I’m done rooting for soccer teams

I just can’t do it anymore. This world cup has been awful as far as the teams I’m rooting for are concerned. First, Germany got knocked out in the group level games. They played so miserably I began to wonder if their water had been switched out with vodka, a cruel prank by their Russian hosts. Awful, all around.

Then, Mexico got knocked out. I started rooting for them after they beat Germany soundly and I figured since Mexico had never won a world cup, this could be their year! Since their celebration after their win against Germany registered on the Richtor scale, imagine what the celebration after winning the entire cup would do (world jump day, anyone?) And then they went ahead and got knocked out.

Indefatigable, I switched to Uruguay. Uruguay has also never won a world cup and they’re notable for having a team of unusual skill given their country’s size and economic development. So why not Uruguay? I was a late, but unenthusiastic supporter of Team Uruguay. And now I just watched them get trounced by France. Freaking France. Ugh! I’m so annoyed. I feel sorry for their goalie, who just barely let a score in and looked like he was going to cry afterwards. I also feel sorry for the six year old fan, shown on the German broadcast of the game crying in the stadium. Poor kid. Losing sucks! I also feel sorry for the Uruguayan player whose head slightly hit the free kick ball and knocked it more towards his own goal. Whoops.

Who am I going to root for at this point? I feel like I can’t adopt anymore national loyalties. I mean, I already spoke German so that was easy. I’m pretty good at Spanish, so no problem.

I’m going to support Belgium (aka, France, Jr. or the Netherlands’ Little Brother) in the game against Brazil later on. And Croatia (one of the Little Slavs) against Russia (Big Slav).

I hope to god not all of them lose.

Speaking of losing, Finland apparently has one of the best national soccer teams that has never made it to the World Cup. My husband wants nothing more than to see Finland qualify for the World Cup. They don’t even have to win a game as far as he’s concerned; it’d be enough for them to make it into any group. Beating Sweden would be a plus, though. I told him he could start training them up when we move to Finland. It could be like a sappy underdog movie: He, down on his luck, returns to his home country to help train the perennially down on their luck Finnish National Soccer team. After making several obvious changes (no ice skates on while playing soccer, save the drinking for after the game) and a few not so obvious ones (aim for the other team’s goal and and have some freaking self-esteem), he coaches them to get into the group rounds of the world cup!

At that point they get knocked out (this would be a Finnish movie, not a Hollywood one, so we have to keep things realistic), but they’re fine with that.

Barring this film being made, I would settle for a new world cup tradition: The Drunk World Cup: rematches of all the games, but with all the players being slight inebriated.

Finland kind of started this in 1912 in the Olympics where their team came in fourth. They would have done better, but no one told them exactly when their game was. So they went out drinking the night before and played the next day either still slightly drunk or extraordinarily hung over. Since they came in fourth, it doesn’t appear to have hurt them too much. But then again, in the Edwardian era, it seems that most sports were played after having a few tipples and were probably more entertaining for it.

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Introducing Freedom 3.0 (TM)

On this, the 242 anniversary of our original release of Freedom, we couldn’t be more pleased than to introduce the latest version of our original product. After researching current market trends, we’ve come to realize that what people really want in this hectic and modern era is less. We’re too overburdened with stuff. We have too many things to do, too many gadgets, too many toys. As a result, we’ve made minimalism the key feature of our new rollout and our customers will be pleased to find out how much more they can do with less.

 

The first thing we’ve decided to minimize is choice. I know, I know, you’re thinking: but we love choice! But there are some things you really don’t need to choice. Like Internet, for example. We all know you want it. Is it really necessary to have all that much choice in who gives it to you? No. This is why in most American markets, you’ll find your choice of Internet provider has already been made for you. But we’re going further than that! Soon, you’ll be able to have one option for internet, cell phone AND content provider. Don’t worry, AT&T are great people. We’ve spoken to them, they’ve donated money to us, they’re great. You’ll love them.

We’ve also decided to narrow down your options of political party. Two is just too many (we only count parties that can win, so “third parties” don’t exist as far as we’re concerned). From here on out, you’ll only have one! It’ll be great. Just look at Singapore. They only have one party and it’s been ruling it the whole time they’ve existed. It’s very clean, very orderly…the people there love it! You’ll still be able to vote for other parties…if you want. But they just won’t be able to win.

You say you’re swimming in stuff? Don’t worry, we’ve got that covered. We’re increasing tariffs on a wide variety of imported goods. This way, you won’t be able to afford to buy as much. You’ll have to make do with less. Remember, the keyword is minimalism. You’ll be able to afford less, but you’ll enjoy it twice as much. Your houses will feel so much more spacious!

Speaking of houses, the housing market is heating up again. Prices are going up, up, up. With that in mind, we’ve decided to support your housing wealth two fold. One, we’re going to make sure there are fewer people available to work in construction. Two, we’re going to make sure there are fewer people looking for housing. Both of these aims can be accomplished by limiting immigration. We don’t care what type: legal, illegal, educated, uneducated. We’re just not going to let any of them in. Maybe a few of the legal, educated types, but we’re going to reduce that, too. Minimalism, remember? We need to minimize the number of people here and the number of structures built so you can enjoy those minimialistic vistas so popular on desktop backgrounds these days. As an added bonus, the prices of your houses will boom! You’ll be so rich!

 

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All in all, I think you’ll be very pleased with all the upgrades we’ve included in Freedom 3.0. Like all changes, it may take some getting used to, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy the increased functionality, improved design and layout we’ve included. Remember, If It’s Freedom You Seek, Think Freedom, Inc.

Because why not?

This has become a major pet peeve for me. My kids have started this thing we’re they’ll tell me they’ve decided to do something and sum up their reasons for doing it with “because, why not?” Say my daughter decides to put some flowers in her hair. “I decided to put all these flowers in my hair becase,” she shrugs, “why not?”

WHY NOT IS NOT A REASON. It is not an explanation. I finally decided to give her some reasons why not since she couldn’t find any. “Why not? Because maybe there are bugs in the flowers and they might crawl into your hair? Maybe you’re allergic to the flowers and they will make you sneeze? Maybe they’ll get tangled up in your hair and you won’t be able to get them out?”

“Yeah, but I wanted to put flowers in my hair.” Well, that’s a fine reason to do it. I just don’t get why their reasoning for doing something has started to be summed up by a supposed inability to find a reason against doing something.

Even worse, this has rubbed off on my husband. Today he came inside and told me, “It’s just as hot being inside doing anything as it is to be outside working on the house. So I figured I may as well be outside working on the house because why not?”

Motherfucker. Did you not just listen to the first half of your sentence? You literally just told me the whys! You have reasons! You don’t need to say why not? You don’t need to act like there is no possible reason why you wouldn’t be working outside in the heat because there are very good, obvious reasons for not wanting to (it’s fucking hot being the main one).

Ah well. Now I understand how my parents felt when I over used the word “like.” “And then she was like, ‘what did you do?’ And I was like ‘I ran away.’ And she was like, ‘Oh my god, where did you go?’ And I was like….”

And my parents were like, “OMG STOP USING THE WORLD LIKE! YOU MEAN TO USE SAID! OR ASKED OR LITERALLY ANY OTHER WORD IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE MEANT TO DENOTE SOMEONE SPEAKING OR SAYING SOMETHING! GAAAAAAH.”

Yeah, it’s exactly like that.

Achtung, Baby Review

American moves abroad and raises children has become a genre unto itself nowadays. This is unfortunate because it means that by the time I get around to moving abroad, the market will already be saturated. I read Bringing Up Bebe when it came out in 2011 (it was instrumental in encouraging me to give up attachment parenting) and now I read Achtung, Baby, about an American woman who spent about 5 years living in Berlin.

As soon as I heard about the book, I bought it. I’ve observed a lot o German parenting and wanted to see others’ observations. What I didn’t expect was for the book to leave me feeling pretty depressed.

The fact that Americans are a bit….intense (other words: dedicated, single-minded, hovering, helicoptering, etc) when it comes to their parenting isn’t new. Lenore Skenazy has been writing about it since I became a parent. But few are the authors who spell it out quite as clearly as Sara Zaske: Americans are very controlling of their children. Even when trying to be permissive parents, we manage to do so in an authoritarian way. Our children are supervised pretty much all day long. They move from highly supervised classrooms with little time for free play to highly structured and supervised after-school activities and then head home to be supervised by their parents. In a country where people think kids shouldn’t play in their own front yard until they’re 13, don’t expect to see a lot of kids playing in their neighborhoods or with neighbor kids.

I’ve known this, but I’ve never heard it spelled out as being controlling and authoritarian. And it has me wondering how on earth we can expect children who have never been allowed to be free to grow up and respect the concept of freedom and participate in maintaining a liberal democracy.

Part of my goal with homeschooling was to give my children more freedom than they would have at school. More free time, more time to explore their own interests, more time to play outside and less supervision. But I can only do this sort of thing at home. Outside the house, they are subject to the prevalent cultural norms. No, they can’t go to the park by themselves because I don’t want the cops called on me or CPS. No, they can’t run into the shop and grab some milk or me run into the shop while they wait outside. And I have had the cops called on me for leaving my kids in the car when I ran into pick up a fast food order I’d already placed, so it’s not like this is an exaggeration. I came out with the food to see an angry man standing outside my car yelling into his phone. I spoke in German to my kids to make sure they were okay and he yelled at me to “Go home.” I did just that (though he was probably not referring to my house) and the cops came by to do a welfare check on the kids (I suppose to make sure I didn’t have them locked in the car still?).

Reading her book and seeing it jive with what I’ve witnessed in Germany made me feel a deep sadness. Granted, German norms have changed over the years. When my host sister was little, she used to walk to school in first grade. Now they do it in second. But these feel like minor quibbles when you consider that American kids can’t even be trusted to walk to their houses from a school bus stop. Instead, the school bus stops five times in the space of a half-mile to deposits each dickes Quarkbällchen in front of their very own house. Even if they’re in high school.

Zaske also dedicates a portion of the book about Einschülung to the fact that homeschooling is illegal. Being a homeschooler, this is a major sticking point with me. While I can understand the arguments behind forbidding homeschooling and the fact that even children have the right to be away from their parents, I think it overlooks the fact that some children simply do not do well in a school environment. While Berliner parents may protest against things they dislike against their schools and advocate for change, they lack the most significant form of protest: the ability to vote with their feet. American parents have this ability and it’s one I’ve opted to take. I dislike the prevailing culture in American schools and I don’t want my kids to experience its negative aspects and lose their initiative and joy of learning. German parents who find themselves unable to affect change in their schools have very few options, aside from providing emotional support for their miserable children and assurance that it will end eventually. But that’s a sucky way to spend 12 years of your life.

Notably in this book, Zaske includes a chapter detailing their family’s adjustment after returning to the US from Germany. This helps give them perspective about the things they like in the US compared to Germany, but there really doesn’t seem to be a whole lot. Zaske seems determined to effect some sort of change in her California neighborhood, but quite frankly I’m not holding my breath. Compared to Bringing Up Bebe, she dedicates part of each chapter to suggestions on how Americans could change how things are done in the US to improve it or make it more like the Germans do. I can see this rubbing a lot of Americans the wrong way, especially if they’re convinced that the way Americans do things is just fine and they’re sick of being told they need to do things the way foreigners do. A certain segment of the American population shows a disturbing lack of curiosity about the outside world.

The book could have used a bit more editing. Zaske definitely suffered from a lack of German knowledge. She states her the bakers called her daughter “Prinzesschen” when she went to the bakery by herself for the first time and that means “little princess.” It doesn’t. As far as I can tell, it’s not even a word. But the word for princess is “Prinzessin,” so I”m guessing that’s what they said. It would be easy to mix up the two. I also hope to god she stopped yelling “Achtung!” at some point in time. No one says “Achtung.” If someone needs to watch out, you say “Pass auf!” Achtung is like “Attention!” in the military sense. Or in the “Achtung! Achtung! Hier spricht die Polizei!” (Attention! Attention! This is the police!). I feel acutely embarrassed thinking she ran around yelling Achtung for five years in Germany. It reminds me of how I thought the correct response to “Schön Tag noch” at shops was “Jedenfalls” (Cashier: Have a nice day. Me: In any case!) I misheard “ebenfalls” (you too). Cringe.

She gets bonus points from me for including a whole section on how much attachment parenting sucks. Granted, she doesn’t say it like that, but it does suck. It makes parents miserable and turns their children into clingy little parasites who will suck the life out of you if given the opportunity. I’m actually surprised to learn Dr. Sears’ Baby Book has been translated into German considering the fact it advocates mothers quitting their jobs and staying home with their children (NOT the fathers!), even to the point of going into debt and financial ruin. Because, as we all know, only mothers are able to bond with their children. Fathers can’t. Grandparents can’t. And trained Kita Erzieher certainly can’t. According to Sears’ beliefs, all of former East Germany should be a complete basket case full of sociopaths thanks to generations of damn near all kids being in daycare there. Wait! I may have found the origins of Pegida!

At any rate, this has me more determined to move to Finland and Germany in order to give my kids a real taste of freedom. I want them to be able to explore without being warned to be careful, or other parents giving me major side eye because I am not living up to cultural norms.

Seriously, don’t brood ducklings in the house

A few years ago, I wrote a post advising people, should they get ducklings, not to brood them in the house. Later (after the second time we had ducklings and brooded them in the house again), I switched my general advise to people to never get ducks. Because they are awful. The mess is horrible. You always think it won’t be as bad as it was last time, but it always is.

Then, a year or two after our last two ducks were killed by a weasel that snuck into their coop and sucked their blood out (I found their bodies in the morning. It was not a fun morning), we got more ducklings. The things you decide in the winter when you just want to get outside. My husband and I picked out blue Swedish ducks because we didn’t want prolific layers (we’ve spent enough time swimming in unsaleable duck eggs) and we also wanted the ability to slaughter some for meat. So I figured a straight run of 12 ducklings would do nicely.

The box arrived, we dumped them into our nicely prepared brooding area. The floor was covered in newspaper, then towels. They had a nice waterer and smaller container of water for them to splash in, but in which the young ducklings couldn’t drown. And food, of course.

The first few days were fine. They were little and still figuring things out, but once they did…well. Ducks like to grab a beak full of feed, go to the water, get some water to wash it down, then go back to the feeder and repeat. They like to poop in their water. They really like to splash in their water. They drop a lot of the feed on the way to the waterer and it mixes with the poop and the water that’s getting splashed everywhere until you have a lovely mixture of wet poop and feed. And these ducks had the ability to projectile poop, so we actually ended up getting poop on things outside the run. WTF, ducklings?

We started cleaning their area out every day, to no avail. We would wake up in the morning and the smell of the ducklings in the basement would hit us before we reached the ground floor. Cleaning out their brooding area was gag inducing. And that is not hyperbole. We were literally gagging as we emptied the area.

Unfortunately, our spring was cold this year so even though we got them at the beginning of April, we couldn’t set them outside in the day until nearly the end of April. So for almost an entire month, we dealt with poopy, horrible duck smell.

Towards the end of the month, I hit on the idea of using chux pads, so we could just roll up the mess and throw it out. It made things slightly better, but the damn things were overfilled with water and terribly heavy. And full of poop aside from that.

So, why do people get ducks? Why do we keep on getting ducks even though we know they’re smelly, awful and horrible to brood?

Because they’re really darn stinking cute.

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Watching them splash about in the pond is one of the joys of summer. We guided them to the pond the other day (otherwise they’re enclosed in a run) and they had the best time ever, splashing and diving under the water with loud, happy quacks. Ducks are adorable, the question is whether that adorableness outweighs their smell.

New England spring

Spring has finally come to New England. This year, we essentially went from cold as hell with snow to warm, no period of slowly increasing warmth, unless you count that weird week in February.

The outdoors has sprung to life. The grass already needs mowing and I’m on patrol for poison ivy. I’ve spent a lot of time clearing various areas of our yard where it likes to grow and I’m determined not to let it take back over. The most accurate part of IT for me? The part where Eddie looks around and declares, “That’s poison ivy, that’s poison ivy, that’s poison ivy.” Seriously. If you live in New England and go near the edge of the woods…it’s all poison ivy.

We go on walks through our town and I keep my eyes peeled on the side of the road. “Don’t walk there!” I yell to the kids. “That’s poison ivy! No! Don’t go off the road! That’s all poison ivy right there!” Fucking poison ivy.

I found a few small strands with their reddish glossy leaves starting to unfurl yesterday and promptly pulled them out. I’ll have to continue checking regularly.

But my patrols carry a risk aside from getting a poison ivy rash: the ticks are out. Ticks are worse than poison ivy. Right now, they’re nymphs and are extremely small and hard to spot. Getting bit by one can mean getting Lyme disease, babesiosis, another one I’m forgetting and the newly discovered Powassan virus, which can apparently kill you in a few days.

We do a lot of tick checks, but it’s damned hard to find those nymphs. They’re tiny! So I set a bottle of tick repellant by the door and told the kids if they’re going to go out into the woods, they need to spray themselves with tick repellant first. Of course, it’s not as easy as “Just spray yourself with tick repellant and worry no more!” Ticks may still attach themselves. So it’s more like “Spray yourself with tick repellant and we’ll do a tick check every night anyway.” The ticks get into the house. We’ve found two just crawling around on bedroom floors. My husband caught Lyme disease working in the woods in May a few years back, so I know it’s on our property and my tick-related paranoia will not abate.

We made tick tubes this year. Last year, we bought them, but they’re actually quite pricey for what you get. So we saved all our toilet paper and paper towel rolls, bought a bottle of permethrin and sat down one day to soak cotton balls in and stuff the balls into the tubes. We then placed them all over the property for the mice to find and use as nesting material, hopefully killing off all the ticks that feed on the mice, thus destroying a link in the Lyme disease chain.

It’s not a guaranteed thing, but it’s the best option we have to prevent Lyme disease. There’s no vaccine, though apparently they’re trying to develop one that would be a vaccine against tick saliva. Terribly clever, since there is more than one disease you can get from ticks. I know people who have their yards sprayed every year – even ones who are otherwise all anti-chemical and natural this, natural that. But with the chickens, I’m not willing to do that. Plus we have a pond and permethrin is very dangerous for aquatic life.

All of this makes me not want to leave the house. Add in the black flies and I’m covered in slap marks from hitting them, rashes from bumping up against poison ivy, tick repellant and quite possibly actual ticks.

I remain astounded the original settlers of New England didn’t all die.

In Defense of Plattenbau

They were ubiquitous in former East Germany when I went there on my exchange. Tired, worn-looking Plattenbau. Their glory days were long behind them and in the years since the wall fell, eastern Germany’s declining population meant that many of them also lay empty. Residents preferred living in newer apartment buildings or houses, which were no longer available based on luck or connections.

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sourceGunnar Klack – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

I also hated Plattenbau. They were a blight on otherwise charming cityscapes. You could see where the seams came together along the prefabricated sections. Their uniformity made neighbhorhoods dull. I much prefered the charming neighborhoods filled with Fachwerkhäuser, many of which had been painstakingly restored since reunification. They had all the charm Plattenbau lacked. Each one with it’s own uniquely handcrafted decorative carvings. They were full of history. Plattenbau, meanwhile, were like cardboard boxes stuck together to shove workers in.

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“I can go into any of my neighbors apartments and know exactly where everything is because they’re all the same,” one of my host sister’s friends complained. His university housing was in an old Plattenbau.
“That’s the point of them,” my host sister insisted. “It’s supposed to create sameness. Everyone is the same. Everyone has the same type of apartment, so everyone is equal. No one has a nicer one. That was the communist ideal.

Both her friend and I wrinkled our noses. There’s no way that could be seen as a plus, unless you were a communist. Which we weren’t.

My art teacher at gymnasium made a better point one day, when she mentioned Plattenbau and several students made sounds of disgust. “Hey now, you may think they’re ugly and awful, but when they were built, we all wanted to live in them. They were fantastic. They had running water and electricity and the roof didn’t leak. Compared to my grandmother’s house, which was an old Fachwerk house where the roof did leak when it rained, it was great.”

I hadn’t considered that aspect, and from their silence, I gathered neither had my classmates. In the days after the Wende, it was so easy to forget how hard repairing any old buildings in the East was. Paint was hard to come by. Plattenbau may have been grey with exterior tiling providing the only color, but so were Fachwerkhäuser because it was difficult to get a hold of any paint.

The town I stayed in ended up tearing down most of its Plattenbau. “Good,” I told my house family. “But what about those two in the middle of town?” They were tall ones, like 7 stories tall.
“Oh, they’re keeping them to house refugees and Russians in,” they told me. I think they were a bit sad to see them go. They had lived in one of them when they were first married and had their first child there. The Plattenbau would be replaced shortly with modern, swank apartments with greater appeal.

But in other larger cities of the east where the demand for housing was higher, fewer Plattenbau were being torn down. Instead, they were being remodeled. Their outsides were modernized so they looked less like cookie cutter boxes to house workers and more like upscale, highly coveted housing. Some of the first Plattenbau to be built are now historical monuments.

What finally changed my mind was reading some articles (including the wikipedia articles) about them. They were very efficiently designed: the bathrooms and kitchens shared a wall so only one wall needed to have pipes in it.

They also designed them with socialist ideals in mind: women as equals to men shouldn’t be isolated in the kitchen during meal prep. So dining rooms and kitchens could be combined to keep everyone together! Yay socialism! It’s like a forerunner of today’s open concept living. You can see the tendrils of today’s open plan living reaching all the way back to post-war, East German prefabs.

More interesting in my mind is the fact that East German plattenbau plans were exported directly to….North Korea. According to Nothing to Envy, the plans and apartments were basically plunked down, including elevator shafts that usually remained empty. A few small modifications were made for local customs, like their traditional system of heating, but other than that a former East German plattenbau resident would find themselves quite at home in a North Korean apartment building.

 

Probably Plattenbauten’s biggest saving grace nowadays is time and distance. It’s now 41 years since the wall fell and the rush to reject everything of the oppressive country has ended. Now there’s a longing for the things you once had, but no longer are.

1280px-Berlin,_Palast_der_Republik_--_um_1990_--_2

Like the Palast der Republik. Built on the sight of an imperial palace in the middle of Berlin, it was hugely ugly, at least compared to the palace that stood there before its destruction in the war. After reunification, the government opted to disassemble it and rebuild the palace that had once stood there. The first time I went to Berlin (in 2003), I approved. It was an eyesore and needed to go. The rebuilt citypalace would be easier on the eye.

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But the last time I went, in 2016, I felt differently while we were in the Lustgarten and I turned to our Berliner friend and said, “They should have left up the Palast der Republik. It was ugly, but it’s historical and at least it was original. Not a rebuilt fake.” So much of what you see in the museum island is a fake. It was all bombed out after the war with few buildings not being painstakingly rebuilt after the war.

 

He sighed. “A lot of people agree with you, but now it’s too late. The Palast is gone.” It’s unfortunate. It would have been a great place to have a museum dedicated to life behind the iron curtain, in all its pluses and minuses. It’s funny how if you wait just a little bit longer, sometimes ugly things grow on you and you come to love them for what they are.