Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Heart For The Little People

Maybe it was the dollhouse my father made for my sister and I when we were quite young, a house he made, interestingly enough, in the traditional German Fachwerk style. Maybe it is because of the heart-felt longing I had as a child to find the little people (gnomes, fairies, brownies and so forth.) Whatever the reason, I have always had a soft spot for everything dollhouse sized.

Imagine how pleased I was when I found this vintage 1960s dollhouse furniture recently, a sideboard and a highboard. Since I don't really have a use for dollhouse furniture right now (but when I'm an old lady, I'm so going hog wild!) I'm offering it for sale at my etsy shop. Then again, in some ways that's exactly what my shop is about: a sort of rescue center for kitsch and vintage treasures that I find amazing but have no use for myself. I keep a roof over their head and keep them safe until I'm able to find a new home for them.

As of Novem
ber 1st, this furniture will be available for "adoption" here. If you also have a love of the little, check out the truly amazing dollhouse food for sale at Suskita, a shop based in Finland.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Where Have I Been?

I haven't posted in a few days, so the question is, where have I been? Have I been out riding my bicycle?

No, my friends. These days with this dreary weather I am far too lazy. What we have been doing is re-arranging our apartment. Here are some "before" shots of our place:

And the after shots? I admit I haven't yet taken them. When this malaise wears off (if it wears off...) I'll take some pictures and post them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Learning From The Land, aka Back To Braunsberg

About a week ago I discovered on one of my many google searches that you can rent a little vacation apartment on various organic farms throughout Germany. I had heard of this before, but never really considered doing it (also equating it with camping I think, and I'm not much of a camper....) But recently I've been so burnt on city life, at least the rude, every-man-out-for-himself version Berlin is so known for. And Jasper, I knew, could use a break though he's not really the farm kind of guy (but some part of me will always keep the fantasy alive that, someday, we will raise chickens.) So, on a whim, I booked a room at Braunsberger Höfe, a farm in the tiny village of Braunsberg which is in the former East German state of Brandenburg about an hour and half drive from Berlin. I stayed there with Miss Mia and Baby Li while Jasper headed back to the city; Mia only lasted a day, toddler city slicker that she is, but Baby Li and I had ourselves a time.

Although I have much to report
(and perhaps gradually will if the mood strikes me) here are the main things I learned:

1. Apples really DO taste the best when picked directly from the tree, as in no comparison. The apples you are eating from the super market are but a mere ghost of what an apple can truly be.

2. Geese are really, really, really mean. Actually, I already knew this one. Around ten years ago I had one of the best meals of my life on a little farm on the French island of Corsica. Geese came over as we ate and nipped at our ankles. The ironic things is that we were eating, among other things, pate....I had also heard that geese are great watch animals and discovered soon it was so very true. Anytime we even came close to their pen they immediately waddled over and started honking and hissing like we had come to burn the barn down. Sheesh. It made me feel a little bit better about how much I love, love, love to eat their livers!

3. Pigs, another very intelligent farm animal, smell really bad. No news to me. What WAS news, however, was how truly frightening they sound when they are being fed. Our apartment was, li
terally, above the pig pen (though luckily it was quite homey and did not smell...) and so, at seven thirty on the first morning, we heard this sound; a sound like the ghouls in Dante's fourth ring of hell feasting on a some poor fresh soul. Seriously....Mia ended up having to go home early because the farm (quietness, etc.) was too spooky for her, but I think it was probably the pigs that had set the tone.

4. Farm fresh air really IS good for you. Yes, something about being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by animals really did me a lot of good. I've been back in Berlin for a day now and, yes, the weather is still hideous and far too cold for October with no beautiful fall light but, still, I am just so deeply relaxed that it barely even bothers me. People somehow also seem much friendlier. O
r maybe it's me who's friendlier....Who knows? Either way, all I can say is thank you Braunsberg!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ode To Grandpa Huck

My grandfather was a natural born storyteller. When he came to visit, we kids would gather around him and beg him to tell stories like Gefilte Fish over and over and over. He hated farming, though that was how he made his living. Legend has it he had wanted to be either a lawyer or a preacher but, for some reason, he was too afraid to go to high school; he never got past an eighth grade education.

My grandfather was one of the many German-Russian refugees that came to the Mid-West and parts of Canada in the first part of the twenty-first century (his mother may also have been Jewish, though there is no way to know; he certainly was fascinated with Jewish culture). He was born out in a tent where the migrant workers lived, his mother back in
the fields shortly after his birth. When he was a child, he often told us, the only toys he had ever had to play with were bones. Although I doubt this was actually true (he told it to us, of course, to try and teach us a lesson since he found us so wasteful), we believed him; when my younger brother was in the fifth grade he had to interview someone about the best Christmas present they had ever received. My brother knew immediately he wanted to choose my mother. She told him the story of a ballerina doll she had gotten one year but soon saw that he was disappointed. When she asked him why he said: "I figured you might have gotten a human skull." After all, grandpa had played with bones so why not mom too, and the human skull is the ultimate of all bones....

A few years before he passed away I asked my grandmother to record him telling his stories. She did, and I still had the cassette in my old wardrobe at my parent's house. When my mother recently moved I for
got to mention it and all the old cassettes were thrown out....

Still, he was present when I went the harvest festival in Nebraska. All of the old farmers there looked more or less exactly like he had. Did they also hate farming? Do any of them also have a poetic, story-telling soul? Who knows, but it's nice to think he might not have been the only one.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ode To Clement Street

I'm not sure exactly why I've always been so fond of Clement Street. Located in the Inner Richmond, Clement is almost always chilly and foggy, even by San Francisco standards. Maybe it's because it's one of the areas of the City I got to know first; my mom interned as a therapist at a place over there after she finished her master's and I used to sometimes go with her and hang out at The Blue Danube Coffee House while she worked. Maybe it's because the street still holds some of the more positive memories I have of my ex-husband; we went there everytime he visited when we still in the long distance relationship way before we got married. We would spend an hour browsing in Green Apple Books, then pick up fried noodles with Satay sauce at Java Restaurant and sesame balls at one of the dim sum places (Clement Street is sort of a second, unofficial and non-touristy San Francisco Chinatown) which we would eat later at the Sutro Baths near Ocean Beach.

I went there with my family a couple of weeks ago and, yes, it was chilly and foggy but we had a nice time anyway. Thankfully Green Apple was still there, which is not what can be said for Black Oak Books in Berkeley or Pegasus Books in Noe Valley. Independent bookstores seem to be fading away which is truly sad because it's not likely they will ever be replaced....

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Happy Fall, Everyone!

* Courtesy of this little red leaf, my left hand and my new fantabulous macro lens!

Monstrous Little Packets of Fun

I suppose there are numerous ways people in their prime child-bearing years who don't have kids feel about children, but here are probably two of the most extreme on opposite sides of the spectrum:
a) people who think children are equivalent to pond scum; smelly, irritating and hard to get rid of; and b) people who think children are wondrous little packets of joy and, lord, how
they can't wait until they have one.

As a mother of two I can say that yes, kids are great but, while I wouldn't go quite as far as to equate them with pond scum, they can sometimes truly be teeny, tiny monsters.

On my recent visit, my sister put it rather aptly on a particularly bad baby day: "Just think. A couple of years ago you went for weeks without having anyone in your life scream, cry, whine or pound their fists on things." How did I ever do without?

Still, kids can be a joy and most of the time are lots of fun. You can a) collect rocks in your skirt on a whim b) talk poop A LOT (though this hopefully fades once you get past the diaper years....) c) read lots of wonderful stories out loud several times a day like Ferdinand, Goodnight Moon and Hooper Humperdinck, Not Him, using funny voices d) chase birds any time your heart should fancy, and e) burst into song and dance at the drop of a hat. If you were to often do any of these things without kids, people just might start questioning your sanity.

Mia and Lilly, thanks so much for being my monstrous little packets of fun. I love you both so much.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Newsflash: Walmart Has Ruined Small Town America...

That's how I felt on my recent journey through Cheyenne, Wyoming and various small towns in Western Nebraska. Here were all these places with quaint, old brick buildings lining main street that had a sort of Western charm and yet most (if not all) of the shops were deserted. The only other people I saw during the day (though downtown Cheyenne does seem to have a nighttime cowboy drinking crowd...) were in the occasional car driving by. Where was everyone? I wouldn't have been surprised if I had seen a tumble weed, a la Hollywood, rolling down the street.

Some of what I saw bordered on the surreal, like this shop window of the same chair over and over in a now-defunct furniture store in Cheyenne:

Or this remains of an ancient piece of apple pie on a bench in Minatare, Nebraska where someone had propped a plastic fork:

Many of the empty businesses had signs in their windows like the photograph at the beginning of this post. Still, that one at least has a sort of irony to it. Some of the other signs were really sad, like the ones that thanked all their loyal customers for helping to keep them open in these hard times only now the shop is gone, a rolled-up American flag propped up against an empty display case.

Am I just an arrogant city slicker? Have I just become too European? After all, my grandma, a native of Western Nebraska, told me how excited everyone was when Walmart came to town. But these lonely, small town streets had such a charm; they still do, though now they are all the more desolate and melancholy.

But I did get some great shots, especially of this abandoned motel about 5 miles up the road from the farm in Bayard where my mother grew up:

Next to the motel was also The Chef restaurant.

Although the restaurant was closed too (it said in the window, Due To Uncontrollable Circumstances) and there was a for lease sign out front, all of the tables were still set, as though in eternal waiting for hungry diners.

Some of the motel doors were open but, though we were somewhat tempted, Jasper and I didn't go inside. We weren't sure who (or what) might be living there and besides, we were starting to both feel spooked. We had landed in a ghost town reserved as of now only for the dead or maybe just those merely forgotten.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Back Home

Yes, as of Wednesday afternoon I have been back in Berlin. They say when you travel across seas on a plane it takes a while for your soul to catch back up with you. I definitely feel like that; right now my soul is probably hovering somewhere above Greenland....Come back soon, darling!

Here are a few culture shock realizations I've had since I've bee
n back, all experienced in an extreme jet lag daze:

1. Berlin is a city full of jerks!

Well, duh. I've blogged about this one before. Still, w
hen you spend a few weeks somewhere friendlier (i.e. almost anywhere else in the world....) it is rather shocking when you are back in the city. People's faces are so closed off, like they have been having a bad day every day of their life and they're sure it only going to get worse. So many of our citizens seem to be bursting with anger and watch out if you make a mistake; yesterday at the grocery store the clerk accidentally called the piece of fruit a woman was buying an apple. "It's a pomegranate," the woman said with force, a scowl on her face. She looked like she was practically two steps away from giving the clerk a sock in the jaw. Not that the clerk was even all that upset because, in Berlin, this is not really unusual behavior. Hey Berliners, lighten up! I'd say take a chill pill, but they so don't sell those here!

2. In Northern California, pedestrians rule the school....

When I was in the Bay Area I saw so many signs that read: Pedestrians always have the right of way. Pedestrian Crossing: Minimum Fine $104. Not so here in Berlin. Today, as usual, some woman totally took my right of way at the zebra crossing. Gee, I'm just some poor slob pushing not one but two babies in a stroller. It is obviously SO much more important that she cut me off so she can speed up to that red light she will undoubtedly have on the corner. Granted, I was cut off by another car (while driving) far too many times in California to claim that Bay Area drivers are the cream of the crop but still- at least they show pedestrians some respect. In Berlin I've actually had driver's SPEED UP if they thought I was crossing the street when they had the right of way (to teach me a lesson I guess....) and yes, as usual, at those times I was pushing the double buggy. Look Berliners, I'm not one of those irritating moms who blocks the sidewalk with their buggy or jams her way through a crowd. All I want is a little consideration and respect. Is that seriously too much to ask?

3. Groceries are so much cheaper here

Lest I fall merely into an anti-Berlin tirade, I can say that food here is a hell of a lot cheaper than it is in the states. In both California and Nebraska I raised my eyebrows at the high prices every time I went to the store; ultimately, it is probably cheaper to just eat out. Yesterday, at Netto I bought some radishes for 25 cents, a cucumber for 69 cents, a liter of milk for 49 cents (and people have complained over the past few years about the higher prices of milk....) The most ridiculous experience I had was at a small grocer near Bodega Bay. All I bought there was a carton of orange juice, a gallon of milk and a carton of eggs and it cost nearly 15 dollars. It was an overpriced place off of Highway 1, but still! At Netto I bought enough food for four or five seperate meals, including a lot of meat, and it only cost me 23 Euros. Thanks Berlin for feeding me so well for so cheap!

To change the subject entirely, I bought a new lens when I got to Cali. Here are some of my favorite first shots, all taken in Alameda, California which is my mom's new home.


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