This and that

13 07 2012

Boy, I tell ya – life sure is BUSY right now! Apart from the basics like eating, sleeping and working, basically every free moment is spent wedding planning. At this point in the planning process, it somehow feels weird saying “wedding planning” because most of the big things have already been planned. It’s just all the smaller details that we just have to get DONE. You know? Checking all that stuff off the list.

…although there are a few bigger things that are still not figured out…like who will be doing my hair/makeup for the big day. Oy.

So you can understand why things have been slow over here on the blog! But I’d like to say a big thank you to my Friday class for canceling, because that means I could sleep in and now have some time to write some posts! And having a long weekend is really great, since there is so much stuff to do.

First up on catching up: I bought some mini beach shovels and a bucket for my niece Abby for their visit here, and I couldn’t help but laugh at how very European the cartoon on the tag was.

See it? You would NOT see that kind of bathing suit in the US! Hah!


I’ve got the power!

23 02 2012

One of my students pointed something out to me today that totally shocked me.

Germany’s power lines are underground!

It’s something I had never thought about – not seeing any power lines here. But he’s totally right. And what’s more, I definitely remember noticing the presence of above-ground power lines the last time I went back home to the US for a visit.

For example, take a look at this cute picture of my parents in Ocean City, Maryland last summer:


What a funny difference! In our apartment here next to the train station there are power lines, of course, but that’s because of the trains. You don’t see them in other places in the city.

My student said that he didn’t understand why it’s that way in the US, because then power lines are more susceptible to the weather. Florida, for example, which always has multiple hurricanes every year, must be constantly repairing power lines that have been blown over by the strong winds. He said that in his whole life, he had never had a power outage in Germany. Unlike the several times I’ve gone days without power due to bad weather in the USA. So I guess underground power lines might be the way to go…except for maybe in California or an earthquake-prone place.

Has anyone else noticed this before?

Guest Post: My best bud Peter!

8 02 2012

Hello everyone! I’m pleased to announce that we’ve got our very own guest post here! And who better than my best friend Peter?



New Year’s Resolutions (Reality) Check

How are your resolutions going? Did you know that 80% of people who make New Year’s Resolutions don’t keep them for more than a few days/weeks?


That’s a little scary! When you think about it, though, it kind of makes sense. How many people do you know that on December 31st make lofty goals like “going to the gym” every day? Or “stop eating junk food entirely”?

A few days later, these same people find themselves in the midst of a sugar crash like they’ve never known, and to top it all off, even the simplest of routine activities are impossible because every muscle in their body is ablaze with intense pain from their diligent gym attendance.

For most of us, being this miserable will cause a relapse to old behaviors. This relapse makes us think, “Welp, I failed….oh well.” And that’s where our resolutions die.

Don’t let this happen to you! Of course there’s going to be some pain involved in the change process! You can’t just suddenly start or stop something so significant without experiencing repercussions.

There have actually been a lot of studies done on this very topic of successful change. I don’t want to wax overly loquacious on the subject, but it turns out that there are a few basic steps to change.

Prochaska & DiClemente’s vision of the change cycle

· Pre-contemplation – before you even know you want to change

· Contemplation – when you realize you want to change something

· Preparation – laying the groundwork for successful change

· Action – making the change

· Maintenance – continuing with your new behavior

· Relapse – failing

It’s very interesting to me that “relapse” is considered a part of the change process. After all, it’s natural for us to fail. Whoever said we were perfect?

The most important part of all this is what happens when you relapse.

So you “forget” about your resolution and have a candy bar after the gym. So what? Let’s be honest: it won’t be your last. The key is that you realize you can move forward from this incident, and continue on the road towards change.

Of my own resolutions this year, I’ve been doing pretty well actually. I made two: journal every night before I go to bed, and learn a new word every day.

The first of these has been going just swimmingly! I don’t write much: only about five lines listing the “who, what, when, and where” of the day. Nothing emotional and gushy.

The second has proved a little more difficult. I bought a “Word a Day” Calendar in September when Borders was going out of business. When I bought it, I had the idea of using this as a resolution in the back of my mind, but by the time January 1st rolled around, the calendar (along with my resolution) were buried under four months of clutter on my desk. It wasn’t until Sarah reminded me around January 15th that I even started! And then I almost didn’t start because my first thought was, “Ugh, now I have to go back and learn all those words for the past 15 days….maybe it’s not even worth it.”

Then I realized how ridiculous that is! Even if I skip those first words entirely, I still have 350 days/words to go! (Thank you, Leap Year!)

So I’m doing it!

Today’s word: “funambulism: 1: tightrope walking; 2: a show especially of mental agility.”

Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember all these words in a few weeks, but I’m enjoying learning them and about them! It’s something new every day.

Well, I hope my causerie was not overly didactic, and that these words can anneal your efforts through this arduous journey. Best of luck!


Wonderful points, Peter! And I only remembered on the 15th, too!

My new year’s “resolution” (I use the term very lightly, because I also never keep them!) was to take more video. That’s something I’ll definitely make sure I do this week on my snowboarding trip!

So, how about you? What resolutions did you make in January? And have you miraculously managed to keep them, or have you relapsed, too?



7 02 2012

I’ve never actually had a fluffernutter. But I always just enjoyed marshmallow creme as a topping for hot chocolate, and my mom and grandma always made a fruit dip using maraschino cherry juice mixed with marshmallow fluff.

Two weeks ago, I was absolutely SHOCKED to find it at Edeka, a nearby supermarket! I think it was about 3€, it being imported and all, but I decided to splurge on it anyway. And my hot chocolate has certainly thanked me!

“It doesn’t get more American than this!” (TRUE THAT – except maybe for cheese in a spray can…)

“The most popular sandwich in the USA!”  (Not really sure about “most” popular…that’d probably be the regular PB&J, with the Fluffernutter being perhaps a close second.

“Spread a piece of white bread with Marshmallow Fluff, put a second piece of white bread with peanut butter on it, and stick both halves together, and your Fluffernutter is ready!”


Der Struwwelpeter

9 11 2011

I couldn’t help but pick up this book of fairytales recently at the supermarket. It’s a classic German storybook by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman, first published in 1845. My particular book is a newer version with a CD. (The drawings are essentially the same as the old ones, but revamped a little bit and the colors are different.)

True to the style of typical German children’s stories, it’s pretty brutal and extreme, with quite graphic illustrations. It’s pretty funny, actually. It’s a way of teaching children morals but in an exaggerated way, making for some pretty fantastic, imaginative stories.

Here are a few of my favorite stories:

Struwwelpeter – which means something like Shaggy Peter – never cut his hair or clipped his fingernails, against his parents’ warnings, and so he ended up looking like the boy on the CD in the middle.

Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher – The story of the thumb-sucker. This one’s about a boy who sucked his thumb too much and his mother warned him not to do that.  She left the house, and he went back to sucking his thumb, and a tailor came and cut off both of his thumbs with a huge pair of scissors.

Die Geschichte vom Suppen-Kaspar  – The story of the Soup Kaspar.  A boy named Kaspar suddenly decides that he doesn’t want to eat his soup anymore.  For the next four days, he refuses to eat it and becomes slimmer and slimmer and then, on the 5th day, he dies.

Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug – The Dreadful Story of the Matches. This little girl decides to play with matches while her parents aren’t home. Her cats warn her against it, but she doesn’t listen. She then accidentally catches herself on fire, and she burns down into a pile of dust as her cats mourn her loss.

Why are kids’ stories so often sad ones?

Have you ever read any German fairytales?  Like the original Grimm stories, for example?  I’ve read a few, but it’s been too long – perhaps I’ll read some again if I can find my book.  And it’s not only German stories that are kind of crazy and deal with some pretty tough stuff.

Take this old Disney cartoon I watched as a kid, for example:  The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met.

I watched it again recently and, as an adult, it’s a lot sadder than I remembered as a child!  I’m not sure if it was just the general feeling of the time (this was made in 1946, just after WWII).  Or perhaps we’ve made a shift altogether in the way we tell stories to kids. In American movies, there’s almost always a happy ending.  Even if Bambi’s, Nemo’s, Cinderella’s, Ariel’s, Snow White’s, (and more!) mothers and/or parents are dead, there is still some sort of happy ending.

Very strange.  Although with the whale, I suppose you could argue that the narrator “softened the blow” by explaining that the whale continued singing up in heaven. It’s quite a lovely text, actually:

Now Willy will never sing at the Met.  But don’t be too harsh on Tetti Tatti.  He just didn’t understand. You see, Willy’s singing was a miracle.  And people aren’t used to miracles. And you, faithful little friend, don’t be too sad, because miracles never really die. And somewhere, in whatever heaven is reserved for creatures of the deep, Willy is still singing in 100 voices, each more golden than before.  And he’ll go on singing, and there’ll be applause and cheering forever.

Pretty nice ending after all, isn’t it? Kids have that wonderful capacity to believe in miracles. That’s something that I’d like to keep on believing as an adult.

On a related note, my best friend Peter wrote a really thoughtful analysis of the movie Babe a while back. If that sounds like your cup of tea, go here and check it out!


Red light green light

21 07 2011

Germans are pretty serious about red lights.  Okay, when you’re driving – that makes sense.  But pedestrians also adhere to this rule.

I’m sure that when I was a kid, I always had to wait with my mother until the light turned green before crossing the street.  But now, having worked in DC and lived in Paris – two big cities – I got into the habit of crossing when it was safe, regardless of the light.  I’m not sure what the actual rules are on that in DC, but in Paris, there are definitely no rules, or at least nobody follows them.  Seriously.  I remember hearing a German lady call out behind me in Paris last year, “Hey, the light is RED!” as I crossed the street with a crowd of other people.  There were no cars coming at the time, and I laughed at her comment, thinking to myself, “How typically German.”

So, I must admit I got used to that, crossing the street whenever I personally deem safe.  It makes no sense to me to stand there and wait when there are no cars and I could cross safely.  If a police officer sees you do this in Germany, however, they can and will give you a ticket.  So far I’ve been lucky.

This is the button you have to press (by resting your hand on it – pretty cool, actually) to signal to the signal that you’re there and want to cross.

But the kids!

I was in one neighborhood once where I saw a sign underneath the pedestrian traffic light that said, “Nur bei grün – den Kindern ein Vorbild.”  (Only cross on green!  Set a good example for children.)  Something similar to this sign, found on another blog whose author, Wolfram Heinrich Aldersbach (what a name!), points out that the grammar of the sign is actually not quite right.  As he says, it implies that you should only set an example for kids when the light is green.  So, implicitly, not when it’s red.

(Picture from his blog.)

Because of this mentality, I am actually more likely to stand there and wait for the green light when there are children present.  But I stand there cursing this written (and unwritten) rule, and imagining myself back in Paris, fighting through the insane mass of cars, bicycles and pedestrians, moving every which way and almost running you over multiple times a day…

On second thought, maybe it’s not so bad in Germany!



8 06 2011

Germans have the reputation for being hard workers.  Ask someone to describe the German way of doing things, and you’d get such positive words like efficient, effective, high-quality, precise.

And that much is true.  “Made in Germany” is a mark of quality, and the Germans really take pride in that.  But as serious as the Germans are about work, they are even more serious about their time off.  Every evening after work is called “Feierabend”.  Word Reference defines it as “finishing time”…though I prefer to think of it as “quittin’ time” (and always in a southern accent, of course).  Come 8 p.m., almost all stores are closed (some even before that, at 6!), and you’ll hear coworkers wishing each other “einen schönen Feierabend”.

The best part about this word is that it’s a compound word, like many German words:

Feier = celebration, party
Abend = evening

So, literally speaking, they’re going off to their party evening.  I love that!  Maybe they don’t think of it that way, as a party (or maybe they do?), but either way – I love thinking of finishing the work day as a celebration of some sort.

It’s the time to pick up some flowers on the way home, or cook something delicious for dinner, or watch something fun and exciting on TV, or go out with friends.  Doing something to just celebrate having made it through another day of hard work.

I think I’ll celebrate with a nice glass of wine and try out this new grilled chicken with lemon basil pasta recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  But that means I have to run out to the grocery store first and get some basil and cheese.  Good thing Feierabend at Lidl at the train station isn’t until 10:00 p.m.!


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