Monday, November 26, 2007

not fit for human consumption

Those cute little mandarin oranges are everywhere at this time of year. The ones we used to get when I was a child came from Japan and were individually wrapped in coloured tissue paper. We called them 'zipper oranges' because the peel just zipped right off. A real treat at Christmas time.


eat at your own risk

Citrus fruit is healthy, right? All that fibre and vitamin C and who knows what other micro-nutrients. But if you live in Germany and were about to dig into those tasty mandarins you bought on the weekend, you may be getting a whole lot more than you bargained for.

The consumer magazine "Öko-Test" has just come out with a study regarding pesticide levels in mandarin oranges in this country. Produce was tested nation-wide and the results are not good at all.

The supermarkets Aldi Süd and Rewe are the very worst offenders - their mandarins showed extremely high levels of contamination. Oranges from Aldi Nord, Edeka, Lidl and Plus didn't fare much better. Although lower levels of pesticides were found in the fruit at Norma, Real and Tengelmann they were also classed as "unacceptable".

Doesn't leave us much choice, does it? According to "Öko-Test", only the organic supermarkets Alnatura and Basic offered mandarins that were completely safe to eat. Pretty scary if you ask me.

Pesticide comtamination is nothing new in Germany. There are frequent reports of contaminated produce (mostly peppers and strawberries) coming from Spain, Italy and Turkey but this is the first time I've seen a warning sent out about oranges. This could be the tip of the iceberg

By the way, if you're going to use freshly grated orange, lemon or lime peel in your holiday baking, please make sure you buy organic fruit. The peel of the regular citrus fruits is NOT safe to eat and usually says so right on the label. And nope, scrubbing doesn't help.

I'm going to go clean out the vegetable crisper now. There must be SOMETHING in there that's edible!

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

the way we were

I'm worrying already. Is the bus that's supposed to take me downtown to the train station at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning going to be on time? Will it even stop at my stop? It is and it does, and there are already about 10 people on it. Where the heck are they all going so early in the day? Perhaps they, too, are starting off on an adventure to parts unknown?

My second worry is whether my train to Leipzig will be crowded. The two-day Deutsche Bahn strike ended only hours before and there may be some stragglers still trying to get home. Turns out that the train is almost empty - I have two whole seats to myself. I've also downed a quarter of a travel sickness pill just to take the edge off the usual discomfort of being in a moving vehicle. I'm such a wimpy traveller.

Armed with my iPod and a couple of cheese sandwiches for company, I settle in for the two hour journey. Nothing can stop me now. Except that weird smell. What IS that? Reminds me of driving away with the hand brake still on (oh please, don't tell me you've never done that). And to top it off, this is one of the noisiest trains I've even been one. I've convinced it's going to fall apart any minute, what with all the creaking and groaning. As I turn up my iPod to hide the sounds of doom I realize that the first song on my playlist is Sarah McLachlan's "Train Wreck". Note to self: do something about that.

We make it to Leipzig right on time. Unbelievable. 50 points to Gryffindor Deutsche Bahn!

It goes downhill from there, but only a little. Apparently the train to Dresden is divided into two parts. One part is already waiting on the tracks while the other one, the part I'm supposed to be sitting in, has been delayed in Frankfurt for 15 minutes. Just after I poke my head into the little glass booth at the platform and ask the lady in the red hat if she's absolutely, positively sure that this part of the train is really, truly going to Dresden, another guy starts joking around with her, saying "Hey! Let's get a move on here! When's this baby going to leave? I'm thinking about complaining. Ha ha!"

He's still chuckling to himself as we both get on the train so I decide to join in on the fun.

Me: Ha ha ha! That's a good one! As if complaining to the DB would help! You know how they are, they couldn't care less.

German Guy: Hee hee! Yeah, I'm sure not going to complain about my own employer.

Me: Ha...ha...oh.

Ooops.

I arrive in Dresden a mere 20 minutes late to find my personal assistant waiting for me at the station. The thing I like best about J ("You know, after living in Germany for a while I visited France and found the French to be pretty damn friendly!") is that J is always J, and that's a good thing. If J tells you he's going to meet you somewhere, you can bet he'll be there. If he says he knows the way to the hotel, you better believe he does.

We're the first ones at the designated meeting place that day as the other meet-up participants slowly drift in.

I had already met our lovely hostess B. ("Quick! Push someone who speaks German up to the front!") at the last Girlie Weekend in March. Now I have the pleasure of meeting her adorable husband Jim ("Just hold out a Tic Tac and the monkeys will be all over you!").

Hmm, let's see - who else is here? There are 15 of us in total, a great turnout.

Ward ("Jus' call me The Big Dumb American!") is big, that's for sure, and funny as hell, but anything but dumb. Ward's somewhat smaller sidekick D.("I've only been here for a week and I've already embarassed myself twice. Ask me about the Laundry Incident."), to be known in future as Evil D. for reasons I'll go into later, is fresh off the boat and the same age I was when I moved here. Awww. I think we may have found a Hamish replacement.

Lots of young couples this time around, too. Newlyweds Cathy ("I thought you looked like Maggie Gyllenhaal in your blog picture, but now I'm not so sure!") and her German husband Thomas ("Who ARE these people?") are just the cutest pair. Those two ambitious lovebirds are going places. And speaking of lovebirds, we also have the glamourous Michelle ("I go in and the place is FULL of naked men, so I just start screaming...!") and her ever-so-German (in the nicest of ways!) boyfriend M ("Mein Gott, if we climbed those trees we could make a fortune selling that mistletoe at the market!"), followed by the totally trendy (spent the day coveting her handbag) CN Heidelberg ("I've never been with two D.'s at the same time before. And what IS this on my plate? I've tried it and I still don't know!") who is accompanied by her mild-mannered better-half D. ("Please, please, PLEASE don't make me play the bongos!"). Good D., that is, since Evil D. and Good D. just happen to share the same unusual first name. Go figure.

Adam ("Well, it was fun, but then I started thinking..."), presently on the lookout for that (male) special someone, is definitely in a class of his own. What a sweetheart.

And I'm not the only Canuck there, can you believe it? After a brief visit in Bonn last year with Canadian Jennifer from Cologne/Hamburg, I'm now tickled to meet Ian ("Damn. Sounds like I should have gone to the gay bar with Andy...er...Adam on Saturday instead of Friday."), a fellow countryman. Not only do we share a common nationality, we actually grew up within about 20 miles of each other in British Columbia, probably skiing and hiking the same mountains and shopping at the same malls for years, blissfully unaware of each other's existence until now. Small, small world, isn't it?

Last but not least we have Janine ("Ack! They're weirder than I thought!"), the baby of the bunch. A sweet German girl who decided to brave the expat onslaught and join us for the afternoon.

Now that we're all assembled, B. and Jim treat us to a paddle wheel cruise on the Elbe river.


Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt






The cruise is great - 90 minutes of chatting and getting to know each other while totally annoying the other passengers. From where I'm sitting I can't see much out the windows but when a few of us go to the upper deck to cool off we're treated to a wonderful view of the villas along the river. Some amazing architecture here and completely different to what you'd see in Lower Saxony, where I live.

Now, I usually pride myself on being able to do 17 things at the same time, but at this type of meet-up, sightseeing be damned, all I want to do is chat. I want to pick all your brains and find out what makes you tick. I'm pretty sure I'm going to visit Dresden again some day so churches and museums can wait. That's why I barely take any photos and don't really register what we're seeing.

I do know, though, that this is Dresden's amazing Frauenkirche



And maybe someone else can tell me what this was, because it was kind of dark and I wasn't paying attention.





After another hour or two of traipsing around town we decide to go back to our respective hotels for a while and meet up again in time for dinner. J, who is staying at the same place I am, decides to seek some liquid refreshment with a couple of his new pals so B. and Jim accompany me, the one with no sense of direction, back to the bed and breakfast where I've booked a (cheap) room.

And what a room it is. The whole place is done in a "Mexican" theme. Well, as Mexican as you can get in the middle of Europe. Words like "rustic" and "uncomplicated" describe my accomodations. Sure, if I were to stay for a week, I'd probably go a little crazy, especially having to share a bathroom out in the hall with three strangers, but for one night it's just dandy.



Check out the sink!


An empty bottle of tequila with a candle stuck in it. A giant sombrero. What more could one want?


Low-tech is nice for a change

On the wall there's a framed photograph of a Mexican family having a picnic. A pot of beans and a stack of corn tortillas sit on a table. Little children play in the park while adults stand around chatting to each other. Who are these people and do they know that their picture is hanging in room 31 in a bed and breakfast in Dresden, Germany?

I read a couple of chapters of the book I brought along and then nod off for a bit. Suddenly it's time head on out again to meet the others. As I'm turning my key in the lock, the guy in the next room pokes his head out the door and yells "Buenos noches!". You too, buddy, you too.

Our next stop is a restaurant called Mama Africa. Interactive dining at its finest, I tell you. The live "band" keeps us entertained until our dinner arrives.




Actually, I'm wondering who is entertaining whom, since our Angolan "medicine man" seems to find us pretty interesting as well and can't quite figure out what we're all about. Good sports on both sides. Obrigado, medicine man!

We plow through all sorts of exotic dishes. The menfolk have a few drinks and start exchanging dirty jokes. Now, I like a dirty joke as much as the next gal, but I AM still eating, you know. Thanks to Adam I'll never look at mashed potatoes quite the same way again.

Not content to call it a night quite yet, we find a quiet bar and continue our various conversations. I'm an introvert at heart, but I do actually enjoy talking to people. In fact, once I get started, it's hard to get me to shut up. And besides that, hanging around in bars with strange men I've met only hours before reminds me of days gone by.

Despite sticking to soft drinks for the entire weekend, I wake up on Sunday morning with a sympathy hangover. An ibuprofen, a cup of strong coffee and a big plate of scrambled eggs take care of that fairly quickly and we, the remaining members of the crew, enjoy our brunch before everyone has to head back home, wherever home may be.

My train doesn't leave until 3 p.m. so J and I walk along the river a bit, enjoying the decent weather. Nice place, this Dresden. I bet it's gorgeous in the springtime.

Once on the train I dig around in my backpack trying to find my pen. I need to make a few notes before I forget everything. The pen seems to have disappeared, but in its place I find a stubby green pencil with 'Washington State Lottery' written on the side. Where in the world did that come from? Oh well, it will have to do. It's either that or sacrifice my eyeliner.

The first part of the ride back goes quicky and before I know it I'm at the Berlin station. Oooh, shiny! I have a bit of time to kill so I check out some of the shops, miraculously still open. What will they think of next!

My train to Hannover leaves when it's supposed to. I'm on a roll. Arriving at the Hannover station I suddenly realize that I should have gotten a little something for the kids. I still have enough time to pop into the drugstore before my bus leaves for Dullsville. After looking around a bit I discover these.




They're Russisch Brot (Russian Bread), one of their favourites AND they're made in Dresden! There are a few legends surrounding the origin of these cookies, but the most likely one is that they were first made in Russia under the name of Bukwi (Russian for 'letters') and brought to Dresden by the baker Ferdinand Wilhelm Hanke in 1844 when he opened the first Deutsch-Russische Bäckerei - the German-Russian Bakery.

See? As I was telling J just this afternoon, the Universe always provides. Yes, even at the train station drugstore at 8:15 p.m. on a Sunday night.

Mr. M picks me up from the bus stop in Dullsville and it's a short ride up the hill to our humble abode. I'm glad to be home but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the meet-up.

Hope to see y'all again next year!

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

so where's the Dresden post, Mausi?

Hang tight. Tomorrow's the day. This week has really done me in. No energy and crazy, crazy hormones. Sometimes I do NOT enjoy being a girl. You know how it is. Several vials of blood were taken today at the doctor's and I'll get the results next week. I actually thought I was having hot flashes until I realized that some clever person had cranked the water bed thermostat up to 27°C! That's waaay too warm for me. We should both sleep better tonight.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

repeat after me: I never met a blogger I didn't like

I swear I'm going to get that printed on a t-shirt one day.

After the strike ended early Saturday morning, Deutsche Bahn came through with almost perfect service to Dresden and back and I got home right on time last night. The boys say they missed me tons and Mr. M was VERY happy to see me, if you know what I mean. I think I should go away more often. Ha ha. Needless to say I was extremely tired this morning.

What an interesting weekend. Totally worth the trip, as usual. There's was lots of laughter and great conversation. Oh, and a giant sombrero on the wall of my room at the bed and breakfast. Olé!

Today isn't the day to tell you about it, though, even if I did write about five pages of notes to myself on the train back. It's the the social interaction that goes on at these things that fascinates me. Some very unique personalities there. Shoulda been a psychoanalyst, I guess. But all that will have to wait until I can gather my thoughts into some kind of coherent post.



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Friday, November 16, 2007

it's the 4 a.m. part that I'm not so keen on

It was a busy week and tonight I've been packing my stuff to head off to Dresden tomorrow morning. My teeth are brushed and I'm all ready for bed at 9 p.m. Can you believe it? That's because I have to leave the house by 5:15 a.m. to catch the bus downtown to the train station and that means getting up at around 4 a.m. to shower etc. Bleh. It'll be worth it, though. I get to see some old friends again and meet a bunch of new-to-me bloggers in a great city.

I'll be interested to hear about the trials and tribulations others had trying to get where they wanted to go while Deutsche Bahn was on strike on Thursday and Friday. The trains should be running again on schedule tomorrow and if there's anyone sitting in my reserved window seat there's going to be trouble!

Haven't had much time this week to read or comment. Will catch up with y'all next week.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

let's talk about me for a change

Claire-Dude tagged me with the "7 random facts about me" meme. I think I may have already told you everything you need to know in the 75 other All about Me, Me, Me memes I've done, but here are a few more tidbits to add to my personality profile.


1. I once played a courtesan in a high school musical.

2. I often enjoy taking alternate sips of a hot and a cold beverage. My favourite combination? A steaming cup of Darjeeling (no milk or sugar) alongside a frosty glass of Diet Pepsi. Heaven.

3. During my teens one of my nicknames was Steve Austin. Yes, that Steve Austin . Don't ask.

4. Wearing a turtleneck sweater makes me feel as if I'm going to die.

5. My deviated septum and I are huge fans of nasal irrigation (link not for the squeamish).

6. I learned to use chopsticks when I was four years old.

7. I shared an apartment with two girlfriends during my last year of university. I can't remember what my friends ate, but my diet consisted mainly of oatmeal with brown sugar, plain yogurt, Cambell's tomato soup, and bagels with cream cheese and tomatoes (are we seeing a pattern here?). An occasional box of Kraft Dinner or a midnight pizza from Romeo's balanced things out. Well, sort of.

I won't tag anyone, because I'm just too damn lazy to figure out who has done it already, but if you want to participate, be my guest.

But while were on the topic of me, I did another one of those quizzes that's been going around (thanks for the link, Molly)

What Should You Be When You Grow Up?

You Should Be a Social Worker

You are deeply caring and empathetic.
You are able to take on other people's problems as if they were your own.
Sensitive and intuitive, you understand human emotions well.
Helping others gives you the most joy in life. You feel like it's your purpose in life.

You do best when you:

- Have a lot of responsibility
- Greatly impact someone's life with your work

You would also be a good philanthropist or stay at home parent.


Heh. Well isn't that interesting.

If you want to know even MORE about me, or about a bunch of other expat bloggers who are far more interesting than I could ever be, don't forget that it's still not too late to make arrangements to attend the Whiney Expat Blogger Meet-Up 2007 in Dresden this coming weekend. Those of us traveling by train are all crossing our fingers that the Deutsche Bahn drivers won't strike, although they are threatening to.

UPDATE: ALL Deutsche Bahn passenger services (including IC/ICE) will be on strike from Thursday 2 a.m. to Saturday 2 a.m. This is NOT good news.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

you call that a vacation?

Monday October 22
Boy14 and I remove flotsam and jetsam from his soon to be renovated bedroom and start soaking and scraping off old wallpaper. Mr. M has Very Important Meeting to attend and cannot start holidays until Tuesday.

Tuesday October 23
Four-year-old friend and his English mum come to visit for the afternoon. I ignore spilled apple juice on carpet, cookie crumbs on sofa and endless whining. I was a pre-schooler once too.

Wednesday October 24
I emerge from the hairdresser's at 9:30 a.m. looking absolutely stunning. We celebrate this miracle by going on a family outing to buy new laminate flooring and wallpaper. Mission accomplished, I contract yet another mysterious tropical disease and spend the rest of the day draped across the sofa like a dying swan, recovering just in time to be able to cook dinner and start the laundry marathon. Two loads in, the 12-yr-old washing machine refuses to wash or spin any more. Guarantee ran out 10 years ago. It's not worth fixing either. Oh oh.

Thursday October 25
Mr. M and I set off in search of a new machine. Look, here's one and it's 20% off! I am washing again by 10 a.m. Isn't it shiny?




In the afternoon we smoke some rainbow trout with the neighours and eat at their place later.







I am your worst nightmare


Friday October 26
Spend all day wallpapering Boy14's room, nearly getting a divorce and putting kids up for adoption in the process. You know the deal, it's the ol' German wood chip wallpaper that you paint over afterwards. Double the fun. Did I also mention that this room is under the roof? That means extra math skills that I don't have. I would have liked to have done the job all by myself, but wallpapering? It takes two, baby. There's just no way around it. We manage to avoid killing each other.

Good thing we're invited to a friend's house for dinner 'cause there's NO way I'm going to cook anything for my (temporarily) estranged husband and those ne'er-do-well kids. Hmphh.

Saturday October 27
Mr. M and the boys go to the flea market, leaving me to sleep in. I emerge from the shadows at about 10:30 a.m., my favourite getting up time.

Mr. M: Good morning, Mausilein! I brought you flowers. Am I your Schmusebacke [strange German term of endearment] again?

Me: Oh, you know you're always my Schmusebacke, but sometimes I just hate your guts, OK? Especially when wallpaper is involved. Mmm...these flowers are really pretty, though. Thanks.

Mr. M: I thought you'd like them. How about now? Do you hate my guts now?? Huh? Huh?

Me: I guess not.

Mr. M: So does that mean that you and me...I mean...that we might have a chance to...you know...um...later?

Me: Hmm. I'm still ever so slightly miffed. I'll think about it and let you know.

Sunday October 28
Walls have been painted, new floor is installed. Furniture is next.

Monday October 29 - Tuesday November 30
Room is finito. Cannot take pictures yet because it's full of crapola that needs to be put away. It looks fabulous though. I want my own room too!

Wednesday October 31


Happy Halloween! Sadly, we had no trick-or-treaters this year. Guess who ate most of the candy? Except for the mini Bounty bars because, ewww. Anyone want those?



looks like a few more visits to the orthodontist are in order



Waiter! There's a fly an eye in my soup!



Bite him before he bites you



you expect me to eat that stuff?


Thursday November 1
I take kids to see Ratatouille. Delicious. Go see it.

Friday November 2 - Saturday November 3
My mind is a blank. Oh wait, that's because I'm trying to block out Mr M's Die Hard marathon. The first three movies in a stunning DVD set. Gahhhh. I can't figure out why my better half gets so annoyed when I refer to them as Bruce Willis in a Dirty Undershirt 1, 2 and 3.

Sunday November 4
Several weeks ago a dear neighbour of my in-law's passed away. She was in her late 80's and had been saying for ages that it was time to go, that she'd had enough. She finally did make a peaceful exit and my mother-in-law asked if we'd like to have any of her things since her family had no use for them. I chose these blue and white Ridgway Staffordshire dishes in the "Windsor" pattern. I think they're so pretty with the birds and the flowers and all. There are six dinner plates, six large soup plates, two serving bowls, one oval platter and three smaller soup bowls with saucers. A nice remembrance of a sweet lady.



As a family of four who like to entertain, we thought it might be nice to have a few more of the smaller soup bowls. Ask and you shall receive because yesterday I managed to score six of them for a song at eBay. I am happy. Now you can come over for soup, too.

Although we didn't get everything on our To Do list accomplished in the past two weeks, we still celebrated the end of all our hard work with homemade sushi à la Mausi.


Itadaki masu!

Yesterday it was back to the old grind. And you know what? I'm OK with that.

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