Friday, March 30, 2012

Paul van Dyk at MY BANK!!!

Going to the bank is usually a really mundane adult thing that just has to be done.  It was made special this morning by being greeted at my local branch by none other than PAUL VAN DYK!!  Ok, so he wasn't actually AT my bank, but there was a gigantic picture of his advertisement for my ginormo bank here in the ATM vestibule.  I really do LOVE me some Paul van Dyk, but for some reason this caught me completely off guard.  I did not expect to see his face in my bank.  I mean, would a super world famous DJ EVER be tapped for a bank advertisement campaign at home?  I honestly don't think so, but surely someone can prove me wrong.  No matter, I will definitely be making a point to use that ATM for as long as that advertisement is there.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A History Buff’s Guide to Berlin


We are starting to plan for an American invasion of sorts, as our family and friends are coming!  We can’t wait to show off this amazing city, and have started collecting exciting excursions for them so that they can soak up all there is to see.  There really is SOO much that we aren’t sure we’re even going to see it all while we’re here for the whole year, and exploring is such fun.  This post was also inspired by my very first subscriber that I don’t actually know—Crack You Whip is her amazing blog that you should all check out too.  Like your teenage son and my Dad, I too love German history.  So for this installment of the blog, I bring to you a short installment of the amazing historical stuff to see in Berlin as recommended by me.   

Note: My friend and I were just laughing about how you know you’ve been in Berlin for a while when the historical significance of things starts becoming commonplace.  We went to see a movie at Potsdamer Platz and walking back to the U-Bahn we walked over the flat line of bricks that streams through the sidewalks and streets where the Berlin wall used to be.  People died trying to cross that same imaginary line when it was 20 feet taller and guarded by armed men and barbed wire.  The significance is not lost on me, but unlike the first time I was in the city, this time we barely made note of crossing it. 

The first most important thing I would send a history buff out to do in the city, is to take a walking tour.  There are many companies offering free ones here now, so finding one is not a problem.  Naturally the quality is going to depend on your tour guide, but most of the free ones are pretty great because the guides work only for tips.  In a 3.5 hour walking tour through the heart of Berlin you will be able to see some AMAZING things such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Bundestag building, the Victory Column, the Holocaust Memorial, the field on top of where Hitler’s bunker was (please spit here), an awesome communist mural on a gov’t building, Gendarmenmarkt, the book burning memorial, Museum Island, and soo soo soo much more.  Your mind will be blown by the significance of this amazing city as the crossroads and center of so much historical insanity.  Tip generously and chat your guide up for some other recommendations, because they probably know a whole lot more than I do anyway.  The tour is really just a taste of what the city has to offer, and an really excellent starting point for exploring your interests further. 

There are two amazing historical things that you will not see on that tour.  First is the Wall Memorial at Bernauer Strasse.  This is a really amazing memorial that tells the whole story of the Berlin wall where you actually get to walk along a section of the wall and see the faces of the people whose lives were torn apart by ideology.  I learned so much when I went, and it is a pretty amazing ½ day excursion.  (Go on a Sunday, and then you can walk just a bit further to go to the humongous Mauerpark Flea Market to hang out with all the hipsters and get some great original souvenirs.)  The second excursion not on the tour will take you all day, and that is to take a trip out to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial.  Spend the money on the personal audio tour.  It is totally worth it and you will get to hear some amazing stories.  This was not one of the death mill camps (most of those are in Poland), but horrid Nazi stuff went down here and it is sure to induce geeking out in any history buff.  It will not be a feel good kind of day, but in general German history doesn’t really bring that kind of mood on in any rational human being.

If you are into museums, and I totally am, a plethora awaits you here in Berlin.  For the German historically focused, there are 4 main museums for you to check out.  First up is my personal favorite the Jewish Museum.  Here you will learn not only about WWII, but about the entire history of Jews in Germany, even before it was a country.  Did you know that a looong time ago Germany actually barred Jews from entering many of the hand-work trade unions (carpentry, etc) and that is one of the reasons many started more white-collar businesses?  My mind was totally blown by this and other things I learned at this museum, and I continue to go back for their amazing special exhibitions.  Another broad spectrum historically focused museum is the aptly named German Historical Museum where you can learn all about the entire history of the Germanic people.  My friend the Sickly Child also recommends the Allied Museum and the Stasi Museum so you can learn all about how we (read: allied forces post WWII) tried to control help the German people and how the east spied on itself respectively. 

History is everywhere in Berlin, and you really can feel the weight of it when you are here.  If you are planning a visit, I would seriously recommend getting a guidebook for the city.  These are our favorite kind, but I’m sure there are some others out there too.  Of course, if you show up between now and October, we’ll be happy to be your personal tour guides too!  In addition to historical sites, we are also experts on playgrounds and markets, though I’m not sure a 16 year old would really appreciate this knowledge.  Lastly, let me note that you are a lucky lucky person to be an English speaker in Germany because they are more than accommodating to you here.  You will have NO problem getting around with only a few choice German vocabulary words in Berlin.      

  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Frühlingsfest—Spring Festival! 3/25/12


Today, after making sure that the virus had moved on, we had an amazing day out as a family.  We generally make one whole day a week devoted to family time, and today we ventured out to the spring festival at Domäne Dahlem.  The location is a super adorable open air museum and working farm that is fairly close to where we live in Berlin, and free on all non-market/non-festival days.  We paid all of €4 to get in, and it was most assuredly worth it.  The girls got to ride a really amazing old time-y carousel (or is it a merry-go-round—I never remember which one goes which direction).  Annika didn’t even have to wear a seat belt, as evidenced in this picture:
 (Note: This is Annika’s new hat that she picked out to keep the sun out of her eyes.  She really loves it and is so proud.  We really appreciate the stereotypes it helps us fulfill and the fact that while keeping the sun out of her eyes it actually puts it IN the eyes of everyone around her.)
 We found one with a seat belt for Mayzie.

After a fun tractor ride around the place, multiple farm animal sightings, and some perusing of the wares on sale, we got the girls to actually sit in one place for a moment.  Evidence:
 They even listened to a little music while waiting for daddy to bring them their “hot dogs” that turned out to be 1 ½ feet long each.  I didn’t take a picture, so you’ll have to take my word on this one, but they were gigantic.  I then ventured out on my own to find some food, and got an awesomely humongous and juicy pickle.  

Later, the girls shared an Apfelschorle in the most adorable fashion. 
(Note: Yes, that is an actual GLASS that they give out, and that is totally normal here.  I will definitely write more about how this actually works later.)

If I had to guess, I would say that Apfelschorle is probably the 2nd most popular drink in all of Germany—second to beer of course.  This is a drink made from ½ apple juice and ½ mineral water.  Annika calls it tickle-juice (added to the Annika specific vocabulary list on the babysitter instructions) and our girls will drink it anytime and anywhere. 

After we finished at the spring festival, we took the bus back to near our home and stopped for a lovely early dinner on the patio of a local Greek restaurant with a Kinderspielplatz.  We are suckers for anywhere that actually has a cordoned off area for the kids to play while we relax a little bit, and are now on the hunt for a Bier Garten with a playground.  I am positive we can find one in Berlin! 

All in all it was an amazing day out and a great way to ring in our first spring in Berlin.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sometimes Sharing Sucks

We want our children to learn how to share their toys and crayons and feelings, but there are many things that would prefer they not share.
My best guess of Annika's latest share with me is Rotavirus.  Not to be confused with Rhinovirus by the way, this is no cold!  Soo one part of me is happy that Annika is learning to share, but the other part definitely wishes this was not shared with me!
(Note: Yes, I did intentionally confound the differing definitions and uses of sharing in this post.  I'm sick, give me a break!) 

On the bright side, I'm learning all kinds of new vocabulary from all this sickness including the German words for dehydration, electrolytes, and other fun things to have to explain to the pharmacist in order to procure something for symptom relief.

 Did I mention how much I really hate being sick in a foreign country?  It is definitely in the top 5 cruddy situations when living abroad.  I do not recommend it at all!  

Naturally, Annika was sick last weekend, I'm sick this weekend, and both of these weekends have had the most beautiful weather in recent memory.  Hold on sunshine, I will be back for you!

 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Do you have to be rich to be an Anthropologist?


While renewing my American Anthropological Association membership today in order to submit an abstract and be able to have the honor to present my work at the annual AAA conference in November, it occurred to me (as it always seems to when I go through this process) that you really need to be rich to be an anthropology graduate student.  The system of professional membership and conference presentations that is currently in place certainly excludes a large portion of students who simply cannot afford to trek all over the country presenting their work, making professional connections, hearing the exciting new research being done in the field, and generally cavorting around with other anthropologists talking about anthropology things and being all anthropological.  This frustrates me beyond belief when I think about this kind of exclusion from the scholarly community, and I really wish I could wrestle a solution from my brain to solve this and many other seemingly enormous and insurmountable problems.

In order to even submit an abstract for the AAA conference, I have to be a member of the AAA and must register for the conference.  Then I pay for a flight to San Francisco, as well as accommodations and food during the 5 days of the conference.  For me personally, the costs are approximately as follows:
$132 Membership renewal for AAA and subsections
$94 Conference registration (student rate)
$400 Flight from Cleveland to San Francisco
$100 Food costs for 5 days (This is a very low estimate as you have to eat out most meals.)

That’s $726 BEFORE you factor in a hotel!  Staying in the conference hotel is the best thing to do, but that is a major budget cruncher even for our professors who all double-up at conferences to save on costs.  Thankfully I have family that lives in the SF area, so I don’t have to spring for a hotel if they have space on their couch.  This is also not factoring in other costs such as local transportation, book purchases, etc.  All in all, I typically have to spend about $1000 to go to a conference.  My department DOES reimburse us for part of that expense, but most assuredly not the full amount that we have to spend.  My university will also reimburse parents for child care costs during conferences, which is a REALLY nice and an awesome way to help us out.  (Of course as a grad student that is pretty much the ONLY time I can pay for child care!) 

Wait, did you catch that R word I just used twice: REIMBURSEMENT?  Yes, that’s right we have to spend the money in order to get it back at all.  (Check out the PhD Comics take on this which I thought was spot on HERE!  There are about 10 of these, so keep reading for more.)  So, in order to get any financial help for presenting my work at a conference, I have to actually spend the money (that I probably don’t have) first.  Yes, I know this is primarily for tax purposes and every university is probably not like this.  The whole thing really bothers me for multiple reasons, most especially because if you aren’t a rich graduate student (and isn’t that mostly an oxymoron) you have to pony it up somehow, and that may involve a credit card which you will then accrue interest on the debt before it is actually reimbursed.  This is NOT how I do things, but it is how many students I know who aren’t rich DO, and it is not smart but sometimes unavoidable. 

Three real kickers about conferences for me: Firstly, if you don’t go and hobnob with all the fancy kids and make connections and hear all the buzz about the newest research, then you are really missing out on one of the most fun and amazing parts of being a scholar.  The second kicker is that not going to a conferences means you miss that amazing post-conference high.  There is nothing like spending a few days with your colleagues from all over the US and geeking out about the stuff that turns your crank intellectually to revitalize your professional energy.  Conferences are the only real way I can get rid of my academic doldrums, but that’s a pretty expensive hit for the academically addicted.  Lastly, our large annual academic conference is not only awesome for rubbing elbows, but is one of the places that departments conduct job interviews for potential professors.  There is also a HUGE job fair, and don’t even get me started on the awesomeness that is the book sale at the AAA conference.

I will go to the conference.  I will present my work.  I’ll even have fun seeing all my other anthropologist friends and my family and friends that live in the SF area.  It is going to cost us a chunk of change for me to do this, but it’s better than staying home and great for my professional development.  This is most assuredly a first world problem, and I know it is really quite funny to complain.  I just think conferences are one of the greatest examples of ivory tower elitism and the utter disconnect between academic ideals and the reality of the cost of participating in the conversation. 

Some notes: I have attended several awesome smaller conferences that have actually been able to help subsidize graduate student travel with scholarships.  One student representative even went so far as to set up a housing share project to hook up graduate students traveling to a conference with students from the hosting university.  The cost prohibitive nature of conferences is a recognized problem, and I’m really not breaking new ground by discussing it here.  Also, some departments are able to better fund their students’ participation in conferences, so my experience might not be the norm.  There are plenty of departments who can’t help their graduate students at all with these kinds of funds, and I’m not writing this to say we have it bad by any means.  I merely wish to point at the ridiculousness that is the academic ideal that we are supposed to uphold and mock the absurdity of the idea that it is attainable for all who pursue it.        


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Moving Abroad Part 3: Getting Settled


Once you actually arrive and get over the jet-lag, getting settled is the fun part of moving abroad.  Naturally, you’ll want to take care of the basics first, such as figuring out where you’re going to live and how to get to the grocery store.  The best piece of advice I got when we were searching for housing came from a German friend who had lived in Canada for a year for his job.  He told me that spending a little more on housing was more than worth it for their family, because at the end of a long day of foreign-ness your house is your comfort zone where you just get to relax.  I have never regretted spending a little more than I wanted to for our amazing apartment here.  It has become my respite where I am comfortable and don’t have to worry about doing or saying the wrong thing.  The other thing I would recommend not skimping on is INTERNET.  There is nothing worse than skyping with someone who has a bad internet connection, and it’s even worse when you are negotiating time differences and little kids.  Spend the money for a fast connection and you will NOT be sorry. 

Exploring your new surroundings is the BEST part, and knowing you’ll only be there for a certain amount of time also forces you out the door to make sure you see all the highlights.  There are of course several official touristy lists of things that you’ll want to check out see HERE and HERE, and then of course there are the Top 10 lists that everyone makes for what to see like HERE, HERE, and HERE.  We always like to keep memberships to cool places to take the kids.  Treat yourself to a Zoo Membership so you can go whenever you want, not stand in line to get in, and not feel bad for only seeing a fragment of the zoo before someone has a meltdown.  The Auckland Zoo does look awesome, and you can check out their memberships HERE.  We also like to have a membership at one or more indoor activities too, for the same reasons as above PLUS another option for when the weather makes being outside not so fun.  The Auckland Museum looks like a really promising place, and their membership rates are pretty cheap for families as you can see HERE.  Holy guacamole Auckland looks like a super amazing place to be when the weather is nice!!  You are going to have a blast exploring all those outdoor adventures there. 

Can I also tell you how jealous I am that you’re moving somewhere that English is the primary language?  Yes, you’ll still have some communication difficulties, but surely they’ll be more occasional than regular.  I can’t wait to hear about it actually.  We really miss our library story times that we regularly attended at home, and our favorite one even started with a Maori welcome song!   Reading kids’ books in German and then translating them is a challenge I wasn’t adequately prepared for as you can read about HERE.  Getting a library card here has also been awesome though, and it is a great weekly outing for our girls to get to pick out books and movies.  Bonus, getting a library card will prevent JJ from having to cart a crate of books all the way from the states.  Here's a link to the Auckland city libraries for you to check out too.  

The last thing I will say about getting settled is that Ex-Patriot Americans living in your new city can be great resources for questions.  Here in Berlin there are a few message boards for Ex-Pats to communicate, and we’ve been lucky enough to meet up with some great Americans here.  I do caution you against the ease of making only more American friends.  Challenge yourself to mingle with the locals as much as possible while keeping ties to others who are in your same situation for grounding purposes.  It is awesome to be able to chat about home and insane foreign stuff sometimes, and the effort required to make American vs. NZ friends is going to be different.  You are awesomesauce and I’m sure you’re going to make some great friends during your time abroad no matter what their nationality.  DO make friends though, because finding babysitters here has been the most AMAZING thing EVER for us.  Date nights have been essential for surviving the stress and separation that living abroad has brought our way.  PLUS: exploring the grown-up part of your new spot will be a much different experience. 

Enjoy!  Enjoy!  Enjoy! 
I am happy to answer any questions I can, so please don’t hesitate to ask. 
I would also recommend getting a nice guidebook for your new spot.  Lonely Planet makes our favorites for exploring (NZ one can be found HERE), but there are many other ones to check out too. 
Hip Hip Hooray, and on to the packing!  J

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Moving Abroad Part 2: Getting There


Amy, I have a confession to make: I didn’t fly to Germany with my kids this time.  Phew, now that that’s off my chest, I can tell you that I have flown around the US multiple times with my kids and once to & from Germany with a 7 month old Annika.  It is true that you are not required to purchase a ticket for any child under 2 years old.  I was completely ok with shorter flights without a ticket for our girls when they were babies.  Breastfeeding babies can be the best fliers since you can quiet them with one flick of your handy dandy nursing tank-top, though you may also have to then contend with an insistent flight attendant who wants to smother your child with a blanket while she eats.  (Yes, yes I am still bitter…but I digress.)  They can also be awful if easily distracted forcing you to basically keep your boob hanging out for an entire 8 hour flight too.  (True story!) Once they hit the 1-1.5 year range not having a ticket became a HUGE pain in the butt, so much so that even my frugal side was willing to consider purchasing one for them.  Our eldest is a very active girl, and I could not even stand the 2 hour Cleveland to Tampa flight without her own seat at 18 months, so I cannot fathom doing a MUCH longer one without a place to strap her in and a little light to tell her that she HAS to have her seat buckled.  This trip to Berlin, our littlest was 16 months when she flew, but we bought her a ticket knowing that we would have to purchase a seat for her on the way home anyway and that it would give us a 4th suitcase to pack too.  I highly recommend trying to get your seats in a low traffic area of the plane if at all possible.  You are going to be the first ones on the plane and the last ones off of it, so plan accordingly.  Next to the bathroom=your children will never stand a chance of ever sleeping on the flight!  You will need to bring their car seats for the plane ride(s), so make sure to check to see if your seats are suitable for air travel as well.  Ours say it on the seat, but you can probably check online if it isn’t printed on them. 

Getting to the gate is the worst part of traveling as a family in my opinion.  Waiting in line to check in at the desk is no fun, but getting through security is far more challenging for many reasons.  Because you are traveling internationally, you may have to go through security several times along the route too.  Many security stations are great at helping families get through, but unfortunately they seem to be more the exception than the rule.  If you are lucky, you’ll be sent to the VIP line so that you don’t have to wait as long and receive multiple looks of death and snide commentary as you hold up the line.  You will hold up the line.  You aren’t going to be able to get through security quickly.  (If you can accomplish anything quickly with 3 kids along, I’m completely jealous and need to hear your secret!)   Plan accordingly.  Make sure you all wear easy on-off shoes without laces—major bonus points if your boys can and will put them back on by themselves.  Have your papers in order—tickets placed inside each individual passport on the ID page.  When Andy traveled here alone with the girls, he made them both wear those backpack leash things.  This is as a direct result of a horrible screaming code red experience when Annika, then 2, ran through the security check-point in the Tampa airport and caused me to totally lose my pregnant-hormonal Schmidt on the not-so helpful judgy shouting security officer dude.  Patience, extra time, and preparation sometimes are honestly trumped by unexpected kid antics, as you already know I’m sure, so steel your nerves and get through it the best way you can. 

We like to pack a carry-on bag for our kids with some special surprises for them just to keep them occupied.  I highly recommend packing special snacks, a new activity/coloring book, and a special new toy for them to play with en route.  The dollar store is your friend for picking this stuff out, as it is more about the new factor than the price tag of the things in the bag.  I won’t even get into product recommendations, other than to emphasize WASHABLE WASHABLE WASHABLE!!  We also pack a change of clothes for everyone and basic toiletries just in case a bag gets lost.  This saved us this past trip, as Mayzie’s bag DID get lost and our carry-on outfit plus mixing a few of the girls’ clothes in their suitcases really saved us.

Our BIG advice for during the flights is to throw some of your usual parenting rules out the window and indulge the wee ones a bit.  A few of their favorite foods and watching movies on the plane can go a really long way!  Let them explore the plane a little bit and you can all stretch your legs.  Do some seat dancing and sing some silly songs that they love.  Try very hard to just ignore the horrible stares of people who either don’t have children or had them so long ago that they’ve forgotten what it’s actually like to entertain 1-3 year olds for an extended period of time.  They are NOT going to sit still the whole time.  Resign yourself to a looong day.  Also, bring sippy cups with you so that the kids can drink something on take-off and landing to help with the ear popping.  The flight attendants are usually happy to fill them for you, or you can purchase something at the gate to fill them up between going through security and boarding the plane.  Let your guys play new games on your phone (in airplane mode of course) and/or tablet if you have one.  Sleeping on the plane is a DREAM if you can get them to do it.  According to Andy, our girls slept for about 1-2 hours total and in spurts on the 8 hour flight here.  Your journey is going to be much longer than ours though, so perhaps sheer exhaustion will take over at some point for your boys.  Hopefully you can get some shut-eye in there too, but I honestly wouldn’t count on it.   

I’ve already written about our jet-lag experience HERE if you’d like to read about it.  It is no fun, and probably going to take at least 2 weeks to get over it completely.  Make sure to get outside to get lots of fresh air and sunshine as soon as you can force yourself out of the house/hotel where you’re staying when you arrive.  I promise you that once the plane ride and jet-lag are over, things will start to get easier. 

In part 3, I’ll write a few tips for getting settled in your new spot.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Am I allowed to be offended?


Dear Annika’s teacher,
Yesterday, you had a very small conversation with my husband when he came to pick up our daughter from school.  I’m sure you don’t remember it, as it was a very small part of your whole day, but the relaying of this story to me is burned in my mind and continues to fan the flames of my temper.  I appreciate your concern for and attention to our lovely daughter, but your words should have been more carefully chosen. 

We are also worried that Annika isn’t eating very much lunch.  We ask her to tell us what she ate at school, and are always dismayed when she can’t even tell us what was served that day.  As my husband explained to you, she’s not a very good eater.  She is however, a very healthy girl I assure you.  She is tall for her age and thin for her height, but fully within the range of normal.  She seems to go in streaks with her eating, and that is completely normal for kids her age too.  If you had kids of your own, you might actually know this.  You’ll see how it is. 

But now I get to the difficult part.  When you spoke to my husband yesterday, you switched to English.  I assume this is because of your genuine concern and wanting to make sure that my husband understood everything you said.  I am also going to assume that you were making some lame attempt at male bonding when you suggested that perhaps Annika doesn’t eat her lunch because she’s waiting for her fast food dinner.  I assume both of these things because I seriously do not want to believe that you do not understand how utterly offensive that was to say or the horrific implications behind that type of accusation.  So for the sake of educating you a little bit, I want to let you know just how offensive it is to say that kind of thing to us. 

When you suggest that we feed our child fast food for dinner every night, and perhaps that is why she isn’t eating at school, it could imply a number of things:
1. That we are fat uneducated Americans who don’t know how to cook.
2. That we are bad parents who don’t care what we feed our children.
3. That we don’t know what healthy food is. 
4. That we are too busy to worry about our kids’ well-being.
5. That we just don’t care. 

Let me assure you that the only true thing about any of the above implications is that we are Americans.  Yes, it is perhaps amazing for you to imagine that just because we all hold navy blue passports with USA printed on them, that we actually don’t fit into your ridiculously ill-informed stereotypes of how we behave.  Frankly, I find it completely astounding that you spend 20 hours a week with our 3 ½ year old and have come to such obviously bad conclusions about our entire family. 

Might I suggest a few other reasons that Annika might not be eating very much at lunch? 
1.  She doesn’t know what the food is.  It is indeed a foreign cuisine to her, so perhaps she just isn’t the most adventurous eater. 
2. She’s a little distracted.  This is her first time going to school, and perhaps being around 12 other kids her age, 2-3 teachers, 8 bazillion toys, and everyone speaking a foreign language is a little distracting. 
3. She feels like she’s being watched and criticized.  From your commentary, that would certainly seem to be the case!
4. She’s just not hungry.  Considering that you feed her breakfast at 8:30 and lunch only 3 hours later, this is a genuine possibility.
5. She’s indeed holding out for fast food dinner. 

The problem with her holding out for fast food is that she’s going to be holding out for a very long time.  I can probably count the number of times that Annika has eaten fast food in her entire life.  We always have dinner together around our table in our apartment, and often Annika helps us actually choose and prepare the dinner.  I know my husband even told you in German what we had for dinner the night before, and let me assure you that the dinner he described to you was more the rule than the exception in our house.

Even if we wanted to feed her a fast food dinner, actually accomplishing that here is far more difficult than it is worth.  From our apartment we would have to catch a bus that only comes every 20 minutes, ride it for 10 minutes, exit at the S Bahnhof, and enter the nearest Burger King.  Alternatively we could probably walk the 20 minutes there, but that’s really more like 30 minutes when you factor in the dilly-dallying 3 year old factor.  That particular BK is too small for us to actually take our stroller inside and still have anyone be able to walk past us, so we would have to take the food home or sit outside on a bench to eat it.  This is not our kind of dinner.    

My husband is a very forgiving and kind man, and has asked that I please not say anything to you when I see you next.  I’m still undecided as to whether or not I will.  I don’t take kindly to your offensive assumptions or the audacious ignorance it took for you to actually speak them aloud to my husband.  In the end, I am still a nice Midwestern girl who doesn’t really like to make waves, but I’m not sure if I can just let this one pass.  Andy thought it was funny; I don’t! 

Sincerely,
Mama Melch

P.S. The husband of your boss is also an American, perhaps you should check with her the next time to make sure you aren’t making ridiculous assumptions based on stereo-types!   
P.P.S. How is your English spelling?  ASS-U-ME

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Moving Abroad with Kids Part 1: What to Know Before You Go


A girlfriend from my high school is getting ready to move her family of 5 to New Zealand for a year.  As her husband works 100 hour weeks doing part of his surgical residency there, she will be gallivanting around Auckland with her 3 boys the eldest of which is currently 3.  She must be one of the bravest women I have ever encountered, and I’m soo excited for their upcoming adventure.  You can read about Amy’s family’s voyage on their new blog HERE

Their family travels naturally got me thinking about what advice I would give myself if I could go back in a time machine to the chaos that was our exit from the USA for a year.  Aside from the very specific to me stuff, like don’t schedule your prospectus defense 2 days before you move, I feel like I have some general advice that could help her.  When I started writing myself some notes, I realized that one post was not going to cut it.  So now I bring you a multi-installment Mama Melch guide to moving abroad with Kids.  My only expertise comes from having gone through it once, and I do not claim absolute authority on any of this stuff.  This is what I learned from my experience, and hopefully it will be helpful for you Amy and anyone else who wants to read it. 

Going abroad for one year, is not at all like moving abroad.  The biggest reason they are different, is of course the element of packing.  We came to Berlin with 1 suitcase for each of us, a couple carry-ons, 2 carseats, and an awesome double stroller.  That is how much we were allotted on the plane, so that is what we brought with us.  Yes, we could have brought more, but we were both trying to limit what we brought for mobility purposes and too cheap to pay for extra baggage on the way there.  (Note: We will probably bring back at least one extra bag with us because of stuff accumulated here.)  Packing one suitcase per child was surprisingly easy.  Our daughters were 1 & 3 when we came, and each of their suitcases not only held every single thing from their wardrobes but also a few books and toys too.  Little clothes pack easily, and we made sure to move them up to the next size a little earlier than we would have, so that we’d have less to purchase here as they grew.  Packing for the grown-ups was a much different story.  I really liked THIS article about how to pack for myself.  I pretty much stuck with solid colors that I could easily mix & match with some scarves for spicing it up.  I brought far fewer shoes than the academic-chic in that article, but supplementing them has not been an issue.  The good news for you dear Amy, is that you are moving to a place where the temperature never dips below freezing and hovers in the mid-70s F in the summer.  The bad news, you are moving there in the winter, so you’re basically getting 2 winters in one year.    

In addition to the clothing and shoes we brought with us, there are a few items I’ve been extremely happy about bringing with us.  We brought a few of the girls’ favorite toys and books with us.  They have really liked having a few familiar things with them, in addition to the myriad of new German toys they have gotten while here.  Naturally, we brought their favorite snuggle buddies, but letting them pick a few books to bring was especially awesome before we got our library cards here.  We were also very happy we brought a mini-medicine cabinet with us.  I know it sounds ridiculous since we moved to Germany, not rural Kenya, but it was such a great thing to not have to figure out how to procure liquefied ibuprofen and how to figure out the proper dosage the first time one of our girls had a fever here.  Not knowing where to find the things you need is the most annoying thing about being abroad, so bring some of these essential things you might need asap. 
A small list for you:
Kid OTC meds—ibuprofen & acetaminophen for sure
Basic first aid stuff—that you know you’d have to stock at your house anyway
Grown-Up Ibuprofen (or your preferred pill) for the inevitable kid-induced headaches
Allergy meds—if you need them
These are the things we have used most often and that I’ve been most happy about bringing with us.  I know it will take up precious weight in a bag, but you will not be sorry about taking it with you. 

The number one thing I’m most happy about bringing with me abroad has been my SMART PHONE.  I cannot tell you how many times this phone has saved me.  Between Google Maps’ little blue dot guiding me around the streets of Berlin to the BVG app that tells me which bus/subway/metro to take to get anywhere in the city, I’m frankly not sure how I got on in Berlin without it before.  I LOVE IT!  BTW: Blogger even has an app so you can blog from your phone while your boys play at a playground or upload pictures too. 

Specific things you might want to consider taking care of before you leave:
1. Having a Google Voice # has been awesome for me while being here.  Using the app, I can actually text my friends at home and they can call and leave me a voicemail.  It has also helped when I’m trying to coordinate skype chats with people who might be having internet issues etc.  You can only set one up from the US, so take the 5 minutes and set it up before you go. 

2. Since you’ll have a car in Auckland, make sure to get your International Driver’s License before you go.  It took us about 10 minutes each to get it set up at a AAA office, and I think it only cost $25.  You’ll of course have to figure out your exact situation, but this SHOULD help you get started. 

3. Set up a Power of Attorney for your bank account and other affairs while you are abroad!  I cannot tell you how many times we have needed to lean on our POA for help with bank account and other details that we just can’t manage from abroad.  All our mail is forwarded to her house, and she has made sure that our stuff stays in order while we’ve been gone.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! 

4. Make sure to tell your bank that you are traveling abroad, and find out what your maximums are for withdrawals and purchases.  You’ll want to keep tabs on the exchange rates so that you don’t go over the maxes and send up flags at your bank forcing you to call them to take the hold off your account.  (I had to do this at least 4 times since coming.  It’s annoying with only a 6 hour time difference, so I can’t even fathom the ridiculousness of trying to do it from NZ!) 

5. Register at the US Embassy in Auckland before you go.  You should be able to do it online, and it is a nice extra safety precaution and insurance should something happen while abroad.  For you the worry will of course be less about civil war and more about reporting the possible birth of an American citizen abroad.  This is a really simple thing to check off your list too. 

Next time: Moving Abroad with Kids Part 2: Getting There!  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sights from around Berlin



Here's a link to some pictures of my beautiful girls as well!

Its not polite to stare!

Today we ventured into the city to check out the Mauer Park Flohmarkt. It was awesome & had a couple playgrounds nearby for entertaining the girls. On the way home, we had one of those not-so-fun city parenting moments of panic. The 30 minute train ride back to Zehlendorf from Prenzlauerberg had JUST started when Annika loudly announced that she had to go #2 and it was an emergency. 4 stops later we RAN inside the mall and found the bathroom just in time. Thankfully I even had change to pay for the potty. (It isn't usually free here btw.)

When we got back to the train platform, we had to wait 3 minutes for our S to pick us up. While we were standing on the platform, there were 2 men standing there STARING at us and very obviously talking about our super awesome double stroller. (I really have no idea what they were talking about. I only assume it was the stroller because we get near constant comments about it and they were a good 10 meters away so I couldn't hear them.). This is what went down after I noticed them:
Me: Annika, look over there. Wave at those guys.
Annika: (waved) I'll be right back mommy.
She then walked over to them, said something, then came back, and calmly sat back in the stroller while the guys gave me perplexed looks.
Me: What did you just say to them?
Annika: I told them they shouldn't stare. It's not very polite.
Me: Did you say it auf Englisch oder auf Deutsch.
Annika: Auf Englisch mama, natuerlich.
I then looked at the guys, shrugged my shoulders, & went back to singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider with Mayzie.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

March Updates:


The Bug Abides:        
You know your kid doesn’t feel well when she falls asleep at the dinner table and doesn’t protest when you put her to bed a full hour and a half earlier than usual.  Obviously the bug is still hanging around our house, though the fever-ish stuff is over.  Miss Mayzie is still huggably sick with a continuous stream of snot coming out of her nose.  This too shall pass, but until it does we will be enjoying her cuddles. 

Annika lernt Deutsch:
The report from Annika’s preschool teachers is that after one month in school, she understands everything.  She only speaks a few German words regularly, but it is coming.  Last week she was begging us to not go to school, and this week she is skipping the whole way there.  Was it the talks we had with her about how hard learning another language is and how long mama had to study to speak German?  Was it the promise of a secret language we can speak to each other when we return to the U.S.A.?  Was it the bribery toy she got last week for going without a fight for 5 days in a row?  Probably not any of those, but we’re thrilled she’s learning. 

And the wife of the year award goes to:
ME!  We’d been trying to figure out a way to make it over to England for Andy’s cousin’s wedding at the end of the month.  In the end it was going to cost us about €1000 for the 4 of us to go for only 2 days.  That’s a whole lot of money, and I couldn’t stomach it or the idea of a fly-by visit with 2 tiny girls.  Instead, I suggested that Andy go to the wedding by himself and make it a long weekend to include a soccer game.  Yes, 4 days alone with 2 small girls will make me insane, but I have already asked a few friends to come help keep me sane.  Last night when Andy was looking at some information about London and having no luck figuring out his tickets for the soccer game, I suggested he might want to do something touristy instead of spending his whole time drinking beer & watching soccer when not attending wedding related events.  He scoffed as if that was the most ridiculous suggestion in the universe. 

English Failure:
Hopefully Andy at least enjoys his time in a country where English is the lingua franca again.  As we already found out, just because we speak English doesn’t mean we understand what they are talking about.  While checking his itinerary online yesterday, Andy had a moment of serious worry when the website said that he was not allowed any “Hold Baggage.”  The picture of a person holding a bag with a line through it was deceiving as well.  We did finally figure out that it must mean: baggage you put in the hold or baggage that they hold for you, but this was by no means clear to us.  Perhaps Google translate should have a British to American setting.  It is nice to know that we can have vocabulary failures in our native language too.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Kind of Porn I Like

Today to celebrate finally finishing this report I've been dragging my feet on for the past 2 weeks, I allowed myself to catch up on some of my favorite blogs.  In January there was this amazing post by the Pregnant Chicken that was Porn for Pregnant Ladies.  Seriously, go there & read it.  I laughed so hard I actually brought my laptop to Andy, which is something I don't do lightly as the man is typically un-impressable.

Then today, I found the amazing-ness of Mommy Shorts' Porn for Moms of Toddlers.  Soo many favorites that I can't pick one!  Seriously, I believe Andy has said all of these to me before with only two exceptions.

Now this is the kind of porn I like, despite the fact that these men might actually still be being objectified.  I get the feeling they don't really mind that much.

A Snorky-Soccer-y Weekend


Andy was patient Zero.  He passed it to Annika who held a 101 fever for 3 days while mostly sleeping.  She was so kind to pass it to me.  I holed up in bed for 3 days while watching my Türkisch für Anfänger DVDs and sending horizontal emails with my phone.  I drank approximately 20 cups of green tea with lemon and honey and snorked my way through exactly 2 boxes of tissues.  I thought the little one had been spared—a mother can dream can’t she. 
                                                                    
Friday I made it to my interview which turned out to be awesome-squared and super helpful for my research.  I was able to interview both directors of this amazing program who also happen to come from different generations of immigrant families and I really got some great data.  For the record, that happens so rarely with a first interview and I’m still feeling a little smug and excited about it.  After my interview, I met Andy and the girls to take them to a sing-along at a local bookstore that was excitingly in both German AND English.  We thought the girls would have fun and that it might help Annika with her language learning anxieties.  The setting and singing were really great, but the babes-Melch were un-surprisingly un-cooperative.  They pretty much wanted to spend the entire hour running around the store NOT listening to the music, and both of us felt like we’d had a work-out from chasing them around by the time we left.  Why do we bother?  Trust me, we have asked ourselves the same question many, many times. 

We had been planning our Saturday of grown-up fun for almost 2 full weeks, and were sooo looking forward to hanging out with our friends sans kids.  We had a babysitter booked who had watched the yahoos before, and our tickets were purchased for Andy’s first Bundesliga soccer game.  Andy left early to go pick up the tickets that were being held at the stadium and I stayed behind to settle the girls in for a long day with the sitter.  Our sitter arrived, and I practically skipped all the way to the bus stop.  56 minutes later, I arrived at the stadium to 6 awesome friends and a happy and slightly intoxicated husband standing on the S platform with a tiny bottle of schnapps for me to drink.  We made our way to our seats and Andy brought me a 1L beer and a pretzel as big as my head. 

It was my second German soccer game, but my first one in Berlin.  I was cheering for Werder Bremen out of loyalty to the town that I have visited every single time I’ve come to Germany and that almost feels like home.  I think the rest of my compatriots were cheering for Hertha BSC, and that’s fine since we are all de facto Berliners for the year.  The game was fun and we had fun being there despite our nose-bleed seats. 

Ways in which it was nothing like going to a sporting event at home:
-Extreme historical significance of the place where the game was held.  When I asked Andy if he knew about it he said, “You mean the whole Jesse Owens thing or the whole Hitler thing?”  

-Germans REALLY like their soccer and the fanatic sections that had the most amazing songs and coordinated clapping/jumping were almost as fun to watch as the game. 

-There were plenty of police in riot gear and security people everywhere to keep us safe—I know we have that at home too, but this was quite a different scale all-together. 

-We all felt like we smoked a pack of cigarettes afterward because the family in front of us was chain-smoking the entire 90+ minutes of the game.  Funny, I didn’t ask for the smoking section.   

-We sincerely missed the vendors that wander up and down the aisles at home; a single solitary pretzel vendor ventured up our way during the entire course of the game. 

-Lastly, Andy really missed the jumbo-tron replay action that we get at home, especially because the single goal of the entire game happened as he rounded the corner to make a beer run and turned around just in time to see the ball in the net. 

After the game, we all headed to a bar one stop away on the S-Bahn so that we could have one last beer and chat a bit as a party of 8.  We arrived at the bar and were forced to sit in a booth directly underneath the projector-tv screen that was displaying the highlights of the Bundesliga games of the day.  We ordered beers that arrived about 15 minutes later, and that’s when I saw Andy reach for his pocket.  He pulled out his phone, and I knew it was the dreaded babysitter call.  I see his brow furrow as he starts talking to the sitter, and then I hear him ask a few pointed questions and give brief directions on what to do.  Then came the hammer: “We’ll be there as soon as we can.”  Mayzie had not avoided the bug!  Andy downed his beer, finished the second half of mine, and then we said our goodbyes earlier than expected.  An hour later, we arrive at home to a sleeping Mayzie, a ready for bed Annika, and a worry-stricken sitter who had cleaned up vomit, taken temperatures, and been too frightened to administer medicines.  She may have spent the babysitting money on birth control! 

Mayzie spent Sunday cuddling with mommy with an on-again off-again fever, and has seemed fairly good despite her sour mood this morning.  Does this mean the bug has left our house?  For the love of ibuprofen, tissues, and popsicles I hope so!   

P.S. I totally stole the word snork from our friend's blog who is also awesome.  
P.P.S. Does anyone else remember the Snorks?  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dear bus driver

First let me thank you for driving the nice bus that gets me from home to the S Bahn more quickly than I could walk. Our 101 route is surely one of the longer ones in the city, so I thoroughly appreciate what you do and that you need a break at the end of the line (1 stop after mine).

My meager request is that perhaps you could take your smoke break outside the bus instead of inside it. Yes I know it is only 48 degrees F today outside, but that is not an excuse to smoke inside the bus. My eyes should not tear up upon entering the bus and there should not be a visible haze hanging in the air of the bus. I know, as a smoker this does not bother you and you probably don't realize how horrible this smells to a non-smoker, but trust me, it stinks! Additionally, I'm pretty sure you aren't supposed to be smoking on the bus, though I'm not going to be a tattle-tale--yet. I'm also not going to flinch when my child makes a loud comment about it.

Surely there are enough other stinking messes in the public transportation system in Berlin that the BVG employees don't need to be contributing to them as well. If you don't believe me, please ride the S1 for one day and encounter the stinkiest man in Berlin. That dude can clear a car!
Sincerely,
Happy to have a cold and not be able to smell the stench in Berlin

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