The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Friday, December 12, 2008

Funny AND Scottish!

Craig Ferguson hosts The Late Late Show on CBS weeknights after David Letterman. He is by far the funniest comedian I've seen in a long time. His monologue is barely scripted and more often than not is more like a 10 minute stream of consciousness. Since I can't get American TV I've watched a bunch of his stuff on You Tube. Oh, and BTW, he's a Scot! I have to admit that I am a sucker for the accent. But Ferguson is truly funny. Here's a sample. I hope you laugh as much as I do.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Here and There

OK, how weird is this? Nikki is in Tucson and I'm in Ludwigshafen. The kids and I are all meeting up at Ruth and Bill's in Colorado for Christmas but Nikki and Bert are doing a road trip through the Southwest before heading for Colorado. They are in Tucson right now. Nikki wanted to show Bert her old stomping grounds. On their way to Colorado they'll hit Phoenix, Sedona, the Grand Canyon and Arches National Park. Check out her blog for info on their adventures.
I fly from Frankfurt to Denver on the 15th so I'll have almost a week with Ruth and Bill before the kids arrive on the 20th. Then we'll all be there until the 28th.

Lucy will spend the couple of weeks that I'm gone in a very nice kitty hotel here. I always worry a little whenever I leave her. She's just gotten really old in the last year. I just noticed last week how gray she's getting. She's slow and sometimes a little unsteady like an old cat, too. I'm only half joking when I tell her, "Now don't die while I'm gone". And I'm always very relieved when I get back to her and she snuggles her face into my neck, happy to be in my arms again. Everybody who knows me knows how attached Lucy and I are to one another. And anyone who knows Lucy knows what a strange cat she is. She is as affectionate and definitely more needy than any dog I've ever known. And she has been my constant companion for the last 18 years. Through all the ups and downs and all the changes in my life, Lucy has always been there. It's a good thing she's such an easy going cat. I've drug the poor old girl all over the place in the last year. She's never scared of new surroundings or new people. When I open the door of her kennel she just strolls out with an attitude of "OK, where are we now?" Most cats would go and hide for a while until they feel comfortable. Not Lucy. She proceeds to explore every corner in every room and then just makes herself at home.
When I get back after Christmas she and I are moving into our new apt. Two weeks later she'll have to come back to Nikki and Bert while I go to Berlin for a month. I thought about just leaving her here with them rather than moving her for just a couple of weeks and then bringing her back but I can't imagine settling into the new apt. without her. That would just be too weird.
I'll be such a basket case when I lose this silly cat. But who knows, she could hang around for another 3 or 4 years. It's not unheard of for cats to live past twenty. Maybe we'll get lucky.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I Got My Visa!

On Wednesday the German gov't said I can stay. So I am now an official Resident Alien. Hooray! And the little card really is green!

I landed in Germany for the first time 21 years ago today. Who ever would have thought that exactly 21 years later I would be settling in....again. You just never really know where life is going to take you. Dec 5th, 1987 was also the day I met Dave and Nena. Thanks to both of you for 21 years of friendship. I love you bunches. Nikki is so looking forward to seeing you next week and introducing you to her tall handsome German.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Nasty Comments

I started this blog last February. I've had a lot of fun with it and I really enjoy the opportunity to share with my family and friends. But, since almost the very beginning there has been one really nasty and persistent Anonymous commenter. As the blog administrator I get an email alerting me as soon as any new comment is posted so I usually just delete Ms. Nasty as soon as she puts in her childish and hateful 2 cents worth. I figured the best thing to do was to just ignore her and not respond. I really thought that eventually, once she realized that her comments were being deleted as soon as she sent them, she would just get tired of the game and go away. Since this has not happened I can only assume that she doesn't actually care that her comments are immediately deleted. She must derive her pleasure from simply knowing that I have read them. How pathetic is that? Someone needs to refocus and just let go of an old grudge.

I'm not sure exactly what I expect to accomplish by blogging about this. I'm probably just throwing fuel on the fire. I haven't even decided yet whether to continue deleting her nasty comments or leave them for all of you to see and to comment on in return as you see fit. I really don't want to get into a pissing contest. I'd prefer it if she would simply go away and once and for all just leave me the hell alone. What's done is done and life happily goes on. At least mine does.....

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shameless Student

I'm amazed at how much German I don't know. The last time I lived here my exposure to the German language was however much I wanted it to be. Being here with the U.S. military meant that we had all of our daily necessities available on base. Doctors, dentists, the grocery store, the movie theater, the kids' school, the post office, the veterinarian....all in English. Ramstein Air Base was (I don't know if it still is) the largest American community outside of the United States. So our daily lives still centered around our native language. That's not to say that I didn't learn any German. I could read a menu in German, shop in German stores, travel, greet my neighbors, talk about the weather and do pretty much whatever else I needed to on the local economy. I worked as a tour guide for the USO for a long time which involved shepparding groups of Americans, by train or bus, to other places around Germany as well as a few places outside the country. I had to interact with train conductors, bus drivers, boat captains, ticket offices, restaurant owners and local tour guides as well as read signs, schedules and announcements.Very rarely did I have to resort to using English in a given situation. I always managed with my basic German. My grammar wasn't always correct but they could understand me and I could understand them. I learned what I needed to know.

What I did not learn was how to have an everyday conversation completely (and grammatically correct) in German. The last two months have really shown me what I can't do. I understand almost all of what I hear but I have a difficult time producing the language in a conversational setting (Nik assures me that this is perfectly normal).

So I started a 5 week German language class the day before Halloween. We have 3 days of class left, Mon, Tues and Wed of this week. The class is 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. It's been a very interesting experience. For one thing, we are a very diverse group. Eleven students from eleven different countries. Italy, Kosovo, Macedonia, Palestine, Peru, South Korea, Morocco, Brazil, China, Turkey and me. To top off our international stew our instructor is from Greece! Three of the students are teenagers. I'm the oldest in the class and the other seven people are all in their 20s or 30s. Most everyone, like me, had at least some German when we started. I'm glad I started with the first level class. Nothing that we have been taught has been totally new for me and it has been a very good refresher course in what I already know. There have also been things that I kind of knew but wasn't really sure about. This class has really helped to clarify some things that I was just sort of fuzzy on. Of course, it has really helped to come home to a native speaker and to a language teacher, both of whom are fluent in both languages. I don't think I can speak any better now than I could 5 weeks ago but my foundation in the language has been reinforced and I have a clearer understanding of where I need to go from here. The next class starts in January but I won't be here so I'll have to wait to continue my German classes.

I start training to be an English Language teacher on the 19th of January. The course is offerred at the Berlin School of English and is certified by Cambridge University (London). It's a pretty intensive program. Eight hours of instruction and teaching practice every day with about four hours of homework and lesson preparation each evening for 4 weeks. The CELTA program is recognised worldwide as one of the best (CELTA stands for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) so I'll be able to use the training wherever I go. Here, once I finally get Scotland and need parttime work while I go to school and even back in the U.S. The course is kind of pricey but it's an all around good investment for the present and the future. And I'm really looking forward to the experience. I think I just like school.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gobble Gobble...

Happy Turkey Day everyone! Though we didn't celebrate in the traditional American manner, Nik and I spent a lovely evening at the Neustadt outdoor Christmas market with friends, hot mulled wine and lots of food. It was very festive and a lot of fun.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

29 Years and 1 Day Ago

What a wild ride that first year was. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was a totally foreign atmosphere to us in the beginning but within that unit filled with bright lights, beeping machines, incubators and all manner of sterile equipment was a tiny baby boy who held our hearts and our dreams in his miniature little hand. We were overwhelmed at first by all the wires, tubes, medications, oxygen and incomprehensible terminology that surrounded our new son but as one day flowed into the next and each month flowed into another and another and then still another we became sort of 'parent experts', to the point that when the machine that monitored his breathing would trip, signaling that he was forgetting to breathe, one of us would gently pat the bottom of a little foot, watch for a big breath and then reach over and hit the reset button. We could discuss, intelligently, his medications, blood oxygen levels and progress with the doctors

There were some very scary times. A phone call from the nurse in the middle of the night saying the baby had taken a sharp turn for the worse and they weren't sure he would make it through the night and that we should come to the hospital. There was a very long weekend waiting for test results that would determine whether our son had Cystic Fibrosis. There were seizures and worst of all was the day he went into surgery, at five months old, to have half of his right lung removed. Day in, day out, our lives revolved around the drive to the hospital, scrubbing up and donning sterile gowns once we got there in order to do what most new parents get to do all day, every day....hold their new baby. I remember one day, sitting in a rocking chair, holding my little bundle, who was attached to an oxygen tank, and watching two young mothers, so excited because they were each taking their babies home that day. They talked about how long they had waited. One baby was 5 weeks old and the other was about 8 weeks old. I turned the rocker toward the wall because now I was crying. Michael was 6 months old. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. When I arrived at the hospital the next day a new baby had been brought into the NICU. This baby was not a preemie. His mother had had a perfectly normal pregnancy and had delivered her son full term. But this otherwise perfectly healthy baby was missing most of both arms and both legs. The nurse told me they just wanted to watch him for a few days before they let him go home. That was quite reality check for me. I suddenly realized how lucky I was. I still didn't know when Michael would be well enough to come home but he was whole and eventually our day would come. We were pretty sure by then that he would not have any long term or permanent disabilities because of his premature birth.

Our day finally came after 7 1/2 long months. He was very small, still needed several medications and required an oxygen tent over his crib, but he was strong enough to come home! For the first couple of weeks his pediatrician wanted to see him every other day. Then it was once a week, then once every two weeks, then once a month. We had appointments with the physical therapist and the occupational therapist, who gave us exercises and activities to do with Michael at home, all to help him catch up to other babies his age. He was so far behind at that point. But every day brought new developments. He crawled two weeks before his first birthday and walked at 16 months. We sat on the floor with him that day and cried with joy.

Though I love all of my children equally, there has always been something special about watching Michael learn to walk, start school, ride a bike, drive a car, graduate from high school and then college. That tiny little baby who fought so hard to stay alive turned 29 years old yesterday and I just can't imagine what my life would have been like all these years without him. He is smart, responsible, very funny and an outstanding human being. I am so proud of him.

Happy birthday, Michael. Thanks for making me a mom!

Monday, November 10, 2008

November 10th, 1980

Can it really be 28 years already since those two little baby girls were put into my arms? I suppose so, but at times it feels like only yesterday. How they have changed and enriched my life is beyond measure. They are my best friends, my confidants, the tether that keeps me grounded in this crazy world.

To be the mother of identical twins is truly a special delight. I've always described them as white chocolate and dark chocolate....the same in so many ways but each with her own flavor. There is a quiet serenity about Shauna, a kind of peaceful aura that surrounds her. Nikki on the other hand is like a shiny little star that lights up a room whenever she enters. That's not to say that Shauna can't be boisterous and silly or Nikki solemn and contemplative. But how they each impress the world around them is as unique and individual as are their fingerprints. Their DNA may be identical but their personalities are theirs alone.

That being said, they share an incredible bond. As toddlers and as small children I saw many acts of selflessness between them. One that has always stayed with me was when one of them had gotten her clothes really muddy just before she was going to a birthday party. With no opportunity to go home and change, her sister swapped clothes with her in the bathroom. I must admit, I was a bit confused when I picked them up that day. I knew what each had been wearing when she left the house that morning but my eyes weren't seeing what my brain assumed to be correct. Finally I looked at them in the rearview mirror and asked, "Did you two switch clothes?" "Uhuh." And then they explained why. I thought to myself, how many eight year olds would do that, but to them it seemed perfectly normal.

Over the years, although they have developed as individuals, they have never strayed far from one another emotionally. Where one goes, so goes the other in her heart. Even today, separated by an ocean and a continent they are as close as two humans can be. What a special gift they share.

And, lucky me, I get to be Mom to these two incredible young women. I am so proud of who they are what they have done with their lives.

Happy Birthday, Hank and Frank! You are my heart.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President Elect Barack Hussein Obama

It's November 5th 2008 9:45am Central European Time, 4 hours and 45 minutes since Barack Obama reached and surpassed that magic number of 279 ( We are 6 hours ahead of the East Coast and 9 hours ahead of the West Coast). I had my laptop next to my bed all night with that infamous election night map on the screen. I would wake occasionally and hit refresh to see how the election was coming. I remember at one point seeing Obama 123 McCain 59 (or something like that). I went back to sleep with a smile on my face. The next thing I knew my phone was ringing at 5am. I knew it was either Michael or Shauna. It was Shauna. "Mom, we won!" I immediately reached for my computer as I tried to actually process the reality of what she was saying. We were on the phone for about 30 minutes sharing the victory as her friends celebrated in the background. The first thing I wanted to do when Shauna called was to literally run in and jump on Nikki with the news but I didn't think Bert would really appreciate that so I restrained myself. An hour later I had a live online broadcast from NBC and they were waiting for Obama to appear onstage at the rally at Grant Park in Chicago. I knew Nik would want to see his speech live, not later today on You Tube, so that's when I tentatively knocked on their bedroom door "Nik?...Nikki?" Poor Bert opened the door and almost disbelievingly I whispered "We won." Nik scrambled out of the bed with a "What?!!" "We won!" I said, " Obama is about to speak." as we both rushed back to the computer. And so we sat there, with our messy hair and pj's, alternately laughing and crying as we watched and listened to history being made.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Audacity Of Hope

I wrote this email to the Obama Senate headquarters in December of '06 when the Junior Senator from Illinois was rumored to be considering a run for the White House. It's been a long 2 years but it looks like what began as a small kernel of hope may very well become reality today for a nation so wounded by the last eight years of incompetence, deceit and arrogance.

"I am a 49 yr old divorced mother of three grown children. I live in Tucson, Az and have been a lifelong Democrat. Like most Americans, my first exposure to Barack Obama was through the '04 Democratic National Convention. As I sat there in my living room listening to his electrifying and inspiring keynote speech, I thought to myself, “I am watching a future president” and I got very excited by what he had to say. Since that night I have watched with intense interest his explosion onto the national political scene. I have downloaded and listened to every speech and interview I could find. I have sent many to friends and family, Democrat and Republican alike, including several who reside temporarily or permanently outside of the U.S. .

For the first time I feel as if I am listening to a truly honest politician. Not just someone who represents my political party but someone who also shares my political beliefs. Someone who believes passionately in the need for a change of direction in this country. When I listen to his position on important national issues I feel as if my voice is being heard.

I believe we need Barack Obama in the White House now. Never in my adult life have Americans been so betrayed by those who are supposed to measure their decisions and actions against our interests and well being. When I look at the other potential candidates for president, although perhaps not as deceitful or corrupt as those in positions of power now, I still see more of the same ol' same ol' of American politics. In Barack Obama I see an honest and earnest man.

Now, more than any time since Watergate, the American people need a leader they can trust. We need a president who will humbly and courageously lead us back to a position of respect among the other nations of the world and who will make decisions here at home based on a sense of humanity and responsibility to those in his charge. I see only one candidate in whom I would put my trust to make the changes that are so desperately needed for this country. I have never actively campaigned for any politician, but I will enthusiastically volunteer my time for Senator Obama’s campaign. I believe in his personal integrity and his political motives. And I believe America needs him now.
Connie Eggers "

As an American, I am proud of the way in which Barack Obama has conducted his campaign, proud that I was a supporter even before he announced his candidacy and will, for the first time, be proud of the man, both personally and politically, who holds the highest elected office in our nation.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Your Country Needs You

This is the most important election of our time. The outcome of this election will determine what direction our economy takes in the coming decade, how we are viewed abroad, national security policies, the healthcare of many Americans and the next steps in Iraq and Afghanistan just to name a few of the issues that we, as a nation, are facing.

We have two very different candidates from whom to choose. Everyone who knows me knows my political leanings. That's not my point here. My point is that we should ALL make our voices heard. Now is the time to exercise our most precious of constitutional rights. Vote. Whether you support Barack Obama or John McCain is your own personal decision but put that support into action. Don't be a cynic (elections are all fixed anyway) or a defeatist (my candidate won't win) or self dismissive (my one vote won't count) or an early celebrant (he's so far ahead that he doesn't need my one vote) or just plain lazy (it's too cold, I'm too busy).

There are so many excuses we can find not to vote but also a few pretty good reasons to vote:
It is our constitutional right.
Our children.
Countless men and women have fought and died in the last 232 years , at home and abroad, to give and protect that right... for us.
It is the cornerstone of a free society.
It is our country, not the Democratic or Republican parties' country. We have the final say.
And last but not least....if you don't vote, don't bitch!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Walk, Don't Run

I've posted most of the pics from this past weekend so I guess I should do a blog entry to go along with them.

Nikki had Thursday afternoon free so she and I went shopping in Mannheim. We poked around the main shopping area in the middle of town for several hours and then ended up at an Irish pub called Murphy's Law for Irish coffee, beer and fish and chips. It was 9:30pm when we got home completely satisfied with our afternoon and evening. It was the first opportunity since I got here that she and I had had to go out, just the two of us, and catch up on some much needed 'Mom and me time'. We kept marveling at the fact that I'm not just here for a visit, that we will be able to do this whenever we want to!

When the kids were in elementary school at Ramstein Air Base I think I was the queen of the field trip moms. With three kids so close together in age their classes went to a lot of the same places, though usually not at the same time. My work schedule was very flexible so I chaperoned a lot of school trips. The kids and I still laugh about how many times I went to the dinosaur museum in Frankfurt and to the planetarium and Luisenpark in Mannheim. They each went once a year, but I would go 2, sometimes 3 times each year!
On Friday afternoon Nikki and I decided to take a little trip down memory lane. We went to Luisenpark. It was a gorgeous fall day and I had forgotten how beautiful it is there. We simply strolled through the park admiring the brilliant autumn colors. Down one path, over to another and back on another. We had packed sandwiches so we found a couple of chairs in the sunshine and were entertained by a couple of free roaming storks who were hoping for handouts while we ate our lunch. Unfortunately, the battery in my camera died after just a few pictures so I missed some beautiful shots but it was a wonderful afternoon. The Strassenbahn (streetcar) let us off and picked us up right outside the front gate of the park. This was such a different experience from my previous trips to Luisenpark. Very relaxing compared to my memories of herding a group of overly excited 7 or 8 or 9 year olds, trying to make sure that they all had fun but also that nobody fell into the water or took off from the group, never to be seen again!

On Saurday we met up with Nikki and Bert's friends Benjamin and Miriam for another afternoon of easy wandering through the wine fields. They brought their 6 week old baby who just enchanted us all. If you look at the pictures you'll see that Bert is pushing the carriage most of the time. He had such fun. And the baby was so cute!

As if we hadn't had enough walking, on Sunday the three of us set out again. This time to the Odenwald, a beautiful forested area just east of here. It was so peaceful and once again the changing colors of the season visually filled us to overflowing. Unexpectedly, we found an old Jewish cemetary within the forest. It was fenced to prevent intruders but up close we marveled at how old the grave markers appeared to be. Nikki could actually read a couple of the names written in Hebrew. I looked it up online the next day and found out that it was established in the 17th century! The cemetary has over 1000 graves and was still in use well into the early 1900's.

I haven't posted the pictures from Sunday's walk in the woods yet but I will soon. Walking is a national pastime here. It's what everyone, young and old, does to spend time outside together and enjoy the beautiful country in which they live. Because of that there are countless number of walking trails all over, all very accessible and very well maintained. I wasn't much of a walking enthusiast the last time I lived in Germany but this time I plan on wearing out some shoes!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Belated Wishes

Yesterday was Wade and Sarah's 14th anniversary! Happiness in a family is contagious. Yours spills over to us all. Big hugs to you both and here's to growing old together!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Somebody Down Here, Too....

I've been so busy the last few weeks that I haven't had time to acknowledge the death of one of our greatest actors....Paul Newman died on Sept. 26th. The man had class....

Monday, October 13, 2008

German/American Relations

Bert's mom, Regina, arrived for a visit Saturday after Nikki and Bert returned from Baden Baden. Nik had planned Regina's visit as part of Bert's birthday weekend. He and his mom are really close. So it was the perfect surprise. After introductions, showing Regina the new apartment and having coffee on the balcony, we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was a very pleasant evening.

The next morning we had a leisurely breakfast and then drove to die Weinstrasse (the famous German wine road), very near to where Nikki lived during her first year in Germany, for an afternoon of wine sampling and walking through the vineyards. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, perfect for meandering and taking in all the brilliant fall colors. The wine was pretty good, too. I, of course, couldn't pass up the opportunity for more Neuer Wein.
At the end of the afternoon we said goodbye to Regina. She had about a three hour drive home to southern Germany. Nikki, Bert and I took the train in the other direction back to Ludwigshafen, our backpacks laden with several bottles of wine.

It was a pleasure to meet Bert's mom and I can see why Nikki likes her so much. I'm sure we'll see more of each other in the future. And as my German improves we'll get to know one another better. I've posted pictures of the afternoon under The Colors Of My World on the sidebar.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Happy Birthday Bert!

Today is Bert's 30th birthday. Last night Nikki, Bert and I met up with a couple of their friends, Basti and Martin, at 'Josephine' for a celebration that included a complimentary bottle of champagne from the establishment at midnight. Josephine is a cute little bar located very near to their old apt so Nik and Bert are well known there.

The evening's conversation was a mixture of English and German. Nikki, Bert and Basti are all fluent in both languages and Martin's English is better than my German but he is shy about using it. So I spoke English, Martin spoke German and the other three flipped back and forth. I am amazed at how much I understand, even after being gone for 15 years. I would say I get about 85% of what is being said in any given situation. If only I could produce at that percentage! But Nik says that's very normal (I know that as well). Understanding increases by leaps and bounds, whereas production must be coaxed and cojoled (here kitty, kitty, kitty...come here..)

As a surprise for Bert, Nik planned an overnight birthday getaway to Baden Baden. They left this afternoon about 2pm and I think she was not planning to tell him exactly where they were going until their train arrives at their destination. Baden Baden is a very well known spa city. Nena and I went there once, years ago, along with her friend, Julie. It was heavenly and the spa was so relaxing. Nikki booked a nice hotel and plans to take her sweetie to dinner this evening. I'm sure they'll have a wonderful time. Bert has another surprise coming tomorrow. About an hour after they get back from Baden Baden his mom will arrive from southern Germany for an overnight visit. I'm looking forward to meeting her.

Sooo....Happy Birthday Berti! Thanks for making my little girl so happy. I think you're pretty great!

Monday, October 6, 2008

I'm Here!

Lucy and I have made it successfully and safely across the pond. We were all a little worried about how she would do given that she is 18 years old but once we finally arrived at Nikki and Bert's apt and opened the door to her kennel she came strolling out and immediately began exploring. She has never been a timid cat and has never exhibited normal cat behavior such as hiding under or behind something for a while when presented with new surroundings. She thoroughly investigated every room in the apt and it didn't take her long to decide that she approved. She has settled in quite nicely in the past 3 days. N&B's friend Nadja came over for dinner last night and, by the end of the evening, was trying to figure out how to hide Lucy in her bag when she left.

After breakfast on Saturday Bert left for an over night camping trip with a couple of his friends so Nik and I went to the Farmers Market down the street and came home laden with fresh fruits and vegetables including half of a fresh pumpkin that Nikki used to make a delicious pumpkin soup for dinner last night. Around midafternoon we headed out for the weinlesefest (wine harvest festival) in Neustadt.

The best part about arriving in Germany at this time of year is that I'm just in time for the Neuer Wein (new wine). It is the first press of the wine before it has gone through all the filtering processes that prepare it for final bottling. It is cloudy, sweet and packs a real punch. Nik and I ate and drank our way through the Fest and then did some window shopping (and lots of yakking!) before returning to Ludwigshafen on the train.

Yesterday we slept in and puttered around the apt until about 2pm when it was time to go check out my potential new apt in Mannheim (Mannheim and Ludwighafen sit side by side, separated only by the Rhine river). One of Nikki's colleagues at the Business College in Heidelberg had mentioned in conversation that the small apt above her house is seldom used anymore because her grown children don't visit as much as they used to. Lots of houses here look like single family homes but are actually divided into three separate apartments. Barbara and her partner, Peter, live in the ground floor apt and they rent the lower apt to a young couple with a baby. So when we began seriously talking about my moving to Germany Nikki thought of Barbara's comment and asked her if they would consider renting the top floor apt to me for the duration of my stay. Barbara said, "Sure, bring your mother to look at it when she gets here." So we made an appt to be there yesterday at 3:30pm. I wasn't getting my hopes up about it before we looked at it. We hadn't discussed the cost of rent or whether it would be OK to have a cat or if there was internet access or any other particulars.

It is the cutest apt! It's fully furnished, right down to dishes and linens. The largest bedroom is as big as the living room. The kitchen is small but very well designed. There are hardwood floors throughout and the bathroom was recently renovated. The overall feel of the place is just very cozy. Perfect for one person, but with room for guests (hint, hint!). There is internet access in the apt, cable TV that even includes a few English language channels, Lucy is welcome and in the basement there are two washers (one for each of the two smaller apts) and a shared dryer. The stairs to the attic are right outside the apt door with plenty of room for extra storage.
And the cost for this most perfect apartment? 300 euros (about $450) a month which includes internet, cable and all utilities!! OMG! What a steal, uh, I mean deal. I think the reason the rent is so low is that, unlike the lower level apt, they have never used this apt to generate income. It's always just been for visiting family so all they are really asking for is the cost of utilities and a bit extra. Lucky me! I'm very excited about my new apartment. Lucy and I will be so comfy. Door to door from Nikki's place to mine will be about 45 minutes via Strassenbahn (streetcar). I agreed with Barbara to take the apartment in January.

In the meantime, Nik and I have hatched another scheme. We had originally decided that I could do 'private' English tutoring as a means of support. But without the proper training and qualifications I wouldn't be able to do anything official (the way Nik does). Then Nikki found a four week program from Cambridge University that is taught at the Berlin School of English (in Berlin, of course). It is called CELTA (Certification for English Language Teaching to Adults). To qualify for English language teaching positions a person must either have a university degree or be certified to teach English to adults. CELTA is, worldwide, one of the most widely recognised certification programs. With CELTA certification I could teach anywhere except at a university. The cost is a bit pricey but doable for me and it is something that I could use in the future as well as while I'm here in Germany. So I have already requested an application package for the class that begins on November 10th and runs through December 5th. If I am accepted, I will spend the next month here in Ludwigshafen with Nikki and Bert and then the following month in Berlin. Just a couple of weeks later will be time for Christmas at Ruth and Bill's in Colorado with all the kids.

My other goal while I am here is to improve my German. The last time I lived in Germany I could get by with my limited German, because we were here with the military and part of such a large American community. My language skills are sufficient to 'get by' but not to function comfortably in a total immersion environment. I'll probably take actual German language classes but, at the very least, Nikki is going begin tutoring me at home.

So, those are my plans for the next couple of months. Never a dull moment, these days!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lucy In The Sky.....

The Bitty is on her way! I dropped her off at the airport this morning at 6am. No problems this time. The shipping company picked up all of my boxes on Tuesday and the next door neighbors bought my car yesterday. So all that is left is for me to get on the plane myself this afternoon!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Brothers

My father had two younger sons (different mothers) who were never told who their biological father was. Dad told me about them when we got to know each other in 1995. I think my Aunt Carmen was the only other family member who knew about the two younger boys. One was raised by his mother and her husband (who, of course, will always be his dad). The other was given up for adoption. They both grew up in Santa Rosa and Dad was able to keep track of them as they grew but out of respect for their mothers he never approached either son. Since my dad named them both as beneficiaries in his estate we needed to find them and inform each of them of their pending inheritance. The only information we had were their mothers names. The estate attorney ended up hiring a private investigator to do the job. It only took him a couple of months to find them both. Paul is about 3 years younger than I am and still lives in Santa Rosa. Daryl is about 15 years younger than me and now lives in Folsom, Ca. So now I have cousins named Daryl and Paul and brothers named Daryl and Paul!

Daryl and I talked for a couple of hours on the phone the other night. What a nice guy. He has taken this all in stride. As he says, it doesn't change who he is or his relationship with his family. But he's open to the new situation, too. He and Paul met several months ago after the DNA results came back. Daryl says they look a lot alike and even have some very similar mannerisms. They are both accountants, too.

Wow, just as I finished the last paragraph my phone rang. It was the other brother, Paul! We talked for about an hour. He was just as open and friendly as Daryl was. I had called each of them a few days ago and left a message on their voice mail letting them know who I was along with my phone number. I was kind of glad that neither one was home when I called. That way they each had the option of calling me back if they wanted....or not. But they both did. So now we have at least met over the phone. I hope to be able to meet them both in person some day. In the meantime, they both asked about pictures of Dad. So, once I get settled, I'll copy what I have for them.

I told them both about dad and what a genuinely nice man he was and that, even though he didn't get to raise any of us, he loved all of us. I was just lucky enough to have been able to find that out firsthand. To this day I don't know what moved me to pick up my phone in 1995 and reach out to him but I am so glad I did. To my younger brothers he will forever be just a name and a picture. But, lucky me, he was My Dad.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Down To The Wire

Well, I'm almost there. The shipping company is coming tomorrow afternoon to get my boxes. Lucy is rescheduled to fly on Thursday morning at 8am. The sale of the car happens later that morning and then I fly at 3pm that afternoon. I have a few errands to run tomorrow morning and I'm going to try to get in for a haircut on Wednesday. But that's it!

Sherry's family got together last Friday evening to throw me a little going away party. There were about 25 people there and we had a really fun time. I've been coming to Pittsburgh every year for the last 10 years to be here for Steve's birthday in September (he turned 17 on the 18th!) so I've gotten to know the whole family over the years and I've also gotten to see all the kids in the family grow up. Everyone was very welcoming when I got here last February and I can't express how much support I got this past spring when I was facing surgery. It makes me very happy to know that Steve is growing up in the midst of this huge close-knit extended family. I'll miss them all when I leave.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Calgon, Take Me Away!!

This has been a very frustrating day. Let me back up a little. The paperwork that I had gotten done for Lucy before I left Tucson doesn't apply for Germany so I took her to the vet 10 days ago to get the proper paperwork completed. It should have been easy enough. After all she already had her rabies shot and her microchip implanted by the vet in Tucson. Just have the vet here in Pittsburgh fill out the right forms, make a flight reservation and go.
Famous last words! Turns out we need an actual rabies certificate for her to enter Germany, not just the info recorded on the health certificate by the vet. The other glitch was that the microchip scanner that the Pittsburgh vet had wouldn't read Lucy's chip. Dr. Muliken said I should call Dr. Stern in Tucson, have him send a rabies certificate and find out the brand name of the chip so I could rent the proper scanner to send with her when she flies. That should be easy enough. Yeah, right. Dr. Stern said he thought we had already left and had purged the file. He had nothing to give me. Said it would probably be easiest to just get her another rabies shot. He was able to tell me the chip manufacturer, though. So I took Lucy back to Dr. Muliken for another rabies shot with certificate and ordered a scanner for the chip through an online company. I then had to FedEx all of Lucy's paperwork to the USDA in Harrisburg for authorization. The vet there stamped it A-OK and FedExed it back to me.

Thinking all was fine, I left on Friday for Virginia (I had a great time, by the way). When I got home on Monday afternoon the scanner had arrived so I tried it out. Nothing. Tried again and again and again. Nothing. Called the company and was assured that it should work. Perhaps I should take the scanner and my cat to the vet (for the third time in a week) and let them do it. So back we go to Dr. Muliken. She can't get it to read, either! By this time I'm starting to panic a bit. It's Tuesday and Lucy is supposed to fly on Thursday. The only option is to implant another microchip that this scanner will be able to read. It won't read the ones that Dr. Muliken has so she called another vet clinic here in town and explained our dilema. After getting past the idiot at the front desk the vet there said I could bring the scanner over and see if it would read their chips. If it did he agreed to see us that evening and put in the new chip. So Lucy and I hop back in the car and drive over. I scanned one of their chips and Viola! It worked. So now we just had to wait for the vet to squeeze us in. He was very understanding. Problem solved, right? Not so fast. Now the chip number didn't jive with the paperwork. And there wasn't enough time to resubmit it to Harrisburg. Thank goodness Dr. Muliken has a good working relationship with the USDA vet. He said yes, we could just add the new chip number to our paperwork along with the number of the unreadable chip. As long as the scanner could pick up one of them, we were OK. So yesterday I had to take the paperwork back to Dr. Muliken so she could ammend it in her hand writing. Talk about cutting it close. I needed to have Lucy to Delta Cargo by 5am this morning and I finally got all the paperwork square at 3pm yesterday. Whew! OK, close but OK.
We're not done with this saga yet, but let's start on the other.....

When I got in my car yesterday morning the power steering made a god awful noise. I know enough to know that it needed power steering fluid so I added to the full line and all was fine except that then I heard a strange tapping coming from the engine. I texted Paul and he said to first check the oil. That was fine so he told me it might just be a sticky lifter and to "take it out and run the piss out of it for a few minutes and it might clear up". It did. Thank goodness. I'm selling the car in a week. It's always run great and I sure didn't need any problems now. I went about my business for the day but later in the afternoon I noticed smoke or steam or some kind of vapor coming from under the hood. Shit, that can't be good. I needed to leave for the airport at 4:30am so I had no choice but to get the car to a mechanic right then. Yep, power steering fluid leaking onto the exhaust. They couldn't do anything right then but if I wanted to bring it back in the morning.....But, but, I have to go to the airport at 4:30am! Fortunately, Sherry let me use her car to take Lucy to the airport this morning and said she would follow me down to drop the car off when the mechanic opened at 8am.

So I got up at 3:45 and Lucy and I were out the door by 4:15 along with all of our hard fought paperwork. I'm worrying about my car all the way there but I tell myself I'll get Lucy on her way and deal with the car when I get home. When we walk in the door I pull out the golden paperwork, hand it to the guy, and lift Lucy (in her kennel) onto the counter. He then tells me that I am missing the "acclimation statement" from the vet AND that her kennel is not big enough for international travel. Fine for domestic travel but not for international. The acclimation statement just says what tempurature limits the animal can handle (DUH! It has to be written out?). The bottom line was that Lucy wasn't going anywhere today. (this is getting pathetic, isn't it?) So I haul her back out to Sherry's car and we drive home feeling VERY frustrated. I crawl back into bed at about 5:30am to try for a couple more hours of sleep before I have to take the car in. Sherry followed me to the auto shop and, of course, they said they would call me when they got to it. I was so hoping that it was just a loose hose or something similarly simple and maybe, just maybe, they could get it done before my Dr. appt at 1:30 this afternoon. Yeah right....Sherry let me use her car again and they called while I was on my way to the V.A. There is a hole in the steering line and they don't really want to tackle it so I should have it towed to the dealer. Oh great! What else? Is a moose going to jump out in front me? Is a meteor going to hit me? Just shoot me now, please! There's nothing I can do until I get back from my appt so all I can do is grit my teeth and say, "Thanks, I'll have AAA come get it this afternoon". So that's my shitty day. Tomorrow I have to go get the stupid acclimation statement from the vet, go buy a bigger kennel (in Sherry's car again) and rebook Lucy's flight for Monday. The car is at the Mercury dealer now and, of course, it got there too late for them to look at it today. So they'll call me tomorrow. Please, please, please, let tomorrow be a better day than today!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Seventeen Days And Counting

I leave for Germany in seventeen days! I bought a one way ticket for October 2nd. There's not too much more to do to get ready. Sherry's next door neighbors are going to buy my car and they have agreed to wait to do the transfer until the day before I leave.

I completed all the needed paperwork for Lucy to go to Scotland with me before I left Tucson. But, of course, we need different paperwork to get her into Germany. So I had to start from square one. I've had the necessary papers filled out by the vet here in Pittsburgh and I FedExed it to the USDA in Harrisburg today to be authorized. When I get it back later this week then I can make her travel arrangements. I'm going to send her a week before I go. Nikki has agreed to pick her up from the Frankfurt airport when she arrives.

How funny that Lucy was born in Germany 18 years ago and now she's going back. I don't know how much longer we'll have *The Bitty*. Her diabetes is well controlled but ever since she had a minor surgery to remove a fairly large cyst from her neck last December she has really slowed down. Before that nobody would have ever guessed her age but, even though she came through the surgery just fine, since then she has slowed down considerably. Now she acts like an old cat. Add to that the fact that she has something going on with her left eye that may be or may not be some type of cancer. It doesn't seem to give her any pain and the only way to know for sure what it is would be to see a feline opthamologist. Because of her age and her diabetes I asked the vet who did her health check to do some extra bloodwork to check her glucose level and her liver and kidney function. Her glucose level came back fine and her kidney functions are really good considering her age but there is some enzyme in her liver that is elevated. The vet called the lab today to ask them to do another test on Lucy's blood sample that will tell us whether it's being caused by a thyroid condition. If it is we can probably control it with medication.

Given all of this, some people might not go to the expense and trouble to take her to Germany. Some might think now would be the time to throw in the towel but I'm not ready to go there yet. Yes, she's old and she doesn't always get her ass all the way into the litter box (I have to put puppy pee pads down in front of her litter box) but her diabetes is under control and the other things are still just maybes at this point. She sleeps a lot and moves slowly but her appetite is still good and she is still as needy and affectionate as ever. After 18 years together I'd rather go on the assumption that she's still got a few more years left in her. So I'll buy her a plane ticket next week and then find her a good vet when we get to Germany.

I'm going to Virginia this weekend. One more chance to hang out with my cousin for a couple of days before I leave. I'm sure there will be no drinking or tomfoolery involved. We'll probably just watch the Home and Garden channel on TV, play with the dog and maybe make a couple of trips to Walmart. Yeah, riiiight.....

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Woman's Suffrage

My thanks to Amy for this email......

After your recent blog post, I thought you'd like to see this. I remember hearing about Iron Jawed Angels a few years ago but never got around to seeing it... maybe I should do a screening.

---------- Forwarded message ----------



This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.
Remember, it was not until 1920
that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed
nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking
for the vote.
(Lucy Burns)
And by the end of the night, they were barely alive.
Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing
went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of
'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'
They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above
her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping
for air.
(Dora Lewis)
They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her
head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate,
Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack.
Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging,
beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the
'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917,
when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his
guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because
they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right
to vote.

For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their
food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.
(Alice Paul)
When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.
http://memory. collections/ suffrage/ nwp/prisoners. pdf

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because...why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movie 'Iron Jawed Angels.' It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.

My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. 'One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,' she said. 'What would those women think of the way I use, or don't use,
my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.' The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her 'all over again.'

HBO released the movie on video and DVD . I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy.

The doctor admonished the men: 'Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.'

We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote democratic, republican or independent party - remember to vote.

History is being made.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Michael and Me

Michael was here over this past weekend. We had such a good time together. He landed on Saturday morning and after a brief stop at the house to drop off his bag we headed for Cleveland, Ohio, of all places! It's about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Pittsburgh and that's where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is located. W were so excited we were like a couple of kids on a really cool fieldtrip. The Hall of Fame did not disappoint! We spent 7 1/2 hours wandering through all the nooks and cubbies of all 6 floors, studying all the exhibits and absorbing all things Rock and Roll. We saw a couple of really good films on the history and social impact of R&R and a 60 minute film about all of the Hall of Fame inductees. The music in the films was fantastic. It was impossible to sit still in our chairs. The whole day was fabulous. I'm glad I got to go with Michael. It was a great experience for just the two of us to share.

On Sunday we went to the National Aviary here in Pittsburgh and then to the Carnegie Science Center to see the Titanic exhibition. They were both pretty cool and we enjoyed the entire day but the highlight of Michael's whirlwind visit was definitely our trip through Rock and Roll history.

He flew back to Seattle at noon on Monday. It was a short visit but any time I get to spend with one of my kids is wonderful. I love to be with all three of them together but just as important to me are the times when I get one on one time with each of them.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yesterday's Dream Lives On

Today is the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's most famous speech, the words of which are just as stirring today as they were when Dr. King first delivered them from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 250,000 people gathered on the Washington Mall. Take a moment to read this most historic and inspiring speech.....

I Have a Dream

August 28, 1963. Washington, D.C.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. [Applause]

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Right To Vote

Eighty-eight years ago today US Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification of the nineteenth amendment to the US Constitution.

That amendment reads:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

The women of 19th century America struggled for more than 70 years, beginning in 1848, for the right to vote. The women of 21st century America are the beneficiaries of their victory. Our right to vote is a gift from our great great grandmothers.

As November approaches remember their struggle. When election day arrives celebrate their victory. Vote! Anyone who knows me knows my political preference. I'm not saying here "Vote for my candidate". I'm simply saying "Vote". It is your right as an American woman.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Detour

Definition: An alternate path of travel used while a regular path of travel is temporarily closed.

I had planned on being in Scotland by now to start school on September 1st. The first year student orientation was this past weekend. But, as we all know, Life has a way of sometimes throwing us a curveball. I was banking on the fact that my dad's house would sell over the summer and we could have gotten his estate all wrapped up by the time I needed to leave. No such luck in this current crappy real estate market. So I got a deferment from the University of the Highlands and Islands until the fall of '09. As you can imagine, I'm very disappointed about not being able to get to Scotland this year but I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason and, for some reason, I'm just not meant to go this year. That being said, the next question is "What the hell do I do with myself for the next year?" Well....

Option #1
After all I do have kids there. It would be nice to be close to Michael and Shauna for a while and since I'm originally from the Pacific Northwest it would feel very much like going home. But I feel like spending the next year in Seattle would be just marking time. And, to be truthful, that's why I hatched this hair-brained scheme of mine. Because I saw my life not really going anywhere. I was just marking time, plodding along from one day to the next, living somewhere because that's where Life and circumstances had dropped me. Not really living life but simply existing in life. I had reached my own point of critical mass. It was time to take control of my life and do what I wanted instead of just following the path of least resistance.
Just because things have not followed my predetermined timeline does not mean that I'm going to go back to killing time. So, as much as I would love to be near a couple of my kids, Seattle is not the place for me.

Option #2
It really is like paradise and Karen could sure put me to work there. It would also be fun to look back afterward and say, "Yeah, I did that. I spent a year living and working on a small Caribbean island." But, honestly, as much as I love to visit there, Vieques is not the place for me either. The ever present intense level of humidity would get to me and I think I'd go island crazy before too long.

Option # 3
It would, at least put me back in Europe, where I really want to be. I've lived there before and loved it and, again, I have a kid there. Nik and I talked about it a lot while I was visiting in June. The rules for getting a long term visa are not as strict in Germany as they are in the UK (in my case, virtually impossible until I'm a student). We brainstormed about how I could earn a living while I'm there. My German language skills are OK but not good enough to just jump into total immersion and function at a competent level. So it's not like I could just walk in and apply for a job somewhere. But there is a need for native English speakers. Germans learning English need an avenue by which to practice what they are learning in structured classes. It's called English for Conversation. Since Nikki is an English teacher she sees the need firsthand. She already has several potential clients for me once I get there.
It will also be a pretty good Life skill for do more listening and less talking! I watched Nikki with a couple of her students at an informal appt over lunch one day. She contributed just enough to the conversation to keep it going but encouraged her students to do most of the talking by asking them questions. In learning a new language understanding comes much quicker than production so learners need the opportunity to speak the new language in a practice situation much more than they need to hear it. What a fun way to make a living. Spend time with people from another culture and help them with their English skills! And it's not like the German culture is a foreign one to me. The six year period when I lived there the first time was a wonderful experience. Even though my ultimate goal is to live in Scotland I'm very excited about just getting back to Europe. There just isn't anywhere here in the States that calls to me and says, "Come here. You should live here." It really hit me one day when I was sitting at a cafe at the Castle above Heidelberg a couple of months ago. I was sitting there soaking in the view and thinking about how happy I was to be back in Europe and I suddenly realized just how ready I am to leave the States again on a long term basis. I knew that, even though I still had some really fun summer travels ahead of me, I would be counting the weeks or months til I could get on a plane again headed back across the Atlantic. That's why I'm going back to Germany for the next year. I'm not choosing Nikki over Shauna and Michael. I'm choosing Europe over the States. At least for the next 5 years. I'm sure I'll come back at some point to live here again but now is not the time. Now is the time for me to get my second European adventure started with a year in Germany and then to realize my ultimate dream of 4 years in Scotland.

I'll be in Pittsburgh until the end of September. Steve's birthday is on the 18th (he'll be 17!) and I want to get back to Virginia to see Paul one more time before I leave. After that....pull out the passport and pack the cat!

Happy Birthday To Me!

August 25th, 1957.
How many times in my life have a written that date? Who knows! I have to be careful when I have to write "today's date" on something on my birthday. I'll write August 25th and if I'm not thinking about what I'm doing, instead of writing the current year, I'll just continue with 1957 (I sure hope I'm not the only person who does such a dorky thing).

I played around and found out that, not only do I share a birthday with the incomparable Scottish actor Sean Connery, but also....

Tim Burton
Elvis Costello
Gene Simmons
Regis Philbin
Monty Hall
Leonard Bernstein
Ludwig II (the mad king of Bavaria!)
and, last but not least,....
Ivan the Terrible (first Tzar of Russia)

I wonder if any of them make (or made!) the same mistake when writing "today's date"?
Maybe I should call Sean and we could go for a drink and discuss it......

Today is also National Parks Day. In honor of my birthday (I'm sure that's the reason) you can visit any national park today without having to pay the normal entrance fee!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The End of Summer

It sure has been a great summer. I started my travels the middle of June in Virginia at Paul's with extended family. From there I went to visit Nikki and Bert in Germany where Nik and I made a little side trip to Paris. Two days after I landed back in Pittsburgh I was off to Paul's again for a couple of days before I flew to Seattle to see all my kids there. Then it was on another plane to Colorado to spend a week with Ruth and Bill. After a one night layover back in Seattle I flew back to D.C. for another weekend with Paul and a day out on the boat. That Monday I drove back to Pittsburgh for another 'one overnight' and left for Vieques the next morning. Two weeks on a small Caribbean island is definitely a very good way to end the summer.

So here I am, back in the Burgh with summer coming to a close. Some of you may be wondering when I'm leaving for Scotland. Well, there is a little detour in the coming year.....

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hola de Veiques

I hope you have a few minutes 'cause this is a long one.....

So here I am, sitting on the beach in Vieques staring out over the Carribean Ocean. This island is so peaceful and a world away from, well, the rest of the world. Vieques has so far escaped the
over-developement that has engulfed most of the Carribean Islands. It's only about 20 miles long and 5 miles wide and most tourists get no closer to Vieques than the main island of Puerto Rico which is about 6 miles to the north of this sleepy little island. Those who do find their way here do so because they are looking for the peace and tranquility that can't be found on the more well known islands, such as St. Thomas, St. Crouix, Antiguia or Barbados.

Vieques has no nightclubs, no Starbucks, no McDonalds, no malls, no golf courses, no casinos, no resorts, and no highrise condominiums. Not even a movie theater. What it does have is 56 miles of gorgeous coastline that includes dozens of inlets, bays and breathtaking beaches. Because most of the rest of the world has yet to discover Vieques it is not unusual to find yourself the only person on whatever beach you have chosen for the day, especially during the week when the local residents are mostly working and the kids are in school.

The *hub* of the island is the town of Isabel Segunda which has everything one would expect to find in a small town: a bank, schools, a police station, a medical clinic, family owned restaurants, etc. There are a handful of grocery stores (not supermarkets) on the island as well as hardware stores, several small beauty salons, a couple of gas stations and whatever else the local population deems necessary for daily living.
On the other side of the island from Isabel II is the even smaller town of Esperanza with its open air restaurant/bars that face the water.

The tourists who do come and the people who live here have 2 choices of transportation to get to and from the Big Island: a small 8-10 passenger plane that makes 3 or 4 trips a day or the ferry which also runs several times a day (both times I've been here I've flown in on the little *puddle jumper* plane from San Juan).

Catering to the tourists are a couple of car rental places, locally owned and operated sightseeing/tour businesses, small hotels/guesthouses and a fair number of pretty pricey vacation rental houses. These houses are mostly located in the hills that make up the ridge that runs about center of the island from one end to the other.

My friend, Karen, is a transplant from Arizona who moved to Vieques almost 6 years ago. She has built herself quite a nice business here by *managing* 17 of these vacation homes for the absentee owners. She has a team of about 9 people who work for her and she sees to the the care and maintenence of the houses when they are empty as well as readying them for the arrival of the owners coming for vacation or renters who have contracted with the homeowners for the use of the house, usually for about a week at a time. Most of the houses that Karen manages are used as vacation rentals on a regular basis. She also does the meet and greet for the arriving guests and is their contact should they need information or assistance during their stay. After they leave she and her team clean and close up the house OR work like madmen to turn it around and ready it for the next group or family who sometimes arrive later that same day. She stays very busy to say the least! The owners of these beautiful houses range from nationally known politicians to people in the entertainment industry or big business to just plain people with big bucks.

As luck would have it, just as I was planning my visit to the island, Karen, on behalf of the owners, was arranging for some outside plastering to be done to one of the houses as well as the installation of some new windows. With all of the scaffolding up the owners were a little uncomfortable with the house being unoccupied while the work was being done. But they couldn't very well have scaffolding up and workmen around while they had paying guests. "Weeell," says Karen, "I have just the solution for that".
So......guess who gets to stay at this lovely big house with its beautiful hilltop ocean view? The work is going on at the back of the house and I'm gone most of the day anyway so I hardly even notice that anything is being done. I just wanted to come visit my friend in paradise and here she sets me up with a gorgeous house and even made an arrangement with one of her other clients for my use of their car while I'm here!

It's been really nice to see Karen again. We've stayed in touch since she left Tucson (she better than me) and she's a really good friend. I've been promising her that I would come back to visit ever since she moved here; about 5 months after the first time I came with her (my first time, not hers) to visit her cousin, Colleen, who has now lived on Veiques for about 20 years. I'm just wondering why it took me 6 years to get back here. But I'm here now and savoring every minute of my visit.

Life is good!

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

One Of Life's Little Nuggets

I left Colorado last Thursday. After a one night stopover back in Seattle I flew to D.C. on Friday. To fly to Seattle and back on my free ticket from Alaska Airlines I had to leave from Washington D.C. because Alaska doesn't fly out of Pittsburgh. That was OK with me. It just gave me a reason to spend a couple of days with Paul and company before I left and again after I got back. So I left my car with them in Haymarket and my cousin played airport taxi for me.

Paul picked me up from Reagan National Airport Friday night and we got back to his house around 10:30pm. Genelle had planned a suprise birthday luncheon for her mother, Wanda, on Saturday afternoon so her sister and two little nephews had flown in from Los Angeles for the the weekend. Julianne and the boys had the guest room upstairs so I slept on the futon in the *man cave*(Paul's recording studio in the basement). I guess nobody thought to tell Zach about the sleeping arrangements 'cause the next morning he said he spent most of the night sleeping on the couch in the living room until he somehow realized that I wasn't sleeping in his room like the last time they had a houseful of people (for his graduation party in June). That weekend Paul's parents were in the master bedroom, Paul and Genelle moved upstairs to the guest room, Paul's sister Shelley and her husband Steve were in the man cave and I got Zach's room. Not quite so much juggling to do this weekend but somehow poor Zach never got the room assignments!

As usual, after everyone else turned in, Paul and I ended staying up till the wee hours of the morning drinking beer, listening to music and hanging out in the man cave. It was a lot of fun but the next morning I was definately feeling it. By the time we left for Wanda's party I was pretty sure I could keep food down but I knew I wasn't drinking anything that day. Paul kept trying to get me to have a beer with lunch and after I said I just couldn't for about the 10th time he made me say out loud, "I'm a wienee". So after making me verbally humiliate myself, did he quit? Noooo........then he wanted me to do a shot of tequila with him in the bar. After about 6 No's I finally said OK. You should have seen how he twisted my arm! After a while Zach comes to find us. He has this accusing look on his face and says, "You left me alone......with all old people". I had to laugh. He did it with such a straight face.

That night Genelle, Julianne, Austin and I got into a very weird game of some kind of gin rummy while Paul snored on the couch. We didn't finish until after 1:30am so it was another late night for me.

Paul and his friend Scott (who I've met before and like very much) both own speed boats so the next day we had 8 adults, 3 teenagers and 4 littler kids out on the Potomac river on the 2 boats. Add one tube to pull behind one of the boats and you have the makings for a really fun day. Those who didn't want to ride the tube stayed on Scott's boat which was anchored in one place. Those who wanted to ride got on Paul's boat. The women all elected to stay stationary but this just looked like too much fun to me. Never one to turn down a new experience, I had to try it! The tube holds 2 people so the first time I rode Paul went with me and Scott drove the boat. The second time Scott went with me and Paul drove. Of course, both times, whichever one was driving, they each did their best to scare the crap out of me without actually dumping me into the river. I think it worked, too. It was all I could do to keep myself from screaming like a girl as the boat would make a tight circle and the tube would go flying out to the side in reaction to it. I'm not sure exactly how fast we were going but from where I sat it was plenty fast enough! And I would just like to say now that Paul and Scott both got thrown out while I managed to stay IN the tube both times I rode ( I think the only reason I didn't get thrown was because I had a death grip on the handles! But don't tell my cousin that) . What a blast!!

When we finally called it a day Genelle, her sister and kids and Austin went to Genelle's parents house for the evening and Paul and I went home to shower, eat pizza and watch the Redskins play the Colts in the Hall of Fame game. The Redskins won.

You never know what nuggets Life will hand to you when you least expect them. Who would have thought that, in losing my dad, I would meet my cousin for the first time at his memorial, that we would hit it off so completely that first day and that I would then end up so close to him on the East Coast? Or that over the last few months we would have gotten to know each other, not just as cousins, but as really good friends? I think Paul will be one of the people I miss the most when I leave for Europe. But the good part is that, no matter what, he will always be my cousin and we'll always be friends.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Higher And Higher

It's been over a week since I last visited my blog and I think it's time for a little catch up.

Let's see, where was I?... Oh yes, I was in Colorado with Ruth and Bill. It was a great visit, as usual. Ruth and I went to Glenwood Springs three different times. Driving through the Glenwood Canyon still just leaves me in awe. The first time I traveled through that amazing corridor it was a good thing that I wasn't driving. It was still just a narrow and winding 2 lane road that hugged the earth between the side of the canyon and the river. And there I was hanging out the car window with my camera, snapping pictures at every turn, trying to capture every nuance of the visual feast that Mother Nature had laid out before me. I still experience that same sense of wonder whenever I go through the canyon. The towering cliffs on either side are an amazing shade of red with just enough green trees to set off the hue of earth. These days, though, it's no longer a little 2 lane road but a continuation of Interstate 70 with 2 lanes in either direction, the westbound lanes sometimes elevated above the eastbound. And it is still a feast for the eyes.

I got to see some new places, too. One day Ruth took me up over Cottonwood Pass. I have heard the pass mentioned over the years and wanted to see it for myself. For the first 10 miles or so it's just a very pretty drive on a paved road up and up around the mountain just to the south of Glenwood Canyon. Nothing but cattle ranches and natural terrain for as far as the eye can see with the monstrous Mt. Sopris off in the distance. Very serene......until the *maintained* road runs out. By this time you're up pretty high and the dirt road starts getting really rough. It hugs the side of the mountain with a sheer drop on the other side. I can't imagine what one does if another car comes from the other direction. Fortunately I didn't have to find out. Once you reach the summit the road starts to gently descend the other side and eventually gets easier to travel again. More cattle ranches. And then you see the valley up behind Gypsum spreading before you. You pop out on Gypsum Creek Rd. just a couple of miles from the house. Pretty cool!

Ruth also took me up Brush Creek to Sylvan Lake, another area I have heard about but had never seen. It's a beautiful drive and once again I had my camera earning its keep!

We had lots of time to just hang around the house too. I got my political fix watching politcs on TV with Bill and discussing the election. During my week stay the 3 of us also managed to get to the antiques show at Beaver Creek over the weekend and drive up to the quaint little town of Redstone for lunch on another day.

Ruth and I had planned on doing a lot of hiking but 2 days after I arrived she broke her kneecap by falling when she tripped on a rock! Fortunately she won't need surgery but she will spend the next 4-6 weeks in a leg brace that goes from the top of her thigh down to the middle of her calf. So hiking was definately out but, as you can tell, we still found plenty to do! The hard part was and still is to convince Ruth to try to stay off her leg. There she is every day out back taking care of her yard and all her gardens. She can't get down on her knees and pull weeds so she brought out a long handled hoe. The one big thing that she has had to give up for the duration is her yoga, which she usually does every morning. It's a little hard to turn yourself into a pretzel when you can't bend one leg!

The kids and are all going back for Christmas this year, with Steve and Bert in tow. Winter wonderland, here we come!

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Rocky Mountain High

There is something almost magical about this part of Colorado, from Vail all the way west through the canyon and to Glenwood Springs. I've been coming here for almost 30 years now and it never seems to lose its wonder. I'm not sure if I love it more when the valley is in all of its 'Winter Wonderland' glory with several feet of snow quietly blanketing the landscape or at this time of year, the heighth of a perfect summer. As I sit here on the patio I hear several different kinds of birds calling out. A dozen or so hummingbirds are buzzing around their little feeders and Ruth's gardens are all basking in their summer beauty. No matter what the season, it seems, this is such a peaceful retreat from the rest of the world.

Of course, I'm sure a lot of the atmosphere here has to do with who we come to visit. Ruth and Bill have created this nature filled oasis, just outside of Gypsum, bit by bit, since they bought this house and two acres 27 years ago. The flower gardens, vegetable gardens, chickens, goats, dogs and cats have all flourished under their loving and constant care. They are the reason my kids and I keep coming back to the valley in which their father and his seven brothers and sisters were raised. My (former) mother-in-law is truly my hero. At 76 years young Ruth still amazes me. She has the energy and physical stamina that would put most 30 year olds to shame and even after eight kids she has a better figure than I ever dreamed of having. She hikes all over these mountains during the summer and in the winter dons her cross country skis or snowshoes.

Ruth and Wades father Dale moved their large family from Wisconsin to Vail 40 years ago and, though all but one of her children have left this part of Colorado, Ruth has continued to thrive here in the life that she and Bill have built over the almost 3 decades that they have been married. I have been fortunate to see my friendship with her strengthen and continue to grow over the years and I am always so pleased when we find similarities between the two of us. Other than my children, her opinion of me is probably more important to me than is that of anyone else in my life. I can't express how loved I feel when she introduces me to someone and says that I'm like another daughter to them.

Though Ruth was married to Dale for the first 30 years of her adult life, she found her mate when she met Bill Moran shortly after her divorce. Bill shares her love of Colorado, dogs and their home. This Rocky Mountain Retreat that continues to draw my kids and me back year after year has been a joint labor of love between the two of them. It would not have been possible for either of them alone to create, but together they have coaxed their common dream into reality.

And so here I am, in one of my favorite places with two of my favorite people.

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