Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 20:  December 4, 2011


Our granddaughter’s name is Milla.  As if there’s any doubt that the earth as we know it is indeed ‘Milla’s World’, this fact has recently been reinforced by the brand of toilet paper we happen to use – Regina.  Its claim to fame is that it somehow contains chamomile, and is decorated with little chamomile flowers.  In German, the word is ‘Kamille’ (pronounced ‘Ka Meela’.  That is close enough to ‘Milla’ that the company chose this name for its mascot.  What is mystifying, however, is that ‘Milla’ appears to be an ant.  I don’t know about you, but associating ‘ants’ with ‘toilet paper’ is not something that would encourage me to buy this brand if I didn’t already use it.

[I’ve since found out from my German neighbor that ants are associated with cleanliness – they keep the forest clean by eating the nasty stuff, such as dead animals.  We should be lucky they didn’t go with a dung beetle!  I suppose this is at least a tad more logical than using a gecko to represent an insurance company.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t make be a bit more comfortable about associating ants with toilet paper!]


You may (or may not!) remember last year when I waxed poetic about the splendor of the changing leaves of the ginkgo trees that line our street.  [And if you don’t remember, perhaps you need to take some ginkgo pills.]  Well, of course, the leaves are still gorgeous this year.  But I would like to find the person who selected the trees and beat him or her senseless.  Some ginkgo trees are male and some are female.  The ones on our street happen to be female, and produce a fruit that is plain nasty!  Wikipedia describes the smell as like rancid butter or vomit.  I tend to think it smells more like vomit combined with dog poop.  In any case, we could have still had the beauty of the trees without this unfortunate smell.  I don’t know why I didn’t notice it last year.  Perhaps I couldn’t smell anything, given the 6-month-long cold I had last year.  Or perhaps the tree’s beauty so excited my visual senses that my olfactory senses were overwhelmed.  Whatever.  In any case, I’m getting the full effect this year!  It is beyond vile!  And it doesn’t help when the side-walk sweepers drive down the sidewalks mashing all the fruit into a noxious slush that sticks to your shoes and to the wheels on your grocery cart and your bike.  Before you enter your flat, it’s a good idea to scrub off your shoes and the wheels on your grocery cart so you don’t bring the fumes into your flat with you.  UGH!!


The wonders of modern technology have made it possible to replace lenses distorted by cataracts with artificial lenses, which, in addition to getting rid of the cataracts, can also improve vision.  My husband is having artificial lenses implanted in both eyes.  The first implantation went well, and after only a few days, he can see much better than ever before.  He’ll still need his glasses for distance vision, but will no longer need them for reading and other close work.  This is all well and good.  However, there is one bizarre thing that’s happened.  I don’t know whether this is simply temporary or will be permanent.  You know how cats’ eyes reflect light, and reflect a brilliant yellow or orange?  Well, Harvey’s new eye does the same, except the reflection is silver, and, in some light, it looks as though his pupil is a mirror.  It is totally weird and gives me the vague feeling that his body has been invaded by an alien.


Given how much I write about William, the Wonder Cat, you might think he’s the only feline we have.  However, we have another – Ms. Electra.   Here she is in all her splendor.  As she is somewhat deficient in the fur department, in the winter she is forced to wear a T-shirt (which she only tolerates when it’s really, really cold).

 She’s about 60 people-years old (closing in on 12 in cat years) and is, more often than not, singularly unimpressed with William’s antics – particularly since she is often on the receiving end of many of his shenanigans.  All she wants to do is eat, sleep, and get a little cuddling.  She wouldn’t mind a little shared grooming from time to time, either.  Unfortunately, she’s not particularly receptive to being William’s wrestling companion.  He jumps her all the time, just like the houseboy in the Pink Panther used to jump Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau.  Given her age, Electra just isn’t that interested in contact sports.  When you consider their respective sizes, you can get a better idea of her piteous plight.  At her adult weight, she’s about 8 pounds.  When we got her she was 8 months old and weighed 4 pounds.  Compare that to William, who is now 9 months old and weighs 12.6 pounds (5.8 kilos) to Electra’s 10.2 pounds (4.6 kilos).  He outweighs here by a bit over 25%.  And he’s only half grown – he has another 9 months to  bulk up.  He’s gonna be a big boy when he grows up!


Both German and English have this word; it just means something different.  In English, it means a feeling of anxiety or dread.  In German, it means fear.  I’m experiencing English angst, and it’s dread rather than anxiety.  I just spent all day giving my kitchen a rigorous cleaning – the kind where you remove and wash the filter on the exhaust fan.  I enjoy doing this kind of thing, provided I have the time and can choose when I do it, which, as a retired person, I definitely can.  I also enjoy cooking.  Where the angst is coming from is this—at the moment, my kitchen is clinically sterile.  Truly, any surgeon on the planet would be willing to conduct an operation in here.  [Well, it may not be the place best suited for surgery from a logistical perspective, and he may be lacking a few things, but, as far as sterility is concerned, he’d have no worries at all.]  But when I cook, it’s gonna mess it up again!  AARRGGHH!!


Even though I’m retired, I still don’t like to waste time, primarily because an hour of my life as a percentage of the time I have left on this planet is increasingly more significant every day.  So sometimes I try to multi-task.  Well, some tasks are more easily combined than others.  Doing my arm stretches while waiting for my laptop to warm up – good idea.  Squishing your mouthwash around in your mouth while sitting on the toilet – not so much.  For example, if you need to sneeze, you’re in a bind and can spend far more time cleaning up the mess than you saved by combining these two tasks.  Feel free to make your own multi-tasking mistakes; I’ve already made this one for you.


I used to work in satellite communications, so I’m more familiar with the concept of ‘delay’ than ordinary folks.  Because satellites are a long way up (a bit over 22,000 miles), it takes about ¼ of a second for a signal to be sent from one point on earth to the satellite and back down to another point on earth to the receiver.  Although this is a bit troublesome for voice communications, I wish that the communications delay operating in the space between my ears were that short!  Today a man passing me on the street said something to me and the only word I really understood was ‘Mutzi’ (which means ‘cap’).  About 20 minutes later, when I took my Mutzi off my Kopf (head), I realized what he had said.  I had the hat on inside-out, with the white label (in contrast with the black Mutzi) displayed rather prominently.  The sad thing is that, given my poor hearing, he could just as easily have spoken to me in English, with about the same delay!!


For years, our routine was to feed the cats twice a day.  Well, for the most part, unless they could wheedle their way into getting a snack sometime between breakfast and dinner.  However, when we got William, he was a tiny kitten.  [He’s still, technically, a kitten – he’s just not tiny any more.]  And, as with babies, kittens need to eat many times a day.  So, our current routine is this:

 6 am – Breakfast

9 am – Second Breakfast

Noon – Lunch

3 pm – mid afternoon snack

6 pm – Dinner

10 pm – Bedtime snack

Apparently, that’s not quite enough to suit William.  At 8 am, he starts pestering me for Second Breakfast.  First, in typical cat fashion, he head-butts my ankles.  Then he escalates to rattling the snack bowls.  When that doesn’t work, he simply lies down right next to them so that he’ll be sure to be there the second I put some kibbles in them.  When that doesn’t work, he’ll go to the shelf where we keep the dinner bowls and knocks them down onto the floor.  No matter how many times that I assure him that I really do know where we keep the bowls and that the real problem is that it’s not yet time for his next meal, he simply doesn’t get the message.


As explained in great detail above, the cats normally get 3 full meals a day, plus 3 snacks.  For 3 days this week, the grandkids were sick so we stayed with them during the day, reducing the distribution of kitty kibbles from 6 times a day to a mere 3 times a day.  Over that time, William managed to lose 2/10ths of a pound from his 12.6 pounds.  He’s wasting away to nothing – just a veritable shadow of his former self!!


It’s winter.  It doesn’t get light until at least 8 am (and, in mid-December, it won’t get light until after 8:30).  It gets dark before 5 pm (and, in mid-December, that will move up to 4:30 pm).  Like many folks, I’m particularly sensitive to the level of light.  In fact, I have a little UV sun lamp that I try to use for at least 30 minutes every morning (and I’m using it as I type right now).  In winter, it’s hard for me to get up before full daylight and my body wants to go to bed almost as soon as it’s dark.  That being the case, I think I’m going to change by name to Ursula, since I’m clearly going into semi-hibernation like my ursine brethren.


I think that Berlin is the place where lonely gloves come to die.  In winter, especially, I can’t walk 2 blocks without coming upon a single glove on the sidewalk.  I guess there could be another explanation for it – it’s cold, folks walk a lot more than just from their office to their car, and you need to take off at least one glove when you fumble for the key to unlock your bike, or your door, or to pay for something.  I figure if I could just gather up these gloves, wash them, and then sell them on the street, all those folks who have lost a single glove can just buy a glove for the hand that’s missing a glove, rather than have to buy another pair just to replace that right-hand glove that they lost.  Who knows?  Maybe they might even find the match to the glove they lost.  Kinda reminds me of the lost sock conundrum.  How, on God’s green earth, in a virtually closed system, can you put a pair of socks in the dirty clothes hamper and then, somehow, after going through the washer and the dryer, always come up short one sock?  My husband threatened to put a photo of one of his missing socks on milk cartons.  [In case you’re too young to know about this, there was a time when milk companies would put photos of missing children on their milk cartons; don’t know why they stopped doing that – seems like a good idea to me.]  In any case, my husband’s solution was to buy about 20 pairs of socks alike, so he could pair the sole survivor of one pair with the survivor of another pair and still have a matching pair.  [LATER….guess who lost one of her brand-new, expensive winter biking gloves yesterday?  Well, you know it wasn’t Harvey, and that’s just not because I used ‘her’.  Naturally, had he lost one, some stranger would have run up to him with it before he even missed it!]


Sure, it’s good to go to the doctor and be told there’s nothing wrong with you.  However, it’s ALSO good news to be told there IS something wrong with you AND it can be fixed easily and cheaply.  I’ve been having to clear my throat quite often, for a long time.  And my voice has been a sounding a bit strained and I’ve kinda felt like I’ve had something in my throat, noticing it when I swallow or when I wear a shirt with a snug neck.  Well, guess what, folks!!  It’s not just an annoyance to live with!  There’s actually something wrong!  I have an iodine deficiency.  It seems that your thyroid has 3 main parts – right and left lobes and the isthmus – the part in the middle between the 2 lobes.  When you have an iodine deficiency, the isthmus becomes thick.  So, that feeling that there’s something in my throat is, in fact, because there IS!!  So, if you know someone over 50 who’s constantly clearing his/her throat, it might be caused by an iodine deficiency.  For one thing, the thyroid tends to get worn out, which is related to this problem.  For another, we older folks are probably not getting as much iodized salt as we used to, given that we’re eating less salt in general (because of high blood pressure).  Another factor could be that we’re all eating that fancy salt – rock salt from the Dead Sea, Himalayan pink salt, black salt, chartreuse salt– instead of good old Morton’s iodized salt.


Remember back in #16 when I talked about how there was a huge painting of what looks like our son, and it turns out it was really supposed to be a painting of another guy, who was part of a Levi’s ad campaign?  Well, it does get weirder and weirder.  It turns out that this guy works for the same company as our son, AND the painting actually looks more like our son than it does of the guy it’s intended to look like!


Well, yes, I suppose it’s true that ‘eggs’ are considered ‘groceries’.  But that’s not where I was headed.  When I used to have a kitchen pantry, I generally tried to organize the groceries by how I used them.  For example, I tried to put all the baking stuff together – pasta with pasta sauce, canned veggies together, etc.  Sure, sometimes I had to violate the categorization criteria based on the relative size of things to make better use of the pantry space, but in general there was some logic for where I put things.  Now that I no longer have a pantry, I just have to put stuff where it will fit, which sometimes makes for odd groupings.  But with William’s advent, it’s gotten more complicated.  I must reserve the open shelves (which happen to be the majority of the shelves) to those things impervious to the sharp claws and fangs of my feline friend.  For example, powdered sugar comes in a cardboard box; pasta comes in a cellophane bag.  So now the grouping is driven more by the product’s packaging than by its contents.  Combine that with my Sometimer’s Disease (sometimes I remember; sometimes I don’t), and finding the particular product I’m looking for becomes more like an Easter egg hunt than anything else – just a lot less fun!!


Tomorrow is a big day for us – we find out how much longer we’re gonna be able to stay in Germany.  So, keep your fingers crossed for us!  I’m pretty sure that writing about an old American lady in the US won’t be nearly so entertaining as writing about an old American lady in Berlin.


Things are beginning to get seasonally busy, so you may not hear from me until next year.  So, I wish you and yours the best Christmas (or whatever holiday you may celebrate this time of the year) ever, and a very Happy New Year!

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