Thursday, February 28, 2008

another year older and deeper in debt

The artist formerly know as Boy14 turns 15 today.

This is what he looked like at 6 months.

Here he is at 6:30 this morning, hairy legs and all. What happened to my cheerful little baby? In this picture he was apparently having a Clearasil moment and didn't want his face plastered all over the internet.

Why can't everyone just leave me alone?

Boy11 gave him the best present ever: a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of cheese dip disguised as an octopus. Some day scientists will figure out how the 11-yr-old mind works.

Breakfast was a low-key affair.

Later there will be cake.

Tomorrow is party time with the usual supects. Those who have been following my blog for awhile will know that this is also the kick-off to the Three Birthdays in Less Than Two Weeks Hell Extravaganza that we so look forward to every year.

P.S. Sparky, loving husband to Jen and the best virtual boyfriend a girl could ever have, is celebrating his 30-something birthday today, too. Happy Birthday, Sparky! Hope you have a great day.


slow food

Looking to buy a crockpot in Germany? Sometimes they can be difficult to find, but Martina has just posted a link at the Germany Way mailing list to a great deal on slow cookers at They are in full working order but because the packaging was printed incorrectly or slightly damaged, they're classified as 'seconds' and cost a lot less than one would normally pay.

If I didn't already have one I'd go for it.

Thanks, Martina!

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

earth to Germany, earth to Germany

Picture it: you wake up one morning in an alien world different from anything you've ever experienced before. The people look vaguely familiar but something's not quite right. Oh sure, they smile and nod, but you suddenly realize that you can't understand a single word that comes out of their mouths, and they don't look like they're getting your gist either. And what's with all the weird food, the strange customs and quirky character traits? You've obviously been transported to another planet overnight.

So what do you do about it? First you learn the local lingo, then you write a book. It's as easy as that.

Planet Germany (also here), Cathy Dobson's first novel, is a delightfully entertaining, highly personal look at life in Germany from a British family's point of view.

This is not one of those how-to survival guides. It won't tell you how to get a residence permit or where to buy the best cuckoo clocks. It won't make you an instant authority on all things German. What it will do is make you smile. It might even make you laugh out loud, especially if you're a foreigner like me who's been in Germany even longer than Cathy has. I found myself constantly nodding and saying "Yep, been there, done that, absolutely spot on." It's a fun, lighthearted read for sure.

So go read it, won't you? Cathy has recently started a blog of her own where you can be privy to more of her insights and get in touch with her. She might even send you an autographed copy of her book if you ask nicely.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

attention carnivorous discount shoppers!

Not the blue light special at K-Mart this time, just a short customer safety announcement:

Aldi Süd is recalling their Hudeck brand Premium Tex Mex Frikadelle 500g with a best before date up to March 20, 2008. Small splinters of glass(!) were apparently found in the meat patties by several Aldi Süd customers and the whole range of 'Tex Mex' products has now been removed from the shelves. Aldi Nord products are not affected.

Customers may receive a full refund by returning the product to an Aldi Süd store and a toll-free information hotline has been set up - call 0800-3335445.

You just never know, do you?

That is all.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

my life is an open book

*Yawn* I've been sleeping instead of blogging. Went to bed at 8:30 p.m. last night, slept soundly until 6:15 a.m. this morning when I had no choice but to get up. Got kids and husband off to work/school and passed out for three more hours. Still tired. This is no fun at all. I'd like my life back now, please.

But anyway, just to give you something to read, Swenglishexpat tagged me for the Open Book Meme ages ago.

Here's how it goes:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open it at page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence/ phrase.
4. Blog the next four sentences/ phrases together with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig your shelves for that very special or intellectual book.
6. Pass it forward to six friends

All righty. Under the mass of papers and assorted junk at my (or should I say our, nothing seems to be mine is this house) computer desk, I dug out this book that I finished reading last week.

It's Kalt is der Abendhauch, a German novel by Ingrid Noll.

Let's see...on page 123 we have

Alice wußte von Anfang an Bescheid, sie war ja auch die einzige, der ich jemals Regines wahren Vater genannt hatte. Fanni entsetze sich, aber als wahre Christin mußte sie notgedrungen verzeihen, Monika war es egal. Ida hatte bereits von Hugo erfahren, daß ein Mann in meinem Haus wohnte, was sie wohl als Erleichterung empfand. Das Problem war meine Mutter.

Alice knew right from the beginning, she was the only one to whom I had ever revealed the name of Regine's real father. Fannie was appalled, but as a true Christian felt herself forced to forgive; Monika didn't care. Ida had already learned from Hugo that there was a man living in my house, something that probably came as a relief to her. The problem was my mother.

My mother-in-law lent me this book and I enjoyed it so much that I'm eager to read Ingrid Noll's other works. Reading a book in its original German is a completely different experience than reading something translated from English, I find, and the nuances of the language really come through.

Here's a synopsis from the back of the book:

Die dreiundachtzigjährige Charlotte erwartet Besuch: Hugo, ihren Schwager, für den sie zeit ihres Lebens eine Schwäche hatte. Sollten sie doch noch einen romantischen Lebensabend miteinander verbringen können? Wird, was lange währt, endlich gut? Ingrid Nolls Heldin erzählt anrührend und tragikomisch zugleich von einer weitverzweigten Familie, die es in sich hat. Nicht zufällig ist Cora, die ihren Liebhaber einst in der Toskana unter den Terrazzofliesen verschwinden ließ, Charlottes Enkelin...

The eighty-three-year-old Charlotte is expecting a visitor: Hugo, her brother-in-law for whom she has had a lifelong weakness. Will they be able to spend their remaining years together after all? Are good things really worth waiting for? Ingrid Noll's heroine tells a simultaneously touching and tragicomic tale of a wide-reaching family that is a force to be reckoned with. It's no coincidence that Cora (who once let a lover 'disappear' under the terrazzo tiles in the Toscana) is Charlotte's granddaughter.

This isn't a long novel but we've got unrequieted love, jealousy, infidelity, illegitimate children, cross-dressing and maybe even a little murder all in one neat package. Curious? Give it a try.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

be my valentine

Happy Valentine's Day!

It was all about the flowers this morning. Oh, and the chocolate. The kids got their own but I'm going to let them eat mine,too. Because, you know, bikini season is coming up.

I indulged Mr. M's secret passion for red roses

and he presented me with this beautiful bouquet

So is love measured by how many flowers one gives or receives over a life time? I don't think so. There's a lot more to it than that, as we all know. We just happen to like having a house full of flowers and in Germany they're so reasonable that you can buy a few bunches a week and still have enough moola left over to pay the rent, so why not?

There are a lot of self-love Valentine's Day posts going around this year and I truly agree that before you can love anyone else you have to learn to love yourself first. Not always easy, but so essential.

I want you all to go look in the mirror and tell yourselves how fabulous you all are. And THEN I want you to go grab a handy loved one and tell him or her how fabulous he/she is. No loved one within arms reach? A mental message will do just fine. Just thinking positive thoughts about someone else can work wonders.

Spread the love and have a wonderful Valentine's Day. *smooooch*

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Monday, February 11, 2008

a room with a view. not.

Wow, the Frühjahrsmüdigkeit has been hanging on for dear life and it wasn't until the weekend that I started feeling (almost) like myself again. Still not my best, but second best will have to do for now.

Lynda wanted to know what I (and others) see every day while hanging around in the kitchen doing all that needs to be done. This is the view out my kitchen window.

Not very spectacular, is it? Ask me to take another photo in a month or two and things will have improved significantly. Right now it's all brown twigs, last year's dried leaves and the neighbour's house that will never, ever make it into Architectural Digest. If you came by in March and April you'd see forysythia and mirabelle trees bursting into bloom and lilacs in three different colours. I can't wait.

Mr. M and I took advantage of the beautiful weather on the weekend and started walking again. An hour and a quarter on Sunday afternoon was just right to get those creaky joints going and we both had a very good night's sleep last night.

Walking isn't all we did on the weekend. Throwing open the terrace doors off the living room now reveals this

Oy! I think we've created a monster. Most of the terrace needs to be re-done because the supporting boards were getting all spongy, so we (me in my usual supervisory position, of course, when it comes to the heavy labour part) ripped everything up and now just need to wait for the new boards to arrive at the building centre. It's Mr M's version of spring cleaning.

Meanwhile the rest of the garden is perking up again and I went out this morning and found these little darlings. Much easier on the eye than a construction site.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

shrove is the past tense of shrive

Today is Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Tuesday, as we like to call it.

Wikipedia says:

The word shrove is a past tense of the English verb "shrive," which means to obtain absolution for one's sins by confessing and doing penance. Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the shriving (confession) that Anglo-Saxon Christians were expected to receive immediately before Lent.

Oh my.

We were not a religious family, but I grew up eating pancakes on this day every year and I kind of like the tradition. So it's pancakes for dinner tonight, or rather crepes, since living in Europe makes one just so cultured and sophisticated. Ha ha.

oh la la!

In Germany, Rosenmontag, the day before Shrove Tuesday, is the big event, the highlight of the Karneval season. Sort of a German Mardi Gras with costumes, parades and parties everywhere.

Among the traditional Karneval party foods and beverages like Krapfen (jelly doughnuts) and beer, beer and more beer, you'll often find these cookies, called Amerikaner. They are cake-like with the icing on the flat side instead of on top and are usually decorated with coloured sprinkles or small candies.

There are a couple of theories as to how the cookie got its name, the first explanation being the most probable.

1) Amerikaner is an abbreviation of Ammoniumhydrogencarbonatikaner in reference to the leavening agent ammonium bicarbonate once used to make them.

2) The famous New York black and white cookie was imported from the U.S. to Germany in the 50's and because the Germans had trouble pronouncing the name, the cookie was christened Amerikaner.

Believe what you like, these taste really great and kids just love them. Here's the recipe I used (in German) with some cute pictures.

Northern Germany doesn't really go in for huge events as they do in more southerly regions, but the boys' school celebrated Karneval (or Fasching as they call it in this area) yesterday in the lower grades. Boy11 got dressed up in his best hippie outfit.

Which way to Woodstock, man?

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Friday, February 01, 2008

just add guests

"So what are you going to serve on Friday night when T and K come over?" asks Mr. M.

"I haven't got a clue!" I reply, still tired, still uninspired, "Any suggestions?"

"What about a cheese fondue? We haven't had that in a long time."

"That's an excellent idea! You're a genius!" (he likes it when I say that)

Now, you may think that a genuine Swiss cheese fondue is a bit of a bother for someone as tired and uninspired as I am. First you have to go out and buy the main ingredients - for the fondue Neuchâteloise that we like that would be Emmental and Gruyère cheese. To make it really authentic you also need Kirschwasser. And who has a bottle of Kirschwasser just hanging around? Unless you're having fondue or a baking up a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (known in English as a Black Forest Cake/Gateau) once a week, it's probably not in your liquor cabinet.

But buying the ingredients is easy compared to melting everything together in your fondue pot (the Swiss call it acaquelon) without 1)burning it or 2) ending up with a clumpy, stringy mess that even the most polite guest would have a hard time enjoying. OK, I'll admit it's not rocket science, but if it goes wrong it tends to go really wrong.

Tonight we're taking the easy way out

Ready made cheese fondue! Any proper Swiss people reading this are probably wringing their hands in dismay. I do apologize. But anyway, you plop everything into the pot, gently heat it up and voila, your dinner is ready in minutes. A nice crusty baguette cut into chunks and speared on fondue forks helps to transport all that delicious cheesy goodness to your mouth and you won't be able to stop until you're about fit to burst, it's that tasty.

Mmmm. Fast food, Swiss style.

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