Tuesday, 31 May 2011


If you had told me a year ago (or possibly even just a week ago) that today, on a Tuesday (when I work 8-5), I would work all morning with no break 8-13.20, because I had to cover someones duty and a lesson, then have three meetings in the afternoon, and then lock myself out of the flat and spend twenty minutes on the doorstep like a tramp, and then decide to spend an hour and a half cycling through and around Bremen in the rain, I would have told you to have your head checked but that is exactly the day I have had today. 

Okay, so it wasn't just a random bike ride, we had another flat viewing over and out the other side of town, (I'm not writing about the flat until we make a decision but they aren't cat haters!), but by the time we got to the viewing I had chilled out so much that I could actually see myself making the thirty minute commute every day.  The nicest thing was how green the surroundings were; instead of feeling like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz, powering away on my bike through the busy town, I felt completely at peace with everything (even when the route we'd chosen took us directly past the car towing depot from the other week!). 

So my advice for stress - get on your bike!

Monday, 30 May 2011

A Note on Bank Holidays

Yes I can see you all over there on 'the island' feeling all smug with yourselves because it's Bank Holiday Monday yet again and I'm working while you all sun yourselves, go shopping and enjoy barbecues yet again.  And you probably all remember what I said about German bank holidays and how if they fall on the weekend, that's just tough luck, no day off work like in England and feel even smugger.  But I have finally found the loophole that makes it all worthwhile...

Yes, here in Germany we have two Bank Holidays coming up.  I'm not sure what exactly they are for - they are Christian holidays I think, since there's no Royal Family to marry off over here.  So just like the 3rd October was a Sunday last year and that was tough luck, these holidays fall on a Thursday and Tuesday and this time, never mind tough luck, the Germans don't see the logic in having a Thursday off and then going into work for just one day, so they 'bridge' the holiday and we get two days off!!  So this week is a three day week, a full week next week and then another three day week and I'm going to make the most of it and feel very smug at the same time.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Saturday Update

This week I've been getting used to a gluten free life, marking my final year pupils' exams, exercising my green fingers on the balcony and flat viewing.  

As expected as a result of not point counting while in the process of mourning my carb filled ways, I have put on 2.5lb this week.  I'm a little upset as I had been feeling much better, not snacking and cycling lots but that's what happens when you take your eye off the ball.

This week we are expecting another parental visit so I am not expecting good news next week either but I'm feeling so much better and fitting into my clothes a little better at least!

Friday, 27 May 2011


One of the first things I noticed more than ever, even the first time I came to Germany, was my accent.  Although I like to think I 'speak properly', it's actually hard to define what 'properly' is when there is a different accent just about everywhere you go in England, and even more in the 'English speaking world'.  One of the first things the teachers told their pupils when I worked as I language assistant was "Don't say your 'u's like Miss Shires", when I read them a story that included the word bus.  No matter how neutral I try to make my accent, that's the one thing I can't hide.  

I was a little surprised yesterday, however, when I met the teacher whose course I will be taking over in Autumn and he guessed that I was from Newcastle!  I have nothing against Geordies, I love Newcastle, the people and the accent too actually, but there is no comparing the Geordie and Yorkshire accents...or so I thought.  It seemed a little poigniant this week given the news item that Cheryl Cole has been axed from the US X-Factor because of her accent.  Surely they could use subtitles like they usually do when Brits appear in their programmes.

It's something that is different wherever you go.  Here in Germany I have always been rather safe.  With the exception of East Germany (Dresden) and South Germany (Munich), I have had no problems understanding the prevelant 'Hoch Deutsch' or high German.  My biggest issue this year has been picking up information in Plattdeutsch which is a whole other dialect that Nico's family speaks.  Of course, they are very good at switching into German for me but I like to listen sometimes and it's amazing how similar some words are to the Yorkshire or Scottish accents and dialects in English.  (Or not so amazing when you consider the history).  The biggest issue I ever had with German?  The Swiss.  I was completely lost every time my Swiss friends got together in Barcelona.  However, learning that German national television does actually use subtitles when showing the Swiss on TV helped me fell better!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Gluten Free so far.

Well, after just three full days on the gluten free diet, I have to say, I feel great.  I thought it was going to be tricky to find things to eat but to be honest, I'd already cut down a lot on bread because of the Weightwatchers and knowing that it affected me in a negative way and cutting out past hasn't been too bad.

I have been eating rice crispies for breakfast which I used to eat anyway.  I wasn't convinced they'd keep me full for long but actually I have been able to get to lunch without having a morning snack, which I always needed after weetabix.  For lunches we have been having rice cakes with different spreads and on an evening we have been having some of our favourite Weightwatchers recipes that don't involve wheat products and have found more than I expected.  Apart from this we have been researching wheat substitutes online and in the bio-shop in Bremen and there are plenty.

Ok so Weightwatchers has gone out of the window this week as I've been concentrating on finding something wheat free rather than the points, but as I say, the snacking has reduced and I've been eating more fruit or rice cakes with jam as desserts.  I'll be building the gluten free theme into my Weigtwatchers planning next week to get back on track.

I have to say, although I knew bread and a lot of pasta affected my badly, I didn't realise just how many things they did cause.  Since cutting it out I have not only seen an improvement in my tummy (less bloating, stomach pains and indigestion), but also more energy, less fatigue, fewer mood swings and my skin is better.  I haven't felt stuffed after meals like I used to and am already more comfortable in my clothes.  Long may it continue!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Food for Thought

Just lately, the focus has moved off Weightwatchers but stayed with food.  First we got hooked on Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares - the American version which is car crash television at its best.  (You know it's going to be bad and maybe put you off your dinner but you have to watch anyway).  We also watched a little bit of the English version which didn't exactly make me proud to be British but at least we don't over dramatize everything like the Americans.

Just lately however, we have started watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.  I had never heard of this before but basically it starts with Jamie going into a town in America which has been statistically shown to be the most obese city in the most obese county in the most obese country in the world and make the kind of changes he did in school in the UK.  The second series sees him try the same thing in LA.

One of the most spectacular things that has left me dumbfounded when watching these is the ignorance of kids when it comes to food.  In the LA version we saw high school pupils answer the quiz by saying that honey came from bears, hotdogs grew on plants in fields, and chocolate comes from a lake!  Today, watching primary school kids in the first series who can't identify tomatoes, potatoes or aubergines but immediately recognised chicken nuggets and pizza.  

Although the all time winner that I have heard this year is that German children think that cows are purple due to a certain Milka chocolate company!!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Dance like nobody's watching...
Love like you've never been hurt...
Sing like nobody's listening...
Live like it's heaven on Earth.

A family friend bought me a card with these lyrics for my 18th birthday and I love the sentiment.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Gluten Free Living

Apart from the new political insight, yesterday also brought another new suspicion.  For years now I have suffered with my stomach and after various tests at the hospital was told it was just IBS and there was nothing to be done except to avoid the foods that brought it on.  The worst culprit is bread and on the whole I do manage to avoid it and when I don't I just have to put up with the consequences. 

However yesterday, Nico was on the internet research again and came up with another idea.  Now I have to say that I am not a fan of self diagnosis, my Grandmother for one, drives me mad with her medical encyclopedia, but the way that all of the symptoms seem to fit is just incredible.  So we think I am allergic to gluton.  It can bring on all kinds of symptoms apart from the pain, such as skin rashes and moodiness.  (You can see why Nico was on the point of suggesting it).  

So now we are researching recipes and ways to control it.  It's not just bread as I though, but any wheat related product which cuts out things like cereal and pasta so it's going to take some time to find substitutes but cutting back immediately is already making me feel better.  Hopefully it will also help me with the diet since bread and pasta are two of the areas where a lot of my points go.

What is really annoying though is that we can pick up on something like this online, when numerous English doctors failed to suggest or even mention the possibility.  Left ignored, the allergy can cause more extreme problems, even cancer so it's worth checking out.  I won't be trusting doctors with a 'put up and shut up' diagnosis again.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Bremen Election Time

So today, yep Sunday, saw the state and local elections in Bremen and, quite unexpectedly, as a resident here, I was allowed to vote!  As a foreigner the process was a little different in that I had to fill in different coloured papers (not quite sure how they are used differently) but on the whole it was very straight forward.

Two things I especially like about the politics in Bremen at the moment.  The first is that they have a political party called the Pirates!  The other is that each voter has five votes in each election (I think this is similar to the reform that has just received a big no in England from what I have heard) but actually, it's great.  If you are not sure between two parties, you can give votes to both!  Or if you love one party you can give them all of your five votes.  I split my vote accordingly and the results so far (it's only 40 minutes since the vote closed) are very good for the social democrats with the greens in a strong second place (yay!).  Unfortunately the pirates didn't get in...

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Saturday Update

How's your week been?  I've got my final year pupils through their final exam...and they didn't do too bad either (or so early signs suggest)!, I got a new second job teaching adults, which I have really missed, I made a new friend, my niece celebrated her first birthday and I lost one and a half pounds!  So all in all a good week. 

Next week I have a nice day off to mark the said exams and am getting the flat ready for another visit as well as continuing the flat hunting with Nico.  So far, Bremen is not proving to be a city of cat lovers :-(  Here's hoping we have more success as the moving date looms nearer.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Pay it Forward

When I arrived here last year, the first month was a complete whirlwind of paperwork, translation nightmares and financial black holes.  By the time we were put in touch with others from the programme, I had just about got my head around things which is why I've been wondering for months why there's no system in place to help native speakers as they arrive and why last month I emailed the recruitment agency and asked them to pass on my email address to this year's new recruits if they wanted and advice or answers because moving abroad is a scary thing!

Today, I had what I hope will be the first of many coffees with hopefully one of the new recruits.  The lady in question is currently weighing up her options in deciding whether to move here or not this Summer and I really hope she does.  I think she would love it here.  I'm also a little bit selfish but since Linda headed off back to the Emerald Isle, I've missed our little chats and hope to get a little social group of native speakers together for the next academic year.

Either way, I hope the candidate does what's best for her, if nothing else, it was good to make a new friend.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


I made some progress on my Get Out Of Debt Plan that I was roughly discussing yesterday today.  So...I had an interview at the Volkhochschule today, that's like a night school and they teach over thirty languages and they have offered me two courses!  Both conversational English, one basic and one advanced.  Unfortunately it doesn't start until Autumn and will clash with French but it's still good news.  Roll on Autumn!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A little inspiration

Having read this blog on my favourite site, I am feeling incredibly inspired in getting back a little control.  I'm already looking at ways to save money and earn a little extra and I don't think things are quite as bad for me as they were for this lady but... already working on a ban list.  One new year's resolution I had was not to buy more books until I had read all the ones I have and so far that is working well!  What would you suggest?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Recipe Update

Here are some of the recipes we have been trying out or rediscovering lately.  The first is due to our new interest in tofu and is absolutely amazing. 

Here are the tofu veggie burgers going into the oven

These are the pitas and salads to go with the burgers

Here's the finished dish
 An old favourite of ours that we still have at least every other week is this spicy meatball recipe with couscous salad and minty yoghurt.  The contrast in the tastes is amazing and it's easy and quick to make.

Spicy meatballs with couscous
 Here's another old favourtie, also from the February edition of Weightwatchers magazine, the feta ploughmans.

Feta Ploughmans
Nico has been investing in some cookbooks for cuisine from around the world and treated me to this chicken kebab recipe for lunch last week.

New recipe!
And here's the secret to it all...his ever growing spice collection!

The Spices

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Saturday Update.

It's been a mad week full of ups and downs as you know from yesterday's post.  I was let off lightly on the scales this morning after too many days off the diet.  I think the extra exercise with the bike riding has limited the gain to 1.5lb and I'm back on form for next week.  Most of my planning is already done, my year tens are sitting their final exam, (eeek), and I am meeting a possible new Bremen recruit on the same programme as me on Friday.  I also received my Karma cards from www.yesandyes.com this week and I'm looking forward to paying it forward.  We've gotten off to a good start with a healthy breakfast followed by a bike ride that burnt more points than I ate at breakfast, followed by a healthy feta ploughmans sandwich.  (Pics to follow in the next recipe update)  Bring on the week!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Latest Advice on Driving in Bremen...

Today has been a true Friday 13th for me.  My weekend looked oh so promising when I worked my backside off to get most of next week's planning done ahead of schedule (God bless Work Plans and Differentiation).  I then packed up my backpack and cycled back to my flat (all by myself for the first time) only to discover my car gone.

Now, with all the cycling lately I was just confused at first...had I left it at Nico's?, where exactly had I parked?, had the street been full and I parked around the corner?  Nope.  I cycled around in circles just to reassure myself but I knew where I had left it.  

With Nico at work, I decided to call the police who gave me the number of the local car towing company..."just in case".  I could almost hear the dumb foreign woman vibes screaming down the phone.  So I call the company and I'm not sure whether my heart leaped or sank when she finished off my license plate number for me.

First I had to hike all the way over to the place in the heat on an empty stomach only to be told I had parked in a building zone and had to pay 180Euros to get my car back.  I knew there were no 'no parking' signs when I had parked on Saturday so I let the woman call the police to come and explain things to me.  The woman, to her credit, was the only positive thing in the whole experience.  I have no idea how she stays so nice because she must get some people tearing a strip off when she tells them what I'm about to share with you, but as I was on the verge of tears, she sorted me out and explained tomorrow would be a better day.

So it turns out that even though I parked there on Saturday, by German law, I should have checked on the car every two days in case they choose to put up no parking signs around my car.  Great.  I had been at Nico's all week feeling very proud of myself for cycling and being so green when I was breaking the law the whole time.  The most incredible part of this law is that if you are on holiday for two weeks and your car is towed, you still have to pay; if you are run over by a bus and spend two weeks in hospital, you still have to pay; (I imagine) if you are run over by a bus and actually have the audacity to die, your family still have to pay to get your car back.  Nice.

The next turn of events came when the police arrived to tell me that actually I hadn't been parked in a building zone.  The problem was that  a HGV tried to drive down the narrow street where I live and park my car yesterday and had scratched my car and called the police who decided I hadn't left the required space for a HGV to drive down there and would have to be towed!

On top of all this, I received a parking ticket the week I arrived in Germany in August and have been waiting all this time for the ticket to arrive via my English address only for the German authorities to be waiting for my German address which they now have and to add insult to injury the nice police lady told me my tyre was bald and I should have it changed immediately.  

Here's to an improvement in the weekend!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Staying Safe

I finally spent my birthday money this week.  I decided that I can't always rely on Nico being there when I want to go somewhere by bike and I am a law unto myself when I cycle so I thought it better to stay safe and buy myself a cycling helmet.  Nico invested in one a couple of weeks ago (not because he's as poor a cyclist as me, but because he goes much faster and cars sometimes don't see him) and now we match.  Here we are in our cycling outfits yesterday.

Monday, 9 May 2011


Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Saturday Update...on Sunday.

This week's Saturday update comes a little bit late following a hectic day yesterday.  So there's good news - I didn't put on this week, and bad news - I didn't lose either, but at least for now, the yoyoing has stopped.  I was a little disappointed as I was within my points allowance throughout the week but I have to admit that with being back at work this week I had had more points than the week before and managed to fit in less exercise.  Yesterday was unfortunately not the best start to the week as we were at different social events which meant I couldn't count points, but I'm back on my game today and managed to fit in a bike ride both days - yesterday's being my first night ride!

Yesterday was also my first confirmation.  Nico's cousin Alina kindly invited us to the event and we drove to Schneverdingen for the first time!  (We'll be taking the Satnav next time and setting off earlier...that's all I have to say on the matter).  The service was in the same church as the wedding anniversary last month.  I have to say, although I am not religious, I love the sense of community and how close the family are.  It certainly helps combat any homesickness I have to be part of something at these events.

Unfortunately, we had to head off straight after the meal to get back to Bremen for a house party last night and meeting some more of Nico's friends.  Again, this is something I really like, getting out and meeting new people.  There were a lot of teachers so common ground for conversation and it was a really nice evening.  Unfortunately, it proved too long a day in the end and we couldn't stay as long as we would have liked but it was very enjoyable nonetheless.  It did also evoke a hint of flat envy.  The party was held by three couples from three flats in one house and the two I saw were amazingly designed.  I can't wait to get our own new place...let's hope some more new and promising places come up this week!

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Friday Confessional!

Okay, I have a confession to make about my week.  After raving about it, just a few weeks ago and having had four weeks off already for one reason or another, I skipped French class last night.  I'm a little bit annoyed at myself...but in my defence -

1) It has been the first week back at school and I do think I have done well to keep on top of everything else this week in light of that.

2) I have been doing French activities every day to keep my skills up.

3) I skipped class but took a 12 km bike ride!  

Now those of you who have known me since high school will know how unlike me that sounds - give up a language class in favour of doing sport?!  It just goes to show how much nicer sport gets when it's not enforced and carried out with 149 of your 'peers' in the ugliest brown gym pants!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Visca el Barca!

Check out the match report here

Don't forget to tune in on the 28th!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


After discussions on meat substitutes, which to be fair started with the topic of Quorn, we finally bought and cooked tofu last week.  I have cooked with Quorn before but never tofu.  After some research, we discovered the differences and first of all tried to buy Quorn.  Both of us live near fairly large supermarkets but having never seen it in either, we decided to try the bio-food shop in the city (round the corner from Weightwatchers).  When the sales assistant looked at us blankly, we thought it best to leave our quest for Quorn and settle on tofu.

Now lots of people seem to have a problem with these vegetarian meat substitutes and I have no idea why (I'm looking at you Dad, Madlen, Wally!).  They are generally lower in fat and can easily be spiced up.  We found a great recipe through Weightwatchers for some tofu veggie burgers in pita bread and it was amazing!!  The mix of tastes and spices just made it a perfect meal.

I can't wait to try some more recipes with tofu now and hopefully convert a few people along the way!  The best bit?  After several 'discussions' about using up left over ingredients (Nico wanting to throw extra into the recipe and me insisting on watching my points and ending up throwing far too much in the bin), we made the burger mix for four portions and froze half of it!  So we always have some ready made for a quick delicious meal!

Monday, 2 May 2011


For four years now on and off, I have been following Weightwatchers and I have to say, never have I been quite so into it as I am here in Germany.  Okay, so I did get to goal in England (although I didn't manage to maintain that) but things are made so much easier here.  First of all, there is an actual Weightwatchers shop in Bremen.  Whereas in England, you could only buy products at meetings or online, here you can just call in at the shop.  You don't have to be a member or attend the meetings there (although you can of course).  Due to my poor German when I arrived and my dislike of being tied down to a specific weekly slot, I am a member of Weightwatchers online which suits me just fine as I have all the tools I need and can access it when I like. 

Also, it's not just the fact that their is a shop but also some of the products they have.  Germany have been on the new propoints system for a while so that has been a smooth transition for me but the products here are totally different to the ones I was used to at home.  I can still get the bars which are very helpful for snacks or to curb hunger while shopping/cooking.  They also have some gorgeous angel delight / mousse style desserts in a range of flavours (see the pictures from last week's post).  These are so easy to make, low points and provide a nice sweet taste after meals.  There are apple chips which are great for school break times and just one point per pack.  There are also a range of cooking sauces although I have yet to try these.  Last week, we called in on our bike ride through the city and the best part about it is the prices! - I bought a box of bars, two packs of apple chips and one dessert sachet (that makes two desserts) for five Euros!  That's about £4!

I would recommend WW to anyone - German style, online or good old English style.  I have even converted Nico to their recipes.  It's great that we can just type in an ingredient that we fancy or have left over and find a whole new tasty recipe or an old favourite.  He has been blogging on some of his favourite cooking experiences (in German) here: Nedab Blog

More on our latest food craze later!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Back on the Bike!

Another new thing we finally got round to last week was buying a bike.  Thanks to the birthday money from my Dad (thank you Dad) I could afford to get one in the holidays and after a short practice on Saturday we took a loooong bike ride and had a picnic in the country on Sunday.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, it's surprising how green Bremen is.  In a matter of minutes we were in the countryside and managed to make it to 27km around the countryside on the North side of the city.  It was amazing.  We saw all kinds of wildlife from ducks to frogs.  We saw bunnies lolling about in the fields on Easter Sunday!  We found a nice spot by the river for lunch where we could watch boats sailing by and ducks having domestics.

After lunch we followed the track round and later we stopped for a read in the sun.  All the time we passed farms and little thatched country houses, most of which were selling homemade products like honey and jam.

Later as we came back on ourselves near Burgerpark, we stumbled on a nudist beach and the first time we had been to the Universum lake in the park!

So the day after I did need a day of rest but I actually really enjoyed the trip and plan to make more use of the bike, even for shorter trips to the shops or between our flats.  It's almost like free points - we earned 11 on our bike ride!  My new record!