28 December, 2007

Countdown to 2008

Greetings from sunny Holland! Sorry to have left the blog hanging on a negative note! We've escaped to the Netherlands and I left my laptop at home-- on purpose, believe it or not. It was definitely time for a break from my Stumbling habit...

We've had a really lovely holiday. Spent Christmas just outside of Amsterdam with my parents-in-law and my brother-in-law and his family. We've been spoiled by lots of well-chosen presents, good food and delectible wine.

M and I have been taking long walks in the evenings and spent an afternoon hiking in Alblasserwaard. We even got a chance to have a chique lunch together at the Villa Augustus, which was fabulous!

Today we went hiking with the whole family in the Loonse en Drunense Duinen, a national park in Brabant. The weather was gorgeous and I think my batteries are finally recharged.

I did have a totally bloggable moment this morning, though. After brushing my teeth I grabbed one of the kids' cups off of the bathroom countertop and filled it with water. Started gulping and only realized after about half a cup that I had a horrible taste in my mouth. Spit the water into the sink just as M walked in.

What's the story with this cup? There are bubbles in the bottom.

Oh. Yeah. I wouldn't drink out of it if I was you. The kids were in the shower with me this morning and were using it to scoop up old shampoo and soap bubbles out of the shower drain...

It is on that note that I'm closing out 2007, my friends: May your new year be happy, may your cups be clean, and may your drinks be free of soap scum and skin particles... ;-)

20 December, 2007

Altercation with a couple of junior hyenas

One of the things I like about living here is the fact that it's so easy to walk everywhere. I think it's important that the kids don't automatically think of the car when they want to go somewhere. So I insist that they make the 1.5 km trek to school on foot, regardless of the weather.

Other parents all do the same, but there is one striking cultural gap: they send their kids unattended from the middle of first grade on. I feel that this is too early to turn kids loose without supervision. On the surface it seems OK-- there are plenty of sidewalks and crosswalks. But in my experience it's rarely the passing cars that pose a problem.

Most of these children left to their own devices are fine. They walk together, they chat, they giggle. But there are a handful who use this unsupervised time to run wild. They dig garbage out of dumpsters on construction sites and they trample through gardens, taking any flowers, fruit or other random articles to throw at passing cars and each other.

In order to watch out for my own kids I make the trek to school twice a day, rain or shine. Normally walking with your mother would be seen as "uncool" by the kids in S and B's classes, but I use the dog as a secret weapon. She's been called "the most popular girl at school", and their classmates so look forward to seeing her that they seem to forget that I'm attached at the other end of the leash.

And so on any given afternoon you can find me walking home surrounded by an ever changing cast of characters, all jostling for a chance to walk next to D. One of our regulars is a tiny girl with an unwieldy French name. She claims she's seven but she's so petite that I wonder if this is an exaggeration. She's spunky and is one of the few kids that age who really thinks for herself.

Yesterday we were walking home when suddenly two third graders raced past us and started shouting: "Let's go bully that stupid little girl!" My stomach sank as I saw them closing in on M up ahead; she'd left earlier than we had.

They ran up and started tormenting her-- hanging over her, shouting at her and laughing. She ignored them for a couple of seconds but fear took over and she ran behind a parked car to try and escape.

I ran up and told the boys to knock it off-- surely they can see that she's frightened! They just laughed and continued mobbing her. I grabbed one of them by the arm and he just laughed at me defiantly. When I told them both to get lost they only crossed over to the other side of the street where they continued their jeering.

I hugged M and told her not to listen, that we would all walk together. Every 50 meters or so one of the boys would cross the street and start walking behind us again and I would stop and put myself between them and M and tell them to get lost. They really seemed to be enjoying this! I was floored by their cruelty and relentlessness!

I know these kids. They're in S's class and they're a dangerous combination. They egg each other on and apparently yesterday the combination of christmas cookie overload and the heady excitement about vacation had pushed them over the top. I told them I would be calling both their mothers and they just laughed and started shouting their telephone numbers at the top of their lungs.

I escorted M right up to her door and made sure she got inside safely. Then we all endured these kids' obnoxious behavior for the rest of the way back to their houses, which are on the way to ours.

I was so angry I was shaking. Called both the mothers-- it's funny what sets people off. One mother, as expected, was angry as soon as she heard about the bullying-- her voice was shaking as she thanked me for calling and asked me to call again if I ever saw her son doing anything like this again. But the other mother only got really angry when I told her that her son laughed when I told him that I was going to call her. ???

Luckily school is out for the next two and a half weeks. I've been feeling pretty overwhelmed anyway, and this incident had me redlining on anger and discouragement. That, and fear. It scares me to see 8 year olds getting obvious enjoyment out of terrorizing helpless first graders. But it frightens me even more that the presence of an adult did little to temper their predatory behavior. Whatever punishment they receive will probably result in retaliation against S in January. I'm just grateful for the holidays-- and hope that the break provides not only rest but a little perspective. or wisdom. or something that will help me know what to do next time...

17 December, 2007

First Britney, then Lindsay, now the fat man...

Small-town Germany is reeling from reports that Santa Claus has hit rock bottom.

Herr Doktor Claus has been allegedly battling an addiction to pain medication prescribed for a back injury sustained in a drunken sleighing accident last Christmas.

Since splitting from Mrs. Claus earlier this year, Santa has lived on the streets as a vagrant. The sacks in which he once carried toys now house the few worldly possessions he has left.

As evidenced in this photo, Santa has also been neglecting his reindeer. A spokesperson for the local police force has confirmed that the once-jolly saint will be officially charged with two counts of animal cruelty, loitering and a handful of additional misdemeanors.

Santa has been taken into court custody and will be ordered into rehabilitation at an undisclosed location.

14 December, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like.... NINJA!

We finally dug the tree and Christmas decorations out of the basement yesterday.

S was in charge of the stockings. But somehow this wasn't what I had in mind when I handed them to him. That kick is called ab chaki (or something like that) and he tells me it's very dangerous.

Somewhere the woman who needlepointed these is clawing her way out of the grave...

13 December, 2007

Where does he come up with these things?

There was a note for me on our chalkboard yesterday:

Go look undr yor bed.

S and B have been doing this a lot lately, and the treasure is usually a piece of gum or candy that they've dug out of my cupboards. But this time when I checked there was nothing there. ???

When they got home from school later on I got right to the point:

Hey guys, I got a note this morning saying that I had to look under my bed, but there was nothing there...

B started smiling and hopping from foot to foot with excitement. HA! YEAH, I KNOW, FUNNY, HUH?!!! THAT WAS A PRANK!

S looked confused. Huh? What's a prank?


12 December, 2007

The vegetable orchestra

I have a cold; scratchy eyes, stuffy nose and am really spacey. This video had me mesmerized. Either it was very cool, or maybe it was just due to the fever...

08 December, 2007

Flashback #4: Moscow

A friend of mine had a litter of kittens she needed to dispose of. She gave a couple away and paid someone to sell the rest at the pet market. (Who knows what really happened to them but at least her conscience was clear.) She had one kitten left over and in a moment of weakness I took him.

His tiny round head and soft fur were beguiling: from the very first moment this cat was a menace. He climbed the curtains and shredded the wallpaper in my "pet free" apartment. He urinated consistently on my carpet and pooped in my bed. I had no washing machine and when I ran out of clean sheets I was sometimes forced to sleep curled up in a fetal position around sodden putrid spots on my bed.

This cat was so nefarious that I christened him Monster.

There was no cat food to be had in the grocery stores, so I got to make my own. Mornings found me gagging at the stove, stirring a pot of oatmeal studded with malodorous fish heads, tails and skin that I'd bought at the market the day before.

Monster's behavior became increasingly erratic and I started to reach the end of my steadily fraying rope. I was venting my frustrations to a colleague one day when she smiled reassuringly: "Sounds like he's hitting puberty. You need to have him neutered-- that will solve all your problems!"

She just happened to have a cousin who was a vet and called right away to make an appointment. I was relieved, if a little confused, when she hung up and said: "You're all set. He'll be at your apartment this afternoon."

I took a long lunch break and dashed home. The doorbell rang and a middle-aged man with a leather bag walked briskly into the room. I greeted him and started to apologize-- I had no cat carrier and wasn't sure where to put Monster so that he could transport him to his office.

He wasn't listening. He caught Monster, turned to me and asked: "Where is the kitchen?"

I led him to the kitchen and switched on the light. He held the cat down on the butcher block table with one hand while he pulled a razor out of his bag with the other. "Hold his legs for me, will you?"

I was so dumbfounded that I did as I was told as he shaved the cat's nether regions. Then he pulled out an enormous syringe.

Up until that moment I'd been trying to convince myself that this wasn't happening. That any minute he'd wrap Monster up, take him away and return him two days later as a purring, happy eunuch who had miraculously learned to use a litter box.

He pulled out a scalpel and I fled; sat in the only other room in my apartment and cried. About 15 minutes later he brought in a sedated Monster and placed him gently on the carpet. "He'll come around in a couple of hours. There shouldn't be any complications-- if you have any questions you can reach me through my cousin."

I paid him and grabbed my bag-- I had to return to work. We were passing the kitchen on our way out the front door when something caught my eye.

Adorning the middle of the kitchen table were two glistening testicles...

(Move on to Flashback 5:  Moscow)

06 December, 2007

As cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel**

S is spending a lot of time emulating teenage behavior lately. He's sullen, moody and sometimes just plain nasty. This has been kind of a shock because he's usually such a charming, easy-going kid.

Last night Sinterklaas came and brought the kids a few carefully-chosen presents. This morning S seemed happy with them, but then later he actually started complaining that B's presents are always better. and more exciting.

The first time he said it I made a remark about the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence, but the second time I got really annoyed-- how is it possible that my normally sunny child can act like such a spoiled brat?!

As soon as I got home I pulled a Grinch: slithered around and gathered up his presents, candy and gum. They have now been shelved on top of my closet for a month.

Depending on his behavior during that time he might or might not get them back. Anyone out there looking for a brand new dart board? I might have one to sell cheap...

**I'm starting off the season early with my Grinch references. The title was a nod at one of my favorite songs ever! "You're a three decker saurkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce."

05 December, 2007

I never liked the taste of liver...

Believe it or not I'm still alive and kicking. I've been having a hard time staying afloat this past week. I feel like my canoe has been springing leak after leak. And I don't like what's seeping in: sadness, aversion, guilt. I'm bailing it all out steadily-- but I'm not always very efficient in my efforts.

On top of everything we all seem to be fighting off a virus. And all this struggling leaves me irritable and bellicose. There's a fresh-faced woman in my German class who is still young enough that she can afford to see the world in black and white.

Yesterday she saw fit to pass judgment on an entire demographic of people. People who are faced with some very personal, highly-nuanced decisions at the end of their lives. And this young, healthy, fortunate woman passed her self-righteous judgment on them and wrote them off as "wrong".

Her arrogance floored me. I found myself willing her to burst into flame right there on the spot. Debated with her for a couple of minutes but then let it drop-- the windmills at which I was tilting are ancient and well-established, and they'll be around long after I'm gone.

The altercation is long over but I am still feeling the burn of residual indignation.

I can't seem to shake this heavy feeling. My "to-do" list is growing steadily-- I should be out right now running errands but am tempted to just crawl back into bed.

I've got a bad taste in my mouth; the greasy, repugnant flavor of liver and onions...

29 November, 2007

Flashback #3: Moscow

One slushy gray Spring morning I was on my way to visit a friend for coffee when I stopped dead in my tracks. There in the middle of the litter-strewn sidewalk stood a tiny green piano.

I tapped a few keys-- the pitch was perfect and I wouldn't have been surprised if an entire herd of Muppets had suddenly crowded around me and burst into song.

Knowing this would make a surreal and welcome addition to the meeting with my friend, I decided to take it along with me. My childish glee soon turned sour, however. This piano was made of wood and it was heavy! After a few more steps I impulsively shelved it on the next low windowsill I passed and kept walking.

Suddenly a man with a big fur hat and even bigger automatic weapon stepped out of a doorway in front of me. My stomach sank as I read the brass plate on the wall next to him:

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Russia

Uh oh.

He blocked my path and made himself very large. "WHAT WAS THAT?" he said aggressively and motioned with the gun towards the edge of the piano which was hanging off of the windowsill of his Embassy.

I'd learned a lot of vocabulary in the three months I'd been in Russia, but unfortunately it did not include either of the words "toy" or "piano".

I smiled and tried to look harmless. "Oh that? It's a toy piano." I answered in English.

I twiddled my fingers in the air helpfully.

Blank stare. He was not amused.

I tried again in pidgin Russian: "only piano. Not dangerous!"

Finally I was allowed to retrieve it and show him that it was, in fact, not an explosive device. I plinked out a few hopeful notes and he looked more confused than ever. He shook his head and bustled me on down the road with my suspicious instrument.

And that is the tale of my musical debut and how it almost caused an international incident...

(Move on to Flashback 4:  Moscow)

26 November, 2007

Flashback #2: Turkmenistan

While I was in Moscow I worked for a telecom company which provided satellite connections for Western companies working in remote areas. I managed several different projects in Central Asia. Or didn't manage them, because the rules of the game seemed to be completely out of my hands most of the time. As frustrating as this was, it did provide some very interesting travel opportunities.

By far the weirdest place I ever visited was Turkmenistan. Our client was a British company that was mining gold outside of the capital, Ashgabat. We were only a few kilometers away from the border with Iran, a fact which I found truly awe-inspiring.

The landscape was desolate-- lots of desert and scrub brush. Wild camels wandered along the streets like stray dogs. On our way to the client's site we stopped to get out of the car and stretch-- I felt someone staring at me, turned around and found myself face to face with a baby camel!

The most interesting thing about visiting Turkmenistan, though, was the country's dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, who was known for his authoritarian ways and eccentric decrees. He renamed himself "Turkmenbashi", the father of the people, and fostered a cult of personality that even rivaled Stalin's.

Wikipedia has a great list of some of his outrageous decrees. Among them:
  • He renamed the days of the week and the months after himself and his mother
  • He proclaimed that the youth of Turkmenistan should chew on bones rather than get gold caps on their teeth (???)
  • Beards were outlawed
  • All hospitals outside of Ashgabat were shut down because he felt that the sick should travel to the capital to be treated
  • Ballet and opera were banned when President Niyazov decided that they were "unnecessary to Turkmen culture"
He also decreed that all public buildings should prominently display his picture. And when I say "prominently" I mean that entire outer walls were dedicated to his portrait. At any given street corner in Ashgabat one was privy to his solemn glare from several different directions.

The streets were a mess and one taxi ride was particularly memorable. The driver was speeding and driving very erratically-- swerving crazily around potholes and driving through red lights. Growing increasingly nervous, I was trying to concentrate on all of Niyazov's different portraits when suddenly the driver slammed on the breaks and we came to a stop. He was cursing under his breath.

"Anything wrong?"


He pulled a pair of glasses out of his pocket. They had thick coke-bottle lenses and one of the arms was broken off. For the rest of the trip he held them up to his eyes with one hand while he steered with the other. Up until that point he had apparently been driving blind...

Once we'd finished our business with the client there was some time to go sightseeing. One of the engineers offered to take us to see some hot springs just outside of the capital. Always up for adventure, my colleague and I agreed.

We drove for a couple of hours out into the middle of nowhere. The engineer led us to a cave and we went inside. Once our eyes adjusted to the dark we saw a large pool of water. There was a single electric lamp on one side of the cave which didn't do much to cut through the gloomy darkness. Bats hung from the ceiling above and the air was thick with steam and the heavy smell of sulphur.

My colleague and I stripped down to our bathing suits and jumped in. The water was bathtub temperature and very murky. I held my breath and let myself sink down as far as I dared but I couldn't touch the bottom.

Strangely the engineer refused to join us, but preferred instead to hang out at the cave's entrance and smoke.

The water temperature was pleasant but the sulphurous smell became overbearing after a while and the atmosphere was just plain creepy. My colleague and I climbed out, dried off and put our clothes back on in silence.

We exited the cave and were climbing back into the car when a rickety, rusted-out old bus pulled up and a dozen locals piled out. They were dressed in colorful, ratty garments and were a pretty ragtag bunch.

"Who are they?" I asked our guide.

"Oh them."

And then he told me that this particular hot spring is famous throughout the country. That its warm sulphur waters supposedly have healing properties and that people with otherwise incurable skin diseases were bussed in to bathe here in as a last resort for a cure...

It took weeks before I was convinced that I hadn't contracted leprosy...

(Move on to Flashback #3:  Moscow)

25 November, 2007

Try telling THAT to a guidance counsellor!

B was waxing philisophical on our walk to school.

You know, all this time I thought I wanted to be a pilot when I grow up. But now I think I want to be a veterinarian.

Cool! Why? Because you like to help animals?

No. There are just too many buttons to push in a cockpit.

24 November, 2007

Cruel twist of fate.

We are celebrating Thanksgiving today with an American neighbor. We've been planning menus for a couple of days and I've spent the last couple of hours cooking: pumpkin crisp, baked Parmesan tomatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, and of course, the obligatory stuffing.

Our friend has baked a ham and is putting the finishing touches on garlic green beans, homemade apple pie and buttery mashed potatoes.

My mouth should be watering at all the delicious smells. It's definitely watering, but not for the usual reasons.

I didn't feel well when I got up this morning and am starting to feel very bad. T minus 25 minutes til showdown but I'm realizing that I've probably picked up the virulent stomach virus that's being passed around at school and kindergarten.

And I'm thinking that instead of spending my afternoon giving thanks at the table that it's more likely that I'll be spending it hanging over the toilet...

21 November, 2007

Russia #1: Life in the bubble

As a journalism student at UF I took a couple of years of Russian-- not out of any great interest in the Soviet Union, but basically to fill a language requirement.

In 1991 the Russian department offered summer classes at Moscow State for a ridiculously low price. So I could either stay in Gainesville running my ass off in my hum-drum waitressing job or go have an adventure in a foreign country for less money. It was basically a no-brainer, a default decision that changed the course of my life.

That trip, from beginning to end was a surreal experience. We lived in huge, rat-infested dorms which were crawling with roaches that devoured anything left out uncovered, including Advil! We grew used to having insects scurry over us as we slept-- one day in class my ear started itching and I pulled out a half a spider!

The organizers left us to our own devices where meals were concerned. There was no food provided and we never did find a reliable source. The cafeteria was hit or miss-- aside from one meal which consisted solely of tomatoes I don't remember ever being able to eat there. We subsisted on a diet of ice cream, vodka, brown bread and the occasional khachapuri in dimly lit, smoky Georgian cafes.

During a very memorable outing in Leningrad we got caught in a riot. We were out enjoying the White Nights when we came upon a rowdy group of inebriated sailors. They started causing trouble so we crossed the street to avoid them. Suddenly a paddy wagon screeched to a halt in front of us. Anyone who had any sense at all started running. We stayed rooted to the spot.

The police were brutal and indescriminant. I watched in morbid fascination as an innocent bystander near me got clubbed and collapsed; his briefcase and glasses skittered to the curb, carried along by the momentum of his fall. A woman in a flowered dress panicked and ran past only to be beaten and then engulfed in the stampede of wild-eyed frightened people.

I remember that summer in superlatives. The USSR was imploding, the atmosphere was electric and we were experiencing history in the making. I felt alive in the midst of all the chaos.

I was also intrigued by the romantic literary idea of the dark Russian soul and wanted to experience life there first-hand. When I returned to Florida I changed my major to Russian and upon graduation I sold everything and went back to Moscow. I had no job and no real plans-- just a strange feeling that I needed to be there and that everything would work out fine.

In the end I spent more than three and a half years in Russia. I led a life of extremes; swinging wildly between states of elation and despair. I had interesting jobs, traveled to bizarre locales and met and married my husband. But I was also witness to a kidnapping at gunpoint, had a baby left in my stairwell and became accustomed to the sound of gunfire and the occasional dead body lying in the street.

We lived nextdoor to a mafia gangster who assured us that he'd "taken care" of whoever kept setting our mailboxes on fire. (it never happened again.) Our car got stolen and then returned, and we actually laughed when a colleague accidentally fired off his gun in the office.

One day several men with machine guns stormed into a restaurant we ate at regularly. They opened fire, killing two people and wounding several others. If it hadn't been for a cold that had kept me in bed that particular day we would probably have been there and could easily have become one of the casualties.

It often seemed as if human life had very little worth in the Russia I knew.

M and I were driving down a small side street one evening when six men with machine guns suddenly stepped out of the shadows in front of our car. Their faces were covered by ski-masks and they were dressed in fatigues. They yanked M out of the car at gunpoint and demanded to see his papers. He couldn't understand them and I pleaded for them to let him go. When they figured out that we were not whoever they were seeking they let us go. We were silent on the way home-- if they had killed us there would have been no witnesses.

I suppose it's not surprising that that kind of atmosphere can have a corruptive effect on the soul. We lived in a temporary suspension of ethics safeguarded by our foreignness and the naive belief that we were invincible. I smuggled telecom equipment across borders (and got caught!), bribed government officials and laundered money for the insanely corrupt company for which I worked. I came and went on dodgy visas and got held at the border on more than one occasion, a situation which could usually be remedied by tears and US Dollars surreptitiously folded into passports or other documents.

When M was offered a job in Brussels in 1996 we jumped at the opportunity. The violence and sheer aggressive nature of the city was starting to wear us down. We had alternately loved and hated our time there and agreed that it was time to leave the surreal bubble in which we were living. I am astounded now when I look back at how recklessly, how carelessly we lived.

As soon as we left Russia I reclaimed my integrity and common sense.

It seems strange to recall these experiences so many years later. Although they may sound incredible these stories are not exaggerated and there's plenty more where they came from.

This might become good blogging fodder to spice up the bourgeois content I've been churning out lately. Sorry that this post ended up running so long-- this has opened up a floodgate of memories for me! More (shorter!) stories to come...

(Move on to Flashback #2:  Turkmenistan)

20 November, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen! Presenting: Blog Ness Betsy!

My blogging muse seems to be taking a sabbatical, so I was very relieved when Jen offered to put together a list of interview questions for me. And here, without further ado:

1. What is the easiest/hardest thing about living in Germany?

The easiest thing about living near Stuttgart is staying fit. We chose a house near a nature reserve so that we can spend a lot of time outdoors. The area is also very hilly, and we live about a mile out of town. I try to walk everywhere and get a relatively good workout most days just through doing errands and school runs.

The biggest hurdle has definitely been learning the language. I've got no shortage of posts about embarrassing language gaffes I've made, especially in the beginning. And as someone who is rather articulate in English and Dutch it was hard to be reduced to grunts and sign language in order to get even rudimentary ideas across.

I've been taking intensive language lessons for about a year now and am really enjoying them. I've always wanted to have a chance to jump into a foreign language head first and am savoring the opportunity. most of the time... ;-)

2. You've written some absolutely hysterical pieces on clutzy/embarrassing moments - what was your number one of all time?

The worst, absolute WORST moment of my life?

Was when a kindly male colleague informed me that the hem of my skirt was tucked up into my pantyhose, effectively displaying my underwear (and posterior) for the world to see.

Suddenly it all made sense: The honking, the shouting and the waving from passersby while I had been walking to work that morning...

3. Of all the places that you've lived, where was your favorite and why?

You know, I think that this one will probably end up being my favorite.

We're building up a great social network and I am involved at the kids' school. I volunteer at the kindergarten and have made some friends through German lessons. That and it's beautiful here-- the rolling hills, woods and verdant fields really speak to me.

4. How did you and your husband meet?

14 years ago I was living in Moscow and went back to Florida to visit friends. M was doing a month-long roadtrip through the States and we happened to be staying in the same house for a couple of days.

I liked him immediately-- enough so that when he and his friends left to go camping down in south Florida I tagged along for two days.

After returning to our respective countries we wrote each other a lot of letters. He came to visit me three months later and that was it. I remember thinking "This is how life should be."

M moved over to Moscow 6 months later and we got married a couple of years after that.

Several of my friends were astounded and even a little dismayed at how quickly we became serious. I was never one to fall in love easily and they wondered how trustworthy M was-- he did, after all live a thousand kilometers away, and those Dutch are just so LIBERAL, don't you know! ;-)

But this was one of those serendipitous occasions that have a happy ending. A summer love that actually lasted! Even after this much time I still think he's the bee's knees. He's my best friend and our meeting stands out as one of the best things that's ever happened to me!

18 November, 2007


M and I watched Little Children with a friend last night. The film was great but left me with a creepy feeling afterwards, so I was a little jumpy when I went downstairs to go to bed.

I was sliding under the covers when suddenly raucous, maniacal laughter erupted from underneath my pillow.

Once I'd peeled myself off of the ceiling, a search revealed a little plastic device that previously resided inside an odious stuffed animal the kids got from Oma one year. When you press a button it laughs uproariously.

At least someone's laughing, because my children certainly won't be when they're turned out in the snow to do hard manual labor...

17 November, 2007

Difficult subjects

I had to have that talk with the boys yesterday. The talk every parent dreads. (or at least the one I've been dreading.) The talk that starts off with an innocent question and ends with the obligatory:

"You're always welcome to come to me with any questions you might have, but it's probably best if you don't bring this up in any casual conversation with the neighbors..."

I had to tell them about Hitler.

It was unavoidable-- our little village was leveled by allied air raids toward the end of the war and they came across a picture of the destruction in a local newspaper.

Try finding an easy way to explain to a 6 and 8 year old why Americans would want to drop bombs on our village and completely raze it. Try simplifying Hitler's rise to power, the polarization of the world and the death camps.

My grandmother was a Hungarian Jew and had family who died in those camps. And when I studied in St. Petersburg I lived with a lovely old woman who had survived the siege of Leningrad. A fact I didn't know until one day I was hungry and unwittingly said "I'm starving!" and she lashed out with "Don't you EVER say that again! You have no idea what starving is!"

I gave S and B the basic facts as best I could and told them: "This is nothing that you have to worry about. It is not something that will affect your everyday lives. But it is important that we are all aware that this can happen so that we can make sure our leaders are kept in check and do not abuse their power."

Then came the hardest question of all: "So this isn't something that could ever happen again?"

And unfortunately there's no happy ending answer for that one, is there?

Compared to this the birds and the bees is going to be a cakewalk!

13 November, 2007

Oh yeahhhhhhhh

Usually I end the day with my dignity intact. Today, however, was not one of those days.

I was walking to school and realized too late that two workmen sitting in a parked van had overheard me singing.

And not just any old song, but one from Kool and the Gang...

to my dog.

And I was replacing some of the words with her name....

That would have already been bad enough, but I was also channeling Cheb Tarik.

Shit. I might have to move out of this neighborhood. That or wear a false moustache from now on whenever I leave the house.

12 November, 2007

What a blessing!

Today S read an endearing poem entitled "Ich bin froh, dass ich bin, wie ich bin". (I am happy that I am how I am)

The protagonist is feeling insecure and is thinking about other forms he might like to assume: a tree; a bird; a cloud. But after thinking about each alternative he comes to the conclusion that he'd actually rather be the way he is.

Of course at the end there were the mandatory questions to check reading comprehension-- "What would you like to be?", "What wouldn't you like to be?"

The last question was: "Are you also happy to be the way you are?"

S answered:

"ja, sogar sehr" (yes, very much so)

I've had a warm, happy feeling for the rest of the day! :-)

07 November, 2007

Need a laugh?

Schmutzie often makes me chuckle, but this post had me laughing cackling hysterically! Who else would start a list of random facts about herself with a mangy cat muse and end on this hilarious note:

I took to blowdrying my hair in grade five in an effort to feather the sides. My hair was fine and board straight, so it never worked, but I did manage to over-blow enough one day that all the skin on my left ear began to peel.

Two days later while the ear was still healing, a girl ran by me in the hallway at school, and her scarf's fringe caught on my pierced earring. I had to run along after her as fast as I could just to keep from having my earlobe ripped through, and being unaware of my predicament, she thought I was chasing her and screamed for help. She kept screaming at her friend, She's crazy! Make her stop!.

A teacher finally caught up with me and pushed me against a wall to stop me. What is wrong with you?! she snapped at me. I cried and cupped my palm around my blistered and now bleeding left ear...

Schmutzie, I think I love you...

He likes the squeal factor

Day three after our little bushwhacker got whacked by a bush. His eye is healing but it still looks horrendous! My own eyes still start to water every time I look at him.

He's getting a lot of attention at school and said it's fun to see people shudder when they see him.


06 November, 2007

Brotherly love

I was a little shocked when I entered the livingroom this afternoon. B was standing there, naked from the waist up and S stood behind him rubbing his face all over B's back.

??? Um, guys? What are you doing?

S smiled: Oh nothing. I just put too much moisturizer on my face and thought B could use what wasn't soaking in...

05 November, 2007

Metta meditation

Dear Uncle Ruud:

This is how I will always remember you: bright, vibrant and full of life.

At this very moment cancer is ravaging your body. Every breath could be your last-- a tragedy for us all but even more so for your new wife and her daughter.

I think about you often these days-- and try to place your imminent passing into the context of a faith that speaks so clearly to me. But it is one thing to read and understand texts on a generic level and yet quite another to absorb them through to the marrow: the pain and indignity and scope of your suffering right now leave me breathless.

There are several sound reasons for you to hang on to those tenuous threads of life, but I can also imagine an ever increasing urge to let go.

I keep thinking about a powerful passage from the Tibetan Book of the Dead:
Remember the clear light, the pure clear light from which everything in the universe comes, to which everything in the universe returns... The bright shining light of your own nature. It is deathless... No matter where or how far you wander, the light is only a split second, a half a breath away...
You were always such a kind, helpful and cheerful person-- I doubt you have any Buddhist leanings, but for what it's worth you have certainly amassed good karma! (Which should please whoever happens to be on guard at your pearly gates when you get there.)

I sincerely hope that the remainder of your transition goes more peacefully.

May you be free from danger. May you be peaceful. May you live and pass with ease.

04 November, 2007

Stick-y eyes

Remember this?!

This time it was S who had a run-in with stick. He was crashing through some bushes in a friend's yard when a branch whipped back and hit him in the eye.

We took him to see an opthalmologist who was on call at a local eye center. He got lucky-- Germany is very well organized for off-hour emergencies. That, and the branch missed his cornea by a couple of millimeters.

I hope we've had our quota for eye injuries for a while...

03 November, 2007

Need a laugh?

This guy's name is Kaluuri Vaanil, and I'm thinking he takes himself a bit too seriously. What a CHEESEBALL! (But at least he's a funny cheeseball!)

That and I'm afraid the song is starting to grow on me... :-)

26 October, 2007

Scattered thoughts

After a couple more hiccups I did eventually get to Frankfurt to see my friend. We stayed up late into the night talking about life, the universe and everything...

There are so few people in this world with whom we are truly ourselves, warts and all.

It was definitely worth all the hassle the last couple of days to be able to spend a few hours with someone who has known me, truly known me, for 20+ years. Friendships like these are rare and precious...


M took the dog to Holland last weekend where she will enjoy a brief sojourn with Oma and Opa. Today we got a call from Oma, however-- her brother is ill so they will be driving down to France for a while. With D in tow. Who knew she was destined to become such a seasoned international traveler?

B told me today that I shouldn't worry. If robbers were to break into our house I should just let him know and he'll call an old acquaintance from kindergarten. because he's actually a secret agent...

OK, enough procrastinating. I need to go finish packing!

24 October, 2007

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

A friend of mine who is living in Dublin called me a couple of weeks ago to say that she will be in Frankfurt for a conference.


"The 25th."

Shit. We're supposed to be leaving for the States on the 27th. A jaunt to Frankfurt would be fun but will create a lot of additional stress. I was lying slumped over in a conflicted heap on the couch.

M started laughing at me: "You are SO LAME!!!"

He reminded me that this is my bestest friend and that I haven't seen her in almost two years. That I would be really happy if I made the effort and got to spend some time with her.

He's right. I've vowed to worry less about the little details in life and to try and be more spontaneous. I called my friend back to tell her I'd come, obstacles be damned!

(Little did I know that the obstacles would start appearing thicker and faster than flyspots on a windshield on a country road in June.)

S had a school commitment that he couldn't get out of that would delay my start. Suddenly M had to go to Greece and would not return until Thursday evening. And of course it took a while to find someone who could take care of the kids for the few hours between the time that I left and when M returned for the handoff.

Finally everything was set! I bought my train tickets and....

(drumroll please!)

...Deutsche Bahn as announced a strike for local and regional trains between 2pm tomorrow and 8am Friday-- almost exactly the times I was supposed to be going.

You think someone is trying to tell me something?

23 October, 2007

Free Rice!

Jen over at A2eatwrite posted a link to a great website called Free Rice.

It's basically a vocabulary quiz and for every correct answer they donate 10 grains of rice to impoverished people through the United Nations. (wait-- ...through the United Nations to impoverished people? No. Shit. I seem to have left something dangling there somewhere....)

ANYWAY! My grammar sucks this evening but I just played and I am RED HOT when it comes to vocabulary! (and being humble.)

Quick! Go play! Go donate!!!

22 October, 2007

Bits and pieces

1.) Lately my traffic has gone up 30% due to people looking for this picture which I included in this post. And while I certainly wouldn't mind being considered a drag queen aficionado I have to give credit where credit is due: this photo was taken by Günter Hofstädter.
2.) While we're talking about "traffic accidents", I just wanted to clarify that "Supersize Betsy" is not my hefty alter-ego. Somehow I doubt my witty repartee will satisfy those of you who come through here looking to be smothered in kinky belly fat. I think you're looking for Deviant Desires...

3.) S turns 8 on Saturday, but since the date clashes with travel plans we celebrated it last weekend.

Yes, that is an ice cream cone with candles in it. He swore he would rather have that than something homemade. I was actually feeling guilty about not baking until I realized: "DUH! Wise up! Less time in the kitchen means more time to fritter away elsewhere...."

4.) I suppose that as an avowed pacifist I should have my reservations about M's newfound passion for Tae Kwan Do, but really: HUBBA HUBBA!
5.) J update: A couple of you have asked about S's friend who suddenly starting having vision problems. He apparently needs a special pair of bifocal glasses and will undergo therapy to help him regain his binocular vision.

His mother says that strabismus runs in the family and that it could be stress-induced. (???) So far no one has mentioned the possibility of a brain tumor, which can be associated with sudden binocular vision problems. (And I certainly am not going to bring it up.) Let's just hope that it gets straightened out soon so that his family can get back to normal!!!

21 October, 2007

Never what you think it should be

Feeling uninspired for Halloween costume ideas? Never fear! WhiskeyMarie has got some holiday tips for you.

19 October, 2007

Note to self

Remind B when he gets home to stop sharing his water bottle with that kid who has the scabby fever blisters on his lips... **shudder**

17 October, 2007

Another reminder to count your blessings!

S's best friend is a big, good-natured kid. He's inherently kind and never fails to stick up for S if other kids give him a hard time.

This afternoon, as usual, I met up with them and the group of kids we all walk home with. I'd already noticed from a distance that J was rolling his eyes in a very disconcerting way. When I asked him if he was OK he said yeah, but that he had an appointment with the eye doctor scheduled for this afternoon. He then told me that suddenly he can't see out of one eye and that the other one has gone all blurry.

I took it with a grain of salt-- he has a talent for tall tales. But this afternoon S called to see how the appointment went and apparently the situation is so bad that J will have to go into the hospital and will miss school on Friday because he has an emergency appointment at a Sehschule for some kind of vision training.

I spoke to the father briefly and he said he still doesn't know much about J's condition, only that he'll have to undergo some more tests. He sounded extremely worried so I kept the call brief. But from what I understand this has come on quite suddenly, which sounds very alarming.

Let's just hope that he's going to be OK again very soon!

15 October, 2007

Time is FLYING!

B turned six yesterday!

13 October, 2007

Books, books, books!!!

I've been tagged by Anno to do a book meme. Which is pretty convenient since I seem to be in a bit of a blogging dip.

Total number of books: No clue. Let's just say that in the interest of public safety my bookshelf should probably be roped off with yellow plastic ribbon and marked an avalanche warning*:

Last book read: Sea Glass by Anita Shreve, one of my favorite authors. Lately I'm trying to read fiction exclusively in German-- it's getting easier but is still a bit of a struggle sometimes. This book was so gripping, though, that I devoured it in one weekend.

Last book bought: Seeking the Heart of Wisdom by Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, which is a Vipassana guide by two very inspiring people. So far I'm enjoying this one more than the last Kornfield book I read because it's less abstract and really focuses on deepening the Insight Meditation experience.

Most meaningful book read lately: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood. I love Atwood's style, and this book was a real treat. The storyline follows the recollections of a woman who is struggling to accept some deep seated insecurities that plague her as an adult. Atwood masterfully pieces together a tapestry of memories that include key defining moments in her life. The protagonist was teased mercilessly as a child and this book explores the darker sides of human nature, but in a very unsentimental way. It's an excellent read and I can highly recommend it!

*Photo thanks to clearchannel.com

12 October, 2007

Need a laugh?

Virgin Trains has gotten creative in order to promote their new environmentally-friendly Pendolino train line. If you like the clip on the homepage you will also enjoy their series ofInternet Ads. Gotta love that dry British humor!

09 October, 2007

6:55am this morning

"Ummm, Mom? What happens when something painted gets wet?"

????? "You mean like a car, or something?"

I look down groggily and register that he's carrying a squirt gun.

"Why do you want to know?"

(Doing his best to look innocent. He would have been whistling if he only knew how to do it.)

"No reason. I was just wondering. The paint wouldn't slide off, or anything, would it?"

"No, but I don't think you should be doing any experiments."

"OK, thanks."

And he turned around and walked out of the room...


06 October, 2007

Only in Holland...

...can one spend the evening with one's parents-in-law watching a documentary about the plastic surgery boom featuring a full half-hour dedicated to "vaginal rejuvination" and cosmetic genital reconstruction.

04 October, 2007

Free Burma!

Free Burma!
More info on how you can participate at Free Burma! Spread the word!

28 September, 2007

Oh to be young and carefree again. (NOT!)

I'd awoken that morning with a headache. The kind that makes you understand why patients in the middle ages agreed to let their doctors pierce their skulls with instruments which were probably better suited for gardening.

My first instinct was to burrow back under the covers, but we had a guest staying with us, so I had entertaining duties in addition to some unavoidable errands. I dragged myself out of bed and pulled on a pair of semi-clean jeans that were lying in a crumpled heap on the floor.

We stopped at a gas station on the way out of town. The headache had continued to amplify, so I remember being a bit slow to answer when our friend said: "Um Betsy, is that your underwear?"

I turned around to look in the direction he was pointing and saw a familiar-looking pair of bikini briefs lying on the ground behind me. My stomach turned.

My mother always taught me that honesty is the best policy, even if the truth is horrifically embarrassing. So I said:

"No! Of course not! Why would you think that?"

He looked very confused. "Well, because I just saw them fall out of your pants leg. Aren't you going to pick them up?"

I looked at him as if he were insufferably stupid and said: "You must be mistaken. I've got my own underwear, thanks." And showed him the waistband.

And I must have been pretty convincing because he became so confused that he stood rooted to the spot with his mouth open.

I herded him back to the car and drove off quickly, trying to divert his attention, trying to forget the fact that earlier that morning I'd picked up a pair of jeans off of the floor. A pair of jeans which I'd slipped off the night before with my underwear still inside. A pair of underwear which I left forlorn and betrayed on the ground at a gas station on the road to hell...

Now it's your turn. Tell me one of your most embarrassing moments! :-)

27 September, 2007

He plans to major in "Grime Management"

This morning I overheard B telling a classmate that he thought the school should replace Stützunterricht with Schmutzunterricht.

(So rather than remedial classes he'd like to be offered filth education.)

25 September, 2007

Aesthetic diversion

I haven't had a lot to say these last few days. My mind seems to be even more cluttered than my desk, which is no small feat!

All in all, though, things are going well. The boys are settling into school and we're all trying to find our groove with our newly crammed schedules.

And in the midst of all the chaos I lack words. I search for them in English and they elude me in German. And in acknowledgment of this rare occurrence I've pulled together a couple of photography links for your viewing pleasure.

Laura has posted some really gorgeous work on her blog Today on my Wanderings. She manages to convey a lot of emotion through her photography and I really enjoy her perspective of Germany!
Allison and Jenn are a well-known phenomenon in the expat blogging community. They joined forces to create Looking Into, which is a visual feast.
And no list of photography links would be complete without a nod to Chuck over at CRB Photography. He's a globetrotter, superhero, dad, and he's got a great eye to boot!

20 September, 2007

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but...

I was putting on makeup this morning when B strolled into the room.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm putting on eyeliner."


"Well, people think it makes women's eyes look prettier. Want to see it? Look-- I've got it on my left eye, but not on my right. Do you see the difference?"

"NO! All I see is a bunch of wrinkly lines next to your eyes!"

18 September, 2007

So hard to keep a straight face!

B ate his dessert yesterday evening with that fully-concentrated gusto only he can muster. And, as usual, when he finished he was a complete mess. There was chocolate on his hands, his cheeks, even his nose! So I sent him upstairs to clean up.

He came back downstairs within a minute and he was almost as dirty as he had been when he'd gone up!

"B, I thought I told you to wash your hands!"
"But I did!"
"Did you use soap?"

As this was obviously not the case I looked at him and raised my eyebrows.

"I did use soap!

...Just not this evening..."

17 September, 2007

Relieved and happy

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that my introduction to the German school system was not a positive experience. The principal was arrogant and inflexible, the teacher(s) screamed at the class and the situation on the playground was chaotic.

This was a double whammy-- we'd just left an excellent school in Flanders and on top of that S had a lot of catching up to do because of the new language. The school system here works fine as long as the students are of average ability, but as soon as they drift toward either end of the spectrum or need extra attention they fall through the cracks.

(Case in point: there's a boy this year who's repeating first grade for the third time. This kid is almost 10 years old and is expected to spend another year among 6 year olds! To me that seems inhumane and unjustifiable!)

In our elementary school status-quo seems to be the ultimate goal: Cookie cutter children who use uniform book covers and who are taught not to think outside of the box. Creativity is considered undesirable and is only encouraged within the very strict confines of a weekly art class.

Last year S's teacher was so aggressive that I was afraid that he might lose that spark that keeps him inquisitive about life around him.

But somehow he held on. Through sheer determination, hard work, and a god-given talent for languages, S not only caught up, but even excelled in this harsh atmosphere. The first few months were arduous, but we worked together and in the end he won a prize for reading more (German!) books than anyone else in his class.

This summer I tried in vain not to worry about who the boys would get as a teacher. This is doubly important since they keep the same teacher for two years-- I had to force myself to stop envisioning scenarios in which we repeated difficult experiences from last year!

Of course the situation is different now-- B's German is completely fluent and he is entering school with some other children from his kindergarten, which makes the transition easier.

But they are so small and vulnerable and I get a knot in my throat thinking about what it must be like to be screamed at by your teacher. To be humiliated in front of the class. S went through it and somehow came out stronger. B would probably survive as well, but really, is it normal for a parent to have to hope that her child will receive a humane introduction into the lifelong quest for learning?!

LUCKILY B's teacher seems great. She's young and motivated and warm. When she met B she asked if he was nervous, and when he admitted he was she said: "Me too."

And I've actually got a lump in my throat as I'm typing this, because isn't that what first graders need? A little bit of kindness? It's unfortunate that it seems to be such a rare occurrence, but that also makes it that much more precious...

16 September, 2007

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee(ski)...

I was working in the garden yesterday and turned around to find this lurking behind me...

13 September, 2007

How did this happen?!

Tomorrow B will be heading off to school for the first time. I'm spending this evening stuffing his Schultütte and trying not to think about the fact that my youngest child is now in elementary school!

I've always inwardly groaned when people say "Enjoy them while you can because it goes so fast!" But there's a reason that that's become a cliché. Where has the time gone?!

12 September, 2007

I'm a long way from enlightenment...

I have a horrible confession to make.

I downloaded the new 50 Cent album yesterday and and it's horrendous. Totally inappropriate, offensive, depraved, and... umm... I really like it.

09 September, 2007

Last hurrah before school starts tomorrow

We just got back from a long weekend camping with Oma and Opa at the Bodensee (Lake Constance). The weather here was crappy so we almost didn't go, but we took a chance anyway and got lucky: some sunshine and relatively warm weather! The kids even got to swim yesterday, although they came out of the lake covered in a double layer of goosebumps.

Since we hadn't really planned it beforehand this trip seemed like a bonus; a luxury we were able to squeeze in just before school starts back tomorrow.

This is not a joke. WTF?! I can't figure out if this is a line of beauty products made for or by evil little people...
This souvenir shop had the standard tacky personalized greeting cards. Betsy wasn't in there. As a kid I was always disappointed to have been excluded from this kind of merchandise, but back then I was passed over for names like "Amy", "Lisa" and "Tammy".

Bärbel, Boris, Brunhilda, Burkhard, Birgit and Beat? Are they kidding?

I've been thinking of trying out a new hair color. But not at this salon.
We walked to Austria for lunch one day. It sounds impressive until you realize that the border was only about 1 km further down the road. Here we are with one foot in Germany and the other in Austria...
This is one of my favorite family photos ever! We spent the afternoon at the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen and had just come out of a 3D movie about blimps. Which was actually more fun than it sounds...

06 September, 2007

Unexpected gift

I was up early this morning and took advantage of the quiet to catch up on blogs. S came shambling down the stairs, his hair and face tousled. Sleep still clung to him like a fine mist. He is almost eight years old, but in that instant he bore the expression of a winsome toddler. Something long-gone yet familiar; warm and fragrant as fresh baked bread.

He climbed unbidden into my lap and curled his lanky boy body around mine. And I savored the sweetness of this fleeting phenomenon. A pearl nestled in the middle of an otherwise slippery oyster; treasure glinting through the fog of a mundane Thursday morning...

04 September, 2007

At least it wasn't a FlowBee*...

M came home yesterday with an impish smile: "I've got a present for you."


"Ummmm. No. It's from my colleague, H."

Oh god.

H has become a regular around here, which is surprising if you consider that I flashed him the first time I met him. And that I fed him vomit-colored stew shortly thereafter.

Anyway, it appears that H has a strong stomach. That, and he's got my best interests at heart, because when he was at the grocery store the other day he saw a shirt-folder and for some reason he thought of me. (???)

"Wait-- WHAT???!!! A shirt-folder. You're kidding, right?"

M chuckled. "Um. No. It's just like the ones you see advertised on TV."

I was completely dumbfounded. As you can see from the breakfast crumbs still on the table when I took this picture at 2:30 pm, I don't exactly excel at home ec.

Is H trying to tell me something? That my husband is rumpled? Maybe that I need a hobby?

A younger version of Betsy would probably have had to be restrained to keep from burning this gift and pouring the ashes into the next pot of vomit-colored stew.

I've mellowed a lot over the years, though, luckily. Now all I can do is laugh. Me! A shirt-folder! Who'da thunk it?!!!

*I just checked, and the FlowBee is actually still around! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

03 September, 2007

Force of nature

Yesterday we made a day trip down to the Rheinfall (in Schaffhausen, Switzerland), the largest waterfall in Europe.

The weather was gorgeous and we hiked around the outer rim.

Here's a quick video of the first section of the waterfall in case you need a 17 second virtual field trip:

Not much else to say this morning. What are you up to today?

31 August, 2007

Just when you thought it was safe........

When I was little I harbored an innate fear of revolving doors. Afraid of passing through too fast; terrified of being too slow. When walking through I could easily imagine the panel behind me speeding up and opening its jaws to reveal three rows of razor-sharp teeth.

This morning we were on our way into an office building and of course I entered through the regular door. S didn't. I had just gotten inside when I heard him screaming:


and turned around to see him lying on the floor caught in the revolving door. It had run him over and swallowed one of his feet; I could see his toes and the sole of his sandal sticking out in the neighboring section.

A man who had been standing outside smoking rushed in to help and together we pushed the door back in the other direction, freeing S, but running over his foot a second time in the process.

Luckily the office had a bathroom with a big sink. I filled it full of cold water and held his foot in it for about 10 minutes. We stopped by the doctor's office on the way home, but as Murphy would have it, it was closed for lunch.

By the time we got home S was totally calm, so I don't think he's broken anything. One side of his foot is blue and swollen but now that he's had some ibuprofen and a couple of hours have passed he seems to be able to walk on it OK.

So take this as a cautionary tale. Trust my instincts and avoid rotating doors at all costs. Just when you thought it was safe; The legend continues...

29 August, 2007

Need a laugh?

Davezilla posted a link today that will cut through even the most pernicious case of post-vacation blues! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

27 August, 2007

There's no place like home!

Aaah! It's good to be back! It's a real novelty to be able to shower without shoes on! The 12 hour drive back went pretty smoothly and we spent the rest of the weekend unpacking, cleaning the camper and doing load after load of toxic laundry.

We've been bitten by the camping bug, though-- the kids have two weeks before school starts and we're thinking of squeezing in one more quick trip before then.

It's been fun to be able to go through all of our pictures! There were so many that I wanted to share-- normally I just put them in a table in one post, but figured that it might be easier this time to insert them into the posts that they belonged with. That way the context is clear and no explanation would be needed. If you're interested you can just scroll down through the last three weeks of posts...

22 August, 2007

Road trips...

It turns out M was as campground claustrophobic as I was on Monday. Shortly after I posted we hopped into the car and drove to Grožnjan, which is in a hilly area inland to the east of here. The buildings in Grožnjan date back to the 1100's, but by the early 20th century it had fallen into ruin. In the 1960s many of the houses were given to artists who christened Grožnjan a "Town of Arts" and lovingly restored the buildings and the protective wall around the city.

The result is beautiful— it has a charm and an elegance that a lot of other villages in the area lack. It’s full of galleries and boutiques, but isn’t tacky in any way. The cobblestone streets are bordered by plants with fragrant flowers and soft cello music spilled out of an open window. We sat out on an open air terrace under some trees and enjoyed a very nice, simple supper.

Yesterday we traveled out east again and explored Krk, the largest island in the Adriatic region. The island itself is funny—when you cross over a bridge from the mainland you feel like you’ve landed on the moon. It’s covered in small beige pebbles and there are no trees—only a bit of scrubbrush dots the landscape.

There is more vegitation further inland, however, but local farmers have to build stone walls to keep the wind from destroying their vineyards. The main city is at the very southern tip of the island and the old center dates back to 1100 AD!

We also visited Punat, which is a pretty little town with an international Marina on the southern coast of Krk. Then we traveled briefly to Cres, a neighboring island, and then took a ferry back to the mainland. It was nice to be active and on a new adventure.

Today we had lunch at the local marina. Last week when we were there B was walking around looking at all of the interesting things that people were eating. At one point he came to a table where a man was eating a plate full of mussels. Despite his Belgian roots B had never seen mussels before! The guy saw him staring and said: “Would you like one?” and popped one into his mouth! He loved it!

Since then he cannot stop thinking about mussels. Today he was determined to eat a plate full of them. It was such a pleasure to watch him eat—he enjoyed it in a way only B can. He is our full-sensory kid. He examined them from all sides; smelled them with and without lemon; felt their texture with his fingers and tongue and commented on the nice sound the empty shells made when he dropped them into the bowl. He savored them with every fiber of his being in a way that I rarely take the time to do.

Now we’re back. The kids are out riding their bikes and I think I am going to go warm up my lawn chair. We have just heard that it’s 17°C in Köln. *shudder* I’m looking forward to getting back home but am really going to miss this weather!!! This is probably the first time in almost 15 years that I’ve missed anything about Florida!

20 August, 2007


Early this morning I was wrenched from the depths of sleep by a woman calling loudly to her children right outside my window. I summoned up every bit of evil energy I could muster and beamed it in her direction. Within two minutes it started lighting and thundering. Within five it was pouring rain.

How cool is that!?

Now if only I could learn to harness this energy and somehow use it on my children…

There are no words to describe the Crazy Cars Auto Motor Show yesterday evening. Or there are, but they’re along the lines of “terrifying” and “panic-inducing”, which doesn’t adequately describe the horror I felt during most of the 100 minutes it lasted.

I suppose I should have realized it was not my kind of show during the warmup, in which we were introduced to “Big Sven” and his unicycle. Big Sven was missing about half his teeth, presumably due to some less successful tricks on the asphalt. To his credit, he only fell in front of us once, but then it was hard enough to break the hurdle he was trying to jump over. Shortly thereafter he grabbed a somewhat dazed-looking toddler and cycled around with him on his shoulders…

The show consisted of various stunts using motorcycles and quads. The star was erratic and wired; gave the impression that he'd survived the last three days on nothing more than cigarettes and amphetamines. He wore no helmet and performed a few tricks in which he hung by his knees 30 meters above the asphalt with no safety cord and no net.

I have to admit that the stunts were impressive. But often in a sort of disagreeable, toe-curling kind of way. I was convinced that I would be able to link to a YouTube clip today—one which would bear the tags “fatal” and “accident” and maybe even “spectators crushed in rollover incident”.

When we left the grass in front of our bleachers was on fire from an accidental gasoline spill and the daredevil star had ended his last trick by limping off the field amidst a flurry of (supposed) paramedics and a clown in a curly rainbow-colored wig...

Tomorrow we’re planning to visit Ljubliana. Slovenia is only about 30km to the north and we were really impressed with what we saw on the way here.

That’s good, because I’m really needing a change of scene. It’s time to flee the hoards of sweaty tourists with their tacky fake tattoos, their tight Playboy T-shirts and their skin which has been cooked to the color and texture of bacon. I’m starting to chafe at the lines for the shower and the baker and the sound of our neighbor’s voice as he describes his latest blackout due to copious amounts of Ouzo and Brandy…

It’s stopped raining but the sky is still leaden and threatening. Time to close this down and go mine the guidebook for some kind of indoor diversion. Otherwise I can’t be responsible for what I might do next with the lightning and the thunder…

**Crazy Cars photo courtesy of Show-connection.com