31 July 2009

What I am reading: July 2009

  1. Regenesis by CJ Cheryh: Wow. It was great. I put aside everything that I was supposed to be reading and just made my way through this sequel to 1988's Cyteen. Since my copy of that is, of course, back in the US in storage, I ordered a copy (in 1 volume and without the iconic Whelan covers) to reread before digging into the 585 page (and boringly covered) sequel. But I couldn't wait. I remember the original (I think I must have reread it two or three times) well enough that I just plunged into the sequel and I didn't feel the lack (although Cyteen is now waiting on my night table to be reread RSN). It's just classic Cherryh and I love it. The new Invader novel is somewhere much deeper in my TBR pile: this brought me back to the basics of why I used to love SF so much (and makes me sad- I read so much fantasy now because I just can't find enough SF to be passionate about anymore). My gosh. This is just great stuff. Genetics, cloning, birth labs, "reincarnation" through cloning and mind-tapes, societal engineering: this is what made science fiction so exciting and it still is exciting.
  2. Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews: Sequel to Magic Bites and Magic Burns by a husband and wife team writing urban fantasy as Ilona Andrews. Their writing is improving and their story is as interesting and exciting as it has been. The concept is that waves "post Shft" of magic and technology sweep across the world, and that the protagonist, Kate Daniels, has abilities only partially known to her friends and allies. The plot keeps developing, the back story keeps filling out and I become more interested and invested in the characters each book.
  3. Past the Size of Dreaming by Nina Kiriki Hoffman: This author was suggested to me (was it Amazon, was it someone's list?) as being similar in thought and flavour to Zenna Henderson, whose work I love (and which has been "copied" by others such as Alexander Keys). This novel- not so much (another I picked up more so), but I liked it very much. The background is of a world where magic lives, where it can be awakened, and where it operates in a hidden parallel with mundanity while also being "mundane" in itself, or natural. I like her writing and I like her "voice. I am sorry to see that most of her current work is short stories because they are so much harder to track down than novels. I will try to pick up the rest of her work while I am in the US next month. (I just popped over to Amazon, where I see she has a new novel out in a few months and I have ordered it.)
  4. The Silent Strength of Stones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman: This is much more in the style of Henderson. YA, as most of Hoffman's work is. The protagonist helps his dad run a general store in a recreational area and gets his kicks watching the summer people and renters, but this time the family he watches is quite extraordinary: they have Magic and they don't enjoy his watching. But Nick is not ordinary either. This book is why I jave ordered the rest of Hoffman's work.
  5. M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman: I saw Stardust recently and loved it and some others of Gaiman's works are sitting on my TBR pile, so I thought I would start with this, a collection of short stories primarily in the YA accessible range. In the preface, Gaiman mentions that Ray Bradbury chose his more YA stories to put into collections called R is for Rocket and S is for Space and that he asked permission to call this collection M is for Magic. I don't think the permission was required, but the conceit is lovely and brings back memories.
  6. Nation by Terry Pratchett: I love Pratchett. A really good book. The protagonist is on his manhood journey when a tsunami destroys his entire homeland. He is the last. As others float up on his Island, the interactions are wonderful. A parallel world, with a few familiar faces. A good read. (This just won a Globe/Hornbook award and will debut as a play this year.)
  7. Why we read what we read by John Heath and Lisa Adams: Interesting discussion of what Americans have been reading in the last decades. A bit frightening to see the change, which seems to actually be similar to the degradation of the national psyche as seen through the rise of Fox News and the declination of CNN.
  8. Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi: A look at Scalz's last book through the parallel story of Perry's daughter Chloe. Well-done, was nominated for the Hugo this year. (edit: lost to Neal Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.)
  9. Cyteen by CJ Cherryh: After reading Regenesis, I went to Cherryh's blog and have added her to my reader. I enjoyed rereading Cyteen and will probably reread Regenesis in a few months (to have read it after rereading Cyteen): I am glad to see that Cherryh thinks she might write another (without the 20 year wait). Cyteen was as good as I remembered it, but I think Cherry's writing now is even better and smoother.
  10. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett:
  11. tales of a fourth grade nothing by Judy Blume: While wandering around the Interwebs some time ago, I wandered through circuitous paths to Judy Blume's website. I really loved her work when I was young and I am looking forward to starting to share it with Things 1 and 2 soon. I picked this up and felt as if I had fallen into my childhood, Freaky Friday, Disney movie, Bewitched. I loved it and will pick up the rest of the (re-issued) series in the matching covers when I am in the US.
  12. The Language of Bees by Laurie R King: Since King's last Martinelli book (her other, contemporary detective/police series) used the Baker Street Irregulars as a primary plot ingredient, it was like a warm-up to this, the next in her Mary Russell/ Sherlock Holmes series. I always enjoy them and this was interesting and brought in what will be interesting new series characters. For this first time ever, King has closed this with, really, a cliffhanger and I hope that I don't have long to wait for the sequel and to really get to meet the new characters.

29 July 2009

What am I doing today? And miscellaneous catch up.

I just got back from an hour round trip, most on the A100, to Kinder Bauernhof Pinke Panke, where Thing1 left her rucksack yesterday. It looked really cute and the area itself was way out- I saw more bike trailers than I have since getting to Germany. Lots of green. We may check this out as a family in the future, on a weekend. It looks more "animally" than Domain Dahlem, which we frequently go to.

I ran a bit late because the farmyard doesn't open until noon. Today has been another shockingly good day. Warm and no rain yet, with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds.

I have been consolidating and finding photos on my miscellaneous computers, hoping to get them all on the Mac and then backed up before the next hideous crash (it's about due). I think that I'm doing my iPhoto bck up in a painfully slow way, but at least I am backing it up. Right now I am pulling all the non-application material off the Dell that I use as a Slingplayer thrower (and which has had a defective battery for 18 months) and putting it on my Western Digital back-up drive. It will take 31 minutes, it seems. Then I will pull all the photos off that material and put it into iPhoto, after which I will burn a DVD of the library. When I did that last week, it took over 40 minutes. I think there must be some way to make a smart folder to do that, but I haven't figured it out yet.

This week I have been watching the last half of last season's Heroes, and today I am at the second to last episode: it was really good. I'm trying to clean the DVR off a bit before I start travelling and perhaps overrun my available space. I have also been taping a few movies and look forward to watching them.

A friend here in Berlin has been telling me how great Mad Men is: I have also read good reviews of the series but never started watching it. She has the first season on DVD and I said that I would pick the second up while in the US and we would each catch up. I think I will enjoy the series: it's a period that I know from books, particularly Kuttner, Kornbluth (with and without Pohl)and Bester (whose wife was herself an "ad man").

I was saying recently that I think Americans are ingenuous and naively optimistic in their views of human nature: I think this is recent and a result of the warped (although charming) view of humanity shown on TV and the general decency of American society. I think people were more cynical in the 50's and more in touch with reality and I am curious to see how the show bears my view out.

Shatner Does Palin (07/27/09)

Come on. Can it be more perfect?

28 July 2009

Tuesdays without Dory and what's up.

I'm glad that TwD is optional this summer, because I am 1. exhausted and 2.not making icecream without an icecream maker.

The girls are at day camp this week and last and they have been having a good time. I think they have seen more of Berlin than I have! Although I will be off in the morning to check out one of the more interesting spots, a children's farm yard because thing1 left her rucksack there. When I got to camp to pick the girls up, she was sitting there crying. She did, however, look glorious. I think they had a hair session today, while waiting for the park to open before leaving, because her hair was done in the most wonderful updo, with two small braids, one on each side and the rest of her hair drawn up in the most adorable bun, puffed around rather than twisted. I think she had as many pins in her hair as I did at my marriage ceremony (no- she had only 16, I think I had 35:)). I took pictures in hopes that I can reproduce it for her.

So tomorrow off down the autobahn. This will be good for me because I don't like driving on the autobahn, so what does not kill me will make me stronger. Thank goodness I have the GPS.

When I was cleaning up last week for Thing1's party, I finally finished all the seasonal clothing shifting as well as packing up and away two boxes of clothing thet Thing2 has outgrown (I don't put away T1's clothes because T2 is so close behind her). I used a lot of party favors that I had brought over from the US and I can see that we are actually running through some of the supplies that we brought with us from the US 23 months ago. Without surface air, I don't think that we are going to be able to keep up with our appetite for Annie's Organic Mac'n'Cheese or Crystalight.

We have already resupplied with coffee twice and I just ground the last of my Costco Jamaica Blue beans. I have been out of Dunkin Donuts decaf for almost a month. Luckily, I am so tired that even when I drink caffeinated coffee at night (I love the taste, I like the warmth) it doesn't keep me up. Thing1 can't seem to get over waking me before 6 am and without the German to take occasional duty getting up with her I have an awfully early start to my day.

We are also running out of craft materials and small toys, so I checked Idee out last week and it's really a great craft store. Not as good (or as wide ranging) as Michaels, but the best that I have found here. They have such wonderful supplies and patterns for making a Schultuete that I feel a bit guilty not making one. Howver, Thing1 chose her schoolcone and her schule rucksack from her painfully thumbed and lovingly studied happytoys.de catalog.

The German school bag custom is amazing. The bag is so large that German pediatricians hand you a brochure warning you of the dangers of its size and weight to your tiny 6 year old child, But what can one do? Every single child has the same bag, and generally the same brand (Scout is preferred).
When I went to the school orientation for parents, I was given an unbelievably long and unbelievably detailed list of items that needed to be contained within the requisite rucksack (as well as ancillary items), all the way down to the size of the Pelikan pen and the # of the 3 separate paintbrushes. There are 10 notebooks, all to be specific colors. As I was looking over the list, another parent asked why so many and why so detailed and I burst out laughing. My response: This is how Germans are trained to be German. A few of the non-Germans laughed, but the Germans didn't understand the joke:).
Luckily, the regulation rucksack came with a number of the required items, like the two separately sized pencil cases, the sport bag, the colored pencil set (with space for the specified Pelikan left empty), the required water color set with three differently sized brushes, the bus pass holder. The bag is rigid and there is enough room for the 24 books and notebooks that she will be using next year. If I weren't dropping her off and picking her up, I wouldn't in conscience be able to let her use it. As is, I expect to carry her bag for her every day for at least the next few years.

21 July 2009

Here and gone again.

I pulled my last post, so it's interesting to see who can comment on it:). I did so not because anything I said was too strong or because I didn't mean it, but because I was afraid that someone involved might recognize themselves and I didn't want that.

It's at times like this that I really think about moving over to Wordpress.

14 July 2009

Summer Plans...

It's been a little harder making summer plans than I thought it would be.

First, the German keeps working Fridays. I thought I signed on to be a single parent Monday through Thursday and having him show up on Friday after the girls are in bed is breaking our bargain. The girls are pretty good, kita is wonderful and we are all trying, but it seems that I am just starting to recover from the flu/bronchitis/pneumonia that started mid-April and felt like it nearly killed me. I am still easily exhausted and I am pretty certain that what I had was originally an undiagnosed and untreated H1N1. After all, I started the entire process of my illness with IV antibiotics and things just went down from there. Clearly should have attacked with the Tamiflu. So by the time the weekend is here I am too tired to do anything and then I feel bad about not doing things. And the German keeps scheduling Friday off, then changing his flights and working.

I hope that next week mellows out, as day camp starts for the girls and it's just walking distance. I will visit a museum next week, I swear!

In bigger news, it took me three days of intense pain (and melting ear drums) to book our trips to the US. We had talked about going for some weeks ever since we decided to up our stay here for at least another two years. I worry about the fact that my children are forgetting Nana and Grandpa, particularly Thing2. Since they just won't get on a schedule to Skype, the kids are obviously going to have troubles remembering them. After all, Thing2 has lived in Germany longer than she lived in the US at this point.

But booking the tickets was a lesson in Catch-22 and circular logic. See, I wanted to book the girls' tickets with (you can't believe how much) money and our tickets with frequent flier miles (half a gift from the parents). But one cannot book children's tickets over the internet without purchasing an adult ticket at the same time. I couldn't book my ticket without knowing the children's tickets because, you know, it might be a bit awkward if 1. I couldn't get them seats on the same flight(s) or 2. if the only way to get them such tickets would be to pay so much for their tickets that I could go ahead and pay for all 4 of us for the sme price.
The second option came up three times with AirFrance and KLM. I spent hours on the phone with agents in the US and Canada (because with our rate plan it was way cheaper than speaking to people here in Germany, which I did just long enough to find them unhelpful at .14 Eurocents/minute). I'm not kidding: three days of spending hours on the phone after the girls were in bed, my brain melting and sweat pouring down my jaw from my melting ear. I got transferred, told to speak to other groups or airlines, repeatedly told to do things that were not doable, apologized to for lack of technical capacity, lied to, put on hold, transferred, dropped, lied to, told how I could do something (on the basis of which I transferred miles and wound up not being able to do that thing and freaking out), was multiply offered tix for the girls that were the same price as the schedule I'd found on momondo or other sites for the girls plus an adult... you just can't believe how horrible the experience was.
Then I spoke to someone at NWA. She was like an angel from heaven. She was able to find me a reasonable flight for the kids (versus the one I had on hold for the price of 3 of us). She was able to book it for me with the note that I had another FF flight with the required adult. She was able to seat the kids with a space next to them that I could fill in. She was able to book it as a KLM flight so that they would stop f***ing with me.
When I went back to KLM and asked them to re-book my FF flight to match the confirm number of the childrens' flights, the call center woman said,"No, it's not possible."

I lost my temper. After I explained how it was possible, the lady was actually to change my reservation to math the childrens' so that we are actually travelling together.

This process should have been easy. It was made extremely difficult and even with my saving angel of NorthWestAir I was required to pay the "over the phone" booking extra fees for the children, which really wasn't fair as it was their own systems which made it impossible to do what I would have preferred: booking on-line.

I haven't booked the husband's ticket yet: that's waiting for the transfer of yet more miles to allow me to do that. Transferring the miles from my AmEx account was problematic because we ditzed out this past month:our AmEx cards had expired and they had a no forward on the replacements. We hadn't noticed because there really isn't a lot of use for credit cards in Germany. But one can't transfer miles without a current AmEx card. So last month we had ordered new cards. They had arrived when the groseltern were taking care of the children and I had them put away where they would be safe.

I can't remember where that place is. Luckily, AmericanExpress' Mileage Rewards has a US based customer service model, and with some discussion theyw ere able to transfer the miles for me. So sometime tonight I should book those flights for him. He will be staying with us for two weeks, with my parents, and then I will be staying on another week.

With us staying here for who knows how long, we thought it was important that they know my parents, my brothers, their cousins. The trip is hideous and I'll be coming back alone with them, which is a horror I wish not to contemplate, but we think it's necessary. I'm not sure we will be able to afford the time or expense next year so I hope we can get some enjoyment this year with everyone.

I'm not looking forward to the 18+ hours travel time, though.

Tuesday's with Dorie: Not this summer. And what's up.

I'm taking the opportunity offered to take the summer off. I just can't seem to get ahead of myself with the German out of town what is working out to be 5 days out of 7. Particularly with all retail shops closed on Sunday, this makes doing things a bit crazy.

This past weekend we went on a family religious retreat. Although it was fun and refreshing, it didn't make coming back to a very busy week without another set of adult hands any easier.

This week is Thing1's birthday party at kita (and the last week of kita), a good-bye "party" for Thing2's class, as some children leave for Israel and other places and as they move up to another group, and on the weekend Thing1's "real" birthday party.

This is the first time I have attempted a birthday party here in Berlin and I am finding it a little daunting, primarily because of the kosher issue (as, I can't cook anything here because my stove is not kosher, etc.). A friend is bringing a cake and I am not certain what else I will be doing- I'll tell you next week:). Then there is the "theme" issue: party novelties in Germany are poorly made, extremely expensive, and back-ordered. Yes, I should have brought more with me from the US and I really should have pinned T1 down to her desired theme earlier so that I could trans-ship novelties (send them to a friend in the US, have them shipped here). But I didn't. So I mixed (Disney) Princess themes and I'll do the best I can with that. But I can't bake a cake myself, which is really disappointing. I hope the weather remains good and then we can take an hour in a spielplatz around the corner.

Now I'm off to draft a dunning notice for the 2/3 of parents in T2'sclass who haven't paid their dues: really- was 3 Euros a month too much for them? Won't catch us being class parents again.

04 July 2009

Life with a weekend spouse, casual injury and tipping in Germany.

It's been 5 weeks since the German started commuting to München. The commute is supposed to run fro early Monday (leaving before 5 am) until lateish on Thursday (sometimes after 22:00) but a few times it has run into Friday.

Last night was one of those and when he got in, very late, we thought twice about joining some other expat bloggers for a mini-meet-up in Hannover (about a 2.5 hour ride from here). When I heard early in the day that he would be late, I had already called and cancelled the hotel room, as 18:00 was the deadline and I knew he wouldn't be back until much later. We decided to sleep on it, set an alarm, and decide whether it made sense to leave at 7 am.

We did in fact get up at 6:30 (Thing1 gave us no choice), but the German begged to be allowed to sleep and I did accede to his request (and you can bet that I will be sleeping in tomorrow, at least as much as possible). We gave our friend Alice in NRW a call to break the news, only to find out that she and her son had strep and that they had cancelled as well. When I called Christina to apologize at 10, when we were to meet, I discovered that two other couples had cancelled and I felt just awful about it.

But the commuter marriage is really dragging me down. It's all the little things. I am tremendously grateful that the girls are in kita, so I can run errands, get some groceries, go to the doctor, go the the car shop, deal with some stuff. But on the other hand, I always need to get up early and I always need to get them in to bed alone (hard with Thing2, who still naps and thinks that since it's still light at 22:00, she can wander out of bed and say she needs the toilet. Sometimes 4 times within the hour).

And the girls miss him, especially Thing2, who sometimes has meltdowns about his morning absences. I have no help tidying up after them, or amusing them, or with any of the things that he is alwys so very helpful with. I am much more tired than I would have thought and sometimes need to remember that I was extremely ill not so long ago. This week's 5th day just kicked my tush.

So instead of meeting fellow American's, Canadian and USian for the 4th, we went to a biergarten in Dahlem to have a Turkey salad, baby potatoes, pommes and an ice (with the girls playing between eating).

Interesting note: here was the second time in 8 days that a waiter in Berlin has cheated us.
The first time was last week. Alice (who was in Berlin with husband and kids for 2 days) had lunch with me at a place around the corner that we frequently go to, often with the kids, so we know it is family friendly and have enjoyed it. The baby had a fuss and we decided to eat at her apartment so the children could go down. They went ahead and I remained to pay the bill, which I did, with a nice tip. I was in a hurry because as folks know, getting something wrapped to go here in Germany is not a fast activity.

As I walked to Alice's place, I started thinking about the amount of the bill and not being happy. I had taken the receipt and when I started reading it (while crossing streets and walking) I became quite angry when I realized that we had been billed incorrectly in three items, resulting in an overcharge of 4€ (more than 12%). I tipped more than 4€ and it was quite clear to me that the waitress had billed herself a good tip, expecting me not to tip. 4€ was not enough to make me go back and yell at the waitress, but it was enough to make me angry and resentful. I will remember that waitress and now I understand the expression on her face at my answer to her question as to where I was from, when I answered: A few blocks away, I eat here regularly.

Today, at the Biergarten in Dahlem, the German paid the bill while I was rounding the kids up and getting their socks and shoes on. When he got back, I asked him what the bill had been and when he told me the answer I said that the bill was incorrect and asked to see it. Another waiter had attempted to give us a Bolognese, so I assumed they had added that to the bill incorrectly.
I asked to see our copy of the bill and when the German told me that the waiter had simply told him the amount, I knew that the overbilling had been deliberate: our order was taken on a handheld device that itself prints out the rechnung. When the German discussed the bill with the waiter, a "mistake" of 3.5€ was "discovered. Since, once again, he had tipped 4€, it was again clear that the waiter had chosen to "tip" himself about 15%. The German was aghast. Since he did all the ordering and this was in a neighborhood local, I can't even blame this on the desire to rip off tourists: it's just a clear trend.
I think that we are going to become more German in our ways. I will know read my bill very closely, no matter how crowded or tired I am, and my new plateau will be the German no-tip, with only extraordinary friendliness and/or helpfulness making me tip above the round-up. I'm just tired of the crap. This never happened to me in the US, although I know it does. And two times in one week!

Moving onward to the injury:

We then went to T1's lieblingsplace: the marienkafer spielplatz otherwise known as Ikea(because the Smaland inside uses the ladybug as their logo). In the parkinglot T2 ran under my feet and I went down hard: so hard, that passersby stopped to ask if they could call for help (perhaps it was my scream, followed by whimpering and ankle clutching?). I didn't really notice as I was busy pressing very hard against the ligaments on both sides of my right ankle- the one without the very painful heel spur- and praying that it wasn't broken. It wasn't, but omigosh it is sprained. After I was through whimpering we limped our way in and signed the girls in for their hour of joy and we went upstairs to split a soda and chat.

Afterward, off to our evening's entertainment of shopping at the suburban (yet still in the huge city that Berlin is) mecca of Kaufland. One hour+ later, with a shopping cart piled above and below, the cost was about that of my little wheelie bin from Lidl in the center of the city. It's a beautiful thing to have a car when shopping and now I am stocked up on boxed tomatoes, pasta and such like. We didn't go to Selgros because I also wanted to stock up on milk and H-milk and they don't have Bio full milk or H-milk.

Then home and so tired that after we put the children to bed I forgot to set the DVR to record the celebrations in NYC. :(. This year was especially exciting because it's the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's exploration of the river, so I am disappointed.

But then to bed, with a compress on my foot and a few tablets of ibuprophen.

03 July 2009

Have you ever...

marked all the posts in your Google Reader as read because you are just too hot and tired to deal?