24 December, 2008

Yule tide cheer

Multiple choice quiz

This tree:

a. is 9 feet tall and there were no ladders in the vicinity when it was decorated

b. is not yet finished

c. was decorated by two young elves who placed everything at their eye-level or below and declared it the most beautiful tree they'd ever seen. :-)

Happy Holidays from our family to yours!

23 December, 2008

So he DOES have ears!

Is it just me or did S age by about 2 years in the last hour and a half?

17 December, 2008

Last minute save

B had to bring in a craft to do with his class as part of Advent. So over the past couple of weeks the anxiety level has been building around here because he's convinced that this one activity could make or break his reputation as an utterly cool guy.

Those of you who remember my own anxiety-laden attempts at being artsy can probably sympathize with the dread I've been feeling about coming up with something which is "just right" when B's entire social future is at stake. I mean, really, I would like to become a grandmother someday!

And then suddenly, VOILA! I had a brainstorm between glasses of Tempranillo. Marshmallow Snowmen, Ahoy! Now let's just hope his classmates think they're as cute (and tasty!) as he does!

14 December, 2008


S and B spent this afternoon sledding down a huge hill near our house with other neighborhood kids. I walked out there to bring them a snow hat and was met halfway by S trailing a crowd of children. He was crying and there was some blood on his face. Apparently he'd been sledding too fast and flipped over, bit through his lip, broke off the top of one tooth and chipped another. (of course these are permanent teeth. and of course he's the one who had a perfect bite. at least up until this afternoon.)

By the time we got home he'd calmed down and went to the mirror in the bathroom to inspect the damage. When I came in he was smiling really big and bubbled over: "Man! Am I going to have a great story to tell in class tomorrow!"

*thanks to "Me and my Oneyes" for the use of this image.

05 December, 2008

Dear God make it stop!

Hello from somewhere in southern Holland. We're on our way to Oma's and Opa's to celebrate Sinterklaas. The drive hasn't been any more arduous than usual, but I'm really ready to get out of the car and escape my increasingly restless family.

In order to keep the peace M instituted a system in which each of us gets a turn choosing a song to play on the CD player. Which might have been a fine except for the fact that he kicked it off with an extended version of "Freebird". I think I might have had a stroke sometime during minute 11.

But then B was next. His choice? A track from his children's Audibon bird calls CD. Think garden finches on Meth. With bullhorns.

I'd probably be stringing myself up with the seatbelt if there were any rafters available...

04 December, 2008

Ye Olde Street-Cred Duds

B is procrastinating his math homework at the livingroom table.

Hey Mom, did you see that kid today? The one with the baggy jeans hanging down so that you could see his underwear? Crazy, huh?

Yes, I did, actually. B, please do your homework.

Yeah. I wonder what he was thinking? You see kids wearing their pants like that, but you don't often see it on adults.

B? Your homework?

Maybe it's because those pants are too small for adults and wouldn't be baggy on them.


Unless the adults were very small, of course.


Like they used to be in the 1700's...

30 November, 2008

Now more dangerous than ever!

We've had a busy weekend-- S and B belatedly celebrated their birthdays and we took 8 kids to the theater to see the Meerkats. It's a documentary for kids and follows the life of a family of Meerkats who are living in the Kalahari desert. The footage was amazing-- some parts of it were filmed in the animals' burrows including a scene where they were being chased through the tunnels by a cobra!

Speaking of the dangerous creatures, S and M completed another exam on Saturday for Taekwando and have now earned their yellow / green belts!

28 November, 2008

Storytelling at its best

I love NPR and thanks to the wonders of broadband Internet I listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered every day.

Every Thanksgiving a southern Georgian author named Bailey White shares one of her short stories. Her style recalls that of Flannery O'Connor, and her voice and accent bring back warm memories of my own southern relatives. This tale is such a treat-- ENJOY!

27 November, 2008

Stand by me!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Today's not a holiday here so we'll be caught up in the normal routine. I think, though that I'm going to run out and buy a couple of turkey breasts to cook up-- maybe I'll force everyone to sit through a dramatic reenactment of the pilgrims' first year. ;-)

You'll probably all be cooking all day today-- may your turkey be tender, your onions perfectly caramelized and the wine good and copious! :-)

I saw this clip over at Linkateria and loved it:

"Stand by me" is a featured song around the world in which 37 musicians from five continents assemble together to create one unified track. The musicians have never met in person and connect through their music. Each track is added to the song as the musicians are recorded LIVE outside across the globe. The end result is a remarkable human connection and a powerful song.

18 November, 2008

Guardian angel

This afternoon I walked down and met my kids halfway on their walk home from school! Passed the bullies on the way and we all gave each other the evil eye.

S and B were bubbling over to see me!

HI MAMAAAAAAAA! What a nice surprise! Hey, and you're the second person looking out for us today!

Oh really? Who was the other person?

We'd noticed Y's dad following us, but when we turned around he stepped behind some bushes!

This was the dad who scared off the bullies yesterday and brought S and B home. I just called his house to thank him-- his wife laughed when I told her I think he's wonderful, and said she thought so too.

She also said that there's another mother who's noticed these kids bothering smaller children on the way home, and we've all decided to report every incident to the parents and the school. This is the first time in a while that I've felt empowered about the whole situation...

Maybe there is hope for the world?

17 November, 2008

Here we go again...

My kids were bullied on the way home from school today. The two hyenas from S's class spit on them, kicked them and pushed B out into the street. A parent drove by, chased the bullies away and brought S and B home in his car. Both were crying, B's new pants were torn up and he had a scrape all the way down his shin.

I was livid and drove straight to confront one of the bullies and his mother. She and I know each other through the school, and she invited us in so that we could all discuss it calmly. It all started out with everyone claiming that the other one started it, but within a couple of minutes the boy tripped up in his story and started crying. The mother realized that he was in the wrong and made him give B EUR20 from his allowance to pay for his pants.

The other mother then showed up and we all continued the discussion, but this time it went differently. The other boy is a superb actor and feigned surprise that we were even discussing this at all. He still maintained that it was S and B who started the whole thing. And then that it was someone else. His mother was furious with him, furious with me, and furious with my kids. How dare they bother her child?!

This kid bullied a little girl out of B's class a couple of weeks ago, but when I brought it up she just refused to listen. "I know my son is no angel, but he's definitely not aggressive!" Even though I've seen him be so with my own eyes!

I don't understand what's going on here! We are not living in an urban environment where one would expect this kind of aggressive nature from elementary school children! I feel completely helpless-- on the one hand I want to be able to foster my kids' independence and let them walk home alone from school. On the other hand, I need to know that they're safe and secure and not being accosted when I'm not there!

When I called M to tell him what happened his first response was: "Why does this type of thing always seem to happen to our kids?!" But I don't think it's just us-- it seems to be happening to a lot of people, and no one does a damned thing about it!

Is it just Germany, or does this type of thing happen in other places as well?

13 November, 2008


I was craving comfort food this afternoon for lunch and was thrilled to find this recipe for Pumpkin Gnocchi over at Vegelicious. I'd been searching for a good way to use a beautiful Hokkaido squash that I bought at the farmer's market and wanted to cook up something wholesome and healthy. For the children, of course... ;-)

The gnocchi had a great color and texture and the sauce gave a kick to the traditional mild flavor. It turned out just as delicious as it looks / sounds.

The only downside is that I couldn't stop eating them and am now so full I can hardly move!

Pumpkin Gnocchi


* 1 cup pumpkin, cooked and mashed (1 small pumpkin, about 2 pounds or 1/2 kilo)
* 2 cups flour
* 1/2 teaspoon allspice
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
* pinch garlic powder
* pinch cayenne pepper
* 1 clove garlic, minced
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 tbs. soy margarine
* 1 tbs. red chili pepper
* 1 tbs. vegetable bouillon powder
* 12 sage leaves
* 2 teaspoons nutmeg
* salt and pepper to taste


1. Cut the pumpkin, if it is organic you can leave the skin on, if not, cut away the outer parts, de-seed and cut into medium size chunks.
2. Place them in a pot with very little water and steam them until soft..is only about 5 minutes or so.
3. Remove from the heat and puree or mash with a potato masher.
4. Add the pinch of garlic powder, the pinch of cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. of nutmeg, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the allspice and mix well.
5. Slowly mix in flour and knead until it forms a smooth dough. If it is too wet, add a bit more flour until it is a smooth ball of dough.
6. Let it rest for 30 minutes.
7. Divide the dough into bite sized pieces.
8. Mark them with a fork.
9. Cook them in boiling water until they float
10. In a smaller sauce pan, saute garlic with olive oil and soy margarine.
11. Add the red chili pepper, the vegetable bouillon powder and the sage leaves.
12. When ready to serve, pour the sauce over the gnocchi and mix well.
13. Dust with cinnamon and grate a bit of soy cheese over the top.

10 November, 2008

2008: Year of the Tick

Remember this? And this? Now it's my turn. :-P I've got a great big Borreliose bullseye on my thigh.

Generally the danger period for ticks and Lyme's disease ends in September. Which means I also haven't been giving Disaster Doggie her anti-tick meds and she's been bounding around unprotected for almost 2 months. Given her track record with health disasters and the fact that half the humans in her household have had it I'm not taking any chances. Will take her in to the vet for a blood test on Thursday. *sheesh*!

I'm also a little freaked out about Lyme's in general. S and M haven't had the symptomatic rash, but 20% of the people who are infected never get it! I guess the only thing I can do is just be vigilant and have them see a doctor if they ever start having headaches / joint pain / partial facial paralysis, but the problem is that by then it's usually too late.

This is just another one of those things that's better not to even think about or else it will drive me nuts!

06 November, 2008

Vacation photos

Our camera died just at the end of the vacation, which might not be such a bad thing-- maybe the new one will be able to take pictures without a date stamp!

05 November, 2008


Remember this kid? He and his brother are apparently the main suspects in an explosion in a local parking garage last Sunday. Luckily no one was hurt, but the damage topped EUR 10,000...

04 November, 2008

This cracked me up!

DH sent me this video yesterday and it cracked me up. (Seems the media have me confused with someone else--- I sent off my absentee ballot about a month ago!)

(***Note: this video is customizable, just click on the clip and you will be sent to moveon.org's website where you can fill in any name you like and send it to all of your friends. or enemies... ;-) )

Don't be lulled into a false sense of security! No matter what your convictions are it's important that your voice is heard! Please go out and vote!!!!

02 November, 2008

Would you like fries with that?

Because it's cheaper and healthier we usually prepare and eat most of our meals in our camper. Yesterday, however, we decided to end our vacation on an elegant note and ate dinner at a local hotel whose restaurant is recognized by Michelin.

When the waiter got to our table he smiled kindly at the kids and mentioned that chicken nuggets or schnitzel were also available "just in case they don't find anything they like on the menu."

M and I looked at each other and smiled- that definitely wouldn't be necessary. We've always encouraged the kids to be intrepid eaters.

Shortly thereafter we watched in fascination as B worked his way through a huge bowl of mussels and clams. S enjoyed a salad and then they both tucked into steaming plates of nettles gnocci and a couple of lobsters.

It was such a pleasure to see the single-minded concentration and the joy with which they savored their food!

It's funny how sometimes the pleasure of parenthood sneaks up on you! I felt suddenly ambushed by delight and pride in these two openminded, interested little people! This meal will stand out in my memory as exceptional, and it's only partly due to the chef's stellar talent with truffel sauce!

01 November, 2008

It's even nice here when it's blustery!

We're rounding up our vacation here in Umbria. Our luck with the weather didn't hold, but at least it's been relatively warm and we've had a lovely time. I think that at least 40 percent of my calories this week have come from Truffel oil and / or Perugian dark chocolate. Not a bad achievement, if you ask me!

Monday we farted around in Perugia and celebrated S's 9th (!!!) Birthday. Tuesday it poured- we attempted to explore Siena, but got so drenched that we ended up scrabbling back over the cobblestones back to the car at breakneck speeds much like the famed horses in the Palio.

We moved on and the rain cleared up just as we reached Pisa, so we were able to get the requisite pictures of S and B holding up the tower.

Thursday we played a no holds barred game of football and wandered around a picturesque old fishing village on the lake.

Yesterday we "did" Rome. Walked around all day and saw the sights- I've been there a couple of times before, but was much younger and must have been too enamoured in the boys, or later in my new husband, to have really taken it in properly. The whole city is one big open air museum! Amazing!

And throughout all of this I've somehow managed 2 to 5 hours a day in preparation for my exam. The oral half is on Monday and I'm a bit apprehensive since I've spoken so little German this week...

Maybe all that truffel oil will have helped grease the mental gears a bit?

26 October, 2008

buon giorno from a very happy camper!

Hello from paradise! We left a cold, gray and rainy Stuttgart yesterday morning. This morning we woke up to the sound of birds singing and the wind rustling the trees on our campsite direct on Lake Trasimeno in the heart of Italy. The sun is shining, the skies are clear blue and we enjoyed a leisurly breakfast wearing t-shirts in the sun!

After I beat M and the kids at cards we walked into Passignano sul Trasimeno and meandered through the ancient streets. Lunch consisted of excellent pizzas at a pizzaria-- and M breathed a sigh of relief, because for once I didn't need to guilt trip him into eschewing pizza in order to try local culinary delecacies.

With full bellies we hiked up a road above the city for a spectacular panoramic view. On the way back down, we passed some olive groves and heard laughing voices. We stopped to watch 8 spry senior citizens harvesting olives. They were lively and laughing- it was a scene straight out of a Bertolli commercial!

B, who can be quite shy, summoned up his courage and walked into the field for a closer look. Next thing I know, he's got a tool in his hand and has joined the crew! S and I both jumped in to help as well, and we spent a happy hour picking olives among this gaggle of happy, chattering people! it was a perfect serendipitous vacation moment.

The kids just went swimming and I'm going to end this to savor a glass of wine and watch the sun set across the lake. No need to search any further for utopia, because we've found it right here...

23 October, 2008

Note to self: "Bleib am Ball, Betsy!"

It's been gray and rainy outside but I've hardly noticed it. My floors are covered with a thick layer of doghair but I pay it no mind. The children... The children? Has anyone seen my children?

I've got the Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom exam coming up. It's a notoriously grueling 2 day affair, and my appointments are on November 3rd and 12th. In addition to class and regular homework I've also been taking private lessons with my teacher and have been doing long hours of review of grammar and literature. Everything else may have suffered, but at least I can finally consistently tell you the correct endings for just about anything you throw at me. (as long as a noun's gender doesn't throw me off before I even get started! :-P ACK!)

Up until last week I harbored what I consider a healthy stress / anxiety level in these preparations. Scared enough to re-read the literature that will be covered, yet deep down I think I'll do fine. Up until the phone call, that is.

Sunday evening, 8pm, we'd just walked back in the door from a trip to NL and my German teacher calls. She's having a panic attack and says there's one section on the test that I might not pass and maybe I should consider pulling out. ???!!! The next day would be the last day to withdraw, so maybe I should consider it?

I was coming down with a virus anyway and was feeling especially vulnerable, and this felt like an act of betrayal-- how could she have gone on tutoring me these last couple of months if she had any kind of doubt in my abilities?! And here I've been feeling pretty good about the whole thing-- could I be so wrong in my estimate of my own preparedness for the C2?

In the end I've decided to take it. It will be disappointing if I don't make it, but I'll never know until I try. Even if I do fail it doesn't negate all the headway I've been making, especially during the past two weeks of intensive study...

It may be folly, but the boys have their fall break next week and we're off to spend some time camping in Umbria. I'm hoping that Tuscan wine might turn out to be a reliable exam-stress elixir. I might be on the verge of a breakthrough, people! (if not a breakdown... ;-) )

17 October, 2008

Friday morning, 2am

AH-CHOOOOOOO! sniffle, snurf.

rustle, rustle. rustle, rustle.

M rolls over: Hey, are you OK?
Me: Wha? Oh yeah, fine, thanks. (shaking out the sheets)
M: What are you doing?
Me: You really want to know? (sniff, sniff, turning the pillow over)
M: I'm not sure now, but go ahead and tell me.
Me: Well, when I sneezed I had a cough drop in my mouth, and now I umm, I can't find it. I've looked everywhere! (running fingers through hair.)
M: Oh. That explains a lot.
Me: ???
M: I think it's hiding on your left cheek...

10 October, 2008

Home is where the heart is...

I am back and am finally starting to pull out of my jet-lag-induced zombie state. Fall blasted onto the scene while I was gone and the leaves are putting on a dazzling technicolor display. The boys had a great time with Oma and Opa and are bursting with all kinds of stories, jokes and philosophical musings. It's great to be back!

I had a really fun trip. I went down for the reunion and to visit my grandparents, but tacked on an extra day just to relax and explore. Drove around to old haunts and spent a morning at New Smyrna Beach. Dropped by to visit an old friend of the family and didn't leave-- within about an hour they'd convinced me to check out of my hotel and stay at their house. I hadn't seen these people in 23 years, yet they opened up their home to me as if I were family! It was fabulous!

The reunion itself was paradoxical. I got to meet up with a couple of old friends and really enjoyed hearing what some of my classmates had been up to over the past 20 years. On the other hand, it seems that the popular clique from elementary school still hang out with each other and are just as snooty and disparaging as ever.

I've come to the conclusion that the mind is like a goldfish: it will grow / expand to fit the proportions of any container in which you choose to put it. And Katie and Joey and Emily apparently still keep theirs in the original tiny plastic bag from the fairgrounds...

Thanks to my friends I had a great time at the reunion, but the whole thing just reminded me why I am so glad to have left Florida and that whole scene behind me. It also reminded me to count my blessings-- I am very happy with my lot in life! :-)

We're off to NL this weekend to see one of the last shows by Dogtroep. They're a theatre company that combine music and dance and they put on their performances in bizarre places. This one will be at the harbor in Amsterdam-- I'm really looking forward to it!

02 October, 2008

Hello from sunny Florida!

Hi guys! Just checking in from central Florida. I'm here for 5 days-- am visiting family and then this weekend will attend my 20th high school reunion. (YIKES! Where did the time go?!)

This morning I did a "This is your life" drive and visited my old schools and houses in which we used to live! It was a lot of fun!

I don't miss living in Florida, but I definitely miss the weather! It was mid-eighties all day today and gorgeous! (and I left Stuttgart wearing a scarf and jacket!) Man, I'm loving it!!!!!!!!!

See you next week when I get back! Have a nice week!

29 September, 2008

National Lampoon's Weekend in Warsaw

M had business in Warsaw over the weekend, so the kids and I tagged along to check out the city. I was shocked to discover that over 85% of the city had been destroyed by the Nazi regime during World War II. I had no idea that over a million people in Warsaw alone were killed within an 18 month period, and the more details I read, the sicker I felt!

The city today, however, hides its scars well. It has been lovingly restored and is a pleasure to explore. Especially if, like me, you accidentally happen upon the "In Your Pocket" tour book. It may not have been very effective in enlightening me on the sights I was seeing, but it kept me in stitches with its bizarre brand of humor. The author cites a street we walked along as being "full of crappy restaurants" and expounded upon strange street performers including "one chap, dressed as a monk, [who] collapsed after a marathon booze binge leaving his giant genitals exposed to the world." Now really, where else are you going to get that kind of useful information?!

Hold the mildew cheese, please.

24 September, 2008

Bunko Metta

Yesterday I was invited to join a bunko evening in a nearby town. I don't know the first thing about bunko but I'm in need of distraction lately and would like to meet some new people, so I figured: "why not?!"

The game was being held at the house of someone I've never met. When we got there and she opened the door a huge wave of warmth and energy washed over me and the first thought that popped into my head was "Wow! I wonder if she's Buddist?!"

Well it turns out she's neither overly warm, nor overtly Buddhist, but has traveled extensively throughout Asia and had amassed a huge collection of Buddha statues, masks, artwork, etc. They were gorgeous, expensive, and obviously not just touristy trinkets. And something in that house eminated a feeling of well-being. It was surreal...

**photo thanks to ichkaanwaalisch's photostream in Flickr

23 September, 2008

a small diversion with a huge engine

Last weekend M worked some connections and was able to borrow a very rare not-to-be-named sportscar which we drove to Holland to provide a much-needed diversion for his cousin, C.

After the devastating prognosis given back in July, C was discharged from the hospital. Since then he's started with some experimental treatments in Antwerpen. His chances of survival are still miniscule, but some of his markers have dropped slightly so everyone is cautiously optimistic that he's responding in some way to the new chemo. He's actually just surprised and grateful to even still be walking around, given the doctors' predictions earlier this summer.

You wouldn't think that one could have fun in the middle of such sadness, but somehow that's what happened. The weather was gorgeous, the car was a convertible and we took a quick trip out to Gouda to drink coffee in the sun with one of his friends.

C is a car fanatic and suddenly became boyish and playful again as he hopped in the passenger seat and M revved the engine. Even his fiancée turned animated, and that's one of the few times since we met last summer that I've actually seen her smile!

This car is legendary for its brute strength, but the power it had to bring a smile to everyone's face on Saturday was what proved to be truly awe inspiring!

18 September, 2008


When describing her younger son, Jennifer of the Verges once wrote:

"He is a constant collection of scrapes and bruises, bearing witness to his love of life as a boy."

That line has stuck with me because it so aptly describes S and B. Here is a collage of photos from their very active summer.

17 September, 2008

Stuttgart, Stuttgart, cold and dreary

I am having a hard time adjusting to autumn weather, so as a sunny diversion I created a mosaic of pictures from the non-vomitous portion of our trip to Cairo.

My digestion is still out of whack-- how's that for a lasting souvenier?!-- but am still so glad we went!

**Thank's to fd's mosaic maker for the sunny diversion!

15 September, 2008

Bitten by the Trojan horse. AGAIN!

A neighbor just popped by. Her son is one grade ahead of S and she brought me his schoolbooks from last year, figuring it might be handy for us to have a copy at home to avoid having to lug them back and forth everyday. I was really touched, and thanked her.

Then she said:

"OK, GREAT! Well if you like them, then I'd like 10 euros for them."

This keeps happening to me! Last week it was a used cell phone and a couple of weeks ago it was a pair of used sports shoes for B! This is one German custom that I just can't get used to! When I have something I no longer use I just pass it on (free of charge!) to friends and neighbors. I like making that connection; knowing that items that have served us well will go on to make someone else happy!

It just seems rude and unnecessary to try to earn chump change off of acquaintances. It's one thing to sell your stuff at a flea market, but it's quite another to offer something and then, when the person accepts it, to ask for 10 euros in return!

I think part of my problem is my Southern upbringing. I always try to accept offerings graciously, which makes it harder to back out of these "deals" when it turns out I'm expected to cough up money for something I don't really need.

I am also one of those people who is completely transparent. Just about every thought that goes through my head seems to be broadcast in neon on my forehead. Sensing that I was taken aback by her proposition, the neighbor left the books here so that I could consider her offer. Tomorrow I'm going to return them with a "thanks, but no thanks."

And for now I'm left seriously considering how I can avoid this type of experience in the future... For those of you living here in Germany: have you been hit with this as well?

11 September, 2008

The silk purse and the sow's ear

I got a well-needed laugh during the morning grind this morning. Like every other news source in the western world NPR was mired in the ridiculous flap about the now infamous lipstick comment. Then Robert Siegel, God love him, interviewed a farmer from Virginia, who was in his field surrounded by pigs. He was, of course, armed with a tube of ruby red lipstick. His goal was to try to apply lipstick to the swine just to see if it was possible.

So you hear the farmer drawling: "Well, its kinda like putting lipstick on a hairbrush. They don't have much lip!"

His final conclusion? It is possible, but it didn't really improve the pig's appearance. "But maybe if you put a cummerbund around his loins and some Birkenstocks on his hooves it may improve it a little bit..."

10 September, 2008

What's cooking Wednesday: Happiness is...

Vegetarian Sushi!

Jen always manages to make my mouth water on Wednesdays. But today I'm making my own mouth water! I learned to make sushi this weekend and it was such a hit that I made up another batch again today! Once you find the ingredients it's actually very easy-- the only really time consuming part is letting the rice cool to room temperature. Once that's done the rest of the preparation is very quick!

Vegetarian Maki
(Recipe thanks to Nava Atlas and her Vegetarian Family Cookbook)

1 cup short-grain brown rice
1 cup white sushi rice
1/3 cup vinegar
2 Tbs natural granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and quartered lengthwise
1 medium carrot
1 medium avocado
8 sheets nori

Pickled ginger
Wasabi paste
Soy sauce

1. Bring 4 cups water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Add the brown rice and simmer, covered for 10 minutes. Stir in the white rice and continue to simmer until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

2. Transfer the rice to a large bowl. Stir in the vinegar, sugar and salt. Cover the rice mixture with a clean tea towel and set aside, but don't refrigerate. Plan to begin rolling the sushi once the rice is at room temperature.

3. Cut the cucumber and carrot into very narrow, long pieces, approximately the width of a sheet of nori. Cut narrow strips of avocado lengthwise. It doesn't matter as much how long they are.

4. Place a sheet of nori, shiny side down on a bamboo sushi mat. Spread about 3/4 cup of the rice over the surface of the nori with dampened hands, leaving a 1/2 inch border on the end nearest to you and a 2 inch border on the end farthest away.

5. About 1 1/2 inches from the side closest to you, lay 6 or so strips of vegetables close together. You may use one type of vegetable in each roll or combine two or all three.

6. Lift the side of the mat closest to you and roll it over so that the nori is tightly rolled over the section with the vegetables. Press down a bit to ensure a snug roll. Wet the far end of the nori and continue rolling, making a snugly closed roll. Set aside and repeat with the remaining sheets of nori.

7. A very sharp, serrated knife is a must for cutting the rolls. Keep a glass of water handy for wetting the knife before cutting each roll. Cut each roll into 1/2 to 3/4 inch sections, and arrange them on a large platter as you go, cut side up.

8. Serve with pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce.

09 September, 2008

I almost vomited vicariously for him

We were in the car this afternoon, hopelessly lost after taking one wrong exit after another.

Me: Hey B, I'm thirsty. Do you have any water left in your thermos?
S: I do! You want some of mine? I only drank half of it today.
Me: Wait a minute! What were you drinking it out of?
S: My thermos!
Me: You mean the one that's been missing since July?
S: (happily) Oh yeah! It must have been in the bottom of my backpack all along!


07 September, 2008

Last minute roadtrips...

This week we visited an old friend who has recently moved to Nuremberg. The city itself is beautiful and its historical center is amazingly intact. I really enjoyed exploring the cobblestone streets and wandering through the gardens at the castle and fortress that overlook the city.

Nuremberg was once the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, the site of huge Nazi conventions, and is the birthplace of the Lebkuchen. (Note: this list is not necessarily in order of significance! Those of you who have ever tried Lebkuchen will know exactly what I'm talking about!)

Yesterday we wandered around downtown Stuttgart. The Stuttgarter Weindorf is going on right now and we soaked up the atmosphere and more than a little bit of sauerkraut. I discovered a great asian grocery store and bought all sorts of interesting beans and noodles and condiments. And when I got home I made my own vegetarian sushi!!! It was delicious and actually much easier than I'd expected!

Today we were planning to take a road trip, but B has suddenly "remembered" that he was supposed to have done 12 workbook pages over the summer for school, and they're due... TOMORROW! ACK!

*image thanks to Wikipedia

04 September, 2008

Finally: vacation photos!

Blissful dirty dog

Jardin de la Fontaine, Nimes

Pont du Gard

Sanitary Lady Bag, "So that nothing misses its mark" (???)
Four toreadors at the Arena in Nimes
View from La Maison Carrée de Nimes

02 September, 2008

If I could save time in a bottle...

I keep wishing that I could fold this week up carefully in tissue paper and store it until November when I usually start flagging and dreaming about unstructured time. The kids are really ready to get back to school and I'm feeling disorganized and sloppy. Isn't it funny that we accomplish the most when we're crazy busy and have the least amount of time? I don't have all that many pressing issues, but nothing's getting done because I keep getting seduced by "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" or the patch of sunlight falling just so on my deck chair on the balcony.

Today we're off to Playmobil Funpark and will spend the night at the house of an old friend who lives nearby.

Are you all surviving the first week of school?

28 August, 2008

And the screaming continued unabated

B and I were lounging around on the balcony in the sun yesterday working our way through a plate piled high with fragrant watermelon. D panted happily next to us, the epitomy of doggy happiness.

B: D looks very happy, doesn't she?
Me: Yeah, I think she's always happy. Kind of like me!
B: What?
Me: ME! Because I'm just always SO happy!
B: giggles.
B: Well, you are almost always happy. Except for sometimes when you're not.
Me: (in mock horror) WHAT??? WHEN!?
B: Well, like when you're talking to the cable company.

The kid has a point. Internet providers make me want to go postal. Our supposed seamless transition from 1&1 has turned into a gaping Internet-less void. It's taken many heated phonecalls and three technicians to figure out the problem, which in the end, according to the hero who came by today could have been fixed within 45 minutes if the first guys had been paying attention. Oh, and did I mention that they erased all of my antivirus software in the heat of the battle? And then denied it? Grrrrr!

Anyway, all that Internet downtime had a silver lining, because it freed up lots of time to do important things like eat watermelon on the balcony with B. And read Eat, Pray, Love, which was a major treat in itself.

So I'm happy to finally be back online. As soon as I clear the spam out of my inbox and pay some overdue bills I'll be able to start surfing blogs again and catching up on your summers!

It's good to be back!!!

23 August, 2008

are we there yet?

We've been in the car for more than 11 hours now and any minute I might start screaming and not stop...

21 August, 2008

maybe she meant space aliens?

Last night I went in to check on the kids on my way to bed. I was tucking B back under the covers when I suddenly heard slow, stealthy footsteps in the woods right outside the window. I ran to M and whispered that someone / something was sneaking around our caravan.

M was out the door like a shot and quickly searched around and under the camper. Then he got out an enormous flashlight and shined it into the woods.

Just then our French neighbors returned to their campsite. I think they were a bit drunk. They saw M with his floodlight and started giggling.

They only speak French and our exchanges so far have been limited to my limited vocabulary and M's gradeschool French.

"What are you doing?"
"My wife just heard something!"
"Oh! Ha ha. Yeah, that! That's just a djkfkfkifrfkfc. We have a lot of those around here!"
"C'est quoi?"
"A dfdflgltoflck! You know! With the points!" (She sticks her fingers out next to her face.)

M smiled and nodded. It was obvious to me that he hadn't understood what they were saying either.

I whispered to him:"You think they mean a deer?"
"No idea. I think they mean a hedgehog."

I stifled a giggle.

The neighbors tried again.

"It's a dkefkfkivkj! They come around searching for escargots!"

M smiled at me triumphantly! "A boar! I think they're talking about boars!" He turned back to the women and said:

"They're this big, right?"

To which the women broke out into raucous laughter and bid us a good night...

20 August, 2008

popping in to say "HI!"

The weather has turned beautiful again and we finally seem to have found our groove. In the last few days we've hiked the tip of the Mont Ventoux, explored Uzes and Remoulin and have spent a lot of time at the pool.

Yesterday we took an 8km canoe trip down the Gardon River- we even paddled through the arches of the Pont du Gard! Today we took the kids go-karting and tomorrow we're off to discover Arles and the Van Gogh museum there.

I just finished reading Paulo Coelho's "the Alchemist". I liked many of the ideas in there, but found it a bit hokey in general. It came highly recommended, and was apparently a bestseller in 57 different languages. Have any of you read it, and if so, what did you think? Maybe it was just due to the mood I was in when I read it?

17 August, 2008

saving the day

(Cold + crappy)weather+cold shower+(cold + greasy)fries for lunch = crabby Betsy

But then came dinner.

We dined in the courtyard of an ancient farmhouse, surrounded by azaleas. The kids relished plates of gambas in pastis sauce. M savored a perfect steak and my ratatouille was fabulous; crisp and flavorful. Bats pirouetted gracefully above our heads, and when it got dark the owner came out and placed flickering candles on every table. It was a perfect evening...

14 August, 2008

very sorry I am. (oui oui!)

I am spoiled. And I'm not just talking about luck and love in the usual sense, but in the ease that comes when one can finally articulate one's thoughts well in a foreign language.

German has become very comfortable for me lately. If I'm not yet ready to stop with my lessons it's only because I'm fascinated by linguistic acrobatics and niggling grammatical nuances.

With French, however, it's a completely different story. Despite my best efforts it's never really "stuck". In Flanders there was little opportunity for practice and I was never able to get up enough momentum to speak more than the most basic French.

So suddenly here I am in a French-speaking environment and am struggling with even very rudimentary phrases. Probably I should just give up and teach myself how to say: "Ignore that gibberish I just spit out! Despite all evidence to the contrary, I'm not actually stupid!"

The other day we were in a restaurant and I decided to swallow my pride and place my order myself. (How else am I ever going to learn if I don't practice?) So I ordered a salad, and then explained that I'd like a pasta dish with vegetables. No meat and no dairy, please.

I was so relieved to have it all over with and proud of myself for my excellent language skills!

Much later the water returned bearing trays laden with food. He doled it all out and I was left sitting there with my drool-soaked placemat and a stunned look on my face.

He didn't bring anything for me!

The only thing I ended up eating that evening was a big slice of humble pie!

Back to le old drawing board...

12 August, 2008

Wissenswertes ueber die Roemer

We just had one of those "aha!" moments that every homeschooling parent dreams of!

I'm doing workbooks with the boys everyday- B is working on English spelling / grammer, and S on German. Coincidentally S's chapter this week focuses on the ancient Romans, which fits right in with many of the sights we saw in Nimes yesterday.

Today's lesson is about aquaducts, and includes a large picture of the one at Pont du Gard! He was so thrilled!

This afternoon we're off to go see the real thing with our very own eyes! I love it!

11 August, 2008

just checking in...

Hello from Pont du Gard in southern France! We're camping next to the Gard river. I'm devouring French chocolates and German literature in copious amounts. (So far dark chocolate with sesame and Erich Remarque top my list!)

This weekend M and I lounged around topless in the dappled shade of an ancient tree while the boys caught frogs who all seemed to be named either Bob or Speedy.

S and B spent an inordinate amount of time yesterday paddling upstream in an inflatable boat. (Which meant, of course that I then spent an inordinate amount of time rescuing them from the groping tentacles of river algae.)

Today we explored Nimes, which is a lovely city! There's an extremely well-preserved amphitheater which saw its share of gladiator fights back in the day. I also really enjoyed the Jardin de la Fontaine with its Roman baths and Temple de Diane. (I'm composing this via M's Blackberry, otherwise I would include Wikipedia links, because it was really awe inspiring!)

Today I dined on cheeseless pizza and coffee with rice milk. Blech. (And to think that up until now you were probably feeling jealous!? ;-) Just thought I'd throw that note in there to even out the playing field...)

It's raining cats and dogs (and loaves and fishes) right now. Have I mentioned how grateful I am not to be sleeping in a tent on a leaky air mattrass?!

I hope the summer is treating you all well! A bientot!

04 August, 2008

when I leave the sun behind me...

An open courtyard in the middle of a 16th century farmhouse. I am jumping on a trampoline. Or flying, rather. The Kink's "This Time Tomorrow" is blaring through my iPod headphones. Suddenly life slows down and I am living a scene straight out of a Wes Anderson film. There are children tumbling around everywhere. Their mouths are open but I can't hear what they're saying. Bubbles float up over my head and drift off to seek their freedom in the clear blue sky...

01 August, 2008

Change of plans

A neighbor here has suddenly died. of cancer. he was only 57. So we will wait to leave until later on today so that my father-in-law can help with arrangements. My mother-in-law is busy baking quiches.

I seem to be the the only connecting factor between all of these disperate people. Those of you who know me personally are probably breathing a sigh of relief that I'll be out of pocket for the next three weeks. At least you're safe for now...

31 July, 2008

We're off!

We just got back from a visit with M's cousin and his family. Leroy Sievers once said that the greatest gift you can give someone with cancer is a little slice of normalcy. C had built an intricate creation out of legos and really enjoyed showing it to S and B. And I was actually able to make it home before the tears came...

We're leaving tomorrow to travel down to the Ardennes where we've rented a house with extended family. After that M and I will take the kids and the dog down to the Provence for two weeks worth of camping. Of course we also plan to do a lot of hiking and to sample about a bazillion different kinds of local wines and olives.

See you all when we get back at the end of August! Take care of yourselves and enjoy your summer vacation! :-)

30 July, 2008

Bad news.

A cousin just came by. The chemo isn't working for M's cousin. There is nothing more that can be done for him.

We're all waiting for the prognosis, which might be given on Friday.

Although this is not exactly a surprise after the most recent test results it is still a shock all the same...

He's only 25 years old, engaged to be married and had his whole life stretched out before him. How is this possible?!

28 July, 2008

Dag allemaal!

Hello from ze heart of ze Netherlands! The weather here is fabulous and I'm slowly recovering from last week. On top of packing and everything else I had to do hand to hand combat with my nefarious Internet provider.

(For those of you new to this blog and my Internet woes: never take candy from strangers and NEVER EVER sign a flatrate contract with 1&1 no matter how attractive it sounds!)

So last week we were without Internet on top of everything else. I haven't been that consumed with rage since... well, since the week before when S got accosted at school, but nevermind...

I am now on vacation and it is off to a great start. On Saturday we took M's 98 year old grandma out to dinner. We wanted to go someplace local, and it just so happens that the nearest restaurant specializes in organic vegetarian food! My meal was amazing-- a broccoli tart and crisp green beans with blood orange sorbet for dessert.

The woman who runs the place suddenly showed up at our table with an armful of books with pictures of historical Dubbeldam, the area here where Oma grew up. She flipped through the pages with the black and white photos and her face came alive! Then she told us stories about what it was like here in her youth and during the war. I have never seen her so engaged or animated! The whole evening had a bit of a magical touch to it.

I've been sleeping in in the mornings and have been indulging in all sorts of exotic teas. Have taken some long walks along the dikes with D and have spent a lot of time in the garden just gazing at the birds and flowers. The boys have liberated a few hundred snails and carried them to safety.

This afternoon I biked into town with my mother-in-law and bought a bathing suit. And not the usual cheapo, flimsy kind that will fall apart before the end of the season, but a horrendously expensive chichi affair; an indulgence of the highest order. (which, of course might also fall apart before the end of the season, but hey, at least I will look dashing up until the point of its passing...)

Tomorrow I plan to break in said suit at a nearby swimming pool; and maybe eat some tasty sandwiches.

My week is shaping up just fine, thank you! How's yours?

23 July, 2008

We made it!!!

School is out; let the summer begin!

The terrorist ended up getting expelled after the umbrella incident. It was kind of an empty gesture since he only missed the last three days of school, but I was just happy that at last someone had finally taken action!

We will be leaving on Friday for a month-long vacation, so I am knee-deep in camping gear and laundry. I have never been so happy to be packing up our stuff-- normally I hate it, but after the last couple of months I'm so ready for a break!

Am giddy with excitement and am playing Coldplay's new album at full blast. It's amazing!

I'll be in Holland next week and will have an Internet connection so you're not rid of me yet!

Happy summer, everyone!

18 July, 2008

As the stomach turns...

The terrorist beat up a girl with his umbrella today in school. Apparently he hit her point-first full force in the stomach. When I left school she and the witnesses were in with the principal. I had to hurry home, though, to return a call from the police.

When I spoke to the mother yesterday she said that he was shaking with fear. That seems to have worn off today...

17 July, 2008

It is definitely time for this school year to end.

There's a boy in S's class who is a complete terror. He disrupts class, bullies other kids and vandalizes property on the way home from school. Unfortunately he lives near us and walks to school using the same route as S. If he sees S he runs up to him, kicks him, throws him into bushes and pushes him out into the street.

I've tried talking to the teacher. I've tried talking to the mother. Other parents of bullied kids have gone to the principal, all to no avail. Two weeks ago he choked another student when the teacher left the room. Nothing happened.

Today the teacher left the room again.

This terrorist started mercilessly teasing a heavyset boy in the class. S told him to knock it off and leave him alone. So he turned his full wrath on S. Yanked him out of his chair by the hair and threw him on the ground. S apparently got up and got back in his chair, only to be dragged out by the hair and thrown on the ground again. This was completely without any further provocation from S-- I heard the story from S's classmates long before I heard it from him.

This time he's gone to far. I have contacted the police. I talked with an officer and told him very calmly what had happened, and that I realize that this incident in itself didn't end in personal injury but that I was worried that the next one might. At first he sounded a bit skeptical, because, of course, we are talking about third graders here, but later he became sympathetic and said that he'd pay this kid and his mother a visit, and that maybe that would help.

I picked S up from sports this afternoon and when I saw the terrorist I just boiled over. I shouted at him and told him I'd called the police and if he so much as touches another hair on S's head again he's going to be very, very sorry.

Scared him to death, at least for now, and embarrassed him in front of the the teacher and the other students. I'm not proud of myself for terrorizing a 9 year old, and S will probably suffer the repercussions later, but at a certain point enough is enough. Even for a committed pacifist like myself...

5 more days of school. Just 5 more days....

10 July, 2008

Savoring the sweet moments

The boys are playing with a boomerang down in a field near our house. As usual I sent the walkie talkie with them. I was buried in a project I'm trying to finish when the walkie talkie started beeping. The boomerang was stuck in a tree and they didn't know what to do.

Normally I would have been annoyed at the interruption.

Today, however, I walked down to the field and personally rescued the boomerang from that tree.

And I came bearing lollypops.

It just keeps on coming...

My VHS German teacher and I have developed a friendship over the last year, so when classes ended last month she agreed to give me private lessons up until the summer vacation. I showed up at her house this morning and she was very agitated.

"I'm so glad you came today-- I can really use the diversion. My husband has just been diagnosed with prostate cancer and we're waiting on test results to see if it's metastized to his lymph nodes."

She was so shaken and I felt so intensely sad for her! Life seems so precarious to me at the moment. I've got tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat every time M or the kids leave the house. I'm trying to keep everything in perspective, but it's not always easy...

09 July, 2008

Double gulp.

I am just reeling. Just got off the phone-- one of S's friends started throwing up blood last night. The took him to the hospital in an ambulance and he was in intensive care for several hours. They gave him blood and stabilized him-- moved him to a normal room, and then it started again, so he's back in intensive care.

They're apparently doing an endoscopy to see if they can locate the problem, but it sounds like everyone's in the dark. And this is a very healthy, robust kid! He and S attended a birthday party together on Sunday and I've got a picture of him right here smiling with his popcorn at the theater!

Are we all really so fragile? I can't help but think of his mother and M's cousin's mother and what they're probably going through right now and I've got tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

Sometimes it seems like it's only a matter of time before something horrible happens to any one of us. We're just biding out time until then, that's all...

08 July, 2008


M's cousin has just finished his two rounds of chemo. He went in for some scans last week and was in for a shock: although the largest tumor has shrunk he suddenly has two new tumors in his liver. (!!!)

He was feeling so much better, his hair was coming back in and the family's optimism was finally returning. In spite of all that, his blood markers have suddenly skyrocketed off of the charts. It doesn't look good....

Give your loved ones a hug (or a call!) today! You never know what tomorrow might bring...

07 July, 2008

Photo update

The last 10 days have melded into a blur. S and B are enjoying jam-packed social calenders, with end-of-the-year school activities, field trips and birthday parties. I'm doing my best to keep up with them, but can feel my brain starting to wither with the effort.

We're having fun, though, and here are a couple of pictures just to bring you up to date:

B's class participated in "Sports Day" in which all the 1st and 2nd grade classes competed against each other in track and field events. Here's Speedy pulling ahead in the final stretch.
I flew to Dublin to visit an old friend. Luckily I'm well connected, otherwise I might have had to stay here...
S and his class took a field trip to a sheep farm last friday. They learned a lot about wool production and even got to try their hands at spinning yarn!

The high point, however, had nothing to do with sheep. They all got to swim in a creek that ran through the farm. Hence the bathing suit and wet hair in this picture.

01 July, 2008

Tick Watch 2008

M found two ticks on our underwear drawers over the weekend. I feel like we're in one of those horror movies where the monsters keep reappearing no matter how hard you try to escape them.

Oh yeah, and the neighbor? Her tests came back positive.

Normally I would probably be shouting "Run for the hills!", but that seems to be where they're coming from...

25 June, 2008


I just spoke to my German teacher and guess what? She's just been diagnosed with Lyme disease. AAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

23 June, 2008

Lemon Lyme

So B has only just finished his round of antibiotics for Lyme disease. Our next-door neighbor is awaiting blood test results for a steadily growing rash on her leg, and I just heard that a boy who lives about five houses further up has also been infected.

Is this a burgeoning epidemic or just sheer coincidence? I'm not taking any chances-- have bought some industrial strength insect spray and have been dousing the kids every time they go out to play in the woods...

20 June, 2008

Creative visualisation

Picture if you will a fresh smoothie made with blueberries and raspberries. Now imagine said smoothie falling from a height of about 4 feet and landing in the vicinity of white walls, butter-yellow chairs, light wood and a freshly clad boy, the unwitting catalyst of this catastrophe. There are, of course, only ten minutes before he has to leave for school.

What was going through my head at that moment?

Call a realtor, find a new house and leave no forwarding address...


Wordle is a completely addictive tool that generates word clouds from any text you provide. Who knew that my hickey post could morph into an artistic expression? I must be even more talented than I'd ever imagined...

19 June, 2008


My house smells delectable! I have been craving ginger snaps for days now. Found this quick, easy highbrow recipe on Allrecipes.com.

(For those of you following sadistic diets like myself, the shortening can be replaced by applesauce, the all-purpose flour with whole grain spelt flour and the sugar can be reduced. They still taste delicious!)


3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup light molasses
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt


1. Cream together shortening and sugar, add egg and beat until fluffy. Stir in molasses and mix well.
2. Sift all dry ingredients-twice, then add to molasses mixture and mix well
3. Using a cookie scoop or spoon scoop out spoonfuls of dough and form into round balls. Roll tops of balls in sugar. ***note: if you have replaced the shortening with applesauce the batter will be runnier. just drop tablespoon fulls onto a greased cookie sheet.
4. Place the round balls on a cookie sheet, these cookies flatten as they bake.
5. Bake for exactly 9 minutes in a preheated 350 degree (175 degree C) oven. Remove from baking sheet and cool.

14 June, 2008

That's my alibi and I'm sticking to it...

I was getting dressed this morning when M suddenly said:

Hey, what's that red ring on your back?

WHAT?! You're kidding, right?

No, I'm dead serious. It's right here and... uh oh.


There's another one. and another one. Holy shit, Betsy, you've got at least 5 or 6 of them!

I raced to our full length mirror and contorted myself so that I could take a look. Sure enough, there were several round rashes on my back. Bright red at the edges and clear in the center-- very similar to B's except that they were perfectly round instead of elliptical. Could my entire back have been covered with ticks without me knowing it???!! With a sinking heart I twisted further to get a better look.

M? These don't look like bullseyes, they look like... hickeys!

What?! Want to tell me how you ended up with 6 hickeys on your back?

All of a sudden I burst out laughing. I had an ECG stress test earlier this week during a routine checkup, and that must have been where they attached the suction cup monitors...

12 June, 2008

Big career decisions

On the way to school this morning B told me unequivocally that he has no desire to become a teacher when he grows up.

The reason?

He doesn't want to have to clean up all that confetti in the classroom after Carnival.

06 June, 2008

100% organic wholegrain porn

My husband was watching the news on Tuesday evening when I suddenly raced in, flopped down onto the couch next to him, pulled down my pants and pressed a slice of frozen bread to my thigh.

To his credit he hardly raised an eyebrow.

Was this an act of seduction?

Hardly. I'd spilled hot water on myself while making a cup of tea and couldn't find any ice cubes...

05 June, 2008

Straight out of National Lampoon, episode #232

Some are destined for greatness, others for parody. My life seems to fall consistently into the latter category.

I just got back from another field trip. S's class visited the hospital after school today and I agreed to be a chaperone under the condition that I could bring B along with me. The teacher wasn't happy with the plan, but she needed all the help she could get, so she agreed, as long as B was discreet about it. Those of you who know B are probably already chuckling-- discreet is just not in his vocabulary.

So we get to the hospital and get a tour of the lab there. The technician whipped out a vial of urine and demonstrated how she tested sugar levels with a dipstick. Then all the children got their very own dipstick to take home to test themselves. As a joke I suggested to the teacher that she might be able to include that as part of the lesson tomorrow and she stared at me horrified. I keep forgetting that my dry sense of humor doesn't go over all that well with Germans.

B, probably inspired by the multiple vials of urine, suddenly had to produce some of his own. As we were leaving the lab we spotted a bathroom. I sent him in hoping that he could go really fast and that we could catch up with the group before they turned the corner at the end of the hall. I was hoping he'd be discreet.

Suddenly I hear B's screams echoing throughout the hallway. I raced in to find him at the sink, rubbing his eyes and howling. He'd tried to squirt disinfectant on his hands and somehow it had splashed up into his eyes. I stuck his head in the sink and washed his eyes out with water. It sloshed all over his hair, shirt and pants. A nurse brought us a towel and gave B a wet washcloth to hold on his eyes during the rest of our tour.

Then we wandered around in the pediatric ward for a while trying to find the class. B got a lot of attention for his wet washcloth, which spurred him on to new thespian heights.

Next stop: the emergency ward, where all the kids got to have a cast put on their finger. The teacher told B that he couldn't participate since he's not part of the class and he burst into tears. The kindly hospital staff, who had already offered to have his eyes checked out by the paramedics, felt sorry for him and intervened. So now he could get a cast too, as long as I accompanied him.

When we got back out one of the girls came up to me, held the arguably very phallic cast up to her pants and said: "Look Betsy, I'm peeing!" Of course then the rest of the children followed her suit. S turned to me very proudly and said: "I taught her that. Thought it up all by myself!"

I would not be surprised if the teacher is at home right this very minute sticking pins into a voodoo doll with my name written on it...

30 May, 2008

Shouting from the rooftops

This blog seems to have turned into a bad news gazette lately. So I thought I'd buck the trend and write about something pleasant for a change.

Back in March I visited a holistic doctor for a general tune-up. I wasn't sick, but wasn't feeling 100%, either. She told me that I am allergic / sensitive to a wide array of substances and suggested some radical diet changes. The first couple of months were difficult and discouraging, but I've stuck with it, and you know what???


This has been a proverbial silver bullet because it's taken care of digestive issues, minor skin problems, headaches and energy fluctuations that I've been chalking up to hypoglycemia. I still don't metabolize sugar very well, but the dips I have now are much milder. I think that they've just been exacerbated all this time by caffeine and a sensitivity to cow's milk.

I've always been suspicious about those celebrities who go on radical diets and then swear they've got loads of energy and bound out of bed at 5am to go running. OK, so that's still a bit far-fetched for my situation, but I do notice a definite difference and I'm thrilled! This reformed milkaholic will be staying off the wagon for the forseeable future!

26 May, 2008

(Near) Disasters R Us

What is up with us lately? We seem to have some seriously shitty Karma to work through.

A couple of weeks ago B was swimming at our hotel in Cairo when I noticed this suspicious Lyme-like rash. Luckily I had the presence of mind to take this picture.

When we got back home I took S & B to the pediatrician for a post-dysentery check-up, and while there I mentioned the rash. Apparently the bullseye-shaped rash, the hallmark of Lyme disease, grows bigger with time. It already seemed bigger to me, but just to be doubly sure we marked the edges last Friday with a permanent marker. And my, how it's grown.


The pediatrician said to come in for a blood test, but it's changed enough by now that he said that's not even necessary anymore. There's no mistaking it: B has lyme disease.

He wrote a prescription for amoxycillin for 10 days. LUCKILY I'd done some research this morning and had read that children should take antibiotics for up to 30 days. I asked him about it, and he went and dug out his books and, sure enough, it's a longer cure.

I think I might need a double scotch on the rocks this evening.

23 May, 2008

Birthday traditions

Some people celebrate their birthdays with a big party for friends and family. Others bake special cakes or plan trips to faraway places.

I tend to mark the occasion with unmitigated disaster. In 2006 an already bad day was topped when a falling branch met my windshield at high speeds. My birthday last year saw the expensive culmination of a losing battle with my internet provider.

And this year? Well, it was no exception. It started out wonderfully: a delicious surprise breakfast and an 11k hike in the Schwarzwald. Everything was going along smoothly until yesterday evening. D the wonderdog is limping again. It's only been two and a half months since the operation-- she's finally fit again and we had so hoped that all of the problems were behind us. This morning when she woke up she was completely lame.

I'm going to keep her crated for the next couple of days and hope it blows over, but I've got a very bad feeling about this. The vet assured us that once the bone splinter was removed that she would be good as new. We were so relieved to have been able to finally close that chapter, but today she's worse than I've ever seen her before.

I'm trying not to think about the consequences all too much...

22 May, 2008

2 more photo souveniers

And then he fell off.
Thanks, I think I'll pass.

20 May, 2008

Garbage City, Cairo

OK, OK, now that I've gotten the amoebic toxicity levels of frustration and disappointment out of my system I wanted to tell you about some of the amazing things we were able to see while we were in Cairo.

Our kids have been very interested in poverty lately. We often tell them how fortunate they are to be living in a wealthy country and to be in possession of "favorable" passports, but it's always been a very abstract concept for them.

They've been saving their allowance for the last five weeks to "give to poor people in Egypt". I was humbled and a bit overwhelmed by their generosity. Really wanted to do something special since they'd gone to so much trouble, so I called a contact of M's who is the MD for Chrysler in Egypt. On Tuesday he arranged for a driver to take us out to "Garbage City", the central collection point for Cairo's garbage. Inhabitants live among the refuse and eke out a living sorting and selling much of what they recover.

I was completely floored by what we saw: narrow streets teeming with people and absolutely full of garbage. I'd expected everyone to seem depressed or beaten down, but they were lively and busy and paid us no attention whatsoever. They even looked surprisingly clean, given the conditions they were living in.

We stayed in the car and didn't get to take any pictures inside the city itself, but I did find this fascinating video on YouTube. (We were actually able to go in the underground church he talks about.)

Welcome to my nightmare

Thanks so much for your nice comments! We are, in fact, feeling much better. I've made an appointment for the kids with the pediatrician for later on this week for a full checkup. Since we don't actually know what we had there's no way to know if they might have a parasite that could rear it's ugly head again later.

The whole incident was very scary. I've always been pretty relaxed about food when I travel. M and I were laughing at the irony yesterday: we traveled illness-free for a week on a safari through Tanzania and ate chicken that was kept for days on end in a cooler filled with water. It was cooked by the time we ate it, of course, but still! I guess that time we just got lucky with the Russian roulette.

This time we didn't.

And what made the whole ordeal even scarier was that we have no idea what it was that made us sick. We were staying in a good hotel which was supposedly taking precautions for foreign guests and their sensitive stomachs. We only ate out twice, and then, as recommended, at busy restaurants where high turnover supposedly ensured that the food was fresh. We only drank bottled water and didn't use ice in juices.

Despite these precautions, however, M and S got sick, then B 12 hours later, and then, after playing Florence Nightengale around the clock, I eventually succumbed.

Once we'd recuperated enough to keep anything down we were too weak to take the hour drive into the center of Cairo to forage for food, but were also too afraid to eat much of anything in the hotel. It was a nightmare. Literally, because I'm still waking up every night in a panic after dreams that the kids are eating bad produce or are playing in dirty water.

On the 15th S was terribly ill and I called for a doctor. He came and inspected S, B and M and, without explaining what he thought they had, he wrote out two long lists for medications. When I, as a lowly female, asked what each of them were for, he got angry. And when I mentioned that I didn't need a fever reliever because I had Ibuprofen with me he got up and stormed out of the hotel room and didn't return. (!!!) (How dare I question his authority, no matter how politely!)

Someone from the hotel went out and bought the medicines for us, but I had no idea how much to give, because the dosages he'd written were vague (1 big spoon??) and differed wildly from the amounts given in the package inserts. Luckily M had his Blackberry with him so we were able to email with my dad and my Grandfather, who is a GP, for advice. (THANKS AGAIN, GUYS!)

We had a very scary moment with S later on that evening. He had a high fever but was feeling too nauseous to take children's ibuprofen or any of the anti-microbial medicines. He was very weak and seemed to be getting worse, so M and I picked him up and put him in the shower to bring down his temperature. After that he started feeling well enough to take the ibuprofen and when that kicked in we could move on to the other medicine. If that hadn't worked the next step was definitely the hospital.

Oh, and the icing on the cake was that the bathtub leaked. Every time you took a shower water would stream out from underneath the tub onto the floor of the bathroom. So every time we bathed or used it to bring down various fevers the flooded bathroom became like an ice rink. At one point S needed to vomit, jumped up from his bed in a panic, raced to the bathroom, wiped out and skidded into a wall. It was just such a nightmare!

And I haven't even gotten to the insects yet. The ones that feasted on the kids and had S waking up one night screaming because he thought that he'd been stung by a wasp.

Let's just say that this travel experience was less than optimal.

We did have a chance the first few days to see some interesting sights. I'll blog some more about those tomorrow...

19 May, 2008

Snapshots from the front

Pyramid 1
Pyramid 2
Spent some time riding on camels
Spent more time riding the porcelain dromedary
The Nile: Due to the wonders of modern technology, Cairo hasn't flooded in more than 30 yearsThe Hotel Bathtub: Despite the wonders of modern technology the deluge was regular and relentless
Heiroglyphics 1
Heiroglyphics 2