Saturday, January 21, 2012

Back to Real Life...if you can call it that

      Well, here we are again. I'm not entirely sure why I've been putting off writing another blog, but I suspect it has something to do with the relatively unexciting life I've been leading as of late...I think I've been waiting for something to happen so I can blog about it! Naturally, any followup to a blog encompassing Christmas and New Year's (and General Frivolity, etc., etc.) will be a bit of a letdown, and this time of year doesn't really help. I've never been a huge fan of the post-Christmas season; once New Year's and the Rose Parade have come and gone, everything seems to melt into a kind of grey, wet, rainy blur until late February or even March. This entry is turning out to be a rather random assortment of anecdotes, but read on anyway if you feel so inclined.

      I'm informed that this is about the warmest January Munich's had in...a long time, and indeed, even I haven't really been cold. Most temperatures have hovered around 0 Celsius, with the exception of one brutal morning when the kids and I walked to school in -11...burr! But today I awoke to the first genuinely snowy day Munich's had this winter, and it was gorgeous. Though probably not more than about 8 inches or so, it was tremendously exciting for me to see all the cars having to be scooped out from piles of snow and trudge through piles that went up much higher on my leg than accustomed. My family celebrated the new snow by building a snowman in the back garden and going to the nearby park to sled down the hill there (I went too! Anne took some I'm sure terrible photos of me sledding...if she sends them to me tonight I will include them. Oh, the lengths I go to to keep you entertained...). Here's the cutie backyard snowman (which, incidentally, Anne texted me about, referring to the "sexy Showmaster in garden..." good one, autocorrect).

Complete with buckethat, scarf, and skis. His nose fell off.

Me almost dying. Cliona's in the background in pink, Kilian in red, and Michael in brown next to Cliona.

      Cliona officially gave her Schnuller (pacifier) to the Schnullerfee (pacifier fairy) about ten days ago. Do tell me if there's any kind of similar tradition in the US: the idea is that when the child is ready, he/se leaves all the pacifiers in a basket at the hearth, and the Schnullerfee comes in the night and takes them away to give to other children and leaves a present in exchange. Kilian is of the opinion that the Schnullerfee is the same person as the tooth fairy, which would rather make sense; taking pacifiers doesn't seem like it would provide nearly enough work. Kilian also was responsible for a lot of propaganda in the week preceding the Schnullerfee's visit, constantly reminding Cliona that HE got a bike from the Schnullerfee and maybe she would too. (She didn't. Ouch).

      She's done pretty well without it, though I feel like she's done a little bit of regressing since. She has lately been insisting on help with going to the bathroom, putting shoes on, and making me brush her teeth for her. I've fallen into the age-old trick of telling her sadly that she's behaving like a two-year-old, and if she weren't being so frustrating it would be heartbreaking to see her little face as she frantically and hysterically yells "Nein, ich bin so!" and holds up three fingers. She also didn't realize until I explained it about two days ago that three and drei were the same age--no wonder she's been mad at me everytime I say something about her being three.  She also, when picked up from kindergarten, gives her normal scream of delight upon seeing me then remembers she's being ornery, collapses in fetal position on the floor, and starts screaming "Ich will hier bleiben!!!" (I want to stay here!)

      Kilian had his big birthday number 6 last Tuesday and of course received all sorts of cool presents. Cliona spent most of his birthday crying (the trauma of not being able to be the center of attention), but we muddled through somehow. With the birthday has also arrived the attitude of a thirteen-year-old, but I'm hoping that doesn't stay for long. He's often given to sweeping statements about how unfair I am ("My sister sits always alone on your knee and never me! My sister is every time first on the swings!"). None of which are true, I might add. When I made him get off the swings at the park a couple days ago because Cliona had asked to be first and then Kilian stole the swing, he sat there the rest of the time giving me the most evil look of death you could possibly imagine. Fortunately I am well acquainted with how to combat said look: ignore it. Indifference is a remarkably powerful tool when it comes to dealing with children.

Big six-year-old boy!

      Don't get me wrong, I adore my kiddos, but this was one of those weeks when we just really rubbed each other the wrong way. Monday Cliona woke up from a nap, started crying, which swiftly progressed to sobbing/howling, which continues for an hour and a half. When I went to bed that night the sound was still ringing in my ears. Mealtimes are also generally quite a challenge.  Kids started out as fairly picky eaters and lately have taken that to the next level and beyond...basically, unless it's pizza or pasta, dinner will involve tears and threats and maybe even throwing food. Kilian angrily told me the other night that he "hates salty food." Oh really, Kilian? Can you name me something salty? "You can't taste the salt in pizza." Oh ho ho, my friend, you lie. Cliona likes to tell me she's finished eating after licking off her spoon. She puts anorexics to shame. Given that they both weigh less than they should for their respective ages, there's only so much I can do as far as threats, but they're not having pasta every night of the week either...if anyone has brilliant kid food suggestions, I would love to hear them.

      Some recent Cliona conversational highlights:

  • On the way home from dancing, she bursts into tears and says tragically, "Ich will einkaufen gehen!" (I want to go shopping!) They learn early these days. Though upon being asked what she wanted to buy, the only thing she could think of was fish fingers.
  • On the way to the park, she bursts into tears (sensing a pattern?) and announces, "Wir haben keine Süßigkeiten mitgebracht!" (We didn't bring any sweets!) For the record, never once have we brought candy to the park. I am not an au pair who resorts to using sweets to evoke good behavior. Usually. 
  • When I took Kilian's birthday present away from her (an intricate set of rods and spheres you put together in geometric shapes (harder than it sounds), which Cliona's only interest in involves dumping the entire case on the floor), she tearfully told me that she loves me not. Kilian kindly translated that into a confession of hatred. Thanks, Kilian.
  • On the way home from the kindergarten:
         Me: Did you play with Victoria today?
         Cliona: Nein, sie ist im Urlaub (she's on vacation).
         Me: Where did she go? Im Spanien? (Spain)
         Cliona: NEIN, im URLAUB!

      Children aside, everything's been good, if a little quiet, on my end too. A long dry spell between Christmas and payday led me to find a lot of low-income activities, like visiting the Neue Pinakothek, one of music's many art museums, this one featuring art of the 19th century (with an impressive collection of Monet and Van Gogh, particularly); Schloss Nymphenburg, the former summer palace of the rulers of Bavaria, complete with massive gardens (490 acres), lakes, and impressive selection of fowl;  and a lot of sitting in cafes drinking cappuccinos and catching up on reading and German studying. I've become quite fond of the European manner of handling cafe guests, namely that unless you ask for attention, they leave you entirely alone. I can't imagine any coffee shop in the states letting me get away with ordering nothing but a hot chocolate and taking up a seat for two or three hours. 

      I've recently started doing some SprachDuo meetings. Quite a cool idea really--you meet up with someone who is a native speaker of the language you want to learn who wants to study the language you speak fluently. (There must be a better way to phrase that.) I've had about five meetings thus far with native German speakers, mostly one fellow named Andreas (who, to be honest, speaks English nearly as fluently as I do, but seems to have fun teaching me). It's very fun to have someone to practice talking to, and I'm quite enjoying myself! I can actually muddle most of the way through whatever I'm trying to say, even if it isn't always grammatically correct, but it's a start!

      Choir has started back up, and my choir director kindly acquiesced to my request (I will never be able to use those words separately...damn you, Pirates of the Caribbean!) to bring in Palestrina's Tu es Petrus so we could sing through it once. Brings back fond memories of that amazing recital in the Sistine Chapel my freshman year of college! We're currently working on the Messa Sicut Lilium as well as the Canticum Canticorum for upcoming concerts, and planning a Probewochenende (rehearsal weekend/retreat) for the end of April. Sounds good to me!  

     And to be honest, that's about it on my end! Compared to the excitement on Christmas, it's been a little weird adjusting to the slowness of it all again, but it's getting figured out. Hopefully by the next post I will have more adventures to report. Week ahead seems not too thrilling: two nights of babysitting, a birthday party with Cliona, choir rehearsal as usual, but we shall see! Hopefully some more fun snow will come my way.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Way overdue: Christmas, Silvester, General Frivolity

      I've been putting off updating this blog for a while now, basically since the thought of updating all my adoring fans on (gulp) nearly three weeks of my life seems a little daunting, but it's time for me to finally man the fill-in-the-blank up and get going. Farewell, procrastination. Which, by the way, doesn't go away once you're out of college. It just loses the cool name and you're lazy instead.

      So hey all! I meant to post at least a little hello before the Christmas madness hit, but let's face it, I was doing more exciting things (sorry). So before I get too distracted, Frohe Weihnachten! Guten Rutsch! Und ein schönes neues Jahr! 

      So, not that 2012 isn't cool and all (and let's face it, having spent 9 hours longer there than most of you, oh do I know it), but let's sliiiiiiide back into 2011 for the sake of some recapping. To be totally honest, I've no idea where I left off with my last blog (and no, I don't feel like going back and rereading it. Boring!), so my arbitrary starting point for this will-be-way-too-long entry is 2 1/7 weeks in the past to when Nate arrived for Christmas!


      This all feels so far in the past I won't bore you with too much detail. (I mean, I could remember it all if I tried. Tried hard. Is it really worth it?)  Sparing too much gory detail, Nate flew in midday on Monday of the week before Christmas, and we tried our best to take full advantage of our before-Christmas time to do fun stuff! My family took off for their holiday in Ireland, so we had the house to ourselves for nearly the whole week. My family is so cool. The most impressive part is that they agreed to--nay, offered us--this situation before they'd even met either of us! Good thing we're so cool and trustworthy.

Happy, Christmas-y room! Ignore my creepy boyfriend.
     Our pre-Christmas plans basically revolved around a lot of eating, sightseeing, walking, and other typically touristy things. I'll spare you the disgustingly presh details of our anniversary by just saying 'twas lovely! And precious and nauseating and all those things no one else would really appreciate hearing about. But we did have a lovely dinner and got to spend the day tromping around in the snow, as the German weather gnomes kindly obliged by giving us a lovely, white, nearly-Winter Solstice.

    Speaking of snow, there's been some! Not on Christmas, sadly, but there were a couple of good days of it the week before, and a veritable snowstorm (remember, California girl) on New Year's Eve! None of it lasted too long, but there was enough to make Nate shovel the sidewalk. Hehehe.

Not very inviting-looking playground

Walking by woods on a snowy...morning?

      Before we jumped headfirst into Christmas celebrations, there was some Hanukkah celebrating to be had!  Lacking a real menorah, Nate handily crafted one out of tin foil, and we lit candles for at least four of the appropriate nights, complete with Hanukkah stories and history lessons (for me, obviously). We enhanced said holiday obversation with some homemade latkes as per Nate's mother's recipe! Sadly our eyes greatly exceeded the capacity of our stomachs, but being starving college students at heart, we managed to finish all of them. Cholesterol food baby = ow. 


These weren't actually burnt. My camera wanted to fool you.
Happy last night of Hanukkah!
     Other fun activities included Indian food consumption, a lot of church visiting, an evening at the opera seeing La Boheme, and even ice skating at Karlsplatz! I think we each fell once. Not bad for being a combined 20 years out of practice or something like that. And last but not least, lots and lots (and lots) of glühwein consumption. We wised up after a couple of nights and bought the premade bottles at the grocery store (with amaretto shots already included) and heated them up with our own additions of cloves, cinnamon sticks, raisins, and clementines. NOM.

Standing over the ice rink! Note my amazing 1 euro earmuffs!!

Blurry shot of the pit at the Bayerische Staatsoper.



      Wow. Here I thought I was doing well and I'm not even up to Christmas yet. Oy. Breathe, Laura. Breathe.  Here, look at this happy picture of the Christmas box my mother sent me!

Homemade chex "TV" mix, Funfetti and Ghiradelli mixes, ginger chews, Burt's Bees. There were socks and scarf too at one point. I absconded with them pre-photo.

      Our Christmas plans have been, since about last April, to head up North to Leipzig for Christmas to spend the big celebration with our good friend, Johann Sebastian Bach. Nate and I spent most of the evening of the 23rd packing up as much food (that being a lot of turkey sandwiches, apples, bananas, trail mix, oatmeal, and cold pasta. My mom should be proud) as we could get our hands on in anticipation of our 8 o'clock ride up to Leipzig with a fellow I'd contacted via the internet (not as sketchy as it sounds, I promise). Until, that is, I received a response email from our ride at about 10 PM, saying he'd been calling me all day and due to car trouble, wouldn't be making the trip on the morrow.  A frantic internet search discovered a train ticket that, thank goodness, is a magical multi-person anywhere-in-Germany-for-40-euros, so we swiftly purchased a train ticket and headed off to finish preparing for our trip. 

     The next morning we headed off to the main train station to catch our first train at about 10:45. Our total trip took three trains and about 6.5 hours, but we survived (barely)! We arrived safely in Leipzig and made it to our hostel by around 5 PM. 

Rough estimate of train route to Leipzig
      I hadn't really thought about the fact that this would be my first trip to the former DDR (East Germany). While it wasn't a phenomenal difference, it was definitely interesting. The wall fell in 1989, which seems to me like a long time ago (based probably only on the fact I don't remember it), but that was a mere 22 years ago. Really not that long. The building style is different, the attitude is slightly different. The apartment/suite we stayed in was a lot more reminiscent of Nate's apartment in Sofia than anything I'd seen in Munich. Granted, Munich is really in a class of its own as far as quality of German cities (#4 in worldwide quality of living survey!), but I think there were differences aside from that, too. 

      Back to the real world. Our hostel ended up being an apartment more than anything else: couches, kitchen, bathroom, stove. Very impressive, if a little sketchy. We had plans to head immediately to the first service at the Thomaskirche (Bach's former church!), but I foiled plans by erupting into tears at the prospect of not being home on Christmas/Eve, so we pushed our plans back by a few hours so my endlessly patient boyfriend could attempt to make me feel better. Without going into too much detail, though I'd figured it would be sad to not be home for Christmas, I in no way anticipated how sad it would be. I was something of a wreck. Fortunately I have a wonderful boyfriend who baked brownies and apples and even watched Love Actually with me and let me play him Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand Christmas songs.

      We finally headed out to catch the first service at 10 PM. Add a midnight chant service, a Christmas morning service, a Christmas evening service, and a second Christmas service to that mix, and we had a pretty ridiculously churchy weekend. Best services were the two morning ones, which each featured a cantata from Bach's Weihnachtsoratorio, with the world famous Thomanerchor boys' choir and the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra. I had to convince Nate not to lie on Bach's grave (on the altar) and kiss it. Just kidding. 

The Big Guy

Bach's stained glass self, between the windows of Jesus and Martin Luther. Heros of the Lutheran Church FTW.

Is that really appropriate? 

      The rest of our time in Leipzig was largely uneventful. We survived a 52 hour trip with only one restaurant meal (Christmas dinner, at my insistence. Which was Indian food, in case you were curious.), subsiding the rest of the time on coffee, oatmeal, and cold pasta. Leipzig as a city isn't that nice, but the main old city center is quite pretty, with lots of cool churches and squares and historical buildings. We stopped in for a time at the Zeitgeschichte Forum, a free museum dedicated to the history of the city (and Germany as a whole) after WWII. I was utterly fascinated by stories of the Berlin Wall and East Germany when I was a kid (weird, I know), so I dragged us in and we spent a warm couple of hours in there. At around 3 we headed to the train station and met our ride home, and four hours later or so, we were safely back in Munich.

Mendelssohn! And his women?


Supercool statue in front of the museum representing Germany in the 20th century. The left leg/right arm represent the years under Hitler (army boot on the foot, arm outstretched in a Heil Hitler) while the gaunt, barefoot right leg and red-banded left arm represent the years under Communism.

Don't ask. I have no idea. 
Mendelssohn's house! And Nate, pretending to be cool.

Augustusplatz, with the Paulinerkirche on the left and the Gewandhaus and Operahaus on either side of the plaza.

Gewandhaus window.

Cool Leipzig monument by night

Post-Christmas and New Year's!

      Thankfully we made it back to Munich in time to set out the big Santa presents for the kids to come back to (in background of first picture, waaaaaay above). Kilian got a pirate treasure island Playmobil set and Cliona got a Playmobil dollhouse. Most exciting. My family very sweetly got Nate and I tickets to a concert of the München Camerata, a string orchestra that played lots of beautiful Vivaldi and lots of other more obscure Baroque music, so we missed their return home, but saw them the next day. They took off again to spend New Year's in Alsace, so we once again had the place to ourselves! Though there was indeed a wonderful amount of relaxing (and watching How I Met Your Mother, if the truth be told), we pulled it together and headed over to Salzburg for the day on December 30th. 

      Though it was pretty darn cold and snowy most of the day, we managed to see a lot of cool sites, including accidentally sneaking into a museum exhibit in the Residenz palace (and thus saving 6 euros apiece. It seriously was an accident. We just went in the wrong way when trying to get out of the cold). A hike up to the fortress and along the hills proved incredibly beautiful, with amazing views of the snowy Alps surrounding us. We headed down later, numb-footedly, and briefly visited the Schloss Mirabell and gardens, then headed back to have a bite of food before catching our 9PM train back to Munich.

      New Year's Eve day dawned snowy and cold. It snowed wildly almost the entire morning, but then sadly dwindled to rain by about 5 PM. In our attempt to save money, we made a huge dinner and drank a lot of wine, then headed out to find some festivities at about 9 PM. Wandering around through various public displays found us in the Marienplatz come midnight, where masses of drunken people (most of whom seemed to be Italian, oddly enough) stood shooting off fireworks in all directions and tossing bottles every which way. In the pouring rain. It was a little cold but quite amusing, and we even lucked into a drink of champagne from some jolly fellows standing near us. We continued ringing in the New Year by conversing in a lot of random languages with people in the subway station, and eventually meeting up with a couple of people from a town about 3 hours away, who convinced us to accompany them to a club they'd heard about. While our walk there told about 45 minutes longer than it should have, it was good fun, and I got to practice my German most of the way there as well! Club adventure proved fairly short-lived, and by about 4:15 AM or so we found ourselves back on the U-Bahn, heading for home.

      I won't go into detail about what happened after that, but if you're my Facebook friend, you already know.

Only surviving picture of us on New Year's Eve. Who's the guy? No idea. A girl offered to take a photo of the two of us, and Nate, friendly fellow that he is, insisted the girl's boyfriend be in the picture too. 

      Anyway, Happy New Year, officially! I'll interject to mention that the German way of wishing someone a happy new year is to wish them a Guten Rutsch: literally, a good slide, that being from this year to the next! Cool? Methinks! We celebrated by sleeping in until like 2, heading weakly out to photograph some churches and cool buildings Nate had wanted to see for a while (apply to him for the pictures. Ahem. Ahem.), then spending a relaxing evening in watching too much TV and eating homemade lentils and rice. 

      The next day was, sadly, time to return Nate to the airport, so I headed dejectedly home alone, but rather more happily, my family had returned while we were at the airport, so I was greeted with soup and chocolate. Much better. 

      And here I am! Anne and Michael have the week off, so I have fairly little to do other than merely collect the kids from kindergarten, and unfortunately pretty much everyone I know is still home for Christmas, so this will be probably a rather quiet week. Which I could use, frankly. I will attempt to be better at updating my blog in the new year! 

     Best wishes to all of you for a happy and successful 2012!

And here, the closest thing I have to a picture of kids.