31 December 2010

What I am reading: December 2010

  1. Poison Pen
  2. Written in Blood by Sheila Lowe: I hate to start the month off on a downer, but I just couldn't get through these books. I tried several times, I skimmed through them, I re-started and re-started and I just don't like them. I'm not certain if it's the protagonist (Claudia Rose, handwriting expert)or the victims (abused child turned blackmailer and child abuser/sex trafficker)(more likely both), but I give up: life's too short and these go back to mom unread. (DTM)
  3. Death by Sudoku
  4. Murder by Numbers (Jan 2008): I started these books a while ago, and wound up putting the first one down. I found myself unable to get into these mysteries because I couldn't work up any real enthusiasm about the focal issue of sudoku puzzles (the protagonist is a PR executive who has moved to her hometown in Oregon to destress, recover from a broken marriage, and start a new career creating sudoku puzzles for the local paper). I picked them up again recently (after the Lowe disasters above) to give them ne last chance and this time I read them through and enjoyed them. I liked the tight character progression from the first to the second and I enjoyed the quick visit to the West Coast, which I haven't visited in years. I did have a disconnect in Murder by Numbers: Liza saves her work to floppy and takes it in to the office. I actually checked the publication date at this line, because I can't remember using (or having the ability to use) a floppy from any time after, say, 2001 or so. It was jarring. I am glad I revisited these before returning them. (DTM)
  5. Trouble in Spades by Heather Webber (2005):Landscaper Nina Quinn has an annoying younger sister whom she indulges. I like gardening motifs so, although I found the sister (Maria) annoying, I generally enjoyed the book. (Maria's fiance disappear and bodies keep turning up.) (DTM)
  6. Real Murders
  7. A Bone to Pick
  8. Three Bedrooms, One Corpse
  9. The Julius House: by Charlaine Harris— These are all in The First Aurora Teagarden Omnibus— I was wandering about the (beautiful, exciting) new English-lnguage section (it's like its own little book store) at Dussman's (after leaving the Deutsches Historische Museum). I've been missing Aurora (and had pulled a few out and been able to read them recently) so I thought it made great sense to get this omnibus (and the second one will be out in February) rather than continue to order them in from the UK singly to reread them.It's a great cozy mystery series, a good protagonist (Roe starts as a librarian and her mom is a real estate broker: careers I enjoy reading about) and good character development, and I look forward to being able to read them all in order.(DT)
  10. Grave Apparel(2007) by Ellen Byerrum: As I read this, I realize that I am actually re-reading it. The protagonist is a culture/fashion columnist for a DC paper and the background of this cozy mystery is a conflict over seasonal dressing which seems to lead to a violent attack on another writer. The mystery takes second place to the relationship between Lacey Smithsonian and her co-workers and boyfriend, but I enjoyed it.(DTM)
This has been a light and fluffy reading month, although at least I have caught up with (during plane trips and long drives, almost all of my Businessweek, Newsweek and Economist backlog.)

The (M) stands for Mobipocket (the generic form of the file that Kindle Reads) as well as AZW and PRC, the other forms readable by Kindle. Let's leave DT as Dead Tree books. (And perhaps I should add M for books borrowed from my mother:).)I think it's clear what percentage of my reading is becoming e-format. The vast majority are also free, either as public domain or as promotional offers through Amazon and the other online sources I frequent. B stands for Baen, the best of the on-line stores by so many orders of magnitude there is no comparison.

The Holiday Whirl: Will it never end? December 22-31

Sledding at Oma and Opa's House

After getting back from the UK (and counting our blessings that the weather did not interfere with our plans in any substantive way) we came back to a full schedule.

We got back Tuesday afternoon and sent the in-laws on their way with effusive thanks: we offered entertainment but they wanted to get back to prepare for the holidays (and every day my mother-in-law is not there is a day that someone needs to substitute for her on the organ and at the retirement home).

TMI following, feel free to skip: Then I got to fast. Wednesday morning was my (delayed) colonoscopy. After we extended he contract here in Germany, I realized that I needed to start actually considering my health, getting a three years too late annual exam, a full gyn, a mammogram (and ouch, they were extremely good at checking the margins!), a lung X-ray when my internist got tired of hearing me cough, and finally the colonoscopy. This is when I am grateful to be on extremely good Expat insurance (legal because we are here on secondment, otherwise not allowed to German residents). I think that with family history one can get checked for these things earlier than the German standard, but I'm not certain. What I do know is that my sister-in-law hasn't asked and she has an even stronger (worse) family history than I do: at her age I had been checked for 5 years. All was well with all the tests, the German prep for the colonoscopy was even worse than the American one, and I can wait four years until the next: Yeah.

Then more traveling:
Next came the last days of school and the drive to NRW. That's where we really ran into the weather issues that we had avoided traveling to the UK: 9 1/2 hours to travel a distance that usually takes us less than 4 1/2. The A2 was closed in the morning but then it reopened and we thought we could get through. Until it started raining heavily while -.5C and the Autobahn became a sheet of ice while all salt and grit washed away. We were actually very fortunate that the traffic came to a dead halt while we could see an exit and we wound up getting off, taking the kids to the (unbelievably packed) McDonalds we saw in the distance and checking the computer and with the in-laws to discover that there was a 26 km stau– we spoke to people who had stood on the highway unmoving for more than 10 hours. In our case, after consultation with our neighbors at the table to the right (they had a million maps!) and father-in-law, we wound up going south and detouring through Kassel before heading back north. It was much easier as we went south and it became colder with the precipitation being snow rather than rain. I was cursing that we hadn't chosen to take the train after hearing the forecasts, but we found out the next day that four ICE trains had been stuck on the tracks between Berlin and Hamburg due to cold and ice, so we were definitely better off in the car. We got there a bit before 2 am and carried the kids to bed.
Then we had a leisurely and domestic holiday. Some highlights:

This is an actual German Christmas tree. Those lights that you see are not cleverly designed electric lights, they are actual candles burning on an actual pine tree that is not sitting in a container of water (because they don't water trees here) in a room lined and roofed with wood and next to curtains.Amazing, isn't it? (Also, note no fire extinguisher or bucket of water in room). Keeps one on one's toes:).

This is my charmingly anonymous spouse and the girls. Note how warm they appear. The one without ski pants or waterproof gloves is the one taking the picture.
The hill is the actual street outside my in-law's: the day after we arrived it became usable only if one entered above and exited below, Those who tried it the other way made loud revving noises until the German and the F-I-L dug them out. They seemed to enjoy it and we spent some time every day sledding here and on other hills in the area. We weren't as venturesome as my sister-in-law, whose husband dragged the kids on sleds up a steep hill in a neighboring town, then rode back down with them.

We met up for lunch with our former au pair in the US (I can't believe that she's about to start her internship in medical school) and had a nice chat: I wish we lived closer by and I hope she has the time to visit us after exams. All around a pleasant and domestic time, which included all members of the family playing instruments and singing carols as well as enjoying (adults only) the traditional Feuerzangenbowle. I actually like this, which is surprising because I generally hate Glühwein– perhaps because what I am served at Weihnachtsmarkts is more usually Glögg?

It was a relaxing and pleasant wind-up to a frenetic holiday season and the trip back took only four hours:).

21 December 2010

The Holiday whirl: In the UK, the National Gallery, Shakira and back to Berlin

On Sunday morning we moved from the Holiday Inn to the Sheraton Park Lane (another freebie with points). What a difference. Right on the park, only a few blocks down from the tube station, gorgeous view. ( We could see both the London Eye and Buckingham Palace from our windows.)

It was also warm and had a real King size bed (rather than a pretend one, which is when hotel staff says the bed is king size but one knows it is not and wonders why they are lying.)

They let us check in super early (9:30 am) which was great as I hate leaving my bags at the desk and we needed to run off and meet a friend at the National Gallery.

I particularly liked this piece of art that was outside the Gallery- I hadn't noticed that it changes but since this ship in a bottle wasn't here a few months ago, it must be a rotating gallery.

When we had made plans for the visit to London, the only thing that I really wanted to do (besides my usual wandering around and looking at things and having food without pig in it) was to visit the National Gallery. It seems that every time I go to London I go to the British Museum and although I could continue to do so for the rest of my life and not see everything (and although the design is fabulous) I wanted to see something more intimate and more focused. Because i fell in love with Venice last year when we visited (it really feels as if one is walking through a painting), this exhibit seemed particularly appropriate.
And did I really not talk about that either? Our anniversary trip last year in October, from Venice (as the acqua alta began) to Naples to Pompeii and then back to Rome, with the entire day lost wandering through the Vatican Museum and the final achievement (so many years after my four years of Latin) of spending the entire foot weary day wandering through Pompeii. I love Italy.
Since C works with museums, she put up with the amount of time it took me to wend through the exhibit: ever since we used the audioguides at the Vatican Museum and then at the Alte Pinakotkek in München, I have decided that they are really great and worth the time and expense (as opposed to many years ago when I first tried them and they were no more than the same words I would read on the displays) and this "guided tour" was very interesting.

Afterward we ate lunch at a pub and the cider that I had (in bottle) was over 20 oz- or 2.5 servings for a woman when looking at the guide printed on it. I had to give half to the German and I can see why Britain has an issue with over consumption of alcohol— the cider was cheaper (and larger) than the soda water he was drinking.
Then we said good bye at the station and wended our ways in the falling snow: a very pleasant visit.
In the evening we went to see the new Harry Potter and were amazed at how expensive movies are, but enjoyed the evening out then had a quick meal at the cafe in our hotel.
Monday we walked around the city a bit and in the evening we were off to the O2, again by public transport and again, although warned of problems, we had none. The O2 in London is amazing: a mall, a movie theater, an ice rink, a huge arena and much more. Also very pretty.
We had a bit of an issue at the pick up window (the clerk couldn't find our tickets), which was stressful, but at least this time we had a contact number which someone actually answered and they dispatched someone to clear up the issue, so the discomfort was the attitude that perhaps we were fibbing? A woman rushed up and asked the folks behind us if she could drop some tickets- she said she "played the violin" and the man asked, in his adorable British accent, if he would see her in the show. She said yes, which was an understatement: she had some amazing solos and was wonderful but my goodness- what a difference costume and make up made! I think the tour bus must have been very late, which also explained why the concert started after 9:20.
I had gotten the tickets to Shakira simply because they were free and we would be in London when she was playing, but I liked her act very much. What a difference between her and Lady Gaga! Her voice and range were amazing, her dancing was fantastic, and her dress was modest and her moves athletic and exciting. Gaga had a good voice and fun songs, but Shakira both surpassed her and was not profane or hypersexual: we enjoyed the concert very much. This was, I think, her last gig of the tour and we were surprised that the sold out venue started emptying out before her encores, perhaps because she started late. We stayed and enjoyed two wonderful songs and had no problems getting back on the Tube.

This isn't the best quality sound, but gives a really good view of her dancing.

A few people still sleeping in the Heathrow terminal- we ourselves had no issues going out (an hour late), but they were triaging folks, not allowing them into the terminals without a ticket which was showing for an uncanceled flight, so it was a bit SFnal seeing the hordes standing outside the doors being kept back by security.Then security moved us to the head of the amazingly long luggage drop line because we were in two hours of departure.
After that, everything went very smoothly and we got back to Berlin to discover lots of snow but no issues with transportation. It was good to be home.

18 December 2010

The Holiday whirl: Off to the UK, War of the Worlds

After last year, I had planned on never attempting to visit the UK or travel within Europe by plane during the months of December or January.

(Wow- looking back I can see that I never blogged about being abandoned in London, having RyanAir leave me sleeping on the floor without even a blanket, having ValueJet cancel a booked flight even before the booking, while I made my way to Luton to find only contracted workers telling everyone nothing, while in mud to our ankles, and finally getting out on BerlinAir, to the wrong city and then traveling to Düsseldorf and onward by DBahn! Suffice it to say that it was plenty horrible. Including the cancellation of trains from Brighton and being left standing outside for 3 hours while waiting for laid on buses to a functional train to get me to London in the first place— all due to perhaps 5 inches of snow! RyanAir still hasn't repaid my flight, let alone the two days in hotel or multiple rides to the airport while they messed with me.)

Unfortunately, we had been looking forward to seeing Jeff Wayne's 3oth Anniversary War of the Worlds tour right here in Berlin at the O2, when we received an e-mail, telling us that the show had been rescheduled for 2012. When I went to the tours site to discover why, I found out that the German promoter had decided to pull the tour and have it redone in German, which was why it would take an extra year until it was ready.
I was not enthusiastic. The character of the narrator, Richard Burton's voice, is integral. And I love the original and don't really have the desire to hear it translated/dubbed into German. The production company offered those of us the option of buying tickets for any of the remaining venues in the tour and the day that made the most sense (if I were to go with the German) was the last: Saturday December 18th at Wembley Arena. The date gave me a certain amount of stress, considering what had happened last year. Before booking, we got agreement from the (unbelievably great) in-laws that they could come and take care of the children for an extended weekend, as school would be in session, and we were able to add another concert on Monday the 20th— tickets to Shakira at the O2 in London were available for hotel points and we thought— "Why Not?".
So we booked a flight out Friday morning the 19th, assuming that would give us some time to deal with weather emergencies and I was grateful: England had two inches of snow and the beginning of what would be a serious weather emergency did impact us. On our side, Berlin had snow, T2 was ill, and the in-laws came in a bit earlier than they had expected to make certain they would be in place. We were two hours late taking off, but no biggie, and it was interesting to see the de-icing operation.
When we got into London, we had some coffee, grabbed our bags, and bought Oyster cards, which are the only way to economically get around on the London transit system. We planned this trip to be economical and were in no hurray, so we took the regular Tube into Central London rather than the Heathrow Express.
We stayed the first two nights at Leicester Square Holiday Inn through points, so it was free, but the location was not perfect. Although close to Leicester Square, it was a bit of a drag getting our luggage through the snow, ice and slush to the quiet hotel several streets back. In addition, although we were under the roof in a decent looking room with an adequate view, it was cold!

I spent the rest of the day being ill (as the German was the following day) and we think it was a manifestation of what T2 had, although thankfully without the projectile vomiting. We kept the heat cranked up and used extra blankets but it was cold and snowing and the windows in the bathroom were, we think the source of the cold due to inadequate insulation.

We wandered the area in the snow after a nap and stepped into a wonderful Thai place, the best I've eaten in since Munich, and the spices definitely helped my headache:). It was a lot of fun window shopping in the center of the London shopping district and looking at the lights, although we actually didn't wind up buying anything in the city at all. London always feels much more like home to me than Berlin does: it's not just the language, but the design and energy are so much closer to NY than Berlin.

On Saturday we wandered a bit more through a deserted London— there were outages throughout the public transportation system although examining them, it was clear that the real issues were on the lines that had above ground areas due to signal failures. The damage to the shopping season must have been great because entire streets were empty of walkers in what should be a dense shopping area and there were almost no vehicles moving. I think they had had 4 inches in total.

There were also scheduled outages and a scheduled work stoppage (that is, a planned strike) on the Tuble lines. We were concerned that it might be an issue getting to Wembley and asked a cab driver what a cab there would cost. When he told us "it would depend on traffic" and we could see almost no cars on the road, we knew that it would be a total rip off. We looked at the different means of public transport and decided to leave earlier and see how far we could get.

When we got to the Leicester Square station, we asked what "serious delays" meant and one of the many workers (wow, how nice to have workers!) told us a 10 minute delay. I laughed and felt a lot of reassurance:).

So we got to Wembley early and stopped outside the station at Subway. Why does Subway in Germany have meatball subs on the menu when none of the restaurants in Berlin actually serve them? I really enjoyed having all beef meatballs with jalapenos. Then on to Wembley, which is a charming arena. We had wonderful seats (all the seats had been freed by the promoter and press) in the 14th row and Wembley is set up really well— buying refreshments is made as easy as possible due to multiple kiosks. I had a cider and found it very amusing that the bottle was actually made of plastic! (Of course it makes sense, but why not serve it in plastic cups rather than producing non-standard plastic bottles?)

There were significant gaps in the further reaches of the Arena, which were probably due to the travel difficulties— at a guess they were bus loads of people that were not able to get in to London. A whole large family filed in past us a few minutes after the music started, with the apology of the dad that it had taken them 8 hours to get there.

I really enjoyed the musical. I didn't take any movies myself because I bought the DVD:). During intermission we chatted with the people around us and after the show we had backstage passes (part of the apology) which was also tremendous fun, although I'm too shy to really benefit from that. I did get an autograph and a picture with Jeff Wayne and got to watch all sorts of famous people interact while snacking and having a soda, though. We chatted with some folks from Zurich who were there for the same reason as us, but who had believed the "serious delays" and taken a cab. At 50 GBP, I'm glad we didn't! They joined us on the train back to London and we wished them luck on their flight back to Zurich the next day (which I am certain that they did not make, considering the chaos that was unfolding at Heathrow).

Our seats and view were a lot better:)

16 December 2010

The Holiday whirl: I'm getting dizzy— Orienteeringskurse

I had wanted to take my Orienteeringskurse last month, before taking the B1 exam (so I would have a chance to speak some German after my class ended), but the course was booked out so I wound up having to take it this month from the 8th through the 16th.
The timing made life a little chaotic, with all the other things happening this month and with T1 getting sick during the course. In addition, because the teacher had an issue with the class extending to the 17th, as it was scheduled, we needed to add time to each of our other classes to reach the required 45 hours. I found it amazing that a German class was actually scheduled to run (normally) on a Saturday. Of course, it wasn't the unimaginable Sunday!
So, my feelings after taking this course: I found it interesting and of course, since I already have my permanent residency, I took this voluntarily. There was another woman (from Finland) who took the course simply to learn more about the country in which she is living, but everyone else there was there due to a requirement by either the BaMF or the Jobs Agency. There were 16 people in my course and the over half were native Turks. In one case, although B1 proficiency is required for the course,the gentleman spent the time sitting in the back and when spoken to or speaking, had translation done by the women sitting next to him. One woman said that she didn't "want" to take the test (a 25 question test at the end of the course) and asked what would happen if she did not: the teacher said that would be between her and the BaMF but the individual asked that question repeatedly and also showed up late or left early every day.
I actually knew two of the women from my past language courses and I enjoyed the opportunity to communicate in German in a way that did not focus solely on learning language. I particularly enjoyed learning about the set up of the political system and the Constitution. Of course, the basics were familiar and comfortable to me as the German Verfassung is based upon the American Constitution. I think there are even some improvements, as the men who wrote it had some 160 years to actually work out the kinks before rewriting it. Learning about the Verfassung and understanding rights would clearly be more difficult for those from cultures without such constitutional (written or unwritten) rights. But the Bundesamt and Landesamt concepts, as well as the deeper understanding of the Parliamentary system, was very interesting and worthwhile.
Some other thoughts: As seems to be usual in German classes, we started with statements of prejudices (in this case what we Auslanders thought of Germans, while the teacher supplied the other side). I always think this is such a negative concept, although it's amusing to actually hear a German rationalize why 16 people from 10 different countries feel that Germans are cold, unfriendly to children and dedicated to rules rather than results. She asked how many of us have German friends (vanishingly few) and told us that she herself, although she has many foreign friends in other countries, has none here. She said that it was "too much trouble" to go from teaching German as a foreign language, or any of the four other languages she teaches, to need to
watch her language in private speech. This from a woman who, quite amazingly, manged to teach this course at exactly a B1 level throughout the 8 days— there was not a word or a sentence that I did not understand. If it's too much for her to "speak down" to foreigners, I certainly understand why so few native Germans have the bock.
The course was clearly aimed at teaching people from non-Western cultures what the Grundgesetz or basic (inalienable) rights are in Germany and to require them to look at some German history to understand Germany's place in the world and as such, I am glad that it exists. I think it was too short and too easy, though. All of the possible questions for the test are published (250), from which 25 are chosen for the actual exam. I read through the questions (and answers) the day before, with an eye to being certain that I understood all the German and when I took the exam (with an allotted 60 minute duration), I finished in 3 minutes. The majority of that time was spent understanding the crazy manner of crossing out or circling required to overwrite an error. To fail this exam would be to make a deliberate act of will and if I were German, I would not consider such a course nor passing such an exam sufficient education to allow a person to integrate within German society.

12 December 2010

The Holiday Whirl: Rapunzel

I always love Sony Center in the holidays- nice architectural design, great lighting. We met some friends at the OV theatre to see Rapunzel in English and we all had a great time: I think this is the best Disney movie for the kids in, perhaps, forever. The music was, perhaps, not the best ever, but the plot and the animation were top-notch. What a pleasure to see a movie where the mom doesn't die, is not at fault, the parents haven't done anything wrong and survive the story!

We had a great time.

11 December 2010

The Holiday whirl: We will Rock You

The Theatre des Westens is a gorgeous place.
I often find it a bit depressing how little audiences in Berlin react (at concerts and musicals- when I saw Rocky Horror no one even got up to dance the time warp!) I felt the same way through the first act of this musical written by Ben Elton to showcase Queen's music— until just before the second act. That's when the audience started the famous "We will rock you" clap. It made me feel more at home. Perhaps it was the beer during the intermission?
When I looked around, the average age was a few years older than myself (which makes sense, since Queen was founded in 1971, when I was but a wee babe:)).

You can read the plot in the Wikipedia entry, but the gist seems to resemble most closely that of Anthem by A*n R*nd and 2112 by Rush.

We enjoyed it tremendously.

Holiday whirl: Deutsches Historisches Museum

It was a hectic day today as I had an Orienteeringskurs Ausflug (field trip) today, to the Deutsches Historisches Museum, while at the same time the German had a minor operation and then later in the evening we had tickets to a musical: that's what happens when one tries to get everything done in December and mandatory items pile up. After making the kids breakfast, I said good-bye (we had a babysitter booked for 11, giving the German 40 minutes to get to the doctor).
My class met up at the U-Bahn station at 9:30, walked over to the museum (we were 15 minutes too early) and then were able to leave our coats and bags in a group lock up, which was nice. We had a guided tour through a bit of the early history into the current period (I am again impressed at the wonderful quality of all museum guides that I have been in contact with in Germany- they are amazingly good at their jobs). The detail you see at the left (it's a tiny detail) shows what in English would be called a "scold's bridle", showing how inhumanely women in the west were once treated.
We were then were given workbooks and sent forth to do research on the N*DP (N*zis and the period from 1933-1948).
It's good to know that individuals who are seeking to either become permanent residents of Germany or to become citizens will be required to have at least a cursory understanding of the role of Germany in WWII: this course is generally a stop on the way to both (although I have my permanent residency already and am simply taking the course to expand my knowledge of Germany). I don't think it's enough (the government is discussing increasing the course to 60 hours), but I still have more than 30 hours left of the 45 hour curriculum, so I will be interested to see what the remaining portion teaches us.
The museum is beautifully laid out and I expect that we will return to it as a family to take a tour of the medieval portion (they have one for children concentrating on knights and castles). The section on the Holocaust is well-done and tastefully done, although, really, I don't enjoy this and if I had known what the concentration would be I probably would have excused myself— I don't feel that I need further education on the subject.
The most interesting interaction of the experience was when we stopped in front of a painting from the late 30's. It showed a triumphal Arc in Munich (based on the Arc d'Triumph, apparently). On the left were N*zi youth collecting money from passers by. In the center, walking in the direction of the Arch was a tall, erect man, on crutches and missing his right leg from the knee down. He is striding and wearing a military overcoat. His head is proudly held high. On the right, by the arch, is a woman in widow's weeds, pushing a white pram.
The guide asked the group whether we felt that this painting was in favor of the war or against it. I immediately replied, in favor. Every other person replied, against. The guide asked me whether I wanted to change my reply and I said no: I thought it was clear that every person in that picture was proud of themselves and their country.
When he asked the other students, they said how sad the picture was. I pointed out that they probably would not have felt the picture was sad if N*zi Germany had won the war.
Then the guide explained that I was correct- that the picture had been used as propaganda in the "Total War" drive and the direction ran, from left to right, of how one should give to the Fatherland: least is money, next would be limbs and the final and highest sacrifice, one's life (or one's husband's, since this was aimed at the domestic market).
I find it a little bit frightening that a group of 15 people could read something so obviously incorrectly.

10 December 2010

The Holiday whirl: More baking

Then it was T1's turn to be shabbat mama. We used my by now standard chocolate cake recipe and she requested blue frosting with pink sprinkles and pink with blue: "because the boys might not like pink".
When I grabbed the cake pan while picking up T2 (a friend gave T1 a ride to ceramics), there was 1 piece left and 2 girls split it— one boy said he'd had three pieces — so I think no one cared about frosting color:).

07 December 2010

The Holiday whirl: T1's party (part 5)

T1's party was for the entire Grundschule and it was a lot of fun: someone told a wonderful story, with bongo drums on stage. I wasn't certain if he was a teacher or a parent who tells stories professionally, but he was wonderful. Then we had the bazaar, to which I brought another 48 chocolate chip cookies, and the afternoon was spent doing seasonal crafts: much fun had by all.

06 December 2010

The Holiday whirl: T2's party part 4

When the German and I went to T2's Chanukah party, we expected to hang out in their room, sing a few songs, light a Chanukiah, and eat (I brought a chocolate cake).
Instead, they had a wonder show in the big auditorium: T2 (who is amazingly shy in public, although not in private) even participated a bit. We were very proud and surprised, and then went back to the room and ate and chatted. We had a nice chat with a new mom from Israel via Seattle and her in-laws who were in visiting.
T2's Erziehrin asked for the recipe of this and the chocolate chip cookies that T2 brought on Friday (when she was Shabbat mamma), which made me very pleased. I explained that it was probably the dark brown sugar which made them so lecker, which might be an issue, but said that I would bring the recipes in next week in any case.

05 December 2010

The Holiday whirl: Community part 3

Off to a community holiday party, where Thing1 was part of the entertainment. She always looks very earnest when singing: I think that is because she is a bit uncertain of the words. It's hard to switch from English to German when the original is Hebrew. Next week I will ask her music teacher if he can give us copies of the songs so that we can practice at home before the next public show.

We had lots of fun and I met several other moms from both T1's class and T2's, which was nice.

04 December 2010

The Holiday whirl: Deutsche Guggenheim (part 2)

When I visited the Deutsche Guggenheim in October, I saw that they had a wonderful number of community activities. In particular, they do a lot of work with children and youth. Because T1 is a budding artist (she gets that from my mom, as the German and I have no artistic ability), we thought she would enjoy the opportunity to both learn about art in an age appropriate way and to have the opportunity to create some art.

T2 was a bit shy, but T1 always gives her confidence. T1 was a veritable Andy Warhol, making 4 paintings to T2's two.

03 December 2010

The holiday whirl: Holiday Party part 1

Chanukah began on the 1st and we lit the candles and celebrated, but with the German working until today, this was the beginning of what will be a month over filled with activities.

T1 was shabbat mamma, so I put together a double recipe of chocolate chip cookies so that I could bake a batch for her and have a batch to bake for T2's holiday party next Tuesday. The double batch was almost more than my Artisan 5 quart could handle!

Then the German took T1 to her regular ceramics course but went an hour earlier so that she could add an hour of drawing to the 2 hours she does ceramics in: she loved it and we will try to split it at 90 minutes each in the future.

Then they rushed back because we booked our favorite babysitter (aghh- she's retiring from babysitting at the end of the month to open her own kita!) and went to the holiday party put on by my women's club.

It was formal dress, at a nice hotel, and with entertainment. The only thing missing was dancing (there was some, but it was entertainment put on by the hosting group). Lots of fun.

I enjoyed chatting with folks and bumped into a woman who recognized me from Thanksgiving, although we hadn't met before: it's a small world here in Berlin.

02 December 2010


Thing2 loves to collect leaves and chestnuts. This leaf was gorgeous and green and absolutely huge (see her glove for size comparison). With some eye holes cut out, it was a wonderful mask and I could see clearly what the model for those lovely fabric masques I saw in Venezia (why don't we have such huge leaves in New York?). We traced the leaf on construction paper (it took two!) as well and now the original goes to recycling.

Julia and Julie

(Photo credit: (C) Michael P. McLaughlin)
I've had the movie DVRed for ages and I finally watched it and all I wanted was to see more of Julia Child's life. I read the book this is based on some years ago as an advance reader copy, and what I found most amusing was that the soul destroying agency for which Julie Powell worked was a sub-agency to the place that I was working at the time.
Reading Powell's book made me go out and buy and read several books by Julia Child (starting with My Life in France and moving forward into Kitchen Tips and Wisdom— I've got the videos and Mastering the Art 1 & 2 waiting in the US as I ordered them through WGBH for my next trip).
The movie is worth seeing for the Julia Child portions; it's unfortunate that Amy Adams wasn't able to make Julie Powell more interesting, but there wasn't a lot of there there for her.

01 December 2010


My three sweethearts, one anonymously
For the third year we went to the American Church in Berlin for their Thanksgiving Buffet and Concert. We are grateful that they have allowed their celebration to be open to those that are not members of their faith and their congregation.
This year was smaller and more intimate than last, with the entertainment being solely drawn from the congregation (which included a wonderful retired opera singer as well as a pianist who made me realize how long it's been since I heard Debussey and how wonderful his works are), while last year included professionals such as the Harlem Gospel Choir. They were wonderful, but this year was much more haimish. Although thre was babysitting and we had prepaid, we thought ahead and brought the double stroller and both the girls were fast asleep by the time the entertainment started and stayed that way through the concert, making it wonderful for all of us.
The celebration was on Saturday of course, as American Thanksgiving is not a holiday outside of Thanksgiving. It worked well for us as the German was in Munich on the day and the children were at school, so celebrating at home would have been impossible (I actually made a nice beef stew on that day— perhaps I'll post that later).

30 November 2010

What I am reading: November 2010

  1. Masques by Patricia Briggs: Wolf and Aralorn
  2. Wolfsbane by Patricia Briggs: more Aralorn and Wolf: It's fun when an author has the chance to revisit an early book and give it the polish that she has acquired as she becomes a best-selling author. I enjoyed this book when I first read it yonks ago and was glad of the opportunity to read the sequel. Well written fantasy.
  3. The Wizard of Karres by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer
  4. The Sorceress of Karres by Eric Flint and Dave Freer-- Sequels to the original by James Schmitz and not as well written. I hope that I am not as disappointed in Scalzi's reboot of another period classic, Little Fuzzies.
  5. Carousel Tides by Sharon Lee: Really nicely written book outside of the sf genre that I generally read Lee in. Magic, guardians of the land, and a carousel: what more could we want. I hope she does another in this world.
  6. Enchanting the Lady
  7. Double Enchantment
  8. Enchanting the Beast by Kathryne Kennedy: The first was a free Kindle download and I enjoyed it enough to read its "sequels" within the same genre of Steam-punkish were magic and romance.
  9. Certain Wolfish Charm by Lydia Dare: A free Kindle book, werewolf Regency. A fun and very fluffy read.(M)
  10. Hunted by James Alan Gardner: I love Gardner. Why aren't there more books out by him in the last few years? I actually sought this out and bought it because I so much wanted to read it (a little embarrassing when I look at the number of books surrounding me in piles that I need to read!). (M)
  11. Death Loves a Messy Desk (2009) by Mary Jane Maffini: Perhaps it's because I am such a messy person (paper chaos everywhere), but I especially enjoyed the protagonist, Charlotte Adams (a professional organizer) saying that when one is happy in one's home and can find one's things that perhaps some clutter can just be homey. Or maybe my paraphrase is a bit off:). Third in a series (I don't have the first two), I enjoyed it although I felt the characters could have enjoyed more fleshing out. Genre mysteries seem to stay between 275 and 300 pages and in this case although I enjoyed the story I would have preferred more character exposition. I would be happy to read more of the series, though.(DTM)
  12. A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar: This is a coming of age book, the first book by an author who also fled Kuwait as a young girl. I found it t be extremely problematic in its treatment of violence against women and wife and child abuse. That is, not that those were parts of the story; although this book was not marketed as YA it fit the genre and those topics are common in YA books. What was problematic was how poorly the topics were treated: glossed over and not dealt with. An interesting first novel, but I don't know to whom I could recommend it: not to teenagers, because of the poor handling of important topics and as an adult there are other books within this genre and topic that handle the issues better. Perhaps, as a heavy reader interested in expat issues, I am the market for this book. (DT)
  13. Sonnet of the Sphinx (2006) By Diana Killian: The third in a series (but the first I have read), I enjoyed this mystery set in England's Lake District. The protagonist is an American scholar (Grace Hollister) of the Romantic Poets who is involved in a relationship with the owner of an antiques shop, who himself appears to be Raffles based. There's a third leg to the romantic triangle: the local police inspector. The title refers to a lost sonnet by Shelley. I enjoyed it and will look for the next.(DTM)
  14. Bon Bon Voyage (2006) by Nancy Fairbanks: I quite enjoyed this continuing adventure of Carolyn Blue, 40-something food writer and spouse to an authority on toxins and chemicals. I remember reading another of these some time back and not being as enthusiastic (although Carolyn mentions an adventure in Barcelona that I'd like to find now that I have been there). Perhaps I enjoyed this one more as I remember not liking the husband so well (I think he is infantalizing and disrespectful of her abilities) or perhaps it's just the setting of a cruise ship and her interaction with her friend Luz. She is also traveling with her mother-in-law Vera: I did read the prior mystery where Vera was accused of murder and exonerated through Carolyn's efforts. Once again, Vera is treated as a cardboard feminist and feminism is mocked through her poor and poorly thought out behaviors, but if one can ignore this aspect, the rest of the book is charming and fluffy good read. (DTM)
  15. The Accidental Florist by Jill Churchill (2007): Why do I think the title is so inappropriate? The lack of connection between that and any of the actual story line just makes it annoying rather than amusing. However, I enjoyed the book. The mystery was completely ancillary to the story, which was that of Jane Jeffry's engagement and planed wedding to her long time beau detective Van Alstyn. So much of this novel was tossed away: a familial death, a house expansion, a blackmail attempt— it's amazing I finished it. It was tremendously weak and there were so many wasted opportunities:(. (DTM)
  16. Murder 101 by Maggie Barbieri(2006): I enjoyed this book very much.The first of a series, the protagonist is an English professor at a small college in what appears to be Westchester County (Professor Allison Bergeron lives in Dobbs Ferry). She has just divorced her philandering husband (also a professor) when her car is stolen and when it is found the body of an undergraduate who has been involved with her ex is in the trunk. I like the setting and the characters. (DTM)

The (M) stands for Mobipocket (the generic form of the file that Kindle Reads) as well as AZW and PRC, the other forms readable by Kindle. Let's leave DT as Dead Tree books. (And perhaps I should add M for books borrowed from my mother:).)I think it's clear what percentage of my reading is becoming e-format. The vast majority are also free, either as public domain or as promotional offers through Amazon and the other online sources I frequent. B stands for Baen, the best of the on-line stores by so many orders of magnitude there is no comparison.

27 November 2010

Why can't everything be this satisfying?

Every time I watch another episode of Smallville (a show I originally refused to watch because I thought it was too far from canon), I wonder why everything can't be this satisfying? Now in its final and 10th year, every episode is just more and more right.

Take that, Lost and Sopranos, two shows whose final seasons made me hate their entire runs.

24 November 2010

Welcome to Winter

After over a week of grey and rain, it's snowing. I hope this weekend is not too late to find snowpants!
I wouldn't mind if it weren't grey and snowing:(.

17 November 2010

Catching up on What I've been doing for the last month: a partial index

Because I have some friends that don't see posts in a reader, they miss posts when I put them up out of order. So while I have been posting on the unblogged, here's an index. I'll try to be more timely in the future or to make a point of doing monthly catch up sessions— one or the other.

What I've been doing in the last month: A-ha and Amsterdam
What I've been doing in the last month:Spiced Applesauce Cake
What I've been doing in the last month: Color Fields at the Deutsche Guggenheim
What I've been doing in the last month: Halloween
What I've been doing in the last month: Unbefristete Aufenthaltsgenehmigung
What I've been doing in the last month: Gaga in Budapest

Still discarding...

Even though I haven't been posting, I've still been tossing things. The more ordinary– dingy t-shirts and worn out clothes– haven't made it to the camera, but here is a candy dispenser I needed to hide to ensure it would not be missed (the first try, Thing1 saw it in the trash and re-accessioned it) and some paperwork.

Normally I haven't been counting miscellaneous papers, but these were made it to paper recycling as I was consolidating two boxes into one— the U-Haul box that hit recycling was unphotograped, but had made it from Upstate NY to Downstate to a container to NRW to an apartment in Berlin and then here: it deserves its final peace in pieces.

Being Silenced

Being silenced happens to women and other oppressed peoples. I would say that is happens to minorities, but women are the majority. Strange that.

I made a comment once on another expat's blog, saying that I found a marketing campaign sexist. That led to a mobbing where people that I have actually met- not random strangers- told me that I should get laid to improve my sense of humor. Another person I actually know told me that was not an ad hominem attack and that this advice was not sexist. She was a feminist, she said. She should know.

So I removed these people's blogs from my reader and made a point of not seeing them again. I don't have problems with disagreement: I do have problems with people who flash mob and escalate.

08 November 2010

What I've been doing for the last month: Gaga in Budapest

As with the tickets to a-Ha in Amsterdam, we had the opportunity to get tickets to Lady Gaga in several cities for points. The concert that fell on a possible weekend was in Budapest.
I'd never heard of Lady Gaga except in reference to her wearing a meat dress at an award, which I thought silly and a bit disgusting, so I wasn't certain whether it would be worth it.
But the German said that he'd never been to Budapest and would enjoy visiting, so I grabbed the tickets and then was able to get a great deal through family at the Budapest Intercontinental. I'd visited Budapest last in 1986, before the fall of the Soviet Union: although I was certain the city had changed, I remembered it as a beautiful and friendly city.
We flew into Budapest Ferihegy (please excuse the lack of accents throughout this blog post) and were able there to buy, at the Post, a 72 hour unlimited public transport ticket.(I used my German ATM card to take out Hungarian forints (HUF)from the ATM while waiting for our suitcase to arrive— Hungary hopes to be on the Euro in the next few years, but after the financial crisis, who knows?).
We didn't buy the Budapest card, which would also have included transport, because we didn't expect to visit many sites. We then took the bus to the transfer station, got on the subway, and got off 1 block from our hotel. Not using a cab or shuttle in this one direction paid for the entire 72 hour ticket. When we got there, we asked if there was any chance we might upgrade our room and they already had: our room had an amazing view—waking up there every morning was like living inside a piece of art.
(the view from our window)
We spent a lot of time just walking around the city (both Buda and Pest), along the Danube, and through the Castle and Parliament grounds.
On Sunday we visited the Tobacco Street Synagogue and museum and had an interesting discussion with the tour guide. A gentleman on the tour tried to not accept a head covering when entering the synagogue— he said that his personal view did not require that— but did accept one after he was told that he would not be able to enter without covering his head. Would anyone expect to enter a mosque wearing shoes, or a Greek Orthodox church with bare shoulders? I visited this synagogue and the Jewish area when I was here in 1986: it was very interesting discussing with the guide the changes in the Jewish community and the differences in antisemitic acts since then.
That night we went to see Lady Gaga:
She was really great.
I wonder if I am the last person in the world to have heard a song by her?

(Not my video- there are better ones on Youtube but this was in Budapest)
I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the music and by what a positive message Gaga was putting out (everyone is a superstar, there's life after adolescence, the meek will inherit the earth, positive body image, and so on). I did think the concert wasn't necessarily appropriate for the 8 year olds I saw there, but that was because of the profanity (I'm old-fashioned) and the sheer volume (I wore ear plugs). I wonder how many people recognized the Wizard of Oz motif?
We had a great time and Budapest is a great city to wander around in: if I ever manage to put together an album, there's some wonderful architecture there.

01 November 2010

What I've been doing for the last month: Unbefristete Aufenthaltsgenehmigung

One of the issues I have been pondering since I moved here is how to handle my stay. My husband and children are, of course, German nationals (in the case of the children, dual-nationals). I received a three year visa when I arrived, as one would expect.

Since I came to Germany knowing not even a word of German (darn all those years of French and Latin!), it was an immediate goal for all of us that we learn the language. My children went into a Geman kita as soon as we found a place to live and a kita that we liked, and I went straight into a language class (it took about 6 weeks for the above). I had some ups and some downs, quite a few missed classes due to the children being ill and a few due to my being ill. Then vacations and breaks and travel and more illnesses and so on. But I went on from A1.1 to A1.2 to A2.1. At this point life became even more awkward, as the German started working in a different city and the girls started going to different schools. Still, after another pause and another illness or two, I persevered and went on to A2.2 and finally B1.1.

I stalled out a bit there, as the German's work schedule became busier and the girls' swimming schedule did the same, but I only delayed my last class and finally finished B1.2 this fall. However, my visa ran out before that date and I wasn't certain whether I should take my exam before applying for a permanent visa.

To make it worse, here in Berlin at least, it's just about impossible to get the Auslanderbehorde to either answer the phone or return e-mails and my scheduled appointment was 1. only 4 days before the expiration of my three year visa and 2. my husband (required to be at the appointment) had a meeting that day which was not re-schedulable. So we had to actually take a day to go to the Auslanderbehorde just to see if we could reschedule our appointment.

The Beamterin on duty yelled at us because the German stuck his head behind the door that said it was the correct door: must love that customer service thing. All we could talk about on the way home (after getting a new appointment, after my visa expired, but having been told that was okay) was how ridiculous it was for this woman to put up a hand written sign that resulted in her yelling at every single person she spoke to all day, when a differently worded handwritten sign would have resulted in the outcome that she desired, with no yelling needed....

At the actual appointment, things went more smoothly than one might expect, having had prior experience with German Amts. The German brought every piece of paper that he had brought for the first appointment we had (when I received my first visa). He brought even more pieces of paper- every one that he could think of. I brought official forms from my VHS showing the German classes that I had completed (there are official forms for everything here- when I started to write a not on one the Secretary scolded me for doing so on an official form) and the receipts showing registration for the DfZ and the Orienteerungskurse. It started well: the Beamterin was nice (didn't yell at us and said hello), took all our forms and when she asked for additional forms that we had not been told we needed, we actually had them.

But then she asked for an employment contract. That's something the German doesn't have. That is, he has a contract showing that we are here in Germany for a certain time and he even had an older note from his boss discussing his circumstances. He had pay stubs and tax info and insurance info and a million things. But what he didn't have was a German, currently dated, official form saying that he can't be fired tomorrow.

I kept on saying that this particular type of form doesn't exist in the US, and as was clear in all his information, the German is employed in Germany through the international side of an American firm: on loan, as it were. The Beamterin said other North Americans have brought in such forms and that she could accept a note from a partner written on letterhead. Unfortunately, it was a holiday in the parts of Germany where someone might have been able to help us out and fax such a note over. I asked what would happen without such a note, considering that my visa had already expired, and she said the issue was that she wanted to give me a permanent visa rather than another three years and that there were additional documentation requirements. So we went back out to the waiting room while she looked over the documentation that we had and discussed our lack of the contract with her superior, I assume.

When she called us back, she had already put the permanent visa into my passport. I asked her why I didn't need to finish the Integrationskurs or take the Orienteeringskurs or the DfZ (the German poking me to stop the whole time), saying that I thought they were required, and she looked at me as if I were mad and said that I had (while arguing, I guess) displayed an adequate amount of language knowledge and off we went.

It was an interesting experience and one that I think shows how relatively easy it is for Anglophones to become permanent residents: so many of my classmates from a non-Anglophone background seem to have encountered so many more problems on the way to their permanent residency. The process also explains why all my Anglophone acquaintances seem so surprised that I have actually bothered to take classes— they laugh when I say that I need to know the language and want to take the 45 hour class (why wouldn't I want to have an understanding of the structures and legal basis of the country in which I am living?). Let me point out that even with a theoretical B1 level of language, I am still unemployable, I would guess. I think C1 would be an employable level of language when any conversation ability would be necessary and my written German is even worse. But with this level of language, I can live in this country, I can speak to my children's school teachers and I can make myself understood in any situation at all, even though it might be with an incorrect sentence structure or general rather than specific word choices: this is what integration means. Everything after this is above what is required and will simply make me personally happier.

31 October 2010

What I am reading: October 2010

  1. Blameless by Gail Carriger: The third in Carriger's Steampunk paranormal series (others reviewed here). Alexia has been cast aside by her husband, as he believes her unfaithful.However, others may not agree and may find the child of a werewolf and a soulless to be of frightening concern. We get a real look into life outside the progressive area (where paranormals are accepted and have legal rights) and see how Italy and the Templars might have worked within the framework of "soul" and its abundance or lack thereof allowing the cheating of death (and G-d's will) through becoming paranormal.(DT)
  2. Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews: As I mentioned last time I talked about Ilona Andrews' books, I enjoy her (their: husband and wife writing team) more each time I read another book: their writing never disappoints. This is the second in the The Edge series and I liked the characters and the world just as much.(DT)
  3. Scrub-a-Dub Dead by Barbara Colley: I've been reading this mystery series on and off for years through my mother's loans and I think they have been getting better: the writing that is. The protagonist is Charlotte, the older single mom of a 40 year old doctor. She runs a cleaning service in the Garden District area of New Orleans, where she and her family have always lived. This one takes place after Katrina, and there are mentions of the trauma and the damage, but it's basically a genre mystery.(DT)
  4. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (DT) This is a re-read. Sometimes, when I feel myself confronting my own mortality and that of those I care for, it is calming to read through someone else's progression through survival.
  5. Frostbitten by Kelley Armstrong: I'm pulling HC books out of the shelves to pack away for more space: never an easy project. So I too the opportunity to reread this. It's an adventure of Elena Michaels, first seen in Bitten, and her husband Clay. The other regular characters make brief appearances (although I would have enjoyed more time with their unusually precocious twins) but the book concentrates on exploring their relationship and a deeper understanding of their past while being action oriented and using the medium of a hunt for Mutts (unaffiliated werewolves) in Alaska as the vehicle. (DT)
  6. Death by the Light of the Moon (1992 #7)
  7. Poisoned Pins (1993 #8)
  8. The Goodbye Body (2005 #15)
  9. Damsels in Distress (2007 #16)by Joan Hess: I avoided Joan Hess for years because I had tried her Maggody series and didn't enjoy it. However, while I was rereading the Teagarden books (below), Aurora kept mentioning Hess (they both live in Arkansas- I'd guess they are friends in real life). Serendipitously, the last box of my mother's mysteries that I sent to myself included these 4 books and I liked them very much. I always enjoy books with booksellers as protagonists and when I was younger often dreamed of living a subsistence existence (but enjoying myself) as a book store owner (I think the Internet has really destroyed that dream). Claire Malloy is a bit tougher emotionally than I am, but considering she is a widow (and how she was widowed) and supporting a sarcastic teenager as a bookseller, perhaps that's understandable. And we seem to have sarcasm and some reading tastes in common:). I was particularly amused by DiD and its biting portrayal of the SCA (here, as ARSE). I'll be asking Mom if she has the others in stock as it looks like Claire will finally be getting married, after all these years procrastinating, and what could be better than a honeymoon in Egypt? (DTM)
  10. Feint of Art by Hailey Lind: Annie Kincaid is a talented artist. Unfortunately a grandfather who is a famous forger, and who "brought her" publicly, into the business when she was a child (unknown to her parents) had destroyed her promising career and she has been reduced to a faux finish business. Interesting story, sets up a love triangle with her new landlord (who has a security business specializing in art) and a man who seems to be an art thief. Fun read. (DTM)
  11. Three Bedrooms, One Corpse (Aurora Teagarden #3)
  12. Last Scene Alive (Aurora Teagarden #7)by Charlaine Harris: After reading the last Sookie Stackhouse I remembered how much more I liked Hariss' other books. If mom doesn't have the others, I'll buy these (again) on Kindle to reread the story of a librarian and her quite interesting experiences (love those bookseller/librarian/publisher mysteries).(DTM)
  13. Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold: I bought this as soon as it was available, read it and greatly enjoyed it. Is this the end of the Vorkosigan saga? I very much hope not. I've followed Miles since his "birth" and the stages of life and traumas that he has gone through have always, in a strange way, resonated. Let's put that to Bujold's wonderful writing.(B)
  14. Whack 'n' Roll by Gail Oust: The start of a new series about a group of (mostly retired, mostly over 60) women who live in a planned active retirement community in South Carolina. They seem pretty happy, (unlike my friend who does not enjoy her S.C. life and is waiting for her oldest to graduate HS before fleeing back North) and are joined by a love of either golf or bunco, a dice game. The protagonist, Kate McCall, is extremely nosy and enamored of CSI and such shows, so when a body part turns up on the golf course, she can't leave it to the sheriff. The next one will be out soon and I'll probably borrow it from mom: it's a bit weak but I can see it might develop well. (DTM)

The (M) stands for Mobipocket (the generic form of the file that Kindle Reads) as well as AZW and PRC, the other forms readable by Kindle. Let's leave DT as Dead Tree books. (And perhaps I should add M for books borrowed from my mother:).)I think it's clear what percentage of my reading is becoming e-format. The vast majority are also free, either as public domain or as promotional offers through Amazon and the other online sources I frequent. B stands for Baen, the best of the on-line stores by so many orders of magnitude there is no comparison.

What I've been doing for the last month:Halloween

The holiday that we miss the most is Halloween.

Halloween in our old home is one of T1's favorite memories: our small area was a mecca for trick or treaters, with a large number of the people in our neighborhood putting time and attention into Halloween decorations, themes and motifs— even more than for Christmas. Here in Berlin we have tried trick-or-treating in Zehlendorf (the kids found the sheer density, as every Berliner with an interest descended upon this once American area, overwhelming), a private party (nice, but too old and thus too frightening for them), and this time we tried going to the Botanical Gardens.

This was quite a lot of fun and I think would be even more so as the children get older. T1 still reminisced over the trick-or-treating and especially our neighbor J's fabulous Halloween party, but they also had a lot of fun.

I met the family there after a class and the girls had already had their faces painted and done some crafts. Then we wandered over to a hay meadow and spent quite a lot of time throwing straw at each other (I think they enjoyed it more than I did). We did some walking around and enjoyed the grounds and then we bought the children each a small pumpkin, rented a sharp knife and a spoon and the children drew the faces and we carved the pumpkins for them.
Some more playing and some tree climbing and we went home, put tea lights in the jack-o-lanterns, and displayed them in the window.
(T1 wanted to pose with hers after her bath- please excuse my boxes- they are on their way to the cellar for winter storage.)

28 October 2010

What I've been doing for the last month: Color Fields at the Deutsche Guggenheim

(to the left the iconic Frank Stella painting,below our very interesting guide with "Wheelbarrow by Gene Davis)

Since my B1 class ended, I have started to take advantage of the many interesting opportunities Berlin gives, in conjunction with different groups and vereins.

My women's group offered a guided tour in the Deutsche Guggenheim of their latest exhibit, with a lunch afterward. It sounded interesting and it was. (This is a standard offering of the DG, just in this case reserved for my group.)

Color Fields art is a style that I found annoyingly navel-gazing. In a period when vastly exciting and world altering events were taken place, artists (the vast majority white males who could afford their self referential lives) played with color. In many ways, this is the type of art that people are speaking about when they say their 3 year old could produce the same art. Methods included the famous flinging paint at a canvas and holding a coffee can full of paint, with a hole in the bottom, over canvas.

Some of it is very pretty to look at (I particularly liked the two above), but others are not. Even those that are attractive can now be made easily with the aid of computers. So it's clever stuff, but not, I find, moving. And I think art should indeed be moving, or it's actually graphic design.

The guide was extremely knowledgeable, the food was lovely, as was the conversation at table. After visiting Peggy Guggenheim's home in Venice last year, I had been meaning to visit this affiliated space (they are both affiliated with the NY Guggenheim) and I am glad to have done so. The space is interesting: it's in the older section of the old Deutsche Bank, to which the Bank returned after the fall of the wall. Deutsche Bank is famous for its art collection (and its practice of "lending" it's art out to its offices and employees throughout the world) and I hope to get back for the guided tour through the offices themselves and the opportunity to see the artworks on display in the upper levels. There are also other intriguing activities available for both adults and children, so I expect I'll be visiting again.