About that heat…

The duck and I agree that this summer has been too hot. I haven’t (yet) felt so hot that I feared waking up a perfectly baked cookie (nothing has come close to the comparatively cute but intense 2019 heat wave in Germany and that oven of a bedroom I still have waking nightmares about). Uncomfortable it’s been, nonetheless. While the duck spends most days swimming in the bathtub among tubs of ice cream in bright floaties, I have spent those hot weeks trying to avoid the heat as much as possible and going through loads of sunscreen.

As the duck has been happily splashing around, I’ve made yet another list of realizations (fueled by the joys of living in a house with no AC and weeks-long average outside temperatures well above 30ºC/86ºF):

Continue reading

Learning my lefts and rights

I’ve always had difficulty telling left from right and, as an extension, east from west (on a map – physically, I have trouble with all directions). Like most directionally challenged individuals, I did learn the basics eventually. Unlike most directionally challenged individuals, I was well into my double digits when I got there. By “basics,” I mean that if I thought about it hard enough and visualized a page or a compass rose as an aid, I would probably get it right most times. I still need to do that sometimes. However, thanks to yoga videos, I’ve gotten much quicker in distinguishing the left side of my own body from the right. I even have a higher success rate at getting it right intuitively. As soon as I have to translate to another person’s body or think quickly, however, my success rate drops significantly… I’m still in awe when people just know which side is which in relation to anything. On the flip side, I get to have small successes like this: After one of my slow jogs, I was approached by two strollers asking for directions. Despite my terrible sense of direction, I was actually familiar with the place they were looking for as I had just jogged past it a few minutes earlier. I didn’t want to lie and knew I couldn’t run away – my jogging is way too slow for that because I’m polite. So, I took a deep breath and, using my hands as an aid (thanks, yoga!), I described the way slowly, but without messing up. compass
That was months ago, and I’m still super proud of myself!
I am genuinely happy with how far I’ve come in the past few years, as an adult on paper who has more trouble telling right from left than the average elementary schooler.
(I could probably improve my directional instincts if I consciously practiced. But presently, my motivation to improve is weaker than my laziness. What do I have a directionally talented duck friend for, anyway?)


A duck in January

When 2021 was still relatively fresh, the duck and I wrote about our winter walks that, ideally with a podcast on our ears, were a welcome change to spending too much time indoors where it is warm and cozy. While we have spent more voluntary time outside this year than we had in years, the duck and I have also become more creatively sluggish in the past few months. This is why we decided to end this year with a photo from the beginning:January duckIt didn’t make the cut last January, but now that 2021 is coming to an end, the duck and I have come to appreciate this picture as it reminds us of how we were wondering what this new year would bring. It didn’t turn out the way we had hoped (does it ever?), but it still managed to pleasantly surprise us sometimes. I wonder what the next year will be like…
Hopefully, the terrible*, sporadic** New Year’s neighborhood fireworks will magically inspire us? Wish us luck!

In return, we wish you, dear reader, a happy, healthy, and not-too-cold (or hot, depending on where you are) new year!

*We’re firework snobs (more on that next year, maybe?).
**Due to the pandemic, stores are banned from selling fireworks. So, it’s very likely that only a few leftover ones will be set off this New Year’s Eve.


Memory brownies

Do you have a food you remember fondly, not because it’s the best thing you’ve eaten but because you connect lots of vivid memories with it? For me, the first food that comes to mind is brownie bites! Whenever I find myself in a place where they are sold, I have to get a box and share it with friends because that’s how they became memory brownies. The last time the duck and I encountered brownie bites, however, we were surprised at how regular they tasted. I guess that particular situation was not suitable for new brownie bites memories. Or the duck and my tastes have changed throughout the years, or somehow the recipe changed? Either way, we decided to not let the fact that we had lots of brownie bites left over in the end (after several attempts at sharing them) sabotage their place in our hearts. This is why the duck and I created a new memory in the shape of this picture. I’m still not sure if it’s morbid or cute.
What do you think?Brownie encounters
What are your (favorite) memory foods?

Our first fan

The duck and I bought our first fan two summers ago when we felt that we really couldn’t go on without one. Let me clarify: I’m writing about an electric floor fan – we would never buy an admirer (we’re way too stingy for that), and I don’t remember when I bought my first hand fan. Until that summer, we had always been lucky to live in places with surprisingly well-stocked basements or storage rooms. So that there was always a fan somewhere if we needed one. But that time, we searched in vain.
Houses with built-in air conditioning are rare in Germany; even though it can get hot in summer, days with temperatures above 28°C/82°F are few and far between. However, there are such things as heat waves, like the one in 2019 that brought temperatures above 40°C/104°F – three days in a row. Imagine going through that without an AC unit or even a simple floor fan that can redirect any little breeze that may find its way into the room straight to you (though fans are a terrible AC replacement. But that’s not the point here)! Pair that with a weirdly insulated bedroom that’s comfortably warm in winter and unbearably so in summer, and you get the immersive experience of being a butter cookie in the oven – waiting for your edges to turn golden. This is why, that summer, the duck and I  threw all our reservations overboard and invested in an affordable floor fan. We usually avoid buying bulky items because it’s a hassle to deal with them when we have to move, but if the alternative is possibly waking up baked to a crisp one day, the decision is easy.fan duckNow, two years later, the duck and I have to yet regret this investment; we’ve already used our first fan this year (I even tried to clean it for the first time last week in hopes of ridding it of that dusty smell it must have acquired standing around unused for so long), and the duck has found a new hobby in latching on to the vent grille and instructing me to increase the ventilation speed step by step (so weird).
Still, I wouldn’t mind living with proper air conditioning again (sorry, environment!). That’s why the duck and my next move will hopefully be to a place that is so warm that air conditioning is a fixture, or so cold that we can just burn all our summer clothes and bows for a toasty fire (if there is no toasty toilet seat around).
Actually, the more I think about it, moderate temperatures all year round might be the most comfortable and environmentally friendly option… we’ll see.

What’s summer like in your area? Do you have air conditioning?


Cozy toilet

It’s been snowing so often this winter that the duck and I aren’t impressed anymore, not as much as we were when we saw our first snow in Tokyo anyway. If anyone had asked me back then what I’d miss about living in Japan I might have said something along the lines of Konbini, beautiful seasons, awesome snacks, train adventures, travel opportunities, or my work. I do. What I currently miss most profoundly, however, is our Tokyo toilet! I’m not talking about one of those high-end toilets with all those fancy controls that probably require a thorough perusal of the manual before you can fully appreciate them; our toilet didn’t even have the built-in water recycling washing sink that many toilets in Japanese homes sport. It simply came with a function that I didn’t even know about until one of our housemates had decided to make use of it in the middle of winter and forgot to turn it off: a toilet seat heater! toilet duckThe only heating in the house came from the AC units in each bedroom and the living room (noticeably not the kitchen, hallway, toilet-room or shower room) that provided such a fleeting heat that ten minutes after pressing the ‘off’ button on the remote, it felt as if the room had not been heated in weeks. Leaving the heated area of the house was something the duck and I actively dreaded. This new discovery, fortunately, gave us another room that we didn’t feel the urge to leave asap in fear of ending up as ice sculptures. The tiny toilet room had turned into one of my favorite rooms in the house! Now, whenever I find myself in a cold bathroom, I think back longingly to those days when the toilet seat heater was the #1 thing that made winter in an older Japanese house more bearable (it also provided a toasty resting spot for the duck).

Mystery phone box

The duck and I still go for little walks whenever we feel like we’ve gotten a bit too lazy (or when the weather is particularly nice). On one of them, we walked past our favorite phone box and remembered what it was like when we first came across one of those. In 2021 it’s more common to have a cell phone than a landline, and even if you get lost and your phone’s battery is dead, it is more likely that you will find a kind stranger who carries disinfectant phone wipes and will lend you their cell phone to look up your route or call someone to let them know that you’ll be awfully late than it is to find a payphone in the streets (being a spontaneous criminal in Germany who doesn’t have a burner phone must be exhausting these days). Can you imagine the duck and my surprise when we espied a phone box that hadn’t been there the last time we’d walked that route?
telephone duckThe weirdest thing was that this wasn’t even a German phone box, but one of those pretty red British telephone booths. I was sure I had never seen those in Germany before. When we came a bit closer, though, we realized what that red booth was actually being used for (no, ‘discount time and space travel’ is not the answer):
Continue reading


My favorite mailman

I used to live with a wonderful canine friend. She was quiet and shy. But once she had warmed up to the duck and me we actually became best friends. Another person who wanted to win her friendship was the mailman. Every time he delivered a parcel he would ask for her by her name and give her a treat. Even if she was too scared to come up to him and instead observed the two weird humans standing at the front door from a safe distance, the friendly mailman would leave a treat for her. After a while, another dog had moved in, a dog who didn’t hesitate whenever the occasion for a snack arose. The first time the mailman encountered our new housemate he had been planning to give our quiet friend her treat, but she was too shy to come up to him. Instead, her new friend ran up to the door (and almost out of it) to snag the treat. As the mailman attempted anew to get a snack to our quiet friend, it went to the wrong dog again. So, instead, he gave me two snacks (how fair!) to give her later, when she’d be alone and could eat them in peace. Sometimes, if he didn’t see our quiet friend because she was taking a nap, the friendly mailman would ask us where she was and leave four snacks behind (two per dog). dog treatsIf I were a dog, it would feel like Christmas each time Santa Claus came to town disguised as a parcel deliverer. The parcels might have been paid for in advance, but the dog treats came out of his personal secret Santa bag. Sure, befriending all the dogs in the neighborhood is a smart move if you are a mailman because that can make your work exponentially easier (if you believe the cliche), but I also think that a lot of pure altruism came into learning the name of every dog that friendly mailman would encounter on his daily route. When I grow up, I want to be just as cool and kind as my favorite mailman!

How I became a cool sock

Isn’t there this thing about receiving socks for Christmas and how it’s a punishment or a test of how well you can hide your disappointment? Maybe that’s only the case if you’re a child? Or if you receive nothing but socks? Or if the socks are boring? I don’t remember. I just know that at some point in my life I was under the impression that giving or receiving socks as a Christmas or birthday present was somewhat frowned upon.
As some of you might remember from a previous sock post, I used to be a plain-socks-to-look-‘professional’ kind of person. So receiving those would indeed be boring. But thanks to a set of wonderful friends with great taste in socks, I was forced to rethink my take on socks. I had received the occasional pair of pretty (souvenir) socks from friends (and even myself) before, but in the past few years the duck and I have noticed a trend: It started when our lovely friend J sent us a cool set of socks, some of which featured fluffy wolves! Those socks definitely boosted my coolness factor whenever I wore them because everyone who caught sight of them just had to tell me how cool they were (this really was the kind of gift that kept on giving)! I had, in fact, turned into a coole Socke, a ‘cool sock’ (which must be one of the weirdest German expressions for ‘cool person’) overnight. After that I received quite a few nice pairs of socks – maybe the duck and my friends had plotted to make me cooler (perhaps out of embarrassment)? Or maybe there just are more fun sock brands around these days? What do you think?
sock duckReflecting on cool socks also made the duck and me think about Christmas presents. We actually  believe that Christmas presents should be optional (and we don’t ever expect anyone to get us anything because we’re just not that great at picking out presents ourselves and we try way too hard which stresses us out more than it should). In fact, the duck and I prefer sending out homemade Christmas cards because we worry that what we get the other person might feel forced and impersonal. I wish we were as good at seeking out presents as our lovely friends are (I think I’ve never ugly-cried as much about amazing unexpected gifts as I have in the past few years). There have been a few instances, however, when we saw something and knew exactly who we’d want to send it to. Those rare moments (I guess because our favorite kind of shopping still is grocery shopping) excite us more than they should and we find ourselves waking up in the middle of the night wondering how the giftee will react. Cards can do the same for us, though, and even though we tend to spend way too much time on designing them, the outcome can be quite rewarding. This is the kind of stress that we appreciate because if the design isn’t good, that’s our fault alone and not that of the local shops or the internet for not having exactly what we want to give away…
Do you like shopping for Christmas presents? Do you think they are compulsory?

Train musicians

Some time ago I wrote about how entertaining the duck and I think train conversations are. There is one occurrence, however, that we find even more entertaining: train musicians and other passengers’ reactions to them. Before moving to Berlin the duck and I had hardly ever experienced any train musicians. In fact, our understanding of music on trains was teenagers listening to it over their phones’ speakers to show everyone how gangster they are. This does happen in Berlin, as well, but real musicians are a much cooler phenomenon. We’ve listened to singers with their acoustic guitars give a little train performance on a Saturday afternoon; we’ve experienced a full-on brass concert with a shrill polka backing track on a Thursday evening; we’ve been overwhelmed by soccer fans who brought the stadium they missed so much onto the train by listening to a mix of techno and Schlager music out of their powerful speakers and drunkenly singing along, which was a complete contrast to that time we got to listen to a pleasant acoustic guitar solo after what had felt like a long pandemic-caused train music break. Just as diverse as the music are the passengers’ reactions: Some sigh, some turn up the volume of the music they’re listening to over their headphones, some toss a few coins into a hat sitting in front of the performer, some seem to get off early to avoid the noise, and others confront particularly noisy music providers and try to out-yell them when they demand that they spare their fellow passengers and take their stadium and drunkenness elsewhere. music note duckThe duck and I are quiet observers. Sometimes, if the music is too loud and obtrusive, we silently agree with the annoyed passengers, and sometimes we turn off our podcasts or put our phone or book down in order to listen completely to all that talent and bravery around us. Most of the times we find ourselves remembering trains in Tokyo, where even when you use headphones you have to make sure that you are the only one who can hear the beat of the music you’re listening to.