Friday, March 31, 2006
Expat wrote a wonderful post about not wanting to die in Germany. He was homesick and was reflecting on living in another country. He made a lovely point:
Life has been good to me just like the Joe Walsh song suggests…not “Bill Gates” good but good enough. Still, I don’t want to wind-up being a picture on a wall in Germany.
I was looking at the comments to this post and saw that some random guy, "Greg," had a few . . . shall we say . . . issues with the post. "You losers should go home . . . You don't know how good you have it." I started to think about whining, homesickness and going home. And then I realized that this random guy totally does not get it.
First, let me say that I actually like living in Germany. However, I am Navy Brat. I have moved my whole life. I learned quickly that you make your "home." Also, complaining about it 24/7 only makes it worse, so the best one can do is try to make the best out of it. My life's philosophy: When God gives you lemons, make lemonade.
When I moved to Germany in 2004 for the third time, it took a while to get used to the fact that I will most likely spend the rest of my days here. Language barriers are a problem. I don't care if you live in freeking paradise, not being able to speak your mother language can get frustrating. I speak fluent German, but when I am at family gatherings after a few hours I get tired. It is work. And I definitly find myself sometimes thinking that I have landed on another planet.
Nonetheless, I accept all of this. I love my husband. I enjoy my job. I try to have my home reflect my personality. That said, NO ONE can be happy and content 24/7 with their lifes choices. Not even someone on mood enhancing drugs. And anyone who tells you different, is lying - Greg.
Homesickness Happens. It does. Often in unexpected ways, at unexpected times. Last night the German and I were watching a Thanksgiving episode of Friends. Chandler was watching the Macy's Parade. I got a pang in my chest. I realized how much I miss that tradition. And for a brief moment I wanted the nearest airport. But then the German snuggled closer and I looked around at my semi-American apartment and it was okay.
So, if I want to write about those brief moments when I feel sad and / or alone. I will do it. It does not mean that I am complaining. I am reflecting on a moment. It will pass, but I will not deny my feelings. And that, Greg, does not make me a loser. I like reading blogs of expats, especially when they reflect on their own feelings about living here. It makes me feel normal to know that other people are going through the same thing. Also, I think that maybe we can try and help each other out. Get through the hard times in order to enjoy the good times.
Finally, it may be true. I may be loser. But I am a loser for other reasons. I am a loser because I watch Germany's Next Top Model while eating ice cream. I am a loser because I was the captain of the debate team in high school. Being human, Greg, does not make me a loser. So, as my Grandpa would say, put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Read the post tprovokedoked this outburst:
My Expatriate Odyssey...Among other things: Life's been good to me, but...
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Last night Germany chose its Next Top Model. The winner is the lovely Lena G. It turns out that Lena is from Cloppenburg!! The Next Top Model website lists Oldenburg as her home, but last night when they showed pictures of Lena at school, it was Cloppenburg. I can only imagine that they listed Oldenburg because it is bigger and no one knows where the hell Cloppenburg is.
As you can see from her picture (the picture is from the ProSieben website), Lena is very pretty. In fact, I predicted weeks ago that she would win. I find it a little hard to believe that she just turned 18!
The show is the talk of Cloppenburg today. I went into my office building today to get a few things. My office is on the same floor as Lawyer Guy and Media Man. I asked them if they thought this was an indicator that the women in Cloppenburg are more beautiful than others.
Lawyer Guy thinks that there are more women in Cloppenburg as a result of the high birthrate, and therefore, statistically you are more likely to find a beautiful woman here. I am not sure I buy that, but okay.
So there you go. Reasons to live in Cloppenburg.
1. Low Unemployment. Check!
2. Good Schools. Check! (this is after all the county seat of county Cloppenburg.)
3. High Economic Growth rate. Check!
4. Affordable Housing. Check! (just make sure you can get a loan!)
5. Smoking hot women. Double Check! (hey I live here to you know!)
6. Doesn't smell like manure . . . oh, man. We were so close.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
The meeting went really well. The people were super nice and the company is interesting and I am convinced that my partner and I will be able to help them reach their goals. As I walked to my car, the sun came out. It was beautiful and warm. For a minute everything seemed perfect. In fact, I was all, "I rock! I am the bomb!" I put on Fleetwood Mac really high, took in the sun and drove to my next appointment.
Then God was all like, "Yeah, Claire, don't get too big of a head." Then I read the signs wrong and took a wrong turn on the A1 and started driving to Osnabruck instead of towards Bremen. My little detour wound up adding 15 minutes to my drive and I was almost late for my next lesson.
There you go. Claire . . . the bomb . . . or a complete idiot. Perhaps a bit of both.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
I have been thinking about this post for awhile. Every time I visit a new site, I always visit the “things to know about me first” or “40 things about me” post. I like knowing things up-front, and these types of posts are easy and, more often than not, funny and interesting. However, writing a “things about me” post is not easy!
Think about it. Someone asks you to list the most interesting / noteworthy things about yourself. What would you say? It requires a bit of self-reflection, which can be good or bad depending on how deep you want to go.
Because I have had a few new visitors (hi ya’ll! I promise a real post tomorrow!) lately, I decided to finally write it. So, here you go . . . things to know about Claire (um . . . that would be me).
1. I actually like lists. I usually write a to-do list before I go to sleep at night. I always feel great when I cross off the last thing on my list for the day.
2. I have colored my hair since I was 15.
3. I found my first gray hair when I was 25.
4. I love my husband.
5. I sometimes wish I still lived in the U.S.
6. I can get pretty whiney sometimes, but all-in-all, I am happy with my life.
7. Nothing is better than Waffle House at 3:00 a.m. Nothing.
8. I like to try out different cocktail recipes.
9. I don’t like beer too much.
10. My clothes are boring. I came to that realization a few weeks ago, when I was putting away the laundry and noticed that all of my stuff is either stripes or solids and no wild colors.
11. I say the words “Dude” and “Seriously” way too much. Dude, seriously!
12. I believe in love at first sight.
13. I believe in God and say my prayers.
14. I almost never go to church.
15. I am proud of my public education.
16. I can be very stubborn
17. and controlling and impatient.
18. For example, I get angry if someone says they will call me at a certain time and then does not do it.
19. I used to have a crush on David Letterman.
20. I like the color blue.
21. I HATE the color orange.
22. My favorite book is Anne of Green Gables.
23. I can read a 500 page book in 24 hours.
24. I have a PhD but do not consider myself an intellectual as I
25. I love reality television
26. and trashy celebrity gossip magazines.
27. I do not have any children or pets.
28. I once killed bat with a broom. Don’t freak out. It scared the scheisse out of me at 3:00 a.m. and my cat would have killed it anyway.
29. My first tax-paying job was washing dishes for the university cafeteria.
30. To this day, that is the best job I ever had.
31. I know most of the words to too many Spice Girls songs.
32. I also know most of the words to many Billie Holiday songs.
33. I speak English and German and a tiny bit French.
34. I played the flute when I was in junior high school.
35. I own all 6 seasons of Sex and the City on DVD and I like to watch them when I do the ironing.
36. I don’t diet. I like food to much.
37. I only exercise because it is good for me and because I want to maintain my weight.
38. I think it is okay to eat ice cream for dinner.
39. I love daisies, tulips, irises and yellow roses.
40. I like my coffee with lots of milk – no sugar. I drink about 3 cups of coffee a day.
41. I have paid $300 for shoes. In my defense, they were black Italian leather knee high boots, so I thought I was getting a deal.
42. Most of the time, I feel like I have no idea what I am doing in life.
43. Most of the time, I don’t care about number 42. I sort of accept it and move on.
44. I have used the same perfume since I was 16; Beautiful by Estee Lauder. I once went shopping with a friend in college. She smelled the perfume at the counter and said, “Hmm. Smells like Claire.”
45. I get my best ideas when I am cleaning the house.
46. Unfortunately, I am a terrible house wife. I don’t clean the house often enough.
47. I would like to learn to play the violin.
48. I would like to see the pyramids before I die.
49. I like to go to art exhibits and collect the posters of the exhibit. I hang them in my living room.
50. I had a cat when I lived alone in grad school. I picked out the name before I picked the cat. Her name was Lucy, so that I could shout out, “Lucy, I’m home!”
Sunday, March 26, 2006
The German and I would like to build a house. We are getting tired of paying rent. We are also thinking that if we ever decide to have kids that making the child sleep in mommy's office with all of her books might be considered child abuse.
My in-laws (and a lot of other people) think that we should buy a house. However, I would like to "Americanize" my house. That is, I hate wall paper and want flat, smooth, painted walls. And I want closets. German houses do not have closets. Everyone puts up these huge wardrobes in their bedrooms. Nope. Don't like it. Want a closet. I figure that buying a house and renovating it a la Claire would be just as expensive as buying a house.
We sent several building companies requests for information. We have looked at a lot of interesting plans and seen some pretty cool houses. This is my favorite (it is the musterhaus, OK 185). It has a walk-in closet in the master bedroom and enough space for kids and all of our books! Unfortunately, the house costs about 150,000 Euro.
We have also picked a town that we would like to move to: Wildeshausen. It is a very cute town and it has all the things we are looking for. Schools for kids. Check. Near the highway. Check. Doesn't smell like manure. CHECK!
I am quickly learning that building a house in Germany is a lot different than in the States. First, we have to go to the city and find out if there any lots available. In Wildeshausen there is not much left. Most of the lots are going for about 50,000 Euro. Unfortunately, because we are dragging are feet, it looks like they may put us on a wait list for a lot. Great. Once you get a lot, you find a contractor and architect to build your house. Many Germans do as much as they can. I more of the "please just get it done in 6 months and let me know when you are finished" type.
Once we realized that a house was going to be about 200,000 Euro, we decided to go to the bank to see if we can get some money. Well, the German can get money . . . but I cannot. It seems that because I am a free-lance teacher and a small business owner, my income does not count because it is not stable. Let's review my working situation:
I teach one class a semester at University.
I currently have a contract to edit and revise a book in English for one of my professors.
I teach about 15 hours of English per week for a language school.
I teach about 10 hours of private English lessons, and am trying to build my own business.
Hmm. So I will not tell you the exact figure that I make a month, but let's just say that it is far less than I thought it would be given that I am 28, have about 5 years of work experience and a PhD. However, the figure is not miniscule and adds a comfort zone to our household budget.
The woman at the bank said that it does not matter. They can only give us a loan based on what the German makes. Because we already have two loans (one for a car and one for my student loans), we can only get a loan for about 75,000 Euro. The woman at the bank said that they would only consider giving us more if my in-laws would put their house up for collateral.
Then to add insult to injury, she looked at us (more me than the German) and asked, "Well, do you plan on having children soon?" I starred at her.
"You just told me that I cannot afford a house. I certainly don't feel like I can afford children."
"Well, I only ask because during your maternity leave you may face a more difficult monthly budget."
"What does it matter?? You said that my income does not count anyway!"
"I did not mean it that way. I just want you to be aware of the situation."
Yeah, lady, I am very aware. I am so aware that it keeps me up at night wondering what the hell I am doing wrong in my life. As you can tell, the entire discussion was discouraging. I think I am going to be stuck in this apartment next to the cow field for ever.
Anyway, I have to go back to work now. I have lesson plans to finish. I also have several meetings and exams to give at University and I have to turn in my syllabus on Tuesday . . . It is sad to think that all of this does not count.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
My identity seems to be wrapped up in my name. I am named after my grandmothers. Because my mom did not like calling out her mother's name, I was called by my middle name until I was about 11. When I was 11, I decided that I did not like that name. It was too generic and I knew several obnoxious girls with same name. When we moved to a new house and I started a new school, I became "Claire." When teachers and students asked, that was my new answer and I put it on all of my paperwork. My family thought it was weird, but thankfully let me choose my name.
In the months leading up to my marriage, I could not decide if I wanted to change my last name or not. Finally I decided to keep my name just the way it is. I figured that I had been "Claire M. Smith" for 26 years, and I was not going to change overnight into someone else. It had taken 26 years but I was finally comfortable with my name, even my middle name. It was my way of holding on to my identity in face of all the radical changes going on in my life (marriage, move to another country, career shift). Also, the bureaucracy involved in changing your name is ridiculous!! It amazes me that so many women actually do it.
My name causes trouble here in Germany, though. I have a pretty average English name. The Germans cannot handle it. They also don't care for the fact that I use my maiden name. At a street fair, one of the neighbors came up to me and said, "Mrs. Schuette, I presume."
I smiled politely. "Actually it is Ms. Smith."
He laughed. "Oh no, you are Mrs. Schuette."
I just raised an eyebrow. In the neighborhood I am known as the German's wife. The teacher's wife. When anyone calls, they ask for the wife and not the American. I have gotten used to it and now usually let it pass.
What I cannot stand, however, is when my name is "Ein gedeutsched." That means, they take my lovely English name and make it into a German name. My doctor in Kassel used to call me "Klara Schmidt" all the time no matter how many times I corrected him. It happened again yesterday.
I went to the phone company to change some information on my office account. There was a gaggle of girls standing behind the counter. They were perhaps 25? I walked boldly up to the counter and looked them all straight in the eye. One of them reluctantly came around the counter to help me. She went to the computer to look up my information. "Mrs. Schmidt?"
"No. Ms. Smith." (with exaggerated emphasis on the -th)
She stared at me as if to say, "Who the hell are you?" I stared right back as if to say, "I am the person whose business pays your salary." I explained my two problems / issues. She then gave me two telephone numbers to call and get answers to my questions. As I turned around to leave, I said under my breath (in English), "Yes, we wouldn't want you to actually work would we."
Yes, identity is a funny thing. I hate those questions in Blogger that ask me to tell them a little bit about myself. I am always at a loss. For the record, I have no intention of ever giving up my U.S. citizenship. It would be too weird. Part of my identity is my cultural up-bringing and I would never reject that.
So . . . Who am I?
I am Claire M. Smith.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
I am pretty "stumpf" about working out. I don't like it, but I like to eat. So I go to the gym in order to maintain my weight (notice I did not say loose weight). I like to go, do my thing, and leave. I walk into the locker room, change my clothes, workout, get my bag from the locker room, and then leave. I only shower at the gym when I have an appointment after. For me showering involves too many lotions, shampoos, shaving and soap, and I don't want to lug it all to the gym.
So I walk in the locker room. Say hello to the naked people. "Moin." I leave the locker room. Say goodbye to the naked people. "Tschuss!" I actually do not do this. I don't know you. You are naked. We must not speak. Monday, after a workout I went into the gym to get my things. As I walked out, without saying anything, naked lady was in the middle of lotioning up and she called after me, "Bye!" Imagine you are at the gym in America. Would you say hello to someone you did not know and was in the middle of putting lotion on their breasts?
Maybe it is my puritanical American upbrining, but I don't feel compelled to greet people when they are naked. My upbringing was actually not puritanical. Maybe I am just not comfortable with nakedness (like Charlotte in Sex and the City, "I did not grow up in a naked house!"). Wow, this post is becoming a little too self-reflective.
Back to the greetings . . . Germans feel the need to greet everyone. Another example, when you enter and leave a doctor's office. You have to say hello . . . but you don't shake hands. It is so complicated, no wonder I screw it up. I once smiled at a cashier at the store and told her to have a nice day. She looked at me like I was nuts.
On another naked note, on the first date the German and I ever had, he took me to an art exhibit of . . . Nudes. I smiled at him, "Wow. This is the fastest any guy has every gotten me into a room with naked women."
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Important German Social Etiquette Rule: When you enter a room (including a room of family!) you must go around the room and shake hands with EVERYBODY, starting with the most senior person in the room (oldest) and all the women.
I violate this rule all the time!
Another trip down memory lane . . . Bad Zwischenahn, Spring 2003.
It was Easter. The German and I had been together for about 4 months and we had already talked about marriage (yes, things moved quickly between us). I knew all of his family and had even met his extended family including the matriarch, Oma (Grandma). This women is tiny, but she wasn't afraid of the Red Army in East Prussia and she isn't afraid of this American. She is a very imposing person for someone so small.
I had been invited to Oma's for Easter Brunch. This was a big deal. My first meeting with the family did not go so well. They were a little suspect of me because the German broke up with his girlfriend (a good German girl) before we got together. I was determined to impress.
When we got to the house, I shook a few hands and was immediately paralyzed by fear. Then I started to stand off to the side. I felt very awkward and had no clue what to say. It doesn't help that some of them speak Plattdeutsch with each other (Lower German, a dialect spoken in northern Germany which is actually closer to Dutch and English than German).
In my self-conscious state, I forgot to shake Oma's hand. She sort of glared at me and did not say much. The German explained to me latter what I had done wrong. I don't know why, but eventually she warmed-up to me, and now I consider her my own Oma.
I don't get the handshaking thing with family. When I see my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandpa in Michigan, I give them a hug. I would never shake their hand. In fact, I am sure my Uncle Curt would make fun of me for the rest of my life if I did. If I shook my mother's hand? She would ask me if I was angry with her and then ask me if I was on crack.
I have started my greetings with Oma with a hug, like I would with my own family. It has brought us closer together. I am one of the few people who does that and I think that she enjoys it.
So dear, Germany bound traveler, remember to shake when entering a room. Oh, and try not to bring up George W. It can also lead to uncomfortable situations.
Monday, March 20, 2006
And boy are there blogs! I am making a little list. This list is not exhaustive, but some of the ones that I found and thought were interesting. If you want an even longer, comprehensive list, then check Expat Bloggers.
I have to add a preface to this list. I do not consider myself an expatriate. I have not been banished and I do not live in exile. I did not leave the U.S. for philosophical reasons. I left for love, and I would still be there if it wasn't for the German. Rather, I consider myself an American living in Germany. I think the majority of people on this list would probably say the same. We all come for work or love (the women are usually the ones who come for love). I don't know too many people who wake up one day and say, "You know what? I want to live some where cool and exotic . . . I've got it! Deutschland!"
Anyway, happy reading.
American in Dusseldorf - An American in Dusseldorf. He is good because he recognizes the importance of a good Margarita and also has trouble finding them in Germany. I am jealous because he has found some. In Cloppenburg they think a Margarita is a pizza.
An American in Achen - An American in Achen. She has the best picture in her profile. I wonder if that is her cat? She has been in Germany 7 years! Today she wrote a really good post summarizing life in Germany. I am thinking of sending it to my parents to make them less afraid of visiting.
Foreign in Frankfurt - an American in Frankfurt. When I read his post on the Olympics, "Few things in life are funnier than making fun of white people." I laughed hysterically and then went on to read a really good post about "what is a sport." The German and debated that during Olympics, too.
German Joys - Another American in Duesseldorf. He is currently in Paris and I bet he thinks Germany looks pretty good now!
Germany doesn't Suck - An American in, well I could not figure that part out, but he has traveled a lot and has a public service announcement about expat bloggers in Germany. You are right, J, Germany does not suck . . . most of the time.
Greenhaddock - An Englishman in Hessen. He has an adorable daughter, the Juniorette. Scroll down and look at the picture of her reading the news.
Heisse Scheisse - An American in Darmstadt who is linked everywhere! And funny! The German and I talked about the name of her blog for 30 minutes. While he doesn't think "Heisse Scheisse" is good, he does say that "Böse Möse" is okay, but be very careful who you say it to!
Only in Germany - an American in Worfelden. I am totally jealous of because his fabulous new apartment! Well not so much the yellow bathroom.
German Diary - an American in Cologne who calls his son the "holiness."
Culture Shock and the Blonde Librarian - An American in Germany. Oh my god she has an awesome design and you can even change the themes! I choose daisies.
Dixie Peach - A woman from Mississippi in Magdeburg. Sweetie, you might not know where SudTirol is, but I cannot keep Oberbayern and Niederbayern straight.
Mausi - a Canadian in Hannover. Thanks for the comment, Christina!! Say it ain't so about the snoring? I called my mom in the States for advice, and she said the same thing. Sigh. Maybe earplugs?
My Expatriate Odyessy - An American in Bavaria, who has a lot of different stuff on his site and covers many topics. He is right on about his assessment German football. I get to hear all about this living with my football fanatic. Did you see Klinsmann on the cover of Spiegel this week?
Stringbean Abroad: the Xpatriate files - Stringbean is from Detroit, which is where my dad lives and makes her awesome (Go Pistons!) Read about the problem of paying for the pizza. I once had a similar experience.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
The German has caught my stuffy head cold and as a result has been snoring rather loudly the past few nights. On Thursday night I yelled at him three times to roll over. Finally at 6:00 a.m. I moved to the couch. Friday night I made him use some nose spray before he went to bed, and it was a little better. Unfortunately, last night it got worse.
At 3:oo a.m. I woke up and he was in good form. "Sweetie, you are snoring, you need to roll over."
German: Snark, Snump, Um okay.
At 4:30 a.m. I woke up and he was draped over me. Normally I find cuddling cute, but then he let a loud snort rip in my ear. "GET OFF AND ROLL OVER." At 6:00 a.m. I could not take it anymore and I moved to the living room couch. The couch is on the other side of the wall of our bed. At 7:00 a.m. (and this is no lie!) he woke me up with his snoring EVEN THOUGH HE WAS SLEEPING IN ANOTHER ROOM. I finally popped in a DVD as it was clear that I was not going to get any sleep.
The German wandered into the living room around 8:45. His head was hanging low, and he whispered, "I'm sorry." I know that he did not mean it, but when I got up to make coffee, I could barely move. My back muscles are frozen. They are protesting the couch and now I am walking around like a 90 year-old-woman.
I looked him square in the eye and said, "Tomorrow you are going to the pharmacy and getting the strongest thing they have for sinuses. Are weclear?" I am a teacher, so I have the "look" (which I give by looking over the top of my glasses) which indicates that "I-will-kick-your-ass-if-you-don't-do-what-I-say" pretty much down pat. "Yes, dear," he said while still staring at the floor.
I don't understand. Usually I don't have much trouble sleeping. I have literally slept through a hurricane (Hugo, Summerville, SC, 1988). But snoring is like nails on a chalk board for me. For good reason, I am a little worried that this may become a regular occurrence.
Let's take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
New York, July 28, 2004
The German and I were married on July 22, 2004 in Charleston, SC. The week that followed will go down in history as the worst "honeymoon" ever. I will not detail everything that happened that week, just one incident.
As I was getting married and basically moving all my worldly possessions to a foreign country over 3000 miles away, I really wanted to just stay in SC for a week with the in-laws and fly to Germany from there. But I was over-ruled by my in-laws. Actually, my brother-in-law made an executive decision that they family could "save money" by flying from New York City. So only a few days after getting married, I piled into a van with my mother-in-law, father-in-law, husband and all my worldly possessions (my brother and sister-in-law and there two small kids were mercifully in another car), said good-bye to my mother and childhood home and made the trip from SC to NYC.
By the time we got there, many BAD things had happened. What made it worse, no one had thought to make reservations in NYC. Exhausted and ill (I got a bladder infection during the trip and had to visit a doctor in Richmond, VA) I walked into the JFK Hampton Inn and begged the front desk to give me the cheapest rate possible (I am the only one who can negotiate in English, see.) It was about $125 per night. The German looked at me and said in German, "Isn't that expensive maybe we should try somewhere else."
In my best German, "Do you want to drive around Queens in the middle of the summer looking for a hotel room? Not me! We will split a double room with your parents." That was like mistake number 40 I made that week.
That night the four of us settled in to get a few hours sleep. About two hours later, I woke up to a giant "swoosh" sound. I thought it was planes landing at the near-by airport. It turns out that it was snoring coming from the area of my in-laws bed.
The German and I laid next to each other staring at the ceiling. I stole his pillow and tried to muffle the sound, to no avail. Finally we took our pillows and blanket and went and slept on the bathroom floor. Romantic, no? To add insult to injury, my mother-in-law hit us in the head with the door during the wee hours of the morning.
. . .
Think about that story for a minute, and you can understand why I am afraid that the snoring may get out of hand. I do not want to be an angry shrew. Really, the dude has a stuffy nose. On the other hand, I am mighty grumpy. So, I am now going to take a muscle relaxer for my back and surf the internet for snoring remedies. Any ideas?
Saturday, March 18, 2006
I am also actually feeling better. It is amazing how sleep and antibiotics destroyed the flu that I have been carrying around for two weeks. When I woke up Friday and my scratchy throat had swollen to the point that I could barely swallow, I decided to get rid of all the herbal medicines and teas and use the health insurance that I pay so much for.
The German has spent the afternoon watching Phoenix, a news channel that also shows documentaries. They have been showing a series on the Russian Army and East Germany. Let's just say that the Russian Army did some bad things. The German's grandmother is from what is now Poland but was then East Prussia. Last weekend, she told us the story of her flight from her home in 1944 when she was 13. It is not a pretty story and amazing to think that she survived it all.
I was a little tired of all the black and white footage. I looked at the German and said, "Sweetie, you do know that Germany lost the war, right?"
He got a little bit upset, and said, "Shut up and let me watch!"
"But your shows are boring!"
The German thought for a moment. "You are the one who has the finals Deutschland Sucht den Superstar (the German version of American Idol) on your calendar!"
"Yes, but honey, it is current events."
He snorted and laughed so hard that coffee came out of his nose.
I have also added Go Fug Yourself to my list. It will not be everyone's cup of tea, however I think it is hysterically funny. They observe and satirize the rich and famous, who should really take a better look in the mirror before they leave the house. They also two Bloogie Awards this year including Best Writing.
Our office space is in an old bank which is now owned by the city. The city rents out office space at discount rates for new, small businesses. The rent is so cheap we could not pass it up. However, because the building is so old, we had to do some renovations ourselves. A few weeks ago the German and I painted the walls. Last week I finished painting the light fixture.
I think it turned out pretty good. On Monday the conference table and chairs we ordered are being delivered. I cannot wait! I will post a picture when it is in place.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Now that I am married AND living in Germany, home to many Uber-hausfrauen who would put Martha to shame, there is more pressure. My life has been made easier by a discovery that German supermarkets have something that American supermarkets do not: Maggie Mix. Maggie Mix is pure genius. Basically it is just different mixtures of spices and sauce thickeners in little packages. But on the back of every package is a recipe for an instant meal.
My shopping goes like this. Enter supermarket. Go to Maggie corner (I must add that Knorr is an equally good brand, which they actually sell in the U.S.). Look at saliva inducing pictures. Pick the picture that looks most appealing that day. Read the back for the recipe. Buy needed ingredients plus either already made salad or frozen veggies (I told you I was lazy when it comes to cooking). Go home. 45 minutes later. Lunch.
Yesterday I made this:
Basically you mix hamburger meat with the spice mixture and throw in some Gouda and salami cut into cubes. You then place the mixture in a dish and cover it with frozen pastry crust. 40 minutes later you have this:
It was pretty tasty and the German was mighty impressed. I often miss "American" food, but I now swear by Maggi. I am convinced that it would be a huge hit in the U.S. Someone should really look into marketing it over there.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
I usually scan the headlines of a few papers / news agencies from the States in order to keep up-to-date. I look at CNN, The New York Times, People magazine, USA Today, and if I am looking for a good scare I click on Fox News, but I am gone faster than you can say "right wing bias in the media." Today I stopped by USA Today and was alarmed by the headline Federal Aid Programs Expand at Record Rate. Well . . . that can't be good.
As I read the article I was reminded of a few things I learned in my stats classes. First, a number is just a number. What gives a number meaning is the way you present it and/or compare it to other numbers. Take for example, this quote:
The biggest expansion: Medicaid, the health care program for the poor. It added
15 million beneficiaries over five years to become the nation's largest
Hmm, that sounds alarming. Damn those poor people for getting sick. Yes, Medicaid is the largest entitlement program when we consider the number of individuals enrolled.
Now look at this quote:
Not a factor: Social Security and Medicare. Those retirement programs will not
see their enrollment explode until 79 million baby boomers start to become
eligible for Social Security in 2008 and Medicare in 2011.
Hmm, from these two quotes, one would think that the U.S. government spends more on Medicaid. But take a closer look at a different set of numbers. When Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare are calculated as a percent of total federal expenditures, then Medicaid comprises only 8% of the national budget, Social Security is 21% and Medicare is 12%. When we look at it this way, Social Security and Medicare ARE a factor. In fact they are a BIG factor and as USA Today points out, it will just get worse in 2008 and 2011.
Let's take a look at another quote.
Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a conservative Republican from Minnesota, says the number of
people in entitlement programs should not be growing when unemployment is near a
record low. "It's probably time to revisit food stamps and its goals and costs,"
says Gutknecht, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees food stamps. Food
stamp enrollment climbed from 17.2 million in 2000 to 25.7 million in 2005.
Once again the enrollment figures are at play here. USA Today presented the children's nutrition figures in an accompanying table. But when we calculate children's nutrition as a percent of total federal expenditures, it comprised only .48% of the national budget. The US spends less than 1% of its money feeding children. That is interesting. I am not sure Rep. Gutknecht is looking at the correct programs to cut.
What is all comes down to, Americans are getting older and poorer. As budget deficits get higher, we will have "to tighten our belts" and make some cuts. It is time to set priorities. Personally, I am okay with feeding children and making sure that senior citizens and the poor have healthcare. It makes me angry to read an article that makes it look like the poor are to blame for out of control spending.
As USA Today points out, a lot of this is due to the welfare reforms of 1996 which "pushed people into the workforce." Which Rep. Gutknecht would say is a good thing. But let me ask you this, did these people get well paying jobs with healthcare? Not really. The most are making minimum wage at McDonald's. Although unemployment is near a record low, it is also a deceiving number. Many people are in low wage jobs, others have fallen off the unemployment rolls because they are no longer eligible for benefits. It does not mean that they are employed, it just means that they no longer count. Once again, it all in how you look at the numbers.
Before someone begins to accuse me of "fuzzy math" go to the census bureau website or any government agency website and look up the information yourself.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Although my week ended on a high note, my cold still has not gone away. I feel very stuffy and now I have a cough. I don't have a fever, but I have the heavy feeling in my body which indicates that all I want to do is sleep, and which I was looking forward to the past weekend. But what did I do instead? This weekend the German and I baby-sat his 4 year-old nephew and 5 year-old niece.
One of the members of my book club is pregnant and due any minute. The last 30 minutes of the meeting turned into a chat about pregnancy, giving birth, and the "proper" roll of women in society. It was nice and made me think, "Kids - I should really do that." Well . . . Nothing smashes your biological clock to pieces like babysitting a 4 and 5 year old when you have a head cold.
The kids are actually getting a little easier to handle. Now that they are older, you can do stuff with them. Which is good. Unfortunately they have developed the ability to think independently. Which is bad. They have also realized that Tante (aunt) Claire is "different." That is, my German is bad. And this weekend they started the "cute" habit of correcting me.
The most difficult thing about German is the der, die, and das. Each noun has a gender and you have to change the corresponding der (masculine), die (feminine) and das (neutral) depending on the case. I accidentally said "die Zug" (the train) instead of "der Zug" in front of my nephew. He looked at me and said, "No! It is 'der Zug.' 'Die Zuege' means more than one train" (his emphasis, not mine). What made it worse was how he spread out his hands in front of him while explaining the difference and the exasperated look on his face.
I told my niece to go put on her shoes and jacket so that we could leave. She stopped and turned around and began my daily grammar lesson. I stopped her mid-sentence and said, "I don't care! My German is good enough to scold you. Now please do what you are told." It appears that looking over your glasses with the don't-test-me-or-I-will-punish-you-look transcends the spoken word.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Which Stevie Nicks Song Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
I still have this stuffy-sinus-head-thing going on and my throat is getting worse. I can feel it tightening and closing as I type. In my cold medicine haze the quiz was funny. For those of you keeping count, I DID go teach my English lesson this morning. Now it is time for a nap.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Because I am so busy, I CANNOT be sick. So I took some cold medicine and drank tea and now I am sitting here a bit high. Cold medicine has the same effect on me as crack. Well . . . I have not actually taken crack, but this is what I imagine it is like. I really should be working on some things, but the cold medicine high impairs my judgment, so I have just been surfing the internet. I am going to grade final exams and papers next. I have a funny feeling everyone is just going to get a "B."
During my daily peruse through my favorite blogs, I found out about the a Grassroots Blogger Book Marketing Campaign over at kapgar. It sounds really interesting and like a writing challenge. So, I have decided to participate. From Monday, April 10 to Friday, April 14, 2006, I will be blogging as my favorite historical figure. Let's see if you can guess who it is!
Liz, thanks for your comments on my last two blogs! It is hard to respond to comments sometimes because if people post a comment on an old blog I do not know about it. I don't receive notification or read my old posts. I think I need to fix some sort of email notification if someone sends a comment. I definitly want to work on the website some more, but I have met a really nice graphic designer. She is young and also in the process of starting her own business. I think we may pay her to do it for us!
Anyway, Oprah I am definitely not, but I do firmly believe that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I have not idea what is going to happen with all of this. But I do know that I can not live my life with "what ifs" and in fear of failure. You take what you get and make the best out of it. Plus, I like having too much to do versus nothing to do.
I was thinking of Grandpa's comment about the Academy Awards. The German feels the same way. But, here is what I think. I am a big fan of movies. I love to go to the movies and sit in the dark and escape for a moment to another world.
Life is mundane. Life is tedious. Life is exciting. Life is beautiful. Movie share all of these experiences and more. When you sit in the movies and see something that you relate to, then you don't feel so alone in the world. Sometimes you see something that you can't relate to, and then maybe you learn something. And still other times you just want to escape for 5 minutes your own reality and experience another one. I like what the director of Tsoti (winner of best foreign-language film) said, "Although we speak different languages, your stories are our stories." That is so right on.
I think my fascination with the awards is a reflection of this idea that you can escape your own reality. And I like to see hard work rewarded . . .and I like looking at pretty dresses and handsome men.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
So, tonight the German decided to do a bit of vacuuming. He hauled out our pre-historic machine and fired her up. A few minutes into the task, he stopped and sniffed. Then he turned to me.
Him: "What is that smell??" (sniff, sniff) "I think it is coming from the vacuum cleaner."
Me: "Oh, yeah, it is cinnamon."
Him: "Why does the vacuum cleaner smell like cinnamon?"
Me: "When I was baking cookies about two weeks ago, I knocked over the bottle of cinnamon and it broke."
Him: "And you vacuumed it?? Why didn't you use the broom and then mop?"
Me: "The vacuum cleaner was faster."
Him: "Yes, but now it smells like cinnamon when you use it!"
Me: "Well, think of it this way. At least now you will always think of Christmas when you vacuum. And you like Christmas. And you will vacuum more often." (sweet, innocent smile)
Him: (In dry, sarcasm) "Yeah . . . I don't think so."
Monday, March 06, 2006
This is going to be a short post because I am so exhausted. Last night (GERMAN time) I took a little nap from 11:30 pm to 1:30 am. Then I got up and watched the Oscars until 5:30 am. I was too wound up to go straight back to sleep, so I drifted off around 6:30 am, and then got back up at 8:00 am. That means that I got about 3 1/2 hours of sleep, but not all at once. It is my own fault really. I should learn how to operate my DVD recorder.
Anyway, there are a few preliminary things about the Oscars that I have to comment on.
First, my predictions rocked. I only missed one - best picture. Some people are calling Crash the biggest upset since 1998 (Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private Ryan), but if you followed the press before, then you probably were not that surprised.
Second, sometimes the German version is a bit different. For example, we don't get the announcer voice for some reason. But we had this weird, elevator style background music playing as soon as a speech started. It was annoying. I was surfing the internet this afternoon, when I discovered that everyone had this problem. The music may have been an effort to get people to hurry up. If they wanted to shorten the Oscars, they should get rid of all the damn clips. At least they got rid of last year's tradition of having all of the nominees on stage or handing it out in the audience. That was lame.
A few fashion comments:
Dear Charlize Theron: Please fire your stylist. Your dress was terrible and the second time that you have had a bronzer problem. Seriously, step away from the bronzer. You are a beautiful woman. You don't need it.
Salma Hayek is a babe.
George Clooney is funny and charming and talented. Who knew?
Jake, my sweet, I know you want everyone to think of you as a "man," but please shave.
Jaime Foxx, there is only one person on the planet cool enough to pull off a teal shirt at a formal event - Samuel L. Jackson.
Naomi Watts, did King Kong attack the front of your dress?
That is about it for now. I will write some more tomorrow after I have slept and can put together a coherent thought.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Below you will find my predictions for the evening. I wonder how I will do. If you don't care about the Oscars . . . well . . . stop reading.
Best Picture: Brokeback Mountain
Apparently Crash has been doing the whole publicity push thing, but I don't think that it is going to work. Brokeback has won too many other awards, which indicates that the industry is behind it. Also, I have actually seen Crash and did not like it.
Best Director: Ang Lee
He won the Director's Guild, which is a damn good indicator.
Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman
He has won everything and has been described as an "actor's actor." His speech at the Golden Globes also indicated how honored he feels, and the Academy likes stuff like that. I have heard whispering about Terrence Howard (who was the only actor in Crash that I liked), but I think that Hoffman has this locked. What I don't get is the silence about Joaquin Phoenix. When Walk the Line Came out, he was the one to beat AND he won the Golden Globe AND he is good in the movie. What happened? Joaquin is soo uncomfortable with the press and awards shows, that he sort of shot himself in the foot.
Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon
Do you notice how the Academy is acknowledging its younger, more beautiful actresses lately? Think Charlize Theron, Halle Barry, Hillary Swank. Reese is next in line AND she has won everything. It looked like a race a few months ago, but the buzz around Felicity Huffman has died down.
Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney
I really, really wanted to write Paul Giamatti and I still think he has a shot. George took the Golden Globe but Giamatti took the SAG. However, Clooney has done a lot of good stuff this year and he won't win anything else. On the other hand, Giamatti has been getting snubbed, snubbed, snubbed by the Academy. This could be a toss up. I wish my secret celebrity crush, Jake Gyllenhaal, would win, but there is simply no buzz there. I think he should have been nominated for Jarhead. (Side note: there is a lot in the gossip columns about who single guy Jake will be taking. I am going to say his sister and/or parents).
Best Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz
The appears to be a small campaign for Michelle Williams, but I think Weisz has pulled ahead with all of her other wins.
Best Animated Feature: Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Did you know that Rotten Tomatoes named this the best reviewed film of 2005 in wide release? The German and I rented it last weekend. It was FANTASTIC! It is very well made. The details are so fine, you almost forget that it is stop action. Also, it was hilarious and really good for people who are fans of movies (such as moi). There was a whole King Kong thing going on the end which was hilarious. The German also finally said that we could get a dog, BUT only if it is like Gromit. If this movie does not win . . . well . . you bet you will hear about it next week!
Best Foreign-Language Film: Tsotsi (South Africa)
There is a German movie nominated this year (Sophie Scholl--The Final Days), but Tsotsi picked a very good time for it's US premier and has been getting good reviews in the American press. I don't think Paradise Now will win. It has simply been too divisive.
Well, that is my two Euro cents. I could be completely right or completely wrong. Tomorrow I will post with thoughts, about who won and what they were wearing. If they post it on-line, I am going to watch the E! Online Red Carpet Show. I hope Isaac Mizrahi gropes someone!
Friday, March 03, 2006
No, matter. A little thing came in the mail yesterday. I got the t-shirts that I ordered from 80's Tees. I was so happy. I pulled on my Rainbow Brite t-shirt and danced around the apartment. "So, honey, what do you think?" The German just snorted and said, "You don't want to know the answer to that. I will just get into trouble." He was right, so I did not push him. But as I continued to prance around in my finery, the German looked at me and asked, "How old are you exactly?" Um that would be 28 . . . going on 9.
I proudly sported my new t-shirt at the gym this morning. No one even noticed. Not a single comment. I have a question for my German readers: Did they have Rainbow Brite in Germany?
My cheery mood could not even be damaged by the car accident I had on the way home. It's okay, mom, keep breathing, nothing happened. I approached and stopped at an intersection, where I wanted to make a left turn. I looked right and it was clear and I looked left and it was clear. I inched out and was going to go when looked right and I noticed a VERY fast BMW come around the curve. To prevent an accident I braked, and the woman behind me crunched my bumper.
At first I was a little pissed. I crossed the intersection and pulled over. After hopping out of the car I took a look. Nothing. Not even a scratch. The woman who was behind me also pulled over. I say woman, but I think she must have been about 19 and she spoke with a heavy Russian accent. As she got out of her car, I noticed that she was way more upset than I. She was thisclose to tears. "I am so sorry," I said. "I did not see that BMW."
We looked at her car. Nothing. Not even a scratch. I laughed and said, "This must be our lucky day." She gave me a teary hug and I said, "Have a nice one!" and jumped backed into Smarty. I figured, why make a big deal out of nothing.
Now if anything can bring me down to Earth, it is my English lessons. Today we are working on the passive again. Gosh, I hope I understand it myself!
Thursday, March 02, 2006
It all started when my career sort of went off track once I got married. I was a grad student in political science in the States when I met the German. My big plan was to become a tenured professor at a liberal arts college (which is, by the way, what ALL GRAD STUDENTS SAY). I went to Germany in 2002 to do dissertation research and . . . I met my husband.
The German and I got married in July 2004. I moved to Germany to be with him and to finish my dissertation. We knew that we would have to stay in Germany for two years so that the German could finish his student teaching and get his certification. I started teaching ESL as a way to make money while writing. I thought we would move back to the States after we were both finished. However, as often happens, it did not happen . . . for many reasons. Basically it came down to the fact that I was more prepared to live abroad than the German. As I often tell people who ask, I love my country. I love my husband more.
As I am basically a positive person, I decided to make the most out of my career. Over the past year it became clear that jobs at universities in Germany are few and far between . . . and the pay is terrible!! The ESL teaching had started to take up more and more time. It turns out . . . Teaching English is hard. Try explaining the past perfect passive. Really, try it. It ain't easy. My students are great. Because I teach adults, who pay a lot, they actually do their homework. About 6 months ago I started thinking about ESL as a career. However, I was a little unhappy with the school where I was freelancing.
In January I took a big step. I am currently in the process of establishing, with my business partner, the lovely New Yorker, my own language school. That's right. Claire's going to be a business woman. (stop laughing Carrie). I still teach for the "other" school at the moment Because I am a freelance worker with no contract, I can legally do that. I also consider myself ethical and I do not mention my school when I teach for the "other" school. AND I am still teaching one politics seminar per semester at the local university. So at last count, Claire has 3 jobs! And still I have no money . . .
Anyway, I want to teach politics as an adjunct for "fun." I figure I should make something of my PhD. But the last 3 months have been well . . . hard . . . but . . . fun! It is so challenging. Running your own business is full of different problems that I have not confronted before. I am also trying to become a "sales woman." To give you a better picture, we have accomplished the following things since January 16:
Signed/Started 5 different contracts/classes, rented an office space and renovated it, applied for our tax identification number, negotiated a kick ass price on office furniture, created a website (which I created in one day after learning html via the internet), had endless meetings with various graphic artists and potential customers, plus a million other things. We are currently working on getting new contracts and I have a few meetings in the upcoming weeks. It is awesome.
And A TON OF WORK. Between appointments, meetings, teaching, planning lessons, grading papers, learning html, and . . . oh, yeah, my apartment and my husband. I am TIRED ALL THE TIME. Seriously, there are days when I want to crawl under the covers and hibernate until summer. I think of my neglected blog and feel guilty. Which is funny because I do not feel guilty about the unwashed dishes in the sink. I probably have warped priorities. Do not get me wrong - I am not complaining. I feel blessed to be doing something that I like. I just wish I could sleep more.
If there a few days between posts, don't fret. I am will keep posting. There is so much to share. For instance, I went to the beauty salon on Tuesday for an eyebrow wax. Oh my God, the pain. Also, we are looking for an ESL teacher and a French and Spanish teacher. We pay well! And we are totally committed to the German tradition of coffee and cake hour.