the year in books 2012 and a book lover blog hop

Fuck Santa Claus, my favorite time of the holiday season is when I finally get to unveil another year’s reading list.  So without further ado, may I present to you Click Clack Gorilla’s Year in Books 2012.  Ta-da-da-da-da-DA!

I assumed, what with Baby Pickles arrival on the scene in February, that I wouldn’t be able to read as many books as I usually do.  But what I didn’t know was that I would spend hours upon hours upon hours forced into sedentary repose while the Pickle nursed and nursed and nursed and nursed—the perfect time to read.  This year was heavy on Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and S.M. Stirling.  I seem to have left my non-fiction stage and entered another epoch of fantasy and post-apocalyptic fiction.  Both offer a good escape to the under-a-baby trap of a bed.

Looking back at the last three year’s lists (2011, 2010, 2009) I am forced to admit, much to my own chagrin, that I still haven’t gotten around to reading Kafka in German as I have been resolving to for the past two lists.  Though in a random turn of events (turning an old school book of the Beard’s into fire-starting paper) I did manage to read most of The Metamorphosis.  Also to my chagrin do I now see that I barely read any books in German at all (just two).  Tisk tisk.

I did however, read some damn fine books.  How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu blew my mind through the Wagen roof in a way that few authors since Philip K. Dick have been capable, while Distrust that Particular Flavor by William Gibson re-interested me in his work and inspired me in my own (really didn’t see that one coming, but what a fine collection of essays).  Top two, all-time fucking best books of the year.  But there are a few runners up worth mentioning as well.  Feed by M.T. Anderson, for starters.  Perdido Street Station by China Mieville astounded me—what an imagination that man has, holy crap. Kuckuck, Krake, Kackerlake by Bibi Dumon Tak made me laugh (called Bibi’s Bizarre Beastie Book in the English translation), as did another children’s book on the list, B is for Beer by Tom Robbins, both of which are the kind of books that would make good presents for anyone anytime.

And now, before I unveil the list, and because I would love to hear more about what you read this year, the book geek blog hop!  This is how it works: you write something about your year in books on your website (your top five reads this year, your own year’s book list—all book ramblings are fair game), you submit a link to that post below (this year with pictures!), and you link up to this post at the bottom of your own post.  All the booky links will be compiled in a purdy little list on this page, and we can all click around the book love to our paper hearts’ content.

1. The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
2. Neuromancer by William Gibson (reread)
3. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
4. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (reread)
5. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
6. The Penultimate Truth by P.K. Dick
7. Minority Report: The Collected Stores of Philip K Dick Volume 4
8. The Cosmic Puppets by P.K. Dick
9. The Eye of the Sybil: The Collected Stores of Philip K Dick Volume 5
10. The Man Who Japed by P.K. Dick
11. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
12. Kuckuck, Krake, Kackerlake by Bibi Dumon Tak
13. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
14. Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan
15. Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts: And Whatever the Heck Else We Could Squeeze in Here by Derek Diedricksen
16. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (my review)
17. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
18. Come Hell or High Water: A Handbook on Collective Process Gone Awry by AK Press
19. Pipi Langstrumpf by Astrid Lindgren
20. Kingdom Come by J.G. Ballard (reread)
21. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (reread)
22. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
23. Hartmann the Anarchist by E. Douglas Fawcett
24. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 1 by Sir Authur Conan Doyle
25. The Bomb by Frank Harris
26. B is for Beer by Tom Robbins
27. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
28. The World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler (my review)
29. Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by Mike Bubel
30. Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling (my review)
31. Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman
32. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
33. The Coming Insurrection by the Invisible Committee
34. Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut
35. Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
36. Clandestines: The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile by Ramor Ryan
37. The Protector’s War by S.M. Stirling (my review)
38. A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling (my review)
39. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
40. Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut
41. Sign With Your Baby by Joseph Garcia
42. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
43. The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
44. Nighttime Parenting by William Sears
45. The Bilingual Family by Edith Esch-Harding
46. The Compass Rose by Ursula K. LeGuin
47. Down Under by Bill Bryson
48. The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion
49. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (my review)
50. Rewild or Die by Urban Scout
51. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
52. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
53. Feed by M.T. Anderson
54. Distrust that Particular Flavor by William Gibson
55. Beyond Lies the Wub: The Collected Stores of Philip K. Dick Volume 1
56. Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint
57. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
58. Doing Nothing by Tom Lutz (my review)
59. The Baby Book by William Sears
60. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
61. In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood
62. The Sunrise Lands by S.M. Stirling

And now, let the link party begin! I’ve added two links to past Year in Books posts to show you what it will look like. Also, a tip: when you add a link to your booky post, under “name” write the name of the post as you would like it to appear here for others to see. And psst, if you aren’t coming to the party, then I’d love to hear what your favorite reads this year were in the comments.

Friday December 28th 2012, 9:00 am 17 Comments
Filed under: books,conspiracies

and when i steal your heart, do you think you will resist?

It is hard to write a love song that isn’t cheesy.  Try it.  I don’t mean go write a song right now.  But think about love and the people you love and then let a few words come to mind.  Those first words are bound to be cliche, Hallmarked.  It doesn’t make them meaningless, but it does mean they are going to make an annoying, if not downright bad, song.  Put even the slightest bit of schmaltz to music and it becomes magnified, a big gooey horror come to melt the contents of your thinking meat.

I suppose I have managed it once, now that I think of it (Crow’s Nest), but that song is more about direct action than love (it isn’t on the internet at the moment, but you can listen to some of our other songs about direct action and revoltion and change here).  Anyway.  My other friend!  She’s on her way to our place from Holland so that we can learn each other’s songs and collaborate on an album together later in the year.  In preparation I have been listening to some recordings she sent non-stop, trying out harmonies and memorizing lyrics.  And I have a new favorite love song.  Life of Crime!  Making out in stolen cars, missing each other while stuck in jail, getting into bar fights, and laying drunk on the ground looking at the stars.  It is fucking brilliant, she has a gorgeous voice, and I can’t wait until we get the album finished so you can hear it too.  I also can’t wait to sing harmonies with her.  Singing is so much more fun when there are two of you who can melt those sounds into one.  Good harmonies just kill me.

Meanwhile, I have been stuck for weeks, no months, on lyrics for the heap of new songs we’ve got on the line.  But I am hoping the the fire in her songs sparks and lights something in me for mine.  I have so many ideas, thematically.  But fitting words have yet to come.  It is strange, and I suppose that is the rub of writing something like poetry.  When I write prose, even if I don’t find a single magical turn of phrase, I can still write a story, maybe even one that enchants through its doings rather than through its sayings.  Not so with lyrics.  Writing those is an art all its own, and one I never thought I would be much good at.  I never liked poetry much, reading it or writing, and yet here I am doing it anyway.  Strange.

So I am curious.  What song lyrics do you find totally fucking spot on genius?  Send me youtube links in the comments.  Inspiration would make a pretty sweet Christmas present.  Songs with harmonies that just kill you also welcome.



Wednesday December 26th 2012, 10:21 pm 2 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,music,The Battenkill Ramblers

i don’t think santa will be fitting down this chimney pipe

Oh dear wood stove, how do I love thee?  And how do I hate thee when it comes time to take down the chimney pipes and clean them out because smoke has been backing into the Wagen at really inconvenient times, like when we’re sleeping?  But I jest (a little).  I never hate our wood stove.  It is my all-time favorite way to heat a room, and it is currently one of the cheapest.  Chopping wood, the smell of oak, lighting a fire, and the flicker and crackle—it is satisfying in a way I can only explain by blaming instinct.  Fire is the ur-television.

But maintenance is annoying, especially when you need to tackle it alone with a ten-month-old baby on your hands.  The wood stove had been letting in minuscule, but horrid smelling, puffs of smoke.  The Beard thought something was wrong with the door, that it was no longer closing properly.  There was far more smoke coming in when we lit a fire than usual, and we couldn’t open the lower door (which we do often to get a big bit of wood burning) without the stench.  Besides being icky, it was scary.  No one wants to die in the night of CO2 poisoning.  Or wake up next to a baby who has died of co2 poisoning.  So we stopped heating at night, when we wouldn’t be conscious to monitor the smoke situation and open the windows obsessively.  It was cold by morning.  And that was icky too.

Then the Beard went off to work a 48-shift, and I was all like “I am going to get to the bottom of this, so help me cod!”  Thing is, when smoke is backing up into your room, it usually has more to do with your chimney than with your stove.  We used to heat our kitchen with a stove whose door didn’t close all the way, and yet, with a one-inch gap right next to the flames, smoke never poured into the room once the fire was lit.  I looked around the internet and found a lot of people talking about how cold air can temporarily block a chimney, forcing the smoke down into the room.  A solution for this is to stick a piece off paper into the chimney and light it, a trick which should warm the air enough to break the block.  Note to self.  But our problem lay elsewhere.

Turns out (and I had only looked at night, so I couldn’t really see it, and did I mention that I desperately need glasses?) that the little hat we have on top of our stove pipe to keep rain and wind from coming down it had collapsed on top of the pipe itself, leaving onyl the smallest of holes for the smoke to escape.

I found a neighbor to hold Baby Pickles while I worked, borrowed a ladder and a pipe cleaner, and took down all the piping for a scrub.  Then I took the bus to the building supply store to see if I could get a”T” shaped bit of pipe to replace the hat at the top of the chimney, which is what I have on the pipe on my Wagen, now our kitchen.  They didn’t have any at the store, but what they did have were a bunch of sexist jerks working there who, as male employees of building supply stores in Germany tend to do, talked down to me and generally treated me as if I didn’t have a fucking clue.  “But there is no such thing as a “T” shaped bit of metal piping!”  Oh, right, because I imagined the one that I have at home.  Thanks for clearing that up then, I’ll just be on my way.

After a bit of insisting, the building store man finally admitted that such a thing did exist, after which he told me that there was no way I could put such a thing on my chimney, that a professional chimney duder needed to do that (though this “it must be done officially” attitude is very German, he did specify dude, harumpf).  Oh, but they could order one for me, if I insisted on being a reckless jerk.  I wondered why I hadn’t just jimmy rigged something myself in the first place and left.  I am sure that there are men working at the building supply store who don’t talk to women customers like they can’t possible know what they are talking about, but every woman builder I know has had a similar experience repeatedly.  And I have never seen a woman working at one of these stores, besides at the cash register.  Boo hiss.

Back at home, my baby-watching friend and I jimmy rigged a rusty old piece of pipe into an acceptable “T” and jammed it on the top of our chimney pipe.  (We had a piece laying around that was shaped more like an “L,” so we hammered off one side of it to create a makeshift “T.”)  I reattached all the bits and pieces and lit a fire.  And hot damn, no more smoke.

PS The above photo is what the fire in the stove looks like right this second. We haven’t been keeping the glass door very clean.

Monday December 24th 2012, 9:00 am Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,tiny house livin',wagenplatz

winter, fried food, and sudden visits

Living so far from the place where I grew up, I had long ago given up on the possibility of a chance meeting with a so-and-so from a whenever-a-long-time-ago.  I like chance meetings.  I like finding out what has become of people I knew when we were kids.  Character development.  It’s fascinating.  But I like living in Germany more, so down the drain with chance meetings, I figured.  The closest I’ve come, will probably ever come, was a few weeks ago.

I’m coming to Frankfurt for work tomorrow! the email said.  Whoa! I said.  We met, after years and years of not seeing each other, of not even talking, two people who once called each other best friends.  Life is funny like that.  And so we went to the Christmas market, freshly opened, home of deep-fried everythings that had been silently begging me to come pay them homage from across the city (or was that my stomach?).  As annoying as the winter holiday season can be, it sure is delicious.

We strolled through the crowd—a small one, we were lucky—until we found a good-looking mulled wine stand.  We ordered and found a little table to lean against while we raced the cold air to the bottom of our mugs, comparing politics in the countries where we live, about Obama’s universal health care and the election and New York City.  More tables crowded around us and more mulled wine drinkers around them, a little rock in a stream of shoppers pushing by on their way to fill their bags and empty their wallets.

When I was a vegan, the Christmas Market held no power over me, but now that I am again an omnivore, the temptation to pull out my wallet and bury my snout in another puddle of frying fat is large.  When hunger arrived, we decided on langoes, a friend potato bread topped with cheese and garlic sauce, and it was tasty, if not overpriced in that way that seasonal, touristy attractions always are, and we left without ordering one of everything from everywhere.  Though I do vaguely regret not having purchased any of these chocolate tools, my favorite discovery of the evening:

I thought they were real for almost an entire minute and couldn’t figure out why someone was selling rusty old tools at the Christmas market.  Yum.

On a sidenote, tomorrow is the winter solstice, and while it is a holiday I would like to be celebrating, I have yet to establish a tradition for the day, overshadowed as it is by the habit of Christmas. Will any of you be celebrating? Happy winter!

Thursday December 20th 2012, 1:41 pm 4 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany

you are what you eat

Today’s ravings are brought to you by Fish in the Water.

It’s not just about wasting. It is that—I’m still one of those people who throws food away and guiltily thinks about all the starving children in Africa (and in our own town) who don’t have enough to eat. I’ll compost things like beet greens and broccoli stalks and think, wow, we are alarmingly wasteful.

But when it comes to throwing away leftovers, I get wrathful. To me food is not just another cheap commodity that can be tossed out on a whim. Food is a process. As the majority of the food we eat was produced by either my hands or the hands of someone I know very well, throwing it away is tantamount to a very deep personal insult. That’s my time that went into the production of that food. My sweat, my blood, my exhaustion and caring and effort went into that piece of broccoli. It’s not something to just be tossed away.

Then add in the layer of processing. With most things, I not only grew it (or paid dearly for someone close to me to grow it), I spent hours chopping and stewing and grinding and freezing and canning it so we could eat it. Canning tomatoes may be relatively “easy”, but it is a vastly time consuming process. I didn’t sit for hours in a boiling hot kitchen packing those fuckers into cans just so they could be thrown away. I didn’t spend hours rolling out pasta so it could be thrown away. I put care and time into doing these things because I care so much about the people eating them. I love my family, so much that it daily breaks my heart. I’m not going to sit back and let them eat pizza all the time. I put all this work into it because to me, this is going to help them live longer. This is the key to keeping them healthy and whole and with me for as long as possible. When I catch myself doing something that seems ridiculous- making an enormous mess while making tomato paste from scratch, for example- I just remind myself of all the people I love who are going to benefit, because this tomato paste will contribute to their well being. Maybe in a teeny tiny way- and I’m sure there aren’t too many people out there who have contracted cancer from eating store bought tomato paste- but each little thing helps.

Each meal I make is a sacrifice from me to them, and each meal is a spell cast not just to keep them healthy, but to tie us together. Those meals are my way of showing how much I love the people in my life. People ask me why I do so much cooking- and yes, I do enjoy it, most of the time. I like coming up with things to make. But that’s not really why I do it. Feeding people answers some kind of base instinct at my very core. If all else was stripped away- if, for some reason, all the things I do for fun disappeared- there would still be feeding people. I would do everything in my power, until my dying breath, to continue to feed the people I love, and to do it in the way that I thought was best going to keep them alive. That is a meal. It’s a bond between people that can’t be broken. And it’s certainly not something you throw away.

It becomes astronomically worse when the food in question is meat. It breaks my heart to throw away food- it shatters it to throw away meat. I haven’t been eating meat for all that long, and I still remember why I stopped. I could not stand the thought of the merciless torture that is the bulk of meat “production” in this country. I still can’t stand it. So all the meat I buy comes from animals I have met. And it is still hard for me, sometimes, to look them in the face and know they are going to die so I can live. And that they aren’t doing it by choice, or for some noble reason, they’re just going to die. I try to repay each and every one of those lives by eating every last bite. It seems the ultimate act of callousness to casually throw away a life. And it is, I believe, at the core of what’s wrong with our society. People ask why, how can these things happen, what’s wrong, what could it be? And then they turn around and so casually dismiss the suffering that takes place daily, in every corner. Millions of animals suffer and die? Oh well, tossed out with the trash. Children in other countries suffer and die to make your shoes and your iPads? Oh well, they’re out of style, throw them away. When that kind of apathy exists on that kind of scale, it’s no wonder these things happen. It’s easy to turn your head when you’re warm and comfortable and there’s always enough of everything.

And it all comes back to that, doesn’t it? We may have enough of everything, but at the moment I have no money. I really don’t. Fortunately for me I store enough food through the summer to get us through the winter at no additional cost. I don’t ever have to be hungry. But when I look at my bank account and see that there’s nothing there, I think of all those who are not so fortunate as to have a fully stocked pantry and freezer. And I swear to myself that none of it will go to waste. That it will all be fully and deeply appreciated, and that I will be grateful for every bite that I am so fortunate to have. And I will do my best to share with others, and never throw away the leftovers, which so many others would long to have.

Wednesday December 19th 2012, 12:11 pm Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,food

doing nothing, tom lutz and beyond

Lafargue pleads with workers to not be complicit in their own oppression by believing in the ethical value of labor.  The work ethic that arose with industrialism, he writes, is nothing but a ruse to get the proletariat to agree to its own degradation.  Paint pictures, play music, philosophize, and versify, he counsels, not work, not as commerce, but joyfully.


[Dian di Prima] came “into poverty as into an inheritance.”  What she bought with this “dire poverty,” she says, was the “luxury, the freedom to pass my days as I pleased, exploring, researching whatever came to mind, writing in front of ancient oils at the Metropolitan, walking Manhatten from end to end, talking everywhere to strangers.”  The poverty was simply “the terms of the deal I’d managed to cut,” she said.  “I thought myself lucky.”

-Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America

Though I no longer remember what caused me to buy Tom Lutz’s 2006 book Doing Nothing, it isn’t hard to make an educated guess.  As someone who cultivates a lifestyle that involves as little work in the classic sense (company, boss, white office, desk) as I find financially possible, it was likely the call of the kindred spirit, the desire to see this sort of lifestyle through somebody else’s glasses.  And yet, the title felt irksome.  Doing nothing?  It is not a state to which I aspire.  (Is it even possible to literally do nothing?)  I don’t work much, as I said, in the classical sense, but “doing nothing” would be a inaccurate description of what fills my days.  What does it mean to do nothing?  What does it mean to work?

Most often, doing nothing is defined as the opposite of working, and working is defined as doing something that involves monetary payment.  So when I write things that may never be published by an outside vendor or that will be published but without payment, am I doing nothing?  When I take care of my daughter am I doing nothing?  When I build something  or attend a demonstration or read or research or create am I doing nothing?  Why should activities involving financial renumeration hold a monopoly on the term work?

What I didn’t expect to find in Lutz’s book was a serious, thoughtful, well-researched history of folks, well, like me.  (If he’d written his book a little later he would certainly have had to mention New Escapologist.)  People who were at odds with the current take on work.  People who wanted to paint pictures instead of get regular jobs.  People who wrote extensively about the idle life (and whose activities very plainly expose them as the opposite of idle).  Beats and slackers and philosophers and artists.  Seeing myself—the way I live my life and the ideals I write about—as a tiny dot on a long historical timeline of idlers provided an interesting perspective.  Who are we, where are we, and what will history make of out moment?

In the last five years or so, trading in the corporate work world for early retirement and a more exciting life on smaller means has become a trend large enough to earn it a place in any future printing of Lutz’s book.  Some travel, some stay at home to meditate and revel in the small pleasures of books and long walks, some attempt agricultural self-sufficiency (which is about as far from doing nothing as you can get).  Aside from the homesteaders who are working their asses off making their living in a very literal sense, the rest of us are living lives about as far from reality as you can get.  I’m not saying that reality involves any sort of desk work, but if you consider our basic need for food and shelter and the work it takes to make those things happen the basis of our reality, the desire to work less and meditate more only serves to alienate us further from a life that would bind us to our own lifeblood in a meaningful way.  It does not change my mind about how I have chosen to live within my particular context, but I do imagine that through the eyes of people living in a way that I currently perceive as ideal, we, I, would look utterly ridiculous.  Then again so would almost all of our other options to “work.”

Lutz comes to the conclusion that doing nothing is part of a balance.  The more work-obsessed a culture becomes, the stronger the slacker figures within that culture.  At the end of the day, according to Lutz’s research, the work ethic doesn’t really exist.  “The history of slackers is the history not just of our distaste for work and our fantasies of escaping it (as well as the history of our vilification of those who do escape it) but also a history of complexly distorted perceptions.  One man’s welfare queen is another man’s struggling mother.  One man’s slacker son may be preparing his arrival as an artist…”  People have a tendency, even when they are splitting the work 50/50, to assume that they are doing more than their fair share, and the other less.  I have felt and witnessed the phenomenon myself in communal kitchens.  Maybe slackers don’t really exist either, are simply a phantom of our own perception that we are doing more than everybody else.

Tuesday December 18th 2012, 12:24 pm 3 Comments
Filed under: books,conspiracies

the walking dead (but not the show)

If you were to count all of the days of your life that you had spent sick in bed, how much would it add up to? I reckon at least a year. The Beard read an article claiming three. Either way it is a depressing thought. Not counting years spent in bed dying of things like cancer. Just counting the common colds. If you could get it all out of the way in one year, would you? I like to get unpleasant things out of the way all at once, but a year of the common cold, of stuffy noses and sneezes and coughs and restless nights might be more than I can take. There are only so many tissues in the world.

Every single time I get sick I lament the way I never remember to fully appreciate the times when I am healthy. “The next time you hear me complaining about something,” I told the Beard a few nights ago, “please just remind me that at least I can breath through my nose.”  So, despite the fact that I am still not feeling like I’m made of animated tissue, today I am at least happy to have the use of my nostrils.

Baby Pickles caught my cold after three days, which has certainly played a part in the creation of my undead flesh.  She is usually such a peaceful baby, such a “good sleeper” as the kids’ parents say.  Now we know what it would be like if she was not.  Now we know what it would be like if she woke up once an hour screaming and had to be walked around the room to get back to sleep.  Now we know how a whole lot of other parents feel for the first six plus months of their children’s lives.  Sometimes I wonder how it is possible that we humans came to have a population problem.

After three days of sniffling and very mild fever, we were expecting her to get better.  Instead her fever shot up through the roof on day four, chasing us off to the pediatrics emergency room at the hospital.  It didn’t feel like an emergency room emergency (which I usually imagine involving lost limbs and heart attacks and, you know, serious splatter shit), but after 1 pm on a Friday, there is no one else to call until Monday morning.  After a surprisingly pleasant visit (we only waited ten minutes!) we were told that, besides having a mean cold, there was nothing wrong with Pickles (whew), and that we just needed to keep giving her lots of fluids and waiting it out.

So we are, and it seems to be working, but the mornings are getting harder and harder, and if this lasts for much longer, Pickles is going to have to start changing her diapers and lighting the wood stove herself, while the Beard and I lay prostrate in bed, babbling and drooling and munching on brains.


Sunday December 16th 2012, 1:41 pm 3 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,gorilla parent (year one)

cloth diaper diary: nine months

Baby Pickles has now been out of the pen longer than she was in it.  The period that some people think of as “out of womb gestation” is now complete.  I guess I can pack up her stuff and send her off to college then.  Don’t forget your cloth diapers, honey!  Oh.  Diapers.  Guess she’s going to be living here for another couple of years.

laundry be damned

Nine months of Baby Pickles, nine months of cloth diapers, and at least 60,000 bajillion million loads of laundry.  Roughly.  There was a brief period when I was fed up with the laundry.  It was just never fucking finished.  I did a load, I hung it up, and while it was hanging there drying in slow fucking motion, more diapers were being dirtied.  By the time I was ready to do the next load, the first load might even have been dry and ready to put away.  Yeah right.  But, despite some laundry burn out, my cloth-diaper verdict remains positive.

In part this is because of something that happened about a month ago: a new neighbor offered us the use of his dryer.  Usually I’m not down with dryers but we had two huge sacks of tiny wet bits of cloth and no where to hang them so I figured, why the hell not?  And, wow.  Suddenly, the laundry actually gets done, as in completely finished, all in one day.  Suddenly there are entire days, sometimes even two or three, when I don’t have to think about wash at all.  I never thought I would be so enamoured with an electricity waster like a dryer but I am so thankful for the opportunity to use one right now that I could weep.  I look forward to returning to my oh-so-green-fuck-dryers stance when Pickles is out of diapers, but until then I’ll be writing the dryer’s name on my notebook cover with pink swirly hearts.

With a dryer, the cloth diaper experience has changed completely.  Because diapers that have been washed can go directly back onto the shelf instead of hanging around wet and useless for a couple of days, we don’t need all of our extensive collection.  (We did when we were air drying, and we could use even more for travel, however.)  So, a word to buyers: consider your dryer situation when figuring out how many diapers to buy.  If you have a dryer, you will be able to get by with far less than you’ve ever dreamed.

meet the diapers

The last time I did a cloth diaper run down Baby Pickles was three weeks old.  I was still pretty enamoured with all our gear, despite the fact that we had a lot of leaks due to sizing.  I still love one-size-fits-all cloth, but with almost ten months of experience to analyze, I am now retrospectively a bit disappointed in their performance (due to fit) when Pickles was still pickle-sized.  They are all fitting a hell of a lot better these days, and distinct preferences have emerged.

It turns out that I kind of sort of don’t love FuzziBunz (which, strangely, are the Beard’s favorites in our collection), and I kind of really really totally love Happy Heinys (and not just because they were the company with the glow-in-the-dark-skull print, but also because I like their particular size changing snapping system).  The GrowVias finally fit and don’t immediately begin leaking all over the place, and are also incredibly cute (see picture above), though I wouldn’t buy them again, at least not with the expectation that they will work from birth on.  Prefolds are still awesome and the most flexible of all when it comes to fit (and Snappis the best cloth diaper invention fucking ever), though now that Pickles has entered an extremely squirmy stage, I find it damn near impossible to get one on her.  With the all-in-one-diapers (ie the cloth diapers that have snaps or velcro and work just like a disposable minus the environmental havoc) I can put one on her while she’s standing, which is often the only way to avoid a scream fest.  Oh, and I totally, totally heart Kissaluvs, though they don’t get around the squrim factor and require a diaper cover and whoops we now only have one and half because I accidentally set one on fire.

hemp, not just for insulating your home

I have also become totally obsessed with hemp.  Seriously.  Miracle fabric.  Could absorb a pitcher of beer.  (Though I haven’t actually tested this, someone should lift the idea for a hemp insert advertising campaign.)   Nighttime is the hardest test of a cloth diaper.  Even religious users of the cloth sometimes go disposable at night.  But I 1. refuse to purchase the fucking things and 2. refuse to get out of bed at night to change diapers, so I have instead found cloth with super powers.  I have a couple of hemp inserts from a company called BabyKicks, and they are kidney-shaped miracles.  KIDNEY-SHAPED MIRACLES.  And yes, I had to shout that.  What I used to do is put a hemp insert and two or three regular terry inserts in a pocket diaper.  Then I would top it off with a wool soaker (ie wool diaper-like pants).  No waking up in uncomfortable, gross puddles of pee.  No pee-related waking up at all.  Yes!  When you’re fighting for every hour of sleep, you take what you can get, you know?

These days, Pickles doesn’t fit into her wool soaker anymore, so I just put two of these hemp inserts in a prefold with a cover.  Seriously.  JoeyBunz hemp inserts are my cloth diaper super heroes.  If I had more than three and wasn’t rationing them out for nighttime use and could use them during the day, I reckon that I would almost never have to change Pickles’ diaper.  If you know anyone who is or is planning on using cloth diapers who you need to buy a present, get them these.  Right now.  Get them a crate.

Below: Pickles modelling the dubious FuzziBunz.  Though lately I have been warming up to the them a bit.  Maybe their time is coming.  They can look rather adorable, and if the Beard likes ‘em, then, well good.


So BabyKicks. Once upon a time last month we ran out of money. I had been making a list in my head of cloth diaper gear we might need to buy soonish, but oh well.  The list was short: 1. more hemp inserts (see my love letter to hemp inserts above) and 2. new covers for the prefolds (we were down to just one that still fit).  Then the universe stepped in, as it often does if you have your radar tuned accordingly, and I found two diaper covers at a flea market for 50 cents a piece (I think the seller must have gone mad, those things are not cheap) and a notice on facebook that BabyKicks was looking for “ambassadors.”

I followed the notice to an application form.  In exchange for writing about their products around the internet a little bit each month, they would give their so-called “ambassadors” cloth diaper paraphernalia.  That was when I discovered that my favorite hemp inserts were from BabyKicks (had never even noticed the label on them before), and that I happened to have a lot of very good things to say about them already.  I applied, assuming I’d have about as much luck as I do in the diaper contests constantly happening on the internet (leave a comment and like a million things on facebook to enter only to never ever win anything ever! bah!).  But I was wrong.  And soon there will be more hemp inserts on our shelf and new diapers to try out (all of BabyKicks products are full of hemp! nomnomdrool), all because I quite like rambling on about things like cloth diapers on the internet.  Huzzah!

And now, in conclusion, I will leave you in a hurry, robbed of the time to come up with a snappy ending by the fact that Pickles is teething and seems to have caught my cold.  Sigh.  At least we’ve got her backside covered.

Thursday December 13th 2012, 9:00 am 8 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,gorilla parent (year one)

escapologists at home

The New Escapologist!  Oo la la!  Need I say more?  No.  But it looks like I am going to anyway.

I’ve mentioned this lovely magazine before here, and here, after they published a little ditty I wrote in Issue 6: Against the Grain.  I continue to be inspired and impressed by their content, as well as extremely flattered at my inclusion among their pages.  As I’ve been recently learning through my current read Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America, New Escapologist follows in an old and admirable tradition of magazines urging people to stop fucking working so much already, to escape from the expected.  Those new to the concept of escape can start with Issue 3: Practicalities, and once the addiction has thoroughly set in, move on to the rest of the magazine’s back catalogue (at a 10% discount at the moment).  It is worth every penny.  Really.

Issue 8: Staying In is on the way, and I can’t fucking wait.  Topics in what has apparently turned out to be another 100-pager include: “such homey matters as cottage industry, tea, pajamas, food, integrity, home music production, art collecting, cigars, thought, John Cowper Powys, an interview with artist Ellie Harrison, loads of great artwork, Dickon Edwards, alternative dwellings, BBC Radio’s Steven Rainey, Reggie C. King, and an ominously hanging ‘more…’.”  The bit about alternative housing is a Click Clack Gorilla exclusive.

According to the New Escapologist newsletter, however, a small wrench has fallen into the machinery.  With Issue 8 following Issue 7 so closely, Issue 7 has yet to bring in enough revenue to finance the next printing.  So in order to make that happen more quickly they, and I along with them, are asking folks to preorder a copy, buy the back catalogue, or subscribe.  Everything is available in both print and digital, so hop hop!  Escape theory, tactic, and humor await!  If you are going to support any magazine, then this magazine is a highly worthy candidate.

If you’re still a bit confused about what the hell escapology even means, then take this quote from the magazine’s introduction:

“[Escapology is] about deftly avoiding the potential traps of modern life: debt, stress, unrewarding work, bureaucracy, marketing, noise and over-government.  It’s about embracing freedom, anarchy and absurdity.  It’s about overcoming miserliness, passive-aggression, mauvaise foi and submission.  Escapology asks you to consider the circumstances in which you would most like to live and encourages you to find a way of engineering them.”

And I repeat: “Anarchy, absurdity, and freedom? Now those are three words I can live by. Tattoo them on your chest, put them in your pipe and smoke ‘em, and visit their website immediately and order a subscription of your own.”  The sooner you do, the sooner we’ll all have copies of Issue 8 in our hot little hands.  Pretty please?

Wednesday December 12th 2012, 2:00 pm 5 Comments
Filed under: books,conspiracies

the old woman and the sea (of paperwork) or, advanced parenting in germany

Every since Baby Pickles arrived I have felt like I’m being buried alive.  Letters, forms, papers, confirmations, more forms, more forms, and more fucking forms.  Welcome to parenthood in Germany.  Not so pleased to meet you, but thanks for the mad cash that you keep telling us we will someday get for working on your shrinking population problem.  (“Problem.”)

I suck at paperwork.  Though I vaguely enjoy filling out forms in a sort of obsessive compulsive way, I have trouble filling them out and getting them to the post office on time because at the end of the day I just don’t care.  Taxes, registering my address, getting visas—how do people manage to give enough fucks to get this shit done before the very last second?  At least some of Pickles’ paperwork will result in money in the bank, but still, paperwork is paperwork is hell, and I always procrastinate getting to the post office for as long as possible, and I am very, very good at forgetting things.

The paperstorm began immediately after Pickles’ was born.  Her birth certificates could be picked up at the Standesamt, we had been told.  We were supposed to pick them up right away, but I could barely walk because I’d just had fucking abdominal surgery you assholes, and duh, we were pretty fucking busy just trying to stay alive those first weeks.  When I finally made it there, they told me that I needed to “order” the birth certificates, and I could pick them up later.  Futile trip to the ugliest building in town!  Thanks Standesamt!

A few weeks later I finally had the honor of taking home a handful of certificates claiming that the Beard and I were, in fact, Pickles’ parents.  (They do this at the hospital in the United States, don’t they?)  A few copies were free, the rest—and you need them for all the other paperwork you are going to have to fill out for your baby and they have to be originals—were ten euros a pop.  Why it costs ten euros to have someone print out and sign a sheet of paper that they were printing a few of at the moment anyway is beyond me.  And the system grinds on. Cha-ching!

Quadruplicates of the birth certificates in hand, we started filling out forms for the health insurance company, which went surprisingly smoothly and resulted in a little pickled insurance card and no further hassles.  Then I filled out the novel of pages of paperwork for her American citizenship, passport, and social security card applications. (None of which we have been able to afford to actually get yet, ho hum.)  The Kindergeld and Elterngeld paperwork, however, (which we really should have filled out months before and sent in the minute Pickles was born, and no I am not kidding) are still coming back to haunt us.

First, let me explain.  Kindergeld is money that the government gives everyone who has a German baby.  So if you have a German baby and live in Germany, you will receive 185 euros per month until said baby is 25 or graduates from college.  After you’ve had a couple kids (each of which will result in an additional 185-euro-per-month check), they raise the bar and you get 205 euros a month and on and on.  Elterngeld is money that the government gives people who are raising German babies so that staying home with a baby is a little less financially daunting.  There is a minimum of 300 euros per month, or you can fill out even more paperwork and get a percent of your previous salary for one year.

These would have been the forms to not procrastinate filling out. Cough cough, shuffle shuffle, blush.  Around month seven I finally got them all in the mail.  Done! I thought.  Soon we’ll have that financial help, I think.  Wohoo! I thought.  And so began the avalanche of letters and further paperwork that I am sitting in as I type this.

We made a few mistakes on the Elterngeld paperwork, only two of which were found initially (another one was found after we sent back the first round of corrections), but at least that only involved a few more checks and a few more signatures.  The Kindergeld people, however, have just written to tell me that I need something called a Haushaltsbescheinigung, aka a paper that has been stamped and signed by the people at the Bürgeramt.  What that means in plain English is that I have to go to an office in Mainz to have a stranger sign a paper saying that, yes, the Beard, Baby Pickles and I all live in the same house.  Couldn’t we just send them one of the other hundreds of pieces of paper we have had to fill out to prove that we live at the same address (which we had to provide for my visa after our marriage)?  Without the extra trip to one of their rings of hell?  Couldn’t the fucking German bureaucrats just pick up the fucking phone and communicate with each other—or better yet, have a computer system do it for them? As usual in my encounters with German public offices, I find myself tearing at my hair.*

The positive side of all this is that we might really be another few days closer to getting our monthly “thank you for breeding” money, which we could really use right now.  I really appreciate that the country tries to support parents, particularly since they changed the laws so that both mamas or papas could apply for Elterngeld for taking on the majority of the kid responsibility.  Still, I do wish it was all a little easier.  If everyone is entitled to Kindergeld, then why don’t they automate the process through the reports of birth, send parents something to sign in confirmation, and cut a bunch of people who are struggling with one of the busiest, most chaotic events in their lives a fucking break from all the forms?  Have you ever tried filling out paperwork with a baby on your lap?  I have.  And while I was annoyed at having to get a new set of forms, I have to admit that I understood why she wanted to rip them all to shreds.

*Yesterday I was informed that the reason that these offices don’t communicate is actually one of data protection.  It is illegal, for example, for the police to just go to all these offices and get all the info they have on you there without your permission.  Good call.  Though in this case I wish I could just sign something allowing them to do it in this situation.

Also: All the paperwork is done and sent in!  Now to wait and see what we’ve fucked up on it this time…

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Thursday December 06th 2012, 9:00 am 9 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany,gorilla parent (year one)