cupcakes and tote bags

Today was our last staff meeting of the semester. Baked goods and other treats featured heavily in the meeting and there were presents for those of us that are leaving (one person was an exchange lecturer this year and is going back home, others are going on an exchange themselves or have a fellowship, like me). We each got a tote bag featuring an appropriate quotation. Mine was from Emily Dickinson:

Faith—is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not.

I thought it was really nice of them and am very happy with the bag.

Also, I made these for the staff meeting, and they’re by far the best and easiest summer cupcakes you can make. I love them. If you don’t mind turning your oven on in the summer, you should make them too.


12 Cellists

Sorry for the long radio silence over here…it’s all the fellowship’s fault. I got the email on Tuesday, floated through Wednesday and Thursday, then got slapped in the face by reality, otherwise known as the long list of things I want to have done dissertation-wise before I leave for Utah on August 21. All this is to say that I’ve been in overdrive mode for the last two weeks.

Luckily, I have friends to distract me from my work (and, more importantly, the inside of my own head). Such as R. We have made a habit of meeting for study dates at Starbucks, where we share our expat experiences and she explains German grammar to me in such a manner that I actually understand it (unlike my actual teacher, unfortunately), before we use the wonderful power of peer pressure to actually get stuff done. Anyway, a couple weeks ago, we went to see the 12 Cellists from the Berliner Philharmoniker perform at the Konzerthaus here.

the Konzerthaus

the Konzerthaus, picture by R.

They played works by Schumann, Purcell, and Simons. (The latter is a fairly young composer, and his work was fairly modern, and not quite my taste. But the audience was appreciative so I think I’m the Philistine here.) It was a lovely concert, although I was kind of baffled by the two encores and the overkill that is four (!!) curtain calls, all including standing ovations.

What also made the night great was that the Konzerthaus here offers students and under-27s a great deal: pick any seat for a reduced price. Our seats originally cost fifty euros, but we paid 12,50 a piece for them. Good music at an even better price? Awesome.

Oh, and the Konzerthaus offers pretzels at intermission (the big, soft kind). I am definitely getting one of those on my next visit.


On Easter Monday (an extra day off here), my mom, E. and I drove to Düsseldorf to the Aquazoo there. It’s not a new museum/aquarium/zoo by any means but it was still great. My sister E. has a masters in biology and will start a PhD program this summer, so she had the knowledge to ignore the signs and teach us all about evolutionary processes. She also dragged me into the room with all the live insects and made me look at them from up close. While I will concede the beauty of certain insect species (anything but spiders and cockroaches, basically), I’m still not a fan of creepy crawlies.

Of course, because we never outgrow our stuffed animals, this also happened.

Just catching a ride with my big brother.


Playing hide-and-seek.

Excuse the blurriness, please, I think I hadn’t quite gotten over the insect room yet.

oh, the Germanity

Today was the last day of the intensive German class. It’s been a crazy month for me, so far, with five applications due, daily German class, and a host of other things besides. As much as I kind of needed those mornings for other things, I think it was worth it. I definitely learned a lot–the Starbucks people don’t even automatically switch to English when I order anymore. That seems an adequate measure of my skills, right?

I did pretty well on the final exam, although nerd that I am, I would have liked to have done a little better. But I scored high enough to move up a level and that was what I wanted, so I’m going to let go of my inner perfectionist and call it good.

And oh, am I going to enjoy waking up tomorrow without the prospect of three-and-a-half hours of language lessons hanging over my head.

Bonus image, because it always makes me laugh.

Bonus semi-related image, because it always makes me laugh.


Last weekend, two good friends came to Dortmund. They were originally going to come earlier, until I suddenly decided to go to California and made them reschedule. I’m reliable that way.


M., M. and me.

I love it when friends come to visit me: I get to stay home (no trains!) and still get to see people. It was a bit odd, linguistically, because I rarely speak Dutch while wandering the streets of Dortmund, and one of the M.’s had to keep finishing my sentences because I wouldn’t know the word. Luckily she’s used to doing that and has developed a kind of sixth sense of which words I like to use.

We walked all through the Westfalenpark on Friday and shopped a bit on Saturday, with coffee and cake being the highlight of that rainy day. (I clearly take my refreshments seriously.) We had found a Konditerei for lunch but the menu turned out to be a little too German for us, so we moved to the bakery next door instead, where we took the table next to the senior citizens (walkers included). M. and M. had requested American food for dinner that night, so I made them mac and cheese (recipe by Smitten Kitchen, in lieu of Kraft). On Sunday, after a leisurely brunch*, they left for home and I settled down with my German homework. That was a bit of a letdown, I have to say, but at least I still had the leftover mac and cheese to console me.


And yes, M. and I are wearing exactly the same cardigans. They were too good to pass up on at 7 euros. Too bad we didn’t pressure the other M. into buying one too. We did, however, threaten to show up at her (fall) wedding in matching outfits. We’re obviously very compassionate friends.

*So leisurely that I didn’t even get dressed until M. declared we needed to take pictures. Even then, I eschewed my jeans for my yoga pants and instructed her to make sure the picture would only feature my top half. Apparently, I’ll go to considerable lengths to make sure I can be comfortable and lazy yet appear somewhat put-together..

in which I actually speak German

This month, I’m taking a German class, with three and a half hours of German a day. I’m in the intermediate class, and slowly learning to formulate sentences correctly, and even, once in a blue moon, to use the right case while speaking. This is all part of my 2013 goal of going the distance and forcing myself to integrate somewhat into German life.

Which is all to say that I was very proud of myself this morning when, on the way to the subway, a woman asked me if the escalator had stopped working. Now, my usual course of action is to understand what someone says to me but not know what to say back. So I’ll smile a lot, stutter a few words, and gesture and make signs that further confuse whoever I’m talking to. But lo and behold, today I suddenly had the words to tell her that I had just seen someone go up the escalator so no, it probably wasn’t broken.

It probably seems like a really small thing if you’ve never lived abroad and have always been able to participate in the plethora of small exchanges that take place every day, whether it’s with a neighbor, at the grocery store, or the three thousand other places that have the ability to throw me into a linguistic panic because someone just deviated from the standard script and I now have no idea what I’m supposed to say or do. (And…breathe. As you can tell, I am still a little traumatized from our move to the Netherlands where I spent years feeling stupid, isolated, and so very not Dutch. Good times.)

Moral of this story? No way am I moving somewhere ever again where they don’t use a language I already speak. Let’s just hope my dream guy got the message, and doesn’t turn out to be French or something. That just might kill me.

Sunday morning

On Sunday, I was planning to visit an international church in Bochum, but then found out they were doing a Christmas pageant during the service in which the audience was encouraged to participate. The idea of not being able to sit in the back and observe kind of horrified an introvert like me, for whom walking up to the front to get communion is about the limit for a first visit. So I went to a nearby Catholic mass instead.

It was a nice enough service, but I don’t think I’ll be back. Although I love the sense of tradition inherent to the Catholic Church, the mass kept playing havoc with my Protestant sensibilities. However, the upside was that I got to light a candle, always a nice touch, and that it’s so close to my apartment that I managed to avoid getting drenched by the sudden downpour after the service, mostly because I was already home five minutes after the mass ended. So, you know, that’s good.