A few things I forgot to mention in the last post:
1. St. Nicholas Day is a big holiday here for the kids. You could even drop off your boot at our local Starbucks and get a special present from Santa when you brought the matching boot. They also only accepted clean boots, which they were very specific about on the sign promoting it.
2. German Christmas is a day earlier. Der Weihnachtsman (literally, the Christmas man, not Santa Klaus) comes on the evening of the 23rd, and everyone opens up their presents on the 24th. On the 25th, everything stays closed because...
3. The 26th is St. Steven's day, a national holiday when most people spend the day visiting with family, cleaning up Christmas stuff, or just lounging around home. We most definitely enjoyed that this year.
4. All the stores here seemed to be having a sale BEFORE Christmas. I didn't expect that at all. Many stores had special promotional sales, and it wasn't uncommon to see clearance sales in many of them.
5. Though we are in Germany and totally loving living like we're Germans (most of the time), my kids did not get a visit from Santa until the evening of the 24th and then opened their presents on the 25th. To address the criticism I did receive about this via Facebook, I want to tell you WHY we decided to do things that way. Being away from home at the holidays is extremely difficult when you really just want to spend time with family, but it was most assuredly magnified because we have little kids. Is there anything better than watching the excited faces of little kids opening a present that you got for them? We decided to wait until the 25th to open the presents so that our family could still get that experience via Skype. If we couldn't be there, we could at least do that one thing for them! We also wanted to be able to see our family open the presents we mailed to them. Thank you thank you Skype for helping us feel that much less homesick during the holidays.
Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas. We still don't have a babysitter for Saturday, so it may be a quiet New Year's Eve for us here in Berlin. We're used to it by now anyway! :-)
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful times to be in Berlin is around Christmas. There are lights up all over the city, and even the grumpy lady at the post office who lost your package that the postman just left a note to come pick up yesterday will tell you to “have a nice 3rd advent” in December. I knew what she meant, but having grown up in a decidedly non-Catholic house, I had to look up the whole progression of the holiday to really know when I was supposed to give each specific departing wish. The nightmare that seems to be package delivery here really does warrant an entire blog post to itself, so I’ll save that for another time. Anyway, back to Christmas.
We got in the holiday spirit around here when Andy purchased an adorable 4 foot tall potted Christmas tree at our local grocery store. It only cost €12 and has been remarkably good at keeping its needles. We just have to figure out what to do with it now. I’m voting to plant it when the ground thaws, though I’m also sure that if I was left in charge of keeping it alive until then, it would not make it. Andy promises that he can take care of it, but we have to figure out if we can put it out on the veranda instead of it taking up a corner of the apartment for a few more months. Obviously, research needs to be done.
Because we’re so very far from home, Andy ambitiously decided to make all the decorations for the tree, though he did invest in one string of white lights. He bought the tiny little plastic circle things that you arrange on little peg boards and iron to make them stick together to start making the ornaments. 7 of the 10 that were created with this method survived the holidays, and only 2 of those original 10 were actually made by Annika. 1 of the 7 still there is actually a very beautiful star at the top of the tree that Andy made with Annika’s help. The string of popcorn that was the first to don the tree now has a few empty places where Mayzie has picked a few kernels to chew. Andy also bought some construction paper, glue, kiddie scissors, and fuzzy craft ball thingies to make more ornaments. Problems: the paper turned out to be more like posterboard, he bought a glue stick instead of a bottle of glue, and the scissors he bought were decorative scissors that turned out to be both practically impossible for cutting posterboard and pretty difficult to maneuver even for us adults. They did manage to fashion some ornaments out of this stuff, but once Andy set them out on the counter “to dry” he realized the balls were never going to stick to the paper with the aid of the glue stick. They pretty much sat on the counter until I threw them away yesterday, other than the subsequent checks to see if one more try to glue the balls back with the glue stick would work. HA. The tree also has a few paper snowflakes and a couple rows of paper chain gingerbread men and flowers. Not too shabby really for a bunch of silly Americans in Germany.
The best part of the city at Christmas-time has to be the amazing Christmas Markets though! At every major section of the city, seemingly overnight these amazing mazes of tiny cabin-looking shops lined the public squares selling all different kinds of things. A smattering of the ones I saw: Cheese and Ham, Felted hats, imported fancy scarves from Turkey, a HUGE variety of wooden toys, calendars (including a prominently displayed Hustler 2012 calendar), soccer paraphernalia from all European countries, and soo many sweets that it was ridiculous. Of course there were the obligatory giant heart shaped cookies with sweet phrases on them such as “Ich liebe dich” or “Fröhliche Fest Schlampe” (wait, that’s not nice!), but there were all manner of candied fruit to be had as well: apples, cantaloupe, grapes, pineapple, pear, and varietal skewers of candied fruits too. There were deep fried marzipan balls (YUM) and every kind of nut known to mankind roasted and coated in sugary goodness available for purchase.
Different markets have different attractions for people as well. At Potsdamer Platz they had a giant fake hill covered in fake snow that you could pay €1.50 to climb and go down a tube on it—one at a time in very orderly fashion with security looking on of course. At Alexander Platz there was a HUGE carnival with lots of rides, more teenage appropriate than for my little ones, but very cool indeed. There were also ice skating rinks at both of these markets which had small Zambonis that would come out to smooth out the ice after an hour and a half of skate time. They had these 3ft tall wooden penguins on skis with handles that came out of their ears to rent for the kids which I thought was very well thought out. The 2 story Italian style carousel at Alex was Annika’s favorite thing by far though. I personally really loved the 3 story tall tree built out of aluminum bars and decorated with consumer goods and flame blowing cannons at the KaiserWilhelm Gedächtniskirche market. It was this amazingly industrial looking gigantic sculpture that seemed to be criticizing the commercialization of the holiday in the middle of a fairly large market that happens to be in one of the business hearts of the whole city. Frankly, I thought it was soo ironic as to be comical.
There is also a seemingly massive amount of drinking going on at these things. At every turn within the maze of tiny adorable cabins selling wares is another drinking spot selling Gluhwein, Eierpunsch, and many other drinks for warming you up. You can usually get an extra shot of something in your drink for another Euro too, so that’s not too shabby. During the winter months, it seems that Gluhwein is sold everywhere—even on the S-Bahn platform newsstands. They gave it to us for free at a special Zoo party for the penguins too. I think I could get used to this VERY different attitude about alcohol! That’s one thing I will definitely miss when we go home.
What I did miss about being home for the holidays, was not being able to spend time with our families. Skype just isn’t the same, but we’ll make up for it next year.
In January 2011, I sent in my 5th& 6th funding proposals, and we still had no idea where we would be at the end of the year. Annika & Mayzie were home with me most days when we weren’t going on outings to the Library, the Heights Parents’ Center, and play dates. One day a week I would keep an extra 2 ½ year old friend so that another day a week I could take a break from our own 2 ½ year old and either get some work done on my qualifying exam or just do some shopping without a very energetic toddler to wrangle. (OMG Meagen, our toddler exchanges might have actually saved my sanity! THANK YOU!!!) Andy had plenty of snow to blow out of the driveway and walkways, and was happily working at the Salvation Army HQ downtown. Mayzie was starting to crawl and Annika was stringing together simple full sentences. I was STILL working on revisions to my 1st qualifying exam, and completely anxious yet still optimistic about where the year would take us.
February 2011, I received rejections for the 1st 4 funding proposals I wrote and started to get really nervous and less optimistic about getting money to come to Berlin for the year.
March 2011, I got an email telling me that I won a DAAD graduate research fellowship to come to Berlin for the year. The news was bittersweet, as it would be enough money for us to scrape by on in Berlin, but not enough to get us there or to actually pay for any of my research budget. I was seriously torn as to whether or not to go to Berlin, so I actually applied for an alternative plan just to keep my options open. I also applied for a small grant from CWRU for my research and continued working on revisions to my exam. We also had a really fun trip to Indianapolis that month to help my brother and sister-in-law warm up their beautiful new house and celebrate our niece’s 2nd birthday.
In April, I received word that I got the small grant, the day before I was to go to an interview for my Plan B. I decided not to go to the interview and to continue my chase for the dissertation dream, as Andy helped me remember that’s what I really wanted.
I applied for another research grant in May and finally finished the revisions to my 1st qualifying exam. Annika turned 3 years old and had a great birthday filled with cupcakes, Karody, a gigantic balloon bouquet, and lots of friendly cuddles. We finally were able to hire the loveliest girl ever to come watch the girls 2 times a week for a few hours, so I could get some work done. I don’t know what I would have done without Tali, and I shudder to think about my last few months in Cleveland without her help.
June came along with the news that I my revisions were acceptable. I had to put the pedal to the metal on my exams if I wanted to get to Berlin by October, which was one of the only stipulations of one of my DAAD fellowship. Because of this craziness, I hardly remember the entire summer. I know that in July, we went to Evansville for a fabulous birthday party for Mayzie filled with family and fun and a very nice 4th of July with Melchiors’. In July, I received news that I would be getting a 3rd, considerably sizable grant, and we finally felt secure in the financial department for our year abroad. Andy breathed a sigh of relief, and started to wonder out loud about what would happen when we came back from Berlin. I refused to even discuss it, and only now will even talk about it, as I had more on my plate than I even could handle at that moment.
In August we took a really fun long-weekend vacation with the Melchiors clan to Cincinnati where we went to King’s Island and the Zoo and had a great time visiting with some old friends. Andy took the girls to our friends’ cabin for the weekend once in there, and I stayed home. What I most remember about those three months was sitting in the library or at Kristi’s house or at Liquid Planet or at my desk in the office at home, skimming books as quickly as possible while typing out notes on my laptop and trying to remember anything I could. A few days before I was supposed to hand in my second exam, my step-grandmother died. I remember feeling extremely sad and how angry I was when my advisor actually forgot and pushed me about missing the deadline for my exam. I allowed myself to mourn, but throwing myself back into work with purpose really did help. We bought our plane tickets that month too, and our grand adventure to Berlin started to feel like it actually was going to happen.
By the time September came around, I had turned in my qualifying exams, and was waiting with baited breath to hear back about them. I was on a VERY tight schedule for getting out of the country on time. The day before the deadline to schedule my prospectus defense, in very typical form, my advisor informed me that I passed my exams and could schedule the defense. The weekend before my defense, there was an epic anthropology department party celebrating 2 new doctorates and my departure. Our girls went to stay with their Nana the last week of September while Andy and I finished packing up our whole house, I defended my prospectus, and then we moved all of our stuff to his parents’ basement an 8 hour drive away from Cleveland. We did also attend a very nice birthday party for our friend Scott where we got to say goodbye to some friends too.
October 1st we went to a lovely wedding of some family friends. Then on October 5th, I flew to Berlin alone and began a 2 week search for an apartment for our time here while staying in a youth hostel. I found an apartment, but it wouldn’t be ready until the 5th of November, so I had to then find a temporary place for us to stay when Andy arrived with the girls. (BLESS my husband for flying trans-Atlantic with 2 small children alone!!!) Andy & the girls arrived on the 20th, and we stayed in a lovely apartment in Prenzlauerberg for the next 2 weeks. During those 2 weeks, I made a solo trip over to Boon for a DAAD orientation meeting where I met some amazing scholars here on the same dime. I had some of the best conversations on that short trip, and I’m soo happy I was able to connect with others who are in the same kind of situation we are in right now.
We moved into our apartment in Zehlendorf on the 5th of November and have been here for about 7 ½ weeks now. November was a haze of getting settled into the apartment, research meetings, and figuring out where everything is. We had 2 very handsome visitors come see us from Bremerhaven, and an OG friend from Bloomington visit who had been in Europe doing Opera auditions for a couple months. With at least 10 different stops for groceries, Andy was able to procure the ingredients for a real American Thanksgiving, and thanks to Skype we were able to see the faces of our families even. Andy & I went on a real date for our birthdays at the end of the month even, which is a real treat for sure.
December has also been filled with research meetings and shopping for Christmas. We visited soo many Christmas Markets I lost count. (I’m going to write a whole post on those asap.) We got the girls some year-long passes to Lego-land and their grandparents got our whole family passes to the Zoo. We got our residency permits to stay here until next October. We had a great Christmas at home with just us 4 and Skyped in relatives. We are planning to spend the remaining days of the year at home together with a few adventures to get some of the girls’ energy out. Santa brought Mayzie a balance bike and Annika a bike with training wheels, so they’ve been having fun on those the past couple of days. The weather in Berlin is rainy with 50-36 degrees as the high.
It wasn’t a white Christmas, but it was a good time for reflection and being thankful for the amazingly supportive family and friends that we have. I honestly do not think I personally could have survived this year without the love and support that you all give to me! This year has been truly amazing, and I can’t wait to see what next year will bring our way. I truly believe that if we could survive this past year of crazy stress intact, there is nothing that can break us!!
At the end of 2011, I am living in one of my favorite cities in the world, fully supported by my husband, kids, extended family and friends, and chasing my dissertation research all over town. (She’s a fickle muse, but so far fair.) Andy & I are still renegotiating our very switched-up roles and responsibilities, though I think he likes being able to spend so much time with his girls. He still gets to go play soccer once a week at least in a pick-up game. His tour of German beers is in full force now too with a different case of something every week. Annika asks to go to school every day (we’re working on it), and is a very tall 3 ½ year old who likes to ride her bike, play with dragons, listen to stories, and learn how to draw and recognize her letters. Mayzie is an almost 18 month old very opinionated girl who seems to learn at least 10 new words a day. Though she still has trouble with pronunciation, she does not have trouble communicating her needs. She loves to dance and play hide and seek, especially the seeking part, and she sleeps on the bottom bunk bed like she’s been in a big girl bed forever.
Every day is an adventure!
Bring it on 2012!!
Monday, December 26, 2011
We have this little game in my family where we like to talk about what our personal hell would look like. My step-dad is convinced that his hell would be filled with roll after roll of plastic produce bags that he will have to open, though his fingers will of course be covered in oil and they really don’t open at all. My mother will be riding in a truck cab on a bumpy road next to my grandmother loudly smacking her gum while Burle Ives blares on the crackly radio. My handsome husband refuses to play the game, and I’ve never been able to pinpoint my own until very recently.
I’ve decided that my own personal hell is most assuredly filled with jargon filled paperwork in German that slightly rephrases the same question multiple times and forces you to write the same information repeatedly over the course of the document. Naturally I will be sitting in a waiting room that is in the old German style. That means that I will walk down a long corridor of closed doors to pick up a number and then sit in a room full of benches facing a giant board where the numbers when called will light up next to a room number that you then have to find. After I find the room number, the nice person behind the desk will then kindly inform me that I was in the wrong waiting area and I’ll have to go to such-and-such waiting area and get a new number. Once I’m finally in the door of the right area in the endless maze of buildings with a plethora of waiting rooms in them, I will naturally have filled out all the forms incorrectly and then be forced to not only fill them all out again, but to go find a new waiting area for people who have made mistakes on their forms…and on and on and on and on as Sisyphus I will keep plugging away at the bureaucrazy.
I get a chill just thinking about the horribleness!!!!
I only had a taste of this last week when we went to get our Aufenthaltserlaubnis (residency permit) at the Ausländerbehörde (foreigner's office), and it almost sent me into the corner with my fingers in my ears screaming “Lalalalalalala, I don’t know what you want. Lalalalalala!”
It took us 7 weeks to get an appointment. For all 4 of us, I had to make sure to bring: Insurance papers, Passports, Passport photos, Registration Forms, and for me my letter of support from my German funders. Naturally, each one of these things had their own challenges in order to acquire. Have you ever tried to get a proper passport photo from a squirmy 17 month old? Anyway, the night before I got it all together and had it ready for us to walk out the door the next morning.
We arrived at the Foreigner’s Office, which is about 7 blocks away from the nearest public transportation stop and situated in the middle of a bunch of factories, on a drizzly day with temperatures in the mid 30s (Fahrenheit—about 5 Celsius). Thank goodness we’d made an appointment, because just the week before our friend had waited 6 hours (1 hour outside before they opened & 5 inside with a number) to get her very same visa that we were looking to get. There were 5 buildings to enter, but thankfully there was a nice guard station at the front gate to direct us to the right place. The first thing he asked me was for my appointment number.
What was the one thing I forgot to print and bring with us? The appointment sheet.
Umm…soo you may just have to take a number and wait, he informs us.
Now I am starting to panic. I can’t wait for 5 hours with a 3.5 year old and a 17 month old and a lovely husband who would be as helpful as possible. We aren’t prepared; we didn’t bring THAT many snacks & games!!
Andy says, “Oh don’t worry, you should have it in your email.”
He pulls his up on my handy dandy iPhone…it is blank!
Oh Scheisse! Scheisse Scheisse Scheisse!
Finally, after a near panic attack when Andy berated me for never downloading the App for my Gmail (seriously, not the time for that honey!), he found the appointment number with only 3 minutes to spare. We arrived at the proper waiting room and were summoned to the appropriate torture chamber (ahem) I mean, welcome wagon room, only 15 minutes after our appointment.
The lady who processed our visas was very nice, though I’m still not sure she didn’t live in her office because she had a microwave, a coffee maker, a water heater, and snacks on a side table there. I kept trying to peek under one of her two desks to see if there was a roll-away bed tucked underneath. 2 things I thought were extremely odd about the whole experience besides the whole figuring out where to go thing.
1. The doors! There were soo many loooong hallways full of closed doors to offices, but when we finally got in the office for the lady who would process our visas, it looked much different. Behind those closed doors to the hallway, there were doors that connected each and every office like a giant shotgun apartment complex that lead up to the main office that you could only access if you worked there. This ladies office, and all the ones I could see from it, had 3 doors. 1 to the hallway (south), 1 to the office to the east and one to the office to the west. She had a big set of windows on the north wall of her office too, but these doors were fascinating. I could hear everything that was going on in the office next door. (All of it was happening in Englisch, while I was conducting everything in German with this lady whose Englisch was negligible).
2. Expectations: namely, the beaten down German bureaucrat that processed our visas’ expectations! She processed mine first, then Andy’s, and then had to leave the room to go get more official visa stickers for the girls' passports. Not because they needed special kiddie stickers for theirs, NO, because she had run out of them. Did I mention that we had our appointment first thing in the morning when they opened? That made me laugh so hard when she left to go get more stickers. Did she honestly expect to only process 2 visas all day long? WHUCK?!?!?! That’s funny. She also did not expect an American to speak “such good German” but I’m getting used to that backhanded compliment.
All told, our adventure to the Foreigner’s Office probably shaved some years off of my life because of the stress, but in the end wasn’t so bad. From the time of our scheduled appointment until we walked out with our 4 visas in hand was less than 1 ½ hours! Lesson learned, when possible, make an appointment. We have lived to tell the tale, and are much the wiser for it all. Surely there will be more bureaucrazy between now and next October when we go home.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Behavior of two opposing age groups in the German context: AKA: Why some Germans suck
Walking around with two little sponges that are happy to repeat any behavior or words they hear just to see what our reaction will be, I have to say that German teenagers in our neighborhood have to be my least favorite group. There is of course the group of boys who gathers in front of our door to smoke cigarettes and talk about all the girls they would like to see naked. That actually bothers me the least of all the teenagers we encounter. What really grates on my words have to do with two things: tapioca balls and the English language.
Next to our S-Bahn (fast train of the public transportation system) stop, there is a large office building that is in the middle of being renovated. One section of the building is not covered by scaffolding and tarps, and this part that is revealed is an entire store-front of windows. This also happens to be directly across from a ring of benches around a tree and just down from the new local bubble tea spot. The tiny green space between the benches is constantly filled with wrappers from the nearby sandwich shop, but that is not nearly as disgusting as what happens to the bubbles from the tea. It seems that the teenagers of Zehlendorf have made a sport of covering the windows of that empty shop with tapioca balls shot from their oversized straws and splattered in a barf-inducing splay all the way from top to bottom. Tapioca balls as spit-wads? Seriously kids? Ewww. Yeah, guess who’s NEVER getting a bubble tea after seeing that spectacle: our 3 year old who thought it looked like fun.
Zehlendorf has this amazing JFK school just down the road from us and it is filled with kids who have grown up happily immersed in English bilingual education. These kids are amazing, and I’ve even been fooled by several of them thinking they were American kids with their flawless accents. What I DON’T like about them all being such fluent English speakers, is the fact that they like to scream out obscenities at each other, in English. Not a day passes that I don’t hear some teenager screaming English profanity at another during an argument. Look kids, I’m all about some profanity being used in the appropriate context, but the bus stop where there are families and grandmothers on their way home is NOT that place. I know I know, hormones make you crazy, but seriously, cut it out. I totally remember learning all the cool swear words in whichever language we were studying in high school, but I don’t remember screaming them at the top of my lungs in a very public place. Is that just me? I know it’s bad when Annika turns to me and tells me, “Mommy, she just said ____. That’s not a very nice word.” Seriously, even our 3 year old knows you are being rude and ridiculous.
This brings me to old people. Perhaps I’m just not around enough elderly people at home, and I am perfectly willing to concede that point, but the old people here seem really cranky. Riding the bus the other day, teeming with obnoxiously chatting teenagers and standing room capacity only, I was appalled the behavior of one grandma in particular. The entire ride she stared at this group of 3 boys who were chatting and standing next to the door at the center of the bus. She was giving them the look of death as if they had killed her puppy, though she never said one single word to them at all. When it was her stop, the hospital stop on our route no-less, she nudged up next to one of the boys like she wanted him to move as the bus halted. When the doors opened, she pushed past the boy and proceeded to kick his book bag from the floor at her feet onto his feet all the while muttering in a whisper to herself and scowling at the boy with utter contempt. Seriously Oma? What the hell were you thinking? What lesson are you teaching the kid by doing that exactly? I was completely baffled.
This ridiculous act seemed almost completely counter to the typical complaint that I have about the elderly here, namely that they seem completely hell-bent on telling everyone what they are doing wrong and how they should be doing pretty much everything. When we first arrived, I thought it was just us foreign parents that where the lucky recipients of these fun little lectures, but as we’ve been here a little longer I’m noticed that’s not really the case. The elderly here seem to be happy to lecture and/or yell at anyone, anywhere, anytime, and I completely don’t get it. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that they all seem to be really grumpy, but is it really necessary to think that just because you are old your “expert” opinion will be appreciated by everyone that you encounter? This seems to be especially fun for Andy, whose German is cursory at best right now and very often has to come home to me to even understand what the lecture was about in the first place.
A: Some old lady stopped us as we were walking down the street today.
A: Yeah, she was saying something about bei and pointing at Mayzie’s legs in the stroller.
Me: Did she say Beine?
A: Yeah, that could be right. She seemed very concerned.
Me: Did she say something about frieren?
A: Yes. Definitely something about the cold.
Me: Um, yeah, she was telling you that her legs are freezing.
A: Oh. WTF old lady?
OK, so the conversation probably didn’t go exactly like that, but you get the point. I’m still trying to figure out the next strategy for dealing with this particular type of annoyance, though I’m thinking it might involve loudly thanking them and asking their advice about some very private matter that they really don’t have any business discussing with perfect strangers. I’m still trying to think of the most ridiculous question for this though. Ideas?
Lastly, I have to report the annoying behavior that seems to be part of German DNA or something, and that is the staring! Surely this makes me really American, but I really HATE being stared at all of the time. I thought it was just because we were speaking English to our kids or because we are all so unbelievably good looking that it is hard to turn away. Alas, I think that it is just a German malady that I’m going to try not to catch. Let’s hope it isn’t too contagious. J
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Before I forget the horrible-ness that was baby jet-lag, I want to write it down! Our girls aren’t really babies, but I of course will always think of them as my babies, so that’s why I’m titling it that for now. Andy flew in with the girls on a Thursday and by Tuesday all was right with their time again, but it was a really long 5 days for us all. We found some really helpful hints on this blog about what to do, and I’m going to explain how we got through it our way. These are the things that helped us get through.
During the daylight hours we tried to make sure the girls (ages 1 & 3) got as much fresh air, sunlight, and exercise as possible.
That first day was a bit hectic getting from the airport to the place to pick up the key to the temporary apartment where we were going to be staying for 2 weeks. That was of course after we had to wander the entire Tegel airport looking for the place to report Mayzie’s lost luggage and give them our address (that I didn’t know at the time) for where they could bring us the bag when it finally did arrive here in Berlin. They had arrived in Berlin at 8am, and by the time we got into the apartment with all of our things, it was already noon. We scrambled up some take-out lunch, everyone took a 2 hour nap, and then we set out to find a playground for the girls and coffee for their parents. Yes, though I was already well established on German time, I still like to have my afternoon coffee to keep a little pep in my step. After an afternoon of play and grocery shopping, we put the girls to bed at their usual time that evening with little objection.
That first night, and the next 4 nights in general were a blur for me. Andy was pretty well passed out for the night, and was in no jet-lagged mood to try to help me with the girls. He HAD just come from being essentially a single-dad staying at his parents’ house for 2 weeks, so I wanted to give him as much slack and help as possible. Did I mention that I was NOT jet-lagged? The girls both woke up around 11pm, and were ravenous. I fed them some snacks and then thought they would just go back to sleep with full bellies. Little did I know, the insane jet-lagged baby syndrome had set in at that point, and my babies were wide awake and ready to play for the next 5 hours!
The first night I fought it trying to get them both to lay back down, rocking them to get them to sleep, and singing lullabies until I wondered if I really could buy them some mockingbirds to get them to just lay down and go back to sleep. I admit that my sleepy brain is not always the nicest or most rational mommy in the world! The girls were also in our bed and climbing on top of their poor poor father who just wanted to finally be able to sleep without a toddler on top or next to him for once in several weeks.
The next night I was prepared. I had snacks all ready for them to just pull out and I was armed with some kid movies already ready to just hit play on the laptop. I let them crawl on me while eating their snacks and watching Curious George cause all types of mischief while their dad finally got to catch up on some much needed sleep (not only because of the jet-lag).
The night time snack/play/movie escapades got shorter over the next few days, until finally we had weaned them off of them completely. 5 days later, we were finally back all on the same time! This was NOT easy at all, and most assuredly not for the violently grumpy, such as my step-dad who will take a swing at you if you wake him from a deep sleep in a completely involuntary way. This is also probably not the best way to accomplish getting the kids over the jet-lag, but this was what I could live with at the time in my non-jet-lagged state of sleepiness. I can’t imagine how horrible that would have been if we only were coming for a short 1 week vacation! Best of all: We don’t have to deal with this again until next year when we fly home. L
Monday, November 28, 2011
I have now been in Germany for 41 days, and am starting to realize that there are some things that I really miss about being home. I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily homesick. It’s really hard to be truly homesick when you have your handsome husband and two adorable kids with you. This is quite a different prospect than before when I’ve been here by myself and had to seek out other Americans to interact with in order to speak English and generally be able to relax my brain. Now I can pretty much speak English whenever I want to, and have found myself in this really odd conundrum of speaking too much English and slacking on my Deutsch studies. I’ve decided that this soon won’t be my issue at all, as I will be starting up my research here, going to multiple meetings, and joining a German Medical Anthropology working group that meets to talk about research at the Freie every other week. Things are starting to fall into place, and the hardest part of entering the field will soon be behind me.
Things that I wish I could find in Germany:
Number One: Ranch Dressing. I have this memory from watching the Real World: London and hearing one of the Americans on the show craving real American ranch dressing so many years ago. I remember thinking that guy was crazy and surely he could do without it for the short time he was to be abroad. Hey Mike (I think that was his name), I totally get it now! We even went so far as to find a dressing packet that you mix in yogurt called “American dressing” that was supposed to be comparable. It was good, but definitely no Hidden Valley Ranch yumminess that I continuously crave. There really is no substitute, though at this point I would even take some crappy discount brand ranch. I know some tradeoffs are to be made for cheap Gouda, but carrots dipped in ranch are one of my comfort foods and I need them!
The other food I really miss is Mexican food. There is a Turkish Kebap place around every corner in Berlin, but Mexican food is harder to come by here. There are a few places, but the variety isn’t really there at all. It isn’t so hard for me to take the scarcity of the restaurants, we don’t eat out that often, but it is harder for me to handle the expense of buying the basics for making Mexican food at the grocery store. A typical can of beans here costs around 50 cents, while a can of refried beans costs €2.75. A box of 8 hard taco shells with a seasoning packet and a pouch of taco sauce costs €4. That is expensive in a land where I can buy a ball of fresh mozzarella for 55 cents!
I miss free bathrooms! This partly has to do with being in a really large city, but people are really stingy with their bathrooms. Even in the mall, they make you pay 30 cents to use the toilet and wash your hands. I really don’t mind paying to use the toilet that much, but it is a whole different prospect with Miss Annika. That girl is a drinking and peeing machine. She also is only 3, so when she tells us that she has to pee, she typically has to pee RIGHT NOW. She has peed in so many playground corners that it does not even phase her at all. There have been several times when we attemped to use the “city-toilets” that cost 50cents and are all over the streets here. These are really nice when you can use them because they are typically clean and there is plenty of space for our whole family plus a double stroller to get in. The problem is that they allow each person 20 minutes, with 2 possibilities to extend the time 20 more minutes. That means that if the toilet is “besetzt” (busy) we could be waiting there a long time. There have been several peeing ON the backside of the city toilet incidences already, and I’m pretty sure those humiliations will only continue. There was also a very fun incident when Annika was doing the pee-pee dance in a bakery where we had just purchased something and the nice middle-aged lady behind the counter bluntly informed me, “No, we don’t have a bathroom for customers.” I kindly yelled back at her, “I hope you have small children!” Apparently, that is the worst curse I could wish upon her at that moment. Not my finest comeback!
The fourth thing I really miss from home is knowing where to buy things. I don’t mean this in the usual way such as knowing where the stores are and such. I’ll give an example to illustrate. I needed to buy a flatiron for straightening my hair. I hadn’t brought mine from home thinking it would be more of a pain to do the whole converting thing the 5 times a week I use it, so I just wanted to buy one here. I scoured every store I could think of that might carry them at home searching in every hair care product and accessory aisle that I could find. I finally asked one of my German friends where to find one, and he told me to look at Saturn or Media Markt. These are stores that I would compare with Best Buy. They sell televisions, cell phones, movies, music, and apparently every type of electronic known in Germania. That includes hairdryers, electric toothbrushes, flat irons, curling irons, clothing irons, etc etc etc. Another of their competitors even sells electronic & motor-run model cars & airplanes. It is quite bizarre to see these things next to the digital cameras, but this is of course completely logical and makes sense once you think about it in the German way.
Lastly, I really miss the people at home. Yes, of course I miss all of my family and friends and the easy way that we could interact, but I also miss the general way that Americans treat each other at a personal level. I think I will write a whole other post about this with some illustrative examples too.