Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Things To Do At The Alamo

As some might now, this little liberal is currently holding out in Texas. So far (and it is already towards the end of our visit), it has been quite nice, much better than I had expected. Last Sunday, after the major sicknesses in our family had passed (and Grandma Powell's had just come on), my sister-in-law, Ruth, and her family took us downtown San Antonio for the usual tourist traps, like El Mercado (note to self: there is a reason why the Mexicans don't eat at the food court there), the River Walk (didn't end up making it due to tired kids), and of course, the Alamo.

Listening to general conversation in the car on the way there and later looking around at the site itself, there seem to be a few fun (or less so) activities to do at the site Texans are most proud of:

1. Taking a leak. Not recommendable if you plan on returning to Texas anytime in this life (just ask Ozzy Osbourne). Also: there are respect and yuckie factors involved!!

2. Taking a tour. Unless you are a high school class on a field trip it is kind of unnecessary at the Alamo. Just take your time, read the information provided everywhere, and you should be fine.

3. Take an audio tour. Are you seriously charging $6.00 for this friggin audio tour? I actually couldn't believe it. Take advice from #2 and spend your six bucks at the Haagen Dazs just across the street.

4. Nursing. Yes, you heard right, nursing. That's how I made my visit to the Alamo memorable, right on this little bench outside the Alamo Museum. Why? Well, Violet was hungry, I was getting uncomfortable, and Melanie (aka "Tinkerbella") and Matt were checking out the museum. Being in Texas I almost expected at least some weird looks (I was for once nursing without a cover, since it was hot and we didn't have our blanket with us), but surprisingly: nothing! I even overheard a comment from a young woman walking by saying how cute it was. Well, never underestimate Texans!

Unfortunately, this moment will not be documented for generations to come, since Miss Violet decided that she was done just as Auntie Ruth was about to shoot the epic pic :-(

Sunday, March 20, 2011

You Can't Say No To This.. It's Free!!!

Last Friday I went downtown in my lunch break to run a bunch of errands for our impending vacation in the US. As I am walking, minding my own business, someone suddenly stepped into my way, holding out a fan of scratch tickets to me. I tried to politely refuse but was met with a wave of words, from which I could hardly make out the words "doesn't cost you anything", "takes you only a minutes", and others along that line. Slightly annoyed I took a ticket and noticed relieved that I had won a "small price". Happily taking the pen he handed me (I am one of these people who are always happy about receiving pens, since there never seems to be one at hand if I need one), his speedy monologue continued. Being presented with a chart about rates and plans, I was showered with information on how I could receive two cell phones plus some wonderful flat rate all inclusive package at no cost. I attempted several times to politely interrupt him, referring to the cell phone I already had and barely ever used. Ignoring this, the waterfall of words continued without me even being able to take in much of what he said. A few minutes later he had finished his speech and I again reminded him - this time slightly unnerved - that I already had a phone and didn't need two more. Seriously, for what does one person need 3 cell phones? Unless you have a business and want to separate your private life/cell phone from your business, one doesn't even need two. He looked at me fairly blank and said: You can't say no to this offer... It's free!!

At this point, something snapped inside me. As calmly as I could, I told him again that I could, because I have absolutely no use for two more cell phones and awesome plans attached to them. Heck, I barely ever use the cell phone I have, except for calling Richard or friends for a minute or two if I'll be late, etc; all the talking I do from my home phone. And even though I know that it wasn't his intention to do so, I was annoyed by how he took excessive and useless consumerism for granted. Just because it doesn't cost me anything right now doesn't mean I absolutely need to have it. My life is cluttered enough as it is, without two more cell phones to keep track of. Why is it, that something should suddenly gain a purpose just because it does not cost me anything at this point?

It does not make sense to me, thus, I walked on running my errands, contemplating senseless consumerism in this world. I know, I'm definitely not beyond being sometimes a thoughtless consumer, but especially recent scandals concerning food have made me become more aware of certain things. I am on the brink of becoming a vegetarian (if Greek and barbecue meat weren't so good), insist on organic animal products and buy other organic food and clothes whenever feasible (not for every price, and please, organic bananas are a joke!). Consuming is part of our daily lives, and in itself nothing bad (why not take advantage of the offers available), but after a certain point, it's not merely consuming any more. This is to actually taking a step back and thinking before buying the next-best thing next time, just because it looks like a good deal, since just because it doesn't cost me anything, it may still not be free.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Do you know those moments in life when there are decisions to be made that are just going to change your life? When I look back, there are several of those. There was the decision for Richard to leave the Army and to move to Washington instead of staying and moving to Alabama or the decision to leave the States and move back to Germany just after Violet's birth instead of waiting a couple more years as we had planned before she announced her impending arrival.

Sometimes I revisit these crossroads, wondering what would have happened had we decided another way, didn't make a decision at all. And I have to say, even though at some point I might have wished to have decided differently, I am no happy for the way everything has unfolded. I am a firm believer of the butterfly effect, and without all those decisions and sometimes struggles we wouldn't be where we are now.

The crossroad that I most frequently revisit is one that I faced back in November of 2005. I was in my last year of college and seriously asking myself what to do. Many of my friends were already sending out applications for jobs or university while I was not yet quite sure of what to do with myself except that I wanted to go live abroad, to the US to be exact. It was at that point that I got in contact with a concert agency that operated offices in the US, UK, and Germany. They were looking for a translator/interpreter who would be the liaison between them and the German-speaking artists and agents. I was in heaven when they asked me to come to an all-expenses-paid interview to Liverpool. But just a week before I was supposed to fly out to meet the agents, something happened that I would have never imagined: one night, when the TV program was too bad even for my standards, I surfed Myspace (back then, Myspace was still the site of choice for most) and stumbled over the profile of this guy. He was kind of cute, but actually that wasn't what caught my eye. What really got me was what he said, and I just couldn't help emailing him. A day later I actually had an email back; after exchanging a few more emails I took the plunge and asked him for his phone number. We talked for more than 2 hours that night, and the next, and the one after, and then we agreed on a date for the following Saturday, the day of my interview in Liverpool.

There I stood at this crossroad, contemplating my future. There was the job too good to even dream about; and then there was the guy, who I knew was my soul mate without having ever met him in person. I took a deep breath and stepped on the path that might well decide over the rest of my life. I called the concert agency and canceled the interview. Call me crazy, but I gave up the job of my life for a first date with a guy I haven't even met in person, and I haven't looked back ever since. Five months later we were married and this year we will celebrate our 5th anniversary in one of the places where we've been most happy: with our friends who have become our family in Washington.

When I revisit this crossroad it is not because I regret my decision, because I know that my job would only kept me happy for a little while; what I really wanted was a family. I revisit this point in my life and wonder, whether the other path would have just been a little detour that would have led me back to the other one, or whether it would have meant a completely different life which I don't even want to imagine. I am happy with my life, happier than I would have ever dared to dream. Without all of these crossroads and the decision we made, we would not be where we are today, and at least I can't imagine my life without my soul mate and our wonderful little crazy girls!

Monday, March 7, 2011

What Is Happiness??

This question was thrown out by my friend Miranda the other day on Facebook. My nice and short answer was the following: "Having a family, the girls' smiles, having not to worry about money, enjoying my job, health..."

In fact, I think it is a lot deeper than that. Thinking about this question during the last few days, I believe that, at least for me, there are two levels of happiness: the "would-be" and the "is". The "would-be" is when I'm dreaming about things and situation I guess would make me happy. I sometimes dream of having enough money to own a nice, 5-bedroom house without a mortgage, never have to work again unless I feel like it, spend all the time in the world with my family, travel the world with them, and never have to worry about it.

Luckily, I am realistic enough to know that most likely, this scenario will never happen. But there's still the "realistic" happiness, and yes, I am happy beyond anything I've ever dared dreaming of. I am lucky enough to be married to a wonderful, gentle, and down-to-earth man; we have two healthy, beautiful girls; I have a job I actually enjoy and earn enough money to be comfortable; we live in a very nice 3-bedroom apartment with awesome neighbors; we have a wide circle of acquaintances and friends. And then there are still those little moments that make me stop in the tracks and smile, most of them involve the girls doing something absolutely adorable, and my heart feels as if it wants to break through my chest.

Yes, I am happy with my life, even without all those "would-be's". Thanks, Miranda, for pushing me in this direction!