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.