The World’s Costliest Ice Cubes

We have an ancient refrigerator that is too small and badly designed. With the freezer part on top, we often have to crouch down or even get on our knees to reach foods at the back of the bottom shelves. A few months ago, my husband decided he wanted to get a new one and, for some reason, he became enamored with the idea of a side-by-side design – and the bigger the better. My daughters and I got on board when he agreed to a model with an automatic ice-cube dispenser in the door.

But where to put it? Our narrow, over-stuffed kitchen has a lot of window and little wall space. We contemplated ways to rearrange, but the only viable options were either to take down part of the wall cabinets and shorten our one and only, already small counter space, or to put the fridge in the adjoining living room. Of course, that would mean no ice.

“I don’t want a living room with a grand piano and a fridge in it,” I said. “That would look stupid.”

“Maybe we should just redo the whole kitchen,” my husband suggested. “And while we are at this, we really should replace that picture window.” (We’d had it made 20 years earlier by a cheap Slovenian carpenter. It warped over the years and now, when a strong wind blows, we hear it whistling through the cracks.) “Of course, then we would have to replace the other kitchen window at the same time,” he added.

Who was I to argue?

Enter my husband’s frat pal, who happens to be an architect and then his running buddy who happens to sell kitchens, and then our neighbor’s brother, who happens to own a local window-making factory. The running buddy came up with a great plan, which unfortunately will require us to replace ALL of our other appliances – stovetop, oven, microwave, dishwasher, and, I assume, the TV which will have to be mounted on a wall. We also will need an electrician to relocate all the outlets and a plumber to move the water lines and radiator.

All this for easy access to ice cubes.

I looked around my kitchen today. My old antique hutch will be relocated, but all the rest of the furnishings will be tossed, (probably ending up in some Hungarian or Romanian kitchen). Of the appliances, I saw only two items that will stay in there: the coffeemaker and the toaster.

That’s when it hit me. This guy is going to have to go. This . . .  treasure. This old friend, so chock-full of sentimental value that I once wrote a whole post about it.  (Well, actually, I wrote the post to get some payback after Ly dissed me in her blog . . . )  If this guy goes, her ugly coffee mug will win!

 

Maybe I don’t need a new fridge after all.

Too late. It’s a done deal. Orders have been signed and the dates of different project stages are already entered into our calendar.  Three months from now, I will press my glass into the dispenser and listen to the clink of my first ice cubes dropping into it. If each cube gives me, let’s say, one Euro worth of satisfaction, and if I use, maybe, five cubes a day, then this fridge will have paid for itself in about 15 years.

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Connection Finally Made

 Berlin Postings – #4

 

The Wall came down and the two Berlins were reunited way back in the early 90s. As it turns out, it would take about another 25 years before they came together inside my head.

For the historically challenged, I will explain that the city got drawn and quartered after WWII by four different occupying nations. It was later re-stitched somewhat, but a big chunk was left off. Berlin became two cities, in two different countries, in two different economic and political systems. All the former streetcar lines and roads that had connected the two halves became mirror image dead ends.

European cities characteristically have an old center where the most awesome buildings congregate – the palaces, the opera house and theaters, the massive churches or cathedrals, the impressive museums, the renowned universities, the libraries, the City Hall . . .  When the barbed wire went up after the war this old center, “Berlin Mitte” landed in the East and was off limits to me in many of my earlier visits. Instead of all these magnificent structures, I pictberlin-mitteured East Berlin as a collection of non-aesthetic gray concrete blocks. But on Day 3 of this trip, we explored lots of the center on foot and those old false images got a correction.

 

Here’s a taste:

Gendarmenmarkt and the Neue Wache – a monument dedicated to the victims of war:

Bebelplatz which was the site of a huge book-burning in 1933 – I assume the first of many. There was a glass plate through which you can (normally) see an empty underground library – unfortunately the glass was so scratched and fogged up that I could barely make anything out:

Outdoor waiting lines made us decide to put off the museum for our next visit and the chilly air made us all crave a warm café and hot chocolate. On the way, though, we stopped at the Berlin Cathedral and ended up spending quite a while in there:

With a few hours to fill before dinner time, Ly’s sweetheart came up with an inspiration: American bowling. My daughters had never tried it and . . . (Warning! Confession!)  . . . I used to be pretty good at it – even had my own ball. It was a riot.

The final highlight of three excellent days was a “jam session” in a club where patrons were welcomed to sing or play along. The sweetheart finagled getting my elder daughter onto the stage by calling her “(Mitzi) from Chicago”. One line into her “Ain’t No Sunshine”, the crowd started enthusiastically whooping and clapping. Then they settled down and really listened. The musicians kept her up there for two more songs and then asked her to come again the next day. While it was going on, my guilty Raven Mother conscience (for bringing my underage daughters into a smoky bar) faded as my inner Stage Mom emerged full force. I turned to the stranger next to me, pointed to the stage and bragged, “MY daughter!”

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For going on twenty years now, I have been arriving at Tegel Airport and immediately handing over the reins to the world’s most gracious hostess (and, in later years, the sweetheart host). They drive me around, feed me, act as my personal tour guides. In recent trips, my family members have enjoyed this treat, too, along with sundry strangers from, let’s say, Kiel. In all this time, I never really had to know where I was – Ly had a plan.

For some reason, this time it occurred to me that I had no city map of Berlin in my head. So I finally bought one. I have studied it and located all the places I’ve seen and photographed . . .

That’s where I’ve been! What do you know!!

 

No Escape

 

Berlin Postings – #3

 

memorial

Day Two in Berlin began somewhat solemnly again as our walk through the center led us past the site of the Christmas Market attack right in front of Berlin’s iconic “Gedächtniskirche” – the bombed and burned out remains of the cathedral left standing as a reminder for the population of war’s devastation. But thereafter, things got happier and my biggest complaint of the day would have to be the peas in my tuna fish salad sandwich.literatur-cafe

We let the girls roam KaDeWe and Bikini Berlin with wads of cash in their fists while Ly and I toured bookstores (“Ka-ching!!”) and then went to the Literature Café for a light lunch. Fabulous place – except for the peas.

 

the-room-kopie       go-west-kopie

 

From there it was on to “The Room” – a live game with the theme of escaping from East Berlin in the 1980s. (My hubby made the reservations for us as part of our Christmas present.) We were given a short orientation and then led to a room. We entered. The door shut behind us. We had one hour to use all the clues hidden there to find our way out – the secret escape route to the West. If we failed, the East German Stasi (secret police) would break down the door and arrest us . . .

It was A LOT of fun, but unfortunately our teamwork and communication were a bit lacking. To make a long story short . . .

I’m adjusting to the Gulag very well.

Unhidden

Berlin Postings – #2

 

Our first full day in Berlin had a recurring theme. Bringing to light what once was intentionally not seen. Hidden treasures and hidden atrocities.

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Our first stop was the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. As usual my own emotional reactions came after a delay. While walking through the exhibition my focus turned quickly to my daughters and how they were taking it all. In the first building dealing with the rise of fascism, there was still some conversation, but we all got increasingly silent.

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Things got really rough at the “killing station” with its chilling matter-of-fact descriptions of efficient extermination procedures. Immediately afterward we weaved our way through larger than life-sized pictures of dead Russian soldiers. These images were printed on sheer cloth banners hanging from the ceiling. We had to zigzag through them and avoid their eyes. We were walking among ghosts.

That was when we all felt it. We had taken in as much as we could handle and it was time to go. At some point both girls wondered at the reasoning behind showing all these things – as if it were a tourist attraction. We talked about the importance of seeing these things with your own eyes. Of knowing what happened, facing it, and then maybe recognizing the warning signs in times when it could happen again.

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That is all the words on this I have at the moment. For a moving and more detailed account, read Lyart’s blog posts “Sachsenhausen” and “Sunday Matinee

In the evening we went to the movies and saw “Hidden Figures” which did what it could as an antidote for the morning’s impressions. It wasn’t a perfect film, but this time it felt GOOD to see the once unseen being seen.

hidden-figures

 

Saturday Matinee

My best blog buddy, Lyart, does a weekly thing where she introduces artwork or a particular artist to her readers. I am stealing her idea today, to show some of the work of my sister. In addition to writing and photography, in the past few years she has been having fun creating cool and quirky 3-dimensional pieces. On my second last evening here, she pulled out her USA puzzle and I spent over an hour having so much fun with it.

USA puzzle

 

She had researched each State to come up with something of historical significance that happened there – and not just the good and patriotic stuff. The darker chapters of US history are not glossed over. As you put the puzzle together, the best and worst parts land side by side to create an honest and multifaceted whole. Each puzzle piece is a miniature work of art, a history lesson, and a quiz question all rolled into one. A few examples:

Area 51 alien autopsy meets the origins of Miranda rights
Area 51 alien autopsy meets the origins of Miranda rights

 

Brave and non-violent civil disobedience borders on its exact opposite
Brave and non-violent civil disobedience borders on its exact opposite

 

What these pictures don’t show well is the attention to detail. To take in each puzzle piece, you have to view it from all different angles:

Rosa in the window
Rosa in the window

 

The beginning of the end of segregation
The beginning of the end of segregation

 

It occurred to me how fabulous this would be as teaching material for US History. I even contemplated for a while how I could steal it when I leave here for my other home in Austria tomorrow. Unfortunately, it is a bit bulky. I think my sister might notice. Maybe I’ll just slip this one piece into my suitcase:

Proudly a Cheesehead (despite McCarthyism)
Proudly a Cheesehead (despite McCarthyism)

Historic May 22nd

Today is an important day. Maybe even historic.

Not because I went to a community meeting to help plan a big “Welcome! Let’s Get to Know Each Other!” party for our 30 new refugee villagers (along with the mere 20 other villagers who actually welcome them).

And not because one of my school kids has caught some mild childhood disease and, today, hysterically sent out a WhatsApp to all the other kids that our London trip is going to be called off. (That kept me on the phone for several hours. The bright spot: I now know what “Slapped Cheek Syndrome” is.)

And not because today might turn out to be, in the words of cabaret artist, Christof Spörk, the last day of Austria’s 2nd Republic.

And not because the closest election I have ever witnessed happened today – the results of which are still not in. (The winner will be determined by several thousand absentee ballots to be counted tomorrow, one of which is from my friend Lyart.)

fifty fifty

No, none of those things are why today is so important.

Happy Birthday, Ly!!

It’s the Quality, Stupid

All throughout my twenty-five years of teaching English to Business students, I raged against their cemented-in, almost purely economic world view. No matter what social issue we discussed, the sighing conclusion was that it all came down to money in the end. Keynes was out and Smith’s invisible hand back in. All those ideas for improving the world sounded well and good, but . . . who was going to pay for them? The purpose of a corporation was not to pool resources of funds, talent and know-how in order to provide necessary goods and services for the people – no, the purpose of a corporation was to make money for shareholders. Built-in-obsolescence was genius because it ensured future customers. Why produce a pot that can be used for 50 years? You will only be able to make one sale per person per lifetime! So now we can wear our jeans for a year before they start tearing and dissolving and we can replace our toasters every five years, our coffeemakers every two. The government, as well, should shift their focus from quality (of life) to the bottom line. No more reckless investing in people or the future – the number one priority must be to balance the budget while reducing taxes. Deficits are the root of all evil.

Donald Trump’s (very presidential! believe me!!) foreign policy speech got me thinking about all this. Almost all of it was economics over diplomacy. Goodbye foreign aid – from now on it is “America First”. Mexico has to fork over cash (because we have had such good experience with countries who build walls to keep their people in.) NATO countries and Allies should pay up, and, if not, they can just go build their own nukes, thank you. And China will have a price to pay for all those jobs they stole. Pay up, dudes, or we might just get . . . unpredictable. So “Let’s Make a Deal!”

How have we allowed money to become such an all-powerful dictator? To become the one element of life, the one concept we shape our world views around. I understand the idea of “It’s the economy, stupid” and that voters care most about economics.  Most of us want a job with decent enough pay to get by on 40 hours of work a week – leaving us the rest of the time for our families, entertainment, travel and other interests. But a lot of us are also sitting around and waiting for those jobs to be “created”, voting Democrat if we believe the government can do it and Republican if we think businesses can.  I don’t believe either of them has this magical power of giving the people something to do from nine to five, or that this should be either’s ultimate purpose. Businesses provide necessary stuff that can be sold for profit. Governments provide necessary stuff that can’t be sold for a profit.  Forcing the straightjacket of purely economic thinking onto the government is a bad idea. It’s the complementary manifestation of stifling over-regulation or expecting corporations to solve the world’s problems. As nice as it sounds, we cannot simply shop our way to a better world.

In my own personal experience, I think I have managed to hold money at bay so far, by which I mean not allowing it to become all-powerful in defining the quality of my life. I have never had a lot, relatively speaking. (Of course, there are about 90 million Ethiopians who would laugh out loud at that last sentence.) But I have always had enough. I find it easy to adjust my consumption to my bank balance rather than working my butt off to get my income up to the level of my desires. I learned to appreciate keeping old possessions in working order rather than replacing them with something shiny and new. I dampen my own shopping spree delight with the question of where I will find room for this new thing in my already overstuffed house – this premature buyer’s remorse often diverts my path away from the checkout line and toward the exit with empty hands. I procrastinate on purchases until they become no longer needed. I buy unflashy economical cars and drive them until they die. A new pair of jeans will never feel as good as the 38 year old ones in my closet that I have had since high school – and they are still in good shape(!), though, maybe, not particularly stylish.

Yesterday, my younger daughter and I were discussing renovating plans for our first floor (which we really have neglected for too long and is getting sort of dingy.) She pointed to an old wooden hutch in the kitchen and said we should get rid of that. She pointed out how the drawers stick and one of the doors doesn’t close properly anymore.

“That hutch is almost 200 years old, honey. And it is still useful!”

potsThat surprised her and we started touring the furniture and estimating the ages of various pieces. I also pointed out the three pots in our kitchen cabinet that we had gotten as (costly!) wedding gifts. Over a quarter of a century old and used daily, they were still in perfect shape and looked better than the more recent additions to the cabinet. Things my daughter had simply seen as sort of ugly or marred started to appear to her in a new light. Born into a consumer’s world where everything is replaceable and the newest thing is always the best, I think it was the first time she started to understand my attachments to my aging possessions. I hope I could plant the idea in her head that we are not only consumers, but also caretakers.

I once wrote a comment on a friend’s blog that Americans now “consume” elections. We look for entertainment value rather than useful information. So it is really no wonder if we end up with representatives who are looking only as far as the next quarter’s returns rather than the longer term good of the country and world. We aren’t interested in holding on to the aging piece of Washington furniture that has been doing its job reliably forever. We are looking for the shiny new object with a flashy brand name and grand promises of a better, more fulfilling life. Let’s chop up all those old things into firewood and burn them. Forget “a chicken in every pot” – let there be a new pot for every chicken! Making a better deal is the way to a better world.

At least until the handle breaks off after just a few months and the buyer’s remorse sets in. Now our only choices are to keep burning our fingers or take that regrettable, yet somehow pre-ordained and long overdue trip to the dump.