26 September 2008

Hidden Placater

Max is suffering from a nasty cold right now, so I wasn’t surprised when he woke up screaming from his nap. Listening to his horse voice and his hacking cough makes me miserable, so I can only imagine how bad he must feel. When I went in to get him, he wouldn’t let me comfort him.

I know that it's cheating, but when I can‘t calm Max down, I often use the dog to help. So when the opportunity to terrorize Asia didn‘t make him feel better, and he continued to scream and point at his room, I was a bit baffled.

He was making his intentions pretty clear that he wanted to go back into his bedroom, and then back into his playpen. I thought maybe he wanted to go back to sleep. After I put him in, he angrily tossed and turned in the playpen, screaming "Da-Da" the whole time. Clearly Ma-Ma was incapable of handling this situation.

While he screams, he keeps pulling at the blanket that is covering the flimsy mattress. Wondering if there is a shard of glass or something else bothering him, I peel back the blanket, and peeking up at me is a photo of Paul. Max is immediately calmed and starts saying "Da-Da." He’s been carrying that photo around with him for the better part of the afternoon.

24 September 2008

Raising Asia

When my husband and I first got married five years ago, there were two things I really wanted, a dog and children. My husband wasn’t convinced, about either. After one year of continuous hounding (no pun intended), I started to make some inroads towards getting a dog. I didn’t have him 100% committed, but we were getting somewhere. We did loads of research, and talked about the various breeds that would fit our lifestyles. But all this talk was going nowhere, and I was getting impatient.

A woman who I volunteered with had just adopted a mutt to be a companion for her aging Shelty. However, the dogs weren’t getting along, and the new dog had severe anxiety and jealousy issues. Being the sap that I am, I immediately fell for this poor dog’s sob story. She was on her fifth home in the first six months of her life, no wonder this dog had issues. Surely, I the compassionate and patient human was the right person to “rehabilitate” this dog, being that I had absolutely no dog training experience whatsoever. I went to visit the dog that evening after work, and when I got home, I told Paul that I had found a dog that I wanted him to meet. What I didn’t tell him was that this dog was coming home with us for a trial weekend. My heart was bigger than my common sense, and we kept her. That is how Asia became part of our family.

Asia was a case study in separation anxiety. She barked, jumped and eliminated in her crate, whenever we left the house. By the time we got home, she’d be covered in poop. I only worked two minutes from home, so I naively thought it would help if I returned home for lunch every day. So for several weeks, I’d come home for lunch, quickly bathe her and rush back to work, only to have to do the whole thing again when I got home that evening. This got old fast.

With time, patience and loads of research on training, Asia’s anxiety didn‘t disappear, but it got less. However, whenever one of us was sick, or on vacation or for some reason spent an abnormal amount of time at home with Asia, the anxiety would rear it’s ugly head, and we would have to re-train her again. Taking her to boarding kennels proved disastrous. The only place we could leave her was with a good friend who also had a dog. Having another dog to wrestle with seemed to dispel Asia’s anxiety. We could also leave her with my parents, but she would act depressed and morose, sleeping the whole time and not eating.

With our recent move back to Germany, Asia’s anxiety has again reared it’s ugly head, and besides driving us crazy, it’s severely irritating our neighbors. So once again, we’re re-training our dog. And, I keep wondering, when is she going to learn that we always come back?

21 September 2008

When you really want your mommy

I haven’t been adding much lately, because we’ve all been sick, and not just “cough, cough, sniffle, sniffle" sick, but violently sick. The kind of sick that makes you writhe in agony praying for a release that only death can bring.

After four days of agony and no indication of letting up, we reluctantly decided to go to the doctor. Now I say reluctantly, because this is one of the drawbacks of living without a car, despite the great public transportation. Because when I’m sick, and I can barely make it down the hall to the bathroom, the thought of dragging myself, my husband and my 17 month old son, into the 40 degree weather, down to the bus stop, onto the bus and down to a doctor’s office which we’re only vaguely familiar with its’ location is less than appealing.

So, after we manage to get to the doctor’s office, we have to argue with the receptionist in our broken German and her broken English to take us despite the fact that our insurance cards haven’t arrived yet. After about an hour, the Doctor, kind soul that he is, takes us back into his office, where I almost cry when I realize that he’s going to treat us. He tells us it’s viral, to take some Imodium AD, go home, and we’ll feel better tomorrow.

Only, we didn’t feel better the next day, nor the next day, and the Imodium, it didn‘t work. After the ordeal of going to the doctor the first time, we were even more reluctant to go the second time. Though, this time we were more prepared, we found a quicker and easier route, and there was no arguing at the front desk. The doctor was surprised to see us again, but quickly realized that we had more than just the flu. Being the good German doctor that he is, he’s not going to prescribe an anti-biotic until he’s confirmed that we have a bacterial infection, and to do so he needs a stool sample.

Now, Paul and I have spent almost a week swallowing a pharmacy of anti-diarrhea drugs to get the poop to stop, but the one time we really want it to come, it’s not forthcoming. We knew that eating is the most likely way to get our bowels moving, and it just so happens that the doctor has a bunch of health cookies that he willingly provides for the task at hand. Now, had we not been in such a weakened state, we might have noticed the over eagerness of the doctor in pawning those cookies off on us. Because those cookies only loosely resembled cookies. They more closely resembled birdseed. After only eating bananas and apple juice only week, we were supposed to figure out how to eat these things. It was like holding your nose to swallow bad medicine. We couldn’t even eat two.

The doctor recommended some biological medication and live culture yogurt to help reestablish the natural balance of bacteria flora in our bowels, kind of like yoga, only for the intestines. And after two days of this new course of treatment, while we wait for our lab results, we’re finally feeling better. I’m adding live culture yogurt to our permanent grocery list.

12 September 2008

Crunchy Towels & Stiff Jeans

Today is laundry day, and doing laundry is always an adventure in Deutschland, especially with an ornery toddler. Since I also washed clothes during Munich Part I. I knew what to expect. Just like last time, I am using the coin operated laundry in the basement of our building. The coins don’t go anywhere near the machine. They go into the electrical meter on the side of the wall. Instead of turning on the washing machine, the coins turn on the electric to the washing machine. I also have to turn on the water.

During Munich Part I, we had laundry time down to a science. The laundry room was in a neighboring building, and we had to sign up for our slot. I knew that if I signed up for six hours, I could get seven loads done. Two fifty-cent pieces bought me exactly one hour of electricity, but no cycle is exactly one hour, it‘s either less or more. Since there is no hot water line to the washer, water heats up in the machine, so the hotter the water, the longer the cycle. Since I don’t want to waste any of the electricity I’m paying for to turn on the water, add soap in, toss in the laundry or set the cycle, I wait to turn on the electricity until everything is ready to go.

After the first load, the following loads were a mad rush in effort to make the most of the bought electricity. Since there was still time left on the meter, and there is no way I would waste those precious cents on a stopped washing machine. Five minutes before my load was done, I’d run downstairs, hold my finger on the “open door” button and when the tumbler creeped to a stop, pop open the door, dump out the wet laundry into a basket (which was already strategically placed in front of the machine), toss in the dirty clothes, add the soap, close the door, push start, and add money to the electrical meter, so that I wouldn’t run out of electricity mid-load. After I spent my time leisurely putting the wet clothes into the dryer, or onto drying lines, before starting the mad cycle all over again in fourty-three minutes and twenty-nine seconds.

Our previous laundry room had a dryer and two very large rooms complete with lines to air dry your clothes. We didn’t realize what a luxury this was, until we moved into our current apartment. Being the very ecologically conscious people that Germans are, very few households actually use dryers. Our new laundry room doesn’t have a dryer, the two drying rooms are so small, I could fill them both with half of our laundry. Our new apartment has a washing machine hook-up, so our next big purchase is going to be a washing machine, after we recover from the purchase of the stroller. And, we have a large attic space with skylights, so we’re installing our own drying lines, cutting down on the madness.

However, until then, we have make do with what we have. The rush isn’t so mad anymore, as there is really no way to rush anything with a toddler. And since there is no sign-in sheet at this laundry room, I won’t be receiving any nasty grams if the laundry goes a little bit past sign-up time, or if I forget to clean out the lint tray and turn the water off. As for the lack of a dryer, my family will get used to the crunchy towels and stiff jeans.

11 September 2008

The Story of Four Strollers

In Munich, without a car, you depend wholly on walking and public transportation. The quality of public transportation here is so high, that you can get from almost any point to another point via a complex web of trams, buses and trains. If you have a small child, a stroller becomes essential to life. You will likely depend on this form of transportation until your child is three even four years old, possibly even longer. You will use your stroller until your child has the stamina and speed to keep up with you for approximately 1 mile or 2 km stretches.

Purchasing a stroller in Munich is much like purchasing an auto, you need to consider your needs before shopping for the perfect stroller. What kind of terrain will you be crossing? Will you be need to go up and down stairs, will you have a lift(elevator)? Will you be riding the bus/tram/train with the stroller? Will you ever have to carry the stroller with child inside? Is the stroller for an infant or child? How many children do you want to put in the stroller? What kind of storage space will you need below the stroller? Will you be walking, jogging, grocery shopping or going to festivals with your stroller? Where will you park your stroller? Finally there are the amenities to consider, cup holders, one hand steering, location of breaks, adapters for car seats, rain covers, mosquito nets, diaper bags designed specifically for the storage, size of wheels, number of wheels, and believe it or not even sound systems.

So the last time we lived in Munich (Munich Part I), we discovered Kindermarkts, second-hand childrens markets held at various times through out the city in churches, city parks etc. Being the poor students we were, excited about the money we were going to save, we went to our first Kindermarkt. The first mistake we made, was arriving late in the morning. Veterans of Kindermarkts know that the early bird gets the worm. The second mistake we made, was not doing any research or asking any of the Questions, so we had no idea what we were looking for. The third mistake we made was buying impulsively (much like we bought our last two houses).

Very proud of ourselves for the money we saved, we took our stroller home. We got home only to realize that the fabulous shocks on the stroller, made it impossible to get up the three stairs in the lobby to the lift. If I pushed down on the handle bar to lift the front wheels, the wheels stayed on the ground. If I lifted up on the handle bar to raise the back wheels, the wheels stayed on the ground. $%*&, this was not going to work. Between the two of us, we were able to take the stroller and park it in our basement storage area, until we decided what to do with it.

We needed to find another stroller. So, Paul asked around at MIPLC, where to find some baby stores in Munich? The staff recommended Schlichting on Weinstr. near Marienplatz. It was only the most expensive and overpriced baby store in the whole of Bavaria, though at the time we didn’t know any better. When we looked at the price tags, we fell over. There wasn’t a stroller there for less than € 700, unless you counted the umbrellas strollers, which were still a good € 6o and not suitable for a new born. And the cribs were insanely priced as well. Having a baby was going to be very expensive in Munich, how were we going to be able to afford this? We left this store sticker shocked and depressed. Our baby was going to have to sleep in a box, wear hand stitched clothes sewn out of my old clothes, and we’d have to carry the baby everywhere we went.

Internet to the rescue! Surly I could find something online more in our price range. I searched on Ebay.de. The first mistake we made was not translating every word in the descriptions. The second mistake we made was not finding a model of the stroller in the store to a) compare prices, and b) be able to test drive it. The third mistake we made was buying impulsively (do you see a trend here?). So we ended up buying a second-hand Mutsy Urban Rider jogger complete with hard bassinet, chair, two different hoods, a warm weather cover for the bassinet, attachments for a car seat, and a fußack.

A fußack (sounds like feuss-sack) is essentially a warm and fuzzy sleeping bag that fits into the stroller chair to keep babies warm in cold weather, very necessary when your stroller is your main transportation in Munich. All of this was less than half what it would have cost brand new (if they still sold this model, which they hadn't for several years). The canvas materials were perfect, practically new, couldn’t tell at all that it had been used. The wheel spokes were corroded, not badly enough to compromise the strollers integrity, but an eye sore.

The hand break was broken, not a big deal, since I wasn’t really planning on going jogging, but would have come in handy on some of the big hills in Olympia park. The brakes on the wheels were bent out of wack, and didn’t actually fit into the wheels, so they were ineffective especially on the crazy turns of Munich bus drivers, but of course I didn’t realize this until after I almost lost the baby and stroller and took a row of people out on the bus. My husband and father later fixed it with a hand wrench.

The stroller had the option to pivot, but not on the front wheels, but the back wheels. This was awkward and difficult to control in tight situations, so we ended up keeping the pivot locked and wrestling with the stroller to get it to turn. It was much heavier than the strollers currently on the market, but with the big pneumatic tires it was still manageable to climb up the stairs. The storage underneath was adequate, but not great. The folding mechanism was really difficult even after we figured out how it works. And finally, the stroller was huge, making it very difficult to manage in the aisles of grocery stores and trams, it didn‘t fit into all lifts, and Max and I almost bit it on a narrow escalator in a local department store. Imagine the looks on the German middle aged women, when I almost catapulted my 6 week baby out of the bassinet.

Never-the-less, after € 300 invested into two strollers, I had to live with the Mutsy, and I got used to it. It was great on all terrains. I could part crowds of people like the Red Sea, and when we returned to the States, it was perfect. I had my car, and the only time I needed the Mutsy was for Buggy Busters, an exercise class in the park.
Fast forward to Munich Part II. My dear and darling husband, Paul, moved to Munich ahead of us, leaving Max and I to tie up all the loose ends in the States. This also meant that I was alone on the eight hour flight to Munich with a sixteen month old (who by the way isn‘t yet walking), our dog Asia, her crate, a car seat, three suit cases, and a stroller. I decided to nix the stroller, and opted for the Kelty carrier instead, packing the stroller in the container to be shipped to our door step in Munich. However, I soon realized, with the travel time it took for the container to get to the docks and be loaded, the container ship to sale to Northern Germany, and then to be driven down to Southern Germany, where we lived, that we were talking several weeks, possibly months in Munich sans stroller. This was not going to work. There was no way I was going to haul my 25 pound/11 kilo boy around on my back in Munich.

So, I decided to purchase an umbrella stroller, easy to travel with. I was able to fold it and throw it up on a top of a luggage cart. At the airport, after only a few bleary hours of sleep, with a very tired Max in the Kelty, I managed to inch my way towards customs by taking turns pushing the two luggage carts 10 meters at a time. Luckily a really nice person offered to help me to customs after I was half way across the floor, and afterwards a customs official took me out to meet Paul. I was really glad that I didn’t have the Mutsy with me too.

Ahhh, we’ve arrived in Munich, now all we have to do is suffer the umbrella stroller until the Mutsy gets here. The cobblestones are beating it up, the wheels are about to pop off, and I have to lift it over curbs, but it’s temporary. Oh, but wait, what’s this? Paul has rented our apartment for us ahead of time, but didn’t think to make sure it would accommodate our stroller. The are seven steps up to the lift, ten steps down to the basement, the lift is too small for the Mutsy, and we live on the fourth floor. Nor did he realize that there are no escalators or lifts at the local train station, meaning I have to carry the stroller up about 30 steps, or ask in my broken German for someone to help me. When I found this out (the hard way, by trial), I called Paul about to cry. As luck would have it escalators and lifts are being added to our train station, but not to our apartment building. Nor is there any convenient place to store the stroller near the front door of the building.

So here are our options, I could store the Musty in our parking spot, but we’re renting it out to someone else. I could store the Mutsy in the bike room off of the parking garage and go through the garage door. Then I can run the grocery bags and other shopping through the garage, into our building, leave the groceries next to the basement lift, run back to the stroller get Max, run to the… oh wait, $%*&, that’s not going to work either. So I guess our other option is to invest in our fourth stroller.

So, this time, oh no, we’re not making any of the mistakes we made with our first two purchases. We have spent many days visiting every store in the city that sells strollers, sometimes twice. We’re asking all the questions and measuring the strollers up, down, backwards and forward, and hopefully this time we’ll get the perfect stroller. Since we eventually plan on having another child, should we get a stroller that has the baby bassinet as well as the chair? We might still be in this apartment, so it would be silly to invest in another stroller, but than have to buy yet another one that will work for an infant. We considered even purchasing a double stroller, but the double strollers are all too big for the elevator. Luckily there is this hand little stand you can attach to your stroller and Max can stand on it when his little sibling comes along.

We think we’ve found stroller that meets most of our needs. It can handle all terrains from gravel to cobble stones. The back wheels are large, so it will easily go up and down the stairs. The base is one of the smallest ones out there, as small as our umbrella stroller, so it will fit into the elevator. It‘s a fairly compact stroller, and it has swivel wheels in the front, so it will handle the aisles of grocery stores and trams easily. It’s only 11 kilos/ 25 lbs., so in terms of strollers this kind, it’s pretty light. It has great storage space, and you can raise the seat/bassinet to add even more. And I’ll be honest the first thing that got me looking at the this particular brand of stroller was that one of the models is wired for your I’Pod so you can play music to your child. Unfortunately the one wired for I’Pod doesn’t have big enough wheels. So, based on our extensive research, it looks like the I’Coo Targo City will be stroller number four. Now we just have to decide upon a color.

10 September 2008

While making dinner...

ME: I put some parmesian on the salad.

PAUL: I don't care, I'll eat it like it is.

ME: I don't know how to make it taste good. We don't have any dressing.

PAUL: How about some undressing? (in the suavest voice he can manage)

ME: (rolling my eyes)

PAUL: Come on, you got admit it, that was slick.

ME: And he wonders why his come-ons don't work...


Back in 2005, while my husband, Paul, was in the midst of his third year of law school at good ol' University of Baltimore, we started to contemplate our future. We could take the traditional route; an aspiring Patent Attorney, Paul could apply for positions at local B'more law firms, or the USPTO in DC. However, Paul and I weren't ready to throw in the towel and settle down. We started to look for a new adventure.

Ready to try out a new city, state and possibly even a new country, we started to look at Intellectual Property LL.M. programs, Masters in Law. In the United States, many legal professionals don't see the point in an LL.M., however, this was a great opportunity for Paul to further his expertise in Intellectual Property and specifically patent law. He applied to programs all over the United States, including San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle, Chicago and Washington, DC. He also applied to a program in London, and low and behold there was an English speaking program in Munich. Ultimately he was accepted into all of the programs, but the one in Munich had the most appeal.

The Munich Intellectual Property Law Center was still fairly new, only a couple years old since it's inception. MIPLC was a partnership between Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property, Competition and Tax Law, the University of Augsburg, the Technische Universität München, and the George Washington University Law School (some of the biggest names in Intellectual Property academia). But what impressed Paul, was that there was no permanent faculty, the classes were taught by the elite of the World's IP academia and professionals. Another deciding factor, was that Munich's location, pretty close to the center of Europe. What a great jumping point to visit other countries and cities in Europe. It was dual package, it would sooth our wanderlust and it would further Paul's career.

We moved to Munich in September of '06. Since I couldn't work, while we were in Munich, we decided it was the perfect time to get pregnant. I could fill a whole blog on being pregnant and giving birth in Munich, so I'm not going to say much right now, other than it was ultimately a great experience. I'll try to fill in other posts with reflections on being pregnant and giving birth here. In April '07, our son, Maximilian was born.

Four months later, albeit reluctantly, we returned to the USA. Paul finished his thesis in the States and started to look for a job. In January '08, he started his career at a law firm, as one of their first Patent Attorneys, we bought a home in Western Virginia, and we started to settle down. We made friends, joined clubs, and classes. We planned to live out our lives here, we thought our adventuring days were over.

However, not quite six months into our new "settled lives" Paul received an offer from the biotech company in Munich he had interned at during his LL.M. We were not looking for this, nor were we expecting it. It surprised us as much as we surprised our families, friend and colleagues when we accepted the position. We decided we weren't ready to throw in the towels on our adventure, and we didn't see any reason why our son Maximilian couldn't join the adventure with us. That brings us to today, here we are starting our lives in Munich once again. This time we have a different perspective on our lives here, as we are now Raising an American in Europe.