Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Path of Change

What a ninny I am.

My advice to Brenda - who is into harvesting and canning season as well as preparing next year's school lessons for her six children. "Sometimes the only way to do it is one day at a time. Essentials. Like feeding and clothing the kids. Priorities."

Good advice.

Like she needs to hear it from me. Do as I say Brenda, not as I do.

Advice from Lynn - talking me down off the ledge this afternoon after a morning of trying to pack and clear out the house - and not getting it done fast enough to suit me. "Take it one step at at time. Make a list and check it off."

Problem is I am light years ahead in getting rid of stuff. I started last winter. I know where the Red Cross is. I sell on Ebay. And there IS always the dump.

Noone leaves my house without a goody bag of books and puzzles and kitchen appliances nowadays. I'm even hosting a Tuesday morning playgroup where I intend to seduce my friends into taking home all of my extra kitchen gadgets and cooking supplies.

So that the problem isn't the organization, but the expectations.

Problem is I'd like to get it all done and over with. NOW. TODAY. THIS MORNING even.

I am really no good at process-oriented thinking. I'm a real goal-oriented person. So that knowing WHEN the stuff will be taken care of isn't enough. I want it done and over with already.

Either that or, as I explained to Tracy, I want it all in nice, neat little bundles, organized and sorted and labelled. Clean, tidy. CONTROLLED.

Okay, so it's a control thing too. And it really sucks not having any.

Either I embrace the PATH of change, and not just the results..... or I am in for an ugly six weeks with 4 kids, a hubby and lots and lots of stuff to GET OUTTA HERE! (Honestly WAY easier in the USA where you can dump it all at the Red Cross any time of day or night, any day of the week. Or have a yard sale.)

The path. Living in the moment. Embracing the change as it is happening. Living in the midst of it. I'm going to give it a shot. I'm going to try to enjoy the PROCESS of moving, instead of looking forward to the final result. Seeing the next six weeks as an adventure, instead of steps toward a goal.

Otherwise I lose six weeks.

For the record, today while I was whining to Lynn about getting nothing accomplished, I had already learned how to sell everything on Ebay, loaded on six items, sold a few more on a local site, done two loads of laundry, one load of dishes, including handwashing pots and pans, walked the dog, fed four children breakfast, gotten Andrew out to soccer camp, Ryan ready for riding and then both bathed and fed again afterwards. Damon had been carpooling and grocery shopping with the little ones. And we'd put together moving boxes, filled four of them, dismantled a desk in Andrew's room and.....

managed to breathe and do a little yoga.

Obviously not enough yoga.

So that I am certainly not qualified to be giving advice on priorities and making it through the day one step at a time.

Me, I've got to remember to breathe through all of this. Really breathe. And enjoy the kids - and being with the kids - instead of shunting them to the side while I focus on organizing their stuff.

Stuff sucks. Less is better. There's another lesson learned. (Enough so that we don't buy the same amount of $*%& on the other end? Let's wait and see!)

Embracing change, enjoying the path.

It'd be easier if the path weren't blocked by all those moving boxes!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

English Tales

Every week I go to English Group and learn something new.

Which might not sound so very surprising until I tell you that I am in the four-year old group.

I've finally learned quite a bit of English after all these years as an American. Nappies. Serviettes. Savoury snacks.

All of which is going to help very little when we move to Australia!

Two weeks ago I learned that a little bit of improvisation goes a long way. Five year old Thomas was vomiting in the car. Three year old Jack was having a nose bleed next to him. So that we kindly excused their mother from her teaching duties that day.

Karen threw some materials at us; papers, books and a CD. And said: teach 'em about camels. Have fun. I've got to go clean up some blood and vomit. But she said it with a real nice English accent so that it still sounded classy!

And we learned about camels. Kind of. Not having prepared - or read up on - the materials - I'm sure we didn't do it the way Karen had in mind. We used the CD - a fantastic collection of Rudyard Kipling stories - and then acted out our own version of how the camel got its hump. Something I would never have been brave enough to try - IMPROVISATION WITH 4 and 5 year olds! - unless forced into it. It was great. The kids had fun.

This also explains why your child may be running around with a pillow on her back making "humpff" noises by the way!

Last week Sarah taught us about fairy tales. When she asked Aidan what we read at home he told her we didn't have that CD! Uh oh. (Aidan has quite the crush on Sarah and will tell her just about anything to keep her attention. "He doesn't speak very clearly yet, does he?" she asked me later. And I had to explain that he is so busy raising his hand to catch her attention that he usually doesn't have an answer and tries to mumble his way out of it! Could be her accent. Could be the smile!)

"You don't have that CD?" Sarah asked. "Does your Mommy read you any books at home?" I waited as Aidan debated how to best capture her attention for the longest amount of time possible.

He's no dummy. "No." No, Mommy doesn't read them any books at home. Sarah laughed. Which makes me think it is the smile Aidan is so fixated upon.

"Do you just watch TV then?" Sarah continued. In a really lovely Irish accent.

Aidan nodded his head eagerly. Yes, yes. That's it. No books in our house. Just lots of TV. (Star Wars is the ultimate fairy tale, but I didn't think it was the time to explain this to Sarah!)

But he did hold her attention longer than any of the kids who DO read at home!

Later Sue came up to me in the parking lot and told me my boys had been telling her about the wombat stories we've been reading at home lately.

"Good." I said. "Because according to Sarah's information we don't have any books at home!"

Another lesson learned at English Group: always trust your children to paint you in the most humorous light!

But we did come home and read Snow White and Beauty and the Beast tonight. I DO read to the boys, but I've been missing the princess classics. And I do realize they are a cultural basis of our society.

I see NO moral value to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Which Andrew was only introduced to at his hearing evaluation when he was four. "Of course you know this story," the teacher began. Oops. The Gingerbread Man bugs me too. DO either of these two characters have ANY redeeming features? And all the Cinderella, Thumbelina, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty "find a prince and marry him" stories. ALthough I loved them as a child.

But I tried them on the boys. Snow White bombed. "Why" asked Aidan when the stepmother wants to kill Snow White." "Because she is jealous of Snow White." I answered. "Why?" he continued. "Because she is prettier?" But none of it was making any sense to Aidan.

I could almost hear his mind working. "WOMEN!"

Honey, you won't understand us later either.

Although the hunting scene was cool. And Snow White falling down dead. "Why?" "Because the apple was poisoned." "Why?" "Because the stepmother was jealous?" "Why" "Because she is a really small person who needs to work on her self-esteem and sense of self-worth."

I am a really lousy fairy tale reader. Aidan gave up. At least there was a dead person to think about. No blood though. "Why?" Somehow I think boys need a new set of fairy tales.

Beauty and the Beast had more success. "Is he the bad guy?" Aidan asked, pointing at a picture of the Beast. Ahhah. Chance for a moral lesson! "Do you THINK he's the bad guy?" I asked. "No." Aidan replied. "He is nice to Beauty and he is her friend. So he is not the bad guy."

Which made it all the more confusing when we had to turn him into a prince at the end. Was the moral not about judging others by their appearance but that if we are lucky enough to marry someone beautiful we will automatically be more beautiful too? Aidan didn't get it.

Matthew was shocked into silence. He finally paddled away to get one of his monster stories. Way more comforting than this "R" rated garbage I was suddenly trying to read them!

I didn't dare start in on Hansel and Gretel. I like sleeping through the night!

Thanks though, really, to my friends at English Group, for helping me fill in the's not easy raising kids between cultures and it's reassuring to have a mix of English-speakers sharing just enough of a cultural background to pass at least some of it on to our Germany-raised children. Together.

Meaning I teach yours about Pilgrims and turkeys and you teach mine how to hang a guy in effigy. (Whose side was he on?) We'll say "football" when we mean soccer and your kids learn a song about baseball.

I will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever in my life be comfortable with a "zed" at the end of my ABC's. But then again, you will forgive me and know what I mean anyway. (I also reserve the right to take out a couple of those ever ever evers since I will have children in an English-speaking school system soon. Oh dear. Am I going to learn how to speak ENGLISH now too? Or only Australian?!)

Today Aidan, Matthew and I are invited to our first ever Teddy Bears' picnic.

Anybody know if we need to bring serviettes?!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Say You're One of Them / Uwem Akpan

Say You're One of Them.

A collection of short stories written by Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit priest from Nigeria. Fictional stories about children in Africa that are so heart-wrenching they become real. A man writing about children. But a man, an African man, who has captured the heart of Africa's plight through these children's stories. And made their plight our own.

They're not easy to read. Certainly don't read them all at once. Homeless children sniffing shoe glue on the streets of Kenya. Been there, seen that. But - if I'm honest with myself - never allowed myself to think of them as human beings until now. Rwanda. Genocide. Again, not easy reads. But about people who could really be us.

The one that completely shocked me was set in Nigeria. Just like a second book, Little Bee, written by Chris Cleave. Another man, a white English man this time, who manages to somehow channel this little black Nigerian girl and make her world our own.

The thing is. This is our world. It is happening in real-time as we sit in front of our computer screens or play with our children at the pool. And we know nothing about it.

Did YOU know there were oil wars in Nigeria? Did YOU know the Muslim North was fighting the Christian South - and that the oil in the south, I really didn't bother to pay attention. Because it's the same old story all the time.

That's why we need books like this.

BP and Shell and Mobil have been destroying the environment for decades. The only problem recently was that BP had the misfortune to do so in a rich, white country. No oil company has had to pay Africans for their destroyed land and rivers, for the loss of homes, towns and yes, the brutal slaughter of people who mattered so little that they were able to kill them without the rest of the world even caring.

Makes you really want to read these books, doesn't it? But I promise you - the good thing about these books, the reason these authors are great, is that they don't preach and philosophize the way I do. They let you know a person and hear their story, without pity, without sympathy.

They tell it honestly, from the minds of children, and let you take what you want from the telling.

They are fantastic stories first a foremost. Because they DON'T rub your face in it.

The first person I passed "Little Bee" onto was Lynn. Unwarned. (And the thing is - it tells you on the cover not to reveal the ending to anyone - it is a journey from beginning to end that must be read and absorbed alone without discussion.)

Poor Lynn. Her words (she worked for a newspaper in South Africa and is no slouch with the writing!) :
Little Bee is the most riveting story I have read in a while - I keep wondering what happened to her...... left me feeling apprehensive, and angry...
Thank you so much for letting me read her story..... ahh it broke my heart and challenged my own conscious...... you see I still drive my car around, would I give it up? since the petroleum I purchase is probably linked to the destruction and blood of others? 'Yes, yes yes,' my heart cries ! Then what? Buy an electric car? Can we afford it?
Next option - which brand of diesel /petrol could I support that is not linked to any evil? According to Forbes Fortune 500 - Mobil, Shell and BP are listed as the second, third and fourth richest companies in the world...... only beaten by Walmart listed first. Shell and BP are definitely in the Delta and I do not know much about Mobil and their history ...... Thomas doubts their are any oil companies that are not tainted with blood and destruction in some way .......

If you are a global economic power it is all about the money - you own the politicians, pretty much a licence to do what you like, start wars, displace (indigenous) communities, destroy the environment and the list continues..... our greed is not only linked to oil - how many brands are ethical when only the bottom line counts?... and marketers try and own the consumer, we live our lives consuming, complaining and ignoring the little voice when it tries to remind us of what we are accountable for when we support unethical companies by purchasing their products or working for them...... So what do we do? Go back and live the life of a plain lady like your friend? Or live the life of a renounciate and find a cave in the Himalayas ...... So how can we live an ethical life in the world of consumerism?

And, since the book made us feel so good, we of course want to share it with the rest of the group!

How's that for a bunch of stay-at-home mommies supposedly spending our mornings painting our nails and the afternoons taking it easy with the kids at the pool?!

What can we do? How are we, each of us, individually, going to save the world? How are we going to keep smiling and living happy lives when confronted with the atrocities around us? The list is long: oil, war, poverty, racism, can we live with ourselves knowing we are doing nothing about them?

Lynn again - with an answer -

'Mommy can you play with me?' ..... there's a start to my question this morning.... be a good mother, buy local, consume less, live a simple life, try and make a difference where I can .........

And Michael. Man in the Mirror. We can start by becoming better people ourselves. We can recognize our flaws - our own pettiness, our own selfishness, our own unfair prejudices and work to become more compassionate ourselves.

We can learn to recognize ourselves in others.

So that when we DO see somewhere where we can make a difference, we will help someone with a wheelchair, or someone who has fallen on the sidewalk. Love the neighbor's child - who really is quite the little monster - as our own.

I don't know that smiling and helping your elderly neighbor with the groceries is going to do anything about the atrocities in the world. But I do know it's a start.

Say You're One of Them. Uwem Akpan.

Little Bee. Chris Cleave.

Do read them. They're a look in the mirror.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Man In The Mirror

A friend of mine wrote a piece about auras a while back. In it, he defended his idea that NOT all people are created equal, that people are different, and that we notice this on a subtle level when we interact with others, when we are attracted to some people and more turned off by other people. For him, it was about spirituality and intelligence. And we recognize others like ourselves and are automatically drawn to them.

The Hindus explain this instant attraction to someone you've never met before through reincarnation. Someone you feel an immediate bond with was probably someone you have known - and been close friends with - before.

We've all had it. You run into someone for the first time and could spend hours talking to them. Or you meet someone and know right away this person is going to be trouble.

I've known people who believe they can read auras. And always been afraid to ask. I had a guy in India begin to read my palm once and draw back in fear. So sometimes you don't want to delve too deeply. (I apparently have a double lifeline, and that's not a good thing.)

But the man in India also told me that you can change your lifeline. And I am quite certain that you can change your aura.

"I'm starting with the man in the mirror.
I'm asking him to change his ways.
And no message could have been any clearer.
If you want to make the world a better place,
Take a look at yourself
And then make a change."

Michael really is brilliant.

I don't know what my aura was like when the twins were born. I've been told I have way too much fire in my astrology chart. My guess is red. After the twins were born, I think I may have lost my aura. It disappeared entirely. And then it came back black or gray. Yuck. When I finally got color back in my aura again it turned an angry red. Who would have wanted to know me then?

I didn't lookup what the colors meant until just now. But no surprises. Red creates a lot of friction. Black and gray relate to blocked energies and health problems.

I believe I'm lucky I had any friends at all the last four years.

This week I did a visualization exercise and saw pink. The gray was leaving me. I was letting it go. I do feel more compassion - for myself and for others. I am more sensitive, slower to anger and more eager to understand and empathize.

I am a much healthier, better person to know.

And I know my aura reflects this.

When I was black, I bounced everyone else away. When I was red I pissed them off. Now that I am pink, I am amazed at all the people who come out of the blue (not picked intentionally, but a blue aura DOES signal sensitivity, generosity and communication!) and find me. Some need to talk. Some offer guidance and comfort.

But it's unbelievable. HOW DO THEY KNOW? How do they know they can confide in me? How do they know that I need to hear what they have to say?

These are people of all ages, sexes, races, religions and nationalities.

Why are they finding me now that I am leaving?

When I was in highschool grown-ups always asked me what I was going to do with my life. "I'm going to save the world." I replied. (How I was going to do this as a veterinarian was entirely beyond me, but my reasoning at the time discounted people as a bunch of pinheads and animals and the environment as way more worthy of saving than the human race.)

Saving the world is a big task. Worthier men - and gods - than I have tried and failed.

But if I'm just one more person looking in the mirror and getting the message, maybe we're just that tiny bit more closer to a better place. I am, anyway.

No, Mark. All people are NOT created equal. (Hindus explain this so nicely too, as karma creating your present circumstances so that you can learn from them.) But we are all one. And we all have the opportunity to change.

I believe that's what we're here for.

It's up to us whether we look into the mirror and rise to the challenge or not.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Slow Learner

Aidan and Matthew and I have been to a bunch of birthday parties lately. Our little kindergarten group.

Two of the other kids have one sibling. The rest are single children.

All of which is fine. A couple of them have expressed an interest in a sibling so that they can be like Aidan and Matthew. One of them has adopted Aidan and Matthew as brothers. It's really sweet really.

And I explain how hard it is to do puzzles - or now ABC books - with TWO kids wanting my attention at the same time. Puzzling with twins. It sucks.

So that we've all let go of the guilt and figure we - and the kids - will deal with life as it is dealt. It's the way it is. No judgments. No guilt.

This is rare. This group happens to include a number of "older" moms, a number of first-generation German moms AND, most remarkably, almost all working moms.

Coming to the conclusion that whatever works best for you, is what is best for your child.

They are even open to the fact that I would like MORE children. Astounded but totally accepting.

The thing is, I'm a slow learner. I know a lot of totally well-adjusted moms who have the whole thing worked out after their second - or even first - child.

But it took me a while. And now that I've finally gotten it - and apparently am able to make it look like second nature - well, I don't want all that education to go to waste!

For example:

1. Who cares if the kids are riding the bikes barefoot?
2. Let them eat the goody bag all at once. Saves me the hassle of worrying about it for the next three days.
3. Two meals in a row of French Fries only won't kill them.
4. The evening news is scarier than an 'R' rated horror movie. Nothing my kids need to see right now.
5. I can teach my kids better than anyone else can.
6. They ARE listening to the morals you are trying to instill in them.
7. Kids will learn to ride a bike, swim, swing on their own, in their own time.
8. If they won't eat it, then they aren't hungry.

Why would I throw all this knowledge away?!

I was actually pretty laid-back with my first kid. (Then again, she was easy.)

But I'm figuring the fifth would pretty much raise himself!

And see, there's the heart of it.

Slow learner.

But loving the process!

Monday, July 19, 2010


Being half German, I have always wondered what I would have done as a German during World War ll. Before having children, the answer was clear. I would have fought, worked with the underground, rescued as many people as I could and worked to destroy the government.

Having kids made me way more vulnerable. Would I have put my kids lives in danger to save someone didn't know? Would I have spoken out against the regime when I had more than myself to worry about?

I admit. I would have been more cautious. But I know I would have worked to save any child in addition to my own. More I can't promise. But I would have tried to save the children.

I know. This is all very serious after a silly town meeting. But it was held in a Rathaus that saw town meetings during both World Wars. And the tone was distinctly authoritarian. Polite and polished. But authoritarian.

And now I know where I would have stood. I wasn't at home. (Although my children were.) I wasn't intentionally rabble-rousing. I wasn't even a leader.

But I was part of the rabble. And I enabled the leaders to communicate more effectively.

"So, what do we do now?" my friend asked.

"I say we go to the papers." said a father from the other kindergarten. (Look at that - strangers from both sides of town working TOGETHER! I am SO proud.)

I got out my pen and notebook and had them exchange numbers. Next we figured out how to arrange the next two meetings of the two separate kindergartens.

"Our Elternbeirat is already sending out a letter telling us to leave it alone and forget about it." said someone from our kindergarten.

"And that's okay." I replied. That is their job. We can do this without them, as concerned parents in our own right."

They'd honestly never thought of that.

Then again I'd never thought of not paying the monthly kindergarten dues.

And when one dad suggested a rally with the kids in front of the Rathaus, well, I honestly thought I might be in France!

I felt silly being there since we are leaving Altdorf in September anyway. But the word had got out that I had councilled a friend this morning for over an hour. And told her I would stand behind them. The phone rang all afternoon. And I was there.

It did mean something to them that I was there supporting a cause that wasn't really mine to fight anymore.

But it means as much - or more - to me to see them working together. It gives me hope in this country, in my fellow countrymen.

It takes a few, brave individuals to start a movement.

"Why didn't they even let the parents from both kindergartens talk to eachother?" asked one mother.

"Because that is their biggest fear." I replied.

There IS strenght in numbers. A united front is the biggest danger.

When we all realize that we can work together - that we all DO have enough in common to work towards a common goal. Well, these little movements change the world.

OKay. Okay. It;s only a litte town meeting. I was this excited when I got voted onto Elternbeirat the first time six years ago too. Think of all the good I could do! Until I realized it was just the mouthpiece of the school administration.

But this time it's not about me. Turns out I like being the back-up, the support.
I LOVE watching someone else build up a strategy.

And I know what I would have done sixty years ago. I would have done my best to keep my family safe. But I am just not the type who can sit by and let my friends fight without my support.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Altdorf Democracy

I had a chance to stand up for what I believe in Tuesday night. And I did it. Along with about thirty other parents from Altdorf who are dissatisfied with personnel changes between two of the kindergartens here.

The mayor and elected officials listened politely to the first mother, representing one kindergarten. But began to roll their eyes at the second.

I had been planning to keep my American-accented mouth shut but really felt I couldn't leave her to stumble alone.

This was hard. All men on the board (one woman in twelve positions), in business suits, mocking the stay-at-home moms who obviously had nothing better to do than waste their time worrying about something as dumb and mundane as kindergarten personnel.

"Do you have a question?" asked the mayor's appointed stooge. "This is a question and answer session not a time to voice your opinion."

Oh please. Like I can't voice my opinion in the interrogative form!

"Why weren't any parents consulted before any of these decisions were made?"

They laughed. Loud and outright. All of them. While rolling their eyes.

"We did send out the letter informing you of our decision this week."

I was honestly embarrassed for them. And I had another question.

"But - and correct me if I'm wrong - but isn't that what democracy is all about?" I was admittedly treading on thin water. I wasn't quite sure Germany defines itself as a democracy. And I have an obviously American accent. But a number of parents nodded their heads. Good. Apparently they'd learned about democracy too.

And I really wanted to know. "Mr. Mayor. I understand you have to make the final decision. That is why we voted for you. But...what I don't understand is why the parents weren't brought into the decision process at all."

They laughed again. And laughed and laughed.

I still don't get it.

Maybe I should look up the definition of democracy but....I come from New England and I remember learning something about town meetings and...yeah, I think debate and discussion were a big part of those.

The mayor tried to inform me how things are in the real world.

"You wouldn't have a say about personnel changes if you were working for IBM or Daimler."

"No." And I'll be the first to admit that this last wasn't a question. "But you'd be fired if you were having problems with your coworkers."

Dead silence.

And we were dismissed.

Thirty of us, from two kindergartens, had our own town meeting on the Rathaus steps. Seems two teachers from the one kindergarden had such personal difficulties with eachother that they had to be separated. And come to ours. And two of ours - our two best and the only two under 50 in a staff of 8 - are going to them. Noone is happy. In the real world you get fired. In a socialist government position they aren't allowed to fire you - so backroom deals and shady compromises are made.

"Altdorf is being run by a Mafia." said one mom.

It's not. It's being run by humans, and humans are imperfect.

The decision has been made - for us. And the kids will be fine.

But a few Altdorf parents are getting together to protest anyway. Hang out with the kids on the Rathaus steps. Write a letter to the Boeblingen paper. Not pay our monthly kindergarten fees.

"It's not going to change anything." one mother protested.

But it already has. Thirty parents realized that there is strength in unity. I leave Altdorf knowing there are parents out there willing to stand up to authoritarianism, willing to speak their mind, demanding to be given a voice in their children's education. And they are going to work together to solve a problem.

It's not easy to do in a culture that generally just yields to authority.

I am so proud of them.

I apologized for stepping up to the mayor with my imperfect German and my American accent. "It was just perfect coming from you." said the mother I had supported.

We stand together - two distinct kindergartens - for our right to have a voice in our children's education.

Maybe this "old village" has tasted a bit of the New World after all!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Job Offer

I took the kids to Burger King last Friday for lunch. BK Germany is running a special: buy one adult menu, get a kids meal free. (No, no the German economy isn't hurting. I was also heading to the mall to take advantage of the 50% sales that were nonexistent here until recently.)

I discussed strategy with my staff on the way over.

"Ryan. Andrew. Listen closely. We can get FREE FOOD if we buy adult meals. Do you two really need a kiddy menu and a cheap plastic toy?"

Ryan and Andrew evaluated the importance of a cheap plastic toy to their well-being.
Ryan opted for an adult menu in order to help me out. Andrew was torn, but decided to check out the toys first, before making his decision.

By the time we reached the counter, I knew that Ryan and Matthew wanted chicken nuggets and that Andrew and Aidan were going to split a burger and some nuggets evenly between them. Andrew decided he really did need a cheap, stuffed wrestling figure that made music when you pressed his belly. (It is now sitting in the kitchen, on its way to the trash, with Aidan and Matthew's cheap, stuffed wrestling figures.)

I was pretty impressed with myself. The man in the business suit behind me was less so.

"Are you guys still running that buy one, get a children's menu free deal?"

She looked at me - and then the four kids - warily.

"Yeah. But only get ONE per meal."

"No problem." I smiled. I had this under control.

I ordered the two adult meals, got my two free kids meals and ordered a third for Andrew. We had the sauce and ketcup worked out in a matter of seconds. Ryan then marched the three boys off behind the counter to pick out their dolls. (Let's call them what they really are, c'mon guys, ACTION FIGURES? Really.)

Next I asked her to lead the twins upstairs and find a table. The three of them went. I asked Andrew to help me carry the second tray with fries. He was a gentleman. (I am LOVING these older children; I hardly get a chance to carry my own bags anymore!)

I smiled at the businessman behind me. He still wasn't impressed.

Later, he sat upstairs with his three friends, also all in business suits. They studiously ignored me as I organized the table, complimented the kids for eating everything on their plates, er napkins, except the fries and who can ever finish those?! Andrew and Aidan then went off to play in the kiddy cage, Matthew did a back-dive onto his head off of his seat, and I carried him screaming with me while I talked to the six-year old girl in the kiddy cage who was beating the stuffing out of my eight-year old and four-year old boys.

I imagined I was the perfect image of a living hell for most German men.

But I heard them as I was herding my staff down the stairs, meals entirely eaten and table wiped clean.

"Maybe we should ask that American lady with all the kids to work for us."

Sorry boys. You couldn't afford me. I really like the job I have.

But thanks for the compliment. It's nice to know people are noticing.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


This is why I like the World Cup.

That's a German man embracing an American man (Damon's step-dad) after the Germany-Ghana game a few weeks ago.

Damon's folks were here for only a few days, but caught the best of us. Smiling, happy, friendly, social, even goofy Germans. All rooting together for a common goal - one that doesn't have the rest of the free world quivering in their boots this time.

Even more so, Africa was on display. And the world rooted with them and for them. Sure, we wanted to beat Ghana, because that's what you do in a game. But we also wanted to see them win. People asked me how I felt after Ghana defeated the USA. Sweet that. But in a game that was billed as "The American Dream" versus "African Hope," well you couldn't be sad the game went to the country to whom it meant the most.

One could say that Africa got screwed as usual, on Uruguay's handball in the goal. And lost because of lack of technical expertise (penalty shots) and not because of lack of raw talent. How typically African. (FIFA is considering changing the rules on handballs in the goal because of that Ghana loss to Uruguay.)

But South Africa really set a standard of generosity and good will for the rest of the world to follow.

It's called Ubuntu. No, not the Linux program, but a south African philosophy of human interconnectedness.

Desmond Tutu defined it in 2008 as "the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation."

The World Cup brings us together as a nation for a few short weeks every four years. It's the only time I follow soccer, but I know all the players every time. And have opinions on who was fouled and whether an off-side took place, things I know nothing about in the real world, during a non-World Cup year.

But this time I feel the Ubuntu. I do.

I cried when Germany lost to Serbia early on in the elimination rounds. Not just because we lost but because Germans were cheering their team anyway. And because I suddenly realized that Germany winning the next game meant Ghana losing. And that one nation would cheer as another one mourns. That no matter what happened in a game, someone was celebrating as someone else lost.

And goodness, I suddenly also realized that it is only a game. Really. That there are much more important reasons to celebrate and much sadder reasons to mourn.

And that if we could unite as a nation over this, then we should be able to unite as a world over other, more important matters.

Desmond Tutu from his 1999 book:

"A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."

It's the exact opposite of Schadenfreude. It's the ability to be happy for your enemy, because they aren't your enemy after all, but a part of yourself. It's what the Taoists call Tao, the Hindus call Universal Consciousness. And I believe what Jesus meant when he talked about us all being sons and daughters of God. Oh. I get it now.

My Ballack shirt goes back in mothballs after last night's win against Uruguay. (And yes, it was nice that we won. Nice though, not life-changing or world-altering.)

But I'm working on keeping the spirit of Ubuntu alive more than once every four years.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What The Kids Have Taught Us

You learn something every day. And this time I am sticking to the present tense, because the past is just too darn confusing. (The other option is to change the verb from "learn" to "taught" as I did in the title, but that throws me into the passive voice.)

Learned or learnt? Well, after some Internet research it appears to be a matter of some debate. No news really that English is a language in constant change.

And darn it, I just knew my lack of knowledge about tenses would get me into trouble some day! WHERE IS THE EDITOR WHEN I NEED HIM?! (I actually know where he is, through facebook, and know he is dealing with more important matters than grammar right now.) What about the rest of you teaching English? Any comments?

What I discovered is that "learned" and "learnt" are both past tenses of the word "learn." (But thanks for opening up that barrel of worms, Brenda. As if I'm not worried enough about my qualifications to home-school already!)

Learnt is the past participle. Whatever that means.

Learnt is also the "T" form out of the Old English, and derived from the German. Ich lerne. Du lernst. Er lernt. Wir lernen. Ihr lernt. Sie lernen. (Which may explain why Brenda uses it?) It is often referred to as the English form - which may explain why Mark uses it. But it is being phased out in American English. And also losing ground in English English.

Which is going to be my excuse for not even knowing about it.

So what have we learned from our children?

Claire is requesting better questions. More embarrassing Mommy stories and less soul-searching on the Internet!

Brenda is correcting my grammar. (And the reason I just looked up "embarrassing" in the dictionary just now!)

But they came up with some gems for me too. Thank-you.

1. That there are more important things to worry about than finger-prints on the windows.

2. To put a can of air-freshener in each room. Kids stink a lot!

3. That it is hard to grow up. Seeing the real thing in front of you, makes you realize when you are acting childish yourself.

4. To enjoy the kids you really have to immerse yourself in them. Which means giving up some of your self.

Thanks ladies.

And we got more, one from a Dad too.

5. We were so busy getting ready and preparing and cooking and baking and cleaning for Levi's party, that in a sense for the two days leading up to the party we neglected him. We kept chasing him out of the way because he wanted to show us something or do something with us but we were too busy getting ready to respond to him.

Mark and Liesl Do have their priorities straight. Levi. Not the fingerprints on the windows!

6. Laura has learned - the hard way - that kids listen AND REPEAT the things they hear. Hence Morgen, at age three, coming up with such gems as "Are you serious?" and "You're killing me!" as well as a well-placed "Je-SUS" when her Dad hit the brakes a bit too hard. This is my niece. If you want to get the full effect, listen to how I say the first two. My sister and I sound exactly alike despite not having grown up together after the first 9 years of her life. My guess is her daughter sounds exactly like us both. Would like to think we're passing on the GOOD parts of ourselves too!

7. Not to bother wishing for more hours in a day. Because that just means more cleaning and not more sleeping.

8. That sometimes you wish they'd grow up faster and sometimes you wish they'd stay this little forever.

9. Sarah has learned that English is a strange language and hard to explain. As in having to reassure her son that "he didn't really kill it. That's just an expression." Hmmm.....better not have him talking to Morgen!

I honestly hadn't expected that level of soul-searching. Noone mentioned:

10. The ability to change a diaper with one hand, standing in the middle of the swimming pool, while watching the other three diving off the high-board. (Damon's cousin Stefanie about nine years ago. I will never forget it.)

11. How to nurse -or worse yet, prepare and feed a bottle - in the middle of the night without waking up completely. (I had a night with Damon away where I managed to nurse one of the twins, while reaching over past him to his brother with a bottle simultaneously ...all while still somehow managing to keep my head on the pillow! People in my yoga class wonder why I'm so flexible!)

Mostly I think we learn to deal with (and laugh at?) the ridiculous and focus on what's really important.

I really want to hear about your dreamhouses. (And we can keep adding to this list too.)

I promise Claire, after that we'll get to some barfing in the car and kids commenting on the size of your butt to strangers.

Here's hoping you all have learnt (or learned?) as much from this as I have!

Thank you.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dream House

Caught. Posted this earlier in the week and then took it down. Just seemed so silly. Almost offensive. And then Anna came up to me last night and asked me where it had gone. Because she really wanted to know. Her question made me realize that this list really was silly and unimportant. She made me realize the important part of a home isn't the number of bedrooms or the size of the family room or whether or not is has a hottub on the balcony. (Nice though, those!)

"WHERE would you put your dream house," she asked me.

"Next to the beach." I replied.

"Yeah. But WHERE next to the beach?"

Turns out there are others out there, others like me, who have no fixed latitude and longitude to call home. Whose biggest fear is ending up somewhere too long and missing out on where they are really meant to be.

We're wanderers and adventurers. And the kids wander with us. Looking back though, all I ever wanted to give my kids was the adventure I couldn't find in Connecticut.

Since I call nowhere home, I also have the freedom to call anywhere home.

And I don't really care about the TV room, or the super huge garage. (Still want a big yard, though, sorry, I am only human!)

Home, for me, is where my family is. And where we are happy, together. So far, we haven't found a fixed address for our happiness. But we are fortunate enough to be able to take it with us.

But you just want to see the petty list. Here it is:

1. HUGE yard. To throw the kids into. And to host massive bar-be-ques.
2. Big garage. For all the sports and beach equipment.
3. Close to beach. Cause the kids will be in school six hours a day!
4. Kitchen. Since it HAS to have one, a large open one. So I can spend time with the kids while I'm cooking for them. And maybe room for a chair and/or table so I can go and hide in it when I need some time to myself. (I've also considered a daybed in the laundry room.)
5. MODERN bathrooms. More than one. With jazuzzi tub in the master suite.
6. Never mind. I'm getting a hottub on the balcony. (It's a dream house, right?!)
7. TV room. So I don't have to watch it when the kids are.
8. Playroom/Den. For the kids. (Computer to share - maybe two.)
9. Living room/Den. For the adults. With one computer for me, one for Damon.)
10. MY OWN PRIVATE ROOM. (Some dreams never die.)
11. Some bedrooms. One for Ryan. The boys can share, as long as the kids' playroom is big enough. Sigh. I guess I can share with Damon too. As long as...
12. Room for all of Damon's @^#&#(, that he refuses to part with but doesn't know how to put away either. Will settle for a large closet in the garage for this.
14. BUILT-IN CLOSETS. (Never take these for granted, folks.)
13. Au pair apartment.
14. Cleaning crew 2 to 3 times a week.

But now I'm getting really petty.

Where do you guys call home? What does your dream house look like? What makes it your dream house and what couldn't you live without? And scary one here - for me at least - where do you see yourself living in thirty years?

I'm working on your answers to yesterday's post. Thanks for responding.

I think it's fairly obvious that I am learning far more from your comments and questions than I ever could digging around alone in my own twisted mind!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Living Arrows

They say you find your true teachers when you are ready for them.

And ready to listen, maybe.

You are my teachers....and I am listening.

This from Brenda yesterday:

"Take it one day at a time and let them teach you. My kids have taught me more than I will EVER teach them."

(And this from a woman whose family farms for a living, makes their own clothes AND knows how to cook WITHOUT a 1,000 Euro Thermomix! Oh - and homeschools too.)

I've been saying it about Ryan too:

"I was trying to give Ryan self-worth by having her fit in. She is teaching me self-worth by showing me I don't have to." (Hero blog, February 3, 2010)

What have you learned from your children? How to pick up the house for company in less than 2 minutes? The importance of choosing your battles? The true meaning of joy?

Enough about me already.

Let's do this one together.

(I am looking for a list of ten, just one or two from each of you. And thanks to Karenne - for reminding me that it's not all about me, but about all of you too!)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Twin Birthday

It really was double the fun.

I'd been so worried that the boys would start asking for their OWN birthdays. Something just for ME, Mom, something I don't have to share.

But, you know what, they LOVED it. It was THEIR day, their weekend into Tuesday really, and they LOVED being the center of attention TOGETHER.

It never even occurred to them to NOT to want to share their special day.

They looked for eachother before opening two of their gifts before Andrew's baseball game on Sunday. And then passed out the cookies to the team together.

When the cakes came out later in the afternoon - and yes, we had two - they turned to eachother beaming at their luck.

How great is this, to be able to share your special day with the brother you love?!

Each made sure the other had a present to open too, before tearing into his. (And yes, this year anyway, they got the same things.)

And shared in the glory at kindergarten on Monday as well.

We had two cakes at the party Tuesday too. Although I don't think they needed it. And they did get some presents to share - on my request. And were okay with it.

I'm learning - slowly - to stop making such a big fuss over this stuff.

So what, they're twins.

Less one-on-one time with Mom. But you know what, two of their best friends have asked their mothers for siblings so that they can be like Aidan and Matthew!

Takes a four year old to point out the obvious.

What these guys have is special.

Happy Birthday Little Men!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I'm not really complaining, more bragging really.

Because, see, I have a new problem, that's not really a problem, since I've already admitted that I'm bragging.

I came home from English group on Wednesday to find the kitchen table completely covered in cardboard boxes. Painted. To resemble barns.

Next I went to my desk. Only to find it covered in research material. On horses. Smack in the middle - on top of my latest work - was the beginning of Ryan's book.

I couldn't get on the Internet until after she went to bed because Ryan was busy printing out pictures for her book.

She's been asking me to proofread her writing. So I guess that makes me her editor.

And while I'm at it. Andrew isn't sleeping at night. Because he wants to get through his book series before summer.

Matthew is writing his name. Aidan is taking down lunch orders for his restaurant.

And yeah, I'm a LITTLE less worried about the home schooling.

Turns out Australia is WAY AHEAD of Germany in math anyway.

That means I get to cover decimals and fractions on my own with them.

It just seems so much easier without the obstacle of sending them to school every morning!

And, worst (best?) case scenario, they can all serve burgers at Aidan's restaurant!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Creative Containment

I knew I had a good picture for my last entry on ironing. I remembered it well. Both boys in the laundry basket. Cute. Fitting.

But looking back made me remember what else we used that laundry basket for. As well as toy crates, shopping crates and whatever else we could stick them in that would keep them happy - and contain them a bit - for just a few moments longer. (My guess is the above photo of Andrew and Matthew was taken as I was trying to get ready to go to English Group one Wednesday, a process that took 45 minutes to an hour when the twins were young, and required the multiple bags you see in the background, plus lots of patience and creativity to amuse the kids while I packed them.)

The other day I sat Talitha down on the floor. Next to another mom. And walked away. (To help somebody else to the bathroom I hope and not to help myself to another glass of wine!) "Hey." Beulah shouted. "What the heck are you doing?" She looked at her 8 month old, sitting alone and unassisted on the floor. I looked at her 8 month old, sitting alone and unassisted on the floor. "Going to the bathroom?" I might have ventured. (I sincerely don't think I would have put a baby down for a mere glass of wine.) "Uh yeah. She doesn't sit up alone yet" Beulah said. To her credit, she was laughing. (And has let me hold Talitha since.)

Oh wow. And I'm a mother of four. Shouldn't I know better than that?

Well, then again. I'm a mother of four. And twins. Looking back at photos, those boys were on their own way earlier than most. The whole survival thing, I guess.

Andrew never sat. Or crawled. He just got up and walked. At seven months. Honestly. I have photos if I can ever figure out how to post them. I'm not bragging. He didn't speak until he was four. Too busy running circles around the other normal children! (I remember him literally running a circle around his first girlfriend, in Geneva, when they were both one year old. She was asking her mother - in perfect sentences - why that boy didn't sit down. And picking out letters of the alphabet out of the book in front of her. To keep her amused until she learned to stand on her own!)

The twins were up and about early too. And we used just about anything we could to keep them happy and contained. Necessity is the mother of invention. Hence the crates and pillows and anything else we could get them.

My best trick was the laundry basket in the tub, although I'm sure it's been done before. You see, both boys were sitting, but the tub was slippery. And Aidan was a lot stronger than Matthew. I was having a hard time keeping them both amused - because that is the primary reason to bathe twins. Why give yourself all that trouble otherwise? And above water at the same time. Aidan would stand. Matthew would try. Aidan would balance himself on Matthew's head. And both of them would be under water. (They are FANTASTIC swimmers now, both of them!)

But they cried a lot. And that didn't make me happy.

So I reinvented the laundry basket as a bathtub seat. Plastic. Holes for the water to go through. Sides for Matthew to hold on to. Sides to keep Aidan from using Matthew for balance. It worked.

I don't have a lot of pictures - only the one on top - but I was still more preoccupied with keeping the two of them above water than with taking pictures to prove that it was possible. (Note also that that is ANDREW in the tub with Matthew, so my guess is I had a few extra seconds to snap a photo while Aidan was behind me playing in the toilet bowl.)

They spent a lot of times in crates and baskets between the ages of 6 months and a year. Then Aidan started walking and the months of running in two different directions began. That was fun too. I spent one summer at the Hildrizhausen pool tyring to keep Aidan off the concrete steps while at the same time checking to see that Matthew didn't spend too much time with his head underwater in the kiddy pool.

Really. One time Andrew - then just five - jumped into the adult pool and forgot he could swim. It took me less than thirty seconds to gather up Aidan and Matthew from the grass, strap them into their stroller, vault over the chain link fence and fish Andrew out. By then he was already remembering he had taken a swim class.

The few other mothers there looked at me like I was nuts - and irresponsible - to be there with two infants and two other children besides. Look at how long it had taken me to rescue my five year old. Plus I'd left the seven year old in charge of the babies as I vaulted the fence. I ignored the looks. I do well in emergencies. Leaving two 10 month old babies on their own wouldn't have helped anyone. So I strapped them in. And hey, would have been nice if any one of the other mothers had stopped pouring sun lotion onto their own - single - child - and perhaps offered to help me with at least one of mine.

But this isn't about that. It's about creative containment.

And the good times we've had.

"I need to learn how to be more relaxed - like you." Lynn told me the other day. Then I met Catherine at the pool yesterday. "I can't believe you are so relaxed." she told me. I like that word. I like that impression. And I like that I really AM more relaxed now, after years of experimenting with what works for me.

Lynn's turned her driveway into the best play area ever. I've turned one of our porches into a sandbox and water play area.

Creative containment doesn't have to be perfect.

It just has to keep us happy!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Cure For Ironing

With the World Cup taking place in South Africa this year, there has been a lot of talk about aid to Africa.

Let me do my bit.

It won't cure any of the Big Three: AIDS, Malaria and TB. And it won't solve world hunger, political instability, government corruption, environmental destruction or a shattered economy.

Damn. What the hell am I doing talking about IRONING?!

But, in my little neck of the woods, it's what I've got. And it's a big deal.

Americans don't iron. Sure, we do hubby's suits and our own nicer outfits. But anyone ironing jeans is a total freak. Or a cowboy from the South. In which case it's okay. Cowboys need those creases.

I've honestly never seen my mother with an iron. Dad's suits went to the dry-cleaners, who even picked up and delivered to the door. His scrubs (and later, mine) were done at the office.

My first hint that ironing was such a big deal in the rest of the world came in Haiti. They used coal-heated irons to press their Sunday best. And managed not to get muddy on the way to church. Pretty impressive.

And then an eastern European colleague of a friend in Geneva boasted about how his wife - who had three degrees and spoke five languages - ironed his underwear.

Not at all impressive.

Here in Altdorf people go into shock when they think of all the laundry I have to do. Huh? I run a household of six people and a dog - and they're worried about the LAUNDRY?!! I didn't get it at first. What's to do? Throw it in and press a button. Voila.

But it's the ironing that's dragging everybody down.

And since some of those everybody's are close friends of mine - friends who have helped me more than they know - I am doing my best to return the favor.


I know, I know. But, in South Africa, you had help. And ironing your clothes provided their children with sustenance, shelter and education. Not a bad thing.

Here your ironing takes you away from time with your own kids. Or with your husband. (Try using that argument when he wonders why his underwear isn't pressed and starched!)

You've simply got better ways to spend your time than ironing.

Okay. This makes you uncomfortable. I am messing with your heritage, after all.

So just try this, a little compromise.


Just the children's clothes. Just two weeks.

Noone will notice. Noone will care.

And I promise, it will change your life forever!

Who knows, with all that extra time, and the example you set for your daughters, maybe they will find a cure for AIDS, malaria or TB.

And in the grand scheme of things, isn't that way more important than ironing?!