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Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 47:  January 9, 2014

 IT’S TRUE!

 Remember when your parents would haul you to visit some elderly relative and you would wonder just exactly what that retired person did with their time?  Well, now I know, being one myself.  I just tend to the routine things – making the bed, fixing breakfast, washing the dishes, getting dressed, and before you know it, the day is practically gone!  We may not do much (if anything), but it definitely takes all day to do it!

IT’S MONDAY!

Germany (and, so far as I can tell, all of Europe) has some really fabulous breads.  One German bread that we particularly like is Dunkel-essener.  It’s extremely dense – pretty sure one loaf weighs at least 10 times what a loaf of Wonder bread weighs.  So, Harvey happened to be out and about and near a bio (organic) food store and decided to pick up a loaf of this wonderful (as opposed to “Wonder”) bread.  The lady looked at him in amazement when he asked her for it, and replied, “Heute ist Montag!”  (i.e., “Today is Monday!”)  Apparently you can only buy Dunkel-essener bread on certain days of the week, and one of them is definitely NOT Monday!  And presumably every German knows this and realizes how utterly preposterous it is to even consider buying it on Monday.

I ONLY THOUGHT I WAS HAVING A BAD DAY

I was at the grocery store check-out line and couldn’t find my cash card.  Fortunately, I had enough cash with me to cover the groceries so it wasn’t a major problem, but I wasn’t looking forward to the inconvenience (admittedly, minor) of having to go to the bank on Monday and request a new card.  But then when I left the store, I saw that someone else was having a far worse day than I was – I saw someone’s false teeth on the sidewalk (or, at least, the uppers) and the plate was broken in two, so clearly not having my cash card paled in comparison.  My day got even better when I got home and emptied my wallet to discover that I had simply put the card in a different place from where I normally do.

DEFINING “WORN OUT”

There was a time when I would consider an article of clothing “worn out” if it were the least little bit faded or frayed, but that is no longer the case.  Since I retired, I don’t have to worry about being “presentable” at work, where showing up in shabby clothes isn’t a “career enhancing” strategy.  Of course, retirement is also typically accompanied by a reduced income, so one tends to be a tad more circumspect about spending money in general, whether on clothes or anything else.  Consequently, “faded” and “frayed” are no longer sufficient criteria for throwing out clothes. Then there’s the age factor (which inevitably comes into play, whether you’re fortunate enough to be retired or not).  It used to be economical in the long run to pay a bit more for something if it would last a long time.  Now, not so much.  Now it’s all a game of trying to come out even, where you only need something to last until you die (which, of course, is a total crap shoot).  I remember when my Dad was about 60 and it was time to replace the roof on his house.  You have options of buying a 20-year roof or a 30-year roof.  He figured he wasn’t going to make it to 90 (so he didn’t need a 30-year roof) and that a 20-year roof would suit him just fine.  As it turned out, he only needed a 12-year roof (but that wasn’t an option).  However, he didn’t count on his wife making it to almost 90.  Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about big-ticket items such as major house repairs or cars, since we own neither, and the consequences of our miscalculations are much less drastic.  The most expensive thing we have to worry about is a washer. And as for our clothes, we have lots of leeway.  For one thing, given the character of our neighborhood, “shabby chic” is actually in style.  But aside from that factor, as long as a shirt doesn’t fall off my body and continues to provide an acceptable level of warmth, I don’t consider it “worn out” yet.  And, of course, pajamas get a lot longer life because, after all, if I’m in a situation where somebody is going to see me in my PJs, it’s probably a pretty close friend, who’s not going to judge me.  And I’m long past worrying about what some Emergency Room tech is going to think about my underwear if I’m involved in an accident.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

I have spent nearly 7 decades on the planet and only recently discovered the utility of “sheers” – you know, the nearly-invisible drapes?  I never could figure out why folks would have 2 sets of drapes on their windows – one that appeared normal and one that seemed to be invisible.  If drapes were intended to offer privacy, or to block out the sun, what possible reason could there be to have drapes that you could see through and that didn’t block out the sun?  Aha!  Now I know.  In the winter here, you can have a choice of having the drapes open during the day (and thereby getting the benefit of the scarce daylight you’re granted while losing heat through the windows) OR keeping the drapes shut (and thereby saving heat while missing out on the daylight).  So, here come the sheers!  At night, they provide an extra layer of fabric to keep the cold at bay and, during the day, you can still have a little bit of protection from the cold while also getting some precious sunlight.  Never too old to learn something, I suppose, regardless of how trivial it might be.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

The bus stop I use most frequently has a nice little shelter – a roof and 3 sides.  Anyone want to guess which of the four basic directions the wind was coming from this cold morning?  Yep!

CHRISTMAS TRADITION

What’s Christmas in Germany without going to a Christmas Market and having a bit of Gluhwein?  We decided to hit one of the markets on the Ku’damm – a major shopping area –  and had the luck to time it just right so that we could see what’s apparently another Christmas tradition – at least in Berlin.  Several of the motorcycle Santas were accompanied on their ‘hogs’ by their ‘old ladies’ (also in costume, but not as Mrs. Santa, but rather as angels).  Not a sight you see every day!

RAINING IN THE KITCHEN

Nope!  Didn’t leave the kitchen window open.  Nope!  The roof doesn’t leak (or, at least, if it does, we’d be about the last to know about it because there are 4 more floors above us.  In fact, it wasn’t raining at all OUTside.  Nope!  The upstairs neighbor’s plumbing wasn’t leaking into our flat.  I was, however, cooking and now that the weather is cold, heat from the stove will cause condensation on the tile back-splash and on the bottoms of the cupboards above the burners on the stove, unless I turn on the ventilation fan.  Never had that happen in any of my kitchens in the US (16, to be exact, and that’s only the ones after I left home)!  Never even heard tell of anyone having that happen.  Got my very own little rain forest!

THE MALICE OF FELINES

Can you still call it “malice” if it’s unintentional?  Maybe not.  Nonetheless, the effect is the same.  William, the Wonder Cat, took a little walk across my keyboard and the next time I tried to logon, I couldn’t – my password wasn’t recognized.  After several moments of frustration and many epithets, I discovered that my NumLk key was on.  He had apparently managed to step on the Fn key and the NumLk key simultaneously!  Electra once managed to hit a series of keys that turned my screen sideways; it took Harvey and me the better part of an hour to figure out how to undo THAT!

LITTER WARS

Our Dowager Queen Feline, Ms. Electra, exited the litter box, having tended to her business.  Apparently, William, the Wonder Cat, was not satisfied with Electra’s attempts to tidy up the litter box and tucked the front half of his rather large body into the box and re-arranged the litter more to his liking.  Unfortunately, when he does this, he often leaves a pile of litter at the front end of the box, which Ms. Electra finds so offensive that she expresses her displeasure by hanging her butt out of the box and peeing on the floor when she next uses the litter box.  No amount of counseling with either of them has been effective is changing this behavior.

ASPARAGUS AND WINE

Germans love their asparagus, especially the white asparagus.  Even if the weather gives you no hint of Spring, you can tell that Spring has arrived because all the restaurant menus suddenly feature lots and lots of asparagus dishes and little stands selling nothing but asparagus pop up everywhere.  And, as do most right-thinking folks, Germans love their wine.  Well, I saw something in the grocery store last week that apparently combines these two culinary delights – a bottle of wine that presumably has asparagus as a component.  Yep!  Not making this up!  See for yourself!

2013-08-25 - Asparagus wine


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

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Loss: I would likely get myself fired if I had a job at Hallmark writing captions for cards. For instance, if someone asked me to design a sympathy card, I’d probably have the cover be completely black and when you opened it up, it would just say ‘Loss sucks!’ I’m still trying to deal with the huge void that Tsali left. We took him to the vet on a Monday and left for a 2 week trip to Texas that Wednesday. We’ve finally gotten caught up on our sleep, having endured 6 time changes in 13 days, and Harvey was up to vacuuming the flat for the first time since we had released Tsali from this vale of tears. Virtually all of the cat hair in the flat is Tsali’s. Electra is damned near bald (although in recent months—at the age of 10—she’s decided to start growing hair, for reasons known only to the unfathomable feline mind). (When Electra barfed up hairballs, it was also all Tsali’s hair. I guess she won’t have any more hairballs, now that Tsali’s gone.) That hair was all I have left of him, except for a foot print I made at the vet’s and the photos. So vacuuming it up just makes him even more gone. The keyboard on my laptop had almost enough Tsali hair to knit a nice little bonnet for Electra. In his diligence, Harvey vacuumed it, too, and ended up sucking the ‘A’ completely off the keyboard. No biggy; it’s a letter I barely use, right? Lucky for him, he realized it right away and had the pleasure of digging through the vacuum bag to retrieve it.

Electra is still adjusting to the change in the family dynamic as well. She especially misses all the body heat she used to steal from Tsali, which is becoming a greater hardship as the days grow colder. Simultaneously with the abrupt absence of Mr. T., we also left for 2 weeks. I imagine that, from her point of view, we had ripped her away from her native land and then, after a few months, abandoned her completely. In the past when we left, at least she had Tsali. And, more often than not, she also had her Aunt Shirley, who came and stayed at our house while we were gone. Now, we leave her completely alone, with only brief periods of company. A new friend in our house (as one refers to the apt. building here), Barbara, was kind enough to come by three times a day to feed the divine Ms. E (who, in our retirement, had become accustomed to having little snacks all through the day). Barbara has a 19-month-old foster daughter, Zoe, whose age-appropriate behavior terrified Electra. For example, Zoe can emit high-pitched sounds that could immediately persuade the most devoted terrorist to divulge all his secrets. The volume of such emissions is quite impressive, and their duration certainly seems interminable. In fact, I suspect that airplanes at nearby Tegel airport could well be in jeopardy if they happen to be taking off or landing during Ms. Zoe’s squeals of delight. There have been no unexplained crashes at Tegel in the last year, so apparently no take-offs or landings have coincided with Zoe’s expressions of exuberance. And, of course, Zoe finds Electra’s tail a particular source of interest. But I think the greatest stress for Electra is Zoe’s fascination with her eating. Zoe lies down on the floor, with her face about 4 inches from Electra’s so she can watch the food go into Electra’s mouth, creating a terrible approach-avoidance conflict of the highest possible order for Electra. Although Ms. E. is a highly successful animal—having managed to get shelter, food, water, medical care, and devoted personal attention without incurring any cost or effort on her part—she is definitely not a candidate for Mensa. No doubt fully half of her (18?) brain cells are totally fried from having to decide whether to approach the food (which she values almost above air) or to avoid Zoe. Needless to say, upon our return, she had much about which to remonstrate with us. For the first 2 days, I don’t believe that she shut up for more than 2 minutes at a time, except, of course, to eat. In fact, the first night, after digging around under the covers to make her little nest for the night and lying there for 10 minutes, she popped her head out from under the covers and stridently admonished us for 5 solid minutes before returning under the covers to go to sleep. Had she spoken to us like that under any other circumstances, we would have definitely washed her mouth out with soap.

What’s in a name? Well, apparently a lot, at least in one case. We like every type of food we’ve ever tried. I remember rejoicing every time some third-world country was in political upheaval because it meant that Washington, DC, would get a new restaurant featuring the cuisine of that country. Like Washington, DC, Berlin is among the most diverse places on the planet, which suits us just fine. You’ll find every kind of restaurant here, except those featuring what most Americans think of as ‘German food.’ The Wienerschnitzel, Sauerbraten, and Sauerkraut are native to Southern Germany (Bavaria), which folks in Berlin regard as ‘Barbaria.’ So, as part of our eternal quest for great food, we tried a Thai restaurant. By this time, we were somewhat prepared for the ‘Berlin-ization’ of foods that we knew and loved in the States – by adding cream, and cheese, and (in the case of Mexican food) peanuts. But even this didn’t prepare us for the dishes we were served at this particular Thai place, although the name should have – Phuket –which served as an inadvertently candid statement of our reaction to the substances that were on our plates. But, the good news is that this is only the 2nd bad meal we’ve had here (except for some of those I’ve cooked, of course). The other noxious meal was at ‘The Lone Star Tacoria.’ Even I am at a loss for words to describe the sacrilege committed in that kitchen!

My gas well: I recently inherited rights to a gas well. They started drilling in July. I haven’t seen any money from it yet, but I get a lot of enjoyment out of just being able to say this:

I inherited 1/6th of a gas well from my momma’s 3rd husband’s 1st wife’s uncle.

How that happened was this: there’s this woman who inherited the rights from her uncle. My momma (who never met a husband she didn’t want to steal) started messing around with that poor woman’s husband. Instead of her killing the cheating bastard, she decided to kill herself. The least she should have done is to cut him out of her will before she did that, but she didn’t. Her will split the gas rights among her philandering husband and their 5 kids. So then the guy marries Momma (getting just exactly what he deserved, although some may call it cruel and unusual punishment). She was a paralegal who did wills on the side. It took her about 15 nanoseconds to get him to re-do HIS will and, naturally, he left his part of the gas well to her. As it turns out, Momma decided to have that marriage annulled. Did the guy re-do his will? Nope! So then he dies and Momma inherits his share. Years later Momma dies.

Interestingly enough, although I found about 9,832 and 1/2 wills in her file cabinet– copies of wills she’d done for other folks– she herself didn’t have a will. [I did, however, find a warrant for her arrest, dated a few days before her death.] I was her only kid. (God apparently recognized his mistake in letting that woman have a kid and didn’t let her birth more babies, sparing any others the experience of having to deal with her.) Consequently, I knew nothing about the well until some woman from the drilling company called just before we left for Berlin to tell me they were gonna drill. How she tracked me down, I don’t know.

I kinda hope something comes of it, because, although Momma also did income taxes for other people, she hadn’t filed her own income taxes for at least 6 years and now the IRS seems to think I should pay them– penalties, fees, interest, and all. That woman wasn’t happy unless she was messing with somebody and causing them misery. Just because she’s dead doesn’t mean she has to stop messing with folks; she must be tickled as punch right now, despite the flames lapping up at her. You can understand why I felt a little guilty when I filled out my time sheet for a week of ‘Bereavement Leave’ when she died; just wish they’d had a category of ‘Relievement Leave.’ Silly me for breathing that sigh of relief! Little did I know this was just a prelude to having the IRS rain down upon me. Nonetheless, I do enjoy saying I inherited 1/6th of a gas well from my momma’s 3rd husband’s 1st wife’s uncle.

If you ever read any Southern writers, like Faulkner, don’t for a minute think they have good imaginations. They were just hacks, writing down stuff they saw — no need to make any of this stuff up. It’s a whole ‘nother world south of the Mason-Dixon line!

Revenge is a many splendored thing: On our trip to Texas, we stayed with Harvey’s brother-cousin, Gene. He lives in Clear Lake, where NASA is. Clear Lake is the home of a Hilton with a certain claim to fame. A few years ago, there was a husband-wife dentist practice. The wife discovered that the husband was cheating on her and that the Hilton in Clear Lake was the love nest for the triflin’ SOB and his floozy. She parked in the parking lot and waited for him to come out. When he did, she ran over him, and then backed up over him, and then ran over him again, just for good measure. Like Chris Rock said about O.J., “I don’t condone it, but I understand it.” And, of course, Clear Lake is also home to the crazy astronaut lady who drove all the way to Florida to try to murder her ex-boyfriend’s new flame. [Note to men of Clear Lake: It just is NOT worth it!]
Integrity in the kitchen: I can forgive the diminutive dimensions of my major appliances, but I am outraged that two of my three major appliances simply have no moral fiber.
• My oven flat out lies to me! At first, I just thought it was that it didn’t speak my language (Fahrenheit). [You’d THINK Germans would use Fahrenheit, since a German physicist – Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit – came up with it.] So I diligently applied the ever popular conversion formula: C = (F – 32) X [5/9]. After I learned its language, and was still burning stuff, I used an oven lie detector and found that it burns about 50 degrees (F) higher than it says it does.
• My refrigerator simply withholds information from me. My Maytag would tell me when I had left the door ajar. Heck, it even had a feature that would turn it off on the Sabbath. Being a charter member of the First Heathen Congregation, I never had use for that feature, but it was comforting to know that the refrigerator cared that much about keeping me on the straight and narrow. True, the high-pitched alarm alerting me that the door was still open was irritating. (And isn’t it the nature of alarms to be so obnoxious that you’ll do anything to shut them off? The smoke detector’s my-battery-is-low alarm being the most effective of the species.) But at least I didn’t have to wait until I got my electric bill or discovered a refrigerator full of spoiled food to discover this. And, personally, I think withholding information is worse than lying. After all, how do you reliably detect the absence of information? (Now that’s a question to pose to the interrogators at Gitmo!)
I hope that my dear little dishwasher, which simply exchanges dirty dishes for clean ones (provided I hit the right button), can serve as example to the others.
My iron, on the other hand, gives me a bit more information than I’m really interested in. She beeps when she’s warmed up; she beeps when I have ignored her for more than 1 minute. Actually, the latter beep is more of a threat – “If you don’t touch me within 5 minutes, I’ll shut myself off and THEN you’ll have to wait for me to warm up again, little missie!!” She’s a little bit needy for my tastes.
Thanksgiving: I am doing the ‘Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy’ dance! [Anyone remember the cartoon show ‘Ren and Stempy’?] Steve hasn’t spent Thanksgiving with us in 12 years, but THIS year (and, if I have anything to say about it, for the rest of our lives), we will have Thanksgiving with him, AND, of course, his gorgeous wife and our two brilliant grandkids!! We won’t have it on Thanksgiving Day, because Steve and Steffi would have to miss work. (The Germans single-mindedly refuse to honor non German holidays.) But we will have it, nonetheless. Shopping will be far more leisurely than all previous Thanksgivings – there won’t be crowds in the grocery stores. Of course, there are other aspects of it that will be challenging. For example, I’ve not been able to find cornmeal to make cornbread dressing. They have polenta (which is close) and they have Maiz Mehl, which has the consistency of all-purpose flour, rather than the coarseness of cornmeal. So, I’m trying the Maiz Mehl. Another challenge will be making a vegan version. I have fake eggs and I have a really great substitute for the bacon fat. (It’s made of apples and onions that miraculously has the same consistency and taste as bacon fat. I’m no chemist, but does that make any kind of sense?) Although I could substitute soy milk for regular milk, you really need buttermilk to combine with baking soda to make the cornbread rise as it should. No matter – with cornbread dressing, you break it up and mix it up with a bunch of other things so it has no resemblance to ‘bread’ anyway. Another adventure in cooking!!
Kitchen logistics: So, Saturday after your Thanksgiving, I started to cook for our Thanksgiving, which we had on Sunday. It seems that Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Germany and there’s no such thing as a ‘floating holiday’ to accommodate non-mainstream holidays. Since there are some folks who must work—specifically Steve and Steffi—we had ours on a weekend. This was the first major meal I had cooked in my petite kitchen. Some things I discovered were that:
• The narrow oven (with only a single shelf) can accommodate only a single Corning Ware dish at a time. Although it will take a large dish, it can’t handle 2 small ones.
• The modest microwave can’t accommodate the large Corning Ware dishes at all.
Based on the small refrigerators here, I had already decided on cooking a chicken rather than a turkey—no place to put leftovers. It’s a good thing, too. First, it would have been hard to even find a turkey. Second, a turkey might not have fit in the oven. Third, a freakin’ 5 pound Bio chicken cost 28 Euros; that’s $38 in real money!! No doubt a turkey would have been totally unaffordable. Then, adding insult to injury, even at that price, a whole hen did NOT include the giblets!!! Imagine the foul words that came streaming forth at when I discovered that little tidbit!! But, I digress…..

I typically cook lots of things the day ahead anyway; given the constraints, I figured I’d cook everything (except the chicken) on Saturday. So far, so good. But there remained the problem of managing to have everything warm at the same time. I started out by placing the 4 side dishes on top of the stove while I cooked the chicken to steal a little bit of heat from that lying piece of crap oven. That took the chill off, but certain didn’t warm them up enough. I then turned the burners on at the lowest level, which worked pretty well, except for the large Corning ware dish (which was actually even larger than my largish burner – ‘large’ being a relative term). That was when I discovered that this same dish wasn’t going to fit in the microwave. Not willing to serve cold cornbread dressing (that’s only allowed when the dressing has become ‘leftovers’), I put it in a smaller bowl and warmed it up in batches. And while all this was going on, I was engaging in my kitchen aerobics.

It was indeed heartening to see my grandkids actually eat most of what I had cooked. Noe isn’t too keen on candied yams, though. Even more importantly, we were indeed thankful to be sharing Thanksgiving with Steve for the first time in 12 years. We’ve missed more than 37% of his Thanksgivings. If we live long enough, we hope to reduce that percentage! (If we live 20 more years, we can get that down to a mere 23%.)

Availing oneself of nature’s bounties: Of course, while dealing with the Thanksgiving meal, the refrigerator was far too full to accommodate the beer. No problem. Most of the windows here are actually double windows, with about 4-5 inches between the outside window and the inside window, which is just perfect for chilling beer. Not willing to risk life and limb by getting anywhere near me when I’m in a cooking frenzy, Harvey declined to use the kitchen window, which overlooks the Hof (where bicycles are parked). Instead he chose to use the living room windows, which face the street. (Another option would have been either the bathroom window or the spare room window, both of which also face the Hof.) Yessir! Don’t nobody ever say the Wests don’t have class! We got free refrigerator space and also got to announce to the world “HOOOOOOOOOOO, DOGGIE!! WE got BEER!!” [But, if we wanted folks to think we were rich, we’d send the message “WE got WATER!!” Here, bottled water is 20% more expensive than beer.]

Christmas decorations: I’ve just done my Christmas decorating for this year. I’d intended to do a tree here, but time got away from us and, as we’ll be spending Christmas in Ichenheim with Steffi’s folks, the return-on-investment just didn’t seem to justify the effort. So, here’s what the decorating involved:

• An evergreen sheaf on the front door;
• A mug tree decorated with the smallest string of lights imaginable – 8 bulbs (electricity IS expensive here, so they’re really not into lots and lots of Christmas lights). Although modest to the extreme, the mug tree has certain sentimental value — Steve made it in shop when he was in high school, and he had the foresight to paint it a nice evergreen-green.
• A foot-high statue of Tlaloc (the Aztec god of rain) similarly decorated with lights;
• Four red stars hanging in the living room windows;
• One Christmas flag of a Cat Angel, blowing a horn, inelegantly displayed in the bedroom window. Looks a tiniest bit like the late, great, beloved Tsali;
• And, for the most elegant decoration of all, a gift from our first visitors in our new home – a GORGEOUS piece of green and red fabric covering the dining table (which makes all the other pieces simply pale in comparison)!

Winter nights in Berlin:  I always thought canopy beds were just a decorative, unnecessary, affectation. Having experienced a few winter nights in a flat with 13 ft. ceilings, I don’t think that any more, and have fantasies of not only a canopy, but also curtains around the bed to make the most of our own body heat. After Michael (Steve’s godfather and our official Aesthetic Advisor) went to the trouble to come to Berlin and help us figure out where to hang stuff and arrange the furniture to achieve the best practical and visually pleasing results, I fear that we’re not allowed to make such drastic changes. In fact, the mere mention of such an idea would no doubt induce such distress that it wouldn’t be necessary for him to buy a ticket – he could likely simply run across the water and be here in a matter of hours to stop us from doing something that would make the world a little bit uglier. But that won’t stop me from seriously considering a nightcap – and I’m NOT talking about something to drink. I’ve never been a hat-wearing kid of gal, but I definitely wear one when I go outdoors in the winter here, and a few more nights with freezing ears might induce me to use my self-threading sewing machine and make a couple of nightcaps for both of us. And, alas! Our heat is not sufficient! Monday we’re trekking to IKEA — regardless of weather (other than freezing rain) to get winter-weight drapes. Then the decision becomes – do I keep my drapes open and enjoy the brief moments of daylight (and run up the heating bill but save a bit on electricity to run the lights) OR do I close the drapes (and save on the heating bill, run up the electric bill, and fend off frostbite)?

And the other day, I told Noe he was going to have to help me get his snow pants on him. What I MEANT was that he was going to have to help me by sitting down and being still. He replied, ‘Is that because you are old, Grandma?’ And, of course, I said ‘Yes, Noe –Grandma is indeed old!’

Milla is picking up some English now. Today we taught her to say “Leave me alone, Grandpa.” Now she can be difficult in two languages instead of just one!!

Merry Christmas! There’s a little 7-year-old boy who lives in our building. He’s learning the trumpet and every now and then, I hear just a few notes when he practices. It always makes me smile. He’s finally playing something I recognize – Jingle Bells – which is really, really sweet.

Is it us? The winter of 2009-2010 was our last in the US, in Virginia, which had more snow than it had had in the past 100 years. This winter (2010-2011) is our first winter as Berliners; it is the coldest winter Berlin has had in 100 years. Normally it doesn’t snow until January, but it has snowed almost the whole month of December. [I must admit, though, as I’m sitting at my window typing this, I’m getting a bit of perverse pleasure out of watching some of our neighbors clean off their cars. We don’t have our cars any more – snow is just another reason we’re glad about that!] Well, I suppose the good news is that at least we have a benchmark for how bad it can be, so if we can endure this, we’re home free!