30 September 2011

What I am reading: September 2011

This will be a lighter month, as I am falling desperately behind in reading my Economist, my German classes have started, I had a concert, two Elternabends, friends visit (yeah!) and Rosh Hashona.--- Then a fast visit to Munich for Oktoberfest made longer by a broken and replaced train change.
  1. Murder Your Darlings (January 2011) by J.J. Murphy: The first in the new series "The Algonquin Round Table Mysteries". I have been looking on my DVD shelves for another series to start, now that I have finished Bones and I realized that, after purchasing the first season of Mad Men,and reading reviews of the second and third seasons, that I don't want to watch it: I don't think I want to be steeped in that era. Perhaps it's too close? But I do find the Prohibition period in NY exciting. Not so much from the explosion of crime point of view, but from the flowering of thought that took place in NY (and of course, in Berlin as well). So I found this book very interesting. It whetted my appetite to learn and see more of the era (and of course I did a bit of on-line research on the Vicious Circle of the Algonquin Round table, which I knew the standard liberal arts educated information about, and I had visited the Algonquin decades ago). A Manhattan murder (which feels as homey as my backyard) and some pithy quotes, both actual and in the style, made me very happy. I will look up the next and I will re-read some public domain Benchley, Wollcott and Parker that I have floating about.
  2. Killer Cuts (2009) by Elaine Viets: This is the ninth in Viets' "A Dead-End Job Mystery". I have read this series, on and off, for years and I think that it has been getting better with this being the best so far. I had an issue with the original premise, that the protagonist (Helen), a successful accountant would give her job up and flee to a series of under the table jobs in an effort to avoid paying alimony to her philandering ex-husband. I just thought the entire concept was silly. Years later though, I have grown to enjoy the character and her cast of friends and acquaintances as she moves through multiple workplaces. This book had a shock ending that made it transitional and I will look forward to grabbing the next two when I am in the US. (DTM)
  3. Blood Challenge (Jan 2011) by Eileen Wilks: I thought I had waited a long time to order this (because I am annoyed that buying the physical book is still cheaper than the Kindle version) but I see that it was only 9 months before I broke and ordered it in from the UK and that, just when I was already for more at the end of the book, that the next one won't be out until November and that once again the e-version will be as expensive as the physical one! I'll try to pack this (the 7th of her "Lupi Novels") away and see if I can once again punish the author (and her publishing house) by not buying a book that I want to read immediately (I still haven't bought the latest Charlaine Harris for exactly this reason). So I clearly like the world that Wilks has created and I like the characters that she has created within it: Lily Yu, tough FBI agent and granddaughter to dragons, Rule Turner, Rho of a Pack, and all the characters and friends and family that surround them as a 3,000+ year old war between deity equivalents (not worshiped so much as served)starts to heat up. (DT)
  4. The City and the City (2009) by China Miéville : I liked this very much, even though it was more surrealistic, perhaps, than sf /fantasy. A strange mix of political fantasy (as 1984) and parallel sideways history (as Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union). Was it fantasy? Was it SF? Was it political dystopic allegory? Whichever it was, it was a good read. (DT)
  5. The Dragon who Loved Me (2011) by GA Aiken: Aiken (who is Shelley Laurenston) writes very funny shifter romances. This pseudonym is the one she used for the world of dragons(with extremely long hair) and the active gods who wander about fighting through different races and peoples. But (unlike Moon's books), these are still light-hearted (and always comedic) romances. (Mobi)
  6. Hidden Steel (2008) by Dorrana Durgin: I really enjoy Durgin's Jess books, and have a few others as well but this is a straight-out romance that I downloaded from I don't know where (perhaps her web site?). Amnesiac heroine awakens in handcuffs, being questioned as to her activities. A nicely written, well-paced genre-sized spy story with a strong female lead. I enjoyed it. (Mobi)
  7. Spider Bones (2010)by Kathy Reichs: I picked this up at the booth while I was waiting to hear Reichs read at the Internationales Literaturefestival Berlin. The 13th Temperance Brennan book (I read the 8th last year), it felt a bit more like an interim book, perhaps because I was familiar with the background already. A fine read.
  8. Wizard's First Rule
  9. Stone of Tears (1995)
  10. Blood of the Fold (1996) by Terry Goodkind: This series has been sitting on my shelf for almost a year but the NPR list made me feel that I should finally get to them. I have finished the first three and I have enjoyed them and am looking forward to the next trilogy.

29 September 2011

Honey Cake

I made this in a gugeltopf for Rosh Hashonah this year, but I wasn't satisfied: it came out too dense and thick. Perhaps, in an excess of joy with using my KitchenAid mixer, I overbeat it?

Honey Cake
1 3/4 c. honey
1 c. coffee 2x strength (made with 1/2 the water, that is)
4 eggs
2T vegetable oil
1 c sugar (225 g)
3 1/2 c. flour (1c= approx 120 g 3.5=420 g)
pinch salt
1 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
1 t. allspice, 1 t. cinnamon
juice of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 325F/160C.
Bring honey to a boil, cool and add coffee.
Beat eggs until light and then add oil. Beat and add sugar.
Add all dry ingredients together, then alernate dry and liquid.
Pour into greased bundt pan and bake for approximately 1 hour (check).
Invert to cool, remove from pan after 10 minutes (not immediately!).

For me, this tasted more like a dense honey bread, not very sweet, and held for days. I sent my friends off to Paris with a big hunk of it two days later and they had it for breakfast and still enjoyed it. But I don't remember it being this dense.

15 September 2011

Lecture: Kathy Reichs

I went to see Kathy Reichs at the Internationales Literaturfest Berlin.
(The woman who read from her novel in German was Sabine Postel (on right) from Tatort, has also read the audiobooks for Elizabeth George's books here in Germany).

Luckily, I anticipated the fact that there would be no translation from the German to the English (as I found with AS Byatt) and I was once again surprised that, even though I cannot read a neighborhood newspaper in Berlin, I can understand a good deal of German in a literary setting.
The reading was from Flesh and Bones/ Fahr zu Holle.
Quite a bit of what I will be writing below is paraphrased, or taken from my quickly jotted notes while listening.
Question: How much of your writing is from your own experiences?
Answer: Everything comes from her own case knowledge. Her first book was based on a case in Montreal, the second (the exhumation of a 250 year old body for teh Catholic church and a sun worship murder in Quebec), etc.: they are always based in her own experiences.
Question: How do you choose where to place Tempe?
Answer: It's where I've been— Israel, Chicago, Guatemala. In book 15, Yellowknife, where I just went to a literary festival.
Interviewer:"Where Kathy goes, geht auch Tempe mit.": She has always been to the place she is writing about.
Question: Are your books more plot or character driven?
Answer: They must have all three: Setting, character, and plot: the ultimate bottom line is the story.
Question: Why NASCAR?
Answer: Because I live in Charlotte, NC and that's Ground Zero for NASCAR. It started in our hills with bootlegging runs. First to outrun the police , then Revenuers, then it became a sport.
Question: Have you had strange cases like the one you write about here- what were your strangest cases?
Answer: We have had cases of bodies in cement barrels, although not the asphalt I write about here but I think the forensics would be very similar. Hell's Angels biker wars formed the real background of my use in my 3rd book.
Question: Why did you start writing?
Answer: Mainly for fun but also to bring science to a wider audience. I very much wanted to show a strong female character using science. That's also why she wrote Virals , her YA. She finds it amusing that her French publisher has labelled it age appropriate for 92 and younger, while her English publisher has it labelled for 12 and older. The lead character in Virals is 14 years old and is Tempe's great-niece, the daughter of he sister (met in 3rd book) Harry's son Kit.

Kathy then discussed her plot concept, that there is usually an A, B, and C plot, with the C plot being emotional. There is also often a political issue, which in her current book is right-wing extremism. She mentioned the Atlanta Olympics bomber, Eric Randolph, who hid in the hills of NC with help from right-wing extremists. He set the bomb in Atlanta, blew up abortion clinics, and gay/lesbian bars. He was eventually found eating from a dumpster.
She also talked about Bones, the TV series which is based (loosely) both upon her and her series of books. This season is starting late as the lead is exoecting a baby on September 22 (which has been written into the season): she has done some production on the series and enjoys it. While the TV series is in production, 21st Century Fox has the rights to the character and she is not available for movie options.

Question: How does one get into the field?
Answer: In Germany, there are 250 pathologists and far fewer forensic pathologists. Dr. Reichs started as an archeologist but police kept bringing her cases and she liked the immediacy of actually helping people and changing lives, so she re-trained and Board certified.

Afterward, she kindly signed books for us, including both her YA (which I bought in German, hoping I might be able to understand it sometime in the next few years!) and two English ones. Very kind and charming in line, generously speaking to those of us who could say something in English.

14 September 2011

The Hokusai Retrospective at the Martin-Gropius-Bau

The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa
From the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
Date of Origin: c. 1831/ Period Iitsu
credit: Sumida City

It's been a chaotic bi-month so far. Sometimes I feel like I am running with spinning wheels where my feet are but I am going backwards instead of forwards. Something like Wil E Coyote on a bad day. But today, after dropping the kids off and having some blood drawn, I met a friend and we went to the Martin-Gropius-Bau for the current exhibition, a retrospective on Hokusai.

This time, when I asked, they said "no photographs", so the above is courtesy of the exhibit, not my camera (though I saw some folks taking pictures...). It was crowded, especially in the first room, where there were many small prints and "manga" book prints that took a lot of time to study and read. The crowd spaced itself out better after the first room and there were some classic prints, many from rarely seen private collections and many illustrations and prints that have never been seen outside Japan (and that will return after this exhibition).

The exhibit, "the first time in Germany a major retrospective is to be devoted to the world-famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)" is one of several events designed to mark "150 Years of German-Japanese Friendship" and is organized "under the auspices of the Japanese Embassy".

The final display is a video showing how wood-block are created, in the traditional manner, and how prints are hand-created. I found the discussion, display and information on the foundation devoted to preserving this craft and art as well as fostering the training of new artists, to be fascinating.The creation of the print is a work of individual artistry and high skill (as well as authentic technique) in itself.

Although the Martin-Gropius-Bau is not a State Museum, and is therefore not accessible through the Jahres (annual) card, the exhibit (free to 16 and under) is worth the price of the admission. The audio guide, at an addition 4€, was not. Shockingly thin, with a lack of in-depth knowledge, interesting societal facts or contemporary music, the guide was a huge disappointment, my first bad audio guide in 10 years and not worth almost half the admission cost!

11 September 2011

Happier Memories

I try hard to build better memories for this date so when we saw an opportunity to enroll in a KinderBaustelle on this Sunday, we leaped at it.
There had been a kleingartenkolonie in our neighborhood which was, after years of fighting, sold by the community to be housing. (This area could actually use some). In any case, in a neighborly gesture, the company advertised a Children's Building Activity. Free but requiring registration and we jumped on that. It was possible for either Saturday or Sunday, but as I said, we try to build better memories.

It was great fun.

As you can see, the children had appropriately sized builder's gloves and hard-hats and t-shirts and because we were a limited number, every child got to be part of every building area. No hurrying, no worrying, no stress: just calm and interest and attentive Baumeisters and Azubis, both male and female. For the grown-ups (and the kids who could be torn away), juice and sodas and milk, coffee tea and pastries, bagels and cream cheese and wurst and belegte brotchen.

I'm not certain the girls are now thinking of the possibility of becoming bauarbeiters, but they (and we) really enjoyed learning about how it all works (quite differently here in Germany than in the US) and the kids used a backhoe, a crane, a cement crane, laid ceiling tile, worked on re-bar, pounded stone and had an all-around super time.

We really enjoyed it. I wasn't feeling well but the German shadowed the kids and I managed to take a few photos while drinking some weak coffee. We left with goody bags and a filled out activity sheet (the girls love being marked off as they fulfill all the stations).

What a lovely new memory on a day which seems, achingly, to always be beautiful.

Ten years later

I struggle with a certain amount of PTSD during September. 9/11/01 was a very pivotal time for me and my life, as well as for that of the US.
On that day, I was working for a Big 4, on an assignment in Chicago. My boyfriend (now husband), at a different Big 4, was on assignment in Texas. I was running out the door to the client when my mom called to tell me that a plane had hit the Twin Towers. I told her it had to be an accident and then I turned the TV on and watched in disbelief. Just as in NY, it was a glorious day with a perfect sky: Indian summer.
In a daze, I drove to the client. I don't think I could think of what else to do. Once there, I joined all the other people watching monitors and dripped tears until I went back to my hotel room.
Like very many other people, I and the German were trapped: planes did not fly again for days and then the stack up effect was horrendous. My co-workers were not from NY and so I took my rented car and drove back alone, through states I barely recognized. Not to our apartment on the Upper West Side, with the access routes to the city circumscribed and talk of shortages, but home to upstate NY. The German drove with some of his co-workers through, dropping them off and then meeting me at my house upstate. It may be forgotten, but it was extremely difficult to move around the US in those days, as rental cars moved out of position and were basically unavailable.

Rosh Hashonah was September 17 in 2001 and Yom Kippur was the 27th and frankly I can't remember what I did during that period- how long I stayed upstate and when we went back: our offices were closed for some time as so many people were displaced and NY was reeking with the smell of burning (as it did for months). Neither of us lost friends in the attack, although we had friends who had close calls. We lost acquaintances and my brother lost good friends— when we moved to Westchester my neighbor had lost her husband.

The German's office was closed for months (very close to the WTC) and I transferred offices. Within a month, I and over 15% of my division had been laid off. As we sat at our outplacement seminar at DBM (with IBM, Marriott and other impacted industry executives), we seemed to detect a common link of being salary outliers;-). My firm in particular seemed to have chosen to lay off those within 4 months of our 5 year vesting period: strangely apposite considering a recent news story about how underfunded our pension plan was. A very bad time to be job hunting in NYC.

But a time which made my friend decide that not losing me to a different job and city was important and we became engaged in January. I found a new job (one that required 0% as opposed to 100% travel) and we started life together as a married unit. A process which two children later and a few years led us here to Berlin.

The world changed on 9/11/01. The US started doing things with which I was unhappy, and which we did in fear and in shock. We were traumatized and I find the ambushes that the media played this month to be wrong: I watched no TV and found myself weeping when the BBC would throw another surprise interview out.

I missed being in the WTC during both attacks simply by chance— I commuted through the PATH station regularly, took classes at Windows on the World... I think of how people who live in war torn areas feel, I think of how Jews in Berlin in the 1930s and in Israel in 1967 and in Mumbai in 2008 felt and I just admire people who sprang back, who don't have waves of memory.... I am glad that the man who ordered those attacks is gone and I am glad that I don't need to think of the event as unclosed going forward.

08 September 2011

Lecture: AS Byatt

My book club had read The Children's Book by AS Byatt this year, so when it was announced (in our forum) that she would appear at the Internationales Literaturfest Berlin, I decided to join in and come along to listen.
This was the first time I had visited the festival since our move and it's really close to us: so close that when I got off the U and looked, there was an arrow pointing in the right direction. But above ground, I couldn't tell where to go and it was raining. So I stopped and asked a Bus driver, as he was smoking outside his bus: his answer, "I don't speak any German." Sigh. Two folks later, I was pointed the right way and was there in a second.

I met two fellow club members beforehand at the box and then we wandered off to find a place to have a bite and a drink. We wound up only a few blocks away at a charming wine place (clearly its specialty) which also had a small but lovely food selection. However, in typical German fashion, although we had asked if the food would be prepared in time for our deadline, it wasn't and we wrapped our (delicious) deserts and took them to go (I enjoyed mine that evening after getting home).

So, even though we rushed, we entered the auditorium an embarrassing few minutes late, after Dame Byatt had started reading (also from The Children's Book). The first thing I noticed, was how starved I am for real language: language that stretches the mind, that evokes pictures, that is multi-syllabic. As Byatt read a section describing the English countryside, I sank into the beauty of her words and my mind soaked it up, like a sponge that did not realized how parched it was. When the German reader spoke the same section, I was absolutely amazed that I understood most of it. No, my German is not that advanced. What this made clear to me was how beautiful and complex and large the English vocabulary is, and what a paucity of words German has in contrast. Really, to be as complex and evocative and interesting, to set the same tone as the English, I should not have been able to understand a word of the German: the German reader is being cheated of the beauty of the language (though not the complexity of the plot) if she reads this (and so many others) in translation.
I wonder if it is as bad from German or Spanish or Italian when translated to English? I read a translation of a Rainer Maria Rilke poem on a blog recently, with the original, and I realized that the English translations didn't do an especially good translation, although much more so when the translator tried over hard to maintain the structure of the sentences instead of the translation. And that's why I own certain translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey (Fitzgerald ) and not others.
So, on to the discussion. This is paraphrased and from my hastily jotted notes (I don't know shorthand, so I vouch only for the gist). In addition, much was in German, and the translation ran only the other way (from English to German).

Byatt was particularly interested in the "concept" of Museum. E. Nesbit (whose life is a basis for the novel)went to the British Museum to do research, fell in love with a curator and had an affair with him.
So, Byatt explored a museum. In her case, not the British Museum, but the Victoria and Albert (which I have not visited but will most definitely do on my next trip to London). The curator (with whom she did not have an affair) took her to the basement to show her the silver and the gold: she found it fascinating and fell in love with the museum. Now the Museum asks her to write articles for them: it was a reciprocated love! She learned that the V&A was originally run by soldiers who tunneled.
" I think fairytales are another way of telling the human story." "Deerskin" is the story that haunts the whole novel: the Grimm story of the king that wishes to marry his own daughter. Recurring metaphors of gold and silver (as the dresses), which lead to the real thing, which led to death. The archetypes of Märchen(fairytales) in the novel, the flight of Peter and his mother, Hansel and Gretel: Märchen are not a second world, they are part of us.

"Does Olive consider Tom an object? Does he have a chance for an independent life?"
No, she absorbed him and rejected him becasue her writing was more important to her. Childrens writers write for their own "child within" and exclude their own children. Tom "protects" the other children by taking so much of her attention.
Byatt spoke a bit about famous Childrens authors of the period: Allison Uttley, whose husband killed himself and whose son also suicided; Kenneth Grahame, whose son went blind while he didn't notice. His son then killed himself after his first test at Oxford.
The German puppeteer , Grimm, lives in Märchen.
"I have a moral belief that we all live in a world where things have a past."
Byatt thinks of characters as "mushrooms in a wood": they grow up as they will.She has the character before she starts writing, but can still be surprised on every page— but not the same kind of surprise.

ASB: "Dickens said " You put yourself in the body of the character and look through their eyes to see the future..."."

A great line to end the discussion.

Found another friend in the line to have our books signed, had a wine, and was home to relieve the babysitter after a lovely evening.

04 September 2011

Ich + Ich

Ich und Ich

Ich hatte schon längst keine Hoffnung mehr
Doch jemand hat dich geschickt, von irgendwo her
Du hast mich gefunden,
in der letzten Sekunde.

Ich wusste nicht mehr genau was zählt
Nur: es geht nicht mehr weiter, wenn die Liebe fehlt
Du hast mich gefunden,
in der letzten Sekunde.


Du bist das Pflaster für meine Seele
Wenn ich mich nachts im Dunkeln quäle
Es tobt der Hass, da vor meinem Fenster
Du bist der Kompass wenn ich mich verlier,
du legst dich zu mir wann immer ich frier
Im tiefen Tal wenn ich dich rufe, bist du längst da.

Ich hatte schon längst den Faden verloren,
es fühlte sich an wie umsonst geboren,
ich hab dich gefunden,
in der letzten Sekunde.

Und jetzt die Gewissheit, die mir keiner nimmt,
wir waren von Anfang an füreinander bestimmt,
wir haben uns gefunden,
in der letzten Sekunde.


Du bist das Pflaster für meine Seele
Wenn ich mich nachts im Dunkeln quäle
Es tobt der Hass, da vor meinem Fenster
Du bist der Kompass wenn ich mich verlier,
du legst dich zu mir wann immer ich frier
Im tiefen Tal wenn ich dich rufe, bist du längst da.

Bevor du kamst war ich ein Zombie,
gefangen in der Dunkelheit,
du holtest mich aus meinem Käfig,
dein heißes Herz hat mich befreit.

The German had gotten us tickets in Munich when Ich und Ich announced their concert at IFA in Berlin and we snapped those up and sold the Munich ones through kijiji--- they were sold quickly and we were able to see the concert here, rather than needing to go 6 hours south to Munich and find babysitters for the kids then come back- a huge relief.

The concert was held in the Sommergarten at the Messe: during IFA is the only time the garden is opened to concerts and it was a great venue, with a beautiful view of the Fernsehturm and the moon shining on a warm and lovely night. Everyone was mellow and happy, we spent the time dancing (I even managed to get the German to move most of the way to the front), we got a free Coke Zero on the way out and the tickets included free admission to IFA for a day: what more could I have wanted as a belated Hanukah/birthday gift?

03 September 2011

Can I help you?

I'd buy anything from that smiling face, wouldn't you?

02 September 2011


I am amazed and grateful to be living in a society that believes that art and an appreciation of it are a human right and one that Society (with a capital S) should extend to children.

Thing1 had been taking quite good art classes in the Friedrichstrasse area (not too bad by S-bahn), but those classes were preceded by a ceramics class which apparently had some sort of glaze or clay ingredient to which she was allergic: although she enjoyed it, she was displaying contact dermatitis quite severely (an issue she has had all her life). In addition, T2 wasn't allowed to participate (too young) and the classes ended late, so T1 could only go when the German was in town and able to take her.

Toward the end of last school year, T1 said that she wasn't learning any more and she wanted a different class. So I did a huge amount of looking around (and a good art class for young children is actually quite difficult to find) and discovered that my kiez (neighborhood) sponsors art and culture for children through the VHS system. Of course, my neighorhood is larger than all but 19 cities in Germany (there are 19 cities in the country with more than 300,000 inhabitants) so it's not surprising that there are some amenities.

What's amazing is that as we bail the southern countries out of the hole that they spent themselves into (through graft, corruption, black market dealings at all levels of society and outright cooking of the books), Germany still finds it important that being rich or poor should not alter children's access to cultural enrichment: the latest welfare (Hartz IV) reform laws included funds to allow even the poorest access to music and art lessons and appreciation, as well as to forests and farms.

The new class teacher allowed T2 to join in, even though she is 6 months younger than the limit (as otherwise she would be sitting outside with me through the 2 hour class) and she is having a blast: the first time they went, I was in a class myself, and the German didn't bring any mahlkittles. That was swiftly corrected (through the loss of that dress) and the second class had them both wearing art smocks. They were out of the large smocks and we thought T1 could just wear an apron... wrong. Her new style is in the footsteps of Jackson Pollack and the speckles went everywhere: she will have a long-sleeved full size smock this week.

The best part is that the class is in our neighborhood, only a short U ride away, that there is a great cafe across the street (and a Thai place a few doors down) and that now the kids can attend together, giving me a 2 hour block when I can read or have a coffee rather than running around, stressing out because someone will need to miss something. The down side is that when we shuffled the swim classes to free Friday for both of them, they came up consecutive. But consecutive is still far better than on separate days, as they were last school year!

So now we are settled in to our schedule and until T1 earns her music lessons back (through doing her homework cheerfully), it means that we have two days home by 4 pm (when she has nachhilfe) and 1 by 5 pm (after tennis): a huge improvement on last year!

01 September 2011

What do I do during the day?

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_ky1bf81QrMw/TFhSuypQOrI/AAAAAAAAApQ/JE0YnlIpa8A/s1600/2658339647_db087cef22.jpgSomeone I consider a friend asked me this week, "what do you do during the day?". (and boy do I wish I looked that young and had a kitchen like that- although not in yellow.)

I looked at her, as she sat at my computer, finishing up work that she had not done (due to a computer problem) nor found a different way (than coming to my place on her schedule) to do and mentioned that I generally go to class during the day and that I was sitting there, available to her, because I have two weeks of vacation.

She had wondered why I couldn't join her on a walk starting in a different section of Berlin the following day, at 9 am: I pointed out that, after getting up at 6:15 , getting myself and the kids and their schoolwork and boxes read, driving them to school and returning, that I get home at between 8:40 and 9, on a good day, without traffic, and therefore couldn't be in a different section of Berlin ready to start walking at 9 am. Something that I thought she might know considering that I don't call her before 10 am because she is generally asleep.

This is a friend, and someone that I respect and I wonder: if she wonders what I do during the day, does she wonder what she does during the day?

I start at 6:15 am, as above. At 9 am I am in German class. At 1 pm I am generally home. At 3 pm I need to leave to get the children. After school we have tennis, art school, math nach-hilfe, swimming and going to playgrounds. Then I need to have a meal on the table, follow up on homework, read books, bathe children, set clothes and rucksacks out for the next day, put the kids to bed.

In the interstices I:
  • wash clothes and bedding for 4 (including sports classes and swim classes),
  • shop for 4 and cook for 3 (with the German here 3 nights a week being 4),
  • bake for the children and their classes,
  • make occasional visits to the drugstore/Apotheke for all the items not at a German store,
  • tidy our apartment (daily, with two kids),
  • go through clothes and switch them out/buy more if needed,
  • visit doctors (which generally requires missing class),
  • take care of our (pia) tenants in NY and the other (non-pia) rental in upstate (this week leakage in both houses due to Irene, luckily nothing worse),
  • manage the children's drs' appointments (5 in these three weeks, two being emergency orthodontist appointments)
  • try to deal with as much insurance interaction as I can, especially as we are in the process of switching over to German insurance and need to handle "the long tail", or deciding what we want to retain from the American side. On average, every doctor's visit here has required at least one interaction with the American insurance company beyond submitting a claim. Some have required multiple calls and submissions. The best thing we ever did was get an unlimited calling plan to the US, or we would lose money on our claims!
  • work on our taxes, consider legal action against a former tenant, think about doing German HW?
Whereas my friend, and many expat trailing spouses I know, have only to consider how to pencil in their social activities. They don't need to clean, because they are, perhaps, two adults in one apartment. That doesn't create a lot of mess.

In this case, my friend's husband has been traveling: she is alone, with no mess or responsibilities for weeks at a time. Does she mean to imply that I use my time poorly or frivolously? Does she believe that this two week period, when the kids are in school and when I am not yet in class, is too long a period not to require a scheduled activity? Most of the expat spouses I know (including this one) take a 4-8 week vacation over the summer with relatives in their home countries.

In this two week period, I took 5 days of cooking courses, had a birthday, went to the doctor, had an MRI, cared for my children alone for half of each week, spoke to teachers, went through a season's worth of clothes for three people, went shopping, cooked meals and cakes, edited a newsletter, wrote an apa, did all the ordinary things I always do— but had an extra 4 hours a day when I was not in class. I really enjoyed it: sitting on the ground, watching my way through Bones, working through paperwork and organizing the kids' last two years of paperwork, filling out applications for things and setting up vereins and classes. My apartment is a lot tidier than it is when I am in class.

But I wonder: does no one respect the work that the stay at home parent does? Speaking for myself, it's a lot more mind-numbing and harder than when I worked 10 hours a day out of the home and got both respect and a fat paycheck for it. I expect those who go out to work to, perhaps, not respect being a stay at home mom, but when those who don't work out of the home also disrespect the homemaker and parent, it's pretty depressing. And if my husband had to replace my work, it would cost him a pretty penny.
(edit: and now I am defiantly off to bake a Molasses Spice cake- what a frivolous use of my time- perhaps I should instead be doing something more meaningful?)