapefruit marmalade and it was marveelous.

11 March 2009

10 March 2009

Tuesday's with Dorie: Lemon

Bridget from The Way the Cookie Crumbles chose Lemon Cup Custard for this week's Tuesday with Dorie recipe. It received an awful cot of negative comments on the P&Q
So many, in fact, that I was motivated to make it even though I was overwhelmed with Purim and packing to go to the US for two weeks. Even worse, in some ways, to NY, Massachusetts and Florida, so lots of different climates and activities.
However, the majority of people since I joined have been doing chocolate and nut recipes and as those are really the ingredients I hate most, and because I really like flan, those comments actually made me interested in doing it. So I cut the recipe in half and used double the quantity of vanilla and it was great.
The German heartily agreed as we both had it for lunch. I used a bit less than half the amount of sugar and next time I would cut that a bit more, but otherwise it was great. In fact, after I publish this post I will go split the last one with the German:).

Getting there...

  1. Purim Party with kita
  2. booked full-size for NY
  3. booked mini-van for Florida
  4. booked flight to the US for trip alone at end of May
  5. booked convention hotel after synchronizing plans with friend
  6. picked up suit
  7. dropped off shoes
  8. stopped mail
  9. stopped forwarded mail from US
  10. got book club book from friend, gave it to someone else (and, since I ran into friend1, was able to give her my Diaz for signature this week!)
  11. packed both children's clothing(almost finished)
  12. booked Disney character breakfast
  13. arranged to meet a facility bound friend
  14. cleaned and tidied house
  15. made meatloaf
  16. Skyped with A and saw the baby!
  17. The German bathed kids and put them to bed
Still to come:
  1. Finish packing children (bathing suits, toys, ancillary items)
  2. pack myself
  3. pack cameras and chargers
  4. pack DVDs and player and charger
  5. pack computer, charger, adapter
  6. pack medicine for Thing1's strep
  7. pack toiletries, books, magazines and coloring books (for them, not me!)
  8. booking the convention membership for the end of May
  9. water plants. hope they survive without drowning or dessication
  10. clean out camera cards, upload photos and charge cameras
  11. do my Tuesday's with Dorie post- I made the recipe last night
  12. Get some sleep?

09 March 2009

Chaos

My next few posts will be chaotic to the extreme. Today we had 17 items to do and managed 16. I need to list out tomorrow's activities. This is the first day that I have ever been able to run around with a native speaking assistant (the German) and with a car, and gosh, it makes life a lot easier!

Among the harder errands:
  • I have finally given up on Fielmans being able to give me glasses that I can see through (after 4 visits) and I am really grateful that after all this hassle, when the German explained the situation, they just handed back the money. After the time they recut the lenses and the subsequent times they told me that my eyes are "just testing strangely...", that the prescription, rotation and astigmatism correction they were grinding the glass to was correct and that there was something wrong with my eyes to not see through the glasses... I am looking forward to going to Lenscrafters and just getting a pair made up that works.
  • When I was in London, the ATM machine that I used at the airport ate my money and when I requested help the assistant there said I needed to obtain restitution through my own bank. When I spoke to my own bank, they told me that: I could not have the problem taken care of until it posted, that when it posted I could not take care of it by fax, e-mail or telephone, so it took me this long to catch up.
Then we had a Purim celebration. Tomorrow there's another long celebration with the kita and then I have to start packing for everybody. You might wonder why I am not packing now but the answer is that I am making lists now. I have so much stress whenever we do a family travel that night before is terrible anyway, so I prefer to make my lists now and just go straight at it tomorrow, lists in hand, after the party and while the German is wrangling the kids and do the 7 unrelated things as well.

08 March 2009

Lost!

I am watching Lost from two weeks ago but from last weeks transmission because I am so "lost" that I need the running information display that they do the second week in rotation.

I would be totally lost without the explanations.

Cameras, cameras, cameras: What to do?

Another of my point and shoots has taken an apparent vacation without me. I'm not certain if it hitched a ride in a visitor or tradesman's pocket, the way my passport, previous Sony W-170 and red, engraved iPod nano did, or if the kids have hidden it, as they did my Sony Ericson handy, resulting in my now having a spare.

In any event, I am unwilling to go do Disney without a pocketable point and shoot and so I have been driving myself crazy researching what I want/need/desire.

So:
Does anyone have any suggestions? Please don't suggest buying a larger (and better) camera, I already have a Nikon D-50 and a D-70s (and find a DSLR invaluable with kids) but it's just too unwieldy while I run around with two small children at venues like Disney. Maybe when they are older and I'm not slogging the diaper bag as well as food for four. What I really want to do is Ebay both of those and pick myself up the D-90 for a real camera while having a great compact but getting a new DSLR will need to wait on my actually selling the other two.

I went into a local high end camera store which buys and sells and, in typical German fashion, they offered me 40 Euro for  the D-50 which they were selling, used in the window, for over 400, so the German needs to list them for sale (my German is not good enough to make me feel comfortable listing in German Ebay). Unless anyone can suggest another selling site/location to explore?

I have three days to order it so that it will be waiting for me at our first stop on our Berlin-NYC-Westchester-Western Mass-Orlando-Boca-Orlando-Berlin (are you exhausted too?) "vacation" (from which I expect to need a vacation afterward!).

By the way, I am leaning toward the 880, unless the SX200 is released in the next two days....

And I'm dropping my old Elph 230 off at the Canon repair shop tomorrow for Thing1: she's been begging for a camera for ages and the toy digitals have picture quality that's too awful for even a child.

04 March 2009

Charlotte's questions...

The lovely Charlotte, an expat blogger in Western Germany, has started another interview meme round, and one with very thoughtful questions (which is why they took me a while to answer).

Here are the rules:

1. If you want to be interviewed, leave me a comment, and I will send you some questions (although probably not as good as Charlotte's!).
2. Update your blog with the answers to the questions and link back to the original post.
3. Include the rules in your post.


1. Before you moved to Germany, you were a full-time working mom. Do you miss your job, and what would your ideal job be?

That's really an interesting question because I have had several different careers and have several different qualifications. I worked on Wall Street (during the S&L scandal and crash), I opened and ran my own fast food restaurant, I worked for a Big 4 accounting firm, I was in Treasury for a state agency and I had a real estate license (which has just expired).

I enjoyed my last job (at an agency) partly because, while I was a WOHM (work out of home mom), it offered me good benefits (not great) and flexible hours (allowing me to go early and come home not too late). In addition, I love playing with money, although I generally prefer doing taxes for sheer enjoyment;).
I never thought that I would stop working, but after my younger daughter was born it just seemed to make sense in terms of both the childcare situation and the desire to come to Germany for several years (made no sense to go back to work for only a few months until leaving again). I do miss the quasi-Beamtor status.
However, I find that being a SAHM here in Berlin is pretty darn busy work, especially with my German course. What with shopping every two days, dealing with an apartment bigger than our house in the metro NY area, and trying to handle everything while proceeding mainly by foot, I find that every hour of the day is more than filled.
Every now and then the thought of working here crosses my mind (because in Berin opportunities do exist for me, even with my poor German) but I look at how it would infringe on my time with the girls, require me to bus them to school and have a nanny or find a nanny whom I would trust to drive them, and lose all the precious moments that I am only starting to enjoy (because it really does make a difference when one drops them off and picks them up) and I say: No Way. Quality of life is one of the reasons that we are here and a major facet of that is the ability to be happy on a single income.
When we return to the US (whenever that may be), I will probably go into real estate (after renewing my license) because as a transactionally compensated field it can be both lucrative and extremely flexible and now that I have tasted the joy of "retirement", I will want to maintain this type of flexibility if possible. My ideal job, however, would be Treasury but with a 25 hour work week, so I could get the girls to school and be there for them afterward. Since that will never exist, working flexible real estate hours while enjoying the ability to be there for the girls as I choose and they need is as ideal as it gets.

2. I am so envious that you live in Berlin, while I live in the Burg. What are the five best things about Berlin life?

I could fib and say all sorts of glamorous things--- after all, I did eat at Marametto on Valentine's Day, an extremely cool experience with molecular gastronomy--- but the reality is that I am pretty boring.
Even so, the great part of Berlin (and the reason we chose to stay here rather than move to the far better weather around Duesseldorf) is that even a boring person like myself can have great fun here. So,
  • There are volkshochscules all round me and the JudischeVHS is just down the way. I can get to class within a few minutes.
  • That might be considered a subset of the fabulous public transportation system here. Although it took me a while (and a few cab rides home) to realize that the transport system isn't 24 hours, it's still pretty darn good and one doesn't need a car for an ordinary life (although for moving children around it helps). I love hopping on bus or train with my monthly pass and traveling as I will.
  • I love the amenities for children (although this is true of all of Germany in some ways). I have playgrounds around me in all directions and sizes (5 within 2 blocks) and the Zoo has the best playground of all. The kitas here are welcoming and one can find a place to be happy with relatively easily (apparently unlike in the former west) and there are many bi-lingual and international State schools: for English, French, Greek, Turkish, Hebrew and more. That's hugely important for us.
  • Because Berlin is such an empty city (so physically large and yet with so few people in it) it never feels crowded or claustrophobic and except for a few specific events (as some films at the Berlinale) one can almost always get tickets or entrance to interesting events and cultural activities even at the last moment. That's particularly important to us as we are babysitter dependent and tend to be last minute deciders. And there are very many cultural and interesting activities to tempt us.
  • Resources: I can find multiple (I am in two) English language book clubs, Anglophone ex-pats to chat with and ask advice of, and even a stitch and bitch group, all quite easily. In addition, I can find halal stores, Asian food shops, Italian lebensmittel and even the German equivalent of Costco all quite close by
3. Money is no object. Describe your dream vacation.

I am afraid that if money were no object, I would just stay on vacation with my family, forever. Assuming that there really were a required end though, it would be a 12 month around the world tour family tour, complete with lesson plans on laptops for the kids and a nanny to help out, so the German and I could get a bit of culture and adult entertainment.

It's hard to think without a budget, because when I dream, there always is one, no matter how extravagant. When one gets around-the-world air tickets, one must travel in the same direction (either going East or West, no back tracking allowed) so that is how I've been making my plans. West to the States and driving (with a trailer behind) from NY to Vancouver, but with multiple stops along the way and definitely not missing out on New Mexico or the Redwoods. Then a hop to Hawaii and some camping and climbing. Stops in Asia, Oceania... my brain reels. Some months driving through Europe again and seeing what I have never seen while camping and cooking and eating and drinking locally... I need at least a year to plan it.

Failing that, two weeks at an all-inclusive tropical resort with diving and babysitting;).

4. You are an avid reader. What was the last book you read, what are you reading now and what's next on the agenda?

Truthfully, I read several books at the same time. On the respectable level, it was This Must be the Place by Anna Winger (subject of a later post that will show the real coolness of Berlin) and on the genre level I am reading the Cast in... (Courtlight, Secret...) series by Michelle Sagara and very much enjoying it. Next serious books will be for bookclub, March and Oscar Wao: I am looking forward to both. I have a very eclectic taste, as you can see.

5. Barack Obama's report card by G. Tell us how the Prez is doing in his first month.

What can I say?
As I watch the world spiral into what seems to be a real Depression, worse than any crisis that I have ever seen, I am tearfully grateful that the man in charge is decent, intelligent, well-read and compassionate. Until I really see something to break my view I will continue to believe that he is doing the best that he can as quickly as he can, within the confines of a system that has flaws. We can all have desires for pristine philosophical thoughts, but in this world of real people I think that what really matters is to try to fix the system while protecting the people already caught inside its tears and holes. I think that is what President Obama is trying to do and I see him starting to pull against the terrible rip tide.