Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gerard Presents at Gerrit's Kindergarten

Dropping Gerrit off at Kindergarten

I am married to an amazing man. NASA Man, or err... I guess I should call him ESO or PRIMA Man now (though NASA Man is a way cooler name if you ask me). Gerrit's entire kinder/school was exploring a space theme last month. They were learning about the planets and the solar system and a bit about stars, etc. Gerard used to give space-themed presentations to our third grade class when I was teaching in La Canada, so he's somewhat familiar with talking to kids.... in English anyhow. This time, I offered him up to Gerrit's kindergarten to do a presentation for three to five year olds... using a bit of German. Amazingly, he pulled it off.

He spent hours preparing a mini-presentation for the kids, using Google Translate to help translate his slides from English into German. Then we went to our German friend's house to run the slides by her and make sure they were somewhat correct. We figured that Gerard would show the slides (with titles written in German - and attempt to read them in German, since the little kids aren't yet of reading age), and then he would go into a bit more detail in simple English. The teachers had said they would help translate the simple English into German. This is what we were banking on.

Unfortunately, when Gerard began to speak about the slide in English, there was dead silence. He looked up at the teachers and would pause now and again for them to try to explain further. Nothing. Blank stares. Yikes! So... Gerard switched to using even simpler German and when he didn't have the vocabulary, he either looked to me for help (between the two of us we know slightly different words, so together our German is only slightly better). When all else failed and we didn't have enough German vocabulary to further explain a slide, he just read the title of the slide in German and then paused long enough for the teachers and kids to take in the pretty picture. When we started using more German, however, the teachers chimed in and started to elaborate on the slide presented. I guess our crappy German was enough for them to figure out what we were TRYING to convey, and they were then able to help out more.

Gerard only had one minor slip up. He was trying to talk about shooting a laser (shiessen- pronounced SHEE-sen). Instead, he used a form of the word scheissen (pronounced with an "I" as in the word "shy" like SHY-sen (this word means "to take a crap")). Before the presentation Gerard kept reminding himself to say SHEE instead of SHY and he did well in three out of four presentations. Once, he slipped and basically said the laser sh*t in the sky. Fortunately, I think his overall German pronunciation may have been awkward enough that no one caught it.

Gerard wasn't thrilled with his performance, but in light of the fact that he knows only a little German and did almost the entire presentation IN GERMAN... I think he did an awesome job. How many other people would get up in front of 75 kids and their teachers, and present something when they don't know the language very well at all? Truly amazing, if you ask me. We even passed out mini muffins at the end of the presentation, topped with little stars. I figured if the performance was a complete bust, bring treats for the kids and all would be forgiven. Despite our yucky language skills, I think the kids still got something out of the presentation and I'm very proud of Gerard for stepping up and doing such a good job. There is no way I'd have the courage to do that. Gerard, you are my inspiration. :)
Waiting for the kids
Talking About Galaxies
Willem is thoroughly engaged

I love this video. The kids think that they are looking at Saturn, and even though Gerard is explaining that a star is formed from dust and gas, the kids see the photo and pay no attention. The teacher has to clarify that they are looking at a star surrounded by some planets, and NOT Saturn. Saturn and Mars... always the kids favorite planets, eh?

Talkin' About Planets

For the kindergarten's Fasching Party, the kids were asked to come dressed as something "spacey" to culminate the end of their space theme. Most kids came as aliens, a few as astronauts. Gerrit wanted to be a rocket. So... with the help of Regina, we fashioned a rocket costume together for Gerrit and he blasted off around kindergarten. Of course, after he insisted on dressing as a rocket, I'm quite sure he only actually wore the costume for about ten minutes before deciding it was too cumbersome and pulled it off. :)
Ready to blast off!
Gerrit with one of his super cute kindergarten teachers

Friday, February 6, 2009

Finally... some progress!!!

This comic represents what I hear when German is spoken to me.
I can totally relate to this poor dog.

I've been here over a year now and today I did something I never thought I would have the courage to do. With an intro like that you are probably expecting some tremendous escapade, but no. For many of you, this will be nothing, but for me it was a huge step.

Today there was an Eltern Frühstück (Parents Breakfast) at Gerrit's Kindergarten. I saw the list yesterday and it asked people to RSVP, so with some reservation I signed myself up. (I figured it might be a good way to network with other parents, and possibly set up some play dates for Gerrit.) This may sound silly but the thought of putting myself in a situation like that where people would likely talk to me in German and expect me to respond (in German, no less) really really had my stomach in knots. For those of you who have no fear of throwing yourself out there and mutilating a language in order to learn it better, I applaud and admire you. I, unfortunately, am not one of those people. So for me, knowing I would understand very little German conversation in the first place, yet also make a complete arse of myself as I butchered their language while attempting to communicate was nauseating. You may think I'm exaggerating, but I was one of those kids who totally feared being called on by the teacher. (Yes, I can totally relate to the anxiety of some of my own students.)

I arrived this morning with Gerrit and Willem in tow. I dropped Gerrit off at his classroom and looked at the room where we would meet for breakfast. I thought about bolting but convinced myself that the experience would never be as bad as I had played it out in my mind. At first, parents smiled but no one spoke with me. Many parents seemed to know one another already and there were no introductions. I tried to listen in (and perhaps interject if possible) to a group of women chatting, but they were all speaking over one another and so fast that I was completely lost. Finally, a gentleman sat across from me and spoke to me in German. I responded and immediately told him (in German) that I only understood and spoke a little German and that I didn't know very many words. He said that he knew a little English and I could try to speak a bit of German to him and he would try to speak a bit of English to me. I requested (can you believe it) that he try to speak MORE German to me than English but very slowly. We did... a bit of pidgin English and German back and forth... but it was working. It was probably the most German I've used in any one conversation since being here. The breakfast ended and although I hadn't made any connections with parents that might turn into something more, at least I took a step in the right direction.

When the breakfast ended, I only had about an hour and half before I would need to pick up Gerrit. I decided it wasn't enough time go home and get settled. Feeling a bit more positive about my Deutsch sprechen, I decided to strike while I still had the courage to do so and headed to Regina's Deutsch Mother/Baby group at the local Mother Center. There, I continued to practice very pidgin German throwing in English when I didn't know German words. My grammar, cases, and articles were complete garbage, but I muddled through. I kept telling myself no matter how awful I sounded, the attempt was what mattered.

I have always been bad at learning languages. Add that to my extreme insecurity and fear or failure and it's amazing I utter a single word of German EVER.

Today is the FIRST day I've felt like my frustration in trying to learn German hasn't been all for nothing. Six months ago, I would never have attempted what I did today. Today, I made some (albeit minor) progress. I hope this is a trend that continues.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I'm a Krapfen,You're a Krapfen... Wouldn't you like to be a Krapfen too?

A lot of my friends have asked me what sweets and other junk food I miss and can't seem to get in Germany. There is certainly no shortage of junk food available here and some of it is quite good. But when one is craving a particular food from home, that is what is wanted... not a substitute, but the real thing. One example of this is boxed cake mix. Yes, even the mere mention of using a "boxed" cake mix of any kid makes REAL German Hausfrauen shudder. But remember I'm not a REAL German Hausfrau and dang it, I enjoy my good old Duncan Hines Chocolate Cake mix. Now, there ARE a few stores here that carry these mixes, although they are over 5 Euro a pop. Then again, when you're jonesin' for a moist D.H. cake, you'll pay the stiff price. Don't get me wrong- German cakes taste fine. But when you're feeling a bit lonesome and craving things from back home, you want well... those EXACT things from back home.

Here's another...

Donuts. Okay, now before all you people give me grief about this, let me assure you there are plenty of other yummy things in Germany. Though different from back home, they have their own charm. For example, while they don't have traditional donuts (as in something you'd be able to purchase from a Dunkin Donuts or Winchell's chain), they have their own donut-like creations here which are equally yummy. One example of this is the Krapfen (pronounced as you'd imagine- CRAP-FEN). Yes, I get a kick out of the name, too. It is hard to order a Krapfen without succumbing to my internal 11 year old immature side, as I snicker to myself just saying the word out loud. Still, even though the name can be a bit off-putting and may elicit some smirks from Americans, these little treats can be quite tasty. I say, "CAN be quite tasty" because there is certainly no shortage of Krapfen varieties available this time of year, and some of them are a bit odd.

It's Fasching season now. What is Fasching, you say? Think Mardi Gras, only omit the beads and topless women. LOL! The Germans may let loose this time of year, but I've yet to see a gaggle of drunken ladies parading around topless in order to get beads. The most I've heard of is "Women's Carnival", where women run around cutting ties off the men and kissing any man they like. So Fasching is an interesting little celebration here that seems to be a blend of pagan ritual and Christian tradition, which I suppose is how most holidays end up.

Fasching is what Karneval is called here in Bavaria and in parts of Austria. Many parties involving parades, drinking, lewd behavior and costumes are part of the Karneval/Fasching experience. (And you thought Oktoberfest was outrageous!) In Köln's Rosenmontag parade, people spend a ton of effort creating elaborate floats. As the floats pass by, the costumed people on board pelt the street crowd with candy and sweets as they sing traditional Karneval songs.

A pagan ritual still observed in Karneval include dressing in ugly masks to drive out the evil spirits of winter and encourage the coming of spring and good crops. The festivals associated with the Christian church involve wild partying before Lent and fasting begins. In the Middle Ages, Karneval festivals allowed commoners to poke fun at the aristocracy and government while hiding behind imaginative masks and costumes.

Apparently, in pre-Christian Europe it was customary to choose a man to be the "sacred king" of the tribe for a year. When his year in office was up he would be sacrificed and his blood returned to the soil to ensure a successful harvest. The method of choosing the sacred king was the King's Cake. A coin or bean would be placed in the cake before baking and whomever got the slice with the coin was the chosen one. These filled cakes have evolved into the filled donuts we are familiar with today.

While Krapfen are offered year round, during Fasching the variety of Krapfen are ramped up to include a ton of different flavors, some even bizarre. Traditionally, you'd find apricot, vanilla, or chocolate filled Krapfen, but such interesting flavors as champagne, sour cherry with vodka, marzipan, raspberry & mascarpone, Bailey's, and a variety of of other fruits are available during Fasching.

A more traditonal looking Krapfen

More festive-looking Krapfen offered during Fasching

I encourage those of you interested in this, or other crazy German festivals to visit with us during our time in Germany. However, for those of you who cannot make it out here, yet still wish to try Krapfen, I've included a recipe to indulge your inner domestic goddess. (This is for you, Gerb! I expect to hear how they turned out.) I have not yet tried the recipe myself and I take no responsibility for its success, but have fun with it. Try spicing it up and mixing in some other fillings. :)


Ingredients: 500 g flour

1 pack of baker`s yeast

1/8 l milk

80 g butter

100 g sugar

the zest of ½ lemon

jam as stuffing

confectioner`s sugar
  • mix flour with yeast
  • add remaining ingredients to flour and yeast (they should be lukewarm)
  • let the dough rise
  • roll out
  • cut out round slices with a glass ( diameter: ca. 7-8 cm)
  • you need two slices for one Krapfen, put jam in the middle of the first one, put second slice on it
  • press the rims firmly together (with a glass)
  • let it rise
  • fry the Krapfen in hot frying fat (not salted), the fat is hot enough, when a small piece of dough swims on the surface after throwing it into the fat
  • sprinkle the Krapfen with confectioner`s sugar

So yes, while I will indulge in Krapfen and all sorts of other sweets while here, I still miss my good ole (disgustingly sweet) Krispy Kreme donut, warm and fresh off the conveyer belt. YUM!

Freshly glazed warm Krispy Kreme donuts