Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lufthansa, here I come

I'm headed out tomorrow at a ridiculous hour of the morning. This may be my last post until the new year; I'm not sure what kind of internet access I'll have over the holidays.

My plans for the first few days back in the old stomping grounds:
-Eat some Mexican food. Possibly the kind with fake cheese.
-See ten movies. Walk the Line, Match Point, Brokeback Mountain are at the top of my list.
-Shop at Nordstrom, where the salespeople are soothing and helpful.
-Spend an hour or two at a bookstore, with the knowledge that I can read ANYTHING in there if I so desire. I reached the peak of my frustration one day in a four-story German bookstore when I realized I couldn't read any of the surrounding books.
-Relax and listen to people talk.
-Enjoy spending time with friends and family who know me well.

Thanks for reading. I'll keep writing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Icing on the Cookie


I baked cookies today. Thick sugar cookies with real butter and sugary icing. I cut them star-shaped and frosted them after they cooled.

My mom never enjoyed baking. She likes to cook, and cleaning makes her so happy that she practically belts out show tunes as she defrosts the refrigerator and scrubs those little cruddy places between the baseboards and the floors. But baking was never her cup of sugar. I have a couple of aunts and a cousin, however, who love to bake. They won 4-H rosettes and two of them actually MAJORED in Home Economics in college. I usually spent a week or so of my childhood summers with each of their families, and bathed myself in Betty Crocker cookbooks and toffee bar recipes and flour measuring techniques (sift? dip/level/pour?). They taught me that all I must do to create something lovely and tasty was follow directions. And I've always been a champion at that. Mom, incidentally, was always supportive of my creative endeavors and cheerfully ate even the most dubious concoctions (a green-and-brown birthday cake?).

When my friends came to my house on the weekends, baking cookies was the fallback entertainment, when we were tired of Strawberry Shortcake or (later) Friday Night Videos. In high school, my friend and I tried decorating cakes and opened a (mostly theoretical) birthday cake delivery business. When I moved into my first apartment in college, I immediately baked my boyfriend a scratch-recipe, 6-layer birthday cake.

When we moved into our new place last month, I heaved a great sigh of relief when I saw that the oven worked fine. I set about finding celsius-to-fahrenheit temperature conversion charts and locating a cookie sheet that fit inside the smaller-than-American baking space, and purchasing a hand mixer (Kitchen Aid, how I long for thee, stay true to me in the storage unit until I return). I hunted down vanilla flavoring and stocked up on powdered sugar. Then I dug out my cookie cutters, shipped thousands of miles on a truck and a boat and a train, and went to work.

I've christened my kitchen now. It's starting to fee a little like home.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

It's the holiday season

There's nothing like kids sitting on Santa's lap and screaming to get you in the mood for some eggnog. Check out the Scared of Santa Gallery. Heh.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Sequel

Yesterday, I learned about the Konjunktiv II tense in my German class. I don’t remember much of what was introduced, because learning a language is all about repetition. And since yesterday was my last day in the class, I guess I’ll have to live without knowing about it. For a while longer, at least.

Five days per week, four hours per day, is a half-time job. Fortunately, the only job I ever had where I had to sit in one room for four hours at a time lasted for just one summer, and the best part about it was that it was at a suction cup factory, because now I can tell people that my summer job in college was at a suction cup factory. The worst part about it was that my boss, the owner’s wife, went around diagnosing people with various disorders whenever she got bored. But that’s a story for another blog.

I attended my German class for nine weeks. That’s over 150 hours of instruction, if you take out the coffee breaks and the couple of days I skipped school for good reasons like moving into our apartment and visiting the Alps. I can now understand about one-fifth of what goes on around me, versus 1/25th when I got here. I still can’t decode the newspaper, but I am able to decipher posters and understand the gyst of the announcements that come over the loudspeakers in the train station.

My teacher was a calm sea of patience, she smiled and laughed at me even yesterday when I displayed my perpetual inability to correctly use an umlaut. (I blame this on Motley Crue’s early influence.) My classmates included a young woman from Colombia, who is living away from home for the first time and who helped improve my Spanish; an 18-year-old Palestinian from Israel who asked me if I could find him a wife and who shared his cough drops with me, and a crazy Scot who had just moved to Germany from Spain, and who taught the class a whole different English vocabulary than they’d learned from me. I made a good friend who makes Turkey an even more interesting vacation destination for me than it was before. And I learned some adjectives and articles and verb conjugations as well.

When I return to Germany in January, I hope to sign up for a less-intensive set of language lessons. Maybe I’ll eventually learn about Konjunktiv II. (but apparently Konjunktiv I is not as useful; a little like those Transporter films that I never noticed until the sequel appeared in theatres?)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Winter



Christmastime in Nurnberg = the famous Weinachtsmarkt. We stopped there the weekend it opened, and were greeted with warm Gluhwein (hot wine with spices and something else, all served in a little green Santa boot) and waffles hot out of the iron. We are officially In The Spirit now.

For a reminder of what winter is REALLY like, read this article about the blizzard that hit my hometown last weekend. (Apologies if you're reading this after they took the story down, they don't keep a news archive out thar in the sticks.) Note that the superintendent of schools' name is Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

You should read this and listen to that.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
but first read Howards End by EM Forster
On Writing by Stephen King
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Charming Billy by Alice McDermott
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
And in case that's not enough for you, here's a very nice list from a little website called the New York Times, maybe you've heard of it? And you don't even need to sign in to read it.

Hung Up by Madonna
La Tortura by Shakira
Nature Boy by Harry Connick Jr
Gold Digger by Kanye West

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Paris when it sizzles



Did I mention that I spent a week in Paris?

I don't think I mentioned it. I think I'll mention it again.

I spent a week in Paris. It was lovely, chilly, and I got an infusion of all kinds of yummy things while I was there. Family (my cosmopolitan sister-in-law Kendra lives there), friend (my jet-setting buddy Anna hopped down from Holland following a business trip), new faces (Kendra's helpful and handsome boyfriend Florent, who I had never before met though he has been around for 2 years), nuns and stained glass windows (see photos), hot chocolate (mmm....), fondue (cheese must be the perfect food), and English language books (I am going to stalk George Whitman until he allows me to open a Shakespeare & Co outpost in Nurnberg).

And the flight was just over an hour. How about that?

Monday, December 05, 2005

DSL Flashback

I can't tell you how much I've missed having my own little peephole into the internet.

Our DSL was hooked up on Friday, and two things happened in our household. First, I thanked the computer guy in every language that I could muster (German, English, Spanish, French, if only I knew how to say Thank You in Esperanto, should've looked it up before he got here). Second, I glued my wrists to the keyboard and have removed them only to allow Jeff some time at the wheel. We have stopped speaking to one another, except to say, "You done yet?" and "Your sister is IMing us."

Our satellite TV will be connected on Wednesday. If I don't ever post again, it's because I am mesmerized, running back and forth between computer and television, able only to emit partial words like ChaKa in Land of the Lost.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Will the turkey be unbroken

In case you missed it, that's a Johnny Cash reference (didn't they sing 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken?'). I am dying to see that movie, please see it in the theatre twelve times so that it won't be gone by the time I get back to the USA.

As you might have gathered, I have been without regular internet access. The situation will continue for the next couple of weeks, but never fear, I will try to post now and then, and certainly will do so more often when the DSL is finally hooked up. Until then, happy Thanksgiving! It snowed today, it was lovely, it made the part about missing our families on that big American holiday a little less depressing.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Latest





-We’ve found an apartment. The contract is signed, we have the keys, and our furniture is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Victory is ours! I’ve posted a few photos here. Our apartment hunt was way too long and I’m not sure that, by the end, any place would have seemed worth the drama. But we are glad to have found a bright, clean apartment that is near(ish) to Jeff’s office and also has easy access to public transportation and the city of Nurnberg.

-Jeff’s job is fine. He’s going through the usual ups and downs of feeling overwhelmed one day and exhilarated the next. His colleagues are friendly and helpful. And there's a football pitch next to his building so he can't complain.

-We have had a few “holy cow, what did we do?” moments, but they have been balanced by the fun and excitement of a new challenge. We’ve already taken advantage of our location near the Alps (see Austria photos below) and now that our weekends aren’t occupied with marathon apartment-hunting marches, we are looking forward to exploring even more of the cool stuff (Prague, here we come) that’s nearby.

-I’m not bored yet, though I’ll admit it bugs me to list “Hausfrau” as my occupation when I fill in all the forms the Germans like to throw at me. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t really had a Haus to Frau yet.

-I’m still writing my thesis. Progress is slow but steady. I don’t like to talk about it. Jeff thinks that’s weird but he humors me.

-We will be in Portland for 2 weeks at the end of December, and I will go to Montana for a week in January.

-I promise to start posting more specifics about where we live, what we do all day, etc. Now that we actually have a place to hang our hats, it will finally feel like we live here.

-Thanks for your friendly emails and good thoughts. Your messages and phone calls keep us going, and brighten those days when we're feeling lonely and homesick.

-Please keep commenting (see button below). I am never sure exactly who (if anyone?) is out there, so clock in every now and then. I eat that stuff up.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Doesn't Jeff look like Wayne Gretzky?



I think so. You be the judge. And I look kind of like his wife, that gymnast/model from "American Anthem," right?

NC-17

I've been asked what different or "strange" things I've found in Germany. The Germans I've encountered would probably tell you that I, myself, am one of the strangest things about Germany. I walk around the grocery store staring at food I don't recognize (hazelnut butter? canned kiwi? 79 varieties of sausage?) and after 30 minutes I finally wander to the check-out counter with my bottled water. I spend my time in line fervently hoping that the cashier will not speak to me, and when she does I just smile and nod. Today, I think she might have asked me if it was OK to keep part of my change, but it was worth the price just to escape without being shouted at. Last time, I slunk out of line after being sent back to find someone to weigh my grapes. I've since given up eating fresh fruit and vegetables altogether.

I lied when I wrote that I can understand only two TV channels in our hotel. In addition, we get pay-per-view "previews," which means, as I flip through the channels, that I can view 10 seconds or so of whatever happens to be playing on PPV at that moment. This usually constitutes an anatomy lesson for me, one that I can understand just fine. I've stopped flipping channels while I'm eating, though.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

When the saints go marching in



November 1 is a holiday here, not to alleviate the post-Halloween chocolate hangover, but because it is All Saints' Day. We celebrated by getting as close to the saints as possible; we went to the Alps.

Innsbruck, Austria, hosted the winter Olympics twice (1964 and 1978). It is easy to imagine sweater-clad winter tourists clambering around the picturesque old city in their apres-ski knitwear. This town is wedged firmly between towering peaks that are RIGHT THERE whenever you look up. We were fortunate to enjoy crisp blue skies, a comfy hotel with complimentary sauna and steam room (aaaahhh), Cafe Sacher with its namesake hotel's famous torte down the street, and a heavenly absence of Stau on the autobahn. Stau (traffic jam) is one of the first words we learned during our summertime visit to Deutschland, and they are everywhere, so it was miraculous (thanks to the saints?) that we encountered none on this holiday weekend.

We also visited Swarovski's Crystal World. In case you haven't stopped by the Swarovski (tm) store in your local mall to pick up a $65 crystal iguana lately, you might not know that Swarovski crystals are cut in a town right outside Innsbruck. They have constructed a crystal museum there that has less to do with "here are the busy workers cutting the crystals" and more to do with dark rooms, healing powers, and New Age music by Bryan Eno. A giant head with a waterfall flowing out its mouth is the entrance (see above). Those of you who stop at branding iron museums and vortexes (vortices?) should put this place on your must-see list.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

24 hours of news

As I mentioned earlier, CNN is the only English-language TV channel in our hotel. We are so addicted to that little black glass-and-plastic box that we watch even when we are seeing EXACTLY the same news story that we saw 15 minutes ago, which was itself the tenth viewing of said story. Apparently I am doomed to a brain of mush.

You are also likely aware of our current housing "crisis." Jeff and I are so picky and so unlucky that we have seen roughly six hundred twenty-three apartments, we've tried to rent two of them, both rentals have fallen through, and we are now sitting in our hotel, midway through week seven. During more than one conversation I have referred to myself as "homeless." As in, "I am tired of being homeless because I do not have 24 hour internet access and a refrigerator stocked with Coca-Cola and several varieties of gourmet cheese within spitting distance of my queen-sized bed."

This sentiment regularly occurs to me even as I watch nonstop coverage of earthquake-displaced Pakistanis, bombs exploding in Baghdad, and human beings scrrying slipping sliding to shelter during the largest recorded Atlantic hurricane.

Yes, I'm a spoiled freak. So I declared today (to paraphrase Sporty Spice) The First Day of No Whining. So far, it has been much more pleasant than the past 44 days of perpetual complaint. Let's see how long I can keep it up.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

And the sun drips down

I am not a musician nor even someone who knows all about cool new bands and who went to see Death Cab before they were on the OC or who has the indie club phone numbers memorized or who downloads The Donnas or who calls The Dandy Warhols just "the Dandies," though I do admire those people, who are far cooler than I am. I do pay good money to see bands for whom I am nostalgic. The list of concerts I've seen includes Barry Manilow (he really does write the songs), Gordon Lightfoot (with my dad), Neil Diamond (with my mom), Journey (without Steve Perry), and Chicago/Hall & Oates at the State Fair. You probably assume I haven't seen a concert in twenty years but I've attended these events in the past decade. So I'm a little late to the party. I blame it on growing up in a place where the only concert venue was two hours away and Alabama played twice a year but Motley Crue was forced to cancel due to misuse of umlauts (or maybe it was their devil-worshipping reputation, we'll never know). I also maintain that this behavior follows my reputation as risk-averse; ie I only want to see a band who I know I like, not one that I've just heard is groovy. And, apparently, they have to be healthy eaters because by the time I get around to seeing them they must live to be over 60 years old.

I don't think Simon LeBon is sixty yet but thanks to one of my five fabulous sisters-in-law, I saw Duran Duran in concert a few months ago. I noticed that they were on tour but I never got around to buying a ticket. However, on the fateful day of their show, my sister-in-law Kerri (the one who owns a Simon LeBon poster with lip prints on it, one of the two famous Kerris-who-are-my-sisters-in-law) called and offered me a ticket. It was a weeknight and I was a little worn out but I thought, what the heck, I used to be part of the Cult of DD back in the day. Though not to the extent of some others who will go unnamed (but who previously stalked John Taylor into his hotel after a concert until he shouted at her to F*** off; this must have been when she switched her allegiance to Simon). It took me about ten seconds to begin my worship of eighties eyeliner all over again. Before the band played a note, the five of them (the originals back onstage together again, no more Warren Cucurrullo, thank you very much) simply stood at the front of the stage and absorbed the screaming energy of thousands of 35-year-old women. I sang so loud I lost my voice, which didn't even happen when I saw Prince (also awesome in his purple strangeness). John was just as sexy as he's ever been in his black leather pants, Nick was weird but cheerful, Roger was handsome and stoic, Andy was sucking on a cigarette and looking cranky, and Simon was as arrogant yet mesmerizing as I remembered. And I can't confirm or deny the rumor that I was spotted outside the band's hotel, shouting at Nick for his autograph. I will point out that, from what I've heard, the majority of autograph seekers standing outside hotels seem to be creepy hairy men who play Magic:The Gathering. The new DD fan base? Or maybe they're just supporting their gaming habits by selling signatures on EBay? It's no wonder famous people flee from them.

So Kerri, thank YOU for the memory. And you don't have to return my copy of Decade (can you believe they left "The Chauffeur off of it?); I had two of them in my collection just in case of a "Notorious" kind of emergency like this one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I've Done Everything for You

Dr. Noah Drake is back.
THE heartthrob of my youth, (coming out ahead in a close race with Shaun Cassidy) Rick Springfield, is returning to General Hospital. I imagine he'll have better luck his second time around on the soap than he did at his continuous yet faltering album releases through the years. We know he can act - you saw Hard to Hold, didn't you?

It's too bad my stuff is still in boxes, or I might try to unearth the rainbow stripe polo shirt (my best friends had matching ones) that I wore to his concert in 1984.

Lately something's changed, it ain't hard to define...

Monday, October 17, 2005

Update

Our search for an apartment is a soap opera. According to our relocation agent, we have the worst luck in Germany. We will remain hotel dwellers for the foreseeable future.

The weather here is lovely - sunny and bright but getting colder. It feels like fall and I am ready to get my cozy sweaters out of storage.

More evidence that I have moved to the right place: fried cheese is served as an entree here.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Viva la VIVA

I believe I've mentioned that there are just two television stations in our hotel that I am able to understand. CNN International is one. It is definitely the lowly ancestor of Ted Turner's blockbuster news conglomerate in Atlanta. The newscasters are fine, but they just keep showing the same stories over and over and over and over and over again. I just watched a feature on Marrakesh that I saw for the first time at least two weeks ago. The way my luck is going this week, however, I should probably count my blessings that there's somewhere for me to turn 24 hours a day in case something major happens in the world. Though they didn't report on Katie Holmes's pregnancy, and I'd say that's major news. What is up with those two? The whole thing is making me regret all the hours I spent belting out "Danger Zone" as I drove my Pinto down Main Street, fantasizing about Maverick as my prom date (though I secretly had the hots for Iceman). It also makes me even more curious about Nicole Kidman. What was she dealing with for all those years?

Here ends the digression.

This post is actually about VIVA, the second TV station that I watch each and every day. VIVA is Germany's version of VH-1, which seems to be sponsored and/or owned by those evil cell phone ringtone peddlers who brought you Crazy Frog, since the only commercials it airs are those exhorting me to download the latest Sugababes ringtone. Between the ads, I've rediscovered my love of music videos. Where are they in the USA? MTV sure doesn't play them anymore (or at least it didn't a month ago when I could watch it). I've also found some music I enjoy. Here's a rundown of my latest downloads:

-It took me a couple of listens to warm up to You're Beautiful by James Blunt. I thought his voice was a little squeaky at first, but I've become a convert. I'm sure he'll show up on the US charts one of these days; he will suck in all the David Grey/Howie Day/Gavin DeGraw/Damien Rice fans (like me).

-Who knew I was a hip-hop follower? I wouldn't have labeled Emanuela by Fettes Brot (yes, that translates as "Fat Bread," see those German classes are paying dividends)a hip-hop song, but according to iTunes that's what it is. To fully appreciate the song you really must watch the video, it features baton-twirling. And who doesn't like baton twirling?

-When I saw the video for Lass Mich, I thought, "Who is that sleek looking singer in this cool video?" And I then learned that it was Nena. Yes, THAT Nena, 99 Luftballoons Nena. Further proof that all of us look better now than we did in the 80's. Except Billy Idol. By the way, don't tell anyone, but my best friend's older brother told us that 99 Luftballoons has dirty German words in it and that's why they had to release the censored English version in America. I'll let you know what the dirty words are when I learn them in my German class.

-I practically had a party in the lobby of the hotel (that's where the wireless access is) when I downloaded Fiona Apple's new album. I've been waiting 8 years for this. Can't wait to see her first video when it hits VIVA.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Go Bearcats

Was an article about the Willamette University football coach on the front of all versions of the USA Today yesterday? Imagine my surprise when I picked it up from my hotel lobby and there was my alma mater. It was like a little piece of home right here in Bavaria. I can't seem to find a link to the article anywhere?

Speaking of homes, our apartment fell through yesterday. I don't even want to talk about it. So we're on the hunt again, and I'm thinking positive thoughts. Maybe we'll just live in the hotel forever?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The REAL reason we moved to Germany



On Saturday, we spent the afternoon high in the rafters of a stadium, watching FC Nurnberg beat FC Koln, 2-1. That smile you see on Jeff's face is no accident; he is a devout soccer fan. He does look a little chilly in this photo, due to the rain and wind. As any real football supporter knows, however, bad weather is just a filter that strains out the fair-weather fans. Be sure to take a close look at the other photo as well. Keep in mind that FC Nurnberg is one of the lowest-ranked teams in the Bundesliga, and yet their stadium looks like this on a rainy Saturday in October. Jeff has found his happy place.

Speaking of finding a happy place, we are thrilled to have found a place to live. I am countng down the days to when we can pick up the keys (next week) and to when our furniture is supposed to arrive (later next week) so that we can blow this pop stand and set up something like a home. We'll live in Nurnberg, which means a 20-minute commute for Jeff. It also means access to the historic alstadt and castle, famous Christmas markets, public transportation for me (hooray!) and of course proximity to FC Nurnberg, their stadium, and eventually the World Cup matches scheduled there. All roads lead to football, don't they?

In other news, I started an intensive German course yesterday and I've been reassured that I know even less than I thought I did. I'm ten years older than all the other students in my course and I imagine they all think of me as that clueless American lady. They are from Israel, Turkey, China...I'm hoping we'll have some kind of pot luck at the end of the course. Isn't meeting new people really just a means to get them to cook interesting food for me? Future acquaintances, be forewarned.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Take Me Home

I think those John Denver songs whipped up some good apartment-hunting karma, because we've found a place to live! We think. We're ironing out the details and will post photos etc later on. I'm especially looking forward to signing the contracts, which are all in German and I won't understand. Ignorance is bliss!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Rocky Mountain High





Yesterday we drove to Munich and spent several hours at Oktoberfest, Germany’s version of the state fair only with gallons of beer instead of boring needlework exhibits. I feel a little bit bad that the first photos I’ve posted depict some of the most stereotype-enhancing images in the country, but I was living the stereotype too as a tourist wandering the food booths and pointing at pretzels and litres of beer. I did surmise a couple of things:
-"Take Me Home, Country Roads" is Germany's informal national anthem. The hordes in the beer halls leapt to their feet whenever the bands began to play this song. And they all sang along, word-perfect. I wonder if they know where West Virginia is? Let's face it, many US citizens barely know where West Virginia is. I remember that my fellow exchange students from Latin America really loved that other John Denver song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Maybe he was the David Hasselhof of the seventies – international superstar?
-People here really do wear lederhosen. I estimate that roughly one-tenth of the revelers at the 'fest were wearing traditional garb. I loved this, since I'm all about costumes. It made me want to rush out and buy a cute dirndl to wear next year. I'm not sure I have the (ahem) assets to pull off the d├ęcolletage part, but I like the slimming nature of the full skirt and apron. I'm serious about loving it - I can respect a culture where traditional garb is still a tradition. Like cowboy boots in Montana, maybe?
Now that I’ve seen the Disneyland of German beer fests, I’m looking forward to the smaller, more regional versions that will take place next summer in the villages throughout our region. By then, maybe I’ll find an appropriate outfit?

Thanks to those of you who are keeping your fingers crossed for us as we hunt for an apartment. We’re still working on it, but I remain optimistic. I used to spend a lot of time in hotels for my job and I did enjoy it, but I’ve realized that the enjoyment lasted because I knew I had a real home to return to at the end of each trip. Right now, we’re still searching for a place that feels like home.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Spoiler Alert

I've just returned from a triumphal visit to the English-language movie theatre in Nuernberg. Triumphal because I drove there myself and got lost only once, which resulted in a scenic detour toward Wurzburg. Triumphal also because I found the theatre on the first try and the car wasn't towed while I watched the movie. And triumphal especially because I saw "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which I wasn't sure I would get to view on the big screen since I hadn't managed to see it before we left the States. Jeff refused to see it with me because he says Oompa Loompas give him nightmares. I will watch anything starring Johnny Depp since I think he is dreamy. Though Willy Wonka is a decidedly asexual role, but he was still fetching and entertaining and interesting. Perhaps I'll start stalking him now that I live nearer his home in France.

Because I am self-centered (only child trait rears its ugly head), I related to almost every character in the film, including the bratty kids (ahem, only child again) and even Willy Wonka. At one point he pulls a grey hair from his head (don't worry, this won't ruin the movie for you, and besides you already know the story, don't you?), realizes that he is mortal, and that he'd better start thinking about the future. I think it's no coincidence that just as a preponderance of grey hairs began springing forth from my scalp this year, an opportunity for a life change appeared. This move to Germany is my very own Chocolate Factory (yes, I've twisted the metaphor). Living outside my home country was something I'd always wanted to do, but it took a few grey hairs and the realization that I'm not getting any younger to make me pursue it. That and an adventuresome spouse whose job generously worked out the finances for us. A good reason to be thankful for the next grey hair I pull out of my head.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Learning

The week we left home (our old home, that is) our nephew Jack began his first week of pre-school. Jack is a friendly, outgoing kid who likes to talk and play with trains and chase his cousins around. He is lucky that he's spent most of the hours of his life when he happens to be away from his parents with his grandparents or the myriad (almost twenty!) aunts and uncles that surround him. So heading off to pre-school was a big deal and very different than his everyday experiences. On Thursday night, the night before we departed, Jeff's family got together for a late-summer barbecue. Of course, there was plenty of discussion about our departure the following day, and promises to visit us, and plans for our first visit home. We also heard about Jack's first week of school - his backpack and his cubby, the teddy bear song, and learning how to criss-cross-applesauce. Much of this narrative was prompted by his parents - "Jack, did you take your backpack to school? Where did you put it when you got there? Did you learn a new song?" At one point during the evening, he piped up to his grandpa, "Today at school, I cried." Like dutiful aunties and uncles, we immediately began to tell him it's OK, and he shouldn't be scared, and think of all the new friends and snacks. "But sometimes when you try new things, you cry," he replied to us. And then he resumed gleefully screaming and chasing his cousin around the yard.

I've thought about Jack's piece of wisdom (and I suspect that I should attribute it equally to his wise mother) during the past few days. Change is hard. Spending time in a place where you don't know the rules or even how to ask what the rules are is difficult. Last night we walked down the street to eat at what we thought was a typical biergarten. We were expecting sausages and potatoes. Instead, after missing the main entrance and being scolded for entering the restaurant through the kitchen, we found a menu that included buckwheat crepes, spare ribs, and Mexican food. We haven't slept well in four or five days, so we decided to eat the crepes (they were fine - inevitably better than the Mexican food, we hear) and get out of there and go to bed. We were exhausted but after going to bed, we both spent most of the night tossing and turning and trying to be quiet in case the person across the bed had somehow managed the miracle of sleep. At about 2:40 am - the third German 2:40 am I have experienced in my four nights in this country - I wanted to cry. But I was too tired. So instead I thought about Jack and realized that today, Tuesday, he will go back to pre-school even though he cried last time, and he will learn some new songs and probably make a new friend. So today I hope to learn some new things (where to find a decent bratwurst, for example; hey, I'm aiming low) and if I'm lucky maybe I'll dream my way through 2:40 am and get up in the morning and make a new friend.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

We're he-ere.

We made it. We're in Deutschland. We've had our breakfast of hard rolls and ham and cheese, and we've already tired of CNN International. What the H-E-double-toothpicks are we doing here?? We're paying for internet access by the minute (wi-fi, yes; free, no) so I'll write more offline and post it later.

Friday, September 02, 2005

My Bookies

Just to prove to you that our room at the Residence Inn is not a complete intellectual wasteland, I'm going to shoot out a couple of book reports at ya:

I just finished The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, one of those books that tells a story that feels nice and cozy and small but when you talk about it sounds big and epic and meaningful. Like Middlesex (which you really must read even if you've heard it's about transsexuals and that seems a little 'edgy' for you), it taught me something about cultures within cultures and integrating without really integrating. Yes, I'm making notes to self for future reference. And it had good food descriptions which always moves any book up a few notches on my personal rating scale.

The Sparrow and Children of God are two of those books that few of my book-y (vs. bookie) friends seemed to know about but which are devoured by everyone who picks them up - people who like to read, people who only read USA Today, people who hate science fiction, people who refuse to read about religion, etc etc. I don't think I'm about to become a sci fi junkie but if I start receiving invitations to Trekkie conventions, we'll know why. And just shut up about that link to Wil Wheaton's blog and the X-Files and Buffy addictions. That's different.

I'm feeling melancholy book-wise, probably because Monday was my last appearance at my book group. There are those who label book groups as an excuse to seem intellectual while actually just drinking too much wine on a weeknight and gossiping about "The O.C." (which has been known to happen) but along with the gossiping we've squeezed in some great conversations about spirituality, culture, sex (no, not specific instances of sex, so all you significant others out there can just calm the heck down), education, and art. Plus I've made some groovy friends who sometimes think I'm neat. Movie Stars, I'll miss you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Getting a fix

I've been without consistent technology for the past week or so, and I survived. Since we last met, I spent a few days in Montana where they do have the internet (Craigs List just launched there!) but no one has notified my dad. The movers arrived yesterday and carted away our belongings, so we spent 24 hours without internet service or even a television. We sat warming our hands around a bare light bulb in the living room for entertainment.

We have lived without cable television for the past eight months, which I thought was good preparation for technology deprivation. When we checked into our hotel yesterday, I realized that we'd only created a couple of TV-starved monsters, similar to those children I knew growing up who weren't allowed to watch television at home, so when they visited my house we couldn't rip them away from reruns of "Green Acres" long enough to eat dinner. We are now GLUED to old episodes of Law & Order, reality MTV, doubles tennis on ESPN, whatever we can get our hands on. I watched Boo-Bah for 15 minutes this morning. I also spent almost an hour(!) on the "Lost" website, clicking around for previews of the seasion premiere that I'll never see. So, for the next week, We will devour all the cable television and high speed internet that we can suck down before we fly off to the land where we don't understand how to change the TV channels, never mind understand what the newscasters are talking about. Fortunately our temporary German digs does offer wi-fi, so I'll having nothing but time to blog blog blog away. I must say I'm thankful to have access to US CNN this week; the footage coming from the gulf coast is horrific but I appreciate being informed. Many thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Southeast.

By the way, thanks to those of you who showed up at the rummage sale, we got rid of lots of good stuff (there was practically a bidding war over the Berry Bake Shoppe) but somehow we still filled up a big truck yesterday with all of our treasures. I hope we still want all of that stuff when it arrives at our next destination.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Won't you be my neighbor?

I've been imagining this day for weeks - my house would feel airy, my closets purged, no more small plastic quacking duck toys or blue spatulas with price tags on them floating around my life.

It's true, the price tags are mainly gone (except the one I found stuck to the bottom of my shoe this morning)but somehow the only difference in my house is that our living room is pitch black as soon as the sun goes down because we sold all the floor lamps. I can't even quite remember what else I've sold, besides the microwave, which was missing when I attempted to make popcorn this afternoon.

On the positive side, we met some of our neighbors during the sale. Many friendly folks with adorable dogs and children who have now adopted our toaster, coffee table, leather jacket, and weed eater (I guess I do remember what we sold). Unfortunately we weren't especially neighborly neighbors during the past five years or we might have met them before we sold our house.

Perhaps this will inspire us to meet and greet the neighbors in our new neighborhood, though it may take me five years to learn "Hello, my name is Blythe, please be my friend" in German.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Everything must go

I've been perusing the ads on craigslist and attempting to make mine honest yet enticing. It's tempting to tell an entire story (we're moving to Germany and wish we could take along the berry bake shoppe but unfortunately we do not have children and don't know any Germans who are into Strawberry Shortcake) but I imagine serious garage salers scoffing at my lame sales pitch. So I posted something short and sweet. Let's hope our driveway is empty by 3pm on Saturday.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sparkling water with lime, please

I imagine you're wondering what I could possibly be doing with all my free time. This morning, I've surfed my new favorite website, airlinemeals.net, which features photos of food from airlines all over the world. We're not talking publicity shots; these are pictures of actual airline meals from every airline you can imagine, along with comments and ratings (and sometimes views of their knees beneath the tray table) from the people who sent the photos. I'd always heard that the food on Virgin Atlantic was tasty, and now I've seen photos; in fact, one friendly passenger submitted pictures of himself eating the food as well as the flight attendant who served him. Contrast this with neighboring British low-cost airline Ryan Air, whose listing includes images of a blank tray table and says, "If you want free food, don't buy a cheap ticket."

Monday, August 15, 2005

Sibling rivalry

I am an only child. I love being an only child, I have no regrets about it, and I have always been content not to have to share things like the back seat of the car, my toys, my red Mercury Bobcat, my Christmas gifts, or anything else with anyone else. People tell me I don't 'seem' like an only child and I respond by sharing baby photos of myself and telling them all about how well-adjusted I am and I imagine they walk away realizing they spoke too soon.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with most of my husband's family. He comes from one of those amazing families with an equal number of girls and boys who also have their own spouses and babies and pets. They get together and visit and splash around in the kiddie pool and and argue about whether or not to put onions in the fajitas and who was actually in the kitchen that time in the 1970s when there was a grease fire. I am always astounded by how different each of them is from all the others but how their senses of humor tend toward the same ridiculous puns. No matter what their image is at their jobs or with their buddies from college or the gym, and no matter how cool and together they are, there are at least five other people in the world who have seen them (ahem, him, because some of these people were boys) getting a permanent wave in the kitchen during the 80s, or know how one of them was thrown out of a swanky hotel because she followed Duran Duran a little too far down the hallway after the concert. Sometimes I imagine their parents look around and realize that they've created their own little colony of mini-mes and want to get on a cruise ship and sail far away from the madding crowd, but in general they seem quite proud.

Once we've moved away (25 days and counting down) I know I will miss the little voices (one of our nephews called me Uncle Blythe yesterday) and impromptu Sunday dinners where we're trying to corral enough chairs so that most everyone has a place to sit. A good reason to encourage family vacation 2006 in Germany, right?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

All together now

They've just reported on the news that the extended forecast calls for RAIN next weekend. That would be the Very Important Garage Sale weekend. I'm asking for your help and support, my friends.

Please take this opportunity to say a little prayer, thought, mantra, to whatever the deity, life force, or goddess that works best for you, and request some sun for your good friend Blythe on Friday and Saturday, August 19 and 20. I will not have a soggy garage sale. And, yes, it's actually a carport sale, which makes the sunshine that much more imperative. It's August, for goodness' sake.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

That's not a name, that's a major appliance

I will try to refrain from excessive posting about 1980's pop culture. Considering the number of Adam Ant song lyrics, MTV veejay trivia facts and Flowers in the Attic plot points that I have to draw from in the archive inside my head, you're just going to have to live with a post or two on this topic.

The other day when I was stuck in traffic listening to NPR, the editor of Premier magazine was listing the "best" teen movies. A couple of people called in and quoted John Hughes (thank goodness or I might have had to dial in myself, placing my fellow highway travelers and myself in grave danger as we inched across the 100-degree blacktop), and of course Rebel without a Cause was mentioned, and the Premier guy said his favorite was The Blob. I've never seen The Blob but I'm willing to take his word for it that it's better than I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Anyone brave enough to share their favorite teen movie in the comments section? C'mon, folks, this is an easy one. Don't be afraid of The Internet.

Oh, my favorite is Pretty in Pink. But I don't actually own my own copy, in case you're looking for something to buy me for a going-away gift. I also really dug that movie Fire with Fire, I think it starred Virginia Madsen who recently showed up in Sideways (not a teen movie) and it had a killer theme song. And I also loved Flirting, with a young Nicole Kidman and Thandie Newton and a leading man who was meant to be geeky. I love me some geeks (Duckie Dale etc).

Monday, August 08, 2005

Float like a butterfly

I am a boxer. I am surrounded by boxes, baskets, crates, bins, and tubs. My boxes are in boxes. I am being forced to make decisions on a moment-by-moment basis, surrounded by a disorganized mess. This is one of the layers of my personal hell, though it is an upper layer because so far I've noticed that indoor plumbing remains nearby and Rob Schneider is not on television. (Incidentally, I watched "50 First Dates" over the weekend, and I am insulted on behalf of the entire state of Hawaii, since I've been there once, in the same way that Ricky Martin is speaking on behalf of Arab teenagers.)

As Jeff keeps reminding me, moving allows us the opportunity to purge our belongings of those items that we haven't looked at in years, and which are so dusty they make us sneeze just to think about them. However, I refuse to give up my personal history. There is a scientific system (the "yes" and "no" buttons that exist only in my brain) by which I've sorted everything (yes, EVERYTHING) in our house.

Some items I plan to keep:
-My fifth grade class photo
-All of my Fisher-Price dolls (My Friend(s) Mandy, Jenny, Becky, etc all the way down to Mikey)
-T-shirt from summer camp
-T-shirt from freshman year sorority function (yes, I was in a sorority; no, I won't tell you the secret password)
-My first business card
-My husband's graduate school hood
-Multiple copies of blank RSVP cards from our wedding

Some items that went straight into the green Hefty bag:
-A photo of my best friend and myself in our bathing suits in 9th grade, posing in her grandmother's living room (no, they weren't bikinis)
-The completed RSVP cards from our wedding
-T-shirt from junior year sorority function (not as much fun as freshman year)
-Large box of paints and brushes from that art class I took that improved my sense of design so dramatically

Some items that we will attempt to sell at our garage sale (don't miss it - August 19th & 20th - everything must go):
-Strawberry Shortcake berry bake shoppe
-Picture frame that formerly housed 9th grade swimsuit photo
-Several never-used wedding gifts (no, I'm not going to tell you which ones and who they were from)
-A juicer that Jeff swore he would use weekly. He still loves the Juiceman commercials.
-T-shirt from sophomore year sorority function (more fun than junior year but less than freshman year)

My priorities have really snapped into focus during this project, obviously.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Maybe this was what Steve Winwood was talking about

I had planned to post today on all the wonderful things about being a lady(?) of leisure. At the top of my list was to be at least a paragraph on the joys of cruising around the city without having to fight weekend/rush hour traffic, since my errands can be completed in the middle of a Thursday afternoon, while you working stiffs are off the roads.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to post earlier because I spent half my day in the car on the freeway inching along at five miles per hour. Apparently some "debris" was blocking the lanes, though I never actually saw said debris; eventually the road just miraculously opened up before me. On the positive side, I'd loaded up the CD changer before I left home, so for two hours I sang along to the "Rent" soundtrack (did you know they're making it into a movie? Let's hope it is still in theatres when I come back for Christmas. I'm delighted that they're using most of the original cast.), and my fantastic mix CD that includes Britney Spears' "Toxic," Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal," and even some Bronski Beat.

Maybe this was the universe's way of telling me that I needed to catch up on my musical theatre?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Did you know

that "they" can run a scope with a camera attached down your sewer pipes to check for problems? Or, as my dad said, just like they do with your guts when you have an ulcer. I have the videotape (of my sewer, not my guts) to prove it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Jennifer Jennifer Jennifer

I haven't even read the Vanity Fair article yet, but thank you for the Billy Idol comment I read online this morning. I couldn't have said it better myself. And hang in there - remember, she may be a humanitarian, but she once wore someone's blood in a vial around her neck, I think those two traits cancel each other out.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

This is The End

Yesterday was my last day at my job. This may shock you, but it's hard (though, admittedly, getting easier) to do a job on one side of an ocean when you're living on the other side. I loved my job, but sometimes, you just have to say adios (or auf wiedersehen) to something comfortable and delightful in order to move along to something mysterious and interesting. One of my goals in life is to become more mysterious and interesting, so this must mean I'm on my way, right?

Things I Will Miss About Having a Normal Job
-Office supplies
(orange post-its, hi-liters, binder clips, tabbies, Pendaflex, pretty ink pens) I was one of those kids who begged my mother to take me to work with her back before there was a "take your (insert PC offspring here) to work day." And my mom was an office manager. Early signs of geekdom, clearly.
-Dressing up
I try to tell myself that I can still wear those cute black heels while I'm cleaning the sink, but that seems more like a Twisted Sister video (or something even more unmentionable) than reality.
-Business cards
This sort of falls under the office supplies topic, but business cards merit their own category. They are personalized and printed on linen cardstock in two-color ink. Just thinking about them gives my structure-loving, rule-following soul the shivers. Nevermind that more than once I gave one away only to later find it forlornly floating in a mud puddle.
-Hallway gossip
There is no one to gossip about, or with, in my hallway at home. I don't even have any pets.
-Feeling competent all day long
It was nice to see my phone ringing and know, when I answered it, I would most likely be able to respond intelligently to any question and add the important nuances to the conversation and make the caller hang up feeling helped and positive. Soon, I will be lucky to know how to pick up the phone, let alone speak to the person at the other end in a language he or she might understand.
-Independent intellectual power
Yeah, I know more about this certain thing, this thing that I do five days a week and sometimes even more often, than any of my family members and all of my friends outside my workplace. I'm the one to go to for answers about this thing. Hear me roar.
-Smart and funny colleagues
I worked with some really bright people who liked to laugh. And they weren't people I would probably have met otherwise, and there are a few of them I probably won't ever see again.

Stay tuned, next time I'll list everything I won't miss about work. But first, I think I'll go take a midafternoon nap on a weekday since I'm still in my pajamas anyway...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Jon Stewart is my TV boyfriend

I'm not much of a politico, not that I don't have opinions (freely expressed here and elsewhere), but I tend to shy away from getting too 'involved.' Yes, I know, our country is going to hell in a handbasket because of people like me. Just thank your lucky stars I'm moving away.

Well, we disconnected our cable television this year in favor of high-speed internet access, so I actually missed the historic Tucker Carlson "stop hurting America" speech, which I probably wouldn't have seen anyway since it is on Crossfire, one of those 'political shows,' but have of course watched multiple times online now that my internet connection is fast enough. Before I move to a place where Comedy Central does not exist, I would like to pause for a moment and say to the world (well, to the internet) that I was a Jon Stewart fan back when he was in "Playing by Heart" as Gillian Anderson's love interest. My husband will attest that I had a crush on him back then, and everyone else who just discovered him should just back off. Even though I'm not that political, and as you have probably noted from the sidebar my main news source is E! online, I heart JS. Because he's my TV boyfriend.

My friend Sandi introduced me to the phrase TV boyfriend. Most everyone has them. They don't require monogamy, thank goodness, because David Duchovny used to be my TV boyfriend too, back when he was on TV. Maybe Gillian Anderson is actually my alter ego.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Der Travelogue

I am now sufficiently recovered from jet lag to make a report on our "Look and see" (credit Ute, our relocation consultant) trip to Germany.

My little diary:
Day 1 - Holy crap. This is the worst decision we've ever made. I hate it here. I am tired and I want to go to sleep. The traffic from Frankfurt to Nurnberg is terrible. Everyone is mean. The TV channels are all in German. It is hot.
Day 2 - Awesome! I love the cobblestones and the historic buildings here. Everything is so old, and yet we could actually live in one of these buildings. People are so nice, and willing to indulge our pathetic attempts to speak German. Jeff is just going to love his new job. The apartments here are really cool. I can't wait to go test drive a BMW or a Volkswagen.
Day 3 (very very early in the morning) - Why can't I sleep? I am worried about everything. Will I get fat because of all the sausage? What will I do with myself? What if Jeff doesn't like his new job? What if I can never learn German and can't speak to anyone and don't make any friends and become one of those wives who screeches at her husband when he comes home because he is the first human being she has seen all day long?
Day 3 - I am so glad I took that nap from 8-11am while Jeff went into the office. I feel much better now. The food here is really good, I love eating ham and cream cheese on a fresh roll for breakfast. I can't wait to buy a bicycle and ride across the cobblestones with a canvas bag full of fresh vegetables in the basket.
Day 4 - I am so tired. I want to sleep all day and then I'm awake all night. Can't they do something about this? Why is everyone so cheerful? Why do we have to answer so many questions? Didn't someone tell us that "they all speak English over there anyway?" They lied.

So, it was a little bit of an emotional roller coaster. But it was good to see exactly what we're getting ourselves into, and especially helpful to see our housing options. We are both looking forward to a time when we understand the street signs and can read a menu without a phrasebook (order the klein beer, not the gross).

Friday, June 17, 2005

Blythe and Jeff are moving to Germany

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why on earth are you going to Germany?
Jeff works for a German company, and he has been offered a new job at their world HQ.

2. Is it a permanent job?
As permanent as any job ever is. It is not a temporary assignment, so we’ll be there as long as we want/as long as they’ll have Jeff.

3. Where in Germany is his job?
In the Nurnberg area, which is located in Bavaria.

4. Is that where you’re going to live? How will you find a place?
We will probably live in one of the nearby towns, depending on housing options. We spent a weekend scoping out the options there in July, and we’re getting some help with relocation logistics from Jeff's company.

5. Does that mean someone is going to move you over there? Are you going to take all of your stuff?
We (and by “we” I mean “the people who do this sort of thing professionally”) will ship some of our larger possessions in a freight container. We will also sell some of our stuff (watch this space for more information about a rummage sale) and store some of it.

6. Are you going to sell your house?
Most likely, yes. We thought about renting it out, but we figured it would be a big hassle. Let us know if you’d like to buy it, we hear the sellers are motivated.

7. What is Blythe going to do?
First, she plans to sleep off the nervous breakdown caused by dealing with the move. Then, she’ll work on her master’s thesis (see #8 below) and attempt to learn German. She would like to get a job eventually but we hear it’s difficult to obtain a work permit. For now, please do not send her e-mail exclaiming how great it will be for her to become a hausfrau.

8. What about Blythe’s graduate degree?
She plans to finish her MA coursework in nonfiction writing this summer before we leave, then write her thesis during the next year.

9. Wow, it would be a great time to have kids, since Blythe won’t be working.
Yeah, it’s a great idea to make every possible life change all at once, and it should be pretty easy to write a thesis while giving birth in a country where you don’t speak the same language as the doctors.

10. Are you going to be able to come back and visit?
Yes, they’re actually selling tickets on those crazy flying machines these days. Seriously, we do plan to come back and visit. We have signed an agreement in blood that states that we will be in attendance at The Family Christmas 2005, so Lufthansa can count on our travel dollars (euros?) in December.

11. Can we stay with you during World Cup 2006?
We’re planning on instituting a lottery system for our guest room next summer. Please stay tuned for details.

12. No really, can we come and stay with you?
Yes, please visit. We hear that Bavaria is wonderful and beautiful and near the Alps and we hope you will come and see us.

13. No, really, can you get me tickets to the World Cup?
We've done a bit of investigating, and it's not looking good. FIFA is selling the tickets in phases - the next group goes on sale in December - and the demand (not to mention the price!) is high. The good news, however, is that there will be many festive alternatives to watching the matches live, including big screens in city squares and a general celebratory atmosphere all over the country.

14. Do you know German?
No. Not even a little bit. All those years of Spanish class down the drain.

15. What are you going to do with your cars?
2 cars for sale! Low(ish) miles! Great(ish) condition! One smells like a dog (not our dog, we don’t have one) and the other one doesn’t have a working stereo system but they are friendly and good with kids.

16. What do your families think?
We’re not sure, they’ve stopped speaking to us. Actually, they’ve been incredibly supportive and many of them have promised to visit.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Elsewhere

I am contributing writer at Mamas Worldwide, an international parents' blog, where I discuss my favorite kids' stuff.

I've also contributed to AlphaMom.

I've written for BlueOregon, Oregon's biggest political blog.

I've been published at Expatica, Savion, and other travel and expatriate sites.

You can usually find me on Twitter too.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

About

My name is Blythe. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband, Jeff, and my son, Theo. I started this blog when we moved to Germany. We spent three years there, trying to seem cosmopolitan and worldly but actually dying for Taco Bell to open a franchise across the street from our apartment. Then we returned to our home country, where everything was exactly the same as when we left and also completely different. I'm still waiting for Taco Bell to open across the street.

You can contact me at blythe(at)theblythespirit(dot)com.

Here are some favorite posts.

Here are some books I've read.

If you're looking for information about Noel Coward's play, here's a link to the Blithe Spirit Wikipedia entry.

Having a Baby in Germany
Labor and Delivery FAQ

What happened when you showed up at the hospital?
I was admitted by the doctor on duty, who happened to be the same one who gave us our tour last year. You might remember that, around here, the doctor who provides prenatal care doesn't usually work at the hospital, so I knew I would be cared for by doctors and midwives I'd never met before. Since my water had broken, I expected to hear that my delivery would happen one way or another within a certain time period (24 hours, I hoped). Instead, after saying, "Oh, yes, I think American hospitals usually have a time limit," she told us that I would begin receiving periodic doses of antibiotics if my labor continued past 18 hours or so, but without any kind of deadline for delivery.

Was the language barrier a problem?
Very few language issues arose. The doctors, who I almost never saw, all spoke English. There was always at least one midwife on duty during my labor who spoke English. Few nurses who cared for me after Theo was born spoke English, but we mimed our way through. I became braver and more assertive with my German than I ever have before, and put together an unembarrassed combination of simple sentences and charades that would have been high comedy if an outsider were watching. It struck me more than once how blunt I became, both because the communication style here is so straightforward but also because I only had a few words. If I had delivered in the USA, for example, I'm quite sure I would have had a subtler conversation than the one I conducted about having a "big toilet" or a "small toilet." Everyone at the hospital was tolerant and willing to participate in order to get the necessary message across.

What was it like working with both midwives and doctors?
While I felt I got good care from both, their approaches were very different. The labor midwives wanted to let things progress naturally. The doctors displayed a little more urgency, prescribing a cervical softener and trying to keep things on a schedule, but since the midwives were doing most of the care, I didn't feel like everyone was always on the same page.

I've heard that medical care in Germany is very homeopathic. Was medication an option?
In the discussions I had with doctors and midwives prior to Theo's birth, it was clear that I could opt for medication or not. I opted for a hospital birth and was open to pain medication and other drugs. If you are interested in unmedicated labor and delivery, home birth, etc, those practices are encouraged and accepted here as well.

When it came to my actual labor and delivery experience, I felt that the labor midwives were hesitant to offer meds. My labor was very slow, and I had to assert myself and ask specifically for pain relief, induction drugs, etc, some of which the doctors had prescribed but which didn't appear. In the days after Theo was born I heard of more than one mother, including one of my roommates, who went through five or six rounds of cervical softeners over two or three days before eventually getting a C-section. While I felt strange at the time demanding that my labor be artificially moved along, I was glad in the end that I forced the issue.

Did you have to share a room?
I was assigned to three different rooms during my stay, not including the delivery room. First, during labor, I was paired with a roommate who had been in the hospital off and on during her pregnancy due to required bed rest and what seemed to be a difficult living situation. Next, on the evening before Theo was born, I was moved into a room by myself (more on that later). Finally, after I delivered, I stayed in a room with a Scottish woman for the first few nights, followed briefly by a German teacher, both of whom were recovering from Ceasarean sections. We each had our own bathroom with a toilet and a sink. The shower was down the hall.

I was grateful that the nurses and midwives made an effort to pair me with English-speaking roommates. Rooming together was mostly comfortable, especially with my Scottish roommate who was friendly and had two other children. She had been in the hospital for a few days before I got there, so she knew the drill and could tell me where to find breakfast, what time the doctors usually came around, and how to turn on the reading light. Awkward situations arose, of course, including what to do with visitors and husbands during nursing/pumping. We soon got used to averting our eyes when the nurses and doctors arrived to perform examinations. The most difficult part was trying to get any kind of rest, since one person always seemed to be awake for feeding or comforting a baby. I would have preferred a private room, but sharing was better than I had anticipated, especially since I had a fairly uneventful stay. I got a taste of how difficult it might have been when my final roommate began to experience complications after her C-section the day I checked out. I'm sure the last thing she wanted was a cheery mother and baby across the room as she was hooked up to monitors, surrounded by doctors, and moaning.

Was Jeff allowed to stay with you?
Jeff stayed at the hospital with me throughout labor, but not without some resistance. One of the hardest moments during my labor came during the evening, when a midwife appeared and told Jeff he would have to go home for the night. My pain had just begun to intensify and Jeff was not about to leave. After a terse exchange, including my least favorite phrase in the world "that's not possible," and a lecture about how "In Germany, we do it this way," we paid the hospital 40 euros and Jeff was assigned a bed. The upside was that he became my roommate, and I didn't have to share with a stranger for the rest of my labor.

After Theo was born, Jeff stayed home at night. While I can see that the American practice of having the dad stay at the hospital would be great, it wasn't so bad to have him staying at our house, getting good rest. We both noticed very few men in the maternity ward at any time.

Did Theo stay in your room with you?
Most babies do room-in with their mothers. Moms could leave their babies in a nearby nursery if they wanted to shower or sleep. In our case, however, the doctors were extremely cautious in their care for Theo after his birth. He was kept in the KinderKlinik (pediatric unit) the entire time we were in the hospital, basically for observation of the bruise on his head and the danger of jaundice. After the first day, he likely could have been released without problem or watched and readmitted if jaundice appeared. I am a little regretful that he was never in my room with me, so that we could have gotten used to each other and had some instruction from the nurses. It removed some of the benefit of the longer hospital stay for me. This carefulness is a practice I've noticed throughout my medical experience here - extreme caution, lots of tests and multiple doctor visits for even the smallest ailment. In the end, though, I am grateful for the diligence of his doctors and the gentle pediatric nurses who took care of him while he was there.

Anything else you found interesting?
One night Jeff and I boarded the elevator with an elderly man dressed in a bathrobe, dragging an IV pole, carrying an open bottle of beer. Beer was also served in the cafeteria, and I was encouraged to drink Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) or beer to increase my breast milk supply.

The baby Lo-jacks so evident at American hospitals were completely absent; in fact, none of us were even issued ID bracelets. A nametag on each isolette was the only form of identification used, and security was limited to a strongly enforced rule that babies could only exit their rooms inside their isolettes (ie no picking up your baby and carrying him down the hall).

What were the downsides?
As I expected, communication wasn't easy. I guess the final stages of delivery are always intense and somewhat chaotic. Add a language barrier to the equation and it confuses the situation even more. Until that point everyone had been great about either speaking English or translating, but the way things worked out, the team that delivered Theo included just one trainee midwife who spoke English, so there was a lot of interaction among the doctor and the other midwives that I didn't understand, which made me anxious.

The doctor-patient relationship here is usually one that assumes the caregiver is the authority and the patient should do whatever he says. That means that the idea of a birth plan was unfamiliar, and that my refusal to follow a few of the midwives' recommendations was met with surprise. The guy (nurse? doctor? janitor? he didn't say) who tried to inject something I later learned were antibiotics into my IV without telling me what they were wasn't very happy with me when I stopped him and asked for an explanation. The doctor removed my pain relief prior to delivery without much warning, and inferred that my baby would never be delivered unless she cranked the Pitocin up high and made sure I felt the full extent of every contraction. While this may have been true, it would have been better for my state of mind to have known it before it was underway.

What were the upsides?
All in all, our German hospital experience was positive. I am grateful to some wonderful midwives, doctors and nurses who competently cared for Theo and me while making a real effort to speak English or communicate in other, more creative ways. I had a nice long stay in the hospital (3 full days after delivery), which was especially good since we would have had to go home without Theo if I'd been discharged any earlier. You can't beat the price - the only bill we received was for Jeff's bed during my labor. The food wasn't bad and always included a nice breakfast buffet in the morning. And, of course, we came home with a happy, healthy baby. There's no better upside than that!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Disclaimer and Comments

Disclaimer
The posts on The Blythe Spirit are personal reflections,thoughts and opinions that may change on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis. I enjoy and am frustrated with many parts of my life simultaneously - my home country, my family, the contestants on reality television shows, and yes, Germany too. As most readers realize, the expatriate experience (in fact, everyday human existence) is complex, and that's what I hope comes through on my blog.

Commnent Policy
I reserve the right to delete comments that are cranky, rude, hurtful, or just make me wrinkle up my nose. Anonymously posted comments, in particular, rub me the wrong way. If you don't have a blogger account, leave your name and explain a little about where you're coming from. And, please, be nice.