May 29, 2009

The Reader, or 'Secrets Not Worth Killing For'

Last night my book club discussed The Reader. Generally speaking, we all thought it was a good book and were more or less in agreement that as far as shameful secrets go, not being able to read is about on a par with not being naturally blond - in other words, not a compelling reason to become a concentration camp guard and also not a reason that most other people, or at least non-Californians, can relate to.
I, of course, am from California and naturally blond.
Few of the women in my book club found Hanna sympathetic or could relate to the decisions she had made. And one has to wonder, 'Couldn't she just ask someone to teach her to read?' But aside from her strange tetchiness about her own illiteracy, I felt uncomfortable writing Hanna off as a bad person because I'm not so sure she was that unusual.
After WWII the next generation of young Germans accused their parents for the horrors they had committed and permitted. Can you imagine what a time that was for parents - standing accused by their own children, not just of the actual crimes but of allowing them to take place?
When my girls grow up they will no doubt accuse me of many things. For example, K might say, 'Mom, how could you just stand by and watch while President Bush and his cronies and your entire generation destroyed the environment?' To which I will protest, 'But darling, I didn't just stand by, I blogged about it and voted for President Obama. I even sent money to the Sierra Club and took a Cap It picture to help the Environmental Defense Fund lobby for better legislation!'
At which point she'll probably don her gas mask in disgust and flounce out of the room.
But hopefully she will not accuse me of attempted genocide.
It's easy to judge people for failing to take action so let's talk about human nature for a moment, which is endlessly weak and fascinating. Don't worry, I attended a liberal arts college and know all about human nature. I even read Plato's Republic as a Freshman so you're in good hands.
We (people) have several assessment mechanisms that help us navigate the world without dissolving into terrified weeping blobs of jelly that are of no use to anyone, not to mention no fun to be around. These mechanisms aren't bad but they do tend to block action where it's needed.
Here is how most people assess a situation in order to decide whether or not to act:
1. Will this impact us (me/friend) or them (you/stranger)?
2. Will it happen sooner or later?
3. Are the facts disputed or undisputed?
4. Is it easy or difficult to solve?
5. Will I (we) benefit or will someone else (they) benefit?
6. Will I act alone or will other people help?
...and, perhaps not as important as the others but has been known to tip the balance:
7. Will there be food?
These 7 little questions are, for the most part, what prevent the human race from responding to problems before they become problems. For example, most people don't bother to save energy or reduce their carbon footprint because they aren't sure, or they have bigger problems, or it feels too overwhelming to take action. Plus there doesn't seem to be much point unless everyone pitches in because the freeloaders will just be laughing at you from their air conditioned SUVs while you waste time growing a scraggy beard and gathering rain water in an aluminum container.
What it comes down to is basically just mental laziness but it's also a personal survival mechanism that ironically, will probably get us all killed.
But that's not the end of the story because we also ask ourselves: Who's in charge?
Responding to someone who seems to be in charge is the MOTHER of all behavioral triggers because we crave approval and belonging.
In The Reader 300 Jewish women burned to death in a church. Hanna didn't start the fire but she was responsible for guarding the women and she didn't let them out, although she could hear them screaming. There was some ambiguity about whether a key was available but the main reason seems to be that she was trying to do a good job.
So, the evil of Hanna is not that she actively wanted to hurt people, which is how we generally imagine evil. Her crime was that she was unwilling to break rank in order to help them.
What would you have done? asks Hanna at one point during the trial. Before you answer that, please note that there have been ample experiments conducted proving that the most average, friendly people are willing to inflict unbearable agony on others if someone plausible in a white lab coat sternly tells them to do so.
Side note for people with ADD that don't mind constant interruptions: In a book called Good Omens by Neil Gaimon and Terry Pratchett there is a disquieting reference to 'low-grade evil.' The idea is that evil isn't some grandiose thing, it's an accumulation of petty irritations combined with failure to take moral action. It's a fairly clever, funny book if you're looking for something a bit different.
Anyway, you'll be happy to hear that in my intensely scientific study of human nature I have concluded that most of us don't have an inner Hitler. He was something especially vile that doesn't show up that often in human history, thank goodness.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that most of us probably have an inner Hanna.
Althoguh personally, I'd rather have an inner Kate Winslet.
Or at least her hair.

May 28, 2009

Thanks, you

Since I was so free with my literary advice this week, it seems only fair to accept yours.

After all, I don't want you to think I'm an ungrateful minger or a whore of the Infidel.

So, I have just ordered books by Emily Griffen and Susan Isaacs, as well as Outrageous Fortune by Tim Scott. Thanks, Lawyer Mom, Jessica and Ladyfi.

And in return I offer you: Anna Maxted, whose specialty is Fairly Serious Topics with a healthy dose of hilarity. I love her books. Well, Tale of Two Sisters was kind of boring but the others were great.

Oh, and Sara, about the Michael Damien date, I was only 13 and he was a perfect gentleman.

May 27, 2009

This Charming Man

Nope, nothing to do with Ralf, although he has his moments.

It's a book by Marian Keyes. Although Ralf did ask if it was about him when he saw the title and I told him it was more about how incredibly charming German men are in general, which wasn't exactly true but I think he bought it.

Yesterday I may have given the impression that I don't like chick books but actually, I enjoy a good beach read as much as the next person. In fact, I'm reading one right now.

I started This Charming Man by Marian Keyes yesterday and so far it seems to be following the same old, 'I have no self-control and systematically screw up my own life until I marry a millionaire' formula of books I generally dislike BUT this book is a cut above the others.

For one thing, the heroine is going through a bad phase that isn't 100% her own fault. I mean, her boyfriend is marrying someone else and she's bummed, it could happen to anyone. For another, Marian's heroines don't usually get a totally over the top and completely undeserved happy ending, which always makes me feel like I just wasted two hours.

Also, these points notwithstanding, Marian Keyes can really write. The passages where the heroine Lola chats with the kindly Muslim waiter Ibrihim and secretly worries that he's thinking 'Whore of the Infidel' about her while taking her order are hilarious.

Best of all, she's Irish, so I'm picking up all sorts of useful phrases like 'fizzog' and 'minger,' and 'great feed of beer.'

So if my next posts are all, 'minger this' and 'minger that' and 'shut your fizzog,' that's why.

P.S. I don't think it's her best book but so far I have no plans to publicly trash it unless, say, our Lola ends up marrying Bono after blowing up Charing Cross station in a freak accident that everyone forgives her for because she's so inexplicably lovable.

That would vex me.

May 26, 2009

Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic and other books

I'm reading several books this week. Well, I already finished the easy one, which was Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. I have read other books by her and like the fact that they can be read in about an hour and there's always some 'so there' moment for the heroine. However, I had been avoiding Shopaholic because I feared it would distress me - you may recall from my 'She's Come Undone' spoiler that I have issues with books about people who create their own problems.
I am happy to report that Shopaholic did not disappoint and was in fact extremely irritating. It followed a fairly standard pattern: Single white female without a vestige of self-contol in some key area (could be eating, spending, fashion sense, etc.) goes through a difficult spell caused by said lack of self-control but emerges triumphant due to the loyalty of her super cool friends and her own pluck.
Here's the spoiler: Girl in her twenties with a low-paid job has no - wait for it - self-control over her spending. She gets piles of dunning statements from the banks and ignores them, going shopping to feel better. Her attempt to save results in her spending even more money as she equips herself in style to make her own lunches and coffee. Not that I'm some kind of genius financial planner or anything but I found myself yelling, 'STOP SPENDING, WOMAN, YOU'RE IN DEBT YOU SILLY COW!!' Of course, typical of the genre, she has a loyal and rich best friend who lets her live in her trendy apartment for very low rent. Anyway, her attempts to earn more turn out badly and she completely messes up the lives of her parents' neighbors with her own incomepetence and disinterest in others but not to worry - by the end of the book this very average girl has a high-paying TV career and is dating a multi-millionaire, after dumping another multi-millionaire.
Although, to be fair it wasn't quite as irritating as Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (which appropriately enough means 'Jennifer Crybaby' in German), which I read a couple of years ago. I have to admit it got off to an unusual and creative start, with the overweight heroine's boyfriend writing an article about how it feels to date a fat girl. I thought that was a cool twist and figured this would be the story of someone who changes their life through hard work and discipline, and with luck a final satisfying humiliation of the crappy boyfriend. But no, the heroine continues to mope around, although she somehow manages to parlay her mopeyness into a BFF relationship with a famous actress, who takes her on fabulous, all expenses paid vacations and introduces her to handsome movie stars. Naturally, the richest and handsomest movie star falls for her but he's not quite what she's looking for so she ends up marrying a wonderful, kind, considerate doctor instead, who is also completely crazy about her. Totally believable. Oh, and did I mention she's pregnant? Of course, it goes without saying that her friend the actress decorates their new home with a gorgeous designer nursury as a wedding present.
Side comment: This is obviously just silly because my mom was once best friends with one of the Young and the Restless actresses and I got, like, a sweater for my birthday and a date with Michael Damien. Which was quite nice and I think a bit more realistic, don't you? Or when was the last time Julia Roberts outfitted your house with $50K worth of Pottery Barn furniture? So, nice fantasy but I prefer heroines that work for their happy ending.
I am also reading The Reader by Bernhard Schlink for book club, although I am reading it in German (Der Vorleser) and it's a bit too serious for my taste. I know, I'm hard to please. But frankly, the affair of a teenage boy with an older woman, told from the perspective of the boy, isn't exactly my go to genre.
And finally, I am meandering my way through The Self-Aware Universe by Amit Goswami, which is a fascinating juxtaposition of classical and quantum theory that concludes that consciousness, rather than matter, is the underlying fabric of the universe. In other words, matter doesn't cause consciousness, consciousness causes (or collapses the wave function of) matter. I'll probably revisit this one in a later post because the implications are pretty interesting. Maven - your husband might like it.

May 25, 2009

More about the hotel

I noticed that the Robert Redford-esque hotel we stayed at in Greer, Arizona caught your attention. So here's the skinny.

It's called Hidden Meadow Ranch and you can get a virtual tour of the cabins on their Website. Well, cabins is relative, more like small rustic-yet-extremely-luxurious family homes. This is a 5-star facility that offers all sorts out outdoor activites in every season and amazing food, three fantastic meals a day plus snacks, all included. Great for family vacations.

The Dining Room

Our cabin, upstairs family room
$$$$ It's not cheap but when we did the math, staying at a modest hotel in Sedona and buying our own meals worked out to about the same. And they're soooo good to you, baking fresh chocolate chip cookies, turning down your beds while you eat dinner and leaving you little handwritten poems when they clean the room.
By fortuitous coincidence we had the entire place to ourselves for a weekend, right before they were closing for construction, so the whole staff was focused on us. It was the ultimate rock star getaway.
OK, now I'm depressed.

May 24, 2009

Small Town Snapshot Sunday Part II

I found a couple more pictures from our 2007 Arizona vacation so I can participate once more in Wendy's Small Town Snapshot Sunday. Nothing captures that small town spirit like a buffalo at home on the range. Or maybe it's a cow. Whatever.

And here are some pictures from the hotel we stayed in, which was like staying with Robert Redford. Does that count?

May 23, 2009

On Awesomeness

Patti in Denmark recently tagged me in her Awesome post.

Patti is someone who rises to every occasion, including battling cancer. She is truly awesome, not just fake awesome like me, so you should check out her blog and get inspired by how she cheerfully deals with everything from health issues to finding reliable Danish repairmen.

Making a list of awesome things about me hasn't been easy. Once upon a time I thought I would be a hard-hitting environmental lawyer, a world-changing political economist, a physicist who would connect the dots between relativity and quantum theory, the inventor of the first successful artificial intelligence, a notorious character actress. . .
Then in college I got distracted by men and easy money (sorry, that came out wrong, what I meant is that I started taking classes with this guy I liked in an easier, more lucrative field) and smoothly transitioned into international affairs and business, which led into consulting and IT and ultimately a husband, a pet, a mortgage, two children and a Volvo.
Today I design software, work part time, pick up my kids at 3PM and fire up my computer again at 8PM. I get excited about a glass of wine with dinner or an old-fashioned TV show with real actors and a plot.
And for the most part it's usually pretty awesome, but not, like, list awesome, unless you count things like, 'I can do five loads of laundry and make dinner for two picky kids and a husband while writing a detailed design specification for compensation budgeting.'
Are you still awake?
Anyway, after many false starts, here's my list of 7 awesome things about me, followed by a list of 7 awesome people who are now tagged.
1. I can predict the future. Didn’t I tell you I’d be in the Earth Day video? And then I was. Spooky, huh?
2. I make things happen. I saved Chuck, didn’t I? And as you know, I’ve been working to get reasonable environmental legislation passed so we don’t turn the Earth into Venus. Last Friday the House Energy and Commerce Committee reported out a bill to reduce America's global warming pollution by 83% by 2050. Now we just have to get it through the House and Senate - you can help by signing the Sierra Club petition here.
3. I always admit when I am wrong. Most people don’t realize this about me because I’m hardly ever wrong so I wanted to bring this to your attention.
4. I drive a mean go cart. Enough said. 5. I am naturally blond. 6. I totally rock at fake guitar. 7. I am a cool mom. Not to my own kids, of course, but to other people’s kids. Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of this so you'll just have to take my word for it.

And as an added bonus, I don't take myself too seriously.
Now I have to tag seven other awesome people. It’s hard to keep it to seven but for a change I’m going to try to follow the rules.
1. Kristina – You definitely get the ‘I wanna party with you, cowboy’ award. Kristina makes me want to be a better blogger.
2. The Dental Maven – The Maven has a really cool blogging niche and is married to a neurobiologist, which is really awesome.
3. Lawyer Mom – Lawyer Mom has devoted her life to public service. For example, thanks to her I don’t have to read the Economist myself, for which I am truly grateful because it's gloomy.
4. Debbie – Debbie is a good human being who manages to be very funny but never at someone else’s expense. Unless they deserve it.
5. Sara – Sara is living a country life most of us can only dream of. She captures bees and feeds baby cows with bottles. If you send your kids to her for a playdate, there will be horseback riding and canoeing. I wish she lived in Bavaria, we have lots of great countryside here.
6. Bebe – Bebe has five kids and finds time to blog. That alone clearly makes her awesome but she also has a great outlook on life. Of course, her recent vacation-o-rama in Greece and Italy without kids probably didn’t hurt the attitude.
7. Charlotte – A blogger community builder and spiritual leader who lives in a foreign land, raises two kids and a husband and just completed the first draft of her book. She spends most of her time trying to stay on top of her many blogging awards.

May 22, 2009

Sheep Trick

Yesterday was Vatertag (Father's Day). It didn't start off well. . .

First of all, the Kindergarten was closed for some German bank holiday and Ralf announced that he was going to go play hookie with some other dads.

I'll just skip over that conversation.

Then K, our 5-year-old, cried all day about stuff like finding one of her toys two microns to the right of where she had left it. She cried through breakfast, wept her way through miniature golf, pulled herself together sufficiently to attend a birthday party in the afternoon, then promptly resumed sobbing when she got home until bed time.

Meanwhile L, our 3-year-old, has decided she's not actually potty trained any more.

By the end of the day I was completely done in. Ralf, having wisely abandoned his golf plans, rose to the occassion, making dinner and switching on Chuck without a word. In case you don't appreciate the significance of this, remember he doesn't like Chuck.

We graduated to fruity rum drinks and ended up having a very nice - if a bit silly - evening. To give you an idea, I ate a bit of leftover cold chicken, which gave me the hiccups. When Ralf called them 'chick-ups' I completely lost it.

The crowning moment was when we went upstairs to kiss the girls good night before bed. L had snuck into our bed, which she is not supposed to do. To throw us off the trail she created an elaborate 'fake sleeping child' in her own bed using her stuffed sheep and several pillows and blankets. We didn't catch on right away that it wasn't her until I kissed her head and it was a sheep.

Sheep trick - get it?

I guess she didn't realize that even if the sheep fooled us, we were bound to notice her once we went to bed.

May 19, 2009

The low down on Chuck

A colleague of mine thoughtfully forwarded me the news that Chuck has been picked up for a third season. You can read all about it here. I knew I could save Chuck!
The bad news is that they'll be cutting costs a bit, which hopefully won't translate into fewer scenes with Adam Baldwin (he's the man cake in the tux). But I'll take it.
Man cake is my new favorite phrase. I learned it on. . . wait for it. . . Chuck!
I haven't been this happy since Love Boat and Fantasy Island were shown back to back in the eighties. Chuck and Eureka are like Dallas and Falcon Crest. Or Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. Or Star Trek TNG and Deep Space Nine. Or Angel and Buffy. Or a double episode of Frasier. Or. . .
OK, you get the idea. And I'm probably sharing way too much.
For the record, Ralf doesn't like Chuck. I tried to interest him in Sara, the hot blond CIA agent, but no dice.
Probably because he has me.
Last night Chuck untied his ex-girlfriend, who is also a dangerous double-agent, thus allowing her to capture his government handlers Sara and Casey. Fortunately, the bad guy was stopped in the end when the obese Buy More store manager Big Mike jumped on him in dramatic slow motion and knocked him out.
Ralf thought it was pretty lame. Personally, I thought it was a very realistic plot development and not a bit lame. I mean, look at them: Casey, Sara and Chuck.
Keeping America safe with humor, computers and kung fu.
What's lame about that??

May 18, 2009

Small Town Sunday

I'm finally participating in Wendy's Small Town Sunday. To my knowledge I have never actually lived in a US small town BUT we did once vacation in Greer, Arizona, where I took I these pictures:

May 16, 2009

Mea not culpa any more

Last night my mom and I enjoyed a Chuck marathon with a bottle of wine. Chuck just gets better and better, and has introduced me to useful phrases like 'mammary cam' and 'man cake', although our evening was forcibly interrupted midway when L began throwing up violently.
It is a full week since K came home from the Ausflug with stomach flu. You know what this means, don't you? If the flu takes a week to incubate, K was NOT patient zero. Which also means that another mom knowingly sent her sick child on the Ausflug.
Can you believe that?? I don't know about you, but I consider that kind of inconsiderate.
I am so vindicated!!
Anyway, we got L settled comfortably again with fresh PJs and a clean t-shirt for me and I cleaned the sheets, walls, rug and my hair as best I could. There was one small but scary episode where my mom tried to warm up a cherry pit cat for L's tummy and somehow ended up making the microwave emit clouds of noxious smoke and not respond to the 'STOP' button. I'll leave you to imagine the scene of two panicked women, a crying child and a rogue microwave.
But this, too, passed and all was quiet again.
K was cool as a cucumber through it all, rolling away from L when she threw up in bed and falling right asleep again despite all of the yelling and excitement.
After the incident we went trooped back downstairs for more Chuck and red wine. We finished season 1 at 1AM and I fell into bed.
This morning I woke up at with two blessedly healthy children decorating me with sea shells and driving imaginary cars over me and parking them in my arm pit, which apparently makes a fine garage. I stumbled to the bathroom, peered blearily into the mirror and was gratified to see that L's vomit had dried my hair into a surprisingly attractive style.
I'm such a party animal.

May 15, 2009

Saving Chuck

Thanks for the heads up everyone - Chuck is in danger of being cancelled.
So, while I usually make impassioned pleas to stop idiots from building coal plants, I am now asking you to help me save Chuck.
Chuck is good for the environment because people watching Chuck are sitting at home in front of the TV rather than driving around in their SUVs. Chuck is also good for the economy because it helps manufacturers target their ads to people who don't watch reality TV - Chuck fans will buy more electronic gadgets, fast food and feminine products if Chuck stays on the air.
If this show dies we will soon have nothing to watch except mindless, cheap to produce (not to mention totally fake) reality shows and Hannah Montana. Is that what you want???

There's are several groups called 'Save Chuck' in Facebook. I believe you can also Twitter Chuck to safety.
Please join me in this important social media movement.

Thank you.

May 14, 2009

Is anything actually true?

I buy OK magazine every week because I like looking at pictures of Brad, Agelina, Jennifer Anniston and her former man ho John something-or-other. That's right, I divide my free time evenly between saving the world, offending my neighbors, watching Chuck and stalking celebs.

Like clockwork, one week Brad and Angie are on the brink of divorce, the next enjoying marital bliss again - and all using the same pictures from Oscar night. These articles are so clearly not based on any actual new information or facts.
Reality TV is also totally staged, just ask Lawyer Mom.
The media tried so hard to turn the swine flu into something newsworthy but too many people inconsiderately refused to die. You could almost hear the reporters high fiving each other when some poor person with chronic health problems died of the flu and they could write about it.
The economy is also fickle. One day all the indicators are bad, the next consumption is up again and we're headed back toward prosperity.
None of this is news, it's entertainment.
What is true, anyway? It's complicated because there's always more than one side, more than one interpretation, more than one apparent truth. A plausible case can be made for the lamest and most obviously made up arguments, as we've seen in recent years over the 'clean coal' debate.
As you know, I love coal and wish we had a coal burning stove in our living room because it's so clean.
Fortunately for truth seekers, things that aren't true make us physically uncomfortable, even if we don't know they aren't true. I wrote more about this here if you're interested.
I don't really have a point today (hence the picture of the waffle, get it?), I've just been struck lately by conflicting messages everywhere I look.
In the absence of a clear external truth the need for a reliable internal moral compass seems kind of important.
Where can I get one of those?

May 13, 2009


I have a confession to make: We've heard of the top reality shows but don't watch any of them. Ralf prefers soccer and frankly, I'm more of a sci fi person.
Besides, I can see real people who can't sing very well at work. And at home. And in the mirror.
We have Apple TV so we can pick and choose our shows on demand with no commercials - Ralf hates American food commercials with all those dripping ketchup hamburger close ups.
The problem is, there aren't that many good shows out there once you cut out the totally staged reality TV.
Well. Last night my mom introduced me to a new show: Chuck.
The plot is this: Chuck got thrown out of school because his roommate framed him for stealing some tests and now he works at Buy More in tech support. Then his former roommate, a CIA agent, gets killed stealing some government secrets, which he then emails to Chuck. Go figure. Now Chuck has a head full of national secrets from three agency databases - the master database was destroyed so the consolidated data resides only in his brain - and begins to make organic data connections that help prevent bombings, capture arms dealers, etc. So he has a gorgeous CIA agent and a gruff NSA agent guarding him at all times while the government tries to figure out what to do with him.
Chuck is awesome. First of all, Chuck is fairly adorable if you like that type:
Next it has some of my favorite people in it - a few of them are getting on now but I'm a very loyal fan. In addition to a hilarious supporting cast of nerds, there are:
Bruce Boxleitner. Remember Bruce? He was in Scarecrow and Mrs. King for a few years, then he played the suave captain on Babylon 5. He married Melissa Gilbert from Little House on the Prarie and seems to have one of the few happy Hollywood marriages. I like Bruce.

Chevy Chase. I haven't seen him yet but my mom says he plays a real scary baddie in Season 2. OK he's a bit older than in his Caddyshack days but he's still the master.Adam Baldwin. I love Adam. Ralf has no idea. He was the bodyguard in My Bodyguard, then I don't know what he did until he suddenly appeared in Firefly, a cool sci fi cult show that Joss Whedon directed after Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Then he showed up in the final season of Angel as a wittily sarcastic demon. And now he plays the NSA agent in Chuck. He has this great expression where his eyes just glow with suppressed outrage that totally resonates with me. I wish I could look like that.
Finally, I may have found a show to keep me going when Eureka is on hiatus.

Life is good.

May 12, 2009

Got Tim Tams?

I'm still getting the cold shoulder at the Kindergarten, not only for nosing around too bluntly about the Ausflug arrangements but also for the spirited barf fest that ensued after K (patient 0) left Friday. Miss Vanessa shows signs of thawing but the other moms don't like me any more.

On the bright side, Julia likes me again but she's only nine and our relationship is primarily financial.

When I was an outspoken second grader with unkempt hair (the kind who raises their hand and announces in a high, clear voice, 'Mrs. Dean, Justin didn't throw that spit wad, it was Doug,') I tended to get hunted by large gangs of my classmates after school. I learned to fight, run really fast, climb like Spiderman, hide, remain still for long periods of time, find food, divide and conquer enemies and, when other options ran out, find adult help.

I don't want to paint the wrong picture here. I was not a skinny, asthmatic, fearful child but a big, strong kid with a cocky attitude so we were pretty evenly matched. Sometimes it was even kind of fun.

This went on for about 3 years and then I was suddenly reasonably popular again, at which point I promptly dropped all running and climbing activities and focused on feathering my hair and getting my mascara straight.

Bit of a shame, really - I could shimmy drain pipes like a monkey but my hair never turned out that well.

Here's my point: There's always a bright side. Life isn't about the bad stuff that happens, it's about the good things that happen in between.

For example, this week I'm a little unpopular but on the bright side, no one's hunting me with sharp sticks and I have a package of Tim Tams, which my mother thoughtfully brought with her.

Friends come and go but Tim Tams are forever.

May 11, 2009

Money, Money, Money

What do you think of the larger font?

Germans are pretty well known for being ‘sparsam’, which doesn’t exactly mean cheap but really kind of does. Certainly the average German knows the value of a euro and is somewhat less eager than, say, the average American, to throw their hard-earned mula at stuff they don’t need (status symbols don't count) and you never just 'split the check' at a restaurant.

The most legendarily sparsam Germans of all are the Schwabians in the Stuttgart area. Ralf’s dad tells the story of a Schwabian colleague of his who, while pleasant and easy to work with in every respect unrelated to money, once stopped talking to him for several days because he (Ralf’s dad) forgot to give him about 10 cents change after buying drinks.

There is also a popular Schwabian joke that goes like this (excuse my spelling):

Geht ein Mann durch die Wald.
(Goes a man through the forest.)
Kommt der Roiber.
(Comes the robber.)
‘Geld oder Leben!’
(‘Your money or your life!’)
Aber der Mann hat leider kein Geld dabei gehabt.
(But the man unfortunately didn’t have any money on him.)
‘Dann gib mir deine Uhr.’
(‘Then give me your watch.’)
Aber der Mann hat auch keine Uhr dabei gehabt.
(But the man also didn’t have a watch.)
‘Dann trag mich halt ein Stuckle.’
(Then carry me for a little while.)

Now, let me just say that I’ve worked with Schwabians and found them most of them lovely but they are a fairly parsimonious, hard-negotiating bunch and I get a kick out of that joke.

Remember our neighbor’s child Julia who I recently
stiffed after she hauled away some recycling for me? She clearly has some Schwabian relatives. I approached her the other day and apologized for not paying her for a job well done and asked how much she typically earned for her work.

I’m trying to make amends for
last week, although I didn’t make much headway this morning in Kindergarten, where they are clearly still annoyed with me.

But that’s another story. Back to Julia, who was immediately all business. ‘Ein Euro,’ she told me with no hesitation.

I handed her some change that added up to a euro, which earned me a small frown. ‘For each of us,’ she added.

Ah. Her friend. I handed over the rest of the change in my hand, which added up to another euro, mostly in 10 cent coins.

Julia carefully counted out and distributed the money while her friend rolled her eyes and muttered, ‘Geez, Julia, don’t worry about it!’ Then I was smiled at and thanked professionally.

There was no hand shaking, although there could have been. She also didn't say that it was a pleasure doing business with me, although that too would not have been out of place. And I bet if I had asked for a receipt she could have produced one.

Please note that there is no criticism intended here. That girl will probably have enough money saved for college by the time she’s sixteen.

Most of it mine.

May 10, 2009

Mother's Day to the Max

Natalian of the marvelous baby feet photos has tagged me with a meme that was initiated by Catherine of Her Bad Mother and her friend David to find out if mothers around the world have similar or different perspectives when it comes to raising children. The challenge is to list 5 things one enjoys about motherhood and then tag 5 different mothers to do the same.

Here are five-ish things I enjoy about Motherhood:

1. The amazingly honest and uninhibited way my children react to the world.

2. The plump cheeks, the musky scent, the yummy knees, the chubby feet, the perfect tushies, the general deliciousness of small children.

3. The crazy little toy arrangements they leave everywhere.

4. Their wild jigs of pure delight when something small makes them happy.

5. The feeling of deep, deep love and belonging. There is no other feeling like it.

I also get a kick out of diluting the Master Race with mongrel genes, bwa ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!!! Although I'm actually mostly German.

And finally, I find their unquenchable interest in my life both unexpected and gratifying. Every morning K says, 'Mommy, tell me a story.' They want to know me. They are interested in what has happened to me and how I lived before them.

Or maybe they just want to put off getting dressed in the morning. But I prefer to think of it as genuine interest.

This morning I told them the story of Max, who was a far better mother than I am. He never sat at his computer typing frantically and shushing me while I made increasingly obnoxious bids for his attention. He sat with me patiently for hours while I played with blocks, gently sniffing each one.

Max was a ginormous dog we had when I was a baby. He may have been part Doberman. He was my constant companion. He shared his dog biscuits with me and kept his mouth open when I grabbed his tongue, as I loved to do when he yawned. I have a picture of us together when I was about 9 months old and he's the size of a small pony. A gentle giant. My only memory from my first year of life is Max, always there in front of me while I played.

One day my mother took us all to the store and left me in the car with Max, as parents were wont to do back then. It's not like anyone would try to steal me with a big killer dog sitting right there. Max yawned and I reached into his mouth and grabbed his tongue, laughing hysterically while he tried to close his mouth without biting me.

As you can imagine, passerby's completely panicked at the sight of a hysterical baby with her hand in a huge dog's mouth. I gather that my mom had some explaining to do when she came back to the car a minute later.

They love that story.

They love me. I bask in it and hope I don't mess up too badly.

Now I'm supposed to tag 5 other global moms. If you comment on the
original post you will be included in the roundup here.

I tag
Bebe (have fun in Rome), R, G (get well soon), Patty and Naturelady. And Ladyfi.

Tara, Lucy, Lawyer Mom, Carol, Maven, Jessica, Debbie and Emily, of course!

Is that 5?

Happy Mother's Day to all you wonderful moms.

And to my mom, too, who's arriving in Munich tomorrow.

May 8, 2009

Confessions of a paranoid cheapskate

Before I get into today's topic, I want to first say thanks to all of you for not rubbing it in that I sent my sick child off into the countryside with a bunch of healthy kids. K is top fit today, by the way, and polished off two plates of rigatoni with ketchup for lunch.

But rest assured that there is Justice in this world for I have been scolded twice in the last two days on other topics.

First by my husband, who got an earful from K's Kindergarten teacher about his crazy wife and her unfounded paranoia about children being left behind in the countryside.

OK, I deserved that.

And just now I was cut down to size by little Kaye from next door because I didn't give Julia any money for hauling away my to-be-recycled paper and plastic in her little wagon. She rang the doorbell, asked if I had anything to recycle, I gave it to her and off she went. OK, yeah, she said something about pocket money but I assumed she was taking it somewhere where you get money for recycling, like aluminum cans.

Although come to think of it, if there were a place that gave you cash for paper and plastic we would probably go there twice a week instead recycling for free.

What can I say, I wasn't really paying attention. I was trying to decide what to do about the tick repellent, remember?

Anyway, Kaye rang the bell today and asked if she could brush our rugs for money. She asked very sweetly, then suddenly fixed me with a stern, fishy eye and advised me that she would only do it if there was actually some sweet lucre to be made. 'I mean, you, like, totally stiffed Julia!'

Note that these were not her actual words but they do pretty well represent the general tone.

I managed not to burst out laughing until after I closed the door. Then I felt kind of bad and decided to be more open and trusting from now on and also pass out coins to small children.

In he meantime, I guess I owe Julia a Euro.

May 7, 2009

Mea culpa

Miss Vanessa called us this morning to tell us that K has stomach flu and Ralf went to pick her up. Still no fever, no aches, just general ickiness, so the good news is it's unlikely she's the second German swine flu victim.

I feel bad about this. First of all I hope no one else gets stomach flu, although the 'Warning - Stomach Flu' sign has been hanging on the Kindergarten door off and on since January so I'm thinking K was just the last one toget it. I made the wrong call yesterday but she was fine until this morning and I tried to make the best decision based on the information I had. So I'm not beating myself up too much.

OK, just a little.

But I really feel sorry for K. Not that her life is full of crushing disappointments and this was the one bright spot, but she was so excited about her 'big kids' overnight trip. And to totally rub in the misfortune, today's a gorgeous spring day full of special activities that she won't be able to enjoy with her friends.

It doesn't seem fair to get sick right on the super fun day, when there are so many boring regular days to get sick.

My poor little big girl. :-(

Any good tips on comforting a 5 year old after this sort of disappointment? I was thinking ice cream.

May 6, 2009

Ausflug jitters

Today K's Kindergarten is taking the older kids on a 3 day sleepover at a farm. It's called an 'Ausflug' in German, which means 'fly away.' K has been very excited about it and as near as I can tell, she's the only kid who doesn't have any heebie jeebies about sleeping away from home.

I've been more worried than she is. Not about the trip per se, I'm down with that.

But there's the ride home. She's driving home with another mom, which Ralf arranged but didn't' confirm. He doesn't believe that confirmation is necessary when he arranges something. I've seen this other mom several times this week but instead of simply asking her if she's still planning to bring K home Friday, I avoided the topic because I'm not sure whether to call her 'Sie' (formal) or 'Du' (informal).

I usually try to let the Germans take the lead on this but they are incredibly resourceful about avoiding the use of 'you' in conversation until the manner of address is clarified so most of the conversations with people I don't know that well end up being pretty stilted.

I'm not kidding. I have actually had this conversation, although not with Til Schweiger. I know I should just get over myself but I don't like to make grammatical mistakes.

Shocking, I know.

Anyway, instead of doing what any normal person would do and confirming K's ride home with this mom I instead asked one of K's teachers (who is definitely 'Sie') if the teachers would please make sure the kids all have rides home. She said, no, the parents had to arrange that.

At this point a rather long discussion ensued about how I expect teachers to not just jump in the car and head for home until all children are safely on their way while her eyes tracked around hopefully in search of a colleague to pass me off on.

Another worry has been K's anti-tick cream. Ralf was bitten by a tick when he was a kid and almost died so it's a sensitive topic. We did the FMSE vaccination and I packed tick repellant in K's bag. However, that stuff's poison and I don't want her and her 5-year-old posse playing with the stuff so I reminded her at least five times this morning to ask Miss Vanessa to help her with the tick cream.

Eyes glazed over with confusion, she nodded and said, 'OK, mommy.'

That wasn't quite enough commitment for me so I also asked Ralf about twenty times to speak with Miss Vanessa about this personally, which he promptly agreed to do without any snarky comments about annoyingly paranoid moms.

So far I've only been moderately (or, if you're Ralf or that teacher, extremely) irritating, but now I have a confession to make.

Here it is: K threw up last night. Twice. And I still sent her on the trip.

She had no fever, got herself dressed with no fuss and ate a reasonable excuse for breakfast and I figured that even if she has something, she probably got it from one of the other kids anyway.


If another mom sent her barfing offspring on a trip with my child they would probably find themselves on the wrong end of one of my rants (if I could get past whether to call them 'Sie' or 'Du'). I know that. But I just couldn't keep her home after so much build up and anticipation when she seemed perfectly fine this morning.

And believe me, I watched her like a hawk all morning and felt her forehead about fifty times.

Just out of curiosity, would you have done?

May 5, 2009

7 Year Itch

In the movies, they always show the beautiful woman in the convertable with her hair blowing artistically back as she drives along the coast.

They never show the hours spent later trying to get the tangles out, which I find it a little dishonest:
Ralf neatly sidesteps this problem with his GI haircut but I didn't feel that solution would work for me.Italy was wonderful. We stayed here in Asolo with old friends: Then after a stopover with more friends in Milan in their chic city apartment we visited the castle where we got married 7 years ago - there it is in the background:

Italians love food but they love talking about food even more. In Asolo we dined at a slow food restaurant where the owner sat with us for a few minutes with each course and regaled us with stories about how the cheese we were eating had been harvested from a very special yak in Normandy that ate only certain kinds of sea grass.
Our Milanese friends also did not disappoint, dazzling us with the latest results of their lifelong quest to procure the finest cheeses and salamis.
Needless to say, most of our time was spent killing time between meals with scenic wandering, conversation and sitting in cafes wondering if it was too soon to eat again.
I would do it all again in a heartbeat. . .
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