Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bad Moon Rising

Yes, for those who guessed correctly, I am indeed pregnant . . . bun in the oven . . . knocked up . . . expecting . . . parasitically oppressed. Well, choose your own euphemism.

I found out three week ago and I am about 8 weeks along. (For those of us not good at math, I am due around Feb. 14.) I have to admit that when I found out, I was completely shocked and in a little bit of denial. This, despite the fact that the German and I have actually been trying. Nevertheless, the reality of pregnancy sort of blew me away.

I was still in denial when I went to the doctor three weeks ago. However, there was a small black circle sitting in the middle of my uterus. I was undeniably pregnant. Waves of different emotions flooded over me: fear, dread, happiness, disbelief. I suddenly felt my life completely change.

Over the past few years I have gotten used to a certain lifestyle. The German and I work a lot and when we want, we go out to dinner or shop for the house or visit my family in the U.S. Will all of this change? I suppose that it will have to.

Also, will the way I see myself change? Probably. There are several things that I DO NOT want. Although, "mom" is now part of my identity, I do not want it to be the center of my identity. Just like I do not want this to become a "mommy" blog. I have never seen myself as just "one thing," (i.e. woman, business woman, wife, daughter, ex-pat, etc). That is a bit reductionist. Life is more complex than that. I also do not want a station wagon or start wearing "mom pants." Maybe I could be a "hip" mom like Christina or B.

Do not freak out. I am actually getting used to the idea of a baby and settling in for the life changes to come. Everything was made better when the German went with me to my last doctor's appointment. This time there was actually something in the black circle.

Doctor: There is the heart. See the black dot that is moving?

German: (in excited tone) Oh, yes.

Claire: I don't see it.

Doctor: It is right there. Wait, I'll print out a picture.

(Later at home . . .)

Claire: Honey, I have no idea what the doctor is talking about. Where is the heart?

German: Right there. And there is the head and probably what will eventually be legs.

(Claire looks at the picture from many different angles.)

Claire: I still don't see it. Actually, it looks like a duck.

German: It doesn't look like a duck.

Claire: Sure it does. Hey, I am not complaining. If our child is born looking like a duck, I will still love it with all my heart.

German: Should we name it Donald?

Claire: No, that reminds me of Donald Trump, which is way worse than an actual duck.

. . . . . .

Our child is going to be SOOO embarrassed by his/her parents . . . Time for me to go sit on my nest.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Friday, June 22, 2007

Movin' On

No, I am not moving on, but Ch-ard has.

Last month Ch-ard went on a top secret mission to the U.S. Essentially he had a job interview. Which of course he did fab on. And of course they gave him a job. And now he has moved on to lovely Washington State.

Ch-ard lived with the German and I for four months. He taught English lessons for my company and helped in the garden. Watching him leave last Sunday was a bit odd, and this week I have had to get used to him not being here.

I must admit that it is nice to have alone time in the house for the first time ever. I can walk around naked and commune with the house and actually make it feel like it is mine. (No, I do not actually walk around naked . . . or maybe I do . . .) However, the house has a distinct empty feeling to it now and it is VERY quiet. Also, I have had no stories to post this week, and frankly I blame him.

The German and I miss Ch-ard a lot and wish him all the best with his new job.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Gettin' Better All the Time

During my trip back from the States in March, I noticed that my passport was due to expire in June. Immediately I panicked and imagined an endless wait in some embassy lounge. When I arrived home, I jumped on the Internet to research my options.

For expats living in Germany, there are two options for passport renewal. You can either go to the embassy in person and apply or you can apply by mail. I quickly discovered that the embassy responsible for me is located in Hamburg. In April I rang them up. On my first try, I got an actual person . . . an actual person who could even answer my questions. For renewal by mail all I needed to send in was my old passport, the application form, 2 passport photos and a payment form. That all seemed easy enough.

Two weeks ago, I realized that my passport expiration date was at the end of the month. Crap! What happened to April and May? I downloaded the ridiculous passport photo requirements (50cm X 50cm, white background, ears visible, head must be a certain percent of the picture, etc., etc.) and set out to have my picture taken. I had to go to 3 shops before I found a place that could take them!

On June 4 I put my application in the mail and crossed my fingers. Yesterday I got a note from my postman that I had to go to the post office and sign for a letter. I walked up there this morning, and there it was, my new passport!!! I could hardly believe my eyes.

I have to tip my hat to the people at the U.S. Consulate General in Hamburg. They answered all my questions and processed my application in a speed not often associated with American bureaucracy. Unfortunately, I discovered on their website that as of July, U.S. citizen services is being moved to Berlin.

My day took an unexpected turn as I was walking to the post office. My afternoon English lesson called to cancel. So, after the post office I walked into town and discovered that it is farmer's market day. The main street was blocked off and lined with wagons and people selling their wares. There was the cheese guy, and the honey guy, and the potato lady, and the Dutch flower guy prattling away in his clipped German accent.

The market was buzzing with activity. I enjoyed my stroll and discovered a woman who makes her own fresh ravioli. I picked up some parma ham and ricotta cheese ravioli, fresh bread, feta cheese and flowers. I am now very stuffed after an excellent lunch. Time for a nap.

I love it when a good day will sneak up on you when you least expect it.

PS Expats in Germany needing to renew their passports can find information here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Birth of Mediocrity

It happens almost everyday around 7:45am. I sit in front of the TV and watch CNN and scarf down my bran flakes in a vain attempt to be healthy. Inevitably some insane commentary comes on and I drive off to work with a bee in my bonnet. Usually I have calmed down by the time I get to work and forget about it . . . but not today.

This morning CNN featured an interview with Andrew Keen, author of the new book "The Cult of the Amateur." In his book, Mr. Keen criticizes the onslaught of amateur bloggers, which he argues is destroying the Internet and blurring the lines between reliable news and facts.

Quoting from BBC:


He claims that Wikipedia perpetuates a cycle of misinformation and ignorance, and labels YouTube inane and absurd, “showing poor fools dancing, singing, eating, washing, shopping, driving, cleaning, sleeping, or just staring at their computers.”
He warns that old media is facing extinction – “say goodbye to experts and cultural gatekeepers – our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood movie studios.”

(source: BBC Newsnight)

Wow. I must admit, that I was a little offended by these comments. I certainly do not view my world as inane and absurd (boring perhaps, but not absurd). In fact, there are several reasons that many expats choose to blog.

First, for many expat bloggers, the Internet is a key way for us to stay in touch with our families. It is cheap and fast and you can report from anywhere in the world. Second, blogging opens up a virtual community, which helps us exchange information and support each other. Happily, this virtual community has become a real one, and many expat bloggers in Germany meet each other. Perhaps, our stories of culture shock and observations on human behavior are "inane," but if you do not like it, you do not have to read it.

My second bone to pick with Mr. Keen was his comment about saying, "goodbye to experts and cultural gatekeepers." Is this such a bad thing? When I was teaching politics at university, my students and I had many enthusiastic discussions about the Internet. We talked about blogging as a way of expanding the voices heard in a democracy.

The Internet provides an alternative to traditional forms of political participation. Although having your own computer is expensive, for only a few dollars you can go into an Internet cafe and within a few minutes share your political views with the world. Furthermore, there are many stories that the mainstream media simply will not carry. The Internet provides a platform for those individuals who might not other wise be heard.

As far as the claims of inane amateurs, it is not as if the main stream media is not full of its own buffoons. If you want to see mediocrity, turn on Fox News. Also, main stream media has OFTEN reported something falsely (and perhaps even started wars). Hence the corrections section of the editorial page.

Finally, I certainly agree that there is a lot of bad writing out on the Internet, but who am I to judge. There are many gifted writers who have found their start on a blog or website. Should we through out everything because of a few bad apples? Also, who would identify the bad apples? That certainly does not seem very democratic to me and I don't even think that blogging is to blame for the "slump" in our culture. If there is one (which I doubt), you could probably trace it back to the first season of the Real World on MTV, which was much earlier than than blogging. Hell, some people would probably go back even further and blame Andy Warhol or Punk Rock. Wait, I think that Mr. Keen would consider that "real" culture.

Now, I might be an amateur, but I am something of an expert (a PhD in politics from a respected university does that; I tried to figure our what makes Mr. Keen an expert, but came up with nothing). However, I do not report objective facts on this website. As Jen would say, "This isn't CNN." My writing may not win a Pulitzer, but it does not mean I am going to stop. I am sorry to say Mr. Keen, but I (and many in my virtual community) are here to stay. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mamma Mia!

The German and I took a little excursion to Hamburg last weekend. The In-Laws gave us tickets for the show Mamma Mia for Christmas, and we finally got to use them. Unfortunately, the German did not have the best time.

All last week the German did what most teacher's feared: he chaperoned a group of kids on a class trip. Four teachers (including the German) took 33 17- to 19-year-olds to Italy for 5 days. I don't know which was worse for him, the ghetto blaster on the 15 hour bus ride or the filthy bungalows at the camping place that they stayed at or cleaning up a vomiting teenager that has broken curfew. Did you ever wonder what teacher's did when you were acting up on your class trip? Well, they call their spouses at 2am complaining. Only one good thing came out of all of this. He will NEVER DO IT AGAIN.

I met the German at the Bremen train station Saturday morning. The first thing we did was check into our hotel, where the German promptly passed out from being so tired. I woke him a few hours later so that he could take a shower. He looked around a bit confused.

German: Where are the others?

Claire: What others?

German: Where is Waltraud? (another teacher who had been on his trip)

Claire: My name is Claire. I am your wife. You are in Hamburg. You are no longer in Italy.

I don't think he believed me at first. After a shower, we met my brother-in-law and his wife for dinner. Because the show was on the "Reeperbahn", we decided to walk around and find a place to eat. For those who do not know, the "Reeperbahn" is the home of most of Hamburg's sex workers and sex shops. We choose a place that advertised "real American food." If using BBQ sauce makes something American . . . well, okay.

The show was good, if somewhat cheesy. The first 10 minutes I was a bit sceptical, but I relaxed and let the ABBA wash over me. However, the show was in German and I kept singing along in English. The guy next to me kept staring.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Gildefest

Last week Wildeshausen held its annual, week long Gildefest, a celebration put on by the Wildeshausen Schuetzengilde . The Gilde was founded in 1403 in order to train young men to protect the city. With the emergence of firearms, the shooting contest became a central feature of the festival. The winner of the shooting contest is crowned the “Schützenköning.” I am not sure what the “king” does other than buy everyone drinks.

Only men are allowed to be members of the Gilde. Women are strictly forbidden. During the week, members of the Gilde patrol the streets to maintain law and order. You could be, for example, arrested for carrying an umbrella and then paraded through the streets. Don’t worry. For 10 Euros you can buy back your freedom.

On Tuesday all the members of the Gilde dress up and march from the center of town to the Gildeplatz, which is where the shooting contest takes place. Members must wear a black tuxedo and top hat and carry their “weapons.” (Note that the weapons are wooden guns that don’t actually shoot). As I watched them march last week, I wondered whether or not the Gilde could live up to its original purpose (i.e. protecting the city).

The German is not a member of the Gilde however, I am encouraging it. It is very amusing to watch 2000 drunken men march in a straight line. As you can see, we celebrated a bit with the neighbors. Maybe next year the German will have his top hat on.