What? When I open Google, sometimes I am offered a few options, two of which are: Everything and More. Am I the only one who finds that confusing? How can there actually be something that’s MORE than EVERYTHING?

William. We’ve had a busy couple of weeks. On 4/8, my cousin came to stay for 10 days; on 4/9, we picked up our new kitty, William (named after my father, because of his incredible blue eyes). He’s growing a bit every day. The last time we had an actual kitten was 1984 — all our other cats since then have been at least 9 months old by the time we got them. I had forgotten what kittens are like! It’s really like having a baby. Sometimes he wants to play in the middle of the night; he gets into everything imaginable. He actually helped me find a shelf I didn’t know I had. The refrigerator is a built-in; the doors are the same as the cabinet doors. However, although the cabinet door for the refrigerator goes all the way to the floor, the refrigerator itself doesn’t go down that far, so there’s a shelf under the refrigerator, but it’s concealed by the refrigerator door, so if I want to get to the shelf, I have to open the fridge. Having never laid down flat on the floor in the kitchen while the refrigerator door was open, I never noticed the shelf. Of course, William DID notice it, and popped into it, which allowed him to get BEHIND the rest of the kitchen cabinets! So now I have to be ever so diligent when I open the refrigerator, lest he pop into the cabinet and I lock him in. It’s not as bad as actually being locked in the refrigerator itself, though. And now I know that if he’s missing, I should check there. Can you imagine if I hadn’t noticed him when he popped in and couldn’t find him? His voice is so tiny, I’m not sure I would have heard him complaining once he got bored with being in there.

He is pretty funny-looking! He’s a Siamese (hence, the blue eyes) and actually has a big nose – it’s almost a ‘schnoze’!! He’s not absolutely cross-eyed, but when you dangle something in his face close enough, he looks a little bit cross-eyed. And his feet are HUGE! They are at least as big as those of our adult cat. I can only imagine how big he’s going to be. Although the breeder warned us that he may cry or hide for a few days, that didn’t happen – he instantly made himself at home, and has been totally obnoxious about it!

He seems to need to come help me whenever I scoop the litter box. He has a very worried look on his face, as if he had entrusted his valuable deposits to the litter box and he fears that I may be putting them in a less secure place. And, invariably, he has to make another deposit just as soon as I’ve cleaned out the box – I suppose he likes a ‘fresh bowl’ (those of you familiar with the TV show ‘Ally McBeal’ may be familiar with this concept).

More recently, he accomplished something that (until then) we had assumed you needed thumbs to do – he disassembled my ball point pen. No, he didn’t just chew it to pieces. He actually somehow managed to unscrew the barrel, which yielded all sorts of wonderful playthings (as seen in his eyes) or all sorts of opportunities to pay huge sums to the vet to retrieve from his digestive tract (as seen in our eyes).

In addition to this trick, young Master William has figured out where we keep the kibbles (top drawer under the microwave). He was caught standing on another shelf in the kitchen (on top of the cannisters), precariously balancing on the rice and flour, while opening the drawer and trying to open the zip-lock bag in which the kibbles are kept. We had to find another place to keep the kibbles – in a drawer he can’t pull out with his mouth. Only time will tell whether or not he can out-smart us here and we have to find yet another way to solve the problem.

He’s recently had a cold, but is now feeling better and has resumed biting our toes and his other various forms of mischief (and inventing new ones). He’s now trying to jump up on our shoulders from the floor – something our last Siamese did – but hasn’t quite got it mastered. In one of these attempts, he managed to grab my pajama bottoms and pull them down while I was trying to fix breakfast. Just glad we didn’t have house guests at that moment! He is going to be HUGE! His feet are monstrous; his bones are twice the girth of Electra’s (arms/legs). He weighed 2.1 Kilos a week ago (4.5 pounds, compared to Tsali’s full adult weight of 8 pounds). And he’s only 3 days away from merely 4 months old!

He finally understands that I don’t want him on the counter-tops (not the least of which is because I don’t want him to burn his feet on the stove) so at least he scurries down when he sees me coming. (But the tell-tale paw-prints on the stove-top give him away.) This morning we caught him sitting on the stove, watching the eggs boil.

Our elder cat, Ms. Electra, who is 10 (57 in people years) is none too pleased with William. However, she’s starting to warm up to him. She allows him to share her blanket on the bed. The other night, she actually groomed him for a little while. What was particularly strange about this is that she was growling all the while! Talk about sending the poor boy a mixed message!

Cat logic. We have two cats – one has front claws; the other doesn’t. Wanna guess which one uses the scratching post?

Entertainment for the day. I got on the U-bahn this morning at 9 a.m., which is apparently not too early to be drunk, as a guy got on at the next stop who could barely put one foot in front of the other. [But, hey! This is Germany, where beer is considered a breakfast drink.] To make it worse, the guy chose to sit in a sideways seat, which makes it a tad difficult even for sober folks to keep from sliding across the vinyl seats into their fellow passengers when the train starts and stops. This guy chose to up the ante – he decided to try to roll his own cigarette while in this precarious situation. When having to choose between using his hands to keep from sliding into the guy next to him or using them to save his tobacco, he, of course, chose to save his tobacco. Good thing the guy sitting next to him was a tolerant soul! Maybe he wasn’t awake yet.

Benefits of having a beautiful daughter-in-law. At Christmas, we went to a place called Europa Park. It has a mascot – Europa Maus. [Don’t tell the folks at Disney about this place; I fear they’d likely be more than a tad upset.] One of the attractions was a carriage ride through the amusement park. The driver, obviously a man who appreciates pulchritude, chose to let our daughter-in-law and grandkids ride up front with him. The ride was only supposed to be 10 minutes long, but somehow we managed to get a 20-minute ride. Somehow I doubt that would have happened if we had been alone. But here’s something I’m sure he didn’t plan on, but which delighted the kids more than the ride itself — just after we got off, one of the horses needed to relieve himself (and we were most grateful that he only had to pee). The hot pee, hitting the ice on the road, generated some impressive steam, all of which fascinated the 3-year-old and 5-year-old beyond all measure, while we hastily (and, fortunately, successfully) got them UPstream of the effluent.

Momma’s Got a Brand New Bag. With apologies to James Brown and Joss Stone…not quite. Actually, it’s ‘Grandma’s Got a Brand New Bike.’ It’s been 50 years since I last rode my trusty Columbia bike. It was a 26 inch bike I got it when I was 9—my Dad couldn’t see the sense in buying a bike I’d only outgrow, so I just had to bite the bullet and learn how to ride this monster. Turns out Daddy was right – a 26-incher still fits! But, good grief!! There are so many more options for bicycles these days! It makes my head spin! I couldn’t even begin to rationally weigh and evaluate all the zillions of options. So I went with a criterion I could understand – color. Santa chose the color of my first bike – navy blue – so this time I got to choose for myself. My first choice was pink – a substantial bike, rather than one of those you can lift with your little finger. Alas, the pink bike didn’t accommodate my body very well. But the store had a baby blue number that did the trick, and it matched William’s eyes. Then I also had to deal with a whole new aspect – a helmet. My son is a bike courier, who refuses to wear a helmet, even after his front wheel abruptly came off, at speed, and he broke his fall with his face. After all the grief I’ve given him, I‘m compelled to use a helmet (even though, at my age, if I died tomorrow I wouldn’t have been cheated out of much). I never knew helmets could be so complicated. Size, of course, does matter (no matter what anyone says), but apparently there are also different shapes because heads come in different shapes. Then there’s the matter of ventilation versus protection. However, if you choose protection over ventilation, it’s not particularly helpful if your head gets so hot you pass out, or just decide not to wear it at all (the helmet, that is — not the head; gotta watch those relative pronouns and their antecedents). And, of course, the most important aspect (at least to me) is color. I really, really wanted a neon-bright color, but the best they had in my size was white. I’ll have to see how much brightness I can add with stickers!! Since I got the bike and helmet, the salesman gave me a bright, neon green safety belt – reminds me of the belt I had as a safety patrol in 6th grade. I was sooo cool! I was a LIEUTENANT in the 66th Street Elementary School Safety Patrol, with a badge and everything! But I digress….. My new bike has incredible features, too. First, it has 7 speeds (about 6 more than I know how to use). Second, the power for the front and back lights is generated by my pedaling, so I never have to worry about changing the batteries. Third, it has both a hand brake (which I’ve never used in my life) and the old timey brakes, where you pedal backwards to put on the brakes (which is the only kind I’ve ever had). And fourth, it’s a cool baby blue (but I told you that already).

That androgynous look. The androgynous look is quite popular here in Berlin—it’s often easier for me to differentiate Germans from Americans than males from females. So I suppose it could be considered really cool to achieve that look. But, gee! Yesterday a restroom attendant thought I was going into the wrong restroom. Sure, I was wearing pants (as do the majority of the women) and sensible shoes (ditto, although the stiletto heels-to-sensible shoes ratio is far greater than that of skirts-to-pants). I also have short hair (which is definitely not a differentiating factor, since it’s chic and not unusual for women to have hair much shorter than mine). In addition to the obvious differentiating bodily feature, I also had on make-up, which many women here do not wear; these 2 factors should certainly have tipped the scales towards ‘female.’ I suppose that having achieved that androgynous look could be considered a compliment. But, frankly, I don’t know whether to be flattered or demoralized. Kinda like being asked ‘When are you due?’ – flattered that someone might think you’re young enough to still have a baby, but horrified that someone thinks your belly is THAT big!!

Are we there yet? As I expect is the case with most of you, I’ve had various goals throughout my life – finish high school, finish college, finish graduate school, get a job, buy the house, etc. Along with that goes the marking of progress towards such goals – one more year, one more week, etc. My most recent goal was retiring and moving to Berlin to be near my son and his family. Naturally, there was the countdown schedule, e.g., 1 more month until I retire, 3 more months until my husband retires, 5 days until the movers come, 2 days until our flight leaves for Berlin, and so on. That countdown process that has been so deeply ingrained in me that it still kicks in, except I’ve no more goals to fill in the blank – One more day until ??????? I’ve already done everything I want to do (almost) – finished school, got married, had a kid, had a career, had grandkids, and retired. What else is left? (Oh, yeah, dying. But somehow, I’d rather not think to myself when I wake up each morning, “3 more years until I die.”) So how does one measure out the time at this stage in one’s life? I clearly continue to have things to look forward to—e.g., seeing the grandkids, re-learning how to ride a bike—but no über-goal. Well, perhaps I don’t need one; perhaps I should just try to be in the moment (and probably that’s where all of us should try to live, all the time). Easier said than done!!

Little boys. As we usually do after we pick the grandkids up from day care, today we went to the neighborhood playground. It is indeed lovely – great things to play on, lots of sand, and large trees around the perimeter. Today my 5-year-old grandson grabbed my hand and said, “Grandma, I want to show you something” and headed towards the trees. He led me to one particular tree and said, “Grandma, I peed on this tree.” Then he took me on a tour of all the trees upon which he has thus far peed in the several years he’s been out of diapers and has been frequenting this park. He was so proud!

The 3 Ps. Everyone has them – Pee, Poop, and Puke stories. [Even President Bush #1 had one, remember?] I know I do and I’m certain that you do, too. My most recent one involves a curious kitten and a toilet. Because young Master William must absolutely be in the very center of any human activity under way, and because sometimes ‘human activity’ involves going to the bathroom, it was only a matter of time until he put himself right in the middle of this particular human activity. He is pretty quick, as you can imagine. He followed me into the bathroom, and as my naked behind approached the toilet seat, I felt something furry. Fortunately, I was able to put the brakes on before I sat down, thus avoiding a cat-ass-trophe of Biblical proportions. [Props to Tim, from whom I stole this pun.] Nonetheless, I had the occasion to cringe when imagining how a scared, strong kitten with razor-sharp claws might have reacted to being trapped in the toilet bowl by my ample behind. Thank God ‘almost’ only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades!! I’ve actually considered assembling a book of Pee, Poop, and Puke stories, so if you have one you want to include, let me know. [Entries may be attributed or anonymous, per your preference.]

How NOT to insult someone in German. There are lots of German-English cognates, where words are the same in German as in English (e.g., ‘ball’ is ‘Ball’), or are very close (e.g., ‘house’ is ‘Haus’). As I continue learning German at a glacial pace, I’ve also come upon pseudo-cognates, where the German word may sound like (or may even be spelled the same as) an English word, and yet mean something entirely different – the ever-treacherous pseudo-cognate. One such word is ‘ass’ – so if you call someone an ass in German, you’re actually paying them a compliment because, auf Deutsch, ‘Ass’ means ‘ace.’ (Although I’ll bet that, especially in Berlin, a German would know exactly what you really meant, but would certainly enjoy the irony of an intended insult being a compliment.)

Maximum feasible misunderstanding. Such pseudo-cognates (also known as ‘false friends’) continue to reveal themselves to me. For example, when you send a package from the US to a destination outside of the US, you have to fill out a Customs form, which gives you an option of checking a box, labeled Gift. This is important because it can affect whether or not the recipient has to pay customs fees, which can sometimes make such a gift unwelcome. If the package happens to be going to Germany, and if the recipient doesn’t have a very extensive English vocabulary, checking the Gift box can cause some consternation on the part of the recipient. That’s because, auf Deutsch, the word Gift means Poison. What must the German recipient think about a country where mailing poison to folks outside the country is such a common practice that it warrants specification on the customs form? Also, imagine a German buying a gift in a US department store and the clerk asks, “Would you like for me to gift-wrap this for you?”

Wanna save thousands of Euros on your next trip to Germany? It’s really simple. All you have to do is not shoot anyone the bird. Know what can happen if you do? Germans can sue you AND there’s a fine of 1,000 Euros. They’ll sue you for impugning their character. So, if you are in the habit of doing this with any great regularity, just think how much money you can save by NOT doing it!! You may save enough to pay for your trip!!

Whimsey. Whimsey abounds in Berlin. In fact, if I were limited to a single-word description of this place, I think that’s the word I would use. It is, after all, historically a place that draws artists and musicians. One example is in the names of shops:

• Bonnie and Klied’s, a clothing store (to fully appreciate this, you need to know that Klied is German for clothes)
• Holy’s Hit Records
• A flower shop near our flat – Mauerblumen (which translates into Wallflower (reflecting the city’s love-hate relationship with its wall)

We also recently missed the opportunity to see something advertized as the invisible playground – wonder what they charged to not see it? And how could you tell when you’d seen it all? How would you describe it to someone else? For a little bit extra, would they not let you see the Emperor’s new clothes?

Yesterday I saw a car with eyelashes painted above its headlights.

I wonder if this predilection for the whimsical is related to the preponderance of graffiti? Some of it is truly delightful, the best example of which is some of the artwork on the Wall. One of the most famous examples is the section of the Wall depicting a VW driving through the Wall. This makes me wonder – which came first, the graffiti or the Wall? Within our neighborhood, there is a series of graffiti that consists of various well-done renderings of animals and small children (although sometimes I think those two terms are synonyms and hence redundant). They are done in black-and-white. Rather than painting them directly on the surfaces, the artist has printed them on white paper and then pasted them on the walls (which is particularly respectful of the property). Further, they’re placed not on the side of the wall facing the street, but rather within the thresholds of the buildings. Most of the buildings are ‘Altbau’ – old buildings, with exterior walls often up to two feet thick, so this offers a nice surface on which to put small pieces of artwork. You can’t see these if you’re driving on the street, but they offer delightful treats as you’re walking down the sidewalk. This is the best of all possible worlds – little pieces of art that are readily accessible, without being obtrusive or defacing property. Alas, most of the graffiti is at the other end of the spectrum – ugly, in-your-face obtrusive, and defaces the walls of some truly otherwise lovely buildings. Some is just scribbles; others are just initials or rude/crude words (which, admittedly, tumble out of my mouth more readily than I like to admit, but nonetheless I don’t write them on buildings). Some is marginally amusing (and minimally intrusive), such as the notation along the canal wall that says ‘Pull plug here.’ Others are just imponderable, such as the single word – Sonic – painted on the front of the building across the street from out flat. In some cases, rather than continually paint over graffiti, the building owner has chosen to paint lovely murals – my favorite is a mural of huge poppies on the face of a building in my son’s neighborhood. Alas, this hasn’t deterred some miscreant from just spray painting scribbles on it. My son admonishes me for being judgmental about all of this, assuming the role of arbiter of ‘good’ graffiti and ‘bad’ graffiti, when the real ‘statement’ is about freedom of expression, uninhibited by someone’s notion of the appropriate canvass, content, or form, or property rights. As someone who has spent rather substantial sums (at least to me) on real estate, I suppose I must admit to having some preconceived notions of the rights of others to ‘decorate’ it at they see fit.

Unsolvable problem. Germans are absolutely the masters of ‘work to the rule.’ If you get to the trash bin, and it’s full, don’t even think about putting your trash beside the bin. It will stay there. Usually we can work around that, but recently we’ve reached a conundrum. Apparently, one day when they came to get the bins that hold the glass, a car was blocking the way to the street from the house, so the Müllmeisters just left the bins. Then, by the next week, the brown/green glass bin was full, with the over-flow stacked beside it. Not only did they not take the extra (fair enough), but they also left the entire brown/green glass bin. AND they left the white glass bin, which had not yet begun to over-flow. We’ve reached a stale-mate: (1) Müllmeisters won’t touch either bin; (2) When we brought this to the attention of the Hausmeister, he apparently feels it’s not HIS job to remove the extra glass (to a public bin 2 blocks away) so that the Müllmeisters will pick up the bins; (3) When I tried to explain this to the landlord, he suddenly became unable to understand English (and, by the way, the German word for ‘glass’ is ‘Glas’). Someone has taken it upon themselves to spirit away the overflow (but not the bottle that happened to break – so I picked up those pieces). Now it remains to be seen whether the Müllmeisters will pick up the glass next week. (Even though the bin is not overflowing, they may not pick it up if it is full to the brim.) If indeed they don’t, Harvey and I will resign ourselves to gathering the extra glass up and toting it to the public bins and see if we can get the bins empty enough to get the Mullmeisters to take them. (The husband of one of our neighbors directed her not to even contact the landlord, as it’s apparently beneath the dignity of a tenant to become involved in such mundane matters.) Oh, yeah, we already thought of being lazy (re-cycling be damned!!) and putting the extra glass in the trash bin. But we understand that then they won’t take the trash (which is infinitely nastier than the glass). Update: Just as we were about to take matters into our own hands (and haul the glass to the public bins), someone removed the colored glass outside the bin; however, they did NOT pick up the one broken bottle. Fearing that this alone would be sufficient grounds for declining to empty the bin, I took it upon myself to pick that up. And, lo and behold, the next day that bin was emptied. Yet, they bin with the clear glass remains full. We’re going to wait a week – don’t know what day clear glass is supposed to be picked up – before we resort to making a more substantial contribution to solving this problem. The rich irony would be if we tote the bottles to the public bin and it becomes too full for the Müllmeisters to empty.

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