Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Döner macht schöner

Döner macht schöner
Döner macht schöner,
originally uploaded by coyotetrips.
As Stefan says on his description of one of our photos from yesterday, "The worlds best Döner is still in Bonn-Bad Godesberg/Germany, but this one in Portland. Oregon is not bad at all (515 SW 4th Ave.)." The place in Bonn-Bad Godesberg has ruined us both for all other doener, but, indeed, this one is nice, and I hope we can go back. Interesting that this doener Kebab restaurant promotes itself as offering "German cuisine." But I guess the doener kebab has become the German national dish. I can't believe doener hasn't really caught on here in the USA! This is me posing with the cover of the menu -- nothing like those cartoonish stereotypes to smooth over relations with different cultures. I guess there aren't enough Turks in Portland to be outraged.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Holiday Update

At left: our Flying Spaghetti Monster tree topper. It didn't take long to make (and it shows!). It's made with off-white yarn (for the noodly appendages), brown yarn (for the meatballs), scrap paper (for the eyes), tape (holding the scrap paper together) and Elmer's glue (holding everything together).

Yes, all that time in Vacation Bible School making crafts finally paid off.

Stefan and Jayne wish you Happy Holidays! Ramen!.

* * *
My dear friend Anne is flying up from San Francisco to spend Christmas with us. So excited!

* * *
Stefan said that, among the many new Christmas decorations that had been inflated on a neighbor's yard was a "Big Evil Christmas Bunny." We went to have a look. It was The Grinch. I don't think I did a good job of explaining who The Grinch is. I hope it comes on TV soon.

* * *
When someone says "Happy Holidays", they are wishing you "Happy Holy Days," acknowledging the many HOLY DAYS celebrated by our wonderfully diverse country, *not* trying to deny your specific religion. So: Happy HOLIDAYS: Happy Saturnalia, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Solstice, Happy Christmas, Happy Festivus, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Day of Ashura, Happy Sunday, HAPPY HOUR (the last is my favorite).

* * *
If I am in your liquor store and ask you for your selection of Kentucky Bourbon, and you include in your list Jack Daniels, I have every right to be condescending, as you have just insulted my culture *and* my taste.

* * *
I want a pith helmet.

* * *

I wish someone would subtitle the movie Fidder on the Roof in Dari and Pashto and show it in Afghanistan. Yes, I know it's about Jews in Russia, and Afghanistan is a Muslim country, but the reality is that SO MUCH of it is THE SAME:
  • First of all: it's a musical. Afghans LOVE musicals. Bollywood is huge in Afghanistan.
  • Secondly, the big men's dance number in the bar. If that's not an Afghanistan moment, I don't know what is.
  • Thirdly, the themes of the movie -- tradition in a time of change, preserving your family and honor, toleration without losing your values -- they all HUGELY resonate in Afghan culture
  • Fourthly, religion permeates the lives of the main family, another thing that resonates hugely with Afghans
  • Fifthly, the women are all covered at all times.
Come on -- the film was a hit in Japan where its themes struck a chord on a profound level with the locals. I'm telling you, this would be bigger in Afghanistan than Titanic (and that movie is HUGE in Afghanistan). And would bridge a lot of gaps in understanding the world outside of Afghanistan. Ofcourse, any kisses would have to be edited out (are there any kisses?).

So, when I win the lottery, you now know one of the things I'm going to do...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Post-Serbia blues

Hope you all enjoyed my blog and my photos from Belgrade, Serbia. Considering I had only one day for sight-seeing, I think still I got a real taste for the city. I so needed that trip, personally and professionally. If you want to know more about what I did there, professionally-speaking, email me -- I have all my training materials online, but not linked from anywhere (I give away too much for free as it is).

Stefan and I got to spend a whopping 30 hours with each other after I got back, and then he was off to North Carolina for work. He got stuck for half a day in Atlanta, which Mom claims is part of his American initiation. I pick him up tomorrow. We were supposed to be gone at the same time, which sent me into a frenzy to find someone to take care of Albi while we were gone. But, luckily, Stefan's trip changed, so one of us has been home with her this whole time.

Albi's fine. Delightful as usual. We're going on a morning walk that's just a little shorter than our morning walk back in Germany. We're finally meeting other dogs more regularly, which she lives for. She's bored with them within 60 seconds of meeting them, but she REALLY wants to meet them.

Several of you have asked about the weather. While I was gone, it got freezing, and below freezing, in the greater Portland area. Now, it's just wet and gray. There is a lot of snow all around us, but not here. It's not all that different from a German Rhineland winter, so far.

No, Stefan's still not a volunteer firefighter in the USA. My prediction is that he won't be until we get out of Canby. We plan on being here for a year, maybe for all of 2010, but it's not where we want to buy a home. And, no, he still doesn't have a title for his motorcycle. We will know if that's happening around my birthday.

I'm still volunteering with the Girl Scouts here. Well, with the leaders, anyway. There are several women who refuse to use email, let alone any other online tools. Some are my age or younger. I'm stunned at their resistance to email. It makes communications extremely difficult.

Since the vast majority of Christmas traditions precede Christianity by at least several hundred years, we decided we could decorate for "the season" and not be hypocrites. So far, all I've done is put a wreath on the door (a practice that probably originates from ancient Persian cultures), and I think it looks better than the inflatable stuff on everyone's lawns. We still need to get a Christmas tree (did you know the Puritans banned Christmas trees because of the pagan origins?). Can't wait to use my Han Solo ornament! I need to work on a Flying Spaghetti Monster tree topper.

Anne of San Francisco will be joining us for Christmas, which I believe I've mentioned before, but I'm so thrilled hat she'll be here!

I have taken a break from sending my grandmother's postcards. For those of you receiving them, I hope you are enjoying them. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about: while cleaning out my paternal grandmother's house for her move to the swingin' senior home "in town", I found a massive stash of postcards she bought during her travels following the death of my grandfather that she never sent. My sister-in-law said I should send them to all the grandkids as though I were traveling to those places. I've ended up sending them to some of my friends as well. It's been a lot of fun from my end, and my friends have had a good laugh about them as well (Mamaw has very interesting taste in postcards). I've sent some to Mamaw too, and she's enjoyed remembering all the places she's been.

This photo of Stefan and me has had more than 1000 views. Why? I don't have 1000 friends... do I?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Airport Blasphemous Blawging

Greetings from the Seattle airport (free Wi-Fi is a Christmas present from The Google. I've never been to Seattle. I don't really think the airport counts as a visit, though. I have an incredible view of the snowy mountains from where I'm sitting. I'm here way early but didn't have much choice re: flights from Portland. From here, I'll go to Paris, and then to Belgrade, Serbia.

A North Carolina fan and I just tried to take over a TV in a restaurant in this terminal, but one freakin' football fan wouldn't budge. In addition, when I initially asked if we could change the channel to CBS, the waitress chirped, "Oh, there's no game on CBS." I said, yes, UK was playing UNC, and she said, "Oh, basketball..." It's soooooooo hard living in a region that's got American football so far up its bum. Oh, well, I'm sure my alliance with the Tarheel would have splintered as soon as the game came on.

The woman at the Delta desk for my flight to Paris keeps coming on the intercom, and I could listen to her beautiful Caribbean French accent all day... si beau... By contrast, the high pitched perky newscaster's voice on the nearby TV is making me insane. Attention women TV newscaster's: talk in a deeper voice and stop the uptalk. Or speak with a Caribbean French accent.

I would love to take a photo of the Tai airline stewardess having their pre-flight orientation because they look so freakin' adorable, but I just know I'll get in trouble for it for some reason.

In 2007, I lead pilgrims returning from Hadj through the oh-so-confusing Frankfurt airport to make their connecting flights. Today: I lead a woman from Japan through the oh-so-confusing Seattle airport terminals to make her connecting flight to Baltimore. So, I've now got Islam and Buddhism covered re: airport karma.

Here's why I'm going to Serbia. I'm thrilled to be going -- I've been to most of the countries around it, but not to Serbia. And I have another consulting job in Australia in March. But so far, I haven't gotten even one gig because I've moved back to the USA; every little gig I've had I either got while I was in Germany or got because of a connection elsewhere. So, moving back to the USA has yet to pay off for me at all. Except for learning to ride a motorcycle.

Still no title for the Africa Twin; our guy checked the wrong box on the paperwork, and had to resubmit it all. That means another six weeks of waiting. Sigh. All I want for Christmas is my husband to get something back that he's loves so much...

As soon as I figure out how, I'm making this my cell phone ring tone. It is AWESOME! (Here's how I found out about it).

I cannot stand Snake Oil Salesman Deepak Chopra, and this blog by Phil Plait explains why. Religious/spiritual people out there: please don't tell me what I do or don't believe as a skeptic/atheist. Don't tell me how I think. You truly have no idea.

Speaking of me, and of atheism, how weird was it that I defended Islam the other day? Someone had made one of those classic "All Muslims think such-and-such" statements and I went off. Not that I don't believe in criticizing religion; I can do it, as most of you have know! I just loathe the "My religion is enlightened and peaceful while yours is violent and dogmatic" argument I've heard Christians say against Muslims. Islam is just as nuanced as Christianity or any other religion. Yes, there are large factions of Muslims who believe some rather dreadful things and engage in some horrific practices regarding women -- and there are factions of Christians who do the same (look at the forced child marriages in various Christian cults throughout the USA, the shootings and bombings by Christian fundamentalists at least every year in the name of God, the hate spewed by people like Mullah Pat Robertson, the insults non-Christian students often endure from classmates and their parents, etc.). Heck, I defend Scientology when someone attacks it and they admit to being religious themselves -- how is it really any different than any other religion out there? Having been exposed at length to a variety of Christian and Islamic cultures, I can sincerely say that they are much more alike than different. Having read the Bible cover to cover (twice, actually) and the Koran, I can also sincerely say that the former is a heck of a lot more violent and horrific in how it defines appropriate treatment of women than the latter.

Imagine no religion... I'm trying, John, I'm trying...

Just saw that Kentucky won! Hurrah! It's God's will! Go Big Blue!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Motorcycle, vroom, vroom

November 22 marked my first real motorcycle ride on public streets! After about five days (over several weeks) of practicing on the street in front of our house and the parking lot of a nearby school, it was time to get out on the streets. We road to Mulino, then took a roundabout way to get back. It wasn't even 30 miles, and my average speed was only about 35-40 miles an hour, but, hey, for me, it was a HUGE leap forward!

Yesterday I took my second motorcycle ride, this time to Silverton. I wish we could live there! It's a charming little town, with a lovely downtown and a much more welcoming fire station, but it's too far from Stefan's job. As of that day, I had put my first 100 miles of my own on my motorcycle. The gas station attendant did a double take when I took off my helmet (OMG! A MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN ON A BIKE!). I also did my first "Sup?" salutes to other bikers.

And today, November 29, I took my THIRD motorcycle ride, this time to Mt. Angel. The ride was gorgeous -- the scenery is idyllic, and the weather was perfect (I like it sunny and cool). Mt. Hood poked up over the trees a few times to watch me. It was a ride of more than 80 miles total. My favorite speed is still 40 MPH, though I got up to 55 regularly today. I again ended up a few times with a line of cars behind me (even when I was going to speed limit) -- tough luck, dudes!

This is the map of my rides to date, courtesy of Stefan's GPS. I'm taking baby steps - I know a lot of people get their motorcycle license and off they go, but I really want to keep being a student, adding maybe one new element each time - maybe a few more hills and curves, maybe riding just a bit longer, etc. I don't want to ever ride way beyond my skills. I want to be really comfortable on the bike by the time May rolls around and we might dare to take our first camping trip via TWO motorcycles...

No, I won't be giving up riding on the back of Stefan's bike, in case you are wondering. I like it back there!

Ofcourse, I will always ride ATGATT - All The Gear, All The Time. Because I like my skin. I like my head. I don't care that you think I look ridiculous -- all I care about is that you SEE me when I'm on the bike! My biggest fear as I ride is that cars about to turn into the road don't see me. It absolutely terrifies me that someone will pull into my path. That's why I have no plans to ride at night EVER.

See my Flickr set of how I learned to ride a motorcycle (it all started in Germany...).

Super big thanks to Stefan for being so patient as I learn to ride.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thankful for my husband, my dog, the incredible travels I've had to date and the possibilities of more to come, the incredible luck I've had, so many great friends, my wonderful grandparents (92 year old grandmother called to say she made sausage balls, asparagus casserole, chocolate pie and coconut pie, "but I'm too old to do any more than that"), chocolate, Elvis, and chocolate Elvises. The turkey is in the oven, the husband is taking a pre-meal nap (to rest up for the post-meal nap), Albi is also napping, our guest (another newbie to the area) reports his squash soup is cooking, and I'm sending and feeling lots of goodwill.

Thanksgiving = good.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Famine, famine, famine, then a cookie

When it comes to my attempts to make my living from consulting, it's mostly famine, and then two conflicting feast invitations. I will go months with nothing, and then two offers will come for the same weekend, meaning I can only do one.

Remember when, after more than a year of unemployment, I got TWO job offers, one to Afghanistan and the other to Iraq? At that time, Afghanistan was the better choice, but now...

I'm going to Belgrade, Serbia in a few weeks, to do a training (I finally get to work for the State Department!!... well, kinda... see my blog for more details), and if it goes well, it could lead to me getting to do another, bigger gig in March in Prague. But that later gig would happen immediately after the only other training I've got: a gig in Australia. That means I'll be away from home for most of March, and that Stefan can't go with me; he has his own business trips to attend to, and would prefer to save up his vacation time for when I don't have to do any work during the trip. Plus, when we go to Australia for fun, we want to spend an entire month there.

See my public calendar for updates about my schedule, in case you are, I hope, planning for your trip to come see us (you are planning, right?). Bummer that I have to miss the Mt. Angel German Christmas market...

No, no job prospects. With Draconian state budget cuts continuing, there's just not that much to apply for. Yes, I'm very thankful for what I do have, and for these meager consulting gigs. I really am. I do the "at least I don't..." or the "at least I have..." exercise frequently, I promise. It's just that, you know, not having a steady, regular income is scary.

In other news...

You know all those friend recommendations you get if you are on FaceBook? Lately, a lot of those Friend recommendations for me have been guys who, when we were in junior high and high school, I had a HUGE crush on, so much so that I couldn't talk to them. To me, they were movie stars. I doubt they ever knew my name. I've been amused that most of these guys I thought could not possibly be cuter and dreamy did NOT age well. Not that I've aged well but, well, you know, kind of cool to find out yet again that we're all human.

I'm getting even more annoyed with FaceBook. I'm so tired of people I don't know wanting to "friend" me. And some people want to friend me that I don't want to friend (I like using my account to speak freely, and I can't do that with just anyone). So I created a professional FaceBook account, and I point everyone I don't know, or don't want to know, or don't want them to know about my personal life, to that. I've also created a FaceBook Fan page (won't you become my fan?).

Okay, off to walk dearest Albi.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A wee bit of an ego boost

I'm honored and happy for my blog (an entry from last week, to be specific) to be featured in the Wall Street Journal's "Blog Watch" column for Nov. 16 (already online).

Gee, and I thought the highlight of my day would be practicing on my motorcycle (which was a great deal of fun, nonetheless).

Friday, November 13, 2009

The power of negative thinking

The History channel is beyond addictive. As is the Travel Channel. I'm watching a documentary on "Roman Vice" as I write this. I'm not watching it for the titillating tidbits (though titillating they are); I'm watching it for the scenes from Pompeii. I'm so incredibly homesick for Roman ruins (btw, if you are ever interested in going to Naples, I highly recommend this bed and breakfast for your stay, right next to Pompeii). Europe spoiled me beyond belief, getting to live amid the history I've loved to study most. I miss it so.

Stefan loved his trip to Colorado and back on his quest for a bike title -- it was exactly what he was needing. If he can get that title at long last (we won't know about this attempt until next month at the earliest), our lives will get sooooooooo much better. In fact, if I were offered a job or a motorcycle title, I'd take the title. Seriously. Stefan's given up so much that he loved dearly in order to come to the USA -- if he doesn't get the title, then I want to go back to Europe in 2011. Not kidding. I'll be a haus frau for the rest of my life if it means my husband can ride his beloved bike again.

It's been too rainy to ride my own motorcycle. I would love to be able to use all this available free time to learn to ride, but I refuse to ride on even a damp road -- I need to be a much more experienced rider.

Ironically, I'm so happy to learn that thinking negatively can boost your memory, and that Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America is such a top seller. Clearly, in my current state of mind, it's time for me to write a book, as there is fame to be had!

I've accepted that I'm not going to get a job this year. It was a sad realization, but I've accepted it. For those of you who have jobs, I hope you realize how lucky you are. I moved back to the USA in order to work, and while I knew it would be tough, I never dreamed I wouldn't have a job by now. For a person like me, who finds my personal value in either working or traveling, times are tough. I've had four interviews this year -- I hope this doesn't sound arrogant, but I'm not used to interviewing and not getting the job.

And with that said, let me say again: I'd rather Stefan have a title for his motorcycle (or get to be a volunteer firefighter) than me to have a job. I really would.

Not that I'm not keeping busy; I've got a lot of things to do every day. I have a project that's going to keep me intensely busy up until Thanksgiving, and two free classes I want to take in December. I'm being productive every day, really I am. I just wish I was getting paid for all that I'm doing.

Stefan's company would have paid me to drive a U-Haul truck from the East Coast to Portland! And I would have done it, except that I won't subject Albi to an airline flight again (unless we move back to Germany), and I won't drive that long without her.

What keeps my spirits up? Other than my wonderful husband and oh-so-sweet dog and the History and Travel channels, I read FakeAPStylebook and every day. Oh, and now that there's confirmed water on the moon, I'm dreaming again of that moon base in my lifetime... if we can't have jet packs, then I want that freakin' moon base.

I'm mostly done with cleaning out about 15 years of files. Whew! An interesting find was my play program from The Stephen Foster Story, which I saw some time in the 1980s. I could not believe I still had it. Ofcourse I used The Google to find out what happened to the lead actors. Here's today's weirdness: the actress who played Jeannie is now a psychic singer. What exactly is a psychic singer? I'm not sure, but if there's money it it, then I think I've found my new home-based job.

Why is CNN International not offered on any satellite or cable package in the USA? Why? And who do I write to complain: CNN? DirectTV? Who? Yes, I love having BBC America, but having CNN International would put me back in touch with the world news and international perspectives that the USA networks avoid like the plague.

The Bowling Green Daily News reported that Kentucky ranks among the 11 worst states in the country for women's health care. Kentucky ranks 46th in the U.S. for women’s health and well-being and 51st for days of good mental health. Kentucky women in urban areas like Louisville generally fare better than women in poverty-stricken regions like eastern Kentucky, but the overall quality of care for women - 52 percent of the state’s population - is the worst in the USA on several bench mark measures. And people wondered why I did so well in Afghanistan as far as relating to locals there...

This week's fascinating person from history: Cyrus the Great. The Persian Empire was an awesome thing. And Cyrus was revolutionary in his leadership style (respecting the cultural practices and religion of the people he conquered, freeing the Jews of Babylon, and on and on). Where did I find out about Cyrus? Guess...

I'd love a phone call! Just email me or IM me and say "let's talk now!" and we can talk on Skype or iVisit. And our guest room (my office) awaits visitors! (Anne, looks like you will be first).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Go Hilltoppers!

So, I'm heading home with Albi after a lovely morning walk today, wearing my lucky Western Kentucky t-shirt (the one with Big Red on it), and I hear someone say, "Excuse me." And I look over, and this woman is getting out of her SUV in her drive way, and she opens up her jacket to show... her HILLTOPPERS T-SHIRT.

I yell "SHUT UP" and run over and hug her. I then notice her husband is also wearing a Hilltoppers t-shirt. She's from Bowling Green, and her siblings all graduated from WKU. Her husband was born in Denmark but grew up in the USA. They got married in Germany -- I don't have all the details of that yet. She says she knows Nancy Toombs in Henderson, Kentucky (2006 recipient of an awared from the National Education Association).

We're now all best friends and hope to get together soon.

And I probably scared all my ever-so-reserved, never-make-eye-contact neighbors to death with all my jumping up and down, but I DON'T CARE. It's time to shake up Oregon with some real Kentucky ENERGY. (I'm not sure Germany has ever recovered from my eight years there...).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy November

I've finally started scanning photos from my grandfather's WWII scrapbook. It's something I've wanted to do for a very long time. These photos are of or by Jack Cravens during his service in the USA Army, serving in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, some time in the 1940s during the second World War.

More than 20 years ago, I interviewed my grandfather about his service. It took him years to finally talk to me about it -- I think he didn't believe girls should talk about such things. But I pestered him for years, and finally wore him down. I recorded it and years later, and then transcribed it.

Project after this? Transcribing two tapes of my grandmother talking about the Great Depression, the home front, etc. With all this incredible technology at our fingertips, it's so easy to record your family history!

I'm also still cleaning out papers. I'm now tackling my collection of theatre programs. Yes, some of them are going to go. I'm making a spreadsheet of every professional or university production I've seen, and including information about who was in the production or other notable things for later reference. I found out that I've seen Jane Krakowski twice on stage (most recently in Guys and Dolls with Ewan McGregor, and the first time back in the 1990s, when she was just 21, in Grand Hotel), that I saw Elisabeth Shue (in Some Americans Abroad) and James Fleet (in a supporting role in the Taming of the Shrew in Stratford-Upon-Avon). I remember everyone from Williamstown, but not necessarily from Broadway.

Halloween was a disappointment. I'd been told that the area took the holiday hugely seriously, and there were many houses in our neighborhood that went all out with their decorations, so we were expecting hordes. But we live on a loop, and most of our immediate neighbors don't celebrate Halloween (they kept their houses dark and didn't answer the door). So the hordes stayed on the main street. I bet I didn't have 100 kids. I did have four pre-teens with no costumes show up five minutes before the end of official trick-or-treating time, and I turned them away for not having costumes. They were angry but walked away because, you know, with fierce guard dog Albi ready to attack....

I've ridden my motorcycle just one day, and then just up and down the street and a few times around the block. I want to do that for several days before I head out into something more ambitious (like the grocery!). I won't ride it unless Stefan is here, and right now, Stefan is not here right now. He's on a quest to Colorado.

Stefan starts his job in two weeks. Me -- I'm about to run out of jobs to apply for... my sector has been hit hugely by the recession, and I now know just how much. Tell me why I left Germany, please? I've forgotten.

Currently re-reading: Pride and Prejudice. I'm on a diet of no book buying until I get a job, so in the meantime, I'm re-reading things, or reading gift books I haven't gotten to yet. I so long to be as witty and poised as Elizabeth Bennett... if you don't want to read it, or if you want to see the best movie version of it, here ya go.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Another pre-Halloween update

Recently, Stefan made chili. Yummy (both Stefan AND the chili). And the ingredients looked so purdy in our ceramics from Stefan's home town.

We really love our house, and we're so excited to host Anne at Christmas and Stefan's parents in May. Others? We soooooooo want visitors! Come try out Stefan's homemade cornhole game in our backyard!

We really enjoyed the six-part documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut) on IFC recently. It brought back so many wonderful memories for me. I grew up with Monty Python as much as I grew up with Star Wars. And I've become such a huge fan of all of the remaining Pythons' post-Python work (Palin's travels, Terry Jones' historical documentaries, Terry Gilliam's movies, and anything Cleese or Idle do). We loved the behind-the-scenes stories, some of which I knew already having watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian (not just my favorite Python movie, but one of my favorite films of all time) with the commentaries on (more than once).

I've thrown a lot away, gotten rid of two boxes of stuff at our recent garage sale, and gotten rid of even more stuff in a mass donation to Goodwill. But I'm still not unpacked. It's my office that's the problem. One of the problems with being a communications professional is that you have to save so much paper, either your own portfolio or examples of publications you need for reference. I made the mistake of throwing away reference material from a management class years ago, and I have so regretted it so many times; it's made me squeamish about getting rid of certain stuff. I've loved reading through postcards and letters people have sent me over the years. That's been like therapy. It even lead to my getting in touch with some people from oh-so-long ago. I've thrown away from of them, but some I just can't part with (because who knows when I'll need something like therapy again).

I've been using our scanner a bit, first to scan and then upload some old family photos, and then to upload some old photos of me. The comments about my second-grade school photo were awesome -- they made me cry. Ya'll not only know but, but seem to like me as well:
Little would we know from looking at this deceptively docile child what a hellraiser she would turn out to be!

I wonder, even at that young age, were you beginning to become the fighter for justice that you are today? Did you break up the fights over dodge ... Read Moreball and hopscotch cheaters? Did you stand up to your teachers for teaching opinions rather than fact? No matter, you are all of that now and loved deeply for it.

You have always been and still are both beautiful and indignant over injustice. :)

The grrr heard round the world and may you never lose it...go Jayne!
My next project will be scanning the photos from my grandfather's WWII scrapbook.

By now, you probably all know about my new toy. As noted on the photo, I won't be doing anything particularly ambitious on it this year; I'm spending every dry, not-freezing day between now and March just driving around the neighborhood and getting to know it as much as possible. We bought the bike from a guy in Washington state. Stefan had to drive it down through some horrid rain, which scared me to death. And, unfortunately, he'll have to ride through horrid conditions again later this week in our ongoing quest for a title for his own Honda. I'll be a nervous wreck while he's on the road to Colorado and back...

BTW, we had to take our written tests again to get our licenses transferred from Kentucky to Oregon and I flunked the motorcycle test the first time. I almost cried. I did so well on the written test in Kentucky, but Oregon's questions are much harder (and often irrelevant, quite frankly -- Stefan thought so too). Also, I wasn't wearing my lucky WKU t-shirt. That night, I cooked my first pot roast, and the next day, I took the test again, this time wearing my lucky WKU t-shirt, and barely passed. So, was it the t-shirt or the pot roast?

Still no jobs for either of us. And still no volunteer firefighting. And still no word if the state volunteer firefighters association is going to take me up on my offer to do a free training. But Stefan is still trying -- he contacted the state's public safety and training office about his dilemma, and they were gobsmacked that the Oregon firefighters were claiming his German training is nada. So now he's going down to the state capital on Tuesday for a meeting of his own. We loathe the phrase, "Well, I guess that's just how things are." Jayne and Stefan are rockin' Oregon!

We had a lovely time presenting about our trip last year through Eastern Europe at the Portland Hawthorne Hostel. About 12 people were there, all guests at the hostel, including a German guy on his motorcycle doing a tour of North and South America. Stefan did really well in particular; Mr. Shy spoke right up several times. We're looking forward to doing it again tomorrow night at the Northwest Portland Hostel.

It's such a shame that there are so few hostels in the USA; in Europe, you can often hike from one hostel to another (and many people do!). And it's a double shame that the oh-so-low-profile USA hosteling organization doesn't engage in any activities to encourage more hostels to be built in the USA, and limits its talk about hostels only to serving "young people." The idea behind hostels in Europe (Germany, to be specific), was to provide friendly, inexpensive overnight accommodations for young travelers, but all over Europe, most hostels cater to travelers of all ages. Hostels in Europe provide both dormitory-style rooms with separate quarters for men and women, and private family and couples rooms. Most allow people to camp in the front or back lawn (sadly, HI-USA discourages this). A lot of people choose to stay in hostels because of how easy it is to meet fellow travelers and how hostels have more information posted about local things to do than a luxury hotel's concierge could ever know about.

Albi's fine, oblivious to her fame on YouTube. She's really needy, following us from room to room, although she does sometimes get up in the night and sleep in Stefan's office. She's still not convinced we're staying in this house for a while. I don't think she likes how big it is -- she really liked us all being in the car, or the tent, or a hotel room. Lately, she's been laying with her body on the carpet but her head on the faux wooden floor of the entryway. What's up with that?

Okay, off to watch Big Bang Theory. Drop me a line -- I still love email.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pre-Halloween Update

I guess we are truly moved in, except for some boxes in my office. I've gone through all my things and have a huge amount of clothes and dishes to either sell at a rummage sale or take to Goodwill (I'm a big fan of Goodwill, per its focus on providing job training and placement services for people who face employment challenges). Being the voracious reader that I am, you will be surprised at the few number of books I have to sell (I had gotten rid of a lot of books when I moved to Germany).

When are you coming to visit? We've got corn hole!

Per cleaning out my things and Stefan and I merging all our worldly goods together, I now respectfully beg that no one ever buy or send us:
  • anything with the University of Kentucky on it. Not that I'm not still a Kentucky basketball fan but, geesh, I've got a ridiculous amount of stuff with UK on it.
  • t-shirts of any kind (both of us have too many even with cleaning out our stash).
  • coffee mugs, glasses, utensils, cookware or dishes of any kind.
  • dish rags, towels, blankets or linens of any kind.
  • dog collars.
  • dog bowls.
  • Christmas decorations (believe me, Mamaw gave me more than enough over the years).
  • picture frames.
  • candles (we could light and heat our house for months).
  • luggage.
  • bags.
I'd say camping gear as well, but we're such gear queers when it comes to camping... can you really have too much camping gear? This coming from a household with three tents...

We've begun the nasty process of getting restitution from Xpress Van Lines, the company that moved our things from Louisville to Portland, with a month of storage in Los Angeles. Not only did they do an incredible amount of damage to our things, they also had a clause so that our month of free storage was, in fact, not at all free -- they wanted to charge eight times the going rate for storage in L.A. My detailed review on Yelp will be coming soon as well, but until then, here are photos that show some of the damage.

We've decorated the outside of the house a bit for Halloween, just enough so that the neighborhood kids will know that they can come a'callin' for treats. I have a feeling we're going to have a TON of kids. Let's see how many times I have to say, "Sorry, but no costume, no candy."

Stefan had his first job interview, and its very probable he will be getting an offer. Downside is that the job will be a hefty commute for him. But, right now, the word "job" is all that either of us are looking for. I did my fourth interview of the year; let's hope four is a charm. I've never interviewed so many times in my life -- gone are the days when an interview meant a job for me. Frown. Plus, a job is going to seriously cut into my NCIS rerun viewing.

My presentation to a certain association of volunteer firefighters in a certain state went well. I'd love a consulting gig out of it, but what I would like more is for Stefan to get to be a volunteer firefighter out of it. GEESH. I never want to hear a fire house whining about needing volunteers again.

I've loved the weather lately, especially when it's been crisp in the morning. Albi loves cold weather -- she loves to run when it is. But just in the last few days, it's really warmed up. Just as long as it's not too cold, and it's dry, for our probably rummage sale next weekend and for corn hole in the back yard (yes, Stefan finished, and it's awesome). Now, if we could just figure out how the freakin' thermostat works...

Still no motorcycle title. I suspect the company took too much time between two or more the steps in the process, hence why they are suddenly saying, after 13 weeks, that they may not be able to get the title after all. It's already been a huge blow to Stefan to not get to be a volunteer firefighter -- no title for the Africa Twin too, and I wouldn't blame him if he said he wanted to go back to Germany.

I grew up in a household without the book Where the Wild Things Are (or anything by Dr. Seuss, for that matter), but because it was all around me in other people's homes and the school library, I saw it, read it, and loved it (just like Dr. Seuss books). Stefan doesn't understand why, every time a preview for the movie comes on, I tear up and look like a nine-year-old that's just been told Santa is coming. And how in the world do you explain it if you didn't grow up with it?!? But who knows when we'll see it -- it's amazing how busy you are even when you are unemployed. A reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle asked the author, "What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?" Author Maurice Sendak replied, "I would tell them to go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate." (more). Hee hee.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Guest Room is Ready

Our guest room is ready.

Seriously, this is the tent I bought in 1996, that I used to camp with Buster and Wiley in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas back in the day. It's been in storage for about nine years, so it needed a thorough airing out. Not sure what we will do with it, since we already have two three-person tents; this is a two-person tent -- or a one person, two dogs tent. And it's SO easy to put up (if I can do it, by myself, anyone can).

Buster and Wiley were always so reluctant to get in and so anxious to get out -- Albi walked right in and laid down.

Were we in Eastern Europe or rural Western Europe, we could rent out our back yard to tent campers no problem!

Everyone keep your fingers crossed that this week, at long last, Stefan's get his motorcycle title. He's still reeling from not getting to be a volunteer firefighter -- if he also can't get a title for his motorcycle... well, we'll probably go back to Germany and take a loss on our moving expenses, no kidding. It would be the last straw. So please whip out your religious icons and make those sacrifices and start prayin'.

It's going to be a busy week:
  • Monday I'm doing a tryout training for a potential employer for consulting and trying out the supposedly wonderful Portland-metro-area mass transit, as Stefan needs the car for a job interview.

  • Tuesday, I may be getting a motorcycle, and that evening, we are presenting at one of the two Portland hostels regarding our trip to Eastern Europe.

  • Thursday, I have a job interview by phone.

  • Friday, I present at a certain state volunteer firefighters association's board meeting (I will be polite, don't worry).

Whew! And, no, I'm still not unpacked. But Stefan is. I've been going through files. I have a LOT of files -- when you work in public relations and marketing, you have to save examples of your work, and examples of other people's work as well. I also tended to save special letters and postcards from people, and I've been moved to tears a few times reading things you all wrote 20 years ago. Ah, the power of words. I know a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words but, well, sometimes, I really wonder -- because photos make me smile, but words touch my soul.

I have a friend that's returned to Afghanistan. Do you remember Thomas, at my wedding, from Paris? He was there just before I was, and after swearing he'd never go back, he's there again, but for just 60 days. And I keep making friends with female aid workers about to depart or now living in Afghanistan, per my blogs about my time there. And, ofcourse, I'm still in contact with dear Fariba. So, if you have any questions about what's really going on in the country, let me know -- I'll give you an earful that, unfortunately, rarely gets reported in the snappy, short soundbites of television news.

So... come visit!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Six months back in the USA

Six months back in the USA after eight years abroad. How do I feel? Like a foreigner. A foreigner with an ever-shrinking bank account... I'm more homesick for Europe than Stefan.

Stefan has dubbed the large grocery store chain, Fred Meyer, as "Freddie Kruger." I prefer "Freddie Mercury."

It's official: I've read more than 400 books. I've probably read more than 500, but have forgotten at least 100 titles.

Stefan has been turned away, at least for now, from the Canby Fire Station as a volunteer firefighter, and I went from crying to angry in about five minutes. The station has a sign out front asking for volunteers -- but if you go inside and ask about it or fill out an application, you get all sorts of put offs: you can't go through the academy until June, and there's several people ahead of you already and you might not get to go because they may get chosen instead of you, and until then you can't do anything with the fire house at all because, you know, you might have the Swine Flu.

See, this is why I'm a volunteer management consultant -- there IS a need for my services...

We attended another gathering of the PDX Stammtisch, the gathering of Germans living in the greater Portland area (and the people who love them). Here's a photo. It was a lot of fun -- this is a very fun, down-to-Earth group.

Our things arrived at last a week ago today. We're convinced that the movers at Xpress Van Lines (based in Los Angeles -- BEWARE!) threw our things in and out of storage. All of our things were taken out of our container back in Louisville in June by customers, and put back, and though things looked disorganized, NOTHING was broken, and all our wrapping stayed on. But Xpress Van Lines played cornhole with our things. And to top it off, they tried to charge me $1200 for three weeks of storage (tacked on to the bill we had already agreed on -- ah, movers...). We're still arguing over that bill (which they've now reduced to $600, still way more than even the most expensive storage costs in LA -- yes, I checked).

But that said, it's been a huge relief to have our things. I'm now cleaning out a lot of things that were in storage in Austin for eight years. It's been a great walk down memory lane. Thanks everyone for the fantastic postcards you've sent me over the years. I'm so glad to have saved many of those! It's a wonderful thing to be reminded of such good friends.

Now that we have furniture, when are you coming to visit?

Albi's two videos on YouTube of her belly rub are raking up the viewers -- one of them has been viewed almost 60 times. She's famous! She has a good walk route here in our neighborhood, but she really needs a proper dog park visit. I'll try to make that happen this week.

I'm watching the debates about the USA military forces in Afghanistan with intense interest. I don't know an Afghan, personally, who wants the USA out -- as bad as things are, they are still better than under the Taliban, particularly for women. But that said, it is inexcusable that the USA doesn't do three things: (1) tell the Karzai government that if they don't boot the warlords out of the government and don't crack down on corruption, the money circumvents the government and goes to NGOs, and/or is cut back, (2) require its own military and all coalition forces to have strategies for involving Afghan women in ALL of its projects and planning, no exceptions, no excuses, and with penalties for failure to meet milestones regarding women's involvement that it sets for itself, and (3) take every opportunity to hire Afghans (they are desperate for employment; it's why some turn to the Taliban and others turn to poppies). If they don't do those three things, Afghan is doomed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Jayne the Girl Scout

Meet the new Internal Communications Coordinator of Girl Scouts of the USA service unit 12 in Oregon - moi!

I know, I know -- why is Jayne, who doesn't even really like kids, volunteering for the Girl Scouts? Two reasons: first, because of Girl Scout day camp in the summers of 1975 and 1976 back in Kentucky (not sure if it was in Henderson County or not). LOVED those experiences: learning to cook outdoors, hiking, singing, even learning to build a latrine. LOVED it. Brownies was fun, but my Girl Scout troops weren't that great -- I'll never forget showing up to the Halloween party and every single girl came dressed as a princess, except for one girl. Me. I came dressed as an Indian scout, complete with Coon-skin cap and a painted face. But summer day camp -- it was all that.

Secondly, I love what Girl Scouts of the USA has become since I was a member 4 million years ago. The badges are so exciting and worthwhile now. All of the programs really push girls to push themselves, to learn, to explore, and to think about the choices they make or will make. And, unlike the Boy Scouts of America, you don't have to believe in God nor be heterosexual to participate! It just seems like a really good match for my strong beliefs about the power of girls.

So, my role with the Girl Scouts will be to help the adults who are helping girls. First, that will be helping members with their fledgling YahooGroup, which they don't understand how to use, as well as how to use GoogleDocs, which the GS state HQ uses regularly and wants all service units to use. Eventually, I'd also like to help with any camp-related events they have, as my time allows (and given my current lack of job prospects...). And I'd really like to help a girl go for her Gold Award.

And before you ask, no, our stuff STILL has not arrived. We're hoping tomorrow (Saturday). I feel like we're house-squatting.

Albi got sick and puked several times all over the house today. I think it's in honor of Buster, who did the same within 48 hours of our moving into our Sinzig flat back in 2004. I've uploaded a video of her getting a belly rub. Actually, a second video as well.

Louise from England plans to be here in Feburary, and Anne of the Frisco hopes to be here for Thanksgiving or Christmas. When will YOU be visiting Haus Dietz und Cravens?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ooom Pah Pah

Tomorrow is the birthday of H.G. Wells, who had a HUGE influence on my life, so much so that I named my first car after him.

Oktoberfest in Germany is... well, it's mostly for tourists, and neither of us like Oktoberfest music (besides, the real party in Germany, IMO, is Carnival, the celebrations all along the Rhein leading up to Lent). So neither Stefan or I ever went to Oktoberfest in Munich. But we're both homesick for Germany now, and the PDX Stammstisch group said that Oktoberfest in Mt. Angel, Oregon was well worth a visit. So, we went! Two days, in fact! Here are our Oktoberfest photos. It's MASSIVE. And a lot of fun. Very good food! We met a German lady on the shuttle who has lived in Portland since the 60s, an American/German couple (he's from Northern Germany), and, ofcourse, the Director of the Festival itself, who is not from Germany, but his German is EXCELLENT (see the photos for more info).

The best part for me was that, among the many thousands of people at Oktoberfest, I looked over just after we arrived and there was my dear friend Jerry Curry looking at me and grinning. Jerry and I haven't seen each other in 10 years, and we hadn't had a day to meet up since we arrived in Oregon. He hung out with us for a few hours, and it was The Awesome. Funniest moment of the evening: he went to a booth and asked for coffee, and the guy didn't hear him correctly, and asked, "Do you want that on a stick or a bun?" Jerry responded, "Well, I've never seen coffee on a stick, but I'd like to!" That was our line all evening -- do you want that on a stick or a bun?

Here's a cool note: while I hadn't seen Jerry in 10 years, I did have an extended IM conversation with him from Cairo, Egypt, while I was letting Stefan to sleep after a nasty bought with Ramse's Revenge. Ah, the Intertubes...

Supposedly, our things arrive Thursday. They would have maybe gotten here earlier, but I had to get very angry about a MASSIVE storage bill the movers tried to slap on at the last minute, so I refused to pay the balance until that was resolved. Are movers of the Devil? Are they all evil incarnate? Why do they ALL pull this kind of stuff?! Anyway, I'm really looking forward to not sleeping in the floor.

So far, the only person who's not only said she's coming to visit, but given us a general date, is Louise, from England, who is threatening to visit in February. Others? We'll have beds by the time of your visit, I promise.

Albi is fine. She thinks we're camping again. House camping.

Job news: none. zilch. ouch. Send karma.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Here we are in Canby

Or as Stefan likes to say, "It Can Be."

I have some photos up here to show our transition into Oregon, including our move today into the house. Not many, and they are fun, I promise.

All in all, this has been a rough transition, beginning right after we "landed" in the Portland area after our wonderful cross-country trip. I've felt as foreign here as Stefan does, and I'm second-guessing all my decisions, something I really am loathe to do. I need cheering up. Come visit?

Our goals now are to get our things here from the movers (we're in an intense argument -- they've jacked up the price, b@stards), find jobs and find our "groove." Stefan's much farther along at finding his groove than me: he went to another gathering for adventure motorcycle riders (that means people who travel by their motorcycles, don't ride Harleys, and usually adhere to ATGATT (yes, we are a pro-helmet household). This was in Washington state. I'm thrilled that he's getting to do these rallies -- we both were so worried there wouldn't be these kind of riders here in the USA. There aren't nearly as many as Europe, but there's a small-and-growing community. The other day, he was on the side of the road, having a smoke, and a car that had just passed did the screech stop, backed up, and the guy rolled down the window and said, "Is that a Honda Africa Twin?!?" He's very happy to be in an area of the USA at last where his motorcycle is recognized.

I stayed behind, as I was on deadline for TWO consulting jobs (I go for almost a year with none, and then get two, both due tomorrow. WTF?!?). Stefan left for the Washington gathering at noon, and should have arrived before 3 in the afternoon, but by 8 p.m., I still hadn't gotten a text from him confirming his arrival. Not wanting to panic, I joined the online forum with members who organized this rally and posted to the group, asking anyone there to please tell Stefan to text me. He did, indeed, get the message and, since he had no cell phone connection, called me on a friend's phone. He got a lot of ribbing from everyone that evening ("Stefan?! Call your wife!!").

I also stayed behind because, as you know if you read the last entry, Miss Albi went into heat THREE MONTHS EARLY. It was a very abbreviated cycle, but annoying nonetheless. She quite loses her mind in the process, abbreviated or not, so it was best for me to stay with her. She's laying here right now near me, in a rather deep sleep. I hope she realizes soon that she won't be moving again, inshallah, for a long long time.

Just heard that Patrick Swayze died. I hated ALL OF HIS MOVIES. I mean, I HATED THEM. I could not contain myself from mocking "Ghost" nor "Dirty Dancing" when I saw them. The stupidity was beyond my toleration. That said, I thought Patrick Swayze, as a person, was the most charming interview ever and I never turned one off if it came on. I also thought his stint hosting "Saturday Night Live" is one of the top 10 best shows they ever did, no kidding.

By contrast, Kanye West is a poop head.

If you haven't gotten my new phone numbers, then email me and I'll pass those along.

It's after 9, and while I would love to lay down and deprogram after this long day, I've got paperwork to do...


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Found a home!

We've been accepted as the new renters of a one-level, 3 bedroom, 2 bath home with double garage in Canby, Oregon! There's also a fenced back yard (big by some standards, small by my standards). We've been living out of suitcases since April, so we're itching to get moved in. Unfortunately, that won't happen until Sept. 12, at the earliest (it may be a few days later). And who knows when our things will arrive from storage in Los Angeles. I'll send the address as soon as we've signed paperwork and all that (I'm suddenly superstitious these days and don't want to jinx it).

Yes, it was listed on Craigslist, but we found it instead on the Canby newspapers online classifieds, which turned out to be WAY more reliable than Craigslist (no scams!).

We will be ready for overnight visitors for sure by mid-October (maybe earlier). So consider yourself invited! Email me with your proposed dates whenever you have them.

Inshallah, it's our last rental home, and our next house is one we own.

Stefan is on a German online social networking site and found a group of Germans living in the Portland area that have their own stammtisch (an informal social group that meets regularly in a bar, usually weekly). It's called PDX Stammtisch. We met them last night at the Racoon Lodge in Beaverton and had a WONDERFUL time. The last four photos here are from the stammtisch. We will definitely make this a regular gathering. It's fascinating to hear the German perspective on living in the USA.

We also finally got together with a couple that live near Eugene, that Stefan met years ago in Greece while on a motorcycle trip. Eric and Gail are living our dream: they are retired and living on a large estate in the mountains outside of Eugene, on land that was once a plant nursery. The road that leads to their land is a National Forest road, they have a huge house, a three-car garage, access to the middle fork of the Williamette River, and woods all around, with plenty of room for motorcycle friends or RV friends to camp on their land. They have a motorcycle in Europe and another in South America, and they take regular trips on both. Heaven...

Albi has gone into heat almost three months early. I know she's had a great time camping and being around us all the time, but she's also stressed at moving so much and not having a regular routine. She needs a regular place to live as much as we do.

The other day, Stefan and I were sitting outside of a grocery store with Albi, adjusting our bags so we could carry them home (we like to walk rather than drive), and a woman gave us two dollars "to buy something for our dog." I guess we look like homeless people!

Stefan signed up to take a class in a 3-D CAD program, and the class turned out to be two blocks away! He did really well in the class, and diligently practiced with the software every night and over the weekend-break in the class.

I recently did a small consulting gig for an organization I used to volunteer with back in Austin, and I was reminded of this video of their first event where I was a volunteer trainer. I'm in it for 10 seconds, at about 19 seconds into the video. Sweet memories.

The Discovery channel and the Travel channel are EVIL. Hypnotic... entrancing... can't look away...

We rented Valkerie, which didn't at all suck, as I feared it would. Stefan says Tom Cruise speaks German with a French accent. I had no idea how far that coup in Germany went, and neither did Stefan. A lot of the movie is historically accurate, according to research I did afterwards. I highly recommend it if you are a history nut. We also rented Wall-E, and I LOVED LOVED LOVED it. It got to me hugely. Great film!

Send me lots of job karma, so I can get this 20-day consulting gig in Nigeria that a former co-worker asked me to apply for. Send both of us all the job karma you can, actually -- that's the final piece of the moving-back-to-the-USA-puzzle (other than finding affordable health care insurance).

And speaking of health care insurance, I'll end with this from here:
It's a pity we can't just seriously divide the country in two. On one side, all you people who don't want "socialism" can go and live without Medicare, municpal sewer systems, roads that are maintained by government funds, running water, fire departments, police departments, national/state/city parks, public libraries, and other such disgusting features of life under brownshirt Obamcare socialism. The rest of us commies will hunker down together in our socialist nightmare and finally craft a universal health care system to go along with the rest of evil socialist empire.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Do what you love

On this day in 2001, I was at Dún Fhearghusa, also known as New Grange, in Ireland. As you can see from this photo, I was very happy. Why? Because it was the first time I had toured an ancient site created by humans in the BCE era, and I thought the experience was amazing. I decided that day that I would use the rest of my time in Europe to visit other such sites. I felt like I finally had a focus for my time in Europe outside of work.

You can read what I wrote back then here. Notice a comment near the end of the essay, how after leaving the site, about five hours after this photo was taken, I met a German guy at the bed and breakfast where I stayed in Slane.

That guy was Stefan.

Today, it's eight years later. My but how I've changed his life. Positively topsy turvy.

We'll be spending our anniversary looking for a place to live, followed by me cooking up a little feast.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Looking for a home

Here's what's going on:

Stefan FINALLY found decent bread in the USA. It was really depressing him to not have "his" bread. The lack of hearty bread depresses ALL Germans in the USA: within one minute of meeting among native Germans, they start talking about it. Stefan did with a busload of Germans at a South Dakota rest stop/visitor's center.

This week, we're finally really looking for a place to rent long-term. After viewing several small towns between Portland and Salem, we've settled on Canby. I hope that, the next time I post, it's with pictures of our new home.

It was a hard choice, because the firefighter training guy in Silverton, which is near Salem, is one of the nicest guys ever and the way he talked about the volunteers in Silverton made me want to be a volunteer firefighter.

We finally found the real downtown Hillsboro, as opposed to where we live now amid all the high-end chain stores, and we liked it very much, particularly the local farmers' market in downtown.

My renters insurance company sent a letter, an email and voice mail demanding to know what other breed Albi is mixed with in addition to German Shepard. How in the FREAK am I supposed to know that? I was thinking of just randomly listing a huge range of dog breeds, or sending a photo of her and saying, "You tell me." Yes, I could have one of those genetic tests done -- and that's discrimination, IMO, to require those of us with mixed breeds to pay for such a test.

Albi LOVES going everywhere with us. We'll leave her in the room here only if she absolutely cannot come with us. As so many restaurants have patios that allow dogs, so many stores have places where one of us can stand outside with her while the other goes in, and even the UPS store where our mailbox is allows dogs inside (and has dog treats on the counter), she pretty goes everywhere with us. I think she wants to try to visit each of the Portland metro area's dog parks. That will take a while...

The downside of Albi with us all the time is that we can't take in a movie at a theater, and I'm DIEING to go to the movies. I don't want to leave her here alone at the hotel at night, because I'm afraid she'll bark and disturb the other guests. She's usually quiet, but every now and again, a kid will go screaming down the hall, and that sets her off. For the record, it also sets me off.

Do people really ride bicycles more in Portland than elsewhere? Because it hasn't seemed like that much more than Louisville. There are a LOT more bike lanes everywhere than any where else in the USA I've seen, true. But otherwise, this is a very car-oriented culture.

Finally saw the Portland riverfront. And... we weren't at all impressed. We met a guy walking an adorable puppy, and he recommended we lunch at Voleur, and we were VERY impressed: Stefan had the buffalo burger (he's developing quite a taste for buffalo meat) and I had a Caesar salad with three delicious shrimp on the side. It was all The Yummy).

I'm back to blogging on my professional blog regularly now, if you're interested.

Random thoughts:

Between the USA Network's NCIS marathon, and the Travel Channel showing back-to-back episodes of Anthony Bourdain No Reservations, I could sit on this couch at the Extended Stay Deluxe in Hillsboro, Oregon and never move. Bourdain's show was shown in Germany -- dubbed, ofcourse -- so I was already a fan. As for NCIS: why can't I work for Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) on NCIS? He's the *perfect* boss. I *love* bosses like him. He doesn't put up with BS, rewards results and ignores fluff and fluffy people. If only more UN staff were like him...

A friend wrote to say that, when he was at university, he was having a chat with a professor in the professor's office, and a call came in. He spoke to whomever it was, and then got off the phone. He
had this incredulous look on his face and told me someone from the athletic department had "requested" he give a star football player a passing grade...even though the guy had only been to class less than half a dozen times, hadn't worked with his assigned tutor, and blew the final!
And that's why I could probably never be a teacher. Because what I would have said on the phone in reply to such a request would have... not been diplomatic.

My favorite comment of the week, from Cracked.com, specifically: 6 Bullshit Facts About Psychology That Everyone Believes:
If you can't remember ever doing something dumb and embarrassing because you were feeling lonely and rejected, well, either you're very young, or you were just too drunk at the time to retain the memory.
One of the best things I've read in a long time: "Signed, John Hughes" - long time penpal of the 80's director shares just what a wonderful guy he could be and why he got out of Hollywood:
Tonight, when I heard the news that John had died, I cried. I cried hard. (And I'm crying again.) I cried for a man who loved his friends, who loved his family, who loved to write and for a man who took the time to make a little girl believe that, if she had something to say, someone would listen.
Everytime I see this Intel commercial, I laugh out loud.

What do I think of the whole Pitino thing? Or the whole Calipari thing? Email me and I'll tell ya.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A first hand account from voting in Afghanistan

As you all know, I worked in Afghanistan for six months in 2007, and I befriended a co-worker there, "Friba", who I have maintained contact with. I asked her if her family voted in Thursdays elections and what the experience was like. She wrote back:
We all voted but for different persons.
Ah, democracy! Sounds like my family!

I won't say who they voted for, except to say none voted for Karzai, the current president, and that should tell you something.

She also said:
I went early in the morning but in all streets we were the only women. My father and my older brother escorted the women of my family. I can tell you that in this election the attendance of people were not so much as the first election, especially the women.

For selecting presidential candidate it was easy for me, but for provincial candidates, it took me lots of time.

After voting, one journalist from Azadi Radio interviewed me. His questions were why I came to vote and whether I was scared after voting that I would go back home and the Taliban would cut off my fingers.

I told him since I am a woman it is my right to vote. It is our Islamic, legal and half of the population right to vote. I won't be scared by anybody and I won't let anybody to cut off my finger.
And that's the part where I started crying.

Never, ever take voting for granted.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting to Know a City

The first time I went to Austin, Texas, back in 1996, I knew almost immediately that I wanted to live there: I drove in on a US Highway, and my first sight of the city was green -- greenery everywhere. I stayed with someone who rented one side of a duplex in a tree-covered neighborhood practically downtown, and her side of the duplex had a massive back yard. I had a Mexican Martini at the ever-moving Cedar Door, sitting on a patio and over-looking "Lake Austin" (actually the Colorado River). I had some of the best green bean casserole ever at a restaurant called Good Eats on Barton Springs Rd. And I went to see and hear the legendary Don Walser on Sixth Street. It was May, and the weather was mild. How could I not want to live there? Five months later, it became my home for the next four years.

The first time Stefan went to Austin, it was June 2008, and hotter than Hades. His first views of the city were massive Los Angeles-style freeway overpasses, cars and concrete everywhere, and strip malls with the same stores you see in every city in the USA. Don Walser was dead. The Good Eats I loved so much was long-closed. The Cedar Door had moved yet again. Most of the clubs I frequented a decade before were parking lots or something equally ugly. There was a magical night at Ginny's Little Longhorn seeing Roger Wallace and Jim Stringer, some very good food, and some fantastic hospitality from dear friends, but he did not like Austin at all -- and neither did I anymore.

Would it have been possible to visit the city at a different time of year, and coordinate a series of initial experiences, that would have made Stefan love Austin, and have made me fall in love with it all over again? Did Austin change, or did a combination of unfortunate experiences turn us off?

We'll never know.

We had a rather magical experience living in Louisville, Kentucky for most of this summer. Our temporary home was in the Highlands, a historic, lushly-green neighborhood of gorgeous old, lovingly-restored houses and very friendly people, where independent restaurants, bars, funky shops and practical shops are just a short walk away. Our next door neighbors included a dear friend from my university days whose wife liked to bring us homemade whatever. It was our introduction to Louisville and, therefore, we loved Louisville pretty much immediately. But if our intro to Louisville had been one of the horrifically ugly apartments out on Hurstbourne Parkway, a massive four-six-lane street of car lots and strip malls, or an inner-city neighborhood with trash and unkept houses and yards everywhere, we would have hated Louisville.

As mentioned in my last entry, our introduction to Portland, Oregon hasn't been a good one. The lush, green, cool-weather city we were expecting has been burnt to a crisp by a recent heat wave (which, unfortunately, returns tomorrow), and everything that might have been green once is now brown and dead. We managed to drive down every wrong street there is in Portland, seeing the ugliest, most trash-ridden neighborhoods the city has to offer. I've seen as much furniture in front yards as I've seen in some of the more unsavory parts of Kentucky, my home state.

We've written our initial impressions of Portland off to bad timing and bad luck. Everyone gushes about Portland. Everyone says they love it here. We're keeping the faith that we'll be gushing about it eventually too. We loved the Lucky Labrador Brew Pub and the Mississippi Station restaurant for lunch (Albi especially loved both). So far, as far as neighborhoods, we've loved the Hawthorne district, the immediate neighborhood around the Peninsula Park Rose Garden, Irving Park, Rose City and Hollywood -- in other words, the most expensive neighborhoods Portland has to offer outside of downtown.

We're now evaluating all the communities in the area that involve volunteer firefighters. We've visited small towns surrounding Portland, Salem and Eugene. What are we looking for in these communities? Pretty, well-kept, well-built houses. A downtown, however tiny, that has some personality (or at least a pub). Neighborhoods that would be nice to walk, park and live in. Unfortunately, it means we may have to give up on the idea of being a one-car family. There's a strong possibility that we will end up far from any light rail stop, and too far to commute via a scooter.

Finding the downtown of a small town is a funny thing -- you can't ask someone where downtown is, because they will send you to the ugly strip mall full of all the same shops you find anywhere. Instead, we just type in "100 Main Street" or "100 First Street" into Stefan's GPS for whatever town we want to check out. Works every time!

We've been ready to stop moving, stop living out of suitcases, and start unpacking for months now. But it looks like we'll be in transit for at least some more weeks to come. Send us rental OR job karma -- both will be graciously accepted.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Arrival in Portland

I've been asked repeatedly: why did we choose Louisville, Kentucky as the first place to live in the USA upon my return from Germany, and why didn't we stay there?

I moved to Germany in 2001 from Austin, Texas, and while I love that city oh-so-much, I did not want to move back: it's too hot for too many months, it's much too congested with cars, and too many beloved music clubs are long gone. It will always be special -- but it's no longer home.

When Stefan and I decided to move back to the USA, I knew that the first thing we had to find was some place to land -- literally. Where would the plane land, and then what would happen? Would we walk off the plane and into a hotel? How would we get from the airport to the hotel? And then what?

In thinking about these questions, I chose Louisville, Kentucky as the place we would stay initially in the USA, for several reasons

  • The Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport is less than two hours from Louisville, and there is a direct flight from Frankfurt, Germany to that airport. I did not want Albi to be transferred at any point during the flight, as this is how dogs get lost.

  • A friend from college wrote to say that there was a short-term rental available right next door to him in the Highlands, the legendary neighborhood of Louisville. Having a place to stay immediately upon getting off the plane was a huge draw.

  • I have a lot of friends from many years ago in Louisville, and I hoped this would be a good chance to reconnect with them and have an immediate social network.

  • I have a brother and sister-in-law in Louisville, and the rest of my immediate family is less than two hours away in Henderson; I was ready to play the family card if needed for transportation and other help, and the family said they were ready to help (and they were).

  • I have really liked Louisville when visiting it over the years. I thought it would be interesting to really get to know it.
Louisville turned out to be wonderful. It was everything I wanted to be and more. The Highlands is surrounded by terrific restaurants and services within walking distance, and is surprisingly dog-friendly. It's also a neighborhood -- as are several of the surrounding neighborhoods -- where lots of people walk and bike-ride to get from point A to point B. Public transit is surprisingly good for downtown (but until there are at least three buses an hour, it will never be as successful as it could be). The houses are lovely, and people are incredibly friendly, greeting you as you pass. There are tons of things to do in Louisville: eat, go watch the minor league baseball team, eat, visit the various sites in and around town, eat, go to a concert, and eat. There are LOTS of arts events, music events and farmer's markets. You can drive just a little ways and be out of town on country roads and passing beautiful farms. And it was wonderful spending so much time with long-lost friends and new friends (Todd and Julie, you two are unbelievably wonderful), as well as my beloved grandparents. Our pictures from our time in Louisville say it all.

So, why not stay?!?!

A lot of reasons. Mostly because of the weather. My husband and I are wimps when it comes to intense, humid heat. We can vacation in such conditions, but not live in them. And as we are ATGATT adherents, that means there would be several weeks every summer we couldn't ride. It was very tempting to stay in Louisville, but for this and other reasons, we decided it would be best to try elsewhere.

We thought somewhere in the Northern USA might suit us better. And everything we've read online over the last three years has pointed to one place: Portland, Oregon. Because of the weather, the rankings in terms of walking and bicycling and micro-brewing, the likelihood of getting jobs, the political climate, and on and on.

We left Louisville on July 27 and, after 11 days of camping and seeing various sites along the way, ended up in Portland.

It was not a good arrival. We spent the first three days wondering if we'd just made the biggest mistakes of our lives.

Portland is a city that doesn't give up its merits obviously or quickly to outsiders. Those green, walkable, bike-friendly, funky neighborhoods with adorable houses you hear oh-so-much about are here, but they aren't easy to find amid some very trash-strewn, unattractive neighborhoods with streets-packed-with-cars and where houses look like run-down double wide trailers (Stefan's observation, and I agree). We initially stayed at a hotel in Gresham, because that's where I got the best deal, and that was a huge mistake; the hotel was fine, but the neighborhood was horrific. Sorry to all you Gresham-ites, but your city needs a huge attitude adjustment. After two days of walking Albi around the neighborhood and being terrified of her stepping on a hypodermic needle, I was ready to head back to Louisville.

After two days of not liking anything we'd seen of Portland, we drove to a dog park in Hillsboro that was highly rated on portlandpooch.com, and after not being able to find a real downtown amid all the shopping centers, we gave up and drove down to Salem. As soon as we got out of metropolitan Portland area, our spirits rose. And in Salem, we were enchanted. We had great food from a terrific little diner called The Sassy Onion and walked the beautiful grounds of the state government and Williamette University. At last, we saw the charm of Oregon and were glad we came.

So, we decided we would find a month-to-month rental and take 30 days, even 60, to visit Eugene, and then to find a small town outside of Portland or Salem or Eugene to live in long-term. After wading through endless numbers of scams and misleading ads on Craigslist (it's almost useless because of such), a friend found a great deal at an ExtendedStay in Hillsboro. And that's where we'll be, through at least early September.

And since we've moved here, we've found the neighborhoods and charm that have made Portland famous. Stefan has, at long last, found a German bakery that makes decent bread (something he never did find in Louisville). We visited a motorcycle shop and were floored when the salesmen told us that dual-sport motorcycles were his best-selling bikes (certainly not the case in Louisville). And Stefan applied for his first job in the USA! (but understands the likelihood of him getting even an interview for the very first job he applies for is... not great).

We've eaten at a dog-friendly restaurant almost every day (that's pretty much any restaurant that has an outdoor place to eat that can be reached from outside, without walking through the inside of the restaurant), and been to a few different dog parks (there are oh-so-many here), leaving Albi oh-so-content (though, as we've discovered, she's happiest camping).

Make no mistake: Portland is a BIG city -- there's no small town feeling about it. But once you know where to look, there's lots of great places to see, and maybe even to live.

So, our goal now is to find a small town with a volunteer fire department, where we would love to rent a place for a year and from which we can easily commute for whatever jobs we land.

Email me if you need a mailing address in Portland for us; we won't officially move here, however, until some time in September or October. Or just email me to give me some words of encouragement -- or job leads (even better!).

And so a new chapter begins...