31 October 2008

Happy Walpurgis Nacht! And amazing political pumpkin templates.

picture credit

The man who brought Halloween to Germany, and why.

Check out these fabulous pumkin templates: Obama, Biden, McCain and Palin.

These are even better: YesWeCarve

Plantar fasciitis revisited, and bronchitis as well.

Sometimes I am amazed to turn around and realize that another week has gone by. When I worked 16 hour days, and even when I worked 9 hour days with a commute, I would never have dreamed that it would be possible to have no time to get everything done if I didn't have an outside job.

This was a moderately challenging week.

Last Friday, after being sick for a bit, I went to a Dr. R that the German had found. He was an orthopod, but German doctors are not as specialized as those in the US and he was able to check me out for bronchitis. After a bit of back and forthing, as he kept saying that I should have an infusion (which I thought was some type of herbal tea), it turned out that he meant an antibiotic drip. That was ok with me. With my history of bronchitis, pneumonia and bacterial superinfection, I take my lungs quite seriously. But since I was there anyway, I decided to speak to him about my still painful foot and to show him my new, expensive, prescription orthotics. He whipped out an ultrasound and examined my foot, which I found intriguing, since the last Dr. had not done so. Then he X-rayed my feet and indicated we would talk after the drip.

What an easy way to get antibiotics (plus lovely energizing electrolytes). I lay down, the Dr. put the needle in (and very well indeed, showing the practice German dr's have compared to their American brethren), and then I read a magazine for 40 minutes.  I can absolutely see why American dr's don't do this: they would never waste the time and space when they can just write a prescription and see five more patients in that time.

Then we took a look at the X-rays and he pointed out the heel spurs on both feet and that the one on the left was pushing into a ligament, which was causing the pain. He rewrote my orthotics prescription so that the ones I had would be modified and gave me an antibiotics script and a physical therapy script for my feet and I ran home to get the kids. Wow. It is so hard to get anything done! It has been about 5 months, I think, since I started having pain in my feet and it has really played a number on my sightseeing desires.

29 October 2008

An informed citizenry is the bulwark of a democracy...

The kids from the Ron Clark Academy performing live "You Can Vote However You Like," a parody to TI's "Whatever You Like". Atlanta Georgia Ron Clark Academy.
for full interview click


Obama on the left
McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night
And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah

Democratic left
Republican right
November 4th we decide
And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah

(McCain supporters)
McCain is the man
Fought for us in Vietnam
You know if anyone can
Help our country he can
Taxes droppin low
Dont you know oils gonna flow
Drill it low
I'll show our economy will grow

McCain's the best candidate
With Palin as his running mate
They'll fight for gun rights, pro life,
The conservative right
Our future is bright
Better economy in site
And all the world will feel our military might

(Obama supporters)
But McCain and Bush are real close right
They vote alike and keep it tight
Obama's new, he's younger too
The Middle Class he will help you
He'll bring a change, he's got the brains
McCain and Bush are just the same
You are to blame, Iraq's a shame
Four more years would be insane

Lower your Taxes - you know Obama Won't
PROTECT THE LOWER CLASS - You know McCain won't!
Have enough experience - you know that they don't
STOP GLOBAL WARMING - you know that you won't

I want Obama
Stick with McCain and you're going to have some drama
We need it
He'll be it
We'll do it
Let's move it

Obama on the left
McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night
And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah

Democratic left
Republican right
November 4th we decide
And you can vote however you like, I said
You can vote however you like, yeah

I'm talking big pipe lines, and low gas prices
Below $2.00 that would be nice

But to do it right we gotta start today
Finding renewable ways that are here to stay

I want Obama
Stick wit McCain you gone have some drama
Iran he will attack
We gotta vote Barack!

Obama on the left
McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night
And you can vote however you like, I said
You can vote however you like, yeah

Democratic left
Republican right
November 4th we decide
And you can vote however you like, I said
You can vote however you like, yeah

27 October 2008

What a great Ad

Ads like this make me remember when advertising and marketing were actually exciting.

edited to let you see the original from 2000, when an American icon still existed and the world was a simpler and happier place

23 October 2008

No Kidding?

Greenspan admits a mistake.

Mr. Greenspan conceded a more serious flaw in his own philosophy that unfettered free markets sit at the root of a superior economy.
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said.
Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”
Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.
“Absolutely, precisely,” Mr. Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

We are One People: Please Vote

22 October 2008

Life as an ex-pat, SAHM, and functional illiterate.

I was reading Erin's blog, Uberall: Live, Eat, Travel (please note that she actually has an umlaut, as compared to me- I haven't figured out where it is yet;)) post commemorating her first year as an ex-pat and it made me want to think about my own experience in relating to hers.

The last year has been interesting in many ways as well as tough.

I have had to adjust to being a stay at home mom, to being in a foreign country, and to being in a country where I knew only how to say "Ja", "Nein" and "Wo sind die Toilettes?". When we arrived here, lugging our cat, two kids, 6 suitcases, two car seats and two strollers, we arrived in the rain. It then rained for the next 135 days. It wasn't easy.

The biggest struggle hasn't been my inability to read or write German, or even that I speak it at a 2-3 year old level: it has been getting used to staying home with children, and more so, with no car. The attempt to do things with the kids in a constantly raining climate has been a struggle. I am so grateful for Kita and for the teachers there and the other children who help my girls get their ya-yas out that I can't adequately express it. The State-subsidized and controlled system of child care and education has allowed me to take German classes and to begin to be able to manage life in Germany. It has given my 5 year old fluency in German (and a vocabulary that surpasses my own) and given my younger both German as her first language and a great deal of self-confidence.

Without a car and without either an adequate refrigerator or freezer, I need to shop on average every other day. I am finally able to find the different food stuffs that I need, although I wind up visiting 4-5 separate locations in a week to do so. Note: Arab and Asian markets are the place to find non-pork and spicy foodstuffs.

We are finally settled in a permanent apartment and although we aren't quite finished (no art or paint colors on the walls, missing 2 lights) we are basically moved in.

After we decided to stay in Berlin, I started to look for a "social scene" and I'm in the process of finding a place to fit in and meet people with similar interests: book clubs, blogs, Mom's groups and women's groups.

We are deep in school options for my oldest and German class starts again next week.

So the worst of it is over. At least the kids are settled and we are familiar with the area. I do envy those childless ex-pats who can travel and visit all the places so easily accessible in Europe, but we will be around for a while. Hopefully we will have a chance to get around a bit. And it is amazing to see how well a functional illiterate (who does not need a job) can survive in a foreign society. Although I do miss reading a local paper.

(Amusingly enough I also haven't figured out my handy voicemail, and like all the other ex-pats I know, can only see "voicemail" if sent by SMS. It's an oddly amusing theme, speaking to the general level of German customer service as well as, in particular, the level of its communications corporations.)

21 October 2008

Size matters: the US and Germany

By population, the US is the 3rd largest nation in the world with a population of 298,444,215. Right behind China and India.

By area, the US is the 3rd largest nation in the world with 3,537,437 square miles (9,161,923 square km). Right behind Russia and China.

And the area of Germany is 357,021 sq km, or 137,847 sq miles - slightly smaller than Montana, while it's population (as of July 2007) was 82,400,996.

New York, my home state, had a population ranked 3rd in the US at 19,297,729 (2007 est.), with
density at 408.7/sq mi (157.81/km²), while the greater metropolitan area is comprised of 27,000,000+ people.

Area 54,555 sq mi (141,299 km²)-
Width 285 miles (455 km)
Length 330 miles (530 km)

Sometimes when Germans seem condescending or patronizing about my country, its population and the amount of "foreign" travel we do, it's useful to point these facts out.

(I started this October 2, but have moved it to actual post date.)

20 October 2008

Recovering from the Weekend

It's been a hectic weekend of socializing and frivolity: at least for me;)

On Saturday, CN Heidelburgian was in town with some friends and Snooker and I met up with them at Cafe Einstein to have some Kaffee and Kuchen and to chat. Between us, none of us had Kaffee (we stuck to tea, hot chocolate and, in my case, a citron presse) but we all indulged in Kuchen. Kasekuchen, Apfelstrudel and Sacher torte were our picks and we all heartily enjoyed.

We then spent several hours wandering about being tourists, with a stop at the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Topography of Terror. Snooker was our native guide and told us about some of the many interesting buildings and areas that we passed. One of CN's friends was a photographer (it was interesting to watch him compose shots) and they are both from my hometown so it was fun to discuss thing. They had just eaten at a restaurant I read a review of, WD-50, and I think that I should try to book a meal there next time we are in NY. We also met up with Snooker's spouse, N and enjoyed some friendly chat before she needed to be off to another meeting.

Afterwards, everyone went off in the evening to follow Snooker to what she described as a great doner place
and I had to rush home for my next social engagement.

There was a Mum's Night Out and I was finally going to go to one of these things. The German had fed the kids and I spent some time playing and then changed and rushed off. It's amazing how I can manage to be late even when I'm not traveling with the kids, but I guess the impetus of having to rush everyone along isn't there.

We were a group of 10 moms and we had a lot of fun chatting and checking out Bond, a realtively new restaurant/lounge by Savignyplatz. The conversation was intriguing, the women were from a wide range of countries and backgrounds, and the food was adequate. We had an amuse bouche of curried apple spume and then a varied bunch of main dishes. One woman said the fries were fabulous. I had a bite of another diner's "Brownie" dessert and I found it to be more like a Viennese flourless chocolate cake: not to my taste, but interesting. We wound up chatting until almost midnight and then had the usual "chase the waiter down". At times I really appreciate the German concept of almost never interacting with customers (although the waiters here were quite attentive for Berlin) and never expecting a table to actually turn over. I was home by 1 am.

On Sunday we had a busy day. First, after a late breakfast the German took the kids to the playground and after doing some errands I joined them and we went to a Sukkoth celebration. It was lots of fun and the amusement included a fire eater. I hope to include pictures later. We ran into some folks from kita there and spent the usual time discussing what our plans are for Grundschule next year. Thing1 had her face painted and we ate pizza and cotton candy.

Then home and I needed to change, grab a bottle of wine and be off to my "serious" book club. I belong to two and one is quite challenging and run in a strictly orderly way, reading only "serious and literary" works, while the other tends more to the frothy- although we have some very interesting books coming up in the next few months- and some folks actually come for the socialiation not the book discussion. I enjoy them both but the serios one tends to stretch my reading muscles more. I got there late, as usual, but enjoyed the discussion of class/friendship vs. the intimacy of the downtrodden/analogy to slavery of The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar.

This club has a well-defined end time and at that point about eight of us wandered off for a drink and a chat. The men and the younger ones toddled off by 11 and two other women and I stayed to chat about life until 1 am. It was an interesting triangle of a Scot, an American and a German with our differing views and attitudes. H and I shared a cab to the Mehringdam U-Bahn when we noticed that it was closed for the night. Good gracious. I had forgotten that transit systems actually stop in some cities. So I dropped H off and then took the cab home. It was very reasonable compared to NY prices and I'm glad that I did. It was getting quite chilly last night and even if I had found the night bus stop they run only every 30 minutes. As it was, I got home past 2 am.

And that was my weekend of gay frivolity. I think I have done more socializing in the last 30 days (including my non-blogged about, but one day I will finish those posts, WEBMU-2008) than I have done in the previous 12 months. I need a rest.

It is interesting though that only since we actually decided to stay here in Berlin (rather than live in the limbo of constant extensions) that I have really felt the need to actually develop some type of social network. I'm curious to see whether I can actually meet and be friendly with Germans: I'm not certain whether the period of time that we are expecting to be here makes it "worthwhile" for Germans to really get to know us.

17 October 2008

What I haven't been blogging about.

It's Friday night and the German has just left for the gym, I'm watching the season premiere of Pushing up Daisies, I have just cleaned the kitchen, my feet are up, and I am drinking Diet Light. The week has been exhausting and, as Germans would say, stressful.

It started with Saturday's mobbing and then continued...

It's been the holidays for the last two weeks, with kita closed. However, although my synagogue said that there would be babysitting, there wasn't. That put a serious crimp in my ability to actually pray and when I was fasting, made it impossible to even stay at services. Although Thing1 could run with the other children like a wild thing, Thing2 is just too small to be allowed to run up and down stairs with rambunctious children. Sigh.

This week was also a two day holiday, and I just gave up. We stayed home and played because Thing1 started a small cough and a low fever. (by Friday Thing 2 had a cough as well, but Thing1 has been fine since Wednesday).

I finally got our taxes finalized. Working with the German accountant we used through my husband's firm was stressful and annoying. After the German side is done, I will run them by my US acct. and go back to him next year: I don't appreciate dealing with people that are slow and don't return communications. That whole customer service concept. Strangely enough, the German side appears far more friendly. But they are done and sent off and we can anticipate a solid refund. That's annoying because I hate to give an interest free loan to the government, but gratifying because I had required them to withhold less than they said we should and it's pleasant to be correct.

I was supposed to have a book club at my house this week, but a combination of things came together to make me just give up: Thing1's illness, that I hadn't had a chance to reread the book that week, the chaos of my house and that the German had been leaving early and coming home late and I would have no time to tidy up and bake anything, that the kids wee spreading a wave of chaos like stones in a pond... So I rescheduled for two weeks from the date and I felt an immediate release from stress. The now amusing, but at the time peak of my stress, was when the person who had borrowed my book came over on Tuesday to return it and I wasn't able to open my door to ask her in or to get the book: the German had locked the door behind him when he left and Thing2 had taken the key and put it somewhere. So I had to call her on the handy and ask her to just leave it under the mat. Luckily, after about 15 minutes of concerted looking I was able to find it.

That was a relief because we don't have a spare. I tried to cut a spare last week and the locksmith said the key was controlled and only my landlord could provide a new one. The German hasn't gotten a new one yet and I need to follow up next week.

The power cable from my computer fried. It fried at about the same time that I found myself rather claustrophobically locked in my apartment. The German stopped by the Apple Store on his way home and found that the cable was still in warranty (the darned thing is only 2 1/2 months old!) but that they wouldn't sell it to him and then credit when we gave in the ruined cord, so he had to come home and grab the computer and cord and adapter and run back to the store. On the plus side, they relaced the cord with a German plug cord and we were able to purchase the American adapter for only 15 E (a savings of 90E). On the negative side, their Adobe Elements is not switchable to English, so I still don't have it.

We had another bi-lingual open house that the German attended without me because we couldn't find a babysitter available that early in the evening.

On the plus side, I invented a lentil stew that I was very happy with, had a great salmon dinner with rice and veg (with sweet chili sauce), and Thing1 helped me with making and baking cookies. Now I only have to make it through the three days vacation the children have next week and I can have a day to myself before my next round of German classes start.

The Final Presidential Debate

I'm watching this now- obviously taped/hard drived- and I don't know how people can sit still. McCain kept on misrepresenting Obama's plans. What a succinct explanation he made of the differences between his health plan and the insanity that is McCain's plan. I really hope those watching can actually understand through McCain's complete obfuscation and flat out lies and misrepresentations , right after Obama said something different.

Please, I am an American. I am not an idiot. Is McCain right? Do American's respond only to key words without any understanding of their meanings? Do American's think that $5,000 taxed will allow them to buy a non-sState regulated $12,000 and increasing policy? Are American's really incapable of following simple sentences?

A friend told me recently that I am not the ordinary American. But I am. The child of an immigrant and the grandchild of other immigrants. My father and grandparents fled persecution and death to thrive in the United Staes, the only country in the world to welcome them, help them, allow them to achieve. When did my country become the country of obfuscation, patronizing lies and idiocy? What do we need to do to our political system to allow a bail out to pass without bribing the lawmakers with 1/7 of the total bail out?

When did the Republican party move from the party of small government to the party of the highly paid lobbyists. What has the world come to when the Republican party believes that Sarah Palin is a role model to myself or any other or when they believe that those who make over $250,000 (and that is net, Joe and John, not gross) are the heart of our country? When did the Democratic party move from wacky Union-lovers to the party that has my interests at heart? When did the interests of mothers, working women, minorities, small business owners (as I was for 10 years), and decent people (who have compassion for those in trouble or less fortunate) become antithetical to the Republican party?

Oh my lord. He just called the pro-choice platform the pro-abortion platform. Evil, evil, evil. I can no longer consider McCain a misguided decent man. What do you expect from a man who chooses a running mate that would not allow abortion in the case of a child raped by her father?

16 October 2008

Another beautiful day in Berlin

And I'm not kidding. For all the newcomers: the fact that it poured this morning but stopped by 8 am and that it is coming down at 17:20 in absolute buckets, while it was grey and cool today, is great weather. Any day that I can run errands without getting soaked is indeed a great day. And it wasn't raw! A simple sweater and scarf carried me through.

Here's hoping for another one tomorrow.

The 10 Commandments of Healthy Eating for Parents (from Sparkpeople)

I am getting better at accepting these and living with them.
  1. Thou shalt not force, bribe or coerce thy child to eat.
  2. Thou shalt set a good example by eating at least five fruits and vegetables, three whole grain products, and three dairy servings per day thyself.
  3. Thou shalt make mealtimes pleasant.
  4. Thou shalt encourage thy child to help in meal planning, preparation, and cleanup.
  5. Thou shalt back off when mealtime becomes a power struggle.
  6. Thou shalt accept food "binges" as phases that will eventually pass.
  7. Thou shalt accept the fact that thy child is an individual and thus will dislike certain foods (and there may be many!).
  8. Thou shalt not give up on introducing thy child to new foods. Thou shalt realize it sometimes takes ten tries to get a child to accept a food.
  9. Thou shalt use this division of responsibility for eating: As the parent, thou art responsible for deciding when and what to serve. Thy child is responsible for deciding how much (if any) will be eaten.
  10. Thou shalt give thy child a multivitamin-mineral supplement if he is a picky eater.
This is from SparkPeople a nutritional web source.

12 October 2008

Last night I was mobbed.

(Photo from visitberlin.de)

On Saturday we joined a walking tour around the Schloss Charlottenburg area. It was nice, but it broke half way through for a brewery stop. After the stop extended 45 minutes and seemed like it would last longer, we said good-bye and set off to retrace our steps to a pleasant playground that we had passed by.

One of the interesting things I find here in Berlin is that, just as it was much later in the summer when the sun set, now that we are heading into winter the sun is setting earlier and the time is getting earlier far more quickly than it does in New York, where I am from.

So dusk started to set in. I looked around and realized that the playground had become more crowded. When we entered, there were other parents with small children. All except one other child and her mother were Arab, but I really hadn't thought anything of the matter: it's not something I think about. There were women in full burqas, which I had noticed, but not cared about. However, now the playground had become much more crowded and the crowd was of much older children. To my eyes, they seemed to range up to 16, many of them groups of boys, and all of them Arab. Or, as we are in Berlin, I would assume Turkish. I still didn't care, until I saw an older boy running toward a group swinging what looked to be a baseball bat at the other children, some of whom scattered.

I had been taking pictures of my children, and I swung around and took a picture of the boy, thinking that he might be about to attack one of the other children and that I might need to call the police. Then I put my camera down and watched them to see if it was play or violence.

All of a sudden, a girl, about 14, came over with 5 or 6 friends, male and female. She started to yell at me in German. She and her friends started to push into my personal space. More of her friends followed her and soon surrounded me in a 3/4 circle (one of my children was behind me on a piece of play equipment, the other with the German across the playground, not yet noticing what was going on). The girl was asking why I had taken the photo and then demanding that I erase it. The boy, who was holding a broken chair leg (not the baseball bat that I had thought it- far more reassuring, of course) was in the group around me of twenty children, many of whom were taller than I. When I explained my concern about the boy swinging a stick at other children, she said that was her brother, it was all in fun, and I had better erase that picture and do it right now, while she was watching.

The German thinks that I have a defective fear reaction, especially because I had the kids with us. The truth is, I was just really angry. I was angry at their attempt to frighten me and to be in my space and to intimidate me. I should have been afraid, but I wasn't. Although I said that I would erase the photos, when the girl kept yelling and getting closer (although she never actually touched me) I stopped working on my camera (not an easy erase, a DSLR) and started speaking back. I whipped out my handy and suggested that perhaps we should call the Polizei immediately. Thing1 had started to notice and be concerned about the crowd, had stopped playing, and at this point was holding on to my leg and asking what the problem was. The boy holding the chair leg, who had been looking at the ground the whole time, at this point was telling the girl that she was frightening my child and to calm down.

The girl didn't back off, but the German and another older woman were quickly there (the German on the outside of the ring of people- he said he just had noticed this ring and walked over to see what was happening and there I was- inside it) and the older, ethnic German woman right next to me. The German waded in and started asking what the trouble was, the older German woman was talking a mile a minute. Seems the boy (and the girl) were her children, as was the little girl my Thing1 had been playing with, and the chair leg wielding was just a joke and everything was fine. But the older woman told Ernst that it was verboten to take pictures. He just agreed with everything, backed us out, put the girls in the stroller and we started to leave.

Of course, it's not true. It is not illegal to take pictures of a crime in action (and threatened assault is, of course, a crime, as is wielding blunt objects at others). It wasn't a religious problem, because none of the children involved were dressed modestly or concealing their faces. What it was was an example of the non-integration of Turks in Germany. This is why there is ill-will to Turks in Berlin (which has the largest- over 10%, or 350,000 people, foreign and Turkish population in Germany). This is a problem of lack of integration.

Before this incident, I wondered why we had been told not to look at apartments in this area: it looked very nice to me. Another blogger in Berlin lives three blocks from this playground, and when visiting them I had never felt unsafe. But now I would never go to this playground toward dusk, or after the schools let out. Before this, I had wondered at the lack of acceptance of Turks here. Now I understand where they are coming from. I still believe that the racism I see and hear is wrong, but I also understand the fear that Germans feel and we all know that fear translates oh, so easily, to hatred.

And I will never, never, allow my children to be in danger in this way again (if I can prevent it). It seems so strange to be so naive at my age, but life is a constant learning experience.

10 October 2008

The Economy, a bit of a rant.

When we left  New York I had already been seeing the seeds and growth of the economic harvest that we are currently reaping.

I was a bond trader (including CDs, pink sheets and munis, as well as treasuries) on Wall Street as I watched the S&L debacle unfold. In fact, on my desk we discussed how something had to happen as I was selling CDs from certain banks that had yields more than double those of other banks that we considered more reputable. I certainly had no idea at that time that certain CEOs had toilets made of solid gold (fact) or other specific excesses but I  knew that as brokers were selling CDs to retail they were selling them with the explicit assurance that the FDIC would cover losses to 100,000. Because, after all, only a fool can believe that it is generally possible to reap excess profits from the market consistently.

In exactly this manner, but even more so, I watched the lending industry market loans to home buyers in the US and then, as a Treasury manager, these products were marketed to me. The "firm" for which I worked had very explicit investment and purchase guidelines so I myself did not purchase or use these derivative instruments but was, of course, familiar with them.

The real problem with US financial markets is not the degradation of the housing market, per se. The housing market was in a bubble fueled by easy credit and predatory lending and driven by the middle-class desire to do the best for your family no matter how much it cost. Like any pyramid scheme, sooner or later, no matter how easy the credit terms, you run out of people to buy at a higher price.  The housing markets have many problems, but the primary one was that, due to the subsidization of real estate in the US through the mortgage interest deduction, the actual cost of housing had more to do with the value of the deduction to the purchaser and the quality of the school district in which the house is located.

Meanwhile, predatory lending took the average downpayment from 20% to -10% (as my friends who bought 3 years ago- and were lucky enough to break even selling last year- did). Then the government strong-armed FNMA and Freddie Mac to count things like welfare payments and unemployment as income for the purpose of getting a loan. Then the markets (and I was in them ) took the quasi-governmental guaranty and ran with it. And then the concept of tranches (or splitting loans into groups like a layer cake, with different levels of theoretical risk, after amalgamating them) was taken and the ratings agencies started assigning AAA and other investment level ratings to these derivative instruments without actually doing any stress testing. After all, there could never be a crash in the housing market, could there?

But now that there is a general crash, the problem is not so much the huge loss of value (or as one commentator said, it's not a loss, it's a transfer. What she didn't say was that the transfer was into the bonus packets of the salesmen of all ilks- investment bankers to boiler room operators- who were involved with these instruments. These folks won't be handing the money back to us.). It's that these  assets once on the books of banks have been devalued from 100 cents on the dollar to perhaps 10 cents.

Therefore the banks no longer have the required capitalization to debt ratio and they technically became bankrupt. Immediately.  This might have been fixed in some way, but then the general panic struck and there were real runs on banks. With the credit system frozen, as banks no longer had the assets to allow them to make loans, banks didn't have the money (because really, they don't keep it in the desk drawer) to pay out the assets invested with them (like payroll and other current funds.) Therefore businesses are in trouble, people are losing their jobs and not being hired. People are afraid and cutting their spending and retail workers especially are having their hours cut which keeps spiraling downward.

Another blogger I read said that it would be better if the between $15 and $20,000 were given directly to the individuals instead of to the financial institutions. All I could think was, so what? $20,000, while a nice chunk, isn't enough to start the business that will employ one, or provide an insurance package for oneself and family. In fact, that's not enough to pay for one year's insurance for a family (if you include the taxes you would need to pay on that income, as McCain's health care proposal would do, only with $5,000 instead).

Anyway, this has been a bit of a rant. I'm looking at conditions in the US and, leaving politics out of it for another post, I am just appalled. I am very glad to be here in Europe, where odds are that the German's job is quite secure. And if it weren't, and he lost his job, my children would still be able to go to their school (and next year a bi-lingual school), we would still have food, a roof (although perhaps not quite so posh and central) , transportation, health care, and an abiity to enjoy life. In fact, I doubt anyone outside our family would even see a difference. I only wish that wre true in my own country.

(I'm going to post this and will probably update it, but I seem to keep starting these and never finishing them!)

Interesting Reading:

NYTimes article on Greenspan's "legacy" and how derivatives and their deregulation brought about this crisis.

08 October 2008

Health Care in the Debate and quality of life.

My gosh, did Obama's words resonate with me.

When I ran my small business and my small company, for 5 out of the 10 years that I was in business I could not afford health care. McCain's policy is just bullpucky. It would in no way have helped me or allowed me to insure myslef and my employees. How dare he talk down to me and think that I don't understand how ridiculous a $5,000, 1.6 trillion tax cut for health care is, when I will then be taxed on any part that an employer would provide. And how could I buy a health care plan when the average plan cost $14,000 (in my area, for an HMO, family). Who is going to hand me that $9,000?

Instead, as we know adverse selection and moral hazard are the reasons for market failure of insurance plans. That's why universal coverage must be required.

I can only thank G*d that several years later, when I required spinal surgery or risk losing permanent use of my left arm, that I was working for a big employer. Because even the small policy I was able to buy later, for myself and the few of my employees who could, and would, be part of the insurance: it wouldn't have covered the operation I needed. And the young and healthy chose not to be insured, as they believed the cost to their lives was greater than the risk of requiring the insurance. (Even in my small company this was proven untrue, as an employee went skiiing, broke a leg, and was almost bankrupt as a result. And a simple broken leg is really not that expensive.)

When I examined the costs of my surgery and associated bills, I saw that if I had not had insurance, the bills would have topped $350,000. My insurance company was billed, and paid, under $125,000.

All the better to change the bankruptcy laws to prevent discharge of medical debt, right? It just makes sense to bill the uninsured more than three times the cost of the insured.

When we consider whether we will go back to the US, we have one primary concern: health care. The other two, retirement and educational costs for the kids (and housing costs are just a sub-set of education- housing floats on school districts, to a large extent) are relatively unimportant as long as the German continues to be employed and suceeds as he has been doing.

Because I left a very good, very secure job with great benefits to stay home (and move here) the odds of my getting back in that mode (and of wishing to return to required long work weeks) are slim. But the German has made up, at this point, for the loss of my income (that and no longer needing nanny/ au pair services). So if he continues to be employed I expect that we will be able to save for retirement and to also get a pension (and social security, although it will be fully taxed). We will be able to send our kids to university, even if we need to take on debt to do that.

But if he loses his job, we will lose our health insurance. Then we will be bankrupt, perhaps die for lack of medical care, leave our children without medical care or the possibility of educational advancement, or perhaps a roof over their heads or any security net, and leave the remaining spouse penniless.

This is not acceptable from my country. This shame must end.

(PS- Thank you, computer, for allowing me to watch the complete debate without interruption. Thank you federal government for underwriting the beginning of the internet.)

07 October 2008

And a cry rose up to the heavens.

No, not a political commentary (although I certainly could make one here...)

The weeping and wailing after I put the kids to bed just seems to get worse. Now the German has to come in, peel them off me, and soothe them. All I get is: Thtay.. thtay...Mama, thtay. It's just so darned cute, with the little pats and tugs, but then when I try to leave the crying starts.

The German just came out: somehow he managed to disngage in three minutes. How does he do it?

'Course, now they have come out, been put back, and are now calling out the rally cry, "Bloood, bloood", so he has to actually see if it's true.

Today my child is a grown-up.

Well, not quite. But today, after several days of waklezahne (or wobbly teeth), Thing1 lost her lower left front tooth. And the other lower front tooth ill follow shortly.

If I could figure out how to handle movies and photos on this Mac (and I am getting frustrated) I could show the video I took of her wobbling it about.

I am a little sad. She was rough housing about with Thing2 when I heard a cry and there it was, a lost tooth, all in a bloody swell.

Thing1 wanted to call her kita teacher, S, so we did. Then we called Papa. She doesn't want me to call the Tooth Fairy until she has two teeth available, though.

04 October 2008

Things we are missing right now...

Today is my oldest niece's bat mitzvah and we aren't there.

I watched the VP debate.

Can this be for real? Can anyone actually have watched this debate and not be disgusted?

I saw this before watching the debate and it is actually quite realistic.

How can anyone contemplate having Sarah Palin a heartbeat (and that an elderly, cancer survivor's heart beat) away from the Presidency?

03 October 2008

Chicken Cacciatore

This recipe is completely based on Elise's Rabbit Cacciatore

  • Two large chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1 Tbsp dried)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • flour to dredge the chicken in
  • olive oil to cat the pan
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped onion, 5 small, or as many as you like
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms, or as much as you'd like
  • 3 cups of chopped, very ripe tomatoes, o whatever tomatoes you have on hand and 500g tomato puree
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded, 1 inh dice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 16 salt-cured olives, black or green, pitted** didn't have these


1 Put the chicken pieces in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add half of the thyme to the bowl, then sprinkle with flour to lightly coat. Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium high. Place the chicken pieces in the pan in a single layer. Do not stir. Cook for 2-3 minutes on one side until lightly browned, then turn the pieces and brown on the other side for a minute or two more. Return to a bowl.

2 Reduce heat to medium. Add onions to the pan, cook for 1 minute. Then add garlic, bell pepper, and mushrooms, cook for a couple minutes more. Add the rosemary and the remaining thyme. Add the chicken. Cover with chopped tomatoes, add bay leaf. Reduce heat to low; cover the pan and simmer for 35 minutes.

3 Add olives, if you like and raise heat to reduce sauce to desired tickness: for me this was fine.

Serves 4-5. Serve with rice, pasta, or potatoes.

I served this with rice and Thing1 told me "You are the best cooker, Mama". This is a big deal because I can generally never get her to eat food with spices and with multiple ingredients "all touching each other". So I was very touched. Now I join the ranks of Oma and Nana and Julie as being in Thing1's "best Cooker" class.

I made this up for lunch to give the family a good warm meal before heading out to hear a reading tonight. I would never have thought to use so much thyme and I think that it tasted wonderful. I also salted the rice water quite heavily (I need to get some of that fluor into the girls as I haven't been able to get fluoride supplements yet) and I liked doing that while leaving the cacciatore a bit less salty. This gave us all (except for Thing1 who had an extra bowl of rice) two small bowls and left about two bowls left over. If I were serving two couples, I might double this to ensure left overs. I will also add carrots and green beans next time, I think.

02 October 2008

Six random things...

Three weeks later, as I look at Cathy's meme tag, I am still trying to think what six random things I can share. Some random things are just too personal and some are just too generic. Sometimes I think I'm just a bit too ordinary to have interesting edges.

Random fact 1: I have two master's degrees, an MBA in Finance/RE Finance and a MS in Accounting Information Systems. I had been attempting an accounting degree but I had so many carry over credits I needed to expand the major.

Random fact 2: I really dislike the generic German cuisine. As I enjoy British cuisine, even that which does not derive from India, that tells you how strongly I feel. One of the reasons is the preponderence of pig products, the other is the excessive use of fat and grease.

Random fact 3: Although I have never lived more than 7 hours drive from Manhattan, I spent many summers both in Houston and in Seattle, as my high school chum went to Rice (and still lives in Houston) while my college roommate got her PhD in Seattle. I still think of Seattle as that place with the arid summers where I could pick blackberries while walking through the University district. Houston is, for me, the home of The Hobbit Hole.

Random fact 4: Although I collect wine and love it, I sometimes forget to drink it! At home I would occasionally discover an over ripened bottle if I didn't examine my rotation. (This is more of a problem with Californian wines and with whites).

Random fact 4: I would rather drink cider than beer on a hot day and of an evening red wine is generally my tipple. Here in Germany, where a decent red wine costs less than bottled water in the US (okay, a bit of hyperbole), my red wine consumption appears to be increasing.

Random fact 6: Staying on the topic of tipple, the two things that I will miss when I leave Germany, in a culinary sense, are Quark (which I can make in the US) and Federweiser Wein. The latter in the red variety. It was the first thing that I actually enjoyed that was authentically German last year when I discovered it (I had been surviving on Greek food). It reminded me of my salad days in the Fingerlakes region, when I would buy a carboy of varietal grape juice and make my own wine in the basement of my off campus housing. But it tastes better here.

Was that random enough?

The rules are:
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on the blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

I'm not going to tag anyone, because I am just too late, but if you would like to join in, please do.

Have you gotten your Ballot yet?

Neither have I. So I called my local election official in New York, because the Overseas Vote Foundation makes it so easy to do so.

They haven't received the ballots in the office yet, expect them next week and will send them out then. Very friendly and nice and will take my address change by e-mail so that rather than using my US forwarding address I can get the ballot directly. Even if I didn't get my ballot in time, I could use the Federal substitute, printable from the Foundation's website, because they confirmed that I am registered as absentee on the rolls (sometimes I get concerned about being "accidentally" disenfranchised).

Check out your own voting rolls to make sure that everything is in order: time is flying and in some states it may already be too late.

01 October 2008

A day in the life...

Claire was mentioning the sameness of days and she is right (see my last post). It's much harder to mix things up when others are dependent on us for "support services'. Sometimes I find that pretty tedious and other times, when things move smoothly, I am pretty happy with it.

This week, with the girls out of school for the holidays and with the German back at work after the holiday, it seems appropriate for Berlin that it has been raining madly every day, thereby forcing me to stay home and not allow them to get their ya-ya's out at a playground. It is also impinging on my new-found orderliness. Oh well.

However, in between breaking up spats, suggesting games and playing them, I put together the New York Time's chocolate chip cookie recipe for the second time.  

Credit to spicyicecream for the original listing.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from
The New York Times
Makes 24

• 480g plain flour
• 1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• 1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
• 280g unsalted butter, softened
• 1 ¼ cups light brown sugar (this is 180g of dark brown sugar, by weight)
• 225g granulated sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 500g bittersweet chocolate chips (I used 200g because I don't love chocolate)
• Sea salt, to sprinkle

1. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Whisk well, then set aside.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until very light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
3. Reduce the mixer speed to low, then add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. This can be messy, so hold a clean dish towel over the top of the bowl. Add the chocolate chips and mix briefly to incorporate.
4. Press plastic wrap against the dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours.
5. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Remove the bowl of cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow it to soften slightly. Line a baking try with non-stick baking paper.
6. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop six mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Use a tablespoon or coffee scoop to measure out the dough. I then pressed the balls flat with a fork, criss-crossing as with peanut-butter cookies. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, about 15-20  13minutes. (I immediately removed the cookies from the sheet.)

Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies onto the rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. 

I made this a few weeks ago for a book club meeting and I was amazed at how much better these were than the traditional recipe one always sees listed (which is the Tollhouse cookie recipe, generally). The increased vanilla and salt in particular, as well as the decreased ratio of sugar to flour, make it a far less sweet and more savory cookie. I made versions with and without the sprinkled sea salt and the children (and adults) loved it both ways, so this batch was all with the sea salt sprinkles.

Then I threw together a newish recipe for beef stew.

7 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)


  • 2  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
  • 1/2  teaspoon  kosher salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 500 grams beef cubed
  • 2  tablespoons  olive oil
  • 3 diced onions
  • 8 stalks chopped celery
  • 2 bunches sliced scallions
  • 1/2  cups  dry red wine
  • 2  cups  water and 1 beef bouillon cube
  • 1  (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes  actual dried basil, oregano and garlic
  •  1 T dried oregano, 1 T dried rosemary, 1 T garlic, 1 bay leaf
  • 1  cup  chopped carrot/ 1 chopped red pepper/  bunch of sliced mushrooms
Sprinkle flour, salt, and pepper over beef. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef mixture to pan; cook 5 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove beef from pan with a slotted spoon. Add onion and celery to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add beef, wine, and the ingredients through bay leaf to pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes or until beef is just tender. Add remaining ingredients to pan; cover and cook for 30 minutes. Discard the rosemary and oregano sprigs and bay leaf.

adapted from Kate Kunstel, Bronx, New York, Cooking Light, DECEMBER 2007

 I really need to start putting meal plans together so that I can buy what I need for the recipes I want to make, instead of creating the recipes to go with what I have in the (now completely empty refrigerator).

Thing1 had a lot of fun putting the cookies together with me, although it took a taste test for her to believe that baking soda and baking powder are not as tasty as sugar (and salt- she is my daughter, after all). She even ate some of the stew (when we pulled out the meat and the green beans for her to eat separately).