Monday, December 31, 2007

Books - December 2007

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Misty story about a quirky family of women.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Landing


I felt a little sorry for myself on the plane because Jeff was seated in the row behind us instead of next to me. Then I chatted for a while with my seatmate, who was traveling from Cairo with her two-year-old and her six-week-old. The tiny baby was on the second long-haul flight of her life, having been born in New Zealand, returned home to Egypt, then packed on the airplane for this Christmas journey just ten days after landing.

Ten days after our own touchdown, we've celebrated half a year's worth of occasions. This tends to happen in big families, I think. We save up all the festivities - birthdays, baptisms, baby and bridal showers - until everyone can be there or it just doesn't feel right. Now, appropriately after such overindulgence, we're feeling exhausted and could use some greasy fast food.

Still on the to-do list: a serious visit to Powell's bookstore; a multi-course Mexican feast; a visit to Montana to complete the Grandma matched set.

And, can you believe it snowed on Christmas day?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Festive

I can't come up with a way to capture the sheer Christmasiness (add that to Urban Dictionary stat) of Nurnberg this time of year. The Christkindlesmarkt is big and smells like spiced wine and grilled sausages and gingerbread, and choirs are singing and people are walking around the red-and-white striped awnings wearing cozy mittens and scarves. There are so many people, in fact, that taking a decent picture is impossible for an amateur like me.

The big market with stalls selling pottery and ornaments and toys and even strange dolls made out of prunes is the big attraction where all the tour buses spill their passengers. The children's market, around the corner and down the street is just as charming and crowded, but many of the people are shorter so it's easier to take photos. These ones still don't capture the magic, but maybe they give you a glimpse. Just imagine eating a hot cone of fries smothered in garlic sauce and listening to children exclaiming over the Eisbahn (model winter railroad) while you look at them.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Thoughts

-The two biggest concerts in the world (according to that reliable resource, My Favorite Gossip and News Websites) both took place in London recently: Led Zeppelin's reunion and opening night of The Spice Girls' 17-date run. I find this amusing.

-I'm in that phase of travel preparation that involves piles and piles of empty luggage and lots of laundry. Also, I'm wearing a bunch of strange clothing combinations because I am "saving" my clean clothes for the trip.

-Apparently Jessica Simpson is the new Yoko Ono (where the Dallas Cowboys = The Beatles and a pink football jersey = round wire-framed glasses).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wherefore Art Thou?

I have completely lost track of December. I can't tell you what I've accomplished so far this month. I do recall attending a Christmas party or two, and shopping at a Christmas market, and drinking some Gluhwein. Maybe that is the problem? Too much Gluhwein?

I was concerned that December would drag on and on and the day of our holiday departure would never arrive and I would gnash my teeth in frustration. But now we leave next week and I suppose I'd better get my act together. No teeth-gnashing, just mad packing.

I'll probably be away from the blog until the middle of January, unless something awesome happens (like my first taste of Nachos Bellgrande since August).

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Like Popeye

I met Heather when we were both five years old and her family moved to town and bought our house. We played Barbies and went on to put on plays in her attic, found our own cake-decorating business, and go to the prom with two boys named Mark. We were bridesmaids for each other and since I don't have any brothers and sisters she is probably the person in my life besides my parents who has known me the longest.

Heather lives in North Carolina now and I'm not sure when I'll get to see her again because we never seem to be in the same place at the same time. But I think of her whenever I make her spinach lasagna which is easy and works every time. I usually cut the recipe in half, and make it in a square pan.

Spinach Lasagna
1/2 lb lasagna noodles
1 (26 oz) jar spaghetti sauce
1 (15 oz) container ricotta cheese
1 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 lb shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
chopped parsley

Prepare noodles as directed on the container. Combine ricotta, spinach, 1/2 cup mozzarella, parmesan, & eggs. Mix well. In a 15 x 19 baking dish, layer 1 cup sauce, half the lasagna, half the remaining sauce, all of the spinach mixture, the remaining lasagna, and the rest of the sauce. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until bubbly. Uncover and top with remaining mozzarella and parsley. Bake 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

This is not a holiday gift guide.

This is a list of things I use every day that I love love love. I suppose if you know someone exactly like me, you could give one of them to her as a gift.


Reisenthel shopping bag
This bag folds up into a little pouch that I hang on the hook next to my house keys. I take it out with me every day, and I use it to hold bananas or baby food or gummi bears after I've bought them.








Microplane Grater
In my past life, I never zested citrus fruits or grated my own Parmesan cheese or garlic or ginger. And now I do, because this thing makes it easy and the clean-up doesn't make my knuckles bleed.




Case Logic TBC-4 Camera Bag
I ordered this bag sight unseen after reading the Amazon reviews and recommendations so I wasn't sure it was going to be just what I needed. The Amazon reviewers are lovers/haters but they didn't steer me wrong this time. Despite it being advertised as a camcorder bag, it fits our Canon Powershot S3 IS just perfectly, with room for cords and batteries. AND the little carrying loop fits nicely over our stroller handles.






Moleskine Weekly Planner + Notebook
I bought this when I felt disorganized but didn't have enough going on to fill the kind of planner I used to use when I had a job. I am now a Moleskine convert and just opening and closing the little leather cover of this thing gives me joy. Yes,I'm a freak, but this planner makes me happy.







Baby Rear-View Mirror
This allows me to see Theo while I drive and he rides in his rear-facing carseat. I feel comfortable allowing him to screech in the car because, with this mirror, I can tell he's just annoyed, not injured.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Double Feature

Our weekend was busy and rainy and included a trip through Nurnberg's famous Christmas market or, as I like to think of it, Nurnberg's famous mob of tourists drinking hot wine and standing around. I have the luxury of being able to re-visit the market on a weekday when there are fewer tour buses and no lines at the bratwurst stands. I'm looking forward to it.

There's no better way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon than watching movies, so I accomplished a double feature yesterday. Katie and I caught "Atonement" at the theatre. I started the book a few years ago but never finished it because I couldn't stand the weight of impending doom every time I picked it up. The movie also has the doom factor but it's much easier to take for a couple of hours than for days on end. I loved its visual grace and complex story and characters. James McAvoy is my latest movie star boyfriend so that helped it along too. Keira Knightley bugged me less than usual and I wasn't too bothered by the few THIS IS CINEMA moments the director indulged in. The best review I can give is to say that I'm still thinking about it 24 hours later which, to me, makes it a good movie.

Then I came home and watched "Elf" on TV. I'd never seen it before and I'm not a big Will Ferrell fan but even his scenery chewing (he is the new Jim Carey, we can only hope he finds his own Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) couldn't ruin the charming story and great details. I'm glad to know the North Pole really is exactly like those stop-motion holiday specials of my youth.

Friday, November 30, 2007

WHEW

Can you believe November is over?

Writing every day wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. But don't bet the farm that you'll see a post from me tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Wide Open Spaces : Dixie Chicks

Books - November 2007

The Girls by Lori Lansens
A memoir-style novel about a pair of conjoined twins. Proves that an interesting premise doesn't always mean the story will be any good.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
My friends who read this romantic yarn about a Confederate deserter's journey back home didn't like it, but they read it when it was at the height of its hype. My advice: wait to read books when they've gone out of fashion and you have no expectations. I loved Frazier's writing, and the story is a good one.

Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman
My reading pleasure was enhanced by being almost exactly the same age and from the same kind of town as the author of this book. Also, it helped that I still listen to Def Leppard.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Theo Thursday the Fourth

Theo and his dad went out to get some Chinese food for our dinner, so I'm writing in blissful quiet. Our little pterodactyl has recommenced his dinosaur screech during the past few weeks and, frankly, it's giving me a headache.

Also giving me a headache is the aftermath of my visit to the dentist this afternoon. The hygienist cleaned my teeth for an entire hour and I hate to tell you this but it was sort of gory. Do beer and bratwurst cause plaque to multiply exponentially or is it just another example of German thoroughness? I think I might even start flossing just to avoid the bloodbath next time. (Wait, isn't that almost exactly what I said last time?)

Speaking of (no, not bloodbaths) dental hygiene, I bought a weird little baby toothbrush for Theo earlier this week. It has about twelve rubber bristles and I guess I'm supposed to rub it across his little teeth after he eats. So far I can't even get the package open. That, combined with my bad example, does not bode well for his future dental health.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Uncle Scott and Auntie Kerri's Christmas Mix

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Five for Fighting

I've been tagged for a meme! Which is a good thing because otherwise you would be reading a post about the weather or what I ate for dinner or something, and nobody wants that.

1. Post five links to five of your previously written posts, relating each to the key words family, friends, yourself, your love and anything you like.
2. Tag five other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least two new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.
3. Don’t forget to read the archived post and leave comments.

Family: Sibling Rivalry

Friends: This one is rated R
It's not really ABOUT my friends, but it was from my friend Daniela and it will give you a laugh.

Jeff: Jeff as Wayne Gretzky

Myself: Tricky Questions

Anything I Like: When country wasn't cool
I hate to say I told her so.

I'm not going to tag anyone because I'm trying to work on being less of a rule-follower. This is a rebellious act. I dare the blog police to come and find me.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: X&Y : Coldplay

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Livin' On A Prayer

Dear Chuck Klosterman,

I tried to find your email address so I could send this letter directly to you, but I'm going to post it here instead. I imagine you've tracked down all the thirty-something bloggers from small towns like yours and that I'll receive a comment from you soon (fingers crossed).

I'm 2/3 through your first book, Fargo Rock City. This is problematic because my master's degree thesis is due in just two weeks, but I can't seem to stop reading your social commentary about small town America in the 1980's as it relates to heavy metal bands. While my thesis topic does relate to small town America, it does not include an analysis of power ballads, so reading your book doesn't really count as research.

You seem like a cool guy who might do me a favor. Well, actually you seem cool now because you have published four books and write for Esquire. You probably were one of the kids in school who initially scared me with his long mullet and Iron Maiden t-shirt (DEVIL MUSIC said my Young Life leaders). But eventually I sat next to you in World History and realized you were hilarious, even though I was surprised you spoke to me in the first place considering how much Duran Duran and George Michael I listened to at that point. So yeah, you're a nice guy. Could you call my thesis advisor and let him know my thesis will be late? And that it's your fault?

Because I guess living in a small town meant that I absorbed waaaay more metal music than I intended to. It was probably some kind of backward incantation by Nikki Sixx that caused me to memorize all the lyrics to "Lick It Up" and "Crazy Train." Or maybe I accidentally watched a few episodes of Headbangers' Ball.

Anyway, thanks for writing such a kickass book. I really appreciate your ironic use of umlauts in the subtitle, especially now that I live in Germany and know what an umlaut is supposed to do. And I'm blaming you if I never get my master's degree.

Sincerely,
Blythe

PS
This is still killing me (P. 21):
"Listening to Clapton is like getting a sensual massage from a woman you've loved for the past ten years; listening to Van Halen is like having the best sex of your life with three foxy nursing students you met at a Tastee Freez." Yeah, we used to have a Tastee Freez in my town too.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Cross Roads : Bon Jovi

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Glamorous Life

We've already had one of those evenings where we wondered when Alan Funt was going to emerge from the bathroom closet.

Jeff arrived home at 6:30pm and by 6:45 all three of us were covered in the remnants of a dirty diaper, bath water, and salty tears. It wasn't anything particularly horrible, just a bad blowout and a baby who was tired and naked and cold and decided he was terrified of the bathtub faucet and therefore must wail and weep and pee all over his parents. Dinner was sizzling in a pan on the stove and the dryer was beeping too. There really wasn't much to do except laugh and mop up the various puddles.

Now, an hour later, our bellies are full (homemade hummus and grilled lamb pitas, yum), the baby is asleep, we've had a wardrobe change, and peace has been restored.

I think I might be in bed by 8:30.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: The Best That I Could Do : John Mellencamp

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Announcement

We are not decorating for Christmas this year. We left the decorations, including the wonderful handmade wooden nativity set we bought last year on Christmas Eve, in the attic. Instead, I plan to bury all three of us in baked goods in honor of the Christmas season. I will post photos of my treats next month if we don't eat everything immediately.

OK, I couldn't resist buying a poinsettia at the grocery store on Friday. But it will probably be buried in the baked goods eventually too.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Skin

Jeff took Thanksgiving off work. After my book group lunch when our new Thursday afternoon babysitter arrived, the two of us headed out for an afternoon of relaxation at a new nearby indoor water park. We decided to splash (ha!) out for access to the SaunaLand in addition to the water slides and current pool and jet pools that we'd tried before with Theo in tow.

This explains how I found myself on Thanksgiving day wrapped in a towel, eating a soft pretzel, sitting in a bar with a two-story view of naked Germans walking around in the freezing weather between outdoor sauna buildings. The facility is beautiful and houses a bunch of small indoor sauna rooms including one in which aroma is pumped on a changing hourly schedule, plus a series of sauna huts in an adjoining yard. After an hour riding the waterslides (strobe lights! inntertubes!), floating in the whirlpools, and paddling around in the steamy outdoor pool, we both could have used a half hour of pineapple-flavored warmth. Instead, we sat around on the benches outside the sauna rooms with our towels cinched tightly around us, soaking our feet in little basins and trying not to make eye contact with anyone, especially each other, as people dropped their robes and strolled around the room. Finally we realized we would never get over our ingrained American giggle reflex and we'd better get out of there. So we went upstairs, ordered pretzels, and realized when we looked out the window that we could not escape the skin display.

I have no problem with public nudity in theory, in fact the whole experience led me to realize how much more realistic American body image would be if we were used to seeing regular people's naked bodies more often. We grow up seeing movie stars and models and other teenagers in gym class naked, but I can tell you with great certainty that those bodies bear no resemblance to the average fifty-year-old. And I admire the idea that the human body is just normal and everybody has one and blah blah blah.

However, there was no way anyone was going to talk me into peeling off my bathing suit and entering a sauna room with three old, nude strangers. It didn't matter how nice it smelled in there.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Slave4U : Britney Spears

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ladies' Day

My international women's book group shares a Thanksgiving meal each year. It's such a nice way to mark the day that isn't a holiday around here. We ate turkey and mashed potatoes made by Americans, veggies by a Romanian and a Filipina, soup by a Colombian, sweet potatoes and stuffing by Germans, and trifle by an Englishwoman for dessert.
(see photos of the lovely ladies below)



THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: 80's Hits Stripped : Various Artists

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Theo Thanksgiving Thursday

Lately, when I sneak in to check on Theo before I turn in for the night, I've noticed that he is usually lying at the same end of the crib where Jeff put him down to sleep. It signifies for me that he's growing up a little. When he first learned to roll over and then to scoot around, I would find him at the far end from where he started, sometimes with his little feet in their footed pajamas sticking through the bars of the crib because he had wiggled sideways. Then, by morning, he would have wedged his head into different corner completely and tossed his binky on the floor. I wondered how he would ever learn to sleep with blankets and a pillow. But now that he has learned to keep his head at the head end of the bed, and his bare feet at the other end (Did you know that jammies in size 12 months and larger don't have feet? Except Carter's brand.), I guess he is on his way.

He has also mastered the sippy cup. Theo has always been happy to drink anything out of any vessel that anyone puts to his lips, but just this week he finally figured out how to tackle the project on his own. This development could be related to the recent introduction of saltine crackers into his diet. Lesson: if your baby won't feed himself liquid, just pour salt down his throat until he's so thirsty he can't help but suck down any water within his reach.

Theo is thankful for turkey, mashed potatoes, bath time, and the fact that cheese is not a traditional Thanksgiving food.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Sinatra Reprise, The Very Good Years : Frank Sinatra

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Blablomoblo

I had an ambitious post planned for today. It was going to include links and humor and useful information and possibly an adorable baby picture.

And then today kicked my butt. Not one big kick but forty-seven little prods that made me want to shove it out of my personal space and scoot all the way out of its reach. I'm tired for no good reason and tomorrow is the beginning of the holiday season and we're going to end up having turkey schnitzel for dinner.

Crap.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: O : Damien Rice

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Look!

It's proof that the world really does revolve around me.

NPR recently featured a segment by one of my favorite TV chefs, Nigella Lawson, all about quick breakfast food. Apparently Nigella has been reading my blog and knew I needed some suggestions. (Thanks, Sandi)

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: White Ladder : David Gray

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Matter of Taste

Tonight, we had dinner compliments of Rachael Ray and dessert by Martha Stewart. I am a bit of a cookbook glutton and I confess that at least half of my formidable collection was authored by People On TV. I've had a few bad experiences (that Paul Newman cookbook really didn't do much for me but at least the purchase price went to charity) but, all in all, most of the recipes I've tried have worked out.

I am aware that many, many people feel strongly about Rachael Ray. I watched her 30 minute meals and her travel show and I could see why she might rub someone the wrong way but, whatever. That's what I thought. I asked for a couple of her cookbooks and I use the newest addition (365 No Repeats - what a thrilling title - but who cares) all the time. Her meals are tasty and the recipes work and they don't take three hours to make.

Martha's recipes, on the other hand, are temperamental. They are always detailed and specific but sometimes they don't come out as well as promised. On the plus side, I love that her latest books include photos of all the finished products. I need visual aids.

I used to watch Martha Stewart and while she's interesting, she wasn't must-see TV for me. I think it had something to do with the episode where she pointed out that she only allows her black horses outside for an hour or so of daylight each day because their coats might fade and that wouldn't be aesthetically pleasing. However, I've had good luck with her hors d'oeuvres. But I do understand why the Martha haters exist, though they seem to like her more now that she has a record.

I was never too clear on the vitriol directed toward Rachel, though. Until I happened upon a rerun of her 'new' TV show which is apparently now being broadcast on British satellite TV, lucky me. I tuned in during an innocuous cooking segment, which was fine, there she was with her junk bowl and yumm-o, and turquoise refrigerator just like I remembered. But then, after the commercial break, she started talking with a mother and a daughter who needed help from her in-house Life Coach. And there was cackling and forced humor and hunched shoulders and I started to understand.

So I turned the channel because I really love her Pasta with Chicken Bel Aria and I need to continue using her cookbook without disturbing flashbacks.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: The Hits : Prince

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Cheese Stands Alone

I inadvertently omitted one of Theo's vehement dislikes on that list I made the other day. I had forgotten about the great and terrible cheese.

I'm not sure why we were so delighted when Theo grew big enough to sit in the shopping cart seat. He looks so small and determined clutching its bars and staring around at every shopper, every pair of socks, every avocado that we pass during our weekly shopping excursions. He cranes his neck around so he can see where we're headed and examines the other people in the store solemnly. There's always so much going on around him that he's too distracted to fuss.

Our routine includes a stop at the fancy cheese counter. I usually make a detour into the yogurt aisle while Jeff wheels the cart up to where he makes his weekly request for what we've learned is the most exotic of delicacies - yellow Irish cheddar. The cheese ladies, who wear white paper hats and hairnets and crisp aprons, all know him and start to prepare our order as soon as they see Jeff coming.

The past few weeks, after Jeff parks the shopping cart, just as the cheese lady makes eye contact and starts to speak, Theo becomes as terrified as I've ever seen him. I can usually hear his shrieks as I reach for the yogurt, and by the time I get to the counter, Jeff has picked him up and the cheese lady is backing away slowly. There are tears, there is clutching, there was even, on one occasion, the apparent attempt to climb out of Jeff's arms and flee the scene on foot.

Our block of cheddar tossed across the counter and flung into the cart, we get past the meat counter and all the way to the cereal aisle before Theo has stopped crying. By the time we arrive at the pasta section, he is once again happily ensconced in the cart and smiling at the baby whose mother is shopping for egg noodles.

We have no idea what he fears, but it's happened every time we've visited the grocery story in the past few weeks. His freak-out is, as far as we can tell, usually precipitated by the attention of the cheese ladies. Our one and only theory is that he doesn't like their unusual costume, particularly the pointy hat.

We're pretty sure he is going to love his first encounter with Santa Claus.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Elephunk : Black Eyed Peas

Saturday, November 17, 2007

You are so impressed with my creative wit.

It's Saturday night and I've had a glass of wine (Argento Malbec 2006, if you must know). It's time for one of my famous bulleted lists of unrelated information:

-We went downtown today and noted that the gigantic Nurnberg Christmas market is almost completely constructed, despite an opening day that's almost two weeks away. Again with the overzealous decking of the halls (and/or the German propensity to plan ahead).

-Italy and Scotland are currently battling for a spot in the European football championships. In case you're wondering, Cameronesi has grown his ponytail back since it was so ruthlessly sheared by his teammates after their World Cup victory. (Go Scotland)

-Does anyone have a really good stuffing recipe that doesn't require exotic ingredients like andouille sausage or chestnuts?

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: The Greatest Hits : INXS

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fa la la la la

I'm pretty sure I am not the first person ever to say this, but holy cow, where did autumn go? Suddenly it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and I am still sitting around admiring the cute pictures of my baby dressed as a Halloween pumpkin.

I never expected to hold Americans up as models of restraint when it comes to holiday decorations. My American grocery store used to start stocking the Valentine candy on December 26th, followed by Easter eggs on February 15th and 4th of July napkins on the first of May. But we do happen to be the only country in the world that has that good old old starting-gun, Thanksgiving, and I think it saves us from decking the halls in mid-October. I realize that few retail establishments follow this guideline anymore but some still do (Nordstrom? Are you still with me? CALL ME.) and I don't know any actual, non-profit families who put up a Christmas tree before turkey day.

I acted slightly horrified when I saw the wreaths and ribbons and twinkly lights going up on buildings around town last week. But then something magical happened. It snowed, and we had snow on the ground for three days, and suddenly I was ready to break out the Elvis Christmas CD and don me now my gay apparel.

I wish I knew where I was going with this, besides finding an excuse to announce to all three of my readers that I was so inspired that I finished over half of my Christmas shopping, all thanks to that snowstorm. You may now mock me and hate me and call me a goody-goody who can't handle the crowds at the mall like a REAL shopper. But I'll be off baking gingerbread men.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Greatest Hits : Journey
(Stone in Love is a really underrated song.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I wasn't kidding about Theo Thursdays


Likes:
Ina Garten, my Binky, mouth sounds, swimming, Sandra Boynton, electrical appliances, toes, yogurt, giraffes, naps

Dislikes:
my car seat, empty bottles, the Cuisinart, strained green beans

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: The Legend of Johnny Cash : Johnny Cash

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

You're kidding me with the shoes

Lilacspecs has tagged me for a meme, and I know you're all relieved because there might have been another post about shopping.

Rules:

1- Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2- Share 7 random or weird things about yourself.
3- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

7 Random or Weird Things About Myself:
1. I still have a better vocabulary in Spanish than in German, even after living in Deutschland for more than two years. I guess all those hours chanting verbs in my high school and college Spanish classes made the words stick after all.
2. If I were a boy, my name would be Cooper, after Gary Cooper.
3. I blew almost an entire month's spending money on a pair of shoes the first week of my freshman year of college. They were brown Calvin Kleins and they cost $75. I had never bought a pair of shoes for over $25 before. (Sorry, there's just no escape from the shoe shopping around here.)
4. Raisins make me gag.
5. I have copies of all the Vanity Fair Hollywood issues except the first one, which I had but threw out before I started collecting them.
6. The name I chose for myself in Spanish class was Ava.
7. I should probably have just changed my name to Ava when I moved to Germany too, since the "th" sound doesn't exist in the German language.

I tag Abby, Katie, Kerri, Daniela, Scott (dude you really need to update your blog), Kendra (you too), and Carol.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Live 1980-86 : Joe Jackson

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mallrat

Silver Shoes
I know, some of you are saying, "Enough with the shoes! Enough with the shopping! Where is your cute baby?"

Too bad. You're just going to have to wait, because I went to the mall yesterday. THE MALL.

OK, there was no Nordstrom there. No Bath & Bodyworks. No Cinnabon (sniff). But it did have a food court, with sushi. And a store that sold nice-smelling candles, and several places to buy shoes. So I bought some shoes.

This mall is brand new and gave me the eerie yet somehow enjoyable feeling that I'd stepped into an American suburb where everyone speaks German and instead of anchor stores the malls have bakeries at each end.

Aren't you glad I'm posting every day this month? Because you can't live without this kind of information.


THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Tidal : Fiona Apple

Monday, November 12, 2007

Amendment

Brown Boots
Did I imply earlier that Germans don't enjoy shopping as recreation?

Scratch that.

Here in Bavaria, the "most German part of Germany," we spend our Sundays walking in the park and frolicking with our families. We never ever spend the day grocery shopping or picking up a spare lightbulb or, heaven forbid, shoe shopping. It's against the law for stores to open their doors on this most holy day of rest. I'm not bitter about that or anything.

I've learned to appreciate some of the quirks of German culture that used to irritate me. I no longer have the impulse to turn right on red, and I even drink half beer/half Sprite by choice. But when someone inevitably tries to convince me how relaxing and healthy it is to have a day off from running errands, I smile tightly and struggle not to tell them my theory that this just creates complete mayhem in the stores on Saturdays as every working person in the country tries to cram his shopping into one day each week. Still, I get a condescending smile, reminding me that Sundays are for resting, just take your American craving to spend spend spend and walk it off. Preferably while sporting some of those Nordic ski poles.

But two or three times per year, each town gets a reprieve from the retail therapy ban and is allowed to open on Sunday afternoon. If my local acquaintances are to be believed, the stores should be deserted, since who wants to spend another day slogging through the terrible chore of buying some new clothes?

Or some new boots, perhaps?

Judging by the tangled mass of humanity at my local shopping area yesterday, everyone does. Don't try to tell me they weren't having a good time shoving one another out of the way to get to that rack of discounted sandals.

Because I had a good time buying new boots. I've been searching for these boots for a while, and it just took a Sunday afternoon of shopping to find them.

Alas, when I'm looking for some fun next Sunday, I guess I'll have to locate some ski poles instead.


THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Hang On Little Tomato : Pink Martini

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Push It

If you are in my address book, you've probably received an e-mail from me at one time or another that says, "This made me think of you," followed by a link to some blog post about your favorite brand of socks, or a website dedicated to people with one green eye and one brown eye, or that YouTube video where the guy does the history of dance in 30 seconds. Because I'm addicted to the internet and I'm a pusher.

Just in case I haven't sent these to you already, here are some of my latest faves:

WantNot is a bargain shopping site that spreads the love of internet coupons and online sales, all topped with sass and good humor. Save yourself from trolling all those scary, blinking, pop-up filled, badly designed coupon code sites that give me a headache and bookmark this one instead.

Don't you wish you could send this version of The Badger's resume attached to your next cover letter? She wrote that a while back. This month, she's posting her favorite song lyrics every day. Wish I'd thought of that first.

I feel like I'm not a real live mommyblogger without a Superhero Necklace, so either I shut down the blog or somebody needs to buy me one. Who's with me?

Someday, when Theo discovers Legos, I'm going to make this cake for his birthday. For now, he seems to be happy eating and playing with the dirt caked on my shoelaces as he scoots past.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Oral Fixation, Vol. 2 : Shakira

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Back in Time

When I was in elementary school I had a friend I'll call Susan. She lived down the street from me so we spent quite a bit of time at each others' houses. We made a lot of plans together, for trips to Seattle on the bus to stay with her grandma, and for moneymaking schemes. We even hired ourselves out as clowns to entertain at kids' parties. (We were terrible entertainment. I think we did a couple of somersaults and handed out butterscotch buttons.)

Susan was in my class and she was smart and funny. We were both in the highest reading group (does everyone know what that means?) and she was really fast with multiplication tables. She loved to play school; she had set up a whole school room with desks and a chalkboard in her basement, and we would take her two younger sisters down there and bribe them with candy to do science projects and read aloud to us. Susan was one of the good kids at school who got along with the teachers and stayed out of trouble. We laughed a lot together.

Even though both of us lived with our moms and had dads who visited periodically, I knew life at her house was a lot different than life at mine. At my house we ate Chips Ahoy after school; at her house we scooped peanut butter out of a big metal can and ate it straight off the spoon. There were no pictures on the walls at her house, just a couple of posters that the kids got free at school taped up in the bedrooms . My dad and I had scheduled visits; her dad just showed up unexpectedly or, more often, didn't show up at all. Her mom, who even I could tell was having a rough time and doing her best, had a younger boyfriend who Susan hated and who looked at the two of us in a way that made me uncomfortable. Sometimes she brought her sisters over to our house with no warning, and my mom fed them dinner and told them they could spend the night.

At the end of sixth grade, Susan's mom decided to go to college and moved the family to a small student house at the state university campus a few hours away. They were going to start a new, better life, or that's what her mom had planned for them. Susan was angry. Her sisters were younger - they didn't mind moving - but she didn't want to leave her school and her friends.

Susan visited me a few times that next year. She told me she'd gone to a party at the university and gotten drunk and done a bunch of things she hadn't intended with some older boys. She was twelve years old.

I lost track of her over the years, though every now and then I'll hear something about her through her cousins that still live in my hometown. Her mom got her degree and is doing really well. One of her sisters is a doctor and the other is married and has several children. The last I heard, Susan was living on her own and her family thought she was drinking too much.

In my mind, she's still a twelve-year-old and I want to go back in time and remind her that she is smart and funny, and that she wanted to be a teacher, and take her to Seattle for the weekend.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: All That You Can't Leave Behind : U2

Friday, November 09, 2007

Ruby Slippers

Red Driving Mocs
I haven't bought many clothes since we've lived in Germany. It's not because I don't like to shop; in fact, I've realized that recreational shopping is (sadly and so stereotypically) the pastime I miss about America on the most regular basis. My current lifestyle doesn't require cute outfits, and I usually find the prices here to be very high for low quality. That's probably due to the 19% sales tax.

But dragging around in the same clothes for two years, most of which I bought at least five years ago, depresses me just a little. Is that wrong? That clothes can make me happy or unhappy? Am I so shallow?

Yes. I think I am.

Which is why these cheery red shoes leapt out at me from the sidewalk sale rack a couple of weeks ago. They are comfortable, they fit me, and they were a bargain. Ten euros, baby. With the current exchange rate, I think that adds up to about thirty-eight dollars. (Kidding. But seriously, the value of the dollar is downright scary.)

(A bunch of people who own much more exciting shoes than I do are sharing their favorites on Flickr this month. If you have a shoe fetish, check them out.)


THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Greatest Hits : Talking Heads

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Theo Thursday!

We haven't had a doctor's appointment in a couple of months, but based on our highly scientific calculations (ie stepping on the scale with Daddy before bathtime and being measured with my sewing tape on the changing table), Theo is about average for height and off the charts for weight. That would be off the low end of the charts. I'm not exactly sure how that's possible, since he eats more than I do at meals. But based on more scientific studies (ie comparing him to my and Jeff's thirty-six-year-old baby pictures) we think he has probably just inherited the scrawny gene. Which should stand him in good stead later when the German doctors notice he's American.

See how my posting every day gives you a little view of the path of my thoughts?
Scones-->Breakfast-->Overweight Americans-->Skinny Baby!

Anyway, at nine months, Theo has finally decided he has had enough of this horizontal stuff and he is ready to GO VERTICAL. Too bad his bony little arms and legs aren't quite strong enough to get him all the way from laying to standing. But that's not because he's not trying really really hard. And then shrieking from the frustration of it all. So we spend a lot of our time propping him against the couch and waiting for him to tip over and loudly request to be dragged to his feet once again.

Speaking of shrieking, he is still a loud one. He hoots like an owl, crows like a pterodactyl, and sobs (with tears) at will. His latest and cutest trick is clicking his tongue on the roof of his mouth, which charms both of his parents. This is further evidence that our entertainment standards have dropped to new lows since we moved out of the USA.

Also, he has six teeth.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Kick : INXS

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fettes Brot

On our first day in Germany, someone asked me if I pictured German women as muscular, gruff, and ugly. I deferred to my usual response in an uncomfortable situation, which was to make fun of Jeff. I think I made some comment about his hope that Heidi Klum is the intersection of all tributaries to the German gene pool. But I will admit to having made a few Helga jokes and having heard about a thousand of them from Americans who have never been here.

On the other side of the coin, I'd never thought a lot about the stereotype of American physical appearance before I moved away. I knew we'd get a few questions about George W. and the war, and I knew that American tourists could usually be spotted by identifying their white tennis shoes and loud voices. But I didn't realize that so many people picture the typical American as being fat.

The expectation that we're all bursting at the seams has caused some of the only really prejudicial comments I've heard from Germans in the past few years. Most Americans here who aren't very obviously on the thin side have heard from their doctors, even before a height and weight check, that they need to watch the scale and probably lose a few pounds. When I said I was hankering for American food during my pregnancy, my OB acted surprised and said, "You don't look like you eat like an American." It's come up several times in a friend's German class, and even the teacher argued that most Americans are sedentary and overweight.

Like most stereotypes this one stems from the truth. Many Americans are unhappy with their weight, and our country is, for good or ill, the birthplace of Fast Food (as in the Golden Arches, not fast food as in fresh street food which can be found all over the world. Have I been watching too much Tony Bourdain?). But when I look around at the expats I know, or the tourists I see, I don't notice any more overweight people than I see at my local German grocery store every Saturday. Do Germans think this way because of our exported reality TV? Or because we just can't shut up about it, from celebrity Jenny Craig ads to a million and one diet ideas in our magazines and newspapers?

It has made me consider why Americans imagine German women as Nurse Ratched with an accent, even though most German women - including many, many famous ones (Claudia Schiffer, Marlene Dietrich, Steffi Graf, and our Project Runway Host included) - don't fit that stereotype. Burgundy hair - yes. But burly and frightening? Not in my experience.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Guero : Beck

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Grrrrrrr-eat

I am making an effort to eat breakfast more often. I never used to believe people who say they just forget entire meals, but for a while I was so obsessed with the morning routine (milk/food/play/pleasepleaseplease nap) that I'd look around at 11:00am, realize I was starving because I hadn't even eaten a piece of the banana I'd so lovingly mushed up, and figure I'd just have lunch early. Which led to hunger pangs at 2pm and a downward spiral of fun-size Snickers bars, whole bags of pretzels, and a Pavlovian response to Dr. Phil ("How's that working for ya?" = mmmm...buttered popcorn).

But I've never been much of a morning diner, so I need help. What's your favorite breakfast? Because I can only eat so many lemon ginger scones. (Well, actually I could probably exist solely on scones for a couple of weeks but I'm going to need some ideas for the third week.)

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: The Reminder : Feist

Monday, November 05, 2007

Yum-Day

I am evangelical about good scones and these are pretty great. Try them and you'll become a disciple too.

Lemon Ginger Scones
(adapted from The New Best Recipe Cookbook by the editors of Cook's Illustrated)

2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unslated butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup heavy cream

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Place the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl or the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Whisk together or process with six 1-second pulses.
3. If making by hand, use two knives, a pastry blender, or your fingertips and quickly cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few slightly larger butter lumps. If using a food processor, remove the cover and distribute the butter evenly over the dry ingredients. Cover and process with twelve 1-second pulses.
4. Add crystallized ginger and lemon zest. Stir in the heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.
5. Transfer the dough and all dry flour bits to a countertop and knead the dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Flatten into a disc about the size of a round cake tin, then cut the disc into eight wedges. At this point, the dough can be refrigerated up to 2 hours. (I refrigerate it overnight so I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to make these for breakfast.)
6. Bake until the scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving.


THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Violent Femmes: Violent Femmes
Lemon and ginger require spicy background music.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Swimsuit Edition

Yesterday we checked out Furth's new swimming pool. It opened last weekend and we were as clueless as usual about it. We saw a sign somewhere announcing the grand opening, figuring they had re-painted the bottom of the kiddie area at the old swimming pool or put up a new diving board or something.

When we arrived we once again realized the benefits of the German penchant for doing everything the right way. Sometimes it's annoying (especially when you are unwittingly doing everything the wrong way, and getting shouted at) but yesterday it was awesome. Because the new swimming pool is basically an aquatic wonderland right in our back yard. I can't even begin to do it justice with a description, so I'll just tell you that there is a two-story pirate ship, three 3-story waterslides, a mini wave pool and an entire wing with five or six hot pools. And we didn't even go into the building housing the multiple sauna and wellness rooms.

You would think we might have noticed this kind of construction project less than a mile from our home. But you would be wrong. And that tells you so very, very much about how we live. Absolutely uninformed, but happy to enjoy the spoils when we finally get a clue.



THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: Duran Duran Decade
His name is Theo and he dances on the sand.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Take A Chance On Me

About this time last year, I met a Scottish woman named Marion. She ran the Christmas market stand where I volunteered to sell festive holiday items and sneer silently at the American throngs who arrived on tour buses and wore nametags pinned to their matching overcoats. Marion was very busy and we didn't have much time to get to know each other, but she was always kind to me and tolerant of my need for extra space for my pregnant self in the tiny market stall. She wished me Merry Christmas on December 23rd and I figured I had seen the last of her, at least until she needed help at the next market.

Mid-February, Theo had just turned one month old and my mother was winding up her three-week visit. I was still sore and unable to predict what might make Theo happy and what would cause him to shriek. When the phone rang and the caller said her name was Marion, it took me a few minutes to put the face with the Scottish accent. Marion was calling to invite Theo and me to lunch at her house the following week. I was simultaneously touched and terrified as I had premonitions of trying to make polite conversation while my baby screamed bloody murder in my arms and I looked wildly around the room for a soft cushion to place under my, um, Self before sitting down. I worried that I wouldn't be able to think of anything to talk about besides reliving my holiday altercation with a group of Gluhwein-soaked revelers who fled from the market stand when I mixed up their change.

My mom left town and Jeff went back to work and I loaded Theo into his carseat and made my way to Marion's house. When I arrived, she gave me a big hug. She'd baked lasagna and wrapped up a sweet gift for Theo, and she asked me all the right questions about how he was doing, and whether I'd been happy with my hospital, and she avoided all the gory details that I didn't really want to re-live, and didn't ask me how he many hours he was sleeping at night. My seat at the table was soft and comfortable and Theo slept like an angel for almost two hours. It was such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Marion and I still e-mail occasionally and though I won't be able to help at the Christmas market this year I will stop in and say hello to her. She may never know just how much her invitation meant to me. I had just begun to wallow (again) in the knowledge that, if I were living near my old friends, we could easily have gone out for an hour or two to friendly houses with fresh air and friendly faces, but since we lived in Germany we didn't have as many options. And Marion provided the friendliness, and the fresh air, and a warm meal too. It's one of those things I've saved in my memory for the next time I know a new mom who could use a friend and some lasagna.

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: ABBA Gold
(Daddy chose the music this morning. Theo's favorite track is "Fernando.")

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Breakfast Show

I'm not someone who knows about music, or who knows musicians, or who has heard of that band, or who shows up at a club at midnight because so-and-so is staging a secret show. If you doubt me, just recall that I bailed on seeing Gwen Stefani because I found out there wouldn't be chairs at her concert.

However, my life has a soundtrack and it is important to me. Most of the time that soundtrack is hideously lowbrow. For example, the first album that rolls off my iPod is usually from .38 Special. (Shout out to all the "Hold on Loosely" fans out there!) I love to sing along to my favorite songs so much that I go to the trouble of learning all the words. And it irritates me when other people (Hi Jeff!) sing the wrong words to "Hey Mama" by the Black Eyed Peas. I love to dance around the apartment, and slap the dashboard of the car, and pretend I'm Britney. (RIP Britney's dignity, by the way. I really feel for her, and her kids, and her various bodyguards/manservants/exhusbands.)

Now, parents all have dreams for their children. Mine is that Theo will learn to love real music (SHUT UP, Adam Ant is real music), and that he will enjoy dancing around the house with me to something besides "Fruit Salad" by The Wiggles. (It's OK to hate me, parents, because I've put that infernal song in your head for the rest of the day. Yummy! Yummy!) I'm starting early on this project by exposing his tender ears to the tunes on my iPod every morning during breakfast. So, while he's eating his bananas (B-A-N-A-N-A-S), he's being subliminally indoctrinated by Fiona Apple. This has the added bonus of reuniting me with some long lost music that I'd kind of forgotten was lurking outside my usual playlist rotation. It even inspired me to buy some new music last week.

Why do you care? Because, you lucky things, I'm going to share our breakfast soundtrack with you every day this month. Most of the time it will just be a sweet little one-liner at the end of the post, like this, which we listened to this morning:

THEO'S BREAKFAST SOUNDTRACK: "If I Could Turn Back Time: The Best of Cher"
(You should rush out and download "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" right now.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Blop On

You want HOW MUCH for that pumpkin?
Brace yourselves. You're going to have a November like you've never had before.

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting much lately. In fact, one of my friends asked me yesterday if I was still alive, since she hadn't read anything of substance on my blog. It's good to know that someone is paying attention, just in case Jeff goes away on a business trip and I collapse in a bratwurst-induced coma.

My absence can be blamed on my recent panic after I remembered I'd joined NaBloPoMo, which means I have agreed to write a post every day this month. EVERY DAY, people. So every time I think of something to write about, I think, "No! I must save that idea for November when I am gnashing my teeth and putting up photos of the view out our window for the tenth day in a row." And then I promptly forget the good idea that I haven't yet written about. So I'm still panicking.

I do have some tricks up my sleeve, however. I'm sure you can't wait for Theo Thursdays. And you'll probably see some photos of my shoes.

My fellow BloPpers (credit: Laid-Off Dad) and I are just raring (rearing? is this a horse racing metaphor?) to go. So watch out, November. Here we come.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Books - October 2007

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
I should not read something that starts off sounding like a knockoff of one of my favorite books. This is an ambitious story, but it was never going to be as good as I wanted it to be, and it really fell apart at the end.

Heat by Bill Buford
Another side of Molto Mario, shown by a writer who spent over a year in his kitchen, keeps the pace quick. Mario stories are interspersed with the author's later experiences as an apprentice chef and butcher in Italy. Pick it up if you are a FoodNetwork junkie, especially one who loves Italian food.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fame and Fortune

Matt, who is nine years old, has just posted an interview with me on his blog, In the Air. It's part of his series of blogger interviews, and I was really happy to get the opportunity to participate.

Read the interview here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bubble Wrap

Do you have things, little items in your life, that give you joy? I mean things like pencils, or fuzzy blankets, or a particular pair of socks that make you happy.

I love my butter dish. I was musing as I took it out of the refrigerator this morning (toast for breakfast) upon its perfection. It is an unusual butter dish - a round pottery bowl that fits in my hand, with a smoothly glazed interior and a grey, nubbly exterior. Its crowning glory, the special feature that raises it above the mere everyday piece of dishware, is its lid. It is slightly rounded and fits perfectly on top. It is decorated with a pretty and slightly abstract blue flower, painted subtly in glaze.

The dish was a gift from my terrific Aunt Carol, who I see roughly once a year and who always finds the best gifts for me even though we don't talk very often and she has not spent much time at any of my homes. Clearly, all those childhood summers when I stayed with her and she and my cousins taught me to sew and play Barbies and bake toffee bars left my impression in her brain somewhere because somehow she just knows what I like.

I used to fill the bowl with Hershey's kisses and put it in the fridge (a habit inherited from a different wonderful aunt). A cold Hershey's kiss is just the thing for that after-lunch hit of creamy sweetness. And then we moved to a place where Hershey's kisses just don't exist (THE HORROR). So candy bowl became butter dish and I discovered that really it had been a butter dish all along, for it was the perfect place to store butter. The lid protected its contents from retaining that fridge-y taste, and it looked pretty on the table, and it was much easier to clean than those long skinny traditional butter trays with the lids.

Do you see how I've begun typing in the past tense? Because tragedy struck this morning, my friends. Just a moment or two after I thought to myself , "I just love this dish, it is the perfect thing, I will keep it and use it this way forever," I dropped it on our cold hard ceramic tile floor and it broke.

That will teach me express my admiration first thing in the morning. What are your favorite things? And before you put your loving thoughts in writing, place the special item in bubble wrap, please.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Questions

Why does my oven only have a top burner? This causes my peanut butter chocolate chip muffins to become crispy on top.

Why did Theo wake up at 5:30 a.m. two days ago and sleep until 8:30 a.m. this morning?

Should I be embarrassed that, when I read that one of my favorite bloggers is pregnant again, it takes me several minutes to realize that I can't gossip about it to my friends because I don't know her in real life, and they don't know who she is?

Where can I find a scenic pumpkin patch in the greater Nurnberg area?

Should I be panicking because my thesis is due in eight weeks, and I'm writing an inane blog post instead? Also, was it a stupid idea to join NaBloPoMo when I should really be spending my writing energy in November on said thesis instead of asking questions on my blog?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mmmm...donuts

We're halfway through our day over here because SOMEONE decided to get up at 5am. And then, instead of cuddling with his stuffed giraffe and going back to sleep, he decided that my lower lip should be his comfort item du jour. That'll teach me to forget to clip my baby's fingernails.

Tooth number six is headed down the turnpike. The hair follicles are still far behind. However, in the long run, teeth are more important than hair, right? I mean, there are always hats, and scalp sunscreen. But those teeth you keep in a glass by the side of the bed are a real pain, I hear.

On Sunday, I ate:
A Hungarian delicacy resembling an elephant ear, topped with garlic butter, shredded cheese, and sour cream
Bratwurst in a roll, with mustard
Hot mini donuts
Now that the local street festival has closed, I should probably have some salad.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hosted

Twenty years ago I lost my wallet during the overnight bus ride from London to Glasgow, Scotland. I stumbled off the bus into my host father's arms and before introducing myself announced that I had no money, no travelers checks, and no passport. He took me home and sent me gently to bed and spent the rest of the day at his (very busy and important) job phoning around to see if he could locate my identification. He had no luck.

While our rocky start did not cast a pall over my entire year with them, it did warn all of us that the times ahead were not to be comfortable and smooth. I was sixteen years old and away from my very small hometown and my very small family for the first time. My Scottish family was in the midst of a rocky year - health crises, work uncertainties, and what else I'll probably never know. I could tell my host mother wasn't so sure about me. They took me to plays and concerts and toured me around the country. Sometimes I was rapt. Sometimes I slept through the sightseeing.

When I left at the end of the year, I didn't cry, and they didn't promise to visit me. I felt slightly cheated out of the second family I'd been promised. I wondered if I would hear from them at Christmas.

Over the passing years, none of us has changed too much. But somehow we've kept in touch, just like a family does, even when we weren't in the mood. I took my mom to visit them when she came to see me on my London college semester. They showed up at my wedding, despite my host mother's broken leg (she dyed her hair purple for the occasion). I still felt the awkwardness sometimes, the inkling that we never quite belonged to each other, but still I sent them a picture of Theo when he was born. And still I wanted to visit them before life takes us far apart again.

Our weekend in Scotland was charmed in many ways (see photos below for proof) - warm weather, no wind, Hugh Grant at the golf course, delicious Argentinian wine, and the celebration of my host father's seventieth birthday. I met another of their exchange student daughters, a Japanese woman who had lived with them five years before I did. They shared updates from their other students too -- two from Mexico, another American girl, a Chinese teacher, an Indonesian college student. Their "waifs and strays," we're called. We sat together, like a family does, with our shoes off and the baby playing on the rug. There are many conversations we'll never have, and plenty of ways we'll never understand each other, but in this particular family that's how it works. And, finally, I've stopped trying to imagine what a better host family might be like and, twenty years later, started enjoying mine.

St. Andrews, Scotland

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Wee Holiday

We were in Scotland all weekend and now I'm talking like Sean Connery. I took virtually no photos and Theo barely slept. He was so delighted to get back home yesterday that we walked in the door and he almost wiggled right out of my arms with delight. We had a great time but now I need to go take a nap.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting

Screaming arguments just aren't my style. I am more likely to fume and scowl and walk out of the room and recount the injustice later along with all the reasons I was right. But I'm not sure how I will react the first time there's a hint of harm toward my child.

Our supermarket has an attached multistory parking garage and friendly signs designating parking spaces for families near the store entrance. We're used to seeing moms and dads and kids loading and unloading their cars, hauling plastic bottles to the recycling center and climbing in and out of strollers. When we returned to our car after shopping on Saturday evening, we could hear the shouting even before we saw the fight. Two couples, two children, one stroller, and a barrage of screams had taken residence in the family parking area. A thin mother in a yellow trench coat held her infant under one arm and shook her finger in the face of a scowling mom in a black sweatshirt. A tall husband yelled in the ear of a burly dad whose school-age daughter hid behind a car. There were accusations and there was anger. Someone had driven too fast in the parking garage, almost hit someone else's stroller. Someone shouldn't have had their stroller in the middle of the garage. Someone's child could have been killed - Killed! No one had a cool head. All of them, except the kids, were red-faced and seemed on the verge of physical violence.

Our station wagon was parked next to the fight and I scurried to pull Theo out of the shopping cart, sliding into the backseat and strapping him safely into his carseat. Jeff and I didn't make eye contact, we just hauled grocery bags and jackets and bottles of water swiftly into the back of the car, paying no attention to whether the eggs were safely stowed. The woman in the yellow coat retreated then returned, then ran back to her car, then surged back again toward the scowling family across the garage, and we could hear her high-pitched shouts even with the car doors closed; her face was wild with fright and anger. We waited for the clutch of people to move out of our way so Jeff could back the car out of our parking space. The burly dad stepped between the two women. The tall man carried the baby away from the shouting. The young girl looked up at her mother, who glowered angrily and silently.

We sat in our car and waited, hoping that everyone would climb into their cars and drive safely away. I wished hard for the little girl to crawl into the back seat and shut the door, wished her parents would follow her lead. Finally, one car pulled away from the other, its windows rolled down, shouts flying toward the angry gestures behind it.

If a careless driver almost hit our stroller, would I scream and shake my fist and yell out the car window? I think I might just cry and hold Theo tight and write down the license plate number. But maybe that's what the parents in parking garage thought, if you'd asked them last Friday, if someone almost hit their stroller, what would they do?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Books - September 2007

The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain
Good for a Bourdain junkie like me. No new material - just a collection of articles he's written over the past few years - so if you've never read his books before, his first foodie memoir would probably be a better choice. I enjoy his unparalleled ability to poke fun at himself.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Turkey Lurkey

I made a dish from one of Rachael Ray's cookbooks last night, and like everything I've made from her recipes, it was fast and tasty and I even ate the leftovers for lunch today. And I normally hate leftovers. I suspect that I should be thankful that I don't have access to American television because I watched five minutes of her new show last month and she annoyed me so much I had to turn the channel. And it would be tragic if I had to give up using her cookbooks because every time I opened them I developed a twitch due to her sub-par interview skills.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Altstadfest

Click on the thumbnails at the bottom to see a larger version of the image in the box above.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Land of the Living

I used to have time and energy to think about the point of my posts and come up with "themes" and "structure" but I've completely given that up in favor of actually keeping things up and running. So those of you who want quality writing might want to look elsewhere. (For example, my friend Katie has just posted a message to her rebellious teenage washing machine, and mimi smartypants is judging the other soccermoms, and both posts will make you laugh.)

For the rest of you who are just lazy enough to stay here:

-One week ago I went to bed with a bit of an ache in my shoulders and finally, finally, after a week of various levels if ick, I woke up this morning feeling like a human being is supposed to feel. That is, I didn't have to give myself a pep talk before opening both eyes simultaneously. Thanks for asking.

-I didn't see any really badly dressed people at the Emmy awards, besides Terry O'Quinn, but seeing him win was like watching my sweet ex-Shriner childhood next door neighbor up there, so I won't insult his hot pink shirt. The woman all looked spectacular. A few hair missteps, yes (Kate Walsh, did you come straight from your new marital bed? And Ellen Pompeo, I'm not quite sure what to think.), but all in all the ladies glowed and the men were dapper. See how good I'm feeling, how cheerful?

-Taking photos of my clothes every day has been so eye-opening. I've always known I was not curvy or fashionista but I didn't realize I walk out of the house every day looking like a teenage boy. I like to think I used to try harder when someone was paying me money to dress up, but did I? September is difficult, anyway, clothing-wise, since I haven't given up on my summer wardrobe but it's too cold to wear all my flirty skirts and bare legs and short sleeves. Maybe I'll try this photo project again in November or January or something and I won't look like such a loser.

-The scooting has commenced, with the crawling not far behind. Be Afraid.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

With a Bullet

I have three or four posts swimming around in my brain whose points are blurring as the days go by. It is clear that most of them will never see the light of day unless I condense them for you here:



-I'm not sure what it is about this photo that so mesmerizes me. Yeah, the guy's a hottie, but a little grungy for my taste (especially after seeing him with his band, all very Black Crowes (Note to Sandi, you might want to investigate this)). But every time I see it in a magazine, it causes me to pause and contemplate his brand of attractiveness.

-The two-year anniversary of our arrival in Germany was last week. It's the week of 9/11 which is a good reminder, when I start getting philosophical about the passage of time and hardship and transition and anniversaries, to get some perspective and feel grateful.

-It's a good thing I have no time to focus on such things, or Jessica Simpson would have a letter in her mailbox (or on this blog, at least) addressing her father's disturbing morph into, well, Jessica herself. He used the royal "We" when addressing a question about a porn-star movie role offered to his little girl:
"We were promised we would win an Oscar with that," says [Joe]Simpson, 49. "I was like, 'Eh, we'll just buy a [statue of a] little man and keep our clothes on.' "
Jess, he already broke up one marriage and "managed" your sister into a lip-synch hoedown on SNL. Maybe it's time to grow up and get far, far away from your dad who seems much too focused on his daughter's sex appeal (eeew), despite the fact that They turned down the naked role. Which is fortunate for all of us, because, well, Joe Simpson, naked? (Are you following my train of thought? Me neither.)

-We watched a lot of golf this weekend, especially the Solheim Cup (women's version of the Ryder Cup for those of you who know what that means). Why do American women, even highly skilled, professional, competitive women, revert to tattooing little flags on their cheeks and wearing matching red, white and blue scrunchies in their hair when they join other women in a cause? I can ridicule this because I was in a sorority and I used to spend my Sunday afternoons puffy painting Greek letters on plastic tumblers instead of completing my Philosophy papers. I know, at least they behave themselves on the course, unlike the men who get all testosterone-y (the San Francisco? treat)and lose all decorum. But good grief, apparently estrogen + team pride = friendship bracelets. Unless you are European, where you don't have friendship bracelets, or scrunchies, just Annika Sorenstam.

-Emmy Awards tonight. I will not be staying up until the wee hours to watch them live, but I plan to view the replay tomorrow evening. I haven't seen any of the nominated shows, of course (except, good gravy, is ER still on the air?), but isn't it all about the fashion anyway?

-Someone just found my blog by searching "shaun cassidy in leather pants" and really, that's why I started this thing in the first place.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Death Watch

I am on day three of The Plague. I can't remember the last time I took my own temperature. I didn't really NEED to know it was 101 degrees but it made me feel less wimpy when I called Jeff and sent whiny e-mails. And like a good husband, he came home from work early.

I'm on the road to recovery, I promise something slightly more creative and coherent next week.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The More the Merrier

I am just over halfway through watching the first season of Big Love on DVD. I can't remember another time when I've been so distracted by the subject matter of a story - book, film, or TV show - that I have a hard time enjoying or even noticing excellent writing, acting, production, and music. Usually, I'm able to appreciate any work that succeeds in what it set out to do - gory horror flicks, slow drama, crime movies with unlikable heroes - as long as the task has been completed with intelligence and complexity.

Big Love is smartly written, it has complex story arcs and interesting characters. The whole production is well thought-out and it even features music by Uber-cool guy David Byrne. It portrays a way of life that could be happening right now in America. Its actors are believable and well-cast. Its premise is fascinating; polygamy is one of those forbidden lifestyles that everyone wonders about but no one really understands how it works on a day-to-day basis.

However, it simply depresses me every time I watch it. Not because I've always found polygamy distasteful (I didn't really have an opinion before I watched this show) or because the characters have terrible lives (most of them don't). I think it's because the show succeeds too well. Its most sympathetic character, Jeanne Tripplehorn's Barb, is so relatable that I feel more and more distressed for her and for her children every episode.

What does it say about me that I can watch all kinds of creepiness on shows like CSI but can't handle polygamous domestic conflict? And if it bugs me so much, why am I still watching?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Wind It Up

Teething
Remember that last post? The one with all the starry-eyed wonder at parenting a snuggly babe in the darkness?

Scratch that. It's day five of the jetlag soap opera and I think Theo is bent on torturing me. Also, there's the teething and the growth spurt and did I mention that we scheduled his shots for Monday morning? Also, solid foods continue, leaving him two opportunities per day to cover me and my new pink Gap t-shirt in strained green beans, brought about by his special talent for blowing raspberries to signal his dislike for a particular food item.

In other news, we are very very old. We had tickets to see Gwen Stefani next week, an event that would require a two-hour (each way) drive, much pumping of the breasts, and Theo's favorite buddy/babysitter. But hey, we were prepped and looking forward to a night out. Yesterday we learned that the concert venue had changed to a place without chairs. Yes, that's right, no chairs at all, just little patches of concrete floor. And though I stayed far, far away from the Economics department in college, even this humanities major can calculate that this development has tipped the Cost:Benefit ratio out of favor. Three hours of standing around crushed against the filth of humanity plus car/parking time and also the pumping just doesn't seem worth it even if the payoff is seeing Gwen yodel in person. So I'm planning to crank up Hollaback Girl on my iPod a week from tonight and wear red lipstick. Look out, neighbors.

As long as I'm just dumping the contents of my brain, I may as well share that I've joined The Working Closet photo pool, mainly as an incentive to bathe and dress myself. So if you wonder why I post pictures of myself standing around the house in different outfits, that's why.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Jetlag

Traveling with Theo was not so bad. That’s probably because I expected it to be terrible, and it was better than that. He was a champ on the airplane, sitting up in his little bassinet, smiling at our fellow passengers and sleeping periodically so that we even got to watch Blades of Glory on the way there.

The worst part was coming home, as it is most of the time with vacations. I have always hated jetlag and the hating is at its peak right about 2:54 a.m. when I can’t get to sleep. It is at its second worst at 9:38 a.m. when I have to get up but feel like my limbs are dragged down by Wile E. Coyote anvils.

I thought that having a baby would make the jetlag so much worse, since my frustration level when Theo can’t sleep rises quickly even in the best of times. But, like so much about parenthood, I was surprised by the way a baby can make the worst stuff bearable just by shifting my focus from myself to him. Our first night home, Theo was terribly confused. He woke up every hour or so making creaky mewing noises and squinting his puffy little eyes. He just wanted to be held and bounced and rocked and sung to as he clung to the front of my pajamas. I would think he had fallen asleep but as soon as I even approached his crib to lay him down his pathetic sobs would begin anew. After an hour or so of the bouncing and clinging, Jeff would come into the room and I would hand over my little warm bundle, return to bed, and try to get some sleep before taking the next shift. At one point, I could hear Theo crying even though my head was underneath my pillow. I considered getting up to see if I could help calm him down, but instead I decided to give Jeff the privilege instead.

Now, when I say “privilege,” I am being just a tiny bit sarcastic, because I was really laying there thinking about how it was Jeff’s turn anyway, since I’d already been in there for an hour (and I'm sure Jeff thought the same thing when he heard me stumbling around an hour earlier). But after Theo quieted and I drifted off to sleep and Jeff crawled into bed beside me having successfully transferred our bundle of joy into his crib just as the sky got light, I realized that staying in bed was the right thing to do at the time.

I don’t have much advice to share about parenting a newborn, but here is one of the best things I’ve learned so far, and it’s something that I think women have a particularly hard time accomplishing. Let the other parent do the hard parts too. That goes especially for the middle-of-the-night stuff. Chances are, he wants to take his turn. He loves that screeching little angel as much as you do. Pump a bottle or hand over the baby monitor or take a long walk or do whatever you have to do to allow the daddy to roll out of bed at 1:27 a.m. and bounce the crying baby in his arms, even if he has to get up and go to work in the morning and you don’t, even if you are nursing and it’s just less trouble to do it yourself.

Because Saturday night, if I would have gotten up and taken over and let Jeff get some sleep, he wouldn’t have felt Theo’s warm legs against his torso or seen how Theo’s confused face relaxed when he recognized his daddy’s voice, or done a silent little cheer when he managed finally to lay Theo down without waking him (something I hadn't managed to do anyway). And the two of couldn’t have reminisced together on Sunday morning about how last night was so much like those first few weeks when we were both joyful, terrified zombies because we were up together in the dark, caring for our son.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Friday, August 31, 2007

Books - August 2007

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
It was nice to read a novel that lived up to its intriguing, "Sliding Doors"-type premise. Not a quick read, but worth my time.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
A collection of her salon.com columns, written during the buildup to the Iraq war. She reminds me that smart liberals can be faithful Christians.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

God Bless America, Part 6

Feeling overwhelmed by the level of customer service at the mall this morning. So many people are interested in my needs, all of whom also apparently use Crest White Strips. It almost makes me feel nostalgic for the cranky unkempt saleswoman who glares at me when I order bread at my local bakery. But not quite.

Monday, August 20, 2007

God Bless America, "Just Say NO" edition

U.S Customs Coloring Book
Page one of the coloring book given to my two-year-old niece as her family cleared customs at the airport last week. Click through to see the rest of the pages.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

God Bless America, Part 5

Ann Taylor Loft T-shirts for fifty cents at the neighborhood garage sale. Also, Hershey's Kisses.

Monday, August 13, 2007

God Bless America, Part 4

Better lighting - worse pose
Putting the kids to bed and drinking Cosmos with my ladyfriends. Has it really been 18 years since we met?

God bless anywhere I get to hang out with these guys.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

God Bless America, Part 3

While eating food court Chinese, I notice a preponderance of grown men wearing fluorescent Crocs.

Friday, August 10, 2007

God Bless American Expat Bloggers

My pal Katie has started a blog. She sometimes writes in rhyme. Go ask her why she puts up visitors at the local Red Cross emergency shelter.

Sanguine Spice

Saturday, August 04, 2007

God Bless America, Part 2

Theo has already received two pairs of cowboy boots and a three-foot crocheted clown doll that scares Jeff.