I belong again. I'm proud again.
November 2008

 
I'm still recovering from being away for an entire month. Albi has only recently forgiven us. Hope you enjoyed the travelogues and photos (from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, and from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia.
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Yes, we're still planning to move to the USA in April 2009. No, I won't be blogging about daily life anymore once we move; when it comes to personal things, I'll blog only about travel. So, this is one of my last personal blogs about living abroad. It's hard to believe that it's coming to an end...

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In Germany, each wine-growing village has a Wine Queen, who competes for the regional title, and the winners compete for the German national title. But this is no who-has-the-best-boobs-and-teeth contest, as is in the USA: there's no swimsuit competition, and no "If you had one wish, what would it be?" questions. Wine Queens have to be able to speak about every aspect of wine production and presentation in Germany. They have to be able to answer questions about different wine-making production tools, wine labels, and wine regions. They have to be able to make intelligent, meaningful comments about a wine they are tasting. They also have to answer a question in English about a particular wine region. They still wear pretty clothes and, for the winners and the three runners-up, tiaras, but ultimately, they are representatives of the wine industry, particularly small wine growers, and they must be able to say anything there is to say about such.

Stefan told me about how tough it was to be a Wine Queen when I saw one at the Dernau Wine Festival a few years ago, and I didn't really believe him, but in October, we watched the competition on TV for the national title, and I was floored; these women were knowledgeable, well-spoken, and excellent representatives of German wine. Can you imagine "Queens" in the USA having to be this knowledgeable about anything, and being judged primarily on what they know? The woman we were pulling for won, by the way. Her English question was about being approached on the street of some certain town in Germany, and a French tourist asking her for suggestions relating to wine in that area. She first responded, in German, "Do I give the answer to you in French or in English?" Can you imagine "Queens" in the USA being trilingual?

We missed the Dernau Wine Festival this year, unfortunately; it was ending the day we got back from Eastern Europe. You can have Octoberfest -- give me wine fests in the Ahr Valley! Many of you have seen our little knitted wine holders, with yarn colors of the German flag, that we wear around our necks on such occasions. I'm sure all the Dutch tourists appreciated having more wine for themselves without us there.

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Another huge contrast in Germany compared to the USA: apparently, the USA has this dreadful, awful show called "Farmer Wants a Wife". It's just like every-other pseudo-reality TV show in the USA: a group of women degrade themselves in a variety of humiliating acts in order to not be "dismissed" by the "star" of the show, in this case, a supposed super model "farmer," as opposed to a washed-up rock star who has had too much cosmetic surgery, a washed-up rap star who looks like an alien, etc. The only clip I saw was wannabe Paris Hiltons chasing chickens, and then someone being "dismissed." It's a game show. It's pathetic. I felt dirty afterwards... It's the worse TV can be.

By contrast, there is an sweet show here in Germany called "Bauer Sucht Frau" ("Farmer Searches for a Wife"). Each season, different farmers from all over Germany -- REAL farmers who could never be super models, who still have family living on or near their farm -- have their lives profiled on TV, talk about why they want a wife, how hard it's been to meet someone, etc. A series of events are held where these farmers meet various women who have seen them and might be interested in them and, perhaps, even becoming a farmer's wife. No chicken-chasing is involved: it's things like dinners and dances. You know" 'courtin'. After all this simple, non-game-show courtin', each farmer picks one woman he would like to try to woo. And then the rest of the season is observing as each farmer welcomes the woman to his home (his real home) to get to know his family, get to know his work, and see if love blossoms. You see these guys preparing the guest room, standing at bus stops or train stations with a single flower, or a little bouquet, their families nervously preparing the house as well, women trying to learn how things work on a farm... It's a slow, gentle, genuine show where you see people sincerely try to connect, and it's so sweet, so intimate in its emotions at times that I feel like I should turn the channel, that I'm intruding. I've gotten choked up watching it. It could not be sweeter.

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In October, I got to go to Hamburg, just for one day (my wedding anniversary, actually), to present to Greenpeace volunteer managers from all over the world. I so love Hamburg, based on my previous trip, and was excited to return. After the conference, as I stood looking out of the window of my room at the Seemansheim Nr.2 (Seamen's Mission - a really nice hostel) and onto the famous and beautiful St. Michel church lit up against the night sky, I got quite emotional, thinking that I may never come to Hamburg again. It's one of my favorite European cities.

I have so loved living in Europe, specifically Germany. I can't believe I'm not going to live here anymore... what a gift it's been to me. Now that we're getting closer to moving back to the USA, I'm getting sentimental about everything in Germany: my walks with Albi through the farm fields near our house, riding the train, Wetten Das... I have a feeling I'm going to start crying about a week before we finally move and not stop for a week after.

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My most recent cool historical discovery: Kentuckian Laura Clay. Why didn't I learn about her in school?

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I love history. When I win the lottery, I'm going to do nothing but travel, run my ranch, run my foundation, and study history. A web site I get lost in every time I visit is the database of posters from the Works Progress Administration from the US Library of Congress. It's fantabulous.

As many of you know, I served on a jury in a criminal trial just before I left California back in 1996, and I spent a lot of time admiring the two "variated" marble murals in the lobby of the main entrance of the Alameda County court house. One panel depicts an idealized version of American Indian and Spanish missionaries in Alameda County. The other depicts an idealized vision of the settlement of the area by frontier settlers of European descent. Both were designed by Marian Simpson and Gaetano Luis Duccini as part of WPA projects, and both use more than 50 different colors of marble. She worked with Diego Rivera on a few of his murals in California as well. Someone in Oakland, please send me photos of each of these murals!. I so deeply regret not taking photos when I had the chance (I've looked on Flickr and Google Images - no luck.

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Could the London 2012 Olympic logo be uglier? I don't think so. Was someone paid money to design this?

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Back in the olden' days, people would write and sing songs about their candidate for elected office. Multi-media to promote candidates and political idea is nothing new. All of the various things posted to the Internet by ordinary people regarding this US Presidential campaign has brought those old songs to mind. There's really nothing more American!

Have I mentioned that I'm a history nerd?

Anyway, here's all my favorite election-related videos and online nonsense relating to the Presidential election:

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Thanks to everyone who voted, no matter who you voted for. The voter turnout rates make me very proud.

Many of you have asked, so let me say it: yes, the election is hugely emotional for me, but for different reasons than anything I've heard on TV.

I'm an American. I consider myself a patriot. But for the last eight years, I have not felt welcomed in many parts of the USA, as I have listened to oh-so-many Republican pundits and elected officials, as well as so-called "independents", tell me again and again that I am un-American because of how I live and what I believe. The current President of the USA and his supporters have made it clear again and again that he does not represent me, nor care what I think. For most of the Bush Presidency, I was a single woman; in his opinion, that meant I was worthless, not worth considering since I didn't have a "family", particularly children. I married in 2007, but not to have children, and not in any religion and, therefore, my marriage isn't even real by the definition of the President of the USA and his supporters. Because I believe the invasion of Iraq was a tragic, horrific mistake, because I want USA troops out of Iraq NOW, because I am disgusted at at the President's undoing of environmental protections for the land I love, because I am Pro-Choice and think women are smart enough to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, because I believe basic health care is a right and not a privilege, because I believe denying gay couples the right to have their unions recognized by the government, the President of the USA and his supporters said I was un-American, even a traitor, and my opinion didn't matter.

In Barack Obama, we now have a President who will represent everyone, not just one group, not just one party. President Barack Obama will be a President for the entire USA, even the people who didn't vote for him. His immediate outreach to the Americans who did not vote for him speaks volumes (note: Bush never did this). I believe that, like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama will govern as a centrist, and will listen to everyone. I believe that, like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama worked very hard to overcome huge obstacles and got to where he is through a great deal of hard work and proving himself again and again -- and he's ready to keep working and keep proving himself. I like people who work for what they get, rather than having it handed to them because of who their family is. I believe that, like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama understands how most Americans live and the challenges they face. I believe that, like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama could tell you the cost of a loaf of bread, a tank of gas or a week of groceries.

When I heard Barack Obama speak on TV at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, I told several people, including my mother, that I had just heard a future President of the USA speak. But with that said, you may be surprised to know that I did not vote for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary. I do not have stars in my eyes, I don't have a shrine in my house, and quite frankly, I believe Hillary Clinton also would have been a President for everyone, not just one group of people. Neither Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton are as progressive as I want ideally. Neither of them are as aggressive about reforming various ways of doing things at the federal level that I would like for them to be. Both are oh-so-middle-of-the-road, oh-so-moderate, on on-so-many things. I am not so moderate. And the huge role President-elect Obama's religion -- Christianity -- plays in his public speeches and public actions is disturbing to me, as a person who believes deeply in the secular heritage of my country that are forefathers defined and believed so deeply in. I've already said why I supported Barack Obama to be President of the USA, but you should also know that I don't follow anyone blindly, and I haven't been an Obama "groupie." I don't think Barack Obama is some kind of savior. I don't think he's perfect. And I'm surely not going to like everything he does.

I guess what I'm saying is that, for the first time in a very long time, I have hope and I feel like I'm a part of the USA. It's a good feeling.

A side note: Germans love Obama. Geesh. If they could have voted for him, 80% would have done so. But will Germany ever see a leader of Turkish descent, or another ethnic minority? Will any country in Europe ever do so, in fact? Europe is much more progressive in so many ways than the USA, but in others... not so much.

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There are a lot of online blogs and what not that I check out regularly, particularly via my RSS reader, to keep me thinking, make me laugh, etc. Here's a selection:

If it wasn't for my RSS reader, I could never read all of the above, plus all the OTHER things I read online.
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Why do so many people try to circumvent the USA immigration process. This graphic on Understanding the USA Immigration Process is a GREAT visual explanation.

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I wish more people in the US federal government, and the media, would read The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists. I learned so much of this when organizing against anti-choice fundamentalist Christian extremists in California...

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Folks, this may be news to you, but here goes: Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same God. Yup, that's right, it's the God of Abraham. It's the same Supernatural Dude for all three religions. Ofcourse, as an atheist, I don't believe in said God, but I'm astounded at how many Christians talk about "Allah" as some extra diety like... oh, I dunno... Vishnu. Zeus. Isis. Whatever.

Pick up a Koran and give it a read. I did. It's MUCH less violent than the Old Testament, much less hateful than the New Testament, and has most of the same characters! And it has nice things to say about dogs, contrary to what you've probably been told.

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In everyday usage, the word theory is used to mean a conjecture, an opinion, or a speculation. But in that everyday usage of the word, Evolution is not a theory. Rather, evolution is a scientific theory. According to the United States National Academy of Sciences:

Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature that is supported by many facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena

-- National Academy of Sciences (2005), Science, Evolution, and Creationism.

So, if you want to put any sticker in the front of kids' science books, I suggest: "Evolution is a SCIENTIFIC theory." That would be accurate. Otherwise, if you are going to stick beliefs in there, like "Intelligent Design", then I want things about the Flying Spaghetti Monster in there too. Ramen!
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Books I was reading during this blawg:

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I support the:
National Education Association, great public schools in the USA for every child
Thank you, NEA, for ensuring that I got a great PUBLIC education.
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Keep the wild in your heard, not in your home; make no wild or exotic creature a pet

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If you have read this blawg, PLEASE let me know.
Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing --
without comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.


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