January 31, 2009

A few follow up items and a recycled post

I hope you don't get the wrong idea from this picture... I just wanted to show you that I have a new haircut.

When it’s wet it kind of looks like a blond Darth Vader helmet (hence the picture) but when it’s dry it's perfect.

I had to go back to Entela twice to achieve perfection because the first time the left side was about 1.5 mm longer than the right and I HATE that, which you already know if you read 25 Random Things About Me.

But now I love it. And if you'll look closely you'll see that even the Vader helmet in the picture is a bit longer on the right side, which is the way I prefer it.

It's karma.

Or maybe it's the Force.

And now I have just a few short comments to give closure to recent posts 'Eggplant Rolls' and '3 Things You Need to Know':

Kristina: Yes, you can have it with water.

R Max: Leave out the chili peppers and have chocolate for dessert, you chocolate addict.

Bebe: You’re scaring me. Don’t do it.

That's it for today. However, if you feel that this posting was too short and want more I'm going to invite you to peruse a posting from Working Girl, which is My Other Blog. Working Girl is my 'professional' blog, which I use to blog about topics related to my line of work.

It's called 'I Want to Work for Diddy.' There's a Dilbert cartoon, too. Enjoy!

January 30, 2009

Bonus Post: Eggplant Rolls

I am really digging the German cooking magazine 'Meine Familie & Ich'. So far in the January edition I've made two things I like (which is a higher success ratio than I usually get from Martha), and it always includes a bonus insert of additional recipes that include time to make and price per serving.

I made these eggplant roles last night to general acclaim - and in fact this recipe took 2nd place in some contest judged by Jamie Oliver:

700 g tomatoes (a bit over a lb - I only had 3 small tomatoes so I used them plus a small jar of spaghetti sauce)
1 red chili pepper (I used 3 Italien cherry peppers to use them up)
1 yellow pepper
2 garlic cloves (I used garlic salt instead)
Salt, Pepper
2 eggplants
Mint (I didn't have any, unfortunately, but it was still really good)
30 grams pine nuts (that's like a generous handful)
1 onion
2 pieces of toast
100g feta cheese (about half a package, maybe a bit more than half)
300 g hamburger (I think about half a pound)
1 egg

If you're using fresh tomatoes boil them and take the skin off and lose the seeds and chop small. In my case I just cut my 3 smallish tomatoes in half and tossed them in a large bowl and dumped the spaghetti sauce on top.

Chop your spicy pepper in small strips and your yellow pepper in 1-inch chunks and add them to the bowl. Then either mince your fresh garlic or do what I did and dump some garlic salt over it. Add 2 tbs oil and stir ingredients, let them marinate for a few minutes and pour into a baking dish BEFORE you make the eggplant rolls.

Cut washed eggplant lengthwise into thin slices that you can use to roll later and lightly grill them in a non-stick pan with whatever oil is needed. I did two batches in a large frying pan and used about 4 tbs each time. I also sprinkled them with salt while frying. When they're done put them on paper towels to de-oil a bit.

Now mix the filling. Roast the pine nuts gently with no oil and put in a new bowl. Cut onions small and add to bowl. Ditto with the toast and feta. Add a handful of chopped mint (optional), hamburger and egg and mix it all up. Now you're ready to make the rolls.

Take a strip of eggplant and put a generous teaspoon of hamburger glop on it and roll it up. Continue until you're out of eggplant.

Bake at 200 C or 400 F for about 35 minutes or until the rolls look nicely browned on top.

Serve with warm bagette and red wine.

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

I love the Precious Ramotswe books by Andrew McCall Smith, not only for the enticing and intimate view of Africa but also for the feeling of goodness and well being suffused in the pages. Although this is a mystery series, the criminals tend to be about as scary as Ewoks and hardly anyone ever dies, so people looking for a thrill should look elsewhere.

Things I like about this book:

1. No one systematically destroys their lives in an annoying and unnecessary fashion (except maybe Charlie the apprentice mechanic but he always bounces back)
2. No annoying alliterary gimicks like writing in the present tense or not using quotation marks
3. No gratuitous sex or violence or swearing - all fine in the right context but bad writing usually makes them distasteful
4. Smith's writing is simple and direct, as opposed to the edgy first-year creative writing student prose that readers are frequently subjected to in modern literature
5. An overall peaceful, easy feeling - I felt like drinking a lot of tea while reading this book

In fact, I enjoyed this book so much I’m not even going to write a snarky spoiler about it.

January 29, 2009

3 Things You Need to Know

Actually you don't need to know any of these things but I am going to share them with you anway:

1. Your cat litter may be making Dick Cheney rich. Excuse me, richer. More than half the litter in the United States is made of bentonite, a stripmined clay, and may also contain carcenogenic silica dust (kind of scary when you think about how the dust explodes out of the cat litter and fills the air when you pour it into the litter box). Halliburton, where Cheney was CEO, produces about one-sixth of the 3 million tons of bentonite sold each year, of which 1.7 million tons go into cat litter. So buy the green stuff - it needs to be changed more often but isn't your cat worth it?

2. There are birds that live in caves and build nests out their own saliva. People climb down into these dangerous caves to collect the nests and sell them to restaurants, where they are used to make soup. And people actually eat this soup, which is fairly expensive as soups go. It just goes to show that some people will eat anything if you charge enough for it. I myself ate silk worms once.

3. I am finally going to reveal why I did not like the book She's Come Undone, which everyone else in the whole wide world apparently loved. Here is what I remember about the plot (and it's been a while so no guarantee that it's totally accurate but I think I remember the highlights correctly). Ready? Here goes: Young girl is raped by a trusted family friend. She deals with this tragedy by becoming grotesquely fat. She somehow gets into a decent college but screws the pooch by creating a fantasy identity for herself and writing phony letters to her future roommmate. Her roommate is disgusted by her when they finally meet. Somewhere along the line her mother is killed by a speeding truck at a toll booth. She has a revolting sexual relationship with an obese female janitor at the college. They sit around devouring junk food a lot. She poisons the janitor's fish and runs off. The end. So.... that is pretty much why I didn't like the book.

January 28, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

I got tagged on Facebook to create a list of 25 random things you don't know about me, which is kind of hard after the High School Questionnaire. . .

But anyway, rather than posting the list to FB and wasting a perfectly good blogging opportunity, here are yet another 25 random things about me that most of you may not already know:

1. I’m legally blind without glasses.

2. I think John Stewart is really hot.

3. I’ve dated more Europeans than Americans.

4. I hear voices in my head when I design software.

5. I own Sister Act. And Sister Act 2. In German.

6. I eat more than Ralf.

7. I don't see the point of American Idol.

8. I like men in Lederhosen a lot.

9. I once ate silkworms. I didn't know they were silkworms until later. They kind of tasted like chicken.

10. I organize my entire life with scribbled notes on bits of scratch paper.

11. I think people who voted for Bush in 2004... what were you thinking???

12. I weighed more in HS than when I was pregnant. Not much more, but more.

13. It drives me crazy when the left side of my hair is longer than the right side. It's OK if the right side is longer.

14. To get Ralf to propose I broke off a prior engagement, moved to Germany, found work and housing, dated a couple of other guys and finally instigated that risky showdown about the maternal clock (so don't cross me because I don't pull any punches).

15. I’m a bit of a hypochondriac.

16. I worry I'll get AIDS from an evil doctor or a sloppy pedicure. (See?)

17. In HS I was awarded a scholarship to a prestigious acting school. I ended up turning it down because I didn't want to wear sun glasses and a baseball cap just to go shopping.

18. I once seriously considered getting a Ph.D. in political science.

19. I can't believe how lucky I am to have a husband, kids, floor heating, coffee, flexible work hours and good health.

20. When I read a good book I see everything as vividly as the real world.

21. I wonder about things all day long, like whether Posh ever smiles.

22. I wonder if my dad misses me.

23. My IQ is 142.

24. I am pro death penalty for violent crimes involving children.

25. My nose is crooked. It's subtle but it kind of bugs me.

January 27, 2009

Nothing is more important than you

K, L and I were sitting upstairs on K's bed about to read a bedtime story.
L: Why does K have cream by her bed?

Me: Well, sometimes she gets dry skin and the cream helps.

K (proudly): So if you’re doing something really important on your computer I don’t have to interrupt you.

OK, let the schmucky feeling begin.

I reflect glumly on how often I tell them not to interrupt me while I’m sitting at the computer. I gave up a high-paid traveling job to be at home with them every night but I can't seem to give up my laptop. I worry sometimes that my kids will either be obsessed with computers or totally loath them… but it’s so nice and quiet in Cyberspace.

And teaching kids not to interrupt is important, right?

But K’s comment has unsettled me a lot. Do my kids understand the difference between not interrupting every two seconds and not having access to a loving parent? Or do they think that a stupid laptop is more important than their needs???

Me: Hey. You know that nothing’s more important than you, right?

Solemn nod but I want to make sure she gets it.

Me: Sometimes I’m working and don’t like it when you interrupt me all the time for stuff you can handle yourself, like L has 3 pens and you only have 2.

Another nod.

Me: But if you need me you should interrupt me. Nothing I ever do on my computer or anywhere else is more important than you guys.

I watch K mull this over.

K: So, like, if L wants to spill a whole glass of water on my bed I should tell you, even if you’re working on your computer?
Where the hell did that come from???
Me: Um. Yes, that’s a good example.

K: Or if we’re playing upstairs and she falls on her head?

Me: Exactly. Definitely you should tell me about that.

K: Or if Jela hits L over the head with something hard?

Me: Er. Yes, that’s right. Does Jela actually do that?

K: Or if…

I interrupt hastily – knowing the fertile imagination of my 5-year-old daughter this litany could go on for hours.

I briefly consider drilling down on the Jela question (pronounced ‘Yella’) but I figure I would know if she had ever actually hit my kids over the head because they would cry and I would hear it. For the moment, the unsavory Jela and her allegedly violent tendencies are beside the point.

Me (with liberal use of italics for emphasis): It's like this, Sweetie. If I’m working and you just had two snacks but you want another one or something like that, please wait and don’t interrupt. But if you have a real problem, like someone is hurt or you think someone is going to get hurt, or even if you’re just sad or lonely and feel like you need mommy, you should come tell me. Always. Because nothing in the whole wide world is as important as you guys.

Pretty good, huh?
A thoughtful pause. It's sinking in. I can't believe how much I rule.

K: How come?

Me (a tiny bit irritated): Because you’re my BABIES and I love you more than EVERYthing, what do you think?

K: More than Guthrie? (our cat)


Me: Yes! I mean, I love Guthrie too but he’s not my baby.
K: Because he didn't come out of your tummy?
Me: Um. Yes, exactly.

K: Do you love us more than….?

I head her off quickly before we get totally off topic.

Me: K, do you understand what I just said?

K smiles at me and nods. I think she understands.

K: I love you, Mommy.


Me: I love you too, Baby.

So much it hurts.

January 25, 2009

Date Night

Ralf and I went on a DATE Friday night, a real date with a babysitter and everything. Just to clarify, the babysitter stayed home with the boobies while we went out. We went to see La Brass Banda, which is a Bavarian student brass-mariachi-ska-techno-punk group that brings the house down.

Seriously, these boys can play large brass instruments while jumping around without a pause for two hours. And everyone else jumps around, too, which is always worth seeing in Germany because as a general rule Germans have no groove thing.

The exception to this is Ralf, who is pretty fly for a white guy.

We crammed into a packed basement with a bunch of students and professors from University of Freising (which is pronounced 'Fry-zing' not 'Freezing') and the getting down commenced. And except for the regrettably tall and curly (and unwashed) hair of the male student in front of me, it was just plain amazing.

There was much shaking of one’s funky stuff.

To give you an idea, there was no place to sit and we had to stand for an hour before they started. My feet hurt and I was already counting the minutes until it would be over. This is not because I’m getting older, you understand – I was always like this. There are not many things that could have made me forget my uncomfortable feet but La Brass Banda did.

The lead singer of La Brass Banda is apparently a Bavarian farm boy who took to the trumpet like a duck to water. There was no question of him becoming a butcher or baker or farmer or whatever it is his dad does in his hometown because he is a bugle boy. He plays the trumpet like it is part of him. I’ve never seen anyone play anything like that, like there is no physical barrier between the musician and the music.

About four years ago, before we moved to California for three years, Ralf and I paid a lot of money to see Herbie Hancock in concert. He was good but the evening was unmemorable. And he introduced a famous trumpet player who did nothing but stomp around the stage shaking his head and playing the occasional note because ‘he couldn’t find the mood.’

In striking contrast to this overpriced professional musician, the bugle boy and his lively band have no difficulty finding the mood day or night and the tickets were only EUR 15.

What struck me most of all is that these boys were having FUN up there. Real, honest to goodness fun, the kind that has a hint of naughtiness and ‘shhhhh… I won’t tell if you won’t.’ Remember that kind of fun from the good old days before work and taxes and mortgages and insurance paperwork took over your lives? Genuine fun is a rare and precious commodity that the we were not slow to appreciate.

So addictive was this intoxicating sense of fun that we screamed desperately for 3 encores and would have made those boys jump around all night if we could have.

If you live in Germany and have a chance to see La Brass Banda in action I warmly advise it. It’ll make you feel young again.

Quote of the Day: US Service Outage

You comedians are doing all the heavy lifting for me...

This just in from Naturelady, and if you want to see some spectacular pictures of Alaska you should definiely check out her blog:

Here's something hilarious I found on an Alaskan blog (THE ESTER REPUBLIC):

Dear World,

The United States of America, your quality supplier of ideals of liberty and democracy, would like to apologize for its 2001-2008 service outage. The technical fault that led to this eight-year service interruption has been located, and the parts responsible for it were replaced November 4th.

Early tests of the newly-installed equipment indicate that it is functioning correctly, and we expect it to be fully functional by January 20th. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the outage, and we look forward to resuming full service --- and hopefully even to improving it in the years to come.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

*The USA*

January 24, 2009

Something funny I stole from another blog

I came across something Very Funny this week that I want to share with you. I'm always thinking of others that way.

This post was brought to you by Very Funny Friday.

"I am not and have never been a pole dancer", curtesy of Binks

(I told her I would steal it so it doesn't really count as stealing.)

Here is the mother's note:

Dear Mrs. Jones,

I wish to clarify that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer. I work at Home Depot and I told Sarah how hectic it was last week before the blizzard hit. I told her we sold out every single shovel we had. Then I found one more in the back room, and several people were fighting over who would get it. Sarah's picture does NOT show me dancing around a pole. It's supposed to depict me selling the last snow shovel we had at Home Depot. From now on I will remember to check her homework more thoroughly before she turns it in.

Sincerely, Mrs. Smith
A likely story.

I also had a picture of a guy who had an unfortunate accident while skiing but G pointed out that was mean. It was the type of accident that can only happen if you're screwing around on the ski lift but still. The poor guy's probably suffered enough by now.

January 23, 2009

How will he be remembered?

It's cold today and my house is cold. A professional heating technician turned my floor heating down to a more 'appropriate' level - and funnily enough, what a middle-aged German man thinks is warm enough is very different from what an LA girl like me finds warm. And of course, our new heater is a masterpiece of German engineering so I can't change it.

Ralf could change it but doesn't want to. German men are all alike.

But that's just a side note. I actually want to talk about something a little more serious today.

I don't personally know anyone who isn't thrilled to have a new President, or at least no one who admits it. And it is thrilling - after 8 years of incompetence, corruption and wrongminded policy we Americans can hold our heads up again because we elected someone who can speak well and exudes integrity.

But it seems to me that too much has been made about Obama being black. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to take away from from the hard-earned triumph of Dr. King and all those who stood with him. It's wonderful that such positive change is possible within a generation or two. It's just that it seems to me that if Dr. King was right, the color of Obama's skin is beside the point.

I'm just happy to have a good man in the white house and I honestly don't care if he's pink or blue. Well, maybe not pink, 'cause that's a sign of too much drinking.

Obama's landslide election is a significant milestone in US history, but not just because America elected a black President. It's a milestone because it shows that we acknowledge our heinous mistake four years ago when we re-elected a poor President (and yes, the signs were already there). It shows that we acknowledge that the current path we're on leads nowhere good. It shows that we acknowledge that you get the government you deserve - for example, if you elect an oil man you'll get oil. Duh.

And it shows that we as a nation finally understand what every animal in the jungle gets: Don't poop where you eat.

You may completely disagree with everything I just said but ask yourself this:

Do you think President Obama (or McDreamy, as Emily poetically calls him, and yes he is) wants to be remembered as the first black President or as the man who ended torture of prisoners, upheld civil rights, revamped the US energy grid to introduce alternative energies, worked for peace in the Middle East, strengthened the middle classes that are the backbone of the US economy, brought affordable health care to children and made America a name to respect again?

I'm just saying.

January 22, 2009

Church Lady

I want to thank all of you for your hilarious and interesting comments and say that I treasure each one. But I also want to call special attention to a comment I got yesterday from R Max (a hardened criminal who frequently gets strip searched at the local courthouse) that I read over and over and kept laughing each time:

"Can I just say... there is a lady at church who is the spitting image of you. When I see her I always think she IS you and I have to stop myself from commenting on her (your) children/husband/snow storms/sauna/toenails/boobies etc.

NOW... I have to NOT mention Barney!

Thank you... she already thinks I'm strange."

Author's note: I just LOVE it that there's someone out there who can't mention Barney or toenails in church because of me. And that I have a Mormon doppelganger. BTW... are you saying she'd think you're less strange if you DID bring up Barney???

January 21, 2009

Happy doctors, bitchy bakers and new hope

This morning I had a mammogram and to spare you the suspense, I'm completely normal, at least as far as that goes. It was snowing so I asked Ralf if he could drop me off.
His response: 'Why, certainly. I would be delighted to chauffeur you around Munich this morning. I won't even make you beg.'
I took this as a yes and got all dolled up in my fur-lined purple snow beast outfit, which is incredibly sexy. Believe it. And don't even look at that picture of Barney, it's completely unrelated.
After they took the pictures I met with the doctor, who was unexpectedly jolly. Generally speaking most of the doctors I've gone to here are pretty nice but this guy was positively brimming with bonhomie. Of course, he looks at breasts all day.
Fortunately the little verruca at the bakery right afterwards made up for this understandable lapse in German brusqueness, so cosmic balance is preserved and we can all continue to exist. She ignored my polite request for a croissant, handed me a stale pretzel and brazenly stole my Eurocent change.
But nothing can dampen my good mood today because I have a clean bill of health and an even cleaner new President.

January 20, 2009

Any questions?

This is not directed at any of you. I promise. I just think it's funny.

January 19, 2009

Catalog of Mishaps and New Ideas for Terrorism

Perhaps because I have to spackle my nose to go out since the Rudolph Incident, I’ve been sticking close to home the last couple of days. This may explain why the number of things I have accidentally dropped, broken or flung across the room has gone up. To give you an idea, in the last two days alone I have:

- Dropped a glass filled with garlic salt, which shattered.
- Boiled rice water all over the stove top right after cleaning it.
- Spilled rice all over the counter and floor when trying to finish off the curry from last night.
- Flung carton of yogurt across the room while trying to put away the groceries. It burst open.

These are all minor mishaps that are within normal parameters for me. But last night I did something worse…

Our house has a sauna, which is one of the reasons we bought it, and last night we used it. It’s very warming and relaxing to sit in the hot steam in winter and we used the time to speak of various things, such as vacations we don’t have time to take and why we’re both working so hard since we moved back to Munich.

I was absentmindedly worrying a lose fingernail tip and when it came off tossed it without thinking into the hot sauna rocks. After about 5 seconds the air filled with noxious smoke that reminded me a bit of the hair-cum-blow-dryer smell from the dorm bathrooms at boarding school (only without the Aquanet) and Ralf sat up and glared at me in horror.

‘Did you just throw a body part in the rocks?'

'Erm. . . no. Not a body part as such. Just a fingernail.'

'Are you completely insane? It smells like Auschwitz in here!’

I thought that was a little harsh but it did smell really bad so I apologized. ‘Sorry, darling, I wasn’t thinking.’

‘Gah!!!’ Ralf stood up and ran out.

Ralf continued to lecture me for several minutes while we were relaxing on the deck chairs between sessions. ‘Even for you. .. . totally over the top. . . most disgusting thing anyone has ever done. . . ‘

Finally I had to break in. ‘OK, I get it. Burning body parts bad. Now get OFF me!’

Silence reigned for a few minutes and then was broken by an evil chuckle from Ralf. My eyes snapped open and locked on him warily to make sure he wasn’t holding an axe or something. He's been under a lot of stress lately.

‘What now?’ I was now feeling a bit testy myself and seeing no axe I went with it.

Unexpectedly, he grinned. ‘I just thought of something. Imagine if someone pulled a stunt like that at a public sauna, like flinging in a toenail on the way out.’

I started to giggle. ‘You could go with a whole bag of toenail clippings and put them all in.’

‘They’d have to evacuate!’

‘That’s so evil! How come no one has thought of this???’

'We should start saving. . . '

We were laughing hysterically by now at the thought of dozens of uptight, naked Germans from various walks of life having to run out of a public sauna.

*Author's note: 'Uptight' and 'naked' are two words you don't normally find used together outside of Germany, but it works because the Germans are fairly uptight about everything except nudity.

By the time we were finished laughing about our evil plans for world domination through random acts of spa terrorism the sauna was habitable again and all was forgiven.

And my nose is healing nicely.

January 18, 2009

Conversations with Boobies, Part II

For those of you who missed the original Conversations with Boobies, click here.

Here are a couple of new Boobie conversations:

K: I believe in God.

me: Um. OK. Lots of people do.

K: What does God do for people who believe in him?

me: Er. . . nothing, really.

K: Why doesn't he do anything for them?

me: Well, maybe He wants people to help themselves.

K: What does he to do to people who don't believe in him?

me: I think He makes their children ask about Him all the time.


K: That's not bad.

She has a point. It definitely beats a plague of locusts.


L: Mommy, what are you doing?

me (busily blogging): I'm working, darling.

L: That's not work!!!


K: Mommy, how does a baby get into a mommy's tummy?

me (awkwardly): Well, darling, when the mommy and papa love each other the papa gives the mommy some genetic material so she can grow the baby in her tummy.

Blank stare. I suck. I try again.

me: Um, the man gives the woman a piece of himself.

K (always quick to spot the weak point in an argument): Then how does a man cow put a baby cow in a girl cow's tummy? He doesn't have any hands so he can't give her a piece of himself.

me: Great point, darling. Um. . . why don't we circle back on this one in about (glancing at my watch) 5 years?

January 17, 2009

Loving Frank

Loving Frank is the book my book club in California read this month. I miss them - we almost never read anything I liked but the company made up for it. I give Loving Frank a 'B-' because it was well-researched and fairly well-written, but I’m also being generous because it was mega boring, like watching a mushroom grow.

Then again, although I'm an avid reader I hardly ever like book club books that everyone else in the entire world loves so you might want to take my advice with a grain of salt. For example, I didn't like "Water for Elephants" so you can use that as a barometer to decide whether we have compatible literary taste.

Here is a very high-level plot synopsis of Loving Frank, which you SHOULD NOT READ if you hate spoilers:

"Married woman with unusual and somewhat irritating name (Mamah) and 2 children leaves family to shack up with Frank Lloyd Wright - a bit like Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina' (now THAT was a great book), only without the character development. Husband pretty decent about it all and she gets visitation rights with her kids. Unfortunately, crazy ass hired hand kills pretty much everyone except Frank with an axe and then burns them to ashes, including the kids. Tearfully writing her eulogy, Frank justifies the decision she made to leave her children for the sake of love by pointing out that they were with her when she died. Frank goes on to design famous buildings. The end. "

So, I didn’t love it, although it was still better than She’s Come Undone.

January 16, 2009

Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?

Wow, I'm touched. I'm fine everyone, yesterday was just really busy. I had my annual skin exam (I spent my formative years in Scottsdale so taking no chances with skin cancer), it was Ralf's first day back from his California trip, we had English playgroup after school and book club in the evening. . . and of course, plenty of work.
My skin exam and my book club interacted in an unusual way. I had a tiny pink patch on the tip of my nose called a solar keratosis. About 10% of these can turn into skin cancer over time so the doctor froze it off with this enormous liquid nitrogen flame throwing device that scared me to death. Gone are the days of putting liquid nitrogen in a pee cup and dabbing it on with a Q tip, this was high tech, baby. The down side is that a few more millimeters of skin get frozen than you strictly need. But it takes a few hours to get really red so I still looked pretty normal when I set out for book club.
It was my first time with this book club and the book was Go Ask Alice, which many of us read in school. It's a cringingly painful book about an amazingly naive girl with incredibly low self-esteem making extremely stupid choices over and over again while her family fails to recognize the danger signs. Although it was later discovered to be a hoax rather than the actual diary of this girl, as a parent I found it very thought-provoking, especially the scene where she wants to tell her parents everything but they're too in lecture mode to shut up and listen to what she has to say.
Anyway, it was a good book club until we voted on the next book and almost everyone wanted to read The Hour I First Believed by the author who wrote She's Come Undone, a ghastly book with almost the same storyline as 'Go Ask Alice', i.e., traumatic incident in a young teen's life leads to a serious of idiotic and destructive choices that are incredibly painful to read about. Hopefully the new book is better but I really hated She's Come Undone so I don't hold out much hope. On the other hand, left to my own devices I probably wouldn't read anything except comedies and science fiction so it's probably good for me to expand my horizons a bit. At least Oprah didn't recommend it so it might not be totally horrible.
Now back to my story. Book club was good but the drive home was a nightmare. It was so foggy I couldn't see more than 3 feet in front of my car and the non-reflective paint on the road was practially invisible. And no sign of that amazingly useful invention they have in some developed countries where people recognize the need to see when driving at night: LIGHTS on the road signs and next to the road. Nada. It was awful and several times I contemplated just pulling over and sleeping in my car. Seriously, the only thing that stopped me was that the visibility was so poor that I couldn't tell if I was driving next to a cliff.
I think I'll skip over the frantic call to Ralf, his almost suicidal comments about how it's not that hard to drive and the the unfair telephonic bitch slapping I gave him for being German and therefore related to the people who built those lame excuses for roads. Let's cut to the moment after midnight when I was - thanks to Ralf's calm navigation via Google maps - finally home safe, warm, a shot of Schnapps down the hatch to stop the shakes and Ralf watching me the way you might watch one of those poisonous jumping spiders from Australia if you found it sitting on your pillow.
Actually, I'll just skip over that bit, too, and cut to the moment when we were upstairs brushing our teeth. Looking in the mirror I saw to my horror that the tip of my noise was completely red and swollen, like a big blister or boil. I studied it from every possible angle but nothing made it look one iota better. 'Ohmigod, I'm Rudolph! I'm Rudolph! I look like f#%*ing Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer!!!'
I don't usually swear like a sailor but after all that had taken place earlier Ralf didn't even blink. He just glanced over and observed laconically, 'Don't worry, honey, you aren't at all like Rudolph.'
I felt marginally better until he continued: 'If you were really Rudolph you could have guided yourself home through the fog tonight.'
My husband is a very brave man.
And just as I was about to fall asleep he whispered, 'G'night, Rudi.'

January 14, 2009

High School Questionnaire

What does it take to provoke you people??? I thought Twilight would do it but I guess I'll just have to try harder. But not today. Today I want to take a trip down memory lane. . .

Remember the 80s? Great decade. I went to high school in the early 80s. I've been hooking up with high school friends on Facebook and it's so weird to see everyone all grown up. Especially since I haven't aged a day.

Yesterday a friend of mine made a comment about Twilight and the movies we liked in HS and that got me thinking about the movies I liked and how I spent my time in HS and stuff like that. I should probably warn you that I'm not going to confess anything earthshaking here because some of you are my colleagues and some of you are my mom and the ones who need to know were there (and I still love you)... but feel free to tag along, you might just find some old friends.

So, without further adieu here's the High School Questionnaire:

1. Favorite HS movies: 16 Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, White Nights, Animal House, Porky's and Hitchcock's Vertigo

2. Favorite books: Dune, Pride and Prejudice, Dragonsinger

3. Favorite music: Go Gos, Duran Duran, Adam and the Ants, Yaz, Oingo Boingo, Bow Wow Wow, B 52s, A Ha, Boomtown Rats, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Human League

4. Favorite video: Prince Charming (Adam and the Ants)

5. Hair: Shudder. Cringe. I wanted to have big hair. And blond. My hair objected to this and died so I ended up having to cut off most of it before going to college. It's just starting to recover.

6. Make up: Covergirl foundation, purple eyeshadow, blue eyeliner and hot pink lipstick, what else?

7. Favorite foods: Steak, chocolate chip cookies and potato chips. Yes I was a tad overweight.

8. Fashion sense: None. To hide my extra pounds I tried layering with the result that I often got asked if I was pregnant. Lots of cheap jewelry was involved as well. Some of it may have been cool but I don't insist on it.

9. Confidence: Strangely high. I knew exactly who I was pretending to be. I would have preferred to be rail thin but I didn't hate myself or anything.

10. Favorite subject: Definitely math. I was good at it and the teacher called me 'Hamburger.' How can you not love someone who calls you Hamburger?

11. Least favorite subject: English literature. I liked most of my English teachers OK but I mean, seriously - Moby Dick, Red Badge of Courage, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Great Expectations, they're all so BORING. I still don't like literature that much, or at least not the common garden variety in which the author tries to show off by going into excruciating detail about the dirty fingers and rotted brown teeth of the midwife or subjects us to an endless stream of consciousness about the futility of life. Who needs it?

12. Sports: Volleyball and rodeo. My volleyball team took state senior year and I even got to play sometimes. The rodeo bit may sound more exciting than it actually was because I wasn't very good. I was probably better than most of you people but I was on a team with cut-throat cowgirls who did nothing but ride their own horses. For the most part I stayed on my horse but I didn't bring any glory to our team. I mainly did it because the boy's rodeo team was totally hot: we're talking Wranglers, boots, buckles, hats, the whole 9 yards. To prove their worthiness as mates they chewed tobacco and vied for female attention with daring feats of precision spitting. I still like cowboys.

13. Favorite memory: It's hard to pin it down to just one. I really enjoyed doing plays, it was kind of like work only way more fun. Also rules tended to be a bit more lax around the theater so we 'actors' had a great time smoking, er, cigarettes and talking smack.

14. Dumbest thing I did: I went to a boarding school and lived in a dorm. Lots of kids got busted for sneaking off campus. I got busted for sneaking back on campus when I was overnighting at a friend's house. Bright idea, huh? Talk about something ventured, nothing gained.

15. Favorite TV shows: Monty Python's Flying Circus and Dr. Who
16. Popularity: I think most people knew my name, does that count?
17. Biggest bummer: Both the guys I really, really loved got expelled.
18. Favorite yearbook quote: It's hard but I think this one shows the most insight into my character: "Baby, Sweetie, Honey Pie - Well, you mix-matched, rumple paged valedictorian you somewhere along the line of life we seem to have graduated. I hope you don't get lost on your way to college. The bell rang. See you later. With love, Mark." Mark really got me.
19. Most painful yearbook quote: I attended my school for 7 years and there was another girl who was there for 6. She was pretty and sweet and if I'd been a guy I'd have dated her and if I were gay she would have been at the top of my list right after Sarah Michelle Geller. So anyway, I adored her slavishly and she gamely tolerated me and I've often wondered what became of her. Looking back at my senior yearbook I found this from her: "I hope that life gives you a fair shake and that you get what you deserve and desire. But remember do it without being offensive or you won't get any thing." Well, what can I say? 'Anything' is one word, you moron!!

20. Smartest thing you did after HS: I didn't got to Berkeley. They spelled my name wrong, anyway.

January 13, 2009


It's a calculated risk because normally rational people who are amazingly tolerant about everything from religious slander to being told they are evil have been known to totally FREAK OUT when someone utters a word against Twilight. But that's me, I like living on the edge.

Wait a minute. . . damn! I wanted to make fun of the Twilight movie but Kristina got there first. A month ago! And she compared it to watching a Book of Mormon movie so there's just nowhere to go from there. Why do I even bother?

So instead of adding to the growing body of literature about how unibrows aren't really sexy I'm going to scoop Charlotte and invite you to create an Obamicon. They look like this:

Pretty cool, huh?

Oh and yesterday was apparently national delurking day, so all you people who visited my blog were supposed to leave comments and not just, er, lurk. Feel free to make up for it today, even if it's just Twilight-related hate mail.

January 12, 2009

Aloha dreams

There's always a bright side. Even winter's not all bad - in fact, just this morning I found a chocolate croissant in my car that went missing 3 weeks ago and it was still edible. But aside from this one spot of brightness, it pretty much totally sucks.

To add insult to injury, I just got an email from my German husband in sunny California with the following: "It was almost 70 F today and dark blue skies, you would have loved it. I could even wear a t-shirt! (don’t want to rub it in, but it was a gorgeous day…)"

I don't think that qualifies as rubbing it in at all, do you?

So anyway, today I've been mooning over some old Hawaiian vacation pictures:

I plan to let Ralf pay for his t-shirt comment by taking me on a tropical vacation in 2009. I think that's fair, don't you?

January 11, 2009

On the bright side

Thing 1: A dad doing the weekly shopping with his kids. And not just that, they were all wearing ski suits, so he took them skiing first and dropped by the grocery store on the way home. I thought about asking if he was single but the answer was pretty obvious and he wasn’t nearly as cute as Ralf so I just grinned at them all. This is Germany so they hated that, except the youngest child who smiled back when his dad wasn’t looking then stuck out his tongue.

Thing 2: At the gym I discovered that Paris Hilton is looking for a new BFF. Seriously, people, I’m going to apply. She doesn’t need any of those skanky ho’s that want the job, she needs ME. I’m the ultimate second fiddle. In fact, I should probably have included that in my list of life skills (see previous post) because it’s a bit of a specialty with me. I am attractive enough to be seen in public without posing any threat to my BFF. I can babysit the icky little dog during photo shoots. I can converse with the ‘spare’ guy on a variety of topics while she snogs the cute one. I can distract her other BFFs by telling them how amazing they look while she hits on their boyfriends. I can run her website and make sure she gets money when people watch naked videos of her and charge people twice, so her financial future will be assured. Moreover, I will always be honest with her and tell her when the guy she’s dating is a hairy tattoo’d moron. And if she ever decides to finish high school I can make sure she’s Valedictorian.

Clearly, she needs me. I love being needed.

Bailing the boat

Yesterday got off to a rough start. Ralf is away on a business trip and I miss him. The kids are skiing with their grandparents and I miss them. There were no distractions. I could clean, shop, sew, cook, organize, get ready for taxes, stalk friends on Facebook, meditate, sleep, read something good, read my next book club book, surf the Internet, get ahead on some design work, have another cup of coffee, eat chocolate, book my February flight to the US, do laundry, sort stuff in the attic, go to the gym. . . but I didn’t feel like doing any of these things.

Things are broken. They always break (chaos is the second law of thermodynamics, after all) but Ralf usually fixes them. The front panel on my underwear drawer is hanging off and probably needs to be glued back on with Superglue, which Ralf hides from me. The brand new DVD player ate my dvd so I couldn’t watch Eureka last night – it’s a high-tech DVD recorder that apparently sulks if you turn if off. And the new top-of-the-line heating unit we installed in our attic went completely insane three times last night and shook the whole house with loud hammering noises.

I worry sometimes that I could never live alone. I can cook, clean, shop, blog, read, write, pay bills, sort food by order of expiration, give my kids space to find (some of) their own answers, speak to large audiences comfortably and design personal management software. These are my humble life skills so naturally I wonder how long it would take for my entire house to fall down around me if I lived alone. I would definitely need a lot of friends with husbands to take up the slack.

OK, that came out really wrong but you know what I mean. I’m talking about stuff like installing DSL, right?

My dearth of useful skills isn’t the only thing that worries me. The environment worries me. I’m a mom so I force myself to keep track of what Al Gore is doing, sign a petition or write to my congressperson when he requests it and have even made some key lifestyle changes. I do my little bit but it’s not enough. On the other hand, I’ve been worried about the environment for long so long that I’m pretty used to it, kind of like the constant, low-grade fear in my tummy I had when I was 8 and thought the Russians would nuke us.

They still might but no one worries about it any more because we have bigger problems. How scary is that?

On a positive note, Obama gets it but he’s chosen to fight with subsidies rather than penalties and this may not be effective enough. It may even drive up the price of clean technologies for the rest of the world. But what can he do? Penalize companies for poor planning and irresponsible world citizenship that are already laying more than half a million people off?

That’s the next thing bringing me down lately, the news that US unemployment is over 7% (which is almost 1 in 10 people). This will impact other countries as well and right now parents just like me are wondering if they can keep their houses and feed their kids. As a parent I can’t imagine too many more things more frightening than that.

Except... being in the Middle East, that’s probably worse. I've been thinking that the 10 Commandments aren’t a bad start but we clearly need a few more, like:

Thou shalt not assume that everyone who doesn’t like you or criticizes your actions also hates your entire race.

I would also recommend:

Thou shalt not hide weapons or bad guys in hospitals, schools or residential areas.

Bastards. But then, I suppose this is why I’m not a military strategist.

And finally:

Thou shalt not kill in the name of religion.

You might think ‘Thou Shalt not Kill’ would automatically cover this one but religious killers always seem to assume there’s some special dispensation for killing in the name of religion so I would add this, at least as a footnote. Notice they took this approach with coveting, i.e., you shouldn’t covet anything belonging to your neighbor AND you shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s wife, but I guess sleeping with your neighbor’s wife is a worse sin than killing someone so they wanted to make it idiot proof.

ANYway, as I was saying before I took a short detour to improve the 10 Commandments (you’re welcome, by the way), yesterday all this stuff was bubbling up and bringing me down. So, instead of working or cleaning my house, I took action and spent a half hour meditating.

Seriously. We’ve all seen what can happen when we're in a good mood and smile at everyone we meet. Almost magically, people are friendly (except, of course, in Germany) and no problem is insurmountable. Well, the reverse is also true. Negative emotions like fear, sadness, anger are contagious and lately it feels like there’s too much of them around and the world is out of balance. It’s like we’ve been living on credit for too long and the bill just arrived, only it’s not a bill any more, it’s a delinquent notice.
Meditation can help bring negative emotions back into perspective.

So that's what I did and I felt better afterwards, like I had finally got around to bailing a very leaky boat, and got dressed to hit the gym and go shopping. And while I was doing these things I saw two other things that cheered me up no end.

In my next post I will write about these happy things.

January 10, 2009

My work here is done

K’s got it all figured out. Yesterday her friend Kit was over and as usual they fought like an old married couple. The crisis came when Kit announced she was going home at 5, an hour and a half early. I asked K what had happened but she claimed no knowledge and didn’t seem too concerned.

After about 15 minutes of professional mediation (I used to be a project manager so I have experience with this type of situation, although I used to get $250/hour to deal with it) it came out that K had refused to share her light stick, a weird pink flashlight like device with stretchy rubber fronds and filaments that light up with different colors.

This was odd in itself because usually Kit, who is 7, doesn’t give a fig about what K, who is 5, allows or does not allow. But then again, K has been sporting a pretty strong personality lately so in a real show down I wouldn’t know where to bet my money.

Anyway, K and I talked. I pointed out that when Kit goes home K can have the light stick to herself anyway so why not share while she’s here?

This argument impressed her not at all.

Then I noted that if you never share with your friends, pretty soon you won’t have any friends.

K shrugged this off complacently with a pretty tight counterargument: ‘I don’t care if I don’t have any friends. Then I won’t have to share my stuff.’

‘K,’ I said, ‘you can’t tell me you wouldn’t be sad if Kit never wanted to play with you again. Do you want to spend your life alone with your stuff or do you want to have friends?’

Now she actually looked at me, as if I said something interesting, yet completely off-base. I watched her search for the right words and waited, intrigued.

It struck me in this moment how beautiful she is. Her eyes are a sunny meadow green and when she is deep in thought her face assumes a still look that almost lets me trace the features of the woman she will become. She will be much more beautiful than I ever was.

Finally it came: ‘Mama, Kit gets mad at me all the time for not sharing. But she always comes back.’

Not the greatest sentiment but I felt kind of proud that she can work this kind of stuff out on her own and let the matter drop. I figure if she doesn’t run amok as she gets older, this attitude may even save her from caving to peer pressure or waiting by the phone for some guy to call.

And it turns out she was right, too – Kit had no real intention of leaving and stayed until 6:30. Her point made, K even let her take the light stick home with her.

My work here is done.

I can’t believe how much I rule.

January 9, 2009

Updating my Blogroll

First a quick update from Munich: I’m still here and it’s still winter. Can you believe it, it’s already been winter for days and still no end in sight. This morning was -12 C, which I consider fairly chilly. And since we have a big sofa in the middle of our garage that we’re trying to sell I have to park outside. And scrape. Ice. I’m officially giving Ralf another week to get rid of the sofa (after he gets back, of course) and then I’m going in with the axe. Meanwhile the cat has been protesting Ralf’s absence by doing extra smelly things in his litter box. The phrase ‘courtesy burial’ apparently means nothing to him.

Meanwhile out in Blogland I’ve been reading so much great, funny and sometimes tragic stuff lately that it’s hard to decide where to start each day, let alone single anyone out. Nonetheless, today I want to update my Blogroll (down there on the right) with a couple of blogs I’ve been following recently that make laugh out loud:

R Max, a very funny mom from New Zealand.

And Kristina P, who is funny and evil, origins unknown. Actually we’re still debating whether she is evil or not but she is definitely funny.

According to their blog bling, they are both Morman Mommy Bloggers. What are the odds?
Pretty high, actually. Over the course of my extensive religious research, I have concluded that in addition to starting relatively few religious wars (compared to the rest of us, I mean), Mormons also have a better sense of humor than people of other religions.
Let me clarify this, because I’m afraid it came out all wrong and I certainly don’t want to offend any of you non-Mormons that have comedic aspirations: The odd Jewish or Catholic person may well be funnier than a randomly selected Mormon but I’m talking averages here.
In fact there is even a Mormon website dedicated to humor. On this site I re-discovered that wonderful history of everything compiled from student essays. This is important historical information.
A few choice quotes with my comments:

"The Bible is full of interesting caricatures."
me: Isn’t it just?

"Moses led them to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients."
me: This is actually not a bad way of describing Matzo bread.

"Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him.
me: Let this be a wakeup call for all of us."

"Milton wrote Paradise Lost. Then his wife died and he wrote Paradise Regained."
me: This is the literal truth.
"There were no wars in Greece, as the mountains were so high that they couldn't climb over to see what their neighbors were doing."
me: And it just goes to show that the less we know about our neighbors, the less we want to kill them.
Anyway, thanks R Max and Kristina and the rest you whom I didn't mention but am stalking for making my day.

January 8, 2009

Winter Wonderland MY ASS and other topics

Winter sucks: My kids have to be at Kindergarten at 8:15, which means at 7 we start getting dressed: tights, lined pants, undershirt, overshirt, pullover, socks for each child. Then around 7:55 we start putting on snow boots, scarves, hats, mittens and ski jackets. And this morning, as a special treat, by the time we finished these winter follies I realized that the car was frozen solid (-7 degrees C) and that Ralf had hidden the ice scraper in his man cave somewhere. Fortunately, there are few problems that a major credit card can't solve and I was able to scrape the ice off my windshield with my Visa.

Back to school: I’ve branched out from connecting with colleagues on Facebook to connecting with old high school friends and suddenly it’s like I’m back in biology class again, pretending to work while secretly passing notes. For example, this is how I found out that a girl I went to high school with was in Robert Palmer’s ‘Simply Irresistible’ video. Yes, I played volleyball with someone very slinky. I figure this makes me vicariously slinky. See if you can spot me, I mean, her:

Hairy encounter: I also reconnected with my German hair stylist Entela, who is actually Hungarian and looks just like Courtney Cox. Entela is an artiste. I can’t wait to bring my hair to her. It hasn't had any professional attention since September and needs to be saved. This is me:

German doctors: I called my German doctor to find out if I had whooping cough. After looking through my files for several minutes the receptionist told me sternly - like I had crossed some sort of line by calling - that she couldn’t tell me the results over the phone and Herr Doktor would have to call me back. That's standard here, by the way: they take your blood and tell you to call in a week for the results and then when you call they tell you they can't tell you anything and the doctor will call you back. But if you don't call, they won't call you, like they have to be activated by your voice or something. The good news is that yes we have no whooping cough.

And finally, I think I found a perfect blog posting. I haven't quite decided whether Kristina is being sarcastic or if she's just plain evil but she's very funny. So, instead of writing something meaningful myself today, here’s a blog I wish I’d written.

January 7, 2009

Where did THAT come from?

God works in mysterious ways. He didn’t strike me with lightning for my recent posting (which was somewhat critical of Him) but he did apparently have a conversation with my kids because when they got home from their grandparents’ yesterday they immediately asked me to show them a picture of Jesus on the cross.

This is a topic that has never been mentioned by me to them, unless they’ve been reading my blog. . . so I was caught a little off guard.

However, I’m a mom and religion is part of the territory so I took a deep breath and plunged in. ‘Why do you want to see that picture? It’s not a very happy picture. Wouldn’t you rather see a picture of Jesus as a baby in the manger instead?’

As an extra incentive I added, ‘With all the cows and donkeys?’ But nothing doing, they wanted Jesus on the cross.

So out came the Young Reader’s Bible I’ve been hiding and blogging about and we looked at the picture together, thankfully toned down for young readers.

K wanted to know: ‘Mama, who’s God?’

I took a page out of Meg's book. ‘Well, darling, some people believe he’s the king of angels and Jesus’ papa.’ This answer was accepted.

Then she wanted to know: ‘Mama, do you know why they hung Jesus on the cross?’

Ah. First why question. Much tougher than who questions. ‘Er. . . because they were mean people?’ I hazarded lamely.

‘No, Mama. It’s because he wasn’t the right Jesus. He was a fake Jesus.’

I could feel my lips moving as I stared at her, silently mouthing, ‘Fake Jesus.’

Where did that come from? I’d like to say I made some great answer to this that K will someday tell her own kids but what actually came out of my mouth was, ‘That’s interesting, darling, are you hungry?’

K wasn’t hungry. She wanted to talk about fake Jesus. I was just gearing up to say that even if he was fake, it was pretty mean to hang him on a cross when I was saved by the phone.

‘Thank God!’ I muttered, then remembered my recent posting and looked upwards a bit guiltily.

K wanted to answer the phone so I let her, figuring whoever it was could chat with my 5-year-old for a few minutes. And get her off topic.

Then I got my next surprise: The call was for her! It was her 6-year-old friend from next door calling to ask if she could come over and play. They had a short conversation to work out the logistics and signed off with a casual, ‘Tschuss, bis bald!’

So…. when did K get so big that we’re discussing religion and she gets more calls than I do???
P.S. The church sign is fake. If you want to design your own fake church sign you can do this here. Thanks R Max for the tip!

January 6, 2009

Thought for the Day: Faith

I was a leeeetle worried after yesterday's posting that I'd get struck by lightning but I'm still here, knock on wood. Today just a short post to share some great advice I got from an old friend when I mentioned I was losing my religion:

"Just don't lose your faith."

January 5, 2009

People and Deities Behaving Badly

Ralf has been grumbling that I've digressed from writing interesting - albeit ignorant and misguided - social commentary to ‘Poor me, I’m so sick’ postings punctuated by German doctor bashing. So in recognition of his support for this essential social service I provide, today's challenge is to try to get my groove back.

Since I don't want to offend anyone, I thought I'd take on a nice, safe topic like Christianity.

Me and Christianity go way back. My grandmother, a Presbyterian minister’s wife, used to read me Bible stories by the hour. She got a lot of babysitting mileage out of the Holy Book - not only is it chock full of short, action-packed stories, you can also make a game out of reciting the chapters: ‘Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel. . . ‘ and so forth.

And we didn’t just study Christian literature together, she also read me hundreds of stories from Greek and Norse mythology, and I was engaged to a Jewish guy who converted from Catholicism before I married a religiously lax German Protestant, and we meditate with a Buddhist Sangha, so although there are a few gaps in my knowledge of mainstream religions I feel like I have a pretty good grounding in comparative religious studies.

I recently acquired a Young Reader’s Bible for my kids and was looking forward to sharing the same special memories with my girls but I just can’t seem to get started. As an adult I find that many of the Bible stories are difficult to tell children because they tend to ask all those why questions that are so inconvenient when you’re trying to find your faith.

There's still some magic - I mean, when Moses parts the Red Sea that totally rocks.

But I have issues with God, at least as He is depicted in the Bible. He is inconsistent, vengeful and not above wiping out entire cities or playing petty pranks on his most devoted worshippers. Not that he never comes through - I mean, he saved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace and Daniel got a break with that lion but he didn’t lift a finger to save his son and don’t even get me started about Job.

And the Garden of Eden, what was that all about? ‘See this tree full of delicious looking apples right in the middle of the garden? Don't eat any or I will be eternally pissed. Just enjoy the garden, worship me and don’t look at the apples. Have an apricot or a grape instead…. Did you just eat that apple? I can’t BELIEVE you ate that apple!!! I will SMITE your sorry ass for this!!!!’ And so on.

I realize that many people have found a loving, merciful God in the Bible and that's the kind of God I want, too. I'm looking for the God the Harlem Gospel Singers sing about, the ‘Rock of My Salvation’. I just can't find him in the Bible.

And I don’t like how Eve got blamed for everything, either. Adam's a spineless yutz and this is Eve's fault?

I also don’t care for the author’s note at the back of the Young Reader’s Bible that God personally oversaw the writing of the Bible. Is it just me or does it seem unlikely that someone who doesn’t lift a finger to fight AIDS, war or famine has time for, or interest in, authoring a book? Even a spectacularly popular book like the Bible.

I sometimes wonder why the Bible is so popular. God isn’t a very sympathetic hero, with all his ranting and city destroying. It isn’t particularly well-written, either, all that boring Ezrah son of Abraham stuff at the beginning of each chapter and mediocre character development. I mean, the God in the Old Testement has a completely different personality than the God in the New Testament.

But like The Devil Wears Prada (another poorly written book with an unsympathetic, badly developed main character that was amazingly popular), it has a few things going for it:

It has a catchy title. ‘The Bible’ has gravitas, dignity, authority. If they called it ‘People and Deities Behaving Badly’ instead it would lose much of its mass appeal and moral authority. Ditto ‘The Devil Wears Prada’- I mean, say it was called ‘The Really Mean Boss’ instead, would you read it?

It’s available in English, thus making it instantly more accessible than other viable religious texts with equally cool names like the Torah and the Quran. Ditto TDWP.

It has an appealing concept: Super powerful being offers perfect after life if you go to church and do what the priests tell you in this life. Ditto TDWP: Mean boss bullies plain mousy girl until she develops a fashion sense and stops being such a total weanie. People like to read stuff like that because it's reassuringly easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Church backing also hasn’t hurt the Bible's popularity, given that the Church has more money than God (heh heh heh).

Incidentally, it just has occured to me that blaspheming right after a bad bout of bronchitis might not be such a hot idea. . .

I still pray to God when my kids are sick or I can’t find my keys. And I say 'God bless' when someone sneezes or as a gesture of support. But it doesn’t feel like I'm calling on the God from the Bible, more like something greater and less… uptight middle-aged white guy.

I'd like to leave you with this thought: Most mainstream religions have been adapted to fit personal agendas over the years - usually for the sake of fomenting violence, sometimes just for money - and Christianity is no exception. But if we boil them all down to their most basic tenets I think they are all trying to tell us the same thing:

We are all connected.
Love is more empowering than hate.
There is a higher purpose.
Live in this moment.
Do no harm.
Be helpful.

January 4, 2009

The other side

Yesterday I picked on German rudeness and related a couple of humorous encounters I’ve had in this department. However, I don’t want to leave it at that because: A) most of the Germans I know well are loyal, kind and helpful (if a bit outspoken); and B) rudeness can be refreshing. So now I want to share the other side of the story: why I came to Germany in the first place.

Back when I was fresh out of graduate school I landed a job as manager of a small software development team. I was pretty green, focused on results rather than building alliances with other managers. I said what I thought to everyone and while a few people liked this about me, I offended many more.

To me, fresh out of school and over my head with heavy responsibilities, small talk translated into wasted time. I had a big job to do. So I neglected to ask about people’s weekends and steamrollered over ideas I didn’t like. My team got the job done but I didn’t make any lifelong friends among the other team leads.

Let me just say here that these days catching up with colleagues is a big highlight for me because I have a lot more confidence in my work (which translates into precious time) and I love the people I work with. But back then I was too outspoken and focused on the task at hand to make friends.

So, there I was, offending someone at every meeting and plowing doggedly toward meeting my own team’s goals. And then the Germans came to town. They were tall. They were outspoken. They were superior engineers. We ended up on the same project, designing a new kind of compensation solution, and it was amazing. They were rude when they disagreed with me and I was rude back. White board pens were flung and ancestors were insulted. And when the dust cleared we made a decision and went out for a beer. No hard feelings.

It was like coming home. I fell in love with the Germans and even married one of them. Now I live here and frequently miss the kinder, gentler American style but never forget that I once moved here to escape it.

So I will continue to make fun of German rudeness where it crops up but don’t let me fool you – I secretly dig it.

Thought for the Day: I love phlegm

I've been reflecting lately how a tiny difference in circumstance or perception can completely alter someone's interpretation of events. For example, we went to see the Harlem Gospel Singers last night, which I thought was awesome. During intermission we ran into some friends of ours, one of whom complained about the percussion being too loud. He was quite put out by this and unable to fully enjoy the concert as a result.

Einstein noticed this difference in perception as well in his famous example with lightning hitting the train simultaneously in the front and the back. A person standing on the middle of the track sees the lightning strike the front and back of the train at the same time. A person on the train sees the lightning strike the front of the train first, because he or she is headed that way. A person on a train headed in the opposite direction sees the lightning strike the back of the train first, because he or she is headed the other way.

The point is that there is no objective reality. We all have a different story.

Take phlegm. I think on most days we can agree it's pretty icky stuff and we don't want typically want our offspring to rub their runny noses on our t-shirts right before work. But take it from me, when you've been dry coughing for an entire month, having a real cough where you can feel the phlegm shifting RULES because it means you are finally getting better.

So at least this week, I am a big fan of all things phlegmish. Even the phlegm my children spooge on my t-shirts.

Go phlegm!

January 3, 2009

This German life

Here are a few scenes to give you a feel for (my) daily German life.

Vignette 1: Marktkauf

I’ve already blogged about Tengelmann, an expensive German grocery store with unhelpful (by American standards) employees. But to be fair, the rudeness you encounter at Tengelmann is the higher class sort of rudeness, or the, ‘Oh, very well, if I must,’ sort of rudeness. Today we'll take a look at Marktkauf, an enormous supermarket with reasonable prices that also has clothing and household items. Marktkauf offers its own special brand of rudeness.

Yesterday the whole family headed for Marktkauf to stock up our sadly empty larder. The Jambalaya I made earlier this week tapped out our provisions and thank goodness K liked it because it was pretty much all we had. Also, next week Ralf is headed for the mother ship in California (a.k.a., our company’s headquarters) and a friend of mine asked me to buy her some German make up. So after we had loaded our food into the cart I browsed the cosmetics section with no luck and the kids were getting tired.

Seeing a Marktkauf employee go by I waved and said, ‘Entschuldigung, haben Sie Jade?’ ('Excuse me, do you have Jade?'). Not my best German sentence but perfectly understandable. Without breaking her stride she replied, ‘Schaun Sie. Ich hab’ auch keine Ahnung,’ ('You look, I don’t have any idea either'). Alrighty then. When I stared at her she sighed wearily and called out to a colleague: ‘Oi! Haben wir Jade?’ ('Hey! Do we have Jade?') and I was escorted by the colleague to the appropriate aisle with much hair tossing and eye rolling.

Ralf thinks I exaggerate about German rudeness but the fact is that he rarely encounters it. Cashiers, bank clerks, mechanics, travel agents, doctors, handymen and everyone else immediately size up his height and maleness, register his boyish charm and confidence and for all I know smell his testosterone and suddenly all these helpful people materialize out of the woodwork. When they see me coming, they take in my shortness (5’8’’ is nothing here) and register my femaleness, mousy looks and lack of confidence that I will be helped, as well as various linguistic imperfections that mark me as foreign, and write me off as someone they don’t have to do any extra work for. Of course not everyone is like this but I encounter it a lot and remember I’m an LA girl so I grew up coddled in the milk of insincere human kindness. On rare occasions when I felt my children’s lives to be in danger I have successfully imposed my will on the odd reluctant German but you really have to be in the zone.

I sometimes wonder if New Yorkers have an easier time?

Vignette 2: ‘Ich moechte Deutsch reden!’

I remember when I was first learning German it took about 8 months of intense language training before anyone would bother speaking to me in German, even if I spoke German to them. I would say something in German, even something as simple as ordering a beer, and the answer would invariably come in English. Finally after 8 months I’d had enough and vowed that the next person I talked to would speak German to me. As it happens the next person I talked to was Claus, a very sweet German consultant I worked with, one of those good-looking, ambiguously gay types that always marry a supermodel and have three kids.

Anyway, I asked him something in German and he answered in English and I responded in German and he came back in English and so on and so forth until finally, blushing with the strain of continuing to speak German to someone who was ignoring my efforts I glared at him and said, ‘Claus, if you don’t speak German to me I’m going to smack you!’ He looked surprised, as if he hadn’t even noticed me speaking German, then shrugged and said in a kind voice (in English, of course), ‘Well, I would, Laura, only your German is so terrible.’ This was a long time ago and there did eventually come a day when Claus and I switched to German but it left its mark.

Vignette 3: Threading the Bobbin

Now that I have a sewing machine it is expected that I can use it to sew things. And to a limited extent I can – I just made a third pillowcase, this time with ribbon trim! But now I’m starting to get helpful suggestions from various people about what I ought to sew next, including my husband. While in California for a conference not too long ago Ralf and I bought a ski suit for L. Although it’s supposed to fit a six year old and she just turned three it’s a bit short so Ralf asked me to pluck out the Velcro patches on the shoulders and move them up a bit to give it more length. I reached for the suit but he was strangely reluctant to let go of it. ‘Do you think you can do it?’ ‘Well,’ I answered honestly, ‘it does mean threading the bobbin.’

Threading and re-attaching the bobbin is still something of a challenge for me but I gamely reached for suit again, which continued to be withheld. ‘Do you know what a seam ripper is? Do you have one?’ he asked, holding the suit away from my outstretched hands. Well that was just insulting – after 4 sewing classes I can’t do zippers but I know what a seam ripper is! I grabbed the suit and glared at him.

Two triumphant hours later I had successfully moved two Velcro patches a whole inch.

I can't believe how much I rule!

January 2, 2009

On the mend again

I think this is the third time I’ve announced I’m getting better but this time it might be true. My meds seem to be working. I have heavy-duty antibiotics, probably the strongest I’ve ever taken, pills to completely dry me out and a course of Cortisone to heal the damage caused by letting this insane cough go too long. Again, no kudos to that first doctor who gave me nothing but sage tea but at least I have some serious #!@ now.

Yesterday I felt so much better I cooked, cleaned and even made a small dent on the laundry pile up. Mind you, we still have the tiny washing machine we owned in our chic pre-kids Bogenhausen apartment so it only fits about 4 pieces of adult clothing and each load takes over an hour to run. So it’s sloooow going. On the other hand, it matches the pace at which I get around to putting away laundry pretty well.

I also mastered my new sewing machine. After no fewer than four sewing classes in the US I can now laboriously thread my sewing machine while heavily referencing the user’s manual and sew extremely simple things. Yesterday I sewed two Little Mermaid pillowcases and a shiny, silky scarf that my kids have unfortunately fallen in love with so I’ll probably never get a chance to wear it. I even did a fun project with the kids – I bought a bunch of colorful iron on decals at Joann’s in the US before we moved back (hearts, butterflies, etc.) and yesterday we decorated all of their plain t-shirts and turtlenecks together. The decals are also great for covering up those mystery grease stains that have magically appeared on all my staple long-sleeve Target tees.

In addition to being sick and working full-time we haven’t had childcare since about a week before Christmas. Can you hear the violin playing? The Kindergarten takes a full-blown two week Christmas vacation and the kids got sick about a week and a half before that started so we’re at two weeks now with another week to go. We’ve had some much-appreciated help from Ralf’s parents on the days when I had to lie in bed or go to the lung specialist but working for money has been a challenge. So far haven’t let any deadlines slip but it’s been a hard road.

Also, I have to admit with all the love in the world, annoying. The kids are sweetiecakes and I think staying at home with Mommy and Papa has been good for them. Even when I was deathly ill they seemed to like having me around all day. That’s the beautiful side, the side that finds you humbly worshipping your biological empire. The annoying side is the constant, ‘Mommy this, Mommy that,’ which literally doesn’t let up for more than 30 seconds at a time. All day, every day. This can range from simple announcements (i.e., ‘Mommy, I’m going upstairs now’) to calls for service (i.e., ‘Mommy, I’m thirsty’) to sisterly disagreements (i.e., ‘MOMMY LENI TOOK MY BUEGELPERLEN!!!!’) You can only say, ‘Don’t talk to me unless you’re bleeding!’ and ‘Don’t make me come over there!’ so many times.

So the countdown’s on to next Wednesday, when I will supposedly be 100% fit again and the kids finally go BACK TO SCHOOL.

Knock on wood.

January 1, 2009

Smokin' New Year Jambalaya

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, peaceful, Cajun New Year.

2 lb beef sausage, cut 1/4 inch thick
1 lb diced boneless chicken
1 1/2 lg onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups water
2 1/2 tbs Cajun spice (salt, hot red pepper, garlic, onion, paprika and some other mystery ingredients so if you can buy it ready-made all the better)
1 tbs salt
3 bay leaves
6 oz tomato paste or ketchup
1 lb peeled shrimp
3 cups raw rice

Saute sausage, chicken, onions, bell pepper and garlic until sausage and chicken browned. Add water, Cajun spice, salt, bay leaves and tomato paste. Bring to boil with lid and add rice. Stir and lower heat, simmer and stir periodically until rice cooked. When the rice is about half done toss in the shrimp. Enjoy!
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