Friday, 28 March 2014

Gracious me, we're more British than we thought.

While the English arrived in South Africa years and years and years ago, and while our accent sometimes leads people to believe we're from England, and even though both my previous and current surname are very English, I never really considered myself British. Nor do I consider myself as such now. That said, since arriving in Germany, I realise how some British stereotypes have weaseled their way into my life and behaviour. Golly.

I suppose I first realised this when I came across “Very British Problems” on twitter, and related to SO many of them. What’s more, I realised how very odd some of these problems are, especially when compared to the way Germans seem to handle them so directly.

I’ve realised that we’re more British than we thought in the following areas:

Greetings and farewells
Apparently, the following are some common problems faced by the British.
Spending about 80% of any telephone conversation saying the word 'bye'.
"Right then, I suppose I really should start thinking about possibly making a move" - Translation: "Bye".
Staring at your desk, patting your pockets and saying "right", to fully prepare your colleagues for your impending goodbye.
Guilty. I find goodbyes awkward, like I need to give a reason why I’m leaving, or apologise for doing so. It’s very necessary that the person I’m bidding farewell to knows just how I feel about them, that I intend to see or speak to them soon, that I wish them the best, and so forth.
Germans, in general, seem to have simplified this process by streamlining it to something along the lines of “I’m going now, goodbye.” The friendlier interactions will include a ‘thank you’, or a ‘see you soon’ or even a hug. Then Malcolm and I awkwardly shuffle out. After putting my coat on after a tutoring lesson, I unlock the student's front door, say goodbye, and walk out, closing it behind me. It feels so rude.

Speaking one’s mind
We don’t want to be offensive, or make somebody feel bad. This leads to problems like the following:
Saying you don't mind when offered a choice, then praying you're left with the option you want.
Dealing with a queue-jumper by staring ferociously at the back of their head.
Dealing with a pavement cyclist by giving the back of their head a damn good glare.
Indicating that you want the last roast potato by trying to force everyone else to take it.
Now, to be clear, mum would definitely object to a queue jumper. But she’s German, remember? As for the last potato scenario, it’s not so much that one wants it, but one really does need to offer it to everybody over and over until somebody will actually take it. This reminds me of Malcolm’s sweet Grandmother in Durban, and how stuffed I would feel after visiting, because refusing more cake was taken as a sign of politeness, and I’d inevitably give in eventually and eat some more. Here? If you’re offered something and you want it, you’d better speak up because it’s assumed that your ‘nein’ means ‘nein’! (Thank you, Nicole, for teaching us this lesson!)

Generally awkward social interaction
Talking to people should not be as awkward and weird as we make it. But it is! According to SVBP, these are some common problems that I can relate to:
Never feeling more uncomfortable than when asked to 'tell us a bit about yourself'.
Looking cross after sneezing more than once, so everyone knows you're just as annoyed with the situation as they are.
Running (at a pace no faster than walking) for the bus, missing it and carrying on the run for a short while.
Accidentally catching a stranger's eye, so pretending to look for someone in every single direction.
Hoping someone doesn't ever realise you allow them to get your name a little bit wrong.
Overtaking someone on foot and having to keep up the uncomfortably fast pace until safely over the horizon.
Saying hello to a friend in the supermarket, then creeping around like a burglar to avoid seeing them again.
There is somebody here who still calls me Esther, even though I corrected him a couple times. Now I let it slide, don’t want to make him feel bad! 
The discomfort when asked to talk about myself seems to be a stark contrast to the German introductions as they would confidently launch into “Ja hallo, Ich bin die Erica.” I have no idea how or why an article is placed in front of one’s name, but it makes it sound super-confident. This makes me think of church, where in our church in SA they ask visitors to please slip up their hand really quickly, so that they can receive an info pack. Our church here? Please stand up and introduce yourself, where you’re from and what you’re doing here in Marburg. I can just imagine how that would go down back at home!
Moving along. I refuse to run for a bus. Unless I’m certain that I’ll catch it in time. That awkward moment when one just misses it? Yeah, I’m not setting myself up for that.

Excessive politeness
The English seem to be well known for their politeness, which causes some problems every now and then. For example:
Running out of ways to say thanks when a succession of doors are held for you, having already deployed 'cheers', 'ta' and 'nice one'.
Deeming it necessary to do a little jog over zebra crossings, while throwing in an apologetic mini wave.
Finding it impossible to place items on a shop counter without saying "just these please".
Oh man, the first one kills me. As one enters our building, there’s a door, then there’s one that needs to be unlocked, and then there are elevators. When entering the building with others, and I open the first door, they say ‘Danke’ and go through. Then they get to the next door first and I stand awkwardly waiting for them to unlock it before saying ‘danke’ and going through. Thank goodness the last door, the elevator door is avoided since we live on the ground floor so I just say ‘nein danke’ if they hold it for me. Of course, all this can be avoided by checking our postbox and killing some time peering into it or looking thoroughly interested in our junk-mail.
As for zebra crossings, the rule is that if a pedestrian is at the crossing, they should be allowed to cross. It’s a rule, right? But we, Malcolm in particular, seem to be unable to cross one without smiling and giving the patient driver a wave. Do we get any kind of response? No. They usually look at us like we’re wierdos.
The last problem, that of placing items on a counter and saying ‘just these please’ has been eradicated since I’m not sure of the exact German for it and "Das ist alles, danke" seems dumb to say, because it's so obvious. Malcolm replaces it with an awkward nod.

That said, the one "Very British Problem" which we seem to have in common with the Germans here, is  

"Being in a perpetual state of thinking you have a cold coming on"
I swear, with my nose constantly running when I walk or have my first bite of a warm meal, it really does just feel like I'm constantly on the brink of getting sick. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Contradiction cake

I mentioned the other day that we had a cake-party on Sunday, to get to know people in the area. (SO much fun!) Four of us agreed to bring cakes along, and it was really sweet that many others also brought stuff along to share, even though it wasn't asked for.
It was such a great opportunity not only to meet new friends, but also to try out a cake I'd been dreaming thinking of.

My decision about what to take with started off with the thought that it should be something not too sweet and rich, since there will be other cake as well. So carrot cake is good. I mean, carrots. They're healthy!
But then I got thinking. Caramel. Caramel is one of my favourite things. Caramel and carrot cake would go together so well.
Carrot and Caramel... so much for keeping it light!
The recipe included nuts, which I thought would add a good crunch. On the same day I baked this cake, though, I also baked cookies. I ran out of chocolate chips for them, so I decided I'd use some nuts. But not too many, because the nuts are for the cake. And then I forgot to add them to the cake. So I thought, 'no problem, I'll slice the cake in half, spread some caramel and icing in the middle, and sprinkle the nuts inside!'
So I sliced the cake in half, spread some caramel and icing in the middle, and put the cake back togehter again. Yep, I forgot the nuts again.
Finally, I ended up sprinkling them on top. Thank goodness I remembered to add the carrots.

So it's a really simple cake. There are plenty of carrot cake recipes out there to follow, though I used my mum's tried and tested one. I used a kinda cream cheese icing... except, I used Quark and icing sugar, which I've realised is like the easiest kind of icing to make.
The caramel is the fun part, though! And, it's pretty easy to make.

1.25 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
200 ml cream
(you can also stir in any nuts or things at the end)

In a non-stick pan, pour 1.25 cups of sugar into the centre. Gently pour a third of a cup of water around the edges, and run your finger through the centre to moisten the sugar (any germs will be annihilated by the heat just now, don't worry.). Make sure that there isn't any sugar on the sides of the pan, it should all be in the middle and wet. Turn the heat up high, and resist the temptation to stir it. (Those of you who are like me and like to prod and stir and play with whatever is in a pan). Allow the mixture to boil, and swirl the pan around now and again to distribute the sugar evenly. When it reaches medium-brown, turn off the heat. Pour in the cream and vanilla, while stirring with a wooden spoon, and be careful because it froths and bubbles up. Keep stirring so that it's all combines, and then set it aside to cool a bit before using it.
After it has cooled, I thought it was still too runny, and returned it to the heat for a bit - it did thicken quite nicely, and ended up more like fudge than runny caramel, so just be careful there.

It's pretty simple, and not as scary as I first thought. However, if that seems too much effort, buy this >>>

I made the mistake of buying this caramel yesterday, a week in advance for Malcolm's birthday cake. Then I made the second mistake, evident in the broken sticker-seal: opening it to test it out. Results of my taste-test: Delcious. creamy. buy it. 

So, at the end of the day, It was carrot cake. Cut in half with icing and caramel spread over it. Icing on top, drizzled with carmel, and sprinkled with nuts. Kinda healthy, right?

Monday, 24 March 2014

1 year married.

We did it! We've been married for a whole year! 

Yes, those of you married for like 20 years or something can shake your heads and go 'aww, they think that's so long!' 

But we're so excited and happy, and we're astounded at what God's done in our lives in the last year.

We gave each other presents to celebrate... I stuck with traditional paper, and gave Malcolm the book 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'. The title is followed by the caption 'chivalry, seduction, and a challenge to the death'. Malcolm commented that 'hey, it's like marriage!'. Ha.
Malcolm knows the way to my heart, and gave me a new handbag that I've been eye-balling AND totally blew me away with a sketch he did of one of our wedding photos. How could I have been so oblivious to my husband's talent all this time?!? I mean, he's doodled before, but his sketch is just beautiful.

Anyway, gift-giving aside, it was a wonderful day.
It was tricky coming up with something to do though. See, usually one can go back to the garden/restaurant/whatever where one went on a first date or on the honeymoon or something but we had none of that to fall back on. I mean, we spent our honeymoon in a game lodge and then passed through Durban to have dinner at the harbour where we went on our first date. I don't see anything resembling a harbour or game park here.
So, with the attitude of' 'when in Rome' we headed up to the castle after church to have a picnic in the park next to the schloss. Despite the fact that a little family decided to start a soccer game in front of us and that it drizzled for some time, it was a rather romantic picnic. And it feels scandalous eating in a park when people seem to just walk or jog through, or play soccer.

We headed back home eventually and then went to set up for a cake party. Some friends had the idea of a cake party to invite and get to know others in our building and area, so we invited those we knew, and asked them to extend the invitation. We got there early to set up, and were SO surprised by how many people came. It was incredible and so much fun getting to chat and meet people. At nearly 7pm people were still hanging out, so after cleaning up what we could, Malcolm and I left to go out for dinner. It involved speed-walking home carrying left over cake, and rushing in to grab money and run out again to the busstop to catch the bus, but we made it in time to catch the next bus.

We learned our lesson about 4 star restaurants already while on honeymoon. We had a very romantic private dinner the one night, away from the main dining area. We were served steak but it was really rare. Malcolm and I don't enjoy raw meat. Maybe it was to attract lions. I don't know. We were left alone to have privacy, which was great, but it also meant we couldn't ask for it to be cooked further. We weren't allowed to walk around without a guard, because the camp isn't fenced off, and it was dark, so we weren't going to go look for somebody. There was a bell to ring for emergencies but we decided that raw meat wouldn't count. We weren't sure when they'd be back to check on us. So, we took full advantage of the fire they'd lit for us. We had a relay meal cutting a bite to eat, running over to the fire with our forks and sticking it in the fire to cook it, returning to our table and eating it, hoping that we wouldn't get caught. 4 stars.
So for our anniversary, we opted for an Italian place (with real Italians working there - how's that for authenticity?!) and pizza. As long as there was candle-light, I'm happy :)

Friday, 21 March 2014

Wedding Flashback: the Dance. and Music. and the End. or Beginning.

Continuing our wedding flashbacking... previous posts include: 
Getting ready
The ceremony
The reception and YUM
Something has to go wrong
I'm aware that I'm not really writing in any sort of logical order...

Our anniversary is this weekend! This time last year, South Africa's Human Rights Day, we were in eShowe and getting things organised. I'd arrived home to realise that our cake was bigger than the bag of potatoes we'd calculated we needed. We definitely had enough cake!

Anyway, today, the last 'flashback' is to the dance. I think that the dance is what I'd looked forward to the most. I think. I'd envisaged it as a sweet, romantic dance in the arms of my love under a big tree, in the soft sunshine. There were white paper lanterns hanging in the trees, swaying softly (I have no idea how they were put up there, I left that in Lindsay and Clayton's capable hands!). And it was. It was, in my memory, perfect.

We started dance lessons the year before, just for fun - you never know when you need to dance. It was also a good way to bring up communication and leadership issues ;) We learned the Waltz and salsa and a bunch of others, and had a pretty broad variety, though not much depth.

When it came to choosing our song, though, it was SO difficult. We considered songs like 'All I want is you' by Kimya Dawson, Que Sera Sera (we couldn't decide on a version - although I really like this one by Pink Martini), 'the sweetheart tree' (which we used as guests left the church) and a whole lot that I can't remember.

Eventually, because of the beautiful lyrics and the time signature, we went with 'Prayer' by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. We had an hour-lesson credit at Ben's Dance Studio, and we were taught three more steps to use, and how to count the music correctly. From there, we practiced in the garden at my flat, dodging the washing line and cats. I really didn't want it choreographed, though it could have resulted in a more spectacular dance to watch, because we wanted Malcolm to lead it, and to not have the stress of performing and remembering the sequence... just dancing and following Malcolm's lead was so peaceful and special. Even if we did mess up a bit.

I think this is my favourite photo of Malcolm. The love that this man leads me with! 

One of Daddy's photos

After that dance, we invited everybody to the 'dance floor' for one dance all together, before we'd head off. My dream of dancing to 'You're so true' by Joseph McArthur also came true there! And I realised how long it is! I'm very impressed with all those who stuck the whole song out with us! It was so much fun! I like exclamation marks!

of course we're singing along.

As we left the reception, we had 'Happy Together' by the Turtles playing... Strangely enough, it became a favourite song of ours because it was used in a Cremora commercial on TV when we were dating. Thanks, Cremora.

From here, we actually parked just around the corner, to swap cars. We'd wanted to drive off in Malcolm's car, but had forgotten to wash it and he didn't want to drive his new wife off in a dirty car (yet...). So Savio chauffeured us to Dr Brit's parking lot, where Martin brought Malcolm's car, and we could then drive off in that one to have more photos taken.

And that concludes it. The best day. One of the best days, at least. I can hardly believe that it's been a whole year since then. But only a year. It's been an exciting one, a daunting one, but one where we've really had to rely on the grace that God gives us. To end off, I want to remind myself, and share with you, two verses that have really come to mean so much to me.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

It's Spring! For real!

After Germany suddenly blooming into spring a couple weeks ago, it took a break and got dreary again. BUT, it's BACK! On time!

The first day of spring and it's just beautiful! Our beans and flowers are growing, the sun is shining, and the squirrels and birds are out. It's glorious.

Not even the fact that the bus drivers are striking and we're either stuck up here on the hill or have to walk into town can get me down. Ok, a little. Just on the way back up the hill again. 
(That said, it made my heart swell with homeland-pride when I saw the strikers blowing  Vuvuzelas. The strikers, however, were rather disappointing. The general German attitude of 'wenn schon, denn schon' seems to be lacking.) 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Wedding Flashback: Photography

Continuing our wedding flashbacking... previous posts include: 
Getting ready
The ceremony
The reception and YUM
Something has to go wrong
I'm aware that I'm not really writing in any sort of logical order...

Pinterest has got to be one of the best and worst things that has happened to wedding planning. Right? Right.
You know what I mean, where you see all those beautiful photos, and really just want them to be of you? Or is that just me?

Here's the thing though. Despite me loving yellow and sunflowers and getting reprimanded by a lecturer for smiling too much, I'm such a pessimist. I was terrified of the photos because, well, what if I looked terrible in them all? Couple this with perfectionism, that I have to have beautiful photos, and you get a rather tall order. However, I was able to push most of this aside, and was really focused on NOT pandering to the camera. You know, if there's a cute shot of the groom gently kissing his new wife's shoulder, that's beautiful, but I didn't want to constantly be trying to create photo-ops; that's what the posed photos were for, but the ceremony and all that, that needed to be for-the-moment. 

Finding a photographer was, thanks to magazines advising brides to book their photographer a year in advance, not easy. With 6 months notice, most photographers were already booked. But, one afternoon, stalking my way through Facebook, I noticed a friend's wedding photos, and asked her who took them. 

And that's how I found Cara-Lee Gevers. 

Because she was travelling so far, we organised accommodation for her with a family-friend, so that she could be there early on our wedding morning. That morning, she took photos of the venue, as we'd promised them some photos, and then, after taking photos of Malcolm, came to me. 

It was so great that she made herself comfortable and disappeared with my dress to photograph it. Then, with directions as clear and as professional that can only come from all her work with fashion photography, she got me to pose for photos. And I hardly felt awkward at all! Not only did she get some beautiful photos with my grandmother's mirror, but she also took a whole bunch outside too. She sees the potential in everything, including our garage door. 

Our couple-photos were meant to be taken just before midday after the ceremony, but the sun was too harsh, so she suggested that she take them after the reception. She had all the patience in the world and took her time taking so many photos. So much so that she ended up staying another night! 

She also scouted out this old wall and asked us to go there. We had a man come out and ask us why we're taking photos by such an ugly, overgrown piece of land, and he offered us his garden, but I love how these photos turned out! 

What I also really love, is that we got ALL the photos she took - which means that even if she edited a photo that I don't really like my expression in, at least I have tons of others. What it also means, is that we have some truly terrible photos, pulling faces that I never knew I could. And ones where we look terribly grumpy. Or fun, spontaneous ones. And lots of them! 

Because it's just tiring smiling all day. Scrunching relieves some of that muscle strain. 

You really thing that those being-lifted-high-in-the-air-shots only need one take? When you've never tried it before? 

Especially when you have an enthusiastic dog around wanting to be part of the fun.

Malcolm doesn't look too happy about sharing his jacket. 

Why sprinkle petals when you have a whole packet of them, hey daddy? 

When one comes across a trampoline, of course this will happen. 
Immediately after the first-kiss, getting my makeup off his jacket. whoops... 

Again, getting my makeup off his clothes. Futile. 

I'm not sure what the significance of the number 9 is, nor why I'm so excited to display it. 

Caught outside trying to get cake-crumbs out of my dress. 

The great thing is, is that Cara-Lee not only works in South Africa, from Pretoria to Eshowe to Vryheid, but ALSO in Germany. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Fish Cakes

Malcolm has often spoken fondly of the fish cakes his dad used to make. Mum used to buy fish cakes now and then, and I went through phases of love and hate with them.

Buuuut... as my recipes here are never quite what they may seem, the good news is that anybody can enjoy these fish-cakes, even if you don't like fish. Because they contain 0% fish.

tuna tin-can cupcakes

The brilliant thing about moving house, is that one realises that one can live without and make do without many things that previously seemed essential. For example, we still haven't bought a drying rack for our dishes, nor have we got a can opener. Or a grater. (I use the can opener on my pocket knife, and we buy cheese ready-grated if we need it...)

One other thing that I'm yet to buy, is a cupcake tin. But, necessity is indeed the mother of invention. I was baking a cake this last weekend when three things struck me:
1. I had made too much batter.
2. I felt like eating chocolate cake that afternoon, while the cake for the next day was going to be berry.
3. How will I know that the berry cake worked out okay, if I can't test it in advance?

The three observations above are all wonderful reasons to make some extra cupcakes. However, as mentioned, I have no cupcake tins.
Not to be defeated, though, I remembered some bread that used to be sold at our church-bazaar which had been baked in some kind of tin-can. I also remembered mum using large tuna-tins to bake bread or mini-cakes in.

A rummage in the cupboard brought forth 4 clean and empty tuna tins.

I set some of the batter apart and mixed in come chocolate and cocoa, and mixed berries into the rest. Then, once the cake-tin was filled, I poured the rest of the berry-batter into two of these tins, and the chocolate mixture into the other two. This solved the too-much-batter-situation, satisfied my longing for chocolate-cake, and I could test the berry cake before serving it to others.

They are best eaten out of the tins, as the ridge prevents them from being easily turned out... though using a can opener instead of a pull-tab should solve this. Plus, I like tuna tins because there aren't any ridges along them but rather they have smooth sides. Fortunately, the tins can easily be decorated AFTER being in the oven, if they need to look pretty.

And there you have it. Simple cup fish-tin-cakes.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Wedding Flashback: something has to go wrong

Continuing our wedding flashbacking... previous posts include: 
Getting ready
The ceremony
The reception and YUM
I'm aware that I'm not really writing in any sort of logical order...

A year ago, it was a week until our wedding. The weekend before our wedding held big and exciting plans. My brother was coming to visit for the Saturday night because he had some work to do in town, and Malcolm and I decided to exploit the fact that he was coming in a Bakkie (pick-up...) and asked him to help us move most of Malcolm's things to my flat. The fact that we were about to get married was getting real, and things were pretty much smooth sailing.

On the Saturday morning, Malcolm and I went to have a breakfast picnic with my French class. Somebody asked how things were going and I replied that things were going really well - everything is on track, and so far nothing has gone terribly wrong. The reply was something like, "oh, something will go wrong..."
I blew it off casually.

Martin arrived later, and since he was in town for work, needed to go do some geological testing on a site nearby, and then he'd come help move things. To make his work go faster, and to repay the favour I guess, Malcolm went along to help.
Malcolm has since found geology something he is thoroughly uninterested in.
Off they went, while I kept myself busy at home. It got later and later, and I was getting a bit irritated that they were taking so long.

Cue the phone call.

"Erica, don't panic, but I need Malcolm's medical aid details, and he left his wallet at your place."

Who DOESN'T panic when they hear that?

So I hasitly looked for the wallet and got my things together, jumped in my car and raced to the hospital where Malcolm was.

Turns out, they had been doing impact testing (essentially dropping a very heavy weight over and over again to measure something about the soil) and after somebody had stopped by and spoken to them, Malcolm's rhythm was broken and, being in a rush, he caught the weight before it hit the ground... and wasn't actually prepared to catch it. Resulting in thoroughly squished fingers. Which fingers? Well, as it was the day before St Patrick's Day, I guess the luck of the Irish was early, and it was Malcolm's left hand. Ring and middle finger.

He'd lost a lot of blood and had gone into shock. His fingers were incredibly swollen and had essentially popped. Malcolm has issues with cocktail sausages these days, as when they've split while cooking, he can't help but think of his fingers. 
When I arrived he was waiting with Martin in the ER until the paper work was done. It was a sobering moment when I signed papers for him and realised the weight of taking responsibility for him.
Unfortunately, there had been a lot of school rugby that day, and boys were being brought into the ER on stretchers from ambulances, though mostly for rather minor injuries. But, because they were from ambulances and Malcolm had been brought by car, he had to wait until they had been attended to.

Eventually, he got a bed, and when they unwrapped his fingers to look, I was the one who nearly fainted. The entire process of getting a bed, getting his fingers xrayed, getting an injection, his fingers soaked in disinfectant, and getting a plaster put on, took 4 hours. It was ridiculous. The x-ray revealed that the finger tip on the one finger was broken, but there was nothing they could do to fix it. Also, because his fingers were injured in so many places, stitches weren't practical either. But lots of pain medication helped.

Martin, meanwhile, had organised pizza for supper for us, and when we eventually got back to my flat, we were very thankful for it. I drove Malcolm home that night, since he couldn't change gears, and unfortunately, when I dropped him off, forgot to pack his pain medication.

The next day, we finally got around to moving some of Malcolm's things.

His fingers are now mostly healed, though there are scars and there's a lump in the one finger that feels odd, but I'm so thankful that the fingers are still there and that he has a wedding ring on it!

Of course, for the wedding, a ring wouldn't fit over his plastered left finger, so it went on his right hand instead.

Fortunately, with Malcolm's careful finger-wrapping, and Cara-Lee's careful photography, it isn't tooooo obvious most of them time. And I got an xray to closely inspect the hand I took in marriage.