Saturday, September 5, 2015

Daily "Hardships"

I want to start by saying life in Berlin has been good. There are challenges that push my laziness and introverted-ness beyond their comfort zones, but overall, it has been relatively easy and good.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here are some things I'm missing and some "issues" we deal with on a daily basis.

We've mostly adjusted to the time difference by now. We're all getting pretty good at the 24-hr clock. Memorising a few key times are helpful (18:00 is a good time to start making dinner, 21:00 is bedtime for Xander, and it's always fun to see the clock say 00:00). But, it's still hard to connect with family (mostly cousins and friends on Skype) with the time difference. The kids are figuring it out, but times are limited to either early morning or evening times.

I've changed my computer, phone, and my Fitbit to our local region. This is how it should be, but, certain items cause unforeseen problems. For example, my Fitbit is on our local time, but I am participating in challenges put on by a friend located in the PNW. So, some of my steps don't count, as it has to do with differing times. I'm not sure I understand, why not take my own 9am-9pm steps, but somehow, it has to also coincide with their challenge times going on. In any case, not all my steps count for the challenge and that's a bummer.

We did a bit of research and decided the best economical choice for us was to keep our current phone plans, buy an extra "international roaming" package and pay any overage we do. Well, our bill is going to be big this month. We're doing our best to use our Wifi to plan our trips, take screen shots, and only use Google Maps when out and about when we really need to. I try to only check mail, and FB, and text, when I have Wifi, but still, we both went over our limits. Chris, who does most of our navigating, went over his limit while we were in Venice, so in our first week. I took a few weeks more, but I'm now over my limit. I don't mind going over and paying what we do to go over, but it's pretty frustrating that we pay for our regular contract + international package + overage. I just wish the contract part could be lowered somehow. It feels like we're paying three times as much as we should. But, switching to a German plan seems tedious for three months (and we'd still be paying our US contract on top of the German plan, so we'd still be paying double). In any plan, it's expensive.

So, our bathroom, while it looks beautiful (everything in this apartment is beautifully done, in my opinion), is built in a funny shape. There is a separate bathtub (this is where I put our clothes drying rack) and a separate shower (with only three walls). Why they chose do to this set up, versus combining the shower/tub, I don't know.

Shower (left): see the toilet paper? In the bottom, you can see the tip of the toilet.
And on the side, the electrical drying rack.
Sinks (right) with no cabinet space and limited counter space.

So, when you take a shower, you are showering, in effect, with the toilet paper and the toilet. And there is a towel-warming rack (with electrical plug) right there too. I imagine for someone tall, like Chris, who has short hair, he can lean out of the water stream, soap up and then stand back up and rinse. For myself, shorter and with longer hair, I have to step all the way out of the water, which is cold and I feel like I'm practically on the toilet by that time, or I turn around. But then I'm swinging my hair about and water and soap can get everywhere. So I am very careful during my shower, trying to keep water from going about.

If you look at the shower floor, since there is no separation from the toilet, that area gets very, very wet. We bought a squeegee to dry the floor after a shower. And we bought a mat to put in front of the toilet (which you move before you shower and then replace after squeegeeing the area) so that you can use the toilet after someone showers and not have to stand in used-shower-water puddles.

There are two sinks, but not much counter space. And no cabinets in the bathroom. We bought baskets at the farmers market to hold our stuff under the sink. We've also come up with a routine, of sorts, so that when someone is using the bathroom, in the morning, and we're trying to get out the door, they use the other half-bath so that the other person can use this bathroom for shaving, hair styling, contacts, etc.

We are getting used to the kitchen as well. As mentioned in other posts, we now have mixing bowls, measuring cups, and such. But, we only have about 6 serving sets. Six forks, six plates, 4 bowls (only because we bought two more). So, dishes and silverware go fast around here. 2, maybe 3 meals can be had before we have to run the dishwasher so that we can eat the next meal. It's a bummer too, because the dishwasher is amazing in its capacity to hold a lot of dishes. We never run it full (we don't have enough dishes to fill it). We could hand wash, I suppose (and we do, if we haven't run the dishwasher and we need something for the next meal).

I hate running the dishwasher "not-full". Seems like a waste of energy. AND, the ECO cycle takes over two hours. What? We tend to run the automatic cycle because it's a bit shorter (90 minutes?) But geez.

Spoons and minimal silverware (left)
Stove (right)

Side note: the spoons in our drawer (and we've noticed at a few restaurants) come in two sizes. Small (think stirring your coffee type of small spoon) and Huge (think large soup spoon for large adults). So, you either take an hour to eat your cereal in the morning, because you can only get two cheerios onto your spoon, or you stretch your cheeks and mouth trying the big spoon.

We've had trouble using the stove top. We can't seem to get the big burner to get hot all the way. Boiling a large pot of water takes a long time and then it's very hard to keep it boiling. If you take the lid off, it barely simmers, if you leave the lid on, it boils over. Trying to use the electric settings to get the right temperature is also a fine art of accuracy. Because we can't figure out how to get the large burner all the way hot, frying pancakes or steaks is challenging as the centre of the pan is hot, but the outer rim areas are cooler, causing items to cook at different rates.

Washer, only small loads need apply.
I've had a small victory with the washing machine. I figured out how to change the language on the digital display. So at least it's now in English. I then was able to change the dryer settings all the way to "dry" (it was only on about 3 out of 5). However, items still seem to come out a little damp. So, I'm still hang drying items after they've been dried (for 1.5 hrs, any shorter and they're not damp, they're wet).

I still don't know how to set the machine to wash and then dry automatically (without me having to set a drying program AFTER the wash cycle has completed, which also a 2 hour process, why does everything take 2 hours?).

Chris has a coworker who has offered to come to our house and read all the instructions for us, lead us through demos, or help us decipher whatever we need. We haven't taken her up on this offer yet... but I may be getting desperate enough to ignore my embarrassment that I don't know how to use household items!

  • Brown sugar: I can't find it here! I finally found "brauner zuker", but it has more the consistency of our raw sugar. It's not soft and fluffy. I haven't tried to make cookies or banana bread yet, so I'm not sure how it'll work. I've also looked for molasses (I have one more store to try) and couldn't find that either.
  • Baking pans: I 'm not the biggest baker, but now that I "can't" bake, it's all that I dream about. We have no bread or muffin pan, so I can't make either. I think I can make cookies, but it'll be interesting to try on the "pan" they have for the oven. 
  • Cornstarch, Baking Powder, Baking Soda: I have bought a few items that I "think" are cornstarch, etc. but they come in small packets (maybe holding 2-3 tablespoons worth). I want to make certain recipes that use 1/4 cup, so I'll be opening tons of tiny packets to make it work. A waste of packaging. What do the Germans do?
  • Chocolate chips: How do the Germans make chocolate chip cookies? Gah! I ended up buying a chocolate bar and we'll hammer it to bits. Venice did see some chocolate chips at a different market (but why aren't they all all stores?) but I don't know the quality of them. I'm so used to having a choice of 10 different kinds of chocolate chips. 
  • Knives: There are only two cooking knives here. Both are small, with one being more like a paring knife. They aren't that sharp, either. So, cutting large items is hard. And if we're preparing a bigger meal, we "fight" over the knives. 
  • My blender: When the fruit isn't especially tasty or about to be overripe, I'd love to blend it and make a smoothie. I chopped and chopped yesterday (with the smallest knife, ugh). I would have loved to just blender-ize it all (making salsa). The end product was very tasty, but it was very labor intensive. 
  • Garbage disposal: I don't mind the missing disposal in the bigger sense. Scraping plates into the garbage is ok. But I'm paranoid that something is going to go down the drain and clog it. So I spend a lot of time scrapping each rice piece out of the sink, each piece of lettuce clinging to the drain. Yes, there is a drain-strainer type of thing. But it's only so good as pieces slip by with the draining water. I don't want to have to call the German Roto-Rooter.
  • Full length mirror: I miss being able to see myself in a full length mirror. This is probably a cheap problem to solve, but it seems silly to buy a mirror for just a few months. And I have to resist the urge to stand on the toilet to get a better view. Side note: the toilet cover is plastic and the toilet itself has no "base". It's attached to the wall, "levetating" above ground. Standing on it sounds like a recipe for disaster.
  • Lowry's Garlic Salt: This is our favourite spice at home. And we cannot find any garlic salt here. We found garlic powder, so we use that with regular salt, but it's not the same. Sigh.

And now, as I can hear your tiny violin playing all the way over here, I will reiterate, life here is pretty good. These are all just minor things we face during our daily lives.

1 comment:

  1. Just a tiny violin.... I would be happy to send a care package. We leave for Ashland tomorrow and get back til Thurs...but fri i could send; Brown sugar, lowry's garlic salt, baking soda and baking powder, cornstarch, molasses and choc chips. It will remind me of when my Mother used to send similar items to her England pen pal after the war.