February 28, 2009

What are the odds?

Charlotte writes the first blog I ever 'followed'. I found her back in September when we moved to Germany and was struck by her generous, funny style.

Since then there have been more - you know who you are - but Charlotte was the first.

So, my meeting Thursday? With Charlotte's husband.

Weird, huh?

Where's L?

Ralf has been watching the kids while I'm gone and he's been rising to the occassion admirably while finding out what it's like to be a working mom.

He even painted the living room, which was an unfortunate shade of yellow that clashed horribly with our terra cotta tiles.

Mind you, he's taking a couple of days off, so he's missing the full experience of being me.

But still, I have to give credit where credit is due.

Although I have to wonder when he emails me pictures and one child seems to be missing:

February 27, 2009

On Travel

I have lived in somewhat unusual places like Japan, Russia and Los Angeles. I was a global project manager and have traveled all over the world. But between you and me, I never really liked it - the logistics, the organization, the packing, the rushing to the airport in the winter. These things are not for me. So having kids was a fine excuse to stop traveling so much.

And now I'm out of practice. For my recent trip to California I checked my itinerary about ten times, looking for mistakes. I agonized over my car rental. I shopped for an entire week of food so Ralf wouldn't forget to feed the kids. I smothered my babies with kisses as if they could be rationed during my absence.

I kissed their pillows one last time before I left, in case, God forbid, something should happen to me.

Ralf brings me to the airport. It was a bit like our old dating days when I would visit him in Milan for the weekend and he would bring me to the train station to return to Germany. . . but only almost because now we are partners in this different life that includes children.

He leaves me to go through security and I face a stern security guard who wants to throw away my eye cream because I hadn't put it in a plastic bag.

'Go ahead,' I tell her. She doesn't like this. She wants me to go get a plastic bag.

'I don't have time,' I tell her.

'Then we must throw it away,' she says.

'Go for it,' I say.

'You understand, that's the rule,' she says.

'I understand,' I assure her.

Inexplicably, however, she does not throw it away. She runs it through the machine and I furtively stick it back in my purse on the other side.

The poor Italian guy in front of me loses his shower gel, however. The penalty for having expensive toiletries, I guess.

At the gate I look around and wonder, as I always do before flying, if this will be the end of my journey. I miss my babies and melodramatically wonder if I will see them again. I wonder if my last Facebook status, 'Laura has left the room,' will be my epitaph.

But I am flying with Lufthansa. The Germans may not care about customer service but they take their engineering seriously.

On the plane I wonder how people can afford business class with their kids.

No one is sitting next to me. A small miracle.

I jot down notes for my upcoming meeting.
I read about the octuplets.
I miss my boobies.
I miss Ralf.

I am a free radical. Ten more days before I am the nucleus of my family again.

We take off and the countdown begins.

February 24, 2009

Games Without Frontiers, Comments Without Passwords

The Maven let me know that leaving a comment on this blog is really hard. I've experienced this myself as well when I'm not logged in so I have turned off the password.


There probably won't be anything much to comment on while I'm traveling but I'm just saying. And you never know. Maybe I'll see Elvis. Or John Stewart.

Just out of curiosity, does anyone ever check back to see if I responded to your comment?

Going back to Cali again

Tomorrow I'm flying back to California for ten days to visit the mother ship and also celebrate my grandma's 90th birthday, so it'll be a pretty packed week. I doubt I'll do much blogging unless I see Elvis or something noteworthy so just FYI.

I'm still here, just in transit.

Ralf will be holding the fort here in Germany, which will be a good opportunity for him to experience my world, which consists of:

1) Making breakfast and packing lunches in the morning (lately he's been getting the kids dressed, which has been a big help since they both wear winter tights);

2) Picking the kids up at 3 PM and playing with them until bedtime;

3) Preparing their dinner and making sure they eat their veggies;

4) Getting teeth brushed, PJs on and lights out by 8PM;

5) Preparing his own dinner (I'm planning to stock up on frozen pizzas today);

6) Shopping for all this dinner preparation;

7) Laundry (although I'm not holding my breath on this one);

8) Doing a full-time job alongside all of this.

I'm totally jealous. I will miss them.

February 22, 2009

A final Fasching party

Last night we were at one last Fasching party (the Germans really can't let Fasching go - yesterday at the train station grown men were walking around with udders).

A friend of ours has a company that builds homes and he recently acquired a large house that he's planning to tear down and build apartments instead. Until this time, however, it's a perfectly good empty house with electicity. Just right for a party.
This friend of ours always has some house like this available but somehow we never actually get around to having a party. Enter Frank. You may recall Frank as the plastic surgeon who got us into the Hacker-Pschorr tent at Oktoberfest last year - more about that here. Frank's a nice guy whose wife left him and it was his idea to have a Fasching party.
A little side note: Why anyone would leave Frank is a complete mystery to me. Not only is he really nice, but he now works in one of the few specialized areas of German medicine that isn't totally screwed by the new cap on fees that the bankrupt public insurance has finagled into law. So, for example, a cardiologist will only get EUR 72 per quarter for each publicly insured patient, not matter how many times they visit the doctor or what treatment they require. This means that if you're publicly insured in Germany these days, best not to have a heart attack because the cardiologists can't afford to see you any more. But Frank isn't impacted by this because even German insurance doesn't pay for boob jobs.
Some quality costumes made the scene last night. A girl I've never seen before showed up in a light house costume that totally rocked. Another friend came as a she-devil and since she's almmost as tall as Ralf and beautiful to boot she cut quite a figure. And another friend came as a dryad, with plastic leaves entwined all the way through her hair and wrapped around her cosume.
Charlotte recently wrote about Germany's Top Husband but I think the dryad's husband is a viable contender - all night he fondly referred to his wife as 'du Umkraut' (which means 'you weed') and as we all know, nothing says, 'I love you,' like calling someone a weed.
Ralf tried to go as Elvis but ended up looking more like a gay biker - the earrings didn't help. I put on a sparkly silver dress and was told I sort of looked like the blond girl from Abba if she had been a librarian instead of a world-famous pop star.
And with that, my friends, Fasching season is officially set to rest until next year.

February 21, 2009

How to excite a German man

That got your attention, didn't it? But I didn't mean that kind of excited.

Germans are known for being (compared to Americans) stern, phlegmatic and practical. Personally I think it's the harsh winters but I can't ignore Ralf's observation that plenty of hyper, unpractical people come from places that also have winter. So my winter theory may not have legs.

Male German bosses in particular are not given to being excited about you or emiting unnecessary compliments like 'nice job'. So if you work for a German, don't expect lots of feedback about how much you rule. Unless you totally screw up, interactions with your German boss are more likely to go something like this:

Boss: How's your project going?

You: I finished Tuesday ahead of schedule and met with Global Dynamics Wednesday to walk them through it. They loved it and want to do a bigger project with us next month.

Boss (nodding): OK. Anything else?

You: Well, I put out a small kitchen fire this morning with my bare hands and skipped lunch to finish a prototype I'm working on that predicts stock prices up to five years out and has so far been completely accurate for a two year sample. I noticed two guys trying to steal our video conferencing equipment and was able to stop them using martial arts. My cancer vaccine is also coming along nicely. Oh, and I baked you some brownies. They're on your desk.

Boss (nodding and making a few notes): OK. Do you have any vacation planned this quarter?

To be fair, German bosses are also sensitive to the ingrained suspicion all Germans have of insincere compliments. I once managed a German project team and early on (before I really got the Germans) I sent a short 'nice job' email to one of the consultants. He responded, 'What is the meaning of this?' I took the hint and immediately desisted with unwanted personal observations and everyone was much happier.

Having said that, one thing is guaranteed to excite any German man: grilled calf hearts!

I mean, what's not to like? Calf, heart, grill. . . all good things, right? This morning we went to breakfast with German friends Albrecht and Andrea and I had to laugh when Albrecht's eyes lit up like a small boy at Christmas when he saw grilled calf heart on the menu.

It is little things like this that remind me I'm not in Los Angeles any more.

February 20, 2009

Quick note about the interview meme

For the interview meme, what I meant to say was, 'Let me know in a comment that you want me to send you interview questions', not just, 'Leave a comment.'

Oh, and a quick plug for Blog 200, where PattyP has posted her responses to the interview questions I sent her.

White moms can't sew

Today the kids have a final Fasching party at Kindergarten and we were asked to dress our kids up in costumers - NOT princess costumes, which would have been easy, but something to represent living in some magical land where delicious food grows on trees.

Excuse me?

I railed against my fate for a time until inspiration hit - working with K, I cut out some light brown felt circles and glued on smaller dark brown felt circles. I then sewed them loosely onto K's and L's fleece pullovers. To my eyes they looked convincingly like chocolate chip cookies.
Then K cut out some other colorful shapes and glued on her own smaller blobs and I sewed these on as well. They kind of looked like bon bons and we had done an art project together.
How proud I was. How naive I was. This is Germany, after all, where moms don't work and can sew.
When Ralf got home from taking the kids to school this morning he announced, 'We suck!' by which I immediately understood him to mean that I suck.
We sometimes finish each other's sentences, too.
Apparently the other kids were all togged out to the nines in elaborate home made costumes such as these:

Little gits.
My oldest daughter K has a highly developed sense of self and could give a flying fig what other people think as long as there are snacks. L, however, took it much to heart. She burst into tears and didn't want to go in because her costume wasn't good enough. Not even cake could cheer her up.
I felt bad for a while but then I realized how awesome it is that her biggest problem is that I can't sew.
I can't believe how much I rule.

February 19, 2009


Charlotte has sent me some interview questions for The Interview Meme. She's a real journalist so it's almost like being famous. If you would like to be interviewed (just by me, I'm afraid), here are the rules:
1. Leave me a comment, and I will send you some questions.
2. Update your blog with the answers to the questions and link back to this post.
3. Include the rules in your post.
Here are Charlotte’s questions and my answers:

1. You have lived in many places. Which is your favourite and why?
Outside of the US I’d have to say Japan. Japan is safe, modern yet very traditional, hospitable to visitors and has amazing culture and history as well as fantastic food. The spoken language is also surprisingly simple if you just want to develop basic communication skills.
I ended up living in Japan for two years almost by coincidence. During college I majored in International Affairs and was in a bit of a quandary about who would pay me fabulous sums to ply my trade. I had spent a semester in Russia with a group of classmates, most of whom I hated by the end of that trip because they were big fat losers who hung out at the foreign exchange store flashing their dollars and spent their free time making pizza and snarfing m&ms. One exception was a wonderful Japanese girl, who remains as close a friend today as one can be, given that we both have kids and live on separate continents. She invited me to come live with her family after graduation and while I was out walking the campus grounds and pondering this possibility I found an application for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program on the ground. I smoothed out the wrinkles, whited out the footprints, filled it out and off I went!

2. Germans and dressing-up. Discuss.
Germans love to dress up. I think it's because they want a break from the regular uniform of black shoes, tucked in Tommy Hilfiger shirts and belts. They really get into costume parties (the bulkier costumers hide their complete lack of rhythm when they dance) and also get all togged up in Lederhosen for Oktoberfest. Only the Bavarians don’t think of Lederhosen as dressing up.

3. If you were given a whole day to spend by and for yourself, without having to account for anyone's needs, how would you spend it?
I would wake up at 10AM, drink my coffee in peace and quiet while reading a book and nibbling chocolate cookies without sharing them with, or talking to, anyone. I would do this for maybe an hour or two. At some point I might visit the bathroom and no one would yell, 'Mom-meeeeeee!' I wouldn't make breakfast for anybody, pack lunches, or wrestle any struggling little bodies into tights. When I tired of reading, sipping and nibbling I would turn on my computer and catch up on my correspondence with no interruptions. Just for kicks, I might even finish a thought. Then I’d go out to breakfast and shopping with Ralf, who would drive and carry the shopping bags. We would stop for coffee and cake, and return home for some more lounging about in divine silence and reading. Oh, and can I fit a facial in there? Dinner would be cooked for me in a magically clean house, ideally something spicy, and would be eaten in front of a chick flick. The laundry would fold and put itself away. I would not have any business-related calls with anyone in the US. At bedtime the children would miraculously reappear in their beds, teeth brushed and PJs on, and I would kiss them good night many, many times to get my mommy fix after not seeing them all day.

4. You are an avid reader. What was the last book you read, what are you reading now and what is next on the TBR pile?
I’m reading ‘The Careful Use of Compliments’ by Andrew McCall Smith. Sadly, Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series isn’t nearly as good as his Precious Ramotswe series. The characters are two-dimensional and preoccupied at length with spectacularly uninteresting thoughts. As my next book I’ll probably have to start ‘The Hour I First Believed’ for book club because it's about 1000 pages long (and all of it by the same author who brought us 'She's Come Undone,' so you can imagine how I feel about this) but I’d much rather dive into the latest Ender book from Orson Scott Card.

5. You are happily married. Name your top three fantasy boyfriends.
John Stewart, Colin Ferguson and a tie between Javier Bardem and Tim Robbins

February 18, 2009

Is it just me?

Is it just me or does the new US economic stimulus package involve a pretty high national debt? It's probably better to stimulate the economy with style than to waste money and accomplish nothing by doing it on the cheap, but whoa. Does anyone still think any of us are going to see any social security when we retire?

Is it just me or is sending troops to Afghanistan kind of scary? After reading Three Cups of Tea I'm thinking it's probably where we should have been in the first place, but. . . 20,000 troups against the Taliban in the vast cave-riddled countryside of Afghanistan? Can you say, 'Vietnam?'

Is it just me or do you LOVE Obama for bitch slapping the Republican members of Congress when they protested the high price tag of the economic stimulus bill? I think the price tag is pretty high, too, but after eight years of shameful waste on war and looking the other way while business leaders gambled away our economic viability I don't want to hear it from any lame ass Republicans. No offense.
Mind you, bogus hedge funds and war and war machines create a certain amount of economic activity but only as long as no one examines the funds too closely and the war lasts, ergo, not much of a long-term economic stimulus plan unless you are in the business of financial scams and war. So I consider the last eight years to be a total write-off, economically speaking. At least Obama's stimulus package has some funds earmarked for long-term investment in clean energy so we may actually end up with something to show for all that spending.

Is it just me or do we produce an inordinate amount of waste every day? We are an average household of 4 people who recycle and try to use our purchasing power for good rather than evil and yet at the end of each day I am amazed at the amount of rubbish we produce just from consuming our groceries. Once upon a time fresh produce would be lovingly wrapped in old newspaper but since the 1940s suppliers triple package everything in single-purpose materials that can withstand the elements for thousands of years. Who says we don't build to last any more?

Is it just me or should the bank and financial house executives that screwed everything up and retired with big fat bonuses have to pay some of that money back?

And finally, is it just me or are those weanies in Congress ever going to pass any global warming laws? I'm afraid they may be exhausted from voting on the economic stimulus package and need to take expensive lakeside vacations before they can vote on anything else and the clock is ticking.

Yes, it is. Yuh huh.
Wake up call: Carbon emission rates are 35% higher than they were in 1992, when the Kyoto Protocol was signed. Projections estimate that our carbon levels will be up to three times higher by 2100 if we do nothing and while the carbon is re-absorbed in 200 years it takes 1000 years for any warming effects to reverse. If you want to write to your weanie Congress members to remind them about global warming, the Environmental Defense Fund will automatically route your email (which they also write for you, although you can tailor it) to your Congress members based on your zip code.
Just me,

February 17, 2009

February 16, 2009


Yesterday we went to a Kinderfasching ball in the next village. Fasching is the equivalent of German carnival. There's a huge group of Fasching organizers that do everything from making costumes for the community cheerleaders to organizing tickets, entertainment and food for the various Fasching events.

It was kind of like a combination of an American Halloween party and a Russian Communist Youth exhibition from the middle-80s.

But there is no doubt that the kids had fun. You can't tell from the pictures below because they have taken a vow of photogenic unhappiness but they did.

We dressed up, of course. K had a cheap princess gown I bought at Tengelmann and L had a cheap fairy costume I bought at Tengelmann. Pretty much everyone had a Tengelmann princess costume except one little girl in a dress with hand-sewn patches and braids (Pippi Longstocking) who clearly wished she had a Tengelmann princess costume.

When the announcer at the ball asked if anyone had lost a princess crown and held up a Tengelmann crown everyone laughed because it could have belonged to anyone.

Ralf wanted to go as a pirate but he looked more like a British hooligan so I referred to him as 'Nigel' all day:

My plan was to go as Death, or the 'Boandlkramer,' from the celebrated Bavarian theater piece 'Brandner Kasper, ' which is about a propserous Bavarian farmer who gets Death drunk and beats him at cards. To achieve this end I put on a black opera cloak my grandmother made for my mom years ago, but between the jaunty silk lining and the cat hair from our first cat Barnaby I confess I didn't look very deathlike.

L was embarassed to be seen with me:

Ralf put it best: 'You look stupid.'

Note to self: I think he's still pissed about The Women.

Maybe it was more like a black Snuggie:

I know, I totally rock the Death Snuggie.

You may be wondering what happened to my bangs. The truth is, I always ask for bangs when I get my hair cut then scupulously brush them out of my face while my hair's still wet so it's like not having bangs at all. Sorry, I'm creature of habit but if you look closely you can still see a few hopeful strands.

February 15, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

OK I'm late. I actually forgot that yesterday was Valentine's Day until R hugged me from behind and asked what I wanted to do with the evening.

'I thought I'd work on my article,' I responded, distracted by all my cutting edge thoughts about talent management.

Yes, I write real articles sometimes for HCM trade journals. Occassionally they are even published.

Ralf: 'It's Valentine's Day. You shouldn't work tonight. How about you cook us a delicious dinner and we watch a movie?'

Not a bad opening bid - after nearly 7 years of marriage it's finally sunk in that inviting a bunch of friends over to watch an FC Bayern game isn't romantic.

Me (upping the ante): 'OK but I want to watch The Women.'

I had no expectation of The Women being any good - and it wasn't - but I still wanted to see it.

Ralf (hasty counter offer): 'I was thinking we could watch 'Die Maenner.'

Translation: 'The Men.' Some classic German movie about men. A half-hearted counter bid he knew had no chance.

Me: 'So. . . I cook dinner and we watch your movie? Where's my diamond tennis bracelet?'

Let the backpedaling begin.

Ralf (magnanimously): 'Tell you what - since Valentine's Day's a chick holiday you can choose the movie.'

I couldn't resist a determined romantic overture like that so that's what we did.

It was nice, especially the loud, expressive snorting sounds Ralf kept making during the movie.

Think about it - would you want to be married to a man who enjoyed The Women? The whole point is that he hated it but watched it for me.

He loves me. :-)

Anyway, Happy Valentine's Day!

February 14, 2009

Mars Needs Moms

Believe me I didn't intend to write yet ANOTHER book review on my first day of re-caffeination, I meant to conquer the universe or something like that, but I couldn't help it.

Yesterday I got my monthly Grandma Says newsletter and instead of the usual common sense about childraising there was a book review for Mars Needs Moms, which I've copied below. It sounded pretty fun so I ordered it and it came this morning.

Now that's what I call a good morning, hot coffee and instant service!

The book is pretty good and I think some of you other harassed mommies would enjoy it but what really made me laugh my ass off was the picture of the Martians trying to bait a pregnant, baby-and-purse-and-grocery-bag-toting mommy in curlers with a Starbuck's latte.

Anyway, here's the review:

By Berkeley Breathed Philomel Books, 2007

If your family is anything like most these days, there are times when you wonder what on earth you are all doing, and why you are doing it.

With all the rushing about--off to work, to school or childcare, to meetings, play dates and lessons, and then back to laundry, shopping and all the other house stuff--life can get pretty frantic.

Nerves get frayed, and sometimes kids and parents just look at each other, imagining that there must be better places. Both parents and kids are not immune from snapping at each other, and going to bed feeling badly.

This book is the one to pull out and read at the most harried of times, putting it all back into perspective.

The little boy in this book has his times of wondering what is so special about mothers-the illustrations perfectly capture his weariness of mothers who are "bellowing broccoli bullies," or "slave-driving ogres", or "thundering, humorless tyrants" who miss what is funny about "sister-tinting."

When Milo is put to bed with no supper, he gets off a parting shot of "I sure don't see what is so special about mothers!" His mother pauses and then closes the door very slowly.

I won't spoil this delightfully illustrated story (Berkeley Breathed won a Pulitzer Prize for the cartooning of Bloom County) by telling you what he discovers when the Martian raiders come for his mother.

But the message is clear for parents and kids alike--we are bound together by something far more meaningful than "driving to soccer! And to ballet! And to play dates, parks, and pizzas! Plus cooking and cleaning and dressing and packing lunches and bandaging boo-boos!"

Like the Martians and Milo, sometimes we miss the best part about the ties that bind us. There is not a parent or a child who has not rebelled in frustration at what those ties sometimes mean.
Rather than getting mired in guilt at those feelings, it is better to recognize the wonderful that comes along with the mundane.

No, your little ones won't recognize this for some time, nor will your older children, trudging their way through middle school and tugging away during adolescence.

But the family and personal moments we create that tell children, as Milo's mom did, that we will love them to the ends of the universe, are what will sustain them through all those tough times of growing up, and hopefully, beyond that for life. And the knowledge that this is so will get us through the anti-broccoli storms and the tirades about how mean we are, without having to argue back and state our case. We know that we are doing our best, and doing the most important thing we can do.

Beyond that, there is not much we can do but laugh and realize how much more we might be appreciated on Mars.


© Growing Child 2009 Please feel free to forward this article to a friend.

February 13, 2009

Eat, Pray, Love

Still here, still no coffee, still sucks.
But tomorrow morning the embargo will be lifted! Five days exactly. And I'm no expert but my gums show promising signs of healing. . .
But anyway, without coffee I'm not in any real shape to take on the world this morning so I'm going to let Elizabeth Gilbert do it for me.
I hope all of you have read the book Eat, Pray, Love. If not you should. You just should. You may not like everything about it but it's a funny, wise book.
Even Ralf liked it!
It's about a female journalist who reaches a crossroads in her life when she realizes she's more excited about writing a story about a baby squid than she is about having kids with her husband. A messy divorce follows and after some wallowing she decides to travel the world and write a book. She goes to Rome to learn how to enjoy life, India to learn spirituality and Indonesia to explore love. And brings us all along on her hilarious vision quest.
I don't have a picture of Elizabeth Gilbert so I posted one of myself instead from a few years ago, before I could aford a decent hair cut, deep in thought about what to do with my life and thoughtlessly destroying the Earth one plastic water bottle at a time.
It also represents my current coffeeless state and how I feel about it.
Read the book. I think it will make you happy.
I've you've already read it and liked it, or if you are an aspiring writer, you may also enjoy Elizabeth Gilbert's TEDTalk. TED is an association that brings together the greatest thinkers and achievers of our time to speak to any topic for 20 minutes. They have lots of good talks.
I couldn't figure out how to embed this so just follow the link and enjoy!

Your coffee deprived servant,

February 11, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

In honor of my coffee embargo this week I'm going to review the book 'Three Cups of Tea.'

Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortenson’s life work to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The schools are primarily (but not exlusively) for girls, who have fewer educational opportunities than boys but more positive impact on poor communities when educated.

I've been avoiding this book. I thought it would be tedious or depressing and I’m a bit of a book wimp – I usually only like happy books or at least books with happy endings. Endless toil in the Pakistini backwater to build schools the Pakistanian government has failed to build while being shot at by terrorists and drug lords didn’t feel like my thing.

Not that I’m against it, I think it’s great - go girl schools! - but I would have been good with an article or a brochure.

How wrong I was.

The book got off to a slow start, with more details about mountain climbing than I strictly wanted but well written. And somewhere along the line I bought into the vision of schools for girls in Pakistan and got genuinely interested in the people portrayed in the book.

The Pakistani people, that is. I'm afraid the American policy makers don't fare quite as well. The US military elite comes across as a bunch of rich old guys wearing rediculously expensive and shiny shoes surrounded by mindless laptop-toting minions. And Congress is portrayed as a mob of well-intentioned (for the most part) but mentally sluggish, overweight, ill-informed bureacrats.

Except the late Sonny Bono's wife Mary, who is totally cool.

For those of you who haven’t read the book I want to share a couple of passages that struck me as important. I will leave you to interpret them as you think best.

Passage 1, in which Mortenson responds to a Republican congressman who asked (right after 9/11) why schools matter when national security is at stake:

“I don’t do what I’m doing to fight terror. I do it because I care about kids. Fighting terror is maybe seventh or eighth on my of priorities. But working over there, I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned that terror doesn’t happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren’t being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death.”

Passage 2, in which Brigadier General Bashir Baz speaks after watching wailing Iraqui women carrying children’s bodies out of a bombed building on CNN:

“People like me are American’s best friends in the region. I’m a moderate Muslim, an educated man. But watching this, even I could become a jihadi. How can Americans say they are making themselves safer? Your President Bush has done a wonderful job of uniting one billion Muslims against American for the next two hundred years.”

He also talks about Osama: “As a military man, I know you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemy’s strength. In American’s case, that’s not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business.”


OK, I lied, I'm going to offer my thoughts about these remarks.

On the one hand, I think it's a bit rich of the Arabic world to do nothing to help the poor in their own and neighboring countries and then point their fingers at the US for not showering aid on them. If you're a government you have enough money to offer rudimentary education and the whole sitting around waiting for aid theme got a bit old by the end of the book.

And to Brigidier General Baz I might inquire if the US is supposed to finance the education of one billion Muslims so they don't bomb New York any more?

On the other hand, I remember sitting in social studies class as a pre-teen and being struck by how the teacher stressed the importance of American generosity to Japan and Germany after WWII. This generosity re-shaped the world dramatically by creating allies out of enemies, although some of that good will has understandably eroded over the last eight years, and was good for the US economy, too.

Since that brief time of enlightenment we seem to have lost our path. What the book showed was that there are mostly good, decent people in that part of the world who will move mountains to help themselves if just a little bit of support is extended. And for whatever reason, their own government isn't willing or able to extend that helping hand.

So Greg does it.

And just a thought here, that may do more for national security than dropping bombs on people.

February 10, 2009

A tale of two molars

My dental surgery went ahead as planned yesterday. Everyone was nice to me (including all of you, thanks for all the encouragement and practical advice) and the dental surgeon seemed to be in an upbeat mood, although maybe not quite as chipper as the breast doctor.

As for the surgery itself, I survived but if I could only use one word to describe it, it would be: Eeew. No one should have to listen to those kinds of scraping and sawing sounds in their own mouths. The whole time I was praying the dental surgeon wouldn’t have a heart attack before finishing the job because I could just imagine the state of my gums after he'd been at it for a half hour.

But enough said about that.

When it was over I was reeling from the one of the most invasive surgeries I’ve ever had while the doctor was remarking about how trivial it was as dental surgeries go while removing his blood-soaked gloves. Another reminder that everyone has a different yet valid perspective.

One day later, I’m remarkably free of pain or swelling and am permitted to eat whatever I want, although the smooth plastic protector snapped in the roof of my mouth kind of kills the love on that. I have pain medication, anti-swelling medication and an antiseptic gargle.

This is way better than the time I had my wisdom teeth removed and couldn’t go to Disneyland with the (then) love of my life who was visiting LA with his parents during college break because my entire head swelled up to the size of a basketball. It turned out later he was gay so it probably wouldn't have worked out anyway but I had no way of knowing that then and was really bummed. Not to mention deformed for a whole week.

The worst part is that I AM NOT ALLOWED TO DRINK COFFEE FOR FIVE DAYS. They told me this after the operation. Good thing, too, because that would have been a deal breaker.

The reason is that it gets your circulations moving and that can make the stitches bleed, which can interfere with healing. They did give reluctant permission for me to have a cuppa in the morning but I don't want to take any unnecessary chances because I certainly don’t want to do this again, at least not on the same side.

It sucks. All I can think about is coffee, coffee, coffee… lovely, milky, hot, strong COFFEE.

So my day today is all about not drinking coffee. And counting the minutes until the coffee embargo is lifted. And wondering if the graft will be successful when they take out the stitches next week.

OK, time to gargle. Wishing all of you good dental health.

February 8, 2009

A trip to the dentist

This may interest the Dental Maven: I'm having dental surgery tomorrow. That's right, I'm going under the knife.

I have straight teeth, no cavities and healthy gums. Unfortunately my gum tissue is on the thin side and has receeded almost to the bifurcated nerve on 2 molars so they're going to patch it up with some tissue harvested from the roof of my mouth.

Yep, I expect this to be about as fun as it sounds.

I was supposed to get a gum graft before we left California but it was scheduled so that I'd be getting the stitches out right before we left and what with packing and everything I chickened out.

The American dentist, who was very excited about healthy gums and taking proactive steps to keep them healthy, wanted to graft across 8 teeth instead of just 2. He said over time more gum tissue will probably receed so why not take care of it while he's already under the hood?

On the plus side, he was going to give me a happy pill to make the surgery fly by.

There are no happy pills in Germany.

Between you and me, I'm a bit worried about tomorrow. Here are a few things I'm worried about:

1. I will lose my mind sitting with my mouth wide open for 90 minutes listinging to various surgical sounds inside my head.

2. A sloppy medical assistant will neglect to steralize the surgical instraments because she was out drinking and I will get AIDS or blood poisoning.

3. I will cough at the wrong moment during the surgery and the dentist wil cut through a nerve and one side of my mouth will be frozen forever like the Joker.

4. The graft will not take and I'll have an exposed nerve or a chunk of dead skin stuck to my gum for 6 months before we can try again.

5. It will hurt.

I fear other things as well but this is the core list. I haven't had dental surgery since my wisdom teeth were removed and that was pretty awful.

Oh, and I should probably mention that they're going to inject some protein complex extracted from pigs to hopefully thicken the gum tissue a bit and help it heal. What the hell?? The American dentist never mentioned this.

I don't think I'm totally on board with the pig protein.

There was no pre-op with the German dentist to discuss my concerns but I tried to wring some sops of reassurance out of the stern receptionist while getting my teeth cleaned last week. She heard me out as I recited my list while her eyebrows climbed steadily higher up into her hairline until finally they disappeared altogether.

She didn't deign to respond to most of my concerns but I did manage to extract a neutral promise that any dead skin would be removed if the graft isn't successful. And she grudgingly allowed that it will in fact hurt.

At which point her missing eyebrows settled complacently back into place.

So that's something.

I suppose I can take comfort from her complete lack of concern that something will go wrong.

Or I could worry even more because I'm in the hands of people who don't care what happens to me.

What do you think?

(All advice welcome except 'don't do it' because it's too late for that now. . .)

February 7, 2009

Business as usual

I've got a couple of serious topics percolating that I considered trying to tackle today, such as vaccinations and AIDS, but changed my mind while watching Ralf play with his iPhone this morning.
For those of you who have read Chrossing the Chasm, there are early adopters and late adopters (and a couple of groups in between that are not represented in this family).
Early adopters buy Version 1 of the latest technical gadget for exhorbitant prices and get a testerone high from how poorly it works and how difficult it is to use. Ralf, budget permitting, is an early adopter. Naturally, he has an iPhone and before the iPhone he had an extravagent Sony Erickson that cost 600 EUR and also ran up a fortune in Internet surfing charges while sitting locked in the glove compartment during a soccer game.
We never found out why the phone decided to surf the Internet on its own and the German Vodafone legal machine, supremely uninterested in possible mitigating circumstances (like we didn't do anything), made us cough up.
Yes, a lot of our mechanical objects seem to have a life of their own.
For this and other reasons I tend to distrust new technologies and am more of a late adopter. I don't buy anything until it's cheap and idiot proof. For years I've been happy with the simplest of cellphones and when Ralf ordered his iPhone last year I opted to save the family money with a basic Nokia.
But the iPhone has reached a sort of Tipping Point (another great book) in coolness and ease of use (although it's still not cheap) and I feel unreasonably jealous when I watch Ralf look up Munich U-Bahn maps on his phone. By comparison, my Nokia is clunky, primitive and difficult to use.
It sucks, really.
My next phone will be an iPhone.
With the iPhone you can download a number of cheap and simple little programs, like a picture of a burning candle with a timer for mediation, or light saber sound effects that respond to how you move the iPhone - Ralf loves showing that one to his friends. There are also various sound effects, like animals, drumrolls and rasberries, which are useful in business meetings.
And perhaps coolest and most unnecessary of all, the one Ralf can't get enough of, is the flute. That's right, you blow into the iPhone microphone and flute sounds emerge. On the touch screen there are also keys you can press to hit different notes.
AND you can register as an iPhone flute player and some global database tracks who's playing their iPhone flutes right now and shows you a map of the earth with lights to indicate where they are.
AND you can drill down and listen to, say, Eric in Bakersfield play his flute.
AND you can rate him.
Strangely enough, I feel I can live without the iPhone flute but Ralf is hooked. And someone earned about a dollar for this piece of iPhone software from Ralf, and a dollar from Eric in Bakersfield, and so on.
Along the same lines, a German state minister ran into a Slovakian woman on the ski slopes and killed her outright. They were not wearing helmuts. Following this there was a run on helmuts and shops ran out long before the demand was supplied. And out of this undeniable tragedy a second small but thriving sub-industry has emerged: ski helmut bling, like bunny ears and other silly decorations, which are selling like hotcakes. You can't stand in line for a ski lift without someone's idiotic tiger tail hitting you in the face.
When I see stuff like this I really wonder about people but I stop worrying about the economy. A 7.6 % unemployment rate is awful and I pray for the people this has impacted. True, selling the same old stuff in the same old way has probably run its course. But the good news is that people will always come up with new stuff that people will pay money for.
And the design, development, packaging, sale, distribution, technical infrastructure, marketing and legal document filing for these goods and services will create new jobs.
Gotta love it. Or be very, very afraid. . .

February 6, 2009

Lick My Butt

Disgusting, isn't it? But it’s actually a rough translation for a fairly common German phrase ‘Leck mich am Arsch’, which means something between, ‘Bite me,’ ‘and ‘I’ll be darned.’

You can also insert the word 'doch' to add emphasis, i.e., 'Leck mich doch am Arsch!'

A mechanic said this to me today. Well, technically he was speaking to Ralf but I was there.

You see, our Volvo finally arrived from California about 2 weeks ago and has been in the shop ever since. It's a gas guzzler but it’s also a turbo all-weather family tank and an old friend. Driving it reminds me of my convenient, manicured, blond life as a California mom.

And we buy carbon offsets from Terrapass to assuage our Earth guilt.

The company that moved our Volvo to Germany, Navitrans (I won't bother adding a link), took so long to deliver the car that the battery died and some valve that holds the power steering fluid in rusted and started leaking. They also stole our GPS and our California license plates, although that’s not really germane to this story.

We took it to a Volvo dealer to investigate the blood-curdling sounds it was making when we drove it. Where the stocky, taciturn Bavarian mechanic apparently got the surprise of his life when the car switched on by itself and would not allow itself to be switched off.

This came as no surprise to us because the same thing had happened a few times in California when the locking and unlocking buttons were inadvertantly pushed in some sequence that we never figured out. The Californian Volvo mechanics could tell us nothing but we assumed it was a 'feature' to warm up the car before getting in because we bought it used from someone on the chilly East Coast.

The annoying part is that once the car switches itself on it can only be turned off manually, i.e., by getting into the car, actually starting the engine with the key, then turning it off again.

Fortunately, the only time it ever really caused a problem was one time in a parking lot when I had just gotten the kids out of the car and into the stroller. Other than that, it was an infrequent and relatively benign feature of the car.

Naturally, we named the car ‘Christine’ and thought no more about it.

But the mechanic didn’t like it. Volvos are not supposed to turn themselves on and it disturbed him. He dug around a bit in the engine then called us to complain that someone had installed some mystery cables in the engine that definitely didn’t belong there. Would we like him to remove them?

For 60 EUR an hour?? NFW.

When we picked up the car we were presented with a hefty bill (more of a William) by our Bavarian mechanic, who was unexpectedly smiling. Then, after we had a chance to silently register all the zeros, he explained that they had also stripped out that cables that didn’t belong.

Two pairs of eyes snapped automatically from the bill to his face when he said this, then back to the bill to scan for this additional charge. Ralf’s mouth opened to protest but the mechanic held up one hand and continued: They didn’t charge us for this, he explained, because it needed to be done.

Yes. Really. He said that.

It was while he was recounting his amazing tale of the spooky self-starting car and the unforgettable moment when he first discovered the crazy amateurish wiring in the engine that he used the phrase: ‘Leck mich am Arsch!’ and shook his head feelingly.

Poor guy. I mean, I ask you, who ever heard of a Volvo dealer doing free work? It must have really bugged him.

Ralf was blown away as well. Shaking his head as we walked out to the Volvo he, too, felt the need to say, 'Leck mich doch am Arsch!'

This post has been brought to you by Very Funny Friday.

February 5, 2009

A Couple of Slightly Embarassing Encounters

Yesterday I had a couple of slightly embarassing encounters, which I will now relate to you. That picture, by the way, is a dodo bird.
Embarassing Encounter #1: In which our pediatrician implies that I am mentally challenged
When L turned three in November we took the girls for their annual checkup. The pediatrician recommended several vaccinations for K now that we're back in Germany - namely, FMSE (to prevent diseases carried by ticks, which run rampant in Bavaria), Meningitis (apparently making a come back in the UK) and a chicken pox refresher.
They have to be scheduled a month apart and you need three FMSE shots so we've been making pretty regular trips to the pediatrician.
Yesterday was K's 2nd FMSE shot and she already did the Meningitis and the chicken pox ones. She has one more FMSE to go and then has to refresh MMR in October. It's hard to keep track of it all. But at least she's a fine big girl who never had problems with vaccinations, so my days of crying the night before are more or less behind me.
Yesterday I conversationally asked the doctor why L doesn't need the same shots. He said, 'She does.'
Excuse me????
This could not have been mentioned during her physical? Or one of the many times K has been in for her battery of shots? We could not, for example, have been doing both sets of shots at the same time? I now have to schedule four additional doctor visits to take care of this?
I was somewhat irate.
Plus, L is only 3 so I still worry about giving her shots.
I'm not a big fan of my own dithering but I was caught off guard and kept repeating, 'Why didn't you tell me this before?' and things of that kind. His response? 'It didn't really come up.'
Then I asked for a vaccination chart for both kids with dates. Which I think is fair.
With the light glinting snarkily off his glasses he suggested I come back some time without the kids (who were behaving perfectly) and he'd explain it to me. Yeah, because I need another doctor visit in my life. Ralf says he was trying to be helpful, but I think he was trying to make it my bad that I didn't know L needed shots too.
Anyway we passed on L's shot yesterday because she has a slight cold and I didn't opt for the one-on-one. And (sigh) we have another appointment for next month.
Embarassing Encounter #2: In which another mom thinks I'm a total moron
When we got home I rang up the mother of K's love interest to organize a playdate and we settled on Friday. She offered to drive the kids to her house in their soccer team bus but then I would have to write a permission slip for her to take my kids out of Kindergarten, which would give her a hall pass to steal my kids and I'm just not that trusting.
So I said I'd meet her there and drive the kids over. She said she could still take them in her car. This was followed by an embarassing moment of me explaining that I still wanted to follow along so I could find their house at pick up time.
There was a moment of silence, that special Teutonic sort of silence that only native Germans can pull off. It is a silence that speaks volumes and what it says is, 'Wow, you're really retarded.'
Finally she said, 'But you have our addess.' It was even more scathing in German.
This comment was unassailable and I had to agree. 'Yes, that is true, I have your address. But you see, that won't actually help me find your house.'
Our GPS got stolen out of our car on the way over here... it's a long story. And I'm useless at navigation.
We left it at that.
I somehow don't think I'll be invited in for coffee. And she's probably questioning whether she wants her kids playing with my kids any more.

February 4, 2009

Was it something I said?

When we first moved back to Munich I joined an English speaking playgroup. It was one of the few in our neck of the woods that also meets in the afternoon so I felt pretty lucky to find it - most of them meet somewhere far away in the mornings.

There has been some normal attrition - a few people moved, one mother who takes a very active role is having a baby, another has decided to do gymnastics instead.
The result? Last week no one was there except me and one other German mom. Before Christmas we were packed in with a dozen moms and about 30 kids, and now we're down to just the 5 of us. . . was it something I said?
You see, this sort of thing has happened before. . . social groups fall apart when I join them.
And yet, I'm nice. Occassionally witty. My kids are fairly well-behaved and play well with others. I like people of all races, nationalities and religions, as long as they're just like me. I even pretend to like tea.
It can't be me, can it?
To add insult to injury, this playgroup has existed and thrived for over 10 years. They've had to turn people away. So, not that I'm paranoid or anything but I am starting to wonder if hanging with me is social death.
When I mentioned this to Ralf he was supportive and sympathetic as always.
"I'm sure it's not you, honey," he assured me.
"Mmmmn." I carried on flossing, not totally convinced. (I even floss, people! What's not to love???)
He tried again. "I mean, if all our friends start moving away from Munich now that we're back we can revisit this."
That man is always there for me. I really don't deserve him.
"Although. . . " he began, then hesitated.
Uh oh. I know that tone. Here it comes.
"Well, just in case. . . maybe you shouldn't go to Oktoberfest this year."

February 3, 2009

10 Things I Know

Charlotte tagged me in the 10 Things I Know meme so here goes:

(Disclaimer: I don't actually know these things but I believe them to be true.)

1. When you think you're at the top of your game the learning is just beginning. If not, you're cheating yourself.

2. A little bit of chocolate does a body good. It really does.

3. People don’t really change but they can evolve.

4. The ego is just a tool that helps you get things done – don’t let it call all the shots.

5. It’s essential to make time for yourself.

6. If your children have healthy souls and loving hearts you're doing a fabulous job. Everything else is just noise.

7. No one cares about your hair except you. It's a tough one to come to grips with but I'm totally here for you if you need to talk about it.

8. Bad things happen for a reason only in a very general sense. That is to say, bad things need to happen to give us growth opportunties but you can drive yourself crazy wondering why they happened to John instead of Jane.

9. Everyone has a different point of view but there is still a common truth. You can feel it in your gut. If you're paying attention, that is.

10. We should always be our kids' biggest fan. For example, my mom actually follows this blog.

Thanks for your support, Mom! Don't think I don't appreciate it.

And now I tag Kristina, R, Debbie, Suzie, Emily and Bebe. But only if you want to...

February 2, 2009

Something I'm proud of...

No, I didn't save a life or donate all my money to charity. . . but I did build a puppet theater with my kids.

It started with a book, 'How to Draw Princesses.' I love that book. I drew and my kids colored.
We also drew some Barbapapas, which are colorful blobby cartoon characters that my kids love.
Then we had this one popsicle stick sitting on the counter and glued one of the princesses on the stick.
Then we cut out more sticks out of cardboard and soon we had a small army of princesses and Barbapapas on sticks.
Then we needed a theater for them so I fetched out a tall moving carton from the basement and cut out a window and a back flap while my kids glued on various decorations.
And as a final touch I sewed some very simple curtains and hung them with a piece of yarn.
I think it turned out rather well.

February 1, 2009

Burn After Reading

I’m waiting for Ralf to download a bunch of pics from our camera but since he’s working on taxes today it feels like the wrong time to ask.

So, I will try to post a picture of the new do as soon as I can. If, that is, I can get a good one because only about 2 out of 100 pictures of me turn out well. So it could take a while. . .

In the meantime, here is my all-time favorite picture from HS, apparently before there were color pictures. This self-portrait depicts the expression I had on my face in government class as well as from 2000-2008. It is also the expression I had on my face while watching Burn After Reading last night. Or was it Burn Before Watching?

To set the scene: Last night Ralf and I had our SECOND date night in two weeks, probably the last one for a while since his parents are going to Vietnam for a month. Just enjoying it while we can.

We wanted to go for dinner and then catch Benjamin Button in the English Theater but he movie started at 7 and I didn’t want to give up my nice dinner out. So we opted for dinner out (Ethiopian, my favorite) followed by Apple TV at home.

We watched Burn After Reading, which was OK but not great. It had a fairly messy plot involving a disgruntled ex-CIA agent, his unpleasant wife, her shifty married lover, his cheating wife and a couple of unbelievably stupid health club employees who stumble across a disk of somewhat classified information and think it would be a good idea to sell it to the Russians.

Why would they commit blatant treason, you ask? Well, you see, one of the stupid health club employees wanted plastic surgery and thought the Russians would give her money to pay for it. I kind of lost interest in the movie at this point because no one could possibly be so stupid - in fact, I spent the rest of the movie wondering if she should be shot for treason or stupidity.

Brad Pitt played the other stupid health club employee and when he unexpected gets his head blown off the movie loses what little spark it had until that point.

The best part was the final deadpan conversation between two CIA agents about the major screw up caused by all these idiots.

In the end, the treasonously stupid woman gets her plastic surgery paid for by the CIA to shut her up so there’s no poetic justice, either – believe me, you’re NOT routing for this moron, especially since she gets all her friends killed too in her single-minded quest for surgically enhanced beauty.

The End.
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