April 23, 2014

The Genglish Book Club

After agonizing my English teachers for more than nine years with terrible grammar and awful spelling, I have still managed to develop my language skills to a standard where I can not only make myself understood amongst native speakers but almost convince them I am good at speaking their language.
Although I don’t want to diminish the effort my teachers put into my education I came to believe this is mainly down to one person: Harry Potter. No joke. The moment I spotted the original book of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone on my best friends’ bookshelf, the destiny of my English skills was forever changed. Reading Harry Potter was like pursuing a hobby that you never excel but just love to do. Like the chubby football player who never seems fast enough, but walks off the pitch with the biggest grin. Or the little girl at ballet that is always out of tune, but keeps twisting her feet in endless joy. They might never win a game or be the best in class, but they still get better every time.

Just like me. With every new HP book my vocabulary increased. Up to a point where I finally stopped flicking through a dictionary after every page. I just read. Then I went travelling and just spoke. Eventually over time, more books, more travels and many repeated mistakes I suddenly got the hang of it.
So, when my favourite Englishman (after more than 2 years) finally decided he wanted to learn German I thought there is only one way to free him from the struggles that is ordinary language learning: The Genglish Book Club.

The Genglish Book Club is not just about reading books, it is not even just about learning a language. It is a German-English cultural exchange. It’s about discovering words as well as stories from a foreign land. It is about going on adventures and finding something fun to read and something new to learn.

Every month the club reads two books: One English book (for me and everyone who would like to improve their English) and one German book (for my favourite Englishman and obviously every German language learner who would like to join us). For our first round, we chose Childhood Classic.

Our first two books are the magical “Matilda” by Roald Dahl and the impeccable “Das fliegende Klassenzimmer” by Erich Kästner. I have seen both movies, but can’t wait to stick my nose into the book. Let’s forget the grammar and read!

In line with the two language culture of the Genglish book club this feature will be published in English and German on the blog.

April 21, 2014

The Bread List

One of the things I miss most as an ex pat from Germany is our (be aware: stereotype!) bread. I am sure if you have friends from Germany or are German yourself and have lived in another country for a while you have heard that before. For me there is nothing better on a Sunday morning than a fresh, crispy bread roll, some butter and slices of salami and cheese. Even the famous Full English Breakfast can’t beat the “Sonntagsschrippe”!
Every now and then I spot an Artisan Bakery in England and bring home a sour dough or two to satisfy my cravings, but overall I feel stuck with wholemeal and white soft bread. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and in the traditions of the good old handmade set myself up for early mornings in flour dusted kitchens to recreate the missing.

Over the last few months I channelled all my cravings and moments of homesickness into a list of the best of the best of German baked goodies. I call it: The Bread List (can you tell what my newest TV series addiction is?):
  1. German Style Rye Bread
  2. Berliner Schrippe
  3. Weckmänner
  4. Mohnbrötchen
  5. Roggenvollkornbrot
  6. Stockbrot
  7. Kümmelbrötchen
  8. Laugenbrötchen
  9. Kürbiskernbrot
  10. Sauerteigbrot
  11. Sonnenblumenkernbrot
  12. Rosinenbrötchen

I’ll attempt to have baked all these 12 goodies at least once in the next following 12 weeks (not necessarily in the named order). Maybe this will end in 12 great baking disasters or maybe I’ll be ready to open up my very own German Artisan Bakery in three month, who knows.
Hopefully though, my fearless adventure proves itself useful for other German expats out there with a nice solid collection of recipes to help stop their cravings – German bread for the rescue. Oh, how I can’t wait for my Sundays with real “Brötchen”...

April 18, 2014

Planning A Garden

My best birthday present ever (so far) was a plain, shapeless key. Obviously it wasn’t the key that made that present so good, but the door it unlocked: the door to my very own 300m² big, first allotment. I have dreamed of my own garden since my childhood summers, when I cooked up my mum’s chives into a mud soup. There is so much independence and knowledge in gardening. I always admired people who grew their own.
The first few month of being new allotment holders my favourite Englishman and I spent most of our time weeding and clearing. We disposed a half-build greenhouse, weeded a summer worth of unwanted growing’s, discovered and threw out tons of cans (?), broken windows, gas canisters and much more. Then we dug over what we had cleared, found more, threw more out and dug over again. At the end of it all we had half of our allotment clear and ready to be used for proper gardening.

Now we needed a plan. I flicked through what felt like 100 gardening books and found many more tips and advice on the good ol’ interweb. What I mainly learned is that gardening doesn’t have to be an exact science to get great results, so in the end I decided to go with the obvious (to me) steps. It’s our first attempt of gardening anyway and a bit of try and error is expected, so I’d rather keep it manageable then try to do everything right.

Firstly: We created a list of all the vegetables and fruit we would like to grow in our garden. This list went from peas and beans to tomatoes, herbs, potatoes and even our very own sweet corn to apples and pears. With over 50 different plants in our dream garden, we figured it is probably best to start a bit smaller. On the final list we ended up with 15 vegetables and a bunch of different herbs. We decided to stay with vegetable for this first year, before we go into fruits.

Secondly: I looked up the growing conditions of our chosen plants.
  1. I figured out what kind of plant they are: Do they grow as roots, do they grow upwards and need support, do they spread on the ground. For some, like carrots, that was obvious to me, for others not so much.
  2. Then I looked up how much light they need and what soil conditions: Carrots I learned need more lose soil with no stones in it.
  3. I also made notes on whether the seeds go straight into the ground or need to be started inside and when.

Thirdly: I went ahead and measured our plot. I also borrowed a pH metre to see whether our soil is more acid or alkaline.

Finally: Instead of just drawing a sketch, I used an online garden planner to create an outline of our future garden 2014. I used the garden planner from Mr. Fothergills as they offer a 30 days trial. I simply put in the measurements of our garden and then filled the space per drag and drop with vegetable and herbs we plan to grow. One of the major advantages I found with the garden planner is that it gave me an indication of how much space each plant will need something I hadn’t really considered to be honest. Of course I also couldn’t help but make the Rookie mistake of not taking any paths into account at first. Luckily I spotted that soon enough.

Now that the plan is finished we are back to digging and then planting. Hopefully by mid April I can show you some first results. Can’t wait to get this growing!

Have you ever planned a garden? Do you have any tips or recommendations?


April 16, 2014

A DAY IN // London

While most people I know have their families close, my favourite Englishman and I have our loved ones scattered all over the world. Some live in big cities, some in small towns. With some we only have to hop on the train, with others we have to cross oceans to meet again. The perks of being a settled down traveller and an expat, I guess.

Many of our weekends are therefore spent visiting friends and family far and near. Although 48 hours never really seem enough to catch up with our dearest, these are my favourite weekends. Fridays are for drinks and late night talks, Sundays are for slow mornings and breakfast in best company and Saturdays – the best part - are for sneak peeks into their homes and cities. These short, refreshing one day explorations are the foundation to this new feature on the blog. A DAY IN is not about the tourist tour, but about the moments and sights we feel and see while exploring our friends’ home towns.
A few weekends ago we hopped on a train to meet my favourites Englishman best mate in London. This is the story of our day offside the tourists’ tracks, where we discovered London’s’ independent book shops and tasted our way through a whole market.

10.00 Farmers’ breakfast at Jackson + Rye...
...because the queue in front of the Breakfast Club in Soho was just ridiculous (and I am not known for my patience when hungry). Instead we enjoyed fried potato cubes with spinach, egg and delicious, freshly baked rye bread with tea and orange juice, while watching people in the streets of Soho and talking about our day plans.

11.30 Visiting the oldest bookshop in town...
... Hatchards at Picadilly. The shop was founded by John Hatchard in 1797 at the same address where it is still trading today. We saluted his portrait on the first flight, before we headed up the staircase that led us five stories high, each filled with rows and rows of books. We almost got lost among the many recommendations and buried ourselves for an hour in gardening reads, I say we, but clearly it was all me. My favourite Englishman just chilled on a big, red, comfy Chesterfield sofa by the window.

13.30 Browsing the unique shop windows at Cecil Court...
...where a fortune teller laid the cards for a young woman at Watkins books and we spotted a signed first edition of J.K. Rowlings latest book Casual Vacancy.

14.30 Travelling the world at Daunt Books...
... on Marylbone High Street. The shop specialises in travel related literature and organises it by country and region. Walking along the light fluted, old oak gallery my favourite Englishman and I travelled in only a few steps from Germany to France to Russia, before we headed down into the basement to visit Australia, Thailand and the USA.

15.30 Late Lunch at Borough Market...
... which was packed with good food, good drinks and lots of people. After tasting a handful different cheese and drooling over the fresh juices and breads, we headed outside to enjoy some Afternoon drinks. The thirst gone, we strolled back in, to grab duck sandwiches brimful with meat and delicious, fresh lamb + mint burgers. For dessert we decided to go with fresh bread and a cone full of salami bits. That’ll do pig.

17.00 A pub evening at The Tiger. The corner pub on our way home overlooks bustling Camberwell Green and is as worn out as it is lovely. Dark walls lined with pictures and big vintage lights filled the room with warmth and comfort. The big, heavy wooden tables and chairs were the perfect place to rest after a long day of walking, while our taste buds enjoyed a variety of Lagers, Ales and Bitters on tap. Well mainly Lagers.

April 14, 2014

Stretch An You Will Reach

Laotse once said „A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” 
My journey out of this Radio silence started with the twitch of my right big toe...

Getting out of bed had become increasingly more difficult last autumn. I didn’t want to get up, because I didn’t want to do what I had committed myself to. However, I couldn’t give up my commitments, because it was me after all who had chosen to do them. I simply had, in an attempt to move forward, settled one too many times for a Job I can do and ignored the Jobs I want to do. I was furious at myself for wasting my own time. Unable to see beyond the things I had to do now my impatient heart clenched itself into a stiff lump, increasing my resistance to do anything at all.

Yet, it had all started so good. The sun was tickling my nose on the first day of the past year. Though weak from a long winter it filled the air with an uplifting glow. Freshly immigrated to England to live with my love, I was beaming as bright as these early days. With the move I had left a career behind and 365 days ahead to build a new one. I felt empowered to finally make it the one I really wanted.

The choice was clearly mine: I could become a Teacher, Learning Mentor or Blogger, I could study Psychology, Law or even start a degree in Graphic Design. I could do anything!

Only, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. One day I was sure I would like to be a Teacher, the next day I thought Psychologist would also be interesting and really I would love to be a writer. Soon enough I found myself in the middle of the worst jam dilemma, like I was a customer in Sheena Iyengar famous jam study. In which the psychologist and author of the “Art of Choosing” proved: Too much choice overburdens people. Let them pick out of 7 jam flavours and they will be happy with what they get, but let them pick out of 70 and it will never be good enough. Only I wasn’t choosing jam!

After a few month the money was urging me to come up with a solution. So I picked a job. I loved it, but the hours were few and the money not enough. I had to pick again and soon after again. I struggled to commit myself to one direction. A career change, no matter in which direction, comes with a lot of work, failures and time commitment and for some reason I failed to trust my judgement. I simply worried I would end up with a wrong choice. So I kept choosing easy, risk-free part-time jobs. Before I knew it, I was tied up in a string of commitments, which were all pulling me in different directions. After a few months I became exhausted and scared - scared that I had wasted my opportunity to build this new, happier career. Not only had I made some poor choices, I also had cramped my diary with work, leaving me hardly any time to breathe and reconsider. That’s when I started to drag my mornings and not only them. Every task was dragged and mulled over, half-heartily done and the result then regretted for its poor appearance - over and over again, until some things I just stopped doing completely for I thought I would never get somewhere with them anyway. Unfortunately this happened mainly to the things I actually really hoped to achieve.

Then one dreading morning my big toe twitched. Feeling the cramp coming, I turned over in bed and stretched my toe – and then my foot and my leg and my back. Ease was sweeping through my body. With every muscle that loosened up so did my resistance to waking up. A subtle reminder whispering: If you stretch, you will reach. Soon enough I found myself sitting upright in bed reaching high into the air with my hands, feeling ready for the day.

I was almost stunned at how easy it suddenly was to get out of bed. Then an old quote from my very first Yoga teacher popped into my head “If you reduce the tension in your muscle, your mind will reduce its resistance to go into the pose.” In my case an upright position in bed to get going.

As it felt so good to get out of bed without any hesitance I decided to give stretching a go as my new morning routine. No fancy Yoga, just a good stretch and maybe the sun greeting routine for a few minutes. Only a few days in I realized, starting the day with a good stretch didn’t make the job situation better, but it changed how I tackled my daily to do lists. Firstly, I felt more energetic and ready to do what I had to do, after the stretching. Secondly, while stretching I suddenly had a few moments spare in which my mind could wander and reflect on my feelings and worries. Thirdly, the physical action triggered my mind to do exactly the same: to stretch and let go of worries. 

The word “Stretch” became my constant reminder...
... to reduce my inner resistance and to not let it weigh me down.
... to eliminate negative self talk, which keeps me from trying.
... to be flexible and adapt in order to move on.
... to commit myself to what I do, while I am doing it.
... to be grateful for where I am and appreciate the small things.
... that if I actually stretch my body and mind, I will increase my reach.

It was a slow process, but changing my attitude towards the commitments I had put myself into, eventually allowed me to stretch myself out of them and to reach even further – to make room for something that I really wanted. Once I was there it was only the length of my toe that I had to reach out of this radio silence. And I am so glad, I did! It feels so good to put myself out here again.

And if you just stretched yourself all the way down to reach the end of this epic post,
thank you for reading and thank you for letting me share my story with you!