Monday, April 30, 2007

Books - April 2007

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Chick Lit meets John Grisham meets Michael Crichton. The premise of its story is interesting, but it reads like an emotionally manipulative knockoff of The Client.

The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
I treasured this memoir about boyhood, manhood, and fatherhood in Long Island. I didn't want it to end.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I'll give it credit for making me think about sprituality and good food, but her choice to address the reader directly felt forced and simplistic in places.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Headlines

Seen recently on my GoogleReader*:

Hugh Grant arrested in alleged baked bean attack. (People.com)

Arkansan blames liberal Congress for a particularly hot March, made so by daylight saving time. (kottke.org)

Coolest lunch ever (Ask Moxie)

Why would you want a soggy crouton (mimi smartypants)

My sister has become a monster cop! (Salon.com)

I couldn't make up this stuff if I tried.

*If you read a bunch of blogs but you're not signed up for GoogleReader or Bloglines, you should do it. All the cool kids are doing it. And it will save you some time. And of course you should subscribe to my blog.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Movie Meme*

Name a movie you have seen more than 10 times
I've seen all of the John Hughes movies about twenty times - Pretty in Pink thirty or more.

Name a movie you’ve seen multiple times in the theater
The Usual Suspects

Name an actor who would make you more inclined to see a movie
Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Paul Rudd, Paul Newman, Sarah Jessica Parker, John Cusack, William H. Macy

Name an actor who would make you less likely to see a movie
Will Ferrell (I know everyone loves him, and I have professed my desire to see Blades of Glory, but those others - Anchorman, the NASCAR movie, etc - don't entice me at all.), Leonardo DiCaprio

Name a movie you can and do quote from
The Princess Bride

Name a movie musical in which you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
I once had a roommate who played the soundtrack day and night.

Name a movie you have been known to sing along with
Say Anything (When Lloyd holds up the boom box. You know the scene.)

Name a movie you would recommend everyone see
Truly, Madly, Deeply
To Kill A Mockingbird
The Usual Suspects

Name a movie you own
Almost Famous

Name an actor who launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops
Steve Carell

Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in?
The movie theatre in my hometown was closed during the summer when the drive-in was open, so we always saw summertime movies in the drive-in. Now they open the indoor theatre on weeknights and the drive-in on weekends.

Ever made out in a movie?
Sadly, no.

Name a movie you keep meaning to see but you just haven’t gotten around to yet
The Way We Were

Ever walked out of a movie?
Yes, but just because I had to catch a train, not because the movie was so bad. Though I can't even remember the name of it. David Duchovny and Minnie Driver were in it.

Name a movie that made you cry in the theater
I laughed so hard I cried at the end of Little Miss Sunshine.

Popcorn?
Hell yes.

How often do you go to the movies?
I used to go at least twice a month. Until Theo is more movie-friendly, I'll probably watch more at home.

What’s the last movie you saw in the theater?
Little Miss Sunshine

What’s your favorite/preferred genre of movie?
Dramedy
I love a drama that makes me laugh a little.

What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?
Grease
My mom took me after asking one of her friends if it was OK for kids, since I had never been to a PG movie before.

What movie do you wish you had never seen?
I can't think of one. I'm picky about the movies I see, and I can appreciate almost any genre if it's done well. I rarely see a movie without knowing a little bit about it, so my expectations are rarely disappointed.

What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?
Memento

What is the scariest movie you’ve seen?
The Silence of the Lambs

What is the funniest film you have ever seen?
There are so many. Sixteen Candles still kills me after many, many viewings.

*Meme stolen from delicious days.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Meta

There's really nothing more boring than blogging about blogging. But here I go anyway. I promise I'll try to be brief.

You've probably noticed that I haven't been posting as often as I used to. This has everything to do with the youngster currently asleep in his crib. I don't have a lot of time to blog, but that's not the only problem. I'm still figuring out exactly how much I want to blog about Theo and about being a parent. Despite having a blog and telling y'all the gory details of my baby's birth, and expressing my crankiness and ineptitude when learning German, I really am a private person. And since most of my time and mental energy these days is spent blindly navigating the new parenthood trail, I really don't have much else to blog about. But I'm not sure I want to go into all those details, since so many others do it better than I could, and take much greater care and more time with their writing. And then there's my thesis, which I'm trying to finish. I should probably be doing that right now, in fact. Don't tell my advisor I'm here.

Also, the next few weeks will be busy, with visitors and a vacation and such. So I'm writing to ask you to bear with me if I'm not around a lot. I will be back on a more regular basis before Britney's hair grows back. I promise.

P.S.
And I'll keep posting pictures at FlickR (see those little photo squares on the right). Our camera is apparently incapable of taking a photo without our baby in it. But we're getting a new camera(!) so maybe that will help.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Strumpfhosen Redux

Bek, an Austrian who lives in the USA with her American husband, has started a new blog. Its topic is cultural differences, and she has kindly used her first post to respond to my post about Strumpfhosen. She points out that the American practice of wearing shorts and t-shirts in the middle of winter seems just as crazy to her as woolen tights in warm weather seemed to me. I look forward to seeing what else she has to say. And she gets extra blogger brownie points for writing everything on her blog in both German and English. Wow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Having a Baby in Germany
Part Four: Gear

I like to plan ahead and I like to shop, so I spent a lot of my pregnancy browsing for baby gear online. It was hard to know what I should buy here and what I should try to purchase on my trip to the U.S.A. Here's a breakdown of what I ended up doing, with some notes about why and how it all worked out. Major contributing factors to these purchasing decisions were:
a)Size (It's tough to fit an Exersaucer in the overhead compartment)
b)Cost (Germany is the land of 19% sales tax so almost everything is more expensive here.)
c)Quality, attractiveness and comfort (Most of this is practical stuff, but some of it is just fun.)

I used a couple of books to guide my shopping:
The Girlfriends' Guide to Baby Gear
Baby Bargains

The shopping list at Rookie Moms is helpful too.

Where we shopped in Germany:
We're lucky that Nurnberg has a nice BabyWalz store, which carries just about everything.
There is a ToysRUs in town with a small baby section.
I also bought a couple of items online that I couldn't find elsewhere through 4MyBaby, which I found through German Ebay.
I've found the best deals on durable and attractive baby clothes at H&M and Zara.
We live about a mile from IKEA, and you can't beat their prices.

What I bought in the USA:
Baby Clothes
I bought/received plenty of this stuff during my visit to the States. American selection and prices can't be beat. European stores like H&M and Zara have cute and practical baby clothes, and while you can find basics in a lot of places here, including baby specialty stores and even our grocery store, most of it costs twice as much as it would in the States. I was especially glad I got inexpensive onesies and cotton footed PJs in the U.S.

Maternity Clothes
I got this stuff in the U.S. mostly due to price, but also because I was just at the point of growing out of my regular wardrobe during my visit.

Swaddle Me blanket
We use this every night. The one time we didn't use it, Theo woke up every hour. And we're inept at swaddling him in a regular blanket; he always seems to break free.

Rearview mirror
This attaches to the headreast on the backseat of our car so that I can see what Theo is up to in his rear-facing carseat.

Diaper Bag
We have two - the funky Mom bag and the practical Dad bag. We use the Dad bag more - it has lots of good pockets and straps onto the stroller. We received it as a gift but it's one piece of gear that I would highly recommend; I'd pay the price to buy it myself if I didn't already have one.

Battery-operated Mobile/Crib Entertainer
I haven't seen these here, but I'm glad to have this one. Theo likes to watch it and it buys me 15 or 20 minutes to eat lunch, wash my hands, etc. We also have this aquarium.

Medicine (Baby Tylenol, Mylicon, diaper rash ointment, nipple cream)
I'm sure versions of this stuff are available in Germany, but I wanted to be able to read the labels thoroughly. Over-the-counter medicine also tends to be very expensive here.

Pacifiers
Theo likes Soothie pacificiers so I'm glad I bought a couple of them. Other brands (Nuk, for example) are easily available here.

Cloth Diapers
We use a few of the old-fashioned kind to line the changing table

Baby washcloths and towels
Probably not exactly necessities but we got some nice ones as gifts. I have seen the hooded towels at IKEA.

Manicure/Health Care set (nail clippers, medicine dropper, digital thermometer)

Carseat
The major brands are different in the USA vs Germany, but the cars here have a version of the LATCH system, so American carseats work fine.

Baby Bjorn
Easily available in Germany but cheaper in the States.

Pregnancy and Child Care Books
Obviously, due to language issues

Books for Baby

Baby Scrapbook

What I bought here:

Maternity Clothes
H&M has a nice maternity line. I bought mainly sweats and clothes for the last couple of months, which saw me through til the end.

Crib and mattress
We ordered these at our local BabyWalz and have been happy with them so far. We seriously considered buying an inexpensive crib at IKEA but decided we wanted an adjustable one (IKEA cribs only had one mattress height). Here's a photo of our crib.

Bedding
Crib and mattress dimensions here are different than their American counterparts (longer and narrower), so American sheets won't fit. This goes for crib bumpers and ruffles too.

A lot of the stuff below is visible in this photo.

Wooden Mobile
We bought one of these, manufactured by Haba, a German toy company. They make all kinds of high-quality, brightly-colored wooden toys that are more difficult to find in the U.S.

Contoured changing pad
This wasn't easy to locate, but I found it at a large department store. We put it on top of the dresser, but you can get a changing table at IKEA or elsewhere.

Rocking Chair
I had a really difficult time finding a rocker, but we ended up with one I love. It was on sale at IKEA. Apparently rocking chairs are not traditional baby furniture around here.

Dresser
IKEA strikes again. We bought an unfinished one and I painted it to go with Theo's room.

Bottles
Avent, Nuk and Dr. Brown's (under a different name) are available here.

Breast pump (manual and electric)
I started with a manual Avent pump and ended up buying a small electric Medela pump through my midwife. Working moms can get a prescription to pay for an electric pump through an OB/GYN.

Travel bed with bassinet
Collapsible travel cribs are widely available here. I wanted one with a bassinet insert, which was hard to find. I ended up locating an online retailer, 4MyBaby, that sold some American brands, including Graco Pack-n-Play. I paid a premium, but I got what I wanted.

Diaper Pail
I've seen Diaper Genie-type contraptions here. For now, we're just using a garbage can with a lid but I imagine we may need a different solution as things get more aromatic.

Nursing Pillow
I love my German nursing pillow. I bought it to use as a body pillow while I was pregnant and used it during nursing. Theo loved to sleep on it for the first couple of months and now we use it to prop him up. It's bigger than Boppy and stuffed loosely, like a beanbag, so it's more flexible. Here's a photo.

Baby Bathtub
No fancy inserts or contraptions, but it works fine.

Swing
I also bought a Fisher Price swing through 4MyBaby. Other versions were available at ToysRUs.

Baby Monitor
I bought this used, from a fellow expat family moving back to the States. Moving sales are a great way to pick up some nice stuff, since most expats move after only a couple of years so their belongings are in good shape. And since electronics don't tend to be portable due to voltage/plug differences, there are deals to be had.

Stroller
If you're into strollers, Germany is a good place to live. We bought a PegPerego, which is a higher-end brand in the U.S. It was actually one of the cheaper options here. My theory is that families here do so much walking that they place a high priority on getting a stroller with special shock absorbers, big wheels, and sturdy tires. Most use a Bugaboo-type cradle stroller.

Infant Seat
We never found a "bouncy" seat, but we have a version that rocks, reclines, etc.

Other baby care items
Brand that I recognize are available here (Pampers, for example) along with Penaten which is the German brand name used by Johnson & Johnson (so the shampoo, lotion, etc that I recognize, just with a different name). Weleda, an all-natural German brand, is popular and very high quality.

What I wish I could find:
Exersaucer
For some reason, these have not caught on around here. I saw one for an exorbitant price at ToysRUs, but most place sell walkers instead, which have been practically banned from sale in the USA because they cause so many injuries. We haven't decided whether to try a walker, pay for the exersaucer, or just keep Theo propped up on the couch while he watches his daily six hours of American Chopper reruns.

Part Three: Labor and Delivery
Part Two: Care Providers and Hospitals
Part One: The Nuts and Bolts of the First Half of Pregnancy
Introduction and Disclaimer

Monday, April 16, 2007

Eis, Eis, Baby*

Our weekend weather was utterly fabulous. Since my memories of last summer consist mainly of feeling nauseous, sitting in a tank top on my couch and sweating while counting down the days until I got to visit the States, the glory of a summery weekend in Bavaria took me by surprise. Low expectations have their reward.

German EisCafes unfurl their umbrellas as soon as the sun appears each spring. Most of them are run by Italians who lay out an array of tempting gelato bins - everything from Pistachio to Stracciatella - and hand out colorful menus displaying a gleaming array of concoctions. I thoroughly appreciate the German embrace of ice cream, and not just a simple cone. On any sunny day, the umbrella tables outside the EisCafes are packed with people who sit in front of incredible towers of ice cream, chocolatey syrup, whipped cream, fruit, and straws. These masterpieces look exactly like the menu photos. No meager scoops of vanilla here. The philosophy seems to be that if you're going to take the time to sit down at an ice cream parlor, you'd better go the whole hog. In the US, no one ever actually orders the banana split. A hot fudge sundae is as thrilling as it gets. I would wager that many American ice cream purveyors don't even know how to make half the fancy offerings pictured so temptingly on their menus, because no one orders them.

Yesterday, I ate the whole thing - whipped cream, syrup, and all - from a colorful goblet under a striped umbrella. Maybe if I eat enough ice cream, I'll keep cool enough that I won't pine so heavily for air conditioning this year.

*(This might be my worst post title ever. But I am unable to resist the opportunity to pay tribute to Vanilla Ice. He is an icon.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Heat is On

I never expected that one of the most difficult adjustments to living in Germany would be the temperature change. I expected to have a hard time with the language, with being far away from familiar people and food, even with driving. But I thought since I was moving to a climate so close to the ones I've lived in before, that the temperature wouldn't be a big deal.

However, I've come to realize that it's part of German culture to exist in a slightly warmer state than I'm used to. Thus, the thick jackets, the abundance of headcoverings, and the infernal lack of air conditioning anywhere. (Have I mentioned that before? I have? Just making sure.)

This obsession with keeping warm extends especially to children. It's important to bundle a baby from head to toe when going outside, including down-filled stroller covers and mittens, and socks and hats in any kind of weather. I also noticed recently that most of the toddlers I saw this winter wore thick woolen tights beneath their clothes - over their diapers but under their jeans or skirts, like long underwear. And then I read this article explaining the practice of dressing a child in tights all winter long, whatever the temperature.

Who knew that the thermostat could be a source of culture shock? Now, I do. And I'm concerned about those July nights when our fifth-floor bedroom is still ninety degrees at midnight. I've found myself dreading the sunshine this summer. And that's a sad, sad, thing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Made

Octopus
Remember last summer when I stenciled a bunch of underwear for my unborn child? Well, what do you know, he's actually wearing them now.

And look! A short story I wrote has been published. You can read it in PDF format here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

French Fried

We spent the four-day Easter weekend at Jeff's sister's home in southern France. It was blissful. There was a spa day involved, lamb for Easter dinner, and several cousin photo shoots.

All three of us are completely worn out from the journey yesterday, and we've misplaced our camera cord, so I can't even promise you photos soon. But I hope you had a happy Easter. This holiday always feels like New Year's day to me - a new beginning.

And since my brain is still on vacation, I'm going to send you somewhere else to read a brilliant post instead of trying to come up with one of my own. Read this memo to surly teenage boys at Breed 'Em and Weep. I plan to drop it discreetly into Theo's Trapper Keeper (holy cow, I'm old) when he turns sixteen. Once upon a time, in my other life, I talked to teenage boys on a daily basis, and those who had somehow figured out this advice were happier people with many friends, and they got all the girls. It's really too bad no teenage boys read my blog, I could be doing them a big favor by posting this link.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

AI: Deutschland

I know you're dying to hear what I think of the latest developments on American Idol. Chris Sligh was an early favorite of mine, mainly because he was smart and funny. But his strategizing became too transparent and complex to get the ten-year-old girl vote. And now he's doing interviews that sound a little bitter. ("I never really wanted to win anyway, I was just doing it for my band, dude." Something tells me he wouldn't send Sacheen Littlefeather to sing that final song and refuse the title if he actually did win.) But I still like him and the fact that he got kicked out of Bob Jones University keeps him in my good books. Watch out for someone to hire him as a host/commentator type.

I refuse to comment on Sanjaya and his hair. Like Kevin, John, and Justin Guarini before him, there's really nothing anyone can say to stop those preteen girls from texting a thousand votes his way.

Melinda, stop acting surprised and humbled. Just say thanks and grow a little confidence. You're good. You have to know it by now.

Go Blake.