April 30, 2009
Glamorous as this sounds, this is a low-budget vacation. It is a borrowed Porsche. We will be staying with friends in central Italy then spending two nights in Milan with other friends to celebrate our 7th anniversary. We won't be having dinner at the Ritz, we'll be hitting our favorite pizzaria where the guy actually throws the dough into the air.
You can do this sort of thing in Munich, where four to six hours driving brings you to lots of hot vacation spots.
Sadly it is raining right now but I am confident it will stop sometime in the next four days.
We will, of course, be offsetting our travel emmissions with TerraPass, which is the environmental equivalent of a Hail Mary.
April 26, 2009
This is from Ralf's blog:
Congressmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey have submitted a draft of the American Clean Energy and Security Act 2009. This bill aims to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 83% compared to 2005 levels by 2050. This legislation will be the most important mechanism to avoid a severe climate crisis in the next 30-50 years. Whatever is going to happen in Congress this year will set the tone for the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December this year, driving responses from China, India and all other countries. You can follow discussions in the Sierra Club life blog named "broken record".
Other things you can do, courtesy of http://www.learningfundamentals.com.au/.
April 24, 2009
Jennifer Garner Mischa Barton Madonna
Kate Hudson (my personal favorite)
Cameron Diaz Jennifer Anniston
Also there's a quick petition you can sign to remind Congress that these next few weeks matter. This is our chance to either pass legislation that makes a difference or lose our window. All the technology's there to live greener lives with little inconvenience to ourselves, we just need the stakeholders of the old technology to get the heck out of the way.
Legislation is the most effective way to make that happen.
The alternative is to do nothing. And we know how that's gonna end.
Please sign here: http://www.repoweramerica.org/action/earth-day.
Kristina you are excused because I know you are working hard to destroy the earth with lethal humor but everyone else please sign.
April 22, 2009
Yesterday I dragged Ralf back to the shop where we bought the machine to get it fixed. As you can imagine, he loved the opportunity to carry a sewing machine four city blocks.
The sewing machine repairman, a young guy in mechanic overalls surrounded by sewing machines in various stages of repair, plugged it in and immediately proceeded to show off all the different stitches my machine is capable of.
His verdict was that I had threaded it wrong.
Ralf's verdict is that next time he's going to marry someone less lame.
My verdict was that they can both bite me.
So that the trip wouldn't be totally wasted, I bought some new bobbins. I pulled my wallet out of my purse to pay and watched in dismay as various decrepit receipts scattered to the four winds. Sighing, I handed the wallet to Ralf while I gathered up all my bits of paper.
Ralf looked like he was thinking something like: 'I can't believe I have children with this person.'
Then he remarked out loud to the sewing machine guy: 'Women's purses are scary as hell.'
'Oh, yeah,' agreed the sewing machine guy with feeling, 'and then if we leave, like, one sock on the floor they totally rip us a new one!'
April 21, 2009
April 20, 2009
April 18, 2009
April 16, 2009
I have one of these. It is called a Ma Roller and can be purchased in yoga stores or online. It is marketed as 'the Tool that gives you Very Deep Relaxation,' which strikes me as a slightly unfortunate word choice, but it really works.
Basically you lie on it and the wooden bulbs on each side of the dip push into your back on each side of your spine, using your own weight to apply gentle pressure.
It's wonderful. Totally cutting edge yet also ancient Chinese.
April 12, 2009
One last heartwarming Easter story before we move on to new topics. On Easter Sunday we took the kids to Wildpark Poing, which is an amazing animal park with petting zoos, play grounds, real bears and majestic peacocks that walk around everywhere. Like that one.
We ran into some Russian friends of ours and I was able to use the one Russian phrase I still remember from colleage: Prevyet - kak dela?
(Hi, how are you?)
Cool, huh? Practice it on your Russian friends, it is guaranteed to bring on a torrent of Slavik gibberish and maybe a flask of vodka.
Later we ran into a German family we know from Kindergarten and hung with them for the rest of the morning. The mom is a nice but harassed woman with three kids. We occassionally have a playdate but don't seem to have much to talk about. Possibly my effortless mothering annoys her.
As we were meandering she confided in me that she's been worried about Patrick, who has been deliberately scratching himself hard enough to draw blood lately.
Side note: Traditional German names like Hans, Peter, Dieter, Kai-Uwe, Michaela, Petra and Elke don't exist any more, everyone's Daniel or Patrick or Leia or Selena these days.
Anyway, I sensed an opportunity to be of use with my excellent advice and do some mommy bonding.
Me: Oh, I wouldn't worry about it, I did the exact same thing when I was a kid. I would scratch myself as hard as I could, sometimes with a knife or a protractor, just to freak out the other kids. And we used to rub the skin off the back of our hands with erasers in school. Mainly initials. It drove the teachers crazy. But I eventually stopped doing stuff like that and (comfortingly) most of the scars are gone now or at least faded. Well, you can still see the 'D' on my left hand but you have to really look for it. I'm sure it's just a totally normal phase.
Her (after a slight awkward pause used to put a little more distance between us): I'm glad you were able to get past... er, that. But I was actually thinking that Patrick's allergic to something.
Me: Oh. . . right. Yeah. That's probably it. Um, pretzel anyone?
I baked oat chocolate chip cookies.
I sewed new spring pillow cases for the girls.
I packed away all the drab old winter clothes and brought out all the pretty new summer stuff I bought on sale at Land's End last year - they have fabulous sales on kids' stuff and the quality is great so I always buy a size too big a year early.
I tracked down the California Baby sun screen I brought back with us when we moved.
I bought Easter dresses at Target (while visiting California, not here in the Teutonic Target free zone).
I finished the bead necklace I was making for Ralf's mom and another one for me.
I made a bracelet for K.
I prepared Easter baskets.
I provisioned for and prepared an Easter brunch with friends.
I procured enough Easter goodies for an official Easter egg hunt (fortunately, unlike Natalian, no monkeys swoop down into our garden to steal them).
And finally, I baked a strawberry rubarb pie using the first pie crust and filling recipes I found in the Internet.
Ralf said I missed my calling as the wife of a small town sheriff and asked for some stale coffee to go with the pie. But he ate every crumb and his dad also polished off two generous slices.
Clearly, my pie ruled.
Hopefully this is the week my children will choose to remember.
Next week stay tuned for less domestic me.
April 11, 2009
April 9, 2009
Over time we hope to get off the energy grid altogether, with solar panels and possibly geothermic energy, which Munich is now investing heavily in. Ralf researched heating systems pretty thoroughly and we ended up buying an efficient, top-of-the-line heating system that also has adapters for these alternative sources of energy.
I won't tell you how much it cost because money is so vulgar but let me just say that between the heating and the AMT tax we had to pay last year we didn't have much spare cash for quite a while.
The new heating system was installed and working before we came home. It is a proud example of German engineering, which means it will probably run forever but I have no clue how to adjust the temperature in our house and am therefore completely reliant on Ralf, who barely understands it himself and likes it cold.
In fact, I'm pretty sure that on more than one occassion this winter he told me he turned up the heat when in fact he just went down to the basement and came back up again.
And now let me just say that the guy who installed our heating is a fine specimen of Bavarian manhood. He looks like a cross between the Greek god Apollo and Juergen Prochnow, who played the cool, blue-eyed captain in Das Boot. His shoulders look like they're going to burst out of his shirtsleeves and he speaks with a thick Bavarian accent that reminds one of hard physical labor. This is the man you want around when your cow is giving birth.
Unfortunately he is not the man you want around when you need to install a new heating system.
We discovered the first problems early on when winter set in. First of all, we couldn't figure out how to make the house warm. That wasn't exactly his fault but he hadn't quite finished initializing the heating unit, either. We worked through that, more or less, but then the new heater in the attic took to banging in the night so ferociously that the entire house shook. It turned out a couple of pipes had been installed wrong, which got fixed in pretty short order.
Then the heater kept turning itself off due to some mysterious internal error code that requires a special handheld device to read. After much time on the phone with the installer and supplier it turned out that there was some air escaping somewhere, blah, blah, blah and the chimney would need to be re-installed or yada, yada, yada. Since this sort of work can't be done in winter the guy from the supplier adjusted the heater to a less efficient setting to tide us over. It wasn't ideal and certainly not the point of buying an ultra-efficient heater but at least we were warm again.
Then we got our Wattson, which indicated out that when the heater first turned on in the morning it was consuming an outrageous amount of energy.
Now that it's spring again the heating guy - let's just call him Apollo - was here this morning to fix the chimney but concluded that there's no problem with the chimney installation that he could find so the guy from the supplier is coming to run some additional tests.
And if the guy from the supplier actually shows up and he finds nothing I guess we're back to square one until our heater starts turning off by itself again next year.
April 8, 2009
You, too, can help save the world by taking a picture of yourself or family members in a hat or cap or bicycle helmut to spread the message about capping carbon pollution.
Cap it - get it?
Just like some fools believe that coal emmissions are harmless because big corporations use pretty marketing pictures to tell them so, other people will finally realize that we need to cap emmissions if enough people take pictures of themselves wearing a cap.
Look at that picture - doesn't it inspire you to help save the world so that I can continue to live in it?
And if saving the world is not motivation enough, you also get a chance to be featured in the Environmental Defense Action Fund's upcoming Earth Day video.
I'm clearly going to be featured.
Here's where to go, baby: Show Us Your Carbon Cap.
And let me just add that these guys really need our help because they may be good at lobbying but clearly don't know the first thing about Internet marketing. Most of the pictures posted so far are totally lame, which is why I'M going to be in the video.
April 7, 2009
I have now read The Hour I First Believed and for about the first 300 pages I pretty much hated it. But over time (it’s a big book), I grew to hate it less. Although I never learned to care about any of the characters in the book, I found myself admiring the author’s technique in more than a few places, as well as being impressed by the sheer breadth of the subject matter. Love him or hate him, Wally does his research and obviously put a lot of thought and effort into crafting this complex book. And it’s a surprisingly fast read.
Here’s the spoiler: Our hero, a HS teacher, is married for the third time in a somewhat lackluster marriage. His wife, Maureen, seems like a nice person but she cheated on him once and he never got past it. One day, when he is out of town arranging the funeral of his aunt, two high school students shoot up their high school where Maureen also works as a nurse - this part is based on the true story of the Columbine High School tragedy. Watching the news and not knowing if she's alive or dead, he realizes he loves her and rushes home, only to find her completely traumatized and unable to recover. Apparently her dad subjected her to some ambiguous sexual molestation when she was a child that leaves her unable to move on.
Side comment: Any book by Wally Lamb has to include child molestation, it’s like his signature move.
The first third of the book is building up to the Columbine tragedy, at which point the second section begins, which is all about Maureen falling apart. She sinks into depression and gets addicted to drugs, they go through psychiatrists they can’t afford like tissues and she is not able to go back to work so our hero is working two jobs to support them. Classic Wally Lamb. Maureen is extremely annoying in this section and I found myself wishing she’d just get in a car accident or something, which is my typical reaction to Wally Lamb characters. Finally she pulls herself somewhat together and goes back to work as a night nurse, at which point my own mood improved dramatically. But my relief was short-lived because, this being a Wally Lamb book, Maureen manages to get molested on the job during this fragile period and spirals back into drug abuse, culminating in her running down and killing a pedestrian while under the influence.
Now the third part of the book begins and in my opinion this is the best part because there’s finally more going on than people destroying their own lives. Maureen is sentenced to jail without parole for five years and our hero misses her but sort of gets on with his life. Maureen starts off extremely bitter and jail is horrible but over time she finds some peace and things get better. Meanwhile back at the farm they own (but are in the process of losing in a civil suit with the family of the guy Maureen killed) our hero allows two people to rent the upstairs to earn some extra cash. One of the new tenants discovers some old papers and uses them to complete her doctoral dissertation on feminine studies. There is an interesting historical side story here that includes Mark Twain and a whole cast of interesting characters that fought for the fair treatment of female prisoners. A family mystery involving two buried baby corpses is resolved. Some things seem to be improving, in particular our hero's relationship with Maureen, who suddenly drops dead from an aneurism. Our hero moves out when he loses the farm, gets his own little place, rekindles a few old friendships and starts working through the mountain of debt Maureen's life and death left him with.
Would I recommend this book to you? Not really, unless you’re a diehard Wally Lamb fan. On the balance I suppose it was a good book but it’s long as hell and kind of boring.
Let me put it this way: It's about a week since I finished the book and I’ve already forgotten the name of the main character. It’s not a coincidence that I refer to him as ‘our hero,’ I really have no idea what his name was.
April 6, 2009
Now I am deeply disturbed.
This is going to be a bit of a spoiler so be warned.
The first part of the books was really good, depicting life in an idyllic society where everything is planned and everyone is kind and coureous to everyone else. Parents are patient and talk at length with their kids, teachers take genuine interest, punishment is well-considered and fair and everyone follows the rules. They aren't exactly brainwashed but they do see themselves as contributors in a society and believe in the rules they are asked to follow. No one is hungry. Arguments end in respectful apologies. There is no war or want or neglect.
It sounded awesome.
Then our hero, a 12-year-old boy, nice kid, is selected to be the new Receiver for the community. We find out that this means receiving the collective memories of all people from all time, even the early days when there was war, hunger, neglect and murder. By receiving these memories he protects everyone else from having to deal with them.
This isn't the disturbing part, so far the book is still just intriguing.
What the boy discovers as he receives more and more memories are colors (which no one else in the community can see) and emotions (which no one else in the community can feel). It turns out that people have chosen safety and order over colors and emotions.
This is illustrated by what's going on at home. At first it seems like the boy has a perfect family life, with kind, patient, successful, openly communicative parents. Early on in the story his dad - not his real dad but one of the parental appointees responsible for raising him - brings home a third child, a baby boy who is not growing fast enough. The dad works with newborns until they are old enough to place in foster families and is concerned that this little boy isn't growing fast enough. He thinks he'll do better in a real home environment. The stakes are high because if the boy fails to meet his standard growth measurements he will be 'released' from the community instead of being fostered out.
So here we learn something disconcerting about the society but the dad seems like a good, concerned person who is genuinely trying to give the baby boy a chance. The whole family rallies around the baby boy, Gabe, and treats him with love and affection.
Gabe lives with them for about a year and a half at which time he has still failed to grow sufficiently and has difficulty sleeping through the night. The dad explains conversationally over the dinner table that Gabe will have to be released after all.
From his training as receiver, our hero knows this means that Gabe will be killed and is horrified by his family's casual attitude to this. He therefore decides to run away with Gabe in order to save him.
OK, I'm on board with that.
At this point the book is almost over. There are a few more pages describing his getaway with Gabe, how they hide from the search planes, how the memories he has received so far fade as he moves further from the community and finally, how they starve and freeze when they leave the cultivated community lands. By the last page, Gabe is a limp scrap of expiring life and our hero is trying desparately to keep him warm and alive with his last memories of sunshine.
Then, at random, they find a sled on a mountain top that the boy somehow knows will be there and sled down to some mysterious people that are supposedly waiting for them, which I assume is a comforting fantasy that occurs as they are both freezing to death.
I hated the end of this book. I'm not sure where these two boys were supposed to go once they left their safe, controlled community but surely freezing to death on a mountaintop wasn't the only option.
If anyone else who has read this book has a different interpretation I'd love to hear it. I'm haunted by thoughts of sweet little Gabe today.
April 4, 2009
April 3, 2009
It's gorgeous. It looks sleek and modern and intriguing. It has won design awards. We're the first kids on the block to have one.
Wattson measures the total energy output in our home. It glows with an approving blue light when the energy usage is low, which turns increasingly red as more energy is consumed.
Our kids have started turning out lights on their own in response to that subtle visual cue. They point to it and say, 'Mommy, Wattson's angry now so we have to turn some things off!'
Wattson is gently and politely changing our lives.
April 2, 2009
For the full backstory read these blogs in this order:
Choosing My Religion
What will we do?
The Plot Thickens
Current situation: After much discussion and weighing of pros and cons, we were able to form an enrollment coalition with Celia and Leia. Celia is and will remain Catholic but Leia has renounced being Protestant in order to have classes with K.
I’m guessing we got Tina the (not necessarily) Aethiest, too, but this has not yet been confirmed. I hope she doesn't end up in Protestant studies all by herself but life is hard.
Final note: Since we are trying to raise our children to be ethical rather than religious they will probably at some point decide to become nuns, which I wouldn't mind so much except I hate to think of them in the nun blowing machine.
April 1, 2009
But speaking of green, we try to buy organic and I’ve been wondering why all the people I run into in the local health food store are either highly anemic looking or else sporting a Communist flag somewhere on their clothing.
Shouldn’t the anemic people look more healthy after eating all that healthy food? And since when do Communists care about organic produce, which is kind of bourgiousie???
The world doesn't make sense any more. Or maybe it’s just me and I’ve got a gang of anemic organic-produce-eating Communists on my trail. . .
Also speaking of green, the Environmental Defense Action Fund and WeCanSolveIt.org (Al Gore's sponsored organization) have sent out a general alert that if you were ever thinking of signing a petition or donating money to help get green legislation passed, now's THE critical time to act.
Postscript: Whether you're bothered by global warming or not, there's just no way that burning coal and belching that smoke out into the air we breath is a good thing or that continuing to rely on oil is a viable long-term strategy. The coal and petroleum coalitions are spending a lot to influence policy to continue doing just that and (in case anyone is wondering where I stand on this) I am planning to send money this week to the organizations that are trying to stop them.