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?