Sunday, December 31, 2006

Books - December 2006

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
My third Ishiguro book in the past few months. He still moves me. I haven't read much about post-WWII Japan, and I enjoyed the atmospheric sense this book gave me. The plot was a kind of warm-up for The Remains of the Day.

The Nursing Mother's Companion by Kathleen Huggins
The chances that I retained even ten percent of this (apparently very helpful and clear) information are slim. But maybe it's all there in the brain recesses, I'll let you know.

Saturday by Ian McEwan
My last-read novel of 2007 is also my favorite. I was pleased and satisfied at its beginning, when I thought it was simply a contemplation of one day in the life of a London neurosurgeon. It turned into so much more.

The Secret Love of Sons by Nicholas Weinstock
A gift from my mother-in-law, the mother of three remarkable men.

No One Cares What You Had For Lunch by Margaret Mason
Mighty Girl to the rescue in this book of short and useful ideas for making a more interesting blog. Brace yourself.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Down Under (a snowbank, that is)

"The mixup with 'y' and 'i' meant a difference of two continents, 13,000 kilometres (8,000 miles) and around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) in temperature between his intended destination and where he actually touched down." - Deutsche Welle

Also, the difference between a cosmopolitan Australian city and tourist destination, and a snowy burg in eastern Montana whose population is less than 5,000 and main claim to fame is as the home of the prehistoric paddlefish.

I had no idea that Sidney, Montana even had an airport. Always remember to double-check your spelling when buying plane tickets on Expedia.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Good things about celebrating Christmas in Europe

1. British satellite TV = "Do They Know it's Christmas" in heavy rotation
2. Three holidays - Christmas Eve, Christmas Day #1 and Christmas Day #2 (the 26th)
3. Presents that arrive in the mail, and include Twizzlers and Hershey bars
4. Church bells all day long
5. Christmas morning comes even earlier.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Miss Manners

I've heard stories about all the ridiculous comments that pregnant women hear from strangers, friends, coworkers, family members, even their mailmen. I am lucky enough to live in a place where I can't understand what people are saying to me, besides "When will you get the baby?" and "Is he a girl or a boy?" And it's another benefit of being of Advanced Maternal Age (including feeling like an octegenarian if I ever venture onto the babycenter.com message boards) that most of my friends and family members have either been through their own pregnancies recently or they have been coached by their wives/daughters/friends/sisters on acceptable subjects when speaking with the mom-to-be.

However, I've heard stories. I've even been privy to a few of these uncomfortable moments in person. Some people (Jeff, I know you're reading this) are so uncomfortable about the potential for saying the wrong thing that they just don't say anything at all, even when they know they should at least say congratulations or acknowledge the situation. So here's some advice. The following comments are almost always safe, as long as you've had irrefutable confirmation that she is pregnant in the first place:

-"Congratulations! When is the baby due?" And then under no circumstances should you act surprised at the answer. You should say, "Wow, how exciting." Do not say, "Wow, you've got a long way to go," as though she's not well aware of the fact. Or "Wow, I would have guessed you're ready to pop any day," in fact, the whole idea of "popping" has always given me the creeps. Or "Wow, you look so tiny." That last one might seem like a compliment but it infers that you think pregnant ladies are generally huge. Really, any reference to size or weight should be avoided. Even if you've heard the pregnant person talking about it before, or if your niece couldn't shut up about her pregnancy weight last Thanksgiving.

-"You'll be a great parent." I never get tired of hearing this one. Apparently regular ego boosts are necessary for my well-being.

-"What an exciting time you have ahead of you." This helps counteract all of the exhausted parents of young children who tell expectant parents to "Sleep now, you'll never get to sleep late again" and "The first six (weeks/months/years) are terrible but it gets better eventually, until they become teenagers." The pregnant person has already started down the path of no return; describing impending doom isn't helpful. This one is especially nice if you're a parent yourself. Think up some happy story about having kids and tell the pregnant person about it. I call these tales to mind when I sit around doubting the wisdom of getting pregnant.

-A special piece of advice for the boys: The only circumstances under which the words "mucous plug" should come out of your mouth are those in which your significant other is the pregnant one, and the two of you are alone in the privacy of your own home. Or, alternatively, in a medical setting. But it's best if you just stay out of group conversations regarding the girly bits and/or more unseemly physical aspects of pregnancy, even if someone seemingly invites you to participate. Because the girls will just laugh at you later, giggling about how you tried to act like you know what "effaced" means.

After you've talked about The Baby for a few moments, don't feel bad about going right back to whatever kinds of conversations you've always had with the pregnant person. Just because she's With Child, it doesn't mean her other interests have totally disappeared; in fact, she might be tired of talking about it. I am always grateful to friends who ask how things are going with the baby, and then move along to important topics like pinpointing when Britney turned the tide of public goodwill. (By the way, I think it's genius that K-Fed seems to be headed toward a career in professional wrestling, it's the perfect spot for him.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tis the Season

It's a birthday tradition here for the birthday girl/boy to bring treats to share with coworkers. This seems slightly unfair to me - more work on your birthday? - but it also results in getting to eat what you want on your big day, no picking through carrot cake when you don't eat carrot cake or politely digging the raisins out of the cookies. A control freak like me appreciates these things.

Jeff turned 36 on Monday, so he brought the cranberry bars to work yesterday, along with some fruit and sparkling wine and orange juice. He says his coworkers wandered in and out of his office all day long, saying "Congratulations!" That's not an American birthday sentiment. It's probably due to the subtle reference to death ("Congratulations for living this long!") and the American aversion to admitting we're not all going to live forever that causes us to just say "Have a happy day!"

I think Jeff had a happy day, and I definitely did. I find that his birthday makes me happier even than my own (and I'm all about being happy on my annual Day of Moi). I spend it thinking about the first cake I baked for him (bday #22 - a 4-layer chocolate beauty, from scratch, that I was worried about being devoured by ants in my college apartment), the birthdays we spent on opposite sides of the USA (#24 and #25, we probably argued over the phone as was our habit at the time), the traditional hourly phone calls to sing the birthday song on his voicemail all day long, and even last year's birthday which I spent at the U2 concert in Portland while he hung around here in the slush, working. I remember how thankful I am for all the years he's been in the world, all the years he has been in my world, and all the laughter we still share. He takes great care of me and I can't even express in words what a superb dad he is going to be. Which is fortunate, because someone is going to have to watch the kid during U2's next tour.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Is anyone still out there?

I haven't managed to post in a while, due to a strange turn of events. I had a busy week. That might not seem so strange to you, but it hasn't happened to me in about a year. So bear with me if my blog posting has been thrown off.

Don't worry, I haven't been in the hospital, or given birth in my bathtub, or anything interesting like that yet.

I promise I'll be back soon.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Too Much

And now, for some nostalgia:


This is the original video matched with a remake of the song by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. If you're not my age, or from the USA, you'll wonder why on earth this puts me in the Christmas spirit. The answer would involve an elfin dentist and an evil Burgermeister.

Monday, December 11, 2006

We need a little Christmas

Munich Rathaus
Every Christmas is different. While my family had its traditions, they always varied slightly depending on where we lived, who was home, whether I was in the country or not, my grandparents' ages, my parents' marital status, and whether or not my uncle demanded that everyone go to church. After college, I alternated holidays between my family and my husband's, and since my parents have moved around a few times since then and my husband's family has almost doubled in size thanks to the addition of numerous offspring, we never seem to do it the same way twice.

All this should have prepared me for this holiday season, which will be the most unique of my life so far. Jeff and I will celebrate far away from anyone but each other. Since our baby is due to enter the world just a couple of weeks into the new year, there will be no travel for us, not even a few hours to a bustling European capital where we can order room service cheeseburgers. So we'll hang out at home and forge some new traditions. The first of which will probably involve a discussion about whether we are officially a Christmas Eve family (like mine) or a Christmas Day family (like his).

Though I like to believe I'm flexible, I think I may have reached my threshold for change. We're certainly not lacking in the Christmas spirit around here. We spent the weekend in Munich, taking in their Christmas market and eating nachos at the Hard Rock Cafe. We were surrounded by hand-carved ornaments, choirs singing carols, numerous Kris Kringles, and gingerbread houses in every hotel and restaurant lobby. I live in a city where the Christmas season is practically its reason for existence these days. But it's the personal celebrations that I already miss - putting on a sparkly outfit and drinking fancy cocktails with friends; seeing my coworkers' spouses for that once-a-year gathering; handfuls of shopping bags to show for the workout I've given my credit card. But this year, between the distance from family and old friends, my lack of a sparkly maternity outfit or anywhere to wear it, my self-control against fancy cocktails, the absence of co-workers, and my credit card's devotion to amazon.com, Christmas is so different that it almost doesn't feel like the same holiday I've celebrated for the past 34 years.

While wandering around outside Munich's historic Rathaus (town hall) on Friday night, we were surrounded by American voices, many of whom extolled the "Christmasiness" of Germany. In the next breath, they discussed their plans to board a plane back home and finish their shopping before the stores closed on the 24th. Jeff and I will cook our Christmas meal without the jet lag, without the crowded checkout line at Target, and without the feeling of being dragged from one supposedly festive event to another. We feel so lucky to have the chance to create our own family and our own traditions. But if we were ever lulled into the idea that the fabled holiday spirit was about the "stuff" - the music, the decorations, the lights, the parties, the shopping - we now know that those animatronic holiday TV shows were right. What we've been celebrating for the past three decades was more about our good fortune in being surrounded by people who made us laugh and included us in their celebrations, and made time to enjoy a once-a-year tradition with us.

Cookie Goodness

*UPDATE*
Heavenly Cranberry Bars
Here's a photo of one of the bars I made (the rest were devoured). Erika's suggestion to line the pan with foil worked perfectly, so I've updated the recipe below to include those instructions.



I'm participating in an online cookie exchange. I think that makes me both geeky and annoyingly Martha Stewart.

This is a version of the cranberry bars that a certain international coffee chain sells this time of year. The only difficult thing about this recipe is removing the bars from the pan - I think I'm going to try lining it with waxed paper this year and maybe I'll be saved the hammer/chisel method I've used in the past. And even then, they were worth the trouble. (Thanks, Erika, for this recipe!)

Heavenly Cranberry Bars

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups (1 bag) white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 cup toasted chopped pecans (optional)
1/4 cup candied ginger (optional but makes them really good), coarsely chopped
1/4 cup grated orange zest

White Chocolate Frosting
8oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tbsp grated orange zest, divided
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
6 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 11x15 inch jelly roll pan or rimmed baking sheet with foil. Whisk together the brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, and salt until well blended. Stir in the white chocolate chips, cranberrs, nuts, ginger, and orange zest. Spread mixture evenly in the prepared pan - it will be quite stiff - and bake until golden brown, about 20 to 22 minutes. Set aside on a wire rack to cool. Cool all the way.

Make the frosting by creaming together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, 1 tbsp of the orange zest, and vanilla until smooth and fluffy. Spread the mixture over the cooled base. Stir together the remaining 2 tbsp orange zest with the dried cranberries and sprinkle the mixture over the frosting. Melt the white chocolate in the microwave for one minute, stirring until smooth. Drizzle the white chocolate over the bars - a plastic baggie with one corner cut off works well - and let it sit until the chocolate is set. Cut the bars into 2-inch squares and then diagonally into triangles.

Makes 48 bars.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Just Terrible

Her: Don't stop at one. If you only have one, you'll spoil him, you just won't be able to help it. I would have spoiled my child if I'd only had one; as it was, I just didn't have time, I was too busy with the next one.

Me: Mmmmm...

Her: My daughter-in-law is an only child and she is terrible, just terrible.

Me: You know, I'm an only child. Do you think I'm terrible?

Her: I don't really know you that well.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Amazon Woman

I've done all of my Christmas shopping via Amazon this year, and I'm crossing all of my digits for good shipping karma. Two years ago, I ordered a book in December, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, in case you care, and it was interesting though I definitely didn't understand every page, which is Amazon's fault (see below). Instead I received a giant set of Matchbox cars. Which led to a personal campaign to find an actual phone number for their customer service department, eventually requiring a snotty e-mail. I never did receive the return postage, so the Matchbox cars went to my coworker and her young son, and I did eventually receive my book. But then I had to read it in a rush to complete it by my book club meeting. So it's Amazon's fault that I couldn't give you a coherent recap of the main plot points of Invisible Man. And I hope some child was not deprived of his/her Matchbox cars on Christmas morning.

All of this is a way of telling my loved ones that if you never receive your Christmas gifts, I have the Amazon customer service telephone number, I would be happy to share it with you. And if you receive something really odd, it might be a mistake on their part, not bad shopping on my part. Though I've been known to get kind of creative, so I'll admit you are taking your chances if you call and ask me if the meat tenderizer that you never wanted is a mistake, or your real present. Because who doesn't need a meat tenderizer?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

We Belong

I've joined a Flickr group called NoBloBookMo (yeah, the name doesn't really make sense but it does if you know more about it, but do you really care? probably not). We're supposed to post a photo of a book every day for a month, along with a description, or a reason we're posting, or whatnot. Other members have better things to do than take photos of all their books, so I have basically hijacked the group and begun posting photos of some books I've read, in alphabetical order. Not every book I've read, because there are some I'd really prefer to forget about (those Stephen King knockoffs from junior high are still giving me nightmares).

Anyway, head over there and take a look at my books or at all the books because you just can't get enough of me telling you what you should read.

Monday, December 04, 2006

To Market To Market

Christmas People
Nürnberg's big Christmas market opened on Friday, so we made a trip into town yesterday to take in the festivities. You might recall last year, when all that kept us from freezing to death in the Hauptmarkt was the heat generated by thousands of shivering bodies, half of whom were fortified by strangely spiced wine, drunk from small green boot-shaped mugs.

This year, I wore my spring jacket, put on some gloves because they matched my scarf, and Jeff walked around with his coat unzipped. Is this the winter we were promised last year? I'm not sure. I'm still hoping for some snow before the holidays but I must admit it was more pleasant to shop for holiday goodies under a blue sky and sunshine than fighting the wind and feeling the snot freeze around my nose.

I was so cheerful that I even allowed Jeff to snap my photo. You might have noticed that I'm exuding an anti-camera sentiment lately. I tried to explain to my snap-happy husband yesterday that it's not that I feel ugly or ungainly (except when I try to get out of bed in the morning, it's too bad you aren't here to witness the spectacle), it's simply that I am rarely inspired to put together a presentable appearance that I'd like preserved for posterity. I've never had an eyeliner pencil last so long, nor have my hair accessories ever lived in such a pristine environment (ie never touching my head). And you already know about the rise of the sweatsuit in my wardrobe.

The good news is that I'll spend a few afternoons this month volunteering at the American/German sister-city stand at that market, so I'll probably be forced to wear actual clothing, and (gasp) brush my hair. Perhaps this turn of events will result in some photographic evidence.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sentimental Journey

For further evidence that Journey is at the nexus of all things good and enduring in pop music, watch this video. (via mamapop)



Then, when your brain is sufficiently racked as you try to figure out what songs he's singing, go here.

Afterward, you'll surely be on the hunt for tickets to a Journey show. If you live in the UK, you're in luck. Except it looks like they're still touring with that singer who is not even close to being as good as the knockoff Steve Perry. Believe me, I've seen them both live.

Now you're probably wondering what Steve Perry is up to.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Books - November 2006

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I was simultaneous attracted and repelled by this book; I'd heard it was a must-read, but the subject matter (a memoir outlining the first year after Didion's husband's death and her daughter's serious illness) sounded too sad. And while it was sad, it was simply so heartfelt and personal that I didn't feel emotionally manipulated at all.

Tsotsi by Athol Fugard
This story about a young gangster in 1950's South Africa seeking redemption after he begins to care for a tiny baby sounds sentimental, but this book is anything but.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
My new favorite author, man of a thousand voices. The narrator, an aging British butler, tells the gentle, funny, tragic story as only he could tell it.

Minus Nine to One: The Diary of an Honest Mum by Jools Oliver
A light and sweet book that I picked up in a bookstore and read straight through on the train. Not the first pregnancy and parenting book I would buy for a friend, but I would loan her my copy.

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.
Here beginneth the march of the childrearing books that will bore you unless you are pregnant or have a small baby. Who knows if this works. Who knows if I will remember any of its contents by the time I need them. But it does feature illustrations of smiling babies.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth
I read this in hopes that I won't need to pick up its sequel, Your Fussy Baby.

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
Want to know about modern life in the foothills of the Rockies? Read these stories. They are true.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Off with her head

I'd anticipated seeing Marie Antoinette since I watched the trailer (another benefit of not missing the previews, natch) and heard its new wave soundtrack. Sofia Coppola possesses an entertaining combination of clout and wacky vision, so I knew it would be an interesting flick, artsy and decadent and different. I watched it at 11am during a "special school screening," so the atmosphere was appropriately adolescent - me (sucking a cough drop and bundled in frumpy maternity tights), surrounded by mobs of sixteen-year-old girls and a few boys who hadn't ditched the group in the U-Bahn on the way there.

The late, great Robert Altman said in his Oscar acceptance speech (um, paraphrased) last year that he has never been interested in stories; he's just been telling one long story for forty years. His movies are about characters. I imagine Sofia Coppola stuck her head out of the editing room or the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles or wherever she was at that moment and nodded vigorously. Marie Antoinette doesn't have much of a story, and even the characters can be flat, but she is all about creating atmosphere. I imagine she wouldn't have made this movie without negotiating full access to Versailles, and she clearly loved every second of her reign there. She makes sure her actors aren't rattling around in a vacuum-packed castle - they scamper outside in their silky dresses on a windy day; they wake up hung over with the servants clearing up the party mess. For the first time, I watched a period film without an inkling of Masterpiece Theatre. The cast fit their roles (though there are no huge breakout Bill Murray type stars as far as I'm concerned), especially Kirsten Dunst, who played up her slightly giggly youngster persona appropriately.

By the time the film was finished, I was ready to remove myself from the teenage masses - onscreen and off. I was a little tired of Marie and Louis and their sex life. I was sick of listening to whispered German/English coming from the seats behind me. I wanted some petit fours (and champagne! if only!) and I was in the mood for shoe shopping. Too bad Marie didn't have Zappos.

PS
Speaking of shoes, you should really head over to my friend Daniela's blog. She writes about her fabulous shoes, and her funny daughter, and she is clever. I promise.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gummi Bears Are Not Enough

The best part of any James Bond movie is the first five minutes. It's like a little movie-within-a-movie. James looks suave! James drives fast! James gets the girl! There's a plot twist! And (this is my favorite part) it ends with that unmistakable Bond music, the James Bond silhouette, and the inevitable animated title sequence over an entertaining yet forgettable theme song. (Except View to a Kill, you can't forget double D).

I'm a bit of a punctuality freak even in the most relaxed circumstances. In college, I may have showed up to my 7:50 Psych class in my jammies, but I was always five minutes early. When it comes to movies, I practically suffer a panic attack if I think I'm going to miss the previews. I LOVE the previews. I once attended a film called Trailer Camp that consisted of nothing but previews. And if I miss the beginning of a film, I may as well just walk out of the theatre and go home because I spend the next hour and fifty minutes wondering if I would understand the nuances of the story so much better if I'd seen the beginning. And I pout. And blame everyone else in my vicinity for ruining the movie for me.

You can probably guess where this is going. On Saturday, we showed up at the theatre five minutes after the scheduled kickoff of Casino Royale. I had arisen from a nap just a few minutes late, you see, but we weren't in a rush. Because every other time we've attended a movie at this theatre, we sat through twenty minutes of avant-garde ice cream bar ads and the same trailer for that Harrison Ford bank heist movie with German dubbing. So we figured, no problem. WE WERE WRONG. And when we stumbled into the theatre, the credits and clever animation were already onscreen. CURSES! So I scowled as I watched Daniel Craig leap off the construction crane, and kiss the girl in the skin tight red dress, and Jeff tried to comfort me with gummi bears.

It took me at least 30 minutes to get over my pout (and to stop cursing myself for my nap addiction), but eventually I was able to follow the movie. All in all, a good flick. I like Daniel Craig as Bond, he's got the smarts and the focus, but I missed the twinkle in his eye and the smoothness of his predecessors. He seems to have become a bit of a thug, beating his enemies to death and stomping around like the Terminator instead of using his clever gadgets and dispatching the baddies with a silent shot. But I sense that the storytellers are hoping the audience will stick with them on Bond's journey from killer to spy, and I'm willing to trust them for at least one more film. As long as they continue to employ the actor's personal trainer.

Just to demonstrate how very neurotic I am, (and how well my husband knows me and how nice he is to me), I'll admit that after the movie ended Jeff asked the usher if we could stick around five minutes for the next showing of the movie and watch the beginning. So we did. And here's where I was disappointed. No plot twist, No kiss. A bunch of blood and violence. AND NO BOND THEME. So, Barbara Broccoli, I'm not going to stop watching your movies, but next time I promise to be on time if you'll promise to return to formula. Or I'm going to get cranky and start blaming you for my bad mood.

Friday, November 24, 2006

I aim to please

Blythe on Thanksgiving
Notice that I am wearing actual, non-sweatsuit, clothing in honor of the holiday.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Danke Schön

On this, our second Thanksgiving in Germany, I bring you my thanks for reading The Blythe Spirit.
Via Ferris Bueller.

Enjoy your turkey and your mashed potatoes and your John-Hughes-eye-view of the world.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

You're trying hard not to show it

I've never been such a perfectionist that I understood that kid in school who didn't finish his English paper because he wrote and wrote and nothing was good enough so he just didn't turn it in. And that's not because I thought what I'd written was genius; it's because I was all about getting it done as quickly as possible so I could go out for frozen yogurt with my friends, or watch more MTV, quality be darned. (80's much?) I just thought to myself, "Slacker," and skipped down the hall after class in my Normandy Rose jeans.

But I've developed perfectionist performance anxiety about cleaning. I sit on my couch and think, "Gross, there is a dead fly lying under the TV stand. I should really walk over there and pick it up. Well, I should probably sweep the floor. Actually, I should sweep the floor and mop the floor. And the baseboards should be scrubbed. Holy cow, I don't have enough energy to scrub the baseboards, I will just stay here on the couch drinking my vanilla Coke and watching Dr. Phil." So there lies the fly corpse, RIP.

It doesn't help that I am now barely able to rise to a standing position unaided. I don't think I'm so humongous (well, maybe I'm humongous, who knows) but my balance is thrown off to the point that I find myself holding on to the furniture like someone's grandmother making her way across the room to where she left her walker. I would post a photo so you could see my shape for yourself, but frankly I don't really enjoy having my photo taken in the best of times, and right now I'm not feeling at my most lovely. I promise to remedy the situation one of these days, when I've washed my hair and put on some makeup and am wearing something besides velour sweats. A wise few among you just reminded yourselves not to hold your breath.

Also, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes got married over the weekend, just in case you hadn't heard.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I wish I had something exciting to share.

Instead, you get the following:

-Jeff was in China for a week and brought me back some very nice (not Chinese) chocolate and a killer jade ring that I plan to wear to the next special occasion I attend. I imagine that will be sometime in 2009.

-Our crib was supposed to be delivered today but instead I sat waiting for the delivery people for over five hours while they, apparently, decided that it was best to arrive at my building and sit outside in their truck without ringing the doorbell. So our child is going to sleep in the bathtub.

-Autumn is the best time for soup-making. I made cheddar corn chowder last night. And it was good.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Contractually obligated

Every year or so, some entertainer comes under fire for his or her list of dressing room requirements. That's the part of a performance contract that delineates what must be available backstage. (If you're a gossip geek like me here's a fascinating roundup of a bunch of these contract riders from The Smoking Gun.) It almost always includes a bunch of bottled water, cold cuts, and, depending on the music genre, Jack Daniels or diet Pepsi, or twelve bottles of California merlot. You probably recall the infamous Van Halen demand for removal of all brown M&M's from their presence (which evidently led to the demise of all brown M&M's everywhere because David Lee Roth has that kind of power). Iggy Pop apparently needs a Bob Hope impersonator to prepare him for his act.

Life in Germany is slowly becoming more familiar each day, but there are times when I look around and wonder why I don't recognize any part of my surroundings. Milk in a box on the grocery store shelf? Five different kinds of trash bins? Gold lame sweatsuits? Interesting, yes, but unfamiliar. All of this new stuff is what makes traveling interesting - I've always found grocery stores to be my favorite attractions in a new country - but there are days when I just want to relax and feel like I know what's going on. For days like that, I've come up with the following contractual requirements. All must be within easy reach:

-microwave popcorn (salted, not sweet, bleck) and a microwave
-Trader Joe's
-Neutrogena Light Night Cream
-boy-style white T-shirts that Banana Republic discontinued three years ago
-Cadbury Dairy Milk with Caramel
-Target
-sweet clementines
-fully charged iPod
-Twizzlers
-a clothing store with a decent sale rack
-Vitamin Water (citrus flavor)
-Netflix (the expensive European Amazon version doesn't count)
-new episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show
-unlimited access to English language reading materials
-high speed internet connection
-a kitten (but not a cat, and it doesn't go anywhere near my bed, I don't have to change the litterbox)
-frosted strawberry Pop Tarts

What's in your contract?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Hot hot hot

A new double-D album is in the works, and it will feature collaborations with the world's most famous loggers (Timbaland and Timberlake). Simon LeBon's vocabulary is stuck in the 80's, but since mine is too, as is my musical and cinematic taste, I'll go with it:

"We've got a lot of really hot producers who are hotly interested in working with us at the moment. We are in a very good space." - SLB

Also, Andy has left the band (again) so enjoy this album because next time it's just going to be Simon singing and Nick behind the keyboards and John starring in another ill-advised holiday TV special as the ghost of hair products past.

Home, James

I spent much of my weekend on the couch, watching Season Two of NYPD Blue on DVD. I became a Blue devotee during season 4, when Andy J was already out of the picture, Andy and Sylvia already had Theo, and Bobby had just proposed to Diane. So it was high time that I caught up on the backstory.

My conclusion, after hours of skels, and slimy informants, and the Lieu, and Grace Adler as Donna's sister, is that someone needs to get Jimmy Smits back on television. Stat. Also, I have reserved a future weekend to be named later to watching The West Wing Season 7 in its entirety, just so I can see him snap his gum once or twice.

When I managed to drag myself off the couch for 30 minutes, I made Hungarian mushroom soup. It's tasty stuff, with lots of dill and mushrooms and creamy goodness. This recipe is from the Moosewood Restaurant cookbook, which I understand was the Jamie Oliver/Barefoot Contessa/Nigella of the vegetarian set in the 70's. Make some, unless you hate mushrooms. If you do enjoy eating mushrooms, but your husband doesn't really like mushrooms, wait until he's away from home for a while and then make some and eat it all yourself.

Friday, November 10, 2006

And now you know the rest of the story

Here's an article with the other side of the story, from Borat's "victims." Most were unwitting, the majority are laughing it off, and yes, the antique shop owners did get paid for all the broken merchandise.

Update: So, those frat boys aren't exactly laughing.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Acting like a mom

My mom reads my blog.

(Hi Mom!)

She generally avoids the computer, since she says she'd rather being doing more productive things like reading a book or polishing the chrome on the tub or eating chocolate. As much as that shocks my internet-possessed sensibilities, it's hard to argue with her logic. But she faithfully reads my blog anyway, so she can see photos of my pregnant self and read about all the things I neglect to tell her when we talk on the phone.

A few weeks ago, I commented that my increasingly rotund form has affected my balance, causing some teetering in the shower. I meant it as a humorous reference to my pregnant form. If I'd actually fallen down and broken my crown, I realize it wouldn't be funny. But the next time my mother called, the first thing she said was, "I read your blog about the shower. You fell down in the shower?" in a concerned tone.

And of course this irritated me. If I'd actually hurt myself, I wouldn't make a joke about it. And can't my mom recognize humor? Gawd. Can't she stop thinking like my mother for five minutes?

And then I realized that, no, she probably can't. And that's what I am in for. And I'm going to have a boy, who will inevitably want to jump off tall objects and play bonecrushing sports and stuff poisonous insects in his mouth. So I'll just remain thankful for the relatively small build he will probably inherit, which will most likely keep him off the defensive line. And try to give my mom a break for acting like a mom. I guess we just can't help it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Having a Baby in Germany
Part Two: Care Providers and Hospitals

We're at week 30 - just 25% of my pregnancy left. So you probably assume that Jeff and I have concrete plans in place regarding who, where, and how our baby will be delivered. I put off writing this entry until we'd figured out all of those details but, like everything in our lives here, it seems that these decisions take three times as long as we think they should. We've met with three midwives and toured one hospital in the past month. Though we haven't finalized our choice of personnel or location yet, I feel like I have a much better handle on how the German system works when it comes to people (what I imagined to be midwives, physicians, nurses, lactation consultants, doulas, etc) and care facilities.

Finding a Midwife and a Hospital
I started my midwife search by asking my doctor, who gave me one name, of a midwife who is very kind and competent but who said she didn't feel comfortable working with me because of her limited English skills. I then asked another American woman who had recently given birth. She asked her midwife for referrals, and by making a bunch of phone calls and emails, I'm finally homing in on a final choice. My most important criteria include competence (duh), English skills, and willingness to listen to my preferences.

We've toured one hospital and will probably tour one more before we make our final decision. We've received very different responses as we've called around to try to arrange tours. The staff at the hospital we've already toured was extremely helpful, even arranging for a doctor to give us a private tour in English. At another hospital, I was met with a brick wall when I asked if I could call in advance to find out when the regularly-scheduled tour might be offered by a guide who spoke a little English. Of course, you can probably guess which hospital is ten minutes from our house and which is a 30-minute drive away. Fortunately, we've received good reviews of the medical care offered by all the facilities in the area. I am nervous about my ability communicate in either German or English with the hospital staff no matter where we go. I know from experience that most doctors speak near fluent English, but as you'll read below, it's the midwives that matter more.

NOTE ABOUT LANGUAGE: I realize that it might seem like I'm obsessed with the English skills of my care providers, which I know is unfair. I am in Germany, after all, where the language is, um, German. Don't imagine that I don't realize how lucky I am that my native language is emphasized in the school system here, and that I have the option of being picky on this matter. In reality, though, communication is extremely important to me in this process, and the likelihood of my German improving enough in the next ten weeks to include any kind of medical terminology is zero. So I'm at the mercy of the kind English-speaking medical community in my area, and so far I've been very lucky.

Midwives - Prenatal Care
German midwives play a prominent role at almost every stage of the game. Some women see an OB/GYN for their prenatal care, but others do all prenatal care with a midwife unless complications arise. Others see them in tandem - doctor one month, midwife the next. Midwives have the equipment and training to do basic prenatal checks, including checking fetal heartbeat, position, lab work, etc. They do not offer ultrasounds. Some midwives work out of private practices, others are part of a Geburtshaus (Birth House - more on that later), and others work exclusively in hospitals. Prenatal classes are generally run by midwives. I chose to see an OB/GYN for the majority of my prenatal care simply because that's what I was used to, and due to my age I probably would have been sent to one anyway for extra checks, ultrasounds, etc. It looks like we'll work with a midwife to do some kind of private instruction along with one or two prenatal visits instead of attending a birthing class. This is a little disappointing for both of Jeff and me, since it would be nice to meet some other expectant couples, but all of the midwives we've met with told us that the courses are conducted completely in German, and we wouldn't really get much out of them.

Midwives - During Birth
Midwives run the show during birth, unless serious complications arise. I have the option of giving birth at home (um, not for me), in a Geburtshaus, or at a hospital. Midwives are on hand in all these situations. About 5 percent of women in Germany have their babies outside a hospital. Home births have become less common over the years, though it is not uncommon for a midwife to assist a woman who prefers to labor at home, and then send her to the hospital as birth becomes imminent. Most towns have a Geburtshaus, which hosts a group of midwives and a "homier" but still medically-equipped (though not fully anesthesia-equipped) environment where women have their babies, then depart for home within hours. My choice, and the choice of 95% of women in this country, is to give birth at a hospital. Hospitals have staffs of numerous midwives and a handful of doctors on their labor and delivery wards. Midwives staff most aspects of L&D, delivering babies and handling patient care. Nurses take over after the baby is born.

Doctors - During Birth
One of the biggest surprises for me was learning that my regular doctor will definitely not deliver my baby. It is unlikely that I'll see my regular midwife either, unless I choose a (rare) midwife that maintains a prenatal practice as well as a position at the hospital, and that she happens to be on duty at the crucial moment. The hospital staff of doctors and midwives is quite separate from the medical practice outside the hospital.

At the Hospital
Most of my friends in the US stayed in a combo delivery/patient room when they had their babies. The rooms were large and private, with a couch or recliner where Dad could sleep. German hospitals are set up more traditionally, with delivery rooms for women in active labor. Some are equipped with tubs for water birth, and all the pain relief options I've read about and heard about seem to be available. After the baby is born, Mom & baby move to a patient room. All patient rooms in the hospital we toured are doubles - two beds for two moms - with no sleeping facilities for Dad. If the ward is not crowded, however, Dad is allowed to stay in the room and sleep in the second bed. Most families stay at the hospital for 3 days so that the baby's first pediatric check-up can be done before they go home. We will have the option of leaving earlier if all goes well. I've heard that the length of hospital stay is directly affected by the existence, volume, and family size of a roommate. Jeff is concerned mainly about the quality of the cafeteria food.

Midwives - Postnatal Care
Our midwife will visit us at home after the baby is born. She (I've never heard of a male midwife here) will come to the house regularly (daily for the first week if I choose) to help with nursing, check my physical and mental state (yikes) and to check on the baby. The frequency and duration of her visits is up for negotiation, so if I need more or less help, I can ask for it. This seems like a wonderful idea, especially since I'm planning to attempt to nurse, and I know I'll probably use all the help I can get. I imagine these visits will also ease the panicked feeling I inevitably will have when I am sent home with a tiny baby, no close friends or family nearby, and no clue how to take care of him.

Cost
All of the above is covered by the public health insurance system, including prenatal instruction and postnatal home visits.

Odds and Ends
If I had it to do over, I would have gotten serious about searching for a midwife much earlier in my pregnancy, mainly due to my (probably excessive) desire for advance information. It's been such a relief to sit down with a midwife and have time to get the answers we've wanted for so many weeks (like all the info above). I am much less nervous now that I know vaguely who is responsible for what, I'm familiar with my pain relief options, and it's likely that some kind midwife or doctor will be able to communicate with me in English during all stages of this process.

My concerns about bedside manner have been somewhat alleviated, mainly because the midwives I've met aren't nearly as rushed as my doctor is. Occasionally I still come up against what has become my least favorite phrase in any language - "That is not possible," followed by a blank stare - but I'm learning to navigate around it, and find people to help me who are willing to think about possibilities instead of impossibilities.

Next Time
If I'm lucky, and no complications arise, my next installment will be a recap of what actually happened at the hospital and the aftermath. How terrifying. If anything interesting happens before then, I'll post in the interim.

Part One: The Nuts and Bolts of the First Half of Pregnancy
Introduction and Disclaimer

Monday, November 06, 2006

Cultural Learnings of America

As I've mentioned before, Jeff and I thank our lucky stars almost every weekend for the Roxy, the charmingly shabby movie theatre in Nurnberg that runs films in the original version. That means in English for most Hollywood movies, instead of dubbed in German by a rotating stable of voiceover actors so that Brad Pitt has the same German voice as, say, Dustin Hoffman. Usually we watch these movies weeks after their American release dates, in a teeny shoebox theatre with a single audio speaker and a maximum of five or six other patrons. And we're darn glad to have the opportunity. Also, they sell beer and Pringles at the concession stand.

I spent a few moments of "Borat" wondering exactly how the Roxy had nabbed a copy on opening weekend. I mused for a second about how on earth the Brad/Dustin voiceover guy is going to say "I make the sexy time with mother-in-law" in a fake Kazakh accent, auf Deutsch. These thoughts were banished in less than a minute, since it took roughly 47 seconds until the sight of my man Borat in his bad suit, open-mouth kissing his sister, distracted me.

I was familiar with da Ali G Show, so I was prepared for multilayered cultural skewering. Sacha Baron Cohen has, apparently, few personal boundaries, and due to this characteristic combined with his sharp satiric mind and an American public that does nothing so well as preen for the cameras, his formula rarely fails. Jeff tends to relate so closely with characters on reality TV and documentaries that he can barely watch. He spent most of Borat hunched down in his chair, peering through the fingers of one hand, laughing uncontrollably. I imagine that's just the reaction that Cohen wants, and he got it from us. We still catch each other, days later, chuckling to ourselves. Then one of us says to the other, "Who is this lady you have shrunk?" We also realize now that HBO (where Ali G aired in the USA) does apparently have a few TV censorship guidelines, and they've all been stripped away (get it? STRIPPED?!) for Borat's cinema debut.

Afterward, I read Stephanie Zacaharek's review at Salon.com, and I recalled a twinge of melancholy as I left the theatre. I thought the movie was brilliant, but the moments of unkindess within it struck me. Part of the genius of Cohen's humor (like that of the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert) is that the audience never knows just how much the rubes onscreen have been told about his characters. Most believe he's a real foreign journalist, and they attempt to welcome him with their best manners. He simply allows them to dig their own comic graves, but in a few cases, he takes the jokes too far. Of course that's also what makes him great. He's willing to do anything (and once you've seen his reaction to the Victoria's Secret window display on Fifth Avenue, you'll agree) for his art.

Now that Borat has conquered the weekend box-office, I imagine the movie will attract a bunch of viewers who have never heard of Sacha Baron Cohen, or Ali G, but who've read a blurb that calls this the "funniest movie of the year," so they decide to see it instead of The Santa Clause 3. I'm glad I am not the movie theatre manager who has to explain satire to angry mobs and that yes, that's what passes for entertainment these days. And I'm also glad for the Roxy, and for the miracle that brought us Borat on a rainy opening weekend in November.

P.S.
I wonder when Cohen will get famous enough that he won't be able to pull off these interviews. I imagine he'll have to retire Borat for a while, but he employs the brilliant tactic of almost never making public appearances as himself, thus protecting his characters. Here is a (fairly old but still funny) rare interview with Sacha Baron Cohen, as himself, on The Daily Show.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bits

-We spent Halloween night eating mini Kit-Kats on the couch. We thought we had trick-or-treaters when someone rang our doorbell and sang a festive jingle, but when Jeff buzzed them in, they never appeared at our door. A drunk neighbor? An early Christmas caroler? A jolly burglar that heard the two woofing dogs on the ground floor and left?

-Sad news that William Styron, author of one of my favorite books, Sophie's Choice passed away. Sophie's Choice was his final novel, completed over 30 years before he died. As I inch toward finishing my thesis, I think I understand why he might have needed that kind of a break from writing.

-Yesterday was a Bavarian holiday (All Saints' Day) so Jeff had the day off and we drove to Wurzburg. They have a castle AND a palace there. And gusty winds that made me cranky. Remedied - the crankiness, not the winds - by a cup of creamy hot chocolate. See photos below.

-SCHNEE (snow, if you've just recently tuned in or you don't speak German) on the rooftops this morning.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Books - October 2006

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Modern and funny and packed full of interesting language, cultural references, and humor. It took me weeks to finish it, maybe because I read it directly after All the Pretty Horses, which is so spare.

London Lonely Planet Guidebook
We trusted this and the Time Out online restaurant guide to help us find the best food and to navigate the sights.

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
Cunningham affects the way I think about literature and stories. He reimagines themes and characters, transcending genre and period, launching original ideas from classic works in ways that would occur only to a courageous writer. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Chili and Cinnamon Rolls

In what I imagine was a ritual reserved for spoiled only children like me, my mom and I scoured the weekly elementary school lunch menu each Monday morning, choosing my hot lunch days and my cold lunch days. I rated average on the pickiness scale, willing to eat most vegetables except cauliflower, spaghetti but not sauce, and peanut butter and jelly (not jam) sandwiches. I chose hot lunch when I could anticipate burritos, turkey with mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese. Hungarian goulash was my nemesis. When they served chili and cinnamon rolls, I couldn't wait for lunchtime.

Jeff and I have faithfully tuned into a rerun of the documentary series Jamie's School Dinners this past week, and besides cultivating a craving for cinnamon rolls, it got us talking about eating habits, and school, and how many times a week it is healthy to eat fries for lunch (I say three, but all portion recommendations double during pregnancy.). Jamie (yes, The Naked One), a British celebrity chef, spent almost a year working with one London borough's school district to revise their lunch menus from fried and processed foods to fresh, more flavorful and healthful meals. The project seems to have inspired momentum to improve the quality of all British school meals and to make children's nutrition a priority, which apparently also helped improved academic performance and decrease the number of kids with behavioral, gastrointestinal and allergy problems at the pilot schools.

We were riveted to the saga, including characters like Nora the dinner lady and of course the kids who were incensed that their chicken nuggets had disappeared. If you get the chance (maybe BBC America will air it?), watch it, it's high drama. And if you're a Jamie Oliver fan, it shows an interesting, more human, less elfin side to him than his jolly cooking shows do. His adorable daughters make several appearances, as does his wife, who most times looks ready to beat the cameraman with a mortar and pestle. Jamie is passionate about the project, though I could have told him that no nine-year-old was going to eschew French fries for a Spicy Thai chicken wrap willingly.

Most fascinating to me were the parents, many of whom began buying McDonald's lunches and bringing them to school for their children, and calling the school to demand the return of "proper" (ie processed and deep fried) food to the lunch room. How was I abandoned by this parental catering service during the days that Hungarian Goulash unexpectedly appeared instead of crispy tacos? Like everything does these days, the show made me wonder what sort of kid I'll have. The kind of kid who will give Lamb Tagine a try, or the kind who will politely take a ladleful and then dump it in the trash? Or, possibly, as one girl on the show did, the kind of kid who will lead a protest including chanting and signage and a hunger strike? Most likely, my kid will be the one who runs up to the guest chef and screams "I hate you and I hate your food and I want my chicken nuggets back" in his face.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wet 'N Wild

Having recently survived a trip through security at a UK airport that involved stuffing my purse and its contents into Jeff's laptop bag because we misjudged the carry-on limit, and watching a 75-year-old woman be divested of her feminine deodorant spray, this post spoke to me. And after it spoke, I laughed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tricky Questions

I stole this meme from The Badger. Who stole it from someone else, so the stealing is OK.

1. You can press a button that will make any one person explode. Who would you blow up?
Paris Hilton

2. You can flip a switch that will wipe any band or musical artist out of existence. Which one will it be?
The Wiggles. As a preventive measure.

3. Who would you really like to just punch in the face?
Conrad Burns. He is making a mockery out of my home state, and it saddens me.

4. What is your favorite cheese?
Cambozola (since smoked squeeze cheese doesn't count as actual cheese)

5. You can only have one kind of sandwich. Every sandwich ingredient known to humankind is at your immediate disposal. What kind will you make?
Tuna salad with capers and red onions and celery, swiss cheese, toasted on light rye. I might even cheat and just go get the one they make at Grand Central Baking, along with yogurt and green onion Kettle Chips and a triple chocolate cookie.

6. You have the opportunity to sleep with the movie celebrity of your choice. We are talking no-strings-attached sex and it can only happen once. Who is the lucky celebrity of your choice?
If this meme gets around, I have the feeling I'm going to have to stand in line, but there's really no choice for me but Johnny Depp. After he has showered.

7. You have the opportunity to sleep with the music-celebrity of your choice. Who do you pick?
Michael Hutchence (see #25)

8. Now that you've slept with two different people in a row, you seem to be having an excellent day because you just came across a hundred-dollar bill on the sidewalk. Holy crap, a hundred bucks! How are you gonna spend it?
Books. And more books. And maybe a purse if I have enough left over.

9. You just got a free plane ticket to anywhere. You have to depart right now. Where are you gonna go?
Let's pretend I'm not pregnant for a moment, since a long-haul flight wouldn't be much fun right now.
Hawaii.

10. Upon arrival to the aforementioned location, you get off the plane and discover another hundred-dollar bill. Now that you are in the new location, what are you gonna do?
Go to a beachside bar, order expensive umbrella cocktails (see? still not pregnant on this trip), crab wonton appetizers, and loads of grilled fresh fish.

11. A demon rises out of Hell and offers you a lifetime supply of the alcoholic beverage of your choice. It is...?
Sangria

12. Rufus appears out of nowhere with a time-traveling phone booth. You can go anytime in the PAST. What time are you traveling to and what are you going to do when you get there?
The early 1980s. I'll go straight to Madison Square Garden and watch Michael Jackson perform live before he got so frightening.

13. You discover a beautiful island upon which you may build your own society. You make the rules. What is the first rule you put into place?
Hurley isn't in charge of the food supply.

14. You have been given the opportunity to create the half-hour TV show of your own design. What is it called and what's the premise?
Blythe's personal questions. I get to eat dinner with the celebrity of my choice, and s/he must answer all of the questions I ask. It's OK with me if they don't give permission for the show to air - I just want the answers.

15. What is your favorite curse word?
Goddammnit (emphasis on the middle syllable, just like my dad says it)

16. One night you wake up because you heard a noise. You turn on the light to find that you are surrounded by MUMMIES. The mummies aren't really doing anything, they're just standing around your bed. What do you do?
Turn off the light, close my eyes, and hope they go away.

17. Your house is on fire! You have just enough time to run in there and grab ONE inanimate object. Don't worry, your loved ones and pets have already made it out safely. So what's the item?
The computer. It's boring, but it houses my thesis. (Yes, I've made a backup copy, but still.)

18. The Angel of Death has descended upon you. Fortunately, the Angel of Death is pretty cool and in a good mood, and it offers you a half-hour to do whatever you want before you bite it. Whatcha gonna do in that half-hour?
Eat a bunch of chocolate. (Oh, come on, this is a family blog.)

19. You accidentally eat some radioactive vegetables. They were good, and what's even cooler is that they endow you with the super-power of your choice! What's it gonna be?
Telekinesis, because I love to be in different places but I hate wasting time sitting in cars and planes.

20. You can re-live any point of time in your life. The time-span can only be a half-hour, though. What half-hour of your past would you like to experience again?
Summer camp dance, 1988. Uncomfortable yet thrilling. And I loved my outfit and my hair.

21. You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?
Mean girls (including me) from junior high school

22. You got kicked out of the country for being a time-traveling heathen who sleeps with celebrities and has super-powers. But check out this cool stuff... you can move to anywhere else in the world! Bitchin'! What country are you going to live in now?
England. Specifically, a parkside flat in London.

23. This question still counts, even for those of you who are under age. You have been eternally banned from every single bar in the world except for ONE. Which one is it gonna be?
Southpark bar in Portland, for the delicious sangria and fantastic bar menu. And they always play the Gipsy Kings.

24. Hopefully you didn't mention this in the super-powers question.... If you did, then we'll just expand on that. Check it out... Suddenly, you have gained the ability to FLOAT!!! Whose house are you going to float to first, and be like "Dude, check it out... I can FLOAT!"?
I would float to see my nephews or my niece - they would think it's awesome.

25. The constant absorption of magical moonbeams mixed with the radioactive vegetables you consumed earlier has given you the ability to resurrect the dead famous-person of your choice. So which celebrity will you bring back to life?
Princess Diana. Because she deserves to see her handsome sons, and because it would really freak out Camilla. Or else Michael Hutchence.

26. The Gates of Hell have opened, and Death appears. As it turns out, Death is actually a pretty cool entity, and happens to be in a fantastic mood. Death offers to return the friend/family-member/person, etc. of your choice to the living world. Who will you bring back?
Any of my grandparents

27. What's your theme song?
Today, it's In the Waiting Line by Zero 7.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fashion Victim

We're in the middle of the annual awards-show drought, but since I watch too much E!, including this past weekend's 101 Fashion Trainwrecks marathon, I feel it's time to look back and acknowledge some of my favorite outfits that the critics (the OTHER critics, besides me, obviously) hated. My top five I Love It/You Hate It red carpet looks:

-Sarah Jessica Parker at the 2001 Academy Awards.
She wore a sparkly Calvin Klein minidress and a mini beehive hairdo. I read that the dress wasn't formal enough, that her hair was ridiculous, and that it was a good thing Bjork showed up in that swan ensemble or she would have been the worst-dressed of the evening. Give me a break. She wore her fabulous legs as an accessory and she pulled off the sixties throwback look without doing the old Kate Hudson hippie thing. As much as I love her, I realize she's not perfect (see: Alexander McQueen kilt disaster and strange pink fluffy gown) but I submit that she was just ahead of the curve on this one.

-Courtney Love at the 2000 Golden Globe Awards.
This dress has been called the Hefty Bag, Cat Scratch Fever, and Shredd. As bad as Courtney can look (and she can look BAAAAD), she looks appropriately dressed up yet edgy here. Come on people, it's Courtney Love. She was nominated for a movie about the Penthouse founder. Were you expecting vintage Valentino? I am not a Courtney fan, but I think this is the perfect look for her.

-Jessica Simpson at the Employee of the Month premiere.
She's been criticized for overdoing the 50's housewife thing (and I'll admit her lipstick is overwhelming) but doesn't that look like a fun dress to wear? And it's about time she lost the cascading Baywatch hair for five minutes. Cute, I say.

-Christina Aguilera at the 2003 VMAs.
OK, I'll admit the weird tan and scary hair are bad, but this pink feather dress works for me. I've read that it isn't a dress, it's just a big feather boa. And? She looks curvy, the feathers are covering all the required parts, and she isn't all, well, Dirrrrty.

-Nicole Kidman at the 2003 Golden Globes.
This gold flapper dress/hair combo is hated and held up as an example of Nicole's fashion fallibility. I would submit her Morticia Addams look from the 2002 Golden Globes for that purpose. The flirty flapper dress, the headband, the curls, and the big gold sequins work for me. Virtually no one else could pull it off, but I think she looks amazing. And not boring.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Growing Pains

When The Age of Innocence was released, I so wanted to love it, but I found I couldn't imagine Winona Ryder as anything but Winona Ryder, no matter what period costume she's wearing. It worked for me in Heathers, but later, there she was, Winona in a pretty hat, or Winona in Jo March's clothes, or Winona in bed with Richard Gere. I can get past the Famous Actor persona in most cases - Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, George Clooney - and I even bought Meg Ryan in her edgier roles. Some actors never ask me to picture them outside the public image - Tom Cruise (not counting his brief appearance as a Vietnam vet), Clint Eastwood, Catherine Zeta-Jones. But a few leave me with the Winona effect.

Leonardo diCaprio remains, for me, the young pinup who got his start on sitcom television and slid into a stereotypical role as rakish Jack in Titanic. His attempts to be serious and grown up in movies like The Beach and Gangs of New York seemed silly to me. I just couldn't buy him as Howard Hughes, the ladies' man. So I was shocked by the realization, halfway through The Departed, that I had completely forgotten he was Leo.

I didn't know much about the film before we bought tickets - mainly, it had an interesting cast (besides Leo, I thought), a cops vs. robbers plot, and was another male-heavy Scorsese picture. I was just so happy for the opportunity to see a first-run American movie that I was willing to see almost anything. I lucked out. It was interesting, complex, violent, subtle, and unpredictable. There were some good performances - Jack (another one who, in the last few decades, hasn't left his persona too far behind) chewed the scenery and Mark Wahlberg was a scene-stealer. Matt Damon and Martin Sheen were fine, though they didn't wow me. Scorsese picked a winner of a script and kept the story moving. But by the end of the picture, it was Leo who had impressed me most. I think I might have become a fan against my will.

See The Departed if you're ready to think, and you don't mind some blood and darkness. If Leo is still stuck in that teenage box in your head, give him a chance to grow up. And I'm going to keep an open mind about Winona.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

London town

I got my first impression of London as a seventeen-year-old tourist. I'd never visited a giant, cosmopolitan city before, but I felt immediately at home there, alongside the international population, the gritty urban streets, the miraculous public transportation, the graceful monuments, and the drizzly spring weather. I dragged my friends around behind me for the two days we had to see the city, absorbing everything from St. Paul's to the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park.

A few years later, Jeff and I spent four months there in college, ostensibly studying art and architecture and politics. He watched a lot of English Premier League on his host family's TV, and I sampled the culinary delights of half the entries in Let's Go London's dining section. I saw at least two plays a week. I wanted to stay forever.

Since then, I've traveled all over the United States and Europe. I've gotten older and fussier when it comes to where I sleep and what I eat and what I think is beautiful and what I judge as kitsch. Last year, we concentrated on seeing European cities that were new to both of us, and I'll admit I was a little concerned as we planned our most recent long weekend in my favorite city on earth; the last time we visited, it was 1998. Both London and I have changed since then.

But I've never fallen for a city the way I fell for London almost twenty years ago, and I'm happy to report that the adoration stuck. The sun shone every day and we didn't see a drop of rain. Though there were plenty of other (mostly American) tourists everywhere, we never felt like we were fighting crowds. We visited some old favorite haunts, saw a couple of shows, and ate our way through a litany of delicious cuisine - fabulous Indian vegetarian buffet lunch, late-night modern Middle Eastern, coffee shops, fast bites, classic fish and chips, French frites, and even the maligned steak pie. I devoured it all. Security measures are more prominent now, but after living with US travel restrictions, I hardly noticed them. The red buses and black taxis are more modern, the city's cultural institutions have spilled across the river, and the Queen is letting people visit her houses now. I shopped at Marks & Spencer, and brought back my favoritie British treats.

It was a perfect London weekend. You really can go home again.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

London Bridge

That's the one that's falling down, not the Fergie version.

We're headed to London this weekend. I plan to eat a bunch of Indian food and go to The Theatre. I'll report back with photos next week.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A cartoon is worth a thousand Worter

If you'd like to know about my life, read this.

(You'll have to live through a brief ad to read it, but it's for the Travel Channel, not so painful, really.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

They're coming to take me away

It was a glorious autumn weekend in Bavaria, and though I did take a walk (mainly to collect the sad German version of a Slurpee, the 'Monster Freeze,' at a local street fair, in case you were under the mistaken impression I was exercising), Jeff and I spent half our time with red-rimmed zombie eyes trying to solve the Funny Farm game. Lest you think the game is funny, or about a farm (which would be forgivable based on the opening page), its name really means that by the time you are finished, or even by the time you are halfway finished, your loved ones will have carted you off to the place where you can sit without even noticing the posterior gape in your hospital gown while you try to come up with the 2-word connection between "people" and "purple" that is neither "one-eyed" nor "one-horned."

Reading the "Hints" (minutely linked in the upper right-hand corner) does help to explain what the hell you're supposed to do to get started, but otherwise it is no help at all. What does help, when it is way past your bedtime and you and your husband are having a giant argument about 3-letter magazine titles (YES I HAVE TRIED INC, I HAVE TRIED IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN, DO YOU WANT TO TYPE NOW?), is to cheat and follow someone else's link to the completed puzzle. Contact me if you are at the cliff's edge and need that link to keep you from jumping over, and I will help you.

P.S.
My internet service provider and my blog provider have staged a throwdown during the past couple of days, and I'm not sure if all the issues have been resolved. If I don't post for a little while, it's because I am unable to log in (not because I've grown so huge that I can't fit behind my desk).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Revered Camden would be proud

The Interweb tells me that there's a new television network on the American airwaves. It's called the C.W. and someone there must have some taste because it hosts Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls and guiltiest of guilty pleasures America's Next Top Model. ("The next name I'm going to call is..." So go ahead and call it, Tyra. Or get a grammar coach.) Though all that girl power hipness might be canceled out by the new episodes of 7th Heaven.

None of this matters to me on a daily basis, since my satellite dish doesn't communicate with the right signal. But every time I see or read something about this happenin' new network, all I can think about is this guy I knew when I was a kid. His name was (all together now) C.W. and he was long and stringy and hyper and lived way out in the country. We went to 4-H camp together when we were ten, and one day we were playing volleyball, and he fell down and got back up again, and I said, "C.W., you have dirt in your teeth." And someone else said, "That ain't dirt, that's chaw."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mmm...Donuts...

I spent yesterday morning with two Franconian bodybuilders.

I live in Franconia, a proud and historic subsection of Bavaria, where people speak with a particular accent and eat a lot of bratwurst and gingerbread. I was invited to join a group of women to make a special Franconian pastry in preparation for upcoming church festivals. Of course I signed up immediately when I heard the word "pastry." The item in question turned out to be a square yeast donut, deep fried in butterfat and sprinkled with powdered sugar. They're even better than they sound; I devoured the half dozen that I brought home in less than 24 hours.

The best part of the outing, however, was spending time in a traditional German kitchen, with two seventy-year-old women. They kneaded a giant wad of dough with upper body strength that could qualify them for an Olympic berth. I just sat next to the floury table and sweated.

Monday, October 02, 2006

At least the moms at my local Starbucks don't speak English.


I couldn't have said it better myself. Though I think she, like me, has read one too many mommyblogs.

I read this post this morning, after visiting the maternity ward secretary at a local hospital. She also needed talk-fight. I am now angry like volcano. I'm going to talk to Jeff about moving to Japan.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Books - September 2006

The Coffee Trader by David Liss
First, take a trip to Amsterdam. Then, drink a strong cup of Turkish coffee. Finally, read this book about the birth of the coffee trade in 17th century Europe.

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott has a way of making her minutely specific descriptions universal. That's why, though I hope I will never be a recovering-addict single mother with an unplanned baby, I can only hope that I will care for my son with the heart and humor she describes.

Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner
I've been avoiding Jennifer "chick lit" Weiner for years. Silly me. Interesting story, funny bits, dramatic bits, no stupid heroines.

It's a Boy edited by Andrea J. Buchanan
Short essays about women and their sons. Good if you have short bits of reading time. I've already passed it on to another mom-expecting-a-baby-boy.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Not one word wasted. Young cowboys. Forbidden love. Mexican desert. Pretty horses. Beautiful.

It's Banned Book Week. Go read a book someone thinks you shouldn't. I suggest something by Judy Blume or Madeline L'Engle or Maya Angelou or (oh, why not) Madonna.

More Evidence

-Last night I enjoyed a long and vivid dream about eating hot, sliced cinnamon rolls slathered with Jif peanut butter.

-I recently lost my balance in the shower and almost tipped over trying to shave my legs. The razor has been moved to the bathtub.

-I've taken up cranberry juice consumption.

-Those five flights of stairs in our apartment building are getting longer and longer.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hey Mama

I have finally embraced my maternity wardrobe. I embraced my maternity appetite, sleep patterns, and mood swings some time ago, but I had a hard time giving up my clothes, which I saw as vestiges of my 'normal' (my 'old, never to be seen again') body. So I had taken to wearing a rotating supply of sweats, reluctantly supplemented by a few pairs of maternity pants (thank heaven for that trip to Old Navy, thanks Sandi) and size large t-shirts. This wardrobe selection illustrates one more perk of being unemployed, by the way. No dress code. However, thanks to Jeff's sartorial requirements, I now sit before my computer screen in a pair of magic pants.

Jeff shops for clothing roughly once each year. He peers into his closet, declares that he has nothing to wear, and we pile into the car and head toward (in former times) the mall or (currently) the city shopping district. He selects a store, enters, and loads up on several pairs of pants, three or four varieties of the same shirt, and few pairs of socks. One year, he wore nothing but Gap jeans and ringer t-shirts. If you happen to see him during the next 364 days, he'll likely be sporting the H&M label somewhere on his person. While he was sorting through the shades and textures of this megastore's brown sock selection, I headed upstairs to the maternity area. You see, I've recently noticed a pain around my midsection, and while I would like to blame it on my growing abdomen and its effect on my taut six-pack, it's probably more attributable to the ugly line that the drawstring of my sweats had permanently etched into my skin. Time for a new solution.

As has been my experience in the past, the women's clothing section of H&M was a mob scene. I've never been to one of these stores without spotting a ten-person queue for the dressing rooms; in fact, once upon a time I was nearly escorted out of the New York City flagship store for trying on a blouse in the middle of the sales floor in order to avoid a 30-minute wait. I pulled it on over my tank top, so don't think I exposed any more skin than the tetchy salesman wearing a Britney Spears headset and a skintight t-shirt who told me to "put (my) clothes back on." On Saturday, I remained stalwart in my unwillingness to participate in the dressing room cattle call, so I pawed through the sale rack, eyeballed the size on a pair of maternity sweats, and rejoined Jeff at the cashier with what I hoped were a pair of pants that might get me through the next few weeks.

When we returned home, I tried them on, fully expecting to have to return them to the store due to too-long legs or baggy waistline. But as soon as I dragged them onto my body, I heaved a sight of relief and yanked off the pricetags. No more aching (former) waistline; no more yanking up those low-rise maternity cords; no more stretchy polyester leggings/trousers. These grey cotton sweats with a low-slung drawstring and ribbed high-rise waistband are my new Little Black Dress. I told Jeff this morning that I plan to wear them until they fall off; he suggested that I might come up with a solution for laundry day, so I think I'll head back downtown tomorrow and buy another pair. Or two.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Unlisted

Stylus has published their list of the top 100 music videos of all time. I blame the writers' youth (fifteen years younger than me), and their apparently international pedigrees, for the fact that I've never seen over half of these videos, including #1. The list grabbed me, though, and reminded me that videos transformed my musical tastes from mainstream to slightly alternative (David Byrne in an oversized suit, anyone? I couldn't tear my eyes away, but why not?). As much as it drove my dad up the wall, MTV was my earliest artistic influence, and made me consider abstract visual concepts, subtext, and complex plot points in a way that it would take me years to realize. Oh, and it influenced my hairstyle too. That Martha Quinn was so rad.

Admittedly, the only clips I sat all the way through when I read the list were the two Nirvana entries (nos. 77 and 48) and Fatboy Slim's Weapon of Choice (no. 47), though I was tempted by Guns-n-Roses' Cold November Rain (no. 41). Maybe Hungry Like the Wolf (no. 87) and Billie Jean (no. 61) are already burned indelibly on my subconscious? Or maybe Kurt Cobain, Christopher Walken, and Axl Rose are as inherently mesmerizing as their reputations testify. My one suggestion to these whippersnapper authors is to take a look at Yes's Owner of a Lonely Heart. Begin watching at 2:10 when the real video starts and the typical 80's warehouse performance footage ends. And imagine a 13-year-old, who had been reading Sweet Valley High books and watching Brady Bunch reruns after school, sitting on a naugahyde La-Z-Boy in her middle American, orange-shag-carpeted living room, with her mind blown.

(Damn you, kottke, and your list links, they're taking over all of my web surfing time.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

After School Special

Have you seen Entertainment Weekly's list of the top fifty best high school movies?

The EW editors must love the mail they receive after they publish these "best of" and "worst of" lists. Especially in the age of e-mail, when any cubicle-dweller can shoot off a ten-paragraph diatribe on the travesty of excluding early Hilary Swank in The Next Karate Kid. Don't think I wasn't tempted to write my own missive on the ridiculous placement of Sixteen Candles at the bottom of the list (below Harry Potter and Bring It On?) I was glad to see that Flirting made it, as did Just One of the Guys. (The TV rights to that movie must be dirt cheap, it seems like it was running on a movie channel every time I used to turn on the TV in a hotel room during a business trip.) Also - Hoop Dreams and Rushmore.

I'll let you see for yourself what made the #1 spot. It's a defining film of my generation, though I am inclined to elevate EW's #2 film to #1 on my own Top 50 list. I always had the feeling that the older kids were cooler than the kids my age.

P.S.
Additional entertaining lists at Blender, including 50 Worst Things to Happen to Music (They're missing The Real World, which was the beginning of the end of music videos' presence on MTV) and 50 Worst Songs Ever. (Dude, some of my favorite songs are listed there. What's not to love about Sunglasses at Night?)