Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Our Secret Garden

(Do you mind if I change the subject? I could write about something stupid McCain said or my upcoming meeting with the tax man, but frankly it makes me frustrated and sad. Let's talk about something happy, okay?)

My superhuman ability to kill plant just by looking at them is well known. Seriously, any time I get near something green it instantly begins to turn brown. This is why giving me a plant as a gift is really a bad idea. Also it is one of the reasons I do not garden. No matter how hard I have tried in the past, everything I planted died.

Given this info, it may surprise you to know that I married Farmer Ted. Dude, the German LOVES to garden. I think one of the things about the house that he loves the most is his vegetable patch. Last year was for experimenting, but this year . . . well, he was in good form.

There are potatoes and zucchinis, tomatoes and lettuce, peas and onions, garlic and fresh herbs. However, the German always plants enough to feed the entire German army. There is no real reason that the three of us (one being a baby!) needs 5 zucchini plants and 20 kilos of potatoes. Do you know how many zucchinis 5 plants produces? A ridiculous amount, that's how many! Below is the harvest from just ONE DAY. It has been going like this for weeks!

What does one do with all that zucchini? Grill it, broil it, mix it with maggie mix, give to the neighbors and of course make zucchini bread. I went to one of my all time favorite sites and downloaded a recipe. I had never baked a "quick bread" before, so I got everything together and held my breath.

Idiot that I am, I forgot an after shot! But trust me, it turned out beautifully and was really easy!! It was so moist and yummy. I have made about six of them over the past few weeks and taken them and served them everywhere. Most Germans do not call it bread. With all of the sugar in it, it is definitely more of a cake. Anyway the recipe is below. Give it a whirl!
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups white sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts

Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.
** Note for people in Germany: I have one of those long German bread pans. I filled up one of those but did not use all of the batter. I baked it with the over/under plates for exactly 1 hour 30 minutes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fuzzy Math

This week is a sad week. As I mentioned before, after much consideration, I have decided to end my business partnership with the New Yorker. On Wednesday we meet with the tax consultant to draw up the final papers. This decision was not made because of my relationship with the New Yorker, nor was it because the company was not doing well. Rather it came because of a disturbing letter, which brought a financial house of cards down on my head.

Shortly after giving birth, I received a letter from the Deutsche Rentenversicherungbund (the German state pension plan) congratulating me on having a baby, and oh by the way, during your maternity leave the state will pay for my monthly state pension taxes. I found this a little odd. In Germany the vast majority of individuals pay into the state pension fund via taxes and their employer. However, as a self-employed person I was told that I was exempt from this. (I bet you already know where this story is going . . .)

A few weeks later, the state sent me another letter informing that I had not paid into the system. However, they needed to audit whether or not I owed anything and would I please fill out the enclosed “survey” about my work experience in Germany as well as my income tax records. At this point I had been home with my baby for only a few weeks and was pretty much brain dead. The German and I attempted to get a hold of our tax consultant, but to no avail. We did the best we could and sent off the answers to the state.

A few months later we got the bad news. I owed over 6000 Euro in back pension taxes. It turns out that there are a certain class of self employed individuals that are not protected from the system; teachers are among them. The German and I immediately contacted our tax consultant. He admitted that he dropped the ball. Teachers slip through the cracks because of a law dating back to 1906 or something. 1906?!? Seriously, Germany still had a Kaiser then. Turns out that I could have avoided all of this if my company had employed a part time secretary, which our consultant also failed to tell us about.

Because of my new baby and the new realization that I have to pay more taxes, I began to look at the math of working. Let me give you an example.

Let’s say that I teach a training seminar from 8am to 3pm. This is 8 teaching hours, for which I might get about 160 Euro total.

Now let’s add up the costs.
Taxes: 32 Euro
Childcare: 45 Euro
Gas/Transportation: 5 Euro
Total costs: 82 Euro
Actual income earned: 78 Euro

When you consider that I would have to be away from the Dude for about 9 hours (not including the prep time for the class or grading papers), I would only be making about 8.67 Euro an hour. I had to ask myself, isn’t being away from the Dude worth more than 78 Euro?

Essentially, I am staying home now because it just does not add up to work full time. The only way to get around this problem it to get a job with a company or at a public school, where I get paid more and they pay part of my pension taxes for me.

I mentioned to a friend of mine, who is also a successful businessman, that I might look into jobs at companies. Although he was encouraging, he looked at me and asked, “But how will you be able to juggle everything; husband, child, house, job?” Companies might now want to hire a woman with a baby.

Then I got pissed. Is this a question a man would ever have to answer?

Part of me has been very depressed about this lately. I love the Dude more than words can say, but I have had to change my career twice in three years because of my other life choices (i.e. marriage, moving to Germany, having a baby). I take stock of my education (10 years, a PhD, at least $40,000 in tuition) and I wonder if it was all worth it. Did I really do all of that to become a Hausfrau?

When I expressed my disappointment to my MIL and asked her what my education got me, she said, “A house, a husband, a child!!” Yeah, I did not need to spend 10 years at university to have a baby. When I began my education, I had many dreams and aspirations. None of those hopes had anything to do with a husband and children. Am I supposed to just hang up these dreams because I had a baby? Where is my working life going to take me next?

After the Dude was born, I could not imagine working again. When I left for an English lesson I would call at least twice to see if he was okay. Now, when I get into the car, I put on my sunglasses and turn up the music and actually enjoy the time away; the time to be Claire BC (before Christopher). But now fuzzy math has got me in a corner, and I don’t know how to get out of it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Maybe you have heard, or maybe you have not, or maybe you just do not care, but presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama paid my little corner of the world a visit last week. I am not sure what the coverage was like in the U.S., but the news was difficult to escape here. I was pretty bummed that I could not travel to Berlin to see Obama speak in person, but the German was kind enough to put the Dude to bed so that I could watch his speech live on TV.

What did I think? Well, the speech was pretty much what I predicted to a friend mine earlier in the day: a lot of rhetoric and lofty phrases in an attempt to reach out to the European community. Although the speech took place in Berlin, I told my friend, make no mistake that this is a man who wants to be president of the United States.

Overall I liked the speech. It spoke to those things that are important to me, as well as signalling a possible change in U.S. foreign policy towards more cooperation.

I have read some criticism of the speech, including that it was inappropriate to hold a "campaign stop," in a foreign country. "Hmm . . . I wonder . . .," I thought, and then I went to the books. Did you know that according to the Statistisches Bundesamt 99,891 Americans live in Germany? An estimated 4 to 10 million Americans live abroad. Wow. And I bet some of us even vote. It is okay for me if presidential candidates decide to reach out to us.

Another criticism I have read is that Obama is too popular abroad. That is, if he is too friendly with other countries then he will not put American interests first. Oddly, no one made this criticism of Bush when he claimed to know Putin's soul. None of these criticisms acknowledges that it might be a good thing to repair America's image abroad. Also, don't think that Obama's speech in Berlin was a slam dunk. There may have been many cheers, but when Obama indicated that Europe needs to play a larger role in Afghanistan, he was met mostly with silence.

Welt am Sonntag, the Sunday paper that the German and I read, had an article today about the trip. One German reporter took to the streets of Brooklyn to see what some New Yorkers thought of the speech. One woman said, "Wow. 200,000 people. Is Berlin that big?" When I read this to the German he actually stopped eating his breakfast and stared at me with his mouth hanging open. (Berlin has a population of about 3.4 million people.) Also quoted was a very eloquent, conservative by the name of Ezra. He said,"An ass hole candidate spoke in an ass hole city to 200,000 ass holes." Gee, Ezra, tell us how you really feel.


While I have to admit to E. that not visiting the troops in Germany was a mistake, I am not sure that McCain's team is exempt from "rookie mistakes."

Tucker Bounds, McCain spokesman, went on Fox News and said that, "It really speaks to the experience that Barack Obama lacks. He prioritizes throngs of fawning Germans over meeting with wounded combat troops in Germany." I think that this speaks to the experience that Bounds lacks. This comment was the front page story of my German paper this morning and also listed on Insulting a coalition partner that you want to convince to take a larger part in military affairs is . . . not such a good idea.

After a little bit of reading I also discovered that McCain thought Putin was the president of Germany, Czechoslovakia was still a country and Iraq and Pakistan share a boarder. Hmm. That must be all that new geography they teach these days.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

22 is my Lucky Number

My dearest boys,

Last week someone asked me if I was able to make difficult decisions. It made me realize that although I might go back and forth and have many sleepless nights, when it comes down to it, yes, I can make life's difficult decisions. Two of the most difficult decisions I have ever made were getting married and having a baby. Turns out that the anniversary of these two things overlap.

Today we have been married for four years. I will never forget that day. It is also the anniversary of the worst hangover of my life (note to future brides: DO NOT have your bachelorette party the night before your wedding), but that is not why I will not forget it. In the days before the wedding I was so uncertain. Was leaving my country and family a good idea? But the day of the wedding, as I sat in my dress and waited for the photographer to finally show up, I was calm; certain. I knew without a doubt that I was doing the right thing. I had found the person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

Today, my little Dude, you are five months old. Before you were born, your father and I tried for months to get pregnant. When we decided to put kids off, wouldn't you know, you came along. Oh, crap, I thought, is this really what I want? Because I was so unsure, I must admit that I did not enjoy pregnancy too much. Then, the night before you were born, I knew. I was certain that having a baby was the next step. And, just as the day I got married, I calm and knew that everything would be okay.
Now, no matter how hard I try, I cannot imagine my life without the two of you; my lovely boys. Okay, so you drive me a little crazy. On Saturday night when the Dude would stop crying, and then the German would start snoring I was convinced that the two of you were in cahoots to make sure that I did not sleep. No matter. I am tough.

Over the past few weeks I have realized that 22 is my lucky number, as it is the day that brought you two into my life. Although I pretend to protect you both, it is you who protect me. Funny, turns out that those difficult decisions were not so difficult after all.
All my love,
Your Wife and Your Mother

Monday, July 21, 2008

Little One

Originally uploaded by govt23

It was a long weekend. Christopher's temperature went down Saturday afternoon. Sunday he spent most of the day sleeping. Because he has not been eating much during the day, we have had to do some 3am feedings to get him through the night. Last night was a little better. He slept. I slept. And this morning he actually played for a little bit and ate his normal amount. We might be on the road to recovery.

Hopefully that will mean posts galore this week, including: Zucchinis, Fuzzy Math and the Pride of Wildeshausen. I bet you can't wait!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Poor Baby

I have been enjoying the week with the Dude and the German, even felt inspired to write a thing or two. Had a whole post plotted in my head. Was going to write this afternoon, but the Dude had other plans.

I knew something was wrong when I picked him up out of his bed at 5:30am for his bottle. Normally he lies in bed patiently until about 6 and he starts smiling and waving his arms when he sees me. This morning he was listless and started crying when I picked him up. Then he only ate 160 ml when he usually downs 200 ml within 10 minutes. I thought he felt warm. I put him back in his bed but was a little unsettled.

At 7am I got up with him again and this time took his temperature when changing his diaper and dressing him. 38.8 Celsius / 101.8 Fahrenheit. At 8am I called the doctor and took a urine sample. Because of the Dude's enlarged ureter he is at a higher risk of bladder and kidney infections. The doctor does not mess around with fevers, so we went in at 9am with the sample and the Dude.

Everything came out fine in the tests and she could not detect anything wrong. It seems that he just has a fever. She called it a "three day fever." The only thing we can do is give him acetaminophen and extra fluids.

Since we have been home the Dude is pretty listless and a bit fussy and does not want to eat. He sleeps a little bit but mostly in my arms. His temperature has actually gone up slightly (39.3 / 102.7)and we just gave him another acetaminophen.

This weekend were supposed to go to a wedding and a birthday party. The in-laws were going to take the Dude for the night and I was going to sleep in on Sunday. Now I am going to stay home with the baby and the German is going to go to give our gifts and our regards. Maybe I can fit in my planned post between rockings.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Hairy Situation

One of the advantages of being married to a school teacher is the long summer vacations. The last day of school was Wednesday and I am now looking forward to an entire six weeks of family time. The most exciting part . . . knowing that the German can get up in the middle of the night and give the Dude his pacifier or feed the Dude at 6:00am. I will not make him do it every day, but I am definitely going to take some time off. With all the sleep and relaxation, I may become an entirely new person; think of it as a kinder, gentler, less bitchy Claire.

In preparation for the whole new me that I want to be, I took a "mental health day" on Tuesday and went to the hair salon. The hair salon can be a dangerous place for an expat. First, it is difficult to know where to go. Even though I have lived in this town for well over a year, I had no clue where to go. Luckily I have the pulse of Wildeshausen at my finger tips; the women from my mommy-and-me class. Although some of them expressed their sadness at not going that often themselves, they did have a recommendation for me. It was a bit more expensive, but worth the money. So, off I went.

The second problem that an expat faces at the salon: the language barrier. Even though I speak very good German and have spent 6 years in this country, I turn into a complete idiot as soon as I see the woman with the scissors. I blame this on the fact that "salon vocabulary" is not taught in schools. Forget buying bread, I really need to know how to explain hair color, roots, layering and please dear God don't cut my bangs to short. (The word for bangs by the way: pony. Weird, huh?)

My lovely new hairstylist took one look at my dry, split-end, faded hair and knew exactly what the problem was. In fact I did not have to do much talking at all. And the salon might have been expensive, but I went for everything that was offered to me. Cappuccino. Fabulous. Blond Highlights. Why the hell not. Treatment for the dry, split ends. Slap it on. Hand massage from a strange person. Let's not carried away, shall we.

When she was done (in one hour 45 minutes, a record for me!), I was very pleased with the results. Then came the real hard part, the bill. It has been awhile since I went to a salon in the U.S. but in Germany you have to pay for every little thing that they do. On my bill was hair treatment, color, highlights, cut, blow dry, mousse and hair spray. It adds up! The cappuccino, however, was on the house.

After I got home, I had to pass the man test. The German nodded his approval and did not even ask how much it was, thank God, and even better the Dude still knows who I am.

UPDATE: Okay, okay. I did not have a picture in the original post because I was on my way out the door when I was writing. Below is a pic. My hair is definitely lighter and shorter, but looks better in person.

Monday, July 07, 2008

It's what all the kids are doing

After a little bit of peer pressure from Ch-ard (not so much pressure as a push . . . okay actually a nudge) I made a Facebook page. I have been very reluctant to join these types of social networks / communities. A place where my popularity is based on how many friends I have . . . hmm, I had enough of that in high school thank you very much. But he assured me that it was a great way to keep in touch and find old friends. So I gave it a whirl.

Holy lost friends, Batman! I cannot believe how many of my old friends I have rediscovered and how much better I can keep in touch with them. It has been so strange to see friends from high school as . . . well, as grown ups. This one is married and that one has kids. This one is making movies and that one is moving to Japan. This one lives in Singapore and that one is building a house. It all sounds so adult. When did we become adults??

But just when you think you are growing up, your past will sneak up on you. When I saw that New Kids on the Block were reuniting, my heart skipped a beat. Time for another startling confession: That was the first concert I ever went to. Before you judge me (you already have, haven't you?), know that I was not as bad as my sister. She had the magazines, buttons, posters, shirt and towel. Now they are also doing a song with New Edition. Really, can life get any better than that? On the other hand, it is a bit surreal to see your teenage heart throb in his late 30s.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Born on the Fourth of July

Okay, so the Dude was not born on the 4th of July, but I do have a friend that was. He is German so does not see any significance in the date, other than it being his birthday. This Friday will be the Dude's first 4th of July. It saddens me a bit that it is just another day here in Germany. For me the 4th of July was all about BBQ, lemonade, swimming, fireworks and having my step-brother fire bottle rockets at me. The Dude is half American but will not be exposed to any of the Americana that makes the US great, if not a bit cheesy and over the top.

I started thinking about the Dude's American half and remembered that we need to get his U.S. passport in order. Therefore, I am planning a trip to Berlin at the end of the month. First, we have to "declare that he was born" . I find this amusing. Do I go up to the embassy and say, "Ta-da! Here he is! Didn't I do a good job?" After this declaration, we can then apply for a passport. I want to get this all done quickly as there is still a small chance that we will go to the U.S. for Christmas.

In the spirit of being American and the 4th of July, I took MSN's Could you pass the latest citizenship test? I only missed one and got 95% . No, I will not tell you which one I missed. But go check it out. How would you do?

PS That story about my nephew is TRUE! Kids really do say the funniest things.