Thursday, June 8, 2017

Memorial Day

For the first time that I can remember, there were no illnesses or previous commitments, yet we did not spend the long weekend at the cabin.

Sunday we went to Gettysburg - it's only about 1.5 hours from home and I've been wanting to see it - this weekend seemed an appropriate time. On the way we listened to a podcast about the battles, which was useful as I could explain things from the podcast while standing in the battleground.

Gettysburg does this great thing where kids get a Junior Ranger booklet with information about some of the major sights, things to look for, and puzzles and games.  It definitely helped keep them engaged. Walking around downtown Gettysburg itself was also interesting, with all the buildings marked "Civil War" and trying to imagine what the town would have looked like back then.  We played "what wouldn't have been here" - cars, electricity poles/lines, the road itself.

Then on to visit Terry's sister and watch a minor league baseball game in her hometown.  There were a number of rain delays, but the game was never canceled. There were fireworks after the game, which was also fun. In general, it ended up a late night, but the kids surprised us by sleeping late the next day. Wins all around!

The mystery of fresh produce

 
 (stock photo)

Washington DC is a culinary wasteland. Yes there are some pockets of excellent restaurant food, usually food from Ethiopia, Korea, Vietnam, or somewhere else far from these shores. There may also be good, fresh produce at Whole Foods or the local farmer's market. However, with 5 mouths in this household the days of $15 bunches of asparagus are behind us.

Terry returned from a weekend in PA with four or five full bags of produce. Some of it was local, farmer's market.  The cauliflower he brought home was the best cauliflower I have ever eaten. 24 hours later I am still thinking about it. 

On the other hand, he brought home two plastic quart containers of Driscoll's strawberries, looking exactly like the strawberries I can find in any of the 6 large and medium sized grocery store chains within a 5 mile radius of my home.

I don't know where Driscoll's is, but it probably had to go through DC on its way to Pennsylvania. However, somehow, the freshness, taste and general quality was significantly better than anything I can find in DC. Given the aforementioned overstock of grocery stores in my neck of the woods, this is not a "supermarket desert". It is a quality food desert.

Can anyone suss out why on earth this is the case? 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The cabin makes me happy

I recently read an article about how spending time in nature makes people happy (here's not the article I read, but something else on the topic). Even just 5 minutes gives a boost, and hours in the woods has measurable benefits.  We spent about 24 hours at the cabin this weekend.

 Weeds can be pretty too.

 We planted the tree that's right in the center, about 10 years ago. It's a crabapple.

Kids reading in their hammocks.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I passed!

After just about 36 weeks, I took my language exam and passed.  This means the American government feels safe sending me out to Germany to represent my country in their language and not create a international incident through saying something incorrect or inappropriate.

Woo-hoo!
 
Intensive German language training is now a thing of the past for me.  At post there is usually a couple-of-hours-per-week class to continue learning or at least not forget too much of what I now know, and I do plan to take advantage of that.  I also plan to continue listening to Deutschland Funk Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (A German radio program on economics and society, in my mind it's like NPR's All Things Considered) during my morning commute. And American politics is a lot more bearable when I first have to decipher the German so I'll probably still read Der Spiegel sometimes. But I have no homework - none of this is required.

I do, however, have to navigate a veritable mountain of paperwork and logistics to make sure I am ready and permitted to travel. And next week I get to start learning about how to do my job as a consular officer.

It's feeling more real than ever before!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Cake!

Sometime around the pre-election season I had to quit NPR and started listening to podcasts instead. As I got further in German I started listening to news in German. But I usually play a fun podcast during my commute home to make it more bearable.

Today I listened to one all about cake and its relevance in American history. By the time I got home I knew I was making a cake tonight, German review be damned. With my test in just under 2 weeks that is a strong craving indeed.  I mentioned all this to my fabulous au pair, who then whipped up a cake in the 30 minutes between dinner and when she left to bring Zoltan to soccer (I participated too ... I took it out of the oven)

It is delicious.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Test

Yesterday in class we practiced some strategies for handling certain parts of the test. I hadn't been working on these particular parts of the test in a while. I failed spectacularly. Last night I had my first nightmare about the test:  I was in a play and for some reason had never bothered to learn my lines.  So it comes to opening night and there's no understudy and there's no complete script laying around everywhere but I don't even know when it's my line until I notice nothing else is happening on stage and then I tear around looking for the part of the script that has my lines, or at least some direction of where I am supposed to be and what topics I'm supposed to be discussing.

Very hard to understand where that dream came from, eh?

The good news is I feel very confident in my ability to speak German and carry on my job and my life at post. I listen to German radio [aka, news podcasts] and read German news every day. I discuss and debate various topics and while I make grammatical errors or sometimes start on a sentence that ends up so complex that I lose my way halfway through and need to back up and start over (like if I had tried this sentence in German)  I am overwhelmingly understood.  However, as in so many other things, the worry is not about Life but about the Test.

I have two weeks. And if I don't pass, the world does not come to an end. I simply have to learn German for an additional 4-6 weeks before testing again.

But I have my pride.

So I guess this weekend I will be reviewing harder and more diligently on certain areas than I have been in the recent past.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Way More Fun with German

In addition to spending our days in the classroom slogging through the language, we also have other opportunities to play with German.  Two such opportunities came about last month.

One day we had a field trip to the German Embassy. It was the best morale boost, chatting like normal people with Germans in German. The best part - they understood us! In German!

The second opportunity was a special module put together by one of the teachers for handling Consular work. We held mock consular interviews at mock consular windows (apparently called "counters" = "schalter" in German. Probably a linguistic thowback from the days before bulletproof glass separated us from the visa seekers.)

Mind you, my German is riddled with grammar mistakes and missing vocabulary I have to "paraphrase" around. But it appears to be more or less understandable.

It is a little hard to believe that six months ago I spoke no German at all!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Coddle Pasta

We've coined a new term tonight.  I knew I was making a meal the kids have steadfastly and continually failed to enjoy. So, I pulled out a bunch of the cooked pasta and left it out, untouched by any other ingredients. After the kids tried dinner and, yet again, failed to like it, I let them finish dinner with plain pasta saved from before. The "Coddle Pasta"; meaning the pasta that represents my coddling of the children. Heck yeah!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

McDonald's

We aren't really a fast food family. McDonald's is something saved for special occasions like being on the road, birthday dinners (kids', not ours), or when the grandparents have the kids and can do whatever they please.

Alex decided she wanted to use her coupon to pick dinner, and she chose the golden arches. There are two within 1.5 miles of our house, and I randomly chose one. And oh, what a stroke of luck!

Right upon the entrance when we walked in was a table loaded to the brim with coloring pages, crayons, craft supplies and who-even-knows-what-else.  I had to drag the kids away when their food arrived and they rushed back when they finished eating. There were balloons handed out.  There were craft projects made. They even each got a sugar cookie to decorate (complete with whipped cream, mini M-n-Ms, crushed Oreos, and a cherry for the top. Oreo seems to have changed its formula because it now has no dairy, so Alex could pile that on, and she finished decorating her sugar cookie when we got home). The ladies working the tables seemed to really like kids, they had good energy and a super relaxed attitude.

I asked what it was all about and they said they are doing "Family Night" about twice a month to better keep kids entertained.  I can say that although I doubt we'll head to McDonald's more often than before, we will certainly aim for that particular one when the next opportunity arises!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Memorable quotes

One of the kids, kicking a tree: Look, I'm a footpecker!

Terry to me, after he shared an article and started a conversation about the new McDonalds' Shamrock Shake straw design: The fibonacci sequence always distracts me when i see it in real life, and not just a recursion example.

Dinnertime rules we have been forced through experience to lay down: 1. No singing at the table until dinner is finished; 2. No dancing in the kitchen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fun with German

This may be the longest word I have learned thus far:  Geschwindigkeitsbeschränkung
It means speed limit and has 28 letters. I have to imagine that on the Autobahn there is some abbreviation because I am not reading a 28 letter word while travelling at 200 km/h.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Fig Newtons vs. Bark Thins

Bark Thins Snacking Chocolate Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt 4.7 ozEspecially because of Alex's milk problems, we have all become very dedicated label readers. Usually, finding something my kids will eat that is safe for Alex is the limit of my capabilities; worrying about chemicals, sugar, and other signs of (un-)healthfulness take a back seat. (And, a lot of non-dairy foods like cheeses and yogurts that replace dairy depend on various kids of additives/chemicals).

Today when I got home from the grocery store we were looking at the labels for the Fig Newtons I'd bought and the Bark Thins we had in the house.

Can you guess which one was better?

The Bark Thins had all recognizable, easy to pronounce ingredients. Less sugar, more protein. More fat, but looking at the ingredients it must be the butter and/or the almonds, neither of which worry us especially in terms of the kids (i.e. nuts are healthy and the kids are skinny anyway).

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Great Escape 2016

We try to get a night alone once a year, although it doesn't always happen [note: dealing with house construction or rehabilitation work in the summer does not count]. This time we left the kids with Terry's dad for the overnight and hit the road - to Philadelphia. We glutted on art and food.

When we arrived in the city we went straight to Italian Market. It was a bit smaller than we remembered. We popped into the local tourist info office on the main drag and ended up chatting a while with the women who worked there. Turns out, one of them has a brother in the foreign service who served in Kazakhstan about ten years ago. What were the odds?  The other woman recommended her favorite local pizza place, about half a block away. We have been eating bad pizza for years and had even forgotten how pizza is supposed to taste.  It was so, so good. We also stopped in a couple delicatessen to look and drool and ended up carting back to the hotel some fancy cheeses.

Next up was the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  They are doing a special exhibition about the Mexican art scene post-revolution (1910-1950). The exhibit seemed never-ending - really good, but also overwhelming. I could have stopped for a cup of tea and opportunity to digest mid-way. We hadn't been to an art museum since Russia, and realized how much we missed it.

After checking into the hotel we wandered toward our originally planned dinner at Vietnam - not to be confused with Vietnam Restaurant - the two establishments are rivals and across the street from each other. But, on the way we saw a ramen restaurant and that was that. It was incredibly authentic, right down to the seven item menu, six items of which were soup with a chunk of pork in it and the other being vegetarian. Terry was pretty happy with his choice.  Turns out, ramen is apparently a new thing because we proceeded to find about five more restaurants where previously there had been none.

We headed toward Penn's Landing, which we both realized we had never visited. There's a big ice skating rink right now but it was packed so we didn't take a turn. When we were later hungry again we went to the Franklin Fountain for ice cream, but the line looked about a half hour long so we went to Capogiro instead. Some day we'll try Franklin Fountain and find out whether it would have been worth it.

Next day we headed toward RTM (Reading Terminal Market) for breakfast so Terry could get his creamed chipped beef. Walking through the market afterwards we ran into our neighbors from Maryland! We did a self-guided mural walking tour around center city, which alerted to us to how much Philly has embraced its mural culture - the majority of the murals on the tour hadn't been there when we lived in the city. None of the ones on the list were any of my favorites. Back to RTM for the pretzels. I can't describe how delicious these pretzels are, except to say they you don't think a pretzel is such a big deal until you eat one of these.

I don't know if this is a year round thing or a holiday special, but our tickets to the museum were good for two days. As we hadn't hit the parts Terry wanted to see, we went back for more.  On our way back north we stopped for the one other must-eat on this adventure - Malik's!  As the restaurant was dark, we went and got takeout from the minimart. Still delicious.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy birthday to me!

My day started, unfortunately, around 4am when Zoltan had a nightmare. I managed to crawl back into my own bed an hour later. I did get to sleep until 8am, which is quite late in this house!  Opened birthday cards from the kids, made chocolate chip pancakes, and had a pretty normal morning.

We went ice skating and then back home for Terry to make my five hour duck for dinner. The duck was almost endangered - we couldn't find any in the stores - but the Allentown farmer's market came through for us and we brought dinner home from PA.

Happy new year to all, and happy birthday to me :-)