September 29, 2009

Vee Haf Vays of Making You Healzee

This morning at the gym I saw (on TV) protesters outside the White House holding up signs comparing President Obama to a very evil German dictator. And at least one poster depicting the President with a sinister little moustache.
OK, I give up, crazy right wing, you've lost me on this one.
Unless public health care will only be offered to white Christians with blond hair and blue eyes who goose step around heiling each other I don't quite see how trying to provide affordable health care to more people is reminiscent of you-know-who.
But in the midst of very real concerns about the new health care plan it is reassuring to know that the killer counter argument is a picture of the President with a moustache.

September 28, 2009

I is for Insane, Ironic and Impossible

Insane: Here's a quick breakdown of German political parties for you closet Deutschophiles who've been thinking recently that a country full of men in leather can't be all bad. There's the CDU, or the Christian Democrats, who more or less stand for the middle way, i.e., fiscally conservative but with some social conscience. Then there's the SDP, or Socialist Democrats, who have fallen completely out of favor since Gerhard Schroeder's time. And finally worth a mention is the FDP, or the Free Democrats, who basically want to deregulate everything and have a totally free market.

I asked Ralf yesterday how he votes, since I can't vote here. 'Are we fascists?' I asked hopefully, trying to sound informed about modern German politics. 'Green party,' was his response.

I've lived in Russia and I've seen first hand how much Communism sucks so I'm all for the free market. However, I also stayed awake long enough in economics class to learn about the Tragedy of the Commons, which states that unless restrained, multiple individuals acting rationally in their own self-interest will ultimately destroy a shared limited resource even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long term interest for this to happen. Not might, will.

Anyway, although the CDU currently enjoys a political majority, the FDP scored an unprecedented number of votes in yesterday's national election, leading me to wonder why people always expect the same thinking that got them into trouble in the first place to get them out of it again.

Ironic: This may sound nitpicky but that song 'Isn't It Ironic' by Alanis Morrisette bugs me, not just due to its highly irriating melody but because in a long litany of things that are supposed to be ironic few of them actually are. I mean, rain on your wedding day is not ironic. Neither is an airplane crash with a passenger who fears flying. Anyway. The other day my yoga instructor Carolyn read a nice passage out loud about the enormous amount of energy women put into their appearance and how if they would channel that same energy to some higher purpose it would be enough to change the world. Incidentally, Carolyn is very attractive and looks amazing in white spandex. Now, THAT'S ironic!

Impossible: Several months back I bought a blender and two weeks ago it went up in flames while I was pureeing organic strawberries. I no longer had the receipt so I told Ralf he would have to return the blender because I knew he would succeed where I would fail. During the course of trying to return a blender to a German store with no receipt the word 'impossible' was uttered at least a dozen times by various store employees. Ralf patiently worked his way up the management chain and informed the store manager that having an easy return policy is the lifeblood of commerce. 'This is why people buy lots of shit they don't need in the US,' he explained. 'Because they know they can take it back, no questions asked. And the stores know that when they do, they'll buy more shit they don't need. Now, give me back my money for this piece of shit fire hazard you sold my wife!'

Finally after about 40 minutes of this the manager told him in a hushed voice that if he wanted his money back he would have to sign a legally binding testimony that he had bought the blender at Marktkauf. The manager seemed to think Ralf would chicken out and head for the hills once he heard this news. Instead Ralf laughed and said, 'Bring it.'

Yes, my modern day he man did get our money back.

September 26, 2009

September 25, 2009

I am a chauvinist

I got an email from the Environmental Defense Fund this morning thanking me (and about 10,000 other people) for calling my Senators about the Murkowski amendment to the EPA appropriations bill.

What I didn't realize when I called my Senators is that Senator Murkowski's first name is Lisa. For some reason this really bothered me. I figured anyone who wants to weaken the EPA must be an overweight white Republican male from Arkansas who plays golf with former GM executives.

Sorry, Arkansas, I know you produced some of the most liberal thinkers of our time but I seem to be prejudiced as well as chauvinist. It's just that it's been years (decades, even) since geography class and when I try to think of a Southern state I always come with Arkansas.

Senator Murkowski actually is from Arkansas. And Republican. Presumably white, weight unknown. But definitely female unless she's a transvestite or something. Probably not, though, since she's a Republican in public office.

I'm not proud of my chauvinistic assumptions. Well, OK, I sometimes am. But I realize that women are as unlikely to recognize the environmental challenges we face as men.

Intellectually, that is. In my gut I expect women to know better. And it's not because I think women are better or smarter, but because women are the gatherers, the nurturers, the more future-minded. We worry about what kind of world our children will inherit and we guard their well-being more jealously than our own. Of course men do this too but it's different.

Remember that episode of the Brady Bunch where they go camping and the boys don't catch any fish but it's OK because the girls brought a picnic? That's what I'm talking about. The boys intended to catch dinner so they didn't bother with a back up plan. The girls knew better.

BTW, speaking of Republican men, who DID shoot JR??

September 24, 2009

A Bag of Rocks

I'm going to let you in on a secret: my purse is full of rocks.

It should only be full of one rock, a rock I took away from the wonderful boarding school I grew up at. Before they built a bunch of hideous mansion homes on it, generations of students lived there, went to class, rode horses and enjoyed other juvenile pursuits.

It was like Hogwarts with rodeo instead of magic.

I sometimes hold this rock in my hands when I feel doubt. You see, this rock is a physical connection to an earlier time when I had absolute confidence in myself and the world around me.

Today I'm not exactly a self-doubting shrinking violet but when I need a burst of confidence I hold my rock and imagine the warm Phoenix sun beating down on my face and the comfortable shape of Camelback Mountain.

But alas, when I cleaned out my purse yesterday I discovered not one rock but three, a bunch of hazelnuts and one fairly lame twig. And now I don't know which rock is my rock. I assume my kids snuck them in, because I'm definitely not the sort of person to go around putting rocks in my purse.

Well, OK, yes I am, but just the one.

I guess I'll be lugging around three rocks for the rest of my life.

September 23, 2009

Who do you trust?

Everyone's been asking me when I'm going to do another environmental rant.

Actually, no one has technically asked me this. But there are pictures below so stay with me.

Yesterday the Environmental Defense Fund asked me to call my Senators to protest the Murkowski amendments to the Clean Air Act being debated.

I called - and I hope you will, too - but that's not what this post is about.

Basically the amendment wants to let oil companies off the hook. There's a video you can watch here to learn more. The girl in the video kind of looks like Sarah Michelle Geller.

But anyway. There's a lot of media hype out there and it gets confusing so let's make it real simple:

Laura's Easy Two-Step Program to Navigating the Environmental Debate:

First of all, ask yourself: WHICH IS MORE LIKELY?

Option 1: Our planet is endowed with finite resources that are being used up as the population steadily increases. We are completely dependent on cheap energy. Increasingly scarce energy sources like oil can not remain cheap. Solar and wind power, if we invest in them now, will never dry up and we don't have to buy them from people who hate our guts. Building up renewable energy sources will also provide a new source of economic growth. If we miss this narrow window of opportunity to be collectively smarter than a slobber worm we're totally screwed.


Option 2: Exxon and other corporate executives want only what's best for you and don't need a bunch of pesky legislation to do the right thing. Seven billion people can use whatever they want, whenever they want, and it will have zero impact on our planet or our environment because God decides everything. Planetary resources that we use up are replaced by magical elves while we sleep. Environmentalism is somehow linked to abortions and same sex marriage.

So... I'm kind of leaning toward Option 1.

However, that still leaves the problem of how the heck to vote when things that sound great are secretly bad.

Let's face it, legislation is way too tricky to figure out on your own. Unless you're Lawyer Mom.

So, the second step is to ask yourself: WHO DO YOU TRUST?

I mean, more?

These guys:

Or these guys:
See? Easy peasy. Suddenly it all becomes clear.

Oh, and if you too would like to call your Senators and chat with a staffer who sounds about 17, click here to look up the numbers.

September 22, 2009

H is for Honeypiehorse

Why, you ask, do I call myself Honeypiehorse?
I apparently have two primary facial expressions: frowning and grinning ear to ear. I've often been asked why I'm glaring at someone, to which I protest, 'I'm not, I'm smiling benevolently!' But no one believes me.
Long ago when we were dating and I was grinning Ralf said, 'Du grinnst wie ein Honigkuchenpferd,' which means, 'You grin like a honeypiehorse.' I think it's kind of a ginger cookie shaped like a horse.
I didn't speak a word of German back then and 'Honigkuchenpferd' sounded incredibly sexy. I wanted Ralf to call me Honigkuchenpferd instead of Schlumpf, which is what he usually called me (that's German for Smurf, by the way). And when I signed up for Yahoo Messenger I wanted to be Honigkuchenpferd.
But then I ran into a little snag.
Honigkuchenpferd was taken! So were Honigkuchenpferd 1, 2 and several more until I gave up in disgust - I mean, who the heck wants to be Honigkuchenpferd 28?
So I settled for English.
And there you have it, the story of me.

September 20, 2009

What Happens at Oktoberfest Stays at Oktoberfest

Last year I wrote my first and still favorite blog post about Oktoberfest .
Oktoberfest is many things to many people. For some it is a chance to eat, drink and be merry. For others it is an opportunity to explore a more outgoing side of one's personality. And for many, it is a chance to hit on someone in a really low cut bodice and perhaps stagger home with them.
For me Oktoberfest is a celebration of men in leather pants.
Seriously. There is no man on earth with at least some degree of attractiveness that embroirdered deerskin knickers, a checked shirt and an enormous glass of beer will not materially improve.
Ralf has a fine pair of Lederhosen, dark green buckskin with tasteful embroirdering and hand-carved horn buttons. On his 6'4'' physique... well, let me put it this way, ladies: Ten years ago he showed up at work in cheap off-the-rack Lederhose and I promptly broke up with my fiance and moved to Germany.
But that's another story.
You may recall that last year we had a table reserved in the Hacker-Pschorr tent through an indirect connection of friendship with Frank, the plastic surgeon. This year Toby, who is a lawyer, got a table from a grateful client for opening day. Frank joined us this year as well, as did Elke, Tommy, Dirk and several non-German colleagues.
Dirk, a successful partner in a law firm and the kind of guy whose secretary is always in love with, comes to Oktoberfest to admire 16-year-old girls in their low-cut Dirndls and drink himself under the table. He was openly skeptical of inviting Americans to join us: 'Aw, really? They always throw up so early.'
After about two beers, I joined Elke in search of a bathroom, and like last year we were gone for over an hour. Not because it took so long to find or use the facilities but because Elke wanted to visit several of the other tents and I'm the ultimate drunken side kick.
Elke is director for HR at a German company and cuts a fine figure in her dirndl. I myself was dressed like a man, albeit a curvy one, with tan leather pants and a blue and white checked shirt. Not unattractive but nowhere near as eye-catching as Elke.
Don't think Daisy Duke, think Calamity Jane.
As we strolled the grounds an enormous man with a walrus mustache in the exact same outfit as mine nodded cordially and said, 'Nice pants!' He then drooled at Elke.
Last year I had hit that perfect level of tipsiness to sail to the front of all lines with a drunkenly apologetic smile and get away with it but that was - for me - an unusual combination of circumstances. Elke has that kind of mojo all the time so again we effortlessly cut to the front of the line at two different bathrooms and three beer tents.
Elke's impressive power over others also extends to people doing her bidding, as I noticed when she sent me to buy a bottle of water while she bought coffee. On a mission from Elke, the crowds parted before me like butter.
Ultimately we made it back to our table and our leather clad men and the rest of the evening progressed in the usual fashion, with more beer, roast chicken and toasts to friendship followed by pickled fish sandwiches and roller coaster rides.

September 18, 2009

The Schultuete

Here are a few photo's from K's first day of school where you can see some of the competing Schultueten. These aren't even the best ones - there were rocket ships, glittery ballerinas, exploding fairy fire crackers and all kinds of amazing Schultueten that I didn't film because I felt they were mocking me.
Please note that K's backpack cost more than my purse.

I also wrote a little poem on my other blog if you enjoy poetry:

September 17, 2009

Too sneaky for my own good...

So, after almost a full year of being cagey about referring to myself by name, you know, in case I offend anyone, unlikely as that is, I just noticed that it's right there in the blog header.

Nothing gets by me. Not forever, anyway. A year, max.

Just call me Sneakypiehorse.

Oh, and NIKOL, I borrowed your crochet cheeseburger dress for my new profile picture. I had to because it's so me.

September 15, 2009

First Day of School

Ah, the first day of school, that hoary old literary chestnut of so many blogging moms.
K started first grade today. We all got up at 6AM so we could be at the opening ceremony at the Catholic church. K was excited to see her old friends from Kindergarten, including Tina the Aethiest, while L pointed up to the domed ceiling and inquired loudly when the movie would start. She had a point, since our church is kind of shaped like a planetarium.
According to tradition, the godparent buys the all-important school backpack, which is a huge industry over here. Your backpack is with you until High School so they're built to last and cost around EUR 100, or $150. Accordingly, K set off with Uncle Oller to pick out a backpack but returned with a full set that included backpack, pencil case, gym bag and change purse.
That's my girl.
K also received her Schultuete, which is an enormous cornucopeia of sweets and toys. It is traditional for German children to get a big send off before they begin their 'serious life', which is defined by punctuality, rule following and filling out forms.
K got Ralf's old Schultuete, which is nice enough. Or so I thought. For I was AGAIN outdone by the German moms, who seem to have nothing to do but create fantabulous costumes and school bags for their offspring. Not a cheesy store-bought Schultuete to be seen.
One of the church deacons read a story about a boy who loses his Schultute and cries all the way to school. His kind teacher says, 'Don't worry, you have the most important thing with you to start school.'
Then the deacon asked the children, 'Can anyone tell me what the most important thing to bring to school is?' and one excited little boy yelled, 'PANTS!'

Bright lad. You can't go too wrong as long as you keep your pants on.

September 12, 2009

G is for Gravity

Our good friend Oller, K's godfather, puts a lot of thought into his gifts. He once gave me a book of short stories by Haruki Murakami in German because I lived in Japan. He also once scored me Munich opera tickets because my grandmother was an opera singer, although I was 9 months pregnant at the time so I opted out - it was Wagner and that's a lot of sitting.
And recently he gave me an Alpha Centauri DVD produced by the Bayerischer Rundfunk, a series of astrophysics lectures from Prof. Dr. Harald Lesch.
I adore astrophysics, being a closet astrophysicist myself. Since I was 13 I've been fascinated with black holes, quasars and warped space time. And Dr. Lesch has a casual, humorous speaking style that really brings these topics to life for the layman.
As Ralf and I watch the lectures our conversation goes something like this:
Ralf: That's the best description of the Planck Scale I've ever heard.
Me: Really? How come?
Ralf: Well, he's the first person who explained that the Planck Scale is where the inability to measure anything smaller intersects the event horizon, where nothing is emited.
Me: I dunno, that's just a fancy way of saying it's the smallest we can measure.
Ralf: Still cool, though.
Me: I guess.
Then, when Prof. Dr. Lesch explains Relativity, I get up in arms.
Me: How old is this video?? They've already proven that information can travel faster than light speed with those particles that are in two places at once.
Ralf: Don't be such an astrophysics snob.
Me: I'm so not! I'm totally down with the people on astrophysics. In fact, I would have been a great astrophysicist.
Ralf: You?
Me: Duh. I'm really good at math.
Ralf: You?
Me: Sure. I can do differential calcs in my sleep.
Ralf: But you suck at finance.
Me (with dignity): That's completely different.
Actually, maybe G is for Geek.

September 10, 2009

F is for Fitness

You may recall that I recently joined a gym that I've been attending on a pay-per-visit basis for about 8 years. One of the reasons was that I wanted to break out of my unmotivating stairmaster rut and get back into aerobics.

Yes, people, 'back into.' I was an aerobics instructor in college, although my workout regime has been pretty spotty since then. Sadly, I no longer have a heart like a horse but on the upside, I'm carrying around 30 fewer pounds than I was back then, so all in all it hasn't been a huge transition back to fat burning activity.

As a rule I don't like female aerobics instructors, although of course I was my own favorite instructor back in the day. Particularly not in Germany. German women tend to be a bit gamier than their American counterparts, due to more lean muscle and less sun screen. I don't mean they aren't attractive, far from it. Many of the women at my gym are drop dead gorgeous in that tan, toned, golden blonde, sky blue eyed way that well-heeled Californian housewives try to emulate.
Maybe just a tad leathery, but not in a bad way.

Then there's me. Well, you know what I look like. On a normal day, almost pretty. Although I must say that after two weeks of relentless aerobics I am starting to look almost hot, which I think trumps almost pretty. And I plan to plateau at almost hot because hot would be way too much work.

But anyway, German female aerobics instructors often have strict personalities and I don't feel like being scolded by Frau Willhemina Wunderbar while I excercise. The exception is my yoga instructor, Caroline, who talks like Kathleen Turner and always asks me in a throaty, wondering tone why I can't fold myself in half. But that's not scolding, she's just saying.

My favorite aerobics instructor is Christopher, a skinny, flamboyant young man who clearly enjoys putting the hottest women in Munich - and me - through our paces.

Of course, the best part is eating cake afterwards.

PS For those of you kind enough to send me warm fuzzies over at Working Girl I have a new post in which several celebrities make a cameo:

September 8, 2009

Crab update

K did indeed get two hermit crabs for her birthday, a big lazy one named Emma and a small intrepid one named Lily. The names came as no surprise since K names pretty much everything Emma or Lily.
She is nothing if not consistent.
One of her friends presented her with a pink painted snail shell and although I recently laughed about hermit crab bling, lazy yet vain Emma lost no time trying on the handsome pink shell and hauling it to a new location in the crab tank, far away from Lily's clutches.
K is completely unsqueamish about holding the scuttling crabs in her hand (well, Lily scuttles, Emma just sits there and sulks unless you bribe her with something flashy) and scolding them when they pinch. She also killed a small fly the other day with her bare hand, held it up between two fingers and asked if she could just leave it on the floor for the vacuum cleaner to pick up later.
That's my girl.
Er. . . sort of.

September 7, 2009

E is for Embarassing

Well, really, it's a shame E only comes around once because so many things are embarassing. Still, there's always H for 'Humiliating' so I'm going to blow my E post on the following:

K starts school next week and had her 6th birthday party yesterday so last Thursday we stopped by the school supplies store to buy notebooks, pens, glue, construction paper and other useful stuff.

The stern German shopkeeper ringing up the family in front of us handed the little girl a large box with ABC printed on it and explained that it was full of free supplies for kids starting school. The girl tripped merrily out of the store with her free box of stuff while K tracked her egress with narrowed eyes.

Then she fixed those same eyes on me expectantly and I understood that she also wanted a box of free stuff.

Come to mention it, so did I. I mean, free stuff. So while the German shopkeeper was ringing us up, with nary a word about free stuff, I informed her that K is also starting school.

'The box is only for kids who buy their school supplies here,' she informed me gruffly.

I guess my paltry stash didn't make the cut. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I tried again: 'Her father brought her last week and bought a whole bunch of stuff for school and he did not come home with a box of free stuff.'

She shrugged and handed me my change.

I shook my head sadly at K and we turned to go. She's very supportive in moments like these. She doesn't have a very high opinion of my success rate in confrontations with German shopkeepers but I do get credit for trying.


With an apparent change of heart, the shopkeeper ran into the back room and emerged holding a red shoulder bag with something in it. She presented it to K, who methodically sized it up and shook her head. 'No, thanks.'

I winced and smiled a weak apology. Next week's topic will be, 'Pretending you like something.'

Looking somewhat strained and clearly regretting her spontaneous half generosity, the shopkeeper said, 'Well, then, your sister can have it.'

She looked around for L and stiffened.

Then I looked around for L and stiffened.

L had apparently decided she spends too much time clothed from the waist down and had pulled down her pants and underwear.

'L, pull up your pants!' I whispered.

Delighted, she turned around and mooned us with some impressive wiggling action. Then she stood up and came forward to collect her free bag, pants dragging around her ankles and swishing loudly as she shuffled across the carpet.

Somehow all of this happened in slow motion.

Oh, and in any other country there would have been some friendly chuckles about this. Not so in Germany.

'Thank you,' I muttered, yanking up L's pants and pretty much running out of the store.

K, happily, kept her pants on.

And now, if any of you are part-time working moms like me, this post may interest you:

September 4, 2009

Red, Green and White

A flag? No, a meal!

Back in the 50s they had this cool concept of three colors on a plate. The idea was that you get more balanced nutrition by eating a variety of colored foods and a palette of colors looks more appetizing on the plate. Of course, the 50's housewives tended to serve a lot of meat and potatoes but the third color rule at least forced them to serve some spinach or steamed carrots to go with.

Food went all to hell in the 60's when presumably stoned housewives started serving revolting creations like chipped beef lime jello casserole but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, if you're trying to eat less meat and get pack in more vitamins why not try this quick, tasty meal?

Red: Fresh, firm, ripe tomatoes tossed with garlic croutons, oil, balsamic vinegar, basil and a bit of salt.

Green: Fry up a tiny bit of bacon for flavor, then add organic chard or kale until it wilts. Salt to taste. Looks beautiful on the plate next to the red tomato salad.

White: Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts.


September 2, 2009

D is for Discerning

My husband and I work for the same company, although our paths rarely cross professionally.
This is partly intentional, because who wants to be told how to do their job over dinner, and partly a matter of circumstance. Ralf heads up product management for our technology group, while I am responsible for a small corner of the world on the business applications side. Basically, I design compensation software and Ralf decides what development Tools will be available to the developers who build our software.
I know you were wondering.
Although one might assume that control over someone's domestic comfort confers a lot of power, for the most part I do my job without asking Ralf for favors. If presented with a technical limitation I brainstorm with a team of application developers to figure out a workaround.
Which means I don't usually have a chance to see my hubby in action. And he for the most part has little idea what I'm working on, at least not beyond what he occassionally overhears: '... that doesn't look right... oh, wait that could work... crap, no it won't... damn budget... why doesn't that add up right... Where the hell did he come from, he's not even assigned to this plan... Oh, for Chrissake, people, just use Excel... where's the chocolate?... wait. . .wait. . . I THINK I HAVE IT!!! YES!!! THIS COULD TOTALLY WORK!!! I CAN'T BELIEVE HOW MUCH I RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh, wait, no, that won't work, either. . . '
I like to share the love while I work.
But this morning I presented him with a business requirement that can't be met with our current development tools. It was a fairly complex requirement, since designing compensation solutions that will work for a broad spectrum of companies of varying size and diverse requirements without creating such a complex beast that no one can use it is not particularly easy. And my explanation wasn't all that great. But he totally got it and after hearing me out for less than a minute grabbed my pen and mapped out exactly what I was trying to say.
Some of you may recall that this is a man who can't run a load of laundry without turning my underwear pink, and thinks if you boil a raw chicken for your sick wife it will somehow turn into an edible and nourishing soup, but he can size up a poorly explained problem in under a minute and summarize the salient points.
So this post is dedicated to my discerning husband.
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