31 December 2011

(Berlin 2009)
A Very Happy New Year to all, Ein Guten Rutsch und ein Gutes Neues Jahr

What I am reading: December 2011

I started reading the first 2 last month (in the case of the McAdams for the second time), but didn't finish reading them before December started. I read Joan Hess' Claire Malloy #4 in June, and the 7,8, 15 and 16th in October, but am re-reading them as I wrap them up to send back to Mom.

I fell a bit behind in book reading as, although I had no German class this month, there was quite a bit going on with the kids, the holidays, and running around. Did a bit of magazine reading catch up.
  1. Bon Courage: rediscovering the Art of Living (in the Heart of France) (2010) by Ken McAdams: Interesting story of a man who, with his second wife, made a new life in France. Decently written for a first attempt by a non-writer (originally pilot). From my area of the states, so always more interesting:-).
  2. Dear Miss Demeanor (1987) by Joan Hess:I think this is (yes, it is)actually the 3rd in the Claire Malloy, book seller sleuth, mystery series and although short, it reads well. A classic cyanide mystery and a display of the romance with Peter Rosen, police detective. Incredible to think that the romance will take another 20 years to resolve! Claire is dragged in as a substitute teacher to Farber High, when the journalism teacher is accused of embezzlement (perhaps certification for substitutes isn't required in some states?). I really liked the characterization and the story line, although I figured out the answer far before Claire did.
  3. A Diet to Die For (1989) by Joan Hess: The 5th Claire Malloy. Still struggling along with her book business (but never as scared as I was when I struggled with my own business- I wonder if she has a huge insurance policy from her late husband that allows her to pay for health insurance for herself and daughter Caron? And to never worry about rent or food or keeping a business together?) but able to take the time to detect. "Hires" an assistant to help out her neighbor (but whose wages are paid for by the neighbor) and the assistant, a future heiress, first has mood swings, then has a mysterious heart attack. Is it related to a mysterious and fatal heart attack suffered by a young student athlete at Farber College. Enjoyable.
  4. Death by the Light of the Moon (1992) by Joan Hess: Next up, the 7th Claire Malloy. A re-read. Claire forces Carl to Loisiana to meet her grand-mother on her deceased father's side: the Southern side of the family she doesn't know. Dripping with Spanish moss, but interesting. Too bad the family connections don't show in any of the following books.
  5. Poisoned Pins (1993) by Joan Hess: And the 8th. Reading these through again, in order, makes me realize a few things. First, I have read more of these than I had thought. And second, it's annoying having so much external time pass by and yet so little time within the series. Here, Claire reminisces on being a "co-ed" in the early 70's, yet in the 90's, she is not yet 40. Which is fair. But as I keep reading the series into 2010, Claire remains just 40 and her daughter Caron still hasn't made the span from 14 to 18. This involves the sorority next door to Claire's apartment: the 4 girls staying over the summer all seem to have issues, but the one who is killed in what seems to be a hit-and-run seems to have hidden (and murky) depths. Still no real development of her relationship with Peter Rosen.
  6. Closely Akin to Murder (1996) by Joan Hess: Claire Malloy #11.I can see that my numbering has been thrown off because some books in the series are not out from St. Martin's, but from Minotaur. Eg, this isn't listed on the inside flap of my other books. I really did not like the plot of this story- a cousin Claire thought was dead returns and asks for help in finding a blackmailer.Depressing story and depressing ending.
  7. A Holly, Jolly Murder (1997) by Joan Hess: At last a Claire Malloy (#12) that I have not read before. But it was not as good as Mummy, Dearest. With several characters being Wiccan and pagan, I found the tone dismissive and patronizing. It's a religion and I don't see the need to be intolerant of it. Also, although I understand that this is a mystery series and therefore, there needs to be a murder, reading all these Hess' so close together is making me think that if I knew Claire Malloy, I would move far away from her: talk about Red Shirts! It's lucky she dates the head of the CID, because any police officer should consider someone involved with so many murders to be a very suspicious person. Farberville must have a homicide rate higher than that of Washington, DC. I see there is a cross-over from her Maggody series, but I am unfamiliar with it, so I didn't get a kick from it.
  8. A Conventional Corpse (2000) by Joan Hess: (Claire Malloy #13)A mystery convention is being held at Farber College and Claire is only supposed to be the bookseller when she is roped in to replace the organizer and general gofer. The mystery writers all share an editor, who appears without warning. A fan dies "accidently" and then the editor as well. The ending was incredibly outre for this type of mystery. I did like the look at the world of a tiny convention, though. SPOILER: A grande dame of the cozy world confesses to the murder, but although it is never stated, it seems clear that she has tidied up the actual murder and that murderer will go free. It also seems that all the characters other than, perhaps Claire and it seems certainly Peter Rosen, are aware of this.
  9. Mummy Dearest (2008) by Joan Hess: The latest at #17. Good heavens. 27 years in reality, 3-4 in book time, and Claire and Peter are finally hitched. This is dedicated to Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels and there is a hat tip to Lady Emerson on page 35 and then throughout the novel, which I found tremendously amusing. In fact, having read all these Hess' in close proximity, it's clear that this entire novel was infused with Mertz' Elizabeth Peters style and I enjoyed it very much. Luxor, Cairo, digs, stolen antiquities and a honeymoon: what's not to like?
  10. Fate's Edge (2011) by Ilona Andrews: I waited for this to be published, I ordered it in from the UK, it was delayed and I could bear it no longer so I got it on Kindle and then I got an e-mail saying it was being shipped. Color me annoyed. But not with the book. I'm so enjoying both her series, though this one is just a bit more- should I say it? edgy.
  11. Death at the Spring Plant Sale (2003) by Ann Ripley: Louisa Eldridge is in the third year of her job as a full time host of a PBS plant show. Her latest show was to be covering the Bethesda Garden Club's famous annual plant show— she has a long time friend who is a member of the club. However, the president of the club, wife of a parallel world Fed Chairman, it seems, is murdered. Or was it a failed assassination attempt? I enjoyed this greatly.
  12. Mind over Murder (2011)by Allison Kingsley: A Raven's Nest Bookstore Mystery. I generally like mysteries that have as protagonists bookstore owners or operators or writers. This one was a bit of a mixed bag though: Small Maine island bookstore, tight knit family, prodigal daughter with psychic abilities... It looks as if this was her debut, so perhaps the writing will become tighter and the plot a little denser. This felt a bit like a popcorn romance- all fluff but no substance. I enjoyed the fluff, but I need my books to have a bit more. A neighboring and nasty store owner is discovered dead in the book store (why was she there?) and an employee is suspected. Cousin of the owner, psychic-in-denial Clara, needs to get to the bottom of the problem. Particularly as her brakes stop working and it seems as if the murderer may be after her as well. There's the set up for a future romance with the owner of the hardware store as well.

24 December 2011

Thoughts on the holiday spirit.

It's the end of 2011 and a week or so ago I received an e-mail in my role as an officer of multinational group. I have anonymized the letter, because I don't think anyone needs the identity of the writer or the group to look at the concepts and thoughts behind the writing.

(As a pertinent piece of information, the group is not just multinational and multi-ethnic, the German membership has a hard 20% cap to retain the "multi kulti" aspect—otherwise, in groups of this nature, the standard progression is that foreigners move away, Germans do not, and clubs become increasingly German.-At the moment, we have a several year waiting list of Germans.)
Dear Ladies

After due consideration and having read the following email, I decided to share my thoughts on this matter.

I am a member of X for approximately 18 years and have seen a lot of changes, mostly positive. However, every year when I receive the X newsletters, I find it disturbing, when I read the "Festive Season Dinner" or "December Festive Season Event" instead of "Christmas Dinner/Event". My question is - What are we celebrating? 'Why has the word Christmas been dismissed over the years? I am told it is politically correct to do so. Who are we insulting? Who are we trying to placate? Who feels threatened? I have served on X for a number of years and during my terms as X, my colleagues and I reverted to using the word Christmas, which we felt was correct and proper. I have the greatest respect for other holidays e.g. Hanukkha, Ramadan, Diwali and so on, and wish my friends all the best for the specific holiday and not the general in-term Happy Festive Season as I join them in celebrating. .Likewise, as a Christian, I would like the same respect. I would also like to remind everyone, that although we come from all parts of the world, we are based in Germany.

I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a healthy, successful and exciting 2012.

This was my response:

Hi X-
You sent this to me, not to "separate collective e-mail". So let me answer. I'm not Christian. I don't celebrate Christmas. Neither do many members of X. Therefore we have a holiday party.

If you would like to have a club that is open to only Christians or which has a religious basis and underpinning, you are welcome to found one. I don't see any pertinence to the article you included, by the way [a ridiculous "war against Christmas article"]. I also don't have a (pagan) tree in my home and find it strange that Christians have stolen the trappings of the Druidic rituals and slapped a Christian term on it.

Happy holidays,


I thought about this before writing my response, before ending it and before starting to write it up in this blog post. The German spouse was more incensed than I, and suggested that I should have stated that in an effort to be more inclusive in future I should have mentioned that we will be using sharia law to adjudicate organizational disputes and signed off with a cheery Merry Kwanzaa.

I could ask, who does this person think she is? But I know who she thinks she is. She thinks she has the right to make me, and others who do not belong to her narrow culture, strangers in our land. To make us invisible and to be offended when we refuse to walk behind her, to step to the side, to be at the back of the bus, and most importantly: to be quiet. The sheer hypocrisy of stating that she allow each person to celebrate their occasion and wants the "right" to celebrate her own (by which she means to force the acknowledgement, supremacy and celebration of her religious beliefs and holidays on others) and then ending her mail by wishing me- a Jew- a merry Christmas, just demonstrates her falseness.

All animals are equal. But some are more equal than others.

23 December 2011

Before we leave


And I had to make this 4 times (T2 gave out on the 4th round, so I could have some).

So doubling the recipe is now a given and I'm guessing that as my 5 and 8 year olds continue to grow a quadrupling will also become standard.

19 December 2011

Fun house mirror.

This morning while I was helping T2 with her boots, she told me that one foot was tighter than the other.

Since it has gotten cold and she has had to wear boots and not sneakers, she has moaned every day that they were too tight: I thought that she was just pulling my leg again. In the past, I could make her happy by pulling on the tongue or adjusting her socks (because the boots are not tight).

I took them off and played with them and put them back on: she still lives in a magical world where I can make her boots change size by doing so. But she complained again that one foot was too tight.

So I took them off to check.

Yes, one boot was 28/29 and the other was 30/31! I had bought both pairs at Tchibo last year, when the girls actually had different size feet (T2 is now only 1/2 size behind T1 and I'm guessing will surpass her next year).

I pulled out another pair of T1's old boots (T2 has 3 to choose among) and took her to kita, hoping that I had not donated the other half of each pair to charity (or friends) already.

Took about 15 minutes of digging and I came up with the other 2 boots— that's a relief!

17 December 2011

Sony Centre and Potsdamer Platz Weihnachtsmarkt

On Saturday night we booked our babysitter for the last time this year. The plan had been to wander the Gendarmenmarkt, which I think the most charming and classic of Berlin's Weihnachtmarkts.

But it was raining.

So instead we went to see Mission Impossible: The Ghost Protocol at Sony Centre. (We enjoyed it although I was annoyed the sub-plot pertaining to Ethan's wife: it made absolutely no sense.) Then dinner at Vapiano, a quick and rainy look at the Potsdamer Platz Weihnachtsmarkt and home again.

(I like the architecture of Sony Centre very much: a great use of what was a bombed out and empty space and I am not much of a one for Weihnachtsmarkts unless it's snowing and they look cute: I don't eat many traditional, pig-based German foods, I don't enjoy crowds, and my alcohol tastes run more to the red wine and less to the anise/cardamom scented Glühwein. So I didn't really feel deprived.)
(photo courtesy of website)

15 December 2011

She's so chic.

It's amazing to realize how big T2 is now.

She chose this outfit by herself, dressed by herself, and can wear T1's boots from last year.

Where did my baby go?

09 December 2011

Priceline and rental cars.

I want to make a digression to talk about one of my favorite companies: Priceline.

I only wish that I could Priceline my trips from Europe to the US (they don't allow it with trips originating in Europe:-( ) because the amount of money that I have saved on vehicle rentals is absolutely amazing. We rented a car for one day from Miami airport at 35% of the cheapest rate we could find (for a minivan, which turned out to be a fully loaded Town & Country), but got the car from a top three company.

We decided to rent the car for one day only because the prices from an airport location are substantially higher (on a daily basis, not a one-time) than those of a vehicle rented from a non-airport location due to an airport surcharge. In the past we had taken a shuttle to an off-site location, but in this case we were both time-constrained and expecting to be exhausted.

We then booked the much longer package, at a 60+% savings off the daily rate, 44% of the weekly, that evening. It turned out that (on the day we booked, although not on the day we had booked the first rental!) we were able to get a very good rate at a different airport, which must have had an oversupply of minivans (they must have been renting briskly at MCO aka Disney).

We were able to drop our Miami van off at FLL without any penalty, pick up our new one (also a T&C, though this one was not leather) in less than 30 minutes and continue on our way to meet the parents. This was foreshadowing that we were actually supposed to drop this van off at FLL (we expected to take an airport shuttle to Miami, but when we saw the price for 4 of us, said "No way!") and wound up taking it to Miami (which has a handy gas station less than a mile from the rental drop off area, and also has a wonderful monorail directly to the terminal— just sayin'!) instead.

Priceline saved us an incredible amount of money (particularly as more than 30% of the cost of the rental was the taxes and fees, all of which are based on the base contract cost). It took some time, some logging in and out, some basic calling to get expected amounts, and some bravado, but it was well worth the time spent.

---They also have great rates on hotels , but between points and discounts, and because I also like to know exactly where I am staying, I stick to my free (points) rooms or look over at hotels.com (or hotels.de which strangely sometimes has even better prices on hotels in Orlando than hotels.com.).

(edit: I received no compensation for sounding like an ad, but if you have a good experience one day, I'll be glad someone else save money too.)

08 December 2011

Florida! part 1

Vacation! We did so much that it will be hard to put it into a few posts.
  • From Berlin to Miami, then a one day car rental (through Priceline) and a few hours drive north to where my family was staying (close to my brother and where my niece would be Bat Mitzvahed).
  • Then a few hours south the next morning to visit a friend who I miss a lot. He's in prison and I am deeply sad that I don't live in the US and can't be a real support to him from out of the country. It took a lot of phone calls before I left to set up seeing him and the authorities were very kind to help me out and set up permission at relatively short notice.
  • Up again for the rehearsal dinner before my niece's Bat Mitzvah. Got to chat with some folks I haven't seen since my brother's wedding and was happy to have the family down time.
  • Bat Mitzvah and then the reception and then dinner/party. My niece did a wonderful job and I was completely impressed by her ability and maturity. I was terribly sorry to have missed my older niece's bat mitzvah and it was because we regretted that so deeply that we filed (six months ago!) for permission to take T1 out of school (not a thing lightly taken or easily allowed in Germany) so that we could be there for this. Beside the great work and care and study that V showed, it was really clear how well she and S are growing up and I was greatly moved by the depth of their affection for each other and their dad and by their dignity and maturity. It was a privilege to be able to share this moment and the other times we were able to spend with them while in Florida. I really hope to be able to spend some more time with them in the next year.
  • Met up with V and S the next day to hang at the beach and chat and then drove down to meet my parents in the evening.
  • Monday: Went down to visit B again. This time my parents and our friend L. watched the kids, which was a great relief as the visiting area at the prison was not kid/family friendly. We were not allowed to bring any games or books or toys or crayons or paper and pencil in for them to play with. I can understand that there are rules against contraband, but I spoke to the administration about whether it would be able to donate kids' books, toys or games for the visiting center (as shipments to inmates are allowed through Amazon and other on-line retailers) and was told: no. The multiple Bibles they had available were the only material they would allow. In a world where the goal is theoretically rehabilitation and that goal has been proven to be bettered when inmates retain family ties, when it takes so long to get to a prison (built in the backwoods) and so long to get through security to both enter and leave the prison (45 minutes to enter, 20+ to leave), how can making visiting untenable for families, children, mothers with small children (this was a man's prison, minimum security- what's it like at tougher prisons?) make any sense? I told the girls: no matter what, if you should ever be in a position where you might need to be imprisoned, take that term in Europe. Where the scale might be a bit to the light side, but the goal is not punitive, but what is best for society.
  • And back to dinner at an interesting buffet with parents, friend and children: a super salad bar, with soups and pasta and desserts available as well. I spent my time at the salad bar, as I miss that so much here in Germany. Great prices for seniors and children.
  • Tuesday was running about and doing chores, having a ring re-sized (arthritis took my wedding and engagement rings up a size and the price to enlarge them here- as well as the necessity of sending them away- made me instead just not wear them). A local store did the smything while I waited for one ring and I left the other- price was 1/3 what it was here. We also had our nails done (the kids started while I waited). The girls had their standard sparkling nail polish on fingers and toes and I tried out the new "gel" manicure: I wanted cobalt blue but the German recommended a sparkling white (to go with T1's sparkling pink and T2's sparkling purple). I was a bit hesitant, but it looked great in the Florida sunshine and in the sparkling pool water. Now that I'm back in grey, cold, drizzly Germany it looks a bit inappropriate. However, it's been 17 days and I still have a full manicure, without a crack or a chip. Since I usually chip them within 5 minutes, this is absolutely amazing. I'm not certain how I will be able to remove the lacquer, but I will look to see if I can find a place here in Berlin that does this (and use a more Berlin style dark and non-sparkly color). Though with my procrastinating ways, that could take a few more weeks.
  • That evening we had an amazing dinner at a restaurant called Seasons 52. Charming seasonal menu, with no entree having a calorie count above 450. I certainly tasted noshort-cuts in the delicious meals: I had seared Ahi tuna and the German filet mignon (which we split between us). The children had mini-pizzas and my parents had trout and a chicken dish, all of which were wonderful.

Wednesday we left for Disney and that will be a new post.

06 December 2011

Catching Up

View from the Spree this summer
One of these days I will finish up and publish the posts about our vacation, but right now I'm just catching my breath in a lazy day at home (doing some tidying and decluttering, but not laundry).

It's been a week and the German has been working like mad with T1 helping her to catch up on the work that she has missed (I don't think that we can take time off in the school year again- it's too hard catching up). So far, I have helped her with two classes and a test, he has helped with another two and she had a test yesterday and I hope that she can be prepared for a catch-up math test this week. Whew.

Orthodontist yesterday and swimming class today. Tomorrow I hope a swimming exam that will get her the Silver medal she should have had last year. Thursday nachhilfe and Friday art and then a deep breath and perhaps some fun on the weekend, rather than studying. Last week we were all in a stupor of exhaustion and I think we have finally caught up on our sleep.

The washing machine broke on Sunday and although the German has been working on it (taking things apart and replacing them), we need professional help. So I'll be hanging about tomorrow, missing a planned holiday lunch, waiting for the repairman (and it will be a man- this is Germany) to show up. I ran two loads yesterday, with the German draining the water out through a pipe, wringing the towels (ouch- not good for arthritic hands) and using the dryer as well as hanging the more delicate items. We can't last very long without a washer: right now the pile fills a basket and I should be changing the sheets tomorrow.

Back to my coffee and Castle, while I sort through more paperwork. Next commercial break I will run the bio, glass and paper down to the cellar. The clothes for donation are in the car (there's a collection point by my girls' school) and the plastic bags for the kita are also waiting for drop off.