30 July, 2007

In the masters chambers they're gathered for the feast

Welcome to the Hotel California.

We have had guests almost nonstop for the last two weeks. Have, in fact, so overbooked ourselves, that Saturday morning saw M dropping one tenant off at the airport and picking up the next set just 1 1/2 hours later.

And although I've appreciated each of these visits it's time to stop the madness. I've about had it.

Luckily we get the house back to ourselves at 1:30 this afternoon. And I am soooo looking forward to the down-time.

Had something very unsettling happen yesterday afternoon. We went to Herrenberg to show our friends the sights and sit out on the main square for an ice cream. The kids were running around playing tag and S accidentally bumped into a boy about his age who was also not looking where he was going. Apparently this boy dropped his ice cream, but then picked it up off of the ground and started eating it again.

I didn't see the whole thing, but our friend did, and mentioned it casually after the fact. She said that nothing really had happened and didn't think it was a big deal.

But then we started noticing that three kids started following S around like a bunch of sharks. S had a clean conscience and was completely clueless as to what was happening. Not knowing exactly what was going on, but feeling a bit uncomfortable by their aggressive behavior we had S and B come over and play near us.

But these kids started circling around and getting steadily closer. And these were no adolescent thugs-- they were maybe 7 - 10 years old!? They were well dressed and obviously in the company of their parents and grandparents.

It came time to leave and in hindsight I realize we walked past a table what must have been the parents, because they were staring openly at us. The kids followed us and kept getting closer and closer to S in a very threatening way. So finally I turned around, blocked their way and stood very tall over them. I asked "Is there a problem?"

"Yes, your son bumped into my brother and he dropped his ice cream."

M stepped in and said "Well, he said you bumped into him. Sounds like neither of you was being very careful." and I explained that it was obviously an accident. I even patted the little shit on the head for some reason.

Then he looked up and said "Well, how are we going to settle this?"

I was shocked. "Wie bitte?!"

"What are you going to do to settle this?"

M raised his eyebrows: "We're not. Goodbye" and he took S's hand and we left.


The whole situation left me with a very bad feeling. If I had seen the incident and S had, indeed, caused the problem I would have bought the other kid another ice cream. But it was obviously an accident and was long over. The parents were there and it sounded like there was no problem to solve.

It really scares me that innocent, naive S had no clue that he was in any danger-- he's so non-aggressive himself that he didn't even notice these kids closing in on him. And it worries me that they were so bold that they would do this right in front of us!

And why on earth would their parents condone this sort of behavior? They followed us for a good 400 meters. It really seemed like the parents sent them after us, and if not, they at least permitted them to actually leave the square and follow along. ??? If they had a problem with us why wouldn't they say something directly? (And all this for a €1.50 ice cream!?)

Chalk this up to yet another culture clash this week, because I am convinced that this would NOT have happened in the States. Unless we had been in NYC, and then at least I would have been packing... ;-)

27 July, 2007

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried!

We were on our way out the door to the birthday party from hell when I suddenly realized that I'd forgotten to pack an extra tampon in my bag. I ran back inside, grabbed one and raced back out to the car.

Murphy's Mothers' Law states that anything that one might try to hide in one's hand actually elicits more attention and curiosity than if one had stapled it directly to one's forehead.

What's that?

Oh, nothing important.

No really! What is it?


So that's how it happened that our journey to birthday hell was paved by yet another lesson in reproduction.

The questions came thick and fast:
How do you know when it's going to happen?
You're serious?! This happens every month???
Do you think neighbor so-and-so still gets her period?

etc, etc, etc...

I answered each question in its turn. And, as usual I reminded them that this is not a topic to be discussed with anyone outside of our immediate family.

No problem. Thankfully we arrived at the party and they were distracted from their fascination of lunar cycles and focused instead on pizza and ice cream.

Everything was fine. Until we were in the middle of the woods with a crowd of people and B suddenly shouted over to me:

Hey Mama! Did you remember to bring that thing you need to stick into your vagina?

26 July, 2007

Dazed and confused

I seem to be caught up in a major culture clash. My eyebrows have shot up so often over the last couple of days that I'm starting to get a cramp in my forehead.

S was invited to a classmate's birthday party. They'll be spending the afternoon playing in the woods. The invitation was a bit short notice, so the mother called me to see if S would be available. And during the call she happened to mention that her kid had invited too many people so she would be driving the children to the woods in shifts. She'd take the first group, leave them there and go back for the second group.

And she didn't sound fully convinced of the soundness of her plan when she said that she thought that they'd only be alone for about 10 minutes and that they'd be fine.

Maybe I read Hansel and Gretel once too often when I was a kid, but I think this plan is totally irresponsible! These kids are only 7-8 years old!


(If it is that close that you can leave, pick up the second group and return within 10 minutes why aren't they walking?)

I was so horrified that I offered to help out with driving and possibly the rest of the party. Not only to do a good deed, but also to act as a chaperon, because obviously we have different ideas about children's safety. She was supposed to call me back to let me know if she wanted my help.

Yesterday S got the written invitation and rather than calling me directly she sent word through S via her kid that I could come and help out.


The party is on for today and I called to say that I can come help and to let her know that I've got B with me. She was very friendly. No problem about B coming, she's got a younger child that he can play with.

And then she mentioned that she's putting together party favors and would like to include a pocketknife and could she put that in B's bag too.

(again) ???!!!

I was sure I'd misheard her. "Wie bitte?"

Thinking I just hadn't understood her German correctly she translated it for me into English: "a pocketknife."

So let me get this straight: They've invited a large group of kids under 8 for a day in the woods. If I hadn't offered to help there would be at least two occasions when they would be there unsupervised. AND SHE'S GIVING THEM KNIVES AS A SURPRISE PARTY GIFT!

Is it just me or does this sound like a cockeyed idea to you as well???

24 July, 2007

My budding Picasso

Tomorrow is the boys' last day of school. Which basically means I'm wading through a morass of trash treasures that they're bringing home as they clean out their desks and cubby holes.

I was sorting through a stack of artwork this afternoon, trying to intuit which pieces they'd miss and which ones they wouldn't if I happened to file them in the nearest bin. Lots of paper airplanes, nebulous car-like shapes and intricate doodles.

One picture of B's really stood out. It had a sweet little giraffe thingy next to a blob with bird feet. I tossed away the rest and hung it up in a place of honor on the kitchen cabinets.

At dinner this evening he pointed at the masterpiece and said through a mouthful of potatoes:

That's nice! What is it?

Huh? What's what?

That! Over there on the kitchen cabinet!

Um? It's something you drew-- is that a bird?

No idea. I've never seen it before...

23 July, 2007

Hamburg wrap-up

Just back from Hamburg and had a great weekend. The sessions with the Dalai Lama were truly amazing. These particular lectures were for the general public and did not include any Buddhist teachings. His focus was on current politics and the steadily increasing violence on the world stage.

Unlike many other religious icons the Dalai Lama promotes tolerance for all religions. He made a sharp distinction between faith-based and secular ethics. He stressed the importance of moral conduct and compassion outside of religion-- because if you think about it, we all have that in common. Regardless of our faith we all are taught to be kind, not to steal, not to covet the spouses of others, to help our neighbors, to protect the weak in our society, etc. (At least in theory.)

In earlier eras we might have been rewarded for striking down our neighbors, but in a modern society with precise technology and increasingly powerful weapons this just doesn't work. The stakes are too high-- if you invade your neighbors there is sure to be a counterstrike, and destruction escalates these days at an exponential level.

The Dalai Lama is famous for his charisma and his infectious laugh, but he is also known for his intelligence. He cites scientific studies and uses biological explanations to illustrate his theories. He is extremely adept at pulling facts from a wide variety of sources and manages to deliver his message in a coherent, convincing manner.

I have been dismayed at the reactions I've gotten from several people who have heard that I was going to Hamburg. Otherwise intelligent, well-educated people seem to have labeled him and anyone who chooses to listen to him as a crackpot.

But seriously-- the last decade has seen an increase in violence and horrific aggression in both words and deeds. The situation in the Middle East and parts of Africa is worsening. People throughout Europe and America live in fear of terrorist retaliation. And aggressive actions just breed increasingly aggressive behavior.

I think it's pretty obvious that we're heading in the wrong direction. And then isn't it worthwhile to brainstorm some alternative solutions?

The Dalai Lama admitted that he doesn't have "the answer" to solve the world's problems. But he is convinced that education and tolerance would go a long way toward ameliorating many of these conflicts. We strike out in fear because we are ignorant, and often refuse to try and understand or truly negotiate with our "enemies".

Compassion and open-mindedness are not a sign of weakness! It takes a strong person and a stronger nation to seek non-aggressive solutions to difficult situations.

I am afraid I do not fully share the Dalai Lama's belief that all humans are essentially good. But I do see the value in trying to mediate our problems before we lash out at our "enemies".

And before you write me off as a soft-headed lunatic you might want to just stop and be open-minded yourself. Because the people who laugh at him seem to be the ones who have never taken the time to listen to what he has to say.

Don't walk away just because he wears a monk's clothing and looks different than you do. Just stop and listen. Try to exercise a little open-mindedness yourself. If you still don't agree with him afterwards, fine, but at least then you will have earned the right to your opinion.

And who knows? You might actually find that his message somehow resonates with your own ideals. Because essentially we all want the same thing: safety, happiness and a secure future for our children...

20 July, 2007

I'm off!

Am off to Hamburg for the weekend to see the Dalai Lama!

Have been getting some very strange reactions when I tell people where I'm going. One neighbor said:

"Yeah, well, see him while you can. He's getting up there in years and you never know when he'll kick the bucket." (I almost kicked her bucket!)

And another one said:

"Yeah. Well, he was in Maui once while I was there and I'll never forget it. There are some real interesting characters who go to hear him speak." (and this from an interesting character himself!)

But no matter-- I'm really, really (really REALLY) looking forward to this seminar. There are very few human beings who are as charismatic as he is, and at least he's using his powers for good rather than evil! ;-) (which is more than I can say for our president...)

Anyway, back in a few days.

Happy weekend!

18 July, 2007


I was playing the Pied Piper this afternoon on the way home from school. But in lieu of a flute I was attracting a growing crowd of children with my poor overheated Labrador.

Suddenly three more kids ran up, breathless and excited. They were completely indignant and started shouting in a rising crescendo:

"Betsy, Betsy!"
"Those boys over there just picked some pears!"
"YEAH, from a yard over there that doesn't even belong to them!!!"
"And now they're eating them!!!!"

And then came the most heinous transgression:


17 July, 2007

A wrinkle in time

I was turning my head, straining to hear something M was saying earlier this evening when suddenly B exclaimed:

"You sure do have a lot of wrinkles on your neck!"
"I do NOT!"
"Yeah, you really do! Big ones!"

I was starting to feel a bit insecure-- I mean, after all, I've been out in the sun a LOT lately! Could it be that my skin is starting to age that quickly?!

The commentary continued:

"And they come out when you turn your head. Like this." and he tensed his neck muscles like the Incredible Hulk.

Tendons. Turns out that he meant tendons...

My first reaction was relief, then horror. This is just the first step towards becoming one of those skinny old ladies with leathery skin and panty hose pooling around their ankles.

I spent the better part of my high school years serving coffee to these kind of women. But then again, they seemed to enjoy their cake and some of them even carried around silver-plated hip flasks in their white vinyl purses. So maybe the future isn't looking that shabby after all!

16 July, 2007

Lessons for the day

Today I learned:
  1. if you come across a boy who's fallen off of the jungle gym onto his head and is lying motionless on the ground, his classmates might not run to get help from a teacher, even if you ask them to.
  2. chaperoning an entire 2nd grade class to the swimming pool is exhausting. Especially if the teacher chooses not to change into her bathing suit and stands at the side of the pool chatting with a friend rather than watching the kids
  3. if a child (not mine!) tries to sniff a molten marshmallow it is actually possible to burn off the tip of his nose. 3b: if that same nose comes into contact with a foam float in the pool it will bleed impressively
  4. "all day" sunscreen isn't, even if it claims it is
  5. it's a bad idea to take your child to Tae Kwan Do after he's spent the last 6 hours at the pool. (Even if he seems fine at the time.)
  6. when it is 38 degrees outside it can actually get so hot in the kitchen cabinets inside that chocolate melts
  7. when one is this tired and sunburned it actually feels good to lie down flat on the (relatively) cool tiled kitchen floor...
**Epilogue: I just called jungle gym head injury boy's mother to see if he's OK. Up until my call she hadn't been aware that anything had happened. (and while I was still on the line she started screeching at him for not telling her... oops.) But I guess this means he'll live to tell the tale...

15 July, 2007

Breathe, the Apache remix

It's too hot to blog. We're on our way to the pool. But I will leave you with this video parody for "Breathe". Davezilla linked to something similar today and it's absolutely brilliant-- the choreography matches this song even better than it did the original. I think even Prodigy would approve, and that's saying something....

13 July, 2007

Bits and pieces

My classes are done for the summer and I'd expected to be able to coast for a while. Have been daydreaming about what I would do with "all that free time". Who was I kidding? I'm just as busy as ever, but am also feeling happy and productive.

So on top of all the normal everyday stuff we've had a few fireworks. First and foremost, my brother and his wife had a baby girl last night! Although I've got a gaggle of nieces and nephews on M's side this is the first time I've become an aunt in my own right, and I'm so excited!

M was just approached to see if he'd be interested in a Managing Director's position. And although that idea is initially flattering, it would be in a country that we once knew well and which we have left for good, both physically and mentally.

My first reaction was amused: "You've got to be fucking kidding me!" My second was: "Not for all the money in the world." I have developed an allergy for heavily-armed, thick-necked people and I like my husband's cute little kneecaps the way they are, thank you. (And luckily M agreed with me.)

B keeps coming home from Kindergarten bearing flowers that he's picked for me in the garden. And this is no scraggly afterthought-- he actually binds them together with scotch tape and / or strips of carefully cut paper. And each time he delivers them with a serious, smouldering look that would have Herr Doktor Freud dusting off his couch and rubbing his hands in glee.

Yesterday's bouquet was a handful of delicate purple bottle-brush looking flowers. B was completely enchanted by their scent, which he said reminded him of stroopwafels. I sniffed them dutifully and admired them for a while before putting them in a vase on the table. And within about 15 minutes my eyes were watering, my nose was running and my head felt about two sizes too small for my rapidly swelling brain.

Now just try to tell your amorous 5 year old that although you like the bouquet you think it might look nicer in the bin. Yeah, I couldn't do it either. Our solution? They're on the balcony and I'm now "admiring" them through a glass window...

11 July, 2007

Working on the chain gang

It's that time of year again. B will be heading off to first grade in the fall and I have again paid for a bag full of confetti that, when reconstituted, should magically resemble a Schultütte. This one has a race car theme, but up until this morning it just looked like something that had passed through the rear end of a shredder.

Being the non-crafty non-German that I am, I still lack a glue gun in my life. So I bastelte at the kindergarten this morning and mooched off of their supplies. And, surprisingly, I had a great time.

I know all the kids pretty well by now through the English lessons I give there on Fridays. This morning I sat at a table in the corner and they came and pulled up chairs and chatted about important topics like their own Schultütte, and a school visit they made yesterday. They were full of advice as to where I should put the glue and they were suitably impressed with the sparkly glitter accents that came with my kit.


Speaking of sparkle, what is it with Germans and the chains they stretch across their driveways? We live on the outskirts of a glorified village. There is no thru-traffic on our street, and aside from squirrels and the occasional garden snake there really isn't any danger of trespassers.

So it's a complete mystery to me as to why several of our neighbors insist on hanging up a chain to block off their driveways. They actually have to take it down each time they pull in or out, and then afterwards they get back out of their cars to hang it up again.

Could someone PLEASE explain this to me? Because unless you just want to trip up the mail carrier or your clueless American neighbor it really serves no purpose, does it?

08 July, 2007

The radish revisited

I don't know why I thought our conversation earlier this week would be a one-off thing. Of course those answers cohabitated for a while and then spawned an entire new generation of colicky questions of their own.

Luckily it's getting easier to talk about each time S and B come back to me.

But sometimes it's hard to hold a straight face. Especially when they ask things like:

"If sperm are so small how would I ever know when they're coming out of my penis?"


"So wait!? Could you also have babies with someone other than Daddy?"

I believe in the power of knowledge and if S and B are curious about sex and/or reproduction they should be told the complete truth in a very neutral way.

Unfortunately this tactic has also resulted in total nonchalance on their part-- B slipped in a fairly graphic comment the other day between stories about the tricycles at the kindergarten.

So now we've also had to have a major talk about privacy and the need to restrict questions and comments to our immediate family. I just hope they remember this rule. Otherwise I might have some extremely colorful blog postings coming up very soon... **shudder**

05 July, 2007


Yesterday in class we read a poem called "Dazwischen". It was written by a Turkish woman who is living in Germany and describes how difficult it is to be torn between two cultures and two worlds.

...Ich ändere mich
und bleibe doch gleich
und weiß nicht mehr,
wer ich bin.
Jeden Tag ist das Heimweh
aber die neue Heimat hält mich fest
Tag für Tag noch stärker...
("Dazwischen" by Alev Tekinay)

Suddenly I had tears in my eyes. I could completely empathize with the feeling of being neither here nor there. But in a way she is lucky: she could still identify with her homeland enough to miss it. At least she still has some palpable feeling of "Heimat".

Except for a couple of years in Michigan I've been living outside of the States for 15+ years, my entire adult life. I have moved around so often that I no longer feel especially connected to the places in which I live. There always comes a point when I feel "at home", but those ties are tenuous and houses and host countries are surprisingly interchangeable.

When people ask me where I'd like to "end up" I always just shrug my shoulders. I have no clue. Someplace sunny. Someplace with M. Someplace close to S and B, if possible. In this nomadic lifestyle I have chosen I belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

For a few years after I left college I used to hunker for the sights, smells and sounds of Gainesville. I missed my friends; I longed to lounge in the plaza square; I craved the greasy burritos we used to wolf down on the corner of 13th and University Avenue.

And, of course, when I finally went back I was painfully disappointed. My friends were gone, local pubs had changed hands and the campus had sprouted new landmarks. The very thing for which I had been so homesick had actually ceased to exist.

Of course there are good sides to a nomadic life as well. I've seen a lot, learned a lot, and have developed a level of compassion that I never would have thought was possible. Most days I can savor the richness of our international experience and appreciate my exposure to new horizons.

But yesterday I also briefly touched on the grief that comes with impermanence and the realization that roots which are severed never grow back as thick or as tenacious as they were in their original incarnation.

And as I was wallowing in this deep sense of loss and injustice I suddenly had an epiphany. Whether we are rooted to the spot or travelling to the ends of the earth, everyone has a sense of nostalgia for earlier times and places that exist only in memory and simply cannot be revisited.

Who doesn't feel a twinge when they remember dinners at Grandma's or the way the light filtered through the curtains in our bedrooms on warm summer evenings? We have all loved and lost and hold these memories close to our hearts. It is one of the many ties that binds us. And one of the things that reminds me that I do belong. Maybe not wholeheartedly to my country, but to humanity. to my generation. to my family and the small microcosm in which I am lucky enough to live...

03 July, 2007

Corruption of a minor*

Up until now S has been satisfied with a very abstract description of where babies come from. Sperm meets egg, cell divides, etc. But last week he suddenly wanted to know how the sperm gets to the egg. So I told him that it's produced in the man's body and comes out of the penis. Gave a quick overview of the female anatomy, what really happens, and so forth.

And then he asked what sperm look like and B said "a radish".

Which cracked me up. He's right, of course, when you think away the leaves and the rest of the plant, but still! It isn't exactly the first shape that comes to mind!

So then, being the hip, wired-up parent that I am I said: "Well, why don't we look it up?" and Altavista'ed "sperm" with an image search. Which led to a page with a warning saying that the results of this search are classified as adult content. Could I please confirm that I am over 18 and check a box saying I accept the conditions listed.

And I was so annoyed-- isn't that typical for a parental control function to block information about anything having to do with reproduction! I was even considering blogging about the prudish nature of Internet filters and how they block out the good along with the bad. So I clicked on "accept"...

And, of course, gave us all an eyeful of hard core porn....

I couldn't click away fast enough! S looked at me with raised eyebrows: "WHAT WAS THAT?!" and I just said "Not what we were looking for" and changed the subject.


I can just imagine S 20 years from now drinking beer with his buddies and confiding that his mother introduced him to porn at the tender age of seven...

*apologies in advance to CC and CH because I cherrypicked this masterpiece from a couple of e-mails I sent last week. Just honing my cut-and-paste skills... :-P

02 July, 2007

Farm animals, Lederhosen and Radler

We had a great time Sunday. M got back in from Australia at 9am and had the surreal pleasure of joining us at a huge Volksfest. (From kangaroos to Lederhosen in one giant leap-- very, VERY weird!)

I am so relieved to be done with the Prüfung. I realized yesterday that this was the first big exam I've done in 15 years! And man was it nerve wracking! I think I did well on most of it but took a bit too much time writing my essay. Really had to speed through it at the end and think it's probably chock-full of type-o's and other mistakes I might have been able to correct otherwise.

But in any case, it's over and I can finally relax a bit. Here are a few pictures to document the day...

Renaissance boy and oxen

Renaissance boy with Oakleys

Me in the beer tent. Notice the beer belly and Lederhosen directly behind me! Felt like I'd stepped onto the set of National Lampoon's European Vacation!

Can't really take a more clichéed picture than this, but it's a natural pose when you finally stop pounding your fists on the table. Plus, if you stop swaying back and forth in order to pose for a picture it gives you a chance to drink more beer...

They beat our neighbor in a race home and this was the moment when they finally saw him and started to shout "ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaaa HA!"