Friday, June 29, 2007

Farewell to an icon

Way back when I graduated from college, I found the perfect dress. It was a perfect black and white summer dress, looked great on me. But it was by Liz Claiborne, and at $100, it was beyond my budget.

I didn't get the dress (I bought another one, and it still hangs in my closet, though I don't wear it). But when I entered the working world, I became quite the Liz Claiborne fan. Her clothing became a wardrobe staple for me during my 20s, back when I was working full time. I loved the cut and style of her working wardrobe - it was very chic and dressy without being fussy. You must remember, this is the late 80s/early 90s, and styles were different. I also loved Casual Corner, The Limited, and Jones New York, shopping from Spiegel Catalog.

So I couldn't help but note that Liz Claiborne died recently. I didn't realize how relatively new her clothing was - it didn't really come to prominence until the 1970s. She is known for single-handedly reinventing style for the working woman who, prior to Claiborne & Co., were relegated to suits with foulard bows (a look I thought was über-chic when I was in high school - it's pictured in The Preppy Handbook - oh wow, haven't thought of that book in years!).

I loved her perfume, her shorts, her swimsuits. I still like her jewelry. Many of her clothes still hang in my closet. No longer worn, but I can't throw them out. They have a classic feel, and I need to hold onto them.

I've moved on a bit from Liz over the past decade - suddenly, when I hit my 30s, styles changed, and but Liz seemed to stay behind. Her casual clothes all felt like golf clothing (women's golf wear is not a look I aspire to - I find the shorts icky and the polo shirts a bit too retro for my taste) and her working clothes felt a bit too frumpy. But I still like some of her brands - DKNY, Kate Spade, Juicy Couture.

I loved the story about how she appeared on Oprah and admitted to giving proceeds from her company to devil-worshipers. Apparently Oprah changed clothes during the break and confronted Liz, saying she'd removed her LC dress and would never, ever wear her clothing again. Naturally, no one had actually seen the episode, but everyone knew someone who had seen it.

Right. From what I understand, the same urban legend has circulated about Tommy Hilfiger. I'm guessing no has seen that episode, either.

So I'm sad to see her go. A woman who saw a need and revolutionized fashion for women. Good going, Liz. The world needs a few more women like you.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Happy Birthday!

A quick Happy Birthday to my high school partner in crime, Tammy Johnson. (How weird is it that not only was there another Tammy Johnson in Springfield, MO, but that not only was she a high school student, but did not go to our high school, yet lived only blocks away from the Tammy I knew?)

I won't give her age - that would be rude - but I will say she is exactly one month younger than I am. Which takes out of the market all the great birthday cards that taunt, "Ha ha, I'll always be younger than you." It's OK, though - I just buy them for my friend Helen :)

I think I've mentioned this before, but Tammy and I have been friends since the first day of fourth grade, when she - wearing the jacket with strawberries on it - said she liked the cover of my spiral notebook (Holly Hobby-like, as I recall). I promptly ripped it off and said she could have it.

We bonded instantly. Bad taste at a young age will do that to you.

We went through those awkward middle school years together, grew into insecure teens, at some point matured, and went our separate ways at college time. Oh, the stories I could tell ... though I'll refrain, because she has just as many embarrassing moments on me. I still have the book she gave me when I left for college, a book of British poetry. Though we got wrapped up in our lives from time to time, we always came back and called eventually - I would bet she could still tell you my parents' phone number.

She isn't home today, or I'd give her a call. But we'll talk soon. And maybe see one another? I certainly hope so - it's been awhile, and I'm always up for a get-away weekend.

Happy Birthday No. ??, Tammy. Drink a margarita for me.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Summer Reading

I read a quote the other day that said there are two types of women: those we read and loved the Betsy-Tacy books, and those who didn't.

Not sure where I ran across it - it's summertime, and I stumble across all sorts of summer reading advice. Newsweek has its weekly author-of-note listing five influential books; People magazine lists what celebrities are reading, and NPR's Morning Edition chats with renowned librarian Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust, on her summer reading choices.

But I do know which category I fall into: I adore Betsy-Tacy. And Tib, too. The books are charming - they have a certain innocence and simplicty in their story-telling that has been lost today.

Which isn't to say there isn't excellent children's literature out there today - Sharon Creech and Lois Lowry, Kevin Henkes and Lisa Yee. Not to mention JK Rowling.

But my favorite part of reading with my girls is taking them back to books I adored as a child. I always loved to read. I went to school so anxious to learn to read books for myself. I had grown up with Captain Kangaroo reading aloud to me, books like Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Curious George. I checked out books from the library on Jeanne-Marie, the little French girl who watched the sheep. We didn't start learning to read in earnest until first grade. Which was OK - in kindergarten I contented myself with listening to Mrs. Shipman read aloud. Until we got a new girl, Janet Anderson, and she could actually read. Herself. I was crushed - I wanted to be the one who could read first.

I actually ended up being quite good friends with Janet (her older brother, Jeff, was friends with my brother John, and she and I shared a love of David Cassidy). But the sting of not being the first reader never quite left me, and I made up for it. Once I was a certified individual reader, I made up for lost time. And it's an obsession that hasn't quite left me - the master's degree in literature is testament to that affair with books.

It has been with great joy that I have shared the books of my childhood with my own daughters. I have read aloud to them the Carolyn Haywood books about Betsy and Billy, the Eleanor Estes series on the Moffat clan, and Beverly Cleary's accounts of Henry Huggins and gang. Charlotte's Web, A Wrinkle in Time, books by Lois Lenski and Sydney Taylor. I have read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books aloud three times, all from the well-worn set of paperbacks I got for my ninth birthday - they are taped together, dog-eared, and missing parts of the covers, which only shows how much they have been enjoyed.

I even got Alison turned on to Nancy Drew for a time- I love that she read Nancy critically. Her favorite part, she told me, was when Nancy lost her scuba diving equipment when it was washed overboard - so she rushed home to get her *spare* scuba set - !

I cry every time Mary goes blind, every time Jack the dog doesn't wake up one morning. I cry every time Charlotte the spider dies along at the state fair. And I cringe a little bit when they talk about putting on black face for the minstrel show or describe the Indians as red-faced savages. So I pause and explain to the girls that we don't use those terms anymore, opening up discussion on how life and mores have changed over the years.

I've had to open my canon to explore some other books with the girls, books of their choice. I've read Junie B. Jones and Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Treehouse Books. We've enjoyed many, many picture books over the years - there was a time when I could recite Fox in Socks, Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat verbatim. And we enjoyed the American Girl books together; not too long ago I found Sylvia on her bed reading one of the Felicity books, and she proudly told me she had read the entire book in one sitting.

All three of the girls have taken up this same love of reading. Alison adores fantasy, books like Lord of the Rings and a new series of books by authors like Amelia Atwater Rhodes. Maddie prefers books by Sharon Creech, though her latest purchase was The Westing Game, a book I remember reading and that Alison has read, too. Sylvia is still well into Junie B.

And at the moment, we are reading aloud Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. My girls, too, will fall into the category of women who read and loved Betsy-Tacy. It's the best gift I could give them.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Common sense

Each day as I drive my eldest to driving school, she gets a mini-lesson in how not to drive:

• Don't talk on the mobile
• Don't stop on train tracks (they are in operation - even in the mornings)
• Don't block the intersection just because you hope to catch the green light, thus blocking the entire intersection for the next light cycle.
• Don't block traffic by letting your kid out in the middle of the street
• Don't think you're so special that you do not have to follow the rules, wait in the queue like the rest of us. Hey, it's a drag, inconvenient for ALL of us. But it's the way it is.

I am listening to 106.9, tolerating lots of crappy 80s music, in my possibly futile quest to win Police tickets. Am I dying to see them? Not so much. It's the pursuit of the tickets. When the station plays two Police songs in a row, then you call in at the beginning of song No. 2. They keep faking me out. Devil.

Took the younger two to the mall today, so they could spend their hard-earned dollars. One bought a pricey purse. Gulp. The younger one bought Jibbetz, those ridiculous items used to adorn Crocs. It's her money - $5.39 - wow. She pulled out her twenty, and the cashier typed it in. Oh, I said, I have 40 cents. So what does Sylvia get in change? $14. Um, I said. I gave you the 40 cents. Well, she said, I didn't type that amount into the cash register, so I couldn't make that change.


Apparently she cannot do that simple math in her head. She handed me the dollar, but not the penny - she didn't even offer it. I mentioned that her register might be over, and she just stared at me.

This gives me new confidence about the future of the United States.

Last swim meet tomorrow - Maddie is sad, but it's time - we've had enough Saturdays eaten up by this little endeavor. But it's been good for her, so we've been properly supportive parents. Though I'm missing part of tomorrow's meet - I have another commitment.

Swimming, driving, dance class - thank goodness it's Friday. The end.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Stuff brewing ...

... but if I talk about it, I'll jinx it. So, maybe next week.

For now, I am too tired at the end of the day to post. On a brighter note, I am learning how to accomplish little tasks in the hour here, hour there I have between carting kids. Got laundry done, dishes, house sort-of tidied. Returned the library books. Attempted to lend my father tech support on his newly purchased iPod.

And made a hotel reservation for five rooms in St. Louis in July, for our mini-family reunion.

My day is complete. I'm going to watch Arrested Development and veg. Night!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Catching up

You wouldn't think being home with the kids would be so exhausting. But guess again - it's wearing me out.

And they're really good kids - go figure.

I'm blaming living in the metropolitan sprawl that is Houston. Out here in the northwest burbs, we are miles and miles from everything. So when you factor in the driving to summer school (not at our closest school, naturally) and drivers school, along with camp for the smallest this week, it all adds up to many miles spent behind the wheel.

But I am going to stop bitching about this - it is what it is.

So, recapping: Last Thursday, went to Spamalot. The first half felt like watching the movie - with less talented actors. But the second half changed things up, and the ending was an improvement over the movie. Friday night we went to the neighbors to play euchre - can you believe we lived in Indiana for nearly 10 years and never learned to play? Horrors. Saturday was swim meet day, and the meet was interrupted by torrential rain. But we waited it out in order to finish. I worked the concession stand, pulling on my vast fast food experience. And I was exhausted when it was over. Not so used to being on my feet in that way anymore.

One of the girls had a friend over, and I think I've certainly figured out who the Queen Bee is among this crowd. She's a nice girl, but wow - she's something else. We know the family, and the daughter is very different. And the QB, really, is a nice girl. She just has the air about her. I catch myself wondering how my daughter fits into the group.

Went out to brunch yesterday at a place in Montrose - it ranks very highly on the list of Gay Houston's top choices. Good food - and apparently the place to be seen. I'll keep that in mind ...

Must run - I spent a grueling 15 minutes on the eliptical, so now I must go shower. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Llife in the car

So. Right now my life is about driving Alison around:

7.15-8 a.m. Drive Alison to summer school (stupid, stupid Houston a.m. traffic)
1.45-2.15 p.m. Pick up Alison from summer school
4.10-4.40 p.m. Drive Alison to driving school (!)
6.10-6.40 Pick up Alison from driving school
7.30 Drive Alison to Tae Kwon Do
8,30 Pick up Alison from Tae Kwon Do

And, of course, there are the other two who need to go places. This week Maddie is dog-watching, so sometimes I have to help. Or drive kids to the dentist, or grocery shopping, or, or, or ...

But this makes it all better: Alison says relax - next summer she'll be driving herself.

Oh, sure, I feel better now.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Tired. Messy house. Suitcases. Laundry. In-box full of stupid e-mails. Pile of actual mail. Groceries. Etc.

But, still. It was worth it. Fun with Gary, fantastic to be in Kiel again, to see friends. The beach, shopping, fabulous cuisine. Excessive use of superlatives. A wonderful week.

(And travel with my husband - I love the perks of business travel. I love flying with gold elite status. I love the nice hotels, the service he gets as a frequent traveler. I loved that the Continental woman was so nice and moved us to the exit row. It's not business class, but it's still five or six more inches of leg room. And to think - I didn't know about any of this when I married him. The stars were certainly in alignment - !)

As an added bonus, the girls spent a week with their grandparents, which I think was good for all for all of them. I asked the girls if they had fun, and they all said yes. Maddie said, "Grandma says we can go swimming at 2 p.m. Not when you're in the mood to go swimming, not earlier if you feel like it, but only at 2." Apparently she asked Grandma one day to go out earlier, and Grandma said oh, no ... it wasn't 2 yet. So Maddie asked if Grandma would watch her swim. Grandma hesitated, said w-e-l-l ... so Maddie said, that's OK, I'll wait (!)

The old folks are not so big on spontaneity.

Sylvia's comment? "Grandma likes to cook. A lot. She cooks something for dinner EVERY NIGHT."

Um. Not sure what this says about me?

Maddie said she quite likes a big dinner every night. OK, I said - I can cook more often.

Oh no, Sylvia said. It's OK, Mommy, you don't have to.

No wonder I love these girls.

We giggled a lot about the differences between parents and grandparents. The old folks were pretty lax with bedtime and computer time. Maddie said one day Grandpa actually sounded like - horrors - a parent, telling them they needed to tidy rooms if they wanted to swim or go to the movies.

I shared with the girls some memories of my parents, back in the day when they were, in fact, a lot like parents. When they raised voices. When my dad yelled. A lot. And used four-letter words with alarming frequency, not to mention volume. And you know? Now that I have children of my own, I think I understand why he was that way. And I know I inherited his temper, something I try every day to control.

Thus a week away from parenting was OK in some ways. However, I am really glad to be home with the girls.

After all, they told me today I am fun - more fun then their grandparents. High praise, indeed. But you'll not I didn't ask if I am more fun than Johnny and Barbie - I already know I'm not, so I'll just bask in the praise I'm sure of.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Summer in Kiel

Global warming is real.

How do I know? Because the entire week here in northern Germany has been sunny and over 80. If you’ve ever been here, you would know what a fluke this is – June is typically cool and rainy.

So I’m having mixed feelings. On the one hand, what a beautiful week. We are outside, really enjoying walking and sitting in the sidewalk cafes. On the other hand – well, it’s global warming. I didn’t come to Italy – I came to Kiel.

I’ve not been here long enough for the German idiosyncrasies to start bugging me. It’s still all humorous and charming. For example, why would you turn on inside lights when there’s a window in the room? Even if it is virtually dark outside? And don’t you like it unambiguous when you enter a room? I do, so I certainly like my room entrances clearly defined: A door that you can pull shut. And lock. And an inch-high threshold that you can trip over. (When we first moved here, our poor little girls tripped over the doorways for the first two months - !)

I like it that the light switch for the bathroom is conveniently located next to the door. On the wall outside the bathroom. I also like that I can choose on the toilet whether I want a large or a small flush – there are two different sized buttons on the wall behind the toilet. I also like that that the toilet essentially doesn’t hold water, but is instead sort of a shelf so you can, well … you get the idea.

If you live here for a while, bagging your own groceries, clerks who grunt at you, and people who mumble their names into the telephone become routine. But for me, at the moment, since it’s been so long, it’s all sort of a game. It’s fun to remember these things, or try to predict what will happen next.

Mostly, the week has been wonderful. I’ve seen friends – I had afternoon tea with Birgit and Heike, spent the night and all day yesterday with my friend Susanne. Tonight we’re going to dinner with Walter, Barbara, Heike, Axel, Claus and Birgit – they are a great group of people. Missing, sadly, are Pete and Sue, who have moved to Switzerland.

(I even sat in on Susanne’s German for Foreigners class – the entire class has passed the Certificate Exam, and I did pretty well – made more grammatical errors than the rest, looked up a few words, but understood almost everything, joined right in the conversation. Wow!)

Gary and I have spent a lot of time talking, making a plan for the next few years, deciding where we want to go after Houston, where we’d like to be long-term. We’ve thrown out ideas – whether or not they come to fruition, or are even feasible, we have yet to see.

I do know how lucky we are to have the opportunities we do. A lot of it we owe to his job – with his work, we’ve been able to live in some amazing places, and we’ve been able to provide out children with a rich and varied lifestyle. They’ve seen places that many people only dream about. The most important thing is – and what I’ve ascertained this week – is that we can create a life for ourselves wherever we go. That much I do know.

But man – das Internet is sooo teuer! Expensive. I have to write offline then quickly post and get off. So, no time for reading or posting to others’ blogs, no e-mails, except to the girls. But next week when I return to real life. Sadly, it’s inevitable.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

It's "the little differences"

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy being in Europe.

I love the charm or European cities — the architecture, the layout of the city centers. I like the ease of walking places, the outdoor cafes, the hustle and bustle of urban life. I had forgotten the “little differences” — the things that are the same, yet different: door handles v. door knobs, the funky light switches and outlets, the shower, the way the toilets flush, the telephone rings. The post office signs and mailboxes in Germany are yellow.

There are big differences, too: cash only in so many places. The ever-present aroma of cigarette smoke. The prevalence of bicycles (watch out before crossing the bicycle path).

It all comes together to create this indefinable quality that is life in Europe. For me, it was a life that was definitely not easier. Shops close at 6 or 6.30 on weeknights, 1 p.m. Saturday. Clerks can be brusque – or downright rude. People push in front of you in line without saying “pardon me.”

On the other hand, people walk more, use bicycles, drive more fuel-efficient cars. Recycling is more than just encouraged – it’s mandated. (And I live in a neighborhood that cannot even get curbside recycling for those of us who want it.) Everyone here learns not just one, but mostly two foreign languages in school. The murder rate here is lower, and fewer people live in poverty.

Like anything else, it’s a trade-off. For me, I think the greater good is worth some of the sacrifices (higher taxes, for example). But for others, it’s not. And I’m not I would be willing to give up my life in the USA permanently. But I think we, as a country and society, could sit back and look at what’s good here and try to bring a bit more of that back to the United States.

After a good night’s sleep, my two-day headache is gone. I shopped yesterday, took care of some essentials, and am now ready to hit the streets again. Today I am visiting some friends in our old neighborhood – I am especially anxious to see the kids, who are the same ages as ours. Tonight I am spending the night with my friend Susanne and meet her son for the first time; she and I will spend tomorrow together, searching for new “schöne Sandalen” – we bought sandals together in 2000, and posed for pictures, much to the chagrin of my daughters. So we have to do it again.

I have spoken only German since we arrived – well, not with Gary, but with the hotel staff, in restaurants, with friends. I have not once apologized for having imperfect German, nor have I been asked to repeat myself – nicht schlect, huh?

But sadly, the line between Germans and Americans has blurred. We tried to play “American or German” in the airport in both Newark and Hamburg, and we were failing miserably. We used to always, always be able to tell, and it is getting much more difficult. The family dressed in tank tops, shorts and flip flops? We made the American call and were stunned to learn they were German. I was just sure the tall, thin woman with (very) short blond hair, glasses, black pants and the boxy blouse was German … then a man joined her wearing khakis, a baseball cap and – this is key – white tennis shoes. Aaaack – you make the call.

(Though the scarf around the neck - a dead give away …)

Further evidence: I got called in by immigration – and they thought I was German. And I don’t even have strange hair. It’s the flawless accent, I can assure you (!)

Last night at dinner, I ordered water, Gary got a beer, and his colleague an orange soda. All of our beverages came with glasses, doilies and pub mats that coordinated with the brand we were drinking. That, my friends, is one of the “little differences” that defines Germany for me.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Viele liebe grueße ...

... aus Deutschland. Internet time is expen$ive, so I may not be on much. But I'm enjoying Europe - you know, it's all about the "little differences." (Know the reference? It's some of my favorite all-time movie dialogue ...)