Monday, February 27, 2006

Close encounters of the Olympic kind

I'm pretty sure I saw this guy in the train station today. It sure looked like him, and it would make sense since according to his bio he lives about 15 minutes from here. I noticed him because he was wearing the official Olympic gear and rolling a little official Olympic suitcase behind him. He must have taken the train home from Turin. Cool!


Close encounters of the hockey kind

And then leaving Starbucks I bumped into this guy - literally. He was rolling his stroller in the door and I was rolling my stroller out the door and I crashed right into him. My second favorite player!


Strawberry fields forever

Small Boy loves strawberries. When his Grossmütti comes on Thursday afternoons, she always brings a jar of strawberries for him to eat that afternoon and another jar for reserve. Sunday lunch at their place always ends with a huge bowl of strawberries for the Small Boy and we are given at least one jar to take home with us. These are not just any strawberries. These are strawberries fresh from the farm that Grossmütti picked for Small Boy over the summer and was so upset that I wasn't letting him eat the red berries yet but wanted to wait until he was older (since they can trigger alergic reactions in the first year). I'm sure my in-laws think R. and I (well, mostly I) are too cautious in the introduction of new foods, but they humor us and respect our wishes. But Grossmütti had so been looking forward to Small Boy eating his farm fresh berries. It's one of the small pleasures of farm life that she wants to share with him. The thought of Small Boy living a strawberry-less life upset her terribly. So she froze them. And froze them and froze them and froze them. To his sticky, messy, sweet-smelling delight, Small Boy has a seemingly endless supply of soft sweet strawberries floating in juice.

Life is sweet.


Monday, February 20, 2006


I've always been full of words. Whether drinking them in or spilling them out, I'm full to bursting with words. If I ever make a self portait, it will be a simple body outline filled by a word cloud. I was an early reader, an early writer. I began keeping journals at the age of ten, and keep them still. Through junior high school and high school and well into college I filled page after page of long yellow legal pads with fiction - an affectation I think I picked up after reading Sophie's Choice at a precociously young age - but oddly chose to keep my poetry in three ring binders. I have some of this juvenalia still, that which I thought was "worth saving"; I had to part with much of it - or, at the time, I thought I had to part with it - when my brother and I sold our childhood home.

I have whole conversations with Small Boy - given that he has a vocabulary of three words these are very one sided conversations mind you, but they are conversations nonetheless. Even just walking around town with him in the stroller I find it impossible to ignore him for long. He makes a sound and I make it back, and he makes a hand gesture and then I say something and before I know it I'm telling him about the mountains or where we're going that day. I've always suspected I have an inordinantly verbal relationship with Small Boy, at least compared to the Swiss mothers I see around town.

Today we went to a playgroup. There were four children, four mothers: me, two Swiss women, and a Russian woman. My English floated around the room and popped like soap bubbles. I must have said ten words to Small Boy for every one spoken by somebody else. Maybe I just speak more loudly; I'm certainly not self-conscious in my goofiness around the Small Boy. Whenever he climbed up the slide - and he spent a great deal of time climbing up the slide - I would cheer "today the slide, tomorrow...the Eiger!" I called him my little Jon Krakauer, my Reinhold Messner. I babbled away for 50 minutes as Small Boy clambered up the slide, pulled himself up on blocks, played with balls, crawled away from me. Whatever he is doing, I shower him with words.

He, in turn, makes me get down on the floor and speak with my body. I crawl after him, I bounce balls in front of him, I toss him in the air, I drag him around the house in a suped-up high horse power laundry basket. He pulls me out of my head and into my body. He's a physical boy - he likes when I spin around dancing with him, when I crawl after him, he giggles when I herd him like a sheep dog - and that's good for me. He makes me do these things. He makes me think less. I may never talk less, but a couple of hours a day I think less as I take the world on his terms, and for now his terms are pull me! dance with me! airplane me!

My self portrait will always be a body outline filled with words, but the body will be in motion.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Real life just jumped the shark

So I was watching West Wing, right, and Toby is all, like, squirming in the press briefing room trying to explain how it was that the Vice President of the United States could accidently shoot a man on a hunting trip, right, and keep the news under wraps for like, a day, right, and I'm thinking, oh right, like that would ever happen, this episode sucks more than the Leo Goes to Cuba Episode and....oh, wait. Sorry. That wasn't West Wing. That was CNN.

WARNING!!! I am in Switzerland. I am way behind the US on my West Wings. I do not even know who the Democratic nominee is, though let's face it, the smart money is on tall, dark and yummy. I go to great lengths to live in a West Wing Information Black Hole. Great. Lengths. If anybody leaves some comment that spoils some future West Wing event - remember, I DO NOT EVEN KNOW WHO THE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE IS - I will send you hunting with Dick Cheney. Please. Take pity on me. Some days it's these little things I live for.


UPDATED February 27th: I now know the fictional "West Wing" Democratic nominee and his fictional VP choice. I was not surprised with the nominee but that VP nod came out of nowhere. I mean, huh? Given his fictional health history, huh? Although I guess a history of heart problems doesn't necessarily disqualify you from the Vice Presidency, does it?


"It's a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand."
- Madeleine L'Engle

I once worked with a woman in California - F., a beautiful woman with thick long brown hair like a rope, a young woman, perhaps 25 at the time, on whom I had a tremendous crush - who had relapsing-remitting MS. About six months earlier, before I met her, she had had a flare up; it had put her in the hospital; she had gone temporarily blind. When the flare-up subsided, her sight returned, her motor function. You'd never guess it had happened at all if she didn't tell you. One day she said (I'm paraphrasing, this way a very ling time ago) that in a strange way she was grateful for that flare-up because she knew, however bad it got, that the very bottom of her was made of bedrock. That was her exact word, bedrock, and I've remembered it all these years. We were eating Indian food - I was having a vegetable korma - and she said being blind, in the hospital was the worst she could imagine - she was an academic and had just recently completed her dissertation and was looking forward to a life of reading and writing - but the whole time she was lying there practically paralyzed she just knew she was going to be okay somehow. Maybe not the okay she wanted - whole of body, full of sight - but some sort of okay. MS couldn't crush her because it had crashed through everything but then it hit her bedrock and could go no further. That much, at least, would hold.

It's a mixed blessing to find your bedrock, more bad than good really, because, as powerful as it is to know that the core of you is stronger than you guessed, it means the whirlwind has stripped away everything else, and those other things are wonderful things we want and need and love, and you've been stripped down to this bare harsh rock. But it's there. And it holds. And that's something. At the end of the day, it's something.

There are some people out there today who are getting pretty close to their bedrock. I wish you some shelter from the storm, some good hardy prairie grass to hold tight your topsoil, but when the dark times come push your hand deep through the rich black earth. Feel that? Bedrock. Unbreakable bedrock. That much, at least, will hold.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I think most of us would agree

If there is someone on your blogroll who makes your world a better place just because that person exists and who you would not have met (in real life or not) without the internet, then post this same sentence on your blog.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Question for my Germany readers

Just how slow is Deutsch Post? If I know shipped me a package on February 2nd, how troubled should I be that it hasn't gotten here yet? I mean, we're right next door!

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive. The package arrived in today's post.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

One bowl of tomato soup, self-pity on the side

I'm still feeling sick but on the mend, though Small Boy now has a runny nose and is sneezing many Small Boy sneezes. Poor thing, I really thought he was going to escape this.

I had my soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. They tasted like childhood. In all honesty, Campbell's is not my soup brand of choice, usually - I find it too salty and too processed-tasting, but it's the tomato soup of my childhood.

I remember the first time I got sick in college, sick enough to skip classes and miss meals. My roommate brought meals on a tray up from the dining hall and made a run to the quad store to stock me up with OJ. She studied in the common room or the library so I could sleep and rest, and she brought up my mail. I wasn't so sick, I didn't even go to student health, but I remember how awful it felt to be sick away from home; how shocked I was at how much I wanted my mother, with whom I had such a prickly relationship; how much I wanted to burrow in my childhood bed in my childhood home and have tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I was physically sick, but emotionally I felt much worse. Sad. Alone. Nobody to take care of me (except that nice roommate who did all those nice things, but who, of course, didn't count in my phlegmy self-pity). It didn't happen often, but through all four years, there was always something particularly awful for me about being sick in college.

That's how I felt on Monday. I have a head cold, it's not that bad, certainly nothing to visit a doctor over (though it's a special kind of awful being sick when you have a small child to take care of, and thank you R for coming home at lunch time two days running and thank you Grossmütti for coming over Monday on such short notice), but emotionally I feel awful. I don't know, maybe it's a year's worth of sleep-deprivation and conversations with a guy who's two-and-a-half feet tall and who lacks a way with words that have caught up with me. Maybe it's my frustration at never, ever getting anything done, and at seeing no end in sight. Maybe it's the five kilos. Maybe it's the peas on the floor. Maybe it's the eyestrain from not being able to wear my glasses when Small Boy is awake and oh Lord! Small Boy is always awake. Maybe it's having spent much of the last year on the floor because Small Boy just freaks out if I'm a foot away from him. Maybe it's my resentment that other parents got less intensive babies, babies that nap, that amuse themselves once in a while, that let you do something, anything. Other parents paint. Recommit themselves to dissertations. Cook actual luscious-sounding things. Speak truth to power. I shower. That must count for something, right? And the rest of it goes to Small Boy and at the end of the day I'm so tired I just want to die and there's nothing to show for it.

And I'm such a shrew for complaining about this Boy, when I know perfectly well how easily there might have been no Boy. Are post-infertility parents allowed to complain about how hard this is? Isn't that, well, a tad on the ungrateful side? Yet it's so unrealistic - and unfair - to think we're not allowed the occasional gripe like every other parent. And I feel so disloyal complaining, so disloyal wishing he were different but I wish he could just idle at at lower rate once in a while - hell, I wish he could idle, period.

And most parents get to leave the insanity of the first year behind them, get to forget a bit about how hard it was before thinking about the next child, but that's a luxury infertility steals from you, because you can't wait. You can't think you can actually space your children the way you always thought you would - the hubris of even thinking children in the plural floors me. No, you have to assume it will all go wrong, you have to assume it won't work and it won't work and it will take forever and so you have to think about your second child before you otherwise would - look at me, I'm still breast-feeding this one and it's almost time to talk to the RE about a FET.

And I'm so tired and I feel so spent and this is all just self-pity, I know that. Whiney, truly whiney self-pity, but I can't help it. I don't have the energy to fend it off. It's just a head cold, and how pathetic is that, that I can't even see around the corner to how good I really have it?

I just want to crawl into bed, my childhood bed, with my stomach full of tomato soup and a glass of orange juice on the bedside table, and sleep the sleep of the dead.

I never though I'd say this with so much longing. I never thought I'd mean it this much. I never thought it would happen at all. I want the one thing I can't have.

I want my mother.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Roger Federer article you know you've always wanted to read

Is in The Onion, of course.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Blog love

R. reads my blog. I know this because he did my format changes, because he leaves comments as "husband," because sometimes when he comes home from work and asks me how my day was I say "Too tired to talk. Just read my blog," and because today he came home at lunch time with three cans of Campbell's Tomato Soup.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Comforts of home

Okay, I know I just said I don't really miss special foods from the States, but now I'm sick and I really want a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup and a grilled cheese sandwich (with Velveeta, naturally).


Thursday, February 02, 2006

One plus a whole lot

I'm fairly ambivalent about my birthdays. I have a friend who's Dutch, and in the Dutch tradition you throw your own party: make a pie, call your friends, invite them over for your birthday, play hostess and clean up when they leave. Apparantly, once you've been invited to a Dutch person's birthday you're entitled to show up at their place on all their future birthdays expecting cake and coffee. Even though she was hugely pregnant, P invited us - her girlfriends, we who call ourselves the Ladies who Lunch - over for her birthday.

I'm not doing that today.

I used to make if not a big deal than at least a festivity out of my birthday, back in D.C. with my Gang of Four. We always got together to celebrate eachother's birthdays, and some years we did it up big - the year my friend B used his frequent-flyer miles to present our friend R (not husband R, a different R) with a round trip business class seat to Australia comes to mind. I kid you not, Australia! Yes, once upon a time we were all about the birthdays.

Since, oh, turning 30, I've pretty much tried to let my birthdays slide. The past few have been memorable, for reasons having little to do with my birthday. Three years ago today R and I drove beneath the Roosevelt Arch and entered Yellowstone Park, fulfilling a childhood dream of a winter visit after all those summers. We drove straight to the Lamar Valley, where I’d read the best wolf-watching was to be found, and on my birthday I saw my first wild wolves. One was black, the other dark grey, so they stood out in sharp relief against the February snow, and they were running down a distant hillside. Over the next week not a day went by we didn’t see some member of the Druid Peak Pack – one day we saw wolves 18 times, though they were not 18 distinct wolves – often at a distance, sometimes at close range. Yes, that was a good birthday. Two years ago my brother and his family were visiting us and I spent my birthday with blood relatives for the first time since, I think, high school. Last year I was in the hospital with a three-day old son in my arms. My own birthday was pretty much overlooked in the Small Boy afterglow, but I didn’t care. I’m not so much about my birthdays anymore.

And today? Today R took the morning off work and sent me out of the apartment. Time alone with my computer and a latte and no Small Boy; much as I love him, time alone is a precious gift. And tonight Grossmütti will baby-sit and R and I will go out to dinner. And then I’ll come home and go to sleep, and tomorrow I’ll wake up and it won’t be my birthday anymore.

And that’s just fine with me.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Keeping accounts

I learned to keep basic household accounts by watching my mother. She used old fashioned financial registers, a new one each year, and filled in income and expenses in her neat little hand. She never rounded figures up or down, and on any given day she knew where every penny that passed through her hands went. I think she probably knew where every penny that passed through my father's hands went, too; I suspect that my father, on the other hand, had only a general idea of our overall financial situation. He would have been lost financially, confused and at sea, had she been the first to die. My father handed over his paycheck twice a month, and my mother stretched his policeman's salary, later augmented by her receptionist's salary, to send two children to college without student loans while always making sure we could afford those summers along the way.

My mother taught me two things. Always pay yourself first - if you can't afford to save something every month you need to search and search for the expendable luxury until you can save something every month. "Something" being in the neighborhood of ten percent of your monthly income. She also taught me to keep meticulous accounts. Over the past two years I have become rather more general in this regard. I know what R earns, I know what we spend, I have a good idea of where we spend it but not exactly. I have a good idea what kind of vacation we can afford to take this year and I'm confident we'll be worth more on paper at the end of the year than we're worth right now. But it's all a bit...general. Had my mother chosen burial over cremation, she'd be spinning in her grave.

Because I grew up watching my mother entering figures into those register books, I'm partial to them myself. I discovered at Thanksgiving that my brother uses them too. Over the years I have tried computer programs to keep budgets, but I'm most comfortable the old fashioned way. A register book, with a page for each budget item in the front and a page for each month in the back. Entries made by hand, with a sharp mechanical pencil. Last night R and I tweaked did major surgery on our budget and I wrote out each budget item at the top of a page of a fresh accounts book. Here are some things I never thought I'd be factoring into an annual budget:

    frozen embryo storage
    public library annual fee
    television and radio reception fees
    documents and bureaucracy
Frozen embryo storage. Well, what young adult learning about annual budgeting and recurring expenses ever thinks they'll be writing that in their budget books?

The public library fee - 50 Swiss Francs per year if you live in Big City, 80 if you live in a surrounding suburb - really steams me every time I pay it. I thought the point of a public library system was to make reading and educational opportunities generally available, particularly for those families least able to purchase these items themselves.

The television and radio fees we pay quarterly. If you own a television or radio, you owe these fees. I had friends who, before leaving Switzerland, sold their television at the beginning of the quarter so that they didn't have to pay this fee. An agent tracked them down to verify that they had, in fact, sold their television. Then he asked if they owned a car. Yes, they said, we do. Well, he replied, if you own a car you own a radio; here's your bill. Now in all fairness I watch the evening news every night without a single commercial interuption; a movie will be interupted once for about five minutes of ads half way through. Skiing is shown live and they show all the skiers, not just the winners; they might break for a commerical during the pause after the 15th skier, but not always. When we actually get an American show like Desperate Housewives or 24 they show the whole thing without a commerical break. On the other hand, Swiss-produced TV programs (entertainment division) is, um, er, bad. Really really bad.

Documents and bureaucracy. Between the three of us we have four passports, two national identity cards, one Niederlassungsbewilligung, one Aufenthaltsbewilligung, a Familienbuchlein, and a partridge in a pear tree. At some point this year surely one of those things will need to be renewed or amended or altered or addendumed. Surely.

On and on I went last night, labeling pages, entering numbers in my Haushaltsbuch in a neat little hand, finding this small and strange patch of common ground with my mother. All those neat columns, all those tidy rows. There was very little about my mother, about our relationship, that was neat and tidy, and I'll take what nostalgia I can find where I can find it.

Income. Outlay. Balance.