30 April 2012

What I am reading: April 2012

It's a crazy month, but one of the things I have done is started clearing through my Kindle back log while doing some traveling.
Even though I have more than 600 books on my Kindle, it gets harder to get through to the older ones and then I lose track of what I want to read— it's not as easy as looking at a wall of books to go through 14 pages of them, especially when some are misformated and show up without an author to sort by. Next month I think that I will do more dead-tree reading and follow by getting rid of a bunch of books- in this case, I have cleared many of the books off my reader and now I have them only in a back-up file on my computer (and the ability to re-download them as needed from the vendor).

  1. Silenced by the Yams by by Karen Cantwell: I thought this was a funny and charming mystery. Third in the Barbara Marr mystery series, with a mom protagonist, funny kids, interesting husband, and quirky friends. It was a free Kindle download and I will read the next in this series, because the ending is a cliff hanger!
  2. Time Spike by Eric Flint and Marilyn Kosmatka: I'm wandering through my Kindle as I try to find what books are not living in the Cloud (that is, not purchased through Amazon). I bought this (and the next) some time ago from my favorite e-tailer, Baen Books, and I was glad to start reading some good, solid SF. Eric Flint first came to my attention with his 1632 books and this is in the same vein: a time slip brings a high security prison, with its contents, into the very far past.
  3. The Power of Illusion by Christopher Anvil:Classic SF from the 50's, hanging on my Kindle from a Baen package. 22 short stories and not a one a clunker, from the Baen series collecting Anvil's works and edited by Eric Flint. Since it's from Baen, it's DRM-free and readable on all platforms, as well as well-priced. Liked it very much and followed it up by reading (and enjoying) two more Anvil novels.
  4. The Trouble with Aliens and
  5. The Trouble with Humans by Christopher Anvil: Great stories, primarily from the Golden Age and just so clear in attitude that anyone who likes Mad Men should be reading them. Even though I loved all three collections, readers should be clear that the imperialistic 50's attitude is there: if you hate that, don't read this.
  6. Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells: Another very good novel by Martha Wells. This one with a(nother) very strong female lead. Maskelle is the Avatar for the only "god" that was not previously a human- the Adversary. Chaotic but bringing justice, Maskelle starts the story as an Avatar in disgrace, although still honored. Great story, with a Buddhist tinge (to my eyes) and strong characters and world building. Highly recommended.
  7. The Element of Fire by Martha Wells: Slightly Three Musketeers meets Elizabethan England meets Faerie, I liked it very much. Kade Carrion was a strong character, I enjoyed the world and the personalities.
  8. City of Bones by Martha Wells: These three Martha Wells were free/inexpensive downloads, which I raced into after reading her two (later) Raksura novels last month.
  9. Immortal by VK Forrest:Non-sparkly but interesting vampires, cursed in the old country. Several different "lineages", but this one works through a cycle of re-birth, with memories and powers re-emerging toward adolescence. Very interesting background, decent murder mystery foreground.
  10. Give First Place to Murder by Kathleen Delaney: Another Kindle freebie. A mystery set at the race track. Ehh.
  11. Monster Hunter Vendetta by Larry Correia: Wandering through my e-books, fell across this one which was part of a Baen Webscription and which I had never read. Fantasy war/ violence, aimed, I think, at men. But interesting and fast reading.

27 April 2012

Zu Verschenken

A car seat and some shelves that we put out "Zu Verschenken"
While I have been clearing things out of the apartment (a constant struggle, documented in my other blog) one of the issues has been the market (or lack of it) for used items in Germany (and particularly Berlin).

I was discussing this with my German teacher today at lunch and she agreed, mentioning that she had attempted to sell her son's bicycle and been offered 10€. She wound up selling it for 180€ on kleinanzeigen, which she, the buyer (and I, as someone looking for a new bike for my older daughter) thought was a very reasonable price for a bike in good condition (about 45% off the cost of a new one).

So what I have been doing with most of what I am "de-accessioning" is just giving it away. Good clothing to the donation bins or Humana, bad to the Orange bin, electronics to the Orange bin or Recycling Hof (where folks take them before they hit the refuse and I assume strip and resell them- good for them!), books to the public library, and so on.

If I can't get any monetary return for my items, I like to feel that someone else is using them and getting some enjoyment out of them, so I would ordinarily use Freecycle. But I hate waiting around to see if people will show up for what they "reserve" and what I have found extremely easy to do is to just give things away. That is, I put them outside with a sign on them saying "Zu Verschenken". It seems to take no more than a few minutes for things to disappear (I think because what I am putting out is above the average quality of what many people sell at Flohmarkts, from what I have seen).

In Berlin, just as there are book kiosks (and now the art initiative is spreading throughout Europe), where one can take or leave books (started as a living art project), there are also "Zu Verschenken" kiosks, as you see here

But I think that the items I have been placing outside are more desirable, because they are immediately taken, whereas the items in this Schenkbox seem to just remain. I often wonder whether what I put out is sold on, but in the end, what matters to me is that they don't hit the waste stream but are actually used, whether someone else profits from them or not.

21 April 2012

A Half Birthday

Explaining the Color Wheel
Because T1's birthday is in the summer holidays, she loses out on a birthday celebration with her friends. The German tradition prevents her celebrating it before the actual day (that's a huge no-no for Germans) while when school starts again we head directly into New Year's, Herbstferien, and other holidays.

The cake
This year, I brought a cake in for her school celebration in the fall, but we just couldn't manage to put together a real birthday celebration that didn't run across other holidays. Although I increasingly see the clever fashion of some parents giving birthday celebration invitations to the class during a holiday when everyone can be expected to either be a. out of town or b. unable to eat what is provided, that wasn't our goal, which was to allow T1 to enjoy her birthday party with her friends.

So we had a Winnie Pooh-style birthday (at the around half year mark). As usual, although I handed out invitations before the spring holidays with a 3 week RSVP request, gave my phone number and e-mail, and sent out a request by e-mail a week before (because the venue required booking), only 3/12 parents RSVPed and we needed to call everyone. Sigh.

I thought this was amazing: the
 (Russian) girl who did this was
very reluctant to share the (simple)
techique with the other girls.
We went to Paint Your Style and the kids had a great time. The girls are all in the stereotypical horse-loving stage and all chose horse figurines to paint, while the boys took Fussball piggybanks. Who needs to impose gender roles when they do so themselves?

Pizza and Cake
After, we walked them across the street to a pizza parlor we had booked a table out, ordered pizza, used the place mats and goody bags I brought back from the States (Cars theme for the boys, Fairies for the girls) and enjoyed the cake I had brought

I think we all had a good time and after all the children were picked up, T1's best friend and her dad joined us for an ice cream at a local Eisladen to cap off the day.

17 April 2012

Schloss Bellevue

where the workers are.
Visiting Schloss Bellevue is an incredible treat: there are very limited tours allowed, they are given only to certain groups, and they book out years in advance. So I was very excited to have the opportunity to tour the ceremonial seat of the German President and the associated Bundespräsidialamt.

Our guide was a charming government worker, who started us in the office building, discussed its history, architecture, and the individuals who work there and then walked us to the Schloss. This is one of her duties as she spends a period of time attached to the President's office.

The lovely Schloss Bellevue, although the official residence of the President, is not where he actually lives (that is a government-owned home in Dahlem, not far from the other ambassadors, including that from the US). The flag seen flying from the "residence" does not actually indicate that the President is in his office (either here or at the Bundespräsidialamt), but that he is not in official residence at the Bonn Residence: Villa Hammerschmidt or on a state visit, when he would "reside" where the German flag was raised.
The official Guest Book
Original art, furniture to match

Great Hall

The largest hall in the palace is used for large receptions, state banquets, concerts, discussions, ceremonies awarding prizes and decorations and other events. The walls on the north and south side exhibit two large bodies of colour entitled "Begegnungen" (Encounters, 1988) by the artist Gotthard Graubner.

Seeing our group indicates the size of this room, a reception room which can also be used as a banquet hall.

I loved the paintings.

(Below, you see the painting on the facing wall, with me below it to show scale.)

14 April 2012

Meeting our Katzenbaby

T1 with her soon-to-be new "sister"
Ever since we lost Felix (the cat we brought with us to Germany), we have been a cat-less family.

This has been the longest that I have been without a cat since I turned 5 and got my first. We have been putting off finding a new family member for several reasons:
  • it's so easy to travel spontaneously without pets!
  • my in-laws don't like pets, so visiting them becomes more problematic
  • we visit the US for weeks at a time, make a petsitter necessary, expensive, and worrying
  • we are never certain how long we will be here, in this apartment, city, state, country
  • adopting a pet as an expat family in Germany is actually quite onerous and adopting is really quite expensive.
All these combined to leave us pet-less for almost 4 years by now. And it's been too long.

When we visited Grünewoche this year, we once again visited the cat section (and were disappointed at how small it was compared to last year). But this time, I visited with the desire to actually look at and compare different cat breeds: I have never had a pedigreed pet before, always adoping from animal shelters, kitten give-aways, or feral animals on my property (as Felix).

Because this time, since no kitten is at my door, I decided to actually choose a breed and a kitten for the pet that will share my life for the next 15-20 years. We chose a Somali, which is basically a long-haired Abyssinian. The type is ruddy: to me, little Feuerflamme (tentative name) looks exactly like a cartoon-cute fox. She is absolutely charming. I did a lot of (internet) looking around and exploring, both here and in the US, and FF's dam and sire were, to me, utterly charming exemplars of the breed and type that I wanted. So we are waiting until she is old enough to take home and the children are looking at pictures of her as she grows and counting down the days.

13 April 2012

Visiting Onkle H

The children talk constantly about visiting Onkel H when we leave them for a few days with Oma and Opa, and who can blame them? Onkel H and Tante U have a pony, with a foal. Sheep, with lots of little schäffchen. Special geese, white and mated, homing pigeons and piglets and chickens, whose eggs one can collect.

So, on our visit to Oma and Opa, we took a run over, our first. We were just amazed at how one can have a real smallholding right in the middle of a village. A charming house, that they built a few years after getting married (so some 30 years ago), with an open kitchen, high ceilings and lots and lots of glass and windows (or the exact opposite of my in-laws' house, which was built around the same time), rather on a chalet model, I guess. Very airy and comfortable. And then small outbuildings and barns and fields, all secret and hidden behind a housefront which looks like any other suburban building!

Onkel H retired (as a family doctor) over several years, and after doing some consulting to his practice (which his son and daughter-in-law have taken over as Dr and nurse), he is spending more time with his enkelkinder and animals, as well as doing some traveling and lots of biking (he is incredibly fast on his mountain bike).

Both the girls gathered eggs and petted lambs and brushed the horses and then did a bit of riding. The German thought it would be fun to put the girls on the pony together, bareback, and so they were simultaneously bucked off. (No picture- I was running toward them.) That was not fun for either of them, but especially not for T2. Above you see T2 being soothed into remounting (we didn't want her to stay afraid of riding, since she is still interested in taking lessons next year)--- afterwards, we made a daisy coronet (below)and she felt much better. T1 is actually standing on the pony after being bucked off--- I'm not certain if she just loves ponies more (it may be) or if her fall was cushioned by T2!

11 April 2012

Walking through Soest

Soest is a charming town, not far from my in-laws'.

We took the opportunity to let the children play with Oma and Opa and just took a walk along the city wall (still extant, with a running trail) and look at the trees in bloom: enjoying the medieval remains.

We also stopped at our favorite Eisladen, the Venezia, where we had coffees. The German wondered why his cost a bit more than mine: I pointed out that his had a Schlag, or a measure of alcohol, in it. (He had thought that he was ordering a cinnamon coffee but it was actually with cinnamon Schnapps.) About 85% of the coffee and hot chocolates (and ice cream confections) had alcohol in them— the menu made me laugh,a nd think how typical of Germany that is.

10 April 2012

Rapunzel, Thinking

T2 Rapunzel Snow White LN1 LN2
What should I do next?