30 November 2010

What I am reading: November 2010

  1. Masques by Patricia Briggs: Wolf and Aralorn
  2. Wolfsbane by Patricia Briggs: more Aralorn and Wolf: It's fun when an author has the chance to revisit an early book and give it the polish that she has acquired as she becomes a best-selling author. I enjoyed this book when I first read it yonks ago and was glad of the opportunity to read the sequel. Well written fantasy.
  3. The Wizard of Karres by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer
  4. The Sorceress of Karres by Eric Flint and Dave Freer-- Sequels to the original by James Schmitz and not as well written. I hope that I am not as disappointed in Scalzi's reboot of another period classic, Little Fuzzies.
  5. Carousel Tides by Sharon Lee: Really nicely written book outside of the sf genre that I generally read Lee in. Magic, guardians of the land, and a carousel: what more could we want. I hope she does another in this world.
  6. Enchanting the Lady
  7. Double Enchantment
  8. Enchanting the Beast by Kathryne Kennedy: The first was a free Kindle download and I enjoyed it enough to read its "sequels" within the same genre of Steam-punkish were magic and romance.
  9. Certain Wolfish Charm by Lydia Dare: A free Kindle book, werewolf Regency. A fun and very fluffy read.(M)
  10. Hunted by James Alan Gardner: I love Gardner. Why aren't there more books out by him in the last few years? I actually sought this out and bought it because I so much wanted to read it (a little embarrassing when I look at the number of books surrounding me in piles that I need to read!). (M)
  11. Death Loves a Messy Desk (2009) by Mary Jane Maffini: Perhaps it's because I am such a messy person (paper chaos everywhere), but I especially enjoyed the protagonist, Charlotte Adams (a professional organizer) saying that when one is happy in one's home and can find one's things that perhaps some clutter can just be homey. Or maybe my paraphrase is a bit off:). Third in a series (I don't have the first two), I enjoyed it although I felt the characters could have enjoyed more fleshing out. Genre mysteries seem to stay between 275 and 300 pages and in this case although I enjoyed the story I would have preferred more character exposition. I would be happy to read more of the series, though.(DTM)
  12. A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar: This is a coming of age book, the first book by an author who also fled Kuwait as a young girl. I found it t be extremely problematic in its treatment of violence against women and wife and child abuse. That is, not that those were parts of the story; although this book was not marketed as YA it fit the genre and those topics are common in YA books. What was problematic was how poorly the topics were treated: glossed over and not dealt with. An interesting first novel, but I don't know to whom I could recommend it: not to teenagers, because of the poor handling of important topics and as an adult there are other books within this genre and topic that handle the issues better. Perhaps, as a heavy reader interested in expat issues, I am the market for this book. (DT)
  13. Sonnet of the Sphinx (2006) By Diana Killian: The third in a series (but the first I have read), I enjoyed this mystery set in England's Lake District. The protagonist is an American scholar (Grace Hollister) of the Romantic Poets who is involved in a relationship with the owner of an antiques shop, who himself appears to be Raffles based. There's a third leg to the romantic triangle: the local police inspector. The title refers to a lost sonnet by Shelley. I enjoyed it and will look for the next.(DTM)
  14. Bon Bon Voyage (2006) by Nancy Fairbanks: I quite enjoyed this continuing adventure of Carolyn Blue, 40-something food writer and spouse to an authority on toxins and chemicals. I remember reading another of these some time back and not being as enthusiastic (although Carolyn mentions an adventure in Barcelona that I'd like to find now that I have been there). Perhaps I enjoyed this one more as I remember not liking the husband so well (I think he is infantalizing and disrespectful of her abilities) or perhaps it's just the setting of a cruise ship and her interaction with her friend Luz. She is also traveling with her mother-in-law Vera: I did read the prior mystery where Vera was accused of murder and exonerated through Carolyn's efforts. Once again, Vera is treated as a cardboard feminist and feminism is mocked through her poor and poorly thought out behaviors, but if one can ignore this aspect, the rest of the book is charming and fluffy good read. (DTM)
  15. The Accidental Florist by Jill Churchill (2007): Why do I think the title is so inappropriate? The lack of connection between that and any of the actual story line just makes it annoying rather than amusing. However, I enjoyed the book. The mystery was completely ancillary to the story, which was that of Jane Jeffry's engagement and planed wedding to her long time beau detective Van Alstyn. So much of this novel was tossed away: a familial death, a house expansion, a blackmail attempt— it's amazing I finished it. It was tremendously weak and there were so many wasted opportunities:(. (DTM)
  16. Murder 101 by Maggie Barbieri(2006): I enjoyed this book very much.The first of a series, the protagonist is an English professor at a small college in what appears to be Westchester County (Professor Allison Bergeron lives in Dobbs Ferry). She has just divorced her philandering husband (also a professor) when her car is stolen and when it is found the body of an undergraduate who has been involved with her ex is in the trunk. I like the setting and the characters. (DTM)

The (M) stands for Mobipocket (the generic form of the file that Kindle Reads) as well as AZW and PRC, the other forms readable by Kindle. Let's leave DT as Dead Tree books. (And perhaps I should add M for books borrowed from my mother:).)I think it's clear what percentage of my reading is becoming e-format. The vast majority are also free, either as public domain or as promotional offers through Amazon and the other online sources I frequent. B stands for Baen, the best of the on-line stores by so many orders of magnitude there is no comparison.

27 November 2010

Why can't everything be this satisfying?

Every time I watch another episode of Smallville (a show I originally refused to watch because I thought it was too far from canon), I wonder why everything can't be this satisfying? Now in its final and 10th year, every episode is just more and more right.

Take that, Lost and Sopranos, two shows whose final seasons made me hate their entire runs.

24 November 2010

Welcome to Winter

After over a week of grey and rain, it's snowing. I hope this weekend is not too late to find snowpants!
I wouldn't mind if it weren't grey and snowing:(.

17 November 2010

Catching up on What I've been doing for the last month: a partial index

Because I have some friends that don't see posts in a reader, they miss posts when I put them up out of order. So while I have been posting on the unblogged, here's an index. I'll try to be more timely in the future or to make a point of doing monthly catch up sessions— one or the other.

What I've been doing in the last month: A-ha and Amsterdam
What I've been doing in the last month:Spiced Applesauce Cake
What I've been doing in the last month: Color Fields at the Deutsche Guggenheim
What I've been doing in the last month: Halloween
What I've been doing in the last month: Unbefristete Aufenthaltsgenehmigung
What I've been doing in the last month: Gaga in Budapest

Still discarding...

Even though I haven't been posting, I've still been tossing things. The more ordinary– dingy t-shirts and worn out clothes– haven't made it to the camera, but here is a candy dispenser I needed to hide to ensure it would not be missed (the first try, Thing1 saw it in the trash and re-accessioned it) and some paperwork.

Normally I haven't been counting miscellaneous papers, but these were made it to paper recycling as I was consolidating two boxes into one— the U-Haul box that hit recycling was unphotograped, but had made it from Upstate NY to Downstate to a container to NRW to an apartment in Berlin and then here: it deserves its final peace in pieces.

08 November 2010

What I've been doing for the last month: Gaga in Budapest

As with the tickets to a-Ha in Amsterdam, we had the opportunity to get tickets to Lady Gaga in several cities for points. The concert that fell on a possible weekend was in Budapest.
I'd never heard of Lady Gaga except in reference to her wearing a meat dress at an award, which I thought silly and a bit disgusting, so I wasn't certain whether it would be worth it.
But the German said that he'd never been to Budapest and would enjoy visiting, so I grabbed the tickets and then was able to get a great deal through family at the Budapest Intercontinental. I'd visited Budapest last in 1986, before the fall of the Soviet Union: although I was certain the city had changed, I remembered it as a beautiful and friendly city.
We flew into Budapest Ferihegy (please excuse the lack of accents throughout this blog post) and were able there to buy, at the Post, a 72 hour unlimited public transport ticket.(I used my German ATM card to take out Hungarian forints (HUF)from the ATM while waiting for our suitcase to arrive— Hungary hopes to be on the Euro in the next few years, but after the financial crisis, who knows?).
We didn't buy the Budapest card, which would also have included transport, because we didn't expect to visit many sites. We then took the bus to the transfer station, got on the subway, and got off 1 block from our hotel. Not using a cab or shuttle in this one direction paid for the entire 72 hour ticket. When we got there, we asked if there was any chance we might upgrade our room and they already had: our room had an amazing view—waking up there every morning was like living inside a piece of art.
(the view from our window)
We spent a lot of time just walking around the city (both Buda and Pest), along the Danube, and through the Castle and Parliament grounds.
On Sunday we visited the Tobacco Street Synagogue and museum and had an interesting discussion with the tour guide. A gentleman on the tour tried to not accept a head covering when entering the synagogue— he said that his personal view did not require that— but did accept one after he was told that he would not be able to enter without covering his head. Would anyone expect to enter a mosque wearing shoes, or a Greek Orthodox church with bare shoulders? I visited this synagogue and the Jewish area when I was here in 1986: it was very interesting discussing with the guide the changes in the Jewish community and the differences in antisemitic acts since then.
That night we went to see Lady Gaga:
She was really great.
I wonder if I am the last person in the world to have heard a song by her?

(Not my video- there are better ones on Youtube but this was in Budapest)
I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the music and by what a positive message Gaga was putting out (everyone is a superstar, there's life after adolescence, the meek will inherit the earth, positive body image, and so on). I did think the concert wasn't necessarily appropriate for the 8 year olds I saw there, but that was because of the profanity (I'm old-fashioned) and the sheer volume (I wore ear plugs). I wonder how many people recognized the Wizard of Oz motif?
We had a great time and Budapest is a great city to wander around in: if I ever manage to put together an album, there's some wonderful architecture there.

01 November 2010

What I've been doing for the last month: Unbefristete Aufenthaltsgenehmigung

One of the issues I have been pondering since I moved here is how to handle my stay. My husband and children are, of course, German nationals (in the case of the children, dual-nationals). I received a three year visa when I arrived, as one would expect.

Since I came to Germany knowing not even a word of German (darn all those years of French and Latin!), it was an immediate goal for all of us that we learn the language. My children went into a Geman kita as soon as we found a place to live and a kita that we liked, and I went straight into a language class (it took about 6 weeks for the above). I had some ups and some downs, quite a few missed classes due to the children being ill and a few due to my being ill. Then vacations and breaks and travel and more illnesses and so on. But I went on from A1.1 to A1.2 to A2.1. At this point life became even more awkward, as the German started working in a different city and the girls started going to different schools. Still, after another pause and another illness or two, I persevered and went on to A2.2 and finally B1.1.

I stalled out a bit there, as the German's work schedule became busier and the girls' swimming schedule did the same, but I only delayed my last class and finally finished B1.2 this fall. However, my visa ran out before that date and I wasn't certain whether I should take my exam before applying for a permanent visa.

To make it worse, here in Berlin at least, it's just about impossible to get the Auslanderbehorde to either answer the phone or return e-mails and my scheduled appointment was 1. only 4 days before the expiration of my three year visa and 2. my husband (required to be at the appointment) had a meeting that day which was not re-schedulable. So we had to actually take a day to go to the Auslanderbehorde just to see if we could reschedule our appointment.

The Beamterin on duty yelled at us because the German stuck his head behind the door that said it was the correct door: must love that customer service thing. All we could talk about on the way home (after getting a new appointment, after my visa expired, but having been told that was okay) was how ridiculous it was for this woman to put up a hand written sign that resulted in her yelling at every single person she spoke to all day, when a differently worded handwritten sign would have resulted in the outcome that she desired, with no yelling needed....

At the actual appointment, things went more smoothly than one might expect, having had prior experience with German Amts. The German brought every piece of paper that he had brought for the first appointment we had (when I received my first visa). He brought even more pieces of paper- every one that he could think of. I brought official forms from my VHS showing the German classes that I had completed (there are official forms for everything here- when I started to write a not on one the Secretary scolded me for doing so on an official form) and the receipts showing registration for the DfZ and the Orienteerungskurse. It started well: the Beamterin was nice (didn't yell at us and said hello), took all our forms and when she asked for additional forms that we had not been told we needed, we actually had them.

But then she asked for an employment contract. That's something the German doesn't have. That is, he has a contract showing that we are here in Germany for a certain time and he even had an older note from his boss discussing his circumstances. He had pay stubs and tax info and insurance info and a million things. But what he didn't have was a German, currently dated, official form saying that he can't be fired tomorrow.

I kept on saying that this particular type of form doesn't exist in the US, and as was clear in all his information, the German is employed in Germany through the international side of an American firm: on loan, as it were. The Beamterin said other North Americans have brought in such forms and that she could accept a note from a partner written on letterhead. Unfortunately, it was a holiday in the parts of Germany where someone might have been able to help us out and fax such a note over. I asked what would happen without such a note, considering that my visa had already expired, and she said the issue was that she wanted to give me a permanent visa rather than another three years and that there were additional documentation requirements. So we went back out to the waiting room while she looked over the documentation that we had and discussed our lack of the contract with her superior, I assume.

When she called us back, she had already put the permanent visa into my passport. I asked her why I didn't need to finish the Integrationskurs or take the Orienteeringskurs or the DfZ (the German poking me to stop the whole time), saying that I thought they were required, and she looked at me as if I were mad and said that I had (while arguing, I guess) displayed an adequate amount of language knowledge and off we went.

It was an interesting experience and one that I think shows how relatively easy it is for Anglophones to become permanent residents: so many of my classmates from a non-Anglophone background seem to have encountered so many more problems on the way to their permanent residency. The process also explains why all my Anglophone acquaintances seem so surprised that I have actually bothered to take classes— they laugh when I say that I need to know the language and want to take the 45 hour class (why wouldn't I want to have an understanding of the structures and legal basis of the country in which I am living?). Let me point out that even with a theoretical B1 level of language, I am still unemployable, I would guess. I think C1 would be an employable level of language when any conversation ability would be necessary and my written German is even worse. But with this level of language, I can live in this country, I can speak to my children's school teachers and I can make myself understood in any situation at all, even though it might be with an incorrect sentence structure or general rather than specific word choices: this is what integration means. Everything after this is above what is required and will simply make me personally happier.