I can’t believe it has almost been a month since I last posted. January sure went by in a blur. I think there is something to the beginning of the year that always pulls the ground away under my feet. The holidays had been so lovely not having to do anything (or at least very little) and back to school and work through me into the full of it. I was also lost in thought on some topics that bothered me. My daughter is starting high school after the summer and all of her best friends applied to private schools whereas we are planning to send her to the local public school. Some of her friends’ parents are not happy with the academic aspect, some are worried because of safety (there were a couple of lock downs in the past year). I had long talks with her if she would be interested in private school but she says she is fine about going to the public one. I admire her resilience. Part of me questions our choices and part of me is just sad and feels a little betrayed. All this may stem from my own high school experience what was ok but could have been better. The school system in Germany is very different but I ended up as the only girl from my town at a new school and I had a ruff time in patches – no fun. I so hope she is going to have a better experience. I also have pretty strong feelings about the whole private school system. I sometimes wonder what the public system would look like if all the money that people pour in the private school education would benefit the public system. Dreaming of a better world, sigh. Dealing with all the emotions made me retreat for a while.
What I have been doing and want to keep up for this year is project 365 on Instagram. Posting an image a day an adding a short blurb if I have time for that seems way more achievable these days. Stephany and San are also doing it and I am enjoying see some more pictures on there again instead of the reels which are so popular these days. There is something with moving pictures that draws you in and I tend to spend way more time on there when I look at stories and reels. It annoys me to no end. It also annoyed me to no end that one reel snug in there but oh well. So today here are the first 27 images from project 365. Are you using Instagram and/or other social media? What are using it for? I also have a Facebook account but honestly only keep it because I am still part of a buy nothing group and various other groups where I sometimes find helpful information. Instagram I like because it helps me with my sewing projects, to find a new pattern I want to try and to see how it looks on other people. I also still keep up with some friends on there (remember the old days when Facebook was a place for that?) and to see what is happening locally. I also have a LinkedIn account for work but deleted my Twitter account recently. I am tempted to also delete my Nextdoor account but keep it for the occasional neighborhood check-in. I mostly try to stay off on there. It was a good idea but people are so argumentative and sometimes mean that I can’t stand it.
What do the pictures tell you? They remind me that there was a lot of rain in January, that we had a power outage, that I started baking bread again, that there was sunshine and delayed Christmas presents, time spend in the garden and on diy projects (knitting, crochet and wreath making), that we dog sat and that I went on some walks in the neighborhood. What it does not show you is how busy January was at work. I agreed to teach two undergrads who work in the lab and it took some getting used to to integrating their schedule in mine. But it also is a lot of fun even if it requires so much talking all day long. It does not show you the time it took to write e-mails to my son’s class regarding an upcoming science camp or the time spend shuttling the kids around to new classes (pottery and gymnastics). My daughter had a competition with her jazz band and my son had his second junior black belt test in Taekwondo. All very exciting. It does not show my inner struggle with the upcoming switch to high school or that I have been keeping up with my exercise better than in previous years. I managed to go to the gym or on a run 2-3 times per week what is a step in the right direction. One of my former colleagues mentioned on Instagram that she does not know how I do it all but I guess it’s an explanation why I have not been on the blog for almost a month. I will be back, promise. But tell me, how was your January?
There is a lot of test prep happening in our house lately. My kids both have German exams coming up and my son is participating in his school’s spelling bee. The German tests are mostly multiple choice questions with a listening-understanding and reading-understanding part at different difficulty levels. Some of the answers even I find not completely straight forward but I find that to be the case with most multiple choice tests. As usual my daughter does that independently whereas I basically have to sit next to my son so that he will stay focused. You don’t know how the test will look like but practicing with old tests helps a little to learn what to pay attention to when the actual testing day comes along. With the amount of complaining he does about the actual test, the stupidity of the questions, etc. I sometimes question myself if this is all a good idea but I think I said this before. Considering the amount of complaining and claims of misunderstanding he does surprisingly well on the practice tests.
I can help him with his German but I have my phone and my daughter to help with the list of spelling words. For a good chunk I would not do the pronunciation correctly and sometimes I even don’t know the word – so it is a learning experience for me, too. I told my son when looking at practicing his spelling words he should apply “klotzen, nicht kleckern” what is a German idiom for ‘go big, or go home’ I guess. It can mean to work really hard on something, or to put in a lot of effort (to achieve the optimal result in the end). A “Klotz” is a big block or chunk of something like a wood block or a concrete block. A “Klecks” is a small speck. So he should use a block and not a speck in direct translation. Anyway he seems not to concerned about the whole thing. The last couple of years another girl from his grade won the spelling bee and I fully expect she will do so again (and I think so does he). She has way more competitiveness in her than either of my kids and I am fine with that. To say it with another German idiom “Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm” – “The apple does not fall far from the tree.”
Do you have a favorite idiom? I am sure there are plenty in English I don’t know about. I like them and as Amélie said in the movie of the same name (at least in the German versin) “Someone who knows idioms, can’t be a bad person.”
When looking at the translation of ‘Nicht kleckern, klotzen!’ I saw that it is also the German book title written by a public figure I rather not name – I might never use this phrase again.
‘Resolve to always be resolving.’ That was a suggestion in the New York Times newsletter Saturday morning. It talked about how lots of people make new years resolutions and then break them by February and it said all the things that I am feeling about this topic. If you want to start a new habit, live healthier, sleep more, any year of the day is as good as New Years to start. I did not make a single resolution, did not find a word of the year, did not make any concrete plans as of yet other than going to my dad’s 80th birthday party in March. Flight is booked and everything else will come in the coming weeks. I always in awe of everyone who comes up with all the ways they want to better themselves, all the goals they set for themselves for the year to come. It’s not for me this year.
During the break I started running again – outside when it’s not raining in the gym when it is. I do feel much better with the exercise in my life. I get antsy when I don’t but it gets harder to fit it in with the kids back in school, with long work days, pick-ups, etc. I am not a fast runner, don’t run long distances either but I enjoy it. We will see how long I can keep it up.
All this reading about goal lists made me question my approach a little but I think I finally settled and am more content with my decision to let the year just come. Last year I had our Resident’s Day week all nicely planned out and was about to head home on Friday to go home and pack suitcases when I got the call from school that one of my kids was not feeling well. Sure enough it was covid and we had to stay home that week instead of going on an adventure. Luckily covid did not hit to hard and we had a quite week. Since then, I started letting things just happen more because I am always weary that something might come up that leads to disappointment. Of course I still plan a little – flights to Germany for the summer have to be book ahead of time so that they don’t get too expensive, summer camps, hotel rooms, but I make sure I am able to cancel and leave it up in the air mentally.
Christmas is officially over in our house. I usually keep the tree up until January 6th and put everything away the weekend after what I did yesterday. I only left the snowflakes on the windows. It makes it feel still a little festive and helps me ease into the next season. Today the outside lights got put away as well, since we had a break from the rain. Oh, the rain, there is so much of it this year. I can’t really complain since we had no leaks, no flooding in the area, had not to evacuate unlike others in our community. The only thing happening to us was that we had power outages twice already caused by the rain and storm. If the electricity poles are any indication, I am not overly surprised. The jumble of wires and the ‘quality’ of the set-up, surprises me every time I have a closer look. Our friends lost power during a party once because the tree across the street grew around a power line and cut it off. I saw lines which still had parts of tree branches attached after the tree was already gone for years, have seen poles which were reinforced by planks because there were cracks. Because faulty lines caused some of the big California fires they finally started putting the lines underground. Hopefully it will also fix some of the other issues. It’s a little annoying to always expect a power outage when it’s a little windy outside (because of the fire danger in the summer and because of the rain in the winter). Is this something normal in the US? I don’t think I ever knew this before moving here. In Germany power lines are mostly underground for a long time now. When I was in elementary school I remember we had to pay attention when flying kites. because of power lines on fields everywhere. Over time they just disappeared (or I was to young to conciously hear about it). Can’t say I ever missed them.
I am wishing you a very happy, healthy and peaceful 2023! On 12/31 the old year said goodbye to us with a serious downpour in the Bay Area. It always blows my mind that whenever ‘unexpected’ weather hits the area (and that seems to be true for other areas in the US as well) everything collapses. The drains were sorely clogged up in many areas and we felt like we had to drive through rivers on some roads going into San Francisco that day. We later learned that we actually were fairly lucky. I saw pictures online with people surfing the streets and a section of 101 south of the city was closed. There was an evacuation order in place for another town close by due to flooding. With 5.46″ of rain in San Francisco that day it was the 2nd wettest day on record. Considering all that we were extremely lucky with our small garage leak. There is another atmospheric river passing over us this week with the most expected for Wednesday – we will see.
On New Year’s Eve we had tickets for the “Ramses the Great‘ exhibit at the De Young museum in San Francisco (so that is why we drove into the city what we almost never do). I think it was pretty fantastic and we managed to walk through without major complains even from our strongest museum critic (our son). It’s still on through February 12th if you are interested and you have to get tickets in advance. I just wished we had eaten lunch before we went or at least taken something because there was a long line at the cafe and honestly it was a little too upscale a menu for some of us. I was glad we came a little early to walk a little through the rest of the museum before our timed tickets which was fun, too (at least I thought so). On the way back we decided to have a late lunch at In-N-Out Burger.
The rest of New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet for us. We had raclette for dinner. It’s basically a mini table top grill where everyone has their own little pan that is filled with raclette cheese (or other cheese if you prefer) and other things like corn, onion, tomatoes, bacon, mini sausages, etc. We had boiled potatoes and a dip with it, too. It’s popular to do in Germany even though it originates in Switzerland. After dinner we watched ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home” as requested but took a break to be continued in the New Year since everyone was falling asleep (not the fault of the movie I assure you). We adults tried to stay awake a little longer but fell asleep on the couch only to wake up again after midnight. The champagne we had before dinner gave me a migraine so I was a little extra tired anyway.
I am always a little puzzled why this last day of the year is such a big deal. I enjoyed reading all the word of the year and goal posts (past, present and future) but for now this is just nothing I want for myself. Maybe when I have a little more breathing room in my life I will think about it more deeply.
Now the daily trot has us back – school, work and the likes. Since it is raining this week I picked up my daughter from school yesterday. That meant being home earlier than usual and I got the chance to take a walk outside before the rain started during daylight hours. Sunsets are always something to behold in the bay and I love the views peaking through the houses. If I would make a resolution I probably would say I want to go on a 30 minute walk every day. That is doable, right?
Christmas is officially over I suppose. Out tree is still up and will be until early January. We had a very quiet couple of days. Since we have no family around to visit and mostly everyone of our friends away to the snow or sick (with Covid or otherwise), we just hung out at home.
On the 24th we went out in the very late afternoon to go to Indian Rock park in Berkeley to see the sun set and look at a house that is covered with fairy lights from chimney to basement. The kids always enjoy going there, too. There are so many secret passages to explore and rock stairs and not stairs to climb that it does not get boring and we adults sat with all the others there and waited for the sun to slowly sink behind San Francisco city views – so pretty every single time.
So this is the house I mentioned. It’s very close to our first apartment. I want to say we ‘discovered’ it but honestly it’s hard to miss. The decorations grew a little over the years but the lights were there as long as I remember. I always wonder if they put them up themselves or have someone do it for them and how long it takes and what the neighbors think about it. It sure is a beacon of light and I needed that this Christmas Eve. I leave you with a couple more pictures.
On the way back home we stopped at another holiday display in El Cerrito. There once was a man called Sundar Shadi who started a holiday display in this little town in 1949 and continued to put it up and extended it until 1996. Now it is put up on the hillside by volunteers.
By the time we were heading back the sky was on fire. It always blows my mind how red the clouds get after the sun is gone. It’s like magic.
We had a quick dinner and the kids played us some Christmas carols on their clarinets before we unwrapped our presents. Everyone was really happy with the outcome.
Part of me was a tiny bit sad that we could not see family in person this year. I know we made the decision together and we all needed the rest (and traveling around this time of year is not rest), but still. I wish instead of AI they would invent beaming people back and forth – sigh.
Speaking of AI. Have you tried out ChatGPT yet? “Overall, ChatGPT can be used to create chatbots and conversational agents for a variety of applications, including customer service, social media, education, and personal assistance.” That is part of the answer I got when I asked the chat bot what I can use it for. But it also will write you stories given a prompt. I hope my son never realizes the potential. He hates writing with all his heart and this would fix all his problems – even in German. I am still trying to figure out how to feel about it. Same is true about Dall-E which you can find on the same website. What do you think?
I can’t believe how time flew by and now we already have December 24. The plan is to go on a short walk and then tonight we will sit down for our Christmas Eve dinner (German sausages and potato salad), 4 candles burning before we sit in front of the Christmas tree to unwrap presents. Did you know that in Germany you do the presents on the 24th instead of the 25th? There is no Santa coming down the chimney and no socks on the mantle – oh wait, we do have the socks on the mantle. I guess that’s what happens if you mix up the traditions.
Earlier this month I received my package from the Secret Santa Mug Swap that San from the in between is mine organized. I like little surprises so much and mug I received from @thecarolinaetc is so pretty, don’t you think?
To make our Christmas dinner I took the 30 minute trip to our closest World Market in the area. Regular hot dog sausages just won’t do for Christmas. Our local market which carried German products closed recently because the owners retired so longer car drive it was. The kids had fun, too I think since I asked them to pick the sweets. Pico Balla Haribo are our favorite. I was crying a little inside about the prices ($10 for a glass of sausage) but if it tastes a little like home that’s what it is. My son even found a present for his big sister: a magnetic hourglass what he thought was really cool (and I think she will, too).
Instead of writing blog posts I spend quite some time recently making cookies. We made our traditional gingerbread honey cookies twice because the first badge was finished in no time. Since cookie time is over I will save the recipe for next year and share it then but I am so happy I finally found a good recipe that will make your own gingerbread spice (in Germany they sell premixed spice packets for this and a lot of recipes ask for it).
I also made cinnamon stars, San’s Vanillekipferl, black and white cookies and another almod type cookie. We also made marzipan potatoes (no potato involved just powdered sugar and almond flower and cocoa powder mostly) which are not pictured. This morning I put a plate of our goodies together for everyone to enjoy throughout the day. I think we are ready for the holidays to come and I will make note of a couple future blog post ideas.
I wish you a very merry Christmas if you happen to celebrate and to everyone else: I hope you will enjoy a couple quiet days that will leave you refreshed for the days to come.
It has been quiet here again. I guess that means that 30 days is indeed not enough to form a new habit (at least not for me). Did you know that supposedly it takes 66 days on average? This information originates in a scientific publication by Phillippa Lally from 2009 in the European Journal of Social Psychology. She published quite a few more research articles about the topic of habit forming so I trust that is about right. See, this is also the reason why sometimes writing something takes me forever. I start with something look it up and then that takes me down the rabbit hole (is that the right expression?) because I don’t find a good time to stop. It’s a little but occupational hazard since I always worked in research. Whenever we start a new project that usually means reading up on it what was already published and see how we can improve it. Sometimes it also leads to new ideas.
After high school I went to a 3 year school to become a medical technical laboratory assistant. A lot of my class mates worked in hospital labs after finishing but the first job I landed was in a research lab in the Anatmoy department at the medical school in Hannover. The next one was in a lab that was associated with the Nephrology department and after that I helped my PI then start his company. When we moved to the US I was glad I found a job again in a research lab at UC Berkeley in the Neuroscience department. I was not set on a specific research topic or a specific techniques and I think that somewhat helped in my case.
I love how exciting research can be when you discover something new or when you find a way that will ultimately help patients. I like to work with my hands, I like to do good work, I don’t like to be in the spot light or teach in front of a class. I like to keep everything running smoothly behind the scene. I think all in all my job is pretty perfect for me – at least for now. The lab works on gene therapy for eye diseases in the broader sense. For us that means pre-clinical studies in cells and mice to test if the ideas work in general but it is very exciting to see that these ideas can rlead to actual treatments that will be used in the clinic down the road and help patients. Right now I am mostly responsible for making the vectors which are used in our research. We use a non pathogenic virus called adeno-associated virus (AAV) and exchange its genetic information with the information that hopefully will repair genetic defects in the diseased retina. I am no specialist for retinal disease but if you have questions about that you should check out the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
One downside of my position is that my salary comes out of research grants which usually run anywhere from 1-5 years. For the last 25 years it always worked out and there was always follow up funding available. I could also look for a position in industry since I am a US citizen now and don’t have to worry about my visa status anymore but for now I am happy where I am. I get along with my PI, my work schedule is flexible enough so that I can fit in doctors appointments, school trips, sick kids, etc. I was able to reduce time after the kids started school. I am now at 80% and that works great for me.
I sometimes wonder if I should have done things differently. When I finished school, I first wanted to study chemistry but only knew chemists who were unemployed after they finished. I almost studied philosophy and history but changed my mind at the last minute and kept working. I did some courses in book keeping when I worked for the start up company. I liked that, too but I think I would have found it to boring overtime. I also liked the six weeks I had to intern at the hospital during my education and was thinking about medicine for a little while but decided that it was to emotionally challenging for me. I probably could have gotten my PhD as my PI suggested in the past but honestly I am perfectly happy where I am right now.
What about you? Do you sometimes think about the other options that passed you by or would you pick the same profession over again?
This past weekend we finally got our Christmas tree and I am so excited! I do like Christmas as a holiday. I have fond childhood memories associated with Christmas and I hope that my own children will have the same.
The first year we moved to the US I got cheap tree decorations from Ikea. It was a set with red baubles and stars which was totally fine but this year was the first year I did not even touch it. Over the years I collected Christmas ornaments from Hutschenreuther and I think they are so pretty. Last year we went to Germany to celebrate Christmas with the family and I packed up the ones that were still at my dads house so that I finally have them here. My mom used to collect them, too and to me it feels like continuing her tradition. This year our tree is filled with those ornaments and a couple of others I got over the years here and there as well some diy ornaments made by my kids when they were little. I think those are probably my favorites still especially now that they are older.
Since I was cooped up in my room the last week because of covid I also added some new snowflakes for our big front window. It finally feels a little more festive inside the house, too.
If you want to try yourself at some homemade Christmas decorations here are a couple of links:
Star made of kite paper – the instructions are in German but the pictures are self explanatory. I made these before in previous years and I love how the light shines through them.
A couple of more stars – if you click on any of the images you get to folding instructions for each. The Stern Vicky is one of my favorites and a good way to use up leftover wrapping paper or even catalogues.
Since today is December 1st the count down to Christmas using the advent calendar begins. My kids were happy to learn this morning that they are getting one this year (lucky them that I finished it before we were in Las Vegas). Did you know that it’s origin goes back to the 19th century and seems to lie again in Germany? The main purpose was to count down the days until Christmas Eve and to shorten (or sweeten) the wait.
When I was a child we mostly had chocolate filled advent calendars similar to the ones you can find at stores these days. Each day you open a door and find a piece of chocolate with a different motif. When I was little we sometimes used the molds to fill with candle wax when all was done. My first boy friend back in the day made one for me with a little present each day similar to the one I made for my kids this year (above). Sally, from Little Hiccups made an activity advent calendar for her kids what I think is very cool, too. I found another one over at eighteen25 that uses cut out snowflakes and doubles as decoration. There are pretty cool picture advent calendars. They come in all kinds of sizes and pictures (including postcard size) that will reveal a new small picture each day. In old times it used to be christian motifs but the newer ones show Christmas markets, teddy bears, cats – there is something for everyone. By now you probably saw the Lego advent calendars when shopping (at least it’s hard to miss if you have kids) and there is a list of other companies that make them these days as well (teas, jam, games, christmas ornaments, the list seems endless). Through another blog I came across the Reading Countdown Advent Calendar from Everyday Reading. Oh, how I wish my kids were still younger. In Germany they also have book advent calendars that tell a story over 24 chapters and my favorite German kids character “Die Maus” has an online calendar with a clip hiding behind each door (sorry, that it is in German only).
I am sure I could continue this list a while longer. Do you have an advent calendar at home and which one would you prefer if you would get one?
I plan to keep blogging – not quite sure what about and how often but the intention is there and I think I can manage at least ones or twice a week. So I am writing it down here: I am here to stay! I read somewhere that forming a new habit takes on average 66 days but since I enjoyed the last month lets hope for the best.
Today I managed to pull out a couple Christmas decorations when I had the house to myself. A German Christmas is not really complete without an advent wreath. It’s a standard (or also not so standard) wreath that has decorations and a candle for each of the 4 Sundays before Christmas Eve on top. Each Sunday you light an additional candle so that on Christmas you have all 4 candles lit up. When I was little there was one incident where we were all extremely lucky. Apparently a candle wick can keep burning inside the candle even though it looks extinguished. That is exactly what happened one year when my parents went to bed and thought the candles were out. We were very lucky and the table the wreath was sitting on was only smoldering and did not catch fire. The only thing that happened was that the living room needed a renovation. Even the sugar in the bowl was black from the smoke. It could have been so much worse. We got a table made of graphite after that and the candles were sitting on metal holders ever since that would prevent the wreath from catching fire. A couple of years ago I found this glass box above that holds 4 candles at Target and I have been using it instead. It’s filled with a string of lights and Froebel stars.
I also took out these little angels. My mom used to have a pottery studio and these are from her. She did hand building mostly but also had some precast pottery like these angels and snow man especially during the holidays. We spend many an afternoon helping her paint them when we had time. I am not sure I would have bought them myself but they always remind me of my mom.
This concludes my last post of this fine NaBloPoMo season. I hope I will see/hear some of you around and you keep checking in on me even after NaBloPoMo.