Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Can You Please Pass the Spark Plugs?

During a layover in Houston (home sweet home), I had the displeasure of sitting in a crowded gate area with a short guy from the Philadelphia area who had mistaken his cell phone for a megaphone. Unfortunately for all of us seated around him at Gate C-41, his conversations were just not that interesting.

We were subjected to the "I'm rich, I drive a new Lexus" conversation, as well as the "I'm important, I just got another medical board certification." By the time he reached the "We just finished the remodel on the house. God, was that expensive!" stage, pretty much everyone in the gate area was rolling their eyes.

But, no sooner than you can say, "I hope his battery dies," the conversation took a turn. Since I had my computer out - drafting a follow-up email to the Consulate - I tried to transcribe his side of the conversation as accurately as possible. (The bracketed comments were added later, as I'm not that fast of a typist):

"I don't care what you say, she's white trash. [White trash? You have my undivided attention.]

"You're crazy." [Hmmm, crazy white trash. This is getting better and better!]

"I certainly don't remember ever eating in the garage, but, yes, I agree, eating in a garage does make you white trash. (Pause) You are absolutely wrong. Our family never ate in the garage. (Long pause) "I certainly never ate in the garage. (Longer pause.) Well, I don't remember that." [I've heard of closet eaters, but garage eaters?]

Sorry, I missed the next part of the conversation. I was distracted by picturing the guy, sitting on a tool box, at a table made from plywood and sawhorses, using shop towels as napkins. I started cracking myself up when I got to thinking about the "carving tools".

"How old is she now?" [Wait, go back to the garage!]

"She graduated, right? She should get off her fat ass and get a job, that's what she should do." [Or, perhaps spend a little less time in the garage?]

"You're f#cking kidding me! How'd you find that out?" [What? Don't leave me hanging. Give me something. Anything!]

"Unbelievable. Just like her mother." [We are know who put the fun in dysfunctional in that family.]

"Well, she's your sister too! I think .... Wait. Gotta go, they're boarding."

Since Mr. Lexus-driving, board-certified, Garage Eater was in first class, I never found out what the niece (presumably) did that was just like her mother, but I wish her well!

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Camp Cindy: The Joy of Fishing with Children

I come from a fishing family. For as long as I can remember, we’ve fished --- with cane poles and with rods, from boats, off piers, under the spillway, around the pylons, in the ocean. Pretty much if you could drop a line in it, it was a “fishing hole.” Well, it just so happens, that my sister lives on a lake, aka, a huge fishing hole!

Continuing the family tradition, my nephews and I fished almost every day at Camp Cindy, sometimes even twice a day. It was definitely a learning experience for me. For instance, I’ve learned that there is nothing quite like the scream of a child catching his first fish. Or, the scream of a child being hooked by his brother. Or, the scream of a child that has fallen into the lake. Or, the scream of an aunt when she realizes that one of her nephews is eating the bait! (“But, I just wanted to taste it!”)

I also learned that fishing with children means that you will answer the same questions, over and over again: Can I touch it? (Yes) Will it bite? (No) What kind is it? (Big-mouth bass) Have you ever caught one of these? (Yes) Has Poppa? (Thousands of them) Has Mommy? (Yes) Has Mimi? (Yes) Has Aunt Susie? (Yes) Can we eat it? (No) Can I keep it in my room in a bucket? (Sure, I think that's a great idea, but you have to ask your mother) Is this the same fish that [insert brother's name] caught? (Maybe) Have you ever caught a whale? (No) Has Poppa? (No) And so on and so on.

The best part of fishing with the boys is that we have a new generation of fishing stories. Alex, the baby of the family at barely 7, can tell 'em like a pro. Here he is with one of the 10 (or 13, if you ask him) fish he caught.

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Camp Cindy: Things I Never Thought I'd Hear Myself Say

Below is a list of things I never thought I'd hear myself say, but have said at Camp Cindy:

1) Quit flicking boogers at your brother.
2) [While Fishing] Please quit eating the bait.
3) Keep your toes to yourselves.
4) Three kids' meals, please.
5) Thank you for the ball of floam you made for me. It's beautiful.
6) I'm not going to say it again. Please quit annoying your brother. [I said this so many times, that we reverted to code words. "Black" was short for stop doing whatever irritating thing you are doing to your brother.
7) Quit tattling. [Code word - yellow]
8) You've caught another seaweed fish. Someone get the net.
9) Let's go to Walmart and play the crane game (the game where you take the big electronic claw and try to grab a toy).
10) Stop throwing popcorn at your brothers. That's the last time I'm going to tell you. (And then I say it again about 5 times!)

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Camp Cindy!

As many of you know, Dan and I do not have children, do not want children, and do not spend much time around children. It's by choice and, so far, it's been a good one. But, it's not like our lives are completely devoid of children. We do have 7 nephews, 2 pseudo-nephews and a goddaughter, all of whom we adore and spoil.

For the past two weeks, I have been hanging out in southern Florida with my younger nephews, Ryan (10), Colby (9) and Alex (7). Technically, I guess I am free daycare, but we prefer to call it "Camp Cindy."

Some things I've learned at Camp Cindy:

1) If decorating cupcakes with pop rocks, don't put sprinkles or jelly beans on top of the pop rocks. Who knew that icing activates the pop rocks and turns the cupcakes into erupting volcanoes? It's amazing how far sprinkles will travel when blown off the top of a cupcake.

2) Children cannot grasp the concept that puff-painted t-shirts are not flattering on camp counselors and should not be worn! Ever.

3) When wearing a puff-painted t-shirt in public, don't pick "Camp Day" to wear it to the science museum. As if puff-painted t-shirts are not conspicuous enough, imagine being one of four people -- and the only adult -- wearing one among a sea of "real camp" shirts. Nothing screams "welfare" quite like a hand-painted shirt among hundreds of professionally printed camp shirts with logos so attractive that they look like they could have come straight off the racks of Abercrombie. Where's that black bar? Oh yeah, there it is. It's across Aunt Cindy's eyes!

4) It takes a LOT longer to get out of the house with children! Children simply have a different concept of time than adults do.

A prime example of this would be last Tuesday afternoon, when we were scheduled to go on an amphibious bus tour -- a bus that turns into a boat www.divaduck.com. We were running late getting out of the house. It was my fault really. I had no idea that you have to itemize everything that has to be brushed. (Did you brush your hair? Yes. Did you brush your teeth? No. Go back and brush your teeth.) Repeat once for each child and before I knew it, seven minutes had flown by.

Similarly, I had no concept of how long it takes to gather gameboys, yugi-oh cards and to save a game on the Gamecube. (Cindy, can I take my gameboy to play in the car? Sure. Can you help me find it? Sure.) Five minutes later and we found the gameboy in the car. (Where is my Elemental Hero Tempest card? I don't know, where did you have it last? I don't know. That's ok, we can leave without it. NOOOO, I have to have Elemental Hero Tempest - it's the best card in the deck!) Much later, it was found behind the Armed Dragon Level Five card in the same deck. (C'mon we are late! The bus will leave without us. Please turn off the Gamecube and let's go. Ok, just let me finish this stage. I have to throw this big boulder through the ice so I can fish for a frog. No, let's go. Ok, I'm saving it ... hey Ryan, can you help me break the ice? Let's go! Now!!)

Once I got all three kids, complete with gameboys and cards, safely buckled up in the car and was well on my way to the tour bus stop, Alex shouts, "My shoes!!" By the shrill tone of his voice, I'm thinking that his shoes must have gotten caught in the back seat, or that he put them on the wrong feet, or that he had two different shoes on. Wrong. On all accounts. The child had FORGOTTEN his shoes! C'mon, how do you forget shoes? Curiosity got the best of me, so, I asked, "Alex, sweetheart, how did you forget your shoes?" "I don't know, I just did." Circle back to get shoes -- lose 10 more minutes.

Stay tuned for the next post, Camp Cindy - "Things I Never Thought I Would Say".

Copyright 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Deported’s Tips on Immigration: Lesson Four - Finding the Humor in the Absurd!

I like to think that I am a fairly patient person. Usually, I'm pretty optimistic. But, truth be known, Belgian bureaucracy has almost broken me. Any day now, I expect to hit the cursing, finger-pointing, name-calling stage.

To recap, my tourist visa expired while my inscription for a visa was pending. The computer automatically generated a Ordre de Quitter la Territoire upon expiration of the tourist visa. The OQT was served without anyone checking to see if I had a pending inscription process. Efforts to revoke the OQT were hampered by the loss of my entire file. Another copy of the file was submitted in Brussels. The Belgian Consulate then informed me that service of the OQT automatically cancelled my pending application and that I would have to re-re-resubmit an application!

Apparently, I have been approaching this whole immigration thing from the wrong angle. I opted to follow the advice of a professional relocation expert, relied on the assurances from the Commune, sought advice from human resources, and jumped through all kinds of bureaucratic hoops (on 2 continents), yet, twelve months later, I still don’t have a visa.

Ali Guisse, on the other hand, quits eating and he gets in – without filing even ONE application. (Check out the story on http://www.expatica.com/, June 9th news article.) To this guy, part of me says, “more power to you. You clearly are much more motivated to live in Belgium than I am.” I’m not giving up food to live in a country where 2 degrees Celsius is considered a “nice day” in the winter. Period. End of story. (I have, however, boycotted Belgian chocolates, beer and waffles until I am allowed back into the country, but I don’t really consider this a hunger strike. I call it “diplomatic revenge.”) But, there’s this other side of me – the one that has submitted THREE applications – that is slightly irritated (understatement of the year) with the process.

Since I last posted, I have been obtaining additional “official” documents to forward to the Consulate General in Los Angeles for the re-re-resubmittal. The catch, of course, is that I found out that I needed these documents while on my way to Florida to spend time with my nephews. As luck would have it, one of the needed documents was in Texas, one in California and one in Brussels!

If anything, I’ve learned that it takes a village to get me back to Belgium. For the Texas document, I had the Belgian Embassy FedEx a friend of my little sister's, i.e. a complete stranger, the certified copy of my birth certificate so that she could take the certificate to the Secretary of State and have an apostil placed on it. She then FedExed it back to the Consulate. So, I owe Liz Garza a great big thanks for all of her help, and a great big bottle of tequila for not stealing my identity!

From San Diego, I needed an “official” document saying that there was no “official record” of Dan and I being married in San Diego. Frankly, I’m a little confused by this particular request, especially since a marriage certificate can be on file anyway in the US. (I guess the 10 years of tax records, from both the state and federal level, as well as certified copies of our mortgages, all of which show our marital status as “single,” just doesn’t cut it with Belgian authorities.) Nevertheless, my great friend Marti took care of this for me. Thanks Marti!

From Brussels, I needed Dan to sign yet another form. Remember how my file was lost in Brussels? Well, his file seems to be similarly afflicted, yet to a lesser degree. His file was missing a declaration he signed in October of last year. Since we all know the importance of forms to any bureaucracy, Dan and the relocation expert went to the Commune on last Friday to sign yet another copy of the form. In an abundance of caution, and at the suggestion of the relocation expert, Dan signed FOUR copies of the form and had each of them notarized. Dan faxed the form to the Consulate later that day.

Here is a direct quote from an email Dan received in response to the fax he sent the Consulate: “It occurs only too often that the City Administration supplies the incorrect document for this type of visa.” Yep, he had been given the wrong form!

The Consulate emailed us a “sample form.” On Monday, Dan returned to the City Administration with a copy of the “sample form” and was told that there was no such official form! The lady at the Administration suggested that he just fill in the sample form and have it notarized, which he did.

I spoke with the Consulate and she will be submitting the application on my behalf on this Friday. (For some reason, applications are only submitted on Fridays.) I have no idea how long it will take before a decision is reached. I still have my fingers crossed that I will be back by the Fourth of July, especially since I have a girlfriend who has been in Brussels for the past 2 weeks (non-refundable plane ticket purchased before I was deported) waiting for me to get back so we can see a little of Europe together!

© 2006 by Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Deported's Tips on Immigration: Lesson Three - Finding the File

Legal Warning: Please be advised that dealing with immigration issues may result in the overwhelming desire to bash your head, repeatedly, into the wall, into the desk, into the computer ...

It is now 14 days A.D. (after deportation) and I have quite the headache.

Until yesterday, I was operating under the delusion that my papiers would be straightened out and I would be back in Belgium by the end of June. (To get to this world, take a right at the unicorn and then hang a left at the leprechaun.) Reality crashed into my parallel immigration universe when I opened and read the latest "status" email from my relocation expert in Brussels. He was following up with the Ministry to find out the progress of my application. (Drumroll, please.)
"It seems that ... your file was still in the queue, waiting to be sorted, or lost !!!"

My file is now being re-copied and re-re-re-submitted in Brussels. (The odds on the LA file have just increased tenfold.) Hopefully, this time they will install some sort of GPS device on the file. I can hear it in my head: "Follow the hallway. Right turn ahead. Now, turn right. In 50 meters, take the second left and then diagonally left. If at all possible, make a legal u-turn. You have arrived at your destination."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Deported's Tips on Immigration: Lesson Two - Finding and Visiting the Embassy

Legal disclaimer: If you are seeking immigration advice, this is NOT the blog for you!

After being banished from Belgium, I called the office of the Belgian Consulate in Los Angeles, during a layover in Atlanta on my flight home, and left a message requesting someone to please return my call. I simply left my name and number, without going into any specifics. When I arrived in San Diego that evening, the Consulate’s office had already left a message on my home machine. Folks, that’s good customer service – in any country!

Throughout the past week and a half, I have been in contact with the Belgian Consulate regarding "my situation." Mary at the Consulate's office suggested I find out what steps had been taken so far in Brussels and then to call back and speak directly with the Consul. Once I received the requested information from my relocation agent, I called the Consul, armed with dates, names, and copies of letters (in French, no less), to plead for my papiers. Apparently, my pleading is not that good.

The Consul suggested I resubmit my entire application packet to them in the hopes that they can assist in the process. So, on Wednesday, I woke up at the crack of dawn to catch the 6:15 train to Los Angeles. Since the Consulate's Office only handles visas from 9:00 to noon, I wanted to be first in line. I wasn't. I blame the cab driver.

It's not that I mistrust LA cabdrivers. I inherently mistrust any cabdriver that, when I give him the address of where I'm going, asks me where it is. Hello? Which one of us decided to drive a cab for a living? Call me a cynic, but he either sucks at his job, or he is testing me to see how many times he can drive around in circles, running the meter up, before dropping me off at my desired location. I wasn't about to fall for that old trick. When he "asked" if 6100 Wilshire was near Beverly Hills, I responded, confidently and sounding quite like the LA native, "no, it's at Fairfax and Wilshire" (a little piece of information I had gleaned from mapquest the night before!).

Miraculously, we were able to hit not one, not two, but THREE freeways during LA morning rush hour! When I finally suggested he get the heck off the Harbor Freeway, he took the next exit, putting us squarely in the middle of "Little Ethiopia." (A little piece of information I gleaned from all the signs reading, "Little Ethiopia.") After driving around another $4.60, he asked, "should I take Pico to San Vicente?" Apparently, he had taken my "Fairfax and Wilshire" and "how about we get off the Harbor freeway" comments to mean that I actually knew where I was going. Well, he was sadly mistaken. Thirty-two dollars and eight miles later, we found the Belgian Consulate -- at Fairfax and Wilshire, no less.

On the off chance that you, too, will one day be sitting in the office of a Consulate General of a foreign country trying to explain how you managed to get yourself kicked out of said country, I recommend you skip the commentary on how crappy the weather is in the country from which you have been banished. Unless you are Joe Sobel, keep your mouth shut. You’re bringing nothing to the table. It’s experience talking. Do with it what you will.

I re-submitted my application and now I am waiting to hear back from the Belgian Consulate. I'm taking odds on which application gets approved first -- the one submitted in Los Angeles, the one submitted in Brussels, or the second one submitted in Brussels after the first one was lost!