31 August 2008

This is a small world... and car buying advice...

The bus for the girls' kita starts tomorrow (and although I will really miss dropping them off and picking them up, I won't miss the 150 minutes I spent every day doing so).

We hadn't heard from the company director as to whether we would have the same driver or start time, so we decided that we would aim to be ready at 8 am and then call Herr F.

We just got the call from Herr F, and he was waving at us from his window. I knew that he lived across the street, but I didn't realize he was directly across and 1 floor down! (His building is 1 storey lower). Sort of funny, but also sort of freaky (the German just closed the curtains).

By the way, any one know about buying cars here? Should I try to bring one from the States (for personal use, on a short term contract, not for re=sale?). Or should I use a re-importer from Greece or elsewhere in the EU? I can't quite stomach paying 3x the US price for a crappy used station wagon or minivan, and I think we will be needing one this year.


I have just finished reading the first two Anna Strong books by Jeanne C. Stein (look over in the sidebar on left for the books I've been reading- just started the list in a new format last month). The protagonist is a bail bondsman who is attacked in the first novel by one of her clients and is infected with vampirism. The rest of the book (and the next) are about how she deals with this involuntary transformation and how the new elements in her life interact with the old.

I enjoyed them both and was glad to see that there are two more out there. Since I generally order my books from Amazon.com, send them to my parent's house, and then ship them over when I visit home, I hadn't gotten around to ordering the next two yet (I don't expect to visit the States again until May).

Imagine my surprise at the coincidence that Amber was interviewing Ms. Stein over at her blog and she is running a contest giving away either one of the four Anna Strong books or a set of magnets of the four book covers. Check it out.

The German Health Care System

Now that I have thoroughly checked out the health care system for humans (from the inside), it's clearly time for Fate to force me to check the system out for klein Tiere, or my poor cat Felix.

I haven't really mentioned Felix, but obvioulsy he is a part of the family. When we first started considering moving to Germany, we had three cats. My oldest, Petronius, his younger brother (really) Sebastian, and then Felix, a stray that the German and I had forcibly adopted in 1998. (By forcibly, I mean that we had first inveigled him into our garage, then into the basement- it's tough not to have  garage in the winter in upstate NY- and then, by dint of motorcycle gloves and leather jacket forced him into a cage and thence to the veteribarian where he lost some vital parts (his manhood), some accessories (a terrible case of worms), more body parts (many teeth removed) and after many shots came home to be with his new family).

Sebastian stayed with us through several years of diabetes and insulin injections and then a full year of sub-q fluids and care, but left us three years ago. I think Thing1 still remembers him. When she was colicky, his (extra long) tail was the only thing that would make her laugh (that and the theme song of Jeopardy! as hummed by me.

Petronius, my best boy, found his door into summer a year and a half ago We all miss him very much. I used to say that because he was a kitten alone with me for some time (I would sneak him into motels when skiing, coughing to cover his mewing) that he always thought of me as his wife, where Sebastian thought of m as Mama and perhaps Felix regards me as provider of warmth and food and perhaps, stroking and brushing. But Petronius and Sebastian were mine from long before I met the German. They were part of my single, Wall street life.

Felix is an adoptee from my coupledom. He loves the German as Papa, as much if not more than he loves me. His adoption was the first thing that the German and I really did as a couple and we have had him for practically the same period of time that we have known each other. We have never been certain of how old he is, malnutrition and no teeth have always rendered it a guess, but we assume somewhere about the 14 year range (10 years with us).

In that time he has had pancreatitis, worms, transient diabetes, basal cell carcinoma, heart murmur, chronic cough due to asthma and allergies and a few others. We micro-chipped him to bring him over and we had a scare this past winter when he had some growth on his ears and we thought we might need to amputate, but all worked out.

This latest ailment, what seems to be a liver problem, was really sudden. A lack of bodily functions and no interest in his food made me think that he might have a urinary tract infection, but a liver problem is far worse. So he's been in to the vet three times this week (we found a vet with late hours who is also open on the whole weekend- the latter was a pleasant surprise!), had blood tests, had a catheter implanted in his arm and been hydrated and given intravenuous antibiotics.

Because this is a costly process (and will be more costly if we need to do a liver biopsy tomorrow), we brought home a bag of fluids and the other materials to do the hydration and injections ourselves. This is the first time that I've done intravenuous and it is very, very slow compared to sub-cutaneous. But the vet says that it is better for him and I think he was much happier here at home. She also seemed surprised that we would want to do this, which I find surprising.

However, I think it's a good practice and as long as I get the German or C to translate for me while I am there, I am happy. I will also point out that costly as this has been, it has cost about 1/3 of what it would be in the States. I say this as one who has been down this road before. And this road has only one terminus, of course. I will be sad when we reach it.

29 August 2008

Obama's Speech

I'm not going to retell what Obama said. He's a very good speaker, of course, and reminds me of Bill Clinton in his ease of speaking and his lightness.

I want to think aloud about a few of the points that his speech made clear to me.

I hadn't realized how unhappy I have been with the US. Of course, in a foreign country, I try not to discuss politics, particularly as I am unhappy with same basic structures within my country.

Particularly the social ones. But that's not something I want to talk about here: the whole dirty linen concept and frankly, I resent people feeling that they have the right to knock my country off the cuff and without any sense of empathy.

(In an aside, yesterday I was simply walking down my street, carrying groceries. A woman stopped me, asked me to take her photo (not sure why, my street is not so pretty) and then after asking where I was from, told me she likes NY but won't visit because she doesn't line US politics. But that should change and won't I be happy. Now that may be so, but I don't need a stranger telling me that!)

But as I listened to Obama and heard my basic beliefs (and they were basic, not specific) being iterated, I realized that I am so relieved. So happy. The tears poured down my face (and I was glad to be alone) as I realized that the way I feel is not outre, that a belief that all Americans should be at least as well off as the least of the EU citizens is not insane (or Communist, as my brother told me).

I am the "Republican who finally felt able to pick up the Democratic ballot" that Obama mentioned (though I registered as a Democrat two years ago). When I listened to Bill Clinton's speech yesterday (I have taped them and watched them the following moring) all I could think was that this could have been Bill Clinton: we didn't need to wait this long to have a President who was intelligent and with the concerns of the modern world. But Bill Clinton threw it away and I am still angry at him for that and the divisiveness that his behaviour allowed to build.

Let us all pray, or hope if we don't pray, that the US can, in our lifetimes, have a social structure that ensures that all have health care, that all can be educated, that all can be housed, that all can be fed. That the structure of the family (and by that I mean a real maternity/parental leave policy is in place) can be assured, that parental leave shall be followed by access to safe childcare and that integration of citizens is a right.

I may knock Germany's food (it is so, so bad) and I may be horrified by what I consider to be tolerated racism and xenophobia, but the social system of this county, and its integration policies, are so much better than those in the US that I can only pray that we get there one day.

Don't forget to vote! Vote From Abroad

28 August 2008

Obama nominated by acclamation.

How cool. I'm so glad that Senator Clinton called for acclamation. What a great example and what a great move for unity.

I appreciate both the recording of the significant amount of support that she received and also that her's was the voice calling for an end to the conflict and bitterness.

27 August 2008

Footpain revisited.

I just got back from the Facharzt fuer Orthopaedie and the diagnosis was simple: apparently I have a "spread foot" and that can lead to a heel spur. The heel spur part I understand. And clearly my self diagnosis of plantar fasciitis was correct, as that condition leads to heel spurs. Obviously, I needed to attack this issue earlier and faster. Probably being a tourist in Denver (on my feet for 12-16 hours a day, doing walking tours) and taking the kids to and from school by foot (and train and bus) every day aren't helping.

So tomorrow I am off to have custom insoles fitted and I have a prescription for loads and loads of ibupophen.

Meanwhile, on the way back from the doctor I found a Mema supermarket around the backside of my block and picked up some mushrooms and Johannisbeeren and smelly cheese and frozed brotchen. The latter two I had with my coffee (and how did I live so long without a decent machine and a metal filter?) the former will make Chicken Marsala tonight and the berries are to snack upon- I love them. Along with red Federweiserwein and quark, Johannisbeeren are the things that I will miss from Germany.

26 August 2008

What a day it was.

Monday started with a bang.... actually, a crackle.

Thing2 had come upstairs to awaken us and ask for milk and when the German went downstairs to get some, he found our (new, although immaterial at this point) coffeepot melting in a smear of toxic smoke on the stove. Seems Thing2 had taken advantage of my relaxed state of caution (due to her not going near the stove for the last 8 months) and decided to turn it on.

That produced a flurry of activity. While we were airing the toxic smoke out of the apartment, dousing the flames on the towel and the cofeepot (and melted plate), Thing2 then decided we were being too active and she should go upstairs again, just carrying some bears and other toys. Then she fell down the stairs. Our stairs are steep and hard (terra cotta) and this is something that I had been worried about. It's why we gate them when we put them upstairs.

Man. Then a bugbite on the cheek and we were all set for the day.

After I dropped the girls at school, I stopped and got (another) a replacement coffee pot and came home, cleaned it, and had a great big mug. Man. I was ready for that. I can't understand why I waited so long to replace the silly little Mr. Coffee 4 cup I brought along (by mistake- leaving the 12 cup Braun in storage) with a regular, plug into the wall compatible machine. I also bought a new battery for my little Sony camera and a charger with adaptor (which I was grateful for, as the first seller said I would need to wait three weeks after ordering a replacement!). I blew the original in the Westin in Denver in some unknown manner (it was an American charger!).

Mnday evening we went for home-made pizza to Yelli's place, with the Things all excited about going to b's house. The food was wonderful- it was the best pizza that we have had in the 12 months since we got here. And home-made crepes for dessert! I'm afraid we can't match the food quality at our house, although we strive to dull the senses with alcohol to hide that fact.

Yelli showed me her Wii and I am overcome with envy. Maybe I will put off my freezer purchase and get a Wii instead? Does anyone know whether I can use a US-Wii in Germany and what I would need (if anything) to do so?

Then, as we were packing up the girls so B could go to sleep, Thing2 took a header directly into the lovely, altbau, extremely hard door. What a day she had. No vomitting, so we guessed no concussion and home we went.

Tuesday has to be better!

25 August 2008

Where is Summer?

64F in Berlin and 86F at home. Where is summer? We had two weeks of hot and very humid weather surrounded by cold and clammy and raining. I could never commit to living permanently in the climate that Berlin has.

Today is at least clear, bright and cold (so far)as opposed to the last many days of grateful that it's not actually raing on my head.

20 August 2008

An exegesis on Plantar Fasciatis and foot pain

I.ve been sufferring pain in my left foot for over 10 weeks now. It has gotten better and then worse and better and worse and each time the better has been less and the worse has been more until the pain in my foot has actually caused me to both limp and to develop a pain in my hip from all the favoring that I am giving my foot. Thing1 asked me last week whether she could have a mama that had a good foot and could run faster.
I've been ignoring this because, frankly, I had larger problems to deal with.
That's over with and now I need to deal with this problem and I just haven't been certain what to do.

Should I get accupuncture? There's a Chinese massage place nearby that has fussmassage that sounds workable? Or is there a specific doctor I should go to? Is it a podiatrist or an internist and how do I find one?

I had been thinking that this is plantar fasciatis, a problem that I have had in the past when wearing sneakers without adequate anti-pronation and stabilization (I love me some Saucony Grid-Stabils when I  ran) but I haven't been jogging since 2005, so that seemed strange. But on doing more research, and even though stretching has not helped, I think that it is and that it is a result of this being the longest time that I have ever gone without wearing sneakers or other orthotically controlled footware. Germany is so much more formal in terms of footwear that I have been wearing black shoes and believing that my feet had adequate support but I think that I have been wrong.

I dug a pair of Mephisto walking shoes out today and by the end of the day, even after doing a lot of walking (the kita school buses don't start running until next month so I am taking the girls to school and picking them up every day: 35 minutes each way, 4x a day,with a walk to the train, transfer to bus then walk again) my feet felt better than they did at the beginning of the day.

I think I will see how tomorrow in the Mephistos feels and perhaps go for a foot massage since the pain is no longer piercing: any one have any other advice or experience?

18 August 2008

I'm back in Berlin. Catching up, part 1.

And I really need to fill in some of the blank spaces in my blogging, but I'm a bit afraid that if I wait until I start uploading pictures and getting ready to blog chronologically, I will be totally out of the habit and never start again.

So, a quick run through.
  • A 27 hour (in total) journey from Duesseldorf to upstate NY, left at 5 am German time, arrived at our final airport at 22:45, got there pretty whipped and late,Friday night but was up by 6 am Saturday morning to visit a close friend.
  • Discovered that a friend's storage unit had not been cleaned out, as had been promised to the both of us, and therefore we would need to take care of it for him, as he couldn't rely on anyone else.
  • Did a bit of shopping, picked up: 2 small coffee grinders, 2 microplanes, a small mandolin, a goodly amount of coffee (from Dunkin' Donuts. For some strange reason, the Berlin outlets have not been receiving their bean shipments over the last several months and I'm not fond of either Starbucks beans or German brands. We have Jamaica Blue for special, but I like DD for regular and decaf.) 
  • Mom gave us a great dinner of chicken, corn on the cob, and berry pie (we made two crusts together as I needed practice on my pie crust). I complain all the time about the miniature chickens in Germany: I don't understand how anyone can serve chicken to a family here as they are so small. And gosh, do I miss real corn on the cob, fresh and juicy and still sweet as the sugar has not yet converted to starch.
  • Spent some time visiting with the parents and a brother and his wife and kids, whom we miss dearly. Picked up wine boxes and started re-packing the piles of books that had been accumulating for months in my room, as the orders from Amazon came rolling in. These books and the others that I accumulated (as well as the magazines I purchased) were all packed into three wine boxes in preparation for the packing into M-bags and then being shipped to us in Berlin. I know it seems crazy, but it is far more cost effective (and swifter) for me to get my books this way than to bring them into Germany from the UK. While we were getting wine boxes, we saw my mom's car and 
  • We also visited the Apple Store: finally decided on what laptop would be the replacement for the German's US work computer, that I have been using for the last year:  I chose the MacBook. I was tempted by the Air--- it's just so cute. But no internal DVD/CR-Rom drive made it a non-starter for me. Also, it's slow. I stared at the MacBook and the MacBook Pro for a while, and then I decided on the MacBook. Why, you ask? I really wanted a small laptop. I have a Dell with a 21" screen and that's the reason that I have been using it as a TV transmitter and carrying the German's lenovo around instead. I craved the lightness and ease of handling. I did get the faster processor, upgrade the memory and buy it in black, though, and it feels sleek and sophisticated. Great key action. I am having a real learning curve on it, though, as my last MacOS was 7.5 and this is Leopard. I have really gotten used to a right mouse button and I need to start understanding how to access those actions with a single button. I got an extended AppleCare warranty and Office (though it's not installed yet) and I will be playing with this more in the future.
  • On Sunday up at 6 am gain,visited my friend again. Spent more time with brother and family, did a bit more shopping. Went to Barnes and Nobles and bought scrapping mags, digital photograpy mags, and some scrapping materials. Went out to dinner at a really great Thai-Sushi place where the Thai spiciness gave me tingles and the tuna te-taki melted in my mouth. I have a photo of my dad's sashimi appetizer I will need to add later: it was amazing. How can such a tiny town as that have such great sushi, Indian, Vietnamese and Thai where here in Berlin I can find only one decent Tibetan place (in terms of ethnic restaurants?)
  • Monday up at 6 am again to get ourselves down to Westchester county to visit my other brother and his wife and kids, and to visit our dear friends and their daughter, Thing1's best friend. We ran into serious traffic on the Thruway and wound up taking the scenic route through the mountains: lovely, but longer. We were driving my dad's car, so at least we had a navi to help us out. 
  •  When we got to P's house, she had an enormous pile of great clothes and shoes to hand down to the girls. That's been such a life saver for us, reducing the amount of clothes we really need to buy for the girls to almost nothing.  I chatted books with the girls for a while (V was reading Breaking Dawn and my copy was in the car;)). We packed them up, and then headed out to have a late breakfast/ early lunch with my brother A, his ex, P and their two girls. I'm sorry that we weren't able to see more of them, they are really growing so quickly.
  • Then on to Costco, where we grabbed more wet wipes (those things are da bomb), ink and toner cartridges, some CF and SD cards, some cherries (Rainier and Bing) for my Dad and thence to J's. We drove by our house and saw the kids and the tenant by the fence playing, but with our limited time we drove by: more important to spend time with J and A and E. We spent a lovely evening with them and wound up not leaving until 22:00, leaving poor A exhausted behind us. We took away the fresh and beautiful gingerbread cookies that J made for us, as well as enjoying a wonderful grilled steak dinner. Home around 2 am.
  • Up late on Tuesday, at 8 am today! We reserved a U-haul and then had breakfast with the parents and friend L. Dealt with the paperwork at the storage facility, cut the lock and then the German dropped me off for my long awaited ( a year now) hair cut and hi-lites. Mmm. I fell asleep in the chair for a minute. Then I picked up some shoes for the girls at Stride-Rite (black with sparkly sequins for the family wedding when we get back to Germany, pink with flowers and lights for school play shoes), got passport photos taken (for the replacement permanent passport that I need to get as soon as I'm back in Berlin) and then the German picked me up with a full U-Haul. We then headed to our own storage unit and spent several hours going through B's things. Things we felt that he might want or had sentimental meaning we put in our own unit, then we repacked items for the dump and the salvation army. That took us until dark and we met the parents and L again for dinner at the same Thai-sushi place: it was so good that we wanted to eat there again. fter dinner we moved the truck back to the unit, finihed sorting, then left it there and went back to my parents again and chatted late into the evening with dad while we packed and weighed our suitcases and packed and sorted the books and hand me downs and other materials. All the clothing more than 2 years out for the girls was re-sorted and re-packed to stay in our storage unit and be shipped in a year or two.
  • Up bright and early on Wednesday morning. Raced to get the truck and dump the dumpables. then we headed to my brother's to give him the donatables and to kiss everyone good-bye. Then dropped the truck off (what kind of vacation would it be if we didn't rent U-Haul and tote that bale on it?) and back to my parent's to get the boxes (three of books, another, 45 lb box of hand me downs) and head to the Post Office. I must say that, considering the mailing prices even when using M-Bags we might, next time, be better off just shipping a partial pallet to ourselves and adding a few boxes of consumables to the lot. We will certainly think about it before then.
  • After the post office went back to have a cup of coffee and chat and hang with the folks before my dad went in for a cataract operation (went very well) and we needed to be dropped for our flight to Denver (with a short lay-over in Cincinnati/North Kentucky).
At the airport, we gave L a kiss good-bye and went to deal with the lovely Delta check in process. They really want you to use the computer kiosks to ckeck in, but since we hadn't been able to check in on-line (a consistent problem based, I think, on our mied passports and our travels ending in Germany. We passed through some experimental security equipment and had a relaxing wait for our plane. We volunteered to be bumped, but weren't taken up on the offer (boo).

I'll pick up on the 2nd and 3rd parts of vacation tomorrow.

07 August 2008

Catching up. Berlin to Duesseldorf to New York to Denver pt1

It's 5:30 Denver time and I am still running on NY time so I just hopped out of the shower and am sitting down in my (HeavenlyTM) bathrobe. I took a heavenly shower and slept in a heavenly bed on heavenly sheets and know what: it's all true These are heavenly compared to what one gets in Germany. I think my US imported bed is pretty good, but these sheets are fantastic. This is the first time I have stayed in a Westin and it's pretty nice. Strangely enough, this is basically our honeymoon... the longest time the German and I have spent alone together since we got married, as I started a new job the week after our marriage six years ago, and then the kids came along. I kept saying that we would honeymoon when I could go scuba diving, but I am happy enough to take any time now.
This is also, by far, the longest time we have ever left the children (next longest a few months ago, for two nights). They seem to be loving it: Thing1 was answering our calls completely in German by our second call (the girls are with Oma and Opa). They are seeing their cousins every day, swimming in the lake, and becoming fluent in German overnight, it seems. I'm not certain they will want us back.
It has been a busy past week. First, I had an emergency quick hospitalization in Germany. All is well, it was just a little stressful. Since the admitting registrar was completely unfamiliar with non-EU insurance (the German's company has international insurance), she was flustered and things got a little bogged down. Luckily, the process continued while he left work, took Thing2 from the babysitter and joined me at the hospital. It was a good experience, even with that hiccup. All the staff and doctors I came into contact with were warm and helpful, and I found their pseudo-British accents comforting to my Anglophilic ears.

After recovery, I stuck around for long enough to make them happy and then I went home with the German and the girls. That seemed to surprise the staff, as I was told that I could stay for two days. But since we were leaving for the States in 2 days, I wasn't very interested. Maybe next time, if I have a chance to line up the grandparents for babysitting... One hopes, of course, not to have unexpected medical emergencies.

Before hitting the doctor (and then the hospital), I had been at American Services and my emergency passport was initiated- the German picked it up Wednesday morning. Awful photo.

Then the drive Thursday night to NRW and the drive Friday morning to Duesseldorf to leave for upstate New York. That was a 27 hour trip, in total, what with needing to actually drive to the airport, get there early enough and then an 8+ hour layover in Atlanta (the small upstate town we were going to doesn't have that many flights from Atlanta, and we had missed one by 15 minutes). We were an hour late leaving and got about 23:00 local time. Since we had driven from Berlin the night before and gotten only 4 hours of sleep, we were pretty tired. We did see Kung Fu Panda, Made of Honor and Nim's Island and I enjoyed them all.

We had ordered special meals (I was the Asian Vegetarian High Spice and the German was the Muslim) and I can tell you that mine was tastiest (and spiciest) and his was also very good. I found it amusing and telling that the (German) stewardess asked which of the meals was for which, and when we said that either was fine, mentioned that she had not thought our choice was for religious reasons. That is so intrusive, that I can only smile and say that I was not surprised that a German could say that. I told her it was to avoid pork in the meals and she said that Delta did not serve pork and I informed her that domestically she was incorrect. None of us could understand why an airline would serve a foodstuff that is so offensive to so many, but that's Delta for you;).

Home (that is, at my parents) by 23:30 and to bed asap. That was Friday August 1st and it was a very long day!