Monday, April 16, 2018

One Sentence Book Review: Beyond Sleep

Beyond Sleep by Willem Frederik Hermans
 
Overly self-conscious and self-important young geologist, carrying the weight of his father's too-early death and resultant failure to achieve greatness, goes on remote site visit critical to his thesis completion yet is painfully unprepared for any aspect of his journey.

Buy, borrow, or don't bother: Don't bother

Thursday, April 12, 2018

One Sentence Book Review: New York 2140

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

This book will delight anyone who has ever wondered just how will the world look in about 120 years when no entity on Earth seems willing or able to do anything to slow the pace of climate change;  the author fits in descriptions of extreme weather, human scientific and social ingenuity, and political showdowns in between the stories of the small group of fellow megalithic-city-within-an-apartment dwellers who change the world.

Buy, borrow or don't bother: Buy - and keep checking back over the next 120 years to see which predictions come true!

Monday, April 9, 2018

One Sentence Book Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This children's book first appears as a thriller - the protagonist's entire family is murdered in the first few pages - but instead turns into an adventuresome coming-of-age story (albeit under unusual circumstances) that has both children and adults constantly wanting to know what happens next.

Buy, borrow or don't bother:  Buy

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

One Sentence Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Imagine your favorite Russian writer got himself a good editor:  reminiscences about the scent of lilacs in the Alexander Gardens or waxing philosophic about why Russians took to duels so quickly still happen, but within one rather than 20 pages.

Buy, borrow or don't bother: Buy

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Köln

I took myself to Köln for the day today (Cologne, for the not-German-speaking).  It is well known for its totally crazy Carnival celebrations, and for some reason the train ticket was unnervingly inexpensive. Admittedly, several museums, and the Cathedral, were closed. I was saving the Chocolate and Mustard museums for when the whole family was here anyway, so not such a big problem.

Although the inside of the cathedral was closed, the outside obviously wasn't. I took a lot of photos. Here's just one:
 
My first order of business was to figure out what was going on and when and where. I basically accidentally found the "Battle of the Bands, 1790's style"





Around the corner was this delight:
Apparently, all the marching bands end up in one large park where there's a stage and the redcoats got to play more modern music (ABBA, among other things, no joke). I should have taken photos but in addition to the tents where one could buy food or beer, there were people with their own little beer-keg-on-red-wagon looking contraptions, most of which had signs proclaiming "PRIVAT"

Most of the spectators also had costumes, and if one came unprepared there were plenty of stores and kiosks ready to kit you out.  It was raining, and the city actually has quite a few good looking museums.  I hit an art museum that was actually open today and that nobody in my family would be interested in visiting - although they did have a decent program for keeping kids engaged, with certain artworks hosting extra signage especially for kids, some commentary and jokes, and a room with enormous bean bag chairs to hang out and chill out before venturing back into the art. Unusual for me, I spent more than 2 hours in the museum.

Another order of business was to find Kölsch to drink, as that is Köln's special beer.  I had been reading up on Carnival in the city and kept reading about having a "Früh" beer was an important part, and I kept thinking "OK, they drink beer early in the day, it's Carnival, that makes sense."  Nope. Früh, which means early in German, is also the name of the brand of beer. D'oh. So I had one. It was OK. All the Brauhauses were full past capacity with lines out the doors, so I got mine from an outdoor stand.  This was nearby. I liked the colorful houses on a gray day.
I had some time, so hit another museum that was right by the train station before heading out. It was interesting, but I was heading toward exhausted so didn't absorb as much as I might have.  As I headed back to the train station, there was this. I have no idea why:


And last but not least, in honor of my husband who adores everything pig, in the train station was this cafe:






Wednesday, November 1, 2017

My first big outing

I've been in Frankfurt more than three months,and although I have been back to the USA twice and taken another trip by plane within Europe, within Germany I have barely left Frankfurt.

Today I took advantage of the holiday (500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door and thus ushered in the Reformation) and took myself to Heidelberg.  There is a weird thing with the Deutsche Bahn - ticket prices to places that are within about a 2 hour drive are ridiculously expensive, so it doesn't make any sense to take the train even when one would prefer to do so. So, my first road trip.


This is the Academy of Sciences building, with the Heidelberg Castle lit up through the fog behind it. I am sure Terry hates this photo. I love it. The photo was taken basically right where I found a parking garage for the car.

I first hiked my way into and around the Philosopher's Way, so named because the university professors of old would come up into these woods and wander.  I had thought the name referred to a particular path, but soon changed my mind. The trails kept splitting off, signposts existed yet directed to places I had never heard of and none of them said Philosophenweg ... so I guess the term refers to all the forest paths.
This is the path up the mountain to the start of the Philosopher's Way. This path is called the Schlangeweg, or Snake Path.

The views were amazing, but hard to capture. This is Heidelberg's famous "old" bridge leading up to the Church of the Holy Ghost.

My morning in the mountain air caused (as the Germans say) a bear's hunger, and I managed to find a little pub-like restaurant a tiny bit off the main touristy area. I intended to order schnitzel  - they had three different kids that weren't pork as well as about 6 different kinds with pork, but then they had venison goulash with a berry sauce and spaetzle. I was sold.

After lunch, off to check out the castle. I didn't plan to actually go in, wanting to save that for a time when Terry and the kids are with me.  The entrance fee is actually due at the courtyard of the castle, so I only walked around a bit. It looks like it's half crumbling and there's plenty of nooks and crannies. The kids will love it.


There it is, looming over the town.

 The last part of the adventure was getting gas for the car. There's this perk where when we use a special card at certain gas stations, we can get gasoline without extra taxes. These extra taxes add up to about half the cost of the gas. I wasn't completely convinced on how this was going to work, so I didn't fill the tank all the way. But it worked! Unfortunately it also entailed a detour that added 20 or so minutes to my drive home. Driving in Germany is a bit harrowing, for example I'd be driving 80 mph and have cars FLYING past me. That takes some getting used to.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

SaTOURday in Frankfurt

[DISCLAIMER:  Terry has not seen or edited any of the photos shown here. He is not to blame for poor quality]

My days are not normally quite this busy ...

It started, Saturday morning, the day after the new curtains in my apartment were installed. Now, instead of hanging an inch or two above the window sill (and thus letting in first and all other light), my curtains hang several inches below.  And I slept past 8:30am.

After going for a run in which I successfully re-created the first few steps of a previous bike ride to Nidda Park, I made breakfast and got ready to hit the museums. The last Saturday of the month is free admission for most, but not all, of the Frankfurt museums.

The Children's Museum is located just steps away from the Hauptwache U-Bahn exit, so I went there first. The exhibits are very cool and interactive, but the place is tiny and it may be a bit young for my kids. I don't think I spent more than 20 minutes inside.

The Museum for Modern Art (yes, I went there. It was free!)  was about what you expect for modern art.  Some of the exhibits were thought-provoking, many just begged to be touched although that was frowned upon, one installation with bench seating did in fact allow viewers to sit so of course I did.
 This is one of many things I hold against modern art. How does this title relate to this work?

OK this one was cool. They are not dogs, but some kind of soft furry material shaped to look like them.

I tried to get into the Museum for Angewandete Kunst (Museum of Applied Art), which I had visited previously, but it looks like it is being prepared for new installations and any way the only door I found was locked.

Across a sweet little park from the Museum for Angewandete Kunst is the World Cultures Museum. The exhibitions focused on south America and Africa and art reflecting on the legacy of slavery.
This mobile is hanging from the entrance and along the two stories of stairs

My last museum stop was the Archeological Museum, located in an old church. There's an exhibit that unfortunately ends before the family comes to visit, all about prehistoric peoples. This was the winner of the day and the one I think the kids would even like. It definitely goes for breadth rather than depth, but I found value in the series of pottery that, in the course of a hallway, brought the visitor through nearly a millennia's worth of change and development. 

By the time I got home it was way past lunchtime and I was hungry and tired. After a brief rest and refreshment, I put my German license plates on the car and hit the road. Selgros is a membership-warehouse-type store, and I went to check it out. Three months into living as a single person, I still have trouble purchasing fresh produce with enough variety that I don't get bored during the week, but that doesn't rot when I can't eat it all. Needless to say, I bought little, although it isn't only full cases of stuff and I did go home with red curry paste and coconut milk.

Back at home, it was time to prepare dinner. When I returned to Frankfurt  last Sunday I took the whole chicken out of the freezer, planning to roast it later this week. My oven hasn't worked for 2 days, the chicken is now fully thawed, oh no, what to do?

Kenji, the culinary genius at Serious Eats, explains precisely how to grill a whole chicken and why one should do it his way. Without a meat thermometer and with the sunlight fading (it was full darkness when I pulled the chicken off the grill) it did entail a few risks, but the result was delicious and we'll find out tomorrow whether it was properly cooked. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Frankfurt, second impressions

Frankfurt reminds me of Philly. There is the downtown with skyscrapers, but much of the housing is 5 stories or less. Lots of green, lots of parks. Relatively easy to navigate the city. It has a comfortable feeling.

I continue to get settled. Yesterday I actually made a cake - I had ingredients and bakeware sufficient to the task. I invited a few people over to share it with me ... Given that I own 8 plates right now (4 big and 4 small) and the cake itself inhabits one of them, it is a small group. I'm not 100% sure I have drinking vessels for all.

Work is both harder and more rewarding than I had expected. My expectation is that I won't be getting bored any time soon, which is just the way it should be. My colleagues are smart, patient, and fun to work with.

The last weekend of each month, the museums have free admission. I used that opportunity to explore a couple of museums and check out the touristy area - the museums are in the neighborhood - and have to admit the scenery is indeed charming.  And the main tourist bridge has, as so many European bridges do, a slew of locks, most of them engraved with names and wedding dates, and in various colors.

This weekend I ventured to a farmer's market. I have complained quite a bit about DC area farmer's markets - they seem to be Whole Foods outside and maybe even more expensive than WF if that is possible, whereas everywhere else in the world the purpose of a farmer's market is to cut out the middleman store, which gives the farmers more income while also reducing the grocery bill for shoppers. This market is more like that, the prices were pretty similar to the regular grocery store but the quality was better, so the shopper still gets good value.  I found the first fresh beets I've seen in Germany, this year's crop and with the tops still on (once I saw a couple of leftover beets, dirt still on them, looking old and rubbery). I bragged to Terry about the beet greens I'll be cooking up this week.

Last weekend I checked out a "street food festival" that was basically a food truck mashup. The Filipino adobo chicken I had for lunch was so tasty I went back for something new at dinner time ... the Balinese stand I had my eye on was sold out of food so I had one of the best falafel sandwiches I've ever had instead.

If nothing else, I eat well here :-)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Cabin, Epic Treehouse Version

As usual for an in-the-USA July 4, we headed up to the cabin for the long weekend. It is not news that I love the cabin and everything there is magical and wonderful.  Because of logistical problems we have been debating whether it makes sense to just sell it. Then the kids asked for a treehouse and Terry got a bee in his bonnet to make it something better than a plywood board nailed in the Y of some random tree. Most of our "relaxing" long weekend was consumed with creating Epic Treehouse Cabin Version.

[note: this was supposed to be published a month ago. And with photos. Such is life]

Terry got 8 foot boards and decided not to worry about cutting them down, so the treehouse is 8 square feet. It has two trees growing up inside of it (i.e., it's got 2 tree support rather than just one. The trees come through the floor. They are perfect for leaning against while reading a book).

Day 1 was mostly just framing it out and anchoring the foundation to the trees. We didn't think about taking any photos until that work was just about done, oops, so there's no documentation. A decent chunk of the day was spent simply getting the lumber and tools up the hill to where the treehouse is - in the middle of the woods, nowhere near the lane or anything else that smacks of humanity. Everyone got good exercise and ate a larger lunch than usual - perhaps a bit of foreshadowing what it may be like to have 2 teenagers in the house? Day 1 ended with a trip to Home Depot for more lumber for flooring and the railing, and paint for the railing. And water ice, where we discovered cookies and cream water ice. And chocolate fudge brownie. All dairy-free (we asked). Alex was in heaven.

On Day 2 we had to cart more lumber up the hill. We had to paint the railings, too, which was a task largely delegated to the kids until Terry noted what a sloppy job they were doing. He was happy to release them from chores to play with their new friend, a neighbor girl who they had never interacted with previously and who they spent most free moments with during this trip. She and Zoltan were like oil and water - he'd come back upset from some slight, and 45 minutes later be running off to play with her again. In between the schlepping and painting, Terry lay the flooring. We ended up with a very fancy-looking design using both dark and light wood.

Day 3 was constructing and installing the railing, then realizing the kids are little and skinny and they would plummet right off in between the rails, so we needed to add something to prevent that - in comes some old lattice that had been laying around in what was essentially a junk heap and now finally had a productive use.

This project was much more time and labor intensive than I had thought it would be. And It is pretty close to the end for a while - our plan is to use it as is for a while and through the use determine what we'll do next. For example we first planned to close it in entirely, like a real house, with windows and a door. Then we realized it would be a tragedy to make so much of the surrounding area hard to see when sitting on the floor, leaning against one of the trees and reading a book. So we're considering keeping it open. Or using clear plexiglass to provide a bit of weatherproofing while not keeping nature out entirely. And that goes with the roofing options: something solid? a tarp that can be rolled up or down? A mix? All options are currently on the table.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Frankfurt, first impressions

I've been here about 10 days now, more or less, and so far everything is both exactly as I expected and totally different. There's a lot of people crossing against the lights, although I am pretty sure most of them are not German. For example, I heard a Russian couple arguing the whole way down the street and across it ... when the walk sign was RED.

It took longer than I've ever experienced to get internet set up in my apartment, which is a big deal because the internet is how I communicate with the family. But it is now done so I'm happy.

My boss seems great, my colleagues too. I was supposed to be training all week but a colleague called out sick so I started adjudicating visas two days earlier than the training plan had anticipated. On my first day I adjudicated a whopping 32 visas!  I got better at it the next day.  Still haven't figured out my routines yet but that will come in time. One thing I will say, it is good for my diet that when I am adjudicating visas I don't take a break for anything, I even forget to drink from my water bottle which is next to me on the counter (I think as I get more settled into it, though, that will change).  But it is bad for my diet that, like I hear about consular offices around the world, people bring in treats to share just about every day. And my desk is right in front of the nice little table where the treats are displayed.

I can't wait for my bike to get here, because there are bike lanes EVERYWHERE and most things are bike-able but not walkable, unless I have nothing else to do (such as go to my job or get home in time to eat dinner and go to bed). The buses show up at exactly the time stated on the schedule. I am constantly amazed at that.

My first weekend at post I mostly spent getting to know my way around my neighborhood, and stocking up with the basic essentials I need (no broom in the house. Or salt and pepper. Or sponges. Or cleaning agents to use with the sponges)  I've been paying attention to the pantry basics I am buying and thinking about life in other parts of the world, or for other parts of society. Between the rice, oatmeal, and couscous, plus the butter, sugar, eggs and olive oil, I could probably consume sufficient calories for a month out of what I have right now.  Sobering thought as I rush out to buy cherries or wine or some other totally non-necessary extravagance.