Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Horror Film

(Photo taken from

Today had all the makings of a horror film.

The dilemma- Both dogs needed their vaccinations today and had an appointment at the same time. Husband out of town. No babysitter available.

So... one must do what one must do, right?

Two 50+ pound dogs to wrangle - one husband + two young kids who have a hard time being confined or sitting still - any available babysitter = a disaster waiting to happen.

I packed the dogs and double stroller into the back of the car. I figured confining both kids to the stroller was the better route to go rather than only confining Willem and letting Gerrit go on walkabout. Willem wants to do EVERYTHING his big brother does and frankly, I was afraid he might scream at the vet's office if he had to stay in the stroller but Gerrit was allowed to walk around. I walk into the vet's office with two kids in a front-to-back double stroller and two dogs on a double leash, with a slightly exasperated look on my face. They politely tell me to have a seat, but they look at me like I'm nuts. (I'm used to this look from Germans. You should see the looks I get when I'm riding the bike with both kids in the bike trailer and and one dog on each side of the bicycle. People can't help but stare and give the most bizarre looks with that one.)

I managed to herd the dogs and push the stroller into the exam room. The boys are sitting in the stroller along the side of the room watching everything. They are very curious about what is happening to their dogs. Niki is panting (she freaks out at the vet's office) and Jake is excited just to be someplace new right now. I put Jake on the exam table and the doc asks me why I am there. Uh... I thought given that when I had made the appointment I said the dogs needed their shots, this info. would have been passed onto him. Apparently not. I reiterate my needs (in bad German and some broken English when words escape me). He is satisfied with my attempts in German enough to do the necessary exam and give each dog their injections. Niki shakes the entire time, but she does fine.

The doctor even has the nerve to tell me he thinks my German is better than his English. That's laughable given that I only said two sentences to him in German and then he spoke mostly in English to me. (Ah well, I'll take the compliment given every time I receive one it makes me more willing to practice German. I'm sssooooo self-conscious about it and I still do not know enough vocabulary to have a decent conversation.)

I pay the bill, corral the kids and dogs back into the car and head home. Drop the four-legged kids off at the house and take the two-legged kids out to eat at our favorite Indian restaurant in town. Gerrit is excited and asks me, "Momma, do you like to eat rice at the Taj Mahal rice place because I love to eat rice there." (There is a big artistic drawing of the Taj Mahal there and Gerrit recognized it after a few times at the restaurant, and now the restaurant has been known by that name ever since.)

I had my doubts about how the boys would do at the restaurant. That could have been an entirely new disaster having ME... ALONE... with BOTH boys at a nice restaurant. This place ain't no Chuck E. Cheese, you know. But to my amazement, they were relatively well-behaved and ate extremely well. Made for a pleasant meal.

So... my makings of a horror film actually turned out to have a Mastercard commercial ending. Making it home with dogs, kids, AND my sanity in one piece.... priceless.

And just in case you are wondering what I look riding with dogs and kids, here it is. This video was taken last summer, and I took this video to specifically demonstrate this contraption to my family back in the U.S. - Helmet not required for me, except to encourage my kids to wear "their" helmets (which IS a requirement).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Why Gerard Misses Beer from the U.S.

Yes, we've all heard about Germany's fantastic beer, and we've seen pictures of Munich's famous beer halls... complete with buxom dirndl-clad women carrying five different liter-sized beers in each hand. Often the image one has of Germany and beer is an image of Oktoberfest, where more than 6,900,000 liters of beer are served every year at the festival. If so many tourists flock to Germany and some come specifically for the beer, why on earth would Gerard crave anything from the good ole' U.S. of A.? That's just absurd, right?

Well, here's why.

The Reinheitsgebot, sometimes called the "German Beer Purity Law" or the "Bavarian Purity Law," is a regulation concerning beer production in Germany. In the original written text, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley, and hops. Yeast was not mentioned in the original text, as it was not known to be an ingredient of beer. It wasn't until the 18oo's that Pasteur discovered the role of yeast in the fermentation process. Prior to this understanding, brewers took some sediment from the previous fermentation and added it to the next.

Some of the original reasons for the Reinheitsgebot make good sense. There was a need for some regulation with regard to preservation methods of beer. Medieval brewers sometimes used problematic ingredients, such as soot, or herbs such as stinging nettle or henbane to preserve beer. Hops not only provides flavor, but also acts as a preservative, and it's mention in the Reinheitsgebot was meant to prevent these inferior methods of preservation.

Another reason for the introduction of the law was to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye. The restriction of grains used in beer brewing to barley was meant to ensure the availability of affordable bread (as the more valuable wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers).

Incidentally, this law first started in Bavaria in 1516. Bavarians then insisted this law spread throughout Germany to prevent competition from beers brewed elsewhere with a wider range of ingredients. As you can imagine, this was met with strong resistance from existing brewers outside of Bavaria. This law ultimately led to the extinction of many local beer specialties, such as North German spiced beer and cherry beer, and led to the rise of pilsener style beers in the German beer market. Only a few regional beer varieties survived the implementation of this law.

In May 1987, a court ruling led to the Reinheitsgebot being lifted. In 1993 the original law was replaced by the Provisional German Beer Law, which allowed other ingredients such as wheat malt and cane sugar to the mix (but no longer allowed "unmalted" barley). Though the original Reinheitsgebot brewing laws no longer apply, beer brewed according to them still receive special treatment as a "traditional" food.

The proud tradition of these German brewing standards remains today, and many breweries continue to comply with these original laws. Claiming compliance to the Reinheitsgebot is a valuable marketing tool so breweries often proudly proclaim to do so. However, some breweries claim to follow the original laws when they actually do not with respect to the wheat beers (which were originally prohibited in the Reinheitsgebot).

In total, there are approximately 1300 breweries in Germany, with almost half of them located in Bavaria. In fact, the Benedictine Abbey Weihenstephan brewery (established in 725) claims to be the oldest existing brewery in the world, as they have brewed beer continuously since 1040. This brewery, by the way, is located about twenty minutes from our house. So if you like beer, and are interested in a trip to Munich, come by for a visit. We have a guest room, and the brewery gives tours for an extremely nominal fee. :)

Okay, so you see... it's not that Gerard dislikes the beer here. He dislikes the lack of variety of beer ingredients here. What Germany produces is very fine quality, but Gerard is used to a bit more choice in his beer selection. Many bars do not sell many imports, and if they do it's something like Bud. We've found a few Irish or British type pubs that will sell Newcastle or Guinness, if we feel like traveling into Munich. It appears that for a greater variety, you need to get an imported beer. It also seems that imports are not found here easily, and when they are, they are quite expensive. So if you are headed to Munich anytime soon, smuggle in a few extra "hoppy" pale ales or maybe a Sierra Nevada or two. Gerard would be ever-so-grateful. Heck, while you're at it, I wouldn't mind a cider or an extra fruity beer, either. :)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Home, but not Quite

While in the U.S. we were able to meet up with some friends and family, and Gerrit was thrilled to bits to be able to speak English with people and be understood. (I have to say I share his sentiment.) In fact, the kindergarten teacher here made mention of how Gerrit was then trying to speak English with her and the other kids at the kinder when we came back and how surprised she was that he spoke so much. Typically, Gerrit doesn't try to say anything in English at kinder because he knows they don't understand him. Unfortunately, since his German skills are still very weak, that means he doesn't say much of anything. She was very surprised to realize how much language he actually has. It just isn't in the language she would like. I am hoping this will encourage them to try to offer Gerrit more German language support at the kinder. Currently, they do not plan to offer him any language support until his Vorschule year at the kinder (last year- typically age 5), which is still a while away.

Being in the States was sort of an eerie feeling. I visited places that were familiar and yet different. Overall, things were the same, though some businesses had changed hands or closed down and a few new ones had cropped up in their place. I think the most noticeable thing to me was that I felt a bit like a visitor there. Not a complete stranger, but it is no longer my home. Our home in Altadena is being rented out so that's not quite home. Yet since Germany is a temporary thing, it isn't quite home either. I think at the moment I feel a bit displaced. Since my grandmother's passing a few years ago, I no longer have a home base in Torrance, and it just doesn't feel the same there either. Though a few families I grew up with have remained in the area, many have moved on. My grandmother's house is now being completely renovated by the family who purchased it a few years ago. My grandmother was quite good at doing the necessary maintenance on the house but not so great at keeping up with current trends. It's nice to see the place being "updated," but it's a bit bittersweet. When I look at the house I can still fondly recall the times I helped my grandfather tend the garden or helped grandma in the kitchen, but the house now belongs to someone else. It is being changed to suit their tastes and their needs, and will be a place where they create their own family memories.

Still, we had a nice visit with some family and friends in L.A. The kids even got to experience Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. We spent lots of time with my mom and the boys had fun meeting many people and playing with other kids. The strangeness of being back in L.A. and the South Bay was balanced out by how many familiar, friendly faces I had around me. In the end I suppose home (regardless of city) is really where our family is all together. That means, that for now we are always home. That is a pleasant and comforting thought. :)

My boys at Volksfest in Neufahrn
(A few days after coming back from the U.S.
Not bad for some serious jet lag.)

Racing... ah, competition.

Gerrit assures Willem of his piloting skills.

And now that we're comfortable flying,
we try the open top flying elephant.

Gerrit LOVED the bumper cars with daddy.

Enjoying chocolate shakes on a hot day at
our favorite ice cream shop in Neufahrn.

When my boys smile, it makes my heart melt.

Willem learning the function of a dump truck

No Posts for a While

While in L.A., I had an experience that had me questioning whether or not I should continue my blog. Whether they held any value for anyone other than me. I had a conversation with a friend and it got me to thinking about my life right now and what it has become. Without going into the sorted details of the exchange, I will just simply state that it was brought to my attention that I was no longer the person that this person knew in L.A. and that I had changed and not in a desirable way. And that this change was evident in my blog entries.

I tend to share my experience here with my family and friends through this blog. The funny and sad experiences, the ones that make you slap your forehead and say, "Oh Duh," and the mundane. For those who care enough to read my blog and want to hear things about my life here- well, folks, that's the silly and mundane are also part of it.

Yes, I am different. Yes, a lot in my life has changed. I now have two (almost three) kids. Circumstances have brought us to Germany, and while I find it a struggle and did not want to come, I am trying to be supportive of my husband and also make the best of it here. Though not easy, I do feel the experience is enriching our lives and certainly given *me* an empathy for my second language students and their families that I did not have before. Gerard and I struggled immensely with the transition here and our relationship, but we seem to be on a better path. Though I was not ready to quit work and be at home full-time (and I still desperately miss teaching), I also know that it took a forced move like this to have me home for a while. It is time with the kids that I know in the long run I will not regret having.

So yes, I have changed. I no longer talk about my teaching work on a daily basis. My day to day struggles are now with German culture, language, and raising my kids in a foreign country. My blogs at the beginning were more about getting settled, and now yes, they are more mundane. This is where I am in my life right now and if I hadn't changed at all, that would seem unnatural. So the blog doesn't have to hold any value for anyone other than me. It's out there and if anyone else happens to get anything from it, that's great, too. I find value in it and will hopefully look back to this as a time in my life I wish to recall, for better or worse.