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?)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Having a Baby in Germany
Part One: The Nuts and Bolts of the First Half of Pregnancy

I'm just rounding the bend of week 22 in my pregnancy which, for the uninitiated, means I'm a little over halfway through growing my very own human being. For this first entry, I've recorded some quick hits on topics that struck me as relevant. The following should catch you up on the nuts and bolts of the journey that Jeff, Junior, and I have taken so far:

Choosing my Doctor
I chose my OB/GYN based on a recommendation from our relocation consultant. I was looking for someone who a)accepted the public health insurance (see "Insurance" below), b) speaks English, and c) had an office that was accessible to me without a car, if possible. I wanted to keep my pregnancy private for a while, so I was hesitant to ask other English-speaking acquaintances that I'd met through Jeff's work or my German courses, but this might have been a good avenue as well.

Appointments
I see the doctor every four weeks until I near the end of my pregnancy, when I will see her more frequently. This is about what I expected. My doctor's office has been very efficient - I've never had to wait more than 30 minutes to see my doctor. This seems to be unusual; even with an appointment, it seems that the system here requires most patients to expect a long wait before seeing a physician.

Insurance
I use the German public health insurance (both private and public insurance are available here, and the number of people eschewing the public system for private providers is increasing). At my first appointment, I handed over my insurance card, expecting to be met with a handful of forms. Magically, when my card was swiped through a magnetic reader, my identifying information and the medical history I'd provided when I registered with the insurance company appeared on the receptionist's computer screen. I've had good luck with the public system, though I know there are some providers who accept only private insurance. Public insurance will not cover a private room when I deliver. Coming from the USA and the mess that is the health care system there, it's hard to complain (though I'm sure I may utter a few unkind words if I end up with multiple roommates in various stages of labor). The system here isn't perfect (My dental exam was covered, for example, but I had to pay out of pocket to have my teeth cleaned) but at least every person who lives in Germany is required by law to have coverage.

Mutterpass
I received a Mutterpass ("Mother Passport") at my first prenatal appointment. It's a standard form used, as far as I can tell, by all doctors throughout Germany. My doctor fills out a section of it at each of my appointments, including vital stats, blood and urine test results, and the results of any other testing or recommendations that I've received. A short version of my medical history is in there too. I was advised to keep the Mutterpass with me at all times, so that if I have a medical emergency or need to see a physician when I am away from home, I'll have this information handy.

Prenatal Testing
I have received most of the prenatal testing I expected based on friends' anecdotes and on my own research. My doctor doesn't seem to be an advocate of extra tests - in the USA, for example, I may have been more strongly encouraged toward an amniocentesis due to my age, but she steered me toward the more thorough ultrasound along with blood tests to check for indicators, then allowed us to make the call on the amnio once the results came back with low odds for Down Syndrome, Trisomy 30 and Trisomy 80.

Ultrasounds
I've had five prenatal appointments, and an ultrasound has been performed at four of them. This was a pleasant surprise, since I know that many American moms must wait until the twenty week mark to see an ultrasound, and must do so at a time and location outside their normal prenatal appointments. My OB/GYN has performed all my ultrasounds in her office; in fact, both exam rooms I've seen there are equipped with their own ultrasound machines. The purpose each ultrasound:
-1st one (6 weeks) - confirm pregnancy
-2nd one (10 weeks) - set due date
-3rd one (14 weeks) - optional test for indicators that an amniocentesis may be necessary (We chose to do this because I am of "advanced maternal age.")
-4th one (22 weeks) - 20-week ultrasound to take measurements and confirm that all is progressing as it should be
I will have one more ultrasound as part of the normal prenatal series, at 30 weeks. Three of the four ultrasounds I've had so far, along with the 30-week ultrasound, are included in my health care plan, and if my doctor decides she needs to do more based on symptomataic or test indicators, those will be covered too. The third ultrasound was optional, and cost us 50 euros. If I want more (for, as my doctor calls it, "baby viewing"), I can pay extra - 25 euros per extra ultrasound or a flat fee of 90 euros if I want one at every appointment.


Bedside Manner
This is, of course, a highly subjective topic and varies greatly from doctor to doctor. Since Jeff and I have both had several different experiences with healthcare providers in the past year (different kinds of physicians, dentists, etc), we did draw a few conclusions about cultural differences between the bedside manners of German doctors versus what we're used to in the USA. As Americans, we are used to being treated as consumers in the medical world, due to a customer-service oriented culture and the competitiveness the currently exists in the American health care industry. My American practitioners sat down after my annual exams and gave me carte blanche to ask about any ache, pain, or weird bump on the top of my head that might be bothering me. I had always imagined the first doctor's appointment of my pregnancy to be an opportunity for information-gathering. I'd heard about the questionnaires, the photocopied lists of recommended dietary precautions, and the urgency with which I would be encouraged to sign up for a prenatal instruction course.

My German OB/GYN has been friendly, helpful, and more than willing to speak English with me. She seems competent and knowledgeable, and I trust the care I have received so far. I was surprised, however, when she seemed brusque and breezed quickly in and out of my appointments. She usually stands up after she finishes my exam, shakes my hand, and starts to leave the room before I stop her with my list of questions. Sometimes she answers my questions - other times she tells me to refer to my Mutterpass (see above), or (very occasionally) tells me that I really don't need to know that information yet. I have never been given advice about diet, exercise, or health habits. I've never been asked if I am a smoker, or told not to empty the cat's litter box. I imagine there are several reasons for this, and the language barrier is probably a big one. Her English is good, but not fluent, and my German is elementary at best; if she routinely provides questionnaires or handouts to her patients, they are probably printed in German. I would bet, however, that it is more attributable to a cultural difference. I am expected to take responsibility for my own health, and to read and learn about what is best for me. There is something empowering about this philosophy that I like, though it requires more effort and different expectations from me. I've also found that, when dealing with a professional in any field (real estate agent, carpenter, insurance broker), we have been required to ask very specifically for the information we wanted - there are no long explanations or words of advice followed by, "any questions?"

Next time
The final explanation for my doctor's brusque manner is, I think, due to the pivotal role that the midwife usually plays in prenatal care and childbirth here. Midwives and physicians work together with expectant mothers - most women here use both. Jeff and I have scheduled meetings with prospective midwives in the coming weeks, so next time I'll write more about the role of my midwife.

Introduction and Disclaimer

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Alles klar

David Sedaris, you are my hero. D'accord, alles klar, okey dokey, it all leads to the same place. Talking to strangers while wearing nothing but your underpants. (via kottke)

What the what?

Lukas won?

Further proof that I am not now, nor will I ever be, able to think like Tommy Lee. The three stooges must believe they possess enough sex appeal and testosterone to counterbalance the Gremlin and his lack of appeal to women who like edgy rock-n-rollers, and men who listen to metal. Yeah, that's a good name for a band, Tommy and the Weird Little Gremlin. Since, you know, they do need a new name.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Goings On

-I've added some new links to my blogroll over yonder. Because it was brought to my attention that a few readers had actually begun to get some work done at the office.

-I spent yesterday afternoon banging my head against my keyboard until a fellow commenter over at Eurotrippen saved me from a brain hemorrhage by reminding me that even Tommy Lee is controlled by Grandmaster Gates, and that I must use Internet Explorer if I wish to watch the Rockstar:Supernova online video.

-I've discovered a new favorite beverage: Rooitea or Rotbusch Tea. It tastes like slightly sweetened black tea, but is caffeine-free. My addiction is the vanilla flavor with a little milk. It pairs nicely with mini glazed donut-like pastries, sold by my local bakery, 5 for 1.50 euros. No wonder I like it so much.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Having a baby in Germany
Introduction and Disclaimer

At age 35, I'm one of the last of my group of friends and family to have a baby. For the past few years, I've been storing information in my memory bank, listening to stories about triple screen tests, pain relief options, which pacifiers work best, and how to get a good deal on diapers. I've visited new babies nestled next to moms and dads in birthing suites in hospitals all over my American hometown. I've noted the names of obstetricians, midwives, and lactation consultants. I know the difference between Boppy and My Brest Friend.

And all that information became basically worthless to me when we moved from the USA to Germany last year. I knew that choosing to have a baby overseas would be a challenge; it would mean confronting the language barrier and the cultural differences from a whole new direction. Living in a new country means one surprise after another, from what arrives on the table at a restaurant to what's expected of me by my neighbors. But I was hoping to minimize a few surprises during this whole pregnancy/childbirth odyssey. I hoped that some other expatriate hausfrau might have written (in English) an account of her experience having a baby in Deutschland. But I've done a bunch of searching around bookstores and the internet and, so far, no dice. The English-language books and websites I've been devouring are helpful, but when they start referring to the best carseat brands, or how things work at the hospital, I have to read with the awareness that procedures and traditions in my current life could be very, very different than what happens in the typical American doctor's office or baby supply store. Or they could be the same - how am I to know?

So, to fill that void (someday, someone else is going to wonder about this stuff, I just know it), I plan to write a series of posts about my journey through pregnancy as an American woman in Germany. By series, I mean I may end up writing a couple of posts, or I may write eight or ten. It's probably obvious that I am not a medical professional, nor am I a cultural expert, so let this serve as a disclaimer that this will be my story, from my perspective, colored by my biased opinions and expectations.

If this stuff bores you, don't worry, I'll still post my regular pop culture commentaries and food photos and daily drivel. And I promise not to post any photos that might gross you out. Stay tuned for the first installment.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Anniversary

Traveling from my isolated lifestyle in Deutschland to weeks of nonstop socializing in my former hometown was less of a shock that you might imagine. I had weeks of hugs and salmon dinners and giggling nephews and catching up and going out.

Friends and relatives and acquaintances asked me on a daily basis if I "like" living in Germany. I have a no-lying policy (just ask Jeff, we're constantly debating the merits of little white lies), so while it was tempting to say it's great to live the European lifestyle and lounge around in my jammies all day long, I had to admit that it's been a difficult year.

When I returned to Nurnberg last weekend, dragging two enormous suitcases (don't worry, pregnancy watchers, I had a luggage cart), I was struck with how much it felt like that day, almost exactly one year ago, when Jeff and I landed at the very same airport, hauling the same suitcases, to begin our European adventure. We had only a vague idea of the craziness ahead of us; we expected language barrier frustrations (check!), period of adjustment to new job/no job (double check!), and feelings of isolation (quadruple check). We did not anticipate the months of hotel living, the frustration with apartment hunting, the hostile feelings we would develop toward a culture that, some days, seemed like it was designed to make outsiders feel small and stupid. The good stuff - scenic travel, the chance to see Europe-dwelling family members, World Cup mayhem, new tastes and sounds and smells and immersion in a culture different than our own - was mixed in there too, and fortunately some great stuff - the sushi joint down the street, and the kind next-door neighbor, for example - was just as unexpected.

Throw all of that together, and it's still hard to say I like living here. I like the amazing pastries at the bakery up the street. I like our modern, Ikea-style apartment. I like having time to write, and read interesting books, and try new recipes. I like visiting places I've seen on postcards, without the jetlag or the expense of transAtlantic travel. I like having an opportunity to re-evaluate my future - career, family, lifestyle. But there are days when I feel like that opportunity came at the high price of stripping away everything that made me feel like a confident and capable person, with an identity of my own. I imagine these feelings aren't unusual for a so-called expat trailing spouse, and some days they've hit me like waves. When I learned I was pregnant, the joy and anticipation arrived along with the hormones and the difficulty in imagining yet another huge change in our lives. Fortunately, we rode that rollercoaster and arrived at a place where we can't wait to meet our son (did I mention that it's a boy?!) in person.

I was worried about returning to Germany, and though it's been only a few days, things are going all right so far. It might just be the post-shopping high (imagine how many onesies and receiving blankets it takes to fill an entire extra suitcase), or the residual Slurpee syrup coursing through my digestive tract, but I'm optimistic. I think the coming year is going to be a good one. And while we are about to undertake another life change that will involve sleeplessness, a new language, and a change of identity, at least we have had some practice. Besides, the bakery opens in the darkest hours of the morning, and it's just up the street.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What does "EVS" mean?

According to my site stats, this is the question on Rockstar fans' fingertips. It all started when Toby painted the cryptic word on his chest a few weeks ago. He claimed that it is a derivative of "Whatever" - as in, "Whatever, I don't care if Dilana is going down in flames, I'm going to drink a pint and have a good time." "EVS" is plucked from the second-to-last syllable of "Whatever." And I think I've now used up my lifetime allotment of quotation marks.

Toby's explanation, however, is not backed up by the online Australian slang dictionaries that I've consulted. The word is absent from all locations except Toby's chest, apparently. Well, all locations except Toby's chest and my blog, which is why I am the #3 Google hit when you search on "What does EVS mean?" and why I'm writing this post in the first place, which should boost me straight to the top of the Google search. EVS, dude.

I still suspect that Toby is a huge Dylan fan, and EVS really means SOY BOMB.

(Here's a useful link if you're actually looking for information about the European Voluntary Service.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Shopping

You may have noticed that slightly obnoxious, blinking, new badge on the right hand sidebar. Scroll down, you'll see it. It links to my latest toy, StyleHive. It's like a wishlist that covers the whole web, or a way to share all my favorite things with everyone I know. And it gives me the satisfaction of shopping and choosing fancy things (like a set of Kate Spade baby dishes, yikes) without spending any money. Neat-o.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Books - August 2006

Live from New York by James A. Miller and Tom Shales
All the backstage dirt I wonder about when I watch talented people work together. Stars (writers, actors, producers, and more) of SNL share their apparently uncensored memories of their time in the pressure cooker. Reading it made me glad I've never had a job where screaming arguments were part of the daily grind.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Fascinating analysis of the human decision-making process, using stories, statistics, and real-life examples. I read this book in less than 24 hours (OK, I was jetlagged, so I didn't sleep during that time, but it really is a quick read.)

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
Have you ever read a book just because you feel like you're missing part of American culture if you don't? That's one reason to read this. Also, it's pretty short.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
Funny and delicious. Some bloggers really can write good books. And, apparently, assemble every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1.