Thursday, November 30, 2006

Small Victories

Sometimes, it is life's small victories that will make your day.

This morning I went into the office and found a fax printed out. I noticed however that only three of the seven pages had printed. Upon examination, I realized that the fax toner / cartridge was empty. This made me very nervous. Our fax machine is not very fancy. In fact, it uses one of those "carbon-paper-on-a-roll-cartridges" (I am sure there is a technical word. I have no idea what it is). I am not good with these type of things and the German has had to change the roll in the past. However, the fax was part of an important translation and I could not wait for the German to get home. I dragged out the manual and took a deep breath. Dude, I changed the toner in 5 minutes and did not even rip the carbon paper! I was bouncy for hours.

My biggest victory was actually on Sunday. As the family was sitting around the table enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, we were chatting about this and that. My mother-in-law mentioned that she saw a very interesting television report in which many common day myths were disproved. "Really, like what?" I asked.

"Well, it turns out that cold kidneys do not actually lead to an infection. Infections are caused by bacteria that has nothing to do with whether or not your kidneys are cold. It may not even be necessary to cover them up."

I smirked. Dude, I could have told you that. Wait . . . I already have. However, I am just an American and not as reliable a source as RTL. I figured it was best not to say anything and I just starred at my plate and basked in the glow of my victory, even if no one else knew about it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Turkey Talk Part III: So Good That We Did it Twice

I made ANOTHER Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. On Thursday, I had invited just a few friends; mostly people who speak very good English. However, because the in-laws have been doing so much work on the house, and my brother-in-law loves most things American, I volunteered (was told?) to make another Turkey.

Dinner was the same, minus the candied yams. I was a little disappointed, because half the fun is seeing the look of disgust on their face. The turkey was a big hit, as was the stuffing. However, I think that the vote on the pumpkin pie was mixed. Dinner was a little odd though. Everyone came, ate, and then left. Seriously, they were only here for 3 hours tops.

It think that all of this cooking and cleaning exempts me from kitchen duty for at least a month. On the other hand, I have learned a few things over the past week about preparing a Thanksgiving dinner.

1. Turkey is not that difficult to prepare. Cook it at about 350 degrees. My 4.4 Kilo bird (9 pounds) took about 3 1/2 hours. Placing whole celery and onions in the bottom of the pan adds flavor and makes it easier to get it out at the end.

2. Fresh cranberry sauces is better than the canned stuff. Dissolve 1 cup of sugar into 1 cup of orange juice. Add cranberries and a cinnamon stick. Cook until the cranberries begin to pop, for about 10 minutes. Place sauce in serving dish and cool. The sauce will gel as it cools. Be sure to take the cinnamon stick out after about 30 minutes, otherwise the taste is overwhelming.

3. Don't mash your yams. Slices or chunks are better.

4. Spice up bagged stuffing with celery, onion, chicken broth and fresh rosemary. No one will ever know that it was from a bag.

5. Pumpkin pie tastes much better cold than warm.

I am still so stuffed from the past week, that I don't want to think about the mounds of cakes, cookies, and chocolates coming at me in the next few weeks. You know what they say: 'Tis the season to be eating.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Turkey Talk Part II: The Aftermath

We had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday. I really enjoyed my day off. I spent most of the day cooking, cleaning, and making the apartment "pretty." It was actually pretty nice that dinner was at 7pm, as it gave me plenty of time to enjoy the day and not feel rushed. I even had time to watch a "Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," in English!

I love setting a pretty table. It makes things seem so civilized. However, I have noticed something odd about German table settings. Germans always have napkins on the table, usually some very colorful paper napkins. In fact, there is a wide range of colors, patterns and sizes for paper napkins here in Germany. Strangely enough, nobody actually uses them. One time I used a paper napkin at my in-laws and the person across from me looked at me like I had just committed murder. I always put napkins on the table. I prefer cloth napkins. Yesterday, two of my German guests did not want to use the napkins and one got upset when food got on it. Dude, wipe your hands with the napkin. That is what it is there for.

The company was great and we all drank and ate entirely too much. But that is what Thanksgiving is about. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is also about the clean up. Thank goodness that I had today off as I spent most of the day washing wine glasses.

At the beginning of dinner, I made everyone go around the table and say what they are thankful for. This is what I said:

I am thankful for my husband, because he cleans the toilet and loves me even when I make him crazy. I am thankful for my business partner, who inspires me to be a better teacher and has made my career switch a lot of fun. I am thankful for my friends, who make Germany not such a bad place to live. And finally, I am thankful for my crazy family, whom I love dearly even though they are far away.

While I was washing up today, I added up the cost of Thanksgiving.

Package from the U.S. with canned goods: $90 ($60 in postage alone!)
Two bottles of Pinot Noir, one bottle of champagne, one bottle of schnapps: 30 Euro
9 pound French turkey: 20 Euros
Freshly pressed napkins: one burned hand
The screwed up face of a German starring at you in disgust after trying candied yams for the first time: priceless

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Turkey Talk: Part I

I was amazed by the number of positive comments about my new glasses. Thanks!! Everyone has been really nice, although a few people at work think that I just changed my hair.

This is the first part, in my 3 part Thanksgiving day series. Although tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the holiday has actually begun here in C-burg. I have the next two days off, and tomorrow I am hosting a dinner party for 5 people. It is the one time of the year that I go all out and cook. I figure that doing it really well once a year saves me from a year full of disgraces and Maggie Mix.

On tomorrow's menu:

Cocktail Hour: stuffed mushrooms, cheese and crackers, apple orchard punch

Dinner: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, candied yams, green bean casserole, fresh salad (with a nice pinot noir to drink)

Dessert: pumpkin pie with whipped cream, coffee

Behold the before picture:

I am not a very creative cook, but there are few things I am good at. I am really good at pie crust. My secret is VERY cold water. Also, the amount of water is always different. You have to play with the dough a bit. If need be, use a little extra flour.

Is it strange that I like to walk around the house in my apron when I am cooking?

Many Germans have heard about Thanksgiving, but they are not sure what it is. I heard a radio announcer say that the U.S. and Canada will be celebrating tomorrow. That is not true. Canadians do have a Thanksgiving, but it is on the second Monday in October. U.S. Thanksgiving is on the fourth Thursday in November. And although Germans have "Erntedankfest," it is not quite the same as American Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. It is all about the food. There are no gifts and no special activities. It is simply a time for the entire family to sit around the table and eat and talk. My family did not do this much, so I guess that is why I enjoyed it so much. The day after Thanksgiving also kicked off the Christmas season and some very nice shopping. Unfortunately I don't get that here. Aldi started sell chocolate Sanats in October.

My VA friend is married to a bail bondsman. They love Thanksgiving, too, but for very different reasons. Seems that people do stupid things when you put them in a warm room with family and alcohol. Go figure.

Thanksgiving is also when Americans celebrate one of their founding myths: the Pilgrims journey to the new world and surviving a difficult year. I say myth, because the Pilgrims did not celebrate in Thanksgiving in November and the most certainly did not eat pumpkin pie (but rather swan and seal). Thanksgiving also emerged as an important story in the 1890s, as the number of immigrants increased. There was a search for identity amongst the melting pot, and these stories were spread to make people feel "more American." Searching for identity . . . I can relate to that.

My mother sends my Turkey Care Package every year so that my dinner will be as authentic as possible. However, my turkey is French. We are calling him Henri this year.

Unfortunately there are a few things that I simply miss. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I would put it on early in the morning, and eventually my father would come into the room. "What is this crap!?" He would grumble through the whole thing, but usually let me watch. In college I discovered football and Thanksgiving took on even new meaning.

I am building my own new Euro-American Thanksgiving memories here in C-burg. Although the German does not like the candied yams, he is all about some turkey. Today I was also very touched by his thoughtfulness. After teaching all day, I was dreading going home to my dirty apartment. Cleaning the toilet and baking pie is not my idea of a good time when I am so tired. However, when I stepped through the apartment door, I saw the vacuum in the hallway. I smelled the disinfectant from the door. He cleaned! Even the toilet! Yet one more thing to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A New Outlook

Today I gained a whole new outlook on life. I got my new glasses. What do you think?


This is a very different look for me. For the past few years I have always worn framless or very light colored glasses. My philosophy has been that glasses should melt into your face so that you cannot see them. It is part of my fear of drawing attention to myself (kind of weird that I bog, huh?). Anyway, my glasses have been always been boring.

I finally decided that if I am going to wear glasses, I am going to WEAR glasses. The lady at the shop tried to talk me into some purple stripped ones. I had just come from an English lesson and was wearing a plain fitted, blue blouse, denim skirt, black hose and black loafers. I thought I looked nice, classic (okay and maybe a bit boring), but it frightens me that this German thought, "Yes, purple stripped glasses would definitely complete that outfit." But that is the thing about Germans. They definitely WEAR glasses. Unfortunately that leads to very bad things, like polka-dots or triangles.

I decided that this pair was "classic" but not boring. However, now I feel REALLY self-conscious. So far though the feedback has been good. Although the guy in the office across the hall said that they make me like a teacher . . . Is that a compliment or an insult?

Monday, November 13, 2006

I have really great friends

This afternoon I came home from a meeting and was beginning to feel stressed about the English lessons that I had in the evening and the never ending cycle of laundry sitting in my bedroom. My landlord had put my mail on the stairs. On top was a small envelope from the U.S., from my crazy married friend.

I am always excited to get snail mail; any kind of mail actually. Inside was a small of book about finding serenity and inner peace and a small note, "Saw this at the bookstore and thought of you. Take care." I was moved to tears.

I opened my email and found an email from one of my favorite people, Ch-ard, the Peace Corps volunteer extrodinare. He is about to wrap up his two years of English teaching in Ukraine. I feel bad when I complain about my teaching load. He has to do the same thing, and usually without heat. He wrote just to say, "Hi."

I have really great friends. I have been venting and moaning a lot over the past few months ("No, Claire, really?"), and during that time I got a lot of supportive emails, SMS and comments. I thought that it was high time to say, "THANK YOU!" My love and support here in C-burg, in the States and around the blogosphere has helped keep a smile on my face.

I have some great blogger buddies. I looked at my webstats for the first time in months. My daily average had been about 45 visits a day. It had dropped to 25. Ouch. But those 25 of you keep coming back. I will try to pick up the pace! My fellow ex-pat bloggers are meeting in Bonn on Saturday and I am very jealous! I will be . . . wait for it . . . teaching. But I think I will teach a little bit about blogging and keep you all in my thoughts.

If you have a friend that you have not written in a while, send them a note. It will make their day. Trust me. Much love and groovy vibes from C-burg.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Learning to Relax

This week I went from 52 hours of lessons to 8. On Sunday afternoon, I visited some friends and had coffee and cake and woke up Monday morning excited about the possibility of "free time" this week. My body has had other ideas . . .

At noon on Monday I was sitting in my pajamas in front of my computer working on lessons for that afternoon / evening. I had had a mild headache all morning, and then it turned ugly. I took one of the little pills that my doctor gave me. After about 30 minutes I could barely keep my eyes open and I quickly realized that I would NOT be able to drive a car, so for the first time, I called and cancelled a lesson. I would have felt bad, but I wound up asleep for the rest of the afternoon.

I realized this week that I need to learn how to relax. I spent Monday and Tuesday on meds fending off a migraine and cursing my body. I could not enjoy my first day off in a month. It sucked.

In an effort to be more "relaxed," I watched meaningless TV. I went to the market and spent 15 minutes trying to decide which eye cream to buy (which just made me feel old and not at all relaxed). I cooked for the German and cleaned the apartment (which caused my back to ache and I hit my head on the ceiling when pulling out the vacuum cleaner). Relaxing should not be this much work.

So I decided to engage in a little bit of retail therapy. What's the point in working like a maniac, if I cannot spend some money? So, I bought some new glasses today. They are very cool and totally different and say "Prada" on the side (which is neither here nor there, but worth mentioning because the Germans eyes almost popped out of his head when I told him). The German and I bought plane tickets to the U.S. for spring break next year. On Saturday we are going to buy a dining room table. Let me tell you, I am feeling better already.

PS: Dix, it is Richard Quest who yells. I cannot take that man before my morning coffee.

PSS: Thanks for all the supportive comments. It means a lot to me. Over the past two days I have visited some of my blogger buddies. It is so great to catch-up. I hope to "see" more of you soon!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Sticky Situation

This morning I got up at 5:30am to watch the election returns. Mercifully I got to look at Cooper Anderson (he's so pretty) instead of the over-caffeinated British guy who always seems to be yelling at me. It was not a repeat of the election of 1922, but it was satisfying none the less.

Now, however, I realize just the sticky situation that everyone is in. First, let's take the "winners." The Dems "won" yesterday because they focused on America's growing dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, the U.S. will not be leaving Iraq any time soon. To pull up and move out would result in all out civil war. Disengaging is going to take a little finesse, something this administration has not shown much of. Furthermore, foreign policy is the domain of the executive and the legislative can really only use its oversight powers. Although the impulse is there to haul people before committees and point fingers and say, "I told you so," the Dems really need to fight that urge. It would be unproductive and is not the solution to the problem before us.

The Dems have a domestic agenda, too, including health care, education and raising the minimum wage. However, if the Senate remains Republican or 50 /50, much of what the Dems want to do will get stuck before it even gets off the ground. Thus, the Dems face a potentially major problem in 2008: What have they done for 2 years?

The Executive isn't exactly doin' a little dance or gettin' down tonight, either. I just watched Bush's comments and press conference. Boy, oh, boy! I have never seen him look that uncomfortable or speak that quickly. Frankly, he looked . . . pissed. He mentioned wanting to reach across the aisle and work with Dems on the important "issues," like education. That would be great if he (a) had not said the exact same thing 2 years ago and (b) cut federal funding for college loans while simultaneously increasing interest rates on student loans.

In another not so shocking moment, W announced the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. Seems that Don only wants to play if he can set the rules and do what he wants. Now that he will not have free reign, he is taking his toys and going home. Well, that is if the oversight committees don't get him.

So both parties are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Maybe, just maybe, they might actually play nice in order to get something done. Political parties in Germany would tell them to play nice. After all, there CDU and SPD have had to live with the same situation for a year now. Sadly, making your enemy your friend is not always that easy, but here's hoping.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Go Vote! Do it Now!

I survived my 52 hour week! Yippee! I finally have a little blogging time over the next few days and cannot wait to finally post and see what my cyber friends have been up to.

I was provoked to post because it is a political scientist's favorite holiday: Election Day. For those of those in Europe who do not have the privilege of watching Fox News (which, honestly, really just makes me want to hurl), we are stuck with CNN to see what happens on the other side of the pond. I wish they would switch to the Atlanta office because the London bureau is well . . . not gettin' the job done.

This morning I was treated to the "historical evidence that may be hard to deny." What on earth does this mean? I think my overly caffeinated reporter was talking about how the party in power (i.e. in the White House) tends to lose seats in mid-term elections. This is true. Unfortunately, he kept going on and on about it, even bringing up the fun tid-bit that the Republicans lost 77 seats in 1922 during Warren G. Harding's mid-term election. Although fascinating, I am not sure that this fact will actually influence anyone's decision today. Except mine . . . to get my BBC back.

Anyway, I am following all the election news via the internet. I am a political junkie. I cannot help myself. There are not only important legislative races, but also a host of ballot initiatives, including one in South Dakota to overturn the most restrictive abortion bill ever passed.

I was listening to some very scary Republican radio ads on the internet about how the Democrats want to legalize many illegal immigrants in the U.S. It dawned on me that there are thousands of people who live in the U.S. and pay taxes (yes, they pay taxes, it is called sales tax and can often be higher than an income tax!) but are not allowed to vote. I live 3000 miles away and I get reminders to send in my absentee ballot.

When I was in the shower this morning, I started thinking about what is a "polity." A polity is the political organization of a group. It defines who are the citizens, the participants. Who is in and who is out. Often there are many people who live in a polity but are not legal recognized. They have no voice in the laws that confine their movements or the taxes they pay. On the one hand, there have to be such restrictions. But how do we decide what is right and who belongs? I belong to this polity - Cburg - and I am not allowed to participate in the decision making around me.

While this realization bothered me for awhile, I also began to think, "What is political action?" Do I have to vote to be political? Are there other things I can do? Absolutely! Only through actions like writing to a newspaper, speaking to members of the community, demonstrating, and dare I say it, blogging, can I make my voice heard. Although I would like to vote here in Germany, I do not want to give up my membership in my other polity - the U.S. Therefore, I will have to practice other forms of political action, just like so many immigrants that live in the U.S. I am not sure which form is the most effective, though. There may be some trial and error involved.

I know, you maybe a little confused by this rambling, but elections make me giddy. (Also the idea of polity and indirect political action was going to be my second book before I decided to drop out of academia, but as you can tell, I still think about it a lot.)

I am now going to go have a glass of wine and hope that the election of 1922 repeats itself.