June 2008

A Mother’s Worry

I really haven’t worried much about Gamma on her European exchange for the last three weeks; I know that the family she is staying with is taking good care of her.  She and her exchange partner became close friends back in April, when Anne stayed with us for several weeks.

This week though, Gamma’s e-mail evoked some concern:

The [soccer] game between Germany and Turkey is this Wednesday and there are so many Turkish living in this area and stupid German youth, that none of the GAPP [exchange program] students are allowed to go into the city that night because all of the parents say it will be too dangerous…they are afraid that the losing team will riot and honestly…i am scared of the Turkish. There was a ten-year-old Turkish kid that came up to us American students and told us he was going to blow up the U.S.

A ten-year old?

He certainly didn’t think that up on his own, and that’s the part that makes me uneasy.  Somewhere in the same village where my daughter is visiting, there’s a family where some of the older members — parents or siblings — are teaching the young ones some very disturbing things.

Fortunately, Gamma and her two American friends decided to just leave the area.

I haven’t lost any sleep over it, but must admit that this was not something I anticipated.   I confess that I didn’t realize that Turks make up a quarter of all registered foreigners in Germany, but really wouldn’t have given that a lot of thought, even if I’d known.  After all, if they moved from Turkey to Germany, wouldn’t they likely be a bit more westernized to begin with?

*  *  *
I’ve been made aware by someone more worldly than myself that tensions run high after a big athletic event… baseball, soccer, major-league football, even hockey.  The closest thing I’ve seen to a riot after a game was watching people carry the goalpost down Cumberland Avenue after UT beat Alabama back in 1984 (I think).  And that wasn’t really a riot — just excessive celebration confined to a few-blocks area near the stadium.  But… this wasn’t about the soccer rivalry between Germany and Turkey — this was a specific threat from a pint-sized Turkish kid towards three teenage American girls.

Sweet Sixteen

Sweet Gamma turns sixteen today… in Berlin.

I’ve thought about her throughout the day, but it just occurred to me a few minutes ago that in almost 20 years of mothering four children, this is the first time that I’ve not had one at home to hug on her birthday.

Sixteen years ago today, I awoke in a puddle.  HWTFM, in one of his classic moments, asked if I’d wet the bed.  I told him I didn’t think so, whereupon he asked if HE’d wet the bed.  Since I was the one in the puddle, I told him I thought we were going to have a birthday party, and no one had wet the bed.  At least not in the sense he was thinking of.

He went on to work, as I suspected at that point we still had hours to spare.  Gamma was the only child born on a day other than Sunday.  After packing the few items I would need for a trip to the hospital, I decided to walk — in the air-conditioned comfort of West Town Mall, being closest to Parkwest, where I was scheduled to deliver.  I called my doctor’s office to let them know that my water had broken, and that I’d be in sometime that day… sometime when I got good and ready, that is.

I took the older two (almost two and almost four years old at that point)  to my mother’s house, and headed to the mall.  At Victoria’s Secret, I bought a new summer-weight robe for my brief stay at Parkwest, met a couple of friends, and walked around until labor pains were stopping me in my tracks every few yards.   I called HWTFM to let him know I was headed to the hospital, hopped in my little car, and zipped on over to the doc’s office.

My regular ob-gyn wasn’t on call that day, so I got his partner.  The girls in the office braced me for the fact that he was upset, having been trying to track me down all day.  Evidently, once the bag of waters has broken, they don’t want you to do anything except go to the hospital and lie there.  (Who, me?)

That should have been an indicator for me to have them call my regular doc, but I won the battle of wills that day.  Without anesthesia.

Not a great deal later, Gamma made her appearance in this world at 6 lb, 11 oz.  My smallest baby.  As was our custom, HWTFM went over to Grady’s and picked up some real supper for me, including their famous chocolate bar cake.  She was beautiful, quiet, snuggly, and perfectly healthy.

It was an excellent day.  And I’m sure that today is an excellent day — surrounded by friends, on what may be the grandest adventure of her life so far.  I miss her terribly, but as you can see from the beach picture she sent last week, she’s happy.

Today, she is also old enough to legally drink beer in Germany.   When she comes home in a few weeks, we’ll hightail it to the driver’s license office to get her ticket to ride.  Funny thing, that we allow sixteen year olds to drive but wait until 21 to drink, and in Germany, they can drink at 16 but can’t drive until 21.  At least there’s still the same 5-year separation of the two, which is probably most important.

Happy Birthday, sweet Gamma!

Out with the Old

I haven’t written much in the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been tied up as "mechanic’s assistant" in helping HWTFM take the engine out of Beta’s 1991 Explorer.

Gotta take the old one out, before you can put a new one in.

Getting the bolts loose on a vehicle that’s been driven a hard 200k+ miles (it was a farm truck for most of its life) is tough.

When it came to the last four bolts holding the exhaust manifold on, it was worse than tough.  It was a @#$&!.

An impact wrench didn’t work.  Cheater bar didn’t work.  PB Blaster Penetrating Catalyst didn’t work.  Heating the plates with a blowtorch (to expand the plate, but not the bolt) didn’t work.

A humble little Black & Decker drimmel tool cut right through them.  Finally, the engine is out.

What a way to spend Father’s Day, eh?

Seriously, it takes a committed dad to agree to take on a project of this magnitude for any child, but especially one who isn’t even here to help (or watch, or ooh and aah at his efforts) — she’s at the beach.

HWTFM is a seriously committed dad.  It’s one of the many things that I treasure about him.  So… we’re off to visit my dad, partake of some steak, and generally admire what good fellows they are.

Notes from Gamma

Gamma writes that all of Germany is consumed with Euro Cup fever at the moment:

We have been watching almost every soccer game in anticipation to see who will place where in the European cup! The Americans have SO been Germanized! We argue about how bad the Swiss will OWN the Polish or if the Spanish can conquer the Russians…it’s intense…soccer is god here.

 

She also writes that there are more bicycles and motorcycles than cars, likely due to the "OUTRAGEOUS!" price of gasoline. Heh… we might be headed that way soon. Gamma will celebrate her 16th birthday one week from today — in Germany — but I suspect that the coveted driver’s license might not be good for as much as it was for her sisters.

Might need to trade the Mousemobile for a Vespa or something.

She says the weather has been excellent, and that they’re feeding her well. That’s good, because her first note home had some interesting culinary hints:

1) I like sweinebarten….a lot.
2) Germans are nice, but not if you get in the way of their bike (whether you apologize or not)
3) It is cool to have a couch in your room (i have one!!!!)
4) If the cheese is cream colored…don’t eat it
5) If the cheese looks old…DON’T EAT IT!
6) if the cheese looks yellow-orange with regular edges…it is probably safe to assume you may eat it…
7) if the meat has ”stuff” in it…don’t even THINK about eating it!

"Sweinebarten" is pork roast. I bet there’s a recipe for it in the German cookbook that Anne brought me back in April.

Weekend Warrior

This weekend’s project was to get serious about rebuilding Beta’s 1991 Ford Explorer.  It’s 17  years old, has more than 200,000 miles on it, but other than the fact that she overheated it and blew the engine, it’s a decent vehicle with a lot of life left in it.

After looking at used vehicles for several weeks, we came to the conclusion that rebuilding this one is a better investment for the money.  So on Friday, we picked up the new engine, and set to work taking the old one apart.  This effort, of course, gave HWTFM good reason to make another trip to Tractor Supply and buy a new toy — a 2-ton engine hoist.  But we’re not to that part yet.

I got plenty dirty in this project, but that’s just because I have small hands and can reach down into the engine to pick up dropped tools, or unscrew something that he’s already broken loose.  When it came to the engine mounts though, the only thing I’m good for is holding the trouble light so he can see what he’s doing.  And, of course, documenting his amazing feats.

In trying to loosen the engine mount on the driver’s side, he had his socket extension not fully engaged with the socket, and tugged on it for all he’s worth.  After a couple of years of working out every day after work, that’s evidently quite a lot, as he managed to completely twist the end of a 3/8" socket extension.  On the left is what it looked like before, and on the right… well, we did have to go buy a new socket extension.  And a 1/2" extension, to prevent this from happening again.

The old engine is almost ready to come out… just a few more bolts.  Then we get to clean everything that we’re going to re-use (which isn’t much), and put the new one in.

This is not part of standard engineer training, BTW, but swapping out engines is apparently all in a day’s work for a farm boy (which is what he was, before deciding that engineering is far easier and usually more profitable).

I haven’t been completely useless, though; I did fix the window on the Explorer (it had jumped its track), and installed a new stereo and speakers in Alpha’s Prelude.  I even soldered all the wiring, so that I don’t have to go back and re-do it later.

I’d rather be at the pool, but once all of my driving children are mobile, I’ll have more leisure time.  Taxiing them around has already gotten old.

Letting Go

Yesterday morning, I dropped Gamma off at the airport to catch a plane to Charlotte, then on to Munich, and finally to Hannover, Germany. From there, she took a train to the town of Stadthagen.

This afternoon, I found that the town has a webcam! Of course, they’re six hours ahead of us, so it’s the late at night there now (about suppertime). I have heard from Gamma via e-mail, so I know that she arrived safely this morning, and attended the end of the school day.

School in Germany follows a different calendar (more like year-round) and schedule (half-day) than we do. It will be interesting to hear Gamma’s take on "Gymnasium" (college-prep high school) as opposed to ours.

She’s promised to send pictures, which I will promptly post. Although Gamma is a quiet child, the house is noticeably emptier without her. And, I can’t read the text on the Stadthagen web page, since my translator is there, rather than here.

I was an exchange student for a summer myself at about her age, and I know that it will be a fantastic experience for her.

Shocking Pink

Not sure what prompted this, but Alpha dyed her hair shocking pink today.

Half of it anyway — the underneath half.

But, what can I say? She’s an honors student who’s on track to graduate with two degrees in four years; she finished her last final on a Tuesday and went to work at Y-12 on Wednesday to earn enough to buy the new laptop she’s been coveting (yes, Joel, it’s a Mac). She’s leaving next Monday for a Summer-long research internship at UGA.

At least she hasn’t pierced anything… hair grows out, or can be dyed back to its original color.

Besides, if the ORNL Director can sport an earring, then surely this little computer science/math guru can get away with pink hair. I’d dearly love to be in the audience when she presents her research at the end of the summer, but somehow, I wouldn’t be surprised if she fits right in.

Wow — it seems like just yesterday that I handed her her high school diploma, but it’s been two years.

Time flies.

Wild Ideas

5 x 8 = 40, and 4 x 10 = 40. Therefore, 5 x 8 = 4 x 10… except that five eight-hour days are more costly to operate than four ten-hour days.

The Y-12 National Security Complex implemented this schedule for salaried employees (hourly employees turned it down) a few years ago, in an effort to reduce operating costs while boosting productivity. A nice side effect is that employees save fuel, reducing their commute by 20%. The three-day weekends are pretty sweet, too. An article in the Tennessean this morning indicates that local governments and community colleges around the country are now exploring this possibility.

A few school systems nationwide have also made this transition, beginning in Southwestern states where the population density is low and students must travel great distances to school each day.

In Colorado, where state law has allowed the abbreviated week since 1980, more than a third of school districts have switched to a four-day schedule. The savings include transportation costs (reduced by 20%), utilities, and food service.

Custer School District in South Dakota has had a successful experience, while others have not.

The positives: cost savings (energy, food, fuel), improved attendance rates, longer periods of uninterrupted learning time
The negatives: long-day burnout, missing a day due to illness is a 20% greater learning loss

Note that I didn’t list child care as either a negative or a positive; for parents working a 5-day week, it does create a need. On the other hand, parents who work have often found (in the systems that have already switched) that it’s easier to find someone to keep their children for one whole day, than for a few hours after work every day.

Such a radical idea won’t work if it’s top-down, though. It would have to be something with broad parental support, and careful consideration of unintended consequences. But, it’s worth thinking and talking about.

Celebration

Two graduated, two to go!

The shot’s a little fuzzy, but it captures the air of confidence, celebration, and enthusiasm of last Thursday night.  Beta is now a high school graduate, accepted at the university of her choice, planning to major in physics.

College will be a whole new experience for her, and likely one that she will embrace.  The concept of concentrating on what one is interested in, of being judged by mastery of material rather than quantity of homework completed, suits her just right.

This is the child about whom I received a concerned comment from a geometry teacher several years ago, notifying me that she had "a 104 test average, but a 14 homework average."  Her philosophy has always been to spend her time on what she doesn’t understand, while coasting through what she does.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t work so well where high school grades are concerned.

It does work well in most college classes.

I remember clearly how much the dynamics of our house changed two years ago, when Alpha left for college.  This Fall will also bring change, as there will only be two children at home, and only one without a driver’s license.  The younger two generally get along very well, so I foresee a bit calmer environment.

Beta has already selected a roommate, and despite the fact that they’re very different people, I think they’ve made an excellent choice. 

Congratulations, Beta… go get ’em, tiger!