Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's a New Day

I'm a little exhausted by all the end-of-year wrap-ups that surround me. Magazines, TV shows, blogs, twitter, everyone resolving and reflecting and I just can't seem to catch a quiet moment to think about this stuff for myself. I love Linda's questionnaire and it's sort of been hanging over my head all week, and I've just realized that I'm not going to get it done. Why can't I find time to reflect on 2008?

Maybe because this year has been a less-than-great one for so many of my friends and acquaintances - lost jobs and difficult relationships and even the little stuff like bad weather over the holiday season that put a damper on Christmas this year. And I want so much for 2009 to be better for all of us. I want to feel calmer and in better control of just about everything in my life. But as much as I'd like to put 2008 behind me, I don't feel ready for this bright new year of possibilities. My house isn't clean, we haven't even opened half of our Christmas gifts yet, and even my to-do list is unfinished. But the calendar page is going to turn whether I like it or not. Whether I'm ready or not. So here I come.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Let it Schnee

Last week Theo and I barely left the house, mainly just to walk across the street and check the empty mailbox. It started out feeling cozy and ended up feeling a bit like we had been stranded in a snow cave somewhere -- well, a snow cave with a furnace and a lot of Christmas cookies. We left Portland Friday morning and after almost being stranded in Seattle and then getting on a plane we were told would probably have to divert to Spokane, we eventually landed in Montana. The temperature here is in the single digits but it feels so much less claustrophobic, with people zipping along the streets, many of them without so much as a set of snow tires, and grocery shopping and fa la la la la.

Apparently we made it out just in time, as our street was featured as one of the most treacherous in the city and everyone we know is huddled near a fireplace as ARCTIC BLAST 2008 dumps more snow everywhere. Even the mall is closed, which is a pretty big deal on the weekend before Christmas.

I still haven't unlocked the precise reason a snowstorm in the Pacific NW is so different than one in Montana. I know it's got a lot to do with frequency (duh) and snowplows-per-square-mile, and wet snow versus dry snow and all that. But there's got to be a psychological component too. All the psychic energy of those schoolkids, willing another day of sledding instead of another day of school, can't all be for naught.

I'll be away from the blog for a few days. Have a wonderful Christmas and a great start to 2009. Thanks so much for reading.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Current Playlist

I'm not sure what's up with my musical taste right now, but I'm all about the ladies.

Straight To...Number One by Touch and Go.
Video of Lance and Lacey's DWTS mambo, because that's what turned me on to the song.

Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) by Beyonce
You might be sick of it, but I'm not. And this choreographer deserves an award.

Keeps Gettin' Better by Christina Aguilera
I still maintain that this is really a Britney song, but who cares.

Untouched by The Veronicas
The day I downloaded this I put it on repeat and drove around listening to it for half an hour until I could sing along exactly to the chorus.

So What by P!nk
When this comes on the radio, Theo yells ROCKSTAR! ROCK MOVES! from the back seat.

That's Not My Name by The Ting Tings
I have no idea where I came up with this one. But still. Love it.

Cobrastyle by Robyn
I think I've linked to this before. I'm still listening to it.

Fidelity by Regina Spektor
This video looks like Tori Amos landed in the middle of that weird Tom Petty/Alice in Wonderland video that I love so much.

When Will I Be Loved? by Linda Ronstadt
Everyone needs a little Linda in her life.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Snow Patrol

We had a bunch of plans for today, but instead we did this:




It's been snowing for more than twelve hours and it looks like the drifts will be here for a while. My Montanan friends are not impressed, but I think I've officially become a wintertime wimp. And I live in a place where I've never actually seen a snowplow in real life, and where we make any possible excuse to stay inside and eat chocolate cake. It works for us. We also live on a big hill, so the cars are staying parked for now. We'd planned a big family birthday party for Jeff this afternoon but no one wanted to risk life and limb to get here, so we were forced to eat his raspberry fudge birthday cake ourselves. There are lots of leftovers, so I have the feeling the cake going to be the center of our culinary plan for the next few days. I know you feel sorry for us.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Here you go.

-I threw a little holiday shindig last night, mostly just as an excuse to make The Pioneer Woman's Holiday Bacon Appetizers. It's the recipe you've been waiting for. I also whipped up some Guac with Pears and Pomegranate Seeds (via MightyGirl). Food for meat-eaters and veggies alike, that's my party mantra.

-We've got a bunch of plans for the weekend, all of which involve being out and about, so if this storm the forecasters are promising actually arrives, I won't be impressed. But I recall from the last winter I spent here that the weather drama is normally confined to local newsrooms and one or two poor newscasters shivering in the rain on freeway overpasses, waiting for snowflakes.

-I hadn't entered a Nordstrom store in ages, so yesterday when I finally got there I didn't want to go home. They have nice bathrooms, clothing and shoes, and a nearby cafe. Why should I ever leave?

-The best thing about owning a DVR is that I can watch the Charlie Brown Christmas specials anytime I want.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How Flossing Changed My Life

I strive to be truthful. But I used to lie to my dental hygienist twice a year, without fail, when she would ask me if I flossed. "MmmHmm," I nodded as I tried to make sure and answer while her fingers were in my mouth, hopefully obscuring my guilty face. And then she would remark on my bleeding gums and I would say, "Well, not every day," which meant, "Well, only once in a while when I get a popcorn kernel stuck in my molar." And she would smile politely and then get serious and tell me I really should be flossing blah blah blah.

I finally realized that this little untruth, though practically a national pastime, was the worst part of my dental appointments. It pained me even more than the dragging of those pointy spiral instruments past my aching gums. So I finally just decided to tell her the truth, that I did not floss. I thought maybe that would garner some sympathy, that I'd get points for being the one and only person in the chair that day who admitted her shortcomings. But instead I didn't even get a sympathetic smile this time, just a stern talking-to about gum disease.

And then I moved to Germany and met the kindest, friendliest hygienist I've ever known, who cheerfully gave me two teeth-cleanings straight from a Stephen King novel. I swear I saw my own blood spattered on the ceiling as I rose from the chair. And I went home and broke out the dental floss.

I have too many teeth that are too big for my mouth. This meant braces and appliances and rubber bands and elementary school photos wherein I look like a K-9 or a descendant of Nosferatu. Now that the cosmetics are straightened out, my teeth are crammed so tightly together that anything I try to slide between them becomes caught. Floss shreds. Toothpicks splinter. And I have a permanently-installed retainer that traps food particles like a Venus Flytrap grabs insects (yum). So that's always been my excuse for poor dental hygiene. But I was determined to avoid needing cauterization the next time I hit the dentist's chair.

And so, for the past twelve months, I've been a flossing machine. I floss every single night before bed, even when I'm tired, even when I'm on vacation, and even when I found out we were moving back to the USA and I knew I'd never see that friendly, devilish hygienist again. In fact, if you can believe this, I made a dentist appointment for the week before we moved just so I could display my sparkling gums to her. Of course in fine German style, when I announced I'd been flossing she said, "Oh this is fine, but your retainer is still a difficulty." Whatever.

Now the point to this story wasn't to give you a far-too-detailed account of what's inside my mouth (but aren't you lucky? you got one anyway). It's to tell you that old dogs can learn new tricks! Really we can! Because I am still flossing, and I realized last week that I've started LOOKING FORWARD to how my teeth feel after I've flossed, in the same way I used to look forward to brushing them. Now, that minty freshness just isn't complete until I've yanked a piece of Teflon-coated string between my teeth. Just think of what this means. I might one day learn to make my bed every morning! I could start washing the car once a week! I could get up an hour earlier and do yoga!

But since none of that is likely to happen, I'm just looking forward to my next dentist appointment where there will be no lies or evasion or, if I'm lucky, blood on the ceiling.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's Jolly Holiday

We sort of accidentally put up the Christmas tree on Friday. We were having a bunch of people over for dinner, and I'd announced that Friday was Clean Up The House day. And then I crankily sat in bed with the computer all morning, doing some work I had to get done while Jeff entertained Theo. And I dawdled around, knowing that once I got downstairs I was going to have to vacuum or dust.

When I finally descended from my lair, our fake tree was standing in the living room and Theo was dancing around it yelling THEO HELP DADDY TEE! THEO HELP! So the tree was up and the garland was hung around the banister with care and I'll be darned if it didn't cheer me right up. So we strung up the lights and wiped off the nativity set and here we are in a Christmas wonderland.

We'd considered going undecorated this year since we'll celebrate the big day elsewhere, but it's amazing how much nicer it is to walk downstairs in the morning to see twinkling lights instead of an empty expanse of carpet and a sad little footstool occupying our living room. Maybe we'll just leave it up year round.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Second to Last Day of This and Aren't You Glad?

We just had thirty-plus people in our house for dinner. I baked a delicious dessert that I forgot to take a picture of and we all had a nice time and nothing got broken. (As far as I know. Sometimes these things show up days later.)

And that is all I have to tell you.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Photo Shoot

Yesterday I sat at the loooooong dinner table (23, yes twenty-three adults at dinner) after eating turkey and brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans with fried onions on top and a roll. (Well, actually I did what I always do with the roll, which is take one and not eat it, so there it sat on my empty plate.) I was half-listening to a conversation across the room about wineries, and slightly tuned in to someone else talking about potty training, but was snapped out of my post-turkey snooze by a voice calling everyone together for a family photo.

Fortunately, I didn't actually have to be in the photo. It was just going to be a picture of the kids. There are nine of them right now, all under the age of seven. The youngest is not quite a year old, the oldest is a first grader, and the rest are like squirming stair-steps between them. And speaking of stair-steps and squirming, here is one of the shots.



Believe it or not, that's the best of the lot. After I took it, one of them started crying and one of them dropped the baby he was supposed to be holding and someone else decided to play dead and slide down the stairs in a heap, out of camera range. Someone walked up midway through the photo shoot and said, "This is a disaster!" And she was right. But what a fantastic disaster it was. I'm just impressed that no one fell down the stairs and broke a limb or split a lip.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Turkey Lurkey

My friend Erin and her friends are showing a live video stream of their turkey's journey to the table, via a smoker, today.

Go see!


I hope you're having a great Thanksgiving. I'm off to eat some brussels sprouts with bacon. The turkey is OK but it's the bacon that makes the holiday. Don't tell anyone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful

The past three years we've spent Thanksgiving away from our families. Our first year in Deutschland, we ate mashed potatoes and broccoli and went to bed early because we hadn't purchased light fixtures yet and our apartment was pitch black after the sun went down. We talked to our families on the phone in the dark and got a little depressed. Two years ago, I was pregnant and hosted Thanksgiving lunch for my international book group. I made a big turkey in my tiny oven and practically collapsed from exhaustion at about 4pm. Last year, we left Theo with a babysitter and went to a nearby spa and sat around in our towels eating pretzels.

Tomorrow, we'll be surrounded by more than thrity family members (and that's just on Jeff's side), and we'll be just one time zone away from my side of the family, so we can all celebrate and talk to each other during daylight hours. It's going to be different and overwhelming, but that's why we moved back.

That, and because we wanted Theo to learn to say GOBBLE GOBBLE in proper context.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grandma's Chili

Today was cold and rainy, just the kind of day when I drag out my recipe binder and dig through to find my grandmother's chili recipe. It's written in her handwriting on a recipe card from her kitchen. Although it doesn't require any exotic ingredients or unexpected flavors, it's what I crave when I want some chili. Haul out your Crock-Pot and enjoy when you're sick of leftover turkey:

Grandma Liz's Chili
2lb hamburger
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
2 (15oz) cans chili or kidney beans
2 (16oz) cans crushed tomatoes
1 (6oz) can tomato sauce or paste
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder

Brown hamburger, then add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for one hour to 1 1/2 hours.

(Special note from Grandma at the bottom: "I cook mine in Crock-Pot overnite on low, Grandpa always had a bowl full for breakfast.")

Monday, November 24, 2008

It Was All Purple

I was inspired earlier today by Jonniker's post to seek out video from the 2004 Grammy Awards, of Beyonce and Prince tearing it up to Purple Rain. And I was totally going to embed the video here and call it a post, since if you haven't seen it, you really must, the two of them together practically set my TV set on fire, and that was on two-day tape delay thousands of miles away.

But Prince and his infinite control issues have apparently scoured the internet and removed all traces of the video. That's part of his charm, I guess. So you'll just have to trust me on this one.

And since I just got home from my book group where we did actually discuss the book, (we re-read a book we'd read a decade ago (how great is it that my book group has been together for something like 15 years?) and discovered we still liked it a lot the second time around) I'm going to have to blame Prince for the severe lame-ness of this post.

I advise you to break out your Purple Rain soundtrack (What?! You don't own one?! Download that baby, stat.) and thank me later.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Night Questions

-When did I start liking Christina Aguilera? She used to drive me up the wall but I kind of love her now.

-Is there anything better than moving into a house with pre-strung Christmas lights? Well, maybe a house with a built-in housekeeper/gardener, like that robot on the Jetsons. But I'll take what I can get.

-Have you noticed I'm totally ignoring the lack of comments on that post where I asked you to comment? I'm trying to be cool and not feel sort of embarrassed about it.

-Have you read anything by Anne Lamott lately? You totally should.


-

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pounding it Out

We had that day today, the one I knew was coming. It was the day we remembered we had become homeowners and we had to actually do some stuff around the house. Jeff spent most of the afternoon raking up soggy leaves, the same leaves he'd looked up at when they were still living on the tree and we were looking around the place with our realtor. He pointed out that soon they would be wet and lying on the driveway. Call him Nostradamus.

I started my afternoon by putting a bunch of holes in the walls. The people who lived here before us must have owned a whole bunch of very heavy artwork, because they left monster-sized picture hangers behind in every room. We're talking about the kind with plastic casings and fat screws hung side-by-side - multiple hangers for each picture, it seems. And they were kind of bugging me, but until I pulled them out of the walls I didn't even realize how much. They were a glaring reminder that we hadn't yet made ourselves at home, that we didn't have enough substantial stuff to fill up our walls, and neener neener neener, the people before us were better decorators than we are.

So when I had a satisfying pile of sheetrock-dusted screws and hangers in my hand, I spackled the holes and sanded them down and even painted over them with paint I found in the garage (fortunately the right colors - probably should have checked that out before I began ripping stuff off the walls and smearing white spackle everywhere, but apparently it was my lucky day). And, wow, it made a difference. I don't find myself gazing at the walls, wondering what once hung there and trying to figure out if we having something to hang there so I don't have to pound in another nail. Now that they're gone, I can pound my own nails and hang my own pictures, and start feeling like I live here for real.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Telling Stories

The Story Lady at my childhood library was white-haired and gentle. She looked like Mrs. Claus and gathered the kids around her at storytime each week. We all sat quietly in a semi-circle at her feet and looked adoringly upon her for a full thirty minutes, hanging on every word and picture in her many storybooks.

Actually, we probably ran around for fifteen minutes, screaming and hitting each other on the heads with the board books and knocking down the paperback book racks, but that's not how I remember it.

Storytime at our local library is led by a young and energetic librarian who knows a million kids' songs and finger games and walks around the room while she reads that week's book. The kids run around and dance and learn how to jump and play under a parachute and drag out the plastic toy bucket at the end. There are name stickers and hand-stamps and bubbles.

Theo loves it and displays his adoration by applauding and, today, lying down on the floor with his feet crossed while the librarian led the songs. As though he thought it was a personal concert, just for him. I think I love it just as much as he does, because it makes me think of the Story Lady but also (and this is key) because I get my very own nametag sticker every week.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wherein I Get Out of the House and Do Something Intellectual

I just got back from hearing Annie Leibovitz speak. She showed slides of some of her photos and read a bit from her new book and answered questions from the audience. She was obviously uncomfortable, especially when the questions were about her own celebrity or the well-known figures she's photographed. She laughed at herself when she couldn't form a complete sentence and clearly preferred reading from her prepared notes, though she even stumbled there.

But when she was asked a couple of questions about her craft - about digital vs. film, or how her photography has changed over the years - she became articulate and went on at length. She said her advice to young photographers was not to wait around to be assigned a subject, or get a job at a magazine, or for someone to tell you what to do. Choose a subject you love, and follow it, and learn all about it. Take photos of your loved ones, of things you know.

Thanks for your comments on my post about the disappearance of my European lifestyle. I thought of them tonight, when Annie said to focus on the things you know. And I thought about something that Courtenay said:
"...no matter where you live, you are all of the past as well as the present."

It's hard to trust our own experiences, to feel that the things we love are also worthy of our focused time and attention, and to remember that we don't have to try so hard to be who we are. There's probably a lesson in here about living in the moment and simply trusting that our experiences will inform our values and our choices without trying so hard.

But it's getting late and I'm a little to tired to make that point, so I'll just say thanks. To you and to Annie.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Whither Thou Goest

When I'm tapped out for interesting things to write about, I like to send you to other blogs that I love. And while there are many blogs that I love, I've already sent you to most of them before (see that blogroll to the right). I haven't discovered anyone new in a long time - not because there aren't bunches of great blogs popping up every day, but because I haven't had the chance to cruise around the interwebs as much as I used to.

If I send you to see a couple of my friends, will you find some new ones for me?

You'll love Mego, and not just because she's from Montana. But that part doesn't hurt.

Abby just wrote a beautiful post about friendship and love and freedom. Go see her too.

Evany is delightful and takes photos of her clever outfits.

In case you're not already reading Linda, you should. She writes with wit and bravery about parenthood. And being a person. And she has a rockin' bod.

OK, I've shown you mine. Now you show me yours.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I am my own worst nightmare.

When we left Germany, I swore I would bring the European lifestyle along with me. Not all of it - not the sausage and gravy at every meal, or the horrible customer service. But I'd bring along the simplicity, the habits of taking a walk every day, of shopping only when I really needed something, of using only as much as I really require. I figured we'd live in a small house within walking distance of a grocery store and a park. We'd try to get by with just one car. I would grow lettuce.

But either I'm an easily swayed consumer (probably) or I'm a living example of why the American lifestyle is the way it is (also probable). Yes, I could have had all those things I wanted. But they would require sacrifice and I'm weak willed and, believe it or not, those things can be really expensive. Living near a grocery store AND a park AND in a neighborhood where we felt OK about the local elementary school meant we'd all have to share one bedroom. And, well, if I wanted that lifestyle I would be living in New York City. At least we wouldn't need a car there, but it would be tough to find a place for my lettuce.

So here we are, not quite in the suburbs but almost. We have two cars, one of them an SUV and neither of them a hybrid (because we don't live on a bus line, and buying one hybrid would have cost more than both our cars combined). Theo spends more time in his car seat now than in his stroller. I have yet to fully explore our neighborhood on foot.

On the other hand, I met a really nice mom at the playground yesterday and we could actually, you know, communicate in a common language. And I'm ten minutes from Trader Joe's, where they sell delicious food and the checkers are unfailingly courteous. And I do plan to plant some lettuce in the back yard.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What Theo is Doing Right Now

Well, right this very moment, he's asleep. But besides sleeping, here's what else he does:

-Says Mo Peez Mo Peez Mo Peez (More, please) over and over in a screechy whiny voice when he wants something. I'm trying to focus on the good manners but the delivery leaves much to be desired.

-Points to my leg and says Mama pants! and points to his leg and says Theo pants!

-Asks me to sing Wheels on the Bus when he is trying to delay naptime.

-Has a crush on Abby Cadabby from Sesame Street.

-Steals the rolling pin out of the kitchen cupboard, takes it into the living room, and lays down on his belly on top of it and rolls back and forth.

-Always wants broccoli for lunch.

-Whimpers No Loud? No Loud? every time I go near the KitchenAid mixer.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Home for the Aged

Do you watch 60 Minutes? I kind of love it. I'd forgotten about it until tonight, when I tuned in and saw Steve Kroft joking with Barack Obama about his mother-in-law. There's something comforting about the fact that it's still on the air, and that Steve Kroft's hair is still terrible, and that Andy Rooney just gets crankier and crankier. And, especially, that I still have the attention span to watch it.

Because now that I've sort of figured out my DVR, I watch a lot of Oprah, and I swear there's never more than ten minutes without a commercial on that show. Especially in the last fifteen minutes. It's the true hidden cause of the explosion of ADD in America. My fast-forward button is getting a workout. When I remember that I'm not watching live, that is, which is almost never.

All this is to remind you that really do belong in that retirement village down south. Me, Andy Rooney, black cherry vodka, and a TV with a manual dial that forces me to get up and cross the room to change the channel. It's a winning combination.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

TGIF

I've never been so breathlessly anxious for the weekends as I am since I quit working in a real live office. Even back before I had a 26-pound wind-up toy running around the house, I loved Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Existing on my own all week long can get boring and lonely, and feels like just as much of a grind as when I had to put on real shoes at 7am and worry about parking the car close enough to my office that I didn't have to slog through too many puddles in my nice clothes.

Our weekends aren't exciting around here, but they're just so weekend-y; hanging out in bed, wearing sweatpants, eating waffles, going out for ice cream. But since we bought this house I've sort of ruined most of them by rampaging around the kitchen on Saturday mornings, enumerating all the stuff that needs to get done or we're all going to DIIIIIIEEEE. There are pictures to hang and bookshelves to fill and clothes to wash and leaves to rake, and OMG the weekend is going to be over! It will end in 48 hours and then whatever will we do when the pictures are still lying on the living room carpet instead of hanging on the walls?

It's a wonder Jeff doesn't slip some Valium in the maple syrup on my waffle.

But today we got a few things done and took time out to go to the park and ate Thai food for dinner. And the laundry is still dirty but so far we're not reduced to wearing those outfits that lurk in the back of the closet for those times when everything else is in the hamper. And none of has self-destructed because the to-do list isn't complete. So maybe I should remember this weekend the next time I think I've got to do everything in a two-day period.

Either that, or start drinking mimosas for breakfast.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Animalize

Our local Humane Society is running an ad campaign touting its mission to provide a pet for "every man, woman, and child." Every time I see it, I shudder, because it makes me momentarily concerned that someone is going to force me to adopt a puppy.

I am not interested in having a pet. I realize they're great companions and they love you, and they teach children to be comfortable around animals and take care of them. But, really, no. To me, most pets are hairy and smelly and loud and ruin the furniture and are just one more thing to think about when you are trying to plan a trip out of town. Yes, I'm sorry, even yours.

That's not to say I don't appreciate certain animals. I do like cats (cue the dog people in the audience removing me from their feed readers). But they have sharp claws and all that damn hair. I can appreciate a nicely trained dog, as long as I don't have to sleep near it or, heaven forbid, WITH it, and it doesn't leave saliva anywhere on me. There's a turtle in our extended family that I've admired, mainly because it once crawled into someone's raincoat pocket and showed up unscathed several months later.

I grew up on and near a cattle ranch, where animals were outside and people were inside, and only when the temperature dropped further than 20 degrees below zero was that barrier crossed. Yes, even the bunnies stayed out of the living room. I've got a unique (warped?) view of animals, especially pets. I realize that.

So does the Human Society really think that every man, woman and child should own a pet? Clearly they've never met me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Things I'm Not Loving Right Now

-Why is my recycling bin blue, and my garbage bin green? I intuitively think recycling = green and throw everything in the wrong bin every time.

-I signed up for Gwyneth's GOOP newsletter and it bugs me. I unsubscribed today after she recommended four Little Black Dresses, all of which were cut mid-thigh and would flatter only those with stick legs. I've always liked her but I'm starting to wonder if the haters who say she's condescending and boring might have a point.

-Two-year molars. They're kicking our butts around here. Fortunately Elmo Hypnotism is almost as good as a nap.

-My sad housekeeping skills. After spending four days in someone else's clean, nicely decorated home, I've realized that getting my act together would really improve my mood. Too bad I'm sitting here blogging instead of, say, doing laundry or mopping the floor.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Home Again

It's nice to come back to a place that, while it doesn't exactly feel like home, houses my bed and my clothes and where I know how to work the TV. We're right back in our routine, driving cars through the pouring rain and sitting side by side on the couch with our dueling laptops.

I'm still working on making this house feel like we really live here, but I suppose since I didn't feel at home in Deutschland even after three years, and I've been here only half as much time as we lived in the hotel, I shouldn't rush it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remind me again

why I signed up for this Blopping thing?

I'm going home tomorrow and perhaps you'll get a different kind of post at that time. Until then, I'm still in retirement mode. We ate dinner tonight at 5:15pm and had chocolate sundaes for dessert, at home afterward.

The radio station we listened to all day played nonstop Christmas music. I'm not ready.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Little Boxes

We've spent the past few days visiting my dad and his wife at their retirement community in the great American Southwest. It's been eighty degrees every day and we can take a golf cart anywhere we need to go, which apparently includes a swimming pool, pharmacy, stock brokerage, and hair salon. Who needs Starbucks when you've got CVS? The houses all look exactly like and even the garbage cans are underground. It's kind of like Disneyland for over-55's. And people like me who enjoy order and silence and golf carts. I've even started imbibing an afternoon cocktail (I've discovered black cherry vodka and its tasty marriage with caffeine free Coke).

This place represents all the American stuff I said I wouldn't miss when I left - strip malls, wide highways, big cars, and cookie-cutter houses. And while I'm not quite ready to retire (or maybe I've already retired?), I do feel soothed by it all.

It's time for my afternoon toddy, I guess I'll be on my way.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

HELP ME

I'm making a Life List. Go on, call me woo woo, an Oprah-lover, what a total girlyblogger thing to do. Creative visualization and all that.

I'm having a hard time getting it going, though. Maybe because I'm still trying to decide whether I should put on makeup today or not. And it's currently 1:52pm.

Can you help me? What's something you would recommend doing before I die?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

BOO

I had no idea that Halloween is the best parenting day of the year. I'll bet it even beats Christmas morning.

Last year Theo was old enough to wear a cute pumpkin get-up and visit Daddy in the office cafeteria, and that was about it for our celebration. Outside America, Halloween is gaining in popularity, but it's more about teenagers and twenty-somethings wearing a bunch of black eyeliner and fangs and drinking a lot of blood-themed beverages in dark bars. That happens here too, but here it's still mostly about the kids. Though I'd been led to believe that trick-or-treating had been moved to the malls or eschewed for backyard parties, and that in the big cities and evens small towns like my hometown, the pint-sized ghouls no longer haunted sidewalks on October 31st.

Boy, did I get some bad information. Maybe it was because of the gorgeous fall weather or because it was my first time out in about 25 years, but trick-or-treating was even better than I remembered it. The houses were decorated with pumpkin lights and chattering skulls, and kids from Theo's age to teenagers were decked out as Harry Potter characters and baked goods (the three pre-teen girls dressed as cupcakes got my vote for best costume). And they were all so delighted to be there. The residents of the neighborhood were fantastic and kind, and we only encountered one cranky old guy who snapped, "I WILL DOLE OUT THE CANDY MYSELF, DON'T GRAB." He probably saw some toilet paper in his yard the next morning.

Theo, dressed as a little green turtle, clutched his plastic pumpkin and toddled behind a gaggle of cousins from house to house in Nana and Grandpa's neighborhood. He teetered up steep driveways and pressed doorbells and stood next to Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones and the Snow Princess as they shouted TRICK OR TREAT (he never quite got the hang of that, but it didn't matter). Then, when the bigger kids had each taken a piece of candy, he reached into the bowl, smiled up at the generous soul who had answered the door, brightly said "Thank you!" and scooped as much loot into his bucket as he could. One of his parents then leapt to his side, returned all but his share, and scooted him off the steps as he waved bye-bye.

Best of all was his wonder and thrill at every stage of the process. He loved his turtle shoes, he loved his pumpkin (in fact he keeps asking to sleep with it) and he LOVED the candy. No matter that he hasn't really eaten any of it. CANDY CANDY CANDY he said as he peered into his plastic pumpkin. RUNNING RUNNING RUNNING he said as his short legs churned along the sidewalk behind his cousins. And HAPPY, he sighed, as Jeff picked him and carried him home from the last house on the street.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Must Post

My screen is blinking on and off and the last time I shut down the computer, it wouldn't power up again until I had UNplugged it from its power source. I fear this is the death knell for our beloved laptop. Please light a candle for us.

Must go back up everything so that our family photos and address book aren't lost in the ether.

This is what it's like when you get to hear from me every day for a month. You're loving it, I know.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Corrected

A few of you guessed at which book I evicted from my shelves. It's significant to me not because it was SO TERRIBLE but because it was the first time I remembered giving myself permission to just quit in the middle and start spending my time elsewhere. I used to pride myself on finishing every book I started, no matter how much I disliked it. I still have a few books I've been "reading" for, oh, a decade or more just because I can't quite admit defeat. Most of them are titles I chose because I thought they might make me feel smart (if you've read any Lawrence Durrell, you know what I mean). Still not smart enough, I guess. Or maybe I'm getting smarter as long as I'm still reading them? Anyway, there they sit, with bookmarks slid hopefully between their pages.

Anyway, the offending book was The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Many bright and interesting people love this book and it has won a bunch of awards. But I feel about it like I felt about A Confederacy of Dunces: Why read a book without a character I can, if not like, at least sympathize with? Why voluntarily spend my time in a place with a bunch of people who make my skin crawl?

The answer is, of course, because it might teach me something or because the writing is beautiful, or because there's a payoff at the end. And most of the time I'm on board with this argument. I loved Lolita, whose hero is a child-molester, for goodness' sake. But that's the genius of Nabokov, that he could make a pathetic excuse for a man also a funny and interesting hero of fiction, using language in a way no one before him ever had.

Someone told me that my family must be too happy for me to enjoy The Corrections. Maybe that's true. One more thing to be thankful for, I guess. And, incidentally, Oprah liked The Corrections but disinvited the author from her show because he dissed her. Say what you will about Oprah, but I would probably have done the same thing. Who wants to spend time with someone who doesn't want to be there?

I'm sure The Corrections is as grateful to be out of my presence as I am to have it gone.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Turn it On

Back in the days when I had a "work wardrobe" and a "weekend wardrobe;" when I didn't wonder whether I should just wipe the drool and chewed-up graham cracker off my shoulder instead of adding another shirt it to the laundry basket; when I didn't know the topic of every Oprah episode for the past three months; I had an entire evening television lineup in my head. I followed several dramas and a couple of reality shows and looked forward to prime time comedy every night of the week.

I'm not sure exactly what happened while I was away, but TV is different. Yes, my life is different (I was not trying to split my attention between complex plotlines on "Lost" and blog writing on my laptop, for example), but I swear it's not just me. When did the cool series start showing up on channels I've never watched? ("Project Runway," I'm looking at you. Bravo used to be for Inside the Actors' Studio on Saturday afternoons.) And when did the season extend into the summer and across the holidays, and how come I'm hearing about season finales in November (Um, "America's Next Top Model," anyone?) And who talked Lisa Bonet back into series television?

There's DVR and HD and BluRay and Alec Baldwin in primetime. And the only show I can seem to watch consistently, the only TV appointment on my calendar these days is, wait for it...

Dancing with the Stars.

I've officialy become a new demographic. The OLD LADY demographic.

I don't understand my TV and I'm currently watching Lionel Richie performing "Dancing on the Ceiling."

Somebody come and confiscate my remote. I can't figure out how to use it anyway.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008

Vote

I remember going to vote with my mom at the courthouse or the lobby of my elementary school, and standing behind the curtain with her while she filled in her ballot. It seemed like a big deal. I've only once ever voted at the polls, getting up in the dark, driving to the polling place in my work clothes, then dropping off my car at the Park-N-Ride before boarding the bus downtown to my first job. After that, my state encouraged absentee ballots and eventually went to vote-by-mail. I think we're the only state in the country that won't have a single in-person polling place.

There's something a bit sad about that, but I'm all about progress. I miss the grey-haired ladies checking off the signatures and handing out the ballots, but this is the way of the future. And I still get the satisfaction of a paper ballot and a pencil, but I get to use them next to my laptop and my voters' pamphlet at my kitchen table (well, actually, at Panera Bread, while eating a bacon spinach souffle).

Now if someone would just give me an "I Voted" sticker, everything would be perfect.

Go out and vote tomorrow. And eat some bacon for me too.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Bookish

We finally bought bookshelves yesterday, after living for almost a month with all of our books in a big pile on the floor. It looked like an art installation; I thought of it as my life, there in a huge mound on the carpet.

Because I, like many readers, see my books as my life story. I saunter over to other people's bookshelves and stand there imagining where and when those books were chosen and read, and why they are still hanging around the house. I used to keep each and every book I'd ever purchased, whether I'd finished it or not, whether I'd loved it or hated it, even the textbook from my 8am Anthropology class freshman year. I liked the story they told, I liked it when people would strike up conversations after seeing certain books in my house, I liked loaning them out.

But soon the bookshelves started to take over our home, and when I married Jeff he brought about a half-box of books along with him and I felt a little self-conscious about my book hoarding habit. And then, for the first time I started and did not finish a very popular book that everyone raved about. In fact I hated it so much that I stopped halfway through and decided it need to be gone from my house. So I gave it to Goodwill. And that was the first step. I gave away my old textbooks and sold some other books I never liked anyway.

I still hold on to more books for longer than I need to (just ask Jeff how many I brought to Germany and back with me - he'll tell you, ALL OF THEM). But I've gotten rid of a bunch as we've moved around the world, so I've winnowed down my collection to the ones that matter to me, the ones I either loved or that I know I'd like to loan to friends.

Our new shelves don't hold all the books we own, so I had to choose which ones to stack there, and where to put them. And it took me almost all day to figure it out, to decide what face I would show to my visitors, and in what order. In the end, more of them fit that I'd anticipated, so there are a few out there that I'm not exactly sure I want in public (Robbie Williams's biography, anyone?), but then again, I'm still hanging on to them, so that must mean they're part of me.

What do you do with your books? And any guesses about the book I couldn't stand to keep in my house? (Hint: Oprah chose it too.)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Keep on Blopping in the Free World

Due to overwhelming demand (well, OK, just one fellow blogger who is looking for company in her misery), I've decided to participate in NaBloPoMo again this year. Remember last time? When you learned about Theo's breakfast soundtrack, and my shoes? I believe there might even have been some swimsuit video.

I can't wait to see what flies out of my keyboard this year. Let me know in the comments if you have any requests.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Go Away

I'm waffling about whether or not to do NaBloPoMo this year. There are so many excuses not to, but then again, what the hell.

As I mull over this dilemma, feel free to read what I've written elsewhere. If you're into that sort of thing:

-Win a pair of cool kids' shoes over at Mamas Worldwide.
-Check out all the great kids' activities in Portland, OR at Alpha Mom.
-Learn how to keep your teenager happy (or, well, keep the eye-rolling to a minimum) at Alpha Mom's Guide to Everything.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Away We Go

I used to be more bothered than I am now about how The World views our country. I still think it's important, but if there's one thing I've discovered (obviously, if you've been reading long) it's that no place is perfect, and it's almost impossible to translate the subtleties of one culture to another. I can talk about the crazy Italian government all I want, but why should anyone care what I think? I'm never really going to understand it. I'm not Italian.

So when I read articles like this, written by a British CNN journalist, I just roll my eyes and try to remember that they are writing about our country because it's still, against all odds, powerful and influential. I loved that Barack Obama spoke to cheering masses in Berlin, but I could also see the point made by McCain supporters who reminded us that most of the crowd didn't qualify to vote in our election.

But the following paragraph, reacting to the notion that Sarah Palin seems disinterested in the world outside the USA, stuck with me. The writer, Robin Oakley, posits that Europeans "...are not much impressed by explanations that her parents did not have the money to send her on a fact-finding tour of the world as a student. Anybody with the money to own an SUV, hunt moose and drive a snowmobile has the money to travel."

Europeans tend to have a hard time grasping the physical scale of the United States and how far everything is from everything else here, especially if you live in Alaska. Most of them can't drive two hours without crossing an international border. But I think this journalist is absolutely correct anyway.

S/he may or may not understand that SUVs and moose tags and guns and snowmobiles are justifiable expenses when you have to stock up on game to feed the family and when your driveway is a snowdrift eight months of the year, and that hunting in many of these places isn't primarily sport for the wealthy. But people spend money and time one what they value, and Sarah Palin shouldn't be using money as an excuse for staying home. If she really wanted to travel, she could have. (Russia is JUST SO CLOSE, remember? And, if I am reading the map correctly, Canada is right next door.) But she chose not to, possibly for good and justifiable reasons, but likely not financial ones.

So can we, as Americans, give the financial excuse a rest in this case? Yes, right now, we should all be staying home and putting our cash under our mattresses. But before our economy went in the toilet, and after it comes out, shouldn't seeing the world be valued just as highly as owning a Bitchin' Camaro or having our teeth professionally whitened? And I'm not just talking about Ms. Palin - I'm talking about all of us. When did travel become something Americans save for retirement? Probably about the same time people started thinking that going to Hawaii was visiting a foreign country.

This article by Patrick Smith also spoke to me today, particularly this portion:
"I am of the mind that every American student, in exchange for financial aid, ought to be conscripted into a semester (or more) of overseas service. And why not a tax credit for certain international travel, similar to that provided with the purchase of a hybrid car."

Let's all write to our congresspeople about that one. Then, when it passes, let's all meet in Bali for my blog readers' convention and send the receipts to our accountants. Who's with me?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fleet

I'm sure you are shocked to learn that Theo has a multitude of small toy cars, the Matchbox and Hot Wheels types that he clutches in each hand as I strap him into his car seat. They're all different, of course - the orange loader, the yellow fire truck, the silver VW Bug convertible - and he has his favorites. I think we've actually purchased just two or three of them (the double-decker London bus, the bright green SMART car) and the rest he has received from visiting grandmas or kind neighbors. Remarkably, we did a good job of keeping track of all of them. I kept the blue hatchback in my purse and the orange construction vehicle in the diaper bag. Even with all the traveling we did, we never, to my knowledge, left a school bus or a tractor in a hotel room or an airport. Until recently.

The moment we arrived on American soil, those cars sprouted free will (Christine!) and drove off on their own, disappearing one by one only to be replaced by even more, or reappearing a few days later in a different part of town. I still have cars in my purse and in the diaper bag and all over the floor, but I don't know which one is where anymore. We leave Nana's house with extra cars and abandon different ones on the next visit. I try to pay attention, to make sure we're not taking away what isn't ours or orphaning our toys, but it's a losing battle. Fortunately Theo just grabs whichever vehicle he stumbles across or is handed to him and plays happily, appreciating the bounty, playing no favorites. I've all but given up the fight.

I realized today that I feel like that about my whole life these days. Things in Germany, while not perfect, at least felt under control. Our little family had forged a self-contained routine. We went to the grocery store on Saturdays, we watched soccer on Sundays, we walked to the park when the weather was nice and stayed inside for days when it snowed. We webcammed with the grandparents on weekend evenings and checked in with the rest of our friends and family on email. Sometimes Theo and I went to a little playgroup, and that was a big outing. I didn't even keep a calendar.

But here, we're just overwhelmed with the possibilities. We could be unpacking boxes or calling the furnace company or going to the children's museum or going to Target like I dreamed for three years straight. People are inviting us places! I have a date book with things written in it! It's thrilling and sort of crazy, like having a whole new wardrobe and wanting to wear it all at once. But when we have a week like we've just survived - all three of us sick in bed for at least one day each - it makes me feel buried, like I can't breathe, like I will never see all the people or open all the boxes or watch all the shows that my new DVR is suddenly recording on its own because I don't have time to figure out how to program it.

Theo has a little playroom here in our splendid new home, a place for all his toys and balls and books and cars cars cars. Lately, when I suggest that he go in there and check out the new train table we got on Craigslist or stack up some blocks or drive one of those piles of tiny cars around the carpet, he gets teary and says "No toys! No toys!" And even though it seems ridiculous for either one of us to complain about all this good stuff, I understand just how he feels.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Electric Avenue

We are drowning in a sea of instruction manuals around here. The former owners of our house helpfully saved every last piece of paper associated with every item in it, including all of the documents pertaining to its construction. I'm sure I will one day be glad I can find out who installed my furnace, but today I'd just like to know how to make the heat go up from 62 degrees to 72 degrees. Like, right now, not after I've spent fifteen minutes pressing all the buttons on the digital thermostat.

After I gave up on that project, I decided I would try to turn on our gas fireplace. Because that should help me get warm, right? But I've never had one of these things, and even after calling the fireplace company (at a number found in that giant stack of papers, of course) and pressing all the knobs and wishing I owned a pair of protective goggles just in case, I still can't figure out how to ignite the pilot light.

I have yet to really decode the TV instructions and keep turning off the cable box but not the television, or vice versa, so none of it works at the same time.

On the positive side, I found my winter clothes buried deep in one of our moving boxes, so at least I can put on a sweater. And our electric and gas bills should stay really low.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thursday, October 09, 2008

You Are Here

We are in our new house. It is full of boxes and I can't find any soap or a notepad, but I've been reunited with my KitchenAid mixer and the Christmas decorations.

Theo stayed with a babysitter the day we moved and came home suddenly knowing how to say "sorry." Which says to me that there was a reason he had to learn to apologize. Maybe he'll figure out he should have said "sorry" after he head-butted me this afternoon and nearly gave me a black eye. Thank goodness my German spectacles are made of Titanium.

It only took me two months to realize how great it is not to live in a swing state. I don't think I've seen a single presidential campaign ad on television.

I can't seem to find time to sit down and write a coherent post. So you're getting this weird list instead. Next time maybe I'll just inventory one of the boxes I'm unpacking and you can live the excitement right along with me.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Strange Days

My life these days can only be described as strange. The whole world is living with a background soundtrack of financial panic; the sounds of the stock market crashing, doomsday predictions and what-ifs about candidates in the upcoming election, dire warnings to squirrel away some money in a coffee can or the heel of your shoe. And here we are, spending literally hundreds of thousands of dollars (most of it belonging to our mortgage lender, eek) in a head-spinningly short period of time. We've bought two cars and a house (well, probably) in just the past six weeks and we're poised to shop for several major appliances in the space of a few days. The outflow of checks with one or the other of our names signed at the bottom is shocking and yet we just keep churning along. It was all planned and budgeted and it would make sense if I were to explain it to you, but still. It feels a little like we're heading over a waterfall, just sure that our raft will carry us safely to the bottom, while everyone shrieks around us.

Besides the financial oddities, we're residing in a strange temporary/permanent world. On one hand, everything is temporary - first we were in a hotel and now we're crashing in a family guest room, we get our mail at a PO box that is our only permanent address - but we're planning for the long term like we've never done before. We kept telling our realtor we wanted a house we love so we don't have to move for a long time. We wanted a car that would last. I went out and bought a zoo membership because of course we'll be around to use it all year. After three years of knowing for sure that we were making relatively short-term choices, I feel like I'm playing psychic.

But I've found that the one thing that keeps everything else feeling slightly normal is Theo. No matter where we're staying, he expects fruit and yogurt and cereal for breakfast. And he doesn't care if we want to test drive some bargain car we found on Craigslist, when it's naptime he needs to go to bed. When my head is spinning from one too many life decisions (cable? internet? cable internet? AAAAAGGGH!) I'm almost always interrupted by a small voice saying "Helicopter! Helicopter! Heavy?" just before my skull explodes.

This morning I completed a particularly surreal twenty-four hours that was capped off by triggering my own car alarm six times in a row (Hi, neighbors of my in-laws, aren't you glad we found somewhere else to live?). I was wearily driving us home after stops at two different car repair shops (don't ask) and pitying myself while my son shouted OUT OUT OUT from his car seat. We were passing a park and I decided, what the hell, let's get out of this car and act like we live here. So we spent an hour or so sliding down the slide and yelling Wheeee! on the swings. And one of us almost expired from delight when a passing fire truck appeared and the firemen waved and then found us in the parking lot as we got in our car and sent us home with a plastic fireman's hat.

It felt really normal, like that's what moms and little boys do on warm Wednesday afternoons in October. So maybe we'll do it again tomorrow, but without the car alarm.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Books - August 2008

Things I Learned About My Dad (In Therapy)
edited by Heather B. Armstrong
A great read for a first-time parent. I laughed out loud at the opening essay and enjoyed almost all the rest, all for different reasons. Especially fun if you're already familiar with the authors' blogs.

The One Hundred
by Nina Garcia
Basic and beautiful fashion and shopping tips with lovely illustrations. If you're a Project Runway fan, you'll love it even more.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Love a Parade

Theo and I eat breakfast every day in the lobby of our hotel where there’s a big buffet. Each morning he sprints for the elevator yelling, “brekky brekky! go go go!” We learned early in our stay to steer him far away from the tempting buttons (including the lowest, most prominent ALARM button) to the back corner of the lift. He usually elbows his way past the other passengers when we land, to careen out the door, toward the food. His excitement about the possibility of sausage for breakfast (“hot dog hot dog!”) is eclipsed only by his enthusiasm for greeting every single person in the room. It’s like a little parade as he toddles past in his footie pajamas, waving to the left, waving to the right, stopping to catch the attention of some businessman who isn’t waving back and who is probably thinking he should have stayed somewhere that doesn’t allow kids or dogs or breakfast buffet parades.

He has befriended the hotel employees too, of course, and they all stop by our table to say hello. It’s lucky for us that he’s so friendly because on crowded weekend mornings when the elevator takes forever, we’ve found ourselves mysteriously ushered toward empty tables when the whole place seems packed, and there is always a high chair reserved for us. All that just because of a daily greeting. Though his little bald head and dinosaur-print jammies probably don’t hurt. We are still trying to figure out where he gets his outgoing streak since Jeff would really prefer not to talk to anyone, ever, and I describe myself as an introvert in extrovert’s clothing, meaning I know how to interact with people but it’s more my nature to lock myself in the bathroom until everyone leaves the party.

The past two days we’ve been approached during the Cheerios course by a grandmotherly woman who stops to commend me on Theo’s good behavior and outgoing demeanor. She must be hard-of-hearing because he spent thirty minutes this morning screeching “CHOO CHOO! CHOO CHOO!” every time the light rail train went past and flinging his yogurt spoon at the window. I just said thanks, even though my initial impulse was to tell her I’d like to take credit but I spend most of my time trying to get him to stop waving hello and goodbye and just get back in the damn elevator already.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Elsewhere, again.

Well, that was a big success. Apparently you all dislike America. Or else everyone has stopped reading since I stopped posting. It's funny how that works.

Since you probably want to move to another country, why not go over and read my guest post at Katie's blog. And don't forget to scroll through her archives because it will make you happy that you don't need a chest x-ray in order to legally enter your workplace.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why I Love America

Elections don’t always bring out my warmest feelings toward our country. Frankly, they make me think it’s broken. I feel pummeled by voices enumerating all the ways people running for office are going to fail and take America down with them. I worry that we’re headed for bad things. Right now, especially, when nothing seems to be going right (the economy is bad, we’re still at war, people are driving to Mexico to get their teeth fixed, and the fabulous shoes I bought online make my feet hurt), it’s easy to think there are better places to live.

Before I moved to Germany, I thought I might be more comfortable living somewhere else. I didn’t feel patriotic. I was frequently critical of my country and it seemed like my views didn’t fit with most of the opinions I heard were from “typical middle America.” I looked forward to escaping the advertising that seemed to hit me over the head everywhere I went. I thought the health insurance system had to be better outside my country’s borders. And I was ready to live in a place where religion wasn’t starting to encroach on the government. I knew I would miss my native language and all of my friends and family, but I was ready to take a break from American culture, including bad reality television, shopping as recreation, and the idea that our leaders must sound and act less intelligent than they are in order to get elected.

After three years away, I still think our health care system is broken, in fact it’s even worse than I remember. I wish my son’s diapers didn’t have Blue’s Clues plastered across them. And I am doing my best never to watch an episode of The Hills. But I’m so grateful to be here anyway.

America is the land of choice. At the grocery store, we get to choose from twelve different flavors of pickles, sliced five different ways. We can listen to talk radio where people argue about gas prices or we can switch the dial and hear heavy metal from the 1970’s. We can wear our clothing backwards and though people might stare, they’re not going to stop us in the street and tell us to turn those pants around, Daddy Mac.

Americans mean well. They want to be liked and so they begin and end conversations by being nice. They ask questions. They really want to know about you. They actually care (or they know it’s their job to care) whether or not you’re finding the organic whole milk you’re looking for. And they think your kids are cute.

Americans need to know why there are rules, and are careful about making new ones. They ask a lot of questions, and they expect answers. They want it like they want it. They don’t care if no one else eats peanut butter on the pancakes, they’d like some please and they’d like it on the side. And, usually, they get it, without argument.

Before I left, I thought America was without a singular culture. We don’t have a special hat or ethnic dance or anything except McDonald’s (which, incidentally, has moved waaaay past symbolizing America and now just means fried potatoes in your language of choice) and bad TV to distinguish us to the world. But we do have a culture, and it includes pride, openness, and high expectations. Like any culture, some members take the defining qualities too far. But at a basic level, they are good traits.

America feels like home to me. Before I left, I thought another place might feel more comfortable, but I was wrong. I realized that, no matter where I go (and I hope I visit many more places, because there are some fantastic ones I haven’t seen yet), I’ll always be a visitor anywhere but my own country. It’s a terribly imperfect place, but it’s the only one I know where I can drive thru and order fake cheese nachos at any hour of the day or night.

Cecily over at Uppercase Woman invited her readers to write about why they love America. I invite you to join me in my response. Tell me in the comments why you love our country. Or, if you have a blog, write a post and link to it here.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Everything in my brain right now.

I'm writing this post before the pathetic snotty little squeaks begin from Theo's bed. He's had a cold all week and the fever is gone now but he's at that stage where the pflegm is unstoppable. I watch him writhing around attempting to sleep earlier and I knew exactly how he felt because I had the same cold last week and passed it along to him. Thanks a lot, Mama.

I watched the VMAs tonight and was bummed that I either missed the Britney performance or she didn't perform at all, in fact sent an android instead to say "Thank God Thank Beautiful Family Thank Fans" every time a microphone was put in front of her. But Christina Aguilera did perform what appeared to be a Britney song with Britney's back-up dancers in a Britney wig, so maybe that counts?

I've had a bunch of different reactions to the Sarah Palin nomination. I've felt alternately a little unexpectedly thrilled (Wow, someone like me (from a small town, has girl parts and brown hair) standing on the stage, receiving the nomination), insulted (Just because I got a little thrill from seeing her onstage, I'm not smart enough to pay attention to her politics?), fearful (Let's make sure John McCain has an entire medical team next to his office (you know, in the one Leo McGarry used to occupy?) if he's elected), saddened (Bristol deserves to go stay at Shania Twain's Swiss retreat for a few years), embarrassed (I can't believe I'm judging someone else's parenting like this, I swore I wouldn't do that, but who hangs her family out for the paparazzi like that?), and slightly hopeful that this will swing things the direction I'd like them to go. But we'll see.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Housing Crunch

I began this house hunt swearing I would not settle for a place where I had to live with orange shag carpet or harvest gold kitchen counter tops. I didn't want to look forward to a future of DIY weekends spent removing disgusting grout from aging bathroom tile or renting a wallpaper steamer. I wanted to keep the part of my European lifestyle that involved walking to the grocery story and five-minute jaunts with the stroller to the park. "It's a buyers' market!" they said to me. "You'll find a great bargain for pennies."

It's never that easy, is it? I'm picky, I want space and a fence and I prefer wood floors. I refuse to pay top dollar when it's supposedly time to low-ball. And I've unexpectedly found it hard to choose a house because I spend too much time gazing into that metaphorical (or, in some of these houses literal, if you count the light fixtures) crystal ball, imagining my lifestyle of the next ten or twenty years, and I'm paralyzed.

Where do I want to grocery shop when I turn forty? Which school has the best set of miniature trucks in its kindergarten toy bins? Is the yoga studio down the street one of those overheated ones, or is it more my style? Will my friends drive up and think, oh, they got a good deal or will they say oh, surprising they couldn't find anything better in this market? In fifteen years will the neighbor's tree be so tall that it will overshadow the skylight? Is there a place for my quilting supplies, when I finally learn how to quilt?

The other, more practical part of my brain, is reminding me about last time we tried to find a place to live. It was torturous, there were tears and compromises and it was not a good way to begin a big life change. I'm a little bit afraid we're off to a bad start again. We've already hesitated and lost at least two places, and we learned this morning that our latest candidate, which had been on the market for 17 months, was likely sold at auction(!) the same day we viewed it.

But I'm working hard to look at the bright side, which today includes waffles at the breakfast buffet and Theo reaching out to some weeping guy on a TV talk show and yelling HUUUUUUUUGGG.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Booked Out

I have a friend who just gave up reading one day. He still reads stuff for work and newspapers and the occasional magazine, but he altogether stopped reading books. This is a person who majored in English in college, and who I used to regularly swap books with and discuss how long it took to get through that latest Krakauer book, two days or three.

He vaguely mentioned a few years ago that he'd kicked the habit but I didn't really believe him, in the same way that I suspect most smokers usually bum a cigarette every now and then at a bar when they're drinking cheap lite beer. Not long before our conversation, I'd given him Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, winner of the Booker of Bookers (best of the best). He told me he'd never finished it. I figured he just didn't like it that much but eventually he would come up with some other author he loved and away he'd go. But it was not to be.

Astute readers have noticed that last month was devoid of a "books" entry. That's because I did not read any books. I blamed it on the move and the hot weather and the kid learning to walk. But we're over halfway through August and I haven't picked up a single book, and since I'm staying in a hotel and my most strenuous daily activity consists of playing defense against Theo as he tries to dodge past me in the elevator and hit the alarm button (Incidentally, why are those buttons always at the bottom of the stack, exactly toddler-high?), you'd think I might make time to at least thumb through something by Maeve Binchy. But I just can't get motivated. I haven't even finished all the articles in the September issue of Vanity Fair and it's almost September!

This morning I was riffling through the stack of junk stuffed in the drawer of my bedside table. Underneath the free copies of USA Today, I found my copy of Midnight's Children. I'd forgotten I started reading it at the beginning of July. And never picked it up again, not even when Theo was asleep on the plane or at night before bed during Olympic weight-lifting prelims.

So I'm writing this to warn you never to read that particular book, unless you aspire to give up reading books forever. And if you see me wandering around, a half-finished National Enquirer tucked under one arm, blame Salman Rushdie.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Land that I Love?

When did Ryan Seacrest become more famous than Oprah?

When did everyone decide that GOING GREEN was the cool thing to do, and that they needed to put it on labels and bumper stickers and billboards and t-shirts and in places that could not possibly be environmentally friendly but we're going to force it anyway because it's so trendy?

Why did they turn my favorite greasy suburban Chinese restaurant into a sketchy Mongolian BBQ place?

When did Crocs become business attire?

Why oh why did my local newscaster get bad plastic surgery so that she now looks like Janice Dickinson with a dye job?

When did Dr. Oz become the new Dr. Phil?

Monday, August 11, 2008

American Fries

There's really nothing more American than a country church pot luck supper. I'd forgotten about these kinds of meals, featuring orange Jell-o with carrot shavings, homemade brownies with frosting, grocery store rolls, twelve kinds of mayonnaise-dressed salads, and heaping platters of fried chicken.



The church ladies keep the groaning buffet table stacked with plates and pasta salad with celery, and blocks of margarine.



It's been a long time since I happened upon food like this. Even before we left for Germany, we spent most summer Sunday afternoons grilling flank steak and marinated asparagus, or sampling Asian pear-apples from the farmers' market, or something lame and yuppie like that.



But yesterday we were invited to join our friend Aaron and his family for a celebration. Aaron was Jeff's roommate in college and beyond. They lived together when neither of them could afford a bed so they slept in sleeping bags on the floor of their summer apartment, both doing shift work to earn money for school. They shared a couple of different rental houses after graduation, when Aaron was a first-year science teacher and Jeff was riding the bus to an office downtown.



We've all been all over the place since then. We missed Aaron's wedding in Guatemala a few years ago, so we really wanted to be there for this big day. I am so proud of him, and so hopeful for his wife and three sons. I don't know anyone kinder or more patient or who appreciates life more than he does.



I spent all afternoon watching Theo chase after a bunch of kids he'd never seen before, but whose parents I'd known since before I knew how to grill asparagus. And I licked the chicken grease off my fingers and remembered that home is about tastes and people and sounds we know well, even if we haven't visited in a very long time.

Travelin' Man

I really do have a new post a-brewing for you, but here's something fun to tide you over until that happens. We've been featured in Ohdeedoh's Adventures and Outings series. Take a look!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mamas Worldwide

I was proud to be invited to join the team at Mamas Worldwide, a new international parenting site run by my blogging friend, Christina. I'll post a series of product reviews there in the coming weeks; my first review is up today.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Well! That was fun.

I've been in the USA for less than 48 hours and your assumptions that I've already cranked up the air conditioning, consumed nachos AND a tamale, and tooled around town in not one but two different SUVs are correct. I deserved some hedonism (woo-hoo, I've always been such a party animal, look at me wasting gas and downing the trans fats) after being told on Wednesday night by the Lufthansa ticket agent that our flight had been canceled and our best bet would be to drive to Amsterdam(!) and try to get on a plane (any old plane? I guess?) there. At least fifty new grey hairs sprouted from my scalp during the next twelve hours as we huddled once again in the bathroom - but this time at the hotel since Theo was asleep in the main room - with the cell phone and laptop, frantically calling and searching for a way to get the heisse scheisse out of there. And so we did.

And since there's really nothing more boring than hearing about the long long security lines and the delightful French ticket agent at Charles deGaulle, and the SIX HOURS we spent in the Salt Lake City airport, I'll just say it's good to be here, even if I'm befuddled every time a stranger speaks to me which seems to be all the freaking time. Yesterday some guy jay-walked in front of me and then stopped to apologize to me for crossing against the light.

There's no place like home.

Monday, July 28, 2008

We Were on a Break

This missive comes to you from my upstairs bathroom, where I've holed up with my giant duffle bag while the movers swaddle my belongings in bubble wrap. Last time I peeked down at them they were building a cardboard box around my grandmother's rocking chair. It looked very much like a Trojan horse.

I'll probably be offline for the next week or so. Don't worry, I'm just trying to keep my toddler quiet for twelve hours in a row while we hurtle through the sky in a huge metal cigar case. Or I guess you could worry.

Either way, I'll be blogging again soon, no longer an expat but not quite an American resident yet.

Auf Wiedersehen.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Things Theo is Doing Right Now That Are Killing Me

Warning everyone not to get too close to the stove.

Lining up all of his cars and yelling CHOO CHOO, then separating them and parking them in a row under the couch.

Smelling his own feet and giggling.

Repeatedly trying to convince me that he can climb the stairs by himself, when his little legs are not long enough even to step up a curb.

Holding a calculator up to his ear and saying "Hewwo?"

Figuring out that saying "Please" will get him almost anything he wants.

Using different dance moves depending on the tempo of the song.

Saying HUUUUUUG and then walking up and hugging people. Mostly people he knows, but I can see where this is headed. Soon he'll try to hug the cashier at the grocery store.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Congratulations

I've received so many nice e-mails congratulating me on our impending return to the USA. "Congratulations and welcome home!" they say, and it's a reminder of one of the reasons we're moving back, the embrace of those who know us and like us and want to have us around. When I am feeling generous and self-confident, I imagine these people are saying, "Congratulations on a new phase of life, on Jeff's new job, on making a big decision!"

But if I'm honest, my initial reaction to these messages is horror that all these people think the past three years have been nothing but a long slow trudge and toil toward the ultimate goal of getting the hell out of here. That they believe I call Jeff at work twice a day and say, "Have you checked Monster.com? It looks like they need a greeter at The Gap in Los Angeles?" (If you know Jeff, you see that this is a funny joke because he would hate nothing more than a job where he must stand in a mall and talk cheerfully with tanned strangers all day long.) I can't imagine why anyone might believe that leaving Germany is a triumph for me, unless they read my blog, and posts like this one, or heard me whining about how the Germans are cranky and don't believe in air conditioning or elevators, or somehow got the vibe that it's going to take a vat of authentic Baja Fresh salsa to make me happy. Well, maybe it's not such a mystery.

In fact, moving back doesn't seem so much a victory as a wobbly step toward a place where we know we should be. Germany is definitely not home, but even after just three years away, our old hometown seems like our OLD hometown. It has all the stuff I've been craving since I left - books I can read, movies I can see, shampoo that doesn't wreak havoc with my scalp, and above all a support system and language I can understand. But when I think about having all that stuff and more, lit up and blinking and declaring its presence all around me, all the time, I get a little panicky. All those Sundays I spent complaining about how there was NOTHING TO DO and NO ONE TO DO IT WITH around here are coming back to haunt me, because now I'm concerned that I will never relax since something delightful will always, perpetually be around the corner - farmers' markets! family birthday parties! that new Kashmiri restaurant that opened last week! the X-Files movie! - and I will never ever have a moment to just sit down and eat the burrito that currently lives only in my dreams.

I hope I'll remember the lessons I've learned from this culture and from the reserved yet kind Germans who have taught me that a long walk in the park is sometimes better than a drive to the mall for an Orange Julius, and that sometimes it's nice only to have a nodding acquaintance with the scruffy bearded guy who lives next door instead of knowing every detail of his life story. I am even calmed a bit when I try to imagine those congratulatory messages through a different lens, and wonder how a German might respond to his friend who has announced she is moving back home after a stint abroad. It is unlikely that he would use any exclamation marks (in fact I think the exclamation mark takes finger gymnastics on a German keyboard, not surprising). He would probably say something along these lines: "I hope your husband's new job is with a stable company and don't forget, the taxes here are high. Your mother will be lucky to have you nearby to help with her health problems. Please call us at Christmas and we will make an appointment for coffee." Translation: Welcome home!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sweating it Out

When I was seven or eight years old the prime attraction of a hotel stay was the possibility of an indoor swimming pool. I've never been a water lover, but when my best friend and I were lucky enough to unfold ourselves from the back seat of her family's Suburban after six or eight hours on the road, we flung on our bathing suits and sprinted toward the pool because the pool meant we were on vacation. And next to the pool at the Holiday Inn there was always a teeny tiny wood-lined sauna where we played around throwing water on the fake lava rocks and climbing up and down the cramped benches until a hotel employee sent us back to our room to eat Domino's pizza.

So I've always known what a sauna is, though I didn't realize until recently how popular they are in some parts of the world, and even then I shrugged off the practice as one more quirky European habit I'll never understand. Sitting and sweating naked, feeling my lips chap and trying to stand the heat for one more second, hoping the stranger on my left doesn't remove his towel before I gasp toward the door and the fresh air outside? Nope. Didn't get it. But lately my head has been miserably clogged with allergies and tense with the anxieties of the move. My sinuses are overflowing and my neck is clenched, and yesterday when a friend suggested we spend the afternoon swimming and sweating, I decided it might be a perfect antidote for my ailments.

That's how I found myself inhaling eucalyptus aroma in a hazy roomful of nude men and women (yes, I was naked too), as we gazed at an aquarium of exotic fish installed in the wall. Nemo flitted among the coral and I sat there in my altogether, trying to liken this spa-like experience to the cramped stinky quarters at the Holiday Inns I've known and really, there was just no comparison. I wandered between a steam room with flickering starlights in the ceiling to an outdoor hut larger than my own living room, complete with roaring fireplace. I felt my nose clear and my shoulders fall. I breathed lemon-scented heat, then plunged into a peaceful pool with a view of...well, with a view of a bunch of naked people.

I lay there in the water, watching fifty unclothed bodies stroll from sauna hut to bar to lounge chair. I worried about the etiquette of the situation (Should I look? If not, why is everyone else looking? If so, isn't that weird?) and then I finally got distracted by all the fascinating people I saw. The last time I saw so many nude bodies in one place was either onscreen in "Eyes Wide Shut," or backstage at a ballet performance in college, and those were just flashes of skin. But here I saw beer-sipping, laughing, lounging, negotiating, strolling, pretzel-eating. Old people, kids, long hair, pink hair, a guy with just one hand, and what looked like a business meeting in one corner of the bar. All without clothes, or towels, or bathrobes. Though one lady was wearing Crocs.

I don't spend much time thinking about my body. I inherited genes that keep my weight issues to a minimum, and I've never had the kind of curves that make anyone sit up and take notice, so really I'm just grateful that it does what I need it to do - walk, house my brain, digest almost anything, grow a cute kid. But I realized as I lay there watching some lady scold her kid for running near the pool (yes, they were both naked) I've had a seed of an idea in the back of my brain that Normal People have bodies like Victoria's Secret models. And that's because the only time I see naked or nearly-naked women, it's in a lingerie ad or on a skin poster. And the last time I saw a bunch of people like me without their clothes on was in the locker room in high school PE when we were all 20 pounds lighter and firmer in every way.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to advocate handing out towels and collecting clothing at the door of your next corporate event (BlogHer 2009: The Year We All Went Naked!), or even promoting nudie posters of big beautiful ladies (though that sounds good too). But what if, at the gym, I didn't hide behind the locker door and instead allowed the group of giggling tween girls changing into their swimsuits to see what a grown-up lady looks like? What if I had seen my squishy grandma's body, including her mastectomy scar, without clothes when I was forming ideas about strong women? What if we were allowed to see what even those Dove ads don't tell us: that women's nipples are different sizes, and people have hair in different amounts and different places, and even that girl you think of as skinny and gorgeous has cellulite on her hips?

What then?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Home Sweet Home

We spent last week on vacation, where Theo was showered with loving attention from his grandparents, aunts, uncles, both parents, and many cheerful French people who smiled and patted him on the head. He ate a bunch of stuff I'm not sure you're supposed to feed to toddlers (smoked salmon canapes? crepe-wrapped sausages? pain au chocolat?), usually while wandering around the room with his mouth open, yelling "MORE MORE MORE." He was awake when he was supposed to sleep and partying when he was supposed to be napping and sleeping in the car when he was supposed to be eating dinner. He even slept in our bed with us for two nights, something that sounds cozy and nice but he's the kind of sleeper who bangs his head against the headboard periodically and tries to pluck out my eyelashes one by one while proclaiming "EYE EYE" at 2:30am.

We made it home on Monday, exhausted and well-fed and with suitcases full of filthy clothing. I spent Tuesday doing laundry and trying to get all of us back in our normal routine. All I really wanted to do was upload our photos and find a quiet corner to sleep off the Benadryl I'd been popping due to a head full of allergy snot. So when there was a screaming breakfast rebellion, followed by whiny writhing when naptime rolled around, ending with tears when I refused to relinquish the last few bites of my dinner, I was ready to walk out of the house and return to France, the land of built-in babysitters and puff pastry served with champagne. I think Theo was wondering why he couldn't go there too, to the place where the snacks flow freely and one can just lie down and sleep any old place.

Today, we've both resigned ourselves to being home, and things are much better. There was nowhere to go but up.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Bon Voyage

Did I mention that Theo is finally walking? As in, taking steps, going from place to place all by himself. I had that Holy Crap moment a few days ago as I watched him stand in the middle of the floor, guzzle water from a sippy cup, then hand it back to me and say WATER. That moment when I realized I need to start calling him My Son instead of My Baby. As in, "My son is cutting his thirteenth and fourteenth teeth right now, so don't get too close because he may unexpectedly shriek in your ear before gnawing on an article of your clothing."

These developments should make our upcoming trip to France - including but not limited to a flight scheduled for maximum naptime upheaval, followed by a four-hour ride in a rental car of indeterminate size - a thrill a minute. Who takes a vacation just before an international move, you ask? Apparently, that's the best way to go, since we spent four days in Vegas just before we moved here and now we're off to a family wedding. The anticipation of a week of sipping wine and eating cheese while adoring family members chase after my toddler(!) has successfully numbed my anxiety about packing all of our stuff and tossing it on slow boat before boarding yet another transAtlantic flight, not to mention looking forward to several weeks of corporate housing and suddenly being thrust back into that world where people are going to ask me What I Do.

You won't see much action around here for the next couple of weeks. I should be back to check in before the big Westward Ho!, unless I decide to just stay poolside and learn French.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Books - June 2008

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Inspiration to think carefully about what I eat. I'll never be a hard-core gardener, but I will shop and cook more thoughtfully after reading this book.

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
There's nothing more frustrating that getting to the end of a whodunit and realizing the whole thing has collapsed and you've just wasted a whole book's worth of wondering.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Danke Schön

I made the first stop on my farewell tour last night, and it was only appropriate that it was spent with a few of my favorite expat bloggers. B., Katie,Christina (along with her two sidekicks, Rainer and Oliver)and I talked politics and blogs and future plans until almost midnight. We ate Indian food and introduced Oliver to mango-yogurt shakes (a big hit) and inadvertently yet cheerfully explored a bit of Nuernberg I'd never seen before.

I started this blog imagining that a few friends and family members would tune in to see whether we'd survived the first week. I'm still sort of thrilled and freaked out that anyone else ever reads and comments here, and that I've actually met some of you in person. Honestly, when the first comments from strangers appeared, I got a little nervous. Aren't those people on the internet a bunch of weirdos, building their own mainframes in their parents' basements? And just before B and I met for the first time, I looked at Jeff and said, well, I guess if you don't hear from me you can assume she turned out to be a serial killer.

But despite my slightly suspicious nature, I make an effort to assume the best about people, and I haven't been disappointed by you, readers. I've found friends in a place and at a time that I felt friendless. I've received care packages and shopped for baby clothes and solved blog design crises with people I've met here. That must mean that I've officially become one of those internet weirdos I was worried about.

Blogging, and knowing my blog isn't just for me any more, has been a big part of my Deutsch adventure, and I wouldn't have kept it up if it weren't for you, dear readers. Thanks for being here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Here you go.

Am very busy attempting to divest my family of our worldly possessions. So far, have sold an electric screwdriver and a rice cooker. I'm sure someone will turn up who needs an entire kitchen including appliances. Also, to rent our apartment.

This is a good distraction from the apparent danger of rioting, according to a warning posted by the US Embassy here. Apparently, football fans can be angry and passionate! Newsflash!

In case I am crushed by a mob of Turkish and/or German revelers/rioters, know that on my last day on earth, this video got me all choked up. I'm not sure why. You might have seen this guy's earlier efforts, but this is the best one yet.


Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.