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.