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Personal posts about family, expat life, etc.

Spending the Holidays Three Houses Down from America’s Christmas Lights Display Winner – #sonyholiday

Whitis Family Christmas House in Tallahassee, Florida. Winners of the GMA Contest.
Semper Fi Christmas House, Tallahassee, Florida

I’m spending the holidays in Tallahassee, Florida, which happens to be the town from which the Whitis family, the winners of Good Morning America’s “Our Lights Are Better Than Your Lights”, hail. I’m not only in the same town as this Christmas lights attraction, but approximately three doors down from it. When my family and I arrived after a very long drive yesterday, we had to get a police escort to stop traffic so we could get down the street to my sister’s house. Cars were lined up for at least a mile to get a chance to drive by the GMA winners’ home.

So what does it take to earn bragging rights for the best Christmas lights in the nation? Apparently, it takes 17,000 LED lights and a patriotic, red-white-and-blue light show set to the techno remix of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American.” I can’t say it’s a beautiful display – the word “tacky” comes to mind. But it certainly took a lot of effort and the winners have asked visitors and online admirers to contribute to the Semper Fi Fund, an organization that provides “immediate financial support for injured and critically ill members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.”

I took a few photos* of the Whitis’ lit-up home, but you can’t really appreciate the audaciousness of this light display until you watch the video complete with music. Thankfully, for the neighbors’ sake, the family has purchased some radio spectrum (92.3 FM) for the duration of the Christmas light show so the neighborhood doesn’t have to endure techno music repeating on a four-minute loop for five hours per night. (I understand there’s currently a lawsuit against the family because of the light and music display, which is probably one reason why the radio spectrum was purchased.)

Here’s the full video of the Whitis’ family’s Semper Fi Christmas House, which will be on display through Christmas night. I promise you this is real:



*All photos (except featured photo) taken with the Sony Cyber Shot DSC-WX9 camera, which was provided courtesy of Sony.

Fall of the Wall

BerlinWall-BrandenburgGate-1989-Nov-09November 9, 2009, marks 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was in 9th grade when the news came across CNN that the physical symbol of the East/West divide was on the verge of toppling. And my mother reminded me today while I was reminiscing about the event that I sat for hours and hours watching East Berliners chip away at “die Mauer” and West Berliners extending their hands to their German brothers and sisters as they scrambled to scale the wall.

I didn’t know at the time that less than two years later I would be a resident of Germany, a teenage exchange student in a small northwest-central town near Osnabrück. But I did know that I wanted to be there in Germany at that moment, experiencing history as it happened. I’m trying to think of moments that have happened since then that have spawned in me true elation. Of course my wedding day and my babies’ births were incredibly happy days. But while those were personal milestones, the fall of the Berlin wall was one of those occasions where you knew that you and the rest of the world were all watching a momentous event at the same time. If only we had Twitter back then! The only thing that could possibly compare was the election this year in the U.S. of Barack Obama. There was euphoria coupled with the understanding that much work needed to be done.

In retrospect, the events of 9/11/89 (the date written in the European way) are almost more moving now than they were then. Perhaps it is because I know – or once knew – Germany and the Germans so well. Like I said, I lived in small-town Germany from 1991-1992 and completely immersed myself in the culture. In spring 1992 I had the chance to attend a week-long student seminar in Berlin. During that week, my fellow students and I used Berlin as our playground: visiting Kneipen (pubs), at 17 already able to handle our beers responsibly thanks to months living with Germany’s relaxed drinking age; stumbling down Ku’Damm late at night, riffing and joking in our adopted language and guided by the eerie blue light of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, a symbol from the ravages of World War II; shopping for vintage clothing in Kreuzberg; and taking strong coffees at a little café on the upper floor of a building on Lindenstraße, a main street in the former East.

A lot of the Wall was already gone by then, having been divvied up for sale to tourists. And the vast transformation that Berlin would undergo had yet to be initiated. This was all before Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the Reichstag and before the empty spaces of Alexanderplatz – East Berlin’s main square – got a Western makeover with fast food restaurants, shopping centers, and neon. The mood was uncertain, with Germans still referring to each others as “Wessis” (from the West) and “Ossis” (from the East). Still there was also a sense of general happiness and possibility. Perhaps it was my teenage naïveté, but it was an exciting time.

Save for many transits through Munich and Frankfurt airports, I have been back to Germany only once since returning to the U.S. in 1992. But the memories of 9/11/89 and my exchange year visit to Berlin remind me of how far the world has come – and how far we have also fallen.

There are so many moments in history that you can point to that signaled the end of innocence. The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of those rare instances that felt like a beginning of innocence, rebirth, hope. Indeed, that  monumental night two decades ago in Berlin effectively ended the post-war period and ushered in the happy era before the next 9/11.

Photo by Sue Ream

Mommy, why are you ruining Halloween?

I live in a half crunchy/half alpha-mom neighborhood, and I love it. Typical topics on the community listserve are “home birthing options,” playgroups, yoga classes, vaccine debates, and baby clothing swaps. I really don’t pay much attention to most of the discussions, except for maybe the free/heavily discounted stuff. But I have been a bit riled by a recent conversation about Halloween.

It seems that the people in my neighborhood are going to be putting up green ribbons to signify non-candy-giving houses on Halloween. People are talking about giving away non-food items, like notepads, cheap, plastic Made-in-China toys (my embellishment), and the like.

Why are you ruining Halloween for your kids, people?!

When I was a kid, about the worst you could hope for was getting an apple while trick or treating. Or, if you believed the rumors, you’d get an apple with a razor blade in it – sweet! Now people are giving out packs of pretzels or junky little toys just so kids don’t get a sugar high.


I’m going trick-or-treating with my 3yo this year. It should be fun, as it should be the first time he “gets” it. And I’ll be marking down the houses that are flying the green ribbon so I’ll know later that those are the moms that probably won’t want to have a martini playdate someday either.

Update and Great Photo


I apologize for the long silence. In fact, not much has been happening around here. Well, not much except bird flu, temple attacks, and presidential visits. At this point, nearly two years later, India and Bombay have almost become everyday for me. And, sad as it may seem, there comes a time when you become used to (desensitized to?) chaotic driving, street urchins, milk deliverymen on bicycles, unnavigable, paan juice stained sidewalks, piles of burning trash, incense, crowds, poverty, nouveau riche techies, and holy cows. It’s almost time to move on.

That said, I occasionally see things here that I wouldn’t see anywhere else. Take a look at the photo above, taken by a friend of a friend. That’s an actual billboard (called a “hoarding” here) with statistics that aren’t too far-fetched. I don’t know why the designers of the sign used a coffee cup, but there you go.

By the way, as I seem to have run out of words about India, I may start posting some fun photos on occasion. If I put up several at a time, they may even amount to a feature-length article. Figuratively, that is…

I Heart Outsourcing!

Senator John Kerry came to India recently to discuss, among other things, his opinions on outsourcing. During the U.S. elections of 2004, Indians (or at least the Indian media) never quite warmed to Kerry, so I suppose this was a chance for him to go on a goodwill tour and to see outsourcing at its, well, source.

Of course, outsourcing is a very sore subject in the U.S. and its impact has unfortunatley turned some Americans against South Asians. Its short-term effect has meant that many Americans have lost their jobs to workers in India that can do their jobs, if not more efficiently, then more economically. I even have an Indian-American friend whose relative lost her job to an Indian in India!

After being in India for a while, however, I can’t help but be a little touchy when discussing outsourcing with my compatriots at home. The people that I have met here that work at BPOs (Business Process Outsourcing companies) are some of the most diligent, hardworking people. And they aren’t just involved in the telemarketing fields. BPOs such as Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services, e-Serve, and Datamatics have stretched their tentacles to cover industries like IT, banking, finance, government, and entertainment. In fact, outsourcing is involved in almost every industry I can think of (which is even more than the average American can think of), so it isn’t going away anytime soon.
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Hey Undecided Voter!

Come on…don’t embarrass me over here. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but just thought I’d throw out this little nugget in case you missed it:

“The Bushies’ campaign pitch follows their usual backward logic: Because we have failed to make you safe, you should re-elect us to make you safer. Because we haven’t caught Osama in three years, you need us to catch Osama in the next four years. Because we didn’t bother to secure explosives in Iraq, you can count on us to make sure those explosives aren’t used against you.” [NYT.com]

The people in India are on pins and needles about the election, so I can just imagine how anxious you must feel over there. The world is freaking out. I am freaking out. I’ve been grinding my teeth so hard at night over this that I’ve got something close to lockjaw right now.

Anyhow, it’s not up to me anymore. I’ve already sent in my absentee vote. As for the rest of you, for the love of god, please get out there and vote for Kerry.

A New Strategy to Win the Swing States

Maybe Kerry or Bush could learn a few things from the Gandhis. Humility and pacifism, sure. (And wouldn’t you pay money to see either of them in full lotus position?) But I’m just curious about how Rahul Gandhi, son of Sonia, is going about campaigning for his mother’s Congress party in India.

Today, according to Mid-Day, Rahul said that he will not campaign here in Maharashtra because his party’s “victory was not certain.” Hmmm…goes against the logic I’m used to. But I suppose when your father and grandmother have been assassinated, you are a bit more choosy of your public appearances.

At any rate, those state fairs in deep Midwest USA don’t seem half bad in comparison.