...and the living is easy...

June & July 2005
I finished the latest Harry Potter book in a little more than 24 hours after I got it. You should have seen the look of terror on the German postman's face as I came flying down our 90 steps on that fateful Saturday after he buzzed to say he had a package for me (Stefan ordered it for me months ago). My landlord happened to also be at the bottom of the hill and asked if the package was for him, and I almost snarled and bit him. I signed for the package, grabbed it, ran back up our 90 steps faster than ever before, hit the couch and read continuously for about four hours... then we went to dinner, then I read some more, then I slept, then I walked Albi, then I fed the dogs, and then I read practically non-stop until late afternoon on Sunday.

Did I like it? Heck yeah! Turned around and read it again almost right away! Lots of good back story which I have really been needing, lots of "oh my" revelations, lots of Snape... I liked it better than Order of the Phoenix , which I loved, but the perpetually-whiney-Harry of that book got on my nerves (ofcourse, when I was 15, I was also perpetually whiney...).

At the very end of this page, I have my theories about what happened at the end of the book, for those of you who have read the book and wish to discuss. For those of you who haven't read the book and intend to, don't worry -- you will have plenty of warning before you get to my theories.

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Just recently discovered: on the German Honda motorcycle web site, there is a section called "Friends", and you click on it, and then click on the link called "Links", it has links to other people and companies' web sites about Honda motorcycles, by model. At the bottom of the list is "Allgemein", which is a listing of fan pages for Honda brands that aren't listed separately on the site. The first link is called "Motorradreisen mit einer NX650 Dominator." And that is a link to... Stefan's site! We have no idea how it got there, but he's mighty proud.

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On July 17, Stefan saw something in the sky new for the both of us: an old passenger balloon filled with gas rather than hot air. It had no machinery in the basket to heat the air. The balloon was round, rather than upside-down pear-shaped, and striped -- it looked like red and yellow stripes. It also looked like it had flown out of a Jules Verne novel; therefore, I decided that it was, indeed, Jules Verne and he had time-traveled here and was looking down on the Rhine and feeling oh-so-confused. It was too far away to get a good photo. I'm still trying to figure out how in the world one gets such a balloon off the ground -- and then back to the ground again safely.

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I'm not welcomed online anymore by the Daily Show and Comedy Central.

More than a year ago, watching "Daily Show" clips on the web was one of my favorite things to do. Other than the 30 minute short on CNN once a week, the Net provided my only "Daily Show" fix. But no more. The Daily Show web site and video clips are now completely inaccessible to my computer, operating system and web browser. The pages don't download properly, and I get error messages regarding flash memory. The videos require a version of Windows Media player that is only available for Mac users running OS 10.X -- something I can't have on my machine.

Other sites that provide video and snazzy features do NOT have such lofty hardware and software requirements -- why has Comedy Central and the Daily Show chosen to be so incredibly exclusive? I'm wondering also if the site even meets accessibility requirements now for people using assistive tech. I'm so disappointed.

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I ended up taking six weeks of daily German classes, rather than just four, for all June and part of July. The courses weren't intensive like the Spanish courses I took at IEMA in Avila, but the method was solid, and probably as intensive as my brain can take on hot summer afternoons. My fellow students were from Korea, Romania, Australia, Kosovo, Pakistan and Yemen -- and, later, Poland and Ethiopia. Everyone was very nice, and we laughed a lot as we stumbled through Deutsch. My goal was never to be fluent, or even to have enough knowledge to work a bit in German; rather, I just wanted to get some basics down so that I could better navigate restaurants and shops on my own, and so I can start learning more and more German each time I watch TV or listen to a conversation (I didn't have the building blocks for that before these classes). Stefan was wonderful about grading my homework for me; he couldn't tell me why anything is the way it is, nor the parts of speech for a sentence, but he could tell me if what I had written was right or wrong.

Would I recommend IFS to others? Yes, for the most part. They are very reasonably priced, and their method and materials are, as I said, solid. I do think their classes should be more intensive, as well as smaller (there were sometimes as many as nine students in my class), and they really should speak ONLY in German in the classes (my teachers lapsed into English a bit too much for me). I wish they had talked some about German culture, the way my Spanish school would about Spanish culture -- it makes the lessons more interesting. If you are coming from another country to study at IFS, I strongly recommend you live with a German family and taking private classes at least twice a week as well.

I am going to continue to study German from home for a bit, with CDs and with Stefan (ha ha), but then, I hope, switch back to studying Spanish by September. Maybe next year, if I have the time, I'll return to IFS for a refresher course.

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In June, I bought the most beautiful Tarot cards ever: "Tarot of the Thousand and One Nights." Apparently, they aren't released in the USA yet. I bought them for just one reason: they have the most beautiful drawings I have ever seen, by someone called Léon Carré, for whom I can find NOTHING online about. They have an illuminated quality, like Maxfield Parrish. I really want a photo book of this guy's work.

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The English-language section of Deutche Welle (the "BBC" of German media) has an article recently, Anti-Racism Groups Slam German Ads that brought to mind how many times German advertising has made me cringe... no, I'm not trying to be "politically correct" (a term invented to scare people into not criticizing anything, particularly anything on the right side of the political spectrum). Some of the images used in advertising here in Deutschland are just amazingly insensitive (talk to me the next time you see me about a Phantasialand online ad I saw once -- ouch). And trying to explain it to a local is impossible, until you talk about the stereotypes of Germans in USA media -- then, suddenly, they get upset.

You have to see it to believe it... the Deutsche Welle article has some examples.

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I swear, CNN should hire me. Their staff and analysts spent most of June completely shocked and freaking out because France and Holland rejected the EU constitution by such large margins. I knew it was going to happen, and had been telling the TV this for days beforehand, but did they listen? No. Don't get me wrong: I am a HUGE EU supporter, and think most of the decisions are going to be positive for everyone in the long run -- but the EU leadership has lost touch with the people. They have left them out of the process completely. And these people on TV are all flumuxed and I'm like, Hello, are you that out of touch as well? Geesh.

Oh, goody, CNN International is going to do a really important news story now, as I write this: how to find out which celebrity skin type you have. Gosh, that is just so important. I hope they will follow it up with news about the Michael Jackson trial -- even though it's long over. I mean, really, who wants NEWS or something like that.

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Albi and I got ATTACKED by a little black cat in July! It came out of no where -- crossed the street towards us with its back arched and attacked Albi full force, with no provocation at all. Albi fought right back. Thank goodness I had her on leash, because who knows what would have happened otherwise. I have two ugly scratches and one not so bad one on my middle finger from trying to get the cat off her. Albi looks okay, but I think she might have a little injury as well somewhere, probably on her face. I had to push the thing away hard with my foot (I didn't kick it, I swear), and it finally retreated. Then we walked away quickly, because I was afraid it was going to dart out again for a second round.

Not fun. Otherwise, it was a cute kitty.

Albi was in heat for most of June. For weeks before, she sheds like crazy, leaving a layer of black hair all over the house, then there's a little blood, and then for about four days, I have to make sure she doesn't run off when I walk her. It's so weird -- when she's not in heat, she sticks right by my side when we walk, like we'd trained together all her life, and she doesn't shed at all. As I wrote soon after I got her, I couldn't get her fixed, because she's too old -- the vet all but refused. I also found out that, at her age, she wouldn't get any of the cancer-prevention-benefits that comes with getting a girl dog fixed. So... I have to deal with the heat thing two-three times a year. Ugh.

Buster is still enjoying life. He still does a version of the Snoopy-Suppertime dance (now, it's more of a short strut), particularly if I've been gone and come home at around 5. Treats and visitors still make him oh-so-happy. He still likes to groom himself like a cat, to try to sneak onto Albi's bed in the living room when she's not looking, and to bark to demand treats, more water, or for Albi to move from wherever she is laying. But mostly, he sleeps, and drinks water -- his kidneys aren't working well. He needs to pee every six hours. And if he's been asleep for more than three hours solid, he has a lot of trouble getting up and moving - those back legs don't want to work all the time, particularly in the mornings. Yes, he's mostly blind, and sounds have to be isolated and of a particular tone, or REALLY loud, for him to hear.

It's hard watch Buster go through this -- I feel like it was just last year that I went through this with Wiley. But I'm trying to face it as best I can. I'm trying to be as relaxed and accepting about it as Buster, the Buddha dog.

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Yes, I saw Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy , and I loved it! Sam Rockwell was painfully funny. Not sure how well the movie would go over with people who weren't familiar with the books or the radio series though...

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I've been trying to find things to do in the greater Sinzig area, to ween myself from always going to Bonn or from rewatching "Buffy" yet again... so I pay particular attention to posters I see up at the train station, and Stefan looks over the ads in the local advertising rags to see if there's any sort of festival going on each weekend. Results so far have been mixed. We went to an antique tractor show in Franken, a tiny town near us, and it was delightful -- as the Toddler once said to me, you can take the girl out of Kentucky, but you can't take Kentucky out of the girl. I just love old tractors. I love the way they smell...

The next weekend, we went to "Afrikafest Sinzig." Major disappointment. Great location (at the Boat House on the Rhine) but so poorly executed. They had just three vendors (one selling just a few items, one selling her hair braiding services, and none selling African clothes), there was just a bit of food for sale (but no signs telling you there was such), and the organizers made sure the only way one could hear the music was if you got as close to the performance stage as possible -- and even if you stood outside of the roped off area, the organizers demanded you pay to listen to the music (we were standing there, and I was just about to suggest we pay and go in, when Miss Pushy Britches came over to demand we pay or move -- so we moved). Normally, we love international festivals: Stefan loves the food, I love the things to buy, and we love all the noise and energy usually found at such. Also, I had been looking for a local club to join, and had high hopes that this could be it (the name of the group is "Sun for Children" -- why they went with an English name but offered no info in English, I don't get). But after seeing how poorly run this was, and the "exclusive" air to it all... no thanks.

But it brings to mind what makes a festival, however small, successful -- all the things Afrikafest Sinzig was lacking:

And in addition, if you are having a festival that's supposed to benefit a humanitarian cause, have large display boards (certainly more than one) with images and words that show passersby what the cause is and why it's important. It doesn't have to be professionally produced -- sometimes, in fact, the more "home-made" it looks, the more appealing it can be. You will make far more money having such large displays and buckets where people can make donations than you will by nagging people to pay to hear music.

I'm going to keep looking for that local club to join...

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In July, I read excerpts from written comments by Sir Alec Guinness on his experience with "Star Wars." And it serves as proof that George Lucas had NOT thought out the complete myth of "Star Wars" before or during at least the first two films; otherwise, why wouldn't he have filled in Sir Alex Guinness to the back story, which the actor was so desperate for in order to be able to embrace the role (which he never did)? Not that I didn't already know this, per when I saw the prequels... Lucas needs to fess up and admit that the prequels/backstory were NOT thought out before the first three movies... and still aren't very well thought out.

Yes, I'm still bitter about every thing that came after "Empire," effused with new bitterness as I read in the latest Harry Potter book about why Tom Riddle became evil -- unlike the story of Anakin Skywalker offered by Lucas, this was totally believable. But, then again, J.K. Rowling has boxes and boxes of documents that provide back story for "Harry Potter" -- it's why even the tiniest of her characters are fully developed.

Back to Sir Alec -- his comments about Harrison Ford were side-splitting. And he was way wrong about Anthony Daniels -- his performance as C3PO is terrific. Use Google to find the excerpts if you are interested (they are posted in more than one place).

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I don't like to mix my professional and personal stuff on this, my personal blog... but I'm going to make an exception and point you all to my very own professional blog..

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So, at first, I thought it was going to be a long, hot summer, though not as bad as that awful summer back in 2003 or whenever it was, because we have ceiling fans in the living room and bed room, and because our part of the house is always in the shade. But at the end of July, we got hit by a cold spell -- it was the strangest thing. It would threaten to rain every day -- but then usually not rain at all -- and I had to wear a light jacket outside. Very strange, even for Germany.

I'm proud of myself for keeping so busy since I left my job in February -- finishing up my OU courses and final project, finally updating my web site (and now being able to update it every month), going to Spain for two weeks for another intensive Spanish course at IEMA, as well as visiting the Prado and touring Toledo, taking six weeks of German courses (which I talked about earlier on this page), watching... and then rewatching... "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer," doing some online volunteering (which is great, since I can't find any volunteering to do here face-to-face), and getting to spend so much time with my dogs.

But... I'm getting anxious. I thought I would love being a full-time student. I was wrong. I've always been a person who judges herself based on her employment situation, who is happiest when she's in a job she is proud to have. So the last six months, however busy I've been, have actually been a challenge for me. I have enough to keep me busy daily through mid-November, but then I am, officially, out of things to do. I guess I could go back to German classes... but really, I'm so ready to WORK. Here's an idea of what I'm looking for.

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My former boss here in Germany has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When it is detected at its most advanced stage, over 85% of women suffering with ovarian cancer will die from the disease, but when it is detected in the early stages, 95% of women will survive. I'm sorry to say that hers has been detected at a late stage.

In the last three years, I've lost my professional idol and two first cousins (both in their 40s -- sisters) to cancer. Another friend, in her mid-30s, had breast cancer. I found out at the end of July that a guy I went to high school with has inoperable cancer. AIDS robbed me of so many people in the 80s and 90s -- now, its cancer.

More info about ovarian cancer can be found at the Eve Appeal site (also has a fantastic logo), National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (USA), and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

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A reminder: if you haven't yet, check out my page specifically for friends thinking of visiting me. I've got details on how to choose your airport (very important to read before you start looking for plane tickets), and an overview of the many things you can do from our home (although I left out the option of laying around our flat, just drinking beer and enjoying the view).

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Also, don't forget -- you have to subscribe to a special Yahoo group I've created specifically for the posting of photos, if you want to see my pictures since summer 2004. First, create a Yahoo ID, if you don't have one already. To get one, go to www.yahoo.com and get one! You won't get "spammed" because you have a Yahoo ID. Then, contact me and let me know, and I'll give you details on how to join.

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Some things to check out:

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Okay, don't read any further if you have not read the latest "Harry Potter" book. In fact, if you haven't read any of the books, don't read the following, because you may mention something, per reading the following, that spoils it for someone around you who hasn't yet read the book(s) but wants to.

Here are my detailed thoughts and theories about the end of "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince." Or, in other words -- all the reasons I'm keeping the faith and NOT believing the Potions Master formerly known as Prince is evil:

  1. Snape could have killed Dumbledore when the later came back and was about to die because of the Slytherin ring. And no one would have suspected anything had he done so except Harry. It would have been the perfect plan to have "failed" to save Dumbledore, because Snape could have stayed at the school. But Snape did everything he could to save Dumbledore on that occasion. Why?

  2. Dumbledore didn't say, "Please, don't." It was "Please." So we don't really know what it was exactly that Dumbledore was asking Snape to do. Where was the, "Oh, Severus, how could you, I'm so disappointed", etc., that would have had to have accompanied such an act if it was "real"? Think how Dumbledore treated Draco -- heck, how he treated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named -- in a fighting situation: with pity and admonishment. No way would he have held back from doing so with Snape if there wasn't a good reason.

  3. Why did Dumbledore paralyze Harry? Why was Dumbledore so bent on Harry not intervening in what he had to have known would be his own death?

  4. Think about how Dumbledore extracts promises from others. He made Harry promise that Harry would do WHATEVER Dumbledore commanded him to do before they went to that cave, no matter what happened, no matter how much he might not want to, right? Did he extract the same promise from Snape?

  5. If you had wandered into that cave and not known what was happening, wouldn't you have thought that Harry was killing Dumbledore, forcing that liquid down his throat while he begged for the pain to stop? But you knew the back story, so you didn't think that. You can't take an event in a Harry Potter book at face value -- in the case of Snape killing Dumbldore, there's got to be background we don't know.

  6. What if that fight that Dumbledore and Snape had, that Hagrid overheard a bit of, was about this very thing: Dumbledore ordering Snape to kill him? It's a perfect plan -- then Snape will go back to the Dark Lord and be his "Favourite" and "Most Trusted" -- ultimately, to the Dark Lord's detriment in the end of the last book.

  7. Snape being bad would be just waaaaay too obvious. Since when is JK Rowlling ever obvious? Harry being right all along and only Harry knew the truth, and even Dumbledore was wrong about it? JKR has settled for mundane plot lines, and all is as it appears to be? Come on...

  8. Why didn't Snape just stupify Harry and drag him off for Voldy to kill? And as someone on an online discussion group I read pointed out, at the end of "The Half Blood Prince," when Snape is running away from Hogwart's, he is STILL giving Harry lessons: reminding him that he needs to be quicker, needs to learn occlumency, and needs to perform his spells silently if he is to win a battle. WHY on earth would Snape choose to remind Harry of these things for any other reason than to, ultimately, help him?

  9. Snape knew Harry had his old school book. He knew it when Harry released that spell on Draco. So why did Snape not really press Harry on Harry's obvious big fat lie that Ron's book was his?

I'm convinced more than ever: as has been the case with every book before this one, Snape is not as he appears on the surface. At worst, he is his own man -- at best, he's Dumbledore's.

Another thing -- Slug obviously thought Harry's mom, Lily, was a fantastic student when she was in his class. And Snape was ALSO in his class at that time... how was Snape reacting to Lily's achievements? Hmmmmm.

So much remains unanswered -- such as, what's happened to the mirror Sirius gave Harry in The Order of the Phoenix ? If you want some clues and brain teasers about book 7, look no further than the author herself, who did this wonderful interview recently. It was as much of a page turner as the HBP (my favorite part -- when one of the interviewers asks if Snape has ever been loved, and JK says yes...)


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