31 August 2011

What I am Reading: August 2011

It may seem like I have had an awful lot of time to read this past month, but that's a result of multiple trips— driving to NRW and then training to Amsterdam (3 changes one way, 5 the other), having a few free days while the kids were in NRW, with a train trip back to Berlin, and a few flights as well. So I made my way through a pile of magazines and a few books that I need to see about returning soon.
  1. Murder Past Due (2010) by Miranda James (aka Dean James): I was actually distracted while reading this because the protagonist, part-time librarian Charlie Harris as a male seemed a bit off. When I looked at the copyright page and saw the second name, I was pretty sure that the writer was actually a man and that his style, a bit over-done in its "coziness" was a result of trying a bit too hard. So he is.
  2. Death is a Bargain (2005) by Nora Charles (Noreen Wald): 3rd in the Kate Kennedy series. Kate is helping Marlene sell some of her treasures (decluttering is a theme I resonate with) in a flea market at a local circus. I always get a kick out of these that's not related to the actual plots, but because the setting is so close to where my mom winters. Not the best, but an ok read.
  3. Sunset Bridge (2011) by Emilie Richards: Charming chick-lit. A story in the lives of five women in the Floriday Keys. It says "A Happiness Key Novel", so there are probably more. I enjoyed the light read, but not enough to search out more. (DT ARC)
  4. The Amish Midwife (2011) by Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould: Like the above listed book, this is out of my genre (yes, there is a very specific Amish genre and this author is famous in it). The protagonist, Lexie Jaeger, was raised in a Mennonite family in the PNW but when her adoptive father dies, discovers her link to the Amish community in Pennsylvania. She takes a temporary position as a midwife (she is licensed as a nurse-midwife) in the community with a midwife that she has been told has an association with her. Well-written story, quiet romance, pleasant chick/Amish lit.(DT ARC)
  5. Ransom at the Opera (2002) by Fred Hunter: I was surprised to run across an entire mystery series that I was unfamiliar with in this book from my mom. When I googled the author, I found that she had two separate series and was a woman. With no new books since 2004, I'm not certain if she is still writing (or still alive) and I haven't been able to find a quick answer). This is the 6th book in the "Ransom" series (and there is a 7th in 2004) set in Chicago with Detective Ransom and his "septuagenarian friend, Emily Charters". Charters is an opera buff and is watching the performance where a tenor is, apparently, murdered on stage. Well-written. I enjoyed it but won't seek it out as I don't know whether it will be a series without an ending. (DTM)
  6. Mai Tai to Murder (2007) by Candy Calvert: Another of Mom's books. I quite enjoyed this fluffy 3rd in a series genre crime novel with Darcy Cavanaugh, an ER nurse as protagonist. She and her friend and co-worker, are on a cruise with her boyfriend's uptight mother, an aspiring writer, when a famous critic is murdered. Their "instructional" lecture on murder methods were used in a series of "pranks" that culminated in the murder and the mom is a primary suspect. Snappy, funny, interesting characters: I liked it a lot, only to discover that the writer has chosen to switch genres and will no longer be writing in this series. Bah. (DTM)
  7. Poisoned by Gilt (2008) by Leslie Caine: 6th in the Domestic Bliss mystery series with Erin Gilbert and Steve Sullivan. I spent quite a bit of the story being annoyed by the stupidity of the protagonists and wanting to give them a clop upside the head. Not in re the mystery, but in re their personal relationship. The book was an ok read, but it looks like the relationship may be resolved in the next, which is a relief.(DTM)
  8. Friends in High Places (2007) by Marne Davis Kellogg: I hadn't seen this author before and when I started the book, I wasn't too impressed— the protagonist, Kick Keswick (a retired jewel thief), just seemed too much of a social climber, always dropping names, brands and dollar amounts. But after a few chapters I found her more interesting, the plot and characters and settings were interesting, and I wound up really enjoying it. Since it was dated 2007 and there were no later books I looked up the author's blog, found reading it interesting, and discovered that she has a few earlier books with this protagonist, another series, a very interesting earlier life and that her current book has been delayed. (There were also a few recipes, due to Kick's love of food. Not my taste, but I always like a book with recipes.) (DTM)
  9. A Peach of a Murder (2006) by Livia J. Washburn: I hadn't read anything by this author before, although she is prolific. This is the first in her "Fresh Baked Mystery" series and I liked it. A retired schoolteacher, Phyllis Newsom, has been recently widowed and has taken in other retired teachers as boarders and friendly companions. She is preparing to compete in the Peach Festival (against her boarder, who is the constant winner when townsfolk start dying and her friend and competition becomes the major suspect. I always like mysteries with recipes that look fun and this was well-written and the recipes look good as well (that is, I might actually make the cobbler)! I'll look for the others in this series. (DTM)
  10. How to Crash a Killer Bash (2010) by Penny Warner: A "Party Planning" Mystery. The protagonist, Presley Parker, is a former "instructor" in Abnormal Psychology (and I can't understand how one instructs that). Having lost her job, she is now an event planner and hijinks ensue as she the murder-mystery fund raiser at a museum goes dramatically wrong, landing her friend in jail. Her friend and romantic interest is a crime scene cleaner who has a mysteriously close relationship with the police and helps her get to the bottom of things. A mother with AD rounds out the cast. Was a fun and light read. I see that Ms. Warner is extraordinarily prolific and is now writing a second and more serious mystery series as well as a third children's genre mystery series (or at least a few title is one). She has been a professional party planner and currently also creates mystery party fund raisers for libraries. (DTM)
  11. The Silver Needle Murder (2008) by Laura Childs: "Tea Shop Mystery" 9 and the title is, as all the others, the name of a specific tea. I vaguely remember having read a few before and enjoying them, although I find the protagonist, Indigo Tea Shop proprietor Theodosia Browning, sometimes a bit of a name and brand dropper. Set in Charleston, it's fortunate that Theo's catering and shop give her reason to have a wide circle of acquaintance or her friends might be running for the hills, rather than helping her to investigate. As a former restaurant owner, I found the descriptions of her restaurant and service enjoyable, although laughably unrealistic (unless the single cook/chef/creative kitchen staff has magic powers!). Nice recipes included, which I always find a plus.
  12. Shot through Velvet (2011) by Ellen Byerrum: 7th in the "A Crime of Fashion" mystery series and the first I have read since Grave Apparel, her 5th. I found the descriptions of the closing velvet factory more interesting than the story itself, as I recently attended a talk by a photographer who had documented the closing of a felt and hat-making factory and the exposition in the book were extremely true to life. And a bit sad, when one sees the end of complete industries as Western countries are incapable of matching the slave wages and terrible working conditions in China and other non-rule bound societies. I do like this series, though, and one of the things I most enjoy is Lacey's descriptions of the vintage clothing that she wears (inherited from her flapper Aunt Mimi). I love vintage clothing and I am deeply sorry that my grandmother, who was a flapper, did not leave me any. (DTM)
  13. Killer Cruise (2009) by Laura Levine: Another author that I hadn't read. This is the the 9th in her "Jaine Austen" mystery series (no relation, ad copy writer). Jaine is invited as a lecturer on a cruise line when her fellow employee winds up as a suspect in a murder and she investigates. Fluffy but enjoyable read. But at 9th in the series without any real depth or character development, it won't be a series that I will pursue. (There you go- the author was a real copy writer who created the Frankenberry and Count Chocula campaigns- cool.She then became a sitcom writer and worked on some of my favorite childhood shows.) (DTM)

29 August 2011

What I've been doing while I wasn't here...part 2 Aug 2011

And more that we did this month, with a few photos to relieve the eye...
  • T2 entered as a vorschulkind into her last year before Grundschule, complete with Winnie-the-Pooh small schultuete. It hurts my feelings a bit when she tells me, "Mama, go!" But at least she hugs and kisses me before she sends me on my way. I'm glad that we didn't push for her to go to first grade this year, as she is enjoying it so. Erste Klasse won't be a bed of roses and I think she will have a grand time this year in kita.
  • We went for a weekend religious retreat and really enjoyed the warm feeling, although it was a bit hectic because the following Monday—
  • School started again, with T1 switching teachers (which makes us sad because we loved her old one). And wow- is 3rd Klasse incredibly harder than 1st or 2nd! (Kita resumes far earlier than school starts, at least here in Berlin.)
  • We went to Amsterdam for the concert at the Hotel Pulitzer and found that suite 273 was charming, bright and airy. We met a lovely expat couple (Mexican and Portugese, respectively) and I need to send them some photos. We had "won" a package and we had :the weekend in a gorgeous suite (more bathrooms than we have at home!), a walking tour with visits to a historic distillery and a cheese cave, a wonderful meal with accompanying wines and a sommelier to guide us (and including what I think is the best piece of beef we have yet had in Europe), a boat tour through the canals, pontoon side seats during the Prinsengracht/Pulitzer concert (the director sat next to us, when he sat) and an invitation to the after party: we sat on a garden bench and "people watched", wondering who the people were that all the others were fawning over (our best guess:Dutch nobility).
  • While we were in Amsterdam, the children were enjoying the Soester Fehde and I was a bit jealous: if I had known this existed, I might not have tried for our Amsterdam package but instead enjoyed this! They also did some boating and swimming with their cousins.
  • T1's Zahnspange lost a piece while being brushed (with a soft toothbrush!). She needed to go for another impression and will get a new upper plate next week.
  • The German shifted his Munich workweek a bit and came home to go to the "Faces of the Renaissance" exhibit at the Bode Museum (in partnership with the Met): it was gorgeous. The Bode itself was a lovely , extremely and ornate, gilded piece, but the exhibit was fabulous. We took a guided tour with my women's club and I'm sorry that we did: once again, I find the audio guides to be infinitely superior to a single human as guide. No matter how much that person knows, it won't be as much as the many erudite and recondite sources who put together the audio guide, nor will she have her own period soundtrack or the ability to be put on pause while one gazes and ponders. I'll probably make a repeat visit, with audio guide. During the tour, I took lots of photographs (I asked, as always, at the door and was told it would be fine with no flash): at the end of the tour, the guide told me that in this special exhibit, photos were not allowed (due to the many private owners of individual paintings collected) so I was lucky. Strange that no guard stopped me if it was actually forbidden, though.
  • I took a bread course, an African cooking course, a Persian cooking course and a vegetarian Persian cooking course. I enjoyed them all, even though a woman in the bread class informed me, as I was discussing sourdough starters with the teacher (a Master Baker), that the US has only "squishy" bread. I asked if she had ever been in the US and she told me no, although her friend had told her all about it. The folks in the African and Persian courses were much more friendly and open. I wonder if there is some correlation between taking a cooking course in a foreign cuisine and not having negative stereotypes about foreign cuisine? (Perhaps that's a bit obvious:-)).
Now I have posted these, perhaps I can get going on some more current posts! I can say that I may expand on some of these and re-post as individual pieces, but I seem to never get around to doing it.

La la la la La la la la Elmo's World (da da da)

La la la la
La la la la
Elmo's World (da da da)
La la la la
La la la la
Elmo's World
Elmo loves his goldfish
His crayon too
That's Elmo's World!

We recently got the new Shalom Sesame and T2 put it in. First she had to get Elmo to watch it with, though. (8/29)

Cooking courses at the VHS

My birthday present from the German, amongst other items, was the gift of time: I abandoned the family and took several cooking courses through the VHS system. I enjoyed them all, in their varied ways.
In addition to garnering many interesting recipes and having the opportunity to decide how I like various dishes (and how I might alter them from the originals), I very much enjoyed having the opportunity (while on vacation from my language course, which starts up again next week) to actually speak to Germans, in their native habitat, so to speak. It's good to know that, even though I feel completely incompetent in German, I can follow a teacher and communicate with Germans without them needing a dictionary. I have taken several other cooking glasses at the VHS (including jamming) but I actually feel that my cooking vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds this past week and I had a great time.

The photos you see (above and here) are: a Hirse mit Muskatnuss, Orangenblütenwasser und Quark (from Senegal— the dish with pomegranate seeds), Saffron Basmati rice with "layered"(smothered) ground lamb with young peas and fresh dill (Persia), a watermelon and goat cheese salad (Persia), Schwarzen Augenbohnen-Bällchen (black-eyed peas) frittiert with veggies and chili (Senegal and it really wound up bread-like), and the first baklava I have ever liked (made with less than half the sugar and honey of a Turkish baklava and tremendously refreshing without being nauseatingly sweet). I will certainly be making some of these dishes again (particularly the non-pictured but delicious joghurt, aubergine and zucchini dips) as well as the mains and deserts (although I will need to cut the recipes to a third!).

Although I enjoyed all 4 courses that I took, the 2-day bread course was really fantastic: the garlic baguettes that we made were out of this world! I may have to take that again, because the specific folding techniques that create the baguette (rather than simply the dough) are a bit intricate and I'm not certain that I have them down.
In the bread photo, one sees (my breads):
  • the garlic baguette (with the dough having been cut with scissors, rather than just slashed, therefore producing more crust)
  • a roggenbrot
  • a zwiebelkuchen (this is the vegetarian one made for me, made with potato starch as a binder rather than egg, with yoghurt instead of creme fraiche and with cheese instead of pig— it was actually the best I have ever had, but I still prefer pizza)
  • and a "pirate bread", which is a half roggenbrot/half Weizenmehl with onions and read and green peppers baked throughout (therefore a pirate's hoard, as it were)
The final photo is of our bread teacher, a master baker, discussing some of the finer points of the sauerteig we were using (which is absolutely not sourdough as Americans know and love it). This class was 75% male, which was amusing since of the other three classes: 1 had 1 male, 1 had none, and the third had two husbands accompanying their wives. Bread making is considered a very male occupation here in Germany (and after kneading a dough that made 10 loaves, I can tell you that without a machine, it requires real muscle)

What I've been doing while I wasn't here...part 1 Aug 2011

It's been a pretty busy month and it's hard to grab enough time to really blog about it.
  • We went blueberry picking.
  • I had an appointment with a neurosurgeon and a quick follow-up MRI. Physical therapy should start as soon as I make an appointment.
  • The German and I went to a Sting concert in Rome at the Cavea dell'Auditorium Parco della Musica. We stayed at the Westin Excelsior and were upgraded to a suite that was incredible. And it was just a tiny suite compared to the suite we were connected to as part of one of the largest suites in Europe (we were told that Prince had stayed— in our small section—there recently). I haven't really thought of myself as a Sting fan— we grabbed the opportunity because it was offered to us as a package and because I love Rome and will always take the opportunity to visit it. But this concert was amazing: leaving aside the wonderful weather (Rome was having a cold spell after the previous week's 40C and was at a perfect 28C, with all the Romans wearing coats and scarves), the venue had perfect acoustics and was charming and intimate. At our pre-party, we could see Sting and some of his people testing instruments and listening to sound levels. At the concert, we had front-row seats and it was wonderful. The open sky, the seductive breeze, the music with a full orchestra.... We were given a copy of Sting's Symphonicities (a pun on his earlier Synchronicities)and the concert that we saw and heard was far better than the one recorded on the CD. What a wonderful concert and the La Fenice orchestra was also wonderful.
  • I had a major dental work done:-(. But it went well:-). Of course my American expat insurance classified it incorrectly as something reimbursed at a lower rate: what would our last two months on expat insurance be if it did not include arguing with the insurance company? I can say from personal experience that more than 80% of our claims are automatically denied or classified incorrectly or paid at the wrong rate and that, after argument and re-submission, they are indeed correctly paid. Sometimes it has required 4 calls and re-faxes of information(they "lose"scan and sends). I cannot wait until we are on German public insurance and I am very pleased to say that time is rapidly approaching.
  • We took the children for a boat tour on the Spree and it was surprisingly sunny— enough so that I got a bit of a sunburn and the kids were enervated. We aren't used to any sun in this summer without a summer!
—continued in the next post, so that one's eyes aren't overloaded...

11 August 2011


This may seem a tad strange, but my kids have actually never had shoes that laced. We have practiced tying shoes and we have tied bows, but this is T1s first shoe with laces and this is the first time that she has tied her lace all by herself, without even any kibbutzing or help double-tying it (she double-tied it by herself!).
She's pretty happy and I was pretty amazed and proud.

09 August 2011

Ceramics and Art

It's been a non-sunny, non-warm sort of interim period, waiting for school to start again. So we grabbed a day and went to a "paint your own ceramics" place, where the girls spent hours working on their masterpieces.
They are quite strong-willed and took absolutely none of my suggestions. We might have stayed even longer, but they were hungry and it was getting late (and although there are drinks available, there is no food). We paid and left the pieces for firing (it takes two days, depending on timing).
(edit:see fired pieces)

02 August 2011

To Oma and Opa's house we go...

Over the river, and through the wood—
And straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
It is so hard to wait!
Lydia Marie Child
The children spent the last week with Oma and Opa, some of which we spent in Rome and some of which home and here. They think of the time with Oma and Opa as being a form of adventure camp. In the last week they have:
  • taken a boat trip, which Opa did the narration for,
  • visited a sculptress and had a lecture and gotten a fragment of marble as souvenir
  • visited an apiary, talked to the bee-keeper, examined the hives and poured their own honey into their own jars
  • learned how to consistently, and at a high level, make princess crowns and decorate them
  • wandered and picnicked in many places, by foot and by bike, including the river above
  • visited a cousin and seen his sheep and ridden some local ponies
  • visited friends and had American-German style barbecue and batted at whiffle balls
  • bonded with cousins and spent time with the beloved Grosseltern and increased their Wortschatz and grammar tremendously.
Summer camp for T1 was lots of fun, with many interesting day trips (T2 stayed in kita), but this was truly an adventure camp for the two of them!

01 August 2011

Visiting friends

Visiting friends in a small town in the west, not far from Münster. This is their villge square and their local Eis Cafe. We had an Eis Pizza (and it was very good) and the kids had Eis "characters". Sometimes it's hard to believe they are old enough to finish the whole thing!