Everybody wants to be a cat!

Kleo (kleopatra), the mama cat at our home in Werneuchen.

UP/ICJA 2te Arbeitswoche (Feb. 7 – Feb. 11): DONE!

Naehen, Naehen, Naehen!  (Sewing, Sewing, Sewing!)

The dance studio has a public performance in two weeks, so most of my time at work this week was spent repairing and altering costumes. The dance costumes are made from a lycra based fabric, for stretch and ease of movement. However, for some strange reason, the company that sewed the costumes for TwS (Tanzwerkstatt) used a non-stretch fabric for the chest band of the dress. Therefore, if the girls grow at all the dress no longer fits. ::sigh::  I just made a simple fix for the costumes, but I stressed to the other organizers that the chest bands need to be completely reworked with stretch fabric to make these costumes last as long as they need.

The week really wasn’t that busy. In fact, I think I would call it comfortable. I wasn’t running around like crazy, but I always had something to do, which I really liked. Next week I get to start sitting in on classes and preparing a formula for leading my own class!

Lex has also installed Wifi in the studio, so we can now check our emails and do our work from our own laptops! Woohoo!

UP/ICJA 1ste Arbeitswoche (Jan. 31 - Feb. 4): DONE!

Hurrah! Ich lebe noch! (Hooray! I'm still alive!)

Our first Arbeitswoche (work week) in Germany is over, and we (Lex and I) both survived!  I confess it wasn't that strenuous. Our main 'project' this week was to help keep the studio clean during the Theaterwoche, to meet everyone working (currently) at Tanzwerkstatt, and to help out whenever the teachers asked.  This doesn't sound like very much, but trust me; 35 children (ages 4-11) being cooped up in a building for 7 hours a day means LOTS of cleaning and an extra set of hands to help is always wanted.

Berlin schools were all closed for Winterferien (Winter break) this week, so the dance studio offered a 5 day long theater day camp for children wishing to learn about performance art, crafting, and Tanzwerkstatt No Limit. The kids got to experiment with different forms of performance theatre (theatre, dance, story/radio theatre, and also crafting simple stage props and picture stories. The children had a blast dabbling in everything, and the parents really seemed to enjoy the exhibition at the end of the week. :o)

Next week is supposed to be more like the 'norm', as it won’t be a holiday week. I'm looking forward to that, as it means I'll have more to do, but also wondering just HOW strenuous it’s going to be... I don't think it will be too bad, as we are only supposed to work 35hrs/week. We are supposed to have a more ‘set’ work schedule laid out by the end of this coming week.

UP/ICJA Quest: Host-Mutter Behm's Salatesosse u. Kaese-Kartoffeln.

Last Saturday we drove to Bernauer for some 'richtiges Einkaufen' (proper shopping) at the E-Center (Can you guess what the E stands for?). Our main goal was groceries and SIM cards, which we completed with ease.  However, with several hours of shopping, 2 hours walking the dog, and nothing but a traditional Deutschefruehstuck (German Breakfast, which consists of rolls, butter, cheese, jam, and coffee), poor Lex and I were exceptionally hungry by 6:00pm, when we got back to Werneuchen.

Though I am fairly certain these recipes are, in fact, truly delicious, I cannot be sure how tainted my perception was by my hunger that night. :o)
Guten Appetite!

Salatesosse (Salad dressing)
2-3 spoonfuls of fragrant Olive Oil
2-3 spoonfuls of lightly reduce Balsamic Vinegar (this vinegar should be distilled from grape, apple, and pear juice, or similar fruits)
1 spoonful of Clover Honey
Salt, Pepper, Tuscan spice blend, and Middle Eastern spice blend

Whisk all of these ingredients together in a salad bowl. Toss with salad greens to coat.

Kaese-Kartoffeln (Cheese Potatoes)
1 kg small/baby golden potatos, boiled
100-150g shredded Swiss cheese
Salt, pepper, olive oil

Preheat oven to 375F (C).
Quarter the potatos and place in a heavy casserol dish. Drizzel olive oil over the potatoes and sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently to coat.
Sprinkle the Swiss cheese evenly over the potatos.
Place in the middle of the preheated oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the edges have started to turn brown.

UP/ICJA Quest: Host-Family, The First Days.

On January 27th our host family picked us up. We enjoyed a nice meal at their favorite Indian restaurant (which was DELICIOUS! I had the Chicken Tandoori and Lex had Snapper in red sauce), and then to their favorite Cafe for an after lunch espresso (in my experience this is very typically German after enjoying a large meal). It was wonderful to be able to speak German freely (during the Orientation Camp we were asked to speak English as not everyone could speak German), and I was very proud of Lex for practicing his German and enthusiastically participating in our conversations.

The Behms (our host family) drove us around Berlin center, pointing out important landmarks and sharing some of their own personal stories growing up in Eastern Germany/Eastern Berlin and living through the imposition and destruction of the Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall). Since both are artists (Our Host-Vatter (Host Father) is a percussionist (specialties are set/trap) and Host-Mutter (Host Mother) is a dancer (performer) and dance instructor) and both grew up in artistic families, their stories tended to focus on performance art and the use of performance art in political demonstrations. It's absolutely fascinating and I can't wait to learn more!

UP/ICJA Quest: My Birthday 'Cake'.

Here is the recipe the incredible master cook Maggi used for my birthday dessert during the In-Country Orientation Camp. No, there are no measurements, as Maggi, like all true Greek women, cooks by taste only.

Baking apples of choice (think one apple per person)
Whole Cloves
Almond slivers

Preheat the oven to 350F (C).

Wash and core the apples, taking care to keep the bottom of the apple intact. Butter the outside of each apple lightly then stud each apple with a few whole cloves.

Fill each apple with some tahini and honey, topping with the almond slivers.

Bake until a fork or sharp knife inserts easily into the side of the apple.

Serve warm as is, or with unsweetened cream (cinnamon or vanilla ice cream would be delicious, too!). Or, cool and serve cold. (They are great for breakfast, too!)

UP/ICJA Quest: In-Country Orientation, January 19th - 27th.

Even though we tried to miss our flight by getting lost on the M25, we managed to return the car, check our bags, get through security, and sprint to the Easyjet terminal (on the far side of the airport, of course) just before they began loading passengers; thank goodness the flight before us arrived late.  The flight was uneventful, much welcomed after a rather stressful day, and we actually arrived 10 minutes early despite our late departure.  We were met at the Berlin-Schoenfeld Flughafen by two ICJA-volunteers, who accompanied us to the In-Country Orientation Camp in Prenzlauerberg (northern district/neighborhood of Berlin), where we were to spend the next 8 days.

I enjoyed spending some time with the other volunteers and the ICJA employees responsible for us while we are in Germany, but I confess I was a bit bored, too.  In a nutshell, the orientation camp was an introductory German course (which I didn't need, as I've been tested and certified at C1 level already), and a Study Abroad/Exchange program orientation. For those who have never participated in such an orientation before, it consists of rules and regulations, program specifics, and visa procedures. If I hadn't already been through two of these as an exchange student and helped organize several as a Study Abroad Advisor, I would have been much more enganged in the camp.

I did end up spending my birthday at the camp, and our wonderful master cook, Maggi, baked me some incredibly delicious stuffed apples as a birthday 'cake' and everyone sang to me in their native tongue. I'll be sure to post the recipe later, as this is definitely something I would reccommend that everyone enjoy at least once in their lives!

UP/ICJA Quest: London, January 19th, ROAD TRIP!

Ok, let me just say that, though I knew this was going to be a fairly intense experience, I wasn't prepared to be constantly questioning why on earth the car was moving when I hadn't given it a command!
Lex wanted to take a trip to Wolkingham to visit one of his company's satelite centers. Rather than spend 3 hours (one way) on a bus to get to Wolkingham and then another 3 hours (or more) to get to Gatwick to catch our flight, Lex thought it would be a good idea to rent a car; making the trip about 1.5 hours each way.

I certianly had my reservations about this plan, mostly because I was concerned we would be too rushed in trying to figure out the roads, the whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing, and dealing with crazy London traffic (I think it's even worse than I had been told). After surviving 8 hours of ill-behaved rental-car employees, poorly marked road signs, and being in the 'power' seat of a car yet having no say whatsoever about what the car did, I have to say that I was right. We wre rushed and it was a bit more hassle than it was worth.

However, I did learn a few tips I can pass on to you other American travelers thinking you should take on the British M-system and drive off into the wild blue yonder of the British countryside:

1) Reserve your car online. Eurocar (one of the cheapest to rent from) charges an extra 35GBP (minimum) when you book your rental in their office.

2) When booking your rental online, be prepared to wait an additional 2 hours from the time of booking to pick up your car (they don't want you to stand in their office, making a booking through your smartphone, just to save a "few extra quid").

3) Be prepared to pay an additional 250GBP deposit on the cheapest car available for rental. You may expect to receive some of this back when you return the car (be aware the employees have been given special training for car inspection when they know someone who usually drives on the other side of the road is using the car, and they will find something to try and stick you with.)

4) Expect it to take you a minimum of 45 minutes to wind your way out of London, in good traffic.

5) POOR SIGNAGE!  Whether you are on the M-(insert number here) or in town, you apparently have to have that British sixth sense of where to go to get where you want to be. Ironically enough, this doesn't change even when there are signs. When we finally made it to Gatwick airport we had to play eeny-meeny-miney-mo to choose which terminal to try for rental car drop off (signs only say North and South terminal, nothing more).

6) Roundabouts are EVERYWHERE! I never saw a stop sign during our entire adventure. Instead, in place of where I would logically have expected a stop sign, there was a roundabout, usually with multiple lanes/entries/exits (and poor signage!) that the cars had to negotiate. Also, expect to deal with these aut as often as you would deal with stop lights in a major city.

7) Automatic transmissions in Europe are very rare (and expensive to rent)! In England, the gear shift is on the left side of the driver. I hope you are ambidextrous!

UP/ICJA Quest: London, January 18th.

We arrived in London on January 18th; no delays or any other mishaps. We stayed at the White Ferry Hostel, which is about an 8 minute walk from the Victoria Coach (bus) Station. Though our flight was uneventful, neither Lex nor I managed to get much sleep. Lex, swearing he was the most tired of the two of us, insisted that he needed a nap before the evening's festivities. I, being quite tired but even more hungry, went in search for food.

One of the hostel employees directed me to a chippy just down the street, promising tasty and authentic (and budget friendly) fish & chips.  After splitting a very affordable (~3GBP) pile of chips and slice of lightly battered first that was about the length of my thigh, we headed off to the Victoria Apollo Theatre to catch our evening's entertainment.

We saw Wicked (third row stalls, oh yeah!), and I was very pleased that Lex enjoyed it as much as he did. We both grew up around/in theatre and, therefore, tend to be hard to please. ;o) He was impressed enough to want to try and catch some of the performers as they left the building, though, so I definitely consider that positive feedback.

If you haven't had the opportunity to see Wicked yet, I highly encourage you to try and catch it while it is on tour this year! The script/story of Wicked: The Musical follows the more light-hearted style of L. Frank Baum's series about Oz, not the darker writing style of Gregory MacGuire. So, even if you weren't a fan of MacGuire's style, chances are you will still love the musical. Also, seeing the set, props, and costumes are worth a mid-priced ticket and should keep you entertained for the entire show. (There are multiple costume changes in a cast of at least 20 people, and each costume is specific to the scene.)

UP/ICJA Quest: Finally Settled In!

Hello Everyone!

We are finally settled into our host family...FINALLY!

Internet has been EXTREMELY 'iffy' thus far, and, though the quality of our internet will be improving now that we have moved into our host family/work project, the frequency wont be much more often. Our host family doesn't have internet at the house (which is in a small village 15 minutes north of Berlin proper) and there aren't any wifi networks near the house that we can borrow. We will, luckily, have access to internet at the dance studio. However, this means that all blog posting will be confined to those days and hours.
It's a bit strange to me that so many people seem to be adverse to having internet or to being online. The last two times I lived in Europe everyone seemed much more internet friendly (and I was in Germany both of those times). I guess this time we are interacting with a different group of people.

What about in your country? Have you noticed a trend one way or the other towards the internet and being documented online?

Baggage compensation...what is enough?

I stumbled across this post at the Elliot.org blog about one woman's Christmas travel fiasco with American Airlines and her baggage. Apparently, not only did her luggage arrive quite late, but it was (purposefully) not mailed to the forwarding address she had left with the airline company when she reported the missing bag. To top it off, she was not compensated the checked baggage fee she demanded when she reported these errors to AA.

Elliot.org took a poll on everyone's reaction to the 'compensation' she received from AA and most readers felt that AA could have handled the situation better (AA refused to refund her bag fee on the grounds that the money was spent to send the bag back to her).  Personally, I feel that if AA is not going to refund a bag fee when they lose a customer's checked bag, they should charge more to at least be sure they can pay to send the bag all the way back to the owner, instead of insisting the owner meet them part way en-route.

 What do you think?

Preparing for the Long Weekend: Book 1 of 13 - In A Sunburned Country

In a Sunburned Country
In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson    

One book down, twelve more to go!

I confess, when I was researching books about Australia to build my booklist I wasn’t sure if I should include this book. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy Bill Bryson (especially his books on language!), but I wasn’t sure if including a book about traveling around Australia was the best choice for a book to help prepare me to move there. I finally decided that, though this is most definitely a travel book, it would serve as a resource of what I might expect to experience Australia (and Australians) as an American.

Now, in hind-sight, I’m really glad I decided to kick off my reading list with this book! Not only did I pick up some tips on what to see and where to go, but I also learned that I’ve willingly agreed to move to a DEATH TRAP! Since not even the discovery channel was noble enough to be so forthright about the Ciguatera (a deadly disease infecting Snapper fish in the north), Box Jelly Fish (found near the Great Barrier Reef, so poisonous that people are known to continue screaming and writhing, even after they have been knocked out with Morphine), and the Taipan (the most poisonous snake in the world) I highly doubt any of the other, more scientifically minded books, on my book list would be either. So I thank Bill Bryson, and my ingenious decision to begin my reading with his book In A Sunburned Country, for giving me the opportunity to freak out about it now, and continue my preparations with a better sense of resignation about what the hell I’m getting myself in to.

If you missed my post about the book list, check it out here!

Preparing for the Long Weekend: New Years 2011 - SYDNEY!!!!

So, guess who has the LARGEST New Years celebration in the world? Syndey! Yep, that's right, I didn't know that either. :o)  Check out the video of JUST the fireworks!

I am currently taking reservations for my couch and floor space for anyone else who wants to come experience this incredibly awesome looking celebration next year!