Getting Old:  This really sucks—although it certainly provides amusement sometimes.  For example, electricity is monstrously expensive in Europe.  Consequently, we’re doing everything in our energy-wasting little American hearts to use only what we need.  Among other things, that means unplugging appliances when you’re not using them.  [This is made a bit easier than in the U.S. because Germans don’t feel the need to put a clock on every single appliance, so we can unplug the microwave without worrying about a clock.  I think it’s because Germans have an internal clock, which makes having the trains run so precisely on time an easy trick for them.]  We’ve not gone totally nuts (e.g., pulling out the book-case to unplug the lamp or moving the stove to unplug it when we’re not using it).  However, if something is easily reached, we do our best to unplug it.  The toaster and the electric tea kettle are right next to one another on the kitchen counter top.  Their plugs look exactly alike.  On more than one occasion, I’ve plugged in what I thought was the tea kettle and flipped the switch to heat water for tea, only to come back later to discover that the water I’ve poured into my mug is NOT hot because I’ve plugged in the toaster instead.  In an effort to guard against this, I wrote ‘Toaster’ and ‘Water’ in eensie weensie letters on itty-bitty pieces of paper and taped these labels to the fronts of their respective plugs.  Well, guess what?  To fit on the plug, I had to make the letters too small to read easily, making their utility somewhat limited.  NOW I’ve made 2 new labels with big letters – ‘T’ and ‘W’ – and taped them to the plugs.  (However more often than not, I plug in the water kettle to make tea, so I can only hope that I don’t get confused and think that ‘T’ means ‘Tea’ rather than ‘Toaster.’)

Adventures in Cooking:  Many and varied are the challenges to cooking in a foreign country.  Most of my cooking life (50 years, since I consider my first 15 years as my ‘non-cooking’ life), I’ve had electric stoves.  However, in our last house in the States, I had a gas stove and really enjoyed that convenient feature that gas offers – when you turn it on, it’s on immediately; when you turn it off, it’s off immediately.  So, just after I spent 6 years getting used to a gas stove, now I get to unlearn all that stuff and re-learn how to cook with an electric stove.  That challenge is nothing unique to the move to Germany, of course.  What IS a challenge is doing the metric conversion on the oven.  As a consequence, some of our meals have been a tad crunchier than I would have wished.  For example, 250° doesn’t seem so high, does it?  Except, of course, that the formula for conversion is:  [Fahrenheit – 32] X 5/9.  So, 200°  C is equal to about 482° F.  [NOTE TO SELF:  If 250 is the highest temperature on the dial, maybe it’s really, really hot.]

Then, of course, there’s figuring out what stuff is called.  For example, ‘cinnamon’ is ‘Zimt.’  If you’re looking for ‘cinnamon’ alphabetically, it’s really not going to be where you’d expect it to be.  ‘Nutmeg’ is ‘Musskatnuss’ and ‘cloves’ is ‘Nelken.’  And don’t go thinking you’re all that smart and that simply translating something is going to help.  You know the word for ‘blue’ (blau) and you know the word for ‘berry’ (Beeren) so you’re thinking if you ask someone for ‘Blaubeeren’ they’re gonna know that you want blueberries.  WRONG!  It’s ‘Heidelbeeren.’  And, as in the case of ‘Nelken’, don’t go thinking you can look it up in the dictionary (even if you have more than ONE dictionary), because under ‘cloves’ you’ll find a word that describes ‘clove’ as ‘clove of garlic.’

And then comes the challenge of figuring out where to find what you’re looking for.  For example, ‘baking soda.’  Pretty basic ingredient, right?   Germans bake a lot, right?  There’s a little bakery on almost every block.  So, you look for it in the section where all the baking ingredients are.  There’s plenty of ‘Backpulver’ (baking powder) but no ‘Backsoda.’  And you’re not gonna find it.  Know why?  Because you must go to the Apoteke (pharmacy) and ask for ‘sodium bicarbonate’ –  NaHCO.  So give me a break!  I didn’t even take chemistry (but I’ll bet even if I had, I’d never have looked for baking soda at the Apoteke).

And, of course, there’s the ever-popular pseudo-cognate problem.  Yes, they have brown sugar (braun Zucker), but, no, it’s not what Americans think of as brown sugar.  Rather, German brown sugar is like the raw sugar you can get at Starbucks.  What Americans think of as ‘brown sugar’ isn’t to be had in Berlin (or at least, I’ve yet to find it).  So, the price of a night at our flat in Kreuzberg is a box of brown sugar, or even a can of Eagle Brand Evaporated low-fat milk. [BUT I’ve now solved the regular evaporated milk puzzle!  There are lots of Turks in Berlin – more than there are in Istanbul – and Turks use it.  So, now I can get it at the Turkish grocery store.  And I’ve found that Turks eat rice like folks from Southeast Texas eat rice – almost every meal.  So you can get a HUGE bag of rice really cheap at the Turkish grocery store.  God, I love the Turks!!]

I also cracked another code – corn starch – and it’s NOT Maisstarke (word-for-word translation).  It’s Sossbinder (as in ‘Soss’ = ‘sauce’ and ‘binder’ = ‘bind’).  Gotta admit that, in terms of what corn starch does, the Germans have a more descriptive word – it’s something that binds (i.e., thickens) sauce.  And I find it a tad ironic that that the German word for ‘corn’ is ‘Mais’, which is closer to what the folks who first cultivated it call it than what those of us who actually live(d) in the land where it originated call it.  And, interestingly enough, in German ‘Korn’ means ‘grain’ – closer to our word ‘kernel’ (in the sense that both words refer to a more general category of thing (grain) rather than a specific thing (corn).

To further complicate things, directions on packages give some proportions in volume and others in weight, e.g., Use 50 grams of X and .5 liter of milk.  Well, I can handle the ‘.5 liter of milk’ – my good ol’ Pyrex measuring cup has both ounce and liter markings.  But grams???  A gram of rice doesn’t have the same volume as a gram of flour, so how do I know what a gram of each of them looks like?  ARRGGHH!!!

Needless to say, I’ve served some interesting dishes since we’ve been here (not one of which my grandkids will even touch).

Kitchen Aerobics:  We have a typical German kitchen, which is small, with very little room for cabinets.  Specifically, we have 3 long cabinets, 2 short ones (e.g., over the fridge), and 1 drawer.  If you count our island, we have an additional 2 long cabinets and 3 drawers.  [Compare that to our kitchen in Vienna – a pantry, plus 12 long cabinets, 4 short ones, and 8 drawers.]  However, it’s certainly bigger than the kitchen in my very first apartment, when I was making all of $350 a month before taxes ($125 of which was going to rent).  As my lovely daughter-in-law would say, “Es is nicht so schlemm!’  (It is not so bad.)  And, actually, the good folks at Ikea offer some excellent products for making the most of the limited space.

  • The good news is that there’s a huge window at the end of the kitchen and 2 of the 3 kitchen cabinets have glass doors, which increases the visual space.  The bad news is that the window is big enough to fall through and there’s the possibility of banging something against the glass cabinet doors, especially when I’m reaching for something in the back of the cabinet.
  • The good news is that the shelves are deep.  The bad news is that it’s awkward to get to the stuff stored in the back.
  • The good news is that the ceilings are high (13 feet) so there’s lots of vertical space.  The bad news is that, with 13-foot ceilings, even I have to use a small ladder to reach to higher shelves.  I’m continually taking the ladder out (stowed between the sink and the window), and climbing up to get something.
  • The good news is that we also have a large island with a lot of storage underneath.  The bad news is that I have to get down on my hands and knees to reach the things stored in the back of the island. (But first I have to put the ladder up – no room for the ladder when I’m on all fours!)

All this is compounded by the fact that I still have to try to remember where I put stuff.  It’s rarely in the first place I look.  I always have a good reason for deciding where something belongs; it’s just that I don’t always remember that logic when it comes time to use the thing, and so I still have to hunt for it.  Consequently, cooking is an aerobic experience for me—

  • Retrieve the ladder-2-3-4
  • Climb up the ladder-2-3-4
  • Reach for what you want-2-3-4
  • Put it on the counter-2-3-4
  • Climb down the ladder 2-3-4
  • Fold the ladder-2-3-4
  • Stow the ladder-2-3-4
  • Stoop-2-3-4
  • Reach what you want-2-3-4
  • Put it on the counter-2-3-4
  • Repeat ad infinitum.

So I’ve decided to make a video on kitchen aerobics.  Only the music wouldn’t be brisk and perky.  That would be dangerous because I am clumsy and must be very careful and slow, lest I break the glass in the cabinet door and slice off a limb or fall out the window about 13 feet to the concrete in the courtyard (known as the ‘Hof’).   And cutting myself on the glass cabinet door would inevitably cause me to fall out the window.  Therefore, something slow and ponderous would be more appropriate to the glacial speed with which I navigate the kitchen.  I think maybe ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ – which is played at high school graduations everywhere – would be appropriate.   Or maybe Henry Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary in D Major (also known as ‘The Prince of Denmark’s March’) [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP0X2XsHuCk],  which we used at our wedding instead of the more traditional ‘Wedding March’ from A Midsummer’s Night Dream (aka, ‘Here Comes the Bride’).  I might add that Princess Dianna and Prince Charles also used the Trumpet Voluntary at their wedding (but WE used it FIRST and our union has been a tad more successful than theirs).

 

How to amaze your grandkids:  Everyone knows kids are brutally honest.  Recently Noe (now 2 weeks shy of 5 years old) had to go to the bathroom while we were in a department store.  Never missing the chance to keep my bladder empty, I decided to use the toilet after he did.  He looked at me in total awe as he said, ‘Grandma, your butt is bigger than the toilet.’  Sad but true……

Fall (or Herbst):  It’s truly lovely.  Our street is lined with ginkgo trees, and they have now turned a gorgeous shade of yellow (or maybe it’s really a golden-rod color), with a hint of chartreuse, or maybe it’s really a light lime-green) – Hell!  I can’t describe it; besides, it changes every day, and is different in the morning than it is in the afternoon.  Just go out looking for a ginkgo tree in the fall and watch it in the morning and afternoon for several days and you’ll know what I mean.

Where AM I and what TIME is it, please??  We recently went back to the States for 13 days.  We could not possibly have chosen a worst time to travel between Europe and the US.  Germany goes off daylight savings time a week before the US does.  So here’s how that worked for our trip.

  • Sunday before we leave:  Germany goes off daylight savings time, so we fall back 1 hour.
  • Three days later, arrive in Houston:  Ordinarily we would have had to fall back 7 hours, but since we had already fallen back 1 hour and the US was still on daylight savings time, we fall back 6 hours.
  • Four days later after we get to Houston:  US goes off daylight savings time, so we fall back another hour.
  • The next day we leave for Portland, OR:  So we fall back 2 more hours.
  • The next day we leave Portland, OR, to come back to Houston:  We had intended to visit my sister and her husband; alas, a few hours before we arrived, they had been transported to a nursing home in Dallas (long story…) so we go forward 2 hours.
  • The next day we drive to Dallas:  Where we managed to track down the runaways and got to spend more time with them than we would have been able to in Oregon.   Blessed Mother of God, NO TIME CHANGE in that trip!
  • 8 days later (and after having returned to Houston yet again):  We finally adapt to Texas time.
  • The next day:  Leave for Berlin (aka, Home, Sweet Home!) and go forward 6 hours.

So you can see why I have no idea what time it is!

Texas remains Unbelievable:  Unless you’ve actually been to Texas, you would think that the things I’m about to list are figments of my imagination.  Indeed I admit to being able to conjure up funny stuff from thin air, but nothing I can dream up comes anywhere near the reality of Texas.  For example:

  • A sign for ‘Fresh Dead Shrimp’ – now that sounds really tasty, doesn’t it?  I mean, shrimp are typically dead when we buy them and when we eat them, but there’s something a bit off‑putting about stating the obvious in this case.  And then there’s the mental contradiction between ‘fresh’ and ‘dead.’
  • Tires for Rent:  Why would you rent tires?  Are you going to get your car inspected and you think the tires won’t pass so you just rent some tires for the inspection?  Maybe you’re going on a long trip and you think your old tires might not make it, so you just want the new tires for the trip?  Maybe your grandkids are coming and you want to make a tire swing for them?  But, wait!  One sign at a tire rental place said, ‘Rent to own.’  Now there’s a thought.  You don’t have the money to buy tires; your credit is no good.  So, you can rent the tires and if you can’t pay them off, you just return them without the stigma of having them repossessed.  (But, wait – if your credit is bad anyway, why do you care?  And why would any business want to take back used tires?)  But apparently there is money to be had in that business because I saw 3 of these places in Houston, and I only went to 2 neighborhoods in Houston (where you can drive 100 miles from one place to another without once leaving the city).
  • 1-800-Lawsuit:  Yep!  Just want to sue somebody but don’t know who or for what?  Just give these folks a call and they’ll give you some ideas to get you started.  Before you know it, you’re suing Jimmy Jack because you had a hangover from the beer he bought for you when the two of you were out drinking and talking nasty last week.
  • Mother Truckers:  Similar to a business in Virginia – Two Guys and a Truck.
  • 1-713-RU HAIRY:  Are you disgustingly hirsute?  Call this number and they’ll point their laser at those nasty hairs for ya!
  • Earthman Resthaven Cemetery:  Fer real!!  Kinda like Amigone Funeral Home in Buffalo, NY.
  • Peckerwood Garden:  Really?  Really?  I don’t know about anywhere else, but in Texas if you call someone a ‘peckerwood’ you’re probably going to have to out-fight him or out-run him.  Is this garden named after a person?  How would someone come to have such a last name in the first place, and if he did, why wouldn’t he change it?  Is it named after a town?  But I went to the URL (http://peckerwoodgarden.org/) and discovered a possible reason – the creator of the garden is a guy by the name of John Gaston Fairey, so maybe he had something a little different in mind.  Check it out yourself – I’m NOT making this up!
  • Fried pickles:  On a menu at a truck stop on I-45.  Here’s the description:  Pickle chips hand-battered, golden-fried, and served with Ranch dressing or Cajun horseradish sauce for dipping.  Didn’t make this up either.  I wish I had been there when somebody got THAT idea! Imagine being in the room with this guy as he’s sharing his recipe with Julia Child (and it’s gotta be a guy who thought this up; a woman would have served it with a nice honey mustard sauce).  [I have since learned from connoisseurs of fried pickles that they can be scrumptious!!  However, there was some disagreement with respect to whether they are better as chips or spears.  Imagine how that would look in an obituary:  Mrs. Jaton’ West, 113, ailurophile and connoisseur of fried pickles, passed away in her sleep after having realized her lifelong goal of soundly defeating Michael the Scrabble Meister 301 to 300.
  • Restrooms that would make your Mom smile:  Yessiree!  That’s a sign for Buckee’s on I-45 between Dallas and Houston, near Madisonville, TX.  Buckee’s claims to have the best jerky in Texas (whereas Woody’s – also on I-45—claims to be the Jerky Capital of the World).  If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’, when I went into the ladies room at Buckee’s, there was an employee down on her knees scrubbing the floor!  I don’t know if it was coincidence or whether they just hire someone to be on their hands and knees in the restrooms at all times.  And the restrooms were indeed clean.  Further, they had artwork exhibited in them, for sale.  I wonder what criteria they used to decide which pieces went in the ladies room and which went in the men’s room?  Who’s got the job of being the curator for the artwork in the restrooms at Buckee’s?  In addition to jerky, one of the things you can buy at Buckee’s is a Turducken.  That’s a chicken, shoved up into a duck, shoved up into a turkey.  Nope!  Not making this up, either.  Maybe someone will decide to add an ostrich into the mix and call it Osturducken.  It could happen.  Surely somebody in Texas has an oven big enough to accommodate a whole ostrich.
  • Spearmint Rhino:  I came across this website recently.  It was advertised as a ‘gentlemen’s club.’  Who came up with that name?  And how did he come up with it?  What’s it supposed to mean?  Really, if someone just walked up to you and said the words ‘spearmint rhino’ what image would jump into your mind?  Do they have a ‘gentlewomen’s club’ called the Peppermint Python?

 I also saw a few surrealistic things on that long, straight, flat, stretch of road between Houston and Dallas, where there’s more nothing than most folks have ever seen in one place (except for the stretch of road between San Benito, TX, [the southernmost tip of Texas] and Houston, or maybe between anywhere and Amarillo, TX).  One was an armadillo-shaped cloud.  And on at least three occasions I saw trucks with ‘Hamburg Sud’ painted on them.  Indeed there is a ‘Hamburg Sud – North America.’  For a brief moment I thought I was on the Autobahn.

Then the final piece of trivia – on the last stop on our trip, we stayed with friends in Houston, Jan and Hanne.  Hanne had been raised in Berlin, but now lives in Houston.  Harvey and I had been raised near Houston (well, in Texas, within 100 miles is considered ‘near’), but now live in Berlin.  As our friend Jan would say, ‘Don’t it be a wonder?’

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