Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's Called A Tan Line!

I am not making this stuff up.

We see so little sun around here that the people have become afraid of it.

I took Ryan's friend, Celin, with us to the pool last Friday. The temperature had managed to reach into the seventies (Fahrenheit) and every now and then the sun even deigned to peak his head out through the clouds.

My kids stripped to their bathing suits and headed for the water.

Celin carefully chose a spot in the shade and proceeede to apply sunscreen.

SUNSCREEN?!!! My child, we hadn't seen the sun in THREE WEEKS! And it was a partially cloudy 80 degrees F. Honestly, at some point, humans (and guinea pig and chimpanzees) NEED Vitamin D. Really. These three species don't manufacture it themselves.

"But look" Celin said, pulling down her strap. I still have a line from the last time you brought me to the pool." (Three weeks ago, for the record.)

"Must be I got too much sun."

TOO MUCH SUN? HERE? THIS SUMMER? Honey, that's called a tan line.

Although, come to think of it, they probably DON'T have a German word for it.

Andrew's friend Marlon's mom called me a while back too. Appeared she was concerned about all the sun they were getting at soccer camp. (It rained two out of three days, so hard that they ended up inside watching "Die Wilde Kerle" a German youth soccer series.) The third day Marlon apparently came home with a SUNBURN.

"A sunburn?" I asked. It was hard to believe.

"Oh yes. It was gone the next day but it was there when he came home all right."

Okay guys. Enough is enough.

You thought the Scandinavians were that pale genetically?

Let me introduce you to something the rest of the world calls a nice, healthy tan.

Start with a sprinkling of sunshine.

Oh. Never mind.

Stick to applying the sunscreen and pretending you have something to worry about!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Photo taken July 29, 2010. Note not only the rain but the fleece jackets and winter gear. This was the week after Newsweek reported record heat waves in Europe. Two weeks of summer in mid July and that was it though.

Our friend Jochen, German but safely married to an American and living in Phoenix (and now an American too it appears; who would ever have imagined it!) said it best:

"We have summer in Germany. We just call it Wednesday."

Wise ass.

I decided at the park today - we have had three hours of sunshine this week so far - to put it positively. Rain is good. It makes flowers grow. We need water to live.
So that the problem is just that Germany is too much of a good thing for us.

I know, I know, the Brits and Scandinavians will never understand this.

Let me put it this way:

Imagine reading a book outside at the beach. Without a wool sweater, mittens, rainparka and throw rug over your legs.

Imagine wearing sunglasses because you NEED them, and not to make a fashion statement.

Imagine, just imagine, the thrill of a cool breeze, or a nice spot in the shade. As a respite from the sun, not an alternative to it.

Imagine the smell of summer as suntan lotion, burgers on the grill and corn on the cob.

And if you can't imagine that - well, good for you, Europe suits you!

"Well you wouldn't want to SWEAT all the time, would you?"

No. Only in the summer. Or Wednesday here in Europe.

You gotta give 'em credit though. They DO try. Take Andrew's baseball game on July 4. Interrupted by, you guessed it, rain. (They have had THREE practices all of August, this despite a biweekly schedule. The rest cancelled due to...need I even say it?!) The ump was trying to bail home plate out with a shovel to keep it from going under water. So that they could continue the game when the rain let up.

And when it some degree...they kept playing.
That's not a blurry photo. That's a photo through the downpour.

Got to hand it to 'em. They've invented Matschhosen - slick water-tight pants to put on the kids. And just keep right on going.

Maybe you can't miss what you've never had.

Maybe this explains all the beer and Jaeger Meister too.

In any case, I won't ever forget my summers in Germany.

It was a good day!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Dog

Elderly mixed-race (Haitian/German) 30 lb (14 kg)castrated male seeks home and companionship for the German winter.

Catch your attention, I hope? Now I just gotta translate it into German and post it up around the area. With an endearing photo.

Wolfy. We still got Wolfy. Fourteen years AFTER I told my friend Kevin, a missionary in Haiti, that I ABSOLUTELY, UNDER NO CONDITIONS, needed or wanted a dog, that dog is still with us.

He has lived in Haiti, Connecticut, Arizona, France and Germany. Seen the Atlantic and Pacific shores of the USA and vacationed all over Europe.

And now spends his days lying on the sofa and fending off hugs and kisses from the four-year-olds.

His favorite pasttime is breakfast.

Deafness agrees with him, as he is able to ignore just about anything. Including a family of six coming in the door and making dinner while the kids jump on the sofa.

We had a bad spell about four years ago, when the twins were born. In addition to two newborns, a four-year-old and a six-year-old, I was also chasing after an incontinent dog. The vet thought it might be stress. You think?

Wish MY doctors cared as much about MY levels of stress at the time!

Anyhow, he had Cushing's Disease - and still does. An overfunctioning of the adrenal glands, two small organs above the kidneys most people don't even know we have. He does well with one daily tablet of medication.

That someone needs to put forcibly in his throat since he won't take it any other way. The pills cost over 2 Euros a pop so you don't want to find them on the floor later, peanut butter licked off, pill neatly spat out.

Other than that he likes to be in the loop, and part of the family, but can't walk very fast or very far. We take him to the Biergartens with us. It's nice since he doesn't react to other dogs (doesn't hear them barking) and is good with kids. (We had TWENTY over for playgroup yesterday and they LOVED him!)

So yeah...we are looking for a home, permanent or temporary, for a very loveable Opa.

We would risk the flight and 30 day quarantine in Australia if someone will take him for the three to four months from November through February.

(Something came up with a Rabies Neutralizing Antibody Titer Test a few days ago, something we thought we didn't need because of quarantine but which it turns out he DOES need IN ADDITION to quarantine. We can have the test done and bring him with us, but he needs to spend at least two, and up to five, months in Germany after the test. If he spends five here, he only needs one month of quarantine on our end. Which is why he needs a home. We leave in November. If he came with us it would be four months quarantine even if we get the test done now.)

A permament home here would obviously be the best solution, but we realize it is hard to ask someone to take on an older pet on medications. Even a loveable one.

He would be a wonderful companion for someone who would just like a sweet, quiet, canine presence at home. Someone to sit with in the evenings. Someone to follow you into the kitchen looking up at you with adoration- for a slice of whatever you are putting on your sandwich. Someone who will gladly come with you in the car if you like but doesn't demand a lot of activity. Someone you have to force off the sofa to go for his evening walk. And someone you really can take anywhere.

Someone to love as we do.

Then again, he is great with kids. Just kind of toddles along behind them waiting for a piece of pretzel to fall his way. Puts up with the ear and tail tugging with a look of martyrdom on his face. He's been through our four, including it's really going to take a lot to faze him!

Shy, gentle Opa looking for a retirement home. Any takers?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lessons from Kenya

I was outside the Kenyatta Building in Nairobi when he approached me.

"I am going to the USA as an exchange student and I am a little worried about race relations there. Would you be willing to sit and talk with me for a while?"

Alarms went off. They always do, unfortunately. What's this guy's angle? Is he going to ask for cash? Does he want my foreign address? Help with a VISA? Does he just want to hang out with a white girl? Later ask her to visit his mother with him...and then see if she'll spring for four bus tickets (because obviously he has to bring his two cousints along as well) to a remote village six hours away? Is he using the race card - and my guilt as a white American in an African country - against me? You know, me feeling pressured to take him up on his offer just to PROVE that I'm not racist, just to show how truly equal I believe we all are. (Except that I wouldn't pick up a strange WHITE man in England either!)

Fortunately my other alarm was louder. The one that reminded me that not everyone has an angle. That maybe, just maybe, this guy really WAS just an exchange student looking for some tips on life in my country. I'd been staying at a local youth hostel on the outskirts of Nairobi - one of only two non-Africans in the place - and I'd already met so many wonderful people just by sharing a communal sleeping room with the girls and sharing mealtimes together with everyone, cooking our rice together in the small kitchen and then spreading ourselves out over kitchen and living room to eat. True, I had had my passport taken from what I thought was a locked box, but then again I was the one holding the girls apart from one another as they quickly took sides on who was the culprit.

"I can replace the passport," I remember saying, "but I am not going to have our friendships here torn apart by hate and suspicion."

The passport was returned, quietly, a few days later.

And so I thought I should take a chance here too. I assessed the situation. He was well-dressed and well-spoken. (Although I am the first to admit that that means nothing, that I have personally received generosity from the poorest of the poor in Haiti, a free sip of water when I honestly didn't have any money to pay for a soda, the last coconut off a tree in the yard when I was suffering from heat exhaustion.)
But I was in front of the Kenyatta Center, a cultural and diplomatic, government and office complex, with one of the best Chinese restaurants I have ever eaten in, to boot.

I offered to sit for a cup of tea at the sidewalk cafe' a few meters down from the entrance to the Kenyatta Building.

He immediately started in with the whole white guilt thing. Boring. He was just going after the money. But, I felt good that I had given him a chance. I was disappointed, but no harm done. When he finally got around to asking me for the cash - after about half an hour of boring, stupid small-talk - I told him that I couldn't give him any money but that I would gladly pick up the tab for our tea.

It was towards the end of our conversation, when I was signalling to the waiter that I would like to pay, that the other customers at the surrounding tables started furtively trying to capture my attention. "Watch Out! It's the police." I couldn't figure out what they were so upset about. I wasn't doing anything wrong. Why were they warning me about the police?

The police, complete with three-piece suits and Italian shoes, swooped down upon our table. Four of them showed their badges (quickly, so who knew, but then again, did it matter?)and accused us of illegal drug dealings. They made a big show out of forcibly beating, hand-cuffing, and hauling my companion out of the restaurant, claiming he was the head of a Somalian drug ring, someone they had had their eyes on for some time. And I still thought, well, but, we weren't doing anything wrong.

The people around us, God bless them, were still trying to warn me to be careful. "It's the POLICE." they kept saying. Okay. But in my world, the police were still the good guys. And I STILL hadn't done anything wrong.

I realized a few things, as one of the officers was interrogating me, tableside and eyeing my laptop. One was that I was very very lucky that I hadn't handed that guy any money. (What an a'hole - trying to use that white guilt to set me up in a fake police sting!) The police were diligently trying to prove, in public since I was a foreigner, that I was somehow involved in passing money to a Somalian drug lord. The accusation was ridiculous, but it certainly helped that no money had changed hands.

I also realized that Kenyan citizens, in far more danger than I from their police, had risked themselves to warn me.

And that these jerks were looking for a bribe, preferably my laptop. The whole thing had been a set-up and my guess is that the Somalian guy was in on it. (I hoped he was, because the alternative was that a man I had spent over an hour, albeit a boring hour, with, was now being beaten and tortured in a Kenyan prison.)

The laptop belonged to the Parasitology Department of the Veterinary School at the University of Pennsylvania. And it had all my data on tapeworm - how many women and children were affected through sheep, canine transmission- on it. I wasn't giving that up. (Honestly, I should be on a TV show sometimes! Right up there with the time, at a Haitian voudou ceremony, when they showed me a sword from the Napoleonic era and I kept thinking, Indiana Jones style, my goodness, this should be in a museum!)

Plus, it pissed me off. I hadn't done anything wrong. I saw the movie "Midnight Express" on movie night in a resort in Antigua as a fourteen year old, and have never ever ever....well, okay, but less than a handful of time in two years in Haiti...done something illegal in a foreign country. Watch the movie, about a young man (British maybe? I don't know - I only saw it that one time and it was enough.) who is put into a Turkish prison. A movie to show ALL of your children before they head off anywhere abroad.

I saw the movie, and had seen the inside of a Kenyan prison as well when I went there to report my stolen passport, and knew I was in trouble regardless of the fact that I had done nothing wrong.

And still....I wouldn't give them the laptop. (A friend and I a few years earlier had spent an entire day in the Nairobi post office trying to pick up an Easter package from my Oma in Germany. We went in circles from post to post, getting little pieces of papter stamped an punched, only realizing at closing time that they had been waiting for a bribe to speed things along! Years later, in Haiti, Damon let the post office worker have his pick of gifts from the package before even TRYING to pay and get out of there. Worked in seconds flat and everyone was happy.)

I still don't like corruption.

I knew I had one advantage. I was white. I was in a public place. And if I made enough of a fuss, and stayed visible, then I would be able to make enough of a scene to attract attention at the Kenyatta Center.

The police finally insisted that they would have to take me to the station. And I knew that if I got in that van with those four men I was at their mercy. And at that point they might be pissed off enough to want more than my laptop. There was one man to each side of me, one running ahead to the police van parked on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, and one behind.

I just kept walking, ignoring the tugs on my arms, kept walking right out of the restaurant, quickly past the van, and into the sight of the Kenyatta Building. They hadn't expected resistance - I'd been meek so far - and I'd taken them by surprise. Try as they might to convince me to turn around and get into the van, we were now in the open square outside of the Kenyatta Building, four Kenyan police officers and one young white girl. Four police officers who couldn't afford to have their actions questioned by the politicians in the building. The element of secrecy was gone and I felt my breath coming easier as I walked straight up the ramp to the Kenyatta Center, showed my passport to the armed guard in front, and kept going.

The police stayed outside.

I was safe. Safe in the Kenyatta Center because of my whiteness and my foreign citizenship.

Nice story. Over 15 years ago. In a foreign country. With a corrupt African foreign government as the bad guy.

But we are kidding ourselves if we don't think the same thing can't happen today, to us, in the white country we live in, or are citizens of.

Homeschooling is illegal in Germany (and Sweden and China and North Korea) and my children can be taken away from me for wanting to teach them my values, my way. Same-sex marriage is still illegal in most of the USA. Like interracial marriage was only a few short decades ago. And there are other causes all over the world still worth fighting for. (Do you want the RIGHT to own a gun? The RIGHT to an abortion? Not even the gun itself, or the abortion, but the right to determine your own future. I'm willing to fight for the RIGHT alone.)

Racial segregation was GOVERNMENT POLICY in South Africa and in the USA. Forced removal of mixed-race Aboriginal children from their parents was GOVERNMENT POLICY in Australia. For their own good. Like public schooling.

And we can't ever forget that the forced concentration and slaughter of Jews was also GOVERNMENT POLICY not that long ago.

We are lucky. We live in free, open and democratic societies.

But we are damn stupid if we give up fighting for our human liberties within these societies.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Angels on the Playground

The first time I remember seeing an angel was when Andrew was three and a half years old. We were at the annual October horse show in Boeblingen and Andrew was, in typical Andrew-fashion, playing on a big circle of large rocks outside the warm-up dressage ring. He was jumping from rock to rock. It looked pretty dangerous - the rocks were spaced pretty far apart for a three year old - but it was Andrew. He'd been walking - running, practically - since he was seven months old. No fear. No way of stopping him.

I'd gotten looks at playgrounds all over Germany for the things he was allowed to do at such an early age - climbing, jumping and swinging from bar to bar since he was two - but it was either let him learn NOW or tie him down and listen to him scream. I'd read somewhere that children don't attempt to do things they physically aren't capable of and so here he was, unable to string two whole sentences together in either English or German, but jumping from rock to rock like a first-grader.

And then he slipped off the edge of the rock he was landing on. I was too far away to do anything but note the location of the ambulance (always on hand at a horse show) as he fell straight back, the back of his head in perfect position to make full contact with the rock behind of him. It fell in perfect trajectory towards the rock.

And stopped, as if landing on a cushion - or a hand, just before hitting the rock itself. His head bounced off of something above the rock. Andrew was fine.

Now, the practical part of me would attribute it to good cervical control. That Andrew just raised his head himself. Except that I saw it too. And saw the height from which he was falling, straight back, and the speed with which he fell.

Sure, call it cervical muscle control if it makes you feel better.

But I knew I'd just witnessed the act of an angel.

After that, I joked that Andrew probably had not one, but two, angels keeping him from harm. Andrew just never gets hurt. In comparison to his younger brothers, and to his friends, he has never fallen or run into or tripped even a quarter as much as the rest of them. Born athlete? Maybe. Just lucky? That too.

But my guess is he's keeping those angels pretty busy upstairs. I can imagine the rotation schedule.

"Oh man, I got that Connor kid again."

"Andrew? You're in for it. That's okay though, they give you an extra two weeks off after that detail. 'Cause you know, in addition to Andrew, you have to lend a hand with a bunch of others every now and then."

And the look of sheer exhaustion of the other angel, just coming off duty, as she staggers in for a turn in the sauna and sun bath.

Once I started looking though, I realized there are angels everywhere on the playground. My guess is they have a couple positioned near the swings at all times. I witnessed another intervention this week on the Tuebingen playground. Once again, I was too far away to do anything but plan first aid procedures as a three year old ran behind an eight year old on the swing. The eight year old was pumping strong. And there was no way that swing was going to miss that little kid and not send him headfirst into the pavement behind them.

Except it did. From my viewpoint, directly opposite the swing, it looked as if the kid's head just walked THROUGH the swing. And walked out the other side unharmed.

I don't think I have to convince any parents who visit playgrounds regularly that there is something magical going on around the swings. Sure, kids do get hurt occasionally. But not nearly as much as one expects. And we all see the near misses. And c'mon, cut the angels a little slack too. They're also the ones catching the kids who fall from the monkey bars.

You really start believing in divine aid, literal divine aid, when you have one-year old twins. Ever seen a child learning to walk? With the parent right behind to catch'em? Right behind 'em on the cement stairs. On the slide. On the swings and teeter-totter.

WHen you have two going in two different directions, you generally have a decision to make. Do I get the one heading for the cement stairs or the one about to throw himself into the baby pool? You make a quick calculation - I usually did the pool-kid (Matthew) first because water was a SURE killer and cement was just a possibility. And then scooped up Aidan from the stairs. Granted, Aidan was FASTER and maybe I should have gone after him, but....they are both still here so I guess I did okay.

My twins DID bump their heads more that most kids. I guess even the angels get tired. But noone ever got seriously hurt. And I'm willing to attribute that to a little help on the side.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Living the Past

I find that I'm enjoying the past a lot more now that I'm not living in it.

We took the kids to Tuebingen the other day. It's an old medieval town only twenty minutes away, with one of the oldest and best universities in all of Germany. (Kind of like the Harvard of Germany.) And where the twins were born.

It has always been one of our favorite places to visit. We have our favorite student eatery that serves huge Pfannkuchen - and all four kids, even when two of them were newborns. (If we see them making faces when we walk into a restaurant, we just head right back out. No need to deal with that. I believe we are ALL happier this way.)

A picturesque town square complete with decorated half-wood houses and a Rathaus so pretty people get married on it. An entire medieval old town, a walk along the gondola-filled river. Church. Big old church. And lots of young and young-at-heart hippy, crunchy types and the cool, hippy stores that serve them. We feel right at home.

But even I admit to getting bored. There is a LOT to see in this area, but we have been here a LONG time. (Six years is a flicker in time to my Swabian friends here in town, but longer than either Damon or I have lived ANYWHERE before in our lives.) Been there, done that. Weren't any T-shirts to buy though.

So that when we went there this time it was nice to see that leaving a place can make it fonder in my heart.

Take the old castle. Built in 1040. Yawn. Except we aren't going to see anything like it in Australia. All of a sudden it was interesting again.

The twins played knights in the old passageways.

I managed to impress upon Andrew the need to take his picture under a sign showing where some guy from Basil (sorry dude, Watson and Crick so totally took your fifteen minutes in anywhere but Tuebingen!) who first isolated nucleic acid in the 1800s.

History. So cool.

But something I am enjoying more now only because leaving it behind makes it something special once again!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


(Written August 12, but left out to cool before posting!)

I'm sorry, but we still don't get it.

I AM speaking for MOST, if not ALL women everywhere. (I can see a hunter-gather woman yelling at her husband. "Honestly, can't you let the blood drain out in the field? Do I have to do EVERYTHING around here! Now I have to go back out with it - asking Anita to help me since it's a large doe - and do it myself. Might as well just go and hunt it myself too.")

We had some folks over the other week to celebrate Damon's new Australian citizenship. Surprise party and everything. Complete with Australian wine, South African wine, Califorian wine and German wine. Our friends know what we like! (In retrospect, the wine list reflected the guest list.)

11 kids total. But they played well. (Or at least we think they did. We were busy taking care of the wine!)

It was nice for Damon to have some guy pals around to back him up against me and my lady friends.

"We just don't like to be told what to do," they all said.

Which I believe we ladies all related to.

But what I still don't get, and Damon can't explain, is why it doesn't get done until he's been suggested at, asked, prompted, reminded, discussed over with, finally told and then screamed and yelled at.

Why DOESN'T "it" get done until we ARE, admittedly, throwing a crazy, hysterical hissy fit complete with tears, threats and sometimes copius amounts of medication (see wine list above) afterwards? WHY do I have to turn into a crazy person for it to get done?

We finally got rid of our couch yesterday. The brief, but fiery, argument beforehand most likely helped fuel Damon's energy in ripping the thing apart and taking it to the dump. Then he cleaned the VW we are posting to sell this week. AND he began to clear his stuff out of the room upstairs. All of which I had been all but begging him to do for WEEKS now. (I would try begging but I think he would see through that.)

I'm NOT angry. I'm a little resigned to the fact that this is just the way it is going to work. I ask for weeks until I can't stand it and blow up. He gets angry, does more than I ask. It gets done. We both get over it.

Except I've got a list of about five other things I've been asking him to look into for a few weeks. Things that are still on the nagging stage, but not fully into crazy, angry woman will make me do it stage.

To be fair, I've got a list like that for me too.

But I hate that I HAVE to turn into a crazy woman for him to take his list seriously.

I KNOW he's got other stuff to do. Little things like earning an income, settling bills (which I am SO doing again once we move), applying for jobs, and dealing with bureacracies on three continents.

But he's doing them on the bed upstairs, with a cup of coffee in his hand, and his other arm supporting his head on the pillow as he hosts a professional meeting between two other people - presumably in the same position on their ends - from India and Belgium.

Which makes me see where the differences lie.

Hunter brings home meal. Vital. Hard work. Job done. (And admittedly, this is NOT Damon's attitude at all - nor that of many close male friends of mine, but one I do see very often in other husbands. "I earned the do the rest.")

(That last paragraph is going to get me into lots of trouble, isn't it? But I really am TRYING to see the other viewpoint. I was a practicing veterinarian too. I was BEAT when I came home from work. Clients suck. Please DO comment and make me understand it. You know, the boss is on your case, your coworker makes you do all the work, the other one is out on maternity leave AGAIN and the part-timers, mostly mothers, always leave their work for you to finish up and correct. THEN you have to come home, to a wife who has been eating bon-bons on the sofa all day, and help her feed, bathe and put three kids to bed. And walk the dog. Doesn't she do ANYTHING all day?!)

But I'm talking about an office job here. I had one of those too briefly. Sorry, piece of cake compared to a veterinary practice OR staying home with the kids. Quiet. Desk. Damon's case....working from home.

Must be nice to be able to casually finish up the conversation, put down the coffee mug and stretch the second hand behind your head, satisfied of a job completed and well done, while still in your running pants and T-shirt.

So that when I come upstairs, also in sweaty running pants and T-shirt but not feeling quite so good about it, and he casually asks me HOW I would like him to tear apart the couch, my entire body twitches. HOW TO TEAR APART THE FRIGGIN' COUCH? AFTER WEEKS AND WEEKS AND WEEKS? I HONESTLY DON"T GIVE A RATS TAIL HOW JUST GET IT THE HELL OUT OF HERE.

And he doesn't get why I am foaming at the mouth.

Maybe because he assumes the homey smell wafting from the kitchen means that an hour of baking cupcakes with two four year olds should have me feeling at peace with the world. You know, flour on the face, two kids learning how to measure, pour and stir. Maternal bliss.

Because he's been on the phone with India and Belgium and hasn't heard the milk and flour sloshing on the floor from Aidan and Matthew's athletic stirring technique, or me wrestling the measuring cups away from one to give the other a turn, or trying to keep the uncooked batter out of their bellies....mostly to keep their hands out of the uncooked batter.

He sees the painted backs and bellies - lions this week - and the African jungle cutouts painted the color of the German flag and thinks all is right with the world. I even took picture of the paper pizzas we made to learn fractions with Ryan and Andrew to PROVE and DOCUMENT how right it is with the world.

And it IS right with the world.

It's just scary to know that I NEED help with this move this time. I CANNOT physically continue certain steps until he clears out his stuff, or helps me remove that piece of furniture. We NEED to GET STUFF OUT for me to pack what's left.

Don't get me wrong. Damon is an awesome father, friend and husband in other ways. Can't ask for a better dad for the kids or a better friend for me.

Once I lose it, once he sees I am finished and gone, he takes over the kids while I recover.

And he gets to feel really good that he's helping me out.

I just can't see how to get him to do it BEFORE I lose it, so that I don't HAVE to be finished and done.

"We don't like to be told what to do." they all said.

"You just need to ask politely."

Really? REALLY?!

I'm going to just go with the fact that this is the way it is. That men and women are wired differently. That this is what makes the whole crazy having kids and passing on genes thing work.

Honestly, sperm, eggs...pregnancy, CHILDBIRTH. LIVING TOGETHER as man and wife and raising a family? How weird is all that?

I'm just never going to understand God.

Convincing argument that He is a man after all!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Twins ARE Special

"What IS it about Aidan and Matthew that all the other kids can't stop raving about them?"

"All my son talks about is Aidan and Matthew."

"What are we going to do without Aidan and Matthew in the kindergarten next year?"

"My son has asked for a sibling so that he can be like Aidan and Matthew."

What IS it about twins that has us all so fascinated?

Even twins themselves. My two LOVE it when they see a pair of newborn twins in a double stroller. "Twins. Twins. Like us." they whisper excitedly. They followed one unsuspecting grandmother around a playground last year. My two tiny stalkers.

When Gaetan, Claire and Chloe brought THEIR Aidyn and Mia to visit my two each claimed one for their own. Aidan got Aidyn. And Matthew got Mia. They were so pleased.

The kids in kindergarten clearly sense that something special between the two of them. I'm getting complaints from the mothers that their single sons are asking for a brother, just like Aidan and Matthew have.

I'm not sure how it is with boy-girl twins. Or identicals. Two girls. But I do know that my two little men - with entirely different temperaments - still have enough in common with that Y chromosome and shared age - that they have a best bud to knock down, roll around and generally have punchy fun with.

Oh sure, it can get ugly too. Kiddy boxing with equally matched opponents. But for the most part they simply get the biggest kick out of eachother.

I'd been so worried about them retaining an individual identity. No sweat there. They each have their own - warped - sense of fashion. ANd even when they DO elect to wear the same outfit at the same time - or I decide for them out of lack of creativity that morning - well, they wear them very differently.

So that they are NOT clones of eachother.

Just brothers who are lucky enough to be the same age.

It's fun watching them grow into that twin bond, exciting watching them realize what it means.

And now that they're four, I get to be special too. I'm a mother who survived the baby years with twins. I am WAY more laid back than mothers with only one child. I've nursed two. I've changed two. I've fed two. Bathed two. Carried two. Up stairs. With the groceries.

Honestly, you live through've earned the privilege to enjoy them a bit now too!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


No really. This isn't about swear words.

It isn't about getting on a half hour hay ride after an hour of waiting in line and then having your four-year-old announce he has to go peepee. (Not ours. Although German daddy did exactly what ran through my mind when his kid made the announcement!)

This is about cleaning the bathroom for guests. (Because with two four-year-old boys you DO want to clean up before your friends with two and three year olds come over.)

This is about cleaning up the bathroom for guests and then finding one of those guests on her hands and knees in front of the toilet wiping up the suspicious-looking liquid from the floor, toilet seat, walls and....well, anything in reach.

Lori had offered to clean my toilet for me when I was nine months pregnant with the twins (that and Erika offering to donate her AND her husband's blood when my platelet count was dropping are still two of the nicest things people have ever offered to do for me) but it still wasn't gratifying to actually have her do it four years later.

"What the heck happened here?" I asked.

There was a step stool pulled over to the toilet, 7 boys in the house, 4 of them under the age of four, and so anything was possible.

Oh well. The floor HAD been clean only two hours before.

It got better the following week when I was picking up the boys' room in preparation for Damon's surprise party. 11 kids expected. And some parents. I was still picking things up off the floor when Anita arrived and followed me in. Unfortunately, she and I were having such a good time talking that I forgot to pick up that suspicious little brown thing on the carpet next to the boys' mattress.

"Oh, what is that?" I asked, not at all embarrassed by now. After all, I'd already had Lori cleaning up my bathroom the week before.

Anita laughed.

About twenty minutes later her 3 year old daughter, Hannah, came out to join us on the balcony. She was accompanied by a rather strong smell. A trail of dark brown footprints followed her from the boys' room to the balcony.

Oh. I suddenly remembered what I'd forgotten to pick up.

Pour everyone some more wine and begin next to the bed with cleanup. The kids found it fascinating.

"What you doin'"

"What's it look like?

"What is that?

"Once again, what does it look like?"

The kids couldn't believe noone was getting in trouble.

The adults continued to enjoy themselves out on the balcony.

Reminding me, yet again, that it isn't about perfection.

It's about how you deal with imperfection.

Reminding me, too, that I don't need a perfect house in order to invite friends over.

Heck, it only takes one errant stream of urine to turn my clean bathroom into a flood zone anyway.

I believe it was Erma Bombeck who said, "cleaning the house while you have children in it is like shovelling the driveway while it's still snowing."

If only it were that pretty!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Paying It Forward

I'll be the first to admit we were annoyed at how little the bed sold for on Ebay.

It's like everyone is expecting us to give this stuff away for free.

And we DO need to get rid of it, but honestly, is noone thinking about how much money we are going to need to finance a move to Australia?

Answer: No. Certainly not on Ebay. Where they don't know us and where the name of the game is, fair and square, to try and bid at the last second and get it for as little as possible.

And then we meet the families and are thrilled to be able to help someone else with young children, or a new baby (or two!) on the way. We end up throwing extra stuff in the car as they pull away. Especially people from the American military base.

"Hey. Can you use this rug? Not sure? Well, lookie here, it fits right in your trunk next to the naked Barbie dolls and plastic pistols I threw in. Don't worry, if you don't like it when you get home, just chuck it in the dumpster on base."

So that it really IS working both ways.

Sure, we were hoping to get a bit more for some of the stuff. But only because everyone else kept telling us to ask for it. Truth is, people want bargains. And we need to get it off our hands. So that helping others - and working on generosity as a state of mind - is making up for the difference in price.

Take the Ebay buyers. We'd been selling most things through the American military base. It's a mobile culture. Folks are friendly. And we figured we'd be dealing with less haggling. (And it has been so much fun to reconnect with the Americans; my goodness, we know all about you people within two minutes of meeting you!)

And then the Swabians came for the bed. For their five year old daughter. Who was so thrilled to be able to have the same one (Lo series bunkbed, white) as her younger brother. Because they were a little tight on cash since the third baby came. Aw.

And the cutest little German/Italian couple, pregnant with their first child, glowing and proud, a little shy at our exuberance, but oh so darling as they start their family.

The Schwabs gave us a bottle of Sekt (champagne) as a thank-you gift. The Italians gave us oil and vinegar from Sardinia. Yesterday someone brought small presents for the kids. We have yet to meet a German at the door who isn't carrying a small token of their thanks - for BUYING our stuff.


It honestly isn't about the gifts themselves at all. Although we were dancing for joy in the kitchen at the smell of the authentic oil and vinegar.

Someone else was grateful. For something we did for them.

And they thought of us.

I am trying to let go of the fear; the fear of not having enough. I am thrilled to be living with less. And I am happy to be helping others.

So that, while we do try to get a little something for the larger pieces, I am also happy to give as much as I can away to friends. And strangers.

Selling our car reminded me of when we bought one from a soldier on base over four years ago. We were the first to see the ad, drive it, and offered to buy it on the spot. (It's all luck and timing.) Hand-shake deal til registration opened on Monday. On Monday the owner informed us that he had been offered $500 more over the weekend than the $2000 he had advertised. And still sold it to us for the $2000. Because of a handshake and a sense of fairness. (Another guy gave us our money back on the first truck we bought because the truck broke down in the first week.)

We had to sell our new car within a month when we found out baby four was following a little earlier than planned - 12 minutes after baby number three - but that was easy too. I'm telling you, if you want fair, deal with the soldiers on base. (I'm not always a big fan of the U.S GOVERNMENT and I absolutely CANNOT work with the military bureaucracy - as if that surprises any of you who know me - but it did surprise me at how much I like, REALLY LIKE, the individual soldiers and families I have met here. I'm a hippy by nature. So far to the left that I have swung around to connect with the right, as I like to say!)

This weekend we are honoring a same handshake agreement until Monday. What goes around comes around. And vice versa. Maybe this is why good things happen to good people. If not karma, a sense of peace knowing you are doing what is right.

And, let's face it, we are paid in other ways as well. Our twin stroller is going to a lovely young lady pregnant with her first TWO children. She also bought the Baby Bjorn style baby carriers, complete with comedy video on how to use them. Even after seeing the photo of me TRYING to use them.

I made her pose with Aidan and Matthew - and the stroller - before we put it in the trunk.

No amount of money is as valuable as being able to say good-bye to a part of your life - and know it is going on to enrich the lives of someone else.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beavis and Butthead


"Poopy poopy."

heh heh heh heh heh

"Poopy head."

heh heh heh

"Poopy ON your head."

heh heh heh heh heh heh heh

The problem is that this is a private conversation. Aidan and Matthew are quietly playing together in their room. They aren't doing anything wrong. They aren't fighting, bothering anyone, or using inappropriate language, really.

I DON'T like them to use that word in public, and I don't like them to use it repeatedly as a dumb joke.

But, I'm not in the room.

They find this conversation totally fascinating.

"Head on your poopy."

heh heh heh he heh heh

The weird thing is that I now finally get Beavis and Butthead.

Great. My boys laugh like Beavis and Butthead.

With the same classy sense of humor.

I don't get it.

But they've got a rapt audience in eachother.

And most of the 3 to 4 year old viewing audience.

Girls too, at this stage.

While I don't get the comedy, I do get a kick out of watching them delight and amuse one another. They are bonding.


I don't get it at my age. Why should it be any different at theirs?!

heh heh heh heh heh

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Playgroup Family

Okay, to the REST of the world we make sure to call ourselves the ENGLISH GROUP. It's not a playgroup, we tell ourselves. We are here to make sure our children- children growing up here in Germany with at least one native-English speaker in the house - learn and feel comfortable with OUR language. (And we use the term native-speaker fairly loosely, to include South Africans, Americans and even New Zealanders! Note:: I got one of each in the shot of Anita, Cindy and Ursula at this past year's Christmas party.)

But, to most of us, it is family as well.

I joined the group five years ago. They, more than any family across the Atlantic could, supported me through a twin pregnancy, years one and two with twins, the total exhaustion at the end of year two, several miscarriages, lots of personal quirks and foibles, and the recovery that has brought me back today.

All I got is mush and melodrama. They were here for the good, the bad, the ugly and all the silliness and fun in between.

Spent today at Killesberg Park in Stuttgart, one of our optional summer group activities. Sob.

And so....a kitschy photo story about summers with my family.

A bunch of us at the water park in Sindelfingen, August 2007. A row of strollers. We'd all had babies within a few months of eachother. We sent Sue and Ursula out for KFC and spent the day in the sun.

Lynette as I will always remember her. She is now living on a goat farm in western Canada. And yes, she DID have a fourth child, so STOP ASKING!

Lori and Sue

Sue, Sherry and Lynette with strollers (and kids) in Killesberg Park, 2007. They make it look good!

Sophie and a LARGE glass of Fanta, Killesberg Park, 2009

Johanna and Lucy. Oh yeah, and the kids.

Love this shot! Lucy wondering how she ended up with everyone's kids! If this isn't family, I don't know what is!

Still making it look good! Lori, Lucy and Liesl this time.

Sarah and Cindy today at Killesberg.

I'm happy to be moving on, but happy too, that I am sad to leave some things behind.

I honestly don't know where I'd be today without this family.

The other residents at the hospital in Calw Hirsau - where I spent two weeks in psychiatic care two years ago - had a joke that when anybody with an accent called it was for Christine. English. American. New Zealand. South African. Whatever. They considered those calls my family.

I don't know that I was any less crazy than the folks I left behind at the hospital. Or that any of us is. The biggest difference I had - the biggest advantage and the biggest incentive to GET THE HELL OUT - was that I had somewhere else to be. I had family waiting.

Thank you guys. (I warned you it was kitschy!)

Monday, August 9, 2010

"The" Plan!

I've been writing this blog for almost 18 months now.

And, I'll be honest, I do it for me.

Getting it off my chest is saving us loads in psychotherapy.

But things are changing and it might be time for more than first-draft ramblings of whatever comes into my head.

I feel I can do better.

And you may be feeling you deserve better too.

1. I'd like to devote Fridays to an ESL blog. Which is going to be a LOT easier said than done. Because it requires forethought and editing. More than one draft of what comes off the top of my head. I do it for two reasons. One is as an exercise for myself. I can do better. And I do it for my German-speaking friends who keep expressing an interest in the blog, but find it too confusing to read regularly. Sure, I find myself witty as all hell....but, if you are trying to figure out the isn't nearly as much fun. Most of my friends do read English and they would like to keep in touch as I drag my brood halfway around the globe. So...I will attempt to catch everyone up, and work on all of our English skills at the same time.

2. I've thought of Mondays as a general update on events in our family. Because, again, we are leaving....and because some of you are curious as heck to hear how it all works out. I've never found family narratives very entertaining myself but.....well, we will do our best to amuse and entertain! (Looking at Jim's blog over the weekend I realize that adding some photos might liven up the updates!)

3. But I know you'd all miss my revelations on life, personal growth and the universe as I know it.....

4. I will also have all four kids home as of August. And spending time on our education. And getting rid of all our stuff. Which is NOT as easy to do in Germany as one might suspect. (What? Poor people in Germany won't take a used kitchen table? Well the Red Cross might not so...they never have a choice.) SO that my writing - and this blog - may suffer from the time I put in elsewhere. My goal will be a weekly family update and also progress on our home-schooling experiment. What I learn. Oh yeah - what the kids learn too. Although I'm betting I learn as much - or more - than they do. Typical.

4. Somehow I hope to merge into a travellog too. The crazy German-American in Australia. I think this COULD be interesting - and funny- as hell. All the assumptions that are wrong. All the expectations going topsy-turvy. Preconceptions out the window. Obviously, I'll still be writing from the viewpoint of a parent - and a person - so it should just be a new perspective on an old journey.

In between, I have to figure out how to work from a new computer, with a different email system. And maybe where to get laundry done. And find edible food. In France. (Hmmmm- isn't McDonald's a hot spot?!) Or Stuttgart. Or...oh honestly, please don't try to pin me down on autumn housing plans at the moment! And make sure the kids don't run wild in the streets and get caught by the home-schooling police! So that my whole tiny, ordered, neat, predictable day-to-day routine will be shattered. (Have I EVER had an ordered, neat, predictable day-to-day routine! Let's just work with me on this one, shall we?!)

So...Monday updates, Wednesdays personal views on life as I try to understand it, and Fridays English as a Second Language. And somewhere in between...the beginnings of a German-American viewpoint on Australia.

Or something like that.

Let the games begin!

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I've discovered - and succumbed to - a new disease. It's not writer's block. I am writing like crazy, every chance I get. Notebook at the ready. Rewrites not being rewritten. New stories and ideas. Old stories with new twists. The creativity is all there, spewing out....unfiltered, unedited, partially processed.

Man, have I got GREAT ideas to share. I got stuff you just GOTTA hear.

Except...well...I'm going to call it EDITOR'S block.

Don't you, the reader, deserve MORE than my unedited stream of consciousness? Do you REALLy want to know how I feel about the school system in Germany? Is my view on the nature of life and change REALLY something you need to hear? Shouldn't I try to pull it together a bit more, tighten it up, make some connections, wait for something REALLY and truly witty or insightful?

Do you really want to read unprocessed ME?

Thank goodness I have the cure for this disease too. Monthly Writers' Group in Stuttgart. Phew.

"So, what's up with the blog lately, Christine? You doing any writing?"

"Well yeah, but.....see above paragraph."

"Oh. That's you thinking like an editor, Christine." says Jim. (And he should know!)

Jim then proceeds to tell me about creative push-ups, the work we need to put into anything, the preparation, the PROCESS...just the sheer act of getting it down on paper, snapping a photo, sitting to an instrument and playing what sometimes amounts to sheer crap, in order to buff ourselves up for the good stuff.

The thing is you don't need to show anyone this stuff, but you do need to keep on doing it.

And POSTING the blog makes me keep on writing.

So that this is what you get; the good, the bad, the ugly, the irrelevent, the uninteresting....oh and every now and then, if we are lucky, the seeds of something really good.

So that my job is to write.....

It probably is a similar thing to writer's block, this fear of posting. Even ten years ago you just didn't write it if it sucked. Now you can post anything on the Internet in seconds flat. With no discrimination as to value.

So that I can panic and try to present a perfect finished piece....and hence, never post anything. Or let you all see the worst of it and decide for yourself what to keep and what to throw out.

Funny thing there is, and I believe this is where an editor and an audience comes in, is that some of the stuff I am most truly embarrassed of (honestly, did you REALLY want to hear about the town hall meeting in ALTDORF?!)is some of the stuff that people really want to hear. (Answer: yes!)

My blog is process. My main character is myself. (I don't believe I ever even pretended it was about the kids. It was about me learning from the kids.) I learn as I write: about writing, about what people like to read, and about myself.

And it turns out I'm a fairly interesting and likeable character...or at least a character that keeps 'em guessing and talking!

Is my novel out there? I've started three this year.

Do you deserve better than my ramblings? Sure.

But unless I do these pushups, and do them regularly....the stories won't be written. I want to write fiction. I want funny, witty, characters people will relate to. And I want them to say something about the human condition - without actually coming out and hitting you over the head with it.

Until I get there thanks for helping me count the pushups.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Moving Issues

The problems aren't at all what you'd imagine.

It was easy to get rid of the sandbox. "We can't take all that sand with us on the airplane, now can we?" I reasoned.

"Where are we going?" they asked.

"To the beach." I replied.

"In Australia!" they chimed back.

Well-drilled. They have no idea what such a move really means - but they're looking forward to it as much as Christmas. It's all in the telling, folks. It's all in the attitude.

The spiders are an issue. We taught Andrew about the pressure wrap and practiced dialing "000" but he's still leary. Snakes too.

Aidan was just in hysterics over the small, German spider that he found on his leg. No amount of reasoning and looking at it under the insect scope was going to reassure him.

In retrospect, also not good things to be teaching him when the bite of the funnel spider in Sydney can kill you in under four hours. ("C'mon mates" they reassure you in the tourist books "you've got FOUR HOURS to get to a hospital.)

Maybe the bug kit complete with net and tweezers wasn't the best choice of a birthday present this year. Maybe fears of spiders should stay fears of spiders.

"Pressure wrap, boys. Put a pressure wrap on it."

It's become a bit of a family motto in the last year.

"What about all those sharks and jelly fish?" the other parents from Andrew's class asked us around the campfire on Friday. The box jelly CAN kill you quickly. Mostly because the paralysis - and sheer pain - causes you to drown.

"Shhh. We haven't told them about those yet." I replied.

We like swimming. And it's going to stay that way.

Aidan would like a bicycle. I believe they have those there too. Andrew wants an Ipod. Switching continents isn't going to stop them from growing up.

Ryan just wants a Brumby. (Any horse will do though.)

We've discovered American military families are happy to relieve us of our possessions. The rest can go to the Red Cross.

So that it's really all a lot easier than you'd think.

I'm not saying it's as easy as throwing on a pack-bag with flashlight, sunscreen, bugspray, water and a change of underwear and heading off for the weekend on your bicycle as a Peace Corps volunteer in Haiti.

Then again - sounds like the sunscreen and bugspray will come in handy in Australia too!

And honestly - the important things don't fit in a suitcase anyway!