Tuesday, October 12, 2010

National Coming-Out Day

I am a straight, white, female, atheist supporter of equal rights, tolerance, and co-existence. I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend, who longs for a world, where no-one is discriminated against because of looks, gender, skin color, race, ethnics, sexual orientation, faith (or the lack thereof), etc. Today is National Coming-Out Day. It is a day where also Atheists, who are according to some recent surveys the least trusted group of people in the US, stand up and proudly acknowledge themselves, along with many other minority groups, especially gays, lesbians, and transgendered people.
Along with a large group of atheist friends, I also have several gay/lesbian friends. Some of them have defied conventions and risked persecution and punishment for standing up for themselves and their partners. I am ecstatic about every one of my gay friends, who actually manages to get married, because this is something that even today, in the 21st century, which people claim is the most enlightened of all, many gays and lesbians are still banned from enjoying the same benefits and security that is so normal for us straight people. Not so long ago the case of an elderly couple from California has made headlines and proved that even the best preparation for the worst-case scenario can be simply voided by government officials. Why do things like that still have to happen in our society? Why are people forced into hiding just because some people don't approve of their life style? My message to all people who are against gay marriage: Don't marry a same-sex partner and move on! If you are a minister and your church has a negative standpoint towards gay marriage, fine, don't officiate one. Marriage, however, is more of a legal nature today than a religious. Marriage gives me certain benefits and rights. Thus, no-one should be prevented from entering into such a contract with another competent person. This should be reflected in federal law, and if you are an elected official and consider same-sex marriage objectionable, well, get over it. You are a CIVIL SERVANT, so it's your duty to serve all citizens. If you can't do that, resign from your office and become a private citizen yourself.
In this sense: Happy Coming-Out Day to everyone. Let's work together for a future that truly offers the same opportunities to all people.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hammock Dreamin'

This weekend was simply wonderful, like the last wink of summer before she leaves until next year. The coolness of autumn is already in the air, some leaves have turned already, maybe the last chance of shorts. t-shirt, and sandals for a long while. Today, we spent with my friend Kathrin and her family, who are stationed in Wiesbaden. After a 2.5 hour drive and great lunch we headed for the yard to enjoy the sun and let the kids tire themselves out; Emma insisted to get out the hammock as well along with all the other yard toys. After chasing down Lily for a while, I ended up in said hammock with little Violet; it was put up between two large trees, whose leaves were still green. The sun shone through them and cast an interesting pattern on us while we were just relaxing and looking up at the green canopy above us. Violet was scratching at the fabric of the hammock and chewing at her fingers. After a couple of minutes, Lily decided to join us and stayed for a while swinging before joining her new friend Julian for more playing again. Violet and I remained in the hammock, just being there and enjoying the here and now.

In our hectic lives, these moments have become so rare. On any given day I haste from A to B, not thinking, not stopping, not seeing the world around me. In these minutes today, I saw my tiny world in these moments, the hammock, the trees, the leaves, and the sun, more clearly than I have in a long time. It seemed as if time had stopped for a while, and I was simply calm and content. In this world of haste, stress, irritation, confusion, and other negative feelings, something as simple as a hammock on a sunny late-summer afternoon made an impression on me that makes me think: why don't we take time-outs any more? What keeps us from just taking a few minutes every day for ourselves; no children, no work, no chores, just us to reconnect with ourselves and recharge. I have already informed my husband that I would like to have a hammock at some point. Just to have my very own space for me-time at least every couple of days. I believe if people took more time to just calm down and give up the world around them every once in a while, this world would be a better place. Who could still hold grudges and negativities in the face of something as beautiful as this planet? I couldn't, and I feel very much refueled to take on the challenges of tomorrow, next week, and whatever comes after that.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 Project

As announced earlier on this blog and my Facebook page, I have started reading the Qur'an. I am doing this out of personal interest, and to understand more of a religion that has been in the focus point of much criticism and misunderstanding since the horrible attacks by a few fanatics on this day 9 years ago.

Before I start writing about my first impressions, I want to clarify that even though I personally am an atheist, I do not hate religion, none of the many faiths out there. I even think that for many people religion is a good thing since it helps them to have someone to turn to in difficult times and definitely provide a good social network. This issue has even come up during a brunch of our Atheist/Agnostic parent group some time ago. Many atheists miss this type of social connection many churches provide but don't find it in their hearts to join just for the company and actively deceive the congregation on how they truly feel. I myself know several wonderful people, some of whom have invited us to join them in their congregations, which we had to decline. This, however, never hurt our friendship, because we agreed from the beginning to disagree on certain issues and leave it with that; additionally, we were always honest about our feelings and convictions. Our friendships are based on the most simple principles of love, tolerance, and respect, which most faiths teach to begin with.

Unfortunately, there are people, like said Mr. Terry Jones, the members of Westborough Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, and fanatics of any faith, who use religion as a tool and a justification to hurt others. This leads me to my preliminary favorite passage of the Qur'an. As in the translation by Sahih International, the Holy Book of the Muslims talks about these fanatics:

"2:13 And when it is said to them, "Believe as the people have believed," they say, "Should we believe as the foolish have believed?" Unquestionably, it is they who are the foolish, but they know [it] not. 2:14 And when they meet those who believe, they say, "We believe"; but when they are alone with their evil ones, they say, "Indeed, we are with you; we were only mockers." 2:15 [But] Allah mocks them and prolongs them in their transgression [while] they wander blindly. 2:16 Those are the ones who have purchased error [in exchange] for guidance, so their transaction has brought no profit, nor were they guided. 2:17 Their example is that of one who kindled a fire, but when it illuminated what was around him, Allah took away their light and left them in darkness [so] they could not see. 2:18 Deaf, dumb and blind - so they will not return [to the right path]."

Especially the picture of the lighted fire that will turn into darkness so reminded me of Mr. Terry Jones and his planned burning of the Qur'an. Indeed, he lighted a fire, even if by now only a figurative. He managed to be in the spotlight of attention from all over the world. But this spotlight was a dark one, which could easily ended in more deaths of innocent people. He, along with all fanatics, who call themselves "reformers" of their faith, are walking a dark path ending in nothing but chaos. The only way for them out of this mess they have brought themselves into by their very own pride and vanity is to turn around, go back to the beginnings, really READ the words and don't interpret them to fit their ideas.

This all might sound like a heavy load from an atheist like me, but as I said before, I respect religion and all people of true faith, it is just not for me. I am just a person who tries to leave a positive trace on this planet and who dreams of a better world for her children.

In this sense: Let's commemorate the victims of 9/11, who were of many races, nationalities, and faiths. Let's commemorate the innocent victims of two wars that ensued these attacks and together as one work for a more peaceful future for everyone.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Letter to Mr. Terry Jones

Dear Mr. Jones:

I am writing this letter on behalf of every right-minded person on this planet. First of all, let me congratulate you on getting world-wide attention for your despicable plan. If I had a say in matters like that, an utter and total media ban would be ordered for spectacles like the one you are planning for this Saturday. The reasons for that are simple: your master plan all along was to get attention to humiliate and provoke an entire religious community over the fanaticism of a small minority. In my opinion, NOT reporting about your “protest” would have been the way to go, because it would have been the only way to counteract your malicious plan, because that’s all it is. Your behavior has nothing to do with being a good Christian, even an educated atheist like I can clearly see that, and I am sure that true Christian communities all over the world are turning away in shame from your actions.

I think I am speaking the minds of many if I say that your behavior resembles more that of a stubborn and unruly child than that of a reasonable adult. Are you even aware that your actions will endanger Western peace and developmental aid workers all over the world? In burning the Koran, you plainly display the ignorance many Muslims dislike about the Western societies. Instead of educating yourself about what Islam truly teaches by actually READING the Koran or invite Muslim scholars and members of the Islamic community to open discussion, you display a disregard, disrespect, and unbelievable ignorance towards a religion that is clearly the younger sibling of Christianity and its millions of faithful followers.

You should be ashamed of yourself, and everyone who supports you as well. I definitely know that Jesus, who you claim to be your Lord and Savior, would cringe and turn away in disgust knowing of your plans. Jesus’ message only contains love and tolerance for EVERYONE, not just the ones who think like you. I obviously know what I am talking about, because even though I am an atheist I care to educate myself, and even though we dare to disagree I have nothing but love and respect for my religious friends, whichever religion they may follow. All those dogmas and concepts are clearly foreign to you, a pastor, who should lead his congregation in the true words of Jesus. When have you last dared to open up the Bible and truly let Jesus’ words speak to you? I bet it has been a long, long time, and in the meantime, hatred and ignorance has consumed you to a point where you spit on Jesus’ message by burning the Holy Book of your brethren.

As a small attempt to counteract the magnitude of damage to the entire Western world and especially the true Christian communities, I will take the opportunity on this Saturday, September 11, 2010 to buy a copy of the Koran and start reading it. I have planned on doing that for a while, so why not start now? And I call upon every enlightened and truly tolerant, open-minded and loving person to do the same. Instead of allowing that this 9th anniversary of a tragedy caused by a fanatic minority will be marked by yet another act of ignorance and provocation, let it become known as a day where people come a little bit closer in tolerance, respect, and understanding. Let’s reach out to a community, which does not think so much different after all, and attempt to understand them a little better. Thus, I am calling for “Read the Koran Day” this Saturday; join me and others to broaden your own horizon by READING, not BURNING the copy of the Koran you obviously already own. In the end, you might be glad you did.


Stephanie M. Powell

Monday, September 6, 2010

Of Happiness and Woes

It's been a while since I've written a post, life has just been too busy, sleep has been a luxury with our teething baby, and work just crazy but so interesting. I think I've learned more useful things in these two months than ever before, for which I am really glad and grateful. I finally feel as if my hard work is somewhat paying off and just hope for the best toward the end of the year.

Well, in all that craziness that is still called my life, I found myself at the grocery store last Saturday morning to pick up some pizza and cake for lunch and coffee since our friends were about to come over to help us put up our monstrosity of a wardrobe. Pushing little Violet in the shopping cart through the store, I was suddenly stopped by an older couple wooing over our little girl, who was at her best and decided to smile at them with her adorable toothless smile. I our little conversation that followed, the man said something along the line of "Isn't it amazing how little they need to be happy; it's because they know so little about life's woes yet". I was somehow too confused about that remark to reply right away, but it stuck, and on the way out to our car, I thought, that it's not only our kids learning from us as they grow, but if we allow it, we can learn so much from our little ones.

Just looking at both of our girls and watching them teaches me so much about the beauty of life itself, and what life is REALLY about. People, and I am no exception, worry too much about lesser issues in life that they lose their focus on what really counts. How often has you smiled today? I am looking at Lily and Violet, and they smile constantly about seemingly meaningless things. I remember Lily's eyes lighting up when the doorbell rang today and her friend was there picking her up to play downstairs. Or Violet being just content as she lays in her bed with her pacifier and one of my t-shirts to soothe her while she falls asleep holding my finger. She had a full tummy, a warm bed, and someone who loves her right there to feel safe, this is all she needed.

When were we last truly grateful for just not being hungry, having a warm home and loved ones around? Most of the time people complain that the house or the TV aren't big enough, they needed a new car because the one they have already has a few years under its belt, and so on. Next time you think this way, just switch on the TV or check the news online to see that for the majority of people in this world these simple needs cannot be met. People are still going hungry or even starving in most countries in the world. Parents have to watch their hungry children unable to feed them, don't have a home of can provide even the most simple needs like shelter or medical care. At this point, we should really take a second to step back and look at what WE have rather than what the person next door has. Let's take a second and learn from our children what's really important in life, and maybe this will eventually make a difference and help us lead a happier and more content life. I personally will go now and watch our girls sleep, kiss them good-night a final time for tonight and turn in myself. To a better tomorrow, everyone!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dear Bigotry...

I think all of us have those moments, where we're just completely flattened by other people, either positively or negatively. I had one of these experiences of the less pleasant kind the other day when I was browsing around on my facebook news feed page and came across a new album labeled "Muslim". It was more or less a photo documentation of a little boy having his arm crushed by a car as punishment for stealing some bread. I agree that this punishment is totally cruel (if it was real at all, since an oftentimes omitted seventh picture identifies the scene as a stunt and shows the boy completely unharmed afterward); what I deeply disagree with, and what had me fuming was the ensuing bashing of Islam by people who claim to be Christians but never even read the bible and talk about Islam and its values without ever having read a single page of the Koran. Even as an atheist I can say that I've read the bible and the Koran is actually fairly high up on my to-read list, just to be informed. This person has been known to criticize everything non-American without actually having traveled enough to be able to compare.

I am well aware, that Islam is by far not the most peaceful religion out there. The Koran explicitly states that the new religion should be spread, if necessary by conquest. While the Judo-Christian religion does not favor violent conversion itself, it clearly says that genocide to clear the country out of foreign faiths is the way to go (see the Old Testament, the story of King Saul). Given that Jesus had probably no intention of his teachings becoming such a world-wide hype, he would be outright appalled if he knew that people were killing and oppressing others to spread the faith (let's think back to the crusades and the missionaries in Asia). Even today, atrocities are committed in the name of Jesus. Let's just think of the current Iraq war; ex-President Bush claims that God himself ordered him to attack Iraq, which is probably the greatest crap I've ever heard (my personal theory is it was Chaney via the White House intercom system; Bush is not known for his high IQ after all). Thus, thousands of modern-day crusaders march out under the blue-red-and-white banner of their leader to invade and Americanize yet another country that does not bow to their demands (as we all know, the USA is God's chosen country, right?). Atrocities such as the torture of innocent people in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison and the rape of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, who was attacked repeatedly by several GIs before being executed along with three of her family members.

But these incidents are conveniently ignored when it comes to bashing the obvious enemy: Islam. Cruel punishments that are executed by a backward government or even just lynch justices under the cover of Islam are dragged into the spotlight to denounce the whole religion. That similar punishments are written down in the bible are again ignored. It is further ignored that only about 150 years ago in Texas people were hanged for stealing a horse, and only during this past century people were killed for loving someone of a different skin color (even if the pictures portrayed what the anti-Islam league claims it is, it would look like a rather unofficially lynch practice rather than a punishment handed down by the government).

So my question now is: Do the atrocities committed by US soldiers in Iraq not count because it affected only brown people who are not Americans anyways and cases like those of the little boy are dragged in the spotlight to denounce a whole faith? Definitely seems like it. I know several Muslims myself, as well as Christians of different faiths, Buddhists, and people from all corners in the spectrum of atheism and agnosticism. And believe me or not, there are good people among all of those groups, as well as bigots who abuse religion as something to hide behind. Even though I am an atheist myself, I see all people for who they are, no matter their faith. I don't see their every actions as based on their religion, but as coming from their own free will.

Does the Koran say that for stealing a loaf of bread your arm shall be crushed by a car? I don't think so, since cars were't quite mainstream yet when the Koran was written. Actually, the maximum penalty for stealing under Sharia Law is the amputation of the hand, but this sentence cannot be handed down to a child, and not if something inexpensive was stolen, especially if food was stolen due to hunger (get your facts straight before speaking up!). Does the Koran have some punishments that are completely out of proportion under today's consideration. Definitely, just like some of the punishments in the Bible (which also supports mutilation for theft!). Do some backward people still apply them today to portray their power? Sadly yes, and this applies for both Muslim and Christian societies. The only way to get away from this kind of society is continued developmental aid in form of infrastructure and offering alternatives. But sadly it seems as if it is in the interest of the World Police to maintain the status quo in those countries, which then leads to complaints that those countries are the breeding ground of fundamentalism and terrorist activity (see: vicious circle).

PS: I also love the bigotry of certain people, who love to stress at any occasion how great and free America is just to turn around and oppress other people's opinion (= Freedom of Speech). I'm off now!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Of Energy And Life

Many years ago I read a book called "The Calestine Prophecy". I can best describe it as a mid-90 New Age Indiana Jones, if that makes any sense. As most New Age stuff, it is full of fairly wacky ideas, but definitely had some very substantial concepts. The principle of treating even small kids like individuals, and not as semi-persons appealed to me even when I first read this book as a teenager. One concept I've been thinking about a lot lately is that of the struggle for aura or life force. At first, I put this one in the wacky category, until I recently went through my old room, and found said book. Over the next days, this idea just kept going through my head. Not just as it was described in the book, with actually seeing an aura, but just the way the effects are described, that most people are constantly struggling to gain this life force in so many different ways. Just think about it: Have you ever walked away from an argument feeling better about yourself because you know that the other person feels bad now? I hate to say it, but I have, and it really scares me and makes me feel like a bad person. Lately, I have felt a lot on the other end of this struggle. Whenever I am with my family in close contact for a longer time, I feel completely drained. I feel belittled and pushed around, like a little kid. Sometimes it even seems as if I can feel the energy being drained from me.

Usually, I am someone who can easily stand up for herself and is very independent. But around my family I am suddenly reduced to a person who has brains but little other skills. The daughter who is the bad driver, is not musical, or any good at handy skills. From our teenage time on, these skills were attributed to my sister, to build up her ego since she failed in most of her schooling. I battled major issues, spent years in therapy for various eating disorders, because this seemed the only way for me to take some control over my life, took anti-depressants, and finally pulled myself out of the swamp after moving out to go to college and being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. During my first year in college I gave up therapy and medications and decided to accept me for the person I am, with my sadness and everything else. A little over a year later I met someone, who was almost scarily much like me, with a similar background and attitude to our problems; five months later we were married. We are soul mates, since we never have to explain how we feel, and because we know what to do if the other one feels down. And for the first time I really realized what it means to do what the book describes as sharing aura. Instead of struggling for this life force by trying to make the other one feel bad about him- or herself, we support each other unconditionally. Without any expensive therapies or medications we lifted each other out of our depressions and became stronger individuals within our unit.

Now, as parents, we are determined to raise our daughters to be strong individuals; we love them for who they are, with their strengths and weaknesses. We are strong enough as parents to not feed off our children, but to nourish them to strive. I am so proud to see Lily growing to be this wonderful, independent girl, so full of energy and life, even though it is sometimes draining. Violet has a much different personality, but we can definitely see, that she will be confident as well. We agree that we will support our children equally in their interests and will not hold them back in their potential. Who knows, maybe the tone-deaf klutz that's me will one day play the piano with the girls...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: Nostalgia Breakfast For You And The Kids

On today's menu: Banana-Yogurt Boats

As some of you may know, my grandpa died earlier this year, and since my grandmother is not quite willing any more to take care of herself or their house, she decided it was time to move to a nursing home. Last weekend my parents helped her getting through a lot of drawers to weed out what she would take with her, and what would stay behind. And what do we find among loads of old crap? My old Popeye cook book I had as a child. A little bit faded, but still in mint condition. I thing this is one of those things that happen a lot when you go through old stuff. You find the most random things of your childhood, which open a whole box of memories. This one was more a pamphlet with healthy recipes for kids that the health insurance gave out than a real book, but it was officially my first cook book! Here’s my favorite recipe from it, a healthy and yummy breakfast, which can be easily prepared with even very young kids helping (for all you mommies out there!)

Banana-Yogurt Boats

You need:

2 bananas

3 teaspoons chocolate-milk powder

1 cup plain yogurt

1 multi-grain artisan bread rolls

Fresh berries for garnish, if desired

How to do it:

Mash the bananas with a fork in a shallow bowl. Add the chocolate-milk powder and yogurt. Stir well and spread on the bread roll halves. If you have time, garnish them with fresh berries.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

PS: You can also find this recipe and many more on Adventures in {Baby} Food

This recipe was taken from “Spielend kochen lernen mit Popeye’s Lieblingsrezepten.”, a pamphlet copyright by AOK-Verlag GmbH, Bonn, Germany; issued 1991

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cleaning Up...

One more week has passed, and we're again a little bit closer to moving onto our new place. Due to the circumstances we decided not to move in this weekend, but wait until next; in the meantime we'll move up all the smaller items and boxes, some clothes, and finally buy our kitchen. You can't imagine how difficult it can be buying a kitchen, if the room is so weird. But we love our place, so we'll find a kitchen that goes with it.

Those past two days I've stopped on my way home from work to drop off boxes and take some measurements for furniture. The wardrobe we LOVE will actually fit, so we're really excited. And we also found an awesome couch and wall unit for the living room. Each time I walk through the empty apartment I can see how everything will look once it's set up in my head. I can see the girls playing on a big play-carpet on the floor and for our family to make unforgettable memories at this place.

This past week, I've also had the opportunity to reconnect with some people I've been out of touch with for years. We all work for the same company, just different departments. I can't wait for us to move, be set up and have people over for dinner again, even though we'll be a little sad each time, missing our wonderful family from Washington, with whom we shared so many fun dinners at our old place in the States.

This post doesn't really have a purpose or a real goal; it doesn't even have a title yet, because it's simply some blurbs I need to get out of my head so I can get organized in there again. Being stressed out in between commuting, caring for the oldest tween in the world (she'll turn 80 in a couple of weeks), and thinking about the move, which transporter we'll rent, which insurances we still need, making an appointment for Violet's well-baby visit, and how to organize the move in general has kept my mind much to occupied for structured thoughts. Thus, you have to deal with my mess now. I should probably make a list with everything that has to be done, in the order of their importance, not forgetting those points that aren't really important, but definitely on my to-do list until the end of the year. One of them is taking my translator's oath and getting my name in the branch register. I really want to get into translating again, even though Richard thinks I'm already working too hard. Translating is not really work for me, it's one of my passions, especially if it's challenging me. And it's better to stay in practice, should I ever get the call from my company's language department...

Ok, I'm off trying to call Cat again!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: Fruit Salad

On today's menu is a yummy fruit salad; not too much about it, but the perfect treat in the heat. Last weekend, we were all kind of out of it still. Richard was just slowly recovering from his stomach bug, and 2 days are just not enough time to get over a week of literally no sleep, especially since I didn't get much more sleep on the weekends either. Saturday was stressful as well, toting a toddler and a baby through furniture stores, so we determined this Sunday to be our day to relax. The weather was beautiful, so we decided on a nice doener for lunch on my parents' patio. The afternoon we spent at the playground, watching Lily getting rid of some of her endless supply of energy that only young children seem to have (I even have a theory that they feed on our energy, or so it seems). After about 3 hours Lily slowed down, and we took on the journey homeward with a baby and a toddler stroller; our way led us by the local gelato place, which seemed to be just the perfect thing for a sunny, warm Sunday afternoon. Instead of stopping right there we decided to get the kids home first and opt for a German-style "ice cream coffee" (coffee with vanilla ice cream instead of ice cubes!!). Home we arrived, Violet was asleep in her stroller, and Lily went down in her room, grown-up time!!! I headed over to my parents house to ask them for some cold coffee, but for once, there wasn't any.. So what to do? Waiting for a freshly-brewed coffee to cool? That would be too late. So we went for the next best thing, fresh fruit salad and ice cream. Even as a grown-up I still enjoy dessert before dinner every once in a while!! Here's my recipe (as easy as it gets):

Cut up fresh fruit; I used
1 banana
2 small apples
2 nectarines
1 pear
a handful of strawberries

Divide the fruit among 2 bowls, sprinkle with lemon juice, and top with 1-2 scoops of vanilla ice cream. Dust with cinnamon for the special something and enjoy!

Sharing such a treat just the two of us after an active day outside with the kids was the perfect finish of our weekend!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday, July 25

Dear Readers...
This blog is on sleep mode today due to much-needed family time!

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Ok, ladies. Who doesn't know and LOVE everyone's favorite furniture (and just simply stuff) store, IKEA. Having just moved and sold or given away most of our belongings, the employees at the local store should know us by name right now, right? WRONG! We've only made it there twice, and both times have been mild to medium-sized catastrophies.

The first time we chose a Saturday afternoon; the kids were rested, and the crowd won't arrive until Saturday. We were out mostly for a kitchen, living room furniture and a bed for us. We handed over Lily at the Smalland (yes, she's definitely 3...), and jumped right in. Well, I can only say: the IKEA in Renton was A LOT smaller. It took us about 30 minutes to find the showroom; the rest of the time we wandered confused through their self-service warehouse and the accessories section, where Richard had to drag me on time and again. We finally arrived at the showroom, and I can tell you, it was almost overwhelming. First came the baby and children's section, where I spent another 15 minutes cooing over the cute stuff. On we go to the bedroom section, where we find a couple of very neat things. Down they go on our list for further consideration later. The living room section was fairly disappointing. While we found the TV stand and wall units we liked immediately, there were simply no couches out there for us (our last couch set a very high standard..). At this point, we here the intercom go off, and before the lady even starts speaking, I know the message: "Attention please parents! Little Lily would like to be picked up from the Smalland" Here we run back through the narrow paths past all those little niceties calling my name to our wailing child (yes, we could actually hear her cry from the stairs). United again we start a second try, which we discontinue due to a tired toddler. Well, the kitchen will have to wait, no big deal, since we didn't have an apartment yet anyways.

Flash forward to today: The schedule for our Saturday was getting up with the kids, have breakfast, go to the recycling station and grocery shopping with grandma, and then hit IKEA and another furniture store looking particularly for kitchens. Furniture store #1 was a complete fiasco. We had to wait for about 45 minutes for a sales person to be available, and then the consultant that was assigned to us had not yet finished with her previous client because she was helping out friends on the side. After waiting another 15 minutes we just left, heading to IKEA yet again. Since it was lunch time, we started our trip at the cafeteria, thinking that a satisfied toddler would be a nice toddler. FAR FROM TRUE!! Bribing her with the candy from her kid's menu every step on the way, we finally arrived at the kitchen section, just to witness Lily's total meltdown there. Pretty at the end of our patience ourselves we give up, and just try to get out of there alive. At the end, we try to make this trip at least a little worth our time and buy the TV stand and shelving. Would have been a good idea, theoretically. In practice, not so much, since we hadn't taken large packages at all into consideration when we headed out that morning.

So, after 2 trips to IKEA we didn't buy a single thing. Can you believe that? Not even something that I just came across and knew I couldn't live without any more. A lesson I learned: babysitterservice "Chez Oma" would have been a good idea. And maybe I should have bought this stepstool, just to not leave completely empty-handed. Also: as a family with a little tornado-toddler, shopping for furniture online is a life saver!

Friday, July 23, 2010


... *awkward silence* Ahheemm.. OK... Hi, my name is Stephanie, and I am a caffeine addict. *choir: Hello Stephanie*

Well, let me tell you my story. I was a late bloomer (when it comes to coffee consumption), and in the beginning didn't like it at all. It was my super-weapon to make it through a night of clubbing after having gotten up at 5 to work. My recipe was about 5 teaspoons of instant coffee with 2 pieces of sweetener and half a cup of milk; it was disgusting and caused 30 minutes of intense stomach cramps, but it kept me going all night long.. Then came college, and I guess I don't have to tell you much about that. I took it pretty easy and was all in control. A cup of joe in the morning, and every once in a while one with my afternoon cake (it's a German thing..), all no problem. I graduated, got married and moved, and the second round of college started, along with a full-time job. Coffee was my fuel to stay awake and alert at work after a late night of studying, and diet coke helped me through the afternoon. Then came the pregnancy, and I was as disciplined as I could be. I kicked the habit and went cold turkey.. I dragged for about 2 weeks, I could feel it. Afterward, I felt better, and promised myself it would stay that way. I maybe drank one coffee during my entire pregnancy, and stayed clean afterward as well. Until the move and the new job. Getting back in the routine of caring for a 5-months old baby and working full-time was just a little too much, and the habit came back. The sad thing was, that I didn't even like American coffee very much. I don't know what it was, but it tastes a lot different from coffee in Germany. About a year later I entered this strange stage, when I suddenly couldn't drink coffee any more. I switched to green tea to maintain some level of caffeine in my bloodstream, and to help me losing weight. Well, it didn't work, and I found out why a couple of months later, when the test turned out positive. Somehow, my little smart girl has used her own way to tell me: Mami, I don't need that right now. This time around, I wasn't the model-pregnant girl. Initially I switched immediately to caffeine-free tea (my wonderful hubby really took so good care of us!), but still snug a cup of coffee every once in a while. However, I had the caffeine-free version, which isn't completely free, but low-caffeine. And as soon as our girl made her appearance, I was completely back for the real deal.

That's where I stand right now. Most of the time I don't mind too bad, but coffee is highly acidic; for someone, who struggles to maintain a somewhat balanced diet, that's close to a catastrophe! I am also annoyed that I simply cannot function without at least 2 cups of strong coffee in the morning. I would love to take on the battle again and lead a caffeine-free life again, but what is a mom of 2 supposed to do if she lives in the wonderland, where all kinds of European coffee delights, from Irish Coffee and Wiener Melange to Italian Cappuccino and French Cafe au Lait? Not to forget our own delicious coffees, and the growing popularity of Seattle's very own Starbucks?? The temptations are just too great, and after just starting a new job, commuting for 3 hours every day, and yet another move (to our very own apartment) ahead, it's probably not the time to stop now.

I'll keep you updated.. Thank you for listening!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The End Of The Tunnel

This will probably be one of my most boring blogs, for everyone that's not me. As most of you know, we have just made the big move from the USA back to my native Germany and have been living in my grandmother's house since we arrived on June 9. Just short of one day before our 1-month anniversary of being back in Germany, I started my dream job at the company I've wanted to work for so badly since college days. I've made it, people!! At least for the next 6 months, until my contract runs out. This holiday season is either going to be one of my best with a new contract in hands, or one of the worst, we'll wait and hope for the best!!

Ok, with the move itself and the job checked off our list, apartment-hunting was next, and here is where it became a little bit challenging, since equal housing does not exist in Germany. We had found a nice place about 20 minutes from work, just to find out at the last minute, that one party in the house did not want a family with kids move in. Who the heck do you think will need a 3-bedroom apartment? A single gal? I don't think so! Anyways, on we went searching for our new home, and I came across another apartment that I had seen online but not pursued further before. I called, and the realtor told us that it was indeed still available; we went and had a look at it, and I can tell you, it is much nicer than the first one we looked at! The landlords live in the ground floor apartment and have twin daughters, so the kids wouldn't be an issue here. After some negotiation, we finally got the phone call we had been waiting for: we got our first place together in Germany!!

I can tell you, after 2 weeks of commuting 3 hours every day, it's not fun! Quality family time is close to non-existent. We have dinner as soon as I come home, then the girls take their baths, and then it's bedtime. The remaining time until I hit the hay I usually spend in front of the computer, checking my email and writing. This, however, means no time for my husband, who has been dealing with health issues for almost 2 weeks now. Having to deal with a grandmother, who behaves like a child between 3 and 12 (oh, you wouldn't believe how Lily and her can fight, like toddlers, and Lily at least has the excuse that she indeed is a toddler) is then only the cream on top of all the mess.

Since we're very private people, who appreciate their own space, this situation has not been easy; Richard is feeling isolated at times due to the language barrier and the lack of friends around; however, I simply don't have the strength right now to pull him up, since I'm exhausted myself, both physically and emotionally. All this has taken so much out of me, I don't know how I did it. I couldn't have done it without the support of my wonderful hubby and the girls. And finally, we're also seeing the end of the tunnel. I talked to the landlady today, and it seems as if we could start moving in next week! I can't wait to have actually time with the family again during the day! We'll have friends around, and Richard will be able to start his language course and meet new people there. Lily will be able to run around all over the house again without hurting herself or getting into things she's not supposed to (toddler-proofing is impossible in this house!). We will have a bedroom for ourselves again, and little Violet will move into her first own room. We're all so excited and cannot wait to move in. Then we'll finally have made it, truly arrived in Germany and starting to build our new life. IKEA, here we come!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Faith No More

I am an atheist. When I am asked for my religious views, I answer "none", since atheism is not a religion. I offer my thoughts and support in the face of tragedy, and of course my practical help, but no prayers, since I don't pray and wouldn't lie about something like that. A couple of weeks ago, I officially joined the ranks of the ever-growing number of atheists in Germany, consisting partly of those who just want to evade the official church tax, and some who are really atheists. I probably was the only atheist, who was still an official member of a church, even though I hadn't been there in forever. Probably the most difficult thing about being an atheist was telling my family; my mom, however, made it easy for me when she asked me whether I would join them for the holiday service, already anticipating my answer.

My journey to become an atheist was not an easy one. This may sound weird, but I have quite a religious career behind me. Born and raised a German Lutheran, I experimented with a few cultist rituals as a teenager, just to become a Jesus Freak a couple of years later. This phase I also outgrew, and started to seriously think about the meaning of life. A former friend of mine, who was an atheist back then, once told me bluntly: when I die, I'll be gone rotting in the ground. That's it. For me, reading my way through Far Eastern mythology and Buddhist philosophy at that point, was just not ready for what I have now come to understand to be the truth. My truth at least, since as a tolerant being, I accept everyone else's truth as well, as long as they accept mine. This is called respect, and when it comes to religion, or the lack thereof, respect is often the least on people's minds. This is the reason why I really enjoyed the atmosphere at our Atheist/Agnostic parent group. Even though we had the common interest of raising our kids to become informed adults, we had many different view points within the group that everyone respected. The discussions, if they turned to religion, were always respectful and interesting.

Why I abandoned religion? Easy to explain: first of all I have learned that believing in a god or gods is simply not inside me. I tried, oh yes, I did, but there's still nothing. Then, there's the fact that most religion out there right now has more to do with controlling its members and amassing wealth than actually living according to the rules. Prime example: the Pope. He calls himself Peter's successor, God's voice on earth, and millions listen.. This man lives in a palace in his own little state, wears only the best robes and tons of jewelry. He has an entourage and a standing Army (even if it's only the Swiss Guard). What do you think would happen if Jesus showed up here tomorrow? I'd say Temple Scene 2.0!! Yes, I actually read the book, that's why I know what I'm talking about. I like Jesus' message, minus the "Son of God" part. It's about peace and tolerance, coexistence and support. I think Jesus would jump down a cliff the very moment he realizes how many people died in his name. And I'm sure the same applies to many other religions. Their worshippers today have distanced themselves so far from the roots and adapted rules and rituals to fit their needs rather than stopping, reading up on the issue again, and really asking themselves "WWJD" ("WWMD", "WWAD", or "WW*insert applicable deity here*D"; if it's Kali, killing and pillaging would actually be the right answer!).

I simply had to get this off my chest. I am not a bad person just because I don't believe in religion. I try to be the best person I can without expecting any reward for it in another life, I just hope to be remembered as the person I was by my children. I am tolerant and gladly grant others' their own point of view without belittling them for it; and all I ask in return is the same courtesy. No-one will ever be able to "convert" me, because, as I mentioned before, religion is just not inside me. Still I am still a happy person, living my life to the fullest, since this life is all I have.
The only support I need comes from my wonderful hubby, who is an atheist enjoying science documentaries just like I do. We plan on raising our daughters to be independent, conscious individuals, who look for answers in themselves and not to what other people tell them. This is often not the easiest way, but at the end of the day, it's the only way that makes us truly happy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: Richard's More Than Awesome Tomato Sauce

Today's Tasty Tuesday is all about comfort food. I think I'm in the mood for that after cuddling our 3-month old baby to sleep this evening. The recipe for this tomato sauce is for me the epitome of comfort food: it's easy to make, I usually have all the ingredients at home, and it has lots of room for creativity; the only caveat: it takes about 6-8 hours of cooking time. Yes, my dear readers, it's crock pot time!

The story of this recipe begins long before my time sometime in Richard's childhood. When he was little, his mom sometimes cooked a jar of tomato sauce all day to improve the taste. After Richard left home and joined the Army, he decided at some point to take it a step further and make the sauce from scrap, using mostly canned items from his bachelor pantry. A couple of year later, I come in the picture and fall in love not only with the man, but also with this recipe. During the last 4 years we have been experimenting with this recipe and shared it many a time with friends and family. There are too many good times and stories connected with this tomato sauce; it is the perfect food for a larger round and entertaining, therefore we served it a lot on Fridays for our D&D group, and as some of you may know, those days were always fun and I still miss it. Here's the recipe, with fond memories and a sad heart:

Own a crock pot!!

Fill the crock pot with:

4 cartons of tomato puree (you can also use 2 cans each of whole tomatoes and tomato paste)

and whatever else you like! We usually use:

1 jar of artichoke hearts
1-2 cans of small black olives
1 pack of Italian sausage, cooked and crumbled
1 jar of sun-dried tomatoes
1-2 cans of mushrooms

Cook everything on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours (I strongly recommend the longer cooking time). Enjoy with a lot of friends on pasta with cheese and crusty bread; a glass or two of a good red wine also work well with it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

There Are Moments In Life..

"There are moments in life that can't be described in words; you have to feel them." This quote I read on a birth announcement earlier today when I went through some of my grandma's stuff. I don't know why, but this quote hit something inside me, because it is one of these fundamental truths of life. Emotions are way too complex most of the time to be described in such limited terms as words; even non-verbal signs like tears often say a lot more than a thousand words ever could. How could one ever describe the feeling of looking into one's newborn baby's eyes for the first time? I could easily describe how I felt when I got the positive pregnancy tests, and even when I first saw my girls on the ultrasound of holding our oldest daughter right after she was born (she was way too busy making her displeasure known by screaming for 90 minutes straight to stop for a second to look around). But the moment when I first looked into each of my daughter's eyes, and our eyes locked for this moment that both passes so quickly but still seems to last an eternity, the moment you form this lasting bond that cannot be torn by any force in the world, this moment will never be described in words.

There are more moments like it. I've seen many, and went through some myself, hoping never to have to go through others. I remember seeing the depth of grief and disbelief in the eyes of my former boss at the wake of her husband's funeral; I saw that she was at a far away place, her personal hell, and for a moment was there with her. Thinking about it still brings tears in my eyes; that night I made my husband promise never to leave me, since I never want to be at this place. I know, it ultimately won't be in our power to decide, since at the same time I couldn't leave peacefully knowing that I will send him to this place. I'd rather think of the moment at our wedding, when our lives were forged together forever. Even though we've never made these official vows you've seen a thousand times on TV and most weddings you've ever attended (we had a civil ceremony where we were only asked if we wanted to take the other partner as husband/wife). The whole ceremony felt so unreal, but when we exchanged our rings, looking in each others, our hearts and souls (if something like it exists) merged into one. No matter what would happen from then on, we would always be together, go through happy and desperate times together and emerge stronger from every challenge. I knew that no matter what, I had never loved a man like him, and never would ever again.

Our eyes truly are mirrors to our deepest and most hidden selves. One can hide emotions by putting on a mask so easily, and most people won't even notice it's a mask. But your loved ones won't look you in the face but right into your eyes and through them to the real you. I sometimes can feel this happen; it is the reason why I sometimes have problems looking people directly in the eye. I feel naked and vulnerable, revealing myself like it, but with some people, just sitting and looking into each others' eyes is the most comforting thing in the world. It is healing and revitalizing, and once again, cannot be described in words. As a linguist and writer by passion I gladly admit: words have their very distinct limits, but your thoughts, emotions, and dreams are truly free.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Do It My Way

Today was once again one of these days full of revelations about myself. I have become a person many people from 10 years ago wouldn't recognize any more, not only did I change physically, but even more dramatically my personality. Somehow, I have become a creature of opposites, which even I can't understand sometimes. Nowadays, people seem to be so obsessed with labels and definition that they forget, that it's the contradictions in themselves that make a person interesting. Why would someone care to sit down and really try to get to know a person, when one would know everything just by a label. I wonder:

1. Why does society tell me I can't work 8 hours a day AND be a full-time mom?
2. Why does it not work being all business AND domestic?
3. Why can't I be a good wife AND tell my hubby on occasion that I watch Gerard Butler movies, no matter how bad, because they fuel my brain porn (still prefer 300 over anything, guess why)?
4. Why can I not be a traditional woman AND push to break the corset of stereotypes? (actually, had not a certain pregnancy come in the way, you would be able to see me walking to work in a corset under my business suit!)
5. Why can I not be the all-planning perfectionist AND spontaneous enough to make life-changing decisions in a heartbeat just because my guts tells me?

Indeed, I live to be different, always have been, always will be. I've never fit a mold, and over time have learned not to strive to fit in one. This is one of the most important lessons I want to teach to my daughters. Just because society tells you that you have to be the one or the other, but not both does not mean that you actually can't. At times I am able to still surprise myself, even though I'm used to a lot, knowing myself for the past 26 years. Just go ahead and take the time to experience yourself at times, and see how you can surprise yourself!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Back To Basics

As a family of four, we’re always busy and on the go, taking advantage of every amenity of modern life. Right now, we’re living at my grandmother’s house after moving back to Germany from the US, where we’ve lived for the last four years, while we’re waiting for our apartment getting ready for move-in. Living in an old house (it was build in 1952 by my great-grandfather after returning from a Soviet POW camp in Czechoslovakia), a lot of things are different. One thing we soon found out was that my grandmother doesn’t own a dryer. Not that dryers are uncommon in Germany, everyone has one, at least that’s what I thought. My grandmother still has several racks to hang her clothes up to dry. So far, we’ve simply taken our laundry to my mom’s house after washing it, but with me working and my husband sick as a dog, we’ve used the drying racks for a couple of loads of laundry this week. I can tell you, the laundry feels completely different, and somehow I think the clothes are less wrinkly. Hanging up another load of laundry today I mused, if this could even be an experiment for our family. While my original plan was to dive back into the pool of modern gadgets, I now wonder if it would be worth a try to do without. I bet Richard will have his “why this now”-look on his face if I decide to talk to him about it. Doing without would definitely have a lot of advantages. Most of all: saving on the energy bill. Mostly, I need to runs to really get the laundry dry enough to fold the clothes and put them away, with about 4-6 loads a week, this may lead to quite some more money in the wallet, depending on the energy level of the appliance. Sun, in contrast to electricity, is free after all. Another advantage of going dryer-free would be the positive impact on the environment. And with the entire attic just for our use, it could even work. The major disadvantage, however, is the time factor. While I can rely on being able to have a certain piece of clothes ready for wear within about 1.5 hours, with line-drying it will take a lot longer. Proper planning and doing the laundry before we run out of clothes will be essential in the case. I also wonder how the attic will work for drying our clothes in winter. It would be quite a surprise to find a rack of frozen clothes one morning, and I really don’t want my house full of drying laundry all winter long. Also, just the idea of voluntarily doing without a gadget, that was so naturally part of my household is somehow weird, hard to describe. Maybe I have just become very inspired by the No-Impact Man, a New York city guy, who decided to go on the journey of living a year with nearly no impact on the environment. It is definitely a very interesting documentary, even if I would never go as far as he went. But maybe, going without a dryer, even if it’s only for the summer, could be a little step to a greener life.

If anyone of my readers has experience in the subject matter or any advice, I’d appreciate your input. Now it’s time for me to head to bed and ponder some more before I decide whether or not to bring the issue before the hubby.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tasty Tuesday Revived

On today's menu: Lactation Cookies

This is actually a weird one, because I've never made them before. When I thought about posting this and what I could present, I was just reading through a bunch of Facebook posts, among others by Sara and Shannon from our Atheist/Agnostic Parent Group back in Washington. I remembered meeting for a group brunch at Daniela's house and finding out we were all due within only a month of each other. We haven't been to any meetings for quite a while at that point, so no-one knew that we were expecting as well. We spend quite some time sitting together and talking about the pregnancies and how we planned our deliveries. We all had less-than-perfect birth experiences with our first babies; we all were induced in the hospital and had epidurals. Now, we all were under the care of a midwife and planned all-natural births at a birth center (guess what, we all succeeded!). A few months later, with two babies already born (even though Violet was baby no. 2 on the list she was born first, followed by little Miss Vera only 5 days later; Malcolm was born a little more than a month later), we all met again for a brunch, this time at Rachelle and Chris's home. Even though we didn't spend much time together I can't say enough how much this camaraderie during those months meant to me. It was great just to sit together and talk about our kids and the little ones soon to be born. Shortly after Vera was born, Sara posted this recipe for Shannon and me, and a few others.

Here it is:


1 c butter
1 c sugar
1 c brown sugar
4 T water
2 T flaxseed meal (no substitutions)
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
2 T Brewer's (nutritional) yeast (no substitutions)
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
3 c thick cut oats
1 c chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix 2 T. flaxseed meal and 4 T. water, set aside 3-5 minutes.
Cream butter and sugars.
Add eggs.
Stir flaxseed mix into butter mix and add vanilla.
Beat until well blended.
Sift (or not): dry ingredients, except oats and chocolate chips.
Add butter mix to dry ingredients. (or vice versa)
Stir in the oats and then the chocolate chips.
Drop on parchment paper on baking sheet (or just spray Pam on the baking sheet)
Bake 8 - 12 minutes.

Believe me, I baked plenty during the 2 months at home after Violet was born (among others also regular chocolate chip oatmeal cookies), but never managed to try the above recipe due to a lack of flaxseed meal and brewer's yeast. But it's still time, and once the heatwave is over here, everything's possible. May we all have the long and successful nursing-relationship with our little ones!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hiatus Break: My First Article On Adventures in {Baby} Food

As you all might have noticed by now, my blog is on involuntary hiatus due to weird living conditions. I don't know how it is with you, but I am all about atmosphere when it comes to writing. I used to stay up after Richard went to bed, sit on our comfy couch with a cup of tea or hot chocolate, and recap the day. Now, our computer sits in my grandfathers former workshop, which is not quite the environment I need to relax and be creative.

Anyways, this is just as a little break from this hiatus and to let you all know that we're doing alright. As soon as we have moved to our new apartment by the end of the month or early next month, the blog will continue as usual. As of now, I would like to share an article with you that I wrote for Adventures in {Baby} Food, an awesome website I am writing for. Please check it out for yummy recipes, advice on many topics around baby and children, as well as great give-aways.

Here's my article on relieving gas in young infants, beyond your gas-relief drops.


I can imagine that most of you parents dealt with this at one point: a bubbly baby wiggling around and wailing in pain, trying to get the nasty gas out, followed by a few relieving pooties and maybe a poop. I dealt with gas with both of my daughters. For our older daughter, we turned to gas relief drops from the local retailers once she hit the 2-months mark, for lack of further options. Now, with our second daughter, our wonderful midwife helped us analyzing the issue and using more natural ways to relief our daughter from her gas pains.

The first, and probably easiest way, is for your moms to analyze your own diet, in case you’re breastfeeding. I spent a few nights walking my daughter around the apartment, trying to offer some relief. Soon, our midwife suggested cutting all milk and milk products from my diet. This was hard at first, but soon found valid alternatives. Milk hypersensitivity is one of the main reasons for gas in newborns, which does not mean that your baby will be lactose-intolerant. The protein in cow milk, which can be found in human breast milk, can just be too complex for baby’s immature digestive tract to deal with. Further common hypersensitivities include soy, coffee, and very acidic foods.

In case changing your own diet does not help, your choice of natural remnants is considerable. Brewing a serving or two of fennel tea each day helps to reduce gas in your baby’s tummy and also soothe her digestive tract. Kidsorganics recommends making this tea yourself “by taking a small handful of fennel seeds, placing in a tea diffuser, and steeping for at least 5 minutes in a cup or pot of hot water”. Please only give your baby a few drops of this tea, because it also acts as a mild diuretic and could cause dehydration if given too many servings. You can also look for soluble fennel or well-tummy/anti-gas tea in your baby food aisle.

Another remedy for gas in young infants is homeopathic chamomile pearls. They are easy to dose (just place one or two pearls in your baby’s cheek once or twice a day) and can provide instant relief for your little one. Chamomile pearls are all-natural pain relievers and can also be used for teething. If this sounds like your option, please consult a naturalistic doctor in your area before giving it to your baby!

One last natural gas relief remedy for your baby, which is 100% without side effects and can also cure other digestive issues such as constipation, is all-natural caraway seed ointment. Just rub a tiny amount on your baby’s tummy in the morning after the first diaper change and at night after bath. The massage, along with the essential oils, helps relaxing your baby and has a positive impact on her overall digestion.

Most of the remedies described above can be purchased fairly inexpensively in your health food store, the baby food aisle at your local retailer, or over the internet, for example at Zooscape. As with all medications, please consult your pediatrician or naturalistic doctor before starting your wee one on a regiment.