Aug 312012
 

(Ok, so if that last project was messy, this one is a little technical.  Turns out European Flours require a degree in chemistry.  And a blast furnace.  Really!  Read on.  But, don’t get too attached to my new-found cook-bloggishness.   Next time we get back to normal day to day Auslander Adventures :-)

Lots of Bread

In the States I used to bake a lot of bread.  A lot of bread.  This was because

  1. I like making bread, 
  2. The family likes eating bread, 
  3. I like cooking with bread (French Toast!  Fondue!  Croutons!) and 
  4. It just makes the house smell so wonderfully homey!

But, in the states I had a couple advantages.  I had a nice large oven, a wonderful KitchenAid professional series stand mixer, ample room to cook and, possibly most importantly, I understood the chemistry of it!  Flour, gluten, water, salt, yeast.  It all made sense.

Now here I find myself with an unexpected dilemma.  Europe is known for its breads.  Every town has its specialty.  And each country is identified with a certain major variety.  Many countries, in fact, have very strict laws and guidelines about what bakers may and may not call specific types of bread.  France has a reputation for being downright tyrannical about the ingredients and procedures used in making French breads, for example.  You want to call that a boule?  It had better weigh exactly the right amount, or the Baking Police are going to getcha! (seriously, I am not sure what the organization is who checks, but they do monitor this sort of thing here).  So, how could I know that making bread here would be so HARD!

Flours

For a long time I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  The same recipes I have been using for ages just wouldn’t come out the same.  One of the most vexing issues is that they simply wouldn’t rise properly.  This is especially true while they bake.  They rise fine on the table, usually, but once in the oven they gain very little volume.  Part of it, I guessed, was the smaller oven.  Part the lack of my old tried and true mixer (though, I certainly hand kneaded my share of dough over the years!).  Perhaps the yeasts were different, too?  But, now, after a great deal of experimentation and research, I am fairly convinced that my main issue has to do with the flours.

When I first arrived I discovered No Ordinary Homestead.  A terrific blog by a US->German Ex-pat that I found exceptionally informative and interesting.  But, then I got all distracted by Life and forgot to read.  That is, until last week when another friend mentioned the problem of European Flours and I remembered this blog: Flour in Germany: Not as Easy as it seems.  I am so completely NOT alone!  Apparently, many US cooks have come to The Old Country and been flummoxed in their baking attempts.  Here is the general overview:

The flours here are simply not the same.  In the US we have All Purpose flour, which works for almost anything.  Then there are the other basic types: whole wheat, cake, bread.  Bread flour has more protein (gluten), cake flour has less.  This means bread flour stretches more, cake flour is more tender.  True flour snobs know the hardness and origins of the grains being used (Red wheat?  Club wheat?  Durum? Spring? Winter?).  But, I never went that far.  Mostly, I just knew which flours were good for which applications.  And, they largely said it right on the box, so, really.  Not that tough!

Here, though, flours are not sold by type, but by number.  It refers to the amount of minerals left in the ashes after a burn test.  Yeah, right!  Who the heck came up with that?  Answer: I don’t know.  But, apparently the more refined the flour, the lower the ash content and the lower the number. This is because the endosperm has fewer minerals than the outside parts of the grain.  Unfortunately, there is no direct equivalent to US flours.  I am told (by the interwebs) that this has to do with the milling process.  All I know is that it results in a headache.

405 is the type you see most often.  It is sold in large containers that I would associated with All Purpose in the US.  Only, according to my sources, it is much closer to pastry flour!  Which, would explain why the heck my breads are not rising properly. 

Here and in Switzerland they number things by milligrams of minerals per 100 grams of dry weight.  In much of the rest of Europe, it is per 10 milligrams.  So type 550 flour here is roughly the same as type 55 in France.  Are you glazing over, yet?  It still boggles me.

Here is a wiki on it.

Here is a wiki on it in German (run it through Google Translate if it isn’t your language, you can just copy and paste the URL and it will translate the whole page).

And here is a page where people summarize their knowledge.  So, if you are interested, you can start your own research there!  But, honestly, I am still tracking down more information and trying to find better local recipes.  And, I am having a devil of a time trying to figure out which types work best for bread!  Experiments continue. 

In the meantime, here are two loaves of bread I cooked this week to show my progress.

My Own Basic Bread Recipe:
Flour, water, yeast, salt.  Should be pretty French Breadish.  Only, it isn’t.  I made it with mostly 1050 and a bit of a locally grown 550.  Now I am thinking I need to find some 812…….

The dough never got smooth

DS and I kneaded the heck out of it and it still never got to the window stage.  Not even close.  After about 30 minutes we got tired of seeing no progress and just set it out to rise.

It cracked open on rising

Even with a steamy oven, it didn’t rise much while cooking.

The crust was thick and crunchy. 

The crumb was tight and spongy.
Not the texture I was going for, but it had a nice flavor.
Leftovers will make good French Toast.

Try Two
So, a few days later, I tried again.  I was making the fresh butter and wanted something that would really showcase the flavor of the cultured butter.  I decided on a nice artisan bread from the Baking with Julia Child book.  I have made it before and it is lovely.  Plus, as an added bonus it calls for a mix of flours.  So, I figured it might fudge some of my flour troubles.  Also, hello!  Julia Child.

OK, start with a sponge of whole wheat, rye and white flour and yeast, into the fridge overnight.  I had no rye, so I used a second, local whole grain wheat that I thought would be glutenous to help with, well, the whole gluten problem.

So far, so good

Next make a second sponge with fresh yeast and flour.  Add more water and flour to the original sponge.  Knead them all together.  Add salt.  Knead a lot more.  Once again I enlisted DS to help with the long kneading process.  And….. This time we came darned close to achieving a window!  Not quite the truly elastic kind I was going for, but it was definitely stretching instead of breaking and light was shining through.  Hooray!

Hmm.  Still lumpy.  But not AS lumpy
DANG!  It cracked again.  But, look how smooth the rest is….

So, I reformed it and draped it in a damp cloth for the last rise.  I had a feeling that maybe the moisture content might be off, too.  Let it rise again, and even did the Bread Stone thing!  Goin’ all out today.

Yes, my bread stone is a flower pot base, a la
Alton Brown

The bread seemed to be browning too rapidly, so I gave it a hat.

I think it looks a bit like Bunhilda

Then I wore the hat. 
One of those days!

Ok, so how did it turn out?  The oven rise was still minimal, but overall, I am really pleased!!

Again, a little rough, but that is OK for this kind of bread

This crumb looks tight, but it is more moist,
and this kind of bread usually comes out
very similar in the states

But, wait, you say.  That bread seems to have almost the same crumb as the last loaf.  And you said the last loaf wasn’t terrific.  AHA!  Says I.  I am way out ahead of you.  THAT loaf was meant to be a french bread.  Open crumbed and chewy.  THIS loaf is meant to be a country loaf.  Denser and more spongy.  Yeah, it is still more closed than I was shooting for.  But, it is within my acceptable parameters, and, honestly, it tasted great and had a nice texture in the mouth, so I am not complaining!

And, the real question.  How was it with that nifty homemade butter from the first half of the blog?

Bread with Butter

DS eating bread and butter.

DH giving it a try

The verdict?  OMG, it was EXCELLENT!  The mildly sour bread really melded with the mildly sour and slightly salty butter.  I wish I could transmit the flavor, cause, really.  Very-very nice! It was a lot of work making the butter.

That is a grand total of 6 bowls for just the Butter making!

 But, for a rare treat, it was well worth it.  If I had a stand mixer I would likely consider doing it more often (especially one with a splash guard!  I never used it for mixing batters, but for this it would be almost a necessity!)

I am, obviously, still working on figuring out the flours.  But, progress was made.  And, the house smells wonderful.  Plus, I have fresh cultured buttermilk, fresh cultured butter (that ought to last until… maybe tomorrow morning!) and fresh bread.
 
So, there was my foray into Food Blogging.  Don’t worry.  Next up we will have more Adventury Adventures.

For instance: Tonight DH is at a party to celebrate the successful completion of the Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (looks like that will be the official title if the early voting is indicative) kickstarter!

Plus, Tuesday both kids start at Hogwarts! Woot!

Wish us luck!  And you all be careful out there!

Aug 312012
 

The weather has cooled!  This is excellent!  It is also inspirational to the nesting instincts in my blood.  When the temperatures drop and the skies turn grey and the winds pick up, this means it is time to cook.

Kassler
I started with something easy.  Or so I thought.  Many of the informal restaurants around here serve a pork dish known as kassler (or kasseler).  This is a smoked, brined cut of meat that is fairly salty and extremely tender.  When I tried to find a recipe on the net, I discovered that Americans seem to think kassler is smoked pork chops!  Definitely not what they serve here.  Wiki tells me that it can be a variety of cuts from the neck to the belly.  But, here it seems to always be a thigh cut, though not at all trimmed and defatted.  Oh, no.  This is Germany.  You don’t get low fat meats here!  But, long story short, the internet failed me.  I learned how to *make* kassler (i.e. brine and smoke it!) but not what to do with it once you had it in your fridge.

Since I was unable to find a recipe, I decided to go ahead and just cooked it the same way that I was taught to cook Scheufele.   So, I popped it in an oven tube with soup veggies and wine and slow cooked it.  Whoa.  It smelled really good!

It looks a little like corned beef, only, you know, porkier!

And, in fact, it tasted pretty good, too!  I think I still prefer scheufele if I have to choose.  But, not too bad.  And, definitely cool weather comfort food!  As a plus, leftovers fed me for lunch all week.


Butter (and buttermilk)
Recently I had come across several references to homemade (selbst gemacht) cultured butter.  There are all sorts of butters here in Germany.  And, they really do all taste a little different!  Cultured butters are the most common.  These are made using cream that has been subjected to live cultures until it thickens a bit.  They are somewhat sour, so are often, unsurprisingly, called sour butters.  There are also middle sour butters.  And there are also sweet butters like we get in the US.  Most butter is unsalted, but larger stores often have at least one type of salted butter.  Most places also carry a couple varieties of Irish butter.  And usually there are also special small-batch or imported butters from other places.  Sometimes these are kept in the main dairy section, but often they are with the specialty cheeses.  I recently got this lovely variety.  I tried to decipher the country of origin but failed.  I am therefore going to guess Italy.  I did love that it has rivets, though!

So, anyways, I read a couple recipes on how to make butter and decided that since we have a ready abundance of good quality cream, I might as well give it a shot.  So, away we go!!

Step One:

In a clean container, mix cream with something that has active cultures (yogurt, buttermilk, creme fraiche).  I used about 3 cups of cream with a third of a cup of greek yogurt.  (The better the cream the better the butter, of course- the higher the fat content, the more butter it will yield, and some recipes said to avoid anything with stabilizers in it, but others indicated this is less of an issue than advertised). Cover the container loosely (you want to let air in but keep crumbs, flies, etc out).  Some recipes call for using plastic wrap, but cheese cloth is made for this, so use it if you have it!  It should be stored around 70 degrees.  Warm, but not hot.  I stuck it in the cupboard above the fridge.

Step Two:

The next day what you will have creme fraiche!   If you want creme fraiche and not butter, seal up your container and stick in the the chill box until it is cold.  You are done!  This is what it looks like:

Creme Fraiche

(If at this stage it is bubbly, gassy or smells bad, toss it- you got some sort of bacterial infection.  None of the folks who provided the instructions seemed to think this is a common problem, but good to be safe.)

Step Three:
Otherwise, still put it in the chill chest until it is cool.  You want it to be about 60 degrees for optimal whipping, I am told.  Then, take it out and pour it into a deep bowl.  Its time to make mistakes and Get Messy!!

Step Four:
All the recipes I read were for stand mixers.  Unfortunately, I killed my KitchenAid on arrival, so I am still stuck using a hand mixer.  But, really, for most things that is just a matter of power and convenience.  So, I expected this would take a bit longer.  What I did not anticipate, however, is quite how MESSY it would get.  I used my deepest bowl, but I found that it was still just flinging droplets of thick, sour cream all over me and the kitchen.  I have whipped regular cream, made pancake batter, etc etc without any such problems.  But, whatever the physics involved, this stuff was just nasty on the clean factor.  In the end, I improvised a sort of blast shield.  I draped an old silicone baking mat over the bowl as I mixed.

Shield Engaged

Cap’n!  We’re taking shrapnel!
(Believe it or not, I had to wipe down the shield several times- and even wash
 it once while working)

As you can see, it looks a lot like whipped cream at this point, though it never really got fluffy.  It seemed to be taking a long time, so eventually I added an ice-water bath.  That seemed to do the trick.  Within another couple minutes, the glop had broken into lumpy glop and milky liquid:

The curds are butter, the whey is buttermilk!

Step Five:
So, now it is time to separate the two.  For this I used a strainer lined with cheese cloth set inside a medium bowl:

Both kids helped me with the pouring, since you need to pour and scrape and the bowl I used was heavy:

DS bowl holding while I scraped

This is starting to look a little more like butter. 

Step Six:
Ok, so now you have a thick, greasy mass with a lot of buttermilk still in it.  The buttermilk will not only affect the consistency, but also cause it to go rancid faster according to my recipes.  So, the next step is washing.  You use ice water for this.

Your goal is for the water to run clear

So, you pour a little icy water on the butter lump, then you work it around and squish it to get all the buttermilk out.  Since the water is cold, it also helps the butter mass to solidify some more and makes it easier to work with.

Here is what I wound up with at the end.

Notice that at the end the little bit of water at the bottom of the bowl is clear.  Pour off the remaining liquid (you may need to squish it out a little to make sure there are no pockets).

Step Seven:
Optionally, now is the time to add salt.  A little goes a long way.  I used a large pinch, and I think it was slightly too much. (As a side note, good salts are cheap here- and pink salt from the Himalayas is available in 2 kilo sacks for like 3 EU.  This is unrefined grey sea salt- one of my favorite finishing salts.  Ironically, it is from Washington State and I brought it with me).

This would be the time to pull out the good salt!

Step Eight: 
All that is left is to form it up and chill it!

Could have gone for a round log, but I opted for a monolith shape

You can use waxed paper, but I only had parchment available.

 Step Final:

Oh yeah, then there is the whole EATING thing.  Bread wasn’t ready, so we tried it first on some noodles:

Looks like butter.  Melts like butter.
Tastes like butter!  Hooray!!

 DD was less cooperative with the photoshoot:

Thanks darling.

For the Buttermilk:
Pour the liquid that you strained off into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator until you make some awesome pancakes, biscuits, fried chicken, oatmeal, or whatever your favorite use of buttermilk is! 

Some folks drink it straight!

 Ok, this is getting long.  I will do a separate blog on the adventures with Bread Making next.

Aug 302012
 

So, last week I mentioned that we had gotten a bottle of this:

A local German Digestif

…and sampled it so that I could report on its flavor, etc.  Last night I tried it again, just a finger deep in the same cup.  Here is how DD found that glass this morning when she went to wash it:

Local witches aren’t messing around!!!

Aug 262012
 
Mountain Devil and 7 Thaler Hex- Variations on a local theme
(see below)

The People
Tonight we were lucky enough to spend some time with a few of David’s work crew, BBQing and chatting and playing silly X-Box 360 games.  It was lovely.  English was spoken, cultural stories were exchanged and we got to know folks a little better.


Johan and Jacomi and David Sallmann just moved into this house in Offenburg, so they were our hosts and hostess.  Johan and Jacomi are originally from South Africa and David has lived all over the world, including Malaysia and Togo.


Johan and David cutting veggies

Jacomi and Johan grilling

Jacomi

Johan
David

The guests included Rolf, Sarah, Manuel (all Germans with excellent English skills) and our little band.

Rolf
His shirt is American and has Bart Simpson all over it :-)
Sarah and Manuel

DD wore her Sonic shirt for the first time in honor of
the occasion.

DS kicking back playing Viva Pinata
I think he handed it to his sister shortly after he reached the
Romancing Minigame and had to breed whirms

Me, with our cupcake offerings (more on that later)
DH holding up the wall

 The Foods

Ok, so what do they eat at a German BBQ?  Our hosts were generous indeed and made sure there was plenty of food.  So, we got to see a smattering of all sorts of things!

2 kinds of Brats, of course

Both main varieties of marinated steaks that are locally available- Paprika (mild pepper) and Kräuter (herb).  Both were mild but salty.

There were also spare-ribs, but I don’t seem to have a photo of them before cooking.  This sort of packaging is typical.  It is hard to find unmarinated beef this time of year, actually.  They have some- like this pack I found recently at Edeka:

Who could resist Mrs. Rump Steak?

But they tend to be small and expensive.  I still get them every few months when I am craving beef, though.

And, then, there were the things I don’t typically think of when I think BBQ in the states.  For instance, Cheese.  Yes, BBQ’d Cheese is a thing.  We had 3 varieties.  It is sort of like baked brie or cheese sticks, only, BBQier.

And, there was also this local specialty.  They have several types of this at the stores, but they bought the vegetarian kind for David Sallmann.  He is not a vegetarian, but he likes veggies.  I am told it is sort of like a cross between ravioli and, well, something you grill….

Definitely new to me!
Not all that appetizing in the pack….

Here is how everything cooked up:

The golden things up in the left side are a different kind of cheese.

You can see the cooked Maultaschen here.  I just couldn’t bring myself
to try it.  Maybe I will get a non-veggie kind and give it a shot.
They refer to them as the Green and Red steaks.

In honor of the geeky event, I made some bizarre American-style cupcakes.  I started off trying to make Giana’s hair, but eventually just went ahead and had a Frosting Fun Free-for-all.

Fun with Frosting
All about the texture…

They don’t really have cake, or cupcakes here.  There was a discussion about what the difference between cake and muffins is, and the fact that what the Germans call cake, is not cake at all, and the closest thing they have to our style of cake is something they have a different word for entirely (I didn’t catch the word, unfortunately, will need to ask again later).

There was also a rather wonderfully geeky conversation about the relative toxicity of various food dyes.  Blue is the one to avoid, I am told.  Dang.  Always my favorite!

We also had some fun strange chocolate bars that they had found locally.  These had bits of unusual things mixed in like licorice, jalepeno, lime or wildberries.  There were also some that had curry pineapples and ‘banana split’ but we didn’t have those.

The licorice bits were crunchy-
it was actually way better than it had any business being

I forgot to bring…
This week at the market we noticed a section of liquor that we hadn’t seen before.  I am sure it has been there all along, but I hadn’t been looking for things in that area so I hadn’t spotted it.  It is the kräuterlikör section.   Kräuterlikör is apparently a German Thing- liquor flavored with herbs and sugar, an offshoot of ancient medicinal droughts.  Jägermeister is the best known, but there are apparently many many of them.  And, of course, our area has a full set of local ones- mostly named after components of the Fastnacht celebrations.  So we get things like:

Berg Teufel (Mountain Devil),
7 Täler Hex (a Täler was an old silver coin, called a thaler in english)

Offenburger Teufel (Offenburg’s Devil), and
Offenburger Hexe (Offenburg’s witch)

I bought some of the Offenburg Hexe thinking I might share it.  But, as I forgot to bring it with us, I sampled it just now so I can report to you: They aren’t kidding about the 32% alcohol.  I think I could breath fire, now.  It isn’t as thick as Jägermeister, I think.  Tastes a little like brandy.  Might be good over ice cream? Or with fruit….  Not really as medicinal or herby-tasting as I was afraid.  So, there you have it!

Oh, last week for the Kickstarter.  Getting down to the wire, and close on the goals (knock wood!).  Wish us luck!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/project-giana/project-giana

Go! Go! Giana!

Aug 212012
 
Me, makin” in through the day.

Still hot.  Still still.  Still muggy.  David gets to spend each day in an over-cooled computer-friendly office.  The rest of us?  Not so much.  We are getting frayed and fried around the edges.  Also, perpetually damp.

Sunday we went to a movie in search of someplace cool.  The actual theater was conditioned.  But, for some reason they opened up all the doors to the lobby.  So, as soon as you walked out of the theater, it was like playing that game where you jump from a cool swimming pool into a jacuzzi and back. Only, since it cost about $60 for the 4 of us to see a film, there is no “back”.

Monday, we just laid low and tried to ride it out.  But, today I decided we needed to do something.  David had a work event that would take him late into the evening.  And, I figured it might be fun to get some French ingredients to liven up my cooking options!  Plus, with school fast approaching, we really need to check off the school supply list.  So, we made the trek back out to Cora.

The good: It was open!  We could see from the freeway that there were cars in the parking lot, so that was a positive sign off the bat.  Inside, it is in fact like a huge Target/Walmart/K-Mart, only done more French.  So, there are inexpensive clothes, school supplies,  video games, electronics, household goods, etc.  And there is also a supermarket- complete with a butcher, a baker, and a fishmonger.  I suspect there was a cheese person in there somewhere but I never found them.  That would be because of:

The bad: Both kids spent the day completely losing their sh*t.  And, by the end, I was ready to lose mine as well.  I don’t talk a lot about it here, but life with DD and DS can be intense.  They are both ‘twice exceptional’, (2e), which means they have some amazing strengths in the form of creativity, intelligence, drive, energy  etc.  But, they have some unusual challenges, too.  DD falls to the Aspie side of things, tight, controlling, inflexible, hypersensitive to stimuli (too much sensory info overloads her) and always struggling with OCD tendencies.  DS is in the ADD/Absent-minded-professor tradition of wunderkind, with some serious emo intensity thrown in (especially with all the preteen hormones in the mix right now). 

We have been at this family thing for a good 15 years now, so just like any other family, we have figured out methods of handling most day to day activities that work well for us.  And, usually, they do work passably well.  But, then there are the days when they don’t. 

On the way over, I could tell things were already a little bumpy.  DD & DS were bickering in the car.  He was reactionary, she was pushing his buttons, I was putting my foot down. 

DS has been having some mild panic attacks about attending school in France and learning French.  He just spent the entire year learning German, and now he is rather aghast that he must learn a whole new language on top of it.  Understandable- but he chose this path.  We gave him the option of staying in German school, weighed out pros and cons, and he decided on Hogwarts.  We have been taking French slow and with humor.  But, sometimes he does the Deer In the Headlights thing and we just have to push him past.  That was the first issue of the day.  He was panicky in the car, thin-skinned and looking for a fight.  When I made it clear that wasn’t going over, he withdrew.  At the store, he just chose not to participate while DD and I read down the long, complicated French list of all the different supplies they need. 

Now, you may think that you have quite the back to school list in the states.  But, I have never encountered anything like what we get here at Hogwarts.  I counted.  DS’s list had 87 separate items on it.  9 different kinds of paper (large square, small square, graphing, lined, blank, tracing and rough- note french use the squared paper for writing; plus two weights of art paper), several different sizes of notebooks, 4 ring binders (not three), dividers, plastic sleeves, a very specific list of pens (fountain, ball point in various colors and fine tip), ink, pencils (3 hardnesses, for drawing not writing!), dictionaries, rulers, calculator, erasers, sharpeners, correction pens, colored pencils, paints, brushes, glue, PE clothes & shoes, badminton rackets, ping-pong paddles, etc etc.  Here is a picture of what we have bought so far.  I think we have about 15-20 items left to go.

You Wussy Americans think you have to deal with school supplies? BWAHAHAHAHAHAH
I count EIGHTY-SEVEN required items for DS this year.  DD has a similar number, but some can continue
from last year- and a couple items can get handed down from DD to DS.

Needless to say, finding all of this in the row upon row of similar looking items all labeled in French is a challenge that takes focus.  Focus, is what someone like DS finds difficult to provide- especially in a distracting environment when he has a mental block about the language being spoken.  So, yeah.  He, was less than helpful. 

When we had just about given up on finding the last few items, we headed out the check the rest of the store.  That is when we discovered that they had about 6 more rows of school supplies set up in a huge Back to School display in a different section.  That area was completely crowded and intimidating.  But, since we hadn’t found a few things, we waded in.

This was a bad idea.  Remember, DS has trouble with focus and emo.  DD hates dirt, sensory overload, and too much exposure to people.  After 5 minutes with the hustle and bustle she was ready to leave.  And we had not found anything useful that we hadn’t seen already.

At this point I should have said “OK, let’s go.  We know where it is now, and I can come back.”

But, dang it, I had wants, too.  By my tally between our failed Cora attempt last week and this one, I had driven 2 hours and 15 minutes just to check out this store.  I wanted to check it out!  Maybe they would have Cheerios, or real vanilla, or powdery powdered sugar!  Or maybe they would just have some cool French pastries or ingredients that I would think were fun.  And, maybe there were cheap clothes that would fit me!

But, DD was REALLY done.  I told her I needed 15 minutes.  She thought that was too much.  I asked her if she could go wait outside.  Nope.  From then on out I got a constant stream of DD intensely lecturing me about the need to leave NOW.  There was foot stomping.  There was a raised, inappropriate voice.  There were lost privileges.  But, it didn’t matter.  She needed to leave. 

I just needed not to.

In the end, I made a very truncated and uncomfortable shopping run of about 10 minutes.  I grabbed an artichoke, vanilla, chocolate chips and sugar.  And DS got 2 packs of noodles.  That was it.  I might ordinarily have been mortified, but I have been through this enough times that this particular outburst just didn’t hit that button for some reason.  It was an issue to work through, and I hadn’t found the right solution.

Walking back to the car, DD was already starting to relax.  But, I was still pretty ticked.  We unloaded the cart into the trunk and I went to return it.  Carts in France, as in Germany, have a coin locking mechanism.  You put a Euro in, and it pushes out a lock that chains the cart to the next one.  When you re-insert the lock, the euro pops back out.  I was so frazzled that I clicked the lock wrong and pinched my finger!  Ouch!

Back in the car I realized that I felt scungy after digging through the store for so long looking at all the school supplies.  So, I pulled out a sample of hand gel that the pharmacy had given me a while back.  I ripped open the foil pouch and squeezed it onto my hands.  Odd.  It was thick.  I started to rub it in… It didn’t evaporate.  Uh-oh.

I checked the pouch again.  Douche Gel.  It was shower gel!!!  DOH!!

Both kids scurried around getting me napkins and partially emptied water bottle from stashes around the car.  Mineral water proved the best because the fizz helped wash away the sticky soap.  We all giggled over douche puns, and the ridiculousness of it all.  Laughing helped.

DD and I talked it through on the way home.  She had done the right thing in letting me know where her limits were, but, it was unfair to expect me to always give up my own priorities for hers.  Next time, should something like this come up, we decided that maybe letting her sit in the car with the AC running would be the way to go.

Back home the heat had let up only a little.  We discovered the degus had actually emptied their entire water container!  We will get a larger one tomorrow.  DD and DS worked nicely together to sort out all the supplies and identify what we are still missing.  No one pissed or raised their hackles.  We had exhausted our surlies for the day.

David didn’t get home until after 9.  He had wild stories of German and Dutch bloggers and hackers coming to BFG (Black Forest Games) for a BBQ.  He signed a historic keyboard and chatted with people about how American it was for us to just up and move to Germany. 

Fair enough. I guess we are still pretty American.  And we are still, clearly, our own flawed and foibled selves.  But, we are making progress!  David Sedaris has a line that we read and laughed heartily about last night.  It talks about Sedaris’ graduation from having the language skills of a mad baby when he first arrived in France, to having those of a hillbilly some time later.  “Is thems there some chocolate?” he might say after his progression.  And, we giggle because we are simultaneously at both stages.  I am still the mad baby in German.  “I want that!” I can point and get the idea across, but it is pretty bare bones.  In French, I am the hillbilly, with bad conjugations and completely mismatched article agreements.  And David is the opposite.  Maybe someday we, like Mr. Sedaris, will learn to talk pretty- and navigate all the inroads of European society with aplomb.  But, really, why should I think that?  It isn’t like aplomb was the hallmark of our US existences!   Perhaps we will just learn to talk pretty and be ourselves.  That is probably the goal worth pursuing.

Aug 182012
 
Lake Wading!  This photo was a better idea before I realized
that you could still see sandal marks on my feet…..

 Quick Report: Gifiz See

So, apparently there is a lake just a few kilometers from our apartment.  5 minute drive, tops.  Who knew?  Well, DD’s doctor did.  And, judging from the crowd we found there today, pretty much EVERYONE ELSE.  I only got photos of the peripheral zones, but the main section was just over-run.

The volleyball courts, you can get an idea what the main section was like when I say this was relatively deserted.

The slide was a big draw for DS, but seems to be closed for repair-
this was on the outskirts of the main zone- near, as you can see,
the camping area.

We were able to park without getting hit, but it took some work.  Folks were filling just about every possible parking location (official or not), lining the roads on both sides, with barely squeezable stretch of roadway in and out.  In fact, as we walked up, a lady asked David to guide for her since she couldn’t judge whether she was going to hit the cars around her as she tried to back out of her space.

3 EU to get in, 4.50
to spend the night

We walked up to the gate and looked in.  Then we walked away.  It was just too crowded!  We will definitely come back, but today was not the day.  It is stifling hot, a Saturday, and all the kids are on vacation.  So, of course, everyone wanted to go to the lake.  There was hardly a path to walk between sunbathers, volleyballers, picnickers, swimmers, and the surprising number of folks who just seemed to be walking around carrying pool floats. 

There was, though,  a path that went back behind the main entrance.  So, I decided to explore.  I didn’t really expect it to go too far, but it turns out that it seems to wind all the way around the lake.The first thing we happened upon was a bike and skateboard park by the parking lot.  DS glanced over and said “Oh, just like the one at my school!”  Can you imagine a US school having this on the grounds?  I mean, it isn’t huge or anything, but I am sure folks occasionally fall and may break a wrist or tooth from time to time.

 Walking on, we found a small snack shack that advertised Minigolf

As with every mini-golf course we have seen, this was
strictly small potatoes- and, seemingly overgrown
We wonder if it is out of vogue or just seasonal?

The section of lake that you pay to get in has a nice sandy beach built up with places to get food and rent floats etc.  A bit further down the road we came to a section that was unadorned.  You don’t have to pay here.  Just sit on the gravelly side, or up on the grassy bank and walk on in.  The water was warm and clean and really quite pleasant!  If I had a suit on I would have done more than wade in a little.  Definitely coming back for swimming.

Folks enjoying the water

 
Surprisingly, just back from this section of the lake was a petting zoo!  You couldn’t go in with the animals, but they were quite happy to come on over and say ‘Hi’.  No one seemed to be concerned that folks would treat them badly.  Indeed, there was no one around seeming to attend them, though their pens were clean and well-stocked.  But, we did note that the signs asking people not to feed them were clearly being ignored (we saw a boy feed a pretzel to a goat- and some of the critters had that petting zoo waistline).

Loved the pig sculpture in the sheep pen
While I went wading, the kids and David started meeting goats

Cute, baby goats!

The donkeys seemed to like me- they always do

Awwww- they were dusty, but friendly

More, eager goats

The sign said these cows were from Africa.  Good deal, cause
otherwise those thick coats would have made them very
uncomfortable today.

Baby goats followed DS everywhere

Even the loud, aloof sheep decided to come say HI
Hi!!!

20 yards to the east is the Kinzig River-

That tower is the main entrance to town.  Just over that bridge is a
sports arena- we could hear loud chanting and cheering
the entire time we were at the lake

Just over the Kinzig is- the High School!

So, there you go.  Nice lake just to the south of town.  Definitely going back sometime when it is less crowded. 

Aug 162012
 
Tree is 10 feet from our window, Tower about 100.

Lightning and Weather Woes

This last week has been nasty hot and humid.  My dad would call it “Muggy”. I call it “unpleasant”. Yesterday temps climbed to the low 90’s.  My Santa Clarita self laughs that this temperature would be alarming!  Especially since I know many of my CA peeps have been braving temps in the 110+ range for the last two weeks. But, without access to AC, no breeze at all, and with humidity that allows for almost no evaporation, the low 90’s is enough. We are sticky and smell funky no matter what we do. Plus, now we have pets incapable of perspiration and susceptible to heat-related illness.  Thus, generally, uncomfortably not fun heat.

So, it was with some relief that I opened the window last night to catch the breeze as a thunderstorm finally hit. I lay down on the bed to read and enjoy the flashes and rumbles of the storm.

About 30 seconds later my heart skipped about two beats and life went into slow-mo.  I leaped the bed (in a very dignified way, of course) and calmly walked into the living room, where I proceeded to crawl up into my husband’s lap and whimper like a frightened puppy for the next half hour!

Why?  Well, as the header indicates, LIGHTNING, of course.  But, this was easily closer, louder and more fantastically explosive than any lightning I have experienced before!  There was a huge ball of light that filled the window and a deafening POOOM like a gun had gone off in my room.  No rolling. No thunder roar.  This was immediate, sharp and *close*.  So, too, the light.  It looked nothing like a bolt.  It looked like a TV special effect meant to indicate nuclear holocaust.  The window was filled with brightness, starting as an intense ball, then flashing out in all directions.

I was convinced that tree next to the window had been hit.  But, it was too dark last night to tell. I could only check to make sure it wasn’t on fire.  This morning we walked around to try to find where the strike occurred, but we saw no sign of it.  My current theory is that it may have hit the transformer tower in the middle of the field.  That would have been directly behind the tree in my line of sight last night.  And, if it had been a large enough hit, could explain the rest of what we experienced. 

David was caught in another storm last year as he got off the bus coming home from work.  A bolt of lightning struck a post just across the street from him.  That one took out our power and cable for several days. He says this strike was louder and seemed more violent than that one.  I am quite glad this one seems to have had no lasting effect (other than on my nervous system).  But, I gotta admit, German Lightning ain’t messin’ around, yo!  Once a year, like a major league pitcher, it feels the need to brush us back.  Thor, Zeus, and all other Storm Gods- Please note- *not* trying to crowd the plate!  Happy to stay out of your business.  Warnings taken!

French Shopping on a particularly French Day

(Stole this photo from the web, but it is our Cora from what I can tell)

Since yesterday seemed like a wonderful day *not* to be outside, I figured we might as well make the trip to France and check out the giant shopping center called Cora.  It looked, from what I could tell, to be something like a Super-Walmart or Target-Monstrosity.  But, the online info is pretty sparse. I do know that the kids’ supplies list for the school year mentions that several of the items can be found at Cora. And, hey, a superstore could be very useful!  Honestly, I miss Target very much.  Convenience is worth some work here.  So I figured it would be worth the 45 minute drive.

I checked the hours online (open every day but Sunday, most nights until 9!  Rock on!) and headed out.  When we got there we were funneled into a parking maze that reminded me of the old Disneyland entrances before their mondo-parking structure was built.  Wind around, follow the arrows, etc.  Only… Not much of anyone around.  We followed one car into a pretty much barren parking lot.  Entrances were numbered, like at a  regulation mall.  I figured maybe the main entrance was somewhere else.  But… hmm.  No, that is Entrance 1.

There were a couple closed up carnival rides in the lot, but almost no cars.  The car we were following parked and a lady got out and walked to the entrance.  A couple other cars were parked with drivers waiting in them.  Maybe Cora was closed for lunch and I didn’t know?  I looked at the clock.  Almost 2.  Most places that close for lunch are open at 2, so maybe they were just about to reopen?  The lady walked to the dark, closed doors, read the signs, looked at her watch and shrugged.  She almost talked to the man in the car next to me, but they wound up just exchanging looks.  Then she got back in her car and left.

But, the guy was still waiting. So, I sent the kids to see if there was a sign with hours or an explanation posted.  No, the hours are the same as the ones I read online.  No sign explaining today’s anomaly that they can find.  Ok, fine. I get out to look myself.  I also see no sign.  But as I am approaching the doors, a side entrance opens and several men walk out.  One looks up at me and shouts “Nous sommes fermés!” (We are closed!) Then he hops in his car without further explanation.  And, he drives away.

Ok, then.  Once again foiled by the French being French.  Guess we will have to try again another day.

The trip home would not have been unpleasant except for the fact that, enclosed in a small space, the kids decided to play “How Pissy Can You Be?”  DD won.  So, DS decided it was time for a melt down.  Driving in France is still a challenge.  Driving in France with two pissy kids- one in full melt?  That is Difficulty Level David.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t around.  So, I just had to up my game and deal with it.  Made it home safe, and the kids got large pieces of my parental wisdom as we drove. Not sure they would agree with it being a productive day, but, I felt accomplished by the end!

Landschulheim

We finally got DS’s landschulheim photos!  Woot! And, really, they didn’t come out too terrible – well, except nothing he took inside came out at all.  I don’t think he knew how to use the flash and single-use cameras are rather limited in their lens quality.  No matter, though, the most impressive stuff was outside. 

For instance, would you send your kid to camp here:

 And here:

In a second, right? Yeah, us, too.

So, one Monday morning in June we dropped him off at the train station with 60 of his closest German friends, wished him a safe journey, and forced our parental legs to walk away.

All ready, double checked, and soon to be packed

Happy but nervous

The Journey:

They took 3 trains and a bus to get there.  Goodness those teachers were brave!

Throwing rocks at the train tracks, apparently
Three of DS’s buddies.  They liked standing on the trains and buses

The Hostel:

The kids were happy to have arrived!

another view

This is where DS got to spend his landschulheim week.  Landschulheim literally translates to “land school home”, but basically it is like Eco-week or something similar in the states.  You go with your class on an adventure away from home for a week, growing together as friends and classmates, and growing individually as you face the challenges of being away from home.  His class went to the youth hostel southwest of Freiburg, in the mountain town of Feldberg.  It is the hostel at the highest altitude in our region.

http://feldberg.jugendherberge-bw.de/

Challenges:
So, you have sixty 12 year olds up in the mountains.  What do you do with them?  You wear them out, of course!  They did a LOT of walking.

They went swimming:

And got sunburned….

They climbed trees:

And they climbed boxes!  (DS’s favorite activity)

DS was very proud of getting to 15
Looks fun! (He has one box hanging off his foot and
one in his hand after the rest fell)

Then, one day they went for a 10 kilometer hike.  Up the mountain.  Until they reached, this:

The Hasselhorn Coaster:

Yes, that is a roller coaster coming down a mountain!

This is one of many mountain coasters in the region, I am told.  But, apparently, it is one of the best.  DS says that with 60 kids going down the mountain- each pair of them with control over their own speed, it could be a frustrating event when the person in front of you was a bit too timid for your daredevil nature!  On the other hand, it is a *really* long ride down- and an awesome view the whole way.  DS forgot his camera that day, so I stole the images above from one of the sites below.  I definitely want to try some of these, though!  How completely cool!

Here is one link for it: The Hasselhorn Coaster

Here is another: Hasselhorn Coaster

They did a bunch of other stuff, too.  Designed rolling runs for balls, watched Germany lose the European Cup (sad football fans!), ate weird foods, giggled in their rooms, watched the stars, etc. etc.  It was a nice long week filled with experiences to take with them.  So grateful he got to go!

Home Again, Home Again
So, Friday afternoon, a group of very tired adventurers returned to the train station.  Their train pulled up:

Where are they?

 And then it pulled away:

There they are!

Looking a little bedraggled

Waiting for the crossing (DS spoted us)

And they hobbled forth.  DS was exhausted, a-buzz and a little sunburned.  But, otherwise no the worse for the wear.  Definitely a wonderful experience!

24 hours later, he was at the top of the
Arc de Triomphe- can’t fault the kid on
lack of energy!

So glad to have him home!

Degu Update:

Our little degu friends are adjusting well.  And, they have new names!  We tried all sorts of naming schemes but nothing seemed to gain any traction.  Until someone suggested naming them after Yordles.  Yordles are gnome-like creatures from a game that David and the kids like to play called League of Legends.  They each have personalities and silly sayings and the like, and they generally make everyone smile and giggle.  So, we tried out various gnome-gnames and came up with the following:

Meet Tristana (formerly Number One):

Tristana is mostly identifiable by her outgoing
personality- but she also has a little tuft at the tip of
her tail that helps.

She was devouring DS’s literature
Exploring the carrying cage

In the game Tristana is the Rocket Gnome.  She is gung-ho, zippy and likes to make things explode!  In our little clan, she is still the go getter, and definitely the one who likes people the most.  She is the one who rushes to the opening of the cage every time we come close or open it.  She is identifiable by the tuft at the end of her tail, and mostly by her outgoing personality.  She is the hardest to photograph because she Never. Holds. Still.

Meet Veigar (formerly Number Two, pronounced Vee-grr for some reason):

Veigar is the largest of the three. She also has the furriest tail. 
And she is a little redder in color than her sisters.  But that is tough
to tell in photos because the color isn’t true.

She is currently the most wary of us.  Plus, she is on the outs with
her sisters because she tried to bully them out of the wheel and they did
not like it!

See all the fur on her tail?

Veigar is the “tiny master of evil” in the game.  A bit of a crazy goofball.  In real life she seems to be the most emo of the three.  She changes loyalties regularly, and gets in tiffs with her sisters.  She is most motivated by treats, but least likely to want to come out of the cage.

Meet Teemo (formerly Number Three):

Teemo has the stumpy tail

Here she is hiding a treat- in the toilet

Exchanging intel with Tristana on a room romp

Just kickin

This is the “Happy Boyscout Gnome”.  In the game he runs fast and hides well.  In real life, Teemo is coming around.  She was most cautious with us at first, but now she is the second one out of the cage every time and seems to be gaining trust quickly.  She and Veigar appear to be having a bit of a feud at the moment.  She is the easiest to identify because of the distinctive shape of her tail.

Random Degu Shots:

Cuddling on a cool (messy) plank
(that is dust from eating their food)

Teemo and (I think) Veigar

DD coaxed Veigar out to say hi

Checking us out

What we have learned:

  • They talk and squeak a lot.  For the most part it is pretty quiet and sounds a little like bird chatter.  But they also have some clicks and knocks- and one really amusing squeak that sounds just like the squeaker in a squeaky toy for dogs! (that one is a pissy distress sound that they use when bickering)
  • They take care of each other.  When one of them is afraid and hiding, the others will make sure the coast is clear, then coax her out and about.
  •  Their food is really cool- It is made of sticks, leaves and dried flowers.  How fun is that?  True plant eaters.
  •  They like to run.  A lot.  The wheel is the single largest point of contention because it is really the only thing that is a limited commodity.  They can get all three of them running at once, but that is tricky.  And, usually one will try to run the opposite direction of the other two and mayhem will ensue.  It is not unusual for one to plop over backwards and do a leap worthy of Gabby Douglas.
  • Tristana likes to explore.  A lot.  She runs to the cage door and makes a break for it whenever she can.  She doesn’t mind going back, she just likes to get out and play.  She did give DD a pretty good nip today.  DD accidentally squeezed her too hard/grasped her wrong in an attempt to get her back in the cage.  I think they both said OUCH.
  • Most of the time, though they are very very gentle.  Rats when they test your finger to see if it is food can put enough pressure to cause a little pain.  These guys are much softer and more gingerly. Usually, they just tickle.  Especially when they are sniffing your toes!
  • Even though they can (and do) leap long distances, they don’t seem to rely much on their vision to find food.  They follow their nose and sense of touch.  If you put a treat on your hand, they won’t look at it.  They smell their way to it.  A trick we have found is to lead them where we want them to go using a piece of food.

Upcoming: Still figuring out possible trips, lake, braces, and, far too soon, the start of school….

Aug 112012
 

Meet the Degu

Our Family has Expanded!

Yes, yes, don’t worry, I am talking pets, not humans.  But, it is still a pretty big deal.  Getting a pet here was no easy decision.  We all agree that we want to get a dog at the first possible opportunity.  But, our landlord told us we could not have one here.  And, honestly, we don’t entirely disagree.  Trying to make sure a dog got enough exercise and the chance to empty its bladder in a timely fashion while living in our tiny apartment seemed like a challenge we might not be up for at this stage of our German Development.  On the other hand, we really miss sharing our lives with other creatures.

SO, the next thought is, well are there pets that we could keep here?  A cat might be possible, but the room is small, and cats are stinky in small spaces.  Rats are wonderful, but short-lived.  And, of course, we are always concerned about what happens if we need to move (back to the States or elsewhere).  We don’t want a repeat of the last time when our pets were too old to safely travel with us.

And then there is the “hassle factor”.  That is what I am going to call the fact that everything here is still significantly more work than it was in the US.  Part of that is cultural (can’t just drive up and park outside most stores, for instance).  But, much of it has to do with the fact that even though we have learned a lot, we are still definitely Ausländer (foreigners).  We don’t know where to go to get supplies, what paperwork is necessary, whether you can board various animals (or where) or how to describe our issues to a Vet without looking up specific words.  Plus, there is always the fact that any animal that is well-cared for will have some monetary cost associated with their upkeep.  And, well, money isn’t a non-issue!

So, we have gone over a year without getting any small furry family members.  But, after much soul searching, debating, listing of Pros and Cons, and other intricate decision making procedures, we finally decided to Go For It.  We discovered a species that is not available in California, but is semi-common here.  It is called a degu.  They are also called the “brush-tailed rat”, though David thinks they are more like squirrels.  They are a highly social rodent originally from Chile.  They take dust baths like chinchillas, are trainable like dogs, are complete herbivores prone to diabetes (so no fruit or sweet snacks!), will hang out in a cage when you aren’t around, and, I must say, they are pretty darned cute.  Oh!  And they live 5-9 years in captivity.  So…. Sweet!

Sisters

I walked past them the first couple times at the pet store because we were thinking we would probably go with a rabbit.  But, I noticed that they were easily the animal the most interested in us.  Every time we came by their cage they would run over and check us out.  We went back and explored various options several times (and at several stores).  But, in the end, the degus won out.  They are so social that they are sold as a bonded group.  We got three!

We can already tell that they have three distinct personalities.  One is the Go-getter.  She is fearless, outgoing and the leader of the group.  The second one is the Side-kick.  She hangs back a bit, but is largely game for most adventures.  And the third is the cautious one.  She is still hiding, I think.  Actually, when we first put them in their new cage, she sat at the top of the ramp and wouldn’t move.  About 10 minutes later one of her sisters ran up and sat on her until she went down the ramps into the more homey bottom level of the cage!  Social indeed.

We are still deciding on names.  And it will take us a while to figure out who is who by sight since they all have similar coloring.

The darkest one, I think is the scaredicat… still working on
IDing the others
Getting the cage here in our Golf was a challenge, but
we solved it by putting the seats down and traveling in
shifts.  DS and I stayed at the store while DD and David
brought the cage up

Then there was the challenge of building it.

Ta Dah!  (actually still needs wheels, oops!  need to
fix that in the morning)

Transferring.  Guess who was first out?

Watching our new friends.

Not Entirely an Herbivore Day

I know Meatless Monday didn’t catch on in the States, which is too bad.  In general, we would like to try to cut down our eating of animal products.  But, I admit, here it has been tougher than expected.  So, too, however, is getting meats that are not Pork or Chicken.  So, today we splurged and got Special meats!  I had a craving for red meat, so I got a steak.

Irish T-Bone

Wish I had a BBQ

And, David likes to be able to say he has tried exotic meats, so we got him this unexpected find:

Yes, it is Kangaroo!

Very lean, texture is like a fine-grained steak- flavor is more like lamb

DS surprisingly requested:

Salmon Caviar- lowest on the food chain today!

And even DD went Meaty with some:

Her only real favorite meat

To balance all that out, we even found, well, not exactly US-style corn…..

WHY?  When 1/2 the country is covered in
corn plants, why do they do this to the stuff
that is actually edible?

So, there you have it.  Sort of exciting things for us.  Probably just a bunch of boring pet pictures for you.  Sorry, about that :)  These guys are still pretty young and I expect them to get a bit cuter as they fluff out slightly into their adult shape and become more interactive with us.  And, hey, if we do ever head back to CA we will have some wild tales about landing in Oregon and strapping contraband squirrels to our socks to sneak them past the border patrol, or something… Looking forward to that… um…  Well, maybe we will cross that bridge when we come to it.  For now, we need to get to know our degu- and think up names!

One reason to rethink having a local
dog.  They have Radioactive Poo, y’all!

Upcoming adventures: Possible travel, School, and DD gets German Braces:

Step 1, lots of pictures,
inside and out

Aug 052012
 

Took a week off last week because 1) I was behind on work, 2) I was sick, 3) I was having technical difficulties, 4) it was my birthday, and 5) I was in a really crabby mood.  Not necessarily in that order!

But, now I have a build up of all sorts of little things to share, so I will just make this a quick update with photos.

Stephanie’s Birthday

Birthday morning I was greeted with these from my children.  Toppas are
German Frosted Mini-wheats, and a serious staple in our daily diet.

What could they be up to?

Its the Toppas Trial- Find the prize!
To Play: Choose one box.  Open box.  Examine contents.
May try again up to three times.
May keep contents of all open boxes. 
If prize is found, may continue playing.

Yes, this box actually had Toppas!
The other two were filled with body lotions,
coffee and hot chocolate, though :-)
And then hubby gave me homework!  He told me to go research cameras because my old one was always running out of batteries. New Camera, YAY!
But, the homework actually turned out to be more work than I think he anticipated. Because it turns out that models vary by country.  I mean the same brands, same general features, etc, but completely different product numbers and weird little variations.  It is a bit mind-boggling, actually.  And it is really tough to figure out what models in one country are the same (or similar) to the ones in another.  So, I started with US review sites, but quickly switched to UK sites, and then still had to make best-guess equivalent judgements on German products.  I tried looking at some German reviews, but that was frankly well beyond my current paygrade when it comes to German Language Skillz! Whee…  In the end, I wound up getting this snazzy little beauty!  Thank you David :-)
How meta- I took the photo of the box with the contents of the box!

More meta?  Me taking a picture of me taking a picture…..

Me taking a picture of Mom on Skype, with a picture of me taking
the picture in the corner….

Ok, enough meta….

It seems to to nice close ups… will need to play with that.

Ok, enough with the camera….

Aww

Next off, we went to France to get me a special lunch.  I found out that there was a Buffalo Grill in Strasbourg!  We had all had fun at the one outside Paris, so we decided to give it a go.  We only got sort of lost (wait… I see it, but you can’t get there from here!)  And, along the way we saw more English in France than usual.

But… what?
Oh!  But, Quick! (yes this was just across the street)

We also saw this guy.  Twice (U-turns are a staple in our French Driving repertoire)

This guy was out drumming up business for
a closeout sale at a kids furniture store.

And, then there was this.  Don’t let it be said the French have no sense of humor. Jerry Lewis or not, this is pretty hysterical.

Look Out!!!

Sad Buffalo
Unfortunately, the restaurant was not nearly as good as the one in Paris… And by ‘not nearly as good’, I mean it was actually bad.  Our first clue should have been the fact that it was mostly empty.  And it still took them 5 minutes to seat us- after they already had told us they would find us a spot.  We got our most stereotypically rotten French Waiter so far.  He refused to understand anything but perfect French, brought us the food as on the menu whether we requested anything special or not, and, when DD asked for new silverware because hers was dirty, we are pretty sure he just took it back and wiped it with a napkin.  It came back with napkin fibers in the knife!  Also, I ordered coffee with my dessert.  Two Euro.  This was it.  Not espresso.  Coffee!  And yeah, the cup is dirty.  DOH.

Let her eat cake?  NO!
Next, we tried to find me a cake.  Any cake, really.  We went to bakeries in Germany and France.  American-style cake is almost non-existent in these parts.  But, often there are whipped cream layered desserts that make a good proxy.  I would have settled for most cake-like substances.  But, alas, none were to be had.  Nr could I find any of my other, more common, pastry favorites.  At the final French bakery we found a palmier.  When I was young we used to get me awesome palmiers as a birthday treat, so mot a bad trip down memory lane. But, still tough to put candles in a palmier!

So, we skipped cake and did a movie (Dark Knight) with David’s work crew instead.  Fun stuff!  I even discovered salted popcorn in one corner of the snack stand.  Woot!  Score 😛  Forgot to get a photo of the event, though. 

The next night, to make up for my terrible cake luck, I made Birthday Pancakes.  Chocolate Chip for DD and me, and plain for the guys.  It has been way too hot and humid for baking, so it was a fine compromise.  Plus, it meant I could eat chocolate pancakes for dinner!

Blew out all my candles.  Knock wood!

Slice of Life

Next day we found a pizza truck selling woodfire pizza at our usual lunch-bakery.  Hey, not something we see every day!  Apparently it was Italy Week at Bauhaus.  Whatever the case, we grabbed a pie and found a nice spot at the local park to sit and eat it.

These guys caught my eye because they are all crouching.  They look like
they are shooting craps, but apparently they were just eating lunch.

Love the park trampoline!

This guy was… er, he was washing his shoes in the fountain.  No clue.

DS’s favorite… Whatever he can find that he
can make dangerous…. Sigh.

My hair did this when we got home:

Ringlets?  Really?  The weather was making my hair really curly!

Allergy Arrest

Now, I mentioned I had been sick.  After the cold I got at the beginning of July, I got a nice viral sinus infection.  It lasted about three weeks.  And, viral.  No antibiotics. Fun! 

Then, as soon as that started to fade, I suddenly got a bout of the worst allergies I have had in a very long time.  My eyes were glued shut in the morning, I could water a plant with the tears during the day, itchy, sneezing, the whole deal.

So, since you can’t get antihistamines at the local supermarket, we headed over to the pharmacy.  After enlisting David’s help to describe my symptoms, we managed to convey what I needed.  The pharmacist headed to the back and brought back two different packages of the same stuff:

Pretty and pink.  What could go wrong?

I had never used this before, but, being desperate, we took it.  At home I did the research.  Turns out it is generic Zyrtec. Zyrtec has a good rep for low side effects and is known for its ability not to cause drowsiness.  Yay!  But, it takes a while to build up in your system.  Boo.

I took my first dose, tried to ignore my runny .. well, my runny-head.  And got to work.  But, I admit, I was not at my most efficient.  Around three I started feeling really tired. I thought that maybe the lack of sleep the night before had wiped me out.  Or, maybe this allergy was actually some sort of weird cold and I just needed to rest it out?  So, I laid down for a while, and then got up and wrote some more.  Shortly after dinner, I laid down again to ‘rest my eyes’.  I conked.  For 12 hours.

The next morning I woke up with eyes glued shut and all the same allergy symptoms as before.  So, a little groggily, I took my next dose.  Yeah.  You already know where this is heading.

It turns out that about 12-13% of the population gets drowsiness as a side effect for Zyrtec.  Of those, a small percentage, like ME, get severe drowsiness and- apparently, narcotic-like loopiness!  I spent the next 14 hours *stoned*.  Time would just sort of pass, unacknowledged.  I sat down to write to one of my editors, and sent it.  Then I looked at the clock.  Three hours had passed.  It was just a normal letter!  The kids would ask questions, and sentences wouldn’t form. Coherent thoughts were few and far between.  I suppose if I were less of a control freak and had nothing pressing to get done it might have been an interesting way to completely tune out.  But, as it was, I did not have fun.  I didn’t exactly have unfun, either.  I largely just didn’t care much about things. 

I was grateful that the kids are old enough to take care of themselves and to understand why mom was floating out of her gourd all day!  (They tell me that I actually act pretty similar when I am extremely under-slept, so I guess that makes sense). 

So, anyways, no more hot pink generic Zyrtec for me!!!  Yowza!

Crowd Funding:
Black Forest games has an in house pet project that they decided to put up for crowd funding on Kickstart.com.  To get things started, they made a video, and, of course, they needed an English Speaking announcer.  After testing various folks in the company, David got chosen.  So, now he is a slightly frantic talking owl.

They are actually doing quite well.  Which is good, cause it is a nice project.

The link for the kickstart page with the full video is here.  It is quite fun and well worth the watch if you a) like games or b) have ever met David.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/project-giana/project-giana

Moving Day

Since the company recently moved to Offenburg from Kehl, a couple of David’s work buds were moving this weekend.  Since I was wrapped up with overdue deadlines, we sent our Menfolk to represent.  DS had a really nice time and, I am told, made himself quite helpful!  DH woke up this morning with astoundingly sore arms, but otherwise weathered the experience well.

I don’t have many photos because David said the crew were a little camera shy and I don’t want to upset anyone.  But, here are a couple:

DS and Sarah, unloading the van
See the wires hanging from the ceiling?  Lights are not part of German
rentals.  There are 25 wires meant for lights.  No fixtures.

DS got a little tired
Hulk has nothing on Vladimir!