Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New family photo

I love this picture! And it was a self-portrait!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

This blog is on life-support

Just to prove we're still here...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spring Break

Poor blog. You're so neglected. I can't even remember the last time I wrote a blog post. That's what happens when you join Facebook... the blog gets lost and forgotten.

This year, Madchen got to experience spring break for the first time. Not because we took her to some tropical spring break destination, but because 2 of her Wisconsin cousins and her Tante (my sister) came to stay with us during their spring break. For Madchen, spring break meant that all of her regular classes (music, gymnastics, and school) were taking a couple weeks off, so she was thankful to have something like her cousins to keep her entertained.

While they were here, we did try to get out of the city for a brief beach excursion (to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware), but unfortunately we experienced no sunshine at all, only torrential rains and near-hurricane force winds. As a result, we never actually saw the ocean (other than from the car as we drove in) despite staying in a hotel only 2 blocks from the beach. THANK GOODNESS I booked a hotel with an indoor pool. It saved us.

The highlight of spring break was celebrating Easter together. My sister and I took her 2 kids (the other son was rock climbing with his Dad in California for the week) to the National Cathedral for an Easter Eve service (Kirk stayed home with Madchen since it was after her bedtime) that was beautiful, albeit long. We left after an hour and a half, and we were only on page 12 of a 25 page bulletin. But when you're a kid, Easter is all about the candy, right? We had an Easter egg hunt in the backyard, which Madchen LOVED.

She especially loved the chocolate eggs. Thankfully the Easter bunny only included a few of those in the hidden eggs. Check out her cheek filled with a bunch of chocolate.

As for all the other candy, she chose to share it with the rest of us. She only likes chocolate, thank you very much.

My sister and her kids spent a fair amount of time just playing tourists visiting all the DC sights. We joined them for a few things, although most include way too much walking for a 2-year old's little legs. Here we were with them at the Washington Monument (they got tickets to take the elevator all the way to to the top... we passed on that one).

Other than that, we spent lots of time at our neighborhood playgrounds. Kids have to be kids, after all, and you can only do sightseeing for so many hours of the day...

A sure sign that summer is just around the corner? POPSICLES!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Out of touch

I know, I know, the blog has been dormant. Here's a self-portrait (Mädchen insisted I cuddle with Cookie Monster one afternoon) just to prove we're still here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Triumphant return

We left Basel in March 2007, and we hadn't been back since. So I was thrilled to find out I had a meeting in Basel on April 1. I got in touch with a few friends who told me they had a group going up to the Alps for some late-season skiing from March 26-29, so I got clearance from a very jealous Gretchen to go early and have a few days of fun. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I found out that the meeting would be on April 7 instead. Not only did that mean no trip to the Alps, but it was also questionable whether I could even go at all because I was supposed to leave on April 5 and Gretchen had already planned to be in the Bay Area helping friends move out there and wouldn't be back until the 6th. ARGH!

All's well that ends well...Gretchen agreed to change her plans and get back on the morning of the 6th on a red-eye flight (just another reason why she rocks), and since my meeting started at 10:00am, I figured I could arrive that morning and go straight from the airplane to the meeting. Not ideal, but better than nothing.

At least I used miles to upgrade to business class flying over (we're required to fly economy to Europe for work) and try to catch a couple of hours of sleep, then I changed into my suit in the airplane restroom. Then I was saved by Swiss efficiency--the plane landed in Zurich at 8:05am, I had my bags and was through immigration and customs by 8:20am, I had coffee and pastries by 8:30am, was on a train by 8:45am, arrived at the Basel train station at 9:57am, and walked into my meeting minutes later just as it started. We had an all-day meeting followed by a dinner, but at least we had a couple of hours when I could walk over to Bachmann and get a delicious schoggiweggli:

The next day I moved from my hotel to friends' place nearby. It was cool and overcast, but that didn't slow me down--I had a long shopping list for Gretchen (chocolate) and Mädchen (toys, German childrens' books, colorful Euro clothes) to get through. So I wandered around the shops downtown and stopped for a bratwurst at a stand I used to go to on the Marktplatz:

I was also happy to see that teenage style (Eastern Europe meets suburban wannabe hip-hop) was as bad as ever:

I was also disappointed to know that I wouldn't be there for the big Basel Facebook party (or should I say Mega Party!), which I'm sure our Basel friends on Facebook will be attending this evening:

I try not to nap when I'm jet lagged so that I adjust more quickly, but it simply couldn't be helped that afternoon. Fortunately the nap made me nice and refreshed for a fun evening out with former co-workers (I decided not to try the stuffed rooster):

After sleeping in much too late the next day, I looked out the window and saw a bright blue sky with not a cloud in sight (the thing about Basel was that the weather was often lousy, but when it was nice, it was REALLY nice). So back I went downtown to see old, familiar sights:

I even took the tram back up to our old neighborhood, where I saw our former house:

That evening, I headed over to The Big Finn and Mrs. TBF's place, where friends Liz and Douglas and their daughter, as well as their friend Di, joined us for a delicious Thanksgiving-in-April (or "Kirkey," as they called it in my honor) dinner. Somehow I managed not to take pictures, but a good time seemed to be had by all.

By the time I got back to my friends' place, I realized I needed to be up at the crack of dawn the next morning (Good Friday) to get on an early train to the airport (United wouldn't assign me a seat ahead of time, so I wanted to make sure I got there early enough to get an aisle seat since I get intense claustrophobia otherwise). Good thing I didn't stop for coffee, because the doors were basically closing as I slipped onto the train. Getting there left me with a couple of hours to kill in the Zurich Airport, but it's one of the nicer airports you'll find, so all I needed was my iPod and some strong coffee and I was perfectly fine.

After several days of Swiss efficiency, it felt like home to be back on an airline where the entertainment system was broken the whole way back, only to arrive at an airport (Dulles) where going through immigration took close to 45 minutes and baggage claim is about as orderly as what you would expect to find in a Latin American capital city. God bless America!

As much as I wish I could have had more time there, and I wish Gretchen and Mädchen could have joined me (money and time didn't allow it), it was great to be back. It didn't feel weird--from the moment I arrived, I felt like I had never left. And it was great to see friends who I hadn't seen in a couple of years. As much as it made me nostalgic, though, I don't dwell on it--life was good then, but it's good now, too. I just hope to have another chance to go back again soon with my girls...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

All the news that's fit to print

I just got back from a great few days back in Basel (about which more later). One of the things that always gets me is how different the nature of the news is here and there. Not that I can actually read the news there since it's in German, but I generally can figure out enough to get the gist. Here, it is not uncommon for murders in DC to either go unreported or, perhaps, to get a short paragraph somewhere in the middle of the Metro section. By contrast, here are some of the items I came across in the various free local papers (which, I realize, are probably not of the same journalistic quality as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung or even the Basler Zeitung):
  • Someone burned a couple of sofas on Basel streets in the middle of the night

  • City gardeners are upset by the increasing use of disposable charcoal grills

  • Since the weather was so nice last weekend, 20,000 tons of garbage was collected in Basel

  • There was an update on the status of naked hiking

  • The Basel Zoo now has a walkway that allows visitors to see the giraffes at eye-level

  • Swiss butchers are being hard-hit by the crisis in the automobile industry because of weakened demand for leather (in Switzerland it's all about the cows)
Actually, as much as there was lots of such frivolity, the biggest news by far seemed to be the earthquake in Italy, whereas Gretchen said it hardly made a ripple in the news here. And best of all, I didn't see a single thing in the news there about the evil UNC winning the basketball national championship...

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Mr. Mom

We are in the midst of a very momentous occasion. Since Mädchen was born almost three years ago, Gretchen has never been away for the weekend on her own--not once. Until now, that is.

It's not that she hasn't wanted to go away, or that I haven't wanted her to, but circumstances just turned out that way. First, Mädchen refused to ever take a bottle. As a result, while Gretchen was nursing it wasn't an option for her to go away and leave me to give her bottles. Then, once she stopped nursing and started drinking milk from a cup, she went through an extremely intense Mommy-attachment phase. Not that she didn't like to be with me, but for any time longer than an hour or two away from Gretchen, she would be inconsolably hysterical. Once she got over that, she had a long stretch where she woke up at least once every single night, and she would only let Gretchen go to her. That phase finally passed about six months ago, so she probably could have gone away but the opportunity just never came up.

One of Gretchen's closest friends (whose kids are some of Mädchen's best friends, and who is basically responsible for introducing the two of us) is moving out to California. Since Gretchen knew it would be really tough for her friend to get three kids (two of whom are toddlers) through Dulles Airport and keep them entertained on the long flight to San Francisco, Gretchen decided to help them out and fly out with them. She won't have much time in the Bay Area, unfortunately--she's going to turn around and fly back tomorrow night. Still, I think it will be liberating for her (and she already has another trip planned).

As for me, I get a real taste of what Gretchen goes through every day--making sure Mädchen is dressed and fed, dealing with her two-year-old mood swings, keeping her entertained, cleaning the house, etc. It's only been a half-day so far, and Mädchen has been in a great mood, but I'm already exhausted!

As for Gretchen (who just sent me a picture on my cellphone that she took of the blue California sky from the Bay Bridge), I know her excitement about being away by herself is tempered by having to say goodbye to one of her oldest and closest friends. It's going to be a rough goodbye tomorrow night...



Mädchen and her good friend:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thinking by writing

I'm not generally much of a Michael Gerson fan since half of his columns are about what a Wonderful Person our former president is, but today's column about "the importance of writing to the process of thought" really hit home. Maybe it's because I like to think things through via writing, or maybe it's because I've written enough speeches for others to know how much each word can matter, but either way, I could relate.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Time goes by

Today marks the 2 year anniversary of our departure from Basel.

I wonder how many more years I will mark this anniversary. I wonder if we will ever NOT miss our life in Basel. Don't get me wrong, we're enjoying our life here, we're not living in the past, and we have (finally) settled in well. But Kirk and I do still get nostalgic for our expat life, especially for the travel we did and for the friends we made. And when I think about relaxed Swiss Sundays (who thought I'd ever miss that?!), or skiing in the Alps, or taking public transportation everywhere, or visiting neighborhood farms, or eating yummy Swiss bread... We still have conversations about "what if we moved back..." (although that's not very realistic, nor is it necessarily truly what I want to do).

If nothing else, we will have a lifetime of memories.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hardest job around

Way back in the day, I was a high school teacher for a few years. It was a fantastic experience that I wouldn't trade for anything, but it was also the most draining and emotionally taxing (not to mention worst-paying) job I've had. One of the things that was difficult about it was that you always had to be "on"--maybe on a very rare occasion you could be lazy and show a video, but by and large you couldn't ever just tune out. But at least I could go home at night when it was all over--Gretchen doesn't have that option "working" with a two-year-old. With the exception of the occasional Dora or Little Einsteins show, she basically has to be "on" all day, not to mention being on call around the clock. So this seems to be a pretty good explanation of why, even though I've been working pretty long days lately, SHE's the one who's really exhausted at the end of the day...


I wonder how upset Gretchen would have been if Mädchen had fallen in the water while throwing sticks because I was taking a picture instead of holding onto her? I'm going to go with "even more angry than when I rolled her stroller." That seems about right.

(Thankfully, all was fine. And she's got a heck of an arm.)

Sign o' the times?

Not too long ago, if we ever wanted to give something away but didn't have the energy or room in the car to take it to Goodwill, all we had to do was take it to the curb and it would be gone within hours. There was no need for Craigslist--this was as good as guaranteed. One side of our neighborhood is along a busy street with lots of big apartment buildings with a large immigrant population, and our guess is that there were always folks who didn't have a lot of money and were happy to get a piece of furniture. (Although our next-door neighbors also claimed items on several occasions.)

So when Gretchen cleaned out our basement in anticipation of the mold abatement guys (I don't want to talk about it), she found a couple of old things from Ikea that we'd had forever but clearly weren't going to use again. So we figured we'd just take it to the curb (one more reason for the neighbors to be happy!), label it "free," and be happy that it found a new home, especially with the bad economy.

Much to our surprise, a couple of days went by and nothing was taken until today, when someone finally took a bookcase and some old posters. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the economy is actually the reason things weren't being taken. When we moved back from Basel, we heard that the cost of housing had priced a lot of the immigrant population out of the area, which was reflected in a big drop in enrollment at our neighborhood elementary school. Now, one of the sectors of the economy that is being hardest-hit is construction, and I'm guessing that a large percentage of the folks living nearby work in construction and may have had to relocate to find work. So a lot of the people who a couple of years ago might have lived nearby and driven around looking for bargains may no longer be here. I could be wrong, of course, but that's my theory for now.

Won't you be my neighbor?

Oh yeah, with a yard like this, who wouldn't want to be our neighbor? It would be even better if we had (a) the hose running from our backyard to the front, (b) lawn ornaments, or (c) either a vehicle on blocks or assorted car parts. Just give us time...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A good weekend

Sunny skies and lots of laughs...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Getting my Kirk on

I've never been much of a sci-fi fan (the Star Wars series aside, which I'm not sure even counts as sci-fi). I'm sure much of my antipathy to sci-fi arises from simple personal taste. But a contributing factor is probably that, as a kid, every time I'd introduce myself, people would say things like "Oh, Captain Kirk? Beam me up, Scotty!" Yeah, that's really clever--never heard that one before. So, while I don't care for the genre as a whole, I'm especially irritated by Star Trek.

Where am I going with this? Oh, right--I was browing today's New York Times and saw a link to an article titled "Get Your Kirk On." Since "kirk" means "church" (more or less) in Scotland and at least some Scandinavian countries, I thought it might be an interesting travel article.

Ummmm...no. Instead, it's about people who have replicas of the captain's chair from Star Trek in their houses. DORKS!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Just for the record

(1) Last night we caught the second mouse, and I safely released it outside this morning. I just hope mice don't have an innate sense of returning from whence they came (kind of like those dogs and cats you sometimes read about who somehow wander hundreds of miles back to their home after being abandoned by their owners).

(2) The only reason I did several posts last night was because Gretchen told me she was sick and tired of seeing Clifford and me every time she brought up the blog, and she insisted I make it go away. Never mind that she could have accomplished the same thing by actually doing a blog post herself...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My girls

I never forget how lucky I am to have these two in my life:

Free music

I'm as unhip as they come, but saw a review in today's Post of a free download of a remixed Outkast song. Turns out the price was right for the whole album (i.e., free), and after one listen, it's kind of fun (assuming you even remotely like hip-hop music). I could see it making its way into the iPod rotation, especially the aforementioned Outkast song.

Nude hiking

Just for the record, this is something we never saw when we lived in Switzerland, nor is it something I plan to try if I'm able to visit in a couple of weeks.

Mouse in the house

At one point on Saturday, we were all in the kitchen and Mädchen all of a sudden pointed toward the dishwasher and said she saw something moving. She wouldn't go near it, but we just figured she had been spooked by a reflection of some sort and didn't think anything of it.

So imagine Gretchen's surprise on Sunday night when she went back into our family room and there was a small shrew or mouse running frantically around the room. We really felt like we'd had our fill of wildlife in the house this winter, what with the recently evicted squirrels in the attic (which, knock on wood, have not returned), but no. I may not be good for much around the house, but this was clearly my problem to deal with. So I went in, and sure enough, there was a tiny little guy just sitting on our kitchen floor. Catching him couldn't have been any easier--I got a lid from a puzzle box, tossed it on top of him, slid a placemat underneath, walked him outside, and released him a safe distance from the house. Mission accomplished!

Until the next day, that is. I was watching basketball Sunday afternoon when all of a sudden another little guy came running into the living room. I tried to catch him, but to no avail. Later that night, we were watching The Amazing Race when he reappeared at least 2-3 more times, freaking Gretchen out exponentially more with each appearance.

Last night we set a live trap, but no luck. Tonight we're going to switch to peanut butter as bait and hope we have better luck. We are absolutely at our wits' end in terms of everything going wrong in our house, but at least we've had consolation in learning about all of our other friends who have also had rodent problems. ARGH!!!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Self-portrait with Clifford the Big Red Dog

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I don't want to jinx it, but it's looking pretty likely that I'll be attending a meeting in Basel in a few weeks. Woohoo! I haven't been back since we returned to the States, so I'm really looking forward to it (assuming it actually happens). As if Gretchen weren't jealous enough already, I got in touch with good friends to see if they would be in town the weekend before, and he said they were going up to the Alps with a bunch of other friends that weekend, so why didn't I join them there? I still need to make sure that would be copacetic (leaving her alone with Mädchen for close to a week is not a decision to be taken lightly, although it helps that she'll be leaving me alone with Mädchen for the weekend after I get back), but regardless, I'm really hoping to get back and see old friends and familiar places...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

All good things must end

I've known this day was coming for some time, but that doesn't make it any easier:

As of the end of February, I no longer have Senator status on Lufthansa.

Back in my globe-trotting days, I got spoiled by the extra benefits that came along with this status: shorter check-in lines (usually), priority luggage arrival at baggage claim (at least in theory), and most importantly, access to the lounge even if I wasn't flying business class. As someone who loves to travel but doesn't like to fly, having a little calm before the flight was always a big plus. (The exception being Frankfurt, where the lounges are just as crowded and unpleasant as the rest of the airport--but once Lufthansa bought Swiss, I could use Zurich Airport instead, which is infinitely nicer.) So, for example, when I flew to Mexico City a couple of times last year, I could still use the lounge even though I was flying coach. A big plus, especially when a few days in Mexico have you feeling exhausted and not feeling well.

Lufthansa is fairly generous in that you keep your status for quite a while. In my case, I last reached Senator status in 2006, and since they sent my card in early 2007, I was somehow allowed to keep my status through February 2009.

Alas, now it's back to hanging out in the terminal with the hoi polloi! I'll just need to use my iPod to tune out the world and create my own virtual lounge amidst the chaos...

(And just for the record, no, I don't expect any sympathy.)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Top 20 Albums

Here's another Facebook post that I figured I'd put on the blog as well...

* * * * *

"Think of 20 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people and emotions. When you finish, tag 20 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill."

I wasn’t actually tagged for this, but saw someone else's list and was so intrigued I decided to do it anyway. It was harder than I thought, and made we wish I could be as eloquent as someone like Nick Hornby about the music that really moved me over the years. I’m probably forgetting some albums that I used to have but lost somewhere along the way, and I definitely feel like I’m missing some from high school and earlier. Then again, singles were bigger then (ask your parents, kids). These aren’t necessarily the “best” albums, and aren’t necessarily the ones I listen to most frequently (there are a few that I listen to constantly, but I don’t necessarily have a strong emotional attachment). I'm not going to tag anyone, but do it if you're feeling so inspired. In rough order of when I discovered them:

1. Abbey Road – The Beatles. I had a big Beatles phase in high school, which preceded my country music phase (a time when I actually thought being a redneck was a good thing). This was my favorite of their albums.

2. Who’s Next – The Who. This coincided with my Beatles phase. While I liked some Led Zeppelin, I never got into them as much as I got into The Who. Hard to top the combination of “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for air guitar fun.

3. Synchronicity – The Police. My last year in high school, I was still listening to a lot of country music and was reluctant to get into so-called New Wave music. This was the first step in getting over that reluctance. This album was probably the closest thing to a soundtrack of senior year.

4. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd. I didn’t go through a stoner phase, but this even blew me away sober. I associate it with long road trips and drinking outdoors with friends. I still listen to it on long flights.

5. Avalon – Roxy Music. This was either the first or second CD I ever bought (the other was Sting’s “Nothing Like the Sun”), and is still one of my all-time favorites. “More Than This” is absolutely brilliant—just typing that inspired me to play it.

6. The Hurting – Tears for Fears. In college I finally gave into the New Wave thing, and while there were a lot of great songs from the mid-‘80s, I always liked this album as a whole. (Also in contention: Yaz’s “Upstairs at Eric’s.”)

7. The Joshua Tree – U2. Blew me away at the time. I happened to be in Tempe, Arizona when they opened their U.S. tour in support of the album, and even though I didn’t go to the show, we had listened to it while driving across the desert, and it was all anyone was talking about. Shortly after that I saw them at the San Diego Sports Arena. I probably listen more to “Achtung Baby” and “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (which brings back its own memories of our time in Switzerland) now, but nothing takes me back to a specific place in time like “The Joshua Tree.” And “With or Without You” is still a favorite.

8. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes. My sophomore year in college, I went on an exchange program for a quarter at Dartmouth. My roommate there introduced me to the Talking Heads and the Violent Femmes, and while I’m probably more likely to listen to Talking Heads now, Violent Femmes defined the times. (I went back and forth between this and the Rave-Ups’ “Town + Country,” and I’m still not entirely sure I made the right choice.)

9. The Trinity Session – Cowboy Junkies. Another one that’s still an all-time favorite. In a time of New Wave pop (which I liked) and bad hair bands (which I didn’t), this album was almost revolutionary. It just has such a mellow vibe.

10. In My Tribe – 10,000 Maniacs. The first album I strongly associate with my post-undergrad days. I guess it was a little more grown-up than what I had listened to in college. Saw them in concert at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley (with openers Camper Van Beethoven). They seemed destined to go on to greatness at the time. Go figure.

11. Out of Time - R.E.M. Maybe not their “best” album, but one that I listened to constantly. It still holds up quite well.

12. Pet Sounds – Beach Boys. Not sure why I didn’t discover one of the greatest albums of all time until my mid-20s. I was dealing with an ill-fated attempt at a long-distance relationship at the time and this album spoke to me on the long drive back to the Bay Area from L.A. It used to make me wistful; now I just appreciate how great the music is.

13. Passion – Peter Gabriel. I never actually saw The Last Temptation of Christ, so I’m not sure how I got into this album (other than already liking Peter Gabriel). I did a lot of thinking to it.

14. The Road to Ensenada – Lyle Lovett. I’ve got most of his CDs and went back and forth between three or four of them for this list, but I ultimately settled on this one because I probably listened to it more than any of the others. I still listen to his music all the time. Helped me realize that I still liked good, intelligent country music, and didn’t have to be a redneck to do so. (This just as easily could have been Mary Chapin Carpenter.)

15. The Downward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails. Most of my list is on the mellower side, but this CD helped me get through grad school. There were many late nights when caffeine wasn’t enough, and this gave that extra jolt. Plus, it sounds freakin’ awesome with headphones. Gretchen would call this my “angry music.”

16. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. I don’t remember exactly when I discovered this, but “Ode to Joy” still inspires me and sometimes gives me chills.

17. Massachusetts – Scud Mountain Boys. I discovered this at a music store in Chicago on a cross-country drive to Seattle. The trip ended up being something of a nightmare, so this CD helped keep me sane. Another one that I still like to listen to, and another one with a strong country influence.

18. So Long So Wrong – Alison Krauss & Union Station. Like Lyle Lovett, I could just have easily listed anything of hers. But this is the album that turned me on to her music, and I have a very strong association with the giddy whirlwind days when Gretchen and I were first dating.

19. Songs 1993-1998 – Moby. Even though this is technically a greatest hits compilation, I didn’t know any of the songs on this CD prior to owning it. (And I’m still not entirely sure how I discovered it.) I was doing a lot of international travel when I started listening to this, and the more atmospheric songs were great to sleep to on red-eye flights to Europe. I can’t hear this without thinking of waking up to flight attendants serving breakfast as the sun was rising a couple of hours before landing somewhere in Europe. (Same is true of Moby’s “Play” CD—many of the songs from both are on the “Sleep” playlist on my iPod.)

20. Ibiza Chill Session 2006 (various). When we took a tour of the maternity ward at the hospital before Anneliese’s birth, we noticed that each birthing room had a CD player. One of my jobs, therefore, was to pick out some music that would help Gretchen relax. I went to the MediaMarkt and picked up a few random trance CDs, and this ended up being the best of the lot. I seldom listened to it before or after, but it makes the list because it was the soundtrack of our daughter’s birth.

(Honorable mentions that almost made the list: Body and Soul – Joe Jackson; Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen; Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen; Rabbit Songs – Hem; Someone’s Got to Pay – The Wilders; Time*Sex*Love – Mary Chapin Carpenter; Whatever & Ever Amen – Ben Folds Five; The Essential Yo-Yo Ma; Hotel California – The Eagles; Siamese Dream – Smashing Pumpkins/Nevermind – Nirvana (tie).)

Christmas in March

Last weekend, friends invited us over to their place for dinner. Gretchen and her friend met through our daughters, and Mädchen and their daughter are good friends.

When we finished dinner, their daughter asked to sing a song. Turns out they have a tradition that when they've finished dinner and their daughter has been a girl, she picks a song and they all hold hands and sing together. So we sang something basic like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and prepared to get ready for dessert.

But then Mädchen decided that it was only fair that she should get to choose a song to sing also. Fair enough--at least until she decided she wanted to sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." We tried to convince her to choose something else, but to no avail. So there we were, all six of us holding hands around the table on the first day of March, singing about Rudolph (at least it was snowing outside at the time, so there was a holiday feel to it).

Add this to the list of things I never in a million years would have imagined myself doing...

Friday, March 06, 2009

Scary news from Basel

Yesterday I heard from a colleague that a colleague/friend and her husband had been in a bad accident in Basel. Turns out they were walking in a crosswalk in one of the busiest/craziest intersections (Aeschenplatz, if you know Basel) and a car plowed into them. When you're a pedestrian there, it's easy to get complacent because you have the right of way and most drivers are very diligent about it, but all it takes is one time.

A former colleague noted that there was an article about it in the local paper, which of course identified them as tourists because they speak English (never mind that they've lived and worked there for three years)...which probably also means they'll somehow be blamed (unless, as another friend pointed out, the driver was Turkish, in which case the authorities will assuredly find him to be at fault).

It sounds like their injuries are moderately serious but not life-threatening, which is good news. They're supposed to be moving back to the States at the end of the month and this will be a heavy load to bear, so if you have any good karma to spare, send it in the direction of Basel.

(On a much happier note, I just found out that I will most likely be going back for a meeting at the end of the month. That will be my first trip back in over two years, which would make me very happy and make Gretchen insanely jealous.)

Mr. Smooth

When I got home tonight, one of the first things I said was: "It smells like B.O. in here--did you make tacos?"

Based on Gretchen's reaction, that's evidently not how one's wife prefers to be greeted at the end of a long day. Duly noted.

(And for the record, she had made white chicken chili, which was delicious. But the house DID smell like B.O.)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

That'll work

The snow we got this week? Awesome.

Forecast for 75 degrees on Sunday, as well as the start of daylight savings time? Even better.

Book 'em

Tuesday night when I went to my car to go home from work, I was irritated to discover that one of my tires was completely flat. (This was especially bothersome since I just had to spend hundreds of dollars to replace two of the other tires.) I had noticed driving in that it was pulling a little funny at times, but I was also driving over a lot of ice and snow so I figured that was the problem. If I did drive in on a flat tire, I just hope I didn't do too much damage. But I digress.

After taking a cab home on Tuesday (during which I received a soliloquy on the merits of a wide range of firearms) and then back again Wednesday, I was finally able to get AAA to come out Wednesday afternoon. I went and met the driver and had him pull up to the guard station leading into our garage. When they asked him to pull his truck over to get searched, he waved me over and asked if they were going to check his ID. I told him I didn't know, at which point he asked if I needed a tow (which he couldn't do) and informed me that his dispatcher told him I had a dead battery and that his jack was broken so they'd need to send someone else out. Huh.

It seemed a little strange, but it didn't really register what had happened until one of the guards came over and said that, based on the way he was acting, he was pretty sure the driver must have had warrants out for his arrest. Which certainly would explain the intense nervousness about having his ID checked and his haste to depart the premises.

Luckily another driver came out an hour later and, after determining my tire couldn't be repaired, was able to put the spare on and send me on my way. I've always had great experiences with AAA over the years, so I'm just going to assume that sending out someone with warrants was an outlier...

Monday, March 02, 2009

Miracles happen

While not quite as much as originally expected, we ended up getting 4-6 inches of snow overnight. Woohoo! Since our roads weren't plowed, I decided to stay home this morning, and now I think I'll just end up staying home this afternoon too. I'll have to burn a vacation day, but we so seldom get a halfway decent snowfall that it's worth it.

Even better, when we took her out for a cold walk (22, wind chill of 3) this morning, Mädchen actually LOVED the snow. She's always cried in the past, but this time she had fun kicking the snow, walking in it, grabbing little handfuls and pretending they were snowballs, etc. Next year it might be time to strap on the skis...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Fingers crossed

As previously indicated, snow forecasts here tend to end up being duds. The local forecasters get everyone fired up, and then...pfffffft. Well, now they're saying we could get a fair amount tonight (although 4-8 inches is less than predicted yesterday). We'll see what actually happens, but we would be thrilled to actually get enough to make tomorrow a snow day.

Catching up

So, what's been up with us the past few weeks? Well...

-- Our good friend Dave, who Mädchen absolutely adores, moved back home to L.A. to be with his partner. We're really happy for him, but are also sad to see him go.

-- After the lightest dustings of snow, Mädchen actually agreed to try to walk in it. Given her usual reaction to snow, this was actually a pretty big deal (although tomorrow may provide a more realistic test if it snows like they say it might tonight).

-- Gretchen and Mädchen went to Wisconsin to visit Gretchen's sister's family. Among other things, Mädchen watched her cousin Natalie play soccer, handled large firearms, and tried breakdancing. How can you top that?

-- While they were away, we had the inside of our house painted. When we bought it in 1999, we were happy with the colors the previous owners had used. Then, when we moved to Basel and rented the house we just had the whole thing painted white. Things were looking really dingy, so we finally got around to making it look the way we wanted (actually, Gretchen gets all the credit for picking colors, etc). You can see how drab our dining room was here, for example; now it looks like this:

-- Mädchen tried to eat a sandwich for the first time (see above photo).

-- Also on the household front, the squirrels seem to have returned to our attic. Only now the pest control company thinks they may be flying squirrels instead of regular squirrels (we didn't even know we had flying squirrels here). Not that they're flying around our attic, but evidently they're a little smaller, which would explain why the traps haven't caught them.

-- We had someone out this week to check our basement for mold, and we do indeed appear to have some as a result of our leaky dishwasher. Now we're just waiting to find out whether it's contained to a small area or whether it has spread in the basement. We don't have any reason to think it's spread into the main part of the house, but it's something we've definitely got to deal with.

-- When they were in Wisconsin and the house was being painted, I went and stayed at a friend's house for a three-day weekend and basically did nothing but read, watch movies (in particular, Anchorman: The Legend of Run Burgundy and No Country for Old Men), and not leave the house except to eat. For me, a dream weekend.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Slap shot

I still have a lot to learn about hockey (it wasn't exactly in my blood--let alone on my TV--growing up in Southern California). But we're lucky enough to have an amazing player (Alex Ovechkin) and a pretty good team (the Capitals) here in DC, so I'm trying to get a little more into it. And I don't think you have to know much about hockey to know that this is pretty amazing:


There obviously hasn't been much bloggage on our part lately. This has largely been a function of:

-- Gretchen and Mädchen being in Wisconsin;

-- My moving out of the house while they were away because the house was being painted;

-- The painters forgetting to do the rewiring, which resulted in our being without internet access for several days upon our return to the (newly painted!) house; and

-- Our spending way more time on Facebook than on the blog.

To quote the late Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, "so it goes."

We'll get back around to it, but in the meantime here's something I posted on Facebook. There has been a "bucket list" going around where you're supposed to check things off a list that you've done. But a lot of things on the list are actually kind of lame, so a friend posted her own list and encouraged others to do the same. This was what I came up with:

* * * * *

I know realistically that a lot of these things are probably never going to happen, and I won't feel badly if I never do them (with the possible exception of #1 and #2). But if money and time really were no object, this is what I wouldn't mind doing/achieving/seeing:

1. Be the best possible Dad to Anneliese. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what that means, and I'll probably never really know, but I don't ever want to stop trying to figure out how to raise her right.

2. Honor our wedding vows as long as Gretchen and I both shall live (although I don't actually remember our wedding vows...maybe I'd better read them again!).

3. Go on an African safari.

4. Learn how to fly-fish.

5. Take a long driving tour of national parks in the Western U.S. with the family. I've actually done this in bits and pieces over the years, but would love to do it again and see things through their eyes.

6. Either live in a slightly bigger house or actually have a second bathroom in our current house someday!

7. Learn to scuba dive, or at least take a resort course even if I don't get certified.

8. Live overseas again.

9. Become fluent in another language.

10. Live along the Northern or Central California coast.

11. Learn to play the cello.

12. Write a book.

13. Go to South America (the only continent other than Antarctica--which I have no desire to visit--that I haven't been to). Machu Picchu would be ideal, but so would Brazil, Argentina, etc.

14. Go to North Dakota and Alaska (the only two states I've never been to).

15. Go to Vietnam.

16. Go to India, but don't get sick there.

17. Vacation in either Tahiti or the Maldives.

18. Go north of the Arctic Circle and see the midnight sun (preferably in Norway).

19. Do the things I should have done when we lived in Switzerland and still kick myself for not doing:
-- Visit Scotland
-- Visit Sweden, Finland, and Tallinn, Estonia
-- Visit the Engadin in Switzerland
-- Visit Dubrovnik, Croatia
-- Take Gretchen to Istanbul and Cairo, which I saw but she didn't and I would love to see again
-- See either a Champions League match or an English or Spanish rivalry match (e.g., Barcelona-Real Madrid or Liverpool-Manchester United...that's soccer, by the way)
-- Eat at a Michelin 3-star restaurant

20. Go to Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia [although a friend later pointed out that he thought Uluru was nothing special and that I should consider adding Angkor Wat instead, which is indeed someplace I'd love to go]

Friday, February 20, 2009

Playing scrabble in Wisconsin

Ama, this one's for you!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

'Tis the season

Other than Christmas, the happiest time of year may be...Girl Scout cookie season! Gretchen thought it was maybe a little excessive that I ordered five boxes of Thin Mints for personal consumption, but I can eat those bad boys all day long...

Spoil sports

This is probably a post Gretchen should do, but since (a) she's in Wisconsin with Mädchen (where else would you want to be in February?), and (b) she doesn't have much time to blog anyway, I'll give it a shot.

A few weeks ago we got a newsletter from Mädchen's preschool with instructions on what to do if your kid was planning to bring valentines to classmates. Our natural reaction was that of course it would be a waste to do valentines because she and her classmates wouldn't really appreciate it since THEY'RE ONLY TWO YEARS OLD. Seems reasonable, right? Well, you can probably guess where this is going...

Sure enough, I think Mädchen ended up being one of the only (and maybe THE only) kids in her class not to bring valentines for the other kids. And many of them not only gave valentines, but they also gave lollipops and other candy. Fortunately since THEY'RE ONLY TWO YEARS OLD it's not like either Mädchen or her classmates know the difference, but Gretchen felt like she was being some kind of neglectful Mom for not having her bring them. (For what it's worth, we've never celebrated Valentine's Day, even during our lovey-dovey early dating days.) I'd probably feel the same way if I were in her shoes, but frankly I still think the whole thing is sort of absurd--we're in a deep recession, people...let's teach our kids to spend wisely and frugally!

Oh, and just for the record, she LOVED getting the valentines.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Speedo Guy

This is still the best attempt to distract a free-throw shooter that I've ever seen:

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Perils of homeownership

Our dishwasher has evidently been leaking water into the basement for some time.

We have squirrels and/or other critters living in our attic.

We thought we might have mold spreading through our ducts, although the heating company thinks it's just dust. Either way, for someone with allergies it's not good.

One of the light fixtures in our backyard looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

You need both hands, and often a shoulder, to position our front door just so to be able to open the lock.

The rusty aluminum shed in the backyard is mostly overgrown with ivy and is probably sustaining several species of rodent.

One of our basement window wells has caved in.

And I'm probably forgetting another dozen things.

We love our neighborhood, and we know we're blessed to own a house and not be facing the problems that so many others are facing these days, but there are definitely days it would be nice to be able to just call a landlord and have everything fixed for us...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

More great moments in parenting

One way you can tell you've let your daughter watch too much Little Einsteins: When you're at the park and pushing her on the swing, she says "higher, Daddy...CRESCENDO!"

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Rockin' it Bollywood style

I first heard the song "Chaiyya Chaiyya" when I saw the movie "Inside Man" on a long flight. I finally tracked it down and have been listening to it constantly on iTunes, but even that couldn't have prepared me for the sheer awesomeness of this video:

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Did I really just do that?

I'll admit that I've done a lot of stupid things in my life, but this one takes the cake.

Yesterday, while picking up a preschool application at a local church (one that we've been attending with no regularity), I backed into the Pastor's car. And it made a dent in his car. Not mine, just his.

I've always been known as a distracted driver. I commented to Kirk yesterday that it's somewhat amazing I haven't gotten into any accidents, just slow moving "bumps". Who could forget the damage I did just over a year ago when I backed into Kirk's Mom's mailbox.

At least one of our blog readers will remember the time I drove into the Dairy Queen back in my teen years. I guess I just got distracted by all those cute boys inside (the high school football team had just finished practice and were cooling off at DQ). Oh, the adventures and embarrassing moments just continue on...

The silver lining of yesterday's event is that I had a really nice chat with the Pastor about joining the church (assuming I finally feel ready to leave our current church which we haven't attended in over a year) and having Madchen FINALLY baptized there. Perhaps it was some sort of divine intervention that I managed to back into his car?!