Thursday, December 4, 2008


Friday morning December 5th

darn it! for sis-o-mine's yesterday birthday I had, on Monday, ordered online a Scandinavian Advent candle with days marked on it and every day the family sits together while the candle burns down one day's markings worth. She'd wished for it and hadn't found, so I was especially pleased to have found it for her - and to have it sent from the States to the States while I sit here in Berlin.

But nooo, this morning I had e-mail that they had tried to call me in the States, where I am not, to say that the candle holder I had ordered to go with it was out of stock, so they were sitting on the candle too. So instead of lovely going-together set, with wooden calendar numbers for the days of Advent, happily arriving at my sister's house in plenty of time for birthday, instead there is just lone candle, arriving late.

(It's OK, I wrote sister all of this already so no untoward secrets are revealed in blog.)

Movies we've seen

with hubby and sis-in-law last weekend, Pazar: a movie in Turkish that we saw with German subtitles. A small-time hustler wandering out in the Azerbaijani hinterlands. some glorious landscapes and some wonderful characters onstage.

with Felix night before last: Quantum of Solace, in the original English. You may have heard of it. Most recent James Bond film. Ever since my marriage almost imploded in 1995 I have been able to watch violent films. The male members of my immediate family tell me James bond movies aren't real violence, but it looks like real violence to me, but no matter, I can watch it now.

Felix has no trouble watching it, now why is that? Anyway, we had a good time. Wonderfully sumptuous big movie theater, plush seats, assigned seating, and they gave him an Advent calendar, with chocolate inside no less, promoting some movie or other. He was thrilled with that. After I went to all that trouble wandering around town looking for one for him!

I ask you. But that's what we've been to see in the last bit.

Weight Woes

didn't find a decent / reasonable Advent calendar for Felix with nice pictures and good milk chocolate behind the windows you open (there were kinds with wonderful chocolate but not milk chocolate) - in fact I spent most of a morning wandering around stores looking/thinking about this but nooooooo; a. lots were sold out already (the kind with Legos and stuff); b. lots had fancier chocolate as I said, not milk; c. I got overwhelmed there was so much stuff.

So I got a very nice plain Advent calendar with three little kids dressed as an angel, a shepherd, and a Virgin Mary with baby, iillustrated by Quentin Blake who does the Roald Dahl books, and then I got all kinds of chocolate, milk for Felix and other kinds for other family members, and put them in a bag in a safe hiding place and put out a bowl to put new things in every day.

Well, if you know a little bit about me maybe this wasn't so great. Last night I felt awful and had gained, again, 3 kilos (it's the same 3 kilos over and over again, fortunately, but still it is tiresome). Today I've sworn it's no chocolate at all and fruits and vegetables like there's no tomorrow. Hope it works!

51,567 words

yes, I won NaNoWriMo! Thank you to all of you who were so wonderfully supportive.

What it means that I won: no money, no glory. I get on a list. 21,719 other people also won. (Out of 119,000-some around the world who signed up.) In this, NaNoWriMo's tenth year, a larger percentage of people finished than ever before (except for the early two years with like 10 or 25 people, a statistically not so good sample).

What it really means: got my 50,000+ words posted before midnight November 30th.
had to think up a title (came up with Who Came and Who Went)
got wonderful writing practice through the month of November and can't wait to get back to it
met some people in a cafe to do writing on Saturdays and we are going to keep meeting

So, just wanted to say it. More later.

Just do it, take two: blogging

I've been noticing on the Huffington Post that there is a Guide to Blogging being sold there which I was wanting to get - I need it, right!? 

Anyway, this morning online I happened on Arianna Huffington herself being interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show - encouraging us all to blog, telling us there are 50,000 new blogs starting every day. Can it be?

Here's the link: and once you're there you scroll down and there she is. Sorry I can't seem to figure out how to get a more helpful link.

Here's how I saw it:  her Greek accent was delightful; Jon was a real nuisance for not letting her say what her secret passion was even though she tried to start saying it like 5 times; Jon Stewart is pretty funny.

But it still didn't answer a lot of my questions and wonderings about blogging, so I guess I do have to get the book.

Just do it! and Happy Birthday!

I think I have to learn and repeat over and over: can't catch up with the past! Just move forward through the present and into the future!

So I cannot wait to blog again until I have the requisite 9 and a half hours to catch up on all the days and lives and minutes in which I didn't blog.

So I say hello to you today from wintry Berlin, where the lakes are slushily frozen, where the main shopping streets are wonderfully lit with lights and stars and not so wonderfully with kitschy fat Santa Clauses stolen from some American idea.

Hello to you from wintry Berlin where it is December 4th and I am celebrating my big sister's 51st birthday in Austin, where she is settling into her new house and new life post 4 years in Addis Ababa. 

Hello and good-bye and on to the next post!

Monday, November 24, 2008

"I'll be in the next half an hour there."

That's my boy, native speaker of English, who has been inundated with German for the last few months. How do I tell him that the above sentence does *not* work in English, when I know that him saying that means he's truly thinking in German sentence structures now???

I'm not particularly worried about his English, frankly, so I'm going to let it go.


OK, so that family news blog ended up feeling a little like a Christmas letter or something, and I left out a few people and shorted a few people. Hard to do right. 

A dear cousin of mine said she thought about blogging but didn't want to embarrass herself. Well, that's how I feel, but I'm doing it anyway. Thanks all for your forbearance.

Can you tell I haven't started writing my thousands of words yet? I'm going, I'm going, I'm going . . . (do blog words count? I somehow don't think so)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

family news blog

Spiraling out from the most geographically immediate connections perhaps:

- son #2 is enjoying the snow and the snowball fights, doing better and better in German school. New regime: he's keeping a journal in German, which seems to be the best system yet we have figured out for helping him do some serious work on his German grammar. I also made up lists of German verbs that take the auxiliary "sein" and German prepositions that take the dative, along with examples of all, and put them up on the bathroom walls. I was going to go on to other groups of prepositions, and other grammatical issues, but haven't yet. But in the meantime, the German tutor had a great idea and helped Felix write up specific sentence fragment examples using the most common iterations of each of these, in colored marker, and I think those will be even more helpful. 
Felix also has his 19-year-old German cousin babysitting 3 hours each on Monday and Friday afternoons, which gives me more time to work and gives Felix more time to talk German and be with a fun cool young man cousin, which he likes a lot! (being with his fun cool young man cousin; the talking German part just goes along with it)
• hubby: involved in all kinds of groups here at his institute, and finding lots of intellectual stimulus. Not as much time to write his book as he had imagined, and while the broken toe is healing there are dentist visits he hadn't factored in. But I think he's having a good time. 
• son #1: I couldn't tell you! Don't see him all that much! Saturday he moved out for a week, to go stay with abovementioned cousin. The two of them are having a very good time together which is wonderful. Son #1, aka Max, is working many hours (like ten per day, and last night I think much longer though I won't hear about it for a while) at his uncle's florist shop (and cousin is working there too when he's not in school or babysitting for us). They've made hundreds of handmade Christmas wreaths; next up, as I understand it, is putting up Christmas trees and displays. Before that started Max did some catering work for a new acquaintance-friend here who sells organic soup, and before that of course he was working at the Berlin zoo. He and Felix keep us in touch with the authentic Berlin accent and Berlin dialect, overlaid on their own still-somewhat-imperfect and slightly American German. We talk a lot about language and grammar in this house right now!
• mother-in-law: back in town. She's been here in Berlin as much as possible the last few weeks, to help out with baby niece while baby's father is running the wreath production and Christmas tree decoration, etcetera, operations. We get together (those of us not at the florist shop) for tea and suchlike when we can. Mother-in-law is working with her grandchildren to plan a grand get-together in Hamburg for Christmas. Sister-in-law #1, meanwhile, is trying to juggle her own parttime job and keep it in bounds while keeping her family going and her baby going. While the pre-Christmas rush at the flower shop is on, this pretty much keeps her hands full. And I had a wonderful couple of hours with the baby last week, my first chance to babysit alone. She waved good-bye to her mama and then happily hung out with me, and we danced, and read, and she built things, and drew, and put objects inside other objects - very cheerful, and finally at the end went and took a nap. What can I say? What's not to love?
- sis-in-law #2 had a very successful hip replacement operation and is finally back home; still on crutches but with both feet on the ground, and it all went well. One leg was always shorter; now they're the same but she feels like it's longer because she was so used to the way it was.

And back in the States, my parents are taking their walks in Southern California as often as they can, just participated in their community's big Pilgrim-themed annual fundraiser, and are about to have my sister for Thanksgiving. They have to watch their health but they fit in music and games, reading and socializing, as much as they can.

Sis o'mine, meanwhile, has just moved into her new house in Austin finally, after housesitting for generous friends for months which involved a very long drive to school for herself and kids. The math teaching at her high-level high school is challenging this year, first year in a new school for her but also it sounds like the whole math department is developing a new curriculum this year (sorry, sis o'mine, if I didn't describe that quite right). Her kids have thrown themselves wonderfully into scenes of school, music, and dance in Austin, but they're all working pretty hard.

OK, I was going to call this a micro-family blog but clearly it didn't stay micro. Off to write thousands of words right now!


Monday morning, November 24th (already?!)

• Friday night, beautiful lacy snow fell in Berlin so Saturday morning we woke up to snow on everything, kids went out for snowball fights.
• NaNoWriMo-wise, I'm at 39,024 words (out of 50,000 I need to write by Sunday night at midnight). Saturday afternoon I got on that train across Berlin again and went to write with my writing buddies. On the train discovered I'd forgotten my New Yorker, pulled out the laptop and started writing; man sitting next to me seemed to be reading over my shoulder. Hmmm?!! 
• Jogwise, been doing a little less. Hubby and I went for a shortish jog yesterday - his formerly broken toe is healing up. It's COLD outside now! And snow everywhere and a little ice so we're super careful. Might need to find an inside place.
• Got to babysit for my baby niece on Thursday - that was such a pleasure. 
• Less in touch with my friends and family in the States. Thinking about you all, truly I am. But the time difference is an obstacle, and keeping things going here does seem to take a little something.
• Took on an editorial job so I need to get cracking on that. After November 30th NaNo deadline I've got the Dec. 12th editorial one; after that I guess I'll be thinking about Christmas.
• Went to a wonderful soul concert last night, invited by my friend from the gospel choir weekend workshop. This was a pleasure, these people were good, and fun to look at (all dressed in their own individual interpretations of "black and white"), wildly varying soloists, 45-strong choir, mostly Germans singing in pretty darn good English. A Marvin Gaye song, a Stevie Wonder song, a lot of songs I didn't know. Fun to watch, listen, clap along, sing along a little under my breath so as not to bother my neighbors. 

I'm sure I'm leaving out something important. But I do have to sign off so I can write my micro family news blog and then a few thousand words and then go to work on my editorial job. Love y'all!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

weight woes

it's not terrible right now, but last week I appear to have gained 3 kilos in 3 days; it was some of my most productive NaNoWriMo writing days. So then I tried different things. Like writing in bed so I didn't feel the need to eat all the time I was writing (or maybe that was the week before). 

I had bought some new clothes that I needed for occasions here, and of course now I'm feeling like a stuffed something-or-other in the clothes, which fit perfectly when I bought them (German size 46 - so excellent to find out a size I am and go to a store and try things on in that size and have them fit! now of course no longer relevant).

What to do what to do. Working on it.

Fabulous poetry group

I wrote about the amazing play reading group. Well, it's been so long since I've written there's been another meeting of that, but in the meantime there was also a wonderful poetry group. I can't even go on and on about it right now because it was so long ago, but we're going to meet once a month, and the Germans are unbelievably well educated, and we read one German poem and one English poem and they were both by young men who each ended up dead within a few months of the poem. It was 

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen and
Grodek by Georg Trakl

I don't think I will reprint them here but I do so recommend googling them and going to read. But it wasn't just reading them, it was talking through them. Made me very happy. Wish that were every week too like the play reading group, not just once a month.

I told my play reading group about the poetry reading group and they laughed and said what, and bowling on Tuesday nights? Which I thought was funny, because they themselves are obviously doing this weekly play thing with me!

NaNoWriMo, again

NaNoWriMo is going pretty well. I am behind on my wordcount but catching up more every day (except that today I haven't really written so far so I guess I've fallen further behind again).

However, this is what it looks like:

yesterday was day 15, to be on track I would have had to be at 25,000 words by the end of the day, and I was at 23,766. To catch up I would have had to write 1749 words per day from then on till the end of the month, or 1874 if I wanted a break of a day - I had been writing between 2500 and 3000 each of the previous four days so that didn't sound so bad.

But as I said, today so far almost nothing. There was family noise, then there was a squabble and upset, then there was a big family event, then there was Monopoly with the boys and bedtime, then there was lethargy and the dark. 

Yesterday I went clear across town to a little dark cafe near an out-of-the-way yet large train station (these are in-town trains but I can't call them subways because they're mostly aboveground; we also have subways here which are smaller and cuter and called U trains, whereas what I am talking about are S trains and they go really far). Anyway, I went clear across town and met what turned out to be 5 other women and a German shepherd and we drank tea and banged away at our laptops and took a break to talk to each other about what we're doing. That was a nice thing to do and I wrote more than 28,000 words.

Today: lethargy creeping in and I'm battling it back. 

dark and lethargic

It's feeling dark and lethargic in here, as Glenn used to say (or something like that). Husband #1 is off at a dinner I declined to attend because there had been a little too much being out. Son #1 is out with his cousin; son #2 I have just put to bed, which was a very nice time, and we read together.

Before that we did something fun, I had been looking to see whether we could see one of the movie versions of Emil und die Detektive online. (Emil und die Detektive is by Erich Kästner; it's for a slightly younger audience than Felix generally, and we read it to / with him two summers ago already, but he's reading it himself now with some reading to by us; because it's in German of course it's nice for him to have a little something easier to read, but of course then it's not as exciting so he gets a little bored.)

ANYway! Looking online, I found a hilarious 5-minute YouTube clip by some American kids taking a German class. They had watched all 3 movie versions and decided to make their own. Felix and I could barely understand it their accents were so unbelievably American! Here is the link:

(And here's how dedicated I am to your entertainment and amusement: I typed that in by hand because for some reason whenever I've tried to paste anything into this blog it hasn't worked.)

It's getting a little less lethargic in here though no less dark. It gets dark here at 4:30 p.m. now, I kid you not. Felix has been lighting a lot of candles; perhaps I will light myself some as well now.

More posts in a minute if I can continue to keep lethargy at bay!

Friday, November 7, 2008

jog log

I went out for 92 minutes today, 14151 steps, so over my 150 steps per minute good-slow-jog pace (that would have been 13800 steps).

For the first 10 minutes or so I felt stiff and bored and yuck. At 12 minutes out I looked at my pedometer, found out it was 12 minutes, and also that I'd gone 1800 steps, so I was pleased that I was right at my 150-step pace. I felt good and in a groove from there on.

At about 30 minutes my left knee started hurting a little.  (I was wearing my new running shoes which I had worn so far for one 45-minute jog and one evening of walking around.) But within a couple of minutes the hurting went away and the groove kicked back in till the end.

Also at about 30 minutes I discovered an ice skating rink, and then I discovered a red clay track next to it. So I jogged around the outside of the whole complex, around the sort of overlooking road above the track and above the rink, and then circled back again, found my way down to the track itself, and took 5 laps there, and then got back up to the road and came home!

Because I got a slow start this morning (lost in the world wide web, then lost in the trashy novel) I had revised my original plan of going 2 hours to going maybe an hour or so tops. But it was good to be in the groove, and weirdly, paradoxically, going around the track felt like a huge lift out of tedium! Who knew?! I was totally inspired by going around the track. And by the time I was done there I'd been out 58 minutes and it was about half an hour back so there was at that point no question I'd be out longer.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What Meals Are Called

So when I was growing up I think there was breakfast, lunch, and supper. We had Sunday dinner at noontime, but the rest of the time I think our lighter meal was usually at noon. When we had company at night it was also called dinner.

Cut to the present. I have a semi-German husband who speaks English fabulously well, two American children who think they know everything, and we seem to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, except when we have a light meal in the evening, which is then called Abendbrot (evening bread; this takes no time to cook but a huge amount of time to prepare and put on the table, and almost as long to clear: it consists of many different kinds of breads, and pickles, and salads (only because I, Mama, am generally not in a position to eat all the other things, thanks to Weight Watchers), and things to put on the bread such as meats, and cheeses, and pâtés, and tomatoes and lettuce and pesto and mustard (what was called stuff'n'junk when I was growing up except that we didn't do pesto or mustard).

I also have two parents who live in a place where a large hot meal is served around midday, and it is important to my parents that that be called dinner. So while we are visiting them we all practice calling the midday meal dinner. 

And I also sometimes try, when we want to have somebody over to share our evening meal, to make a point of inviting them to "supper" not "dinner" if it's not going to be big or fancy. 

I'm not sure why I'm writing this right now except that maybe it's because I was curious to know what the rest of you out there in the world are calling your meals. So do weigh in!? What do you call your meals?   

NaNoWriMo words

So I've been saying, to myself or to my family, now I'm going to go write some more words on my novel. Which is a funny way to say it, I grant you. But I'm trying to be funny. And of course I'm trying to make fun of myself for the concept that I am just piling up words.

But in fact there turns out to be something about piling up words!

Monday I had written 2,000+ words but later that day I was sure they were not the right direction and I would have to bracket them.

But Wednesday (Tuesday was dedicated to madly reading everything I could find online about the elections) I looked back over everything and discovered the words I had written Monday were actually not so far off! So they didn't get bracketed.

What I'm finding is that in the rough piling up of words, with a direction vaguely in mind but not a structure or an outline or a sense of clear direction, something is happening. I am discovering the outlines of a story, of a group of people living together. 

Before I started the NaNoWriMo I had been, for a few days, doing a poetry exercise that consists of writing nonstop until a page is filled up. It seemed silly at first and unproductive a number of times. But in fact it is seeming that I'm almost doing the same thing with the NaNoWriMo, except that the universe is more constrained in the NaNoWriMo writing, and the piled-up words are taking on shapes.

It's the roughest of rough drafts of anything and it's not like anything I would have written without the NaNoWriMo structure, but of course I might not have written anything at all without that structure, and I'm happy with what's happening. I feel as though what this might end up producing is the information, the knowledge, the events, and the characters that make up my novel - I may have to rewrite it completely but I think those things will be in place by the end.

Playreading group

Last night I went to a wonderful thing - a young American director here in town wanted to get together a group of people to read plays together. We'd been corresponding about this for a couple of weeks and last night was our first meeting.

I should say that first of all, I was a little skeptical because while I want to meet people and do things, I really would like to be doing things in German here in Berlin, or failing that, in Spanish or French, things I couldn't do in Bloomington! In addition, yesterday I was so wiped out from the lack of sleep from watching elections that I couldn't quite imagine going.

But it was wonderful! We read Sophocles' Antigone, there were five of us (all women last night; supposed to be more people coming in the future, also from that other gender), and it was great. Fun to be with these women, to talk, to have a common project. It's a great play. But don't sit down and read it to yourself, get a group of friends together and pass out the roles.

Best of all, these people want to get together and do this once a week! (Hubby asked, are you going to do Antigone every week? The answer is no, a different play every week.) I'm thrilled. You viewers back home will think aha, she is trying to recreate the wonderful Bloomington women's group which met every Thursday night for so many years; and no, but yes. No because it is a very different project, but yes because the meeting once a week with a common project is a great thing. It'll be so interesting to see whether the introduction of male people next week or later makes a big difference to me or not; whether the whole woman-group thing I cherish depends on it just being women, or not.

When I first got there there were 2 other women; each of them less than half my age. The others who were came were a little less young I guess. We brought food, we ate it, we read the play (truly a very good play), we talked about it, we wandered around the big huge apartment our hostess is housesitting. What can I tell you? 

I'm very happy about this group. Can you tell?

How Time Goes By

I'm on the second trashy novel I've read in German. It's trashy, it's translated from English, but it's in German and it makes the time fly by in happiness.

Last time I was reading a trashy novel everything felt difficult and lonely otherwise and it was a wonderful refuge; this time the world outside is different, but it's still nice to lose myself in a novel I'm reading for the plot that carries me along. It's nice to have for subway rides and for late at night in bed and for when there is too much going on in my house for me to concentrate and think, or there is too little time to start a project, but the other things happening are not quite engaging. So I read my book and the time flies by.

Other things that make it fly: 

- reading things online, things about the Obamas and things about people and relationships and bodies, things I find at or or at Slate magazine or Salon magazine.
- walking in the lovely evening air
- having too much to do (this is such a guaranteed time-flying-maker!)
- eating things, but of course I am trying not to go there (although of course I can twist this around, make it work for me, and make and eat wonderful things with vegetables and fruits and yummy things to drink that don't have calories, and things that do have calories and points but are nutritious and positive in every way)
- writing, actually.

[Another topic entirely, perhaps, is what is this category of trashy novel? I'm seeing it as a novel I wouldn't recommend to anyone, a novel I'm embarrassed to have people know I'm reading, a novel I buy at the drugstore or grocery store (!) not the bookstore, and a novel that is all about plot, but a plot apparently quite often, from what I am finding, that belongs on a daytime soap opera. // But cleverly I'm reading these things in German so that, aside from making my hours go by in a blur of happiness, I am also improving myself!] 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Watching the election in Berlin

very hard to get the timing right
we were up till 3 with some friends and neighbors
up again at 6:30 with some of the same friends and neighbors, some others
others of us stayed up till 7 and then went to bed
Felix is staying home from school (oh, it's 8:40 a.m., I should give them a call about now)

[3 a.m. was 9 p.m. Eastern; 6:30 of course was 12:30 a.m. Eastern]

But we're thrilled! And so are our Swiss, German, Israeli, British, Danish, Canadian (have I forgotten anybody?) neighbors and friends and colleagues who were watching with us. 

We're thrilled, congratulations to all of everywhere around the world!

Ruthy love, thank you for this morning's 6:30 a.m. phone call. I was actually asleep but my alarm was about to do the damage a few seconds later. I didn't see the speeches live but I've now seen large parts of them rebroadcast.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

NaNoWriMo here I go

I started National Novel Writing Month today along with thousands of others around the globe. 50,000 words to be written in 30 days. (I did the division: it's 1,666.6666666 etcetera words per day.)

So I went over to the office the institute was kind enough to give me this morning (I went there this morning, they didn't give it to me this morning) and I wrote 2,102 words today. (Realized later I might not be able to write tomorrow, so I might write a little more tonight.)

Wish me luck! Egg me on! The whole idea here is that I am to put the inner editor away for the month and write, write, write - editor can come back to play next month and the rest of my life.

People in Different Countries Don't Think Highly of Each Other

Yesterday I bought myself new running shoes at a store around the corner from sis-in-law's house which she had recommended to me. Very nice, very snazzy with a little running machine (treadmill, my kids remind me it's called) in the corner with a video camera mounted in front of it to capture your stride and all that.

I got nice shoes, I'm very pleased with them. But why I'm writing is that the helpful salesman was very scornful of my shoe inserts (very expensive, made specially for me after a whole foot-measuring thing in Bloomington). They're hard plastic and stop just below the ball of my foot - they're to help with the bunions, left one had been particularly painful in the couple of months before we left Bloomington.

So he said scornfully, next time you get inserts, don't get them in the States! We have such nice soft ones here, and they don't stop at the ball of your foot, and they're orthopedic (I'm thinking, what does he think mine are?).

And here's the part I was laughing to myself about: the podiatrist in Bloomington, when he heard I was off to Berlin and therefore he could not just drill into my feet then and there (thank you!), made a point of telling me a story about a guy who came to him after coming back from Germany where, according to my podiatrist, he had his pinky toe amputated! So Bloomington podiatrist said: whatever you do, don't go see a foot doctor in Berlin!

What's a girl with feet going to do? 

(For the record, my bunions have been fab and totally non-hurt since I've been wearing the fancy unwieldy unyieldy hard plastic inserts. Thank you, Bloomington doc. [There is a recurring pain on the left foot, just opposite the dormant bunion and a little further toward my ankle, top of the foot on the far left, that seems to be there as an echo to the memory of bunion pain.])

Oh, and p.s., of course hubby has had all kinds of tooth trouble, like a crown falling off, and the dentist here was shocked (shocked!) at the root canal work that had been done underneath it in the States and is redoing the whole thing. But as far as I recall in the past, hubby's U.S. dentists had completely dismissed everything that had happened in his mouth elsewhere before (Iran, I think, but also Germany). So you see what I'm saying.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I cast my vote!

My absentee ballot finally came in the mail yesterday (Wednesday, October 29th), and I went and got it (from hubby's office), came home and allowed my adult son, just off the plane from Indiana, to counsel me on some of the more local votes (and thank you, dear neighbor Susan, for your counseling of him), filled in all the little ovals after hunting over the whole house for a number 2 pencil, and went and mailed it off at the mailbox by the Grunewald train station on my way to Nordic Walking in the woods.

Hooray! I am enfranchised! And my all-important Indiana vote should be there in plenty of time to count. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Anonyma - my thoughts on the book

I mentioned to my book group a while ago that I wanted to read Anonyma, Eine Frau in Berlin (in English, A Woman in Berlin I believe). I guess it was only available in hardback in English; anyway, they didn't go for it but I did. And I've been wanting to write about it for a while.

The book is amazing. It's the journal of a 30-year-old German woman who had been traveling around Europe but ended up settling in Berlin in late 1944 or early 1945 to work at a publisher's. The journal starts as she is staying in the apartment of an acquaintance who has fled Berlin; the building where her own old apartment was had been bombed and destroyed, and in this new building she is now part of the Kellergemeinschaft, the community of the basement - where they go whenever bombs start to fall.

She writes the journal in a notebook some of the time but also on scraps of paper when she can, in between bombings and runs to get food and, later, rapes and negotiations and trips to connect across the city.

What I had heard about the book seemed to concentrate on the rapes. It isn't all there is in the book, after I finished the book I even thought it wasn't really the main thing in the book, but now that it's been a while and I'm thinking back, it's really what colors and affects everything. 

Essentially, in the basement community where they huddle to wait out bombs, there are mostly women, because so many men have either fled Berlin or else have gone to war. The women know that the Russians are arriving, and they are quite sure they will be raped. They also know that their own brothers were raping Russian women in Russia. 

Anonyma, the woman telling the story (do you still call her a narrator when it isn't nonfiction? the journaler / journalist . . .? not sure what to call her) is truly amazing, I think. She's steeped in a sense of German-ness, she's completely convinced that the Russians are an inferior and boorish and uncultured people (this is both before they arrive and after they have come and occupied the city), and yet she doesn't finally seem to judge or condemn the Russian soldiers - neither her own rapists, nor the others. In fact, she talks to them, hangs out with them, has pity for some of them, empathy, you name it.

A number of things struck me forcefully about this book. They interconnect but let me try to untangle them and say what they are:

One of the strongest is what I have just said: that Anonyma, our journaler, is so amazingly unjudgmental. She not only doesn't seem to morally condemn the rapists (even while she has, culturally, completely pre-judged them) but she also seems to be, finally, not seriously traumatized by the rapes. Now, I'm really unsure about this, and it might be the literalist in me reading her book, where she kind of glides over a lot of things and reports them obliquely so that I am only realizing pages and pages later what happened earlier, because she didn't spell it out.

But in fact, she does something that took me by surprise as I read about it. Although she socializes with the Russian soldiers and officers (eating, drinking, singing, talking), and really has genuine human contact and interactions with them, she decides that, while after the first instane or two she is not going to physically fight the rapes (in fact, she goes and chooses somebody to be her regular bed partner so that he, or the fact of him, will keep others away), she is in no way going to be physically affected or sexually engaged. So she turns herself into a cold stone.

This means that the whole thing is, physically, horribly painful. Day after day. She's actually in horrible pain. But I guess this choice is how she manages the psychic pain - because she keeps her own self intact and uninvolved in the sexual contact which, after all, she really has no choice about, she keeps her integrity.

I can see I'm being unsuccessful in disentangling the things that struck me. Another one is this: Anonyma, and a lot of the women who surround her, know they are going to be raped, then know about each other that they are being and have been raped, and talk about it, even joke about it, are vulgar about it. They go on with things. This is happening to them, they cannot help it, but they know that it happens (and they knew it would), and there are other things in life as well (friendships, old connections that can be rediscovered by long treks across the ruined city after it seems things have become calmer, skills to use, plans for how to find food, how to manage extreme hunger, how to plan for life after the war, how to plan new businesses . . .  )

And yet there are ways and places in which this relative sanguinity about the rapes breaks down:

- first of all, there are entire families who shoot themselves rather than letting the young daughters in the family be raped (or after the young daughters have been raped)

- then, there are the men who return from the war, who have a very different reaction. Anonyma was keeping this journal originally as an ongoing letter to her old boyfriend/lover/partner. When he finally actually does make it to Berlin and finds her, they have a day or two of togetherness but it seems as though her journals, and the things she says there, and more than that the matter-of-factness and the vulgarity and the jokeyness with which she and the other women around her talk about the rapes, are what finally drives him away again. 

I find it so interesting that Anonyma herself draws a very definite line between what it's like for her to deal with being raped, and what it would be like for a young woman who has never had sexual experiences before. I guess it makes sense but it wasn't immediately obvious to me. She talks about fumbling, bumbling high school experiences, a clumsy awkward kiss somewhere with a teenage boy, and how those memories are something she can look back on (along with her later adult sexual experiences, but she doesn't mention that as much), but that a girl who's never had anything of the sort would, according to her, be so much worse off because she doesn't have her own sense of sexual feelings on her own terms to place against what is happening to her forcibly now.

There is also a sense, not really expressed, but there, that because Anonyma seemingly has no family left there is nobody left to worry about honor and shame and categories of that sort. If she can put this experience in a box and move on, then there is no-one else who is going to look at it as something else (except, of course, the boyfriend who returns from the war and then can't stand it - can't stand to know what she has gone through - and leaves again). 

But finally, what really surprised me in this book was Anonyma's clear sense, as I mentioned before, of German cultural superiority. She is really truly confident about this. And this is a woman who is generally broad-minded - who, as I said, is apparently so broad-minded that she truly has empathy for the Russian soldiers who are raping her and all the women around her, and she truly equates their actions with those of the German soldiers who had been in Russia (and the equation is made explicit by one of the Russian soldiers who had had to watch awful things being done to his sister). 

She says things like "Jetzt sind wir kein Volk mehr, wir sind nur noch Bevölkerung, sind wohl noch vorhanden, stellen aber nichts mehr dar." Roughly, "Now we're not a people anymore, we're just a population, we're still here, but we don't represent anything anymore." Represent anything!? What does that even mean? I guess in my world I have no concept of the people of a country representing anything to begin with, but for her this is basic. Later she says, about German soldiers returning defeated from the Russian front (I guess), "Die Männer waren unrasiert und abgezehrt, hatten einen elenden Hundeblick. Mir war, als sähen sie gar nicht deutsch aus." So, "The men were unshaven and haggard (I had to look that one up), they had a miserable hangdog look. It seemed to me as though they didn't even look German anymore." There it is again: it's not about whether they're human or not, they are definitely still human (she then says they look like the Russian prisoners she used to see), but they have come down a serious step because they don't look *German*.

There are more things like this. Later on, she writes, about the Russians, that "Thievishness is deep in them." and talks about how when she herself was traveling in Russia, people stole happily and all the time. And she talks about how amazing it must have been for the Russian soldiers to see in what self-assured "culture" the Germans had lived. I was just so struck by her sense of herself and her nationality, because I had already otherwise before been struck with this woman's unbelievable equanimity and seeming generosity of spirit, her evenhandedness.

I have to say, after I finished the book I was walking around Berlin wondering whether this is how Germans, or many of them, still think. I do know, and have known for a long time, that as an American so much of what I say, do, eat, wear, etcetera seems barbaric to Germans. But the way this woman put it seems to have brought home to me much more strongly the sense of people having been brought up to know: we do things a certain way. We are civilized, we are cultured, there is one right way to do most things and we do it that way, and boy do we feel sorry for all the rest of the world! (And boy, must they all wish they were us.)

Now, things may have changed completely since 1945 and of course in so many ways they have. But what she expresses about her own thoughts matches well enough with what I've heard people say that I can imagine they still think in similar ways.

Anyway, I thought this book was amazing. It was amazingly well written under duress (hubby is reading it now and finding it difficult to believe it could really have been written so well under those conditions), it uncovers all kinds of questions and ideas about how people act and react under extreme conditions, and to me it really was thought-provoking about how men and women differ in their reactions to rape (and maybe that can be generalizable to how people react to violence depending on whether it happened to them or to someone close to them but not themselves). 

Hope you have a chance to read this book too. Tell me what you think. 

relationship between men and women
different responses by different families (honor etc.; virgins etc.)
German arrogance

time change after all

turns out my computer was right and I was wrong: the time did change in Berlin last night! Who knew? There was nothing about it in the papers or anywhere like that . . . I could swear I even discussed the time change with several people last week and NOBODY said it was now.

p.s. re planning meals

This week's resolution, by the way, is to plan my meals out a little further ahead. I tend to go to the store, see a bunch of foods that look promising and/or look for ones I've heard or thought about at a  meeting or elsewhere, and then buy a bunch of things that are good for me to eat.

But then there they all are and they're going bad or they have to be processed so I either have to throw them out or I have to eat them all at once and then I've eaten way too much or I haven't eaten any of them or I have to spend a huge amount of time processing them, and then there's still too much.

So this week, I said out loud in the meeting and I wrote it down for the leader and I put it in practice when I got home, I'm planning meals. I wrote down on one page of my notebook a lot of different foods I'd like to eat and buy and cook and all; on another page I wrote down what days and meals there are to be dealt with (we were going to be going out a lot), and then I made a little calendar grid and started planning meals for different times.

Didn't get the whole week planned and gridded out but it did help, did get me making more different things, including even some things to share with the family (hooray!), and buying less all at a time, and even making some things in smaller quantities. I'm trying to use the existence of the lists and the grids to assuage my anxiety that if I don't buy whatever it is right now, I'll forget to ever buy it.


Last time I posted re Weight Watchers, I think, I was on this trajectory where I was losing a kilo a day for a few days in a row. I was already worrying about how I would explain the 7-kilo weight loss after a week.

Well, it didn't happen that way, and in fact it's been up and down. I'm slowly, slowly lowering my weight, with some upward bumps. I've done a few things differently. 

I've tried just eating what my family's eating, when we go out. That was interesting. 

I've tried using the German weight watcher system where certain foods you can eat as much as you need or want to be satisfied in a meal, with a flat point rate for those. That's actually doing me well. (Can you say that?) I think I end up eating better, and mostly, I crave less in the way of in-between snacks.

As always, if I get my sleep I do so much better re not needing snacks.

Of course, if I ever get back to writing or editing in a serious way I'm going to have to deal with the problem there that I find is almost impossible not to want to be chewing on something while I'm trying to write or edit. 

I do find it interesting that there is still so much more to learn. And, I guess a little more understandably, there are still so many ways in which I can work on changing habits. This is year 5 of the great Weight Watcher go-round. Year 1 I just lost weight every week, for a total of 80 pounds. Year 2 I just treaded water basically but ended up about 10 or so pounds heavier by the end of the year, maybe it was 20. (Clarification: Felix is reading over my shoulder and points out this could be misread: I was 10 or 20 pounds heavier than at the end of year 1.) And so on like that. In year 3 I read new books, learned some new things. Towards the end of year 3 I set a new goal, in year 4 I met it and was redefined as a success for having lost and kept off 75 pounds, rather than as a failure for not having lost 90 pounds. In year 5 I started trying to keep a journal that was going to help in many ways. And of course, in year 5, knowing full well that I had knocked myself out to establish routines that worked for me, I came to Berlin, to knock all my routines sideways.

Wish me luck! This morning I weighed 81.7 (I think) kilos with nothing on. When I start weighing 82 kilos or less at the meeting, with my clothes AND shoes on and post-breakfast and post-jog, then I don't have to pay for the meetings. In Bloomington I hadn't been paying in a while.

Gospel Choir in disarray

OK, so the choir I did join, just for a weekend: I'm glad I did it, but it was wild.

First of all, it was truly on the other side of town. But of course, first of all, everything is, and besides, the trains are great. So I read.

I got there and found it, trusty map in hand (going straight from a boat trip for our whole institute, families and staff and all), and made my way inside a forbidding-looking large double wooden door with bars on the windows at the far bubble end of a round cul-de-sac (not like a cul-de-sac in the States with countryside all around - somehow here they fit cul-de-sacs into the middle of nonstop streets and buildings and playgrounds and stores and more streets and people, people, people, bikes, kids). Found a lovely far-from-forbidding inner courtyard there, with a woman standing in the large arched (I think) entryway to the courtyard looking at signs, and asked if she was there for the choir. Long story short, she was, she was early, I was early, but we went in together, found the bathrooms (important: we were going to spend hours upon hours upon hours there), and found our seats together.

Being all proper and playing it safe I Siezed her (pronounced Zeetsed), i.e. used the formal you. And in the gradually filling room around us (filling almost exclusively with women), people were buzzing and talking and mostly using Du (familiar you) but I kept playing it safe. (Later it became clear the choir director was calling us all Du and I asked: people told me, "in choirs you always say "du" to each other.) 

(Aside about that: in my Nordic Walking group on Wednesday (striding through the woods with long poles in our hands) I also asked about it,  because the previous week our leader, who officially/formally would be Frau Doktor somebody-or-other, seemed to have called me both Du and Sie at different times. I asked, and she said "Yes, well, athletes always say "du" to each other". But then she added "But sometimes I slip and say "Sie"." Very confusing. More on this later.)

I don't want (actually, I do want, but I'm restraining myself) to tell all about the choir weekend in gory detail. In a nutshell, there we were, and first we suddenly found out that we were going to be learning choreography, not just songs.

Then we found out that our choir director's choir (she was brought in from Bremerhaven), which was supposed to have come along, which would have made our lives easier (they would know what they were doing, and we would lean on them), wasn't coming after all (their sponsor dropped out).

Then it became abundantly clear that the choir director herself had the flu and was getting sicker and sicker as the weekend progressed. She was going to belt out the main parts of a lot of the songs and we were just supposed to be the backup on the choruses and things. And she was fabulous when she did belt, but she could do it less and less and clearly also had less and less oomph and energy to teach us things, do things with us, help us out.

Then she kept saying, trust us (she had two assistants with her). Trust us. 

Well, we sang twice for people on Sunday, after 3 hours together Friday night and about 10 hours on Saturday. And we never did trust her and we were right not to. It wasn't a complete fiasco because some of the songs were nice, and my family and my neighbors, who came to church on Sunday morning to hear and see us, thought it was just fine from the outside. And mostly, I made a couple of friends, for which I am extremely glad.

However, as a choir, we were very insecure and missed an awful lot of cues. We altos really had a hard time remembering what we were supposed to sing (we were tempted to sing along with either the sopranos or the poor tenors, who were made up of a couple of young men (who were there sporadically) and maybe 6 or 8 brave women), and we couldn't see or hear the director very well (in the afternoon concert, we could not see or hear her *at all*).

Everyone was annoyed because on the Saturday afternoon we spent a number of hours playing sort of get-to-know-you games, playacting games, things like that. We were in a circle of 50 people or so and spent a few hours doing this, when our director had promised us we would be practicing our individual parts, which we sorely needed. A lot of the others, who unlike me are busy tied-in people in Berlin, were truly irritated because they had put all their busy things aside to do this choir weekend, but we were really, it felt like, just marking time together. (I thought getting-to-know-you games might not be so terrible but it did end up being poorly run, and we spent a couple of hours playing some game where basically 6 or 7 people participated and everybody else watched. Not so good.)

And we felt dissed in many ways - Sunday afternoon we were supposed to be there at 3 to practice, at 3:30 we hadn't started and she threw us out of the church so she could concentrate on something; she never told us what we were about to sing; she never really gave us a clear account of how many times we would sing the various choruses in a row, which seemed to keep changing, so that when we were actually performing on Sunday afternoon, since we altos couldn't see or hear her, we were pretty lost!

However, I went somewhere new, did something different, met very nice people, and so I'm glad of it. I thought since it was so far from where we live I'd never see these people again but in fact I exchanged contact info with three of them (one soprano, one tenor, and my special alto buddy) and on Friday I went for a wonderful long walk with my alto buddy, and we talked German about 1/3 of the time and English the rest, because she doesn't get as many chances to talk English as she'd like (she's an English teacher when she isn't organizing and leading bike tours around Berlin). 

But what a chaotic weekend!

Choirs are the German book group

Since I hit Berlin I've been asking all the people I already knew and all the people I've met whether they are in a book group and whether they know anybody in a book group and whether I can join. Since that is my great source of happiness and connection at home. 

The answer is no. They are not in a book group, they don't know anybody in a book group (OK, untrue, a few people did, but the connections appear to be pretty distant - and one book group has disbanded).

On the other hand, after I signed up for a weekend gospel choir workshop I found out that just about everybody in Germany is in a choir, used to be in a choir, wants to be in a choir, or is about to be in a choir! The dinner I was very late to on Saturday night because of the workshop: everybody there when I got there said they'd been talking about how they envied me and how they missed their days in the choir. The people who aren't in book groups: turns out they're in choirs. The neighborhood newsletters dropped in our mailbox, the info sheets hubby's institute gave us at the beginning . . . full of choirs!

Now, if only I could a. really read music, and/or b. still sing soprano, and/or c. manage to remember alto parts (as opposed to the melody, which I apparently always sang when I was a soprano) so I could sing with the altos, I too could be part of this great German multitude of choirs. Stay tuned!

personal update

your friendly blogger went deep underground, as you'll see from the dates. (Actually, I guess I should say what the date and time is since the computer labels it weirdly. It's Sunday morning, October 26th, at 11:01 a.m. Except that my own computer seems to think daylight saving was rescinded last night, which it maybe was in the States but in Berlin it won't be till next week, so my computer is saying 10:02 now.)

Also, very hard to think, because 11-year-old Felix is sitting with the other laptop in his lap looking at New York Times electoral maps and with the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper in his hand, very excited and engaged and interested in numbers and probabilities and projections about the presidential race. Loudly. With constant comments.

Life has been wild and woolly, with highs (gospel choir weekend workshop last weekend; three-hour walk Friday with new friend; 7.5-kilometer race in the Berlin festival of lights with sis-in-law last night after dark with lit-up buildings around [ran faster than before]) and lows (notably a terrible Monday when I was ready to leave town, leave my marriage, leave everything) - but fortunately the low was so low that I went into high gear looking for help, and am getting it. Including from friends, thank you so much friends. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

pink and purple in the sky

7:28 a.m.

beautiful delicate pink behind the dark tree trunks out the balcony window, suspended above a kind of no-color base - out the side window next to it was an amazing pink-and-purple mixture not 2 minutes ago but in the time it took me to open up this blog, the colors faded and are now unremarkable.

Even now the pink out the balcony window is holding its own.

Little update from the green woods, rapidly turning red and yellow

Running off in a few minutes for an all-afternoon boat trip with hubby's institute, followed by an all-weekend gospel workshop at a church far-ish away - so won't be here to write. 

Several things I've been wanting to write but this ain't them. This is just hello - still struggling to find my place and purpose, still jogging, still bobbing in place weight watcher wise (weirdest thing - I exercised SOO much Tuesday and Wednesday and lost nothing; Thursday for complicated reasons [OK, not that complicated, lack of sleep plus unpleasant family fight] I ate tons of cookies and sweets all afternoon, and gained nothing - what is that all about?).

Sent son #1 back home to Bloomington for ten days, yesterday. Son #2 starts a 2-week break today. 

Myself #1 joined a Nordic Walking group on Wednesday, walking through the woods while jabbing long poles into the ground with every step. Due to the gentle gorgeousness of the changing colors in the pointillist woods (I think it was all the individual leaves in the far background in every direction as far as you could see, with winding paths disappearing here and there) I was very happy to be there - didn't actually make any new friends but pleasantries were exchanged. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Welcome to the other Ellen

This is just a welcome to Ellen H. from Fribourg, not to be confused with Ellen M. from Bloomington, who inspired me to start this blog.

Ah heck, let's just welcome all Ellens.

imaginary time

by the way, dear everybody, please don't believe the automatic times that are assigned to my posts. I am not generally posting at 4:44 a.m. or whatever it says. I'm sure it has to do with time zones. Right now for instance it is 4:13 p.m. in Berlin. I'll post this and we'll see what it says it is!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The run was great, I'm so glad I did it!

So I did the 10K run yesterday. Felix went with me on Friday to sign up, and he was wondering why I should pay money to go run with a bunch of people, and I thought hmmm, maybe he's right.

But in fact, it was so great, and so very different from going out the front door and running by myself.

First of all, on the way there, there were, as I got closer and closer, more and more people carrying the plastic bags with "asics GRAND 10 Berlin" and "12. Oct. 08". In fact, when I first got into the train and looked for a spot to sit, I found one opposite a friendly-looking older man with just such a bag. So we talked about the race - I felt a little nervous because it was cloudy, overcast, threatening to be chilly, but I hadn't brought a jacket or sweatshirt because I was nervous about messing with checking clothes there, and also I didn't know how it would work to start with a warm-up jacket and take it off later and then where would I put my big running number (6622) with the microchip in it, on the warm-up jacket or the shirt or what?

So this guy was much more warmly dressed than I, and it turns out he runs in lots of such races (I'm going to guess he was about 65 though it's hard to say, maybe he was 70?), and he's from Postdam which is next to Berlin and told me about some races there, and I mentioned that in Bloomington they all seem to be more like 5K and he said yes, he's way too slow for that distance.

So as we got closer, and switched trains (I followed him - I had been planning to switch to a bus per what I found online ahead of time but was glad to be advised otherwise since a. buses are harder to find and b. in retrospect they were surely not running there since the streets were blocked off for us!), more small and large groups of people - pairs of 30ish women, older guys, younger guys, apparently quite a few women my age, some women with little kids - were accumulating in the various train cars, and when we spilled out at the last stop and walked the final 15 minutes to the starting place, we plastic-bag-carrying runners-to-be were all there was.

At the huge plaza in front of the Charlottenburg castle I said goodbye to my Potsdam friend and went and stood in a 25-minute line to go to the bathroom. Then I stood amount thousands of other people and did fun kicky stretches to loud music from the stage, and worried a little about where I was supposed to stand/start/be. But I asked around, and I was in the slowest section, so that was OK.

We started off, and the people behind me were pushing ahead, which was fine, and I was just trying to keep my own stride, my own usual pace, in mind, and not get swept into something too fast (in Bloomington in the one 10K race I was in, I started out a lot too fast for me and was in trouble later), and very soon I found a woman in a light-green shirt that said "Frauenlauf" (women's run) something-or-other, and she had a wonderful pace, and super even, and I decided to stick with her.

Also, while standing in the eternal line for the porta-potties, I had finally realized/figured out that 10K is not 7.2 or so miles, as I had been thinking, but actually more like 6.25 miles. So it wasn't going to take me quite as long as I thought. But I still thought it might take me at least 80 minutes or so (about a 13-minute mile).

So there I am, jogging along, and thinking OK, don't look at the pedometer yet, don't look at the time yet, when you see the first 1K mark then check. Well, there was a big sign with a "2" on it before I saw anything else, and I thought, it can't possibly be 2K yet, there was never 1K and besides we haven't been going that long! But I checked the pedometer, it said I'd been going about 14 minutes, so that was a 7-minute kilometer, which sounded fantastic, and we'd already done 2K! 

We went past the Siegessäule (I guess it's maybe called the Victory Monument in English, something like that?), and into the huge park around the zoo, and then in through the zoo as well. There were people lining the roads most of the way, clapping, or doing little dances or drum things for us, or using noisemakers, or just watching and waving. Along the Road of July 17th on the way to the Siegessäule there was a guy sitting in the open back of his parked station wagon, with his big light-yellow lab sitting next to him, and they were watching us go by. He had his hand on the lab's head - I wasn't sure if the lab was antsy to get up and join us and go after us, and he was reassuring and restraining him, or if they were just being companionable while watching. 

Anyway, the kilometer marks flew by. This is a huge advantage of kilometers over miles, I must by. They go by an awful lot quicker. And my light-green lady with the glasses and the short brown hair and the wonderfully steady, unhurried, unpanicky pace just kept going, and I kept going with her - when she would pull a little ahead I tried to pull ahead too (I was afraid she was just going to take off at some point); sometimes I pulled a little ahead but she pulled up soon too. We exchanged one smile early on when something happened (oh, there was a loud announcement behind us that the white Mercedes van that was trying to cross across the blocked-off road where we were all running should please desist - there was something comical about it, and we looked at each other and smiled) but never said anything until maybe kilometer 5, when we were already in the zoo - it got a little narrow there, and I said something to her to that effect.

The zoo had been touted as a big attraction, and when I signed up at Mercedes World there was an overhead screen showing scenes of going through the zoo with the animals on either side - but in fact, all I saw was ducks while we were in the zoo. But there were little kids watching us as another attraction (rhinos! ducks! thousands of sweaty grownups running by!), and one very short small wooden bridge with 3 people in bright yellow vests posted there to warn us the bridge might be slippery. And on the way out of the zoo a grandmotherly woman on a bench who greeted and was greeted by my light-green lady warmly, as though they might know each other.

We went past the Gedächtniskirche, the double memorial church (old bombed-out but left-up one, new fancy modern one) on the Ku'damm, old fancy street now left behind in the city's eastward gravity shift. Around kilometer 6 they gave us plastic cups with water, and I took one and drank a little and tossed it in the recycling. Light green lady actually stopped to drink hers and I thought oh no, I'm on my own now, but I ran ahead, trying to keep the even pace, and she soon caught up with me and I looked at her and said "Ah!" happily (second utterance between us so far). Then shortly after sister-in-law J showed up and surprised me, even though her foot pain was still bothering me she went a couple of blocks with me which was a very nice thing. I told her I couldn't lose my light green lady which of course light green lady could hear me say, so it was now explicitly acknowledged that I was keeping along with her.

All this time I was checking my time at the kilometer marks I could see (never saw 1 or 7 but I think I saw all the rest) - pretty much a teeny bit over 7-minute kilometers all the way through, something like that. 

At mile 8 my light-green lady stopped to walk! I thought oh no, here we go again. But I'm forging ahead. But she must not have walked long because soon she caught up to me again.

At mile 9 I started making my legs go faster (btw, light green lady had a very different stride from me, much shorter more frequent steps - I couldn't match her stride so we never had that kind of synch, but we stayed alongside each other in spite of the different strides) - and then all of a sudden light green lady took off much faster. So I followed her (at this point we're going up the fancy, impressive, double-sided avenue leading back up to the castle) and suddenly I saw my two boys' faces peeking out right at the finish gate - which was thrilling! I actually knew they were planning to come but somehow I wasn't sure they were going to make it, and I was surprised by how very happy it made me to see them there.

So I went zooming through the gate, stopped to talk to the boys, remembered I wasn't supposed to linger and told them I'd come around, went and found my light-green lady and high-fived with her and said how great it had been (I'm not actually sure she ever said anything at all to me, but I know she can talk because she exchanged a few words with the grandmotherly lady at the zoo, and she was certainly friendly). I probably should have exchanged names and numbers with her because she would be PERFECT to go jogging with, but I blew it. (I think I might even know her name because she came in right before me and the lists of people are online; but not sure how to take it from there.)

Anyway, I never even realized for several kiilometers of the race that she was wearing glasses, because I was a little behind her. But once I did, that endeared her to me even more, because I was wearing mine and fussing about it a little (ever since they fell off my face while I was jogging with my spouse and he wasn't able to stop in time to not step on them, they have been a little wobbly and I was working hard to make sure they didn't fall off face again). I was wearing my bright purple shirt with the bright blue glasses - I'm guessing that for light-green lady I was also a point of reference.

So here are the final numbers:

3721 people finished the race (I was #3586, so not the last or even next-to-last, though obviously definitely out there with the slow people).

1390 women finished and I was #1301; 218 women between 45 and 49 finished and I was #205 of them. 

And my time was 1 hour, 11 minutes, and 21 seconds. So 71 minutes.  (So for 6.25 miles, those are 11.4-minute miles, approximately.)

Which is great! I'm quite sure I don't go that fast when I'm by myself, but it was in fact perfectly comfortable. I think I'd like to go that fast more often; and I'd like to do more such 10K and longer races. 

(Also, yesterday, by the time I went to bed, the pedometer registered over 31,000 steps - the most ever so far surely. We went for a long walk with friends in the afternoon, and there were also 4 15-minute walks getting to and from the race - one 15-minute walk each from home to the first train, from the second train to the race, and then of course back again each.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

10K, Schloß Charlottenburg

Wish me luck! I'm off to a 10K race around noon tomorrow. I'm number 6622, with the very super-short hair. 

Hubby's out of town with his parents for 24 hours, sister-in-law was going to do the last 5K with me but she's having trouble with her foot - but the boys should probably be there at the finish line. 

Only problem is I have NO idea how fast/slow I am right now. Or rather, I know I'm slow, but am I so slow I'm going to have to knock myself out to finish before they open the streets back up? Or what?

I'm not sure how to do links but I'll try. This is the course:

Gotta go to bed so I can get up and go. 

I'll report back!

open for comments!

dear family and friends,

Several of you were quite frustrated because you wanted to comment when I first sent you the link to my blog, and couldn't. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to look into it.

I went into the Google blog place intending to go look and see what was required and tell you. Turns out nothing is required - I had just not looked at the standard settings, and I needed to change something in the settings. Now anybody in the world can comment on my blog.

Love to you all!

baby blogs?

not as in blogs about babies, but as in babies of blogs. Like offspring. Like offshoots. I was thinking I'd like to go into really, super excruciating detail about, say, what I eat, why I eat it, when I eat it, what its points are, how the whole weight thing connects up.

And I'd like to go into really excruciating detail likewise about my jogs, though there's not quite as much there to report.

But anyway, I thought this would be a huge bore to anybody out there reading this. Maybe. So first I thought I could do a thing where, say, Tuesdays I do the food and weight watcher blog; Wednesdays I do the jog blog; Fridays I do a poetry blog (a poem that pulls together all the many long masses of words in the previous week's blogging); maybe Saturdays a family blog and then Mondays a what's-ahead-for-the-week blog? Concentrating on writing plans but also everything else?

But the alternative that I think maybe I like more (or maybe it isn't even an alternative, maybe it's just something I can do in addition) is to add blogs, which appears to be easy as pie here on google even if they do occasionally threaten to shut me down, and even if it is hard-to-impossible for most of my friends and family to comment here (sorry about this! I promise to look into what's involved!). 

Anyway, so I could have one whole blog where I just write about what I'm eating and the points and why and how and when and where and all the relevant stuff. Might not be of interest to anyone in the universe except me, but it would be of interest to me and others could peek in. 

And another blog with the jogging.

And another blog with the planning, including writing planning. (I have even thought, on and off over the last few days, about working on my novel as a blog - how unbelievably transparent would that be!? - but I don't think I quite dare.)


So that's the thinking for today. I could still do a resume in this blog once a week of each. But especially the food one I'm thinking could be very good for me indeed.

So that's the thought for today. I want to write to some old friends today in various places and mention the blog to them - Nadine, Catherine, Adam and Nina, Kim, for starters. (That's south of France, Bloomington, New York, Hamburg.) So hi to youse guys (and Boo, I'm going to send you your own link today too). And Ruthy in Austin and Cynthia in Berkeley, if you're still reading, love to you both too.

Love to all my people. Emotions are raw and up and down. Yesterday a big (what? explosion? breakdown? not sure what to call it) anyway, lots of tears. Dear hubby was patient and helpful and was able to name what I think I was coming to but not so precisely, namely that I haven't been accomplishing anything, haven't been having successes, and that is not very satisfying! 

When I write this blog it makes me happy, even though I am also embarrassed by some of the stuff I write and have written. When I write other stuff I'm happy too. So I am going to work on the writing.

Signing off now!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

more found poetry - God took me to Weight Watchers

My Microsoft Word went totally flooey on me while I was in Berkeley this summer. Hubby tried to help me recapture it long-distance (he was already in Hamburg) but we couldn't do it. So after we got to Berlin one of the very helpful people in charge of IT (what's IT? I'm blanking on what it might be short for) at this institute he's at put a whole new Microsoft Word on my computer, but now I can't open anything from before the summer, unless we do some very convoluted thing with it.

Anyway, I asked him to help me do the convoluted thing on just a few of my poetry files. (Unless I happened to remember exactly what poem went with what title, I had no idea which things were which until we did the c.t.)  That was a few weeks ago, but just now, looking through my Microsoft Word files to see what I've got for my novel, I came on this poem, which I think is kind of cool though I don't understand all of it. I think I wrote it! (There's a famous story about Anne Frank thinking she'd written a poem, and having it published in the paper, and then it was one she'd earlier learned by heart. Somebody else's. She never realized. But in this case, even though some of this poem is alien to me, there are parts of it that make me think I must have written it.)

So it's truly a found poem, a recaptured poem.

God took me to Weight Watchers.

I never in my life sat quietly for five minutes.
It hurts to do the laundry. Always snowy. I can't

get it dirty, no matter how hard I try. The back of my
hand is older than snakes. What's easy I stare

in the face. Snakes of tomorrow, snakes of Elijah, pieces
of laundry it hurts to do. Who speaks

in my voice? Who plunges into silk laundry, who takes
these lawful wedded trousers, who wears the lintfree worries?

Mud sisters. I never in my life did anything but sit
quietly. That's what got me here. I keep attempting to look

outside myself. Snakes of forgetfulness. Instead
of a snack do the laundry. What I remember with my right hand I

forget with my left. The mangoes are generally
gone by noon. Eaten. Golden. Childhood.

God took me to Weight Watchers and I'm never going home.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Burn After Reading - we liked it!

I don't like Coen Brothers movies usually. Way too violent for me.

We tried to see it last weekend with Eyal but it was sold out (so we went for a walk in his neighborhood instead, where I spotted that the local Gethsemane Church was having a gospel workshop next weekend, which I am now signed up for! did I mention this already? but that's another story).

So we went last night. Pulled in three different ways and times - all on the U-Bahn but Eyal came from his neighborhood early enough to buy us tickets (thank you, Eyal), I came zooming out from the Hilton Hotel's Trader Vic's Lounge where I had been getting to know the Berlin International Women's Club, and hubby came from home (missed his bus, dashed home for the bike, rode it to the U-Bahn, and joined us).

I'm trying to tell about the movie but I can't get there! Huge movie theater in the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz, lots going on there, really a glorious place to look at, we love to go there and look up at the multicolored color-changing pointy-weird-architected dome high above the square, it's kind of amazing actually coming from the U-Bahn because you walk across a huge open empty windswept plaza and people are streaming into the Sony Center from everywhere.

Anyway! Eyal got there in time to buy us tickets. It was very full. Burn After Reading was being shown in English with no subtitles, which is why we'd gone all the way there. We got reserved seats. Eyal and I practiced what hubby told us he'd learned from his sister - when you push past seated people to your own seat late, always face the seated people, never put your back to them. In Germany.

And the movie was great fun. I thought it was left completely unresolved - there was bureaucratic resolution, sure, which for some reason hubby and Eyal thought was acceptable, but there was zero human resolution, and I do *not* think the two women got what they wanted. But it was great fun watching John Malkovich. I didn't think it was such fun watching Frances McDormand, to whom I had so looked forward (I remember first really noticing her in Something's Gotta Give, which we saw with Jenny, Michael, and Julia in Bloomington, and Julia later looking up for me all the movies she was in). But again, hubby disagrees, he thought Frances McDormand was also great.

I do not get the idea that Brad Pitt is supposed to be gorgeous. George Clooney, yes. But I didn't find George Clooney so interesting to watch. But John Malkovich was absolutely and totally amazing.

squinting in the dark: how I woke up this morning

embarrassed for having put so many words up here yesterday that nobody wants to read them!

(now, do I go back and take them down? edit them shorter? just leave it all there and trust people can jump into the newly breezy, easy, splashy me-blog?)

but here's how I really woke up this morning: I get up between 6 and 6:30 so I can wake up the boys, make them breakfast, pack them lunch, and send one to school and one to the zoo (tomorrow his last day there with the wild horses and all).

so I got up at 6:30 this time, on the late end, and came into the living room to see what was new in the web world. dark outside. I didn't think to turn the light on. My own eyes all squinty and tired. Bandaid on my left index finger. Sitting on the couch with laptop on my lap in the dark, pretty much able to read the screen because it was self-lit but completely unable to see the keyboard, and with a bandaid on the one finger making it clumsy, I kept hitting all the wrong keys (like "print" instead of "previous page" or just pulling up some completely random page).

So I gave up and woke up the boys. My eyes are getting worse, for sure.

A Resolution

I will try to write shorter posts! Just so happy to have gotten my blog back, and to have broken through my own block that preceded the Google block.

Still and all, I will try to write shorter posts!

More re Weight Watchers

Oh, a couple more things.


First of all, I think there is a lot more discussion and conversation in the meeting here - partly because the meeting is longer, partly because there are fewer people, and partly because our leader really encourages it, and goes around the room and tries to give everyone a chance to talk.

Secondly, where people in my meetings in the States were always talking about going out to eat, and I was thinking who goes out to eat that much? here the people are always talking about cooking, cooking, cooking, and I think, who cooks that much? They all know the names of things they all cook and they all cook them a lot, and even if they live alone they cook, and they seem to cook at least two meals a day - i.e. they're not having sandwiches or cereal or other things that I eat at a lot of my meals (salads, a piece of fruit, soup out of a can or a box, whatever) - they are cooking.

The cupboard:

I mentioned that there are cereals and grains etcetera. More specifically, in the main compartment that is all more or less at eye level, and all behind one door:

on the top shelf there are cereals as in breakfast cereals (the boys' different kinds of cold cereal and granolas, and my oats for making oatmeal)

shelf 2: whole-grain rice, white rice, parboiled rice, wild rice, and several kinds of beans

shelf 3: packaged weight watcher soups (they come in little packets here, just add water, it's basically like a little broth with some pieces of veggies and things - I like it a lot and so does my mother-in-law), also canned weight watcher soups, and some other weight watcher thingies like weight watcher chocolate bars

shelf 4, not really eye level anymore, miscellany such as peanut butter (fortunately not something I go out of control over), extra bottles of walnut oil or something like that - I couldn't tell you exactly what's on that shelf)


And finally, after putting up that post a little while ago, I got inspired and went and pulled out my clipboard where I had put all the things from my Weight Watcher wall at home - and I took them off the clipboard and put the rest of them up on the wall here. Here's what there is:

- two postcards from Pam, who was my leader in Bloomington when I made goal weight (Mary was my leader when I made lifetime I think, and anyway Mary has been my leader this last while and was also substituting for Judy the first day I walked in in January of 2004, so I've got continuity there; of course Judy was my first longtime leader except when Mary substituted): the postcards say "Hang in there, you are almost to goal! Have a wonderful week. Pam" and "Congrats on reaching your goal weight! Pam"

- an article from Psychology Today, May/June 2008, called "With dieting, Success is in the Details" all about how to enjoy the particularity and the flavors of what you are eating so as to enjoy what you eat more, savor it, and not feel the need to go chasing after more

- My list of "How will I stick with my program, no matter what?" 

- my weight watcher inspired list in big blue type:
- eat wisely
- think first
- move more
- attend weekly meetings
and then added by me:
- sleep plenty

- my list of "ten reasons to lose/maintain weight" including "so I can run" and "so my knees won't give out" and "so I have more choice in clothes" and "so I can fit into the world better (airplane seats, restaurant booths, hospital gowns, etcetera)" and "so I can learn not to just *use* food and learn the other self-care lessons that are required" and "so I can hear what other women are *really* talking about and *really* thinking" and "so I can lead a Weight Watchers meeting someday" and "so I can live a long time and feel good when I'm old" (there are several more - 14 altogether in this list of ten)

Also on the wall: my list of ways in which I have already changed my habits and thinking; also "10 things to do to make your marriage better" (I know, I know, sort of a different category, but also worth working on!)

Weight Watchers in Berlin - found myself a good meeting, losing the weight

I promised Mary, my Wednesday morning Weight Watchers group leader in Bloomington, that I would send her updates on Weight Watchers - how is it different, how is it the same - here in Berlin. (I was supposed to write to her about the Weight Watchers in Oakland I went to this summer, too, but never managed.)

OK, first of all, super briefly, here are the big differences:

Here, fruit is zero points. At home, it ain't. I'm eating tons of fruit!

Here, meetings are officially 45 minutes long and often go longer. There, they're 30 minutes and stick to it.

Here, there's only the flex plan (count your points); no core plan (where you are more limited in kinds of food but don't count points). On the other hand, they have 18 "Sattmacher" ("full makers; satisfied makers" - i.e. things that satisfy you) - things you can eat as much of at a meal as makes you comfortably satisfied (not stuffed!) I haven't really started using those yet. There are carbohydrate ones and protein ones. I'll tell you more about that later.

The number of points you get seems to be about or exactly the same. However, you don't get the 35 extra points to play with per week; instead, you can save up 5 of your basic points per day and use them later in the week. (Maybe this is because the fruit is zero points?)

I think those are the main differences.

Oh yes, and you have to wear your shoes when you weigh in!

And after you hit goal you have 2 kilos grace weight rather than 2 pounds (2 kilos being 4.4 pounds). (Because of the shoes???)


So much for the thing in general. Now about me:

I flailed, flailed, flailed at the beginning (starting to sound familiar). There's a very convenient meeting place near us, it's almost at the end of the Kurfürstendamm, the Causeway of the Electors, nearest to us - on the bus it's 10 minutes from here. Very convenient. And rather than a meeting in a church or some kind of public place as many of them here are, it's a little storefront dedicated to Weight Watchers, run by two women together - and they have 6 or 8 or 10 meetings a week. But most of them are in the evenings, and I didn't want to do that: a. I'm too heavy in the evenings, and b. I'm usually doing stuff with the family.

So I hit on Saturday mornings. First I went at 8:45, which has its advantages because I could be home and do family stuff. But I have to get up awfully early to go for a good jog first, which I like to do.

So then I tried 10:30 Saturday morning, which was nice because it was a much smaller group, easier to connect and talk and be part of the group - and I didn't have to get up so terribly early - but on the other hand it was the middle of the day before I rejoined the family.

So then I didn't go for a couple of weeks, and finally I hit on the Tuesdays. That's also nice because it connects up with my Weight Watcher beginnings, Judy Pennington's Tuesday morning group that I went to with my buddies Boo and Sue. 

So here's what I did:

- went on a Tuesday
- declared it was a new beginning, so nobody could sneer at the very large number on the scales
- had breakfast first, because it turns out I'm going to have to weigh in every week, not just once a month which is what I would have to do in the States as a lifetime member if I get in under the limit the first week - if I skip breakfast first once I have to keep doing it because otherwise it throws off the comparative weight of course! - and if I skip breakfast once every week I am really messed up in terms of rhythm and balance.

Then, after that first Tuesday morning meeting, I came home and:

- completely rearranged the cupboard, putting the sweets (cookies, chocolate, cakes) and nuts and raisins, all that kind of thing, down below - it's two shelves on the bottom that have their own separate door; and putting all the grains and cereals and pastas and rice at eye level, and below that whatever else is in the cupboard. So now when I reach in for my morning oats for oatmeal, or I reach in midday to make Felix some pasta or something, I am not staring right into peanuts or cashews or chocolate or cookies. 
- reread a thing I got off the web called something like the 20 healthiest foods for under a dollar
- supported by the cupboard rearrangement and the web document reading, went shopping and bought no cookies, no chocolate, and lots of local seasonal vegetables (enormous leeks very cheap! enormous turnips I think they are also very cheap!), filling my shopping cart and spending half what I usually had been spending
- came home and put some of the things on the wall that I used to have: my big piece of paper where I keep track every day of whether I did my stretching, whether I took my pills, how many steps I took, and any other projects and agendas I have for the day (the first few days I then wrote: do not go over points! and that was helpful) - along with some other inspirational things I write on the wall. Still need to put up some more things - some of my lists (why am I doing this? how can I stay on track?).

Then, for the next week, I proceeded to REALLY stay on track. If you read my first post, you'll know that I lost big-time weight for 3 or 4 days. In fact, I can say it now because I have regained the proper humility, when I lost a kilo a day for the first 3 days I was already worrying about how awkward and embarrassing it was going to be to go into the meeting the next Tuesday and explain how I had lost 7 kilos in 7 days. What would they say? What would I say?

Well, it didn't turn out to be a problem. I weighed in at 1.8 kilos less on week 2 of my new start. (And for the record, week 3 weighed me in at 0.3 kilos less than week 2.) So it's still rocky, I'm still not just sliding down the weights.

Here's the thing about me: as I was telling my grown-up son the other day, from the time I wake up till about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, I'm generally eating because I want to. It comes from inside me. Then, if there is some kind of a dinner, I eat it because it is expected - but in fact I could easily skip it! So therefore since it seems an awful lot easier to skip what others are expecting of me than to not eat when something inside me is screaming eat, EAT; and since if I don't skip one or the other I will definitely gain, not lose, weight, I would rather skip dinner (I eat wonderful breakfasts and lunches and get all kinds of fabulous nutrition and check off all the boxes in my weekly points tracker).

The downsides about this are that it kind of puts a spanner in the family-dinner works. Don't know how to figure that one out. Also that it's tricky when we're invited out.

Also, useful for me to know and register: the inner thing screaming "eat, EAT" is a lot calmer and quieter or shuts up entirely when I have had plenty of sleep. Which is why I do try awfully hard to get plenty of sleep, even though it really eats into our social life and my time with husband and with son #1. 

Also, as I have intimated before, sometimes an enormous amount of exercise is counterproductive for me - if I don't plan well, I end up eating so much afterwards that the scale goes the wrong way. And in general, in the long run, if I have to choose between sleep and exercise sleep is better. But I do try to arrange things so it is not either/or!

one other thing our Rosh Hashana celebration did

sorry, I just thought of this - I think it was also a way for us to continue our identity as a family in this uprooted manifestation of ourselves - we may be in a completely other place with different cityscape, difficult language (for three of us), long way to the store, friends from home all not here and still working gingerly on the new set - but at least we have our own family and we are who we were, and we do things we did - the new part was that we were hosting it here, that it was a smaller group, that we read the Bible - but the familiar part was that we did it at all, that it was festive, that we said the prayers.

lost my blog for a day!

yesterday morning I was finally going to write my Rosh Hashana post and then I woke up to a message from google saying my blog was suspected of being a spam blog!

Specifically, they suspect you of a spam blog if the blog's content is repetitive, vague, or irrelevant. I felt like saying, excuse me for reporting my life the way it is!!!!!

However, I went through the administrative steps required of me to prove I am a real, actual, individual person and not a machine and so now I get to post again. My friend Ellen told me it might have been because there are other blogs with the same name.

Rosh Hashana in Berlin

Rosh Hashana! I've been wanting to write about our Rosh Hashana and tonight at sundown Yom Kippur starts, so it's now or never.

If we'd been in Bloomington we probably would have gotten together with our neighbors, several of them Jewish/non-Jewish hybrid families like us, and done something. Something lovely. Before we moved to Bloomington we never celebrated Rosh Hashana at all, but in the first weeks we were in Bloomington we were invited by the fabulous Jenny'n'Michael neighbors to join their group of families who celebrated together. And it was a wonderful thing to be taken in there in that early, hard, somewhat lonely time in Bloomington.

So here we are in the early, hard, somewhat lonely time in Berlin. But now we celebrate Jewish holidays almost as a matter of course. That group in Bloomington is basically the reason why my kids consider themselves pretty Jewish. Culturally. Or something. It's still constantly up for debate and definition. Being pretty much unreligious, and culturally Baptist being a relatively unavailable category, they do feel a belonging as Jewish. (Interesting conversation last night with their cousin who grew up here in Germany, has a Jewish *mother* unlike them so theoretically gets a better chance, but at this point anyway does not feel Jewish at all.)

Anyway, I thought, our group isn't here, our people that we celebrate with aren't here, so let's go to the temple for services, something we do not do at home. Sister-in-law J had been saying she was interested too, to go with her baby and her partner, and I thought we could maybe take along the boys' cousin. But then my own family rebelled, essentially for reasons of cultural sensitivity. The synagogues here are a little touchy about people coming to ogle and watch, be tourists. Understandably. Jews are a little bit of a curiosity in this country I guess, to go along with the more sinister underlying worry and fear. (The Jewish preschool around the corner from us has a police officer on duty all the time, patrolling in front.)

So my family thought we'd be basically tourists, voyeurs, and we had no place there. (There are I think 6 or 8 congregations here and online I had found the little one that is kind of progressive, where I thought we might be welcomed.) So it was on me.

And here's the interesting part: even though there was some tussling with the kids because I decided what and how we were doing things while they were away during the day, and communication was not perfect, and basically they were out playing soccer beyond the time when I wanted them home - even though there was that, and the evening ended up being a little much for them in terms of reading and talking - it was wonderful! 

As you know if you've been reading this blog, I've been flailing and unfocused and not knowing what to do. I wasn't really having dinner myself because of weight watchers the next morning, but I pulled together a lovely dinner for the family if I do say so myself, with lots of support from dear hubby, but even more so, it was festive, with one of the umpteen starched white bedsheets from the closet as a tablecloth (no tablecloths; also the sheet doesn't look quite as good as it did before), and candles, and I found the prayers on the web (didn't bring all our books and things), and what we'd never done in Bloomington, I found the Bible readings that go along with the day and we sat down and read them!

My children, not being Baptist missionary children, have had a childhood somewhat different from mine, and strange to say they aren't used to sitting down every day and reading the Bible as a family. (Felix was shocked when I said we were going to read - he said, do we have a Torah? It turns out we brought two Good News Bibles (one of them a Study edition) - since we Christians include the Torah in our Bible then yes, we do have a Torah.)

So we read:

Genesis 21, where Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah
Samuel 1:1 to 2:10, where Hannah prays for a child, says she will dedicate him, has Samuel, and then her prayer following that, and finally
Numbers 29:1-6, which has a lot of numbers

Then we had the family meeting we had for some reason not been able to have the previous night (this was Monday and we usually have them on Sundays).

The kids were not thrilled about sitting down to read but they did like the festive table, and it was a lovely evening, hubby and I thought. This is the kind of thing where I don't flail but it makes sense to me to do; I can focus and make it happen. And even though I don't see us sitting down to read the Bible all the time I'm so glad we did it this time, and it was interesting to talk about the readings, and the context, and the background, and the stories. Also about the fact that my family did this every day when I was growing up - this is strange to the kids. 

That was Monday night of last week, first night of Rosh Hashana.

Night #2 we had more of the family - the baby niece and her parents, along with nephew #1.

The sheet/tablecloth was almost clean again, though in no way starchy like night #1.

Candles were out, table was enlarged, food was festive.

We did the prayers again, though the complication was that I had been unable to find a Hebrew/German set on the web (we had Hebrew/English for ourselves the night before). So for the German relatives we did our best to translate but it was tricky. (Sis-in-law remembered all the prayers from growing up and other celebrations in years gone by but we were trying to interpret and explain for her partner; we had a hard time with "repentance" but finally husband came in from the kitchen and said it was Buße [that is by the way the religious translation; the everyday word is "Bedauern", but then again, that is more for "regret", since "repentance" itself is a more religious word I would say].)

There you have it - our Rosh Hashana in Berlin. Here's what I think it did for us:

for me, gave me focus for a couple of days, something I could accomplish, pull together, care about, and do well. Sorely needed!

for husband and his sister, a sense of cultural belonging that could connect them back to their family of origin and that they could share forward with their kids.

for the kids, something to be annoyed by, but finally they do love the festive nature and enjoy the family get-together and, though they might deny it, the prayers I think, some parts of which are now very familiar to them - and for Felix specifically, since he is having Jewish religion classes in school it all connects and make sense.

for the baby, something to start to know. For her father, a new experience and exposure to some of his partner's traditions.

for our nephew, we wanted to also bring him in to become familiar with the celebration but he got here too late for the prayers and we didn't do the Bible readings the second night because there was too much else going on, I had to leave for a phone meeting, baby had to get home to bed, there was a belated birthday celebration . . . 

Not sure how much repenting actually happened. We are majoring in the form here, content still mostly to come, though at least we talk about it.

On to the next. Felix's religion teacher says he really shouldn't go to school tomorrow. He and I were talking about whether he might do a half-day fast, which apparently is what you do when you're his age.