Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy Bear-thday

On Saturday we had Jasmine's 10th birthday party and I have to say it was possibly the least fraught to date.

I've been having to do kids parties for the last 13 years.
It started off easily, aged one it's really tea and cake for the parents and each parent tends to take responsibility for their own offspring.
Aged two and matters get a bit 'bigger' and therefore more chaotic - I seem to remember my mom breaking her wrist at Jasmine's 2nd birthday party when she slipped on some spilt bubble mixture.
When Ben was turning 4 (I think) I had Jasmine* and for the following eight years we had to juggle two birthdays in the space of one week. Which is fine if you can do one party before the birthdays and one after, but here in Germany if you try to do that will be much sucking of teeth and tutting because it's considered bad luck. I think (but I could be wrong so don't quote me on this) that the reasoning goes that you can't have your presents before your actual birthday because 'what if you die?' Then my logic shouts out 'at least you'd have had your presents'....Maybe there's some other reason...shall have to ask a tame German and get back to you.

Over the years we've done the 'play warehouse' parties (about as often as we could get away with), cinema trips, petting zoo, farm, clown/magician, party entertainer, swimming pool, hair braiding & nail painting and a treasure hunt with cryptic clues (thanks to Grandpa Pete & Nanny Linda for that one) but this year was the easiest I think.

We had a 'build a bear' party. There's a chain of shops that has made it over to Germany, where you make your own teddy bear, you choose the 'skin', then you put the filling in, add a heart & sound box if you want, make out a birth certificate and then it goes into its own little pet carrier box for you to take home.

We took 10 girls (average age not quite 9) and although the car journeys there and back were a little on the noisy side (I drew the short straw as my Corolla Verso seats 6 + driver) the actual shop part was completely stress free (apart from the constant worrying about whether we'd still got 10 children with us).

I had wondered how on earth this activity could last the one hour I'd been told but when it's a party the staff make a real effort to make it special for all the children, we had a great time and all the girls (and later the parents) were impressed with their bears - one girl even went back to the shop that afternoon to buy clothes for her bear!

Now I just have to work out what to do next year, at least Ben has decided that he's too old for parties, I wonder when I can talk Jas out of them?

* literally, their birthday's are 3 days apart. That was the year Ben celebrated his birthday about a month early without ever realising it - we didn't live in Germany then!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Snaps 66

Jasmine's 10th birthday party was yesterday, we took 10 girls (average age 9, average volume 109) to the 'Build a Bear' shop in a local mall...more on Monday, when I've recovered!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Gym Tales

I'm im love with a machine at my gym. Crazy huh?

This week my train er started our session saying she had a new toy she wanted to share with me.
I confess my first reaction wasn't positive, I may even have asked whether it was another of the devils playthings - she has many of these which she makes me suffer with every week, she especially enjoys getting me to balance on a flattened dome thingy while doing some ludicrous manoeuvre, if Im lucky it's both feet on one dome, on bad days it's two feet on separate domes, twice the wobblyness, but that pleasure was left for later in the session, the new toy was an all singing, all dancing set of scales.

A few years ago now I did the whole weightwatchers thing and ate really really sensibly & weighed myself once a week all with the goal of losing the weight that tends to accumulate during pregnancy. Anyway, my routine was to weigh myself every Wendesday for the simple reason that then I'd had 2 days of good routine to counteract the mild slippage I allowed myself every weekend, I also ensured I weighed myself post loo but pre breakfast & completely naked thus ensuring I was at my lightest (a friend who's done the same diet confessed to a similar weigh in routine, so I'm not alone in my craziness!)

But on tuesday the scales were presented to me as a surprise. I'd had breakfast & seeing as we were in the gym there was no way I'd be allowed to strip off (although this is a German gym, so maybe I should have asked...but then again maybe not) but these scales are my new love. They needed to know my date of birth, my sex, my height* before they were prepared to comment on my weight and then going on to express my BMI, fat % etc etc and rounding it all off with the opinion that I'm actually in rather good nick for my biological age, these scales seem to be of the opinion that I'm 37 (and not 46) I was tempted to get down on hands and knees and kiss the machine!

37! That means that I no longer have a 'little brother' but can instead refer to Ed as my 'big brother' as he's 42! I'm still feeling smug!

* that always causes an issue here, I know how tall I am in imperial terms but in metric? Not a hope, so my trainer had to fetch a tape measure but at least now I know I'm 1.71m ( I should check that actually because that sounds too tall for me...)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tofu wurst

For the last couple of weeks Jas has been focused on fruit and vegetables at school, they've had a project all about healthy food that started with shopping en masse in the local market for healthy stuff (apparently the whole class (less teacher) finished up in the local toy shop) and ended (hopefully we're done with this now & my veggie knife and peeler can go back in their kitchen drawer rather than rolling around in the bottom of Jas's bag) on Saturday with a 'Gemüsefest' which the world and his dog was invited along to and which we, as parents, were supposed to offer to help with...oops, I knew there was something I was supposed to do!

The 'fest' started at 11 and ran till 3. Jas was there for the majority of it - you'd think she'd be glad to spend some time away from school but no, given the opportunity to hang out with her classmates and race about the school grounds free from the usual parental/teacher constraints, she was desperate to be there. Si and I, on the other hand weren't so keen, but felt we should show our support/our faces and made it for the last hour.

There was an unusual collection of activities going on, bearing in mind the theme was 'Rolle vorwärts ins Gemüsebeet' (which translates as 'roll in the vegetable patch' - a bizarre title, made even more amusing if you know that the next project lined up for the 10 year olds is sex education) The first activites we came across were baseball and a Viking game called Kubb - Jasmine's class were in charge of this and despite playing it I'm still at a loss to understand the rules...there must be some I'm sure, I just made an attempt to throw my lump of wood in the same direction as the rest of my team and to try to keep out of the way of those being lobbed towards me from the opposing team. Not a vegetable in sight.

Up onto the top playground there was some kind of football skills course laid out but still no vegetables.

Through onto the smaller playground there was a huge soup wagon serving vegetable soup (at last, vegetables) but on a May day with the sun beating down, ensuring a toastie 24 degrees, ice cream would have been better (although clearly not vegetabley enough) the würst grill (sausage barbie) was of course doing a roaring trade, the only thing that'll keep the Germans from their ice cream is a hot würst, but that's not very vegetabley...then there were herb crepes, waffles (hmmm) a stall with loads of different bread (?) jacket potatoes with quark and quark with fresh fruit, all 'healthy' I guess, but not all vegetabley.

Down onto the bottom playground and there was more football, a pedalo course* and a photographic display of fruit and veg picture plates the children had done (have we given up on the 'don't play with your food' line now? Is that old hat?)

The children all appeared to be having a great time and the parents seemed pretty chilled out too, as they sat about eating their bbq sausage in a bun, an odd collection of activities with a very loose theme but at least there was no pressure to make money for the school as happens at the school fairs in the UK where you can sometimes feel bullied into spending money for something you don't want but you feel you have to donate because you know the school needs the money, here if they need the money they tell you and they tell you how much they want from you and they give you the bank account details to transfer the money to - gotta admire German directness!

* to the non German world I'm quite sure the word 'pedalo' conjures up water and plastic boats for 2,4 or 6 people, some with slides on them, that you're meant to pedal around the sea/lake/river, but here it means something quite different & the word 'trettboot' is used to describe a pedalo. If you want to know what the Germans understand by the word 'pedalo' take a look here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Snaps 65

Here is the silver strawberry lining to the asparagus cloud (see SS 64) the time of year that is Spargelzeit is also the begining of the fresh strawberry season (and none of the nasty forced ones with white tops either), bliss.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Der Gummiman

I have a new yoga teacher and every Thursday at my gym I suffer...

The session is in German (of course) which is fine unless he speaks really softly and I can't hear him (happens more often than you'd think seeing as I hide at the back of group praying not to be singled out for the hands on 'enforcing' of a pose that can occur...'einatmen' he says pushing your spine forwards, 'ausatmen' as he pushes, firmly but gently downwards on your spine...to the accompaniment of 'ow ow ow ow owwwwwwww' from me).

And then of course there's the small matter of the new vocab coming my way, every week;

It took me a couple of lessons to learn that my 'steißbein' was my coccyx...(I had to ask a friend eventually) Every session he tells us to push our steißbein up and back (this is whilst in the downward dog) and looking left and right (whilst upside down) I couldn't see what everyone else was moving...at least now I know.

Today he told us the hour was going to be devoted to being 'mutig'...immediately my brain went 'ping' - unfortunately it wasn't the ping of recognition that is accompanied by an instantaneous translation, oh no. It was the ping that said 'I know this word, I know I know this word, but the meaning has been temporarily mislaid'. So I spent 60 minutes trying in vain to be 'mutig', whilst wishing I could just quickly check the Slovoed app on my phone, then I'd have known whether I was doing it right.

There was another word today I heard, this time there was no ping at all, in fact the word fell into the blackhole that is my brain (yours might be grey matter, mine is a blackhole not unlike the Bermuda Triangle with its ability to lose things forever) and I'm struggling now to remember what it was, it definitely (or not) began with an 'S' and I thought it ended with 'lock'...but I'm wondering whether it was 'Schlüsselbein' - collarbone, but I know that word (in theory). It would help if I could remember what we were attempting to do when this word was used...

Ho hum, and they say that learning a new language helps stave off Alzheimers...

Word of the day; mutig - courageous/brave/plucky

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Frauen die Frühstücken

I've mentioned before about missing the opportunities that I had back in the UK to lunch with friends (or rather one particular friend) not because I have no-one to lunch with but rather because the hours that the children are in school mean that they're more often than not home for lunch - really cramping my lunching style.

However the locals get around this by breakfasting instead, and this is not just a pop tart and a swig of tea, oh no, this is full on hotel stylee buffet breakfast. My friends and I have met a couple of times to date in Romeo's (or Enzo's as it's known by the locals - because the owner is called Enzo of course) and taken a leisurely breakfast - meeting at 9am (which enables you to have got the children to school and sort out your own errands before settling down to catching up on the gossip) and leaving in time to be home for the children's lunch!

Rachael, one of our core Frühstück Four (there's Rachael, Princie, Rebecca & me - 3 Brits & 1 Yank) had seen in a home & garden magazine or some such thing either an advert or a feature on a place in the town down river (Mülheim) and thought it looked like somewhere we should try out. She rang to book a table and was advised there was a 5 week waiting list for tables...for breakfast! So she booked, there and then and we waited and waited for our date.

Yesterday we frühstücked in style at Villa Landleben in a wonderful room, filled with lots of gorgeous stuff crying out to be examined and bought. So first we browsed (very briefly, we were hungry) and then we sat and ate and ate and ate...They offered us scrambled eggs with bacon and we jumped at the opportunity and then we attacked the buffet with the gusto of the the terminally starving. It was all quite simply delicious, croissants with 4-5 different types of jam of course, cereal (if you really felt the need to be über traditional) as many types of bread and roll as you can think of, cheese and ham that would shame a deli counter and more fruit than a fruit salad. All washed down with endless coffee or tea and juice. It was quite simply heaven, especially when you get to enjoy such food with a group of good friends and sit there, putting the world to rights.

So as we paid we made sure to rebook, looking forward to it already!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Happy Birthday

Saturday evening was the Eurovision Song Contest. I was gutted* that I couldn't stay home and watch it together with a large bottle of Rosé and some cheese puffs but we had another invitation, to my neighbour's 40th birthday party.

We've been in Germany four years now (in June) and this is the first such invitation we've had (we have another similar biggie in 2 weeks, what is they say about buses**?) My friend Rebecca has been to several 40th parties and I had been very surprised by her description of the events.
It seems that many German parties include entertainment, and by entertainment I'm not talking about a band and a magician/comedian, oh no. Entertainment German stylee more often than not includes a powerpoint presentation to start with, of the birthday boy/girl's years to date, then there could well be songs/skits performed by the birthday boy/girl usually aided and abetted by close family and friends and then if that's not enough there could well be games for the whole party to join in.

Now my neighbours are lovely, lovely people who are, to my mind, 'echter Deutcher Mensch'***, they take Karneval seriously - the planning of their outfits for the February/March parties and parades starts before Christmas. And bearing this in mind I was expecting the party to be full on German, presentation, skits, games. We turned up and the venue was a converted cellar under the old railway station (don't understand why it's called the old station as it's still the place where people catch their trains...) two small, vaulted rooms complete with high tables to stand at (called 'stehtisch') waitresses scurrying around serving prosecco/beer/wine, a tapas buffet (delicious) and a DJ playing in the corner but there was no sign of a screen for a presentation to be projected onto....curious. So when the birthday girl came over to chat I asked what the format was and were we to expect a presentation...flip chart even?

Nein. No. Non.

We were expected to make our own entertainment by chatting amongst ourselves, drinking, eating and dancing - how very civilised, how very unGerman!

It was a lovely evening and the other guests didn't even let me down in their dress. I have noticed that despite all the pretty party clothes one can buy in the shops when Germans go out they don't make any effort to dress up - bizarre. Every single woman in the room last night was wearing jeans (even the birthday girl - although at least hers were white) and most of the tops were of a dark hue - the most adventurous being sequined. I had anticipated this and dressed accordingly - brown linen trousers with heels (rarely worn) and a gorgeous pink top, I was determined not to be mistaken as a native! The next party in to weeks time will take more sartorial planning as the invitation clearly states 'leisure clothing', if there's someone there in an Adidas tracksuit I think I'll leave!

* We make a point of watching the show every year, although most years I swear I will never sully my mind with it again (mostly because I get fed up with the political voting that seems to go on) we have even managed to indoctrinate Jasmine into it - she takes it as seriously as we do...not necessarily a good thing I know!
** never around when you want one and then two come along at the same time.
*** have quite probably got my adjectival endings wrong (sorry Muna) but this is the phrase I used to them both last night, they are 'real German folk'.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Snaps 64

It's that time of year in Germany again; Spargelzeit.
When everyone goes mad for asparagus (and that's white apsaragus not green) the restaurants have it in every course on every menu (or so it seems) and every supermarket is full of it...yum, yum (please note the heavy sarcasm).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Social Whirl

I lead a fairly quiet life here in Kettwig, I have two regular diary dates per month (book group and expats) but this weekend I swear my feet didn't touch the ground.

It started with Friday's book group, shouldn't be late, I told Simon, as we were only going to be six people (because that's all that said could/would come) I did make it home before pumpkin time, but I think only just...Somehow we ended up being ten (it drives me nuts when people don't respond either way as to whether they can come or not...maybe next month I'll say in the email we'll change the venue then they'll have to repsond to find out where to go...) It was a good evening despite the lack of several of my favourite members (Rebecca with a seriously bad back, Kamesh en route back from Africa & Marianne busy with an Aussie visitor) and despite a certain person 'entertaining' us with a story about how she and her sister score points off their mother who is 'so stupid' she doesn't realise they're making fun of her...the perfect tale to be telling in a group where possibly half are mothers and with mother's day only 24 hours away. Tact and diplomacy, not traits the Americans are renowned for I guess.

Saturday was the 'Music for Japan' benefit concert at Lulu's and I'd volunteered to help set up and then to help out - I was there from 10.30 until we managed to get someone else to take over the cocktail stand at 5pm. It was good fun, I learnt how to make a Cairpirinha cocktail although not a Margarita because although we offered both (as well as an Aperol Spritz - which takes no learning as it is only Aperol & Prosecco & ice) the Germans seem to be overly fond of the Cairpirinha, I guess because it tastes so refreshing. We had strict instructions about the quantities for each cocktail, so many cl's of each spirit and how much lime/orange etc, but one customer quite early on ordered two Cairpirinha, quailed at the price (2 euro of which went straight to the charity) and then returned after a couple of minutes asking for more sugar and lime and then more of the spirit...they ended up paying for 2 drinks but getting 4, we weren't amused, it's all for charity for goodness sake, and then just to rub margarita salt in the wound they managed to make those drinks last ALL afternoon.

Sunday I had a date at the theatre. It's the Arts Festival in Reckinghausen again and again we had tickets to see John Malkovich. This year's offering was the 'Giacomo Variations'. It was all about Casanova and his writing of his autobiography...I think...what I know for sure is that John Malkovich played the elderly Casanova, the music was beautiful, the operatic bits in Italian were helped by their German subtitling (although are they still subtitles if they appear at the top of the stage?) the costuming was sublime and the play was bonkers in every sense of the word, although this shouldn't really have come as a surprise seeing as a play about a world famous lover that doesn't contain any sex would surely be lacking an essential characteristic of the man and although John Malkovich does tend to play 'off the wall' characters I hadn't expected this piece to be quite so....bonkers.
The people next to us didn't come back after the interval and to be honest I don't think we'd have missed anything if we'd done the same. Towards the end both Muna and I were willing Casanova to just die, we thought we were in luck and then he got up and sang again, damn the man. On our way out I suggested that maybe next year we should avoid any John Malkovich offering at the festival but Muna believes that with theatre that takes itself so seriously we're getting our full creative fix for the whole year in one swift shot. Just have to try not to gag while swigging it back!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday Snaps 63

Yesterday I spent the majority of my day down at Lulu's in Kettwig helping raise money via Unicef to help in Japan.
The bar was open as normal (except there was a mobile beer wagon outside and a cocktail bar on the sun terrace) and Lesley (in the pic, performing in her band "Miss Behavin") had organised bands to play on the temporary stage from 12 noon till 10 pm.
It turned into a blisteringly hot day, but fortunately the cocktail bar, where I was helping (along with Jason and Sing) to serve Cairpirhinas, Margaritas and Aperol Sprizz, was in the shade.
I have no idea how much we made, but every little helps!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Germans dub their films and TV programmes, except that they call it "synchronising". Although this is not in actual fact a very truthful decscription of what appears, as the little I've seen isn't very synchronised. It drives me nuts when the audio to a 'normal' programme slips slightly and lips move when the sound doesn't, so when you add into the mix the fact that the actor's voice doesn't sound like it should (or I should say 'doesn't sound like I'm used to') then I guess you can understand why I don't watch too much TV in German.

There is a whole industry built up to deal with the dubbing of imported foreign sound tracks with 'actors' who make their career being the voice of often several Hollywood actors, so when you see one of the three Pirates of the Caribbean films then Johnny Depp is always voiced by the same actor, who is also be the voice over actor for Michael Sheen (amongst others).

Here's the good, the bad and the downright stupid aspects of synchronisation as I see it:

The good (let's be positive about this)
- people can watch films and TV programmes in the language that they wish without having to read subtitles.
- increased employment as actors are employed just to do voice overs.

The bad
- fans of an actor here may never know what that actor's voice actually sounds like.
- watching films that have subtitles whilst hearing the original language helps with language/accent acquisition (imho), for example the Dutch and the Danes subtitle instead of dubbing and their English is far less accented than that of the Germans.

The downright stupid
- cartoons, especially Disney/Pixar high profile things often have equally high profile Hollywood actors doing the voices, except here of course they get dubbed...so the film is still advertised as having Mandy Moore or Tom Hanks or whoever in the starring 'role' and the stars even come and do the whole red carpet thing but they're not actually in the film...mad huh?
- last week on the radio I heard a competition, a piece of audio was played from a film and the caller had to identify the actor. Except that the voice was that of a German dub-star...so whilst the answer the station wanted might have been 'Robert Redford', it wasn't his voice that we'd heard but rather that of the synchro voice actor who makes a living being the German voice of Robert Redford.
- when Heath Ledger died I remember hearing the report on the radio, and the station played a clip of the actor from one of his films, going on to report about the tragedy of his death, but again it wasn't Heath's voice we'd heard, but rather his dub-double, who wasn't dead (but who would now be facing a reduced income unless he could become someone else's voice over).

Dubbing, synchronisation call it what you will, I hate it and shall continue to avoid it, give me subtitles anyday even if they do make a film more strenuous and less relaxing to watch!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Royal Wedding

Last Friday was the Royal Wedding, you couldn't really miss it could you?

For our house it started on Thursday when the local press came to take photos of the crazy English people who were decorating their house in order to celebrate the wedding of their future king. They clearly wanted to think us bonkers but judging by the reaction of the 'normal' Germans on the actual day everyone was just a little bit crazy on Friday, even my (male) neighbour had watched it at work and had an opinion about Beatrice & Eugenie's headgear and a (male) friend of Ben's confessed to only having watched a bit of the wedding (a bit being 2 hours).

And then it was the day of the party itself, the house and garden were completely dresed in red, white and blue bunting, the dog wore a pink collar (ladies had to wear hats and males pink - I figured that way we'd keep it an all female gossipy day without offending the menfolk by telling them that they weren't allowed!) the living room had been rearranged to maximise TV viewing (afterall we had 17 people due) and most importantly the fridge was full of fizz.

Rachael was the first arrival around 9.30 - the TV coverage started around that time and guests were due to start arriving at the Abbey about then and we were keen to have the chance to express an opinion on as many outfits as possible. From then on there was a steady flow of people arriving and champagne being poured, the gossiping got louder, the bitching keener and the TV volume kept increasing.

We were a diverse group, 3 little girls all entranced by the idea of a Prince's wedding, then there were 2 Yanks and a Canadian, 5 Germans (2 are English/German teachers and 1 is half Yank) a Singaporean and a pile of Brits but we were all agreed on several things - Kate's dress was beautiful, Beatrice and Eugenie had clearly been taken shopping by Fergie*, and that the whole event was wonderful, no-one can do pomp and circumstance like the Brits!

As I said, we started at 9.30, I think the last people left just before 6 and during the course of the day as people came and went (some coming and going again) we managed to get through more than 8 bottles of fizz, a couple of bottles of water, a plate full of cucumber sandwiches (made made one of the Yanks!!) various bits of cake (we had everything from cheese cake through to chocolate cake and a wedding cake) savoury nibbles, smoked salmon and cream cheese, M&S jammie dodgers, greek salad, tortillas....and we tried to educate the foreigners (i.e. non Brits) in the Royal family (who's who, etiquette etc.) it was a truly great day.Link

Word of the day; the wedding - das Hochzeit

* I can almost imagine her saying, "as I'm not invited then I'll treat you both to your outfits". That way her lack of taste got inflicted on us anyway, is it just me or did anyone else think that they looked like they were auditioning for the roles of the ugly sisters in Cinderella?)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Snaps 62

Friday was The Royal Wedding, we had a bit of a party...

this is the 'before' shot;

and this is the 'during';
and this is the 'aftermath';