28 February 2008

The Animal Kingdom...

I really like the Animal Kingdom. Even more than the Magic Kingdom it is aimed at young children. It is less-crowded, less stressful, and has shows and playgrounds to make toddlers happy. According to our TNG on the safari, it also has more African flora and fauna than any other place in the world outside of Africa.
When Thing1 stood by this (on the way into the Bug's World show), it made me think of Planet of the Apes. Gorillas just look so wise, don't they?

Here she is exploring a cavern by a waterfall.

This was the Finding Nemo musical. It was really spectacular. The sets and music were great and the concept was interesting: the actors were holding (as one can see) the "puppet" characters above them, as they ran and danced and sang. Most interesting was that they manipulated controls on the sticks to make the character's mouths move.

Here is the petting zoo, which one arrived at by train. I really liked it. The best part was that it was not allowed to feed the animals and the rule was strictly enforced, even to the extent that when children attempted to pick up hay to feed the animals, the guides prevented them from doing so. I felt that the animals were far nicer because of this. They showed no aggressive tendencies, which is something I've always seen in petting zoos, when the animals attempt to beg their way to the most treats and can become quite pushy about it.

27 February 2008

Breakfast at Cinderella's Castle

If one visits Disney, there are certain activities one must do. The most important of these is the Character breakfast (or meal). As one quickly discovers, children love to either 1. collect autographs from the characters or 2. give them a hug (while their parents snap shots or the Disney photographers do).

The easiest way (and the one that involves the least amount of time standing in lines) is to book a Character meal. They are themed, the food is generally of a high character, and the experience is both relaxing and relatively inexpensive while allowing everyone to enjoy meeting and posing with the characters in a calm atmosphere. We hadn't realized this until last year at Anaheim when I had read something about it and done a stand-by at Minnie's breakfast (Thing1 was in a Minnie phase then). She adored it, so we have continued. In California, the Minnie breakfast was great. In Florida, the Pooh breakfast at the Crystal Palace was great fun and the food at the buffet was great.

We had wanted to do a meal at Cinderella's Castle (which has been re-modelled to have a functioning meal area and also to have a sleeping suite which is open only to winners of a "Dream" at the moment) but the wait list for that is long: the opportunity to book a meal opens exactly 6 months in advance, books within 4-5 hours of opening, and is the only character meal that actually requires advance payment (which is refundable if cancelled 24 or more hours in advance). So, when we had planned this vacation with the no-shows, we had actually booked 18 spaces. There were some happy familes out there when we released 14 spaces the week before the seating, I'm sure! And Disney did indeed credit our card within a day or two.

The girls went in costume, as did all the children that we saw. A picture with Cinderella is part of the package but Thing2 did no posing this trip: she would cry when a character approached and the wave enthusiastically and call out "Bye-bye" when they left. After the picture, we were seated upstairs and had table service as the Princesses entered and did the rounds of the tables. The girls were given Magic Wands as part of the experience while boys were given swords: it's interesting to see the development of gender expectation in Thing1 as she chose the wands rather than the swords, but then proceeded to have a sword fight with Thing2 while brandishing wand.

Here Cinderella, after having a photo op with Thing1, is graciously greeting Thing2, who was too wary of the situation to pose.

All of the Princesses did a walk through during the meal and stopped to "meet and greet". Snow White is a partiular favorite of both the girls.

Of course, the food is not an integral part of these character breakfasts (for the children. For myself, the food quality was quite good.) For Things 1 and 2 the souvenir Magic Wand was the take away.

After the meal, Cinderella met the Prince for the parade.

It may be raining, but at least it's warm...

We are sitting in our living room, listening to the rain fall and the sound of the waterfall in the pond off the rear, netted balcony. Akeela and the Bee is on TV, and it's nice. Uplifting and mellow.

The girls are knocked out in the bedrooms from swimming and I have just eaten two Skinny Cow sandwiches. We went to Costco this morning and were overwhelmed at the sheer variety and cheapness of products. Then I went to Publix and stared at all the beautiful produce. When we got back to the apartment and started unloading our purchases I couldn't help myself: I had to take pictures of what a morning's shopping here is compared to my daily pull along trolley in Berlin. I took a picture of the inside of a fully stocked refrigerator and when I get a chance to upload it I think I will place it by a picture of what a fully stocked refrigerator in Berlin is like.
In some ways it feels a bit like being at home: I am running my third load of laundry now and I'm listening to the rain. But here the screen is open and the air wafting in with the turning of the ceiling fan. It's 46F and raining in Berlin, 30F and snowing (and snowing and snowing) in Upstate NY and it's 72F and balmy here in Orlando.

I love the place we are staying--- last year I found it by googling aound and we stayed for a 4 day vacation, which is why we are here again. The Sheraton Vistana Resort (and I get no recompense for this plug) is a wonderful family stay. We have a two bedroom (one king bed, the other two twins), two bathroom (one jacuzzi) suite with a full kitchen, washer/dryer, screened balcony with a water view and out the front door is the pool and the playground. It's a 10 minute drive from Disney world, 2 minutes from Prime Outlets and the Publix, a few minutes from Downtown Disney. And it's really cheap. Amusingly enough, I could have booked it using the German Hotels.com for the same price in Euros that I booked it from Expedia.com in dollars.

So after our restless night last night (the girls were up and watching Nemo at 3 am, only to be mad as spit when there was a black out at 4) we went shopping, swimming and just relaxing today.

Tomorrow morning we have breakfast at Cinderella's castle and then we really have no plans for the rest of the week. I expect that we will visit the Animal Kingdom one day and the rest of the time will be spontaneous. It's a beautiful thing.

26 February 2008

We made it...

16 hours of travel and a few more at the end and we are here in Orlando. I'm watching Elton John on CNN, reading e-mail, drinking a lime diet Coke and just being exhausted at almost 4 am our time. More in the morning.

22 February 2008


Just in time for vacation the German has been told that we are extended again. Another three months here. I am so pleased. We are so happy here right now. And it's not that I have acquired the Teutonic resistance to change but that it is so difficult to overcome that resistance when we need to change. So the Things remain in their school, I get a 2 month course break and re-start with my same group, I get to actually use the gym I have signed up for, and I am applying to be Thing1's school parent. And we get to enjoy Berlin in the spring and perhaps even longer. Time to retrieve the bikes from the in-law's!

20 February 2008

Off on Urlaub...what shall we bring back?

Well, we are starting to get into the European tradition of taking vacations. It's been about a year since we last took a 4 day vacation and now we are off to take a two week one! This is actually the back half of our ticket here and therefore the last time we expect to be flying business class for a while (boo hoo). We are flying out of Duesseldorf to Orlando. Why out of Ddorf, you ask? Well, because we had expected to be in Duesseldorf by now. Why to Orlando, then? Because both my brothers had promised to meet us at Disneyworld with the children , the parents were supposed to be in Boca for the sun and we would have a wonderful family reunion.

The best-laid plans... My mother has been ill, and therefore won't be there. Both my brothers, for separate reasons, have decided that they cannot make it. Our family reunion has turned a little lonely. So we decided to extend the vacation a week, spend the expected time at DisneyWorld (absolute Heaven on Earth for Thing1) and then go to upstate NY to see the family for a few days. We will fly into White Plains airport, which will give us a chance to stop by Thing1's most-missed friend to play for an hour or so, give me a chance to say hello to good friends and to check out the new siding we put on the house after we had already rented it out and left, and the German a chance to run by Costco.

Of course, we expect to go with very empty suitcases and to buy clothing at the outlets in Orlando. The German plans on getting me an iPod, himself a MacBook (although he should look at the cheaper Sony, I think) and I have a zoom lens (back oredered before I left) waiting for me.

In addition, I have about 45 books waiting at my parent', which I will be packing up and sending in an M-bag to myself. I expect to also send, by post: brown sugar, chocolate chips, molasses, boxes of baking soda, vanilla extract, Nyquil and children's Motrin. I have acknowledged that I cannot send myself gefilte fish and will therefore simply eat it every day with hot white horseradish. I will do the same with Special K and Kashi (as we are getting close to running out of our supply here :-( ). I'll bring back a huge tub of Balmex and as many diapers and Costco wetwipes (non-alcohol, non-allergenic) as we can handle.

So, what else should I bring back/send to myself?

18 February 2008

Sick again...

Besides, we are sick again. Strep throat, went to the Dr. on Saturday, she prescribed antibiotics for myself (on day 4) and the German (day1). Not contagious by Sunday, bt still sucking back the lidocaine throat drops (I had gone into an Apotheke on Thursday and said "Can I have the strongest medicine for Halsschmerzen that doesn't make me ill from the taste?" and the ones I got are quite good.

It's a small world after all, part two.

So I mentioned that we had visited some friends in Dahlem. The smallness of the world is proven because we know this family from our small yown in New York: they lived in our small cul-de-sac neigborhood. K had noticed the German on the subway and mentioned it to his wife; the second time, he said "Hello" and of course it was the German. We had totally forgotten that they were ex-pat Germans returning to Berlin because we had been so focused on D'dorf. We went for Kafe und Kuchen (a very nice quark cheese cake, I need to ask M for the recipe) and to see their new house (very nice and with a lovely backyard, complete with a large red fox who visited while we were looking at it!).

Then we took all the children (their three and our two) out for a walk at Domaine Dahlem. It was komische that last time we visited we were just minutes away from them. They have a daughter a few years older than Thing1 and a son a few years older than that and he was just wonderful playing with her, getting her to see all sorts of things and being careful not to lose her while running around. The oldest daughter is a teen-ager who helps with the horses and gave the kids a bareback ride on the horse she cares for: they were ecstatic! The smile on Thing1's face was priceless. She had a great time. Thing 2 got a bit of running about in and then conked out in the stroller and slept through the rest of the walk and the train ride back.

I had a ticket for a (very) late movie at the Berlinale but we were not able to get any babysitter for the weekend, I couldn't find anyone else who wanted to go, and I just bagged it.

17 February 2008

Another German Stereotype fulfilled...

So today we were dashing off to make a visit to friends in Dahlem, which is in itself a very funny story for another post. So the Things are dressed in parkas, and Thing2 is running down the street with her usual lack of gloves and with her hat hanging down (it's a constant struggle) when I note the German is speaking with an older German man. They seem quite congenial and after they parted I asked my German what the discussion was about. Seems the passer-by felt that he needed to help us out by saying "Your daughter needs to wear a hat." My husband answered, "That would be our business, I believe" to which the passer-by reponded, "If you can't figure it out by yourself, then I need to tell you." I personally would have handed the man Thing 2's gloves at that point and suggested he try himself, but the German is more polite and just ignored him.

It's amusing because just yesterday the German came home and told me that while walking down the street he saw a man leave a soda bottle by a tree next to his Audi preparatory to driving off and that the German stopped, stared at the driver and said "I assume you want to pick up your bottles", provoking the driver to ask if the German watches out for the whole world. He said, "Yes, I do", the man picked up his bottle and drove away.

Not quite the same thing, but perhaps in the neighborhood.

16 February 2008

It's a small world after all.

Just finished watching Lost. All the scenes with Sayid in Berlin made me feel so, I don't know, in the center of the universe.

15 February 2008

Back to thoughts of addiction...

I have known for a very long time that I have an addictive personality. I started smoking quite late- at 19- and was addicted for 15 years (I gave it up for the German). I haven't had a cigarette since I quit because I'm afraid that if I did I would start smoking again.

Sometimes I can displace one addiction with another: I am realizing that my new interest in blogging is interfering with my reading addiction. Usually, I read: Newsweek, Businessweek, The Economist, Forbes, Money, Publisher's Weekly, Fortune, Jewishweek, US News & World REport, Babytalk, and a few other magazines, as well as a goodly number of romances, science fiction/fantasy, children's lit, gardening books, travel books, and cookbooks (some of those genres overlap and not saying that I do more than fantasize, in particular in re cooking).

First, the children got in the way. Losing my daily train commute to work took out a 90 minute per day period when I could read without interruption. Here the 3 hours+ per day German course and daily shopping (with trolley) get in the way. Now my BW and NW are piling up in the corner- I'm about two weeks behind. Also, instead of reading some of the more serious books on my to-be-read shelf/pile, I am busy seeking out widgets and trying to figure out link-backs. Ex-pat blogs have, to a great extent, displaced my travel reading (although I am in the midst of, and enjoying the travel/memoir/cookbook Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunee). But the mark of the true addict is that I would rather give up sleeping than not get my reading in for the day. The amount seems to vary, but there is a certain amount that I need to do or I just won't go to sleep. And I still need to shoe horn going to the gym back into my life or I will start fearing my physical (I already fear swimsuit season).

Anyone else have the addiction?

14 February 2008

A Blogging Addiction?

So Diane over in Martinis for Two is asking whether she is addicted and whether that addiction requires, perhaps, an intervention. An interesting comment, as my Reader is at 97 blogs and counting.

So, right now I am blogging (and reading blogs) while there is a load of laundry in the washer and another in the dryer (there is one waiting to be folded). I am finishing my 2nd cup of coffee, the kids are at school, the dishwasher is cooling preparatory to being unloaded. I am watching Moonlight on the other laptop.In fact, hold on, this is a good scene... ah, I'm back.

Well, I'm new to blogging (and can anyone tell me how to make links through that connection at the bottom? And how do track backs work?) but I have been part of an apa for over 25 years (since I was in high school, for those counting) and the others in that apa have been some of my closest friends and confidantes throughout my life. The difference is really immediacy (in both directions), expense (blogging is far cheaper if one already has the connection), and the ability to incorporate cool widgets and photos.

So, perhaps this blogging and its equivalents are a type of addiction, but the I have been addicted to reading for almost 40 years (back of the toothpaste tube, anyone?) and I have come to terms. On the other hand, blogging is beating out my German HW right now, so perhaps I should check the self-destructive tendency, pull out my notebook, and get going on that... bis Spaeter!

What should I call this post?

So yesterday was an interesting one. I met a woman from my German class at Alexaplatz and we went to Prenzlauer Berg to 1. grab a coffee and 2. for me to visit the St. George's Bookshop . Y is also in Berlin with her husband, a German, being detailed to a project here for a 3 year contract. (Parenthetically, it's been great that another adult joined my class, because sometimes being surrounded by kids 20 years younger can get a little old, although they are all very nice.)

We found a cute little place, sat down and put our feet up on bags of coffee beans and started to chat. Both of our dad's had similar life experiences and I was enjoying learning about her life, when an older (perhaps late 50's?) German man asked her if we were American. She said that she was Israeli and I American and the gentleman than asked me who would win: Obama or Clinton. In my poor German I pointed out that McCain was also running, but I told him who I had voted for in the primary and then I added that of the three current candidates, McCain, Clinton and Obama, I felt confident that any would be a reasonable President.

At that point, the gentleman agreed, and added that Bush was like Hitler. My response was, no , Bush might be stupid, but he is not a mass murderer. We then cheerfully wished each other a good day and waved a happy Tschuss to each other as he left.

After he left, Y and I discussed the conversation. She felt that he should have responded more sensitively, particularly after she had mentioned that she was Israeli. I felt that it really went to the point that many Germans realy have not come to terms with their complicity in the Shoah. That anyone could , in all seriousness, equate Bush with Hitler is just ridiculous and devaluing to the murder of millions as well as perhaps making the person who uses the comparison feel better about his collective guilt. The man drinking coffee behind us, German, perhaps in his 30's, chuckled. I turned to him and asked if he thought what I was saying was funny (perhaps I was feeling a bit confrontational) (and also perhaps I was being a bit snarky and sarcastic) and he said No, he absolutely agreed with me. So perhaps there is an age shift.

It reminds me of my mother's neighbor at home, who is an older German, old enough to have been alive and knowledeable and perhaps complicit in WWII, and how he once said to my parents that what Americans did to Germans in POW camps was comparable to what the Nazis did to Jews in the death and labor camps. And he said that, knowing that my father is a death camp survivor. An interesting pathology.

On that note, I was reading in Brit in Germany about the current DeutscheBahn exhibition on its role in the mass murder of millions: a necessary part that created the ability to carry out "The Final Solution" and a very profitable one to the Bahn (they charged per head). The exhibition produced a bit of a stir and I saw a newsbite on BBC so I had gone over to Potsdamer Platz to see it. Once there, I needed to ask direction, because the actual exhibit is both very small and well screened off with the screens on which the copies of documents are placed.

Of course, I am not German fluent, so I could only scan it. But I found the "banality of evil" moving while also considering that once again I think Germans are very kind to themselves in not inflicting the actual scenes of horror upon themselves.

And after this, when I went to St. George's, I picked up 4 books on the Shoah. Was it related to this? Perhaps not. But perhaps I find myself emphasizing more the "need to know" when I see the world around me pretending not to.

11 February 2008

The view from my kitchen window...

This is a meme from Lulu's Bay in Cairo

She asked what we could see out of our kitchen windows. Since my apartment is in a traditional style building, built in a square around a central courtyard, my kitchen looks into the center, which is not so interesting.

So I have included as well a bit of the view from the front balcony :-)

That cobbler...

This is the third time that I've made this cobbler from the Pioneer Woman cooks: it's just great. And, with a convection oven, less than 30 minutes from opening a cabinet door until the first spoonful.

08 February 2008

Sick again...

This time Thing1 came home from kita with a swollen eye. I've never seen it in person before, but as the eye seemed to grow worse and then pussy, the thought "conjunctivitis" passed through my head. Gave the German a quick call, the dr. another and we dashed the two girls to the doctor just at closing time. Although only Thing1 had a noticeable infection, by the time Thing2 was done crying at the indignity of being examined by a dr. we determined that she
was starting a case of pink eye as well. The dr kindly prescribed enough for all four of us, just in case the German and I are not able to beat back the illness before being infected ourselves.

The annoying part is that the girls were sent home with a note stating not that Thing1 was ill, but that Thing2 had had a durchfall and that she should see a dr before returning to kita. Now, Thing2 has been falling in and out of a cold since we got to Berlin and we have taken her to the doctor three times before this. In each case the dr has said, just as would a dr at home, that the infection was viral not bacterial, and that unless a superinfection ensued (as happened to me) antibiotics were not to be used nor required. But the kita keeps saying that she is ill. So this time the dr wrote quite a detailed note telling them that: no fever, no ear trouble, and a runny nose with occassional durchfall (perhaps due to food at the kita) is not an illness and that a further note should not be required. Amd, of course, we will be calling them first thing Monday to tell them about the conjunctivitis as Thing1 was exposed on Thursdsay and therefore everyone in her class must be getting ill today. Ah well. The teachers are great, and I am glad that they care.

A room of my own...

Today was the first day that I skived off class since I started. Fridays are half day for the girls and today was a reschedule of a class that my teacher had needed. I just couldn't bear to drop the girls off, go to class, and pick them up without even a minute to myself.

So I stayed home, watched Supernatural and Smallville, wrote my apa, read blogs and realized that although I love Berlin, although the apartment is great, although the German is tremendously helpful, sometimes I just want to be alone, in the daylight, drinking coffee. It was a great morning.

04 February 2008

Strange goings on...

Ok, I'm just exploring how to add photos to this blog, so here is a snap of the bathroom in one of our favorite Greek restaurants off Savigny Platz here in Berlin . When the German told me about this, I needed to get a snap of it. It's even more exciting than it appears, because as he told me (but did not demonstrate) this is an interactive rather than observation, game. That is, one can score a "goal" in this urinal. Pretty cool, huh?

Anyway, this is pretty late- just woke up and thought I would check the Superbowl before going back to sleep...

01 February 2008

Ahh... the Weekend is here

Not to say that the week per se is difficult, compared to when I was working, taking care of a house (and one which needed lots of help:-)) and the family, but here--- ahh. Feet up, the Things are in bed (and neither in our room!), the cat is on the bed, the German and I are tapping away at our separate laptops and on the third (yes, I know, there's a work laptop involved) we are watching Lost. This is the two hour sort-of reprise and then there appear to be two more 1 hour episodes from Thursday to watch either later or tomorrow. I also have Victor/Victoria and Black Dahlias dvred for when we have time.

My usual week runs, children up, fed, dressed and taken to the bus pick-up by 8:30. Then grab a cup of coffee and go shopping for food (generally every other day) as the fridge and freezer are small and I need to shop with a trolley. I usually run a load or two of laundry every day (also small washer and although efficient, 2 hours per load) and then a dryer load (it's vented inside, so I need to empty out the water a few times per load, which it took a while for me to figure out!).

Then German class from M-R, ending at 2:15-30 and then pick the Things up at 2:45. Friday is no class, but also a half school day, so we generally go for a walk at the Zoo after Thing2 takes a nap.

Then we return to the apartment, the Things play/and or watch cartoons while I make dinner. In true German style, I am now baking every other day and in between chocolate chip cookies I have been making this cobbler from The Pioneer Woman Cooks.

The reason I need to do so much baking and cooking is that it is nigh on impossible to find either prepared foods or baking mixes that don't have an inordinate amount of both fat and dairy. I made a Mohn streusel from a mix and it needed 300g of fat and 200cc of milk, but when I made it from scratch, neither were needed.

Current plans for the weekend are: Aquarium visit for the kids, starting to put together the 2007 taxes, maybe figuring out how to run the connection between the laptop and the TV, and getting to the gym.

Now I have the last in writing, I hope that will be my motivation to get started before Monday!