Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nate Comes to Visit! aka A Trip to Oktoberfest

I apologize, first and foremost, for my perfidy in not updating in over a week now. Best intentions aside, things....got in the way. Such is life. But here I am, back with more German tales! 

Most recent piece of news is that my boyfriend, Nate (who most of you know is currently living in Sofia, Bulgaria studying on a Fulbright scholarship), came over to visit for the weekend (that being Saturday through Tuesday). This being the first time we'd seen each other in just shy of two months, it was truly a fantastic weekend with lots of sightseeing and fatty food and tourist-y-ness and really just a lot of fun. We did, of course, drink plenty of (read: too much) beer, including a trip to Oktoberfest (that deserves its own paragraph), have a lot of good food, and made the most out of his three-day trip. A few highlights include:

Watching the surfers in the Eisbach of the Isar River in the English Gardens

Visiting the Chinesischer Turm biergarten in the English Gardens. (Though we got our beers elsewhere to avoid the incredible lines and jacked-up prices.)
Actually getting beers at one of my favorite cafes Augustiner am Dom, right next to the enormous Frauenkirche
A comment in regards to that last photo: German pretzels (Brezen) are some of the most delicious things known to man, and taste even better when dipped in senf (mustard), preferably spicy honey-mustard. Also, this cafe is wonderful for keeping prices down. Though the beer's 4 for half a liter, the side dishes are quite generous and cheap!

Also, German restaurants are super sneaky and trick you into eating their bread. Not at like a nice restaurant, per se, but relaxed outdoor cafes like this one put a basket of rolls and pretzels on the table, chuckle snidely as they watch unassuming Americans used to gratis bread chow mindlessly away, and then when it's time for the check, charge them per piece of bread consumed. It's not cool. Fortunately I was forewarned as to this concept, so our pretzel consumption was with the knowledge we'd be forced to pay. 

Paid a visit to the beautiful Frauenkirche in downtown Munich

More Frauenkirche

And of course, a traditionally tourist-y picture in front of the Rathaus (City Hall) in Marienplatz. (Sorry Nate, disgusting to put this up, I know.)


I contemplated making this its own entry, but that just seemed like too much work and I don't have that many stories, so bear with me on the length of this blog and take it as my apology for not writing for a week! If you'd rather hear some more mundane stories, skip down a few paragraphs.

Nate and I headed out to Oktoberfest on Sunday night, not really knowing what to expect. The trains have been full of people in Tracht (dirndls and lederhosen) since the fest began, but actually seeing the festival itself was something else. The subway takes you right to Theresienwiese, the huge meadow where the festival takes place. We arrived at about 8 PM, so it wasn't terribly packed, but there were definitely a LOT of people, mostly wearing aforementioned traditional clothing. It really is a lot like a huge state fair; there are rides everywhere, from bumper cars to swings to terrible swinging rolling dizzying rides that seem like a terrible idea at a festival dedicated to beer. There are haunted houses, magic shows, and food EVERYWHERE, from pretzels to rolls to grilled corn to huge hunks of meat. The highlights of the fest are the tents. These are where the magic really happens. 

For beer to be served at the fest, it has to be brewed within the Munich city limits, so there are only a few types of beer that can be found, and each tent only serves one kind. (These include Augustiner, Spaten, Paulaner, Hofbräu, Löwenbrau.) There are fourteen of the big tents at the fest, and each can hold about 5,000 people. To throw some Wikipedia statistics at you, just for the heck of it, last year at Oktoberfest there were 6.4 million visitors who consumed 7.1 million liters of beer, 522,000 chickens, 104 oxen, and leave behind about 1,000 tons of trash. Delicious. You can also only get a liter of beer (called a Maß), so no being a wimp! This liter costs about nine euro at any tent you'll go to. 

We had basically no foreknowledge of this going in, so it was all really confusing. Having been given the heads-up that none of the tents were full and which were supposedly the best, we headed first to the Hippodrome, which is by far the most popular. With no seats to be found and drunken people screaming everywhere, as well as a loud band playing traditional music and waiters and waitresses who'd smash into you with their platters and steins if you stopped moving, we left, bewildered, in search of something we understood. We walked around the Fischer Kroni tent, realizing upon entrance that the name comes from the fact that the only food they serve there is fish, and boy does it smell like it. We finally made it to the Armbrustschützenzelt, one of the huge Paulaner tents, and found a seat outdoors in the smoking section.  We got our hands on a beer apiece and sat awkwardly for awhile amidst hordes of--pardon my obscenity--utterly shitfaced people. We managed to befriend some Australians for a bit, then headed off in search of something else. At the Augustiner tent we got a liter between us, chatted with a German couple sitting with us, then were told the tent was closing and to get out. (The fest closes at 10 PM; seems ridiculous, but it also opens at 9 AM....) Our new friends told us they know of a tent that stayed open later, and we managed to get into the Käfer beer garden, apparently one of the most exclusive places at the fest. The place was utterly packed with people, but we found a table and drank...enough beer, certainly. A couple photos:

Inside the Augustiner tent

Nate with our German buddy at the Käfer tent

Augustiner tent. We're actually standing on a table post some song everyone stood up for. No idea what.

Finally left the fest at about 12:30. By the time we realized we were lost and took a cab to the train station, it was past the time when the subways run, so we took another cab to another train station to catch the bus. Unfortunately for us we missed the night bus by literally one minute, and those only come once an hour, so we shivered in the cold until 2:57, when we finally got a bus back to my house and stumbled home. Quite a night.

End Oktoberfest//

We also spent some time with the kids. Anne gave me as much time off as she could, so yesterday all we had to do was pick Kilian up from his playgroup, take him to tennis, then entertain Cliona for about an hour. Despite way too much walking, the day was beautiful and it was a peaceful afternoon. Kilian started out being very suspicious of the idea of Nate (he doesn't understand what a boyfriend is and generally thinks I'm being very selfish to only have one; he has lots, why don't I?), but warmed to him instantly and had a lot of fun talking about Porsches and Audis with him.

Nate headed back to Bulgaria at 5 PM this afternoon (and is in the air as I write, I hope), so naturally the rest of the day was a bit mopey. After quite some excitement with getting him headed off (to make a long story short, after he barely made it on the train to the airport we realized I was carrying one of his backpacks...a train station rendezvous and two missed shuttles later, he was finally on his way. Having not talked to him yet, I'm going to feel like a total idiot if he did end up missing his flight, so fingers crossed!) I'm awful at goodbyes in the best of situations, and though we've been doing a lot of goodbye-ing lately, it really never gets any easier for me. I'm eating a chocolate bar right now though, and that's helping.

Picked the kids up from school and talked them into going to the grocery store so we could make a fruit salad for dinner. Unfortunately for me, Cliona's (probably) getting her last molars in, so she screamed pretty much non-stop from the time I picked her up until the time she went to bed. She ate maybe a bite of her dinner and threw most of her fruit on the floor, howling the entire time. I was so not in the mood today. Fortunately her father came home, packed her sobbing self off to bed an hour early, and I could relax, which consists of watching Simsala Grimm with Kilian sitting on my lap (an animated kids fairy-tale show) and then sneaking off to my basement room to contemplate the rest of my week. 

Other stuff has been pretty low-key. Managed to set up my checking account Monday morning (with a rather hungover banking representative who typed everything wrong and said "Oops-a-la! Ugh...Montag" when she noticed). Plan for tomorrow is to get signed up for a language course, hopefully starting next week! 

I'll leave you with a photo of the kids from the park last week. They are incredible goofs, basically.

Monday, September 19, 2011

On a lot of stuff

Life has become somewhat too complicated to give a super in-depth update, so I'll settle for some highlights for this entry. (You can translate that as, yes, I have been meaning to update for like four days but have failed miserably. Oh well.) I've also been accused (falsely, of course) of copying other people's blogs, so I'll do my best to be completely original in this post.

Things of Interest in the Last Week:

Kilian started (and ended) fußball:
       Probably everyone who has any knowledge of soccer knows that it's basically a religion in Germany. Kilian's been looking forward all week to having his first football practice. He got his new schienbeinschützer (shinguards) and of course has been wearing them around the house every day. When Thursday night rolled around, however, Kilian started crying to his mom about how he didn't want to go to football because he wouldn't be able to score any goals and his team would lose. His mother of course assured him that it didn't matter, it was about having fun, and he was somewhat relieved. His dad came home early from work the next day to take him to his football practice (good father-son bonding, of course).
      Interesting comment: Kilian was very concerned all week that Cliona not be told about his playing football. (Her obsession with the ich auch coming into play.) Therefore, whenever anyone brought it up, Kilian freaked out, hissing "Not in front of my sister!!" and would say to her, "Nein, Cliona, not playing football! Papi and I go to the store!" Which is super cute but does rather encourage dishonesty...
     Anyway, off Kilian and his papa went to football while Anne and I stayed home with Cliona and made dinner. They returned about an hour later with a super grumpy Kilian who refused to talk about football except to say he was never going back. Michael explained to us that he didn't understand that in football/soccer, you had to go get the ball yourself because the other kids weren't supposed to pass it to you. He apparently just stood on the side the whole time, angry because no one would give him the ball. It was super sad. His parents are trying to persuade him to go back next Friday to give it one more try, but we'll see what ends up happening...

Construction continues:
      But I finally have a bathroom! It's lovely to not have to stumble up the dark, steep stairs to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I also got to take a shower, which was incredible (literally no shower in the house for three full days....ouch). However, the banging continues, and more than the banging, the drilling continues. They're really doing a full bathroom re-do: knocking down walls, taking out tiles and plumbing. It's quite an incredible job. Long story short, the kids are utterly terrified of the sound. (I admit I am a bit too; when it was in the basement it was bearable, but when it's on the second floor, it shakes the whole house. Working in the kitchen just under where they're doing the drilling is terrifying.) So Thursday, when I got them home from school, we made some sandwiches and went to have our dinner at the park.
        Interjection: These workmen are ridiculous. They arrive at the house promptly at 7 AM and often have to be asked to leave at 7 PM. Last week they finally left the house at 7:57 PM one night. (Bear in mind Cliona goes to bed at 7 PM, so this really doesn't work.)
        Anyway, park time. One would think taking kids to the park would be very straightforward, but it requires a lot of attention-giving. Cliona will fall down the steps at the slightest provocation, so I have to be there with a hand under her bum most of the time. The bad part about having a helpful au pair to catch you whenever you fall is that it's easy to stop paying attention. At one point I was pushing her up the slide (she insists on being able to climb up it but definitely can't do it herself). This slide is metal, quite steep, and about three feet taller than I am, so though I can push her up, she needs to hold on to the bars and pull herself up at the top. This isn't too much to ask; she's almost three and is certainly capable. This time, however, she got distracted by boys on bikes or something, let go of the bars, and fell backwards. Fortunately I grabbed her before she could hit her head, but it definitely scared both of us, and at that point I refused to help her do any more slide climbing, which made her shriek. She's quite an excellent noisemaker and the whole park stared at us. Awkward.

Cliona--tree-climbing girl!
         About ten minutes later, Kilian ran up to tell me he had to use the toilet. Public restrooms in the park? Not on your life. The house is about a seven-minute walk from the park, but he said he had to go now. So we retreated to the woods that surround the park, and I held Kilian by his shoulders and knees in my arms while he "macht Kaka." I tried so hard not to be utterly disgusted by it, but really, holding someone in your arms while they poo on the ground? I don't make enough money to do that. Oh my goodness.

Some experience with German bureaucracies and cafes:
       I went last Thursday to attempt to get my visa. I was pretty nervous doing this alone; my German's good but words like "residence permit" and "registration" and "health insurance verification" weren't really covered in my German classes. I made it to the place with no trouble, got through the first line to get a number to get into an office, and sat and waited.
       Germans are not only very efficient, they're smart. This office was incredibly well-organized, and about every twenty minutes and woman would come through the room with a cart of coffee, tea, soft drinks, muffins, and brezen (pretzels) for sale, at quite reasonable prices. Imagine if the DMV did something like that!
      When my number was called, I went to the room on the board, but opening it a crack, I saw people already in there so I didn't go in, assuming (sillily) that the machine was broken and the room number was wrong. My number kept blinking as I waited outside the door, and finally they called the next number, and a woman went in. I followed her in, confused, finally realizing that there were two desks in each room to attend to two people at a time. The woman looked at me frostily, informed she had "dreimal Ihre Nommer geruft" (called my number three times), and told me angrily to "Warten Sie draußen" (wait outside). I nervously sat outside the door for like twenty minutes, on the verge of tears (I am not a typical crier but being yelled at by authority figures sends me back to kindergarten), with visions of being deported from the country/denied a visa because the lady didn't like me. I was almost glad when she finally called me in and we discovered I was missing a form that my family needed to fill out. So I'm back to the visa office (Kreisverwaltungsreferat) probably tomorrow.
      Not wanting to waste a trip into the city, it being a beautiful day, I headed into Marienplatz to do some sightseeing. I wandered around a bit, looked in some old churches, and settled down at an outdoor cafe to have some lunch and enjoy the day. I was seated quite near the register, so figured it would be quite easy. The waitress brought me a menu, left for a bit, came back, and I ordered a cappuccino. My cappuccino arrived and I sipped it for a bit, assuming she would come back soon to ask about my food. An hour passes. My cappuccino is long gone and my stomach is growling. Every time the waitress comes by I try to catch her eye, but look back down at my book so I don't seem rude every now and then. Not sure if I was supposed to raise my hand? Call out something loudly? Other people were getting service, but I never noticed them doing anything to get it. Finally, the time drawing near that I needed to be back to pick up the kids, I got the nerve to shyly squeak out an Entschuldigung, kann ich einen Baguette haben...? (Excuse me, can I have a baguette?) Clearly there's still something I'm not getting.

College parties--the same everywhere:
       Friday night a friend invited several of us English-speakers to a party she and her roommates were having. She lives in a student housing area with mostly students, so it was a good chance to go and meet some people at any rate. I met the other girls I knew outside and we went in. Sadly, the news that it was a white-T-shirt party had gotten lost by the time it got to me, so I was the loser in a brown shirt. Awkward. The party was only about 20-25 people, mostly Germans, and the easy thing to do was hang out in the hall with the English speakers, but I awkwardly persevered, stood like a loner in the kitchen where everyone was for like twenty minutes, then finally got up my nerve to talk to some of the guys there. Before I knew it, we were all chatting away in German about college, music, choir, Munich, differences in German cities, anything. It was tons of fun to actually talk to people! Definitely the most German speaking I've ever done.
      Germans take their toasting very seriously. The traditional toast is Prost, which you've definitely heard if you ever watched "Beerfest." Which I highly recommend, incidentally. But toasting is nothing like in the US, when we haphazardly call out cheers and clink a couple glasses. In Germany, it's incredibly rude to not look the specific person you're toasting in the eye as you do it. (The legend is that if you don't, you'll be cursed with bad sex for seven years.) And if someone wants to toast with you and your glass is empty, you'd better find whatever is near you to fill it up. This happens very frequently. I see why Germans drink so much--they're just trying to toast properly!

Oktoberfest begins:
     No, I haven't gone yet. I will though, fear not. The madness started on Saturday with a parade through the city. Lots of Bavarian pride; the mayor taps the first keg! I, sadly, was on babysitting duty with some very crabby kids, angry they were being sent out of the house so their parents could paint the bathroom.
With the kids at the library (that's Kilian in the background)
I went into the city at about 1:30 to meet up with some new people. Had coffee with a girl from London, and it was one of the most boring experiences ever...we had nothing to talk about, whatsoever. The couple sitting next to us were fortunately quite nice and glad to practice their English on us, so that helped a bit. After that, I walked around a while, went to the post office, and sat down in the sun next to the Glockenspiel in Marienplatz to await the arrival of another girl I was supposed to meet up with.

Glockenspiel on the Rathaus in Marienplatz
     German weather is impressive mainly because of its variability. I woke up that Saturday to cold, pouring rain. By the time we were finished at the library with the kids it was warm enough to go get ice cream for them. And by the time I was reading in Marienplatz it was about 85 degrees and I was feeling like an idiot in my long-sleeved shirt and scarf. The Glockenspiel goes off three times a day, and one of those happened to be at 5 PM, when I was sitting there. From what I've heard, it's really a pretty boring Glockenspiel, so I didn't get up to watch, but it was pretty funny watching the crowds watching the Glockenspiel. They all ooh-ed and ah-ed everytime something changed and it was pretty funny to watch.  The city was full of people wearing dirndls and lederhosen (and carrying beer bottles, surprise!).
Jolly drunken dirndl girls
       The girl I was supposed to meet finally showed up at around 5:30 and we walked around for a while talking and then went to get a beer at a cafe right near the Frauenkirche called Augustiner am Dom.  The beer was delicious and the people there were hilarious and drunk, occasionally bursting into song, and we passed a lovely three hours or so chatting about au pair-ing and Harry Potter and boyfriends and Germany.

Good touristy photo
       After paying for our beers, we headed out to walk around. It seemed like it was starting to rain, amazingly after such a hot day. After a short walk we encountered some very drunk Argentines who wanted to know where the English Gardens were. After trying to explain it to them, we agreed to walk them there, and off we set on our mission. Feeling a little weird about heading off into the darkness with these drunken fools, we took a train up to a closer station to where they wanted to go, but when we got off, the rain had gotten a lot heavier. We walked about half a kilometer to where I'd thought the entrance was, but we went the wrong way...oops. When it suddenly started pouring, my friend and I looked at each other, yelled a goodbye to the confused Argentines, and ran pell-mell back to the train station, arriving out of breath, soaking wet, and laughing like crazy.
      The train ride home was fairly disgusting. Not only was it incredibly cramped, full of wet, sweaty, drunks wearing sodden lederhosen and chanting at the top of their lungs about FC Bayern, there was an impressive amount of vomit on the floor of the train, which mixed with the rainwater people tracked in to make really an impressive soupy mess on the floor. That was a long ride. Seriously.  

The pouring rain continues:
      And it's supposed to until Tuesday! Ouch. It's also about 44 degrees right now and I am cold. Headed to the movie theater today with a couple of friends to see "Friends with Benefits" (in English, fortunately). It was actually really funny, if you're looking for something to see/it's still out in the US. We then treated ourselves to dinner at a Mexican restaurant with another friend, and the fajitas and mojitos were actually quite authentic and delicious, accompanied by a mariachi singer who serenaded us throughout the evening. All in all, a lovely way to spend a Sunday. Now back in my pajamas, listening to the rain outside!

Have a lovely rest of your weekend, all!

Monday, September 12, 2011

On German children, Austria, and figuring out life

Well, everything's going well here in German-land. The bathroom construction continues (did I mention that? The bathrooms are getting redone.) and my bathroom is supposed to be functional by Wednesday. It will be very nice to have a bathroom on the same floor as me again!

Kiddos continue to be good as well.  Cliona seems to be getting into a bit of a diva stage, which manifests itself mainly at mealtimes, but all-in-all they're quite excellent.

Cliona in her pram on the way home from kindergarten
Kilian started today at his "Jack and Jill playgroup." He still goes to his ordinary one but every Monday from now on he attends this one where all the speaking is done in English, run by a woman from the UK, naturally. Whereas the kindergarten is a mere 1.2 kilometers from the house (3/4 of a mile, an easy 12-minute walk), this playgroup is down in Neubiberg, the next suburb over, and is 1.8 km from the house, so no longer that comfortably walk-able. (This makes me sound disgustingly lazy. I'm not, it's just that it's only Kilian who goes to this one and on his bike he's actually quite fast, and it would take a lot to keep up with him on his bike.) So Anne got out her bike for me so Kilian and I could ride together. Unfortunately for 5'4 me, Anne is about 5'11 and her bike is similarly sized. I am sore and I almost crashed way too many times, but I at least got Kilian to and from his playgroup!

And some sample kiddie-dialogues. I'm sure similar ones happen with American kids all the time, but these are my kids so they're cooler. And they're in German!

Bear in mind, most of these happen at least twice daily:

Kilian: Cliona, ich bin fünf und du bist zwei.    (Cliona, I am five and you are two.)
Cliona: Ich bin auch fünf!                                               (I am five too!)
Kilian: Nein!                                                                            (Nuh-uh!)
Cliona: Doch!                                                                          (Yeah-huh!)
Kilian: Nein!                                                                            (Nuh-uh!)
Cliona: Doch!                                                                          (Yeah-huh!)
et cetera...

Similar arguments take place when Cliona claims she is also starting fußball or also playing tennis. She cannot stand to have Kilian doing anything she isn't.

This also happens numerous times daily, sometimes with occasional variations.

Kilian: Ich hab' gewonnen!                                           (I won!)
Cliona: Ich hab' auch gewonnen!                             (I won too!)
Kilian: Nein, ich!                                                                   (No, me!)
Cliona: Ich auch!                                                                   (Me too!)
Kilian: Nein!                                                                             (Nuh-uh!)
Cliona: Doch!                                                                           (Yeah-huh!)

At which point Kilian, clever child that he is, will turn it into....
Kilian: Nein, Laura hat gewonnen!                        (No, Laura won!)
Cliona: Nein, ich!                                                                  (No, me!)            
Kilian: Nein, Laura!                                                             (No, Laura!)

Their parents think this is endlessly annoying but I think it's hilarious.

Cliona also successfully didn't "Kaka machen" in her pants today, thank goodness! Yesterday was the sixth day in a row, so clearly some regression, but today was better. She must have been thinking hard about it too, because she said repeatedly to herself in the pram on the way home, "I want not Kaka machen. I am a big girl. Not baby."

A quick review of this weekend: Saturday, went into the city to meet a few au pairs, one of whom I'd met before. We got coffee and walked around, ending up in the English Gardens. For those who don't know it, the English Gardens are basically Munich's version of Central Park in New York City, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Hyde Park in London (I'm sure I could go on? I just want you to be impressed by my worldly knowledge of parks).  It was created in 1789 and spans about 4 square kilometers. Doesn't seem like that much, but Wikipedia also informs me it has 75 km worth of paths, so perhaps that's why I was so tired. The gardens are gorgeous. The Isar River flows through them and there are people swimming everywhere. There's even a part of the river known as the Eisbach (ice-brook) where there are perpetual waves, and there's actually quite a sport of river-surfing. Google it. There are also teahouses, old-fashioned temples, an enormous Chinese tower, and of course, no fewer than three beer-gardens, the largest of which seats 7,000 people. The English Gardens are also famous for permitting nude sun-bathing. Yes, it sounds hot. But of the many nudes I saw, all were old, saggy, wrinkled, male, and did I mention old, saggy, and wrinkly? I've seen enough elderly German male genitalia to last me--well, a lifetime. And they love to flaunt it, too.

Sunday the whole family got up at the crack of dawn (okay, 7:15) and drove to Austria. The weather had been promising to be about 85 degrees, and the Germans are excellent at taking advantage of good weather. Our goal: a children's nature-adventure-land called Hexenwasser. On the side of Hohe Salve, one of the peaks in the Alps, it has a lot of cool attractions for children, having to do with mysterious witches that supposedly inhabited this mountain. There were little rivers to walk through, giant umbrellas, water troughs that flowed up the side of a hill, cool bridges to walk across, et cetera. The area is actually a huge skiing location in the winter, so we took the gondolas up to the children's area and then up another 500m or so to the top of the mountain, where there were telescopes, beautiful views, and of course, a beer garden. 

I sadly forgot my camera, but this is the area on the summit.
After looking at the incredible view (mountains in 360 degrees!), we headed back down and had lunch at another of the beer gardens with a great playground for the kids. Lunch was Kaiserschmarren, which is rather like doughy funnel cake with raisins and powdered sugar on it that you dip in applesauce. We then made the drive back home, hot and sweaty, with two super tired and cranky kids. The rest of the day was napping and grilling sausages, lamb, fish, and vegetables outside on the barbecue to enjoy the rest of the beautiful day.

Today I finally ventured in to take the Einstufungstest to see which language class I get to take via the Volkshochschule (people's school--community college-esque). I was supposed to do this like a week ago but kept putting it off, so today it was finally time to do it. I made it in to the location via bus and S-Bahn, waited in a looooong line, and took the test. It was disgustingly hard, but apparently it was supposed to be, as I got placed in the B2 level (these being GoetheInstitut levels, which range from easy A1 to C2, so I'm in the fourth level. Not too bad). Tomorrow I'm hopefully going back in to town to get my visa. 

A brief comment on European business structure: If there were ever a business in America that had ridiculous hours like Monday/Tuesday 9 AM-1PM, Wednesday/Thursday 2PM-6PM, Friday closed, Saturday 11AM-5PM, they would be booed. Or have tomatoes thrown at them. Here, that's totally normal. Even the government administration building I have to go to for my visa is ridiculous (and in fact even more limited than the above!). Silly. That's all I'm trying to say.

Now for a brief moment of introspection. The weirdest thing about being here is that there are no goals. I've been in school (with the exception of summer vacation, of course) for the last 18 years of my life (I'm counting preschool). There's always been something to be looking ahead to, be it a paper to write, changing classes, a choir concert, going home for a weekend, learning something cool. Now suddenly, not only is there no school, there's not even the familiarity of friends and family. My goals here range from keeping the kids from crying to ironing well to emptying the dishwasher to getting off of Skype before it's too late. Even goals related to better learning German are served best by going out and drinking with people, basically. It's a very new and rather shocking frame of mind for me. There's no reason why I can't go out every night (well, when I have friends to go out with, anyway). I think what I'm trying to say is that right now, I have no Purpose other than to hang out with kids and have fun. With that as my life's work after spending so long with the specter of a high school diploma/college degree hanging over my head, it's not so much refreshing as discomfiting.

Don't get me wrong, I'm having a wonderful time. It's just a lot of adjusting to be allowed to do nothing but have a wonderful time. I found myself wondering today if there were online classes I could be taking while I was here... 

And don't get me wrong, there are things I'm really looking forward to! Vastly overshadowing everything else is my boyfriend Nate's upcoming visit the weekend after next (!), but it will be great to have my own shower again, I want to see a beautiful fall season, the snow!, getting to know Munich better, starting language classes in October, and lots of other stuff. I'll get better at this whole unexamined life bit. Happy Monday, all!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Interlude: Germany--A Cultural Examination

Since not a whole lot has happened and I've been slowly collecting amusing/intriguing/disgusting/awesome cultural items of amusement in the nine days I've been here, this post is to illuminate those things, complete with pictures!

  • Traffic signals are turned off at night. I'm still intrigued by this. Not in areas in center city that stay busy, but in small suburban areas that only really see traffic during rush hours, off they go at around 8 PM. I realized this after (twice) waiting at the signal by my house to cross to the bus stop. For like five minutes. Which brings me to another point...
  • Germans are notoriously law-abiding. If the little green man (walk indicator) is not there, they won't go. And if you do go, more than likely a police officer will pull over and yell at you. I've seen this happen.

  • Cars are all generally a lot smaller than ours in the States. A typical SUV would be unable to go anywhere here. 
  • Parallel parking is basically a free-for-all. It's pretty irrelevant which direction you're facing, and parking at least somewhat on the curb happens as often as not. Probably more.
  • In keeping with their love for rules, if you're breaking them, it's your own problem. In this instance, if you're crossing a road you aren't supposed to or at a time you shouldn't be or when a car's coming, chances are that car isn't going to slow down in the slightest. You may have to run for it.
  • Streets have only about three lanes, all separated by dashed white lines. How do you tell which lane goes what way? I'm just glad I'm not driving.

  • Germans are definitely less body-obsessed than Americans. Bikinis are worn almost universally--and by universally, I mean the sixty-year-old women who've had five children and eat nothing but cheese and sausage wear them.  There's a reputation for there being a lot of nude sunbathers in the English Gardens in the center of town, but I think most of the people talking excitedly about this are imagining them all to be budding playboy models. Oh, not so.
  • In the same vein, there's no such thing (that I've encountered) as fat-free milk (standard types are 3,5% fat and 1,5% fat) or as whole-wheat bread/pasta. 
  • Almost every food or food-preparation or toiletry item you'd ever wish for can be found made by the seemingly ubiquitous brand of Ja! (Yes!).  
  • The largest size of milk or juice you can buy is a liter.
  • Grocery stores have bags, but they cost money and you're basically a completely terrible person if you use one. I bring a convenient little basket with me to do grocery shopping, which is lovely until I realize I have to walk home with it. I usually bring back some zucchini or mayonnaise in my purse.
  • All of the fruit we buy ends up covered by little fruit flies after like five minutes. I'm not sure if this is all of Germany or just my house? (I really hope not.) This doesn't bother anyone though; you just shake them off.
  • Germans eat more cheese than any people I've ever met. It's so delicious and so bad. 
  • Stores sell lots of "American-style" food, all of which is the worst example of American food you'd find. German Wonderbread, jumbo marshmallows, et cetera. 


    • I've talked your ears off about the laundry ideas, but here's a photo:
    • I've also explained the trash system a bit, but here's to illustrate:
    • Also, emptying the "Biobag" (where all the food-y items are thrown away) is one of the most disgusting jobs ever. It's sort of like if your garbage disposal emptied into a large canister and you had to toss it out once every couple of days.
    • Microwaves are one of the trickiest things to use, due mainly to the concept that words are somehow not appropriate to use. Our microwave has a dial with different settings, most of which I don't understand. The one with the asterisks is defrost, the one with lots of lines means it's really hot, but the rest I don't know. Ovens have similar settings.

    Cryptic microwave
    • If you've traveled in Europe before you may recall how their windows/doors work, but I'd forgotten and spent most of an evening convinced the door was broken. Windows don't have screens but can either be opened completely (swung out like one would open a book) or pulled out at the top (thus my fear of them being broken). Actually quite ingenious; bugs generally don't come in that way but it lets in a good amount of air. Observe:

    • Everything is much smaller here. You can take my word for it for the most part, but here's the refrigerator (I'm fairly sure most dorm room fridges are bigger than this!):

    Small refrigerator with five people's worth of food!

    And some other random things:

    • Pansies (the flower) are called Stiefmütterchen--little stepmothers. My host family didn't know why. This amuses me greatly.
    • When delivery men drop things off, they come in the backyard through the gate to leave it on the back table. I guess they just don't want anyone to take it? Quite nice of them, really.
    • Dog warnings tend to be very serious and overly detailed. This one tells you exactly how much time you have before being attacked depending on what you're doing. It begins with "Warning! I can hear you!"

    Vicious people-eating dog

    • Slugs are huge. And everywhere.


    • The doors in the area all have the same curious chalk inscription on the top, reading, "20* C + M + B 10." It looked rather tacky to me, but it apparently comes from an ancient tradition of the Starsinger Boys, who would come around and carol to different houses for Epiphany, dating back hundreds and hundreds of years. Now it's sort of a trick-or-treating type of thing around Christmas time (usually for money which is donated to different causes), but it represents the procession of the three wise men to Jesus' cradle. The C + M + B stands for Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, and the 20 and 10 are, naturally, the end of the year 2010.  I'm pretty sure if this was tried in the States, the doers would be arrested for vandalism at the very least, but here it's good luck to leave it up for the entire year, and nearly every house I've seen have it (including our front door, pictured):

    Front door of the house

    That's about all I can come up with now, but I'll show you a couple pictures of my neighborhood and house so you can get it all in perspective.

    Walk back from the market in Waldperlach

    Street sign (that's my house just behind it)

    My house -- Agrippastraße 12

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    On a day in the life of an au pair (and some other notes)

    Well, I've officially been here a week (!), though it seems a lot longer at this point. I'm glad I have so much time still to come, because I'm honestly been rather pathetic in seeing important tourist sights. Shame shame.  But here are a couple photos (aka all the ones I've taken thus far: practically none to speak of). There are much better pictures of all of these if you google the places I mention, but these have the distinction of being taken by yours truly.

                                        Theatinerkirche in Odeonsplatz (apparently the locals hate it?)

                       Feldherrnhalle (if it looks vaguely familiar, it's probably because
                       some guy named Adolf Hitler used to make a lot of rather famous 
                       speeches standing on it, most notably the Beer-Hall Putsch of 1923.)

                                            And a typical Munich street on the way to Marienplatz

    Now that I've committed the faux pas-est of faux pas-s (how does one pluralize that?) by mentioning Hitler in a blog about Germany, let's move on to some more practical knowledge.

    I'm nearly through my first real week of au pair-ing. I know everyone's chomping at the bit to find out just how I fill my days here, so hey, I'll fill you in!

    Anne and Michael get the kids up in the morning and take them to kindergarten (NOT to be confused with school; that's for the big kids. I got a lecture on that today from Kilian.). So what do you do, Laura, I hear you ask. Well, this week I've managed to sleep in until about 10:30 every day. Dull though that may sound, it's really quite an achievement as new bathrooms are being put in this week, starting with the bathroom about eight feet from my room. Ear plugs and a pillow over my head, combined with my sheer determination to sleep in make for a not-very-restful morning, but it's still quite lovely.

    My basic daily chores are usually quite easy. I unload the dishwasher and wash the dishes from the family's breakfast, wipe counters, et cetera. I vacuum the floor. (To vacuum once a day seemed quite extravagant and/or unnecessary to me at first, but that's just my utter ignorance of living with children talking. Once a day isn't enough). Today I had the added task of emptying the washing machine and ironing the clean laundry.

    Let's take a brief cultural sidetrip as I enlighten you as to the European perspective on laundry. In the US, it's pretty simple. We've got our whites and darks (some choose to be more picky), throw those into the washing machine. Half an hour later, throw them into the dryer on permanent press with a lovely-scented dryer sheet and go paint nails whilst clothes dry. Three-quarters of an hour later, clothes are dry, clean, ready-to-wear.   But alas, not so, so not so in Germany.  Now Europe as a whole is vastly more environmentally conscious than we in the States tend to be. We can barely recycle and they have state-run compost piles! It's incredible. Now, one of the biggest energy wasters appears to be the innocent-seeming clothes dryer. Solution? Don't use it! Huzzah! Global warming averted!

    Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of being environmentally sound and conserving energy. But oi. Naive little hausmädchen that I am, I Skyped for about an hour and a half this morning then headed down around 12:15 to do the wash and ironing, thinking it'd be a brief twenty minutes or so and then I could make my -- (I really want to say lunch, but I confess it was my breakfast. Bad Laura). Oh, but no. All of the wash in the washing machine has to come out and be hung on the lines stretched throughout the laundry room. If I was uncomfortable with my family at all, knowing what types of underwear they all wear has removed some sort of boundary, at least. Also, I feel like they use pretty sub-par detergent, because a lot of those clothes smelled. Mentioning that after talking about underwear is making this more graphic than I've intended, so no, that's not what I meant. Anyway, hanging the clothes up took c. 20 minutes, maybe.

    The consequences of hanging things on a line to dry is that, once dry, said clothes are stiff, crunchy, and incredibly wrinkled. So yes, virtually everything has to be ironed. My kingdom for a dryer sheet! Though I was taught to iron at my grandmother's knee at the tender age of six (you think I'm joking...), this is a whole different can of worms. Jeans, sweaters, dresses, dress shirts, everything under the sun....suffice to say that by the time I emerged from my underground ironing lair, it was about 3:00 (or 15:00, if we're being properly European) and the time for breakfast was really past.

    At about 3:45 I set off to the kindergarten to collect the kids. It's about a mile walk or so, but through very un-busy streets and lovely neighborhoods. The problem is getting them home once I've picked them up. Yesterday I just had Cliona, as Kilian had gone home with a friend, and she decided she was too tired to ride her bike after about an eighth of a mile, so the rest of the way home was me rolling her bike with one hand and holding her hand with the other (in a cute sort of hunchback walk) and singing the red-orange-yellow rainbow song over and over. Note to self: never teach the kids a song unless I want to sing it at least fifteen times in the next hour. Today Cliona assured me she wasn't too tired to ride her bike (never falling for that one again), so off we went, this time with Kilian. We'd just made it out of the circle where the kindergarten is, Cliona already complaining she was too tired, when the pedal broke off of Kilian's bike. With both of them in tears, I wasn't about to try and carry the both of them the whole way home, so we turned around for the nearest bus stop.

    If you've ever tried to take a crying child on the bus, you can imagine the looks I got. Now multiply that by two screaming children and two bicycles. Cliona, sobbing wildly, wouldn't get off her bike to get on, despite the two-foot gap between the curb and the bus, so I was forced to pick her and her bike up and shove them onto the bus. I'm still amazed we made it back to the house with both kids and both bikes. Longest ride of my life. Luckily both were exhausted enough by the time we made it home that they agreed to sit and read stories until it was time for dinner.

    Jumping back in time, the important anecdote I missed from yesterday was the trip to the playground. Cliona (who is newly potty-trained) suddenly saw fit to inform me that she had to go to the toilet, then about fifteen seconds later, informed she that she had just "Kaka gemacht." To put this in perspective, I've never even changed a diaper before. That was fun.

    Last night both kids refused to eat scrambled eggs (of all the harmless things...), but tonight they were much happier with fish fingers (yum?). Halfway through their dinner, home come their parents, and Laura breathes a sigh of relief.

    And there you have my glamorous life as an au pair! Sound like fun?

    Some brief other anecdotes about my activities:

    On Sunday I went with the family to the Freibad (public swimming pool). Much nicer than any you'd find in the states, but I will tell you with assurance that European swim garb is just as revealing as you would expect. Perhaps more so. I've had my fill of European man-thighs for at least a year.

    Monday night was a trip to the Hofbräuhaus (I know, how touristy can you get) with a girl I'd met on Toytown, the online forum for English-speakers living in Germany. It was noisy and crowded and a lot of fun, though the band of the night was, instead of an oompah band, some guys in Rasta shirts doing covers of Bob Marley.

    Yesterday I had the fun opportunity to try and converse with several workman doing important things with the bathroom. With one of them I could just smile and nod, but another started asking me pointed questions about (I think) how many outlets were supposed to be in the bathroom, and another was inquiring about leaving tiles in garages and packages coming, and I threw up my hands and called my host mom to talk to them. My German is pretty good, but (I haven't yet figured out a way to say this without sounding horribly stuck-up) most manual laborers/workers tend to speak in Bayrisch (Bavarian), and the language is really almost entirely unintelligible from Hochdeutsch, or high German.

    Tonight I headed out to the German Speaking Night (or Stammtisch) hosted by the Toytown group. They have these bi-weekly at local bars or beer gardens. The only requirement is to speak German the entire night, and I actually did myself fairly proud. Of course, it's a lot easier to speak German with people who won't catch your mistakes, but it did take a lot of the fear away. And of course, as many people told me, it is a lot easier after a couple of beers!

    I apologize for the scatterbrain-ed-ness of this entry, but it's late and life has been a bit scattered lately. But I'm having a blast! People have started asking me for directions in public places now and I feel super special when I know what they're talking about. All a work-in-progress!

    As a closer, I just want to say I'm so grateful and happy to have so many people looking at my blogs! (Though who knows if they all make it this far in the entries....) It's a blast to have you all sharing my adventures with me, and I'm enormously appreciative. Drop me a message and tell me how you're doing sometime. I miss you all!

    Saturday, September 3, 2011

    On babysitting, tourism in Munich, and restaurant etiquette

    Just to put this out there before I forget: Cliona changed her underwear. You're welcome. I know you all were wondering. I also taught Kilian the tomato-tomahto song, to illustrate that I wasn't just crazy for pronouncing it in such a silly way, but the downside was I sang it at least five times. All in the name of education...

    Today started with a lot of sightseeing around the Altstadt (old city, or city center), but I'll start with my kid stories while they're fresh in my mind. Anne and Michael (my host parents) were off to a party for Michael's work tonight, so I had the kids from about 5 PM on. (They go to bed at 7 and 8 PM, respectively, so it's not really a long time). The night of fun started with some good old let's-use-Laura's-body-as-a-jungle-gym play, which, hey, at least it's free. This soon progressed into couch diving and jumping, which I put a stop to after several visions of concussions and bleeding head wounds. Some story time followed, and this continued until it was time to make dinner.

    In reference to that, and as follow-up to my food comments of last post, I've discovered more about the German way of eating: there should be one "hot meal" every day, but that's it. If the hot meal is lunch, then dinner just needs to be some bread and cheese or something simple like that. I rebelled at the kids' request for pasta, however, but don't worry, I hand-washed the evidence.  I've also figured out why Germans eat the way they do and manage not to gain [a lot] of weight: they aren't a snacking people. My American stomach is used to having food at hand throughout the day, and when all I eat is a small cereal at breakfast, maybe a small sandwich or pasta at lunch and some bread and cheese at dinner, by 10 or 11 PM (aka right now), I'm just about starving. Ughh.

    Dinner turned halfway through into a tear-fest; Kilian remembered that his mom and dad weren't home and started sobbing. A bit sad for me, but I don't think it's personal. I distracted him somehow, convinced them to "tidy up" the living room before watching their daily shows (they don't understand when I use American language like neaten up; I feel myself becoming more British by the minute). Cliona's an easy one to put to bed, but somehow Kilian managed to con me into not turning the lights out till 9. First it was a game ten minutes before his bedtime (somehow the idea of youngest-goes-first always seems to be in the rules...). I lost, naturally. Then it was silly stories when he ought to have been brushing his teeth, then he picked a HUGE book to read ("Yakari, die Indianier Junge," for those interested), assuring me it had chapters and wasn't actually that long. It was. And then he forgot his bear...anyway, they're finally down for the night.

    I told them I wanted to take some pictures so my friends at home could see, which they took to mean look as silly as possible, please. But here you go:

                                              This was actually the tamest of the silly-face photos.

                                                                       Silly kids with their Duplos!

                                                               Cliona and me (Photo credit to Kilian)

    Now, to jump back quite a few hours, as today was my first real day off (with the exception of the babysitting stint in the evening), I headed into the city center for the day. It takes between 20-30 minutes to get to the city from my house, via a bus and a train, but it's a very straightforward and pleasant ride. I started the day meeting a fellow au pair from Colorado, who I'd connected with on Facebook. We met at 10 at the Starbucks in Odeonsplatz (most meetings tend to be at some coffee locale or another) and headed to a cafe near Marienplatz.  As I was telling my mom earlier, all of these weirds meetings feel sort of like online dating for finding friends. You meet someone online, see if you have anything in common, agree to meet for coffee or something, then awkwardly approach strangers in a public place with a line like, "Umm, excuse me, are you...?" It's really quite an experience. But we actually did pretty well on the awkwardness scale.

    To take a brief segue into my third topic, if you haven't experienced restaurant dining in Europe (especially Munich, I feel), you really should. This didn't really seem to ring a bell for me when I read about it online earlier, but today I really got it. Americans tend to complain about the awfulness of service in European restaurants. I see why, and I tried hard not to let that American bias get in the way. The European way of dining is to take your time. Really. Which makes sense--if you're going to spend the money to buy food instead of cooking your own, why would you want to rush through the experience? Especially on a day like today, which was sunny and beautiful (and in an outdoor cafe with a beautiful view of the surrounding churches and frequent glockenspiel serenades).

    Regardless, I'll break down our meal for you, just so you get the idea.
         10:10 - Arrive at cafe
         10:25 - Get menus
         10:33 - Order coffee
         10:52 - Order food
         11:20 - Food arrives
         12:15 - We get the check
    Yes, you could've had three American diner meals in that time. But really, the experience is quite a nice one. It was a gorgeous day, and even though we didn't know each other that well, we got along fine.

    I will also say for those who have expressed curiosity that at 10:30 AM, the people in the cafe were all drinking a beverage of some sort. The breakdown is about 2% orange juice, 50% coffee/latte/cappuccino, and the remaining 48% were knocking back beers. At 10:30 AM. Welcome to Germany.

    I continued my day by heading to the free Munich tour at 1. Since these tours are free and the guides work strictly on a tip basis, they're generally very good, and this one did not disappoint. The guide was a gregarious young woman named Virginia (from Florida--Munich seems to draw a lot of expats). We got all the stories and sights from Marienplatz/Mariensäule to the Frauenkirche (those three are actually three-fourths of the buildings not destroyed in WWII, the other being the Hofbräuhaus), Neuesrathaus (new city hall), Altpeterskirche, and the Viktualienmarkt.  There was a rather overly friendly Egyptian fellow on the tour who befriended me (and who has called me twice tonight; I really need to learn my number so I can give out a fake one), and quite a few other tourists from the US, UK, and various other places. I ditched out of the tour at about 2:30 when they stopped for a beer and sausage break (I'm not quite to the comfort level of being able to show up to babysit drunk), stopped by an H&M to get a more serviceable purse and some shoes, and headed for home.

    I'm meeting another au pair tomorrow (maybe) and a couple of guys later in the evening who I've met through the Toytown website (sort of a gathering place for English-speaking expats living in Munich). The Toytown group also hosts a lot of events like German-speaking lunches, curry nights, and 20-something gatherings every Thursday, so I'll try and go to some of those to meet more people.

    If I haven't said this already, I really love Munich. It's gorgeous even when it's raining, the people are friendly, the food is wonderful, and it's really just a lovely, lovely place. Come visit me!

    I also promise to put some other pictures up. I haven't taken my camera anywhere yet because my purse is thimble-sized and I hate looking like THAT much of a tourist, but new purse should solve the problem (14,99 at H&M FTW!). I'll do some pictures of my room as well; my bathroom's getting redone next week so I'll wait for that to be done, perhaps.

    And today I killed a spider the size of my waterbottle. Eww.

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    On childcare, public transportation, and general observations

    I can't believe I've only been here three days (less, really, if you're counting hourly). Today was the most time I've had alone with the kids. Yesterday my host dad took the day off work and we went to the supermarket and the park with the kids so I could get familiar with the area. On Fridays my host mom works from home, but she shuts herself in the office in the cellar to get work done, so I had the kids from 9 AM to about 1:30 PM.

    They really are the cutest kids. They're generally very easy to entertain, and they play together very well. They love reading stories, though storytime usually results in a squabble over whose book to read and who gets to sit on my lap whilst reading. Today consisted of a lot of Shel Silverstein, Horrid Henry's Big Bad Book, and several repetitions of Rainbow Rob the Black-and-White Penguin. Cliona was pulling for A Child's First Book of Irish, but I managed to distract her by making animal noises instead--my Gaelic is about as close to non-existent as one can get.

    Kilian always refers to Cliona as "My Sister" (you can see the capital letters when he says it), as in "My Sister needs her chair pushed in," or "My Sister doesn't like red sauce on her pasta." His English is just about perfect (though we encountered a bit of a stumble when he asked me what one's "spirit" was...I didn't have a very good answer, I'm afraid). He adores his little sister but loves pestering her (a common command from his parents is Kilian, nicht ärgern! (don't be annoying)). His greatest setback today was when he couldn't successfully braid my hair. Too difficult.

    Cliona is about six weeks shy of three, but she really does keep up with Kilian very well. I dread the demands of "Ich auch!" (Me too!) whenever Kilian does something daring like slide down a pole or jump his bike off a little hill. I usually understand her pretty well, but as Kilian's informed me, she speaks "Denglish" more than anything else, so fortunately my German is good enough to get most of her requests. She's definitely at the age of independence: most things she tries are qualified with "Ich mach's alleine!" (I do it alone!) She's very good-natured but when she starts getting hungry (about every two hours), she turns into something of a devil child. Fortunately it's very easily remedied.

    They love riding their bikes to the park to play. Kilian has a big-boy bike, and Cliona is incredibly fast on her junior bike (just a bike without pedals that she pushes with her feet). They're excellent at waiting for me to cross streets and are altogether very well-mannered. The biggest frustration of today was that Mama was just downstairs working! They snuck down to see her several times when I was distracted, but they managed to hold out pretty well.

    Most of the spoken mistakes I made are not in German but in English. Kilian has no qualms about instantly correcting me, so I catch on well. Yesterday I made the mistake of referring to his jeans as "pants" instead of "trousers"; in Irish-English, which they speak, pants are underwear. Bell peppers are called paprika, which I can never remember. Kilian also does not appreciate the abbreviation of 'kay for okay or tomatoes with a long a.

    Last night I ventured into downtown Munich on my own to meet my family's previous au pair and her friends. The journey was entirely successful; not even a turnstile to get stuck in. I have a monthly transportation pass, but having it or not is really just on the honor system (I suppose they must occasionally check, but I've yet to experience it). I am proud to say my first purchase in Germany was a beer, as should be. For 1,50 you can purchase a large bottle of beer from kiosks in the train stations. And not only can you drink in public, people actually come up and collect your empty beer bottles! It's fairly incredible.

    And to finish this post, some general things I've noticed so far:

    • Germans are obsessive about trash. There are five bins in our house: paper recyclables, soiled paper recyclables, food trash, glass recycling, and general trash.
    • No one locks up their bikes.
    • The rain is not an inconvenience; people walk their babies anyway, usually with a huge plastic shield over the stroller. 
    • Hygiene is not an issue. I don't know about how often showers are taken, but my host family have all worn the same outfit multiple days in the row (with the exception of Cliona, whose clothing is usually rather chocolate-y or tomato sauce-y by the end of the day, but she has made up for it by wearing the same underwear three days in a row). 
    • To get a shopping cart in the store, you have to insert a Euro into a slot on the cart, which unchains it from the other carts. Incentive not to steal, I suppose, though if you really wanted a shopping cart I'm sure you'd lose the Euro for it.
    • Dinner is a very unimportant meal. In my family, it's referred to as tea (though there's no tea involved in it), and has consisted thus far of bread, cheese, and smoked salmon/ham.  
    My natural politeness with people I don't know very well has never really been a bad thing, but it's gotten me into a bit of trouble here. I naturally decline when offered to have food bought for me or asked if I'm hungry, so yesterday I consumed maybe 800 calories total (400 of which were beer). I think I learned my lesson at least a bit from that. Food is important. 

    I know there's more, but I can't remember just now. Tragedy! Off to have my lunch and enjoy my afternoon off. Kilian's friend Ben is here playing, so nothing for me to do. They have the sweetest friendship: they both shout with delight when one comes over and both cry when it's time to leave. It's adorable.