December 29, 2009

You know it's a new year when...

Yoga class is standing room only, in honor of the pending new year. In about a month it'll be practically empty again, except for the hard core students.

That's my big 2010 prediction, by the way. I'll take everything else as it comes.

Our cat: For 15 years our cat was estatic eating dry food and water. In fact, if we offered him something more interesting he turned his nose up at it. These days it's a bit different. He jumps up on the table while we're eating, wakes us up early so we can turn on the shower for him (he likes shower water) and expects me to cook for him. Nothing fancy, just chicken or lamb, lightly salted.

And now a couple of short family conversations to set the mood for 2010.

On presents:

K (indignantly from behind a mountain of fabulous presents): I didn't get anything on my Christmas list!

Me: Of course you did, darling. You got a math book.

(As it turned out she also later got a gold necklace from her godfather and was somewhat appeased. But I'm afraid she's concluded that Santa is totally bogus, or at least has an attention span problem.)

On cheeses:

Ralf (during dinner): Is this Comte cheese? You've gotta be kidding me. The French piss in a bucket, sell it to the Germans and laugh their asses off. Never buy Compte again.

Me: Um, OK.

On a final note, I noticed that in this picture of Ralf and me you can actually see a Dark Shadow looming over us:

How cool is that? Ralf says it's just a shadow but I know better. If I had any photoshop skills I would change it to a golden aura. I tried making us both gold but the dark shadow remained and it looked like we were burning in a nuclear fire so I gave up.

There are times when I regret my limited artistic ability.

Friends, I wish you all a boring 2010. I would wish you an interesting 2010, because it sounds better, but it's too much like the ancient Chinese curse, 'May you live in interesting times.'

So let's just go with boring, shall we?

December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas

Another Christmas, another round of antibiotics.

True to form, I came down with strep throat on Christmas Eve. Last year it was bronchitis, only I waited a month before going to a specialist for antibiotics and by that time I needed cortisone to heal some internal damage, including several microtears in my ribs that still twinge.

This time we called the specialist immediately so I'm already on my way back to health.

This is my first strep throat and I had no idea it was so agonizingly painful. The back of your throat swells to twice it's normal size and swallowing is a private microcosm of hurt. Technically, it only hurts when you swallow but how do you not swallow?

Still, it was a fine Christmas and I for one am heartily grateful that 2009 is nearly over. Even though there is a high probability that 2010 will get worse before it gets better, it's still nice to see the back of 2009.

Don't worry, we're all fine (well, except me, I've got my annual plague but I'm on the mend), and there have been some memorable high points, but all in all it was a very difficult year.

Anyway, enough about me. I just wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas season and a very Happy New Year.

December 23, 2009

On Snogging and First Cousins

While in Dublin I attended two parties, the office Christmas party that I already mentioned and a private party. The private party was a posh affair with champagne and finger food from Marks and Spencer being carried around on trays while people talked shop.

I myself chatted at length with a couple of Irish investment bankers living in London named Fergus and Rory, unless they were kidding about that.

Fergus has 108 first cousins. In a tiny town like Dublin this means you run into family quite a bit. And of course everyone attends Trinity University, so you have to be a bit careful who you snog at a party.

So sayeth Fergus.

I don't have any first cousins and found this insight into large families quite fascinating.

Incidentally, word about the American girl with no first cousins made the rounds pretty fast. When we took our leave several people I've never seen before in my life expressed sincere (albeit cautious) optimism that there might somehow be cousins in my future.

Merry Christmas, people. May you have many first cousins.

December 21, 2009

Let's Have a Pint

Hello, everyone. I just got back from Dublin, where our company had its European Christmas party. It was my first trip to Dublin, although I've visited most of Western Europe, and it reminded me of a small, racially homogenous London where people go for a pint before a party.

And after.

Great place, Dublin.

On Sunday we had a traditional Irish breakfast at Beweley's, a popular restaurant that is carbon neutral and makes a mean latte. Which goes to show that being carbon neutral doesn't mean you can't enjoy the finer things in life.

Ironically, while in college I never wanted to visit Germany because I was afraid I'd be arrested and disappear forever, which is of course nonsense, but American elementary school education kind of stops talking about Germany after 1945 and neglects to mention that all that militant heritage is now channeled into glaring at other people's children and recycling.

Naturally, I now live in Germany, because the universe has a sense of humor.

Then I didn't want to visit Ireland because I was afraid the IRA would bomb me and I was unconcerned with factual trivia like the fact that they don't actually bomb things any more.

Happily, I made it out of Dublin un-bombed, except in a purely literal sense.

Here's a picture: Separated at birth?

December 18, 2009

Earth to Brain

This post will probably offend some people but I need to get this off my chest.

The environment is a big topic, which means no one can predict exactly what will happen. There are several schools of thought and each does their best to discredit the others.

Common sense dictates that whether or not you believe global warming is caused by CO2 emmissions or by natural planetary evolution, the fact is that there are a heck of a lot of people on this planet using up resources and causing polution and that's a problem.

Can we at least agree on that?

And yet, I find otherwise rational people making the most far-fetched arguments against there being any sort of problem at all. Key words seem to be communism, conspiracy and Al Gore.

A summary of the key defense against global warming being true:

'Al Gore lives in a nice house. Therefore he is an evil capitalist lying about global warming to make money. The global warming message is a Communist plot. Therefore Al Gore is a Communist.* Communists lie. Therefore global warming is a lie.'

*Maybe he's a Communist during the week and an evil capitalist on weekends.

Feel free to leave a comment disagreeing with me but please don't use the C word.

I mean, Communism.

December 17, 2009

Playing the Hand You're Dealt

Princess Leia's cinnamon bun hairstyle wasn't Carrie Fisher's idea. In fact, there was a very real risk she'd go down in history as as Princess Dork Hair and be laughed out of Los Angeles.

Instead she carried it off with aplomb and became a Hollywood icon.

Make of that what you will.

December 16, 2009


Recently K has been very interested in anatomy. She wants to know things like how blood is pumped and why its red. The other day we were discussing the heart. After dealing with various technicalities of the heart's important job (none of which I understand very well so I made most of it up) she made the following observation:

'The heart is so icky.'

This prompted a surprisingly intense flashback. While I was getting my MA I worked as a research assistant in the political science department. That's probably why my political observations are always so spot on. Anyway, one day I was researching or smoking or whatever it was I did for a very small amount of money when another female student walked in.

We got to talking and it turned out she was a pre-med student who had just done her first autopsy and was clearly excited about it. Eyes glowing with the passion of someone who has found their true vocation, she said:

'The heart is so beautiful.'

I guess it all depends on your perspective.


December 14, 2009

This Is for PattyP

Patty's comment about bacon wrapped prunes:

"The key to victory on any of those [cooking] shows comes down to one factor: bacon. Whichever contestant puts bacon in the dish invariably seems to win."--Michael Pollan

Apparently you can wrap bacon around just about anything, and they'll go fast.

Thank you, Patty, for this timeless observation. I couldn't agree more and this one's for you:

Courtesy of Big Daddy Paul.

Also, 'chacon', courtesy of Kristina:

December 13, 2009

This and That

First of all, this breaking Human Resources news - snuggies are banned from the workplace. Read all about it here. This is the biggest HR news since the financial crisis broke, at least for Kristina.

I finished Hornet's Nest. It was good, although the end fizzled a bit. Please read it, it's way better than average.

Two more tips for you (I'm in an expansive, helpful mood):

1) Watch the movie 'Laura', an old black and white classic with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews; and

2) For delicious and easy appetizers, wrap prunes in bacon strips and back until bacon is cooked. If you want to be classy, stick toothpicks through them. Make a lot, they go fast.

Finally, K's long-awaited Christmas wish list - she didn't bother with any sort of greeting or salutation to Santa, just the list:

1. robot horse
2. math book
3. more hermit crabs (to ignore)
4. story CD about some magic horse with a weird name that sounds like 'Sternschweif'
5. real gold necklace
6. real sivler bracelet
7. tatoo pens
8. tatoo stickers
9. tatoo

Needless to say, she'll be getting the math book.

December 11, 2009

More OnThe Hornet's Nest

My name is Bondssen. Johann Bondssen. From Wisconsin.

I'm about halfway through The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and so far ich liebe es, although I'm not sure why exactly. Maybe it's the strong female protagonist, maybe it's the whole idea of overturning a government conspiracy, maybe it's the clever, understated dialog, hell, maybe it's the fish sandwiches. Whatever, I haven't enjoyed a new book so much in a long time.

On the other hand, I have to say I'm a bit disappointed in the Swedish secret police. Since the original bad guys are more or less dead, it's unclear why the new generation is so paranoid about keeping old secrets buried. Also as villains go they're pretty lame. I mean, it's convenient for our heroes that the secret police don't know seem to know the first thing about counter-espionage and have to hire a tame burgler to break into someone's apartment and don't realize the significance of PDAs and other handheld devices, but I find myself thinking, 'Really, Stieg?'

For crissake, people, I'D be a better spy than these guys. I even know someone who knows how to tap phones. But so far the plot seems to depend on them being not very good - and, to their credit, not evil enough to kill innocent people - or the book would have been over after the first chapter.

Also it's an interesting study of the Swedish political system. Even once the Prime Minister and about half the government and police force have been informed and agree there's a problem and want to stop whatever's going on, it still isn't anywhere near over because no one seems to have any actual power. It's a bureaucrat's Shangrila.

Please note that these are just my preliminary observations since I haven't actually finished the book yet. Knowing my boy Stieg, he still has something up his sleeve to tie it all together neatly and surprise me. I'll keep you posted, although I won't spoil the ending for you.

BTW for some reason blogger is not emailing me comments reliably, although I can check them directly in the posts. Is anyone else having this problem?

Perhaps they are being intercepted by the Swedish secret police, which probably has some sort of search engine looking for references to 'Stieg Larsson' and 'fish sandwiches.'

December 10, 2009

Christmas Reflections

Ralf comes home today. I have several nice surpises for him, like food and picking him up at the airport (which he knows, the surprise part is if I make it there on time without accidentally getting lured onto the sneaky road to Deggendorf).

I also have one or two unpleasant surprises in store, such as that I bought an Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas CD for the kids. I loved A & the C when I was a kid, and how Dave always yells, 'AL-VINNNNNN!' It totally rocks.

Then on the weekend Christmas will officially begin. We will acquire a tree and hang things on it. There will be music - possibly not the Chipmunks, my favorite Christmas music is Nat King Cole. We will get ready for the Christmas party we're having on Sunday. Cookies will be consumed with chai and/or coffee. Frangrant candles will be lit. Stuff like that.

Ralf and I each sponsor two children with the Christian Children's Fund and the SOS Kinderdorf. Well, actually, he sponsors two kids in Sierra Leonne and I sponsor one girl in Bolivia and an SOS Kinderdorf in Germany, where data privacy laws prevent you from sponsoring an individual child. Each sponsorship costs about $30/month and includes food supplements, education and medical attention.

Ralf read somewhere recently that it's good for the soul to give away 10% of your wealth to those in need. That's enough to notice but not enough to diminish your own quality of life. I haven't actually calculated if we actually do 10%, which means we haven't hurt our quality of life, but we definitely notice the money going out the door. So we're probably about right.

My sponsored child's name is Laura. I picked her because she has the same name as me (I'm very vain), lives in a very poor country and looked so sad in her picture. I first had the idea when L was born and I was home watching Roseanne alll day. I couldn't bear the thought of not having food or medicine for my perfect new baby and it actually tortured me to imagine any mother in that situation. So when the CCF commercial came on I picked up the phone. And once it turned out to be legit, Ralf did, too.

One of Ralf's sponsored children is truly poor. Her mother works in a different city, her father has some mysterious health issue and she lives with her grandmother in a small hovel. She once had a goat but it was stolen. Early pictures of her looked like she was jaundiced but since then she makes a healthier impression. One picture showed her at school - standing at her desk because there were no chairs. The other, a boy, lives in a Kinderdorf. His parents are dead. We receive occassional pictures and he looks very well-cared for.

My sponsored child is older (she's 8 now) and her family is less poor. Her father is a carpenter and her older siblings attend some sort of college. Once when I wrote to her and mentioned seeing a Harry Potter movie she wrote back to say she had seen it, too. Still, they are far from wealthy and there's no doubt with four children a bit of extra cash comes in handy.

Earlier this year I had a small crisis of faith about giving away my hard earned money. Last Christmas I sent Laura $50 as a combined birthday and Christmas present. It was a lot but I thought she could put it away for emergencies, higher education, what have you. Instead she bought a new designer bicycle.

This bothered me, which also bothered me, because a gift giver doesn't own the recipient. But my own kids drive used bicycles and their presents added up to about $20.

After thinking it over I decided I wasn't upset with Laura - who could blame her for wanting a flashy new bicycle? - but with the CCF that advises the family. Finally I wrote them a note explaining that they shouldn't assume I'll always have an extra $50 to give away and they should have encouraged the family to save the money. I added that I signed up with the CCF to fight true poverty, not buy luxury items.

They wrote back about how much Laura needed a bicycle and how used bicycles break faster and how excited she was. And there the matter dropped.

I still sponsor Laura, although I rarely hear from her these days. I remind myself that I was a lousy corresponent when I was 8, too, and trust she's enjoying school and life. The money I give to CCF benefits the entire community, not just her, making school and medical attention available to more people. So it's all good.

But this year she gets $20. Same as my kids.

December 8, 2009

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The third Stieg Larrson book just arrived. It's fat. I'm excited.

A word about the trilogy's heroine, Lisbeth: She is a genius with a photographic memory. She is perfectly peacable as long as people leave her alone. If they try to harm her, she takes over their computer, then kills or maims them.

It's easy to see why these books are so popular.


Yesterday the girls had Turnen, or gymnastics. I'm making a Christmas video of the girls for my mom and grandma and I took it along to film some footage.

Tournen is fun to watch because there's just nothing cuter than a bunch of little kids gallumping around giggling. I have great respect for the teacher Ingrid as well - because, let's face it, the job is like herding cats.

Because I was filming, K was on her best behavior. She repeatedly hugged her sister and helped her balance on a bench they were supposed to walk across. Not that she's usually mean to L, she's actually pretty decent as big sisters go, but yesterday she went all out.

This means she has figured out that it pays to act nice when people are watching.


December 7, 2009

Putting Away Childish Things

I finished The Girl Who Played With Fire yesterday. The ending was a bit over the top if you think that someone who's been shot in the head and buried alive wouldn't normally be able to dig themselves out and go on a killing spree but I still enjoyed it and just ordered the third book.

While I was making dinner for the kids I overheard this conversation:

L (4 years old): Santa is just a man in dress up.

Ex-cuse me? Where did that come from?

K (6 years old): You're not supposed to say that. I know it, and Mommy knows it, but Papa doesn't know it.


L: Oh.

K: You can't tell Papa or he'll be sad.

L: OK.

Poor Ralf. I'll have to try to find the right moment to break it to him.

December 5, 2009

Peaceful Easy Feeling

Ralf is in California. The girls are with their grandparents.


It often surprises people to hear this - I guess because I'm kind of loud - but I am an introvert. Some of you may already know this, but being an introvert does not mean you fear people or spend all your time in creepy chatrooms while hacking into the national security database. It simply means you recharge when you're alone, as opposed to extroverts, who recharge in the company of others.

Before having kids, I used to spend several hours a day alone, or at least incommunicado, mostly reading with a cup of coffee (add a fish sandwich to that and I could be mistaken for a Swede!). If Ralf or some other boyfriend wandered into the room, my curt responses soon drove them off again, unless they came bearing food.

If I didn't get this downtime I got kinda cranky.

Fast forward to married me with a job and two kids. I've adjusted my expectations and no longer expect to spend two hours a day reading with no interruptions. Which is good, because I'd be very cranky indeed all the time, instead of just mildly cranky.

When Ralf is gone the girls get to sleep in our bed with me and the sound of their peaceful snuffly breathing fills me with such deep happiness I can't describe it.

But when everyone is gone for a day and night, I get to be me again. Here are the exciting things I've done since last night:

1. Fixed a tray of bread, cheese, prociutto, grapes and a glass of red wine.

2. Watched 3 episodes of Buffy, season 5. I've seen them all before but still enjoy them. Riley recently took off and Buffy's relationship with Spike is evolving. I miss Riley, he's competent and clean cut like Ralf, but I like Spike, too.

3. Went to bed at 10:30 and woke up at an extravegant 9:30.

4. Enjoyed 2 cups of hot, fresh coffee and homemade biscotti in absolute silence while reading The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. Despite everyone being a bit slow to follow up on various leads, it's an excellent read.

5. Although not particularly religious in a churchy way, prayed for Stieg Larsson and thanked him for providing me with such a peaceful and enjoyable morning.

At 15:00 I'll go to my Nike Fighting Fit class, then pick up the girls. Tomorrow we'll hang out at home and watch Year Without a Santa Claus together.

I wish you all a peaceful weekend.

December 3, 2009

Another Beauty Secret

Yesterday I divulged my secret cookie diet. Today I will let you in on my favorite skin care secret.

About a year ago I noticed that L'Occitane had a line of expensive facial creams containing olive oil. I reasoned that if the key ingredient is olive oil, I could skip all the costly parabens and go right to the source.

That's right, I tried putting a light coat of olive oil on my face before bed and the results have been at least as good as using some $50 cream full of carcinogenic ingredients and neurotoxic fragrance. (Oh, you didn't know the FDA doesn't regulate 'fragrance'? Watch The Story of Stuff if you haven't already.)

Anyway. I don't do this every night because it makes me shiny and, um, hungry but roughly a couple of times a week, especially in winter when everything's so dry. It absorbs pretty quickly in winter.

The only drawback is that olive oil comes in such large bottles, completely unsuitable for toiletteries, so I recently purchased some sweet almond oil for travel.

This works almost as well, although Ralf says I smell like a big marzipan.

I'm not sure if that's better or worse than smelling like a bread salad.


December 2, 2009

The Amazing Cookie Diet

The diet that works for cookie monsters, who can resist anything except really good cookies. It's very simple. Eat only cookies in December. The rest of the year you won't want to see anything resembling a cookie. You will probaby gain about 5 pound in December but lose 10 over the rest of the year. It really works, I kid you not.

Disclaimer: If you're more of a potato chip or salty snack monster, this diet obviously won't work for you. Sorry.

December 1, 2009

An Apology... of Sorts

Tina the Athiest had a birthday party on the weekend, which K attended. Since I was off to my Nike Fighting Fit class, and Tina has a younger sister that L got on well with in Kindergarten, we thought maybe L could go to the party as well.

Accordingly we dressed her up in a cute little skirt and tights and even brushed her hair. Then Ralf set off for the party with the girls and I headed out to the gym.

When I got home K was still at the party but L came running to greet me. Apparently she was not allowed to stay at the party, for reasons Ralf was unable to explain satisfactorily. So we read some books and played Memory until it was time to pick up K.

Yesterday during gymnastics after school Tina's mom approached me. "Sorry I couldn't invite L to the party this weekend," she said. "But it was really for older girls. I think K had a nice time, though."

I assured her that I totally understood.

She continued: "My youngest daughter didn't want her there. She doesn't like L."

I found this additional explanation unnecessary and somewhat offputting, but allowed that chemistry is important at parties.

There was more: "K and Tina get along so well. Maybe we could do a playdate at our house. Just K, though, since my youngest daugher detests L."

Please note that 'detest' is my translation of, 'Sie kann L nicht leiden,' and is probably harsher than intended.

I managed to respond that play dates are fun and omit any reference to flying pigs.

Later I reflected that I may have been too hard on her, at least in my thoughts. She has three small kids and the last thing she needs is an extra kid in her house that her middle child won't play with. And it's not like I've never been so intent on explaining something that I offended somebody about something.

But still. Who could resist this sweet little schnookums???
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