Monday, May 28, 2012

Sit & Fork

Mayzie is currently in that adorable phase where she loves to tell you all the words she knows.  She’ll sit down at the table and start pointing at things and naming them.  She has a few really adorable key phrases that she likes to say too.
Her repertoire currently includes:
--Hold me.
--Do it.
--My toy.
And my personal favorite:
--Mommy cuddles please.

Mayzie’s blossoming language skills are just as amazing to witness as Annika’s German development.  Annika now is to the point that she’ll interject German words and phrases without noticing and comprehends easily when I switch from English to German when speaking to her. 

Both of them are in need of pronunciation practice though.  Annika has trouble knowing the true pronunciation and I hear a funny accent when she speaks, which reveals when she’s just repeating a word without understanding the meaning.  It is really interesting.  Mayzie’s pronunciation is a different issue all together.  She really only uses words that she knows and always pronounces them with confidence.  Our two favorite words for her to repeat are SIT and FORK, because she not only pronounces them with confidence, but they also sound remarkably like two words that she should not be saying at all. 

No, our 22 month old does not have a potty mouth, yet!  We’re really hoping she knows how to at least USE the potty before she acquires a taste for more colorful language.  I keep trying to figure out a way to get her to say both of these words together, like getting her to command utensils like a dog: Sit sit fork!  Does that make me mean?  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ask Annika: Part 1

Inspired by a lovely friend who posted answers to questions people asked her son when they were living in Kenya, I bring you the first installation of “Ask Annika.”  I asked our good friend Sarah to begin the inquisition.  Here is what she sent me with Annika’s answers. 

Dear Annika,

I love seeing pictures of you in Berlin! You look like you're having so much fun! Could you please answer a few questions about Germany for me?

Annika: Ahh, no.

Me: Please.

Annika: OK, fine mama.  <rolls eyes>

1. Is the food in Berlin different than in Cleveland? What is your favorite German food?

Annika: Yes. Ahh…V___ (her best friend here whose name I have omitted on purpose)

Me: Um, well?  Do you eat V___?    

Annika: Oh.  <silly smirk> No mama.  You can only pretend to eat V___. 

Me: Right, so what’s your favorite thing to eat in Germany?  Do you like Apfelstrudel? Döner?

Andy: Wurst?

Annika: Wurst, yes I like Wurst the best.  <vegetarian mother cringes and glares at husband>

2. What is your favorite German word?

Annika: Hallo

Me: Really?  Hallo?  That’s your favorite German word?

Andy: Yeah, not Entschuldigung? (excuse me) You say that almost as much as Hallo. 

Annika: No.  Just Hallo. 

Me & Andy: Ok. 

3. What games do you and your friends play at preschool?

Annika: What’s preschool? 

Me: Kita.  What games do you play at Kita? 

Annika: (very emphatically) Fussball (Soccer)!!!! 

Love, Sarah

Ever wanted to hear about Berlin from a 4 year old’s perspective?  Send me an email or comment on this post and your questions could be the next installment of Ask Annika.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fred Tour, Part 2: Friedrich Wilhelm II

On our only weekend in Berlin without guests or travel this month, we decided to take a long Sunday bike ride as a family out to Wannsee and Pfaueninsel.  Here is a shot of me when we first arrived at Wannsee.  (Please note: I have a very EXPENSIVE brain and always wear a bike helmut when riding!)

For all you history buffs out there: Yes, this is THAT Wannsee and you can tour the Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz (Houseof the Wannsee Conference) there.  I’m saving that tour for my WWII History loving Dad when he comes to visit.  If you aren’t a history buff, this is the place that some very ambitious Nazis cooked up the Endlösung (Final Solution), and if you don’t know what THAT is…well, I think you need to call your high school and complain about their horrible history education. 

We did not linger at that side of the lake long, as we were headed over to the Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island) that was only a couple more kilometers ride from where that picture was taken.  We meandered a bit because the girls fell asleep in the bike trailer, but we arrived just in time to have a small picnic before taking the ferry to the island.  Here we are after eating our delicious fare before heading over:

(Question: Does my stomach look like it's glowing?  Don't get excited or read anything into it, it's just a ray of light!  We are most assuredly done procreating!)

We paid €6 for the ferry to take us about 20m across to the island and spent a couple of hours touring around the island.  I'm not joking about the 20m--check it out in this picture from the dock:  

Being the silly parents we are, we forgot to unhook the trailer that converts to a stroller so ended up carrying the whining girls at least ½ of the time we were exploring the island.  The scenery and weather were soo beautiful that I really didn't mind that much.  They do actually have peacocks there.  Here is Annika thinking about whether or not she should actually try to pet one:

There is a castle there to check out--from the outside.      

Apparently this was the playground of Friedrich Wilhelm II King of Prussia, but frankly we just came for the scenery that day and not the history.  I needed to get out of town and enjoy the weather while punishing my body to get some of my PhD student anxiety out of my system.  Hooray for Vitamin D too!

And there are plenty of lovely paths all around the island.  Here is Andy with his lovely daughters.  

He chastised me for taking too many picture, but I kindly reminded him that someday we'll forget that they used to be this little.  (I'm also hoping we forget a few other things about when they are this little, like how frustrating they can be and potty-training insanity, but I have a feeling some memories will linger longer than others!  THEY told me I'd forget labor pain, and that memory is not fading at all!)

This building in the background is actually a private residence on the island, though I shudder to think how much that would actually cost.  The scenery is pretty great, and even more so with those two adorable girls in there.  

All in all it was a very lovely day for a long (25km+) bike ride out to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I think we will have to do it again.      

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fred Tour 2012, Part 1: Friedrick the Great

This year marks the 300th birthday of a giant among Prussians: Fredrick the Great (Friedrich der Große if you’re German).  He battled the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, studied with Voltaire, married out of duty (though refused to consummate anything out of a misguided idea that sex made one weak and leaned to the same-same side anyway), and only spoke German with his servants and French with his court.  He was a very interesting dude for sure, though I have a feeling we would not have been friends.

When the in-laws were here we took a nice tour down to the Sanssouci Park near Potsdam.  We did the fun tour inside the Neue Palais.  (Side note: he even named things in FRENCH because he hated his own language that much!!)  They have a special exhibition of the palace for the anniversary, and we got nifty little handsets with headphones that told us (even in English) about all the cool cool things that we could see inside.   Unfortunately, there was no photography, but here are a few shots from the outside. 

We did take the girls inside briefly, but since you had to stay on a purple path so as not to touch the somewhat delicate floors, and our girls are currently 4 and not quite 2…well, any parents out there can probably appreciate how much fun that wasn’t!  

Andy and his father took the girls outside and my MIL and I finished the tour of the AMAZING inside of the palace.  My 2 favorite parts had to be:
1. The section of the palace whose rooms had been done up as scenes from a play ol' Freddy had written where an artist had constructed period clothing out of PAPER.  It really was BRILLIANT.
2. This amazing grotto-esque room that must have been about 50 ft x 30 ft and was covered in these ornate inlaid shell designs.  We kept trying to figure out if they were real shells and if they were, how in the world they found soo many perfectly shaped ones and brought them all the way to Berlin!  It really was fascinating how ridiculous the posh of the past were while everyone around them was working their arses off, starving, fighting their wars, and dying of mostly preventable communicable diseases.  I digress...

The grounds were quite extensive and we would definitely like to go back.  This is a shot of just one of the gardens:   

Annika enjoyed posing like all the statues on the pedestals. 

All in all it was a lovely historical day that we capped off with some yummy Italian food and a short train ride back to our part of Berlin.  Here is Mayzie capping off her day with yet another Apfelschorle: 

    Mama capped the day off with a glass of wine.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

3 Shorts from This Week

Aural Competencies?
I am no longer susceptible to the adorableness that used to grasp me in its jaws and make me squeal AWWWW whenever I heard a child speaking a language other than English.  It has become so commonplace to hear German, Russian, Turkish, Polish, Chinese, Arabic, Finnish etc all over the city that I no longer even turn my head.  Yesterday at a playground I heard a 3 year old speaking Russian, German, and English with his mother.  It was extremely impressive, yet completely un-surprising here. 

Sticker Shock!
We had to change our flights home to a later date because despite the fact that the tickets are good for one year, they will only allow you to book them 9 months out from your departure.  We are staying here for a year, and this little rule just cost us $250 per ticket.  In my opinion, this is still not as brutal as the international infantlap fee you have to pay, but still not so nice considering we were planning to come home one year after we came in the first place.  Here’s hoping someone out there gets a cheap seat since we just opened up 4 on all of our flights next month.

Soccer Madness
Much to my chagrin, Andy has become somewhat of a Hertha fan since we’ve been living in Berlin. (GO WERDERBREMEN!!)  Hertha BSC is so bad that they actually had to play against the team from the league under to see if they would stay in the Bundesliga.  (This would be like the last place team in MLB having to play the 1st place minor league team to see which would be in the MLB the next season.)  Hertha fans are like Chicago cubs fans in my opinion: they loyally attend & watch the games, the ambiance at the games is great, and the team just can’t quite get it together.  Thursday, they played the team from Düsseldorf for the second of 2 games to determine who would be in the Bundesliga next season.  We had attended the 1st relegation game here in Berlin and were appalled at the flares lit inside the stadium during the game by Düsseldorf fans.  (Side note: Weren’t these people frisked at the gate like we were?)  At the game in Düsseldorf this week, not only were there at least 10 times as many red flares lit in the stands, but when the game was tied at 2-2 with 2 minutes left, the fans stormed the field.  (Pictures HERE!) Now they are having a big ol’ meeting with lawyers and referees and coaches and league officials about the game to see if the results will even stand.  The committee has adjourned until Monday.  I cannot even imagine what will happen if those teams have to meet again, but the Hertha players are still training like it will happen.  That is Soccer Madness my American friends! 

In other soccer news, our girls have been collecting these German soccer player cards that we get at the grocery store here.  Tonight, both of the girls insisted on sleeping with the cards.  I really thought the words, “OK, but you can each only sleep with 2 players tonight and you can play with them all in the morning,” would ever come out of my mouth.   

Friday, May 18, 2012

14 Year Old Gawkers

When I was 14, my friend Stephanie had one of those epic teenage boy-girl parties at her Dad’s house where there was an indoor pool.  I prayed to receive an invitation to this party and was soo happy to be one of the exclusive kids to get to go.  The party was really fun, especially as evidenced by the fact that I still remember it after all these years, and despite the fact that one of my most embarrassing teenage moments happened there.  When I was changing out of my swimsuit in the bathroom that was next to the pool, I forgot to lock the door.  The boy I had a super huge crush on at the time actually walked in on me while I was changing.  I. was. MORTIFIED!!!  I totally freaked out in that bathroom dreading coming out and trying to figure out a way to make myself look composed in order to go back to the party. 

Fast forward 4 years, and I was at that same boy’s house for a drunken parents are out of town party at the end of high school.  The boy and I were friends, despite the fact that I still had a crush on him, and somehow I hauled up the liquid courage to ask him about “the incident” at Stephanie’s party 4 years prior.  He did not even remember it happening.  I had been completely scarred by an absolutely insignificant event for him.  (Said boy is still my friend and a very lovely grown-up with 2 kids and a beautiful wife now.  I wonder if he now remembers either of these events as clearly as I remember both of these amongst a smattering of other memories of him very sweatily head-banging to Metallica at middle school dances and trampling into the trainer’s room in all of his football gear.) 

Now we get in the time machine again and go all the way to 2012 when my family took a small vacation to Tropical Islands near Berlin.  The rooms did not come with personal showers, so I wore my swimsuit and a bathrobe to the shower rooms about 100m away from our room and took my pajamas to put on after my shower.  The showers were each sectioned off, so no communal shower embarrassment and they were separated by sex (also not always the case).  The doors were even fairly out of view of the adjoining hallway.  Andy and I walked to the showers together and I was surprised to find that when I entered I was alone in the room with 50+ showers to choose from.  I took a nice hot shower and came out to towel off wearing only my flip-flops. 

I walked over to the shelf where my pjs, lotion, etc were waiting for me and heard some teenagers talking in the hallway.  The gigantic tropical hanger was actually full of several groups of teenagers, so hearing chattering groups did not surprise me at all.  I was however surprised when three boys who looked to be about 14 years old chatted their way into the ladies shower area where I was standing naked.  Initial shock took over for me as I clutched my hands to my chest and exclaimed, “HALLO!!” (Guessing I don't need to translate that one.) The boys looked almost as shocked as I was as they stumbled into each other in a Mary-Poppins-penguin-waiters-esque manner and tried to get out as quickly as they could.  As they reached the hallway, I heard one of them say to the other, “Lass mich wieder schauen!”  (Let me look again!) 

I’m still not sure how I feel about that situation completely, but I took it both as a fun reminder of what it was like to be 14 and feel like your entire life is dictated by your hormones AND a compliment that I might actually look good naked. 

Thank you. Thank you boys for that!  If only I could somehow go back in time to when I was 14 and get that kind of ego boost instead of mortification. Oh well…live and learn. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tropical Islands Mini-Break!

Our first American guests were Nana & Papaw all the way over to Berlin from the Midwest.  We wanted to take a little break with them that would be awesome for the kids and not too expensive, so Andy found Tropical Islands.  Only 60km south of Berlin is a GIGANTIC airship hanger that has been sealed up and transformed into a tropical paradise in the middle of Europe.  We went for 2 nights and 3 days and had an outstanding time. 

If you are interested, here is a link to an article with pictures of the whole place from a design perspective.  I completely agree that the environmental impact of this place must be discussed, BUT frankly we had a great experience despite my green leanings. 

We actually stayed in a room that was directly next to the smaller pool that was filled with bubbling jets, a grotto, and a “current pool” which I started calling the swirly whirly.  Our little water monkeys were in HEAVEN and we had to force them out of the pool every couple of hours to eat at one of the 13 restaurants in the place.  Our room was a tiny little cabin mostly filled with our bed and the travel bed they brought in for Mayzie.  Here is a picture of our room from the outside:

There was a very lovely hammock chair on the porch for chilling and it was almost impossible to move me from it when I sat there with a fruity cocktail in one hand and my Kindle in the other.  
Annika liked it too: 

The only drawback to the room was that there was no private bathroom, so we had to walk about 50 meters to the closest toilet and 100 meters to the closest shower.  I did not mind at all, especially as they provided two lovely plush bath jackets robes for underway. 

Another view from our room: 

We had a couple of excellent dinners, and one of the kids’ dinners even came with a surprise blow-up whale for playing in the pool.  The food was outstanding and very reminiscent of a cruise we took BK (before kids), though I tried not to eat too much since I was spending at least 75% of the daytime in my swimsuit.  In addition to the swimming pool near our room, there was another ginormous pool with a kiddy play section attached where the girls could roam water-wing free.  

Here is Mayzie sporting her water-wings: 

There was also a really large playground area replete with loads of enclosed climbing spots, trampolines, bumper boats, and encircled by a track for battery-run slow-ish cars for the kids to drive.  We did not check out the Sauna there, as clothing was not allowed and we were mainly there for the kids, but we did take a lovely stroll along the path though the rainforest area in the middle. 
View from one of our dinner tables: 

Towering over the pools on one side is a set of 3 giant water slides and 1 smaller one you can’t see until you get closer.  The smaller 2 are only for going down on a tube and were pretty fast and fun.  The middle yellow slide was windy and might have been fast if I could have figured out the special way that Andy had to lay with Annika on his belly so as to decrease the weight on the slide.  He managed to go down it fast with her, and I managed to practically have to push us the entire way down it.  Visible from almost anywhere inside the dome is the tallest blue slide, which is actually the tallest in Germany and only 1 meter shorter than the tallest in Europe.  At 27 meters (88.5 feet) high, it is daunting just to look at across the dome, and climbing the stairs alone scared me.  Annika went down that slide once with her dad, and it really scared her, so I was surprised when she told me she wanted to do it again with me. 

When we reached the top of the stairs I noticed two things: First, the triangles that fortify the outer sections of the dome are bigger than I imagined.  Up close I could tell that even if I stood on any of the corners, I could probably not reach my hands up and touch the other side at all.  They were humongous.  Second, I saw the sign informing us that you had to be 14 years old in order to ride the biggest water slide in Germany.  Since she had already been down with her father,  my knees were practically knocking from fear of the height, and going down the slide was the fastest way to get to the bottom, I got her on my lap and launched us down before my nerves could get the better of me.  I was scared out of my mind and tried to hold my breath the entire 15 seconds it took to get to the bottom.  When we got to the bottom I had scraped a part of my knee on some seem of the slide at some point and was bleeding down my leg and Annika was crying and had scratched her chin with her fingernail.  Not my best parenting moment…obviously.  She settled down rather quickly, and has reveled in both telling people that she went down the slide and how scary it was ever since. 

One thing that must be said about this place is the interesting décor.  The obvious thematic idea of tropical islands has been mixed with any and every cultural reference to and artifact from the tropics.  There was an obvious nod to the South Asian tropics with Buddha statues, large gate replicas, and Koi pools.  There were also central African, Caribbean, and South American elements thrown in randomly.  Essentialism was most assuredly on display in their choices, and I’m not even touching the evening show that had scantily clad women shimmying to samba beats and loin clothed men beating drums.  Cultural sensitivity was not their forte, though I’m pretty sure the American Burger stand in the concessions area was pretty much exactly the same as home.

Here are the girls running through one of the huge reproduced gates on their way to check out a Koi pool en route to breakfast: 

All in all, we had a fantastic time and I would most assuredly recommend it to any families or anyone else who needs a visit.  The cost was very reasonable, even including the food and all the amenities.  I wish that I would have taken more pictures, but I was pretty wet and having such a good time most of the time that I didn’t want to get out of the pool to dry off and get out the camera.  The two biggest differences that Andy and I decided about if this place was in the USA instead of Germany: 1. There would be more lifeguards. 2. It would be more expensive! 
Someday we'll get a family photo where we're all looking and smiling at the same time. 

Thank you thank you thank you for taking us to this awesome place Nana & Papaw! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Friday 2:30pm Freakout

There are some conveniences I am doing just fine without here in Berlin.  We have gotten used to the shortened hours at the grocery store and the fact that many many things are just closed on Sunday.  We get around the city just fine without a car most of the time, and have just gotten used to planning a little bit more before we leave the house.  As Americans we do miss some of the conveniences of home however, and Friday was a prime example of the ridiculousness of some German things that we just don’t understand sometimes.  

Friday morning Annika woke up with an ear ache.  I called our pediatrician’s office as soon as they opened at 9:30am and got an appointment to see the doctor at 11:50am.  A very whiney & sick Annika and I took 2 different buses (and 30 minutes) to get to the office and then waited 45 more minutes in the waiting room.  Naturally Annika made me question my parental judgment as her ibuprofen-ed up little body jumped and played all over the waiting room and bounced into the examination room too.  The doctor diagnosed a severe ear infection and possible strep and sent us on our merry way with a prescription for an antibiotic.  (This was my choice of the treatment options he presented by the way; partly because this is only the 3rd ear infection Ani has ever had in her 4 years and because I didn’t want to have to trek back out to the office to get a prescription in case she did actually have strep.) 

By the time we left the office, the ibuprofen was obviously wearing off, and Annika had me carry her the block to the bus stop, and the 3 blocks between where we exited the first bus and the pharmacy.  I handed the lady behind the counter the prescription, she got it for me and briefly explained how to concoct and administer it, as well as the process for sending the bill to my insurance company here for reimbursement.  She actually handed me a glass bottle filled about ¼ of the way full with powder that I was then to fill to the line, shake, allow to settle, fill to the line again, and shake once more.  Additionally the doctor had prescribed an over the counter nose spray for Ani and some ibuprofen that the pharmacist also handed me, and since they were prescribed my insurance company will also be required to reimburse us for them.  (Isn’t that interesting?!?!) 

I carried Ani across the street and she sat on a bench waiting for the bus with 3 lovely Omas who gave me sympathetic looks as they could obviously tell she was sick from the pouty look and lack of energy she had.  Ani fell asleep on the 10 minute bus ride home, and I carried her up the 4 flights of stairs to our apartment.  I got her situated on the couch and gave her a cup full of blueberries to snack on while I got her medicine ready.  I took out the medicine from the bag with my wet hands (wet from washing blueberries) and started to try to open the child-proof cap when the glass bottle slipped from my hands and shattered the antibiotic powder all over my kitchen with 18 million tiny glass shards in it.  It was 2:30pm on a Friday.  I started to freak out. 

In order to understand my freak out and not think I am insane, you must also know that German pediatrician and pharmacy hours are in no way logical or convenient to anyone other than the doctor and/or pharmacist.  Our pediatrician’s office here is only open from 9:30am-1pm on Fridays and once the pharmacy closes their doors on Friday at 5pm, they will not open again until Monday at 9am.  My kitchen was covered in a prescription powder and I had no idea how in the world to get more.  I could theoretically call my pediatrician’s cell phone and get another prescription, but was my insurance going to pay for the prescription twice or was I going to be charged a €15 dumbass tax?  This is not even mentioning the complete ridiculousness that was going to ensue when I had to wake up a very sick and justifiably grumpy Annika in order to schlep her 30 minutes to the doctor’s office, 20 minutes back to the pharmacy, and another 10 minutes back home (assuming we caught all the busses that were running on time).  These are the oh so fun times when I REALLY miss American conveniences. 

At home our pediatrician would have better hours, even ones that working parents could come to and walk-in hours when you don’t have to make an appointment.  At home, the pharmacy would never give me powdered antibiotic in a glass bottle, and I would be able to take my prescription to multiple places no matter what time of day or which day it was.  At home, the pharmacy would not EVER run out of general pediatric liquefied antibiotic in plastic bottles and have to order some for us to come back and pick up later. 

The end of the story went like this:  I swept up the bottle and powder and put it in a paper bag.  Andy took the bag to the pharmacy while I stayed home with the girls as I was unsure I could be completely civil and not talk loudly about the ridiculousness of it all in public.  (Andy HAD just witnessed me yelling at a train station that “I guess handicapped people aren’t allowed to take the train into Berlin from this stop!”)  He briefly explained to the pharmacist what happened and she told him that we’d have to get another prescription.  When he told her that wasn’t possible, she went into a whole big explanation that Andy didn’t understand before she threw up her hands and said that they would figure it out.  Apparently we had gotten their very last bottle of powdered pediatric antibiotics and she had to call in an order from another pharmacy.  Andy came back to the pharmacy an hour and a half later and picked up another bottle of the precious stuff without having to pay.  She told a white lie that they had broken the bottle at the pharmacy and replaced it for free.  I’m sure they think we are dummies, but I don’t even care.    

This whole incident brought up soo many questions in my mind.  Are pediatric antibiotics not commonly prescribed here?  What other kind of prescription medication comes in glass bottles here?  Why do pediatric practices seem to only stay open 20-30 hours a week here?  A Friday 2:30pm freak out like that is just not possible (or necessary) at home, and I’m looking forward to the convenience of 24 hour pharmacies and shatter proof bottles again!  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

All My Mothers

If I am destined to become my mother, I believe that I will become an amalgam of all the women who have acted as a mother figure at some point in my life.  I used to bemoan the fact that in addition to my biological mother, I have also had 3 stepmothers, and now have one mother-in-law.  If I believed that genes were destiny, than the issue would be rather simple.  Alas, I’ve never been one to take the simple answer, and insist on understanding the full magnitude and impact of all of the surrounding environments that have pummeled me into the woman I am today.  I am also now a mother, which I always insist is the best job I never knew I wanted, so the thought of what I am passing on to my girls is a near constant in my mind, not the least of the reasons because I am a firm believer in leading by example.  So, in honor of Mothers’ Day, I submit a short list of amazing things I have learned from all my mothers.  I honor all of you not to diminish the gravity of the task that my mother who grew me in her belly took on when she brought me here by any means.  Surely, she has had the most influence on me, especially considering (exactly ½ and arguably more) of me IS her.  I seek here instead to help myself draw forth the lessons I have accumulated from each of my mother figures and how they have shaped me as a person/mother/wife/friend.  I feel lucky to have had so many examples to have learned from in my journey.

First and foremost, there is the only woman that I have ever called mother, and that is the woman who grew me from a zygote and almost birthed me in the toilet at our house (true story).  The lessons I have learned from you are far far far too numerous to list here, but I will list a few.  You taught me that listening is the best way to understand another person.  You taught me that love is the answer most often, no matter what the question is.  I now know (and completely understand) how often you replaced angry words with tickles when we were young, and I employ this same tactic with my girls to remind myself to loosen up a bit.  Being a good mother can be difficult, but giving up isn’t an option, you never did and neither will I.  I chase my dreams because of what you taught me, and I only hope I can encourage as much creativity and persnicketiness in my children as you put in me.  I learned that family is the most important thing in the entire universe, and families are never only made up of the people we are related to by blood.  People come in our lives for a reason and the connections we hold dearest are our REAL family that we choose for ourselves.  One of my favorite lessons has been that kindness is a much better tool for teaching than any other approach.  Sarcasm and snark have their places, but a kind word or smile in the face of adversity communicates volumes.  Most importantly, I have learned from you that “I have great potential” and can do anything I set my mind to doing no matter how difficult.  That’s been particularly helpful in these Mama PhD years, and just knowing that you believe in me has helped me more times than you can even imagine.  Thank you thank you Danke thank you for being my mother!!  I still insist that even if you weren’t my mother, I would want to be your friend.    

I learned two big lessons from my first stepmother.  First I learned that dreaming big and working hard to get to where you want to be is a great thing and a great way to find your happy place.  Secondly I learned that wearing a little bit of makeup can make a big difference in how you feel; accentuating your assets is a good thing.  But be careful to be recognizable after it comes off.  (Hopefully that makes her laugh and remember the fact that the first time my brother and I saw her without makeup we called her “Frankenstein” because we didn’t know who she was.)  Seriously though, my bio-mom hardly wears any makeup at all, and this was a HUGE thing to learn.  I remember when I turned 28 I actually thought to myself: “Holy crap, this is the same age that my stepmom was when she married my 40 year old dad and then promptly had a 12 & 11 year old move in.  That’s crazy!”  I have soo much respect for you in having to deal with all of that at such a young age, and I don’t know how we all made it out of that alive! 

Stepmom #2 was a very wonderful negative example for me; I learned several ways NOT to be from her.  The biggest lesson I learned from her is that THINGS are really NOT that important, and bonding your self-esteem to the things you own is a great path to low self-esteem.  Thank you!  Thank you for teaching me this early in my adult life and for leaving shortly thereafter. 

My 3rd Stepmother never had any children of her own, despite being an amazing teacher and all around great person.  Thankfully she’ll be sticking around for a while too.  From her I have learned that in order to take care of others, I also have to take care of myself.  Also that patience and understanding and laughing help build relationships best, but a little sunshine and boat drinks also help!  Because I only ever met her when I was an adult, around the time Andy and I got engaged, our relationship is quite different from all the other mother figures in my life.  Importantly, I learned that I AM an interesting person with stories to tell and a unique voice to bring to the conversation.  I don’t think she will ever really understand how much that lesson alone has impacted my life choices since we met almost 10 years ago. 

Andy’s mother is the most recent addition to the mother figures in my life, and I feel soo lucky to have gotten such a great mother in law.  Of all the lessons I have learned from her, I am the most thankful for those with regards to my marriage.  Leading by example, she has taught me that being right is not always the most important thing.  She has spent endless empathetic head shaking hours explaining to me the nature of the men in this family, and laughing about it all over a sink full of dishes.  She has taken me under her wing and shown me the ropes and reminded me of the names of people that I should probably remember by now more times than I will admit to, and for that I am eternally in her debt.  Most importantly, she has subtly taught me simple ways to keep the peace and which fights are actually worth having.  She may not even realize the significance of these lessons she does not know she is giving to me, but they cannot be underestimated in the light of my previous experiences with marriages.

A very Happy Mothers’ Day to you all!  My life surely would not be the same without your influence, and I appreciate all of your examples both positive and negative.  I have seen your light and dark places.  As a mother and wife and woman, I understand that you are whole people and I honestly do not judge you for anything.  I love you all in different ways, and you have shaped my life in more ways than you will ever really know.  That is the beauty of mother figures in my mind.  We are all gloriously and imperfectly whole individuals shaped by the people and circumstances we have encountered in our lives.  We all embody our experiences and the expectations of ourselves and those who have shaped us and are inextricably linked both by fate and choice.  Thank you to all of you for what you continue to teach me. 

P.S.  Several other women in my life have had humongous impacts on me, and I do not wish to ignore or diminish these contributions here.  Happy Mothers’ Day to all the mothers in my life!  I hope your day is filled with naps, chocolate, and massages.  If not, come on over to Berlin and we’ll run naked through the park together to show off all of our stretch marks!    

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Wherever you fall on the parenting style chart from Annie at PhD in Parenting to Lydia at Rants from Mommyland to Jill at Scary Mommy to Amanda at Parenting By Dummies to Ilana at Mommy Shorts to the Mommy Psychologist, I have a message for you: YOU ARE MOM ENOUGH!!!  These are some of my favorite ladies around the Mommy blogosphere world that is currently exploding with the discussion of the Mommy Wars and the TIME magazine cover that has supposedly fanned the flames (or some other marketing ploy for drawing attention to a “trend” that is really just about selling magazines). 

This is my two cents to add to the discussion:

Do not take the bait!  Do not buy into the hype!  Do not engage in judging other mothers! 

If we are too busy arguing with each other, we will ignore the larger more important issues.  I am not here trying to suggest that Time Magazine is in on some large conspiracy to oppress mothers or even women in general.  They are just trying to sell magazines, and being controversial and employing dastardly images definitely accomplishes that.  Judging each other and touting the latest and greatest parenting style while tearing down all others as horrifically inferior is certainly BIG business.  Don’t buy it!  There is no one best way to parent every child in every situation in every culture in the world, and anyone claiming otherwise is trying to sell you something.  We are all muddling through, using our resources, and doing the best we can. 

These are a few of the bigger controversial parenting issues that I think might be better addressed in a national publication and conversation:

-Maternity/Paternity Leave (maybe even where we don’t have to use vacation days!!)
-Affordable Quality Childcare for EVERYONE
-Quality education for EVERY zip code
-Built environments that encourage rather than discourage exercise
-Healthy school lunches
-Affordable quality health care

These are just a smattering of the other GIGANTIC and MUCH MORE IMPORTANT issues that affect parents (and all of us really) every single day. 

Living in Germany and seeing the way that things run here a little bit, I have been able to see the product of what happens when the conversation changes from tired and vaguely controversial issues to action.  Somewhere along the line in the broader scheme of things they made a philosophical and political turn from just talking about “family values” and started putting an actual value on families here.  This is not to suggest that the conversations here aren’t also sometimes punctuated by controversially ridiculous prescriptions for parenting OR that Germany has all these larger issues figured out by any means.  What they have done right here is to at least begin to find solutions for these larger issues.  Those solutions started both with collective action and from a basic cultural belief that it is important to take care of EVERYONE.  All for one and one for all instead of every man for himself!

My humble suggestion for parents in the United States: Instead of going out and buying a Time Magazine this week and letting the media tell you what is important and trending this week, educate yourself and get involved in making the USA a more family friendly place to live!!! 


GO HERE to start:  There are more than 1 million people already focusing on these big issues, so you don’t have to start from scratch. 
This is what they focus on:
M: Maternity/Paternity Leave
O: Open/Flexible work
T: Toxics
H: Healthcare for all
E: Early Care & Education
R: Realistic & Fair Wages
S: Sick Days, Paid

Vote with your dollar and reject the divisively distracting discussion! 

Instead of spending your money on the magazine, you could send it to the outstanding Mother Pucker Project that Rants from Mommyland is doing! 

Have a great Mother's Day!!!   

Friday, May 11, 2012

3 Naked Stories

As an anthropologist, I enjoy attempting to understand norms and the limits to them.  As a Midwesterner at heart, I am a little more prudish than the German norm when it comes to nakedness.  I am not opposed to nakedness, per se, but the German boundaries to nakedness are far beyond my own for sure.  There is a really large FKK (nudist) section of the population here, so much so that several local swimming pools designate times for them to come.  When I was working on Norderney, they even had a beach dedicated to FKK, and I went to it to experience it.  (Though I could only go topless!)  We always joke that in Berlin you could be in the middle of the Tiergarten (think gigantic park in the middle of the city) smoking a joint (decriminalized for personal consumption) and lounging naked, and no one will even bat an eye at you.  I submit, for your laughter, 3 short tales of nakedness here.  I forgot they were even funny until I started telling my mother in law, so perhaps I am becoming a little bit German after all. 

1. At the Gym
I am a member of a gym here and I was at home too.  When I walk down the stairs to get to the locker room, the door into the men’s locker room is directly in front of the staircase.  Anytime someone opens the door, I can easily look directly into the locker room and see whoever is changing there.  If I turn to the left and someone opens the door to the ladies’ locker room, the same thing, you can see directly into the room to a big bank of lockers where ladies are changing.  Naturally, the area of the locker room that is visible from the door is the most spacious for changing, and all of the other sections are a bit crowded in comparison.  Am I ever going to take a locker in that section?  DEFINITELY NOT.  Am I going to take a locker in the section that is visible to the hallway leading to the swimming pool?  NO WAY!  That leaves me only 2 crowded areas to utilize if I don’t want to be on display for any door gawkers to see.  Additionally, I have laughed with one of our friends here about how when you go into the gym steam room there is always some Oma sitting in there with one leg hiked up and her business splayed for all who enter the room.  Thankfully that is also not visible from the outside doors, but it IS enough to keep me from usually even looking into the steam room. 

2. At the Doctor
Earlier in our trip I was having some neck problems and went to see a DO back specialist to help me.  On my first visit, she had an assistant sitting at a computer in the room the entire time and she essentially dictated to her as she examined me.  Her examination consisted mainly of having me strip to my underwear and prance about the room for 10 minutes.  Had I known that, I would have at least worn pretty matching underwear. This was actually not even close to as embarrassing the second time I went.  This time the assistant took me to the X-ray room and had me strip naked from the waist up.  She did not give me a gown, and took the next 30 minutes to accomplish all of the X-rays the doctor ordered.  She had to do each one multiple times, and naturally I had to stand in awkward positions mostly with my arms by my sides but also with my arms out in front of me and above my head...naked…from the waist up.  This was of course topped off by the lovely receptionist who oh so kindly brought my insurance paperwork back to me in the midst of this process, put it on the chair on top of my clothes, and took the time to explain to me the entire billing process---while I was standing there NAKED.  I’m still wondering if this was some sort of game of embarrass the American, and felt somewhat violated by the end of the whole process when the doctor then told me it was all probably just stress related.  REALLY?  STRESS?  Who’s stressed?  Trust me, this naked posing is not helping my stress level or my self-esteem right now!!!!  

3. Bath Kultur
Recently Andy took me on an amazing day of relaxation at Liquidrom in Kreuzberg.  It was rather indulgent with a massage and a whole day pass to this amazing place, but obviously, I needed it.  Andy specifically looked to make sure that bathing suits were required, because he knows that I’m not feeling so great about my body right now and I most assuredly don’t want to be lounging around a bunch of strange people naked.  Smartly, we got our massages directly after we arrived, which was awesome to help us get in the mood for extreme relaxation and pampering.  I had my first massage ever by a man, and it was excruciatingly good, but a little more naked and less covered than I am used to, oh well.  We were very excited to explore the 3 different saunas, the cold pool, infused steam room, the outdoor salt bath, and the indoor salt-water pool with soothing music, but soon figured out that the ONLY place swimsuits were required was in the large indoor salt-water pool.  In fact, you were only allowed to wear a towel in all of the other places, except for the outdoor salt bath where suits were optional.  Thankfully the great massage had me very relaxed and my amazing husband helped me stay in the right frame of mind to actually try out all the different spots.  I’m glad I did go into the sauna, but it is still unclear to me why swimsuits are not allowed in there.  We DID have to wear our key-wristbands inside and Andy’s burned him after he’d been inside for a few minutes. 

I know I should really just get over myself.  I know I should just get naked and it really isn’t such a big deal.  I know all of this intellectually, but I still can’t help feeling like a 14 year old girl about to be judged in the locker room every time I have to get naked in front of strangers.  Funny enough, I had no problem getting naked when I was 14 years old and in a locker room.  Then again, everyone was speaking English and none of us dared ever stare at each other.  I miss that cultural short-hand that comes when we all have some of the same basic ideas of what is normal naked behavior.  I should note here that I do not think there is anything wrong at all with the German nakedness policies, even as they are outlined here through my prudish Midwesterner lens.  I honestly think that these stories speak more about my own personal issues and boundaries than any perceived German ones.  If you need me, I’ll just be over here all covered up.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Annika’s Berlin Birthday

Annika turned 4 on Sunday.  The past 3 years she has had birthday parties that I have planned and executed, and I was just no in the mood to do it this year.  This is not because I don’t enjoy celebrating Annika’s birthday.  Quite the contrary, I love celebrating birthdays, it is the planning to which I am averse.  We also have visitors from the US right now, and didn’t want to force them to party with a bunch of German speaking preschoolers.  So instead of a big party this year, we hung out, just the 6 of us and had a great time.

Annika woke up in the morning and came into the room where we were sleeping to get us.  When I told her happy birthday, she looked and me, her eyes grew big with surprise, and then she exclaimed, “It’s my birthday today?  It’s my birthday today!!!”  She jumped up and down and then came in for a snuggle.  It was a great start to the day.  She even waited until her semi-jet-lagged grandparents woke up to open her presents, which was quite an accomplishment.  Her presents this year in no particular order:

-A stuffed dog named Bibombl
-A plastic mug with her name on it (which we NEVER could have found at home!!!)
-Package of 10 suckers
-Sidewalk Chalk
-Hello Kitty “T-Ball” (which really is more like a pogo stick and has nothing to do with baseball or anything related to it. 
-A set of 4 plastic horses in a stable with tools for taking care of them.  (Ani: Mommy, what’s this shovel for?  Me: For cleaning out the stable when the horses make messes.  Andy: Do plastic horses poop Ani?  Ani: Ah, yes, just pretend poop though.) 
-Horseback riding lessons one day a week with her friend for the rest of our time here!!!

After her present-extravaganza, we went to mass and then headed over to brunch at the closest café.  It was such a scrumptious German breakfast buffet that we already made reservations for next week!  Hopefully next week we will get the lovely girl who was so excited to practice her English with us again.  We even specified that we’d like the table directly next to the play area so that hopefully Andy and I can just sit and watch the kids play instead of running back and forth from our table to make sure they are staying in the play area and not terrorizing random Omas trying to brunch or waitresses carrying large trays of cappuccinos.  I really don’t enjoy the looks of death any more, and honestly should be better at just letting it all slide off my shoulders instead of weighing me down at this point.  (More room for self-improvement, obviously.) 

We took the train into the city to explore a little and let the gentle rocking of the S-Bahn sway Mayzie to sleep.  It almost put us all to sleep with our full bellies, but we exited at Nordbahnhof before anyone started snoring.  We meandered through the Bernauerstrasse Memorial to the Berlin Wall and I had fun showing off my somewhat expansive knowledge of German/Berlin history.  My dad usually shows me up in this aspect, so it was nice to be the unquestioned expert for once.  Annika did manage to get kicked out of the church in the middle of the memorial, as she was being loud, disrespectful, and jumpy while we were in there.  I suppose the real question should be, why did we even bother letting her go inside?  The answer is: I don’t know! 

The Mauerpark was filled to the brim, as usual on Sundays, and we walked down to watch some of the performers.  Annika fell asleep in the stroller, so naturally Mayzie woke up only 2 minutes later.  We sat in the outdoor amphitheater and watched the ballet dancing acrobatic hilarious mime perform again.  Annika had stolen the show from her the previous Sunday when she brought her on stage and found out just how badly Ani follows directions.  It was hilarious, though sadly the lighting was not conducive to phone photography.  This week the show was briefly interrupted by a very intoxicated man whose face was oozing and slightly bleeding from what looked like either a concrete face plant or bar fight wound, and he was yelling at the audience to shut up.  He was super creepy and frankly I just wanted to stay away from him.  (More another time about other scary people we’ve encountered.)  We actually got to stay until the end of her whole act, which is probably because Annika was asleep for at least ½ of it, dazed for ¼, and amazed for the last ¼.  She even recognized Annika when she put money into her hat at the end.  

After the girls played on the playground for a while, we trekked through the market that was still brimming with people.  Have you ever tried to push a double stroller over somewhat muddy rocky terrain teeming with people from edge to scrap metal fenced edge?  I don’t recommend it.  We had fun perusing the wares though, and even stopped for a bite to eat and a beverage.  The fish was questionable that we ordered—as in, we really have NO idea what the heck kind of fish it was and Annika was the only one brave enough to eat it.  BUT: the Vegetarian fare I had was OUTSTANDING, despite the geographic/cultural origins of it being completely unidentifiable—probably a mish-mash anyway. 

We took the train and bus home and had some yummy store bought crème cake topped with a silly elephant, then briefly skyped with some family at home.  The girls had a bath, and Mayzie went straight to bed and wouldn’t even let me sing her a lullaby she was so tired.  Ani got to stay up a little later to play a round of the “scary game” that Nana got her for Christmas.  While playing the game, we all realized just how great Andy’s German has gotten when he didn’t wait for me to translate most anything and moved the pieces as the talking box of the game gave instructions.  Our new 4 year old went to bed without incident afterward, and we all stayed up later than we meant to talking and catching up on things. 

Of the 30 pictures I took of her with the cake, this is sadly the best one:
As noted previously, the girl does not like to sit still!  

The day was by no means perfect.  Both kids had several screaming-mimis, Andy & I both got frustrated with each other, we made the grandparents walk far too much, we had too much trouble finding a restroom, the weather was a little too cold (not quite 60), and we should have gone into the market earlier to avoid the crowds.  BUT: It was really just so great spending time together!  I’m still debating whether I want to cultivate a selective memory or change my perception of what the perfect day is.  Perhaps a little of both is the best route. 

So, Annika turned 4, and we had an amazing Berliner day with our visitors!  We need the practice for these outings too, because we have a whole slew of visitors on their way in the near future.  Happy happy birthday dearest Ani!  I hope you enjoyed the day as much as I did.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Our First German 4th Birthday Party!

Before we could celebrate Annika’s birthday Sunday, we got to celebrate her friend here’s 4th birthday the day prior.  All in all it was a very birthday filled weekend for our family for sure.  Much sugar and fun has been had this weekend! 

Saturday was a slightly chilly drizzly dreary day here in Berlin, so instead of the party being at a local park we could walk to from our apartment, we were offered a ride to an indoor playground place with all the other friends.  As we were getting ready to head out to the birthday party, I went to go to the basement to get Annika’s booster seat.  Unfortunately, Andy was right.  Despite the fact that my mother in law and I were both completely convinced that he had flown here with a booster seat for Annika, he had indeed not.  (I really hate it when he’s right sometimes!) We couldn’t take the oh-so-nice ride to the party after all. 

This is an account of my horrific problem solving abilities here:
**LIGHTBULB** No problem, I’ll just ride Andy’s bike with the kiddy trailer on it to get to the party.  I don’t mind getting a little wet. 
**DEFEAT** Nana Melch says to me, “You mean the one we tried to ride yesterday and found the chain broken.  Wah wah wah…

**LIGHTBULB** No big deal, I can just take a bus or public transportation. 
**DEFEAT** Actually it is in the next zone and not included in our tickets so we’ll have to buy 2 day tickets, which I guess we could do, but that just sucks and sadly might be our only option. 

**LIGHTBULB** Just call a cab!
**DEFEAT** I am just waaay too cheap to pay €40 for Annika to attend a birthday party. (ASIDE: Need to work on being able to spend money.  This is turning into a real problem.)
Sometimes being without a car is really inconvenient, and this was one of those times. 

Then my hero Mom of the girl whose birthday it was and who was planning the party texted me that she actually has an extra seat and we could just show up at the original time for the ride.  Yeah, she has 3 kids, was in the midst of icing a cake and coordinating a large birthday party with changing locations and lots of kids needing rides all at the same time while solving all MY problems.  (Did I mention she has a PhD and wrote it in her 2nd language?  Or that she’s ridiculously nice and despite being amazingly gorgeous and tall and blonde and smart that she never makes you feel anything but welcome and wonderful in her presence?)  She is my new role model for sure! 

After a short car ride, we arrived at the Kinderoase and the kids went NUTS.  The place was really amazing and the pictures on their website don’t even do it justice frankly!  There were 13 kids ages 3-6 in our group and 4 parents there, which was a good ratio, though still a bit surprising.  I never know when the appropriate age to just drop your kids off at a party and then come back to retrieve them is, but propriety has never been my forte anyway.  The kids ran themselves silly, ate too much sugar, and played awesome games—several of which I will probably be stealing next time I throw a kids party at home so I will not be revealing them here.  The party ended with a Monster Hunt where birthday girl’s mom and sister dressed up like monsters and the kids had to hunt down their skin (green glove), nest with eggs (bowl filled with green bath beads), and then chase the monster and remove the 3 balls attached to her back.  The monsters wore green blankets with the balls on the back and homemade paper mache masks that were quite impressive. 

Here they are on the hunt:

If this lady wasn’t so funny and nice, she would be the perfect mom that all the other moms love to hate!  I most definitely LOVE her!  

The party was soo much fun, and I only had to spend part of the time translating game rules an things for Annika.  At one point I even turned to the grandmother of the birthday girl after herding the kids and helping make them wait for a whole minute before they could go monster hunting, and I said to her, “I didn’t learn anything like that in German class.” She responded by laughing, patting me on the shoulder, and saying, “Das glaub’ ich. Das glaub ich.”  (I believe that.)

The same lovely family that gave us a ride to the party gave us a ride all the way to our house afterward.  When we went to get in the car, the nice mother asked me, “What happened, is your car being repaired?”  I responded, “No.  We don’t have a car here. Our car is in America.”  She shook her head and looked like I just blew her mind a little.  Then she said, “No car here at all?  I didn’t expect that.”  Apparently sometimes I do a great job of defying expectation in Germany too, but really only in certain circles.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

VOTE for my Friend!!!

I have been very lucky to meet some amazing people in my lifetime.  My friend Meagen in Cleveland is one of those intriguing souls that you want to figure out what drives them because they do such outstanding things with their time.  I met her ueber-geeky husband in a public health class and bonded with her when we were both pregnant at the same time TWICE.  When we were both broke and working on projects bigger than we could dream, we set up a babysitting exchange to keep our sanity.

One of Meagen's BIG projects is promoting adult literacy through her educational consulting firm Farrell Ink.  This is what they do:
"Farrell Ink exists to increase educational opportunities for people regardless of income. People who are surviving homelessness, violence, and unemployment often need to improve or refresh their skills in reading, writing, and math in order to get out of their situation. They access educational services when packaged with and provided by the same supportive services offering food, shelter, clothing, and advocacy. That’s where we come in."

This lady is one of my heroes!  She started this consulting firm while her husband was finishing medical school and she had 2 small children the same age as mine!!  I promise, she never made me feel like a slacker either.  More than that though, she's filling educational gaps and helping people learn how to help themselves! 

Sooo, this is where you should go to check out more about the project and to VOTE for their capacity building project that is up for a National Service Impact Award.  

Do it!  Go!  Vote for the Lasting Positive Impact Project!  


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