The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

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!