Monday, March 31, 2008

Well.. it's a bit odd.
I feel like I've been transported over space and time.. from medieval customs, languages and fortresses, to the dismissive bustle of disposable America. The refuse bin is easily four times the size of ours in Germany. I've called the city for a recycle box, but I'm not sure what to do with our cardboard and paper. The crosscut shredder I got today will make mulch of our confidentials. Mailing and merchandise boxes remain to be organized.
I hope to keep much of what I learned of order, from the Germans.

It's hard to think of the US as more than a vacation destination. It's strange, to realize that we are here, now.
We can walk down to a huge grocery, pet, office, drug store mall thingy and waste money on whatever we think it is we want.

We also found the best seafood restaurant ever, less than ten minutes walk away. Callahans is one of those dive-looking places with a genteel interior, great service and truly amazing food. They get the beer and wine, too.

The fried oysters were the best I've ever had. Fried oysters should be like fried ice cream: Crunchy and savory on the outside, creamy and delicious on the inside.

Cg had the broiled platter, which was huge and varied. I finally got to taste a proper crab cake. Wow. Crab is sweet. I'd stop short of icing it, but put one of these sagey, chunky beauties on the plate in front of me, with a birthday candle in, and I'm happy.

Put that together with a more than decent McWilliams Aussie Reisling, and you've got a lordly meal. We tipped the heck out of our sweet, personable waitress, and waddled back down our street to collapse, well fed, into our borrowed bed.

So, we ain't in Europe any more, but we ain't in foodie hell either.
On the contrary, Frederick holds promise.

Organic free range lamb is cheap here. Dinner was lamb shoulder with garlic, fresh rosemary and thyme over mushroom, saffron and wild rice, with romanesque. I let the lamb sit with the spices and a spritz of fresh lemon juice, then seared it in fine olive oil with chopped onions. It rested between plates while we deglazed the onion pan and mixed in some mushroom juice.

The thyme and rosemary are sorted into a dry batch and fresh batch. The fresh has extra water in its little plastic envelope in the crisper, and the dry batch is resting on a radiator.

I've ended up relying on radiators for everything from drying wild mushrooms to drying herbs and dish towels!

Our little crackerbox is heated with them.. crammed and cozy, it will be a wonderful opportunity to get rid of everything we can't live without.

Meanwhile, Chuck wants to go back to Greece in the fall.. I can't help but think it's a wonderful idea.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

This is an excerpt from a message to a colleague of cg's:

Just wanted to say thanks again for rescuing us from Dulles.
I have a little joke.. Dull, Duller, Dulles..

You sent a note about the lending closet earlier-- they won't be open when we get in, nor, I suspect, on Saturday.
Perhaps we have gotten used to everything being closed most of the time you want to go there..

When you "move house" as the Brits say, over such a time and distance, there is a certain comfort in having things you know, around you.
I'd like to say, after these few years on the Continent, that I had become free of these touchstones.
On the contrary.

Certain touchstones, like a French press, good pots and pans, and my own socks in some findable location, trump most other things.

You don't know how much you reach for them, until you can't.

Yes, it was hard the other way, too.

We've gotten the best, rarest and most hugs these past couple weeks. Nothing salves the heart like a good hug.

Knowing we'll be back, helps a lot too.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Another post from the lovely and talented Z, apropos to our time of being wandering folk:

"I went to the Kuwait airport last night. it was my first real foray to civilian (non-deployment) life in 5 1/2 months.
It was most definitely an eye opening experience. Apparently, men's shoe fashions are leaning towards pointy toes again. It will give me no small joy departing in my very rounded birkenstock clogs, flouting convention. But what was truly fascinating was the airport people.

For quite some time I have seen no children, and I was surrounded by them. Loud ones, quiet ones, old ones, young ones, ones running around, and those clinging quietly to dresses, fingers in their mouths, soft taking in the world, eyes wide. Probably like mine. Well, most of them were not as blue as mine, but you get the point.
Every now and then, by chance, we would meet, eyes communicating without hindrance of language, or barrier of age, or culture, or convention. Most of their eyes were saying "Wow, look at all these people! look at that guy with the big belly and dishdasha and the beard! Gee, I wish this lady wasn't dragging me like this, I want to stop and look at all these fascinating folks."

My silent reply was usually along the lines of, " Yeah, that guy is interesting, did you see the suitcases that one lady had? Wow!! I am sorry, little man, but you will be dragged around one way or another for the rest of your days. Be like the willow, and bend."

When I was not talking with children, or salivating from the smell of the hommous I bought to eat later, I was all consumed with the people. I guess the way I am wired makes me fascinated with them. Arabic women, fully veiled and with all black hijabs, with the hidden flutter of colorful dresses appearing near their ankles passed me. So did those of more moderate upbringing, some with philipina nurses in tow. Apparently huge purses are en vogue again as well. Smart looking business men with smart looking suitcases with smart looking wheels walk smartly to waiting airport drivers, who look inured to the whole proceeding.

But the parade proceeds, pausing patiently as per the prestidigitation of the powered portals, permitting passage.

The men of Arabia are many, and varied. Some have cuff links, some have unpressed dingy dishdashas. Red and white, black and white, or just white keffiayah's sit upon the bearded and non bearded alike. With suitcases and bags and boxes, coming slowly, or fast, sandaled or slippered, the men of Arabia come. Some of the younger ones are in suits and shirts, with wives in colored headdresses. The wives seem to be worn as another accessory by some.

Of course, the deployed come as well. Sporting duffle bags and Px backpacks, they come. Military and civilian, they come. Tan boots and neck wallets, they come. They find their representives, holding up their little signs, and they go. Some of them I think I recognize. None of them are ecstatic to be back, but neither forlorn. A resigned sense of duty, or obligation.

I am leaving for R and R tomorrow night. I will bring no neck wallet, no PX backpack, no duffle bag, and definitely no flippin tan boots. I will not see anyone in camouflage for 13 days, I hope. No one walking around armed, I really hope.

No DFAC food, hear no chinooks, no c-130's. Not to have my nights interrupted by the gunfire at the gate,
or the medevac chopper.

For thirteen days I get to be just a guy. And I will make it a point to communicate with children, and eat real food, and love, and be loved, and take a bath, and sleep late, and practice not working on computers, even my own.
(although, who are we kidding...when people ask me what I do, I think I am going to tell them unpublished author or amateur chef. If I tell them I work on computers for a living...oh boy...)

And then on the fourteenth day, I will join that sinuous procession, and be one of those wandering folk again.:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Got this recipe from the lovely and talented Carissa:

It's best with roasted garlic, so if you want that, start early with some fat chunks of garlic drizzled with good olive oil and wrapped in foil, set in a warm, not hot, oven. About 125 Centigrade and an hour or so is what you need. I would use AT LEAST four of the biggest "toes" I could find. Use the oil, after roasting, to help thin the paste.

Get a couple cans of Garbanzo Beans/chickpeas/Kichererbsen .
(I just like saying Garbanzo Beans!) You can use dried, but it's a pain to rehydrate them. I am trying a Pyrex cookpot in the micro with quartered giant garlic, heat for 30 mins on 75% and just leave it for a while. Let you know how that goes.

I think I would use at least 3/4 cup of pan-toasted sesame seeds. I toast them in a big cast iron pan. Then I grind them in a little coffee-grinder type thing. You can just buy tahini paste if that's too much trouble.

Get the juice of two lemons, a tiny scrape of pepper (mix of red, white, green & black is best) and some comino (cumin or coriander seed) and a drizzle of olive oil (extra virgin is best, of course). I can't live without my plastic lemon juicer. I think I'll need another for our upcoming move to Maryland, not sure I can do without for any amount of time.

In hindsight from my experience, and Carissa's advice, I would only briefly shake the moisture from the beans before piling them in either a super powerful blender or food processor, or a cheap blender I didn't like very much.

Get all these things processed together, mixing and poking as you like to achieve a thick paste. Add more lemon juice or oil to achieve desired texture.
Carissa's secret ingredient is peanut butter, a tablespoonful or two. I love the Maranatha Chunky Organic from the commissary- sugar free, and it'll make you want to kick Peter Pan in the head and out the window. Meanwhile, you will probably eventually short or burn out your cheap blender. Carry on with a potato masher, unless you have a high dollar blender or food processor nearby.

I would use coarse sea or kosher salt, and be brave with the cumin. Taste and spin, until you're happy.
Decorate with paprika, a drizzle of good oil, and parsley, mint, or/and fresh cilantro/coriander. I think we may use toasted sesame oil in the future as a drizzle.

Everything's a little crazy right now with the move, but when we get settled and I get my Maryland garden going, I'm going to see what a hit of fresh thyme does for this recipe. I may be able to grow rosemary in MD, as well as basil.. both have been a miserable failure in Bavaria, along with tomatoes. There's just not enough sun!

Moving from a parallel north of Toronto, to slightly coastal Maryland, should do wonders for my garden wishes. 

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Exhausted from cleaning and strategizing the move, we stumbled into a party dear friends put together for us. 
We were fed, hugged and, well, pampered with pictures and stories.

It's a really different experience leaving.. arriving.. shaping emptiness, as opposed to trying to pre-fill a hole you know, is coming into your life. 

I was thinking about what people talked about bringing back from Europe.. cuckoo clocks, expensive cars, crystal, glassware.. It all sounds ridiculous to me. I like these things, but in the end they are just more to dust, fuss over, insure and move. Okay, I hate cuckoo clocks. 

We had an expensive car. Turns out they are expensive to repair, too!

Cg indulged me on the crystal. We have a few pieces, from a cut vase, to my black iridescent necklace, to some royal blue bottles and glasses, which will keep us ornamented for many years. We picked up a little nice glassware, not a lot. Mostly fun beer Krugs and mugs. An odd assortment of painted eggs.. 

What am I *really* bringing back from Europe?
A language I never expected to learn. I'm not great at German, not at all. But I am slightly conversant. 

Experiences. Climbing the hillsides of the great fortresses and wandering their walls. 
The Ionian Ocean. Prague, Cesky Krumlov. Munich. Berlin. Athens (another damned old church..)  Freiburg and the Alsace. Wandering the Pagan Wall in the Vosges, howling on All Hallows with French kids and mischief-makers.

 Ireland! the 10pm sunsets of the Arran Isles, and knowing my way around places I have never been before. 

I learned that if I can be close to the earth, and become intimate with the ways of the seasons in a place, I can be home. I am always home in Mama Natura's lap, and this is where I have to go, to find my way around. 
Wandering the flanks of the great old fortresses and forests, my hands tracing Achillea vulgaris and nobilis, the healer's and travellers' herbs.. wild thyme in the Vosges, wildly fragrant marjoram by Kallmunz on the Vils and Donau.

Only a few of these places did we visit, for the place alone. 
Most of them we visited, because of the people who invited us. 

It's the friendships we made here, that we keep. Not the things that need dusting, insuring and fussing. A friendship is like a plant, just tend to it when it needs. Dried out and thirsty is no good, nor is drowned. 

You know the friends you have made, by whom you see when you go away. Who you hear from. 
Who did you help? Who helped you? Who made you laugh, who supported you?

Who do you know, when you meet again, you will just pick right back up?

It's hard to elucidate, for the one-pagers (those who never leave their home) what the rest of the book is like. It's a heartache, a headache, sure. But travel, especially leaping off the way you have to, to actually live somewhere foreign, opens your mind and heart so much.. 

I can't say it makes it easier. Nothing could. 

Thursday, March 13, 2008

We're buying furniture for a house we've never seen, in a city we know not much about. We've read a lot, we have faith. We know what WE need. 

Not a sofa from Ikea, that's for sure! We didn't find anything we liked, despite having picked something out from the catalogue. I think a futon may serve us better. I remember my dad's apartment having the Best Sofa Ever to Sleep on Sideways. On the other hand, we found the Best Kitchen Table Ever with Drawers. I'm not even sure they sell that one in the states. I'm also psyched about the "coffee table" also known as "where we will usually eat dinner while watching whatever we downloaded on itunes". It has a glass top and little boxes to put my immense rock/shell/skull/feather/whatthehellisthat collection in. It's an eccentric,  Durrell-esque naturalist collection.

This Ikea binge would not have been possible, if I had not been stashing Euros in an a German account for a couple years. Buy low, sell high, baby. We also get almost a %20 tax rebate, here in Germany. We took advantage of that!

Chuck got a new wok, we have new skillets, and a completely metal meat pounder for when he gets desperate for a schnitzel and I have to make him one. We may have to host "German night/Deutschabend" once a week-- Cg says European night once a month.  After the cleaning lady has visited. :-)

We just have to get there. It's what I said, on the other side of the Atlantic. We just have to get there. 

Wherever "there" is. 
It's nice to "know" and have an idea, but it's another thing to Be There

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

One of the side effects of shock is numbness.. it allows sensitive humans to deal with immense amounts of input rationally. We're both in that place. 

Primarily, we take care of each other. We don't have a problem with roofs or food or even wine, at this point.  

Our curtains are washed and packed.. our windows naked, some of our things in the mail. It feels like our life is in the mail, at this point. 

I personally wonder, how much of the best of our European lifestyle we can translate to our new American life. 

I wonder how much it will offset cg's angst over leaving his beloved Germany/Europa. 
I'm not sure if it matters how much I create a French potagerie house, find a place where we can walk and bike where we want, and not participate in the self-destructive commuter lifestyle. 

I do all these things for myself, because this is how I want to live. 
What I have to do, to take care of him in what is a terrible transition from the only place he has felt at home, to a place he is inclined to reject on principle, I'm not sure. 

I'll do my best. I always do. 
I also always feel like a little puppy-dog, tugging, nipping and barking along the best path I can find. 


Friday, March 07, 2008

Cg just bought us "Country Cooking of France" by Anne Willan, which is just droolingly wonderful. This is our housewarming prezzie for our new home, I guess. 

Cleaning a house is one way to say goodbye to it. I'm not sure where all the fuzz and dead bugs come from. If we could figure that out, the secrets of the universe would be ours, no doubt. 

The weeks ahead of packing, ridding and organizing, cleaning and strategizing, may be quiet out here, but they will be internally busy.. mourning, anticipating, dealing, adapting.. and being glad of inflatabeds and French presses.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The more I read about our destination, the more I talk to people, the more I get excited about getting there. 
Besides the fact that it's a central point and frequent TDY destination for many of our nearest and dearest, and the fact that the icy Atlantic pond and uncertainties and cruelties of transatlantic travel no longer constitute the challenges of spending time with us..  we're sure we'll see more of our extended budo family. 
We'll probably have to set up a room for at least one of them!
That's more than okay, it's our pleasure, our privilege, and our happiness.

For us, it's a denouement.
Imagine eating in Puerto Rico, Tuscany or Singapore for some years.. then coming back to the Midwest... suddenly, it's like your tongue has died. 

We're going to be mourning, no doubt. 

Going from sitting in an Italian-run coffee shop in a heated tent on the Victuallenmarkt in Munich, to downtown Frederick, MD in some dismissive tourist joint.. unless we can speak some good Italian words to the staff.. if they are Italian.. then we can speak Spanish, that's a favorite (we really do love Spanish, much more logical to the Latinate mind than Deutsch, or, for that matter, English!) just, please, give us good coffee. Not burnt crap Starbucks. 

Give me unoaked Italian Chardonnay.. don't make me chew on an oak log to enjoy my wine. I've split plenty of oak, and while I'm too broken to think of ever doing it again, I still love the aroma of fresh split wood.. I just don't like having to chew through a cord to sip my wine. 

How many Chard lovers have set a "wood grenade" in Texas bur oak, and set to its destruction? I don't know, but I still have dents on my skull and splinters in my skin. Like the remnants of iron mesquite thorns in my feet, which always point South to Texas, when I ask them where home is. 
Then, I ask them how they got there, and the conversation gets uncomfortable from there. 

You know what?
I got the chance to go home.. and I had to choose between caring for the man I love, and that. 
I chose caring for the man I love, and in return, he brought me what may be the opportunity I have been working for, all this time. 

It's a time and place, to go looking for my time and place. 
I feel I've paid my dues, done my homework and paperwork (more of that to come, to work in MD!) and now, maybe now, it can pay off. So far, it's all been pioneering, hacking down brush and blazing the path. 
More to come, for sure, and if I should wonder how the path can be thornier, I'm sure it will become so...

So I refuse to wonder, and simply, quietly, sharpen my machete. 

My time with cg has been one of immense lightning strikes, serendipity and extreme kindness from people I barely feel I know. He inspires that in people, with his immense heart and commitment. 
To what, to why, I couldn't tell you. You have to cross hands with him, to look him in the eye (one artificial lens may glint at you, now, one pupil will never be so small as the natural one) but this man has something, IS something. 

I'm in a weird situation. I am both wife and deshi. 
As wife, I may kill him. 
As deshi, I would kill for him. 
I find both and either a bit confusing. 

Meanwhile, we have, together, a destination. 
And we plan to enjoy it. 

My machete is sharp, my shovel is ready, my mind is open and curious. 
Yeah, and I have a folder ready for paperwork.. Ready to make it work.
Ready for our destination. 

Saturday, March 01, 2008

What is the sound of no hands clapping?

I have a colleague I have only met online, who was in Germany for a while, and loves festbier. 

Drinking one for you now, N! wish I could bring you one, but I don't know how to get one to TX without it exploding and spoiling. Maybe we'll have a chance, to have one fresh, over here, sometime. Hasen-Brau aus Augsburg is an early spring favorite, for its spicy, sprightly flavor as well as the elegant long-legged bunny ornamenting the label. 

It's not like we've been moving every two years, as is expected of military families. I didn't sign up for that. I'll put up with some disruption, for opportunity, and we've certainly made the best of it. 

What everyone expects, is that we WANT to go back to the US. CG certainly doesn't. I've never seen him so happy and healthy, as over here. Except this last year, when his poor body began to fall apart. 

I've tried to write about the things I hate about Germany, and there's a good handful... but there are more significant things to hate about the US. Crime. Lack of public education (college) and health (highest infant mortality in the Western world, shortest life expectancy for poor elders, diseased vagrants) myopic politics.. I could go on, but it's just bloody dispiriting. 

Not looking forward to being maniacal about locking, hiding, guarding. Not looking forward to kids sporting the "poopy pants" look whether they are dumbass gangster dumbasses, or just wanting to be dumbasses. Not much diff.. probably just payoffs and access to weapons. Here's to carrying a fake wallet with a scanned 20 visible. Or a can of pepper spray and a chunk of rebar. Or both. Can't carry a gun in Maryland. Gee, what about that crime in Baltimore?

When the kids have no hope of entering university, they turn to other dreams. If all they see in the media is gangsta this and pimp that, what do they have to do?

It wasn't around so much, when I was at that age, and I was a terrible misfit geek in a very white-bread magnet school. So I don't really have a grip on these issues, and I know that.

If Obama wins, will these kids start wearing ties and go to Yale?
Not unless the infrastructure changes.

Not unless we give them a way, and we make being smart cool again.

I'm not into pandering, and I'm not even sure Obama's black! He's half white! what does that mean? The man's not even an Oreo. More like Eskimo pie.

On the other hand, ol' McCain is having to stroke like crazy, just to stay above water.
Hmm. Probably not a good analogy, for a dude his age.

Miz Hillary? honey, being married to the prez, does not a candidate make. I've been married to a PA wonk for a while, and you couldn't pay my ass enough to do that job. I'm SURE not qualified for it by marriage.

Besides, I can make more at mine, which I am actually Good At.

No, I don't like any of them. Nor do I like Ron Paul, an old Libertarian Texan. I could deal with Kucinich, but he can't seem to get it together.

Guess I'm stuck with the choice of no choices, again.

What is the sound of no hands clapping?