Monday, July 30, 2007

Jump Little Children

Last week I took on an entirely new teaching challenge: children. Three years ago, the New Yorker developed a "Summer Day Camp" program. Children come to camp for a week, three hours a day. During that time, the children play, draw, sing and speak English. It is all designed not only to teach English in a non-threatening environment, but also to awaken an interest in the language. This way when the students get to school, they don't just say, "Oh, man! English! Yuck!" The New Yorker teaches the 5 to 8 year olds, and I decided to tackle the 9 to 11 year olds. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

First, teaching children is an entirely different type of work. It is more strenuous and involves a lot more activity. There is a constant up, down, worrying aspect that I just do not experience with adults. For example, the children get a 15 minute play outside period. During that time, I stand by the side with my ice handy in case someone accidentally gets hit while playing basketball. I have a new respect for elementary school teachers.

Second, I was in no way prepared for the amazing mimic ability that children have. Their accents are fantastic. I only have to repeat something a few times, and the students can soon repeat it on their own. In one week, they mastered three new songs. Also, the children understood some structures and functions in English much faster than some adults. After one hour, they could ask their fellow student, "When do you . . .?" and respond. I once had an adult student, who needed three weeks to master that structure.

Third, the children give back emotionally in away that adults do not. I become good friends with lots of my students, but none of them hugged my like the 9 year old last week, who wanted to know if we can have a camp in the fall break. It was also beautiful the way they showed their work to their parents, so full of pride.

Teaching children is something that we would like to expand in our business. Three weeks ago (July 8, 2007) there was a large article in Die Welt (, "Why Children Should Learn English Early." In the article, the newspaper quoted studies that show that students who learn English at an early age (i.e. 4 to 5) go on to do better in all subjects in school, including math.

I am also interested in this topic because I would like to raise my child to be bilingual. I am already surfing through the Internet for books and tips. Uh, oh. I smell research coming on, which I just love. It is the nerd in me. I cannot help myself. If anyone has any tips or book suggestions, let me know.

I have a new group of kids this week. It did not gel as well this morning, but I blame the rain. I am sure it will get better. There is a third and final group next week. By that time I will most definitely need my vacation.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

As Time Goes By

This past week, we have celebrated a few more "three's." Sunday was my third wedding anniversary and today is the German's thirty-second birthday. Unfortunately, I committed a bit of a wife faux-pas. Two weeks ago I told someone that our anniversary is the 26th and the German's birthday is the 22nd. The German just starred at me, "Um, no honey, it isn't." Can you imagine!? I am making these mistakes after only three years! It can only be down hill from here. However, it was probably destined.

Flashback: July 2004

The German and I spent the first four days of our marriage in a hotel in South Carolina. We went to the beach, saw family, went to the movies, and relaxed. On July 26, I had to make the most difficult journey of my life (thus far), both emotionally and logistically. After our wedding in South Carolina, I had to travel to New York City with my new husband and in-laws. Although I left home for college when I was 18, leaving this time was very difficult. I felt captured by the Germans as I drove away from my parents home in van packed with all of my worldly possessions. Preparing to leave your home is emotionally draining, so I was not looking forward to leaving.

On July 26, four days after the wedding, the German and I met my mom and dad-squared at a diner for breakfast. The entire morning I had been quiet and withdrawn. When we got to the diner, my mother gave the German a big hug. "Happy Birthday, sweetie!" she said. I just starred at my new husband. I had totally forgotten his birthday! (There was a slight reversal in roles this week. My mom called on Monday convinced that my anniversary is the 23rd.)

The German and I spent our special days doing . . . absolutely nothing. We treated ourselves to dinner at our favorite restaurant for our anniversary, and today I promised not to complain about him playing soccer tonight (which is actually convenient, because it leaves me time to blog).

My feelings of captivity have certainly subsided in the past few years, well except when we bought the house. Every day I look at my husband with a bit of wonder. No matter how annoyed I may be by something he has done, I am always amazed that someone so special, kind, funny, smart and sexy loves me. For example, although it was his birthday, he made a very lovely lunch which was waiting for my when I got home. Also, I am constantly discovering something new about him. All of this makes living in Germany just a bit easier.

Happy Birthday, honey, and I hope you have many, many more.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

It feels like time is just slipping away, and I am not inspired to write something new. It is very frustrating. Fatigue has been the biggest pregnancy symptom that I have battled thus far, and it is impacting my work ethic. I don't want to do ANYTHING these days but lie around and sleep.
I have also had several headaches over the past two weeks. Because I don't want to take anything, that has also resulted in my just sitting around, watching TV, waiting for the nausea and pain to pass.

Today I passed the time with some old friends, my blogger buddies. I have so many that I like to read that I forget to stop by. It feels good to catch up. I saw this meme over by Mausi and Stepping Stones. Thought you might enjoy learning a little bit more about me!

1. How many keys are on your keychain? Which one. I have two key chains: the school / office (which has 5) and my personal one (which has 4)

2. What curse word do you use the most? S*** (both the German and English forms)

3. Do you own an iPod? No, I don’t do gadgets.

4. What time is your alarm clock set for? 7:00am, but I usually get up at 7:30am

5. How many suitcases do you own? Too many. We always buy a new one when we visit the States because we always underestimate how much we will buy.

6. Do you wear flip–flops even when it’s cold outside? I wear flip-flops from May to September. I don’t care what the weather is like. It drives my mother-in-law crazy.

7. Where do you buy your groceries from? Marktkauf.

8. Would you rather take the picture or be in the picture? Take.

9. What was the last movie you watched? I watched “Where Angles fear to Tread” on TCM, but they cut off the last 5 minutes!

10. Do any of your friends have children? Some of my German friends do, but of my good friends from college and high school, I will be the first.

11. If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would buy? A house on the beach in South Carolina.

12. Has anyone ever called you lazy? Never to my face.

13. Do you ever take medication to help you fall asleep faster? I have tried it a few times on plane trips, but it never works.

14. What CD is currently in your CD player? Disco’s Greatest Hits (good driving music)

15. Do you prefer regular or chocolate milk? These days all I crave is fresh, white milk.

16. Has anyone told you a secret this week? Not yet, but it is only Monday.

17. When was the last time someone hit on you? Probably about a year ago.

18. What did you have for dinner? Bratwurst and potato salad

19. Do you wear hoodies often? I would say often. Sometimes perhaps.

20. Can you whistle? Yes, but not well.

21. Have you ever participated in a protest? Yes, in Germany during my stay in Kassel from 1997 to 1998.

22. Who was the last person to call you? The New Yorker. I left my keys at the office.

23. What is your favorite ride at an amusement park? I don’t really have a favorite.

24. Do you think people talk about you behind your back? It would be strange if they did not.

25. What area code are you in right now? 04473

26. Did you watch cartoons as a child? Um, hello, Jem.

27. How big is your local mall? There are no malls around here.

28. How many siblings do you have? An older sister . . . who I am not very fond of these days.

29. Are you shy around the opposite sex? Not really, and especially not since I got married.

30. What is your biggest regret? So far, I don’t have any.

31. When was the last time you laughed so hard your sides hurt? I cannot remember, but I am sure that it was at one of the German’s bad jokes.

32. What movie do you know every line to? When Harry Met Sally

33. Do you own any band t–shirts? No, but I have a very cool Rainbow Brite t-shirt.

34. When was your last plane ride? March 2007 from Atlanta to Germany.

35. How many chairs are at your dining room table? 6

36. Do you read for fun? Not as often as I would like.

37. Can you speak any languages other than English? German and a very little French.

38. Do you do your own dishes? Only the pots. That is why I have a dishwasher.

39. What color is your bedroom painted? Pale violet and bright blue.

40. Have you ever cried in public? Sure.

41. Do you have a desktop computer or a laptop? Laptop

42. Which do you make, wishes or plans? Both.

43. Are you always trying to learn new things? Yes. I feel restless if I don’t.

44. Do you shower on a daily basis? Shower, yes, but wash my hair only every two days.

45. Are you currently wanting any piercings or tattoos? No.

46. Do you believe that the guy should pay on the first date? Believe it, no, but I do think that it is nice.

47. Can you skip rocks? No. (I thought this question said sip rocks, as in, “sip vodka on the rocks.”)

48. Have you ever been to Jamaica? No. And I must admit it is not high on my list of places to go.

49. What to snack on at the movie theaters? Dr. Pepper and Junior Mints, although they don’t have it here in Germany, which makes me sad.

50. Who was your favorite teacher? Dr. Sweet, my German professor

51. Have you ever dated someone out of your race? No.

52. What is the weather like? Sunny (thank you, God!)

53. Would you ever date someone covered in tattoos? No. I am married.

54. Do you have an online journal? You are reading it.

55. What was your favorite class in high school? Toss up between Geometery and Calculus.

56. Do you enjoy traveling via airplanes? Not any more. I can never get to sleep and I am nervous the entire time I am over a big body of water.

57. What personality trait is a must–have in your preferred gender? Humor

58. Have you ever been attracted to someone physically unattractive? I have been attracted to people who my friends questioned the attractiveness of.

59. When was the last time you slept on the floor? Probably college.

60. What is your favorite alcoholic drink? Cosmopolitan

61. Does your closest Starbucks have a drive–thru? There is a Starbucks in Osnabruck and Hamburg. Neither have a drive-thru.

62. Do you like your living arrangement? More and More everyday.

63. What is your mother’s hometown? You would have to ask her; but she was born in Tulsa, OK.

64. How many hours of sleep do you need to function? Before pregnancy 3; now with pregnancy 8.

65. Do you eat breakfast daily? Before pregnancy just coffee, but now I eat multigrain flakes, joghurt and drink orange juice every morning.

66. What was the last thing to scare you? I almost got into a car accident last week. Some idiot tired to pull out in front of me.

67. Are your days full and fast–paced? Most of the time, but not in the summer.

68. Did you ever get in trouble for talking in class? Whenever Jessica was in class with me.

69. What is your favorite fruit? strawberries

70. Do you pay attention to calories on the back of packages? No.

71. How old will you be turning on your next birthday? 30.

72. Are you picky about spelling and grammar? Naw;

73. Do you believe in life on other planets? I would not rule it out.

74. Have you ever been to Six Flags? Yes in Atlanta and Illinois.

75. Who was the last person to piss you off? Probably my husband.

76. Do you believe that God has a gender? No.

77. What was the last thing you ate? I just had a joghurt.

78. Do you get along better with the same or opposite sex? It does not seem to matter to me. Depends on the person.

79. What did you dress up as for your first Halloween? I cannot remember, but I do remember the year that my mom made me a unicorn costume and I was runner-up in the local kids costume contest.

80. How did your parents pick your name? Claire was my maternal grandmother, Marie was my paternal grandmother.

81. Do you like mustard? Yes, Dijon please.

82. What do you tell yourself when times get hard? This to shall pass.

83. Would you ever sky dive? No. I am afraid of heights.

84. Do you sleep on your side, tummy, or back? My right side, although my pregnancy book says I should lie on my left, but I find that uncomfortable.

85. What character from a movie most reminds you of yourself? Probably some kind of Meg Ryan character.

86. Have you ever bid for something on ebay? Yes, DVDs.

87. Do you enjoy giving hugs? Yes, whenever I can.

88. Would you consider yourself to be fashionable? I try. I really do. But some how it just never works out.

89. Do you own a digital camera? Yes, my only exception to the gadget rule.

90. If someone you had no interest in dating expressed interest in dating you, how would you feel? Guilty that I was not interested.

91. What celebrities have you been compared to? Susan Sarandon. I don’t get it though.

92. Who is your favorite Star Wars character? Han Solo.

93. Does it annoy you when someone says they’ll call but never do? No, because I am guilty of it myself.

94. What books, if any, have made you cry? The Lovely Bones

95. Do you think you’re attractive? Attractive? Probably not. But, I would consider myself pretty.

96. What are you allergic to? Nothing.

97. Are you a jealous person? Only when teenagers flirt with my husband.

98. What’s your opinion on sex without emotional commitment? There is a time and place for everything.

99. Do you ever feel guilty after eating meat? Never.

100. If you were born the opposite sex, what would your name have been? No idea. But I hope it was not Donald.

101. Is it lunch time yet? About two hours ago. It is time for a snack now.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

We're Goin' a Party Like it's my Birthday

Lately I have been feeling a little . . . old. Well, not so much old as . . . grown up. You see, in exactly one month, on August 11, I will be 30 years old. The big 3-0. And honestly, it is freaking me out.

The German noticed my funk a few days ago and we talked about it. As I reflected on my feelings, I realized that turning 30 is tied to all of the changes that have taken place in my life in the past few years. In the past four years I have: lived in Germany, gotten engaged, moved back to the U.S., gotten married, moved back to Germany, finished my PhD, changed careers, opened my own business, bought and renovated a house, opened a pension fund and gotten pregnant. Yes, I have been a bit busy.

Claire: Does this mean that it is all over? Am I a grown up now?

German: What do you mean?

Claire: Well, the time for new adventures and exploring is over. Now it is all about work and driving kids to soccer practice.

German: Don't worry sweetheart, I will help you find new adventures.

And because I have one of the best husbands on the planet, he and I booked plane tickets for a four day weekend in Ireland next month.

So, I have decided that although I might be grown up, the time for doing things is not over. Therefore, I will be kicking my birthday in the butt and partying it up . . . without alcohol of course.

I am inviting my ex-pat blogger buddies (and any buddies far away who want to see me again) to my "3 is a Magic Number" Party.

When: August 11, 7pm
Where: My home
Why: The German will be 32, it is our 3rd wedding anniversary, and I will be 30

If you are interested, please send me an email and I will send details. I have a guest room and an air mattress. Everything is on a first come, first serve basis.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Losing My Religion

Warning: This post has absolutely nothing to do with my own personal religion or religious beliefs.

When ever I need to know what is hip and happening in German society, I turn to my cultural guide, my soap opera, Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten (Good Times, Bad Times). In the past few months I have not had time for my guilty pleasure, but last week I was finally able to catch up. What I saw . . . was a little disturbing.

It seems that Vincent and Sandra have joined a religious type of organization known as "Conception." Their new found enlightenment has alienated them from all of their friends. Vincent's ex-girlfriend, Verena, wanted to write an expose on the "cult" and went to a meeting. The head of the group informed Vincent that Verena is "hard headed" and ordered him to give Verena a hallucinogenic drug while Verena watched the orientation video. Vincent could not do it and now wants out of the "organization." However, the group is making is life very difficult at the moment.

The parallels between "Conception" and Scientology are thinly veiled. And while this story line in no way tops the glorious and ridiculous story of Marlena's possession on Days of Our Lives, it actually does reflect a strong anti-Scientology trend in German society. I realized this a few weeks ago when a few CDU politicians argued that Tom Cruise should not be allowed to film his WWII movie in Germany because of his "religious beliefs."

This anti-Scientology bent is not just on the TV and used against Tom Cruise. A few months ago someone brought it to my attention that my business's reputation might be in danger. We do a few tutoring sessions for young kids after school. The person (who was a bit older than myself) said to me, "Claire, you should make sure that people see you in church more often."

I was a little shocked. I looked at her and asked why. She responded, "Well, everyone knows that those tutoring facilities and schools run by foreigners are just recruiting places for Scientology." I was completely at a loss for words. And trust me, that does not happen often.

After thinking about these things on the weekend, I decided to see what the fuss is about. I did a little Internet research on Scientology. Scientology is based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard and was founded in 1954. Scientologists refer to their beliefs as an "applied religious philosophy," whatever that means.

From what I can gather, Scientologists believe that humans are "immortal, spiritual beings." Problems that we have in this life are a consequence of what we did in a past life. (Hmm. Um, Mr. Hubbard, that sounds a lot like Hinduism?) Through the process of "auditing" you can free yourself of past traumas. (Hmm. Um, Mr. Hubbard, that sounds a lot like confession and/or therapy?)

I have to admit that much of Scientology sounds like a gathering of different types of belief systems rolled into one. Where Scientology gets weird is that as you achieve different levels of clarity, adherents attend advanced courses where they learn about things like Xenu and the Galactic Confederacy. Obviously Mr. Hubbard's science fiction writings influenced him more that he thought.

Now if you want to know more about this, you will have to do your own research. I stopped reading when I got to the part about Xenu. It was a bit too much for me. Also, frankly, I do not think a spiritual leader should wear ascots.

Do I think that Scientologists are such a danger that they will kidnap and eat little children? Heavens, no. Nonetheless, when I saw this picture posted on Wikipedia, I laughed. It is a German leaflet about threats to democracy. Scientology was between Islamic extremism and organized crime.

Picture Source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I just called to say . . .

I knew a lot about the German before I married him. I knew that he is funny, chatty, kind and considerate. I had no idea however, that I was marrying Gadget Guy.

Gadget Guy /ga-jet gI/ (noun): a man who has an unreasonable fascination for small mechanical devices that are usually expensive and have many small buttons

Since we got married in 2004, the German has tried to buy more gadgets and claim they are for me. These purchases are always meant to be "in my best interest" and they are always "a great investment" (i.e. expensive).

German: I think that you need a navigation system for your car. You drive so much for work. It would be a great investment.

Claire: Sweetie, I don't need a navigation system. I know where I am going.

German: But how?!?

Claire: It is called a map, dear.

Nevertheless, the German did give my only and most important gadget, my cell phone. That's right, until January 2004 I never owned a cell phone. Why did I need one? I had a land line, and if something was so important you could leave a message. I always call back. The German keeps trying to get me to upgrade my phone but I refuse. The one I have is small and compact. It gets the job done . . . most of the time. My phone works on a pre-paid calling card and therefore runs out of money at very unfortunate times. Such as last week . . .

Last Thursday I taught what is perhaps the worst class I have ever had in my 6 years of teaching experience. A local organization called up the New Yorker and I two weeks ago and asked if we could cover an English class for them. Now, the pay is not the best, but the people are nice and the organization is an important business partner of ours, so the New Yorker and I always try to help out when we can.

Sadly, the class was more like babysitting than teaching. Half the class was really interested in learning and are good kids. The other half spent the class reading the newspaper, sleeping, talking to their friends, folding paper airplanes. They are the kind of student who will not give you their correct name and will press start button on the CD player when they are walking out of the room . . . because it is "funny."

Needless to say, I was pretty beat after teaching for three hours, but my day was not over and I had to drive to a company for a lesson. By 6pm I was exhausted, hungry and nauseous (for those of you wondering, I have not had morning sickness, but I get very nauseous in the evenings). I got into the car and begged Smarty to take me home.

I was about 10 kilometers from home when my car started to make a very strange noise. For a minute I contemplated driving the rest but decided it was better to be safe than sorry. I pulled off the road and turned on my emergency blinkers. I got out of the car and walked around. My right side tire was completely blow out.

Lucky for me I have a cell phone. I dialled home.

Phone Voice: Your phone only has 39 cents available. Please add money to make a call.

Damn. I sent a text message to the German's cell phone. I crossed my fingers that the German was somewhere near his cell phone. We have a big house and chances are the he would not see it. I then looked at the 10 kilometers in front of me and wondered how long it would take to get home. I opened up the back of the car to realize that I (a) do not have any tools in my car and (b) do not have a spare tire. About this time I also realized that I REALLY had to go to the bathroom (oh the joys of pregnancy).

Then my cell phone rang. THANK YOU GOD. The German laughed when I explained the situation and said that he would be there in a minute. About 10 minutes later the German drove up. He immediately started changing the tire, when he realized that his tools did not fit. The German drives a big Audi, and I drive a small Smart. You need two different wrenches. Hmm . . .

The German called my father-in-law, the Patriarch in the Gadget Guy family tree. Lucky for us he showed up 10 minutes later. He, of course, was able to change the tire in like a minute.

I finally got home around 8:30pm. I was exhausted and at the end of my rope. And I am finally letting the German upgrade my cell phone.

PS I would like to note that during the flat tire episode, I was near a main road and lots of cars drove by. Not a single car stopped to help me. Not even the police officer.