Thursday, January 29, 2009

ResidnZZZ Permit

It appears that the paperwork trail associated to Myrna's arrival may have come to an end. She now is in possession of her US passport and is a resident of Germany (though not a citizen of Germany - we haven't been in the country long enough for her to acquire that). Perhaps knowing that visits to city offices are finished, can she now sleep better, as she has been experimenting with 7 hour long sleep sessions at night. And of course, she is still as cute as ever, as evidenced by the most recent additions to her January photo album.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Visit From the Wedgwood Grandparents

Last week my parents and my grandfather made the long journey to Cologne for some sightseeing and some time with the baby. It was the first time in Germany for all three of them (well, technically, Mom once changed flights in Frankfurt).

We spent quite a bit of time in the Cologne Cathedral (where no balloons are permitted), including a guided tour and an evensong in the ornate - though unheated - choir section. We also hit up a good number of the older Romanesque churches around the city center, for a little break from the Gothic. Here's Grandpa on his way to St. Aposteln (which I confess I hadn't visited before).
Apart from churches, we took in some museums (including the Gerhard Richter exhibit at the Ludwig), sampled a bit of kölsch, and stopped at a few favorite haunts (here, coffee factored in). And, in our travels, Dad ran into a little piece of home.
Of course, we were a little slow getting out the door each morning, slaves to the baby's clock, but this afforded the grandparents some time to play with Myrna, who was at times very free with her smiles. As well she should be, with yet another wave of awesome gifts. Here's my Mom calming Myrna down after the always-traumatic donning of the hats.
And here's my Dad doing much the same.
Lots more photos are slowly making their way onto Myrna's Picasa fanpage.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Even More Myrna

With 2008 having come to its logical conclusion, we've stopped adding photos to the December 2008 Picasa album, and started a January 2009 album. There's not much there so far, as it's been so cold, and the week-old snow so filthy, that we've stayed in-house as much as we can. Plus, leaving home tends not to feel too worthwhile, what with holiday hours, out-of-service photo printers, cleaned-out produce sections, and inoperable furnaces. But my parents and grandfather arrive this Thursday for a visit, so watch for them in coming photos, and cross fingers for a turn in the weather.

Friday, January 9, 2009

"Y'all Don't Have Your Car?" The long saga about our trip to the US Consulate

Before Myrna was born I had joked about how the bureaucratic process associated to her birth would be longer and more painful than the birth itself. This may be true. It wasn't helped by the fact that her early and speedy entrance into the world meant labor was less than three hours, nor that her early birth also resulted in us tracking down a new Bescheinigung which included her far less than average weight. So far we've had to only deal with the German bureaucratic side of her birth (a process that every new parent in Germany must embark on). Wednesday was the day to see just how the Americans do it.

Once upon a time, when Bonn was the capital of Germany, the US Consulate was there, and a visit there was just a hop, skip and a jump away from Köln. After that, the American Embassy in Düsseldorf was the place to go for registering the birth of an American citizen. But in the last year or so, the process changed and those of us living in Köln must go to the US Consulate in Frankfurt (which, I might add, is in a different state). Köln and Frankfurt are joined by a very fast (albeit expensive) ICE train, so it's only an hour and a half away. But the US Consulate keeps up some German traditions and only offers appointments between the hours of 8 and 10:30 a.m. So Wednesday morning before 7:30, we bundled up and headed out the door for our journey to Frankfurt. A few days ago it started to snow. Nothing like Seattle's recent snow - only about 5 inches - but the high hasn't even come close to 20 deg F, so a tad bit freezing. And pushing a stroller through two inches of snow is no easy task. Being a bit nervous about getting there on time, and not knowing how long it would take us to get out the door, I had our morning very well planned. I had forgotten, though, that all plans go out the window when a baby is involved. Myrna apparently didn't get a copy of the schedule - which gave precise times of when she was to wake up for feeding during the night. We did leave our apartment on time, only to find that our train to Frankfurt was late, and thus we arrived at the US Consulate for our appointment with minutes to spare.

As you can probably guess, there is a little bit of security at the consulate. Luckily they first check you in for your appointment before you deal with security. Apparently, we were supposed to know that absolutely no electronics were allowed. I'm sure it probably said this on their website, but no where in the printed materials I received about our appointment and what to bring with us, did it mention this fact. So here we are standing out in the freezing cold (a quick check shows it was 4 deg F) being told that there are no lockers on site for us to deposit our camera and computer. The security guard in his Texan accent acted astonished when he said "Yall don't have your car?" Now, we couldn't be the first people to come to the consulate with electronics and no car, and he finally gave Chris directions to a Kiosk near the UBahn station that for a small fee would watch our bag (not in a locker, but in a little newspaper stand that would probably blow over in a light wind). Not having any choice, Chris left the bag and hoped it would still be there in a few hours.

Before arriving to our appointment we had to fill out quite a bit of paperwork. I was most fond of the question in which Chris and I had to give the precise dates of our presence in the US since our birth - and the square for putting that information in was about a half an inch tall (to be fair, you could attach a second page). Try listing all the dates you've ever been out of the country, and I can guarantee your passport with it's stamps will not come close to telling the whole story. Our first task was to to get Myrna's passport pictures taken. Even though there are photo-booths on every street corner in Germany, it is very important that the photos conform to US standards, so basically they have to be taken at the consulate. We learned that holding a baby upright with one hand is quite difficult (don't ask me why she even needs a picture - it's not like she will look like it in a year). Anyway, the last try was good enough:
All went smoothly thereafter. They didn't ask for half the documentation we were told to bring, and although we did photocopy all the necessary documents (as instructed), they actually made their own copies - something that never happens at the German offices. Their copies, though, were all made on 8 1/2" x 11" paper, a strange sight for us now that we are in the land of A4 paper. Sadly, that and the flags of the 50 states were really the only American reminders. There was no popcorn machine, Budweiser, or pop with free refills. Rumor has it that the US Consulate is the one place in Germany with air conditioning, but that was one perk we were not going to enjoy. (One quick aside: Chris learned this week from one of his students that American military bases are the places to go to get fireworks during unsanctioned holiday times when they are sold at every grocery store. Chris could only laugh.) The ever important marriage certificate was really all that was needed in addition to our passports and Myrna's birth certificate (and a credit card, of course). I don't think we will ever get so much use out of our marriage certificate when we return to the US.
By 12:30 pm, we were retrieving our bag of contraband electronics (all still there) and heading back to the center of the city. Our train back to Köln didn't leave until 4, but with no map and no real plan of what to see, we spent most of our time indoors. If Chris and I were freezing we knew Myrna couldn't be too comfortable, and so we hopped from restaurant to cafe to stay warm, and thankfully little Myrna just slept. We did, though, see some of the famous Frankfurt skyscrapers (which are famous because skyscrapers are so uncommon in Germany).
I now must add new entries to her baby book - to track her paperwork trail. There is a "memento" envelope, for things like a hospital bracelet. Since those certainly don't exist here, perhaps instead we'll just put her appointment number slip (think DMV "Take a Number") in it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

These are a Few of my Favorite Things

Myrna officially has a favorite toy. My parents gave me this little pig blanket for my birthday last year, with the thought that it could be passed on to the new baby. The pig blanket is useful in two ways. First, the cute little head helps keep the important-to-her-parents-sanity pacifier in her mouth.

Second, once that pacifier falls out, the snout resembles something near and dear to Myrna's heart, and she has a new object to pop in her mouth.
It doesn't keep her distracted for too long, but five extra minutes of peace is all worth it. Of course all the pigs in the household seem to have taught our daughter how to snort - an action she embarks on whenever she is hungry or disgruntled (which is quite a few times a day). And the new year has brought on a change of outfits for Myrna, as the premie sized pajamas she's sporting above can no longer hold her long and often outstretched legs.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Myrna's First Christmas - UPDATED: Now with Video

Frohe Weihnachten, everyone. Lots of good times and good food this week. And as part of our continuing and aggressive campaign to endear our daughter to you, we've posted the below video of Myrna playing with some wrapping paper, oblivious to the dinner preparations going on around her. I suspect she thought this paper was something that could be eaten, but didn't have the motor control to prove it. In any event, it looked to us that she had fun with it.

And you'll find more than enough photographic evidence of our holiday doings over at our Picassa page.

Recently Played: Old Soul For 2008

Every December brings spells of disquiet while I await stupid year-end music lists from any and every music website or blog I've ever glanced at more than twice. It's a shameful state, and sillier than ever now that I'm all but completely estranged from the type of music that Pitchfork Media writes about. Still, this is part of the appeal. After a year of ignoring the Deerhunters and Vivian Girls, I've had a good month to slow down and see if there's anything to the fuss. This hasn't yielded many jaw-droppers, although this hip-hop list included a couple pleasant surprises, and certainly this song has become a good friend to the household.

Myself, I bought maybe half a dozen CDs in 2008. Nevertheless, there were plenty of tracks this year that I really did love - too many to mention, and anyway, the internet needs further appraisal of Portishead's, Move D's, or the Crystal Stilts' new records like Cologne needs more tanning salons. So with 2008 long over, I'm interested in talking about the records I discovered in the past year which weren't from 2008. For today, I'd specifically like to talk about soul, R&B, and stuff that might reasonably be squeezed under such a heading. Some of these might be pretty obvious, and if I had any pride I wouldn't let on about not being hip to them for ages. But heck, if someone as expert as Oliver Wang from Soul-Sides can fess to having just discovered Lorraine Ellison this late in the game, then maybe I can chance a little ridicule.

Ruth Brown - Looking Back
Here's one I feel like I really should've heard years ago, but it took Wong Kar-Wai's akward My Blueberry Nights to bring this song to my ears, where it was appropriately paired with the likes of Otis Redding. Ruth Brown, a longtime powerhouse for Atlantic Records, typically brings to mind a more uptown, jazzier R&B style, but "Looking Back," which I believe dates from 1969, is something else altogether - a great, weary track that just sweats raw, impotent regret. And who doesn't want to hear a little more of that on their morning commute?

The Marvelettes - Someday, Someway
Of course I'm well familiar with the Marvelettes for Motown bangers like "Danger: Heartbreak Dead Ahead," "Poor Little Rich Girl," "The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game," and some song called "I'll Keep Holding On." One afternoon I tracked through my too-modest collection of their music, and promptly headed over to iTunes, thinking I could stand to add a cut or two to the roster. I ended up only buying this one, from 1962, but good Lord it's fantastic! Now my favorite Marvelettes track of all time, all spooky keys, crisp guitars, punchy percussion, and cooing vocals that come together for unadulterated Motown magic. I warn that the knees will get weak at the 0:47 mark. Press rewind if they don't blow your mind, as a wise man once said.

Eddie & Ernie - Lost Friends
This reliable duo appears on all four of Dave Godin's essential Kent Soul compilations. They're pretty showy with their vocal range, and sometimes this sort of histrionics eclipses the songwriting, but this Lost Friends CD (also on Kent Soul) features plenty of the kind of achy stories that you'd hafta be pretty steely not to let get to you. The title track, first released on Eastern Records in '65, is the best example of this, a melancholy rumination on what became of friends of yesteryear. If Proust worked in the Brill Building, he might bash out something like this. Granted, it'd probably last a little longer than two-and-a-half minutes, but I stand by the notion regardless.

Anna King - Make Up Your Mind
Visiting London last summer was straight up hard. With so many great record stores, so little mad money, and so brutal an exchange rate, I had to take solace in scrupulous note-taking. I returned to Cologne with a pages-long list, much of which still awaits action. One album I did get ahold of was Anna King's Back To Soul. Anna King toured with and sang backup for James Brown. For this great 1964 deep soul record, He Who Toiled Tirelessly In The Entertainment Industry contributed substantial amounts of songwriting and all the production. There are write-ups out there that'll tell you that this album was a vanity project cobbled together from Brown's tossed-off rejects, but such cynical dismissals simply whither before a powerhouse performance like this one.

Barbara Lynn - Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin')
Barbara Lynn had a powerful voice, but that she also turned in some solid guitar work and did much of her own songwriting is particularly notable for the time. I knew Lynn already for the lovely "You'll Lose A Good Thing" and the rocking "I'm A Good Woman" (mp3 included, because it's just so so good, and also pretty hard to find). There are three or four good CD compilations of her recordings. Unfortunately, not one of them gives a comprehensive overview, but so it goes. "Oh Baby" may be familiar to some for the cover by the Rolling Stones from their Rolling Stones, Now! record. Most of the songs from the Stones' first three records were first popularized by black American soul and r&b artists, and I've a tendency to dismiss them as inferior to the originals. In this case, though, I must concede that they did a great job with the material. Which is not to say that Barbara Lynn's version isn't still definitive. There's an excellent article here that talks a little more about Lynn's run on Tribe Records, which provides more info on her than you'll find most places.

The "5" Royales - Think
I think everybody knows "Think" in some form or another, but this year I finally heard the original 1957 version by proto-soul greats the "5" Royales. It's not near as fiery as James Brown's, say, tending more towards doo-wop, jump, or other earlier R&B stylings. Anyway, it's a thumbs-way-up, and something I figure any soul fan will definitely wanna hear.

Ruby Johnson - Come To Me My Darling
For reasons not worth elaborating on, the stats on my laptop fail to precisely pinpoint when I first acquired which Ruby Johnson songs. Johnson's voice is beautiful - not sweet at all, and almost tough, but haunting. I can never get enough, and have repeatedly gone back to the well for more. Arriving in a slow trickle, some songs reached me as early as '05, but some I first heard this year. Okay, so I'm willing to concede that this particular track may have been on my iPod before the beginning of the year, but certainly any of a number of selections from the I'll Run Your Hurt Away collection would qualify as a favorite find for the year. Put plainly, this is Stax soul at its most incredible, and I sternly recommend the whole record.

Darrow Fletcher - The Pain Gets A Little Deeper
A friend came through with tantalizing tales of an obscure and frantic soul jam called "What Good Am I Without You." When I finally tracked down Darrow Fletcher's music, I found a teenaged showman with at least three great songs to his credit. "What Good" was indeed as exciting as described, and I liked "Infatuation" and "The Pain Gets A Little Deeper" even better. In the latter, a grammar school Fletcher wallows in gloriously naïve heartbreak. But it's to the song's credit that it doesn't become clear that Fletcher is an underage singer until you've heard it enough to start scrutinizing the lyrics. Southern soul with northern danceability, this one's built for Friday nights.

The Donays - Devil In His Heart
The aforementioned Oliver Wang tipped me to this one, a song best known for having been covered by the Beatles. Straight outta '61, this is infectious, rollicking girl-group stuff, and a song that refuses to be played just once. Note that this mp3 is the one I got from Soul-Sides, ripped from the 7". I also have an iTunes mp3 not sourced from vinyl, but I must say that the one from Soul-Sides has a much fuller sound.

Ruby Andrews - You Made A Believer Out Of Me
Another one from Soul-Sides. Q-Tip had an album this year that straight took me back to '98, and one of its hottest cuts was built around a sample from this song by Ruby Andrews. And why wouldn't it be? This piano hook here lingers in a tight, dizzy loop in my head for hours every time I play this song. I figure it was only a matter of time before someone had the good sense to start rhymin' over it. As Mr. Wang's post points out, Q-Tip wasn't the first. I can't imagine he'll be the last.

Billy Thompson - Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
I don't know all that much about this one, except that you can find it on Kent's When A Man Cries compilation, that it was recorded for Columbus in 1964 (along with his "Black-Eyed Girl"), and that an original 45 of this record will set you back a pretty penny. The bottom line for me is that this song, probably because of the horns, reminds me quite a bit of Love's "Always See Your Face," an all-time fave. If it happens that that song has any sentimental value for you, this one'll probably get some extra mileage for you.