getting used to the keyboard

It is easier to type in German with a German keyboard layout, and easier to type English with an English layout. I switch back and forth a lot now, since I am in Germany but still write many emails and blog posts in English.

I got a cover for my keyboard that has the German keyboard layout on it so that I can see where certain symbols and letters are. That makes typing auf Deutsch much easier, and it protects my keyboard and computer from liquids somewhat. So if I read something really funny and end up choking on my coffee, my computer might survive.

But here (below) is the German layout…

…and here (below) is the American English layout.

I rarely remove the cover to type in English. That causes one main problem. When I intend to type this:

: )

it often ends up being this instead:

: (

So if you are coming to visit, and I send you an email that says “I can’t wait to see you! : (” please be understanding. : )

 

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jetlag + homesickness + culture shock

I’m still a bit jetlagged, and as the title says, I’m also homesick and culture-shocked.

I guess I should expect this, coming to a foreign country for a year.  But I can say “I’ll get used to it” as many times as I want and still not feel much better–I’m getting a bit overwhelmed.  A friend of mine who goes to an educational institution in Darmstadt showed me a few key locations in Darmstadt today.  Just seeing those few places that I’ll be living near in just a few days made me nervous.  I have never lived in a city, so knowing that I will be living with traffic and construction and herds of pigeons and tons and tons of people within even just 100 meters of me is scary for some reason.

And then it’s all in German, too.  My German has already improved over the last couple of days–I keep having to go back over this post to correct places in sentences where I used German grammar or capitalization by mistake–but it’s still pretty bad.  You really can’t properly learn a language unless you are immersed in it, but the immersion is stressful because there’s so much you can’t explain to the people who speak the language natively.  When my friend’s family asked me this afternoon why I was upset, my German was so mangled I couldn’t explain properly other than that my emotions were due to homesickness and culture shock.

And in addition, not only is my German not fluent, but I am also not used to speaking German while shopping, or cooking, or trying to find my way around town, or trying to figure out how to help with household chores I’m not used to doing because I don’t live here.  I’m used to speaking German in a nice quiet classroom.  That’s not the case here.  This is the big leagues, and I’m scared.

Hopefully I will get used to this.  This year could be great, but right now I’m just overwhelmed.  I’m so thankful, though, that I didn’t take the university’s suggestion and arrive the day before I move into my apartment.  That would have been even more stressful.  I’d like to thank the family I’m staying with for everything they’ve done so far.  They are extremely sweet, friendly, helpful people, and I am thankful to be here.  I’m just scared.

transatlantic flight sunrise

Well, even in the rush of travelling, I had the chance to take some more pictures of a sunrise.

On the first flight of my trip to Germany, I happened to wake up just in time to see the sun rising and grab a few pictures with my iPod. They aren’t the best pictures, given that they were taken from within an airplane with a lowish-res camera, but it was too beautiful not to post a picture or two.

sunrise over the atlantic

sunrise over the atlantic

Unfortunately, before we broke through to the underside of the clouds, where the sunrise was spectacular, I had to put my iPod away for descent and landing.  So I need to go back to Iceland someday to get sunrise pictures.  Yep.  That’s a good reason.  (Looks like a cool place to visit anyway.)

I’ll be looking for pretty scenery here in Germany.  Because waking up ridiculously early can be fun.  But not anytime soon, since I’m super-jetlagged right now.  Good night!

cheesecake recipe

I’m about to jump on the plane to Germany and am incredibly nervous about this whole year-in-a-foreign-country-where-I-am-not-fluent-with-the-language thing.  So, to distract me, I’m posting my cheesecake recipe.  I took pictures while baking my latest one but will add them later since I need to get my camera packed.  Ahh, travel.

Edit: Added pictures of cheesecake in the oven and the finished cheesecake.

Edit 2:  Added estimated preparation and baking times.

The finished cheesecake.  Was delicious.

Anyway, here’s the recipe.  The filling is a slightly-modified version of Alton Brown’s Sour Cream Cheesecake Recipe (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/sour-cream-cheesecake-recipe/index.html) and the shortbread crust is from The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking, which was published in 1997 (I think).

Prep time: about 2 hours

Baking time: at least 2 hours

the recipe, in british and metric units

First make the crust.

shortbread crust

ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 c all-purpose flour (414 mL)
  • 1/3 c sugar (79 mL)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (1.23 mL)
  • 1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened (118.3 mL)
  • 2 egg yolks

Directions

Preheat your oven to 400°F (205°C).  Spray the bottom of a 9-inch (23-cm) cheesecake pan with some cooking spray.  Since this cheesecake should be baked in a water bath, it is advisable to use a silicone cheesecake pan, not a springform pan or a pan with a removable bottom.  But if your pan is not waterproof, you can wrap the outside in aluminum foil for the part that requires the water bath.

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl.  When combined, add the butter.  Chop the butter into smaller chunks. Using a pastry chopper or your hands, combine the butter and the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Add one egg yolk to this mixture and stir. Once the mixture is about the consistency of play-dough, pat it into the bottom of the pan until it covers the bottom evenly.  Prick the dough all over with a fork, then put it in the oven for 18-22 minutes.

As soon as you pull the crust out of the oven, brush it with another egg yolk.  The yolk will cook from the heat of the crust,  sealing it and preventing it from soaking up too much cheesecake batter.

Now for the filling.

cheesecake filling

INGREDIENTS:

  • 20 ounces cream cheese (567 g)
  • 1 1/4 cups sour cream (296 mL)
  • 1 cup sugar (237 mL)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (14.8 mL)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 yolks
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (79 mL)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (optional) (237 mL)
  • Additional heavy cream (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Using a stand mixer (or hand mixer), beat the sour cream, cream cheese, and sugar on low until combined, then turn up to medium power for a few seconds.

In a separate container, mix the vanilla, eggs, egg yolks, and the 1/3 cup (79 mL) heavy cream.  Pour about half of it into the cream cheese mixture, turn the mixer on medium, and slowly pour the rest of the egg mixture in.

If you want to swirl chocolate into your cheesecake, get the cup of chocolate chips (237 mL of them) that you set aside earlier.  Pour the additional heavy cream over the chocolate chips until the heavy cream almost reaches the top of the chocolate chips in the measuring cup.  Put this in the microwave for 30 seconds and stir.  Continue microwaving the chocolate-cream mixture for fifteen seconds and stirring it until they are well-combined in a nice chocolate soup.

To get the texture of the chocolate swirls right, take a small amount (maybe half a tablespoon (7.4 mL)) of cheesecake batter and pour it on top of the chocolate mixture.  Let it sit for a minute or two to absorb some heat; if you mix something cold into something warm too quickly, the entire mixture may sieze.  Repeat this mixing of small amounts of cheesecake batter into the chocolate three or four more times until the mixture is almost pourable.

Pour the cheesecake batter and chocolate mixtures into your cheesecake pan as desired. I like to pour most of the chocolate in a layer at the bottom, right on top of the crust.  I then swirl a little on top to make the cheesecake extra pretty.

Turn the oven temperature to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C).  Put the cheesecake pan in a preheated water bath in the oven for 1 hour or slightly more.  Do not open the oven door until this first hour has elapsed.

My cheesecake in the oven.  Mmm.

Once the hour has elapsed, turn the oven off and open the door for a minute.  The cheesecake should be able to jiggle slightly; it still has more cooking to do.  Shut the oven door with the cheesecake still inside and leave it for another hour or two.  (The cooking times on this recipe are quite forgiving, thankfully.)

Pull the cheesecake out of the oven and allow it to cool for a while.  Then put it in the refridgerator for at least six hours (preferably overnight) before getting it out of the pan and putting it on a serving platter.  Then eat it.  Om nom nom.

I’ll try to post some cheesecake pictures later, once I get to Germany and unpack my camera.  Until then, enjoy the large block of text containing my favorite cheesecake recipe.  Edit: There are pictures now, as you probably saw.

an interesting trip to ikea

A friend and I went to IKEA today. We ate amazing Swedish food for lunch. We then began shopping, first looking at the adorable kids’ toys and then looking at shelving units for her basement.

RUMBLERUMBLERUMBLE.

And then an earthquake happened. The building shook, and the steel-beam grid holding the lights and signs in place below the ceiling swayed and rattled. My friend and I were at a loss for where to seek shelter, since IKEA hangs so much stuff from the ceiling and has so many shelves with loose products on them EVERYWHERE.

The shaking stopped ten seconds after it started. Once it was clear that the earth was still once again, everyone abandoned the items they had intended to purchase and made a beeline for the exits.

As we were exiting, an evacuation alarm sounded.  We all piled outside and stood on the grass, trying to call or text family members and friends to see if they were ok.  Not long after the evacuation, a store manager with a megaphone told us what was going on and that the building and parking garage were off-limits for the moment, for safety.  Eventually, we were allowed to go to our cars if we wanted to leave, but since the fire department hadn’t finished checking the building for damage, we couldn’t start shopping again.  So we left.

All in all, it wasn’t bad.  The earthquake was scary, but the building did not seem damaged.  I didn’t hear any glass breaking or anything, and the IKEA building was still standing tall when we drove away.  I thought that the employees handled things very well and stayed calm, even though the customers were freaking out.  They were also good at directing the copious traffic that resulted from the customers getting access to the parking garage.

But IKEA?  It would be super-awesome if you wouldn’t hang quite so much stuff from the ceiling.

i am on twitter now.

I joined Twitter yesterday.  If you are on Twitter, you can follow @lalalandstweets to read my thoughts on life in Darmstadt in real-time.  If you aren’t on Twitter, let me say that I now get really excited every time I realize “hey, I can follow that person on twitter now!” instead of just ignoring the person’s @-tag.  (Is that what the @username things are called?  I’m new at this.)

I’m not sure this is actually a good idea, but it will be an interesting experiment.

mythbusters withdrawal and sunrise over the national mall

I recently watched the three last episodes of Mythbusters I will be able to watch on TV before I go to Germany. Though Germany may very well have Mythbusters available on TV–I’ve heard that some shows from the USA and other countries are broadcast there–I’m a little sad. I’m a huge Mythbusters fan but did not have enough time to watch TV last semester and did not have the right channel over the summer. My parents have Discovery Channel, but Discovery Channel isn’t broadcasting much Mythbusters while I am home. But there’s always iTunes if I get really desperate.

But on a different, much less depressing note, a few days ago, I woke up at 4 AM to go take pictures of the sunrise over the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Here are a few of them.

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This last picture isn’t of the sunrise, as you can probably tell. It’s an example of the incredibly efficient sprinkler system in D.C. Note to city planners: cement does not require irrigation. [/irony]

I’m glad I was able to see this before leaving. D.C. is pretty, especially at sunrise. I’m looking forward to seeing the new scenery in Darmstadt, though!

one more week

Well I’ve been travelling recently and haven’t been as active in posting as I’d like.  But no worries—I have more to post soon.  But I just realized that I have less than ONE WEEK before I leave for Germany.  That gives me this many days

seven daysto figure out how to fit this much (six months’ supply) of my medical stuff

medical stuff i will be taking to germanyplus clothing, computer, gadgets, etc. into these luggage monsters:

my luggage for the tripI’m not the kind of person who enjoys packing, so the next few days will be interesting.  If you are a praying person, please tell God that I could use some encouragement in this.  And maybe chocolate, too.  🙂

how to pack books, or not

Since getting an iPad, I have begun to approach bookstores differently. Or rather, I have approached them less frequently, since I can buy the same book at the same cost for use in an eReader app.  This process can even occur while I am wearing pajamas, whereas a visit to a real bookstore could not.

reading asimov with an ereader app: not quite the same as a paper book, but not bad. and takes up less space in a suitcase.

The times in the past few days that I have gone to bookstores, I have seen interesting-sounding books that I decided to buy in eBook form at a later time.  (My main goal in going to bookstores recently, ironically enough, was to see if they had iPad covers.  They did not. Nook eReader covers? Yes.)

I do feel a bit sad about the increasing prevalence of eReaders. The new “I don’t need bookstores because I have a device for reading ebooks” mindset is partly what caused Borders, one of my favorite bookstores and hangout locations, to go out of business. But I do have travel circumstances coming up that make buying ebooks more sensible than buying paper books. My iPad takes up far less space in my luggage than all of the books I’d like to bring.

I’ll leave the debate of the economics involved to experts.  My personal debate is this:  if I have already bougth paper books that I want to take to Germany to read but cannot fit in my suitcase without displacing something else, should I buy eBooks of those books for travel? Or ask my parents to send me care packages of my own books?

Care packages all the way.  I can build my eLibrary once I have a real-world job.

what the spambot is going on?

Some of my blog posts are getting spammed.  But not in a way that Akismet (amazing spam-catching software that is automatically used on WordPress.com blogs) can catch.  These spambots seem to be Facebook-liking my posts.  I’m not sure whether these are supposed to be happiness-spreading bots or whether they are liking my blog in an effort to spam people on Facebook, but please be wary.  I hope that this doesn’t lead to malware being distributed through fake Facebook messages linking to my blog or something.  Maybe me posting about getting a certain product from a certain well-known computer manufacturer and software company attracted the bots?   If I figure out what is going on and have updates to report, I’ll try to post them here.  If any of you have insight into this sort of spambot behavior or have ideas on how to prevent it, please commet (the little speech-bubble shaped thing on the side of the post)  In the meantime, please accept my apologies if something bad happens because of the spambot fiends.  I have no clue what is going on.