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.