Sunday, 30 June 2013

From Berlin to Vancouver, or, One of the Most Stressful Days of my Life

Leaving Berlin was perhaps more stressful than arriving there. For a couple of weeks prior to our leaving date, I’d noticed a faint moldy smell in the flat and a few small spots of mold on the walls. I’d emailed our landlord about it and he told us not to worry, but just to ensure that we kept airing the flat out for five minutes a day, which we did.

Friday, the day before our flights, was designated to finish cleaning the flat & packing our bags. Unfortunately Walter has a little episode every time we try to pack, and demands constant attention, so we weren’t really able to settle him until late afternoon. David began packing his bags and that was when he made the awful discovery – the whole wardrobe, and the wall behind it, was covered with a gross green mold. The more stuff we moved the more we found. It in our clothing, on our suitcases... it was awful. I spent the evening at the laundromat, washing most of David’s clothing as he was heading back to England & staying with friends, so didn’t want to bring a bunch of moldy clothes with him. We contacted our landlord right away who said not to worry... 

It had come through the wall and into the wardrobe, and then into our clothes... YUCK
It was 3am before I was able to say that the cleaning & packing was finished. I went to bed and was up by 8am the next morning to finish the organising and pack last minute things, like Walter’s diapers. At 8:45 our landlord arrived, but he had another man with him. At this point in time David & I were both feeling strongly suspicious. The other man was allegedly an “insurance inspector” and, as I’m sure you can guess, the mold problem was blamed on us and, after realising that we needed to resolve the issue or miss our flights, we ended up having to lose our damage deposit (I’d had an inkling this might happen when I booked the flat) and hand over a substantial, but not completely prohibitive, sum of additional euros.

I was, as you can probably understand, quite upset. In October I had found out that my job was at risk of redundancy, which meant that our ever-dwindling savings were possibly the only thing we would have to support us. David was heading back to England and although we knew that we’d see him at Christmas, we had no idea what would be happening after that. We’d hoped to spend our last day in Berlin enjoying time together as a family, and instead it was just full of mounting stress. By the time we got to the airport on Saturday morning I was struggling to keep it together. We had hoped to have a few hours together at the airport, but after I checked in with Walter we learned that David’s flight was cancelled. So we ran to the British Airways flight desk and got him on the first available flight, which happened to be leaving in fourty minutes. So much for family time.

I don’t remember being particularly stressed at the airport. I think I had reached my limit and ‘switched off’. And, thanks to the wonderful people at Air Berlin, we had a really enjoyable flight to New York. They’d given us a bassinet seat for the journey, so I didn’t have to keep Walter on my lap, and they even had a bag of baby essentials (diaper, toys, bottle etc) that kept Walter occupied. In fact he enjoyed the nine-hour flight so much that he spent most of it befriending the stewardesses and surrounding passengers instead of sleeping!

In New York things started falling apart. I’d requested assistance at the airport, since I had to transfer between airlines and check my bags again, and American Airlines had assured me that I would have all the help I’d need. Imagine my delight when I exited my flight and was told there there would be no help. I blessed the good angel that had put it into my head to buy Walter a baby hawk carrier, because we wouldn’t have made it through the airport without it. The staff at JFK were appallingly rude. I mean, I know that New Yorkers are stereotyped on being proud of their rudeness, but in most places that I’ve traveled people at least take pity on a mum struggling with a young baby. Not so there! It was a member of the Air Berlin staff who saw me struggling to wheel a loaded suitcase trolly and Walter’s stroller to the baggage drop and offered to help. I was grateful for the assistance but at the same time really pissed off that it took a fellow foreigner to step in and help me because none of the Americans working at the airport could be bothered. At every turn throughout the airport, whether checking in for our AA flight or going through security, we were harassed and scolded. It got so bad that I almost lost it at security, when they were berating me for not being fast enough (and meanwhile Walter was half-slipping out of the carrier because no one would hold him and there was no where to put him down safely while I struggled back into my shoes). I think it was the look on my face that got them to back off. 

I’d hoped to relax on our flight, but AA kept to their usual standards and we ended up crammed into a corner seat. Walter screamed his head off for a good ten minutes, because no one was doing much to answer my service call for a glass of water with which to mix his formula. If we hadn’t had both fallen asleep it would’ve been an unbearable six hours to Seattle, since we couldn’t even get out of our corner to stretch our legs or use the toilet. And even tho’ it was a six hour flight, we were only served a small beverage partway through (I know this is fairly standard now for domestic flights, but keep in mind that I was on the second leg of an international flight and hadn't had any chance to get food at the airport due to my connection).

My brave little trooper. Unless he was unbearably uncomfortable he didn't cry.
I knew better than to expect assistance from AA when I arrived in Seattle, so Walter and I struggled on the whole length of the airport. I’d not eaten in over 12 hours, my bags were heavy, and I was just in auto pilot. Fortunately I have an awesome brother who can always be counted on to keep a look-out, and just when I was ready to collapse he came racing towards us and the next things I knew I was surrounded by my family and the hell of the last 48 hours was at an end. Soon all my bags were collected, loaded into the car, and we were racing off towards Denny’s for an 11pm dinner before driving back to Canada. 

Walter remembered his Baba!

Meeting Uncle Johnny & Opa for the first time. Denny's -- it's where the magic happens.
As an aside, I must point out how happy I was to see that Denny's had taking their marketing one step too far. I'm pretty sure I heard Tolkien rolling over in his grave:
Is this like a Titus Andronicus pie?

Because Hobbits love heart attacks! We all ordered off the special Hobbit menu. I had Gandalf's Gobbler (ie a turkey sandwich). A part of me died.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Weihnachtmarkets (Edited: Now with Pictures)

Our last week in Berlin happened to coincide with the opening of the Weihnachtmarkets, or Christmas Markets. Having heard from many German friends that these markets are what they missed most about Germany, I was keen to check them out. It also proposed a good solution to our problem of what to get family for Christmas on an almost non-existent budget.

The first Weihnachtmarket we hit up was the Lucia, a Scandinavian-themed market located in Prenzlauer Berg’s Kulturbrauerei. We chose this one because it was close, which meant that David could spare some time to come with us, and because it had Scandinavian glögg on offer, a new version of mulled wine to try. We quickly found that the main offerings of the market were alcohol and meat, with a few stalls here & there where one could purchase little gifts. So we fortified ourselves with glögg and went for a wander, with the good luck of getting gifts for all of David’s family at this market. After a heavy afternoon of shopping we refreshed ourselves with some boulette am brot from a little wooden shack – David couldn’t resist trying the burgers as they were cooked on a giant swinging iron grill over an open fire. The food was delicious and gave us the energy we needed to haul our tired selves back to Wedding. 
A hot mug of glögg
Roast meats!
Walter and I dedicated one day to visiting various markets in Mitte. The first one we went to was the rather posh Weihnachtmarket in the Gendarmenmarkt. You had to pay to enter this one if you came in the afternoon, so we made sure to get there a little early. It was a really pretty market, and all the door keepers were wearing period dress to try and fit with the Gendarmenmarkt ambience. The stalls were pretty ritzy, for the most part, and a few restaurants had even set up shop. Considering this market is just off of Unter den Linden and fairly near the embassies it’s not a huge surprise. 

I’d planned to get lunch at one of the markets and I couldn’t resist trying the Neuburger Rahmbrot when I saw the cute little hut and crowd of hungry, happy Germans surrounding it. The bread was fresh made while I waited and I got to watch the process from start to finish before enjoying my treat. Fresh baked bread with sour cream, bacon, & green onions? Yes please!

How could I resist?

Plus it was made in the cutest little hut!
My plan was to walk to the big Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz, but along the way I got distracted by a little one on Museum Island. The markets were all selling the same goods with the exception of one or two special stalls, and the real winner at this one was a little booth of Russian goods, including some lovely hand painted pieces. 

Market the Second
As darkness fell we finally reached Alexanderplatz, home of the city’s largest Christmas Market. The highlight here was discovering that the Neptunbrunnen was turned into a giant skating rink, complete with some Strauss recordings for background music. I think Walter & I spent about an hour checking out all the different booths and trying desperately to finish our Christmas shopping (success after asking the intercession of St Anthony!). We even managed to buy some quarkbällchen with currants in them as a treat for David, since he couldn’t come with us. 

Alexanderplatz -- note the birds circling for scraps

The giant fountain of Neptune was turned into a skating rink, complete with piped-in Strauss
We returned to our flat exhausted but triumphant – Christmas shopping completed, on budget, and everything small & light enough to fit in our suitcases for the next stage of our journey: Home for Christmas!

Friday, 28 June 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 11)

--- 1 ---
I'm 35 weeks pregnant or something crazy like that. It's nice to be pregnant on my days off, but not so nice on days when I have to go to work. I keep having mysterious health 'issues' -- one day I mistakenly thought the traffic light had turned to green, and I heard it beeping (although in actual fact that crossing does not beep) and blithely walked into traffic. Fortunately David was with me and pulled me back, much to the consternation of other pedestrians who seemed to think he shouldn't have interfered (because letting his wife get hit by a car is so much more caring). The other day I saw an arc of shimmering stars for half an hour, whether my eyes were open or closed, and I was having a little trouble writing basic English because I was struggling to focus. So I'm off to the doctor's to see what is wrong, if anything is wrong. Most people would love to blame this on the pregnancy, but as usual all my test results have come back smack in the middle of normal. So maybe it's just low blood sugar, or exhaustion, or a severe allergic reaction to the fens! Needless to say I am looking forward to being officially off of work so that I can take a little more rest.

--- 2 ---
Speaking of pregnant, I have bump comparisons. Some people have being trying to figure out of Secundus is a girl or boy based on the bump. Other people have been telling me that as long as the baby is healthy it doesn't matter (thanks for that, by the way, I was really worried for awhile about what would happen if I didn't get my gender of choice):

35 Weeks with Walter (cannot for the life of me remember where I was going but I'm wearing some of my real jewelery so it must of been a nice occasion. Possibly garden party? Or college formal?)

33 Weeks with Secundus. As typical for 2nd pregnancies, my bump has been bigger all the way along. I like how bump-like it looks in this picture. Dressed up for Father's Day.

--- 3 ---
The above pictures remind me that I'm generally not a fan of the whole pregnant lady look. I don't mind it, I guess, but I'm not one of these ones who finds the tightest bump-revealing clothes possible. I miss having a hint of a figure and I miss wearing nice bras (I've been living in soft, but support-lacking, maternity & breast feeding bras for over a year now because it's nice to not have excruciating pain every time I roll over at night -- I make an exception if I'm going somewhere nice, as in the above picture). Anyway, the one thing I do like about bump pictures is how they always look like a little baby curled up to sleep on its mum, because that is a reminder of the good things to come.

--- 4 ---
My fridge is currently overflowing with strawberries. I think I read somewhere (BBC?) that the wet spring/summer has meant a good strawberry crop, which explains the explosion of British strawberries in the store. One week we managed to pick up some local ones in the supermarket, and then during a stroll into town a local farmer was selling 2 for the price of it was stupid not to buy. And then another grocery store was selling packages of strawberries with complimentary double cream... Anyway, strawberries & cream are one of the foods I really associate with our time in England, and since I can't indulge in my other favourite English summer treats (cider/Pimms/champagne/alcoholic ginger beer) I have given myself license to go at the berries.

--- 5 ---
Thanks to everyone who weighed in on my buggy question. We decided that a double buggy would be most practical, and it will give us a chance to see if we use our single at all (which if we don't we'll just sell). So now I'm scouring gumtree for a good deal.

--- 6 ---
I'm looking forward to celebrating Walter's first Canada Day on Monday. Four years in the UK and we've never managed to make it to London for the celebrations, but ah well. We laid in some burger & beer supplies (which reminds me that I should pick up some fries) and I'm hoping to make homemade Nanaimo bars (they are so delicious when homemade, although inedible if purchased from the store).

--- 7 ---
Also, I just need to mention how much I love Pope Francis. Every time I read his homily excerpts (thank you, Catholic Herald) I'm struck by how much wisdom he has to share.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 10)

--- 1 ---
Walter turned ten month's old two weeks ago, which is crazy. He & I celebrated with a Walter-Photo-Shoot, in which I took pictures of him while he laughed hysterically/tried to attack the camera. We then indulged in one of this favourite activities: looking at pictures of Walter & Mummy. When I showed him the video I'd shot during the photo shoot he almost hyperventilated with gleeful laughing. It was nice, especially since he's getting a new tooth (or something) and has subsequently morphed back into a Gremlin.


Let's attack the camera (and mummy!)

--- 2 ---
Summer has made a sudden appearance on this fair isle and Britain is at its best. It's warm enough to go out in summer clothes, but not so warm that the British inability to understand how air conditioning works is a problem. Strawberries are in season, so I can indulge my cravings with lashings of strawberries & cream. It's also time to break out the Pimms Jugs and sample this year's best ciders (an activity best undertaken at a riverside pub). The countdown to my maternity leave, and the hopes of having 3 weeks to rest and relax at home before Secundus are helping the sun elevate my mood. If only I could get some sleep!

--- 3 ---
A couple of weeks ago, David & Walter accompanied me to one of my antenatal appointments. We were kept waiting, so I set Walter loose to play in the waiting room. Between shyness and his stiff new sandals, he was struggling to get up to his usual crawling hijinks. In fact he looked like he could barely crawl at all, which seemed to prompt the woman sitting across from us to strike up a conversation about her own children's prowess in early walking (My son walked at 8 months and my daughter at 10. How old is your baby?). I can't really be bothered to get into the whole competitive parenting thing, so I gave her a polite smile and abstained from mentioning that Walter's been walking (while holding onto our hands, of course), since 5 months. David was of a similar mind to me on keeping quiet, but I was very proud that he seized the opportunity to turn to Walter and say 'shall we go play at the toy table?' at which point Walter proudly walked between the two of us and stood playing with toys until my appointment. The woman didn't bother speaking to us again. David says that this is how one proves a point with class, and I tend to agree.
--- 4 ---
Whenever I miss Sunday Mass, I end up appreciating that being Catholic means having to make an effort to go to church on Sunday. To miss Mass is, at least for my family, no light matter, and I wish that I could see this attitude taken up by more Christians. When I was growing up my family almost never missed a Sunday service -- even on vacation my dad was sure to know of some church that we could go to on a Sunday (and if there was no church then we had family Bible readings & prayers in lieu). On my last trip home the subject of missing Sunday services kept coming up, from people who take a vacation from church when they're on vacation, to people who only go when they feel like going. I'm not saying that I have perfect Sunday Mass attendance or anything, but I like that when anyone in my family misses Sunday Mass it's only after an eximination of conscience, to make sure we're not be misguided, and a family discussion. I think it reminds us that our Sabbath Day should be a day set apart, different from the other days in the week (even if only different by the sometimes inconvenient couple of hours it takes to go to church and back).

--- 5 ---
 Since I wrote Quick Take #2, Summer has once again disappeared and Cambridgeshire is blanketed under warm grey cloud. So that's me told.

--- 6 ---
I'm trying to decide between three kiddy transport options. Input would be useful:

- do we get a cheap double buggy, which is bulky (consider we don't have a car and thus take public transport/walk everywhere) and perhaps not going to be particularly useful as I have a Walter who will probably be an early & insistent walker?

- do I get a buggy board for the current travel system and trust that Walter will muster enough baby intelligence to grasp the concept?

- do I buy Walter one of those super light-weight strollers for longer trips and then manage shorter trips by juggling the kiddos between the current travel system & the baby hawk carrier?

I'm leaning towards the latter one for the time being, but am perhaps being impractical. I'm not rushing out to buy anything, but it's difficult to figure out what will be most useful until we have life with two kids for realz.

--- 7 ---
8 months pregnant and it's sort of kicking my butt, at least in the general feelings of unwellness. Trying to pin down as to whether it's a problem (like blood pressure, dehydration, or a virus) or just being pregnant-having a 10 month old-working full time. Probably the latter. Fortunately I've less than a month left at ye old office. Also fortunately, our bed is on the floor so I just spend my at home time resting in bed, reading my kindle, and letting Walter climb on and off the mattress. We're both happy.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!