30 March 2012

What I am Reading: March 2012

This month will be quite light on reading: even though I spent quite a bit of time flying and relaxing, I spent most of that time either watching movies or reading my way through the 5 pounds of magazines I took with me (and left behind like Hansel and Gretel's trail). I had a month's worth of magazines waiting for me (Businessweek, Economist, Money, Newsweek, Time usw.), so my load wasn't much lighter (although more current) on the way back.
  1. Blood (9/2011) by K.J. Wignall: (Book one of the Mercian Trilogy) Making my way through ARCs, I pulled this one. An interesting cover (in ARC form) of white with splattered blood and raised black print. The protagonist is William of Mercer, changed at 16 to what he calls" the undead", for lack of a better term. For 750 years, he has not known why or who changed him, only that it took place at the time of the burning of seven women accused of witchcraft. Only later does he realize that the "witchcraft" was almost certainly due to the actions of whatever made him what he now is. William sleeps and wakes for long periods of time, but when he wakes now: things are different. He discovers people with knowledge and foreknowledge of him and connections to those who are responsible for him. He meets a girl who seems fated to b e part of his future and strands weave William and Eloise and others together- all pointing toward his ancestral home, where a boarding school is now sited. I thought this would be gorier than it was, which explains (I think) why they changed the cover to a more decorative., ornate (and bloodless- wait, that was the UK cover, the US had bare chest and blood) one and now I am, on the one hand, sorry that I put off reading it and on the other hand, glad that I did because it means that I have less time to wait until the next installment, Alchemy, is published this year.
  2. Ashes by Ilsa J. Blick (Sep 2011): THis is an ARC that seemed to be yet another of the zombie books that are the new (-ish) rage and it dropped to the bottom of my TBR pile. But as I was flipping through my pile, trying to decide what I wante dto read and what I didn't, this caught my interest. I have always been a lover of after the apocolypse stories. Since Nevil Schute's On the Beach (oh my heavens, was I a depressed child after that), Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon (fabulous book), King's The Stand (although the religious nonsense damaged the book), and many others. This book, rather than being silly, actually falls within the genre. There is a war. Of some kind. And massive EMPs that destroy all electronics and either kill one immediately (the middle-aged), change one (into what is a form of zombie- young people) or leave one alone (the old): based primarily on age. But there are a few who are either unaffected by what normally happened to their age groups or positively impacted (Alzheimer's patients wake up improved and active). The protagonist, teen-ager Alex, was dying from a brain tumor when it happened. But now she is well and improved, in a word where almost everyone her age is a Changed. It could happen to her as well. She is now an asset (to those who look to have the world continue), and a hated vision (to those who saw their loved ones killed by other young folk) and a reminder of what has been lost. There's a strange disconnect between the two halves of the book, important characters appear and disappear, but I enjoyed it tremendously, and am waiting the next book in what is a trilogy. I won't be certain until then whether this disconnect was required or a result of poor editing: in either case, I want to see what happens and the writing is great. The ending is one heck of a cliffhanger: the next will be Shadows, it will be out in 9/12, and I can't wait to read it.
  3. Echoes of Betrayal (2012) by Elizabeth Moon: How unfair is this? When I started reading the new series by Moon (Paladin's Legacy), revisiting the world of Paksenarrion for the first time in 20 years, it was supposed to be a trilogy. Now, it seems that it will be 5 books. This is terrible (I want to know what happens)! This is great (I am enjoying every word of each book- I have read this twice since getting it)! This is terrible (two more years- at least- until I know what happens to everyone)! As you can tell, I am torn. Here I am in the third and now I need to wait another year! I don't actually want to talk about the plot- as the third in what seems to be a 5 book sequence, how could it not be a plot spoiler? Just to say, I loved it, I enjoyed the ride, I can't wait for the next.
  4. Intruder (March 2012) by CJ Cherryh: Finally got the (awaited) book 13 in the Foreigner series. I enjoyed reading last year's book only a week ago so much that it makes me consider hording the next for a year (I won't, but that's because I couldn't make myself not read it). (I did order a few of her older books used in the US and brought them back with me to fill the void.) I loved that Cajeiri had a significant portion of the book's POV: I like him more than Bren, I think. Since he is an atevi who has been, almost, raised with humans, his POV is fascinating. He is almost a Third Culture Kid and I hope he remains an important protagonist as he integrates back into his own society, allowing the reader to integrate with him.
  5. Fair Game (March 2012) by Patricia Briggs: An Alpha and Omega book. Charles is feeling the weight of his use as "deadly enforcer" in the new world with werewolves outed to the public eye. As the child of a Native American shaman and the only "born" werewolf, he is susceptible to the weight of the ghosts of the lives he has taken and he is crumbling under it. Thrown in a serial killer who appears to be targeting fae and half-fae and a look at the interactions of the federal agencies who deal with the paranormal and it's another great read.
  6. The Cloud Roads (2/2011)and
  7. The Serpent Sea by (12/2011) Martha Wells: The first was a freebie from Amazon and it served its purpose- hooked me in so that as soon as I finished it I ordered the sequel and read it in the airplane on the way back. It reminded me a bit of Tepper's Mavin Many-Shaped (the True Game series ), with an amnesiac Changer. It also reminded me very much of Dawn Cook's Truth series (Cook now writes as NYT best selling author Kim Harrison). Great books, I'm glad the third in the trilogy will be out within the year (because David Gerrold and GRRM have burned me greatly on series) and I greatly enjoyed them (it's super to really enjoy the book you have on the airplane). I read it rather than watch the tedious second shift movie (the remake of Footloose. Mehh.) and immediately looked (as I was standing in the immigration line) for the not-as-yet published third. I will read Wells' other books while I am waiting.

15 March 2012

Dutch Baby

(will be re-posted to February 5, when I cooked it)

I am always searching for more interesting ways to cook food that is simple enough that the kids will eat it, yet interesting enough that I am not bored by it, and that is relatively fast to make. This dish, called a Dutch Baby, seemed to fit the requirements. I first saw it mentioned on Simply Recipes, called a Dutch Baby and then rummaged around the internets a bit and also found them on Smitten Kitchen, called German Pancakes. I like the second recipe (Deb Perelman's) better (fewer ingredients) so that's what you see above. Incredibly simple.

I made two of them, topped one with raspberries out of the freezer (macerated, while the pancakes, were cooking with just a little OJ and sugar), and split one Dutch Baby between the German and myself and the other (they had theirs with much more powdered sugar) between my two girls.

We were all pleased.

German Pancakes, aka Dutch Babies
(based on Smitten Kitchen's recipe above)

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 T sugar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 T room temp butter
  • some vanilla, or lemon juice, or orange juice, or cinnamon, to taste
Pre-heat oven to 200C, butter two 9 inch cake pans or pyrex pie plates. Crack eggs into bowl and mix until light yellow (using beater or stab mixer). Add remaining ingredients and continue beating. Pour into pans and bake 20 minutes, then reduce temperature to 175C and bake an additional 10 minutes. Watch last 5 minutes to make certain it does not overcook.
Traditionally served with lemon slices, powdered sugar, and a ridiculous amount of melted butter (which we don't ever do).

Can macerate unsweetened fresh or frozen fruit with citrus juice and sugar, and top pancakes with it either hot or cold. Or powdered sugar. Or maple syrup. Or what tickles your fancy.

Fast, easy, and looks impressive.

09 March 2012

Ruminations on Public and Private Health Insurance in Germany part 1

I have spent the past month being ill and in the process I have had the chance to see how the public health insurance system in Germany works. That's not unusual, because the majority of Germans (87%+) are members of the public system, which is not, as is the NHS in Britain, free, but rather based on a percentage (up to 15.5%, half paid by employers) of income and capped at an income that may be increased (approx. 63k in 2009, much as the US' social security deductions cap out over 100k).

(The Wikipedia article on German Health Insurance is quite good. The Bundesministerium for Health publishes some articles in English as well as being thoroughly descriptive in German. Here's a good article from the American view on the system.)

What is unusual is having been on private insurance for the last 4 years and then moving into public and thus being able to directly compare them in this way. To be allowed to move into the private system in Germany, one needs to make a certain amount (50,850€ in 2012) and the move is one-way: like a roach motel, you can enter but then you can never leave. That is, you can reduce your income for over a year to below the threshold, but most people in the situation where they would want to change back— getting married, having children, getting old— couldn't afford the loss.

Also, after the age of 55, as far as I know there is no path back into public, so even losing one's job in a country where age discrimination is rampant could leave one facing an increasingly unaffordable insurance bill.

However, in our case, we have had American expat(private) insurance as my husband was seconded here and therefore we were allowed to have non-German insurance. When he moved to the German firm at the end of the year, we needed to make a decision as to what insurance we would move to. Complicating the issue, 1. he had never been previously insured in Germany, so could not return to his prior public (he left Germany while in school and covered under family insurance), 2. the law in Germany did not allow non-EU nationals from countries without public plans to enter into public if they would not be ordinarily eligible.

This was such a stressor that we considered moving to the Swiss firm or the British firm, either of which would have allowed us to enter immediately into the national health schemes. The difference in cost between private and public here in Germany, for our family with a non-working spouse and two children, was such as to make our remaining here unaffordable, as well as seriously disadvantaging the children. We got as far as discussing the advantages of moving when there was an anticipated revision of the law to allow workers the one-time opportunity to enter public if they had not previously been insured in Germany and it was determined that the German's previous private cover (by his parents' insurance) did not count.


So, in my time here in Germany, as a private patient, I have had: unscheduled emergency surgery, standard things such as mammos and colonoscopies, emergency room visits for breathing issues, pneumonia, specialists, MRIs, dermatology visits and ordinary and specialised vaccinations. My kids and husband have had the standard, with a sprinkling of allergist, dermatologists, and so on.

Before we moved to public, we talked to all of our doctors and to our dentist (whom we adore- he is the best we have had in years). They all assured us that there is no difference in treatment between public and private patients, other than private versus public room certain other clearly defined differences: Germany sets a minimum required amount of coverage, all insurances adhere to it, and differentiation is in the extras that are given.

The minimum is quite generous: if I could have paid less by taking out acupuncture and other non-scientific remedies, I certainly would have. Germany invented the quack science of homeopathy and although there is pushback against the public insurances paying for it, many insurances do.

Next part- what we chose, why, and how the execution has gone.