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?