24 December 2005
First, Katrina got sick. Then, a few days later, Jon. A week passed, during which I felt a little ooky off and on. I thought I had dodged the worst of it. Nope. Tuesday night and Wednesday were, um, bad. Jon took off work on Wednesday to take care of Katrina (and did a great job). Thursday, Jon and Katrina drove to the airport to pick up his parents while I cleaned the house as best I could while moving at approximately half-speed. Yesterday we visited the Christmas market in Saarbruecken (relatively small, but nice). Today is last-minute errand day and wrapping presents day. Christmas Eve service tonight. I'm still feeling a bit more tired than usual, which fits right in with Jon and Char's jet lag.
Anyway, with all the sickness and the usual busyness, we did not get Christmas cards out. But, hey, I still have plenty of Christmas cheer to share...or at least random thoughts to amuse and delight you.
- The most popular Christmas house decoration: the hanging Santa. Yes, on at least one house per block, you can find a Santa clinging to a rope ladder that hangs from a window or balcony. The first one I saw adorned the side of a building that also houses a gravestone-carving business. It was rather...odd. Big granite gravestones in the front yard, and a stuffed Santa hanging out of an upstairs window. When I mentioned it to a friend who's been in Germany a while, she said, "Yep, the Germans love their hanging Santas. By Christmas, you'll see them on nearly every house." She was right.
- Katrina finds beauty in the simplest things. We made peanut-butter balls for her class snack. The first step is to mix peanut butter and honey together. As I'm stirring it, thinking how hard it is to stir, Katrina says in an awed tone, "It's soo bootiful." As I looked at the swirls of honey reflecting the light, I had to agree.
- A new version of "Santa, Baby" is in heavy rotation on German radio (in English). You know, "Santa, baby, hurry down the chimney tonight." When Katrina heard it, she said, "Papa, why are they throwing babies down the chimney?" Now she giggles and says "babies down the chimney!" because it makes us laugh.
'Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and all through the room,
The radio was playing a favorite German tune.
Right after a Christmas carol, we heard it yet again.
Yes, at least once a day, "It's Raining Men!"
12 December 2005
Wednesday was the Christmas party for Jon's office at the base. When's the last time your company Christmas party was in a castle? Medieval costume was requested, so we rented costumes. Herewith is a picture of us for your amusement.
Katrina was thrilled to go to the "kids' party" --onsite babysitting--especially since Rory was there. Rory is the 3-year-old daughter of Jon's co-worker, and the only girl Katrina's age who is taller than Katrina is. We've been getting together on the weekends to socialize and for the girls to play together.
Anyway, Katrina has suddenly started smiling those unnatural, forced smiles whenever there's a camera around. So after the party, she had her picture taken with Rory. She had that fake smile, so I told her to smile for real. Here is the result.
But on Friday night came a milestone you hope will never come: Katrina's first experience with a stomach bug. She was up about every hour on the hour throwing up. (Or, as she says, "fwowing up.") It came on fast; she seemed perfectly fine until about dinnertime. Even then, it seemed more that she was just overtired. Until about 8, when she said her tummy hurt. Then all hell broke loose. She couldn't keep anything down, including plain water. She would throw up (even tho' there was nothing in her stomach), cry, and go back to sleep immediately, only to wake up an hour later and do it again. It finally stopped about 2 am, so she got some sleep.
So Saturday, the only sunshiny day in the last three weeks, was spent inside with poor, tired, sick Katrina, who was very annoyed that we couldn't explain WHY she got sick. I made the mistake of saying that she "picked up a bug," and that confused her further, since she could not remember even touching an insect recently. I backtracked a little, talking about "teeny-tiny bugs, called germs or viruses," but I'm pretty sure she now thinks she swallowed a bug like the Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.
Jon and I have felt a little off (lack of sleep itself can do that to you), but have not gotten sick ... yet. Here's hoping we've avoided it. I took disinfectant wipes to the door handles, light switches, and bathroom, plus washed all the sheets and towels.
So she's mostly recovered now, was running around Sunday evening. This morning she said she was tired and sick, but when I said she should stay home from school if she was sick, suddenly she wasn't THAT sick.
At school, we were greeted by the teacher with, "So did you get sick?" A good part of the class, including the teachers, had the same bug, most of them on Friday night. The teacher said, "Can you smell the Clorox wafting from the classroom?" One little girl threw up at school late in the afternoon on Friday (after Katrina was already home). Another classmate managed to wait until the family was out to dinner before getting sick in the middle of the restaurant. At least Katrina got sick at home and actually made it to the toilet for the most part.
Aren't you glad you read all of this? Go forth and wash your hands vigorously. And don't go picking up any bugs.
29 November 2005
Hi, yes, it's been a while. We celebrated Thanksgiving with ...uh, CHICKEN and all the trimmings. We have a teeny, tiny oven, small even by German standards. Only one rack, too, so only one thing can cook at a time. I looked at the small-ish turkeys in the commissary, but was not sure if one would fit. So we had roasted chicken. Gluten-free stuffing cooked in the Crock Pot (which tasted a lot better than it sounds). Mashed potatoes, corn. I had cranberry sauce. Katrina tried it and made a face, and Jon doesn't like it. Other traditional dishes were nixed because (1) of lack of space; or (2) I'm allergic; or (3) Jon doesn't like them. So no sweet potatoes and apples (my family) or five-cup salad (Jon's family) or green bean casserole (both families, but those french-fried onions are not gluten-free).
So, a simple Thanksgiving, then a matinee movie of Chicken Little. Which, eh. Not that great. And Katrina wanted to know where Chicken Little's mom was (dead). I wimped out, given that it was in the middle of the movie when she asked, and said that I didn't know. I could go on a long rant here about how parents--fathers in particular--are portrayed in children's stories and movies, but suffice it to say that (1) the mom was dead; and (2) the dad was a bumbling idiot who didn't support his son. Sad to say that this seems to be typical in the kids movies and fairy tales I've seen. The Disney princess movies that Katrina is so fond of...the mom is always dead or not seen. The Little Mermaid, Cinderella (we already know Cinderella is an orphan, but the Disney Prince? has only a--you guessed it--bumbling father played for comic effect), Beauty and the Beast (the dad is a bumbler, there, too), Aladdin (the dad gets hypnotized by the bad guy), Snow White. I suppose children who have two living, loving parents don't go on adventures? I haven't seen the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty yet, but that is the only fairy tale I've read to Katrina so far where the main character has two living parents. I know, at the time when most fairy tales were written, people died younger, more women died in childbirth, etc. Still...couldn't Chicken Little have a mom? Is it too much to ask of a movie who changes a simple little story into a movie complete with dodgeball, high school romance, and an alien invasion? Oh, wait, I said I wasn't going on a long rant. OK, just a medium-sized one.
Friday we drove to Middelburg in The Netherlands to visit Jon's "second mom," Jelly. (The family he stayed with as an exchange student in high school.) It was a good visit. It was the first time she had met Katrina, who called her Oma Jelly ("Oma" being "Grandma" in Dutch). The two of them got on well, too. Katrina was especially charmed with the PINK dollbaby that Jelly gave her. She's been sleeping with it. Jelly has not been in good health, so she was not sure until a week or two before whether she would be up for company. So we feel lucky that she felt well enough in time for our long weekend.
Today is picture day at preschool! But we won't get the pictures until Dec.15, a bit too late to put in Christmas cards. Well, in Christmas cards that would actually arrive before Christmas, which is not always a given for us, anyway. Christmas cards that arrive the week after Christmas: It's a small niche, but it's ours!
18 November 2005
Jon got back yesterday from a week-long business trip to the States. I tend to feel sorry for myself when he's gone. Woe is me! My husband is away--over a long weekend (Veteran's Day), no less! No help with Katrina, even though she and I are both sick with colds! And to top it all off, Jon gets to visit his parents AND our DC friends while we're stuck here, blowing our noses and quaffing decongestant!
Before we moved, I got a lot of sympathy when Jon traveled. Other moms would say, "I don't know how you do it!" (Of course, he was traveling way more often last year than he has since we moved.)
Not so much sympathy for me here, in the military community. One of the preschool moms moved here about the time we did. She has an adorable little boy about Katrina's age. Since they moved, her husband has been deployed more often than he's been home. He was in Angola for several weeks over the summer. He is in Pakistan right now, helping with relief efforts (has it been publicized in the U.S. media that the Army has sent a large MASH unit to Pakistan for earthquake relief?). They don't know when he'll be home, because they don't know how long they will be needed there. So this mom and young son are preparing for the holidays without dad. I think they are going back to the States to stay with family for awhile.
The last time I talked to her, she said something like, "Last time he was deployed over the holidays, we sent him a Christmas tree with ornaments that (her son) made. But this year I just don't have the energy to be that elaborate." Later, I realized that for her son to be old enough to make ornaments, it had to have been last Christmas. So she's looking at the second Christmas in a row--two out of three years in her son's life--without her husband.
You know what her son told her soon after his dad left? That he wanted to grow up and help people like his dad does.
Yeah, not feeling sorry for myself anymore.
13 November 2005
For those of you from Pennsylvania, we have stumbled across a brand/flavor of potato chips that tastes exactly like Middleswarth BBQ chips (and, hey, if you hit that link, you go to a site that sells PA snacks by mail order. Shoo Fly Pie. Mmmmm. Been a long time.). Except maybe a little less greasy. Interesting thing is that the Funny-Frisch chips flavor is not BBQ but ungarisch, which translates to Hungarian. I can't buy them too often. Addictive.
10 November 2005
Katrina is three years old now, and since she's been about a year old, random people have been asking me if we're going to have another child. By random, I mean moms on the playground or other child-friendly place. Never men, by the way. Women I'm chatting with, whom I've just met. "So, are you planning to have another child?"
It is a natural curiosity, I know. I've been tempted to ask such questions myself. But I usually don't.
I never quite know how to answer the question, because I no longer believe that I have any control as to whether we'll have another child. I find it rather quaint--even naive--that people think they can plan when and how many children they will have. I suppose people who have never experienced problems with conceiving or hanging on to a pregnancy are also never proved wrong in their belief that they control the process. But Jon and I know differently. Like many others with fertility challenges, we know that conceiving and bearing a child can be precarious, fragile, and fraught with pain as well as joy.
To give you a thumbnail: We "decided" to have kids about 5 years before Katrina was born. After a few years, we got checked out. I had rare anatomic abnormalities that were partially fixed with surgery. A year later, miscarriage at 5 weeks. Broke our hearts. About 10 months later, I got pregnant again. I was a wreck the whole pregnancy, knowing way too much about what could go wrong. Katrina was born, and our whole lives changed. We truly feel that she is our miracle child.
A little before Christmas 2004, I was pregnant again. By the second week of January, our baby had died. The weeks that followed were the worst kind of deja vu.
I had extensive blood work about a month later, which found that I have a (you guessed it) rare genetic anomaly that can affect blood flow/clotting to the womb (as well as some other effects unrelated to fertility). I'm now taking mega-doses of folic acid, which is the treatment for this condition.
So, are we having another child? I usually stutter around and say that we want one, but we had some trouble having Katrina, so we don't know. Even that sounds like too much information to lay on a relative stranger (but of course, they did ask). Sometimes I want to tell them the whole saga, so that they will stop asking that kind of question. Sometimes I just say "I don't know."
That's the real truth--I don't know. But not because of any decision we have or have not made. It sounds a bit saccharine to say it's in God's hands. But it is.
03 November 2005
We've been listening to the local German radio station, basically a mix/adult contemporary station. Maybe 1 in 10 songs are actually in German. The rest are in English, the same ones you're probably hearing in the States. They do play a greater proportion of older songs than we're used to. What's a little odd is that "It's Raining Men" seems to be in heavy rotation. We hear it at least once a day. I think I've heard that song more times in the last few weeks than I have my whole life. Ditto with "Flashdance." If this says something about the mood or culture in the Rheinland-Pfalz area of Germany, someone more perceptive than I will have to analyze it.
I'm reading Prep, a novel about a girl at a prestigious boarding school. It's good. It also makes me 1) profoundly grateful that I'm no longer a teenager and 2) a bit apprehensive on Katrina's behalf. The book is not shocking or anything (at least not yet), but the emotional intensity and angst and confusion of adolescence is so vivid and familiar. Ugh. I really like being an adult.
Getting to know the moms at preschool has been enlightening. I'm so far behind the domestic curve. Everyone I've met so far is scrapbooking, doing crafts, sewing, etc. They're starting a craft group, meeting once a month. I'll go for the social aspect, but I've told them that I'm craft-challenged. A few of us got together this morning and made little stuffed pumpkins. Mine came out pretty good. It's cute. I have no idea what to do with it now.
Thankfully, the moms are also starting a book club. Perhaps I'll redeem myself there.
Note to anyone planning to buy clothes for Katrina: Since we've returned from the States, Katrina has worn jeans/corduroys maybe three times, and only after much cajoling. She wants to wear only skirts and dresses. I believe the reason is not the skirts per se but the tights. She is obsessed with tights. Especially a certain pair of pink tights with flowers and hearts on them (see pictures in previous entry--that's her favorite outfit). But plain white tights will do if those are in the laundry.
OK, we had conferences at preschool last week. The teacher sent home a note asking us to jot down our goals for the year (along with any questions we had). Goals for the year? I thought. She's three. I just want her to have fun and make friends. Which is what I said to the teacher. Except the teacher showed us her evaluation, a page with maybe 30 different tasks, marked with what Katrina is "competent" in and where she was "making progress." My academically achieving/perfectionistic self immediately thought, oh, no, I have to work with her on these things. She only recognizes 6 letters of the alphabet by sight! She holds scissors the wrong way! She can't count to twenty! (She counts to ten, then says the "teens" in random order, including "eleventeen," which greatly amused the teacher.)
Then I reminded myself. She's THREE. She's asking approximately 65 questions per minute. She loves school, and she loves learning. She's memorizing little poems, singing new songs, and counting in German as well as English. (She skips the teens in German, too.) So I'm squelching the perfectionist and taking my amazing daughter to the playground after school tomorrow.
20 October 2005
I read the account in Chronicles today of David dancing before the ark of the Lord as it was carried into the city, with great pomp and ceremony. And Michal, his wife and Saul's daughter, saw David dancing and despised him.
The image of David, so full of joy he just had to dance, reminded me of how Katrina reacts when she's excited and happy. She doesn't just smile; her whole body gets in on the act, jumping up and down. She dances, too, sometimes to music on the radio, sometimes to some song she makes up as she goes along. (When she's not happy, her whole being tells you that, too.)
I hope she doesn't lose that sparkle as she gets older. It's not really appropriate to jump up and down with excitement when you're 15, 20, 30. New friends of ours have an 11-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. The 11-year-old is (outwardly) not pleased with anything. I think maybe it's not cool to admit you enjoy outings with the family, even if you do. But even among kids Katrina's age, she seems to be a bit more exuberant than many of them. It's catching, too. Katrina starts jumping up and down in the little cloakroom when I pick her up from school, and soon another child is jumping too. Little pogo sticks.
Since I'm by nature more contained, I kind of sit back and watch with bemused enjoyment. I also tend toward melancholy. I dwell too much on the negatives or perceived negatives of a situation. Katrina reminds me that joy can come from the prospect of playing with a friend, making a sand castle, or wearing pretty tights with a dress to match.
And that story of David reminds me that joy comes from God--and that God wants us to delight in him and in his creation ... including the part of creation that is my daughter.
13 October 2005
We returned home on Saturday and are starting to get back in the groove of things. Jet lag is still with us; it's harder to shake coming east, and it's harder for a child to adjust. Katrina was up for several hours in the middle of the night on Sunday and Monday. I'm having to wake her at 8 to get to preschool on time. We figure she'll be back to her early-morning ways just in time for the weekend.
16 September 2005
We're leaving tomorrow morning for the States...one week in PA, one week in Disneyworld, and one week in VA. Yay! And...ugh. Transatlantic plane trip with a 3-year-old. Last time we took MANY trips to the bathroom once she figured out that "potty" was the way to walk up and down the aisles smiling at the nice people. Pray for us. Patience, patience, patience...right now!
09 September 2005
After dropping Katrina off at preschool this morning, I came home and ironed while watching Oprah. (How stereotypical can I be?) Anyway, the show was about people taking risks to live their dreams. Phil Keoghan, who has a book and a reality TV show called "No Opportunity Wasted," was a guest, and he introduced several stories of people from his show. One lady was a small-town radio DJ who auditioned for a guest spot at a top New York radio station. (And made it, of course--what self-respecting radio station would turn down anyone with a modicum of talent who brings along cameras from a nationally syndicated TV show?)
So Oprah and Phil talked about taking risks, working hard, making the most of your life, doing what it takes to follow your dreams. All very inspiring and rah-rah. And as I stood there and ironed, I started thinking, "what are my dreams? Now that Katrina is getting older, what do I want to do with my life?"
After the show, I sat down and read the devotional in The Upper Room for today. The Scripture reading was Mark 8:34-38, beginning "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."
The world according to Oprah, and American culture in general, is that true living is doing what it takes to make you happy, or successful...whatever your dream is. But true living, according to Jesus, is denying yourself, focusing on following Jesus, giving your life to God.
I never really noticed the sharp contrast before. These words of Jesus call us to a radically different mindset than that of the inspiring stories of people achieving their dreams. But, really, I think there's nothing wrong with goals, aspirations, dreams. In many cases, I believe God gifted us with them.
Perhaps what's different is the focus, the attitude, the willingness to delay or give up our dreams if God or life circumstances ask us to do so. Am I willing to follow Jesus, no matter where it takes me? And not just in the big picture, "yeah, I'm a Christian, I gave my life to Christ." For believers in the affluent, tolerant Western world, it's relatively easy to feel like the deal is done with a bit of church attendance, a little devotional reading and prayer, and then go on with the rest of our day. But these words tell me there's more to this Christian thing than that.
You know, like actually following Jesus.
Just don't ask me how that works. I'm still trying to figure it out.
01 September 2005
I started tearing up in the car today, listening to the news on Hurricane Katrina. This young woman was looking for her parents and her brother. The last she had heard from them, the mom and the brother had been rescued from their home's roof by a helicopter and were in a small shelter somewhere. There were too many people in the helicopter for it to take her father; the last she heard her dad was on the roof waiting for the next helicopter to come. Her mom's cell was out of power and she had nowhere to plug it in. That was the last the woman heard from her family; it's been two days.
I'm sure there are stories like that everywhere. This is just one person who happened to run into an NPR reporter, and now I'm crying and praying for her halfway across the world. I'm not glued to the news, because of my Katrina. "Bear in the Big Blue House" is on now. So what I do hear is on the radio, in the car or the kitchen. Jon is getting info and pictures at work on the Air Force bases in the affected areas. The one in the Biloxi area is pretty much destroyed.
Donations are reportedly pouring in to disaster response charities. Along with the unbelievable destruction and suffering comes amazing generosity. Or maybe not so amazing. Praying and sending money are probably the only ways those of us removed from the disaster can help...the only ways to say "I'm sorry this happened to you"... the only ways to stop feeling helpless in the face of suffering.
Lutheran Disaster Response
Yeah, I still feel helpless, too.
31 August 2005
God doesn't talk to me that often. Or, I should say, I don't hear him that often. A Presence, yes, that I understand. But I tend to be a bit, erm, cynical when I hear people talking about getting specific instructions from God on a regular basis. Maybe they're just tuned in better. There's a song by Chris Rice that I identify with. It starts out: "I would take 'no' for an answer just to know I heard You speak. And I'm wondering why I never see the signs they claim they see." So there I am.
Sometimes God gets through anyway. Not in a burning-bush way, just coincidences that seem not so coincidental.
See, I rarely feel at home in church. I'm right in line with what basic Lutheran theology I've read and had explained to me. But I tend to be more conservative than the mainstream ELCA (the denomination we were members of in the States) and a bit more--moderate? less fundamentalist? less of a black and white attitude?--than the conservative Lutheran and evangelical denominations. In some cases, I can agree right down the line with conservative theology (and politics, for that matter), and yet feel creeped out by an attitude of absolute certainty. "We've got all the answers. God's on our side." I'm just not sure it's that simple.
But mostly, I long to feel a part of a community of faith. A group of people that are welcoming, authentic with each other, have a sense of mission and purpose for their church, and want to learn more about God and really try to put into practice what they learn. Realistically, no church can live up to my little picture of how things "should" be. But, still...
Anyway, I haven't really felt at home in the church we've been attending here. But it's not like there are a lot of options for English-language churches. We're lucky to have a Lutheran church made up of Americans (a mixture of ELCA and Missouri Synod members, but offically affiliated with Missouri Synod). It's struggling, though. It's small, it's looking for a permanent pastor (their former pastor retired), and it has a challenge unique to the military community: every summer, one-third or more of its members move away to their next assignment. We've already gone the small, struggling church route, and neither of us is eager to do it again.
So last Saturday, Jon and I were talking about this, along with some other things concerning churches. I told Jon that I just want a church where I felt I belonged. I've always wanted that, and rarely if ever found it, but that "longing for belonging" is even stronger now that we're in a new place.
Sunday morning, we went to church. What do you suppose was one of the main points of the sermon? That as Christians, we belong to the family of God. It was like God was saying, "Wake up! Remember that you already belong!" What really got me was that the pastor's choice of words were so similar to what I had been saying the night before.
One can argue for coincidence. But my heart tells me that there's a message there. After church, we were talking to only two elders (that's what they call the governing board of the church) that remain after the latest round of PCS's (permanent change of stations, otherwise known as moving). And I found myself volunteering to work on the church's Web site.
So I guess we're committed. I rarely say things like this, but I think this church is where God wants us.
But I'm not volunteering to be on the council/board of elders. The last time I did that, our pastor resigned within a few months and the church pretty much fell apart. (Uh, not because I was on the council. But why take a chance?)
29 August 2005
23 August 2005
Outside the cathedral in Trier: "Let's go in the castle! Who lives in the castle? A princess!"
Inside the cathedral, at the altar rail in front of a shrine containing a relic of Christ: "Mama, what's the god's name in this church?" (She's not really clear that the pastor is not God.)
She's been playing on and off with "pretend Sophia" who seems to come in all shapes and sizes.
- "Fophia is 'ittle, 'ittle. (clenches her fist and then opens it) Look, I smushed Fophia!"
- "Come on, baby Fophia. Mama, I can't hold baby and go down the steps. (mimes eating something out of her hand) Look, Mama, I ate Fophia! Now she's in my tummy and she will grow and grow and grow and grow!" (hmm, still remembers pregnant Vicki, I guess)
- "Mama, Fophia needs a plate, too! Fophia needs macaroni and cheese, too!"
- Tonight, getting ready for bed: "Mama, Fophia is in my house (her playhouse in the back yard). She's having a time out."
Goldilocks also comes to visit, but she just mostly eats pretend porridge.
17 August 2005
Trying to connect with other moms has a lot in common with dating, except that you're trying to make two couplings work: her kid with your kid, and you with her. So I meet a good many moms on the playground, usually because Katrina and their daughters start playing together.
Some moms I know right away that I don't have a lot in common with. Others, I feel like we have a good chat while our kids are playing together, and I really would like to follow up and try to become friends. Especially when it is obvious that our kids get along (or at least as much as it is possible for 3-year-old girls to get along). So then comes the problem, as one or the other is starting to leave: do you, on first meeting, offer your phone number in the hopes that the other mom also wants to get together again? Will the other mom think you're desperate for friends if you do that? Did she even like you--or did you talk too much, or not enough, or did she think your kid was too bossy, or ill-behaved, or, or, or...?
You see what I mean about this being like dating. For an introvert like me, trying to give another mom my number is SCARY. The only people I've managed to contact have been the moms at the preschool. But I met a German mom (with an American husband) on the playground on base a few weeks ago. She was really nice, her daughter and mine were the same age and played together for a good 45 minutes, and we both said "oh, I hope we see you again on the playground" when we left. I think we both wimped out. I haven't seen her since, and I've been hoping to run into her again. I'd like to think that this time I'd be bold and say, "here, why don't you call me and maybe we can get our daughters together to play again." I just don't know if I can make the leap.
On the other hand, you can be making a gung-ho effort and still have it fall to pieces. I've been taking Katrina to "preschool skate" at the base skating rink on Tuesdays since her preschool went on hiatus. For the last two Tuesdays, she's played with a firecracker of a girl about 6 months older, along with that girl's friend. Three little 3-year-olds screeching and running around and laughing.
Outside the rink, the little girls were playing a little as the two other moms were chatting. One mentioned that she was writing some articles. Of course my ears perked up. Another writer mom!
"Oh, are you a writer?"
"Well, sort of," she said.
I repeated something I had heard at a writers conference. "If you write, you're a writer."
"I guess I'm a writer, then," she said. "I've had a few articles published, and I'm working on a book."
"Fiction or nonfiction?"
She went on to say to the other mom that she hoped to work on it more when her daughter started preschool in the fall. I kind of butted in, because I was all excited to meet another writer.
"What's your book about?"
"Well, um," (I thought, oh, she can't put it into a short sentence. Oftentimes, less-experienced writers launch into detailed explanations. Boy was I wrong.)
"It's called, How to Raise Your Child..." (Now, I'm thinking, cool, she's writing a parenting book. I'm interested in writing about parenting too. We may have a lot to talk about!)
"How to Raise Your Child Pagan."
"Ha-ha...oh, um, wow, how interesting." (Damn the nervous laugh! No wonder she wasn't particularly forthcoming.)
Needless to say, she didn't offer me her phone number.
12 August 2005
Secrets. The creator of PostSecret bills the site as an "ongoing community art project where people mail-in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard." He posts new postcards every Sunday. I find it intriguing, sad, disturbing, insightful. It makes me think: what don't I know about people I talk to every day? What secret(s) do I have? But mostly, the postcards speak of the loneliness of keeping secrets and the yearning to reveal your true self to others--even people you will never meet. How lonely do you have to be to send your secret anonymously to a Web site?
I'm Reading...well, nothing, at the moment. I finished The Sugar Camp Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini, a light historical romance/mystery. I have several library books, but haven't started them yet. I never did finish Gilead, which I left off in favor of Harry Potter and haven't picked up again. I think this alone pegs me as a low-brow, popular reader, rather than the literary reader I think I could/should be. I renewed Gilead, so I hope to come back to it. It is lovely, but it is the kind of book you need to read slowly and thoughtfully. I'm just not doing much slow and thoughtful these days. My reading time is at breakfast--right after trying to convince Katrina that her eggie is not broken just because I cut it up for her (and no, I am not going to cook her another egg)--and in the evenings, when I tend to be too tired to concentrate very well. Hope springs eternal, though. I borrowed Life of Pi from the library too, which was recommended by a number of people on a writers list I subscribe to. Maybe I'll get literary yet. You think my cousin Dave would ask me to write a booklist of light fiction you can read while your preschooler watches Teletubbies?
What's the Weather? What's the Weather? At the slightest provocation, Katrina launches into this little ditty from preschool. I'm not entirely sure what the tune is. "Is it sunny? Is it rainy? What's the weather today?" For the record, the highest temperature in the last week or so has been maybe 75 degrees F. Often cold (50s to 60s) in the mornings, then warming up and getting sunny in the afternoons. On the whole, I'm liking August in Germany. It beats bad air warnings and 90+ degrees with stifling humidity in NoVA. Europe can have hot summers, like the one two years ago where a number of people in France died of heat-related illnesses, but so far the longest hot spell has been about a week.
Oscar the Grouch. Here's a fun and informative site for your perusal: Muelltips (in English). That's trash tips. You need trash tips when you have to make a choice between:
- the brown trash bin (biological waste--food scraps, lawn trimmings, etc.);
- the blue trash bin (paper products, and only paper products, no combo things like a box with a plastic window);
- the gray trash bin (restmuell, or anything that doesn't go into any other category);
- the yellow bag (recyclables excluding glass, combo packaging, plastics); or
- the huge community glass recycling bins, always in threes for white, brown, or green glass (we have some right across the street from us behind the school).
We're trying to cut down on our Restmuell, because for some unknown reason, the trash company took away the second Restmuell bin that mysteriously appeared a week or so after we moved in (Jakob Becker gives, Jakob Becker takes away. Blessed be Jakob Becker.). Now we have only one Restmuell bin. I don't know if they will collect trash that is not in a bin. In theory, the garbage collectors have the right to "reject" trash if they feel it is not properly sorted (nonrecyclables in the yellow bag, for example).
As Americans, we do have one other option--chuck it all into undifferentiated bags and haul it to the dumpsters on the base. What is more disgusting...growing maggots in your bio bin (which is only collected every 2 weeks) or hauling loads of trash in the back of your car? For now, we're trying to prevent eau d'garbage in the car. Plus, really, if a whole nation can get this thing right, I think we can figure it out eventually. Emphasis on eventually...I haven't yet memorized the rotating pick-up schedule. When Jon was away last week I waited until my neighbors put their trash out and then copied what they did.
05 August 2005
Tomorrow my cousin Amy is getting married. She's about 10 years younger than me, and was my youngest cousin through my growing-up years.
When Amy and her parents came to visit, it sparked a competition between my sister Wendy and me. Amy was a little cutie-pie, bright-eyed and red-haired. Each of us wanted her to like us best. Wendy usually got more attention, since at 6 years younger than me she was young enough to really play with Amy. At least that's my memory. Wendy may tell you something different. In any case, if Amy had lived any closer to us, we cousins probably would have spoiled her rotten.
Amy was the guest-book attendant at my wedding, a pre-teen at the time. I remember my mom telling me that Amy cried at my wedding, because she thought my getting married meant we would never see each other again.
Unfortunately, it did mean that our paths crossed less. We see each other rarely enough that I always have a bit of a jolt when my mental picture of Amy at about age 12 comes up against the reality of Amy as an adult.
You know what's still there, though? Yes, of course that glorious red hair. But I would say that the hallmark of Amy's personality is her enthusiasm. I was just thinking the other day that I don't come across a lot of people who are enthusiastic about what they do or about life in general. Or, at least, we're all too cool or jaded to show enthusiasm. But Amy positively exudes it, and takes everyone around her along for the ride.
And what a ride marriage is. It's cliched to say that there are ups and downs, but it's also the truth. I found the first few years of marriage the hardest. It takes time to really know someone, and to get yourself out of the way long enough to learn how to love your spouse well. I still have to get myself out of the way. Marriage is a long lesson in "it's not about you." (Parenthood is a boot camp on the same subject.)
But the ride--side by side in the same seat, clutching at each other's hands during the scary parts--is so worth it.
I really wish we could be there for the wedding. I'd probably return the favor of crying the whole way through. I'll have to settle for hoping that tomorrow will be only the first day in a long line of days spent living, loving, and laughing together...with delighted enthusiasm.
31 July 2005
OK, I just finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and...wow. It was incredible. I wasn't all that fond of the previous one, The Order of the Phoenix. It was all right, but kind of muddled.
The ending of Prince was shocking, but not because of the much-ballyhooed death. I saw that one coming--sometime in the series, anyway. No, like a particular episode of Babylon 5 that no one but Jon and my brother would remember, the identity of the killer was the surprise. To me, anyway.
Throughout the whole series, I have been sure that this character was unpleasant, but on the side of good. So his betrayal shocked me, even though it was foreshadowed from the very first chapter.
So for the next book, I'm not nearly as interested in what happens to Harry as I am in how this new/old nemesis turns out. Hopefully, Rowling will devote as much space to this person's background and motivations in the next book as she did to Voldemort's history in this one.
28 July 2005
One of the little girls at Katrina's preschool broke her arm over the weekend. She fell off a piece of playground equipment with her mom right there. Something-or-other was dislocated, it looked pretty bad, and an ambulance was called. I think that is the key, there.
This morning on the way to school, Katrina said, "Lauren breaked her arm. She went on an amboolance. It hurt a lot and a lot and a lot." I said something like, "Yes, it did, but it's healing now."
"I'm going to break my arm," she said.
27 July 2005
We've been listening to a lot of "top 40" radio since we got here. I tend to listen to AFN (Armed Forces Network) because it's in English. Jon listens to German stations, the main one being "Big FM" (sound familiar? I didn't know the hokey radio names were worldwide). You hear the same songs...over and over...on both stations. The German stations play all the bad words, though. The Gwen Stefani song, Hollaback Girl? Has more words and fewer grunts on German radio. The disturbing thing is that Katrina loves that song and is singing along. It is catchy, and it's on practically every time we turn on the radio. But a 3-year-old singing "where's my sh**" is enough to switch the channel to the more sanitized AFN.
It's been a long time since I listened to top-40 music with any frequency. I listened mostly to talk radio and Christian music radio in the States. I've found no Christian radio channels in this area.
You know what? Today's top 40 music makes me sad...even the songs I actually like. It's all about love lost ("Incomplete"--a beautiful song, by the way). Or sex ("The Candy Shop"--rap is all over top 40 in Germany...and there are German rappers, too. I have a bit of cognitive dissonance hearing rap in German.). Or grrrrl power ("Hollaback Girl"). Much of it is without hope.
So I went looking for my CDs this morning. They were in a box marked "Books" so it took a while. Now I'm listening to Rich Mullins' last album, "The Jesus Record." Some songs on there make me sad, too, because I listened to this over and over after I had my first miscarriage. Rich Mullins wrote songs that did not deny that life is hard, but offered hope as well. One of the best songs I've ever heard about what happens to faith in hard times is "Hard to Get." Here are the lyrics. Yet the same CD also contains "Nothing is Beyond You" which uses many of the words from Psalm 139 about the love and mystery of God.
Maybe that's what I miss when I listen to popular music...the idea that there is something--Someone--beyond ourselves and our own concerns. Now, I do hear plenty of Christian contemporary music that consists of pious platitudes. And there is wonderful, thought-provoking popular music. (I just haven't heard much of it on the radio recently.) But really good Christian music reminds me of what I tend to forget in the busyness of life and in my natural self-centeredness: that this life is not all there is. That there is Someone who sacrificed his life out of love for me (and for the person who's tailgating me, too). That there is hope, and joy, and peace, no matter where I am or how hard life gets.
I ain't no hollaback girl. I'm a child of God. You are, too.
21 July 2005
It's disconcerting to be talking to someone and all of a sudden have trouble seeing them. This happened this morning when I took Katrina to preschool. I don't get migraines often, but when I do they begin with spots in my vision. I drove home (spots and all...not recommended) and took two Tylenol in the hope of staving off the worst of it. The vision problem is gone, and I'm trying to ignore the headache pain. The fact that I can look at the computer at all means (I hope) that the headache will be a minor one. I'll still be wiped out the rest of the day, though; for some reason, even a migraine that I medicate in time leaves me very fatigued. Compared to the suffering that some people go through with migraines, I get off easy. Yeah, if I just keep thinking that, it won't seem too bad, right?
Jon's parents left yesterday morning after visiting for about 5 days. It was great having them here, especially to celebrate Katrina's birthday. This morning Katrina, as she often does, asked
what we were going to do today. I told her the plans for the day. Then she said that she wanted to go to Grandma's and Grandpa's house. I told her that we couldn't today, that it was too far away. She sighed deeply and said, "Oookaaay." It made me sad.
We have screens! Jon and his dad went to Praktiker, a German equivalent of Home Depot, and got screen kits. Instead of screens in metal frames like you see in the States (and can buy here, too, for a higher price), the kits had big rolls of screen material. You cut the screen to size and fit it into the window by pushing strands of plastic cable into channels at the side of the window. It's a lot of work, but Jon and his dad got most of them into place over the weekend. Still some more work to do, but we can now open the main windows in each room without inviting all the bugs into the house. Yay!
Plans are now in place to for us to come back to the States for three weeks, from Sept. 17 to Oct. 8. That last week coincides with the Sandy Cove Christian Writer's Conference, which I had attended for a number of years before Katrina was born. It's just too long to attend the whole thing when we have so little time at home, but they've started a 24-hour writer's retreat after the conference that I think might be good. I can get away for a little while and really think and pray about what I might do with my writing. With Katrina getting more independent by the day, I'm starting to think about what comes next. It won't be that long before she's in school all day (sob).
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is calling to me. I bought it a few days ago, just after I borrowed several books from the library. I'm in the middle of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and I want to write like her when I grow up...smooth and evocative and so clear you can hear the narrator (a dying preacher writing to his young son) talking in your head. Of course, when I read Harry Potter I'll want to write like J.K. Rowling...crisp and funny and full of adventure. I guess I'll have to settle for writing like myself and reading the others.
I think I'll just close my eyes and rest a bit before picking up Katrina. I was going to take her to the playground this afternoon, but I don't know if I'll be up to it. I hate headache days.
18 July 2005
You're three years old now, and how those years have flown. Looking at you now, so capable and confident, it's hard to believe it's been such a short time since you were a tiny infant. At your birthday party yesterday, you wore a pink dress with embroidered butterflies and flowers. You put on the pink princess tiara from Grammy and Pap and wore it for hours. You were thrilled with the pink Barbie nightgown that your little friend Ryan gave you and, for once, couldn't wait for bedtime so that you could wear it.
The playhouse that Papa and Grandpa put together in the back yard was a big hit. You went in and out, carefully closing the doors behind you each time. We had to forbid you from climbing on the roof of the house. It was refreshing that you asked permission and then actually refrained from trying. I guess even your adventuresome heart recognized the danger of climbing too high.
I'm mystified with your affection for all things pink and with your abiding interest in princesses. But I hope that you will always retain the sense that you are a princess: beautiful inside and out, knowing in your heart that you are treasured. So many girls (and women) lose or forget those things along the way. And I pray that you will always see the world as a place of adventure, and other people as potential friends.
I love you, my "big-girl princess." I hope that as you take on the world, you'll know that you are surrounded by your family's love.
11 July 2005
I think that I have such a negative reaction to hausfrau because it, and its English equivalent housewife, say nothing about my interests or my personality. I'm not really domestic. I don't sew or do crafts or even decorate at all well. I'm an okay cook, but not a creative one. I'm simply someone who believes that my child is best served by my being her primary caregiver.
So the stay-at-home mom moniker best fits this part of my life. But I see the primacy of child care as only one season of my life. As Katrina gets older and goes to school, I plan to go back to editing and writing on more of a full-time basis. Therefore, I continue to see myself as a writer...in fact, it feels closer to who I am than SAHM does, because it indicates at least some of my talent and personality.
Perhaps because it took so much time and pain before we had Katrina, or merely because I was older, I don't often think of being a mom as part of my core identity. I still look at her little face sometimes and just marvel that she's here (and at how beautiful she is, and how smart, and how friendly and fun, how she's just the best little kid anywhere. But I'm not biased or anything.). On the other hand, I don't know what I would be doing now or who I would be if she had not been born. Motherhood--and particularly mothering a little girl whose personality is so different from my own--has stretched me and shaped me in ways I could not have imagined.
Identity is a slippery thing. Here I am, having trouble labeling myself as "just" a mom--a hausfrau--and yet being a mother has had a profound effect on my personality, my way of thinking, and, yes, my identity.
Mein Name ist Jennifer. Ich bin eine Mutter.
06 July 2005
The first thing my adoring child said to me when she saw me: "I don't want to leave!"
Aw, isn't that cute. She enjoyed her first day of school.
She ran away from me back into the classroom. C'mon, sweetie, time to go. We'll come back tomorrow.
"I don't want to go home!"
I managed to get her out to the car relatively quietly, and then, well, there was crying, screaming, jumping up and down. "I don't want to gooo home!"
We had to go back in to "go potty." And then we got into the car with crying but no piercing screams (I take what I can get).
It's about a 10 minute drive back to the house. She cried all the way there. And from the driveway into the house.
She stopped crying abruptly at the sight of a new box of Elmo fruit snacks among the groceries I brought in from the car. Thank goodness she's still a little bit distractable.
Didn't I hear somewhere about children having trouble separating from their moms on the first day of school?
Not our little adventurer!
01 July 2005
30 June 2005
It's 5 days a week, which was a little more that I really wanted. But the other schools we talked to were filled up on the M-W-F classes anyway (with the exception of a church preschool that doesn't start till the fall). So she'll go to the summer program for the month of July. The school closes for August and then starts for the school year.
I'm hoping that this will help both Katrina and me make new friends. The director spoke of building a community, which appealed to me. I'm an introvert by nature, so taking the initiative on meeting/getting to know people is difficult for me. But Katrina needs social interaction like she needs air to breathe. So becoming part of an established "community" should help both of us.
My mama heart hurts more than I expected with this first big sign of separation. I suspect that Katrina will love being around other kids and doing cool stuff. But I keep having thoughts like, "what if the teacher doesn't understand or appreciate her?"; "will she be safe?"; "is this too much change for her on top of a move?"
Of course I wonder if she'll miss me, but the answer is "probably not." She's an independent little girl, never clingy unless she's sick or something. She steps boldly out into the world, running toward adventure, asking a million questions along the way. Today she saw some kids on the playground and started yelling "Hi!" from a block away.
I have a lot to learn from her.
28 June 2005
So I was upset the other night, after a long day, and told Jon I was homesick. And that, surely, he must miss home, too. Do you know what he said? That he was not homesick because he had me here with him.
At the time, I thought he was being very sweet, but that it was annoying that he seemed to have nary a twinge of homesickness.
But now, I'm thinking about the notion that I represent home to him (and to Katrina, too). I've heard the idea that the wife/mom is the heart of the home (or, in a more humorous way, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"). As we start to make a home and build a life in a new place, I'm seeing how true that can be. When I am short-tempered, impatient, or sad, I sometimes see a mirroring-type reaction from Katrina. It is frightening, sometimes, just how much influence a parent is in a small child's life.
And when Jon makes a comment like that, I realize that I underestimate my influence in his life. If I am home to him, what kind of home am I making? If I set the tone and rhythm in our home, what can I do to make our life as a family peaceful, loving, a haven for both my husband and daughter?
27 June 2005
We're living that exact scenario right now. Except in the book, Little Critter goes to sleep peacefully at the end. Not quite what's been happening here. After an exhausting hour and half to two hours of bathing, teeth brushing, book reading, singing, and back rubbing (often punctuated by a tantrum if things aren't exactly right or if we assert some authority to get her moving), we go through numerous "curtain calls."
"Mamaaaaa! Mamaaaa! I have to go pottyyyyyy!" Last night she went potty twice in 10 minutes. And if she can't "go" once she's there, she wants to sit there until she can force something out. That's fun, too.
"My foot's coming out!" That's a crisis, you know...she puts her foot over the side of the toddler bed and then gets upset because the sheet has fallen off it.
"I don't have enough roooooooom!" This is a nightly lament, usually while we're trying to settle her down before we leave the room. Now, I would take that as a sign that she needs to move from the small toddler bed to a normal single bed, except she said exactly the same thing when she slept in the large single bed that came with our temporary furniture. Of course, some nights she has 4 or 5 stuffed animals plus BeBe, her security blanket, in the bed with her. But if I suggest that some of the animals can sleep on the floor beside her bed, she exclaims "Noooooo!" with such horror in her voice that you would think I threatened to cut them up or something.
We realize that she's still settling in and that her room doesn't yet feel like home to her, but this nightly struggle to sleep is really wearing on both Jon and I. Especially since she has been a really good sleeper since she turned 1.
We also suspect that it stems from napping during the day. Again, she's been a great napper since she started the toddler stage, and I hate to give up that hour and a half to two hours of quiet time. But now, the longer she naps, the later she stays up at night. One night we said "good night" and left her room around nine, and she just played in her room until 10. She still gets sleepy at midday and will sleep, but unlike when she was younger, we pay for the nap later at bedtime.
Today she did not take a nap. She was nodding off in the car as we drove back from having lunch with Jon at the base, but she perked up as soon as she got out of the car. We went through the whole naptime ritual, but she just talked to herself in her room for 15 minutes and then came looking for me. So now we're having "quiet time" in the family room...a DVD for her, the computer for me. It's just too hot out to do the playground in midafternoon.
Quiet time for her means dancing and singing along to the songs on the DVD, though. Oh, well. Maybe she'll get to sleep before 9:30 tonight. Hope springs eternal.
Update: Well, she was totally out by 8:45 pm, the earliest in a long time. But it was at a cost of her crying for me (after I left her with Jon to go to German class)/having a tantrum for over an hour--and being awfully whiny the rest of the time. So she definitely still needs some sort of nap to be civilized; maybe we just need to move it to earlier in the day or wake her if it gets too late. Sometimes parenting is an awful lot like putting a puzzle together, except that you don't know for sure what the puzzle is supposed to look like.
25 June 2005
Did I mention that most houses in Germany are built with no closets whatsoever? None. It comes from the way they used to tax houses, by room. And a room was anything with a door, including a closet. No closets, lower tax. So if you live here, you have to get a "kleiderschrank" or wardrobe for your hanging clothes. A room that looks pretty big can get small quick once you put in a few schranks (to Americanize the word a bit). On the other hand...hey! an excuse to go to Ikea and buy stuff! That's where Jon is now. We would not have been able to fit big items in the car with Katrina in the backseat, so he took off when I got back from the flea market. I guess tomorrow's project will be putting together the schranks, the bookcases, the nighttable we're getting for Katrina's room, and anything else he picks up along the way. Katrina will have a ball trying to "help" us...she's fascinated with tools and putting things together (or taking them apart).
While I was at the flea market, Jon had planned to take Katrina to the playground. But she saw Jon's X-box box and said "I want to play games on TV." Mind you, we don't have any kiddie games for the X-box, so it's not like she's done much other than see Jon play. They played "Midtown Madness," a driving game. When I got home and asked Katrina what she did with Papa, she said, "We play game. Papa don't drive very well. He hits lights." I asked if she drove well. "No, I hit lights, too."
23 June 2005
2. Ridiculous housing prices. We still own our house in Virginia and are trying to rent it out. Why? Because if we sold it, we would never, ever be able to afford another single-family house in that area. The housing prices are appreciating so rapidly that we'd be priced out by the time we moved back.
3. The weather. Yes, it's hot here, too, but for a shorter duration. And so far, we've not had the stifling humidity and bad air that are typical to the DC area. I'm hoping that continues.
4. The general standoffishness of people in a metro area. The DC area just isn't very friendly. I haven't met many Germans (and those I have I couldn't communicate with very well), but the Americans living here are very friendly. Perhaps because they were newcomers not that long ago, or because we're all in a foreign country
Hmm. Can't think of anything else at the moment. A bit unbalanced, but there you go. Maybe when we live here longer, I'll do this again. Pretty much everyone I've talked to who has lived here longer than a year likes or even loves living here. The few people I've talked to who have been here less than a year either hate it or still feel like they're getting settled.
We're still getting settled.
22 June 2005
2. Central air. It was in the 90s yesterday. We bought a portable air conditioner for $600 to cool the upstairs. The kitchen (downstairs) was pretty hot, especially after cooking.
3. American TV. Yeah, yeah, how gauche to be a TV addict. But I am. German TV is...well, in German, which I don't know yet. We have a few of the free BBC channels, but British TV is just not the same (except when it is: BBC Three is running the American re-make of the originally British sit-com "The Office"). Thank goodness our friends sent us a DVD of the "Lost" finale. We're supposed to get an AFN (Armed Forces Network) decoder soon, so all is not lost on the TV front.
4. Talk radio. When you're playing with a toddler all day, talk radio gives some semblance of adult conversation (depending on what show you're listening to, of course) and a way to keep up on what's going on in the world--without a little one pulling away the newspaper or closing the laptop ("don't read. Play with me!").
5. Window screens. There just aren't any. And so we have mosquitoes, flies, and assorted moths flying in at will.
Tune in next time for things I don't miss...
We've been living here in southern Germany for a little over a month, so we don't exactly have babysitters at the ready to take care of our almost-3-year-old if we want to go out. So dinner at home, then spend 2 hours trying to get our daughter to go to sleep. Collapse into bed at 10:30 or so. Then start talking, trying not to stay up too late and yet still connect as husband and wife rather than as Mama and Papa.
Anyway, I decided to try out this blogging thing as a way to keep in better contact with those of you we left in the States. And to keep my writerly muscle exercised, because I have not written as regularly as I would like to since Katrina was born and I became primarily a stay-at-home mom.
So, welcome to a new beginning--of this blog and of our life in Germany. I hope you like it here.