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Halfway There

July 29, 1990

The wine situation here has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, we walk two blocks to our wine merchant and can select from among several dozen German whites for about $3 a liter. On the minus side, they seem to be so chauvinistic (or maybe it’s import barriers) that you can’t find a decent Australian wine anyplace. After having an ’89 Lindemann’s Bin 65 Chardonnay in a Stockholm restaurant, we bought one in a "state store" to bring back—although Swedish taxes on booze are outrageous, they try to promote the softer stuff—and left it in the hotel minibar refrigerator. I called from the airport and asked them to save it for when I’m there next month, but we’ll see if it’s actually there. [It was awaiting us on our next visit.]

I should have said the downstairs minibar refrigerator. The hotel was a pretty good deal—I had written and complained about various advertised features that weren’t available during a previous stay, and this time they gave us a two-story suite for the weekend, complete with sauna with a view of the harbor, a terrace (ditto) with motorized awning, so you wouldn’t get sunburned during the long Swedish days, a B&O stereo system in the living room—the dining room had a complimentary bottle of champagne in the ice bucket, and the bedroom upstairs had a Jacuzzi with a glass wall, and speakers, so you could watch the TV while you relaxed. I found out it was worth $850 a day when we checked out!

After a lot of run-arounds from the military (DoD Dependent Schools—DoDDS) Betty Lou has been getting enough part-time teaching jobs for various U.S. junior colleges and colleges (teaching soldiers) to satisfy the requirements of her leave of absence. In fact, when DoDDS recently offered her a full time job (teaching high school students), she refused it—they’d classify her as a government worker, so she wouldn’t get the overseas income exclusion that she gets now, and half of our joint U.S. income would also be taxed, but they wouldn’t give her any benefits (insurance, or classifying her as a government employee for retirement benefits)—and the salary they offered was no better than the hourly rate she’s getting already. So now they’re now going to have to pay to move somebody from the U.S., just because they’re so stingy with "local hires."

It’s really pleasant living here; the only problem is that 2 years isn’t long enough. We’re already more than halfway there! It’s hard to believe. This is the first time we’ve lived in town; it takes less than 10 minutes to walk to work; transit is so good that one time in April when I bought gas I noticed that the last time was a month before, and I fill it when it drops to half. I had the oil changed in January, and just had it done again even though it’s nowhere near the 5000 km recommended mileage. And, although you can occasionally see druggies shooting up in the park, it’s not a crime (although selling it is), and nobody is stealing or killing people to support the habit. Last winter we walked to our favorite restaurant about a mile through a park in the dark (the flip side of 10:30 summer sundowns is 3:30 winter ones) with no concerns. And the taxes also go towards many art exhibitions and outdoor festivals, summer and winter as well.

But we’ve hardly been anyplace for vacation. In the beginning, I didn’t have time, then this year Betty Lou’s jobs caused problems when I could get away. We did go to Budapest in the spring for a week; the weekend we arrived they were having their first elections in 50 years—it was an exciting time. And, besides going to Stockholm twice (I’ve been there a half dozen times on business), we’ve been to the three star l’Auberge de l’Ill restaurant in Alsace three times, mainly for birthday celebrations.

But I only recently realized that Betty Lou’s schedule has eight weeks of teaching, then two weeks off, so I think we’ll have to arrange a vacation for every gap. Presently I’ve accumulated over eight weeks’ vacation time, over the next year I’ll earn another five weeks [the extra week for those with 25 years of experience was terminated by the then-President of our company not long after my return] and I should be able to get some comp time for late hours when I’ve been at system tests for 3 weeks at a time. Next week, during one of those two-week periods, we’re going to Paris; September we’re going to Oktoberfest and the Black Forest, requiring Betty Lou's rescheduling of a couple of classes; October maybe we’ll go to Portugal [this one didn't work out]. A German guy I worked with has a place on a Greek island that we’d like to rent for a couple of weeks next spring [which did happen; see Skopelos], and who knows what else.

© Copyright 2000 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved

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