29 December, 2006

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash*

I have just spent 22 hours in bed. Ugh.

We all have our own steadfast traditions for Christmastime. Some people bake cookies; some create intricate Christmas cards. Our family cultivates virulent viruses. And we share them with a vengeance. Every. Single. Year.

Forget romantic snowy vistas, for me the term “White Christmas” conjures up the color of our faces just before we toss our (sugar) cookies into the nearest bin/ bag/ toilet/ park.

And as I sit here completely enfeebled on the couch I’m not sure which is worse: the Ghost of Sickness Past or the Ghost of Sicknesses Yet to Come. Because it’s only a matter of time before Jacob Marley rattles his chains and the next family member takes his turn as the newest WC accessory…

It’s kind of suspenseful to see who will fall prey to the Holiday Ebola next—perhaps we should set up a pool. It would be nice to be able to earn some extra cash to spend at the sales.

If you’re reading this right now that means that you’ve been fortunate enough to dodge us and our contagious holiday greetings. Hope you’re healthy and happy and ready to ring in the new year!

*The quote for the title comes from Clement C. Moore's "Twas the night before Christmas" and the double entendre used to crack me up as a kid. It hits a little too close to home these days...
...When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash...

23 December, 2006

Straight out of left field

I've read a lot of parenting books. Have mined countless parenting-related websites.

But nothing can ever really prepare you enough to know how to react when your kid comes downstairs with a bloody nose and an explanation that starts off with:

"We were just playing volleyball with those two plastic chairs in our room and..."

22 December, 2006

Does this sound familiar?

This just cracks me up!

20 December, 2006

Please tell me you didn't do what I think you did!

Heard giggling upstairs while the boys were having their bath. Went up to investigate and:


Haven't seen anything like this since the days when B used to produce floaters in the tub as a free-and-easy toddler.

Even the dog was impressed!

It took several seconds before I remembered that Sinterklaas had given bath dye to the boys in their stockings.

They were so psyched. B couldn't even sit still and all of a sudden he blurted out:



Pitfalls in the German school system

Recently on the way to school S started crying. "I've got to go to the bathroom but I am afraid to! A couple of times when I've been on the toilet some other kids have taken the key and locked me in there-- and then I got into trouble with my teacher for not coming back to class right away!"

So when we got to school I went with him to the restrooms and waited outside the door until he was finished. He was so relieved afterwards that he gave me a big hug and said "Thank you for waiting, mama." And he was so earnest and grateful that it broke my heart.

I don't get the feeling that S is being singled out. These kind of things happen at random and are not caught because there is no supervision in the halls in the mornings or on the playground during recess. I've had more than one parent tell me how helpless they feel because their first graders are being terrorized during breaks, coming home with scratches, bruises and hair-raising stories. It's apparently a sport for fourth graders to attack random first graders! And the parents go to the school director who promises to take action, but the situation doesn't change.

I am having a hard time understanding the aggressive atmosphere that seems to pervade school life here. The teachers, stressed out to the max by large, rowdy classes, end up taking out their frustrations on the children. S's screaming teacher is not an exception to the rule-- that kind of behavior is apparently tolerated here and is even considered normal!

And when teachers are hostile toward their students is it any wonder that the children are, in turn, aggressive with each other?

I'd considered the possibility of changing schools but have heard from other parents that the situation is no better in other places. There is a private school near here that has an excellent reputation. There's just one problem: because so many desperate parents have started yanking their kids out of our public school and enrolling them in the private one, the classes are now stretched to the limit and similar situations are occurring.

And there's an additional problem that I'm starting to notice here. The German school system is set up in a way that the children have shorter school days. They get home at lunchtime and then continue their schoolwork at home in the form of homework. Which puts the onus on the mother for a sizeable chunk of the child's education. (A friend from Michigan laughed when I told her this and said "So basically you're homeschooling?" which really isn't that far from the truth!)

I am very lucky in that I am well off enough to be able to afford to stay home and guide S in his homework. I am also well-educated and am far enough along with my German that I can actually help him when he needs it. But not everyone has these advantages. In this way the system actually discriminates against the students who need the most help and ensures that they will lag behind their peers.

In spite of the odds S is adjusting to school here and seems to have found some sort of fragile equilibrium with his teacher. But I can't help but wonder about the future of a generation that is being socialized in this kind of environment.

18 December, 2006

Hey hey BABY!

Last thursday I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and played hooky from class. Which gave me the same sort of rebellious adolescent thrill that I used to get when I skipped class in high school. (So my enrollment in the VHS is worth it even if only to recreate that heady excitement!)

Decided to pamper myself so I went out for a facial, something that would never usually even cross my mind. It turns out our salon had a special on a super dee-luxe treatment that included a massage and a masque. And then afterwards she even did my makeup.

All was well until I passed a mirror on the way out-- I looked like a two bit hooker! (the makeup was probably expensive, though, so maybe we're talking 2 1/2 or even 3 bits.) Pink and blue eyeshadow, thick lip liner and triple-coated eyelashes that would probably have better suited a drag queen! She'd even spackled me!

But at least after the massages I was totally relaxed; I probably could have made some extra tips if I had hit the corner right afterwards. And now I know where to go for prepping if I ever decide to change professions...

Image thanks to Günter Hofstädter

17 December, 2006


This afternoon we took a 2+ hour hike in the woods. Got back about an hour ago and have been snuggled up on the couch with a cup of tea and listening to the sweet, mellow sounds of James Taylor. All is right with the world...

14 December, 2006

Of course! What was I thinking? (II)

S: Tomorrow I have to bring my favorite stuffed animal to school for show and tell. I was thinking of bringing Tom.

Me: Oh really? Your monkey? That's a good choice!

S: No, the frog.

Me: Wait-- I thought the monkey's name was Tom.

S: It is. (goes back to staring out the car window)

Me: ??? Hang on-- they're both called Tom? That sound confusing! How do they know which one you're speaking to when you talk to them?

S: Because the monkey is called Tom with one m and the frog is called Tomm with two m's!

Crazy dancing guy (III)

Following up on last week's theme on krazy dancing (including Napoleon Dynamite and random crazy person) I just had to include this video that Davezilla had on his site today under the title: "You will never be this cool". Enjoy!

13 December, 2006

Need a laugh II

Davezilla had a link to this version of "Oh Holy Night" on his website. I am still cracking up over this one-- just when you think it can't get any worse it does! :-D

Update: Down in the comments it says that NPR rated it as one of the year's most annoying songs in 2002. rightfully so. :-)

Deck the Halls

I've had some really interesting feedback to my last two postings, including a few very thought-provoking emails. Don't worry, I'm not actually feeling as cynical as my post may have sounded. Or maybe I am, but it doesn't really have anything to do with being an overworked, overwrought mother. Those are just observations that I've made over the last couple of weeks and something I can empathize with.

I think my malaise has more to do with a post-move dip than anything else. We seem to be mixing too many December holidays and I'm having a hard time figuring out what traditions our family should follow.

M's family has always celebrated Sinterklaas and mine has, of course, its own American Christmas traditions. But at the moment we're also having to pull in elements from German Weinacht for the school and kindergarten.

I feel obliged to pass that magical holiday feeling on to my kids but am at a loss as to how I should balance these three holidays. Especially since I don't personally feel very drawn to any one of them... This makes me feel very guilty.

Every now and then I forget that we're still in transition. I'm sure that next year more of the pieces will have fallen into place. We'll hopefully feel a bit more comfortable in our own skins and then the picture will be clearer.

For now, though we're celebrating in a rather haphazard way, and I guess I should try to make the best of it... Any tips for how your family ends up balancing different cultural traditions?

12 December, 2006

Your brain is full of spiders, you've got garlic in your soul**

I can't stop thinking about yesterday's post and the plight of modern day mothers. I've been thinking about this a lot lately-- especially in light of the added responsibilities of the Christmas season.

Christmas is supposed to be a happy, carefree time; one that people look forward to all year long. But I've hardly seen any Christmas cheer this year-- and this has nothing to do with Germany, rather it's the product of modern society. That mothers who are already at the end of their ropes are landed with the extra responsibility of decorating, baking, shopping and still maintaining a warm, happy demeanor.

Last week I got home to a hysterical message on my answering machine-- a mother from our playgroup who was near tears about a glitch in a Secret Santa gift exchange. And of course it wasn't the gift exchange that was the real problem, she's got 4 kids under 5 and is feeling completely overwhelmed at the moment. But the point is that the added stress of organizing the gift exchange was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Yesterday a neighbor dropped by to pick up a document I'd edited for her. I could tell when she walked in the door that something was wrong. When I asked "Everything OK?" she rolled her eyes. "I HATE CHRISTMAS!" she groused, obviously relieved to be able to vent to someone. "I was already stretched to the limit and now there is so much more to do on top of it-- I'm just SO tired! I can't wait until the holidays are over!"

And I can completely empathize with this statement. I recently confided to another friend that Christmas seems like a chore. Something that has to be done for the children's sake, but which is not at all enjoyable. This is a feeling that's further complicated by the fact that I am not Christian and cannot identify myself with the holiday-- I celebrate it merely because it is a cultural phenomenon and a tradition that I feel obliged to pass on to S and B.

Modern women may have made a lot of strides in the struggle to choose the course of their lives, but sometimes these victories can also spell our downfall. The more choices we have, the more we take on, and we're starting to lose a part of ourselves in the process.

I have no solution for the problem, but merely wanted to acknowledge it by putting it down in writing. And, of course to elicit comments, because I'm curious if the rest of you are sharing the same experience.

**10 points for anyone who recognizes the quote in today's title! :-)

11 December, 2006

Culture clashes

Agitated Iraqi Guy is starting to seriously work my last nerve. He's openly disdainful towards women, in spite of the fact that he's a minority in a roomful of earnest, hardworking females. You would think he'd have the sense to keep his mouth shut. But instead he continues to make snide comments and at some points is even disrespectful to the teacher. It's unbelievable!

The topic of today's rant was that modern mothers complain too much-- they say they are busy when in reality they are just lazy. Look at their grandmothers-- they were at least busy washing clothes by hand and baking their own bread. Contemporary women choose to sit on their laurels, let the street raise their children and complain about their ill fortunes. (And he's serious when he says these things!)

Normally I just let him talk and don't rise to his bait, but it just so happens that I was still doing laundry and scrubbing our toilets at 10pm last night because it was my first real opportunity to do so.

I tried to present a logical argument in which I said that, yes, our grandmothers spent more time on household chores, but that left less time over for raising their children. Much of the time modern mothers now save on household chores we spend on stimulating our children and overseeing their development. The world has become more complicated and so has the task of shaping our children's characters. We talk to them more, are more involved with their schoolwork.

To which he responded with more generalizations and flippant remarks. Unfortunately the angrier I got the less articulate I became. Which means he quit listening to me about 30 seconds into it. (If he was listening at all in the first place-- I am, after all, lower than a donkey according to his reference point.)

I suppose I'm learning a lot about life (and ignorance) through my interaction with him but have to admit I will not be sorry to see him go when we finish this module...

09 December, 2006

For rent

I've decided to rent out some of the space in my dog's head. It's a shame to let it just stay vacant. Let me know if you know anyone who might be interested.

07 December, 2006

Hip headwear

M and I went shopping for Sinterklaas gifts last weekend. And while we were in the mall we decided to pop into a department store to get him a new winter hat and scarf. We felt a little ridiculous shopping for woolen accessories with temperatures outside hovering above 15 degrees Celsius, but that lent a bit of a comical aspect to the whole adventure.

M tried on a couple of lined caps-- most of them had earflaps. And of course they looked absurd, because, let's face it, there are very few people who can actually get away with wearing earflaps and not look like they're a product of inbreeding.

But, OK, it's supposed to get cold here, and M has cute ears and I would hate for them to turn black and fall off just because I'm worried about how cool he looks. (or what his appearance says about me.) So he finally found one in which he looked only mildly retarded.

We were tired and punchy and I was all: "Fine, that's great, honey, can we go now?!" I had definitely had enough of the mall.

And that's when we heard someone hiss "Das sieht scheisse aus!" (literally: "that looks like shit!") We looked at each other incredulously-- and then we heard it again! And suddenly a salesman popped out from behind a rack and said "You can't buy that. You look absolutely ridiculous."

I think I might have reinjured my jaw when my chin hit the floor. But M, blunt Dutchman that he is, was completely unfazed. He said "Well, I'd rather you tell me that now than that everyone else think it to themselves after I've bought it."

And so I asked if they had something in stock that might be a little more trendy. Within about 30 seconds he had put together a matching hat / scarf / glove combo. Which was more along the lines of what we used to see on drunken Russian men who slept off their hangovers on local park benches in Moscow.

But according to this high-maintenance, arguably hip salesguy M now looks "GEIL!" (Cool!) And that's what it's all about, isn't it? ;-)

06 December, 2006

Of course! What was I thinking?

B: Mamaaaaaa! I have a present for you!
Me: Oh, a walnut, how nice!
B: NO! It's not a walnut! It's actually a bowling ball, but it just LOOKS like a walnut!

03 December, 2006

He made it!

On Christmas eve when we were kids we left a glass of milk to quench Santa's thirst. Times have changed and our kids have been influenced by their time in Belgium. The drink of choice to keep Sinterklaas happy? A bottle of beer!

Believe it or not S was not drinking beer in this next clip. We were singing Sinterklaas songs and true to tradition he became completely wired on chocolate and antsy anticipation of all the presents he hoped to receive:

He was also extremely nervous: what if Sint and Piet lost their way on the way here from the Netherlands?

The good Saint must have had a good GPS, though, because he somehow managed to find us here in small town Germany. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door and when we opened it we found two huge sacks full of presents!


01 December, 2006

Stardate December 6th

On December 6th we're supposed to be celebrating Sinterklaas along with 15,999,996 other Dutchies. And I haven't even started with presents, gedichten, traditional treats, etc.

Normally this might induce a panic right in line with forgetting to do my taxes or losing my dog, both of which have shortened my life significantly in the last three months. Procrastinating Sinter Klaas preparations is a really, really bad thing to do.

And yet here I am, spinning my wheels, running off in 4 different directions at once and I haven't given Zwarte Piet a second thought.

And that's where my guardian angels come in. My parents-in-law called on Wednesday-- said that they know we're busy and how would we like it if they came over and brought Sinterklaas with them? With all the trappings! It's like I've just been offered the ultimate Pimp my Holiday!

So tomorrow we will enter into a timewarp-- we will magically be transported to December 6th-- there will be presents and goodies and more than a few silly poems. Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh. That's the best Sinterklaas present anyone could have given me! :-)

30 November, 2006

Got canned heat in my head tonite baby!

Think I'm fighting off a cold. Am feeling crummy and run down so I took to the couch and started mining YouTube. (Have I mentioned lately how much I looooooooooooove YouTube?!) Spent the afternoon cracking up at clips from Harold and Maude.

Figured I could continue on the crazy man dance theme from earlier this week by giving you a little taste of Napoleon Dynamite. :-)

29 November, 2006

Yet something else we take for granted...

We've started a new German class and the Iraqi who visited last month has joined us. He seems less agitated but I'm still dreading the moment when he finds out I'm American since he was so aggressive when talking about our involvement there.

Today we were talking about the way in which Germans celebrate big wedding anniversaries. (So 25th, 50th, 60th, etc) And the Iraqi raised his hand and said incredulously-- How can you even have custom for a 50th wedding anniversary? Is there anyone who actually lives long enough to celebrate it or do Germans just get married when they're 10 years old?

Luckily the teacher didn't gloss over the question-- she actually took the time to explain that life expectancy is just higher here than in many other places. Think our class discussions are about to gain a whole new dimension...

27 November, 2006

Need a laugh?

Am feeling punchy this afternoon and this cracked me up!

23 November, 2006

Integration Schmintigration

S continues to have problems with his teacher. Tuesday he came home in tears and had a complete meltdown. Apparently he'd forgotten to do part of his homework assignment and she humiliated him in front of the class!

Went in to talk to her yesterday-- said I didn't know what happened in class on Tuesday but that he was extremely upset when he got home. That he's a pleaser by nature and that when she acts aggressively it really upsets him. That he's very afraid of her and that I felt it was important that she is aware of this.

She actually apologized for shouting at him-- said she'd been stressed out and that she might have overreacted. We talked about ways that we might improve the situation. And then she did her usual maneuver and sidestepped by asking about our dog.

When I said I didn't have her with me because I'd come straight from my German language / integration classes she responded:

"What? But your German is GREAT! I thought those classes were only for Russians and Africans and not for people like you!"

?????!!!!!!!!!! WTF?

I was so offended by this comment on so many levels!
  1. Why does she automatically assume that "people like me" don't have to make an effort to integrate?!
  2. I have a hard time understanding how a German could be disparaging towards people (from any country!) who are willing to spend 24 hours a week studying the language (plus homework) in order to better integrate themselves into society here!
  3. I was embarrassed and insulted on behalf of the Russian woman in my class who speaks much better German than I do and who probably has had to work a lot harder to achieve this than I have since she didn't have Dutch as a basis to start with.
  4. And on top of it all I'm really annoyed by the fact that S's teacher was trying to manipulate me, thinking that if she flatters me that I'll overlook the fact that she's undermining my child's confidence and thirst for learning!
I'm getting angry again even just writing this. Think I'm going to close for now-- have some homework to do so that I can continue to integrate... :-P

22 November, 2006

Unruly Pilgrims and small beer

Spent yesterday aftenoon at our English language playgroup coercing encouraging a group of unwilling 5 year olds to create Pilgrim costumes out of paper bags.

B was done with his in about three minutes. Apparently he was paying homage to the Pilgrims' asceticism because he had no intention of decorating his "costume" at all. He spent most of the session distracting other children by reinacting the Pilgrim's more seasick moments.

I'm sure we've made ourselves reeeeeeaaaaaallllly popular there.

Raced home, made dinner and then had to attend an Elternstammtisch at a local sports bar. I'm on the parents' committee for the Kindergarten and this was a small get-together so that the parents could get to know each other.

Got there and everyone was sitting around quietly drinking tea. ??? I was dead tired and feeling anything but social, so I bucked the trend by ordering a beer-- the waitress nodded and asked "Eines halbes?" and I thought: "GREAT! A half beer! I can knock that back without being conspicuous or looking like a beer-swilling pirate."

She brought it to me and I was shocked- it was HUGE! Because of course what I'd ordered was a HALF-LITER of beer! (Which I ended up thoroughly enjoying anyway and managed to make it through the rest of the evening without biting anyone, so all's well that ends well...)

Slightly rumpled, partially used posting.

One thing I really like about the Germans is that their commitment to recycling. I'm trying to follow their example and recycle as much as possible.

Which explains why I have no qualms about reusing the content of an email I wrote to a friend today. Have no time or energy at the moment to come up with something new so I'm going to pull this out of the bin, dust it off on my sleeve and pass it off as a fresh blog posting.

So without further ado, here's my response to a friend's request for news:
  1. The dog got trapped in the laundry room sometime between breakfast and the time we made our mass exodus this morning. Price of this mishap? One spiderman shirt which now looks like S received 40 lashes while wearing it.
  2. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I'm torn between doing the right thing and pretending that I've never heard of this integral American holiday and all the hoopla that surrounds it. Feel obliged to prepare a big meal but have no time, energy or inspiration. Bought a prefab roast chicken this afternoon and will try to think up some quicker / easier variations on all the side dishes.
  3. Despite repeatedly embarrassing myself I continually forget that the verb "to call" in German is "anrufen". Instead I insist on using the Dutch verb "bellen", which in German means "to bark like a dog". That's gotten some strange looks...
  4. Everyone here seems to think my name is "Betty" and cannot remember "Betsy" for some reason. Betty reminds me of a waitress in a roadside diner. With bad shoes and a wad of gum in her mouth.

21 November, 2006

Today in numbers

5: a.) amount of hours I spent in German class and doing homework afterwards.
b.) the number of dustpans full of doghair I hurriedly swept up before the landlord arrived to inspect an electrical problem.
c.) the number of places that gum was transferred to our tile floors from the bottom of someone's shoe. (Also had to be magically removed before said landlord's arrival.)

4: the hour at which M had to be up this morning to drive to Belgium to sign the final papers for our house.

3: number of hours that I ended up "helping" S with his homework.

2: the amount of slices of buttered toast I fed my children this evening (along with corn and pineapple slices) in lieu of a real supper

1: a.) number of fully-functioning braincells that I've got left this evening.
b.) number of minutes before I shut this down and go plop down on the couch with a glass of Absolut.

20 November, 2006

We played hooky on Sunday!

Not much time to blog today but wanted to post a couple of pictures of our roadtrip this weekend. We had no plans on Sunday and the weather was beautiful so we dropped everything and jumped in the car and drove down to Bayern to visit a castle called Neuschwanstein. The area is beautiful and the castle is amazing!

It was even warm enough that we had a picnic lunch and then ran around and played tag afterwards in a pasture until we nearly threw up our sandwiches!

Got to tour the inside of the castle and then topped off the afternoon with a quick hike on the grounds. Had a fabulous day!

18 November, 2006

Purple is not my color

I've got a shiner. Or I guess it's not technically a shiner since that usually refers to a black eye, but it's a big nasty-looking bruise on my chin and it's just as embarrassing.

I got it Thursday and it eerily recalls the last rendezvous my head had with the pavement in May 2005. (but then without the ensuing visit to the emergency room, concussion and X-rays, luckily.) Such is life with a Labrador who thinks razor scootering should be a contact sport.

Actually I'm not sure D caused my short flight through the air this time. But she's an easy scapegoat since one minute I was scootering along with her running next to me and the next minute I was lying flat out feeling surprised that the pavement is so unforgiving.

Put ice on it right away. And received further first-aid in the form of concerned kisses from S and B. But that didn't stop my chin from birthing a knot about the size of half a walnut and turning a remarkable shade of aubergine.

The injury itself was peanuts-- it's the aftermath that's so annoying. How the heck does a woman my age explain facial bruises?

M suggested that I wear big sunglasses and flinch when I tell people that I walked into a door. This suggestion might have been funny if it didn't betray just how many seedy made-for-tv movies we've watched over the years. (and if it weren't for the sad fact that many real-life women are victims of domestic violence...)

I tried to cover it up with makeup yesterday but that made it look even more conspicuous. Am seriously considering a fake beard for going out in public. Or a tattoo on my forehead to draw people's attention away from my chin. Maybe I could just write "No, my husband didn't do this" on a post-it note and stick it to my collar...

In any case my modelling career is on hold for a few more days. But after that, the sky's the limit!

Following in Cousteau's footsteps

16 November, 2006

Ummmmm thanks?

Answered the door this afternoon to find a neighbor standing there with a bunch of pine branches in her arms. She smiled, said, "I thought you might like these!" And then she laid them down on the doorstep and walked off.


So I stood there for a while completely perplexed. S was standing behind me and whispered "What the heck did she do that for?"

My first thought was that her compost can was full and that I could do her a favor by stuffing them into mine. But this was obviously a kind gesture, so I brought them inside, at least until we figure out what to do with them.

Being the anti-Martha Stewart that I am, they lay there languishing on the floor for several hours. I've now crammed them into a vase and given them some water, much to M's amusement.

Anybody have any ideas as to what I can do with these things? (aside from throw them out at the first possible opportunity?)

15 November, 2006

Biiiiiiiig favor

I'll pay any one of you good money to clean the pet-related fragrant brown puddle off of the carpet in the playroom upstairs.

Sharing the habit

Enjoyed latte macciatos last week with my Mom and Dad in my favorite coffee place.

14 November, 2006

Brief intermission

Hi guys. No, I didn't "go lemming" as Brit had asked-- haven't thrown myself off of any cliffs. yet.

No, things have been just a bit hectic with German lessons, guests, and some things I'd signed myself up to do with the kindergarten and school. (oh, and a small editing job I let myself get talked into on top of everything else.) Will be back blogging again soon. In the meantime I thought I'd post some great pictures my dad took while he was here...

10 November, 2006

Good thing I'm not a lemming

Have to leave my class early on Wednesdays and Fridays to make it back on time to pick S up from school. Feel a bit bad about ducking out early, so I was relieved today to hear that a classmate had to leave early as well-- ten minutes after I did.

We were in the middle of a very intense class discussion when she started gathering up her things to leave and I realized- OH SHIT! I AM TOTALLY LATE GETTING OUT OF HERE TO PICK UP S!!! (S still isn't completely comfortable in his own skin and has had a complete breakdown on the rare occasion that I've been late.)

Switched into full-on panic mode-- grabbed my things, waved goodbye and nearly broke my neck racing out to the parking lot.

Frantically called home to see if someone was home who could get there any faster to pick S up. No answer.

My parents-in-law are here as well and have their cell phone with them so I called M at work to get the number. No answer. My message on his machine was basically: AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!

He called me back a few minutes later and when I explained what was going on he started laughing. "Umm, Bets? You have to pick S up at 12? It's just past 11, so there's no problem."


My watch? Totally correct. My classmate's watch must still be on daylight savings time. And a combination of too little sleep and too much coffee caused me to fly into a complete panic without checking the time myself. If I were a lemming I wouldn't have been around to type this post... :-P

08 November, 2006

Don't sweat the small stuff

I'm really enjoying my German classes. The teachers are very warm and motivated and use all sorts of interesing methods to help increase our vocabulary and reinforce the grammar.

The people in the class are very interesting as well. They come from all over the world: Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, China, Bulgaria, the Philippines and Brasil. It's really interesting to hear all the different perspectives that they can contribute.

It's disheartening, though, to hear a lot of their personal stories and how difficult some of their lives are. Most of them are studying so hard because they are determined to better their situations. Makes me feel a bit frivolous that I'm there just because I like languages and have some free time in the mornings.

Today we had a new student join the class. He's an Iraqi who's been here for 10 years. He was very agitated-- was sweating profusely and couldn't sit still. As part of the exercise we had to ask him who he was and why he was here-- he sought political asylum from Saddam's regime after spending 2 years in prison.

He was bitter and angry about American interference in the region, especially since he feels that our sole reason for involvement was for oil. (At one point when he was speaking he got so worked up that I was happy that he didn't know my nationality...)

So class gets started and one of the discussion topics was concentration- the Chinese women spoke for a bit about Tai Chi, the Brasilian said her husband had had some experience with Tae Kwan Do, which had helped him learn to concentrate and tune out everything else.

and then the Iraqi raised his hand and said: "I have found Kung Fu very helpful."

And the teacher seemed relieved that he was eager to join in the conversation and said "Oh! great! And how has this helped you with concentration?"

He got very quiet and started sweating again. Then he said:

"I was a prisoner in Iraq for political reasons. I was kept in solitary confinement in a dark 1m x 1m meter cell for two years. There was one small window through which they would push my food, but I never knew what I was eating because I couldn't see it in the dark. My skin cracked and rotted and I had to sleep in a sitting position because there wasn't enough room to lay down. the only time they let me out was to torture me and then they threw me back into my cell. There wasn't enough room to practice any of the physical moves for Kung Fu but I spent most of my days using the mental discipline just to keep myself sane."

We were all completely flabbergasted. Certainly puts things in perspective. I spend a lot of time being stressed about piddly details. Sometimes it takes an experience like this to remind us not to sweat the small stuff...

Cultural differences.

I just spent the evening with about 35 preschoolers. (and their parents, luckily.)

they were all carrying candles.

which were lit.

inside homemade paper lanterns.

while walking through a dry grassy field.

in the dark.

This was a completely surreal experience for an American. There is just NO WAY IN HELL that any American preschool would (or could) accept that kind of liability!

I was laughing about it later and said to M--this must be a bizarre German ritual! In what other country would they allow a large group of children under 5 walk anywhere carrying lit candles? And he said:

HELLOOOOOO! Holland! :-)

07 November, 2006

Alive and kicking. Just not blogging ;-)

Hi everyone! Things are a bit hectic at the moment. Am in the thick of intensive German lessons and am enjoying having my parents here for a week's visit.

Luscious LRod asked for more recent pictures of me. God knows why, but since I have harbored an unhealthy obsession with her for about 20 years now I'm only happy to oblige. :-)

04 November, 2006

Here we go again...

Went to pick B up from kindergarten yesterday and had the dog with me. Was trying to explain to two of the teachers that labradors were orignally bred as hunting dogs and can swim very well-- they actually have webbed toes!

And of course my German vocabulary came up short so I resorted to using Dutch words with a German accent. Sort of Germanified: Zij heeft vliesen tussen haar tenen.

Which came out as: Sie hat Vliesen zwischen ihren Zähnen.

Or: "She's got tiles between her teeth"

And I said it with a smile on my face! (and pointing to D's feet, and not her teeth!)

Even as I look at it now it makes perfect sense to me as to where I went wrong, but for those teachers what I said must have seemed completely random and bizarre! It's only a matter of time before I arrive at the kindergarten to be greeted by men in white coats with tranquilizers...

Made his own costume

I turned around yesterday and THIS was lurking behind me.

Remind me to limit his viewing time for those Japanese gaming cartoons on kids' TV.

03 November, 2006

Snazzy John Hancock!

S has been practicing his signature this afternoon. ???

(Have to admit that it's probably more legible than mine.)

But until now it hadn't occurred to me to ask what he plans on signing. Movie contract? UN treatise? Now he's got me wondering. Remind me to ask him when he gets in...

02 November, 2006

Important anatomy lesson

B just told me how to tell boy dogs and girl dogs apart. Apparently girl dogs have longer ears.

And to think I've had it wrong all these years...

01 November, 2006

One person I DEFINITELY don't miss

Hi everyone! Back from a three-day last-minute whirlwind tour of the Benelux. (But then without the Lux. Oh well, maybe next time.) The kids have autumn break and surprisingly enough my German classes have been suspended for this week as well. We had all kinds of errands we needed to run in and around Brussels because guess what?! We've sold our house!!!

So we went to NL, dropped the kids off with Oma and Opa and went down to the booming metropolis of Steenokkerzeel to tie up a bunch of loose ends. One of those loose ends being our loose cannon neighbor. Our car was in the driveway all afternoon so we felt obliged to check in and make sure that everything was OK with him, our house, etc.

We kind of had a feeling he'd be riled up because the buyer has a Congolese-sounding surname-- he let us in and then launched into it right away. So, sold your house. Have you seen the buyer?! HE'S BLACK!

Michiel told him that we hadn't met him yet, but that he's a doctor in Vilvoorde.


I could feel my blood starting to boil-- mentioned as calmly as I could that since he's a doctor and can obviously afford a house in our neighborhood that I doubted that there was any reason to worry. Do you know what he answered?!


I was completely stunned.

He was even more rabid than usual-- started spouting off some nonsense about seeing some other black person hanging around the yard. His theory is that she was a random black person from a social housing project. Apparently once black people hear that another one of THEM has moved into the neighborhood that they all crawl out of the woodwork to check out the digs.

We dropped by a friend's house later to pick up some keys. He started laughing when he saw us and said "I hear you've sold your house to a bunch of black people. Your neighbor's been having kittens..."

Vlaams Belang, the right-wing nationalist party (which was previously dissolved by the Belgian court for openly propagating racism) won 25% of the seats in the local elections last month. Why doesn't this surprise me?

29 October, 2006

We've had an eventful weekend!

S turned 7 on Friday. We celebrated at home with cake and presents and then went to the Fahrrad Kaiser on Saturday and bought him a new bike.

All of a sudden Saturday B decided he was ready to ride without training wheels. He hopped on S's old bike and took off and hasn't stopped since!
We took the plunge and bought a new caravan. :-) I'm including a picture now so that you can print it out and hang it up on your dart board.

Yes, as of next season we will officially rejoin the masses of anonymous Dutch families who clog up traffic with their campers ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE PROVENCE. Mwahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaa!

27 October, 2006


There was a reading contest today for all second graders at S's school. They each received a text that they hadn't seen before and had to read it out loud and be judged on their performance by the teachers.

S came in fifth in his class. FIFTH! OUT OF 27 KIDS! I feel so vindicated-- and am so glad I kept fighting to get him into his rightful place in 2nd grade!

I'd like to dedicate a big fat rasberry to the principal and even his teacher who went out of their way to tell me that he didn't belong there...


Just in time for Halloween!

There is a piece of wood working its way out of B's face. It's bigger than a splinter but must have been pretty deep if I didn't see it when I was cleaning his wound last week...

26 October, 2006

My class is great! :-)

Started the other German class today and it's great!

The last one was full-- probably 25 people-- and a lot of them obviously didn't want to be there. There were three rowdy (and very hungover) Kazakhs and an extremely annoying American who was chewing gum and cracking jokes the whole time. And since everyone was being so childish the teacher treated us like children-- the atmosphere was terrible!

And this class is just the opposite. It's small: there are only about 10 people (but they represent at least 7 different nationalities!) They're very earnest and really seem to want to be there. And the teacher is calm and compassionate and seems very motivated. It's a world of difference!

Oh, and Christina, you were right, it does go further. Apparently there's a module 10 that starts in November as soon as this one ends. :-) Am very, very happy.

25 October, 2006

False start

Was supposed to start intensive German lessons this morning. But when I showed up and introduced myself the teacher decided that I didn't belong in this class and has shunted me up to Level 8/9 which is the last level offered.

I suppose I should be flattered, but mainly I'm just disappointed. My German is still far from where I would like it to be and I had really been hoping to follow a series of courses in order to give it a boost. (more, more, MORE!)

Anyway, at least I'll be able to attend this next class-- it should be interesting and every little bit helps!

23 October, 2006

Not the most effective parenting technique

This weekend my brother-in-law came in from Amsterdam with his wife and three-year-old son. We showed them around the area a bit, and the weather was fabulous so we spent an inordinate amount of time drinking coffee outside of a well-known art museum. (We never actually made it in to see the exhibits this time, but hey, if we aren't going to soak up some culture at least we can say we sat near it!)

The boys all get along really well, and they ran around and played until they dropped. So I was less than happy Sunday morning at 6:23am when I heard S and B talking and laughing-- they were so rowdy that they woke me up in our bedroom two floors down.

I could hardly see, I was so tired, and I staggered up the stairs and into their dark bedroom. Started shouting at them in a whisper-- mothers are really good at that!-- what are you thinking?! it's 6:30 in the morning and DON'T YOU DARE WAKE YOUR COUSIN UP OR THERE WILL BE HELL TO PAY! etc.

And for once there were no smart-alecky replies. They must have been impressed because they just stayed silent under their covers. Which was pretty satisfying. I told them to hang on until at least 7 and that they could then get up.

Started to head downstairs, happy that they had really listened to me. But then suddenly I heard them talking again and saw light coming out from under the playroom door down the hall and it dawned on my thick, foggy brain:

I had just lectured two empty beds.

20 October, 2006

Yeah, that would probably freak me out too...

I just walked in and caught the tail end of a discussion that S and B were having over lunch. They were swapping stories about gross things they've encountered (surprise, surprise!) when S trumped B by shouting:

No WAIT! Do you remember that time that we dug a hole in the backyard and found all of those larvae?! It looked like a bunch of penises crawling around in the dirt!

Mmmmkay. Have to admit that that would probably have grossed me out as well...

Can't wait to see how many hits I get from Google now that I've used the words "penises" and "dirt" in the same post.

Oh, and to the person who found my blog yesterday (from work!!!) by using the search terms "mother-in-law" and "panties"? Ewwww.

19 October, 2006

This is why

your mother always told you never to run with a sharp stick in your hand!

That's not a scratch, it's an honest-to-God puncture wound!

He's OK, but I shudder to think of what would have happened if he'd landed a little bit further to the right...

Blowing on it won't make it develop any faster!

When I was about eight my grandfather bought a Polaroid camera. I remember those moments of anticipation just after he'd taken a picture. My brother and I would gather around him eagerly willing the photo to develop. First we'd see a constellation of bluish shadows, then faint outlines and gradually the colors that seemed to magically emerge to reveal a crisp, clear image.

It struck me yesterday that life after a move closely resembles this process. Routines gradually develop, the picture becomes clearer and no amount of straining or jumping up and down can speed up a process that needs time and air and maybe even a little magic to complete itself.

I'm finally starting to see the outlines of our life-to-be. The kids are settling into school, our German is progressing and we're beginning to collect a wide circle of acquaintances that color our days and lend a richness to our experience.

Our neighborhood is wonderful-- S and B are spending more and more time outside with a large group of children. When they get home from school they speed through their routines towards that moment when they can race out the door toward freedom. Toward elaborate games of cops and robbers; toward the possibility to win that next scooter race; toward the exhilaration that comes from a burgeoning sense of independence and one's rightful place in the world.

We've still got a way to go before this place really feels like home, but I'm thankful for the elaborate picture that is starting to reveal itself. And the realization that our life in Germany is developing, albeit one step at a time.

18 October, 2006

I guess I'm the last one to know...

S and B were tearing around the neighborhood with a pack of boys yesterday, and they came up one weapon short. S returned home with a friend to pick up an extra squirt gun and rang the bell. I guess I wasn't fast enough getting upstairs so the friend said:

"Why are you waiting? Don't you know the secret about your front door?"

He pushed on it and voila, it opened.


There's no knob on the outside, so I always use a key to open it-- I've certainly never noticed that it pops open with the least amount of pressure.

And since this is apparently an open secret among the kids on our street I'm wondering who else knows. We don't have very many valuables but it still gives me the creeps that anyone could walk in at any time. I wonder what else they're not telling me?

16 October, 2006

Like herding a group of cats...

Whew! Just got back from a field trip with 27 energetic 2nd graders! (and their teacher. I guess it's time to retire the nasty nickname I gave her. I'm not normally nasty anyway and she's got a couple of kids in the class who are a real handful. I still think it's wrong for a teacher to scream at her pupils (or their parents!) but can imagine that a few of those boys would bring just about anyone to the end of their tether!)

We did a walking tour of the village-- visited a local schloss, a graveyard, a couple of fountains and a monument to those killed in World War I. It was a really nice way to get to know "downtown" better.

Fall has burst onto the scene and the parks and front yards are drenched in gold and crimson. The sun is shining and the sky is an unreal shade of blue. Had more than one moment when I wished I'd brought a camera!

The boys have gone down the street to watch a couple of big Caterpillar loaders prepare the earth for a house that will be built soon. I'm going to take advantage of these few quiet moments to sit in the sun and drink a coffee. Care to join me? :-)

15 October, 2006

How is it possible

that five years have passed so quickly?

13 October, 2006

A phone only a mother could love

I am my own paradox. Yesterday's post revealed my fascination with the explosive technological advances of the Internet. The more it evolves the more enamored I become.

This post belies another side of my personality. A dark curmudgeonly side that’s fundamentally anti-gadget. I hate the idea of having drawers full of battery-powered clutter. My kitchen accoutrements include little more than an old-fashioned side-by-side toaster and a sleek but otherwise unremarkable coffee maker. No milk frothers, no juicers, no salad shooters.

But it's not just my kitchen that's behind the times. We’ve had the same phone for many years now. It’s survived three international moves (barely) and has begun to exhibit age-related tremors and Alzheimer-like symptoms. And as much as I hate to struggle to understand conversations over a crackly line, I hate shopping at big electronics stores even more.

So let me just get this out in the open: For those of you who’ve had to prematurely end phone conversations with me because you couldn't hear what I was saying, don't blame lagging German telecom technology-- chalk it up to my own special form of electronic shopophobia.

Yesterday I had some time to kill and popped into a local junk antique store. I rarely buy anything there, but I love to browse through the detritus of the ages: turn-of-the-century class photos with their rows of solemn faces, a well-worn pocket bible that probably accompanied a loved-one to war, a stack of crisp love letters from 1935 meticulously bound by an elegant peach ribbon...

And then suddenly there it was, staring at me pleadingly from a dusty table. A telephone of absolute mythic ugliness. The metaphoric equivalent of a hairless chihuahua, but just not as nervous. How could one NOT be swayed to adopt it and give it a loving home?

The casing is actually made of marble and if I can believe the sticker on the bottom it is gold plated. And even with MY imagination I can't for the life of me picture who would have invited it into their homes back in the day. (Maybe someone like me who likes to have a little comic relief waiting in ambush at the top of the stairway...)

Cutting edge it's not, but it works great, and it's certainly a conversation piece. The boys are fascinated-- I'm thinking of pitting them against each other in a battle to see who will eventually get to inherit it...

12 October, 2006

Radio revolution

You hear that sound of maniacal laughter? Hands rubbing together in glee? That's me.

I've finally taken the plunge and opened Pandora's box. And I LOVE what's inside! I've been reading about the new wave of Internet radio for a while. Tried Last.fm and it just didn't click. Partly because of software problems, partly because I don't want to have to build a social network in order to find new music.

But yesterday I finally took the time to discover Pandora and it's FABULOUS! The whole concept really draws me anyway: a group of experts has mapped out the genome for music. Basically they came up with a way to analyse songs and catalog them according to different musical attributes. And now they've gone through and tagged more than 400,000 songs in a steadily growing catalog.

The user enters the name of a song or a group that they like and Pandora puts together a radio station with songs based on similar characteristics. And the really cool thing is that you can rate songs as they are played to further streamline your station.

And the best part? It's free! Pandora has some advertising up for non-subscribers, but it's not intrusive. They're obviously hoping that you'll like some of the songs enough that you'll buy them via iTunes. Other than that, no obligations. The interface is very transparent and it's even polite!

Check it out and let me know what you think!

11 October, 2006

Deutsch- und Integrationskurse

German seems to be going pretty well. Mistakes aside, I'm starting to notice that it's easier to communicate with people and get my point across without blanking out or bumbling too much. I've been working with a coursebook on days I feel inspired and have racked up a lot of time watching sappy made-for-tv movies with my dictionary on my lap.

I'd like to be functionally fluent by Christmas. Don't know how realistic this is, but am pretty determined, so we'll see. Have signed myself up for a month-long intensive language class which is offered by the government (at the Volkshochschule) to help foreigners integrate better into German society.

Went down yesterday for a placement test and they've put me in level 6!!! (out of 9!) I almost laughed out loud! I wanted to pull the woman aside and confess that I'd had a kid in my kitchen THAT VERY AFTERNOON who only seemed to understand about half of what I said! Granted I was tired and distracted, but still!

So classes start October 24th. If it turns out to be too difficult I can always scale back to level 5. But I like a good challenge, so it might be good to shake me out of my comfort zone.

In addition it seems like a good activity to keep me off of the streets and might be a good way to meet other (damn) foreigners who are in the same boat...

07 October, 2006

They're gunning for pole position

CH told me the other day that she thinks S and B look like German race car drivers with their long hair.

You should have seen their faces when I told them-- they were so pleased that a grown-up has finally understood their true mission in life!

So let's see: They are obsessed with speed and can quote statistics on the engines of every serious car whizzing past on the highway. (check)

They spent the summer practicing their (kiddie) champagne spraying skills. (check)

S spends his allotted Gameboy time every day racking up points on GTS Grand Prix. (check)

Schumacher is retiring this year. (double check)

I'm wondering if I should maybe modify my "look" to prepare for their budding careers? Maybe it's time to invest in some gold jewelry and a leather outfit. Thank God they're still young-- I'll probably need the next 10 years to learn to walk in stilettos to be ready for their first victory party...

06 October, 2006

Strange Dutch wedding traditions

Ellen's comment yesterday got me thinking about language gaffes. And seeing as how I'm struggling with working on my umpteenth foreign language I've had my fair share of them. But the funniest misunderstanding by far has to be one I had on my wedding day.

M and I got married on a hot summer afternoon in 1995. We were living in Moscow at the time, so I hadn't yet had a chance to get to know my mother-in-law well, but I already liked her a lot.

We went down to have our hair done together at her local salon. My hair was long, and I've got a LOT of it, so it took forever-- I have this vivid memory of her perched on a countertop chatting amiably with the hairdresser. My Dutch was still minimal so they switched over to English.

And at some point the conversation turned toward the weather and how unseasonably hot it was. Suddenly my mother-in-law turned to me and asked me rather loudly:

"I think it's too hot to wear panties today, don't you?"

Her friend the hairdresser nodded solemnly and said "Oh yes, definitely too hot for panties."

My mother-in-law turned back to me: "Will you be wearing any today, Betsy? Because I don't think I can handle it."

I know the American stereotype for the Dutch is that they're free and easy with their bodies, but is it common for 50 year old women to discuss their underwear status with a roomful of people?! Or was this some sort of gauntlet I had to run before I could officially marry her son?!

I decided to play it safe-- said I hadn't decided yet and would have to think about it. And secretly wished I'd brought a hip flask along. I was already nervous about the wedding and it was getting off to a pretty bizarre start.

It was only months later that I figured out that she was using the Dutch word panty's, which means pantyhose!

05 October, 2006

A ray of light

S came out of school smiling this afternoon! He'd apparently had a good day-- and had even finished his math worksheet so fast that it caught Gorilla Woman by surprise. She came over and started kvetching:

S! STOP DAYDREAMING AND... Oh! You're finished? Well, very good then.

I know we're not out of the woods yet, but it's nice that something positive has happened and has given his confidence a boost.

The sun is finally out again and I had some good luck this morning running errands. S is almost finished with his homework so we're going to go try out an English-language playgroup that meets in Stuttgart. I'm feeling optimistic and happy for the first time in a while! :-)

Have a nice afternoon, everyone!

From now death November...

My German is improving and I'm having to rely less often on my own patented brand of Dutchlish-- up until now if I didn't know a word I just used the first English or Dutch one that popped into my head and gave it a little bit of a German spin. You'd be surprised how often this works, but of course there are the inevitable moments that it backfires.

For some reason I keep forgetting the German word "bis". (which means until) It just does not stick, for some reason. I'll read it and remember it, and then at crucial moments I draw a blank. So more often than not in my haste I accidentally end up using the Dutch word "tot". Which unfortunately sounds a lot like the German word "Tod", or death.

That's made for some memorable conversations lately.

At least I crack myself up...

04 October, 2006

Keeping on keeping on...

Hi, I'm back. Weekend was fun. It was a relief to be in Holland where people laugh at things I say because they think I'm funny, and not because of grammar mistakes or cross-cultural miscommunication.

We got back here and within about 10 minutes I felt the water closing up over my head again. It's been a long time since I've felt this uncomfortable in my own skin. Obviously this is just a phase and we'll all pull through eventually, but day to day existence at the moment seems like a feat of survival.

Had to physically peel a crying S off of me when we got to school this morning. I then did the kindest thing I could think of and left. Experience has taught me that if I stay to comfort him his panic escalates and it's harder on both of us. He was probably distracted within about 5 minutes of my departure. I, on the other hand, felt sick about it for a couple of hours afterwards.

Barnacle Boy is going to be the end of me. He found a discarded bottle of industrial solvent in some bushes on the way home today and ran around spraying it on everything in his path. Including a mouse which might or might not have been dead before he stepped on it. I ended up playing Police Officer Betsy and apprehended the solvent-- made him throw it into a nearby bin.

The problem is that this is also a kid who looks out for S in class-- he's his only friend in a pretty lonely, difficult time. I'm afraid that if I tell him he can't play with Barnacle Boy it will just make him all the more attractive. And I can't choose my kids' friends anymore like I used to when they were toddlers and were chaperoned to every playgroup.

I'm keeping the dialogue open with S-- why he shouldn't be cruel to animals or touch anything that might have chemicals in it. And that if he feels uncomfortable with any situations that he should let us know.

And I'm hoping that this friendship will eventually peter out. Before I do....

27 September, 2006

Thanks, Laurie!

This made me laugh at a moment when I really needed it!

I'll take coffee with my slice of humble pie

Just back from dropping S off at school. the whole process went much more smoothly today. We left 10 minutes earlier so we had plenty of time and the walk was about 120% less stressful. S started out feeling sick but soon calmed down and chatted amiably about Bugs Bunny.

And as soon as we got to school Barnacle Boy showed up and they walked in together.


And now I realize that a big part of S's meltdown yesterday happened because we were late and he was feeding off of my stress. He was already nervous and I completely exacerbated the situation by rushing him and pulling him along. I've got to remember that my mood and behavior still have a big influence on the boys, and although stress cannot be avoided I'm doing my best not to contribute to it.

6 months of Vipassana has made a huge difference in my life, but then something like this will happen and will remind me that I've still got a loooooong road ahead of me...

26 September, 2006

Mama never told me there'd be days like these...

The novelty of the "big school" has worn off and S has officially hit his dip. I had to drag him almost the entire 1 1/2 km today; he cried every step of the way. When I dropped him off he had a complete meltdown and could not be comforted-- I left him literally kicking and screaming at the door to his class.

Spent the whole morning with M running around to exchange our lease car. Which means braving traffic on roads that can be confusing even with a GPS. M took advantage of the down time to field e-mails with his evil blackberry. It's not like I had anything to say, but I hated the fact that I probably couldn't have worked it in edgewise even if I did.

I just spent the past couple of hours "helping" S with his homework. Which basically meant sitting there, willing myself not to explode or split out of my skin and saying every 5 minutes or so very calmly: "Come on, honey, crying isn't going to help. Please concentrate so that you can get this done and go play".

It was so difficult because I felt so sorry for him, but on the other hand it's hard to remain patient and encouraging when someone keeps daydreaming and then having to rewrite each word multiple times because of careless mistakes.

S is wiped out at the end of the day and I question the wisdom of assigning so much homework to kids who are so small. My new role as a cheerleader is certainly testing my sanity-- I think that today I would have rather have had my eyelashes plucked out one by one...

We've had three different children pop by in the last hour. Two of them had a comment about how much doghair there is on our floors. Since when to 8 year old boys worry about cleanliness???!!! Who are these aliens, and why do they insist on inspecting my house? (I'm just glad they didn't notice the fruit fly infestation I've got going here...)

And as icing on the cake Barnacle Boy is back again. S and B are thrilled but I had to suppress the urge to deck him when I opened the door.

I've taken temporary refuge with a cocktail downstairs but must now surface in order to cook dinner for an acquaintance who's supposed to show up any minute. And I'm feeling anything but friendly....

Can anyone help me with custacean removal?

I seem to have developed a barnacle. Or actually, barnacles would be a preferable alternative-- at least they're silent. This one talks non-stop.

The lost boy from last week has attached himself to me and has even started accompanying us home after school. S and B are enjoying the novelty of his company, but he ran roughshod through our house all yesterday afternoon and provided me with yet another Better-Than-Berlitz™ crash course in German:

DO NOT put the cat in the tub!
NO, you may NOT give the dog any chocolate!
Don't you DARE fall down onto the street again and fake a head injury!

In short, he's charming...

He wants S and B to come over and play at his house this afternoon but I'm hedging. Am trying to think of some sort of humane way to get rid of him. If that doesn't work I might have to resort to a long-handled scraper and some sandpaper...

25 September, 2006

Just call me Florence Nightengale #3

Whew! Boys are in bed and life seems to be working its way back to normal.

Yesterday was fun. B had vile stomach virus that morphed him into Joey from A Softer World. That, plus vomiting episodes every 45 minutes kept things interesting.

S had fallen playing soccer the day before- something about the way he was holding his arm when he came running up set off all kinds of bells and whistles in my head. But after a few dramatic, tearful moments he seemed OK, and even demonstrated how he'd fallen, placing all of his weight on both hands to do it.

So we iced it down and gave him ibuprofen and kept a close watch on him. I must have still been puzzling over the whole thing in the back of my head, because all of a sudden in the middle of the night all the pieces fell into place. I sat straight up in bed, might have even shouted EUREKA! and shook M awake: realized that S had probably dislocated it when he'd fallen and that it had popped back into place.

Sunday it was still pretty swollen, so we took him to the after-hours clinic. B threw up in the car on the way, of course, but, being the seasoned mother that I am, I had a roll of garbage bags, tissues, mints and disinfecting hand gel at the ready. (So Mom, if you're reading this, you'll be happy to know that those two miserable years I spent trying to score badges in emergency planning at girl scouts weren't completely in vain!)

The doctor poked and prodded S- said exactly what I'd thought he'd say, but with the one nice surprise of the day: because S seemed otherwise happy and because there was no evidence of a hematoma he said we could wait a couple of days before requesting an x-ray if we wanted to. His guess was that there were no fractures or torn ligaments and that he would continue to improve over the next few days.

Aside from being a big relief this visit was also good practice in German. I felt pretty comfortable in my skin and, except for that one moment when I asked him if he thought S's elbow had vomited, I communicated everything just fine! (Take that, DSL freak!)

S's elbow was less swollen today and, except for a couple of really spectacularly messy sneezes, this morning B was back to status quo. And now it's time for me to go flop down on the couch with a book and a cup of coffee. I think I've had enough excitement for the next few days...

24 September, 2006

Poor little guys!

We're at home this morning slumped on the couch cuddling one kid who's throwing up every 45 minutes and another one who has probably (slightly) dislocated his elbow.

I can think of better conditions for watching cartoons...

22 September, 2006

I have entrusted this woman with my child!?

This does not seem to be my week for seeing the softer, kinder side of humanity. I went to pick S up from an after-school party-- he had been playing with a classmate and mentioned that the boy was looking for his mother. Just to be on the safe side we went back and found him-- when he saw me he burst into tears. This huge, independant 7 year old suddenly melted down into a frightened little mess.

I gave him a hug and promised him that we would stay with him and help him find his mom. We walked around for a while but didn't see her, so I decided that the best thing to do would be to take him back to his classroom. Surely the teacher would know what to do.


I just stood there with my mouth open while S, B and the lost boy stared at her with huge eyes. When I tried to explain that I wasn't babysitting him, but was trying to help him and that he was scared she just said bluntly: "He knows exactly what he's supposed to do!" and walked away.

At which point he burst into tears again!

I distracted him with questions about the party he'd just attended and we walked around a bit more and eventually found his mama.. She had apparently been told by the screaming teacher that she should pick her son up at 4-- a bit of information which might have been helpful to know when I had approached her earlier!

I'm still a little bit shellshocked by the whole thing. This woman is a teacher, for God's sake! Isn't she supposed to be compassionate with children? I have no insight into the nature of their relationship, but I can't think of a single situation in which that kind of behavior is appropriate for someone in her position.

She's obviously forgotten what it's like to be small and lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces...

The "kindness" of strangers 2

Was doing the lawn chair thing again this afternoon-- sitting out front enjoying the sunshine and keeping a close eye on my two little daredevils while they were skateboarding on the street. Was getting the usual weird sideways glances as people drove by, but really, WHATEVER.

So then this lady from up the street comes up to me with a big smile and says:

"Oh, you are so brave to sit out front in your lawn chair like that. I would never dare to do something like that. If anybody looks at you strangely just ignore them-- I think it's GREAT!"

But I get the feeling she didn't.

(This place must be really dull if sitting outside in a lawn chair causes such a stir. I think that next time I'll do it with a pair of M's underwear on my head.)

But the fun and games didn't stop there. she then hinted that I should have kept my hair blond. And to top it all off she offered her services if I needed any help decorating our house-- I get the feeling she's been peeking in our windows and that she didn't like what she saw.

I liked her a whole lot better when I couldn't understand her...

21 September, 2006

Random thought

I spend a lot of time alone with her and entrust her with my deepest thoughts. So on some levels it's disturbing to realize that the highlight of her day is lapping up phlegm from the sidewalk as we pass the bus stop...

Just call me Einstein

Yesterday as I was suffering through the worst symtoms from Internet withdrawal the phone rang. It was none other than a friendly telecom engineer, my knight(ess) in shining armor. She'd checked the line, fixed a few things and was calling with the good news that service would be restored shortly.

I thanked her profusely and asked what the next step would be.

"No problem. Just wait til your husband gets home and ask him to reboot your modem"


It was so absurd that I burst out laughing and responded with a jovial "Why should I wait for my husband? I'm the Internet expert here at home!"

She realized her mistake, laughed and then told me the next step would be to unplug the modem for a few minutes to let it rest and then restore power and then...."

"Oh, no problem!" I interrupted, still cocky, and disconnected the power.

Dial tone....

Being the big fat Internet expert that I am I forgot that we have ADSL and that the phone line is connected up through the modem...

20 September, 2006

The notorious "expat moment"

I've officially had my "expat moment". You know, the one you read about in all the newcomers' guides, regardless of country. That proverbial drop of water that causes the bucket to overflow and makes one want to pack a suitcase and hop on the next plane out. for good.

Just after posting our stressful first-day-of-school experience; after walking the 1+km back home in an icy downpour; after battling traffic to get a very stressed-out M to work on time. After all this I arrived home to find out that the phone was down.

The phone company tested everything and eventually figured out that it was a problem with DSL. So then I had to contact our Internet Service provider's "Customer Service" line.

To say the guy was nasty would be an understatement. He was horrible-- kept telling me that my German was shit and if I couldn't understand him then maybe I should go out and find someone who CAN speak German and who could continue for me. !!!

This went on and on but unfortunately I needed his help so I had to continue to take the abuse. I somehow muddled through and then melted down into a complete puddle after we hung up.

The thing is, I know I'm doing OK with German. I'm not fluent yet, but I'm certainly proficient and am noticing a big difference in my ability to communicate. 5 months ago I couldn't speak a single word, so it's not surprising that I'm still making mistakes.

This guy didn't understand me because he didn't want to understand me. In the big picture this was just a blip on the chart, but it was pretty discouraging at a moment when I was dangling at the end of my rope anyway.

In any case, Internet is finally back up and the sun is shining and the kids seem to be settling into school. Life is good!

18 September, 2006

S's first day of school

S started second grade this morning and I don't know about him but I'm still shaky! It's stressful enough to start at a big new school, but try doing it in a new country in a language in which you're not yet completely fluent! He seemed OK on the surface but every now and then you could see a bit of nervousness flashing through.

And all the friction we've had with the principal hasn't helped matters. I've been going back and forth with him all summer-- Sander is younger than most second graders here, but he's already completed 1st grade and we are convinced that he'll learn German very quickly and that he should continue on to second. He's already reading, writing and even multiplying so I'm afraid that he'd become bored and unmotivated very quickly if he had to repeat first grade here where they start off by learning their letters.

So I guess I've earned a reputation for myself as one of those bullying parents who push their agendas off on the school-- which, aside from being completely off base could also come back to bite us in different ways.

I shuddered internally this morning when I met S's teacher and the first thing she said to me was not "Welcome" or "Glad to have S in my class" but "Well, we'll give this a shot and see if it works"

It's not like I've been asking them to allow S to skip a grade or telling them my son is a genius! He's earned his place in second grade by finishing first-- the whole discussion seems like it should be so straightforward!

So we dropped him off and all of a sudden it started POURING rain. M had to get to work but we'd walked to school and had no umbrellas so we decided to wait it out. And it rained and it rained.

And then S's class had a break and he came out with the group of kids and was completely MORTIFIED to see that we were still there. We all did our best to pretend that we didn't recognize him but it was all I could do to keep from scooping him up and smuggling him out of there and back home.

Poor little guy! It's going to be a tough couple of weeks for him. (and probably for me as well to tell the truth!)

17 September, 2006

And I haven't seen him since...

M has recently had a "difference of opinion" with the authorities about maximum speed limit on a local highway. This has resulted in a month long time out to contemplate his offending behavior. Which means morning commutes to work with me and bumming rides home in the evenings with a friendly colleague.

They usually arrive here after 7pm, weary from traffic and the daily wear-and-tear of the office. And I rarely know beforehand when this friend will be coerced into staying for dinner.

On the surface this poses no problem-- I always cook an extra portion to eat for lunch the next day. I've come to like the guy, and am happy that he's offered to help out M in spite of my performance as Ms. Freakazoid America when I flashed him a few weeks ago.

But I'm always a little self-conscious about my cooking. Don't get me wrong, I put a lot of time and thought into our meals-- to call me nutritionally-obsessed would probably be an understatement. And although our family has come to appreciate my mostly vegetarian high-fiber, low-fat, low-sodium meals, I somehow doubt that they are completely palatable to the general public.

S and B are almost as vegetable-averse as their peers, but studies have shown that if you keep forcing veggies on kids that they eventually grow to like them, or at least tolerate them.

One amazing thing I've noticed is that visual cues really do make a difference. If I give them a dish with individual chunks of vegetables in it they'll gag and groan and act as if I've served them rat poison. But if I puree stews and soups they wolf it down and ask for more.

So Thursday was another rat-poison evening: Curried chick pea stew with tomatoes and spinach. Whipped out my hand mixer and blended the whole thing-- served it with fresh carrot bran bread and it was met with rave reviews.

then came the call: "Hi, it's M. We'll be there in 10 minutes-- do you have enough to feed H as well?"


Other evenings I've had at least some forewarning and have been able to make the meal more palatable for outsiders, but unfortunately it's just not possible to un-puree a stew. So I said "sure" but that H would have to eat at his own risk.

H brushed off the warning with "Oh, it can't be that bad-- what color is it?"

"Sort of vomit-colored"

Which was met with an embarrassed giggle.

He thought I was joking!

To his credit he did not run screaming from the table and actually cleaned his plate. Had to stifle a laugh, though, when I saw him pouring on the salt when he thought I wasn't looking. I'm thinking he probably scarfed down some spoonfuls of lard when he got back to his apartment.

And am left wondering: 1.) if he'll ever stay for dinner again and 2.) if he actually survived my carrot bran bread. I get the feeling it can be lethal for the uninitiated...

16 September, 2006

Avast me hearties!

September 19th officially marks International Talk Like a Pirate Day! No stress, but you've only got a couple of days to bone up on vocabulary, pickup lines and general silliness. (There's even a German section!)

Web Zen, One of my favorite virtual distrations, has also devoted the latest issue to the topic.

Enjoy! I'm off to feed me bilge rats...

15 September, 2006

A new milestone

They've finished summer kindergarten and they are PUMPED!
S and his teacher part ways. He'll be starting 2nd grade next week but has gotten a fantastic head start in kindergarten!

Hypothetical question 2

Let's say two boys decide to play the Black Eyed Peas song "Pump It" repeatedly in their room for several hours at a time. How many days in a row would it take before (a.) a neighbor or (b.) their mother snaps, charges in and gnaws through the CD player power cord with her her teeth?

14 September, 2006

Still cracks me up

We were all pretty punchy one evening at dinner earlier this week. I don't know how it happened but the conversation (d)evolved into one big joke fest, with me dredging up corny elephant jokes from the darkest recesses of my memory. These turned out to be international, because M had a few Dutch ones from his own childhood.

S and B jumped in on the game and started making them up on the fly. Kids seem to have a gift for the absurd:

Why are monkeys brown?
Because if they're black then it means you've cooked them too long.

While we're on the subject of twisted humor you might want to check out Making Fiends. I watched a couple of episodes yestderday and it cracked me up. I'm wondering what they're putting in the food at UCLA?

11 September, 2006

Some small solace

The doorbell rang midmorning on Saturday. M opened the door and was startled when a small German boy walked in, announced that he'd already finished his breakfast and ran past to go find S and B.

"Who the heck was that?!" M asked as footsteps echoed up the stairs.

J is new here and knows S and B from kindergarten. He's becoming a familiar sight riding his bike up and down our street with other playmates. And he's only 4 1/2 years old!

One of the things that really strikes me about this area is how much freedom parents give their children, even at a very young age. Especially coming from Belgium, where families watch a child's every move and whisper conspiratorially among themselves if they see a neighbor's kids playing alone in the front yard.

I don't know how real the threat in Flanders actually is-- there have been multiple high-profile kidnappings and illustrious pedophile rings in Belgium in recent years. But in any case, the common perception is that children are not safe being outside on their own.

So it is refreshing to enter into a community with very low violent crime statistics and very high numbers of families who obviously feel safe enough to give their children room to become independent and explore the world around them.

Today marks an important anniversary for Americans both home and abroad. I was 8 1/2 months pregnant when those indelible images shocked the world. I worried then about the climate into which I was bringing B. And I continue to worry for my sons and their generation when I see just how volatile the global situation has become.

It is so easy to become paralyzed in the face of abstract fears. The media bombards us with stories of terrorism, war, pedophilia and the countless other vicious and inuhumane acts that people carry out against each other. The only way I can continue to function as a rational parent is to focus on the present and the positive things I am experiencing directly.

And it is comforting to know that in this day and age it is still be possible for a small boy to finish his breakfast and go out to explore the world around him without trepidation. J knocked on our door last Saturday morning with nothing more serious than legos on his mind. I can only hope that there are many more like him out there and that he's not an exception to the rule...