Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lies, damn lies and...

...no, not statistics, but rather the internet.

Last week Jas went to a friend's to play*, stayed for lunch and I eventually prised her out of Elena's house just in time to feed her tea.

They'd had a great time (of course) and had had lasagne for lunch**. They'd had to go shopping for the cream (or something) to make the lasagne I was told. But Jas then happily went on to explain that:
"lasagne comes from England you know."

I laughed loudly at that, loving the irony that we're going to Rome in two months time...I put her straight, and explained that lasagne was Italian. But she refused to believe me, they'd looked it up on the internet she said, and lasagne definitely comes from England...
But she wasn't finished. Oh no. They'd also looked up the origins of pasta on the same damned internet and guess where that comes from? Not Italy clearly. But China!

Now I can understand how they managed to Google*** pasta and declare that it originates in China because Germans call all pasta, no matter what shape or colour, noodles. Bonkers I know. So of course if you Google noodles on the German websites you find out that the oldest reference to this important foodstuff is 4,000 years ago in China. Google pasta on the other hand (the proper, Italian name for the stuff that goes into (English) lasagne) and you find that it comes from...Italy...of course.

But how they managed to Google 'lasagne' and decide that it comes from England confused me, until that is I checked the German Wikipedia entry for lasagne. There they mention that there is a theory about lasagne originating from the time of Richard II but that this is one of the less plausible theories - which is a line that the girls clearly decided to 'ignore'. On the English Wiki site they talk of three different theories for lasagne's origins, consigning the English story to third place and giving it little credence, phew!

The moral of that story is always double or triple check your sauces...****

* the school summer holidays have become a six week child swap. Jas is as bored playing with me as I am when forced to play Barbies with her and most days manages to arrange for some little girl to come here or she gets herself invited around there. Fine by me, as long as I have a happy house and I don't have to dress up the pneumatic boobed blonde bombshell, I don't mind playing child swapsies.
** the Germans will, more often than not have a cooked lunch, which tends to mean that Jas will get two cooked meals in a day if out at a friends (because I refuse to bow to the German practise) but a friend coming to us for lunch will quite possibly not get a cooked meal that day, as they'll go home in time for 'Abendbrot' (literally 'evening bread', tea to me).
*** other search engines are available, but let's be honest, don't we all use Google? And I just love the fact that it's both a noun and a verb.
****deliberate typo.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Who's been sleeping in my bed?

Ben needs a new bed.

The 'high bed'* that we bought four years ago thinking it would see him through to adulthood is not long enough for his increasingly lanky frame, we think he's almost 6 foot but this cannot be independantly verified because he has that teenage ability to be as unaccomadating as humanly possible, bless him.

So the challenge in the remainder of the school holidays has been to take a reluctant shopper to furniture shops to find something new for him to lay his head on at night.

Buying a bed here is a serious business (if you're surprised by this fact then you're clearly new to this blog). The first shop Ben and I went to we were pounced on by a little old man (it was like being served by a grandpa who was on day release from the local Altenheim), he showed us the appropriate beds and told us what it would cost either with or without the head board, then we talked mattresses and were reliably informed that anything under 400 Euro was 'schrott'** - but then he would say that wouldn't he?
So far, so logical.
But the little grandpa wasn't done. We would also have to buy the slats for the bed ('cos otherwise the mattress doesn't stay in the frame very well) It was at this point Ben and I both went "huh?" I'm used to buying a bed complete with slats, but this being Germany not only are there about a billion types of mattress but there are many, many different types of slats, some that will withstand more bouncing than others, some with specially shaped shoulder slats***, some that are motorised so that you can elevate the head and shoulders or feet...you get the picture? We walked away from the first shop with our heads reeling, and it gave me a masochistic thrill to text Si to inform him that yes, we'd been to check out a furniture shop for beds for no. 1 son and that he wouldn't see much change from a grand.

The bed has now been ordered, although not from the first shop (that'd be far too easy.)
First we got the frame and headboard and slats sorted out. That trip took over an hour, due to the inability for the two males involved (1 who had to choose and 1 who had to pay) being unable to agree on something they both liked and we kind of ran out of time.

Friday we got the mattress sorted out and were served by another Altenheim escapee, a lady called Frau Lichtblau - now what kind of a surname is that? Mrs Lightblue? How can that be a surname? A colour choice for a carpet maybe but as a surname? We were meant to go to one of the many mattress shops that people German towns in the way that charity shops do in England (although clearly mattress shops are a little larger, seeing as you need a fair bit of floor space if you want to have matresses out for people to bounce on) but Ben and I were left to our own devices (seeing as he who must be obeyed (tongue firmly in cheek here) is out of the country) and we both thought that they (mattress shops) all exude a sleaziness, something not helped by the rumours that are spread about money laundering and anyway, I just don't understand why there are so many mattress shops around, it seems weird.

Mrs Lightblue very patiently explained the different mattresses to me and Ben, suggested that I try them as well (yes I might be the one paying, but Ben and I have very different tastes when it comes to a mattress, he declared my choice to be too firm and I thought his was like lying on marshmallows - although not as sticky or sweet) and then tried to convince me that a memory foam topping was ideal...didn't get that at all, why would I want my mattress to retain my shape, isn't that like sleeping on some dodgy old hotel bed where it dips in the middle? Not convinced, although I'm sure there's some clever German logic to it.

Now all we have to do is wait for the phone call to say it's all in stock and then worry about finding a home for the old bed...any takers?

* a single bed on very tall legs that could have a second bunk beneath it or a desk, but actually has just a pile of junk/Simpsons comics beneath.
** schrott translates literally as 'scrap iron' but is used colloquially to mean rubbish or junk.
*** which just seems wrong to me, surely a mattress needs to be on a flat surface so that it doesn't get disformed and result in a shorter life expectancy - maybe that's their cunning plan?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Snaps 76

How do you dispose of a corpse or two or in this case five?

My sunflowers are well and truly dead and have been removed from the garden (not without a great deal of effort, it has to be said) but now I have the problem of how to dispose of them. They're all well over 6 foot tall and some of the stems are as thick as my wrist, they wont fit in the wheelie bin - even if it was empty!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Reviews #22

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

I've had this book stored on my eReader for maybe a year, I downloaded it after reading a review and then went onto to read other stuff and forgot all about it.

Wow. What a read. I read it in three days, thanks to being on the kind of holiday where lying in the sun and reading is obligatory while the kids refuss to do anything other than jump in and out of the pool.

The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's around the tine of Kennedy's assassination. The rest of the world was starting to take heed of racial relations whilst the state of Mississippi decided that it alone was right and the rest of the world should align itself with them.

The story is told through different voices, there is the voice of Aibileen, a maid in her 50s whose only son died a few years back. Then there is the voice of Minny, a younger maid who has four or five chldren (and by the end of the book is pregnant again) with a husband who drinks and beats her, Minny is forever getting the sack from her white employers because she talks back.
Miss Skeeter is the lone white storytelling vooice, the only one of her group still unmarried and living at home at the ripe old age of 23. An oddity who they try to matchmake for. She wants to be a writer but is told by an editor in New York that she needs to get as much writing experience as she can before she'll be taken seriously. Skeeter gets a job at the local paper writing the 'Miss Myrna' column of household tips, the irony being that she has to ask her friend's maid (Aibileen) for these tips as she hasn't got a clue how to answer the problems like how to stop a rubbish bin from smelling or how to remove a limescale ring from a bath tub.

Skeeter then has an idea for a book which the New York editor likes the sound of. A collection of first hand accounts from coloured maids working for white families. The editor likes the idea because it is the year of the Martin Luther King march and there is a real sense of history about to be made, unfortumately for Skeeter Aibileen says no, it's too dangerous for her to help, when the son of a friend has just been blinded after a beating becausd he accidentally used the whites only toilet. Fortunately for Skeeter, Aibileen has a change of heart and so the book project gets started under the greatest of secrecy, everyone adopting psuedonyms, all identities changed, and more than that I shant tell.

It's a great book, I thoroughly recommend it, get it, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I hear thunder

The concensus is that this summer has been rubbish (weatherwise, that is) back in April (and that was early April) we saw crazy temperatures of 30 degrees C, but since those heady days it's all gone downhill (at least here in Germany anyway) This last week we've had the odd day of proper summer, where it's too hot to be outside and all Jas wants is to play with water and all I want to do is sit and hide in the cellar, where it's blissfully cool and where the dog retreats as well, but these occasional days of summer have to be paid for with either thunderstorms or days of rain, or both. Fun.

Last Thursday the sky went black shortly after 6pm, the day had been scorching so of course there was a fee due. By 7pm the storm was in full flow. There was thunder and lightning and rain and winds that threatened to overturn the useless* sun umbrellas. Over the noise of the storm we could only just hear the fire engine sirens as they were kept busy removing fallen trees and pumping out flooded cellars. The damage was all too evident the following morning, paths covered with gravel washed from the flowerbeds, branches littering the roads and my poor sunflowers now mere bald heads, their petals strewn throughout the garden.

Sunday was another decent day (at least where I live, my German teacher who is 30-40 minutes away** reported a day of such crap weather that the only activity that made sense was to decamp to the cinema) hot enough for me to suggest going down into the tourist hotbed that Kettwig becomes on a sunny weekend and getting an eiscafé (me) and an erdbeerbecher*** (him). The charge for such a lovely day was a thunderstorm that raged for over an hour in the evening. Sheet lightning this time, not fork and at one point pretty much constant thunder. I love a good thunderstorm (I blame my mom) but part of the fun is counting the gap between the lightning and the thunder to find out how close the storm is, this is kind of ruined when the thunder is continuous! Logan however, was not amused. He struggles with his immediate reaction which is to flee to his place of safety (under the stairs in the cellar) or staying next to me****, during a long storm he will do both, probably hoping that I'll follow him down to the cellar.

Yesterday was a pretty typical (for this year) summer day, grey to start with and coolish, the odd rain shower and then as the afternoon progressed the heat increased. There was nothing to suggest that payback would be required. So I was quite surprised to wake up in the middle of the night, and on a trip to the loo feel I was going to be hit by lightning - we have a velux window in the roof of the bathroom and the storm (or at least the lightning) was clearly right overhead. I didn't linger. Of course neither child was awoken by the following storm, it was just me that was kept awake for an hour while the thunder rattled the roof above my head.

A final thought; I do find it funny that two of Rudolph's reindeer mates are named Donner (thunder) and Blitzen (lightning) especially when the others are called such normal 'horsey' names - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet and Cupid, maybe that was what fitted the rhyme, unless of course the names preceeded the song...

* useless only in the sense that there has been too little strong sun to warrant their use, they do actually function perfectly, when there is sun that one needs to be shaded from.
** traffic and weather dependant.
*** strawberries and icecream in a bowl topped with cream, almonds and strawberry juice (it's big)
**** and I mean next to, I might have been standing in the kitchen doorway, watching the arial action but he was trying to get under my skirt.

Word for the day; das Gewitter - thunderstorm

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Snaps 75

Spot the difference? The first pic is from last year, pretty sunflowers but not quite as tall as I'd hoped for. So this year I made a point of reading the different seed packets at the garden centre. Consequently this year's display is a little more impressive.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Notes from abroad part deux

We chose a great time to go to England (although to be fair the timing was not our choosing, it's all Tim's fault) we flew in on the Friday and the rioting started on the Saturday - was it something we said?

Our arrival at Birmingham airport was not the most pleasant, we were late because we'd been delayed leaving Germany (some faulty seat belt or something necessitated the complete change of a seat - goodness knows why because I'm quite sure that if a plane crashes the seat belt does little other than keep the bodies in the seats to which they were assigned so facilitating identification) and then because the United Kingdom isn't part of the Schengen agreement we had to queue up to get through border control, there were at least three plane loads of passengers and two immigration officers and lots of empty desks, it was like trying to get into the U.S. except we didn't get finger printed.

First meal out was chinese (of course) a weird little place in a back street of Stratford (upon Avon, not a suburb of London) with paper table cloths (and no hot towels to cleanse greasy fingers - which didn't go down well with MIL, just as the paper table cloths woudn't have been in favour with FIL) but the food was great, even salmon in a black bean sauce which I've never had before, I commented to the chef about it and apparently they get lots of chinese coach tours in who like to have fish.

Saturday was the surprise birthday lunch for my sister in law Rachel, it turned out that the only surprise was that none of us knew that she knew...some people are better are keeping secrets than others I guess*. It was a lovely lunch despite it not being oriental (it was my mission, whilst outside of Germany to eat as much oriental food as possible) in any way, shape or form - can't have everything I guess!

Sunday was English eccentricity at its best. The guys went golfing, Jas and I snook off for a bit of crafty retail therapy and MIL stayed home preparing the bbq food** for the late afternoon's bbq feast. We returned in time for the wine opening, helped set the table (that could well be an over exaggeration, I remember standing next to the table and pointing out where place settings were missing...) and then prayed for the rain to stay away while Si & FIL hovered over the bbq to stop the outside of the huge fillets of pork overcooking (being burnt to a cinder) before the inside was done. The end result was perfect, a lovely meal with great company, but looking at the photos now, it all looks so quintessentially "English".

Monday, and I moved on to my parents for one night with the children, while Si flew home (someone has to work after all, in order to keep me (and the children) in the manner to which we are accustomed!) so whilst Si was eating cheese on toast at home we were taken out for a delicious thai meal.

Tuesday afternoon and to Ben's relief we drove on to our last stop - my friend Alison's. Ben, up to this point had alternated between "bored" and "very bored" but was coping with such dire straits because he knew he had 48 hours at the end of the week to spend with Alison's son, Christopher. The two boys are both 14, have known each since forever and are both equally computer literate. They game together over the internet, talking via headsets about everything and nothing, we were no sooner through the front door than Ben had disappeared into the black hole of Chris's pit, emerging only when summoned for food.
It was Monday and Tuesday nights that the rioting spread to other English cities outside of London and it seemed as if Al's and my carefully planned shopping trip to the Bullring in Birmingham might be under threat.

We needn't have worried, if anything the rioters made our shopping trip easier by keeping everyone (with more sense) away. The car park was deserted, the shops quiet, we didn't even have to queue at the noodle bar in Selfridges (unheard of) we got everything we'd planned to but maybe left earlier than we would have under normal circumstances, it just felt a bit freaky. Around 3pm a couple of the shops had their security shutters lowered already and although we didn't feel threatened or unsafe, the atmosphere was...tense. As we drove out of the car park (which was even emptier than when we'd arrived) we saw the entrance had been completely closed off, you could get out but there was no way in. According to news reports the whole centre shut at 4pm.

Our last meal in England was a good old take out curry - bliss, but now I need to get some serious hours in down at the gym to undo this three weeks of over indulgence, I hope I can manage to fit into my jeans in time for autumn, which is surely just around the corner judging by the weather.

Contraband brought back in the spare bag included Walkers salt and vinegar crisps, prawn cocktail Skips, chichen bisto, self raising flour (x2) mixed spice (x2) Galaxy chocolate bars, Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts, Jelly Babies, Milky Way Stars, Jelly Tots, Tootie Frooties, a fairy cake bun tray, M&S undies and a heap of English magazines - none of which I would die without but none of which can be found here (apart from the flour, but the s.r flour in the chinese supermarket here just doesn't seem to work as well as that from Sainsbury - why is that?!)

* no names, no pack-drill.
** I invited MIL to come shopping with us but she said she'd be far too busy with bbq prep. - I guess I'm incredibly lazy, because to me a bbq is when Si stands over the meat (sausages/burger/chicken if we're feeling adventurous or maybe kebabs from the butchers) and I throw together a salad, some couscous and possibly potato wedges - we're talking an hour's prep, max.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Notes from abroad

I've been very, very lazy over the last three weeks (as my weight gain shows) I did, however, manage to write some things down, so here are my thoughts of 'abroad' (when home is Germany that is).

- Spain is hot & airless, especially in the morning, there is a breeze but you either have to go to the beach (which involves cycling or driving) or wait by the pool for the breeze that picks up in the afternoon.
- I have loved doing 40-50 minutes of yoga on the balcony first thing - well by first thing I mean 9.30 ish, any earlier & it's too early, any later and the sun is too high & burns my head and gets in my eyes. I find it sets me up for a day of doing...nothing, and sorts all the kinks out of my spine from the previous day's lying on the sun lounger.
- Si has been getting very cross about the crapness of the technology here (which amuses me no end), whilst on holiday, no 3G, the internet connection is shite etc etc etc - we're on holiday, so why is it such an insurmountable problem?
- Since we were here last year they've set up a paintball area just behnd the tennis courts (which are in front of our balcony) so instead of hearing the gentle thunking of ball on racket we get the rattle of machine gun fire from midday through to the evening, it's quite bizarre.
- Tried really hard not to get burnt to a cinder this year by applying factor 50 on both me and the kids (Si can take care of himseslf) but it bewilders me that Jas gets a better, deeper and more consistant tan than I do, when she spends all her time in the pool upside down doing handstands. Factor 50 is definitely the way to go though, no burning and no peeling - result!
- The beach is great for people watching, although sunglasses are a necessity. There are bodies of all shapes and sizes out there and clad in all manner of things too...sprayed on, bacofoil silver teeny trunks, not quite the brevity of speedos but they certainly had the budgie smuggler capability, then there are the young girls with just their bikini bottoms on, flaunting their perfect tans as much as their perfectly pert boobies (certainly an eye opener for the younger boys) the older matrons with their sensible one pieces, whose lycra is seriously stressed with the job of covering the ample girth. Younger boys, stylishly wearing their boxers under their (big 'n baggy) board shorts, making sure that the waist band and logo (of the boxers) is visible, and then there were the two girls sunbathing, I had to look twice before I spotted their teensy weensy thongs, clearly the only way to get an immaculate seamless tan (without trekking off to a nudist beach that is).
- Aren't beaches sandy? A little sea breeze on a scorching day is wonderful but I hadn't expected to get exfoliated at the same time, after a shower, a swim and another shower I was still finding sand in unexpected places.
- I worked hard at catching up on my chinese food intake. The one and only restaurant near us in Germany has seriously reduced its menu and was quite disappointing the last time we were there, but in the tiny little Spanish town where we stayed there is a very good chinese, is two visits in a 10 day period overdoing my MSG intake? Or just readjusting my yearly balance maybe?

Might manage to tell you about my week in England next time, we were in Spain Saturday through to a week on Wednesday then we had two nights at home (just enough time to unpack and repack) before flying off to England on the Friday before finally coming home six days later. I have caught up on the washing but somehow the ironing mountain just keeps growing...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Snaps 74

I'm back, 10 (or was it 11?) days in sunny Spain, hopped home to change suitcase contents and then a week in riotous England. Here's a few pics;

1st the pool in Spain, my foot is meant to be in shot.

Then the birthday cakes at my sister in law's 'surprise' birthday celebration (the reason we went to England)
This is a decoration on top of a bridge in a fab Thai restaurant we went to with M&D, dad reckoned it was a pineapple...I don't think so.
And lastly a shot of an almost deserted carpark in the centre of Birmingham, mid morning the day after the riots - perfect day for shopping in the Bullring, the looters hadn't got in and the other shoppers were too scared to go shop.