Saturday, December 20, 2008

In One Piece

Yes, we did make it to the U.S. in one piece. Unfortunately, I left a little piece of myself all over United Airlines.


On Thursday morning the Dude woke up with no idea that the day would be filled with so much change and adventure. We left for the Bremen airport at 8am (German time). Even though I had called the airline twice over the past few months in order to reserve a bulkhead seat, they repeatedly told me that I could only do it when we checked in. In Bremen the Lufthansa representative could not access the United computer system and we had to take the seats that we could get. "Check in at the gate in Frankfurt. They will help you." Uh, huh. Sure they will.

Everything went really well with our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, but then it was pretty much down hill from there. At the Frankfurt airport we had no idea where our connection was and how to get there. We spent half an hour wandering aimlessly. Good thing that we had such a long lay over. The Dude slept for about an hour and we all had some lunch.

As I predicted, the gate only opened up an hour and half before departure time and I finally got an answer about the bulkhead seat. "Oh, no. Those are already reserved. You have to call in advance." "Really, that is not what they said the two times that I called." Economy plus was all they could do for us. When it was time to board the plane, there was no pre-boarding for people with small children. In fact, boarding was pretty much a free for all, with the German and the Dude getting trampled in the process.

The flight to DC was actually okay. I was surprised at how little turbulence there was. Unfortunately, the Dude could not figure out why everyone was awake and why we would not put him to bed. He fussed and cried and slept off and on for about three and a half hours before finally crashing somewhere over Greenland. And then I got sick.

I started vomiting over Greenland and continued to do so every 45 minutes for the rest of the flight. I felt TERRIBLE! The German looked at the baby and then looked at me and then looked at the baby. He could not figure out what to do.

When we landed in DC I managed to pull myself together to go through immigration and customs. Thankfully we had no problems. But I could feel the next wave of illness coming over me. The German, for some reason, was in good spirits. "Honey, how about a Mushroom Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy's." Huh? I looked to my right and saw a picture that made my stomach turn for the 100th time that day. Seriously, who eats this stuff?

Even in lying in the DC airport transported on waves of nausea, I could still tell that something had changed in my homeland. Then I realized that it was the gate announcer that was bothering me.

"Now boarding all row. All seat. These flight are full." I turned to the German. "Sweetie, did the MLA do away with plural forms since we were here last?"

On the way to SC, the German and I had to sit in separate seats. Because he had an emergency row seat, I had to take the Dude on my lap. We both conked out from exhaustion on the runway. When we got in the air, I could feel the need for the bathroom. Luckily, I was sitting next to an angel in disguise. "Excuse me, ma'am, could you hold my baby for a minute so that I can go to the rest room." I passed over the Dude and went to do my business.

When I came back the Dude was still asleep in the woman's arms. She held him for about 40 minutes so that I could have a rest and we chatted. Turned out that she was on her way to visit her first grandchild. The Dude slept the entire time.

My mom was there to meet us in Charleston. She was more than happy to take the Dude so that I could go to the bathroom. Again. At home the Dude slept until 6am and is doing a good job of getting into a normal rhythm. I on the other hand spent entire first day at home lying on the sofa trying to keep water in my stomach.

Today everyone is doing a bit better and the weather here is WON-DER-FUL. But there are some changes around town which bother me a bit. But that I will blog about later. Right now, it is time for some pepto.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Buyer's Market

The German and I dream of one day buying a summer home in my home state of South Carolina. We would love to be able to spend 6 to 8 weeks a year relaxing in the sun, eating seafood and walking on the beach. When you are in your early 30's dreams like this are most definitely out of reach, but I am beginning to see a glimmer of hope.

Three years ago, the German and I saw the housing bubble bursting in Michigan. The development where my dad and Mom-squared bought a house stagnated. Nothing new was built. Houses stand empty and brand new (beautiful!) homes are losing value. As we drove around the mid-west, we saw this everywhere!

Now, bundling seems to be the least of our worries. Turns out that there are even more fishy loans out there. In the report below, the reporter projects that 8 million Americans may loose their homes in the next 4 years. Part of me feels sick about the thought of all those people on the street. But part of me is also salivating at the investment opportunities. Both of us have stable sources of income. The German is in no danger of loosing his job, and the demand for English teachers seem to be going up.

Is it so wrong for me to think that the opportunity to buy a second home is not too far fetched? It is wrong to want to get something while the getting is good? Don't worry. The German and I are not foolish people. In fact, the German is EXTREMELY cautious when it comes to money. I think he would only let me buy a home in the U.S. if we could put 50% down. Time to start saving my milk money.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Should have Known Better

By the time you reach the age of 30 you begin making a mental list of things you "know better." Rushing through the red light when in a hurry to get to work, for example. The police will stop you every time. In my case I know better than to trying to keep the pace with the German's Soccer Team. By keeping the pace, I mean alcohol. Last night was the annual Christmas party and true to form most of the team, and several wives, got very intoxicated. I know better than to try and drink that much, but I did it anyway.

This morning my body was not very forgiving. Mercifully the Dude was at Oma and Opa's house so he did not have to witness his mother trying to stuff a turkey at 7:45am while still possibly intoxicated. Oh, did I mention that I invited over the German's family for a pre-Christmas get together? Yes, getting drunk the night before throwing a dinner party is also something I know better. But I did it anyway.

We ate at 12:30 and by then I was a bit better and could keep down some food.

This week we are flying to the U.S. The Dude will get to spend his first Christmas in sunny SC. I probably know better, but I decided not to purchase him a seat. Children under 2 fly for free if you carry them on your lap. In an effort to save money, we went this route.

Any tips on travelling with an infant?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Natural Born Citizen

The Supreme Court turned down a NJ man's petition to throw out the 2008 election. Leo Donofrio argues that Obama cannot be president because he is not a "natural born citizen," which a requirement to be president. Because Obama was born to an American mother and a Kenyan father, he was a dual citizen and cannot be president.



The more that I read about this, the more absurd I found it. First, let's go to the primary source: the constitution. Article II Section 1 lists the requirements for the president:
No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.
Note how ambiguous the language is. What the heck is a "natural born citizen?" This clause is often interpreted as meaning that only individuals born on U.S. soil can be president; naturalized citizens cannot (i.e. Arnold Schwarzenegger). However, it makes no mention of parentage. That is, does the individual born on American soil have to have two American parents?

If we turn to secondary literature, such as the Federalist papers, the founding fathers did not leave much evidence. Jay discusses the importance of the age requirement for the president but does not mention citizenship (Federalist 64). Hamilton, also an author of the federalist papers, surely would not have argued for two American parents. He was born out of wedlock in the British West Indies (the island of St. Nevis).

Given the ambiguity and the lack of guidance from the founders, most scholars would just stick with mainstream thought. Obama was born in Hawaii, a U.S. state, in 1961, which makes him a natural born citizen regardless of his parentage. Or was he . . .

The most ridiculous part of some of these lawsuits is that some conservative commentators argue that Obama was not born in Hawaii. His birth certificate is not real! No one is left alive to prove that he was born in Hawaii! Even though the state of Hawaii certifies his birth certificate and a birth announcement in a newspaper from that time was found, these rumors persist. It leaves me shaking my head.

No matter how you slice the pie, however, the Dude is not a natural born citizen. He was born in Germany. His father is German. Doh! I guess I will always have to tell him, "Sweetie, you can be anything you want in this world, but not president of the U.S. But who wants that job anyway?"

Stranger than Fiction (aka It's my Blog-a-versary)

You know what they say about how time flies when you're doing stuff? Well, they are not wrong. I had to work this past Saturday, but could not shake the feeling that I was forgetting something. Yes, it was St. Nicholas Day, but it was also my three year Blog-a-versary.

Many things have changed in three years: I quit academia, became a certified English teacher, started a company, dissolved a company, bought and renovated a house, moved, changed the blog's name and look, got pregnant, had a baby and I even baked a few things in between. I have written 343 posts and had about 54,000 visits to the site. Sure it sounds impressive, but realistically the vast majority of those visits were from my mom.

I get tired just thinking about it.

It all started with one little post three years ago. Back then my blog was called "My Euro-American Life." My quandary was what I would tell my child about the contradictory stories about Christmas that exist in Germany and the U.S. (You can read the original post here.) Three years ago I was thinking hypothetically. But now that I actually HAVE a kid . . .

The German and I talked about what we should start telling the Dude about Christmas. We know that it has to be a little logical because the Dude is not dumb. He often gives me this arched eyebrow look as if to say, "What are you talking about??" This is what we came up with.

Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the son of God, preached a long time ago about peace and love and the equality of men and women. There also exists a spirit of Christmas, St. Nicholas. A long time ago, he gave to poor children in what is now Turkey. Every Christmas hisspirit comes back to give toys to children. St. Nicholas cannot do it all at the same time so he has some helpers, such as Santa Claus. St. Nicholas visits children in Holland in the night on Dec. 5 and brings them presents. He comes to Germany, but only brings little things. Santa Clause goes to the U.S. on the evening of Dec. 24, as well as some other places. In Germany the Christmas Man and the Christ Child visit during the day. You, my little one are very special. You are German AND American. St. Nicolas will come visit and so will Santa Clause. However, they will only bring you gifts if you are a good little boy, kind and helpful.

What do you think? I am not too worried. We have a few years to get our story straight, but I want to be prepared for the assault of questions that I am sure to get.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Keeping up with Christopher

We hit another milestone here at Cheeseburgers and Sauerkraut. Over the past three weeks, the Dude has learned to pull himself to a standing position as well as open drawers and doors. Oh Joy.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I am very proud. "Look what my Little One can do!" On the other hand, I am completely terrified. You can no longer leave the Dude in a room alone for a minute. I run around behind him with open arms going, "Don't eat that! Don't open that! Don't throw that! NOO!" I feel like a mean mommy, but I am trying to protect both him and my furniture. Somehow I think I might be losing the battle.

On Monday the Dude had a check-up. He clocked in at 30 inches and 21 pounds. Of course, he was a complete angel during the exam. The doctor was very kind. "He is definitely growing into a big boy!"

At this point they try to test his mental development by giving him blocks and having him up small objects. At first he would not take the blocks. He kept batting his lashes and smiling at the doctor. "Dude! It is not time to flirt! Pick up the blocks or she is going to write bad things."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I (heart) Jon Stewart

One of the great things about the election was that I discovered tons of nifty stuff on the internet. Unlike ABC and NBC, you can actually access current episodes from the Comedy Channel while living in Europe (damn you server blocker!). The German and I took to watching Jon Stewart while eating lunch. For 2 weeks Jon was on vacation, and we went through a bit of withdrawal.

He is back now, and one reason that I love him, is that he can laugh at everybody. Bill O'Reilly tried to argue with his lack of balance, but Jon just laughed. "Dude, this ain't a news show!"

Monday, December 01, 2008

When it rains . . . throw a shower

Yesterday I hosted a Bridal Shower for the New Yorker. My friend and ex-business partner is getting married in just 3 short weeks. Although I do not talk about her much here (mainly out of respect for her privacy), she has been an important part of my life the past few years. In fact as unlikely as her story is, it is absolutely true.

Like many an ex-pat, the New Yorker came to Germany for love. After having enough of the rat race in NYC she decided to take a tour of Europe in 2000. During that trip she met a man. A German man. Itching for something new, she took him up on his offer to hang out in Germany for awhile. 3 months quickly turned into 4 years and she went from being an accountant to an English teacher.

We met 4 years ago at that "other" language school. I was supposed to observe her teach and she was to my supervisor in C-burg. When we met we instantly bonded. We were both American! And women! And the same age! And in Germany for the same reason! Trust me, at that time I did not meet many women in a similar place in life as me.

Unfortunately, the New Yorker's life hit a bumpy patch. Work was frustrating and unfulfilling and the relationship that had brought her to Germany was coming to an end. She did not know what to do next. I spent many hours listening, wishing that I could help.

I was also looking for something. Giving up academia left a hole in my life and as much as I like teaching English, I needed something more. Through our mutual frustrations, our language school was born. And it was great. Despite the work, it was a joy to go to the office and watch something grow.

And then I got pregnant. The New Yorker took the news a bit harder than I expected, but now I understand why. She had moved to C-burg for our little company, and she was very alone. For the first time she lived on her own. Work was great, but she did not have much of a private life. Let's also say that C-burg does not offer many opportunities for the young, American professional. During that time she even contemplated moving back to the U.S.

Enter the Doctor. As part of our "public relations" boost, we held a monthly English stammtisch at the local Irish Pub. That's right, there in an Irish Pub in C-burg. The Doctor had seen the advertisement and in June 2007 dragged a friend of his with him. He was born in Africa (to German parents) and speaks fluent English. Turns out that he was also frustrated with the limited social scene.

The New Yorker was hesitant. The Doctor was persistant. After a while I was consouling her on writing the best emails. By January 2008 they were living together, and now they are getting married.

For awhile she was the best bride. As with many professional women in their 30s, the New Yorker had given up hope of a husband and a family. I don't think she believed that it was all truely happening. However, her better judgement finally kicked in and she got everything planned. They are getting married in Florida, but we will not be able to attend. After spending 24 hours getting to the U.S., packing the Dude into a car and driving 9 hours just does not seem like a good idea.

The Bridal Shower was my way of sparking her bridal energy and participating. I feel terrible that I cannot go. The New Yorker was my boss and then my partner and now she is my boss again. When we ended the partnership, things were bad between us for awhile. But like good friends do, we found our way back to each other.

The shower was hysterical. The German women in attendance ate up all of the Americana, including the classic bridal shower game, "Toilet Paper Wedding Dress." I was pretty impressed by what they came up with. There were tears and smiles and it was a complete success, just as I am sure her wedding will be.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Giving Thanks

Let's add it all up shall we:

One 13 lb. Turkey: 23.00 Euro

Postage for Package from America with the needed supplies: $52.00

Cleaning and Baking: One Sleepless Night

Sitting on the floor giggling with the Dude and watching a "Charlie Brown Thanksgiving:" Priceless


Here is hoping that you had a lovely day. I know that we have a lot to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Still Alive

Yes, we are still here. We are all even feeling better. The antibiotics helped the Dude get back on his feet and he even slept through the night the pass few days. Last night I got to sleep without nose spray. Unfortunately, the German then got sick last week. Luckily he recovered faster than the Dude and I.

The funny thing about the baby getting sick, is that you think the World is Coming to an End. It also seems like a process that never ends. Once it is over, then it was not as half as bad as one thought. Although I don't want to have to do it again soon.

We have also spent the last few days getting over our "Election-itis." What should I do now? The Dude does keep me on my toes, but I need something else as an intellectual outlet. The Election served that purpose for awhile.

My research and novel sit neglected on my desk and I know that I have to go back to it other wise it will never get done. Also, my work with OVF may allow me to do a bit of political research. This has me very exicited as I never thought that the poli sci door would open again. But there it is.

For now though there is Thanksgiving next week and I am throwing a Bridal Shower for the New Yorker. Look for a few good cooking posts. While randomly surfing the net, I watched Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg make mashed potatoes. I wonder if Snoop Dogg would come to my house for some Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Stoop


The Stoop
Originally uploaded by govt23

When I was a kid, I loved being sick. Not seriously ill, but sick enough to not have to go to school. My mom let me sleep on the sofa and watch cartoons while drinking ginger ale. To this day, I think Bugs Bunny and a chocolate milk shake can cure all that ales you. Being a mother and being sick . . . that just sucks.

All day Wednesday I had a fever and felt achy. I spent the entire day on the living room floor watching the Dude chase after a ball with CNN playing in the background. I could not decide what to do so I called Dr. Mom, aka my mom.

Thursday I felt a bit better and so I soldiered on. Friday the Dude took a turn for the worse and developed a fever and a cough. He laid on the floor, barely moving. We took him to the doctor, who was worried about his breathing so she put him on antibiotics just in case.

This weekend the two of us are not much better. We are both still pretty stuff and cough all the time. I finally broke down and went to a doctor today. He smiled.

"Yeah, it is just a virus. Go home and take an aspirin. Sometimes you have to power through."

I swear that I thought he was going to punch my arm. He must of noticed my disgust.

"Look on the bright side. It usually lasts two weeks, and you already have one behind you."

There you have it. A silver lining in the midst of my snot.

The Dude is moving around a bit better and as you can see from the video, he has conquered the step in our living room. The stairs must be next.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Virtual Post Election Bash! Great Expectations Edition

The vodka chilled and the glasses were ready. I was all set to drink my Obama-tini and toast a new president. Unfortunately the hangover I have this morning is due to cold medicine and not libations.

It was difficult to watch the election alone. I had no one to share my excitement or to help me ponder the outcome. So at midnight, as my temperature increased, I cuddled under a blanket to watch the first returns. I promptly fell asleep. When I woke up at 3am, I made a cup of tea. By 4am Obama had 198 electoral votes and I decided to hit the bed. However, I got up just in time to see his speech. It moved me to tears.

As I listened to his words, I contemplated how far America has come. But then, if you listened closely, you also heard the President elect tell us just far we have to go. One could almost see the Great Expectations placed upon his shoulders. And he knows it. He cautioned us that creating change will not be easy and it will not happen overnight.

Unfortunately, in the age of the 24 hour news cycle, the American public expects change and they expect it now. It is going to be extremely difficult to meet these expectations.

The German drank his coffee while watching the speech. He joked about my tears. I tried to impress upon how significant it is that an African-American man can be elected presented. We tried to figure out what would be comparable in Germany. "A Jew as Chancellor?" I suggested. The German thought for a moment. "No, a Turkish Jew."

My contribution to the post election bash is a bit somber. However, now is the time to reflect and enjoy America's journey. Tomorrow it is time to go to work.

_____

This Post is part of Diane Mandy's Virtual Post Election Bash! Check out the other posts!

Adam (Germany)
American (in Norway)
Andrea (Germany)
Charlotte (Germany)
Christina (Germany)
Claire (Germany)
Claire (Great Britain)
Dianne (U.S.)
Eusmaca (U.S.)
Evercurious (U.S.)
G in Berlin (Germany)
Ian in Hamburg (Germany)
J (Germany)
Jul (Germany)
Me (United States)
Princess Extraordinaire (U.S.)
Sizzle (U.S)
Snooker (Germany)
Vailian (Germany)
Yelli (Germany)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Happy Election Day!

I don't know about you, but I am really glad that all of this is almost over! If you live in the U.S., you should go and vote today. If you need information please check out the links below, which will help you locate your polling place and double check your registration status:

www.vote411.org
http://canivote.org/

In honor of election day, I thought that I would address a few questions that I often get from both Germans and Americans. If you consider this post "unintelligent" or stupid, then fell free to stop reading. I, personally, consider it informative.

Reader: So, Claire, how IS the U.S. president elected anyway?

This is a really good question! The most important thing to remember is that U.S. presidents are chosen indirectly.

When the constitution was written over 200 years ago, the founders decided to use an electoral college to select the president. On election day, voters go to the polls and actually for "electors." For example, many, many moons ago the ballots actually would have looked like this:

Joe Plumber (Republican; John McCain)
Susie Conservative (Republican; John McCain)
John Liberal (Democrat; Barack Obama)
Notta Socialist (Democrat; Barack Obama)

You thus choose an individual to represent the person and party that you want to become president. The number of electors per state equals the number of U.S. senators plus the number in the House of Representatives (e.g. North Dakota: 2 Senators + 1 Representative = 3 Electors). The state's electors then meet up and vote. Almost all states have a "winner-take-all system," in which the states electors go to the candidate with the most votes.

The results are sent to Washington, DC. If a candidate receives a majority of votes then he or she is the president. When nobody gets a majority of the votes, then the House of Representatives votes. This, however, has not been done since 1824.

Most of the time the person elected president also wins the popular vote, but not always (i.e. George Bush in 2000).

Reader: This seems so complicated and stupid. Why not change it to make it more direct?

My first response is this: I am sure it made sense over 200 years ago.

When judging the electoral college, one must remember that it was created during a time when the U.S. had a much SMALLER electorate. Also, the U.S. was going through a bit of an identity crisis. How strong the federal government should be was a "Hot Topic." Read the "Federalist Papers" and you can get a feel for how difficult the debate was. Small states felt that they would be lost and be trampled by bigger states. Thus, they threatened to not ratify the Constitution. In order to bring smaller states into the fold, the electoral college was presented as a compromise.

Changing the electoral system would require changing the Constitution, which in turn requires approval from 2/3 of the U.S. states. A lot of small states would loose their power if the electoral college disappeared. Nobody wants to loose power. Nobody.

Reader: I am an overseas voter. Will my vote be counted even if the race is close?

YES!! The ballots of an overseas voter and a domestic voter carry equal weight. One is not more important than the other. A ballot cast must be counted, no matter how close (or not) the election is. If a ballot is not counted, then that is election fraud.

It is, unfortunately, difficult to tell when and how absentee ballots are counted. Some states open them and count them as they come in. Some states allow absentee ballot to come in up until Nov. 17, and then count them all together. Once the absentee ballot total is known, then that is added to the domestic ballot total for the state total.

Each state and county can choose how they want to run their elections. With this wide variance, it is no wonder that problems pop-up.

Ballot, election and campaign finance reform are three passions of mine. I am completely convinced that there has to be "an easier way." I hope that in the months to come that I can share my ideas with you.

Until then . . . GO VOTE!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Ring of Fire

This morning I had a thought, I bet Dante did not have any children. If he had, then he would have known that there are WAY more than 7 levels of hell. There is the "pouting because I cannot get what I want" hell. The always lovely "just pooped all over my clothes and rolled in it but you still love me because I am cute" hell. Last night we descended into "baby during cold and flu season" hell.

After getting home from my 8 hour day and 1 hour drive yesterday, I was pretty beat. My MIL gave me the Dude (she was babysitting because the German was cutting down trees . . . don't ask) and told me what an angle he had been the whole day. I noticed that his nose was a bit runny and as I wiped it up she said, "Oh, yeah, a lot of yellow stuff has come out of there today!" Uh oh.

The Dude was tired and cranky by bed time. But he ate well and basically went right to sleep, so I thought we were in the clear. The German and I enjoyed a glass of wine and a bit of TV. [insert ominous foreshadowing music here] By 9:45 I was ready to call it a night. As I snuggled in bed with a book, the German stayed downstairs to watch the rest of the football game. That was when I heard the first cry.

To make a long story short, the Dude cried (I mean really cried, none of this whiny, soft moans) off and on until 3:00am. Around 10:30 the German came to bed and promptly started snoring. By 11:30 I could only imagine that this was hell. I was exhausted and had a stuffed up kid and husband. To make matters worse, it felt like a hell of my own making.

I decided to escape and headed downstairs. I continued to read and had the TV on in the background. The Dude would calm down for about 30 minute intervals and about every 45 minutes I had to go into his room, roll him onto his back, pop his pacifier into his mouth and stroke his cheek to calm him down.

Around 2:00 I decided that since I was up, I might as well do something. I cleaned out the dishwasher and finished the dishes. I even planned all of my English lessons for the week. By 3:00 everything had started to calm down and I was about to crash. The snoring husband continued to be a problem and I could not get to sleep on the sofa.

So I decided to be a selfish beast and I kicked the German out of bed and into the guest bed into his office. I fell into bed and actually slept until I heard the Dude around 7am.

Of course we immediately went to the pharmacy this morning and got some nose drops for the Dude. He does not have a cough or a fever. Just a really stuffy nose, which I assume makes it hard for him to sleep.

He is in bed now and I am hoping that things will be better tonight, because frankly they cannot get any worse.

Uh oh. I think I hear Dante laughing in the background and the ominous music starting up again.

UPDATE: The Dude slept from 7:15pm last night to 6:50am. We did not hear a peep out of him. Well, he may have said something but we were both so tired that we did not hear it. I slept 9 hours last night. I am not celebrating, however. Because what the Dude giveth the Dude can taketh away.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Because I have very fond memories of Halloween, I wanted to bring a bit of this American tradition to Wildeshausen. It is very important to me that the Dude knows about his American half. Thus, not really thinking things through, I decided to host a Halloween party for 12 babies and 17 adults. Although there were moments this morning when I thought that I was insane to do it, now that it is over, the baby is in bed and everything is cleaned up, I can say that it was a lot of fun . . . but still a bit insane.

In theory, the right elements for a baby's Halloween party are not difficult to assemble. First you need decorations, especially pumpkins. Isn't it amazing what you can do with a hot glue gun, old buttons, and pipe cleaners?


Then you need food.

The cupcakes were totally fun and easy to make; I used Betty Crocker. The popcorn balls posed a bigger problem. This was a typical case of "not knowing what you're getting into." I downloaded the recipe and it looked easy enough. I lucked out because I had a bottle of corn syrup left over from a few Thanksgivings ago.

The Dude was a bit whiny this morning so I put him down for a nap and dug in. I popped the corn and melted all the ingredients together. Then I added the popcorn to the gooey mixture. The directions said 5 cups of popcorn. It seemed like such a small amount. There was still a lot of liquid left. So I put in more popcorn and checked the recipe. 5 quarts of popcorn! Well, that is a horse of a different color. The mixture started to cool so I pulled out some to shape a ball. It was not long before I was up to my elbows in sticky popcorn before I realized that I had forgotten to grease up my hands to prevent sticking. And right at that moment, the Dude woke up.

I had to laugh. "Hang on sweetie, mommy is making a big ol' mess." I did wind up getting it under control. Unfortunately I did not get a picture of my "eyes": green olives wrapped in puff pastry.

Of course, no Halloween party is complete without goody bags of American candy to take home.


And for the babies a craft project. We used orange paint to make hand prints on a sign that said "My First Halloween."

The crowning achievement though was the costume, courtesy of the American Oma.

I wish I could say that I was going to take it easy tomorrow, but I am teaching a crash course in Business English tomorrow from 9am to 4pm. So I get up just in time to give the Dude his bottle and then drive to work. I made this commitment a year ago, and the only reason why I am keeping it is because the money is good.

So for now, I will go and have a glass of wine and hope that the Great Pumpkin will come visit tonight.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Commercials

Yes, I got up this morning and downloaded the Obama commercial, infomercial, special, whatever. It was very well made and impressive. However, I am not sure that it actually changed anybody's mind. Most people have political tendencies, even if they are "independent" or "undecided."

The McCain campaign argued that it was over-the-top, however, I think that is a bit of the green eyed monster. ANY politician would love to have the opportunity to talk to the people like that. The ad was paid for with donations. I am sure that Obama donors have no problem with it, just as RNC donors probably do not have a problem with Gov. Palin's clothes.

What really got me going was the web ad below. I had the Dude in my lap and the tears started pouring. He looked at me a bit strangely and I hugged him even closer. He is the reason that I vote the way I do.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What I should have Blogged About

I should have told you about our most excellent visit to Bowel-town. Jen and Sparks were great hosts and even better, the Dude went along for the ride. He did well in the car. He did well sleeping at night. He did well in not puking on their carpet. Seriously, it was fun.

I could have also told you about how I must be smoking crack because I decided to host a Halloween Party for the babies in the Dude's play group. Now I am struggling to clean the house and track down corn syrup for my popcorn balls. Turns out that after 5 stores, I had some in my pantry.

Perhaps I could even tell you that it has gotten really cold here and the German and I are fighting about how long to leave the heat on at night. Sweetie, if I can see my breath, then I should be allowed to turn the heat on.

But, no, I have decided to bring the funny.

See more Thomas Haden Church videos at Funny or Die

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Strange Twist

Hold on to your hats people because I am about to do something that I thought I would never do. No, not that. Get your mind out of the gutter. No I am going to defend Sarah Palin.

Now it is no secret that I think Ms. Palin is not qualified to be president. Furthermore, I don't agree with her on . . . anything. Most of the shots the media and comedians have taken make me giggle, but today I was left with a "Come, on!" moment.

Turns out that the RNC has paid a lot of money for Ms. Palin's clothes.

Let me tell you why this doesn't matter:

1. It's the RNC's money, not hers. If they want to make sure that their candidate looks good that is their prerogative. They have got plenty of money. Personally, I think it is money well spent as I have envied many of her coats.

2. No one talks about the costs of Obama's suits or McCain shirts. If you are going to talk about one you should talk about them all.

The only thing that bothered me was how much they spent on a make-up artist. Because, seriously, the woman wears too much blush. Sarah, get your self a new make-up artist.

Oh, and one more thing, Sarah. Don't claim to be "just like me." I don't tote around Louis-Vitton. Although I wish I did.

That is all.

Grey Matter

On Monday we discussed what I will refer to as “classical liberalism” and yesterday we explored “classical socialism.” One theory promotes the individual and advocates a free market economy. The other argues that society as a whole is more important and that the means of production should be controlled by a central government.

It is clear from these two definitions that one cannot be both a liberal AND a socialist at the same time. I think it is also clear that neither McCain nor Obama are classic anything. However, there is a lot of grey area between the two.

Social liberals for example realize that some government regulation of the market is necessary. If not, then inequality rises to the point that revolution is possible and the free market is in danger.

Social democrats go one step further and argue that the state has a responsibility in ensuring the equality of its citizens. It does this via health care programs and welfare. However, the government must also be democratically elected and protect individual freedoms. Social democrats reject the “classical socialist” tenant of a planned economy.

How about a diagram? Let’s turn to one of my favorite things from grad school: The Ideological Spectrum. Based on what I read on both websites, I would place the candidates like this on the spectrum. I could not get the formatting correct, but imagine to the left side LIB and on the opposite end SOCI. The first tick is McCain. The second tick is Obama. Notice how close both are to LIB and how far from SOCI

<-[LIBERAL]----McC---OBM----------------------------[SOCIAL]->


Let us sum up our results of the last days inquiry.

First, liberalism and socialism are not the same thing. Second, Obama is not a socialist. Third, being a liberal is not necessarily a bad thing.

I have to agree with the comment left by Liz. Labeling is very important in politics. Labels, much like brands in the free market economy, provide a certain information short cut. If I can put someone in a box, then they are like this and this and this. Unfortunately, political policies are very difficult to fix in one box, and that is my problem.

By using inaccurate labels, campaigns are systematically dumbing down the electorate. No longer is a voter expected to go out and explore. No, her politics are handed out in easy to understand sound bites. The moment anyone tries to question the label, they are labeled “elitist.” We have stopped expecting the very best from our representatives and are happy to take the fancy label, even if it is a fake.

Some might argue that my last three blog posts are elitist. However, I think that I loose some of my intellectual street cred when I admit that “The Apprentice” used to be one of my favorite TV shows. On the other hand, I have also read Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx. I told the German that I believe I am a social democrat. He laughed. Hard. “Honey, you are way too far to the right (i.e. liberal) to be in the SPD.” Seems I don’t have enough socialist street cred to be a socialist either. So, feel free to judge me any way you like, just be sure to use the right label. I prefer Prada-esque.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Socialism is a 4 . . . 9 Letter Word

If you are going to have a discussion involving different political philosophies it is important to be on the same page regarding the meaning about these terms, which is the purpose of our inquiry. Please note that I am not arguing whose policies are better. That is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT line of inquiry. I am just saying that before you call some a “name” then you should know what that name means.

Yesterday we took a look at Liberalism. Let us turn our eyes to Socialism for a moment. The American Heritage Dictionary defines Socialism as:


Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy. The stage in Marxist-Leninist theory intermediate between capitalism and communism, in which collective ownership of the economy under the dictatorship of the proletariat has not yet been successfully achieved.

The first reference to “Socialists” appeared in the 1800s.

1827, from Fr. socialiste, in reference to the teachings of Comte de Saint-Simon, founder of Fr. socialism. Socialism is attested from 1837, apparently first in reference to Robert Owen's communes. "Pierre Leroux (1797-1871), idealistic social reformer and Saint-Simonian publicist, expressly claims to be the originator of the word socialisme" [Klein]. The word begins to be used in Fr. in the modern sense c.1835. Socialista, with a different sense, was applied 18c. to followers and pupils of Du. jurist Grotius (1583-1645).

In contrast to Liberalism, which focuses on the importance of the individual, Socialism emphasizes the importance of society as a whole. Individual interests come second to the interests of everyone within the society. Although, socialists also want individuals to be free, they define freedom in a radically different way. That is, an individual can only be free when everyone in society is equal.

The philosophical origins of Socialism can be found in Robert Owen (1771 – 1858) and Saint-Simon (1760 – 1825). As manager and part owner of a mill in New Lanark, Owen was disturbed by the living conditions of the workers and especially of the children. In 1817 Owen began to advocate a form of socialism as a way to alliviate poverty. His reforms at his mill in New Lanark actually increased productivity and profit. In 1825 he even purchased land in New Harmony, Indiana in hopes of implementing his reformist principles, but his experiment failed miserably.

Saint-Simon shared the same negative view of human nature as Hobbes. The “hand of greed” drove men and created inequality. He was not convinced that the liberal view could save society and therefore societ had to be reorganized. Saint-Simon was a strong influence on Karl Marx (1818 – 1883), perhaps the most well known socialist philosopher.

Karl Marx argued that only an overthrow of the government via the proletariat in which all power and capital became centralized in a central authority would create a just and equal society. Socialism, however, was only a transistion phase to the communist utopia.

Essential to all of these theories is the absence of the free market and government control of the means of production.

So, now that we know what socialism means, we can look at the newest allegations in the campaign and decide if Obama is indeed a socialist.

To make a convincing argument, you need evidence, and I am not talking about rehtoric. There are several things that we can look at: voting records, speeches, writings, and proposals. I went to the Obama website, downloaded and read his “Plan for America.”

In those 43 pages, I read nothing about the nationalization of industry. I also did not read anything about the abolition of free speech. I did read, however, about his proposed tax cuts. Obama proposes to cut taxes for households making less than $250,000.

It is this proposal that lies at the heart of these accussations. You can look at it two ways. On the one hand, Obama is trying to take a burden off the middle class in order to promote the economy. Or, he is redistributing wealth. I have to admit that this is the first time that I have heard a tax cut referred to as socialist. Although the idea of no taxes is very appealing, they are, in a way, a necessary evil. Goverments do things like build roads, clean water, provide schools and health care to those who need it.

In the end, I do not think that you can label Obama a socialist. He does not want to do away with the market economy, which is essential to socialism. Now, if you would like to refute my argument, please present me with evidence to the contrary, and I do not mean taxes, as that is obviously in the eyes of the beholder.

Finally, I want to comment on something that McCain made regarding politics in Europe.
"At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives. They use real numbers and honest language. And we should demand equal candor from Senator Obama."

Germany, contrary to what many seem to believe, is NOT a socialist country. I have no idea why this myth continues to exist. The German pointed out that he lived next to a real socialist country for many years, i.e. the former East Germany. He snorts loudly when making comparisons. East Germany turned out to be a broke country with a crumbling infastructure. Nobody I know wants socialism to take root here. In short:

1. There is no universial health care in Germany. The government requires health insurance but does not pay it. The government does not pay for my health insurance, or that of my father-in-law, friends, etc. Rather, I pay 50% of my health care and my employer pays the other 50%. I can provide my paystub as evidence. The government only pays for the health insurance of the unemployed.

2. The government does not own the means of production in Germany. Germany is a free market economy.

3. There are certain regulations, such as on banks and energy. This is to ensure that consumers do not get ripped off.

4. Freedom of speech and press are protected with in the German constitution.

Tomorrow, we will turn to the last part of our analysis, including social democrats vs. social liberals. Why the confusion? Are these labels even helpful? Or, put another way, who the hell cares?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dr. Strangelove OR How I learned to Stop Worrying and Learn to love Liberalism

The other night I got into an intense discussion about politics with a person that I admire and respect. We do not share the same opinion on . . . well, anything; but our discussions are engaging and interesting nonetheless. When I got off the phone I was a bit bothered by something.

During the course of our telephone conversation I was called both a liberal AND a socialist. Now being called these things does not really bother me. What bothered me was that it is impossible to be both at the same time.

Let us take a look for a moment at these two "buzz words," which have perked up during the election campaign over the past two weeks. Because I am trying to make and important point, this discussion will take place over three different posts.

First, I will start with liberalism. Second, I will turn to socialism. Finally, I will demonstrate how the two are philosophically opposed to each other, and I will reflect on which of these boxes that I belong in.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines liberalism as:

A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority. An economic theory in favor of laissez-faire, the free market, and the gold
standard.,



The Online Etymology Dictionary also discusses liberalism's long history:
c.1375, from O.Fr. liberal "befitting free men, noble, generous," from L. liberalis "noble, generous," lit. "pertaining to a free man," from liber "free," probably originally "belonging to the people" (though the precise semantic development is obscure), from *leudho- "people" (cf. O.C.S. ljudu, Lith. liaudis, O.E. leod, Ger. Leute "nation, people").
Earliest reference in Eng. is to the liberal arts (L. artes liberales; see art (n.)), the seven attainments directed to intellectual enlargement, not immediate practical purpose, and thus deemed worthy of a free man (the word in this sense was opposed to servile or mechanical). Sense of "free in bestowing" is from 1387.

In order to brush up on my political philosophy, I turned to John Gray's book Liberalism. Liberalism developed as a political philosophy around the mid-1600s. Although many political philosophers debate about any ancient notions regarding liberalism, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is regarded as one of the first. Hobbes's view of human nature, however, is different from the positivist notion that is popular with classical liberal philosophers. Hobbes argues that humans exist in a state of war, but come together in a civil association in order to ensure peace.

What made Hobbes's theory so radical, as well as continues to tie him to liberalism, is his "uncompromising individualism" (Gray 1995: 10). Benedict de Spinoza (1632 - 1677) also placed the individual in the center of his political theory. Gray draws an interesting contrast between the two:
Whereas, for Hobbes, civil society was always likely to fall back into a barbarous natural condition of warfare, for Spinoza the free man would always be a rarity; most human individuals and most societies would always be ruled by passion and illusion rather than reason.
John Locke (1632 - 1704) brought together the important elements of liberalism in his Second Treatise on Civil Government. In contrast to Hobbes, he thought humans were more reasonable and tolerant. In a natural state all men are free and have the right to defend his “life, health, liberty, or possessions.” This sounds vaguely familiar . . .

Also important to American liberalism was the French Enlightenment, including the works of Montesquieu (1689 - 1755; i.e. The Spirit of the Laws) and Rousseau (1712 - 1778; i.e. The Social Contract). Rousseau's opening line in The Social Contract is significant for many liberals: "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."

Essentially, liberal theorists emphasized the individual; that all men are free and equal, and that freedom means freedom from coercion. Therefore, government must be limited in its powers and responsibilities because a strong government would threaten individual rights. I am really condensing a lot of political philosophy here, and I am sure that some of my grad school friends would disagree with me, but I only have a blog here and not a dissertation, so I am trying to keep it short.

As mentioned above, liberalism is also an economic philosophy made famous by Adam Smith (1723 - 1790; i.e. The Wealth of Nations). Liberal economics emphasizes the importance of a free market economy. A lassize-faire economy regulates itself and distributes goods most efficiently when left alone.

As time passed and the industrial revolution and governments of the U.S., France and England got older, liberals got a little worried. When they looked at the world around them, it appeared that perhaps the invisible hand was not so efficient. Although technically free, poverty and inequality were rampant. This led to a strain of liberalism often called "social liberalism." Social liberals believe that some market regulation is necessary in order to ensure the survival of capitalism (i.e. John Maynard Keynes). Furthermore, man can only be free when greater equality exists and therefore governments should promote health care, education, and a minimum wage, which reflects the philosophical influence of the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

I think that it is this strain of liberalism is what McCain is accusing Obama of being. However, as I will demonstrate tomorrow, social liberalism is NOT "Socialism" (please note the big S). Although advocating some regulation by the government, social liberals are still dedicated to the idea of a free market economy and a non-coercive government.

If you read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Federalist Papers, you can clearly see the influence of liberal political philosophy on the founding fathers. All of the founding fathers were liberals. Big ones in fact.

However, the word "liberalism" has gotten twisted within the American media and is now regarded as a pejorative term. Why is being a liberal a bad thing? Liberalism is the basis of the U.S. constitution. If you are pro-America, wouldn't you consider yourself a liberal too?

I will leave you pondering that thought. Come back tomorrow and we will discover whether or not Obama is a socialist and why McCain need to take a closer look at "socialist Europe."

PS One last great quote that I found on the internet:

"Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others." [Ambrose Bierce, "Devil's Dictionary," 1911]

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Life Sentence

Yesterday the German received a life sentence. No, he is not responsible for the recent crime spree in Wildeshausen. Yesterday he received his permanent civil servant status.

As a teacher in Germany, the German is considered a civil servant. Teachers here undergo rigorous training. First, after 4 to 5 years of university, where you major in education and minor in the subjects that you will teach, you must endure 1 1/2 years of student teaching. During this time you teach a full class load and attend a seminar once a week where pedagogical things are discussed. A potential teacher is also observed several times, must write a final paper and pass an oral exam. After that you enter the system as a teacher.

However, your first three years are considered something of a trial time. After three years you are once again observed during your teaching and have to submit a paper. If your principal feels that you have done well then you become a permanent teacher / civil servant.

The German has worked so hard to get to this point. When he was 20 we wanted to do something practical, so he became a banker. After doing that for a few years, he felt like he was selling his soul. The red carpet was rolled out for rich customers, whereas people who needed real help were given the cold shoulder. He decided to do something for his society and became a teacher.

The German teaches vocational school and does not always agree with the training he received. He often comes home frustrated because a lot of what was taught and what he learned did not prepare him for the day-to-day realities of the classroom. He teaches in a school in a pretty bad neighborhood in Bremen. There are about 75 different nationalities represented among his students. Most of the students either lack the basic knowledge needed for their classes or are so demotivated because they feel that they have no real future. "How do you teach these kids?" he asks me time and again.

Becoming a civil servant was the last major goal that he had to accomplish. When he came home last night we had some sparkling wine and toasted his achievement. He smiled and leaned back into the sofa. Then he looked at me with a bit of panic. "Now what?" he asked.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

UPDATE High Crimes

This morning the German and flipped through the newspaper and had coffee. We found out the reason for the helicopter buzz last night.

Someone robbed our local Aldi supermarket last night. With a gun. They then ran off towards the woods that are not far from our house. Dude, this ain't Cops. It is Wildeshausen?!?

Also in the paper was a report of a break-in yesterday. Someone smashed through a balcony door and stole almost 1000 Euro from an apartment. Now, I don't think this crime was random. Those guys had to know that there was money in that apartment. Why try so hard to get in if you are not sure that there is something in there?

I was dumbfounded. The wallets, guns, breaking doors. What is going on in my tiny town?? I looked at the German and he smirked.

German: This is Wildeshausen. It is dangerous . . . and ghetto fabulous.

Claire: Dude, get over yourself. We have been to south side Chicago. We know what ghetto is.

German: Welcome to the Jungle, baby.

Claire gives her best "Whatever!" look.

German: [still smirking] ow, my balls.

A Little Worried

When I read this today, I got a little worried. And frightened.

Calling Obama a Terrorist

Hatred at McCain Rally

In Florida, Palin Goes for the Rough Stuff

McCain said that he wanted change and would not sling this kind of dirt. I believed him. Obama gives as good as he gets and is slinging it back. You could argue that at least one of the them "should be above all this." However, they both saw what happened to John Kerry when you do not defend yourself against attacks, i.e. lose an election. But after watching how the Palin and McCain are reallying getting people wound up, I am worried about how far this will go.

I was especially saddened because I do not think that McCain wants people to shout "kill him" (i.e. Obama) at his rallies. Say it ain't so, John.

Monday, October 06, 2008

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

If you think this post is about Obama hanging out with terrorists or McCain's connection to the Keating Savings 'n Loan scandal, then you would be wrong. No, this post is about how every time that I begin to think that I am awesome, God likes to have a chuckle and take me down a notch.

Saturday morning started off innocently. The German and I play this "game" on the weekends. We both pretend to be asleep when the baby wakes up at 7am. We secretly hope that by lying there long enough that the other will get up and feed the kid, or that the kid will just go back to sleep. I used this with my cat; just keep my eyes tightly shut and hope that she would be quiet. Did not work with the cat, doesn't work with the kid. But between the German and I, I won on Saturday.

The Dude was in a pretty good mood and his poor little rear was finally starting to heal. My FIL was coming over to put a gate on our stairs and I decided to head to the store to get a few things. First I stopped by the post office and dropped my absentee ballot in the mail and then I headed off to Rossmann, a local drug store.

I ran into a friend of mine from my baby play group. She was contemplating the vast array of baby food. She had been breastfeeding and was making the switch. Because the Dude's been on solids for several months she asked for my help. I stood with my back to the Dude's stroller and put on my best "knowledgeable" voice. The Dude laughed and played with his stuffed animal and after a few minutes we said goodbye.

After picking up some diapers (the entire reason for the trip out), I went to the check out line. As the cashier rang up my purchase I reached into the side pocket of my stroller to get my wallet. The pocket was open. I had closed that, hadn't I? And my wallet was missing.

At first I was embarrassed. I told the women to hold my items and I went back to the previous store to check and see if I had left it there. I have done this before so it was not that shocking. However, that cashier said that she had definitely seen me stick it back into the stroller. Then the reality of the situation dawned on me. Someone had stolen my wallet. My wallet, which not only had my driver's licence, car registration, ATM cards, health insurance cards, but also 40 Euro in it.

I went back to Rossmann and informed them that someone had lifted my wallet in their store. The women at the store were very helpful and immediately called the police. I desperately tried to get hold of the German. When the cops came in, I was a bit surprised. The cop leaned down and said, "Hi, Christopher." Turned out to be the husband of another woman from my play group. Dude, Wildeshausen is really small.

Both the cop, and later the German, tried not to laugh at me. Why? Because I should know better. NEVER turn your back on your child or belongings for even a minute. I beat myself up for hours because, in fact, I DO know better. I felt like such an idiot. Moreover, I was more upset about having to replace all of those stolen id cards. Screw the 40 Euro, I don't want to have to deal with bureaucrats more than I have to.

Then I got angry. WTF!! Just because I had my back turned, does not make it okay to steal my wallet. And who steals from a child's stroller!?

Later that afternoon the doorbell rang. It was my friendly neighborhood Spiderman, I mean police officer. A women had found my wallet in her bio-trash bin. My wallet smelled like a land-fill but everything was still there. Except the 40 Euro of course.

This morning I read in the paper that another wallet was stolen in a shop just down the street at about the same time that mine was. Hmm. A crime ring here in Wildeshausen? Well, maybe not. But the entire time that I was typing this blog a helicopter was circling. What are they looking for I wonder? Have those master criminals moved up from wallets to cars?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Idiocracy

A friend of mine in grad school had a secret. Our professors often praised her wonderful insights and her well read back ground. Everyone liked her, as she was a very genuine person and thought of her as a bit of a "star" in our department. I asked her once how she did it. She giggled and responded, "Low expectations, Claire. In my interviews I did not want to overly impress people, that way when I got here, no matter how well I did, it would be okay."

I think that this was a bit tongue in cheek as the girl was brilliant and downplayed her intelligence because she did not like drawing attention to herself. However, it was a comment that stuck with me. In 2000 I watched as W. "exceeded expectations" and got elected. You can decide for yourself how well that has worked out.

Last night Governor Palin went into her debates with Senator Biden with decidedly low expectations. Everyone said that as long as she did not say something phenomenally stupid, then she would win the debate. Wow. What does that say about the state of our politics when we are willing to live with just "doing okay," and mediocrity?

Now, I also had low expectations for the Senator. He has a tendency to run on (and on and on) and leaving me with the feeling, "Say, wha . . ?" However, this potential double sided train wreck was not enough to keep me awake last night. I watched the re-run on CNN this morning.

I have my own secret to confess. Are you ready? I was captain of the debate team in high school. Shocking, isn't it? I often watch these debates with a fake ballot in my head and try to judge them.

Yes, Governor Palin did not suck. On the other hand, she was a master dodger of questions, something that is normally a big no-no in debate. She had clearly learned some talking points and, dear God and Biden be damned, she was sticking to them. Biden was also on a chain. In the end I think this was good for both their tickets. Although I felt so-so about both, I would most definitely feel better with Biden as vice-president. In my opinion he had a better grasp of knowledge and ideas. I felt like Palin was trying to sell herself a bit too hard. The German actually turned to me and asked, "Why does she keep smiling like that? It's creeping me out."

As a bookend to the debate, the German and I rented the movie "Idiocracy" last night. Jen and Sparky recommended it. In the movie, a "regular Joe" wakes up 500 years in the future to find that the human race has not evolved, but rather devolved and the nation has become, for lack of a better word, idiots. In the movie, the most popular TV show of the day is "Ow! My Balls" and the Oscar winning movie is "Ass."

The German laughed hysterically during most of the film. I was very quiet. Why? Because some of it did not look the the future, but sadly like politics today. It reminded me of a comment that I read about Palin. "She is just like me or my sister! Isn't it cool that some one like your sister could be president?"

HELL NO! Trust me people, you do not want my sister running the country. I want my public leaders to enunciate. I want them to have "book learnin'" and "edumication." I want the very best of the best in office. However, in today's media driven politics, the "smart" guy is labeled "elitist" and the "dumb" guy is "folksy." Do I want a president that I can have a beer with, or a president that can thoughtfully negotiate a treaty with world leaders? It is your decision, really, but I know where I come down on this issue.

Joe Biden really surprised me. Because of his reputation and some of the dumb stuff he has said over the past few weeks, I was sad about my low expectations. However, I think they were unfounded. He came across as a thoughtful, intelligent and personable. He even made me cry.

Now if I could just get the German to stop saying, "Ow! My Balls!"

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Shampoo Syndrome

When was the last time you looked at the back of a shampoo bottle? The directions are ridiculously easy:

lather, rinse, repeat

Since the Dude came along, I often feel like my life is a shampoo bottle, although mine would read:

cook, clean (this includes the house, laundry and the Dude's butt), repeat

It is not so much that the days are boring, but they seem to have a certain "sameness" to them. One day is hard to distinguish from the next. I spend the morning with the Dude, playing, cleaning and honing my Hausfrau skills. The German and I play the "switch game" at 4:30 when I head out and pretend to be an adult for 2 hours and teach English. The evenings are filled with ironing, TV and (when I am lucky) going to bed early. I get up at 6:30am every day and it starts all over again.

When I noticed this a few weeks ago I decided to become a bit more proactive about mixing up my day. Now I throw in a bit more blogging and some volunteer work. But still the days are the same. It dawned on me a few days ago that everyone experiences this. Although I am sure that Donald Trump's "sameness" is a tad different from mine.

For me it has been a bit startling as I have always been a goal orientated person. I was always working towards something; a degree, a deadline, a destination. Now that I am at my destination, I find spinning my wheels a bit discombobulating.

Some days I get more done than others. Today I have fed the baby, changed diapers (only three times so far; damn diarrhea), baked cookies, graded papers, worked a help desk, done some laundry, cleaned the bathroom, made a roast and watched Baby Einstein with the Dude. And the day is only half over.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Up to my Eyeballs in $hi*

Hopefully one day I will back on this morning, laugh and remember it as "One of Those Things that Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time."

WARNING: The following post is a bit gross, but has a humorous ending.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Dude developed a serious diaper rash on Friday. I discovered it in the evening as I was getting him ready for bed. I did not look at it that closely as Jen and Sparky were visiting. In fact, I was a bit embarrassed because before I had a baby I thought that only people who were "dirty" had babies with diaper rash. I now know this to be very, VERY wrong.

Saturday morning the rash was still there and I noticed how loose the Dude's stool was. Thankfully he was going to my wonderful MIL's house for the day. If anyone could figure out the problem it my MIL. On Sunday, the rash appeared to be drying out but the not the non-stop pooping. In fact the loose stool was most definitely diarrhea by this point. The German and I agreed to see what happened in the morning before calling the doctor. We don't want to seem like hysterical parents who run to the doctor for every little thing (even if on the inside that is what we are like).

This morning, the Dude was very friendly while getting his breakfast bottle. In order to get some air on his poor little bottom, I decided to let him go commando while feeding him in his room. I just wrapped him in a towel. After eating he wanted down on the floor, so I let him crawl around while picking out his clothes for the day. POOP!

There was a distinctive sound, so I lifted the towel. He had managed a harder poop, with a runny chaser. He seemed happy with it. I left him on his bedroom floor for a minute so that I could go rinse out the towel in the bathroom. By the time I got back . . .

Oh - my - God. I had no idea that all of that could come out of a tiny baby. The diarrhea had come out the back and the Dude was crawling all over it. I first picked him up and cleaned him up a bit and then attempted to rescue my floor. I am very happy that we went for the cheap carpet in his room, as I have not seen a mess like that since I tried to feed my dog waffles when I was 7. I needed 4 towels and it is still not completely clean.

Needless to say, I took him to the doctor. My Ped is very friendly and I got an appointment for 8:30am. She gave a few scrips for some stuff to stuff him up (so to speak). When I made a joke about my carpet, she smiled.

Doctor: Yes, going diaper-less is good in theory, but done best when in a room with tiles.

Claire: [rather dryly] Yeah, I think I have learned that lesson now.

Although he is eating well and sleeping okay, I am still worried. Every time I go to change his diaper, he gives me this look like, "Really? Do you have to?" I cancelled my English lesson for this afternoon. Not only do I want to keep an eye on the Dude, but I smell a little weird.

Now, time to go read the directions on the carpet cleaner.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Healthy People Suck

J and Jen were there. Mausi sipped her tea and Adam cracked jokes. When I arrived in the train station some were already there. As time passed, the usual suspects began to show up. First the Heidelbergerin and then PapaScott. A Headbanger was there as well Snook. Things really started jamming once the stroller brigade brought up the rear.

The WEB Meet-up (Whiny Expat Blogger) was a lot of fun. In a very un-Bremen like turn of events, we were blessed with beautiful weather on Saturday. I gave an abbreviated tour of my fair city and the reservations for dinner actually worked out.

What always surprises me when I meet a new blogger is how completely normal everyone is. The German skeptical the first time he met another blogger but then pleasantly surprised. You see, for us Expats, blogging is not only a life line to our friends and family so far away, but it is also a connection to community in this sometimes odd country that we live in. For many, including myself, these meet-ups are an opportunity to forget about sticking out or fitting in and a time to just to be yourself.

Almost everyone, though, exceeded my expectations. I knew that Snook would be lovely, but she was so cute and nice, I wanted to bring her home. Diane and her husband are possibly one of the best looking couples I have ever seen. Dude, even their dog was adorable! The Headbanger, he was very impressive. He had this wonderful dry wit and a booming voice that should totally be doing commercials. And the mommies (here, here, and here)!! The Dude developed some serious diaper rash on Friday and they were so friendly and helpful. What impressed me even more was how their husbands took charge of the kids so that the moms could bond. Good husbands/fathers do that.

Sadly, I did not get to say goodbye at this morning's brunch. The Bremen marathon was held this morning. Because Bremen is oh so organized, there was almost no way for the German and I to get into town. (Who runs marathons anyway?? Damn over achievers.) By the time we accepted our fate and were going to do "Park and Ride," we noticed that we would be an hour late. By that time, we would have had to turn around and go home because if the Dude does not get his nap, then there is hell to pay later. Not only could I not say goodbye, but I did not have the opportunity to show off the Dude. Trust me, he's worth seeing.

I had such fun organizing and meeting everyone, it all almost feels anti-climatic now. Time to go back to our normal programming. However, there is the hope of next year and perhaps some mini meet-ups to come. Until then there are memories of a most moist weekend. (Wink, Wink, Adam.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Politics of Fear

One of the best things about working outside the home is the 45 minute drive. It is 45 minutes that I have all to myself. I dream up the plot for my novel or listen to an 80's CD and sing loudly. I really enjoy this time. The past few days I have been listening to talk radio (i.e. NDR Info, which is a bit like NPR). They have had some excellent reports about the financial crisis.

After a very interesting bit about Bush's national address, the German and I sat down and watched a little CNN. The U.S. Under Treasury Secretary (I think that was his title; where do they get these people??) argued that Bush did a good job of explaining to and convincing the American public about his $700 Billion bailout plan. I went back for a listen, and I heard something very different.

Fear mongering. In a dark tone, the president forecasted gloom and doom for the average American citizen. Furthermore, if congress does not pass his bill, things will get even worse. Give me the power, or else. Gee, George, 8 weeks ago the economy was sound. But I have the distinct feeling that I have heard this all before . . .

After Sept. 11, the American public was scared, and over the next year that did not get any better. Fox News posted "Terror Alert" watches in the corner of their screen. I even had a friend who put up plastic on her windows because she was convinced that there would be an anthrax attack. Amidst this fear, the Bush administration gathered all of its executive authority. It pushed through things like the Patriot Act. All in the name of calming your fears. And if you did not support them, then you were unpatriotic. Shame on you disbelievers, they said.

It turns out though, that the Bush Administration has not really made the world a safer place. Despite confirmation that WMDs never existed in Iraq and that before the war Al-quida was not even there, they still insist that the war was the right thing to do. Now when Congress, or any one else for that matter, tries to investigate, the Bush Administration protects itself with its "Executive Privilege."

Today, they are trying to do the same thing. By comparing the finance crisis to Sept. 11, the Bush Administration is once again trying to collect unprecedented power in the executive branch. But this time, they may not get away with it. This time it is not the pesky unpatriotic Democrats who are protesting, but the President's own party. Talks broke down this morning and it seems they finally realize that Bush does not have the ol' Republican ideal of fiscal responsibility at heart. Guess that $300 tax rebate for all Americans a few months ago was not such a good idea, huh?

McCain is playing on those same fears in order to get out of a debate. I do not understand this. If there is a vote, then certainly both candidates should be there. But, what can they add to this mess? Not much. Friday's debate is about foreign policy, something he is good idea. One would think that he would welcome the idea to talk about something else.

Me, I got my ballot yesterday. I am going to sit down, think clearly and vote. I am sure you can figure out how it will end. On the other hand, I do get a bit warm and fuzzy when I read Nader's name.

This weekend is all about the fun. The Whiny Expat Bloggers are in town, and I really hope that Bremen puts on its best face for them.

Bis dann!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Crawling


crawling
Originally uploaded by govt23

See. He is moving right along!

7 Months

My dearest Christopher,

It is hard to believe but yesterday you turned 7. 7 months that is. You just keep getting bigger and bigger and there is not much that I can do about it. You weigh in at 29 inches and almost 20 pounds. You have gotten so big that we finally packed away your bassinet and had to change your stroller from the shell/lying on your back thing (I am sure it has a name; I have no idea what) to your buggy seat. Now you can watch the world go by when we take our walks.




In the past few months you have learned many things. A few weeks ago, you started army crawling. The faster you get, the more afraid I am. Yesterday you got up on your hands and knees. It was exciting for a nanosecond as you immediately fell over. This morning you were happy as a clam in your play pen as I washed the breakfast dishes. I looked over my shoulder to check on you only to find you rocking back and forth on your hands and knees. As soon as you noticed that I was staring at you, you slid back to your tummy and grinned as if to say, "What? I'm not doin' nothin'!"

Your first tooth has been a bit of a bump in the road for your usual sunny personality. I have no idea where you get your positive attitude. Must be from your dad's side of the family.

Besides your physical development, there is also an emotional development taking place. Dude, I think we finally bonded. Two weeks ago you actually started to cry when I left for work. I think my heart broke just a little. You love to show your affection by rubbing your head up against me. Although very cute, I have no idea where you learned that as we do not have a dog.

I am sure there are lots more adventures in store and I cannot wait. Please be patient with me as I am pretty much making this motherhood thing up as I go along. Somehow though, we seem to be doing alright.

Much love,
Your Mom



Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Ghost of Elections Past

The other night I had a rather disturbing dream. In my dream I was lying in bed reading a magazine, when a voice came from the other side of the room. I could not understand what it was saying. Afraid to move, I called out, "What do you want?!" The voice whispered again, "It's the economy, stupid." I turned to the voice and there, sitting in the corner of my bedroom, was James Carville, in a rocking chair, laughing.

"James, what do you mean?!? Is all this asinine talk about bulldogs and lipstick over?"

"Almost," he said while smiling and fading in the distance.

When I woke up, Wall Street had gone to hell. You thought you had had a rough week. Let me see if I can get everything right.

1. The Government took over Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae.
2. Lehmann Brothers went bankrupt.
3. Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch.
4. The Government bailed out AIG.
5. Wachovia is in talks to buy Morgan Stanley.

For better or worse, these events are now shaping the Election of 2008. In my opinion, neither side is really handling it very well.

First, I think Obama is being a bit too smug. We know that the failed Repub policies are partly to blame for this, but finger pointing and the blame game is not going to win the election. Present us with a plan. If you really want to elevate yourself above politics as usual, then now is the time to do it.

Second . . . oh John, I think all of this is worse for you. After over 20 years of supporting deregulation, you are now witnessing the fruits of your labor. What struck me the most this week, was how McCain lambasted "greedy Wall Street types." Dude, when you give a kid the key to the candy store, he is going to gorge himself. In the free market, people go for the fast dollar and tend to think short term instead of long term. In what way are their actions surprising? It turns out that the free market does not always allocate goods efficiently, which is why regulations and oversight are important.

But then the shear gaul of the man . . . after supporting deregulation I am supposed to believe that he has suddenly seen the light? This is the same person and party who wanted to privatize social security and deregulate the insurance industry. Yeah, that would work out oh so well.

More and more, the German and I are convinced that the next president of the U.S., whom ever that may be, is screwed. Like Jimmy Carter screwed. There is no easy way out of this mess. With the economy struggling and people needing their government to help them, the country is also stuck in a protracted "war." The government is trillions (TRILLIONS!) of dollars in debt. That debt jumped this week after the bailouts.

Sadly this all could have been avoided. Take away the war in Iraq and go back 8 years and add regulations, and things may have turned out differently. But what is it they say about hind sight . . .

The sad thing is that we are all a bit to blame for the situation. There is a deep rooted credit culture in the U.S. "Buy now, pay later." It sounds great until the later comes and you have no money. I know. I was in the same boat. When I met the German I had $40,000 in college loans, $5000 in credit card debt, and about $5000 left to pay off my car. I was a 24-year-old grad student and $50,000 in debt. For me it seemed natural. Everyone I knew was in the same boat as me. But that ship was sinking.

Flashback to Christmas 2005. My dad and mom-squared had just built a really nice new house. We walked through their new neighborhood and marvelled at the building boom. As we then drove from Detroit to South Carolina, we saw more and more of the same. During our drive, a conversation went something like this:

Claire: Boy, I wonder if these people have fixed rate or variable mortgages.

German: I have read that most are variable mortgages. Almost anyone can buy a house in the U.S. Do you think we should?

Claire: I don't know. Interest rates are going up. Did you notice the balance on my student loans? It's going up!

German: Yeah, but your wages are not going up. And things seem to have gotten more expensive here.

Claire: Yeah, right! Dude, what happened to the price of milk??

[A Long Pause]

Claire: Are these people going to be able to pay their mortgages in a few years?

German: [long sigh] Probably not . . . You know what we should invest in? Gold. It is always a wise investment in hard economic times.

We are still kicking ourselves for not investing in gold. In case you think this is only a crisis that impacts Americans, several banks in Germany are on shaky footing. A few weeks ago Dresdner Bank was bought out. Turns out that they had also invested in shaky American mortgages. The German government has given over 300 Million Euro to Lehmann Brothers and the European Central Bank has given money to the FDIC.

The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, commented this week that it was disturbing how rich a few people got off the hard work of others. Where are those rich investment bankers now? Why aren't they helping out with the bailout and my German tax dollars are?

As I watch all of this spin seemingly out of control, I must admit that I am a bit happy that I live in Germany. I am also left wondering, where is it all going to end?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

You're Excused

The Dude is a pretty laid back kind of guy. Sure he gets fussy when he is sleepy, but if you lay him down, then he usually rolls over and goes to sleep. And if you are too late with his food, he will throw a fit (that he gets from me BTW). Normally I can put him on the floor with a few toys for about 20 minutes at a time and I sit next to him and read or clean or surf the net or go to the bathroom.

The past two weeks though he has been . . . different. He fusses a bit more and will not calm down until I pick him up. I have toted him around the house a lot more the past few days. Feeding him lunch has been a bit of a struggle. And the dirty diapers . . . oh my God! Yesterday it went up his back and through is clothes, which has not happened in a very long time. Luckily I was on my way out the door for work. I gave the German a big smile and a kiss. "Have fun, sweetie!"

Then this morning as we were answering our emails (i.e. him in my lap and me typing with one hand) he bit down on my hand. There it was. A tooth. Okay so it is still under the skin a bit but it is definitely breaking through. And you know what . . . that sucker is sharp! No wonder babies fuss.

So my dear, you have an excuse on the fussiness this week. Just don't let it happen again.