Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Another One Please

Today I have a really bad lower back pain. I used to suffer from it but did not have any problems in a long time. Since a while now I have some pain again, but it is bearable. However today it is not. I can vividly image now how my dad must feel on many days. So with a disabled back and an out of order foot I am slowly falling apart. 

Since I turned thirty, the magic number, I more and more experience what it means to come of age. Not that I really am entitled to complain, but it is just such a weird experience. Suddenly, sleep deprivation cannot just be overcome with another cup of coffee in the morning. Or the tiny cut in the finger takes more than a week to heal instead of a few days or less. Observing and maintaining body weight becomes a whole enterprise on its own and little ailments become more of a bother with time. And while I used to be agile and flexible, now I rather uncouthly try to touch my toes. At some days I wonder how people can be 60 or 70 years old and actually stand it. I can not imagine to get there at some times. 

I wonder how I can convey to young people, like my niece and nephews, that getting into the habit of working out is really important. They don't feel anything yet, so they don't care. Don't bother with the desperate talk of an old auntie. 

On the side, my nephew recently marked me as aunt on his facebook profile, then I felt really old. Being an aunt since I am little, because of my older siblings, I never felt like a real aunt I guess throughout my life. 

Anyway, I did not even turn 32 yet, but at some days, like today I feel really old. So can anybody get me  new body, please?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fancy Pantsy Dentist

Yesterday, I had to go to the dentist. To my luck it was only a routine visit, but going to a dentist here (or at least to this particular one) is an experience by itself. Not only is it a really nice dentist, who explains his steps and shares his insights of your dental misery, but he has also a fancy pantsy practice. Now I neither have enough insight to judge whether all dental practices have such modern equipment nor do I know if this is an American thing, but for the purpose of this short story I will generalize my observations.

As many medical practices here, my dentist's practice is also localized in a kind of complex, comparable to the TV show Private Practice (only that the doctors don't look as fashionable). When you enter the waiting room, it actually looks a kind of old fashioned, with older furniture and the ubiquitous (to my eyes also somewhat old fashioned) carpet. But then when you pass that glass door to the actual  practice you will step into another, high-tech version of 21st century America, only the ubiquitous carpet tells you that you did not accidentally step into a time machine. 

Now I do not understand much about dental equipment but the lack of pain (during my last visits) confirms that everything must be the latest thing in the dentist world. But when I take a seat on the dentist chair I can watch - TV! Up at the ceiling hovers a big flat screen television and my dentist puts earphones onto my ears and hands me the remote control before he starts his procedures. 

Only one problem remains unsolved, how should one watch TV with the bright shining dentist lamp in ones eyes?

Monday, June 27, 2011

The San Diego Weather Dilemma

San Diego is Americas finest city. The majority of its reputation is probably due to its good weather, the winters are very mild and the summers not too hot. But whereas every other place in the northern hemisphere is happy about summer right now after long winters, San Diegans might be complaining. The offender? The marine layer! May Grey and June Gloom darken the hearts of San Diegans. Woken up by nose tickling sunbeams one is tricked into a good mood. Energetically, plans are made to go to the beach. Packed up with towels and boogie boards and oiled with sunblock one gets into the car full of expectations. But only after a few minutes drive one faces the dark front of the marine layer. Thick and non-transparent mist ruins the beautiful ocean view. Only a few hundred meters further East is the most beautiful sunshine but no splashing water fun. 

Often we are lucky and the sun is strong and burns the marine layer off. So not all the thrill of anticipation was spoiled. Last year though, we've been unlucky and June gloom persisted from March until December. June is almost over, so far the sun did its job. I assume I speak for many San Diegans when I say: we hope this year will be sunny and San Diego will be Americas finest city again.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

San Diego County Fair

Yesterday, we went to the San Diego County Fair. Thanks to the courtesy of our international office J1 Visa holders receive a free ticket every year. After 2 hours of stop and go and an almost over-heated car (scary) we finally got a parking spot and dove into the stream of fair visitors. The fair is in Del Mar since 1936 and started out as an agricultural fair. Still today one can marvel at goats and cows and bet in pig races or ride horses. We even saw two elephants making their rounds with spectators on their back.

Nowadays the main attraction might be the rides in roller-coasters and merry-go-rounds next to the flurry of deep fried food. Please notice the nurse with the defibrillator on the billboard. This years highlight is deep fried Kool-Aid. But also deep fried butter or deep fried brownies. I thought the Dutch frying habits were weird, but the Americans clearly win the race. We finally tried a twisted tater sausage, which was a sausage with a kind of twirled potato chip twisted around. Part from the tons of salt it was not  so bad.

But the fair does not only offer heart attack indulgences, but also has huge art exhibits. Kids, high-school and professional artists show off their drawings, paintings and photographs. We spend about 2 hours only in the art exhibits and did not even see everything. I felt inspired to draw and paint more, but also a bit discouraged because my drawing and painting is not very good. Another highlight is the garden show and all the concerts that take place during the fair.

My favorite moment was when we went with an old fashioned Tea-Cup carousel. It was clearly for kids, because we hardly could fit into it, but it was so much fun. We turned really fast and I had to laugh so hard.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Today I read a newspaper article by a journalist who also happens to be an illegal immigrant. Coming to the US as a child, not knowing at first that his papers were fake, he struggled himself through the system, fearing to be caught, working very hard to convince himself and the rest of the (US)world that he deserved to be an American. What a brave teenager and young man.

Being legal but alien myself, I have to think about this matter very often. When I moved to the Netherlands, I for the first time appreciated the European Union. There was hardly any paperwork and no restrictions. You just pack your stuff and go. I did not feel like a foreigner. Coming to the US was a little bit more adventurous with visits to the embassy and the constant thought in mind, what if they send me home. At first I even wondered wether I would be allowed to walk on grass here, afraid of being arrested and send back to Germany. I hope you only mildly judge my naivete and childishness, but also I watched too much TV.  

However, to me it is a strange feeling to be allowed here only under certain circumstances, how must it feel to somebody who is actually illegal. Thinking about it, I understand that nations want to protect their properties and resources, but somehow the whole concept of nationality seems odd.

I am proud to be American, shouldn't it be to be glad to be an American? What is the achievement to be born in this country? Not all Americans are as hard working as for example this illegal journalist. 

The US seems to thrive with the help of their immigrants alike Germany did in the 60s and probably still does today. I hope they will have more respect one day. 

Once again, I am happy that I was so lucky to be born in a developed part in this world and not somewhere else.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Alles Kaese

Yesterday evening I took on the travel to Carlsbad, CA. Located in Carlsbad is Tip-Top-Meats, a German Supermarket. Since I am here I am craving German Cheesecake, Kaesekuchen. I tried American Cheesecake, which is prepared with Cream Cheese and it is not really my favorite taste. Browsing google for the key ingredient, Quark (I would describe it as a mixture of sour cream and cream cheese), I never found any shop where I could buy quark. I felt so disappointed. Until recently, when a friend told me about a German supermarket in Carlsbad. I called them up and of course they had quark, imported from Canada. Having the yummy Kaesekuchen in mind I got into my car and cruised along the I5 to Carlsbad. 

Right next to the entrance I fell into the fridge with quark, which did not only give me the prospect of a yummy cake but also had a yummy price. Well, it is imported, right? Of course I did not stop with the quark. Into my basket also went Milka Chocolate, Bahlsen Waffeln, a glass of Rotkraut, my favorite salad dressing, Jagdwurst und Senfgurken, lecker!  Kloesse, I left for next time.

As soon as I came home I ate a big slice of Jagdwurst and started to prepare the cheesecake. Of course, I was not patient enough to wait and call my mother for the recipe (blame the time change) and so I pulled out a recipe from the internet. The mix seemed really liquid, but as I am not really familiar with baking, I just put everything in the oven.

It did not really look right. I rather had a boiling soup in my spring-form pan than a cheesecake, I was so disappointed. But with time it looked a bit better, but not really good. I consulted my baking specialist and followed the advice to leave it longer at a lower heat. Et voila, it indeed worked. The cake is still a little bit moist, but so so so yummy. 

Now I have to find out, how to make Quark myself and in a year I will be all wobbly and chubby from all the Kaesekuchen that I made....

If you want to try:

1 kg Quark 
200 g sugar
125 g butter 
1 pack vanilla sugar
1 pack Vanilla pudding
4 eggs
juice of 1 lemon

mix everything and let it bake for 60- 70 min at 175 C (350 F, well it took me more like 1.5 hr). 

People vary it with all kind of fruits. My mother, I think, also adds some baking powder. Instead of quark, one might also try sour cream or Ricotta, let me know, if it works....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Knit Night Hangover

Now about 1.5 years ago I (re)discovered knitting. Re in parenthesis, because as a child my mom taught me knitting but it did not really catch on. Surrounded by friends that knit, I picked it up again and was caught by surprise that it seemed to be like bicycling: once you learn it you will not forget how to knit. 

Since then many of my friends and relatives became the victim of my knitting fanaticism, hopefully to their delight. For me knitting is a form of meditation almost an addiction at times. I can sit for hours without any other distraction just fixated on my knitting. Five, six hours at a time, sometimes till late in the morning, continuing as soon as I wake up. Occasionally, I will be left with a headache and symptoms of withdrawal.

Often, I am surprised of my patience. Whereas by nature being rather impatient and superficial, when knitting I somehow demand to be very careful and precise. At many occasions I redo hours of work just because of a little mistake that probably nobody would notice. 

The best thing about knitting is the part of creating something. While in my work I handle colorless and odorless liquids that transform into other colorless and odorless liquids, with knitting I make heads and gloves and scarfs and sweaters. It is so gratifying. Then I can show off by uploading my projects to Ravelry, a kind of facebook for knitters.

One highlight are our knitting nights. Meeting a group of other girls with some cheese and wine chatting and gossiping for the evening while picking up stitches and clanging our needles.

But my favorite place to knit is the beach. Usually I drive to La Jolla Cove and sit on a bench with my knitting for hours. The swooshing ocean  in the background I watch the pelicans hovering by and observe the surfers and their astonishing stunts. Tourists swing by and many chat with me about what I am making or once a woman even pulled her knitting from her car and we had a mini-knit-sit-together. 

I love to knit, so if you have any wishes, go ahead and tell me.....

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Carlifornia Poppies

It is a beautiful and sunny day. Maybe not the best day to drive to the desert but I do not care. I wanted to see the Orange Sea of California Poppies. Heading from LA north east towards Lancaster my cravings for beauty are already fulfilled. California has many National Forests, although not all of them actually have a lot of trees. But left and right the mountain range of the Angeles National Forest rose up and behind each turn my eyes would discover new beauty. If my father sat next to me now, he would anxiously signal me to capture the whole with his digital video camera that he uses to replace his own memories.

I genuinely enjoy the ride. Americas wilderness and vastness taught me the pleasure of driving. Hardly can I recall that to me driving a car used to be harrowing. Cruising through the mountains in an almost dangerous speed I just can imagine that only flying might be more pleasant. The mountains are upholstered with green brush and the birds of prey make their rounds. For a moment I get a little scared, because I realize there is nobody else in this empty stretch of land but I shake it off, not to spoil the pure experience.

As I drive further east the tone changes to yellow. Rare get the green bushes, just dry grass is covering the land now. For me the desert is just as picturesque. A slight disappointment creeps in, I will be too late. It is already end of May and I won't see any orange wonders, the poppies will be gone. I will have to wait a whole year to get another chance. In this day and age it seems almost surreal to have to wait for something. It gets hotter and hotter and I have to turn the air-conditioning on. I try to avoid it, but it is just so hot. I keep driving, maybe I can have at least a nice hike. I cannot fill myself with all the beauty of this land, I never get enough. The landscape is rough and simple, but on the other hand complete and rich with little details that wait to be discovered.

A smile jumps on my face, like to a child joy just suddenly happened to me, I saw a poppy. Another one and a few more. Only a negligible number between all the grass, but I saw them. Mister Garmin tells me I arrived but I cannot spot the state reserve yet. I keep driving, now hopeful that there will be a miraculous change of scenery, that behind the next turn an orange-green stretch will open up and absorb me. But the scenery remains, yellow, dry, grassy mountains and hills, as far as I can see. I approach the sign of the reserve, here I am. Should the few poppies that flanked the roads be all my blessing for today? I park the car. A few other visitors are around. It is windy. it is so windy as I never experienced it. I hardly can open the door. I only have a light jacket and wonder if I even should get out watching the tourists with their coats and hoodies almost completely covering their faces. 

But I am surprised. the wind, although extremely strong, is so warm almost hot. I have to giggle, I feel lifted. The wind pushes me up the hiking trail. My legs just walk by themselves. I disturb the lizards's sun bathes as I climb up. Hushed, they flee into the holes that build the sideline of the trail. Sometimes they freeze and I get out one of my latest toys to take a picture. It is actually so windy, that at times I cannot even hold the camera still. I climb further and suddenly little objects seem to fly through the air. I wonder if I hallucinated, but again. Grasshoppers. Who would have expected grasshoppers to be around in the desert? I tiptoe the rest of the trail not to accidentally smash them. They bump into me during their flights and I feel bad for my sole being. I hope I left them all complete and without harm. 

Although the other tourists complained that they did not see any wild flowers up here, I can spot many of them. Another surprise, there are also a lot of bees around. They might enjoy  the warmth of the desert as much as I do. And of course there are poppies. No oceans of poppies but to me an impressible number, just enough for me to be content. In the yellow background the orange does not stick out very well, is more hidden and the small LCD screen of my camera, does not give me the feeling that I satisfactorily captured the moment, but I don't care. It is so pretty and warm, I still have to giggle. 

What I love about the desert is the sound. It is so calm, just a slight hum of the wind and some insects that seem to reside here. Today the wind is more tumultuous, but there are no artificial sounds around. None! The desert is such a calm place, so wide, so beautiful and so rich.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lost in Translation

I haven't been writing in a long time and although many things are going on they did not pass through my fingers onto the keyboard to appear in this blog. But I have been pondering a lot, almost getting myself to the desk and starting to type (at the least I did not want to be the bed bug post my last post). In the end writing a blog is as doing so many things, you have to do it and more or less things will fall in place. So once again I have to thank my friends to scream out for me to write!

It just crossed my mind, that one of the many things I did not catch up with is a book my brother recently gave to me. It is a book attempting to teach me how to take pictures like Ansel Adams with a digital camera. For all of you who do not know Ansel Adams, he is an American photographer who developed the zonal system. His work is spectacular, but I also admirer him for his relation to nature and envy him for all the time that he took to spend in Americas wilderness.

However, I did not really want to write about Ansel Adams, but about what happened to me reading the book my brother gave to me. Although from an American author the copy I have is in German and while I was reading it occurred to me that everything was so easy to understand. It was so liberating.

I assume my English is not so bad. I usually can understand the most texts and thanks to my passion for NPR (National Public Radio) but also my addiction for TV shows and movies it became also relatively easy to listen. But speaking and in particular writing myself is still a struggle at times. Humor is particularly difficult both in understanding and being humorous myself. Also being in the middle of a conversation with native speakers still can be somewhat challenging. Whereas in personal conversations everybody usually speaks slower and more simple, in the temper of a discussion amongst native speakers I am the lame duck hardly following the argument. Not being a blabber mouth by nature only potentiates the problem.

Going through the terror of fellowship applications for the past two years somewhat elevated my writing and I have to be thankful to my supervisor, who is not only a wonderful PI but also a good English teacher for her foreign postdocs (and I even got awarded with a fellowship just recently). Concluding that practice is the only way to improve and make my life easier. Sometimes my inability to speak my mind takes a hard toll on my self confidence. I used to have the motto that only actions but not words count, but growing older I have to realize that many things in this world are done with words and a good speaker can make all the difference. Maybe still being far away from being a master of rhetoric, I once again pledge to write more often just to become a better person.