Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I've Been Moved....

 Dear readers and friends, for reasons I'm not understanding myself yet completely but I've been told are very sound and professional I have moved my blog to Wordpress.
This idea was Margit's, who suggested I do this so I can publish my blog as ebook there, which she highly recommends (she really thinks my writing is good enough for that, and in a weak moment I believed her... she is a professional editor and copywriter after all).
So I spend all day yesterday getting acquainted with Wordpress and exporting and importing and page building, and now I'm quite pleased with the result.
Wordpress is indeed easy to handle and a lot sleeker than blogger.

If you have enjoyed my blogging attempts so far and wish to read on, please visit my new site at wordpress, under the same title and name.


Here is the link for you! See you there.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Have This Friend.....

You know, Hollywood is nothing.
Hollywood tells us how our dreams have to look, they give us PICTURES.
But Twitter, it gives us ideas, and then we can make the movies ourselves, in our heads. For instance, I have this one friend, Lanny, and she is the nicest and friendliest person, but I have no idea how she looks like or what she is really up to.
Only from her tweets, I have made this up about her:

Image you are leaving Paris to go to New York. It's early in the morning and you have just arrived and left your taxi, still annoyed at the driver ( he could be an evil-mooded Frenchman who hates the traffic at this time of day, or an immigrant who does not know his way around that well yet and got lost a couple of times, while you rant at him because you are afraid you'll miss your plane), and you step inside Charles de Gaulle to find it fairly crowded. It's filled with that typical airport smell of air conditioner, a whiff of kerosene,  lots of coffee, some fresh bread and luggage, the sounds of people chatting in a million languages, the ubiquitous announcer that no one ever can understand, and a couple of irritated screaming kids. Beside you on the escalator is a family from somewhere in the Middle East, the man up front and the veiled woman a few steps behind with a gaggle of children around her, up ahead some American tourists discussing the sights they have just seen on their trip through Europe, and a group of very efficient business travelers, and more tourists.

Despite your disinterested cabby, you are in good time, and the line for check-in is not too long. There is time for a cup of coffee and a croissant.
At an airport of this size, there are of course a number of places to get that, so you pick one that is relatively quiet and where the girl behind the counter does not look too sleepy.  In Paris of course, you get wonderful croissants, and if you are clever, you don't order  French coffee but something more international, let's say a Latte (honestly, the Italians are a lot better at making coffee).
And while you wait for that waitress to get your breakfast, you see this girl:

She looks as fresh as the dawn despite the early hour, and hey, NO sensible traveling clothes for her.
Oh no, Lanny is much too stylish for that. And of course she has a little more luggage than that, but that is being transported (Louis Vuitton, you know) by an obliging service man.
Lanny glides past like a fairy, utterly sure of where she wants to go, she has been here millions of times. Her face shows a trace of boredom, and she radiates a sense of being gone already, as if her mind is ahead of her at her destination. She is the epitome of a traveler, not really here anymore, but not completely gone yet either.
With a brief glance at her watch she sits down in one of the rest chairs in the lounge.

And as you sip your coffee you watch her get out her notebook to send off some tweets.
Transient. That is the word that comes to mind, seeing Lanny.
She belongs to no one, and yet she is never really alone. There is always someone waiting for her.
It is quite obvious she must be either in the fashion business or at least working for a fashion magazine, there is so much natural elegance and style about her.  Who else could type on those small keys so fast with those fingernails and the softly chiming gold bracelets? And the way she manages to cross her legs, that is well rehearsed. Oh, and no one else could carry off that hat at this time of day with so much grace.
A waiter serves her a cup of tea, which she accepts with a slight nod and another quick look at her watch.
Your flight is called, and she rises ahead of you to walk to the gate.
Boarding the plane, you catch a brief glimpse of her as she is being escorted to Fist Class before you fumble past your fellow travelers into your miserable middle seat and try to get comfortable for the long trans-Atlantic flight, and no wonder she will look rested and glamorous when you reach New York.

A few days later, strolling down 5th Avenue, a Maple Walnuts ice cream cone in your paw, dressed in comfortable tourist clothes, you might run into her again.

She is where she belongs, no?
But get it right, my friend: the plane ticket to Rio is in her purse already.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Day On The Beach

This year, after many cool years, we at last have a summer that is worth its name, with long, hot, sunny days and warm, still nights. So we went to the North Sea to spend a few days.
This is my son on the day we arrived, when the weather was not quite so nice, and no, he is not trying to part the waters to walk to America, but those clouds barely gave us time to dip our toes into the water and get back to the car. The sea, by the way, is a lot warmer than it looks. It was nearly as warm as the Mediterranean and the sand clean and lovely.
Sadly, that day it rained.
The following days we returned, and we mainly did this:

which means. the Kid tried to fly his kite for about ten seconds, and then I unraveled the cord for the next thirty minutes.  Second attempt at flying, another half hour unraveling..... and so on, until dinner time. I tried to get him to ask the more "professional" kite flyers for tips, but he refused... and I had to unravel again.

Thankfully, there was respite, with lunch, in lovely restaurants like this one.  Those fries look harmless, but they were more than excellent, and fresh made!
And should you wonder about the sock monkeys, please go visit our facebook page, the "Sisterhood Of The Mae Monkeys", for clarification.  All that needs to be said here is, thank you, Pea, for the wonderful idea.
Our hotel was this pretty house, right across from the restaurant.

The nicest house in the village. It really felt good to sit in the yard across the street and watch the many people who stopped and tok snapshots of it, and to know we were staying there.
This is the garden in the back of that house, right next to the path leading to the beach:

We used to sit in this place in the evenings and chat with the owner, and he told us stories about how the village was founded, and how people settled on the tine islands called "Halligen" just off the shore, and how they carve out a living there with their sheep and cattle, and how he and his wife bought the house twenty years ago and turned an old milk shop into a small but first-class hotel. We got recommendations where to go and buy the best smoked fish and homemade bread and which beaches to visit, and he told us not to think of buying a house there until we had visited the place at least ten times for vacation during  the different seasons, not that we had plans for doing that.
The beach is endless. You have to walk about half a mile to get from your car to the water, not a good thing for me right now with my broken back. And the public toilets are these houses:

I mean the one in the background, on the stilts. The stairs were NO fun.
Don't worry thought, there are pipes. The waste does not drop from up there into the water. It is quite clean. The bathroom, I mean. Oh, and yes, the beach and the water too.
There is another building like that a little further down the beach where they - supposedly - serve the best scrambled egg with North Sea shrimps and dark bread. Don't know if it's as good as the rumor, we never tried it. The stairs, you know.

Oh, one more thing. My son, age 15, tried his first ever coffee. And decided not to like it.

Can you see our hotel in the background?

We had to come home early because I was too ill for vacationing, but the few days we spent there was fun. And we'll try again next year. Maybe by then we'll also know how to fly a kite.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Because Ginny asked....

My dear Ginny, a wonderful facebook friend from Houston, after reading a "status" I had posted, asked if we rehearsed right up to showtime, and this made me think about a performance day really goes.
It also made me think of the little peak of iceberg others see when the curtain opens for my girls, of the many hours and weekends we put into it, and how "terrible" a show day is.
I'll try to give you a glimpse of the rest of the mountain.

This is what my troupe looked like 30 minutes before the show( photo courtesy of Fiona Ransom).
They are groomed, dressed, relaxed (more or less), well rehearsed and excited to take to the stage.


8am: School begins. For all of the kids, this is a normal school day. Which means they really don't want to be there at all, and MAN math is boring today, and can't we start rehearsals early? Do we REALLY have to go to class? Well yes, for a while, you need to. Sorry folks.
Generally, I'm in the teachers' room, getting the final copy of the CD and lyrics sheets ready ( you can BET someone forgot theirs). Which does not mean they will need them at night at all, but those papers are like a security belt during the day.

10.25am: the "big" break. A cluster of students outside the teachers' room, wanting to know if there's anything they need to know, do, change.... go outside, eat something, chill. Please.

12.00 noon: my technicians ( two 9th graders and two 5th graders) and I go over to the auditorium to start the set up. The school bought a really nice sound and light equipment for us, as far as schools go, a couple of years ago, and spent about 10k$ for it. And it is EXCLUSIVELY ours. No one else in the school is allowed to use it. And we have really, really good microphones ( the same brand Neil Diamond used on his tour in 2008.... made me feel very important!). The boys will do a sound check, of course, and I time how long it will take for our headmistress to show up and complain about the noise.... after all, the rest of the school is still having lessons. No matter. We like to announce that it is show day.

1pm: the girls start to arrive. Some of them have their lunch in hand and have to stay outside (NO eating in the auditorium!!!), the others use the stage as couch. The usual picture would be: four or five teenagers lying around on their tummies, cell phones or iPods in hand, sharing and talking about music.

1.15pm: the first pantyhose emergency.

2pm: rehearsals start in earnest. First nervous breakdown because someone forgot her lyrics and needs a sheet < why I was in school early and made new copies.

2.10pm: trouble with the microphone cables. Ildal throws a tantrum. Only a mild one, and it is over as soon as I hand over my own, privately-owned Sennheiser mike. For now.

3pm: We did the setlist once, and there are no major flaws. The girls are getting nervous because they want to dress up. I tell them they have another four hours, and to relax. We call a break. Despite dire threats to life and general well-being two or three disappear to the church yard across the street for a cigarette. My hubby brings me something to eat and fresh coffee.
By now, my son Mario has joined us and gets sound and light properly rigged with the boys. Suddenly, the music sounds a lot better and the disco lights are working..... the auditorium is darkened, stage magic appears. The atmosphere changes, and the kids' mood with it.
This is a moment I love every time we perform, and it is very tangible.
Only a moment before, we were at school and rehearsing, now we are in a venue, and getting ready to perform.

4pm: our dressers show up. The performers retire to the dressing rooms below the stage to get ready.

4.10: second pantyhose emergency

4.30: lipstick and mascara emergency

4.33: another speech about how NOT to use perfume before you go on stage. Geez.

4.45: Ildal takes her second tantrum, this time worse and LOUDER!!!! than the one before. Her voice sounds especially dramatical in the basement hallway.

5pm: At least half of the teachers notice now that they did not buy tickets for the show and want some.
Which is distracting but nice, because it means they will come.

5.12: third pantyhose emergency, and first dress emergency. Frantic calls to older mothers and sisters, who show up minutes later with alternate clothing.

5.25: Ildal ( who is 18) and a couple of others who aren't need another cigarette.

5.30: fourth pantyhose emergency, because Ildal sat  down on a bench in the church yard and tore hers.

5.58: first bra emergency

6.00: box office opens. A couple of older brothers sell tickets and do security duty. Some 5th graders try to wheedle their way in without paying, which is sternly denied.

6.10: a brief warm up in the basement hallway. Chasing out some curious 10th grade boys at the same time.

6.22: second bra emergency. The safety pins and tape come out of my big bag.

6.25: Ildal throws her third tantrum, this time with tears and vows to quit RIGHT NOW. She is sent off for another cigarette with the admonition to return ASAP because her make up has to be redone.

6.30: the gates open. I'm not yet changed, sweaty and exhausted and near panic. And - uh oh - the mayor of our city walks up to me and shakes my sticky paw. That's just what I wanted. Well, he is also my boss, so he might as well see that I do indeed work for my money.

6.50: the auditorium is  filled to the last seat. The lighting and sound are working. Technic team are on their places. Curtain is closed. Both headmistresses have shown up, nearly all teachers are there. Reporters from local newspaper and from the big paper in Hamburg are present. Mayor and other politicians are here.

6.58: one last visit to the dressing room: the girls are serenity incarnate. We form a huddle. We hug. I cry a bit.

7pm: back in the auditorium and in my seat next to the nice headmistress. Soaked through, ready to drop, sore from shouting at Ildal.

The music begins, the spot light lights up, and the curtain opens: and yes, every minute was worth the effort.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

English: the living language

I'm going to be mean today.
it's graduation exam time, and the 9th graders who are about to leave school are studying for their oral English exams next week. They come to me for coaching,  hoping I'll be able to teach them everything they did not learn during their past four years in two days. But "That's not how it works," of course,  said with the wonderful words of my novel's female main character.
The first part of their test is an introduction of themselves and their families.
So I tell them to write it down in German first, and then to translate it, and then we do the corrections together.
Today, I was served this by a girl. She is 17,  her origins are Turkish, and she is one of the GOOD students. just to give you an idea. And a laugh. Go ahead. Don't think of the girl, think of the garbled language and enjoy. I'm going to copy it out for you. Verbatim.

About my family is that. I going with my parents often in the same shopping center.
On the weekend when the sun shines we go whole family to the same (the river is in Wedel).*
We grill there the whole family and play there a lot of things like volleyball.
Another thing is that we fly in the summer holidays in Turkey after Antalya. We stay there in the hotel stay for weeks and then 2-3. We then visit my uncle in Antalya and the other known in Antalya.
After we drive to Gaziantep the drive to G. takes about 14-15 hours.
When we arrived in G.for my uncle before bus station.  Our village is located about 60 km from the city. 
There waiting for us we are in our village verwandten. We then where all our well-known. Our whole town then come to us to say hello and we kiss and then left to right, Then come my friends and cousin to suit me hello.
In our village are only drive a bus stop where the buses at 6.00 in the morning and come to 2 clock will be so again. As the court is legally there great celebration. From our village  is a small brock which flows out to Eufirat. In this little brock there are 40 small also the pose from among the raussfliesst.
When we go the whole family for picnics.
We go there with the tractors but most of the few routes  to go on foot because the stretch is quite dangerous  because the ride is uncomfortable.
We stay 4-6 days in the village then we drive into town to buy something for the road home. Example, when accounting, baclava, pistachio and wider clothes.
So our adventure ends holiday in Turkey.

*The river here in Wedel is called "Elbe", not "same".

And no, I'm kidding you not.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


A moment ago I read one of the funniest updates on writing that was ever posted on twitter:
"Oh no! I've written myself astray! I'd better stop or the story will take me away!"
And this made me remember a chat with another writer a few days ago, who asked me if I was an "outliner" or a "pantster".

I'm a pantster, if you care to know.
When I started out writing this novel, I had no idea where it would take me.
There was just one scene firmly fixed in my mind that I wanted to write about (and I'm not telling you which one), and the rest, well it just had to fall into place somehow.
And it did.
For the longest time, I did not know which ending the story would take, if my heroes would be allowed a happy end or not, and now they are getting one, but blemished.
They walked through their fates at their own will, taking me along to record it, but I did not shape it for them.
Just now, for instance, editing, I came across a scene where my two main characters discuss how they felt about each other during their long parting, and it ends with the woman leaving the room wordlessly.
When I wrote that scene, I had no idea where she was going or what she would be doing, only that her lover is left behind in fear and bewilderment. He spends the next couple of hours talking to his friend and producer until she finally shows up again, and it was only in that very instant when Naomi opens the door and walks in that I knew what she had been up to.
It turns out she did not run away from him and their discussion at all but did something that would solidify their future relationship.
But the point is, I was just as much in suspense while she was away as Jon was.

Which is why I am a "pantster", someone who writes "by the seat of their pants".
This means I go with the flow, let my people develop their characters while the storyline evolves, and let the storyline evolve around the characters.
The downside of this is that the editing takes long, because, as with normal persons, my protagonists change over time.
It probably also makes the book thicker than a novel that has been rigorously outlines and plotted and then written down, because you tend to be side-tracked.
Not side-tracked in a meandering way, but maybe looking at the surroundings inside the scenes more closely. After all, there is time to explore if you have to wait for your characters to make up their minds.

I'm not going to change my writing method. In fact, I love to be inside my stories.
It makes my readers tell me, "it feels as if I'm really there!" and that is all I want to hear.

And now I'm going back to the real writing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Neil Diamond and Tequila

What do you see here? Oh yes ... it's just another hp laptop. But there is a story here.

A couple of years ago my aging father decided that he wanted to buy a computer and learn how to use it. He was 85 at that point, but hale and hearty, and there was no good reason why he should not, like so many senior citizens, make good use of the many possibilities of the internet. My sister and I encouraged him, my mother deplored it. She is a gardener and not too fond of technical stuff, to put it mildly.
We don't live close together, as you know from earlier posts, my parents, my sister and I.
So when my father called me one early Saturday evening to announce proudly that he had bought a laptop, I had no idea what was in store for me.
He: "I bought a laptop!"
Me:"That's great, Papa! So is it running?"
He: "No, there is a problem. It does not open."
Me: "What do mean, it does not open?"
He: "What I said, it does not open. There are two buttons, and they can't be pushed."
Me: "Uhu.... there should be only one, and it should move to the side or something...."
Growing impatience on the other side. Until we found out that he was trying to push the hinges and not the opening mechanism. Then it opened. The laptop.
"Ok, Papa. now turn it on."
"Turn it on? Where?" Confusion.
"There is a button, Papa. Upper left corner."
"You mean the one that says "esc"?"
"No, Papa, that is the escape button. Above that. ABOVE the keyboard."
"Right. What's the keyboard? Oh, ok, I found it. Wait a moment!"
While we were waiting for the thing to boot, my father said (ALL on the phone, mind you!!!): "Listen, I'll tell you what I want with the computer. I don't want to do a lot, only email, use the internet, talk to you and your sister vie webcam, and a homepage."
Yes, Papa, and I want a Porsche.  Did not say that out loud, though. I said, "One thing after the other, Papa."
Answer: "Don't use that tone with me!" (I'm nearly 54, btw)
Next, he tells me, "It says, "willkommen"! And to accept the license."
Me: "Ok, then do it."
He: "Ok." Pause. "How?"
Me: "Uhm, there should be a little square that you can click."
He: "I can what?"
Me: "Click. You need to put the cursor there and click."
He: "Ok." Another pause. My blood pressure rising. "What's a cursor?"
Longish explanation of how to click. Then: "But there is no square."
This time, I did not say, "You need to scroll." but started the explanation right away.
He: "I found the square."
Me: "Ok, then now you need to click on it. Put the cursor in the little square and then click on the left...."
Interruption: "Listen, I don't want all this, all I want is to use the internet and set up a homepage!"
Here was when the

comes in, and high time too.

"Yes, Papa, but first we have to set up the computer itself, you know."
"Uhu. Ok. It asks for a language here now. I'll take Arabic."
Sulk. "Then I'll take German."
Deep breath, and it was time for another shot of

With a couple of drinks under my belt, I was getting into the swing of the thing.
"Take English, Papa. You know English best, and we will get along with that, too. Set the computer to English."
Obstinacy. "No, then I'll choose German. That way, I can learn German at the same time."
"Papa, this is NOT the right place to learn more German. Please. You need to understand what the machine is telling you."
"No, I want German. It is now set to German."
"So how do I get a homepage now?"
Erm. "Not today,  Papa. I'll come down and visit you next month, and then we can start something for you. You have to get the wifi working first."
"The WHAT?"

A few days later my sister went to visit my parents and installed the wifi, set up and internet connection and an email account with their provider, telecom. Wrote everything down for my father, explained again, and left for home.
A few hours later, he called me.
"The email is not working."
"But since we are on the subject, how many emails can I send? And how many accounts can I have? And does an email to the US cost more than one to Saudi Arabia?"
Time for some

Longer explanation.
"Ok, and what about the homepage? Tell me what to do! I want it now!"
Sweat prickling on the back of my neck.
"Papa, listen, I can't do that on the phone. I need to be on your computer."
Grumbling acceptance, then: "Ok but I want a google mail account."

And here began my nervous breakdown.
"Ok, you have a google icon. Click on it."
This was not a problem anymore, and we made it to the sign-in page for googlemail.
"You need to fill out that form, Papa."
This worked, until we came to "password".
"You need to choose a password to secure your account. Any word that has a meaning to you and you can remember."
Here, my mother comes in.
A heated discussion among them erupted about the password, and which one to pick. In the meanwhile, I opened iTunes on MY computer and clicked on this

to soothe my fraying nerves.
"What are you listening to? What' that in the background?"
"Neil Diamond, Papa."
"Do you remember, I used to have his poster in my room when I was 15."
"Oh. Yes. I have a password now."
"Good! then fill in the form."
Which he did.
"It says, "repeat the password!"
"Well, then do it, Papa."
"But I forgot it."
"Did you not write it down?"
"What? No."

And it was time for some

I'm stopping now.
There were a lot more sessions and occasions for

but my father never had enough patience to sit down with his laptop and learn about it. In the end, he gave it to my son. My mother was pleased, he was disappointed, and I was finally sober again.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Granted, I'm not this young or this furry or this cute, but in fact I look a lot like this right now, which is why there is a blogging silence.
As some of you know, I've been ill for a long time now with an auto-immune disease that pretty much took me out of the picture, but I've been getting better gradually.
So last Monday I decided to walk to school again, and promptly fell down, and broke my arm.... which puts me back on the couch, only this time the typing is extra-hard,too.
But I'm still here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

At Home

My sister went to visit our parents on Easter.
I could not go because I am too sick to travel, but I asked her to take a walk with our mother along one very specific trail in the forest and send me lots of pics.
The first image she mailed me was this one, though, and it is such a perfect mirror of our childhood that it made me shudder a little.
What you see here is the apartment building where we moved after we had to leave the dreamy little house in the woods. And yes, you are right, what a culture shock. We came here when I was twelve or so, and my sister a pre-schooler, and moved into a two bedroom place on the 10th floor.
The view was spectacular.

In the far distance, the towers of Frankfurt can be seen. They are amazing and glamorous; it's not called "Mainhattan" for nothing. And still further away, in the distant blue haze, as it were, you can see the Taunus mountains. "Where The Rich People Are".
Everything in between is called "Offenbach". The Jersey of Frankfurt. Which is "at home" for my sister and me. We both attended this high school, the sis with great success, while I was kicked out in grade 11 and had to go somewhere else to get my graduation.

Of that, I've talked already. And yes, this is really a school building. Not kidding you. the arcades in the front? Washrooms. Seriously.

Did you read my blog about our time in Brazil? Here is a memory piece. I had not noticed it in a long while, but now that the sis photographed it, it brought back some memories.  It has been hanging in my parent's hallway for nearly forty years.

So after lunch, my mother and my sister went for a hike on that forest trail.
You may not be able to imagine it, but it begins right behind that monstrous apartment building.
As ugly as that concrete nightmare may be, once you step outside and turn left, you'll find yourself on a slope of grass that leads down to the little river. If you follow it upwards you will have to cross a street and a parking lot, and when you turn around, you'll see this:

I know. Ugly.
But look at it this way: Creativity needs pressure.
This was one of my favorite parts in "Brave New World", where the hero, a writer,  gets to choose where he will go into exile, and he says he wants a rough place, because a soft setting would not motivate him to write. Just maybe, between those beehives in the background and the concert venue in the front, my personal need for a fantasy world, in other words, making up stories.
At that time, a Canadian TV show was running on one of our channels that I loved very much.
It was about a hotel on Lake Huron, somewhere near Sudbury, and I wanted to be there, very badly.
Reminds your of something? Yes, I've come full circle.
Back to that forest walk.
We used to come here often.  From a very uninspiring dirt area, you enter a fairy realm. the amazing part is, it has not changed one bit since I was a child.

It looks a lot prettier in summer, when the trees are green and the ground is covered with those tiny white flowers of which I don't know the name and the path is dry and not a mud-slide.
The forest, once you have left the streets behind,  looks like this.

A typical, German forest in early spring, and my Mom in a red jacket.
To this spot my grandfather used to take us when we were kids. Here, the creek widens and is very shallow. You can't see it right now because of the leaves, but there is actually a kind of sand beach here. We came here for picnics and lazy, hot afternoons.

A walk of twenty minutes from that high rise, and we found ourselves in another world.

I find it oddly reassuring that this little part of the world has not changed at all. It is as if a part of my childhood, and a good one at that, has survived, carved into the stone of time to remind me of my grandparents and how life with them used to be.
A lot of things in Offenbach and Frankfurt have changed, many places have vanished.
The huge white mansion that was my birth clinic, a condo building now. Or maybe even torn down, I don't know. The center of town, taken over by dime stores and Turkish bazars, no longer a small German city center at all. Frankfurt, an international, cosmopolitan metropolis with all the famous designer stores and glitzy restaurants.
But this little corner of forest, curiously unmolested.
Not cut down for cultivation, not altered, nothing. It is just the way it used to be fifty years ago.
In my eyes, a small miracle.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Most Senseless Post Of All-Farmville

(This is NOT my farm. Mine is WAY prettier!!!!)

Julie's sweet little daughter Lucy likes to play "Farmville" on her Mom's facebook account.
Some of my fb friends play it, too, have done it for the longest time, to the merriment and ridicule of the "Scrabblers" and "Social City" or whatever gamers, and I have refused the temptation of any of those games for the longest time. At one point I even posted that no, I would not be drawn into the time-consuming insanity of these online thingies, and PLEASE people, grow up.
(Strangely, no one ever says anything negative about online Scrabble. Now why is that?)

A few days ago, when I was feeling really miserable with my sickness, depressed and hurting, I succumbed. And found out how pretty this can be.... all those nice trees and cute animals, and I'm really liking the rice paddies (if you decide to grow rice, that is) when you can still see the water.... so serene, especially if you surround them with cherry trees.
I'm a sucker for the trees. Honestly, farmville got me with the trees. The white Dogwood Tree? SO pretty. And the Bunyan Tree, I spent so many virtual coins for it, and then it is so huge that I'm having trouble placing it. But oh how I love the cherry and plum trees! It might be cherry blossom time in DC right now, but hey, the Basin is NOTHING compared to the blooming cherries on my farm!

Now here's the quirky part: after I had collected some animals, I started making up stories about them.
Right now, my two mares are really angry at me because I had to send on the "Wandering Stallion" who had got lost on my farm. Could not keep him, the Farmville Gods had not planned for that. So they went to the other end of the farm where they are now sulking. On the way there, they did their business into the duck pond, which set off the ducks and made them drive off the Ugly Duckling, who has a hard time finding his place in our community anyway.
The Sunny Ewe feels she is having a permanent bad hair day, what with those Easter eggs dangling over her ears, even though I tried to reassure her that it was the latest fashion (what WERE the creators thinking???).
Little White Bunny is sad because its sibling got lost in the transfer from Rula's farm. She is afraid it ended up in a strange place and might get eaten by a topiary.
Speaking of which.... the Green Calf complained this morning that the other, normal little calves would not play with him. He looked like a plant, they said. A friend of mine has the same problem with her Green Lamb, which has now bonded with a topiary sheep, and we are wondering when an animal therapist will be available in the shop.
Who could also look after the Pink Cow and the other critters that are slightly off center. That cow, btw., is a lot better since she adopted the orphan calves that had wandered into my farm, but she too wants nothing to do with the green one. Speak of snottiness.
Oh, which brings me to my pigs.
They are ganging up around the hay bales. I don't know why, but they have their snouts VERY close together, and they have been whispering all day long. Makes me think of "Animal Farm", and now I'm really scaring myself.
The goats are suspiciously quiet today, which is never a good sign. I need to keep an eye on them. They do this all the time: look innocent and breed mischief.
Which leaves me with my big wish: if only someone would send me a Percheron! I love Percherons, but I can't afford to buy one.... not for a long while yet.
So please, no more tomatoes, send me a horse. And make it a stallion so the mares will come out of their rooms again and talk to me!
Thank you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Peddling, And What They Get.

Nettie brought this on, I have to admit.
She posted a hilarious and wonderful blog on how she deals with sales-calls on the phone, and I must say, this is where it comes in handy to have a prolific fantasy.
It has stopped now, but for the longest time we used to get visits from people of the "Jehova's Witnesses" church, and from Mormon youngsters who were doing their duty overseas.
I don't like soliciting of any kind, but religious soliciting is beyond my tolerance.
You don't have a lot of time to come up with something original once the door bell rings and someone holds up a pamphlet up under your nose and intones, "The Lord be praised!"
Yes. Ma'am. I praise the Lord. But I don't need your help to do it.
There is a standard way. I don't look too German, and when I'm alone at home, I'm a t-shirt and sweat pants slobber.
So here is the easy version: clutch the hem of your shirt, knit it anxiously, and say (loudly; Turkish women have generally loud voices. At least here.) "HUSBAND NOT AT HOME! NO SPEAK GERMANY!! ALLAH IS GREAT!"
That sends them away. Every time.
The second approach is "The Stout Believer".
"I have my own faith, and you will not deter me. Amen. Go away." THAT will make them hesitate, but delivered in a stout manner, make them move on.

Now if I have a moment to prepare myself and I'm in the right mood, they get the "Alien" treatment.
It is a little time consuming, but worth the effort, and it goes like this.

Ring. Ring.
I open the door. Two young men, both in badly fitting black suits,  white shirts and ugly ties, their hair plastered to their foreheads, their chins shaved to an inch of their lives, and shining zeal in their eyes, a book in their hands, come up the stairs.
Not evil people. Just young Americans who do their duty for their religion and their congregation, but sadly come to my evil lair.
They are so polite and nice, and they try to tell me that there is only ONE way to find God and consequently salvation, and that is the bad part, because THAT I do not believe,
Never have, never will. Sorry.
I wring my hands and take a deep, painful sigh.
"It's so good that you are here!"
This confuses them. They are not used to pleas for help.
"I've been tortured by this question," I say, "And no one can give me an answer."
Expectant glances, a hopeful expression, and for a moment I feel like a pig.
"Do you think," delivered in a measured, breathless voice, "That Jesus also cares for the other planets?"
Bewilderment, and for a few instants,  silence.
So I go on: "Jesus. Is he only responsible for Earth? Or does God want him to look after all the other planets, too? Or is there a Son of God for every inhabited planet? Because, you know, that would keep God pretty busy, would it not, in the son-making department? I mean, just think of that "Alien" movie? Does Jesus look like an Alien there? One of those monsters with the ugly metal teeth and the acid  breath?"
And some more in that vein, Use your imagination, you can play it out endlessly.

They find excuses pretty fast. Every time. And they leave. I never get an answer to this one, sadly.
So this is my "how to deal with peddlers" story.
None of it is true, of course.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bonfire Night

This is our beach. Seriously. It is within spitting distance from our house. It's not on a lake or the sea, but on a big river called the Elbe, just downriver from Hamburg.
Without the fire and with a ship on it, it looks like this.

Our little town lies nestled into a wide, open country called "Marsch", flat lands that go on and on all the way to the North Sea, soft, rich meadows veined with little rivers and interrupted by copses of gnarled willow over which the wind blows without hinderances. if you find a place that is only a little higher up, like a dam, you can see forever.....

We moved here twenty-two years ago, from Southern Germany. The landscape there is so different.
There are forests and hills and mountains and rich fields with golden corn, and well, there are forests. Deep, dark, huge forests.
Here, there were none. Only these meagre stunted trees and the endless green.
And if ever a tsunami should hit this coast, it will roll all the way to our doorstep.
It was not easy getting used to this landscape, and to its people.
The landscape is rough, and the people are taciturn, gruff, with a very special kind of humor. They don't make friends easily, and they are not easy-going, either. On the upside, once you get to know them and they accept you, they'll stick with you for life. They won't talk a lot, but they sure know how to party.

Today is Easter Saturday. The one day in the year when the Marsh lights up with the fires.
In the morning, there will be no more than this: a big heap of wood, consisting of assiduously collected Christmas Trees and and garden cuttings. brought together by the local firefighters. Stands will be set up, and porta-potties, and a First Aid tent.

There were church services in the late afternoon, and now, after darkness has fallen, the fires are going up.
A ship  on its way upstream to the Hamburg Harbor will see our bonfire, and many others like it along its way, since the land is so flat.
These fires are a promise, and a welcome signal.
They promise us that winter is finally over, and they welcome the coming warmth and light of summer.
On a more mundane note, this are also the first official barbeque event of the year. The sausages are a little better smoked than normally, but they are delicious.
Right now, I'm sitting on the couch, in our living room, with the terrace door open to catch the scent of the fires, even if we can't see them.
The night is dry and not too cold. There will be a lot of people down by the beach, and many of them will be there to see the dawn.
Some of them will end up in the ER because they are drunk, or burned a hand, or fell into the water.
But in the end, once the sun is up, it will be Easter Sunday, and spring will be here.

Monday, March 29, 2010


It's this time of the year that makes me restless.
The reason for this, I think, is the fact that I first read "The Lord Of The Rings" in early spring, and that is the ultimate travel book, right?
So my own favorite travel time is spring, too, and a couple of years ago, we went to London.

We went to London by bus, and we took 22 9th graders along, for where would be the fun in traveling alone, right?
So this is what a teacher couple looks after a night on a bus with 22 teenagers, in Calais, waiting to board the ferry.

In good spirits, but slightly disheveled. There was no coffee, either.
Or yes, there was, but it was really bad, and it did not have the desired effect.

When we started out from home, I still looked like this.

A wee bit more awake and relaxed, right? That was at 3 am in the morning.

But we made it to London safely, and checked into our hotel north of Hyde Park, in a very nice neighborhood too,  with a Starbucks not too far away and an Indian breakfast place right next door.
I don't recall the name of the narrow street, but our place was only a few steps away from Bayswater, and we could see the green rim of the park when we stepped into the driveway.
That hotel was a hovel, really.
The first thing the kids noted when they took up residence, as it were,  were the roach traps under their beds. And the dead roaches. And the dead rat on the window sill. And the empty booze bottles in the flower pots in the tiny yard. They were housed in the basement, and their breakfast served in paper cartons.
We, being teachers, lived a lot better. Our room was clean, airy, on the second floor, and we got a full English breakfast, served in the lounge. The children thought that was unfair. I thought it was great.

This is a thing I like a lot:
Going out in a new town early in the morning.
You step outside, and there is a different kind of sound, of smell, of feel around you,  and in big cities, a hum as if the soul of the place is singing to itself.
Humming to itself in praise of its own history and in welcome of another day, and this is especially strong when the sun shines and the world looks good.
As it did when we were in London, in May.
One of our students discovered the Starbucks close to the hotel, so this is what we would do:
get a tall Latte with a double shot of espresso and a poppyseed-lemon glaze muffin, get on the bus again and let it take us to some wondrous destination somewhere in the metropolis.
The first morning, we went here:

Brick Lane, because I had read the book and wanted to see the place.
The kids, because there were bangles.

We lost these two (Cathrin and Derya) to the bangles, and the Hubby and I sweated bitter tears until they showed up again in the evening, at the hotel, after a day on the town and a visit to the Hard Rock Café.
After that, we were a lot less afraid of letting the kids go out on their own. They knew how to find their way back, and it did a world of good for their self-esteem.

We went for a ride on the London Eye.
You can't go to London these days and not do it. Honestly, the prospect had me scared shitless, but the kids would not hear of it. They MADE me go, and I'm eternally grateful.
Did you know that thing never stops and you have to get on and off while it moves under your feet, and that there is a gap between it and the outside through which you can look down into the river? True!!!

But my reward for overcoming my fear of heights was this view of the city.
It gave me the feeling that I could see all the way to Scotland and to the Channel, and despite the kids in the gondola there was a kind of silence there, too, that had nothing to do with the noise around me.
This impression I saved very well, and used it later in my novel when I wanted to describe a scene there.

Driving back to the hotel later, we went across the bridge and the kids started screaming.
On the curb, a stretch-limousine with tinted windows was parked, and out of it climbed a person that made all the girls yell for our bus to stop and please could they get out, because that was "USHER!!!!!"
To this day, I have NO idea who that is or why he was the reason for such a rage, but it was funny, and memorable, and the bus nearly tipped into the Thames.

I told them that even "Usher" had the right to spend a moment looking out at the scenery and no, the bus would not stop for them to descend on the poor guy like bats out of hell.
The same way I would NOT make the bus stop and get out, even though the girls would have loved it, every time we went by the Dorchester, which was daily, to sneak in and try to catch Neil Diamond, who was residing there at that time.
There were groups of fans hanging out outside that hotel, we could see that, but I would not be one of them.
Disdainfully, I said that. They did not understand. No matter.

This pic was taken from the riverside in Greenwich, right outside the Cutty Sark Museum.

It's not the best pic in the world, but it was taken by me, and it shows the o2 Arena, where Neil was going to perform a few weeks later. So there.
I recall that was an incredibly serene and beautiful day. We had seen the lovely village, some had gone to the Observatory (not me; I had to find and pick up some lost souls again), and there was some time to dawdle away.
So I got some coffee at Starbucks, and a lemon/poppyseed muffin, again, and sat there in the sun and watched the teenagers on their skateboards and the dome of the o2 shimmering in the distance, and I thought:
Life is good. Life can be as sweet at lemon glaze, and all you need to do is let it melt on your tongue to enjoy it.
That is all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An apology

After my royal mess up last night I think I owe a brief but sincere apology to @NettieWriter.
First of all, it was her birthday yesterday and she asked me, as a favor, and as a great honor, to take part in a chain mail, and I broke it.
And then, I went and broke it because I was too damn stupid to properly post links into my blog.... well, I posted the links, but the browser would not open, and then I tried again and it failed again, and then I was tired because it was late at night, and then I just deleted the whole bloody thing.... and so Nettie does not get to know which of those six stories I was supposed to tell was the lie.
I'm really sorry, Nettie.
But the stark truth is: I'm just too stupid for this kind of computer thing. Hey, I've learned how to upload pictures and then even post them in the right part of a blog by now, that should count for something, ok?

But I will tell you the lie now.
I said that I had a hot affair with my younger sister's teacher when I was 21.
That was a lie.
I had a hot affair with my sister's teacher when I was 22.

So there.
She was 16 at that time, and the teacher 32. Unmarried. So all was well. Sort of.
He was hot. I was not his student. We kept it a secret. It lasted a week.

Will this do, Nettie? Please?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Growing Up

Really, I don't want to write about my childhood.
Or rather, I want to, but I want to try and remember the good parts.
My childhood rests on my shoulders like a huge load, a burden I've been carrying around with me for all of my fifty-three years, but a short exchange with Frauke yesterday brought back some memories that keep bothering me now.
It was not much more than her mentioning that she had begun to learn Arabic at some time because she was interested and rather liked the "basic tenets" of Islam, and that triggered, with me, the old queasy feeling of growing up with a Muslim father in a Western country.
Now, in hindsight, I understand my father a lot better, and also his struggle to introduce me and my sister to his culture and faith, and the obstacles he must have encountered in my mother's family and his surroundings. How lonely he must have been, having no support at all! And he had come here for the love of my mother, leaving his home country and his family behind, only to meet this uncompromising resistance.
Sadly, my father never was a very patient or gentle man, but rather blessed with a terrible temper and no great understanding on how to treat children.
The one thing he never forgave me was that I was not a boy. His firstborn, and a girl.

He tried to raise me as a Muslim and Arab girl in Germany in the 60s.
SO not an option.
Imagine that wooden house in the forest on the dirt road, the staid German neighbors, my civil servant grandparents and uncles, my headstrong mother (she had gone to Arabia, remember, to marry this stranger!), and one child to fight over, and you have a potent brew.
When I entered high school at 11, I was the only child with foreign roots at a school with nearly 1000 students, and the only one for whom tuition had to be paid.... and the only one who did not have the German nationality. I don't think there is need to elaborate.
The same went for holidays.
Muslim holidays were ignored, but it was expected that my father would celebrate the Christian feasts.
He must have been a truly torn man. He wanted the Western education, and yet he wanted it not. He wanted a perfect Muslim daughter, but with all the trappings of a modern, educated woman. H would tell me how he saw me in a strapless white ballgown, with satin gloves and jewels, a debutante, but he would not let me attend dancing lessons because that would have been immodest. According to his wishes, I would either be a doctor or a lawyer, but I was not allowed outside the house in the early evening to attend a typing course (which would have been useful!), and of course I would "return" to Saudi Arabia to practice that profession.
Where I would always ever be only a doctor for women or children, or a lawyer.... for what?
And we have not even spoken yet about the fact that I wanted to be neither.... ever.
Or that I did not speak any Arabic, despite his efforts to teach me... in grueling, torturous lessons on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, together with instructions in "faith".
Now if I want to make sure my own kids really learn something and like it, too, I try to teach them the fun of it, first. I try to make them WANT to learn in, and not be afraid of it, or even loathe it
And here we return to Frauke and her interest in Islam. I LOATHE it. With all my heart.
To this day, and now I'm middle-aged and a lot more tolerant, there is this one thing that I loathe and want nothing to do with it at all.
Only now, with my father being 88 and a lot less rigid, we can talk about his life and what he wanted for his family, and for me, and he is able to accept my view of things, and I can see his.
The sadness of it, a life time wasted.
The misplaced love, wasted.
And the loneliness of one man, lost in a strange world because of his love, redeemed at the end of his life.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Food Memory Lane

One of my twitter friends from Britain just tweeted to me:
"I'm going to drown in my Pavlovian responses to your cooking updated here soon!"

Which brings me back to yesterday and the question I posted there.

What is the first thing you can remember ever having tasted, as a child, and do you recall the circumstances?

There were not many responses, but some.
Chocolate (of course), boiled eggs, which I thought was very, very sweet and childlike, and a couple of other, more exotic things.
I asked because I have a very clear memory of mine, it is a scene that is, in all its usualness, so unremarkable that you'll probably just say "duh".

This is it. A boring, simple wheat breakfast roll with butter and honey.
But I remember everything about it.
My father had by then gone on to Brazil, and I lived with my Mom and her three younger brothers at my grandparents' house. This is what it looks like, it has not changed at all during the years. My sister and I went by there last fall.

In case you are wondering, that house is a lot larger on the inside than it looks from here. A magic house, in fact.
In which my Mom and I shared a room, and over my cot was a pic of my father that I would look at every morning when I woke up. I must have been five, because that was shortly before we left to join him in Sao Paolo, and he was the hero of my little world.
That particular morning of the roll and honey, I woke up early. It was winter and still dark, and very cold in my room because the wood stove had gone out overnight. My mother was up already, I was all alone snuggled up in my bed, but I could hear the voices of the grown ups from the kitchen, which looked a lot like this

with a table and a bench in one corner (the cat liked to poop in that corner; my grandmother had a hell of a time getting under there to clean up) where we would have our meals.
So I got up and went there to join them.
Someone had made his way to the baker a mile away that early to get those rolls, and there they were, in a basket on the table, warm and fragrant, a mountain of them.
My grandfather sat me down between himself and my mother, wrapping something warm around my feet, and then they fed me that heavenly bread with butter and the runny, sweet honey and let me sip their milky coffee. I still recall that I felt all grown up and very important to be there with them that early in the day right before they all went off to work or school and I would stay behind with my grandmom and be with her until my friends from the neighborhood would come to pick me up for a day of romping around outside.
We could do that, back then. We lived on a dirt road in the forest. There was no kindergarten, no pre-school, no necessity to watch us.
My mother, that morning, was wearing a navy plaid skirt and a white blouse, and when she bent down to kiss me good bye a while later I could smell her perfume. She looked so young and pretty, and I remember feeling a little sad because she had to go away to work and had so little time to spend with me.

The next food I recall distinctly is the Filet Mignon we were served aboard that ship that took us to Brazil, and the special time when we crossed the Equator and the kids got little gifts from the Captain. On that long journey, that was the first time my mother sent me to lunch by myself because she was so scared she would be caught and get an "Equator Baptism" in the ship's pool.

And then, the very first day in Sao Paolo, and I know it was a Sunday, I came to love Olives.
Not too far from our new house was a huge market place, or at least it seemed huge to me back then.

Well, this was obviously not taken in Brazil but somewhere in cool Germany, but you get the drift.
The point I wanted to make was, I got lost that morning while I walked the aisles with my parents, only to be rescued by a friendly farmer who picked me up and sat me down on his crates to wait, and while I was sitting there - totally unafraid, mind you; it never occurred to me that I was lost - he fed me olives.
I loved that taste. And the tart, salty smell, and the feel of the hard, smooth ovals that would pop open and release their unique aroma when I bit on them, and simply everything about them. Even the pits that I could spit all over the place.
My parents came to pick me up way too many olives too soon in my opinion, and they were not half as happy that day as I was, but the good thing was, I got to eat many, many olives from then on.
And that was because my father, being an Arabian, liked his breakfast in Arabian style, too, which consists of fresh pita, olives, feta, some tomatoes and a dash of virgin olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and coffee or tea with it.
This here is another great family favorite for breakfast: Humus. You all know this, the Indian/Oriental chickpea dish, right?

My family is big on cooking and eating. My parents love to put on a big spread when we children get home. They fight over what they are going to cook for us for days, wanting to make all the childhood goodies and then, when we get there, urging us to eat eat eat, and we do, and then they pack up the rest for us to take back home and eat it at night.... really, Mom, we're SO full.... it is their way of showing their love, and I love them for it.
Food makes the greatest memories, and they stick with you, even if times get rough in between. When everything else fails, the meals you shared with loved ones will pull it back together. I know. I've been there.

Oh hey.... those orgies with the home-made pizzas, and watching Star Trek with my father?