Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 19:  November 15, 2011


On October 30, we went onto Daylight Savings Time – a week earlier than folks in the US, which means two things:  (1) I can call folks on the East Coast at 2 pm (rather than 3 pm) if I want to call them at 9 am their time; and (2) we get a brief reprieve from the onslaught of the brutal sunless winter.


The saga of my beloved’s incredible luck continues.  Yesterday we picked up the grandkids, and, as usual, took them to the playground.  This playground is virtually a huge sandbox.  About 45 minutes after we got there, my husband was with our granddaughter on one of the obstacle courses.  [That’s may not be what these things are called, but I assure you that much of the playground equipment could easily be found at the Marine Corps Training Center at Paris Island, SC, differing only in size.]  My grandson and I were quite a distance away from them, engaged in one of his favorite games, which involves issuing the challenge ‘Tickle me’ while easily eluding all of my efforts to achieve this objective.  We happened to look down and saw a key, which to my grandson looked quite a bit like the key to the cargo bike.  It turns out that it was, indeed, this key.  We were very near the entrance to the playground, and clearly, my husband had dropped it right after we got there.  It’s amazing enough that it was still visible, given the traffic going through that part of the playground.  One shovelful of sand could easily have rendered it invisible.  It’s even more incredible that we were the ones to find it, particularly as I am not the most observant creature on the planet.  [For example, once I noticed a moving truck in the parking lot of our townhouse community and saw a neighbor standing by it.  I asked whether he was moving out.  He said, “No, we’re moving back in.  We had a fire and had to have the house repaired.  The repairs are finished now so we’re moving back in.  This house was directly across a small parking lot from our house.  Our bedroom window faced the parking lot and the head of our bed was at the window.  At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom.  There was a fire, involving fire trucks and all the attendant noise.  These folks had moved all their things out of the house.  All sorts of repairmen had been going in and out of the house for months, during which time surely there was some rubble from the fire in plain sight.  I never noticed.  While I am a big supporter of Neighborhood Watch, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put me on patrol.]

Losing the key to the cargo bike would have been a huge inconvenience.  In fact, you’d have to have a locksmith come to the playground because, unlike the high-end cargo bikes where the ‘cargo hold’ is made of something light, the cargo hold on this bike is made of plywood.  This is the primary mode of taking the kids to school each day, so losing access to it would have the same effect as losing access to your car.

But, of course, none of this happened, because Mr. Lucky’s guardian angel helped out yet again!


As you may have noticed in some of my previous posts, I find Word Grammar Check a great source of amusement (which, I’m sure, is not the intent of the labzoids in Redmond – they probably really intended to be helpful).  I’m also enjoying some of the ‘help’ I’m getting from my blog writing tools and wonder how the following suggestions might have changed the narrative of a couple of my previous posts.  Here they are:

  •  Aisle (did you mean I’ll?)
  • Son (did you mean sun?)
  • Whines (did you mean wines?)
  • Feat (did you mean feet?)
  • Grandbaby (did you mean grand baby?)  [Although in this case, they mean the same thing.]
  • Clothes dryer (did you mean close?)


OK, folks!  Here’s something you can add to the list of Totally Unnecessary Gadgets – a timer for your mouthwash.  Yes indeed!  It seems that the folks who make Listerine want to make sure that we all gargle for the full 30 seconds.  Perhaps someone sued the company because he got a cavity and the bottom line was that he hadn’t gargled the full 30 seconds and it was somehow Listerine’s responsibility to make that happen.  Or maybe it’s just that some smooth-talking, silver-tongued sales person convinced them that the gargling public isn’t smart enough to estimate 30 seconds.  JEEZE!!  Who can’t use the Mississippi method for counting seconds?  And I have every confidence that there’s a German word long enough to substitute for ‘Mississippi’ that will yield the same results.  So now there’s a digital timer attached to the Listerine bottle – push a button and it will count down 30 seconds for you.  At least it’s detachable so you can reuse it.  And you can bet your bippy that the jobs generated by the manufacture of this device are not in the USA or the EU.  Oh, yeah – guess what?  It doesn’t even work!


Ha!  I’ll bet you think that I’m going to get into something of interest to mathematicians.  No, that would be my husband, who concerns himself with things such as the square root of -1, or such things as infinite series.  Here I’m just referring to being irrational about numbers.  Like all retirees, we have to worry about what the crazy economics is doing to our life savings (will it all evaporate?) and what inflation will do to both those savings and our income.  Living in Berlin, we must add another factor to our fretting – the dollar to Euro conversion – given that most of our expenses are in Euros, while all of our income is in US dollars.  So we’re constantly asking ourselves “What is that in real money?”  I keep track of our monthly expenses and income/savings and, based on our average monthly expenses, I do a calculation on when our money will run out.  This involves calculating the value of our assets in terms of Euros.  As of last month (taking into account a drop in the value of our savings because of the stock market), we have to die in March 2039 (provided we both die at the same time).  If we don’t, then, of course, the survivor will have to die sooner than that because of the loss of the Social Security income of the other.  Given the fluctuating value of our savings and of the dollar, every month’s calculations yield a different expiration date for us.  This is the (relatively) rational part, but it leads into the irrational part.  We recently sold our home in the States.  As the dollar had been dropping for quite some time, we figured that we should put the proceeds into Euros as soon as possible to keep from losing even more later.  We thought we did really great because the Euro was down to $1.42 (from $1.54) when we deposited our proceeds here.  But then, it kept dropping and got to as low as $1.32.  It made me sick to think of how many more Euros we could have realized if we had waited a couple of weeks.  But I checked today and found that it’s back up to $1.40 and somehow I feel so much better!  How irrational is THAT?  If we had transferred the proceeds at $1.32, we would STILL have more Euros now (and more valuable Euros, at that), so I should still be lamenting the timing of the transfer.  But, as I said – it’s irrational!

WHAT I THOUGHT I SAW—A blind guy wearing sun glasses, riding a bicycle, and carrying his white cane.

WHAT I ACTUALLY SAW—A guy wearing sunglasses, riding a bicycle, and carrying a mop with a white handle.

 I was much more amused by what I thought I saw, though!


From time to time, I have what I think might be a brilliant idea.  Often such ideas are far better in concept than they are in execution.  For example, I briefly considered the idea of thwarting some of William’s acts of derring-do by making him wear weights, thinking that this might limit his ability to jump.  Of course, the concepts of ‘cat’ and ‘wearing’ are, for the most part, mutually exclusive.  Further, the reason runners sometimes wear ankle weights when they practice is to build up their muscles.  This is not an objective I have in mind for William, and, given the piteous lack of success I’ve had with other ways of curbing his behavior, this approach could likely backfire.  Perhaps I’ll just gracefully accept defeat.  As he’s had a recent growth spurt (as if his entire life hasn’t been just one big growth spurt), now (on his 9-month birthday) he weighs 12.2 pounds (5.5 kilograms).  Compare this to Electra, who at 8 months weighed 4 pounds and whose adult weight is about 8 pounds.


It may be appropriate to change William’s appellation to ‘William, the Water Cat.’  His fascination with the kitchen faucet knows no bounds.  If he ever takes his eyes off the water itself, and watches closely how we turn it on and off, he might just be able to turn it on by himself, at which point there could be dire consequences!


Having been inspired by a YouTube video of a cat who seemed to enjoy putting his head under a running faucet, I thought I’d see how William would react to that.  I only thought of two possible outcomes:  (1) He would hate it and I could use that to deter him from getting in my way; (2) He would love it.  The 3rd outcome didn’t enter my mind—he was totally indifferent to it.  While he got out of the stream of water as soon as he could (and shook his head to re-distribute the water all over me and the kitchen), he didn’t seem the least bit fazed by it.


This has happened at least twice so far – I walk into the kitchen and see William sitting in the sink.  Apparently he wants to be there the very second the water is turned on.  I’m just glad he isn’t sHitting in the sink!  (At least, not yet!)


Being a huge ocean (and several time zones) away from my friends and family, I treasure the ability the Internet gives me to keep in contact with everyone.  But it gave me another treat the other day.  We were at my son’s flat, and our grandson wanted to show me what he could do with the Hula Hoop.  Since he was interested in that, I thought it would be really neat to show him some Native Americans hoop dancing.  Indeed, he was fascinated.  How cool is THAT??!!   And I wish I had checked Wikipedia while I was at it.  It turns out that the first World Champion Hoop Dancer was Eddie Swimmer, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, from Cherokee, North Carolina.  That’s OUR tribe!


You don’t have to be the head of some government to know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a vote of no confidence.  You can get that from your grandkids.  For example, sometimes we try to get our grandkids to help us with our German.  Yesterday I asked my granddaughter (who is still 3 months away from turning 4) whether or not she thought Grandma and Grandpa would ever learn to speak German.  She gave me a resounding, “NO!”  And then she laughed!  The child has no mercy!


Just got an e-mail from Williams-Sonoma.  It’s an ad for a Potato Ricer.  Really?  What??  If I wanted rice, I’d just cook rice, wouldn’t I?  And exactly how long would cooked potato, once ‘riced’, stay in that shape?  Wouldn’t it just become mashed potatoes?  Must I buy one to get the answer to these questions?


Remember me viciously castigating folks who, although not walking IN the bike path, throw their arms across it while pointing to something?  Well, guess what I did yesterday.  Yep.  I was in the bike path, stopped at a red light, when a passerby asked me where something was.  I was looking at him (he was kinda cute) and pointing in another direction and happened to whack another biker.  Fortunately, the biker wasn’t hurt – she didn’t even stop, apparently accustomed to such things.  If I wanted to be picky about it, I could say that she shouldn’t have gone around me to jump the green light.  But I won’t.


From time to time, you can see folks juggling things at traffic lights, hoping that folks stopped at red lights will reward them for their efforts.  So, they gotta get those things that look like bowling pins somewhere, right?  As it turns out, there’s a juggler shop just a few blocks from our flat.  Who would think that you could make a living selling juggler stuff?  But, in Berlin, apparently you can.  I’m pretty sure that if the guy who runs the shop had ever made it onto the old TV show, ‘What’s My Line’, that ran from 1950 – 1967, none of the celebrity panelists would have guessed what he did for a living.  That would have included Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, Steve Allen, and Soupy Sales.  (Louis Untermeyer, Hal Block, and Fred Allen were also on the show, but I can’t for the life of me remember who they are.)


Contact Guinness Book of World Records!  I have done what no other woman on the face of the planet has ever done before – I’ve completely used up an eye shadow thingy.  And I’m not talking about one of the ones with just a single color, but rather one with four different shades!  You know – the main color for your eyelid, a really light shade for just under your eyebrow, a darker shade for the crease, and an even darker shade for the outer edge of your lid (the one Western women use to create the illusion of an almond-shaped eye, which Asian women are born with and sometimes have surgery to get rounder eyes like Western women, who are always trying to create the illusion of having almond-shaped eyes).  This is no trivial accomplishment because, as you know, for some reason, these colors never get used up evenly, so after the first shade is gone, you have to supplement it with a thingy with just one shade, and have to keep doing that until all four shades are used up.  That’s just waay too much trouble, so, despite your very best intentions, you lose patience and end up tossing the whole thing (or, even worse, just keep it and never use it so that when you die there are hundreds of half-used eye shadows in your estate sale.  [Really!  You do NOT want to imagine what folks will actually buy from an estate sale!]  Actually using up an eye shadow thingy is made even more unlikely because every season the shades considered ‘the latest’ change, so that ‘Summer Plum’ is in, while ‘Autumn Plum’ is out, so naturally you have to try the new shade to see what magic it will work on you, right?


This is not an admonition you normally need to give someone on a bike.  Except this time there really was a girl walking down the sidewalk with a table on her head!  She was small – the table was as long as she was tall, and she was schlepping it down the street, balanced on her head and shoulders.  Well, not exactly balanced, like a circus act – she was using her hands, too.  And the guy on the bike was a grandpa, pedaling a cargo bike with 2 grandkids, which could distract him enough that he might miss the girl with a table on her head. And she was certainly NOT going to see him, since she was looking down and simply walking was absorbing her full attention.


My resolve is beginning to crumble.  Well, not exactly crumble, but definitely getting more or less just a little bit frayed.  I didn’t have my bike last winter, but got it when the weather was nice.  The weather has begun to get colder so I now understand why some have remarked that biking in Berlin in the winter is an Extreme Sport.  To begin with, Berlin has a little wind, and biking just makes it a tad more intense.  This brings on the necessity of making sure your hands, neck, and ears are suitably insulated before venturing out to, say, get groceries on your bike.  That, of course, adds more time to the whole process.  It already takes me at least 5 minutes from the time I shut the door to the flat and the time I actually exit the building with my bike.  Bear in mind that our flat is only one-half a flight of stairs from the ground, and a mere 15 steps to the Hof, where the bikes are parked.  Gotta take the seat cover off the bike (i.e., just a plastic grocery bag, secured with a rubber band), then unlock the bike, then lock my back-pack to the basket, then put on my helmet and gloves, then navigate the bike through two huge wooden doors—and, no, there’s no motion detector to automatically open either of these doors.

But coming back with groceries is worse. Alas, I have only two hands and yet I must:

  •  Unlock the front door (which involves removing my gloves and delving into my pocket for the key, while juggling the bike AND the groceries);
  • Somehow retrieve my key from the lock while holding the door open and juggling the bike AND the groceries;
  • Push bike and groceries through the front door;
  • Put the groceries at the foot of the stairs;
  • Pull open the door to the Hof and hold it open while getting my bike through the door;
  • Lock up the bike and cover the seat;
  • Come back into the entry way, lugging the groceries up the stairs;
  • Unlock the door to the flat;
  • Drag the groceries into the flat.

I do dearly miss just driving into my driveway, pushing a button to open the garage door, and driving into the garage, where I can devote my entire attention to simply getting the groceries into the house without having to juggle a bicycle at any point in this process.

Still, it’s a small price to pay to watch the grandkids grow up!

[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’