Thursday, October 25, 2012

Always wear matching undies

I've had problem with my left foot all summer, I know what the problem is, I've had it before, it's plantar fasciitis.  I blame it on wearing flat sandals with no support for long periods during the summer and then running on it when it was already slightly injured therefore making it worse.  Silly me.

I'm rarely ill and don't like going to the doctors (I blame my mother) and so I put off making an appointment for well over a month, finally however I bit the bullet and went.  He agreed with my diagnosis and asked whether I'd had it x-rayed to prove what it was when I last had it (he clearly forgot that I'd lived in England...can you imagine an NHS G.P. sending someone for an X-ray to prove why they had a hurty heel?)  So the outcome of that appointment was a referral to an orthopaedic doc who would then X-ray and I guess recommend a path of treatment.  That appointment is in a week or so, a popular doc with all the local skivers I guess.

In the mean time I had a 'Heilpraktiker' referred to me, something I'd normally steer well clear of - give me drugs and 'proper' medicine anyday, but as the referee told me that he specialised in chiropracty (which I like) and also in the treatment of foot injuries, I thought I'd give him a go.

I used to visit a chiropractor in the UK, on account of having a wonky pelvis and a spine that curves in two dimensions and not just one (should donate my skeleton to medical science*) and I was always fully dressed during the hands on consultations, while he made my vertebrae go 'knack, knack, knack' and this came to mind this morning as I was getting dressed, black leggings, black undies, blue bra, t-shirt, thick tunic/jumper.  I was more concerned with getting a t-shirt whose neck line didn't show under that of the tunic than matching the bra and pants, afterall, with Si away, who's to see....little did I realise I would spend at least five minutes in my underwear standing on a lightbox.  Yes, a LIGHTBOX.  Having a professional holding my hips and getting me to bend over at the waist...should definitely have worn bigger pants, forget about matching them to the bra...

A lightbox has to be the most unforgiving light to view one's shortcomings in, everything looks dimpled, I think I may have shut my eyes.

After the lightbox procedure I was able to cover my miss-matching underwear (and cellulite) so that he could start the treatment.  Ultra sound was used to 'encourage' cream into the flesh of my heel, then both feet were manipulated, I hesitate to use the word 'massage' because I'm quite sure you don't feel the need to scream during a massage and as a finale, the icing on the cake, he stuck a needle into my heel.  He did ask and he did warn me, but I'm a total wuss, and this did not prevent me from yanking my foot out of his grasp with a yelp...I gave it back and endured the torture though, I thought I was doing OK until he commented that now he would depress the plunger.

Now I have to return to my Hausarzt (the German G.P. equivalent, with similar fire breathing receptionists) and ask him for a referral back to my Heilpraktiker so that then I can (hopefully) get the health insurance to pay up at least a percentage of his fees, while the Heilpraktiker makes some special insoles for my shoes to help my poorly heel recover.

Shall remember to wear more sensible (i.e something with greater coverage) and matching undies next visit, but at least they were clean!

* but not just yet, eh?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's the Password?

I will freely confess that I can be quite forgetful, I don't think I always have been (although I could have forgotten!) but I certainly am now, maybe it's an age thing.  
Anyway, I regularly find myself having to repeat trips back to the cellar to get something I already went down for and then forgot, buying lots of miscellaneous things from the supermarket yet going home without the one item I went for and of course there's the ongoing issue of not remembering the word I want to say (understandable when talking in German as I mightn't have learnt that word yet, but sometimes even the word in English proves elusive).

To such a forgetful mind the modern day need for passwords and PINs is hellish.   But I think I've just about got a handle on it, although whether I can remember my UK card PINs on the girlie weekend to London at the end of November remains to be seen.

The new twist on this modern day problem comes in the form of Jas, who at 11 is as technologically capable as me (i.e. she can use it but the technology isn't happy about it) then factor in the scatty attitude of a 'tween'* and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

The girls all seem to have the same accessories, mobile phone and ipod, all with lots of games and apps on them, if one finds a new game you can guarantee that shortly after they will all have it, they sit together, swapping gadgets, playing each others games, making videos of each other and generally larking about.

I have never put a password/code on my phone or ipad, partly though fear of forgetting it but also because I don't need to, if either is stolen then I know that there are ways of hacking the phone/pad that render the code useless and also because my children are old enough to leave my stuff alone**. Jas however started putting passcodes on her stuff this summer, it s probably a trend amongst her friends. She started out with the simple 4 digit passcode
system that came with the phone, then progressed to a pattern of dots within a grid and then to a word and then back to a number.  Truly a disaster waiting to happen.

Saturday evening Jas stayed at friends, 6pm I had a call from a phone number I didn't recognise, it was Jas on her friend's phone, she'd managed to lock herself out of her phone.  You only get so many attempts before the system gives you a time out, the more you wrongly try the longer the timeout, I have a friend whose small son managed to lock out an iphone for years. 

Jas was quite upset because she'd also managed to lock herself out of her ipod...quite what help I was supposed to be I don't know seeing as I wasn't actually there and as far as I knew her last password (at noon that day) had been "JAZZ" and yet now it was apparently a number.   I calmed her down as best I could, seeming to leave her more cross than upset (how dare I, her all knowing mother, not know what four digit number she had input into her phone) and promised to sort it out on Sunday when she was home.

An hour or so later my phone binged with a message, from Jas, or to be more precise, from Jas's phone, they'd managed to remember the code, or rather Jas's friend had remembered the code (which begs the question, what's the point of having a code if all your friends know it?)  The ipod was a different matter though, clearly a different code!

A quick search in the app store on my iphone shows 135 apps available for passcodes, I do hope Jas doesn't download anymore, I do hope she's learnt her lesson...knowing my luck she'll forget all about the evening!

* tween is an actual word (trust me, you can Google it) describing the age between childhood and adolescence, 10-12 years old.
** I have a friend who has three children, all younger than mine and she does have passcodes on phone and pad, however she has to change them regularly because the sneaky kids have a strategy for finding out the codes - they each spot a number, none of them has to discover the whole code, just the part of it that they are responsible for, 007s in training.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Snaps 134

Not once, but twice in the papers last week, not bad at all for the team that came last (and they made no mention of that in the write up!)
We really did rule the Ruhr.  
Bring on 2013's Drachenbootrennen we say, we're not scared.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

France Part Deux

Last week we didn't just torment our elder son by going to Paris, oh no, that wouldn't be evil enough, we also dragged him (kicking and screaming) to Eurodisney, where to pile on the humiliation, I booked us into the Disneyland Hotel, you know, the big pink palace-y looking one...My logic being that this could well be the one and only time we do the whole Disney thing* so we should do it 'properly'.

The Disneyland Hotel is amazing, it's huge for starters, with all the staff dressed in salmon pink Edwardian/Victorian outfits (knickerbockers and floor length frocks and frills) there's valet parking and those luggage carts that I've only ever seen in the movies, then there's the two (or was it three?) restaurants, piano bar and the essential shop (wall to wall Mickey 'n Minnie). 

But the overriding impression of the hotel was the smell.

It was (to me anyway) a faintly unpleasant odor, but the children claimed it smelt of 'old lady' and I can see what they mean, it was a sweet, powdery perfume that clung, fortunately it wasn't too noticeable in the actual room but in the huge reception area it was very pervasive.

We had a family room capable of sleeping five, but isn't it funny how, no matter that the hotel knows the ages and sexes of the children they still fail to realise that a 15 year old boy and his 11 year old sister are unlikely to want to share a double bed, fortunately the sofabed was quickly made up and every night someone from houskeeping turned up to make sure the sofabed was ready to be slept in and every time they visited they left behind special Disney chocolate coins**.

The main problem with the hotel for me was the fact that it was full of children.  In a normal hotel you wouldn't assume that everyone staying there would have children with them, at Disney it's pretty much a prerequisite, which is fine, or would be fine, except for the fact that all the parents seemed to have relinquished all hold on behavioural boundaries. Running, screaming and tantruming*** all seemed to be allowed and ignored.  Working in the service sector takes a certain kind of person, working in the service sector for Disney?  Another level entirely.  On the other hand the youth of hotel guests did provide amusing sights, three foot tall Eeyore and Woody chasing each other along the corridor and literally every other little girl at breakfast dressed as her favourite Disney princess, cute if surreal.

I had 'forgotten' to tell Ben about the highlight of breakfast.  During the 2-3 hours that breakfast is served there are Disney characters available for a cuddle and a photo opportunity.  I didn't tell him because I thought there would be a good chance that he would just call room service and never come out of the room, instead he was forced to run the velour gauntlet although I'm sure he averted his eyes so as not to contaminate his retinas with Mickey Mouse images!

Jas and I came out of breakfast one day and found Tigger at the fireplace.  I have a soft spot for Tigger, something to do with his irrepressible springiness and the fact that he misspells the word 'tiger'.  Jas thinks Tigger is OK but wasn't fussed about getting a photo and a cuddle with him...I was, so I forced Jas to stand in line with me and then to have her photo taken with Tigger, poor child, probably mentally scarred!

Eurodisney itself is compact and bijoux, big enough, but not the monstrous sprawl that the original U.S. parks are.  Ben refused to set foot in either the Walt Disney Studios park or the actual Eurodisney, and in retrospect I can see his point. He's not a huge fan of big, scary rides and everything else is geared towards those who love Disney and cartoons, I don't think we saw any other teenage boys in the parks, loads of kids and adults but teenage boys?  No.

Disneyland is an oddly magical place, I found myself grinning for no reason, I am convinced they pump something into the air, it can't be natural to have such a happy face (or maybe I've lived in Germany too long?)  We watched the parade and the special end of day 'Dreams' show, which was enthralling and we managed to introduce Jas to Princess Jasmine, and of course we met Mickey.
I think by the end of our few days there Jas was Disney'd out, she slept almost all the way home (five hours) and then went straight to bed and slept through another 8-9 hours, she was either knackered or suffering withdrawal from the Disney Magic!

* the last time we did Disney was Florida, 11 years ago and we stayed off-site.
** which I got to eat, because this being France, the coins were rather nice dark chocolate which neither child will touch!
*** if when you win a medal you've 'medalled' then surely if you're having a tantrum you're 'tantruming'?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Out of Puff

the co-conspirators
As alluded to in yesterday's blog, this was the weekend of the Dragonboat race...                                                   We all had a great time, didn't win, didn't come anywhere close to winning*, apart from in the style stakes.  The programme had clearly stated that there would be a prize for the most creative (or something) costumes, this was interpreted by all the other teams as matching T-shirts (how original), santa hats (in a variety of colours it must be said) or scarves (so very German) the only team that came close to rivalling our creativity were all clad in Roman get ups, but as they were shop bought and didn't stand out to the degree that our fluorescent pinkness did, we discounted them.
Emma, me & Hannah
We had three races in all, with three different 'steuermen'**.  The first and third were both great fun, not feeling embarrassed in the slightest by a boat full of crazy female pinkness, they even obliged by shouting at us in English (helpful for Hannah, as she's no expat & only knows enough German to order beer or wine & even that's debatable) the second steuerman was dour to say the least, most unamused by us, so I made a point of thanking him for his 'help'.

Marissa & I embarrassing her sister
Embarrassing another child

I'm not sure what confused the locals the most:
Pink Girl Power
- the brightness of our outfits?  As a team we all had to be there earlier to register and collect our number, blah blah blah, so our families were all joining us riverside later on, I don't think any of them rang asking "where are you?  I can't see you".  In a sea of black Jack Wolfskin (we've entered the winter practicality clothing zone) our bright pinkness stood out like a huge sore thumb - I think most of us actually had sore thumbs at the end of the day, they get bashed into the side of the boat if you're not too careful.

- the name of the team?  We had to come up with a team name very quickly in order to register to race, speed was of the essence and we (Karen & I) went with "Puff the Magic Dragon".  In the UK and the US Puff is known as a resident of Honalee, here in Germany he is unknown, and der Puff (am guessing that it's der, could be die or das, it's honestly not a word I use frequently, if at all) is the word for a there was a boat of women, expat women, all clad in hot pink with black leggings and tutus and the team name Puff/ it any wonder that our menfolk refused to sport matching logos?

- we weren't taking it seriously, no star jumps or stretching prior to races for us, no personal  special little foam seat thingies either (as Hannah joked, we all had enough rear padding) in fact when told we had to race the third time straight after the second we whined like children who'd had their chocolates stolen by the school bully, we wanted a drink and we didn't want more Ruhr water, we wanted beer.

To be honest it's a miracle we made it to the finish line once let alone three times.  When Karen and I first conspired I emailed all the expat girlies asking if they wanted in, and it looked as though we'd have too many people, we only needed 10 plus a drummer afterall.  But then two couldn't make it due to holiday schedules, another pulled out (quite understandably) with a last chance to visit London before relocating to the other end of the world, another had a business trip unreasonably extended, if someone had called in sick we'd have been sunk, up s**t creek without a paddle.  We had one training session*** that only four of the actual people in Saturday's boat made it to and one of those ended up drumming.
No names, no pack drill...ssshhhh

My son made some comment at the end of the day (he made it down to the riverside for the first race and after permitting**** a photo with his pink clad mother (oh, the mortification) I let him go home) that I'd left my pride in the boat...because we came so far last I guess, but we always knew we couldn't win, I don't think any of us hoped to come 20th, but where's the shame?  We did it for fun, to have a giggle, to spend time together - my personal mantra has been for a long time,  "life is too short to be taken too seriously", yes, there are occasions when you do have to knuckle down and be sensible and earnest but Saturday was so not one of those times, Saturday was all about GIRL POWER!


* in fact we came 20th, in a field of 20, however we were the only boat with a fully female team, on the other hand the boat from the children's home had at least 2 kids in it...but did we run and hide our faces post race and pretend we'd never taken part (as some others did)?  Did we hell!  We crowded around making as much noise as a large group of women will demanding beer from our men folk (see above)
** the steuerman steers the boat and is equipped with an ear piece and mike so that he can shout stroke timings at us, at least I think that's what they shouted.
*** we had planned none, at all, I did say that it was always the taking part that was more important, but reason took over, at least ensuring we knew which end of the boat was the front end (afterall they're both pointy)
**** he's gets very snitty about photos being taken without his knowledge, anyone would think he was worried that I'd abuse his trust and put them on the internet...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Snaps 133

Saturday was the Dragonboat race, here's our team, resplendent in all our pink glory, we were very easy to spot.

This is how we looked 'racing':

                  And this was how the more proficient, serious, German teams looked,
                 more tomorrow...

Friday, October 12, 2012

France Part 1

It's autumn half term here and so with two weeks and no school the children MUST be entertained.

Last year we went to Rome, it was, I have to confess, a huge success, the weather gods smiled down on us, the children will both happily eat pizza until it comes out of their ears and the history was delivered in small enough doses that neither the older son nor the younger daughter were bored.

Easter I tried Naples, big fail.

This October I took us all to France, Paris to be exact. I thought it would offer everything that Rome had, it's just that there would be no pizza and the language would be different and the monuments also...

First problem: the weather gods were on strike (something the French do have a bit of a reputation for, so I should have anticipated this). It rained most of the journey* there and the rest of that afternoon, stopped on Sunday, then started up again Monday, fun.

Second problem: the teenage son decided to act like a full on teenager. He didn't want to see anything of Paris apart from the couple of things I had booked, little git, so we left him in the hotel room with the wifi connection while we explored the Champs Elysees the first afternoon and the Seine the second afternoon. He did join us for dinner, otherwise he'd have starved!

I have been to Paris before, at least three times I think, but the Eiffel tower never ceases to amaze. We saw it by night as we walked back to our hotel along the Seine, timing it perfectly** so that it was the top of the hour when it goes from being lit up and beautiful, to sparkly and breathtaking.   We also did a tour on Monday morning, which was very informative, there was mention of the number of rivets, an elephant and even Hitler, it's just a shame that the weather had closed in so much that when we got to the top we couldn't see the ground.

On Sunday afternoon we watched the Eiffel tower being used as a backdrop for the filming of a flashmob style*** recording of "Gangnam Style". As we set out to catch one of the Batobus (hop on & off taxi style boat)  they were all practicing and then as we returned, an hour or so later, we caught the actual filming.

In cities before I've booked tours, in New York we did a cycling tour of Central Park, Rome we cycled around too and Naples we did a culinary tour that ended in a pizza making workshop. For Paris I would have booked Segways, but J is too young, was about to book bikes when I stumbled across 4roues-sous-1parapluie. Wow! What a great, personal way to see Paris, 90 minutes being driven through light, Sunday morning traffic from the Eiffel tower to Notre Dame and most points in between (including up the Champs Elysees and around the Arc d'Triomphe****. It was made even more entertaining by the fact that this car is a French classic and people were stopping to take photos of us as we drove around.

All in all we had just 48 hours in Paris, a little taster, nothing more than that, saw the Louvre (only from the outside) and the Sacre Coeur (just about, from the Eiffel tower) but at least the children can report back that they've been up the Eiffel Tower and around the Arc d'Triomphe and along the Champs Elysees.   If they're interested, they can go back when they're older...

* We chose to drive, it's five hours, door to door.   We figured a flight plus all the airport transfers, hanging about etc. would take about the same time, plus we needed the car to drive to Disney.
** and accidentally
*** I'm sure the name "flashmob" is meant to imply that it happens on the spur of the moment in public, but these guys had an area in the Trocadero roped off and were all rehearsing in groups for most of the afternoon.
**** and it's an urban myth that your car insurance doesn't cover you here, what does happen apparently, is that any accident is declared to be the fault of everyone involved and so costs are split equally.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Snaps 132

We're in Paris for a couple of days, this was the view from the car as we were almost at our hotel.
Ignorance is bliss, don't you think? Blindly following the instructions from the satnav ensured that Si had no idea he had to navigate the traffic chaos that surrounds the Arc d'Triomph...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

You can choose your friends

When Germans ask me what I miss about England I always say "my friends", the rest is importable - within reason, but friends are trickier. Hour long phone calls have to take the place of leisurely lunches and weekend/week long visits have to be organised months in advance to replace those casual drop bys for coffee and a chat. Long distance friendships like long distance relationships take time and effort from both parties in order to last and flourish.

I am lucky to have a good group of expat friends here now that supplement my 'old' friends back in the U.K. We are a mixed group of nationalities and ages with two things in common, we all speak English and none of us is German, and perhaps just as importantly, we are all there for each other.
This maybe sounds a little twee, but for most of us the closest relations are at least an hour's flight away, I say 'most of us' because some are married to Germans and therefore have inlaws close by who can be called upon in an emergency. And it's in an emergency, when you're living as an expat, that friends come into their own. Stuck on the autobahn because of a traffic accident and need to collect a child? Call a friend. Need someone to hold your hand at a gruesome doctors appointment? Call a friend. Missing a vital ingredient like Golden Syrup or self-raising flour? Call a friend. Need a lift home from the garage? Call a friend. Want cheering up with an evening of cocktails? Call all the friends.

This morning we (my expat girlies & I) spent the morning together celebrating three birthdays, Rachael's was last Saturday, Emma's was Monday and mine is this Saturday.
What a feast.
Karen was hosting, and boy, does she know how to put on a breakfast spread, we ate until we could eat no more and then there was cake, of course!
I think we (9 of us) got through two bottles of of Prosecco, many jugs of coffee, an egg casserole, a smoked salmon pizza thingy, plates of cheese and ham, banana loaf, croissants, bread rolls, tomato and mozarella, boiled eggs and last but not least cake.
Friendship is truly a remarkable thing.

Monday, October 1, 2012

An English Thing

An American friend surprised me a while ago when she wrote (either on her blog or FB, I can't remember which) that she had had an unexpectedly fun time with her new Brit friends, I think she'd expected us to be very straight laced, prim and proper and yet there we were, not quite swinging from the light fittings and getting thrown out of the bar, but quite definitely having a ball.
Similarly a Fench friend expressed surprise when I admitted that despite having a garden, and therefore having to 'garden'*, I'm not a fan of gardening.  To me a garden is for sitting in with a tall glass of Pimms, a bowl of nibbles and a good book.

I guess growing up in the U.K. you never really have to confront the fact that people from other countries have misconceptions and preconceived notions about you, just because you have British passport.

There are some stereotypes that I do conform to however.

- being happy naked.  Naked sauna is a BIG thing here, and I, like most of my English expat friends would rather walk over hot coals** than sit with friends, naked.  We're trying to organise a girlie spa day, it's proving impossible because so many of the 'wellness' places here expect their clientele to be nackt.

- have bad teeth. My teeth are perfectly healthy, which my German dentist considers to be nothing short of a miracle, however they're not straight, and straight teeth are considered a god given right here.   I was recently at the dentist and as she is currently off on maternity leave I got her stand in.  I was not amused when he asked if I'd considered having my teeth straightened...I told him that they'd been like that a long time and were quite happy, cheeky bugger.

- drink tea.  I do drink coffee (but it has to be good coffee) but my beverage of choice for breakfast is tea, two cups please and then and only then am I prepared to meet the day. What's more, I prefer my tea the way I make it, not too weak (so that you can taste the milk, bleurgh) and not so strong that a spoon would stand up in it.  When certain guests are here I will make sure to offer tea just so that I don't then have to drink their offering***.

- hate confrontation. This is me to the core.   I'm more likely to turn and walk away than face up to an argument.  In fact this very issue is what sparked today's subject.  J was in a school show last summer, the people at the local theatre who run a kids theatre group were impressed with her and specifically asked her to come along this autumn and join in.  J went with a friend, had a great time and we sent in the enrolment form.  The friend didn't, but rather than 'fessing up, said nothing.  Now J doesn't want to go on her own, but is in tears over missing out.   And I am livid.  But will I say anything to the mother (who also happens to be a friend of mine) highly unlikely.  For one thing, it wont gain me anything, the problem will still be there, although if she does ask about it I shall tell her about J's tears.

- being polite.  I hate the idea that someone might think me impolite, and I will probably let someone push in front of me in the queue at the bakers (although only one person and I will glare at their back as they do it and mutter about it afterwards) and rather than offer an outright 'no' to a request that I don't like the sound of I am more likely to give a 'maybe' response, afterall I don't want to hurt their feelings!

Since moving away from England I do feel more English, I have never been as patriotic as I am now and yet the very distance that has fertilized my patriotism has also allowed me to see Britiain for what it is, I can see clearly its faults and failings and love it despite these.****

* my version of gardening is more the slash and burn method, well it would be if the burning of garden refuse was allowed here, instead I have to haul the sacks of debris to the recyclinghof, and pray they don't tip over in my car on the way there, fun.
** whilst fully clothed clearly.
*** and they thought I was being a wonderful hostess....
**** but no, I'm in no rush to go back to the island, I'm quite happy here in my new home thankyou.