Sunday, October 17, 2010

Changes

One reason that I have not really been able to articulate a lot on my blog over the past six months are the changes that have taken place in my life. As with most bloggers, our real life takes place away from the computer. And as with most bloggers, you do not always want to share (or cannot) all the intimate details of your life. Some might, but I don't. I worry to much about my blogs impact on my family, friends and professional life.

The biggest change has been a career shift. I am about to finish teaching my last English class. And then I am calling it a day. Teaching English was fun, but in the back of my mind, really just a way to pay the bills. The real fun was running a business and since I had to step back from that, my heart has not really been in it. Also, the New Yorker is pregnant and moving on to different things, and so it is for me.

Luckily, my volunteer work has turned into a full-time job. I am able to put my political science and research training to work. And I am actually getting paid! Not much, but it is a start.

However, my blog may not be the best place to talk about my research and job. So I don't. And because my work has become (especially in the past year) a central part of my life, I have not blogged much. I really did not think the mis-adventures of my two-year old were that interesting and so I was left with nada.

But here is hoping the juices get flowing.

To match the changes professionally and with the family (the Dude keeps getting bigger and bigger), the house is having to change too. Today, something happened that was both exciting and very sad.

When the Dude came home from the hospital, he slept in this:


His room was mostly defined by a large double bed. Having guests over was always difficult. We did not want to move the Dude ("You must protect the sleep schedule!"), and it was embarrassing to put married people in separate twin beds (one in my office and one in the German's)

But the Dude is a Big Boy now. And now he has a Big Boy Bed. Tonight he will sleep in this:


The double bed has moved downstairs into my office, which has gone from this:


To this:



We are having a couple of guests come and stay with us, so I am trying to make it into a little guest area. It is a little difficult to get work down while staring at that comfy bed though.

When I saw the Dude's bed, I almost started crying. When did he get so grown up? He can sing his ABC's and loves books and music and Mickey Mouse. But he is also head strong and stubborn. And now he is in a Big Boy Bed. Where does the time go?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Little Thursday Fun

I am working on a new post. It's called "Denglisch." However, how about a little bit of Thursday fun to lift us out of the fog? By the way, my dog cannot do ANY thing like this.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mmm, mmm Good.

In Europe these days there is a lot of discussion about foreigners and integration. The French just banned full burquas and in Germany a (used to be) respected banker wrote a very stupid book that sounded a bit like Pat Buchanan circa 1992.

I am a foreigner. However, I have been told that I am a "good one." I have no idea what that means, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I am "integrated:" I speak very good German and can complain about the Deutsche Bahn with the best of 'em. Actually this kind of offends me and I sometimes really want to be one of the "bad ones."

But that does not mean that people, including close friends, do not sometimes stick their foot in their mouths and say really offensive things.

A few weeks back I was relaxing with some of my mommy friends. The kids were playing in the corner and we were drinking coffee and complaining about something. I do not think it was Deutsche Bahn; it might have been about our husbands. (You do not have to be an expat blogger to be whiny.) One of the little ones was playing at the toy kitchen. He attempted to beckon me over.

Cute Kid: "Come play with me!"

I thought it was terribly cute and was about to get up, when one of the moms commented on the situation.

Eager Mom: "What? Claire's cooking? I guess that means just muffins and pancakes."

The room got very still as everyone turned to me to see how I would react. Dude, I was offended, but I tend to let these things go. Besides the women who said it is someone I like. But then I sat up a bit straighter. Wait a minute!

Defensive Claire: "Hey! The only person who makes pancakes in my house is the German . . . and he's German!"

I think this made her realize that sometimes you cannot generalize about people based on some of the things that their idiotic fellow countrymen do. For example, not all Germans wear Lederhosen and eat Sauerkraut. Unfortunately, as she attempted to walk it back, she stepped into it again.

Eager Mom: "I saw a documentary on fast food in the U.S. I know what Americans eat."

Mind you, I do not think that the person who said this has actually been to the U.S. However, I just smiled and attempted to let it go. Upon returning home, I did vent a bit to the German. Yes, Americans do eat crappy food, but the other day I was standing at the S-Bahn station in Bremen and watched a women walk by eating a McDonald's cheeseburger . . . at 10am!

But that is the thing about integration. Even though you feel like you fit in, there will be moments when you might as well be wearing a pink burqua that says "foreigner." I am still friends with Eager Mom and our kids still play together. However, when she comes over next week, I am thinking of making muffins.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Part Where I am Shamed for Not Posting More

This past weekend I met with some truly awesome people at the annual Whiny Expat Blogger Meet-up (WEBUM or WEBMU, we cannot decide). Hamburg was the site our stompings and whinings this year. Excellent city, excellent hosts.

My fellow expat bloggers did point out that my blogging this year has been less than . . . stellar, um, consistent. Those were a few words used. Honestely . . . they are completely right. 7 posts in 8 months. Yes, that is pretty bad.

I could throw excuses at you (chasing the Dude who is in the throws of the terrible twos (it's ain't called that for nothin' ya'll), work, travel) but honestly it is mostly a function of exhaustion. I work primarily from home these days and the computer has become something of a ball and chain. When I am not working, I am watching Jon Stewart (an old obsession) or reading about Project Runway (a new obsession) or following up on Mad Men (how could you not be obsessed with it).

After hours of cleaning, cooking, Lego, chasing, working and the designating surfing time, I usually collapse on the sofa exhausted. I may need a nap just thinking about it.

The strange thing is, I still have a lot to say! Sometimes things happen and I think, "Man I should really blog about that!" So perhaps my weekend with the whiny bloggers finally gave me the nudge. I cannot promise anything, but I will try and find my mojo.

And, yes, I got a new nickname. Poodle. Don't ask.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

What's in a Mom?

Today is Mother’s Day in Germany and the US, as well as 75 other countries. I was fascinated to learn that it is NOT Mother’s Day in the UK, Ireland, or France. Although most countries celebrate a “mother’s day” some do it at different times of the year.

From what I gathered pursuing Wikipedia, Mother’s Day is not a day created by the greeting card industry but rather has its roots in ancient festivals and rituals that honor the feminine Gods. Christians adopted the holiday in honor of the Virgin Mary.

Why should we celebrate and honor our mothers? What is a “mom?”

I think about this a lot these days. First, there is the obvious. Your mother carried you in her body for 10 months and then birthed you (I actually had help with that). Trust me, this is no easy task! It is uncomfortable and painful despite all of the happy hormones pumping through our bodies. Second, human babies are some of the most vulnerable in the world. A mother’s razor sharp instinct to protect her young keeps them alive.

Modern mothers certainly have more resources available to them, but the essence of motherhood has not changed. We are there to protect and care for our young and to guide them to adulthood. What has changed in modernity, is that the philosophies behind fulfilling this mission.

Do you subscribe to “attachment” parenting or are you more hands off? Is it okay to work outside the home or should we stay at home? Television? Breastfeeding? Public or Private School? The number choices that modern mothers face are overwhelming.

Because of it, the permutations in parenting are so numerous that mothers will fight to the death to prove that THEY ARE RIGHT. Because one thing has not changed over the centuries, YOUR MOTHER IS ALWAYS RIGHT!

Jen and I were discussing the other day about how judgmental moms are of other moms. It is terrible. Instead of a giant sisterhood, we turn on each other. Honestly, no one, including myself is ever “right.” In fact the majority of us ARE MAKING IT UP AS WE GO ALONG.

My parenting philosophy is very simple:

My job is to love my son unconditionally, to protect him and to give him the tools to become a happy adult that contributes (rather than merely takes) from his society.
Out of this philosophy comes many things. I let him do a lot of things on his own. This often means falling down. However, he always knows that I am there to pick him up, calm him down, and help get going again. I want him to know that it is okay to fall down. We all fall. But then we get up and we try again. I try to encourage curiosity and I give him room to explore the world around him. He does not need to know what I would do with the blocks; what does HE want to make? He has always slept in his own room. We go to play group together because I want him to have friends and realize that no man is an island.

That is the way we handle things in our house. Is it right? No, but it is right for our family.

A new movie is coming out that explores the first year of life of four different babies: one in Mongolia, Namibia, Tokyo and San Francisco. One of the lessons that the director shares is that when it comes to parenting, sometimes less is more. I like that idea. Perhaps one of the downfalls of modern moms is that we think WAY too much (at least I know that I do!).

Basically, it comes down to this: today, tell your kids that you love them. Tell your mom that you love her. But don’t just do it today. DO IT EVERY DAY!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eyjafjallajokull

By now you should know that the title of this post is not complete gibberish, but rather it is a volcano in Iceland. If you did not know that, I suggest that you go back to sleep now, because then you also have not heard that the volcano erupted a week ago and closed the airspace (and airports) throughout northern and western Europe. Millions of passengers were stranded across the globe and amazing stories involving trains, planes and automobiles emerged.

I also have a story. I should be writing this jet-lagged from a hotel room in Chicago, but instead I am writing this restless from my home office in Germany.

About a week ago, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut-off. There were so many things left to do before my big trip to the States. I was scheduled to leave Germany on Saturday, April 17. First I would spend four days in Washington DC, where I had several meetings with think-tanks, government agencies and some on the Hill. Then Wednesday I would fly to Chicago, where I was scheduled to present a paper at a political science conference. This trip was not a vacation, but I was looking forward to a few days of not being woken up by a very persistent voice yelling “MAMA!!!”

My MIL called me Thursday, April 15th, in the evening, “Claire! Are you leaving? What about the volcano??” I was aware of the volcano, but assured her that I would be leaving as the cloud was over England and certainly would not impact Frankfurt airport. After getting her off the phone rather quickly, I turned to the matter at hand, namely, laundry, ironing, packing, presentation preparation, appointment confirmation, etc. She overreacts; doesn’t she know how much I have to do? (Insert foreboding music here.)

By Friday afternoon the writing was on the wall. Bremen airport was closed; however, my flight from Frankfurt was still scheduled to depart. My in-laws picked up the Dude and the German and I were about to go out for dinner around 8pm. I checked the Internet and sure enough, my flight had been canceled.

Saturday morning, the day I was originally scheduled to leave, I wrote to my handy travel agent and asked him to get me a flight to Washington on Monday, April 19th. Perhaps I could salvage something of the trip. But as the day went on, the news kept getting worse. It was very apparent, even then, that IF airports opened on Monday, the possibility of getting a seat was not very high.

The German and I surfed the Internet and found a flight from Amsterdam to Chicago on Wednesday, April 21st, for 450 Euro. I immediately emailed the handy travel agent with new instructions: scrap the DC part of the trip and get me on the flight to Chicago on Wednesday. He wrote back that he had reserved the seat, and I basically went back to my regularly scheduled programming.

My suitcase lay on my bedroom floor, mocking me, so Sunday I unpacked. I canceled my appointments and my hotel reservations. I even called all of the English lessons that I had canceled and asked if they would like to meet; “Sure, Claire! That would be great!”

The Internet and the news became both a blessing and curse during the week. It drove me crazy and was a little emotionally draining to think, “Will I or won’t I?” Everyday I was on pins and needles. On Tuesday some planes blessedly started moving, but the Bremen airport was still closed. The limited flights going out were all long-haul, and so I became sure that my connection in Bremen would be canceled, there was a good chance that my flight from Amsterdam would leave as scheduled.

I sent handy travel agent an email at 2pm on Tuesday asking him to confirm that I could just drive to Amsterdam airport for my 11am flight on Wednesday.

At 4:30pm, after coming back from my English lesson, I ran to the computer. Flight still scheduled, handy travel agent also sent a note: “Never got ticket.” WTF???!!! I immediately wrote back that I needed to be in Chicago by 9am Thursday. About 30 minutes later he called and told me that he had me on a USAirways flight for Wednesday morning from Frankfurt (ironically, the same flight I had been scheduled to take on April 17th). He could not get me on the Amsterdam flight because my return flight (Sunday, April 25th) was full.

Panicked, I realized that I would need to drive to Frankfurt. I called my in-laws, who came over to get the Dude. I also called Jen to see if I could crash on her sofa before going to the airport. Before I could even finish the sentence, “I may have to fly from Frankfurt,” she said, “Sure!” (A good girl, that one!)

At 7pm, I packed the Dude’s weekend case and checked the Internet just as the doorbell rang. The dog started barking hysterically and I discovered that USAirways had just canceled my flight. Frantic, I shut up the dog and struggled to get not-so-handy travel agent on the phone.

The German, determined to be helpful, found a flight on KLM from Amsterdam via Minneapolis. It would mean driving to Amsterdam (the 2nd original plan) and staying an extra night in Chicago, but we could get the ticket for 670 Euro. I was just a few clicks away.

My boss advised me not to buy it. She said, “Wait on handy travel agent. What if that flight gets canceled and you cannot get your money back.” In the back of my head I was like, “Dude ain’t so handy!” So I waited.

The in-laws took the Dude and at 8:30pm the travel agent finally called me back. The flight I had found was now full. He could get me on the very last seat of a Delta flight but it would cost 1250 Euro. That was simply too much. That is when I finally gave up and accepted my fate.

No trip to the U.S. for me.

Lots of planes flew from Europe to the US yesterday. I almost died yesterday morning when I read on the Internet that the flight from Amsterdam to Chicago, the one I found last Saturday and almost booked myself, took off and landed safely.

The entire experience has been frustrating and emotionally draining. I feel terrible that I might have actually been able to go. The research paper that I spent countless sleepless nights writing is now just sitting here.

Jen said that everything happens for a reason. There is a reason I was not supposed to go. My mother said that she was happy that I was safe on the ground. There is a lesson to be learned, she said.

Sure there may be a reason and perhaps even a lesson. But I have not found them yet. I am still too profoundly disappointed.

“Eyjafjallajokull:” I think it is Icelandic for “That F@*king Volcano.”

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Two Cents

PLEASE NOTE: I am writing this blog post as part theoretical query and part historical context. As such, I welcome comments that engage in philosophical debate. Please do not threaten my life. I think we have all had enough of that nonsense.

Life has gone back to its ho-hum existence since my trip to Munich; however the pressure of the next project is already on. In April I will be attending two conferences and will have to go to DC for four days and then Chicago for four. I should probably start writing that paper now. What is it that they say about no rest for the weary?

Of course there was something in the news this week that caught my eye.

Give me a second . . . what was it . . . oh, yeah, health care.

I thought long and hard about what I have to say about the US health care bill. You either like it or you do not and there is not much that I can write either way that will change your mind. The overwrought rhetoric from those opposed has made me so nauseous and confused, that frankly I tuned out and turned away. I still cannot figure out what exactly it is that so many do not like about the bill.

How can you oppose:
  • Children being permitted to remain on their parents' insurance plan until their 26th birthday (Boy, do I wish I had had that when I was in graduate school!)
  • Individuals affected by the Medicare “donut hole” will receive a $250 rebate, and 50% of the gap will be eliminated in 2011
  • Insurance company spending caps will be restricted, and completely prohibited by 2014
  • Insurers are prohibited from dropping policy holders when they get sick
  • Providing tax deductions for small business so that they can get health insurance for their employees
  • Possibly extending health care coverage to 32 million Americans

So what is the problem with the bill? After looking at a few news outlets today I determined that cost (a quite legitimate concern which deserves more thoughtful discussion and not yelling) and the federal mandate to have health insurance were the thorn in many a side.

“Federal mandates are unconstitutional!” This quote was from Mitt Romney, who thought that mandates were constitutional when he was governor of Massachusetts. “The government cannot require you to do anything!” Wish I had known that when I had to register my car, pay taxes and get car insurance. Guess I should have sued. I keep looking for the part about mandates in the Constitution, but cannot find it. Could someone help me out? This is not tongue in cheek, seriously, as a scholar I would like to understand the argument better.

Germany has a federal mandate, and has had one for a VERY long time. Boy has it led it down the road to ruin. (Yes that last sentence IS tongue in cheek.) I asked the German why this mandate goes unquestioned in Germany.

Health care reform in Germany goes back to the days of Otto von Bismarck. In 1883 Bismarck oversaw the passage of the first German Health Insurance Bill. Health care was but one of many programs that his government pursued which helped to establish the German welfare system. Otto von Bismarck was not a socialist. However, he did recognize the power of the socialist and worker movement. These laws were enacted in order to appease them and to preserve the capitalist system. Bismarck did this because he recognized a fundamental truth of politics.

If you kick a dog often enough, he will bite you.

You have to hand out a bone every now and again.

I find this to be an intriguing way to look at the issue. Health care was not a grand socialist experiment, but necessary to maintain political order and power.

The German also pointed out to me that health care is necessary because it is bad for the economy to have a sick county. If everyone runs around sick then they are not productive at work. Also, they could get “me” sick, which I really do not want, or they wind up getting so sick that they go into hospitals and I wind up paying for them anyway. As a self-interested individual pursuing my goals and enjoying my freedom, I also have an interest in making sure that the people around me have affordable health care.

The German is smart, huh? That is why I keep him around. He is also extremely brave. He firmly believes in listening to and examining all sides of an argument and so he downloaded and listened to Glenn Beck last night. He looked at me completely bewildered after awhile, “Did this guy actually go to school? And why does he keep talking about trading in gold?”

There is one last thing that has really bugged me. Something seems to have gotten lost over the cacophony of noise in the US media the past few months.

There actually ARE Americans that want health care reform. They, as well as I, believe that good health should not be for the rich, dying for the poor and the middle class is left to go bankrupt.

And that is my two Cents.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Summit 2010


Next week I will be speaking at event in Munich, Germany.

Summit 2010 is a conference designed to constructively address overseas and military voting issues and challenges that we face today.

The event is open to all interested overseas citizen voters, members of the military and foreign services and their families, students, advocates, technologists, innovators, members of congress, election officials, secretaries of state, academics and members of the press.

If you will be in Munich and are interested, please register and join us! There are special rates and discounts available.

Click on the logo above for details!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Squeals of Delight

Squeals of delight erupted from my hair dresser yesterday when I walked into the salon and said, "You know what. Just cut it all off!"

Not only was I feeling the need to for a change because of the (finally!) warmer weather, but something new to match my new career direction. Also, I had a bit of an accident two weeks ago.

I had invited over 8 kids and moms to celebrate the Dude's second birthday. As the door bell rang, I bent over to open the front of the fire place to throw in another log. At that precise moment flames leaped out and attacked my hair.

Surprisingly I did not freak out at the smell of my singed hair. My friend, however, noticed the smell as soon as I opened the door. Wrinkling her nose she said, "I hope that is not the cake." "Oh, no, that's just me."

After three months of not going to the hair dresser, everything was too long, dry and singed. So my hair dresser, K, got very excited and pulled out her straight razor! She was so happy, I think she has wanted to do this for years. This was the result.


It is a little bit too short and red for my taste. I am afraid that I am going over into that awful red color that too many middle age German women find "fashionable." But it is just hair, so I can always change it.

Thank goodness the German is very supportive. He likes it. The other day he even leaned over in bed, kissed me and in his sweetest voice said, "You look so great for 33."

"Thank you, honey! How sweet of you. I am only 32."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kimka

The first of the major changes that we made occurred in January. We decided to expand our family . . . No, there is not a baby. We got a dog.

Ever since I got married, I have tried and tried to convince the German to get a dog and was always met with a resounding, "NO!" In my point of view, dogs offer child the opportunity to learn responsibility and a love different from that which they feel for friends and family. Memories of Coco, my childhood dog, still bring a tear to my eye. In the German's point of view, if you have a dog you cannot go on vacation. I never understood that argument. What are dog kennels, sitters and friends for if not to pick up your dog's poop so that you can go sip drinks on the beach?

Over New Year's we went over to his family's home. Everyone was there; aunts, uncles, Opa, Omas, cousins and nieces, and yes even a few cats and dogs. The German's cousin, who is also the Dude's Godmother, started talking to us about dogs. She pulled out a book of dog breeds. This young women possess the most amazing powers of persuasion because on the way home, the German said, "Let's get a dog."

"WHAT?" My head whipped around faster than when I see diapers on sale.

"There is only one condition. It has to be a cocker spaniel." I could live with that condition.

I thought the entire process would be long and thought out, but a few weeks later after surfing the Internet, he found her. We agreed on a certain set of criteria: an older dog (no puppies!), house broken (naturally), good with kids (hopefully), and preferably fixed. After looking at breeder sites and their ridiculous fees we found a site that rescues dogs.

This organization takes in cockers from all over Europe. The rescue them from puppy mills, pounds and even the streets. Kimka was being kept at a home just two hours from us. Not much was known about her history. She comes from Poland, where she was found on the street. She is extremely good with kids and walk well on a leash. However, she had a large tumor on one of her nipples. The organization theorizes that she was abandoned because she was sick.

After two operations, it was deemed that she is in perfect health and approximately 7 years old. The German went to check her out and when he got back it was perfectly obvious that he was smitten. "She is so beautiful and sweet! You just want to pick her up and cuddle!" Gee, honey, you do not even say those things about me anymore.

So we adopted her.

The first few weeks were fine, but now the "long haul" has settled in. The Dude is jealous to a certain extent, and also sees the dog as a play thing. However, the Dude plays rough. Kimka usually takes it, but I spend most of my mornings trying to keep the Dude from biting the dog or riding it like it is a horse.

Kimka loves to walk and run, but doing that with the Dude is difficult. I tried once with the dog on the leash and pushing the stroller. But the dog flipped out! She tried to jump into the stroller and she barked her head off. When I walk with both of them the Dude wants to be carried the entire way. It is exhausting.

Yesterday, of all days, Kimka decided that she had had enough. She bit the Dude and she left a mark. It was on his hand and left some scratches. I immediately locked the dog in my office and took care of the Dude. He calmed right down and was perfectly OK. In fact, two hours later he tried to get on Kimka again. Either the kid can take the pain or he is just not too bright.

We are hoping that this adjustment phase will end soon. Otherwise someone will be moving out and it might just be me.

On the other hand, they are kind of cute together; you know, when they are not biting each other.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Two Years


Yes, it has been awhile. Motherhood, work, marriage . . . it can all be so Topsy-turvey sometimes. In an effort to make things better I am going to be making a few changes. I am excited about these changes and will share them this week (if anyone still reads this anymore!).

Today, however, it is all about the Dude! Two years. Two years, my little guy. I love him so much more today than the day he was born. Is that weird? This despite the fact that he got up at 5:45am this morning and had the smelliest green poop all day.

This is such a fun time. He is developing interests and learns so quick. We can even have a conversation . . . sort of.

This is not to say that the "terrible twos" are not already making an appearence. The Dude does not like it when his (very strong) will is thwarted! I have no idea where he gets this strong will, but boy it is tough!

Sometimes I still get a little flack from other mommies I know because I let the Dude watch TV. I do not park him in front of it, but I do have to say, Thank God for Mickey Mouse! I do not feel too bad. The Dude no longer gets a pacifier, brushes his teeth, has a vocabulary over 200 words, can identify colors, letters and numbers, in German and English. He also is doing pretty well with potty training. I think we are doing okay.