Wednesday, November 23, 2016


We have not been to Philadelphia in ages! 13 years to be exact. Recently, we walked into our hotel in the city of brotherly love and had flashbacks to the last time we visited. With family friends for Tori’s 3rd birthday. Truth be told, the lobby and the rooms did not give it away but when we all trooped down to the hotel swimming pool, we immediately remembered the previous visit with lots of babies and swim diapers and bags!
Then with a 3 year old and two babies, plus the friends’ toddler and baby, we never left the hotel.  I remember wanting to see the Liberty Bell but just not able to get everyone out the door. This time we got out. Multiple times. But it wasn’t easy. You would think with three kids, all mobile, it would be a breeze, but getting three teenagers out to see historical sites proved challenging in new ways. I noted that the families at the old town sites all had elementary school children. Perhaps the families of teenagers had already seen Independence Hall  but I don’t think so.
What helped motivate our crew was Reading Main Terminal. Nothing to do with reading and nothing to do with travel. Just food. A bunch of food vendors all inside, serving a wide variety of products. We found a vendor selling only German food, next door to one selling Cantonese food. Both had little stores with products from each place. Confusing and comforting all at once. We found the Amish donuts and the Central American food and the real Philly cheese steaks and kids were happy. Happy enough to walk a little further.
We enjoyed seeing the Liberty Bell, on the second day after the elections. Huge lines everywhere. The park rangers all said visitor numbers were up. We cued up and saw the bell and then went out of the building to figure out the next thing. We then realized we were just behind the Liberty Bell with a great view from the outside. But we would not have heard the detail that stuck: the bell is now only ceremonially rung with a device that looks like a giant Q-Tip. We walked through Independence Hall and saw where the Constitution was signed. We sat in the room where the second president (a distant relative!) was inaugurated. Take away fact there: the second inauguration only lasted 20 minutes. After the long campaign, that sort of brevity sounds pretty good!

We stumbled upon a traveling Doctors without Borders exhibit, set up just outside Independence Hall.We were guided through an overview of the immigration crisis gripping the world today. Our guide spoke of bearing witness to the problem and then told us to quickly gather our things and get into a boat! As our group of 15 climbed into a boat, we were told more than 40 people cram into the same size boat. We walked through the exhibit, shedding our belongings (plastic cards for things like food and money and shoes) in order to pay for the next stage of the journey. We emerged humbled by both the crisis and the work being done to help. Somehow it seemed fitting to have the exhibit so close to Independence Hall, the site of Clinton’s last campaign rally and to the nightly protests about the election results. Highlighting the roles immigrants played in founding this country and as well as the role immigration itself played in the last election. Then a family member asked, just clarifying, if we were immigrants and I thought perhaps we needed to go through that exhibit one more time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


On November 9, I sadly took our Hillary sign down from our front yard. It had been there for months. We all got used to it.  The sign was up early, before the Halloween decorations, and then held its ground with the gravestones that dotted our front lawn. And now the Clinton campaign is dead, matching the Halloween décor.
Election night was a typical busy midweek night for us. Swim practice, football practice, our late  astronomy course. When we went into the course, all the indications were blue but when we came out the map had changed. Everything that was a swing state was red. We were shocked. Our logic went something like this: New Jersey with all its Trump signs still went for Clinton, so Wisconsin with all of its Clinton signs, at least in Milwaukee, would most definitely go for Clinton.
The next day I gathered myself before going in to tell the kids the news. The girls started to cry and I tried to reassure them. Somehow the whole world felt different. Royce looked down at her president placemat at breakfast and could not imagine the spot next to Obama. Of course, our kids remember the election in 2008. We were living in Hong Kong and school was let out and all the kids watched in the gym. Getting out of class made for a very favorable impression that easily lasted for both terms.
As we drove the day after election and discussed it a bit in the car, Royce somehow pinged on the idea of a class ceiling, perhaps an actual glass ceiling. The thought of this big handmade structure not being broken destroyed her. She cried the entire car ride. We talked about white non-college educated males supporting Trump and then promptly had to reassure Adam he was not the demographic that we were talking about…though of course he is white male and far from college.
In coming up with the positive, our family immediately thought of Royce, who has long professed to wanting to be the first woman president of the US. She was late to get behind Hillary, supporting Bernie for as long as possible, strictly on the basis of gender. Other family friends also said they too thought of Royce’s possible career as one of the positives of the day after. We are still pretty crafty at this house. Royce’s political signs are sure to be popping up soon. I would be remiss not to mention Adam is the one who ran for political office this year. Middle School Vice President. The run was unsuccessful but he immediately recovered and won a leadership position at boy scouts. Those signs, and campaign, might need to focus on the twin angle.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


In chronicling all the ways our lives change, place to place, year to year, it is not always onward and upward. Sadly, our family recently lost our Oma, the kids’ grandmother and Phil’s mother. It was not unexpected and everyone had a chance to say goodbye, but still our world changed and here we are.
The kids and I came to know Oma after her career at the university was done and she was starting the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee. Our visits to Milwaukee always included a visit to Oma’s center and it was lovely that her memorial service was held there too. We did lots of walks along the river and to the center with Oma. One time she borrowed a friend’s dogs so that the kids could walk a dog around the neighborhood. The kids weren’t always enthusiastic walkers and the dogs did help. A couple of times we borrowed canoes from Oma’s center, put them in the Milwaukee River and explored the city that way.
Oma, always adventurous, visited us in Ukraine, Romania, Hong Kong and Germany. We all remember her arriving in Hong Kong and coming off the plane in a wheel chair. We were surprised but only for a minute. She recently had a bike crash, with broken bones and all, and did not want to postpone her trip but needed a little extra help in the airport. In all these places, she did things with us but also ventured out on her own. Inevitably meeting locals, telling us their stories and sometimes bringing them back to ours.
The kids always joked about Oma’s ability to chit chat. She could talk to anyone and usually did. In Gauting, she asked to speak with the store manager about a certain type of German bread she thought the store should carry. She spoke with other parents at the kids’ international school, typically not the German or American parents but the ones that lived the farthest away, that were the least similar to her. Though her slow progress, with all the conversation, threw off our schedule many a time, I came to appreciate it. Over our many moves, I too have started to talk to anyone and everyone. Trying to get information, trying to make a connection. It is somehow part of the expatriate experience. After living outside of the US, I came to see Oma, a German living in the US for decades, as a fellow expatriate. One who was thriving through conversation and community. One who could offer an example for us as we try to recreate our lives back in the states, once again.
Goodbye Oma from all of us. We’ll keep the conversation going.

Monday, November 14, 2016


What a difference a year makes! Last year, after years of limited access to American candy, Halloween loomed large as one of the most anticipated things about our move to the US. We had costumes ready, plenty of candy, home decorations, crafts…and surprise a new puppy, who we picked up on October 31. This year was a little quieter. Lots of candy consumption over the past year and no new puppy... though I did consider making it an annual tradition….
This year Halloween fell on a Monday. And it was just another school day. The kids were a little surprised that it was not a school holiday (although swim practice was cancelled). Phil called to see if he should come home early and we decided no. Royce was at a class, Tori was at tennis and Adam was playing basketball at a friend’s. No one was around and no one had yet to put on a costume. We did see lots of parents home early and walking young kids around early but that is no longer us.
We usually do a fair amount of decorating and we did this year …though mostly for the benefit of our German exchange student who was interested in Halloween. We finally got around to carving pumpkins the night before Halloween. It was all very subdued as Tori handed out candy to the two or three trick or treaters who came by our house. Once when I was driving someone somewhere that night, we glimpsed a side street filled with kids, including some little kid bouncing along in a full body dinosaur costume. We all looked a little wistful at that one kid and kept on driving.
This year Royce resurrected an old costume with a new twist. Instead of being a good egg like in years’ past, this year she went for a deviled egg, which quite frankly, is more appropriate. Adam went for a clown mask which was promptly nixed by his school due to recent scary clown sightings. He then  went for a Chewbacca costume I picked up. Tori wore an orange sweatshirt. But we all got excited about the dog’s costumes. She had three: angel, yoda (to be worn in conjunction with Adam) and lederhosen. She hated all three but we had tons of fun taking a few quick photos of her.
Royce went trick or treating with a couple groups of friends and got normal amounts of candy. Then Adam and Royce went out together and came home with copious amounts. We actually weighed Adam’s stash and it was something like 30 pounds. Royce finally told the story. Adam was “bowling” people, apparently the term for dumping the entire bowl of candy left out on the porch into his pillow case. Clearly not in the spirit of the thing but…We had so few trick or treaters and purchased so much candy, I would welcome someone bowling me. They finally did. We think it was Adam.